I've planted a small kitchen garden at the back door of the house we are renting until our new home is finished. I felt a little guilty as I groped through the wood mulch, surreptitiously slit the double layer of landscape fabric and popped in my veggie plants. However sometimes we have to bend the rules a little to satisfy our gardening urges, the prospect of a year without planting too much to bear.
Funny how life comes full circle sometimes. The last time I planted a dooryard garden was 35 years ago when I was a junior in college living in another rental house. But first you ask, what is a dooryard?
You may faintly recall some Walt Whitman, "When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom'd", his poem of mourning for President Lincoln. On a brighter note, dooryards are still often seen at historical homes just outside the door, ready with blooms for a bouquet or perhaps medicinal herbs, a few steps away.
But I suppose any garden outside a door could be considered a dooryard garden.
Back then I was busy going to college full-time, working two jobs and married too young. Life was frenetic as I rushed from class to work to making a go of a marriage that probably shouldn't have happened. In my few moments of free time I found solace in gardening.
I felt the need to plant something. But first there was the matter of the misplaced junipers. Plopped in a bare patch of dirt by the back door surrounded by pink scalloped cinder block edging, I judged it a poorly used piece of prime real estate.
I looked for another area to plant. Over-sized octopus-like philodendrons (this was California) roamed across the patio and the fence was lined with boring shrubs. So one day I moved the junipers over by the fence and commenced to sowing seeds and corms, because I couldn't afford actual plants.
Soon the little plot by the door was blooming with sweet peas, poppies, anemones and ranunculus. My then mother-in-law marveled, "You grew these?"
Then one day a head popped above the block wall, the disapproving puss of the landlady who lived right next door. She wasn't as impressed as the MIL. She mentioned the junipers had been moved. I was so worried I'd have to pull out my flowers and put back the prickly shrubs. By then I'd splurged on strawberry plants too.
Yet somehow her husband smoothed things over. He often peered over the fence offering encouragement on my gardening efforts in the shadow of her sour scowls.
In fact, the next year he allowed me to till up a section of the backyard lawn to plant a vegetable garden for a class project when I took Horticulture 101 to fulfill a last minute science requirement. I grew beautiful lettuce and beans and more. And I got an A.
I took so much comfort in the little dooryard garden; it was a refuge from the strife and struggles with a husband who loved alcohol and drugs more than me, from missing my family half-the-country away before the advent of cell phones and cheap plane tickets.
It would take years for me to realize the most likely reason the landlady frowned upon my garden. It would take a middle-aged me to think, oh yeah, that could have been the problem.
You see I had so little time back then I was forced to multi-task while I gardened. It was after all Southern California, and a girl needed to tan some time, so I always gardened in my very small red bikini.
Here are some photos of my current "dooryard" garden so far. There's a grungy pool but no swimwear in sight...