When I first moved down from Barrow to Anchorage and realized the size of the yard for which I was responsible, I panicked a little. In Barrow, being responsible for a yard meant making sure the dead car, two partial skidoos and sundry pieces of what once had been an ATM were neatly stacked. In Anchorage, it was clear that maintaining a yard would involve green living things.
A friend assured me that as time went by I would become more and more comfortable with my yard, until I reached the point where I couldn’t wait for spring to arrive so I could work in it.
Well, it’s been five years now and that epiphany has not yet occurred. In fact, this spring, as the snow melted and the remnants of what I laughingly referred to as my flower garden reappeared, I seriously considered just covering my entire yard with plastic and then dumping stones on top. No watering, no lawn service, no bugs, no beautiful flowers to be lovingly tended that turn out to be weeds – it would be like living in Barrow again.
I’ll confess that my first year in Anchorage I did not go to any lengths to figure out how to grow flowers. In fact, if I remember rightly, I bought a gallon-sized jug of wildflower seeds and wandered around my yard scattering them like chicken feed. It wasn’t till much later, when that burst of energy proved fruitless, that a friend suggested I should have perhaps actually buried them or, at a minimum, watered them.
By my second year here, I had figured out that there were plants called annuals and plants called perennials. It didn’t take me but a minute to figure out that perennials were the way to go since they supposedly came back again each year on their own.
So I went to various stored in town and bought one of every perennial that sat on their shelves and planted them. This time I remembered to water even if I didn’t remember to fertilize or mulch (and seriously, does anyone really know or care what mulch actually is?). Some came up. Some struggled valiantly but in the end could not overcome the handicap of being my plants.
The third year not many of the perennials came back. They almost did. But then they didn’t. That’s when I found out you have to read a little label on the plants that says if they like direct sunlight or shade. Who knew? I figured after a long Alaskan winter, everything in this state would want sunlight.
So I went out and bought more perennials and this time paid attention to where they should go around my house. And they grew. And they grew. And then I realized I should have paid attention to what the label had said about their size because I had a couple of giant plants taking over the garden.
By last year I had pretty much had it with the whole idea of a garden. I let what plants survived the winter return on their own and those that didn’t make it were memorialized by the bare spot in the garden where they once flourished.
This year I decided to give my yard one last chance. I asked my friend’s mother, Pat, to create a garden for me. She is, to put it mildly, an enthusiastic gardener. At one point she was digging a hole to plant one of my new trees while I was on the phone conducting business. I came out after a hour to find her rummaging in my shed for a crowbar. She’d run into a little boulder and she thought she’d just crowbar the thing out of the hole.
I told her that in my world, that boulder was god’s way of telling us to plant the tree in a different location. In actual fact, in my world, that boulder would have been god’s way of telling me to donate the tree to a neighbor and go back to the original idea of an all-stone yard.
Thanks to Pat, I’ll actually have a garden this year. But I think the bigger lesson of this story is that you can take the girl out of Barrow, but you can’t take Barrow out of the girl.