A purely decorative area of landscaping is teaching me to be less relentlessly practical, more experimental and less of a control freak.
Not long after I bought my house, I hired a local landscaper to help me get a handle on my yard. Aleta asked me what I wanted to do in different areas of the property, including the west end of the backyard. It’s shaded by arborvitae and a towering sweet gum tree and has several big pink and purple rhododendrons. Unlike other areas of the yard, such as the garden, the west end is purely decorative. “I call it ‘Fairyland,’” I told Aleta. “I don’t know why, it just popped into my head when I looked at it.”
Because of how the shrubs are spaced, Fairyland is the one part of the yard that can’t be used for a practical purpose like a shed, except maybe a beehive, or to hide the compost bin. Any changes to Fairyland would only be whimsical, decorative, fun. I am a relentlessly practical person, always looking for ways to make things serve multiple purposes. Fairyland defies me in this regard. It can only be pretty. It has taken a long time for me to decide that’s okay.
Over the years Fairyland acquired a random assortment of plants: a “peanut butter tree” (now gone), shrub-like fuschias (which have become invasive and which I’m trying to kill), daffodils (though it’s too shady for them), day lilies (to which I am allergic), a wild rose (which goes rogue), and a forsythia (that can’t decide whether to be a tree or a shrub). Slightly more successful are lilacs (I always forget what color they’re supposed to be, and I’m always delighted), Solomon’s Seal (from Aleta) and strawberries (though it’s really too shady for them and they’ve gone wild), assorted hellebores (which like the shade), as well as an assortment of ferns, some from other areas of the yard. Clearly Fairyland’s plantings reflect my ambivalence (and ignorance) about the use of the real estate there.
I’m less ambivalent about the decorations: there’s a concrete Venus de Milo as “Venus in Ferns” (pun intended). There’s two concrete storks, a surprise gift from my boyfriend; a concrete morel mushroom; a broken plastic hippo; a plastic peacock; a strange concrete dish that’s probably part of a fountain; a tiny concrete rabbit; a cedar trellis with a bird feeder hanging from it; a white cast iron table and chairs; and a whole row of decoy ducks.
I’ll just keep adding weird decor and random plants to Fairyland until I find the right mixture of floral and festive. Clearly I don’t know what I’m doing. There is no plan. But Fairyland reassures me that it’s okay. I just put what I like there, and trust it will come out nice in the end. On a warm afternoon, it’s a pleasant place to sit under the tree, and think about how I don’t have to have a plan or be in control all of the time. I can just relax and enjoy.