Saving Elma

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I had a dream last night about my yard. It was scruffy and scrubby and for some reason I was surprised to be ashamed of it.

In truth, my own yard has, how shall we say… a natural look to it. It is in fact made up of mostly drought-tolerant, native plants. The front yard came with a towering live oak and preening magnolia, both of which shed leaves all year long. The back yard has an orange tree and out-of-control rubber tree as squatters from the beginning. Everything else we planted.

In the beginning of our occupation we added loads of native wild flowers: galardia, dune sun flower, porter weed, blue curl and our front yard was an explosion of healthy color. We just sort of let the plants take over. We let nature be nature.

Our landscaping philosophy prompted a new, now gone, neighbor across the street to stand with arms folded, one hand aloft to alternately rest on her chin and point to our yard while sharing with another new neighbor (also gone) that “they actually intend for their yard to look like that.”

Nature is messy, and like a child, it should be given certain liberties to explore. But also like a child it needs some discipline. Especially if you’re living in a deed restricted neighborhood. We did receive a lovely letter from our HOA in those early days citing us for our misuse of visible property. We fired back with an environmental manifesto and have been left alone since.

A few years after we were shamed by the HOA, the city encouraged native planting and less grass. We felt vindicated, but our yard was still messy. Again, in the natural sense.

I am compelled to design my yard, like I would an interior space, with a space plan and recommendations. I have, in fact, done this. Even to scale, but I lack the enthusiasm to implement or enforce it. Instead the yard upkeep is the domain of my husband. If I want to change it, I have to change it.

It remains largely unchanged.

Our back yard has been given more consideration. Probably because it is where I spend my time. We planted a winged elm, bay tree, a couple of privets and some other small trees. When I say we, I mean I supported the choices and effort while my husband did the actual work of planting.

We added a stone patio that I actually did work on and design and there’s a hint of a wall we lost interest in around one of the trees.

Our yard is small. If I stood in the middle of it and extended my arms toward our house (the screened enclosure) and the fence that proves this space is ours, I can practically touch both. I would love to have an open patio, with simple columns holding up a simple roof or even a vine covered pergola, but mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds hover just on the other side of the screen like desperate paparazzi, and they’re all looking at me. So the screen stays.

Aside the from the intoxicating fragrance of the orange tree in early spring, the winged elm has captured my heart. In fifteen years he has grown to over 30 feet from just a spindly little sapling. He drops his leaves sometime around December, stands stoic for a month or so then shimmers back to life with tiny green buds in March. Perhaps it is his timely deciduous nature that reminds me of trees from home that tugs at my inner nostalgia. Maybe it’s his happiness to return in the spring that makes me swoon.

Over the years, he has produced offspring, tiny shoots and saplings. They have started grow. Most are about a foot tall, many we have removed, but one has reached about 6 feet. It is a single sinewy stalk with thin, but strong little branches. She can’t stay where she is. There’s no room.

Next to our driveway we removed a diseased some-kind-of-myrtle tree a couple of years ago and that space feels naked. We decide to move the young tree here.

Her roots are long and we lose a few inches on them here or there but otherwise the earth released her easily. A deep hole has been dug and is awaiting her arrival.

It’s been a particularly hot and dry spring and we’re concerned for her survival. We water her daily, usually three times a day.

It has finally rained. And against the vibrant colors of wet nature, she is brown. All her leaves have turned brown. I touch her leaves gently, they’re still very soft, not brittle. I bend her tiniest branches and they still have life, they do not snap.

There is still hope.

I have named her Elma. She deserves a name.

This morning as I am getting ready for my day, Larry (that’s my husband) comes in looking bright, “Don’t give up!”

“On Elma?”

“Yes, two little green shoots around the base.”

“Her base.” I correct.

As he was tending to her and reconstructing the little moat around her tender roots he spied signs of new life. She’s strong. She wants to live out her dharma in our front yard and provide shade during the brutal summer months.

And when she gets bigger and stronger she will be able to see her dad over the house. I’m pretty sure he can see her.

And I’m certain he’s been encouraging her.

 

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