Note: Sunnybank’s Secret Garden is now open, but sporadically. Check the sign out front or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) for an appointment.
I had to be away from the garden for just over a week, due to the sudden illness of a member of our immediate family. When I returned to Traverse City on Monday, June 12, the Faerie Garden’s winding path had utterly vanished under frantically growing foliage- especially Ostrich ferns. And the main secret garden’s layout was rapidly disappearing because huge weeds, giant ferns and collapsed giant grasses (that had had no support through the heavy storms Traverse City had experienced) were leaping from my rich soil, aided by sun, lots of moisture, and NO Boss. The huge tulip tree’s enormous yellow tulips were nearly done: now billions of flower petals blanketed the garden. Big branches, ripped from nearby trees in high winds, littered the lawn. The grass seed I’d put down in mid-May had jumped with both feet into every garden bed, rooted, then rocketed straight up to 8 inches high. All sorts of normally innocuous weeds were now huge- and everywhere. The clematis had grown twelve feet!
But the six-foot tall jungle-thick ferns had boldly taken command. They were the most formidable.
I gaped at the enormity of the situation. Every bit of my strength would be called upon to chop and pull them out. My ‘pony’ was in the poop somewhere: I would have work for days to reclaim what I cared about.
Truly, this was an epic mess. Was I up to setting it right? Honestly, I didn’t know. In my seventies, I truly feel much as I did as a young woman, but still...this job would use up the next-to-last of my 9 lives. Thank God I’d kept up exercising last winter!
After unpacking and grabbing a bite to eat I walked Bryn around the block to clear my head, and her bladder, and then staggered off to sleep. I’d think about all this in the morning.
4 a.m. rolled around. After enjoying freshly ground coffee I zipped into my baggy 26-year-old overalls (a man’s size small, but too big), and then donned my baggy mosquito jacket and heavy gloves. Bryn followed me around, watching with interest as I chose my weapons.
Knives, pruners, shovels, an axe, ropes...
There were two bits of good news: last fall I’d sharpened every tool. That would be immensely helpful now.
And, the weather was cool- in the mid-70s.
How to proceed? I’d begin in the small area around the centrally located gazebo. When it was put right I could glance back at it as I labored elsewhere, and take heart.
The bug jacket’s sleeves kept snagging branches as I crawled around flagging essential drip lines and the electric wires that powered my 5 fountains. Only I could chop and dig out most of the ferns. Spencer, my young helper, would dig any that were well away from those hazards, starting tomorrow.
Having to wrestle with my attire drove me crazy. But the protection it offers is vital. I’m allergic to mosquitoes and no-see-ums. They always bite near my one working eye, rendering me blind for a couple of days.
My glasses frequently caught on the mosquito netting, blocking my view as I raised a collapsed 5-foot tall miscanthus grass into an upright position. After a battle I managed to secure it using a huge curved metal support. But that effort nearly undid me.
Bryn provided comic relief; she tried to drag bigger branches onto the overgrown lawn to chew. Leaves, twigs, burrs, bugs and dirt snagged her white fleece, making her look elfin, and tulip petals got caught up in her longish claws. She’d drop the branch, pull them off, then resume tugging. Or, she’d find a long lost ball in the wilderness and ‘prong’ around the area to celebrate her find. I smiled. We were both excavating for treasure!
By noon I was exhausted. But I still had to stuff mountains of debris into huge garden paper bags, and then rake. That took forever. I stopped to fix my one daily meal, and after washing up, realized that my personal battery was dead. I was too tired to carry on working that day. I couldn’t nap though, because Bryn needed exercise. So, off we went to the big dog park, where she gleefully roared around with other canine friends. I sat atop the tree-sheltered picnic table to avoid being run over, and actually fell asleep for five minutes while sitting up, lulled by soft music flowing through my earbuds...
I woke with a start as Bryn bumped my leg very gently.
Done, Boss. Ready for my dinner...
Oh, I was glad! My dog, grey from rolling in park dust, was panting heavily, and eager to hop in the back seat and poke her hot muzzle out the window as we drove home. I longed for a long shower, and then bed...
Spencer arrived the next morning at 8 a.m. We two chopped, dug, and yanked weeds, ferns and roots in the Faerie Garden for hours before finally clearing enough to set in tropical plants I’d brought to Sunnybank from a favorite Saginaw nursery. I couldn’t store them in Sunnybank’s garage any longer because debris was overtaking its interior.
Now the Faerie Garden’s fine bones were showing. The big dogwood, freed from the ferns’ clutches, showed off its creamy white ‘butterfly’ flowers; the bergenia and bugloss were in full bloom. The four buried giant blue hostas, uncovered at last, were stunning. The exposed hydrangea felt the sun, and responded by beginning to straighten up.
One final invader had to be dealt with: errant English ivy had abandoned its place on the 8-foot high wall: rangy rope-thick tendrils were moving rapidly through the Faerie Garden, intent on choking everything. It fought me hard, clawing for purchase, but armed with a big sharp knife and muscles I eventually won back every inch of ground.
Four days later, after reclaiming the main secret garden, Spencer and I rested. Two huge truckloads of debris had been collected; I watched bits of this and that dribble off the truck bed as the driver trundled off. Hooray! I had a driveway and garage interior again!
By God, The Boss Was Back!