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Seasons of Change: Marked With Perennials

The past few weeks have been filled with several significant milestones: my twins turned 25, my husband celebrated his 65th birthday and June marks our 30th wedding anniversary. We could say “where have the years gone” or “my, haven’t the children grown so quickly” and/or other predictable, appropriate exclamations but, true to form, I look to the landscape as a way to measure the Seasons of Change.

For some parents, one way to mark Seasons of Change can be found on a wall with pencil lines and a date.  Often, those treasured “growth charts” are an annual tradition and visible reminder of their children’s physical growth. For a while, through the sleep deprivation and struggle to make it through a day much less a year with twins, I marked their growth on a wall. But those lines were painted over when the twins decided their rooms needed a fresh coat of paint. It didn’t bother me – for some reason, I wasn’t sentimental about that growth chart.

Seasons of Change is a composite picture: growth charts, photographs, art projects, report cards, records of all those “firsts” and so much more. For me, especially as we celebrate the milestones in May and June, Seasons of Change, is strongly evidenced in our landscape.  It’s the little maple tree in the backyard, planted by the previous owners, that is now a large tree providing much needed shade on a hot summer day and requiring serious pruning in spring. When we first moved into the house almost 30 years ago, the tree couldn’t have been taller than 6’ and it looked as sad as Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree before Linus lovingly put his blanket around it to encourage strength and show that tree some love.

It’s not just the maple tree that marks the Seasons of Change – it’s the yard’s transformation and the stories it could tell if able. Our yard began as a serviceable place, it was the hub for neighborhood children to gather and play games.  What little grass grew was soon ruined under the wear and tear of childhood games, inflatable swimming pools, colorful plastic play equipment, an occasional sleep out and a plastic picnic table. The landscape was one of childhood games, birthday parties and a lot of antics I probably don’t want to know about.

Over time, as we developed one part of the yard into a Children’s Garden and the inflatable pool was retired in favor of a neighborhood pool, the landscape grew and we viewed the yard as more than utilitarian.  The metaphoric pencil mark was drawn, indicating growth, but it wasn’t just the maple tree’s growth that survived toddlers. The change marked our yard’s slow movement to blend aesthetics with purpose. The first “real” garden bed was planted while the yard was still a neighborhood hang out. The trees were strong enough to support a hammock and I was carving out a few areas to begin my own garden – staking my claim for a colorful garden to satisfy my strong craving for colorful blooms and the hope of attracting winged creatures to my yard. While the children were gathering fireflies, I was looking for the first hummingbird.

The first “garden” I worked on was, what I thought, an ideal spot: sunny, out of foot traffic’s way, near the outdoor water spigot and in a location I could admire whether indoors or out on the patio. It was my first perennial bed. Plants were selected impulsively and there were more than a few weekend trips to local nurseries to buy whatever looked nice. I bought things in bloom – I needed “Instant Pretty” and didn’t think about bloom times, growth patterns, good planting practices, soil conditions, maintenance . . . or anything other than it looking pretty right then and there.

emily_daylilyAlways craving color, I selected plants I liked – I gave little or no thought to plants that might like my garden.  But I learned a painful lesson when, after a few weeks, those beautiful blooms (previously tended to in ideal conditions) disappeared. How dare they? I remember buying my first daylily crown (at the time, I thought it was an extravagant price) and only knew I didn’t want the orange ones I saw growing in massive clumps along the streets. Thirty years later, the one lovely crown has divided into many and remains, sentimentally, one of my favorite summer blooms.  It reminds me of having very little money to spend on decorative plants, knowing almost nothing about planting and yet somehow, after 30 years, the daylilies have multiplied, bloom reliably and make a lovely addition to the perennial bed.

After many Seasons of Change, a lot of trial and error and with the help of two experienced landscapers (Sam Nelson and Serena Masters Fossi), the landscape has now matured – it’s still on the growth chart and I know there will be a lot of change in the years to come – but it is now a more mature garden, based on good gardening principles, an overall plan for its structure and it is filled with the color, textures, interest, purpose and blooms I love.

What began as a bunch of plants crowded into a space and looked great for a few weeks has become my established perennial bed. With Serena’s guidance, and a considerable amount of impatience and doubt on my part, this is what it looked like in its infancy:


It still includes many of the plants I invested in, such as the daylilies, but it has now gone through enough seasons to grow up and become the beautiful sight I had always craved. Those Seasons of Change were a necessary part of maturing and I know there are more to come – nature will always evolve – but it’s clear my landscape has grown up. It’s getting closer to the top of the growth chart. Below are pictures of the perennial bed as it looks this week:

perennial-garden_present_1 perennial-garden_present_2

Today, the perennial bed is filled with the colors I love, the spring’s bulbs emerge, are replaced with early summer’s green and fresh colors and soon will transition to more blooms, different colors and eventually, in the fall, I hope it will surprise me with the late season bloomers I impatiently look for even though I know it’s too early for signs of the toad lilies, asters and peacock lilies (among others). I love these Seasons of Change.

The Green Bed, formerly the Children’s Garden, taught me to appreciate the beauty of a monochromatic garden (with a few pops of color) and most importantly, I learned how to impatiently be patient and wait for the different greens to grow into each other, forming a map of green whose boundaries are marked with different shapes of green plants. Here’s the Green Bed “before” –


And, with more than a few years of “pencil marks on the wall” and quite a few planting seasons, here’s the Green Bed now:


It’s not just the growth of plantings in our landscape that remind me of our milestones and the Seasons of Change, though their growth and the lessons learned have been important and enlightening. There’s another piece of our landscape that, for me, is the most beautiful and obvious reminder of an earlier era. It is permanently imprinted in our home’s landscape (or at least for as long as we live here).

When the twins were 6, we spent a few very warm summer days painting the outside brick walls in our courtyard. They are a daily reminder of the passage of time and for me, no line on the wall indicating physical growth could replace these paint strokes.

The drawings are colorful and full of life. I remember when we stood in the unbearable heat as they carefully painted, delighted with the permission, and encouragement, to color our walls with whatever they wanted.  Some are joyful scenes of trees with fruit, fish swimming in the ocean and birds flying high in the sky. Courtesy of my son’s obsession with history, a detailed scene of the doomed Titanic – complete with the distress fireworks high above the sinking ship in the ocean – takes up an entire section of the courtyard. I treasure each and every picture and cannot bear the thought of being in this house without them.

emily_wall_1 emily_wall_2 emily_wall_3


It has taken the better part of our 30 year marriage to reclaim the garden and slowly (very slowly) turn it into something that I love. I’ve treasured the process as much as I love what it looks like today. Our leaveslandscape has it’s own chalk marks indicating significant milestones: the Harry Lauder Walking Stick my parents bought us to honor a significant anniversary, the Scotch Broom we planted when my brother married his wife in Scotland, the azalea my friend Denise brought over to plant in the garden after my mother suddenly passed away, the lilies of the valley my other gardening friend, Denise, was kind enough to share with me and so many other generous additions to the garden.

I’m grateful for the milestones we’re celebrating and know we have been fortunate. Forever, nature’s growth and meaning helps me appreciate our Seasons of Change.

Posted By: Emily Stashower, Behnkes Guest Blogger

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this story. It helps me to try to be patient with my own garden development.

  2. Beautiful as usual, Emily. You richly capture the experience of space, time, change and how our gardens can be layered with meaning and provide beauty and experience because they DO change….sometimes in a way we plan…and sometimes not.

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