I know people who insist on creating original landscapes in their yards. They either begin with a clean palette and scrape their property down to bare earth or they buy homes in brand new subdivisions where all the dirt is recently backhoed and then leveled by earthmoving mega-machines. Once these individuals draw up their plans and plant accordingly, they have designer yards that draw the eye to appealing areas throughout their lot. This is one way to create beauty around a home. Another is to enjoy what previous occupants have planted and work around the property’s history.
Since I was a little girl, I’ve enjoyed investigating other people’s gardening talents. My great grandmother lived near Buckner Creek in Southwest Kansas where she cultivated irises, peonies, and black berry canes someone had tucked around her house before she moved in. As a toddler, I examined her bearded irises and thorny berry plants from a nose to petal point of view. Somehow, I understood these mature plants had lived in this place longer than Grandma had. I also got the idea that they connected her and me as well to whoever optimistically planted them in a land of little rain.
Because of those early experiences, I’ve always loved moving into homes with already established plantings. Lovely wild rose bushes with once a year yellow blooms, peonies, poppies, purple and bronze iris, naked ladies, and lilac borders graced our first bungalow built in the early 1900s. Their cycles of scented blossoms brightened that yard for decades and continue to do so two owners later.
We were only the second residents of our next home, but the couple who built that house transplanted iris tubers and lilac starts from their family’s original homestead into their new yard. In addition, they’d added rose bushes, purple phlox, and blue flax to enhance the native prairie flowers that surrounded them.
One of the attractions of our most recent real estate purchase was the pretty yard surrounding the house. That owner landscaped with new plantings to increase the curb of appeal of her property, but she also incorporated old-fashioned poppies, peonies, daisies, butter and eggs, day lilies, and violets that add a nostalgic touch to the yard. While I love the roses and shrubbery this gifted gardener chose to border the house, I most enjoy the plants she transferred from her farm and other people’s flowerbeds.
What I like best about plantings passed down from the generations who first turned these prairies into homes is that they connect us to real people who longed for reminders of where they came from. They were dead tired from just surviving, yet they made time to turn up flowerbeds around their homes. Even more telling, they shared precious water with rootstock or seeds they either ordered or carried from more settled regions of America and Europe.
Drive by any dying community or abandoned farmstead and you’ll see remnants of lilac borders, iris or peony beds, and poppies that now escape confinement. The humans who planted them are long gone. Equipment they left behind rusts in weedy yards that come to life each spring with improbable lavender, pink, and bright orange blooms that fleetingly tell stories of those who came before.