Wednesday, November 13, 2019 5 comments

Love. And Loss.

Don’t look back.

It’s sage advice that has been offered by notables from George Washington to Miles Davis to baseball great Satchel Paige.

Unfortunately, I had a lapse of good judgement recently and took a brief look at the past. I wish I hadn’t.

You see, not long ago a friend told me our old house in Maryland had been on the market again. I wondered what the place we’d left eight years before had sold for. So, I clicked on the listing and for a brief moment thought I was looking at the wrong property.

The beautiful cottage garden I’d worked on for 17 years was gone. My pond, gone. My glorious roses, gone. The garden that had appeared in the pages of Fine Gardening magazine was gone.

I cried.

A cottage garden for a charming cottage

It all started when we were working in DC after moving back from England. During a weekend sightseeing trip, we stumbled upon the alluring Eastern Shore of Maryland. We later would say it was two hours and twenty years away from Washington.

View of hydrangeas from the water
We looked at property in several areas and eventually found a delightful concrete block summer cottage on the banks of a river off the Chesapeake Bay. The house had been built in the 50s and was just plain cute with its black and white linoleum tiles, retro stove and a screened-in porch that overlooked the water. We closed on the house in November, 1992.

The following spring, I was anxious to start creating the cottage garden look I’d so admired in England – a combo of roses and companion plants. I chose a grassy area by the kitchen door and rolled up my sleeves. The very first rose I put in was a David Austin beauty ‘Heritage’.

Three years later, Chris decided to take early retirement from the Royal Navy. We’d be leaving Washington, so we made plans to knock down the old cottage and build a house in the same footprint where we could live year-round. We dug up as many of the plants as we could before the bulldozer arrived and put them in pots for the duration. 

Whew. Lots of work to do
 In the spring of 1996, I started working on my new garden. First, I had to clean up the rusty nails, broken shingles and plastic cigar filters the carpenters had left behind. Then I really rolled up my sleeves. It took a couple of years, some successes and many failures. But in time, my “tidy mess” (as Gertrude Jekyll called her cottage garden) became a reality.

While everything was coming together, I queried Fine Gardening magazine to see if they might be interested in an article about cottage gardening in general and David Austin English Roses in particular. They were, and my garden and my story appeared in 1999. The article was selected in 2001 to be part of a Garden Design series that promised “America’s Best Gardeners share design secrets.”

Fine Gardening's Lee Anne White photographing the garden
 The pond and the well bed would come later. Neighbor Jim’s Dad dug the hole for the pond with his small Bobcat.

Our late fellow rose lover Frank came over and helped Chris install the liner. The border of ‘monkey grass’ around the pond came from my friend Nan’s DC home. The bed behind the fountain was filled with roses friends had given me for a big “0” birthday and iris that came from Cherry Point Farm, once owned by the du Pont family.

The hydrangeas that lined the porch eventually recovered from being upended during construction, and returned to drawing oohs and aahs from folks travelling up and down the river. 

Boaters sometimes would stop by our dock and ask to take a closer look at the bed bursting with pink and red roses including ‘The McCartney Rose', ‘Kardinal’ and ‘Sexy Rexy’. It was a pleasure to have them admire the blooms.

When we decided to sell the house and move to the mountains, I wondered what might happen to my garden. The buyers seemed very interested in learning about roses. They offered to let me take a favorite plant or two. But we sold the property in March and were off to Australia for a month the day after the closing.

To be honest, I thought the gardening chores might turn out to be too much for weekenders. But I figured should I pass by one day, I’d still see a few of my cheery blooms waving at me. It wasn’t to be.

Still, I have my photographs and my memories.

But take my advice: don’t look back.