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Love in bloom

I don’t like dirt. Not one little bit.

When friends speak of the delight they feel when plunging their hands into rich, dark soil, I shudder.

But I love flowers – their blooming beauty feeds my soul. I also adore fresh berries, juicy tomatoes, tender green beans, and tasty zucchini, things that aren’t possible to grow without getting your hands dirty.

“You can wear gloves, you know,” a friend advised.

That’s certainly an option, but I took another route–I married well.

Once our four sons were mostly grown, Derek eyed our backyard and decided to raise something other than boys.

While I can’t even keep a houseplant alive, my husband’s green thumb, along with his strong back, keen mind and building skills, have created a backyard oasis. Each year, he tweaks his creation and finds new ways to add beauty.

The result?

Pansies, petunias, geraniums, impatiens, in red, yellow, purple and pink, bloom in boxes around our great gazebo. They spill from window boxes along the delightful deck that Derek built.

Bleeding hearts, daisies and star flowers blossom in well-tended bark beds.

Derek spent a couple of summers building a lovely brick retaining wall and walkway around his garden shed. He tossed a packet or two of wildflower seeds along one side, and this year tall blue and white flowers line the path.

Wildflowers

Behind the shed, purple and lavender clematis creeps up the twin trellises he installed on the fence he built, and begonias burgeon in planters throughout the yard.

Crowds of pansies cluster in giant oak barrels. The barrels are new this year, anchoring a sun shade that sails from the great gazebo and is affixed to two towering redwood posts. Derek filled the bottom of the barrels with concrete to ensure the posts would stand firm in our windy weather, and keep our sun shade from soaring off into the neighbor’s yard. Then he topped the barrels with soil and planted the flowers that thrive in their cozy containers.

Also new – redwood boxes for our berry bushes. Our blueberries and strawberries have done well in their containers, but our raspberries have grown wild along the fence line, as long as we’ve lived here. When my sister-in-law gave us a blackberry bush, Derek decided it was time to corral our fruit.

He built three 2-feet by 6-feet boxes along the fence, one for each type of berry. If there’s room, he may transfer the strawberries, too.

Despite its late start due to these other projects, Derek’s raised bed vegetable garden is growing well. We’ve already spotted a couple green tomatoes, the green beans are ready to climb, and our first zucchini is peeking out from beneath its leafy lair.

Each year I shop for annuals with him, and place the flowers where I’d like them, but he does the planting. I weigh in on what veggies I’d like, and once again Derek gets his hands dirty.

When things bloom and ripen, I don gloves and do the deadheading and harvesting, but mostly I just enjoy the fruits of his labor.

Each day after work, I start dinner, and then head to the gazebo. I let the sun warm my legs, I listen to birdsong. I watch butterflies and bumblebees flit among the flowers. My husband has created place where I can let the cares of the day fade, and feast my eyes on loveliness.

FTD coined the motto “Say it with flowers,” but I’m so thankful I don’t have to wait for a floral delivery service to show up at my door to hear what Derek has to say.

Every spring and all through the summer, I’m surrounded by countless beautiful blooms, and each one seems to whisper I love you.

Columns

Boys and Backyard Buried Treasure

Lightning McQueen has definitely seen better days.

His front wheels are missing, as are both headlights. His rear tires are packed with dirt and his big eyes on the windshield peer through a layer of dust. His red paint job has faded into orange, and his plastic body is cracked in places. Years of exposure to sun and snow will do that to a car.

My husband is building a retaining wall at the back edge of our property, and his shovel had unearthed the abandoned toy.

“Look what I found,” Derek said, cradling the car in his hands.

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Like an archeologist on a dig, he’s discovered the remains of a previous civilization. He’s been working hard to eradicate the evidence that small boys once roamed wild in our backyard, but this is something he’d missed.

When we moved into our home in 1993, both the front and back yards were a mess of weeds and clover.

Derek focused his attention on the front first, so our boys took possession of the back. That summer, my dad bought them a swing set, and we installed the first of many plastic wading pools.

Very little swinging happened on that swing set. Instead, the slide was used as a launching point for cars, toys and boys. The tandem swing made it easier for them to scale to the top of the set, the better to terrify their mother.

The boys grew. The grass came back. The swing set fell apart. And a series of bigger pools kept them occupied during the summer.

Squirt guns, bicycles, skateboards and toys littered the yard making navigation perilous for parents.

When our four boys grew bored with toys and things with wheels, they took up digging in the barren patch of ground where the previous owner had attempted to garden. Bordered by railroad ties, the spot offered ample space for industrious boys to play in the dirt.

I worried about the holes they dug with plastic shovels getting too deep, the tunnels getting too long, but Derek just said, “Boys gotta dig.”

However, even he was surprised to find they’d used a few of his two-by-fours to shore up a gaping gash in the ground.

The boys grew. They mowed the grass. They stopped playing in the dirt. And Derek built a beautiful cedar shed where the swing set once stood.

Our two oldest sons moved out and their dad built a beautiful deck, and we added a gazebo, and raised bed gardens. The retaining wall is just another step in the beautification of our kids’ former playground, and it seems Derek had stumbled upon a toy graveyard while constructing it.

“I’ve been finding a lot of green army men,” he said. “I rebury them with full honors.”

But it didn’t seem right to leave Lightning in an unmarked grave, especially since it looks like he’d been the victim of violent crime. Someone had used permanent marker to print “Help Me…” on his hood, leading us to conclude the toy had been carjacked and possibly held for ransom.

The printing looks exactly like our second son’s writing, and our youngest son, Sam, was a huge fan of the movie “Cars.” He was 6 when the first movie was released, and he went “Cars” crazy.

He had a Radiator Springs play set and the full fleet of cars from the film. But Lightning was always his favorite. In fact, if I venture into his teenage lair, I know I’ll still find at least two versions of Lightning McQueen that he’s not ready to part with.

Derek went back to work on the wall, leaving the dirt-encrusted car on the deck railing. Weeks later, it’s still there, parked facing our outdoor dining area, where Lightning can watch the boy who loved him come and go.

Last night, I swear I saw his eyes shining through their dusty coating when Sam sat down to dinner.

And then old Lightning smiled.

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