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Monday, February 3, 2014

Blank Slate

The home buying process is fraught with uncertainties. Anxiety like insect bites. Doubt like body blows. Not least among these is the gut-punching fear that you are making the wrong decision. What if this is not the right house? How do you know you are shackling yourself with the right lifelong commitment of resources you don't have? Some people make a list of things they absolutely need in a house. For me, that list was a short one: some kind of outdoor space in which to plant a garden, the more of a blank slate the better.
But really, the best way to know you are making the right choice is to have no other choices. Try this: first consider asking the owner of the condo you've been renting to suddenly sell the unit out from under you, this will reassure you that you should indeed find a new place to live. Next, consider living and working in a city with exploding rental prices, such that securing a mortgage somewhere in a more distant, outlying community would in fact be cheaper than finding a new apartment to rent. This can help a lot with the decision to buy vs. rent. Then, in the severely limited time frame you have to find a new home, the best way to narrow down your options, I've found, is to have your pregnant wife go into labor while viewing an open house. Once this happens, you'll be amazed how confident you are that you have found the right place.
The villa at Fencebroke is adequate for our small family's needs — though it utterly lacks any sort of foyer, drawing room, ballroom, library, conservatory, map room, panic room, smoking room, dining room, swimming pool, walk-in closet, walk-in swimming pool, linen closet, closet doors for existing closets, or proper bowling alley (in a pinch, the single narrow hallway makes a serviceable, single lane alley, but using it as such has thus far done little for the resale value of the home). All of these were casualties of urgency in our home search. What it does have, fortunately, is the one thing on my must-have list: front and backyards that are almost completely unplanted — that is to say, blank slates.
The accidentally coppiced, ailing and ancient Laburnum and Lilac represent the extent of the previous owner's gardening legacy. That is, unless you count a dozen or so malformed, coyly hidden garden statues: cracked birds lurking below eves; spurned, half-buried cherubs pouting around every corner; St. Francis-of-the-weeds; a small family of ducks standing creepy vigil at the front door — all of which doubtless have stories of their own, which will be found and told in time.
So there are few limits, really, to what I can do here, garden-wise. It is a blank canvas ready to be splattered with a hundred conflicting visions, themes, crackpot ideas, cracked pots, and practicalities, all pent up for years with no outlet, all begging to be realized. All on a budget of … well, let's just say “garden tomfoolery” didn't quite make it onto the monthly budget. If/when we plant a vegetable garden, we could conceivably shoehorn garden expenses into the grocery budget (a shoehorn being an invaluable tool for budgeting these days), but until then, I will be a fiend for freebies, nursery rejects and garage sale finds; I will be ever watchful for easily-propagated plants proffering their buds, rhizomes, and offshoots to casual passers-by; I will be grateful that I work as plant manager at a local independent garden center and am in superb position to rescue nursery stock otherwise sentenced to the compost heap; I will exhaust my resources and pursue every lead in the name of transforming this desolate lot.
All that being said, it's now been 2 months since we moved in and I've yet to break ground. It turns out that looking out the window every day at a blank slate is a bit intimidating. Didn't I use to get paid for this? Eh,  I'll get to it, eventually. For now, though, I'll just keep piling up flats of distressed, frostbit, slightly diseased and unwanted plants along the fence in hopes that a few will survive long enough to be planted.

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