A New Garden Rises

I wrote a haiku one evening, as the husband and I sat inside our empty house, weary, sore, feeding scraps to the dogs and wishing we were anywhere else.

Now the house is sold, 21 years of accumulated matter of both physical and metaphysical makeup now belongs to someone else. Our dirty—literally—secret is that we never got the junk taken away. Circumstances such as a broken arm, a full time job, multiple trips to our new house in Oregon took precedence, handicapped the disease I call packratosis. I bought books on downsizing, read and believed, and never followed through.

Aside from all that, our magical real estate agent, helped by our neighborhood web, got a deal with a neighbor’s brother, who was willing to purchase as is.


I will not miss that house. I was never in love with that house. I was in love with our location and the land. A near-acre bordering a river just outside of Seattle with a rural feel between railroad tracks and a major Interstate. I won’t miss the house at all.

I will miss my garden.

The lots were flat and sat on what locals called Tukwila Muck; silt from when the place we lived had been a tidal marsh. Shrubbery included two odiferous junipers, a beautiful sumac, a maroon-leaved barberry, a sick Douglas fir, a larch, and a dead pine—from a utility fire. The only shrubs we kept were the sumac and the barberry. Oh, and the larch.

I implemented many plans and works over the years. The rose circle walk was quickly engulfed by comfrey and a chronic scourge of bindweed. I had a Sombreuil rose, Lucifer crocosmia, a tree peony, a tall variety of blueberry nestled in there, and gave up trying to maintain the path. Pots appeared with a golden spirea and a swamp rose. A nootka rose (a bit of a thug), contorted cypress, mahonia, a briar rose, a variegated boxwood and an anonymous multiflora with multiple single pink blooms bordered the path leading from the house to one of the driveways

I planted a California bay laurel which grew into a tree over 20 years. The catalpa I tended from a cutting, once planted in the front yard, became a massive shade tree, spreading over the entire lawn outside the living room window, filling the air with fragrance from the white blooms.

Where one of the junipers once hunched, I planted President Roosevelt, the most beautiful rhodie with variegated foliage and the earliest bloom of cranberry-colored blossoms. Next to this a tea camellia and Rosa Glauca shielded our house from the not very busy street. The sumac fought with a roguish abelia, and I had to tear down a rickety arbor being pulled to pieces by another abelia—you need two to get fruit, the nursery told me. What they didn’t tell me about was its invasive nature. In doing so I moved my Queen Elizabeth rose, another shrub I kept. In its new location, the rose, a climber, festooned the bay laurel with June blooms.

We restored the river edge, where grass and burdock taller than my head had taken over. Two old alders stood there; and the stump of a gargantuan cotton wood that had been taken down. (The cottonwoods’ nickname is “rotten wood”.) We planted willows who became victims of the beaver, wild currant, nootkas, mock orange and nine bark. I planted the coast Redwood I dug up from my parents’ property in Arcata, a blue spruce, a deodora spruce, and a Sequoia Redwood from a nursery. In the intervening 20 years, the city of Tukwila strengthened water-way regulations, necessarily reducing the amount of property one could develop—a measure we supported but our neighbors were not too happy about it. None of our plantings within 200 feet of the river can be removed. Also, permits are required for the removal of trees over a certain circumference.

Little of this will save my garden, however. The buyer and his brother, who lives across the street, will remove every thing they can, pave for their many relatives’ cars, install palms in pots and likely a well-herbicided lawn with a fountain. Later they will subdivide and built more houses.

The neighborhood was changed. The rural culture has evolved to reflect the new world we live in. It bothered me, but I tried to accept the inevitability of it. I told myself I wanted to leave because Seattle was becoming unlivable for the likes of me. In so doing we sacrificed the advantages of living in and around multiple minorities: Ethiopian, Vietnamese, Somali, Cambodian, Hispanic. New ways, new food, new friends.

While the city of Tukwila tried to call my garden “overgrowth”, my neighbors loved it. They looked through floral windows to our cafe table and chairs, to the riot of June roses, to the species hydrangea covered with honey bees. Compliments abounded.

In response to what I knew would be destruction, I dug up everybody I could. The Korean lilac, tree peony, all my roses—except the nootka—ground covers, bulbs, peonies, plume poppy, tree dahlia, calla lilies and more. We stashed them all in a big truck and they came to Albany with us. Now they’re in new ground, trying to survive the very cold Willamette Valley nights. I hope to see my pink hydrangea blooming this spring, alongside the charming leaves of the variegated red twig dogwood.

Voila, a new garden rises from the old.

The haiku:

We sat in a shell,

drunk on Chile, Portugal.

The dogs remember.



About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison


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