Roger Barbee: A forgotten garden

Roger Barbee

The other day while mowing the front yard, I noticed a lone peony next to the large boxwood. What drew my attention to it was that it was about to open into the full bloom of pink like those in front of the bay windows.

Some years ago while digging at the roots of an old lilac bush that was beginning to take over the front bank, I struck a brick. The top of the bank is about 6 feet above the road, but not too many years ago, the front yard was level with the road before it was paved. It is rather odd now to see the large boxwoods above the road, and the roots of the lilac were remnants of a past planting that I wanted out to give the old boxwood room for growth.

Any gardener knows that the ground often holds surprises, even treasures. This time I was surprised to uncover a row of bricks laid on the narrow side of each other to make a border. But a border for what? Carefully digging away the earth and weeds between the bricks and the edge of the bank, I uncovered a bed of bulbs that I could not identify. I covered them, but marked their location for later in the spring, hoping they would produce flowers, but if not, at least green growth.

Not long afterward, I saw green stems and leaves that I identified as peony plants. But, sadly, they were all growth and no bloom. We had moved the purple irises that had not done well next to the front porch, so we removed the peony bulbs, and we planted them next to the lattice beneath the front porch. It takes a few seasons for peony bulbs to establish themselves, but we now have an orchestra of large pink blooms gracing our front. And then, the other day while mowing, I saw a lone peony next to the old boxwood, and it was close to blooming

Stopping the mower, I admired the large bud with its fringes of pink. Almost under the boxwood, the peony had found some way of not only living, but of blooming. It, a hold-over from someone’s lost and forgotten garden, had managed.

Going on with my mowing, I marveled at the way it, and so many other plants, manage to produce. I looked forward to its bloom for its beauty, but also for what it represents. I wondered whose forgotten, little garden I had uncovered, and what else had been planted next to our little road as a thing of beauty for travelers to see and appreciate. Had the unknown gardener planted the lilac, too at the end of the row of boxwoods?

In my scratching about, had I missed other plants? By the heft and size of the bricks, I know that it was an older garden. I like to think that Lemuel David Clindenst, the builder of this house, and the farmer of this land, planted it as a pleasure for anyone walking down the little gravel road that he knew. Whoever it was, however, had left me an unintentional pleasure hidden beneath the earth of Red Hill.

I don’t know if Lemuel ever read poems by John Keats, but the forgotten garden is proof of Keats’ words in his poem Endymion: “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever.”


Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg.