Memories of the old home landscape


IMG_6954 Michele's rant about landscapes in her home town prompted me to take a closer look at the photo I took recently of the house I lived in for my first 15 years.  It sits in a 20-home development in Bon Air, Virginia, a small town not far from Richmond. 

And when I look at this plain suburban landscape, I've gotta admit it's nothing special.  No landscape professional has ever set foot on the property, I'm willing to bet.  And this is pretty much how I remember it – long rows of evergreen foundation shrubs and lawn in the front.  And worse, there appears to be no walkway to the front door, which I can't remember anyone ever using, and no wonder.  HUGE landscaping error, I know!  Since that hasn't been fixed in all these years, I guess it's not a biggie.

But my mother was an avid gardener, at least in my possibly idealized memory.  So let's go to the back yard, where the real action is, starting with enough lawn for croquet and badmitton.  There was a flower border for cutting and a large vegetable garden behind a hedge.  Looks like from this b&w shot that there were more evergreen gumdrops in the back, a fieldstone walkway frImg092om the cars to the side door we always used, and a struggling hedge of some kind off in the distance behind the border.

But we have to talk about more than plants here because the crown jewel of this landscape was the small cinder block pool that cost all of $500 to install.  It was deep, shaded, and freezing even in August, and we all loved it!  It didn't have a drain, so spring clean-up was a BIG DEAL – hours bailing out water, cleaning the pool and saving the tadpoles.  Getting the pool ready for summer was hard work, but exciting.

Img091-1Here's a shot of my mom and me riding inner-tube ponies in our swimming pool.  Thankfully I never noticed the crappy cloth privacy screen or the cheap metal security fence. 

So okay, I'm rethinking the whole "My mom was an avid gardener" thing but I'm sticking with "My mom knew how to have fun in the garden."


  1. Lovely! You were a cute kid!

    The best gardens, in my opinion, are actually enjoyed by the people who live there. And your childhood garden definitely qualifies.

  2. Susan, I can remember the house I grew up in from six years old was all lawn with the beginnings of a ligustrum hedge out back, some pine trees and azaleas in front of the house. That was it.

    Having gardeners for parents that changed quickly. Our pool was a big hole in the ground for eight years. My mom got so tired of it she planted a sunken garden in the bottom.

    By the time my sister sold the place 40 years later, the back yard was all fenced pool and gardens, no lawn. The front was hedged off on the sides with expanded beds.

    The house went into foreclosure, became a rental then abandoned possibly. Last time I drove by every last plant, tree and bush was gone from the front and it was just a big sand parking lot.

    Gardens, they come and they go.

  3. Very sweet. And interesting about the pool. I wonder how common that was back then…or even now. But the best thing about this post is that you don’t seem to harbor resentments because your parents were so selfish as to raise you in a sterile barren soulless NJ-like suburb. Maybe it’s because, unlike Michele’s parents, your folks didn’t ruin your childhood by putting islands in your front yard.

  4. My parents had a horrible looking vegetable garden in the big backyard that never inspired me, or the vegetables they planted. Things got good when they built an above-ground pool over the garden though. My Grandma and Granddad next door had a large enough garden to feed us all anyway.

    No bathing suit photos of you from 18-30 available?

  5. I enjoyed reading your post, as I’ve been thinking back lately to what our suburban yard in Minnesota was like in the fifties/sixties. Expanse of lawn, solitary conifers, and like yours, no path to the front door. Gardening was basically lawn care only. But we could sled in the back in the winter and run through the sprinkler in the summer. Thanks for bringing back the memories.

  6. Love the photos. I remember our cinder block pool, which later became a sand box which morphed into a raised flower bed after the neighborhood cats started using it. It was never as big as yours, I think it only held two small kids at a time. I also remember how my dad had a large area devoted to strawberries and the 6 foot chainlink fence to keep the five snarling snapping kids out of them. It must have worked because I don’t remember ever getting punished for stealing the fruit.

    He also had a thing for prickly pear cactus. He planted it all around the perimeter of the yard to keep us kids where we could be watched. I don’t remember ever getting hurt by them but that could be because my mother despised the wall of spines and most likely worked over time keeping us out of them. What ever house we moved into the first thing dad did was plant a clump of opuntia. The first thing mom said on the way home from his funeral was for my brother to get the tractor and plow them under before some kid got hurt.

    It must be genetic because I now keep a clump going wherever I end up.

  7. What strikes me as important is that back in those days we put up with what would be now called “design errors”, yet I suspect your mother had the priviledge of staying at home to play with you in your very functional swimming pool and putter around in a garden she loved, instead of putting you in day care, getting a job and hiring someone to install fabulous gardens and hardscape. I think of my father as an avid gardener. He was out working in what was known as our “yard”, quite a bit, planting caladiums every spring, pruning shrubs and mowing the lawn. Our garden wasn’t a showcase, but it was well tended and loved. What mattered to us was a soft place to run in the sprinkler, shrubs to hide in, flowers to make necklaces out of, and a shady spot for a picnic table. We never felt deprived for a minute. I think we’ve lost something valuable in our quest for perfect, expensive everything.

  8. I grew up in Bon Air, too (1962-1984). How lovely to run across this post! My mother created a pear shaped area in the front yard for azaleas, primarily, and in the backyard, she had a ring of flowers around a dogwood. And daffodils everywhere she could find a spot that the children and dogs did not trample. The yard was a delight for a child – 3 trees formed bases for softball and kickball; badmitton and croquet in the summer, the big metal jungle gym and swingset outside the screened in porch. Lots of time making moss covered houses for imaginary elfin friends and collecting peeper frogs. Rabbit hutch, dog houses, 2 sheds to house all the bicycles, a precarious tree house – it was a mess by today’s tidy standards, but I loved it dearly.

  9. Now there are two blog posts regarding no “obvious path” to the front door. Garden/landscape design should reflect how the space is actually used (as should house design!!). If front doors aren’t used as the main entrance (poor house design), why create a “faux path” to it? In Michele’s blog entry, the path to the front door started from the driveway, where visitors would park = smart, and was likely regularly used. Note, there were no sidewalks in this development. (I designed our rural home so learned of this “traditional” but unused front entrance problem.)

  10. Gosh, this brings back a lot of fond memories. Unlike me, the original haphazard gardener, my parents had a strong sense of design and while the “yard’ had plenty of grass for the kids to play on, trees to climb and a hill to roll down, everything else was exquisite. But my brother and I were encouraged to plant whatever we would like and no one ever complained if there was a tomato plant in with the roses. We also helped with the chores like deadheading; that gave us some ownership in the garden and we were justifyable proud. We did not have a lot of money so a lot of the perennials and flowering shrubs and roses were propagated from cuttings and I got to help stick them in the pots of damp sand which were then covered with large canning jars.

    Interestingly, unlike in other families in the 40’s and 50’s, my mom did work outside the home but home and family and of course, the garden, were the priorities back then. There were few electronic distractions. However, I have to say if my Mom was alive today she would be an avid Garden Rant fan.

  11. That is too funny! My mom loved sunny gardens, so she struggled when we moved to a wooded lot. I think of all the opportunities for neat little woodland plants she could have grown, instead of pining for Roses and Lilies. She was so happy when we moved to a real suburb in a new development with no trees – we finally had a sunny garden she could fill with Irises, Peonies and the other sun lovers.

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