Does This Mean I Live Here?


I have a really brilliant and beautiful friend in Saratoga Springs, an English professor at Skidmore College, who said the greatest thing about second homes after her own attempt to buy one was foiled: “Having two houses is really a problem of divided loyalties, isn’t it?”

It is, for probably the same reason that it’s tough to maintain a boyfriend and a husband simultaneously. No matter how good your intentions, the exciting property always encourages you to neglect and resent the less exciting one.

Ten years ago, I agreed to buy a city house in Saratoga Springs with a statement that shocked my realtor. “I honestly don’t care,” I said to her, after touring my current house for the first time. “My husband can decide.” I thought Oscar Wilde had it right when he said, “Give me the luxuries in life and I can dispense with the necessities.” I already owned the only luxury that interested me–15 acres and a small weekend house in the country with fertile soil for a big garden.

Not that I haven’t enjoyed some things about city living. It has been fun to experiment with ornamentals, something I’d never have done if I lived in the country alone. There, an expanding assortment of livestock would have occupied my free time. And I have a lovely sense of community in Saratoga Springs, much of it based around the amazing elementary school my kids attended, Lake Avenue.  And I love working on the school garden.

But this house? A dark, fussy, crumbling Victorian built by people who would have thrown Oscar Wilde in jail? A feeling of total indifference.

Alas, issues familial and financial are forcing me to liquidate the luxury in favor of necessity. But only a truly stupid person would repine. I still own a big house and enough land to do a vegetable garden. And I am behaving a bit like a former adulterer whose partner in sin has moved on: I’m taking another look at the backbone of my existence and finding that it has its own charms.

I seem to be acting like somebody who is semi-committed to her place of residence: assembling a porch chair that has been sitting in a box in the garage for 10 years, painting and hanging trellises for the climbers on my carriage house that were getting so tall they were collapsing in on themselves, inviting carpenters over for a chat.

And the biggest sign that I might actually live here now?  My cast-iron bean arches. I convinced my husband and son to rent a truck to fetch them from my country garden, and I put them up all along the citified cement path that bisects my yard. Where the pole beans are, that’s where I feel at home.

I doubt our Rant readers will find that statement as strange as your average American would.  What makes you feel at home?


  1. Hey, plant those Scarlet Runner beans, People will see them from afar and stop and ask you what they are. They are both beautiful and taste great. I even found a variety of them here in Sweden and they did great last year. They cover an area very quickly. Better hurry though, Before you know it , it will be late summer.

    Oh wait that’s right, you live further south on the planet where seasons are normal. I really need to get back home!


  2. My backyard Kousa dogwood – now in full glorious bloom providing a canopy over half our backyard – planted when we moved in 15 years ago – is what is stopping me from taking advantage of a tremendous seller’s market and hanging onto my dilapidated semi in a desirable downtown neighbourhood, despite familial and financial issues.

  3. Having started 3 gardens from scratch in 3 locations over a 16-year period, I have to say the one constant that carried me through all the transitions was my husband. He provides the heavy equipment operation, engineering expertise, and often, the sheer brute strength it takes to turn many of my gardening plans into reality. Although I often try his patience with arguments over my pie-in-the-sky ideas (“But WHY can’t we build a 25-foot high observation deck at the end of your new barn??) he generally follows through and helps me with whatever I need. Or whatever I think I want. So, mushy as it sounds, having him around always makes me feel at home.

  4. Seventeen years ago, when I moved from Mount Vernon, WA to Anacortes (20 miles), I said I wouldn’t go unless my 4-man rock came with me. My husband rented an engine lift, hoisted the rock into a trailer, repeated the performance at the new house and said “It’s done.” I still like my rock.

    • Ah, Linda. We must be related. I love my rocks, too. Mine are a little more easily transported (being mostly smaller than a human head), but I still won’t move without them.

      • I don’t have rocks but I have also something that I can’t separate it. I love my big cypresses and despite the fact that they have huge roots and it’s hard to transplantation, I would never leave them behind while I’ve got labored to make them grow..

  5. A pile of mulch goes a long way towards making me content with my surroundings. (Give me mulch and spackle, and I can FIX THE WORLD!)

    I would also be hard-pressed to make a home anywhere that did not involve catmint “Walker’s Low” and a giant metal chicken in some fashion.

    • I saw a giant cast-iron chicken in a New Jersey antiques store 15 years ago.

      I am still filled with regret that I didn’t just cough up the $300 and stick in it my yard.

      • Getting mine home was an adventure in wedging. With all the seats down and bungee cords holding the hatch closed, a Pontiac Vibe will hold a single giant metal chicken.

        It makes a fabulous trellis for Carolina jessamine, which has the added benefit of making a giant green chicken ‘fro.

  6. What makes me feel at home is more than the garden, and at the same time it IS the garden. My yard is big and has a country setting even though it is still within the city limits (thanks to the hundreds of acres of crop science research land that surrounds it). I get up early to take the dog for a walk down the long driveway to get the newspaper. I hurry home on my lunch hour to let the dog out and check on things, and I race home after work to change into “play clothes”, grab some tools and walk out into the nice and tidy rows of vegetables and fruit trees and get busy with weeding, pruning, harvesting and whatever the garden needs me to do. The dog is ancient and she doesn’t have the strength to keep up with me as I work from one end of the place to the other – she is just the excuse I use when explaining to non-gardeners why I do the things I do.

  7. Nothing says home quite like putting out glue traps for the mice living in the floor below my feet. Now if I could just find where the things are getting in I would be truly content.

  8. I can sympathize but…..I would give anything (well NOT anything) to move! I would take a few starts of my favorite plants and my birdbath, but would love to move from my small town lot to a place in the sticks!!
    My heart aches after hearing your going from the country to the city! I feel for you…..

  9. I’m feeling a little sad for you. I’ve always had a dream of 15 acres or so, but I, too, am resolving to a different piece/peace. One acre in the ex-urbs, which we’ve affectionately started referring to as our micro-farm. The garden is huge and expanding. This spring’s project was the chicken house now inhabited by 18 manure machines, soon to be egg machines. The berries keep getting planted, and this fall, the mini orchard goes in. It’s beautiful and nourishing. I often remind myself of the Chinese proverb, “s/he who has enough is wealthy indeed.” We got plenty.

  10. Home is where the plum tree is. And I don’t even like plums much, which is just as well, since my tree doesn’t produce more than two or three a year. The plum trees of my childhood produced lots of plums, good only for making jelly (and for ammunition in green-plum wars when the grownups weren’t around). Also, they were big enough for children to climb up and sit in. But it was the week of blooms in early spring that made them essential. Nothing else compares.

  11. Ah! I do NOT feel sorry for you. To live in a vibrant, arts-filled small city, to be able to walk safely in the evening down a lighted sidewalk, to have an interesting, non-cookie cutter home, and still have a yard big enough to garden in without it becoming overwhelming – well, you are living my dream. Please take Stephen Stills’ advice and love the one you’re with.

  12. re luxuries/necessities: I thought Frank Lloyd Wright said that. No matter! It’s a good mantra.

  13. Oh, I am an apartment dweller and strangely I do have a “it’s home with my garden there” connection, but it’s so much less evolved. Mine is more to the tune of growing any edibles in a windowbox. In my college years, every apartment I lived in would get a tomato or some sugar snap peas, but they all went to hell in the florida heat and humidity. Now that I’m older and living in France where stuff wont fry every month, I dont think it will be home without black currants, strawberries, and peas.

  14. I have a blue juniper or something like a juniper tree (it didn’t come with a tag) and when I got it 4 years ago it was 2 ft tall and now it is 8 ft tall! It is the first tree I ever planted and I LOVE the color and it holds a special place in my heart!!

  15. Home ? Home is where the harvest is, I suppose. First thing Hubby & I have done on arriving in a new spot is plan the placement of the veggie garden and where the fruit trees will go, specifically the Stella sweet cherry. All else comes in time – the callas & irises that MUST have a spot, the potted plants scattered hither & yon, the plant we pick to distinguish this plot of land (star guava currently) from others, the hardscape… But when the fruit trees are chosen & planted, the veggie beds built … then it’s home.

  16. Home is where Dave the elm (Ulmus davidiana) resides. He was a gift from a now dead tree breeder at the local arboretum and finally, after 15 years, we have seeds. We likely will not move until we’re too old and feeble to take care of ourselves, but my sweet baby elm tree is home to me.

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