From Rehab to a “Welcome Home” Garden

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So, OK, I’m lucky; not every driveway offers 300 feet of “Welcome Home.” I understand that. What I’m talking about here is concept; the need to plant something special at the edge of the yard where that long day at the office meets that welcome turn toward the garage.

That idiot boss, that computer meltdown, that wasted sales meeting, that assembly line lunacy, that 40 minutes of traffic jam are history. You’re home. You’re garden still loves you. It’s right there to say so.

As previously mentioned – and much more on that later ­­– our house is about 300 graveled feet back off the road. As such it offers more of an Atta-Boy Bob cheering section than an individual “Welcome Home” – especially after a recent hospital stay.

But I have often seen even suburban homes that offer cheerful greetings in subdivision lots: dancing conifers, purple clematis, perfect hedges, tight pockets of brilliant flowers around a mailbox.

 

When properly planted, the nearly-defeated commuter can see his home a half-block away, feel a pulse of excitement at the flush of red roses at his driveway’s edge, know that the journey to and from a boring, depressing job might be worth it once the pruners are in hand.

Yes, there is always the lurking danger of the hated neighbor alerting the subdivision-code police that those red roses are forbidden near the mailbox, but who says gardeners can’t live – and plant – a little dangerously.

Truth be told, you don’t have to plant Welcome Home plants in forbidden territory anyway. Add dogwoods or red buds to the front yard, stuff a lilac in the corner, line the driveway with handsome shrubs, plant a seasonal mix of foundation plants up there near, well, the foundation.

Make your front yard sing, hum and whistle and your plants will shout: “Welcome Home. We missed you. We were all hoping your boss got transferred to Poughkeepsie.”

In our case I can sense our plants’ pending celebration halfway up the hill to the house. On the left, just at the driveway entrance, is a spreading golden yew in a big pot; a gift from legendary Louisville landscaper Theodore Klein.

Across the drive is a raised bed featuring a purple waterfall of Japanese maple foliage, an alleged dwarf weeping beech that never got the memo, and a lanky smoke tree, its leaves a phosphorescent green.

Our tunnel

Ahead is 150 feet of arched tree limbs that create a welcoming tunnel. This was once only graveled driveway, flat pasture and weeds. Three small bald cypress were planted in the wet spot on the left. A bare root sugar maple went on the right. A dogwood, ornamental cherry and two feisty crab apples were added. Time, pruners and then a chainsaw created my tunnel. Fed-X truck drivers kept it lofty.

One of the crab apples is the very rare ‘Uncle Elmer’ cultivar. Now a leaning 30 feet in height, it was a gift from my wife’s Uncle Elmer – and small enough to bring home in a burlap bag.

He and his wife, Aunt Helen, were Old School gardeners. Elmer planted the hill behind their house in a vegetable garden big enough to feed Wisconsin. Helen, who sewed, quilted and made Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, could grow roses in asphalt.

A favorite family story is of the day it was feared Aunt Helen had a heart attack. An ambulance was called. She refused to get on board until she washed the dishes – who could leave that mess behind? – and then she refused to go at all. Elmer and Helen are long gone – but not the storied tree.

Weeping redbud

My Welcome Home tunnel opens to a sunny site more seasonal in nature. Tulips, a weeping red-leaf redbud, and quince wave to me in spring. Then come peonies, zinnias, marigolds, bottle brush buckeyes and oak leaf hydrangea. A pair of callicarpa ‘Beauty Berries’ with their almost iridescent blue berries will greet me in fall.

Looming above them are three Cornelian cherries, that dogwood outlier smothered in yellow flowers in spring, and hundreds of bright red cherries in the fall.

Further along the driveway – up near the house – are two raised beds, one featuring bright red and yellow begonias and the other more muted coral bells, oak leaf hydrangea blossoms fading into pink, and two stone carved figures on a pedestal – perhaps the man and woman of the house.

Bottlebrush Buckeye

All that welcoming power got a recent test when I was in the rehab hospital almost two weeks after spine-fusing back surgery. I felt a prisoner in bed, mildly depressed, away from all sunlight, well cared for but much too close to bedpans and a garrulous roommate.

I was sprung free on the 14th day. My wife drove us home. I all but held my breath as we turned left at the golden yew, traveled slowly through the driveway tunnel, again felt the presence of Uncle Elmer and Aunt Helen, feasted on the graceful limbs of the weeping redbud, the spiked vigor of the bottlebrush buckeyes, the willpower of the oak leaf hydrangeas, the gawdy show of red and yellow begonias.

I was home – and we all knew it.

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