2016/17 been a remarkably mild winter in this corner of Pennsylvania, and although February usually brings us some of our harshest cold and winter storms, this year it’s going out with a whimper. For a few days I won’t complain but beyond that I can’t promise anything. March has a history of big snow-dumps and hopefully if they do come they’re more picturesque than they are damaging, and hopefully this quirk of a winter is also not some dark prequel to an even worse global warming future.
Without a solid slate-cleaning this winter I’m a little lost heading into the 2017 gardening season. It all still seems so ‘last year’ so I suppose I’ll use that as my excuse for not putting out the usual bored with the snow, don’t want to face the cold, winter time flashback posts, but let me at least try and get this one post out before I’m lost outside again searching for spring sprouts. It goes back to 2002 when the ignorance of youth thought it would be a good idea to buy a house, lose a job, and get engaged all in the same two months.
Before I get too distracted with the story I want to point out that a normal first impression of our little valley usually dates it at around 20 years behind the rest of the country. It’s a region who’s boom time began at the tail end of the 1700’s with the discovery of vast deposits of anthracite coal; the cleanest, hardest, and highest carbon coal out there, and the fuel which powered the economic and manufacturing development of this entire region. For about 100 years we were riding high but it was a one horse show, and by the 1950’s the horse was definitely showing its age. Deep mining had shifted to strip mining and the whole region went into a kind of long term hibernation of fleeing youth and aging residents. Our house is an example of the ‘build it quick for housing’ phase and was probably built around 1910 as cheap two family housing for miners. After decades of rough living it was probably worth our $24,000 purchase price.
I optimistically brought all the potted plants over from my former apartment balcony and then later watched them freeze as first the plumbing and then heat and finally electricity were pulled out and replaced. In case it’s not obvious from the photos or purchase price the house was in horrible condition, so much so that when the realtor’s odd girlfriend took her small dog into the house and allowed it to pee on the kitchen doorjamb it barely raised an eyebrow. I guess we were too distracted by the rotted floor boards, cobbled home repairs, and ‘evidence’ of vermin infestation.
As I’m very fond of saying, ignorance is bliss, and for several months the economic realities of the newly unemployed demanded that I just “polish and put a shine on shit” and hopefully have a resale value once the journey was done, but a former girlfriend now fiancée had different ideas.
After several months of basement and utility renovations the friend who’s a contractor is traded in for the actual deal. We’re into new territory now and although I can’t pay my labor in cases of beer anymore there is progress. Unfortunately real contractors can’t be bothered with sensibly small attic dormers, they prefer “it’s cheaper to rip it down and build solid walls” and so we did.
So here we were taking a two family home (which likely housed close to a dozen people at one time), tripling it in size, and making it just large enough for the two of us.
Still unemployed, and now enrolled in school (again) the ballooning “don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of the kids”, pricetag finally scared me off the very addictive drug of contractor help. With windows in and siding set to go on we cut the cord, buttoned up the exterior and moved into the basement… and found out what it is to live on love 🙂
Obviously there wasn’t all that much free time for gardening, but you know how it goes with all work and no play…
Once we moved into the house the next three years are kind of foggy. A full kitchen came first, a completed first floor, a new job, a master bedroom, a new baby, a completed second floor… finally an attic loft. Slowly the garden inched along as well.
To know me is to know I have a slight leaning towards the tropical flair. I love how you can get a massive show in just a few short weeks.
The fun of a new garden is you have room for nearly everything and don’t yet have the baggage of too many beds gone to weeds, invasive plants, or “shouldn’t have put that there” issues.
Another big plus for this house was that pretty much everything we did was a blessing -considering the property’s history of troublesome kids, giant rats, and overflowing trash piles. Construction debris, dirt piles, unfinished projects, were all overlooked in this neighborhood where it’s not unusual for people to live and die in the house they were born in.
We were on a different track though. Memories were built, lessons learned, and dreams ignited but when it came down to it this wasn’t more than a stepping stone. Five years into it (just as the last big projects were finished) we decided to buy the house of my wife’s grandparents. It was an unexpected decision based mostly on emotion, but in the long run we knew this would be short term.
So that spring I focused on grassing over a few beds, moving a ton of plants to the new house, and getting the house set to go on the market.
So that was what brought us to the new house. In what has become our normal mode of operation for life changing events, that spring we were hit with a tsunami of the house selling in three days, a baby arriving a month early, a job lost, a car totaled, all made even more fun when you decide a few changes to the “new” house might be necessary… but we survived and it really puts the panic of a late frost or snapped iris stalk in perspective.
Don’t worry, we shall return to our normal garden updates next post. I’ve just taken a look outside and the snowdrops are coming and the snow is melting and as soon as 2017 is off and running I won’t give a darn about years gone by until winter rolls around again. Hopefully the weather is looking up for you as well!