Stanley’s Yard

Stanley’s Yard

The design of our back yard is never done. There is always a new idea or an improvement to make, but still, many features are old. The Norway maples at the edges have likely been there sixty years or more, as has the neighbor’s garage that sits directly on the property line, and the climbing hydrangea that covers its eastern wall.

Not all have been loved equally. When the garage went up the neighborhood showed a more connected aesthetic, with open, continuous space. Property boundaries were marked by short wire fencing that allowed longer site lines, and gossiping. Stanley, who owned the house before us, was furious at the intrusion of the garage and covered its adjoining wall with many vining plants – wisteria, Virginia creeper, and Boston ivy alongside the hydrangea. But for us, privacy is welcome and the old bricks are tactile, warm, pleasingly regular in their pattern. The climbing hydrangea is gorgeous in all seasons, and adds another layer between us and the outside world. 

When they were planted the maples purposefully lined a back alley, but now the alley is gone, and adversely, the trees are labeled invasive. Many are cut down, though we love and value their shade and the quiet they afford, and find the seedlings hardly a bother. The centerpiece of the yard is the twenty-five feet tall magnolia tree, also beautiful throughout the year. But it is a constant annoyance to Stanley’s nemesis, Mr. Leibz, who owns the garage it overhangs.

When we first came to New Haven we lived downstairs from Stanley and Mary, and we knew them, for a short while. It was long enough to learn their concerns and cares, and for them to know and trust us. Stanley had been a landscaper at Yale and he practiced his trade at home with flare and dedication. Stanley last spoke with Bruce from the hospital before he died, to ask simply that Bruce take care of the yard. We took his request to heart; it has governed our stewardship these past twenty-seven years. His yard is a living book that we read again and again. No change has happened without long-time observation. We ponder, we debate, we question. Some plantings are gone but so many are still here – the viburnum, rhododendron, hydrangea, Oregon holly, yew, and the glorious magnolia, barely a stick when we moved in. We add and edit, but only to complement and enhance the established, inherited order.

The beautiful refuge Stanley left is not his only bequest. He was my teacher, and our garden – his and mine – now records everything I know, too. Here I have learned to pay attention, to be patient, to appreciate longer times, and to accept loss along with the new while restoring what I can. His foremost gift is my first principle of design: know what to keep.

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