So - in my everyday life I live in a small apartment with a tiny front yard and a medium-sized dog who makes the word "energetic" seem laughably inadequate (he's a blue-heeler German shepherd cross and I love him to bits but there's no denying that when you research the breed online the phrase you will see most often is "not for the inexperienced dog owner". Which - handily enough - I am). To illustrate: when other dog owners take their leave from the dog park I go to in the mornings, the other dog owners call out: “Have a great day!" - when Anu and I take our leave, they shout “Good luck!" encouragingly. In the evenings I tie him up to a retractable lead which I shut in my car door, and I sit on my concrete steps with a pillow to cushion it and throw a ball a few times until Anu is thoroughly frustrated by the confines of the leash and we go back in!
So when I heard that a friends of mine who own a house in the tidy, sleepy, suburbs were going on holidays, I leaped at the chance to house-sit.
I knew exactly what that house-sitting gig would look like. I pictured myself in their spectacular woven lounger, sipping a frosty glass of wine, leisurely throwing a stick for Anu; spending crisp, bright mornings working from their glass-topped patio set with a steaming cup of French press coffee; in the dusky, humid evenings, I’d slip into a flower-printed sundress and wide-brimmed hat to water flowers and herbs, inhaling the savory fragrance of tomato plants and lemon balm . . . . I would be gracious, a true hostess, the picture of a wise dog-owner with my dog sitting contentedly at my feet - or at least securely confined to a yard instead of awkwardly tethered.I pictured it being so divine that I would dread leaving, that I would come back to my little apartment thoroughly dissatisfied with its meager offerings.
Now of course the reality, as I am certain you have guessed, was markedly different. For starters I couldn't get the wireless internet to work until four days in to my visit, so working in the morning sun turned into toiling halfheartedly in the refrigerated (well, felt like it) basement until I felt so pitiful - like a character from Dickens, shivering in cut-finger gloves - that I had to come back upstairs. I don't own a flowered sundress or a wide-brimmed hat - so my gardening was conducted in a rather less lady-of-the-manor-esque fashion: that is, a long t-shirt that didn't quite cover my bum (thank heavens for those tall fences). The wide-brimmed hat I borrowed from my friend was a bit too small and smushed my hair unattractively and left a mark on my forehead that stuck around for hours. The woven lounger gave me a neck-ache which led to a headache, and I couldn't sip wine and lounge at the same time without spilling it all over myself. I do smell like tomatoes and lemon balm but that’s more because I was constantly fishing wayward sticks out of the gardens for Anu while admonishing him to “GET BACK! STAY OUT!” and picturing my friend’s reaction if she returned home to a crushed and crumpled garden.
I pictured a week of beauty and graciousness, and instead there have been times in this whole visit where I have felt terribly ungracious: I have felt silly and fraudulent; I have felt exceedingly angry with my dog, who has started countless "bark-fights" with all of the neighbouring dogs in the next yards - and some in the next cul-de-sac - and done wildly manic laps of the fenced back yard to the point that I honestly thought he was having a seizure.
I have thought "this could have been a gorgeous experience but instead it's a giant disappointment". I have sat in the sunlight with half a glass of wine surrounded by basil and cherry tomato plants, and been aware of only the sunburn on my bum, the uncomfortable grid-mark pattern on my legs from the lounger, and the half glass of wine that I was unfortunately wearing, feeling abused and disillusioned by life’s unwillingness to ever live up to my hopes and expectations (yes, I was feeling _that_ pathetic and melodramatic!)
But at some point this weekend, I came to a realization that I am going to try not to beat myself up about just now realizing: for the last twenty some-odd years, my mentality has been that life is something I just to 'get through’' to the other side. And I'm not about to repeat the truisms about life being about the journey, the grass is always greener, etc., etc. (Truisms are wonderful in that they are excellent and pithy and - well - they’re true - but they’re also so tired and overused that they stop having meaning by the time you hit the age of - I don’t know, 15? I blame those ‘motivational’ posters in high school classrooms - to this day I can’t hear ‘hang in there’ without picturing that poor stranded kitten!).
These phrases and homilies don’t cease to be true, they just cease to have significance or influence in our lives. The truth is that even as I’ve rolled my eyes through country songs and changed the channel on awkwardly scripted Hallmark specials, I have been guilty of not enjoying ‘the journey’ and pushing the accelerator to the ground to try to get to where I’m going.
This post is probably going to seem rather off-topic for a blog about a company dedicated to providing backyard escape design services, but bear with me for one more minute. Part of designing the perfect escape is realizing what you are escaping from - and why you are escaping. Otherwise your escape will feel like a high-fenced borrowed mistake that doesn't suit your or your family (or your dog!)
If you design your yard with an attitude of flexibility and self-awareness, your grass will be green enough that even when you look over at the neighbour's place, you'll still want to stay put. Because it's not about the colour of your grass - or other myriad ground-cover options - of which there are many! It's about accepting imperfection, laughing at clumsy tumbles in a game of fetch, and reacting pragmatically when that frosty glass of wine ends up in your lap.
You don't want to endure the stages of your life - just like you don't want to endure the stages of your greenscapes, whatever form they may take. Gardens and gazebos grow and adapt and they lend themselves well to improvements and creativity over time.
I’m not suggesting you need to go on a meditation retreat to get to the bottom of your deep intrinsic motivation for a backyard. Nor am I suggesting that we are the kind of company qualified to help you do that (although what an idea that would be - maybe a few years down the road!) I will say however that we are the sort of company who believes in growth - in little steps. While we’re excited to accept grand and large-scale projects, we’re equally enthusiastic for the first steps you take in your yard design. We’ll build your deck in stages and add on as your family expands - we’ll help you plan massive and complicated and utterly divine gardens, but we’re also here to help you plan something that you can manage yourself, that suits you and your needs. We want to be part of every stage of your life - and we want to help you enjoy those stages in comfort. Custom designs - despite all the companies we’ve seen who seem to view the word as nothing more than something with a higher price tag - aren’t just a special service we offer: they are the only service we believe that anyone should offer.
Your home is a uniquely personal space: we are short-selling you and short-selling ourselves, if we try to sell you a ‘standard’ design. You’re not bringing in Cornerstone Greenscapes because you’re have the time and experience to design and install exactly what you need: You’re calling us because we do great work, because we have the knowledge and experience to help you sort through the thousands of ideas and options out there, and because we want to create something that is uniquely yours. And we want it to be manageable for you - we want it to grow with you.
Your greenscape isn’t something you arrive at - and that’s a wonderful thing. First - because how boring would that be? And second - because what you want now isn’t necessarily what you’ll want or need in a month, or a year, or ten years. Taking steps to create an area that is utterly perfect within a larger, messy, imperfect space is the most perfect microcosm for life that I can think of!
I just want to make sure that I'm enjoying every minute of it (or nearly every minute). Because it's never going to be perfect - it's never going to be done. And I'd rather it that way. Because if I had gotten the backyard I wished for so mistily a short week ago, with the wave of a magic wand or winning lottery ticket, I would now be miserably chained to it - because I would have missed the chance to explore this idea of life from the perspective of greenscape designs. I would be counting down the days till I didn’t have to live in a house with a fence and a manic dog running laps around it!
So now - if you'll excuse me - I'm going to go plant some tomatoes and lemon balm in my postage-stamp garden in my tiny front lawn at my so-much-more-than-adequate apartment. I'll probably wear shorts this time since I don't have a fence to hide behind, and tuck my hair under the Miller Genuine Draft ball cap I won in a raffle at a buck-and-doe last winter.
And I will do so in perfect and unmitigated happiness.