New Member: Garden Memories
by Christine Lowry
I knew next to nothing about gardening when my husband and I bought our first and only residence on Wilcox Avenue in Hancock Park. When I saw the backyard my only thought was, “What have I gotten into?” It was huge and overgrown with strange and exotic looking plants I couldn’t name in English, let alone Latin. It included a ramshackle potting shed, and an old stone wall arbitrarily placed on the left side of the yard with no discernable purpose. There was also a dizzying array of birds of paradise left to reproduce to their hearts' content. The size of the yard was both impressive and disarming. We were told that because Cole Avenue ends at Melrose the extra land was split between Wilcox and Cahuenga but, obviously, the residents of Wilcox held the measuring tape because our yards are noticeably bigger than those on Cahuenga.
On the east edge of the yard were the remains of a potted orchid sanctuary, but all that was left was one very rare (we were told) orchid vine growing along the wall separating the yard from our neighbors. The plant must have sensed our inexperience when, a week after we took possession of the house, it promptly died. All in all, it was a yard that had a glimpse of its previous glory days but, given a few more years, would become Grey Gardens quicker than you could say Big Edie and Little Edie.
The jewel in the crown of the flower garden were three giant mature azalea bushes that would burst into spring like fireworks on the fourth of July. I was mesmerized by a plant I had only just heard of, and we were determined to base our plans for the garden around them.
At the back of the garden stood an 85-foot-tall eucalyptus tree. No gentle member among the fauna, this tree made its dominance felt and we and the plants bowed down to its bullying presence. It soaked up all available water so that other plants had to wait in line for their share like the orphans in a Dickens novel. It constantly dropped jagged seed pods making us jump like we were walking on hot coals. And the smell…. pleasant but, so overwhelming, especially when it clung to a pet’s coat. Oh, and did I mention the leaves stained every surface on which they fell, and the ever-shedding bark resembled a bad sunburn peel? To say our relationship with it was complicated would be an understatement.
Then one night, during a particularly ferocious windstorm, the eucalyptus fell, like Goliath, taking with it the power lines that fed the entire street, my neighbors' garage and car inside, our fence and some patio furniture. It left a hole the size of a 70’s dream jacuzzi. It was sad in an inexplicable way. I had often cursed it but now I missed it. It had defined our yard and now it was gone.
It was bittersweet but gardens need to evolve and ours has since then. I have learned and changed so much since I was first overwhelmed by my garden and that tree. It has been equal parts, joy, luck, chore, therapy and refuge, particularly these days. I cannot look at a eucalyptus tree or an azalea bush without feeling gratitude and nostalgia for all my garden has taught me for the last three decades.