about the issue

After a cold, snowy winter, everyone’s ready for spring, and I’m no exception. Still I feel a creeping dread of one thing I dislike about spring—caring for the steep hillside that separates our deck and terrace from the flat lower part of the backyard.

It’s not that I don’t like yard work—I actually enjoy weeding and trimming the flat areas.  When I sit down with a glass of iced tea and admire the results, there’s an immediate gratification that’s hard to find elsewhere.

But the slope, well, that’s another story.

It is clear that the first and only other owners, Nellie and Roland Kappeler, had a vision for the hillside when they built the house in 1932. They lined the top edge of the hill with gorgeous tea roses that I struggled to nurture for a few years—it was like a full-time job—and then tried unsuccessfully to kill. Scraggly now, they still poke through the black plastic and remnants of gravel that were intended to allow pretty things to grow but keep weeds away.  (Doesn’t work anymore.)

The original hillside must have been a showplace, with colorful annuals complementing perennials and lush ground cover. Today it’s a muddle—some forsythia, a few yews, a sparse mix of pachysandra and myrtle, half a hillside of ferns and ample patches of dirt sprouting weeds. I teeter on the hill, looking and feeling like a Scottish goat, as I try to manicure the landscape.  Eventually I give up because I slip and fall or I’m afraid I’m going to.

Here’s the difference between me and the Kappelers (who probably had a full-time gardener anyway; there’s a buzzer in the dining room for the maid). When they planned the garden, they “planted” several dozen huge round boulders spaced evenly on both sides of the wide natural stone steps.  The idea, as landscaper Claire Schuchman points out in her article, page 44, is that when working on the hillside, you use the boulders as stepping stones that provide safe passage from one point on to another.  Unfortunately, 80-some years later, most of the boulders have slid to the bottom of the hill, where they’re stacked on top of each other forming a useless wall.  I can’t imagine how much it would cost to have my “rock garden” redone professionally—I couldn’t move one of those boulders an inch. So I guess I’ll have to learn to live with the situation until John, Will and Andrew, now 8, 7 and 5, grow into Paul Bunyans—huge, strong and very anxious to please their grandma!