Back to the front porch. I love front porches, and in many ways the front porch at our home in Madison was my favorite feature in that house. We ate meals there, entertained there, napped, read, and I plugged in my laptop and wrote many blog posts there. The porch was spacious and had just enough privacy so people walking by often didn't notice we were there. Many of the homes in our "new urbanism" neighborhood have gracious front porches, but not many residents seemed to use and enjoy that space as we did.
The home in St Paul where we raised our children all those years ago was built in 1906 and was also in a neighborhood where most of the homes had wide front porches. In those homes porches became additional living space for both private and public gatherings. In the more formal 19th century and early years of the 20th century, a front porch "served as a kind of holding station when unannounced visitors came to call." (Porch Presence, Interior Design for the Exterior Room by Sally Fennell Robbins, p. 17) At that time in our history front porches also represented a break from the constraints of the Victorian era with its dark, dimly lit rooms. (p.17)
Living there, we learned front porch etiquette. If someone walking by greeted you, you, of course, greeted them, too. If you remained in your comfortable wicker chair with your book on your lap, the stroller continued passing by, but if you rose from your seat and leaned over the railing and stood by the steps, that was a sign you were ready to engage in more conversation, and might even extend an invitation to join you on the porch. It was all very genteel!
This house does not have a front porch, and I miss it. It does have a front stoop and when I was able to move around a bit more as my ankle was healing and when the weather became warmer, I moved a chair on the stoop and sat and read and watched the neighborhood. That was not a permanent or even very satisfactory solution to the porch issue, for when not in use, the chair needed to be folded and set aside to make the front door accessible. However, that became Step One in the evolution of a garden.
Step Two: The front yard does have a lovely tree, providing shade and a setting for a couple chairs and a small table. Voila! Outdoor living space. I did sit there on occasion, but frankly, I felt a bit too exposed for my introverted nature.
Step Three: On my walks in the neighborhood I found myself coveting other people's front porches, wondering if I could rent space occasionally. I would bring the lemonade, and they wouldn't have to entertain me. They would hardly know I was there as I sat quietly and read my book. And then inspiration struck in the form of an inviting side courtyard. I started noticing other examples in the neighborhood where a side yard had become an inviting and yet private space. Could we do that? We had a narrow side yard lined on the neighbor's side with arborvitae and at the back was our fence and a gate to the back yard. With the house as the third side, we had three "walls" already in place, and it was just big enough for a couple chairs and a small table.
Step Four: What would the master gardener in our house, my husband Bruce, think of this idea? I cunningly mentioned the house a block away that had so creatively used its side yard, making it a real feature of the house. After steering him past the house on one of our walks, he, too, became enthusiastic about doing something similar for our house. Off we went on field trips to various nurseries looking at structures to create an entrance to this garden. Most of the arbors we saw were too big or too flimsy or too expensive or just not right, but then one gorgeous Saturday we went on a day trip down the Great River Road on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi.
At one time we owned a one-room schoolhouse built in the 1860's in that area. It was our getaway, until we moved to Ohio in the 1990's and sold it, but we have never quite let go of an attachment to that area. After lunch at a favorite spot, Harbor View Cafe http://www.harborviewpepin.com in Pepin, we stopped at another favorite place, Stockholm Gardens http://www.stockholmgardens.com. While Bruce was getting reacquainted with the owner, I found a place to sit and rest my slightly throbbing ankle. And what did I see? The perfect arbor. Wrought iron painted a vintage green with lots of natural patina. Not too many curlicues, a rising arch, and just the right size. The price was even right. When I could get Bruce's attention, he agreed. This was it!!!
Step 5: Here's where Bruce's fun really began, for moving in the chairs and setting up the arbor at just the right spot only set the stage for digging up a small space leading to the arbor and planting with daisies and other perennials. And then there is all the space close to the house and making that even more pleasing with additional plantings and then moving two planters and a fountain and other garden "junk," as he calls the ornaments he enjoys collecting. I remembered a lantern in the basement I thought would be a nice welcoming touch for the arbor, and Bruce thought a mirror hanging on the gate would make the space seem larger. We just happened to have a vintage mirror gathering dust under a bed. All of a sudden our 1920's bungalow has an additional room, our St Paul version of a Cotswold garden. This is a space that balances privacy, but also opens us to interaction with our neighbors. I am delighted.
Steps 6, 7, 8……This cottage side garden will continue to evolve. I am not sure the chairs and table are the right ones, and isn't it too bad that I sold the ceramic garden seats/tables we had on our deck in Madison? Bruce talks about window boxes on the side windows and, of course, more plants and flowers will be added, and then there is the issue of a "floor."
In the meantime, this space is a symbol of creative collaboration, where yearning and inspiration cooperated to create something new, something vibrant and pleasing. True, it is not a front porch, but instead of being stuck in what was, we decided to move to the Cotswolds, and who knows what the time spent there will open for us.
When has a yearning fed by inspiration led to something new in your life? With whom do you have a creative collaboration and how does that work? When you are inspired, how does that happen, and what is the springboard of inspiration for you? I would love to know.
Stay tuned for additional posts about gardening--gardening as spiritual practice and gardens as sacred space.