Amid the trials

Some of our azaleas as photographed on Easter morning, April 2012

Some of our azaleas as photographed on Easter morning, April 2012

“How fair is a garden amid the trials and passions of existence.”Benjamin Disraeli

We’ve now owned our York home nearly ten years, longer than we have ever owned any property.  Among the many features of the home I’ve treasured, the azalea garden in our back yard is a favorite.  Countless times that little triangle of ground has brought me joy, consolation, or gratitude for its beauty.

Year in and year out, through good times and bad, it’s been there for us to plant, transplant, weed, prune, clean up, photograph, stroll around and generally enjoy.  Pasha is buried in the corner by the fence, surrounded by evergreen shrubs and flowers.

This photo was taken from our deck, but our bedroom windows also have a nice view of the garden.  There are camellias, dogwoods, rhododendron, peonies and other plants, but it’s unquestionably the azaleas that dominate in the spring and fall.  Their steadfast presence decorates our lives and feeds our spirits, and I’m so happy we have not had to move away and leave them.

What features of your own home or garden do you most enjoy?

One year ago today:

The fantastic show






  1. singleseatfighterpilot

    Ten years! Yes, I guess that’s about right. Carlyle and Sybil bought a 2004 vehicle in which they and Carla and George drove to see your new home.
    it is indeed elusive . . .

    • What’s so strange to me about time is that it flies by more quickly every year, yet when I stop to think about all that has happened in that past decade, 2004 feels almost like some alternate universe. We think of time as something that is neatly quantified, but I’m starting to think those measurements are misleading at best, maybe even somewhat illusory. Of course, I would naturally think that, since I’m the type who has difficulty with simple things such as getting someplace on time…

      • singleseatfighterpilot

        People who are always on time are illlusionists 🙂

  2. bobmielke

    It’s been a few years since I planted anything. In the past I had 1,000 square foot vegetable gardens painstakingly cared for by me. I love fresh vegetable right out of the garden. Such things as fresh tomatoes and green beans just taste so much better when you grow them yourself.

    Since moving to Oregon I’ve lived in apartments so I’m limited to flower pots and boxes. Even that has disappeared in the past few years. The struggles with finance and finding enough lived space have cramped my enthusiasm.

    • Yes, there are lots of prerequisites to having enough success with gardens to make all the work and expense worthwhile. Our York home has plenty of space for a garden, but the back yard and lot are far too shady (not to mention ruled by critters who gnaw away at most anything we would plant) and the HOA would never let us get by with a vegetable garden in the front yard. I have to content myself with planting flowers in front. Having said that, though, fresh veggies from the garden are beyond compare. If I had regular access to them, I might not even miss some of the less healthy things I end up eating now.

      • bobmielke

        You can really wake up the HOA by planting a huge dandelion garden in your front yard. They are edible too. LOL

        • Maybe I could even manage to tell them with a straight face that it’s a new trend in the high-end neighborhoods around DC. 🙂

  3. Susan

    I might have azaleas this spring again. They’re near the mailbox, so it’s always them versus the snowplows and road salt. I do have two tulips so far this year… But indoors, there are pots of flowers waiting to adorn my southeast deck. Kalanchoe, hibiscus, and others. I love growing fresh tomatoes, too. And my kumquats are ripe (they live indoors much of the year).

    • Wow, Susan, kumquats! I’m impressed; I don’t know anyone who grows them. I have a vague memory of my parents once having had such a plant, but maybe I’m just remembering them bringing some fresh ones home. I have a lovely Kalanchoe that my friend gave us several years ago; It’s grown a good bit and is green and lovely, but I can’t seem to get it to bloom; any hints? We tried growing fresh tomatoes in containers on our deck (at both homes), but the squirrels were relentless despite several attempts at blocking their access, and I finally gave up when a local gardening article said the only way you could hope to have any tomatoes to eat would be to leave out plates of food just for the squirrels, in hopes they would fill up and leave the tomatoes alone! That seemed a step too far, so I’m stuck with plum tomatoes from the supermarket. I hope your azaleas survive! I might try keeping hibiscus indoors. Someone told me there are varieties that survive the cold, but it’s hard to imagine one surviving this past winter…

  4. Bobby

    The azaleas are one of the things I miss most about Virginia (the children and grandchildren are the greatest thing). I have found a few azaleas that have survived our zone 5 winter. They are just beginning to bloom along with our dogwood tree. It remains to be seen if the crepe myrtle made it. But I do have a beautiful lilac blooming now. I think the ever changing scene is my favorite part of gardening. Hope you have a lovely day and get to spend a little time in a garden.

    • Bobby, I hope your crepe myrtle survives, too! During all our years out west (and FAR west, aka Hawaii) the crepe myrtles were second only to the azaleas as the plants I missed most. A lilac would be a great consolation, though. I’ve never had one, but love them. I do enjoy the seasonal changes, though I had not realized how much I missed them until our first autumn in Virginia. Hope you and Randall are doing well. Thanks for being here

  5. Sheila

    Good morning. I’m hoping that sunbeams are filling the hospital room this morning! That is such a lovely yard, especially that colorful corner. It must get more spectacular every year, certainly now with Pasha there. When our vintage cottage kitchen was redesigned seven years ago there was one stipulation. My chair at our “gathering island” and where I always start my day, had to be located where I could enjoy the view. So it is and here I am! 🙂

    • Wise stipulation, Sheila – I would have felt the same way. It’s no accident that my chair at our kitchen table in York is positioned directly across from the bay window 😀 while Jeff gets the view of the fridge and the door to the utility room. Our corner azalea garden did indeed get more spectacular each year for awhile, but a couple of years back it crossed the border between “spectacular” and “overgrown” – I need to get in there and do some SERIOUS pruning and I think we need to raise the canopy of the trees somewhat – our irises haven’t bloomed at all for the past two years and the peonies (which have never really thrived) are getting overtaken by the azaleas. Even the once impressive rhododendron is overshadowed by the now-enormous camellias; I had no idea they could get that big. I wish I knew how to propagate some of this stuff. I hate pruning because it seems so hard to cut beautifully healthy branches off and throw them away. Even though I know it’s needed.

  6. Here I miss nature and greenery very much. But home, where we are with our dear ones, is certainly heaven despite its plainness. And my favourite nook is a little room, an all purpose room where I spend most of my creative time.
    Your azaleas are gorgeous. And may Pasha rest in peace in those beautiful surroundings.

    • Those creative nooks are a balm to the soul, aren’t they? I have a little garret off a bedroom closet that I’ve claimed as my own space and though it’s unfinished and gets hot in summers or cold in winters, it’s one of my favorite parts of our home. I have a small bookcase in there and sometimes I just like to go in and browse through the books and daydream.

      Thanks for your compliments about the azaleas! It is a comfort to know Pasha is buried in such a lovely spot. He loved our York home so.

  7. Rene

    I’m sad to say that we are not much in the landscaping/gardening department, and I think our home must have been one of the last in the development to be built: we’ve had to do some digging over the years & have recently discovered hunks of concrete & roof tiles making the dirt that much harder to move. BUT, we do have a huge pepper tree in our front yard. It reminded me of the one that used to be outside my grandmother’s back porch & has provided a lot of shade during our three seasons of warm weather, allowing me to spend summer mornings enjoying coffee on my front porch. Unfortunately, it has also wreaked havoc with our sewer lines & is probably responsible for the cracks & uplifting of the concrete patio & front walkway, so it is coming down this year. It has a reprieve until fall, but I know I’ll probably cry when it happens.

    • Oh Rene, that will be so sad for you. Our landlady in CA had a huge willow tree in the back that the landscapers were always telling her to take down because it was going to ruin her foundation and sewer lines. I couldn’t bear the idea of having it gone, it was our only shade in back and kept our kitchen cool. She spared it while we were there, partly for us and partly because I think she liked it too. I imagine it is gone now.

      We have that same problem with digging into concrete in the flower bed around our mailbox. Very annoying! We are going to try to have it all dug out sometime this summer because we need to re-do the mailbox and the flower beds. One thing that I think would make gardening challenging in CA is the lack of water; do you have water rationing? We could only water on certain days. In Texas it was even worse.

      • Rene

        We don’t have water rationing yet; a couple of years ago, the governor declared the drought “over,” it has returned this year & we have had a very warm spring so far (100s this past week, following a rainstorm last weekend), so I wouldn’t be surprised if we did.

        • I’ll keep my fingers crossed and hope you don’t have to. If you get a few more rainstorms, maybe nature will take over.

  8. raynard

    Julia you find this hard to believe, but in my apartment”it’s my corner of the world. my computer table. Why? It’s the only place my wife”hasnt got stuff. My time over in Iraq taught me “you dont need alot of space to be comfortable. Much as I enjoy”my minvan” if my wife had her way ” it would be a”on the go uhaul van with “stuff always in it,” ( no I’m not having a Felix Unger from the Odd Couple moment lol be blessed

    • Raynard, Jeff could say the same things about me! Years ago I noticed that most department stores have about ten times as many clothes for women as men. Then they also have other departments women love (housewares, linens, cosmetics, jewelry, accessories, etc.) so that solved the mystery of why every home I’ve ever known of was 90% filled with stuff women brought home. If I wasn’t so afraid of wide loads on the highway I would love to have a huge RV or bus converted to a mobile home but soon it would be filled up with more stuff and the fuel bill would be more than I could live with! 😀 Hope you are having a nice weekend.

  9. Larry

    Those plants are beautiful. They are a picture to behold. Isn’t it amazing the colors God can paint with! Tell Matt that we hope he has a good night and you all get some rest as well.

    • Thank you Larry, maybe it won’t be too much longer until we are home sweet home. I do thank God for his unsurpassed artistry that’s freely available for all to enjoy. Nothing we do can compare. Thanks for being here with us.

  10. What an exquisite garden, Julia.

    I enjoy all the corners of our garden, and the way things change and grow with the seasons. I also smile at the places the cats find to sleep or rest.

    • How sweet, the thought of cats enjoying the garden. If we had a couple of kitties posted outside I bet they would keep the rabbits away from our liriope!

      • I’m sure they would. I just posted a couple of kitty photos in today’s blog.

        • I just saw them, they are so cute!

  11. Michael

    At the beach, there has been solid rain- over one inch in last 24 hours. The grass is still about a foot and a half high. The Lilacs- look amazing- a very pastel purple. Also the rhododendrons look great, especially the classic- Ruby Reds. On the west coast -some of these Rhododendrons look like trees and some are easily twenty feet high. They are one of the few flowers here that grow in very sandy soil.
    If you get a chance to read the UR blog today from Gina- Today is Sunday the 4th. It is by Gina- a young lady dealing with liver cancer- very inspiring.

    • All these comments about lilacs have me really wanting to grow some. I haven’t seen any neighbors who have them so I wonder whether we could get them to grow at either home. Wow, I thought our rhododendron grew fast, but it’s 4.5 feet at most. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any 20 feet high but our camellias may get there. Thanks for the tip about the UR essay – I’ll try to get over there tonight.

  12. Julia, beautiful corner of your yard. I would enjoy it too. 🙂 We have crepe myrtle trees in our yard and along our street. We have some azaleas but they don’t grow as well here. My irses are lovely.
    Hope Matt is having a restful evening.

    • Hi Merry, I just love irises. There is a lady in the historic district of Yorktown who has tons of them and she offered to divide them and give me some, but the ones we already have quit blooming, so I hate to try more of them. I have photos of some of hers, maybe I will post them here sometime. Matt is doing well tonight. I just had him walking around the halls and he seemed fine and didn’t get tired. They took out one chest tube today; maybe the other one can come out tomorrow – if so we might be able to go home Tuesday. We’ll keep you posted.

      • So glad to hear Matt is walking around the halls. Keeping you both in prayer.

        • Thank you, Merry! Maybe we will be home SOON! 🙂

  13. Michael

    I am glad you caught Gina’s blog. I thought it was a great one. The line also stuck with me said by her friend, “She walks on prayer.” What a great testimony- would that our friends might say that of us.
    There was a blip somewhere about the Callaway gardens close to Pine Mountain – Georgia-70 miles south of Atlanta off of 85.Been there? Originally created to preserve area Azaleas?

    • Michael, I thought that was a great line too. Oh, my, Callaway Gardens — I mentioned that lovely place in this post — it’s a must-see during springtime. I have some old photos taken there during my childhood that probably will show up here sooner or later. Be sure to go there sometime during peak azalea blooming season.

  14. Michael

    Last week visiting my aunt in Oregon and walking around their lovely neighborhood- Eastmoreland, I was intrigued that a number of people are planting blueberry bushes in their flower beds. The plants looked quite pretty. This is kind of trend and also there is a book out called,” Edible landscaping” . Maybe your HOA would allow that. I think my son has one too. There is also a variety of blueberry that keeps its leaves all year -“Sunshine Blue”-. My son in Atlanta is trying to get some raspberries going in his back yard. Here it has been so cool that the garden looks about the same as it did about a month ago -except for the snow peas which are growing well. Great year for Azaleas and their big cousins the Rhodies.

    • A few years ago when Jeff and I were clearing our wooded lot, we got rid of a lot of fallen trees and had some stumps ground. There was a clearing that got a bit of sun so I got a blueberry bush to plant there and it did beautifully — I was so excited — until the deer got excited about it too. It was too tall to have been eaten up by anything else, I think. Maybe we should try putting on in the front, especially if it keeps its leaves all year. The landscaper wanted to put an arborvitae on the corner but Jeff and I see those everywhere and we were wanting something different. Since she advised not to do any major shrub planting until fall we have some time to decide. I might look into getting a blueberry in front, thanks for the suggestion. Presumably the deer could not get past the fences easily, although the ones here in northern Virginia are totally unafraid of people and can be downright assertive. I’m glad you are having great azaleas! The ones we have in in northern Virginia are just starting to open up into full bloom, but we missed most of the peak bloom times in York during the past couple of weeks. However some of those are “bloom agains” so we will see them in the fall, but much more sparsely. Our rhododendron didn’t do much last year – I’m not sure why; maybe this year will be better.

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