Alright, I said to Willie, the silver-maned terrier, you’ve been stuffed in the car and hauled around to work sites too many days this week. This morning, how ‘bout we walk wherever you want and you set the pace?

He bit the dangled leash and gave it a shake.

Our parameters agreed on, we set off down the walk and through the front gate.

He trotted for a while until he realized he had some serious catching up to do on neighborhood dog news. He dallied near junipers reading every canine note posted in the last month. Particular clumps of newly greening grass required a nosey inspection of each blade. Between message boards he followed the zagging com trails of recent passers by.

In the stop and stroll, I noticed a swaying feeling. Down certain stretches of sidewalk I sensed vague unease, and my mind gnawed on the list of client gardens still awaiting spring cleaning. Other stretches of walk relaxed me, and I listened to bird song or took in the long view to the mountains. Relatively sure there were no mountain lions stalking the neighborhood, I paid closer attention.

The discovery was almost embarrassing. Where turf had been sliced from the edges of the walk, I breathed easy. Where turf spilled onto cement my diaphragm gripped .

Good heavens, why?

Most any friend will tell you: I’m certainly not a neat freak. Even so, I admit to a thing about edges. I like them clean and well defined, especially in the garden.

Maybe it’s a throw-back to my first real perennial garden in Northern Minnesota thirty years ago. It was off to the side of the drive from the barely graveled road to the barely finished house. It was surrounded by grassy meadow, the remains of a farm reverting to forest via Juneberries and alder. I battled horsetail and boot sucking clay. Beyond improving soil, most of my effort went into fending off encroachment. My husband put a short post and wire fence around the garden, like parenthesis around words in a sentence, just so I could find it.

Or, maybe my compelling need for edges has something to do with things learned in graduate school: The human need to differentiate, the difficulties in identity and relationships that result from poor or violated boundaries, the confidence engendered by clear ones.

I once had a friend in Seattle who was so open and direct when stating her desires and parameters, there was never any need to worry or guess. Her friends and family could rest and trust.

Rest and trust are two things I want to do in the garden.

So I set to.


I edged the walks from front gate to front porch and from back porch to shed. Walk could be itself and garden seemed all the happier for it.

Caught up in the swell of liberation I weeded the beds and raked the lawns. I freed The horizontal plane at the base of the garden, the boundary between earth and sky, from fallen twigs wind borne progeny. Standing back to observe, I found the results almost too subtle to see, and yet the space felt better, like the day you wake up and realize the cold you’ve been suffering is over, your body no longer occupied by foreign invaders.

And then there sprang up a fence. I commissioned it from a friend. He salvaged recycled panels of discarded cedar privacy screens and ran it from the shed to the neighbor’s fence in the back corner of the yard. It marks a boundary between garden and utility area. Within its enclosure, there lies a space in which to corral all the stuff that can stay outside and yet no matter how well organized it is will never look delightful, never really be part of the garden

cedar fence

When I look at the fence across the back yard, I feel calm and delighted. My eye accepts the invitation to rest when it reaches the weathered boards. Their dark, flat plane lets me see more clearly the lawn, the apple tree, and the room sized cotoneaster before it. When I step through the gate, entering the practical area, I feel accomplished and businesslike. I survey the empty pots, crates, carts and barrows. This I can manage. The messy kid gets her own room.