Thursday, July 31, 2008

This is a Love Story

It is about a couple who love each other, and about a woman who loves her garden. If you are the sort of person who would opt for “Dark Knight” over “Mama Mia!” and you do not want to read a love story, keep reading, there’s guy stuff at the end.

Both loves began in England, where Rich Waugh, raised in Aiken, was studying for a graduate degree at the University of Leeds, a city in West Yorkshire, about 200 miles northwest of London, where Jan had lived all her life.

Jan and Rich married, moved several times and eventually settled for good with their two children in Aiken. Jan later became co-owner of a restaurant, Number 10 Downing Street that also did outside catering. The restaurant kept her busier than she’d ever imagined and all the while Rich was on the road, traveling around the world, often gone for a week at a time. They didn’t get to spend much time together.

Then, in 2004, Jan and her partner sold the restaurant, Rich retired, and their life suddenly took on a new dimension. You would see them around town together – at lunch, shopping, about the two happiest people you can imagine.

The garden around their Westcliff home had always been well kept, as were the grounds of Number 10, both made sure of that. But there had been no time to do much extra. Suddenly, like many of Aiken’s retirees, they had the time and the energy to put into their garden.

All gardeners get their passion for gardening from some place or some person. What about Jan? “I think it was the English blood in my case,” she says. “I realize not all Englishmen are gardeners but all the people I knew were. When visiting a relative or friend's house, even as a child, it was expected that at some point you would tour the garden, however small, and comment appropriately. Family outings were taken to stately homes, and gardens. School trips were to Roman ruins and gardens. You learn the names of flowers along with nursery rhymes and the alphabet. We had "I-Spy" books in which you identified birds, trees, flowers and noted the date and place where they were seen. It was ingrained!”

The Waughs’ front lawn is neatly landscaped with hydrangeas and other shrubs, but, as is often the case, it’s in back where the love shows. “If we couldn’t live near the water, we brought the water to us,” Jan told me once. Birdbaths and trickling fountains abound, surrounded by seasonal flowers, black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, and interesting grasses.

A recent remodeling project added a balcony off the bedroom, overlooking the secluded backyard (or back garden – Jan would never call it a “yard”), where the couple can watch the sunset and the bird feeder where, they’ve observed, the birds come in shifts all day.

The remodeling project yielded an unexpected bonus. Underneath the bedroom, with a door to the garage, is a neatly appointed room with a shiny concrete floor and gray pegboard walls, tidily stacked pots, a sink, and a place for the lawn mower. It’s the perfect place for a gardener to spend a cold winter afternoon or a hot summer morning - the potting shed, or as only they could imagine – The Posh.

Here’s the manly part. One of the lessons we Americans could well learn for most of the rest of the world is the business of recycling. I don’t mean just putting newspapers and aluminum cans in a bin and setting it out by the curb, but serious attention to reusing kitchen and yard waste, as well as capturing rainwater. It’s a win-win deal.

Composting is a given in England, and for years Jan and Rich have used the large plastic bin, meant for that purpose, to recycle everything from coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable waste, eggshells, to grass clippings and some (not all) of the pine needles from their lawn. Just one look at the rich, black soil that comes out of the bottom of the bin is enough to send you googling for one of your own. I haven’t seen any available locally.

Birdbaths and fountains aren’t the only place in the garden to find water. The Waughs came up with their own rain barrel (called a “water butt” in England) using a plastic garbage can, but that split when it got too full. Rich found at Walmart a rain barrel, made by Fiskars, the scissor people, with a spout at the bottom and holes in the top for the water to get in. You can set it up under a gutter downspout or purchase a diverter that you attach to the downspout. Rich added a bigger hole in the top with a screen on it as well. The 56 gallon container was overflowing after last week’s rain. It may save only a few pennies, but, more important, the rainwater contains fewer chemicals than our treated water. That’s a plus for plants.

What other part does Rich play in this Aiken-English garden – besides the mowing, rain barrel installation and other heavy lifting? “Whatever I’m told,” he answers.

Now that’s love.

I thought Juliet was supposed to stand on the balcony.