At Home in New Hampshire > Putting Down Roots

We’ve lived in our “starter” house for thirty years. In 1978, after three years of marriage, we’d saved enough for a down payment on the cheapest house we could find that had some acreage, indoor plumbing and a peach tree. The peach tree sealed the deal.

Rule of thumb back then: Your monthly mortgage shouldn’t be more than one week’s pay. The 1920s Cape cost $32,000. The rooms were small, doorways narrow, clearances low. A house built for gnomes. This was okay with me; I’m short. But it wasn’t so good for my six-foot-two husband, who broke a kitchen light with his head the first week. The house sat close to a busy road, which we hated, but was backed by woods, which we liked.

In those early days, we heated with wood cut from our own land, replaced the rotten sills, painted the clapboards red and tried to ignore the odor from the antiquated septic system. We always intended to trade up—something bigger, a little older (but well-maintained) on a back road, with more land and established gardens. That was my dream, to inherit the perennials of generations of Yankee gardeners, complete with daffodils, herbs, fruit trees, an asparagus patch and rhubarb. Our house had no gardens. Nothing but the peach tree and a quarter acre of lawn, where grass and dandelions fought for ascendancy.

That first summer, we dug turf to plant vegetables. Rhubarb from Aunt Harriet took hold in the corner. My parents gave us shoots from their lilacs. Every New Hampshire home needs lilacs—it’s our state flower. And in olden times, I’m told, lilac by the front door meant welcome.

The second summer, when I was enormously pregnant, I directed my husband from a hammock as he placed stones to create a raised bed for day lilies from his father. Later, we hired my brother, a teenager and cheap labor, to dig holes for five apple trees.

When I gave my friend Sue a tour of the yard—showing off the herbs, vegetables, raspberry patch, strawberry bed, holly, bittersweet, myrtle and various flower gardens from impatiens to bleeding hearts, including wild roses along the stone wall—she said: “Eventually, it’ll be one big garden and no lawn at all.”

With thirty years invested in this plot, we still mow—but not much. My dream of an old house on a quiet road, reaping the benefits of generations of Yankee gardeners has faded. My husband just retired, and it looks like he and I will be spending another thirty years right here (if we’re lucky).

And when we’re done with this place, and it’s one big garden just as Sue predicted, someone will inherit the fruits of our labors. I hope she appreciates them.