A Green Marriage

Wedding kiss, 1985

Wonder Spouse and I celebrated 35 years of marriage this week. As you can see in the photo taken by my brother that day, we have never been fancy folks. I wore a dress I considered to be too nice for work, and he didn’t even put on a tie. It was the marriage that mattered to us, not the outer trappings.

The ceremony was on the front lawn of the first house we bought together — a little starter home in a new neighborhood. The attraction was the lot size — almost an acre. As is typical of new home construction here, all topsoil was removed. Red clay subsoil was compressed into near impermeability. But that did not deter our young selves as we eagerly began transforming the yard. 

We both always grew vegetable gardens, so Wonder Spouse set to work digging out the clay in the area we set aside for food-growing. I don’t know how many different kinds and quantities of soil amendments we added, but it was enough for me to be able to grow food by the next year. We only stayed in this house until early 1989. Here is what the vegetable garden looked like in 1988.


That’s me in the background, down in the dirt doing something — a frequent situation for me, I confess.

We both wanted more land. In 1989, we found a house, then out in the country, on five acres. The house was fine — it wasn’t our focus. Even in January when we first set eyes on it, the land looked like heaven to me. I knew enough about the ecology of my region to see that the property possessed a diverse area of microenvironments just waiting to be exploited. I recognized the active floodplain and mature ash forest growing on it. The creek that bordered one side of the property was another big draw for us, and the soil — which I sampled on our first visit — was sandy loam. All I had to do to sell Wonder Spouse on this site was utter one sentence: “On this land, we can grow potatoes.” And so we have.

The previous owner of the property maintained it as if it were a public park. He eradicated all understory trees except a few mature native dogwoods but retained the magnificent canopy trees, including enormous river birches, tulip poplars, sweet gums, red maples, red cedars, several oak species, and loblolly pines. Beneath the trees grew only grass. His use of herbicides must have been extensive, judging by how quickly native plants returned after we moved in on April 1, 1989. Yes, we were fools in love with this property. Here’s what the floodplain looked like from the back deck during one of our winter visits before we moved in.

The creek bordering the property is on the left. Only canopy trees inhabited the floodplain in winter 1989.

And here is a similar view taken in December of 2018. Frequent floods have cut channels across what was a nearly always dry floodplain in the early years.

That’s the same large black oak in the left foreground. You can see how the creek has changed, and even in winter, you can see the increase in vegetation.

By the summer of 1990, we were hard at work creating a vegetable garden, and I was adding as many native understory trees and shrubs as our budget could afford. My mother-in-law visited that summer and took this photo of us.

I have always grown flowers in the vegetable garden, which is what you see behind us.

In those early years, we only needed a single-wire electric fence powered by a solar battery to protect the garden. As suburbs overran our once-rural area, displacing wildlife, we surrounded the vegetable garden with a sturdy deer fence.

The front of the house was obscured by a hodgepodge of mostly non-native trees and shrubs when we first moved in.

Massive red cedars prevented all sunlight from reaching the front door. Mixed in with the magnolias and other trees is a 15-foot tall thicket of forsythia.

I don’t have an exact shot of this perspective that is more recent, but this one of the front pollinator garden is close. In the intervening years, Wonder Spouse changed the driveway, and we removed all the vegetation you see up front except for the magnolia on the far left, and had a Wonder Spouse-designed system of decks and walkways erected at the front entrance. A few years ago, we installed a pollinator garden that continues to flourish.

Front garden, July, 2018

There are probably a few keys to the success of our partnership. We were always two like-minded souls, who were fast friends long before our relationship deepened. But it is our Green World collaboration, I suspect, that keeps us flourishing, as we continue to grow and laugh together.

Taken last month by a dear friend at her home. Yes, that’s COVID hair; we haven’t had hair cuts since late March.

Happy Anniversary, Wonder Spouse.

  1. #1 by Diane Stallings on October 9, 2020 - 11:16 am

    I loved seeing the different ways your land has evolved into what it is today! A lot of work, I’m sure!
    Happy 35th anniversary and many more wonderful years together!

    • #2 by piedmontgardener on October 9, 2020 - 11:32 am

      Thank you, Diane! We enjoy looking at the old photos too. It reminds us of how far we’ve come, and makes our perpetual to-do list less intimidating.

  2. #3 by Barbara Driscoll on October 9, 2020 - 11:21 am

    Lovely story and what a great couple.

  3. #5 by Sharyn Caudell on October 9, 2020 - 11:50 am

    What a wonderful story and a beautiful color. May you have 35 more years together!!

  4. #7 by peggy gerba on October 9, 2020 - 12:42 pm

    I love this story with wonderful pictures. Happy anniversary wonder brother and wonder sister-in-law. My favorite picture of you is the one mom took with you and the pitchfork. Happy anniversary 💕❤️💕❤️

  5. #9 by Cathy Peterson on October 9, 2020 - 1:02 pm

    Loved this Cathy. Happy Anniversary to an amazing couple!🌱

    Sent from my iPhone


  6. #11 by Mary York on October 9, 2020 - 3:28 pm

    Happy Anniversary & here’s to many more ‘green ones.’
    Live Free …

  7. #13 by Caroline Thorsen on October 10, 2020 - 6:53 am

    You have both been blessed. Wishing you many more years

  8. #15 by Julie Higgie on October 10, 2020 - 3:42 pm

    Very sweet and informative article! Love the pictures. Happy Anniversary! You are both so blessed. And talented!

  9. #17 by Donna Deal on October 11, 2020 - 5:02 pm

    What a beautiful tribute to your love, your long marriage, and your gardens! Heartwarming.
    Much love to you both, Donna

    • #18 by piedmontgardener on October 11, 2020 - 6:10 pm

      Thank you, Donna dear! When the COVID craziness finally abates, we must meet and catch up.

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