Front door fuscia

My Front Yard Garden

About three years ago we lost an old friend in our front yard -- an oak tree that Glenn had grown from an acorn he picked up beneath a beautiful coastal oak in 1970 on land near Soledad that he was clearing for a vineyard. He regretted the necessity of cutting down the tree so he harvested the acorns beneath it for planting elsewhere. Not all oaks are alike, even those of the same species, and he recognized this one as special. For years he has propagated oak trees from acorns, so it was not unusual for us to have rows of gallon pots of trees in various stages of growth on our patio. These were usually given to special friends as gifts or planted in parks. This one particular acorn sprouted and soon outgrew its small pot, and over the ensuing years it was moved to ever larger and larger pots, then into a wine half-barrel, then into a home-made plywood box, until at last, having moved from Salinas to San Luis Obispo and back again, requiring a U-Haul trailer to transport it that last time, we knew it needed to go into the ground.

So our son helped to plant it in the center of our front yard. Now that it had room for spreding its roots, it soared above our rooftop and became a landmark tree for visitors to our house. When it succumbed to a disease caused by an insect infestation one friend drove up and down our street in dismay, unable to find our house without the tree. We found out how sensitive people are about the removal of trees; we were the object of anger from some who accused us of murdering that tree on purpose. Nothing could be further from the truth. I cried as I stood on the sidelines watching as the arborists cut it down and ground up the roots.

2005 Painting of The Oak Tree
Here is the story of the unexpected benefit of the removal of that tree. The yard now has full sun, making it an ideal garden spot; I planted a flower garden where the tree once stood and, without intending to, I created my own version of Neighborhood Watch.

Our neighborhood abounds with walkers -- parents with children in strollers, students going to and from school, some with parents and others unaccompanied, walkers with dogs, walkers with canes, walkers with wheeled walkers pushed in front of them. One walker leads a dog with paralyzed hind legs that rest on a wheeled contraption attached to its body, so delighted to be out on its daily walk that it lifs the spirits of all of us.

When I work in my garden I usually have my dogs on their leashes attached to the treadmill in the garage. Their leashes are just long enough for them to commune in the sunshine on the driveway and to keep an eye on me, but short enough so they can't reach any of the community walking by.

On a typical gardening day the following stop to chat: a woman with a rescued mixed breed, part border collie (we exchange dog-grooming advice); a couple that lives in a condominium with a small patio covered with flower and vegetable pots (I give them bulbs of iris that they admire); a woman who tells me about a shrub she calls "yesterday today and tomorrow" brought to her mind by one of my plants (it has outgrown the spot where it is planted and I dread the day when it is gone and the woman is hurt); a tired grandmother, caregiver to two small toddlers, smoothing out the lines in her face as we chat about Shasta daisies and the responsibilities of the elderly to the active, adorable offspring of their offspring.

Not only do I give bulbs and cuttings to people -- iris, watsonia, alstromeria, and gladioli, but I am also the dispenser, and recipient, of information. My front-yard garden has become the clearing house of news about break-ins, vandalism, door-to-door scammers, and graffiti artists in the neighborhood.

The dogs and I have come to recognize the look and sound of a cruising vehicle as it cases the neighborhood for likely targets -- houses of working couples who are gone all day. I instinctively know that the car's occupants are not admiring the poppies and smelling the freesia. I look up from my weeding, make eye contact, and touch the cell phone at my hip. The yellow lab, sensing my feelings, stands up on stiff legs, nape bristling, while the small brown no-breed dog yips shrilly at the car that speeds away to turn at the next corner. It doesn't return.

What a way to make a living, I say to myself. Some of us spend our lives making an honest living. We learn a trade, a craft, become field laborers, agriculturlists, CPAs, teachers, doctors and nurses. We sell groceries, ring up groceries and bag groceries. We fill prescriptions and dispense coffee. We become inventors, scientists, journalists, composers, and muscians. Some of us even become honest politicians. We paint houses and canvasses. We do stand-up to make the world laugh. We become the directors of blockbusters. We film documentaries. We start charities for those who have fallen or hard times. We build bridges, design buildings, and write books. We see a need and try to fill it while satisfying something within us that craves honest, stimulating occupation.

Others use their talents to steal. Not just the creeps who drive by my house looking for an easy target, but the chameleons in the guise of investment counselors, developers and public officials who take our hard-earned belongings without providing a single, solitary commendable service in return.

Then there is the elephant in the neighborhood. The street I live on is populated mostly by retired people. This is not to say those over 65 are immune to the drug habit, but it is not as likely as it would be if we were all of the Boomer generation and younger. Our addictions are nicotine and alcohol, and possibly pain meds. The drug dealers have touched my neighborhood, most certainly, but not as visibly as in other less-affluent neighborhoods, but they are here. Their influence is here. I can go on Google Earth to see the distribution of elementary and secondary schools within walking distance of my neighborhood. Hartnell Community College is nearby. These are the producers and environs of potential customers of the drug dealers.