A reclamation project of sorts, our backyard garden is what makes the little white house my wife and I rent in Lincoln, Nebraska a home. Before coming here for graduate school five years ago, we’d lived in a one-bedroom tenement apartment that looked out over a busy intersection in Boston. Now we look out at heirloom tomatoes, stargazer lilies, sunflowers and zinnias.
Nebraska was a place neither of us had ever been before, a place we could discover together and make our own.
Our first full summer here, chatting over the fence with a neighbor, we learned that the house’s former owner had been a botanist, and that the entire backyard and the empty lot next door had all been garden. We soon discovered remnants of his work everywhere. In the chain-link fence grew the nub of a grapevine. Tulips and rhubarb and asparagus sprouted in stray patches in the grass. We cleaned up what could be cleaned up, restored what could be restored, and did our best to learn the lessons the botanist had written on the land.
Some of the lessons were easy—grow strawberries by the garage and you can eat a handful on your way to the car. Other were more subtle and mysterious. From the neighbor who’d told us about the garden, we learned that the botanist and his wife had had three daughters, two of whom were twins with special needs (autistic). In the backyard the twins had planted two trees: a crabapple and an apple, planting them so close together that over time their trunks had fused. The crabapple is big and bushy, branches like the sprung open ribs of an umbrella. The apple is long and slender, its limbs rising vertically to catch what sun they can. Our neighbor had to point it out—two sets of blossoms, one white and one pink—before my wife and I even noticed. Now it’s something we look for each spring, this dual blossoming, and the quiet reminder that this place we call home had a life of its own long before our tenure here began.