The Garden at the Spearmint Chalet is nearly complete after nearly 3 months of anticipation (and several years of savings). First, mad props to Shawn Walls, proprietor of Garden Mason. If this post comes off as braggadocios — it should. Shawn is exceptionally talented in his craft and I feel fortunate that our paths crossed when they did.
In The Beginning, There Was The Garden…
The project began with a 2 hour in-person consultation. We provided general information about our goals — to grow herbs and vegetables, to create a livable space, and to withstand the demands of the Demon Dogs. Within a couple of days, he hand-crafted the sketch on the left. We gave him complete artistic freedom on this project so every idea is his own, except for His Holiness, The Shower, which was a childhood dream of mine to have in my backyard.
Sometimes the scale of a project lies in its depth. My goal in building this garden was to conjure a sense of history by employing some of my oldest inspirations—childhood treasure maps and National Forest Service paths—and newer ones like Dan Snow and the book PrairyErth. These photographs were taken before the new wood was stained. Special thanks to Lee Mitchell for his masterful carpentry as always, and immense thanks to Clarke Titus for his help in conjuring up the spiritus loci.
The following virtual tour is a combination of the original contract language he drafted (I’m not kidding) as well as before and after photos he took throughout the project.
Welcome to The Garden
Entering the Kitchen Garden, I was bathed in the fragrance of a rose climbing on the arching arbor. As I passed between the arching arbor’s twin planters, I noticed that clematis was growing with the rose. Then I saw the vegetables, herbs, lavenders and rosemaries. They were mixed with irises and crocuses. One long bed had asparagus mixed with drumstick alliums. No one was looking, so I tore a spear of asparagus oﬀ and ate it.
What I Saw Upon Entering The Garden
At the other end of the alley, growing over a matching, though slightly deeper, arbor was one other rose with more clematis. As I opened the gate, I noticed that I was unable to pass straight into the Grand Dining Patio because of a low baﬄe with grape on it, and it was over this that someone handed me a beer.
The Garden Path Less Travelled
I could go to the left and walk down a ramp beside a hedge of blueberries, or I could walk to a stone landing at the foot of the wooden stairs. I oﬀered what I’d brought with me to someone going up the stairs to the drinks table on the Observation Deck. From the landing, I walked down the broad stone steps, with pineapple guava on my right and Emerald arborvitae on the left, all the while focused on ‘Mt. Airy’ fothergilla emerging from the patio.
Pausing For Tea on the Grand Dining Patio
I turned to the Grand Dining Patio. Where the table almost met the grape baﬄe, I noticed creeping phlox spilling over a thin retaining wall. On the opposite side of the table was deciduous azalea, whose curving trunks provided a delicate juxtaposition to the heaviness of the dry-stacked wall. From the cove of the two tables, someone took my empty bottle and handed me a glass of some exquisite South American wine.
A Jaunt Down the Hidden Foot Trail
I turned around and noticed a footpath leading round the other side of the deck. As I walked to it, I saw—espaliered against the new latticework beneath the deck — Snowﬂake oakleaf hydrangeas. They were protected from hyperactive canine mutilation by a low wire fence. There were also grapes planted to cover the pergola, but I couldn’t pull my eyes away from a mixture or hydrangeas. There must have been 15 of them, and then carried around His Holiness, the Shower, from which I had to avert my eyes. Someone was just dressing in a white towel while singing a NuShooz song. I acted nonchalant and drank way too fast what I should have savored.
Descending into the Communal Fire-Pit
I went back the towards Grand Dining Patio, looking over the dry-stacked wall, where, down hill I saw camellias. The entrance to the Communal Fire-Pit Patio again oﬀered a choice of left or right. Before I could choose, I was handed a mixed drink, which tasted a bit oﬀ, but maybe it was because it had been preceded by something less vulgar. Whoever handed it to me slapped my back once in good gesture, and I descended the right stairs unwillingly drawn by the Elephant in the room. I pulled my eyes from it, and tried to make out the garden around the Lower Patio. I saw tea olives. There were more plants, but I ﬁrst took a seat on the curving bench that faced the semi-circular steps and placed my cocktail beside me. I noticed that the planting beds had all been tilled, amended, and mulched.
Under The Glowing Spell of the Communal Fire-Pit
The glow from the Fire Ring was making it harder to diﬀerentiate textures in the crepuscular woods, so all that I could reckon were perennials. At least, I think it was the play of light on the leaves. I started feeling oﬀ. Someone else’s ﬁngers touched mine. He apologized and said, “Oops, I think I got yours by accident,” handing me the tumbler. I took a sip and looked around some more. I saw edgeworthia and more deciduous azaleas. The dancing ﬁre was making me lightheaded. I stood up to test my balance, and then I noticed I had to pee. I decided to sneak down the mulch path, but I tripped on someone’s ankle and fell amongst deciduous hollies.
What’s wrong with me? I thought, trying not to roll down towards the existing magnolia. Farther down the path, I strayed and slipped. I stood and slipped again and again, grabbing hold of mixed shrubs and wondering what that horrible smell was. Oh, god, I thought, I’m in the mine ﬁelds!
Somehow, I found my way into the neighbor’s property and simply grabbed onto the fence for a few minutes. The world was rocking left and right and my tongue was swollen. Somewhere along the ﬁeld-stone, Cherokee, or recycled-concrete way, I had been slipped a mickey. And I was about to pass out.
But I had to pee still, and I was bound and determined that I wasn’t going to do that lying down. After secluding myself from all eyes, I ﬁnally let loose. And relieving myself while I gradually became diagonal, that night’s ﬁnal thought crossed my mind:
What—? Is that asparag—
The next day, I awoke. My head was shaven, my boots were gone, and someone had painted my toe nails. And there was a note. It said, “The next time someone invites you to a garden party, pay as much attention to the people as you do the plants.”