When we moved into our 1860s farmhouse on the edge of Utica, Indiana more than 40 years ago it included all the attributes realtors never talk about; a leaky tin roof; no insulation; drafty windows; outdated wiring; inadequate plumbing –all of that surrounded by six acres of weeds, locust seedlings, messy mulberry trees and honeysuckle vines run wild.
We instantly loved it. It was country. It was home. It had a welcoming presence. It was all we could afford.
As I too often like to say, we are now in the 40th year of our five-year remodeling plan. It’s still not done. It will never be done. I have less trouble dealing with that than Janet Hill – my life’s perfect partner for 53 years.
I’m not sure many people bond with their houses any more. They probably don’t creak in the night as will ours; always without warning; some beam or cross-timber in the attic feeling its age. My attic has pretty much begun doing the same thing.
We have heard a lot of stories about our house over the years; a place of refuge during the 1937 flood; the bootleg beer and booze sold out of the back summer kitchen door during prohibition; the dances held on its wide front porch, the band in one corner.
We live on the old “Lentz place” – once an 100-acre farm. Old timers pointed out the site of the long-gone barn, the smoke house, the chicken house, the two-hole “biffy” out back that was about equal to the plumbing we got when we moved in.
A couple years ago two women – sisters – who were born in our house came out to talk about its history, their lives in it. My office is in the bedroom in which they were born. You don’t hear stories like that about houses in newer subdivisions with names like Lincoln Springs and Meadow View – most of them without a hint of free-flowing water, a sun flower, or a blade of alfalfa.
Developing such sweet nostalgia ain’t cheap; two new roofs; the failed sump pump; the basement filling with two feet of water; the new furnace; the new wiring and plumbing; three new or remodeled bathrooms; the new septic system; the windstorm that sent the big water maple crashing down on top of the tool-shed-garage; the new barn; the 40-year transformation from weeds to vegetable garden to nursery, sculpture garden and arboretum.
Our house is now almost 160 years old – Civil War era. We’ve lived in it 40 of those years. We’ve had great – or at least memorable – parties here. The kids grew up here. We grew up here. It’s our house. It’s us. As far as we can tell the feeling is mutual.
That’s why I’m such a big fan of “welcome home plants.” We’ve lined our gravel driveway with them, stretching out all through the seasons – arum, hellebores, witchhazel, dogwoods, phlox, daffodils, tulips, viburnums, Japanese maples, lilacs, white oaks, mums and asters – not one of them asking about, or even caring, how my day has gone.
It’s something all gardeners should think about. What plants do you want to see when you hit the driveway? What plants makes you feel the most welcome, the most connected? How do you know when you’re home?