I’ve often wondered if the childhood memory of the image of my Polish grandfather sitting out back of his Riverside, NJ home, near the grapevine by the shed, that had a coffee grinder on the far wall, touched me to the point of reliving any outdoor scene where food was involved. I can clearly picture him sitting in a chair, legs crossed, just staring at the ground. He was in his eighties. To him, it was a matter of just being outside. Not cooking out. Not kicking a ball with the kids. Not gardening, even, but enjoying the outdoor space just by sitting under the canopy of a shade tree.
Since my grandfather’s time, I’ve associated this type of behavior with people from countries other than America. Of course Americans sit outside, but not like in the manner of people from other countries. We tend to have a distinct indoor and outdoor flair. While we like to bring the outdoors in, for the most part, we aren’t as comfortable bringing the indoors out.
My first encounter of a person sitting outside in the cool shade of a large canopy tree was from an old immigrant. @HelenYoest Click to Tweet!
Some of my favorite movie scenes are of Europeans eating outside. A table would be pulled from the kitchen with a simple tablecloth to cover it, slightly off kilter, and everyday china and crystal on the table top. A rug might even be brought out along with candles and music and books and wine. If the weather was right, time was spent outdoors. It didn’t even have to be during the evening, it could be any meal, any time. In my book, this is living.
When we built the back porch, I envisioned every meal to be taken outside. It turns out I am the only one in the family that really likes to do this. It’s lonely out there.
Years later, something interesting happened. As the time came to take down the kids’ playground and later put up the chicken coop, I noticed something that I never expected. The Crape Myrtles I planted to frame that area had matured to a fine state, as did the red Maple. This development caught me off guard.
I planned the placement of those trees with other perspectives in mind, not for the sake of the playground, but from the view of the back porch. So when I stepped in the footprint of the former play set, I realized there was a new space. I’m not sure I could have planned it so well, and I’m also not sure I would have thought I needed to.
The new space is in the ell of the chicken coop and the garden house, and it’s shaded by the mature trees. It now sports three chairs and a fire pit. Only three chairs because that is what I had on hand. See, I didn’t go out and buy anything for this new space. I just pulled from other areas of the garden. If friends come over and I need more chairs, I can bring those from the inside of the house. This space is completely private. I knew it was a special place the first time I saw it all coming together.
Recently a garden photographer from Scotland was visiting. The first night we had dinner and conversation on the back porch. The next night, we had dinner on the porch, but then we took our conversation to the fire. The evening was magical. There is no other way to describe it. A fire adds so much mystery to a room, a space, an area.
My pit is crude, nothing fancy like Americans like to do, making something for the outside to look like something we have on the inside. Instead, it’s just made from a makeshift large copper tray sitting on top of some found rock. It is nothing short of perfection to me.
Now I’m one of those people who sits outside, with my legs crossed looking down at the ground or the fire or the chickens or whatever else I fancy. It’s not an event. It’s just a place to pass time, no different than sitting in a favorite arm chair or couch to read or watch a movie. Instead, I sit outside because I prefer to read and watch my life instead of someone else’s. And my beloved Border Collie, Pepper, is always with me.
From Septembers through May, on Sundays, my day in the garden, you’ll find me with a fire going. Join me sometime. I’ll make the time to sit with you in this special place so you can see first hand the magic of finding solace in the most unexpected places.
Helen Yoest is a curious gardener – curious about plants, soil, design, and how others use these to create their gardens at home. She is also curious about what plants do for us today in the here and now, but also about their history and lore. Plants have a colorful past.
As an award winning freelance writer and garden stylist, Helen has traveled the world visiting public and private gardens so she can step into the dream that was once just an imagination. Her work has appeared in Country Gardens, Better Homes and Gardens, Martha Stewart Living, Carolina Gardener, and many others, including her work as the national gardening expert forAnswers.com. Helen is also the author of Plants With Benefits: An Uninhibited Guide to the Aphrodisiac Herbs, Fruits, Flowers, & Veggies in Your Garden (2014, St. Lynn’s Press) and Gardening with Confidence, 50 Ways to Add Style for Personal Creativity (2012, GWC Press).
Helen curates garden art, serves on the board of the JC Raulston Arboretum, is past Regional Representative of the Garden Conservancy Open Days tour and opens her garden annually, and is an honorary member of Pi Alpha Xi, the national honor society for floriculture, landscape horticulture and ornamental horticulture. Helen lives in Raleigh, N.C., tending to her half-acre wildlife habitat, her husband, and their three beautiful children.