Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

(First of a series, from Patricia Yarberry Allen.)

I grew up on a farm with too many acres, too many gardens and too much work.  I loved living in New York City with concrete, asphalt, tall buildings and only the green of Central Park to remind me of all that work.  Grass to be planted and mowed.  Flowers to be planted, weeded, nurtured.  Trees to be trimmed of aging branches and treated for systemic illness.  Hedges to be pruned.  Even Central Park made me itch and not from allergies.

Then by accident I bought a home in the Eastern Townships in Quebec.  It was a semi-detached 110-year-old dilapidated Victorian, painted a nasty shade of blue.  The village was Knowlton, an Anglophone village in an otherwise French speaking area.  This village had been a summer resort for families from Toronto and Montreal for over a century.  Lac Brome was the small but pristine lake that allowed for all the water sports that lake life can provide.  Our home was half a block from the lake.

Overnight I became a mad gardener and home-renovation specialist.  I would pore over the garden magazines, and visit the local nursery owner in the fall to plan my spring work. Spring came late in Knowlton; it was always a risk to plant anything before mid-May.

Over the course of  ten years I created a wonderful home for summer life.  My children spent the summer there. with my mother in charge of day-to-day life.  I was there on the weekends each season, with dozens of New Yorkers taking a vacation to a way of life that existed just for fun, just like summer camp, only better accomodations.  The boys had sailing classes, days at the Boat and Tennis Club (a ramshackle affair that looked like my summer camp bunkhouse) but it was a safe and generous place for them to have carefree, unscheduled summer days.

The house became a dark green and there were white fences everywhere with climbing roses over trellises and five different garden areas.  The nursery owner introduced me to a wonderful gardener and we worked constantly to create the flowers that would flourish in that climate, yet remind me of the colors of gardens from my youth.

Peonies were in the front garden.  Large bushes heavy with purple and blue hydrangeas were next to the new addition in the front.  White flowered ground cover lined the brick walk from the front porch to the front gate that exited directly onto the street.  There was no fence attached to the gate.  Just a welcoming gate.  I did not need a fence, but I did want that gate.

The entrance into the back yard was framed by a rose trellis and more brick walks led to a large brick terrace filled with potted flowering plants and then into the yard with badminton and croquet areas always set up.  There were hot colored flowers in a long garden between the lawn and the white picket pool fence.  Hollyhocks, poppies, Gerber daisies.  Then some annuals that were chosen to come into bloom as other flowers were fading.

The season was short, over by mid-August as temperatures began to drop and the nights became chilly.

My mother gave me a painting that she had made for me:  the back of the house, the terrace, the rose trellis, the flowers inside the pool area, flowers on the terrace and  flowers in the back yard pushing through the white fence.  Mother painted in a hyper-realist style.  If it was in her sightline, it went onto the canvas.

Every day I sit with this painting and remember my first gardens and the joy that creating them gave me.  It is April now.  I would have been setting up a schedule with the gardener and planning my first seven-hour trip north from New York City to start the preparation for the gardens.

There have been many other gardens since then, but in this stage of my life I am once again an apartment dweller.   Life, like gardens, does have its seasons, but today I am feeling a bit lost. For the first time in almost 25 years, I have no garden to plan, no garden to plant.

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