Lilies of the Alley

If there is one thing I have learned in our half year of home ownership, it is that the elusive idea of “next year” falls from our lips much more frequently than it ever did before. Next year we will refinish the floors on the first and second floor, next year I will have a space of my own to write, next year we will decorate the guest bedroom.  This isn’t because we aren’t doing anything this year, mind you – no, this year we are taking care of all the things, large and small, the previous owners couldn’t take care of as they aged. Receiving estimates on tuck pointing the brick. Saving up to have the vents vaccumed out. Putting electric in the third floor. This is all important work, designed to keep us warm and safe throughout the next winter, but it does little to satisfy my inner interior decorator who has suddenly started buying home decorating magazines at an alarming rate and considering the various merits of Pacific Ocean blue versus Amazing Aquamarine paint.

For instance, yesterday S. spent the bulk of the day installing a new glass block window in the basement, which previously was held only a God-knows-how-old air conditioner. Here is S., with full permission to post his picture, getting ready to work:

Sam the Destroyer

…and here is the window before the installation…

open window

…and here it is, after many tools, layers of grout, and mounds of dust…


It is this kind of project that consumes a good portion of one’s day and one’s paycheck but can’t be found in French Country Bedrooms or Greek Cottage Inspiration.

We’ve also spent some time gardening this year. As it turns out gardening is something we enjoy doing together. It also turns out that gardening can really become all-consuming and last week I made the hard choice to stop buying any more plants for the year and just concentrate on weeding and taking care of what we already planted. In our neighborhood your garden is the ultimate “keeping up with the Jones'” statement – we live smack dab between a couple whose backyard was once jokingly nicknamed the Botanical Gardens by a police officer and another couple who have tilled their entire backyard and made a vegetable garden that would leave Alice Waters panting. As much as I wanted to continue planting and replanting and purchasing hanging baskets and pots of flowers I had to cut myself off last week, promising myself that next year I would plant a rose bush, next year I would plant a sunflower patch.

Some of our gardening has been successful and some – meh – not so much. The backyard vegetable garden so far seems to be thriving. Here is what the backyard looked like before we did any kind of work:


and here it is with our so-far successful vegetable garden…



The front yard improvements haven’t been as successful, I’m afraid. I made a disasterous attempt with the front flower bed. I started to get the hang of it as I accepted the help of my neighbors and did some more reading, but in the beginning all I knew to do was plant annuals. Exhibit A:

Attempt one

I quickly learned that this isnt’ the most effective way way to establish a flower bed, especially in Pittsburgh – there is general disdain for annuals in my neighborhood – rather, my neighbors encourage planting flowers that will come back every year and thrive in Pittsburgh’s climate. So, to the left of the annuals I planted lilies and a couple of annuals for a splash of color. Exhibit B:

Attempt two

I thought about ripping up the annuals to the right of this picture but they cost me eight-five dollars and everything is a learning experience, right? Besides, the rather schizophrenic look of the front flower bed will keep folks guessing. In the fall, I will transfer lily and tulip bulbs to this bed and let nature take its course for next year. For now, a full view, complete with dog:

Porch with Dog

Yesterday one of our neighbors, He Who Tends the Botanical Gardens, offered to help me transplant some lily bulbs come autumn. “I really like the lilies from the alley, don’t you?” He asked. “We could transplant those to the front – I think they would do really well.”

“What are they?” I asked, peering over his fence for a peek at this mysterious sounding lily. I surveyed his roses, his blossoming eggplant bushes, his hot pepper plants, his other, recognizable lilies.

“No, Courtney.” He said, gesturing behind his fence. “They are just lilies that grow wildly in the alley. Around here we call them Lilies of the Alley. I think we could take some for your front yard, though.”

I looked behind our fence and noticed, for the first, time, the long trail of tiger lilies that blazed a path down the otherwise garbage-strewn and brokenly paved alley.

“I like that idea.” I said. “For next year, definitely.”

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8 Responses to Lilies of the Alley

  1. appellationmountain says:

    Lillies of the Alley! That’s quite poetic – and very, very Pittsburgh!

  2. Lily says:

    Just stopped by and I have to say I will come again.
    Love to hear from you,

  3. Cam says:

    Lillies of the Alley — love it! And they won’t cost you $85.

    One of the great things I’ve found about tiger lilies — they are almost impossible to kill. My son brought some home from his father’s once, in a trash bag — and then forgot to tell me about this. For two weeks. Not knowing what to do & figuring that the dirt could at least be used to fill in a hole near my pond (a bad experience with trying a ‘bog’ garden). I heaved them there & then did nothing with them. I now have hundreds of lillies all around my pond. 🙂

  4. litlove says:

    Great photos – your garden is starting to look lovely, Courtney! And that glass brick window must make a real improvement to the basement.

  5. Stefanie says:

    Lilies of the Alley cracks me up! Gardening is great and all-consuming. The thing I like best about perennials is you only have to buy them and plant them once. Now and then you might have to divide them, but essentially they are easy care. And I hear you on the house projects. We have long lists of things to do “next year.”

  6. Steph says:

    love this post…and the pictures!! i can’t wait until i can start gardening and renovating and decorating a house.

  7. Courtney says:

    A – it is so, so Pittsburgh, isn’t it?
    Lily – welcome! I love having new visitors!
    Cam – you are totally right – I am going to transfer those lilies come fall, I think. I’ve always loved tiger lilies!
    Litlove – thank you! It’s really fun to watch the garden grow and change – much more fun than I thought it would be.
    Stefanie – I grew up in northern MI and my dad always planted annuals – it was what I was used to. I know better now!
    Steph – parts of home renovating are fun but it’s definitely so much harder than I ever thought it would be so take your time!

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