Our back yard in Brooklyn had the same dimensions as our row house. My earliest memories were of weeds and dirt in which we were allowed, as strange as it seems, given my mother's abhorrence for germs (she was sure that library books harbored the plague), to dug up bottles and salt servers, artifacts from an ancient pre civil war bottle factory.
My father, as good a mason as any professional, gradually replaced the dirt and weeds with concrete pathways and elegant brick steps. The side borders and the center green spaces were the responsibility of my mother, who as an English woman, had gardening written on her soul. Mom, as busy as she was, raising four children, caring for an often sick spouse and assorted relatives who lived with us from time to time as well as working the evening shift for the phone company, found time for her garden.
My paternal aunts lived across the street and, as in many families, especially those cursed with the Irish predilection for being always right, there were often contra temps among the women about various and sundry matters. I remember an argument that lasted for weeks about which was the best direction to aim the spout on a tea kettle in order to get it to boil faster. Yes, they really were angry about this. But there were also hours where my mother and aunts sat together in my Aunt Mina's kitchen, drinking tea and eating Dugans crumb cake while they talked flowers. It still amazes me that in so quintessentially urban an area, so many gardeners flourished. My Aunts had a magnificent garden punctuated by a grape arbor from which my father was suppose to have made gin during prohibition. Here, only three city blocks from the Atlantic Ocean, you could pick large, luscious purple grapes that grew over an arbor under which Sunny Seabek, my Aunt Gen's tenant, parked his truck.