The reality is that we’re going to have to offer other images of beauty, neatness, order and affluence to help people change what’s floating in their heads. And one of the things we may have to point out is this – a working homestead – whether rural, urban or suburban – does not look like a home that is mostly a showplace. It should not. It cannot. So creating images of homestead beauty – beauty that can exist within the realities of a home that is used is an important project.
I read Sharon Astyk’s piece on homestead aesthetics, excerpted above, shortly after we moved from our well-developed suburban landscape to a Mars landing site with a mobile home, a few outbuildings, and only our instincts telling us this was the perfect spot for us. Her ideas really resonated because I was in the midst of grappling with changing my own notions of sustainable beauty in light of our newly chosen reality.
Below are some early images to give you a frame of reference for how our landscape looked when we moved in. The first three are shortly after the time of purchase, but the bottom image was taken after we had already made a few changes like starting to mulch, clearing out old landscaping, and adding a ramp to the pond dock so we could reach it.
We didn’t come here to grow a landscape that would grace the pages of magazines of the sort that Matt refers to as “lifestyle porn”. We came to homestead with more freedom than we’d had in our old life and to build something durable to sustain us through the rest of our lives. We also wanted to escape an economy we couldn’t conscience and that necessarily meant giving up some of the goods and concerns necessary to create what Sharon refers to as a “showplace” home.
But, the blank canvas of a landscape we had started painting was juxtaposed, in our minds, to the still vivid images of the landscape we’d just left behind (shown below). And frankly, disconnecting from old aesthetic ideas was, and still is, a difficult transition to make.
I bring this subject up now, almost three years later, because every once in a while I have a rush of vanity (vanity, in the sense of futile pride) that prompts me to run around our homestead finding ways to make it more conventionally pretty. It’s usually brought on by the anticipation of visitors and the desire to somehow make what we do here more comprehensible to others.
The impetus this time was planning for a few parking spots for potential farm visitors at the foot of our duck paddocks followed shortly by me extending an invite to a homesteading rockstar to come for visit. The farmer’s market doesn’t start for a month, and I’ve got a thousand things to do between here and there before a single visitor will come. And the potential visit from a fellow homesteader, who likely won’t need me to spell out homesteading aesthetics for her, won’t happen until May, if it does at all. Yet, the sense of urgency that sent me spring cleaning my frog pond (in the header photo) and prepping it for plants, that won’t even survive outside until April, still felt very real.
This particular frog pond is one of our few nods to conventional landscaping aesthetics. Although most of the materials used to make it were scavenged from around our property, like the tree stumps, small rocks, and most of the plant life, I also bought a pallet of slate stepping stones to use to cover the pond liner. The bench was a remnant from our old landscape. And my dad made the landscape timber bridge give us a nice entry to the garden and separate the pond from the more wild landscape that starts just up hill of this area.
I think I started prettying here, precisely because this is a kind of cross over space that helps “sell” what we are doing to outsiders. It is really useful as frog habitat. The frogs become so prolific in warm weather that I trip on them all over our garden which helps control pest populations. And when I leave the garden, I have to pick baby frogs off my clothes so they don’t end up in areas without water access. I also laid the stones loosely around the pond to discourage our ducks from taking a dip so this makes a great space for growing water hyacinth and duck weed for animal feed. Finally, come spring, regardless of whether you are a homesteader or not, this spot becomes particularly pretty and inviting. It makes a grand entrance to our garden and lead in to the herb spiral just inside the gate.
After my frenzy of beautification, I first felt a sense of accomplishment. But that quickly gave way to shame over the fact that I could still be so easily influenced by the fear of what people might think about me and this landscape we are creating. That feeling stuck for a while, which made this hard to write about. However, now that feeling has given way to something new.
Now, I feel a kind of bemusement as I comprehend that even though that frenzied activity stems from the same motivations that used to send me scurrying to Homegoods to by a grape arbor to make my garden entrance more appealing, the actual results are so completely different.
Now, I scour our property to figure out if something we already have can be made useful in the act of prettying. And if we don’t have something, then I next wonder if I can make something using scrap materials from other projects. I also find natural materials that speak to me and incorporate them into the design process.
I know it’s not a perfect antidote to an aesthetic addiction I still need to overcome. But like our frog pond, the place I am at now is a kind of a cross over space between where I was and where I will be one day in the not too distant future.
And like our homestead, I am also a work in progress. I’m OK with that.