My intention today was to find and share one of the lilac recipes I’ve created over the years while knowing this tree that cascades over the walkway to our front door. In that search I found and then reread the letter I wrote in the hope of winning over the homeowner selling her home nearly seven years ago in a very demanding Seattle market.
Here’s what I wrote:
I’ve been thinking about this letter and what to write in it from about the moment we stepped into your home. It started as I caught a scent of the lilacs dripping off the tree and then as we walked through the front door. The brick fireplace was the first thing I noticed. I’ve always wanted one.
But I knew I would be here putting words on a paper, writing to someone I’ve never met trying to show our enthusiasm for their home with the hope that it could be our home when I took one step into the room in the corner. The one with the big glass doors that let in an abundance of light. The one that opens out onto the balcony that overlooks the garden filled with raspberries creeping up the wire trellis, a blueberry bush that already shows signs of abundance and strawberries eager to be turned into jam. And the one that shows just a silver sliver of water that I caught which made me gasp, put a hand on my chest, turn to my husband, Gabe, and say “I could see us here.”
The rest of our tour only further convinced me that this place felt like home. So I wandered the garden, peered into the rooms, admired the built in shelves in the dining area with one thought, what could I write in the letter that could possibly convey how right this home feels? Frankly, I don’t think I can but what I do want to say is thank you. Perhaps that is an odd response to such a task but what I felt as I slowly took in your home was gratitude.
First of all I want to thank you for even reading this letter. Because if you are it means we are being considered and for that reason alone, thank you.
I also want to say thank you for the lilacs, the raspberries, the blueberries, strawberries, hydrangeas, dogwood and the little blue whale wallpaper that lines the potting shed (or the “play house” as our daughter has already claimed it) in the garden. I have visions of picnics on the grass and for dessert, all five of us (we have three children) will raid the garden and eat berries warmed by the sun.
Thank you for the closets! Now, I realize you probably didn’t have much to do with the construction of the house but coming from very tight quarters in a townhouse just a couple miles south of your home, the closets, pantry, and overall storage in the home fills me with deep gratitude.
And thank you for just taking such good care of the home. It is easy to see that it has been well loved and cared for and we hope that we might have the opportunity to care for it in the same way you have.
Into this house we would be bringing our three children, Baron (9), Roman (7) and Ivy (4). I think they are most excited about walks to the beach and the little door in the basement, the one that looks like it might be just the right size for their future pet.
Gabe and I do quite a bit of our work in the home. He is a photographer (mostly weddings) and I am a cookbook author, connoisseur of salted chocolate chip cookies, food writer and photographer. So now you can understand why I’ve gushed about the garden.
We both love your home and are eager to dig deep roots in the stunning neighborhood.
Thank you again for taking the time to read this letter, considering our offer and for your home.
The Rodriguez Family
I think of this woman I’ve never met every time I’m in the garden. For years I pulled weeds hoping that she would be proud of how I was caring for the garden she devoted countless hours to. On the fence leading to our backyard there’s a now faded metal sign of a ladybug proudly proclaiming that this space is free from pesticides. I’ve kept it that way in her honor even releasing hundreds of ladybugs every year with the hope that they would feed on the little bugs invading my plants.
Last year I noticed a neighbor peering over the fence looking over the garden where I was digging. He and his wife have been in their home for over 30 years. They’ve seen the neighborhood grow and change and they knew the woman who tended this garden for years. I nodded to the neighbor and he smiled and said “I’m just admiring your garden.”
A rush of pride washed over me where waves of guilt and doubts of my lackluster gardening skills usually reside. I felt then that I was indeed living up to the promises I wrote in the letter above. Somewhere, perhaps, the woman who entrusted us with this home is proud too.
This year I’ve noticed a marked shift in my focus of the garden. I still think of the previous homeowner but I garden not just for her but for myself, my family and most importantly, the earth. Alongside the sweet carrots and snap peas the kids love so much, I’m planting native wildflowers. There are other native plants like lady ferns, salal, thimble and salmon berries. I’m not only interested in feeding myself and my family but I want to set the table for the bees and the butterflies, the squirrels and the birds. I’ve removed nearly half of our lawn and replaced it with garden beds, fruit trees and wild greens, known to some as “weeds”.
While digging in the dirt I still feel as if I know nothing. Countless gardening books fill me with optimism as they remind me that a plant's goal in life is to grow and produce seed so just let them do their thing. Well, I’ve already watched nearly a dozen tender seedlings die a slow, yellowing and wilting death but I dutifully keep weeding and planting, watching and tending as needed. I have long conversations with my tomato plants (who also seem to be struggling) sitting in my kitchen window. I’ll tell them about how much they’ll love it outside when the weather warms up and we’ll make plans for tarts, and leisurely warm baths in olive oil and garlic (for them, not me).
When my hands grow weary from the shovel and weeds I walk around to the front yard to the tree that started it all. Her deep purple fragrant blooms caught my eyes and my nose when we first walked up to the house. I’ve watched her year after year, dutifully bloom when the time is right. In the fall I’ve sat, warm in my house with the fireplace crackling behind me, and counted the few leaves still left clinging to her lichen covered branches. In the winter she has reminded me that her bloom is only one part of her. For much of the year she rests, waits patiently, and provides nourishment for the flitting chickadees.
In mid-spring, when she blooms, I’ve shared bouquets with the neighbors and make sure that I stop and inhale her scent as I leave the house and return. Several years ago, I found out that lilac blooms are not only beautiful but also edible. Since then, during the two weeks of her bloom my kitchen has become a sacred space to honor her growth. I’ll pluck each bloom off of their tiny stems and steep them into rhubarb jam, or into a sweet syrup used to flavor cocktails or homemade sodas. Her fragrant flowers have been baked into cakes and pulsed into sugars. I’ve made lilac lattes and warmed myself from a cold spring gardening session with lilac tea. She requires very little of me and yet gives so very much.
The kids are now 16, 14, and 11. Some plants haven’t survived, others have thrived and still more have found a new home in this garden. I continue to honor the work she began, while also honoring the earth and myself. It feels a small act in comparison to what the news declares and the current forecasts of our climate and yet I know that small acts done by the hands of many create massive change. As Debra Rienstra writes in her new book, Refugia Faith, “While we must all, as Thomas Berry says, participate in and promote that Great Work on a large scale, we must also do our little work, nurturing life right where we are, becoming healers right on the soil where we stand.”
2 cups lilacs flowers, picked off their stems
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Place the lilacs, sugar and water into a medium saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat just so that the syrup simmers. Let simmer for 5 minutes then cover, turn off the heat and allow this to steep for a couple of hours, or longer for more lilac flavor.
If you’d like a lovely purplish hue to the syrup feel free to add a couple of blueberries to the mix.
Strain and use as you would a simple syrup. I love to use ours in gin based cocktails, or pour about 1/2 tablespoon into a champagne flute then top with crisp champagne. Float a few fresh flowers on top of the drink. It’s also lovely as a lilac soda simply served with sparkling water.
Drizzle over fresh strawberries, ice cream, yogurt with granola, or as an ice tea sweetener.
A couple notes on an already very long post. First I wanted to share a recent podcast I did along with my friend, Maggy from Planetarian Life. In this two part series I share the path I’ve been wandering on over the last few years. The one that led me to completing Seminary of the Wild, becoming a certified Nature and Forest Therapy guide and also, to this space.
The last thing I wanted to say was a huge thank you to all of you for being here. And I especially want to thank the paid subscribers. Your support in the work I do means the world to me. I’m able to carve out time in my schedule to sit here to be with you all because of this support. I am extremely grateful to be able to do this work and to share words and recipes with each of you. Thank you.