My Garden Story
My garden is a happy little place. It's not an idyllic setting with a white picket fence, worthy of a home and garden magazine spread. No, nothing of the sort. But it's mine. It has a little (I mean LITTLE) pond, songbirds flying in and out all day to feast at the feeders, and lush plants that rotate colors across four seasons.
When we bought our house more than 20 years ago, one of the features that attracted us was the landscaping. Though it needed a few adjustments, it was obvious that the previous owners had invested a lot of DIY sweat into constructing a family-friendly environment. As a corner lot in an older neighborhood, however, it had its challenges. Established oaks and maples shaded much of the narrow backyard, leaving few areas for sun-loving plants. Extensive hardscaping lined with shade-tolerant plants and ivy covered areas where no grass could grow. All of it would require frequent maintenance to keep it looking tidy and within its well-defined boundaries.
At the time, I was so happy to move out of our tiny, roach-infested apartment and into a house that I never considered what it would take to maintain this garden. We were kids. What did we know? When it occurred to me that I couldn't tell the difference between a plant and a weed, I had to get educated.
The Gardening Journey Begins
After a few years of living in our house, I dove headfirst into gardening. I bought stacks of books, researched plants and plant combinations, and spent hours at the garden center getting to know which plants would grow where and when. There was so much to learn that it seemed overwhelming, but I stepped back and remembered that the essence of gardening is really pretty simple:
Dig a hole in the ground, stick the plant in the hole, cover up the hole, water and wait.
Now, there was no guarantee that this would work, but it was a start. Red geranium annuals were my first attempts. And they lived!
With that bit of success, I had the confidence to take my garden to the next level. The pathway leading from the front door to the street was lined with about thirty, bug-infested boxwoods. When you walked down the path, you'd get attacked by swarming little gnats, visible especially in late afternoon when the golden sun would glow on their backs. The bushes had to go! My husband tied 'em up and yanked 'em out with his pickup truck. I now had beds for sun-loving plants.
With the boxwoods gone, the partial rock garden outside my front door became a more prominent feature that needed completion. It was the perfect place for a pond. I drew up some plans with good ole pencil and graph paper, and roughed in a planting scheme for three-season color. Eager to start the project, at about midnight one night, I got out my shovel and started digging. It was as good a time as any. A couple hundred bucks worth of pond liner and fieldstones later, I had a water feature. I chose a variety of low growing plants, both perennials and annuals, to tuck between the stones and help prevent erosion.
Then came the goldfish, tadpoles and water plants. Since I have no pump in the pond, the goldfish became essential for eating the mosquito larvae from the standing water.
The pond brought other unexpected benefits, too. When I installed it, I didn't know how consequential it would become in providing a watering hole for wildlife, particularly when we started backyard birding years later. Who knew that this little water feature would bring such enrichment to our lives?
Once the pond was in place, I expanded the beds on the walkway where the boxwoods had been to form an undulating border down to the street. It seemed perfect on paper, but then reality hit. From the first moment I stuck a shovel in that ground, I encountered that awful, Virginia clay soil. Ack! That thick, rusty, red-orange solid mass started just below the surface and extended down as far down as a plants roots would need to travel. With poor drainage conditions, not much can grow in that mess. That had to go, too!
For weeks, I dug through the hard clay by hand, broke the chunks into smaller bits with a shovel, and mixed it with a variety of soil amendments recommended by my garden center. I went just deep enough to plant small plants and bushes. Then finally, I had the groundwork - literally - in place.
And all those trees in our yard? From fall to spring, their abundant leaves fill up our compost bins, and produce that wonderful, free "black gold" to feed the garden.
Gardening through the Years
Over the years, I've experimented with a variety of annuals and perennials, a few bushes and ornamental trees. Many died, and some proliferated. I'm a pretty lazy gardener. I don't water (accept for the first few days after planting) or use chemicals. Since we travel a lot during the summer, I stick with plants that can survive without much attention. Everything that is in my garden is there with little help from me. Consequently, when we lived abroad for two years, we came back to a lush garden that had survived with no care at all, and in fact, had to be thinned out.
Interspersed between the ornamental plants and bushes, we grow herbs and a few berries. I love coming outside in the summer, often at night with a flashlight, to pick fresh herbs out of the garden for cooking or for tea. Herbs like lemon balm, mint, oregano, thyme, rosemary and lavender have flourished and have returned almost every spring. I still struggle, though, with basil, cilantro and parsley. In the spring, we pick and eat fresh strawberries off the vine. We only have a few, but it's the satisfaction of knowing that we grew them ourselves that makes them more delicious.
These days, my garden is a bit shabby, in need weeding and pruning. Other projects have temporarily diverted my attention. But on good weather days, it's nice to sit on the porch, and enjoy a pleasant meal accompanied by a chorus of singing birds, splashing frogs, and gulping goldfish. Flittering butterflies dance from bloom to bloom to add to the visual feast. It's a happy little place. It's also a nice spot to photograph plants, flowers and wildlife.
Why am I Telling You My Garden Story?
Because I wanted to convey a few things:
- Anybody can start a garden. I knew NOTHING when I began.
- Gardening is a lifelong, work in progress.
- Gardening is a foundation for attracting and preserving wildlife.
- You can easily grow your own organic herbs to fill your cooking with flavor.
- It is my gardening backstory for other tips that I'll be sharing throughout this website.
If you've been too intimidated to start gardening, I hope this article has inspired you to give it a try. It really is as simple as digging a hole and going from there. If I can do it, you can, too!