I started gardening several years ago when we bought a house with a big, bare expanse of a yard.
By Annette McLoughlin
I started gardening several years ago when we bought a house with a big, bare expanse of a yard. I hadn’t ever given gardening much thought, but since we had used up our landscaping budget on a stone patio, I picked up a shovel and started down a gardening path blindly, with nothing but Latin names to guide me. Not one to read directions, self-helps, or how-tos, I hoped there wouldn’t be much more to it than putting plants in the ground and letting Mother Nature take care of the rest.
I was, of course, totally wrong. I made tons of mistakes, and committed serial horticulture homicide along the way. Without exaggeration, the entire garden – four feet by 60 feet — died after the first summer, when I mistook a very invasive flowering weed for a flowering flower. It was my mother who pointed it out to me and God bless her for not laughing; she was an excellent gardener and a compassionate mother. But I dove back into it with all my heart, and though I’m not sure my thumbs were ever much more than a tinge of green, after a few back-breaking seasons, I eventually managed to create a flower garden that looked reasonably good. It had graduated heights, a somewhat sequential timing of blooms, and nice color palate. But most importantly, it stayed alive. And I was really proud. And Home Depot loved me.
A couple of years later, we sold that house and the people who bought it razed the gardens and replaced them with grass. Immediately. Just like that. It was like someone broke up with me. Of course, it wasn’t my garden’s fault, but toward gardening, I grew bitter. And I turned away from the whole heartbreaking avocation.
When we moved to our current house, the property also needed a makeover. But this time, I’ve approached the yard like a jilted lover — indifferent, independent. I walk around my yard as if I don’t care. I need my yard (or my maybe future garden) to know that while I may garden now, always is a big commitment.
We’re coming up on our third summer in this house and for the first two years, I’ve done hardly anything outside. How’s that for cold? This year, I’ve taken out some overgrown Forsythia and moved a few things around. No commitment, no strings; just playing the field.
And what I’m realizing is that like relationships, a garden is better planned when approached thoughtfully rather than just passionately. The past two summers of feigned indifference have given me the opportunity to notice the light in my yard, what existing plants thrive now, and what plants my neighbors are able to grow. It doesn’t do you or your garden (or your wallet) any good to buy every botanic beauty that turns your head. You need to make sure that they’re compatible with your garden. Looks aren’t everything, after all.
I’m thinking about what plants I might put where and looking at my yard as a whole. I’m thinking about how we use it and what we need. And maybe, most importantly, I’m considering how much time I’m willing to commit to its upkeep, which I’ve decided is as little as possible this time around. So, I conclude I need a garden that doesn’t really need me.
In taking my time and thinking more strategically about what I want from a garden, we’re getting to know each other better before jumping into anything serious.
This second time around, I’ll buy plants and flowers based on this phyto-analysis. I’ll start with a good base of evergreens for their faithfulness. And I’ll focus primarily on perennials (annuals will leave you every time). I’ll also try to stick with native plants because we’re much more likely to get along longer if we have something in common.