Delusions of garden grandeur

Photo of a thistle plant with purple flowers

Thistles in a wild meadow are beautiful and feed birds and bees. But they will completely take over your garden!

When D.J. and I bought our house in 2015, I had big plans for my garden. Of course, nothing is ever as simple as we think it’s going to be, is it?

The first year we lived here, we spent most of our free time working on the house itself. Our friend Shane of Blaiscraft LLC did some incredible interior renovations, so we painted and moved furniture around and unpacked and did a thousand other little jobs that added up to a lot of time!

“Next year!” I told myself. But by then, the weeds had fully taken over the front yard, and I couldn’t keep up. As soon as I’d get the thistles under control, ragweed would spring up everywhere. I blinked, and everything had gone to seed.

I’ve managed a small vegetable garden each year since then, but the weeds are still winning the war. I’ve tried a number of possible fixes, but have yet to find the magic bullet. Things always start well enough—I get out early in the season, clear everything out, and get the beds ready for planting. But by the time May comes around, I have trouble finding the time to actually get my seedlings into the ground!

Then I blink again, and the weeds have invaded my carefully prepared and fertilized soil. I blink again, and it’s July, and too late to do much. I always bite off more than I can chew. I want my whole yard to be beautiful and verdant with green green green, but my yard is big, and there are only so many hours in the day.

In this, at least, my gardening is similar to my writing. I make grand goals, work on them steadily or haphazardly, but ultimately fail to meet them in the allotted time frame because of my overly optimistic planning. It’s a flaw that I’ve been working on for the past ten years. I make progress on it in fits and starts, and I think I’m getting better at choosing more realistic goals.

The thing is, having access to restful natural spaces is essential to my well being and my writing practice. So when I keep failing at creating a beautiful garden, it genuinely stresses me out. But I know I need to focus on creating small patches of peace in my yard, rather than trying to do it all and failing at everything.

Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers

On cold days I spend a lot of time scouring the Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers for interesting things to plant. Click through for more shots like this on Instagram!

I’m not going to be able to transform my entire front yard and the backyard into a verdant oasis this summer, but I’m hoping to accomplish a few smaller goals:

  • Plant a magical herb garden in the space already cleared
  • Fill out my pollinator garden and install bird feeders
  • Finish building my vegetable garden in the back yard (with or without actual vegetables this year, depending)
  • Clean-up and newspaper mulch the front yard, and put some annuals in planters out so it doesn’t look completely barren.

Will this year in my garden be different? I hope so. The problem I kept running into in the past was not only a lack of time, but the lack of infrastructure. No outdoor water source, not enough raised beds for vegetables, no good way to keep the weeds down. Last year, we had our outside spigot fixed, I installed a rain barrel, built a big new compost bin, and dug out a few beds in the backyard for a pollinator garden. Plus, we had to replace one of our front retaining walls, so we removed a bunch of overgrown trees and shrubs that didn’t fit the space. So in theory, I should be ready to start working on those aforementioned goals

This year, I’ve already taken advantage of a few mild February days to finish rehabbing a small bed for my magical herb garden. My grandmother taught me a trick with newspaper—basically, you put wet newspaper down around your plants, then cover it with mulch. It keeps the weeds down, and then decomposes into rich organic matter. I’m giving that a try this year, and hopefully it will give me enough of an edge that I can keep up.

And if not? Well, I’d rather not think about that. I’d like to keep my delusions in tact at least until May.

What do you grow in your garden?



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