Between last night and today, I’ve spent seven hours of intensive labor weeding, trimming, deadheading, and tidying up in the yard in the August heat. Good gracious. I had to take a nap this evening just to function enough to write this piddly little post. But when July is lost to swarms of mosquitoes and a week out of town, there sure is a lot to do when you finally get out there.
One of the things I have enjoyed over the past ten years as I have planted and transplanted my gardens is the challenge of getting blooms all season long and getting those blooms to “go” with one another. I haven’t always succeeded, but this year I’m seeing some lovely results from a decade of digging and trimming and watering.
In May, the gardens have a decisively purple tone.
In June, purple gives way to mostly pink.
In July, many blooms fade and foliage takes center stage.
And in August, things warm up with reds, oranges, and yellows.
There’s always something beautiful around me. It’s taken (and continues to take) a lot of hard work, but it’s worth it.
Spring has truly sprung over the past week in mid-Michigan, and the shade garden I expanded in the back yard last year is beginning to bloom…
I’ve been busy outside destroying and covering up my neighbor’s sidelot (with his permission) because I’m tired of looking at the mess of English ivy, poison ivy, weeds, dead leaves, weed trees, and trash out my dining room window.
Now it has been mowed, poisoned, shrouded in black plastic, and covered over with mulch.
Over the next year or so it should suffocate.
Then the mulch can be raked back, the plastic can be removed, and the remaining mulch and dead matter underneath can be worked into the soil.
At that point, it should be ready to sustain something beautiful and/or useful.
In the meantime, I’m on the lookout for some cheap or free pots and will try to stage a nice array of containers full of flowers on top of the mulch.
Two days after that big project I am still sore from moving edgers, swinging an ax, and shoveling and dumping and spreading mulch.
But the view is much improved.
Somewhere about July 14th I was trying to finish spreading my crazy enormous pile of mulch (like we’re talking 12-15 cubic yards). I had covered every square inch of the gardens and there was some leftover, so I decided to tackle the south side of my neighbor’s garage, which they ignore completely but which I must look at through the largest window in my house. Weed trees and belladonna and plantain (the weed, not the banana) and other weeds had run rampant. There was an elm that was already two stories high, which I decided to keep as a replacement for the giant sugar maple we had to cut down last year. There was a black walnut sapling that had to go. And the English Ivy was stretching and reaching across our driveway, intent on eating it on the way to our house.
I starting to trim and pull and dig and lop and edge and mulch. And all was looking very nice. I got about halfway done when the manuscript I was listening to came to the end and I needed to get back to work inside.
The next day, I saw them. Angry red bumps that swiftly bloated to taut, bulbous blisters. I puzzled over this. There was no juniper in there (I’m allergic to juniper). There was the elm that I trimmed. Perhaps I was allergic to that? I’d seen elm on the list of things my son had recently been tested for allergies. Since we were off to camp later that week, I went to the urgent care.
“Were you in contact with poison ivy?”
“No. I haven’t been in the woods and my yard is all cultivated and I know exactly what’s in there and I don’t have poison ivy. There was my neighbor’s weedy area, but there’s no poison ivy in there.”
Steroids. Calamine lotion. And home to look up poison ivy.
Yep. I was in contact with poison ivy. I’d never, in 34 years of romping through forests, encountered it. I thought the leaves were much smaller. But there it was.
So…three weeks later, I’m still itching and pretty miserable.
Do yourself a favor and avoid this:
Also, it feels like maybe there’s a lesson in here about minding my own business and not meddling and not needing everything outside to be perfect…
My roses are mostly pink…
…but why miss an opportunity to share some lovely Robert Burns with you?
When I was a kid, we had a standard garden plan each year from which we rarely deviated. Constant structure was provided by groomed yew bushes. Red geraniums, dusty miller, and a spike plant populated the flower boxes. The shady side yard became home to multicolored impatiens. The only perennials were a common bleeding heart plant that appeared by the apple tree and an ever-expanding patch of peppermint I had started with transplants from the Heritage House, an old museum of a house by the junior high school we all toured as part of our well-rounded education.
When I started my own garden, I was very interested in creating expansive perennial gardens, inspired by my mother-in-law’s beautiful garden and the glossy pages of her many gardening books and magazines. I envisioned a riotous cottage garden bursting with extravagant flowers all summer. But it’s harder to get constant color than you might think, and I realized at some point that the only moment those gardens in magazines looked perfect was on the day the photos were taken. I’ve also had to adjust my expectations of my back yard garden as I take into account the heavy shade, the heavy soil, the walnut tree that slowly poisons many other types of plants.
Just as with my new garden bed around my new tree and that immovable stump, you have to work with what you’ve got. You can spend years amending the soil, trimming trees, and doing lots of extra watering or fertilizing to get your ideal garden to thrive. Or you can simply look for plants that will be happy in the conditions you already have. And when we start looking at our current situations as opportunities rather than liabilities, we’re a lot happier.
As time goes by and my gardens evolve and new varieties of hostas and huecheras and many other plants are developed, I find I’m just as happy with the many textures and shades of green you can get with the right assortment of plants as I would have been with a garden of nothing but flowers. The above photo collage shows just a few of these.
It’s not hard to extrapolate this lesson into the rest of life. Even when we’re not in the exact job or relationship or state of personal or professional development we might want to be, we can find ways to thrive right where we are. We may need to adjust our expectations. Or we may simply need to recognize that there are different opportunities waiting for us to take advantage of them. You know the term “bloom where you’re planted.” But maybe you don’t even need to bloom right at this moment. Maybe you just want to be a cool green plant with lots of texture. Be assured that you’re just as interesting that way (and a heck of a lot less trouble to keep happy).
We’ve hit that point of the year when the days start really flying and we’re busy with life and it’s hard to find time or inclination to sit down and reflect for a few minutes. The past week was a flurry of activity and merriment with friends and family as we celebrated our son’s birthday four separate times (2 with grandparents, 1 with our family, 1 with all his funny little friends at his party at the dojo).
During the same week I realized that it was past time to finish getting the vegetable gardens planted and transplanting some perennials. I finally planted a new tree in the front yard to replace the ice storm-damaged crabapple after two friends worked hard trying to remove the old stump (alas, strange planting practices from a former era foiled them as the entire root structure was intertwined with heavy duty wire that fiercely resisted the ax). So we planted the tree a little further into the yard and were left with a stump. What to do? Create another garden!
With a spade, a wheelbarrow, and my neighbor’s tiller I made a new bed Sunday afternoon and began populating it with divisions and transplants from other areas of my gardens, plus a few new varieties of hostas from a friend. I still have more plants from her house that need to go in the back yard, and lots of work to do back there expanding some of the shadiest parts of the garden into areas where it is clear after eight years that grass simply will not grow.
As much as I wish I could do that all week, I have lots of “real” work to do. My publishing company recently acquired a line of books from another publisher and so there is a lot of work to do to aid the transition. So you’ll find me at my desk most of the week, scouring someone else’s copy, making corrections, and checking a little box to import it into our own database. Tedious work, but someone has to do it!
Maybe when I need a break from sitting I’ll pop outside and pull some weeds.