We’ve been experiencing some very autumny weather the past couple days in mid-Michigan, which makes it the perfect time to start ripping out spent vegetable plants and replacing them with some perennial transplants. Since we plan to put the house on the market in the spring, there’s no reason to plant a labor-intensive vegetable garden next year, so I’m going to be filling those empty spaces with some perennials from the front yard that are crowding each other out and need some more breathing room.
The first immigrants to the back yard are four squat little hostas with chartreuse leaves that were in too sunny a spot in the front yard since the ice storm took the crabapple tree a couple years ago; a couple lady’s mantle that were crowding an evergreen shrub (and, as it turns out, hiding the cell phone my husband lost a month ago); and three lavender plants that had been subsumed by overzealous golden marguerites this summer. I also took two more lady’s mantle and put them in my front door urns to replace the annuals that burnt when we were away at camp. Once the tomato plants are done in a month or so I will fill up those spaces with other varieties of hosta and perhaps some cornflowers or black-eyed susans.
Strangely, I’m not that upset about not having a vegetable garden next year, despite the fun the boy and I have while planting it. This is largely because I must harvest my tomatoes before they are ripe in order to keep any of them from the ravenous red squirrels, who will take a few bites out of them once they start getting red and then leave them to rot on the ground or on fence posts. If I’m picking them before they are ripe, I may as well get them unripe at the store! So next year we will depend exclusively on the farmers market for our produce and make the backyard into an even more beautiful retreat to entice buyers.
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).