My garden may be three sizes too large now, but I think it will soon be just right. It’s been nearly a year since I moved out of a retirement community into a two-story home in the suburbs. This home has everything I wanted, a big kitchen, plenty of room for visiting children and grandchildren, and a room for me on the first floor just big enough for a single bed and a computer desk. It also has a rather large backyard with bare patches in the lawn and planting beds, overgrown shrubs, and an abundance of roses and fruit trees.
“Are you sure?” My sister-in-law was right to be surprised. “Do you even like to garden?” No, not sure at all. During those family-focused years of raising four children and working full-time, gardening wasn’t a priority. Back in the eighties I had once planted vegetables and tended roses in the backyard, but they were soon overrun with weeds because I didn’t have the time or the knowledge to take care of them. Information could be found on the back of a seed packet, in books, or in garden magazines at the hardware store. But it was either too much or too little. Fertilizers bewildered me. Mulch was a mystery. But no longer. Bringing life to my garden has become a personal quest.
Today’s information sources, more focused and searchable, help to bring this project down to size. You Tube, and BBC gardening shows help me take advantage of the ideas I get from my favorite source of inspiration, good friends. As a housewarming gift, my goddaughter gave me a small barrel cactus from the Tree of Life Nursery (http://californianativeplants.com/) which specializes in native plants.
Thinking about native plants gave me the idea of turning a 9 x 9 bed full of weeds into a butterfly garden. I dug up the weeds and went to the nursery for advice. They suggested California Buckwheat, Purple Sage, and Black Sage. I bought eight small plants and spaced them in the planting bed. I went to You Tube to learn about “Easy Organic Weed Control with Newspaper & Mulch.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3Mc75MxR3M
On a recent trip up north friends came through again. One long-time friend shared cuttings and pups from her beautiful garden of succulents and another friend made me a bird feeder. Together we visited nature preserves and nurseries which filled me with inspiration. It’s a good thing I drove. On a plane I might have trouble passing them off as therapy plants.
Without a plan at this point, my son and I planted the succulents in three groups to fill empty spaces in the raised beds that bordered the lawn. We hung the bird feeder on a fence post straight across from the window that I look out of when I have breakfast. I put a bird bath nearby, creating a dedicated area for birds in the plant bed between the rosemary and the apple tree.
Remembering how much flowing water adds to a garden and inspired by a recent trip to the Alhambra in Spain, I bought a fountain and had it installed in the lawn, again where I could see it from the window. In the bed behind the fountain you can see the statue of St. Francis, a gift from my daughter, and the yellow and red lantana (rabbit resistant and attractive to bees) which I planted just last week.
Behind the lantana I sowed sunflower seeds, which will rise over the lantana and complement the yellow, if the rabbits don’t eat the shoots.
You Tube videos have shown me how to clean the fountain and how to suppress weeds using newspaper and mulch. I’m also exploring ideas for using paving stones to create a small patio in the corner between the fountain and St. Francis.
There was a time when I could stare at my garden and wonder what to do, but watching Monty Don’s Gardener’s World and Big Dreams in Small Spaces (https://montydon.com/) has taught me that there’s always lots to do, such as deadheading roses in summer, which I now do daily to keep them blooming. After seeing Monty plant three vegetables in a one-gallon pot, I did my own, planting a cherry tomato, a golden pepper, and a sweet red chili pepper together in a container on my patio, where it is surrounded by pots of red and white begonias, which are resistant to rabbits. This is my first foray into growing vegetables, but probably not the last.
Thanks to Monty, I know what my garden is really missing (have you guessed it already?): A PLAN! So last weekend my son helped me make a sketch of the garden area. Once we measure the boundaries and make a scale diagram we can create a plan using plants, paving stones, beds, and even mulch to create a coordinated garden design emphasizing drought-resistant plants and reducing the amount of lawn.
One mystery still baffles me though. In all the shows I’ve watched about English gardening, Monty has never mentioned taking precautions against rabbits. Don’t they have rabbits in the UK?