It’s a week after moving in and we are having our very first party for the Fourth of July. The “garden” is red clay with the first weeds coming up. The back yard was seeded with grass seeds, but I think the birds ate most of these seeds. The weather had been hot and dry for weeks and we were officially in a drought situation. Frequently the winds would pick up and probably blew away the few feeds that still remained. The 10 by 10 feet deck wasn’t big enough for the few chairs and table, so down to ground level we went. The picnic was fun, the ambience could have been better.
August 2nd, 1997. It is the middle of summer and we have been in our new house for about six weeks. Weeds sprout. I pulled them out by hand, but more appeared. With my birthday around the corner a good friend with a green thumb arrived with plants from her own New York City garden.
Since there wasn’t anything yet in the garden, other than weeds, we decided to put these plants in various corners of the garden. We put the first spade in the ground, only to discover that the sun had baked the clay soil rock hard. There was no way we were getting a spade in the ground without giving the soil a good soak first. We brought out the hose, soaked the soil and dug again. Well, this was fun, now we working in some heavy duty mud, losing our footwear as we were trying to dig holes big enough to plant a few plants. Each muddy hole was amended with topsoil, giving the plants a chance to survive in something better than the clay.
The Spouse and my friend’s better half were busy swigging beer on the deck while we were working up a sweat and getting all muddy. But eventually the first plants were put in and we could now see the very beginning of the garden.
After those first plants went in, I realized that the soil was so sub-par that nothing would probably thrive in it. I dug up the plants put in the ground so far, and put them temporarily in pots. We also realized the deck was too small, and we had it enlarged by an additional 12 feet. By September, 26 cubic yards of good topsoil had been delivered and spread out over the garden. Then I started digging and incorporated this good top soil into the clay. Once this was done, plants were put back and slowly the garden started to take shape.
In the fall, mums were put in, the ornamental grass stands out and coneflowers provide additional color. Soon thereafter the fence was put in and we added 11 cubic yards of mulch.
After all this work in the first few months of my garden, I didn’t mind that winter rolled around as it gave me a well deserved break. Now I would visit bookstores on the weekends and slowly my library of gardening books began to grow. Educating myself was fun and it was a lot less back-breaking than working the soil. But soon enough it became spring again and once more I made bi-weekly trips to nearby nurseries for plants. The Spouse would put in his two cents once ever so often, but more often than not, I ruled in the backyard. The following year the garden started to take on its shape. A slightly winding path around the perimeter of the garden, with an large flowerbed in between the inner and outer path. By July 1998, less than a year after starting the garden, it now looked like this:
And by May of 1999, less than two years after moving in, the garden was really taking off:
A small pond was added in the fall of 1999 and by the summer of 2000 the garden filled in a bit more.
And so I continued. Every two weeks I would buy a few more plants. Friends came over with plants, neighbors gave plants, The Spouse would give me gift certificates to nurseries. On the weekends I worked in the garden. The Spouse could only entice me to go out on a weekend by promising me a trip to the bookstore. There, while enjoying a cup of coffee, I would read gardening magazines and hunt for more inexpensive books. I begrudgingly would go visit friends, enjoying myself once I was there but always feeling the pull of the garden. Trips to Holland to visit family were done in early spring or later in the summer, when my garden did not need a lot of work. Of course, coming back after each trip I would eagerly go into the garden to see how things had changed after a few weeks’ absence. Thanks to all the mulching there was little weeding to be done. Some years I tackled a specific area of the garden which needed improvement. A flagstone path was added, only to be taken out again years later. A bigger pond was added several feet away from the small pond. A few years after that, I enlarged the “big pond”. And years later, that big pond was taken out and replaced with an even bigger pond. Frogs came and went. Goldfish multiplied rapidly and every year I would attempt to catch most of them and give them to the pet store. Once the final pond was built, I moved up to koi, large ornamental carp, which have become the ultimate wet pets. Oh, how time has flown by. I can take it a little easier now, at least in my garden as I have pretty much run out of room. Each winter I continue my education by taking classes at our local college. Every spring I find there is a new project to be tackled; an area to be changed as I try new plants, or I help others with their gardens. This gardener is far from ready to sit down and enjoy the view, not while there is so much lawn in the world waiting to be turned into glorious gardens.