June’s arrived, which usually means that I’ve accomplished about as much as I can hope to with my garden for the year, except maintenance and any non-planting work I want to do.
When we moved in to our current home, most of the yard was in pretty shabby condition. A lot of it still is, because I can only handle one major area of improvement each season, both in terms of the energy and labor-time I can spare and in terms of the cost of materials and plants.
My first target was an area on one side of the front lawn where there was a single lonely pine tree and some scruffy grass that eventually gave way to some pachysandra, English ivy and a chaotic jumble of forsythia underneath a big maple and a magnolia. All of our trees were in bad shape, with some dangerous limbs, so we had a big trimming right when we moved in. I had both of the big pines cut down: I’ve never liked them much as isolated trees mixed in with maple, oak and ash in Eastern woodlands.
Over three years, I’ve done a lot of planting where the smaller pine in the front had been. First off, right where the pine had been, I planted three dwarf peach trees and three butterfly bushes in a circle around a birdhouse on a pole, with a few container plants scattered around that area. Everything has grown in fairly well.
The next spring I built a raised bed on the north side of the peach trees and planted a lot of lavender with a bit of tickseed and sedum mixed in. On the south side of the circle of peaches and butterfly bushes, I planted a mix of ornamental grasses and dogwoods (yellow-twig and red-twig), with a cheap bench overlooking the area. All of this has grown in pretty well, with the exception of some Japanese bloodgrass.
Late last summer, I began to build a rock border around the raised bed of lavender, and that’s where I planted this spring: thyme, lemon balm, heliotrope, rosemary, several types of mint, blanket flowers, beardstongue. Mostly that’s doing ok, though I’m having some problems with drainage and weeds. If I can afford the stone, I’ll finish building the small border wall later this summer, which I mean to take all the way down the property line into the shaded area where the maples and magnolia are.
I also plant a vegetable garden each year. For once I managed to get some peas in: March is usually so busy, and often there isn’t a good day to plant on the weekends where I have the time and the energy.
The main point is to get tomatoes and beans, though. For once this year I also got some sunflowers to germinate, though some kind of insect destroyed about half of them after they’d popped up above ground.
I had to replant a lot of the lawn on the west side of the house, as some kind of grass-like weed pretty much destroyed that whole area late last summer. I don’t really like dealing with lawns. They’re a hassle. On the other hand, I like the open green space they provide.
I’ve got a dead dogwood to take down myself later this summer, and a lot of fallen limbs to break down into firewood at some point. Another long-term goal I have is to get a good chipper/shredder so I can make my own mulch each year (I have a huge pile of deadwood in the most neglected corner of the backyard).
Our sour cherries and high-bush blueberries are coming along nicely, though we usually only get about one picking of blueberries before the birds strip the plants bare. (Nets don’t help: they just get under the nets, eat their fill and then freak out and panic because they’ve forgotten how to get out.)
The ambitious goal, if I can finish the wall, is to prepare the area in heavy shade for ferns, hostas and some other shade plants, and to build a treehouse in the same area, on one of our stronger maples. Getting rid of the English ivy and forsythia in this area promises to be an ordeal, though.
Obviously, I enjoy gardening. I don’t have that romantic sense that it brings me closer to nature, or any of that kind of thing. In fact, it mostly makes me grateful to live in a late-industrial civilization, because it teaches me more potently than any scholarly study might about the hard limits faced by any preindustrial agrarian society. We have so much tree cover in our yard that there are only a few patches where I can grow vegetables. I think that next year I will have to leave the best area for our vegetable garden largely fallow, as I’ve seen declining yields in the current patch, even with some mineral amendments and a lot of the compost from my own piles tilled in before planting. If I had to live off my own land, I’d be lucky to achieve subsistence even if I cut down all my trees and converted all of my yard to food production.
I do like having herbs and vegetables close at hand all summer, though.
It’s sobering to see how capricious any vegetable is, and how difficult it is to get many to germinate. Moreover, I’ve largely settled for growing vegetables that taste distinctly better from a home garden (tomatoes, beans) but that also don’t seem too interesting to squirrels, woodchucks and deer. I learned the hard way that whatever they want, they get, no matter what you do to stop them.
Pretty much everything I do in the garden is done “organically”, save for whatever the nurseries I buy from might do to grow the plants, but again, that’s not because of some profound philosophical commitment on my part. I do it this way because it’s less money and makes good sense, and because I have a phobia about hiring people to mess around with my own stuff. Why not stockpile deadwood and have compost? It seems much weirder to me to haul all the stuff to the front yard and call someone to cart it away. I don’t want a lawn service because I’m cheap, because I don’t want strangers all over my lawn once a week, because I don’t like the look of heavily treated lawns. So yes, my lawn has more weeds, is often overgrown, and has patchy areas. I’m ok with that. I’m going to run into some long-term problems with my most ambitious plans: I want to eventually build another rock garden with a water element in the backyard, but this time I want to use rocks that I couldn’t handle with my own muscles to build part of it. It should tell you something about my monomania that I’d almost rather rent a little bearcat to get the bigger rocks in place myself and dig the area for the liner.