This post was something I had in mind to write last summer when my blog was in temporary hibernation, but as cold temperatures have given way to sunshine and warmth, and everything outside has sprouted leaves and is furiously blooming, I’ve found the sentiment to be just as true this year as last year, and so just as relevant.
I am an accidental gardener.
Seriously, I never planned on becoming one. Mostly, because to date my experience with plants tells me I do not have an innate green thumb. I am not good at remembering to water plants. I don’t really know how to make them thrive. Hell, I managed to neglect a cactus to near death once and I thought that was impossible!
So you can imagine that when we ended up buying a house with a decent sized garden out back I wasn’t sure what the hell I was doing. The garden was not in good shape. A new neighbour down the street later told me that the father of the previous owner was a master gardener, and the now-derelict patch used to be known for always being awash in colour, with something always blooming as the seasons changed. His daughter was less interested, and his son-in-law, when they later inherited the house, wasn’t interested at all. By the time they sold the house additional mobility issues had only contributed further to the neglect. A deck and a large shed were put in a decade ago, and half the ground in between was amateurishly paved with large slabs of concrete, with further slabs tracing out a path to the rear shed between a miserable patch of grass and a narrow strip of dirt where a couple of skeletal, knee-high stumps were all that remained of whatever had once thrived there. The shed itself was large and sturdy, but the fence panels on either side of the garden were in complete disrepair. Some had fallen over, creating large gaps of access to the yards on either side of us. Others were on the verge of joining their comrades on the ground. That aforementioned miserable patch of grass was partially obscured by a small mound of debris which stuck out into the path, making traversing the yard a hazardous affair. A close inspection revealed that the remains of a much smaller, older shed had disintegrated on the spot, left to rot. One of its wall panels, complete with the triangular top, had clearly been re-purposed for a fence panel, propped up in place by a wooden beam. In the chill light of the cold early spring, it was a sad looking sight. And once the weather warmed up a bit, the only thing growing in abundance everywhere other than weeds was some form of ivy, which I would later learn to identify as Convolvulus, or commonly known as bindweed, my dreaded enemy in my fight to reclaim the outdoor space.
Yes, a sad sight. But when we saw it for the first time, we saw possibilities. I had never intended to garden, but as soon as we bought the house, I intended to clean it up and make it into a low maintenance space for us to relax outside and let Hawkeye run around. Before we even began on any minor interior work, I had lucked out in finding a fantastic guy through Facebook to have a look at the garden and organise a plan for clearing it out, securing the fences, maintaining the shed, and generally transforming the place so that it wasn’t one misstep away from a tetanus shot.
Trevor did a pretty freaking fabulous job. The scraggly grass was dug up and the soil turned over. The heap to the side of the shed was carted out to gain access to the rear of the property. The patio was power-washed. The long strip of soil on the side was covered in a membrane and then with bags upon bags of bark chips. A gardener was brought in to lay down turf for a fresh lawn. The shed and the deck were painted, and finally, 25 out of the 32 6’x6′ fence panels were completely replaced.
The question of plants was raised once.
“I can try and remove these for you, if you want” Trevor waved in the direction of the handful of skeletal stumps poking out the narrow strip of ground that ran the length of our property. “Or I can just lay the membrane and bark chips around them and leave them as they are.”
I contemplated the sad lot and the eyesore they made, and then contemplated our budget, and all the myriad things we had yet to get done with the house, and decided that this was not a priority. The stumps were left as they are. A project for another time, I thought to myself.
Turns out, sometimes the path of least resistance yields surprisingly nice results. With the garden nominally finished, I turned my attention to the interior of the house, and moving in, and then unpacking, and by the time I poked my nose outside again, those skeletal shrubs weren’t looking quite so lifeless.
New buds, leaves, and slender branches began to sprout from the chopped remnants of shrubbery. One looked to be a dogwood tree. A slender stem emerged from another one to surprise me with a rose bush. Before I realised what was happening, edges of the membrane under the bark were being lifted up, not just by the dreaded convolvulus vines, but tall stout crocosmia stems.
Wild strawberry vines competed with the ivy. Other, less virulent ivy, crawled under a neighbour’s fence to give a splash of colour next to the concreted patio. Out of nowhere at the end of July a brand new green shoot poked out of nowhere by the shed and turned out to be a laurel bush.
And by the time autumn hit, and I had expected all the surprises to be over, two red hot pokers (Kniphofia uvaria) suddenly shot out of nowhere, practically overnight.
Sometimes I would sit on the deck looking out at all the greenery I was suddenly in charge of and a line from the Secret Garden musical would float through my mind. Mary, the strongest roses will fair thrive on being neglected, if the soil is rich enough. Well, I wouldn’t have said the soil in our backyard was terribly rich, and I wouldn’t have gone quote so far as to say “thrive” in relation to the haphazardly asymmetrical growing shrubbery, but certainly the plants in our garden survived some sort of massacre followed by a period of neglect. By the end of the summer, I was more concerned with trimming some of them back rather than wondering if they would grow. I had come to love the ragged shapes resulting from branches growing out the wounds of whatever axe or chainsaw had been taken to them before we bought the house, seeing them as survivors.
When the weather turned cold and the daylight hours shortened, the garden once again fell to somewhat more benign neglect. I worried about whether anything would survive, but coming home from work after dark gave me little motivation to check ouside, and the cold and wet weekends didn’t help either. However, as the warm weather returned, so did signs of life. The maybe-dogwood has begun sprouting new leaves, though it is definitely the slowest growing thing that I have. The laurel, which stayed green all winter, has begun shooting upward again. Within the space of two weeks, bare crocosmia bulbs have turned into young stems. Before my very eyes, the garden shed its winter bleakness. Some potted flowers gifted to me by friends last summer managed to survive the winter neglect as well, and have been joined by new ones. Even the lawn seems to have come through more or less intact.
So I am once again gardening ineptly. Accidentally on purpose.