Dreams of a Frustrated Gardener


Bill Tune


I used to think that if I had sufficient time and resources, I would be a good yardman. “If”, as we all know, is the biggest two-letter word in the English language.  For many years I used the demands on my time as an educator to excuse my minimal efforts at maintaining the yard.

I've had my moments, mind you.  I've cleaned out overgrown flower beds and planted what should have been beautiful arrays of flowering plants.  I've set out rows of boxwood bushes with visions of neatly trimmed hedges.  Of course, these efforts were most likely to occur during summer months when I had more time, but less desirable weather for working outdoors. Sadly, plants are very unforgiving when one forgets to water or gets too busy to weed.  And there was always the on-going battle with the lawn.  The more you water, the quicker it needs mowing.  Edging, while very gratifying when done well, requires even more effort.  Raking?  I don't think so.  I still refuse to rake mown grass or even leaves (secondary purpose of a lawn mower).  Fortunately, now it can be called mulching, and by restoring those nutrients to the soil, I'm not such a scumbag of a yardman.

I learned early on to keep expectations low, so my primary goal for 30 years was to NOT have the worst looking yard on the block; a feat at which I have been fairly successful, if I do say so myself.  And, yes, vacant houses DO count.  The ultimate “slap in the face” related to my delusions of grandeur as a competent yardman came 20 years ago when I was applying for a new job.  When my mother-in-law found out I had listed “yard work” as a hobby, she laughed out loud! I sometimes hate reality,.

All this brings me to my ultimate vindication.  In 2008 I retired!  As scary as it was to be relieved of that I-just-don't-have-time excuse, I was truly hopeful and eager to see what I now could accomplish in the world of horticulture.

My wife's job gives us the opportunity to relocate every few years.  Our first residence after retirement had a relatively nice but somewhat neglected yard.  I worked hard to whip it into shape with good results and positive comments from regular passers-by.  All of my efforts, however, did little more than restore this yard to its former level of acceptability.  Then we moved again in 2010.

My new yard is large, front and back, with several areas that were once flower beds.  The previous occupant had little time to do more than occasionally mow the lawn.  He wasn't retired.   At last, a challenge worthy of my fantasy yardman aspirations!  Hopefully, all those hours of watching HGTV (Yard Crashers, Curb Appeal, etc.) would come in useful now.  I wish I had their budgets to work with.

As usual, the front had to take priority because of its dominant visibility.  I was too busy working on the interior of the house last summer and fall to do anything to the yard (another essay, perhaps), so after months of mulling over different ideas for the front yard, I started working in earnest in March of 2011.

The main bed is between the garage and front door.  After cleaning out dead grass, weeds, and overgrown ferns, I discovered that it was lined with some rather attractive rocks.  There was a series of round cement/pebble stepping stones in the grass about 3 feet in front of the flower bed that led in a straight line from the driveway to the front sidewalk.  Only serious weed eating prevented these from being completely hidden by the grass.  Thanks to a friend's suggestion (I'm still not real big on the “vision” thing.), I expanded the main flower bed and brought it 6 feet out from the house to made it align with the garage and front porch, created a rock walkway next to it where I relocated the stepping stones, and eventually planted a wide variety of flowering plants (azaleas, lilies, geraniums, vincas, marigolds, and caladiums). 

I was able to keep the existing elephant ears, and I thinned and redistributed some of the ferns that were so overgrown on one end of the bed.  I topped it off with red mulch.  That was the biggie.  It was long, hard work to dig up that much lawn, install borders, prepare and plant the flowers, and haul the tons (it felt like) of rock and mulch to the desired position.  However, as I marveled at how long I could work each day (I'm no longer young!), I realized that the only comparisons I had were the lesser projects I used to do in the 90+ temperatures of June and July.  March provides nice work-on-an-outside-project weather. 

I did similar, though much less drastic, improvements to the two smaller front beds, including one full of plumbago, a beautiful small bush with attractive blue flowers -- I love blue flowers.  It's been quite an education for me.  I don't do too well at remembering the names of plants, but I'm working on it. I have lantana in several places, and I was told that nearly half a dozen times before I could remember it on my own.

With the lawn neatly trimmed, my front yard is now a thing of beauty, and yes, I say so myself.  I'm working on the back now, but progress is slower in the hotter weather.  At least it looks like somebody lives here now, and that's an improvement.

To me, there is no greater reward than the satisfaction that comes from my own accomplishments. I get to feel that satisfaction every time I look at my yard.  Friends and neighbors have been very generous in their praise of my efforts, and I appreciate that too.  It's always nice to be appreciated by others.  Even my mother-in-law is impressed.


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