When we first went house hunting, one of my must haves was a space to plant a garden. We hit that mark and superseded it. Our house sits on a double lot, we don’t have a backyard we have a massive side yard where another house entirely could fit. That first spring, we dug out a massive area and planted rows of all kinds of vegetation: tomato, bell pepper, zucchini, squash, green beans, collard greens, cucumber, eggplant, watermelon, and cantaloupe. I threw in some basil for complementary planting near the tomato and bell pepper. It was awesome. Until I realized that by planting directly in the ground and not in raised beds, like I originally wanted to do, meant that the first hard rain would flood my garden completely.
I was devastated. My garden was a swimming pool. When we hacked up the grass we made a low spot in the yard. So after multiple hard rains, my only thought was to try and divert the water in my garden by digging four massive holes at the corners of the garden bed so that the water would run out and down. It kind of worked, but I also looked like the neighborhood maniac out there digging up holes and trying to move water around.
The good news was the garden wasn’t a complete failure. I got very creative in trying to build up and drain out the planting bed, but there were still some casualties. The collard greens never happened. I think one or two green beans (total) ever grew, and the plants got stunted. My tomatoes and bell peppers had other issues, something would take a huge bite out of them as soon as they started growing, so I could never get one to pull off the stem. I got a couple of squash, would’ve had some beautiful squash flowers if I’d pulled them off to eat them, but mostly the squash and zucchini got some kind of fungus.
The wild thing is, because I wasn’t aware of where my dad planted everything and some of the seeds moved with the flooding, I’d assumed this big vine growing on the ground was the watermelon or the cantaloupe. There was some small growth when I looked underneath it, it was green and rounded, so I thought definitely baby watermelon. I didn’t look underneath that vine again for weeks, until a friend came over. It was then that she, out of curiosity, pulled back all the vines to reveal dozens of massive cucumbers. Yup. I didn’t know cucumbers grew on a vine. And now I had more cucumbers than I ever wanted, and fatter than I ever knew they could be.
The actual watermelon vine wasn’t successful. They’d start growing and would always split before they got much bigger than a softball. I honestly had no clue if I was supposed to do something particular once they started growing to encourage more growth and avoid the splitting. I did end up getting about 3 or 4 small cantaloupe, but overall had similar issues as the watermelon. My basil grew waist height, I was cutting frequently and giving it away to whomever would take it. And right when I was getting read to give up on the eggplants, getting ready to pull up the nearly waist-high plants, I went away for a weekend vacation and came back to dozens of eggplant.
After the eggplant finished, the last thing to grow, we ended up pulling up everything else. It was the fall, we were getting ready to have a house full of guests for our wedding, and we didn’t want random bushes sticking out of the middle of our yard. After the wedding was over we picked up all the bricks that we’d used to mark out patches, and then finally let the grass grow back in. There’s still a dip in the yard where the garden used to be, but overall it looks like the garden bed was never there.
I promised myself I would replant a garden as one of my Journey to 30 goals. Taking all the lessons I learned from the first attempt, I could have a more successful garden the second time around. If after all the hurdles and naivety–the flooding, the lack of knowledge about growing conditions, fertilizer needs, and garden predators–I could still get a decent yield, then I knew my growing potential was limitless, especially with my yard size. This time I would stick to my guns and build raised beds, placing them alongside the fence instead of in the middle of my yard. Having a raised bed should help minimize the amount of weeding needed, which was always a point of frustration between me and E, who really had no patience for gardening at all.
Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to build the raised beds. But I priced out some of the materials. I’m going to use cement blocks instead of wood planters (I’ve seen some beautiful wood planters on pinterest that would make my yard look stunning, but I don’t have stunning money), and I’ve looked at a few options for getting a large soil delivery instead buying individual bags.
I did, however, join the Arbor Day Foundation and purchase trees and flowers. I bought a willow tree and some hydrangea, as well as got ten free flowering trees for joining. And by trees I really mean some twigs that would eventually turn into trees–they were literally 10 flimsy sticks that were smaller than a ruler.
I found out quickly that maybe me and hydrangea weren’t the best idea…I don’t have a sprinkler system and I really am too lazy to go out and water them as much as they need. The ten free trees sounded like a good idea in theory, but once they arrived I realized I had no use for so many trees. My mother said she wanted one of each (dogwood and redbud) but I wasn’t actually going to see her anytime soon. I heeled them into the ground until I could figure out what to do with them, but I really should’ve just chosen the donate option when I paid my membership dues. Long story short, I gave away four to a friend as a housewarming (not sure if she actually planted them or not), and I attempted to plant one of each in my yard. The rest kind of…(RIP).
The dogwood I planted struggled. I think it was getting too much sunlight; the leaves were burning. I eventually pulled it up and attempted to plant in a pot. It’s still alive, sort of. The American Redbud, on the other hand, is surprisingly thriving. From a tiny twig, it’s starting to grow up one leaf at a time. It’s trunk is still pretty small but it seems anchored into the ground. I think we may have a winner!
The willow tree came as about a 2.5 ft stick with one tendril hanging off. Seven months later, it’s taller than me. I’ve had to trim the tendrils down twice because they’re growing faster than the trunk is getting thicker, so it was causing the tree to bend. When they said it was a fast growing tree, I certainly didn’t expect it to be this fast. But I’m excited!
Aside from my Arbor Day exploits, I also went to a local nursery and purchased a satsuma tree, a fig tree, and two Japanese ligustrum trees. Both the satsuma and fig are doing well, especially the fig, which at one point wasn’t looking so great. The ligustrum…I’m kind of having buyers remorse. I probably should’ve done more research before I purchased them, but I went to the nursery with the idea that I’d get greenery that could act as a bushy hedge, give us some privacy, and asked one of the employees their opinion for a plant that would meet that need and be dog friendly. He suggested the ligustrum. But once I got home I read all these horror stories about their being invasive, and dropping nasty berries, and so forth. I think more than anything, I don’t love where I planted them, and they’re pretty slow growing, so they’ve not inspired any faith that I want to keep them.
I also got garden envy this summer when the crepe myrtles bloomed. I never really much cared for them because they’re pretty uninteresting when they’re not flowering, which is the majority of the year. But when they do flower, and there’s multiple colors in the same place, it’s so beautiful that you have to pause and take them in. So I think part of my buyers remorse was in not getting crepe myrtles instead of the ligustrum to line my fence. Anyway, I can always dig them up and move them somewhere else if I get a better idea.
My yard isn’t anywhere near where I want it, but I definitely have dreams. I’m still undecided what kind of plant I want along the front fence that offers some privacy but also looks nice year round. I realize I pay much greater attention to vegetation in people’s yards than I ever used to, trying to decide on what to do. I low-key want to plant a row of banana trees along the front fence, but my gut is telling me that may not be the best idea.
For now, the plan is to create the raised beds in time to plant a winter garden, to find some different, lower maintenance flowers, or low growing shrubs, to replace my failing hydrangea, and to potentially get a couple more trees that can grow in very large pots, particularly an olive tree. I can maybe plant one more tree in my yard before it starts to look like an orchard, which wouldn’t be a bad thing to me, but E would certainly hate it.