Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Time For A Garden

It's been a while since my last blog post. Either April burned me out far more than I'd realized or its one of those life got in the way things. More specifically work, but either way, my writing and blogging time has been relegated to the backseat for the past few weeks. I like to think it's sitting back there, making notes for when I allow it back into the passenger seat - hopefully not notes on how to do get back at me for making it sit in the back seat for so long. Because knowing the types of characters that I write, that's exactly what they are doing.

In the last post where I shared my garden, Andrea asked how to make time for yard work. Well, that's what we're going to chat about today.

As a mother who spent a lot of time on her flower beds from before kids onward into having teenagers, the first rule is: Plan to be interrupted at any given moment and work accordingly. This means, pick a small section, a corner, around a tree, the side of the house, whatever area doesn't feel entirely overwhelming. Acknowledge upfront that it won't get done in a day, or even maybe in a week. 

Get your tools together and check on the kids, whether they are in the house with someone else or running hilly nilly through the yard, and then get to work. If I'm going to be planting a new flowerbed, I'll spend the first round of time marking the area and then clearing the grass (or weeds). Then I'll dispose of whatever I just cleared - ideally in the mulch pile that I keep in the back of my yard. At this point, I could be done for the day, or if everyone is behaving, break up the dirt and make a plan for what I want to plant there. Again, I could be done for the day.

If all is well, I'll begin planting. This is a point where I really try to keep things picked up as I go along because if I've made it this far into a day, it's very likely I'll get pulled away by someone. If, by some miracle, I manage to get everything planted, its time to break out the hose, give it all a drink and then toss a bag or two of mulch around everything. The mulch is an important step and should be done as soon as possible after the dirt is broken up because weeds will pop up very quickly in that nice loose soil. Mulch will keep them to a minimum. Mulch is your friend.

Eventually one little area spreads into another and another and before you know it, or years later, depending on your level of interruptions and ambition, you'll have a lovely garden to show for your efforts.

Things to keep in mind:

Gardens take perpetual upkeep. Even with my gardens established, cleaned up and mulched, I spend around ten to twenty minutes a day walking through and plucking out weeds while appreciating whatever is flowering that day. Only make the garden as big as you feel you have the time to maintain.

Mulch has to be replaced every year if its not put on thick enough, and every two years to keep it freshed up and make up for decomposition. I used around 9 yards of mulch the first year and only 5 the second to fill in the thin areas and then make it all uniform in color. Around here, 5 yards of mulch is about $150. Another thing to keep in the budget.

Flowers will need to be thinned or replaced depending on how well they do.

Roses are pretty, but can be finicky and need pruning. I enjoy them in other people's gardens.

Avoid shrubs that need yearly pruning. Unless you have time for that sort of thing. I thought I did at my old house. I was wrong. I'm opting for less time and stress in this garden.

A curved bed is more visually interesting than a straight edged one. Lay out out a hose to get a feel for the edge line does work nicely. If you have a riding lawn mower, be aware of the types of curves it can and can't mow in one easy swoop. You don't want to have to break out the weed whip every time you mow because you made the curves too severe.

Beds with a border are easier to maintain. Bricks and edging blocks cost around $1 each and make a great border that can be mowed right over. At the current house, I opted for the cheap black plastic edging that get's half buried in the ground. Seems like it was $20 for 50 ft or thereabouts. Make sure to keep enough above to hold 3-4 inches of mulch back from your grass. Rocks can make a natual border, but you'll need that weed whip to keep things looking neat, and it doesn't do a spectuacular job of keeping your grass and flowers seperated wherever the rocks meet.

Perennials are awesome. They come back year after year, will spread, and can be divided. Check when they flower and try to mix them so something is always flowering in each bed. Generally, once established, perennials take a less watering than annuals. 

Ornamental grasses, dwarf trees and shrubs add interest beyond the usual flowers.

Ask friends and family for pieces of plants you like from their gardens. Free plants! I've lost track of how many people I've given plants to over the years. I have plants from both my grandmothers that I moved from the old house to this one. It's a great way to remember people once they are gone and, even better, you can continue to pass them on to others.

Watch the clearance racks at your local nursery or home improvement stores. 95% of everything I buy is clearance or on super sale. Sure, it won't look great the first year, but next the year, it will. Just make sure to avoid anything that has mildew, or anything that looks like a disease. The majority of clearance plants are there because they're done flowering or the season is winding down and the nursery just wants to clear out all this stuff that's totally root bound. July is a great time to snag plant deals.

Don't worry about it being small the first year. Plants grow. A $1 perennial will look like the $9 pot of the same thing next year.

You can put perennials in your pots, or mix them with annuals for more summer color. When fall rolls around, transplant the perennials from your pots into a new flower bed and you'll have a head start on next year's gardening project. Or, if its a fairly large pot, keep them in the pot and move the pot to a protected area by the house to minimize damage from freezing.

Rocks add interest to flower beds. Stack them, spread them out, use them as a border, throw one here and there. I happened across someone wanting two cargo van loads of rocks out of the backyard of a house they'd recently purchased. It didn't cost me anything more than a lot of sweat and the gas to drive across town.

Gardening is an excellent workout but don't forget to wear sunscreen, because unlike the gym, the sun will get you while you sweat.

How long does it take to make a flowerbed the size of mine? That totally depends on how much time you have. At my old house, I had a lot (a whole lot) of smaller bed areas that equaled the size if my now one giant bed. I created those small beds, as dealing with my infant to teenage kids allowed, over 18 years. At the new house, with self-sufficient teens, I created the bed in two and half months. It was a long and sweaty, exhausting two and half months, but well worth it to have the whole thing done.

Spending time out in the flowers is a wonderful place to go while pondering plots or when your characters stop talking to you.

Happy gardening!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


This year seems to be flying by and by the end of each day, I wonder where the time has gone. Things have been super busy with the oldest graduating last week, getting his Eagle Scout rank this week and finishing up on the financial paperwork for college. All things both stressful and exciting. The youngest is wrapping up her last few weeks of school, which means I get to play chaperone on a school trip to Chicago this weekend, along with an orchestra concert and honors ceremony also this week. I guess that sort of explains where time is going lately.

It certainly hasn't been going toward writing.

One of my giant flower pots.

Stepping stones my daughter and
I made years ago and moved to
our new house to create a path
down the hill
After signing the contract on The Narvan last month and diving in to edits on a couple short stories, I was brimming with energy. Then, overnight, I crashed hard. And so, sitting at the bottom of the enthusiasm well, I decided to step away from the laptop and get outside and enjoy what good weather Michigan has to offer.

We get about six awesome days a year. No, seriously. We went from dead of winter to summer, then back to a couple days of spring, back to winter, and back to summer. Bodies should not have to go from winter coats to shorts in a matter of two days, and back and forth. In between all that was a lot of rain, which turned everything into a swampy mess. It's currently summer but the mosquitos haven't yet gotten the memo, so it's enjoyable to be outside.

The front of the house walkway flower garden.
We found this old plow on the property when we purchased it.
Though it's broken, it makes a good garden decoration.
The garden I started last summer needed a lot of weeding and five yards of mulch to cover all the thin spots from last year's application. And all of that was up hill. It was a good workout and I managed to get my first sunburn of the year in May.

I'm amazed how well everything is coming in already. 98% of what I bought and planted last year was on clearance. Meaning it was either half-dead, mostly dead, root-bound to or the extreme. Yet, all but five plants have come up and gone crazy. The pansies from the one pot I had on the porch last year seem to have seeded themselves all over my garden. Which is awesome.  Free plants! I prefer not to buy annuals other than to fill my pots. Everything in the garden is perennial. In fact, most of what I put in the pots is too. I just pull it out in the fall and put it in open places in the garden.

These were all rocks we either found on the property, that
we transported over from our previous house, or hauled out
of a backyard for a guy we found on Craigslist in the middle
of the hottest part of  last summer. Let's just say there's a lot
of sweat involved with these rocks.
The plants are coming in so well that I will have to split several of them already after only one year. They really love this soil! Plants in the garden at my previous home didn't look this good after ten years. It's pretty neat to see plants actually grow like they do in the pictures in flower catalogs.

The ground cover I planted last year was honestly just a few little sprigs and now those pathetic little bits are lush mounds that have spread all through the rocks. As rain washed over the rocks and broke tiny pieces off, depositing them down the hill, they've spread all over. At this rate, I won't need much mulch in a few years.

Next year's project is putting in a pond with a couple waterfalls, but for now, the rocks are in place to fill that area. Now that the hard gardening work is done for the year, I can sit back and enjoy watching things grow. And, of course, get back to writing...right after I stain the deck.