The Getaway That is Always There for You
Our calendars are full: chauffeuring kids here and there, cooking, cleaning, commuting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, demanding bosses and of course, familial responsibilities. So why on earth add gardening to the mix?
No doubt about it, gardening is work. Yet for me, slipping on my gardening gloves releases rather than increases tension. Of course, if your neglected backyard looks like a wilderness—an overgrown field of never-ending weeds—the sight of it may not (yet!) inspire calm.
Imagination and planning can make your yard a garden: a place of harmony, beauty and inspiration. The best place to plan is the yard itself, preferably sitting on a bench. In garden furniture, benches are the most indispensable investment—begin with a sturdy, movable one in an adaptable style. In time you can invest in gardening tools and supplies, and a bench with storage built in might be a good choice.
Put your bench seat in the choicest spot—the right mix of warm and cool, sun and shade. Grab a pad and pencil, maybe a drink, and settle in. Notice what is in the yard now, and imagine what might be there—or might be gone—if you had your druthers. Note your needs, wants and must dos.
Common examples might be:
- Differentiating between an eating area, play area and ‘off by your lonesome to contemplate life’ or simply take a nap area
- Sections with year-round color (alternating bloom times)
- Areas that cannot be ignored, such as those weeds!
Now divide these areas into more manageable projects, for example:
Landscaping (Your needs)
- Determine functional areas of your yard: e.g., playground, outdoor dining, sunning/relaxing, etc.
- Create walkways to protect lawn and plantings, and to separate areas by use.
- Define your design with crisp borders between paths, lawn and planting beds; refine it by balancing hard structures with softer plantings
Planting (Your wants)
- For color, plant flowers appropriate to the season
- Plant shrubs and perennials to provide landscape definition and texture during the off season
- Use mulch on flower beds for weed suppression and weather protection; fertilize according to your plants, your soil and the season
Weeds and Grass (Your must dos)
- Seek out and destroy those weeds!
- Treat recurring weeds when they are small
- Grass needs frequent fertilization
Do you have high traffic areas where grass routinely gets trampled on, even worn to bare dirt? Wood chips, gravel, brick, stone or concrete can spruce up these paths and give them durability. Walkways take time and effort to create, but once established, they reduce maintenance and can double as boundaries between functional or planting areas where other forms of borders are not practical.
You might be like a great many gardeners who prefer plastic or wood edging to distinguish between one area and another. By trimming lawn edges, I keep the lines between my lawn and beds clean naturally; I also push soil and mulch back into the beds. I prune overhanging bushes and shrubs and snip off (“dead-head”) flowers past their bloom to keep things tidy—that is, until the deer, rabbits and crows seek to undermine my efforts in their quest for food or just recreation.
Judicious planting can help mask some of these wildlife issues, while at the same time providing structure and color. A mix of low-lying ground cover plants help minimize weeds and cover those tattered edges. Then working from back to front, I plant bigger shrubs and perennials toward the rear to create a texture-rich backdrop. Between them and the border, I plant annuals, which I call one hit wonders. Here this year, gone the next to make room for another annual. I do this to fill in and provide color that varies throughout the year. You can start with a few appropriate to the current season, and then add more as you learn what blooms when. Your local nursery will know what zone works best in your area. And be mindful of how light hits different areas of your property, and what kind: shaded, filtered, or direct. You will notice that the more dense the planting, the fewer the weeds. For plants needing wider spacing, wood-chip or pine-straw mulch will keep weeds down.
Although it seems daunting, pulling weeds is less troublesome than maintaining a beautiful lawn. Weeds are not unlike rabbits – they multiply seemingly overnight. By keeping after grass, you can avoid it growing over three inches; fertilizing once a quarter will help suppress weeds. If being kind to Mother Earth is important to you, consider pulling them rather than using chemical weed killer. I realize there is a reason why many people use the quick fix. If you have a large plot of land, it is laborious. If you are tempted to use weed killers, research can inform you about the impact on the environment. A local gardening group may help you learn how to minimize them.
You might want to replace some of your lawn with a low-maintenance alternative. For an outdoor living space, could pavers or concrete be better for you than grass? Perhaps you need a play area for your children (sand?) or an exercise area for pets (gravel?). If you have trees or room to plant them, you can use mulch or ground cover around the base to reduce grass; fallen leaves from trees produce mulch themselves. You can widen paths, or extend them past obstacles. Or you can simply expand your borders. In time, you may want a shed for storage, a greenhouse for seed growing, even a cold frame for winter gardening. It is important to remember that a yard is an organic work in progress. Even when you’ve executed the perfect layout that gives you maximum function and pleasure, you’ll spot something that can be improved.
These nine important mini projects will take you a long way toward the tenth and most important job: Enjoying the fruits of your labors! With thoughtful planning, maintaining that beautiful backyard becomes less a chore but more of a therapeutic workout. When I need a getaway from the daily routine, I have my garden: a place to recreate without ever leaving home—a place to enjoy the pleasures of solitude and to share the beauties of nature (and of my own vision) with family and friends.
About Stan Horst
Stan Horst started out in life building cabinets and furniture, which gave him an eye for quality construction. These days you can find Stan enjoying himself entertaining folks from nearly every corner of the globe in his rental cabins in VA. He and his wife Deb, along with their two teenage kids and their dog live in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. When he’s not entertaining, Stan manages a website called Betterbenches.com, which serves as a source for people looking for quality benches and other wood furniture. He loves the outdoor life: his activities include camping, hiking and—naturally—spending time in his garden.