Since I moved in 14 years ago, the little garden area in my backyard has been a perpetual science project.
Located under the staircase leading up to the balcony/deck on the second floor of my house, the area is not really conducive to becoming an outdoor living space or serving any practical purposes. As a new homeowner 14 years ago, I decided to take on the challenge of making it an ornamental space to give my postage stamp sized backyard some kind of visual appeal.
Before I could even start planning on what to plant there, it was clean-up time as previous owners/occupants never really did anything with the space. Waste and debris accumulated there – lots of it – in the form of organic and non-organic waste. I spent two weekends clearing out garbage of all kinds including newspapers, candy wrappers, bottle caps, beer cans, dead branches and leaves, lots of rocks as well as some unidentifiable household items, but fortunately, nothing requiring “CSI” intervention. There was so much junk to be hauled, my muscles could only do so much in one day, but what a great workout! I am sure a “Fitness Boot Camp” program could have been planned around it.
Planting season 2 was an experience in itself. I planted a few easy ones to get things started but they immediately died. The soil was nowhere near being ready to sustain life and the resident insects there were still in party mode. My mission in the second season was to get rid of some of the old soil, add new soil and fertilize it sufficiently to be able to sustain plant life. Along the way, I discovered random wild root systems lurking about a foot down that needed to be pulled out. Unfortunately, while pulling out some very tenacious roots, my lower back made a popping noise (and not in a good way) so I was out for the rest of the season.
In planting season 3, my back had healed well enough and I managed to get the soil conditioned in time to get the season started, only to discover that the neighbourhood squirrels had a voracious appetite for almost everything I planted. I read online that a good way to discourage squirrels naturally was to plant onion bulbs. I woke up one morning to find little bits of onion skins scattered around the postage-stamp sized backyard as the squirrels seemingly feasted on those too.
In planting season 4, I stayed away from any plant source that involved bulbs and discovered what should have been there in the first place: ground cover plants. Given the garden’s placement, it only received partial morning sunlight until 11:00, so the journey began to find virtually indestructible plants that liked shade. Hostas and Japanese spurge took off like crazy and the lily of the valley I planted the year before seemed to survive the squirrels and gave me three stems. I think we finally have a garden!
The years that followed involved much online research and trips to the garden centre, buying a few individual plants to see if they would take. Some did, some didn’t, and some resurrected a year or two later, causing congestion in the little garden. Either way, it didn’t really matter much. The hostas, Japanese spurge and lily of the valley kept filling in nicely, always leaving a lush green background to any flowering plants I experimented with, whether they successfully took off or not.
A few years ago, a neighbouring sumac tree died, leaving behind a legacy root system that seemed to run forever. That spring I pulled up most of the roots, unfortunately I pulled up most of the contents of my garden with it. As gingerly as I tried to replant the groundcovers that seemed to be flying in all directions, only the hosta and lily of the valley plants seemed to survive.
Fortunately my mother had a few castoffs from her garden that year, having split several big plants. I was able to fill in the gaps with some fantastic additions that seemed to flourish instantly.
Last year, my condo corporation arranged for the replacement of my deck/balcony that had run its course and requested that all personal items including plant materials be removed from the yard in order to provide a safe working environment for the deck builders. It was nearing the end of a successful season, so I did not have a problem chopping all of the plants to the ground. But I knew that between giving the garden a full “haircut” and the disturbance of construction work, it was anyone’s guess what would come up.
I was pleasantly surprised when the lily of the valley, the hostas and I believe the daylily plants came back this spring, stronger than ever (see picture above). After the deck construction, I will need to top up and treat the soil a bit to give the plants the best chance possible to thrive. For this year’s experiment, I will be trying to plant these little guys to see what happens. (left to right: Strawberry Punch Superbells, Ballerina Red Armeria, Shock Wave Petunia, back: Blue Spruce Sedum)
While I would not consider myself as having inherited my parents’ and grandparents’ green thumb, gardening is one of life’s simple pleasures that goes hand-in-hand with the joy being a homeowner. The fact that I essentially took a garbage dump 14 years ago and turned it into a space where greenery can now thrive with little human intervention is a source of great pride to me.
The best part about gardening is that I feel completely in the moment when I am doing it and it is often a welcome diversion to take me away from the many things that can be trotting in my head, or just to provide a break to let things process.
The added bonus is that watching my garden grow offers countless hours of meditation from my window, even if just 5 minutes daily, admiring the wonder of Mother Nature’s work and the beauty of life.
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