Tag Archives: garden

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Garden Weeds

In declaring my independence from the city and moving to the country, I felt a sense of renewed freedom that was truly hard to describe.

Regular readers and my inner circle of friends will recall that in the city, I have had more than my fair share of lousy neighbours. Over the years, I have endured blaring music till all hours of the night, my backyard being used as a dog’s toilet and my driveway being used as a visitor’s parking spot, among other not-so-neighbourly infractions.

Don’t get me wrong, I have had exceptionally lovely neighbours as well and I miss them dearly, but the nuisance ones occupied significantly more of my head space than the delightful ones.

The move to a rural property meant less need to compromise and to accommodate the impingements of self-entitled neighbours in the name of “staying on good terms”. With so few neighbours, I had the distance I needed to breathe and to heal.

But in the country, there is a different impingement that has become an almost daily preoccupation: garden weeds.

When we arranged a first visit to see this property, it was mid-February and the 1.4 acre parcel of land was covered by snow. We knew that the place had a garden, as the listing referred to the patio as an “oasis”, but that was the extent of what we knew about the state of the landscaping.

Fast forward to our closing date and our first visit to the property, we were delighted to see the home surrounded by flower beds and shrubs…. A multitude of flower beds and shrubs…. Endless flower beds and shrubs. It begged the question, how much free time did the previous owners have to maintain all of this?

The glorious array of flowers and greenery was a beautiful sight in itself. But once we got past the first impressions, a closer look revealed overgrown shrubs with no sense of boundaries, dead branches embedded in each tree, and garden weeds growing wildly in every flower bed.

While I looked forward to adding gardening to my hobbies in retirement, I didn’t envision it as a replacement for my full-time job.

Up until that point, my points of reference for weeding gardens were minimal at best. In childhood, the small number of small flower beds we had around our suburban home were what I would consider to be reasonable and manageable, for two working parents and a kid whose main hobby was television. When I was old enough, I mowed the lawn, but that was it. I assume that one of my parents tended to the garden weeds.

If we skip through the decade I lived in apartments and fast forward to my first home, the extent of my exterior maintenance was reserved for a little shade garden in the backyard (referred to as the science project) that was maybe 3 feet by 6 feet. I could weed that little garden in about 5 minutes, maybe 3 or 4 times per season.

In total, this was insufficient training, life experience and mental preparation for a property of this size, with an abundance of overgrown plants. If we took the time and energy to dig them up and divide them, we could supply a garden centre for weeks.

You can imagine my discouragement at first when realizing that an hour of weeding the overgrown gardens was a mere drop in a bucket and barely made a difference.

My discouragement was compounded by my body’s reaction the next morning, and feeling muscle groups that haven’t been used in this way in…. well… ever! The big question at that time was whether or not my body would adjust and get used to it, much like it eventually does, as it did with other activities like running.

If there is anything that running taught me, it was that if I wanted to keep at it, I knew that I had to set time limits for each session and to stick to my exercise and stretching routine daily. Once I was in a routine, then I could build up gradually.

There is an odd satisfaction (appealing to the Type A part of me) when comparing the congested flower beds with no boundaries, to a slightly tidier flower bed with increasing breathing space between plants, where you can see which ones were intended to be there in the first place. There was indeed incentive to keep at it.

There are times when weeding is really a game like Sesame Street’s “One of these things is not like the others.” And then there are other times when it feels like a giant game of “Whack-a-mole” when the weeds grow back within days.

But slowly, with each session, the garden is starting to look better. We’re certainly not approaching any big reveals yet like an HGTV show, but with each improvement and less incidence of regrowth, the encouragement is building, as is my determination to stick with it.

And of course, living in the country, we are keenly interested in trying to keep things as natural as possible. It would be so easy to accelerate the process with an herbicide to kill off the weeds, but the idea of a strong rainfall washing away herbicide residue toward healthy plants (or into the well system) is not really an option. Plus, with the abundance of birds, bees, butterflies and wildlife (including my cat that takes supervised walks daily) we don’t want to risk driving the critters away or getting any of them sick.

I am certain that once we get the garden under better control, ongoing maintenance should be just that, occupying only an hour here and there.

When that time comes, that is when I expect that we won’t cringe each time we drive up our own driveway, and we will actually be better able to enjoy our property to the fullest, leaving leisure time for actual leisure.

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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Country Living and Non-Stop Pick-Up Sticks

When I first read the real estate listing for our home-to-be, one of the details that stole my heart was the mention of a tree-lined lot and the picture of mature trees surrounding the little house.

Even though I am not what I would consider a winter person, when combined with a fresh February snowfall, the house presented all of the elements of a charming country retreat. A couple of friends mentioned how it looked like the kind of house you’d see in a Hallmark Christmas movie.

Having grown up in suburbia, I wasn’t a stranger to trees. We had a weeping willow, a crab-apple tree, cedar hedges and a few shrubs. There was even an apple tree on the property line with one of our neighbours. But as a kid, I never really thought about them. I just remember climbing them or making them into a big prop in whatever game my playmates’ imagination came up with.

Then came a decade of rental apartments, where trees were there for shade, shelter and beauty, but I never really gave them much thought. Even in the townhome where I lived for 20 years, the condominium corporation took care of the trees. The most I ever did was rake a few leaves.

Now, in a home with a tree-lined lot, I see trees differently, both literally and metaphorically. They are a source of pride and joy and we are so fortunate that our property has such a variety of beautiful trees. But the reality check is setting in: ongoing maintenance.

Sadly, there are a couple that aren’t doing well that will need to be removed, but that’s just nature and the circle of life at work. At the same time, we have a few majestic ones that we were told by our tree expert were probably standing since our great-grandparents’ days and will probably outlive us.

In having so many trees around, in various stages of life, I understand that getting acquainted with each variety individually and understanding their respective needs will be a project in itself.
But the one thing that doesn’t take a tree expert to realize is that when you have mature trees around, falling twigs, sticks and branches are a fact of life. Continue reading

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The Hunt for the Perfect Lawn Chair

There is nothing more relaxing than enjoying a warm summer day in the great outdoors, in the company of friends or family, feasting on barbecued food and sipping a frosty beverage… until your back locks up and you can’t get out of the freaking lawn chair.

Or conversely, to not be able to get out of bed the next day from lower back pain.

This happened to me a while ago which had my normally brisk walking pace down to a slow shuffle much like the character Tim Conway used to play on the Carol Burnett Show. I was back at my trusty chiropractor’s office for a few sessions to get things back to normal.

Since that time, it has become an annual ritual: testing lawn chairs in the hope of finding… THE ONE!

If you have been around for a few decades as I have, you’ll probably remember that the worst thing that used to happen with lawn chairs was to get up and having a funny checked pattern imprinted on the back of your thighs from the plastic webbing. I miss those days of plaid thighs. But it wasn’t the challenge that it is today.

I’ve accepted the reality of blood circulation randomly deciding to cut out, grunting when I pick up things from the floor and discs degenerating by the hour. These “joys” are tempered by the bright side that waking up with a new ache or pain is actually a sign of still being alive to write about it. Continue reading

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When Vacation Time Becomes Home Maintenance Time

Maybe it’s a product of having a busy life and many interests, but I long for the day when I can take a vacation and for it to be entirely made up of time to put my feet up, read a good book and just relax in well-earned peace and tranquility.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being a home owner. I also love taking care of my investment. The problem is that through a normal work week, when you factor in time for social activities, writing, cooking, cleaning and laundry, there isn’t much time or energy left to bring out the power tools and the paint cans to knock things off my home maintenance to-do list.

And even when I do set aside time for do-it-yourself (DIY) projects, I want it done right the first time. I don’t want to rush the project and risk making a mess. For that reason, it needs a generous time allotment.

It would be one thing if I had no natural inclination for DIY projects or if I hated them, but I don’t. I actually think they are a joy and a privilege.

The worst part is that I am responsible for the to-do list and I tend to expect a lot of myself, so the list does get a little ambitious.

That being the case, the list of projects often get deferred to the only time where time and patience are in good supply: vacations… or should I say, stay-cations. Continue reading

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The Wisdom of Flowers

FlowersThis past week I was most excited to come home from work and to be able to snip a few stems of fresh lily of the valley. While I understand that some people might classify these on the same level as invasive weeds, to me they are the ultimate example of why flowers are important and how flowers speak to us.

First, the wonderful fragrance of lily of the valley is a throwback to childhood memories of a simpler time. When it would peak in mid to late May, Mom would bring a bunch into the house, filling the room with that aroma that became synonymous with joy and the messages “end-of-school year” and “summer is almost here”, a Pavlovian trigger that remains with me today.

As an adult, I continue to appreciate its gentle whispers and reminders:

Hope: When we are in a winter that seemingly never ends or a spring that never seems to arrive, flowers are a reminder that at some point, the seasons will indeed change and the crocuses, tulips, lilacs and lily of the valley will be in full bloom. The eager anticipation for the sights and perfumes of flowers in bloom, to me, is synonymous with “good things come to those who wait” and “hope springs eternal”.

Carpe Diem: With lily of the valley, the window of opportunity is perhaps 10 days and takes a concerted effort to keep checking on them to not miss their peak. If you snip them too early, they aren’t fragrant. If you snip them too late, the fragrance starts expiring and then they dry out and die. The expression “stop and smell the roses” is a thoughtful parallel to the transience of life and how the good times are meant to be savoured.Lily of the valley

Adversity: To me, lily of the valley have been a source of fascination. When it came to experiments in my own garden, I tried growing some in rich soil but to poor results: they don’t seem to grow the fragrant bells, only the green stems. But when I plant them in poor quality, sandy soil (one foot away), they thrive and rise like a phoenix. Lesson learned: even in adversity, beauty and abundance is possible.

The cyclical nature of life: The beauty of gardening is when you can have a fun mixture of perennials and annuals reaching their peak of blooms at different times, providing colour and entertainment throughout the growing season. Lily of the valley might bloom early, but it is easy to find plants to backfill for them, and stagger the beauty of the garden throughout summer and fall. To me this is a floral reflection on “not having all of one’s eggs in the same basket” and that “variety is the spice of life”.

Surprises: Every now and then, I have been surprised by plants either blooming longer than expected or coming back for another round of late blooms well into the fall. I live for those serendipitous moments, not only in the garden, but in life as well.

Did you enjoy this post? If you did, please know that there are plenty more where that came from! If you haven’t already, you can check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.net. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox.
Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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