Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Changing Landscape

When we told people we were leaving British Columbia to move to Prince Edward Island there were a variety of responses. Why would you do that? Won't you miss us? What happens if it doesn’t work out? What if you don’t like it? Some of these questions were based on people’s fears for us. And we also harboured some of those fears. What if I couldn’t find a job? What if the bank wouldn’t grant us a mortgage? What if we hated it? Despite these concerns I never once doubted that we needed to try because I had learned something in my former garden that gave me the confidence to move ahead.

When I first started gardening I was paralyzed by all the decisions that needed to be made. What plants would look good together? What if the plants got eaten by deer? What if they didn’t look as good in reality as they did in my head? What if they die? I felt like I couldn’t plant anything for all the fears of what might happen. Eventually something had to be planted though and yes, the deer ate it, plants died, and the combinations weren’t necessarily the height of fashion. But I learned so much. The conditions various plants favoured, what plants the deer loved to eat, what combinations I preferred. The single most important thing I learned was You Can Always Change Your Mind.  Seriously.  It’s allowed. Your first decision might not be the right one. In fact, it might be completely wrong. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make another decision and try something else. You should never feel like you’re allowed only one choice. That kind of thinking will render you completely inert and unable to make any decisions at all. Sometimes the best decision is to just make a decision.

I’ve had to remind myself of this advice many times in the last year when working in this new garden. Just make a decision, any decision and do something. That action will snowball and more ideas will pop up. I can always make changes later so don’t stress about the small details.

With this in mind I thought I would talk about my process working on the back garden.  I haven't got a formal name for this area yet because, well, it keeps changing.  It all started with a little plant called Plume Poppy

If you've read this blog before you know I purchased a plume poppy last year at a spring garden sale.  I had no idea what it was or what it would become.  By the end of the summer the plume poppy had grown from 6 inches to 4 feet and it needed a new home.  I decided to put it behind the garage and began work on creating a new bed just for this plant.  Over the winter that plan festered in my brain.  I thought about what other plants would look good in the poppy.  I thought about how those large leaves looked so tropical.  I looked at other plants that survive in temperate climates but have a tropical air to them.  What if I created a tropical-esque hideaway behind the garage?  We discussed all sorts of ideas for the garage.  It could be a workshop, large garden shed, or summer cottage.  We could have large trees and big leafed perennials to create a hidden oasis.  I started drawing up some designs like this one.

The hedgerow could be changed to a flowering border with rhododendrons and magnolias and a large catalpa.  On the opposite side a large oval bed could hold honey locust and other brightly flowered perennials and shrubs.  I was hooked on this idea and started to plan work on the hedgerow.  The first thing would be to remove the diseased plums that stood there.  I decided to do some reading about hedgerows and discovered how they provide shelter for birds and roads for wildlife.  How they produce valuable food, and create a windbreak so that topsoil doesn't blow away.  Suddenly a flowering shrub border didn't seem so appropriate.  Perhaps I needed to add native plants?  Staghorn sumac is native and has a tropical air to it.  And bayberry has lovely dark green shiny leaves.  I considered that I could possibly have my lush green border but with natives as well.

Several weeks ago work finally began on this project.  The plums were cut down and burned and I began raking up the fallen pieces of branchs and black knot fungus from the ground.  Almost instantly though my plans started to go sideways.  The skies opened up in April and we had rain.  For a month straight now it has rained every day.  So much rain that I was unable to finish cleaning the hedgerow of the diseased plums.  The last pile of branches is still waiting to be burned.  The raking is incomplete and branches and fungus still litter the ground.  I am not ready to start planting.  This is an issue because my local native nursery will only sell bareroot plants until this coming weekend.  Once the trees leaf out the nursery will sell only potted stock at a higher cost.  

The second issue that came up was the rental of a sod cutter.  This machine was rented and miraculously it didn't pour that day.  However, we had much work to do and at the end of a very long day we began work on the large bed that would be opposite the hedgerow.  This is what happened.

We let the grass grow in this area last year and the roots are very deep.  And very difficult to cut.  Instead of a large oval bed we now have a narrow strip in the shape of a smiley face.  Definitely not what I had decided on.  Now, I have no hedgerow, no oval bed and the garden I dreamed of is nowhere to be seen.  What to do?  Make a decision, any decision.

I decided to finish the bed for the plume poppy as planned last fall.

The work on the hedgerow will continue over the summer and by next spring I should be ready for the purchase of trees and shrubs.  I am still favouring a lush green secluded area but more native plants will be added to the mix.  I will have a year to make a clear plan for this garden.  And the large oval bed that was to hold so many trees and plants?  I can't let the small strip that we did clear go to waste so instead of trees we're planting a row of giant sunflowers.  Why not?


  1. I am glad you decided to plant sunflowers. That will be very cheery this summer.
    I know about moving to a new place. It is a big adventure isn't it? Knowing one can change their mind is comforting. July will be our one year mark. I am so glad we are here. I hope you are equally happy.
    Your garden, be it oval or smiley faced will be fun to plan and execute.

  2. I love this attitude! :) I feel much the same way. I've made plans in the garden, fleshed them out only todecide the next year to do it all over! But I love it! I love love love it! And congrats on having the balls to trek across our majestic country and find a new home to experiment with. Way to rock it!

  3. Yup, sometimes ya gotta roll with the punches! I can make a comparison to photography - when I was taking courses in photography in university I made LOTS of mistakes but the very best photos, the ones that got chosen for the exhibitions were the ones that had been the mistakes. Sometimes those "substitute decisions" are the best decisions of all?

  4. I love that philosophy!!! Just make a decision. Definitely a good one.

  5. What great advice for life in general, not just for gardening! I told my son, who was deciding on where to go to the college last year, the exact same thing. If it turns out to be the wrong decision, we'll just fix it. Not problem, just make a decision. Ah, the lesson we learn from our gardens.

  6. Janet - We're 2 years come June. I can't believe how quickly the time has passed. Not feeling bound to a decision is very liberating but happily things have worked well for us here.

    Jennifer - once you realize you're not stuck with your first choice it's amazing how easily we can start making decisions! once I got that through my head the rest came together. Thanks for your support regarding the move. It was a scary thing to take on but the results have been fabulous.

    Jane - Glad to hear you found a place where this philosophy worked for you. I think this applies to every area of life. If I can loosen up and accept some changes then everything gets easier.

    Johanna - if I remember correctly this may have partly stemmed from a self help book my husband read (he loves those things and is always quoting stuff at me. Oddly, I can't stand self help books).

    Debbie - what a great thing to tell your son. I wish someone had told me this when I was trying to decide on schooling. What stress it was thinking I had to plan my whole life out at the age of 18!

  7. I'm surprised the sod cutter didn't work for you. I've rented one before, and it was great! Oh, so much better than trying to rip the grass out by hand. Can you make a lasagne bed there for the shape of your oval? Or just pile up compost (high) over the winter - it will be ready by spring. You have a good attitude.

  8. Making mistakes is part of life. If you've never made a mistake then you haven't lived.

    The sunflowers sound lovely Marguerite. I look forward to seeing pictures of them.

  9. Hi, Marguerite!

    I have the hardest time making decisions in the garden (and it shows :) But, I do love your philosophy of the freedom to change your mind. By the way, I can't stand self-help books, either. I always wonder if they're just writing them to pay off their therapy bills. [kidding!]

  10. Holley - The sod cutter worked great in the front lawn where we regularly cut the grass. No issues there but the back area where we didn't cut last year the roots seem to go deeper and it was a mess trying to get it to work. There was also the issue though that we were exhausted by that point. i'm sure that didn't help.

    Melanie - I'm so excited for sunflowers too! I bought two kinds, one for cutting and one called giganteus. They sound - gigantic! ha ha. It should be fun, I'll be able to see them from anywhere on the property and the seed heads will be good for the birds.

    Kate - I'm terrible with garden decisions too but I try to just lurch ahead. Something has to work eventually?

  11. That's the thing about planning: it always changes. But, somehow, we adapt and learn. If it was boring, we wouldn't keep doing it!

  12. A smiley crescent of sunflowers, and more time to dream and plan? Not so bad really! Life's like that, isn't it. An old friend of mine liked to use the analogy of a boat. You could waggle the tiller all you wanted, but it would have no effect unless the boat was moving. Move forward, make plans, and know you can always change direction. Not only allowed, but necessary! Besides, your plan to include more native plants will probably produce a far more wildlife-friendly garden, and give you even more satisfaction, that the one you originally planned, and who knows what you will have come up with by next Spring! Enjoy your sunflowers, and your dreams.

  13. I love your approach! A lot of plans haven't gone as planned in my garden and I've always ended up learning from the experience. Sometimes, I completely changed my plans, too. I love the idea of planting sunflowers!!

  14. Soapbox - how true, gardening is anything but boring. Change is always present and one of the most enticing aspects.

    Janet - I have to remember to take my time, I always want to accomplish more than I can so as you say, another year to dream is probably good for me. Who knows what will happen in the interim?

    TS - sunflowers were actually hubbies idea. He asked if we could plant them and when this bed turned out as it did it was serendipity.

  15. I love changing my mind, it keeps everyone on their toes. I had a number of the same responses when I left Ottawa, it is just concerns others have when they can't see or visit.

    I have an ornamental poppy that comes up but ever second year, oh bi-annual I should say, garden jargon, and this is the year it looks great. Sunflowers are a great idea they will work also.

  16. Marguerite, This so resonated with my own experience. It is probably a Law of Gardening that no garden project ever goes as planned, and it always takes me longer than anticipated to see any plan through to fruition. (I'm not counting the after-the-fact mind changing part; that's a "perennial" in my garden.) -Jean

  17. cindy - I had the pleasure of visiting Ottawa when we moved across country. What a beautiful city! After 12 years have people now accepted your move? ;)

    Jean - watching you plan your next bed I've been amazed at how organized your planning process is. Good to know that even with the most careful of plans you also have the same issues with constantly changing deadlines and ideas.