One of the first things that attracted us to our house was the amazing perennial garden – carefully planted to bloom all season and attract butterflies and hummingbirds and complete with pond, waterfall, and koi. I had a sort of naive belief that such an amazing garden would inspire me to become some sort of earth-mama tree-hugging wood-nymph magically endowed with the body of Gwyneth Paltrow, the fashion sense of Nicole Richie, and the horticultural knowledge of Luther Burbank.
I very quickly discovered that this was not the case and my naive belief switched over to, “No worries – these sorts of things take care of themselves, right?”
Not so very much.
Two years later, with the koi dead and my garden replaced by a waving 3-foot tall sea of something I learned was called “goutweed,” I despaired and called for help, hiring a gardener to dig everything out and restart. She has been maintaining the garden for me for the last couple of years, but this year Ian and I have decided to take a leap of faith and go at it ourselves (with lots of advice and guidance from my neighbours and my fabulous sister-in-law Mel).
This plan has been somewhat complicated by poor Ian’s debilitating hay fever, which seems to be experiencing its worst year ever! The last couple of weeks have seen him sneezing non-stop even when dosed up on antihistamines, but it seems to be settling down now. He has been soldiering on though and we can happily report major progress over the last weekend!
Here’s the situation as it stands:
We have a fully planted perennial garden – lots of green stuff, lots of flowering stuff, lots of bulbs and shrubs.
With all the lovely rain we’ve been having, EVERYTHING is growing and and spreading like crazy so the plants are encroaching on each other and there are no pathways to get through any of it to weed.
Where the pond used to be is now a bog garden (layers of rock and gravel under the soil to keep it moist for water-loving plants but without standing water on the surface for mosquitoes to bred). The goutweed was never fully eradicated – it’s still in our neighbours’ yards and spreads by its root system under the fences.
There is a section at one side of the garden that I tried growing vegetables in 2 years ago but didn’t plant last year that is now overgrown with weeds (plus a few clumps of an identified plant that my neighbour didn’t recognize but said I should keep).
Thin everything out so there is space between plants, mulch EVERYWHERE, and edge with stones. Take out some of the repetition and experiment with new plants, especially hummingbird and butterfly-attracting plants. Plant my potted kitchen herbs in the bare (former vegetable patch) section. Prune back shrubs. Learn how to maintain everything (when and how to prune what) and weed regularly. Teach Ben and Molly to help out (if I’m not paying them, it’s not child labour, just character-building, right?).
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve pulled out all the weeds along the fence and taught Ben and Molly to recognize the goutweed and pull it if they see it (“See these leaves? These are yucky! If you see them, pull them out right from the bottom of the stem and say, ‘Get out of our garden, yucky plant!!'”). On Saturday Ian bought 20 bags of mulch and we spent the afternoon weeding, edging, laying stones, pruning shrubs, and transplanting the herbs, and put down one bag of mulch in the back corner. I also transplanted a random patch of wild strawberry from the middle of the lawn to what I’ll now start calling the kitchen garden. Sunday afternoon we were back at it again but my efforts were cut short by an event that can only be described in rhyme:
There once was a pretty young lass,
Who was gardening up like a boss,
When a bumblebee thought
She had disturbed his spot
And stung her right up on her upper upper thigh.
After that I took a little break to nurse my injured…dignity.*
Despite the fact that it has been a literal pain in the rear-end, I am starting to feel the earth-mama vibe… I have found, weirdly enough, that I’m more comfortable barefoot while I’m gardening than wearing shoes, though I have to wear gloves because I hate getting my hands dirty and the bugs freak me right out. Yes, the irony has been pointed out to me. I’m also starting to get excited not only about the prospect of finishing what I’ve got but also about experimenting with new plants and sharing the ones I’m digging out.
Now I’m just waiting on that Gwyneth body…
Comment time: Gardening aficionados, help!!
Can you identify any of these mystery plants for me?
Do you have any ideas for other plants for me to try out – butterfly- or hummingbird-attracting, pretty, interesting? What are your favourites?
*I have since observed (and confirmed via my old friend Google), that bumblebees nest in the ground. Who knew? (Don’t answer that. It was rhetorical.) It seems that when I moved away from the clump of plants she was buzzing around, I wound up standing right on her house. Anyone know of a non-lethal way to get rid of an underground bumblebee nest in your garden?