Monday, April 12, 2010

Lessons in Patience

Year Five, 2003

Our last house was a veritable Garden of Eden. Everything I planted there flourished. There was plenty of sunlight. The soil and drainage were great. When we decided to move I was so charged by the opportunity to tackle a new garden that it is still joked about in our family, and true, that I started raking leaves in the front yard before the moving van pulled away. I had visions of creating a woodland landscape worthy of Wolfgang Oehme and Jim Van Sweden, who favor mass plantings of perennials and as little turf grass as possible.

The front yard was easy. A few weekends and several trips to the nursery and I had cleaned things up and planted adequate new shrubbery to spruce the look up some and shield us from an unkempt house next door.

The back yard, on the other hand, was more of a challenge. It took me the better part of a winter to clear the brush and a view to the river, trim native plants, take out a couple of trees that threatened the house and remove about five years’ worth of leaves from the ground.

Before & After 1

Then I set about the planting. The first fall I laid out flower gardens around the trees and planted two hundred hosta plants and almost as many bluebells.

The next spring I eagerly awaited signs of growth from the hostas and bluebells. What I witnessed instead was the mass consumption of almost four hundred hostas and bluebells by moles. I could actually watch the little critters pull the greenery that stuck out above the ground back down into the ground as they munched on the bulbs. By June fewer than a dozen of the plants were left.

Before & After 2

The rest of the summer I was like Bill Murray going after the ground hog in Caddy Shack. I dug, burned, smoked, ran hoses from the exhaust pipe of the car to the mole passages and otherwise did whatever damage I could think of to destroy the moles. (For readers who are fellow mole hunters, this was during the years when you couldn’t buy Milky Spore.) I’ll be the first to tell you that this is a pretty silly pursuit when you live in the woods and there is no shortage of places for moles to hide behind trees while you’re nuking the yard.

The third season was a little better. But I knew soil in the lawn and garden needed serious help. I’d been shredding leaves and composting for two years, but it wasn’t putting a dent in the depleted soil.

Frustrated, I shipped in a couple of giant truckloads of “Nature’s Blend,” a processed sewage product sold by our local sanitation district. The idea sounds foul, I know, and I’ll admit that the yard briefly took on the smell of a roadside service station bathroom. But this is good stuff for restoring soil. The odor eventually subsided and the processed sludge started doing its magic.

The next season we had a terrible hurricane. What it didn’t literally blow out of the ground or wash away it made sure that giant trees fell on and crushed (including one wall of the house).

By now I’d had about enough. Nature was losing her charm. The next season I left the garden alone and played on the boat all summer.

In the years since I’ve taken on a more patient relationship with the yard. You just can’t rush nature. It happens at its own pace and you have to learn to appreciate each stage. I try not to get upset when plants come and go based on the vagaries of our weather and the availability of rain.

Two years ago I took out some more trees to let in some more sunlight and pulled just about everything I’d planted over the years out of the back yard. Last fall I marked out a new garden design. This season I’m rearranging things. If this takes, we’ll have something nice in about two years. In the meantime, I’m embracing the concept of chaos and just not sweating the damned moles.


  1. Just gorgeous! Despite the moles, congrats!

  2. It is gorgeous! Looks beautiful to me. It's so true--and even if a garden is nice, it just seems to evolve and change all the time--it's never "done," I have come to realize. Your place looks great!

  3. Looks fabulous. Someday you have to visit my country home. Although there are tons of rhodies and other plantings, I refuse to spend much time keeping the wildlife out so it is a bit wild and will get wilder. I'm more delighted by the turkeys and deer on the front lawn than I would ever be with a perfectly blooming garden.