Well! How about a garden post? I’m sure you know the old, worn-out phrase: the early bird catches the worm. What I’m wondering is: what does the late bird catch?
For the past few years, we’ve actually started our garden a little too soon. Between the kids and me, everyone just gets too excited and we’re at the garden center, sniffing around the still-mostly-bare herb and veg tables as soon as the temperature is above freezing. (Well, not quite that soon, since we’ve known winters here that don’t really ever dip below freezing. But you know what I mean.)
This year was completely different. Of course the kids started clamoring to plant by mid-March – as usual. But I held off and held off and held off, because I knew that we were moving. We looked at the house that we would end up leasing in mid-March, and signed the lease by early April, with a planned move date for mid-June. I just didn’t see anything good coming out of trying to establish a garden in Old Town, only to have to move it. Plus, I knew that this was waiting for me:
That is a jungle, friends. (Can you spot the tiny photobomber?)
Steve and I decided that the front and side yards would be his responsibility, and the back would be my domain. Of course, the back is what needs the most work. But I like a challenge! And oh, what a challenge.
Here’s what I’m up against:
- The back patio is ever-so-slightly slanted. Just enough to be noticeable. Why??? I’m not sure if it’s that whoever installed it didn’t do a good job leveling, or if it was level to begin with but with erosion and settling it’s become sloped, but either way – it’s weird. (To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have signed the lease if I had realized how oddly slanted the patio is.) It would be much better if this was just lawn, but it is what it is.
- The space between the backyard and patio is an overgrown weedapalooza. There are some irises and some lilies that I’m pretty sure were planted intentionally (maybe?), a bunch of pink and white flowers that might be weeds, but at least they’re pretty, and then a lot of junk.
- The sunniest spot – best for a vegetable garden – is the side yard. But I’m not 100% sure that it’s “ours” – so to speak. I asked for a map of the property boundary but never got one. And it’s one of the only spots with actual nice grass, which I’m certainly not going to tear up to install raised garden beds.
- The space in between the patio and the neighbors’ yards is a total overgrown mess. I was chatting with my neighbor to the back, and she mentioned that most of the houses in the neighborhood are rentals – including hers, mine, and the neighbors’ to our right – and as a result, no one has bothered to maintain the yards much. (I might give it a go, but I’m more concerned with my own backyard right now.)
All right, so as ridiculous as all of this sounds, we’ve actually made a lot of progress. Steve trimmed and de-vined the bushes in the front of the house and on the side, and between the two of us we dug up the worst weed offenders from the wild area just behind the house (those horrible, evil things that start out looking like dandelions but quickly grow to the size of small trees – oh, and they’re covered with spines and irritating sap, so you can’t actually touch them). We had them in Old Town too, but I always got to them before they got too crazy.
Steve hauled my planter collection around back and I got a few things into the pots – it will be a small garden this year, but I’ve got two baby tomato plants and some basil, plus a pot of mixed herbs and some very leggy mint that made the trip from Old Town (not optimistic on that one). I’ll be happy to get pretty much anything this year – the main goal is going to be getting the place a bit cleaned up.
Here’s hoping this spot is sunny enough for these little plant babies. Fingers crossed…
I briefly considered ripping up that back area entirely, since it does get some decent sun, and planting either a vegetable patch or a fern garden in there. But at the end of the day, this place is a rental, so I don’t want to do anything permanent. I am happy to spend some time and energy making it look nice, but I’m not inclined to lay out a lot of money improving someone else’s property. (Side note: I am so over renting. I’m sick of landlords, sick of feeling constrained in what I can do with a place, sick of living in something that doesn’t really feel mine. But it just makes more sense to rent for a few years, save a bunch more money, and have a decent amount socked away so that we can make a down payment on a house and still have a good nest egg left over. I know we’re doing the smart thing, but it doesn’t make it fun.)
Rental notwithstanding, I do have a lot of ideas for portable, non-permanent things I can do to liven up the space. My assistant gardener is very eager to help.
(He probably spent half an hour “driving the tractor” – a.k.a pulling our yard wagon – in loops around the house. Little boys, I’ll tell ya.)
So, to tie this disjointed, rambling post together, I have two main goals for this garden over the next few years:
- Cultivate a productive container garden; and
- Create a welcoming environment for birds.
Nugget and I are big bird nerds, as many of you know, and one of the things I was most looking forward to in moving out to the exurbs was the opportunity to up my bird feeder game. In the city, I got a bunch of house sparrows and not much else – there was a gang of European starlings behind the house, but they never came to the feeder, and every so often we would get a cardinal or two. Out here, I’ve already seen:
- Barred owl;
- Red-tailed hawk;
- Wild turkey;
- Tons of cardinals;
- A blue jay;
- And a bunch of robins and little greyish brown birds that I haven’t identified yet.
I have plans to set up feeder stations in the front and back yards and to combine a few different feeders to attract the widest variety of birds. Nugget and I are stoked to add a bunch of new sightings to our life lists, and I’ve been researching bird baths, squirrel-proofing, and methods for attracting everything from tiny songbirds to majestic owls. Turning this backyard jungle into a haven for birds is going to be my biggest outdoor project for the next few years – I can’t wait to (literally) dig in!
Are you into bird-watching? If you are, what’s your best tip for creating a backyard bird paradise?