Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Evolution of a Garden

I am always so flattered by the nice compliments I get on this blog. I don't respond to each on individually, but let me say a collective "thank you". As most of you know, it takes a lot of dedication, TIME, sweat, brute force, planning and MONEY to get good results. I owe a lot to my creative and generous husband for helping to engineer this garden, and for financing most of it. If we figured in his time, we simply couldn't afford it. And besides Tim, I've gotten a lot of help and encouragement from family, friends and neighbors.

I was thinking this evening, sometime around 7pm when Tim and I settled in for round two of hulling peas, of all the time that goes into it. Of course, I consider hulling peas, into my collectible graniteware, with Tim and the cats for company, more of a hobby than a job, but this morning at 6am when I was standing in the garden in my pajamas with my eyes half open holding the water hose for the 14th day in a row, I wasn't having any of those carefree, romantic thoughts. And by 8 pm as I washed up the pans and stacked the peas in the freezer, I was beginning to count the hours these meals have cost me. Yes, it will be quick and easy to grab a bag of frozen home grown peas on a dark February night, but there are hours of planting and weeding, and picking and hulling and cooking and freezing than go into that little plastic bag.

Tim has already begun to differentiate between the varieties of peas and the ease of hulling in direct correlation to the number of peas in each pod and picked a favorite pea. Survivor comes out on top, and Maestro isn't much trouble, but I don't think I'll be torturing him with Wando ever again. My vote, hands down, would be for the Sugar Snap Peas which don't require shelling, although if you don't take the time to pull the string out as you pick, you WILL regret it.

So, my point is (and I do have one)... I don't remember the moment or the reasoning behind it when I had the revelation that ... "I want a vegetable garden". I remember always having a garden growing up, but not that it was any particular work. My parents had the greenhouse, which virtually eliminated all gardening time. There simply was no time in the busy spring, but it seemed to get done anyway. We always had fresh food from our own garden, or my grand parents' gardens. But it happened naturally along with the watering of bedding plants, the milking of cows and the baling of hay. Not that it wasn't work. I spent plenty of time hauling water, pulling pig weed, husking corn and shelling peas. It just didn't seem like any big deal. It was just part of the rhythm of our lives.

Over the years, the importance of gardening began to fade. It was replaced by actual work as in a career, more hay baling, horse showing, traveling, days at the beach, hours spent in the hammock with a good book. Eight years ago, Tim had the wild idea to buy this house, which was next door to his own and install me in it while he remodeled it as a "rental property". At that point, we had been dating for four years and he was already accustomed to responding to my whims. So, when I decided I wanted to try my hand at some home grown tomatoes, he fired up the rototiller and turned me loose.


I started with a 3 foot strip right behind the house. This was a PERFECT spot to grow tomatoes. The south facing brown shingled wall held the heat and created a nice little microclimate. And I got a lot into that little space. 16 tomato plants, a row of green beans, a row of carrots, some pod peas, and a cucumber plant. It was then that I discovered "heirloom tomatoes". One of my favorite greenhouses sold heirloom varieties. I remember I had Brandywine, Arkansas Traveler, and Golden Boy among others. I enjoyed them so much, I started reading on the Internet and discovered TomatoFest.com, and the second year I tried my hand at starting tomatoes from seed so I could have one of every color of the rainbow.

That 3 x 24 foot could not contain my gardening enthusiasm, and I talked Tim into giving up part of his beloved lawn. We had just removed a dozen or so large evergreen trees and tamed the side yard between my house and his (seen here in the background). Naturally, I wanted the garden plopped right in the middle of the yard to get the most sun, but he wanted it tucked away out of sight. The roots of ash trees to the right robbed much of the moisture from my soil, and the odds and ends of snow fencing were less than glamorous.

But I had pretty good success with beans and peas.

I think this garden was carved into the earth using the small tiller, but obviously that was going to be too much work for the girlfriend of a man with too many tractors. As my gardening ambition grew, so too did the equipment. Tim bought a large PTO driven tiller for one of the tractors, 200 feet of no climb horse fence to replace the plastic snow fence and more T posts. We still had a gate made of snow fence, which was held closed by an iron rod woven down one side.

Tim solicited help from neighbors Mike and Shelly. When we were married in 2006, we chose to sell Tim’s larger newer house and keep the quaint, 164+ year old farmhouse that had belonged to his grandparents during the Depression. Mike and Shelly moved from their house down the street to Tim's place, and Tim moved in with me. We were very fortunate in our choice of immediate neighbors. Tim cared for our little house and it's elderly occupant long before he bought it and there are several shared areas between the two properties. It made sense to bring in friends and continue sharing. Since they were gardeners, they were a natural fit into the garden routine. My allotted garden space grew!


I was growing tired of hoeing and tilling and had discovered “square foot” and “intensive” gardening techniques. I carefully measured 4 foot squares and planned which companions would be planted together. We moved the garden away from the nutrient and water hungry trees and further into the lawn where I'd wanted it to begin with.

I began to dream of the picturesque, low maintenance gardens I saw in magazines. I told Tim that when I grew old I would have a raised bed garden that didn't involve so much darn work. This piqued Tim's interest.

I still kept a lot of my tomatoes right behind the house where they flourished.

Around 2008 my gardening began to get out of hand. It was a wet year and I battled weeds in the paths and general dishevelment. We were still removing the fence every year to till with the big tiller. The garden was beginning to feel like a lot of work. Each spring, we would hook up the 5 foot tiller and till the soggy winter soil. Tim would coach me over and over as to appropriate tractor operating skills and RPMs. We would wrestle T posts out of a shed, and Tim would pound them into the ground, measuring each space carefully. Then Neighbor Mike and I would struggle with the heavy, unwieldy 200 foot roll of fence. Each fall, we would take an afternoon and reverse the process, storing everything neatly away for the winter.

And despite the fact that I was packing more and more into it, the garden began to spill over into the lawn... I even had more tomatoes in large pots over by the garage.

What a miserable year. Tim said if I would forego the work and hassle of gardening (as in setting up and taking down that fence and tilling twice a year.~ not to mention weeding and complaining) for one season, he would build me some raised beds. Of course I couldn't do without tomatoes. And eggplants, and peppers. And some basil. So I stubbornly planted a pot garden beside the in process garden shed.

But it was an awful year for gardening. It rained so much I had mushrooms growing in all the pots, and the bell peppers rotted on the vine before they ripened. The local Home Depot spread blight infected plants hither and yon. Friends pulled tomato plants and bagged them for the dump or burned them. The temperatures was so cool, nothing was setting fruit and I got ONE good tomato that year. The night time temps hovered in the forties all summer. I don't remember any eggplants setting at all, and like I said, the peppers rotted on the plant.
Over and over Tim and I and Mike and Shelly reminded ourselves that this was the best year ever to take a hiatus from gardening.


Ahhh... this is how I was meant to garden. True to his word, Tim set out in the spring to build a garden that both he and I could live with.

Once again, the garden spills over onto the surrounding land.

And becomes an entertaining haven.

So that is how my garden came to be. My gardening roots begin in a small strip of land right behind the house. Looking back over my brief garden experience, I see dry expanses of hard packed dirt, soggy jungles of weeds, and lots of hard labor. I also see a shared goal, many helping hands and a lot of satisfaction.


  1. You and Grey are welcome to come retire here with us in Tennessee and we won't even charge you for your spot on the pasture if you'll bring Tim and your pretty gardens with you. ;)

    I believe gardening was very much a part of the lifestyle we both grew up in. Putting the garden in (in our case all two acres of it) was as much a rite of spring as anything else we did on the farm. I know at our house there was no separation between what we did for work and for leisure. Like you, what I cherish from the gardens of my childhood are the memories of everyone working toward a shared goal together. There is much truth in the statement, "Many hands make light work", especially when that work is couched in laughther and light heartedness.

  2. Wow, you look very organised indeed with your garden. Interesting to see the way it's developed over the years. My humble veg patch is only a couple of years old but is already enabling us to be self sufficient in veggies over the Summer months. I too, like sugar snap peas - eat young and whole or leave to shell at a later date - very versatile!

  3. OMG, I just commented on a recent post that I was inspired by your garden but when I saw your raised beds, I'm way more than inspired! They are beautiful and EXACTLY what I always imagined in my head. Wow! I even sketched out a plan for a part of our property that looks very similar, with a fenced in area with 10 raised beds laid out almost like that. I printed out a picture of your garden and put it on the fridge and said "THIS is what I want". ha. Thanks again for sharing!