Tuesday, September 11, 2007

My First Garden

For the past several days I have been thinking about doing a blog post on my gardening experience, or rather, inexperience. Then today Carol, from May Dreams Gardens, wrote about her first garden and invited others to do the same. So now is a perfect opportunity to do that post.

First, a little background. My mother was not a gardener. The only flowers that I remember being in our yard when I was growing up were daffodils, (that someone else planted), around the base of the three large oak trees in the front yard. They cheerfully announced the approaching spring each year. There were no flowering shrubs or trees in our yard either. As a child, I hated being outdoors and never played any kind of sport. I loved to sit inside playing and reading.

I married one month after my 20th birthday. My mother-in-law and her mother were plant lovers. They began sharing cuttings from their house plants with me and I soon discovered that I had a green thumb. I loved nurturing my indoor plants and soon had quite a large collection.

My husband seemed to be a perpetual student, and we moved around quite a bit in those early years. Finally after ten years of marriage we settled down and bought our first home in Cordova, TN. It was a new house, in a brand new subdivision. I was about eight weeks pregnant with our second child when we moved in October of that year. The front yard had the typical builders special shrubs, one small tree and I had cheerful yellow mums in the front flowerbed. I had high risk pregnancies so I didn't garden during that first year. Being a busy mom with two small children and a husband who traveled often with his job, gardening was not a priority. Somehow, I found the time during that second year to plant something called hostas and caladiums, that I had admired in other people's yards. We also edged the front flowerbeds. Nothing was planted in our backyard, not even one tree or shrub. After living there for two years and four months, we sold our home and moved back to Alabama.

The house in Alabama was an older home and had some wonderful mature trees. We had a huge, beautiful paperbark birch in the front yard and in the very back we had several really large pine trees. That was it. Well, I guess I should mention the ugly shrubs across the front too. Anyway, even though the house was thirty years old, there were no flowers. Nothing that bloomed. I was so disappointed that first spring when I realized that there were no flowering surprises for me.

At this house we had an older in ground, 10 foot deep swimming pool, which we didn't want in the first place. So after the first year we had my uncle, who owns a land developing company, come in and fill it up with dirt. We then poured a huge concrete patio. I had a new lease on outdoor life. I could go out and work in my yard while my three year old son could safely play nearby. We put a swing where the pool pump had been, I made a brick pathway and planted flowers all around it. In the picture below, my children were playing dress up. This was a very hot Saturday in July, (1996). I had left early that morning and my son had dressed himself. He didn't match at all and was wearing a turtleneck, which is why I took the picture. Now I'm even more glad I did since this is one of the few pictures of the swing garden.

One of my neighbors was having their driveway replaced and I asked if I could have the old one dumped in my yard. They were very happy to oblige. Dummy me, I didn't realize how much concrete that actually would be. I would get out there with my sledgehammer and break up the mountain of concrete and use it to build retaining walls. I moved a lot of concrete and also got to know my chiropractor pretty well those first few years.

The very back shady part of the yard had once been a dog pen and was nothing but large weeds. I took down the chicken wire and began a major clean-up. I dug pathways and built retaining walls. Then I filled the wonderful shady garden with hostas, azaleas, tulips and impatiens. It was beautiful in the spring. In the heat of the Alabama summer, this was where I spent my days gardening. I have no shade here in Indiana and really miss my shade garden and the azaleas. I loved having the pine needles to use for mulch, it was a perfect place to grow those acidic loving azaleas.

It was here that I began to learn and appreciate how the things planted attracted certain wildlife. I loved to feed the birds and I kept a list of those that visited my yard; it was quite a list too.

When I started gardening I knew nothing about plants and I made so many errors, (still do). My friendly retired neighbor would lean over the fence and warn me that I was going to have more garden than I could take care of. He was right.

I had fun and enjoyed learning along the way. I even grew many plants from seed one year with a growing system my husband built for me. I propagated roses and they actually lived. It was fun to see what I could grow and I loved multiplying my plants. I was hooked. I loved gardening and working in the yard.

It is so sad for me when we go home and I pass by our former house in Tuscaloosa. My beautiful shade garden is overgrown and the yard is pitifully neglected. There have been times I've wanted to stop and ask if I could dig up some of my plants. I doubt they would be too pleased to see me though. I can just imagine their friendly retired neighbor leaning over the fence and telling the home-owners that he told that crazy woman not to plant all that stuff.

Thanks, Carol, for the invitation to tell about our first garden. It has been fun to reminisce.


Carol said...

Thanks for sharing the story of your first garden. Looks like you were a quick study on gardening, once you got hooked. I can't imagine tht you used a sledge hammer to get concrete pieces to build a retaining wall! That's amazing.

Carol at May Dreams Gardens

Carolyn gail said...

Hey Robin,

Enjoyed the story about your first garden.

It is sad to see a neglected garden, especially when you used to care for it so much.

You sure did a lot of work on that shade garden. Can't think of any place better to go in that hot Alabama sunshine !

Cute photo of your kids. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

JANET said...

How resourceful you were! I like the idea of using a torn-up concrete driveway for the retaining walls. You did a beautiful job. Now, I see how you got into enjoying your yard and the wildlife. Great post!

Annie in Austin said...

Hi Robin,

It sounds as if your older house in Alabama was the perfect laboratory for you to experiment - too bad it's fallen on hard times. Like you, we've moved into houses that were not new, and been amazed when no flowers appeared at all - how can a house be around for 30 years without one of the neighborhood squirrels relocating a few daffodils, at least?

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Robin's Nesting Place said...

Carol, this was a fun post to do and I've enjoyed reading about your first gardens.

I can't imagine doing the concrete thing now. That was hard labor.

Carolyn Gail, thank you. It is sad to see the garden neglected after all the sweat equity involved.

Thanks, Janet. I do like to be resourceful and I'm also frugal.

Robin's Nesting Place said...

Thanks, Karrin, I've enjoyed reading about first gardens too.

Annie, I know, I couldn't believe there were no flowers in the yard. The house had the original owners for about 25 years, it was well cared for and the lawn was nice. Maybe they spent all their time in the pool and didn't want to mess with flowers.