Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Summer of Bloggerly Love...

Woohoo! Today is the day the spectacular and splendid Ms. Michelle Simkins is guest posting on my blog. Which means I get to kidnap HER blog. I'm holding it hostage until all of our readers visit both posts. Ha! ;)

While my post is about love ... hers is about gardening. Which I think is apropos, since love takes careful nourishment and tender care, much like a garden. Gardening is one of my newest passions, and Michelle is a gem because she knows how crazy visual I am so she sent pictures, too! Thank you, dear lady! Take it away.


I'm so excited to do this blog swap with Ms. Howard! She is some kind of mad genius, and her post for my blog is outstanding. She asked me to share a little bit about my garden, so here it is!

When I moved into my current home in 2003, there was no garden. A handful of tiny raised beds and a few leggy, straggling herbs languished in a sunless corner, and more than 40 neglected rose bushes suffocated in the grip of bindweed and blackberry canes. And one thick patch of invincible oregano spread out beside the Hawthorn tree, defying inappropriate soil, frequent accidental mowing, trampling, lack of water and deep shade.

But the boyfriend and I had big dreams. We wanted to grow our own food! We wanted lots and lots of herbs!

We had no idea what we were doing.

We murdered many innocent plants in our first few years of gardening. We did absolutely everything wrong. Sometimes I was sure I would never, ever learn how to grow things properly. And the truth is there are still some plants that I can't seem to grow, even though they are supposed to grow in my region. (For example, my very presence seems to spell death for all chamomile plants. Don't let me near yours, they might croak.)

But we kept trying. We read books, we did research on the internet, we talked to other people who garden. We also got married, worked on the house (it's an old house), had job changes and all the stuff that comes with raising kids.

And we came up with a (sort of) plan.

Our soil is hard, suffocating clay. We took two different approaches to the garden. We are overrun with bindweed and blackberries here. The bindweed is especially impossible to get rid of, and strangles plants to death as it climbs them. So we covered a huge section of our field with woven ground cover fabric. Then the hubster built raised beds on top, and we filled them with manure and soil. Those were for the vegetable beds.

In the front yard where we planned to grow herbs and flowers, we spent years hauling in manure. We brought in a truckload of spoiled, mildewing hay from a local stable. And we created one bed at a time. These days it looks pretty awesome. We're starting to get gravel paths laid in between beds and slowly eliminating the grass in the front yard. Weeds are still a problem, but not as bad as they used to be. And it's beautiful. And it takes less work to keep it in shape than it used to--except in the spring, when the hubster and I both spend a lot of time in the garden. But I'm also a bit of a lazy gardener. I don't worry about perfection, and nothing is manicured or precise. As long as the plants are doing fine, I'm happy. So if there are weeds or things get straggly from time to time, I don't sweat it. I just do what I can, one thing at a time.

The garden is still a work in progress, and probably always will be. But I kind of like it that way. For me the point of a garden is more than just having flowers and vegetables and herbs. For me, a garden is a relationship with plants, with soil, with the weather, even with the animals that pass through. When I haul soil and pull weeds, when I give water to thirsty things, I'm relating to the green world in a tangible, intimate way. And eating something I've grown, or putting beautiful flowers on the table from my yard, is a more meaningful experience than going shopping for the same items.

And gardening has a lot of side benefits. The exercise, the fresh air and sunshine, the beauty, the smells and tastes, all work a kind of magic on the body and soul that I've never found anywhere else. It's like meditation, a workout, and aromatherapy rolled into one. And best of all, it's an act of co-creation with nature. I do what I can to give the plants what they need, and then I watch in amazement as they grow. And grow. And grow some more.

So I'm hardly an expert on the subject of gardening. I'm pretty haphazard about the whole process. But if I were asked how to start gardening, I think I would say, start with mother nature. What I mean is, learn about your bioregion. Really get to understand your temperatures and soil. Then, do whatever you have to do to get decent soil--it is the most important thing about gardening. YES, the SOIL is the most important thing. THEN find plants that thrive under the conditions you are working with. My garden is full of things that thrive in the mediterranean, because we have cool wet winters and hot, dry summers. We had to change our soil to accomodate the herbs, which prefer good drainage, but our climate is ideal for them. If you live somewhere very dry, emphasize drought tolerant plants. Bring home the plants that belong in the habitat you've created, and your chance of success will be much higher.

And the other thing I would say is, start small. Pick one small area at a time, and work on it, and get the whole area filled with plants and soil and a watering system before you move on to another area. If you finish a section, you will have a sense of accomplishment because you'll really be able to see what you've done. This helps the budget too. If you can only afford ten plants? Choose ten plants that you would like to put in a bed together, and create a section of garden big enough for just those ten plants. Then when you are ready to buy more plants, get the next section ready for them.

The last thing I'll leave you with is a few books that I have found very helpful. The first is The Anne Lovejoy Handbook of Northwest Gardening.

Now, this won't be useful to those of you who don't live in the Northwest United States. BUT, here is what is good about it. It emphasizes plants that do well in my region, and it emphasizes sensible garden structure, including soil building and planning. Find a book that is specific to your region that tells you about planning a garden that works.

Another is Toby Hemenway's Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Homescale Permaculture.

Permaculture is an agriculture design philosophy that focuses on sustainability and careful attention to the inter-relationships between the denizens of the garden. Hemenway's book gives wonderful advice on plant combinations, soil building, and design that are good for the garden and good for the planet.

There are so many good resources out there for gardeners, it's a wonderful time to pick up a shovel. Just don't forget to also pick up some good gardening gloves. There are thistles out there.


Ms Michelle Simkins is a: writer, knitter, gardener, homemaker, and a member of the very exclusive #goatposse on twitter. She also SOMEHOW makes time to craft beautiful homespun gifts and metaphysical goodies that she sells at her Green Fingers shop on Etsy. And after reading this post, no one will wonder how she thought up the fantastically fab name. :) Thanks Michelle!


  1. Wow, lovely pics! You've done so much research and work, kudos! Thank you for sharing. I'm glad I don't have to share pics of my dying vegetable garden. lol Great post!

  2. So beautiful! And it's obvious how much work and love you've put into it. I have never had a thing for gardening, and I wish I had an affinity for it because the satisfaction of growing things is just so great!

  3. Dude that is so gorgeous. I wish I had the energy and ability to do that. Simply beautiful, thanks for sharing!

  4. I admire your courage and fortitude. I depend on the weekly yard elves to come do their magic and the monthly squirt guy to come do the rest. I love the garden, but hate the work. My one gardening job is to maintain the climbing Don Juan roses across the front of my house. Talk about a love/hate relationship!

  5. Aww, Slinky, this is such an epic saga! I can feel the love for your garden oozing through your words. =] Love it!

  6. Oh-mah-goodness Michelle, your garden is AMAZING, great pics lady! This line almost made me spit my coffee out: "We murdered many innocent plants in our first few years of gardening. " LOOOOL!!

    Great post!

  7. Michelle, you are amazing! And so hardworking! Your garden is beautiful because you put in so much time and effort and love. And it shows! The earth loves you back. Thanks for sharing! You know I am one who gets intimidated with anything plant-related, but your story is so inspiring! I love this ;)

    Anita, I saw your post. You are amazing, lady. I am so proud and happy to have found such wonderful friends--you & Michelle!

    Much love to both of you <3

  8. Invincible oregano? (giggle!) I have the image of cape-wearing, weed-fighting Superherbs! Great post - and a beautiful garden. Very jealous!

  9. Loved all the pics! I love to garden too :o) Whenever I'm feeling stressed, I work in the garden--pulling weeds, trimming stuff, moving plants, etc. It's so therapeutic.

    Okay, now I'm off to read Anita's post :o)

  10. Hi everyone! Thanks for stopping by today. Isn't Michelle a spectacular gardener?? And when she writes about it, her passion is palpable. I'm so excited to have these pictures immortalized on my blog now! SWEET.

  11. Wow! Eclectic tastes, I especially like the gardening/writing mix. Neat blog:)

  12. Aw you guys are so sweet! I was so excited to do a swap with Anita because she ROCKS, and this has been great fun. Thanks for all the love! And thanks Anita for swapping with me!

  13. I constantly love coming on to your blog! :-) It's so lovely! (I also went on your friend's blog that you recommended! Pretty good too!

    Lola x

  14. I'm more relaxed after reading that post than I have been in years. I SHOULD have driven 6 hours to visit you a few weeks ago. I would have enjoyed laying in your garden on a simple, bamboo mat while you read me stories and described the smells of your garden.

  15. Mark, Lola, and Bethany~ Thanks for stopping by! I know, isn't Michelle talented?? I WANT to grow plants like that but it's so darn dry here. Hmm. Maybe cacti? LOL

    Michelle~ You are a classy and eloquent lady. Thank you so much for gracing my blog with this beauty.

  16. Lovely pictures :) Good to have a hobby outside of writing.


  17. Thanks for the run-down on gardening 101. I think its one of those thing I've always wanted to do but lack the green-thumb talent. Although I think my eyes are itching now and my nose is starting to run just reading about gardening - bad allergies .... *I tease*

    PS - Love the pic for the Monday Posie Anita!

  18. look at that! Your garden is absolutely beautiful, Michelle! I'm on my second "inherited," beautiful yard (previous homeowner did a fantastic job in the yard/beds). My goal = not to kill it all!!! :D <3

  19. Your garden is awesome! I agree perfection is gross and boring. Chaos and change are interesting. Your garden actually reminds me of my parents' garden. They have two (one vegetable and one in front of the house for flowers) but they have a lot of the same ones in the front of the house for flower garden.
    Yesterday my Dad called me to tell me there was a deer on the front lawn, wanting to eat our flowers. (This happens to us all the time.) It's really amazing to be so in tune with the natural world. Too bad our dog chased the deer away :) Great post.

  20. Beautiful and amazing! I have an on-again off-again green thumb so gardens and I generally don't get along, but yours is fabulous! Great post :)

    Anita, I read your post and it was gorgeous! You're a truly gifted author!