Add to My MSN

Lesson Learned, Moving On--Or Not?

11/4/2012 7:31:02 PM

Tags: gardening, small town life, lessons learned, Colleen Newquist

A-photo-of-Colleen-Newquist It's been over a year since my last post—is that possible? Well, the calendar doesn't lie. And neither do I. Most of the time, anyway!  

This much is true: After a serious reality check on my ambitions to farm, I severely scaled back my dreams and decided to try growing a modest garden in our mostly wooded yard. We gardened quite a bit when we lived in our previous house. Mostly flowers and herbs, a few tomato plants, strawberries one year, lettuce another. I could do this.   

I acquired a tiller, identified a 12' X 24' patch that seemed to get the most sun, and got to work amending the soil, starting a compost heap, and planting what seemed most likely to succeed with just four hours of direct sunlight--peas, lettuce, arugula, greens, some herbs. The arugula did OK, and I ate the handful of fresh peas that grew right there in the garden. The lettuces never got beyond the baby leaf stage, and the spinach never showed at all. The rosemary, oregano, and thyme never got much bigger than the plants I put in the ground. The sage withered and died. The one bright spot, which indicates that I must indeed have one bright spot in the garden: the usually sun-loving basil inexplicably flourished, growing tall and bushy. Go figure.

All wasn't a total failure. I learned a few things along the way, including the fact I like cooking and eating fresh produce more than I like tending to it, especially in 100-degee heat, especially now that kneeling and squatting are a lot less comfortable than a decade ago. And that no amount of enthusiasm can make up for lack of sunlight. Lesson learned. Moving on--somewhat literally, this time!

Driving home from an anniversary getaway in Saugatuck, Michigan, we stopped in the tiny town of Three Oaks, Michigan for breakfast. We love Three Oaks. We'd been through a few times before and are smitten with the mix of small-town charm and culture worthy of a big city. We spotted an adorable cottage for sale, with a lush garden of grasses and flowers for a front yard and a metal glider on the front porch, and on a whim, made an offer. We closed a month later. We intend to rent it to vacationers in the summer. In the meantime, we're spending nearly every weekend there, painting and decorating, making new friends, and soaking up small-town life. 

Three Oaks Cottage 

It's the perfect house for us, cozy and comfortable, just right for two. And it's got this huge back yard, with a single apple tree, a single daylily plant, and about 13,000 square feet of sunshine, beckoning like a blank canvass. I really am not fond of digging, bending, stooping, sweating in the heat of summer. I don't like it all. I can be really lazy. I don't like weeding. Who has time to water? Besides, we don't even live there. And yet, and yet...a sun-warmed strawberry plucked fresh from the plant tastes like a burst of joy, a homegrown heirloom tomato is incomparably delicious, and herbs--how I love the ruffling the leaves of oregano, basil, thyme, tarragon, sage, lavendar, lemon balm, rosemary just to breathe in their heady aroma.

Well. Some lessons have to be learned repeatedly before they stick.

We'll see where this goes!

Colleen Newquist embraces an almost-country life from her home in Park Forest, IL--and now in Three Oaks, MI! She is the creator of Sunny Side Up, an illustrated essay in each print edition of Capper's magazine. For more of her writing and drawings, visit

Related Content

Recession Gardening

Even though gardening may seem like a recession-proof hobby, it still costs money, and bad habits ma...

Editor's Note: March/April 2008

More Than Building Plans

Surprise Pumpkins!

A happy accident brings a run of surprise pumpkins.

Direct Composting

Composting directly in your garden saves space and steps.

Content Tools

Post a comment below.


Colleen Newquist
12/3/2012 7:38:01 PM
Hi Cindy! I knew you were somewhere along the lake. Would love to meet you in person sometime! I keep telling Hank they need to host an event that gets all the bloggers together. Wouldn't that be fun?

Colleen Newquist
12/3/2012 7:36:31 PM
Hi Dave, sorry to have been gone so long! As far as I know, Sunny Side Up is not available online through Capper's (although other magazine content is), but I have posted several essays on the facebook page for Stop and Smell the Butter, my journal of appreciative living, which is where the essays first appeared. You can find them here:

11/6/2012 11:08:14 PM
Colleen, How exciting your new purchase is. It's a great little cottage and is perfect for a vacation or weekend getaway. Yes, you have been gone too long. I was wondering what happened to you. It's good to have you back. Is there an on-line version of your illustrated essay, "Sunnyside Up", for Capper's? I have a subscription to GRIT but not Capper's. Have a great time fixing up your little cottage.

Cindy Murphy
11/5/2012 9:25:09 PM
Oh, my gosh, Colleen - we're practically neighbors! Or part-time neighbors. Or maybe most accurately, you drove by my town on your way home from Saugatuck - I'm in South Haven. The cottage is adorable! Welcome to Michigan.

Pay Now & Save 50% Off the Cover Price

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Live The Good Life with Grit!

For more than 125 years, Grit has helped its readers live more prosperously and happily while emphasizing the importance of community and a rural lifestyle tradition. In each bimonthly issue, Grit includes helpful articles, humorous and inspiring articles, captivating photos, gardening and cooking advice, do-it-yourself projects and the practical reader advice you would expect to find in America’s premier rural lifestyle magazine.

Get your guide to living outside the city limits delivered straight to your mailbox. Subscribe to Grit today!  Simply fill in your information below to receive 1 year (6 issues) of Grit for only $19.95!


At Grit, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to Grit through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of Grit for only $14.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of Grit for just $19.95!