Grit Blogs > The Open Book

Garden Headaches

By Jean Teller, Sr. Assoc. Editor

Tags: garden, family,

As far as I’m concerned, gardening is hard work!

My garden, before all the work. Check out the sedems!

My garden area is between the house and the sidewalk to the front door, and it’s always been a sore spot. When I first moved in, it looked like a jungle. I finally cleared it out, and then the grass took over.

There’s a beautiful Japanese maple that keeps getting better every year near the front window. A huge hosta huddled next to the house, and it just kept getting larger. Two sedems also managed to survive the jungle, and they too were huge, leggy and unmanageable. All three plants were constantly being hit by the lawn mower, as we tried to keep the grass under control.

So after more years than I care to count, I decided something needed to be done. My sister volunteered to help (I’m sure she regretted that offer at some point during our adventure), and we set a date.

That Saturday morning, I headed to the garden supply store and bought mulch. Soon the bags were stacked in the garage, and I was trimming back the sedems and the hosta.

Halfway there!When Mary arrived with her two youngsters and a set of garden tools, we got down to business. Within an hour, the three plants were dug out, setting on another section of lawn, and a large section of sod was gone.

There were, of course, problems from the get go. Neither of us thought about how wet it had been recently, so we had mounds of mud to contend with, and the soil was much more clay than dirt. Both factors made digging difficult. Mary took it as a personal challenge and declared she was going to kick that grass to the curb before she was finished.

And she did.

About four hours later, Mary was dividing the hosta into eight pieces, and the two sedems into three each. I tried to envision the plants in full summer green, and pointed to spots I thought would work. (The placement is marked on the photograph at the end of this post.) We dropped in the divided plants, pushed the muddy clay around the roots, with our hopes high that they would all survive.

Once the 14 transplants were in the ground, the mulching began. I tried to be dainty (hah!) about it, raking carefully. Mary soon convinced me the only way to garden and mulch was down on my knees, close to the ground, pushing those cedar chips around. My 10 bags of mulch didn’t last long, but we put it down around the plants. My Sunday task was to find more mulch, and finish around the maple. (I added another six bags of mulch!)

The full bags of sod were heavy! The plastic glasses were filled with drinking water, until an earthworm took a bath!After a great deal of effort, we had eight bags of sod at the curb for the city to pick up Monday morning. A neighbor gave me recyclable bags so it all went to the city compost pile. The bags were so heavy, we placed each on an empty plastic mulch bag and dragged it to the curb, a task that took both of us to accomplish. Whew!

Then it was cleanup time. What a mess! It may take me a while to get that sidewalk clean, but it was definitely worth it.

My niece Maura wanted to help with it all, and she did – bringing us water and watching her little brother. My nephew Thomas was fascinated by the earthworms, and more than a few glasses of water had to be thrown out after the worms were given baths. It was fun to spend time with Mary, Maura and Thomas. I’m not physically able to do as much in the garden as others, so Mary did the lion’s share of the work, for which I am eternally grateful.

Do you have any suggestions for my hosta/sedem garden? Any tips for a non-gardener? How do I keep it user friendly?

On this long Saturday, I learned a few things. One, my sister Mary is amazing!

Two, I learned that I am definitely not a gardener. Mary and her husband Mike, our sister Tricia and her husband Mike (who has a degree in horticulture, and they have always had great outside gardens and lots of indoor plants) are the gardeners in the family. I’ll stick to my few house plants, thank you very much!

My garden, after most of the work and before the final bags of mulch.

jean teller
11/24/2008 3:57:59 PM

Oh, good point, Taylor. I'll keep that in mind! Did find a few things in a gardening magazine that might do the trick - garden art (I love the globes and the stars that light up after dark), a bag of wildflower seed balls or a pot of Star of Bethlehem that could be transplanted. Cindy, I spent several hours this weekend raking up leaves. The silver maple in my backyard decided to grow, with a direct consequence of a think blanket of leaves. I didn't get the entire yard done, but I did manage to get eight, (yes, eight) compost-friendly bags of leaves to the curb this morning. Quite an adventure for this non-gardener! Most years I've simply ignored the leaves - decided that wasn't an option this year. BTW, it definitely was good exercise! Even with my other health concerns, which make it a thin line between exercise and exhaustion, I did it! A strong sense of accomplishment!

taylor miller
11/24/2008 3:29:36 PM

Jean - I'd be careful about putting your indoor plants outside - if they get infested with any kind of bug, aphids, spidermites, ants, they can be a real PAIN to get out, especially if you don't know they're on there. :-( I brought in an outside begonia this winter, and it caused a lot of headache. :-(

cindy murphy
11/20/2008 3:04:22 PM

"It may be that I turn into a gardener yet!" It may have an additional benefit, Jean - in addition to beautifying your garden, and helping the environment, (lawn is basically the most unenvironmently friendly ground cover there is, excepting cement) - guess what? Gardening is great exercise! I read your post about diabetes, and incorporating exercise into your routine - gardening is a good and simple way to start.

jean teller
11/10/2008 4:03:23 PM

Hi, Cindy, some great suggestions! Thank you! I hadn't thought of putting out potted plants - I could even move some of the inside green plants outside for the summer. I have cuttings of a gorgeous angel wing begonia that I might add to the mix. None of my inside plants flower, but they'd be a great green addition! The garden is fairly sunny, which the hosta has complained about on occasion, and as it keeps growing, I keep ignoring the complaints. At one time there were daylilies, the lawn mower kept taking them down. So I may add more - I do like lilies of any kind! I'll keep you up-to-date on my endeavors. It may be that I turn into a gardener yet!

cindy murphy
11/8/2008 8:55:26 AM

Hi, Jean. I'm right there with you, agreeing whole-heartedly with your first statement. Gardening IS hard work; I've got the permanently calloused hands, muscles, (aching, at times), and sometimes hard-to-get-clean dirty fingernails to prove it. Definitely not a dainty endeavor. Working at a nursery, I see a full range of "gardeners" everyday - from those passionate about their gardens, who will spend hours and hours at the nursery each time they visit, to those who want their property to look landscaped, but don't want, or can't do the work that goes along with it. As far as tips for the non-gardener go - the plants in your garden are perfect. Sedums and hostas are pretty much no-fuss-no-muss and are virtually indestructable, (most of the time; those with Black Thumbs of Death can kill just about anything). It may be a couple years before your divisions fill out, and in the meantime, annuals, (potted, if you don't want to get down and dirty again), can fill in the bare spaces, and provide color in summer. I'm not sure about the light conditions of your garden; most hostas prefer shade, and sedums typically grow in full sun, although they can handle light shade. If you'd like something more permanent than annuals for color, try daylilies - another indestructable easy-to-grow plant. They'll grow in full sun, or can take a lot of shade, and there are hundreds of varieties of different heights and color to choose from. A taller variety along the back, behind the hosta, and a few of a mid-sized variety between the hosta and sedum would be nice. All any of these plants really require is water, and chopping of their heads in the fall - deadheading through the season is optional. Of course, additions to what you have now, depend on the look you prefer. I tend to like my gardens overflowing, but one person's garden is another's jungle!