Planning a garden

I don’t pretend to have a green thumb.

I’ve killed more than my fair share of plants in my day, which is not exactly the best thing to hear from someone who worked at a flower farm for four summers. But, it’s true; I take a sort of “laissez-faire” approach to gardening and plant-tending, which typically amounts to: “Hey, let’s plant you…here!” *One week later* “Oh hey! You’re still alive! Awesome!”

Still, I’ve had the garden itch for awhile. Growing up, my dad maintained a large garden in our suburban backyard for many, many years, resulting in lots of fresh and canned vegetables at mealtimes (I still hate jarred spaghetti sauce having grown up on my parents’ homemade version). And we didn’t just have some token tomato and pepper plants; we grew corn, broccoli, pumpkins, cucumbers, lettuce, peas, and THREE kinds of peppers. Even though my early to mid-20’s were full of places like college dorms, and apartments, and townhomes with a tiny patio, I have this great urge to try my hand at suburban food production, and like my dad (who would always start flats and flats of seeds in our basement long before spring), I will probably go a bit overboard.

Then, there are the flowers. As I said, I worked at a local flower farm/nursery in high school and college, and I love being around flowers. Flowers seem to be a physical manifestation of happiness and joy in nature, and since those summers spent watering flower pots and rosebushes, I’ve wanted some for my own.

But again, I don’t have the greenest thumb. Stuck with pots and flower boxes at our townhouse, a disappointing number of blooms withered under my watch. Luckily, I was always able to keep some happy mums alive to brighten our doorstep for many months, and I have strange luck with basil. But even had I been a better patio gardener, I was also shy about doling out the big bucks for more plants (fun fact: flowers are expensive).

When we moved into our house last March, planting any kind of garden was low on our priority list. We managed to rake the mulch in our planter beds (and we have A LOT of beds), and keep them weeded all summer. But we definitely didn’t have time to fill them, or think about how we could fill them. Creating a raised bed for vegetables: not in the picture.

This year, our second spring and summer in the house, will hopefully be different. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to get to the vegetable garden – there’s just too many projects that need to be done, and too little money to go around – but I do have plans. Big plans. For one flower garden. Yes, one, but it’s going to be great.

I hope.

I wish I had snapped a “before” picture of this project, because then you would know how truly pathetic this patch of dirt was. This garden was a random, irregularly-shaped bed in the back of the house, next to the backdoor off the back hallway we never use (because there’s a glass door with no glass…but that’s another project). There are four windows that jut up this stretch of brick, two on the first floor, two on the second. But that’s it. It’s just a flat, (off-)white wall. Plus, this is where all our electrical lines connect into the house, not to mention the on/off valve for our sprinkler system, and other various “boxes” that control the do-dads and hee-haws in our house.

It wasn’t very pretty.

That’s why I’m trying to make it pretty. Here’s what I have in mind:

  • I’m going with my some of my favorite primary flower colors: purple and yellow (hues of which happened to be our wedding colors).
  • I need height in the back to add some interest to that wall and hide some of the boxes/wires.
  • This garden is full-on sun except for a short time in the evening, when it hides behind a pine tree during the sunset. I need something that can take some heat and glare.
  • I need something lush and easy, something will come back year after year, which means I’m investing in perennials. This includes:
  • Clematis
    My parents have a giant clematis by their front door, and it has giant flowers every year, which is why I knew I needed it for its height on my bare white wall. I don’t believe my version will have blue flowers, but light purple ones instead.
  • Phlox (David)
    This is one of those things you learn working at a flower farm: phloxes are beautiful, hardy perennials, and you learn that the varieties are named after you and your brother! While the Phlox Laura is pretty, I was actually partial to the white Phlox David, which will make one of my little brothers happy. This guy will also be in in the back, providing the height and color.
  • Black-eyed susans
    My experience is that you can’t kill these bastards, and they grow everywhere. Maybe I will regret this decision in 10 years after the black-eyed susans have completely taken over my backyard, but for now, I need something that fills space and nothing fills space like black-eyed susans!
  • Purple cone flowers
    This is another plant I may regret in 10 years, as I actually have never been a big fan of purple cone flowers. Specifically, I have always disliked their spiny seed pod things that stick up for weeks and weeks after the petals have died off. However, these are also easy to grow and good for this region. Plus, I want to make my backyard gardens as bird and butterfly friendly as possible, and birds just LOVE these suckers in the fall for the seeds. And I like birds, so there’s that.
  • Coreopsis (sunfire)
    Coreopsis is just one of those plants that always stuck with me, years after I stopped working at the flower farm. Aren’t they adorable? Plus, they’re a good middle height, produce a lot of pretty yellow flowers, and I just love the sunfire variety.
  • Lavender
    This Windows-screensaver-lavender is totally what I anticipate my lavender looking like in a few months (jk). But still, I love purple (always have, always will), and what’s not to love about planting lavender right by your back door? NOTHING. Did I mention that we also have a lavender TREE in our backyard? Yeah, it’s pretty much amazing.
  • Dianthus (pinks)
    Dianthus Tickled Pink 14
    Because they’re just oh-so-cute! My flower garden is allowed to be “cute” right? I’m the only planting it, it can be anything it wants!

Going forward, we’ve made some headway. A few weekends ago, I scraped off the old top layer of soil that had probably been sitting there for years and replaced it with bags and bags of new garden soil. I also ferociously unearthed a rogue mint plant that had randomly set up shop there, a process that resulted in me hitting a sprinkler line with my new super-sharp hoe, creating the need for an emergency Home Depot run. Oops. Then, my awesome, forgiving husband dug a trench around the planter and lined it with pavers. Combined with our brick-paved patio, it almost looks like it was always supposed to be like this.

On the planting front, I’ve got my lavender in + two coropsis + my itty-bitty baby clematis. Aren’t they adorable?





You will be bare and ugly for not very much longer, wall. OK, it has awhile to go, and I still need to get the rest of my plants. Again, SO EXPENSIVE. However,  figure that this perennial garden – provided I don’t kill it – is an investment, not a one-time expense. I’m hoping this garden continues to come back, year and year, lush and thriving, providing just the bit of color our big, nicely-landscaped, but still a little boring yard needs.

Spring is on its way


Technically, spring is here. But by “spring in Michigan,” I’m also talking about 30 degrees and snow flurries over the weekend. Oh well – these happy daylilies we transplanted shortly after moving in last year (almost a year ago!) have warmer thoughts on their mind.

Happy flowers


flower 2


Our house already had some pretty nice landscaping going on when we moved in (thanks former homeowner!). Every few weeks this spring and summer, it’s been a surprise to go outside and discover some new flower or bush that’s come to life. That purple Rose of Sharon is next to our garage and makes coming home just so happy. Those orange flowers started blooming behind our garage and are just lovely.

Sunday gardening project

So a few months ago, I started my window-sill herb garden again, this time with two mini-pots of parsley and one pot of basil. However, I was most excited about buying a big planter box and planting the excess seeds outside, thereby ensuring that I would have oodles of fresh herbs all season long.

However while my parsley has been doing great, I think I got a bad batch of basil seeds because after sprouting up per usual, all my little seedlings began dying off faster than you say ‘no pesto.’ The planter box-herb garden continued its downward spiral when I had to bring it inside for a few weeks due to low temperatures. The experimental chive garden soon began disappearing because some naughty kitties discovered chives are delicious. Then, I came upstairs one day to find one cat quite content using my poor, struggling herbs as a comfy bed while he basked in the sun.

Moving on, I’m going to continue with my window-sill parsley but I’ve simply bought a mature basil plant and planted it on the back porch. Pesto, pizza, spaghetti … I will have you this sumer:

And I’ve decided to turn the planter box into a coleus box! After years of working at a nursery, this tie-dye-esque annual is one of my favorite plants and looks great spring through fall. Plus, there are no flowers to awkwardly die off on you, making your planter seem rather sad halfway through the season.