June 2, 2011 by Robin Plaskoff Horton
Remember back in 2009 I wrote an article for Urban Gardens called My Black Thumb? Well, after paying a fortune to professional landscapers to keep my yard looking good, I decided to try my hand at doing more yard work myself. Chug along with me as I sweat, dig and swear my way from former neophyte to some very challenging (for me anyway) gardening projects. You can’t possibly be worse than me. You will recall, I’m the one who regularly watered a fake plant on a volunteer job until another volunteer kindly pointed out it was not real!
So the bar is really pretty low here. If you’re one of the many who are intimidated by taking on more projects in your backyard, porch, apartment balcony, or indoor window shelf, let’s learn together and get braver about getting those fingers dirty.
The project I just completed is a Sitting Garden in a recently cleared-out area in my backyard. I had those expensive landscapers clear it out and cut back the brush, but it looked so plain and empty afterwards, I decided to do some planting there to spruce it up.
First, I bought some easy to grow perennials and annuals. I selected some pretty pansies, always a favorite, they’re practically indestructible. Next, two lovely, deer-resistant Jacob’s Ladder plants–pretty, easy to grow perennials with delicate purple flowers. Lastly a nice Hyacinth rounded out my selections; and out to the yard I went.
It was a bit drizzly and cold that afternoon, but dig I must since at the time I was soon scheduled to go out of town. Carting around the heavy items before I even started planting, I realized I needed a wheelbarrow, so it was back to the store I went. A little while later, I was the proud owner of a lovely wheelbarrow, which is a great help to me in yard work.
So I dug, fertilized and planted, and then put mulch all over. First I prepared the soil by clearing the area of loose sticks, debris and trash. Then I started digging and preparing the holes. According to all the experts, soil is very important, so I really tried to do my best here, despite the rain and cold. Here’s where the swearing comes in. Then I planted each one, taking care to follow the directions on the labels. It also helped earlier to ply my terrific garden center staff for all the information I could possibly get out of them.
Make sure you use a good garden center and get top-grade plants, especially us less experienced gardeners who need all the help we can get. Next I watered and fertilized the plantings. Osmocote is my new favorite word–it’s a great, timed released fertilizer, and both my indoor and outdoor plants love it! Lastly, I applied mulch to the entire area. Mulch is a beautiful thing, and best of all, you don’t have it water it. It’s like the delete key in the garden. You can cover a multitude of sins with it, and it’s easy to use, never dies, never needs water or fertilizer, is not that expensive and looks great. I chose these lovely natural-colored brown Pine mini-chips, which are very pretty when applied, and easy to handle.
Finally I placed a pretty metal bench I found at the garden center in the exact right spot, and voila, a beautiful new sitting garden!
Really, the hardest thing was dragging the heavy items out to the backyard. Make sure you stretch and have a good breakfast the day you’re going to be doing some heavy work in the garden. Also get the appropriate tools and supplies ready beforehand. You don’t want to have to run back to the store like I did in the middle of your project!
I was very pleased with how it came out, and even my family was impressed. I had a nice sense of accomplishment too when it was done, a wonderful feeling. As time goes on I can of course add more plants (I love Sage plants and Rose bushes), or simply enjoy what’s already there.
Just make sure to familiarize yourself with basic gardening procedures, keep an eye on the temperature–don’t plant too early in cold weather areas or your plants will freeze; and water, water, water until your new plants are well established.
Some good references are: this website Urban Gardens, ehow.com, about.com, and the book Organic Gardening for Dummies by Ann Whitman. There are many other great sources online and off these days. If I can do it, you can too. Enjoy your new green thumb!
Joy Bennett is a Rochester, NY area writer, mom, and enthusiastic but clueless gardener. Visit her online at joybennett.com.