Faced with a blank slate in the area that calls itself your “garden”, the temptation might be to throw down a bit of gravel, rake a few patterns into the pebbles and call it good. Ironically, our bank accounts and our pockets are often so depleted after the purchase of a house and/or land that we’re lucky if we can stock the bathrooms with toilet paper, much less buy fifty sun-loving perennials to populate a few square feet of high profile walkway. And this quandary is not just one in which the proud owners of brand new six-bathroom suburban homes find themselves. Not everyone dreams in green, and there are many older homes that have not been landscaped despite many years of begging previous owners for a new look. If you’ve recently moved and are not fortunate enough to have found a fantastic garden with a decent house to go with it, join the club. We are many.
First you are going to need to come to terms with a hard fact. The process of creating a botanical paradise in your little kingdom is either going to be somewhat slow and very expensive, or painfully slow and fairly expensive. Perhaps you are starting to understand why that house you looked at with the mature shrubbery, wrap around deck and picket fencing had an extra 25K stapled to the price tag. While the new owners of that house are lying on the double hammock between two mature oak trees this summer, you will be planting some acorns and praying for rain.
I shudder to think what we have spent on our garden in the last eight years, even considering the fact that I hold an advanced degree in Extreme Tightwaddery with a minor in Creative DIY. Quite apart from the cost of hardscape materials, plants, and wine for the deck party, there are all the endless bits and pieces of equipment – hoses, spigots, yet another &$%@ watering wand with yet another &$%@ plastic shut off valve, watering cans, pots, twine, rope, wire, cages, potting soil, bone meal, blood meal, and ready meals for nights I am too exhausted to cook. In short, a whole lot of stuff that looks like junk (especially when it’s cluttering your basement or garage) but costs a small fortune to have on hand.
I know many of you are clicking your tongues right now, secure in the knowledge that I have obviously been profligate, but as far as I know, not many people will dig 2,500 bricks out of a dirt pile in the middle of August or dumpster dive for a stone statue with missing limbs just to add a bit of depth to the garden. I start seeds by the hundreds and divide plants when their owners aren’t looking – yet it still costs a lot of money; nickel by nickel, dime by dime.
But I have no wish to dissuade you in your horticultural pursuits. The fact is, garden dreams unfold slowly and in stages, and if your dreams begin humbly, the price tag is not overwhelming. It is when the dreams grow, as they invariably do, that one finds oneself trying to plug hemorrhaging holes in the wallet.
If you are staring at that vast expanse of yard and wondering how it’s all going to come together without cheating your children out of a decent pair of shoes, keep your eyes open and start small. A few veggies can be grown against the house fairly cheaply, or several pots can be grouped together on a front step to make your entrance inviting. To make the most visual impact with limited cash, either claim your property boundaries with strong anchor beds or trees, or move out slowly from the perimeter of the house with plantings as and when money is available.
And if you are currently in the market for a new place to hang your hat, do not underestimate the cost of landscaping when agreeing to the price of your home. For although there will always be a place within those four walls to hang that hat, having a place to hang your hammock is as they say, priceless.
Ah, and you have only hinted at what came really drive the costs sky high, namely, the lust for the exotica that are beyond the ken of local nurseries. It’s bad enough that I find myself ordering Paeonia species from the other side of the country or seeking out wildflower ‘natives’ that have never been native in Frederick County, but my elder son has become in versed phyto certificates so that he can order bulbs and small alpine plants from Canada, England, and Lithuania. It is also fair to say that the process of creating the botanical paradise has no end point — and that’s the glory of it!
By the way, that was a great column (A garden only a mother could love) in the Frederick Post today. It’s been widely emailed to many others who can appreciate the sentiment that only a gardener can appreciate the details of the evolving garden without getting derailed into looking at the uncut grass or the weeds that haven’t been pulled.
Oh – you are so right John. The cost of these crazy plants we wish to grow. That’s a WHOLE separate article! So glad you enjoyed the FNP column – the garden is coming along every day, but it will definitely be a few weeks before the veggies look like veggies, the roses look like roses and I have raked the millions of maple helicopters off of those mulched beds.