May 13, 2008

Confessions of a Non-Gardener

girl_gardener.jpgFor many new homebuyers, one of the most exciting things about buying a house is having the space to garden. For the first time, you may have a little dirt to call your own, and a million ideas about how to fill it. That's great, but my advice is to take it slow. I'm living proof that if your ambition out-paces your knowledge of gardening realities, you could end up with a lot of dead plants.

When I bought my first home years ago, one of my first purchases was the Sunset Western Garden Book. I happily spent weekends weeding the overgrown backyard, buying and planting hundreds of dollars worth of new plants, and learning about mulch and ground covers. I was determined to turn my small yard into an English garden, and I succeeded (at least for a while).

But as time went on, I found myself enjoying gardening less and less. Money I used to spend on manicures and dinners out now went to new garden tools and the latest non-toxic snail bait. Rather than hike with friends in beautiful parks, I was alone in the dirt, nurturing my tomato plants. Gardening seemed the thing every new homebuyer should do, so why I was resenting it? Thinking I should scale back, I bought every book on low-maintenance landscaping, only to learn there's really no such thing. (Gardening's only easy is if you pay someone to do it all for you.)

I gradually started letting go and found myself happier shopping for vegetables and fresh flowers at the farmers market rather than growing my own. I started buying more novels instead of gardening books, and reading instead of weeding.

Before long, my once beautiful garden began to return to its original state of disarray. I looked for as many ways as possible to keep my little yard full -- outdoor play structures for the kids, a hammock, bird feeders, little lawn ornaments (though I didn't go so far as pink flamingos). My gardening friends were appalled: How could you let those perfectly good plants die? Well, like the person who finally admits they really don't like to cook (or shop, or redecorate), I have finally reconciled myself to the fact that I am not a gardener. At least with the recent emphasis on conserving water, I have an excuse when people inevitably ask, "What happened to your garden?"

Marcia Stewart