I started seriously gardening when my friend Fran volunteered to dig up my mom’s peony bulbs at my townhouse to transplant to my new house.
I was so tired from the seemingly endless packing and moving process, I couldn’t stomach the thought of digging bulbs. So Fran took charge. She grabbed the shovel and dug up the peonies, the hostas (also from Mom’s collection), and the azalea. She put them in pots or bags or anything that would hold dirt, and then she helped me transplant them in the new beds.
And then the serious gardening began.
The back and sides of the new house were blank canvases. “What should I plant?” I asked Fran. “What do you like?” Fran countered. I liked hydrangeas. So we installed two Annabelle hydrangeas in a petite, two-foot-wide, mostly shady bed along the back of the house. They looked lonely there, so we added the hostas and azalea. It was lovely. That was Year #1.
When the spring of Year #2 approached, I was ready to attack the sloping back yard. I wanted to create a visual break between our neighbors’ yards and ours, so I ordered six Green Giant arborvitae from a local VFW sale. I didn’t know anything about planting trees, so I hired a guy. I watched him set out a trio of the trees on each side, dig the holes, amend the soil, fertilize and backfill, and thought, I can do that.
Then I started clearing out the edge of the woods. I wanted that “park” look, instead of the scrub of privet and wild vine and ragweed. It was sweaty, brutal work, but I hacked away until I had a two-foot border. “You know what would look great there?” asked Fran. “Forsythia.” So I bought three and we got them in the ground. And I learned a lot about native planting.
And then we really went wild. We added a ninebark and two burning bushes. Fran shared some ajuga, sundrops, and grasses from her gardens. Another friend shared native ferns and anemones and various perennials that quickly fill in. And I learned serious gardeners love to share plants they know do well in Tennessee’s clay soil.
Jimmy now winces a little when he sees Fran pull into the driveway with a load of plants. “I guess I’ll get the shovel,” he mumbles. Under our direction, he digs holes, unearths rocks, saws off limbs, and trims back hollies gone rogue. It’s not his favorite thing, but he beams a little when guests gasp over the lush and bountiful blooms. He’s learned that beauty matters.
In just five years, I’ve developed nine different garden beds. They take a LOT of work—weeding, watering, trimming, fertilizing, googling, treating for slugs and beetles and mildew and black spots. I’m constantly learning, constantly expanding. I’m not afraid to move things. I’m not afraid to fail.
And it all started with a friend and a shovel. Thanks, Fran. We now live in a garden oasis because of you. As you like to say, “There’s always room for more.”
A Michigan farm girl transplanted to the South offering hospitality hacks.