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Bringing the Forest Home to my Garden

I’ve been a bit garden-obsessed lately, if you can’t tell from my recent posts. Although when people ask me how my garden is going, I will usually make excuses for its unfinished state: that certain perennial seeds are growing very slowly, and my shoe-string budget won’t permit me to fill my entire garden in one shopping trip.

But this garden has changed our lives.

We are opening ourselves up to our neighbors, accepting their criticism and praise in equal measure, by making a statement that our yard will be something different.
Everyone seems to be fascinated by what we’re doing… whether to judge or to admire, people will stop in their tracks and look at our yard.

Fleabane flowers, a gift from a friend

More than that, however, is how the garden changes how we see our new home.

In the past two months, we have opened our front door EVERY DAY… rain or shine… because we enjoy the view.
Whenever I walk past the open door, I catch myself pausing to look at the sun glistening through dew on the cat-mint, the bees pollinating the allysum, and the birds enjoying a bath. Stepping outside, I’m greeted by the fragrance of mint and flowers.

Robin on the birdbath

“Don’t worry about getting it just right. Making a garden is not like laying tile or hanging wallpaper…. No matter how hard you work and how much money you spend, your garden will never be perfect. But you will love it anyway. You will love it like you never loved a lawn.”

~ Evelyn J. Hadden, “Beautiful No Mow Lawns”

Yesterday, I asked my husband whether or not he recalled our attitude last spring. Did we open our door? Did we enjoy gazing at our yard? Did we even notice our own yard?

Be honest. We were never in love with our lawn. Grass is invisible, unless it’s turning brown or needs to be mowed. People don’t “see” grass.
Your eye wanders to your neighbors’ cars, overgrown shrubbery, overflowing trashcans, children’s toys, barking dogs, sagging tool-sheds, woodpiles, and flower gardens.

If you would have asked him a year ago, “How is the view from your house?” …he would have made some sarcastic remark about one neighbor’s endless circus parade of visitors. I would have mentioned someone else’s trash that regularly escapes from their can and blows down the street.

The moving vans. The maintenance crews. The herd of kids playing games in the street. The never-ending construction going on across the street. The vacant lot that looks more unkempt every week.

Angry Bird in birdbath

This bird doesn’t look happy at the invasion of his privacy… :P

Today, my eyes rarely wander beyond my own garden. Sometimes I focus on specific areas needing improvement, but there is an overall sense of peace and appreciation for its beauty.
It will be even lovelier when we get our picket fence, and I can take photographs of my plants without cars in the background. LOL

Bumble Bee on Catmint Plant

So, naturally, my mind has started dreaming what potential the backyard holds, and how it might be transformed into a cozy paradise.

Our original plans included extending the concrete patio (which is just a 4’x4′ slab right now) to roughly 10’x14′, and installing a pair of exterior French Doors opening onto a seating area.

The kids wanted a tree-fort with a tire swing to be built around the cherry tree. My vegetable garden, which is now sited in-ground along the fence, will probably be moved to raised beds flanking the new patio… which will be perfect for picking and grilling. :)

Joe envies the 8′ high privacy fence our neighbor on the corner built to guard his pool (which incidentally, takes up his entire backyard). I understand the privacy issue all too well. Having once been fortunate to live in the country, on 5 acres of land, it can be difficult to find peace when your neighbors are a few feet away. Literally. Our backyard is only 20′ wide and 50′ long.

But I worry that installing a giant fence will make our tiny yard seem even smaller. When you walk outside, your eye will immediately be drawn to it, and how confining it is… so I began fantasizing about how to make our future privacy fence “disappear”.

Walking trail through woods

My “A-ha!” moment came while walking Harley at the local park. We like to take the nature trails through the woods, and I always feel at peace in the lush landscape. The temperature drops, the humidity vanishes, the air is cleaner and easier to breathe, and smells wonderful!
Yesterday, the trail smelled like honeysuckles. :)

I wanted to grab this section of woods and transplant it into my backyard.

Forest trail

Well, why not?

Our backyard is partially shaded by our neighbor’s large maple tree, and our smaller cherry struggling to grow beneath it. Grass has trouble growing in the shade, but woodland flowers and shrubs would be perfect! And the sunny area closer to the patio can become a prairie meadow, where my hanging laundry can pick up the scent of fresh wildflowers. :)

Of course, I had to sell this idea to my family. My husband, who balked at my initial plans to tear up the front yard, dug his heels in even farther to this wild idea.
Meadow grasses? Forest vines?!

Wildflowers growing in prairie meadow

“It will look like a jungle,” he pointed out.
“Exactly!” I squealed.

His doubtful look made me realize that “jungle” wasn’t a good thing.

I needed ammunition.

I went to the Washington County Public library, and checked out several books on “natural lawns”, which is a relatively new “green” movement for simplifying your lawn care by removing turf grass and replacing it with naturalizing plants that do not need watering, chemical weedkillers, or special fertilizers.
It challenges the status quo that has held manicured grassy lawns on a pedestal for decades, using beautifully photographed landscapes of woodland and prairie meadow lawns.

Although I didn’t make this decision for environmental reasons, perhaps armed with gardening experts’ assurances that this is beneficial for both the plants and wildlife, it will fend off any criticism we might encounter for letting our yard “go wild”. Which is really what Joe is afraid of… “What will the neighbors say?”

As long as our little slice of wilderness remains inside our 8′ privacy fence, I don’t think they can say much. ;)

The kids, surprisingly, weren’t keen on the idea at first either.
“Where will we run around and play?”

Meadow field

I was shocked. As a child, some of my happiest times were spent exploring the woods and lake around Foxhill Park, across the street from my house. Children and forest trails go hand and hand. Even the neighborhood kids are drawn to my cobbled together stepping stone path.

But my kids just look at Mommy’s fragile “Don’t step on my seedlings!!” garden, and despair that the backyard will suffer the same fate.

Honestly, despite their objections, my kids do NOT run in our backyard. They barely even play on the swing-set, and the lawn, literally a Fischer Price graveyard to their toddlerhood, isn’t “fun” anymore.
They would rather play at the park, or ride their scooters & bikes in the street.

Our backyard is virtually neglected by everyone except myself and the dog (who only uses it to relieve himself). I think Harley at least will appreciate my attempt to bring the woods closer to home.

Harley enjoying a grassy field

So I promised them that Daddy would build a “fort in the woods”, and that they could chase each other on the trails. There would be shrubs and tall grasses in which to play hide-and-seek, rather than using the neighbors’ parked cars. :P

I’m hoping to change my family’s perception of our yard… that once the tiny forest and meadow begins to grow and take shape, there will be a whole new world to explore. :)

Butterfly on wildflowers

Tara Fly

About Tara Fly

A Crazy Cat Lady ... who divides her time between painting portraits of cats dressed in period costumes, watching BBC mini-series, growing weeds and wildflowers, and baking pumpkin pies seasoned with cat hair. Would you like some fur-flavoured coffee?

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