The Family Project: Our Yard

purple coneflower

I have been gardening with my boys since they were very young, and though I’m sure that my love of gardening has influenced them, it hasn’t taken much effort on my part to get them to enjoy it. I think all children are drawn toward nature and plants when they have the opportunity to explore a yard. (You can find links to my earlier posts about gardening at the bottom of this page.)

I have enjoyed watching how my eldest son’s love of nature and plants has evolved. There have been years when I thought he was losing the interest, but now as I look back, I realize he has always been interested in plants, and perhaps now more than ever.

My eldest son’s white-topped pitcher plants and Venus flytrap (but you can only see the flowers of the flytrap in this photo)

My younger son, too, enjoys plants and gardening. He has his own Venus flytrap which he dutifully waters (when I remind him). He likes to plant new seedlings or store-bought plants, and in general, he’s leaning down looking at whatever his older brother is inspecting in the garden. He doesn’t complain at all when we go to the plant sale at the botanical garden, and he told me that our big project this year was “more fun than I thought it would be.”

What was that project? Well, it was reconstructing the path that I had created in our backyard woods before the boys were born. Back then, my husband helped me. We had collected many rocks from our new, uncultivated yard (and a few empty lots), and with his help, I created a path through the woods. However, over these past several years of having babies, child-rearing, and homeschooling, the path became neglected and overgrown with weeds. Erosion caused some of the rocks to get buried in the dirt or even moved around.

I had been talking about cleaning up the path with my boys for a long time, and back in April (when it was cool and there weren’t any bugs out yet) my eldest son suggested we do it. So we took a full week off from our regular lessons, and we went out back every morning and worked on our path. You can see the transformation in my photos.

BEFORE and AFTER we cleared the path in our backyard. A fun, spring project.

It looks great now, and we’re going to try to keep it maintained. Nature wants to take over so quickly, and this in itself is a great lesson for the boys. We will work on it mostly in the cooler months because it’s a mosquito heaven in the summer. We’re hoping to help cultivate the woodland plants that grow there naturally and get rid of the weeds and a few plants that tend to “take over.”

This wasn’t our only yard project this year, however. After watching Big Dreams Small Spaces with Monty Don, my husband got inspired! He suggested we try putting some flower beds in our front yard where we gave up growing grass. (It’s mostly a play area for the boys.) So with my husband’s help, we got the frames set up, and then the boys and I filled them with dirt, and we selected some partial shade loving plants, and they are looking very good! (In the future, we hope to add some more flower beds and fill the spaces in between with either pebbles or wood chips.)

These flowers have given us such joy this year. They are attracting all kinds of pollinators and birds, and we enjoy taking care of them. It was a relatively inexpensive project that renewed the boys’ interest in gardening!

Since we have the yard, I have many ideas for homeschooling projects, and the boys are pretty excited about them. It’s just a matter of finding the time to do them! If we do find the time, I’ll be sure to write about it.

Tell me about your garden. 🙂

Garden Time

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on May 20, 2015.

Every year the boys and I buy seeds and a few plants and plant them with good intentions. My boys also enjoy growing sprouting beans in jars and then transplanting them to the garden. We don’t have the best soil or much sunlight on this wooded lot, but I let the boys plant what they want. Digging in the dirt and caring for the vegetables must have more life lessons than I can count.

My eight-year-old wanted to plant pumpkins again. We put them in big pots in our driveway so they can get the most sunlight possible. My five-year-old is growing squash in our garden, and I planted some tomato and cucumber plants. We are all sharing the strawberries and green beans. We have some herbs left over from last year too.

A new garden is a pretty sight. There’s fresh topsoil and no weeds. The new plants have that fresh garden color – a world of promise in a single leaf. Perennials are blooming throughout my yard, keeping promises planted long ago. At this time of year, it’s easy to muster the energy to go out every evening and water the garden. By August, it’ll be another story, but that’s still far off, and I’m going to enjoy this beautiful spring for as long as it’s here.

My son’s carnivorous plants are looking healthy and growing like crazy, and we were thrilled to see his new sundew plant come to life after buying it in its dormant state late last fall. This sundew has long, spindly leaves with a sticky substance on them that insects will stick to, if they land on it. He also has a pitcher plant and Venus flytrap. I think my son’s carnivorous plants are doing a service for our whole neighborhood considering how many dead insects we find in them.

I wish my whole yard looked as fresh and well kept as our garden, spring flowers, and my son’s carnivorous plants, but that’s not the case. Weeds taunt me from under the azalea bushes, and there’s not enough time or money to fix up our backyard or the bare patches of lawn. I found one of my favorite flowering bushes – the name always eludes me – died this year after producing beautiful flowers for many years. It was the same bush where a cardinal family reared their chicks in one year, and we were able to watch the whole cycle right through our living room window. I’m very sad to see this bush stand bare of leaves.

My bay leaf tree, also, has suffered these past two years after growing so well for many years before this. Is it because I’m too busy to go out and pamper it, or did the winters just get too cold for it? I don’t know.

But I see good things happening too. Every year I manage to do one or two small tasks to add to the “perfect yard” that’s in my imagination but slowly taking form around the house. The lead plant I bought two years ago at the botanical garden is hanging in there, and for the first time this year, it’s blooming. Some irises I divided last year are doing quite well in their new spot, and this year I finally divided some monkey grass and planted it in front of the fence on the other side of the house.

We are in this house for the long haul, so I’m patient about getting the yard just right. We are in the season of our lives when we have other priorities, and trying to keep a perfect yard would be a waste of money and time. Keeping it fairly neat and planting slow-growing but lasting plants seems like the more prudent way to go. Besides, when the boys grow up, I doubt they’ll remember the weeds or the lack of lawn. Instead, they’ll remember the flowers, vegetables and freedom they had to run and dig in the dirt. Perhaps this is the perfect garden after all.

Garden Inheritance

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on May 22, 2013.

When I was a young girl I came to Georgia to visit my grandmother who lived in Athens. She kept a little red watering can just for me because I loved to help her water her plants. She lived in an apartment, but it had a courtyard where she grew flowers. Red geraniums were her favorite.

I used to love walking with her to Charmar nursery where I was enchanted with the rows and rows of plants inside the long greenhouse. Once she bought a little green fern for me, and I took it home on the airplane.

When we lived in Colorado, our house had a sunroom, and my mother filled it with Scheffleras, spider plants and jades.  I remember watching my father tend the garden that ran along the back fence. In my childhood memory that garden was very big, but it was probably just a modest house garden.

During my year in Japan, I had a very tiny apartment, but it had a small balcony, so it seemed natural to follow in my mother and grandmother’s footsteps and fill it with greenery. It was the least I could do to improve the view of the parking lot.

Now my children have inherited this love of plants and gardening. My six-year-old saves the seeds from his mandarins and apples and wants to plant them to see if they’ll grow. He found a half-sprouted acorn in the yard, so now we have a hardwood tree growing in a pot despite the fact that we have more than enough growing in our yard.

Every night he faithfully waters our garden where we planted green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and a few herbs. He likes watering our flowers in the front yard too, but I always offer to help because I don’t want it to become a chore for him.

My three-year-old loves to water and plant too.  One afternoon he carried seeds around from some plant found in the woods. His grubby little hands offered them to me, and they ended up in the cup holder of my chair. He, too, has an acorn growing in a pot, thanks to the help of his older brother.

A friend of mine owns a landscaping business, and she taught my son how take a cutting from the butterfly bush. Cut off one of the new shoots, strip the bottom leaves and cut the top leaves in half. Put the remaining part into a small pot with some seed starter mix, keep it moist and in a sunny spot.  Now my son is pulling the new leaves off the bush to try it himself. Come here in a few years, and you’ll probably find our yard full of purple butterfly bushes.

I’m making no attempts to stop my budding gardeners even though a landscaper might cringe at our attempts to grow full-sun plants in the shade or crowd the flowers together. My education in gardening has been through trial and error, and my sons are following in my footsteps.

Whenever I watch my three-year-old stoop over to water a pot with his blue watering tin, I think about the little red one I had at my grandmother’s. I think she would be pleased that I’m still outside planting, watering, and growing seeds. Someday I’ll have to take my boys on a trip to a big greenhouse too.