Saturday, August 8, 2009


Not long after this picture was taken, a fierce
hailstorm permanently destroyed these gorgeous hostas.
(And my roof too! But I was more upset about the hostas.)
If you were to visit my backyard today, the only spots of garden color you would see would be a few of those common orange daylilies and a hanging fuchsia basket (the traditional Mother's Day gift from my husband).
Where the perennial border was, the ground is almost bare. Half of the once lush lawn is now dirt, the other half includes lots of weeds. The little herb garden is overrun with ladybells.
The front garden isn't much better. My half dozen hardy Canadian shrub roses still survive, as well as my sturdy lavender irises, a couple of hollyhocks, a few Stargazer lilies and the ubiquitous ladybells.
I used to be a gardener - a good gardener. I studied for and earned a Master Gardener certificate. I gardened (with work in between) from 6 in the morning until the street lights came on at night. When I finally came indoors, I had a tower of gardening books to read at my bedside.
I wrote a garden column for the Bismarck Tribune. I did the Bismarck-Mandan Garden Club's newsletter. Dan and I hosted a garden party every August. I was a test gardener for Jackson and Perkins.
So what happened? Age, time and circumstances, I suppose. Our old American elm tree (which I do love) was huge when we moved here 27 years ago; now it is ginormous and kills every plant that tries to grow under its canopy, including the grass. Although its absence would totally change the micro climate of my backyard, I do not wish it gone, especially since Dutch elm disease has claimed so many beautiful old e;m trees in North Dakota. (And our tree must be one of the largest in Bismarck.)
About eight years ago, I was anemic for an entire summer, and therefore was so weak I did not lift a finger in the garden. I think that was the beginning of the decline. Job losses meant no more money for gardening. Perennials I had planted did not last as long as I thought they would. Finally, I developed carpal tunnel syndrome and my knees have gone wonky on me. This year, I didn't even buy annuals for the pots on my decks.
I am writing this blog so that these posted pictures can remind me of what I once had. They're a testament to what I have accomplished. And, doing this gives me closure. I have finally accepted that the gardening phase of my life is over.
I had lots of pleasure and lots of agony too. I have read so many times about gardeners who love to get their hands in the soil. That was never me. I don't like to get dirt under my fingernails (probably as a result of my enforced potato picking days). I did not enjoy planting, or weeding. I nearly "died" the day I planted 100 tulip bulbs. No, I only enjoyed the results.
For a while, until I went organic, I fought insects with a vengeance. I drowned slugs in beer by the thousands. And I lost so many plants to hail, that staple of a North Dakota summer. (This year, when I have exactly one plant, we have not had hail once.)
But one evening, when I was gardening in the front yard, a passerby told me that she thought that my house and garden came straight out of a fairy tale. That one comment made all the blood, sweat and tears worth it. (Blood from rose thorns, sweat - obviously, and tears after the hail storms.)
So I present these pictures for your enjoyment - and mine.

This is the arbor over the sidewalk leading to the house. The rose you see climbing the arbor is William Baffin, a sturdy, extremely robust Canadian shrub. On the other side of the arbor, not shown, there is a Henry Kelsey climber, also a Canadian shrub. There are also cosmos, daisies and I don't know what all.

The corner by the driveway, featuring a Morden rose ("Morden Pink", I think - yet another Canadian shrub). There are also some snapdragons, coral bells and zinnias.

This is the area to the left of my front steps. I've tried a lot of plant combinations in this space, but nothing I ever planted has seemed quite right. In this incarnation there are hollyhocks, ostrich ferns, some taller pink flowers, impatiens, perhaps an edging of white alyssum. (I never had any luck with it.) And a self-sown Queen Anne's lace (out of place, but nice~).

The lower deck behind the garage. Dan, who is definitely not a carpenter, did a good job with building it, on one of the hottest days of 1988. I also had him put up that lattice to give us a little privacy from the neighbors' driveway.

Another view of the lower deck. My nephew Nick made the folding table in shop class, and I painted it and the bench to match our house trim. I had my herbs here, close to the kitchen, as well as flowering plants.

Part of my perennial garden, with its lovely thatched bird feeder. I recognize delphiniums, artemesia, lilies, purple prairie coneflowers and physostegia (I think?).

The grapevine on the fence does a wonderful job of hiding the driveway. As you can see there is a gap in the rear where I had not yet been able to find a good tall plant. My aim for this perennial border was to have tall plants in the rear, medium-size plants in the middle and short plants in front.

Our upper and lower decks are separated by a walkway which continues out toward the lawn. Even then, only shade plants grew here. I later replaced the flimsy metal arbor with a nice sturdy arched one.

This is the back left corner of our yard. We put up another lattice panel to hide the compost bin. Kari, the daughter of my good friend Judy, painted the morning glories on the side of the garage. Which happens to be our neighbor's garage. How could I be so dense as to not think that he might object to having nails pounded into his garage wall and flowers painted on it. He later painted the garage - bye bye, morning glories. (But as long as we live in our house I will always have the great pleasure of viewing the ivy vines Kari painted above the arch in our dining room.)

My dear little faun, nearly hidden by the perennials. I can't believe I'm not remembering what the purple flowers are. I used to know the names of almost all garden flowers, and certainly the ones I grew. I'm thinking they might be a type of campanula.

My 50 bulbs for $10.00 mail order lilies! By the way, these photos were taken by Mike McCleary, a Tribune photographer.

Is there anything as fresh as a Shasta daisy? Especially when photographed in front of a blue-painted birdbath.

A sweet, shady spot for relaxing. This old apple tree produced tons of wonderful baking apples, but it had many blights and age-related problems. It just fell over one day after a particularly heavy rainstorm. Its prone branches reached across the lawn, nearly as far as our house. You'll note those orange daylilies in the background. They were there when we bought the house, and I let them be.

My little herb garden in the back right corner of the yard. I meant the bird house to be decorative, but a wren couple moved in. The mama would scold me so when I worked here (afraid for her babies, I'm sure).

Another view of my herb garden, just watered. In front, one of my most favorite plants, lady's mantle.

Help me out here. Victoria Blue salvia and candy tuft??

Another bird bath, surrounded by geraniums and petunias. (I had the strange quirk of never planting these two plants in the ground, but I did love them in pots.)
Hope you enjoyed the tour.


gma said...

You are full of surprizes. I had no idea you were a master gardener.
It would be a chore there in ND with the weather situation as it is. That just goes to show you were a great gardener. Your garden was beyond beautiful!Sorry you have lost the desire. It'd do your heart good to have a little green growing in a pot....I know how you love the natural world.

Julie said...

Gemma - Rearding losing my desire: It's not that. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak - and the pocketbook empty.

Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

You are still reaping a bountiful garden of blossoms from what you previously sowed. It is evident that this was planned and planted with love. Perennials are so great - each year they just keep on giving.

I can envision the day when I will not have the energy to garden. I have already cut back on what I do. This year, I refused to buy any annuals that required dead-heading - or to have pots at a distance from the house that required watering.

Values shift - and as we age conserving energy trumps beauty - for me anyway. Besides there are so many other ways to find and experience beauty besides in our own garden.

Robin said...

Once upon a time, i got lost in here for quite a while! Many beautiful spots to linger...


Fi from Four Paws and Whiskers said...

Julie, you have been a wonderful gardener and the picture journey through it was very moving... but we have also found that age takes its toll... and I can see that the work associated with keeping it the way you want it to be would make it stressful for you. I think you have done the right thing... I hate seeing the garden untidy... and this year I hacked a lot back, and then - ow - paid someone to do what we no longer can. It hurt. But the payoff has been a wonderful winter where I have felt light and open, with no garden battles, and a reminder that my next house will not rely on my own garden to offer me pleasing views or tranquility.

Chris said...

I have been unable to look after my garden for the last few years due to artheitis in my hip and it has grown into a garden for wildlife, doing it's own thing very well thank you very much. I've got thistles as tall as young trees and new trees that have arrived on their own and chosen to flourish and all this on the edge of the sea in the north of Scotland. I have now had the duff hip replaced and will soon be fit enough to garden again, but I think I will not tidy too much, I'd rather have the birds etc. I woiuld have loved to have seen you garden in it's hey-day.

Casey said...

Re your tuplips...when we moved into our new house, we planted over 100 tulip bulbs. The squirrels ate them all! We still haven't gotten over the loss of it and have planted hostas and suflowers instead.

Lila Rostenberg said...

To every thing there is a season, and your "season" as a gardener was a long and productive one!!!
I LOVE the photos you have here...what charming small nooks and eye-catching colors! I love the blue trim with the flowing pink flowers! I'm so glad you showed us these.
You do not live in an area where gardening is easy...I am finding the "lasagna" (layered) garden has been easier than any thing I have tried...think about it!

JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

Wow - you amaze me again and again. What lovely gardens. I agree, the time comes when the work is not always what we can do - but you do have the memories and the photos.

Rowan said...

Such a pretty garden, I love the deckchairs under the apple tree and your lower deck is really inviting too. It's a shame that you can't manage to do it any more, I can't imagine not being able to mess about among my flowers - I'm an earth under the finger nails type:)

Colleen - the AmAzINg Mrs. B said...

Beautiful memories! It was like a storybook garden! But alas, time does move on and it's good to know one's limits. I have yet to get the gardening bug (no pun intended) My mother-in-law does all the gardening and I enjoy the benefits. I'm afraid I'm like you and can't get excited about dirt under the nails either..or finding worms..or being sweaty.

Things now are as they should be even if we don't understand why. Time will give us answers. Until then, you get my hugs..

Leanne said...

julie, what a lovely garden you had. it must be so bittersweet for you to look back on these photos. so thank you for sharing them! My garden will be magical one day, ive made a start... but theres so much more to do!

Leanne x

Janet said...

Is there no end to your talents!! I was so amazed reading this post. I never knew this side of you before. You certainly did some beautiful things in your garden. I don't have a green thumb at all so I'm always envious of those who do. Gorgeous photos....thank you for sharing this side of you. You are indeed a woman of many talents.

Ruthie Redden said...

Julie i did indeed enjoy the tour, i can imagine all the blood, sweat & tears you have poured into that beautiful garden! You remind me so of my grandmother, she too loved her garden so & didn't give up till her knees gave in. Then she would sit in her sun porch & atch my mother gardening instead. Those photos and memories are so precious, i an tell you hold them close to your heart. remember what a beautiful job you have done. time now to move on to other precious things x x

Anonymous said...

I love this garden is so lovely and peaceful, all the little corners that you could hide in, is what we hoping to do as well, my cats would love your garden to sleep and dose the day away.

Anonymous said...

What beautiful pictures. I really enjoyed the tour. Thank you very much.

Such a Wondrous Place this Faery Space said...

This is a faerytale. Beautiful. Blessings.

Annie Jeffries said...

OMG!!! Julie! I'm am totally stoked. What a wonderland you have created. Please.