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"The New Garden," by the Whistling Gardener

Last year my wife and I decided it was time to move out of our 80+ year old farm house, located on the nursery property, and into a more age appropriate (not quite convalescent, but certainly geriatric) residence that had only one floor and a smaller foot print (I think this is what they call downsizing). 
A raised bed at the Whistling Gardener’s new house. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

Chapter One: What on earth was I thinking?

Last year my wife and I decided it was time to move out of our 80+ year old farm house, located on the nursery property, and into a more age appropriate (not quite convalescent, but certainly geriatric) residence that had only one floor and a smaller foot print (I think this is what they call downsizing). 

In July, we found a cozy three-bedroom home built in 1992 just a few minutes from the nursery that seemed like a perfect fit for us. We thought we could move in and not have to worry about much of anything for quite a while. Of course, that isn’t exactly how things turned out, but we will get to that later. After the slow process of moving, we finally got settled in and life was good.

As important as the actual living structure was to us, the yard was probably just as critical for me as the kitchen was for my wife. The existing landscape was pretty much a blank slate - mostly grass edged with evergreens, a lilac, a butterfly bush, two forsythias, a token rhodie, one daylily, two Siberian iris, and the neighbor’s wisteria vine clambering over the fence. 

You could tell, that while the yard was tidy, the previous owners were clearly not “gardeners.” But, oh the potential! (Or to be more accurate, that was at least what was I thinking.) 

The back yard faced south and west in full sun, perfect for growing veggies and flowers. If anything, the back yard was bigger than I had planned on, but I rationalized that in my retirement I would need a few projects to keep me out of trouble and keep my wife from loading me up with her “honey-do-list.” 

Over the winter I watched where the sun rose and set and where the water drained to, all the time imagining what my new garden was going to look like.

As spring rolled around, I started wondering why there were very few weeds growing in the beds. It didn’t take me long to discover that under the bark was landscape cloth, installed by the previous owner for “weed mitigation.” If you are a non-gardener, landscape cloth is a great invention. If you actually like to garden, the darn stuff quickly becomes your nemesis - in order to plant anything you have to remove the bark, uncover the cloth, cut a slit in it so you can get a shovel in the ground, install your new plant, and then try to fit all the dirt back under the cloth before you cover it all back up with bark again. It is a total pain in the rear. 

I also deduced that they must have used an incredibly serious weed killer in those same beds because anything I tried growing, like sweet peas, would just shrivel up and die. I quickly realized that any veggies I was going to grow would have to be in raised beds with all new soil.

As a quick fix, I ran out and purchased one of those six-foot-long galvanized stock tanks to hold me over until I could build some real raised beds. It is currently filled with broccoli, lettuce, beets, radishes, onions, and spinach - all of which I have calculated to have cost me in excess of $300 (what was I thinking!). 

I suspect that I am not alone in this pain as many people are starting home gardens for the first time this year. The good news, that we can all take comfort in, is that the investments will last. The raised beds will be able to be utilized year after year, along with the dirt used to fill them, as long as they get freshened up with compost and fertilizer from time to time. 

Plus, I figure it’s all about the journey right? The enjoyment of creating this project, maintaining it and the benefits my family will gain from it will out-way the struggles and frustrations. Hopefully you’ve found your journey to be similarly rewarding.

I have lots more to share about this insane project that I have taken on at the ripe old age of 72, that maybe others can relate to as well when starting from “scratch,” but it will have to wait until next time. Until then, stay safe and keep on gardening.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at info@sunnysidenursery.net.

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