April 3, 2012 4 Comments
I spent last Saturday in the garden at our new house. It was my first day moving dirt and planting in Iowa.
Gardening has been a passion and hobby for me since we moved into our last house in New York in 1999. We had a large yard with many raised beds and garden areas. They had been neglected for years before we bought the property. We spent the first few years clearing them out and planning new arrangements. During the twelve years we owned the house, we invested thousands of dollars creating new beds and buying new plants, and hundreds of hours planting and tending the gardens. By the time we left New York, we had 15 different garden areas and the typed list of perennials, shrubs, and trees that we put into them went on for nine pages.
In truth, it ended up being way too much work, especially after Eric and I started spending most weekend days playing golf. Making golf a priority left me with less time to take care of the garden. Gardening is also hard on your back muscles, which has been an issue for me since I hurt my back playing golf three years ago. If I can only do one of these things, I would prefer to play golf.
So having a garden at our new house was important, but it had to be a manageable size. I think we achieved this goal. Our new house in Des Moines’ Beaverdale neighborhood has a much smaller yard and far fewer flower beds. The beds were also in pretty good shape before we got here. We are going to wait and see what comes up this year before making any drastic changes.
Here are some reflections on gardening in general and gardening in Iowa specifically:
- The dirt in Iowa is amazing: This is not news to all of the farmers in the State. There are six to eight inches of rich top soil in Iowa, including our backyard. In New York, the good dirt was only as deep as you placed it, which is why we had so many raised beds. The rest of the yard was hard clay, with stones mixed in. I was digging this Saturday in some flat areas around the house. I never hit the bad stuff.
- I like to mulch: I think gardens look better with a few inches of mulch on top. Not every gardener agrees with this point. I prefer natural looking, brown mulch, but the prior owners had put down red mulch so we had to follow suit. We used to bring it in by the truckload at our house in New York, and also get help to lay it down. Eric insisted on paying someone else to do it after a couple of years of doing it ourselves, and killing our backs in the process, and I was happy to go along. So I was surprised when he volunteered to haul and lay the mulch himself at our new house, another benefit of having a manageable-sized yard.
- Perennials are your friend: They come back each year, which saves you time. Many perennials can also be divided after a few years, which saves you money. They are also easy to move and replant if you need to make changes. If you run out of garden space, you can share the extra plants with your friends and neighbors. We were happy to be on the receiving end when a new friend dug up some of her siberian irises and ligularia and we planted them on Saturday.
- Remember the rule of three: When you plant perennials, you have to remember the rule of three. You need at least three of a kind to make the right statement. You should also avoid putting single perennials in the middle of grass without any kind of barrier between the plant and the grass. We dug up a number of stand-alone perennials on Saturday and moved them to a new garden area that we created with a few bricks and some well-placed mulch. It was a small change, but it made a big difference.
- Your feet are gardening tools, too: Once you get the plant in the ground and have watered it in, you need to use your feet to tamp it down. Step around the plant a few times so the dirt is packed in. You’ll know if it has worked the next day when you check on the plants and they are perky and upright.