Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I broke up with my garden today

My garden has seemed a bit too big for a while now. Things that were initially mere blips on the garden radar have lately felt overwhelming and insurmountable. A very hot summer kept me inside a lot, and weeds have taken over. My tomatoes were a big bust this year due to marauding raccoons and suboptimal sunlight. There's so much to plant and transplant yet this fall, which I normally look forward to but which this year feels defeating.

Today I planned to dig out seven overgrown junipers that need to go to make room for other things I like more, which have been waiting to get in the ground since June. Five of the junipers are 4' tall x 6' wide, the other two are 5' x 8' feet, though I'd trimmed those back considerably already.

I normally like digging out shrubs--it's hard work but it's gratifying when it's done and it's a good way to get out aggression! First I cut off the branches of the first shrub, which filled two yard waste bags, so I could see where I was digging. Then I dug. This was extremely arduous because the soil is so dry and the roots are far down. I barely reached them at all. I get rashes if I touch certain evergreens and even though I was wearing long sleeves, long pants, socks and closed shoes, I could feel my neck and the back of my legs start to itch. The underside of my foot where you push on the shovel was a little sore. An hour and a lot of digging passed, but still no progress even finding the roots, and the base trunks were not loosening even an eeny beeny tiny bit!

To say I was getting frustrated would be inaccurate. I was swearing at random things (yes out loud), and even called a squirrel (my favorite wildlife friend!) an expression favored by residents of Deadwood. In a fit of fury I jumped down on the spade too hard, onto soil that was too hard, lost my balance, and toppled onto the adjacent juniper in a big flailing heap.

Before I mention what happened next I have to tell you that gardening has been my passion for many years and I have gardened in many different settings. I'm very much a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-stuck-in kind of person, a modern-day Rosie the Riveter. My arms, my energy, my determination, and my will are strong. I'm not afraid of hard work and I've always done my own heavy lifting. And, let's face it, I'm so goddamn stubborn that a whole army of buckthorn is no real match.

That being said, we return to me face down in a juniper (which would have been pretty funny if I hadn't been in a mood). I wasn't hurt, but I found myself balled up in a fetal position crying like a baby kitten who can't find its mama. Well, OK, not really crying because I think the sweating dehydrated my ability to produce tears, but that's not the point.

The point is, I cursed my garden, listing all its failings and all its demands, and everything I had ever done for it, and for what? What had it done for me? Huh?! I used a lot of sentences involving "you always" and "you never" and finally told it to get the hell out of my life, only in much more colorful language.

I squeezed my eyes shut, crossed my arms, and pouted, waiting for it to beat a hasty retreat or at least apologize. I fantasized about doing a major ecological burn and thoroughly enjoyed imagining certain things engulfed in flames. I envisioned an alternate garden, a kwoot widdle patio garden, so sweet and demure.

Feeling a lot better, I opened my eyes and was greeted by wonderful color. My garden gave me flowers, clearly as an apology and peace offering. Embarrassed, I apologized also and asked it to take me back. It smiled and said, "I'm not going anywhere."

Which is all very fine and good and smile smile smile happy, but... I still have one partway dug out juniper and six to go and, honestly, I'm tired. I don't know what the solution is. I don't know how to make a large garden smaller (I'm not ever going to convert beds to lawn and my plants are already low care, I never water!) or how to keep up with it more or how to regain some of the enthusiasm I once had.

I suspect it would help to do just a little bit every day, rather than feeling like I have to do perform big miracles all at once. And I think I just need to get back to work. Right after I have lunch.

P.S. My favorite ass-kickin' companion suggests 1) I learn to focus the camera and 2) to intimidate the problem out of existence! Easy peasy.

Added 9/18: Photo update. Three of the five shrubs in the first bed are dug out. Even though my BIL has a pickup and could probably get those chains for me, there isn't a clear path for a vehicle to access that bed. I found digging as far as I can and then soaking the hole for a few hours makes it possible to get at the deepest roots. A second bed has two really big ones and access to the street. I may ask my BIL for help but he has so many projects that I don't like to bother him if I can do it myself.

37 comments:

  1. Sorry to hear you got so frustrated with your garden today. I always tell myself to just to a little every day to keep up with things, but life gets in the way and I end up overwhelmed and in need of marathon sessions as well. However, my marathon sessions are perhaps a 1K compared to your full marathon since my lot is so much smaller than yours. I hope you're feeling better now.

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  2. A small beautiful garden is better than a large weedy mess. I understand your need to cut back. I hope it goes better soon! You have a beautiful garden. I think I will follow you!

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  3. Oh dear.... your garden seems to be far too much work for you and not much fun. A solution could be to plant more low maintenance plants and add perhaps a bit more hardscaping. Don't add more lawn, that only makes things worse work wise.

    And as you seem to be in dire need of a huggywug: ((HUG))

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  4. Junipers are a nightmare! I feel your pain though I had a similar experience while removing hops this weekend. Yes I swore, stomped, thrashed, and threw a general fit. I wish I had the cash to hire someone else to do it but really the best solution is to break it up in small tasks and have martinis waiting at the end of the day.

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  5. Hihi, ja so sind sie unsere Gärten. Kleine Teufelchen und dann doch wieder Engelchen pur. Glaub mir, Mädel, ich hätte am letzten Samstag auch am liebsten eine Ladung Dynamit in den Feuerdorn geworfen, den ich aus dem Weg haben wollte. Das Teil hat mich gekratz, gestochen und gepiesakt und das nur weil, ich ihn ausgraben wollte. Na, da solle mal einer sagen, die Pflanzen können sich nicht wehren.
    Ich bin froh, hast Du wieder Deinen Frieden mit dem Garten geschlossen. Denn stell Dir mal ein Leben ohne Garten vor... es wäre ziemlich trist. Wie gut, dass die Blümchen Dich wieder auf den rechten Weg gebracht haben *grins*.
    Liebe Grüsse über den Teich
    Alex

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  6. Poor baby! Monica, please be careful if you get a rash from junipers... I needed antibiotics, anti-allergy meds + steroids after pruning them - very painful & quite expensive.

    But once they're banished, if you figure out how to resize an overextended garden, your fans want to know how you did it!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

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  7. Don't let the junipers get you down! You just need to invite some big strapping men with power tools over for a digging party. As for the general garden outlook, maybe right now is the wrong time of year to think about its overall fate. I know that my own garden burnout makes me so apathetic in late summer/fall that I don't care if I ever garden again. It's in winter that I can clear my head, be realistic about design and workload, and get excited about the new season.

    [hugs] Go have a drink!

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  8. Yea, those big projects sure can be ass-kickers! If it were me, I think I'd cut the junipers off below ground level, cover them with a thick layer of wet newspaper, then cover that with about 6" amended soil for a raised bed (which will hopefully smother out the junipers and turn them to compost). Or make the junipers into some funky "bonsai specimens" and build the new garden around them. Good luck, and stick with the "inch by inch, life's a cinch" followed by martinis approach :)

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  9. Oh, I hear you! We had some junipers in front of our house when we moved in, and I was so allergic to them! Not to mention that they were terribly overgrown. They were also a monster to get out - our across-the-street neighbor ended up volunteering to pull them out for us with his pickemup truck and a large chain. Even with that kind of power, it took so much effort! There was no way I would've been able to get them out by hand.

    When I get frustrated out in the garden, I (in the style of the parents of kids who don't behave) put it in time-out. It needs some time to think about what it has done and how it is going to make better choices in the future. Usually that works, though it doesn't hurt to throw some adult beverages down the hatch while it's thinking.

    Here's to a better garden day tomorrow!

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  10. I can relate Monica, I still have found it hard to take things one day at a time.

    I need horse blinders when ever I'm working in my yard because, I will try to attack more than one task or a mountainous task all in one day!

    I have also done some dangerous things in my haste to remove stubborn plants.. For example, I dug up my deeply rooted sick mock orange this summer with a small hatchet and garden attire " Not" designed for the task"..

    It's a miracle that when I was done that I didn't need to call 911 for myself.. Monica do take your breaks, your time, and be as careful as possible..

    Once you are done showing that Juniper who's the Boss! I'm sure that area will be fabulous with your new garden plan in place..

    Take care... Vetsy

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  11. Junipers really ARE a trial. Are you anti-Roundup? If not, I'd do a heavy, heavy, heavy spray and wait a week. Then they should be pretty easy to dig out. A little rain wouldn't hurt...

    Hope tomorrow is a better day.

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  12. Learning to do things a little at a time is hard! (your word verification for my comment is "easen"... no lie! I think it's a sign)

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  13. I was expecting your garden to tell you that because of it you met that awesome guy in Chicago who calls himself MrBrownThumb.

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  14. Aw, my heart goes out to you Monica. Sounds like a very rough day. I feel your pain on the itchies - I'm pretty allergic to evergreens too, and junipers are among the worst.

    I hope you're chilling this evening, and that things will look better in the morning, if they don't already.

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  15. Hang in there, Monica. This has been quite the year, hasn't it? I'm so glad you could smile - even in that difficult situation. Tomorrow is a new day. Give that bush a kick and try again when you're ready.

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  16. I'd find - or hire - a man or two to dig them up. Save your energy for all the plantings you will do in their place.

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  17. I know what I'd do - which is not what you, necessarily, should do or would want to do . . . I'd leave it for a while . . . I'd let things grow, leave them to their own devices. It might get 'worse' and 'worse' over the months until, one morning, you'd wake up and either look at it in a fury and rush to it with enthusiasm and give it a good 'sort out' a right 'doing over' or you'd slowly get inspiration for a new design, a total but refreshing change.

    Gardens are like toddlers. If they are behaving badly and you walk away, they'll think for a moment - then run after you. And gardeners (like the parents of toddlers) sometimes need to go for a walk round the block to cool off . . .

    Esther

    P.S. Having now read the comments, I see Anne also compares gardens to toddlers - there you are, I'm not so daft after all!

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  18. P.P.S.

    I'd also go to lots of plays and concerts.

    Esther

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  19. I know this is not to be funny, but I could not help but laugh while reading your story. Laughing with you and not at you of course! I think that laughter is the best medicine and I could not help but laugh as I feel your pain! I too sometimes wonder why I work so hard in the garden in the middle of the summer heat. Then I look at all the happy butterflies, bees and hummingbirds reaping the rewards and being a nature lover, I reap my rewards by watching them enjoying live in the heat of summer :-) I have also come to the conclusion that I am not 25 years old and full of energy any more so I let the hubby jump in to help me a lot more then in the past years. I also take “happy pills” and they make like wonderful for a mental-pausing gal. LOL, I have also learned that a moist ground is much better when digging up a large plant. Or strap that puppy to the hitch of a 4 X 4 truck and see who wins… Good Luck and hang in there girl…

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  20. Monica, I wish I had some pearls of wisdom to help you, but I think the previous comments are saying it better than I can. Small attainable tasks seem to work better for me. I get that sense of accomplishment and that keeps me going back to the garden.

    Hang in there! (a fire sounds like a great way to rid your garden of those bushes) :)

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  21. Dear Monica, I am laughing and nodding my head with you. I keep wanting to make my garden larger, but a few hours of spading and I begin to wonder why. All of which is why my garden is so small:)

    If I lived closer to you, I would have Mr. Procrastinator get out the tractor and chain and we'd pull those darned junipers out in no time! Since it's a bit far for his tractor to drive, maybe you can find a nearby farmer to help. Hang in there, and maybe wait for a good rain to soften up the soil. Meanwhile, spend some time with Fiona and Jimi.

    Chibot is still on for me, though Beckie hasn't committed yet. We just spent the last 2 1/2 days together, so you'd think we would have discussed this by now:)

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  22. Oh Monica I know how you feel. My garden is too big for me and I have had other priorities this year. I have lost my va va voom but I am sure that it will return eventually as will yours. I have adopted the motto little and often and it does seem to help though progress is slow. So glad that the juniper didn't hurt you. Take care - you will get on top of it and enjoy it again!

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  23. Our mom says sometimes she wishes for a big garden and sometimes she knows that she could never ever mantain one. Those junipers are nasty buggers! Maybe you should enlist the help of your faithful Gardening Cats? We know our mom would be lost without us - even with the little stuff she has to look after.
    Purrs,
    Siena & Chilli

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  24. Your story was so funny, but I guess not to you. A little trick my guys use to pull out the junipers, and especially the tenacious yews; if you can, wrap a heavy chain around the base of the shrub. The chain has hooks on both ends. You can rent them at a hardware store. Go around just once, then around the FRAME of a truck (or a car works too), creep very, very slowly ahead, and out pops the shrub. I had them do that on my tiny city property, so it works almost anywhere you can get a vehicle. Saves the backbreaking digging and takes only about five minutes to hook up.

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  25. My advice to you (even though you didn't ask for it) is to borrow a log chain, attach it to your car and pull those bushes out. What frustration. I have been there and done that. I am so glad you and your garden made up.

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  26. I should also say, we've dug out some nasty big junipers and a log of overgrown yews. We just dug down as far as we felt like (maybe 18 inches max) and cut off the roots with a reciprocating saw. The shrubs won't grow back and the remaining roots will eventually decompose. Still a big job but getting the whole thing out isn't always worth it.

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  27. So glad that you got back out there... last fall, I broke up with my garden, too, but I just packed everything up and ignored it until this spring. (We're just one of those couples that need an occasional break, I guess!) You came to your senses much more quickly. ;)

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  28. Monica, I understand~I've had these discussions with my garden several times over the years and we always kiss and make up! What's different now is that I need to have a smaller garden, but, haven't figured out how to do it. The heat, the invasives, the mosquitoes, my back, are all getting to be issues. I suspect this is why many people move to smaller yards gail

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  29. When I read about your fetal position, I wanted to come help. Junipers are extremely difficult to extricate. Hang in there, you'll get it done. I worked on Bermuda all morning and got part of a bed dug. It was awful, but I stopped midway and planted a thing or two. Made me feel better. Hugs.

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  30. Dear Monica, I am glad to see that you have made some headway with the junipers. It will get done, but not all at once. Best not to tax yourself past your limits, no matter what age you, or any of us are. It will wait for you. Is having a meadow of some sort possible? My neighbor with a very, too large garden did that. Mowing paths only makes for a lovely thing, if your neighborhood allows it. Hope you feel better now. And a big ear scratch for your helpers. :-)
    Frances

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  31. So glad you got the shrubs out! This has been a crummy gardening year for those of us in the midwestm, hot, humid and buggy.

    I have been trying to get some big garden chores done as well, mainly whacking down weeds.

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  32. Love your blog...gives me a smile! I added you to my blog roll! Happy Autumn gardening!

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  33. Bless your heart! I feel your pain. Gardening is often filled with frustrations and four letter words as much as feeling at one with the soil and seeing one's garden as an extension of one's self. It's nice to know "The Experts" have the same struggles. I have no doubt you will conquer the Junipers, and you will feel at one with your garden again--and it will be gorgeous. Hang in there!

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  34. Glad to see you got her done! :-)

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  35. Oh, dear, I'm glad to hear you have made some progress. There are things I wanted to do this summer and didn't. I wanted to take a few inches of grass out to make my side yard beds wider. I can't say that on my blog because my husband reads it.

    I love the look of your blog. I see we have the same background. I just changed mine a few days ago. I used a different template, though. I had made it with the background that had the leaves on the upper right, but decided I didn't like the template I'd used, and when I went to change it, accidentally used this background. I'll change it again when winter weather arrives.

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