When I moved into our first house 12 years ago, I saw an overgrown backyard with a lot of potential. I had never really been good at gardening (aside from my boarding school experience). So the entire backyard (and front yard!) loomed like a daunting task, waiting to be magnificent.
My first step was to sign up for an inexpensive gardening class, put on by the local community college. I took copious notes and asked lots of questions. The good thing about taking a local class was that the expert could tell me what grew well in my area.
I read some gardening magazines, ripping out any articles that were helpful “how to’s,” such as how to prune a bush correctly or when and how to plant bulbs. I punched three holes into the pages and put them into a binder. I made dividers: perennials, bulbs, herbs, lawn, trees and shrubs, exercises for gardeners, and general advice. I hole punched all my class notes and handouts from my gardening class and categorized them accordingly.
I also cut out pictures of inspiring gardens so that I had an idea of what I liked, and so that I would be excited to do all the work that needed to be done. I grabbed a black sheet of construction paper and glued some beautiful gardening pictures on the front. I slid this into the pocket on the outside cover of the binder. I wrote “Gardening” on a sheet of black paper and slid it down the binding pocket so that when the binder was on a shelf, I could spot it quickly.
In the back pocket I put “before” and “after” pictures. I went outside and took pictures for the “before” side. I left the “after” side empty for years. Behind the “before” and “after” pictures, in that same back pocket, I put my garden blueprints. I bought a sheet of blueprint paper at the art supply store while taking a landscaping class (another local class). I had to measure my entire yard with a measuring tape, and then measure out where each tree and bush was. I found out that day that I had 23 pine trees in my small backyard in the suburbs. No wonder my soil was acidic!
Over the years I have improved my yard, but I’ve had more failure than success. Being on a tight budget, at first I refused to buy dirt. But my soil was so bad, I really needed to amend it or it would never look good. The thought of buying dirt seemed ludicrous to me, but that was one secret that helped my garden to begin to do well. When I had no money whatsoever for plants, I threw a garden party, where people brought plants from their yard to share, and swapped their plants for other people’s plants. That was how I began my perennial garden. If you go to people’s houses with fabulous yards, you can compliment them and start letting people know that your garden is pathetic. Sooner or later people will start giving you plants, especially women from church who have seen your real garden and feel sorry for you. Then again, I also told my husband to never buy me flowers unless they had a root attached. In these sneaky ways, I built my garden over time, with virtually no money.Tweet