Garden (Lack of) Progress

Some of my fellow bloggers have been making enviable progress in their gardens.

This Young House (I loved seeing their “growth chart”! It gives me hope.)
Door Sixteen (I think we have similar taste in gardens – more modern and geometric).

The front of my house looks better than it did (but not like I want it to):

Front of the House

I planted all of those hostas, and the peonies were there already. I’m planning on moving them this fall so I could put something evergreen in their place. It looks nice enough, but it’s not really my taste.

My side garden, on the other hand, looks like this:

The Weed Infested Garden

We joke that at least it’s green, but it’s so disappointing. I did so much work clearing out the area and even planting a few things, and now the weeds have obscured and choked out the bushes I put in. I think I was supposed to use mulch to prevent that from happening, right?

I’m determined to give it another go. I did some weeding, and I need to do some more. Still, I am finding that my talents do not extend to the garden.

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  • Kim
    June 11, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    Mulch SAVED me this year from weeds. In the fall when all the leaves fell, we mulched them up, spread the mulch in all our flower beds, and I had about 90% less weeding to do this year. It was miraculous.

    Good luck with your outdoor landscaping!!

  • Allison
    June 11, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    Don’t be discouraged … gardening is a slow process, particularly where perennials are concerned. They take time to get established and get to the size you envision. I’ve also found that gardening is always a combination of successes and failures. I’ve never had everything turn out… some years are better for one thing, others for another. I think people get discouraged with gardening because of the myth of a “green thumb” and because it takes a long time to really see the final results of your work. It’s not like painting a room, where you can do it and be done, in an afternoon or two.

  • Anna @ D16
    June 11, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    Two things:

    1) I am so flattered that you find the progress I’ve made in my garden worthy of envy!

    2) You know I’ve lived in that house for TWO YEARS, and I just started working on the garden last month, right?

    Seriously, don’t get discouraged. It’s a lot of work, and it’s not cheap — even if you do all the work yourself. Even just figuring out which plant will thrive in which conditions is tough, without even thinking about what’s going to look good together. My mother, who has always had a natural talent for gardening, helped me a LOT with picking out plants that would work well. Do you have someone who can help you with that? It might even be worth hiring someone to consult with on what to plant and where. After a little while, I bet it’ll start to feel right to you, and you’ll be applying the same sense of space and style to your garden that you do to your home. Trust me. :)

  • Nicole RJ
    June 11, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    Gardening is definitely a labour of love! Mulch is a fab thing to use, you can also hide a layer of garden cloth (the proper name excapes me) under neath it. It’s a black sort of loose weave fabric that deters weeds, and works wonderfully.

  • kate
    June 11, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    MULCH will be your savior. not only does it help weeds, improve soil conditions & make it so you dont have to water as often, but it makes your landscaping look like it just put on a brand new gorgeous designer outfit.

    The other two pieces of advice I have:
    1)Look into native plants – they will thrive in the conditions of the climate and be beneficial to the birds & bees, etc around us. http://www.chicagowilderness.org/wildchi/landscape/index.cfm
    You can supplement with annuals but this will make things easier as the years pass and do good for the local environment!

    2)Focus on improving one area at a time, per season/year. It’s not as overwhelming, I promise.

  • Mia
    June 11, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    I am a long time reader of your site, and I really enjoy it. I think that your front garden looks lovely, and as others have said: don’t get discouraged!

    I also praise mulch — it has saved most of my plants. And you can get it in many different shapes and forms, so you can pick the right one for your garden and style. About the peonies: I killed mine when I changed their place — and I still don’t know what went wrong, it was only less than 10 feet away from their original place. I think that some peonies are very “picky” where they grow.

    Good luck with your garden!

  • Corey
    June 11, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    I use round-up to kill most of the weeds, hand pull the weeds near other plants, lay down a dusting of preen, and mulch. This should not only get rid of your existing weeds but also prevent germination of new seeds.

    My way may not be the greenest but at least it works. :-)

  • Corey
    June 11, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    Also if you need help on plant selection I can help. I used to have my own landscape company in the Midwest and am now stuck with a yard that is cement. Too many gardening ideas and no space to play. *le sigh*

  • LeeAnn
    June 11, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    Sometimes it’s so hard to foresee a mature garden. And then you’ll get inspiration from a magazine and that plant they used is not available in your garden, or worse they didn’t list the varieties in the fine print. My advise- build a fence. :)

  • luuvely
    June 11, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    hey nicole…i think its good that you know your strengths AND weaknesses…take it slow..and we will be here to watch to see how pretty you make things..gardening is a really big task..but we alll have faith in you…and besides..if you cant do it..there is always a lawn care service :)

  • Jules
    June 11, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    Mulch is great, and so is a drip system. Cuts down on weeds and saves water–at least for me in the almost-desert. I can’t remember if you put your plants on drips?

  • Janet Kenealy
    June 11, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    I think we live in the same town. I’d highly recommend attending the local Farmers Market and talking with the vendor from Ted’s Greenhouse. They are knowledgeable and have plenty of perennials. What about using the side yard for an herb/vegetable garden? Looks sunny enough. Place some sort of garden ornament in the center and plan a small path of stepping stones around the plants. And remember this about perennials: the first year they sleep, the second they creep and the third year they leap!

  • Miriam
    June 11, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    Gardening requires a sort of patience that the indoors does not require! First you plant something, then you have to wait, then … what if the weeds grow faster? (And they always do).

    Take heart, your garden looks just fine, like a work in progress. Mine … well, the previous person planted some unidentified, non-local plant that’s grown to four feet in a month… and propagates by creepers! Eesh.

  • Brooke
    June 12, 2008 at 3:23 am

    Something tall and thin might look good in the front left corner where the porch meets the house.

  • Making it Lovely
    June 12, 2008 at 9:41 am

    My stepmom is willing to help, but we have different taste in plants (and she mostly knows about the plants she’s had).

    OK – mulch is good. Lesson learned!

    Corey, I’d love the help!

    No drip system here.

    Oh, one of the neighbors recommended the farmer’s market too! I should go check it out.

  • Julie
    June 12, 2008 at 10:49 am

    Try a little “Preen” to help cut down on weeds. (It’s a Pre-emergent and will kill weed seeds) It works wonders. That AND Mulch and you will be surprised at how great it looks, and how little weeding is required!

  • Sherry
    June 12, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    Hey Nicole,

    Thanks for the garden shout out! You know we über appreciate the link love and fully intend to send you good garden karma in return. In addition to good plant vibes, here are some things that took me two years (and countless plant deaths) to learn:

    1. As stated, mulch in spring saves you from weeds. Worth repeating 100 times as mulch is the bee’s knees.

    2. As you shop for your front and side gardens, don’t get all crazy at Lowe’s (or the garden center) like I do and buy like 20 different plants. In a room, many different objects can be layered for texture and look fab (you know this as you’re the master) but in a garden it just looks crazy, messy and even weedy. I actually think the magic number is three to five.

    3. Speaking of three to five, I like selecting one or two trusty everygreens for year-round structure and then selecting two different perennials (with different textures) for some spring, summer, and fall variety. Then you can toss in an annual if that tickles your fancy. In some places, just three plants is the lucky number (one evergreen and two perennials) which may just be the case for the front of your cute house. The lesson: acquire plants slowly, especially if you can’t return ’em, so you don’t have to deal with buyer’s remorse and give the evil eye to a fern every morning (talking from experience here).

    4. In a room, you don’t know when you’ve reached maximum capacity until you add the last item and declare “no more stuff!”- the same is true for a garden, so try the lucky three rule above first, and then see if you need two more things before picking up additional plants. Even though things have to grow in and fill out, sometimes you can clearly see that two more textures and heights are the last thing you need to add.

    5. Annuals always seem like a waste of money and effort to me. I know this is a controversial statement, but I limit myself to $10 worth of annuals because I’m always pissed when I have to go buy more & dig stuff up time and time again, year after year. Especially since there are some pretty decent perennials that can give you blooms for months and months for basically zero effort (and far less loot over time).

    6. Take lots of pics, even in the very beginning. The fugly befores are a testament to your slowly developing green thumb months later. And no one believes how hard you worked without some sort of visual proof of your backbreaking yard work.

    Hope that helps!


    Sherry (& John in spirit since he’s the designated digger)

  • kim
    June 12, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    Thank goodness gardening isn’t your thing! If you were good at that too, what would the rest of us do? Dig back into our holes and be depressed that we’d just never measure up.

    Not to worry, the talent you have for indoor spaces easily translates to the garden. * back to lurking *

  • carlyn
    June 15, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    We have done a major yard redo this year. While experimenting might work well for some, I highly recommend hiring a professional garden designer. Our designer saw past what was already in the yard and helped me match the landscaping to my personal taste and the rest of my home. She has such extensive knowledge of plants, and like any designer, has access to plants “to the trade” that I’d have to special order.

    Our plants are super tiny still, but the change is so fabulous and far more dramatic than I ever dreamed. I’m
    mama flo on flickr if you want to check out some before and afters. I’m still in the process of getting pictures uploaded, but you can get the idea of how much the feel of the space totally changed, even pre-install of plants.

    Have fun and I can’t wait to see your progress.

  • Michelle
    June 17, 2008 at 10:40 pm

    I’ve been a fan of your blog for some time since I’m also a new homeowner looking to renovate an older home with good bones :D I’ve never commented before but I have to say, since I recently finished taming my front yard, I’d love to lend you my new found knowledge…Landscape fabric is your friend! I HIGHLY recommend making the extra effort to canvas your planted areas with this black fabric (in early spring) because this + mulch= no more weeding!!! Believe me I inherited a viral weed jungle when I bought my house :D I have some pics posted on flickr (partfilipino) Don’t get discouraged…keep carrying on! We’ve managed to do a fair amount of exterior refinishing but now, can I borrow you to help me sort out the interior projects I can’t seem to finish! lol…

  • Hydrolyze
    February 18, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    I’ve recently been looking all over for that stuff. Thankfully my partner and i seen it at Bing.