Last July I bought a simple little yellow house a few blocks up from Lake Superior.  The back yard was a disaster with old boards, rotting fence posts, a variety of patched-together decking, and weeds where there had once been a garden–I could feel it was still there, waiting for some love (and a lot of sweat on the end of a shovel).

I tore down all kinds of weird stuff sprawled around the property, and pulled weeds that were waist high.  It seemed a daunting task to turn the site around without professional help.  But a challenge is what I love and so I continued on by myself, forming a design in my mind. The only plants I saved were the peony bushes, one rhubarb plant and a few hostas my daughter gave to me because they didn’t grow well in the dryness of North Dakota.

The lot has all the right stuff: sunny places, shady places, a nice slope, and it even had good dirt that someone, years ago, had hauled in to cover over the clay.  Lovely spruce tower over the shady spot and a mountain ash gives fluttery light to the middle.

I wanted the look of a cottage garden–wispy and pastel, the kind of garden that the garden pixies love to visit.

Another great thing is that a patio door opens from my office so I have a great view of the back.  Perfect rest for a writer’s eyes.

Duluth, MN, is pretty wild as far as critters are concerned.  The steep hillsides that surround the lake have lots of rugged places and maybe 30 creeks that tumble into the lake.  So we have bear, coyotes, and HERDS of deer that are so tame and so fat they only eat the tops of flowers.  Gardeners spend hundreds of dollars each season on spray that keeps the deer from eating everything.  But if you miss one application there goes your garden.  I hate deer.  My neighbor shoots them with a sling shot.  Yesterday a big doe was resting right in the grass across from me, eying my flowers through the fence.

Yes, a fence. I bit the bullet and had a 6′ fence put up.  Cedar and chain link.  What a relief.  Except one night I forgot to close the gate and sure enough the deer smelled a buffet and in the night topped off dozens of my new plantings.  Hard lesson to learn.

I love to find a use for things instead of having junk piles.  The left over rocks from a driveway project I did last fall got used to define some garden areas.  I  am making use of the leftover bricks, blocks, landscape timbers and class V rocks that were left here by the former owners, stacked under this and that.  And one day as I was spading up the garden my shovel hit cement.  Upon digging further I discovered someone had buried two cement steps.  So I dug them up and they are just right for benches. I will spray paint them in some artsy colors.

My neighbor pruned his lilac bush and he couldn’t believe it when I asked him if I could have the branches.  They look very Zen-like against the cedar fence.  I’ll put up some sparkly dragon fly twinkle lights on the branches.

Many of my plants were bought at Lowe’s in Fargo, ND where my daughter lives.  Lowe’s, Walmart and Menard’s guarantee their perennials, so you can’t go wrong.  I bought two plants at a local nursery (not guaranteed) and both have already died.  Lowe’s had by far the best plants for the price (2010).  My daughter Angie, who is a wonderful gardener, and I, really had fun shopping and now we compare notes on what is blooming and if the forecast is for any hail.

Gardening takes a huge amount of time but it doesn’t have to be expensive.  I’m sure it would have cost around $3,000-4,000 bucks to have this done professionally.  I figure I have less than $300 invested and that includes the mulch ($2 bucks a bag at Menard’s).

There is something so wonderful about seeing the birds, butterflies and bees visit the garden.  And it is really fun to wake up to this view in the morning, take my cup of tea outside and know that nearly everything I have planted, because they are perennials, will spread out and multiply and become very lush with blooms throughout the season, year after year.  “I wonder what’s blooming today?”  is the question I ask myself every morning.  And I am always delighted to look out the window for the answer.




In The Garden, Wet With Rain