posted by Jayne Ormerod
As snow still covers the ground in my home in southeastern Virginia (where “normal” temps are in the high 50s this time of year—today we’re expected to top out at 29!) it seems natural for my thoughts to turn to spring. More specifically, spring activities, such as gardening. So I thought I’d dig out and dust off an article I wrote almost 10 years ago, but is still relevant today, and gives me hope that spring will be here soon!
YARD OF THE MONTH
My first gardening catalog came addressed to “Robert S. Jones or Current Resident." That’s me. Current resident. We’d just made our fourth move in two years in conjunction with my husband’s career in the US Navy. He had orders for twenty-four months. Why, that’s long enough to plant perennials, I thought!
I showed a great deal of restraint when I limited myself to a $500 order from that gardening catalog. A rainbow of reds, whites, blues, pinks and yellows. A selection of varying heights and curious textures. My home would stand out from the others in this new, cookie-cutter neighborhood. Okay, so I would eat nothing by macaroni and cheese for two months, but with the Yard of the Month awarded by my neighborhood association came a $50 gift certificate to the garden center, so it would balance the financial scales a bit. And based on the glossy catalog pictures of what my gardens would look like, I was a sure winner.
One sunny day in early April a small box arrived. A very small box filled with more than a hundred two-inch plants that looked like they should be on life support. But hope springs eternal, and I had faith these would grow quickly to look like the advertisement in no time.
The instructions said I should plant the garden as soon as possible. Hmmm. I hadn’t actually thought about that part of it. I’d ordered enough flora to fill three very large areas, all of which were currently sprouting bright green weeds. As any good navy wife would do, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.
First I outlined the beds with edging bricks, hauled in station-wagon loads of 50 per day. That took two weeks. Next step was to loosen the top four inches of soil. After three days of back-breaking labor, I broke down and rented a tiller. Then the dump truck deposited a load of topsoil in the middle of the driveway when I wasn’t looking. I had to borrow my neighbor’s car to run to the hardware store to purchase a wheelbarrow and move the dirt before I could even get my car out of the garage. The important lesson here was exactly how much dirt fit into a dump truck, most of which my neighbor ended up using to fill in his swimming pool. Thinking I’d learned my lesson on the soil, I opted for hauling in mulch bag by bag by bag by bag. One-hundred and seventy-two, if memory serves.
It took over a month, but I celebrated the day I popped the teeny plants into their tiny holes, being careful to adhere to the paint-by-number instructions in order to achieve the same stunning effect shown in their catalog. Little tiny specks of plants spaced twelve to eighteen inches apart. It looked like a barren wasteland. I wanted to cry. It looked pathetic. All that work…. My back ached, my legs ached, my hands ached. But most of all, my budget ached. I was in for over $1,500, once I figured in the repair costs after I’d run over the tiller I’d parked behind my car. I reminded myself it would all be worth it when my husband returned from deployment to find our yard looked like it should be on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens.
That was my very expensive lesson in patience. Having been raised in a well-established mill town, I’d taken flora planted by long-dead ancestors for granted. I had no idea it took fifty years for ivy to climb the brick exteriors, or forsythia bushes to grow as tall as the houses. I expected instant gratification in my gardens. Needless to say, my sparse plantings did not earn me Yard of the Month, let alone even a "wow" from my husband when he returned home.
We moved nine times over the next fourteen years. I never again made the mistake of undertaking significant landscaping projects I would never be around long enough to enjoy, but at every place we lived I left some small patch of perennials or a few puny peonies for a future nomadic tenant to enjoy.
We found ourselves back in the area of our first home and detoured down the street where I’d foolishly invested so much time, energy and money. I cried when I saw it. The big pink peony blooms smiling up at the sunshine took my breath away. Lush vinca had filled in enough to choke out all the weeks and make annual mulching unnecessary (which had been my goal.) The gardenia bushes, which had started as one-foot high twigs, now formed a tall, thick, fragrant hedge. But the thing that caught my eye was a sign right smack dab in the middle of the beautiful red, white and blue field of perennials—Yard of the Month. That sign was more a testimony to the passage of time than to my efforts, and certainly the current homeowners spent a lot of energy and money maintaining it all through the years. But even though the sign read Yard of the Month, I know what it really meant…Congratulations Jayne Ormerod! You’re a Gardener with Vision!