Notes From The Nest: Building our own secret garden at home

The first of many times today, that I sat outside was on our deck, this morning, with Randy over coffee while percolating over family issues, upcoming events and planning an agenda for our day.

The skies were perfect, sunny and sending warm beams of dappled light, through the leaves of the vine, hanging on the trellis above us. The many birds and squirrels enjoying breakfast at our feeders, darted, flitted and scampered around us, unconcerned with our nearby presence, as we sipped our morning brew.

Each year, almost as soon as the snow leaves, the yard is cleared of the fall and winter detritus and the temperature is an agreeable 15 degrees, we enthusiastically haul out the patio furniture, eager to enjoy some quality time outdoors.

We’ve lived in our home for nearly 28 years now and since the beginning, our yards and gardens have continued to evolve. We’re fortunate to have many mature trees on our lot but sometimes our blessing is also a bane, as the excess shade, falling nuts and leaves, have left us somewhat grass challenged.

It isn’t so much that we’re especially partial to grass but given the choice, we prefer it to dirt. Our attempts at growing it, or sodding have been miserable failures. I’m certain if you totalled up the sod and seed we’ve laid and spread over the years, we could cover several football fields. It always starts off promising but as soon as the squirrels start pitching acorns, hundreds and hundreds of them, onto the ground, the silent erosion begins.

When our children were still living here, Tonka trucks, sword fights, great games of hide and seek and a multitude of other outdoor shenanigans, chaffed away still more. In addition, we’ve always had dogs, great big, bouncing, boisterous, lawn denuding dogs! The third strike, leading to our lawn attrition, occurs when Mother Nature kisses our majestically, towering oaks, causing them to spread their great leafy wings out further and further, each season. It’s like the final straw, that breaks our “lawn camel’s” back.

A durable, creative and inexpensive solution was required, to deal with our disintegrating, grassy cover. Turns out it was rocks, lots and lots of rocks! Years back, it began with two enormous circular garden beds in the centre of our backyard, along with a vast L-shaped plot, along the back and north sides.

A winding flag-stone path, was weaved in and around them. Since then, slowly but surely, we’ve situated, placed and planted every shade loving plant we could get our hands on, to fill our gardens.

Over the next few days, if you happen to see Randy out and about, looking slightly crooked and bent, it’s because our, (my) affinity for decorating with rocks outdoors continues. Just this past weekend, we surrendered one more area, formerly known as grass, to another meandering stony avenue. It’s perfectly lovely!

As kind of an odd paradox to the abundantly shady main-yard, the area near our deck, conversely, had none. Another innovative solution, was called for. While you could sit pleasantly in the main part of the yard, on a hot summer day, feeling cool and sublime, any extended lounging on the deck, portended crisping up within minutes.

Our fix for this one was particularly pleasing as it not only helped us filter out harmful UV rays, but it also kept some large items out of the landfill. A magazine clipping I’d once cut out, showing a rusty crib mattress hanging from a ceiling for hanging lights on, was just the inspiration we needed.

Using the springs from several old mattresses, we (I mean Randy, but I was there cheering him on), attached several of them to eight cedar posts, forming a wall and partial ceiling over the patio. The Engleman’s ivy I planted, has taken hold nicely, over a fairly short period of time. It now provides an attractive, lush green wall for shade and privacy, as well as keeping us cooler and sunburn free.

Over time we’ve transformed our yard from a barren wasteland of dirt, mud and the odd blade of grass, albeit with tremendously, terrific trees, to our own secret garden. I think author Frances Hodgson Burnett would be pleased. Where there was once a patchy lawn at best, there are now stone walls, wildflowers, shade plants, footpaths and a living green screen. It has a rather foresty feel to it. It’s our own personal, private sanctuary, the ideal place for a little repose and rejuvenation.

I’m a firm believer that if life hands you lemons, then make lemonade or just grab a few rocks, some old mattress springs, a sprig or two of ivy and see what you come up with!

-Laurie Snider

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