Fresh & Honest

Backyard, this afternoon

It's a happy Saturday. My husband and I have been saving our pennies, and we've finally — finally — been able to hire landscapers to fix our yard.

A wonderful crew of four (plus an adorable eight-year old playing on a mound of flagstones) is removing the grass and debris and overgrown mess, and replacing it with evergreens, maples, fruit trees, berries, and flowering bushes. There will be mulch and boulders and curves instead of a square lawn, new privacy from our neighbors, and sitting areas to relax and take tea.

Yes. I am happy.

Years ago, when we moved into this house, I had fantasies of being a cottage gardener à la Tasha Tudor. (THIS BOOK, you guys. Heaven.) And we had a head start! Our home used to be on the local garden tour. So I figured we'd continue the tradition and have a beautiful yard filled with perennials and lawns and rambling roses and organic vegetable beds and everything lovely I'd ever seen in an English miniseries or classic children's novel.

And then a funny thing happened.

My husband and I discovered that we didn't enjoy yard work. (Not. Even. A little bit.) There are mosquitoes and humidity and weeds and pruning and sunburns and mowing.

Ohmygod, mowing.

So we let the garden go. First the perennial flowers disappeared, overtaken by the lawn. Then the older, stronger bushes grew up against the side of our house. New weeds arrived—tall, hardy weeds on weed-steroids. Several of our trees died. Our raised vegetable beds filled with wild grass, our planters filled with clover and moss, and our weeping cherry beat its arms against everyone who dared walk beside it.

But now. Now!

A fresh, honest start. When we spoke with our landscaper about ideas, we were honest about what would could and could not do, even when it was embarrassing: We didn't want to mow. We didn't want anything that required vigilant pruning. (But we didn't mind hiring someone once or twice a year to clean things up.) We wanted fewer people to be able to see into our backyard, so when it DID get out of control, we would have no witnesses.

But . . . we still wanted it to look pretty. Was this possible?

Yes, she assured us. It's possible.

I'm a huge believer in fresh starts and in being honest with yourself. For years, I was ashamed that I didn't have this magical gardening joy, that I hated something I thought I would enjoy. But I've grown content with this knowledge. That's how we learn, by trying new things. You discover what you can do yourself (I actually enjoy painting rooms!) and what you shouldn't be afraid to ask for help with (yard work, yard work, yard work).

There's a good metaphor in here for life and writing and such, but I think you already catch my drift.

Happy Saturday, my friends. I hope your gardens are growing strong.


  1. Oh yeah, I've known for years that that's what I'd be telling a landscaper someday. I don't find it embarrassing, but I do find myself in awe of people who can not only keep their lawns gorgeous, but also ENJOY IT.

  2. I recently moved into a neighborhood where everyone seems to have an amazing garden or mini-farm or both in their backyard. Initially I was jealous that we didn't (we have a tiny lawn and are only renting), but then I noticed our next door neighbors doing lengthy maintenance to their fantastic garden every.single.day. They must enjoy it, but I wouldn't. I'll definitely use your strategy when we have a home and yard of our own - thanks for sharing!

  3. I'm psyched to see the after shots! It's really, really good to own up to what you can and can't do (and better, what you do and do not like to do -- sometimes you can but that doesn't mean you hafta).

  4. Clinton loves gardening! Such a bonus. Nice to look at and does the yard work. Can't wait to see pictures when it's done.

  5. This sums up perfectly how the husband and I both feel about yard work. My garden this year...I ache at how sad it turned out. And WEEDING! But I just can't TEND to things like that. It's not in me. And the husband mows, but only to keep large jungle cats from inhabiting. ;-)
    Anyway, good on you guys! Hope your yard turns out perfect.

  6. I can completely relate with you. I have a vision of how I'd like my yard/garden to look, but I don't enjoy gardening, and things tend to die around me. My husband isn't much better. One day we too should hire a landscaper and follow your lead...being honest with what we can & can't do. I hope your garden is everything you imagine and that you are truly able to enjoy it. Perhaps you'll find a new writing spot back there. Good luck!

  7. I love this post. I think a lot of us have that struggle - we do something we're sure we will like and then we...don't. It's hard to let go of that feeling that you should like it. You're right, we need to just be honest with ourselves and find the things we DO enjoy.

    We are getting ready to buy our first house. It's in the country. With acreage. I'm planning a huge garden...and I won't lie, I'm kinda afraid I'll be like you and Jarrod and not like the actual yard work after so long fantasizing about it. Gulp.

  8. Every spring my husband and I start off strong, we weed, we plant and we have good intentions! BUT it gets really hot and we get lazy and the weeding is the first to go. Our poor flower beds are shameful, my pink flamingos are buried in weeds.:( Zach's really great with keeping up the mowing, he has one of those reel mowers, the kind with no motor that you just push and it turns the blades. Its not easy to use but he makes it look easy. I Love to plant flowers I'm just awful with the up keep. Our vegetable garden starts off strong to every year and then we get slack and everything starts going wrong. I think we really need to learn to simplify it all and we would be okay. I think we're slowly learning what we can handle and that we aren't the super gardners we wish we could be. I pretty much know now which flowers I'll kill and which ones are Renee proof. :)

  9. no-one likes yard work, but it's like anything, it depends on how much you want the end product. Or how much money you have.

  10. That's awesome! I came to the same realization after I killed my ever-hopeful potted vegetables three years in a row. Some people do like yardwork, getting their hands messy, making compost (ew), and the vegetable aisles at the grocers were made for the rest of us.

  11. Jane — There are a number of people in my life (my father, my grandfather, my next-door neighbor) who enjoy working in their yards! :-)

  12. Yay you! Oh man, I want I want I want. We are totally going to hire a landscaper too. But not this year ... Can't wait to see the results! :-)

  13. I could be said to be someone who enjoys working in my yard too, that is I enjoy the exercise, sun and fresh air and the organisation of the mess. What I meant is no-one really likes being bitten by mosquitoes, overheated, sunburned, exhausted, working too hard. The positives, the goals, are what overcomes those things.
    Anyway good luck with your new garden. Low maintenance gardens can be among the most gorgeous of all, and I'm sure your designer has given you one.

  14. You and I are so much alike it's uncanny. I DID THE SAME THING. When we bought our house one of our BIG THINGS was that we wanted a big backyard. And I went out and bought all these bulbs and was so excited to plant them in the winter and then have a glorious spring. Uh... yeah, planting the bulbs SUCKED--especially since like, only 2 of them grew. EVERYTHING we've planted in our yard has either died or grown really weird. And it's partially our fault because we both hate yardwork too. Ugh. I so need to do what you're doing. Enjoy your honest, fresh start!

  15. Steph, your in your pants joke is now the BEST EVER INYOURPANTS. You made my whole day! Good luck with Isla!

  16. Hello, my dear writer! I also love to get these kind of stories (super random stories, it be said) and turning them into metaphors for things in life. Learning is not necessarily hard and tough and tiring. We can learn in many ways and metaphors are one of the best, I believe!

    I've thought one day I would love to work with Maths, as I've always loved it. But once I saw where I'd apply it, I realised I wasn't born for it, even though I still like it. And then, I found that I love to draw ! And now I decided I want to be an architect, instead of an engineer.

    Always good to be sincere with ourselves and with our loved ones. :)

    PS: I'm craaazy to read your new books next year!!!!!