Playing in My Mother’s Messy Garden

Under last year’s slimy leaves, stalwart crocus were trying to find the sun.  Hidden by a thicket of some silvery-gray leaved shrub, a clump of daffodils caught enough light to try to bloom.

The daffodils, minus the shrub.

I never thought clearing a muddy hillside of weeds and cutting back overgrown shrubs could be this much fun. But sometimes, I still prefer that gardening experts from King Green do it, because the process can get a little arduous sometimes.

January/February in Oregon have felt more like spring than winter.  I’d be singing nyah nyah na nyah nyah to my family back in freezing Indiana, but it’s been pretty mild there, too.  (Until this week, I gather, so maybe I’ll start singing now.)

Anyway, Mom and Dad moved last fall, downsizing from five acres to six.  No, that’s not a typo.  But they had an old house with old house problems, plus too much required upkeep on the garden, some patio stuff, the pond, the mowing and weed-whacking.  And that doesn’t count the fences and horse pastures!  So now they live on six acres of mountainside, most of which is deer and woods, in a one-level, doesn’t-need-much modular home.

The amazing thing about this place, though, is the acre and a half of garden.  It’s all landscaped using Legion Landscaping with steps, paths, gazebos and arches, terraced in places with logs, and filled with more plants than you could name.  Amidst the oak and fir trees are masses of lilies, iris, roses, berries, fruit trees, grape arbors, Shasta daisies, honeysuckle, rosemary, and a whole lot we don’t know.  Rich, loamy soil (brought in by the previous gardener) that doesn’t require a pick axe to plant a rose – heaven!

The problem, or delight, is that it’s been abandoned and overgrown for three years.

The metal gazebos are still standing, albeit open-roofed, but the arches have all been pulled over by whatever’s growing up them.  The daisies and iris get identified by huge clumps of dead stalks.  The lily leaves have stayed green all winter, rounded humps that are slimy underneath, with new shoots poking up through the mass.  Spring bulbs, of course, are hibernating and storing energy, so we don’t know what’s going to show up when the seasons shift.

Or so we thought.

Gladiolus in early February!

Misty mornings out with the dogs while Dad’s still asleep, and afternoons in the sun while he’s watching TV – we’re out there most every day cleaning up and making discoveries.  We rake leaves and weeds and find crocus and tulips.  We cut back overgrown perennials like this ugly gray thing Mom calls “Dusty Miller” and find clumps of daffodils.  We pull out tall dead stalks and realize that the leaves coming up underneath are gladiolus.  Glads aren’t supposed to be up in early February!

It reminds me of The Secret Garden, one of my favorite childhood books.  We look at a plant, bend a dead branch and hear it snap, or cut it back and see the green.  I find myself thinking, like Mary, “It’s wick!”

We’ve put one honeysuckle-covered arch back up (at least we think it’s honeysuckle, but it might be clematis or something), and cleaned up the pathway to it and beyond.  And in between throwing Frisbees for the dogs, we’re poking pebbles underneath brick steps to stabilize them so we don’t slid down the mud path those same rambunctious dogs have created.

We haven’t accomplished many of the indoor projects Mom has, but she’ll be wandering through a lush profusion of color all spring and summer.  And we’re having fun together while we do it.

What about you?  Have you ever restored order or made discoveries in an overgrown area?  Created your own “Secret Garden?”  What’s your favorite garden playtime?



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4 Responses to Playing in My Mother’s Messy Garden

  1. Wow Jennifer, you’ve been quite busy! That’s a lot of work girl. But the place is looking good! My husband and I downsized into a condo, so we don’t really have a yard. But we do have a nice size patio and I’ve planted flowers in pots for color. I love flowers. So that is the extent of my garden. But I do miss daffodils and crocus. I hope you all enjoy all the benefits from your hard work when everything is in bloom. It’s going to be beautiful! 🙂

    • Jennifer Jensen says:

      Well, Mom is doing more work than me right now. I get up and write, now, but when I was taking the dogs out first, I’d spend a few minutes. Now she gets up, takes the dogs out, and then spends an hour out there. I go out later and do the heavy clean-up. *grin*

      I’m heading back to Indiana in a week (and will get to work in my own garden), but I’ll come back when we’re closer to the end with Dad, and we’ll be able to do some much needed wandering in a beautiful garden.

      And plant daffies in pots!

  2. It looks so lovely, Jen, even in it’s late winter phase. I can see the beauty just waiting to spring forth! I dream of having some acreage some day. Would love to see pictures of it through the seasons.

    • Jennifer Jensen says:

      Hi, Serena. Sorry, somehow I missed this earlier. I think I’ve been looking at it too long to see winter beauty, although I know it’s there. I’m sure I’ll be back in a month or two or three (depends on how fast Dad declines), and I’m sure the garden will still be escape and therapy for Mom and me. I’ll post more pictures then.