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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