Impatience is a Virtue

It's hard to find time to garden when you're a dad who works from home, but sometimes it's even harder to justify putting forth the time and effort in the first place. I started to feel insecure, doubting my purpose and vision when the weeds seemed to grow faster than the plants themeslves. There's a lot to be said for patience when it comes to gardening, but a case could also be made for being impatient.

After all, how else would I be motivated to get anything done if not for impatience? Over the last month or two I've been hard at work shaking off my doubts, tearing through thickets of weeds and planting beds in their place. That hard work will save me time since those areas were so steep, narrow and awkward that mowing them was next to impossible. About two thirds of my backyard is now dominated by garden beds, though I've left a square patch of lawn for my son and us to enjoy. For the time being though, he seems perfectly content to take tours of the garden and treat the plants like a petting zoo.

I haven't once had to water our lawn since moving in, thanks to the rich humusy soil underlaid with clay. If there ever was a place to have a lawn, this would be it. The ugly fence will eventually be replaced, but until then I've planted bulbs, grasses and shrubs that will quickly form a screen. I've divided bulbs like Alocasia 'California', turmeric (Curcuma longa), arrowroot (Maranta arundinacae) and 'Wyoming' canna, before spreading them out in masses behind that row of dwarf yaupon hollies. Along with the lemongrass, citrus and bananas, they'll make for a beautiful Southeast Asian edible garden... as soon as they emerge, anyways.

The area left unmulched in the photo above represents the part of my yard that becomes a river during heavy rains. There I will add gravel, rocks, more sedges and Acorus gramineus 'Ogon' to slow the flow of runoff so that some of it gets absorbed by my garden before hastily retreating into the storm drain behind my yard. This area was packed with maple roots and plantain weeds, but a good mattock has proven to be an indispensable tool for my situation.

Just to give you an idea of how much rain collects here...

This is a shot from the first months in my garden, when downpours filled much of the backyard with one big puddle. I've since dug a channel for the water to drain away and built up more soil in the low-lying areas. Now the water does exactly what I want it to.

This is what that area looked like in fall. Note the previous owner's doghouse being taken apart, or the sheets of cardboard that I used to kill off weeds. Thanks to a tangle of shallow maple roots, the grass and weeds in the foreground were a nightmare to rip out. Before I paved steps and a path from the patio, nobody dared venture into the muddy, weedy garden and nothing was ever enjoyed.

Now my wife and I can sit right in the heart of the garden to eat our dinners and enjoy a rare moment free of stress... well for me anyways, since I'm so busy enjoying the view. My goal is to give my collection of bromeliads and other plants a sense of unity, which I hope to accomplish by using massed plantings of common evergreens like Lilyturf (Liriope 'Evergreen Giant), mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) and dwarf yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria 'Schillings'). In winter they'll provide the 'bones' of the garden and keep weeds from moving in.

The right side of my yard is all a garden now, with the exception of a few spots that I still need to dig up. Clipped balls of dwarf yaupon holly and gardenias guide visitors down the steps and provide winter interest. Since they are still somewhat small, I've surrounded them with bromeliads for contrast until they fill in.

In case you haven't noticed, bromeliads play a major role in my garden. This Vriesea hybrid is one that seems to be pretty cold hardy here in zone 9a, and it looks gorgeous blooming in the shade alongside ferns and gingers.

The tree stump that I planted with bromeliads and other epiphytes is really starting to get covered! To mimic the grassy foliage of sedges, llilyturf and mondo grass around the garden, I've topped the stump with a basket of Billbergia nutans, or 'queen's tears'.

Tropical Peperomia and Rhipsalis species have survived the cold winter (thanks to a cover of blankets) and now hang down the trunk much like they would in their habitat.

Thanks to these planted suet baskets and a Rainforest Drop, I can easily grow epiphytes and succulents in trees and protect them in winter. Now why would anyone want to grow stuff in trees? Well, apart from the rainforest-ey (is that a word?) look...

... It's really nice to find surprises like this every now and then, and at eye level too. I nailed some Billbergia bromeliads to one of the maples and one is blooming now. I think it was actually my one-year old son who pointed it out to me, but then again, he does point at a lot of things in the garden.

I remember walking around with a newborn in this weedy mess, telling him all about the fun we were going to have together. Now it's he who guides me around the garden with a pointed finger, squealing with delight at leaves bouncing in the wind and flowers lit up by dappled sunshine. Could it get any better than that? Maybe I was just hurrying to prepare the garden for my son's fast-approaching childhood.


  1. It's all a process and it does take time, but you've come a long way and your vision is taking shape and looking lovely. Wait until the end of this summer . . . you'll be surprised by how much everything has grown.

  2. Taking advantage of what you have and not worrying about all the shoulds has paid off. The lawn area will be a great toddler area and gingers and cannas will make a safe edge.

    You are leaving the gardenias unclipped until they bloom in a couple of months? I once got the idea that two of mine could be pruned up as topiary trees. They didn't think much of the idea.


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