April 14, 2011


R: Today we are talking with a new gardener, a woman from Connecticut who started gardening late in life, after her retirement from the corporate world.  Thank you for coming to our studio.

Me:  I'm glad to be here.

R: Tell us how you came to gardening in your 60s.

Me: We bought a new house when I retired.  As anyone who has downsized knows, we ended up with a larger home and more acreage.  It was a newly built home, and the lot was a blank slate with no topsoil.  I had to create all of the landscaping and gardens and patio and deck areas from scratch.  After the closing there were few funds left for professional landscaping, so I figured, naively as it turned out, that I would simply get a shovel and do it myself.

R: How did you start?

Me: Randomly.  I read a lot, I did internet searches, and then I randomly dug up areas around the foundation and out in the yard and added plants.  I wanted screening and privacy so I planted a lot of trees.

R: What did you plant?

Me: Tiny little saplings.  Dogwoods, pines, little oaks and maples and sweetgums and redbuds and birches, many of them 10 inches high, that will be tall trees when other people live here.

R: How did you decide what trees to plant?

Me: Whatever Lowe's had that cost less than $20 and whatever ArborDay would send for free with my annual dues.  Then later I figured out I should be planting natives, so I had to read and learn what actually grows in the woods around here and go deeper into the internet and to specialty high end nurseries to source them.  Surprisingly, it's a varied and wonderful selection of hardwoods and shrubs that have filled our natural forests for eons.  Have you seen a sassafras sparkling in fall?  A viburnum in spring flowering quietly at the edge of the woods?

R: No, it must be beautiful, though.  So you only planted trees and shrubs?

Me: Perennials and annuals and groundcovers too.  Herbs and berries but no vegetables.  Vines.  Mixed containers.  Statuary and some garden gnomes, god help me.  Birdbaths.  A dry creek bed.  Once you start, it doesn't stop.

R: You had a dry creek bed installed?

Me: No, I put it in myself.  On my hands and knees, using only the stones I had collected from each planting hole I dug.  There was no shortage of stones, and I appear to be growing more in the soil each year.

R: What was the hardest thing for you to learn as a brand new gardener?

Me:  Math.  Gardening is one of those real life math applications that your teacher warned you would need as an adult.  Volume eludes me.  Six big, heavy, difficult to haul bags of mulch cover only a small fraction of a portion of the corner of a tiny part of the garden.

Geometry baffles me.  I cut borders whose edges look like a tight, difficult slalom course, all sharp bends, the radii and arcs are all wrong.  Getting a wide gentle curve is a skill I cannot master and laying out a curvy hose or painting lines on the grass in orange paint is no help.  I think you need math to do it right.

Volume, scale, ratios, proportions all mystify me.  That's why I have short plants in the wrong places and tall plants too close together and onesies scattered about in forlorn isolation.  Planting odd numbers, massing, spacing is daunting and seems to require too many calculation skills.  I wish good garden design was about the plants, but it's about how much you paid attention in seventh grade math class.

R: But your gardens have not all been badly designed; don't you have any successes?

Me: No.

R: You are too modest.  After five years of intensive experimentation you surely have liked some of your results?

Me:  I like the way this turned out but it was an accident.

R: It's lovely.  Are there others?

Me: Well, actually yes.  Of my photos from 2010, I saved 400 that I thought showed a particularly nice view of some successful designs and plant combinations I like.  Let me show you on my laptop, here, I'll just go into Picasa . . . 

R: Well, hold onto that link.  We'll take a break now and continue with part two of our interview in the next installment.


  1. Laurrie, this was the best post I read all day. It was so funny, I smiled the whole way through. I liked your visits to Lowes for anything less than $20. I did not realize you were retired. I guess because you do so much work on your property. I thought retirement meant relaxing.

  2. Fun! I can't wait for the rest of the interview.

  3. Very clever, Laurrie. Do you and the interviewer ever bash heads?

    Love your dry stream bed. I built/grew one here with 'extra' rocks collected every time I pushed a spade or garden fork into the soil. It's a great use of these extras.

  4. Some of the best features are so-called accidents, but I think sometimes our deeper brain is doing the designing, though we're not aware. Your dry creek is one of the nicest I've seen - a lot of them are not so successful.

  5. You funny lady. Go ahead and brag. You deserve it. I can't beleive that you got all of those rocks from your garden. I would faint if I turned up even one rock. I have to import them all. I guess that is why I am always drooling over the keyboard when I read about other people's problems with "rocks". Sigh~~ I am sort of surprised that you only have 400 pictures of your garden. You must be fastidious and throw away all the crummy pictures. Math... ummm what's that???

  6. Donna, thanks! Yes, I am retired. I had no idea I would spend so much of my retirement on my hands and knees in the dirt.

    Gardener on Sherlock, Glad you enjoyed it!

    Joene, Isn't it amazing how many rocks we can turn up here with each shovel thrust in the ground?

    Cyndy, Thank you, I'm pretty pleased with how the dry creek turned out, given it was just a way to use up the rocks I had.

    Lisa, You import rocks??? Oh my. There is an alternate world....

  7. Hilarious! Lord help me if I need math to design my garden well! I'm a liberal arts major!!

  8. What an enjoyable post, Laurrie; it wasn't until near the end that it dawned on me that the interviewee was you (still on my first cup of coffee this morning). I thought that dry stream bed looked familiar:) I've said before that we have a lot in common, but I realize now how much more. I, too, really didn't get into gardening until I retired, and I've made tons of "mistakes," too. But your garden shows just what a person can do if they're willing to learn and to work hard. You've created some beautiful spaces, even if they don't fit into proper math equations:)

  9. Love this Laurrie. Can't wait for the second edition. I had no idea you had a dry stream bed. It's really nice and had me wondering if all the rocks I dug out last year could be put to use.

  10. Cat, I am a liberal arts major too... that's why garden math eludes me!

    Rose, Thanks. I'm glad to know another retiree who found gardening late in life.

    Marguerite, You can definitely use all the rocks you dig up. Piles, cairns, walls, stream beds, rustic walkways, garden edging, there is no end to what you can do, and they always seem to grow more in the earth each season.

  11. This is great. I have a couple of hard-hitting questions of my own though, about the "accident". So did the plants accidently spill out of your arms and plant themselves there? I think perhaps you are being too modest.


  12. Sweetbay, Thanks. I was surprised also that the interviewer didn't press harder on how and why the successful parts of my garden came to be!


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