Five minute fix to my biggest problems

I'm frustrated with the state of our yards. Truthfully, I am a frustrated with a few things right now, but we'll stick to the yards.

We have a front yard and back yard. As the main floor tenants we can do what we please with both, which is a real gift for a gardener apartment dweller like myself.

I appreciate so much the beautiful front yards I see in our neighborhood and city. I enjoy city life when beauty abounds in both large green spaces and the little nooks and crannies people claim for gardening.

I have dreams and intentions to transform our own green spaces, to create beauty for our own enjoyment and our neighborhood. Perennial beds, bulbs, a small vegetable garden, annual flowers, I have space to cultivate all of that. But right now I keep coming up against my two greatest problems. I don't have a lot of money to spend and in this month especially, I am hard pressed for time.

Not enough money, not enough time. Perennial frustrations, gardening pun not intended.

Earlier this month, I scored big when I discovered our borough's free compost weekend. At that point in the month drama hadn't yet taken over our life so I spent a Saturday making trips to the eco-centre to pick up the compost, bringing it back to the house in buckets and bins.

But so much work remains and there has been very little time, and very little funds with which to purchase plants or even the tools I need to step back into the role of gardener.

I am currently without a rake or a spade. The last time I needed to own those tools was when I lived in Maine. I left them there with our tenants to use in the maintenance of our property. To add insult to injury, the weed whacker, which Damien uses to buzz cut the-patch-of-weeds-we-don't-even-bother-calling-a-lawn, refused to start this week. So we have to visit a small engine repair shop. We are smack dab in the most intense time of a drama production schedule. We don't have time to get the whacker fixed, never mind the fact "fixing the weed whacker" is not a line item in the budget.

Earlier this month I was able to borrow our neighbor's tools, which was great for the compost weekend but borrowing doesn't work so well on a day-to-day basis when I might have a random 15 minutes to work in the yard and no tools at my easy disposal.

I'm frustrated and I feel restricted by my limitations.

The state of our yards does not represent my vision or values. And I feel ashamed because I am a tidy person, I create and share beauty, and I have strong sense of contributing to community. That we are "those people" with the scrappy yards irks me to no end. If all that wasn't enough, I have the contentment-stealing thoughts that, "if only Damien was interested in gardening I could achieve my goals quicker."

I want a beautiful garden, and I want it now.

I have desires, dreams, and goals - for writing, blogging, and gardening. But progress in those areas seems to be moving like molasses in this season.

Deep breath Renee. You have no idea how often I say this to myself.

Wednesday this week, our one day off from driving, rehearsals, and performances I had an hour (in between laundry, getting a few groceries, making brownies for the bake sale that accompanies each performance, and picking up stuff for the play) to do something about the problem.

I created one small area of beauty.

Our front yard has a lot going for it with its maturing shrubs and large trees. It has a good foundation and I can totally work with it, but it's weedy and needs to filled in with shade-loving perennials (hostas are the obvious choice). And I'd love to enliven the space with spring bulbs and colorful annuals.

Our bedroom window and balcony overlooks the front yard, and every time I go into the bedroom, which is often because it's the guaranteed tidy and quiet spot in the house, I am reminded of the state of affairs in the front yard. All that is not done, all I want to do. (Gardening never fails me as a metaphor for life.)

The yard has so much potential but my eyes needed something beautiful, now. So using the leftover free compost I planted a $3 begonia in a cheap colorful pot, and placed it on the rusting white chair I rescued from the trash last summer. The planting and placing of that begonia took five minutes.

I also washed the balcony and the windows. That part took 45 minutes. And then I reluctantly returned to the intensity called drama production week. I made something tidy. I made something beautiful. It's small but it's something. It's all I can give right now.

I placed the pot in such a way that I see it from all the angles inside my bedroom. And having clean windows really helps.

Earlier this month I did the same thing on our kitchen balcony. I planted colorful pansies that catch my eye every time I wash the dishes, or sit at my little table to eat, read or write, as I am doing right now.

I've started building the gardens in the backyard but there is so much left to do. The weedy patches far outweigh the cultivated ones. And the only thing blooming are dandelions.

On free compost weekend, when I borrowed my neighbor's tools, I started a flower bed along the fence. This year, until I have the budget for perennials, I'm planting it with annual seeds. A few dollars of seeds will give me a lot of color come July and August.

I weeded the rose bed, planted cosmo seeds, found a long forgotten concrete bordered bed under the grass, dug up that turf, composted and seeded that space with a package of mixed wildflower seeds.

I also started (what will one day become) the vegetable garden by digging up the weedy turf along the back wall of the garage and planting a couple rows of sunflower seeds.

We won't even see those sunflowers from our kitchen window, those beauties are for the neighbors.

Perhaps that gesture will make up for the fact that, on a hot windy afternoon this week, our scrappy yard full of puffy dandelions (the kind my young children would use to make feather beds for fairies) single-handedly seeded the entire neighborhood with this pesky weed.

For the people who are quick to point out the utility of dandelions, I must add that I'm not interested in eating the barely edible young leaves of dandelions from my urban yard or roasting the roots to make fake coffee. I'll wait for the apocalypse to put that knowledge to use.

The backyard looks pitiful right now, full of spent dandelions, but the pansies are bright and beautiful, which is why I've placed them where I have, the first thing I see when I look out the window.

These are small solutions to larger problems. A little bit of beauty is better than no beauty.

All creative endeavors of transformation and growth - raising children, planting a garden, putting on a play - take time. In my weak and tired moments, when I am stretched and stressed (from the aforementioned play), I am easily frustrated that my goals, my dreams and aspirations, require more time and resources than I have to give.

But an inexpensive pot of flowers, carefully placed to catch my eye, before I see the mess, actually helps. Giving me something pretty to appreciate in the process.

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  • Joy

    Joy on May 29, 2016, 6:19 p.m.

    "A little bit of beauty is better than no beauty." Amen and amen! I'm in a similar gardening position - my very small yard is full of dandelion ghosts and ambitious weeds because we have to borrow a weed whacker when we need one (out of my hands). With limited funds as well, I discovered some seeds for sweet peas and morning glories I'd bought last year and never planted, emptied a couple of plastic pots of last years' dead flowers, and got the seeds in soil. Now I've got them positioned to climb up 2 old pallets that I intended to garden with last year... It's all I can do this year, and as I watch little bits of green pop up determinedly through the dirt, I can envision the scraps of beauty to come. A little bit of beauty is absolutely better than no beauty!


  • Shelly

    Shelly on May 29, 2016, 9:57 p.m.

    I'm in sort of the same spot as you right now. Both our weed whacker and our lawn mower are done for, and- up until yesterday when we borrowed my mother's lawn mower- our yard looked like a jungle (which the kids seemed to enjoy, but so did lots of bugs). So, anyway, I've been considering buying some hanging baskets for the front porch that I can place right in front of our window. Like you said, a little beauty is better than none.


  • Sue

    Sue on May 29, 2016, 11:30 p.m.

    I just want someone to come and divide some of our plants and take them away to their own yards! (But I'm not in Quebec). Love your message about concentrate on a small area of beauty! I'm going to need this advice as we head into renovations!


  • Alison

    Alison on May 30, 2016, 8:18 a.m.

    Thanks Renee. I find myself avoiding the garden when it feels like it's all weeds - but then I miss getting to spend the time there. I had been thinking about sessions of 10 minutes to do some clear up, but I also like the idea of something nice to focus on before I see the mess...Your piece gave me a boost to get on and do it!


  • carrie drake

    carrie drake on May 30, 2016, 12:47 p.m.

    l love the front gardens in Toronto neighbourhoods that are just full of cosmos swaying in the summer breeze...self seeding year after year. i love that you accept small steps toward your goals.


  • Laura

    Laura on May 30, 2016, 4:47 p.m.

    I wish we lived closer to you! I have so many hostas to be dug out and given away.  (Let this be encouragement to you to approach neighborhoods with hosta-filled yards.  I'm sure they'd be glad for you to dig some and take them away to your yard!)

    Thank you for the post, which so eloquently spoke to my heart and helped me understand in myself why I often look past the clutter/dirt to instead sew and create something of beauty for myself and our home.


  • willow

    willow on May 31, 2016, 5:07 a.m.

    Your post resonated today especially the bit about being one of "those people". I like to think that I am tidy and organised and that I am a gardener. Just now however the house is cluttered and the garden is falling behind where I want it to be. I looked around a while back and said "I don't live like this" and my son looked up and said "well, obviously you do!". It seems so overwhelming sometimes but you are right, start small and do a little task that makes a big difference.


  • Liz

    Liz on June 2, 2016, 11:44 a.m.

    Oh Renee! Thank you, thank you, thank you for expressing what has been on my mind as of late. It was just the thing I needed to read this morning. I, too, have been impatient with how slowly things are progressing around here. (I think it's the 'N' in my INFJ personality). Regardless, thanks for the reminder to slow down, appreciate the small victories and to really put my concerns into perspective. I hope you have a lovely day and enjoy your bright flowers.


  • Alison

    Alison on June 2, 2016, 5:23 p.m.

    I feel the same way about dandelions, but this year I have come to some sort of peace with them knowing that they are one of the first food sources for bees in the spring.  We have a huge yard full of never-ending work, and I use the same strategy of one space at a time.  It gives me a lot of peace.


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