We’ve lived in our house for just over six years. Before that, I’d had houseplants but didn’t have space for a garden. My thumbs were brown with a few specks of green.
Then we moved and became accidental gardeners. Well, sort-of-on-purpose accidental gardeners.
Our house had a giant sandbox in the backyard, and while luckily there weren’t any cats who made it their own, we didn’t have kids who could enjoy it either.
We contemplated using the space for a trampoline, but my creaky joints, lack of coordination, and experience patching up trampoline-related injuries in the emergency department nixed that idea. We also contemplated building a gazebo, but we already had a large covered porch.
Out of ideas, we polled our friends and family. There was a clear winner.
Our Garden Saga Begins
So we borrowed a wheelbarrow to excavate the sand, and made a
few bazillion trips to the Home Depot for soil and supplies. We even got a composter.
We added hundreds of seeds, several soaker hoses, and a timer, then stared obsessively at the dirt for a few months.
Our first year, we ended up with a forest of okra (that I forgot we planted and had to send pictures for my mother-in-law to identify) and an endless supply of cilantro and green onions. And three baby tomatoes and one strawberry.
Then THAT Happened…
Our next few years were not so successful.
Caterpillars demolished our tomato plants, and I tried to feed my husband tiny black ‘tomatoes’ that turned out to be weeds. Oops. Sorry, honey.
And rabbits, gophers, squirrels, and birds ate everything else.
We tried using posts and bird netting–which just got caught on everything and kept us out but didn’t deter the critters. Covers made from PVC pipe and webbing seemed more promising, but the PVC melted in the heat and a Gremlin chewed right through the webbing.
More water was supposed to help our garden survive the scorching summers, but nearby tree roots invaded the garden and choked out our plants instead.
On To Plan B
While we struggled with the garden, we decided to plant trees in the rest of the yard– lime, orange, lemon, grapefruit, and apricot.
We got a few pieces of fruit the first year, then had a hard freeze and no harvest the second.
Then there were apricots! Delicious, mouth-watering balls of sweet sunshine. And those dang gophers liked them too. The battle was on.
It turns out that a two-liter soda bottle with the top and bottom cut off and a slit up the side wraps around a small tree trunk well, and it keeps the gophers at bay. It also turns out that while a solar-powered fake owl will deter birds for exactly two weeks, CDs hung from the tree are much more effective.
A few years passed, and we now have limes nearly year-round, with other fruit ripening in the spring. Satisfied on that front, we turned our attention back to our pitiful garden.
And Plan C
This year we built raised garden boxes, each with its own irrigation, and bought established plants rather than seeds. As I write, my husband is hanging a massive circus tent of bird netting with a doorway so we can enter easily and won’t have to peel it off the plants to care for them.
Maybe it’s voodoo, but so far, so good. Maybe this will be the year we actually harvest more food than we could buy for what we spent on supplies.
Then I realized that’s not the point.
Realistic Expectations and Gratitude
We live in the freakin’ desert. I love it here and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, but this is not the breadbasket of America and we are not homesteaders. My lovely Midwestern mother-in-law’s 8-ft tall tomato plants aren’t gonna happen in our backyard. We enjoy her delicious bounty when we visit, but our garden has another purpose.
It’s a hobby. We gladly spend a little money on exercise and fresh air when we’re backpacking, and gardening provides the same benefits and is more convenient. We can get our nature fix right outside the back door for five minutes or for hours. If it’s too cold or too hot outside, we can still enjoy it through the window.
We can get our hands dirty and smell the freshness of the herbs.
And as much as we love to hate them, we enjoy the critters too. On any given day, we see lizards doing push-ups as they show off for the gophers, squirrels, rabbits, and quail, which sometimes bring owls, coyotes, and bobcats. I’ll gladly sacrifice some garden bounty for a close-up view of a bobcat any day.
We no longer expect to harvest from everything we plant. Anything we can eat is a bonus, but the true purpose of our garden is to enjoy the process.
Have you almost ruined something you love by taking it too seriously and demanding too much? How did you learn to let go and enjoy the ride? And if you garden, please share your tips and tricks below.
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