How Julie Steals Garden Ideas from Her Neighbors…And You Can Too!
by Julie Carpenter
I moved into a new house in April. I have done a few things around the yard. I’ve dug up some flowering peaches that were, sadly, in the wrong place and planted a few low-growing radicans gardenias instead, underplanted with June bearing and ever bearing strawberries. I also threw some seeds in the ground, cleaned out some beds, removed some awkward brick circles filled with irises that won’t bloom due to lack of sun and being buried too deep, and pruned dead branches.
I know that a lot of people move in somewhere and immediately have big garden ideas. I’m not those people. I need time to see how I feel about the garden and how it feels about me. I like to take the time to see if it offers me any gifts. I wait for bulbs and perennials to show themselves, for shrubs I don’t recognize to bloom. My new place might have garden ideas of its own. I don’t make garden decisions quickly. I also need time to steal garden ideas from my neighbors, a practice I highly recommend.
Why steal ideas from your neighbors? Of course, you can go to your local garden center, or look up information on the internet about what grows well in your area. And, of course, there’s always that plant lust for the plant that isn’t quite meant to grow where you live. I get it. Go ahead and gamble now and then. Find a spot for the prima donna rose that hates humidity, look up how to make your own organic spray, and steel yourself for tragedy. But fill most of your garden with happy plants that don’t fight for your attention. This is where stealing garden ideas comes in. Your neighbors live right in your little ecosystem, and what grows in their gardens will likely grow in yours. In addition, you can actually see what that plant that you love, the one that looks so enticing on the page of the garden catalog, will look like on the ground, in front of someone’s house. Will that holly that looks so cute and innocent in the five-gallon pot reach over the sidewalk and grab people by the leg? Will the beautiful weeping red Japanese Maple that you planted between the two front windows spread out and make your open living/dining area look like a cave most of the year? Will the carefree wonder rose you planted by your mailbox be the source of year-round cursing by your mail carrier? Scratching them as they put your mail in the box and attracting bees during the spring and summer?
There are lots of reasons to snoop around and take a look at your neighborhood gardens, all of them! The good, the bad, and the downright ugly. Here’s the patented Julie Carpenter Method of stealing great garden ideas.
Walk while you gawk– That rhymed. I wonder if I can do that with all the headings? It sounds like an awful lot of trouble. Don’t get your hopes up. Anyhoo, if at all possible, you should walk through the neighborhood when stealing garden ideas. Yes, you can get a quick idea when driving, but you can’t get the full effect. Plants have scents and even sounds, like rustling grasses or the pleasant humming of bees in blossoms. You might find your neighbors out in their yards and you can ask if they know the variety of that wonderful gardenia with the big waxy flowers that you haven’t seen before. You also don’t want to curb your car slowing down to take in a beautiful apricot rose sitting in dappled shade in the golden sunlight of the morning. Not that such a thing has ever happened to me.
Put your stolen garden ideas in writing – You can also record them on your phone. Just be careful taking pictures. If your neighbors are out, you might want to ask so that they don’t think you’re being creepy. Being creepy is not going to score you a cutting of that bridal wreath spirea you’re lusting for. I either take a notebook or write down what I remember when I get home. For whatever reason, people think you’re a harmless goofball when you stop to write at the side of the street and a stalker when you take pictures. Although, I’ve been known to sneak a careful picture now and then.
Make friends with your neighbors – Speak to your neighbors. I mean the ones with the oak leaf hydrangea that has the suckers underneath. Or the ones whose daylilies obviously need to be separated. Maybe they need help and you could do a little gardening in return for some free plants! People who are out puttering around their gardens are generally pretty nice! Go for it. I mean, say hi first…maybe compliment them, and ask about varieties. Feel things out. Maybe don’t show up with a shovel the first time you meet them and start edging into their yards. But be friendly, ask about the garden and then eventually…who knows? You may end up with any number of free plants that look great and grow well in your neighborhood.
Go for different reasons in different seasons – (I had one more rhyme in me. You’re welcome). Spring and summer are good for scoping out plant varieties. In fall and winter, you’re not so blown away by color and blossoms, and you can see the structure of the garden more clearly. Keep these things in mind as you’re snooping.
Your garden can be as individual and creative as a painting or a poem, but the art form is more dependent on context than any other. Sharing/poaching garden ideas is a good way to make sure that your garden is a happy one that fits into its ecosystem. Do some research to make sure that none of the plants you decide to purchase or divide are invasive, but otherwise, look around to see what plants will be healthy and happy in your backyard. It’s the one time stealing will probably work out in your favor and add to the community spirit.
Julie graduated from Tennessee Weslyan with a BA in English Literature, and she has an MA from University of Memphis in Professional Writing. She was accepted to the Writer’s Hotel in 2016 and 2017, serving as as a teaching assistant in 2017. Julie is a Pushcart nominee for “Letter to Essie” in the New Guard Anthology VII, and has published four stories at Fiction on the Web. She will have a short story collection , Things Get Weird in Whistlestop, published with Poetic Justice Press later this year. She is currently working on a novel called “Last Train Out of Hell.” She can often be found blogging here on the Sacred Chickens website along with her cats, Uncle Morty and Jarad. (Actually, the cats don't blog. They're amazingly lazy.)