By Kathy Figel  

We live in a neighborhood where if you want a garden, you can have one as long as you can do the work or pay someone else to do it.  

But that’s not always easy.  

Sometimes we have an idea that is impossible to recreate: Like the garden roses you saw on that trip to England way before COVID; maybe it’s the lavender fields in France you saw in grandma’s calendar picture as a child; or, just maybe, it’s the little blue flowers and the pretty pink trees that you see in your neighbors’ front lawns. But by the time you get a chance to plant it, you see something else that looks beautiful, so, you ask a landscaper or you just buy something on impulse. 

We’ve all been there.  

You’ve purchased this new (old) house and you want it to look a certain way, you just forgot you live in Chicago where the temperature is anything but ideal and our four seasons have morphed into two.  

I’ve been asked to write a monthly column for The Villager and I couldn’t be more excited. There’s so much I want to share and I will try my best to give solid advice. I’ll even do some research, talk to fellow gardeners and experts to answer your questions. After gardening on my own property for more than 30 years and being involved in community gardening through Edna White Community Garden and the Clissold green project, one of my main focuses on gardening and green space is to make the yard, lot, or space healthier and better than it was before.  

This may sound strange to some people, but, before the yard or garden plot can be transformed into your oasis you need to ask yourself:  “How will I use this space? What is the soil like? Do I need to amend the soil? Is my property wet or dry? What do I want or need to plant here? How do I want this space or garden to look next year or in five or ten years from now? Can I start small and add a little bit every year? Am I going to have a dog, children, grandchildren who will use this space?” 

So, let’s say you don’t want to answer any of those questions, but you just want to get started. Okay, get a piece of paper and lay out your property or area. You can use graph paper or you can use the back of an old envelope, like I usually do. 

Measure the area (no need to look for the retractable tape measure that’s lost in the basement) with your feet one foot per step. Along the way, add any important things like garages, fences, trees, shrubs, etc., that you want to keep.  

Now go into your house and sit in the chair that you spend time in over the winter and picture what you want to see.  

Most of us want to see some green in the winter in front of the lovely white fence. At this point you are ready to think about the types and varieties of shrubs and trees you would want to incorporate into your yard.  

Years ago I added a magnolia; my mom was like “Oh that tree is pretty but only for a week or so.” In reality the pinkish color is not the only reason I love the magnolia; the trunk is a gorgeous green grey, and can be easily climbed by squirrels, racoons, cats and children, and when I was pregnant with our twins years ago, I swung on a hammock and looked up at the petals that were dying on a warm day and realized that my children would love this tree, and they still do. It’s one of many that they talk about in our yard.  

So, getting back to your plan. Here’s where you need to have some fun. If you just want the backyard to be safe and fun for the kiddos in the next few years, realize that you will be spending time with them as well.  

Just like “the reading chair” in your home is a favorite space, find one in your yard as well. Maybe it’s a few Adirondack chairs in a circle, with mulch under foot, or an old glider with comfy pillows. It can be anything as long as it’s something to help you “be one” with nature, or even the spot you find to talk to your neighbor over the fence.  

It might even be the place you learn and teach your child about plants, birds that migrate through our neighborhood or even about bugs.  

But most importantly this is a space to rest and maybe stretch, because there will be more work to come this summer. 

Join me on this garden journey with comments or questions we can explore together as Gardening Angels of Beverly.   


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