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Creation and Destruction

Making anything involves destruction of something, even if only the empty whiteness of a page. We are both destroyers and creators, eaters and planters, those that burn fuel and those that shine warmth and light. Sometimes the destruction can be hard, especially when it's a favorite tree that needs to come out so it won't crack the foundation of our house.


Doing both well can be satisfying, the process as well as the end product giving a sense of satisfaction. First, respect your materials. Soil, weeds, rocks, trees, whatever you have to deal with is worth caring about even when you need to remove them. Why? Because that's what makes us fully human.


And yes, you can curse the bindweed and whatever is eating your broccoli.  That's human, too.


Clearing the space

Spend whatever time it takes, even a year or more, to make sure your soil is free of anything that would sprout up and try to take over your new bed. Grass rhizomes, dandelions, even underground stems of shrubs like salal and wild roses.

With fine roots like quackgrass and sheep sorrel you need to clear, wait a few weeks, then clear out those new shoots again. Never leave the next generation of quackgrass to gain a new foothold. The quarter-inch fragments don't have roots yet and they're easy to find and remove. A month later, not so much.

Creating a skeleton

The shape of a bed or a pathway, the vertical line of a trellis or a large tree, even the color of your house all serve as basic, unchanging elements that support the seasonal changes in a garden. If you can blend these elements together into a satisfying whole without the interest added by plants, your garden will be interesting at any time of the year.

Improving the soil

Shoving a newly acquired shrub into whatever soil you find in your yard is unlikely to result in success. Possible, true, but why not spend a bit of time giving that shrub a good start in life.

Most important, loosen the soil. Air in the soil is essential for root growth and even this first stage in preparation will make a difference. Dig as deep as you can, to make sure the roots have an easy time of going deeper. The  farther down the roots  grow, the less water you'll have to supply.

Whatever else you add to the soil depends on what you'll be growing and what's there right now.  Research will turn up what's needed. Just remember that you get this one chance and the extra work will reward you for years to come.


Baby the roots, treat them like the precious resource they are, give them the best start you can for life at your garden.  Give them good soil, enough water until they can stretch out and get their own. If you lose roots while transplanting, remove some leaves or small twigs to balance the loss. 

Plant small areas well, filling them with plants and mulching. Much more satisfying.


The key here is to first enjoy your garden, walk around admiring your design and the new growth or flowers, then persuade yourself to fix things up a bit more.  Enthusiasm is like a small fire, it needs constant feeding with tiny satisfactions. Tackle a big project and you may smother the brightness. And enthusiasm is your primary energy source. Discipline is fine, but limited. Enthusiasm can grow.

First priority, always, is getting rid of the toughest weeds, the grass that spread from every tiny bit your leave, the dandelions that are easy to remove when small, difficult later.  

Take your time with chores.  You aren't paid by the hour, you can stop to watch chickadees roam through a nearby tree or just sit. You may not like weeding (does anyone?) but you can mix it with pleasure.

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