Adventures in Gardening From a Landscaping Novice


Adventures in Gardening from a Landscaping Novice | Wit & Delight

Personal update: I’m now talking to my plants. In all seriousness, this is surprising to me. I never thought I would be into gardening so much so that I’d already be making gardening plans for next spring, but the process of cleaning out our very overgrown yard in recent weeks has sparked something in me. Maybe it was that I needed to move my body. Maybe I needed to spend more time among plants. Whatever it was, I’m hooked and can’t wait to transform our backyard garden in the year to come.

Today I’m sharing a look into the gardening updates we’ve made so far, what I’ve learned along the way, and our future plans for this space. 

The Garden When We Moved In

Naively, we didn’t look too closely at the green spaces when we originally made an offer on the house. It was April and snow was still covering the ground. Little did we know, we would be inheriting quite the outdoor project. The previous owners of our home cared a lot about the types of trees and plants on the property, but over time the garden became overgrown and full of weeds.

A before photo of our backyard, pre-weeding.

I spent most of the summer enjoying the areas that were somewhat maintained and just ignoring the massive beds of weeds that were growing more jungle-like each day. Alas, eventually, it became hard to ignore. We love spending time outdoors so much that one day I realized I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to cut everything back. It was like a treasure hunt, uncovering paths and rocks and starting to see the shape of what had been here in all its glory, and I realized the previous owners of the home had put as much time and care into the garden as they did the house. 

It was like a treasure hunt, uncovering paths and rocks and starting to see the shape of what had been here in all its glory, and I realized the previous owners of the home had put as much time and care into the garden as they did the house. 

Waiting until I was ready to conquer such a big project meant I was excited enough to power through the hopeless moments the project inevitably offered (not to mention multiple trips to the local composting center).

A before photo of our backyard, pre-weeding.

Updates We’ve Made So Far

When we started this project, it was difficult to see what plants were actually still flourishing in the beds (and as it turned out, not that much had survived the overgrown weeds). I walked through the garden with my father-in-law, who’s a bit of a gardening expert, and looked at things that were taking over other plants (snow on the mountain, ferns, etc.). We cut down the ferns to see how many there were. From there, we used a chemical on the roots (not ideal but with this much growth there wasn’t a better option that didn’t cost a fortune or take a week of my time). This helped temper all of the weeds we had so we could get them contained and take a look at what shrubs and hearty perennials remained.

A before photo of our very overgrown garden. Photo by Chelsey Werth

In many ways, the only job we had to do this summer was to clear everything out and save what could be saved. We intentionally decided to put in a lot of work now so we can do less work later on once the overgrown portions of the garden have been cleared out.

The exciting part of it all is that the landscape design that remains is really lovely, and just enough of a template for us to fill in with plants that fit our family’s lifestyle and our gardening abilities. 

What I’ve Learned as a Beginner Gardener

1. You NEED to be wearing gloves, long sleeves, and closed-toed shoes if doing heavy cutting, pruning, or removal of many plants. I learned this the hard way. Just trust me. 

Adventures in Gardening from a Landscaping Novice | Wit & Delight
Weeding gets messy, this I know for sure.

2. Plan your garden around your lifestyle first and then decide what plants you actually want to include. Do some thinking about how much time you have and how much you want to put into it, and consider who lives in the space. What do your kids need? What do you need as a family?

When you choose plants that work well within your environment and your lifestyle, you’ll set yourself up for success. 

3. Plan the kind of garden you want to have around the conditions of your yard. You might love roses but you need to consider the state of the ground, drainage paths, the amount of sunlight, etc. before adding them to your garden. These are three of the questions I ask myself before deciding what to plant:

  • How long will this take to grow?
  • Will it grow here?
  • Will it thrive here?

When you choose plants that work well within your environment and your lifestyle, you’ll set yourself up for success. 

What our garden looks like today, with the weeds cleared out.

What’s Next

Right now, we’re taking a really hard look at what we want from this space and allowing ourselves to be realistic about how much time we can devote to maintaining it. What I’ve discovered is that the relaxed, country garden vibes I love so much actually require a TON of work and time that we just don’t have with small children. So I’m focusing on creating areas that are low-maintenance and kid-friendly, and then carving out smaller areas to plant a pollinator section, a cutting flower section for bouquets, and a section for herbs and other veggies. 

Adventures in Gardening from a Landscaping Novice | Wit & Delight

Our next step is to have a couple of trees taken down next month, and we’ll be making mulch out of those that will be used as ground cover. This will allow us to save some money on store-bought mulch. We’ll also be setting up our own compost system to collect lawn trimmings, leaves, brush, etc. that will help improve the health of the soil. 

Our goal is to get the garden to a healthy state this fall and start planting next summer. It’s hard to go slowly at times, but getting to know this yard in all four seasons will be important for making any big plans we have for the future.

My takeaway from adventures in gardening these past few weeks? In one weekend, you can be bit by the gardening bug. In one weekend, you can get a good start. You might feel overwhelmed at first, but ultimately, you need to get out there, learn by doing, and figure it out as you go. I’m excited to see what’s to come for our backyard garden. In the meantime, what gardening tips do you have for me?

BY Kate Arends - September 23, 2020

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Carol Klein
September 23, 2020 5:06 pm

Hi, Kate! What a lovely property. (1) Where are you located (section of the country and planting zone)? (2) Do you have to worry about deer, rabbits, groundhogs, etc? (3) I highly recommend hostas–not deer resistant but do well in shade–and hellebores (but note my caution as they are poisonous)–deer resistant, low maintenance, shade loving. Hellebores are supposed to bloom February-April in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States but mine have bloomed again this fall. They also create little hellebores that you can plant in new places, so from one or two plants, you will soon have many. They… Read more »

September 24, 2020 7:07 am

Plan your garden around your lifestyle first : TRUTH! This year, during the shutdown, I planted a small veggie/herb garden. For about 3 weeks I made daily early-morning visits, tending and watering. And then…..I stopped going out there. Literally, I don’t think I’ve walked within 15′ of it in over two months. (But I can see the plants from my bathroom window, and they’re still there/green-ish!) And I had plans – BIG plans – for that area of the yard. I wanted to put in raised garden beds, create a pathway, leave some grass for the dogs…..but now that I… Read more »

Melissa Dorn
September 24, 2020 9:03 am

Very nicely framed article

Mary McDonald
September 24, 2020 9:18 am

Hi there! Being home this Spring/Summer/Fall.. I finally had the time I have wanted just to get things into some sort of order in our yards also. We moved to this house in late Fall of 2018. So, what I have learned is when I am working from the office… I need plants that can handle lengths of time between watering.. While annuals are fun for instant color… they are too much work. This year with the time afforded me, I have been replanting areas with less fussy and better off season interest. That will hopefully make 2021 a more… Read more »

Nancy Doty
September 24, 2020 9:26 am

Good morning, Kate:. Thanks for sharing your experience with taking on this overgrown garden. It looks daunting but you will be so happy to see the personal investment (time & intensive labor) pay off. Like your space, my garden has enough curves and different focal points that it doesn’t have to look like a cohesive, planned, formal garden. My joy comes from ‘vignettes’ that I plant as surprises around a corner or in an out-of-the- way space. I create living bouquets from plants I love, adding more color, texture, and extending the interest with things that bloom before and after… Read more »

Kim Cumming
September 24, 2020 10:16 am
Reply to  Nancy Doty

Wonderful writing, photos, and hard work.

Include your children in planning or give them their own area: Almost all academic subjects can be learned with gardening. You can enjoy watching them puzzle it out over time.

Fall planting for spring flowering bulbs, daffodils are usually good, deer resistant, dog and kid friendly, and can be moved easily if you want. Many different ways to plant them. Have fun !!!

Amazing garden area in such a short time with your intensive work.

Allison Lewis
September 24, 2020 10:32 am

What a beautiful spot! With your hard work, determination and foresight, it’s sure to be glorious! I would caution against planting in the summer though. Spring and fall are ideal.

Liz Goodall
September 25, 2020 3:20 am

We have moved to a property with just the same problem! What looked like a lovely woodland space turned out to be a very overgrown well designed garden. I too have been discovering attractive walls and a great structure. At first I was daunted by the size of the task but what worked best was setting myself a small area to reveal in a day’s work.. and the structure has emerged quite quickly. I am now starting to choose plants and using the same principle. One bed at a time.

September 26, 2020 8:38 pm

Such hard work but so fulfilling. One tip is to order mulch from a landscaping company and get it dumped in a pile for you to spread. Usually cheaper and no plastic bags. If you can manage to do it in spring before everything grows in it makes it way easier.

Lezlie Hanson
October 6, 2020 9:27 am

Great article – I wish I would have had this advice 20 years ago when we took on the same project – good gardens take time – good fall prep for spring and summer success. The advice on plants that fit into your garden and your lifestyle is perfect.

April 23, 2021 6:26 pm

Plant your state’s natives and Mother Earth will thank you. I did it in the fall and the birds, butterflies, and bees haven’t wild. A tiny offering to make up for the wildlife havens that’ll constantly destroyed. Plus, natives take less work and water because they evolved to thrive here. ❤️

April 23, 2021 6:27 pm
Reply to  Lauren Maxwell

The birds, butterflies, and bees went wild, that is. ❤️

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