Gardening With a Black Thumb: Landscaping Tips

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Residing in rural Wisconsin, by day Eileen Troemel works as a clerical worker and part-time student. At night she spends her time writing. Raised on a farm, she has a love for nature and is inspired by the beauty and power she finds there. Nature and her just don’t get along though as she has the blackest of black thumbs.

Rather than putting plants at risk in your home, you can turn to the outdoors and plant them in good old Mother Earth. Gaia then generally does most of the care. When we bought our house, there were horrible, ugly, bug-infested pine bushes by the door. Neither my husband nor I liked them, so he tore them out. (Before anyone gets upset, we did try to salvage them and give them away but the bushes were too old and gnarled. After much effort, they were finally gone!)

In their place we have planted flowers, lots of flowers from rhododendron bush and lilies to iris, violets, lavender and a lot more I don’t even remember the names of. Initially the plot looked pretty sad and scraggly. However, patience and a few seasons has changed the plot to a beautiful and a bit of wild in our very generic neighborhood. Beautiful flowers bloom all summer long. The rainbow of colors, in a variety of sizes and shapes, offers a bright spot in my day. From early spring to late fall, something blooms. Each time I step out my front door, I look over to see my flower garden, and it always makes me smile.

Violets in the garden. Photo By Eileen Troemel.

These were mostly plants that were purchased through a fund raiser at my daughter’s work. She brought them home and we stuck them in the ground. (Okay, so I didn’t do a lot of the putting in the ground.) However, when we were looking at the types of plants to get, I made sure they were plants that could go in the ground and stay there. My husband (because really he is the plant person in our house) doesn’t like to fuss with stuff. It goes in the ground and stays there–none of this plant in spring and dig up in fall. That is too much work.

Rhododendron bush. Photo By Eileen Troemel.

Sharing a backyard with five other people doesn’t afford us a lot of privacy. Since we couldn’t afford a six-foot privacy fence like we wanted, we opted to put in bushes. I had a lovely time wandering around a website for a nursery looking at all sorts of bushes. I definitely just wanted something that would grow and be beautiful while eventually providing us with a bit of a barrier between us and the neighbors. I spent an afternoon wandering the website and bugging my sisters for advice. Finally, I called the nursery and said, “I am bad with plants, and I need help.” I had a lovely customer service person who knew what she was doing and helped me make the best decisions. My daughters had requested a snow ball bush, which we had at another house when they were growing up. I had NO idea at all what it might be but when I told this woman about it she was able to direct me to a couple of choices on the website to look at. I discovered it was a hydrangea bush. With a relatively small amount of money, I was able to buy enough bushes to create a living fence. 

When planning your outdoor landscape there are a few things to consider. First, call the Digger’s Hotline before you order bushes. In our yard we have a lot of electrical, gas and other utility lines going through it. We have a utility box in each of the back corners of our yard. Some of the bushes I bought we had to find new locations for because there was a gas line exactly where I wanted to plant them. We did find new homes for them, but it was disappointing to have to change our plans after the plants were purchased. Had I gotten the information from the utilities first, I could have planned more successfully.

When you call them, they take about a week to come out and mark your lot, so make sure you have that done before you order. Otherwise your plants might die while you wait for them to come out to do the marking.

When ordering plants for outside, make sure you order plants that are appropriate for your climate zone. This climate zone is based on plant needs for weather to help them grow. A quick search for garden zones will provide you with a map of the different zones. Some of these offer a zip code search to determine which zone you are in. Knowing this will help you to buy the appropriate plants for your area. 

Another key factor for landscape planning: make sure you look at the product details and know the size of your space. This will help you choose plants that fit the area you have available. Look at the size the plant will be, how much sun it needs and when it should be planted. All of these are very important for your outside plants to be successful. 

While I would like to say that if you follow these steps you will lose your black thumb and might turn it green, I have to be honest and say my black thumb remains in place. The best thing I have is my husband who lets me buy plants then takes care of them for me. Hopefully, some of these hints will help alleviate your curse of the black thumb, but for those of us Gaia has issued a restraining order on… well just sit back and enjoy the beautiful work she does and try not to harm any more of her green friends. 

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