Well, this is not the spring I’d planned. I’m sure it’s not the one you’d planned either. But it’s the one we’ve got. So I say, let’s work with it.
To every client—past, present and future—every gardener, aspiring gardener and mud pie maker, every friend and reader: I wish I could come right over and lift your spirits with an instant garden in full bloom. Since that’s probably not going to pan out, I will, instead, share some little sprouts of encouragement and wisdom I’ve collected in my many years in the gardens and landscapes of Dahlonega, Cleveland, Gainesville, Dawsonville, Lake Lanier and all over Northeast Georgia. I hope you’ll take them to heart, since that’s where I’m sending them from.
Here’s something to think about:
“One plant in a tin can may be a more helpful and inspiring garden to some
than a whole acre of lawn and flowers.”
This simple observation about nature—and human nature—strikes me as being especially relevant right now. It was observed by an amazing gentleman named Liberty Bailey, who lived from 1858 to 1954 and earned the title of Father of Modern Horticulture, among his many other accomplishments.
In life, as in nature, the simple can sometimes bring as much joy, energy, hope and strength as the more elaborate.
When You’re Staying at Home, the Best Outdoor Space
Is the One You’ve Got
Art of Stone Gardening has earned a reputation for designing, growing and building Northeast Georgia’s fine outdoor living spaces. We know a thing or two about making people’s elaborate landscape dreams come true. We’ve also helped design and install more modest projects, and sometimes just made minor adaptations, really, to existing spaces to help them function better. We’ve even consulted with people and made recommendations to get them started off on the right foot on their own DIY projects.
Over the years, I’ve found people’s long-term satisfaction with their outdoor projects has less to do with size, extravagance or even cost and more to do with their expectations about how the projects would improve their lives. And whether those expectations were met. In other words…whether the homeowners took advantage of the spaces they envisioned and made happen.
All this to say…Whether you have a landscape for the ages, a modest garden or—dare I say—a plain old yard, please get out there in it during all this stay-at-home time. A lot! And if all you’ve got now is an apartment balcony or a bedroom window, by all means, find a tin can and stick a plant in it!
Here are a handful (plus one to grow on) of thoughts and inspirations about nature, gardening and outdoor spaces that I’ve found to be true and useful—not just in these times—but in all times.
6 Ideas to Help You Embrace Your Outdoor Space—As Is!
1.Enjoy what you already have.
If you have a professionally-designed, built and planted outdoor space, you’re probably getting a lot of use out of it these days. Right? Well, then again, maybe you’re not. If your grand landscape was created for parties and get-togethers you’re not hosting now, it may be sitting out there getting covered with pollen. Don’t let that happen!
Move the patio furniture around to make large spaces feel more intimate.
Get some colorful cuttings from whatever’s blooming and put some vases on the tables. Bring some music outside. Enjoy your space as much as you would if friends and family were with you. Keep their seats warm…they’ll be back.
2. Improvise to make the most of your (imperfect) space.
If you have space outdoors, but you don’t yet have the elaborate entertaining area you dream of having someday, don’t wait for someday. Get out there and enjoy it now! Use your imagination to turn it into something whimsical and fun! If you ever played house as a kid (or adult), it’ll come back to you.
You can’t go out and buy much now, so borrow a few chairs and tables or TV trays from the house or garage. Got a rug you’re not using? Some candles? Place some potted plants or baskets around the “room” to make it feel inviting and cozy. You’d be surprised what you can do with an 8-by-10 slab of concrete, a patch of grass or a shady spot under a tree. Improvise!
3. Cook outside.
Set a pretty outdoor table. If cooking is therapeutic—and we know it is—then cooking outside is a cure for everything! Grilling is a given for lots of reasons, not the least of which is keeping the heat out of the kitchen as the days start heating up. But how about bringing the electric pan outside and making banana pancakes on the patio? It’ll be a fond memory one day.
4.Take walks through the garden.
Before you say, “That’ll be some pretty short walks!” or “I don’t even have a garden yet,” consider this: The only real difference between a garden and any other space where things grow is who planted it.
If you have flower beds and plants grown with purpose and design to bring pleasure to you and your wildlife friends, don’t just gaze at them from the window. Go outside and walk among them often—every day if you can. If you don’t have what we typically think of as a garden, look for the “garden” in your outdoor space that was planted by nature. Is it a woodsy, wildlife area or a few special trees? A lawn with some clover and dandelion mixed in?
There’s so much happening outside right now that your garden, however it got planted, will bring new wonders every day. Way better entertainment than Netflix. The leaves unfurling. The buds opening up. The smells, the butterflies, the colors. I’m serious. Please don’t miss this season! Get up close to it and immerse yourself in the joy of new life, new growth and beauty. Nothing will lift your spirits more!
5.Improve your view by looking the other way.
Steal a little landscape from next door…or the next mountaintop over. You know, there’s a difference between landscape design and the landscape. When we talk about landscape design or landscaping your home, we’re talking about using design principles to unify plants and the natural environment with “built” structures, like your house or pool or rock wall, to create beautiful, functional outdoor spaces on your property. The landscape, on the other hand, isn’t about your property. It’s about all you can see from your property. And that landscape is all yours for the taking.
If your home’s current landscaping doesn’t lure you outdoors right now, try taking a longer view, in search of a better vista. Do some pirouettes from different points on your property and notice everything you can see from the different perspectives. Is there a view beyond your property line that offers a better focal point than what’s in your yard?
Mountain or waterfall view from anywhere on your property? You’re done. Other focal points that might be in the distant landscape: A pasture or field, an unusual tree in the woods, a church steeple, an old red barn, a hedgerow, a pair of piliated woodpeckers raising a family in the neighbor’s tree…you get the idea. You can arrange your outdoor space to frame—and accentuate—the view. (Helpful hint: Don’t orient your outdoor space to accentuate your neighbor’s back porch or bedroom window.)
By the same token, if the orange and pink pool floats leaning against your neighbor’s chain link fence dampen your outdoor experience, re-orient your focal point or relocate your gathering spot out of that sightline. Sometimes, minor changes can help. Maybe you can take down that ugly shed on your property to reveal a better view beyond or build, or plant, something to block the unsightly view of your neighbor’s yard.
It’s mighty frustrating to have to stay at home in springtime, when you’d so love to be having fun at the nursery and bringing home plants for the garden. But I know you. If you’re a gardener, you can always find something to do outdoors in the garden. Plant, divide, transplant, weed, trim, shape, hoe, relocate, plan…
If you’re not a gardener, yet, you can probably still find a reason to dig around in the dirt and locate something to put in it. Look around the yard for some of the old stand-bys like monkey grass and hostas, which you can divide and plant in the ground or containers, or English Ivy, which you can cut and root in a glass of water to create new plants for containers or hanging baskets. Did you know you can grow some beautiful container plants from vegetables you may have at home, including celery and avocados?
Planting something and watching it grow is good for the soul.
The Great Outdoors—Now and Later
In the weeks ahead, I hope you’ll keep these simple thoughts in mind and be inspired to spend quality time outdoors in whatever kind of space you have. Sunshine, baby birds, stirring breezes and living, growing things all offer hope, joy and faith that there is an order to things. And that can sure be comforting.
So go ahead and dream about the outdoor space you’d love to have, visualize the perennial garden with the fountain and koi pond, and fantasize about the stone patio and outdoor kitchen. When it’s time, you know where to find me. But for now, let’s focus on appreciating what we have and the people we’re close to, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
I’d love to hear from you. Are you embracing your outdoor space? Any thoughts to share about nature and being outdoors as we’re staying at home more?