And Then The Ugly Happened

You haven’t read much about gardening on this site for almost three months. That’s because I haven’t been doing any of it. My garden is really ugly right now. It is inadvisable to leave your garden completely unattended for almost three months because if you do then the Ugly happens.

I have done almost nothing in my garden since mid-September. No clean up, no maintenance, no last fall planting of greens. My garden shows it. Everywhere what was green is now black, sloughing off in thin layers of slimy mildew.

The stuff I say you should always do in fall, like covering up your beds with something (anything, really!) to stop winter rain compaction, removing anything with blight or fungal-looking ickiness to help prevent disease the following year and installing season extension cloches to help prolong the harvest – I haven’t done any of those things.

I’ve had a pretty good excuse, I think: for about 10 weeks after my eye surgery I didn’t leave the house except to have someone else drive me to doctor’s follow-up appointments. I stayed in bed a lot reading with one eye, did a pretty half-ass job of parenting and wrote a lot of blog posts about financial values and saving money (because that was one thing that I felt like I could control). I had a few friends and family members visit and help out, gained a surprising amount of weight, had periodic mental break-downs and generally kept my circle of responsibility as small as possible.

The only thing I did in the garden was plant garlic back in October – and I did that with an eye patch and a splitting headache from the motion sickness that came with being outside, but I knew how I’d feel next summer if I was buying garlic seed, so I sucked it up.

It turns out that, unlike me, the garden did not take a few months off. A few things I wanted to grow did – like my favorite winter kholrabi and those rows of garlic – but, without that little daily care from the gardener, everything I didn’t want to grow leapt.

Weeds? Hell yeah I got weeds. Buttercup, horsetail, bindweed, dock and thistle – are all having a hoe-down in my back beds right now along with a whole lot of chickweed. The thistle appears to be winning but I know better than to count bindweed out. The only thing I’m sure is losing is the chard.

The artichokes were flowering all blue and puffy a few months ago, but now look like Satan’s wedding bouquet. The Joe Pye Weed looks like an anorexic chain smoker. Sunflowers apparently went three rounds with the squirrels and the wind and lost every one. There is standing water everywhere – my garden is a bog interspersed with islands of wood chips that I never got around to raking smooth over the paths.


The last of the fruit and leaves off our apples and asian pears sloughed off the tree when I wasn’t looking and there they sit, food for worms and slugs and all manner of fungal spores that must adore me right now.

In some respects I’ve gotten lucky this winter. So far it’s been very mild in my neck of the woods. Even without cloching or Reemay, the arugula is still plunking along. We’ve frosted, and the heat lovers are dead, but the temperatures haven’t dipped low enough to threaten even the moderately-hardy greens and brassicas. But of course this also means the weeds are still happily growing too, totally undaunted by chill. 

My eyes are better now. Over the past few weeks the swelling has gone down enough that my eyes can “lock-on” to a parallel position. This means that I can see again, I can drive again, and I have started to feel like myself again. My binocular perception isn’t perfect – it takes awhile in the morning for my eyes to warm up enough that they can bring two flat images together into one three-dimensional one, but it’s good enough that I won’t need a second surgery.

So, all better right? Time to get to it!, right? It feels like there is so much to do, so much garden life to catch-up on. I know I should get out and start pulling weeds and cutting things back. I know I need to put away the remnants of late-summer projects that have just sat untended for months now.

And maybe if this were one of those inspirational blog posts, I’d clean it all up and then show you a series of before and after photos. You know, go for the Amazing Makeover angle. “Wow, doesn’t that look better now?!” I’d ask. And I’d tell you how relieved I feel now that the garden is back to rights. There’d be a blushing cheek apology and some kind of public commitment, like: “Oooh boy, I’ll never let the weeds get that out of control again!”

But you know what? I don’t wanna. Don’t want to throw myself into a project and sure as hell don’t want to be perky about it. I’m still tired. It’s felt like a long, rough stretch, these past several months. I look out over the vista of effort my garden currently represents and I just want to turn my back on the whole mess. I much prefer the idea of going inside for another cup of coffee and another hour or two of sitting on my ass than rousing my usual energy to go weed.

Don’t get me wrong. If I stare at it too long, my garden in its Ugly state drives the perfectionist in me nuts. I’ve had a special hatred for horsetail since I carved the original garden area out of a field of it eight years ago. Bindweed? Buttercup? I hate those bastards too. I’m not real Zen about weeds. But I have learned, through many seasons of gardening and many weeks when the weeds moved faster than I did, that the Ugly rarely permanently damages anything.

So I remind myself that, if I get to it in a week, or in three months, it’ll really be ok. Ugly happens. Mildew and mold and death and decay happen. These things happen because life happened first and I didn’t rush in to intervene to truncate the cycle through “clean-up.” Weeds happen because the full flush of life is so powerful that it will spring up given the smallest opportunity. It will rush to convert even waterlogged soil and meager Seattle winter sun into new leaves and new roots. The fact that these leaves do nothing for me, that they are thistle or dock or horsetail, does not change the small miracle of their growth.

You might even say that the Ugly is doing what I couldn’t and protecting the soil in my beds from the barrage of Winter. Other residents of the garden seem quite happy with the Ugly, too. All those mildewing perennials? The birds swarm them – little peep peep birds dance around that Joe Pye Weed, picking at the loose seeds with what seems to be avian glee.

The sculpting of a garden is a lot closer to working in clay than in marble. If it all goes to hell for a while, you can just bring your fist down, smash your ball of clay against the table and start over. Remake. Renew. A garden is just dirt – a good portion of mine is, literally, clay – and as long as you don’t poison it, you can always start-over or change mid-way and sculpt a new start with a rake.

One day soon I’ll be out there, pulling stuff up or cutting stuff down, raking beds smooth, remulching and reseeding. When I finally do life will still be eager to spring up and turn soil and sun into leaves and fruit and seed for me once more. But for now, it can wait. It’s ok. Ugly, but okay. Ugly, and alive.

Has your garden ever turned Ugly on you?


  1. dr. Dave says

    I’m so glad to hear your eyesight is finally improving. I got so sick earlier this year that I couldn’t garden either. Once I improved, I discovered my p-patch didn’t need me as much as I needed it. My grafted eggplants and tomatoes somehow survived almost two months of no care – no pruning, no water, no kidding. Glad you’re in the Winter recharge mode. Take Care.

  2. Amy says

    “Has your garden ever turned Ugly on you?” – Nope. Baaahahahahahaha, sorry, couldn’t say it with a straight face. Every year. I have excuses – “it’s big and I don’t live in town, I’m providing habitat for birds, I don’t want to compact the ground by walking around on it…” The reality though, is that I have two neighbors with lovely gardens and the exact same growing conditions, so it’s just me. It’s ok though, I haul used bedding out there from the barn through the winter and the chickens fluff it, and by spring, it looks reasonably tame again. There’s a guy down the road that keeps his garden plot completely sterile all winter, no mulch, no weeds, I have no idea how he gets stuff to grow by summer. See? It could be so much worse.

    • says

      This inspires me – the bedding was key. I’m going to go harvest whatever I can, protect the brussels sprouts, and lock the chickens in there to eat whatever they can. It won’t make it worse. I sometimes forget I have little winged weeders who WANT to spread stuff around.

  3. says

    Satan’s wedding bouquet?!? Best description EVER. I’m a newish reader here, and I had no idea about your eye surgery. So sorry you had to go through that–but glad to hear your finally on the mend. The fact that you’re even thinking a bit about the uglies is just a measure of a truly crazy gardener. I remember being on bed rest, pregnant with our youngest, two other kiddos who needed attention…and I constantly worried about the garden. Hubby was great, but the fact that I couldn’t get my hands in the dirt almost killed me. You know what? It was all fine. Weeds will wait patiently. (But thank god you got the garlic planted, because yuck–who wants to buy grocery store garlic?! ;-) )

    Our gardens are looking rough, and I have no excuse. The veggie beds actually looked pretty good–until the chickens decided to feast on my heirloom lettuce…grrr…

    Hang in there (are you picturing the kitten hanging from a branch poster now?) Seriously, hope you feel much better quickly. Soon enough, no one will encourage you to laze around and watch Downton Abby, no one will bring meals and you’ll have to cook…so take advantage while you can. The weeds will still be there.

    Take care ~


      • says

        I used to hate typos too. Well, ok, I still do – I wrote to a friend about “banana’s” (plural, not possessive) twice the other day! When I saw that apostro-disaster it was like, “Oh, the shame! The shame!” But I’ve had to get more relaxed about my personal typos since I started writing this blog – with hundreds of thousands of words that get put publicly on display and mostly written around midnight, I have learned that they just happen, even when I re-read posts 10 times. It’s been a good learning experience in that I’m way less judgmental about that kind of thing than I used to be, and less upset when people point my own typos out now.

        • Sanj says

          And isn’t your lovely view on the state of the garden an extension of that same lesson?

          Ahhhhh, to relax into the beauty of (temporarily) not controlling that which we are well-versed in controlling to perfection!

  4. polly says

    this is now one of my favourite posts of yours… you are so CUTE, even when ill and guilty. :)

    I wish you more (quality) rest, baby-ing of yourself, and perhaps even reveling a little in your naughtiness.

  5. Mary Carman says

    I wish I was nearby and could help. I miss being in the garden this time of year in PA. Don’t let it stress you. All works out in the end…

  6. says

    Yeah. Mine’s a hot damn mess. Because I am a big fat lazy loser. Meh. One day soon I’ll put on my big girl boots and muck it out. Maybe.

    First I’ll have to put something in the crock pot and make sure the bar is stocked. No need to be hasty.

  7. Matt Jarvis says

    Ugliness… I never thought of it that way… I just called it the Course of Nature…. God forbid I should admit to being a fat lazy ass…. ;)

    Actually my garden area isn’t all that bad, mostly because it’s pretty small, manageable and I took care of most of the cleanup during downtime while brewing and made some effort then… hey I was outside anyways…

    Question for you and your readers: I kinda went nuts w/ containers this summer and now they sit full of soil… I am tempted to gather them all up and cover with a tarp vs dumping them all into a pile just to refill next spring… Suggestions?

    Matt J
    Eugene, Oregon

    • says

      If they are large containers, yeah, I think you could get away with that but they will benefit from some compost and balanced fertilizer and “fluffing up” of the soil. Definitely cover up and protect from winter rains. Small containers aren’t worth it to refresh for me – I just toss the extra soil in the compost or directly on a bed that’s gotten a little low.

  8. Robin S says

    Your post cheered me up so much. Thanks for being so honest–I’m going off all the Martha Stewartesque blogs that make me feel like a total loser. My garden looks like yours and like other commenters, I have no excuse either. Take good care of yourself and keep up the great blogging. :-)
    Robin S
    Eugene Oregon

    • says

      A few of my fellow blogger friends call those the “shiny blogs.” They are like fitness or fashion or crafting magazines….absolutely nothing wrong with great ideas and inspiration and beautiful images – but important to remember that they are staged. Your life/garden/etc. would look like that from the right angle and with the right lighting and the right prep-work and the right photo post-processing too. I know because I do some of that for some posts and there will be a gorgeous plate of food on a clean counter I’m focused on taking pictures of and 4 feet away, just out of frame, my buck naked son is aggressively rubbing a quarter-pound of cinnamon from the spice drawer deep into the carpet. True story.

      • Jennifer says

        Oh, THANKS for that image Erica! I’m sitting in the Regent atrium right now LMAO and *people are giving me funny looks*…
        There is kind of a fine line sometimes between comedy and tragedy, no?
        I love your honesty. Life happens…with the stuff you’ve had tossed at you this last 6 months, I think you’ve been handling it really well!

  9. Laurel says

    I thought I was the only freak who cussed out weeds. Oxalis aka a*sh*le plant are silently mocking me right now as they spread and take over every square inch of soil I prepared last spring; popping up impervious to mulch and more desperate measures that ultimately prove ineffective. Die oxalis, die!

    • says

      Oh yeah, you don’t even have to truncate your swearing here if you don’t want. At least oxalis are cute on St. Patrick’s Day? Maybe? I love it when you have an irrational (or maybe totally rational…) hatred of a specific weed and people try to convince you how great and medicinal it really is. I get this with horsetail a lot because it does have a long medicinal use tradition. But whenever people start talking about their great horsetail infusions or whatever I just think: “Fine, then YOU come pick them. Take ALL YOU WANT. Really.” One guy (a very serious weed whisperer, apparently) tried to tell me my horsetail was a sign that my soil was too dry. I almost choked laughing, since it grows in the deep muck that never dries out, even in summer, and then invades the raised beds from there as soon as I turn my back.

      • JP says has several recommendations on controlling equisetum (horsetail)… I like the vinegar treatment, myself… 2,4D scares me. The most environmentally correct solution is to improve the soil so other plants out-compete it. Pulling it out just fragments the root system and, like the Hydra, it doubles itself where damaged. I like snipping them off and laying them around the bamboo stands; the silica in the equisetum becomes available to the bamboo as it decomposes.

  10. says

    I, like everyone else, have no excuse and every excuse…fairs took up the end of the summer, then homeschooling and regular school started. My chickens and goats found every single hole that has ever existed in my garden fence, and scratched up all my garlic and at all the beets, chard, kale and cauliflower. Arrgghh. And my plastic for my low tunnel only lasted a year and hangs in shreds over my brassicas that are supposed to be awesome for fall/winter. I understand, and I didn’t even have eye surgery. Thanks for being honest. It makes us all feel a bit better that we’re not alone. The good thing about gardening is that you can always start over.

    • says

      They say that with “proper treatment” that plastic or the Reemay type cloth can last for many seasons, but I get 2 (maybe 3? once?) years of use TOPS. The one bed with the Reemay over it looks like a mummy. Seriously, hanging tattered cloth pieces everywhere. And I only put the reemay there to protect my kale from the chickens, but it didn’t work and they ate most of it anyway. :(

  11. says

    I’m not sure where you live, but right now we have a foot of snow on the garden and it’s -17C. Things go from summer to frozen in very short order. I wish we could cloche and extend the life of things around here, but it just doesn’t happen. But you’re totally right, if everything doesn’t get done in the fall, well you start over again in the spring. Eyes are much more important than weeding.

  12. says

    I LOVE this post, Erica! When my life went to complete shit this year, I kept beating myself up with “well, erica had eye surgery and can’t see and is still blogging and doing totally awesome things so you, Heidi, must be a total loser that you can’t keep it together….” I adore your humanness and I adore your writing. AND I am so glad that you are on the mend. I say fuck the garden this winter, read some seed catalog porn, and plan a kick ass spring garden. at least leave it until after the holidays :)

    • says

      Um…yeah, you can release that guilt right now. Don’t make me show you the kitchen cabinet I wrecked by throwing a fork into it from across the room in a fit of emotional breakdown. “Keeping it together” is a flexible phrase. Sometimes it means, “Wow, I sure am doing and achieving a lot with this blessed, fulfilling life I lead!” and sometimes it means, “Today I didn’t drive my car into a pole.”

  13. queenofstring says

    When mine gets really bad, I try to just do five minutes. Either, I get a chunk done in 5 minutes, or, once I’m out there, I get into it and do more than 5. I keep thinking that a weed pulled now, is probably 10 less next year. Lovely husband has been spreading the free horse poop we scored everywhere too, so that helps cover a multitude of sins.

    I also have a great example of life finding a way. Prior to mother in law visitation from England, we had a big pile of stuff for compost, in a big slimy pile 200yds from the compost pile. The solution was to cover a weedy spot with the pile and 6 inches of wood chips to make a melon bed for next year. How does it look now 4months later? Well, some of those pea plants in the pile were determined and it is now covered in tiny pea plants. I have left them, they’ll die over the winter and they’re fixing nitrogen whilst they’re sat there :-)

    • says

      That sounds so lovely. I love using half-finished compost to create new beds, and I can just picture the little pea sprouts. Oooh, you can pick those and stir-fry them, too. Pea shoots are really tasty and a very “normal” vegetable in Asian cuisine.

  14. UgaVic says

    I am a firm believer of ‘it will wait’ when it comes to some of life’s lack of ‘wellness’ moments.

    Our garden and hoop houses got just a tiny amount clean-up before the fall freezes started. Leaving us with a less wet, but more frozen landscape similar to your’s!

    My attentions are now focused on what I will do for next year and how to get things off to a good start.

    Sometime when you feel like it I would LOVE for some advice on how you got rid of your horsetail. It is THE weed of my garden and it seems to be almost impossible to get rid of.

    Take care, heal, spend time with the kids, enjoy the holidays and the rest ‘will wait’ :-)

    • says

      It’s so funny when the Ugly freezes and you get that static mess look. If it’s going to get that cold, I vote for snow – everything looks gorgeous under snow! :) The only thing that made a dent in the horsetail was smothering. There is no chemical in the world that will really kill it dead that will not also permanently ruin your soil for gardening. There is no “cultivation” technique you can use because breaking up the roots just makes things worse. We put down landscape cloth and about 12″ of compost mulch over the worst areas and it took about 5 years but that area is mostly clear. Whenever a horsetail poked through we yanked it, just trying to stop any ability of the horsetail to get solar energy. The real problem is that you cannot JUST use mulch – horsetail will grow through 4 feet of it, no problem. You have to also lay down a blocking barrier like heavy black plastic or landscape fabric over the horsetail and under the heavy mulch. Both options are gross for different reasons but you cannot smother horsetail with something like cardboard. The horsetail will last longer than the cardboard and just poke up through it in 3 or 4 months. Good luck, it’s a contant vigilance situation. Even now they come up, but nothing like when we first started the garden.

  15. Marie says

    I spent the past year creating “french kitchen gardens” for a friend. Flowers, vegies, fruits, etc. It was lovely – and fairly productive. Immediately after harvesting everything I could, it froze. And then the monsoons began. And then life got very complicated when I was needed in about 4 places at once. Last time I dropped in to see “my” gardens – they were exactly as you described! (except the towering sunflowers have black slimy leaves) I had plans! I had ideas! I knew how I was going to winter over those gardens and how perfectly ready they would be next spring for all my new seedlings! Even worse – the next door neighbor has developed a picture-perfect garden over the past two years (yes, I have garden-envy!) I looked up, expecting to see perfect rows of freshly turned and mulched soil. Instead – I was shocked to see they had brought in two PIGS who were doing all the work! Did they take the “easy” way out? Are the pigs doing all the prep work for them – and in spring they butcher the pigs and then simply replant their gardens? I am too new at this – and have no idea – but I considered inviting those pigs to come visit OUR gardens! As a vegetarian – pigs are especially disgusting to my sensibilities. HA! But – is it a decent option?

  16. veronica says

    Rest, take care of yourself, if you want to sit down with a cup of coffee then go ahead! This is you taking care of you…. Don’t you ever just let the soil take a little breather after a long season of hard work? Be your own gardener!
    Has my garden ever turned ugly on me? Yeah… this summer it did after my partner passed away the first week of July… the only edible things that survived did so because they refused to die (now I know what I am going to be growing next summer too!) It took me until late September to get out there again and it was mostly for very short periods of time spent weeding tiny sections here and there. Still have some areas that need TLC but it is coming along. No pressure.
    For now, let’s enjoy some coffee, read some seed catalogs and dream of spring, it will soon be here :)

  17. Carey says

    Thanks for keeping it real! We’ve got weeds interspersed with the garlic (first time planting this year, yay!), I built a hoop house w/ plastic but haven’t looked inside of it in weeks, my cilantro re-seeded itself like WHOA and now I’m worried the baby plants will die in the winter, the strawberry patch is full-on impenetrable, and the dahlias and the sunflowers are black soggy messes. Also, apparently dandelions are a year-round scourge. Awesome.

    Baby steps. Maybe just pick one small area to clear out at a time, so you can see progress but not get overwhelmed. It’s gonna be a long, rainy winter here in Sea-town. You’ve got plenty of time.

  18. Morgan says

    This was my first year gardening with a baby in tow and I learned to have many (most?) of my projects half done. I learned a buddist saying of “what is done is finished” and I found this the most comforting when in reality I felt like nothing was done. If I had to put away 20 of my soaker hoses but only got 10 done, well, 10 of those are finished so I need to consider that a success.

    My garden is ugly too. I even have a huge pile of woodchips that were supposed to be spread throughout all the paths that is sitting covered in leaves from the giant persimmon tree that I have raked up yet. For me, the PNW is the hardest to garden in during this time of year because there is no clear end to the season. We were eating green beans in November so I couldn’t exactly pull them out but I was SO ready to be done with them at the same time. I think winter is “here” even though it is still pretty warm.

    On another note, I have been having a HUGE cutworm problem in my raised beds. They have devowered two raised beds worth of cover crop. What I can’t figure out is that from what I have read they say they hatch in the spring so it seems like they are out of sink with the season. I hand picked one 4×8 raised bed and came up with 4 cups of them…gross. I am just hoping we get some big freeze and it wipes them out. I can’t keep up with the hand picking.

  19. says

    Dear Erica,

    Thank you, thank you, for being honest and real. And what a relief that your eyes are going to be alright. That was scary. Your system took a big beating. Take your time and get well. I had a similar season, except at a different stage of life I don’t have to worry about the children. Your own health and your family is priority One ! You’ll be surprised by how fast garden cleanup can go on a nice spring day, or in your blessed part of the woods on a sunny day in January.

  20. says

    I really appreciated this post. I’ve looked at my very neglected garden with a little bit of shame, like I’m not good enough to be a “real” gardener if I don’t get out there prior to Christmas. I am so quick to give others grace before I give it to myself. I have weeds everywhere, dead green beans on the bamboo teepee, and black peony stalks shouting their ugly at me while I eat breakfast.

    My husband helped me out by raking all the leaves on top of my strawberry & blueberry beds. He covered them completely with inches of leaves. Whoops. Grace for him, too, I suppose.

  21. says

    Erica, you are so funny! Not only was your post fun to read, so were everyone’s comments! I do have to weigh in and say that we, ahem, have the farthest thing from Ugly in our garden right now. It’s beautiful. Every bed is mulched with manure-laden bedding from the sheep and goat barn, the garlic is planted, and the raspberries are trimmed to the perfect, uniform height. The hoses have been wound up and hung in the shed, and there is not a wooden-handled tool to be seen. “How did you do this, and why the hell are you bragging about it on my blog?!?!’, you ask. We, with a farm, two kids under age 4, and a work life that takes us away from our farm for weeks and occasionally months at a time, still managed to pull this off. How? Well, I’ll tell you: we turned the task over to those wonderful people called WWOOFers: Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms-ers. There is NO WAY we could do what we do without them. Like another commenter, I have been amazed and even blown away at times by your ability to hold it all together, to garden, preserve, mother, and blog, all at the same time, while all I can seem to do most of the time is mother, and bark orders at our WWOOFers. Well, OK, I do occasionally lift a baby-drool-covered finger to help, but by the end of the season the most energetic thing I was doing in the garden was drawing a picture of where we actually planted everything (as different from: where our 2012 NWEL Garden Journal (awesome, BTW) garden map said we were going to plant everything …) . The point here is, we could never farm without help. We are so dependent on our farm helpers that things can quickly go to hell in a handbasket if we go even a couple of weeks without at least one around. Even so, we are often just one step away from chaos, and occasionally fully IN the chaos up to our tired, red eyeballs. The best thing about WWOOFers is that they are usually so eager to learn, it really forces us to get our shit together to be at least a little organized for them. They really motivate us when we are feeling tired or defeated (which I am learning happens fairly often on farms). So, I am not normally one to give advice, but what do you think about asking for a little help right about now? Is there an urban garden equivalent to a good old fashioned barn raising? A weed-and-feed, perhaps? You do the feeding (I’m thinking several take-out pizzas and that vodka you mentioned), and your BFF’s do the weeding (and mulching). After all, you had eye surgery. You have an excellent excuse for asking for help. Hell, we ask for help all the time, and we are perfectly healthy. Or maybe there is an urban WWOOF-ing type program in the US that you can tap into. Even though I live in a remote community in Canada, I come from the overachieving-Puritan-work-ethic-driven Northeast US, so I have had to LEARN to ask for help. It’s not easy for an independent woman like me to do that, especially since I can’t remember the last time I truly helped someone else (I am sure it was before our 3-year-old was born). SO, if asking for help generally isn’t your thing, maybe now is a great time to try it! Regardless, I know your garden will be ship-shape soon enough. We have brought ours back from Purgatory a few times ourselves, for example when that WWOOFer who we thought was going to do such a great job while we went away to work for 2 months, turned out to be a total lazy-ass, and it’s always OK. Give yourself some credit for everything you are trying to manage all at once. After all, the only thing that I know of that is more beautifully heartbreaking and relentless than farming, is parenting.

  22. says

    I’m so glad to hear you’re doing better! I was wondering how you were managing all that blogging with a bad eye. Now I know. Rest up as long as you need to. There’s always next year.

  23. Myra Zocher says

    Mine is the same – including the spent artichokes and obnoxious horsetail, and I even have a wheelbarrow full of water and rotten logs ( a future hugulculture project) my problem – no compost pile! Living in a ticky tacky home, I don’t want to alarm my neighbors with something ” rotting”. Sigh. Plus I want the “perfect” compost set up’ but I still don’t know what that would be. I am waiting for inspiration. So happy to hear that your eye is improving!!!

  24. Alexandra says

    Thanks for the honesty and for keeping it real. Glad to hear your eyesight is recovering. I appreciated this gardening post as much or more than any of your other gardening posts. Your garden is just getting to ‘enjoy old age’ for the moment. Meh indeed. Enjoy that cuppa and be gentle with yourself.

  25. says

    I refer to this approach as “composting in place” and it actually works, to a certain extent. My soil is looser and more friable than it was before, back when I was anal about it for other people’s benefit. Plus, “composting in place” sounds important, don’t you think? Much better than “it is cold and wet and I am too lazy to both weed and run, so running it is.”

    Glad your eyes are better. Your descriptions of the problem (like two images resolving into one) are fascinating, but I wish you did not have that problem. Or any other replacement problems, for that matter.

    Take care.

  26. Theresa W says

    Nature happens. Same thing here and you had a MUCH better reason (i.e. NOT excuse).Just tucked everything away a couple of weeks ago and most of it was done with a hoe and metal rake, pulling up all the sneaky weeds. How fast nature takes back over.

  27. Kay Bradley says

    What do you mean you’re not inspirational?

    I read the column recently about the bed (Hougel Kulture? sp??) that required almost no watering – so guess what I’ve been doing instead of fall-prepping my existing garden?

    The part I identified with was the ability to leave for a week’s vacation in the summer without the well-meaning relative (my Mother who grew up on a farm & you would think could identify a dead plant, but I digress) killing/watering the plants/garden. So I scrounged for wood, even pulled out a smaller (5.75″ diameter) root-rotted tree for the base. It’s looking pretty darn good.

    But the rest of the dead/rotted tomatoes on the ground? … the cherry and apple trees who desperately need ground cover to prevent spore damage? … yeah, what about those? You’ve “inspired” me to not beat myself up over not going out into the clay mud pits and routine 25-45 mph winds of the Columbia River gorge.

    It’s supposed to be a mild winter in the NW this year, heck, the Jan/Feb bulbs (planted years ago, and normally right on schedule) are already sprouting. So it would seem nature has her own ideas about when to get stuff done too. Guess that puts us in some pretty good company :-)

  28. Tiff says

    Thank you for this post, It made me feel less like a failure, less alone. I was out staring at the ugly that was my pride with horror. ” How could I have let it get this way”? ” time to get to work” then it all comes screeching to a moldy halt. ” Oh that’s right, I can’t use my arm and hand” I’m recovering from 2 major surgeries to my right arm. So seeing that the weeds,slime,mulch mounds and decay aren’t only my little hell I get to be in alone helps.

  29. says

    I’ve started to see weeds as either 1) a free cover crop or 2) free green (or brown) matter for my compost. Otherwise I would go insane trying to remove them all! We even planted our broad-acre forage sorghum straight into the fresh green nut grass this year, saves buying seed for a cover crop!

  30. says

    Thank you. I’m a newer reader with a seven-month-old baby and a garden life that’s been on hold for over a year, partly because we had to move eleven times ( long story). I’ve been feeling a bit low about not getting everything done that I want to, and you’ve gone and reminded me of the importance of lying fallow. Even the Earth rests; why not gardeners and moms?

    Keep up the good blog ( with pauses for repose)!

  31. says

    Perhaps, just like your garden, you are hunkering down in the shadows of winter and merely being dormant? Why is it only okay in the cycle of nature to hunker into caves and wait for Spring?
    I think our periods of sitting on our ass and waiting things out is a natural process…especially in the dark rainy days of the Pacific Northwest.
    You are healing. Sleeping and waiting and hanging out is part of a healthy life. Sounds like you’re practising the art of human being rather than human doing.
    This, is a learned art and a very good thing.

  32. Teresa says

    We don’t have eye surgery as an excuse and our garden is a disgrace. My husband keeps saying he’s going to hit the perennial bed with the weed-whacker and just let it grow back next year–it’s that out of control–but neither of us have gotten to that cheaters’ solution either.

    Rest up and finish healing!

  33. Kat says

    Based on your description of the proximity of a certain restaurant to your place, and the same proximity to my brother-in-law’s place to what I assume is the same restaurant, I’m going to go out on a limb and say I might be within a 15 mile radius of you this weekend. I’ve loved your blog since I found it, and have received so much good from it, that I’d love to offer you an hour or two of my time on Saturday or Sunday morning? I can weed, I can chicken wrangle, I can empty standing wheelbarrows of water…
    Anyway, let me know if you can use me!

    • Mary Carman says

      Kat, That is just what I wanted to do but it’s 9 hours from me. To far for this old lady to travel. I will wish you energy and fun for helping a wonderful person when she needs the help…

  34. brittney says

    My garden is ugly right now too Erica, but I just had a baby so I’m cutting myself some slack. I purposely wanted to give birth in November when the garden would be on autopilot. How’s that for garden planning nerdiness? I did get my garlic mulched with chicken compost today so I’m feeling happy about that. I’m SO glad to hear your eye is better. Keep healing.

  35. says

    Just wanted to second the instruction to Let Loose the Chickens! This is what we do–at the end of the season, they are the garden clean-up crew. I don’t weed much in the summer, just enough to keep the competition down and pick enough greens for the then-sequestered chickens. But once the fall hits and I’m tired of harvesting and done the processing and storing, the important stuff (winter kale, garlic, etc) gets covered with row cover or otherwise fenced off, and then the flock is let loose to do the rest. It’s amazing how they keep the grass and weeds down all winter. The only down side is that you can keep mulch on the beds, but at least you won’t have any slugs next year! Make your livestock work for you; that’s not lazy, that’s efficient! (or so I like to think :) )

  36. Sharon says

    I thought you’d snuck into my garden and taken photos. And I *love* seeing photos of other peoples’ winter bogs – makes me feel less helpless. Now, instead of cleaning up the garden beds, I’m sneaking over to the neighbor’s house with my latest yarn project so we can share tea and laughs.

  37. says

    I find that living in the PNW makes me a lazy gardener because everything just keeps on growing! It’s the Evergreen state for a reason, right? I look at the last desperate blooms, soggy berries (yes, some tiny raspberries still out there) and green perennials and the remaining carrots and think “I still have time to put the garden to bed”, completely denying the fact that it’s December. I never feel that sense of urgency that other climates encourage. And I’m totally ok with that :)

  38. JeanneS says

    Thank heavens it’s not just me. (But at least you had a good reason; I have none.) After picking the last of the green beans from my miserable failure of a vegetable garden last year, I ignored my garden entirely. The neighbor’s dog destroyed my trellis (it was free & pretty rickety anyway, so only a minor annoyance) and I just haven’t been able to face the very full compost bin or obnoxious non-degrading waxy leaves fallen from another neighbor’s tree all over my raised beds. I keep telling the (luckily very understanding!) HOA president that “it’s been too rainy or frosty to do anything yet but I will get it ship-shape soon!” Fingers crossed.

  39. krin says

    Key = Edible weeds!
    Chickweeds happen to be edible and quite nutritious, btw
    Lots of websites out there.. my peraonal favorite for my area is but many other good ones out there.

    But the more edible weeds you have the less it will matter when they take over ;)

    Standing water — think swales!


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