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Front Porch: Gardening new joy for late bloomer

I’ve discovered the delights of gardening. It’s only taken 60-odd years to be struck by sod, so to speak, but here I am.

I always attributed my indifference to yardy things to my relatively urban upbringing, plus the fact that my parents didn’t have any particular affinity for it. Oh sure, my dad made sure our small lawn got watered and mowed, but that was pretty much it – though we certainly enjoyed the mangos that dropped from our neighbor’s huge tree. I mean, if it falls on our lawn, it’s ours, right?

But when I moved to Spokane one of the first things I noticed was how just about every house in just about every neighborhood had at least a few posies planted by the front steps or some tidy trimmed shrubs of unknown (to me) variety or, at the barest of minimums, a container on the porch with colorful things planted in it. Hmm, something going on here.

But still, I was working. And then I had kids. And then I got involved in other things. We (well, probably just Bruce) kept the front lawn watered and mowed. We put out weed killer as needed and called it good. Then one year, just for laughs, I guess, I decided to put in a few flowers along the walkway by our front door. We have a lot of big pine trees on our lot and, at best, dappled sunlight peeking through the branches. I have forgotten what I planted that first year, but clearly it was something intended for full sun, as the blooms did poorly. Laissez-faire watering probably didn’t help either.

A couple of years later, I gave it a shot again. This time I read up on this flower business a little and figured either impatiens or geraniums. I went with the latter, and it was a success. I discovered over the next few years that in addition to more frequent watering, more frequent fertilization helped a lot.

Then I decided that the backyard, which we’d left au naturel, should probably have the 20 years’ (no really, it was truly that long) worth of pine-needle-cover thinned out a bit. So I took that on. I got the handy garden waste container from Waste Management and have made it my personal goal to cram it above the rim weekly. Poor Bruce gets to haul the behemoth to the curb every Thursday.

Now this is more of a mission and not so much a joy, especially since I decided not to stop at just thinning the pine carpet but to strip it to bare ground. And it is, of course, an endless task. Every year our trees dump buckets of needles, so I am constantly going over the same territory – over and over and over. I can now say proudly that at the end of this month, I have done (and redone) two-thirds of the back yard and am finally moving into the not-touched-in-two-decades area on the west side of property.

So while all that was happening, I took a look at the curb area to the east of our house. Lots of gnarly baby ponderosas and brush and gunk. So when our oldest son was home a few years ago, he cleared it all out for me. Problem is, our property slopes down from the curb (ours is a corner lot), leaving our not-so-great-looking backyard quite exposed to passers-by. Hmm, what to do? Oh, I know: barrier shrubs.

Bruce set up a kind of jury-rigged watering system at the curb (he humors me a lot), and we put in some mugo pines, yews, junipers, boxwoods and Oregon grape. I figured we were good to go. The boxwoods hung in there a few years and then began their decline. Someone from a local nursery as well as an arborist took a look. I even took cuttings to the WSU Master Gardeners. By process of elimination, it was determined that the plants were dying of thirst. Apparently jury-rigged isn’t quite as good as appropriately rigged. These plants are located in an awkward spot, as far as access to water goes, and since we’re not going to be putting big bucks into a snazzy sprinkler system, Bruce beefed up the current system. We planted replacement shrubs, and I’m supplementing with a fair bit of hand watering.

This spring I decided it might be nice to have some other flowers here and there in the front yard and on the deck and opted to plant them in containers so I could move sunny flowers where there is more sunlight and shade-lovers pretty much everywhere else. And if I do say so myself, I think they look quite nice.

Things are always evolving in the garden. New discoveries. New problems, including the fact that the deer seem to enjoy my flowers as much as I do, but for entirely different reasons. New garden project: Research deer-be-gone elixirs to spray on those posies.

But why do the garden thing at all? The answer is my recent realization – I’m really liking all this stuff. I’m enjoying fussing with the flowers, monitoring the shrubs, not minding the weeding all that much and finding it peaceful doing what a former colleague calls “dirt therapy.”

How did I get here? I have no idea, but here I am at long last.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at Previous columns are available at columnists/

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