The idea of having a front-yard garden hit me around the time I realized that periwinkle would not likely work any better than ivy. Periwinkle had been my safety choice. When that fell through, desperation set in, and the idea of having a garden slowly took hold, despite the lack of any rational reason for believing flowers would grow when nothing else had. I lay the blame at the feet of the Evelyn Hadden and Liz Primeau, authors of two beautiful and fantasy-inducing books.
Beautiful No-Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives, by Hadden, started the ball rolling. Her book appealed to me because it promised something pretty that did not need to be mowed. Lush flowing yards with textures and colors were in every picture—I believed! After reading that book, there was no going back. Seven types of gardens were paraded before my eyes, and so the idea of a garden became a mild fixation and began to seem entirely reasonable. At times like these, ignorance truly is bliss.
Going from idea to execution always requires a few critical steps, and where gardens are concerned, that means deciding what to plant. That is where Front Yard Gardens: Growing More Than Grass, by Primeau entered the picture. It had all the pictures and very encouraging stories needed to fill my head with daydreams of lush vistas, cascading flowers, perfumed air, and butterflies in my very own cottage garden. It was the perfect self-help book for people with yard shame.
Cottage gardens were ideal for my situation because they were the least structured type. Plants grow and creep, and find their place among their neighbors. Cottage gardens, as I’ve discovered, may seem unruly from a distance or even close up. But the fact is they require as much work as any other kind. The apparent unruliness is a facade because a lot of work goes into maintaining that lush, slightly bohemian, somewhat out-of-control look. However, in March 2014, that cottage garden dream still seemed as far away as ever until I found the best gardening how-to book ever—The Southern Living Garden Book.
SLGB proved to be precisely what I needed. Unlike many books, it explains everything as if a child were reading it. Even better, it is an encyclopedia of information. No idea what loam is? No problem. Never took Latin? Covered. Varietals, cultivars? Got it. Garden-speak—full sun, part sun, and part shade, full shade— and everything else on plant labels began to make perfectly good sense. It lists what seems to be every plant variety and cultivar one could encounter—it’s almost too much information! With SLGB in one hand and a shovel in the other, I jumped in. Five years and many plants later, it remains my go-to resource.
If the gardening bug strikes you, buy SLGB first. It will help you choose plants, decide where to put them, tell what those fuzzy bugs are that are eating your coneflowers, and why your gardenia looks sick. The right tools are critical, so you’ll need at least two types of shovels, a pick, two kinds of rakes, a hoe, gloves, knee pads, band-aids, a tetanus shot, mosquito repellant, anti-bacterial ointment, and a pain killer. Oh, and by the way, stop by a liquor store on the way home. You’ll thank me later.