The Great Joy Of Gardening

You learn a lot about yourself when you garden, how to be patient mostly.

My family and I moved to Northeast New Jersey from Brooklyn 5 years ago. We bought a little cabin butted up against 30 acres of watershed woodland nearby a little lake. It was on a property that was a bit bigger than the others on the street. There wasn’t much growing there, except for a couple of evergreens, Boxwood and Alberta Spruces. The real estate agent commented that she couldn’t wait to see what I did with the yard. She was trying to get me excited, but I was intimidated. There was more space to garden with than I have ever had.

Since we moved in August, I decided to wait to see what was going to come up in the spring before I did any planting. There was a lot of mulch, and everywhere I dug down I was stopped by a layer of landscape fabric, which is sold as a solution to weeds, but is very temporary. Weed seeds germinate on the surface of the soil, and the fabric can’t do anything about that. It ends up just being a layer of garbage that you have need to remove every time you plant, but I digress. The previous owners weren’t gardeners, and they hired a typical mow and blow company to regularly clean up the yard. 

Not much came up the next spring. A couple of the old-fashioned Bleeding Hearts, Dicentra spectabilis, which were impressive, as big as a medium sized shrub, but that was all. Clean slate.  I guess I’m the type of gardener that finds it easier to transform and renovate what is already there. Starting from scratch doesn’t come as easy for me. I once had a client that needed the entire foundation of her house planted. She would find me sitting in her front yard with my notebook, sketching and thinking. Eventually the ideas come, but not as readily as when the garden project needs change, not building.

You learn a lot about yourself when you garden, how to be patient mostly. It takes some time to get to know the soil and light conditions, and mistakes will be made. I love ferns, and since we had so many trees surrounding us, I wanted to have Ostrich Ferns, Matteucia struthiopteris, at the woodland edge. They get to be about three feet tall, vase-shaped in form. Their color is a beautiful glowing green, great in the back of a shade garden. They are very good at naturalizing, and I thought it was the perfect spot for them. I planted several that I rescued from a client’s property. However, since they were just out of reach of the hose, I barely watered them, and generally paid very little attention to them altogether. It was way too dry for them. They are very resilient, but they really don’t tolerate dry conditions. They still come up in the spring, but always get toasty by mid-summer. Lesson learned. Right plant, right place. That was the mantra from my time spent as an intern at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Give each plant want it wants, and it will thrive. 

There are many benefits that come from gardening, especially with native plants. Wild spaces are so few and far between, that we must give a bit of our home garden spaces back to wildlife. Attracting pollinators with native flowering perennials and leaving space for habitat is essential to biodiversity. The trend is more about gardening with an ecological perspective, by supporting wildlife with native plants and managing the garden with ecological horticulture. Wildlife and native plants have evolved together through the years and depend on them to serve as host plants and habitat. 

There is so much to learn about plants and their growing conditions that it can be overwhelming. Even someone with a knack for design may be disappointed to not get the look they want from their planting. The great joy of gardening is that it is never finished. It is an evolving work, always changing, never static. When the image you have in your mind of what you want to happen in the garden doesn’t match what is occurring, it can be painfully disappointing, and you can lose confidence easily. But there will also be success. This usually comes with experience and constant observation. Although, success doesn’t teach the gardener quite as much. I was once at a horticulture conference and the speaker asked the group to write down what we liked most about plants. I wrote “resilience.” Some plants are so amazingly resilient, growing and thriving in unbelievably difficult environments—against all odds. The best gardeners are like this, too. Keep learning and growing!

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TINA YI is a Garden Designer and Horticulturist based in New Jersey. Her company, Blue Cabin Gardens can be found here:


TINA YI is a Garden Designer and Horticulturist based in New Jersey. Her company, Blue Cabin Gardens can be found here:

1 thought on “The Great Joy Of Gardening”

  1. I just came across your page. I love this essay! Totally me!
    And the best thing about gardening is there ‘s always next season, next year.
    Forever optimistic!

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