a peek inside the fishbowl

02 Apr, 2013

Growing things part 2, the backyard

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Home/reno

Yesterday I posted a few photos of things that are sprouting around here at Casa Fishbowl. Today I’m thinking a bit beyond that. I’m thinking ahead to the garden.

It wasn’t until after I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
that I realized that I didn’t like gardening and that I had been fooling myself for the better part of this past decade. It was a huge AHA moment for me.

I wish I could find or remember how she put it, but if I’m recalling correctly, she was talking about how we often set ourselves up to like something just because we’re expected to like it. Gardening is one of those things that people (especially women) are expected to enjoy.

We bought our home in 1997, and for years afterwards I told myself I LOVED GARDENING. I told myself so often I started to believe it.

What do I enjoy most about gardening today, in 2013? Let’s review. I love:

  • Springtime at the garden centre: the excitement and bustle, new plants, good smells, planning things!
  • Sunshine
  • New dirt
  • Composting
  • The miracle of growth e.g. eating a tomato on a plant we tended and grew from a mere twig
  • Eating the things we grow, even if it’s something as simple as snipping chives for an omelette.
  • Fresh air.
  • Watering plants using water from the rain barrel.

Here’s what I don’t love about gardening:

  • the hunched over weedpulling backbreaking work
  • the knowledge that it’s really just another chore to add to our long list of chores, and it weighing heavily on me if I wasn’t doing it
  • watering plants with the hose
  • grass stains
  • putting all of the tools away at the end of a weeding/gardening maintenance session
  • dead plants, and knowing that I was the one responsible for their misery and eventual murder

Are you like me? Always super excited to garden in the May, but as the season goes on, finding yourself not caring one whit about the garden come August? That’s when the weeds take over, making it OBVIOUS that our passion has run dry. And soon afterwards the trees drop their leaves. And then the cycle begins again. Sigh.

So the question remained, what could I do to make me happy in the garden again? It took me awhile to figure it out but I think I’ve hit upon the answer: container gardening.

This is something I can handle.

Last fall I bought a few tall containers on sale at Home Depot and I’m planning on planting some pretty annuals in manageable arrangements. I’ll let you know how that goes, but there’s more to think about here. A whole backyard! It’s going to need some serious help because it’s been a disaster area back there since the reno.

This is what we’re working with (click to embiggen):

Backyard, April 2013

We are lucky we have such a large yard, and I think there’s lots of potential here. It’s very shady in the summer, which is very good when we want to stay cool, but it makes growing things quite a challenge.

I’ve decided to try and not let myself be too overwhelmed by it all. Instead, I’m looking at it as a chance to start again. Whatever we come up with needs to be very low-maintenance. I know that now.

The contractor owes us a truckload of topsoil and there’s still grading work to be done. Grass needs to be planted. And there’s also a half-finished flagstone patio back there that needs to be addressed as soon as the flagstone is ordered. (I’m not sure where to get it yet.)

When the grading is being done I think we’ll order some river stones and create a dry stream/rain garden where the sump pump drains out. Sort of like this but on a much smaller scale. We’ve discovered the birds love to drink and bathe in it (it’s clean water) and I like the idea of having a slow-draining water supply that collects rainwater.

I see natural stone or wood paths, and maybe a bench amid some potted herbs and other wild things? I see it as a place that’s bird, dog, and people-friendly… a place to enjoy a quiet coffee and the sounds of nature.

Thoughts? Ideas? Know anyone who can help a gal out?

4 Responses to "Growing things part 2, the backyard"

1 | Judy

April 2nd, 2013 at 2:46 pm


Think perennials. They help with low maintenance. Also, remember the best gardens take years to mature so give each plant some space.

Some perrennial vegetables a quite pretty too. We are looking forward to adding rhubarb to our yard this year, after putting raised vegetable beds in last year.

2 | Natasha

April 3rd, 2013 at 8:26 am


Perennials are the way to go. Hostas come in different colours, shapes and sizes making them ideal for shady gardens. Bleeding hearts, lilies, ferns, ornamental grasses, ground cover. The list goes on…. It takes 3 years before your garden comes to life so to speak, the plants need time to grow to their full size. Mulch is your friend to prevent the weeding.

3 | greenthumb binki

April 3rd, 2013 at 11:15 am


Nice back yard. Don’t worry about the garden landscape. Take your time. Start with the grass. Everywhere. Then slowly make beds – if you choose to. This year, next year….whatever. If you don’t want to weed and water, then don’t put in perennials. The photo is great but a drawing (to scale from above / layout of main features) would help get a better perspective. The area beside your sump dump is not clear. What is the distance from sump dump to fence? What are the random shrubs beside the sump dump? More small lilac? Forsythia? They need a trim. First spring project is bring I the dirt and plant grass. Then paint ugly wooden fence – red. Or lime. In one hour, you have an easy and quick wow/modern change. Your girls will love this project. I like your idea for the sump dump dry riverbed thing. This is the time of year to go for a drive on those less-travelled roads between Ottawa and Kingston. Tons (literally) of beautiful rock has split off (ice heave) and are waiting to be moved to your rock garden. The rocks should match (rusty brown is nice). Containers on your deck and flagstone area…brilliant. Make sure they’re big (less watering). Herbs (rosemary, oregano, chives, thyme) and hostas are super in containers.

It’ll all work out. And it’ll be a garden that works for you.

4 | Jen_nifer

April 6th, 2013 at 9:25 am


I feel very much the same about gardening. Ditto on hostas, they do GREAT in the shade, and my experience is that you only need to work with them twice a year – at the beginning and the end of the growing season.

I planted raspberry bushes at our last house and regardless of whether it was a plentiful berry season or not, it was always a delight to pluck and eat a few fresh berries.

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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