So you say you wish you had a bigger garden? Every one does, right? Well, at some point in all our gardening lives the desire for more land comes up. Frankly, you wouldn’t be a good gardener or true plant lover if the thought never crossed your mind at least once. How ironic is it that the term is “green with envy?” I can not recall how many times I have heard from visitors to my garden that they wished they had a bigger yard. I find myself thinking the same thing when I tour large properties. How many times have I returned from the Darian jungle thinking his three acres would be a dream come true?
Or how many times have I come home from a Cuesta Linda visit and told my wife I wished I had two acres?
Even my last tour through the Hamann garden a few short weeks ago left me with serious yard size envy and thoughts of a bigger garden.
Luckily, in all these cases, after a short settling down period, sensibility does return. Yard envy can be difficult to get over. In my early days of building my garden, it was with me often. Thankfully, as the years go on, the less it exists. I have come to appreciate and be thankful for what I have. I have also learned some hard truths about managing such a large beast. The greatest truth is that even my one-acre garden is too much for me to handle alone year-round. So why would I even entertain thoughts of a bigger garden? I will be 47 years old later this year. What happens when age catches up to my good looks and zaps the strength and vigor I have to work countless hours in my garden? A larger garden may sound good on paper, but reality is a different animal. Hopefully this blog post will help convince you to just be appreciative of the garden you have. The grass is seldom greener on the other side of the fence once you learn the truth of the requirements for a larger garden.
Plant Removal. Most likely my biggest hassle. Let’s start this subject off with a day 1 and a day 2 photo showing the amount of plant material I had to dump-truck out of my garden last week. Luckily for me, scenes like this only take place a few days a year.
We are dealing with living things that grow. Their sole purpose in life is to spread out, grow up or climb onto something in order to out-compete those around them and eventually reproduce. A plant the size of a soccer ball today can become the size of a house years down the road. That plant will then either need to be pruned down to a smaller size, removed entirely, or you will need to remove the other plants around it that are losing out and possibly dying due to the loss of precious space. What you see in the two pictures above are the results of all three of those things. You will see the pruned up leaves and limbs of palms and flowering trees, you will see plants cut up that were removed entirely, and you will see the carcasses of the dead all in the back of those dump truck photographs. If you look closely you can even find this dead Pritchardia minor in the dump truck before it heads to the green waste dump.
This Parajubaea cocoides was removed last year because it crowded out my two Parajubaea sunkha that bookended it. My desire to keep some sort of order and balance in my garden does lead to the removal of more plants than perhaps some other gardeners might find necessary.
The point? More land = more plants = more maintenance of those plants. If you have 10 palm trees in your smaller garden, 1 might die over winter. It can be easily removed and put into the green waste trashcan. If you have a few acres and a few hundred palm trees, trashcans cannot help you. You will need trucks or trailers to haul the stuff out. I have three large Phoenix canariensis in my yard. Care to guess how all the pruned off dead fronds leave my garden? It isn’t in a trashcan.
General Upkeep. From cutting the grass, to weeding, to fertilizing, to mulching, to trapping gophers, to fixing sprinklers, etc.; the general upkeep that all gardeners must endure only gets greater with the increase in yard size. As one example, thanks to the tropical plants I love to grow and my decomposed granite soils , fertilizing is a large expense in my garden. I use about 500 pounds of fertilizer on my garden each year! Mulch? I try to put it down every few years. I would love to do it more often than that. However, the $2,500 it costs to mulch my yard makes it impractical. Oh, and how I envy those that can weed their garden in just one day. This past rainy winter and spring still has me playing catch-up with all the damn weeds in my yard.
Changes in the Garden. Any true lover of flora can tell you the point when plants moved from just being an interest to becoming a passion. Like the saying goes with regards to success, I believe passion can be 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration as well. It is that 10% inspiration that of course leads to the 90% perspiration, because as gardeners, we are never satisfied with what we have done. We find inspiration everywhere and like to incorporate what we saw into our own gardens. I like to tell my wife I have a motto when she asks why I am once again making changes to some part of the garden. I tell her it is all about the ABC’s. “Always. Be. Changing.” The larger the garden, the more opportunities to find inspiration to change something, the more sweat equity you will need. At times it seems to me that my weekend project list never gets any smaller. I just can’t leave well enough alone. And well enough would save me money and time.
Greenhouse/Shadehouse. If you think back upon a bigger garden that you have toured in the past, was there one that didn’t have some sort of greenhouse or shadehouse? I honestly can not think of a single large garden that I have visited that didn’t have either one or both. If you have the room, these structures eventually make their way onto your property. Don’t get me wrong, I love my greenhouse and shadehouse. But they do bring along maintenance requirements, additional cost and they are really good at stealing valuable time. Plus, “If you build it, they will come.” It doesn’t matter the size, trust me, you will fill your structures with plants. That all goes back to the whole passion bit from earlier.
Propagation. While treated separately for this post, it could have just as easily been placed under the Greenhouse/Shadehouse paragraph above. I separated it because you do not need a greenhouse or shadehouse to propagate the plants growing in your garden and it would seem to me that every gardener propagates their plants at one time or another.
I have found that most plant lovers are terrible about removing secondary growth and throwing it into the green waste. They are much better at propagating it to spread around their garden instead. Many times even while they are well aware there is no more room in the garden. In essence, we become hoarders. Over the last few years I have gotten much better about losing the guilt that can come from throwing parts of plants away that could be propagated. In the past if I divided one of my Agapanthus or Society Garlic plants, it would end up in a pot and sit, often never getting planted. Same with many of my bromeliad pups or agave pups. Even though I do put many of these things into green waste, as you can see from the photos of my greenhouse and shadehouse above, a lot of plant material still ends up sitting around in pots. Sometimes for many years. All this propagation does bite into your valuable time and it does come with additional expenses.
Watering. This is the 800-pound gorilla in the garden. Here in drought-stricken Southern California, water prices are very expensive. During the hottest months in late summer, my monthly water bill can reach $500. Despite each water-saving technique I add, the monthly fees remain the same, as the water district keeps raising rates. I have already started removing more grassy areas of my yard and have been adding more water-wise planter beds in an attempt to keep rates down as long as I can. However, the reality is that large gardens, with many plants, require a lot of water. Fighting a big water bill has proven to be a losing proposition. I really don’t want to give in too much more as it would involve cutting back on growing many of the more tropical plants that I get so much joy from in the garden.
Look, I get it. This is a first world problem I speak of. My post wasn’t some ‘woe is me’ write-up. I never imagined or even dreamed I would someday be fortunate enough to own a one-acre garden in Southern California. But it happened and I am extremely grateful. I just want you to understand that it really doesn’t matter what size garden you have now, it is a natural thing to have thoughts of bigger. Just know that bigger doesn’t always mean better. Even a large, low-maintenance, one-acre water-wise property like the De Jong garden comes with many more headaches than any small, cozy rock garden could bring. Hopefully I have provided some food for thought.