I am very excited to feature my first guest blog post, More Than Meets The Eye, by Tracie Hellwinckel. It is this time of year where the weather keeps us inside, and we begin to long for warmer (and sunnier) days. Tracie Hellwinckel is a long time gardener who has learned the art of gardening through trial and error, a lot of education, and good old hard work. For any home owner who is wondering what to do with their landscape, how to grow edibles, or what and when is best to plant, then look no further! Tracie has kindly agreed to share her “Super-Gardener” insight, humor and practical advice in the months to come. Thanks Tracie, I can feel spring right around the corner (and a little less guilty about those weeds)…
When we purchased our first home on the darkest day of winter, I wasn’t Super-Gardener then, but I so longed to become Super-Gardener. I pointed things out and stated, “Oh, I want to do this and this and that…” Our REALTOR® gave me some great advice. She said, “Wait a year before you do any major gardening or changes to the yard.”
I have to admit, at first, I was a little put-off by her remark. I thought, “What do you mean? That bush is ugly. It’s just so bland over there.” To me, there was work to do to improve the yard. We were, after all, located on the Dogwood Trail.
We immediately fenced part of the yard because the house was on a relatively busy road and we felt certain that the dog would get hit by a car (or a bus since we were on a bus line). Also, my husband, Chad and I had noticed a few dead hollowed-out Dogwoods in the front yard. They weren’t endangering any power lines, windows, or cars, but they were a bit of an eyesore. We planned to cut them, but then it started raining…a lot, kind of like this current winter.
The rain distracted us. Every time it rained, we cringed. Our unfinished basement was built into a hill and took some water. Nothing was damaged. The water just kind of flowed in on side and out the other where the garage door stood. So instead of cutting trees, Chad got busy working on French drains, cleaning out gutters, and diverting water from the foundation of the home.
Around the time February started turning into March, I noticed tiny gorgeous purple, yellow, and white flowers blooming in random places around the neighborhood. They popped out of gardens and cascaded down front lawns like waterfalls. I was unfamiliar with this rather common, beautiful, and delicate flower called the Crocus. I ran home (literally because I was out jogging when I noticed the flowers), but sadly enough, we had no Crocus in our yard.
Next, the wooded and overgrown yard across the street (one I definitely would have taken some clippers to) did something amazing. Hundreds of Daffodils bloomed like an electric shock. They seemed to come out of nowhere through layers of leaves and brush to color the spring with a dazzling array of colors, shapes, and sizes. The scraggly bushes also began turning bright yellow.
I began to wonder if our yard would do anything. Would anything seemingly magical or beautiful pop-up? I looked down each and every day hoping for some new color amongst our moss covered front yard. It seemed devoid of anything, but then in a random part of the yard stood a random bush that I had planned to cut. It began to turn bright yellow like the neighbor’s bushes. I learned it was Forsythia. Another day, I sat on the front steps and noticed a rather plain looking plant in the garden, but when I looked closer, I saw small pink flowers hanging upside down under the green foliage. It was Lenten Rose. This subtle flower triggered the REALTOR’s® words, and I started to wake-up like from a lucid dream.
As it started warming, the Dogwoods all over the neighborhood began to open, and in the bushy yard across the street, Azaleas and Rhododendrons came into bloom. The small amount of grass we had began to grow, and it was getting time to mow. Chad got the lawn mower out and headed into the backyard, but instead of hearing the small engine puttering outside, I heard the backdoor open and close. “You have to come see this,” he said to me. I stepped outside, but didn’t notice anything unusual except the weeds in need of cutting.
“What?” I asked. He said, “Come over here. Look.” So I did, and that was when I noticed a dozen or so small pale purple flowers with a touch of yellow and white standing only about two inches tall. These dainty flowers with their subtle color amazed me. Within a week, hundreds of Crested Dwarf Iris bloomed all at once and graced our yard. I discovered the Crested Dwarf Iris was a native flower to East Tennessee and not quite endangered but becoming rare. They quickly became the pride and joy of the season.
In my garden knowledge, I was more like a Kindergartner than a Super-Gardener. I realized that I knew nothing about gardening in East Tennessee. Not only was I unfamiliar with common bulbs like the Crocus, but I had no idea what plants were native to this area. I wanted to impose my will upon the Earth instead of taking my cues and following the will of nature. I have now learned that there is faint beauty everywhere, even in something as small and unnoticeable as moss.
I am now living in my fourth home in Knoxville and have learned a great lesson that I will gladly pass on not only first time home buyers but to all home buyers…Wait a year before you make any serious garden and yard decisions. Of course you need to cut the grass or possibly put up a fence, but remember that weed you are about to pull or that tree you are about to cut may be a native plant that simply hasn’t bloomed yet. Watch the plants in your new yard. Take notes as to what you like and what you don’t like. Ask neighbors about the yard if you don’t know. If possible, ask the former owners. I guarantee if they were serious gardeners, they would be more than happy to share their garden knowledge because plants are like children to Super-Gardeners. Hire a professional to assist you in identifying plants in your yard. It’s only a year. You may find that you are very happily surprised.
Oh, and those dead hollowed-out Dogwoods that we almost cut to the ground? Since we lived on a bus line, Chad took the bus to work. One evening as he stepped off the bus, he noticed a bird fly out of one of the dead Dogwoods. He went over to the tree and heard the peeps of baby birds, and after that, we left those old eyesores alone.
Tracie L. Hellwinckel is the creator of The Agrarian Urbanite. She specializes in native and edible design and is available for landscaping consultations. She is best described as a garden coach and considers herself a Gardening Educator combining her formal education (Masters Degree from UTK in Elementary Education) and her passions: growing food and design. She is also available for presentations, workshops, lectures, or tours of her homestead.