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By Elizabeth Terry Joyner Elizabeth Joyner holds a Ph.D. in Musicology from Duke University and Bachelors’ degrees in Piano Performance and German from the University of Arkansas. A proud North Carolina transplant, Elizabeth lives in Chapel Hill with her husband, Andrew.

A Green Thumb Grows In Chapel Hill

By Elizabeth Terry Joyner Posted June 5, 2014 at 6:00 am

rosesWhen my husband and I moved into our first home last June, we inherited a beautiful yard with a variety of low-maintenance plants and flowers. The previous owner had graciously taken us around the front and back gardens, explaining what everything was and how to take care of it. I was excited, but most of all scared of the foreign, daunting world of gardening.

I decidedly do not have a green thumb. A black thumb is more like it. Every plant, flowerpot, or herb I’ve tried to take care of has died, mainly due to neglect. Once the summer heat takes over, my potted flowers scorch and die pretty quickly. I basically don’t water enough; and once I’ve skipped a few necessary watering days, I give up and let go, vowing next spring to learn more about pots and flowerbeds and green things. But now that we are homeowners, I can’t get away with such neglect. Good neighbors tend to their yards, pull their weeds, cut away dead branches, and water daily in the heat of the summer. So when we moved last summer I had every good intention of conquering my black thumb.

Then life got in the way. We found out we were expecting a baby, and I never felt the same. “I have bigger things to worry about than the house” was my constant rationale. I tried not to look outside at my withering flowerpots, and once the last fall chrysanthemum had bloomed and gone, I avoided even thinking about the brambles and branches that stuck up from my once-green front bed. My neglect didn’t stop with the outdoors, either: the kitchen, with its faint food smells and gas range, was unbearable. The cars stayed out of the garage to avoid unwanted whiffs of gasoline in the house. Even the carpet and paint on the walls had their own adverse effects, and I went weeks without vacuuming.

Dogwood 2Not until my son was born did I get my act together. I knew something had changed in my psyche when, the day we brought him home from the hospital, I stopped to water a potted lily next to the kitchen sink. I had someone to care about now, and that only enhanced my desire to care for everything else surrounding my material life. In early April, we mulched the front and side beds, removed a multitude of leaves, and cut down dead branches. The mulching alone spurned a huge transformation, and from there, I became more confident. We bought geraniums and pansies for the front and back porches and new spray nozzles for the hoses. My back porch suddenly became a splash of cheerful red, yellow, and pink, and even my once-sad brown pots looked perky and artful. And most beautiful of all, a single dogwood bloomed white against the early spring leaves of our backyard forest.

Spring worked its magic starting in April. Carpets of ajuga sprung up in my front beds, and later, roses started to bloom all along the front and sides of our house. White and purple foxglove appeared among the roses, which provided a pretty stunning variety of height and color. There were also pink roses and Lenten roses along the back of the house, and, to my surprise, deep purple clematis bloomed on a trellis at the back of the garage.

foxgloveAll the color, new mulch, trimmed beds, and healthy mowed grass was enough to get me going for good. In the hotter, rainless weeks, I water to a near-obsessive degree, and I try to make sure I trim and weed appropriately. My garden is now too beautiful to even think about neglecting. Outdoor work has become something I look forward to, because it means that I have successfully put my baby down for a long nap and have the freedom to move about, video monitor in hand, taking care of other, less important parts of my life.

I’d like to hear from other readers who keep a garden, a front yard, or flowers in pots. What are some fundamental tips to maintaining your green space? What advice would you give to a novice gardener? I’m still a little timid about working with my green spaces; and as much as I feel inspired now, this summer will be a true test.

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