Adventures in creating an English garden

When I was a kid, I always loved the scenes in Disney movies where the princesses sang and a host of wild critters arrived to join in the fun.

But Mrs. White and the rest of the troop of princesses were not to have gardens.

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For the past two years, I’ve been on a mission to transform my yard into an English garden filled with whimsical flowers and charming greenery. It was backbreaking work that brought so much satisfaction, until the animals arrived.

While I love creatures large and small, those that cross my yard have invaded, shocked, and sabotaged me relentlessly over the past two years.

It started with the yellow vests. Last year I worked hard to dig up some peonies and hostas from our front yard to move them to a sunnier spot and replace them with more suitable shrubs. I was almost done digging when I shoved my shovel under what I thought was a stone in the bed in an attempt to move it.

Insects began to emerge from the gray mound. They were moving so fast I thought they were flies – until I felt a shooting pain in my leg.

I’m not a runner by any means, but any passerby might have mistaken me for a deranged track star as I yelled and shoved the buggers off and rushed into my house to get out. ‘shelter.

It was a not-so-minor setback that left me with a few stings and a lifelong fear of every bee-like creature I’ve seen since. Still, after about a week of scary walking through my front door, I managed to finish the job and replant everything I needed before the first frost.

I thought the attack would be the worst of my wildlife misfortunes. But I couldn’t imagine the emotional toil Mother Nature had in store for me.

I wasn’t expecting much from the peonies the following year, as I had read that they probably wouldn’t bloom straight after being replanted. So after a few pretty flowers popped up in the spring, I felt overconfident in my gardening abilities and started to pursue my vision full force.

I scoured garden centers and spent way too much on lilies, petunias and beautiful flower baskets full of big, juicy begonias. For me, it was worth it to realize the garden of my dreams.

Every day, I gazed at my yard with joy and soaked up the beauty. On one particularly bad day, I turned to my garden for a sense of relief.

Instead, I was stunned. The fresh flowers of the lilies I had just seen the day before had disappeared, only their stems remained.

The flight of flowers continued for the next few days as I tried to figure out what was feasting on my hard work. They had dug up my petunias, decapitated my begonias, destroyed my hostas. They left shreds of uneaten petals at the crime scene as if to say, “Can you buy something a little tastier next time?”

Day after day, I woke up dazed as time and money were literally eaten away. Looking for a romantic garden, I instead turned my yard into a hometown sideboard for local critters.

They must have felt a pang of sympathy for me, though: with almost every plant they ate, they left a meager flower unscathed. It was a nice gesture.

The deer were kind enough to leave me a single begonia flower on my hanging basket.

In all sincerity, I respect the laws of Mother Nature. I would never apply anything to harm the creatures out there just looking for a snack, although clearly I need to apply some natural management techniques.

Permanent landscape installations can have a big impact as a garden matures.

The saving grace for my garden has been the landscaping projects I have completed. Last year I wrote about building a retaining wall, and this year I decided to build a stone path with slabs I got for a great deal on Facebook Marketplace. I also added battery operated lights around the yard as decorative lights make everything better.

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Decorative lights make everything better.

Now, even though I only see greenery when I look outside, at least it has charm.

So what lessons have I learned? Permanent landscaping elements can have a big impact as your garden matures – and, in my case, recovers.

And despite what you’ve seen in the Disney movies, if you’re hoping to see more than one bud on your plants, it’s probably best to deter wildlife from your garden instead of inviting them in.

Email your questions to Theresa “Tess” Bennett at [email protected] and follow Tess on Instagram @homewithtess