Garden Where You Are, Not Where You’re Not

My first garden, against a wall, in a parking lot next to my tiny apartment. 34 square feet of garden that gave me 34,000 square feet of pleasure.

My first garden, against a wall, in a parking lot next to my tiny apartment. 34 square feet of garden that gave me 34,000 square feet of pleasure.

There are problem areas in a garden and then there are problem gardens, period. Poor drainage, terrible views, a neighbor with a security light fixation, barking dogs, chain-link fences, no fences, steep hills, deep gullies, dry shade, rocky soil, that neighbor with the security light fixation (worth mentioning twice) and a hundred other issues that can, and often do, stop us from enjoying the place where life has placed us for a year, five years or two decades.

Most of us never intended to be ‘placed’ anywhere, and are still reeling a bit from the knowledge that the economic events of the last two decades have decided a few things for us without our blessing or indeed, our reluctant consent. We wanted a huge vegetable garden and instead have a massive walnut tree suppressing all forms of life on a marginal slope. We wanted beautiful views but a developer wanted to make a few bucks off surrounding properties. Perhaps we just wanted a porch to sit upon, and instead we have a front step.

And we are thus served with a choice: accept where we are, right now, and use our creativity and positivity to create and maintain a home and garden, or live angry, resentful and envious of others around us.

Gorgeous entrance to a restful shade garden bordered by a wooden fence; or ugly, root riddled shade under a maple tree and next door to an aggressive pitbull on a very long leash? Yep, it is - and was - both.

Gorgeous entrance to a restful shade garden bordered by a wooden fence; or ugly, root riddled shade under a maple tree and next door to an aggressive pitbull on a very long leash? Yep, it is – and was – both.

Spelled out in this way, the choice might seem obvious…but for many people, it is anything but. Making the decision to live in a state of contentment is actually a series of choices that must be made every day. Some of us do that instinctively, and some of us must train ourselves to see the joy in conquering adversity – knowing that it takes time to build a habit of mind.

Years ago, a co-worker of mine was complaining about the torn curtains literally rotting in the front room of her rented flat. “Replace them!” I exclaimed, having spent years sewing cheap coverings for windows to brighten up rented digs too numerous to count. “Why should I?” she said indignantly, “I don’t own the flat.”

But you live there.” I challenged her. “You’ve lived there for ten years. It’s your home.”

“Nevertheless.” She ended the discussion, passed the wine, and changed the subject.


What you can’t see, but neither can someone standing here, are the seven houses directly below the privet in the background, nor the next door neighbor’s two cars and ugly homemade trailer parked on the other side of the fence. Could you see them six years before? Oh you betcha.

Let’s think about this for a minute shall we? Would you rather stare at ugly, rotting curtains every morning over your coffee and every evening over your mac and cheese and grow ever more resentful over the larger picture of where you are and where you may or may not be going; or replace them with something that makes you smile, even if it’s as simple as a Goodwill quilt and a few clothespins?

It may be odd to discuss window treatments when I should be yammering about gardens, but whereas many of my readers are still struggling with the idea that somewhere inside them lurks a hidden gardener, everyone has curtain issues.

What are the rotting curtains in your outside space? Do you have odds and ends lying around, cluttering the yard? Remove them. Are you tired of looking at your neighbor’s half-painted shed? Plant a row of fast growing Manhattan euonymus. Sick of looking of the peeling paint on your own? Grab a gallon of paint and a weekend and solve it. Wanted a vegetable garden but don’t have the legs of a billy goat to tend your 20% slope? Plant cheap decorative grasses and put some tomato pots on the porch. Find a way to put your individual stamp on the place where life finds you right now.

We must claim our living spaces, whatever they are, because they are just that – our living spaces. We nest here. We raise our kids, live our heartbreaks and experience some of our greatest joys here. For gardeners, would-be gardeners, and if-only-I-had-the-perfect-place gardeners, we cheat ourselves if we keep waiting.

This year, don’t wait. Embrace the imperfect, cultivate a spirit of contentment, and be prepared for the magical ways in which your gardening efforts will enhance your life.

By | 2018-02-20T20:41:24+00:00 January 15th, 2015|

About the Author:

Marianne is the mother of two, wife of one and the voice of The Small Town Gardener. She gardens and writes from her home in the scenic (and exceptionally convenient) heart of Virginia's wine country.


  1. ANewLeafCoaching January 12, 2015 at 4:44 pm - Reply

    Marianne, I always enjoy your writing, whether in the Frederick News Post or here on Facebook. Love and appreciate the gardening advice, and particularly this piece! Bloom where we’re planted – what a wonderful way to look at life. Thank you so much – I’ll be sure to share with my friends on FB.

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      Marianne Willburn March 18, 2015 at 10:24 am - Reply

      “Bloom where you’re planted” is such an old phrase, but in this particular case, there is none better! Thanks Anne!

  2. Mary Lou January 17, 2015 at 11:43 pm - Reply

    I love your writing and share your view towards making your garden where you are. Seems wherever I was planted I scratched in the dirt and put something in to share. Bulbs, pansies, and herbs at the apartments and when living downtown among brick and cement, built a 3’x2’x20′ raised bed that kept me sane for nearly a decade. Finally, I am steward to just shy of a half-acre with mature trees and overgrown shrubs. I am adding perennials and hugle-kulture, grasses and raised gardens. The first couple of years I was nearly over-whelmed with my wish/to-do list. Now, I know I can choose one next big thing and maintain the rest. I love this little patch of nature and am glad that I may nurture.
    from among the greens and browns, ML
    ~A Garden is never finished. – unknown~

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      Marianne Willburn March 18, 2015 at 10:22 am - Reply

      This is just wonderful to hear Mary Lou. A half-acre is a wonderfully manageable amount of space with room to experiment!

  3. Maritta Grau March 17, 2015 at 10:55 pm - Reply

    I’m writing in March 2015, looking out into my half-acre of Eden (although right now, after the snow and mud, it looks more like the inspiration for one of Dante’s circles of Hell) and plotting where to start with those pruning shears, rakes, and chain saws. You are so right, Ms. Wilburn—we need to bloom where we are planted, replace those rotted curtains with something that excites our senses and paradoxically also soothes the savage beast in us that snarls at those weeds. Your columns are always a delight and inspiration to my gardening soul. Thank you.

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      Marianne Willburn March 18, 2015 at 10:32 am - Reply

      Thank you very much Maritta – it’s my pleasure to write them and keep encouraging people to make this live-giving connection to the soil. It’s something I feel very passionate about.

  4. Jan shue August 18, 2015 at 5:33 pm - Reply

    What a great subject to write about. I have the large timed light next door, the barking pit bulls, with their junk strewn back yard. but when I go way out to the back of my garden….peace. have spent many years grossing about these things instead of appreciating what I do have. look forward to reading your book.

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