Got an ambitious/horrific garden project? We’ve got some Fine Gardening bling for you.



Every gardening season, there’s at least one major goal or project that I’d like to accomplish in addition to adding and replacing plants, and keeping everything alive and decent-looking. Last year was the Year of the Pond. My husband and I auditioned three possible pond designers, fought a hell of a lot, chose one, talked to him, and then fought more after the installation was complete. Then it was tweaked, planted, and everybody was happy. For a while.

The year before that was The Year of the Replacement of All the Edging and Raised Beds. What stone to use? What wood to use? Can we find someone to help? Will it be done in time? Why do we have so many raised beds? Ah, good times.

Surely, you, too, must have a harrowing tale of a major garden project, and its most compelling moments. A pergola in progress? Are you replacing all your grass, like Susan, or, also like Susan, creating a front yard vegetable patch? If it’s anything major, it’s probably still going on (we’re now fighting about adding more fish to the pond). If you have a tale of triumph and woe, can you share it here? I suppose I should say briefly, but if it needs a bit of length, that’s OK. I will elevate the most fascinating comment to a post AND send you a full set of Fine Gardening specialty publications, including Design Ideas, Great Plants, Great Gardens, Container Gardening and Outdoor Design & Living; AND give you a year’s subscription to Fine Gardening.

So bring on the sagas! And thanks to Jessica Bondell from Taunton Press for offering this to us.

I’ll take these until 7 a.m. EST Thursday (tomorrow).


But if you want to weigh in on whose story is the most deserving, please do so. I’ll post the winner later this evening (Thursday), around 10 p.m. EST

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Okay–2006 was Year of the Dead Sister. my sister had died in January at age 47 suddenly and unexpectedly so to cope I worked myself like a dog to build Something. Turned out to also be Year of the Berries. I had been planning to move two spireas which came with the house (age of spireas unknown–very large) and build a raised rock bed for blueberries and I did. I’ll try to shorten this up–dig up and re-home/plant two heavy spireas. Have 5 yards of ‘blueberry mix soil’ delivered and dumped in driveway. Move (5 cu ft) wheelbarrow load by load inside the fence (whole yard fenced–no way for dump truck to get inside). eventually move the whole pile again further into the yard by the same method Bring home bluestone rock I picked by pickup load–maybe 10 loads. build the bed. fret over placement of 5 shrubs. add two rhod. nice, natural looking rockpile. with the leftover dirt I did not factor in, I built a raspberry bed. I amended that dirt wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow with lime, built a raspberry bed the lazy way (8 used railroad ties) and moved the fixed-up raspberry dirt backwards through the yard to the (with the ‘barrow) raspberry bed. Also self-load a pickup-load of compost and bring it home and mix into both beds, I think. Turned out great, but the bb’s looked peaked last year and the soil test showed the pH off by over two points. (Which meant I never had to amend the soil for the raspberries). This year I dug up each shrub and the dirt around it and mixed 1 cu ft of peat moss with it and replanted each. Maybe now it’s done. Nice to build and expend energy on something beneficial. I am trying to keep my projects smaller but it’s not taking. This year is Year of the Hedge (23 new shrubs). I am very glad when it rains. thanks

  2. Dad’s project last year got christened the tu’it because “he never got round to it” It was basically a round retaining wall hiding a reservoir topped off with slate and with a big slate obelisk in the middle from which water would bubble. The obelisk wouldn’t stand up, dad fell off the retaining wall and cracked a rib on his wheelbarrow and the water only bubbles lopsidedly down the side of the obelisk shielded from view. Other than that its perfect.

  3. I had a pond year. Which would have been far less exhausting if I had a husband instead of just a teenage daughter. My daughter doesn’t like to scoop ice cream much less dig a 3 1/2 foot deep hole. Of course we picked a day that reached 102 degrees to start this project. By the end of that day we were both in the pond in the ice cold water up to our necks and still sweating bullets.

    Then came the rocks, which being the frugal person I am involved pulling up on roadsides and frantically throwing rocks in the trunk hoping that particular ditch didn’t really need that many rocks. Mission accomplished. Smushed fingers and all. And my daughter now HATED me.

    Then came the plants and fish. And more plants. And more fish, although I didn’t buy any more fish. I came to the realization that my fish were having far more sex than I was.

    Five years later I give away fish to anyone who’s willing to try and catch them with a net. It’s very amusing to watch. And my neighbor who has lived on the block for over 50 years told the rest of the neighbors she’s never seen a woman dig so much in her life. It’s probably why I still don’t have a husband. They’re afraid.

  4. There was the year when I got really creative and decided to turn my boring square vegetable garden into a large circle garden with pie wedge shaped beds. In the center I had a large mound where I planted the three sisters. It would have been fantastic except that year I was also very pregnant, due in September. And that would have also been ok except that baby turned out to be an 11 pounder. Obviously, I couldn’t keep up with it and it turned into a massive round jungle of squash.

  5. Mine sounds minor compared to the others posted here, but it was major to me. Maybe 7 or 8 years ago I decided I wanted a patio which would surround the old lilac and the herb garden and extend down the side of the house around the raised vegetable beds.

    Of four contractors contacted, two never bothered to show for their appointments, one came but never delivered a quote and one showed (on time!) AND provided a quote and got the job. Which he did very well except he made the area around the herb garden too large because he didn’t want to disturb the plants (they’re HERBS! They GROW! I TOLD him it was OK!). Sigh. Fixing that has finally made it to this year’s list.

    Of course in the process of digging out around the raised veg beds he discovered that the boards surrounding the beds were rotted. This meant that I had to buy new boards (cedar this time) and install them without disturbing his prep work and over one intermittantly rainy weekend (I’m just lucky I didn’t have to do it overnight, I guess), with minimal help from my husband who does not do yard work (he has other redeeming qualities).

    Finished, it looked beautiful… until a year or so later when the damned lilac suckers started pushing through the cracks between paving stones. Now every year or two I lift a few paving stones and pry suckers from beneath. Some day I’m taking out that lilac, despite the shade it provides. Patio umbrellas don’t sucker.

  6. I the Year of the Pond in 2006….I do not know what was more annoying than the neighbors who stopped by while we were toiling with retaining wall, dirt, and a DYI mentality to tell us their two cents worth.

    I chuckle now because we went solar and the bog plants are establishing well….it was worth it. Though my friend Jim who worked on the project with me remembers the day we had the shovel fight…..exhausting work but worth every minute when I see the birds, mammals and amphibians use this pond.

  7. Oh my. lol Some of these stories remind me of my parents’ landscaping escapades (and remind me of the blue heron plucking goldfish out of their pond).

    Guess I’ll have to wait ’till next year: this year we’re landscaping the front, which is completely and utterly naked other than (eh) grass (the first thing my best friend said when I showed her pictures of our newly bought first home last September were, “Wow, it could use some landscaping, couldn’t it?”); putting a memorial garden for a lost loved one in front as well; creating a veggie garden; and maybe, we hope, fixing up our back patio.

    And training our puppy.

  8. 2008-2009 will be the year of the rip out, replace, kill, replace, build, etc. We bought a new house last summer and just kind of settled for the first year. Now I want to make it MINE (*mwahahaha*). My back yard is a large, but relatively flat, backward L and our shed sits right at the turn/crook of the L. So in my infinite genius I decided that I wanted to turn everything behind the shed (ie the long section of the L) into a garden oasis. Yes, this is my first real house that I really own(ok the bank does, but they let me borrow it). So I started small, just two little raised beds, but now I have gone nuts. I have plans, plans I tell you. I will kill all of the grass/weed mixture, rototill the soil with happy healthy good stuff like manure and compost (yes we started two giant compost bins too). Then I will map out the beds and call the sprinkler boys. They will, in turn, come out and add useful sprinklers. Ones that do more than pretend to water my not grass. Then a pond in the back corner with a bench and flowers. Vegetable beds with a lovely winding path to reach the bench/pond area. toward the front, next to the shed I will put up a trellis/arbor thingy with viney flowers and a cute picket fence. In the spot where a pool used to be I want a circular patio/entertainment area. And new grass for my babies (tortoises)in bottom part of the L.
    Then the front yard, which is currently a HILL like ski down and kill yourself steep. I will create a retaining wall with natural (not formed cement) stone. This will require that I add stairs to the path that leads to the front door Fill in with dirt, replant grass for that section. Dig up the ugly-ass trees and plant something pretty and native. Did I mention I have only been married for one year? I am betting that I am way too ambitious for a new homeowner/newlywed, but that won’t stop me! I want to do the majority of the work all by my lonesome, but my husband thinks I am crazy. He might be right 😉 MWAHAHAHAHA

  9. 2004: We put a porch on the front of our house. We were left with a mound of dirt in which no weeds grew for eight months.

    2005: Got sick of the mound, graded it out, tried to amend it, put a dry-laid stone retaining wall around it and attempted to plant a moss garden. Then, after a visit to a store in Fredrick, MD, came home with a Japanese lantern and two large millstones. Moss dried out. Weeds took over.

    2006: Planted some perennials. Time to turn the millstones into a water feature. Version 1.0 was two buckets connected with pond liner. V 1.0 got algae, leaked and the pump clogged and burned out. We planted a Japanese Maple on a 98 degree day. Yes, we’re that stupid.

    2007: After consultation at a local water garden center, we built Pond V 2.0. Got a bigger vessel and dug a deeper hole. More pond liner. Still leaked. Worse: heavy rain deposited silt into the bottom of the vessel. Pump started acting funny so we only turned it on for guests. Neighborhood birds were peeved. Went to garden center and found the perfect vessel: a 50 gal. livestock feeding tank. Garden center doesn’t sell them. Farm supply store does.

    2008: Heavy rain erodes section of dry laid stone wall and plugs up drain hole in another section. I had to dismantle the wall and re-build it in two places.

    Mother’s Day, went to farm supply store. Bought stock tank. Resisted urge to purchase pink John Deere trucker’s cap (on sale for Mother’s Day!) Before the deluge, dug hole and inserted the tank. Hubby visited a plumber’s supply warehouse for PCV sewer connection pipe to support millstones. Discovered the wonders of plastic coated hardware cloth to cover the tank. I even fashioned a trap door for easy access to the pump. We placed rocks around to create the disappearing fountain effect we desired. Version 3.0 has run continuously ever since. You can get disappearing fountain kits in stores, but not for two huge millstones. Besides, we never would have gotten the pleasure of shopping at the farmer supply store.

  10. Not really an interesting story, but I just thought I’d speak up because my latest project went so remarkably smoothly. A couple years back, I planted two grape vines at the back of my vegetable garden, next to the retaining wall. Last year I decided I wanted an arbor for them. This spring we did it. One weekend we rented a post hole digger and went down the 4′ necessary in our climate, then filled the holes with cement. The next weekend, we built a 10’x12′ cedar arbor. Over the next week we excavated the area under it down 8″, and the following weekend filled in with gravel, sand, and laid out the bluestone we had left over from last year’s front walk project. There was one week in there when we had to go out of town, but essentially the whole thing was done in just three weeks. It was lots of work, but it was entirely do-able all on our own, and now I have a beautiful natural stone patio underneath a grape arbor where my husband and I can go sit and drink wine. More of life should be this rewarding.

    (Oh, and the portion of the vegetable garden that was displaced? Is now in my front yard. Thanks for the inspiration, Ranters!)

  11. 2008: This is the year of ridding my garden of all moles and gophers and anything else that eats and/or ruins my precious flowers! We’ve buried dozens of supposed rodent killing smoke bombs, but there must be a special skill to that. Then, when spring planting, I took extra special care with a few coveted plants (namely a $20 coconut lime echinacea), covering the root ball with hardware cloth upon planting, then watering and monitoring diligently for burrowing rodent activity. Yesterday morning, when making the rounds, I came to the spot where my precious HAD been. The only remains were a few leaves and stems. After much detective work I figured out that a damn TURTLE had eaten the SOB from above the ground!!!! All that work to protect the plant from underneath, and it gets eaten for breakfast by a turtle I had thought so cute only moments before. The next time I see that turtle I’m relocating it to my neighbor’s house.

  12. Summer of 2008
    Installing an enabling, prairie native garden at the front entrance of Kennedy Middle School, Rockford IL for the 6-8th grade low functioning students, half of which are wheelchaired. Raised beds, pully operated hanging baskets, shallow pan garden beds, raised pool and water wall, adapted tools,tactile bed, vertical wall garden, container court and plants for the senses.
    The magazines would be housed in the school and year long magazine subsciption utilized by the special education teachers and non-degreed horticultural therapist. We do this for the children who can’t bend down to touch the ground, we bring it to them. Completion Fall 2008 pictures to follow 🙂

  13. I’m married to a guy who has become a rock god in the span of two years.

    As someone who lies awake at night trying to think of the perfect spot in one of my beds for the three perennials I found on clearance at the nursery and who gets up at the crack of dawn to sprinkle a few gallons of fish emulsion on the veggies before work; I love having another gardening fanatic in the house.

    We moved into our new house a couple of years ago and to carry on the theme from previous posts, it has been the year of the rock wall followed by the year of the raised rock walled veggie garden, the rock lined flower and tree beds, the rock path to the new compost bin and now the rock bench/pond project.

    In the year of the rock wall, we found an area of new development by our house. This huge hilly area is made entirely out of rock and they are literally going to crush all this beautiful rock into a foundation (gasp!). After getting permission from the developer, every weekend and sometimes during the week, we would go to this rocky area and go on what my husband calls “rock hunts” and fill up the back of his giant manly man truck with rocks. After we gathered a pile of rocks on the side of the house so huge that neighbors were stopping by to find out what on earth we were doing, the building of The Wall in our back yard commenced. These are some huge rocks and by the time my husband was finished building this awesome rock retaining wall, he was so bruised and cut up he looked like he had been in some horrific landscaping accident.

    Then, a few days after the wall was completed, we had a dump truck load of “grower’s mix” dumped in the driveway. Of course, that evening we had an Oklahoma thunderstorm with at least 3 inches of rain in so many hours. Fortunately, the tarps we put down on the dirt during the hail storm provided good protection. After a couple of 100 degree days dried out the giant dirt pile, we began to move the soil to the back yard one rusty old wheel barrow at a time.

    After we created a nice, bed area full of soil behind the wall, we then planted two Chinese maples (this area is shaded by the house after 3 pm), some wind dancer love grass (that’s the name on the plant card no kidding), daylilies, and lots of lemon balm and other herbs. We then took sod we pulled up from another bed we were building and added a little grassy area around the chiminea which sits on….you guessed it a big flat rock! It looks fabulous-I still sit on my back patio and gaze in awe at what we created.

    Then, the rock god gathered more stones and built a raised veggie garden out of them. We are now looking forward to the nightly all you can eat tomato sandwich fest all summer.

    There are now flower beds all over the place lined with rocks. There are rocks in all the beds strategically placed to highlight certain plants or just to look cool.

    Today, I came home to another truck load full of rocks from which he had already built a rock bench by the pond and placed rocks around several of the trees that circle the pond. Ok, here’s where the serious fanatic part comes in…..the pond is not on our property. Our home overlooks one of the neighborhood ponds which has now been adopted by my hubby for future rock and other gardening endeavors.

    Now that he has completely run out of rock projects in our yard, he is moving on….. Will it ever stop? I hope not. I love that man.

  14. Projects in the garden only cause me to get behind in the actuall garden chores that need to be taken care of.Weeds needed to be pulled,maybe later,I wanted to build a pergola.The pergola looks great but something was still missing.I needed a garden shed.I tore down an old rusty metal storage building and built a foundation for a beautifull new wooden shed.I then landscaped the area around the new shed. I did research on the internet and found out its best to use stones around the roofline so you dont get “ring around the shed” from dirt splashing up during a rainstorm.The weeds will be easier to pull if they get a little bit taller anyway .The garden is now growing great but, the weeds are getting a little too tall.I finally decided to take on the weeds.Once I was in the garden I saw that I really needed to deadhead the zinnias.I did get the flowers deadheaded but by the time I was done it was hot so I got on the internet and researched garden paths.A tree I planted has grown into the area I want to put my I cut the tree? change my plans for the path?move the shed?..Maybe next year, the weeds are taking over and I really needed to get to work on the garden.First I installed some lighting so I can pull weeds at night when its cool.I hear it helps cut down on weeds if you dont disturb the soil in the daylight.The lights work really well but I need to finish the project by digging a trench and running the underground electrical wire.I need to find out how deep to bury the wire under the path (more internet research) that I plan to install later.Its June and the weeds are winning the war how did I get so far behind?

  15. P.S. How can you deprive needy kids.I vote for the kids getting the magazine.I dont have time to read,I have weeds to pull!Well,maybe after I watch Gardeners Journal.It is Thursday morning

  16. Oh shucks! I would love to tell about my 10 year never-ending “remove all the grass from a suburban half acre” story, but I don’t have time before your deadline. Just saw this post, as I spend daybreak to nightfall on my knees pulling creeping charlie out of the remaining turf. It is now just after 4 am and I have to get some housework done before the sun comes up. Enjoyed all these comments though! Good luck everyone.

  17. I agree with Andy…..the magazines would really be great for the classroom. Couls someone also donate a birdfeeder for that wonderful classroom garden.

    Greetings from cold wet Minnesota.

  18. So here we go again. You ladies are tired of picture pefect mahazine gardens and you are offering to readers publications and subscriptions to a magazine of picture perfect gardens.

  19. Greg, I am sure you’ve heard this one from Friend of Rant Raph Waldo Emerson: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

  20. I’m pretty sure that many of us who e-mailed in with our “projects from hell” are part-timers who do these things in small parts of our gardens while chaos reigns all around.

    My garden is “picture perfect” only if you don’t use a wide angle lens and you don’t focus close enough to see the weeds.

    Most of us do these things without budgets, without donations, without sense or sensibility. In our ignorance, we waste money, we waste time, sometimes we waste both. In short, we’re crazy.

    I took the request in the spirit in which it was made. The bloggers were asking for ordinary garden-project-from-hell stories. I find it fascinating to read about people who are as crazy as I am.

  21. Well, I was going to keep my mouth shut but I changed my mind. I agree with everything Suzq just wrote…..when I think of large garden projects, the Rock Bed always comes to mind, then I always think of my sister and her garden and the first perennial she gave me and how that Bed got me thru that first summer. Everyone has a large project and everyone has a reason and most of us do it alone with no money but are compelled to futz and create. It is fun and fulfilling. I vote for Suzq–the line “yes, we are that stupid” rung all my bells. Half my garden is the result of mistakes undertaken in the heat of inspiration and not always well thought through. And besides, Henry Mitchell was always yakking about his ponds made of stock tanks. Rereading Henry always calms me when I am getting wound too tight about little details and I remember that this is fun and that it will never be done. thanks

  22. Oh well, too late – how about when during Fleet Week, drunk sailors climbed our community garden fence, destroying plants, pergola, and oh-so-carefully concealed rabbit wire to keep out rodents out (by one of the founders that had recently passed). All that volunteer work. Even though identified, and our police precinct were on our side, we found out that the Navy does not reimburse for any damage that they do on American soil.

  23. Greg and et al,
    Fine Gardening Magazine is hardly considered one of those picture perfect magazines that is full of fluff and advertising.
    They provide a well written magazine that provides excellent horticultural educational scientific updates, gardener essays, how to do articles and images of inspiring garden projects amongst many other well written and photographed articles.

    They do offer splendid photography but they are not obverse to showing a weedy patch, a crumbling tool shed , a decaying path or an incomplete garden project.

    I have been thoroughly entertained in this past half hour while reading all the blog entries.
    Many of the contributors made me laugh out loud with their trials and tribulations.

    I’m not going to offer any of my harrowing horticultural tales because they mostly involve clients, sub contractors and Home Owner Association boards and well,,,, you never know who is reading what and when it can come back and bite you in the arse.

    But I have enjoyed reading all of the entries.
    Along with Emerson’s old saying about small minds. There is another one that says misery loves company and its validating to know that other gardeners here at Garden Rant have too experienced various degrees of complication, frustration and down right disappointment when building a landscape project.

    Enjoy the process while it lasts because when it is over there is just another one waiting for you with a whole new set of challenges..

  24. Michelle, I ought to have pointed out in my post what a nice publication Fine Gardening is. I always enjoy reading it.

    Barbara, Fleet Week! Drunken sailors! Sounds so On the Town-ish. Of course, sorry about what they did; I have suffered damage from drunken neighborhood parties a couple times myself.

  25. If you don’t give the magazine subscription to the shool kids garden project, give it to Greg. It might change his snarling attitude.

    On the bright side in the blog world, having your own troll could be construed a sign of success.

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