This is my country garden: 


To me, it's the most beautiful place on earth.  Nonetheless, it is not at all what I envisioned.  When I proposed to my husband 9 years ago that we solve our city-mouse country-mouse problem by buying two houses, I fully expected to be in the country whenever my kids were out of school. 

That worked well enough when my kids were small.  But they are not small now, and it has been a constant struggle even to arrive at my beautiful garden, which is only 45 minutes away from my city house, even to harvest my gorgeous vegetables.  I have one child who rides horses here in my small city of Saratoga Springs, another who does ballet madly and always has some performance or another, and a third child who considers school a total misery aside from the classes he audits at Skidmore College up the hill.

For the last two years, getting anybody to come with me to the country has involved a tug of war.

Nonetheless, Mother's Day weekend was the rare weekend without any ballet obligations–and I was ready to head eastward at noon on Saturday, after my daughter Georgia finished riding,to check on my asparagus, spinach, and rhubarb and to plant broccoli, cabbages carrots, chard, and a million other things. When, to my horror, Georgia informed me that she needed to be back in Saratoga first thing Sunday to get ready for a horse show.

And all at once, in an instant, I just gave up, and started tearing up the sod in my city yard.

This is what I've got to work with:

Dog photo

Not as big, not as beautiful. It's unlikely that I'll be growing wheelbarrows' worth of potatoes here. But this plot does have the peculiar advantage of being situated right outside my kitchen door.  

In the country, I'll plant cover crops.  

And I'm sure a vegetable garden will really raise the tone of the city yard.  Before it didn't have much purpose, other than as a repository for unhappy grasses.  

I'll let you know how it goes.


  1. As difficult as it may be to believe right now, when they get their drivers’ licenses and you are free from all that shuttling, you will miss the time you are spending with them! And all too soon they will be off to college and you will be gardening to your heart’s content, but your heart will be breaking because you miss them so much!

    Be well.

  2. I made a decision to give away our poultry and rabbits some years ago for the very same reason. The kids had other interests and I was not into pushing it–we enjoyed learning about an assortment of animals (chickens, ducks, rabbits, tropical fish, canaries, white mice) for years together, but times change. I imagine your heart’s breaking now, a little, but there will be time later and there’s no doubt you will create a gorgeous city garden.

  3. That is a lovely city yard to garden in! No need to have two houses just to have a garden! That is a nice large space, just think vertical. I turned my entire front yard (and any sunny part of the back) into a garden. You won’t regret it, and there will be no need to spend the money, time and resources just to pick up your vegetables.

    Also, don’t spend the time breaking your back over taking out the sod. Try the lasagna method instead of just use a whole lot of old cardboard and build raised beds over them.

  4. I vote for not ripping out the sod, too! Just do lasagna method and/or get truckloads of compost to pile on top. I’ve built all of my veggie gardens without taking out a single piece of grass.

    After doing this summer’s new addition, though, I would highly recommend digging out any aggressive weeds before putting down compost. I wish I had dug out the nasty southern steroidal dandelions before starting the new garden this year. And killed the dollar weed. It is RIDICULOUS. I’m not sure if you even CAN kill it. But def. don’t worry about digging up the grass. Grass is wimpy. It will die.

  5. Michele, you will probably miss your soil in the country the most, but in time, your backyard will be a lovely, rich plot of ground, too.

  6. Michele, it’s not a compromise – it’s a potager ! And with your mad gardening skills, it’ll be fabulous.

    And I feel your pain re: kids interfering with your gardening. I’ve been trying since December to go to various garden-related event/classes/shows. The only time I’ve had to do that is when I call in ‘sick’. My boss is starting to get suspicious, I think, since I tend to come back to work with a slight suntan.

  7. Your space actually looks a little wider then the space we have to work with and we’ve packed in quite a bit of vegetables and woodland plants especially Eggplants which aren’t greedy for space. And as Holly suggested vertical gardening is a great space saver. That fencing alone could be transformed into a whole wall of vegetables such as cucumbers, squash and pole beans (maybe not watermelons though!)and perhaps even a cluster of sunflowers for their tasty seeds.

  8. Oh Elizabeth, I feel your pain! Living out in the country, my kids as teenagers spent weekends arranging rides into town and places there to spend the night…all my fantasies of nurturing a love of nature and the farm, out the window! However, now that they are 20-somethings, they love coming home from their hectic city lives to our peaceful country setting. I’m betting your kids will love your country retreat in due time. Meanwhile, make your country place a getaway sanctuary for you; and embrace your town nest, being close to your kids while you can. Your backyard garden “canvas” looks inviting (and your garden buddy in the picture will love to have you out there in the yard). There’s a lot to be said for having your veggies and herbs right outside the door, and to be able to enjoy the flowers as they bloom.

    I have also had great luck reclaiming lawn by covering it with thick layers of compost. There will be some weeding out of the stray grass that pops up, but it’s preferable to digging up sod any day, I think. Have fun planning and planting!

  9. One of the funniest things my oldest daughter ( right before she became a Mom herself) said to me was “Mom, I don’t remember you being so much into gardening when I was growing up.”!!!! Back then I barely had time to stick in a bulb or two in the Fall. Now that I’m retired and a Grandma, I spend most of my time nurturing my garden. And now that my daughter’s are Moms and trying to do a little gardening themselves, they get it. The country house will have its day and you will ALL love spending time there.

  10. You mean I am digging up sod for no reason? haha! I really hate weeding, so I take no chances and dig up the sod (as well as the weeds), and sometimes I still layer cardboard on top of that when building raised beds.

    I want to have a country house and garden like yours one day, but for now nothing beats making a city backyard a beautiful and bountiful place!

  11. Of course I’m looking at this from a different angle – as a non-parent with only one house/garden to worry about but to me the real conflict is that one daughter is into horses (country) and the other is in to ballet (city). The only way to get maximum use from the rural place is to convert one room to a dance floor with a wall of mirrors and a barre, and set some part of the yard as an exercise ring for a horse.

    If I was in your shoes I’d raise the picket fence up to keep out deer and plant rows of fruit trees – in ten years they’ll be at peak production and the kids will be living their own lives.

    ditto about digging out the sod – unless you can find someone to do it for you it takes far too long with mediocre results. Just bury it in mulch and plant on top.

  12. My mom planted me in the country deep in the country and there was no shuffling back and forth for this club, that event or that outing. I played with my brother, the neighbors down the street, life was simpler and easier and that wasn’t all that long ago. I spent my time in the garden in the country with my mom. I went to countless plant shows and sales with my mom even as a teenager. I hauled plants for her and I learned even though I didn’t mean to. At the garden club meetings I was always very popular, they would ask my mom how she got me to come along, wow did she beam proudly when she told them I’d asked if I could. My mom planted me in the country and I’m glad she did. My mom and I still go to plant sales and nurseries together. We still walk each others gardens and talk about what grows where, I’m still in the country and it’s always going to be in me!

  13. Hope that lasagna method works, because I need to take out more lawn this year and it can take hours to shake out a few square feet of sod. I’ve found that Kentucky bluegrass is one of the most invasive plants.

  14. Oops, Michele, major apologies for calling you Elizabeth in my earlier comment–sorry! My lame excuse is that I hadn’t had my morning coffee yet 😛

  15. Oh, I think you have a great canvas. Ca you say Rosalind Creasy? I have a smaller yard, most of it given over to flowers. I hope you will love, as I do, going out your back door and harvesting delicious food. That dawg will be a great help, I’m sure!

  16. OK. I’ve been waiting for someone to ask whether or not the cute dog was been going in the back yard, because that raises the issue of dog waste in the ground. (I well remember an uproar about just that subject when one of this site’s bloggers appeared on a radio show recently.)

    If, indeed the dog has used the yard as a personal space, will a lasagna bed be deep enough to avoid possible contamination?

  17. That’s plenty space for a fine vegetable garden and frankly I am a bit surprised you don’t have a little something planted there already.

    I wouldn’t dig up the sod either. My lazy and evil method to any new bed is to spray the grass with glyphosate, cover with a layer of compost and manure, cover that with six inches of fresh from the trimmer’s truck wood chip mulch and plant. I’ll even fertilize for the first couple of years while the soil is getting better from the decomposing wood chips.

    About the dog, depending on it’s manners, you may need a little fence to keep it out.

  18. Why not plant potatoes in the country garden and forget about them until fall? You can still pile those wheelbarrows high. Winter squash, root crops and cabbages too. If bugs are a problem, row covers could keep them safe while you ignore the country garden.

    Am reading your book now and was wondering why you didn’t bother growing vegetables at your city house. Good for your kids and their interests for forcing the city garden to take shape. Nothing like a fresh salad greens and herbs right outside the door!.

  19. We’ll come and take care of your country garden!!!! Just kidding. What a beautiful dilemma.

  20. I would have gone nuts with a 45 minute drive to get to the garden. I could never understand how you got anything done. Jealous, too, that you did. You will love it right out the back door. I am getting so lazy I want to move my veggies from the back corner of the lot to just outside the kitchen door. Because I when I walk the 60′ to get there, I get sucked into the garden and then the meal is late.

  21. Likewise, I’m with Laura Bell, it is your potager. I have a family garden of huge dimensions at my brother’s, of maybe 2,000 square feet. In town, I have my potager. A little strawberry bed, an apple tree that doubles as a shade tree, an apricot planted along the fence, and chives, parsley, and onions doing decorative duty along with chard and kale. I have black landscape fabric laid down to warm soil where I will plant a few tomatoes. The family garden will be for the stuff I will can. The potager will be on my summertime dinner plates.

  22. I have a very similar issue. My partner is required to live in the city to keep her employment. I have a house down in the country. Fortunately the spring has been wet enough that I haven’t had to trip down there too often to water or cut the grass.

  23. Ditto what Kate said.

    So you have come to a wonderful compromise…gardening/blooming where you are planted.

    Savor these last few years that you have them ‘in the nest’.

    You have them for such a short time, really. Even when some days seem like they go on forever, the years really do roll by waaaay too fast!

  24. Sheesh, get goin’ girl. That’s a lot of space gone to waste all these years!

    Yur veg growin’ skills will turn that into a cornucopia in no time. As for the country garden, why not transition over to some things that can go for longer without weekly tlc.

  25. Espaliered fruit trees! Yeah, bury that lawn. Plant a potager. Rosalind Creasey. All that. I wouldn’t have put up with that crummy (no offense) lawn for this long. Go go go. And please report back. Get the dog a nice leash.

  26. My garden is an hour drive from our condo. It is not easy. For 22 years I have looked forward to each ride up there. The garden with several gardens in it now looks like someone [me] has tended it over the years.
    Michele, do not give up your garden in the country. just begin another one outside your backdoor, though smaller. In time you will have two gardens.

    be patient with yourself.

  27. It’ll be fabulous. I definitely agree with all the “don’t rip up the sod” people–pile it high with straw bales, buy a truckload of compost, etc.

    I think you could probably do a really clever job of turning the country garden entirely into perennial crops (asparagus, raspberries, rhubarb etc.) that you just show up and harvest.

  28. Thanks to everybody concerned that I am making unnecessary work for myself with the sod. I will be ripping it out–already started. It’s easy here–the soil is very sandy.

    And since the soil is so sandy and really free-draining already, I don’t want to plant in raised beds, which will only require more water.

    Yeah, it will be beautiful. I’m not repining. But I won’t be listening to peeper song here.

  29. Michele, now you have the subject for a whole new wonderful book! I love your book, found it incredibly inspiring. In my opinion, it’s one of those rare, potentially life-changing books. For sure, it’s life-enhancing—. What do you mean by ” cover crops”? It’s an ideal place to grow storage, essential sustaining crops like potatoes, tomatoes, beets, winter squash, carrots, celeriac, even corn. Crops that will last through much of the Winter and also will require no more than weekly or every 10-day visits. Mulch heavily and water well when needed. It will be amazing! And, for your city mini-farm, have several yards of organic compost delivered–it’s actually quite cheap– and create instant raised beds a foot high. Plant right into it. You will be astounded with the productivity and sheer joy you will have with the abundant, beautiful lettuces, greens, herbs, chard, kale,summer squash,beans, peppers, a few tomato plants(your sauce ones will grow in the country), and don’t forget the flowers scattered throughout! Do both gardens this way, and you will be happy! All my best wishes! Begin today! And, I’m serious about the book; actually, I suggest that you post on Facebook and Twitter every day, maybe more than once a day so that we can all join your adventure!

  30. Just realized that I didn’t read your 05-16-11 entry before babbling on about raised beds. However, the sandy soil you describe sounds possibly fairly scant in fertility. Raised beds, well-mulched will probably do well with the rainfall we usually get in this region, without a huge amount of additional watering. Why don’t you experiment? Some flat and sandy, some a foot high of organic compost? I think you’ll discover lots of new, useful stuff and have lots of fun, as well. Yes, a whole new book!

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