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Usually, this is my favorite time of year in my garden. The big leaves are at their biggest and the trees and shrubs are having their fall growth spurt, and the garden is a bit closer to the jungle of my dreams. After a few rain storms have freshened things up and softened up the ground, this is a great time to go plant shopping and start fall planting, while you can still clearly see any bald spots before plants hide underground.

Ordinarily, every year the garden is a little better than the last. But this year my garden took several steps back with a terrible string of bad luck. It’s more bald spots than plants.

Last year, things were still looking lush but getting a little unruly. Blackberries and bindweed lurked in that beautiful mess.

Last year I fell behind on my blackberry duty weeding duties. This year, feeling like it was impossible to catch up, I hired some garden clean up help. They were very nice and they did a thorough job of clearing blackberries, but there was some collateral damage. Some because it was necessary to dig out a little extra to get the blackberry roots. And some because what I think are beautiful plants apparently look like weeds to others.

Then my next door neighbor did some much needed clean up, which will ultimately make everyone happier. This year, however, the clean up took with it my vines that were covering the ugly chain link fence.

Before: scary field of weeds

Then the air conditioning installers came through, who couldn’t avoid the dense plants around the installation site. Then some necessary tree pruning and removal changed the sun patterns, leaving shade plants in sun during a record hot dry summer. And then the foster puppies, adorable little things, wrestled their way through the garden, flattening the remaining plants. And my own puppy didn’t help, stealing my plants and tools while I tried to work in the garden. Have you ever tried to catch a puppy running away with a new plant you were just about to stick in the ground? Or a saw? Eesh.

It has been a rough year.

Here’s what’s left of the formerly lush garden from about the same perspective.

Even that perspective is a bit too kind, framed by the few things that are still looking good. Devastation is more obvious when you step further into the yard.

I remember a couple years ago reading another gardener’s story about a garden helper giving all of her agaves bad haircuts, and thinking she was awfully serene about the whole thing. And now I’ve got a busted up garden of my own. It’s a bit of a bummer but I’m not as freaked out as I would have imagined. Still, it’s weird, feeling like an impostor gardener all of a sudden, with this wreck of a yard. It’s not a state I want to stay in for another year.

Now I’ve got this blank slate on my hands, ready to start over. Now I can tackle all of the projects I was afraid would damage the garden. The fence replacement? There are no more precious vines to be damaged. The garden paths are all too narrow? Nothing stopping me from expanding them now. Everything planted too close together? Not anymore, I will try to do better this time. The huge sickly cherry tree I was afraid to remove because it would have to be moved all the way from the back to the front? This was the year to get it out of here (funny enough, these were the most careful tree removal guys I’ve ever used, they didn’t damage a single thing, not even the Fatsia japonica directly under the monster).

If there’s anything to celebrate about the great garden destruction of 2014, its that I finally have room for the plants on my most coveted list. Thank goodness fall is finally here and I can start plant shopping and filling in all these patches of bare earth. It’s kind of fun to have more open space and sun than I’ve had in 15 years, ready to be re-imagined. And surely this time around, with experience on my side, I’ll be able to re-establish fairly quickly.

Eupatorium capillifolium 'Elegant Feather'
Eupatorium capillifolium ‘Elegant Feather’

I have wanted this Eupatorium capillifolium ‘Elegant Feather’ since I first laid eyes on it at the Dancing Oaks Nursery booth at the HPSO spring plant sale a couple years ago. I loved it so much I bought it without anywhere to plant it, so I had to re-home it with Patricia, where I could at least visit and enjoy it. You’re not seeing it on a windy day, it just perpetually looks like it’s caught in a strong breeze. I love the way it adds movement and texture to the garden.

The garden in 2007 using the big leaves trick
The garden in 2007 using the big leaves trick

Next summer, while waiting for things to fill back in, I’ll be reverting back to what I did back in 2007, when I used big leaved fast growers like bananas, cannas, and alocasias to feign a more mature established garden than I actually had. It wasn’t half bad. 2015 garden, here I come.

Have you ever thought about what would happen if you had to start over in the garden? Is there anything you’d do differently the next time around?