Why I plan to haunt my garden after I die.
My OCG Garden
My Father had a garden when I was growing up. He would work all week fixing peoples’ televisions and radios (this was the 1950s before everything became disposable). On weekends, he would tend to his vegetable garden. So, it was inevitable that someday I would have a garden too.
My garden started as a three-year project to fix the drainage on my new home. Then I started building raised beds and other garden structures. But I tend to over think and over plan, and collect too many things, so it kinda got outta hand. That was almost thirty years ago. Now my daughter does all the hard work. I’m retired.
Obsessive Compulsive Gardening isn’t about spending a lot of time in the garden, although that’s a natural consequence. It’s not just about planting new flowers in a bed every year. OCG is like writing a good novel. A novel has a plot and characters like a garden has a design and plants. But just as a good novel has much more to offer, so too should an OCG. An Obsessive Compulsive Garden should recognize eleven elements: design, structures, food, beauty, smells, animals, sights, textures, sounds, motion, and technology. How you apply the elements in your own OCG is a matter of personal preference.
You don’t need a big yard for an OCG. If you have a balcony off your apartment, put some plants (vegetable and flower) on a shelf or bench (structure), hang a wind chime and a rotator, and add some garden sculptures. Get a cat. Keep adding new things and rearranging the design so your OCG is always a new experience. Make it interesting during all the seasons of the year.
Some people put a great deal of thought into the overall design of their gardens. They plan them, build them (or have them built), and then don’t change them much. They tend to favor simplicity and neatness. Their gardens are mostly grass with a few attractive plants featured. Gardening to them is mowing the lawn and periodically planting new flowers. OCG gardens aren’t like that. They favor complexity and interconnectedness, like Ray Bradbury’s office.
I didn’t start my OCG with a definitive, rigid plan. My vision evolved like the Winchester House. I did have three ground rules, though. First, like a township-dictated mullet, the garden needed to be conventional in the front. Creativity was limited to the back. At that time, local governments had a very restrictive view of lawns and gardens. Conformity was required. That has become less true over time. Now some of my neighbors grow tomatoes in their front yards. Second, no grass … anywhere. It’s still the most pernicious weed I have to deal with. Monoculture lawns are also detrimental to the environment. And besides, there’s nothing more boring to a creative person than mowing a lawn. Third. I wanted to try new and unconventional things, not just the same plants and décor that everyone was getting from their local garden centers. This has proven to be a moving target. It used to take me weeks to research and purchase plants I wanted to try. I had to grow vitex, eucalyptus, stevia, goji berries and other plants from seeds I ordered from Canada. Now, they’re all available at the home-improvement store down the road.
Every year since I began my garden, I’ve tried new things. Some worked and some didn’t. My neighbor didn’t like my wildflower garden, so it only lasted a year. I built two, raised-beds next to my deck that were 18-inches tall so I could add padded benches for extra seating. I hadn’t thought about the staggering amount of materials I would have needed to fill the beds. I did fill one bed but converted the other into a 500-gallon fish pond. Also, some bushes got too big for the locations where I planted them and had to be moved. The tender, 2-inch vitex seedling I transplanted in the spring grew into 10-foot bush by the following fall. Then there were the perennials that turned out to be annuals in disguise. Harumph …
I have learned which plants grow well from direct sowing the seeds in my native soil and which prefer to be started indoors. I’ve accepted that some plants are still better off coming from nurseries. Then there are plants that refused to survive no matter what I do (I’m thinking of you, seaberries).
That’s the nature of gardening, especially OCG. Not everything works out in the way you expect.
One design element that I like are theme areas. In a theme area, I try to coordinate garden structures, plantings, and décor. I have theme areas for cats, fish, dragons and other mythical creatures, dinosaurs, and aliens.
Once you build one garden structure, building more becomes addictive. I started with a raised bed, went on to borders, more raised beds, more borders, then benches, arches, pergolas, trellises, decorated light poles, two swings, a pond, shelves and tables for pots, and finally, comfortable hangouts. My daughter has also been bit by the building bug, She has built several cold frames, garden benches, a fairy garden, and a tented patio, with many more projects planned. OCG is definitely genetic.
An OCG garden is about more than food but food is a big part of it. That’s what I learned from my Father’s gardens. I started with vegetables. My thought used to be to only grow things that were unavailable, or too expensive, or just didn’t taste as good from grocery stores. Availability has improved greatly over the years, but expense and taste are still important. I grow only a few different kinds of vegetables, mostly different varieties of tomatoes. I love winter squash but summer squash is a weed. My daughter grows many other kinds of herbs and vegetables, some I can’t even identify by sight.
I do grow, or try to grow, many types of berries and other fruit. I have blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, boysenberries, elderberries, cranberries, gooseberries, honeyberries, goji berries, serviceberries, figs, grapes, aronia, and kiwi. I also have apple, pear, and cherry trees. I don’t get a lot every year but I like the variety.
I went through a phase when I tried to grow flowers. I had success direct sowing some seeds, but mostly it wasn’t worth the effort. I did better with nursery plants, but it didn’t bring me the joy I thought it would so I decided to stick with vegetables. My daughter, on the other hand, has a green thumb. All the flowers in the yard are hers, I just sit back and enjoy them.
It wouldn’t be a garden without some interesting fragrances. My favorites are lavender, Russian sage, and vitex. The vitex, in particular, attracts butterflies and more bees than I can count.
Cats are the animals you’re most likely to see when you visit my garden. I’ve had different colonies of cats visit me for decades. I’ve rescued two cats who still live with me. The current colony consists of five adults and three kittens. The cats take care of snakes and small rodents, which I haven’t seen in years. I also have a dozen fish, which the cats don’t bother. Occasionally, I’ll also see squirrels, racoons, chipmunks, rabbits, a fox, a ground hog, and a possum. I fed the birds for thirty years until 2021 when the health issues affecting songbirds required me to stop. I still have five bird houses, four bee houses, and a butterfly house.
I have collected more garden statuary over the last thirty years than I can keep track of. I have hundreds of objects. Most of the art is resin, some of which I’ve painted. About a quarter are creations I made from cement.
Texture is another worthwhile element to consider. In my OCG, I’ve incorporated softness of dusty miller and lamb’s ear, grittiness from sand in my cranberry bog, and smoothness from polished marble benches.
I was a geologist in a prior life so I also have quite a few very interesting rocks arranged around the garden. My favorites are the garnets from Gore Mountain, the metamorphic and igneous rocks from Massachusetts, the marbles and granites from Proctor, and the boulders from the White River in Vermont. The rocks sometimes get lost when the vegetation grows big in the summer or it snows in the winter, but I know they’re there.
Besides all the sounds of nature in my garden and the world outside my yard, I like to hear some musical tones played by the wind. I have a three-inch bell and several objects with one-inch bells, all sizes of wind chimes from fairy-size to cathedral, and of course, a cow-bell. I need more of them all. There’s also the sound of the fountains in the pond and bird songs, when they come around.
Motion is my favorite garden enhancement. It makes everything seem more alive and it discourages birds from eating all the berries. I have metal spinners, vinyl and wood whirligigs, metal rotators, flags/banners, and an assortment of hanging décor. I used to have streamers and reflective tape but they didn’t last long in the wind and intense sun. The motion décor are positioned in different parts of the garden at different heights, so there’s always something moving in even the slightest of breezes. The motion show is constantly changing.
I have quite a few flood lights arranged around the garden. Some are for working at night when it’s too hot during the day but most are on motion sensors so I get alerted when the trash pandas decide stop by. There are also accent lights that I designed and built myself out of plumbing supplies. They look like Medieval torches. They’re on photo switches so they come on from dusk to dawn.
I’ve had a security camera system watching the garden for most of the decade. Security hasn’t been an issue. The system mostly allows me to watch what’s going on in the garden when I can’t get outside. I watch what plants are growing, what spinners are spinning, and what cats are playing on the deck. Watching insects cavort around the IR cameras at night is better than the 1950s creature features I used to watch as a kid.
And that is why I plan to haunt my garden after I die.