The Living Without Series

This is a series of posts that I wrote back in 2006 on living with less stuff. Check them out: liv011Living #2liv031liv04

Coal Creek Farm on Facebook

The Chicken Doctor


The Architect


Vampire Deterrent

My garden is pretty much crap this year.  I planted late and it rained a ton and now I look out there and pretty much want to cry my eyeballs out because I’m a terrible gardener.

Oh, but I did grow some garlic because it took absolutely no effort on my part.  I stuck some in the ground early last fall and wah-la, garlic.

I asked one of my friends if he wanted to take home some garlic and he said, “Uh, I get my garlic from a jar.”  Then he said, “Oh, okay I’ll take half a clove.”  Half a clove?  Who takes half a clove?  And for that I gave him none.  I’ve decided only people that appreciate how hard I worked to grow this garlic deserve to have it and also people that appreciate fresh garlic, because it is NOTHING like garlic in a gall-darn JAR!!!

Also, I need to keep it so I can get rid of all the vampires roaming the soybean field.

The Day I Called Margaret Roach and Hung Up on Her…a few times

Imagine the horror I put Margaret, a vegetarian for more than thirty years, through when I posted all about our chicken butchering. But, in great Margaret fashion her reply to me was, “That chicken thing was harsh, but interesting. Wow.” Despite our differences, Margaret and I share a love for humor, the great outdoors and animals.  I just happen to eat the animals.


Margaret is a busy woman especially in May when she hosts a huge garden tour. Hundreds of people travel to her little piece of paradise to take in the beauty of her labors.  For more than twenty years Margaret has been working on her gardens.  She’s perfectly honest about her failures and successes, which came in handy when she began to guide me through plant selection.  And I was humbled every time I got a new email from her asking about my progress with the landscaping project.  I also realized there was no way in hell I was going to be able to get out of doing this project.

MargaretRoachTractor Margaret and her tractor.  Try not to make fun of her for wearing a necklace.  Look at her plants!

First Margaret wanted to know specifics about the area that would be planted, how high, how wide, what zone, sun or shade, what colors. how do we use the area, is there heavy foot traffic or paths?

I explained that I didn’t want the bushes to be too tall or they would overpower the porch and block the view out my dining room window.  We needed to stay below six feet and I didn’t want anything that would require regular trimming because I hate sculpting bushes and I have more important things to do, like blog.  The spot I wanted to plant was mostly shade, zone 7 and we have no gutters on our house so when it rains….it pours, but there is sufficient drainage. I also wanted to stay away from any contemporary landscaping and be true to the old farmhouse look.  We use the porch a lot to entertain and we set up tables on the basketball court when we have a large crowd.  We needed room for circulation and to be able to maneuver easily from the side of the house to the back porch.  I didn’t really have a preference on colors as long as it didn’t clash with the porch.  I sent Margaret a link to a local nursery to peruse their plant selections, told her to take her time, then I sat back and thought that Margaret would send me a list of plants to go purchase and we would be done.

Instead I got an email from Margaret telling me that we needed to talk on the phone.  I was going to have to call Margaret.  It’s one thing to email a person, but talking on the phone?  That’s like meeting the person and shaking their hand.  So, I sent her this email to give her fair warning:

Hi Margaret,
Yes I’m typing you an email at the ungodly hour of 2am.  Drinking iced coffee at my son’s baseball game was not the wisest decision, but I am getting a lot done on this here computer.

Anyway, I’m charging up my cell phone, because my house phone got hit by Swine Flu and all we get is a busy signal.  The guys can’t get out here to fix the line until later in the week.  But, you don’t care about that.  I’m just warning you that I’m going to call you tomorrow.  So be prepared.  I have a western Kansas accent which means I used to say Warshington, but going to college broke me of that.  Also, I can’t get my mower started and my yard looks like hell, so I really need to go to work on that spot with your help.  I think it’s going to be over 100 degrees here tomorrow…burrrr.

Talk to you soon.  Really.

And that’s just a small sampling of the insane emails I have sent her.  I busied my children with pitting a large bowl of cherries from our orchard grabed a pen and some paper and called Margaret Roach.  She answered the phone, “Chicken Girl? Is that you?  I don’t know anyone else from Kansas that would be calling me.”  And now, I’m known as Chicken Girl.  We were just starting to talk about Viburnum and Hydrangeas when I hung up on her, “Margaret?  Margaret?  Are you there?”  OH CRAP!  I just hung up on Margaret Roach!  I called her back again and asked her if something was wrong with her phone and we talked about Dogwoods and ferns and Fothergilla and I hung up on her again, at least four times this happened and it was my cellphone each time.  It’s a good thing that Margaret is patient and compasionate towards the irritatingly annoying  bloggers in this world and I was really glad I remembered to take notes.

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We started digging up the yard in preparation of planting.  My goal now was to do a few bushes by the porch steps, a few bushes to screen the back concrete porch and prepare the way for underplantings as directed an inspired from this post on successful underplanting and this one on the area a year later.   I decided to take my notes to the nursery and look at the plants that Margaret thought would fit the area.  Ater five trips back and forth to two nurserys we decided on three Little Lamb Hydrangeas for the spot by the steps and  three Fothergilla to put back by the concrete patio.  We also brought home one very beautiful red twig Dogwood that I thought we would plant in the adjacent area, but now that we have the area cleared, I’m thinking differently.

The total for the seven plants was $165 dollars.  So, a bit more than my original $100 project, but we also expanded it quite a bit.  We’ll fill in the blank spots with some ground cover that Margaret has offered to send me this fall from her abundant supply and as I save money for our gardening, we’ll fill in with a few other plants that I loved like the Viburnum and Limelight Hydrangea.  For now, the color pallette is white and green to simplify all the business of the porch detailing.  In the fall the foilage on these plants will burst with robust reds that should look beautiful with the surrounding trees.

Now, let’s walk through the process with pictures, shall we?


We tore out the winding brick path and expanded the planting area by removing all the grass around the tree making way for what Margaret calls “mosaic planting”.


This is what is used to look like.  The lava rock was used to fill a couple of holes in my driveway.  The brick will be used for a dreamy patio with a built-in fire place and it will be finished just in time to celebrate my 85th birthday.


We chose Little Lamb Hydrangea for their small stature.  They should get to be around 4X5, so they won’t overpower the porch.  And look how beautiful the flowers are.  So lovely.  They cost $30 per plant.


This is the Fothergilla or a bottle brush if you will.  They will get to be around 5X5 and make a nice screen to hide our grilling area although that might take a few years.


We bought the smaller plants, they cost $15 per plant.  Their flowers will all add nice texture to contrast  the hydrangea.  Hey, Margaret I haven’t taken the tags off my plants yet, they’re the Minnie Pearl of plants,  how badly does that annoy you?  Oh, I love to annoy Margaret.


We unloaded the plants and placed them far enough away from the roof where the rain pours down and far enough apart to allow them to fill in as they grow.  It’s amazing what three plants can do for a small area. Please ignore the dismantled board on the porch….it’s on the “TO-DO” list that will be done before the big birthday bash I mentioned earlier.


Guess how I used my feed bags?  Yep.  Weed barrier.  Thanks for that idea, you all are so smart.  Look at my chicken helping to spread the mulch.  My animals are so helpful.


We hauled home three truck loads of free city mulch and covered all the bags.  I also placed soaker hoses around all the new plants, because I’m such a smart person and I don’t forget anything.  I’m all about the details.


Which makes me wonder how I let this happen.  I had been soaking my new plants everyday.  Sadly, the hose around this plant must have had a kink in it.  It just about dried up and died before I realized what was happening.  It was not a very happy moment for me.  Poor Little Lamb.


Three Little Lambs all in a row.


Three Fothergilla spaced just so.

I know, I’m so cute.  Now the thing about gardening is this; you need some patience.  If you are into instant gratification, you are going to need to spend huge American dollars on your landscaping, but if your willing to start small and fill in as you can then you will have the pleasure of watching your garden grow and change and have the satisfaction that you worked very hard to make it that way.   Can I get an AMEN?!

I’ll add some ground cover around the tree and some more large plants when I can afford them, but I’m so happy with what we have started.





Notice all the plants have been removed from that spot on the right.  I’m pretty sure we dug out enough Yucca roots to supply the world.  Please let me know if you want ten million Yucca plants, I can hook you up.  We decided against planting the Dogwood in that spot because it was so nice to have the uncluttered space and when the brick patio gets done I will sit in my wheelchair and admire the open spaces while my great-grandchildren run under the old oak tree.





We’ll throw grass seed on the bare spot this fall.  Next year I’d like to start some roses on the fence you see at the bottom of the picture, wouldn’t that be pretty?

I owe Margaret a ton of thanks for guiding me through this.  She really helped me see the big picture and she did it all from New York even after I begged her to come to Kansas and pick out the plants for me.  I promised her food and entertainment and a futon to sleep on, but for some reason she never took me up on the offer.  I think it might have been all the pork and chicken I told her I would feed her.  Regardless, I had a wonderful time getting to know her and working on this project.  Thanks Margaret, you’re wonderful.

Links for this post:

Margaret’s toughest ground covers.

Successful Underplanting

Update on Underplanting

Margaret’s spring garden tour slideshow.

Go ahead ask Margaret, she won’t mind.

Part I of Margaret’s adventure with April

The Day I Met Margaret Roach

A few months ago I was reading a post that my friend Marilyn wrote for the blog The Sister Project. It was a touching account about her sister that fought and sadly lost a battle with cancer.  Marilyn’s words always melt me no matter if she’s talking about food or her family, the girl can write.  That day her post shredded my heart.  I commented on her post and then I tweeted, “Today Marilyn made me cry.”

Later that day I saw a few people added to my Twitter.  One of them was Margaret Roach.  Then I got an email from this Margaret Roach.  Who is Margaret Roach?  Why does that name sound familiar? I opened the email and read as she explained that she was the ex-editorial director for Martha Stewart and now she calls herself “a dropout from corporate life”.  As I’m reading the email I’m thinking, is this spam?  Should I believe this person? I kept reading.  Margaret explained how she is now retired from her fancy suits and high paced life.  She lives in rural New York  and writes on her blog named after her book Away to Garden and her newest blog, The Sister Project.  After reading her email a few times I decided to go to the bathroom.  Because that ‘s where I had an old copy of Martha Stewart Living and maybe this Margaret Roach lady was in there.  As I flipped a few pages into the magazine there on the editor’s page was a picture of a petite woman and her name was Margaret Roach.  Well, okay then.  I responded to Margaret’s email and that’s when the flood gates opened.

Margaret and I bantered back and forth about blogging, gardening and the nickname Auntie Monkey Butt.  Then I asked her if she was up to a challenge.  I wanted to know if she could help me landscape a spot by my porch for $100.  I’d set aside one hundred American dollars in my budget to plant a little somthin-somethin by the step of our porch which is usually the home to hair clippings, Legos and the spot where my mean Rooster plans his daily attacks.


In my mind I thought Margaret would say, “Why, my dear darling April, of course I’ll help you.  Go buy this specific plant and stick in that precise spot.” The end.  I would blog about it, we would smile at the little plant, drink some iced tea and go on with our lives.  But, that didn’t happen.  By the end of the challenge I had dug up half my yard, hauled three truck loads of mulch and spent a wee bit more than one hundred dollars.  Although, that may sound dreadful, in the end Margaret made me think outside the tiny spot that was by the porch which meant I had to use my eyeballs to see what was in my yard as a whole and stop focusing on just the little spot with the hair clippings and Legos.  Believe me there is a lot going on in that yard.


My focus was on that little 6X8 spot to the right of the stairs.  Stick a bush in and we’re done, right Margaret?  No, no, she wanted to know what else was around that spot, pull back she said, send me pictures she said, pull back more, send more pictures.  So I backed up and took more and more pictures for Margaret.  A basketball court, a big oak tree, to the far right was a kidney-shaped spot that had a menagerie of plants crammed into it, a Yucca, a honeysuckle, a half dead rose bush, Spirea and some other thorny bush.

And that’s not all.


Around the corner from my tiny 6X8 spot is some lovely lava rock, which has been listed in Margaret’s garden NO NO’s.  And let’s not forget the winding brick border, which I thought I’d be using as the border for my new little bush.  Hahahahah!  Oh, that Margaret, did she ever have a different plan in mind for me.


If we back up from that corner a bit we can see there is also the back concrete porch and a pear tree, or at least I think it’s a pear tree, Margaret has me thinking it’s a Maple now and since I’ve been having a bit of a dilemma identifying other trees on our property, I’m just going to call it Big Tree for now.  Margaret has asked for a close up of the leaves and could it please be in focus so she can positively identify it.  She’s kind of picky, that Margaret.  At the bottom of the picture you can see just a bit of the Ponderosa fence that borders the driveway.

Did I mention there is a lot of stuff in that yard?

If you’re looking close enough you have noticed that the brick border did not survive, nor did the lava rock.  I’m happy to report that I did survive and so did Clay and my children after I announced that we would be digging up most of the yard becasue Margaret has me seeing the big picture now.

….to be continued.