Why it’s time for my yard to shed its grief-stricken look

I have ignored my yard long enough. Sure, I’ve mowed it during the summer and picked up major fallen branches and such, but I used to have pretty flowers and some vegetables and took pride in the details of my yard.

I don’t think I’ve honestly given its aesthetics much thought since Jim died of pancreatic cancer in December 2010. It’s a concept I find kind of amusing, because Jim never was the one who spent hours in the yard. He did the rider mowing, which is extensive, but I always did the push mowing — to save my special plants and flowers from an early demise as much as anything — but also because I knew how I wanted the yard to look.

It was MY thing.

I dug up gardens and planted and maintained them. Jim built a raised bed near the house for me and I took care of its content after that. I trimmed bushes and shrubs and pestered Jim until he helped me with larger pruning issues I didn’t think I could manage on my own.

I did much of the raking in the spring and picking up of apples in the fall. I dealt with grubs and cucumber beetles and aphids. I spent many weekend days and weekday evenings after work donning leather gloves, sunscreen and grubby jeans, working in the yard.

Yet, after Jim died, I suddenly felt incompetent to do the things I’ve always done. The yard didn’t matter because I had much larger issues. The yard chores I had always done were added to other things I had always done and things I hadn’t always done and the whole thing was, and is, overwhelming.

Plus it was difficult for me to do projects at home when I was busy escaping my new reality by being on the road most weekends to participate in various dog sports.

The area around the grave of our beloved Brittany Rosie has become quite unkempt.

The area around the grave of our beloved Brittany Rosie has become quite unkempt.

Well, in light of my 2016 New Year’s resolution to turn negatives into positives, it’s time to take charge of the yard. Here is my ambitious spring yard to-do list:

  1. For whatever reason escapes my brain right now, I did not pick up all of the apples from under the half dozen apple trees on my front lawns. Consequently, I ended up with a porcupine earlier this year that discovered what he considered a stash of food under the snow and had to deal with him. In spring’s light, the apples are rotting, gross looking and numerous under a couple of the trees, and must be raked and picked up before mowing season.
  2. The decades-old lilac bushes are in desperate need of some trimming. After they blossom this spring, I will see what I can do for them.
  3. There is some pruning in general that needs to be done as a result of the freak snowstorm in November 2014 that caused extensive damage to some of my antique apple trees and other trees and shrubs. Friends and my neighbors helped me clean up the big stuff, but there’s leftover trimming and cleanup that needs to happen.
  4. I had tried straw bale gardening last year, which essentially was a failure. I did my research and followed the directions, but without the weather conditions needed for its success and with my lack of experience with that methodology, my experiment ended up a disaster. I had a few scrawny green bean plants that didn’t thrive, carrots that didn’t make it past the “grass” look, and radishes that did not get beyond the two-leaf phase of growth. My soaker hose timer malfunctioned, and then there were mouse issues. I need to evaluate my straw and see if it is salvageable for this year because I would like to try this again. Maybe I will throw in a few pea seeds this spring and see what happens. Or clean up the old straw and start over.
  5. The real gardening disaster, though, is the raised bed near my front entrance. It holds remnants of its many identities over the years. A couple of purple crocuses are braving our crazy spring weather. There’s garlic and two kinds of chives and stray marjoram from when it was an herb garden. There’s the start of a small dogwood bush planted by a bird or the wind, and so many different kinds of weeds and random plants that my plan is to just scoop everything out, put in new soil and start over. I think I will retain a small clump of chives, and make a salad garden with different lettuces, spinach, radishes, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots and onions. Maybe a few marigolds to repel insects. Perhaps a few bulbs in the fall, although with the many corm-loving critters around my old farm property, that’s almost a useless endeavor.
  6. My hosta bed needs a little attention too, and there are a couple of dilapidated whiskey barrels near the hosta that have outlived their usefulness.
  7. I also need to make a trip or two to the town’s landfill with some debris that cannot go curbside, but that entails some work to my little tow-behind trailer.
  8. The area around the workshop has gone to mega weeds and sumac, which should be tamed somehow.
  9. There are minor repairs to the buildings and some minor painting that I can handle, and a couple of projects for which I will solicit help.
  10. And the raking. It’s not the plowman’s fault, but the winter plowing deposits rocks, debris and dirt from my unpaved driveway onto the lawns in the course of pushing the snowbanks to make room for the next storm. I have done this chore each year to some degree, but never actually finished it.


This used to be a tall hedge of bridal's wreath with a forsythia in front. Now those plants have gone wild and there are maple saplings, chokecherry and other plants throughout it.

This used to be a tall hedge of bridal’s wreath with a forsythia in front. Now those plants have gone wild and there are maple saplings, chokecherry and other plants throughout it.

As extensive as this list is, there is a lot more, too. When you neglect something for a while, it takes time to catch up. I will be happy if I succeed with half of these spring chores. And now that I am able to notice such detail again, I hope I will maintain my yard to a higher standard than in recent years. That’s the goal anyway.

Grief truly affects every aspect of your life. It is like a stun gun that immobilizes you and makes it difficult for you to function beyond the current moment. It overwhelms and dominates and changes your world so you no longer recognize it.

But it also pauses your life so that you can take out each piece of your past, examine it and decide if it fits your present or your future. I am doing a lot of that now. Looking at what used to be, truly examining it, and deciding whether it fits my present or my future.

The yard is one of those things. I liked its former raiment. I’m not sure if I will restore it or make  major changes to it to fit my personality now, but I have decided it is worth some of my time and energy to spruce it up a bit anyway.

I’ll let you know how it goes.


Two brave crocuses have poked up through the dead leaves and other plant life in the raised bed near the house.

Two brave crocuses have poked up through the dead leaves, chives and other plant life in the raised bed near the house.



Julie Harris

About Julie Harris

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.