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How to Admit When Your Garden Looks Ugly (and Feel Proud)

Garden Bloggers: I challenge you to post at least one photo of your garden at its worst and put a link to it in the comments here.

When I’m talking to people about gardening I often hear apologies that their yard or produce doesn’t look as perfect as mine. Some even give up trying to grow things because they feel so embarrassed by gardens they perceive as “better.”

Sometimes photos of stunning gardens inspire us, and sometimes it is just intimidating. No need for the latter! These days, most of us automatically know that fashion magazine spreads are faked. Still, we don’t realize that home improvement magazines also hire a team of professionals to manicure and tweak their glossy photo spreads. Even lower-budget garden bloggers like me utilize optimum lighting, staging, close-ups, and editing in order to look our best!

Now, if I’d wanted to do a nice looking post today, I probably could have pulled some of the capsized tomato cages off the back strawberry bed, cleaned it up, and written a post on starting strawberries early. You wouldn’t have known that the only reason my strawberries existed at all was that I never got around to staking the cages last season and that during a storm they blew over on top of the adjacent strawberry bed. You also wouldn’t know that the chickens we took our time fencing out of the garden ate every single plant except for the strawberries because they couldn’t get through the fallen cages.

Instead, let me pull back a little and show you the full picture:

Photo Caption: Our garden in mid-February, 2012. Planning a wedding, navigating the holidays, and procrastinating over building a chicken fence for 8 months aren't unique excuses for our garden to be looking so bad. Life happens -- to everyone! It's okay to have periods of weeds, drought, pests, disease, etc., you'll bounce back.

You can’t even find the strawberries, right? Nearly everyone has on and off again periods where the yard takes a back seat. If, like the majority of gardeners, you aren’t able to make your yard a full-time job, it’s unlikely it will be in top condition season to season. Don’t let it get you down or stop you from trying again!

One thing I recommend is to count your successes along the way and give yourself credit for them. Did you harvest snow peas in June or a few pints of cherry tomatoes before the hornworm ate it? Is your basil or rosemary so big you have to give clippings to friends? Did you pick zinnia bouquets to put in your kitchen window or watch butterflies landing on top of the buddleia blooms? Did your seedlings germinate (even if something happened to them later)? Those things count! You’ll build on those accomplishments every year.

Every single garden you grow, even the jungles and deserts, gets you closer to the Eden in your head.

Take photos early and often of your garden adventures (especially bouquets and harvests). When you get down on yourself, go back and look at the good times — it will help you to take yourself seriously as a gardener. You deserve it!

Photo Caption: Some results from lethal, chicken-ninja combination attacks -- digging up the roots of the plant/ eating the crowns down to nubs. The positive? They might have killed the poison ivy along the fence!

Last year I was so excited that I was done digging beds for a while. Shows what I know! Chickens are phenomenal little tillers, so I get to work out my arm muscles again this year to fix what they’ve leveled. It will also be a dent in the pocketbook to replace the significant quantity of perennial plants they murdered.

Oh well, the eggs sure are tasty…

Photo Caption: Chickens are the worst-ever gardeners. These rows of raised beds have been knocked almost flat and emptied of foliage by their foraging.

Most of us have goals for our gardens that we aren’t able to fulfill in a hurry. It’s important to remember that the garden is as much a process as a product so that you don’t get discouraged. There’s usually a silver lining to the setbacks (nearly always involving education — at the Organic Growers School this weekend I heard someone say that you don’t really know a plant until you’ve killed it 3 times).

Eventually, we’ll be composting in our branch-pattern bed pathways and using no-till methods. In the meantime, we have few backyard weeds because the chickens ate those, too! They’ve also done a good bit of on-site fertilizing and overwintering pest consumption.

Photo Caption: It had been over 2 months since the chickens annihilated every green item in the yard -- except for the parsley. I made the mistake of bragging to a friend, "At least they haven't eaten the parsley!" Next day? No parsley. And look! I even left that grungy plastic container sitting there when I took the photo -- pretty huh?

The best thing? All things come with time. We finally did find the right moment to build our chicken fence and free up the garden for spring transplants.  (Although the first thing I did was gleefully sweep all the poop off our back steps and deck).

The next day, I began the process of making the garden a productive and beautiful place (again):

Photo Caption: It didn't take that long to re-dig some of the raised beds and get them planted with winter greens and root veggies.

And then the rabbits ate the new transplants because the chickens already ate all the weeds they used to prefer.

Well, I’d been thinking it would be nice to own some Havahart traps…

Instead of feeling down, I’m looking forward to the day that I can write a more attractive garden post — and when you see it, you’ll know it doesn’t always look that good.

If you’re a garden blogger (or a gardener willing to put up a photo album) I heartily invite you to link to your garden’s “bad hair days” in the comments. Take the pressure off yourself, and everyone else!

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