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  • Lisa Davis

Adventures in Gardening: My Roadside Flowerbed

What could possibly have possessed me to want to plant a perennial flowerbed at the edge of the road on a 200-foot long, very steep slope? In retrospect, maybe a slight case of insanity and a newly acquired addiction to perennial gardening. At the time, I came up with plenty of logical reasons.

First: this was an ugly spot. If the hill was not mowed, it was an eyesore, and my husband did not allow eyesores in our large yard. Second: mowing it was a hazardous and strenuous undertaking because of the abrupt drop from the road. One could end up taking a tumble and inadvertently chop off body parts. Third: I liked excuses to avoid housework. Fourth: all the physical labor would be great exercise. Fifth: it would give me something creative to do while I was home with three young children.

My husband was not thrilled with the idea. Although he didn’t enjoy mowing this stretch, he thought of many arguments why my proposal of a flowerbed in this location was not practical. It was a gravel roadbed, he said. Snowplows would wing road salt and grime down that hill all winter long, and living in the snow-belt region of central New York, that is a substantial amount of salt and grime. How would plants ever grow in those conditions, he asked? He pointed out that I was relatively new to flower gardening and this was a huge area so it would be an immense undertaking. He had no interest in gardening, he clearly stated, so I could expect no help from him. He emphasized how very unhappy he would be if I lost my enthusiasm for gardening and this spot that was so visible became not only unkempt, but also unmowable. He pleaded with me to reconsider. But I was determined, some might call it pig-headed, and I finally persuaded him that I could handle this grand project.

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I began the first section at the end farthest from the driveway, the widest part. I discovered there was only a thin layer of dirt, I can’t even classify it as soil, covering the gravel of the roadbed. I now have my suspicions that this layer of dirt initially came from those winter snowplows my husband warned me about. I also discovered the base was not merely gravel. There were rocks of all sizes mixed in with that gravel. Have you ever tried to dig a boulder of out of a steep bank? It isn’t an easy task. When I dug from the downhill side of the slope, I was unable to get enough leverage and traction. If I dug from the uphill side, I was able to exert a lot more force, but in the process, would often tumble down the hill when the rock gave way.

One day when I was working on the first section, and had been wrestling with rocks and dirt for several hours, I crawled up the hill on all fours because it was so steep and I was so tired. Just then a car appeared on the road. The car slowed, and an older gentleman stuck his head out the window, and asked me if I needed help.

I was confused. Why is this complete stranger offering to help me with my gardening? Then I saw his concerned look, and realized how filthy and disheveled I looked. Here I was on the side of a hill on a quiet country road, and although there would eventually be flowers planted, at that time there were no flowers yet. Oh my God, he thinks someone kidnapped me, had their way with me, and threw me out of the car down the hill and sped off. I assured him I was fine, and there was no cause for concern; I was just starting a garden.

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Most of the plants I’ve planted on that hill thrive and grow vigorously. The gravel roadbed provides superior drainage and the yearly spring rains wash away the layers of road salt and grime before any harm comes to the plants. I filled the large holes left by removed rocks with composted manure mixed with soil from elsewhere, which the plants loved. The south-facing slope warms up rapidly in the spring, which means I often see my earliest blooms there. Flowers that don’t mind drought conditions love the dry top of the slope, while moisture-loving plants thrive at the damp bottom.


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My daughter was two when I started this project. She was 10 when I reached the end. It involved uncountable hours of toil, buckets of sweat, yards upon yards of mulch, truckloads of manure, and a multitude of plants. I made countless mistakes, and in the process I learned almost everything I know about gardening and plants.


I can’t say it’s complete, because it will never be done. I will continue to revise and rearrange it until we eventually move or I die; whichever comes first.

My husband has admitted that I was right, it was a good place to plant a garden.







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