Live Well with Nature

Read about how one reader changed from competing with nature to working with it.

Given the chance, ground covers and other unplanned plants popped up in the author’s landscape.
Photo by John Catenacci

Living Well with Nature 

My wife, Dianna, and I moved into our newly constructed lake home in late 1995. The land was a blank slate of muddy clay. I loved writing on it. I designed the entire landscape for our yard, first on paper, and then, with plenty of sweat, in the earth.

I built sandstone walls to break up the steep slope of the property, tossed in a few rock piles here and there, and added seven trembling aspen to the south side of the house for shade in summer. I also added a variety of evergreens on the north side to block the arctic winter winds. I created lots of islands for plants, along with a 20-by-40-foot vegetable garden. I planted all of it myself.

Dianna’s idea of a perfect landscape was every plant in its own place, with lots of space around each one, which equals lots of mulch — up to 150 bags or more every other year. Still, we spent many summer hours in the yard pulling “weeds,” which, of course, always came right back.

Fortunately, I realized right away we didn’t need a sprinkler system — even though everyone else on the block had one — because the ground was 100 percent clay. The grass was happy if I cut it high, and, once established, it didn’t need water, fertilizer, or herbicides. In the 25 years I’ve lived here, the grass has gone brown (dormant) a couple of times, but always comes back as good as ever.

I planted our vegetable garden each year. We harvested much more than we needed, so our neighbors received plenty of asparagus, squash, tomatoes, beans, and more.

Dianna passed away from breast cancer in 2008 after a 17-year struggle. Brokenhearted, I tumbled into a pool of grief. A couple of years later, I emerged into the light, partly by writing a memoir about my life with her, titled Dianna’s Way. Oddly, I noticed my solitude was blessed with a quiet sense of appreciation, gratitude, and joy. In fits and starts, I began to see my internal and external landscape with new eyes. I began to question my relationship with the plants surrounding me. All those years, I’d been competing with nature. I began to wonder if there was a way for me to cooperate with her instead.



Fall 2021!

Put your DIY skills to the test throughout November. We’re mixing full meal recipes in jars, crafting with flowers, backyard composting, cultivating mushrooms, and more!


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