Turning My Thumb Green: Tending, Learning and Loving

The Oakwood Inn is a Select Registry Bed and Breakfast Inn located in Okoboji near Spirit Lake.

A lovely water feature lined with stone in a well-tended yard.

Lush lawn and red flowers beside a white house and a large evergreen treeFor years I have been an arm-chair gardener. I bought home décor magazines showing colorful gardens, showy waterfalls and beautiful landscapes. I would tear out the magazine pages and file them away for “someday” inspiration.

Once the Internet debuted Pinterest, I parlayed my interest in gardening into organizing my gardening Pins – not even minding if the Pins would work in whatever planting zone we lived in at that time. It didn’t matter that I didn’t make time to actually garden – I was living vicariously through the “Pins of my dreams”.

Then we moved to Spirit Lake, IA and opened The Oakwood Inn. We were thrilled at the potential the 2 acres had and couldn’t wait to start working the existing landscape and gardens. Except that no one had maintained the gardens in 2 to 3 years. There was at least that many years’ oak leaves covering the gardens. We hauled away 14 bags of leaves A DAY for a week to unearth the several gardens, two ponds and a stream.

As that first summer went on, I thought we had inherited the worlds’ biggest collection of miniature hostas. Three years later we now know that their miniature size that first year was just due to lack of spring and fall maintenance. Our hostas are now big and beautiful!

The next project we tackled was the honeysuckle bushes on the north and west perimeter of the property. Bill and I knew that the bushes shouldn’t be 25-30 feet tall. We started to remove the dead branches but soon realized that we needed to trim the bushes back – way back. Bill cut them down to 4 feet tall . . . allowing The Oakwood Inn to be visible from the road. That extreme trim was exactly what the bushes needed and we now have a beautiful flowering hedge with berries in the fall.

Up close on a green hosta bud with large green leaves in background

These two early gardening and landscaping successes upped our confidence and we started dreaming of remaking a few of the neglected gardens. This is where we learned a lot of lessons – some expensive, some thorny, and some that challenged our marriage (!!!), but all that helped to build on our gardening experiences.

Now that we are starting our fourth summer, we are happy to see that those experiences are paying off in transplanted peony blooms, hydrangeas blooming on old wood, beautiful large hostas, rugosa roses that produce rose hips in the fall and daylilies which grow faster than we can divide.

Is my thumb green yet? I’d say it is a chartreuse yellow, with dirt under the fingernail. I am still learning and still dreaming of how to improve our gardens. This year we are tackling the south garden and tending a neighbor’s vegetable garden. I have found that I love the feel of the dirt and the look of a freshly weeded garden.

I also breathe deeply . . . every day.

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