Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Package Deal: Compromise in Gardening

He stood in the backyard eyeing the pile of sod. Large chunks of perfect grass lay mounded in a heap, my garden beds wider and longer than they had been at breakfast. Sensing his irritation, I turned to face him. "I'm planning on using the extra grass to patch all the places the dogs dug up. Plus, I can use it to repair the mess by the drainpipe." His shoulders relaxed as he watched me load the grass into the wheelbarrow and head for the lawn.

My husband never wanted a garden. He would be happy with one dog, a couple of bushes, a tomato plant, a few trees, and a large unbroken swath of grass. He never realized the wild twenty year old he married so long ago would morph into a passionate organic gardener intent on ripping up his lawn to plant hundreds of flowers and shrubs he'd never heard of. We discuss the lawn repair project quietly as the dogs, all four of them, ignore us to sniff and bark. I have a plan, I assure him, but these words are seldom comforting. I always have a plan, which is part of the problem. How messy will it be, how much sod will disappear, and what will it cost?


In November I made both beds wider, leaving a narrower curving path between them. I extended the bed to the right. This picture was taken in spring 2012.

I do not expect him or need him to help me fix the lawn. A long commute paired with even longer office hours leaves him little time to pursue his own interests and hobbies. There are no To Do lists or projects for him to work on. His free time is his own, I remind him. "Do what makes you happy" is a constant refrain and gardening doesn't make him happy. The lawn is quickly and effortlessly repaired, holes patched, clay soil amended. He looks over the finished project and his relief is palpable. Bunny fencing encircles the newly laid grass to keep out the dogs and he smiles. Neat in his work clothes, I have already shed mine. Heels, skirt, and a sweater are exchanged for oversized grey pants, a stained hoodie and  mismatched socks. Mud cakes the bottom of my red garden clogs and my sweatshirt is covered with dirt.


The change was subtle and the curves are less voluptuous than I would prefer but you have to work with what you've got. This was taken on Thanksgiving 2012.

The garden may be mine but the property is ours and as much as I need a garden to nurture and enjoy, he is sated by the cool expanse of our small lawn. A weekly mowing and he's done. I like the lawn, I tell him. It gives the dogs room to play and is a soothing frame to the color in the borders. He thanks me and is off. Asking a gardener not to garden is like asking a sports fan to ignore the game. My garden is my heart not a battle to be won and we compromise out of love for the other. I return to the garden to think and dream.


Both sides of the garden feature grass paths leading from the gate to the small lawn and surrounding perennial beds. This was also taken in spring 2012.

I am a package deal, I joke with a friend. I come with a garden and dogs. But ultimately, we are all package deals. My husband's package includes a lawn and no expectation to become a gardener. On summer nights we eat outside and he comments on the garden, listening to me chat about the wildlife I've seen or my challenges with growth and design. He understands my energetic nature and knows I have spent the day outside, immersed in the profound singularity of gardening alone.

75 comments:

  1. This is such a warm blog post and a lovely way to write about the changes you have made in your garden. Your marriage sounds strangely familiar with the exception of the lawn mowing husband (I am afraid that no one likes mowing the lawns here).

    I sometimes think that it would be wonderful to be married to a gardener, but then again, two gardeners in one garden might be a cause of conflict, so I am probably happier gardening alone.

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    1. I thought it might be fun to be married to a gardener, too, but we'd probably just argue. I like having absolute autonomy over my choices.

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    2. Isn't that the truth? LOL!

      I can never get over that combination of deutzia and lamium. Gorgeous!

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  2. I'm smiling right now! I'm smiling because this is spot on terrific! Your beds look wonderful by the way! What a garden you have! I go in to every growing season with excitement and anxiety. Excitement for what's to come in the garden and anxiety about the conversations waiting to be had about the budget and how many plants I plan on buying this spring. My garden is slow growing because each year is limited as far as money is concerned with having 3 little beans. I was laughing out loud about the sod because my husband always gives me the look when he sees the pile of sod! HA! But like you I think in the end we all compromise and he enjoys the garden on those summer nights which in turn makes me happy! Thanks for sharing! I'm glad I'm not alone!

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    1. The cost of gardening has been a sore spot with my husband since I started gardening 19 years ago. But he's come around, slowly. He knows I try to minimize the expense and he loves being able to sit outside and enjoy the garden. But he's always relived when he sees a pack of seeds instead of a table full of plants. :o)

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  3. The changes are subtle but improve the look of your garden beautifully. The key to compromise is in the respect you have developed.

    My husband grew up on a farm and mowing was a chore he never enjoyed so we have other areas where compromise is needed as we carve out gardens where there was only neglected space before.

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    1. Thanks! I really like the new curve. My husband has a lot of respect for how much hard, physical work I've put into the garden and how much I try to analyze and problem solve any issues that come up. He never knew gardening could be so challenging. I love that you've turned neglected areas into gardens as beautiful as yours. :o)

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  4. I see some similarities in our package deals, and it all works harmoniously, doesn't it? I see the enticing hammock tucked into a corner in your yard, and your garden is growing gracefully.

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    1. It does tend to all work out. :o) The hammock is pure heaven. We drag it into the basement in the winter and we even lay in it down there. I highly recommend one!

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  5. Another wonderful post Tammy. My husband has no interest in growing plants, but he does love his lawn, he also likes to look at a garden, without becoming involved. Sometimes he will help me out with the hard stuff, but mostly I like to do it myself. And in a way I'm glad he's not a gardener, because then I would have to share. As it is, I am sharing with my pooch, who also likes a garden, because of the abundance of insects it provides. I love the hammock and the large shrub in the last photo. Your garden speaks of serenity to me.

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    1. Thanks, Karen. My husband is a garden appreciator who no longer worries he'll come to a missing lawn. He enjoys the garden but also enjoys not being required to do any of the work, except heavy lifting. I like knowing I can garden without having anyone second guess everything I do. That would make me crazy!

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  6. Your hubby is so understanding of you, and that is all that is needed.
    I know exactly what you mean with the words "immersed in the profound singularity of gardening alone."
    Lovely post.

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    1. Thanks, Virginia. He does understand me well. 23 years of marriage will do that!

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  7. Tammy, you've hit home for me as well. To know and accept that my husband is not a gardener has taken me a while. He loves having a garden. He loves to have projects to do and even to design and construct things in the garden and he likes to talk about the garden BUT he does not like gardening. Watering, weeding, mowing, pruning, planting, etc are about as enjoyable to him as ironing. He'll do them if he has to but.... It took me years to figure that out (a bit slow am I)

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    1. All things gardening related are torture to my husband. He isn't a gardener and never will be. But that's ok. The idea of joining him in his hobby makes my head hurt. We are both quite happy to meet up at the end of the day and chat about our separate passions. We are very supportive of each other but each have a different idea of what constitutes 'fun'.

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  8. Funny...what is it with men and their lawns?! My husband enjoys mowing the lawn. It is a stress reliever for him after a long week at the office. He is also a great hole digger and invasive plant remover. I think I'll keep him around :) Your grass remodel looks great!

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    1. My husband has dug some big holes for me, too, and is great at lugging big heavy bags of potting soil, etc into the back garden. He can stay! ;o)

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  9. I enjoyed your post. Lovely garden. That hammock looks very inviting and relaxing. Marriage does require some compromises and mutual understanding :)

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    1. Thanks! The hammock is a summer staple around here. The only challenging part is getting out without falling on the ground. :o)

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  10. I enjoyed reading your post so much! It sounds very similar to my situation, except I have a husband who enjoys gardening (and mowing!) I think he enjoys having the large expanse of green a little too much while I get so much joy from my flowers. I haven't had the courage to enlarge the flower beds yet, so I keep stuffing plants into the already crowded beds. I think we need a garden designer to help us like Michael Payne, the interior decorator, on that old HGTV show called Designing for the Sexes!

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    1. Grab a shovel and start digging! Enlarging beds is such a wonderful feeling. Plus, it gives you more space to work with. My husband likes the way the garden and grass compliment each other. He doesn't offer up any design ideas, much to my relief, so I just do what I want. :o)

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  11. Tammy, you've hit the nail on the head! My better half doesn't particularly care about any part of the lawn or garden but enjoys looking at it. I sometimes envy gardening couples and being able to bounce ideas off another gardener but autonomy is pretty sweet!

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    1. That seems to be the trend! My husband really enjoys eating outside with a garden as a backdrop so it all works out. :o)

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  12. I love your grass path! Like many others here I have a tolerant husband who will deal with anything structural (walls, arches, trellis etc) and will also mow the lawn, prune big trees and dig holes. He absolutely hates any other gardening activity except sitting in it but I really don't mind as I'm so grateful he helps me with the heavy stuff. If I saw the garden as a chore then I'd probably want him to do more but it's my escape from work, hobby and a complete pleasure. Besides, I don't expect to be drawn into his motor sport obsession but I do support his interest!

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  13. Yep, it's subtle, but it's just right. The shapes of your two gardens and the grass path between is just right now, without being overdone or too curvy.

    I am also married to a grass lawn guy, and he'd be happy with wide open lawn and some bedding annuals to border it. But he does participate in garden labor and in helping me execute my designs. A little eye rolling but not much.

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    1. I get some eye rolling, too, especially when I dig up a plant just to transplant it a foot away. :o) He just smiles and nods a lot.

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  14. Great post... my husband is not a gardener either, we each have a few of our own hobbies, and I believe for a healthy marriage you need that... time to do your own thing, and then the enjoyment of having something to talk about later! And isn't it funny how we do morph, change a little from who we were when we first met... but then, that's what life is all about! Cheers~

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    1. I'm a big believer that couples like each other more if they're not constantly together. I would lose my mind if I had to join in his hobby and he'd last about a hot minute at a garden center. But we enjoy meeting up at dinner to support each others efforts. :o)

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  15. Great post. My spouse is mostly supportive of my gardening. We have two areas of disagreement. First, she doesn't like shrubs. Can't say why, she just doesn't. I like shrubs. Also, once I have a new garden bed established, she doesn't like change. But I have itchy fingers and always want to change things.

    By the way, I love the Monty Python reference with the cat. Why don't more gardeners talk about the Knights Who Say "Ni!"

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    1. I'm a big believer in change if its needed/wanted. I'd go crazy if everything was the same all the time. Half the fun of forgetting where I put all my fall transplants is being surprised when they come up in the spring somewhere else. :o)

      The Monty Python cat is pretty popular! I'll have to keep him around.

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  16. Tammy, it is good that your husband mows the lawn - it's hard work. Design and plants are best carried out by women!
    I think you made ​​the right package deal, perfect division of labor.

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    1. I think a division of labor in the garden is what keeps us happy. :o)

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  17. You have a really lovely garden! Well done.

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  18. My husband is not a gardener either. He just helps me with pruning trees and clipping high hedges, after I have asked him several times. He has his own hobbies and that's perfect. I should not like to be married with a garden lover like me I think, because he definitely should prefer other plants, no roses, other perennials, fuchsias, daturas, o noooo..........

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    1. If my husband were a gardener and didn't like the same plants I did, he'd have to go. I like most plants but if he loved plants I absolutely can't stand, I'd have to help him pack instead. ;o)

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  19. I love your new, larger beds, and the green pathways. It's great that you include your husband's love of lawn into your garden. This was a wonderful post to read. I could definitely relate. My husband doesn't understand my love of gardening, but he accepts it, even encourages it, and listens to my (boring for him, I'm sure) tales of the garden every night, too.

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    1. It took my husband a really long time to understand my passion. He's either figured it out or given up. Probably a bit of both!

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  20. Seems like most men are the same in their indifference to actual planting and appreciating the flowers but they don't mind mowing the lawn and digging holes.Perhaps it's programmed into their gender. Your garden is looking great even though it's mostly a one-sided venture.

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    1. What's odd is that there are a lot of male horticulturalists but I only know of one couple who gardens together. Most guys I know just think everything green is a plant, even if it's a shrub, tree, or flower. They just lump all into one category. So weird!

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  21. Looks like Jason and I are the only XY chromosomes here who are as passionate about gardening as the ladies! ;)

    And for what it's worth, I hate mowing the lawn. (Well, I might not mind a *small* and level lawn, but mowing our large and hilly property in 95-degree heat and 75% humidity? Not my idea of fun. I've outsourced that task for now and have dreams of a lawn-free property someday --- filled with fruit trees, shrubs, perennials, a hammock, benches, fountains, etc.

    Just a dream for now :P

    PS - Do you remember where you got that hammock, Tammy?

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    1. Mowing the lawn in the heat/humidity is hell. I don't blame you for outsourcing it. :o) I bought the hammock from www.brokkstone.com. I ordered it online and had it delivered. The free standing stand is fabulous! I don't have to worry about hanging it between any trees.

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  22. Sounds like me, always dreaming of what it could look like and making changes here and there. Nothing better than getting your hands dirty in dirt! Love what I saw of your yard.

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    1. Thanks! I'm dying to get my hands in the garden again!

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  23. You have gotten me to think about my own gardening "partner". My husband always jokes with friends and neighbours that he is not the gardener- just the cheap labour. Generally, he does not take an interest in the garden, but he is therefore me when I need to do heavy lifting and hauling. I appreciate that little bit of help and content myself to find kindred gardening spirits elsewhere.

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    1. My husband makes the same joke! I have shoulder tendinitis and my husband is very quick to help me haul anything, which I appreciate. He feels useful and I'm happy to not have to do it myself. It all works out. :o)

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  24. My hubby was not into gardening, but my enthusiasm has also infected him. He is ready and eager to help with all the gardening chores except not growing anything from seed, planting and nurturing them - those are my jobs; but, I don't mind that at all because that's why I love gardening - growing and nurturing my babies.

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    1. My husband is genuinely excited for me when I'm thrilled about something in the garden. He's equally excited not to have to do anything related to gardening other than haul heavy stuff. :o)

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  25. Your expanded garden beds look perfect to me. I think that pushing them out a little at a time is a very practical approach to downsizing turf. I've been planning to gradually skinny my own grass down to pathways too, just wide enough to run a lawnmower down.

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    1. When I rip out an area of sod he always comments on how big the new bed is and on how much sod is piled up. But within a few months I usually hear how much he likes the new bed. He never gets over the shock of grass removal. It's actually kind of funny. At least to me. Maybe not to him. ;o)

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  26. Another short story; how well you write with comforting words. You mentioned heels and I thought of those boots! It will be hard to forget them.

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    1. Let me tell ya, Patty - I love heels! I wear them most days to work, which puts me at 5'10" in those babies. When a sassy 6th grader realizes how far up they have to look to talk back, they usually think twice. My evil eye is even scarier from that height. ;o)

      I've never thought of my posts as short stories but I think you're on to something. Maybe I'll start a new trend - the nano novelist. I'm so glad you like them!

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  27. Tammy you have such an incredibly talented way with words and such a gift for story telling.

    My ex husband had no interest in gardening but in his defense he was a good enough sport to accompany me on garden tours and actually learn the names of a few plants. In 1996 I started a turf grass removal project that continues to this day. A few years ago, my neighbor across the street installed an island of shrubs right smack in the middle of the front yard. One day my ex husband sauntered over while they were working, pointed to their tiny garden project then flicked his thumb across the street to my garden (all four sides of the house) and said, "This is how it starts.". Needless to say they haven't added much since.

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    1. Thank you!! That is so funny!! I've seen mid-lawn shrub islands that were planted on domed beds of soil and filled with shrubs that grow to 6+ feet high. They are so bizarre to me. A shipwrecked boat and a bottle with a note inside would be the perfect addition. ;o) I love your 'turf grass removal project'. I'm slowly eating away at ours, too, although it will never disappear completely. I think grass is pretty and playing fetch with 4 dogs in a perennial bed gets expensive.

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  28. My husband has gradually begun to love the garden, and now that he is retired he has become more actively involved. I'm not sure I want that! For the most part he is content to do as I say, but sometimes he has ideas, which I may or may not like. Generally he is OK with spending money in the garden, which he sees as an 'investment'. He has come a long way from the day long ago when he sprayed the crepe myrtles, in full bloom, with herbicide!

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    1. He sprayed the crepe myrtles with herbicide? And he's still alive? That's love! WHY did he spray them? Was it an accident or does he just really hate crepe myrtles? My husband once thought it would be smart to spray the weeds on a windy day and damaged several plants. I was furious.

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  29. "Asking a gardener not to garden is like asking a sports fan not to watch the game" -- Wow, so true! You are such a great writer, Tammy. I thoroughly enjoyed this from beginning to end.

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    1. Thanks, Beth! :o) What's been fun about this post is how much it resonates with people. It seems like there are a lot of relationships out there comprised of a gardener and a garden appreciator who helps out when needed. Perhaps that's what keeps it all balanced. :o)

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  30. Your situation sounds exactly the same as mine - my husband has no interest in gardening but does like the grass to look good - so it is a solitary pastime for me - which to be honest, is the way I like it, then there are no arguments about how each of us would like the garden to be.

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    1. The more I think about it, the more I realize I like it that way, too. I'd go crazy if I had to get a second opinion on everything I wanted to do in the garden. We used to have horrible grass and it really frustrated my husband. He's not a fanatic about the grass, he just wants it to be green and alive, which is totally understandable. Once I started helping him improve the grass by using some of the same products I use in the garden, the grass improved and do did his attitude.

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  31. You sound just like my husband and I. I am like the live-in gardener and he's like the property owner. His payment is to stroll around in the summer and pluck a ripe tomato or two and pop it in his mouth. Like you, I wouldn't have it any other way :)

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    1. That's funny!! It sounds so grand. :o) My husband has the luxury of enjoying a garden without having to do any of the work. But that's ok. He once made a bizarre planting design suggestion that ended with me pointing the shovel in his direction and asking him to get out of my garden. He and I are both quite happy with our arrangement. He hauls, I design. :o)

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  32. I think so many of us can relate to this beautifully written post...

    To varying degrees we are all in a similar situation. My husband is more then happy to help, but it drives him nuts not to see a picture of what I want to create...he needs to see a plan, not hear...I have a plan. But on blind faith he has more then once helped create some beauty in the garden.

    Now I just need more soil.

    I love what you have done, it's inspiring, and I have overlayed your garden in my mind on the same side of the house...your's will be my inspiration.

    Jen

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    1. My visions for the garden and what my husband thinks I'm describing are always completely different. His are always much smaller than mine. If you go to my post called Nearly Naked you'll get a much better view of the garden. :o) There have been many nights I've come in once it got dark after spending the entire day outside to find dinner waiting for me. Even if it's just a pizza, it always makes me happy. :o)

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  33. So much of life is about compromise but I'm like you. My husband works away from home all week so when he's home on weekends the last thing I want to do is stick a honey-do list in his face. He needs to relax and rejuvenate. I get my kicks out of being in the garden so unless it's something that requires more brawn than I've got, I do it myself. Then, like your hubby he'll be outside in the evening and enjoy what I've created. This is all I need.

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    1. Our situations sound very familiar. I don't need my husband to join me, either. I just need respect and appreciation for my efforts and am well supplied with both. :o)

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  34. About the only place my husband and I don't argue is the garden. We can work side by side quite happily for hours. Of course the minute we get inside and I say, "I think we should move the hydrangea' or something like that, we're off. I swear he disagrees just for the fun of it. It doesn't help that I'm Penny and he is Sheldon in our relationship.

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    1. Some people like to stoke the fire just to see it blaze. I know someone like that. I had to learn to not react to anything they said since that's what they wanted. When I quit blazing , they quit stoking and left me alone. It was such a relief. You may be Penny, but I assure you I am Bridget Jones. I think Penny's a lot smarter than people realize. :o)

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  35. I enjoyed your story! My husband likes the lawn but he also loves me, more than the lawn. That is why he says OK when I tell him that I want to remove a part of the lawn and turn it to a flower bed. We have two dogs and two boys, so I'll always keep a part of the lawn for them. Moreover, the lawn provides a place for the eyes to rest.

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    1. I smiled when I read the second sentence of your comment. My husband likes the grass but loves his wife so the garden grows every year. :o)

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  36. On the topic of what to wear, we have this celebrity gardener called Laetitia Maeklouf over this side of the pond who always wears a skirt to do her gardening along with some ridiculously impractical top like crocheted lace or something similar. The rest of the gardening world is clearly miles behind in the style stakes but Laetitia is probably rich enough to pay other people to do the dirty jobs.

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    1. You are amazing for suggesting her to me!! She is exactly the face of gardening I wish we saw more of here. I checked out her website and love it!! Out with the baggy grey pants, in with a cool skirt and impractical top! Gardening style is a bit lacking, to put it mildly. So inspired!

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  37. Sounds like you understand each other perfectly and respect each other's needs. So very important in a marriage. My husband too really isn't that interested in the garden but for me he makes an effort to help out when asked and listens patiently when I need to discuss new plans for the yard. In exchange I encourage his golf habit ;-)

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  38. I love the thoughts you express here. My husband has similar work constraints. He doesn't dilike gardening but there just isn't space in his life to spend time working on a garden right now. I think you describe the give and take that love demands perfectly, thank you for putting those ideas into words. Christina

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  39. Just a little late in commenting here. I like expanding the garden beds and moving the sod pieces to repair the lawn where the dogs made their mark. Right now our lawn areas look like we are running cattle...with two dogs. What a mess.

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