The Violet Fern

A Colorful Tale of a Garden in the Making

August Observations: The Ugly Truth



The month of August has had me thinking – thinking deeply, big, small, expansive, narrow, in circles, with direction … I breathe a huge sigh just “thinking” about the thinking I’ve done. I used to find solace in the garden. It used to quiet my mind. It was my church, my sacred space, my meditation, but now all I see is chaos – much like my office/studio. I can’t help but feel that I am falling apart and my tower, my world, is overrun and toppling down.

Bishop’s weed always gets away from me. It engulfs this poor beautiful Fernspray Cypress. This poor cypress that endures heavy loads of snow and ice through winter, and tangles of bishop’s weed through summer. Should I give in? Move the cypress to a better spot – oh, but where would that be? Start over with something more pyramidal that the dreaded weed can’t grow through? The bishop’s weed takes over the cypress, the jewelweed takes over the Dogwood (that badly needs more pruning), the bindweed takes over everything else. A catchy little verse: the bishops weed is connected to the cypress, the jewelweed is connected to the dogwood, the bindweed is connected to everything …

This is just the beginning of my garden. I walk on. And what’s this? Oh, MORE bishop’s weed setting up shop under the maple.


Under this muppet monster of a flowering raspberry shrub is a spice bush fighting for its life, a Pagoda trying to rise above, flag iris that have succumbed, a big bluestem that has well, never become big. Yes, I cringe each time I walk by. After all, I am walking death row.

Under all these rudbeckia and cup plant? Three winterberry and what used to be a lovely river rock path. I can’t even plant beneath the repurposed trellis as I can’t get to it.


Walking on, still checking off what seems a nearly impossible list of things that need to be done, I stumble upon the strawberry invasion. Yes, I have to walk upon strawberries – that is my path – better than burning coals, I suppose. More rudbeckia. More cup plant. More violets. More? … too much.

Moving on to the greenhouse which I lost the courage to enter for this past month because of hornets: now wild with weed. More weeds. So much for weed fabric – a complete hoax. I hate the stuff. Untitled

The Asparagus forest holding out against perilla. The horseradish losing the battle.


Hosta row? Completely covered in clematis.


That weed patch I so picked apart and destroyed last year? Back with a vengeance.


The ugly truth is my garden has gotten away from me – far away from me, and breaking up is hard to do! I try to console myself that it is wild, natural, evolving but the ugly truth is that my garden and I are growing apart. I have lost touch with it somehow – that spiritual connection is waning – and I feel, well, lost. Will we ever “get back together?” We need therapy! Blood, sweat, and tears.

My dream summer gardening job is taking its toll on my own garden even though I swore it wouldn’t. I fear a few more years decline and I can’t help but think … what will become of my own poor garden???  The ugly truth is that my dream gardening job is nothing more than “glorified weed laborer” and it is the last thing I want to do when I get home, or on a Saturday. Yes, there, gardening has become work and therein lies the problem.

What should I do? I love my garden, I need my garden. I need to restore my faith.

My last grit of fight is to take a LOT of time this fall to rip out, edge, weed with the hopes that I can jump ahead of next spring or at least maintain a steady pace. I am thinking about taking out ALL the rudbeckia and most of the cup plant. I am thinking I will move the spicebush in a last ditch survival method. I am thinking I will dig up those strawberries and contain them in a new, raised bed. I am thinking I will mulch, mulch, mulch. I am thinking I will hire myself! Then, I will have to think about ways I can get back together with my garden.

What about you? Has your garden ever gotten away from you? Please share your comebacks!


Author: Kathy Sturr

Cultivating art, growing soul, and creating plant-based food in the beautiful 1000 Islands, New York and Cedar Key, Old Florida.

24 thoughts on “August Observations: The Ugly Truth

  1. Things aren’t quite so bad here, Kathy, but I can relate! Carin, a writer who blogs as Matilda Magtree, has a great solution, though, and I highly recommend it:

    Loved your catchy little verse!


  2. mmm the garden won, and we moved.
    I’m really hoping that a smaller place, I can reasonably expect to keep up with.
    Happily planting too much, and hoping I won’t soon bitterly regret planting That There …

  3. I feel your pain, Kathy! Sometimes I fantasize about moving and starting all over again, but smaller! This time of year Nature ALWAYS wins in my garden and I just give up, knowing shortly frost will put an end to my suffering. 😉 Sometimes I think I am just getting too damn old for all these gardens. I’ve had to give up a few and the other ones wander the weedy path with maybe one or two that actually look like I tend them. The front walk gets the most attention because that’s where guests pass by! I’ve got better at letting go my resistance (wanting Perfection!) and accepting that I can’t do what I did in my 30s & 40s, making peace with the way things are now. I figure eventually I’ll be down to one or two beds that I’ll tend and the rest will go back to wild. So you wanna borrow my machete? 😉

    • Yes Eliza – I actually have a machete and it could be fun! I will see what the first frost brings – if I am able to clean up some of these beds. I keep planting more shrubs. I think I need to stop planting vines. Somehow, shrubs seem smarter, easier but then, they become overgrown! I love the advice I am receiving here – thank you. I will start with the bed right outside my porch window – that one should be most important.

  4. Kathy, While I’ve been busy making still more gardens this year, some of the old sections have gotten neglected. I never got mulch down in the spring, which meant that weeds got a foothold and soil condition declined. I’m also figuring that winter will cover it all up and I’ll get a fresh start next spring.
    Would it help to choose one or two sections of the garden to get under control this year so it doesn’t seem like such an overwhelming job?

    • Oh yes Jean. I have highlighted my problem areas and I do have some solutions. Once it becomes a little bit cooler, I think I’ll see a surge in my energy. I think I better hold off on the pond for now, though – then again – weeds can’t grow through water can they?

  5. Bishop’s weed by itself defeats a lot of people. Bindweed by itself defeats a lot of people. And you have both! Do you need the income your dream job provides? Because it is clear you don’t have enough time or energy for both the job and your garden. When my kids were young, my garden was always being taken over by one plant or another, including bindweed. It’s only since they’ve mostly been grown that I’ve had a bit more success, also thanks to an unemployed college graduate who spread mulch in every bed I weeded! You need a second pair of hands to help you do the work and give you encouragement. I am so sorry you are so very discouraged.

    • Thank you Kathy – I do need to hire myself or help. I need that income if I want to continue to winter in Florida and that’s a pretty big want! I will work it out. It just makes me sad that my garden has grown away from me. Thank you for your ENCOURAGEMENT! I appreciate it tremendously.

  6. Sounds like your dream job isn’t so dreamy.
    Maybe clean out one small spot at a time, to give you a sense of accomplishment and a clear view of some plants you value ? Otherwise it seems like it could be overwhelming.

  7. Yes, mmwm, the dream job is losing its dream-like qualities. I thank you for your advice – I will clean out one small spot at a time beginning with the cypress just outside my porch window – the most viewed. Hey, maybe a pond THERE will drown that bishop’s weed!

  8. OH MY GOODNESS!!!! This is my life lately with my garden-relationship. Our break-up started last year when I tore out a large bush that had been overgrown. Dogs died + life just got away… I look at mine and had to DIG in this week. I missed this post FOR since Sunday, I have been attempting to work in our garden and fix somethings. I was unmotivated and just found it frustrating to look at sometimes.

    I had some time yesterday, soOOOO…I dug in and cleared out. I got poison ivy a few weeks ago, so I was fearful to get in there and weed. I overcome my fear!I put on some long pants, long sleeves and it was a cool day– had some free time and went to town pulling and moving plants. I was so unhappy about the direction it was going that it was depressing me!!! I made some changes in one area and not I am inspired to continue. The old enthusiasm is coming back:-)

    I totally relate. The garden that was once an escape, a retreat, creative inspiration had become a big NAG! LOL

    I am with you and have made the decision to make my life easier. I have to get things under control. Too many things were running all over the place. Some things are not working. Some things just need to GO. I am determined to make it a place, I feel inspired again. I am moving in that direction and balancing it all with life outside the garden… We can do it!!!…lets roll up our sleeves and DIG IN—-hang in there we will DO IT! I picture the poster with the women and her sleeves rolled up….but I’ll keep mine rolled down for PO’s are out there to get me every time-LOL…
    Hang in there Kathy-we will overcome!

    • Oh, thank you Robbie! I need more cheerleaders like you! I am not going to feel guilty ripping Rudbeckia and Cup Plant a new one now. I don’t think I have any ivy in the garden – too much competition – ha! As the weather cools a bit, I feel my energy flowing back in and more motivated. Let’s get rid of the old NAG, ha.
      Thank you!

      • That nag is getting kicked to the curb. To me the garden is a canvas that needs to be reworked! this is the year:-) We can do it!!

      • oh + remember to keep your sleeves rolled down-no PO to ruin your weeding+ moving + creating!

  9. Oh we need to get together my friend and cry in our gardens to get it all out and then roll up our sleeves as mine has fully gotten away from me and I am almost feeling I should throw in the trowel. No help, and too much work for me… is barely my solace some days….I am thinking of ripping out many plants and not letting them take hold although many have….some I will win and others I will just keep one step ahead of…..

  10. You have my sympathy! August tends to be an ugly month in gardens here, not just mine. No one wants to work in the heat, the pretty plants retreat and the weeds grow with vengeance. I have found that commercial weed barriers are frauds. I use newspaper and even cardboard under thick layers of mulch to suppress weeds. In spring, fall and the milder days of winter I am ruthless about weeding and make it part of my regular garden walks. I am in the “ten weeds a day” camp, but by September the garden usually needs some intensive help

    • Oh, thank you Deb for the support! It is supposed to be another hot week here – into September! I am going to take a lot of time this Fall to weed, weed, weed – AND mulch. I know I could always use more mulch. I have to adjust to my new schedule and Fall looks like a good time to set aside for work on my own garden. I have April but April could either be winter snow or 80•F here – not a month I can count on. Patience and time.

  11. I had a beautiful garden 2 years ago. I really enjoyed watering the grass because it allowed me to clear my mind after a long day of work. However, this year I’ve just been so busy that I haven’t had time to tend to it. It’s kind of disheartening to see the grass turn yellow.

    • Hi Tony,

      I am slowly reigning my garden back in – it’s rejuvenating. I have a pile of trimmed vines that just about matches my three year compost pile. I have begun taking things to our local dump as some of it is really invasive. Not very green of me, I’m afraid but my compost is overflowing, too. Do you leave your grass at 3 inches? 3 inches is the magic number. It’s just tall enough to shade weeds at that point and it allows for a better (less water) root system. You know what I love about gardening? There is always next year!

  12. Many times I have been overwhelmed. The things that worked best for me was to choose one area – clean it up and sometimes even replant it. Simplify other areas. Work at it steadily when the weather is on your side.

    I hated Bishops Weed more than any other plant thug. I fought it constantly when I had a garden in the city. My sympathies!

    • Thank you Ilona! I covered that Bishop’s Weed in black plastic for an entire year. It came back stronger. Honestly if I were house shopping, and a potential home had Bishop’s Weed – it would kill the deal! I am more upbeat about the garden now that it is cooler. I still haven’t found the time I need to shape it up but soon, oh so very soon. I am ripping out the Rudbeckia Laciniata and Cup Plant and I won’t even need to replant – ha! – because there is already so much. I am mulling over creating a large bed of ferns. I need to redesign areas to make them very easy to manage. Hopefully the weather will stay on my side through November. That’s a big hope!

Thank you for joining me in the making of my garden!

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