The System

comments: 62


As I mentioned, we planted all of our containers this weekend. It was getting dark the night I had the camera out there, so I need to take some photos now that we're done (though it's supposed to rain every day this week). When I look around our property now I try to remember what it looked like ten years ago today. When we moved here ten years ago, things were an absolute mess. The previous owner had taken almost everything out of the yard when he put the house on the market, and left only diseased rhododendrons, a few crooked trees, and about a foot of bark dust covering every inch of both the front and back yards. (We later found his original landscape plans, drawn up a few years before by a local nursery, and could barely reconcile what we saw in the yard with what was on paper — so much of it had been yanked and taken.) It really made me mad. But it gave us a chance to start over, albeit with a smaaaaaaaall budget (budget?), a steep learning curve, and more elbow grease and big dreams than anything else.


We are generally sympatico on most things. Our Big Dreams, at the very least, are pretty much exactly the same. Our personalities are intensely different: He is extroverted and has more positive energy than almost anyone I've ever met; I am an introvert, happiest off to the side having deep conversations with cats and dogs. There are a few things that we each do that drive the other crazy. I don't know how to load the dishwasher properly (so true). He doesn't know where the mail goes (in the basket, on the shelf ). He likes to keep stuff. I ruthlessly edit my things. He can't stand it when I watch The Real Housewives of New York (where people senselessly bash each other repeatedly). I really just don't like football (where people senselessly bash each other repeatedly). But when it comes to yard work, our system is virtually (and luckily) sympatico. I do all the "designing" (which I love and he hates) and he does all the planting (which he loves and I hate). I "try" to figure out what we need (not like I know what I'm doing, but I try), which plants like sun or shade, what colors go where, how many hydrangeas/boxwoods/pots to get, and where to put them. He puts it all in the ground while whistling, without complaining incessantly about his back and his knees, and about fourteen times faster than I ever could. I stand, wringing my hands with gratitude and in bewildered awe once again: Whistling! (Not whining!) While planting! Weird!!!!!

Once it's in the ground (or pot), I do the watering, the deadheading. He mows the lawn, blows the leaves, and sweeps the sidewalks. We both pull weeds. I sew all the cushions. He sets up the hammock, and puts the featherbed and pillows back in the storage chest every night if it looks like it's going to rain. I think this is the first year where we haven't had some major project happening: A new fence across the back, a row of ten hydrangeas that need to be planted. A new picket fence in the front. All that's been done in previous years, thank goodness. I really was not up for a Major Project. This is the first year where it was mostly just clean up and planting a bunch of (mostly) annuals (and some herbs) in our forty (I know) containers. The veggie garden (which, I'm sad to say, is mostly ornamental — at least it was last year — as we just don't get a lick of full sun in our backyard, except for our tiny patch of grass we use for games and fetch and mini picnics — and boy, from the looks of last year's May 27 we sure are late in getting this going this year) still needs to be planted. But generally, both of the yards (front + back) are now pretty much ready for a whole lot of lounging.


That's how I like it. (More pictures to come.)


Good gardens take time to grow - yours is looking beautiful. Must be the system!

I think you have done a mighty fine job on your little retreat. I'm still trying with mine. :)

Ohhh-love that last shot! Looking forward to more pics.

I obviously need a system .... and someone who whistles while he works would be good too !

i have really been enjoying your blog. You are a creative wizard AND you write like an angel! Now, please - tell me about your 'banners' - will you? I love the look of them.

Hi Alicia,
Your friendly, chatty posts always make me smile. And your yard looks lovely! That back fence is really beautiful. I can't believe the previous owner took all the plants, LOL.

As for your veggie garden, I can't remember what all you planted last year, but as soon as you mentioned the lack of full sun, one delicious word came to mind: LETTUCE. Sounds like your yard is the perfect candidate for summer salads - something some of us lettuce lovers in hot spots only dream about. :)

Growing lettuce from seed is really easy - and also really pretty. You might find this post I wrote a while back on my kitchen garden blog about growing lettuce from seed helpful:

Forty containers? That guy of yours is amazing. ;)

We have been in our house for 13 years and like you our yard was a sorry mess when we moved in. It is nice to see it all come together, especially with our Oregon spring! My hubby and I have worked out the same system of who does what in the yard. He is not allowed to cross the brick that line the flower beds after an incident with Weed-Be-Gone and an emerging dahlia! Happy Day

Jeanne E. says: May 18, 2010 at 09:15 AM

that is a great system you two have going! well done. i think you should do a retrospective post and remind us of your yard before! fun! i always love seeing before and after photos. love your blog. :)

The planting is easy when the company is so sweet!!

I really loved this post. The dynamic between you and your husband is the same as the one between my husband and me. It works! You are truly blessed to have such a good man.

You are lucky! I do all the gardening, but to be honest, my OH and I have such strong (and differing) opinions that it would probably be war out there if he had any interest!

Oh, you think you have it under control...just wait until you add a sweet little girl to the mix. CHAOS! Wonderful, horrifying, maddening CHAOS!

My husband has to plant everything because I have a black thumb. Phoenix is hard in the summer. Most plants burn up - when the tag reads "full sun", it doesn't mean Arizona full sun! I love the comparison of those housewives shows (never seen them but have heard) and football! Cracked me up.

Oh, Alicia! You, too, watch RHNY! I'm so excited because I do, too, and for the life of me, can't figure why! I've never seen such mean people in my life. Yet they still come together, have drinks and do the kiss-kiss on the cheeks and yet they dislike each other. What's the point? (Although my mom used to say that there were people who longed for attention and didn't get that too much or negative attention is not a good thing. I think this group falls into that one, don't you?)

And, ever since you posted about books, I wanted to write this to you: do you remember that part of Love Comes Softly where Martie is talking to Missy about her love of books? Missy doesn't see the point and Martie says, "Once you can read you can have every adventure you ever dreamed of. In the pags of a book you are a princess in a tower or the best shot in the west. In those pages there are no limits to where you can go, who you can be. No one can ever tell you you're too young to slay the dragon. It all happens right here where you're safe."

The first time I heard that I thought it so perfectly captured how I felt about reading. You can completely immerse yourself into a different place or time, have new experiences and it's all so relaxing and enriching. And all at the same time! So thanks for sharing your all time favorites with us!


Oh Alicia, I just teared up while reading this, you really made me smile! J and I are the same way. The only difference is that I like to plan, and dream, and roll things around in my mind's eye for a while. J likes to get it done -- pronto! -- and then relax and enjoy it.

I almost wish we could do it all again, our garden is 12 years old now. Almost. But not quite.

Hugs and thanks for the smile! :)

Your garden is so, so beautiful. I can just picture sitting down sipping a cold lemonade there in the summer.
And your garden bunting is so pretty - I would copy your idea, but up here in Edinburgh, either the (summer) wind or rain would likely get it.

Best Wishes

Yummy garden!
I think you are going to have some fab times out there this summer, it looks real nice.

Looking great! Nice work.

Nice. I'm envious, my backyard would be totally out of control if it weren't for my husband (so it is out of control but not all the way ;-) )

Oh, the yard looks so great! I can't wait to see more pics!

You and your husband are just so darn cute!

I would looooooove to know more about what you changed in your yard on a small budget if you ever have the time and inclination to tell us more. It just looks so lovely it seems like it must have taken time and a lot of cash. As someone who is trying to pretty up her own yard with a tiny budget I'd love to know more.

Yes, please, more pictures! We are in the process of getting ourselves a proper yard (with grass instead of concrete!) after living in our home for eight years. (We had so many more serious issues on the inside, like bathrooms and ceilings, that the outside just had to WAIT.) I love dreaming and planning and getting stacks of gardening/landscape books out of the library. Someday I will have a yard to be proud of and more photos of your labor of love will inspire me all the more.

Your system rocks! Isn´t gardening the best? We moved last autumn from Berlin into a little green village and are having our own garden now around the house. It is so exciting. We´re having the same problem with not much sun so I tried some veggies but I don´t know if it will be enough sun. We do the planting piece by piece ... my little girl already helps me and enjoys the watering of course the most :) But you will know that soon ;)

Julie G. in Iowa says: May 18, 2010 at 12:03 PM

You and Andy are like the Yin and Yang of gardening and household chores! (Very much like me and my own sweet hubbie.) Keep those garden photos coming!

I can't believe someone would be so mean minded as to take a garden! Of course he/she was certainly not a gardener or they would have been looking forward to the challenge of a new patch. I look forward to more photos Posie.

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at




Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.