I overheard my wife speaking with one of her friends about a book we both read before we got married called, “His Needs Her Needs,” by Willard F. Harley, (great book.)  Her friend’s reply was, “you could write your own book on marriage.”  My wife was thrilled to get this feedback from her BFF and I happy for such a nice compliment too.  One of the premises of the book is to fulfill each other’s needs in five categories and one of those is “recreational.”  My wife and I share several hobbies and one of our most rewarding is gardening.  It’s through our gardening we created the perfect backdrop for our gardening dates.

More work than we care to admit, our garden is a place we spend time together, enjoy the beautiful Birmingham, AL weather and get creative with our plant choices and design.  But more importantly, through our hobby, we created our own perfect setting for our private gardening dates.  Our workweek consists of very long days, so by the time the weekend rolls around; we’re truly ready for some relaxation.

The perfect stacation site, our gardening dates are fun and relaxing.

Ok, so what do we actually do?

Our gardening dates take place on weekends and normally begin at sunrise.  We start by making great coffee from freshly ground beans and taking it outside for a walk around our garden where we visit every plant.

We lovingly refer to them as “walkabouts.”

It’s a bit of a joke, because a walkabout is a rite of passage of Indigenous male Australians, who travel for over a thousand miles on a solo journey for six months.  We have a very small yard and can walk most of it over a single cup of coffee, depending on how fast we sip or how long we stop at each plant.

I play some relaxing music in the back yard, like Jack Johnson on Pandora using the iPhone and portable Bose speaker.  My wife puts a pot of coffee in a thermal carafe and sets that on the table on the back porch alongside a small pitcher of cream, a small ceramic creamer with a mushroom design that she cherishes, because it belonged to her grandmother.

The primary purpose of the walkabout is to enjoy our garden.  It’s not meant for yard work or gardening.  Those terms are not interchangeable, because one implies work and the other is a hobby.  Our gardening dates do not involve work or gardening.

We visit each plant.

We have a lot of plants of many varieties in our small yard.  There are sections, my bride calls secret gardens, and she loves that you can’t see all the plants and flowers from any one place, hence the secret.

We stop and smell the fragrant blooms, which are plenty.  Our plant selection criteria is deer resistant, disease resistance, blooming, long blooming, bird attractors, hummingbird attractors, butterfly attractors and fragrance.  You can imagine plant selection is not easy for us and become part of the longer discussions, which take place on the walkabout gardening dates.

We mentally circle the ugliest section.

We’ve been building this garden together for ten years, but no matter how hard we try to make it all beautiful, the garden is constantly evolving, necessitating small re-designs every year.  There’s always a section that is under-performing the rest and that gets a mental circle.  The ideas to actually fix the problem section may come that day or at a future walkabout.  If no conclusion can be reached we table it for another day. No need to rush.

This is the time I should mention the concept of the penalty flag.  I have threatened that if the projects being created are too big or too many for one season, I will throw a yellow flag.  Depending on your relationship, if you try this at home, you may need an actual flag to carry around in your pocket.

It’s important to watch the butterflies and truly get into the now on these gardening dates.

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Back to the date.

We note areas where the amount of daily sunlight has changed, which created the need to reevaluate the plant material used.  For instance, one year we noticed our Lucifer’s Tongue (Crocosmia) was not doing as well, because it was being shaded out by nearby taller-each-year Leland Cypress trees (Cupressocyparis leylandii.)  We tried digging up the prized perennial and replanting, but got the same reduced blooming result the next year.  So we moved them to a sunnier section of our landscape and voila!  We’re back enjoying our Lucifer Tongue and the hummingbirds thanked us too.

Of course, this gardening did not take place during the gardening dates, because it’s difficult to divide perennials holding a cup of coffee.

While we’re on the subject of perennial flowers, which our garden design is perennial-heavy, we think about which ones may be due for dividing.  Perennials are loyal to return, but they reach a time, normally three or four years, when they want to be subdivided and replanted.  We also explore if there are any perennials we’d like to move or add to another flower bed.

Of course there are new plant varieties that we wish to try too.  But that occurs at a different venue for some of our gardening dates, the local nursery.

We also discuss past or current performance of annual flower beds.  That’s a topic with multiple stems.

Discussion goes like this


Have the sunlight conditions changed on the color beds?


If sunlight conditions have changed, do we need more sun-loving or more shade-loving plants and what are our new options?


Are our plant choices too delectable for the rabbits and deer?


Are there any color beds we may want to relocate?


Do we have a new location that we may want to add a color bed?


Should we reshape our color beds?


Is the grass getting shaded out, because of growing trees and tree roots?


Zoysia is a popular sod grass used for ground-cover in Birmingham, AL, because it’s the most cold-tolerant of the warm-season grasses.  Zoysia prefers dappled all-day sunlight, but can get by with as little as 4 hours of direct sunlight.  So when we notice that the past year’s growth of our shrubs and trees has further shaded out our grass, we reshape our bed-lines to reduce the thinning out shaded grass – a bit disappointing for me, but the trade-off is additional places to plant flowers, which is great!

When we change bed-line shapes, we always have to make modifications to our sprinkler system.  Reshaping or adding flower beds means it’s time for you to open a service call with a professional irrigation company to have your system assessed for the best coverage of your turf and landscape.

By now the discussion has run long and my wife heads to the back porch for a coffee refill.  I start plucking a few weeds, but I put them down in a small pile and remind myself that this is the time to enjoy our time together and our garden.

When she returns, she gives me a little kiss and a fresh cup of coffee.


It’s time to look at our pots:


Do we like our pots?  Do any need to be replaced?


Do we like our plant material choices?


Are they growing in nicely?


Do any plants need to be moved around to different pots?


Do they need fertilizer?


What would we like to add or plant differently next time?


Do we like where we placed our pots?


Are all the plants getting enough water?


All our pots are watered automatically by drip irrigation.  We just love that!


Now it’s time to visit each shrub.


Which shrubs look great?


Which shrubs look unhappy?


What do the unhappy shrubs need?  More light, less light, more space, more water, several factors go under consideration.


Do we want to move a shrub?


Do we want to get rid of a shrub?


One thing I’ve learned from gardening with my wife is to not be afraid to just rip it up and start over.

This is the perfect time to mention that when it is time to do the actual yard work and gardening, we don’t always have the time or desire to do all the work.  Sometimes we hire a professional.  Our customers are the same way.  They love to do some of their gardening, but not all.  So when we run across a task that we know will take longer or we know a professional who does this all the time and has the additional manpower, proper equipment, knowledge and time to do it better than we, then we go ahead and call them to get on their schedule for service.

By now we’ve walked and talked and drank a whole pot of coffee just between the two of us, the walkabout is winding down and it’s time to do something different.  If our plan is a stacation, we’ll sit in the furniture on the patio or back swing.  Lately, we’ve been bringing out the beach chairs and placing them in different shady spots in the back yard.  It’s amazing how different the flowers look from that lower vantage point and we can get a super close view of the hummingbirds and butterflies too.  That’s when we either continue to listen to our music, which now we will change to a peppier Pandora genome, like Bruno Mars, or we’ll whip out the Kindle and read to each other until one of us asks,


“What do you want to do next?”


So when we’ve worked five, fifteen-hour days and it’s finally Saturday morning, we both truly look forward to our walkabouts.  I’m really letting my garden-geek flag fly by admitting that I really look forward to our gardening dates.  I hope the guys don’t bust in and revoke my man-card.

That’s ok; the Aboriginal walkabouts are a bit misunderstood also.

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