Mary Lynn Houlihan calls her type of gardening "chaos gardening." She gardens with "abandon and joy and with very little organization and planning." Because she works full-time and helps to raise a family, she doesn't have a lot of time to research plants and map out her garden.
"I want to spend every available minute with my hands in the dirt," she wrote recently via email. "Thus, my garden looks like an overgrown 'chaos' of color and variety. My husband says if there is dirt, I'll find a way to grow something from it; and sometimes even when there isn't."
Houlihan is director of victim services for the Commonwealth Attorney's Office. She also has started a non-profit agency called CrimeCare, to provide emergency funds to crime victims and to unify their voices and ability to speak out.
In her garden — even with its chaos — she finds stress relief.
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Her garden includes "lilies growing with tomatoes, cucumbers pushing through zinnias, and grapes taking over the fence line and making a natural arbor to the deck, and all sorts of blooming flowers that I can't even name."
When she started developing the yard five years ago, there was one hydrangea bush, a lot of other bushes and volcanic rock. There also was a steep downward slope from the back door that made for good sledding but was practical for little else.
Now, with the use of railroad ties, there are wild varieties of foliage — selections from the clearance racks of Hillenmeyer's and Lowe's — surrounding the entire house.
"There is a lot of experimentation going on, and I often learn about plants after I have planted them, not before," she wrote. "Chaos gardening happened when I prioritized my love of growing things over the pressure to do it just right. There is a special joy that comes from being surprised by the success of a seed you don't even remember planting, or digging amongst the mass of entwined flowers and vegetables to discover some hidden bounty or ripe fruit.
"The biggest payoff of all of this is sharing the yield; bouquets of flowers and herbs, crisp cucumbers or fat ripe tomatoes.
"My husband surprised me by building me a raised-bed vegetable garden this year, and the contents are already spilling into the yard."
Here are Houlihan's "chaos gardening" tips:
1. Keep an eye on the sale racks. Stores will slash the prices on plants after they bloom. Watch for perennials, and you will get flowers next season for a fraction of the price.
2. When you buy plants in peat pots, gently break apart the pots and shred the pieces into the hole where you are about to place the plant. This will provide better aeration and water flow for the roots as the plant establishes itself.
3. Instead of lists and diagrams to remind you what is planted where, take digital photos for easy future reference.
4. Fast-growing vines provide inexpensive and beautiful privacy screens. Use string to direct the paths of the vines as they grow.
5. Share the wealth. Give friends cuttings and starts from your successful plants, and ask for the same whenever you see a healthy abundance in other gardens.