My Love/Hate Relationship with a Garden

My Love/Hate Relationship with a Garden

Author: Mark Cole
July 28, 2020

Gardening has become a major part of my life during these past eight years. I relocated to the “Garden State” from Central Pennsylvania with a vision of hopes, dreams, and high expectations. Little did I know that no matter the best laid plans…life doesn’t always turn out the way we hope it will.

Most days during the summer, you can find me in my garden located in Cinnaminson. I am usually covered in dirt from head to toe, dripping in sweat, and looking like a wreck. That is the best part: I really don’t care. The neighbors look at me like I have lost my mind. I like to believe I’m the entertainment for the neighborhood! Leonberg Nursery, Moorestown, and I were best friends for about five years. I have lost count of the amount of dirt that has been delivered to my garden. My development was built on wetlands. Houses should never be built on such swamps! The clay soil is not conducive to growing a flourishing garden. It actually is the worst soil you can have. Hard work adding fertile soil and compost has paid off. Eight years later, the soil has improved to a rich workable medium. Don’t kid yourself…the weeds work overtime. No, mulch helps keep the weeds down, but does not stop them.

I have made the conscious decision not to use weed killers or insecticides in my garden. Yes, it makes everything harder to control. I have taken an organic approach to weed and pest control. Lady bugs, and praying mantis are my best friends in the garden. They eat the “bad bugs.” I pull weeds by hand from March till the first frost in autumn. Honey bees, bumble bees, robins, catbirds, mourning doves, cardinals, blue jays, goldfinches, red-headed woodpeckers, northern flickers, dragon flies, lightening bugs, a resident pair of cooper hawks, yellow swallow tail butterflies, squirrels, and a wood chuck “Woodrow” who lives under the neighbor’s shed are all part of my everyday. If I used weed killers and insecticides, none of these creatures would be present.


Global warming is REAL. I never used to think much about it. I do now. Its effects are felt right here in south western New Jersey. Abnormally hot summers, drenching downpours, destructive winds that rip trees down, and a growing season that lasts almost nine months are all signs of climate change. This past winter, there was no killing first autumn frost or measurable snow recorded. Let us not forget that the leaves do not drop now till December. I have witnessed this right in front of my own eyes. Global warming is a major threat to all of us.

Over the years I have learned what flourishes and what will not grow in my garden. Trial and error have been my best teachers in growing plants. Roses happen to be my all-time favorite flower. Unfortunately, roses don’t do well in South Jersey without tons of spraying and chemicals. Blackspot, mold, and mildew are the top three issues. So…after years of trying unsuccessfully to grow roses, I have removed almost all of my roses from the garden. I still have a few knockout roses, but my dream of lush roses just won’t happen here. I have made peace with it. I have developed a love affair with pots. Pots come in all shapes, sizes, and colors…a gardener’s dream. I now have enough pots to stretch the length of the driveway, planted with a riotous mix of annuals in an explosion of color. It is a feast for the eyes.

My gardening style tends to lean towards the English cottage style. Some of my garden heroes are Gertrude Jekyll, Graham Stuart Thomas, Christopher Lloyd, Penelope Hobhouse, Claude Monet, Martha Stewart, Russell Page, Anna Pavord, Margaret Roach, Bunny Williams, Sarah Raven, Vita Sackville-West, and Adam Nicolson. I have read volumes of books written by the above mentioned. I am addicted to gardening books. I have run out of room for my gardening books.

Looking back on the past eight years, I have been blest beyond belief. There have been days I wanted to set fire to the whole garden. Other days I have been ready to cry at the amount of work and the tenacious ever-growing pile of weeds. To have a garden of one’s own is a gift from God. As the years roll by, I find it’s getting harder to do some of the more strenuous work of maintaining my garden. But, through all the blood, sweat, tears, sunburn, scrapped, and scratched arms and legs, I wouldn’t change a moment of my life in my garden. My garden is my refuge from the rest of the world. Especially now in these strange times we are living. In some odd way, gardening has grounded me to the earth in an unimaginable way. I can escape and dig in the dirt. I hope my garden brings the neighborhood and others as much joy as it brings to me.



First Presbyterian Church


20 King's Highway East, Haddonfield, NJ 08033
(856) 429-1960