Copyright © Sheryl Williams - Yardfanatic 2016. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Raging Insecurity

From Austin Yard  

Last month my yard was on the Inside Austin Garden Tour, sponsored by the Travis County Master Gardeners Association.  The theme was water-wise gardening and my place was chosen for my rainwater harvesting system and water run-off capture ditching system.  To me it is a huge honor to be chosen by fellow Master Gardeners and a great chance for me to share knowledge with the public.

But oh, the agony.

I’ve known for a year that I was going to be in the tour.  At first my panic manifested as absolute paralysis.  I knew I had to get busy doing something, but I had no idea what it was.  To my eyes my garden was raw and incomplete, not something people would pay money to see.  My yard lacks purposeful design; it has no restive place to view, any serenity or whimsy on display, no awe-inspiring vision.  I had to fix that.

I ended up putting in a granite paver walkway and stepping-stones with thyme planted in between.  I built a granite block planter and had Ed add some trellises.  I purchased some new plants for the landscape.  My vegetable garden became a little neater and I tried to vary the plantings so it was more pleasing to look at.  Weeds were dispatched, trees were pruned, and compost was turned.  But there was only so much I could do without bankrupting us.  My job became very intense and I wasn’t getting home until 7pm most nights.  I was exhausted on weekends from this schedule and had a hard time mustering energy to garden.  It got to the point where I just had to be Zen.  It is what it is I chanted to myself.

Then one week out the garden tour was featured on Central Texas Gardener, a local PBS show about gardening.  They showed pictures of each of the gardens and gave a brief synopsis.  I had seen one of the gardens before and knew what a lush landscape it was.  It was one of the reasons for my initial panic because being included on the tour with that yard was going to provide a huge contrast.  But as the show progressed and photos of the garden displayed, I began to sink.

They were beautiful, serene, whimsical, restful, and artistic.  They looked professionally landscaped and were stuffed with plants.  I turned away and cried.  And cried.  Then cried some more.  Then I found Ed and cried again.  Raging, tumbling, crashing torrents of insecurity drowned me.   As I looked up from my pity-party in the basement of my despair, my little voice said to me, “it’s not a contest.”  Then it said, “You have much to teach.”  And a lot to learn.

It’s about the journey.  The choices were mine; the labor was mostly mine (and Ed’s!).  I had help with the design but it was from my idea, I just needed help with the right native plant selection.  I bought the plants, installed them, watered and fussed over them.  It was me that dug those ditches, hauled the bark, and muscled the pavers.  While what I’m doing is not unique, it is most decidedly different in a neighborhood of St Augustine lawns and back yards of nothing.  I’m producing wildlife habitat in front and vegetables in back.  My yard is alive.

And so am I, despite the tour.  People were very kind and interested in what I am doing.  I helped them with their own dilemmas and had many, many awesome teaching moments.  Visitors ate their first green bean off the vine.  Ate a sugar snap pea.  Sampled the blackberries.  Pulled an onion.  They ran their hands through the herbs and the copper canyon daisies.  They admired the Gulf Fritillary caterpillars mowing down my passion vine and one or two got a glimpse of the Anole lizard patrolling the potatoes.  I showed them my crimson clover cover crop on my fruit berm and the under sowing of cowpeas to keep the nitrogen cycle going all summer.

So now how do I feel?  Better.  I love my yard.  It personifies who I am.  Maybe not a showpiece but you are guaranteed a good meal, some great stories, and a great wildlife show to boot.  I can live with that.


  1. oh, Sheryl, I feel your pain. I didn't get to see your garden, but I sure heard many bloggers talking about your clever usage of plants and drainage. And your garden is accessible, friendly and honest, something we can all benefit from. I get those feelings every time someone comes over - I only can see what hasn't been done, not what has. We must agree to stop that! Thanks for being so vulnerable.

  2. Sheryl, If it makes you feel any better, I have never been on a Lady Bird Johnson Wild Flower garden tour and the reason is that most, if not all, of the gardens on tour are professionally landscaped and some even have weekly professional maintenance with a big crew.--I know this for a fact.

    I prefer to see the gardens homeowners have created themselves. I want to see what Jane and Joe Typical-Homeowner can do with limited time and on a limited budget.

    Any one of us could have a fabulous yard if we could afford an expensive designer and weekly maintenance. While I did not see your yard, I commend you for the effort you put into it, and believe me, I know how hard it is. Laura

  3. Sheryl, yours was one of my favorite gardens on that tour! I learned so much from you about rainwater harvesting, sedge lawns, and growing your own food. And knowing that you are new to Austin from a wildly different climate impressed me all the more with what you have accomplished.

    We all have those insecurities -- the "imposter syndrome" rears its ugly head. You were wise to beat it back and invite people into your garden to learn from your experience. Keep sharing!

  4. I can sympathize! I go through the same agony with any sort of marginally-competitive garden-related event, like the Gardening Gone Wild photo contest. Even blogging about events that others are blogging about gets the negative self-talk going: Their posts are better, Their photos are better, They got their posts up sooner, etc. It's why I haven't signed on for a Design-A-Go-Go yet! But you nailed it on the head -- it's about the journey. YOU (and Ed) did it ALL yourself with no help from anyone, which makes your efforts much more meaningful for people like me who are also DIY. "Look at what you can accomplish with little money, working long day-job hours with no help" --Sheryl, that's IMPORTANT to people. And you do so have a restful place to view: those Adirondack chairs near your backyard vegetable garden. I love your yard.

  5. What a wonderful post to put things into perspective. All over the net, we can see perfect gardens. I am learning to accept our gardens as they are, knowing that they are always a "work in progress" Good job on keeping your head straight and the ego at bay. Thanks for posting these insights.

  6. Thank you everyone for your kind words. The crazy thing is that I LOVE my yard. I love the plants, how my vision is coming together, the wildlife that has moved in, and the fun I have sharing my vegetable crop with the neighbors. I love how people stop by to ask questions and how they linger to see what's new. All of that flew out of my head when I got selected for the tour and was replaced by the insecurity dragon. I've learned a lesson here for sure.

  7. I realize this post is 3 years old, but I wanted to comment and say thanks. Every year we look at the houses on the garden tour, and most of the time we decide *not* to go. Many of the landscapes featured are way out of reach of the average DIY homeowner. But in 2011 we bought tickets specifically to see your house. average (sorry!) home on an average lot, struggling w St. Augustine, lot space, DIY time, and cost, etc. It was amazing to see all you've done. Since then, slowly but surely we've been tearing out non-natives and reducing water use. Next year we finally plan to start getting rid of the St. Augustine in the front. Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Wow, thank you SO MUCH for posting this. I am humbled that you were inspired and that you've implemented ideas at your own garden. As you know it is definitely a journey and I'm still out there slogging away. Since the tour I've put in a stock tank pond and replaced the bark paths with gravel. My next big project is an arbor over the driveway. Does it ever stop? You know the answer. Heck no! That's why we garden. Thank you again for stopping by!