Your Patch of Earth

Earth Day is this month. It is April 22nd, which is also Good Friday. So today, let’s talk some earth talk. Let’s talk about the small patch of the earth we are each personally taking care of. And for you apartment or high rise dwellers, let’s talk about your outdoor space. Your deck or patio or rooftop or fire-escape.
So tell us about your patch of earth. Is it big or small? What do you grow? Do you have a lawn? Woods? Any water? Do you keep a vegetable garden? Herbs? Any fruit trees? Hey, how about critters? What kind of wildlife do you invite into your yard? And how? What kind of critters do you “keep”?
My yard? Well, mine has such….such….such….potential.

Remember in high school when your teachers told your parents, “I’m afraid your daughter is not working up to her potential.” No? That didn’t happen to you? Come on, surely I wasn’t the only one who goofed off in high school. Well, “never-the-huh.” It was me in high school; and it’s my backyard now.
Unreached, unmet, unrealized potential.
I get emails from folks wanting me to post photos of my gardens and my yard. Believe me, you do not want to see it. It will never be on a garden tour, virtual or otherwise. If you’ve been with me for any length of time, you might remember the sad saga of my previous garden. It’s since been ripped out and leveled. The fellow who installed it for me years ago charged me an arm and a leg to create four large gardens. He used old railroad ties. I didn’t know any better at the time, but railroad ties are treated with dangerous chemicals that leach into the soil. Anyway, those areas were ultimately removed. I hired another fellow to bring his bobcat to come and tear it all out. The money I threw away on that. Unbelievable. Gosh, this is a long story. Hmm, let me cut to the chase. Let’s see: we moved away after that. Lived in a wildlife sanctuary for a couple of years where I couldn’t garden “legally” at all. And now we’re back. And I’m just starting to work on a garden area again. Okay, you’re all caught up if you’re new and missed all that drama.
I do indeed have a great patch of the earth to care for. We are on 5 acres and about 1 acre was cleared for the house and yard. So there is space for me to do whatever we can dream up. No, space is not the problem. The problem is with the implementation of the dreams.
Here’s what I mean.
I don’t have enough of these things:
1.       Time.
2.       Skill.
3.       Energy. (to be clear, my energy, not the earth’s.)
4.       Money.
5.       Equipment.
I have too many of these things:
I think the first list is self-explanatory. There’s never enough of any of those, is there?
So let’s talk about the “too many” list. Critters. You already know about Jake, the Snake, who resides under my steps that lead to the backyard. I am very distressed to report that Jake has brought home a girlfriend.
(Now, obviously, I don’t know if this friend is a boy or girl, nor will I ever; I don’t even know about Jake. This is just the way I think about them….)
Anyway, I am calling this new, additional snake that lives under my steps, “Cake.” Cake is smaller, cuter, and faster than Jake. Yesterday, two of my three dogs had Cake cornered under the deck. This was the first I knew of her. The dogs were seriously after her. They wanted her. In a very big way.
And I.
I. ME! With no shoes on. Ran down to save the snake! Before I even thought about it, I was down there, protecting my dogs, protecting the snake. This is impossible to believe, I know. But truly, I don’t want any harm to come to these snakes that share my patch of earth. I’d simply like them to move to a different part of the patch….one not so close to the house.
So I got the dogs away; Cake quickly headed back under the steps. I locked the dogs up in the house, and I went back out with my camera. At a “safe” distance, I waited; and I waited; and I waited.
My husband called and I told him I was on “Snake Watch.” He found it impossible to believe. As my daughter’s friend says, “I know….right?” But really, I thought for sure Cake would come back out. And I wanted to snap her picture for YOU. Because I wanted you to see Cake; she’s a pretty little snake.
Whoa! Who said that? Who and What have I become? “Pretty” snake?!? Have I totally lost my mind?!? (Hmmm…interesting….)
Anyway, snakes are NOT the only critters that hinder my gardening and landscaping efforts.
I have three dogs, all cute, but diggy and pee-y. Hard on plantings.
I have rabbits, also very cute, but hungry and eat-y of everything.
I have tons of squirrels, cute too, but they dig up flowers and bulbs for some reason I’ve yet to discover.
Then there’s the deer. Oh the deer. The deer are adorable and I do love the deer, but they are as destructive as all get out. They eat shrubs, flowers, vegetables, herbs, bottom branches of trees, you name it. They even eat the plants that the books say they won’t. Why? Because they have nowhere to be, nothing else to eat. There is development all around our neighborhood. We are on large tracts of land, with a highway on one side of us and dense development on the other. Poor deer. Could I really complain about the deer? They need food more than I need a rose bush. So, I just haven’t planted very much.
Another problem we have is our grass. Last year, our back lawn was completely consumed by what turned out to be lawn destroying worms. It was a strange, strange thing. I’m out in the yard and see the blades of grass moving. Upon closer inspection, I see they are little cute caterpillars. Can you see them? The black things on the blades of grass? They were everywhere.


So I go and get my daughter and my camera. When my husband sees them, he wants to go for the pesticide. No, no, no, please no! He purchases some earth friendly, natural treatment for the worms.
Sadly, it didn’t take care of the problem. Our lawn turned a very ugly brown. Our fingers are crossed that it will recover this year. So far all the green we have back there are green weeds. Which actually, looks okay. Better than the brown did, anyway. But are you beginning to see why I don’t post pictures of my backyard now?
I do have something wonderful. Something very wonderful.
I’ve got woods. I love my woods. They separate us from a very large development. I showed you lots of pictures of those woods during our wonderful and historic snow storm last past winter. When I was a little girl, we had a patch of woods behind our house. I spent so much of my childhood back there, imagining, playing, exploring, collecting. These are no different. They nourish the soul.
Shall we? I need to go in search of Carolina Sweet Shrubs. (Calycanthus Floridus). Sweet Betsy. Carolina Allspice.) It is native to this area and blooms in the early springtime. Carolina Sweet Shrub is one of those heralds of spring for me. Unless you spend time in the woods, though, you don’t really see it. No one plants it in their yard much. But they grow wild in woods around here, as part of the understory. They can get rather large, up to 9 feet or so and spread to form a thicket. The flowers smell spicy and sweet. I always like to pick some long branches and put them in a vase on my table to announce “Spring is here!” Today, I’d like to locate a patch and flag some of the bushes. I don’t recognize them without the flower, so I need to go while I think they’ll be in bloom. I’ll come back later to dig up a few to transplant in my backyard.

So here are my woods. Nothing spectacular, just plain, old, scrubby woods. But they are MY plain, old, scrubby woods.

The path.

Watch where you step, I’ve seen a copperhead snake back here.
No, I haven’t named this snake; it is poisonous, you know. There’s no way I would ever give that thing a name. What? Should I? I surely don’t want to discriminate against it. Okay, okay, give me some suggestions for a name; we’ll give it a name together.
Ah, here are the dogwoods. The beautiful, beautiful dogwoods. They are in full bloom now.

Oh, I really like the way the sun and shadows come through the pedals.

And what’s this? Hello, little flower I do not know. How are you today?

And this is called a “snag.” Do you know about snags?

Snags are very important to our earth. A snag is a dead tree that is still standing. I’m very careful about keeping snags. They are like condos for so many different kinds of wildlife. I have one standing in my front yard, where some would consider it an eyesore. But not me. It is at the edge of our yard and wouldn’t hit a thing if it were to come down. If you want to see pictures of my front yard snag, hop over to my blog at I’ll post pictures of it there. I even drew a picture.
Here’s a heart of pine snag back in my woods.

The heart of the pine tree, which is all that is still standing, is the strongest part of the tree. It makes awesome fire starter. In the south we call it “lightard.” It’s also known as “fatwood.”
Oh here they are, Carolina Sweet Shrubs.

I wish you could smell these. So spicy and sweet. They smell homey.

Like cinnamon buns, or applesauce, or….oh, I don’t know.

Unique and wonderful.

Okay, so that’s the favorite place in my yard. Now it’s your turn. Tell us about your patch of the earth! And if you have any ideas, give me a name for the snake in our woods.
Until next time, Friends, savor the flavor of life!

Lots of love, The City Farmgirl, Rebekah

  1. Cindy says:

    I think you should name the copperhead Penny.

    I was LOL when I read about Jake and Cake! When I read the post before this one, I was thinking…’she’d miss Jake if he were gone.’ I think I’m right!

    My patch of ground. We live in town on a double lot with the cutest potting shed my husband built for me, a pond, a veggie garden, a hammock stand, beehives, and it’s all a park like setting and we have the best neighbors. And guess what. We’re moving. I’m packing. We are building a house in the country and moving in this summer. We planned on living here forever…until….my husband found this land in the country. He never looked for land until I one day said, "no more airedales (critters)" He wanted a dozen. I said you find a place in the country and you can have as many as you want. I didn’t mean it. Not really. And yes, I’m the one that said "what’s one more." Seriously? I said that? And I was just wondering about your pound puppy the other day. Mine has been wanting a new home….maybe not on purpose…but he sure does act like he wants a new home!

    Cindy Bee

  2. Jonnie says:

    Hi, Rebekah! I think you should name the snake Balthazar – great snake name! I LOVE snakes – they are so honest and focused – can also be very beautiful. Thank you for sharing your woods with us. I currently live in an apartment with a small balcony. The gardenia is currently blooming, the tomato plant has flower buds, Peter the mint is growing like crazy and the Norfolk pine has soft green new growth. There are hazelnuts coming up in some of the pots where the squirrels planted them, there are buds on the Christmas cactus and, as always, the basil and cilantro have both died. Not sure why they always do that. Some day I will stop trying. I love growing things and am happy that, right now, the squirrels are the only critters that I have. Have you tried diatomaceous earth for the crawly critters in the yard? It’s safe enough to use on the dogs if they have fleas and is not toxic at all. Just a thought . . .

  3. Sherry says:

    How about Salazar….he was a bad dude! Rather poisonous in his dealings with the Muggleworld (if your a Harry Potter fan)
    I have 3 acres…and a very small patch of brushy wood area. I do keep a garden…trying a modified raised bed version this year…digging the paths out and using the top soil to raise the gardening area and then mulching the dickens out of the paths with newspaper and maiden grass cuttings. We shall see. I also have 4 dwarf nigerian goats…whom I love and are completely worthless, 3 Hens and a Rooster..who earn their keep…well the girls do..and I just got 4 more chicks to add to the mix. I would highly recommend Chickens for snake control. They won’t mess with the big ones..but they eat the little ones..and they would take care of those lawn worms. Great pest control…or Guineas, although they are much flightier. Snakes are fine in their place..but I certainly would not want the under my porch.

  4. We live on a small lot in an older subdivision we’ve got three 8X4 raised beds this year with plans to put more in next year. We’ve got plans to get chickens next year after we make sure we have a dry enough spot for them in the back. Thanks for sharing your photos 🙂

  5. Barb says:

    Years ago when I lived in the country we would find hundreds of baby snakes in our window wells in the spring. We would scoop them out & watch them wiggle their way to the woods (we also had a woods behind our house). Can’t say that I was sorry to see them go.
    I currently live in the city on a normal city-sized lot which is not large enough for all that I want to plant. Last year I pulled all of the grass out of the backyard, which is fenced, and put in 3 raised beds in addition to the regular garden that I already had. I also have lots of flowers/lilac bushes/2 blueberry bushes & rhubarb,a patio & a fire pit. I grew so many veggies that I still have veggies (canned & frozen)from last year. The only unwanted critters I have are squirrels & they are pests! Last year they ate every stalk of corn right down to the ground, stalk & all. Since we fenced the yard we no longer get the rabbits we used to get. We get lots of birds which I thoroughly enjoy. In addition we have our resident critters, two cats; Tiger & Leo. It’s not a showplace by any means but it is my own little piece of heaven on earth.
    My friend says it is so peaceful that she could stay here for the rest of her life! My only wish is that I could have chickens and bees – it’s ok with our city but I don’t have enough room. Maybe someday………

  6. Linda says:

    We have a fenced in backyard. We do not do much to it, so it’s pretty much a sanctuary for wildlife, except that we have an 11 mo. old golden lab, who weighs 73 lbs, and loves to eat wood. Nothing is sacred to him in his domain. We have a huge brush pile where rabbits live, and two old apple trees, a large pine too close to the house that we have to take down :-(, blue spruce, dead ash tree, again must remove. A Balsam Fir, Juniper, Western Silver Berry and more. There’s a flower garden, which may be challenged this year, and I plan to grow some vegetables this year. All and all the yard is I’m sure an eyesore to some, but to me, it’s heavenly. I have a small studio to fuse glass, there, and just looking out at it makes me feel like I’m in the woods. Walking one’s land and just being open to the possibilities is all nature asks, I think. There are no judgements.

  7. Sarah says:

    My bit of earth has lots of potential too! It’s actually starting to look better too, now that we’ve been here a few years. The previous owners of this house mowed the lawn, and that was about it. The owner before them was a prolific gardener and remnants from her gardens are there, but in pretty sad shape. I’ve added two perenial flower beds, but there are still some large patches that need some attention. I also have a raised bed garden for my veggies. Lots of fun!

  8. Diane Van Horn says:

    Hi Rebekah,
    I had the same name idea as Cindy, I thought Penny was cute for a copperhead. Or Lincoln! LOL
    I live in a small city but I have a double size lot. I took out all the ugly bushes and planted raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. Should be a good crop this year! I also planted 4 apple trees and a cherry tree. They are still pretty young, this will be their second year. I had 3 huge garden beds that I have grown vegetables in the last couple of years. I have a rabbit, crow and squirrel problem too. This year I am doing 6 square foot raised beds and fencing around them. I bought the book "Square Foot Gardening". You should check it out, Mel, the author has tips on keeping out critters that would work for you. I think you should plant some sugar beets near your woods for the deer to eat. They are easy to grow and the deer love them.

  9. Brenda says:

    We have 10 acres of which at least 7 is wooded. Our garden is out on the back ten. I would not have put it there but the previous owners did and I think I understand why since living here. We have a lot of sand and I am finding it hard to grow veges around the house area. So I make the walk back through the woods to our garden. Kinda a pain if you just want one cucumber and one tomato though. We have been here three years and every year I try to plant some different flowers to find out what works best here. We have a dozen chickens but I want more. We also have snakes, squirrels, hawks, fox, deer and chipmunks that we do battle with. But if they are not being destructive they are sure sweet to watch except the snakes. Like you I do not want them dead but I do not want them in the flower bed I am working in. And each year at least one sends me back to the house and making circles around that particular area for days. As always I find your writing puts a smile on my face!

  10. Claire says:

    I live in an apartment building that has been turned into condos. It is in between a freeway and a school. I have one 8′ x 12′ box that is growing dirt right now. it’s the neighborhoods largest litter box. One smaller pot that is sprouting peas, once the sprouts are large enough i’m going to move them to my huge neighborhood litter box and the cat’s will have to find some where else to do their business, and one smaller planter that is growing lemon mint ohhh how i love my lemon mint.

  11. Well, Rebekah, as for the snake’s name, I think ALL snakes should be named ‘GoAwaySnake!’ Enough said on that topic! :o)

    Anyway, From what I hear, we live in the same region, and our Camellia Cottage is on an almost 3/4 acre lot in a subdivision. We are surrounded by hardwoods and one lone pine way back behind the house. The back yard is shady and full of native plants left by the birds . . . wild ginger, woods violets, a cute new baby spruce that is about 10" tall, mulberry bushes, wild strawberries (and not the weed kind!), solomons seal, hearts a bursting and much more. We pretty much leave that as wild as we can for our bird habitat. The front yard is sodded, but has several large islands, the largest of which I call ‘Hawaii’ (get it, big island, Hawaii, etc.?) In these islands I have lilacs, Chinese snowballs, hydrangeas, lavendar, rosemary, buddleia, garden phlox, monarda, sweet rocket, roses, iris, shasta daisies, camellias, heuchera, foxgloves and much more . . . whatever I can find a space for, I’ve got it!

    As for the sweet shrub, this past weekend we were camping at Shady Grove Campground on our beloved Lake Lanier. On Saturday morning I exited the tent to see a gorgeous sun peeking above the hill to our east. I threw on my robe, grabbed the camera, and high-tailed it toward the sun! It was beautiful, and I got some great pictures. As I turned to head back to our campsite, I was greeted with an amazing sight . . . beautiful pink native azaleas (aka wild honeysuckles) in various stages of blooms. They were amazing. I just stood there and took in the fragrance. And took pictures! Then I started back on my way, and there they were . . . sweet shrubs in abundance . . . so once again, smelling the sweet blooms, and taking more pictures. It was such a magical way to start my day!

    Loved reading about your yard! Becky G. Chapter Leader, Sunshine Sisters Farmgirls

  12. Debbie says:

    Hi Rebekah!
    Oh you have me laughing with this post! What is it with you and those slimy no legged creatures??? Jake, Cake and Copper are sounding like one cozy family right about now… Well, now that you’ve named them and theres’ a child involved too,I guess you can’t have them "done away with" now can you? My patch of earth is a work in progress… but I do enjoy it so much. We’ve been in our house for ten years and we’ve added one large bird and butterfly garden, and plan to add some raised beds this year … We’ve grown veggies in one spot for the last three years and will add some raised beds this spring… I can’t tell all here… my next MJF Beach blog is about my humble patch of earth!
    Loved the photos of your woods and flowers… Lucky you to have " wild woods" in your backyard!

  13. carolbranum says:

    hi,I am in a bad mood about mine,after paying farmer money to culitvate,he said,that I have a layer of rock under my gartden spot,and that the spot I had picked won,t be good for vegtables at all.So,now,I have to hire a back hoe operator to clear brush for another spot.It is turning expensive just for a garden.Daddy and I are arguing now,coz,I plowed up his hayfield and he lost a whole bale of hay because of me!It is quite comical really!So,grass seed has to be planted back into the spot I plowed now so he will hush.I am tired tonight lol!Have a great day!blessed be,carol Branum Lamar MO.

  14. Carol in NC says:

    I went on a hike today with my husband and daughter and spotted some bloodroot. We picked a leaf and I showed them the red/orange (stinky) sap and I kid you not, when we stood up to continue walking we were RIGHT NEXT to a Carolina Sweet Shrub. If I hadn’t read your blog I don’t know if I would have even noticed it. Instead though, I was pretty much gushing over how lovely it was and how I had just read about it. My husband said it smelled like Hawaii. I couldn’t remember what you said it was called so had to come back here to see. Nice post!

  15. Cathy Reineke says:

    Hi Rebecca, your posts are so much fun!
    We have 40 acres in the north central hills of Idaho. Our log home sits at the top of 12 acres that use to be for haying. We have all the critters you have and everything has to be fenced. I love the elk, deer, snow shoe bunnies & turkeys and they will eat anything when hungry, even banana peels! I use to be the very same way about snakes, too many close encounters with the poisonous ones while growing up in southern OK. We have garter snakes that live under our front steps and praise the LORD we don’t have poisonous snakes on this side of the lake, attitude thing. From my husband I’ve learned to identify snakes and not harm the good ones even thought they still make me jump when I see them. I’m thinking naming a poisonous snake makes it a friend, you’ll be talking to it instead of running or whacking it! Spend your time with Jake and Cake. TOO FUN! I’ve never heard of the Carolina Sweet Shrub–pretty! And like you I love the woods! Ours is mostly evergreen but lots of shrubs that have beautiful white blooms! My favorite past time is looking for nature treasures and taking pictures! Snags are great! Love all your pictures!Keep on keeping us entertained!!!

  16. Mary Rauch says:

    I’m captivated by the DOGWOOD bloom with sunlight coming through the back of it!….nice!

  17. Marcie says:

    Hi Rebekah, I agree with Cindy on a name for the copperhead. Penny is a great name. I think we have copperheads here in E Tenn, had them back in Central TX along with Coral snakes, pretty but poisonous.
    Several years ago my sister gave me a cutting of Carolina Allspice. She lived in S MS and it grew all over her backyard. I potted it and took it back to TX and then moved it to TN two years ago and finally planted it in my yard. It has never bloomed and this spring it is covered in buds. Sister says the blooms will smell like grape jelly when they open. Your pics look just like my plant, leaves and buds. After almost two years here, our yard and land is taking on a beautiful look with our landscaping of hummingbird and butterfly shrubs that we have added. I want to add a Silverbell tree to the lower acreage this year.
    Love your photos and stories of your place.
    Enjoy the outdoors…. isn’t it beautiful?

  18. Laura says:

    I am a deck and kitchen window gardener. I keep herbs all winter in my kitchen for snipping. In summer, I plant tomatoes in containers on the deck. The cherry tomatoes are my favorite for planters. Enjoyed the post!

  19. Kristy says:

    Well the plumber came to clear the clog that keeps coming back between the house and the sewer and decided that we needed a new clean-out in the front yard. My yard is now graced with a square mound of dirt with some pvc sticking up from the mound. While I’m waiting for the soil to settle etc., I think about what could be there sometime in the future. I’d like a rose garden, but I suppose the plumber might actually have to get to his clean out.

  20. I’m excited, we live in an apartment complex, and this year (didn’t know about it last year) we are getting 2 plots from our community garden. We’ve already started seedlings, and I’ve started some of my patio stuff, but nothing has gone in the ground yet – hey, it is supposed to snow tomorrow!

    I grew up on a small farm, but spent 14 of the last 16 years in NYC & Hartford, CT, so this Midwest, Minnesota thing is quite a change in some ways, a reversion in others. I haven’t grown anything in 20 years!

  21. Heather Ozee says:

    We’re excited to be starting our own smallish garden this spring. My two girls and I are not however looking forward to running into Cake and his friends. In Ga we have plenty of the poisonous varieties. Any advice on how to make Cake not want to hang out around the freshly planted veggies?
    Lovely trees photos!

  22. kate says:

    Penny for sure, but be careful of those copperheads. Your post really made me miss the south. I am grateful to be a city farmgirl right now though. My backyard in the big city has more space for gardening than I had in the years when I worked with farmers nonstop. I have a little lawn and 4 beds all surrounded by a fence. I have sweet peas and morning glories along one part of the fence and herbs and flowers along the other. I’ve got a clothesline, which I love. AND there is definitely a rabbit or something eating my lettuce.

  23. Joan says:

    I would probably name the Copperhead – GONE – not like end it but like take it somewhere else – I know I know snakes are good for the gardens, woods, environment BUT for some reason they and I see no need to be in each others space. Oh enough of that. Thanks for the name for dead trees – I live in a new developing area and some people have had trees die and we are not allowed to leave them in our front yard – SO I have them in my backyard and the birds, creatures love them. I put out pine cones with peanut butter and food in the winter and hang little tins of food in the summer, sometimes the Snags look alive because of all the activity on them. Not quite time, in my area, for me to be in God’s healing earth but I am ready to plant with all my self started seedlings growing quickly. Thanks again for ‘Snags’ and love your writings.

  24. KimberlyD says:

    I vote for the name Penny for the copperhead snake, but be careful of it. I live in the country but its a 4-plex so I only have a little space in front of my part of the apartment. I grow flowers in one section, daffodils, tulips, iris, day lily’s, I mix onions in with them. The other area I grow tomatoes and green and red peppers. I tried to grow cucumbers and melons but they only flowered thats all they did. I have a friend who lives in Thomaston GA, 2 hours south of Atlanta.

  25. Teresa says:

    I’m with Joan. The copperhead would definitely be GONE. I don’t do snakes very well. I can coexist with green garden snakes fine. However, coming home Wednesday afternoon to find a 6′ black snake slithering across the floor as the garage door lifted was a bit much. It was either a king snake or a rat snake…so I knew it was a good snake. It was allowed to live.

    I parked at the end of the driveway and took the dog for a walk while said snake finished slithering away to it’s next destination.

  26. Rita says:

    Great post! Enjoyed the comments too!

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