Constantly growing: Looking back at 10 years in my garden

The front garden in July 2019.

When we moved into our first home, it came with a huge front lawn.

I wanted none of it.

I grew up in the city, and despite this we actually had a decent sized garden to accompany our two-family home. My dad would often create new garden beds for plants he would buy at the nursery and online, and while he was not a lawn aficionado by any means, he still spent a significant time each summer maintaining it. Later we would move to Long Island and have a lawn made of zoysia grass. (I still wasn’t a fan.)

June 1, 2009 was the first day I worked in my new garden. 
For my garden, I had big dreams for an area filled with plants, flowers and life. While not an absolute beginner gardener (thanks to my upbringing), this was the first time I had complete say over what the land would look like. Within weeks of moving in, I systematically started to remove the lawn in chunks.

That first year I planted with wild abandon – or at least what my limited budget could afford.

I also made a lot of mistakes.

That first year I battled a rainy summer, massive slugs, and wondered whether the strip of land along my driveway was suitable for growing vegetables (the sunniest location of the property). I realized that the back garden that appeared sunny when we moved in that May was only temporary – the black walnut trees were late to fill out. The impulsive, full sun plant purchases I had made all ended up having to be relocated to the front garden – with some not making it.

Somehow I wasn’t discouraged and actually kept gardening.

The "garden" 15 years ago. By the time we were owners, the foundation plantings were removed. 

The front beds began to take shape in 2011 as I continued to chisel away at the front lawn. 
While I was not yet Frau Zinnie, I had blogged previously on and off since college, and I have one post from that first fall. The beginnings of the garden blog were there, but it wasn’t until 2011 that the Frau Zinnie blog was officially launched, after another year and a half of experimenting, ripping out more lawn, and planting more plants.

The front garden in May 2012.

People often ask how I became Frau Zinnie. I knew I wanted to start a garden blog and play off my German background, so I translated Mrs. Zinnia – and Frau Zinnie was born.

And while I knew a decent amount about gardening from the books I read growing up (“A Way to Garden” by Margaret Roach was my bible when I was a teenager), I realized I still had a lot to learn as I continued to garden and began to blog more regularly.

So I kept reading. I learned about why it made sense to be an organic gardener. I bought several gardening magazines and ripped out pages to keep for inspiration. I found garden experts in my community, and interviewed them for my blog. I began to fit gardening in whenever I was not working at the nearby bakery. After I left the bakery and returned to school, I still made time to start seeds under my grow lights in the kitchen, and plant a ridiculous amount of spring-blooming bulbs.

Through it all, I have never stopped learning or experimenting. Some things grow well and others end up needing to be replaced. My garden has grown into so much more than I originally imagined it would be. Not only does it feed me — with actual food like vegetables and fruit — but also the wildlife, including the songbirds who now nest in the trees, plantings or bird houses. And little creatures too, like the monarch butterfly on the various milkweed plantings or the spicebush swallowtail butterflies which feed on spicebush.

The front garden in 2018.

My garden has changed a lot since I first plunged that shovel into the lawn – and so have I. We’ve both matured – a lot. But through it all, I have found that being in my garden continues to be one of the ways I find happiness.

Happy 10th birthday, dear garden. We're just getting started.


  1. You’ve come a long way, baby!😂😂 Your garden is now a hit in the neighborhood.

    1. Thank you! It's definitely a conversation starter! :-)

  2. Happy 10th birthday to your lovely garden! I'm so glad to know you through the blogging world. :)

  3. What a delightful story! Your garden is beautiful.

  4. The gardens I made when was a new gardener in my 20's and early 30's sure had many mistakes, even though I worked at a garden center in San Diego at the time. Those mistakes led me on a better path. You can be proud of what you created, and how much you learned.

  5. The garden and gardener are ever evolving. Thanks for sharing your journey, Jen!

  6. We are just in the process of starting this transformation in our yard. This is reassuring and beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

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