Retirement is Bliss
A couple's new backyard is just what they needed to ease into retirement.
By John Dunzelman, Barnegat, New Jersey
Ah...retirement. When the time finally came for this wonderful life change, my wife, Barbara, and I moved into our new home and looked forward to spending some time relaxing and taking it easy. That was 6 years ago, and I'm still anticipating the "relaxing" part. Instead, we discovered a hobby, which became a passion that we don't think we'll be retiring from anytime soon—gardening.
Humble Beginnings—Big Dreams
A major bonus in building our dream home was that we had the opportunity to landscape the backyard from scratch, too. That first summer, we built our cottage shed and picked out our foundation plantings. Since we are only 3 miles from the Atlantic Ocean and 114 feet above sea level, we chose river rock, evergreens and azaleas, with some red barberry and daylilies as well. Our backyard was off to a great start for future plantings, and we were hooked.
Every summer following, we chose another area of our property to landscape. One year it was the barren area along the driveway, another year, the flower bed around the flag pole. And in 2003, we decided to start our largest project of all—a koi pond.
Our backyard has a beautiful wooded area that was only about 30 feet from our sunroom-the perfect place for a pond with a viewing area to watch the wildlife it would surely attract. The towering pine and oak trees would give the pond protection from birds of prey and the sun, since koi like cooler water and it would be less susceptible to algae.
A Place for Friends
After a local contractor dug the hole, we wasted no time. Within a few months, we had a 12- by 14-foot pond with two waterfalls flowing into it. There was one area that received a bit of afternoon sun, so it gave us the opportunity to experiment with a number of different sun and shade-loving plants. Sixteen varieties of hosta, rhododendron, viburnum, Japanese painted fern, holly and Henry's Garnet are a few of the plants gracing our pond, bringing some color and texture into the area.
With so many visitors to our garden pond, we decided to construct a cobblestone walkway so they could meander from the pond to the other areas of the yard. We also doubled the garden area by clearing out the wild berry underbrush between the trees. Here, we planted more than 35 perennial shrubs, plants and trees, including hydrangea, andromeda, daylilies, rose of Sharon, butterfly bush, coral bells, astilbe and many more. We also added more cobblestone paths around the new plantings and garden areas. Recently, we added a new water feature with a water wheel that I built in my wood shop.
The pond and plants also invited another group of friends—birds! They love the water feature and plants that we've added. Since we've moved, I've built more than 30 birdhouses to keep our feathered friends around.
Our tenants are usually sparrows, finches or bluebirds, but many of the houses are also used as shelter for the birds that stay during winter. By creating shelter, a water fountain, the waterfalls, stream and koi pond, we have attracted over 25 species of birds, including woodpeckers, nuthatches, titmice, wrens, bluebirds, juncos, hawks and even ducks. We record the sightings of our frequent visitors in our bird guest book.
With our backyard retreat almost complete, we're thinking we might reward ourselves with some down time to sit in the sunroom, enjoy our visitors and really "retire." But then again, maybe it's time to start our second pond...
Q&A with John
What gardening chore do you hate?
Fall and spring cleanup. Our garden is in a wooded area with pine and oak trees.
What's your best money-saving secret for the garden?
Some annual flowers will return in the spring if you stop deadheading them in late fall.
If you could only have one flower in your garden, what would it be?
What's your idea of a dream garden?
A garden without moles and voles!
What plant do you think is overrated?
Roses-they can be beautiful-and they can turn ugly!
What plant is underrated?
Caladium. It has vivid colors and contrast.
What plants never fail you?
Hosta and hydrangeas.