Simran Sethi loves this Van Go Mobile Arts rain barrel.
Photo: Alice Lieberman
After spending most of the summer worrying about doing right by her new yard, Simran Sethi is admitting it's time to move back inside to her scores of home improvement projects.
My tiny attempts at gardening have all but disappeared. I cleared away brush, pulled some weeds, planted herbs and then...gave up. The pull of the indoors is too strong: flooding in the basement, closet organization in a state of limbo, that notable (nearly painful) absence of air-conditioning and a kitchen that longs to be upgraded.

I wanted to be perfect for you. The superwoman who caulked, insulated, painted, renovated and landscaped. But I'm not. I'm the person who works hard to pay someone far savvier than I to do this stuff.

This relationship with my house keeps ebbing and flowing. It is taking a lot longer to negotiate than I anticipated and, at this moment, I long for my old apartment. Today I indiscriminately pulled at vines, trying to clear a path. No mindfulness, just a sense of relief that the task was close to being completed. I flipped through the latest issue of Organic Gardening at the dentist's office, reading on how to cut back peonies, dry peppers and promote soil health ("how to meet your soil's nutritional needs so it meets yours") while thinking, "I can't really tell what's a weed and what's not."

My lofty goal of building rain barrels out of old casks from our local winery is still a thought, and the temptation to purchase them is strong. If/ when I do, it will likely be the kind of barrel pictured on this page from Van Go Mobile Arts, a nonprofit that uses art as way to empower and support at-risk youth. This is fairly high on my to-do list because it makes so much sense. Seventy percent of household water is used on lawns. Capturing rain saves this precious resource—an urgent need as the majority of our nation grapples with water scarcity.

Am I a fraud? I hope not. My new goal is to make my inner nest as beautiful, functional and comfortable as I can before this series hits the one-year mark and draws to a close. This comfort is tenuous: I'm usually disheartened by a state of incompletion but, quite frankly, I need my life back. This house has taken over like the vines wrapping around my front porch, slowly breaking up my foundation.

I have said time and again that environmental engagement is about building a relationship with our natural world and that the relationships we work on the most, the ones that are most challenging, are also the most rewarding. A house is not an investment one should enter into lightly—because of obvious financial reasons and also the intangible psychological investment.

I think about this place all the time.

I worry about her when I'm away. Did she flood, did she overheat, did someone break in? I love my house, but I need to ease up on our relationship for a bit. So I leave you with this wisdom from Low Maintenance Landscape, a local landscaper that I called for help before deciding to focus on my home's interior.

The following questions, excerpted from the company's Landscape Design Questionnaire, can help you assess your yard needs well before I do:
  • What will be the primary uses of your new landscape? Entertainment? Active recreation? Curb appeal? Increase resale value? Romantic places?
  • What kind of atmosphere would you like to create in the landscape? Cool? Quiet? Inviting?
  • What characteristics would you use to describe your dream garden? Lush? Colorful? Self-sustaining?
  • What are some functions and needs of your landscape? Shading the house? Privacy? Erosion control?
  • How much time do you presently spend in your garden relaxing and working? How much time would you like to spend outdoors in a landscape that fits your needs?
May your home be everything you need it to be,


Simran Sethi is an award-winning journalist and associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications. For more information on Sethi, visit and follow her on Twitter @simransethi.

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