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For the month of September, Leap Little Frog has been hopping around a library theme. This final installment is the result of what can happen when you use the library as a deep resource for personal and horticultural development.

Green looks good on Lissa Schneckenburger. She’s smart and resourceful. She’s grown a successful independent music career, is raising a son, and also finds time to tend to her backyard garden. Perhaps her passion for projects stems from her work as a fiddle player, singer, songwriter, producer. Or maybe her drive to manage most details herself–like when she made her own wedding dress–comes from innate independence.

When I asked Lissa how she has managed to tour AND make the green oasis of her dreams, she shared these tips. Of course, trips to the library made the top ten, along with collecting wisdom from fellow gardeners, and logging time in the field. Here are Lissa’s ten tips for building sustainable gardens, when time and money are short.

1. DON’T garden!
Being on the road and gardening: these two activities oppose each other in many ways. You will always have a nicer garden if you are actually THERE, rather than out on tour. However, if you are like me and can’t live without both music and growing things in your life, read on. (These ideas work for casual travelers, too.)

Paeonia with juniper in background

Paeonia with juniper in background

2. Gather insight and inspiration
I love taking photos of other people’s gardens when I’m on tour, and chatting with all the gardeners I have met from around the world. Seeing beautiful growing spaces is such a pleasure, and it’s given me countless design ideas for my own garden sanctuary back at home.

3. Start small
This is as much a reminder for me as it is a tip for anyone else. My natural personality is to dream big and throw my whole self into a project before I quite know what I’m getting into. But as I’ve tried to juggle touring life, teaching, parenting, and trying to be a happy healthy human I’ve realized that even I have limits. I’m currently cutting back on my grandiose garden dreams and trying to be a little more realistic with my expectations. Start with a simple pot of herbs next to an inviting hammock in the backyard. If that goes well, make up one (just one!) garden bed in a high profile area that you can gaze at from multiple windows of your house while you’re practicing your instrument. You get the idea…

4. Head to the library!
Great gardening books cultivate inspiration and practical knowledge. A few of my favorites:

Recommended books for gardeners: “A Child’s Garden” by Molly Dannenmaier…  “Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist” by Michael Judd…  “Landscaping with Fruit” by Lee Reich… “The Ever Blooming Flower Garden” by Lee Schneller… “Low Maintenance Gardening” by Valerie Easton

5. Be patient. 
Gardens evolve over a lifetime, and are an ever changing work in progress. Add to that the fact that you are only there half the time, and you’ll have the ultimate exercise in patience. Make little changes when you can, do lots of research, think carefully about each plant purchase and design element, and you’ll end up saving yourself tons of time and money in the long run.

6. Hardscaping is important!
I read about this, but it took me finally having the time and money (and a helpful husband) to put in a patio, stone pathway, raised beds, and an archway before it actually hit home. All the plants were the same but once those permanent design elements were finally in place it actually looked like the sanctuary of my dreams!

Hardscaping to the rescue

It’s worth carefully considering and saving up for the hardscaping in your garden, it really “pulls the room together.”

7. Prioritize good dirt.  
Seeds are cheap, and you can often get plants for free from your friends or neighbors; but there is nothing more valuable than a heaping pile of manure to get your garden off to a happy healthy start. Likewise, no amount of money spent on fancy shrubs will be able to save your garden if the soil is poor. So make friends with your local dairy farmer, barter with a friend who has a pick up truck and get yourself as much manure as possible!

8. MULCH!  
I love to travel and I love touring life, but that means that I routinely leave my garden for long stretches of time. A thick layer of mulch on every garden bed will insure that fewer weeds pop up to compete for your plant’s resources, and that your garden won’t dry out as quickly if there is a long patch without rain. There are lots of commercial varieties of mulch that you can buy, but my favorite (especially for vegetable beds) is grass clippings.

9. Accept grass or plant food
The recent “turn your lawn into a garden” movement is wonderful and has resulted in some amazing front yards, but it is not (as many of the books will tell you) “way less work”. If you have grass in your front yard, and a spouse who is willing to mow it, then that is definitely the easiest route. Don’t bother watering or weeding or fertilizing it, and you’ll have way more time for practicing your instrument. However, if you are interested in sustainability, eating fresh and local produce, improving the aesthetic of your neighborhood, or improving your health there is a whole revolution of front yard gardens out there which are a LOT of work, but have their own set of awesome rewards.

img_018510. Plant based on your schedule and lifestyle
I tend to be super busy through the summer and early fall, so I attempt to get as much planting, weeding, and mulching done as I can in the spring before I head out on tour. I mostly plant vegetables that are harvested late in the growing season (after the music festival season has started to die down) and are easy to store through the winter when I actually have time at home to cook them (potatoes, squashes, pumpkins, etc).


Plant easy-care perennials: Books and blogs can help you decide which plants will still be alive when you come home from three consecutive weeks of fiddle camps. Lissa’s favorite perennials include shade tolerant favorites: Chrysanthemum Shasta Daisy… Sedum Autumn Joy… Aster… Miscanthus Morning Light… Stachys byzantine Lambs Ear… Junipers compress… Hemerocallis Day Lily… Heuchera Coral Bells… Hosta Royal Standard… Paeonia… Achillea millefolium Yarrow… Thymus praecox Wooly Thyme… and all varieties of bulbs!

Lissa Scheneckenburger is a touring musician with a gardening habit. She began playing fiddle at the age of six, in a small town in Maine. She’s a dynamic instrumentalist, and her sweet voice brings fresh life to traditional ballads. Her husband Corey DiMario is a fine bassist, tenor guitar player, and gardening assistant. Check out Lissa’s beautiful CDs!

Leap, Little Frog

a musician's musings on nesting, being creative, traveling, and parenting