Girl vs. Garden


Had I not decided to follow my gut and head for Australia, I would be starting work in just a few days. The decision to quit my job as a private school teacher was a tough one and took some serious considering, especially as I had some pretty hefty financial goals. Do I stick it out and work towards earning financial independence even if I really want to leave?

I had already proven to myself that I could easily save almost $40,000 annually, as I had paid $30,000 for school loans, plus a big chunk more for my garage to bedroom remodel in one year already (and spent a pretty penny on my European motorcycle trip). As a teacher, you can imagine I wasn’t making much more than that, but I was good at finding additional income and having roommates who paid my mortgage (thanks guys!). To stay and work towards the goal, or to put it on hold, hope for the best, and set off on the year adventure I was desperate for? Talking to friends and family, I definitely received mix advice. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” being one example, followed by a contradictory statement about smelling the roses when you’re young (what was that, dad, and which did you mean?). Others rightly said, “you’ll still want to travel in ten years, and your future self will be grateful for FI”. Many told me to go travel- live it up while I’m young, seize the opportunity and explore the world. There will always be jobs when I get home, they assured.

I decided to have my brownie and eat it too. I’d quit my job, but during my sabbatical (minus the getting paid and returning to a job part of that word), I wouldn’t deplete my savings, and I’d even add to it little by little if possible. That way, I’d still be progressing even if just a bit, not moving away from my long term goal of financial independence. I made another decision, which was to try and live life just the way I wanted. I wasn’t totally sure what that meant, but it definitely had to do with slow leisurely mornings over coffee, a good dose of adventure, and spending my time doing things that I really enjoyed without feeling the strangling death-hold of a permanent schedule.  I wanted change and new types of adventure. I even left my climbing gear at home in order to explore new activities. Okay, actually I just forgot it in a bag in the corner, but still, I think it was a good thing.

As I continue on here in Australia, I have rekindled a love and daily practice for certain things. Long walks through the woods in the evening, waking up and going to sleep whenever I feel like it, reading under the covers until I’m too sleepy to hold up the book, French style meals that take forever, baking for everyone in a 5km radius (pear muffins are my current favorite), organizing shelves (yes, I do love organizing!), writing, and especially gardening.

I’ve been cultivating a relationship with gardening for over a decade. It all started with that little Earth Day pine tree in the 1st grade… I spent all that time in Americorps massacring the evil Lantana plant with an army pick axe and shovel (I was unstoppable while listening to Anna Karenina on tape), and introducing native species to various State parks. Months of forest conservation and trail work in Florida and Louisiana was quite the learning experience, too. And I’m no stranger to hot hard work after assisting in the construction of 22 houses with Habitat for Humanity in Alabama and Kentucky. I had an organic veggie garden and a huge yard for several years during college, which was quite successful until I’d leave on my summer trip and everything would either rot or bolt to seed. I spent two years in my college environmental club (ahemmm, I was unanimously elected as president that second year. Let’s not mention it was because no one else wanted the role). We spent countless hours tearing out invasive species from the area (I will always hate English Ivy). Most recently, I landscaped my townhouse yard fully, and alone (twice, actually. Once before I got the chickens, and once after the chickens destroyed it and ate every single last blade of grass I had so carefully laid). I’ve always loved my indoor plants and tend to them meticulously, except for that year I was in grad school and working full time and half of them died… And the faculty room plants at the school I worked at owe me their lives. I’m sure I was the only one to prune and water them. Sometimes I’d find them in the trash, half alive, and resurrect them. Someone would have thrown them away, not even bothering to recycle the recyclable parts and compost the compostables! Oh, the things that drive me berserk… Sometimes while teaching I’d see the gardener outside mowing, raking, or putting down mulch, and I’d think, “if only that were me out there instead of being stuck in here with these screaming kids!” Not really- I love teaching, but there’s no denying that sometimes the noise level and controlled chaos can be a little hard on the senses…

In the last 8 days, I’ve spent over 50 hours in Kim’s garden, where I’m living in the Aranda neighborhood of Canberra. I wake up at the crack of 9:30, sometimes 10:30, have my morning coffee(s) in the sunshine, and decide to do a little yard work. 7 hours later I’m sweaty, dirty and itchy, with a new appreciation for which plants to approach with a long sleeve shirt, and which spiders to squish. Actually, I don’t do any squishing myself because that’s too barbaric. Tom does it while I close my eyes and plug my ears. The Huntsman I practically walked into yesterday was an okay one which he put in the garden, but the one I found in an empty flowerpot recently was terrifying, as I mentioned in a previous post.

A Huntsman spider the size of my palm, common in Australian households. Gross, but not poisonous.
A Huntsman spider the size of my palm, common in Australian households. Gross, but not poisonous.

I am not kidding when I say I lost an entire night’s sleep over that scary garden spider, tossing and turning, fearing there might be more evil looking spiders staring at me in bed with those beady little eyes

After years of wishing for more time or space to garden, days of thoroughly enjoying gardening here and spending hours reading gardening blogs and horticultural topics under the covers at night, I decided to offer services as a gardener. With all my experience, I feel quite comfortable in doing so. You know, and actually earn some money doing what I love and keepin’ on being a mustachian!. I had to come up with a catchy and unique name though, as the industry seemed pretty darn male-dominated!

I present to you my alternate identity as… Daan dada daaaaaaan:

Giiiiirl vs. Gaaaaaaaardeeeeeen! 

Or should I be called Mighty Mouse Gardening? An old guy dubbed me “Mighty Mouse” last year when I traded housing for garden work and help with the kitchen remodel while my motorcycle was broken down in the Alps. I’ll let the reader (singular, I think) decide which name I should go with (hi cousin Bea!).

Anyway, for $30 an hour Girl vs. Garden will put your garden into lovely submission with Mighty Mouse vigor. (Yes, I know I can make way more tutoring or teaching, but I really just want to garden. Doing what I love is what this year is all about, and I’m taking a break from teaching). And I’ll be doing it organically, I might add. After just a day or two of my post being up on Gumtree (Australian version of Craigslist), I’ve received quite a few messages. I’m working on one project this weekend, and the other this coming week if it pans out, and meeting with several other people shortly. I started today, but since it’s a Saturday and I’m sooooo busy sleeping in and drinking coffee on the porch, I only did 3.5 hours (which is how long the front yard project took to complete). Actually, I take care of the chickens in the morning, do yard work here, and I also started a side business as a dog sitter, so I was taking care of a Kelpie pup. For $50 a day, I’ll keep your beloved dog company from early morning (10:30am) until late at night when I go to bed to read (10pm). If you have an athletic dog, I’ll make my boyfriend take it running with him in the morning. If you have a lazy fat dog, I’ll at least drag it for a walk 30 minutes a day and make it play with me in the yard while I garden. I threw the ball for the current dog for 7 hours in a row, while I tended to the weeds. Her owners return tomorrow, after leaving the pup for 4 fun-filled days with moi. I have a pet and  house sitting gig lined up in two weeks, for 10 days ($40/day). So today, I earned a grand total of $155 bucks for about… 4 hours of joyous work! Gardening and hanging out with a dog? No complaints there.


And yes, Australians do get paid more than Americans. For example, a substitute teacher in the U.S. school system makes around $100/day, depending on the State. Here it’s $300/day!

Back to the point of this post: Girl vs. Garden (or is it Mighty Mouse Gardening?). Here are a couple kind-of-before and almost-after pictures of my handywork.

Before. A jungle of Jasmine vines, itchy bushes, crab grass, weeds and suffocated, dying bulbs.
Before. A tree that looks like a Weeping Willow but isn’t, eating the entrance way.
Almost done, after 3.5 hours.
After 3.5 hours. Jasmine tamed (I watched a Youtube vid on how). Weeded, raked, cleaned, gave bulbs some care, mulched, and dug up that nice little border.
Almost done
Bushes trimmed up nicely, and not-a-willow tree pruned. I actually took a class on pruning trees years ago in Americorps, oddly enough. Tomorrow I’ll work on that awful grass, and the backyard.

And here are some pictures of the house where I’m living. There’s a fantastic huge yard, firepit and gazebo, but the firepit area needed a lot of work after a long and stormy winter. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a “real” before picture. The before pictures were all taken after a significant amount of work had already been put in earlier that day (like getting the grass out from between all those bricks and walkways). I’ve done quite a bit of work since, too, adding nice plants and mulch. I recently bought a soil PH level tester as well.

Before flowerbed

after flowerbed

Before patio

After patio


I’m excited about Girl vs. Garden, especially as the person who hired me today came home and couldn’t believe the change. “The yard hasn’t looked this great since I moved in! You’ve done such an amazing job!” I’ll admit to being pretty nervous clipping away at those bushes since it’s been a while, but the skills came back quickly.

I’ll keep you informed on the garden process, and all the other little things coming my way. Now, the time has come to attempt another homemade meal, the other thing I’ve discovered I “love” doing. Cooking! With it still being winter here, my staples are butternut pumpkin (they call it ‘pumpkin’ here), leeks and homemade wholewheat bread. And brownies.

One -ok, three- last pictures of my new friends, Greedy Guts and her flock:



11 thoughts on “Girl vs. Garden”

  1. what a change of your life, I congratulate, it takes courage. yes, i wish myself somehow travel and work.But you good at making money and i am not, just eager to spend it, may be you can try private lessons too, i dont know the situation there. But for sure, i know teaching English is popular way to wrok and travel..
    Hope, now not a singular reader :)

    1. Most of us are pretty good at spending money, and have a hard time saving it. I’m still learning, but reading is a GREAT place to start! Thanks for reading and commenting :)

  2. Elisa.1 You don’t know how glad I am for your wonderful, long newsy report. You had been out of touch too long which sets me to worrying. So even if it’s short, be in touch more often. You write well. Maybe a blog in a newspaper? I love and miss you Grandma

  3. Hey, Ashley isn’t the only one! I’ve been reading from the beginning! I just went back and put a comment on every post :)

    I like Girl vs Garden because it puts you in the female business owner niche. Mighty Mouse is a boy. Awesome idea for businesses and a great way to make money while you’re there. All fun things too! Have you also tried ads for Spanish tutoring?

  4. Hi Beads!!! Thanks for the shout out! I vote for Girl vs. Garden for the same reason as Karen. Girl power! Also, you left your climbing equipment at home!??!

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