Monday, May 29, 2017

Gardening with Friends

Whenever I move to a new house, unpacking boxes takes a backseat to getting my yard in order. With this most recent move, the yard took a bit more work (and funding) than anticipated. Isn't that the way it always goes? Instead of pulling weeds, clearing out plants and supplementing the soil, we hired Greenstreet, a landscape company, to build a wall to shore up the back yard--to level the playing field, so to speak--so plantings wouldn't slide into the neighbor's yard during spring rainfalls.



Getting into the dirt required a waiting game, and I tried to remain patient as we experienced, to-date, in excess of four inches of rain vs. normal. But who can complain? When we moved here, to a sleepy town outside of Chattanooga, a drought had plagued the area and, along with it, devastating wildfires.

So last week, when I finally got to plant my new beds, and during the weeks prior, when shopping for flowers, I was reminded of the many people who helped foster my love of gardening and taught me valuable lessons along the way.


From Betty I learned to divide and conquer

When we lived in Decatur, Alabama, Betty became my friend, my mentor and Mimi to my boys. A graceful, generous soul, she shared her knack for southern hospitality and love of gardening. She taught me that hardy perennials like monkey grass and mint could be divided and shared with a swift whack of a shovel imbedded in their spidery roots. Betty also gifted me with a tuber of Jackson Vine, culled from her own, that after transplanted in my yard, grew along my fence and provided waxy green boughs that graced my table and mantle during the holidays. I can still hear her southern drawl telling me "you cain't kill it" whenever I hesitated to thin out my plants.


From Kim I learned to thin from within

When we moved from Alabama to College Station, Texas, I met an amazing woman and her two sons at Chick-fil-A. I was there with my two young boys and we struck up a conversation on the patio. In a move I can't believe I did and yet do not regret, I handed my boys off to Kim for a playdate at her house. She gave me her address and I promised to return a few hours to gather them. I will justify this decision by saying she is the wife of our then-pediatrician, so I knew I could trust her.

Upon picking up my boys later that afternoon, she gave me a tour of her back yard. Kim impressed me with the brick path she was laying by hand, and she gave me a quick lesson on pruning. She reached into a shrub and clipped the branches growing inward to allow sunlight to reach the plant and to give the bush a more lacy appearance. The result was immediate. To this day,  I can be found with my pruning sheers, trimming branches from within my plants to make them appear less dense and more natural looking.

From Dale I learned to deadhead

To this day, it's a tedious task I rather dread, but my neighbor in Illinois was diligent in deadheading her flowers. This weekend, I scavenged my hanging basket of petunias and clipped off the star-shaped green stems so new blooms will take their places. Today they look a little worse for wear, but I know, had I left them to their own devices, before long my petunias would look like spindly weeds with a single flower at each end.

As kids, my cousin and I would deadhead black-eyed Susans and zinnias in my grandparents' flowerbeds, but we typically would wait until the blooms had dried and the seed-heads crumbled between our fingers; seeds would rain down into the soil, guaranteeing more flowers next season. Now I rarely wait for my blooms to dry, instead clipping the flowers to bring indoors where I can enjoy them all day long.

From Martha I learned to move it

I met Martha on a trip we took with my husband's coworkers and, as luck would have it, we are now neighbors. An avid gardner, Martha recently gave me a tour of her fabulous gardens. I reminded her of advice she gave me years ago: If something you planted isn't growing, move it to a different spot in your yard. I had a Texas mountain laurel that seemed to squat in the first bed I planted it in. So the next spring, I dug it up and placed in on the opposite side of the lawn, in a sloped bed where it thrived. Perhaps it was the well-drained soil or the filtered light it preferred, but whatever the condition, my mountain laurel loved its new home and flourished.



From my grandmother I learned to gather

When my cousin and I were about nine or ten, we went on a fishing trip with our grandparents to
Wisconsin. On the drive home, we noticed wild ferns growing in the ditch by the road. I'm not sure how much urging it took, but Grandpa pulled over and we gathered a couple clumps of ferns, wrapped the roots in a bag and placed it along the floorboard of the backseat. For the rest of the journey, my cousin and I tried our best to keep from squashing the ferns at our feet. When we got home, Mom planted the ferns in the backyard beds near the house and, to this day, they still grow there. I pulled some up and planted them at my house in Alabama, where I hope they're still alive and well. Since then, I've gathered seed pods from my travels and even plucked roadside wildflowers--roots and all--to place in my garden. Along the way, I've learned a few lessons about what will survive and what's best left behind (a certain strand of Queen Anne's Lace nearly took over the lawn). I still keep one eye trained on the roadside when I drive, in search of a hardy wildflower or plant that might work in my garden.


From my mom I learned to weed

I hated weeding the garden as a kid, especially our vegetable patch that seemed overrun with grass, but any good gardener knows you have to tackle the weeds to save the flowers and herbs. I still don't enjoy weeding, but in between plantings and harvests, time spent weeding the beds gets me outdoors and my hands dirty.

My hope is my kids will share my passion for plantings and that the lessons so freely given to me will be passed down to them from their own mom, who always loved playing in the dirt.

My newest flower bed with the dog claiming his place.