Tending a Garden


flowers and garden

This spring I am feeling overwhelmed with home chores–whether it is trading winter clothes for summer in my closet or cleaning off the patio furniture.  Especially the yard and gardens on our acre lot.

I start with “Ugh.”

Everywhere I look there are signs of neglect. The asters have overtaken the rock garden, a river of oak leaves overflows its bank, and bury the hosta garden under a tarp of brown. It messes up the spring palette of soft green and delicate pink of the bleeding heart.

All reminders of why I didn’t get to it. The loss of Mom last August.

This is what grief is like, a sense that there is too much to do, to even begin. An untidy collection of chores, that even if completed, give not even a brief pat on the back.

Each chore piling on to an already groaning load.  I have become “chore-lish.” Feeling sorry for myself that I have this hard work ahead. Complaining constantly to my husband.

The truth is he does most of the yard work, the raking, and mowing. But I consider myself the gardener, one who especially likes the planning and the harvest. The middle part, the actual work of propagating, watering, and weeding– not so much.

“Deb,” he says. “A little each day, and it will get done.”

After a quick survey of our yard, we agree on a plan. Cut back on annuals. Stick to one hanging basket on the deck.  No more Boston ferns in front. Limit watering

Friday when Phil and I went to the garden center, he pulled the wagon and I paced the greenhouse aisles wondering how I could possibly choose from this endless assortment.

It helps that I have an overriding need for coordinating a garden ensemble and have kept a journal of successes and failures over the years. To limit the size of my wants to the diameter of three pots, two window boxes and the hose’s reach is impossible. Do I have to say no to the Gerbera daisies who will never again crane their long necks to bloom for me? And give up on New Guinea impatiens to shrivel and languish? Even though today, the blue eyes of the lobelia are dancing with the promise to stay during the hot dry days of July.



I was here less than a  year ago with my sisters and Mom to choose plants for her new patio and surrounding garden.

“Mom, remember, why you moved? Less maintenance.  The association will mow and blow, but they won’t be weeding and watering.”

“I know that,” as she pushed her cart that held eight packs of dusty miller and marigolds, geraniums, ageratum, bacopa.

“Those rabbits have eaten my delphinium to a nub,” she complained. Asked the nursery helper about a good variety  that might replace the tall pine that was guilty of dropping needles all over the new patio.

“That tree is going. I got a bid to take it down.”

My sisters and I sighed and fussed.  “Are you sure? No privacy.  Too sunny. A mistake.”

Later, when I stopped at Mom’s for a quick check in, I found the hanging baskets bone dry, the leaves on the geranium curled and brown.

“I watered this morning,” she said.

I filled the watering can anyway, accusingly poking my finger in to the soil.

“My back has really been bothering me,” she confessed.  I knew that, but couldn’t she at least water?

“I hate to ask, but could you get these started for me? They need to get in the ground.  If you could just place them…” she was already heading to the garage to get her foam kneeler and gloves.

She sat in a chair while I alternated the yellow and white border, poking the point of my trowel in to the blackness. I was planting a garden of resentment, not recognizing her garden to be anything more than a chore for others.

She was leading me down the garden path, one where she was no longer physically able to be the gardener, but knew she could not be gardenless. 

So many of my peers look to the day when they say goodbye to all that dirty work, can sit at the sidewalk café for their morning coffee, a garden trowel no longer part of their tool kit.  But this bargain means an ending of something bigger. Our need to tend living things. To stay connected to the earth. Without it we lose sight of how quickly the earth spins to bring the next season.

Garden gloves

Phil helped me. We worked side by side all weekend.  We cleaned up the dead canes that poked up through sedum and hydrangea, pulled the tiny maples and elms that sprouted from last year, and handfuls of invaders that crowded my prized poppy. He filled the wheel barrow with potting soil and balanced a sturdy board at one end to be my potting bench. I could prop each container so I could easily fill them without bending over. Starting with the coleus, I tipped out a healthy network of white roots, tamping it with my fingers, slipped in a lipstick pink tuberous begonia, a purple fuchsia and tucked in gold lysimachia, a trailing variety with small round leaves. It felt good to see these empty places be filled again with color.

I realized that I just had to begin.

One thought on “Tending a Garden

  1. Oh Deb sure enough once again you captured the feelings of a short spring cleaning season !! Just 4 weeks ago we had a foot of snow. We are all impatient to just enjoy all the growth and green without all the hard labor. It is so wondrous to uncover whatever is growing under the leaves trying so hard to make it to the sun just like us trying to get it all done. I appreciate your feelings of loss and new seasons and memories of your dear mom. Just think how much it meant to her that you helped with that last garden when she wasn’t feeling well. And her joy at picking out those new lovely plants even when she wondered about her energy and health. God bless your honest sharing and meaningful words. Lory


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