I Dig Digging

Lots more digging today! I did my morning stint after I came home from the mechanic’s shop without any work being done on my car. (The shop was closed, so I hope he’s not having another setback.)

I can’t do much digging at a time, only a strip of one or two feet by eight feet because the soil is compacted clay held together by the dense roots of Bermuda grass. To be honest, I don’t care how little I do. I’m just delighted to be able to do any physical work at my age. Apparently, I am considered elderly, which isn’t as bad as being called an old woman. I mean I am one, but still, it’s demoralizing to be defined in such a way. In my world, I’ve never been this age before, so it’s new to me. In fact, this is the youngest I will ever be, and besides, I still have the whole rest of my life ahead of me. Does that sound old-womanish? No, I didn’t think so.

But I digress.

After I did my morning dig, I relaxed a bit, so when the mail came with a package of plants that needed to be put to bed, I was raring to go. Luckily, it’s a lovely day with a cool breeze, so it didn’t matter that I was out working just after noon. (Last week, the afternoons were hot enough to give me heatstroke if I did anything outside.)

The plants are magnus echinacea. I ordered one plant a year ago, and it seems to be doing well, so I thought I’d try a few more. They are in their new home now. Since they don’t like to be transplanted, I hope they like where I put them.

One other gardening project I did today was start a notebook at the suggestion of one of my gardening readers. I got an empty binder, which I will fill with the planting guides that come with my purchases, descriptions of the plants, location in my yard, and whatever else I need to keep track of. The yard is a good size, but it’s not so big that I couldn’t keep track of all my plantings, but there is that elderly thing, so who knows when the memory will go. Having a ready guide to my various gardens should make up for any forgetfulness.

I’m glad I didn’t get a house with a yard that was already landscaped. I think it would have been too much for me to keep up at the beginning — it was complicated enough getting to know the care and feeding of a house without dealing with someone else’s idea of what a yard should be. This way, I get to figure it out as I go along. And if I eventually decide it’s too much and let it go, well, it will only be myself I’m letting down and not some master gardener.

Tomorrow will be another cool day before we hit the nineties again, so more digging is in my forecast.


What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times

Planting Hope

Today is the first really cool day we’ve had for months, cool enough to make me realize that fall really is coming. When the outside temperature is in the nineties (Fahrenheit), it’s hard to believe that summer is coming to an end, so it seems rather silly to be preparing the ground for fall planting. We’ll be getting back into the nineties, at least for a few days now and again, but I am beginning to feel a bit of urgency.

The season really is changing. And if fall is coming (five more days!), that means winter is only three months away.

It will be strange, after all this time of working outside, to have a hiatus in the winter, but it will be good to give my poor old knees a rest. I’m just hoping they will hold up for all the planting I’m going to be doing this fall — a few magnus echinacea (a purplish pink coneflower), a bunch of lily trees (despite the name, they are not trees, just very tall lilies), a couple of hundred tulip bulbs, and a pound of wildflowers. I also need to transplant the New England asters because the clump is getting rather dense.

If I can’t get the wildflower area completely dug up and the old Bermuda grass roots removed, I’ll just hoe what’s left and hope for the best, but there’s no way to cut corners on the rest of the planting.

So much work! In the long run, I hope it will be worth it — I would certainly enjoy a beautiful yard. Mostly, though, it’s the doing, not necessarily the done, that intrigues me. And the not giving up.

Previously, whenever I started a garden of some sort and the plants didn’t do well, I shrugged it off as my not having a green thumb. (Which I don’t have, but I’m hoping that experience and research and luck will offset my lack of native ability.)

The last time I planted anything, the failure truly wasn’t my fault. The grasshoppers were voracious that year and they ate everything down to the ground — including a six-foot tree. Because of that, I now panic whenever I see one of those hideous brown hoppers, but so far, they are keeping their destruction to a minimum. If they get too bad, I might borrow the neighbor’s chickens and let them feast, though some of the hoppers seem almost as big as those chickens, so I’m not sure he’d want to take the risk.

Looking at what I’ve written today, I can see that I’ve used a whole lot of words to say what I came here to say: that the cooler temperature is a harbinger of the fall that will show up next week.

I’m not really sad to see gardening season end, nor am I glad. It’s all part of the cycle of life. And after the fall preparation and the winter hiatus, spring will come and all the hope I’ve been planting might come to fruition.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

To Buy or Not to Buy

The last two times Arbor Day Foundation sent me a gift to thank me for my donation (though really, it’s not so much as a donation as payment for the gift), the plants and bulbs were worthless. The plants were too tiny to plant, though in retrospect, I should have put them in a pot and babied them, but considering that I didn’t remember ordering them and didn’t even know what they were, it didn’t really matter what I did with them. The bulbs I got at the beginning of summer were a disappointment. Only one gladiolus bloomed, and I’m afraid if I dig up the bulbs like they suggest and replant them next year, the same thing will happen, so I’m going to cover them with some sort of mulch and leave them where they are. Maybe with an earlier start, they’d be okay.

Normally I’m not disappointed in the failure of Arbor Day Foundation “gifts” because I know how seldom they thrive, at least with me as their caretaker, but I was disappointed in the bulbs because the bulb collection they sent last year did well.

Because of the disappointment, I’d decided to toss away any further solicitations unread, but today, as I started to shred the card with my name on it, I noticed the most beautiful blooms. These are yellow, light orange, and apricot, and last year’s collection (the one that did well), was pink and purple.

I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t tear up the card, I mean. I know even if the bulbs bloom, they will never look like the photo, but even if one of the bulbs comes up, it will be a delight. So I’ve added this card to the stack of planting items to order this weekend when I have time to concentrate.

In my defense, I received a flower catalog yesterday, and though the gardens portrayed made me envious, I set aside the catalog and didn’t order from it, so perhaps my will power was all used up, and that’s why this gorgeous sunset-colored collection of bulbs got to me.

And the plants I’m not buying? Well, there is still plenty of time for me to change my mind, and if I remain steadfast and don’t change my mind, there’s always next year. So, it seems, when it comes to plants, bulbs, and seeds, my quandary is not “to buy or not to buy,” but “to buy now or to buy later.”


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

A Focus for My Life

As I was wandering around my property, planning my next step in turning the yard into a micro park, my focus shifted, as it sometimes does, and suddenly it all seemed so foolish. I could only think, “Why am I doing this?”

I had no answer for my question because at that moment, it truly did seem silly to be doing all this planning and working, spending money on plants and seeds, and setting myself up for a huge summer water bill as well as months of work each year to keep up with the maintenance once the project is completed.

My focus eventually shifted away from the silliness of it all, though a bit of that feeling lingers. In a way, it really is silly, and yet, why not? It’s no sillier than the rest of my life. I write books that few people read. I read books that do nothing more than keep my mind occupied while time passes. I prepare meals that go in one end and come out the other. (And nothing, really, is sillier than that!)

If I had anything more profound to do than to turn my yard into a place of beauty (or rather, to try to do so since the results are, to a great extent, out of my control) I would probably be doing that instead. And yet, gardening — just the act of gardening itself — might be as profound as anything else. I’d say it was joining in the act of creation, but so much of gardening is as much destruction as it is about creation. For example, weeds are natural, a part of creation, but we gardeners take it upon ourselves to choose which plants live and which die. And all the rock I have around my house to protect the foundation came from the destruction of a mountain.

Perhaps with gardening and landscaping, I am just revving my internal engine, creating work for myself to no great end, but I don’t suppose it matters. It gets me outside, for one thing. Gives me a focus, for another.

It is good to have a focus, and even if that focus slips once in a while to reveal the foolishness of that focus, it’s still good. At least — in my case — it keeps my mind off the very real inanity of daily living. I mean, truly, what’s it all about? Going to bed. Dreaming. Getting up. Working and working out. Sweating. I could go on, but there’s no need to. You know what I’m talking about — all those dreary rites of maintenance that only serve to keep the body functional.

So see? It’s a good thing I have my various yard projects to focus on! I just need to occasionally remind myself of that.


What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Plots and Plots

I’m reading a book with four subplots — or rather four co-plots since none of the plotlines seem to have more importance than any other. That’s not a problem. I can keep four different plots in my head. The problem is that all four subplots are exactly the same, only with different names, though too many of the names are similar, making it even harder to distinguish the various plots. Each subplot has a bad-guy group and a good-guy group chasing each other with frequent pauses for a fight. The good guys want something the bad guys don’t want them to have — some sort of knowledge about a plague originating in ancient Egypt. At least, that’s what I think they want. Just as I sort of figure out what one group is actually after, the author switches to a different group. I have a hunch he thinks this keeps up the suspense, but all it does is put me to sleep.

Generally, when I get a book that bores the heck out of me, I skip to the end to find out what happened, and then forget it. With this book, I’m afraid that if I skipped to the end, I won’t know what happened. There’s also the possibility that if I don’t skip to the end and continue to plod through four plotlines that echo each other, I still won’t know what happened.

Is it any wonder I am weeding instead of reading?

Today I dug up more weeds, way more than I planned to. The ground had just enough dampness left from the last rain to be crumbly, so it was much easier to dig into than when the ground was sodden (and incredibly easier than when it was dry), so I continued working until that plot of ground was finished.

Hey! Plots and plots! Although I didn’t plan to wrap this blog around the theme of plots — story plots and garden plots — it tickles me that it happened.

I hope I finish the book soon so I can find something fun to read to allow me to sit still long enough to rest up from my outside labors. I did set aside the multiple-plot book for a while and read a single-plot book; unfortunately, that one was just as boring.

Even if the next book doesn’t keep my interest, it won’t matter. We’re returning to 100-degree temperatures (or close enough) for a while, and even a boring book won’t send me outside when it’s that hot.

Besides, I really do need to rest up. Starting next week, the plants and bulbs I ordered will be arriving, and I’ll have to be doing a lot more digging. I’m hoping digging to put plants in the soil will be easier than digging to pull things out, but I have a hunch digging is digging, whether it’s digging into the plot of a boring book or digging into a plot of weed-infested land.


What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

A Garden is but a Dream

Today was another digging day. Since the ground still retained some moisture from the last rain, I thought it would be a good idea to finish clearing out more weeds before the sun baked the clay soil into some sort of adobe. I’m sure a better idea would have been to rest up today after yesterday’s exertions, but I wanted to finish weeding one particular section.

I considered putting sod in that area, but I will lay down sod for a patch of lawn in the front yard, and I really don’t want to spend the time and effort — and water — to groom two lawn areas. As I was digging up weeds, I noticed there was plenty of knotweed in the area, which passes for grass in this arid climate, so I considered just watering the area and letting the “grass” grow to add a bit of green to the backyard.

But, as I was weeding, I had another thought. When I first moved here, before I got into landscaping and gardening, I’d considered turning my yard into a meadow. Even that takes a lot work, so I abandoned the idea, but a small meadow would be perfect for the area I’ve been weeding. That triangular plot of land will be sectioned off by hard pathways on two sides and the sidewalk on the third side, and I can see all sorts of wildflowers blooming there. Even better, it won’t matter if the “grass” grows between the flowers or if an occasional weed gets a roothold, because that’s the point of a meadow — anything goes.

The real issue for me is to get a mix of short wild flowers. I’ve been researching wildflower and wildflower mixes, and so many of the flowers grow four to six feet tall. Eek! I’d get claustrophobic with such tall plants in an open area! They would be perfect for outlying areas along the fence, but I’ve already planned other flowers for those areas — hollyhocks in one spot and a lily forest in another.

I finally found the right mixture at a seed place that caters to farmers and businesses with acreage to fill, so I’ll have to buy more than I need, but it will be a lot cheaper (and quicker) in the long run than trying to buy individual flowers seed packets and mixing the seeds myself. The good thing about having so many seeds is that I can plant half in the fall, and if they don’t come up next spring, I can plant the other half and see what happens.

Even after all this time, my landscaped yard with lush garden spots is still little more than a vision I dream when I am doing such mundane chores as digging weeds and turning soil, but you never know. Someday I might actually dream that vision into reality.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator


You’ll never guess what I did this morning. Oh, you guessed it. And yes, you’re right: I dug up more weeds.

It must seem as if that’s all I ever do in my yard, and lately, it is. The areas I’ve been working on hadn’t been weeded in years. I think the previous residents mowed them down like I’ve been doing, but that doesn’t really do anything to get rid of them — it just keeps them from growing to six feet. The root, of course, is still in the ground.

The particular area I am currently working on was under cover for about a year. After the old garage was torn down, the metal carport the previous owners had put up was moved close to the house to store the building materials for the new garage as well as tools and ladders and such that couldn’t go in my house. You’d think that having the ground hidden beneath all that lumber would kill the weeds, but nope. As soon as the garage was built, the materials used up, and the carport taken away, weeds immediately sprouted like . . . weeds.

It’s the same with the area that was covered by the construction rubbish heap — weeds still grew under there. How, I don’t know. Supposedly, if weeds are deprived of sun and water, they will die, but those didn’t. So, I am digging them up and hoping they don’t grow back.

The thing with weeds is that they are opportunists that fill any available ecological niche. My first spring here, much of the yard was covered in wild mustard. I like wild mustard when it’s young — it’s such a pretty ground cover. But when it grows up and starts blooming, it takes over everything. During the rainy season that year, I managed to dig up all the mustard. It’s not totally eradicated, but what does grow is easy enough to pull up in the early spring. The problem, then, is that other weeds move in.

So if I get rid of these weeds I’m now working on, and if I don’t plant something that will be stronger than the weeds, some other type of weed will find a home here.

Everyone has a favorite weed killing concoction, but I haven’t found anything that works for me. Oh, I’m sure the poisons would do fine, but in a yard this big, I’d need to use so much of the stuff that it would probably kill me, too.

Someone swears by salt — he pours a strong salt solution on the ground, and it kills the weeds. That’s fine if you don’t want to grow anything in the area because too much salt will sterilize the soil permanently, so the best use is for things like weeds growing in the cracks sidewalks.

Several people do well with an Epsom salt/dish detergent/vinegar solution, but that’s a temporary fix because it doesn’t kill the root. In fact, when you have an alkaline soil like we do, vinegar makes the ground more fertile for weeds. In addition, no matter what kind of soil you have, vinegar will kill beneficial bacteria and bugs. Epsom salts supply needed nutrients to soil, so it’s more of a fertilizer than an effective weed killer. The dish detergent is fairly innocuous — it mostly serves to keep the vinegar and Epsom salts on the leaves of the plants. Although it seems to be effective in small areas for some people, it doesn’t seem like a good way to get rid of strong and tall weeds.

Someone suggested bleach, and I did try that on the woody weeds along the alley, but it didn’t do anything at all, even though I applied it directly to the stem at ground level.

Vegetable oil is supposed to be a good weed killer, but I haven’t yet tried it. I wouldn’t want it in my yard where I intend to plant things because it can damage plants and microorganisms. At least, that’s what some people say; others say it’s good for the soil in small amounts. Small amounts, being the key here — if I were to use it to kill all the weeds in my yard, I’d need gallons and gallons of the stuff.

One idea I found online and would like to try is to make a concoction of orange oil and 20% vinegar (household vinegar is 5%). I do know orange oil is a good disinfectant, so it might work for small areas of weeds in a garden.

As with everything nowadays, there is a plethora of information available, but the truth can only be discovered by trying things and seeing what will work for me.

And what works for me now is digging.

Oddly, as long as it is fairly cool, I like the work. Not only does it give me an excuse to be outside, it gives me a full body workout. Eventually, when the yard is landscaped and mulched, and all the various garden areas planted with the plants I choose, I won’t have to do this sort of weeding any more. But for now, it seems the safest way to go. Besides, all that digging loosens the compacted soil and prepares the ground for the deeper digging I’ll have to do when it comes time to plant something pretty.


What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

A Witness to My Life

This morning, I cleared away the patch of seven-foot-tall weeds that had been growing unchecked behind a construction rubbish pile in my yard. Having them gone — both the weeds and the rubbish — makes me feel so much better! With the weeds growing like that, it made me feel slovenly, which isn’t at all how I like to think of myself.

I was going to pack it in when the work was finished, because I really did overdo it in my zeal to finish the task, but then clouds came and obscured the sun, and it felt cool enough to do a job I’ve been putting off.

I never considered bindweed a weed — it looks like small morning glories, and is pretty when it covers a field, or even when it entwines itself around the links of a chain-link fence. The problem with the fence is when the season is over, the plant dies back but leaves the vines wrapped around the links. I worked a bit on clearing off the fence the past couple of days, but so much of the weed was still left to clear off, that today, in the coolness, I got out a chair, sat down, and picked and picked and picked all that weed off the fence.

It looked so nice after it was finished, I hoped someone would notice and tell me that they noticed. I felt silly thinking that — I’m not a child, calling to her mother to witness some derring-do, “Lookame, Mommy. Lookame.” And yet . . . it is nice to have our feats noticed, even if they are as trivial as a clean fence. To be honest, I think it’s more than just nice. I think it’s a fundamental need.

In the movie Shall We Dance, Beverly Clark (Susan Sarandon) says: “We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet . . . I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things . . . all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness.’”

Jeff, of course, had been the witness to my life. He gave it meaning by that witnessing. After he died, I used this blog as my witness, writing about grief and all that I went through because of his absence. This witnessing of my grief gave it importance — because of what I wrote, I connected with people in a similar situation, and we helped each other get through each new phase of grief.

I am still using this blog as a witness to my life, telling about all the large and small things that make up my life, but even if I didn’t have this blog, I’d still have a witness: me. I witness my own life. I see what I do. I see the end result of my labor and, in this case, I appreciate the cleared fence.

Incidentally, the lack of tall weeds — or any weeds — by the gray slag and along the other side of the fence is due to my labors at the beginning of the week where I dug up all the waist-high and shoulder-high weeds.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

A Woman’s Work

I went out this morning to do a few gardening chores. I planned to spend only a short time because it was later than I normally go out and I expected it to be hot and humid. It rained last night, but only for a few minutes and barely got the ground wet, but it did leave behind a lot of humidity. Surprisingly, there was also a bit of cool in the breeze, so I decided to make use of the cooler temperatures to consolidate the construction rubbish pile that had been left behind when the old garage was torn down and the new one built. That pile was an unsightly mess, longer than fifteen feet, wider than six feet, and perhaps knee high. The contractor kept telling me they’d haul the stuff away but, as with so many of my jobs, it wasn’t a priority for them. Although it didn’t bother them, it did bother me. Six-foot tall weeds were growing on the other side of the pile where I couldn’t reach, and I wanted to be able to get behind the pile so I could clear them away.

I started out picking up the easy pieces and throwing them in the dumpster. Not necessarily easy to carry, you understand but easy to get to, because after more than two years of wood being dumped in that spot, it was jumbled like a giant game of pick-up-sticks. After a while, a neighbor noticed what I was doing and asked if I minded if he took some of the boards I’d thrown away. I told him he could have whatever he wanted, so he came and helped me sort through the wood. The best pieces I set aside, the worst I threw away, and the middling boards he took. He was excited to see the old garage supports — oak four-by-fours — and I was glad he wanted them.

My few minutes of outside work ended up being a few hours. After the neighbor went home with his loot, I noticed my keeper lumber pile was just as much of an eyesore as the original pile, so I hauled those boards — some long two-by-fours, some short, and a few two-by-eights — to the garage and stacked them neatly against the wall. I am exhausted now, of course, and very hot because the cooling breeze didn’t last, but I am thrilled to have eradicated something that’s been a problem for me for so long. Even better, I now will be able to clear out the weeds the proliferated behind that junk heap and prepare the area for planting hollyhocks this fall.

It does seem as if that adage, “A woman’s work is never done,” is correct.


What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

To Mulch or Not to Mulch

I’ve been researching mulches for my garden and yard to keep down the weeds, and I end up doing what I always do when I research such things — nothing.

The information is always too contradictory. For example, use wood chips, but don’t use wood chips. Wood chips are a good mulch, but so many commercial wood chips are created from old treated woods, such as palettes, which is bad. Cedar chips are good, and since they are acidic, you’d think they would be good for alkaline soil, but when the cedar chips break down, they add to the alkalinity of the soil, which is not good because the soil around here is already too alkaline.

Weeds are bad, but then, weeds are good, too, since they form a sort of living mulch, covering the bare ground and keeping it from blowing it away. Some people have good luck growing food in weedy soils, others do not. Some people say that yes, weeds are good, so create a weed patch, but keep them out of the garden. Some people say it’s important to keep the ground covered, that bare soil is not a good thing (though I do like the look of plain old dirt), so if nothing else, plant weeds.

I’d been pulling up the prostrate spurge in my daylily garden, but then it dawned on me that for the most part, the root grows between the plants, so it doesn’t really compete, and at the same time, it branches out to cover the ground. The plants seem to be doing okay, so I’m not really worrying about it.

I don’t really mind the low-lying weeds or the weeds with pretty flowers, like dandelions, but I do have an issue with weeds that have the potential for growing taller than I am. I finally got rid of the weeds along the alley, and there is another patch of weeds along my fence that I would like to get rid of because they are taller than me and are now going to seed, but I can’t get to them because of the construction rubbish piled in front of them.

I’d read that pouring vegetable oil over weeds and around their root will kill them without destroying nearby soil. I also read that some flowers crowd out weed, but if I did that, I’d have to make sure those flowers grow, which isn’t always possible. Still, both of these are possibilities. I also have a bucket of cedar wood chips I gathered when a cedar tree stump was ground out, so I can use those somewhere.

Mostly, I am taking this project one square foot at a time. I figure that the buildings on the property and the rocks around the house as well as the paths will take up about two thirds of my property, but that still leaves a minimum of two thousand square feet of ground to figure out how to cover, whether with grass, bushes, trees, gardens, mulch, wildflowers, or weeds.

Such a big project! But it’s good to have something major to occupy my time, even if I don’t know what I am doing.

Luckily, the flowers know what they are doing, so there’s always something pretty for me to look at in my yard.


What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.