Watching Things Grow

The problem with a wet spring is that the weeds are everywhere, and they grow like . . . well, like weeds. If it would dry out enough, I could mow the weeds in the yard to give me a semblance of a lawn, but in some areas of my property, I have to dig them up by hand. The biggest culprit is the end of the driveway. The driveway slants down to a gravel bed, which is nice, but at the end of the gravel is a depression where water and weeds gather. You’d think this was a swampy part of the state the way the things are proliferating, but unfortunately, when the dry heat of summer hits, it won’t make much difference. It will slow the growth somewhat, but these are all-purpose weeds. They will grow no matter what.

Even though the depression on the edge of the driveway is outside my property line according to the surveyor, the building inspector and code enforcer go by a different measure — the utility poles — so it should be possible to extend the driveway out a bit more to meet the graveled alley. I can take care of the weeds now, but as I get older, I sure as heck am not going to want to be pulling up weeds for hours on end. I suppose I could poison them, but I really don’t want to resort to such drastic measures, so I’m hoping that graveling them over will solve that particular problem.

On a more positive note, the constantly wet soil is giving the old seeds I planted a chance to germinate. The radishes are coming up in clumps, so it won’t be long before I have to thin them. Even more than having to get rid of weeds, I dislike having to pull up perfectly good seedlings. Maybe, if they aren’t too close, I can try to transplant some of them. Or leave them be. The radishes probably wouldn’t grow big enough to eat, but the green swath sure would be pretty.

Surprisingly, the Pee Gee hydrangea bushes the Arbor Day Foundation sent me in thanks for a small donation are all doing well.

They are tiny and perhaps fragile, but they did survive the winter, so that’s especially good. It’s amazing to me that any gift from them is growing because the bare root trees they send with a membership are notorious for not doing well. Mine all died, as did three of the five lilacs I got at another time. (I thought all were dead, so I planted other lilac sprigs in the same area, and two of the lilacs decided to come back to life.)

When the bushes grow up — the lilacs and the hydrangeas — it will help with some of the weed growth because the bushes take up a lot of room.

Meantime, I enjoy watching anything grow, even weeds, as long as they don’t encroach too much on areas where they could be damaging.


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.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Small Town Living

Some days, like today, seem quintessentially small town — not just the blue skies, the slight breeze, the friendliness of the people, but all of it, good and bad.

I was out walking my errands (no more “running” errands for me!) when I saw I woman I know weeding her property. I made some fatuous comment about it looking as if she were having fun, then we talked for a bit. She mentioned that a high school senior girl had been beaten to death by her boyfriend, which shocked me. That sort of extreme behavior doesn’t seem to fit this area, though I suppose bad things can happen anywhere. Still, we expressed horror at the girl’s fate, wished each other well, and continued on with our respective tasks.

I dropped my books off at the library and was pleased to note that the library hours will be extended starting next month. It won’t change anything for me if they open earlier or stay open later because I usually go mid-morning, but it’s still good to see that some things are returning to normal.

Then I stopped by my mechanic’s shop to ask about my brakes. The brakes worked normally when I left his place last Friday, but on the way home, they stopped working completely, and I wondered if the broken part he was going to replace could have caused the breakdown. (Dare I say brakedown?) He thought the part he ordered for the rear brakes would solve the problem, but I’m not so sure. When I got home from my errands, I noticed a large stain by my front passenger tire. At first I thought the garage roof might have leaked, though I couldn’t understand how that could happen with a new roof, but then it occurred to me it could be brake fluid. So perhaps there are two things wrong with the brakes? He’ll be able to see the stain when he comes to pick up the car after the part arrives, which will help him diagnose the problem. That sort of delivery service isn’t something he normally provides, but when I told him how scary it was to drive without brakes, he said he’d come get the car. Whew! What a relief.

After leaving to the mechanic, I continued to the house I am looking after for friends to make sure everything is okay and to water the plants. A neighbor of theirs hailed me when I left the house, and asked how our friends were. I told them the latest information I had — that the woman was bedridden from advanced cancer, but that the doctors thought they might be able to help her regain a bit of strength. The neighbor expressed sympathy, and when I remarked about how young our friend was to be dealing with an end-stage disease, the woman told me about the high school girl who lived across the street from her who had just committed suicide.

I’m assuming the girl is the same one my first contact mentioned because two unrelated horrific deaths at the same time in such a small-town strains credulity. I don’t know the truth of the girl’s story, obviously, and I’m not sure who does, but it doesn’t matter. Either way, if any part of it is true, the poor girl is beyond help and her parents are devastated.

I don’t mean to sound gossipy, though on rereading this, I can see that I’m doing nothing but being gossipy. Still, that was sort of the point of this piece — to illuminate the good and the not-so-good of small-town living.

I finished my errands — as well as impulse bought some more plants — with no more gossipy encounters, then returned home and wore myself out putting the plants to bed. I potted some of the plants, which was fun because I got to use the counters in my garage as a potting table.

The counters were on the enclosed back porch when I got here, leftover from the old kitchen, I surmise, and they fit perfectly beneath the window in my garage.

It’s probably a good thing I go to work tomorrow. That way, I’ll have something else to think about besides women and girls who have to face their ends too soon, and I’ll have something else to do besides wear myself out playing gardener.


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

Gardening As Exercise

Gardening is often touted as good exercise, though when I was young and able to run and hike and even lift weights, I didn’t understand why it would be so.

Well, now I do understand. I spent a couple of hours this morning pulling weeds and digging a few holes for planting, and I could barely do anything the rest of the day because everything between my ankles and neck hurt. It’s possible the aches have more to do with my relative lack of exercise lately than the gardening itself, but it does show me that gardening can work a variety of muscles as well as beautifying a yard.

Most of my yard is still a mess. There are bare spots that were torn up by the various machinery used by the workers I hired. They are supposed to bring in fill dirt, but haven’t done it yet. That’s only one of the many things they haven’t done, but I have hopes that some year they will finish all they promised.

Meantime, I am planting bushes, trees, shrubs, flowers — whatever vegetation I can get my hands on.

When I bought the house, a relative who has experience designing gardens volunteered to do the landscaping. She did all sorts of research, and I was excited when she finally came, expecting her to help me work on the yard. But no. She wanted to . . . actually, looking back, I don’t know what she wanted to do. All I know is that she shrugged off the yard with a simple sentence, telling me that planting can’t be started until the hard things are in place.

I paused here to look that up online, belatedly wondering if she were leading me on, but apparently, she was right. Topping a to-do list of landscape design essentials is that you have to do all the hardscaping before you set any plants in place.

Even assuming that the hardscaping is the first step, that’s not how I’m going about things. I’ve been told I’m contrary. I’ve also been told I march to a different drummer. To me, it’s not about either of those things but doing what I can when I can.

Even before the fence went up, I started transplanting lilac seedlings from a neighbor’s yard. (With his permission, of course.) I also transplanted some of his larkspur, which have now reseeded themselves for the second spring in a row. In fact, they are filling in the “island” between my two sidewalks. The garden I had originally planted around that area became defunct when the sidewalks went in, or so I thought. Apparently, clearing out the weeds and grass and tilling the soil made the seeds from the original larkspur take hold.

The bushes that are planted along the fence were dug up and transplanted from the area off the alley where the driveway now is. They went in before the pathways — those who laid the rock worked the paths around the plants that were already there.

The same will be done for the rest of the yard. I am creating a swath of garden on the left-hand side of the sidewalks, and eventually, another path will sweep alongside that swath.

There are some parts of the yard that I am not even thinking about at the moment and won’t until a bit more of the hardscaping is done, but it doesn’t matter. I have more to do right now than I can easily accomplish in the next couple of years.

It’s odd — the property doesn’t look all that big, but each small section I am working on seems to loom large. There is no way any one person could landscape this place in a matter of weeks or even months, and I certainly don’t expect that from myself or the people doing the hardscaping. (I like that word, have you noticed? I’d never heard it before, and it’s a fun one.)

This is a project for a lifetime.

I remember reading a story once about a woman who planted a hillside of daffodils — acres of them. People came from miles around to see her hill of daffodils. There was only a single sign in the field, and that said “One at a time.” Apparently, everyone wanted to know how she’d planted so many daffodils, and she must have gotten tired of the question. Hence, the sign.

That’s my gardening philosophy — one at a time. Over the months and years, some things will die, others will take hold, so I’ll have a changing landscape. Meantime, I am learning to accept what grows here and what doesn’t (and how little control I have over either). Except for weeds — that I don’t always accept. Unfortunately, although I like to think everything has the right to grow, I have to draw a line somewhere, and I don’t appreciate anything — or anyone — encroaching on territory that is not theirs. So I pull up whatever encroaching weeds I can. (No poisons. I haven’t crossed that line yet.)

Yesterday a neighbor mentioned that in five years, after everything grows up, I will have a beautiful yard. That’s something worth working toward.

Besides, all that exercise will be good for me.


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

More Planting

I’d planned to go to a plant nursery in the big city (a joke — it’s actually a small town, but since it’s about four times the size of this town, it seems like a city), but my car is still out of commission. Bizarrely, I can go for years with no car problems, and then I hit a period where one thing after another goes wrong. I started out in February with spark plugs that had burned out even though they were only a few months old. The culprit was the carburetor. So the mechanic ordered a carburetor, and a couple of weeks later, when he received the order, I made an appointment to have him replace it.

As with everything else to do with a vintage vehicle, it wasn’t as easy to install as it would seem. My pervious mechanic had replaced the vacuum ignition with an electronic one. Apparently, the electronic ignition doesn’t “speak” to the carburetor that belongs in my car, so the previous mechanic put in an old, rebuilt carburetor. Not surprising, once the ew carburetor was installed, there were problems with the electronic ignition, necessitating the ordering of another part — a vacuum advance distributor. The part finally came it. I picked up the car a week ago Friday, and it worked perfectly. Except for one little thing. The brake warning light kept coming on.

So yesterday, I had another appointment with the mechanic. We thought it would be a simple matter of perhaps bleeding the brake lines and topping up the brake fluid, but it was more than that — some part on the rear brakes was broken, or at least that’s what I thought he said. On the way home, the part completely broke. Or maybe another part broke because if it was only a part on the rear brakes that was broken, I would have thought the front brakes would still work. Either way, I now have no brakes. I wouldn’t be surprised if the part that broke was very old. I don’t remember ever being without at least some braking power. It’s truly scary driving without brakes, even just inching along. Luckily, I only have to drive a quarter of a mile on side streets to take my car back in when the part is delivered.

Suffice to say, I haven’t been able to get to the nursery, so each of the past couple of days I walked to the local hardware store to pick up a few seedlings to plant. I did the same today, but when they agreed to deliver the plants to me, I bought several — way more than I could carry on foot. Which is good, because now I have several things to plant tomorrow. Which is bad because now I have several things to plant. I’m just being silly. There’s no bad at all, and I am actually looking forward to doing the work.

Last year, I bought a bag of potting soil, and because supposedly it deteriorates, I thought I should use it for sure this year, hence the petunias. To be honest, I’ve never like petunias, but a couple of years ago I saw black petunias (that’s what they’re called, but they are really just a very dark purple), and I became enamored of them. So now I have a few black petunias to call my own.

I also got a few cream-colored petunias to plant with the black for contrast. It’s funny to think I spent all that money to keep from wasting a few dollars-worth of soil, but having to use the soil did give me a reason to buy more plants.

The easiest part of the planting was the hanging plant. All I had to do was hang it on a hook. The pole for the hook was a fence post that got cemented into the foundation of the house. When the old fence was taken out and the new fence around the whole property put in, the post remained. A hook, a bit of cement, and the fencepost became something completely different!

I also have a post on the opposite corner of the house, but the store didn’t have a matching pair of hanging plants, and besides, I ran out of money, so that might be a project for another day.

What was so great about all of this is that I got some plants and I didn’t even need a car to go get them.


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.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.


I don’t have a dedicated vegetable garden spot yet, so after I bought a few cherry tomato plants yesterday, I planted them around the yard near other plants that need to be watered. I put three of the seedling in the back by the alley, three on the side yard, and a couple in other parts of the back yard. I don’t know how this style of gardening will work, but it makes sense to me. Maybe someday I’ll have a real garden, but for now, I’m just planting things wherever it feels comfortable. This way, if the plants like a certain part of the yard and do well, but don’t like another part of the yard, I’ve hedged my bets some. And truly, it doesn’t matter. If even one of the plants does well, I’ll have more fruit than I could possibly eat.

I did have to laugh, though, The plants cost more than a few months’ worth of tomatoes would cost me, but like everything else, it’s more the doing than the done.

Since the planting went well yesterday, I walked to the store again today and bought a few marigolds, enough to plant near each of the tomato plants. That’s one thing I remember from a long-ago failed gardening attempt — that tomatoes and marigolds like one another.

While I was out roaming my yard after today’s planting, I discovered clumps of gorgeous yellowish-orange flowers huddled around a downspout.

I’m not sure where these Siberian wallflowers came from, though perhaps one of the wildflower seeds I’d strewn around the yard a couple of falls ago ended up there and decided to take root. Or I suppose a bird could have dropped the seed. I do know I would like to plant more of these flowers. I wonder if it’s too late? Seeds around here can’t be planted before May 5th, so I wouldn’t be that far behind, but considering the state of mail delivery around here, it could be weeks before I got the seeds.

Well, there’s always next year.

Meantime, the larkspur are starting to sprout. I only had a few plants last year, but apparently, they planted themselves, and because of the winter moisture, I have several patches of the flowers. It will be fun to see them bloom, too.

It does seem as if I don’t really need to do anything to make my yard grow, just make sure it gets plenty of water, then sit back and see what — besides weeds — will come up. But then, I’d miss out on the fun of planting things.


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

The Nature of Nature

I was frustrated yesterday at how slowly everything moves when it depends on nature, whether human nature or . . . nature. Trees and bushes grow slowly, humans work slowly, at least sometimes. That’s their nature. About the only things that move fast when it comes to a garden or landscaping are weeds.

Generally I don’t mind that the contractor has me at the bottom of his list of priorities. So much of his work is seasonal or comes from county contracts, so I understand those things have to come first. I also understand that workers come and go. When he has a lot of workers, he takes on extra jobs to keep them all busy, and then when his guys take off in the middle of a job, he’s left playing catch-up. I’m also mostly okay with their sporadic work because that way I can keep up with my part of the landscaping, working small areas at a time.

Besides, my yard was never supposed to be a quick project. I’ve always known it would be a life-long endeavor to find plants that will grow under my care and to wait for flowers to spread and bushes, shrubs, and trees to fill out and grow to a pleasing height.

Despite knowing all that, sometimes I find it hard to accept the human nature part of this endeavor. I suppose, of course, I could find someone else to do the work, or rather a lot of “someone else”s. These people do it all, whether home repair, concrete work, building, plumbing, landscaping, whatever. And if I have an emergency, they come immediately, which is important since I’m a first-time homeowner with not a clue how to do anything or even how to find someone to get things done. Still, I get frustrated.

But that was yesterday.

Today I’m back to being patient and waiting for things to work out in their own time, though I do reserve the right to nag when necessary.

I think it also helps that the people I bought the greengage plum trees from were helpful. As it turns out, one tree is doing great. One is mostly dead except for a bit of growth just above the graft site. One is alive but barely. They gave me credit for the dead tree and told me how to deal with the still dormant tree. Mostly it reminded me of the importance of patience when it comes to the nature of nature, because the truth is, when something does finally work out, like the lilac bush pictured below, it’s worth it.


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

Vehicle Repair and Other Woes

Although most people who get the current vaccines have no troubles, others get sick with mild flu-like symptoms, some end up in the hospital with blood clots, and others end up feeling worse than they did when they had The Bob.

This is what happened to my mechanic and why he wasn’t available to put the new ignition in my car yesterday when I showed up for an appointment. He’s feeling better, and I now have a new appointment. Maybe, finally, we’ll (I say “we,” but I mean “he”) get the car back on the road.

The only other news for today is that I contacted the orchard where I bought my greengage plum trees because of a suggestion someone left on my blog about the trees not doing well. I’d considered just letting the new growth at the base of the tree take over, but she said to check to make sure the trees weren’t grafted onto a different root stock. It turns out that yes, they are. Luckily, there is a bit of growth above the rootstock.

I took photos of the trees and sent them to the company as I was instructed. Now I just have to wait to see if they have any suggestions. One of the trees is unimportant. Well, all trees are important. I mean it’s unimportant in my landscaping scheme. In fact, I’m not sure I actually want it where it is, but if I can keep it alive, that will be good, too. The other one that is not doing well is definitely where I want it, so if it can’t be helped, I will order a replacement. (They only replace trees at their expense if there is no green.) Either way, there are no trees to order right now — according to the woman I talked to, they won’t be opening the site for orders until June. That gives me a month to see what I can do with the trees I now have.

I’d be more concerned about my care of the trees, but the third tree is doing well; it even has a couple of blossoms! So I’m hoping it was just the luck of the draw and they my trees didn’t commit hari-kari to get away from me.

It looks as if the danger of frost is minimal from here on, so as soon as my car is drivable, I’ll go on a hunt for bedding flowers and hanging plants. If nothing else, they will give myself something else to worry about.


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.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

My Rocky Garden

Ever since I moved to my house, whenever I came across a rock in the yard, which was frequently, I’d toss it onto a pile with the other rocks I’d gathered. I used some of them to form circles around small plants, like my hen and chicks, so that neither I nor anyone else would trample the plants. But still the pile grew. So today I decided to do something about it.

There’s a large rock in the yard that some people say is the fossil of a sea slug. I didn’t know what else to do with it, so I piled a bunch of rocks around the maybe fossil to emphasize it, because no matter what it is, it is interesting. It’s sort of hidden in the back of the garden, but there is no way I’d ever be able to move the thing. Maybe I’ll find tiny flowers to plant around the base of the structure to make it even more interesting, but for now, I’m happy with my rock formation.

I’d planned to paint a few rocks solid colors to form rock flowers, but I didn’t get around to it, so I made the flowers anyway. Now that I look at the rock flowers, I see they don’t need to be painted. They’re fine as they are. As the lilacs grow and take over the area, I might go ahead and paint the rocks to make them stand out more, but they are fine for now.

And then there is my lovely little gnome home, a gift from a neighbor. I’m hoping the figures are in a secluded enough spot that the winds will leave them alone, but I’ll keep my eye on the little guy and rescue him if necessary.

Now, of course, I’m worn out. Even though these were all relatively small rocks and pebbles — the largest about six or seven inches in diameter, the aggregate weight was more than I’ve lifted and carried for a couple of years. I’m surprised my knees held out, but they must have been as glad to see the garden take shape as the rest of me was.

Although I would have liked a real rock garden, my rocky garden will still be something to enjoy.


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.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

My Poor Trees

Last fall I planted three six-foot greengage plum trees that were advertised as orchard-size so they could potentially have blossoms the first year, but only one of them seems to be doing okay. The other two are still alive, though most of the branches are dry and brittle. The growth is coming from the bottom of the trees. It’s surprising to me that the tree that got the most moisture during the winter is the one that seems to be having the most trouble. It’s next to the sidewalk that extends from the house to the garage, so when I shoveled the snow, I dumped it around the base of the tree. That tree actually doesn’t matter so much — it was an extra tree I bought for a gift and then the giftee decided he didn’t want it because he was going to move, so I planted the extra tree in my yard. The only place to put it wasn’t a good location from my standpoint because if the tree ever grew fruit, the fruit would make a mess of my sidewalk. Still, it does show signs of life, so that’s something.

The other tree that’s not doing well is where I really wanted a tree, toward the back of the property. It too is showing signs of life, though also only toward the base. I’d purposely bought the biggest trees I thought I could handle because I didn’t want to go through those first six or seven years of growing a tree from the ground up, though it looks like that’s going to happen after all. Oh, well. I did everything I could, followed all the directions (which isn’t something I normally do — I have a terrible habit of just winging it), so there’s no use worrying about it.

I’ll just wait and see what happens. If necessary, I’ll try getting another tree, maybe a smaller one. Or not. I just checked the website, and they are sold out of all sizes.

Now, if the trees had been crossed with dandelions, I could have kept them alive. One of the few things I seem to be able to grow is dandelions.


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.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

So Much Excitement

Yesterday I found, taped to my front door, a bright yellow paper with “Special Notice” blaring across the top. It turns out it was from the public works department stating they would be smoke testing its sewers. They went on to say that it was done periodically to locate sources of sewer odors, leaks, and breaks in sewer lines, but no one who has lived their whole life around here had ever experienced such a thing. If the sewers had been tested previously, apparently it wasn’t something they told people about.

The smoke is supposed to be harmless, but I was still worried about it coming out of my plumbing, as they warned it might. Since there was a three-day window for this “smoking” to be done, I wasn’t sure how to know the test was being done. Obviously, if I had a problem with my plumbing, I’d be able to smell the smoke, but if everything was fine, would I know when it was finished?

As it turns out, there wasn’t a problem. I was outside weeding when I noticed smoke coming out of a neighbor’s ventilation pipes and a couple of heavy pickup trucks with hard-hatted men driving up slowly up and down the alley. I went inside and to see if there were any signs of smoke and to hunt for strange odors. There seemed to be a bit of a smoke smell in the bathroom, but it was so faint, it was hard to tell if it was really there. And there was no smoke that I could see. I opened the windows to air out the place anyway, because “harmless” doesn’t always mean harmless. Still, it’s nice to know that my plumbing is in good shape.

As if that weren’t enough excitement, I went back outside after opening the windows to pull more weeds. (It seems that for every flower there are a hundred weeds, but it’s worth it to see those few colorful blooms.) Beneath a spreading bush, I found a few double tulips. They must have been planted when the bush was young to be hidden so. I’d noticed the tulip leaves the past couple of springs, but this is the first time they bloomed. What a lovely legacy!

I also hoed an area where I plan to plant some flower seeds. The seeds are old, so they might not do anything except feed the birds, but it’s worth a try. I was going to go ahead and plant the seeds today because the weather forecast calls for above freezing temperatures for the next ten days, but I decided to be safe and wait for the average “last frost” date, which isn’t for another week.

Besides, after all the concern with the sewer smoke and the effort at pulling weeds, I’d had enough excitement for one day.


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