Becoming a Gardener

It rained enough last night to drench the ground, so I was able to miss a day of watering my lawn, bushes, and other plants. Unfortunately, the rain must have been enhanced with weed growth hormones, because the weeds took over. I suppose I should have used the opportunity of a free day (no work today as well as no watering) to pull some of the weeds, but I didn’t want to deal with the mud. This is clay soil; I’m certain you wouldn’t want to deal with the thick, slippery goo either.

Instead, I did an inside chore or two, then hunkered down to assemble some kitchen chairs. A relative wanted to get rid of the chairs, and he sent them to me. I’d planned to put the reassembled chairs in the basement in case I ever have to spend time down there, such as in a tornado emergency, but I had visions of myself falling while trying to descend with those light but awkward chairs, and falling is so not on my to-do list. So I stowed the chairs in my garage until someone younger and more agile shows up, someone I can cajole into doing the deed for me. Actually, the cajoling part is easy — any of the workers who have been here would be more than willing to take the chairs to the basement. It’s getting them here that’s hard. Eventually, though, they’ll stop by to do a bit more work. Meantime, the chairs are doing no harm in the garage. Besides, they’re close at hand if I decide to sit outside.

After I assembled the chairs, I worked on my Three Years in Bloom project. Although I was only recently given the journal, the journal itself starts in January. It seemed as if I had two choices — wait until next January to start or start the journal now and then circle back to next January. Then a third option struck me — I could fill in those first months using bits from my blog. So I did. It was harder than I thought it would be, mostly because there was so little to work with. Apparently, I don’t do any gardening in January when there is snow on the ground. (I’m being facetious here since not many people garden in the snow.) Nor had I done much planning or dreaming about what to plant come spring. I’d purposely not looked at the seed and plant catalogs that piled up — I wanted to wait to see what takes hold this spring before I go looking for other plants. So until mid-March when I planted my greengage plum trees and a couple of crocus bloomed, the only thing I’ve written about that has any possible connection to gardening is the weather. During those winter months, I was able to take a break from watering my grass, so there wasn’t even that to talk about.

Still, I managed to bring myself current on the journal.

Speaking of gardening — I noticed that the rain not only brought out the weeds, it also budded the larkspur. I should be seeing some purple flowers very soon. I also noticed a few alliums. I’d forgotten that before we put the rocks around the house, I’d dug up the allium bulbs that would have been buried, and transplanted them. This forgetfulness seems to indicate the importance of keeping a gardening journal. On the other hand, if the bulbs hadn’t come up this year, it wouldn’t have mattered that I forgot them.

It does amuse me that I am turning into a gardener since I’ve always had a brown thumb. It must be the right time in my life for such a new pursuit. A garden is never truly finished and perfected, but is an ongoing work in progress. So too, it seems, is a gardener.

I started this post talking about weeds, and I will finish the same way. We’re not expecting any more rain for a while (in fact, we’re back to fire weather watch), so tomorrow the ground should be dry enough on the surface to make it a good time to pull weeds. I just hope I don’t pull non-weeds in the process. But if I did, would I even know?

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Ah, Procrastination!

Sometimes procrastination is a good thing. In this part of the country, gardeners are cautioned not to plant before May fifth because that is traditionally the last freeze. This year, I’ve been watching the forecast, and the low temperatures for the coming day were nowhere freezing, so I’d been planning to start sowing seeds in my garden and perhaps even setting out some bedding plants. But I procrastinated. With all the wind we’ve been having, I didn’t feel like spending any more time outside than I had to.

My procrastination turned out to be a good thing because tonight it will be getting below thirty. I doubt it will remain that low for very long, so perhaps the plants that are coming up will be okay. Luckily, I didn’t spend time and money on plants that have no chance to make it through this freeze. By the time I have a chance to do the planting I want to do, we should be long past the chance of a frosty night.

One thing I did put off that maybe I shouldn’t have, was mowing my lawn. A neighbor wanted my grass clippings, and since he was supposed to come this past Saturday to mow the lawn to get the clippings, I let the grass grow a little longer. When the grass is that long, it cuts unevenly because the lawnmower tires mat down the grass as it moves along, and the grass doesn’t immediately spring back as it does when it is shorter.

Anyway, he never showed up, not to mow and not to tell me he changed his mind. So I did it myself. That poor lawn! It looks as if it has a Mohawk haircut in spots. So now I know — I have to mow every week without procrastination.

Another time procrastination turned out to be a good thing was when it came to weeding. I have a hard time telling the difference between larkspur and the wild mustard weed when the seedlings are small, so I’ve been letting the mustard get a bit taller than I would like. Good thing. Some of what I thought was mustard turns out, with a bit of online research, to be the California poppy seeds I strewed around last fall.

Continuing the procrastination theme: a few days ago, was gifted with a gardening journal. The journal begins with January, and since this is already May, starting it now doesn’t feel right. But I’m not sure I want to wait until next January to start, either. I did come up with a solution — I’ve talked about gardening enough on this blog during the first four months of the year, that I can copy some of those blog entries into the journal.

Deciding to do the first months retroactively is one thing. Actually doing them is another. On the other hand, if I procrastinate long enough, January will be here, and I can simply start fresh next year. Is this a case of procrastination being a good thing? Who knows.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Treasures!

This morning, before the wind got too strong to be comfortable, I wandered around my property looking for treasures. The first treasure didn’t take much looking — the red tulip really popped in the sea of green.

This was one of the many tulips I planted my first autumn in this house. None of those tulips had come up making me wonder about my ever becoming a gardener. And yet now, almost three years later, this particular beauty decided to make itself known. As did this grape hyacinth.

Interestingly, an acquaintance stopped by to drop something off, and he was so taken by these jewels in the grass, that he, too, called them “treasures.” But those aren’t the only treasures of the day. There are a couple of double tulips that are still blooming.

and two yellow tulips hold pride of place beneath the lilacs.

Speaking of lilacs, the purple lilacs I planted three years ago are blooming! So lovely!

As are the white lilacs that gleam among those shiny green leaves.

The people I bought the house from had planted some clove currents, and she occasionally asks if they are still here. I can honestly tell her that not only are they still here, but that they are thriving.

So many treasures! And with any luck, this is just the beginning.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Leisurely Morning

This was one of those days that started out leisurely, and then suddenly, here it is, almost time to go to work, and I still have a blog to write, a meal to eat, cleansing to do, and all the other little chores one needs to perform before heading out.

It was a nice morning though, and despite not being as leisurely, it’s turning into a nice afternoon. I couldn’t ask for better weather. It’s sunny and warm, no winds (those will return tomorrow along with more fire warnings), plenty of non-searing sun (the sun around here can be strong enough to scorch one’s skin). Just an all-around nice day. Whether by coincidence or by dint of the mild day, I had enough energy to put the morning to good use.

Even though I watered my grass and other plants the day before yesterday, I took this opportunity to water everything again. A neighbor is supposed to come on Saturday to mow my lawn because he wants the clippings, and I want to make sure the grass has dried out enough to make the mowing easy in case he doesn’t show and I have to do it myself. Also, the winds that are expected tomorrow make watering difficult. In addition, I got a bit spooked when I heard that there might be water restrictions this summer because of the drought. I doubt watering extra now will help with less water later, except that perhaps it will settle in the sod even more. (Though after all these months, I don’t think my lawn can still be considered sod.) But the watering helps offset my worry.

I do tend to worry, even when I tell myself not to worry because things so often do work out, but I can’t help thinking that things work out because of the worrying. If I focus on something, thinking about all the probable ramifications and possible solutions, perhaps it’s that focus that keeps the things I worry about from happening. So if I heed my warning to not worry, will things still work out? Just one more thing to worry about!

Either way, I watered today, keeping my grass alive a bit longer, so that’s good.

In addition to the watering this morning, I also dug up and transplanted a couple of lilac sprouts from a neighbor’s lilac bush (with his permission). It’s not something I planned to do, but as I was watering and looking at my garden area from a different angle, I suddenly saw the perfect place for a couple more lilac bushes.

I also transplanted a tree. It’s not much of a tree, just a foot-tall seedling, but I’ve had it in a pot for a couple of years, and it’s outgrowing the pot. There is a spot that would be perfect for a small tree. A big tree could be problematic because the spot is fairly close to overhead wires. Even though this particular tree — a locust — grows tall, I planted it there anyway. I figure I can lop it off to keep the tree small and bushy, assuming, of course, I can continue to keep it alive.

Once the tree was planted, I poured a bucket of ornamental rock around bare dirt so it would fit with the surrounding area.

I think that’s all I did this morning. I’m so exhausted, it feels like more.

One thing I didn’t do was take a photo of the pretty tulip that bloomed today because I didn’t have to. I’d found the tulip in my yard last year and took a picture of it before transplanting it among the rest of the tulips. It looks exactly the same this year, so I’m using last year’s photo. Oddly, the photo was taken on this very same day last year.

Well, it’s been nice visiting with you. Now I’m off to deal with the rest of my small chores before I head to work.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Red-Letter Day

The term “red letter day” refers to the practice, dating back to the Roman Empire, of using red calendar numbers to signify important days. Although this was (and still is) a common practice for perhaps a couple of thousand years, the actual term “red-letter day” wasn’t used in print until 1663. Unlike so many words and terms that have begun to mean the opposite of their original meanings (bully originally meant a darling; harlot originally meant a goofy fellow; naughty originally meant having naught; nice originally meant silly; silly originally meant blessed), the meaning of “red-letter day” seems to have remained unchanged for centuries.

Despite this discussion of “red-letter days,” today is more of a “white blossom day” than a “red-letter day” because the blossoms are what make this such a momentous day. “What blossoms?” you might ask.

The blossoms on the greengage plum tree I planted last year. Those blossoms. And oh! They are so pretty, and such a sign of hope.

Flowers of all kinds seem to symbolize hope, of course, but fruit blossoms bring with them the added hope of someday having fruit. There might be too few blossoms to merit even a single plum this year, but still, it’s nice seeing the flowers.

Today is also a “black hat day.” My use of the phrase “black hat” isn’t used idiomatically to mean a villain, but is used literally. A neighbor gifted me with a beautiful black hat! A wonderful side effect of being known as “Pat in the Hat,” is that if anyone has a hat to donate, I am the first one to come to mind.

It’s also a grey cloud day, and a pink tulip day, and probably all sorts of other “days,” but all these important days can be found under the single umbrella of “red-letter day.”

I hope you’re having a red-letter day, too.

***

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.

Treasure Hunt

I went on a treasure hunt of a different kind, today. Last fall, I’d planted a few pink echinacea, and that area of my garden, next to the new grass, had become so overgrown with crabgrass and weeds (probably because of all the watering I had to do to keep my new sod alive through the winter), that the echinacea disappeared. I knew vaguely where they were, but the new growth made the area seem so much like foreign territory, that I didn’t know for sure, and I was afraid to just start yanking unwanted vegetation in case I also yanked the wanted plants.

I finally noticed that one plant, a bit farther from the sod than the others, had broken the surface. I figured if the other plants survived the winter, they should also be visible now, so that’s what my hunt was about — looking through all the weeds to find the echinacea. I think I found them all. I carefully dug up the thick clumps of weeds and crabgrass to give the echinacea space, and then drove stakes next to the plants so I wouldn’t have to go searching for them again.

There is still a lot more cleaning up I have to do, but until I can identify more of the baby plants, I don’t want to start digging lest I remove some seedlings I might want. Many plants look alike when they are young, such as larkspur and wild mustard, and it’s too easy to pull up the wrong thing. In fact, the mustard grows among the larkspur, making the whole patch look as if it might be mustard, so when the plants are big enough to differentiate, I have to be very careful to only pull the weeds.

I tend to think most of the small unidentified seedlings are weeds. I don’t see anything that looks as if it might be the beginning of a wildflower field, so either it’s too early or the birds ate the seed. The birds did seem to be inordinately interested in my little garden patch this winter despite a full birdfeeder just a few feet away in my neighbor’s yard, so who knows what, if anything, I will end up with.

What’s nice about having work to do outside is that it gives me an excuse to be out in the open air, especially on nice days. Although today wasn’t particularly warm, it qualified as a nice day because the horrid winds we’ve having took a brief break. I did enjoy that!

If the ten-day forecast is anything to go by, it looks as if we are heading into frost-free weather, so I could start planting if I wished. But I don’t wish. The wind, you know.

After my treasure hunt and the clean-up that followed it, I spent some time wandering my paths, enjoying both the landscape and the hardscape that’s been laid down, and thinking about someday having my own private park, when everywhere I turn, I’ll see a different aspect of the yard. For example, the lilac bushes are all still young (the big plant in the corner of this garden photo is a baby lilac), but when they are grown up, that part of the yard will look completely different.

As with everything else in my life, I’m trying to not look too much to the future, trying to keep my eyes on what is rather than what might be or what will be.

And today, what is, is a garden spot that still looks nice, weeds, and all.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Passively Active

I was busy doing yardwork before I went to work today, and I will be busy again when I get home, but this close to the 1000th day of daily blogging, I’m not about to fall on my sword and break my streak. (I am less than two months away from meeting my goal.) I was wondering how to accomplish my blogging task for the day, when I remembered I could send in my blog by email.

It has been years since I blogged by email. I think the last time I did so was on my cross-country road trip in 2016, so I hope I am doing it correctly. If not, well, I’ll figure out another way of posting something today.

By the way I talk (or rather, by the way I write) you’d think I lead an active life, when the truth is, most of what I do is passive. Reading is passive. Blogging is passive. Watering is basically passive. I stand with a hose in my hand and let the water pressure do the work, or I set the hose in the front yard, then set the hose in the back, then amble to the front again and move that hose, then back to the back yard. Lots ambling back and forth! Visiting with neighbors is also passive. I stand there watering, and they stop to chat. (A lovely break from listening to my own thoughts, especially when the conversation is accompanied by compliments. One neighbor loves my tulips, another says my grass is looking good, a third said I looked good and wondered if I’d been going to a spa, though I don’t know of any spa around here.) My job is mostly passive, too, except when it’s not.

One of these days, perhaps when the wind dies down (if it ever does), I’ll stop being so passively active and become actively active. Weeds and crabgrass are sprouting up and growing like … well, like weeds. But for now, I’m just glad I am able to keep my grass and other plants alive. A few spindly lilacs didn’t make it through the winter, but most are doing well. Some of the lilacs I transplanted from a neighbor’s yard (with his permission, of course) look as if they might have flowers this year. My newly planted plum trees seem to be leafing out, the larkspur is taking over some garden spots, and a few more bulbs have made an appearance. (If all goes well when I send this post by mail, a photo of my hyacinth should be attached.)

All that growth adds to the illusion of my being active, when in fact I passively wait for the plants to do whatever it is that they do.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Growing Things

First mosquito bite of the season! Somehow it doesn’t seem fair that we pay for warmer temperatures with wind and mosquitoes. It seems as if the mosquitoes (one, anyway) are out earlier than usual, but I don’t really remember when I got my first bite last year. I do remember it was right below the eye, just like this one.

One of these days when I have plenty of time and the air is still, I’ll have to mosquito-proof my clothes with permethrin. That seem to help prevent bites as does wearing light colors (Mosquitoes are attracted to black, though I don’t know why. I wonder if dark colors remind them of murky waters beneath the reeds in stagnant pools.) Of course, even though the clothes help repel the ravenous creatures that so love me, I still have to use some sort of repellent on hands and face. (Lemon eucalyptus oil seems to work.)

I haven’t worried too much about side effects from the repellent because the previous summers I was only out every other day watering my plants, but it looks as if this year, I’ll be out every day. There’s twice as much area to water, and I can’t manage to do it all in one day. At least, I couldn’t today.

I find it ironic that my plan was to get the yard to where it didn’t need any work, so that I wouldn’t look as if I lived in a derelict house when I got too old to care for my place, and yet here I am, adding to my outside labor each year. Still, I’ve decided not to worry about the future, at least not in this regard, and I’ve decided not to worry about the water usage (even though it does make my conservationist heart cringe) because that green, green grass makes me smile. So do the tulips that are still bringing cheer to parts of the yard that are still winter-bleak. For so many years after Jeff died, I thought I’d never smile again, and yet here I am, smiling at just the thought of my yard.

Of course, along with wanted plants come the unwanted ones, like wild mustard and others I haven’t yet learned the names. But for now, while the weeds are so young I don’t even know for sure they are weeds or what to do about them, they add to the lushness of the yard.

It doesn’t look as if there are going to be any more below-freezing nights, so I could probably plant the seeds I have, but I don’t trust the weather forecasters. So, I’ll wait. I have plenty of growing things to enjoy right now.

Well, except for the mosquitoes. I don’t enjoy those particular growing things at all.

***

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.

Accidentally Noticeable

When I was outside today, checking on the weather, someone walking by stopped and commented my yard, saying I have the greenest grass in town. (Not surprising since most grass around here hasn’t started greening up yet.)

It seems odd to me how often people stop to look at my yard, or comment on my hat or my car, as if I’m so very different from everyone else, and perhaps I am, though I never planned to be so noticeable. Each one of the elements of my persona (for lack of a better word) started almost by accident.

The first thing that catches people’s eye are my hats. The sun tends not to agree with me and sometimes even causes small hives on any skin left bare, so I always cover myself on sunny days. Long sleeves are a must, as are wide-brimmed hats. I used to just wear a plain straw gardening hat because it was cheap. When that disintegrated in the sun (better the hat than my head!) I started using a straw cowboy hat that Jeff had bought and never used, and then as that hat wore out, and as I found new ones, I started stocking up. People seem to have such a distaste for “hat hair” that hats have so fallen out of favor they tend to be hard to find. The decorations on my hats were also . . . not exactly accidental, but not planned, either. Several years ago, I set my then current hat next to an ornate bow I’d taken off a gift from my sister that was too pretty to dismantle. The juxtaposition seemed serendipitous, so I slipped the ribbon over the crown of the hat and oh, was it pretty! And thus “Pat in the Hat” was born.

My distinctive car is also something that happened by accident. Back when I bought my Beetle, it was the same as half the cars on the road. Nothing special. What is special is that years after the majority of those VWs disappeared, I still have mine. Over the decades, it became rather a mess, and I wasn’t sure it was worth keeping. A few car guys salivated over my bug, telling me that if I bought a new car, in five years, I’d have a piece of junk, but if I restored the bug, in five years, I’d have a little gem. In the end, it was the potentially huge automobile insurance bill that would accompany a new car that made me decide to keep — and restore — my bug. As it turned out, it was a good thing (at least until recently and the problem of getting the right part to fix the brakes). It certainly made my cross-country trip memorable because of all the people who sought me out to talk about my car and to tell me their VW Beetle stories.

The most recent thing that has set me apart is my lawn, which truly was accidental, and the attention truly surprising. I mean, it’s just grass.

But apparently not. As the passerby today said, no one in town has grass as green as mine. It’s so emerald-bright, that it’s hard to miss. The funny thing is, I had no idea what type of grass I was getting. My contractor had told a landscaper that I was interested in sodding a corner of my yard; not long afterward, the landscaper contacted him and said he had a couple of pallets leftover from a job. Even though I didn’t think it would be enough for the small square of lawn in the front corner of my lot, I said I wanted it. Well, it turns out there was about four times what I needed, so they kept laying down the sod and laying it down until it was all gone. And wow! So much green!

The rest of the landscaping, such as the path meandering around my yard, was also somewhat of an accident in that I never planned it. My contractor, knowing I was trying to elder-proof my property, suggested the paths, and I agreed to let him do it. Even the red of the path that offsets the grass so well was his choice. (Or rather the landscaping company’s choice since it was all they had in stock.)

It’s amazing how accidents and happenstance turned me and my life into a spectacle of sorts, which, come to think of it, isn’t a bad thing for someone as self-effacing as I am. Any of these things gives people a reason to stop and chat. And even if they don’t stop, they for sure know who I am.

It does make me wonder what the next thing will be that adds to my persona. I’m certainly not planning on being any more noticeable than I already am, but then, I never planned any of these things. They just . . . happened.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Wishing You the Joy of This Day

Despite the predominately religious meanings of today, such as Easter and Passover, there is a personal spiritual meaning in it for all of us — that no matter how down (or up!) we are, we can find a renewal, a liberation, a breaking open of the constraints that bind us so we can burst forth into a new day, a new way of being.

I didn’t do anything special with this new day except water my grass, bushes, and other plants, didn’t go looking for anything spiritual, though a sense of renewal seems to come automatically when I’ve spent so much time outside with all the green surrounding me as well as the patches of colorful tulips.

Many people claim to feel a more general sense of renewal, a sense that the world is on the brink spiritual awakening and enlightenment. Considering all that is going on — wars and murders and mass killings and wildfires, to say nothing of new strains of The Bob — it doesn’t seem as if this a time of renewal. It could be, I suppose, but since each person’s definition of enlightenment is different from everyone else’s, chances are we will always be teetering on the brink without ever managing to rise to a better way of being because everyone insists their way is the correct one and vilifies everyone who does not agree.

Still, even if we’re not headed toward a better way of being, all the unrest does remind us of what’s important, such as family and friends.

And gardens.

It’s hard not to feel a sense of all being right with the world when one is outside on a beautiful still day. It’s hard not to believe in a renewal of sorts when one sees evidence of dormant plants pushing their way to the surface again. Growing a garden is such a slow process that it’s important to enjoy the moment, to celebrate new growth, to take a step back and see the yard as a whole and not always focus on the plant that shows so little change from the day before.

I often feel a push for more — to walk more, to write more and better, to get stronger, healthier, wiser — that it’s good once in a while to burst out of the winding cloths I’ve wrapped myself in, and step out into the joy of simply being.

I’m overdoing the resurrection metaphor a bit, but so what? It’s a new day — a day for thinking of new possibilities, of being in the moment, of celebrating life.

Wishing you the joy of this day.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.