Theory of Gardening

I did some work out in the yard yesterday. The weather was nice — sunny and still, but cool enough that I needed to wear a coat — and I felt like being outside for a while. Mostly I clipped the dead stalks from the perennial plants, ready for the new growth come spring. I don’t know if that was the right thing to do, but my theory of gardening is that since I don’t really know how to do anything, to do something. (The obverse is also true. If I don’t know how to do something, I do anything, just so that it feels as if I am making progress.)

I must admit, although the yard is still winter bland, it looks much nicer without all the dead stalks and shrubbery. I think it will also be good for my peace of mind not knowing exactly where things are so that I don’t worry if the growth this year isn’t as good as I hope it will be. I did see a whole lot of larkspur seedlings, so with any luck, in a couple of months, I’ll be enjoying a swath of purple blooms.

I’ve been wondering if I’ll feel like doing the necessary work this year since I’ve grown lazy over the winter, but if today is any indication, there won’t be a problem. I enjoyed doing something physical for a change, not just reading and playing games on the computer as I usually do. There will probably be a continued issue with my knees this gardening season, but I have knee braces to help with that problem. Admittedly, it would be smart of me to use my knees as a barometer of when to quit working for the day, but I tend not to heed such indicators but plow through whatever job needs to be done.

I suppose as time goes on and I become even more used to the seasonal gardening changes and chores, I’ll be willing to pace myself a bit. After all, no matter what I do, in the winter, things will always look bleak, and in the spring, they will always look greener by comparison. And no matter how much time I spend on digging weeds and weedy grasses, by the end of summer, they will have won the battle.

The weeds are in abeyance for now, which is nice, so that’s one chore I don’t have to think about yet. I did notice it’s getting dry out there, so I suppose I should break down and water, but despite the warm day today — in the 70s — tomorrow when I have time to water, we’ll be back to winter temperatures. Well, that’s no surprise, it is still winter, after all, and will be for another eleven days.

But whatever the next few days — and weeks — have in store for me, at least today, I did something.


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.

Doing Something Right

I’m a bit surprised at myself. Despite the discouragement of a large swathe of grass getting windburned and flowers dying because of the scorching, arid winds we had a couple of days ago, I’m still out there every day, taking care of my garden. Perhaps I’ve lost some of the joy and maybe even a bit of the zeal I had for gardening, but that isn’t stopping me from doing the best I can for my “baby” (as a friend has dubbed my yard).

Today I watered and weeded, but I also cleaned out some of the dying foliage. The larkspur has run its course, which seems odd to me since they are supposed to bloom all summer, though that might just be in cooler climates. Mine larkspur, for sure, don’t like extreme heat (and we’ve had that in abundance). I did try to cut the flowers back, but they didn’t rebloom, so I let them go to seed. Today I removed a lot of the brown stems and am saving the seeds to replant this fall.

A nice thing about these plants is that they are prolific re-seeders and will pop up next year anywhere the seeds land. Since they don’t last long here, I don’t have to worry about their taking over. They provide nice color early, and then when I have to remove the spent stems, it makes room for later bloomers, such as lilies and echinacea.

There have been a few encouraging developments in my yard, which helps to offset some of the discouragement.

The Shasta daisy I planted last year bloomed for the first time.

The petunias that reseeded themselves are flowering. The original flowers were the dark purple color, but I’m fine with the lighter purple petunias, too, and rightly so since these are basically “free” flowers.

And I had a delightful visitor this morning. A green toad.

I’ve seen brown toads around here, but this is the first green one I’ve ever encountered. At first I wondered if it were a frog, being green and all, so I looked it up. Turns out all toads are frogs, but not all frogs are toads, and both frogs and toads are signs of a healthy ecosystem, so despite recent setbacks, having this toad hanging around means I’m doing something right. At least, that’s what I tell myself.


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.

Tiptoe Through the Larkspur

Admittedly, “tiptoe through the larkspur” doesn’t have the same resonance as “tiptoe through the tulips,” but it has the benefit of being the truth of the day. I’ve tiptoed through my tulips, too, in an effort to pull up weeds, but the tulips are long gone, and the larkspur are here now.

(I just looked up “Tiptoe through the Tulips” and it turns out that the song was originally sung — and sung as the romantic song it was written to be — in 1929. Amazing the things one can learn with just a few keyboard strokes.)

It was a lot easier preparing a bed for seeding when there were no existing plants I wanted to keep. All I had to do was dig up the entire area, with no care to the weeds I was trampling. As careful as I tried to be today, I ended up stomping on some larkspur and one poor lily when I tried to weed at the back of the garden area. Ironically, the more careful I was, the more off-balance I got, and the more plants I trampled.

I need to keep the newly planted areas as moist as possible for the next couple of weeks, and if the seeds don’t sprout, I’ll buy bedding plants. I will buy bedding plants, anyway. I have planters to fill as well as areas that could use some ready-grown plants.

In keeping with the irony of this morning’s “tiptoeing,” the air was utterly still all the time I was out there weeding and digging and hoeing, but as soon as I started to toss the seeds onto the prepared ground, a gust of wind blew through my yard. Who knows where that handful of seeds will end up! Luckily, I have plenty more seeds. If I don’t have much luck this spring, I’ll plant the rest next winter, along with some columbine. I’ve never had luck with columbines, either, but I just learned they are a seed that seems to do well with winter planting. And not only are they perennials, but they reseed themselves. I can always use another plant that can take care of itself. But that’s a project for another day.

Today was about tiptoeing through the larkspur to fill in empty spots and to add more seeds to my wildflower garden. And that I did.


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.

Gardening and Life

Last year, I planted black and white petunias in large pots and when winter came, I just left the dead plants where they were. I didn’t see any reason to clear them out because they’d be covered with snow anyway. Today, when I cleaned out the desiccated plants, I noticed some seedlings in the pot. They didn’t seem like weeds, though I’m sure some weed seedlings have smooth, rounded leaves like these little guys.

I looked online for images of petunia seedlings, on the off chance that the flowers had reseeded themselves, and sure enough, those seedlings are petunias. I didn’t know that they could reseed themselves. I’m considering letting them get large enough to transplant, and then plant them in the garden to see if they would become a permanent fixture. Or not. These petunias were black and white, and I’m not sure how much color they would add. But I’ll wait and see how I feel when it gets to that point.

One of my future flower projects will be to start cultivating self-seeders. I like when flowers come up on their own without my intervention because I don’t have luck with seeds, though it does look as if some of the California poppies are starting to come up. (So far, those are the only seeds from the wildflower mix that I planted last fall that’s making an appearance.) Come to think of it, I’ve planted several varieties of flowers that are supposed to reseed themselves, but the only one I’ve ever had any luck with is larkspur, so much so, that I have many areas where larkspur is growing.

As my yard takes hold, when the bushes and perennials are established so I know what areas to focus on, that will be the time to “fine tune” the garden, to fill in weedy spots and to find out what plants will do well here in this area of weather extremes. That could still be years. My raised garden hasn’t been built yet, so when that’s done, it will be a whole summer’s project just getting it filled in and planted. And there is a long strip of weeds and grass going toward the alley that I’m not going to worry about until the back pathway is finished.

It’s interesting to me that I have become so fixated on my yard and gardening. It’s never been something I’ve been interested in, though I have always loved seeing other people’s beautiful yards. The only times I ever tried gardening was when I was about seven or eight and my mother gave me a small garden spot to play with. I planted sweet williams, and some even came up, but I never repeated the experience until Jeff and I tried to garden. The only thing we could grow were lilacs and Siberian elms. Everything else, absolutely everything else except weeds, including several six-foot trees, disappeared into the jaws of grasshoppers. Voracious creatures! I get scared every time I see one in my yard now, but so far, they’ve been courteous eaters, only nibbling on a few things and leaving the rest alone.

And now, here I am, spending hours every day outside, grooming my yard.

Life does strange things to all of us.


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 Day is What the Day Is

I’ve finally become acclimated to the clock change we had to make because of daylight savings time, and the disorientation I felt because of the change has abated. Unfortunately, I’m dealing with disorientation again, though this time it’s confusion not about hours but about days.

My work schedule was abruptly changed this week after almost two years on basically the same schedule. Now, I work one day that I always did, one day that I sometimes did, and sometimes one day that I never did. (Did that confuse you? Now you know how I feel!) In addition to all that, my “weekend” was changed to the middle of the week.

I’m not complaining. It’s actually a good schedule for me, with more free days than working days, so I’m sure it will be easy to get used to the new routine. But until then, I am rather lost in time, never quite sure what day it is or what I am supposed to be doing on that day.

Even though I had to work today, I still managed to water my grass. Tomorrow, I will water the bushes and trees. So that’s good. It’s easy to know where I stand when it comes to my yard — if I watered the grass yesterday, then I don’t need to do it today Same with the bushes. (If that sounds like a lot of watering for this time of year, we’re going through a hot spell — 97 degrees Fahrenheit today — so I am on a summer watering schedule.)

Unfortunately, the rest of my life isn’t as easy to figure out. If I worked yesterday, does that mean I have today off? If I have today off, does that mean I work tomorrow? Eek.

Luckily, I have calendars, both paper and electronic, to help keep me oriented. Mostly, though, I only need to keep track of what calendar day it is so I know whether to go to work, whether the library is open, whether . . . You get the idea. In the long run — or the short run — it doesn’t matter if today feels like Saturday or Sunday or Monday. The day is what the day is. And today is the day the first larkspur decided to bloom!


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.

A Promise of Good Things to Come

I had an enjoyable morning, watering my grass, bushes, and other plants. Seeing all the parts of my yard that are greening up made me think that perhaps I can do this gardening thing after all. I can even recognize some of the seedlings, such as the larkspur. Since I let the larkspur go to seed last year, there are large areas that should be covered with purple flowers later this spring.

I was also able to recognize some weeds that are sprouting, such as the wild mustard, which I pulled up. I was going to let it grow a bit thinking it wouldn’t do any harm as long as I didn’t let it flower, but as a neighbor reminded me, if I waited to pull up the mustard, I might pull up the larkspur along with the weed.

A lot of the tulips I planted are coming up, and most even seem to have buds on the way, so perhaps this time I planted them deep enough. A few of the lilies are coming up, too, which is surprising considering that the wrong planting depth was included with the bulbs, so I had to dig up the ones I could find and replant them in deeper holes.

My grass is doing astonishingly well. I have a hunch it’s way to early to mow since we are still way before the last frost, and I’m afraid that cutting the grass too soon would make it vulnerable during those late-season frosts. It’s possible it would do fine, but I don’t want to take a chance.

I wasn’t the only one enjoying my watering time this morning. I set the hose in the back yard, went to move the hose in the front, and when I came back, a robin was enjoying a private shower.

Loath to disturb the creature at its ablutions, I kept the water running in that one area way too long. Even after I went into the house for my camera, even after the robin preened a bit for me, I let the water run.

At one time, I’d considered setting up a birdbath because in a dry climate (and today was especially arid), birds appreciate any water they can find. Unfortunately, standing water is too risky in a place where mosquitoes are so much of a problem.

I always liked the idea of spring, but the reality — all that wind — made spring not one of my favorite seasons. Today, though, I got outside before the wind, so the day was all one expects of the spring — new growth, robins, and a promise of good things to come.


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

Yay! Back to Isolation!

I am so lost in time that I have no idea what day it is. I thought it was Tuesday. Then I reminded myself it was Wednesday. Then I decided it was still several days until Thursday when — perhaps — the garage construction workers will return.

It turns out this is Tuesday, after all. At least, I think it is.

I don’t really need to worry about time since one day is much like the one before and the one before that and probably tomorrow and many tomorrows to come, but I have to be careful to drive my car occasionally. In the winter, I can get by with driving every ten days, but when the temperatures hit the nineties, the ethanol in the gas dries out and bad gas ruins the hoses, so I have to drive about every five days. When the garage is finished, I should be able to fudge a little on driving since I won’t have to deal with the hot sun beating up my car, but meantime, I have to count the days between trips around town.

Today was a driving day, but I should have stayed home. Although I do believe that The Bob does not merit all the damage caused by closing the economy, I am still careful to maintain a safe distance from people. It’s not just because of The Bob, which isn’t a problem here, but because so many people are sick from various other ailments, and because . . . because I want to and now I have an excuse for not getting too close to strangers.

Unfortunately, this was not a good day for staying away from folks.

I limped my way into one store using my trekking pole for a cane, and a woman held the inner door for me. I stopped a few feet from her, but she continued to hold. What weird times we live in when a kind gesture becomes . . . obnoxious. I finally said, “Just go.” Then the whole Bob thing must have dawned on her because she gave me a sheepish smile and hurried away.

When I left the store, a scruffy fellow came up to me to talk about my VW Bug. He got so close I had to hold him off with my pole. He too gave a sheepish smile, but remained standing just outside the pole’s four-foot range.

Then, as I was leaving the parking lot, a car came charging out of the Dairy Queen drive thru and barely stopped in time to keep from hitting me.

Needless to say, I was glad to get safely back to the cocoon of my isolation.

I had a surprise waiting for me — although my larkspur flowers were all purple last year, this year they are coming up pink and white and purple and lavender. It was hard to get a photo of all the different colors because they seemed to also practice some sort of distancing.


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.

Being Heartened

The title of this article is in keeping with my most recent blogs. In Being Me, I wrote about the punishing aspects of isolation, but how even in isolation, I am doing what I am supposed to be doing — being me. In Being Herded, I wrote about the dangers of social and cultural conditioning — being behaviorally primed — in an already dangerous situation.

Today, I need to write about being heartened, because the truth is, I am very disheartened. States are still adhering to laws and orders that were meant to protect us from a disease destined to kill off 66% percent of us. The disease hasn’t done even a fraction of the damage that had been projected, and yet the iron grip still holds. To enforce orders keeping people away from each other when it has been proven over and over again how important it is to see and touch people for overall health (and without overall health, there is no way to recover quickly from any disease, let alone The Bob) is unconscionable. I’m not saying there isn’t a danger of getting sick — there is. But It should be a choice to isolate if one wants. Older people should not be left to die alone from diseases that have nothing to do with The Bob. Loved ones should not be kept from saying goodbye.

And to see small business going under and people losing their livelihood even after the original pandemic models have proven to be drastically overinflated is heart wrenching. Oh, so many things are wrong about this situation that it makes me glad Jeff isn’t here. It would have crushed him to lose his store because of such an appalling unjustice. (Made even more unjust because small stores way more than large can offer a safe shopping experience.)

Oops. I hadn’t planned to write all that especially since I am getting disheartened again after all my efforts to hearten myself earlier this morning. And I did have a lovely morning. Since my knee still isn’t allowing walks, and since I can’t go on an adventure, I decided to go adventuring in my own yard.

It was definitely heartening to see that the larkspur I transplanted from a neighbor’s yard last year reseeded itself and is doing well. It’s especially heartening considering the fiasco of my spring bulbs. Some of the tulip buds froze, some of the daffodils never flowered, some of the bulbs never even poked up out of the ground. I’m not sure what the problem was except that I am inexperienced gardener dealing with a terrible drought and a soil that sometimes defeats even the best gardeners.

And yet, despite the problematic conditions, some bulbs do well with a bit of water. These iris come from a bed in my neighbor’s yard, but they sneaked over the fence when I watered a nearby bush, and now they are mine to love.

And this little cactus bud truly delights me. I transplanted the cactus from another neighbor’s yard last fall, and it withered (looked like it melted, actually). I was disappointed, but not unduly — it took a long time to get the prickles out of my gardening gloves and even my hands so I wasn’t exactly pleased with the plant. But now look! It wants to grow.

Ah, now I feel so much better! Being heartened makes such a difference I hope you find a way to hearten yourself.


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.