Gardening Catalogs

I received a flower catalog in the mail today, and it struck me what a great marketing ploy that is. When people are sick of winter, the snow, the dreary landscape, the gray skies, the unending cold, seeing the bright colors of a potential spring garden would bring out the checkbooks and charge cards of even the most casual gardeners.

If it weren’t for my tight budget (because of the horrendous increase in my homeowner’s insurance), I’d probably be ordering from the catalog right now. I might still have sneaked in an order for a handful of bulbs — who needs to eat, right? — but I want to wait and see what, if anything, comes up on its own this year. Some of the wildflowers I planted last year were perennials, which might bloom again. Some of the wildflowers reseeded themselves, so they, too might bloom. There are also the flowers that I transplanted, like the New England asters, and the fall plants I got last year to add color to my fading garden. And I have a bunch of seeds to fill in areas where nothing blooms, such as the four ounces of zinnia seeds I bought last fall, the seed packets a relative sent me, the wildflower seeds leftover from the previous fall, the larkspur seeds I harvested.

I listed all those possible blooms so that I don’t feel bad about not ordering any of the luscious flowers in the catalog. I also remind myself of all the bulbs I bought that never bloomed — in fact, I’ve never seen such a resplendent display of flowers except in the catalogs. They either cheat and force plants in a greenhouse so that despite different growing schedules, the plants all grow at the same time, or else they . . .

Well, I don’t know what else they do. All I know is that I don’t get the glorious growth that is pictured in the catalogs.

I will be interested in seeing what happens in the spring after all the snow cover we’ve had this winter, so unusual for this dry part of the state. Perhaps this will be the year my own garden is catalog worthy. If not, well, I’ll do what I always do — celebrate the flowers that do come up, and console myself over those that don’t with thoughts of next season’s gardening catalogs.


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.

Gorgeous Autumn Day

I’ll bet you can’t guess what I did today! Aww, you guessed it. Where else would I be on such on gorgeous autumn day but out working in my yard? Of course, if you guessed blogging or being on the internet, that would have been a sure bet, too, because here I am. Or if you guessed reading, that too would have been a win because that’s how I will spend the rest of the day.

Hmm. Sounds as if I live too narrow a life. I might have to do something about that eventually to keep from the dreaded stagnation (dreaded by me, that is), but for now, there’s a lot of work to do, not just the usual maintenance, such as watering and mowing the grass and digging weeds, but also getting ready for late fall planting (lilies and wildflowers) and preparing for winter.

It seems as if summer was never-ending, but then, in just a snap of the fingers, it was over. I know it was a long, hot four months, but in retrospect, the whole summer was truncated. Except for the work I did, though, there wasn’t much to distinguish the days from one another. There seemed to be few summer flowers, and those that did come up, like the lilies and day lilies were swamped in wildflowers or weeds. Now, though, there is plenty of color! Zinnias. Amaranth. Chrysanthemums. New England Asters. Marigolds.

In another snap of the fingers, winter will be here, but I’m not going to think of that — I’ll just enjoy the lovely fall weather as long as it lasts. (Warm days, cool nights — what’s not to like?)

I wasn’t sure whether I should use the term “autumn” or “fall” for this post. I recently came across one of those USA-bashing comments intimating that the sophisticated British use the term autumn but the uncouth and simple Americans use “fall” (named because of the falling leaves). I certainly didn’t want to bring ridicule down on my head for using the wrong word, so I looked up the origin of both terms. It turns out that “fall” is not something you can lay at our American feet. Both words originated in Britain. Autumn was first used in the 1300s. Fall was first used in the 1500s. But the correct term for this season is (or at least it was before 1300) “harvest.”

Still, whatever the name for this season — fall or autumn or harvest — it certainly has been a pleasant and colorful (and exhausting) one 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.

Mostly Flowers

This is a quickie post, mostly photos of my flowers that are blooming today because I’ve run out of time for anything more time consuming.

The weather was cool and still with bright blue skies, so I stayed outside working much longer than I should have. I cleaned weeds from around the edge of a garden so I was able to do much of it sitting, which helped protect my knees.

Besides spending too much time outside, I just got a text asking me to go in to work earlier, so here I am, in a hurry, so I’m showing off my photography skills instead of my writing skills.

I’m sure you’re just as glad to see photos instead of another essay about grass, though I won’t let you completely off the hook. As I was cleaning out the gardens on either side of my front ramp, I noticed a tangle of four-foot-long Bermuda grass stolons (above ground stems) beneath the ramp on the original sidewalk. I thought maybe the grass was growing out of the cracks, but it turned out that the grass on one side of the ramp was inching toward the other side and vice versa. Apparently, even grass itself thinks things are greener on the other side.

I’m still astonished by the growth of my New England asters this year. If anyone local wants any when it comes time to divide them, be sure to let me know.

Well, I’ve run out of time, so it’s off to work I go.


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.

There Will be Hope

There’s something very hopeful about preparing a new garden bed, not just the hope for new flowers, but hope for the future — hope that there will be a future. That hope keeps me going despite the hard work, and it is hard, even if the plot is only about 25-square feet. That’s a lot of digging, especially if what’s beneath the soil is a tangle of Bermuda grass roots as well as a tree root or two. (From a tree that was cut down years ago.)

I enjoy looking at that bare ground (well, bare except for the bits of vegetation that resist being raked up) and thinking about what I will plant. I know one thing I will plant are New England asters. When I first mentioned those plants years ago, a blog reader warned me that they tend to spread and even take over. In my smugness as a new gardener, I responded that I liked plants that spread because they save me from planting more. And I do like them. The problem is that the single stem I started with grew into a mass with several stems, so I divided them and replanted, and now each of those stems has become a clump of several stems. So now I need to figure out what to do with them all. A gardener friend wants some, so that’s a start. I know where I want a few more, so that’s good. In the end, I think, I’ll plant what’s left in my uncultivated area and let them take over. I bet they would lovely in a large mass!

Part of my newly cultivated area will be planted with grass — I need an area I can mow to give me access to the back of the garden. With no access, I ended up with a whole lot of weeds and weedy grasses. The lilies that were planted in that area rose above the weeds, and were lovely, but I want to give them less competition — except, of course, from the additional lilies I ordered a couple of days ago. Luckily, lilies don’t mind being crowded, so if my lilies — new and old — ever decide to multiply, I won’t have to divide them as I do with the asters. I’m still hoping for a lily forest. Apparently, it takes years for lilies to reach their full height, but a clearing in front of the lilies will help them and will help me help them.

As for what else I will plant — I’m not sure. I might just wait until spring and see if anything volunteers to grow in the area. Volunteers are those plants that grow on their own, sometimes seemingly appearing out of nowhere, though chances are they were seeds blown in on the wind or dropped from birds.

My favorite of these volunteers this summer has been the aptly-named heavenly blue morning glory. There have been one or two blooms every day for a couple of weeks now. I’m thinking of getting seeds and planting some on purpose next year, but sometimes, for me, the on-purpose plants don’t always grow as well as the volunteers.

Still, no matter what will go in the area I cleared today, there will be hope.


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 Dream of the Future

I came across a Buddhist quote this morning: “Do not dwell on the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”

Normally I would agree that this is a good philosophy (one, moreover, that worked well for me while I was dealing with grief), especially since all we have is the present moment, an eternal now. Though come to think of it, I’m not sure that’s true. By the time you’ve said or thought “now,” that particular now — that moment — is already in the past. I suppose the secret is to forget “now.” To just be. Though I wouldn’t know either the truth of that or how to do it now that I’m identifying as a gardener. Or landscaper. Or whatever.

For example, this morning when I was out digging up Bermuda grass and other weedy vegetation, I also tried to figure out what else I need to do now to prepare for the garden I hope to have next spring. Prepare the ground, of course, to extend a grassy area into the garden area so I can more easily get to the back of the garden to take care of those distant plants. Decide what to plant in areas denuded by the removal of dead annuals, or perhaps decide not to plant and simply wait until next spring and see if any of those annuals reseed themselves. Also decide where to move plants that need to be divided, such as the New England aster, which are growing rapidly this year. (I started out with one stalk three years ago. It grew to seven stalks last year, so I divided them and thought I was set for another couple of years, but now each of those seven stalks has spawned at least an additional seven stalks.) Since the asters won’t divide and replant themselves, I have to decide where to put them.

Admittedly, this transplanting won’t need to happen for another month or so, but meantime, I need to get an idea of where to put them and to prepare the ground if they are to be planted in what are now uncultivated areas.

All of this takes planning because all of this takes a lot of work, and I have to pace myself to make sure I can do the work despite an aging body and diminishing reserves.

So, is planning part of the present moment? Obviously, one can only think in the present moment because you can’t think today’s thoughts yesterday or yesterday’s thoughts tomorrow, but all that planning is for the future.

And a garden is, almost by definition, a dream of the future.

Dwelling on the past is also something that is necessary when it comes to a garden. You have to pay attention to what thrived and what didn’t, what you did that you might not want to do again, what you didn’t do that you should have done. (I’m still trying to figure out what I could have done differently to keep swaths of my newly sodded lawn from dying, because until I can figure that out, any reseeded grass would surely end up with the same fate.)

There are, of course, those times in the garden that one does what one does — planting, weeding, watering — without thinking of . . . well, without thinking of anything. Much of gardening is mindless work where nothing exists beyond the work itself. So that part might live up to the Buddhist ideal, but the rest of it? Not so much.

It’s a good thing, then, that I’m not Buddhist.


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.

Weird Times

This seems to be a time of weirdness for me, though if things come in threes as the saying goes, then by tomorrow, my life should be back to normal. Assuming, of course, there is a normal anymore.

First, there was the issue with someone trying to change my Facebook password. By itself, it’s not that weird, but at the same time, I was unable to get into the email associated with my website, and two concurrent anomalies do make for weirdness.

Second, there was the issue with Flagstar Bank and their security breach. Again, by itself, it’s not that weird, but their having my identity information is inexplicable. And yet, as someone pointed out, I will get two years of free credit and identity monitoring out of it, though it does seem a bit much since I have no credit to ruin.

Third, well, this third thing isn’t at all in the same category as the first two, but weird nevertheless. I purchased a plant starter at the local hardware store. The planting instructions mention that the plant will grow so densely that in two or three years, it will need to be divided. The instructions also included the caveat that propagation is strictly prohibited. In other words, I will have to propagate the plant by dividing it, but I am not allowed to do so.

That falls more in the category of irony, I think, than true weirdness, but it’s noteworthy all the same. Not that anything will happen to me if I do propagate the plant since here are no propagation police wandering around with magnifying glasses checking out people’s gardens to look for propagation violations. The warning is more for those who sell plants commercially, which, of course, I don’t do. I’m on the other end of the commercial spectrum where I shell out money for plants rather than raking it in.

And anyway, I should be so lucky as to have to propagate the plant. So far, the only plant that’s done well enough to need to be divided are my New England asters. Last fall I divided my single clump of asters and ended up with seven or eight clumps. Each of those clumps look as if they will yield another four or five plants, so I will have to figure out what I want to do with all of them. Right now, the asters are edging part of the swath of grass that sweeps from the side of my house to the back yard, and I’m thinking of continuing to edge the grass with the asters. Luckily, I have several months to decide what to do — I certainly wouldn’t want to jinx the poor plants by counting on their doing well right now when the weird times are in full swing.


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.

Woman Power

I had a couple of lovely surprises today. First, clouds and coolness! Instead of the sweltering temperatures that had been forecast, the high today was twenty degrees below what it’s been for the past few weeks.

I made good use of the cool morning. Along the alley, partly blocking the entrance to my garage, were tall weeds, most waist height, some shoulder height. The way the driveway was built, the apron sloped downward a bit, as it should, to keep water from backing into the garage. The problem is that the slope ends below the bed of the alley, creating a gulley that collects any rain water and makes a perfect environment for . . .  you guessed it — weeds.

All spring and summer, whenever it rained enough to soak the ground, I’d go out and pull the weeds. Even though we haven’t had much rain for weeks, those weeds still grew immensely fast and even worse, they became cemented to the ground by the dry adobe-like clay soil. I’d asked the contractor to extend the driveway, which he agreed to do, but it’s not high on his list of priorities. Meantime, the weeds kept growing. He said he’d send workers out to whack the weeds, but the guys never showed up. Another worker said he’d send “his guy” to douse the weeds with weed killer, but he never came. Also, a worker said he’d drive past with his tractor, which would clear up those weeds in a few minutes. And of course, it didn’t happen. Someone told me that the city was supposed to mow the alleys, but that never happened, either.

So, I went out there to get rid of the weeds myself. As I dug and pulled, I couldn’t help thinking that one old woman with a shovel was doing what all those powerful men with their powerful chemicals and powerful machines wouldn’t do. Yay for woman power!

Once I cleared the weeds away from the driveway, I continued to dig up the weeds along the whole width of my property, a total of 150 square feet of tree-like weeds. Ouch. And I do mean ouch. I was out there for four hours and am stiff and sore from my shoulders to the soles of my feet.

But all those weeds are gone.

At least for now.

I’m sure they will grow back, but perhaps by that time, there will be some progress made on extending the driveway another two or three feet and filling in the gulley.

I also started removing the dead bindweed from the chain link fence. I wish there was a quick way to do that. The weed wraps itself around the wire, and clearing the wire is easy but time consuming. If it’s cool enough tomorrow, maybe I’ll take a chair out there and sit and pick.

Meantime, I can enjoy my other surprise. The New England aster are beginning to bloom! After their season, I’ll need to transplant some of them. Where once I had one plant, I now have five, and I’d like to spread them out.

Luckily, that can wait another couple of months. At the moment, I’m too tired to even lift the shovel let alone dig a small hole.


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.

Embracing Laziness

I thought about not writing a blog today, more out of laziness than anything else, but considering that I’m on a 361-day blogging streak, I figured it would be silly to give in to my laziness a mere four days from a full year’s worth of posts.

The laziness comes from the smoky air, I believe, rather than an inherent character flaw, though to be honest, I do embrace my laziness — assuming hours spent reading is laziness. (Reading could be something other than laziness, of course, perhaps a desire to live as many lives as possible before my expiration date.) But the smoky air coming to us from the fires on the west coast are exacerbating my allergies, and a major component of my allergy reactions (besides sinus pain and chest congestion) is lethargy.

Still, I did do some things today. I received a package of plants in the mail, though I was surprised to see them. First, they were supposed to be here earlier in the week, then they were held up at the post office somewhere until next week. At no point was today mentioned. Luckily, the plants are in pots because although they are supposed to be planted immediately, my lazy side says they will be fine for another day. After all, they weren’t supposed to be delivered until Monday, so how are the plants to know they’re not still in transit?

It amazes me the things that take hold and do well and the things that don’t. For example, last fall, I bought some New England asters because I liked the color and thought they’d brighten up my stoop. When the flowers all died, I buried what was left. (I actually planted it, but it seemed more of a burial since I thought the whole thing was dead). And look at it now! So vibrant!

My contractor stopped by for a few minutes to pick up some tools he left here, and while we were talking with the garage door opened, the closer started to buzz. He looked around and asked what that sound was. I motioned him back into the garage and said, “Wait.” The buzzing got more insistent, and then suddenly, the door started to close. We both got a kick out that. Such a cool thing that closer is! I don’t have to worry if my laziness kicks in and I forget to close the door.

He’ll be back tomorrow to fold back a section of the fence so he can get a skid steer into the yard to help spread the concrete for my sidewalk on Monday. The cement mixer is too big to get into the yard, and so they were planning on using wheelbarrows to get the concrete where it needs to be. Yikes. If I had to do the work, forget it. Even without my current lazy streak, I wouldn’t be able to do anything that intense. But then, that’s why I have him. Meantime, I’ll get introduced to another tool — if a piece of equipment can be called a tool. That should be fun even though I won’t be the one driving.

Well, what do you know — I managed to put together a post of sorts after all. My streak remains unbroken. Yay!


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