What a Difference a Month Makes

Sometimes, in life, a month — or even a year — seems to bring no changes; it’s only in retrospect that we can look back and see the difference in our lives. In gardening, however, a month can bring dramatic changes. For example, in this photo, taken a month ago, spring is just making itself known. The lighter green along the right side of the path are larkspur that planted themselves where the grass died last year. The grass I planted (the blue seed) to start replacing some of the grass that died, hasn’t begun to sprout. The greengage plum (the tree in the foreground) is still dormant, and the lilacs (the bushes to the right of the path) are just beginning to green up.

A month later, things are completely different. As you can see from the following photo, many of the grass seeds took hold, and grass has greened up nicely. The tree has leafed out. The lilacs grew more in the past month than they have the past couple of years. And the larkspur have pretty much invaded not just along the path where the grass died, but the whole rest of the garden, too. I had to wade through the larkspur to find some of the plants I put in last fall, such as lilies and chrysanthemums, and clear a space around them to give them room to grow.

This is a sideview of the garden. Look at all those larkspur! To think that all that came from the half dozen or so plants I transplanted from my neighbor’s yard (with his permission, of course). I thought they were a low-growing flower, because that’s how they grew in his unkempt yard, but apparently, when given a bit of care, larkspur grow to monstrous heights. Some of these stalks are shoulder height. And such a lovely sight.

In another month, things will be different again. The larkspur will be gone — after they go to seed I pull up the dead stalks, leaving plenty of room in the garden for the perennials to grow. If there are big spaces left behind in the garden, I plant other annual seeds, such as zinnias. And since I will be able to get to the dead grass, I’ll start clearing the way for replanting the grass this fall. Or I might even plant some zinnias there, too. Since I have not yet learned how to take a photo of something that will happen in the future, obviously, I can’t show you what the area will look like then, but I imagine, at least for a while, it will look very similar to the way it looked a month ago.

And then a month after that, it will all be different again. Because when it comes to gardening, a month makes a huge difference.


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 is Like Writing

I’ve heard it said that there are two kinds of writers, plotters and pantsters. Plotters outline, so before they sit down to write, they know exactly what they are going to say. Pantsters write by the seat of their pants, so when they sit down to write, they never know what they are going to say.

Me? I’m neither. I start with an idea, then add another idea, and keep adding ideas until I know where I am going to begin and where I am going to end. The middle part is a matter of finding ways to connect all my disparate ideas, so by the time the book is written, the story seems inevitable, as if had been written by a plotter.

As it turns out, I garden the same way. I started with a few lilac suckers from a neighbor’s lilac bush. At the time, I just planted them more or less at random because there was no order to the yard. The fence that was here at the beginning of my tenure enclosed only a small part of the back yard, which to me was a selling point because I didn’t want a huge yard to take care of. Between the fence and the alley was a carport, and next to the carport was a decrepit garage.

I had no plans for anything back then except to shore up the garage, but eventually a sibling talked me into fencing the property, which turned out to be a great idea, even though I ended up with a huge yard. The fence adds a modicum of safety, from marauding dogs if nothing else, and it defines the property. Eventually, old garage and carport were removed and a new garage built.

And during all these projects, I added a few more bushes. Then other plants. Then the pathways. Then the grass. Now I am filling in the gaps in the landscaping, and suddenly, the yard looks inevitable, as if it had been gardened by a plotter.

The truth is, I did everything wrong. The hardscaping is supposed to be done first before the first greenery is planted, but in my case, the hardscaping grew along with landscaping. And I planted by trial and error, which is a gardening faux pax, even though that’s how I do everything. (I’ve heard there are two kinds of geniuses — the early bloomers who are born super intelligent, and the late bloomers who learn a sort of genius through trial and error. I still have a long way to go to reach genius status, but through trial and error, I might get there someday.)

I suppose with gardening, like writing, rules don’t matter as long as what you do works and you end up with cohesive plot, whether a novel plot or a garden plot.

I will be interested to see what it all looks like next spring, though as long as nothing major occurs to destroy the grass and plants, it should be beautiful.


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 Dig Digging

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

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

But I digress.

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

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

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

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

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


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

A fun book for not-so-fun times

Planting Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Dreaming a Garden

After Jeff died, I did many things that ordinarily I wouldn’t have done, such as taking dance classes and joining a hiking club, because I worried that otherwise I’d stagnate, that I’d become the crazy cat lady sans cats, the one who was so alone that she’d be dead a week before anyone ever noticed she was gone.

Even after I moved here, I kept up with socializing, and I did rather well for a year until The Bob came and changed everything. Now I spend most of my time by myself, with only my job, a weekly visit to the library, and a monthly get together with the art guild to take me out of myself.

Perhaps I am on the way to stagnation as I feared, but the one saving grace is my interest in gardening, which means I won’t be the catless cat lady, I’ll be that old lady who is only seen when she is outside working on her garden. There are people around who, I am sure, would make sure I don’t devolve into that woman, but more to the point, there will be the garden.

I’m still such a neophyte that no matter what I do, a percentage of what I plant ends up dead, but that is not discouraging me. In fact, just today, I received a mailer from a plant company for things to plant this fall. Cold hardy hibiscus. Carpet phlox. Oriental poppies. Shade loving astilbe. Even the names are evocative! My ability to keep plants alive in both the burning heat of mid-summer and the bitter cold of mid-winter isn’t what I would like it to be, though I wonder at times if the problem is solely with me and if perhaps the soil, the plants themselves, or the seller share some of the blame. There’s only one company I ever purchased plants from who sent plants that are all still alive a year later. The plants from other companies don’t fare as well; in fact, all but two of the plants I got from a company that specializes in prairie plants never made it through the winter.

Still, I try. It seems to me as if my gardening expertise is a lesson in hope over reality. But I continue to dream anyway. And as long as I can dream, even if it is only dreaming a garden, I won’t stagnate. Oh, I might well become the neighborhood crazy lady, though in my own head and in my own garden, I’ll be active and spirited and very much alive.

One of these days, too, I’ll get back into writing, though I haven’t yet thought of a story or characters I’d be willing to live with for the year or so it will take to write the book.

Meantime, it’s a matter of deciding what plants to order and where to put 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

Stumped by a Stump

Shortly after I moved here, I had to have a Siberian elm tree cut down because it was interfering with the electric lines. Unfortunately, Siberian elms are tenacious creatures, and because the stump had never been ground out, the tree stump kept shooting up branches. I sure got tired of pruning that tree! Even worse, for every branch I cut, another half dozen would grow. Last fall, the workers who occasionally stop by to continue with a task they’d abandoned months previously, came back to try to dig out the stump. They told me they’d cut off all the roots that snaked off the main trunk, which should have made it easy to pry up the stump. Not so. They eventually abandoned the project — again — until they could arrange for a stump grinder, as well as schedule others with stumps needing removal to make the price of the equipment more affordable for all of us.

We thought that since that stump had been so mangled, it would die on its own, but that didn’t happen. In fact, this year, the thing grew even more voraciously than it did the previous year. I wasn’t too worried because the stump grinder was finally scheduled to be rented, though as always when it comes to my property, things weren’t that easy. Apparently, the grinder is missing a part, so . . . no grinder. When the part comes in, the grinding will begin. Meantime, I had that horrible mess with the unwieldy growth on the stump. I was thinking unhappy thoughts about the workers this morning as I pruned those dozens and dozens of branches. A new neighbor saw my struggles, and he commented that it shouldn’t be that difficult to dig up the stump.

He doesn’t have a high opinion of the guys who worked on my yard anyway, thinking they are doing me a disservice by walking away in the middle of my various projects and leaving me with half-finished messes, so he figured those guys hadn’t worked very hard on digging out the stump.

He came and worked on the stump for several hours, almost breaking his pickaxe and making his light-weight chainsaw smoke. (Tool envy! I sure would like a battery-powered mini-chainsaw.) He got the smaller stump dug up, but the big one “stumped” him, though he did manage to sever even more of the root arms that were holding the stump in place.

So now, I’m back waiting for the stump grinder.

It would be nice if the stump could be pulverized and the soil readied in time for a late season planting, since that part of the yard seems to be well nourished. Hollyhock seeds I threw in there a couple of years ago on the advice of the neighbor who had grown them and gifted them to me, decided to finally sprout this year, and the plants look like tall bushes with leaves as big as dinner plates. I’ve never seen hollyhock plants that big! And they are still babies.

I don’t suppose it really matters when the stump grinding is done since I am already over my head with work on my various gardens. The neighbor thinks that what he did today should keep any sprouts from growing, and that’s what I was really concerned about. I can deal with unfinished projects (most of the time anyway), but I do resent having to do chores that I wouldn’t have to do if the job had been finished in a timely manner.


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 Chores

I went out this morning to do a couple of quick gardening chores. Two hours later, dirty, sweaty, and exhausted, I finally gave up. Each chore had led to another, until it seemed (and rightly so) that I’d never be finished. I suppose that’s both the frustration and fun of gardening — that there is always something that needs to be done, and that there is also always an excuse to go outside and play in the dirt.

I did accomplish some of what I wanted to do. I planted the bulb collection I got from the Arbor Day Foundation.

I realize this summer cutting garden will never look like the photo they sent — for one thing, the plants all flower at different times, and for another, I planted them in a straight line at the back of the flower garden I’m creating outside the one window I regularly look out of.

And then there is the problem with the gardener. (Meaning me.) A rank amateur, that’s for sure! Though admittedly, I am learning, and I am managing to keep some things alive besides waist-high weeds. As you can see, my marigolds and the cherry tomato plant are doing well despite the grass that insists on growing back.

After I planted the bulbs (being careful to follow the directions, which I don’t always do, but I wanted to make sure the bulbs at had at least a slim chance of coming up), I pulled weeds. Then I trimmed a tree/bush. It’s a locust that was cut down a couple of years ago, but it continues to grow. I’ve been undecided about keeping it since I’m not sure I want the responsibility of trimming it as I grow older, so I thought I’d have the tree guy grind out the stump when he comes to grind up all the other on the property, but I kind of like it. It looks like a fern with its tall, wavy branches.

After trimming the tree, I pulled more weeds. There are still more weeds to pull, and the weed patch I laughingly call my lawn needs to be mowed again. I also need to transplant some bulbs that will be buried under gravel if the landscaper ever comes back to do some more work, and then . . . yep, there’s always 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


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

Building a Garden

I just added another category for filing my blog posts — gardening. It appears as if I am writing quite a bit about my yard, what I’m doing to it, and what I’m planting. And today’s post is one of those.

A while back, I had ordered a few plants in pots (much nicer than bare root twigs!) and they arrived yesterday. So today, I went into my beautiful garage, grabbed a shovel, and started to dig. There was a lot of digging! I had to remove dead tree roots, Bermuda grass, weeds, and rocks. Then I had to sit down on my bench to plan what to put where. I had already decided, but apparently I didn’t realize how big some of these things would get, and hadn’t taken size into consideration.

I also had to translate some of the instructions into neophyte language. For example, they said not to plant the seedlings where they would get the afternoon sun, but at least two of the items need full sun. So I had to plop the plants wherever it seemed they would do best in the long term.

One thing that had surprised me because no other plant supplier had mentioned it: these instructions said that after I removed the plant from the container and before putting it in the ground, I had to cut the root ball in several places and fluff it up so that the roots would spread easier. So I did that, or at least what I presumed they meant by those instructions. We’ll see.

I’d planned to go walking afterward, but I sat back down on my bench to rest (gardening is hard work!) and exhaustion kept me there until it got too hot to walk. But sitting was nice. I got to survey my domain and imagine building a beautiful garden one plant at a time.


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