Category Archives: Eletter Stories

“Don’t Worry, Dear!”

 "Don't Worry, Dear!"

“Don’t Worry, Dear!”

I’m only going to the garden center.

By Martine Caselli

Art by Mary T. Ey

I categorically deny all allegations made against me concerning overspending at the garden center. Have I occasionally been too enthusiastic with my purchases? Perhaps. Does that, however, constitute a pattern of unreliability? Of course not. Beneath my enthusiasm I remain, as always, a responsible person, even in the spring. Even at the garden center.

It is my husband who has made these monstrous allegations, although never directly.

For example, “Why don’t you take my car?” he’ll ask as I’m getting ready to go. His car. His tiny, little car. I know what’s really behind this and so does he. You can’t bring home shrubs in a car that size. And a tree, well, forget it. I’m only going to the garden center for a cell pack of sweet basil, but I do like to keep my options open. But saying so would only stir of unnecessary clouds of suspicion.

“Thanks, but mine needs guessing up, anyway,” I answer with studied casualness.

I am almost out the door, pocketbook on shoulder, hand on the knob.

He says, “And remember now—we agreed—the charge cards are just for emergencies and necessities . . . “ His voice trails off.

Honestly, why is this man so nervous? I am not arguing against the basic good sense of this kind of thinking. Of course, in spirit this agreement would also curtail the casual use of the checkbook, but this has never actually been stated.

“Not to worry!” I respond brightly. “I only need those sweet basil seedlings I mentioned.” A quick kiss and I am gone.

And then, the garden center at last. I have a choice at the gate—a small plastic baskets quite large enough for those sweet basil seedlings I came for, or an oversized red wagon. I choose the wagon without hesitation, and I’m off. Cruising down the rows of two-gallon containers and balled-&-burlapped specimens, I become intoxicated by the warmth of the springtime sunshine and the smell of fertilizer. How else can I explain all the plants I keep putting in the wagon “just to think about?”

Before too long, the wagon is so full I need both hands to pull it. Leaving it near the exit, I get another one, which rattles along emptily behind me—until with a sharp intake of breath, I come upon climbing hydrangeas. I couldn’t find climbing hydrangeas anywhere last year. It is torture narrowing it down to just three of them. A gorgeous deep-purple lilac and one or two absolutely exquisite bleeding heart plants later (How has so much time passed?), I finally come upon the herbs and the sweet basil seedlings. I have to carry them, there is no more room in the wagons.

Back near the exit, seedlings in hand, I turned to face the two overly full wagons beside me. Oh, that terrible moment. Everything in them is a treasure. All of it absolutely necessary.

“Necessary?” intones the imagined face of my mate which materializes ghost-like within the branches of the lilac, then disappears. I sigh, crestfallen at what I know I must do. The very picture of pathos, I leave with the basil seedlings and one climbing hydrangea, having paid by check.

The ride home is long enough for a satisfying wallow in self-pity . . . and for me to return to my senses. Casting my good-natured husband as Ming the Merciless never works for long. And although it’s desperately inconvenient to admit at the present moment, he happens to be right about not buying a carload of shrubbery just now. There’s the matter of the decrepit honeysuckle-covered fence we need to replace this spring; a time-consuming job complicated considerably by my edict that not a single honeysuckle twig be harmed in the process. We also have a rotting deck to rebuild, my fault entirely because I tend to locate my mini-container vegetable garden on it each yea. Come to think of it, my husband has never complained about this offense against proper home maintenance, although he has certainly noticed and it is his nature to be neat and careful. For the sake of my tomatoes and my happiness, he has looked the other way, quietly enduring ten soggy years of advancing rot. Ruefully, I have to acknowledge the man’s intrepid character in the face of the commotion I bring into his life. With a rush of affection, I realize I knew that everything I need to make me happy in the garden is already there.

I wave cheerfully to my husband as I pull up to the house. One look at my radiant expression and his brow knits with concern. Poor guy, he really has to learn to relax. I believe he is even glancing down the street to see if there is a delivery truck following me. I kiss him big and tell him I love him. I tell him the best part of any trip is coming back home. I tell him the hydrangea in the backseat is for his birthday.

“My birthday was last month,” he says, laughing. “Actually, it’s surprising you only bought one.”

“Really?” I answer, mustering an expression of pure innocence. “Well, I’m not one to lose my head at the garden center.”

This story is from GreenPrints #41, Spring, 2000.

GreenPrints 41

It was our biggest issue ever!
To learn more about it,click here.

Read Other Stories From September’s GreenPrints Eletter:

Cowprints in the Carrots

Cowprints in the Carrots

The Able Gardener

Handicapped Gardener


The Flower Thief

The Flower Thief

 

Cowprints in the Carrots

Cowprints in the Carrots

Cowprints in the Carrots
The death of my neighbor’s farm.

By Pat Stone

“Let’s open up the bidding at 800. Who’ll give me 8? Gimme 8, gimme 8, gimme 8. Look at that udder, fellas. Looks like milk in the ring. 800! 8 and ½, now half, now half. 75. 75. 75 now 9! Lot of power in this cow. There’s a can a day in this one. 9. Gimme 9.

 

For me, the hardest crop is carrots. It was years before I could raise them well. First off, you have to plant such tiny seeds then keep them wet for weeks. I do that by covering them with boards or sheets. When they finally do sprout, you got to uncover them quick. Later you’ve got to yank out bunches of husky weeds without disturbing the wispy starts you are after.

And I’ll tell you, it doesn’t help things when you check out your two-inch seedlings one fall morning and find baseball-sized craters in the patch. When you find cowprints in the carrots.

 

Look at those ribs showin’, boys. They ain’t pushed that one. Just put some groceries to her, that’s all she needs. Give you milk rich enough to stain a glass. Who’ll give me 11? 11 hundred. 11. 11. 11. 11. Sold for 10 hundred and fifty dollars. She’s Georgia bound.”

 

Just one pasture over from my garden, they’ve put chairs, stage, and a barbeque stand. Spread cedar shavings to mask fresh manure. And begun selling off the heard. The Clarke’s dairy is shutting down. The auctioneers slams his gavel and pulls the cord that opens the gate. Ralph Brown, the farm milker, pushes in Buffy, a three-year-old Holstein he raised, fed, and milked—from birth. His wife, Shirley, a woman whose entire home is filled with bovine knick knacks, sits in the audience, puffy-eyed, to watch.

 

“Tip your hats, fellas, a lady has stepped into the room. A.I. sired and bred, just look at that seam up that rear udder. I’m going to start the bidding at 12 hundred on this one. Gimme 12, lemme hear, lemme hear, lemme hear. 12? 12! 12 and a half? 13!”

 

Last week, the cows got in my sweet corn. Three times. Chomped down half of the Silver Queen then tromped right through the carrots. Finally, I went down to the dairy barn, grabbed the barbed wire spool, and splinted the fence myself. Didn’t ask them to fix it. Not this time.

 

“The left udder’s a little unbalanced on this one, boys, but just take her like you took your wife—for better or for worse. Who’ll give me six?”

 

One at a time the herd is sold. 76 milking cows, 38 heifers, 27 calves. Then the tractors, the corn choppers, the hay bailers. Even the winter’s crop of feed corn, still standing in the fields. In eight hours, an entire farm, six decades old, is dismantled and scattered from Florida to Wisconsin. But, hey, it’s happening all over. Milk prices dropped 35%. And why not? When was the last time you went into a restaurant and ordered a glass of milk?

I leave the sale, go home, and try to unwind by doing a little gardening. But even here I can still hear it, a constant background murmur of the auctioneer’s voice. I fill the holes in my carrot patch and prop up all the stepped-on seedlings I can save. And all the while I listen, as someone pulls up a farm, piece by piece, by its roots.

 

 Read Other Stories from the September GreenPrints Eletter:

“Don’t Worry, Dear!”

"Don't Worry, Dear!"

The Able Gardener

The Able Gardener

The Flower Thief

The Flower Thief

 

 

The Able Gardener

The Able Gardener

The Able Gardener

Techniques—and benefits—of gardening with a handicap.

By Mary Dayle McCormick

Art by Linda Cook Devona

For a decade, gardening has been my great escape. I’m not talking about puttering around in little flower-printed cotton gloves, but all-out, double-calloused, rock-digging, dirt-toting, marathon gardening.

Three years ago, just before I turned 40, I began noticing that my energy and ability were suddenly failing to keep up with my gardening enthusiasm. Before I knew it . . .

 

I was sitting on a paper-covered examining table in a windowless green room, deep within the bowels of a medical center, listening to the fluorescent light buzz overhead. The air-conditioning was too cold, even for August. I heard the neurologist’s footsteps in the hall, her hard little heels digging into the linoleum. I remember looking for her feet as she opened the door, because I didn’t want to look at her face. I couldn’t help myself, though, and instantly saw in her expression what she was about to say:

” . . . assume at this point, the lesions indicate multiple sclerosis . . . .

 

I can’t recall leaving the building or finding my car, but somehow I got out of the medical complex and drove straight to a garden center. I bought flats of tired annuals, root-bound perennials in full bloom, and summer bulbs that wouldn’t have time to mature before frost.

What happened to that stuff? I don’t know. My garden journal is empty for the rest of that year and most of the next.

Living with MS means avoiding anything that might trigger a flare-up of brain inflammation and cause more damage. Pain, mental confusion, and exhaustion leave me useless and hopeless.

No longer a robust gardener, I became a “hothouse flower,” embarrassed to be seen wobbling with my cane, afraid to feel the sun or wind, as wary of elation as of sorrow. My garden lay fallow that winter as I grieved for what I believed I had lost:

 

The field of a shovel in my calloused hands, balanced at its sweet spot, the wooden handle’s subtle curves worn satiny smooth from the oil of my palms.

The smell of freshly turned soil, dark and damp with humus of forgotten seasons, teeming with fat red worms and an occasional sleepy toad.

The crisp sound of well-honed steel slicing through dry stems, its rhythmic snap and release.

The sundown ache enveloping my body in a blanket of satisfaction, a willing exchange for the chance to realize my technicolor landscape dreams.

The taste of leaves, herbs, and fruit still alive with the captured sun and dew of my garden.

The joy of clipping blossoms and foliage to honor a loved one or comfort a friend.

 

For a time, I allowed my physical limitations to turn my beloved recreation into another source of anxiety. Looking across my garden, I saw only what I couldn’t prune, transplant, and cultivate.

My first steps out of this despair came when I learned I could still be an able gardener if I set realistic goals. I needed to redefine gardening and keep the definition flexible.

I began to meet other folks who were gardening in spite of handicaps and chronic illness—arthritis, lupus, stroke, even polio, as well as MS. For most of us, the difference between physical ability and disability is constantly changing, due to factors largely beyond our control. But a common thread is the attitude that some risks are worth taking. People, as well as plants, can’t remain dormant forever. They must grow or wither.

The key to returning to favorite activities is using a little common sense. Here’s some advice that helps me continue satisfying my passion for the gardening life:

 

Dress for success. In warm weather, I wear loose, light, cotton clothing that protects my skin, use UV sunscreen, and sport a wide-brimmed straw hat. If I need to cool down quickly, I don’t hesitate to douse myself with the garden hose. In chilly weather, I wear two or three layers of knit shirts and leggings I can peel off as my body heats with activity.

Conserve energy, avoid pain. A lightweight but sturdy padded kneeler with handles helps me with getting up and down, as well as protecting me from strain, damp, and cold. Backtracking wastes precious energy, so I plan my steps carefully, following the shade. I carry tools and supplies I’ll need in a little wagon.

Send a signal. I always wear my cell phone on a belt in case I need to summon help.

Fill ‘er up. One afternoon I thought I’d be smart and not drink water, thereby avoiding pesky bathroom trips. Not smart. I overheated so quickly I couldn’t crawl to the house. Now I keep a water bottle on my belt as well as a cell phone.

Make it easy. If there’s a faster or easier way, I use it. Growing herbs and dwarf vegetables in big containers just outside the back door works for me. Landscape fabric and thick mulch in beds conserves moisture and minimizes weeding. Instead of lugging sprinklers, I let soaker hoses saturate the ground while I rest.

Probably the wisest thing I’ve done is to get rid of persnickety plants not suited to my yard’s conditions. Temperamental storebought hybrid roses, coral bells, and Stokes asters have been replaced with tough daylilies, plantain lilies, and false dragonhead. The native wildflowers black I’ve been eyed Susan, butterfly plant, and goldenrod are weeds when they grow along the roadside. They are undemanding beauties in my garden.

Watch the clock. When I’m having fun, I lose all sense of time. I become so focused on my projects that I can’t ignore pain and fatigue until they overwhelm me. Now I set an alarm on my phone. It jolts me back to the real world and tells me it’s time to stop.

Go for show. Since I have to spend a lot of time now looking at my garden through the window, I no longer plant for subtlety. If a color can’t hold its own from 50 paces, it might as well not be there. I plant big, bold, and bright. Scarlet cannas, gold coreopsis, purple coneflower, and fuchsia phlox now glow against ivy-clad fencing.

Think realistically and adapt. Many chores I enjoyed doing in stronger times simply aren’t possible anymore. So I’ve made adjustments, in ways I never would have imagined. Nowadays, deadheading waits until long after sundown—and needn’t be done every day. Autumn winds sweep leaves into easily removed drifts. I let the grass grow taller. I use groundcovers to choke out weeds. And perhaps most obvious, I plan smart. I no longer put a shade-loving impatiens or sun-craving zinnia where it doesn’t want to grow.

 

A compensation has blessed me. Now that my rest breaks are long, I’m more satisfied with what I have. When I look across the yard, I study the entire view in amazement and think, “Wow! This is beautiful, and it’s home.” Sometimes I crawl into the hammock under the live oak and bring a book and a few strawberries I’ve rescued from the slugs. Instead of reading, I bite into my berries one at a time, close my eyes, and listen to the birds that have forgotten I’ve invaded their territory. I catch the scent of phlox or the neighbor’s freshly mowed grass as I slip into a light nap.

A handicap has taken away my shovel, but it’s also given me more time to relax and appreciate the smells, sights, and sounds of my Eden. And isn’t that just like life? Sometimes one door has to slam shut to make you notice that another was open all the time.

Read Other Stories From the September GreenPrints Eletter:

“Don’t Worry, Dear!”

Don't Worry, Dear!

Cowprints in the Carrots

Cowprints in the Carrots

 

The Flower Thief

The Flower Thief

 

 

Roots of My Obsession

The Flower Thief

The Flower Thief

A small boy learns to love flowers—by stealing them.

By Stephen Orr

Art by Shelley Jackson

I had a youthful predilection for larceny. It doesn’t affect me much these days, but I must admit that under certain circumstances and in certain gardens, the temptation returns. My problem started early, as a preteen. It was not the daring, shoplifting sort of thievery that I heard about from the cool kids in school; it was something quieter and gentler. I was an unapologetic plant swiper. Specifically, I was compelled to steal any attractive flower that caught my eye in a neighbor’s front yard.

Why did I do it? I, like most anyone else, appreciate the beauty of a flower, and, of course, I knew my actions were wrong. My parents told me so in no uncertain terms the few times they caught me red-handed with loot or discovered one of my flowery treasure troves. But my youthful self could never enjoy a perfect blossom at a distance, growing on someone else’s bush; I had to possess and sequester it away only for myself. I would case neighborhood gardens in my West Texas town, watching to see when a certain ‘Betty Prior’ rose would be at its peak or a row of pyracantha berries was about to ripen. Then, under cover of night or even early morning, I would strike—a five-year-old armed with scissors and a shoebox, ducking through shadowy foundation plantings to avoid passing headlights. Snipping away here and there like a mad barber, I would help myself. Then I would sneak back home to arrange the plant snippets in one of my favorite hiding places: a hidden corner behind the woodpile, my bedroom closet, or most often, our dog Chester’s unused doghouse, which I could just barely squeeze into.

I remember this last stashing spot most of all. I used it for a few months until the day my father discovered its hiding-in-plain-sight location. I can only imagine his bewilderment as he looked inside the small opening to see my macabre shrine to Flora. I would visit my collection from time to time as if stopping in a museum, viewing the carefully arranged flowers, berries, and vines that looped around nails in the unpainted plywood walls—all dried in the Texas summer heat. My dad would have known immediately that we didn’t grow most of the floral offerings in this ersatz temple. When he sternly questioned me, like a young George Washington I didn’t dare to lie or even deny that the plants had arrived at our home from sources outside our own property. I don’t recall the punishment he gave me at the time (sorry, Dad)—maybe because I knew in my heart of hearts that I would be a repeat offender.

I do remember the outcome of another case. My mother found a large stash of fresh scarlet nandina berries in my closet one morning. Within five minutes, I was standing at Mrs. Ramsey’s front door, in tears, handing her a box of her now useless berries while my mother stood angrily at the curb. The embarrassment of this punishment did the trick, in a way. I became even more stealthy. I made sure never to pick too many of any one plant, nor did I make the mistake of using such an obvious hiding place. My crime wave continued on a smaller, more surreptitious scale for a few more summers, until one day I grew out of my plant-stealing stage. Maybe I finally realized the negative moral implications of helping myself to someone else’s property without permission, or perhaps I realized the embarrassment I would suffer having to greet Mrs. Ramsey again with a box of berries as a junior high schooler. I knew if I kept up such activities as a young adult, word would get around—and quickly.

I tell you this, not merely as a childhood confession but to describe one of the main reasons I love making gardens as an adult. There is so much beauty out in the natural world, and through the act (and art) of gardening, I can summon it, possess it, and even sequester it in my garden. But more often these days, I choose to share the things that I grow with my friends, neighbors, and the people who read the articles and books that I write. Maybe I’m making amends to the sweet elderly gardeners in Abilene who felt the disappointment of having their delicate blue anemones plundered in a predawn raid all those years ago. Or maybe it’s the straightforward happiness I see in others and myself when I bake a chicken with just-picked herbs. Or the satisfying feeling when a neighbor stops by the front garden of my co-op apartment building in the city and remarks that she goes out of her way to pass our sidewalk plantings each day with her daughter on their walk to school so they can see what is coming up. I don’t even mind so much when I see that a half-sized passerby has chopped the head off a tulip that dared stick its head outside the wrought iron garden fence. I can easily identify where that childish and ultimately selfish thought process originates. Who knows? Maybe someday that same little flower thief will grow up to make horticulture his or her profession, spreading the joy of gardening through words and actions to a wide audience. And to think all that might begin with someone’s irresistible urge to snatch a bit of passing beauty.

 

Taken from The Roots of My Obsession: Thirty Gardeners Reveal Why They Garden

© copyright 2012. Edited by Thomas C. Cooper. Published by Timber Press, Portland, OR. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved. To order, see p. 6.

 To learn more about The Roots of My Obsession, click here.

Roots of My Obsession


Read Other Stories From the September GP E-letter:

“Don’t Worry, Dear!”

"Don't Worry, Dear!"

Cowprints in the Carrots

Cowprints in the Carrots

The Able Gardener

The Able Gardener