Lessons from My Garden



I ache all over.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time lately, and the better part of the last two two days, outside trying to bring some sense of order to our yard and gardens.

The temperature has been in the 60s (call it 18 celsius) and it’s been sunny, so it’s been a delight to be outdoors. But it’s hard work, is yard work. And since my husband had yet another ankle surgery last month, a lot of it is falling to me.

I learn, or re-learn, many lessons in these days of April.

  • This isn’t yet a lovely time of year. It has its moments and, all in all, it’s better than February, but April is pretty chilly, quite windy, and way too wet.
  • Living on a lake has its downside. Ever since we had to leave our home for 6 weeks several years ago, when Lake Champlain flooded and we could only get in the house by wearing chest waders, we have had a healthy, nervous respect for the lake in April. It’s high right now, into flood stage, but not yet really a problem . . . knock wood.
  • I now know where I planted my mother’s irises. We sold her place late last fall and I had to rush to dig up the irises and bring them here. And I had no idea where I put them! Now I know and I’m thrilled to see them. It’s good to have something new, and old, to look forward to.
  • All the leaves from upstate New York, most from Vermont, and quite a few from Canada blow in every late fall and form dense, thick mats on our lawn. The tops look dry but underneath they’re soaked and in spots still frozen. The Canadian encroachers bother me most and I think maybe we should build a wall.
  • The gym didn’t do me much good at all. I dutifully went, all winter long, and sweated on the treadmill and that elliptical thingy, and am still knackered after two hours raking.
  • The corollary to which is: the best overall way to stay fit is to do yard work.
  • I did a wretchedly bad job, just really lazy, of cleaning up the gardens last autumn, which is proof of another pivotal lesson of life: You can pay now or you can pay later.
  • I’ve been reminded that little things offer huge rewards after winter—that one golden crocus, the old cats that act like kittens again and zoom up trees, the bits of chartreuse that are thriving under the frozen mat of dead leaves—it’s that color that happens only in early spring and is so fleeting and perfect.
  • And I’ve learned, again, the pleasure of the bone-deep tiredness that comes from working outside, to care for our bit of Earth.

What lessons does your garden have to teach?

63 thoughts on “Lessons from My Garden

  1. The lesson my last garden taught me is that you cannot ignore it when Blue Butterfly Pea Vine makes a break for freedom. It has been busily strangling my dwarf avocado, dwarf lychee, my lemongrass clump, my cherry guava bush, my smallest frangipani, my sanseviera, my leopard orchid… well, you get the idea. I’m very glad that I no longer have 3/4 acre to take care of, and I’m down to 1/4 acre, with lots of perennials, shrubs and ornamental trees instead of vast vistas of grass and palm trees. I’m not as young or as spry as I was! Luckily, we’re heading into the Dry/ winter, it’ll be cooler soon, and everything will slow down.

    • The names of your plants are so exotic to my ears, especially the invasive Blue Butterfly! But, yes, I can see why a smaller garden would be hugely appealing!

      • The problem with a tropical climate is the same as the great thing about a tropical climate where gardens are concerned – everything flourishes and grows like crazy!

  2. Love your lessons! I, too have spent three days and soon all day today in the garden. Mostly cleaning up and spreading five yards of mulch!!! My most serious problem is after getting down I can’t get up! Where oh where did my strength go? I think this is called getting old! But like you the tiny green peeking out under the mat of leaves was exciting. Mostly it just felt good to breathe fresh air and feel the sun on my face! Happy Spring! 💐💐💐

  3. Hauling wet leaves to my composting area is the worst! But it beats trying to rake dry leaves on a windy day.

    Since we’re talking outdoors…I bought a reel mower; the kind you actually have to push. No gas…no oil…no fumes…no loud noise. My gas mower had a blown gasket and either I’d have to pay to have it fixed or buy a new one.So after researching reel mowers, I bought a Fiskars (the scissors people) Staysharp. It is not terribly difficult to push and it does cut grass. Both good things. In about a week I’ll give it a good test. And I’ll be getting some exercise.

    • Oh, my! you’ll definitely get exercise–I will look forward to hearing what you think! We went the opposite direction. My husband was taking care of our lawns and the ones at my mom’s the last few years so we actually got a riding mower. And I just heard about a robot mower, like the Roomba vacuums!

      • There was a robot mower back in the 1960s! I sold an ad for what was called a Mowbot…it was found in a 1969 House Beautiful !magazine. Have to admit, I find the idea very appealing…especially if it is solar powered.

  4. I can synpathize Kerry! I did my monthly ‘dust the whole house’ 8 hours worth on Monday! I was feeling the fun until noon, rebounded, but by 4 I was laying down relaxing! BUT the house is clean for the next month! (or until I see dust on the headboard in the bedroom!)
    The Studio will wait – the fabric dust will always be there! maybe next week when I want to be stiff and sore!
    Have a great day

  5. Wonderful post. Those excellent lessons should be read by all gardeners. I have long thought that gardening is one of the best ways to stay fit, and you have confirmed it. But watch out for those diabolical leaves that are on the march from all corners of where you live. (That’s an image that appeals to my fantasy-loving mind.)

  6. Hurrah for yellow crocii blooming after months of winter!!! Our upstairs neighbors (I live in a two family house) claimed responsibility for almost all the gardening choices + chores many years ago — although I did plant a bunch of crocus bulbs between the stones in a walking path though a bed of ivy in front of our house a couple of autumns ago (when they were visiting their son in Europe). These bulbs have been blooming magnificently — and also providing some fresh nutrition for the booming rabbit population in our neighborhood. Thank you for writing and sharing another great post!

    • Hi, Will! How kind of you, to feed the bunnies! I love the crocii (is that a real word?!) but, in the fall, when I should be planting more, I am so *sick* of gardening! Maybe this year . . .

  7. Wonderful post! I have to agree, especially the part about doing a lazy fall cleanup, which I did…

    So sorry about all the leaves winding up in your yard. Clearly a wall is the only answer!

  8. Beautifully written with lessons learned all around. No Canadian leaves here, although I am by a Canadian border here in our northwest corner. The cherry tree blossoms that blow from our neighbor’s tree trick me into believing winter snows has arrived once more this late April. 🙂

  9. I learned that every year is different. If your lettuce is eaten up by slugs or just fails to grow, try the next year. You might just end up eating salad for weeks and weeks.

  10. As we rent our property, we have no gardening to do, but I can well remember the lessons – many of which are back-breaking – learnt. But I remember that the gain outweighs the pain, every time. I hadn’t discovered your blog when you told the Tale of the Flood. Thank goodness that – so far – this isn’t an experience you’ve had to repeat.

    • I can’t decide if I envy you or feel a little bad that you don’t garden now! The flood in 2011 was supposed to have been “once in a lifetime” . . . I sure hope that’s the case but with the changing climate, I’m not so sure. Eeeek.

  11. My reward this spring is the blooming magnolia, that has escaped the winter mostly intact from deer mauling. Of course, my husband did the work of putting up a fence to block off the tree from the four legged vermin. As to the rest of the yard work, our plantings are mature enough that they require lots of pruning. I wonder why I didn’t read the mature height/spread info. better. My fingers are crossed the water stays in the lake.

    • I have the same issue with viburnums I planted! When I saw they might be 15 feet tall that sounded like a great thing but now that they have achieved that height . . . yikes! Your magnolia sounds magnificent!

  12. This post made me laugh. It’s so wet and cold here, I’ve hardly been able to get any gardening in yet. I fear I’ll be overwhelmed, though, if I wait any longer! My garden has certainly taught me these past two years that I am getting old. I start the day with big plans and fizzle out after a few hours! Then I go spin and weave. Ha. It’s all good.

    • We’re back to wet and cold here, too–spring’s a long time coming this year. But, like you, I’ve been getting a lot for weaving done and that makes me happy, too!

  13. I love our garden and will happily float about in a sunhat with a trug deadheading a few roses and picking a few herbs – something like you see them doing in shampoo and perfume adverts. I find, whatever other exercise I do, bending over a pot to plant geraniums or digging over some soil to put in a new shrub, really makes my back hurt. I suppose I should do more of it.
    The lesson I’ve learnt from my garden is to leave it to my husband.
    Please don’t judge me.

    • No judging here! If I could get my husband to do more, I definitely would–interesting how he seems to have ankle surgery every year, just before spring clean-up has to happen!

  14. I love those lessons, especially the one about the cost in spring of not getting everything cleared and tidied in autumn. I learn that every spring but I’ve forgotten it again by the end of summer *sigh* What I most love now though is that enthusiasm that the spring weather brings – for me at least. It’s all a novelty and I love it…. for a little while until the endless monotony of weeding and watering starts to bite. Great post, Kerry – and at least it’s warming up in your corner of the world 🙂

    • I’m right on the schedule you describe–in that happy, energetic place where being outside raking seems like the greatest thing in the world. Planning ahead to painting lots of bulbs in the fall . . . and when autumn actually arrives I will be so totally sick of gardening, the first frost will be a welcome friend!

  15. Love your lessons! I choose not to tidy up much in the autumn to give birds and bugs some food and hiding places over winter, it also protects the more tender plants – that’s my excuse anyway 🙂

  16. LOVE this post!!!! I’ve heard people say, ‘they are just leaves why do you care.’ Well, I care because the plants underneath are buried alive. And, yes, yard work is hard work. I’ve learned because of our snowfall depth that I have to cut perennials back in the fall. And, I’ve learned that I have to clean up the leaves in the spring just as you described above. I hauled a truck load out, came back and started over because there were so many layers of them. I like your idea of a wall and here’s what I did on one side. My neighbor has this short decorator fence that has an opening about 8′ wide. All of her leaves funnel through that opening into one of my perennial beds. In the fall, I go out with my rebar and plastic fencing and create a barrier. This year the leaves on both sides were up to the top. I raked and shoveled about half of my side and waited until her yard guy showed up. On his second day of trying to get them all, I went back out and went to work. He said my fence worked pretty good, and we both agreed we had never seen that many leaves in one place. I took 28 bags off that area with the fence up. 🙂

    • Wow–that’s a TON of leaves! But it could’ve been so much worse, without your barrier. I keep thinking of my raking as one step in a multi-step process. This is the first pass, now the second pass . . . and it’s not like we didn’t rake last fall! But every time I uncover something green and growing, I feel the work is validated!

  17. It’s autumn here and I only have a small courtyard garden (that has been overrun by a rampant Boston Ivy, currently flaming red in colour) so I’m not doing anything for another six months 🙂 I laughed out loud at your wall remark ❤

  18. The struggles, challenges, and obstacles that it takes to succeed in life is what makes success more valuable. Nothing great comes easy, and nothing easy can ever equate to greatness.”
    ― Edmond Mbiaka,
    That’s why we enjoy our flowers when they start to bloom, or food from the garden. Hope those muscles don’t get to stiff!

  19. I’m with Pauline. I laughed out loud at the wall comment. 🙂 Hilarious! I didn’t do a good job in autumn either and not doing a good job now. Until my company leaves, I’ll get nothing done out there. Lots of other stuff getting done but I’m the only one that does garden stuff. The wind brings the seeds of weeds so it’s a constant battle. I may not win it this year. ;( Nature always has plenty of lessons for us. .

    • I haven’t seen a Tweet yet today about that other wall so maybe he’s changed his mind. One could only wish! Yes, nature makes her own plans for us, and we just try to keep up!

  20. My lesson? Ignore the grotty parts of the garden! I have a patch that has been troubled by the lack of rain, attacked by weeds from next door and divested by my neglect. I have plans to revamp it, but for the moment I am enjoying the other parts much more!
    My other lesson? Gardening is good for the soul.

  21. We actually did clean up the vegetable garden last fall (DH did most of it) and it has made an amazing difference. You are so right about pay now or pay later, this may be the first time we didn’t have pay in the spring! I need to get out and clean the irises again, the grass is sprouting, and I’m sure the thistles will follow!

    • I think cleaning up a veggie garden in the fall would be more critical than flowers gardens? I’m hoping I do better when fall approaches this year, although I really am enjoying my time outside right now, even if I complain. And things are growing so fast!

      • It’s gone both ways for us, sometimes the debris makes for good cover, but I think this year DH is planning that we clean it up and then put a layer of alfalfa over the top for the winter. I guess it is better than fertilizer, and it works great to improve the texture.

  22. Looks like the North/South American friends have stated to gradually dig, weed or tentatively plant – all at those first little signs of spring – which is my favorite time of seasons (except for the pollen). Ha! Time for a spring pedi to try to save these winter toes.

    • Yes, it’s pollen season! The pollen bothers me less than the leaf mold, from all those wet leaves! I suspect the folks giving pedis are swamped with business right now!

  23. I love this post, Kerry and was going to comment a couple of nights ago when I ‘liked’ it. However, halfway through writing said comment I fell asleep sitting at the kitchen table and when I woke an hour later with a crick in my neck I had forgotten what I was going to say. The perils of gardening in one’s 60’s! I think that says it all.

  24. There is nothing like yard work! I am a few pounds lighter than last year so that is helping, but as well as not having done yard work for some months, it’s already hot here! That wears me out too until I get used to it.
    In South Carolina there is almost no down time for yard work! Maybe December and January, but I can plant peas in February and many perennials are coming up. I still can’t get used to it. Strawberries started about 10 days ago and peaches will be ripe soon as well…

    • I can’t say the heat is a problem here! It’s been downright chilly and so wet. Ick. I think I like the Northeast partly because there IS a down time for gardening. I find that, by early September, I am pretty tired of watering and weeding and ready for a few months off!

  25. I agree with you conclusions, though we are probably a week or two ahead of Spring for our southern exposure. The dogwoods are in full bloom a week early. April was mostly 50F – 60F, with an occasional 70F day. Today, after the fog burnt off, we sored to 80F -Oscar

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