Sunday, December 7, 2014

Lessons Learned in the Garden: Fall 2014

The winter solstice is a short time away, the official beginning of Winter and the day of the year when we can rejoice that the days will soon become longer again.  In the Midwest, though, Winter doesn't pay much attention to the calendar.  Although we haven't had the snowfall that some parts of the country had in November, we've had enough cold days to know that Autumn is long gone.  In my part of the country we have another season--"Winterum."  Winterum is that time of year when skies are gloomy and gray, and any warm afternoons are reserved for putting up outdoor Christmas decorations, not working in the garden. Winterum often begins in early November and sometimes lasts until January.  Frankly, if it weren't for the holiday rush that makes this time go by so quickly, I would say that Winterum is my least favorite season of the year.

Despite the fact that I can no longer work in the garden, dull Winterum is a good time to reflect upon the last season and to participate in Beth at Plant Postings' seasonal meme "Garden Lessons Learned."  Before my memories of  garden successes and failures fade away, here are a few of the lessons I learned this past season:

1. Fall is my second favorite season of the year!  Now that may not seem like much of a lesson one has to learn, but back in my days of working full-time, fall meant the beginning of a new school year with new lesson plans to create and adjusting to a busy schedule after a summer off.  One or more of my kids was usually involved in a fall sport as well, meaning evenings included games or meets or carpooling after practices.  That didn't leave much time for watching sunsets or leaf-peeping, unless noticing the changing color of leaves while whizzing down the highway counts.

Now that my time is my own--usually--I've come to enjoy the cooler, crisp days of Autumn and enjoy the changes around me. I even appreciate the fading foliage and blooms of the garden.

In fact, about the the only thing I don't like about Fall is that it is the shortest season of the year.  This year we had a little extra time to enjoy the season as the first frost and then a hard freeze came late; usually we are lucky if we have four or six weeks of true Autumn weather.  (For more fall color, you can click here.)

Other lessons I learned recently aren't specific to fall, but rather lessons I gradually learned over the past year:

Nothing like a trowel and a little patch of dirt to keep a three-year-old entertained for a long time!

2.  It's okay to ask for a little help in the garden.  Over the years I've occasionally enlisted the help of my grandkids when I had some big jobs I couldn't seem to get done.  The oldest two grandchildren aren't particularly interested in gardening, but they're always willing to help Grandma, and though they would do it for free, Grandma is more than happy to pay them for their efforts.  In the past they have pulled weeds, spread mulch, and planted tulips for me.  But mostly, the "help" I get from the younger ones is more play than work, a way of getting them to enjoy a little bit of nature.

Youngest grandson above discovered the vegetable garden this summer, and every time he came over, the first thing he would ask to do was to go "pick 'matoes."  When I cleaned up the vegetable garden this fall, he was fascinated by the green beans still on the vines I had pulled--which surprised me, too!--and had to pick off every one before I could toss the plants on the compost pile.

I even enlisted his help in planting a few crocuses one day--with Sophie's supervision, as you'll notice.  I'm pretty sure several of them were planted upside down, so we'll see if they come up, but at least he had fun.  And I hope when he sees them bloom next spring, he'll remember planting them.

His older sister, Granddaughter #2,  is the one who has always been most interested in the garden.  But her help has been limited by her attention span or the heat or "too many bees" in the garden.  Until this year, that is. Not only is she growing up way too fast at 11-going-on-sixteen,  she also had a special incentive this year to help me--saving up for horseback riding lessons.  Grandma was more than willing to oblige with a flexible part-time job.

Besides helping to plant bulbs and some garden clean-up in the fall, she also helped to shovel and tote load after load of mulch to more remote areas of the garden during the summer.  I discovered that not only is she almost as tall as Grandma, but she is pretty darned strong for an 11-year-old.  I just hope my neighbor's horses continue to entice her:)

I've always thought that it was almost like cheating if you had much outside help in the garden. When people ask me about my small garden, I take a kind of smug satisfaction in saying that yes, I've done it all myself from digging up grass, weeds, and even rocks for every flowerbed I have, besides planting every single plant.  Oh, don't get me wrong--if I suddenly won the lottery, I'd hire a landscape designer and a crew with a backhoe to dig up half the yard in a heartbeat!  But I would want to choose and plant everything myself as well as do the day-to-day maintenance.

I remember reading Sydney Eddison's Gardening for a Lifetime  several years ago in which she gives advice for gardeners as they age.  One of her tips is to enlist more help in the garden.  I'm afraid I've reached that age where even my small garden is becoming harder and harder to maintain without aching knees or the latest malady--painful tendonitis in my hand from too much weed-pulling.  Next year I plan to enlist help from my granddaughter on a more regular basis, or if she is too busy, I might recruit another budding young gardener from the community.

3.  I've learned so many lessons about gardening this year as a volunteer.  As a Master Gardener intern four years ago, I spent some time volunteering at the County Nursing Home Garden.  I was already volunteering at the Idea Garden which I thoroughly enjoyed, so I intended to just fulfill my community service hours requirement at the Nursing Home and then move on.  But I found the Nursing Home group was such an enjoyable group to work with, and the co-chairs had such a wealth of knowledge on gardening that I found myself picking their brains every chance I could.  So I continued volunteering in this garden for the next three seasons.

Last summer Phyllis, the co-chair who had been one of the original creators of this garden before it even became an MG community project, developed health problems and decided to step down.  The other co-chair, Carol, decided she would retire as well.  Two of my friends asked another friend and me if we would serve as co-chairs with them this year.  I hesitantly agreed--even the four of us couldn't fill the shoes of Phyllis and Carol!

One of our faithful volunteers ready to deadhead any faded blossom.
Being a co-chair of this garden this year has been a tremendous learning experience.  Instead of one of the minions who asked what needed to be done and then attended to that task only, whether deadheading or weeding, I was suddenly supposed to know what everyone else should do!  I'll be honest--in past years, I wasn't a regular volunteer.  I showed up when it was convenient for me--or if it wasn't going to be 90 degrees that morning:)  But this year, I was there every Monday workday, other than the week of the Portland Fling, whether it was spitting rain or steaming hot.

Big jobs are easily taken care of when you have great help--we spread both compost and mulch over the whole garden in one workday morning!
Maintaining a garden that someone else has designed and planted is certainly different than working in your own garden.  I view the garden as others see it, not the way I would like it to be--though I certainly wish my own garden was as well-maintained and weed-free as this garden is!  Thanks to a great group of faithful volunteers, keeping the garden looking beautiful is fairly easy.

I began to feel a sense of ownership and pride in this garden.  The four of us felt a responsibility, not only to the residents and staff who enjoy the therapeutic benefits of the garden, but to Phyllis and Carol who had lovingly created and maintained this garden for so long.  I noticed things in the garden I hadn't seen before, especially the careful planning that had gone into it, making sure the garden looked appealing every season of the year:



And  Fall

I can't begin to list all the lessons I learned from being one of those in charge of this garden this year--this post is already long enough! But they include everything from record-keeping and budgeting to recruiting volunteers.  When we weren't sure how to prune some of the shrubs, we divvied up our questions, and each of the four of us researched a specific shrub.  My research helped me in my own garden, too, in deciding how to prune my smokebush.  We learned how to compromise and make the best use of each other's strengths.  Most of all, we learned to put individual preferences aside and to remember always the mission of the garden.

Once again, as I look back at the past season, I am surprised by all that I have learned.  Thanks to Beth for hosting this meme--you can view lessons learned by others at Plant Postings.  I'm sure next season will bring  more new experiences to learn from--after all, gardeners grow, too.


  1. You are a trooper Rose. I can see why you are proud to be working in this garden. I don't hesitate to ask for help now. Like you I didn't want anyone to help. Now I am getting spoiled with my garden helper. :) The garden has never looked so good.

  2. What a wonderful project that nursing home garden is --whether just volunteering or being in charge-- having been in some nursing homes, I would imagine it's so very much appreciated.

    I am also grateful that Emma will help me with garden tasks (also for a little extra $). She doesn't seem to have any natural interest in gardening right now, but she's always willing to help.

  3. Oh, thanks for sharing photos of the nursing home garden, Rose. It looks beautiful! Your great works and leadership have paid off. Your grandkids are so cute--how nice to have that help! Thanks for participating in the Lessons Learned meme. I do believe this is one of the best posts, ever! :)

  4. IMO you're a saint for volunteering at the nursing home garden, because that's a wonderful thing to do. The garden looks beautiful btw. :)

  5. What a beautiful garden you have created from love there at the nursing home Rose....and I agree I have come to love fall now that I have time to really appreciate it.

  6. Lisa, I don't know about being a trooper, but I have enjoyed working at the nursing home garden. The other three co-chairs are great to work with, so it hasn't been a burden for any one of us. Yes, I need to break down and get more help next year!

    Cassi, The garden is located behind the Alzheimer's wing, so the residents usually don't come out while we're all working. But we've gotten lots of positive feedback from the staff and visitors about how much it means to them. I've decided help from the kids is worth every penny!

    Beth, This year I took lots of photos of the nursing home garden--I created a private blog for us as a way of keeping records of what we did and what was blooming when. It's really been helpful. I love it when the grandkids want to help in the garden, but I always have to remember their enthusiasm wears off more quickly than mine:)

  7. Sweetbay, I'm no saint! I've gotten as many benefits from working there as I've given. But it certainly is a rewarding experience.

    Donna, The credit for this garden goes primarily to Phyllis, an 82-year-old MG who until this year could outwork most of us! She was one of the original creators of this garden and did it purely out of love, since it wasn't even an MG project for several years.

  8. Thanks for a lovely post Rose, I can so relate to everything you write here. I haven’t been blessed with grandchildren yet, but when they come I will make sure to take them with me in the garden from day one. When children learn to appreciate what’s growing around them one can always hope for a garden helper in years to come :-) And I could really do with a garden helper as my aching joints are struggling to manage, I hope my son and his girlfriend isn’t going to wait too many years before they get children :-)

    And your volunteering projects sounds really interesting, I do appreciate that it gives you back just as much as you give them. I am not involved in any project here where I live now but I have in the past – but I have been advising neighbours from time to time about what to grow. I also give away cuttings and seedlings whenever I can, with growing instructions and encouragement to come back for more tips if they want to. The thought of ‘my babies’ growing in other people’s garden gives me pleasure :-)

  9. I am loving your banner photo - it is spectacular! All of these fall shots are great too. Help in the garden sounds good to me! I meant to read that Sydney Eddison book and did not get around to it. I need to add that to my list.

  10. Cute grandkids! No grandkids here, but I sometimes wish I could find a willing teenager to help out when time is short and there's lots to do - especially around May. I would gladly pay.

  11. Hats off to you for all your volunteer work! It is indeed tough thing to commit to for busy people nowadays. Even retired folks are busy. I really admire folks like you who step up to the plate and take action. You all make the difference in society! Love all your pictures and the granddaughter will always remember working with grandma for that money for her horse riding lessons. Hope she made her goal!

  12. Absolutely wonderful post Rose.
    My how you have grown.....the beginner gardener, I remember so well and now well, what can I say dear Rose you have come on in leaps and bounds. Well done.

    I mostly love to see your Grandchildren working in your garden. It is so important to pass on the knowledge that we have to them. Our planet has many problems, but I always feel happier when I see children working with the soil :)

  13. Wow, what a great thing to do and a great place to help out at with the Nursing Home Garden! I'm sure that was quite the learning curve. I've helped with maintenance at a couple gardens built by garden clubs at various times, and I'm glad someone could just tell me what to do! That is so wonderful that you can pass on some love of gardening to your grandkids as well. My kids like to 'help' in the garden. I hope it continues!

  14. The County Nursing Home Gardens are really beautiful through the seasons. Kudos for stepping up for them. Our MG group and Garden Club does a lot of volunteer work weekly too, yet with my health, I stepped back a bit from helping. With your own garden, it does get to be a lot of work. Good you have helpers.Also good the grand kids are learning from you.

  15. It's definitely 'Winterum' here Rose so your post is a delightful diversion. Your volunteering role sounds such a positive experience and it must be good to work alongside other keen gardeners. Having no children means sadly that there will never be any grandchildren so can I borrow yours for the odd weekend ? :)

  16. What a wonderful set of photos and its lovely to see the *little helpers* getting stuck in with gardening tasks.
    Your garden looks great no matter what time of the year. Once Christmas is over, I shall be looking forward to Spring........... my favourite season.
    Love the surprises we get when the bulbs peep through even in the starkest conditions.

    I think your fall (autumn) is probably better than ours.
    At the moment although its coldish..... its very mild and today the sun is shining through.
    Long may it last!
    Maggie x

  17. Helene, I wasn't much of a gardener when my children were growing up, so they have no interest in gardening at all. But I'm trying to make up for that with the grandkids. I think it's wonderful how you share your plants and knowledge with your neighbors--it's another way to encourage others.

    Phillip, Thanks for stopping by! Say hello to Michael for me, too. The Eddison book is a quick read, and she doesn't offer any surprising tips, but it's interesting to read how her own garden has evolved.

    Jason, Since I still substitute teach, I know a lot of local teenagers. Now to find one who likes to weed!

    Tina, I hope I didn't come across as tooting my own horn here; it's really a group effort. But it's true I have gotten as many benefits from working in this garden as I've given. Granddaughter hasn't taken the riding lessons yet, but she has the necessary funds--now I hope she'll want to continue next summer!

    Cheryl, I took the Master Gardener course several years ago to jumpstart my knowledge of gardening. But it's turned out that I've learned as much from the volunteering as from the class itself. We have such a good group, too, that I learn from them when I'm working. I so enjoy spending time with the grandkids in the garden or looking for caterpillars--I do hope they continue to appreciate nature.

  18. Indie, It has indeed been a learning curve at the garden. Fortunately, I don't have to have all the answers--there are plenty of experienced gardeners there to ask myself. I always love to see your photos of your kids in the garden!

    Donna, One of the things I've learned this year is to appreciate the planning that went into this garden--there is always something new blooming right up until fall. Working there did make it harder to keep up with my own garden, though; I was usually too pooped when I got home to do anything here:)

    Anna, I would love to let you borrow one of my grandkids, if I get to tag along:) It's been so gloomy here lately--I don't remember what the sun looks like.

    Maggie, Spring has always been my favorite season, too, and I don't think that will ever change. I love seeing the green return and finding those surprises in the garden. When the grandkids help, we don't always get as much done, but it's fun.

  19. Rose girl I agree with Lisa, you are one heck of a trooper to spread yourself over the volunteering like this .. and YES ! You should be very proud of what you have accomplished.
    Needing help in our own gardens is a natural turn of events as we age .. I try or should I say I am driven to do as much as I can because I do enjoy it all. Thankfully I have my Garden PA .. aka husband who helps so much when I get overwhelmed and I am grateful.
    It is sweet to have your grandkids help like that too ! .. what little boy doesn't love digging in the dirt?LOL .. and what a great incentive for your grand daughter.
    I would have loved to have met you at the Fling .. I guess we have to rely on our blogger friends to take lots of pictures and write detailed posts on it all for us !
    The weather wishes .. oh yes we have to be so careful .. son and his wife are flying in for Xmas week so we are all nervous about the weather .. fingers crossed!
    Very Happy holidays for you and your family Rose and a great new Year in our gardens !
    I am still in awe of your header picture .. it is stunning !
    Joy : )

  20. How great it is to work together with your grandchildren in the garden and give them that feeling how lovely it is to work in the garden. Overhere wintertimes are also grey. I wish we had snow and some frost with a clear blue sky and sunshine. At these moments I think it would be better if I were born as a bear. Sleep the whole winter and getting awake by the smells of the springflowers (lol). Wish you a wonderful sunday. Warm wishes out of Holland

  21. I always enjoy reading the posts you do for this meme. Reading about your grandchildren set me to daydreaming about a time when I will enjoy such company in the garden. I hope your grandson sees the crocus he planted next spring. Encouraging your granddaughter to work in the garden and save for her horseback riding is a wonderful learning experience for her in so many ways.

  22. One of the best things about gardening is how, every year, no matter how long you've been doing it, you always learn something new!

    Also, you're not the first person to get lost in those paragraphs about music at the festival I went to in DR...that was why I added that disclaimer! :)

  23. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  24. Rose, this was an excellent post. Yes to help in the garden. I paid for gardening help this year too. With the book tour stuff, I just couldn't keep up with the weeding and mulching. In a few days' time, my helper who is ten years younger than I, we knocked out those chores. I love the photos of your grandchildren. I hope to have some one day.~~Dee

  25. It's nice to know you working in County Nursing Home Garden, learning and helping others. Also your grand kids help you, they are so lovely digging and carrying the dry leaves. You're so wonderful grandma Rose!
    I wish you a Merry Christmas and healthy New year!

  26. My great-aunt is 95 and still doing her 'pots' and sweeping her yard so I think you've a good few years ahead of you, Rose!

    In case I don't get by again, have a wonderful Christmas, Rose!

  27. Wonderful post and beautiful photos !
    Merry Christmas !


Thanks for stopping by. I love to hear from you, so please leave a comment. I'll try to reply here, but I'll definitely return the visit.