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Gardening In Retirement, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:30am

Bees Are Our Neighbors

I’ve been gardening a lot lately. By which I mean I’ve been doing everything from mowing my front lawn to weeding paths to conversing with a bed of white roses. While I love the activity of gardening, the hobby itself is a little, odd. By which I mean the hobbyists, myself included.

We mutter. We wear very odd outfits. We get dirty fingers.

But it’s just so satisfying, caring for plants. They are like toddlers after a bath but better – they smell good, they’re beautiful, you can see they love water – but they don’t run off screaming “No, I won’t put on my pajamas!”

Right now I’ve got 4 micro-gardens, if we could call them that, on the <1/4 acre of my little lot. In the front yard, a veritable pot of gold sunshine, there’s a bed of herbs and vegetable, a bed of white roses, and the ROY, i.e. Rest Of Yard. All other shrubs and flowers pale in comparison to English roses and radish sprouts. That is, until the lavender gets going. I’m a sucker for those purple flower heads, crushed between my fingers.

In the back yard, somebody, 60 years ago or so, planted a Chinese evergreen elm in the center of what is now a tiny lawn. The tree grows rather like a weeping willow, i.e. long. trailing branches. And it’s tall. So everything underneath has to thrive in shade. The colors are much more muted here than out front. The goal, peace. I’d tell you the names of the plants but then we’d enter the world of garden incantations, in which the gardener starts spouting language as thick with Greek as my daughter’s medical school homework.

I will say that I’m waiting to see how the hydrangeas survived the serious pruning of last winter.

I don’t read many gardening blogs, yet. I can’t make sense of the various gardening forums either. But I do love that sense of order into chaos that comes from garden Googling. For example, this morning I searched:

“my daphne shrub died”

Daphne are pretty, of medium height, with green and yellow leaves, and pink and white flowers that bloom in the winter. A lush fragrance. I’ve had 2 die on me suddenly, completely, and for no apparent reason. This morning I decided to see if I could figure out why. First I find that there are many kinds of Daphne. Mine is probably Daphne Odorata, or, Winter Daphne. And guess what?

Winter Daphne: When Bad Plants Happen To Good People (Galloping Horse Garden blog)

Turns out these plants die all the time. For everyone. Suddenly all the other gardeners who struggle are standing in my yard, shaking their heads with me and saying, “Maybe the soil is just too clayey right there. Maybe you wanna plant another viburnum instead. They aren’t as beautiful, and don’t drive you mad with happiness at their bloom, but they won’t break your heart.” I have company in my quirks.

I suspect that’s what people like about all sorts of hobbies –  knitting, sewing, welding, hops. Stained glass making. Company.

You can garden as mysteriously, or as systematically, as you like. Know as much of the science as possible, or none. It may help you live longer. But maybe what I like best is that it keeps me loving the world. Seedlings are my pets, and bees my neighbors.

Photo above, a bee on thyme

35 Responses

  1. Lisa, what a lovely post. I especially like seeing the plants as toddlers after their baths. I love gardening myself and we do quite a bit of it in beds around our farmhouses (which are in the woods but we have ). The only thing that gives me pause is snakes–yes snakes. You probably don’t have that worry in your California suburb.

    My favorite plants right now are oak leaf hydrangea and turk’s cap. We also grow some gaura, various salvias, heuchera, and autumn fern. One of our sturdiest plants is called Texas betony. I like it because it never dies–even if you want it to. It smells a bit like petroleum, but has lovely red flowers. Last week we planted some achillea.

    1. @Susan, We plant some of those here in California, but I’ll have to look up the others. No snake. Lotta raccoons:).

  2. What a beautiful post. You capture so perfectly my own feelings about my plants when I have been gardening, and also the very reason that I long for a small patch of plants to tend. I no longer wish for the large gardens of my youth and the burden of responsibility which came with them, but a small garden, is perfect. I had planned to start a small garden this spring, obviously a plan now delayed, but it will come.

  3. I have loved and lost Daphne for years. It’s worth the heartbreak. Nothing is as convincing of the inevitability of spring as its fragrance on a chilly, late winter afternoon. Hint – it likes dry shade. No wet feet.

  4. I’ve been missing my garden. It’s still there, limping along; I just haven’t had time for it. Surprisingly a primrose has set up house the back side of my now-abandoned herb patch and decided to bloom. I’ve never planted primroses, at least not that I can remember. Go figure.

  5. I will take a garden over a toddler any day! And, while we’re talking about them – have you ever tried to garden WITH a toddler?? Lord.

    1. @K-Line, My garden lay completely fallow in the years of toddlerhood. To the point where we got a citation with threat of fine for our front yard weeds…

  6. Following on Kristin’s comment (too funny!) I think of my Mom, a master gardener, teaching her grandchildren as toddlers the difference between Rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) and wooly-lamb’s ears (stachnys bizantina). She’d teach them both the common and the Latin names, and it was surprising how much stuck, for a while at least. And who doesn’t love a wooly lamb’s ear. . . .
    A beautiful post — sorry for hijacking this space to indulge my memory. Mom also had daphne odorata (along with a wonderful host of tree peonies, such a gorgeous collection!). . . but I’ve been quite happy with its scrubby cousin, daphne mezereum, which seems impervious to fairly poor conditions and has the most glorious colour and fragrance in a February bloom!

  7. I love this meditation on gardening, Lisa. The days I tackle it it’s so fulfilling but then days go by and I have to let it go, so it feels a little disappointing, but I substitute it with imaginary gardening on pinterest, which is almost but not quite as satisfying. Can’t wait to see how your gardening evolves over the summer.
    xo Mary Jo

  8. Your garden must be beautiful and enjoyed immensely. I ventured out one year and grew hollyhock from seed – they grew 8 – 12 feet tall, and were lovely, giving me a chuckle whenever I looked out my window. My hydrangea love the shade, so I put up a large umbrella when the sun becomes more intense, and mulch everything twice a year. I used to enjoy many variety of heirloom sweetpeas, delicate blossooms, colors and fragrance were amazing, which must be gleaned often to promote more blossoms.
    What herbs and veggies are you growing?

  9. I might garden when I retire. Until then it’s rush, rush – mow, rake, prune, fertilize . The yard looks ok, the walks and boxes change with the seasons but it’s more an item on a to-do list than a hobby or joy.

  10. I’ve always wanted to work and play in my garden, but I seem to have a black thumb. It’s a shame really, because I love flowers, fresh vegetables and getting my hands dirty.
    I’m so glad that you like bees because lavender draws a lot of them! My neighbor grows it and I get the stings! Enjoy your weekend.

  11. I think that one of the pleasures of gardening is that, just like children, you never quite know how the plants will turn out; will they thrive under you loving care and attention, or will they adopt some maverick actions that you struggle to deal with? Again, like children, the biggest joy is seeing how they grow and change on a day to day business, surprising you with unexpected growth, thriving under your nurturing fingers, and then throwing out a riot of joy in colour when you least expect it! Happy gardening, Judy.

  12. I’ve been eagerly anticipating getting into the full swing of gardening after a few warm weekends of cleanup. It’s been unusually cold here –and my daphne looked like it had burn marks on all the leaves in January. Thankfully, the flowers bloomed and once spent, revealed a whole host of new leaves. I agree with @paula, dry shade seems to suit it best.

    The cold also made me hesitate to prune and plant new little ones. Now that my ankle is out of commission for at least the next few weeks, I’ll have to be content to gaze at the growing (or lack thereof) from my crutches. Please keep posting photos of your green spaces.

  13. Spring is finally underway up here in Toronto and the garden is looking so lovely. Glad to hear that you’re enjoying your acreage. Spending time in the garden takes me into another worlds, I become immersed and leave my cares behind, it’s wonderful.

  14. Would love to see your white rose garden….once you get hooked on gardening you might find your car drives directly to the garden centre whether or not you need anything! Have fun!

  15. My garden has been chosen for our town’s garden tour in June. Fortunately, the massive death I had feared from our harsh winter has not occurred. Some replacements are necessary – but that just gives me a reason to go on my favorite kind of shopping spree – for plants! Lucy

  16. I believe gardening is a form of virtue when approached with kindness and care towards the earth. My Dad created a very satisfying life in his retirement through gardening. He got to know all the growers in the area, the horticulturists, the enthusiastic hobbyists. To the neighbours he became the man always in his garden. He would keep half an eye on children, watch over renovation projects, etc. etc. I’m afraid I’m still more like @roseag, where the initial flush of freedom to be outside quickly descends into another item on the endless list.

    1. @Deirdre, It always feels like virtue to me. And that is one of the best things about not working, my gardening becomes so much more fun and something to do when so inspired.

  17. What you said. I got to spend hours in the garden this weekend, weeding very slowly while directing two healthy men on what to cut down and what to dig out.

    Nothing makes me happier than sun, dirt and flowers.

    Glad you’re on the team.

    xo J

  18. I don’t think i even know what a daphne is – I always admire the patience and vision of anyone who gardens; like those Georgians who planted great avenues of trees knowing they’d never see them. So selfless.

    Every April I buy lavender; every October brown twiggy skeletons are discreetly disposed of in the compost heap.

  19. Daphne oderata is one of those swooning beauties that just doesn’t want to grow; I work at a garden centre and it’s in the top 3 of plants that people dig up and bring back to us “It’s never really done anything, and then this winter it just died.”
    Don’t know if it’s available in the States, but try to track down Daphne ‘Jacqueline Postill’. Every bit as good as the Daphne you planted, but with the distinct advantage of Sturdy Gal genes.
    Love that you’re enjoying your garden, roses are looking beautiful, Kx

  20. I love your writing style! It was so interesting to read your post! And also you gave me a lot of ideas for my garden!Thank you so much for sharing! I’ll come back soon!

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