Sunday, April 4, 2010

Thoughts of an Aging Gardener by Fran Waksler

Thank you, Karen, for encouraging my occasional posts here. I enjoy and learn from all your posts, but those on gardening especially motivate me to respond.

What I find most discouraging about being an “aging gardener” is that my body can’t work as long as my mind wants to. I have to pace myself—something I’m not very good at. I find it frustrating that I can’t keep up with projects and tend to forget that with gardening one is always behind anyway.

My approach this spring is to focus on cleaning areas just before things are coming into bloom. Unfortunately the forsythia beat me and are now blooming in a patch of fall leaves—I never get to that area on time! My current tasks have been to prune the kerria of dead wood before the flowers open (just made it) and to make sure that the many clematis, which love my yard and reseed freely, all have support so they will climb the stockade fence. I always find working with clematis fussy. They transplant easily for me, in part because it was only recently that I learned one needs to be careful and I just dug holes for them and stuck them in—a process that worked remarkably well. The fussy part is being sure that the stems of the old ones have sufficient support without my breaking them. They require the softness of a hand that holds a baby bird.

My next job: plant ground phlox on the little rise made by the racetrack the dogs dug out. I hope the phlox with stave off erosion. Gardening with dogs is an adventure and requires innovation. They used to run through my vegetable garden, with expected damage, but once I made them a path through the middle of the garden, they use that and my plants stay safe.

With all the past wild weather the ground is covered with sticks, mostly from the birch tree—my mother warned me that it is a messy tree, but I love it nonetheless, sticks and all. I save some sticks to use as kindling in my wood stove, but the rest has to go in the yard waste bags for the city to pick up. I’m envious of those people who put out 10-15 yard waste bags at one time when I only have the energy to fill a few. Of course I compost a lot, but I still end up feeling like a wimp with my two bags.

Now that the weather is good, I can put extra house plants out on the sidewalk for passersby to take. (I feel a moral compulsion to root everything that breaks off even though I have no room for more plants.) I also put out things I have to clear from the yard—raspberry seedlings that have run amok, pachysandra from the neighbor’s yard that strays into mine (for some reason I hate pachysandra), invasive bee balm, and other odds and ends. Whatever I put out is taken (I hide them when trash is collected), which I find very rewarding.

The best retirement days for me are writing in the morning, gardening in the afternoon, and reading in the evenings. I’ve been having a lot of best days lately.


  1. Fran,

    Thanks for reminding me that that "with gardening one is always behind anyway."

    The little kerria seedling you gave me is now a large graceful shrub!

  2. Thanks so much for highlighting the imperfection of being a gardner. It is hard to live in the shadow of my sister's gardening capabilities.

  3. Your perfect day sounds pretty perfect to me as well. How lucky you are to actually know what you're doing in the garden. I love working in the garden and used to have a friend with a very green thumb who'd come over and help me in the spring to make sure I didn't end up pulling out all the little seedlings because I thought they were weeds. Now that she doesn't come any more progress is slower ... but still gratifying.

  4. Thats a sad reality of life! everyone will be old one day! just will be set to enjoy the life