Sunday, 6 November 2011

Blossie and Everything I know I Learned in My Garden

 Close your eyes and breath deeply, now tell me what is your favourite scent?
Mine is lily-of-the-valley. It's the only fragrance I ever wear and it is my absolutely favourite flower and scent. When I called in to see my dear friend Ruth, this week on my way home from gardening, I was quite overcome when she shared her precious bunch of lily-of-the-valley with me and even further thrilled when I found some more at St Matthew's Fair on Saturday morning. I also spied this wee dolly parasol in the midst of the toy stand for 50c. Isn't it sweet!
Sifting through the quintessential jumble of linen I came across this lovely "Morris" tea towel.
And the book, now that's what I wanted to tell you about.
 When we made our order this year for the Victoriana calendars through Amazon (for us & a few friends) I decided to take the opportunity to buy another Emilie Barnes book. None other than, "Everything I know I Learned In My Garden". Aren't the chapters intriguing:
Begin early, but it's never too late to start.
If it doesn't work, try something else.
Life is fragile, protect it.
Life is enduring, trust it.
Life is daily, water it, wed it.
Life is indescribably beautiful. Enjoy it and say thank you. 
Growth takes time and while you're waiting pull a weed.
There's something for everybody- different blooms for different rooms.
Pruning hurts. Pruning helps you grow.
Sometimes the tiniest flowers smell the sweetest.
To everything there is a season, but know what season you're in.
Dream big. But try not to let ambition turn your joy into drudgery.
Grow what you love.The love will keep it growing.
You reap what you sow. But there will be surprises.
I love this wee book and I'm really enjoying reading these chapters for the phone news (news service for the blind). One of our readers tragically lost her husband in a car accident last week so I am filling in for her until she's ready to read again. Which reminds me of this...I found it on Pinterest recently.
A few years ago I planted the rose "Alchemist" on the front fence.  I discovered this branch hanging out of the cherry tree yesterday. I just love all the colours. Especially the deep, rich, free-range egg yoke yellow.

The day I came across the story of "Blossie" was an epiphany for me, a revelation of the sweetest kind, because it was at that very moment that I realized that I wasn't just here to like gardening but I really was meant to be a Garden Fairy & create beauty & that very beauty (with a little Masterly assistance) would touch peoples hearts & change lives. So here is my bestest Chicken Soup story. I thought you might like it too. I am just a tad bias but Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul truly is wonderful..the best of all!

    " I build gardens for people. In the past twelve years I’ve built over 1,400 vegetable gardens in Portland, Oregon, almost all of them for people who didn’t have the money to start a garden themselves. I bring everything in on a pickup truck: raised-bed frame, trellises, cages, seeds, trays, instructions, even the soil itself. Then I build the beds right on top of the people’s lawns.
I figure each garden costs about $500, most of which is covered by the grants I get for my foundation the “Home Gardening Project”. And my wife & I don’t mind living pretty frugally, actually, we’re as poor as church mice. But when we compare people’s lives before they had gardens to their lives after, well, you know this work has just got to continue.
With each new garden, I meet people who are in tough situations. An old woman who is nursing her stroke victim husband. A young and inexperienced mother with no husband around but several hungry children to feed. A poor woman who voluntarily cares for five abandoned children, all born with spina bifida or other congenital defects. I think I’ve gotten used to meeting people who have it hard. Still, sometimes the ravages of life take my breath away. I’ll never forget a woman named Blossie. On the phone she told me she was alone & on social security. Crack addicted kids routinely broke in to her house. She’d heard about the programme & said she’d love a garden. She sounded very tired & rapidly aging like many other callers I responded to that spring. She was slow to answer the door when I arrived. It was a struggle for her to wheel herself backward with one hand & pull the door open with the other. First I saw the wheelchair, then her eyes- eyes that looked to have absorbed more pain than a combat surgeon’s. Her face & hands were swollen. She had tried to cover her knees with a tattered towel, but I could see the white bandages caked with splotches of dried blood. Then I noticed the wheelchair again- quite clearly…because she had no calves or feet to obstruct the view. She’d just had her legs amputated, after a lifetime of aggravating her diabetes with poor diet & bad habits. She told me she wanted a vegetable garden to help improve what remained of her health. She wanted a garden so she could go outside for a reason, get a little exercise, & have something to care for besides the little terrier at her side. Her house was embarrassingly messy & smelled of uneaten food & old bandages. She plaintively invited me in, but I politely excused myself. “I’m busy”, I said, “I’ll just go out back & site the garden.” She insisted that she come with me, or at least shout from the back door where she wanted the garden built. I made a mental note to call the Senior Job Center & ask them to build a handicapped ramp for her the day after I build her garden. Blossie’s need seemed critical, so I bumped her up on my waiting list & told her that I’d be by in two days with her garden on the back of my truck. For a second, her brave forbearance changed to a smile, & her hands fluttered in anticipation. The garden was going to connect her to life. She could hardly wait. I’d have to build five other gardens that day- & break my promise to my wife that I’d make that spring an easy season. But my wife never expected me to keep that promise anyway. Facing Blossie, how could I say no? When I returned, I built Blossie’s garden in the sunny strip behind her back door, with easy access from the ramp that was scheduled to come in the next day or two. (Hooray for the guys from the Job Centre with their hammers, tapes, saws & hearts!) I built the three frames of her garden double high, filled with six cubic metres of premium soil, so she could easily reach it from her chair. I also supplied her with some tools I picked up at the Salvation Army store, the handles cut to half-length. She watched from the back door. Soon she was on the phone to a friend telling her the news. “I know you want to get started as soon as you can, “ I said, handing her the seed packages trays. She took them in to her lap like a Christmas present, her eyes lighting up in hope. Suddenly she wasn’t listening anymore: she was ahead of herself, in the future, picking delicious tomatoes & basil for her summer salad, perhaps her only meal that day. She didn’t seem to hear me say that I’d be happy to send someone around tomorrow to plant if she didn’t feel she had the energy to do it herself. The thought of needing such help didn’t seem to cross her mind. She looked up & pointed to the old laundry sink out by the bushes. Would I mind filling that up with dirt too? She wanted to grow some flowers “just for pretties, you know”. When I drove past her place the next evening, she was heading down her new ramp, wheelchair in high gear, seeds & trays in her lap. Nothing could stop her now. It looked like another success story similar to many others. It wasn’t till summer rolled around that Blossie’s story became different. While monitoring the gardens that August I stopped in to see her. I expected to find her as I usually had, housebound, in pain, hungry for some human contact, especially contact that wouldn’t hurt her. I was surprised by the noise- the chatter & laughter of women coming from the backyard. I peeked over the back gate. Blossie was holding court from her wheelchair, over six other aged women. She spotted me looking in & ordered me in front & center- right that minute! She was exuberant, talking a mile a minute, her hands waving like a girl’s. The ladies were with her every step of the way & they were talking about the garden. Blossie introduced me. I offered the women free gardens since they seemed to like Blossie’s so much. They made appreciative sounds but all said no. Then one of them explained, “We already have a garden- this one. You see, we all live down at the housing project, the nine story one. There isn’t anything but a parking lot around it, no place for a garden.” Blossie had called one of them weeks before, asking for some help &companionship. Pretty soon all six of these residents were coming down twice a week to help Blossie with her garden, weeding, fertilizing, replanting & watering. The garden, amazingly, was able to produce enough food for all to share. One of the women went inside & emerged with a tray of tea service, a gesture that made them laugh at themselves. After such long hard lives pretending to be genteel is silly- but fun! Looking around, I saw the garden itself was splendid, crowded with vegetables Blossie loves to eat. Soon the women stopped noticing me. I left them to their happiness & occupation, glad to have had a hand in it. Blossie’s garden had grown up & spread out, helping six other people in need beside herself. It was a wonderful sight.
People are always asking, “What is the purpose of life?”
That’s easy! Relieve suffering. Create beauty. Make gardens!"

Dan Barker from Chicken Soup for the Gardeners Soul

We're off on a little journey tomorrow. We're going to visit Matt & Fynn..can't wait.
See you when we get back (only a day or two) that is if we can squeeze all the plants for their garden in to the car! The lily-of-the-valley is coming too..of course.
Have lovely week.


  1. Oh, how wonderful! I have lily of the valley that comes up at the back fence. It DOES smell heavenly!
    I love that story! I hope your trip is fun. Take some pictures, okay?

  2. What a busy post with such a lot of info - Just looked up both books on Amazon, am going to buy the 'everything I learned'. I do love the Chicken Soup books too. Your roses are really lovely, Have a lovely few days away, Bettyx

  3. I always read your latest post just before I go to bed. Then I have nice thoughts to mull over, and here are lots of them!

  4. What an amazing story. Growing things is really very healing, I think, I love to grow things...... Lilly of the valley one of my most favourite flowers, perfectly formed and beautifully scented, it grows in my garden. Love the words on marriage, it is true, xx
    Sophie xx

  5. Good Morning my fellow Garden Fairy !
    Lucky you in the midst of spring and today it is freezing cold here... :) Oh how I will love visiting you throughout our winter months. Your lily of the valley is beautiful another favorite of my Mothers. Your flowers are stunning. I must look up that book. I know I'll be able to order it if I can't find it here. Looks intriguing. I hope your trip is fun or was fun! I did notice the date on your post... Do tell! I enjoy the way you write.
    Have a wonderful weekend,
    Hugs Rosemary...xx


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