Today was a perfect fall day up here on the ridge. Everything seemed to come
into sharper focas for whatever reasons. I usually see things in detail as
it is, but maybe the recent thoughts of relocation into a different climate
and region of the country made everything even more precious to me. I
suspect that most of you know how I cherish the flowers, and leaves and just
the nature that is interwoven around us wherever we happen to be. I find
magic everywhere. When I lived in Nashville, I found magic in my little
quarter acre lot in the suburbs with neighbors close on either side. This
was where my garden fairies first revealed themselves to me.
I planted along side the house and driveway, and the western flower bed
along the driveway so distracted my neighbor who shared the driveway between
us (yes, this is the SECOND house that I've owned that had a shared
driveway, I never learn) that when I moved over here in 1992, she proceeded
to dig up any flower she thought I'd left behind and plant in her own yard.
I remember she once told me that looking out her kitchen door past my
bedroom window to the flowers in her face almost drove her nuts, they were
so pretty and I made it seem so easy. I attributed it to my little fairies
and she thought I was insane......
These are just fall evening thoughts of various garden related things. I
don't want to move from my ridge and holler. I've begun to put down roots
and despite that the lay of the land is challenging, I think that with some
discipline and better focas, the fairy gardens will blossom into something
even nicer than what it sounds like when I write about it. My flower beds
and fairy gardens are a mass of chaos. I need to start doing better rather
than just letting them do what they want to. It's time I took control and
worked with the little grounds keepers instead of just letting things do
what they did.
Ya'll have to understand it's a work and chaos in progress. I was standing
out in the side yard today, estatic that Mary Emma had gifted me with my
first colchicum. I lovingly dug it up from her side flower bed along side
HER driveway yesterday, along with a little sweet double pink anemone that
grew tangled up in a daylily she wasn't sure of the color. I was going to
tease the anemone out from the roots of the daylily, but she insisted that I
dig up the whole clump, that she had already taken a little piece of it
earlier and moved it to her new spot up front.
You see, Mary Emma has a serious problem with her spine. It's deteriorating
at an alarming rate, coupled with the fact that she has excruciating Fibro
Myalgia, recent diagnosis of osteoporosis despite that she suppliments her
calcium, and heaven knows what else. She is almost 80 now and she laughs
that great husky laugh of hers and tells me her own sweet mother lived to
her mid 90's. But her doctor has forbidden her to garden any more. She
doesn't know when to quit. They've put her on a pain patch because of her
severe pains and we spoke of her inability to garden and she looked at me as
she tugged weeds and Cypress Vine from around plants that remained despite
the disrepair of her gardens. Stop her? I'd have to fling myself at her
feet to get her to stop. I gently reprimanded her and she slowed down a
She reflected to me that it would be absolutely impossible for her to just
quit gardening and reminded me that she wanted me to have her beloved tree
peonies. She had realized when she allowed a neighbor to dig up four of
them that she really wanted me to have them in my own garden, and had also
decided that any unique plant that she couldn't divide and move up to the
front beds would come back to me to plug in wherever I could find a spot.
She had finally come out this late summer and was amazed at all the plants
crammed together and remarked that I really needed a front
yard............<G> She signed that she wished she could buy me a house
closer to her with a better yard to garden in.
So I dutifully dug up the mass of daylilies, and got down on my knees and
planted her 20 Dutch iris "Eye of the Tiger's" for her in a spot she would
see from her west window. Then she pointed out the clump of double colchicum
and told me she had another clump of them and pointed to under the
incredibly beautiful azalea bush along the top of her retaining wall that
wraps around her side front near her driveway. She blew me away when she
pointed out a thick patch of white rain lilies and reminded me that it was
me that had given them to her three years ago when Sharon Kane had shared
some with me, and I in turn shared them with her and a few other garden
friends. She'd planted hers outside and they had flourished and were
blooming even now.
Then she took me to the long, stretch of garden bed that she and I had
started 10 years ago that divided her large yard in half and told me that
she wanted me to have a piece of that yellow and white iris that was
blooming. In fact, she told me to just dig up the whole plant, flower and
all, because as I could see by the hole next to it, she'd already moved a
piece of it up front. All her treasures she had left she has divided a
piece out and put it up front in the winding bed that curves in the center
of the cul-de-sac. It's a bed that winds around the whole perimeter of the
front yard and keeps going down the side to where it stops for a moment at
the awesome dry creek her husband had built for her a few years back with
the beautiful wooden bridge that spans over it with the viburnum's, beauty
berries, hollies, nine barks, and other choice bushes she planted on the
opposite banks of the natural creek like ditch that cut her lower yard all
the way across.
I was reluctant to dig the whole iris up, but I did what she wanted, and we
put it into a clay pot that she had gone and gotten from under the deck that
stood above the circular patio her son had laid in brick for her a few years
back. Ever the gardener, we talked about the rambunctious hardy begonia
that was back with a vengence at the back of this brick patio and I pulled
one clump up and gently pushed away the soil to reveal the little fat tubers
at the base of the stems, and this gentle lady, who has been a master
gardener for 17 years looked at me with amazement and remarked that she
never knew how the silly little things returned and maybe I could pull them
up this time and toss them under the shade area with the hardy woods orchids
and poppies and other treasures under her trees. And oh yes, I needed to
come back and get some woods orchids too...........
The Irish moss was blooming and we both discovered that her fairies had
gifted her with another beautyberry bush. The last one is at my house, and
is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen this year. (I have pictures to
prove it, and this is the bush that was flattened by the tree man with a
three story piece of jack pine).
I gently dug up the little anemone's, and had to stop her from doing too
much as I was fearful that she'd do damage to herself while she was without
pain. She then revealed to me something that a mother would say to a
daughter. This sweet lady who has stepped into a void that my own mother has
opened up with having Alzheimers. She spoke of the recent upheavals about
New Mexico and her feelings about it. She spoke from her heart.
We talked quietly of ending gardening days, but that they never ended
because there was always another bulb or another plant that we both wanted
to grow, to see mature and flourish. And that each loss was personal but we
still persisted. The bittersweet moments we had yesterday was something I
have tucked into my memories to pull up on brown and drab winter days later
We laughed about the fact as we walked the whole perimeter not once, but
three times that I had a LOT of the plants she had. I pointed out a Vitex.
Her's fully grown, in the hedge garden along side the border of her huge
yard that has a pasture on the opposite side. Beautyberry, a spirea I just
bought this year, her's showing me that one day if mine lives, it will be as
tall as her's and I was shocked at it's almost five foot height. I told her
where mine was planted........we laughed together at my folly and inability
to see the end results of some of my plantings.
I found remains of her Harlequin Glory Bower, and pointed to the leaves. To
make sure I stepped over the rounded stones that they'd used to line the
whole creek bed and rubbed them and smelled my hands. Ahhhhh, peanut butter,
I remarked to her, as I stepped back across the width of the dry creek bed
that had been built for her with such love. She told me she had something
for me and I followed her up thru the back yard, Sugar and Rose and her own
Corgi, Lady playing all around us in the swaths of green lawn that still had
dicernable flowerbeds dotting them.
"This white butterfly bush is yours. I want a piece of it. All of
these....ummm what are they? I forget!" and she laughed as I looked as she
pointed towards the fallen patch of Lucifer crocosmia. "I don't want one
corm left of them. This whole bed is going. I wish I could still move as
easily as you do!"
As we made our way past the five foot wide, 200 foot long bed, I pointed to
the seed heads of a plant that stood lone in the cleaned out but still weedy
bed and asked her if she wanted that plant too....That got another laugh out
of her, and with a twinkle in her eye, she said "why that old thing? Why
some lunatic woman from Nashville gave me a piece of this wild hibiscus and
the dang thing took over and after I dug up 14 or 20 of the things and gave
them to other unsuspecting gardeners, it finally calmed down and didn't
multiply. Of course I want that plant. that's a Marilyn madgardener
Cumberland River hibiscus!" I laughed at her and told her she couldn't
remember the name of the Lucifer crocosmia or the Vitex or Chaste tree but
she could remember all that........it sounded like selective memory loss to
We got to her double car garage that is stuffed with garden tools and we
went back to the front yard and she told me to gather some seed heads of
Candy lily while she got me something to put in my car. She came out of the
house with a huge Ortho problem solver book that had over 1000 pages in it
and said she didn't need it any more and it was mine. I was speechless.
The day slipped away from us, but I did an assortment of things around the
yard with her and we shared laughs, stories about plants and each other and
shared secrets. We also dished our husbands and had some mature woman
moments that I will treasure always, and when her middle son came over to
pick up his birthday gift from his mother, teasing me about me being the
sister that mom kept locked in the garden shed all those years and in the
pantry, she came back upstairs with a huge box from Dutch Gardens for him.
I couldn't help but laugh. He took the box and looked inside and was like a
kid with a box of toys. I told him we seemed to be of the same kin since he
obviously had this gardening disease too......and he remarked that all these
bulbs were his and I didn't get ANY and laughed at me.. We then shared a
moment as he read the names of the bulbs she'd ordered him. In my mind I
could see how she planted her own special bulbs and how years later they've
multiplied so much she digs them up by the tens and gives them to others to
share. His work is cut out for him. My mind is brought back to where we
really are as I hear Mary Emma tell him, "I'll take one of each bulb when
you open them if you don't want to plant them ALL" and I immediately spoke
up that he had to plant them for her if she was to have them since she had
strict orders not to exert herself. He promised he'd plant them and make a
special little spring garden of them if she and I would show him where to
So here I stood, remembering the day past, and smiled as I got to my knees
and gently dug a good deep hole under the Vitex bush in the western yard and
tucked the double white colchicum's under it, where they settled into the
rich soil as if they belonged there.
A little loving pat, and some water, I then went and got the double pink
anemone and put them into the cold soil at the back of the BBQ pit
fountain/garden and emptied the pot of white rain lilies into the soil on
the south side of this bed and tucked each little bulb into the soil in
hopes that they'd survive the winter for me and return as they had for her.
I chastised her as I spoke out loud asking the bulb fairies to be gentle
with them as they'd always wintered inside my house because I'd feared
losing them to the cold. Mary Emma had just plunked them into the soil and
Tomorrow I will deepen the hole for the daylily and anemone friend and plant
it better. And I will lift the first peony she gave me six years ago so it
might bloom for me next spring, and plant the other one next to it for
company and hope they both bloom for me. Then I will go down to the woods
room and in front of the garden boxes she gave me a few years ago that has
ajuga, daisies, lambs ears, black irises and other treasures, I will dig a
trench in front of them for the tree peonies and ready the spot. I only
hope they love me as much as they love her, and they don't mind filtered
southern and western sun instead of full sun like what they get in her yard.
For them I will buy some better soil so that they won't freak out too much
when I take them from their perfect soil.
I sat on the ground and looked at the beginnings of next years plants. At
the base of the Autumn Joy sedum are little nubbins of next years stems.
Inspired, I got up and started looking for other spring previews. At the
base of dead stems of the two yarrow's in the pot, new delicate ferns of
next years plants rose weakly five inches. Orostachys sedums that Micki
sent me from Kansas are blooming, but at the base of some of them, little
islands of babies for replacements. At the base of my Lamb's ears, little
shoots readying themselves for the coming spring and hot summer.
Tight buds on the lilac. Bulbs pushing out of the ground, begging me to top
dress them and give them their fall feeding of granular food before their
working sleep to prepare for next years flowers. Little shoots at the base
of the white obedient plant that I thought I had lost once it had bloomed,
so I carefully pulled a little dirt over the exposed roots in hopes they
survive winter too.
As I straightened up, I heard a small plop and a little frog in the upper
portion of the fountain had spooked with me being so close and had jumped
into the murky water to hide. The Arum are making great mottled leaves, and
at the base of all dried stems are the beginnings of next year's plants. How
can I leave all this? Well, I might not have to. But rather than go into
all of that, I will stop. But if it remains the same, or changes I will let
you, my friends know. I just appreciate that I still have the magic of the
ridge and my holler and Eastern Tennessee at the moment.
This time as I called Sugar and Rose to come in, Sugar came right in instead
of torturing me with not coming in and defying me. As the storm door
started to close, the little bob tail cat, Pequito slipped in and behind
him, (he's just recently shown me he's a late blooming male instead of the
female I mistaken'd him for) in hot pursuit, Polluxx, and bringing up the
rear, my old, nappy granny cat, Sweetie. Ol' Butt breath herself, all
knotty and with 20 years to her credit, she skirted past my ankles like she
was the kitten two ahead of her.
There are bulbs in the fridge in the back room to plant in pots tomorrow.
There are plants to tuck into a box and send across the pond to a dear
friend Monday. And there are garden things to do while the days are perfect.
Tomorrow or the day after I will speak of bringing in my desert and jungle
for the winter before frost comes again for good. The house will be filled
to bursting. But that's for another day.
Thank you for your time. I appreciate your letting me share these things
that rattle inside my head.
Madgardener up on the cool ridge, back in fairy holler, where the frogs are
chattering their lips outside the windows in my flowerbeds, where English
Mountain stands as a midnight blue silhouette in the southern skyline, in
Eastern Tennessee, zone 7, Sunset zone 36