Earth chunks soared over my shoulder. Some fell short only to land onto my itchy scalp. My shirt was soaked all the way through, my jeans… pressed so tightly against my skin that in order to remove them, they had to be peeled below my hips. Once I tossed the last of the carnage into the compost pile, I am rewarded by sinking into a hot lavender bath. I can almost taste the icy bottle of water that I left in the freezer before it’s pressed against my sun kissed lips. It only takes about an hour for me to get the job done because I am determined to get it over with.
The war on weeds is my biggest gardening frustration to date, yet I feel so empowered and satisfied when I’ve finished the task. I wait until the sun begins to set after a small rainstorm has loosened the soil and then… I attack! I rip unwanted stems out by the head and dig for their roots with my hands until the muscles in my legs feel too wobbly to keep me in a squat position. Sweat pours from my brow and my hair lacks luster when I’m done, but tiny red curls form at the nape of my neck.
The long-term reward of weeding around all the beautiful things in my garden is spying brand-new buds on my camellias the next morning. Eagerly waiting for my dahlias to make their appearance and having the room I needed to tuck new blooms into the paradise I have created with my own two hands. I use the hose to fill up my mud smeared watering can, and then I take a little walk clutching a pair of nippers against my chest.
Stormy and Waddles, (our ducks) are usually taking a stroll as well. I typically need to wave them away from my vegetables or they will use them as an all-you-can-eat buffet. Sometimes I’m forced to chase them off because they like to crush my flowers as they walk and nibble leaves and petals off my blooms. During our big family trip this summer, I received a call from one of my best friend’s informing me that Waddles wasn’t a drake (a male duck) like I had originally suspected.
Waddles had laid a clutch of eggs near Stormy and the two ducks were terrorizing my farm sitters. The girls were determined to have babies, but I didn’t have a drake old enough to provide them with fertilized eggs. This problem also caused havoc for Harlow (our big black and white paint) and Caspian (our miniature donkey). While trying to eat their feed, Stormy and Waddles would launch themselves at the equine and horrify them by nipping at their hooves. It was hysterical to watch the boys retreat to a corner of the pasture and eye the ducks suspiciously out of fear for their lives. Two large animals at the mercy of two angry females.
Izzy (my daughter of sorts) made a wonderful suggestion. She recommended buying some baby ducks and in the cover of darkness, to swap the duck eggs in exchange for ducklings. This way the girls get the babies their hearts desired, and the little ducklings get the mothers they never had. So, I went to Tractor Supply, and I carefully selected and bought four tiny, orphaned puffballs. I had never witnessed an adoption like this before and I couldn’t wait to see the outcome.
I sat on a log nearby and watched the shadows in the forest grow longer. I listened to the chuck-will’s-widow and heard an owl shake off the cobwebs of slumber. A daddy-long legs with two missing limbs crept over the dirt but when blackness encompassed me, I made my move. Moose (our farm dog) had stolen Waddle’s eggs earlier in the day, but thankfully I was able to snatch some from Stormy. Izzy had told me that the two ducks would share and raise the babies together if the imprinting was fruitful.
Stormy tucked those babies underneath her wings as if they had been hers all along. The relief in her body language was evident. Her purpose in life, fulfilled. The next day my neighbor drove by with her granddaughter and watched the ducklings play in a puddle with their two mothers. I myself stopped mid-snip of a flower stem to witness the binding love between adopted ducklings and their protective mothers. Rather than chasing two ducks out of my garden beds, I was now having to watch my step and encourage six to find another place to feast.
I adopted a love for gardening in the same way my grandfather adopted me. I didn’t have a father who was present in my life when I was young until my mom meet my stepfather. My childhood after their marriage became even more complicated but that’s a story for another day. My papa was the one (besides my mom and grandmother) who was always there for me no matter what. One of my most favorite memories was of holding his finger in my fist as he let me pick an armful of flowers.
He had sewn the seeds inside a drainage area that was fenced off and locked up when he worked as a ground’s keeper for a local hospital near Chicago. The skill seemed to come naturally to him while it took a long time for me to learn how to have a “green thumb”. It’s funny that I say that because the secret to growing beautiful things is simply… sunshine, food, and water. I reached a point in my adult life where I had a moment of clarity and suddenly an achievable passion blossomed. My papa however… he could grow things in the middle of the desert.
Long before I was good at growing things, my husband knew that simply pulling over on the side of the road to pick a bouquet of wildflowers was the way to my heart. I can’t imagine what people driving by must have been thinking. I wonder if they sat and watched as a tall man with broad shoulders, in full military uniform stood alone in a field of flowers as he carefully selected which blooms to add to the handful. They probably assumed he was in marital trouble. As a friend pointed out to me not long ago, my husband understands my love language and he knew what would make me happy. He still does.
Before that green thumb kicked in, I used to dream about having a secret garden full of beautiful flowers. It helped me cope with events in my life that were out of my control when I was young. Underneath my bedroom window a large cluster of daffodils bloomed and there was (to this day) the biggest lilac bush I had ever seen near the edge of our property. I would pick clusters and stash vases on every available surface. It was my way of bringing light into the darkness. Storm clouds brewed within the walls of that house. It was beautiful on the outside, but what lied within was destruction.
As an adult, I have surrounded myself with people who bring peace into my life. One of my most precious friends is a woman named Heather. When I was feeling especially lost with yet another health crisis, she invited me to see the farm where she worked and encouraged me to bring along a bucket for cut flower clippings. Her hard work and encouragement inspired me. She had created an oasis of living things with a few seeds, some bulbs, and a lot of hard work. The beauty of it breathed new life into my soul again.
“Do you think that I could have a garden like this one?” I asked her.
“Girl, I believe that you can do anything!”
My first year growing cut flowers was so successful that I made floral arrangements and gave them away weekly. Seeing how much joy it brought into the lives of other people had me researching ideas to improve my output. One of the first steps I needed to take was to expand our farm. We succeeded in doing that in March and rebranded our farm with the name Everpine Forest & Farm. This year we’ve cleared trees and worked to create a new pasture space that would allow us to move the equine around.
Harlow’s original pasture has served as my new gardening space. This spring I bought out four stores of their cut flower seeds. I planted hundreds of dollars in seeds and bulbs. Most of the time it was a matter of experimenting to see what worked and what didn’t, but each day taught me something new. I now know that next year I need to stagger my blooms by their growing season to help me have flowers to cut year around. I also learned that it’s best to keep each type of flower together with its own kind, so they don’t have to compete for sunlight.
I have discovered that like any crop… spacing is EVERYTHING. Rather than planting thick rows like I did this year, I need to plant smaller rows with a narrow space in between so that I can walk in and gather blooms without trampling, tripping, or dancing my way around them. I’ve learned that it’s better (and cheaper) to buy seeds and bulbs in bulk than it is to buy from your local Walmart, nursery, or dollar general. Best of all… I learned that in order to keep my output flowing efficiently, a greenhouse is a must have essential.
While all these changes are in the works to help me improve next year’s garden, I am thankful for the joy that this year’s garden has brought with it. I look forward to planning and building our greenhouse, and I can hardly contain my excitement regarding my future cut flower stand. I have high hopes of donating arrangements to people in hospitals and nursing homes who need a little extra love to lift their spirits.
A couple weeks ago Heather called to tell me how proud she was of my hard work. To my delight she told me that she was envious of my flower garden this year! This woman is the most selfless and hardest working human (besides my husband) I’ve ever meet. Her house is covered in plants, and she basically helps grow lovely things for other people even though she works three jobs and has no spare time. I’ll never forget her kindness in sharing seeds and bulbs with me to help get me started.
I can’t adequately put into words how much sunshine floods my veins when I’m standing in the middle of something tangible that I thought I could only dream of accomplishing. As a summer storm unleashes above me, I’m laughing as I chase six ducks out of my haven. I have rose petals plastered to my cheek. Rain is dripping off the tip of my nose, and my butterfly top is drenched as I attempt to carry a watering can stuffed with blooms up to the house. My favorite pair of nippers are clutched close to my heart and I’m overflowing with fulfillment.