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Love in bloom

I don’t like dirt. Not one little bit.

When friends speak of the delight they feel when plunging their hands into rich, dark soil, I shudder.

But I love flowers – their blooming beauty feeds my soul. I also adore fresh berries, juicy tomatoes, tender green beans, and tasty zucchini, things that aren’t possible to grow without getting your hands dirty.

“You can wear gloves, you know,” a friend advised.

That’s certainly an option, but I took another route–I married well.

Once our four sons were mostly grown, Derek eyed our backyard and decided to raise something other than boys.

While I can’t even keep a houseplant alive, my husband’s green thumb, along with his strong back, keen mind and building skills, have created a backyard oasis. Each year, he tweaks his creation and finds new ways to add beauty.

The result?

Pansies, petunias, geraniums, impatiens, in red, yellow, purple and pink, bloom in boxes around our great gazebo. They spill from window boxes along the delightful deck that Derek built.

Bleeding hearts, daisies and star flowers blossom in well-tended bark beds.

Derek spent a couple of summers building a lovely brick retaining wall and walkway around his garden shed. He tossed a packet or two of wildflower seeds along one side, and this year tall blue and white flowers line the path.

Wildflowers

Behind the shed, purple and lavender clematis creeps up the twin trellises he installed on the fence he built, and begonias burgeon in planters throughout the yard.

Crowds of pansies cluster in giant oak barrels. The barrels are new this year, anchoring a sun shade that sails from the great gazebo and is affixed to two towering redwood posts. Derek filled the bottom of the barrels with concrete to ensure the posts would stand firm in our windy weather, and keep our sun shade from soaring off into the neighbor’s yard. Then he topped the barrels with soil and planted the flowers that thrive in their cozy containers.

Also new – redwood boxes for our berry bushes. Our blueberries and strawberries have done well in their containers, but our raspberries have grown wild along the fence line, as long as we’ve lived here. When my sister-in-law gave us a blackberry bush, Derek decided it was time to corral our fruit.

He built three 2-feet by 6-feet boxes along the fence, one for each type of berry. If there’s room, he may transfer the strawberries, too.

Despite its late start due to these other projects, Derek’s raised bed vegetable garden is growing well. We’ve already spotted a couple green tomatoes, the green beans are ready to climb, and our first zucchini is peeking out from beneath its leafy lair.

Each year I shop for annuals with him, and place the flowers where I’d like them, but he does the planting. I weigh in on what veggies I’d like, and once again Derek gets his hands dirty.

When things bloom and ripen, I don gloves and do the deadheading and harvesting, but mostly I just enjoy the fruits of his labor.

Each day after work, I start dinner, and then head to the gazebo. I let the sun warm my legs, I listen to birdsong. I watch butterflies and bumblebees flit among the flowers. My husband has created place where I can let the cares of the day fade, and feast my eyes on loveliness.

FTD coined the motto “Say it with flowers,” but I’m so thankful I don’t have to wait for a floral delivery service to show up at my door to hear what Derek has to say.

Every spring and all through the summer, I’m surrounded by countless beautiful blooms, and each one seems to whisper I love you.

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Goodnight garden, goodnight gazebo…

Like a child resisting bedtime, I balked when my husband mentioned getting our yard and garden ready for winter.

He brought the furniture covers out of the shed. I ignored them.

He took down the deck umbrellas, and rolled up the sun shade in the Great Gazebo.

I edged my chair out from under the gazebo’s shelter and stretched my legs in the waning autumn sun.

As Derek cut back the zucchini, bean and tomato plants last month, he said, “You might want to finish picking the carrots before we leave for Ohio. You never know, it could snow while we’re gone.”

I scoffed, but I needed carrots for the stew I was making, so I went ahead and harvested the rest, pausing to reach over the fence to give some to our neighbor.

Then I plucked the last few tender leaves of basil and a lone green pepper and added them to the pot.

The following week when Derek cut back the ornamental grasses, I grudgingly hauled my flower pots from the front porch, and brought out our fall welcome mat and Happy Harvest outdoor signs.

But I was not happy, not one bit, as the days grew shorter, the air cooler, the sunshine scarcer.

Fall used to be my favorite season. Never a fan of hot weather, I eagerly welcomed blustery, gray days. The fact that September signaled the start of school for my four boys might have had something to do with my avid enjoyment of autumn’s arrival.

Yet, lately I’ve noticed each year I begrudge the battening down of home and yard a bit more. I delay packing away my gardening basket, gloves and shears. When the rain comes, I scoot the gazebo furniture toward the center of the shelter, and cover my plump pillows with a blanket.

I know fighting fall’s arrival is foolish, so on a crisp, sunny October day I gathered garden and gazebo décor, packing them away for the season.

My favorite sign went into the bin last.

“This is my happy place,” it reads. And this year more than ever our back yard provided a soul-satisfying refuge from a pandemic-plagued world.

October sunlight.

For us there were no concerts, no movies, no nights at the theater, or trips to the beach, but every week we enjoyed evening Happy Hours in the Great Gazebo, and delicious family meals on the Delightful Deck.

With galleries and museums closed, we enjoyed nature’s art via window boxes and pots filled with petunias, daisies and geraniums. Derek scattered wildflower seeds around the back fence and erected trellises, coaxing clematis plants upward.

As we prepared for our trip to Ohio, I begged him to leave the deck window boxes up until our return.

“It will be so nice to come home to a spot of cheery color,” I said.

Of course, it snowed while we were gone and we came home to frozen flowers.

This week, as we entered a new round of stay-home orders, I’m missing my outdoor sanctuary even more. On Sunday as my social media accounts filled with photos of pandemic-panic buying shoppers snaking in long lines outside grocery stores, I struggled to maintain an attitude of gratitude.

After a chilly walk through the neighborhood, I stood on our deck as wind-whipped leaves skittered, scattered and caught in my hair. Gazing at our fence line, I suddenly remembered how Derek had planted dozens and dozens of tulip bulbs along its length before the first hard freeze. I pictured those bulbs patiently resting beneath the frost, the rain, the snow, ready to burst into riotous color in the spring.

All living things need rest; soil, seeds and certainly people.

And so with a nod to Margaret Wise Brown:

Goodnight Glorious Garden once verdant and green.

Goodnight Great Gazebo and summer’s sweet scene.

Goodnight Delightful Deck and al fresco dining,

Goodnight brilliant blossoms, I’ll try to stop whining.

Because beauty awaits us just out of sight.

And all will awaken beneath spring’s golden light.