My Toughest Garden Coaching Question: Remembering Anna Elizabeth

When I was in hort school my professors loved to ask wonky landscape questions on tests. Here’s an example. Joe and Jan have a problem spot in their yard. They want help from you. 

Joe and Jan ask, “We’re looking for plants for a spot that faces West (i.e. baking hot afternoon sun), that slopes (i.e. dry spot, soil like a brick), with a bog at the bottom of it (i.e. erosion problem), and an oil tank (i.e. a sore spot in the landscape) that we want to screen. What do you suggest?” 

I answered, “Move.”

My professors found that hilarious. 

Imagine my surprise when a couple came into the store, and asked that exact question. Huh? 

So my professors were right. I get the craziest questions. 

But, I was not prepared for two sisters, two seasons ago. Their need ranks first on the hard question list.

Here’s what they wanted:

Pretty perennial flowers (i.e. the plants will return each year). A fragrance would be nice. (Wouldn’t it just? Please ask the breeders to stop breeding that characteristic out of plants.) They were planting under a cherry tree, but the light was good (though the roots would compete). And, oh yeah, our budget is small, $40.” (Women always know that flowers cost. Men never know that, and are forever astonished when you ring them up.)

So, I can do a lot with 40 dollars, a small space and some pretty flowers. This would be an easy one. I asked, “Whose garden are they going in? Your’s or your’s?” Nodding to each sister to find out who the gardener was. 

The short sister shook her head, neither. She said, “We’re planting them at my daughter’s memorial tree. She went to college here, and the college planted a tree in her honor after she died. But, I want to do something.”

She emphasized I want to do something. Of course, she did.

Her taller sister motioned for me not to respond. She meant, don’t comfort or offer condolences. The mom wasn’t ready for that. And, besides, they were buying flowers for Annie Elizabeth, who, it turned out, liked blue and loved birds.

I understood my job was to help them get through this. They were pretty, funny sisters from Atlanta, who’d lost a beloved daughter and niece, but that day the sun was shining, and they were planting flowers to remember Annie. 

I showed them pictures of my granddaughter. They LOVED her. I told them about all my gardening mishaps (they are legendary). My move to Brevard. My new garden (I waved my arm around the store). I made them laugh. They made me laugh. The tall sister and I communicated with hand gestures and signals, and moved in a behind the scenes way to keep the Annie’s mom upright and moving.  

It was a good day. We gathered Rozanne geraniums (blue, flower all season. low growing), lavender (fragrant, purple spires, ‘Hidcote’ more compact), summer phlox (‘David,’ smells divine, doesn’t get the powdery mildew, gorgeous, white, tall sweeping flowers), heuchera (‘Miracle’, because, well, aren’t all children miracles?), and then began to tally it up. But, the mom saw a small stone container with a bird perched on it. It was 40 bucks. Their whole budget. Annie loved birds. She could put small pebbles in it.

I would have worked a month of Sundays to give her that container to put “pebbles in for her Annie.” But, I understood that she wanted to do something herself.  

After much discussion among the sisters, they decided to blow the budget. Sometimes, you just should.


 Annie’s mom asked if I lived in Brevard. I did. Would I sometimes look after Annie’s garden? I would. I do.

The daffodils are blooming there now, and the college just put mulch down. We lost the lavender  The winter was just too much for it. But the heuchera did great, and the phlox is already coming up. I don’t see signs of the Rozanne geranium, so I’ll buy more, although I’ll wait a few more weeks to plant it. They’re calling for snow again tonight! The little bird container is still there though the sisters worried about someone stealing it. I am contemplating some cyclamen, which would love the roots of the cherry tree (dry, and shady) for a fall bloom. We’ll see.

Until then, I’ll spend the spring answering some pretty bizarre questions about folk’s gardens. Though, I’m betting, none will top Annie’s garden.


A Song of South Turkey Creek

Summer has arrived at South Turkey Creek and I have fallen into my summer slumber. The container pots are wilting. The garden is in an all-out frenzy of madness–plants fighting over garden space. Kitty Two spent four days in a tree (chased by the Coast Guard Son’s dog, Bear) until common sense took over, and I got someone to go get her. Jekyll Island beckoned around the first of June and we answered the call. Miss Priss made her debut at Jekyll (more on that later), which was a “splashing success.” The teen and I picked out the largest church in town for our summer worship. We decided jeans, coffee, and a good sermon were in order on Sunday mornings, and we found all three. The attic fan keeps us cool at night. Movies are a must, naps are frequent, and the grill is the only thing we heat up in the kitchen. Pure. Hot. Heaven.

But the clock is ticking on South Turkey Creek–soon to be home to Cruella de Vil and company–and the time to move is here. I need to get about the business of finding a new home. And, oddly, South Turkey Creek is fading for me. This is no longer “home.” I find myself looking at other places and thinking, Would I like to live there? Of course, if there is no place for a garden, the answer is no.

I am captivated by the thought of open rooms with few furnishings. After 20+ years in the same place, I am taking little with me. No clutter. No extra baggage for the road. Just me and the teen, the daughter-in-law, the granddaughter, and the Coast Guard Son. Lovely people. Lovely family. Here they are.

 Gorgeous, aren’t they? Obviously, they don’t actually live with me, but they are my family and in that sense, they go where I go, or perhaps at this phase, I go where they go.

I’ve been so worried about leaving South Turkey Creek. I hated that Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa, was forced to leave her African farm. Her words, “If I know a song of Africa, does Africa know a song of me?” actually tormented me. Why did she have to give up her farm? I’d wonder this to myself as I drove the logging road that leads to South Turkey Creek. I assumed the same fate would not befall me. I think, as people, we can never see ourselves suffering as others do. As my friend, Debbie, says about her divorce, and the women who don’t understand what she’s suffered, “Her time’s coming and she doesn’t have a clue.”

She doesn’t mean that the some poor woman’s marriage will end in divorce. She means that suffering comes, no one escapes it, and none of us have a clue. If we did, we’d bury our heads and never look up. Suffering comes, but thankfully it comes on quiet feet, even if it feels like a two by four when it hits.

Suffering came. I got blind-sided. I lost a lot. I lost South Turkey Creek. But, I wouldn’t change a thing. How else would I have learned how faithful my God is in times of trouble? How else would I have discovered my own inner strength, the strength of my children? I have journeyed a long way, but there is still more journey ahead, and for now, I want to enjoy my last summer at South Turkey Creek A final farewell. When I leave, I will carry a song with me.

If I know a song of South Turkey Creek, does South Turkey Creek know a song of me? What a blessed time and place for a young mom and slightly fanatical gardener to have been.

The Battle of the Pinks and the Blues Still Rages.

The world hurls you into the next thing.

I was in that generation of parents pretty new to the two-income, two-jobs thing. My ex and I were hurled into this new way of family life with no role models to portray for us even what the division of chores looked like. We were told by society that now women and men had careers, but we had grown up with the Leave it to Beaver mentality. That made for what I fondly referred to as the Battle of the Pinks and the Blues. If you’re not following; basically, who did what around the house.

My ex was of the opinion that he did the manly chores (lawn, cars, etc.), while I did everything associated with child care, and the daily running of the house, which if you do a flow chart, will show you that he got the better end of the deal because how often do you mow the yard in winter?

So, while my ex and I sorted out the pinks and the blues, my doctor prescribed Prozac for me. He was very specific that I shouldn’t expect results for 6 weeks. The drug  had to build up in my system. I shook my head okay, and took my first 25 mg pill.

He was so wrong.

My body took to Prozac like a fish takes to water. It was like my body had been waiting on that drug. Within 24 hours I was superwoman. There was no chore, no child, no job I could not handle. I told everybody that would listen that they should go get some Prozac. It was a wonder drug.

Then, I had the biggest panic attack of my life about 2 a.m. My ex said I needed to get a grip, and I considered doing that–around his neck.

It seems some people have the exact reaction I did. Amazing results in a short time, huge panic attacks that came in waves for two days following.

The world had hurled me yet again, and just when I thought I was about to conquer it.

Huge disappointment, because I remember feeling like my brain had clicked into place. For the first time since my son was born, I didn’t feel torn between 15 things. I felt I could do 15 things, and do them well. It suddenly didn’t matter that my ex thought I was responsible for every meal he’d ever eat again, I could cook it. (To quote my mom, cook for a man once, and you cook for them the rest of your life. Touche mother, touche.) Heck, I was ready to do both the pink and blue chores. Why not? I was superwoman. I remember telling the ex to put his feet up, “I’ve got this.”

I actually pondered, maybe this drug cures original sin? Like, maybe the fault of mankind, given to our present DNA by our friend, Adam, back in the Garden of Eden, lay in the brain, and this drug can cure it. (I am aware that only Jesus can do that, but I was on a roll.) It was that good.

After two days of panic attacks, and much discussion with the primary care doc, we were back to fighting about the pinks and the blues.

It wasn’t that either one of us was opposed to doing the chores. It was that both of us were exhausted. New baby, new in our careers, working a lot of hours, getting home at 7 to a child whose needs were all ours. It’s a lot. Top that off with figuring out the new roles of parenthood. Let’s just say that skipping from Leave it to Beaver to Modern Family is not a skip, but a huge leap.

During the battle of the pinks and the blues, I really believed our problem stemmed from adjusting to the new roles suddenly created for us.  Looking back, I see that was a part of it, but a small one. Our real problem was teamwork. We lacked it. Here’s why: We never saw the other person’s point of view. We were always too busy trying to prove our own.

How crazy is it that the person we say we love, is the same person we yearn to prove wrong?

One reason I know the problem wasn’t some cultural switch-a-roo is the young married couples I see today. The battle still rages. Women still nag, and men still ignore.  And, this generation grew up in all kinds of households with all sorts of politically correct role modeling going on (stay-at-home-moms, moms-who-work-0utside-the-home, stay-at-home-dads). Their problem? They lack teamwork. And, they’ve forgotten, just like we did, that they married their best friend.

Here’s the cut and chase. Chores get done. Think about last week’s laundry or yesterday’s unloading of the dishwasher. It got done. Who put the baby to bed, or stayed up with her all night? It got done. Who ran errands all day on their day off? It got done. And sometimes you do more, sometimes he/she does more. It all balances out, even if he ends up mowing the lawn while you cook–in the dead of winter.

Listen, the day comes when the kids are gone. and the chores aren’t so overwhelming, and there’s the two of you again. Oh yeah, you! I remember you! So, play nice. After awhile, those pinks and the blues start to mix. Before you know it, they’ve become a nice shade of,,,, yellow.


Eva Mendes, Margaret Roach, And Other Famous People in Your Twitter Feeds

I do the twitter thing. For me, it’s like texting. I text constantly (my kids are in their 20s, it’s necessary). It’s just that sometimes, I text using twitter.

I don’t twitter to promote my business because I don’t have a business.

I do twitter to promote my blog, although, I’ll admit, it’s a #twitterfail.

I do twitter to chat with my nieces and girlfriends.

I do retweet occasional articles or pics that I think are cool. Honestly, not often.

So, I find it strange when some random famous person starts following me. I don’t find it stange when some random non-famous person follows me, because I follow all sorts of non-famous people. When I see someone with 10 followers (or less), I feel so bad for them that I follow them. I assume they return the favor.

But, when a person with 80K followers shows up in my email as now following you! I’m thinking, why?

Ex: Today, an unnamed famous person started following me. He has 79.3k followers. Here’s what his twitter bio said (so you can figure out who he is, so much for the “unnamed”):

NY Times Bestseller- # 1 scifi bestsellers: Area 51 & Atlantis, Green Beret series, Feeder of Cool Gus & Sassy Becca, Former Green Beret, West Pointer, Whatever

I’ll give him the “Whatever” tagline. Way cool. It works because of the whole NY times bestseller, Former Green Beret, West Pointer, oh-by-the-way resume fillers. Imagine if it said, “Bricklayer, Beer drinker, Belly dancer, Whatever.”  Just not the same. I’ll assume he has a good marketing team.

So, why is this guy following me? Does he read the wife my blog in bed? Is he also wondering what size romper SJ will wear in April when she makes her debut at daycare?

Or, is he selling something?

Digging further into his bio, I discover that he teaches writer conferences and, coincidence, just over the hill from me in Knoxville, TN. Ah. Twitter mystery solved. He’s following me because I’m a writer who lives close enough to attend his conferences.

Well, he’s cute. He was a Green Beret, and evidently, he’s a good writer. So, it’s tempting. But, I’ll have to pass.


Because the season, the garden season that is, is just about to launch.

Customers and clients will be frenzied. Is it too late to get that peony or hydrangea in the ground? Drat, they should have planted it last fall, and not left it in the garage all winter. Such are the dilemmas I get to delight in, and, it’s not too late for either, but possibly a bit early for both.

I’m debating over summer bulbs, myself (and tubers, and corms…). I am in love with begonias and canna lilies. Since wintry precip is called for again tonight, I can take my time savoring the decision of one or both (and stay snuggled under my covers).

(By the way, for reliable and interesting garden info, use Margaret Roach at A Way to Garden. She’s got great podcasts. If you don’t know her, definitely check out her links. She is knowledgeable, and just plain fun. You can follow her twitter feed here.)

At any rate, it did not help my canna fascination to see this today.

Ikebana with burgundy cana lilies, done by Lynn Forbes, Asheville, NC

Ikebana with burgundy cana lilies, done by Lynn Forbes, Asheville, NC

I am writing an article on Ikebana, and got to watch with the ladies of the local Asheville chapter, as they prepared for an exhibit tonight. It was fascinating to hear their critiques of one another, which is part of the process. but scares me to death. I loved them all. No critiquing from me.

Anyway, I had just heard Margaret Roach talk about red cannas yesterday, and now this.

Here are a few more pics, just to make your heart happy.

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Did not get the name of this artist, but loved the container with the basket weave and draping white tulips.

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Done by Terri Ellis Todd, the teacher

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Waiting on the 3rd element, the dog hobble and Asiatic lily are pretty by themselves, but three is traditional. Also the placement of the elements in the container speaks to what season it is. This one says spring, even if these lilies are summer bloomers..

So, twitter mystery solved. Ikebana article almost done. winter jammies back on (after a small spring teaser), and one last thought on the wonder of famous persons  showing up in your twitter (or other social media) feed. Eva Mendes once liked a pin of mine on Pinterest. When that showed up in my email, I really didn’t care why. I just savored the moment.

Getting Off the Treadmill (Without Going off the Grid)

I despair.

It’s work.

Understand, I love my job. I’m outside all day, with my plants, doing my thing, and mostly talking people’s heads off. What’s not to love?

But, here’s my despair. I have discovered the timeless truth of the treadmill. And, I am on it.

I talked non-stop with Debbie N, (that, I-think-I’m-having-a-nervous-break-down,  talking) for an hour, yesterday. She was standing in line at Moe’s ordering burritos for take-out supper. Chicken and rice, if you’re wondering. Having to do the whole ordering and paying thing while on her smart phone with her hysterical friend. Mouthing, “yes, large tea” (sweet, it’s the south), and gesturing “yes, extra chips, yes extra sour cream,” to the Moe’s folks with the phone cupped between chin and shoulder. It’s what we women do. I could hear “Welcome to Moe’s!” being shouted in the background.

By the time she got home with supper, I was going to empty my savings, pack a few belongings in the car, and Thelma and Louise style, just start driving. I was thinking west coast, because that just sounds so good when you’re running away.

Which is what being on a treadmill does to you. It makes you want to run away.

Now, that I’ve calmed down considerably, two or three Xanax later (But really, who’s counting?), I am pondering the whole treadmill thing from a much more laid back perspective. Say man, what do you think about the treadmill of life? (Kidding, it’s the Xanax talking.) One major thought popped up.

When I moved to Brevard, almost two years ago, I told the Lord that I would work 24.7 if that was what was needed. Newly divorced, newly employed, and newly responsible for the household and kid, I was typical Cinthia. Extreme, determined, and way too prideful to ask anyone for help. You know, the whole bootstrap mentality. 

2 years later, and completely exhausted, here’s what I’m realizing. It isn’t my job to work 24.7. It is the Lord’s. If anybody is on the ole’ treadmill, the Lord is. I mean, look at his job. He keeps the whole world cruising along every day, all day, with no sleep, and no help. Now, that is a treadmill deal. If he stops, it all stops. Meaning, he  is in control, and I’m not.

And, isn’t that where the treadmill lie originates? We’re stressed because we’ve convinced ourselves that the world rests on us. If we stop, it all stops?

Sometimes, I  want to be a teenager again. Back home in my room, staring out my window, gabbing on the phone, mom making dinner and dad hanging out with her. Because then, I wasn’t the one responsible for it all.

But, here’s the takeaway. I’m not the one responsible for it all now. So, when I feel like I am running on that treadmill of life and work again, I need to step off, and say, “Sorry, Lord, it’s all yours.” Because it is.

PS Kidding about the Xanax, it’s Klonopin. 🙂

Vote for Ruth Bancroft Garden to Win Best Public Garden

My favorite garden (well, favorite succulent garden), The Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, California, is the in the running for the best public garden in America. What a big deal. So snazzy.

They’re up against biggies like Longwood, and Missouri Botanical, which is sort of like being up against Meryl Streep at the Oscars. She really just needs a category of her own, so the little people can have a chance.

You can vote for them by going here.  You can vote daily if you like, but once will prove you’re my friend. Every day will prove we’re BFFs.

Here’s the website.

And, a few pictures from my recent visit there. And oh yeah, Ruth herself, who designed this garden on her family’s old ranch, is 106. How cool is that? The history of the land, the farm, and Ruth and family, is pretty cool and can be read on the website. Again, here.

image (4) California trip 511 Not the Victorian, cottagey thing going on, but so much fun

So, no Longwood/Monticello/Missouri Botanical public garden thing happening here, which is why I’m rooting for them. That, and I’m a sucker for succulents.

Short Post: Vote for Ruth Bancroft Garden to Win Best Public Garden

My favorite garden (well, favorite succulent garden), The Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, California, is the in the running for the best public garden in America. What a big deal. So snazzy.

They’re up against biggies like Longwood, and Missouri Botanical, which is sort of like being up against Meryl Streep at the Oscars. She really just needs a category of her own, so the little people can have a chance.

You can vote for them by going here.  You can vote daily if you like, but once will prove you’re my friend. Every day will prove we’re BFFs.

Here’s the website.

And, a few pictures from my recent visit there. And oh yeah, Ruth herself, who designed this garden on her family’s old ranch, is 106. How cool is that? The history of the land, the farm, and Ruth and family, is pretty cool and can be read on the website. Again, here.

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Assorted Succulents (love the blue)

California trip 511

This is a ground cover succulent. Do you know how many times a day I am asked for a ground cover? And, how badly I’d love to be able to show them this. We’re not zoned for it

Not the Victorian, cottagey thing going on, but so much fun

Not the Victorian, cottagey thing going on, but so much fun

So, no Longwood/Monticello/Missouri Botanical public garden thing happening here, which is why I’m rooting for them. That, and I’m a sucker for succulents.

Advice from a Blue Collar Girl

A guy asked me out recently. (Oh. Stop. It can happen.)

Anyway, when he found out I was a horticulturist, he quickly lost interest.

I’ll quote him:

“I didn’t realize you were a blue collar girl.” he said, pausing to consider the ramifications of this on his personal life.  “I thought you graduated from Furman University.” Silence, while he pondered this newsflash a bit more, rubbing his chin a lot like my divorce attorney did. He concluded. “I don’t really want to date a blue collar girl.” 

What I am about to tell you may be shocking to some of you. Hold tight.

My response:

“Oh good, because I didn’t realize you were a complete a**, but now that I know you are, well, I don’t want to date you.”

I know. We can’t all be as classy as I am.

At any rate, if said a** only knew. I’m not just a Furman girl, I’m a Cornell girl. That’s right. Ivy League. The only ivy league school that has a horticulture program, because ivy league schools don’t teach blue collar programs. Except Cornell, so, of course, I love them, because I wear my blue collar proudly.

So now, I’ve finally reached my topic. I’m going to give ya’ll some career advice. The dating advice was a freebie that I just threw in.

I’m currently enrolled (again, yes, I know) in a permaculture class at Cornell. It is kicking my blue collar butt.

My non-date was correct. I did graduate from Furman University, no shabby chic, DIY school either, but I have to be honest, Furman has nothing on Cornell. Cornell puts Furman in the pre-school, kindergarten department. Hey, it’s all relative, and I’m still proud to be a Furman grad, and very happy I did not do my undergrad at Cornell, because I feel sure I would have wandered off to Woodstock looking for the Janis, and who knows where I’d be now.

But, I have learned these things from school, and from my blue collar job, which I am passing on to you now. You’re welcome. 

1. There is no shame in hard work, blue collar, or whatever collar you wear. Be proud of your job, and your hard work.

2. You can work in the pouring rain, melting heat, blowing wind, freezing cold, and baking sun. You think you can’t, but you can.

3. DayQuill will get you through even your sickest days.

4. Don’t wait to be brave to do something. Bravery comes with doing, not waiting (or reading a self-help book).

5. Get over the idea that you should be at the same place someone who has been doing their craft/job for decades is.  Stay focused. It will come. Don’t compare yourself to others. Just persevere.

6. And, while we’re on that subject. Perseverance is the number one thing needed to succeed at whatever you’re doing: work, career, family, marriage, hobby, gardening, writing, etc.

7. Most people quit way before the finish line; some quit when it’s in sight. Don’t quit.

8. Your body, no matter the age, can do way more than you think. Push yourself.

9. Training matters. Not every job or every person needs a college degree. In fact, despite Cornell being my fourth college, I am not an advocate of college for everyone. But, I do think training is important. Take lots of extra-curricular training classes to improve your job skills, and add to your resume (it is all about the resume these days).

10. If you can’t do it, hire someone who can. A good professional is worth every dime. You might save some pennies trying to do it yourself, but in the long run, you lose way more than you gain. For instance, I am now going to hire someone to design and maintain the blog. That way I can write, and stop trying to figure out technical stuff I haven’t a clue about.

Finally, there is a season to everything. Ask yourself what season of you are in. For me, it’s a season of new beginnings and hard work. A lot of 12-14 hour days and few days off. For you, perhaps it is a season of slowing down. The next season is around the corner, as sure as spring is almost here. Acknowledge it, and live this season of life.

Advice from a blue collar girl.