Tag Archives: gardening

Mama’s Flower Garden – a story of death and hope

Please enjoy reading the following short story. It is a story of hope when death comes, but it is also a story that tells of the legacy that a parent leaves a child.  Please leave a comment – I would love to hear what you think. I am currently considering getting it illustrated.

Mama’s Flower Garden

By Kathleen Fiske

Julia looked at her mother’s flower garden – the snow was gone, it was early spring, everything looked gray, nothing was green.  That is how her heart felt – cold and dull with nothing growing in it.

 Her mother had died that winter. There hadn’t been any warning and suddenly her life was done. She would give no more; she had no more time to make a difference.

It wasn’t fair, Julia thought, that her mother’s life had to end when she knew her mother wanted to do so much more. She used to laugh, Julia remembered, and say that she was still trying to figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up…

 Julia’s thoughts sent her from where she stood to where her favorite place had been with her mother, sitting on the kitchen stool, talking while her mother put together supper late in the afternoon, while time pleasantly turned to early evening.

 “Mama, when you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?”

 Mama laughed, “I would dream of designing and sewing beautiful dresses and costumes for plays and movies. I would be famous and go on stage to receive awards for my dresses and costumes!”

 “Really, Mama?  How come you didn’t do that?”

 “Oh, I became a mama instead, but I design and sew you pretty dresses. I believe if there was an award for that, I would receive it!” Mama laughed. “And I’m teaching you to sew so that someday maybe you will be that famous designer!”



 “Thank you for all those dresses you sew for me. I always feel very special wearing them.”

 “You’re welcome. That’s really all the award I need.”

 “Mama, what else did you want to be when you grew up?”

 “I wanted to be a teacher and maybe even go to a different country to teach children who didn’t have fancy schools with all the latest books and equipment.”

 “Really? How come you didn’t do that?”

 “Oh, I became a mama instead, but I’m your teacher. I’m probably one of the most important teachers you will ever have, which is a very big responsibility. I will help teach you the truth you will need to know all your life and maybe someday you will go to a different country that doesn’t have fancy schools with all the latest books and equipment, and you can teach the children who need to know the truth.”



 “Thank you for always being here when I need to learn.”

 “You’re welcome.”

 “Maybe when we are all grown up, you can still teach children in another country?”

 “Maybe,” answered Mama with a smile. “But maybe you will still need me. We’ll see.”

 “Mama, what else did you want to be?”

 “Well, what I really wanted to be the most was a gardener who took care of the huge and magnificent gardens of a king!”

 “Really? How come you didn’t?”

 “I became a mama instead.”

 “But why a gardener, Mama?”

 “Gardens are where I kneel the most – some think I am just pulling weeds or digging up the soil for new plants, but I am really praying. If I gardened for a king with huge and grand gardens, I would be on my knees praying all day!”

 “Mama, when you are out in our gardens, do you pray for me?”

 “Yes, all of the time.”

 “I’m glad Mama that you are our gardener. You make me feel like a queen.”

 “Thank you.”



 “I think you grew up being what you wanted to be.”

 “Really?” said Mama with a chuckle.

 “Yes! You grew up to be my mama!”

 “Yes.” Mama replied, “And I wouldn’t change a thing!”

 Julia laughed in spite of her sadness and wiped away her tears as she thought of that day. Mama always knew that she was just what she wanted to be.

 Looking down at Mama’s garden was like looking at Mama’s death, thought Julia. Although it looked lifeless, she saw that bits of green were already showing, that the promise of new life continues, that life continues…what Mama planted before she died will continue to grow, that Mama’s life will continue to matter, to make a difference….

 “Mama?” Julia whispered as she bent down in Mama’s garden to pull some of the brown bits of old plant away from the new green growth coming up through the soil. “Mama, I know what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be a mama just like you.”



March 30, 2013 · 11:16 am

I Praise the God of Grace…

I praise the God of grace;

I trust His truth and might;

He calls me His, I call Him mine,

 My God, my joy and light.

’Tis He Who saveth me,

and freely pardon gives;

I love because He loveth me,

I live because He lives.

– Horatius Bonar

( Photos by Andrea Anderson, my sweet neighbor.)

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Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere…

I can’t help singing this while I’m picking off diseased leaves from plants in my garden…

Septoria leaf spot, Septoria lycopersici, on a roma tomato leaf from my garden.

Iris leaf spot caused by the fungus Mycosphaerella macrospora.

(I found this drawing of the iris leaf spot on an on-line fact sheet put out by one of our research universities. I get a good laugh out of it every time I look at it. Just thought I would share it with you. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.)

Anthracnose,  Colletotrichum spp., on a hollyhock leaf. 

Powdery mildew (there are many genus species of powdery mildew) on a helianthus leaf. 

This one puzzles me – I haven’t been able to find anything about it. I found it one morning spread all over the candy tuft. Do you recognize it?

OK, now back to the clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere, clean up, clean up, everybody do your share; now sing it over and over again until it drives you crazy…

CLEAN UP PRACTICES to help REDUCE the need to sing that song every time you go out into your garden…

  •   When CHOOSING plants, see if you can find plants that have certain fungus, bacteria, or virus RESISTANCE. You may have to do some research ahead of time.  Always LOOK FOR PLANTS THAT ARE STRONG, FULL, HEALTHY LOOKING WITH GOOD COLORIf there are brown or spotted leaves, don’t buy them. If you get home and find there are some diseased looking leaves that were hiding under the healthy, remove them before planting.
  • Use plenty of MULCH around your plants. Fungus and bacteria can overwinter in soil. To prevent it from splashing up onto your plant when watering or when raining, put a nice thick layer of organic matter such as leaves, straw, compost, etc.. around your plants, at least an inch if possible. You can also used something like black plastic.
  • WATER AT THE BASE OF THE PLANT. If overhead watering, do it in the morning so plants have a chance to dry off before the cooler and more humid evening temperatures.
  • DON’T CROWD the plants. There needs to be plenty of air circulation between plants. Use a good, well balanced fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10. Don’t go heavy on the nitrogen, as it will promote vegetative growth, which will decrease air circulation.
  • Probably the best thing is to GET RID OF INFECTED PLANT MATERIAL. I pull off or cut off infected leaves and stems throughout the season and get rid of them. Be careful not to touch uninfected parts of plants with your hands or cutters that are now probably carrying some of those putrid little fungal spores or bacterium. You can dip your cutters into a  10% bleach/water solution between cuts.  DON’T PUT INFECTED PLANT MATERIAL IN THE COMPOST PILE!!! THE FUNGUS AND BACTERIA COULD POSSIBLY THRIVE IN THAT SETTING, OVERWINTER, AND BE SPREAD ONTO YOUR GARDEN NEXT YEAR!!! INSTEAD, GET RID OF THEM SO YOU DON’T EVER SEE THEM AGAIN. The same in the fall, clean up all infected plant material and get rid of it!
  • If you are working with infected annuals, don’t plant that type of annual in the same spot next year, ROTATE where you place the plants. If you are dealing with perennials, which you don’t want to move around every year, just BE FAITHFUL TO PRACTICE THE ABOVE LISTED PLANT HYGIENE.

No garden is perfect – remember that. Next year is another year – remember that. You garden because you love it – remember that….Try not to sing the clean up song again – remember that…


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Gardens are for…

Seniors. You don’t have to go too far into a senior’s past to find a generation who was raised on a farm – many will tell you they were the one raised on the farm or certainly their parents were. They will tell you of the gardens they grew, the canning they did, of the vase of freshly cut garden flowers they set in the center of the family table… 

But there comes a time when planting rows and rows of seeds becomes something of the past. No longer is there the family vegetable garden, no longer is there the ability to bend to pick the weeds, no longer is there the endurance to put up the vegetables and fruit for the year…

but it’s still in us to be out in the sunshine, to feel the warm soil between our fingers, to take in the smells of the garden as we water and care for the plants…what memories and feelings come back to us while being in the garden…


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Baby Bunting…

There are many qualities found in the Ligularia dentata ‘Desdemona’ – it provides a big and bold plant statement in shady areas, it has lovely, bright yellow flowers, the leaves are greenish bronze on top and purplish on the bottom, there aren’t too many problems with it – a few bug holes chewed in the leaves here and there…but the best thing is….



this…do you see it? The flower buds come wrapped in a leaf that looks like a bunting…the little buds peaking out like little faces…I have a new name for Ligularia dentata ‘Desdemona’ – baby bunting!

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My Kitchen Garden

For a few years, when the kids were little, I had a fairly good sized garden in our back yard – not huge but still plenty of room for lots of plants.  It was a lot of work and to be honest, I wasn’t certain that the garden produce was worth all the effort and cost. Now I know some of you are shocked by that statement, but I soon found I could just as easily buy fresh produce during the summer months at the local farmer’s markets, even more so today as the number of markets has exponentially expanded in the past few years.

 I had also tried canning and freezing my home grown produce and quite honestly, I didn’t like doing it, and so I raised my kids during the rest of the year on the frozen produce grown in the Valley of the Jolly Green Giant and found it quite tasty. 

With more and more frequency, however, I found myself missing the fun of looking for a ripe tomato or finding a few cucs ready to be picked for supper or pulling up a fresh garden carrot which tastes better than any found at a grocery store. So this year I started to develop a small kitchen garden as an extension of my perennial gardens.

   It all actually started when I found a beautiful heirloom tomato “pineapple” plant at the local garden center.  I immediately knew I had to have it and without further deliberation, I set it in my brown cardboard flat provided at garden centers for all customers. I decided I also needed a roma and set that next to the heirloom.  It didn’t stop there. I rounded the corner and there were the bins of onion sets. I love the smell of garden centers in the spring; it’s the mixture of the smells of fertilizer and onions and fresh air.  Seriously.  I decided right then that I was going to have the thrill of growing my own onions.  I mixed together a couple of scoopfuls of yellow and purple onion sets in the bag provided. That, along with three bags of manure, was all I purchased for this year’s kitchen garden. I didn’t want to overdo it.

When I got home I decided to take this small piece of garden which I used last year to plant sunflowers and get it in shape for my little kitchen garden.   It receives full sun during the day and the soil drains well. Don’t feel like you have to grow rows and rows in a huge bed.  Work a garden into the space you have and into the size and shape you want. 

                                                        I dug the soil up real well while incorporating the three 20 pound bags of manure – bagged manure is nice because it has been pasteurized, which  kills the weed seeds; it’s fairly inexpensive and you can buy the bags at any garden center; the manure adds nutrients to your soil and it helps to improve the soil texture. Adding compost to the soil is also valuable, if you have a source for it. If you are wondering how much compost or manure to add to your soil, on average you should put it down about an inch thick. Then you need to really mix in the manure. Work your soil to a depth of at least 12 inches.  I dug and mixed and dug and mixed and dug and mixed.  You can also incorporate a 10-10-10 vegetable or all around fertilizer into the soil at this time. Just follow the package directions. I didn’t because I thought if I added any additional fertilizer, it would be around mid-summer. It turned out I didn’t need to add any additional fertilizer. 

Now it’s time to start planting!

Onions basically come in three forms: seeds, transplants, and sets. I had purchased sets, little bulbs, and they are probably the easiest way to grow onions for the average gardener who just wants to grow a few fresh onions.  If you want to know all the ins and outs of onions, and/or are seriously looking to grow rows and rows of onions for use through the winter, look at this link from the University of Illinois on onions. It’s very informative. http://urbanext.illinois.edu/veggies/onion.cfm.

 Space onion sets about 4 inches apart and plant them about one inch deep, making sure the points are pointing to the sky, just a little of the point should be showing.  The earlier you get sets in, the more green growth they will have before the bulbs start to form, and then the bigger the bulbs will be.  In the North we grow long day onions – it’s what you will find at the garden centers – so when the days reach 14-15 hours, around the 21 of June,  the bulbs will start to form.  I planted my onions late because I really wasn’t planing on growing onions until I saw them at the garden center along with the tomato plants. The average date in our area for our last frost is around Memorial Day. It is generally considered safe to plant tomatoes or any other tender crops once that date has passed. Next year I will put my onions in about a month earlier.


     I planted 2  rows of onions, following the shape of the garden, around the two tomato plants.  Next year if I plant onions in this garden again, I will not plant onions near the sidewalk as they kept getting trodden on by a certain family member’s feet. 

I like how my little kitchen garden looks. I think it is quite attractive!

I placed a thick of layer of leaf mulch around the tomatoes and onions. The mulch will protect the tomato leaves from soil born fungus and bacteria, help keep the soil moist, and it will keep down the weeds. Because onions have shallow roots, you need to keep the weeds to a minimum otherwise they will compete too greatly with the growth of the onion. 

And they grew…

And they grew….

And they grew!

Some questioned why I wasn’t using tomato cages. I had this lattice in the garage, I painted it the same color as the shutters on the house, and figured it would work just as well. As the tomatoes got larger and larger, I cut an old white t-shirt into strips and tied up some of the branches.  The softness and stretch of the fabric gave the tomatoes good support and some flexibility.  The roma is a semi-determinate plant, which means it will only grow so high. It is very thick with branches and full of tomatoes. It takes up the whole side of the lattice.  The heirloom pineapple tomato is indeterminate, which means it will continue growing and growing. I have yet to prune it, but I think I might have to start as it is starting to really shoot its branches out way beyond the lattice. For more detailed information on tomato growing check this U of Minnesota link: http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/M1246.html  

Just in the last week the romas have begun to ripen. I’ve picked two so far.

The heirlooms aren’t showing any color yet.

The onions, however, did what they are supposed to – they have fallen over on their own. They started doing this around a week a go. Today I went out and pulled some that had necks that were starting to turn yellow and definitely were done growing.  Some I left in the ground as it appeared the leaves were still all green and maybe still growing even though bent over. I’ll keep an eye on them. I’ll not be saving my onions for very long – they didn’t get big enough for storage, but we will enjoy them for the next few weeks. 

Next year:  Will I plant onions and tomatoes again? Maybe, or maybe I’ll plant cucumbers and squash instead. I think I’m going to definitely add another “loop” of garden to my kitchen garden.  The last time I planted leaf lettuce the cat walked through it and I kind of lost my appetite for it…I wondered what else had walked through it. Peppers, yes, I think I will plant peppers and cilantro and tomatoes – salsa! I’m starting look forward to next spring already!  Thanks for stopping by! Add a comment if you like. I’d love to hear from you. 

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Dividing an Iris Can Multiply a Memory…

I will always have a cluster of purple iris in my garden.  As far back as I can remember, there was always purple iris blooming in the springtime in my mother’s gardens and now it is true in mine. It’s one of those things in life that I haven’t stopped too much to think about. It’s kind of like looking back in your childhood and assuming everybody had a wool WWII army blanket in their car to keep them warm when traveling on cold winter nights (my dad’s from the war) or everybody ate spicy meat and grape jelly sandwiches.

Yesterday I dug up and divided my purple iris clusters. It was time. I found this spring that the flower heads were not as big, not as showy, and that the stems were falling over more easily than usual. As I dug, divided, and replanted I thought of my mother out in the garden in her housecoat early in the morning before the school bus came, picking me irises, wrapping the stems in a wet paper towel and then tin foil, so I could bring a bouquet to my teacher. I also thought of all the iris bouquets that traveled in our car to the cemetery on Memorial Day for Grandpa’s grave. I hope you grow iris in your garden, too.

Although there are more than 300 species of iris around the world, in my garden and in many others the bearded iris hybrid is the most popular. It can be as tall as a yard stick or as short as only a couple of inches; the flowers are notable for their six petals – the three that arch upward to form the center (the standards), and the three that cascade downward and also have the “beard” (the falls); aptly named for Iris, the goddess of the rainbow, the flower comes in many shades of almost every color – there really isn’t a green iris and the breeders are working on a true red.  

Here’s how to divide the bearded iris.

Looking at this cluster of iris in my garden, you can see a lot of rhizomes crowded together. The rhizome is actually a modified part of the iris stem from which the roots, the leaves, and the flower stem immerge. It is a fleshy tuber which lies horizontally close to the surface of the soil and it multiplies over the years. You really should divide the rhizomes every 3-4 years. I’m guessing it’s been more like 5-6 years since I have divided these. They can be dug up and divided anytime after the blooming is finished, but the best time is probably between the middle of July until the first of September. There should be at least 6 weeks before the ground starts to freeze so they can become established. I took a garden fork and carefully started to lift the rhizomes up and out of the garden.

Gently pull them apart using your hands.

I ended up with a heap of rhizomes!

I washed them off with the hose, pulled off any brown or spotted leaves, trimmed the leaves down 3-6 inches, and began to cut them into individual sections, each with at least one fan – you can also see a few buds on the sides.

Throw away the big old sections – they are done producing. (Can you see the red arrow in the picture – that is what you throw away.) Throw away any pieces that are soft or squishy or if you see any holes bored into them. I dipped the knife in a 1 part bleach to 9 parts water solution to prevent any spread of disease. I also dipped the rhizome in the solution for good measure. I looked around to see what else I could dip in it but didn’t find anything.

Then I stopped and took this picture of the kitty enjoying herself in the garden. 

Dig your soil up a bit, add compost or peat moss at this time if you think it needs it. The iris likes a soil that drains well, otherwise there can be a concern of root rot. Iris should also have at least 6 hours of sunlight per day.  At this point you don’t need to add fertilizer, you can apply that in the springtime.   

Now it’s important to plant the rhizomes so that about a third of the top of the rhizome is showing – at the most only about an inch of soil should be covering the rest. Dig a hole big enough to spread out the feeder roots (the fat roots, you can trim them down to around 2-3 inches if you want), put a ridge of soil along the middle of the hole on which you will set the rhizome, bury the roots, and slightly cover the rhizome. They can be planted 8-12 inches apart in drifts where the fans are all pointing in one direction, or you can plant them in a circle, as I like to do, and then you plant them a little closer together. It creates a nice effect in the garden. Water them in well.

Well, that’s it for dividing iris. Now take all those extra rhizomes and hand them out to neighbors, friends, family, bring them to church and give them away. (They kind of become like zucchini after awhile…you might have to put them in a grocery bag, hang them on someone’s mail box, and drive away as fast as you can.)

But once you get someone to plant them, they will begin to cherish them, and they will become apart of their garden memories.

I wish I could say this is my garden – do you know whose famous garden it is?

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