Garden reflections

by Janna Virden
Mike Kemp photos

With each season, the world changes. The fresh green of spring is different from the hardened green of summer before the world turns to the hues of amber, oranges and red in the fall. Even in winter, the garden has the bright red berries of the holly, and the evergreens smell so good when brought in during Christmas time.

Being able to see, smell, touch and perhaps add to some of the beauty of nature is why I love to garden. I feel peaceful when I am on my knees, hands in the dirt with my heart in the right place.

My parents and grandparents all grew up in the country where being able “to make a garden” meant having canned goods during the winter. Large vegetable plots were the norm, but both my grandmothers also had flowers growing around the house and along fences. I remember playing outside during the summer in the early evening and watching large hummingbird-like moths flutter around the 4 o’clocks, or looking up to hollyhocks covered in bright crepe flowers that danced with bumble bees. They grew along the unpainted wooden fence near the well house and stood head and shoulders above me as a little girl. I couldn’t believe flowers grew so tall.

I remember my brothers and I would pass the time on slow summer days just sitting and drinking the drops of nectar of wild honeysuckle that covered the barbed wire fencing in the pastures. But most of all I remember falling in love with one of my favorite flowers, the larkspur. It was their true blue color I remember. I think this is why blue plays a major role in my garden now. They always grew better in one particular place in my grandmother’s yard, which I learned later was an old septic line.

And being gardeners, my grandmothers passed along their plants to my mother, and her to me. Their unselfish gifts of love bloom still in my garden after they each have left me.

When I married and moved to Morrilton as a young bride, my husband and I moved several times before settling in an old home on six acres right in the middle of town. Our house is known as the Moose House and was built around 1833.

Beautiful old cherry trees and forsythia make the yard come alive in the spring. But I wanted more flowers. We fenced the yard and added arbors. I planted new dawn climbing roses and built a flowerbed to run the length of the fence along the front lawn, added a rock walkway around the house in the back and built more beds between the walkway and the house. Here I have planted perennials, like daylilies, coneflowers and daisies, among others, that I hoped would withstand the heat of summer. But I am more of a spring gardener. I love larkspur, sweet pea, poppy and bachelor’s button. These I plant from seed in the fall. I also have grasses and mums for fall color. Unfortunately, I also have weeds.

Try as I might, my garden never quite looks like those beautiful English Cottage gardens seen in magazines. I make a habit of pulling weeds after every rain because they come out easier, so sometimes the weeds stay awhile if there is no precipitation predicted. I work hard through June and then get tired when the heat of July hits. But over the years I have also learned not to worry so much. It is OK not to be perfect. The garden doesn’t have to be perfect to produce a beautiful flower. You sometimes just have to look closer.

Lessons learned

Mulch and water: A good layer of mulch will save a lot of time trying to pull weeds. If you don’t have a good source of water during Arkansas summers, your flowerbeds will dry out. Get a cheap sprinkler system. As a gardening friend said to me, “Life is too short to be constantly dragging hoses.”

Amend your soil with compost and get a soil sample.

You will not be able to grow everything you see in the magazines. If it doesn’t survive the summers here, get something that will.

Start small. I have finally learned this lesson. Know yourself and how much work you are willing to put into a garden. A few flowerpots can add a lot of beauty to a porch and take a lot less work.

Cultivate gardening friends. They will have a lot of knowledge and will always share plants with new gardeners. My pass-along plants are the ones I cherish the most.

Read. There are a lot of how-to resources to explain what a particular plant needs.

Save money by going to local plant sales.

Appreciate your helpers. Husbands do get tired. After more than 30 years of marriage, mine groans when he hears me say, “I have this great idea.”