The Cheerful Saratoga Gardener


I am a simple gardener–I spade, sow, seed, water, then I plant and wait. Loving variety, I am also an eclectic gardener, never like Secret Garden’s Frances Hodgson Bennett’s garden where three hundred coral-pink roses bloomed.

Three hundred roses on my fifty by seventy-five foot plot would require me to move my house, although I do have nine seven to eight feet tall hibiscus plants that fill with dinner-plate size flowers mostly in white with red-violet and yellow centers, because my dirt turns even scarlet hibiscus white in about three years–never understood why.

 Nothing dulls my gardening excitement, not even the huge Queen Anne Victorian next door that blocks my sun, or the fact that my flowers get only morning sun. So, fruits, vegetables and full-sun flowers will not grow.

In twenty-one years living in Upstate New York’s Zone Five, I have learned that colors can parade in shade when my irises, tulips, lilies, hibiscus, and asters provide the loveliness for the rest of the day after their bath in morning sunlight. That’s why I dearly love those catalogs with the bright, bodacious colors that pop. All the guaranteed-to-grow catalogers know Barbara Garro’s name, because the twice-blooming tulips, double irises, and lily trees never seem to grow for me, no matter how many years they get re-planted.

Just because I know not one Latin name, fail to plant differently for each season, or have not one particular pattern in any bed, I am full of love for each and every love-child, and all of them as a family, in each of the nine flower beds surrounding my house. So far, my front beds are the most beautiful on the street.

Dirt-driven, my garden rarely receives mulch or watering. Sometimes, circumstances force the issue, like long dry spells. One day the City dumped a whole truck load of really ugly, dirt-colored mulch in my neighbor’s driveway. Her husband ordered it and she was home when it came. In our tightly together city houses, this was a major dump and both our properties got fully mulched with some left over.

I could mention that I dress my dirt garden occasionally with brick-colored mulch I sometimes find at yard sales.

Every several years, I make a flower-shopping trip when I feel bloom deprived. Unabashedly, I examine every bloom in the biggest local garden shop on the hunt for the most profuse annuals in glorious colors. Still, I know names of only the most common flowers and have plenty left in the first fertilizer bag I bought over twenty years ago.

I began with two beds of purple weeds in my two front plots, discovered only when my new neighbor asked, during an unseasonably dry July, Why are you wasting water on those weeds?

Even a catch-as-catch-can grass-roots gardener has standards, so out came the weeds. And no really ugly weeds are tolerated, no matter what it takes to keep them from stealing space and water from my flower children. My flowers get all my love and worms for company and, like people greeted with positive expectations, they grow profusely and happily. Care is haphazard, but uncompromising principles cause me to week and deadhead daily when necessary. The tiger lilies get thinned annually, while the lilies of the valley get less thinning, because they smell nice.

Passersby see me gardening in all three seasons, occasionally in church finery. Well-dressed, with gusto and love’s magical grace. I weed, deadhead and sometimes plant. Forever flowers and vibrant colors are my driving goal. But I am not up to patterns, rows or seasonal plantings. Accidentally, though, some perennials may surprise or I may arrange annuals in a shape to fill an empty space.

I am a thrifty gardener–with a twelve by twenty-five foot glass studio that winters over several plants, adopts discarded annuals, and has a talent for making cuttings into wonderful new, invigorated plants.

In my late fall-winter studio secret garden, pink wax begonias bloom daily, an amaryllis sprouts up inch by inch. Christmas and Easter Cactus, in several colors, including whitish, grow buds along with a mysterious bulb received as a winter gift. The wintered-in coral, yellow and pink hibiscus bloom until January. In February, the mysterious gift turned out to be a most fragrant white hyacinth. After that, only the wax begonias brightened my studio with flowers and I was ready for bunches of bright red flowers to blooming in March.

This year, also in March, new exciting activity comes from one budding hibiscus out of five that should bloom in April. So, I will have blooming hibiscus for a month before I plant them outside, already blooming.

What I love about my secret garden blooming inside when outside gardens in Saratoga wait for late spring is no weeds grow in my winter garden, ever! The safety net rule for Zone Five is never plant before Mother’s Day in May.

Inside or outside, my grass-roots garden is not a cutting garden, can’t bear to take the kids away from their flower families.

1 Comment
  1. Avatar of Boyd Lemon
    Boyd Lemon says

    I live in a small cottage behind a larger home in Ventura, California. Surrounding my cottage is a beautiful garden maintained by the landlady containing southern California native trees, plants, flowers and succulents. It can’t tell you what a pleasure it brings me, certainly as much, if not more than, human created art.

    Boyd Lemon-Author of “Eat, Walk, Write: An American Senior’s Year of Adventure in Paris and Tuscany,” “Digging Deep: A Writer Uncovers His Marriages,” the author’s journey to understand his role in the destruction of his three marriages and “Unexpected Love and Other Stories. Information, reviews and excerpts: .
    Travel blog: .

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