Dirty Fingernails, Pretty Flowers

“Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul.” ~Luther Burbank~

My soul is happy. I went shopping this past weekend.


It’s finally the season of getting out the flower pots, picking out the flora, and allowing dirt to imbed itself under my fingernails. Joy! Shopping for flowers is life affirming, probably because it’s done in spring, when the trees are in bud and grass has turned green. I can smell the earth and that is where I want to dig. No garden gloves – just me, my fingernails, the dirt, and flowers.

There was a time when I could care less about flowers and planting. Mom and dad always had a vegetable garden in their backyard while the snapdragons, impatiens, and marigolds formed a perimeter around the home. I was only interested when I could pick fresh raspberries and green beans (and eat them on the spot) or when mom offered a small bouquet of cut snapdragons. My inner horticulturist was nowhere to be found, hiding under the youthful endeavors of a girl in her 20’s.

Somewhere in my 30’s, however, the flower non-interest turned. I blame my friend Margie, the plant lady. Margie’s yard was filled with flowers of every variety and she knew the names of most. At times, Margie would point to a green stem growing from the earth and confess she didn’t know what it was because she didn’t plant the darn thing. It was suspected that birds dropped a few seeds in that spot just to keep Margie on her toes and give her a surprise later on in the summer season. Her yard was filled with the colors of daisies, bee balm, daylilies, roses, catmint, hollyhocks, and much more.

One summer, Margie offered to provide a few plants for my then mother-in-law’s yard. I had told her that the in-laws were not flower aficionados and they had a few spots that could use help. No problem, she said, and soon we were at the in-laws with daylilies, a shovel, and a teaching session. That’s all it took. I was hooked. The excitement of planting life and watching it grow took hold. There was no turning back. I became a flower child.

For several years after, Mother’s Day for my mother-in-law meant her daughter-in-law would show up with flats of flowers, both annuals and perennials. Daughter-in-law would fill the existing spaces and, at times, create new ones. Throughout this time, while my marriage was headed downhill, I found emotional solace in readying small holes for planting of flowers, weeding, dead-heading, and accepting occasional offerings from Margie. I became enraptured with coneflowers and daisies, learned about powdery mildew, and cried when unknowing father-in-law cut back the russian sage in the fall (I bought a new one the following spring). I also engaged in a war every year with foliage-chewing bunnies and deer, along with the bulb-digging chipmunks. Rascally varmints!

I did find a recipe for a great homemade deer/bunny repellent that worked. If I remember correctly, the recipe calls for:

  • In a 1 quart spray bottle, add 2 TBL Chinese garlic oil
  • Strain 2 eggs through a sieve, into the bottle
  • Add water to fill
  • Shake well
  • Spray foliage in dry weather, reapply after it rains or 5-7 days of dry weather
  • Refrigerate any unused portion
  • Hold your nose while making and applying…it stinks

My villainous side delighted every year in the search for the flowers and plants that Bambi and her mom would spit out in disgust and never touch again. I believe I became pretty cunning and diabolical in my attempts to keep all of the flowers and plants blooming and in one piece. I was getting good at the entire process.

Unfortunately, it ended in the fall of 2009, when I separated from my husband and also from the life of a flower gardener. I miss it very much. I wish every spring that I had a yard with spaces for a grouping of magenta and pink coneflowers or patches of Irish Eyes and white daisies. Even though I have a patio, with plenty of flower-filled pots, it’s not the same. I can’t look at perennials (although I buy one now and again and donate it to my friend Margie) and I don’t have places for russian sage or butterfly bush or oriental daylilies. I can’t look at the Jung’s flower catalog and make wishes. I can’t dig up flowers and move them to a new location or jump for joy when every single flower comes out of the ground after a long, hard winter. I can’t wage war with the deer and bunnies, only with a male cat who thinks it’s fun to pull the moss roses out of the pot and drag them inside his human’s abode. (I lost the latter war and no longer plant moss roses.)

Anyhow, life goes on and I now delight in flower pottery on the patio.  My joy comes from picking out something new, a different color scheme every year.  My apartment’s patio faces west and I usually end up with at least a couple petunia plants. Those things will grow when it’s 100 degrees outside. Last year, I also helped a friend purchase and then plant her flower boxes with a bottle of wine.

Plants and Wine

We’ll be doing that again this year. That was fun and it gave me an opportunity to keep planting long after I had finished my own space. My friend has a north-facing apartment, a space that requires impatiens, begonias and other shade-loving beauties. While married, I had a north-facing apartment patio with appropriate foliage, so I was excited to share my knowledge with my friend.

Back to the weekend shopping – I picked up coriander cilantro, lemon thyme and curry plant for the herb corner of the patio. Celosia, yellow and magenta; blue lobelia; yellow, purple and white pansies; and, yes, a perennial red blanket flower (for my friend Margie) are currently sitting at varying heights on my patio.  I’ve potted everything (the planting of flowers climax is over)(my fingernails are dirty), unless I decide I need a little more color in another cranny of the patio. At this point in the month of May, I could still be covering flowers or dragging them inside to avoid a frost, but I’m going to say a little “grow little flower, grow” prayer and keep my weatherman voodoo doll handy. I also need to keep flower-pulling cat at arm’s distance from the pots.


Now, the fun lies in keeping everything watered, alive, healthy and growing.  The watering cans stand guard and I’m ready, bare-handed, to dead-head while I talk lovingly to my little water-colored babies.

“C’mon little flowers…spread your leaves and inch skyward!”

One day I hope to have a yard again. Or be fortunate enough to know someone with a yard, who needs my help. I have a deep-seated love of coneflowers and would find eternal joy in searching out new varieties every year, planting them with care, and watching them grown year after year after year. It would fill my soul with sunshine, food and medicine and make me very happy.

6 responses to Dirty Fingernails, Pretty Flowers

  1. This sounds wonderful. I am attempting to determine what plants I can grow on my deck (west facing) – flowers, herbs, and veggies.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Judy, you need anything that’s sun tolerant. My patio also faces west. I had good luck last year with petunias.

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