After We Weed and Water: Let’s Celebrate

Maybe it’s because I was born in June, but I’m always in a mood to celebrate this time of year.

Here at Maplehurst in Pennsylvania, the flower garden is at its most flower-y, and a long spring of garden work is behind me.

But celebration takes discipline. It requires commitment. As the days grow warmer (and perhaps even hotter and stickier and buggier), it can be easy to lose momentum, to begin to see our outdoor spaces as burdens rather than blessings. Taking the time to celebrate with intention may be as important as deadheading the fading roses and pulling the weeds.

Here are some ways I’ll be celebrating the garden this month:

Flower Crowns

I’m no florist, but even an amateur can gather a few flowers for her or her daughter’s head. One of my most precious garden memories is of the time I hosted a Summer Solstice gathering for several families who have young children. We gathered buckets of flowers from the garden and made flower crowns at our old picnic table. Even my sons joined in.

There are many ways to do this–from simple daisy chains to more elaborate creations with floral tape and wire. I like this tutorial from Taproot magazine and Erin Benzakein of Floret Farm.

Cut Flowers

I am a committed cutter-and-bringer-in-of-flowers. It can be hard for a gardener to do this when the outdoor picture we’ve created seems just right. But it’s amazing how much cutting a garden can take before it shows.

I look beyond flowers for things to cut and bring indoors: fern fronds and hosta leaves, cuttings from flowering shrubs, even weeds can be beautiful when brought indoors.

I am inspired by the idea and the Instagram hashtag #onebouquetperday

Feasts and Flavors

You may or may not grow many edibles, but making something wonderful and unique to taste from our gardens is a celebration in itself.

This month I’ll be making elderflower champagne, strawberry shortcake (with basil!), and decorating my birthday cake with roses.

More ideas?

I look forward to hearing your own celebratory ideas–either here in the comments on this post or in our community space on Mighty Networks.

This month, let’s commit to celebration. Let’s picnic under trees, eat fresh-picked berries for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, make rose petal jelly, and … so much more.

Explore all our Black Barn Garden Library posts here.

Soil is Everything


Death, with all its loss and grief, creates the soil, the womb for life to seed, to take root, to thrive and flourish. Each day, my family and I live because something once alive transfers its energy into our own bodies. And someday, our own bodies will break back down into the dust, providing for whatever life comes after us. On this carefully, lovingly fashioned earth, death and life are not two separate beings but are instead two sides of the same coin. – Catherine McNiel, All Shall Be Well

Soil is the most vital component of our gardens. Everything depends on it.

As gardeners, we would do well to consider ourselves caretakers of the soil. Taking care of the plants themselves is a distant second, because–given the right, healthy soil–most plants can take care of themselves.

How can we take good care of the soil we have been given? Here is one way:

Do Less

It is one of those ironies of the garden, but often we can do better by doing less.

  • Dig and till less: tilling, especially, is sometimes necessary when breaking new ground quickly, but it can also cause the soil to compress and can disrupt the natural, healthy life of the soil
  • Use fewer chemicals and salts: too many chemical fertilizers give a short-term illusion of abundance, but once that season’s annual flowers have bloomed their hearts out, our soil is left depleted and–sometimes–even poisoned
  • Remove less natural vegetation: don’t discard fallen leaves: chop them and use them as mulch; don’t yank out dead annuals: cut off their tops and leave the roots to decompose underneath the ground


Rethinking Solitude


I’m writing this during the long days of quarantine and isolation.

It is late April, and we are still very much in the midst of “The Great Pause” caused by the global pandemic.

I had to turn off the radio today in irritation. The story wasn’t at fault. Two reporters were encouraging their isolated listeners to shift their mindset from “loneliness” to “solitude.”

And it hit me: solitude is what I miss the most.

With two work-from-home parents and four school-from-home children, there is no such thing as solitude. Or is there?

I used to think solitude as necessary as food, water, and sleep. I didn’t think I could live without it. How have I lived six weeks without it?

The garden, that’s how.

Every garden has a bit of Eden in it.

When I step into my garden, it almost doesn’t matter that my children are only a few yards away (playing, fighting). The burden of my to-do list or my upcoming zoom call both feel a little lighter. Whether I’m weeding or pruning or simply sitting “for a spell,” as my grandmother used to say, it’s as if I’ve stepped into a pool of solitude.

The quiet strength of sunshine penetrates, quite literally, deep into our bones.

When a breeze blows, the trees and their murmuring leaves impart peace.

The astonishing beauty of a flower is like a cup that overflows.

The ancient words of a shepherd’s song still hold true:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

He restores my soul.


Gardening is Work (You’re Not Just Doing it Wrong)


Over the years, I have noticed a pattern in my attitude toward my garden. When I am feeling discouraged (perhaps a much-loved plant is struggling, the weeds are out of control, or a design just doesn’t seem to be working), I often double my discouragement by assuming that real gardeners–accomplished gardeners–feel only peace and tranquility in their gardens.

But that simply isn’t true.

Gardening is work.

That means if you sweat or grow tired, you aren’t doing it wrong, you are doing it.

Gardening is unpredictable.

Even the most accomplished gardener can do nothing about the weather. A storm might wreck your lilies, even if you took the time to stake each one (and though I love lilies, I have never had the time to stake each one!).

Gardening is nonstop.

Gardens are never static. They aren’t like dishes or bedrooms. Wash the dishes and put them away, and that job is finished forever (until you need to eat again!). Make your bed, and your bed stays made all day. But pull a weed and another will grow. The rose that is perfect in the morning might drop its petals in the afternoon.

Gardening is good news.

Here is the good news: the work we do in our gardens is some of the most physically and emotionally satisfying work that is given us to do. Gardens can never be perfectly controlled, which means we will experience wonderful successes even when we are beginners with everything still to learn. Gardens are never finished.

Gardens are always inviting us in to participate.

What the Garden Gives


I am writing this post in a time of pandemic.

The future is incredibly uncertain. It isn’t only that the global crisis of Covid-19 has revealed the uncertainty that always exists. Rather, the virus has really made the future much more unpredictable. How many will get sick? Will hospitals and health systems be able to cope? How long will children be out of school? What will the economic damage be, and how will that impact me and my family? No one knows the answers to these questions.

One thing I do in times of uncertainty is read. It isn’t always a helpful coping strategy, but sometimes it sends me in a good direction. For instance, I’ve lately been reading about ways to support and booster the immune system. Most of what the health experts have to say is predictable: eat a healthy and varied diet, drink plenty of water, manage stress, and try to stay well-rested. But two other points stood out to me:

  1. Vitamin D: Apparently, this sunshine-activated vitamin is a critical support for our immune systems. Reading about the importance of Vitamin D gave me one more reason to be thankful for my spring work of gardening. It also meant that the next time I went out to do some weeding, I did it in a tank top, despite the still-chilly breeze.
  2. Elderberry: (the photos of this native shrub are pictured above) Apparently, well-regarded studies have shown that elderberry can reduce the duration and severity of respiratory symptoms from the common cold. It isn’t known whether it will have any effect on the Corona virus, but reading about elderberry sent me to the spare freezer in my basement. Last summer, I harvested tiny, dark-purple elderberries from my yard for the first time. It was time-consuming (the berries are so small and ripe berries aren’t easy to separate from unripe green ones), but I stuck with it and froze quite a bit. But they’ve been sitting there in my freezer for months. This week, I finally pulled some of the berries out and made elderberry syrup. I boiled them down (it isn’t a good idea to eat uncooked elderberries), mashed them, strained them, added honey and cooked them down some more (there are quite a few recipes available online). The syrup is tart. I like it straight from a spoon, but my children will only eat it spooned into a glass of sparkling water.

We give and give and give to our gardens. Especially in spring.

This week, it was good for me to pause and reflect on two unexpected ways the garden gives back to me.

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