Monday, August 7, 2017

Garden Grief

by Linda Rodriguez

We're getting ready to sell our house, pack up, and move to a much smaller house with a much smaller yard about eighteen blocks from the big old house where I've lived for forty-two years. Making this move is the right choice for me, I'm sure. This house has been a wonderful house to raise my daughter and two sons in. It's been a house where many other people could come and feel welcome, including two foster sons and a nephew who needed a home, as well as grown brothers and sister who needed a place to live at various times in their lives. When my kids were small—and even teenagers—this house was neighborhood central for all their friends. One of my oldest son's friends told me the other day that he thought he had spent as much or more time in our house as he did in his own when he was growing up.

You might think, under those circumstances, that I'd be a little teary and grieving over leaving the old home place, but I'm not. This house was great for many years, but now it's not—too big, too old, too many stairs, too much maintenance on house and yard. I'm quite ready to move on with a fond farewell.

What I am grieving over is the loss of my gardens. Our buyers intend to just clear-cut the yards in front and back and put them into grass, and of course, that's their prerogative once we've closed. As if the gardens know this is their last spring and summer, they have been magnificent—one last burst of glory. We've unfortunately been too busy downsizing and preparing for this transition to take any photos, but we've marveled at what the unusual long spring, heavy rains, and shockingly mild summer have done for the flowers.

The photos on this post were taken a couple of years ago during more usual weather conditions and right after a thunderstorm that had knocked down iris and peony blooms, so it doesn't look nearly as lush as it does right now. Here's the list of what my gardens contain, front and back, though not all of it blooms at once, of course.

Plants In My Garden
Crape myrtle
White peony
Bowl of Beauty peony
Yellow iris
Purple iris
Various bicolored iris
Peace rose
Large old species rose
Chocolate mint
Native daylily
Native goldenrod
Butterfly weed
Native hydrangea
Native geranium/hardy geranium
Butterfly bush
Lamb’s ears
Lemon balm
Sweet Annie
Wild strawberry
June-bearing strawberry
Red clover
Various hybrid daylilies
Various hybrid Oriental lilies
Missouri primrose
Black-Eyed Susan
Purple coneflower
Bouncing bet
Wood sage
New England aster
Sweet autumn clematis
Naked ladies/ American amaryllis
Liatris/gayfeather/blazing star
Bee balm
Lily of the Valley
English ivy
Wax begonia
Various colored tulips
Common violet
Rose of Sharon/American hibiscus
Hen and chicks
Portulaca/Moss rose
Red and purple salvia
Hardy chrysanthemums
As you might expect, I have a wide variety of birds, including mockingbirds, turtledoves, woodpeckers, bluebirds, goldfinches, and hummingbirds, plus butterflies, including endangered Monarchs, four kinds of bees, including endangered earth bumblebees, etc. visiting and living in my yard. I've kept it organic for twenty years now with the help of a compost bin.

My husband has taken over most of the gardening in recent years, as it's become more difficult for me to kneel or sit on the ground to work. Consequently, this loss of our garden is hitting him even harder than it is me. In our new much smaller space, we'll become potagers, as the French would put it—people who garden in pots. I've promised my husband that he can take as many plants to the new house as he is willing to dig and plant in big pots. Of course, he won't be able to dig up and take everything. There simply won't be time or energy for that. So he'll have to decide what he most wants to save from our old gardens.

One of the advantages of this new kind of gardening will be that I'm able to join in gardening again, because I can sit in a chair and work with the plants in the big pots. I'm truly looking forward to that. I have missed the joy and peace of working in the soil. Nonetheless, I'm grieving for our gardens that must be left behind and later destroyed, not as hard as my husband is, but certainly grieving still. I remind my husband and myself that we will still have a garden and lovely blooms, fragrant foliage, and useful herbs in the new place. But it's hard to leave what's been a labor of love for so many years.

Have you ever had to leave a garden behind? How did you handle it?

Linda Rodriguez's Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, based on her popular workshop, and The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, an anthology she co-edited, are her newest books. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery novel featuring Cherokee campus police chief, Skeet Bannion, will appear December 19, 2017. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, and Every Last Secret—and her books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in the anthology, Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film.

Rodriguez is past chair of the AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, past president of Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International Thriller Writers, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Visit her at


  1. I drive by a house where we used to live to see if the dogwood tree I planted is still thriving. It is, despite the fact that many of the dogwoods in the area have succumbed to the disease that's killing so many of them off.

    My current house is in the woods, so we are limited in what will grow. I have plants from my mother's garden--forsythia, double orange daylilies, snow-on-the-mountain, pachysandra, hosta--that at one point or another I dug up and brought with me. Since I really don't have many things from her house, I'm glad I have these. I think of her every time I see them.

  2. The longest I have lived in any one place is my current abode, which we built 12 years ago, so I have no idea what it feels like to leave a residence of 42 years. As much as I know it is important to let go of places I once owned -- I'm still drawn like a moth to flame whenever I happen to visit an area to see what the current owners have done. Fortunately, it's just curiosity now; I have no psychological investment in whatever changes they've made.

    ~ Jim

  3. Okay--I'll kill the joy. I left my garden, dancing! The soil in Northern VA was carted off by the developers and sold to the highest bidder. I had to recondition whatever was left (mostly red clay fit to throw on a wheel). It produced little bounty.

    Your gardens are lovely, Linda (chocolate mint!?), and I hope your pot garden at the new place works out. I tried that before (tomatoes) and they never grew as well--all except the dang cactus, which I hated. I somehow forgot to get it into the house before a frost one year prior to moving. It was dangerous and too large to move.

    Yep, I murdered the prickly thing. Now you know my worst--but total mass murder of an entire garden your buyers are planning--I'd make them pay for that. Make them pay for their own home warranty, dump some horse apples on your garden before you leave, line your foundation with dried animal urine (available at garden centers) to attract skunks to your property, start a not so good compost heap in the backyard, making sure everything has anaerobic stench.

  4. Lovely gardens! The same thing happened to me: the new owners ripped up my glorious perennial bed and threw hundreds of dollars of daylilies, daisies, brown-eyed susans, asters and daffodil bulbs in the street. A neighbor called to tell me. I told her to round up the garden club and "rescue" the plants.

    When we moved from Atlanta to Cincinnati, I filled boxes with coneflowers and stokesia, and even some Vermont wood violets a friend gave me. All are thriving.

    In northern Ohio, I could grow rhododendrons and lilacs. In Atlanta, I couldn't, but discovered sasanqua camellias. In Cincinnati's yellow clay soil, hydrangeas thrive (with acid soil amendments)as do knockout roses.

    I miss my gardens and Atlanta pine and dogwood woods more than the houses. But every move brings new challenges and delights.

    "Drift" roses are a smaller version of knockouts, and suitable for pots.

  5. Judy and I have plants in pots in our condo. It's quite nice.

  6. When I left my last home, it didn't have as many gardens because my then husband mowed almost everything, so it wasn't until I bought my old farm house with plenty of acres that I was able to start putting in gardens everywhere I wanted them. My son who lives next door and mows behind my barn with a riding lawn mower wants me to get rid of some of the gardens so he can mow there, too. It's not going to happen. Unfortunately, because of lots of rain as well as being sick in June, weeds have moved into every garden. Since people who come to visit are still impressed with the beauty of my back yard with trees and gardens blooming and everything so green, I have decided to not worry about it and consider it's all nature's garden, weeds and all. I have hundreds of daylilies and they still bloom even surrounded by goldenrod and other weeds. I've lived here 27 years now, and I have no intention of ever leaving here and leaving the trees, rhododendrons, azaleas, the row of rose of Sharon blooming now, the rose gardens, hundreds of hostas in the shadier areas. And then there's my blueberry patch, and too many perennials to even mention.

  7. KM, I will be able to do that, and I hope thy won't cut down the crape myrtle, Rose of Sharon, species rose, and butterfly bush, which all are very large and long-established. One can hope.

  8. Jim, I grew up moving constantly--my dad was career Navy--so I wanted my kids to have a stable, rooted childhood. And then it was just easier to stay put, even as things got harder to deal with. I have no regrets about the decision to leave this house and know we'll be happier in the new one. But the gardens...

  9. I moved a few pet plants from my mom's house to the condo to this house, but nothing extensive, and I was sad that my sister got rid of some of my mom's favorites when she inherited the family home (are youngest siblings less sentimental? Might be study there for someone). The new owner took even more out (and painted the cabinets white, covering the carefully matched wood grain, but that's another story). Are there garden club members who might want some of the plants you aren't taking? It would be fun to visit your plants' descendants in new gardens. When the Y took out all their irises and day lilies, my friends filled my trunk with some of them, and my neighbor and I gave them a chance in new ground, saved from the ending up in the dumpster. Some made it. ;-)

  10. Elaine, LOL. I wouldn't do any of that to these guys. They're my oldest son and his childhood friend, who have set up a company to buy property, renovate it, and rent it. They are giving us a good deal and doing us a favor, but as a rental property in a city where I've literally had to fight in court to keep my gardens, it's simply smart business to clear-cut and put in grass.

  11. Margaret, I know what a gardener you are, so knew you would understand. Thanks for the tip on Drift roses. I'll look for them.

  12. Warren, This house is about the size of a nice condo, but standing alone with its own tiny yard. I think we'll be happy there with the pots of plants.

  13. Gloria, those goldenrod aren't weeds. They're native perennials and provide food and egg-laying environment for many butterflies. So just welcome them in. Large gardens can become too much to handle as we get older and develop mobility issues. I think the pot gardens will be lovely and allow us to keep gardening right up to the end.

  14. Mary, I'm not a member of a garden club. I was always too busy to join one. We are planning on taking some of our favorite memory-laden plants with us in big pots. I've told neighbors on the street they'll be welcome to dig up whatever they want, but no one's interested.

  15. Hi Linda,
    The last house I had to leave had only a walled patio, so I did container gardens and loved it. The only things that ever survived my black thumb were some fabulous David Austin roses that I was sad to leave behind. (My old neighbors tell me that the roses are still thriving). They are pricey but boy are they tough. Maybe you could put a Free Plants notice on craigslist? might also drum up business for your son's rental.

    And Elaine - I'd worry about you but I'm too busy laughing!

  16. Hi Linda,

    Leaving a thriving garden is one kind of sorrow, but knowing some idiot is going to destroy a working habitat for so many other species for a water-guzzling, useless lawn is a tragedy. I think I saw milkweed on your list - I can't get it to take here in my CA garden, but kudos to you for that.

  17. Oops! Sorry to your son, Linda. I guess for a rental extensive gardens would be a detraction. Knowing how houses are framed--I had worse suggestions, but I will keep my mayhem to fiction.

  18. I have been a potager for a long time. For the first 20 years of my adult life, I moved every 2 1/2 years. For the next 20, I kept thinking I would, but didn't. Pots are great. Take photos of your old plants and revisit them without guilt or work.

  19. When we moved to our current house after 18 years in the old one, I left a ton of plants of sentimental value - my grandmother's irises, the peonies my husband gave me for our 10th wedding anniversary, the tree we planted when our son was born, the weeping willow my brother gave us as a housewarming present. The folks who live there now have kept almost everything. The family invited my husband to their son's high school graduation party a couple years ago (the son was one of my husband's students), so I went along and visited all of my plants. I got a little teary-eyed, but the gardens look better now than ever. And we're planting new memories at our new home.

  20. Shari, that's what I'm doing with some of my big houseplants--a notice on KC Freecycle for free plants. I have a big indoor garden, too, and the new house is much smaller. Thanks for the tip on David Austin roses. I'll look for them.

  21. Susan, yes, three kinds of milkweed, front and back. Our city is not garden-friendly. I have a neighbor who's convinced that, if I don't have just grass, precision cut, that I'm lowering her property values, and unfortunately, our city codes are written so that, if a neighbor complains about any plant over 10 inches but less than 5 feet, it's declared a noxious weed. EVEN ROSES. I've had to go to housing court twice to defend my gardens so the city wouldn't come out and clear-cut my yard and charge me for it. It's cost me several hundred dollars in court costs and fines to keep my gardens. My son and his friend are making a decision that's best for a rental property. We're going to take some of the plants with us in pots, but lamentably few.

  22. That's okay, Elaine. I'll tell him and he'll get a big kick out of it. :-)

  23. Judith, I may well turn to you for advice. Also, I do intend in a couple of weeks to take you up on your generous offer to help me pack and move. So you'll be hearing from me. (Run and hide if you're smart.)

  24. Julie, I'm taking some of my mother's irises and my gran's ditch lilies, but most of the sentimental value plants are much too large. *sigh*

  25. Oh, Linda, what lovely gardens! It will be hard to leave them, and harder still to see them go. I am sorry that the new owners won't cherish them as you do. I am glad to read that you will be preserving some parts of the plants. They will always be sweet reminders.

    My peonies still live in on Maine, I miss them, and can't wait to get back to see them. One more year!

  26. Kait, we'll build new memories with our container garden, I'm sure. I hope you get to see your peonies soon.