GARDENING · Southernisms

Rosemary and Soil Conditioning

A Repost about early soil conditioning challenges and changes to the front garden featured in the Rosemary Sketch.

Dear Mr. Garden Guy,

Why didn’t you stress the importance of soil conditioning?

When we moved into the new subdivision, its lovely laid lawns and planted shrubbery disguised a horrible truth.  The builders had stripped the land of its top soil and left only hard packed Georgia clay encased in rocks. Lots of rocks.   We had to drench the earth with water, dig down deep, remove a layer of rock.  Then more watering-in, more rock removal until finally we were ready to plant.  And that was just our mail box!

I wanted a flower garden in my front yard.   Could it be done without all this digging into rocks and clay?  I turned to you Mr. Garden Guy.  You said plant an above ground garden.  No digging needed.  Oh yeah I was all on that like white on rice!  Following your instruction, I carefully mapped out the flower bed, smothered the grass under heavy black plastic, and purchased bags of garden soil and rotted cow manure.  I enthusiastically piled layer upon layer of the most beautiful black soil ever!  Yet something seemed so WRONG about buying soil in an area known for its rich agriculture heritage.  That’s like living on an island and having to buy sand.  Sigh.   Nevertheless I was ready to plant.

It was then that you reminded me that plants are much like people – some like the sun, others prefer shade, some like to drink, others are teetotalers.  Armed with this knowledge, I joyfully set about planting a flower garden that became my pride and joy.

Thriving flower garden before soil depletion.  

But Mr. Garden Guy you didn’t tell me about caring for my soil’s needs.  As the years went by my perennials stopped thriving and my annuals weren’t lasting even a season.  Money was wasted buying more plants.  They simply died.  Even applying liquid fertilizer seemed futile.  Like a botanical sugar rush, it gave the plants a brief growth spurt.  But then nothing.  Stunted plants and devouring insects dotted my once lovely garden.  I worried: Could I be losing my “green thumb?”

One day I stooped down for a closer look.  Brushing away the mulch, I grabbed a handful of soil.   It was no longer the richly black, heavy soil I had laid.  Rather it had become an ashy grey, lifeless heap of dirt.  My soil was dead!  Augh!

I ran crying to you Mr. Garden Guy.  You explained that the plants got their nutrients from the soil.  But since I never “fed” the soil, it could no longer “feed” the plants.  My soil wasn’t dead.  It was simply malnourished.

I cleaned out the garden and began feeding the soil.  I fed it shovels-full of fresh top soil.  I fed it nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus.


I fed it wood ash, used coffee grinds, diced banana peels and crushed eggshells.  I fed it earthworms.  Throughout the fall and winter, neighbors smiled nervously as they watch me till, turn and dig into the mound of dirt.  I didn’t care.  I was determined to nurse that depleted dirt back to life.   By spring planting,  the harmful insects who thrived in the once nutrient-starved soil were all but gone.  And when I saw a tiny black ant making its way home with a slither of eggshell, I smiled.  The soil was coming back to life again!

More changes were in store for this flower bed.  I will share in a future “letter.”

Author’s Note: After the soil was properly amended, I began successfully growing vegetables among the flowers.  The rosemary took over half the bed!



Summer 2014: Marigolds and tall stalks of okra.  The rosemary bush is behind the birdbath.

Unbeknownst to my suburban neighbors summer squash, okra, eggplant and bush beans have often been planted in among the dianthus and marigolds filling our front flower bed.  A lovely rosemary bush also calls this garden patch home.

THE INSPIRATION: Georgia’s winter 2017 has been unusually warm.  Its February and the rosemary has become a fragrant work site for impatient bees resulting in an abundance of tiny blue-violet flowers.  On a particularly sunny day, I decided on a bit of plein air work in the garden.

THE CHALLENGE: There is a lot going on in my garden, even in the winter – nuthatches, cardinals and house finches are always busy around the feeder. But to keep the drawing simple, I resisted adding the  birds and other garden elements. ( No bunnies.)  But the stately pines and surrounding hillside were tempting.  After 3 false starts to include these, I decided they were a subject matter for another time.

THE SKETCH: Pastels on medium weight drawing paper.

THE TAKE-AWAY: I like this sketch.  Especially the wispy clouds. The stiffness of the rosemary bush and concrete birdbath make a good foil for the sky’s lightness. But it feels a little too still.  Perhaps a bird or two fluttering nearby would have added movement to this sketch as they do my garden in winter!  One can oversimplify.


GARDENING · Southernisms

A Memory Garden

Dear Mr. Garden Guy,

Do you remember the day I had to hide Momma’s yard tools?

A few years earlier we had finally convinced my then 84 year old mother to stop cutting her own grass. “Convinced” is a nice way of saying my brother took her push mower away for servicing and never brought it back.  Over the next couple of years, I took over her yardwork.   Momma, not satisfied with my loose interpretation of hedge trimming would redo her bushes wielding the most dangerous looking pair of clippers you ever want to see in the hands of an unsteady octogenarian.

Thoughts of a horrid implement haunted family, friends and neighbors.

fi-clippers clippers

So I hid her tools.  An assortment of handheld clippers, hoes and rakes made their way to my house.  I told you about it Mr. Garden Guy.  We both felt sad that an avid gardener could no longer enjoy her work.

Then one day her neighbor pulled me to the side:

“Yo momma been outside cuttin’ them bushes again.”  She said in a concerned whisper.

“What?!  Bbbut I..I… took all her tools!”  I stammered in disbelief.

“Well she was.  An’ she had a pair of long, rusty lookin’ clippers.  I think they must have been yo daddy’s.”  The neighbor’s testimony rang true.

My stepdad had been dead for decades.  It never occurred to me that some of

fi-nate-brelsford Brelsford

Richard’s tools may still be around.  Momma never threw away anything.

It took me a while but finally – on the backporch, under the chaise, in a crate, inside a wooden box – a plethora of ancient handtools.  Found and removed.

Miss. Daisy was not pleased.

Today, age is beginning to slow me down.  One day someone will take away my tools.  And Mr. Garden Guy I’ll miss growing my veggies, canning my pears and cutting my grass.

Foreseeing such a time,  I’ve begun a “memory garden” afghan.

Rows of simple granny squares echo my gardening process.  Starting with brown and black squares symbolizing the composted soil. Then seed.  More colorful squares – reds, yellows, greens and even purples- flowering and fruiting.

The afghan’s rows repeat like the rhythm of the seasons. Its an ongoing project.  Finished only when it is big enough, warm enough to hold all my cherished gardening memories.

Vegetables Credit: & Christa Richert
GARDENING · Southernisms

Today is NOT that Day

Dear Mr. Garden Guy,

I recently stumbled across the most charming blog -Living for Today.  Although written by an adoring mother, its not a sugar ‘n cupcakes mommy blog.  So don’t roll your eyes!  She explains: “This blog is about realizing, enjoying and appreciating what I can do today.”  Its about everyday moments.  Turning even mishaps (like damaging her car – twice in the same day – ouch!) into positive take-aways.  This mom’s slogan is “Someday I won’t be able to do this.  Today is NOT that day!”  Check out her blog in the link below.

I am a 48 year old wife and mother of four; Brady 20, Riley 17, Annie 14 and Josie 12.  I am also a professional photographer.  Around the age of 45 I started to notice some changes; for instance I…


Source: About


So what does this have to do with gardening?  You may ask.


Someday I won’t be able to do my own yardwork.  Today is NOT that day!  I often covet my neighbors’ ground crews hired to maintain their lawns.  Today while I was just beginning to cut back shrubbery and ornamentals for the winter, the professionals were completing their work with such speed and precision that it seemed otherworldly.   An hour later I was still outside – wacking/mowing down weedy grass.  Typically a sweaty, achy, laborious job. I picked my turf battles carefully, doing only half the yard. Two hours was enough. I moved on to the vegetable gardens.

  • Harvested the last of the eggplants
  • Picked a few bush beans for freezing
  • Watered the lettuce
  • Tended to the medicinal  herbs – rosemary, lemon balm, cat mint
  • Inspected the broccoli patch
  • Gathered a few okra pods

I added that okra to my homemade vegetable soup.  A leafy salad made with my garden greens completed the lunch menu today.   The fruit of my labors was a delicious reward for my hard work.  This is what my suburban neighbors miss when hiring others to tend their land.  Someday I won’t be able to do my own yardwork including maintaining a vegetable garden.  Today is NOT that day!


Watering Can: Satzke



GARDENING · Southernisms

Fire Blight Blues

Dear Mr. Garden Guy,

Why didn’t you warn me about lost on the modern homestead?  Sure you often offered advice to prevent untimely death on the small hobby farm.  Backyard chickens? You said expect to lose a few to a predator like a fox or hawk.  Goats?  You warned about roaming dog packs and keeping homestead animals safe.

However, I have no livestock, unless I count the deer and squirrels.  But those critters are on their own.  I already learned that lesson.  Remember my first post?  So I didn’t expect to grieve a loss on the homestead.  I only have a couple of small vegetable gardens and one lovely fruit tree.  A wonderfully producing Bartlett Pear.  That is, I did have one until I got the Fire Blight Blues.

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Of course I read your warning about Fire Blight in Georgia.

“Fire blight makes growing edible pear trees in Georgia difficult.”  You said.

“Nonsense!” I scoffed. My stepdad had an edible pear tree that the neighborhood kids used to climb the garden fence to get to.

“Stop exaggerating!”  I rolled my eyes at you.  We have a Bartlett Pear.  For years we’ve enjoyed fresh eating, preserves, jams and canned pears from its production.  Because of its abundance, I’ve given away bags of its fruit to neighbors and friends.

Wait.  Did you say growing edible pear trees in Georgia is difficult not impossible?  Oh.  My bad.  You were so right Mr. Garden Guy.

I’m afraid I’m losing my pear tree.  I’ve followed your advice to prune back diseased limbs, dipping pruners repeatedly in chlorine solution.  I’ve attempted to spray homemade fungicide onto my tree.  But alas you say even this is “not practical for home gardeners to spray larger trees to be able to get good coverage.”

I’ve got the Fire Blight Blues.  Are the good times really gone  Mr. Garden Guy?








HEALTH & WELLNESS · Southernisms

Before Grocery Stores…

This post was originally posted by Rachel Falco on her blog How to Provide for Your Family.  I do not like referring to myself as a “homesteader.” Admittedly I have a garden.  I preserve the harvest.  I bake my own bread and make many other things from scratch.  I use medicinal herbs to make muscle rubs and tinctures.  I am a homemaker who employees traditional skills to supplement the family’s income.  Yet I started on this road to have some “freedom from price increases, poor quality and excessive antibiotics.”  Its challenging but I am enjoying the journey!

How to Provide

Victory Garden Victory Garden

“The first supermarket appeared on the American landscape in 1946.  Until then, where was all the food?… It was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forests.  It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard.” – Joel Salatin

Like many Americans, you have come to homesteading to be able to provide for your family, friends and community in the way that you see fit.  The last time so many Americans felt the way you feel now was during World War II.  During the Second World War, many of us had a victory garden and raised poultry because foods were either being rationed or were not available.  The systems which are now the backbone of the United States’ economy seem to be growing quite weary and failing in some respects.  So much instability creates a great unease.  Homesteading, on the other hand, creates security for you, your family, friends…

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GARDENING · Southernisms

Gardening for Nature

Dear Mr. Garden Guy,

Why didn’t you warn me about “gardening for nature?”

I grew up in the ‘hood of the 1970s.  My childhood home was a dilapidated duplex apartment on a dusty dirt street.  The heavy summer rains would push the red mud between the gaps under the front door.   I hated that mud.  I hated that dirt. But my mother Daisy knew what to do with them both.   Outside she grew the prettiest little flowers in that mud and dirt.  She planted them near the small stoop of our front porch.  When the blossoms thrived under her care, the dirt and mud didn’t seem all that bad.

I wanted to work magic with that dirt and mud like my momma.  I wanted to understand nature.

So dear Garden Guy I read your books about the flora and fauna of my native state.   I watched your television shows and attended your lectures.

I readily embraced nature and all its fresh-air goodness when my husband and I purchased property that included woodland.

Our Backyard

I knew “nature” was hiding in those woods  and I was determined to coax it out – to see it up close.  I asked you, Mr. Garden Guy, and you told me to “garden for nature.”  You told me to provide fresh water, food and shelter and they will come.

So I did and they did!

  • Birds: Millet plants, quality bird seeds, suet cake
  • Deer: feeder corn, weedy dandelions left to grow
  • Squirrels and relatives: raw peanuts, leafy greens

Soon our backyard looked like a scene from a Disney movie.  Deer, squirrels, chipmunks, oh my!

But Dear Garden Guy what you didn’t tell me that “nature” wouldn’t go away nor stick to its assigned menus.

  • Happy yellow pansies endured the cold of winter, only to become a deer’s nighttime snack.
  • Wasps visited the hummingbird feeder more often than the intended guest.
  • A disgruntled squirrel chewed off a piece of our back door when it couldn’t get to the hanging birdfeeder.

My relationship with “nature” became strained.   Then a red-tailed hawk set up home in our woods.  And the troublesome population began to get a little less troublesome and a little less populated.

So you see Mr. Garden Guy, the best way to “garden for nature” is to just leave it alone.  It can get along just fine without any help from me!

Our woodland