Wednesday, December 28, 2011


When I hear the term "skin like leather", I think of my grandfather.  He toiled in the dirt, exposed to the harsh Texas summer sun, probably from the time he could stand until the time he laid down to die.  When he would see his grandchildren, he would swoop us up into his strong, lean arms, and plant a kiss on each of our cheeks.  He seemed to continually have a five-o'clock shadow (long before Don Johnson made this style popular), and his whiskers would scratch our tender faces.  Squealing, we would turn away, rubbing our cheeks.

It was a source of wonder (at least for us children) at the difference in our soft, white, tender hands and his dark, wrinkled, tough, and calloused ones.  We could not understand how they had become so weathered.  A quiet man, he lived through many heartaches and hardships.

When I was young, I never understood the sadness that comes to so many around the holidays.  To me, it was a happy time.  Now I understand.  The loss of loved ones, the realization of our own mortality, and the weathering of our bodies are all like drops of water wearing away our childish perceptions.  Like whiskers on a tender cheek, sometimes life's lessons tickle us, sometimes it scratches, and sometimes it downright hurts.  Time has a way of weathering us.

I'm beginning to see the weathering effects of time on my own body.  I see it on my hands and my face.  I feel it in my muscles, and in old injuries.  (No, I'm not *that* old, but I'm getting there!)

I want to garden until I am no longer able to do so.  Just like my grandfather.  And so, as my eyes diminish and my body weakens (even though I'm not *that* old), I often think about my garden's maintenance, and how to make it easier to keep beautiful.  I will hopefully have many more years of love's labour in my garden (I'm not *that* old, you know), but it's best to think ahead.  Besides, a low maintenance garden sounds good, no matter the age of the gardener!  (You can be 29 for several years, but not forever!)

The very best essay I have ever read on gardening and our aging bodies is this essay HERE posted on GardenWeb by luseal.

She makes the argument that, the most low maintenance garden is a winter garden - a garden full of evergreens, deciduous shrubs, trees, and winter interest.

A few of her points include:

~~  "If gardening makes you happy and you do not wish to give it up, plan for your older gardening days."
This is important not only due to aging, but also if you need to be away from the garden for a while, whether it is a fun vacation or an unexpected illness.

~~  "Evergreen structure is the most important aspect of a winter garden."
I always, always include evergreens in my garden beds.  I try to imagine what the garden will look like with only the evergreens before I plan in other plants.  These are the bones I will see in winter.

~~  "Do I plant perennials?  Yes, but not a whole bed."
I made the mistake of having an entirely perennial garden bed early on, and was so dismayed by the look of my garden that winter, I ripped it all out and started over.

~~  "Around each bed I plant Korean boxwood."
Boxwood may not be your plant of choice, but her main point is to edge each bed with plants or a hard edging like brick or concrete.  This really does make the beds look neater.

~~  She also recommends that all or most of the evergreens, deciduous shrubs, and trees be flowering.  This gives another season of interest and beauty to your garden, whether the flowers come in spring, summer, or fall.

~~  "Nothing do I love more than lying across my bed looking out of my upstairs window at the full green winter garden below."
Nothing better than being happy with the garden all year round!

I don't know luseal, but I took these principles to heart when I started planning my garden.  I broke these rules in a few areas, but at least I knew in advance these would be beds that might require more maintenance, care, and work.  When I plan a new area of my garden, I now plan for winter first.

The beauty of these principles are that they can be used by anyone that has an illness, a disability, sees their youth weathering away, or just wants a low maintenance garden.  If you haven't read this essay, it is worth reading and thinking about by every gardener, whether you're *that* old (you know, old as dirt) or a young spring chicken!

I'm joining Donna of Garden Walk Garden Talk's Word 4 Wednesday meme on the word Weathering.


  1. I agree you have to have evergreen in the garden. Something to look at winter long. I also make sure my whole front area is evergreen other than my one deciduous tree.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  2. Such a poignant piece of writing! Beautiful. Thanks for sharing the idea of creating a garden with perennials. I am new into all these and as I start planning my garden, I will have to take all these into consideration.

  3. What a nice post, makes me miss my own grandfather. I hope to be gardening for many, many years to come, and am excited that I'll be able to plan new things in it, even when I'm old as dirt. ;)

  4. Wonderful way to describe the meaning of weathering. I found that gardening keep me feel young, and active.

  5. A lovely post. I recently read a winter garden is a garden is sepia tones. I like that. There are a few gardens nearby that are supposed to specialize in being winter gardens - can't wait to see a few of them to see what a winter garden can be - interesting concept! XOL

  6. A wonderful interpretation of the term "Weathering", Holley, this was a lovely post. I had tears whilst reading the first part - both sad and happy - we have our memories and they are worth so much!

  7. Nice piece Holley. My design technique exactly living in a northern climate and having four good months without blooming. Many beds are surrounded with boxwood or in some cases yew. It keeps all the perennials neat and tidy and hides the rose canes very well. Winter interest is as important for a holistic approach. Many gardeners are not fond of this idea, but I attribute it to not being able to successfully do mixed plantings. Mixed planting is all about structure, scale, form and texture. It really is getting a good sense of balance, even an asymmetrical balance is a great design. You add the perennials for the color and excitement through the seasons. The use of evergreen shrubs does not have to be formal. It can be done loosely and in a gentle flowing manner too. As for the aging and care, most people that have structured gardens also have gardeners that care for it. The liberal use of boxwood is very costly for many people. And a twice a year trim is no picnic if you have many like I do.

  8. Your design principles for a garden...including for winter...are so true. Imagine a human body with only a few bones; we would look like slugs or amoebae! So important to not do entire perennial beds, great images and post.

  9. I just read that essay on GardenWeb recently, too! I'm still in my many years of 29! :)

  10. this is beautiful, holley...sweet memories of your grandfather, and a very nice way to look at winter gardening as well.

  11. I am 29 too. Who the heck knew we were all 29 here? Its a miracle.

  12. Cher - Oh, and I bet it looks great in the winter especially! I know evergreens aren't the most exciting things sometimes, but in the winter they are!

    KL - I do hope you will read all of luseal's post. It really helps me to be happy with my garden areas if I follow her suggestions. Of course, I do throw in a lot of deciduous flowering shrubs, bulbs, and perennials, too!

    Bumble Lush - I really do plan on enjoying my garden until the bitter end. I think gardening keeps you young!

    Dewi - So true! It works our minds, our bodies, gives us a goal to work toward, and something to look forward to. No wonder gardeners are generally a happy lot.

    Happy Homemaker UK - I would love to see what the English consider a good winter garden. I bet they are beautiful.

    Gardening Blog - I like that I can put my memories down occasionally on my blog. It's a way of passing them on to my children.

    GWGT - Nice to hear how a professional thinks. I love trimming my boxwoods twice yearly now, but agree they are not always the right choice for a garden, and I do wonder what will happen when/if I ever get too old to keep them trimmed.

    Desert Dweller - What a great analogy - I could imagine my body slumping down into a slug state! LOL I certainly wouldn't want that for my garden!

    Hanni - haha When your children get to be 29, that's when you have to bump it up to at least 30! :)

    Daricia - Getting a whisker rubbing was always his way of greeting us - all in good fun, of course.

    Jess - haha It IS a miracle! Who would have ever guessed?!? :)

  13. There are some really great points here, not just for people thinking about gardening as they grow older, but for people looking to cut down on work in their garden. I'm realizing my property is too large for me to properly maintain if it's all annuals and perennials so these ideas really appeal to me.

  14. Marguerite - I think for anyone that has a large garden, these principles are very important. Years ago people had gardeners, but for those of us that are the only gardener the garden sees, our time and efforts must be used wisely.

  15. Holley, what a beautiful, well written post, and on top of that with practical implications, too! I was just thinking about the maintenance level of my garden today as the rose pruning season has started here and I felt slightly overwhelmed. So I will take the time and reflect a little bit about what you have written and read luseal's essay on GardenWeb. Using evergreens makes sense immediately and also the approach to plant the garden with having in mind how it would look in winter. Thanks for inspiring me one more time...

  16. Holley, I love this post. I'm getting to be 'that' old already, and feel every year of the 53 I've been blessed with. (Especially since this last fall.)

    We've been giving some real thought to making the garden more old-age friendly and of course, evergreens play a huge role around here along with the ever-present rocks. Nothing like a boulder for year-round interest. Sometimes I'm glad to see winter come so the rocks come to the forefront again; sometimes even the biggest ones are sort of overshadowed by greenery. They really spring to life when the first snows descend.

    Your grandfather sounded like a wonderful man, how happy I am that you have fond memories of him. I really enjoyed this post!

  17. Thanks for sharing your memories of your grandfather.

    I think I should take another look at my perennial beds and see if I can add some evergreens. They could use a little winter color.

  18. Holley - great post. Love the advice given and your "take" on weathering. Happy New Year!

  19. Christina - There does always seem to be something to do in the garden, but I hate that feeling of being overwhelmed. I hope you (and I, too) can find just the right balance for each of us.

    Karen - Rocks are definitely considered an 'evergreen' even though they're not green! :) I don't have a lot of rocks in my garden, but I do have hardscape that remains constant (and low maintenance) throughout the year. I love the way you love your rocks, even looking forward to winter so they will be the star of your garden. I think that you must have a very balanced garden already.

    GirlSprout - I hope you find some beautiful and interesting winter interest for your garden.

    Heather - Yes, we all "weather" - some of us better than others! ;)

  20. Thanks for sharing your introspection and the "extrospection" of your winter garden. I love weathered skin. I treasure times with family more and more. Funny that my spring planning this winter is to incorporate more evergreens into all my garden beds though the idea was not to plan for longevity gardening! I read an article about a man who was 90 and still in the garden - that's inspiration. I always say I want to drop dead in my garden. They say if you keep telling yourself how you want to die, it will come to be. Hope you had a wonderful holiday with family, friends, and memories.

  21. Great advice Holley...I have neglected the evergreens and have realized that the ones I planted are so slow growing I need some others...I have lots of native perennials with flowering shrubs that bear berries for birds...I have been replanning many beds and will look at the essay...even though I am not *that* old yet!!

  22. A moving post, Holley. It was true of my mother as she got older, her garden became more evergreen. When she couldn't do it any more she lost interest not only in her own garden but in other gardens, garden books and TV programmes. She had to get a gardener in to care for it. Food for thought....

  23. I too can relate to this post, although I'm not *that* old yet, I sometimes feel like it. My garden contains quite a few evergreens, most of them planted not by me but by the birds. Maybe they're trying to tell me something.

  24. I'm with you on the gardening as long as I'm able! That is what I love about this passion--I'll never tire of learning about plants, even if I can't plant them myself. But hopefully that won't be for a lonnnggg time! I'm not *that* old yet, either. ;-) Thanks for sharing the link for the essay--I'll take a look. Happy Holidays!

  25. Violet Fern - I hope I still love gardening when I'm 90 - if I make it to that! I think evergreens and winter interest make it into so many gardens because there needs to be something to look at during the winter, not necessarily for low maintenance.

    Donna - We are all 29! Flowering shrubs with berries sounds wonderful, too. Have fun replanning your beds!

    Janet - How sad. I think a gardener would pull out half of what I have planted!

    Christine - None of us are that old! How wonderful that the birds are planting evergreens for you! You can just sit back and enjoy their work! haha

    PlantPostings - I'm so glad none of us are very old! I think blogging helps, too. It's not just me in my garden, but suddenly it's all of us in all of our gardens, if you know what I mean.

  26. I am 59, and have been continuing to increase my planting areas. I've wondered if I should be, but am hoping the native plants in the largest bed will become self managing.

    I enjoyed reading about you and your grandpa.

  27. Hello Holley,
    I am 47, in my head I am still 29 but my body feels like I’m 85 most mornings. I have planted evergreens a long time ago :-)
    My garden has something flowering every month of the year and instead of grouping the evergreens together in one corner of the garden I have them spread out like green dots all over the garden.

    I loved the story about your grandfather and weathering. We all weather, some of us a bit faster than other, but we will all get there eventually!

  28. Wise words! I'm 42 officially but only 30 in my heart! I take a different approach to winter gardening and have very little winter interest but I'm ok with it. Your grandfather sounds wonderful. If every weathered wrinkle were a story, he probably would have spoken volumes.

  29. In my 50's (did I say that?!!?!?) and worked in a garden nursery with a lady in her 70's (she still works there). When I get a bit achy I remind myself that I never heard my friend complain - through 100 or 20 degree weather. She is my hero.

  30. Sue - Like you, I'm increasing my garden area but wondering if that is smart. Hopefully I'll be able to keep it managed for - well, forever!

    Helene - Having something blooming every month of the year is my goal. Sounds like heaven. I think your garden must be very well planned.

    Casa Mariposa - I didn't hear him tell many tales, but when he did they were magical!

    Tufa Girl - I'll keep your age a secret! :) And I can't imagine not complaining about 100 or 20 degree weather, no matter what age!

  31. I relate to your thoughts about your grandfather, and the holidays. Underneath all the pretty paper and ribbon, can be some pretty melancholy moments. But the good usually outweighs the bad. Have a happy new year.

  32. Les - There is always a sad bit of remembrance to the holidays now that I'm a little older. Happy New Year to you, too!

  33. What a beautiful post.

    How true about evergreens and the bones of a garden. Evergreens are often last on my list of plants to buy, to the detriment of my perennial beds. They give such necessary shape to gardens, though, and various wildlife usually appreciate them as well.

  34. Indie - I hadn't thought about the wildlife! Thanks for bringing that up!

  35. Holley, I always love Donna's WFW memes, but "weathering" has been my favorite word to read about so far, and your post is one of the reasons why. Thanks for sharing the memories about your grandfather, and thanks for the useful ideas about gardening for down the road. What you said about planning a bed for winter first gave me one of those "aha" moments that I hope to put to good use...

  36. Stacy - I enjoy Donna's meme, too, although sometimes it's hard for me to come up with something on her topics. The longer I garden, the more I realize my garden should be pretty in fall, winter, and spring. Summer is just too hot to really enjoy it!


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