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Kentucky by Heart: Precious time in the family garden is heaven, a release not to be mistaken for a chore


By Steve Flairty
KyForward Columnist

I like gardening a lot, and I don’t want to mess it up by becoming too good at it. Rather, I just want it to be fun and available… and only whenever I take a notion to indulge.

I typically spend a good portion of the day doing writing activities in my study, so a few hours or more spent working outside in the family’s green and brown, one-acre lot is often like experiencing a dose of heaven, really special. For purposes of this sharing, I’ll refer to the special place as “The Garden,” and the term includes the yard and about a dozen flower areas, along with a tiny vegetable garden smaller than the size of a Chevy minivan.

Scotch broom blooms (Photo Provided)

The Garden is a place where very few frustrations occur; maybe because it’s not a matter of gainful employment, with no time stresses or sales goals to reach. For me, it’s simply a joy and fulfills my need to be creative; now, as a senior citizen, to create something, hopefully something good and possibly beautiful, is a legacy I’d like to leave some day.

I enjoy mowing the one acre of The Garden. It’s a job with closure every time I do it. Grass is either cut or not cut. Done or not done, unlike teaching and writing where you’re never sure. It’s especially easy with the “zero-turn” riding mower I purchased last year. I always look forward to hopping on my Hustler and watching the nitrogen fly through the air, then enjoying a pretty, fresh-cut lawn.

People who hear me talk about The Garden and who see the flower pictures on social media figure I must be a master gardener with all the credentials, but they’d be wrong. Way wrong. Maybe someday I’ll take the coursework and study hard and confront a little stress to pass the testing, but like I said, I don’t want (or need) to become too good at it. “Piddling,” is the term my Dad used while I was growing up, implying that the work he was doing was of the low-intensity sort… and maybe even enjoyable—even if it was often left “in-process” for another day.

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of seven books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5,” was released in 2019. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a former member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

Previously mentioned in Kentucky by Heart was that I grew up on a small tobacco and vegetable farm and was not always a willing participant. Decades later, however, a yearning to do my own version of farming emerged and I knew I needed to do something about it.

When my wife, Suzanne, and I bought our place four years ago, the singular standing flower garden consisted of a long L-shaped stretch in the front of the house that ran along the garage and turned toward the front entrance. There were plenty of shrubs, roses, and a few very showy white azaleas, and what I thought were “lamb’s ears” turned out to be rose campions. But there were also plenty of open spaces, albeit covered with weeds, as the owners had moved away many months ago.

This part of The Garden had a head start, so I got busy pulling weeds and accentuating what was already growing and while doing so, I thought about some pretty perennials (the kind that come back on their own yearly) that I might plant there. After weeding, I planted a columbine and primrose perennial or two, and they became a gorgeous touch. In the years following, those two and the campions have spread aggressively around the patch and I should never have to buy another. I’ve added other perennials such as sedums and hydrangeas, and a whole bunch of other flowers such as chrysanthemums, “Sweet Williams” (or dianthus), and pansies. In reading about them before purchasing, I made sure that all those beauties could take at least partial shade, as such factors are important.

The first year at our home, we lost two green ash trees to an apparent disease. I replaced them with a tulip poplar (Kentucky’s state tree) and a red maple. I added another tulip popular close to them. Near our driveway on the east side of the house, I added a redbud tree. In succeeding years, I’ve planted another redbud and a very small Kentucky coffeetree (formerly the state tree).

Our lot has a septic system in the backyard, and a pipe sticking out of the ground was a bit of an eyesore. Very soon after tackling the front garden, I created a couple of small flower beds in the pipe area, one directly around the pipe. I recall putting a couple of small bushes around the pipe, and one died. The other bush has turned into quite the show horse, and I had to check around with friends to identify it. It has long, hanging branches with nice foliage—and its pinkish-reddish blooms in May are impressive. It’s called a “Scotch broom,” and I’ve found it also comes in other colors. It wasn’t because I was good at picking it out to plant there. I was lucky in choosing it, I guess. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

Mixed cuttings from Steve’s garden (Photo provided)

Over the last four years, I’ve made ten or so more beds and generally placed them around trees. The financial cost has been minimal. Starting with simply laying down newspaper on the grass and shaping the covered space in the form of a circle or oval (admittedly “rough” in shape), I put a mixture of soil and fine mulch on top of the paper, maybe six to eight inches deep. When the danger of frost is past, I’ll generally buy a bag of mixed wildflower seeds at Lowes or Home Depot, and sowing the seeds becomes an “all in the wrist” action as I cover the area. I water often or hope for rain—mostly hope for rain.

Then, patience is needed, as in a week for some seeds to sprout, or some that’ll sprout in several weeks or possibly a month. Six weeks or a couple of months later, a harvest of beauty begins.

This is where Suzanne plays a big part. The snippers come out and attractive vases of cut flowers appear in our house. She’s got a talent for presenting them as tasteful décor, with vases of “Bachelor’s Buttons,” cosmos, lilies, coreopsis, Scotch broom, roses, larkspur, and pussy willow. During the first couple of years, the wildflowers came up, bloomed, and I had to check in books or on the Internet to find out what they were.

The Garden has that tiny veggie garden part (with a couple of strawberry plants), too. There are squash, onions, tomatoes, herbs, and pepper plants and they require no heavy equipment, basically only a little three-pronged hoe about a foot long

Stress or worry about any of this? Absolutely not… too many other things in life fill that bill. I’d have a lot of trouble running a successful business if I did it like I do my gardening. Here are some examples of my “laid-back-ness”:

A Lily from the garden (Photo provided)

• doing one shovel of mulch around a veggie on one day, mulch another veggie on another day

• “deadhead,” or remove spent blooms. Do about 50 of ‘em, then do more of the hundreds left for another day

• ground looks a little hard, so grab my hoe and work on that two-feet square area

• watering a few of the flowers with a sprinkling bucket out of the two water tubs where our sump pump spews… the action takes place intermittently during the day, usually when I need a break from writing.

Remember, I don’t want to get too good at this. It is a release, not a chore. My wife loves it, and I get nice feedback from putting flower pictures on Facebook. It’s a good way to handle staying home during Covid-19. I see little downside. Forward!

For more information from one who doesn’t pretend to be a gardening expert, or if you’d like to share some fun, no-stress gardening tips, email me at sflairty2001@yahoo.com.


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