A person who writes about gardening as much as I do—both in fiction and nonfiction— theoretically should have perfect flower beds. Unfortunately, all that writing doesn’t leave much time for the actual gardening. And I live on a small Pennsylvania farm populated by free-ranging farmyard fowl, as well as cows, pigs, and sheep which aren’t supposed to be free-ranging but often are anyhow.
Under those circumstances, perfection is an impossibility. But those of us who weren’t to the manor born learn to be happy with a naturally unkempt look. After all, the so-called casual “cottage garden style” is much more appropriate for our smaller homes than it is for those stately British ones!
Since my father is a farmer and my late mother always kept a large vegetable garden, a penchant for growing things came packed into my genes. There once was an old house adjacent to ours where the residents tossed their wood ashes out the back door. After years of such applications, the soil turned black and fluffy, unlike our typical clay-larded loam.
So, when I was a teenager, I rolled some of the old foundation stones left from the house around that particular plot of land—now situated behind our garage—and claimed it as mine. Its former residents had also thrown their trash out back, so I frequently uncover shards of old pottery when I am digging.
Unlike Mom, I’ve always had a preference for flowers and herbs rather than vegetables. And, the more unusual those flowers, the better! Stubbornly refusing to be limited by my location in USDA zone 5, I often keep tropical plants in pots which I lug indoors and stash under makeshift grow-lights (shop lights) in winter. Those plants generally get both leggy and buggy by spring, but most of them do survive.
Since the garden with the good soil has become somewhat shaded over the years, it’s now mostly dedicated to plants such as bleeding hearts, columbines, sweet cicely, sweet woodruff, violets, etc. The more sunny beds on the south side of the house are filled with light-loving favorites such as roses, lilies, irises, black-eyed Susans, and hardy geraniums. I’ve even been known to plant daffodils, tulips, and crocuses in the lawn, since there is little room for them elsewhere, though my recent discovery of grow bags has expanded my options considerably!
With the exception of plants which grow from bulbs or tubers and a few of the newest petunias and other container plants which I purchase from a local Amish greenhouse, I start most of my own -flowers from seed. I sometimes begin the following year’s garden in autumn or early winter by placing seeds in damp paper towels in the refrigerator to stratify, though I put off most of the actual indoor seed sowing until about mid-February.
Over the years, I’ve acquired a large percentage of my seeds via trades, first in one-on-one swaps with other gardeners on sites such as GardenWeb, more recently in large multi-gardener seed exchanges on the National Gardening Association’s web site. With a little additional help from my favorite gardening products such as Superthrive and Spray ‘N Grow, even a genuine cottage gardener such as myself is limited only by her imagination!.