In the spring

Small space? No problem! Dirt is portable and flowers can adapt. Thanks to Alys for allowing me to use this photo of her long-ago patio garden.

Small space? No problem! Dirt is portable and flowers can adapt.
Thanks to Alys for allowing me to use this photo of her long-ago patio garden.

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”Margaret Atwood

I’m re-blogging this lovely March 19, 2012 post from Alys at Gardening Nirvana, who reminds us that we can find ways to welcome spring even in small spaces. I put the words in the next to last paragraph in bold case:

Hooray for spring which officially arrives on our coast around 1 am tomorrow. Spring Equinox symbolizes the re-emergence of plants and trees awakening from winter’s slumber. It also means longer lines at the garden center.

When I was single and working full-time I used to use some of my paid time off each spring to start my garden. It didn’t matter where I was living, I always found a way to break ground even if it meant settling for a patio garden. When I rented a room in a house in Willow Glen, I planted in the three narrow strips lining the driveway. My production was minimal in that miniscule plot, but the corn got plenty of sun, and I had the immense pleasure of gardening.

When the Willow Glen owner sold the house and gave us the boot, I moved to an apartment in nearby Campbell. I managed to cram about 20 houseplants into my 400 square foot apartment, valuing greenery over any superfluous furniture. As I set down emotional roots, so too did my garden expand. I spent my weekends at local nurseries and assorted home and garden centers planning for my little patio. One pot became three and eventually I lined both sides of the narrow walkway with potted flowers and plants. I added vines along the fence, and even planted some zucchini behind my apartment, though I really didn’t have enough sun. I planted flowers along the path to my door, to the delight of my neighbors who shared the view. The owners of our four-plex preferred simple cement. It was nice to have a bit of green along the walkway, welcoming me home each day.

I married my husband in 1995 and settled in a quiet neighborhood, known for excellent schools. It was important to both of us that we raise our boys in one place, having bounced around so much in our own youth. I’ve enjoyed it immensely. It took awhile to realize I could turn plants loose from their pots and allow them to put down roots. I love the stability that allows me to plan a garden from year to year, not worrying about evictions or troubles from the city. My Campbell four-plex, as it turned out, was illegal. It has since been torn down and replaced with a single-family dwelling.

Life is impermanent and change is inevitable. But year after year, spring arrives, and along with it feelings of hope. In the end, it’s not about yields but about the joy of the practice, the nuanced discoveries and the dirt under your nails.

What are you planting this spring?

via Spring it On! | Gardening Nirvana.

One year ago today, it was Easter weekend, so I’m adjusting the posts to fit.
April 19, 2013 is linked today
March 29-31, 2013 will be linked on Easter weekend. 

Almost one year ago today:

Solace in the seedlings


  1. Beth

    Thank you for sharing Alys’ blog! Twenty-five years ago on my third story apartment deck I planted wheat grass for my cats, and basil for pesto. My first foray into gardening became a life long labor of love.

    • Beth, I love the idea of growing fresh herbs, but have never done it! Maybe you can give me some pointers in some as-yet imaginary life when I have time to start trying to learn how to do it. Even when I fail (which is at least half the time) gardening calms me like nothing else. Alys picked a perfect name for her blog, “Gardening Nirvana.” 🙂

    • Beth, I love that!

  2. singleseatfighterpilot

    The timing of Easter has to be one of the most confusing aspects of our yearly calendars (what do you expect when it is a time of warm, furry, hopping mammals, laying chocolate eggs?) Tying the Jewish Passover to a particular moon phase sets the stage for pocket planner chaos! I have mentioned fascination with the moon, in previous comments on this blog. When will be the full moon nearest your birthday, for example? See if you can figure that one without a computer program or old-fashioned “Farmers Almanac”.

    • WOW, I think I would just have to count 28 days from today until then, right? Only in recent years did I learn to look for the full moon icon that appears on several calendars (not all). The “moveable feasts” must be difficult for school planners who would like school holidays to coincide with at least some of the observances of the students. BTW I never thought Easter bunnies “laid” eggs – the first time I heard someone say that it cracked me up! For some reason the bunnies and the eggs (real or candy) were totally separate in my mind.

  3. sarvjit

    Special message at the end, I’ll keep that in my pocket. Thank you!

    • Alys has a lot of good info and advice at her blog. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      • Thank you so much for sharing this, Julia. It was fun to see the photo here on your blog, to re-read the words, and to enjoy your additions. ♥

        • Alys, that patio garden is so inspiring! I would like to have my deck and/or porch look like that even with a yard behind it! We had neighbors in San Antonio who were avid container gardeners and it enabled them to grow some plants that would never have worked in the natural soil (at least not in ours). Also, although this probably is not an issue in CA, you can bring the plants indoors for the winter and keep them alive over many seasons.

          • Thank you, Julia. It’s funny to look back at it now. It happened so gradually over a five year period of time, so it was fun to take this picture and realize how many inches of space I covered with pots and plants. It was so much fun.

            Good point, too, about bringing them inside, though you are right, not an issue here.

            So nice of you to share this. It really made my day.

            • Alys, I’m so happy you let me share it. I think a great many people enjoyed it. Isn’t it funny to think about the years you were working on this garden, how you could never have imagined we would both be sharing it with people all over the world, long after it was just a well-photographed memory! A shining example of how we never know what will come of the seeds we plant each day, literally and figuratively…

              • You are so right, Julia. Who could have imagined this? That last sentence sounds like a title for a future blog, by the way. I’ll look forward to reading it. ♥

  4. Sheila

    If the pink budding peach trees close to Willow Tree are any indication spring is really close. What a surprise yesterday to suddenly see through the heavy rainfall hundreds of trees in bloom. Maybe all the winter moisture really does make a difference. I didn’t remember that Easter was so early last year. I do enjoy Alys’ blog. 🙂

    • Sheila, I’m so happy to hear that the peach trees are about to be in bloom! Even though I grew up in Georgia, I can’t say that I’ve ever seen many peach trees. I am certainly hoping for a gorgeous spring this year; Atlanta seems headed for one (more on that later). I hope I have my computer problems solved now, time will tell. Aly’s blog is so much fun and her organizing site is great too.

  5. Isn’t that the most amazing tenant garden you’ve ever seen? I would have loved to be Alys’s neighbour then and now. As you know, we’ve been renting for two long years and what I miss is the ability to personalize in my own way. Sure there are Boomdee touches here and there but everything could be packed in a box in an hour. With their fair weather in California, this beautiful oasis would have been a treat for *everyone* living there. Leave it to Alys to enhance life for others in such a generous way. We’re STILL not into spring with crisp cool temps below 0 C, but are told it’s on it’s way near mid week. My cousin lives in Ottawa and they got snow last night, we grow impatient and thank goodness for the warmth of friendships to keep me company while I wait. What a lovely morning here with two of my favourite pals xoK

    • Thanks Boomdee, as soon as I found that post on Gardening Nirvana I knew I would have to re-post it. I think a patio garden can be so cozy and appealing, but that one is almost like a California version of a classic English cottage garden, totally surrounded by gorgeous plants. Alys definitely has the knack; it must be her expertise in theater, knowing how to set the stage. I hope you have some warmer weather on the way very soon. I feel as if we are beginning to thaw out although I’m getting superstitious about putting our snow shovel away; maybe if I leave it out, the snow will vanish for at least 8 months. I wonder whether, many years from now, we will all be talking about the winter of 2013-14 as our younger generations roll their eyes!

      • LOL, you’re probably right. The winter we walked to the market and back, uphill both ways, in 40 below….or something like that. I do remember dad telling me about wrapping rags around their feet to walk to school because they didn’t own winter boots and would just wear their rubber boots. They took a shortcut through a neighbours field which I’m sure meant extra deep snow. So I guess we’re getting off easy. By the time younger generations are experiencing winter, it’ll no doubt be better than today 😀

        • I’m glad you remember your dad’s story; we really can’t imagine that today. I sometimes try to think what things our great-grandchildren won’t be able to imagine, some of which are good and some bad. I know when the boys were babies I thought all the time about what it must have been like to have to hand wash cloth diapers 😦 especially before there was indoor plumbing. Plus hearing my mother talk about using the outhouse in the dark during winter time (and how they sometimes had to come up with emergency alternatives in the middle of the night when it was way TOO cold, eeeewwwwww). I hope our future generations will be saying things such as “my grandparents used to tell stories about how they would sometimes sit for hours in traffic” or “people used to have to take poison when they got cancer, HOW BARBARIC!!!”

          • Let’s hope by then, Cancer is a thing of the past ❤

            • Yes, I hope it will sound to them like “smallpox” and “the plague” sound to us!

      • I like the idea of a California English garden, Julia. That’s lovely. We’ve had some lovely rain over these past few days, refreshing everything in the garden. It’s long overdue here, where as you and many others are suffering the winter that will not end.

        No doubt we will be talking about it years from now. We had the warmest winter on record and one of the driest winters in 500 years. We’re asked to reduce water usage by 20%.

        • WOW, that’s terrible – even in “normal” years we could only water on specific days, same as in San Antonio, so it would be hard to cut 20% out of an already very low consumption. Luckily our landlady had a timed sprinkler system so we didn’t have to worry about the lawn, but I did have to do a lot of hand watering when I first planted anything. I didn’t realize it was so warm in CA this winter. I hope that doesn’t mean you will be roasting this summer?

          • I’m not sure what this summer will bring. I took a look at a Farmer’s Almanac at the garden center last week and looking back, they had the winter temps and rainfall completely wrong. So…who knows. One of the biggest fears is wildfires after so much dry weather. I sure hope the temps are mild.

            • Yes, the fires are a big threat. We had a friend in CA who was a firefighter and always working overtime in the big fires all over the state. While we lived in CA people used to ask me if I was scared of earthquakes. I told them honestly that I was way more scared of fires. I remember once coming through wildfires on both sides of the interstate and I was scared to death it would start to jump across the road. I don’t know what I would do if that happened but more than once I heard stories of people abandoning cars to get away from fires on the roads. They always say not to do that but I can certainly see why people do that. I’m wishing you a nice summer and maybe even some unexpected rains, although I don’t remember it ever raining between March and December.

    • “tenant garden” I like that term. You are so sweet, Boomdee. Thank you for forever making me smile and feel good inside.

      Darn that winter of yours. Be gone, be gone!!! (Let me know if that helped). 😉

      • Hey, it helped here! Today was sunny and pretty warm. I had a lovely walk.

      • xoK (( Alys )) the good vibe wish you passed to me at the end of our Skype sure worked on the weekend, so I have high hopes for your magic ‘Winter be gone, be gone’ chant 😀 Thanks for this and I shall let you know..hehe

  6. raynard

    Julia ( maybe if I can my wife doesnt go on the patio anyway”re arriange it( code for get rid of some stuff) still looing to magazines( good housekeeping Family Circle /Better homes and Gardens for ideas for patio /planters maybe roses? we’ll see. be blessed

    • I was surprised to find years ago that roses are pretty easy to grow if there is a whole lot of sunlight. I don’t know how they might do on a patio, though. I need to come up with some ideas for ours which has a lot of shade. Most of the annuals I love require sunlight and I didn’t have much luck with my Impatiens that I planted last year. I think I need to work on the soil or use planters.

  7. Beautiful garden. thanks for sharing…

    • Isn’t it? No wonder Alys has a gardening blog! I’m so glad you liked seeing it. Little did she know when she was creating that lovely patio that people would be enjoying it many years hence from all over the world!

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