Gardens Tell a Story

Gardens Tell a Story

Phyllis Décor 25 Comments

You know we Southern women love to brag about our gardens. It is almost as exciting as bragging about our secret recipe for the pound cake everyone raves about at supper club. When I was growing up, at right about this time of the year my mama’s perennial garden was in full bloom. Today it is again, and we take great delight in swapping stories about what “came back” from the prior year.

I plant new things each year to add to the mix of favorites. The joke at our house is, “Oh no, she has bought more bulbs.” Yes, that’s right. I am totally consumed with catalogues and websites that offer collections of bulbs and plants. Not only that, but I can actually visualize exactly where they need to be planted to create the wonderful picturesque garden that will bloom every year.

Several years ago, right after Neal and I married, Aaron announced that he wanted to have prom dinner at our home complete with a prom photo session around the fountain. Neal was thrilled that his son wanted to host the dinner for 12 couples at the ranch, and I set in with the master plan of creating the garden “look” for the photograph background. I figured out the time it would take for a tulip bulb to bloom from planting to blossom.

Gardens Tell a Story

On the appointed day, I was out there in the cold with my flats of pansies and bags and bags of tulip bulbs. I had the plan, and I was in motion. Coupled with the knock out roses and lambs ears, these new additions would result in a garden that would be life changing. Did I mention that all the parents were to come with their children for the photo session? So I was making plans for a garden moment that would be viewed by more than 75 people at sunset on that magical night, a crowning accomplishment.

As the weeks progressed and the little shoots started emerging, I was right on schedule. My timing was perfect. The week of prom had finally arrived. The menu was exactly what Aaron wanted, and all that was left was to spiff up the garden. The tulips could not have been more beautiful poking their heads through the mounds of pansies.

Three days before prom, I woke up and was making my usual early morning stroll through the masterpiece garden with my cup of coffee. I opened the door to find everything in my garden was gone. Gone. Not a bloom in sight. I think my face went numb, and I couldn’t utter a word. What could have happened during the night? I stood there totally stunned and in shock.

Gardens Tell a Story

I managed to pull myself together and leave for the office. On the way out, I noticed Neal had stopped to speak to one of our neighbors. I drove on with my mind whirling as to Plan B. You know we Southern women always have a Plan B, and I needed one very quickly.

That evening when I arrived back at the ranch, Neal told me the story of how our neighbor had neglected to close the gates on her horse pens and during the night the tulip- and pansy-eating monsters had visited my garden and helped themselves to “flower salad.” She had retrieved the horses before I got up. I was not amused. But it was time for Plan B.

The day before the prom I went to the nursery and bought flats of blooming flowers. I came home, planted them, and mulched so as to appear that they had been planted all season. I think I probably sat up all night looking out the window.

The next morning, all was well for prom photos and dinner. I, of course, took the compliments from parents and children as they photographed the couples with a stunning background or blooming flowers, wishing the whole time they could have seen the tulip–pansy extravaganza. Perhaps that is just like the “fish that got away” stories!

Every fall I plant bulbs and plants with great hopes that a beautiful garden will be blooming in the spring. My lilies are new to the garden this year. And yes, I am already looking for new things to add this fall.

I would love to hear your suggestions. Please leave a comment below!


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Comments 25

  1. I always enjoy your blog posts. Thank you. You are sending a ray of sunshine with each entry. Best wishes to you!

  2. A friend told me to sprinkle paprika around the pot’ top and bottom….not had a problem since! I love to garden and our squirrels do too! N.

  3. I love working in my garden. Roses and lilacs are two of my favorite flowers.
    Summer is my favorite time of the year. Back a few years ago I planted a rose bush for each of my children and grandchildren. I now have 3 great grandchildren so I plan to plant a rose bush for
    each of them .

  4. Phyllis, I am new to your magazines and blog, and am absolutely in love with the lovely pictures and stories in each. I can envision the scene of your garden stripped bare. The squirrels here love to climb into my pots of impatiens and begonias and dig them up, thus killing them. I have already replaced several pots of impatiens three times, and we’ve barely begun the late spring/summer growing time! The deterrent spray has not been effective as we’ve had SO much rain, it just washes away in 24 hours or less. Heavy sigh! However, we will carry on. Thanks for your lovely, lovely magazines and blog, and inspiring stories.
    Enjoy the beauty of the season!

  5. I bet you were in total shock, Phyllis. As a gardener with a black thumb, I have many a garden story, but none to top this! Knew you would create a fabulous place for photos and dinner for family and friends…certain it was stunning! Hope you are enjoying your weekend!

  6. As a native of the far Northern Adirondacks we cherish our gardens no matter how simple they are because each leaf and bloom is a reminder that after the deep, bitter cold and
    snow of winter life is reborn.

  7. Northern women love to talk about their gardens also.Due to much illness this year and spinal chord problems, my garden isn’t looking too good. Which makes me very sad. Not only do Northern women have a plan B, but also a C and D! Said with love and laughing! Love this site! By the way, I have been waiting 2 mons. so far for Marie Bostwicks newest book in the Cobbled Court series. Called to inquire where I am on the library waiting list. Boo-Hoo- I am #5!!!! Still gonna be a long time.

  8. Judith at Johns Creek Georgia

    I sympathize as my problem or problems are deer and rabbits and voles and chipmunks and squirrels. Every morning I hold my breath as I look out to see if my Hostas, Hydrangeas, Snapdragons, Phlox and other perennials and annuals are still there. I spray and have even resorted to netting but it is a struggle to have the garden that I want and work so hard to make and keep beautiful. I take lots of photographs because the beauty can be brief!

  9. If you’re a woman, you’ll always have a plan B. You recuperated very well from the horses eating your flowers and causing you to think and act quickly.
    For me, it was the day of our daughter’s wedding with the photos to be taken in our backyard. A huge and beautiful white clematis pulled the netting off the shed wall holding it up and it laid on all the flowers beneath crushing them. Without time to buy more, I cut the clematis right back, hubby removed the netting and I fluffed up the flowers the best I could. The photos were taken by the pond and under the rose arbour so no one even realized their had been a catastrophe.
    It’s nice to know these things happen to other people too.

  10. Phyllis! You really are an inspiration!

    Your resilience in the face of the unknown is an example to all of us in any unforeseen situation. I will channel you when the next one pops up for me!!

    I live in Californand on the lovely Central Coast. It is truly beautiful but we are now in a terrible drought. Surviving are my agapanthus, bird of paradise and lavender. I don’t know how, but red and blue are the colors for now. We pray our fruit trees….many….and our vineyard…..24 vines….survive. When you have a minute, pray for a bit of rain for us please. And for now, I will enjoy looking at YOUR beautiful flower pictures and laugh at the situation you survived gracefully.

    Have a great summer all….

    And Phyllis please keep the beautiful pictures and great stories coming!!


    1. CJ,

      I live in Las Vegas and I know how it is to have too little rain. I have been keeping empty 1 gallon ice cream buckets in my sinks. I wash my hands over them, and wash the fruits and vegetables of over them. I include the last rinse when washing pots and pans. All of that goes out to water the garden. I et about 10 gallons a day that way. I also keep a 3 gallon bucket and an ice cream bucket in the shower, and that also goes to water the garden.

      My fruit trees and grape vines are on drip irrigation. I have 40+ fruit trees, and not as many grape vines as you, but quite a few. I’ve been adding manure as mulch so that the garden needs even less water.

  11. My heart went out to you regarding the attack of the hungry horses! Five of my horses got out on Easter Sunday and the entire neighborhood was out in their pajamas, I was in a robe and rubber boots with halters and lead ropes hanging from my shoulder… trying to corral my lovelies. After tearing up my neighbor’s perfectly manicured lawn, I found myself heading to Lowe’s for soil to fill in all the holes left behind by their hooves. I was too exhausted to fix Easter brunch after that, so my beautifully decorated Easter table was left behind and we went out to eat. I can picture your beautifully described garden and feel a sisterhood with you!

  12. Phyllis, what a story and what a what a role model you are in how to handle adversity.
    It is good when things are over and we have mellowed a bit to everything that happened & we can then look back & laugh!
    I too have gardens I love – my perennials this year which came back are bleeding hearts (pink one & white one), jacob’s ladder, forgotten lillies, fall crocus, tulips & others too numerous to mention.
    I also have a vegetable garden – yum.
    And, my favorite story is my rhubarb which came from the aunt’s garden many years ago to my brother’s garden in Illinois and now to my garden in Wisconsin!

  13. Morning Phyllis, Loved your colorful story… We enjoy our breakfast in the mornings and look out
    to the back yard. Our petunias came back from last year with vengeance along with iris, poppies, daffodils and lavender so we planted a few other colorful annuals to enjoy when we eat our meals. The day just starts out right when you see colorful flowers, happy birds, squirrels and Ca. sunshine! How thankful we are! Wishing you back a colorful day in the south! Carmel

  14. Phyllis, Isn’t your story a great object lesson about life. The best laid plans can always have a glitch. The important thing is how we respond to the glitches. Sounds like you responded amazingly well. I love the idea that gardens tell a story. I grow iris that remind me of my grandmother’s garden. I have a rose bush and tiger lilies that are taken from original plants from my grandmother’s garden. It brings me joy to think that my garden bears plants that my grandmother grew and must have loved.

    If I lived in the South, I would grow hydrangeas. I think they are a very beautiful flower, but they are a little trickier to grow here in Utah. I also love cone flowers, dahlias, and delphiniums.

  15. I too, am from the “north”, Canada to be exact. This year the spring came late and as such there is little colour in the garden. Today we have reached a high of 85 degrees and tomorrow will be dipping down to somewhere in the 40’s…yikes! My one little surprise has been a single allium that seems to have come out of nowhere…but oh how I treasure it considering the state of affairs!

  16. A beautiful story! I too plant dreams! I am hoping that when our grandson and his Leah take that step together they will want to have the wedding here in my gardens . I am working on a music garden now with four cherubs each playing a different musical instrument. Plans are to plant whites in the garden. Also herb, rose and veggie garden . I do creative art also … So I am just alittle stretched….. With all the rains here in Louisiana it has been a slow process! Looking forward to reading and seeing your beautiful gardens.

  17. I had to laugh at the end of your story! I am no gardener, but my mom surely was; we had a beautiful flower garden year after year thanks to her. We had a beautiful veggie garden as well due to both my mom and dad. One of our five sons lives in England and he has “inherited” my mom’s green thumb!! He has lots of beautiful flowers in their garden and he plans what is going where, just as you do.
    We do have lovely, lovely pink Rogasas however, but we don’t have to do much to those…..that’s why they’re perfect for me!!

  18. What a great story! I can certainly commiserate with you about the garden mishaps. Over the years we have had many celebrations in our garden, but one that stands out is a birthday dinner for my Mother when she turned 60. I had carefully planned, planted and created what I thought was a most beautiful array of colorful flowers in our borders. Blue was Mom’s favorite color and larkspur, foxgloves and delphiniums were present in stunning blue colors.

    When the delivery company arrived to set up the tables and chairs, somehow they managed to drop two tables on my borders where the party would be! Ever one of my tall, graceful flowers was flattened. Plan B was put into action, I bought as many new plants as I could find at local nurseries, planted some, hid the pots amongst other plantings for the rest, and supplemented with “faux” silk flower stems ( to my husband’s horror) whose plastic stems I just stuck in the soil.

    At night, with the garden lights and candles glowing , everyone said our blue garden was magical, it’s an evening I will always remember for many reasons.

  19. Trust me —– northern gardeners feel the same way. And we all have “the fish that got away” stories that only make it clear that gardeners are eternal optimists. Right at this moment, I’m trying to engender enough energy to finish planting the large pots before thunder storms arrive.

  20. In reading your inspiring but painful story, I can’t help but cringe at the thought of your shock and devastation that morning! Ye-Gads…but with your incredible southern class, strength and resilience, you went to the office, came up with a great plan and accomplished an even greater feat! Phyllis, you are an inspiration and I’ll be telling this story to all my family and gardening friends! My friends and I have had similar gardening horrors but yours “takes the cake” for sure!

  21. I couldn’t imagine what had happened to your flowers! And how could you just go on to work? You are a tough cookie, Ms Phyllis. But in the end, you fixed the problem. Good for you. I will keep my gates closed!!!

  22. Phyllis, you’re a treasure with a great sense of humor!! What a poignant story about your garden. But how do you it all? You cook, you garden, you sew, make quilts, etc., etc., oh and by the way you’re a publisher. Maybe you can share how you do it with us.

  23. I love your story about the prom party. I’m sure every gardener can tell a story of plans A and B. A dear friend of my parents spent months planting hundreds of flowers for his daughter’s outdoor wedding at the Northshore home. On the day of the nuptials every bloom looked magnificent. Unfortunately before the first guest arrived, the sky opened up with the sort of thunderstorm south Louisiana is famous for in the spring. The roads flooded, the tents sagged, and guests coming across the Causeway were turned back due to high winds. The neighbors sprang into action ferrying guest from the flooded cars to the parents home on golf carts holding huge umbrellas. I always hoped they took lots of pictures before the rains came.

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