Category Archives: River Lines

Perspectives and views from Sonja Hakala, the author of the Carding, Vermont novels.

The patience of gardeners

Snowdrops in early April

Because I’m a writer, journaling is second nature to me. My first cup of tea in the morning is accompanied by a few lines about daily life around here—the weather, something I did the day before, family news—stuff of that nature. I think of those lines as a “whet-my-whistle” kind of writing, something to get my mind in gear for the day ahead.

I start a new journal on my birthday every year, a personal ritual that includes looking back at what I’ve recorded for the previous twelve months. But once I’ve finished the looking back, my filled journals sit on a shelf where I smile at them like the old friends they are.

Sometimes, however, those few daily lines glitter with greater importance. During our recovery from Hurricane Irene, for example, my journal became an essential tool as I struggled to remember who had told us what, and noted the phone numbers I had called, and annotated my journey through the permitting jungle. 

Yeah, it was quite a slog.

A swath of firecracker-orange day lilies bloom throughout the month of July.

At this time of year, I keep a second journal dedicated to gardening. It’s a record-keeping of what seeds I planted when and where, what plants I’ve moved so that (maybe) I’ll know what they are when they come up next year, how much shade or sun a particular section of the yard gets, and what plants bloom when.

This is my 25th year as a gardener on this particular piece of land on our Vermont river. When we first moved here, our yard was nothing more than grass with a handful of garden phlox on either side of the front door, and a young ash growing close to the road. 

I did nothing more than watch the sun’s movements across the grass that first year, moaning over how hot it was in the front yard in July and August. When the second summer began, I started digging up the sod, digging in compost, and planting anything but grass.

Though I never had a grand plan for my gardens—I seem to ditch grand plans as soon as they are made—I did set myself two very important goals. The first was to reduce the lawn to paths between garden beds, and the second was to adopt plants that could, for the most part, bloom in succession and take care of themselves.

I finally feel I have accomplished my goal. My husband mows what’s left of our grass is twenty minutes or less. Trees and shrubs provide shade in different parts of the front yard all day long so I always have a shady spot to hang out in.

Monkshood in bloom at Halloween

And starting with snow drops in the earliest days of April and lasting through a monkshood that doesn’t flower until Halloween with a huge swath of firecracker-orange day lilies in between, there’s something in bloom in our yard for seven months of the year.

And it only took me 25 years to get here.

But it’s just in time for me to enjoy it for the next 25 years.


Sonja Hakala lives on a river in Vermont and is the author of the Carding, Vermont novels and the upcoming Red City mystery, The Deadly Noose.

The Carding, Vermont novels are available on Amazon, and they are, in order of appearance:

The Road Unsalted

Thieves of Fire

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life

Light in Water, Dancing