Tag Archives: gardening

Home and Garden Tour (Part Three)

SH-spireaIt’s judgment day among the gardening set in Carding, Vermont. It’s been an interesting year for those who love to dig in the dirt and those who love to look at flowers.

This Carding Chronicle is the conclusion to the Home and Garden Tour.

I hope you enjoy. Please share this with your friends.

Jane Twitchell, Carding’s erstwhile librarian, felt a wee bit nervous as she thumbed through the entries for the best-in-show trophy for the Carding Home and Garden tour. She’d never seen so many. Who knew there were 36 such ardent gardeners in her hometown?

At first she’d sorted the entries in alphabetical order—she was a librarian, after all—but then countermanded her decision and grouped them by location. Otherwise, the four judges would be racing all over town just to catch a glimpse of the gardens never mind spend enough time to judge them.

The faithful grandfather clock in the library’s entry quietly reminded Jane that it was seven o’clock and the judges were now waiting for her in the parking lot. Don’t be so nervous, she scolded herself. It’s the library’s biggest fundraiser of the year. All the tickets are sold and the entries… She looked down at the papers in her hands again.

Thirty-six entries. Who would have thought?

This means it’s a success, right?

As she walked out to the parking lot, Jane’s hands shook a little and she was grateful not to be one of the judges.

“They’re getting their paperwork,” Ruth Goodwin whispered, “and they’re sorting themselves out with a town map. No sign of G.G. yet.” She handed her binoculars to Agnes Findley so her friend could take a turn watching from Edie Wolfe’s attic window.

“Hmmm, that’s strange. After the big fit she threw in the library last week when Jane objected to the pages she tore out of all those Fine Gardening magazines, I figured G.G. would be stalking the judges. After all, she’s been stalking us all week.” Agnes turned the binoculars over to Edie.

“You’re right. No sign of G.G. I wonder what that means,” Edie said as she examined the cars in the library parking lot.

Keys rattled in Ruth’s hands. “Let’s go see, shall we?”

Minutes later, the three friends were packed into Ruth’s Jeep and headed toward the oversized, overpriced mansion that the Dieppes owned on Mount Merino. As soon as Ruth parked at the head of the trail they’d cut through the woods to G.G.’s backyard, they pulled on their gardening boots to creep through the underbrush.

They were still a good twenty feet away when a shrill voice made them stop in their tracks.

“What do you mean I need to water them?” The pitch of G.G.’s voice hurt the ear.

“Just what I said,” a young voice replied. “You’ve got to water plants after you stick them in the ground.”

“Well, why didn’t you do that?”

“I did, last week when I planted them,” the young man replied. “But you didn’t want to pay me to take care of them. You said you’d spent enough money on them already. It’s not my fault it hasn’t rained.”

Edie, Ruth and Agnes moved forward, being careful not to rustle the Joe Pye weed that towered over their heads. Its heavy flowers were on the verge of bursting open and the slightest touch set them waggling.

“You mean I spent $3,000 on plants and you just let them die? The judges will be here any minute. Do something!”

Ruth’s eyebrows leaped up her forehead at the mention of $3,000 spent on plants. If you added up all the money she’d ever spent on her gardens, it wouldn’t come anywhere close to that.

“Wait! What are you doing?” G.G. yelled. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“You said to do something.” The young man’s face was tight with rage as he looked over his shoulder. “You’re not a gardener at all. You don’t care any more about these plants than you do about a lost golf ball so I’m doing something. I’m outta here.”

Edie dropped to her knees—no small feat for someone with arthritis—and crept forward. She just had to see. Ruth and Agnes crawled right behind her.

The devastation in G.G.’s yard nearly made them gasp. Ruth, the most tenderhearted gardener of the three (she had a hard time thinning carrots), almost bounded out of the underbrush in a bid to rescue the prostrate zinnias, echinacea, celosia, poppies, begonias, lobelia, hosta and nasturtiums. The fact that they were all dying of preventable thirst made her want to weep.

But Edie and Agnes pulled her back. It was time to go.

“Let’s just hope Jane remembered to do as I asked when she organizes those entries for the judges,” Edie said as they sped through the center of town. “The poor thing’s been a nervous wreck all week. She can’t get over the fact that G.G. cut up magazines that belong to the library.”

As soon as the Jeep stopped, the three women threw open all its doors. Gardening buckets full of tools were pulled from the back storage compartment, and in a flash, the three were taking last-minute snips, fluffing up the soil where it met the neatly clipped lawn, and poking their fingers into the dirt to check its moisture level.

“All right then?” Andy Cooper asked as he pulled into the parking lot.

“Where are the judges?” Ruth asked.

“Last seen headed up to Lydie Talbot’s place,” Andy said as he gazed at all the bright flowers and vegetables in the elementary school garden. “You and the kids have done a great job in here. I brought a couple of bags of mulch, just in case you need it.”

“We haven’t done much,” Edie said as she straightened up. “Just supervised a little.” And then she laughed when she saw the blinged-out scarecrow that the third-graders had set up in their corn patch.

Agnes looked at her watch. “It’s almost ten. I think we’d best get out of here”

The return trip to Edie’s house was slowed immeasurably by the home and garden lovers who’d packed the streets to see Carding’s best botanical efforts on display. Even though she’d planned to change her clothes, Edie never made it inside her house because she was whisked away to answer questions and give short tours.

At Ruth’s house, her daughter Sarah was barely holding down the fort for her mother and was glad to be relieved of the responsibility of talking about flowers. And Agnes arrived just in time to prevent her partner, Charlie, from giving the wrong name to every plant in her gardens.

It was a long day but the sun finally crested and then slid back down the other side of the sky. With the tour part of the day over, folks crowded the town green to sop up tall glasses of lemonade and buy cookies made by the library’s trustees.

Finally an exhausted Jane Twitchell approached the microphone set up in the town gazebo and rested her hand gently on the best-in-show trophy, a tall, hand-blown glass vase etched with the names of previous winners. A large contingent of excited students, fluttering like small birds, settled near her feet.

Agnes, Ruth and Edie finally spotted G.G. at the back of the crowd, her large straw hat askew, her cheeks ruddy with sunburn, and her eyes glaring in their direction.

“What’s she mad at us about?” Agnes whispered. “We didn’t forget to water her plants.”

“Do you think we could sneak up there to rescue some of them before she gets home?” Ruth asked.

“Ladies and gentleman.” Jane’s voice broke in before Edie or Agnes could answer Ruth’s question. “On behalf of the Frost Free Library of Carding, Vermont, I want to thank you all so much for coming.”

She held up an envelope. “The judges have made their decision.” She tore the envelope open. “And the winner is…”

It is said among the Carding-ites who were there that day that no one had ever heard anyone scream at the garden show before. It certainly made Jane Twitchell jump out of her skin when G.G. Dieppe let loose with her scorn for the announcement.

But they all agreed that the hand-blown vase, with its mild hint of green in the glass, looked perfect in the elementary school’s trophy case.

They also agreed that they’d never seen so many different plants in Ruth Goodwin’s garden before.

I’m so glad you’ve stopped by to enjoy this Carding Chronicle . Please share it with your friends and be sure to subscribe.

If you would like to get in touch, my email address is: Sonja@SonjaHakala.com.

Do a bit of good in the world today.

Home and Garden Tour (Part Two)

SH-morning gloryWhat started out as a friendly kerfuffle about gardens among friends has turned into a fierce competition. Never has the Carding gardening community worked so hard. And so far, the only winner is Andy Cooper, the co-owner and manager of Carding’s general store.

Let’s check in to see how preparations are progressing for the town’s annual Home and Garden tour in this week’s Carding Chronicle, shall we?

Even though they owned Cooper’s General Store jointly—an inheritance from their Dad—Andy and Charlie Cooper had settled into an amicable division of labor when it came to its day-to-day operations.

Andy enjoyed the hands-on part of it all, making displays, ordering the seasonal items, relating to the customers (or not, as the case may be), and managing their employees.

Charlie, for his part of the deal, took on the paperwork part of the operation—watching over the accounts, calculating the correct profit margins on the items sold in the store, and taking care of all the legal ins and outs of running a small business in Vermont (of which there are many).

Each brother thought he had the better part of the deal so they were both content.

Charlie, now that he was semi-retired from his legal practice, made a habit of ambling through the back door of the Coop about mid-morning every Wednesday. He’d pour himself coffee from the community urn, nod and say hello to anyone who passed by, and then he’d heat up the computer to go through the finances.

Sooner or later, Andy would show up and after discussing the latest Red Sox game, the brothers would get down to business.

But today, Charlie skipped their detour into baseball and plunged right into the numbers on his meticulously kept spread sheets.

“What is this?” he asked, pointing to a rather large figure. “We’ve never sold that much compost, mulch, and potting soil in the whole history of the store. Is that figure correct?”

Andy chuckled, gave his tea a good stir so that the honey in it was evenly distributed throughout the mug instead of pooling at the bottom, and then sat down next to his “baby” brother.

“I’ve discovered a secret weapon in the town’s gardening wars,” he confided.

A small smile snaked over Charlie’s mouth when he recognized the onset of one of his brother’s storytelling moments.

“Do tell.”

“It’s name is G.G. Dieppe.” Andy sucked in a big slurp of tea.

“Anthony’s Dieppe’s wife? The millionaire of Mount Merino?”

“Yep, her. It seems she’s decided to enter the Home and Garden Tour with the idea of winning the best-in-show trophy,” Andy said. He slurped some more while waiting for Charlie to catch up.

“Ah, so that’s why Agnes is whirling around in our yard from dawn to dusk like a mad dervish,” Charlie said with a chuckle. Charlie’s life partner is Agnes Findley, widely acknowledged as the most meticulous gardener in Carding. “Do you know, she hardly came in long enough for supper last night. And I’d made her favorite pasta dish.”

Andy nodded. “Yep, they’ve all gone mad this year. Personally, I don’t think Edie or Ruth or Agnes cares if they win or not just so long as this G.G. character doesn’t.”

Charlie looked down at the spread sheets on the desk. “It’s been mighty good for business.”

“Yeah, and most of that is her,” Andy said. “I don’t think she’s ever picked up a trowel in her life. She just keeps saying that ‘all it takes is money.'”

The brothers Cooper shared a blue-eyed stare and then they both started to laugh. “Oh, this is going to be fun to watch,” Charlie said.


Holding her favorite clippers, Ruth Goodwin backed up slowly so that she could judge the impact of her assault on her hedge of Magic Carpet spirea. Many of its cotton candy-colored blooms had gone by and she wanted to make sure only the brightest ones were on display tomorrow morning when the judges arrived. For the first time in many years, winning the best-in-show trophy at the Carding Home and Garden Show was important.

She darted forward and SNIP went another dead blossom. Then SNIP SNIP and two more fell into her weed bucket.

There, as perfect as it was gonna get.

She glanced at the sky though it didn’t look any different than it had ten minutes ago. Blue from horizon to horizon. After such a drippy start to the summer, the idea of watering her flowers seemed rather strange. She snapped off her gardening glove so she could slip a bare finger under the mulch to check the soil moisture. An earthworm glistened by, his morning repose interrupted by her probing.

“Sorry,” Ruth muttered as she hastened to cover him up. “Sorry.” Then she sighed. Who was she kidding. Even though her yard was a riot of color—pink spirea, yellow evening primrose, white valerian and elderberries, and red bee balm—no one would ever mistake the mistake of describing the Goodwin garden as organized.

Ruth loved everything about the botanical world…except maybe poison ivy. But she loved to live in it, not dominate it.

“Oh well,” she said as she tossed her tools in their bucket. “Either Edie or Agnes will win and that’s all right.”

A car rolled by slowly just as Ruth closed her front door behind her. A second cup of tea was definitely in order.

From inside the car, G.G. Dieppe scanned Ruth’s yard. True, there was a lot in bloom. And true, it did look very pretty…but only from a distance. Even from the road, G.G. spotted some weediness along the edges of a circular raised bed.

“Hmph, no one’s going to find any weeds in my gardens,” she sniffed to herself. “They are perfect. The best that money can buy.”

Ruth watched through the lace curtains on her front windows as G.G. drove on.

“She just left,” she texted Agnes. “Probably headed your way.”

It took a few years but Agnes Findley had finally turned Charlie Cooper’s scruffy yard into a virtual Eden. The blue and purple blooms of spring had given way to the red of the climbing roses that sheltered the sunny end of their screened-in porch. Her hosta hedge, each plant placed so that its leaves complimented the plants on either side, was at the height of perfection.

Her collection of colorful pots added height and wonder to the landscape, and the hens and chicks lining the walkway to their front door had just started to share their peach-colored flowers.

They were Agnes’s specialty.

“Do you think I should stand out in the front yard to wave?” she asked Charlie as they crouched behind a hedge of limelight hydrangea that divided their front yard from the back.

Charlie nearly choked up his coffee. “I thought the idea was to be stealthy about your spying ways,” he said.

“Oh, I know. It’s just that I find that woman so irritating,” Agnes said, tapping her foot.

“And you don’t want her to win,” Charlie said.

“Yeah, that too.” They watched G.G. crawl by their house, her neck extended to its full length. “Gawd, how nosy can she be? Ah, there she goes. She must have found some imperfection. Well, so be it. At least maybe Edie or Ruth will win, and that’s fine.”

“You’d better text Edie,” Charlie said, trying to mask his grin. He couldn’t remember when he’d enjoyed a competition more. Who knew that watching gardeners could be so entertaining?

I’m so glad you’ve stopped by to enjoy this Carding Chronicle . Please share it with your friends and be sure to subscribe.

If you would like to get in touch, my email address is: Sonja@SonjaHakala.com.

Do a bit of good in the world today.

The Chase Is On

Last week, we learned there’s a new gardener in town. Well, actually, G.G. Dieppe lives up on Mount Merino, a part of Carding, Vermont that no local considers “in town,” and no matter what she says, no one believes she’s ever dirtied her hands.

None of this matters to G.G. because she has decided to enter the “Best in Show” competition in the annual Home and Garden show. And she has declared to anyone who will listen that she is going to win at any cost.

This has riled the local dirt diggers to even greater heights of petal elegance, as we will find out in part two of tomorrow’s Carding Chronicle entitled The Home and Garden Tour.

Here’s a sample of what’s to come. Enjoy!

SH-morning glory

The Home and Garden Tour (Part One)

SH-pink peonyEvery year, the Carding Garden Club organizes a weekend-long “Home and Garden” tour as a fundraiser for its work beautifying the town. Most of the time, this event generates friendly competition as well as collaboration among Carding’s dirt diggers.

But this year, there’s a new gardener in town who believes that winning is everything.

This three-part favorite Carding Chronicle was first published in 2017.

Hope you enjoy the competition.

The Carding Garden Club is pleased to invite every gardener in town to participate in their annual “Home and Garden Tour” the weekend after the 4th of July.

Back in March, the little green postcards bearing these words brightened up mailboxes and community bulletin boards all over Carding. At the time, seed packets were just starting to appear on racks in Cooper’s General Store, and Lee Tennyson had barely accepted delivery of the compressed peat flats in which he would start everything from lobelia to geraniums, begonias, pansies, petunias, coleus and back again for his greenhouses.

In other words, July seems like a long way away when there’s snow on the ground.

By April, conversations around the coffee mugs in the Crow Town Bakery had turned from the right way to sand a driveway to hopes for a good growing season. You know the drill—not too hot for too many days, not too much rain either, every weather condition in moderation, and no frost after Memorial Day though it would be better for everybody if frost never appeared again after May 1.

Gardeners began to potter out to their garden sheds to assess the tool situation, sharpen their clippers, fit that new handle into the square-ended shovel, and check the hoses for splits and cracks.

Then Andy Cooper put out his first bags of compost on May 3 and suddenly, every gardener in town felt the pressure to weed even though the ground was still cold and very wet.

You have the full range of gardeners in Carding. There’s folks such as Edie Wolfe who inherited her mother’s mature gardens along with her family home. In other words, her peonies are older than she is.

That makes Edie a “maintainer,” separating and replanting the iris on a regular schedule, controlling the day lily hedge along the road, and tucking in marigolds to replace the narcissus after they’ve spent their flowering energy early in spring.

Edie’s best friends, Ruth Goodwin and Agnes Findley, are like “two paths that diverged in a wood” when it comes to gardening. Agnes is very precise. Her autumn joys never droop. Her bronze hens and chicks rigidly maintain their heart shape within a greater field of green succulents by the same name. Her escargot begonia’s leaves always swirl perfectly in their aubergine pot by her shaded front door.

They wouldn’t dare do otherwise.

Ruth, on the other hand, likes to take her gardening cues directly from nature which seems to do just fine without a lot of human interference, thank you very much. She does manage to put taller plants in the back of her gardens and yank the grass back from the worst of its intrusions.

But otherwise, her red bee balm runs riot with the buttery yellow of the evening primroses and her lime green spirea with its strawberry-ice-cream-colored flowers is taller than anyone has ever seen that plant grow before because, Ruth says, “it would inflict too much pain to prune it. Besides, I like it that way.”

I have to confess that Ruth’s gardening style drives Agnes crazy, and she’s often threatened to show up and weed in the middle of the night.

But she doesn’t.

The three friends used to maintain a mild competitive spirit among them during the Home and Garden Tour. Edie would win one year, Agnes the next, and much to everyone’s surprise, Ruth would take the trophy once in a while.

But now they demur from competition. Instead they use the frail and fleeting time from the arrival of compost bags at Cooper’s to the garden show as a spur to get their grounds into shape so they can enjoy the rest of the summer at their leisure.

But the same cannot be said of Carding newcomer, G.G. Dieppe. Mrs. Dieppe, as she likes to be called, does not hold with this non-competitive concept. The idea is to win.

And even though she’s never gardened before, how hard can it be to buy better plants than anyone else and hire someone to put them in the ground?

“All it takes is money,” she told Andy Cooper. Of course he alerted Edie, Agnes and Ruth right away.

And the chase for the Carding Gardening Club trophy was on.

I’m so glad you’ve stopped by to enjoy this Carding Chronicle . Please share it with your friends and be sure to subscribe.

If you would like to get in touch, my email address is: Sonja@SonjaHakala.com.

Do a bit of good in the world today.

The Gardening Two-Step

The Carding Gardening Club doesn’t have a lot of members—maybe two dozen in all—but they are a mighty bunch.

Every year, these diligent dirt diggers add color to a large number of planter boxes and hanging pots all over town, from the Community Building to the town green and along the town’s main street, Meetinghouse Road.

While no one is paid for her time, there is the matter of supplies and plants. So every July, the Garden Club hosts a weekend-long home and garden tour to raise money for their endeavors. Participants make sure their flowers and shrubs are pristine and the spaces they make available for public viewing are scrubbed.

To make it more interesting, there’s also a friendly competition for “Best in Show,” complete with a panel of judges.

The local gardeners really get into the spirit of the occasion but there’s always been more collaboration than competition among them.

Until this year.

Tomorrow is the first of a three-part Chronicle that’s become something of a fan favorite. And for those of you new to the Carding Chronicles, welcome to summer in the little town that no one can find on a map.

Here’s a sample of tomorrow’s story.

SH-pink peony