Tag Archives: gardening

“May Your Hands Always Be Busy”

SH-SpireaYou can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Coming Up for Air, will be out later this year.

You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe button on my home page. When you do, my stories will speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday without any further effort on your part.

Please share these with your friends, co-workers, and all the family members that you like best. I understand they go great with morning coffee.

This week, we continue our garden show saga. This is the third of four parts (it was going to be three but the story just kept growing) and the town’s gardeners are making the final touches to their botanical artistry while keeping an eye on their competition.

If you need to catch up, here are links to the first and second parts.



Holding her favorite clippers, Ruth 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 stood behind a short 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?

By the way, the quote I used as the title for this Chronicle is from a song by Bob Dylan. Here’s the whole verse.

“May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be swift,
May you have a strong foundation,
When the winds of changes shift.”
—Bob Dylan, “Forever Young” on the album Planet Waves

Winning May Be Everything

SH-Weed bucketYou can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Coming Up for Air, will be out later this year.

You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe button on my home page. When you do, my stories will speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday without any further effort on your part.

Please share these with your friends, co-workers, and all the family members that you like best. I understand they go great with morning coffee.

This week, we continue our garden show saga, the second of three parts. If you need to catch up, here’s a link to the first part of our story called “The Fightin’ Flowers.”


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.

The Fightin’ Flowers

SH-Pansy faceYou can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Coming Up for Air, will be out later this year.

You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe button on my home page. When you do, my stories will speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday without any further effort on your part.

Please share these with your friends, co-workers, and all the family members that you like best. I understand they go great with morning coffee.

This week, it’s the height of gardening season in Carding and the green-thumbed brigade is getting ready for the town’s annual “Home and Garden Tour.”

“Fightin’ Flowers” is the first of three parts leading up to the garden show.

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.



Tom’s Lawn

Joe Pye-closeup-7-19-2016 for web 2Hi folks–The waning half-moon rises precisely at 7 p.m. tonight which means it’s time for another Carding Chronicle.

Please keep your eye on this space for an upcoming book sale because I have some inventory that I want to share with you! Carding books make great gifts.


Lydie Talbot glared at the dry-as-a-bone sky as she finished her cup of tea. Dry, dry, dry, dry—she couldn’t remember such a dry summer.

Like every other gardener in Carding, she yearned to hear the drip-drip-drip of rain from her roof. Everyone felt the unnaturalness of it. Even the kids racing around on the beach at Half Moon Lake loving the sunshine, were unsettled by the summer’s aridity.

Lydie leaned forward to rest her elbows on her porch railing, and inspected the browning patches in the lawn that her late husband Tom laid down so long ago. Lydie respected grass, the master of persistence, but she couldn’t abide lawns, and she’d tussled with Tom over the sod he wanted to put in front of their house.

“What sense does it make to grow something just so you can cut so it can grow?” she’d asked.

While her Tom had been many things—kind and funny and handy—her man was not a gardener, and try as he might, he never understood his wife’s objection to his vision of a green expanse. “What’s the sense of planting things so you can weed them and worry over them and tend them just so you can cut them back in the fall so they can grow again?” he’d asked her in return.

The truth, Lydie finally realized, was that Tom wanted to buy a lawn tractor from his friend Elmore Tennyson, and he knew he couldn’t justify it unless they had a lawn. So after a lot of backing-and-forthing, they’d finally compromised on a his-and-hers package—Tom got a lawn to mow in front of their cottage on Beach Road while Lydie reigned in the backyard over squash, six colors of iris, tomatoes, bee balm, daffodils, beans, and anything else she could coax from the soil.

After Tom died, Lydie treated his lawn as some sort of shrine to her beloved, and even learned how to drive the tractor so she could keep the greenery just the way Tom liked it. But after half a decade of mowing, Lydie started chipping away at the edges of Tom’s lawn, planting garden phlox close to the house, and orange day lilies close to the road.

But the mix of intentional grass and flower beds wasn’t working for her any more. Lydie’s hands and hips just weren’t what they used to be, and she found her gardening forays shortened by joints plagued by the first intimations of arthritis. She now resented the perpetual stooping and squatting and kneeling made necessary by the grass’s insistence on growing where it was not wanted.

So after she finished her gardening chores last fall, Lydie took stock of her options, and decided that come spring, the grass had to go.

As her daughters Hillary and Amy pointed out, it was always what she’d  wanted to do anyway.

The Big Green Removal Project, as her kids dubbed it, started with stockpiling newspapers in her garage over the winter, Then in early spring, Lydie took delivery of 75 bales of hay from Lee Tennyson, stacking them “just-so” along the edge of her driveway where they formed a shoulder-height wall. As soon as predictions of snow or freezing rain disappeared from the weather forecast on Dirt Road Radio, Lydie slipped into her favorite gardening boots, and started killing grass.

“It’s educational, in a way,” she’d explained to her friend Edie Wolfe. “I keep finding stuff that I never read in the newspapers as I lay them out. Or stuff I meant to cut out but never did.”

Edie Wolfe smiled. She’d always enjoyed Lydie’s perspective on life. “Doesn’t all that reading slow you down?”

Lydie nodded. “Yeah. But I’ve discovered the news loses a lot of its sting when you read it so long after it’s happened. I think the lapse of time gives you a way to really see what’s important and what’s not. I still think the comics and the crossword puzzle are the best parts.”

But Lydie’s plans had been made before the rain goddess decided to withhold her gift of water from the Vermont soil, and her method of killing grass—covering it with a four-ply layer of newspaper over which she piled a thick layer of hay—needed water to achieve its maximum effect. Without rain, she was just creating a dust bowl.

Hence her hesitation.

She sighed, and opted to hold off on her second cup of tea until later. Grabbing her clippers, she marched to the furthest reaches of Tom’s lawn to a small peninsula under a stand of boxelders next to the brook that delineated the western edge of her property.

The seasonal streamlet had long since been reduced to a wet ribbon but thanks to the dense shade of the trees, the peninsula had an entirely different ecosystem than the greater lawn. In spring, jacks-in-the-pulpit pushed their hooded heads up among the dead leaves along with painted trilliums and coltsfoot.

Lydie began to clip, dropping unwanted grass in a bucket by her side. She inched along, taking close note of the number of earthworms that silently glided out of the ground, and occasionally swatting at a gnat determined to land on her nose. She smoothed her hand over a thick patch of moss, and acknowledged the “chip-chip-chip” of a brown creeper that thought Lydie was too close to its nest.

The sun rose higher, and the small air current that had cooled her face stopped. Lydie rocked back on her heels then leaned forward to clip just a little more.

Finally, Lydie stopped at the edge of her disappearing lawn to spend time admiring the dusky pink of the Joe Pye weed that she’d nurtured in the wettest places on the edge of Tom’s lawn for so many years. She had a great admiration for plants that other gardeners called weeds, their tenacity in the face of human ignorance. In her opinion, there was far more to learn from weeds than the most delicate rose.

She eased herself down on a large stump left behind by an ash, and turned to look at her progress. By her back-of-the-envelope thinking, Lydie was about halfway to her goal of total lawn elimination. Even though she’d never voice it, she often wondered if she was being disloyal to her husband by taking away his beloved grass, and wondered if this had been a good idea.

Sniffing loudly, she stared up at the hard, dry sky. “I hope you understand,” she whispered, “because I don’t.” Then she blinked, shook her head, and then blinked again, forcing herself to breathe slowly in and out, in and out. Over time, her grief had softened into a persistent ache which Lydie figured was better than the take-your-breath-away pain of the first year.

But it never went away. And neither, she realized, did Tom.

Off in the distance, a chipmunk chattered, a pair of robins swooped over the hay wall, and the earth turned one more notch on his trip around the sun.

 Thank you for journeying with me to Carding, Vermont. If you subscribe to my website, you’ll find four short stories in your inbox every month, one on the full moon, one on the new moon, and one each at the waxing and waning half-moons. In between, there will be other moments to share.

If you enjoy the Carding Chronicles, please encourage your friends to subscribe to this website, and talk about them on social media. And please review the Carding novels wherever and whenever you get the chance to talk about books. Your opinion matters more than you can imagine. The more folks who enjoy Carding talk and write about them, the more books I get to write, and the more you get to read.

The Carding novels are (in order of appearance):

The Road Unsalted

Thieves of Fire

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life