Dear Garden Lady

Feb 3, 2017 | Lifestuff

Selected letters asking The Garden Lady’s advice…

Dear Garden Lady,
I woke up with a black eye and blamed the dog, but it was actually the garden that was at fault. You see, ever since we’ve been married my husband Tim has made it clear that he thinks that buying plants is a waste of money. I love to plant and tend beautiful gardens so this was initially a real sore point between us. If Tim saw me putting new shrubs or perennials in the ground he’d throw a fit. Eventually I understood that I had to find a way to plant without Tim knowing about it. One night when I had insomnia I realized my problem was solved.

Ever since then I’ve been planting at night. I buy the plants on my way home from work and hide them in the garden shed until Tim falls asleep. Once he’s snoring soundly I go outside to plant, placing the empty pots in the trunk of my car after I’m done. Fortunately, after my purchases are in the ground Tim thinks that they have just naturally sprouted there, so there’s peace in the house.

This was all fine until the night I stumbled on an unseen root in the dark and hit my face against the side of the birdbath. The next day I had a black eye that wasn’t there twelve-hours before.

Thinking quickly, I convinced my husband that I tripped over the dog when I went to the bathroom in the night and hit my head on the door jam. Now Tim insists on shutting the dog out in the hall at night so it can’t happen again. What do you suggest I do about this? I want to keep gardening but I also want honesty in my marriage.

Gardens At Night


Dear Gardens At Night,
Clearly none of this would have happened if you’d had proper illumination while you were working in the wee hours. There’s an old tradition of planting by the light of the full moon and this is undoubtedly the reason for this ancient wisdom.

If you can’t adjust your gardening to the lunar cycles you should get one of those lamps that strap onto your forehead so that you can see where you’re going. Such a gizmo will also help ensure that you’re spacing your plants properly. You can buy these lights at outdoor supply stores or online. I’d suggest that you keep such headgear in your car so that you can claim it’s for emergency breakdowns should your husband run across it. This way you won’t be reduced to lying about nighttime injuries.

Cultivating brightly,
The Garden Lady

Dear Garden Lady,
My parents think that there is something wrong with me because I’m into gardens and growing things. They say that it’s not normal for a 15-year-old boy to have filled his room with plants and they want me to see a psychologist. How can I get them off of my back?

       Still Growing


Dear Still Growing,
Maybe you can frame your passion for plants in a way that your parents could better understand. Suggest that you’ve heard about plants and flowers being a good way to attract and impress girls. If mom and dad might relate to something more entrepreneurial, tell them that you’re working on a new smart phone app that is powered by photosynthesis, or that you’re thinking of growing medical marijuana. Who knows, these could be interests that actually take root!

Attempt to keep the lines of communication open by giving your parents small plant gifts they can relate to. If your dad likes to barbeque, for example, get him a rosemary or hot pepper plant. If your mother loves the color purple, an African violet might be the perfect opening for more conversation.

A seedling once myself,
The Garden Lady


Dear Garden Lady,
       I love my gardens but my friends say that I have a problem. You see, when I go to the garden center I usually bring home just about every plant that crosses my path. This means that I have far more plants than I have time to place in the garden.

Right now my back deck is covered with pots and six packs. The overflow fills the front porch and walkway so my guests have to come in through the garage. This wouldn’t be so bad if it only happened in the spring, but even in the fall I’m left with dozens of plants that never got put in the ground. My friends claim that it’s a form of plant abuse. After arguing with them on several occasions I’m beginning to wonder if they’re right…what do you think?

       Out of Control


Dear Out of Control
When your friends make such comments tell them to put their trowels where their talk is. Fortunately there’s no such thing as Plant Protective Services, so if they’re concerned about the abundance of flora on your deck and walkway they can just help out by getting it all into the garden.

Refuse to discuss this anymore. The next time the topic comes up, hand them a shovel and a pair of garden gloves. You’ll soon discover who is a real friend and who should be transplanted to Facebook.

Stay grounded,
The Garden Lady

Dear Garden Lady,
I’m gay and have been in a long-term relationship with Bill, a man I love deeply. Bill and I share a devotion to gardening and the environment, so over the past ten years we’ve torn out our lawn and have been xeriscaping. We’ve created a very modern style succulent garden that is our pride and joy.

A few months ago, however, I met a guy at the garden center who is a rosarian. I’ll call him Ray. I’ve been to Ray’s extensive rose gardens a few times but Bill has always refused to go. Now Ray wants me to help him create his rose display at the spring flower show, and Bill is in an absolute fury. How can I convince Bill that there isn’t anything between Ray and myself except an appreciation of plants?

Thinking Green


Dear Thinking Green,

I’m sorry, but how blind can you be? You may “think green” as an environmentalist but your partner is green with envy, and it’s not about this other guy! Bill isn’t worried about Ray, he’s concerned because you’re hanging around with roses. What are you thinking? A group of roses require more water, fertilizer, and chemical interventions than any other type of garden.

And don’t kid yourself. You might think that you can spend a lot of time around the genus Rosa without it affecting the way you grow things. But once you’ve brought those fragrant flowers into your daily life, once you’ve been around their lush, colorful beauty for concentrated periods, don’t you think that your gravel-mulched succulents are going to look pretty dry in comparison?

If you value your relationship with Bill tell Ray that you’re sorry, but you can’t help with the flower show. And after that conversation, be sure to buy a cactus for Bill on your way home.

Ever prickly,
The Garden Lady


  1. Marcia

    All sound advice. Laughs appreciated.

    • CL Fornari

      Thanks, Marcia – we need all the mirth we can get these days…

  2. Betty

    The bleeding heart at the top of the page is quite appropriate!

    • CL Fornari

      It’s funny, Betty, because that’s what I thought – it’s the image that’s always on top of the blog but for this particular entry it REALLY worked!

  3. Joan Holt

    My neighbors and I are interested in ending use of “RoundUp” to combat poison ivy and other invasive plants. Are there organic, non-toxic products we can use safely without contaminating the aquifer upon which we all rely for the water we drink from our private wells?

    • CL Fornari

      First of all, remember that even “organic” weed killers can be toxic, especially when used in large amounts. For example, you’ll see many people online talking about using household vinegar, salt and Epsom salt to kill weeds. What they ignore is that household vinegar isn’t strong enough to totally kill a weed at root level…it only wilts the top. Secondly, salt is a poison that stays in the soil and is bad for ALL plants, not just the weeds. And finally, Epsom salt is magnesium, and it’s not good for the soil to have large amounts of any chemical added, even one that is sold in the drug store. The safest way to get rid of weeds is to pull them, and apply mulch to discourage them from growing back. Hot water is non-toxic, but of course you’d need to pour it on when it’s just boiled and it will kill anything it touches…and will burn the person applying it if the water splashes or spills. In some areas you can hire goats to come eat poison ivy – but this native plant will return from the roots once the goats leave. What we need to remember is that there is no one easy way to get rid of weeds. And we all want ease, but that is at odds with our desire to avoid contaminating the water. Like it or not, everything worth having in life takes effort.

      Yes, you can buy horticultural-vinegar based herbicides. (This vinegar is stronger than the stuff in your pantry.) So do look for those products in your garden center or online. But also remember the four rules of ecology: Everything is connected to everything else. Everything has to go somewhere. Nature knows best and grows best. There is no such thing as a free lunch.


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