A Path Leading Home

I started this blog as a way to connect myself to what I loved most about gardening.  At the time I was working in an office within a warehouse that was adjacent to a greenhouse. The greenhouse felt more like a factory rather than a building filled with pretty flowers.  The people who worked there had very little enthusiasm for plants.

During my time in that office I wrote about how our lives were intertwined with gardens.  It also gave me an opportunity to share my garden with others.  A most delightful treat!  Every gardener loves to show off their hard work.  I enjoyed this blog so much that I was bold enough to write posts at work.  Once my supervisor heard me happily typing  and asked, “What are you working on?”  I had to come clean and tell her what it was.  You see, there was so little to do there during the winter that our building would be quiet as a tomb.  I chose to find an outlet for my passion instead of succumbing to boredom from entering customers in our database for 8 hours.

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I was miserable.  Even more I was afraid that this was where I would spend the rest of my career.  Every Monday I would leave work early to attend yoga class despite the irritation of my office manager.  It was the one of the few things keeping me from suddenly screaming, “I hate it here!”    Fortunately, on a stormy afternoon that happened to be my fifth wedding anniversary  I was laid off and given a chance at chasing my dreams.

Before I was afraid my career would be uneventful, but now I was terrified that I would have no career at all!  While working for my former employer I had been considering starting my own business, but  never had the nerve to request working part time for fear they would think it conflict of interest.  Even with all that was at risk my husband supported my endeavor in creating: “Darlene’s Garden: plant sales & garden counseling.”

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Those 3 years were a time of growth and when I met some very special individuals that I now can’t imagine my life without.  I was able to choose the parts of horticulture I wished to work within.  No chemicals, turf, or invasive species.   It gave me the great opportunity to be creative and to make excellent contacts within the industry that I never would have met trapped in an office.  I worked very hard and faced some scary firsts.  I had to speak in front of 60 experienced gardeners having zero experience with teaching.  My first garden design presentation was nerve-wracking.  I feared my hours of work would be not good enough.  Standing at the door of each new client’s home was fearful.  Each blank sheet awaiting my hand to draw a new design was overwhelming.

The best part of my business was getting to know my clients.  Some of them were not sure what to make of me at first.  They wondered about my depth of knowledge when I appeared to be so young.  However, by the last visit they were full of questions confident I would know the answers.  I realized what an honor it was to be invited into their homes.  One of my favorite sessions consisted of sitting in a kitchen with my client and her infant granddaughter on her lap while hearing stories of her children.  She made me a sandwich even though I insisted I would be okay when really I was starving since we’d been talking for so long.  These “clients” have now become my friends who I absolutely adore.

Even though I was doing exactly what I wanted, I found myself deeper in depression than ever before.  I spent many hours alone at home.  Without a regular work schedule to give me structure, I had no idea how to spend my time.  During my good days I practiced yoga in the mornings and followed it with 20 minute meditations.  I found myself able to see things about myself I had never seen.  It brought me to a new place in my spiritual self.    My biggest fear was my business being a failure and going to back to clocking in and out.  It took me a long time to face the reality that I would need to do something else.  What does one do when they’ve lost their dream?

I sought out new employers, but was not willing to settle for something I didn’t believe in.  I thought I was crazy since financially I couldn’t afford to be so picky, but due to my regular yoga practice I found the faith to keep searching for what was right for me.  Then it happened.   A miracle.  I accepted a position as manager of a plant nursery that employed individuals with developmental disabilities.  Another dream of mine was to be involved with horticultural therapy and that’s precisely what this was…at least so I thought.

Pure joy filled me as I awaited my first day.  I was literally giddy.  I had seen the nursery and it was exactly like the one I saw in my dreams.  It needed a lot of work, but I could easily see its potential.  I was well rested and had been filling my spiritual “well” for some time, so it seemed easy to take on the chaos I was now to manage.  There was much to learn, but I caught on quickly.  During my first 2 weeks the sounds from those we were serving frightened me, however, eventually they became familiar sounds of people very special to me.  It was a great deal of responsibility, but I was ready for the challenge.  In many ways I was the happiest I had ever been.

When one chooses a profession they love that they excel in, they will eventually be promoted to management.  However, when this happens one is not able to do what they love much anymore.  It’s very common and very much so in my industry.  Many of us get into horticulture for the love of the sun shining, green things, and our hands in the dirt.  We don’t necessarily enjoy a desk, paper work, or managing people.  It leads to the question, “Am I fulfilled?”

I asked myself that question inwardly as I asked an employee of mine who I felt should probably move on for their well being.  As I gave this speech I had carefully thought out, I realized that it might be time for me to move on as well.  Even though I felt that I was at a climax in my career, I was more tired than ever physically, mentally, and emotionally.  During my 2 years as manager I had discovered many things about myself.  I learned I was unmistakably an introvert.  Having to work with over 40 employees, dealing with customers, communicating with vendors, answering emails, doing paperwork,  and keeping 4 acres of plants alive every day was overwhelming.  I would come home unable to speak for at least an hour.  It became imperative that I recharged in quiet solitude.  If I didn’t I would end up on the couch still in my work clothes watching episodes of “Friends” on Netflix, which I did many times.

It became a full time job to maintain my well being while doing this job.  During my vacations I would catch a glimpse of the person I used to be before I became a manager.  I had the space within to practice yoga only during my time off.  Not long after I started working there I had lost the ability to meditate even though I was an experienced practitioner.  My marriage began to suffer since I had no presence with myself, I was unable to connect with my husband.  I always believed that things would get better in time.  That if I just tried to do yoga more often, attempt a meditation, eat more healthy food, and take vitamins then I would be well.

This past spring was the nursery’s most successful season.  A great triumph.  Although, one of my employees had quit and another had to take unexpected leave, so we were down to the bare minimum.  I worked several 10-12 hour days.  The month of April took its toll, I read the signs, and took a week off in May.  It was supposed to be just a vacation, but it ended up being time for a difficult decision.  My husband and I attended a yoga retreat for the weekend in the woods.  Through the poses and nights under the stars I found myself again.  After the retreat I consulted my 2 best friends and they both had been respectfully quiet until then about my having nothing left for myself.  I was ready to put in my resignation, but I knew I needed to be sure. So I made a visit to the nursery alone to see if I could in fact leave behind a place that I had invested my heart and soul.

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I cried for 2 hours.  I thought about the people I would be leaving behind.  Could I really say good-bye to them?  I called my husband to tell him I had doubts about leaving, but he reminded me what my life had been like.  There were those that advised that I give it more time, but I knew if I didn’t leave now then I would convince myself to stay.  I turned in my resignation and agreed to stay 30 days.

I had never left a job that I loved.  I found it to be a confusing and painful experience.  It was like leaving someone I knew was not good for me, but I loved them just the same.  I cried every day.  I allowed myself to grieve as needed.  I didn’t see the point in holding things back knowing full well it’s all going to come out anyway.  The last 2 years had taught me that.  During those 30 days I did have doubts, but I trusted the decision I had already made.  The day before my last day I was really sad about leaving.  I walked around the nursery after closing time alone recalling the transformations in the place.  I heard my crew’s voices and saw their smiling faces.  I wanted to remember it all.

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The next morning I awoke at 4:25 am from a dream that included members of my family.  I realized I had time to drive out to the beach for the sunrise and still be back for work in time.  I walked along the shore thinking about the last 2 years and telling myself there were more people out there who need my help with their gardens.   Then suddenly it hit me, but have I ever helped myself?  Since childhood I’ve spent much time helping other people.  As an adult I’ve spent much of my time going to school, working, or being worried about my career.  I realized it was time to help myself.  I was ready to move on.

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I drove back home and got ready for work.  No deep breathing or tears over breakfast.  I hopped the fence and walked to work for the last time.  I felt a new sense of awareness.  I savored each moment, but did not cling to them.  I spent the morning with my crew sorting out different sizes of plastic pots.  I acted like it was a regular day.  I said good-bye to everyone there individually as we introverts prefer to do.  There were some tears from co-workers, but I found that I had none.  I felt calm.  I wondered if this is what “acceptance” feels like?  I was glad I had worked through my feelings, so I could enjoy these last moments with those I love.  At the end of the day I held my last box of stuff as I looked out over the nursery, shed a few small tears, and walked away.

I don’t regret any of the choices I’ve made because I don’t believe I would have this kind of clarity if I had not explored those fears.  My success of my career has taught me that I am good at what I do, so I don’t need to worry about if I’m up to undertaking challenges.  Because I used to worry about that a whole lot.  I don’t need to prove anything to anyone anymore.  I want to love my job, but I don’t want it to be my life.  I want space for me and for those I love.  I plan to get my hands back in the soil and start enjoying my gift instead of expecting it to solve all my problems.

As I said this blog was originally to talk about gardening and it still will be.  However, now I want it to include the rest of me as well.  Because I’m not just a horticulturalist!  I am lots of other things that I look forward to sharing with you here.  Through many twists and turns I was finally able to find a path that led the way home back to myself.

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A Secret Dream That Came True

My garden has expanded.  It has gone beyond my 1/4 acre cottage garden to a 4 acre container garden.  Within it there are many different kinds of trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and in all different sizes.  However, there is one difference between these two gardens; The small cottage garden is for me to enjoy and the large container garden is for others to take home to enjoy in their gardens.

What I like to call my container garden is also known as a plant nursery.  Although, this is a very special plant nursery unlike any other.  Six months ago I began working at this special place as the nursery manager.  Also six months ago, my life went in a different direction.  A direction that I did not see coming.  In fact, I am still in awe of how everything transpired and still astonished that this amazing opportunity presented itself to me.

Around 3 1/2 years ago I was laid off from a job that I did not particularly like, but was too scared to leave and lose the security it provided.  Losing my job devastated me at the time because I was afraid that my career was over.  I had no idea what to do next that didn’t involve a great deal of risk.  However, this event set into motion a path bringing me back to what I loved most about horticulture.

For some time I had been thinking about starting a business where I would offer garden counseling to those that wanted to create their own gardens, but didn’t know how.  I also wanted to grow all of my favorite plants organically in a greenhouse at my home to sell at a local farmer’s market and festivals.

A little over a month after being laid off I did just that.  Being the owner of Darlene’s Garden was a wonderful experience.  It brought me back to the elements of horticulture that I wanted to be involved in.  I was able to speak my real opinion about plants, design, and help people who greatly appreciated my advice.

Many of my clients are now my friends.  I was not expecting people to see something in me that I didn’t.  What they saw was my passion for what I do.  It was like they knew something about my future that I did not.  They saw bigger things for me.  Being invited into their homes and having long talks at their kitchen tables was one of my favorite things about my business.  Those relationships gave me the support and confidence when I felt like I was going nowhere.

As with any independent business owner there will be tough times.  In my blog post, A Dream in the Making, I was beginning to have real fears about where my future was going, but I still had hopes that I could make it work.  By July 2013 I had accepted that I needed to start working towards something different, which I wrote about in my post, A Welcome Change.  Not long after that I was offered to teach for a semester at a local community college.  However, I dreaded the end of the semester because my future was uncertain.

At this point I was very scared what would happen next.  I knew I was going to have to seek employment.  The same thoughts would wander through my mind: “Would I have to work somewhere that did not fulfill me? Had I come this far all for nothing?”  I asked people I know in the industry if they knew of a place that might be a good fit for me.  I was sent to one place that offered me a job, but I could not see myself there.  I thought I was crazy to turn down financial security when money was so tight. I looked through the job openings online.  I went to an interview and for the first time ever I didn’t get a call back.  I think even he could see that the job was not for me.

I was offered to teach again, but the courses were not subjects that interested me.  Then one day I received a call from a fellow horticulture professional asking me if I could speak at a local garden club meeting.  The person who had originally agreed was getting ready to start a new job and was not available to attend.  She was leaving her job as manager of a nursery that works with individuals with developmentally disabilities.  I said I would be happy to speak at the club meeting and as soon as I hung up I checked their website to see if they were still hiring for the position.  Sure enough, it was still listed.  Immediately that day I sent them my resume.

I remember it was a cold winter evening.  My husband and I decided to have a fire in our back yard that night.  For the first time in a long time I actually hoped that I would get the job I had applied for earlier in the morning.  I felt like this could actually be a step forward in my career.  Very early on during college I had stumbled upon the concept of horticultural therapy.  It was what I wanted most to do in my horticulture career.  I often told people I was planning on building gardens at retirement homes someday.

Another interesting element to this story is that around this time I was making plans to volunteer in a elementary school garden and a greenhouse at a school for children with developmentally disabilities.  I knew that if I intended to pay my bills I would have to get a job and it might not be something I like, so I wanted to be sure I still was able to contribute to what I believed in.  The day I took a tour at the school for developmentally disabled children was a day I will never forget.  I knew that I wanted to be a part of these amazing individuals lives.  It was like the outside world and all its drama had no place there.  I had already applied for the job at the nursery, so I now wanted it ever more.  However, I had been told that someone else had accepted the position and was going through background checks.  If something fell through they would contact me.

I figured the job was lost to me, but I didn’t scold myself for having hope even though it didn’t work out.  Optimism had not always been one of my strong suits.  My last resort was to work part time at a box store garden center and do my business on the side.  It would also give me an opportunity to still volunteer since I would have the time.  I applied, interviewed, and got the job.  The first time I walked in I gulped.  I did not want to do this, but I was willing to do whatever it took to get by and still be involved in the plant business.

During this time I prayed a whole lot.  I was praying for faith that everything happens for a reason.  I still told myself that I was grateful.  It doesn’t matter where you work, it’s what you make of it.  The day before my first day I took a yoga class to calm my nerves.  By the end of class I was sobbing because I was dreading the direction my career was going.  I kept saying I was perfectly okay, but inside I was unhappy.

My first days of training I felt numb.  Everything seemed like an out of body experience.  Then one evening I signed into my Facebook account and there was a message from a friend that said, “I know you started working at             , but I saw this online and thought of you.”  It was a link to the listing of the manager position at the plant nursery that works with developmentally disabled individuals.  I couldn’t believe what I saw.  I made a phone call.  I gave the interview of my life.  For the first time I did not have to put aside any of my values to fit the job I was seeking.  I waited to hear back.  I had originally claimed that I was going to be cool about it and not tell anyone in fear of jinxing my chances, however, I told every single person I knew how excited I was about the job.  Then a few days later, I was told that the position was being offered to me.  I said yes.

So, here I am literally living a dream that I rarely told anyone about, but somehow it found me.  The people I work with are more than just employees…they are my family.  They are some of the most incredible individuals I have ever had the pleasure to spend time with.  My days are full.  I feel as though all of the experiences I gained throughout my career have been preparing me for being the manager of this nursery.  I am fulfilled and I am very happy.

It has been a huge transition, hence why I have not posted in 6 months.  My husband has been right by my side the entire time.  In the post, A Dream in the Making, I mentioned that I was on a path trying to catch up to my dreams.  I finally did catch up and we’re walking side by side.  Only now the path has widened and my stride has slowed down to a stroll because there is so much to see along the way.  For some this may seem like the end of their journey.  They got to where they wanted to go.  How many can say that?  Although, my journey is far from over, for there is still so much to experience along this path of mine.  But for now, I can take a break from wondering what is up ahead.  I’m too busy enjoying all that I see around me.

Spring Fever!

Due to a colder winter than Floridians are accustomed to, there has been much talk of the countdown until spring.  Usually spring is a much bigger deal up North as opposed to down here in the South.  When I worked for a national mail order nursery folks up North would go out of their minds pre-ordering for the spring.  It always shocked me how much money they would spend and the excitement in their voices while I took their orders.

I haven’t really seen that kind of enthusiasm here in North Florida when it comes to spring.  I usually wouldn’t here anyone talk about spring until people started noticing flowering plants in front of our local box stores.  Our mild winters had made us less concerned about the arrival of spring whereas up North our winter might as well be their spring season.

However, this year has been different.  I’ve seen and heard people actually counting down the days until the first official day of spring.  “Spring Fever” has been infecting us ever since we had that winter storm.  We’ve got excited about having a high of 50 degrees when usually we would be whining about how cold we are.  It’s been interesting to see how everyone is beginning to appreciate the mild weather we have been so used to having all the time.

Typically I am pretty excited about every season, but even I have caught the spring fever.  During the winter storm my husband and I laid in bed layered with clothing and piled high with blankets in anticipation for the long night without heat.  As he went to sleep I was reading my book “My Friend, the Garden” by candlelight daydreaming about planting carrots in the French countryside.

They say that the first day of spring is March 20th, but in my opinion spring in North Florida begins much sooner than that.  Our spring is fast and swift leaving us little time to really enjoy it because before we know it the hot summer temperatures are here.  I’ve been noticing what I consider to be signals of spring’s arrival.  Some of the trees I’ve noticed blooming are the Japanese Magnolia with their pink floating tulips, the Flowering Cherries with their tiny pink blossoms creating a cloud of color, and my Redbud tree has pink swollen buds ready to open.  I also found two little leaves on my Mock Orange and green buds shooting up from my hydrangea bushes.  All of my daffodils’ foliage have emerged and my Louisiana Iris are bright blades of green.

These have all been indicators to me that spring is just about here.  Although today, I can now say without any doubt that spring is officially here.  On this dreary day I had some visitors that I was so excited to see that you would have thought I was looking at a pot of gold outside my window.  While I was working at my desk I happened to turn towards the window and I suddenly realized that there were at least one hundred robins in my front yard!  I stopped working immediately and perched myself on the ottoman next to the window.  I ever so carefully opened the wind, so I could hear them and get a picture.

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When the robins come it’s only for a short duration as they are migrating back to the North.  They can land in anyone’s yard, but possibly due to my lack of pesticide use they always land in mine.  Every place I’ve ever lived they have always shown up.  They work diligently on the ground looking for insects to suck up into their beaks.

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Anything can suddenly scare them and send them on their way ending the once a year magical visit.  So I simply sat there with my chin on the windowsill and watched them for as long as I could knowing any moment they would be gone again.  The robin is a special bird to me because of the book “The Secret Garden”.  It was the robin that led the way to the hidden door.

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So as far as I am concerned the arrival of the robins indicates the arrival of spring!  From here on out we will get to see all of the beautiful spring flowering trees and shrubs over the next month.  It’s been a long cold winter (at least to us it has been) and I think everyone is ready for some color and warmer weather!

Plants Forgive You

Up until recently, I had been feeling disconnected for some time.  As a result, my plants in the greenhouse do not look as good as they could.

Yesterday morning I grabbed my watering can and filled it with water from the rain barrel.  As I began to water my plants back to health, I had a thought:

When you struggle, your plants struggle.  But this is what I love about plants – they will forgive you.  Not only will they forgive you, they will offer beautiful gifts for the love you have given them.

It seems to me that when we let ourselves or other people down, there tends to be resentment.  Sometimes we never forget the damage that has been caused.

However, with plants it really is a clean slate.  Whatever you give to them – they will give back to you.

What dreams may come…

WP_20131212_001I love this room.  Every week on Tuesday I would come into the office, send my lecture/worksheet to the printer, then walk down to the classroom before any of my students would arrive and open the blinds to let in the morning light.  I felt it fitting to have such beautiful trees just outside the window of a horticulture class.

For the past 16 weeks I have been filling in for a professor on maternity leave.  However, now the students have gone, exams have been graded, and final grades have been submitted.  The semester is over.  My time as professor has come to an end.  I think it may take some time for all that has occurred to fully sink in.  It’s rather funny how all of this came about.

I was at a garden festival talking with one of my favorite master gardener’s whose been such an inspiration to me over the years.  She is a former cut-flower grower who knows the business well and has given me helpful advice on many occasions.  We both agree that you have to be a crazy person to do what we do and still love it.

I was confessing to her that my last garden class I taught was a flop.  I was sure that I did a terrible job and told her that it was likely that I would not be teaching much more in the future.  She didn’t believe a word of it and said I should keep teaching.

Literally just a few minutes later a professor we both knew who teaches at a local community college pulled up in the “gator”  (name of utility vehicle used at the campus).  I smiled and congratulated her because a few moments ago I was told she was pregnant.  She said that she was glad to see me because there was something she needed to ask me.  I was surprised by this and wondered it might be.  “Would you be willing teach my class in the fall?”

There have been very few times in my life when I’ve been completely speechless.  This was one of them.  My mouthed dropped open.  I tried to make sounds, but nothing would come out.  All I could do was look at her blankly and then to my friend who was nodding and mouthing to me: “Say yes!”  I explained to her that I’ve never taught in an academic environment before.  Was I even qualified?  Did I really know anything at all?

She told me that she was confident that I would do just fine.  After she left it was just my friend and myself.  I looked at her with an expression that said: “Did that just happen?”  She gave me a smile that said: “I told you so.”  Then I started rambling on at how unqualified I was and that there was no way I would be able to do this!  She explained to me that it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and something that would look great on the ol’ resume.

I walked away in a complete daze.  I figured it was a few months away.  I had plenty of time to wrap my head around this.  Maybe she would forget she asked me and ask someone else?  However, sure enough I received an email in the summer from her asking me again.  This was for real and I had to make a decision.  Every part of me wanted to say no because my fear was so strong.  However, my sister-in-law, who has done some teaching told me that she was more than confident that I could this.  It is only because of her encouragement that I even agreed to teach this past semester.  I am so thankful that she did.

Everything was so surreal.  The first time I stepped into my classroom alone I thought I was dreaming.  After several years of being a student I was going to be on the other side of the desk.  The idea of me teaching was powerful.  I kept thinking about my father and how amazing that I was going to be given the opportunity to follow in his footsteps.  Even more amazing that at one time I believed I would never be given this chance because I flunked out of high school and attended an adult high school.  I couldn’t deny that this was definitely going to be a milestone in my life.

The weight of it all consumed me for days.  I meditated often trying to convince myself that it was going to be just another day and that I was still just a regular person.  It didn’t help that all my friends were addressing me as “professor” before all the paperwork was even completed.  Even though it was all I could think about, I stayed relatively calm until the night before.

I was up until around 2:30 in the morning.  I couldn’t sleep.  Each time I closed my eyes I could see actual students in the seats through the small window on the door.  I got to school extremely early.  I listened to relaxing music.  I looked over my lecture.  Then it was 7:58 am – time to head to the classroom.

I’ve been on stage plenty of times during my high school days of theatre, but I’ve never been this nervous.  I walked down the long ivory hallway remembering my days as a student.  Each step brought me closer to what I feared the most.  I realized that I had been so scared of teaching that I was secretly hoping that August 20th would disappear off the calendar.  But here I was walking towards a room where people were waiting for me to teach them the knowledge I had gained.

Fortunately you can only have your “first day” once in your life.  The first few weeks my body came to recognize when it was Tuesday because every muscle would tense up and my stomach was always filled with butterflies.  At the end of the day I would pull into my driveway and think: “I survived another week.”

Preparing my lectures was really hard work and the fact that I’m a perfectionist made it even harder.  Just when I thought I could relax, another week would fly by and it was time to hit the books.  It kinda felt like being in college all over again.  Always having a constant deadline.  Except now I couldn’t just decide to not turn something in – I had to show up with something no matter what.

This caused me to hate being a teacher for a while.  I loved giving a lecture, but preparing it was another thing.  It turned out that this “hatred phase”  was just part of the process.  I was in yoga class one day in a  pose feeling pretty mindful when it occurred to me that I was having my very own “Eat, Pray, Love” moment.  If you’ve ever seen the movie or read the book you know she had some difficulty reciting a text called “The Guru Gita”.  She complained about it causing her to have horrible anxieties about her life, but she was told that it’s likely she’s having a positive response since she was experiencing such “strong reactions”.

I was most certainly having strong reactions.  I started to dread Mondays intensely.  I was being forced to create something on my own and then share it with others on a regular basis.  I’m an introvert and I happen to have a history of being very insecure.  Both of these traits do not mix well with what I was asked to do.  But I did it anyway because I said that I would.  I always keep my word and I tend to do things all the way –  not half-ass.  The “strong reactions” means that growth is happening.  That is always a good thing.

So I survived.  It was an experience that I will never forget as long as I live.  It taught me so many things about myself and about things that life has to offer to you without your knowledge.  I was given wonderful complements by my students and department head regarding my lecturing skills.  Talking about plants comes easy to me.  I can actually say now that I’m pretty good at it.  I’ve given a garden lecture to a local club since I started teaching.  For the first time it felt comfortable and natural.

I’ve learned that I love studying about horticulture so much that I would always try to find something interesting to share with my students.  I would even say that I’m proud of the lectures that I created and the way I put them together.  I learned many things from my students who told me their experiences with horticulture.  It was clear that most of them shared my passion for the outdoors and plants too.  I learned to be brave and say things in class that I believed in even when I knew I would be met with some raised eyebrows.  I wasn’t worried, I can back up what I say, as they soon learned.  I realized how many awesome horticulture friends I have who were kind enough to come and share their expertise with my class or allowed us to visit their facility.

What strikes me the most about this experience is how it all came about.  One cannot deny that fate had a hand in this.  Oh you think you can’t teach huh?  Teaching a college level horticulture course was a distant dream of mine.  One of those that you fantasize about, but never truly believe it will happen.  I never told anyone about this dream except my husband.  It was something I thought maybe I would do much later in life after I had retired from a long horticultural career.

However, even without me seeking this dream, it came to me.  Some of the best things in life just become available to you.  I’ve learned that there is no use in planning anything.  If something is meant to happen it will happen.  I’ve been working on not worrying about where my career will go or will not go.  I have setbacks at times, but then I make myself remember what all just occurred and how this good thing that came my way was not planned.

I visited my classroom one final time today.  I walked down the hallway remembering how nervous I was my first day.  As I was pulling out of the parking lot I was feeling pretty sad.  I wanted to go home and mope around.  Instead I went to a yoga class and as my mind found stillness I realized I was going to have time for my garden classes again.  I started to feel really excited as I thought about what my topic might be.  I also felt eager to get back to work on a client’s design that was put aside during the semester.    

I look forward to seeing where else my career takes me.  People keep asking me what are you going to do next?  Will you be teaching more in the future?  My answer is that I don’t know the answer to either of those questions.  But I do know that there will be more good things to come.

The life of a horticulturalist

Recently I found this quote written by David Fairchild from “The World was my Garden” that describes the life of a horticulturalist:

I have always liked horticulturalists, people who make their living from orchards and gardens, whose hands are familiar with the feel of bark, whose eyes are trained to distinguish the different varieties, who have a form memory.  Their brains are not forever dealing with vague abstractions; they are satisfied with the romance the seasons bring them, and have the patience and fortitude to gamble their lives and fortunes in an industry which requires infinite patience, which raises hopes each spring and too often dashes them to pieces in the fall.  They are conscious of the sun and wind and rain.

This is a special day for me.  Three years ago I started writing my blog: Darlene’s Garden.  My first post was entitled: The Art of Garden Writing.

I began blogging because I had always loved writing and it gave me an outlet to share my other love – gardening; during a time when I was unsure of where my life was going.  It allowed me to express my, at the time, repressed passion for horticulture that I worried would slowly burn out in my lonely, isolating office.

Little did I know that only 3 months later I would be laid off and forced with some difficult decisions.  It seems crazy to not want to follow your dreams, but pursuing your dreams comes with risk and uncertainty.  Everyone says “I will do it when it’s the right time”.  As I had said to myself many times as visions of walking through my very own greenhouse with a cup of tea in hand were swirling through my mind every single day in my office.  I was waiting for a more “secure time”, but fate had kicked me out of my comfort zone and gave me no choice but to act.

I would not have changed one thing about all that happened next even when I was so scared to start my business that I was hiding under the covers afraid to face the day I had chosen to launch it.  All along the way I blogged about this amazing journey I have been on ever since.  There has been so many new things I have done in the past 3 years that I thought would always be just fantasies.  Some of them have been teaching fellow gardeners, speaking to local garden clubs, attending local festivals selling plants I grew, being on a local garden show with our former mayor Mike Wiggins, helping design rain gardens for my neighborhood park, watching my clients’ gardens grow into something they can be proud of,  forming friendships with my clients beyond the garden, and most currently having the opportunity to teach horticulture at a local community college passing on all the experience I have gathered over the past decade.

Things are likely to change in my career again, but not sure yet how it will play out.  However, for the first time in my life I am unafraid even though I don’t what lies in store for me.  Even though something I love doing will likely come to an end soon.  I am ready for fate to take me on a ride again, but this time I wont be hiding because I have faith in the journey.

Some great moments in the past 3 years:

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“Turn Over a New Leaf” gardening class at Bonelli’s Cafe Italia

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Earth Day Festival: Darlene’s Garden first event

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Implementing design for neighborhood park

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Emerald Coast Flower & Garden Festival

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Palafox Market (first day!)

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Fellow vendor (Cheryl Kittrell) on a chilly morning at the Palafox Market

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Volunteers from planting the neighborhood park rain gardens

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TV appearance on “The Garden Spot”

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Me and Coach in front of my new greenhouse

Time for a Change

Well summer in the garden has finally come to an end.  As the seasons get ready to change, my plants appear ready for a nice long break.  Due to the excess amount of rain this summer and scorching hot afternoons my garden has been showing signs of stress.  I have had to walk past my plants screaming for attention each day for the past month.

In my post, A Welcome Change, I mentioned that I would be exploring new horticultural ventures in the near future.  My professional horticultural experience includes: retail nursery customer service/manager, grower, researcher, national mail-order nursery customer service, garden designer, garden consultant, and now I can add to the list…teacher.

I have been substitute teaching at a local community college for 4 weeks.  The course is called Landscape Management.  I may or may not be teaching the entire semester.  It is still yet to be determined.  Teaching has been a completely new experience for me.  In many ways it has been challenging, but everything is that way when you’ve never done it before.  I am unsure if I will be given the opportunity to teach other courses in the future.  However, for now I am enjoying playing the role of professor.

The first thing I have learned about being a teacher is that they have to work twice as hard as the students.  Therefore, I’ve had very little time for anything else including my garden.  The weeds have been multiplying.  The many days of rain were a nuisance to many, but were somewhat of a blessing for me.  My plants may not look great right now as a result of the rain, but they would likely be dead since finding time to water would have been nearly impossible.

Until today I had been taking short strolls through the yard, only allowing myself to look at all the work needing to be done.  From my window I’ve been watching the butterflies feast on the blossoms and the hummingbirds drinking the sweet nectar.  There has also been a frequent visiting box turtle who stayed many days in the back yard.

I happened upon him one day while I was watering (one of the few times I made it out there) my Bolivian Sunflower in the corner of my privacy fence.  I didn’t want to disturb him, but my plant desperately needed a drink of water.  I tried to be careful not to spray him, but then suddenly he started walking towards the stream of water.  I asked him, “Are you thirsty?”  Very slowly I knelt down and laid the water nozzle at ground level.  He walked right into it and stretched his head forward into the water.  This turtle was taking himself a shower!  It was a very sweet moment I will remember always.

After this I saw him many times.  He seemed to feel comfortable around me and even my dog Coach.  One morning he was at the opposite end of the yard tucked in the corner.  Once again he walked into the water indicating to me that he wanted me to hold still for a moment.  After I did this he walked right out into the open completely unafraid of me and Coach.  We went inside, but I watched him from inside the sunroom.  I was concerned that he may be trapped and that he might be hungry.  Vito was looking up what box turtles ate inside as I watched the turtle step up into my flower bed to nibble on a mushroom.  I had no idea they even liked mushrooms!  He was precious taking one slow bite after another chomping away.

I’ve always known people to kick over a mushroom when they see it concerned more will pop up.  Mushrooms don’t really cause any problems for me (luckily Coach knows better than to eat them), so unless they smell I just leave them where they are.  I was so thankful I did because my little friend now had something for breakfast.  So the next time you feel the need to eliminate your mushrooms remember they are food for these sweet creatures.

After only being able to watch my garden for many weeks, today I was finally able to do a little weeding and pruning.  There are still many weeds left to pull, but I did get to cut back my spent perennials.  They all looked so tired and ready to recharge for a while.  I lost one of my butterfly bushes to nematodes, so I had to yank it out.  I had already grieved this loss back when I realized what the problem was and that there was nothing I could do.  Regardless of what happened, this plant was so beautiful for such a long time that I will be planting another in its place.

Coincidentally, the perennials that needed the most cutting back were those that were absolutely glorious in the garden this summer.  More than likely they will all come back next year, but they are due for a rest.  Many gardeners become saddened as autumn approaches because they know their plants will be slowing down preparing for the winter.  I will miss these plants too, but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them today.  This was the first year my veronica flowered and it was well worth the wait.  They bloomed for 2 months straight.

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My Shasta daisies were gorgeous this summer.  These happy flowers filled my vases all season.  I never thought they would stop blooming! Of course eventually they did cease to flower and I gave them some heavy pruning.

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These plants have worked hard this summer and I don’t blame them for running out of steam.  While I was placing the once green stems now brown into my trash bucket, I made myself remember how beautiful these plants were just a short time ago.  It’s amazing how things can change just like that.  There is no reason to be sad…nothing lasts forever.  All we can do is enjoy, appreciate, and be present as these moments happen.

I know many folks are looking forward to some cooler weather after so many hot summer days, which I am too.  However, for me the cooler weather means that I can begin the next stage of my cottage garden.  It seems like the unrelenting summer will never quit, but sure enough I’ve been feeling the change in the air, watching the light become more golden, and the dreaded cool season weed, Florida Betony, has begun to pop up in my flower beds.

DSC06695The non-gardeners may be ready for sweaters, the gardeners might be sad to see their flowers fade, but one way or another Fall is coming.  No matter what we do these changes, welcome or not, will come.

A Sweet Escape

For the last 4 days this was my view…

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A very dear friend of mine has a little pink house on the beach in Gulf Shores, AL.  She allowed us to escape for a few days in her cozy beach house.  It was exactly what we needed.  Between our cat needing a sudden serious surgery, trying to prepare for my class at Pensacola State
College in the Fall, and just always constantly being on the go – it was time for us to get away.

From this trip I have learned the difference between “traveling” and a “vacation”.  Up until a few days ago it was clear that I’ve never done the latter.  Anytime I have gone anywhere there has been an itinerary, so many places to explore before having to head home, and trying to fit everything in to just a few days.  There has never really been any “down time”.

However, on this trip we did do some fun things like kayak in the gulf where we saw dolphins, a large lagoon, and paddling through the pass that has a super strong current that takes you out to the gulf of mexico.  But for the rest of the time we just hung out and it felt great.

I have lived on the gulf coast my entire life, but I haven’t ever stayed more than one night at the beach.  I always believed myself to be more of a country girl, but after this past weekend consider me a lifelong beach bum. We would sit on the front deck for hours at a time just staring out at the pristine water as the seagulls, pelicans, and osprey flew by.  During our stay there was a constant steady breeze that literally soothed my soul and brought me serenity.

Sometimes I would be reading my book about Yoga while Vito looked through his binoculars keeping his eye on the water watching the boats go by and the fish jumping out of the water.  Other times we would walk down the beach at sunset to the pass where all the fisherman gather and wade out into the surf and just sit to watch them bring in bluefish, flounder, and trout.  As we looked to see who would be next to bring in his catch, a manta ray flew up out of the water flapping his winged flippers!

Of course while I was there I had to take pictures of all the beach wildflowers.  This is what was blooming:

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Beach Morning Glory.  These were everywhere!

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I picked a few of these for a vase on our dining table.  They stayed just as pretty as the day I picked them even on our last day.  I will be making a spot for them in my warm colors flower border.

DSC06569 DSC06572Some of them I had never seen before.  These I found in front of the beach house.  That was all the plant exploring that I did.

My husband Vito used to tell me stories about when his family would spend their summers at the beach, but I never understood why his heart remained at the beach until now.  There is something to be said for renting (or even buying!) a house on the beach because the convenience of it is worth it alone.  Instead of having to get up at the crack of dawn, load all of your stuff, drive out there, haul all your stuff through the sand, hang out for a while until you are too hot then gather everything back up again to head back to the house, or you can just wake up, walk out the front door, and you’re there.

Everything was low-key.  We never ate out at any over-priced, tacky touristy restaurant, so there was no need to wear anything but lounging around clothes.  I brought my blow dryer, I took it out of the suitcase, but I never touched it again until it was time to pack up to go home.  Our meals were all home cooked and we either ate at a small table near the gulf view window or we were out on the deck in the salt air.

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Each night we would sit out and watch the stars.  After the sun would set Jupiter would make an appearance and then one by one the sky was full of twinkle lights.

Today was the day we were to return home.  We awoke early to catch the sunrise, but the clouds kept the sun to themselves.  However, it was still worth rolling out of bed to see all the birds who flew west at sunset last night now were flying eastward along the shore in search of food.  Also, the clouds were an impressive sight.

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Usually when I get ready to leave a place I’ve been visiting, I am ready to get back home, but not this time.  As I sat on the deck this morning I tried to memorize everything knowing pretty soon I would have to go back to reality.  I guess real vacations where you’re able to actually unwind and decompress, you’re so relaxed that you’re in no hurry to get back to the daily grind.  Of everything I loved about this short getaway, what brought me the most joy was the time we spent together just being.  So many laughs, stories, and never to be forgotten moments are what I will remember most.

DSC06633Even though I was super bummed to have to leave so soon and get back to life, look what welcomed me home.

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I planted these from seed and this is their first time blooming in my new flower border.

A Welcome Change

DSC06387This summer has been by far the best my garden has ever looked.  I see butterflies gliding along the flower bed spending their entire day among my blossoms.  Each day the garden continues to grow and produce delightful blooms abundantly.  However, my business if it were a garden would be filled with plants showing little signs of growth and struggling to survive.

 This has been a difficult reality for me to face.  I even thought strongly about not sharing it here, but it’s time to accept where things are and acknowledge that action needs to be taken.  When you find yourself at a crossroad, it’s always important to re-evaluate.  Many times we get so busy with what we’re doing that we forget why we’re doing it in the first place.  So I sat down on a rainy afternoon (go figure) in my sunroom and asked myself the big question: “What do I want?”

It took me some time to answer this question because I had been holding onto one idea for so long that doing anything else meant failure.  Finally I felt that I had a good solid answer and then it was time to come up with a plan.  I knew it was unlikely I would get to do exactly what I want in a short period of time, so the plan came down to what can I do in the meantime to get by?

Eventually I decided on a plan and was ready to set it into motion.  However, something within me was unsettled.  I felt perfectly fine with the new direction I would be going and actually looked forward to the change.  At first I couldn’t quite figure out what was bugging me.  Then I realized that it had to do with being forced to look at the “big picture” – the determination of my ultimate goal in life.

Since my freshman year in college I have been in search of the perfect long lasting steady job.  I knew during school I would have odd end part-time jobs that I might not necessarily enjoy, but someday I would have a degree and it would bring me that fulfilling place of employment where I could finally be settled.

Although, even after I earned my degree I found myself thinking, “Gee, I really like what I’ve been doing and I learned some really cool stuff, but I’m kinda ready for something new.”  I always believed this to be because I had not found the place where I was meant to be just yet.  The last 2 years I was hoping that being self-employed was something I could settle into and the long search would be over.

Regretfully I had to come face to face with the reality of even if I wanted this to by my everlasting job, financially it would be impossible to survive.  After the disappointment wore off I found myself ready for something new.  I started to get concerned that maybe the problem was me – that I was never going to be satisfied anywhere.  Surely I should be going for the ultimate goal, that one thing that I want to do more than anything else.

Very late a few nights ago after watching a movie with my husband, I found myself explaining to him that I didn’t really know what my long-term goal was currently.  Not only that, but I didn’t really have a strong desire to figure out what it might be.  He asked, “But didn’t you just tell me what you would like to work towards just days ago?  You don’t want that now?”  I replied, “Well, I had to come up with something.  I thought I needed to narrow it down to one thing.”  He looked at me confused, “Who told you that?”  The truth was no one had really told me that.  I just assumed that is what grown ups are supposed to do.  Then Vito said something to me that I will never forget.  “You’ve always been a person that needs change.  If you eat something 3 days in a row, you’re sick of it.  You’re a horticulturalist and as you know gardens go through different seasons.  That’s you.  I mean you have a dish set that reads, ‘Nature gives us the variety we crave.’”

It was becoming clear that this was something about myself I didn’t know, but had been right in front of me the whole time.  After his revelation about my seasonal work ethics, I began to think about how this totally made sense.  When I first thought about a career in horticulture, the main reason why I felt confident it would be a good choice was there are so many things you can do with horticulture.  I loved the idea of being able to explore all the different areas such as production, research, sales, design, writing, botanical gardens, and the list just keeps going!  It also explained why I don’t really have a favorite season.  I welcome each new season excited to see what changes will take place.

When I look back, I can see that I never intended on doing just one thing, so why should I limit myself now?  I am once again amazed that my husband is able to see me clearly.  What he told me has brought such a peace within me.  I’m not driving myself crazy trying to think of that one thing anymore.  When I do look to the future I see myself learning many new areas of horticulture just waiting to be discovered.  However, here in the present change is in the air and a new season in my career is getting ready to begin.  Don’t worry, Darlene’s Garden (my business) will still be around, but it will no longer be my main focus.  Not all of the details of my new plan are worked out, so I’m not ready to share that just yet and who knows what might come up before then because the possibilities of horticulture are endless.

The Fairy Forest

A little over a week ago I was doing some work in my friend’s garden.  She was very excited about my coming to help tidy up her special garden since it needed a good deal of dead-heading and weeding.  There was one weed in particular that dominated…the dreaded dollar weed.

I detest this weed and am thankful that I rarely see it in my current garden at home.  However, in the gardens of my past it has been everywhere, so I have become an expert at eradicating it.  I usually feel very peaceful when I pull it up these days because I know how to conquer it with little effort unlike many of the other weeds I have in my home garden.

As I unearthed each stolon with a clear mind, I suddenly recalled a time when dollar weed was a plant that I actually thought was beautiful!  In the back yard of my childhood there was a small oak tree and a large patch of dollar weed that grew around it.  Whenever I looked at the lush green clover, it made me think of fairies and I believed that they lived among the silver dollar shaped leaves.  To me it was the only picturesque spot in the whole yard (everywhere else was sandspurs and dewberry vines) and I felt it to be magical.

My mother on the other hand did not feel the same way.  To her it was an ever expanding patch of weeds that needed to disappear.  Over and over again she would try a different chemical to spray on it, but luckily for me no matter what she did it would remain.  Finally, after a few years she found something potent enough to destroy my precious fairy forest.  She never actually planted anything there, so underneath the oak tree was left bare and desolate.

Even after my bittersweet memory I kept pulling up the dollar weed.  Although, it occurred to me how different we perceive things as we grow older.  We tend to label things before understanding who or what they are and what they could be.

Just a few days later while reading “Gardening by Heart” by Joyce McGreevy I found a chapter called “A Weed by Any Other Name.”  The following passage explained precisely how I felt about my once beloved dollar weed.

Come to think of it, how many kids today know the old game of holding a reflective buttercup under the chin to see who likes butter? Or have learned to make a daisy chain? Or have made a wish on a dandelion puffball? ‘Go out and play in the weeds’ sounds less than inviting.  Yet a lot of grown-up gardeners once found a world of imagination with weeds that today’s kids can’t find with a two-thousand-dollar computer.

This is what gardening is all about.  It allows you to be  carried away by whatever thoughts that may come by because garden tasks require little thought and you are surrounded by plants, butterflies, birds…things that just make you feel good.