While I was gardening

The art of gardening and the science of life.

The Self-Help Row for Gardeners; plastic pansies in winter


Gardeners are a unique group of people.  And I define unique as stubborn, inquisitive, obsessed, artistic, scientific, kind, sleep-deprived, and almost always poor.

For instance, some of us will awaken in the ungodly hours of morning in a panic, sit upright in bed and shout “Oh no!”, because we forgot to water the container plants during the previous 93˚F day, and then our spouse will mutter something under his/her breath that we can’t understand but its gist is clear enough.

Some of us will go to heroic lengths to keep a plant alive over winter by wrapping it in roofing insulation, bubble wrap, and old-style (heat-producing) Christmas lights, or dig it up and store it in the crawl space under the house until spring.

Some of us will fill our bathrooms and spare room (if lucky enough to have one) with all manner of potted plants too delicate to survive our mild winters.  Some of us who have a bathtub separate from the shower stall will use the tub to overwinter plants – quite convenient because you don’t need to worry about water dripping unto a wood or carpeted floor.

Some of us will forgo buying groceries for a pay-period just to ensure we have the money to buy an over-priced but beautiful species rhody that really caught our attention, and that would be a perfect choice for that bare spot in the shade garden (those of us without kids at home).  Some of us will try to produce a new plant – maybe a Kalodendron or a Rhododenmia – by pollinating a rhody with the pollen of a Kalmia.  Repeatedly.  Didn’t work.

Some of us will try to grow the Black Bat Plant (Tacca chantrieri) not one, not two, not three times, but a bunch of times – with no success – while following directions to the letter every time!

But, of all the evidence available to support the uniqueness, tenacity, and kindness of a gardener, none speaks louder to me than that of a tiny, ancient woman whose garden I would pass by while jogging.  She kept her lawn and garden immaculate – no sooner would a leaf drop on her lawn or garden bed than it would be raked away.  The 1950’s style of gardening.  Each plant pruned to within an inch of its life as soon as the calendar said autumn had arrived.  Not my style at all, but then, it wasn’t my garden.  Each winter (in the 1980’s when we still had actual winters), sticking up through a soft covering of snow, bright plastic pansies would appear near the sidewalk, in a neat row, that ran in front of her house.  (This was before the days of the ubiquitous cell-phone that has become a new human appendage.)  Some people laughed at the sight, some responded with contempt, some said “That’s just ridiculous.”  But for as much as I intensely dislike plastic plants of any kind, in any setting, for any reason, I think we understood what she was trying to do.  All passersby would stop and look.  Just for a moment.  We would take a minute or two from our jogging, our dog-walking or our fast walking-for-exercise, from our self-absorption, to stop and look at the odd, silly plastic pansies that dotted her garden with color.  We would stop and talk to each other for a moment.

Just for a moment.

And I think that was her intent.


Author: dphare2014

Horticulturist, Lead Steward Carkeek Park Demonstration Gardens, Author

2 thoughts on “The Self-Help Row for Gardeners; plastic pansies in winter

  1. Hi Deborah,
    I love this post! I had a neighbor across the street who was the same kind of gardener. It looked like a Dr. Seuss or poodle with a hair cut yard. She died a few years back and we all miss her terribly. She was always out there cutting things back and cleaning up. She had a few plastic garden ornaments that “show up” in various neighborhood yards these days. One ended up in a Christmas creche last year. Donna lives on!


    • Good to hear from you Libby! Yes, a lot of us miss our perennially happy gardener, also. The folks who own the house now would never put in plastic pansies. If/when I get old enough to do so, I just may!
      All my best,


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