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The Stroke Garden

The Stroke Garden


I started my garden because I hated washing dishes. Not only did I hate washing dishes but there was nothing to look at WHILE washing dishes. The window above the sink looked out onto the large unused backyard. Except for the stray feral cats, the migratory birds' launch pad of trees and the squirrels that resided in the neighbor's pecan tree next door, the backyard went unused. It provided plenty of food between the pecans and the prickly lemon tree, whose thorns would rent one open at the slightest provocation. On a berm of never used sand bags grew 7 or 8 volunteer trash trees that provided amusement, entertainment and roadside assistance to the squirrels in their endeavor to reach the higher branches of the pecan tree.


 The tree itself was at least 60 years old. It towered over the neighbor's house and ours, providing much needed shade and shelter in the hot muggy Texas summers.  


 The view outside the kitchen window was dismal. I had stood gazing out the window for five miserable years.


 The impetus to me starting another garden was my partner having a major stroke.


 Our relationship was already on the skids when he became sick. I had already acquired plane tickets for our son and myself to leave in two days.


His mother woke me up to tell me her son had been vomiting blood for 3 hours. I got up and followed her into the den. Kevin, my partner, was sitting in front of the kitchen garbage pail which was overflowing with bloody tissues. When I picked it up to move it out of my way, the blood was sloshing around on the bottom. Enough blood to make a wave, redistribute its weight and make sloshing sounds....I immediately went to the phone and called 911. The idiot child I was living with, started to argue, in between coughing up blood and spewing blood out of his mouth, about which hospital he wished to attend. The emergency crew took him to the one 3 blocks up the street. He was given a transfusion and immediately sent into critical care unit. He stayed there for the next 10 weeks. Six of those weeks he was in a coma.



Bill collectors were tearing up my phone; his mother and her daughter were blaming me for her son's lack of discipline, foresight and insecurities. He would not do as I asked him about taking care of himself or us, so eventually I stopped asking. He always did what was expedient at the moment. Not what was righteous or even right but what was expedient. His other relatives showed up and decided I was at fault as well since most of them were never responsible for their own actions, either. His mom and sister even interfered with his treatment by pretending to be me on the phone. When his doctor found out it was not me he had been receiving permission from, he threatened to sue them if they interfered anymore. After he was out of immediate danger I took my son and went to my mother's house in Delaware for 2 weeks.



This too shall pass... So, back at the window washing dishes…. My mind decided that it would look so much better if I had something colorful to dwell on as well as look upon.

I had put in a garden in our other home.

 It was a beautiful garden placed in our side yard with a yellow rose garden circle accompanied by a blue blown-glass birdbath, being the focal point. Between the roses I grew globe master alliums, big beautiful 8 inch balls of purple and amethyst tiny florets. The purple made the yellow roses more notable with their rounded guardians in their background. At their feet were petunias, pansies and violas in yellows, lavenders and pinks.

An archway invited you into the garden covered in Henryi clematis, pink Montana clematis and New Dawn roses. Black knight butterfly bush, Don Juan climbing roses and native Texas plants, (including Russian sage) were the bulk of my first garden. Sweet potato vine intertwined its way through the feet of all of my plants. I even grew a bear’s breech (acanthus) underneath the drip where the air conditioner made the yard boggy.

In the back yard I grew a wisteria and trained it along a clothesline and bamboo were planted into the ground inside containers. We put in a pond and stone bench with little fish for Ben (my son) to gaze upon. I had a 4 foot border around the backyard filled with daylilies, gladiolas, tulips, daffodils and crocuses. Being Texas, the tulips and crocuses were both annuals, since their bulbs were also dessert for squirrels. Hyacinths in the spring were replaced with fragrant stargazers and calla lilies in the summer. The summer also brought dahlias, mallows, coneflowers, Esperanza, daisy trees, geraniums, mints and hibiscus. I even planted some of those things that you hear about in the Bible. Hyssop, Rose of Sharon, sages, lavenders, sunflowers and heliopsis all found its way into my garden. The fall brought the asters and mums with roses and zinnias parading their way through all the seasons.

But, that was before he lost everything, including our home, dragged us into his mother's house and spiraled into the depression that contributed to his stroke.

Now I was looking at a yard that had not been dug into for at least twenty years. The soil was mostly clay and compacted while the grass was thatched together so tightly it could have been a tapestry woven into the sod.

A local junkie went around and did yard work. Rather than knocking folks ‘upside the head’, he elected to do earn money to feed his habit. Rodney is the hardest working person I have ever seen.


He will do whatever you ask and even renegotiate the small wages that have been agreed upon. You just have to remember to never pay him before he has completed the work.


On the road to recovery, my partner made the unfortunate mistake of assuming that I was mistreating Rodney. He paid him before he completed the job. Rodney promptly stopped working and went to purchase his drugs of choice. He did not come back for a year because he had not finished and was now terrified of my partner’s reaction for never completing the job. Unfortunately, my partner nor my son considered themselves to be gardeners or gardeners' helpers. Recruitment was similar to the  Vietnam War draft   (with no run to the Canadian border) receiving help was paramount to going to war. Fortunately out of the three of us, only I had actually been to  military boot camp.


 Rodney knocked on the door and reminded my partner’s mother when it was time for the bulk trash to be set out or to cut the shrubs and limbs from the back alley before she got fined from the city.


I recruited him to help me break ground for my garden. It took a whole month to dig out the first bed. It was approximately 10' by 12', located in the middle of the yard. All day Texas sun with a little morning shade from the pecan tree on part of the perimeter is the microclimate of the perennial bed. In the afternoon the prickly lemon shaded a small area about 2'by 4'. We dug down about 10 inches and then watered in Bob and John's Soil Optimizer. Three days later I bought compost and organic humus and covered the cleared spot.   We made three more garden plots out of that impacted dirt. Now I could shop for plants.



I shopped out of catalogues and online as well as haunting every nursery for a bargain within ten miles of the house. Jackson and Perkins is my particular favorite catalog for roses. My favorite online nursery is a company called Graceful Gardens. I went to local chain store places as well: Calloways, Home Depot and Lowe’s for native plants.

This yard was much more difficult. I had many failures initially because I was trying to grow an east coast version of an English garden in an untouched Texas clay yard. The last person who had tried to plant anything in this yard was my partner’s father who passed away in 1989. He had dug and planted a small plot behind the shed. It was still the easiest plot I had dug up. Unfortunately, it would be three more years before I got around to that particular spot. When I did, I planted the ‘three sisters’, squash, beans and corn together. Native Americans, especially Iroquois, planted corn with squash and beans at its feet, which protected the roots, while the corn stalk was used as the pole for the beans to grow on. Vegetarian Times gave a great recipe a few years back on making a stew out of all three ingredients. I have always harvested great squash and beans but the corn has not been very good. Finding heirloom corn seeds has been a challenge. I usually purchase “Seeds of Change” from the Northaven Garden center, my favorite local spot.


Each plot had a different colored butterfly bush, at least two rose bushes and some kind of iris.

A beautiful tall iris grew for years next to the patio table but never bloomed. This last spring while drinking coffee with Kevin outside, I told him if that plant does not show me something soon, I will pull it up. It is sitting on some of my most valuable real estate. Within a week, the siberian iris had the most beautiful violet flowers with gold sketched throughout the petals. I guess it does pay to speak to your plants.


The largest garden plot, the first one I made, also had the bird bath in it. The bird bath was surrounded by roses and  tall purple obedience plants. Russian sage and pink butterfly bushes with  white echinacea peeking between its branches were on its other side. At all the plants feet grew yellow lantana and verbena.

I add more plants each year and discover new ways to kill them. Overwatering my xeriscape landscaping is my partner's contribution to the garden.

It has been a lot of backbreaking and hard work. I would have never made it through these perilous seven years without it. My two best friends, (one lives here and the other resides in Connecticut) always marvel at the way of my garden. It is wild looking and at times over grown. I think they are more in awe of the fact that both of them are on prozac. The Connecticut friend asked me why I was not on an anti-depressant. I informed her that not only could I not afford them but I did not need them. I was fortunate. My garden was my prozac. Now everyone can sit in the midst of my depression, stress and hell for seven years and inhale the fragrance. I used lavender as fillers and added gallardia and dianthus last year. My dahlias do not last because I refuse to pull up anything I have already buried. That includes my pain, hurt and the past. My stroke garden was just that, something to do other than having a stroke. It has been well received and requires nothing more from family and friends than a barbeque and/or a bottle of wine. My son needed to see how to make lemonade out of lemons or as my mother so succinctly put it, "better to give the earth a stroke with a rake, than give one to you out of misery stress  and frustration."