Thursday, 19 October 2017


 "The Road Back to Hell"

 This is the bittersweet story of growing up in an extremely dysfunctional home in the 1950's and 1960's. As the oldest child of my biological mother, Bonnie, and my adoptive father, Stew, I was the only daughter who benefited from the strong love my parents shared during the early years of their marriage. Shortly after the birth of my first sibling, Judy, their marriage started to crumble.  

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Monday, 30 November -0001 00:00

Encouraging Words from a Black Thumb Gardener

It seems as if it has been a long time coming, but summer has finally arrived in western Pennsylvania! At this time of year, one of my favorite pastimes is driving through the streets of Brookville and admiring the beautiful gardens and decorated porches.  

Growing up, the only gardener in my family was my grandmother Conklin. Every spring when the lilacs bloom along my driveway, I am reminded of how much she loved them. I bring a few of those memories into my home by filling a large vase with those delicate violet flowers and putting them in my kitchen window.  My mother never gardened nor did I, until I moved to the house Jim and I have been living in for almost twenty years.

When we first purchased our house in 1998, I was in awe of the large pines that lined both sides of our long driveway.  Because some of these evergreens were almost one-hundred years- old, we decided to plant a row of mature blue spruce in front of them. Our hope was that they would serve as replacements as we gradually lost some of the older trees.  However, that dream was shattered this year, when we learned the blue spruce had been infected by blight a few years ago. Little by little they're dying.

In the spring of 1999, we hired a landscaper to plant rhododendrons, mountain laurel s and azaleas amidst the towering pines. They are thriving today and provide us with an array of flowering shrubs in May and June. The next landscaping step to plant flower gardens in various sections of our large yard became my job. Since I had no idea where to begin, my husband encouraged me to join the Brookville Garden Club. I did. I loved meeting with those wonderful women from April through October. Each month, the meetings were held at someone's home, which included lunch, gardening tips and a lot of laughter. I enjoyed every minute of it, until I was on my own. It seemed like everything I tried failed― except for the impatiens. I planted four flats of them in my front yard where they rapidly grew, flourished and lasted from May until the first frost. I have planted them every year since.

 I always brought a list of questions to the meetings hoping that someone would have the perfect answers to the problems I was experiencing. In many cases it worked. However, generally, "Just try it, and if it doesn't work try something else," was the standard answer.  Therefore, that's what I did. Some of the things I planted grew successfully, but most of them failed. I was perfectly willing to admit defeat when I discovered two flowering plants that have thrived for me.

About eight years ago, I purchased a peony tree from a local greenhouse. I had never heard of such a peony tree before and could not wait to get home to plant it. I planted it in what I thought to be the perfect spot. And it has been. That little six-inch plant has grown into a four-foot tree that sprouts the most beautiful, raspberry colored blooms you have ever seen. The problem is that I planted it between three rhododendrons, which have tripled in size and over shadow it each year. Unfortunately, I am the only person who can truly enjoy the beauty of the flowers. Oh well.  I take pictures every year and share them with my friends.

Several years ago, while perusing a gardening catalog, I came across a photo of dinner-plate dahlias in full bloom. I was 'sold' on these flowers when I read the description― 'These beautiful blooms reach up to ten-inches across and make quite a splash in your summer garden'.  Just below that was this quote from a gardening expert―"Never have so many enjoyed so much with so little time and work." I could not place my order fast enough!

The day the six-packages of bulbs arrived, I planted them immediately. I nurtured them though June and July and watched as they grew higher and higher. In August, they burst into a showy display of brilliant, yellow and crimson-red flowers that bloomed until the first frost. Bingo! I had discovered my niche and have been growing them ever since. I even learned how to winter-over the bulbs in my basement. Having learned my lesson with the peony tree, I planted them at the top of my long driveway where everyone can enjoy their beauty every summer.

Considering I have killed nearly every plant I have tried to grow indoors, I am very pleased with these beauties. I may not be Martha Stewart, but I consider myself a Dahlia Queen. If you don't already have dinner-plate dahlias growing in your garden, maybe you should plant them. Believe me; if I can grow them, you can, too!

Feel free to share your gardening experiences with me.

Happy Summer!

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