The Saddest Gardener In The World


Okay, maybe not in the entire world – but certainly in my world.

This is the first weekend where fall really feels like fall – as in leaf fall, temperature fall, and mood fall.   As much as I would love to live in denial and believe that I can still put on a pair of shorts and sandals and play like it’s July, the cold front that came in last night has proven that the calendar is indeed correct.

Today was a day to begin cleaning up the fall.

The first order of business was to hack and dig the tropicals and prepare them for winter storage.  The sensible voice in my head knew that this was a mercy killing, a necessary evil so that the canna and elephant ears may live to see another summer – at least in my zone 6/7 garden.  But the emotional voice inside of me said, “Waaaaaahhhhhhh.”

The most difficult cut is the first one.  It’s the start of what will become a day filled with slashing and digging and carting off – a battle where the plants do not have a chance against my onslaught.

Within minutes of cutting the first elephant ear stalk, the fibrous, water-filled stem changed color.  I’m neither a botanist nor a horticulturalist, so I do not know what caused this reaction.  I am, though, a social worker – and I could not help but think that the plant was bleeding.

And if the blood wasn’t enough to bring on the guilt, take a look at the center of the center stalk.  The button of green is an elephant ear leaf that never made it into the garden.  Its time ran out; the seasons moved onward without it.

When it was time to turn my attention to the beds of canna, they didn’t fare much better – but by this time, I was ruthless.  Deranged.  Determined to finish what I set out to do today – there was now no time for guilt or second-guessing.

And then I caught my breath.  There, at the base of one of newly dug canna stalks, was a plump bulbous shoot – canna that never made it to the surface.

I wished for a few more months of warmth.  I questioned if this was all worth it — maybe I should give up this tropical look for a Long Island garden.  I wondered if people living in tropical regions had to do a fall clean-up.  If only there had been a few more months of warmth to bring this new shoot along.

If only.

The chill in the air reminded me that summer had indeed packed her bags and took off, leaving me with a cold shoulder.  The rain of leaves meant that a fall clean-up day was never really a day at all.  It’s a constant process that eats up the fall weekends.  To help me get through the chores, I’ll tell myself that the crisp air is refreshing, that the colorful foliage is beautiful, that it will be great to wear sweaters and to drink hot chocolate or mulled apple cider.

And then I looked about me.  My clothes were stained.  My muscles ached.  My emotions were drained.  And, most importantly, all that remained of my garden was the day’s debris and the memories of the summer of 2012.

Rather than rehash the process, here are a few links – just in case you’d like to adopt something akin to a scorched earth policy in your own garden.

Saving Elephant Ears Part 1

Saving Canna Part 1

Saving Elephant Ears and Canna Part 2

35 thoughts on “The Saddest Gardener In The World

  1. Nice to read how much you love your garden/plants…over here it’s supposedly spring but the last couple of days have been as cold as the coldest of winter. I have a tiny courtyard in the inner city so I love reading about/looking at ‘real’ gardens 🙂

    • We’ve had many springs like that — although last winter was one of the mildest on record. Our world is changing. By the way, “real gardens” can come in all shapes and sizes — terraces, a single flower pot, courtyards, rooftops, and acres of open land. Just get your hands dirty! 🙂

  2. As a Florida gardener, I can tell you we leave most everything and hope that temps don’t fall in the teens – at least not for long…if it does happen, everything is killed back to the ground…We cover the plants on nights that go lower than 35…here the strawberry farmers run the sprinklers to give the berries a coat of ice to protect them so we know when to expect a freeze…and yes how sad we are to see our gardens wilt and then turn brown…some years it doesn’t happen..If we have tender plants like orchids…we leave them in pots and bring them all in the garage….

    • Hi Sharon. When the temperatures drop in Florida, our news stations always run footage of your fruits trees getting watered and encased in ice. An interesting way to protect them. It is sad, though, to see gardens wilt and die. When we get a hard frost, it happens all at once here. Very sad. In the meantime, I’ll think warm thoughts. 🙂

  3. To have a garden that produces, takes a lot of work to keep the plants thriving and or producing. The ground too needs to be cared for too. Wonderful post. I enjoyed reading it. 🙂

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it — and I completely agree with you about the ground. Fall and winter is an excellent time for ground and gardener to get a rest. 🙂

  4. It is a mercy killing, but I can see that it would be very hard. I have never uprooted my cannas, and they just die back and come up again, but I read in a magazine devoted to Southern California gardening that the recommendation is to dig up the cannas for the winter and plant again in the spring. I’m not sure what the advantage would be to the growth, but they are beginning to take over and it would give me a chance to redesign the beds a bit. Anyway…I feel your pain. I don’t even like to cut back anything that has to be thrown away, and yet, of course, it’s necessary. Hope the winter is kind to your garden in its hiatus!

    • Hi Debra — and I wish the same to to you and your garden. I noticed in my area that many, many people have cannas growing. They have smaller flowers than mine, so I don’t know if they are more cold hardy. I just cannot believe that that many people are digging and saving. I mean, I never see anyone doing that — but each year, they have canna blooming. Nevertheless, I cut and dig and store — someday I hope to live in a tropical climate where the canna can remain. Be well.

  5. I know how you feel, I too plant cannas and elephant ears and when I see those young green leaves inside the stalks, it makes me feel like I’m taking their life before their time. I’m in zone 5- the frost on Friday killed everything. It was a great post and I enjoyed it.

  6. This is a sad post. All that life, just cut down. But you did what you had to do, and next year it will be glorious and worth it. I am a lazy gardener. I have cannas and elephant ears that die down every year, then spring back. But if I have a plant that doesn’t make it through our winter, well, it just doesn’t make it! Your mercy killing sounds much more merciful than my method! Yours will live to see another summer!

    • I look forward when my tropicals will feel very much at home in a tropical clime. Until then, it’s dig and store, dig and store. It’s very labor intensive, so I wonder if I should just let them go and start from scratch next season. Or. . . I think I enjoy the idea that I’m tricking nature. 🙂

  7. I just finished cutting down the whole garden this weekend. A really big job since it stretches along the shores of Lake MIchigan in USA. The hobby is now an obsession!
    Thanks for the information not only on todays posting but on those I reviewed from your recent past. Always can use help in cutting and storing the plants.

    • LOL. I can completely relate to the obsession part. Fortunately, I live in suburbia so I am curtailed by the property line — unless I can buy out the neighbor, demolish his house and plant and plant and plant. 🙂

  8. I am so sorry you had to pack up the tropicals and put them away, Kevin. I know it is a sad time. If this helps, just think of this as a time for your and your garden to rest and rejuvenate. Spring will be here before we know it. In the meantime, why don’t your join Lee Mays and me in an orchid obsession? That will fill the gap. 🙂

    • Don’t even joke about the orchid obsession. I don’t know if my house is good for growing anything indoors — there is very little southern exposure. That being said, when I eventually make my move to South Florida — let the orchid obsession begin! And as for those tropicals, they can stay in the ground! 🙂

  9. Oh, the heartache fall brings! I love your blog–I’m living abroad and have no access to a garden, so your posts bring me the joy, the elation, and the heartbreak of a garden. I can practically smell the dirt on my hands. Thanks!

  10. Aaaw, autumn is a funny season, chilly one day and nice and hot the next and then days with pouring rain. Here in the UK we don’t use the hardiness zones, but I am equivalent to zone 9 in the US so I don’t rip up or wrap up anything. What doesn’t survive in the ground unprotected in my garden over winter isn’t suitable for my garden, simple as. So my autumn routine is just cutting off the plants that need it as they die down and picking up leaves from those that only drop them. But I understand it can feel traumatic to cut off seemingly healthy plants to pack them off for the winter! No more of that when you move down south 🙂

  11. This was an extremely entertaining post,Kevin! It brought a chuckle to my heart, some good gardening information to my brain and even a single tear to my eye. Well done!!

    • Hi Susie. Glad that you were able to stop by and that your enjoyed the post. Even in the saddest of times, there’s nothing wrong with a laugh — especially if you can laugh at yourself. Thanks for commenting and be well.

  12. It’s hard to pack it all away isn’t it? I don’t have any tropicals like you but I hate pulling plants out of my vegetable garden and digging out the dahlias. I’m always hoping for just one more flower, the garden looks so bare afterward.

  13. Kevin, I was fascinated by this post because my own sense of the seasons is so different. I’m a person who wilts in the heat, and returning to teach in Gettysburg in the hot days of August and September always makes me miserable. Then the weather (finally!!) turns cool and I have a sudden burst of energy and feel alive again. Clean-up in the garden is part of fall joy for me, a chance to be outdoors in the sunshine, but without so much sweat and without any blackflies or mosquitoes! I wonder if this sense of fall is related to having spent a career in education, where fall represents new beginnings and anticipation of the adventure to come.

    • Hi Jean. I know what you mean about education and seeing fall as a chance for a new beginning. Like you, I very often had that same sense — and I still love the chance to wear a big comfy sweater and rake leaves. It’s just always difficult to see the green turn brown and barren. But then, there are always dreams of spring! Hope all is well.

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