DIY Gardener

The summer of 1982, my neighbor Adele reached over her backyard fence and handed me a freshly dug perennial from her lovely garden. In passing me that tiny bit of her garden, she inspired me to create my own garden. I have been a do-it-yourself gardener ever since. Like my gardening inspiration and mentor Adele, I use traditional tools like cultivator hoes, trowels, and other hand tools, rather than power this ‘n thats to get the job done. My idea of a rototiller is to go in the house and ask my hubby to come outside and dig for me. He can dig in a matter of minutes what it would take me days to dig.

Likewise, most of the other members of my “gardening staff” all call me “Grandma.” Other than occasionally paying a grandchild to help pull weeds or pick up seed pods from our locust tree, or a friend who is temporarily out of work, I have never hired anyone to help me in the garden.

Okay, I will admit to a tiny twinge of jealousy as I see landscaping trucks in the neighborhood. It sure would be nice to hire a professional landscape artist to draw up a plan for that Pinterest-inspired garden space I have been dreaming about – complete with the cozy two-story structure with a little sitting room beneath and a cozy bunkhouse above which would provide a grandkid-friendly (and fun) summer sleep space. It would be so cool to have a landscaping crew, each with more muscles than Wayne and I combined, jump out of those trucks and in a matter of days transform my garden space into the luscious dream garden I have in my head.

Oh, I have loads of ideas!

As nice as it would be to have a professional landscape team doing all the grunt-work, I must admit there is a special joy and satisfaction when I look at God’s wonderful artistry in our gardens robed in summer’s splendor and realize that “we did this” ourselves.

No one can rightly call his garden his own unless he himself made it.
~ Alfred Austin, Poet Laureate 1986

A-to-Z Caregiving Tips (D-E)

We call them caregivers. Some caregivers are paid to do the job (and I’m SO thankful for them), but most are not financially compensated.

They just care. And give.


I hope my second article will be an encouragement to caregivers. My little series is based upon an article from Alzheimer’s TODAY called Tiny Gifts That Are TREMENDOUS, where Mary Kay Baum shared a helpful A-to-Z list of caregiving suggestions [Click here to read the original article]. My caregiver friends, come along with me as I share how these tips played out in my own caregiving journey. Last week I gave you my spin on A-B-C; this week, I’ll share my thoughts regarding D-E.

Do mention your name, looking at me.

One day I was helping my mom look for her checkbook (a frequent activity in the mid-stages of Alzheimer’s). As I sifted through the contents of her purse, I pulled out a list of names. Taking a closer look, I could see that the names were those of some of her closest friends at church. Each name was written out several times, as if she were practicing, trying to cement the names in her mind. I could imagine my mom sitting in her Bible study trying so hard to recall the names of people she had known for years.

It was during this period of time that I realized just how much mom was struggling with the names of the people she knew and loved. In retrospect, it was probably the reason she began declining invitations to social events and had not been regular in her church attendance.

One way we tried to help my mom was to create laminated photo cards which listed the names of the people in the photo and how they were connected with mom. I would get that photo out for her when that individual came for a visit. It helped mom save face by prompting her with the visual cue she needed to remember the names of her guests. As her dementia progressed, she just liked carrying all of her laminated cards around in her purse and seemed to enjoy sorting them and reading the captions.

ENJOY quiet times with me like reading to me.

Reading to my mom was a bit tricky. She was pretty hard of hearing, but I’m so proud of my grandkids (her greats) who did their best to include their great-grandma by reading with her. My youngest grandson George was amazingly good at this. He knew how to put on his loud voice and would snuggle up to her and look at books with her whenever he would visit.

Mom had a special spot at our kitchen table. Whenever the great-grands would come, they would try to do something at the table. Sometimes she’d join in the fun, other times she would just watch.

I’m not going to lie. Having a front-row seat to the heartbreak associated with mom’s onset and advancement of dementia was a hard place to be, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to be a blessing to her during that time. My bank of memories is full to the brim with more special moments than difficulties.

As dementia progresses, the ability to interpret the words written on the page becomes more difficult. Since mom enjoyed coloring, we purchased adult coloring books with simple devotional thoughts and Bible messages so that mom could continue to read. Members of the family also created photo albums with brief descriptive captions–she truly enjoyed looking through those too. Those same photo albums gave less familiar friends and paid caregivers something to do with her too–a connection and something to talk about and enjoy together.

It is my hope and dream that by sharing my own experiences – the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful – someone else will be encouraged in their life as a caregiver. Sometimes, sharing just one caregiving idea will give another caregiver the hope that they can DO this hard thing.

For more helpful information about Alzheimer’s please visit:

A-to-Z Caregiving Tips

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America puts out a fine publication aimed at providing helpful information for those who love and care for others with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia including vascular dementia (what my brother has), Lewy Body dementia, Parkinson’s, alcohol-induced dementia, and others. Their purpose is stated in this way:

Mission: To provide support, services and education to individuals, families and caregivers affected by Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias nationwide, and fund research for better treatment and a cure.

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know I have a similar mission or purpose in writing. In addition to sharing the fun stuff in life that comes from my joy in barefoot gardening, grandkids, and following Christ, I have a deep desire to encourage those who are in the trenches of caring for a loved one or friend with Alzheimer’s. We call them caregivers. Some caregivers are paid to do the job (and I’m SO thankful for them), but most are not financially compensated.

They just care. And give.

Today, I’m sharing an article from Alzheimer’s TODAY which should be of great help to ALL caregivers. Tiny Gifts That Are TREMENDOUS is a thoughtfully written A-to-Z list of caregiving suggestions compiled by Mary Kay Baum of Time for Us Camp in Dodgeville, WI. [Click to access Alz.-Today-Vol.-15-No.-4-LR.pdf]

This article resonated with me. As I read each point the article made, I could think of several examples from my own caregiving journey with my mother. Over the next few weeks, with the permission of Alzheimer’s TODAY, I plan to share a few of the things I learned along the way. It is my hope and dream that by sharing my own experiences – the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful – someone else will be encouraged in their life as a caregiver. Sometimes, just one unexpected word of encouragement can help someone have the courage to keep going. Sometimes, sharing just one caregiving idea will give another caregiver the hope that they can DO this hard thing.

So, caregivers everywhere, come along with me as I share how these tips played out in my own caregiving journey. We’ll start with ABC.

APPROACH me from the front and avoid startling me.

Gracious, this is so important! Many people do not realize that as the brain deteriorates, the field of vision and the ability to interpret what is in that field of vision becomes increasingly limited. I learned early on to approach my mom slowly from the front. Swooping in from the side, or reaching around her from the back, even if it was just to give her a hug, would cause her to jump. When she was frightened, she was less likely to be cooperative and sometimes even became combative. When mom entered into assisted living, those who followed this guideline had greater success in encouraging her to take medications, get dressed, eat…whatever. Those who would approach from the side and hurriedly shove a cupful of meds or a spoonful of food into her mouth could almost count on resistance.

BEND DOWN or sit down near me if I am in a wheelchair.

Even if a loved one is not in a wheelchair, no one likes to be hovered over. In addition to being seated in a wheelchair, imagine trying to understand what is being communicated when your field of vision is so small. Before you read any further, please put your hands in front of you. Next, touch the tips of each thumb and each index finger (the pointer) together. Your hands have created a small circle. Now, put your eyes up to that circle and look through that small circle. That, my friend, is the field of vision through which the typical person afflicted with Alzheimer’s interprets their world. Let that little exercise, imperfect as it is, inform the way you approach your loved one.

My mom needed to see my smiling face, read my lips and facial expressions, and observe my actions. I would try to have lunch with her every day that she was in assisted living. Mom had a tendency to wander away from the table during meals. Having me there eating with her helped her stay at the table and gave her the visual and social cues she needed to eat.

CALL my name gently and with a smile.

I’m notorious for talking to my husband from the other room, or worse yet, as I’m walking away from him. It’s a bad habit – lazy on my part, and disrespectful, actually. Precious caregivers, we can NOT do that with those who have Alzheimer’s.

We need to practice the art of getting close and putting a gentle smile on our face as we speak to our loved ones. When I needed my mom’s attention, she needed to hear AND see me say her name. A smile made communication more pleasant for both of us. Mom could read frustration on my face even when she could not hear my voice well (she was profoundly hard of hearing). I could save both of us frustration by just remembering the ABC’s.

  • Approach her from the front
  • Bend down or sit near her (get my smiling face in her field of vision), and
  • Call her name gently.

For more helpful information about Alzheimer’s please visit:

My Garden Frog

One day while wandering through Pier1 Imports, a ceramic frog called my name from atop a sale rack. My sweet hubby bought him for me and Mr. Frog has stayed with us ever since. He customarily sits on our kitchen countertop and keeps busy much of the year holding oranges or apples for us. At Christmas you might even spy him holding a few especially pretty ornaments.

I looked at my frog today and decided he needs to make a return engagement to my garden this summer. He’s been so happy there in the past.

I have been nurturing a few garden succulents over the winter months, so planted the survivors in the little leafy bowl this afternoon. I think he looks rather spiffy.

“Mr. Frog” just doesn’t suit this dapper guy. I think he needs a name. What shall it be?

A Garden Memory to Savor

Our local weatherman says we’re in for a few days of chilly temps, so I decided to take advantage of today’s fleeting afternoon warmth to rake leaves out of the flowerbed on the east side of our home. This flowerbed has never been a show-stopping focal point of our landscape and few people actually see it, so it’s usually the last flowerbed to garner any attention whatsoever from me. With a little more effort, I mused, I could create something eye-catching and special in this particular garden space.

I thought about that as I gingerly pulled the rake through the bed, gently coaxing last year’s leaves and debris toward the edge of the bed. Moving more slowly than usual because of a grumpy shoulder, I raked very carefully, slowly uncovering the new beginnings of unfurling leaves and flowers yet to bloom. Among them, a dozen or more clumps of hosta push their spikey heads above the earth; a Siberian iris and a daylily send leafy blades skyward; and a huge clump of sedum I wish I had divided long ago.

Beauty yet to come…

But there, in the far corner of this plot of earth was the plant I treasure very much. A few gentle pulls of the rake uncovered the red tips of one of my dad’s peonies inching their way out of the warming earth. A twinge of pain reminded me to take a little break, so I pulled my garden stool into the corner next to dad’s peony and surveyed the work I had accomplished thus far. It was looking good.

A brisk breeze tossed my hair in my eyes. Closing my eyes for a moment, I just listened to the nearby windchime’s frenzied melody and the sweet call of the cardinal in a neighboring magnolia tree. Opening my eyes again, I focused on carefully weeding around dad’s peony. As I pinched and pried, I thought about my dad and how much he nurtured and enjoyed his peonies. Few things brought him greater joy than snipping a few for the passersby who stopped to admire their beauty. That memory of him made me smile.

My parents: Charlotte and Jerry Boyles

The wind was growing colder and a niggling of pain suggested it was time to gather my tools and call it a day. It’s hard to give thanks for the painful things in life, but I found myself offering a prayer of thanks to God for slowing me down enough so that I could savor the quietude of memories and the simple beauty of an emerging garden.


One word. Five minutes to write about it. This is the idea behind the Five Minute Friday community. Today’s free-writing word prompt: SAVOR

When ‘Great Expectations’ Happen

If my great expectations of gardening goals were met at all this week, it was through no effort of my own, but by the loving efforts of my dear husband. I had two projects in mind and he took care of one of them for me. It had been my desire to rake the flowerbed on the east side of our home and clean up a winter’s worth of birdseed hulls from underneath my bird-feeding station. The later was quite handily accomplished by my husband, who also took the time to relocate that feeding station to a spot a little further away from the fountain.

Continue reading “When ‘Great Expectations’ Happen”

Garden ‘Great Expectations’

I have been re-reading Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations this week. I remember reading it many moons ago when I was in junior high school. As a teen, I struggled with getting into the story. Truth be told, I didn’t put much effort into reading for comprehension and enjoyment. Well, I’m thoroughly into it this time through. Though it has absolutely nothing to do with gardening, I just love the title of the book and have found myself viewing my garden through the lens of great expectations.

Nothing show-stopping happening in my garden this week, but the snow has melted and there are definitely some great expectations and emerging signs of beauty to come…and a whole lot of grunt work needed to tidy up the flowerbeds.

Continue reading “Garden ‘Great Expectations’”

Promising Signs of Spring

I love to see the tips of my spring-blooming flowers poking their weary of winter heads above the earth. First to emerge and then open in my garden is the lovely crocus. At the very first sight of the flower buds forming I begin listening for robins. Just about the time the earliest crocus flowers open, the robins return from their winter migration and begin announcing spring’s arrival with their song.

Crocus – my garden’s herald of spring

Another sure sign that spring has sprung is when I begin seeing a lot more activity in and around the various birdhouses and nestboxes in our yard. The one pictured below was painted by my grandson Charlie. I cleaned this nestbox out a few weeks ago so the new tenants would have a fresh start. As you can see in the photo collage below, the side of the box hinges open, revealing the fact that new tenants are making good use of our neighbor’s pine needles in their cozy abode.

The old-fashioned bleeding heart is another harbinger of spring’s arrival in my garden. As Dicentra Spectabilis’ leaves push their way out of the earth to begin their yearly show, their fuschia colored leaves remind me of old-fashioned feather dusters and are always a welcome sight. They’re one of those plants which you plant one year and then they take up residence wherever they want in your garden.

Tulips like the sun, so I’m always surprised (and extra thankful) to see the tips of tulips pushing their way up into sight on the shady north side of my house. Here are a few which have emerged right next to my only remaining swath of snow.

I inspected my yellow peony for buds and was overjoyed to see lots of signs of spring growth (see the photo on the left below). If the blog space I’ve used to write about any given flower in my garden is any indicator, it’s definitely a favorite in my garden, I wrote about this charming peony here, here, and here, and am very much looking forward to seeing its enthralling beauty again (see the photo on the right below).

Paeonia Itoh ‘Bartzella’ – What is now and the promise of what is to come

I look forward to having you join me in the weeks to come for more little walks through the little plot I tend in my little corner of God’s beautiful earth.


The Propagator provides a virtual garden plot each Saturday where gardeners and all those who like to write about playing in the dirt can gather and plant their respective garden-related missives. Known as “Six on Saturday,” it’s a virtual show n’ tell where each tiller of the earth shows off six photos of that week’s garden happenings (or anything garden-related). You’re invited to click on The Propagator link and begin your own personal tour of gardens around the world. Such fun!

The Crocus: spring’s herald of beautiful possibilities

I have about a foot of snow left in my Wisconsin garden. Not a foot deep, mind you, but a little swath of white stuff on the north side of the house that’s about a foot wide and an inch or two deep. Another warm spring day and all the snow will be gone–and I am glad of it.

Continue reading “The Crocus: spring’s herald of beautiful possibilities”

Six on Saturday: Awaiting Spring

I’m joining The Propagator and his entourage of Six On Saturday gardeners for a little six-photo tour of what’s going on in the garden. It’s a fun little adventure. So put on your boots, come along with me, and let’s take a peek at what’s going on in my garden!

Continue reading “Six on Saturday: Awaiting Spring”