Posted by: Rob | May 9, 2008

May – Then and Now

Today is Shelley’s birthday. She would have been 47 today. There would have been many phone calls as family and friends would call to wish her happy birthday. Last year the phone was eerily silent. A solid reminder that she was gone from this earth. In memory, the girls came out and we had supper together. Had a few toasts to their mom, shared some stories, and a few tears.

This year I had been thinking about what to do to commemorate the day. I was uncertain or unsure how best to mark the occasion. Then I happened upon a recent post by Marsha about the rekindling of “A Lost Passion” and it brought back memories for me. I’ve never held a deep interest in gardening or yardwork for that matter. I barely tolerate having to mow grass. But Shelley? Shelley was an aspiring gardener. So today’s blog will be about remembering Shelley in her garden.

Shelley comes from agricultural roots. Her family members, those on farms, would plant gigantic vegetable gardens along the edge of one of the fields or some other likely location that could be accessed by tractor. Naturally, for gardens this large, one also has to have some skills and knowledge for canning. As kids, the task of weeding would typically fall to Shelley and her siblings, a distaste for which she never outgrew.

It wasn’t until we were in Calgary that she started to rekindle an interest in gardening and that was limited to a vegetable plot out in the back yard. We were renters then and never heavily invested in the aesthetics of the yard. Whatever shrubs were already there were good enough, so pruning and mowing comprised the bulk of the upkeep we would do. The Calgary garden, soil enhanced through composting, produced a respectable quantity of fresh vegetables for through each summer.

Then we moved to Kansas. After having grown up at 56 or 57 degrees of latitude in western Canada and learning planting times by the calendar, it was a tough adjustment to try to garden in southeast Kansas. We were still renters, but we decided to rent a roto-tiller and till up some of the yard to make a garden. The first year we were about 2 to 3 months too late. She was used to seeding in early May; there, apparently, you should do that in February. So, she seeded in May, only to watch the first batch of seeds wash down the alley during the first rainstorm that came along soon after seeding. Non-plussed, she seeded again. There was a little production, but then we learned what happens when you till up bermuda grass directly. Yep, she fought that stuff all summer long as it attempted to re-invade and reclaim our vegetable garden. Overall success for the garden was pretty low. A lot of stuff simply baked in the soil by the time late July and August rolled around. It was just too hot there, especially for the varieties that we were experienced with up north.

On the plus side, she found that seeds that went out in the compost tended to volunteer and start growing. This was nothing she’d seen before and was quite excited when she grew some cantaloupe, some green and red peppers. Had we stayed there, I’m sure she would have worked herself into a small market garden.

But we moved back to Canada and, for the first time, owned our own home. This meant that gardening took on the meaning of both a small vegetable plot and flower beds. The previous owner had some weird idea of a “rock garden” going on in the backyard. This provided the stock for Shelley’s own designs throughout the yard. Being her chief lackey I was handed all the heavy lifting. I’ve lost count of how many flower beds I’ve dug out of the lawn (and put grass back later), how many landscape ties I’ve installed, how many wheelbarrows of soil and compost I’ve hauled, but it was a lot.

Every year around this time she would be off to the greenhouse to obtain the myriad plants to populate the current year’s garden designs. She was forever changing plants hither, thither and yon. Experimenting always. Learning this and that and applying what she had learned the next year. And, of course, once things were in and growing, there was the inevitable pruning, weeding, watering and other upkeep to do. She revelled in it, though, and would only come inside when it got too dark (which is pretty late around here) or the mosquitoes got too thick.

The last spring before she died she had designed yet another flower garden plot in the back yard. There was a list of the plants that were needed to combine with some existing ones in the yard that were to be moved. I went to the greenhouse to get the new plants – alone. I made a few mistakes on varieties, made a second trip to fix that up. The girls were supposed to come help me, but they didn’t make it on time. I made the flower bed as close to the sketch as I could. I took some digital pictures and took the camera in to the hospital to show her the results. I think she was pleased.

She never got to see that garden. Although she did come back home after that and one more hospital stay, she was never able to go outside into her beloved yard again.

I’ve done the fall clean up twice now since she’s been gone and now I’m greeting the second spring since the yard last saw her. The yard has been patient with my feeble attempts, but I’m not really that into it and I think the yard knows it. Whenever I do try to do any weeding or have to do the pruning I can’t help but think that Shelley should be here doing this. Something she had a passion for. She’s beyond such cares now, but perhaps someday she’ll return to another life here on earth where she can once again indulge her passion.

May – Then and Now. Happy Birthday Shelley. Wherever you are.

Shelley in the Garden



  1. What a lovely tribute…

  2. She was obviously well loved.

  3. beautiful tribute dad. i hold these memories so close. love you

  4. Dear Rob,

    I’m thinking of you today. Your words are so beautiful. Thanks for sharing your memories of your passionate gardener.


  5. Beautiful memories, and such love. I’m sorry Rob. Glad for what you have now, but sorry for what you and your daughters have lost.

  6. Nice work, Rob, and happy birthday to Shelley…

  7. Always well done Rob. She is all our hearts


  8. Thank you everyone. For reading and for leaving your comments. It is much appreciated.

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