Appalachia Gardening

Gardening and Writing

Today’s guest post was written by Susanna Holstein aka Granny Sue.

Cabin, garden 058 Granny Sue


It was quite a strange winter, wasn’t it? Now our thoughts have turned to spring and planting, to green and flowering things. We hesitantly put away our snow shovels, but not too far back into the shed. We check our woodsheds and assess the damage and try to figure if there’s enough wood to get us through until the weather is reliably warm. We check our cellars to see what the damage is there too, and what we will need to focus on in the coming canning season. We write up and draw out garden diagrams, and enthusiastically make plans for all sorts of projects that may or may not get done. It’s the season of rising hope, limitless possibilities and that certain smell in the air that can only mean spring.

But March can be a freakish month. As Nathaniel Hawthorne once wrote, “It is sad that nature will play such tricks on us poor mortals, inviting us with sunny smiles to confide in her, and then, when we are entirely within her power, striking us to the very heart.” How many times have I seen the apple and peach trees burst into bloom, and then see the withered blossoms after a night’s hard frost? Gardening is not for those who give up easily; each year we stride out with fresh hopes, the garden a blank sheet of paper waiting for our hoes and shovels to turn it into this year’s story. I have to admit, each year I begin my garden sure that the ending will be of the happily-ever-after variety, but the fact is that most years the result is a mishmash of successes and failures.

For centuries writers have shared their love of gardening in words. As early as 410 AD, Chinese writer Hsieh Ling-Yin wrote, “I have banished all worldly care from my garden; it is a clean and open spot.” There is something about gardening and writing that go together. Perhaps it is the quiet nature of both occupations; both require a certain comfortable silence, an aloneness in an otherwise busy world. Gardening is contemplative; as we work we think about what we’re doing but also about what we did in this garden in other years and what successes/failures we’ve had. We think about those who once worked alongside us, children who have grown and gone, parents who taught us what they knew. We examine plants, see tiny veins in leaves, thin tendrils of reaching roots, the tidiness or unruliness of exuberant plants. We search for bugs and pests and weakened plants. We sit back on our haunches and breathe deep the odor of soil, of green, of flowers and sweat.

Pie gardens 013 Granny Sue


Writing requires that same depth of quietude: we write the words as they come into our minds, watch them take form and meaning on the page. We remember other things we’ve written, characters we’ve created, people with whom we shared our work; we prune and trim, cultivating images and scenes. And when our minds are tired of word-wrestling, we can go out in our gardens and lose ourselves in the simplicity of garden work.

An old Hebrew proverb says, “As is the garden, such is the gardener.” My gardens, then, certainly reflect eclectic tendencies: herbs jostle with roses, flowers with lettuce, a wild elderberry grows at the foot of a maple and asparagus seedlings come up and grow where they will. I can’t say there’s much order in the way the gardens are arranged as they seem to do it themselves. I love the wild abandon of it, the surprise of finding currants hiding under overhanging daylilies and garlic bulbs under the oregano.

I leave you with this thought from Francis Bacon: “God Almighty first planted a Garden. And indeed, it is the purest of human pleasure. It is the greatest refreshment to the spirits of Man.”


Funny that Susanna should mention the fickle nature of the month of March. I’m already worrying March is playing a mean trick on us this year. With the warm weather we’ve had over the last week along with what’s forecasted for next week I’m afraid our fruit trees and bushes may get bit when old man winter returns for his final blow.

I hope you enjoyed Susanna’s post as much as I did! Be sure to jump over to her blog for a visit.




You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    March 16, 2016 at 10:42 am

    What a pleasure for me to stop by and see these lovely comments! And Tipper, it made me miss all the good people we met when we visited a couple years ago. How time does fly by. Could it really be that long ago? Say hello to Ken and b.Ruth and Miss Cindy and all your family for me!

  • Reply
    Rev. Rose Marie "RB" Redmond
    March 11, 2016 at 8:19 pm

    Beautiful, and so true. We’re enjoying this spring weather with joy, and a bit of trepidation, knowing Mother Nature often has a way of tricking us just when we’ve begun to get comfortable with nicer weather.
    Long ago, I use to cover all the budding flowers, saplings, etc. when a frost was expected. Then I stopped remembering God made creation for the strong survive and care for the weak even though, sadly, often the weak aren’t meant to.
    Prayers for a great weekend for everyone.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    March 10, 2016 at 9:04 pm

    Oh no…husband says one is chirping on the downbeat…that means two of the little boogers have come in probably under the screen door…had it open last night and today…Or, maybe somehow climbed up through the basement into the rock fireplace and out through one of the vents. It is never used anymore…now probably a critter haven!
    Mercy! I love critters…but I would rather hear the frogs when I’m outside or camping not in the living room….
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    March 10, 2016 at 8:58 pm

    I just hate it when I am the only one posting…but just got back from the grandson’s basketball banquet…They gave him quite a few accolades considering everything the child has gone through since last summer…
    At any rate…
    Can anyone tell me what it is a “sign” of when a frog is in your house…(somewhere in the living room) and singing like crazy…It is a chorus from this time not a peeper…We can’t find it anywhere…We have been running the humidifier since our living room air is dry (allergies, etc.) and I am not sure if it is too moist in the house! ha…Our pond is about 25 feet from the front door…However, chorus frogs don’t sing or lay eggs there because of the gold fish carnivores. Only the year we didn’t have any goldfish in the pond did we have a zillion of frogs singing…
    I wish I could record it for you…
    I wonder if I should put out a little pan of water on the green carpet and one of those plastic frogs that I use in my flower pots for decoration…think he would go there? Help…worse than trying to find a big Black Cricket….
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    March 10, 2016 at 8:48 pm

    and all…..I just read, (as did many of you, I’m sure) in The Old Farmers Almanac ….”If it doesn’t freeze on March 10, then a fertile year can be expected!” So I guess we better get “boogying” and get those seeds ordered as soon as the ground warms up. It is still 72degrees here and it is 8:48PM so looks like we are going to be frost free for today until midnight….Yea…
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    March 10, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    I agree with you. These temperatures make me think I’m behind but we’ll have some cold yet, like at Easter. I saw a guy buying a big tomato plant today but unless he grows it indoors I think he’s rushing it. I’m going to try to stick to cool season vegetables for awhile yet. But if we don’t get 60s/40s weather they won’t do very well.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    March 10, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    Thanks for posting guest artist Susanna Holstein’s remarkable essay on gardening–and related thoughts. I thouroughly enjoyed reading, and thought of how much a garden can mean: to mend, to give hope, to require work, to give feasts, both of sight, sound and products. Thank you. And let’s hold in there for March and the rest of the surprises this windy month blows out upon us!

  • Reply
    Joe King
    March 10, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    I thought Francis Bacon was a hog farmer. Now I discover he is a gardener too! He has quite a way with words. He should try writing!
    I thought I had eclectic tendencies too but it turned out to be AADD.

  • Reply
    Pam Danner
    March 10, 2016 at 1:17 pm

    I enjoyed this lovely post! The photos are so beautiful!

  • Reply
    "Fiddler of the Mountains" which comes with a CD of Uncle Johnny's music from the '50's!
    March 10, 2016 at 12:50 pm

    Wellsir, Ms. Sue: You hit the nail on the head with all those ‘critical’ details of good gardening. I feel silly to tell you what I did yesterday in the garden, right outside my kitchen door. BUT I will tell you anyhow!
    I planted a rose “Just Joey” which I acquired from the David AUSTIN ROSE CULTIVATION out of Texas. Now this is the third time I have planted this ‘Just Joey’ rose. I don’t want to give up as I want to grow the rose in honor our son, Joey, who was killed in a car accident just after his 17th birthday.
    This morning we have perfect sunny March weather and I have passed the “Just Joey” several times as I check on the bird life around out feeders. This is a great way to avoid ‘housework’ on a beautiful day.
    Kindly, Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    March 10, 2016 at 11:24 am

    Our radio gal, Donna Lynn, just played “Halls of Montezuma” in honor of our friend Lonnie Dockery. He was another of our finest, a Marine and I’ll MISS Him…Ken

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    March 10, 2016 at 11:16 am

    I got my picture made with Granny Sue awhile back and I love her storytelling. I also got acquainted with her husband, enjoyed that very much too. Granny has a lot of the same thoughts I do, only I don’t think I’ll have a garden this year. Loved the pictures…Ken

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    March 10, 2016 at 10:59 am

    Thank you to Granny Sue for writing your garden story.
    March is definitely a fickle month. It never it seems to hold true to the old saying, “In like a Lamb, out like a Lion!” In some years vice versa, “In like a Lion, out like a Lamb!” ha
    I always pray that we always have the conversion month of March. All our flora and fauna depends on March. I remember year before last, I think it was, March was very warm and the middle of Spring began to jump to June temperatures. Before the official summer date, we were sweltering and plants were going psychotic, not knowing whether to bloom and produce or dry wilt like Fall! We had days of unusually hot and dry days.
    Can you imagine if the little “chicks” of the wild birds arrived missing March. The wild flowers shooting up in an oven temps of early summer. Fawns and kits trying to stay hidden in sweltering temperatures while their Mothers hunt. Of course we don’t want to forget our nemesis of the garden the “March Hare”! Yes, this global warming is more scary than our fickle March!
    I hate to see the blossoms frost burned…but I also think Mother Nature provides for this sort of event and some way we must need “March Madness” and I don’t mean “basketball tournaments” as they are now called! ha
    Thanks Tipper,
    and Granny Sue

  • Reply
    March 10, 2016 at 10:42 am

    I enjoyed this post. Thank you Tipper for sharing it with us. Reading it made me excited to get busy gardening!

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    March 10, 2016 at 9:53 am

    I enjoyed Granny Sue’s eclectic thoughts (that’s intended as a compliment!) on a fine subject.
    Our (speaking for several folks here) dear friend Christine Cole Proctor has a saying about gardening. I suspect she’s not the originator, but it sounds good when she’s the one that says it:
    Who plants a seed
    beneath the sod
    and waits
    to watch it grow
    Believes in God.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    March 10, 2016 at 9:30 am

    Tipper and Granny Sue–Thanks for a post near and dear to my heart. I’m a writer by choice and by profession and a gardener because closeness to the good earth soothes my soul and binds me to my family’s past (both my father and paternal grandfather were keen and highly capable gardeners).
    One of the finest compliments I’ve ever been paid came from a local woman, now deceased, who made her living selling plants. One day I was visiting her, buying some tomato plants and enjoying a talk as we always did. Another individual came up and observed that it was surprising to see a university professor (I taught for 25 years) in such a setting. The plant lady said: “Why he’s not a professor; he’s just an old dirt dauber.” I was tickled pink with her description and have ever since, at least in my own mind, proudly worn the badge of “old dirt dauber.”
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    March 10, 2016 at 8:50 am

    Hey there, Granny Sue! It’s like I stopped by to visit one friend and found another already sitting on the porch 🙂 I enjoyed your thoughts on gardens, and the pictures of your gardens which are very heartening at this time of year. And that’s a very apt quote from Hawthorne, who is from my neck of the woods by the way.
    We had a very warm day here yesterday – the first one! – but I sure as heck won’t be putting away the snow shovel yet. I did unplug a water bucket de-icer, but left the cord in place because I expect to be plugging it back in again any minute.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    March 10, 2016 at 8:19 am

    Thank you Granny Sue, I certainly enjoyed your observations. Spring is coming and I hope these early warm days stay with us but we all know they probably will not.
    I think that it during these preview days that I most long for summer.

  • Leave a Reply