The Potting Shed and Other Marvels

I just talked to my brother Mark in Pennsylvania, and our 15-minute conversation was interspersed with his exclaiming . . .

“It’s sleeting.”

Then, a few minutes later, “It’s raining . . .”

And finally, “It’s sleeting again!”

It’s March and most people north of the Florida latitude are sick of winter. Suffering from S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder}, they are waiting to see the sun break through the winter blahs and unveil the crocuses and narcissus ready to pierce the soil.

Writer Linda Joan Smith had that feeling in mind when she said

Outside Snow’s dingy blanket may still muffle the stirrings of tulips and daffodils, and the pond may still be rimmed with ice. The reward of the garden must wait, but our gardening labors have begun. (“The Potting Shed,” The Traditional Home, March 2002)

Smith celebrates the potting shed, “the room that is as much a workshop to the gardener as the kitchen is to a cook.” She makes reference to the advice of John Claudius Loudon, who in his 1830s An Encyclopaedia of Gardening, recommends that proper potting shed must have light, air and warmth, including “a fireplace never omitted.” Smith’s article pictures two versions of the shed – an impressionistic one where there may not be precise order . . .

Illustration: James Staag, Traditional Home, March 2002
Illustration: James Staag, Traditional Home, March 2002

And one meticulously appointed where there is “a place for everything, and everything in its place,” (229) so says Mr. Barnes of Bicton Gardens writing in the1840s.

Photograph: Curtice Taylor, Traditional Home, March 2002
Photograph: Curtice Taylor, Traditional Home, March 2002

My blog friend Linda Hoye, who moved recently from the Pacific Northwest to Canada, is a gardener extraordinaire. In her blog A Slice of Simple Life she uses plastic gallon jugs for winter sowing:

Winter sowing is placing seeds outside, in the winter, in mini-greenhouses made from things like empty milk jugs. The plastic jugs protect the seeds from harsh weather while allowing the cold to toughen them up during the cold weather. When it gets warm enough inside of the little greenhouses the seeds germinate and become viable outdoor plants sooner than those started indoors because there’s no need to harden off the plants.

When you check out her post, you can see her mini-greenhouse project complete with a photo of the jugs in a tub.

Did I mention that Linda is innovative? Yes, indeed. She gives a blow by blow pictorial account of preparing a worm hotel – indoors. Knowing that worms aerate the soil, she nurtures them as help-mates in the growing process. Even she says, “Eww!” as she mingles coir mix, pumice and finely chopped veggie scraps topped with a damp newspaper before she moves the operation to the garage. Soon she will prayerfully tuck seeds, tiny flecks of hope, into dampened soil. Obviously, Linda has faith that “to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow” (Audrey Hepburn).

And gardener Hoye believes in whimsy too, as her creation of a fairy garden illustrates, anticipating spring in a post entitled “Spring is in the Air.

FairyGardenLHoye

Some Gardening Quotes:

“Outside there is water music as packs of snowflakes melt into water drops, merge into rivulets, trickle into puddles, then subside into pools and streams. The garden is mud, but no matter. Soon it will drain and dry in the strengthening sun.”  ~ “The Potting Shed,” The Traditional Home (March 2002)

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.“~ Margaret Atwood in Bluebeard’s Egg (1986)


In March 1985 my farmer parents, Mother and Daddy Longenecker, left wintry Pennsylvania and visited Florida where they couldn’t wait to get their hands into the soil. Soil that nourishes citrus trees, azaleas, and camellias is not necessarily good for hardy Lancaster County plantings. Daddy took one look at the sandy soil in my sister Jan’s huge back yard and ordered a load of chicken manure. After working it into the ground, he and Mother scored straight rows for planting.

Mother Ruth Longenecker sowing seeds in Florida
Mother Ruth Longenecker sowing seeds in Florida

Do you have gardening tricks or stories about gardening to share? Here’s your chance!

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44 thoughts on “The Potting Shed and Other Marvels

  1. My husband and I were having the same conversation you and your brother were having the other day–rain, sleet, and snow. We’re longing for spring here, and the first tiny buds blooming on trees and popping through the soil. I am not a gardener, and I don’t enjoy it, but I do love to see gardens!

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    1. My brother lives west of Philadelphia close to Lancaster, so I guess that would explain the similar weather. The women folk in our family always loved to go to the flower show in Philly. They all had green thumbs. Mine is probably more chartreuse, and I don’t grow vegetables. 🙂 Happy Saturday to you, Merril!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My mother-in-law sent us home with bags of veggies, more than we could eat. “What do I do with all the extra? We’ll never eat all this?”
    “Give it away,” was her response.
    Silly me back in my late 20’s and early 30’s. So I took the more than we could eat cabbage, carrots, squash, tomatoes, green beans, black-eyed peas, onions, and greens to our neighbors, Sunday school class and of course, the school teacher’s lounge.

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    1. Sharing is caring, as you demonstrate. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t appreciate fresh, homegrown veggies – or fruit. Right now I’m doing the same thing with the hundreds of grapefruit on our tree in the front yard. If we were closer, I’d share some with you too, Georgette.

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  3. Thanks so much for referencing A Slice of Simple Life today, Marian. I am getting used to the Canadian spring here in British Columbia and remembering how long it takes to warm up sufficiently before we can start digging in the dirt compared to the beautiful early springs we enjoyed in the Pacific Northwest. Nevertheless the worms are busy creating compost in the Worm Hotel and I will be starting seeds indoors in a few days. (How I love the potting shed illustrations you showed!)

    I love your referring to seeds as “tiny flecks of hope”; that is exactly what they are! I suspect your mother and daddy saw them that way too. 🙂

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    1. Thanks for much for your contribution to today’s post, Linda. There would be a big “hole” without your rich tidbits. The Traditional Home article I referred to also suggested to me that gardeners assist in birth/re-birth, sort of like mid-wives. Springtime makes some of us want to “labor” in the dirt, and I’m sure you would agree. Thanks again, Linda.

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  4. Oh, Marian! I love gardening. We USED to have a nice big garden. Sometimes I regretted having such a big one, like in between planting and harvesting time, when the weeds flourished! At planting time, it was never big enough! At harvesting time, reaping the produce was so delicious and money-saving! Now we live in the middle of the woods! I’ve made many feeble attempts to grow a few tomato plants, some strawberries and rhubarb. I’ve given up. Your post brought back such wonderful memories! Thank you, once again, for sharing! 🙂

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    1. Well, Anita, we all have phases in our lives. My mother had a garden, my grandma had two gardens she kept going at once in her younger years, and we all had the tomato patch, 9 acres of corn + tomatoes close to a village about 5 miles away. In other words, we always had our hands in the dirt too.

      When our children were young our house in the suburbs had a sunny space in the back where we could plant tomatoes and beans, but now there are so many oak trees, it’s not worth the effort. I’m guessing you have neighbors or even children close by who can supply you with fresh produce. Yes, wonderful memories. Thanks for sharing yours.

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  5. I love thinking of your parents yearning to get their hands in the soil, and what a wonderful photo of your mother with the prepared rows.

    I’m looking forward to being in Fresno, CA, at the Mennonite Writers’ gathering this coming week, with themes of Movement, Transformation and Place. I’ll be reading a short piece that involves my love affair with soil.

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      1. Thanks, Marian, I’ll check it out.

        The Mennonite Writers group meets every 3 years, usually hosted by a Mennonite university. The last one was in Harrisonburg, VA, at your alma mater.

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  6. I´m not much of a gardener, which is strange as I grew up on a farm. Mom enjoyed gardening though although it was for practical purposes. I enjoy container gardening and had a lovely outdoor area in Vancouver, BC which pretty much looked after itself.

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    1. At my age, gardens that require low maintenance are appealing to me too. I believe it’s called zero-scaping. (Not sure I have the right word, but get the idea.) Thanks for stopping by to comment today, Darlene.

      Maybe you can have some container “gardens” in Spain one day.

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  7. We have a 20×40 plot to plant our veggies. I like to think that I’m a Gardner because I buy the the things to plant and tell my husband where to plant them after he cleans and prepares the soil. I also buy the flowers that I want planted along my walk and the flower pots in front and on our deck now those I plant because my husband would rather put a little bit of flowers where I love a lot of them blooming and the great scent in the evening of petunias. Yet with all that, I love the grey skies rainy day cold snowy days early nights. Summer wears me down winter and grey days lift me up. Yes very weird I know. That’s how it is. I love the picture of mom in the garden oh the memories of mom in her garden and canning such great memories for this city girl who now loves the country living and simple life.
    Gloria

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    1. Yes, you ARE a gardener, Gloria, but I see from your comments you are also the boss. Somehow I don’t think your husband minds your suggestions too much, knowing a little about his easy-going ways. Thanks always for your entertaining stories!

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  8. I love the assortment of pictures, Marian. The “feeling” reminds me of my Brethren grandmother’s potting shed where we “started” plants and lined the long window ledge with the carefully planted seeds of our gardening dreams.
    I remember the rich scent of the shed, the mixture of rich moist soil and a special, fine mulch my grandfather taught us to blend with the soil.
    We sang songs as we worked in the shed, and my oldest cousin read to us from the ANNE OF GREEN GABLES books.

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    1. All the senses were engaged in your grandmother’s potting shed, even taste, if only to be anticipated. Your description sounds like a shimmering image in a movie. Marylin. Anne of Green Gables tops it off, a book grand-daughter Jenna and I want to read together this summer. Thank you for a lovely flash back to a gentler time. Love it!

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  9. I love other people’s gardens. It’s been decades since I helped my Mom pull weeds around the tomato plants and potato plants. I loved the fruits of the labor, but not the work itself. Mom also canned a lot food. The tomatoes that weren’t immediately put into sandwiches and salads became tomato sauce or tomato juice.

    The impressionistic painting of the shed is gorgeous. It looks more real to me. No shed is ever that neat. 😉

    Having lived in Central New York, I’m not one of the ones put off by overcast skies. I think Syracuse’s reputation, weather-wise, was 85 percent cloud cover. 😉

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    1. You always see the glass half (3/4?) full whether the sky is sunny or overcast. I like that about you, Judy!

      I side with you on garden upkeep unless it’s flowers. Then I don’t mind too much the work involved. Your mother sounds just like mine especially during the summer: cooking, canning, freezing: she never let up!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Marian — I really liked the “place for everything and everything in its place” potting shed photo, but I especially enjoyed the photo of the wee faerie garden! I’m going to have to head over to Linda Hoye’s blog, she sounds like someone I’d like to get to know better.

    You asked, “Do you have gardening tricks or stories about gardening to share?”

    No green thumb here, it’s fortunate that my best friend, Sandi, is a certified Master Gardener. My trick? I live vicariously through her!

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    1. Newly retired, Linda likes the home arts but also photography. She makes everything sound easy, even if there is a degree of skill involved. Yes, her blog is like a breath of fresh air.

      Living vicariously in the gardening world sounds dreamy, Laurie. That’s what I like about books too. Thanks for your sage advice!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. If you ever read my messages on Laurie ‘s blog, you will probably know that we have been building a house in West Wales, for the last three years and now we have what I call a three quarter house ( because it’s 3/4 finished. ) We now have a blank canvas as a garden, that I want to fill will everything I can get my hands on, but we have a lot of shade because of large trees( and I hate felling trees) and a lot of wind off the sea …sooooo if anyone can give me advice on what to plant I am all ears . At the moment I have one big tub of daffodils …great for putting a smile on anyone’s face.
    Cherryx

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    1. My patio garden gets lots of shade, and I find begonias and impatiens like the moisture and dim light. I also have a nice bush with pink flowers on it that likes shade also, but I don’t know the name just now. The next time I go to a garden shop, I’ll have to inquire. Best wishes with your “blank canvas” – a garden description that suggests so many possibilities.

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  12. Although Florida is warm most of the time, I have vicariously experienced winter because so many of my blog friends and family have been beaten down by blizzards. Spring and the garden beckons. Thanks, Debby!

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  13. I enjoyed A Slice of Simple LIfe’s advice for starting hardy plants. I used to start tomato plants but find it to be a lot of messy work–especially without a lovely potting shed. I always associate them with English gardens! The photo I like most here is of your mother (and father) trying to make north Florida soil produce like Lancaster Co. or (in my case) Indiana. Mom and Dad tried to raise a typical Indiana garden in Fla. but soon gave that up. 🙂

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    1. Again, there are quite a few parallels in our lives, most probably because we are both from German/Swiss Mennonite farmer stock.

      I’m glad you enjoyed Linda Hoye’s blog posts. You and she have similar interests too.

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  14. I love both gardening cum potting sheds for different reasons. The bright one for its window light flooding scene almost an ode to spring and the other for golden wooden tones comforting in its warmth as Autumn….both are preparation seasons too 🙂

    Your mother sowing her seeds full of hope just as many before and after her have done….love the quote ” tiny flecks of hope”

    Thanks again for a lovely stroll through your blog post and then the extra treat of comments where we can wander even further 🙂

    Alexa-asimplelife visiting from Sydney, Australia

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  15. Thank you for this today. The sun is shining and slowly burning off a dense fog, and the snow is melting around the edges. I’m dreaming of Spring and getting my hands in my own soil to root out the weeds and watch for those first sprouts of life! I’d love a “potting shed”!

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  16. In just a little over a week the calendar will declare that it’s officially spring. I hope your climate will mirror that declaration. Maybe some day we’ll both have a true potting shed. Until then, I’ll cope with having a corner of my laundry room. Small blessings!

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  17. SAD in FL? I’m amazed. After record cold here for months, we’re having a March melt. It’s mud season, birds are singing, red and squirrels dig under the bird feeder to see what they can find, and the deer come out looking for grazing spots where the snow has melted. It’s too early for the potting shed here (my garden is still under snow), but I have young Brugmansia (Angel Trumpets) plants in light-filled windows, rooting in potting soil. As soon as the weather warms, I’ll get them outside. I also have geraniums and Christmas (Easter?) cactus blooming. I love the photo of your mom in the garden. Spring will come.

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    1. Ha! The phrase was “. . . north of the Florida latitude.” No, Florida lives up to its name most days as The Sunshine State.” I’m glad you are reveling in the sights and sounds of pre-spring in New York, holding so much hope and promise.

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  18. Marian,
    Reading your posts take me back to Bossler church days.
    I just came in from several hours weeding my carrots, beets, lettuce, kale, collards, swiss chard.and spinach. No spray of any kind goes on my garden. Harvested the first spinach yesterday and it is sooo much better than store-bought. I love gardening, have a huge one, share some with cityfolk where I go to church and sell corn to friends. Oh, my family of 4 also get veggies. They help with the planting, rototilling, and weeding too.

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    1. My heart leaps with joy at seeing your name here today. You are carrying on a wonderful tradition with healthy planting and eating. I can picture your family farm and my Grandma Longenecker’s and your Grandma Kathryn’s garden where I probably ate more strawberries than I gathered. (I feel ashamed just writing this – ha!

      I write about Bossler folks quite often, most recently here about my dad’s bachelor trip to Florida: https://plainandfancygirl.com/2015/05/20/plates-of-remembrance/

      Thanks for commenting here. Do visit often.

      Like

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