The Brown Thumb Struggles On

Kate Flora: Confessing that today, with so much chaos in the country, I am finding it hard to write. Hard to think because I have no focus. I have nothing to say about writing, wouldn’t touch politics with a barge pole, and yet the calendar says it is my turn to blog here at MCW.

What do you do when things are so overwhelming that they disable your focus? I tend to do one of three things. I cook, I visit my favorite second-hand shop and scout out bargains, or I go out to the garden. My favorite shop is still shuttered due to the virus. If I cook it, I am going to have to eat it, and I’m already working on my Covid-19 pounds, so it is off to the garden I trot.

I should stop and say here that I am the brown thumb (the gardening equivalent of black Kate Flora - Maine Mulch Murder- Cover1asheep) in my family. My mother was a garden writer who in her 80’s wrote about mysteries where her protagonist was woman with large Maine gardens. My father had a degree from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture. My brother John gardens like a fiend, and my late sister Sara, like my father, could hold out her hand and plants would jump to meet her like an eager pet. I, on the other hand, am the queen of invasives. I can grow the things other people eagerly give away. My ineptitude doesn’t stop me from trying, though. I just joke that I don’t have a green thumb, I have a green credit card.

First, because I thought it would be cool, as I step out into the garden, I try out a new app called Plant Snap to see if it can identify a plant I love but have forgotten the name of. Alas, Plant Snap strikes out three times. Ah well. There are plenty of other garden-related things to do. Before I dig in, I usually walk the yard, making mental notes of what most needs to be done.

Then I dig into weeding–an endless battle with Gout Weed or Bishop’s Weed, which is everywhere or I embark on a game I call “musical plants” because it involves moving things around because I, or they, have put them in the wrong places.

This is part of what I saw on my walk around:



I actually have two sets of gardens, and so I get to play even more musical plants. At the oceanside cottage, I planted Ladybells because I loved them in my mother’s and grandmother’s gardens. Alas, because of my talent for raising invasive plants, I now have Ladybells (Adenophora) choking out everything else, so I will transplant some of them to my other garden, and dig up some of the hardy ageratum–lovely periwinkle blue and blooms in September, to take to my cottage garden.


Centranthus on a wall in France

Gardening, it seems to me, is an endless set of decisions. There’s a tiny purple weigela that is being dwarfed by Centranthus Ruber, newly introduced because I saw the centranthus blooming on a tall rock wall during a barge cruise in France last year. Now it has grown tall and the little wiegelia is very unhappy, pressed on the other side by Russian sage. Keeping plants happy is a perpetual challenge. What will grow tall and overwhelm a smaller plant? What is supposed to be in that bare spot where something was eaten over the winter? Why on earth did I decide to plant huge grasses that would need the strength of ten to dig out? What will bloom in September and October when most things are done? (My answer is chrysanthemums, ageratum, and a frothy planting of anemones.)

My spring garden is subtle–after the daffodils, I get delicate purple stalks of my favorite cranesbill geranium, Mourning Widow, and then pink cranesbills. Later, the trailing blue of cranesbill Roxanne (or Jolly Bee) will wind itself through the garden, a lovely contrast to the bright yellow (and very aggressive) evening primrose and anything that’s pink or yellow.

Despite the brown thumb, scratched arms, and occasional tick, I seem to be unsatisfied with too many beds to care for, and always have to have colorful planters as well And then there is my daylily addiction. As I’ve written here before, gardening is very valuable for a writer. The meditative quality of garden lets me plot, just as the challenges of the garden plot teach me to slow down, calm down, and be present. And when I’m present, despite the chaos of the world, I can see my story more clearly and figure out what happens next.


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2 Responses to The Brown Thumb Struggles On

  1. Mom would approve. I have some scarlet runner bean plants if you want a few. The flowers are amazing, hummingbirds and bees adore them and the beans taste pretty good (not to mention you can save seeds for next year).

  2. kaitlynkathy says:

    I have to say that doesn’t sound like a brown thumb to me. I manage to kill every plant I have, with the exception of the forget-me-nots that originally came from my mother’s garden (she was a huge success with rock gardens and borders in our front yard in New York State). They come up on their own, along with the hardy day lilies that were here when we bought our house. If it wasn’t for those “naturalized” flowers, I wouldn’t have anything growing here but grass and weeds. Great photos!

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