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Such Sweet Sorrow

August 28, 2010

The first bloom of Hemerocallis Sandra Elizabeth (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) I consider Maine home. It is the place I love most, the place where I own a house, and the place where I (mostly) garden. For more than twenty years, however, my legal residence has been Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where I teach and where I live part of the year in a rented townhouse with a small garden. So in late August, I must drive away from my garden in Maine to head back to Gettysburg for the beginning of the school year. I’m always sad to leave.

Last year, when I stayed in Maine through the year, on a research sabbatical with a release from teaching, I noticed that not much is going on in my garden there after late August, and I took some steps to change this. In a few years, I will be retiring from my academic position and living in Maine year-round; and in preparation, I want to create a garden that will bring me pleasure through as much of the year as possible. I added some plants here and there that would bloom into the fall, and I designated the new fence border as a place where I would concentrate fall blooms. Among the plants I included there are three fall-blooming daylilies, Autumn Minaret, Sandra Elizabeth, and Final Touch (see Extending the Daylily Season). These should bloom well into September along with Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne,’ a tall sedum, and morning glories growing on the garden fence.

This year, I thought it would be a bit easier to drive away in late August, as many of my plants slowed down their blooms in response to our extended drought. But then, just before I was due to leave, daylily ‘Sandra Elizabeth’ opened her first bud in the fence border, the first little flowers opened on sedum ‘Matrona,’ clematis ‘Madame de Bouchaud’ began to bloom again on the fence, and the morning glory vines were suddenly full of tiny flower buds. All this new activity increased the sorrow of parting, but it was also a sweet promise for the future.

On the morning of my departure, after the car was all packed and I had double checked that the stove was shut off and all the windows were closed and locked, I went out to the garden and cut a few stems of sweet-smelling white phlox, some just-opening flowers of rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne,’ some goldenrod, and some sweet fern. I tucked all of these into a tall plastic container with a few inches of water in the bottom, put that inside a plastic bag, and wedged the whole package in among the houseplants that were traveling back with me. During this first week back in Gettysburg, the sight and scent of these flowers from my Maine garden have eased the sorrow of parting and the transition back to my life in Pennsylvania.

25 Comments leave one →
  1. August 28, 2010 8:51 am

    I am sad too, realising I will have to get used to reading your posts less often. Wonder when you will be able to give us feedback on your Blotanical research. You must feel a little disconcerted having to adjust to changes in your life. But your teaching muscles will enjoy going into action again.

  2. August 28, 2010 8:59 am

    Jean, I can certainly relate to your feelings. Leaving teaching is a similar feeling especially if you have enjoyed it for a long time. Your garden will be going to sleep soon, so you will certainly enjoy being back with your students.


  3. August 28, 2010 9:24 am

    Jean, I guess you are in your townhouse now. I hope it gives you joy to think of your garden still blooming and offering nectar to migrating birds and butterflies, as they head south too. It is poetic to think of it there alive and still beautiful … our gardens live without us for awhile… there is something very poignant and important about that. You have helped make your corner in Maine more lovely and it is a habitat with you there and while you are away. Have a great year teaching. I hope you have delightful students. Another sort of cultivating will demand your time over the next months. I am sure your students are happy for your return. ;>)

  4. August 28, 2010 10:26 am

    Another lovely post, Jean;-) I have been reading them all through email deliveries, just not commenting on every one. I wonder how your garden/yard in ME does for the rest of the year without you there?! You must have someone come in and cut the grass, etc. I hope you’ll have a wonderful school year and enjoy being back to teaching again. I really wish I’d known about Women’s Studies when I was younger and in college…I might have chosen it as a major! I hope you are doing well since your mother’s passing.

  5. August 28, 2010 11:11 am

    I can understand your sorrow at leaving, especially as your flowers in the garden will continue on for a while. Maybe you need a Maine Garden webcam so you don’t miss the show 😛 However, I’m actually excited to read about your garden in Pennsylvania too, once you get settled in of course, as I know how hectic the start of the school year can be!

  6. August 28, 2010 12:40 pm

    Jean, your garden will wait for you. Can you visit it at least once in a while? I understand your sadness. But this is a good sadness, when you have something dear and beautiful to be sad about. And there is something to return to. I wish youto have an interesting academic year. Take care of your students. Now, they are your plants!

  7. August 28, 2010 12:54 pm

    Jean – there is such heart in your posts. I can’t imagine having to walk away from such a serene sanctuary – but then stepping away for a while must really make it ‘home’ when you return!

    Nurturing students has a ‘garden’ feel to it… provocative thought process certainly ‘grows’ minds! Be well!! –Shyrlene

  8. sequoiagardens permalink
    August 28, 2010 3:03 pm

    I have over 45 unopened emails, Jean, including some for your blog; blogging has had to take a back seat of late. But when I saw the title I knew it was the ‘back to Gettysburg’ post I had been anticipating for some weeks. May it be a good academic year!

  9. August 28, 2010 5:01 pm

    I enjoy reading your posts very much — this one especially. All the best wishes for a wonderful semester,

  10. August 28, 2010 9:56 pm

    So sad Jean, but wonderful to know that it won’t be terribly long before it is your year round residence. The recent additions for fall interest will certainly pay off. It’s wonderful that you were able to take a few blooms along for the move.

  11. patientgardener permalink
    August 29, 2010 7:57 am

    I find it interesting that some people move between two homes. There seem to be a number of garden bloggers who do this. It must be hard to create a garden when it is left to its own devices for so much of the year but exciting to see how it is when you return. Do you garden the small garden in Gettysburg?

  12. August 29, 2010 11:18 am

    Your lovely post and poignant words touch my heart, Jean. How truly difficult it must be to leave your garden… I feel that when I leave for just a few days. You must find some comfort in the opportunity you are granted to teach and in effect allow your students minds opportunity “to bloom”. Bless you sweet lady. May you find joy in this portion of your journey.

  13. August 29, 2010 10:41 pm

    Thanks for the mention in your Blogs of the Month. I wish you the best in Gettysburg.

  14. August 29, 2010 11:44 pm

    Oh, I am sorry that you have to leave your Maine garden! But maybe with all the school responsibilities and activities, the small garden you have in Gettysburg will be just enough. There are times I fantasize of having a small place with just a little garden to tend. It could be very nice!

  15. August 30, 2010 1:08 am

    P.S – I wanted to let you know I put a link to your blog in my latest post.

    I took a trip down ‘memory lane’ and talked about the ‘Blogosphere’. I included garden blogs have inspired me – and you were 1st on my list… 😀

  16. gardeningasylum permalink
    August 30, 2010 7:44 am

    Hi Jean, your post captures the bittersweet feeling of fall, as things are ending, and in the case of academia, also beginning. I love that you were able to bring a few blooms with you for the trip!

  17. August 30, 2010 11:14 pm

    Hello Everyone, Thank you all so much for your kind and supportive comments. I loved all the analogies of teaching with gardening; and as I met many of my students for the first time today, I realized how true it is — that nurturing young minds and getting to watch them grow and bloom is much of what I love about teaching.

    Diana, I am continuing to work on the Blotanical research. I will finish recording the 2-month activity data for my second wave of new Blotanists near the end of September, and then I’ll be able to do some analysis. End of October might be a realistic date for me to have an update.

    Jan, I actually don’t do anything about my garden in Maine while I’m away. I’m fairly isolated at the end of my dirt road so it doesn’t really matter if the grass gets a bit long and things start to look raggedy. As Eileen pointed out, the garden there will be going to sleep soon; it is typically under snow from late November or early December until April. It’s actually in PA that I have to hire people to mow (and water) while I’m away in the summer.

    Tatyana, I do get back to Maine fairly often, almost once a month. In September and October, I often arrive to find things blooming in the garden (depending on how early frost comes). This year, I’m hoping for a late enough frost so that I’ll get to see all those morning glories blooming on the fence when I’m there in late September. I usually arrive after dark, so it’s exciting to rush out at first light the next morning to see what’s happening in the garden.

    Rebecca, I am very much looking forward to being able to live in Maine and tend that garden year-round.

    Helen, I do tend the small garden in Gettysburg. One of the things that attracted me to this rental when I moved in here almost 10 years ago was the opportunity to have a garden; it meant that I didn’t have to deal with complete garden withdrawal during the school year. A couple of flower beds had already been created by a previous tenant, and I put plants in them as soon as I moved in. Over the next few years, I managed to create a few more flower beds, including one fairly large one that occupies the space created when the landlord had to take down a couple of pine trees.

    Clare, I will write some kind of introduction to/overview of this garden soon.

    Deb, You are absolutely right that this small garden is just the right size for me to manage during the busy academic year. I can keep up with it and not feel overwhelmed by it.

    Shyrlene, Thanks so much for being my one-woman cheerleading squad; I needed that this week!

    Cyndy, Bittersweet is exactly the right word to describe my feelings about the beginning of the school year. Because I’ve been in school almost as long as I can remember (almost 60 years!!), I always associate fall with the exhilaration of new beginnings, so that usually balances the need to leave my Maine garden. (The exhilaration part was less true this year, just because it was such a difficult year for me and I was coming back feeling exhausted rather than refreshed and renewed.)

    Meredehuit, Your description of hating to leave the garden even for a few days resonated for me. Since I’ve had a serious garden, I’ve been much less inclined do take vacations during the gardening season.

  18. August 31, 2010 10:58 am

    Jean, I’m so glad you were able to take some blooms with you as you traveled to PA. It must feel like you’re leaving a little piece of yourself behind when you leave your garden in the fall, but knowing that it will be resting under all that snow for most of the time surely helps. And then it springs back to life when you return!

  19. August 31, 2010 10:58 pm

    How wonderful that you were able to transport some of your Maine garden to ease your drive and transition to Pennsylvania. Just another example of the comfort of homegrown blossoms.

  20. September 1, 2010 9:28 am

    Hi Jean – Seems like your head is in Gettysburg but your heart is in Maine. The sadness in this post reminds me of days when I had to leave home to return to boarding school – always took some kind of memento with me, rather like your bouquet. My sister lives in Maine and tells me how cold and quiet it becomes but always beautiful.


    p.s. Bet your students will be glad to have you back though

  21. September 1, 2010 10:29 am

    Jean, maybe those plants blooming right when you left were saying a fond farewell to you. I can understand your reluctance to leave your garden – we can’t even really bring ourselves to go on vacation anymore now that we’ve found such bliss in our garden. Good luck with teaching.

  22. September 2, 2010 12:04 am

    I could not imagine leaving my garden for more than a quick vacation. I feel your pain!

    But I’m sure you’ll have a good start to the school year, with your energies recharged in the rare way only a garden can do for you. And just think–Now that you have a blog, you can just look up your posts and relive some of the great moments of your garden.

  23. September 2, 2010 7:23 am

    Jean, I fell your pain. I go through a lot of the same feelings with Kilbourne Grove. I have missed my tree peony flowering every year since I planted it! However it is so exciting to go through the garden in excruciating detail when you visit it for the first time in a couple of weeks, you notice every little detail. Glad you get back once or twice through the fall, and winter, you might as well be in Gettysburg anyway.

  24. September 2, 2010 4:53 pm

    Sad to come and go. It is interesting that here in England August really is the haitus in the summer plant calendar. As a designer and gardener, it is also the deadest time for activity. Breath held while thistle down takes off and plans are held of until the school rentre.

  25. September 2, 2010 5:47 pm

    I hope it’s a good teaching year for you, Jean. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be in two different locations as you are; last year my four month stint in a ‘real’ job where I had to be away from home all week nearly did me in. But you are obviously used to it and it’s all part of your working career. As always, I’ll look forward to your posts as you have time.

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