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Silver Threads: Garden lover not so keen on gardening

Last February, when we had a houseguest in from Minnesota and a winter that was a little colder, I hated for her to see New Orleans at its ugliest — brown grass, bare trees except for raggedy looking evergreens, and not much color in the landscape anywhere; the showy azaleas had yet to bloom.

I was thinking about that last week as I drove around town. February is the dreariest month, and it seems as though your mood gets as dull as the foliage. But come March, and it has, things seem to grow up and green up and bud up overnight. The plants that I pruned back in October and November have put out new shoots that appear to grow a few inches every day — and every time I turn my back on them. This weekend or the next, local nurseries and big-box-store garden departments will be crowded with folks planning their spring plantings. They intimidate me.

I’m not much of a gardener, although I try to maintain a neat and fairly attractive yard. I see to it that the mulching and weeding and trimming are done, shrubs that I can’t seem to cure of diseases are replaced, those that need more sun or shade are moved, water and fertilizer are applied, and mostly choose flowering plants that are easy to care for.

I have four camellia bushes that bloom profusely no matter what, and a big, beautiful azalea and a little one that I mistakenly thought would grow to be big. Ever heard of dwarf azaleas? My three rose bushes are the kind that flower all the time and extravagantly, but I cut them back in November when they threatened to take over the back porch and although they’re growing back well, they have no buds as yet.

The bougainvilla that my husband doesn’t like because it grew so large that it blocked his view of the park behind our house, is growing again despite being cut down when one of our longest-lasting freezes of two years ago seemed to have killed it.

My gardening is done with the help of my housekeeper, who could stick a yardstick into the ground and coax orchids to sprout from it. This is why I don’t get too close to the soil: Several years back I bought about 50 of those foot-long bricks — convex on one end and concave on the other — that fitted together make a nice edging for flower beds. I had placed about 15 of them in a little trench I was digging as I went, when I decided to stand up — and couldn’t.

Pain shot up from my knees into my back, and I crawled across our small yard to the porch steps, up onto and across it to the back door, whose frame and knob gave me the support to enable me to rise — very slowly. After three days on the heating pad, I asked Mary, a spry 63-year-old whose vocation has kept her fit, to finish the brick-laying job. It looks great.

My own vocation, alas, didn’t put me in shape for yard work, but I’ve bragged that I’ll never need a knee replacement, because I’ve hardly used mine at all.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of The Times Picayune Living section, for which she wrote Silver Threads until her retirement. Email her at


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