May 19, 2016

The Joy of Gardening with a Bonus

By Phyllis Bonfield

My most recent topic has been travel, but with today’s blog I am taking a detour.  I have several areas of special interest and one of them is a lifelong love of gardening learned at my mother’s side while I was growing up.


Happy Gardener

In January, I heard of a volunteer project in my area involving a garden nursery suffering from much deferred maintenance. The owners, an elderly couple, had been in business for fifty years. The husband was bedridden and his wife spent most of her time taking care of him. Money was in short supply. They needed help to get the nursery ready for the 2016 season.

The idea of helping at a nursery was appealing to me and it was the middle of winter. Along with other volunteers, we decided to see how much could be accomplished by the end of March.  On the appointed day, I packed up my garden gloves and tools and headed out.

Fortunately, we had a warmish winter because our first activities were outside and had nothing to do with growing plants.  Invasive vines and sumacs were growing in and outside the four greenhouses and had to be cut down and/or dug up. The greenhouses’ frames were covered with heavy-gauge plastic in need mending. And, the watering and heating systems in three greenhouses needed repair and/or replacement.


Potting soil is ready for planting little “plugs” and other young plants

Rusting and broken equipment littered the nursery’s two acres. Brambles, sumacs and invasive black walnut trees were growing in the nursery’s summer garden. A glasshouse, formerly a floral gift shop, was filled with debris and had missing glass panes. To become a welcoming tea house, it had to be thoroughly cleaned and glass replaced.

In February, the husband died and his wife used working in the greenhouse to help ease the pain of her loss. Soon, I started working in the greenhouse with her and got my hands in the warm potting soil, plus learning more about how to tend young plants.

Little plants grow strong in the heat-controlled greenhouse

Little plants grow strong in the heat-controlled greenhouse

Many plants, especially the vegetables, are grown in a greenhouse from seed. Other plants are supplied by commercial growers. The growers send their nursery clients plastic flats filled with thimble-sized plants called plugs. Before planting, flats are put in a shallow “water bath” to loosen the plug’s roots. Then they are carefully removed and transplanted in plastic pots to grow for sale in the spring. One’s maternal instincts kick caring for these little plants and watching them grow.

Along with several other volunteers, I am continuing to help at the nursery. I enjoy watching the plants grow stronger as more leaves appear and the blooms appear.  I get to put beautiful plants in hanging baskets and other planters. When the flowers, herbs and vegetables are ready for sale, I help take them out to an outdoor greenhouse that is partially covered. I enjoy talking to customers and giving suggestions as they select plants for their own garden.

The Takeaway: Digging in dirt, especially soft, warm potting soil in the waning days of winter felt like a little bit of heaven. Helping the nursery’s owner at a critical time in her life has reinforced for me the value of volunteering one’s time and talent.  My bonus is learning more about plants from an expert and doing something I love.

What have you done, especially if it involves volunteering, that has been especially meaningful for you? Share and let’s start a conversation. Please include your name and email address or phone number so I may contact you for clarification or if I have a question. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]

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Phyllis Bonfield

About Phyllis Bonfield

Phyllis has been writing for publication since she was an editor on her high school newspaper. After graduating with a degree in journalism, she worked for more than 30 years with educational and not for profit organizations in public relations, marketing, conference planning and development. Prior to her retirement in 2004, Phyllis was the marketing & development manager for a Philadelphia-based regional library resource network. She was in charge of web development, publications, membership recruitment and conference and event planning. Phyllis also served as vice president of public relations for an association serving the financial services industry. She directed an award-winning public awareness campaign in conjunction with the American Red Cross. She was also instrumental in developing a campaign to promote business ethics in America that received front page coverage in USA Today and recognition on CNN, ABC and other national news outlets. After she retired, Phyllis waged a personal PR campaign to curb shoreline erosion at her home on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. The project included organizing other shoreline homeowners and Maryland’s elected officials to take on 17 federal, state and local agencies who opposed her property receiving a building permit for revetment. After a two-year effort, she received the first permit on Maryland’s western shore to build a continuous nearshore breakwater. This project paved the way for neighbors to receive similar permits for erosion control. Phyllis has a bachelor of journalism degree from The University of Texas-Austin where she majored in advertising and public relations.