May 14, 2013

Remember What You Love: Deep Friendship and Thriving Plants

with Dotty Motheral
with Dotty Motheral
with Dotty Motheral

“Do something you used to love, even if you don’t care about it right now,” my son David advised the spring after his dad died. “Then something you always loved will be waiting for you.”

Gardening has calmed and nurtured me since my dad and I planted onions and radishes in the backyard when I was in the seventh grade, but as the weather warmed this spring, I passively watched weeds consume my favorite perennial garden. Lilies tried to force their way through the grass mat, but I didn’t have the will to help them out.

Then in late April, my friend Dotty Motheral, a master gardener in the northeast and the desert, arrived from Arizona. Until the mid 1990’s, Dotty lived seven miles north of my place. She and I worked in her husband’s chiropractic office and our sons were best buddies. We bought bulbs from White Flower Farm every fall and filled our properties with daffodils, hyacinth, scylla, and other deer-proof flowers. In late winter Dotty started seedlings under grow lights before moving them to a cold frame in the spring. She shared sweet pepper plants in chocolate, red, yellow, and apricot hues and a wide variety of hots. We held taste tests for tomatoes, trying new types each year. She studied Johnny’s Seed Catalog and discovered the summer lettuce Nancy, still my favorite. We celebrated each variety that thrived and dumped the ones that didn’t.

gardening with Willow
with Willow (photo by Dorothy Motheral)

During her visit, Dotty worked on the land she still owns here. She began a reclamation plan to bring back overgrown areas, open trails, plant new trees, and clear out sick ones. One afternoon, we visited her land together, followed deer trails, circled the pond, and admired widespread daffodils beds and clear inviting water. She showed me a site where she imagines a tiny summer home.

For more than a week, we ate breakfast together. In the evening, we walked in my woods and cooked vegetarian meals. One warm afternoon, we pulled, tugged, and nagged at resistant grass roots and wild morning glory vines in my perennial beds and gave the lilies a chance. Another evening, we hauled straw, laid out mulch pathways in my vegetable garden and planted onions, snow peas, four varieties of spring lettuce and rainbow chard. Just as Dotty taught me, I labeled the lettuce beds with permanent marker on wooden Popsicle sticks to keep track of the most tender and sweet. I love Blushed Butter Oaks, but still experiment with other spring lettuces from Fedco Seeds. We bent wire hoops over each bed and covered them with plastic mesh to keep birds from pulling out onions and to keep rabbits and deer from grazing after the greens and peas sprout.

I planned where summer crops will go for best rotation. We tested the soil with my 30 year old kit and learned it is too sweet for tomatoes, so I hope for a better crop this year after I acidify the soil. Once again, I remembered that I thrive on gardening and deep old friendship. Dotty photographed everything she found beautiful—the whole natural world, that is, and Willow and me.


What can you count on to make you happy? What do you love? I hope you enjoy vegetarian recipes using summer vegetables from the garden or a piece about my first gardening teacher, The Crone of Cayuga Lake.


  1. May 17, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    Robin Botie


    Your words made me remember how good it feels to pick fresh lettuce. The tender moist tissue that I gently tear from the cool soil. I’m not a gardener myself but it warms me to see things grow.

    1. May 18, 2013 at 8:02 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Yes, the feel, look, and taste of lettuce straight from the garden. If I could only grow one vegetable, lettuce would be it–as long as I can grow all these varieties and all these colors from bronze to pale jade. Thanks for remembering with me. We need rain! Elaine

  2. May 16, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    Lynne Taetzsch


    Thank you, Elaine, for so eloquently sharing the joys of nurturing and nurturing friendship.


    1. May 16, 2013 at 2:56 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      I am fortunate to live in a beautiful place and have old beautiful friendships that have weathered many storms. Thanks for writing, Lynne.

  3. May 15, 2013 at 2:09 am

    Lauren C. Banner


    Is it because I know you two, having eaten fresh food from your gardens, swam in Dotty’s large, clean and loosestrife haloed pond, that I love this piece/blog so much?

    I think not.
    It is a beautiful shot of an old friendship grounded in the earth and in warmth and care for each other.

    I have wanted to know the name of your favorite lettuce, but kept forgetting to ask and here it is, “Nancy”. I like the specificity in your story.

    I think of myself as a gardener and yet I did not know the birds pulled the onions out. I have not seen that before. I just separated mine. I will watch closely.
    You test your soil. Hmm, I am no gardener really. I never test my soil.
    I think I will start. I know it makes a difference.

    As for what makes me happy?

    Recently it has been hanging with my 21 yr. old daughter. And getting into all kinds of essences: the oil of plants, colors in fine gems, and a quiet expanse in the mind.

    I am happy every time I see my love’s face.

    I get happy when I see the riot of saturated color of the zinnia’s next to the many shades of snapdragons next to the orange calendula in my garden.
    I get happy when I see the deep dark red lettuce next to the purple blue borage next to the yellow coreopsis.
    I get happy when I see the cucumbers next to the lily’s next to the cosmos.

    My mother at 89 still engaged in life, full of vigor, opinions and a great spirit. My sister, so much laughter together. This makes me happy.

    It makes me happy to dance to music that moves me.

    But what can I ・count・ on to make me happy?
    Nothing. Because nothing stays the same.
    I can count on understanding that.
    The side effects of counting on change, is an appreciation for the moment.
    And O what a moment each one is.
    A miracle really.

    1. May 15, 2013 at 8:07 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Beautiful, Lauren. All of it, and especially counting only on change. This week a rose breasted grosbeak showed at my birdfeeder, singing his song. My grosbeak. Mine. Mine. Then the next day, I found him dead on the back porch, splayed on his back exposing his bright red chest and underarms. I sobbed. Mine gone. I buried him. Within two hours, there were two rose breasted grosbeaks singing away, taking possession of the bird feeder. Mine. Mine. Well, maybe not.
      Hadn’t tested that soil in 20 years, but tomato harvest has been skimpy, so sure enough, soil is too sweet. I planted tiny onions–sets and ones that had dried green shoots–and birds pull them out just to see what they are. They never eat them and after a few days of plucking, they leave them alone and I can uncover the bed. Probably depends on your birds. Other favorite hot weather lettuces (all from Fedco Seeds but likely elsewhere, too) are Esmeralda, Pirat, and Speckled Amish (not quite as heat resistant and grows bitter if temps over 90, but so beautiful). Others–Nancy, Esmeralda, and Pirat–hold up amazingly well in heat, tender and sweet.
      So much to love. So much to release. Bought flowers and vegetable plants for the summer garden yesterday. Thriving, growing, producing, diminishing, dying. On we go. Thanks for your gorgeous message. Look forward to celebration time together. E

  4. May 14, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    Patt Wisse



    1. May 15, 2013 at 8:08 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Patt. I imagine your garden growing. We had a hard freeze the other night. I hope the local strawberry crop was spared. Blessings your way, E

  5. May 14, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    jess hoff


    I read every one of your blogs. They never fail to make me shed a tear. Sometimes of joy, sometimes of sadness. But most importantly, your stories constantly remind me of what is truly important. And i thank you

    1. May 15, 2013 at 8:13 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      I’m so moved by your note, Jess. I’m grateful that my blogs touch you and that I can share stories with you in this way. I know the gardens are going in at your home and I know how much family and friends mean to you because I hear about the many happy visits to your home. Thank you. With hugs for all your family, Elaine

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *