Gardening through years of pain and adversity
by Ronella Stager, Columnist
Oct 31, 2012 | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A reader from The Harrodsburg Herald recently called me and during the conversation, she told me that she imagined me as a little old lady out working in my flowers with my hoe. Since I am not that little old lady, I have decided to tell my readers my life story and how I came to be handicapped and in a wheel chair for the rest of my life.

When I was seventeen, I was in a car wreck and, among my injuries, I had both knees crushed. The repair at that time was an extensive operation and the prognosis was that I would walk for 5 to 10 years and be in a wheel chair the rest of my life. However, with much grit and determination, I walked well for many years. I learned to do most of the things I wanted to do. As with most people with some handicaps, I learned to use the strength in my legs wisely.

After I married, my husband and I settled down in our hometown for a few years and then we moved to several states and several cities within each state, but wherever we moved, I planted gardens. Sometimes the soil was poor and had to be augmented with additives and sometimes, the soil was super rich. Wherever we moved, I always enjoyed gardening. Whenever possible, I moved plants with me if the season permitted. I have left gardens in Minnesota, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky. I always hoped that the next person living wherever I moved from would enjoy my flowers that I had to leave. A few times I was lucky enough to move to a place where another gardener had planted many perennials and shrubs. One such move was to an old farmhouse on the banks of the Saulk River in Minnesota, just before the river empties into the Mississippi River. When the first sprouts began to come up in spring, it was just like Christmas. Each day was a new revelation, a new plant was coming up. I always wondered about the person who had planted all those plants and wished I could thank her, or him.

Another gardener left me many wonderful rose bushes and peonies in most every color along with flowering shrubs and trees. This was in northern Minnesota where the soil is unbelievably rich and such a joy to work with. As I worked in the yard, I thought of the woman who had died and left me all the beautiful plants to care for. When you read about the Red River Valley, that is where I lived and gardened for a few years. It’s the richest soil in the world outside of the Nile Valley.

Eventually we moved back home to Cadiz and after living in two houses, I was able to persuade my husband to buy back the old house in which we had lived once before. The soil is rich and loose in the back yard because once upon a time, people kept a horse and buggy and a cow in their back yards along this street. I even dug up some of the stone foundations of some little barns. That whole big lot became my playhouse. I bought many perennials and kept extending the garden, making pathways among the flowers and eventually that garden spilled over into the front of the house and along the sides. I was having so much fun, working several hours each day in my garden. People actually stopped to tour my gardens. I was able to share bits of any perennial anyone wanted. However, I realize now that I should have restrained myself and done less hard work.

I began to fall sometimes and realized that my years of doing whatever I wanted to do were coming to an end. The last fall was quite painful and I began to think of letting my gardening years come to an end. But not quite yet! I worked for a while using a cane or a hoe for balance but even that was coming to an end.

I am fortunate to have learned other skills than gardening and during long winters, I sewed my clothes, pieced and quilted many quilts, knitted and crocheted, and did many other needlework projects. As my legs became less strong and the falls more frequent, I began to plan for the future years without gardening.

I had by-pass heart surgery in 2007 and knew the time had come, as it does to all of us. My bad knees and my age plus a bad heart just convinced me to let my plants go. I called my nephew in Chicago, a big-time gardener, and he came with a van and dug up plants for three days. Then I gave my gardening daughter-in-law whatever she wanted. Then I called my friends to come dig up the rest. I determined that I wouldn’t let myself grieve over what could not be. I even told my sister and friends that I was ready to let my gardening go. But the truth was that I sat in my kitchen window, looking out at the bare backyard, and cried my heart out. Then I picked myself up, dusted myself off and went on to other things.

Gardening is still a big part of my life even though it’s only through writing and sharing with others the things which I learned through experience and studying.

I finally had a fall in 2009 which ended any hope that I would ever garden again. I broke my femur in several places and the bones separated and never healed. I have a titanium rod which runs from my knee to my hip bone, which also broke off completely. I tried using a walker and that was not successful so now I am wheelchair bound and have been since 2009.

I often think that life is a journey. It is meant to be enjoyed all along the way. Sometimes we have to make a detour and sometimes we are on unfamiliar roads but we can think either how we miss that old road or we can take a look around us and see new and interesting things. I feel that I have made the most of things as they are. But I am still a gardener at heart.

As of now, I am making several loaves of sourdough bread each week for family and friends. I am also starting making some baby afghans for future great-grandchildren when and if. And I will continue with the column as long as readers want to read them. And, after that, who knows what new adventures I will think of.

I am grateful for your kind words in phone calls. Please feel free to call at 270-522-3632 and if you want one of my books, send a check for $13.50 to Ronella Stagner, 137 Main St., Cadiz, KY 42211.
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