Category Archives: Gardening

Gardening, Larry McMurtry and Henry David Thoreau

One of my all-time favorite novels is “Duane’s Depressed” by Larry McMurtry. I’ve re-read it enough times to have it practically memorized. At the beginning of the book,
the title character is in his early 60’s and is the owner of a small oil company in Texas. One day he comes to the realization that he can no longer tolerate his current lifestyle. He decides that he has spent way too many decades of his life driving around in pickup trucks trying to accomplish things that haven’t meant anything to him in a long time. His house is too large, too crammed with stuff and too full of family members who drive him crazy. The town is too full of people who expect him to serve on committees, solve problems and listen to complaints. He doesn’t want to deal with the oil company anymore and eventually turns it over to his son. He abruptly parks his pickup truck, walks out to a simple cabin he owns outside of town, and abdicates nearly all of his responsibilities, despite protests from practically everyone in his life.

Duane has decided for reasons not known to him yet that he is fed up with motorized transportation. The new life he has begun has been simplified into figuring out how to meet his basic needs while walking everywhere he needs to go. His cabin has almost nothing in it so when he decides to clear some brush and stockpile some firewood, he walks to a convenience store with a small hardware department to get tools since he can’t stand the thought of having to deal with the people in the town and in his house to get the tools he already owns. The store owner tells him he is acting like Thoreau so he later seeks out a copy of “Walden” and reads it to see what the store owner is talking about. This is part of his process of seeking an explanation for his behavior that he can’t give to all the people who are bugging him about it because he doesn’t yet know himself.

A lot of the book deals with Duane’s thoughts as he’s working on his new activities. Later in the book he does engage in actual gardening but while he is still just working on firewood he considers walking to the store to purchase a wheelbarrow so he can work faster. Then he asks himself why he needs to work faster and decides that acquiring stuff so he can work faster is a slippery slope back to the old life he doesn’t want any more.

I think a lot about the decision of this character not to purchase a wheelbarrow while I’m out gardening. I own a few power tools, but I usually prefer to use hand tools when I can. I do not have a philosophical or moral objection to using power tools. I will use them when I think they will help me out. One of the reasons I use a lot of hand tools is that sometimes it takes more time to deal with batteries and rechargers and extension cords and power outlets than it does to just grab a hand tool and do it. I like the exercise that comes with hand work. Probably the biggest reason is that when I’m working on my own garden, I’m working for different reasons than for a client garden. Timing IS important when working on gardening and landscaping projects even if you don’t have a deadline or have to work in the most cost-effective way possible when working on a project. Sometimes you have to whip out the power tools to get things done during the right season or in the right order before something else can be done.

An invasive hedge we are removing bit by bit with hand tools.
An invasive hedge we are removing bit by bit with hand tools.

I’ve been periodically working on removing these invasive honeysuckle bushes and vines in our backyard for some time. I’ve been making a big push the last few weeks and last night my husband Tom joined in. So far all of this work has been done with hands, a bypass hand pruner, a small pruning saw and a pair of loppers. Yes we could get this done more quickly if we borrowed, purchased or rented a power chain saw. But if we did that we could not converse while we work or enjoy the bird sounds. The task would become just another chore instead of a restorative activity that makes us feel good physically and mentally. Another factor to consider is the apartment complex that is adjacent to our backyard. I hate it when weather nice enough to open your house windows finally comes along and you have to abruptly close them because all you can hear are leaf blowers, saws and lawn mowers. This is less of a problem if your property is large but as you can see ours is not and we have extremely close neighbors that I would rather not disturb if it’s not absolutely necessary.

Like the title character in “Duane’s Depressed”, I appreciate taking time when possible to do things the slow way and the simpler way. When I first read “Duane’s Depressed” 20 years ago I had not heard of mindfulness. I don’t think the word mindfulness is even in the book but that is part of what Duane needed without knowing it. Gardening is one of the things I do to help achieve it – when I’m gardening all I’m thinking about are the sights, sounds, smells, textures and sometimes even tastes I’m experiencing. The effect on my well being is almost like magic!

No, I haven’t yet read “Walden”. The character who mentions Thoreau to Duane refers to him as a “Yankee a**hole” and Duane’s therapist calls him “that gloomy man”. Not exactly a ringing endorsement is it! Have you read “Walden”? If so, what did you think? In this novel Duane also reads “Remembrance of Things Past” by Proust which he hates 90% of, so I haven’t picked that one up yet either!

How Much Is A Tree Worth?

I ran a test on an oak tree that is at the corner of my condo to see what the value of it is in hard cash terms. I used a really useful tool called i-Tree Design. Here is a screenshot showing some of the benefits of this tree over a 10 year period.

Monetary value of a large oak tree

You can run tests using your own property as an example with different sizes and species of trees. The tool will even show you spots on your property where trees will have the most and least benefit. It’s lots of fun and very enlightening! Sometimes it’s a good idea to know how much a tree is worth when you are deciding whether to invest money in tree care or planting new trees.

Read more on the Schnarr’s Hardware blog: How Much Is A Tree Worth?

Create your own garden plan

The first draft of my garden plan
The first draft of my garden plan

I’m in the process of making a plan for the yard and garden of the house I’ll be moving into after I get married in August. In the Schnarr’s Blog I wrote about things to include in a garden plan to make your property function well and meet your goals.

Read more on the Schnarr’s Hardware blog:
A New Beginning in a New Garden

Make a Wood Plant Tray with Scrap Wood

Wood plant tray made from wood scraps.Several years ago I made a ceramic plant tray specifically to hold three planters that used to be in our bathroom in the 1970s. The tray turned out the perfect size and shape but it got broken so I decided to remake it with scrap wood. There are two planters shaped like fish in the photo above. The third planter is shaped like a frog and it’s in storage so I need to dig it out and display all three planters in this new tray.  Do you want to make a tray like this?

Read more on the Schnarr’s blog:
Make a Wood Plant Tray

Making Holiday Centerpieces From Natural Materials

Holiday party centerpiece made with donated and natural materials
Holiday party centerpiece made with donated and natural materials


Litzinger Road Ecology Center has an annual Holiday party for volunteers. I wasn’t able to go because I went to the Master Gardener party instead which was the same day. I did however get to participate in the fun of making centerpieces from natural materials and donated flower arranging supplies.

Read more on the Schnarr’s Hardware Blog:
Making Holiday Centerpieces From Natural Materials

Tips for Removing Invasive Honeysuckle

Invasive Honeysuckle at Litzinger Road Ecology Center

Although Honeysuckle can be a lovely plant, many species can be invasive and destructive. If you want to rid your property of invasive Honeysuckle, I wrote an article on how to do it.

Read more on the Schnarr’s Hardware Blog:
Tips for Removing Invasive Honeysuckle

Strategies for Maintaining My Garden Through the Winter

What do I normally do to prepare my garden for winter? I panic the night before a frost is predicted. I lay old towels on the floor to protect it from dirt and dampness and bring inside all the container plants that are not hardy. When I get time I then stick the plants where I can make some room in my condo which is for the most part not very well-lit. Some of my plants survive this kind of laissez-faire treatment for years but many of them although alive don’t look as good as they could. I think some planning is called for if I want to do better than have hit-or-miss results this year.

Read more on the Schnarr’s Blog:
Strategies for Maintaining My Garden Through the Winter

Disguise Problem Spots with Containers

When choosing containers, first keep in mind what style of garden you have. You can break design “rules” but you will have more predictable success if you try to match the style of pots to the style of home and garden you have.

Read more about container gardening on the Schnarr’s Hardware Blog.


Raising containers off the ground with decorative sandstone pieces
Starting a new container grouping in a bare spot.

Let’s Purge the Spurge! Part 1

One of my frequent landscaping tasks in summer is weeding at clients’ properties. Many of the weeds can be hand-pulled, but on a recent occasion there was such an abundance of Prostrate Spurge (Euphorbia maculata) that it was hopeless to try to pull it in a reasonable amount of time.

Read about how we decided to deal with the Spurge on the Schnarr’s Hardware Blog!


Controlling Prostrate Spurge

At the left is a spurge-infested patch, and on the right is how it looks after the soil is turned over with a spade. Since we are not going to plant anything here, we don’t need to take the time to break up the clay chunks – nature will do the job over time.

Help – My Pond is Full of Algae!

This is the time of year when small lakes, ponds and water gardens sometimes get green “pea soup” water or mats of algae floating on the surface. The limiting factors for algae growth are mainly food and sunlight. If you can reduce the amount of sunlight and nutrients getting into the water, you can reduce algae growth in your water feature.

Read more on the Schnarr’s blog! Help – My Pond is Full of Algae!