Serendipity Gardens: Gardener perseveres against the cold rain and feral cats this spring

Published 9:00 am Saturday, July 8, 2017

Serendipity Gardens by Carol Hegel Lang

Carol Hegel Lang is a green thumb residing in Albert Lea. Her column appears bi-monthly. Email her at

Hello again to all my readers. I am back writing my gardening column every other week after a year-long absence. A year ago my husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and our world came to an abrupt halt as we began this journey. Because his health took precedence over gardening, I decided to stop writing and did very little gardening. Fast forward a year, and hopefully he is on the road to a cancer-free life again.

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So last year, the gardens had to hold their own. This year I am doing limited containers that can be easily accessed to water without dragging out the 100-foot-long hose.

On Mother’s Day weekend, I spent Saturday preparing the soil in the cutting garden and planting seeds, because I knew the next week we would be in Rochester. I surprised myself by getting most of it planted. I was anxious for the seeds to start growing and look like a garden instead of a dirt patch. Fast forward a week or so, and I started noticing piles of dirt where I had planted the seeds. On further investigation, I found that the feral cats had been using it as their litter box. This gardener was not a happy camper — by any means. Every day, more piles of dirt appeared where I had planted seeds along with some other disgusting stuff that I won’t mention. It was time to replant seeds again even though I was out of them.

Carol Hegel Lang

I was off to get more seeds locally and try again. This time I gave a stern warning to Smudge, one of the feral cats who is usually in the gardens. Do you think cats understand a woman standing there shaking her fingers at them and using rather loud language that isn’t always nice?

Our weather has been hot early in the season. The cool month of June — with its wetness and wind — often stressed the flowers. Slowly I began to see little green sprouts appearing in rows in the garden. With it, my vision of a colorful garden filled with zinnias, cleome, cosmos and marigolds sprouted. Each row had only a few sprouts with gaps between them; I was out of seeds as well as time to plant them again.

Thank goodness for the perennial milkweeds and coneflowers on the borders of the garden, as the garden was certainly not looking very promising for the seeds that I so lovingly planted.

Soon I was off to the garden center to get some potted annuals to fill in the gaps. I found some lantana and pentas to put some instant color in the garden. I also picked up more coneflowers — to plant once the garden is dry enough to walk in again — in shades of orange and yellow along with gaillardias.

The milkweeds are in full-bloom, and lilies are just beginning to bloom in the garden. Soon the phlox will add even more color, and then it won’t be long before my favorite Joe-pye weed starts to bloom. The butterflies should be very happy with the assortment of nectar available to them.

Even though only three or four tithonia seeds actually sprouted, it will be enough to provide a banquet for the monarchs — the butterflies absolutely love this orange flower.

A couple of kiss-me-over-the-garden-gates will provide plenty of nectar for the hummingbirds with their long and pendulous pink blooms. I can already envision the colors popping up in late July in this garden.

It is never good to wish time to pass quickly, but for this gardener I have a hard time waiting for the gardens to explode with color, butterflies, birds and insects. I have monarch caterpillars on the milkweed plants and a few swallowtail butterflies have been spotted, but I have not seen any caterpillars on the dill yet.

“Through gardening I’ve learned a lot about failure and trying again. It’s always a work in progress, and while the successes are incredibly rewarding, it’s the process of constantly trying to improve that keeps me going.” — Lauren Van Mullem