‘hands to work, hearts to god:’ first 2011 chores

NOTHING FEELS RIGHT AT THE MOMENT, with incomprehensible news from Japan, but enough snow melted that I finally just grabbed a rake yesterday and went outside to work while grappling with all the thoughts. When I confessed that on Facebook, a reader there reminded me of the Shaker wisdom, “Hands to work, hearts to God,” and I am grateful to her for that guidance. From a check of the deer fence to the first cutbacks, here’s what got started:

I walked the perimeter of the deer fence, looking for breaches. (If you are considering thwarting deer once and for all in your landscape, start with this story.)

I gently raked debris off areas that were dry enough, starting right near the house where I’ll notice my signs of progress most.

I started cutting back evergreen groundcovers like hellebores, European ginger (above, ready for its haircut), epimediums.

Next up will be ornamental grasses…and in a small gesture of hope, I think I’ll plant the peas and spinach.

All these pre-spring chores are explained in detail here.

  1. Joyce G says:

    Hands to work, hearts to God,,I like that,,have frequently been outside over the years working on my yard, thinking over happenings..I enjoy your pages,,thank you,,am new to hellebores,, but very encouraged by your post.

  2. Annabelle says:

    Me too! I got out there this morning and did a huge front yard cleanup. Fertilized bulbs, shrubs, and gave the 3 year old landscape a good drink. Going to plant seeds inside and peas/spinach outside with the toddler tonight or tomorrow. I’ve been meaning to ask… what’s your position on rototilling? Does it release too many nutrients? Kill to many of our wormy friends? I’ve been doing it in the vegetable garden each spring, but often don’t know when to do it as I invariably want to plant some things before I’m ready to turn the whole plot over. I’m in Denver and things here are dry dry dry and if I wait for a wettish day it may be too late.

  3. kristi says:

    I would be interested to hear your opinion on rototilling too. We usually do it after planting peas and greens. But I have to borrow the neighbor’s machine, and it would be so much easier not to bother.

    Love the Shaker saying.

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Kristi. I always used to do it years ago, but I think it’s best not to overwork the soil, so I try to do without it nowadays. My raised beds are in good shape and I simple topdress with compost and work it in a bit with a fork to loosen things up.

  4. Terryk says:

    I did a bit of raking too and cut off the old hellebore leaves-carefully – to avoid cutting the buds. Had my first garden center outing-went to Victoria Gardens in Rosendale, NY. What fun! I bought a hellebore and a viburnum ‘new dawn’ and it has some very fragrent blooms on it. Yum! It is one of the early blooming ones so I have to have it near the house. I stored them in the unheated room in the basement till the soil can be dug.

  5. shirley taylor says:

    I do till my garden,but then I always add a very thick layer of straw around all the established plants and in between rows,and there it stays until I am ready to till in the fall or winter,or early spring.I know it is a debateable subject but when you live in Oklahoma with such heat and aggressive weeds,tilling and mulching is what works for me.Now if I can get rid of those pesky(and I could use other words for them),moles! I have done eveything the old timers have suggested and then some.I hate to do traps or poisons but I am at my wit’s end! Any suggestions out there?Also,I am having problems growing eggplants each summer,any ideas?

  6. Lisa says:

    “Hands to work, hearts to God’ – beautiful! I also got out in the garden for the first real visit today, cleaning up a bit and uncovering emerging life, and while I worked, I thought of the people of Japan and also of all the gardens that must have been lost. I am so saddened by all the loss they are enduring there.

  7. Charles M says:

    As a bonsai enthusiast, I am deeply affected by what is happening in Japan. I take solace in knowing that bonsai are designed to simulate trees formed by harsh conditions. The Japanese people have endured harsh conditions, and like their miniature trees, they will prevail, with grace and courage.

  8. Mary Farrand says:

    To Kristi and Margaret….Good ole fork overturning does great magic, if not a work out for your back, it gives you a wonderful idea on how those wormy friends of ours are doing. Which as you know, is an indicator of how our dirt is doing. It smells so good too!

  9. susan simon says:

    Hmmm we gardeners must all be on the same wavelength…I also made sure I did plenty of winter clean up but found I felt so much better after a good workout in the yard…also found myself hiking with friends for hours which really makes you feel at one with our great earth..in spite of the perils facing our delicate planet once again !

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Joyce. I think you will like hellebores; sturdy and cooperative and early blooming treats.

      Welcome, Shirley. Moles! Yes, have lots; some thoughts here.

      Welcome, Miss Scarlet. My mind is definitely elsewhere, and the start of gardening and the conversation here help a bit.

      Welcome, Charles. Your thoughts on bonsai and the Japanese people are very beautiful. They are in our prayers, to be sure.

      Welcome, Susan. I came to gardening decades ago as “occupational therapy” of sorts in hard times. It still does the trick.

      See you all soon again, I hope.

  10. Margit Van Schaick says:

    I’ve been doing some reading about “no-till”gardening, and I’m going to try use this method as much as I possibly can, refining it as I learn more about best practices for soil and environmental health. For starting a garden from scratch, Anne Raver in the Home and Garden section of the 09-08-10 New York Times presents a clearly-written, easily-followed step-by-step approach. She relies on the teachings in Lee Reich’s book, “Weedless Gardening”. Lee Reich,a Phd. Horticulturalist, has a blog where you can explore the results of his “no-till” Method. Another interesting book is “Lazagna Gardening”by Patricia Lanza. And,I love to read the blog “One Straw Revolution”, especially about Rob’s discoveries as he implements his “no-till”method in his suburban housing development garden,getting stupendous productivity to feed his vegetarian family of four. I’d also highly recommend a great new book, fun to read and full of lots of meaningful insights for our time, a book about gardening that is also a deeply-felt story about how to live in this new century,”Grow the Good Life”by Michelle Owens. And,there’s Ruth Stout, with “no-work”gardening,based on deep mulching of the entire garden plot. All of these can help us to reach our goal: a beautiful,productive garden, not too hard to start (and maintain), one in which your main tool, once you’ve actually made your garden, is a trowel. In fact, in the three 4-foot by 8-foot, 1-foot deep elevated raised beds a carpenter friend built for me last Spring, my garden tool of choice in the rich,organic soil was a tablespoon!
    In listing these resources, I’m not trying to be some kind of “authority”; It’s just that these have been very helpful to me in my gardening adventures.

  11. kathy says:

    I had this same sense of discord with the universe as I planted bulbs after 9/11. I planted through tears, certain that they would not, could not grow in such a world as ours felt at that time. Of course they did and I planted more, only to come to another time in my life that felt as though nothing could ever live again, and again it did. It is a resilient earth, it seems. And the gardener has no choice but to be optimistic as we dig and plant. As, you say, we must.

  12. Margit Van Schaick says:

    I re-read again, several times, your 03-15 entry. In times of devastation, I think it takes courage to try to do the ordinary, customary activities of daily living–raking leaves, washing the dishes, making a simple meal, feeding the cat, noticing the changing light as the day progresses from dawn to dusk, sowing peas and spinach. Actions such as these are an affirmation of hope and offer in their doing a thank you for being alive.

  13. I love this quaint homily.
    It is really moving me at the moment.
    I am also struggling with the tragedy in Japan – thank you for your post.
    It means a lot.

    as do the other comments!

  14. LJ says:

    Like so many others that have posted, I find great comfort in the garden. Although I am young, tending the earth is something that has been part of my life since infancy, when my mother would put my bassinet under the tree while she worked in the garden. The strong women of my family have taught the lesson of “Hands to work, hearts to God” from generation to generation, and I feel so lucky that I have been blessed with knowing where I can find comfort from such an early age.

    As for rototilling, I prefer to build my garden from the lawn up, using the Lasagna Garden technique mentioned above by Margit. My yard butts up against a forest and runs along an old stream bed, so it is filled with rocks and tree roots. It is much easier to layer the compost and yard trimmings on top of the soil (although it takes some planning and there is not the instant gratification that comes from a newly tilled plot), and the worms love it. I have been able to soften the soil under the lasagna gardens and deep planting is relatively easy now.

  15. Catherine says:

    We are all highly upset by the heart break in Japan. And ‘Shaker wisdom’ is exactly what I did as well. To the garden to rake, haul, trim, and make myself tired as I tried to make sense of it all. Spring is arriving so beautifuly here… as though it doesn’t yet know of the sadness in Japan.

  16. Patricia Kulhavy says:

    It is still too wet to do much in the yard, but I have been cleaning pots and will repair some planting boxes so they are ready when the weather is ready. I have started a few seeds in a South window but am setting up an area in the basement for a bunch of them. The situation in Japan goes from tragic to disasterous and I pray for them. It hurts. Glad we have our spaces to work and grow. Gratitude is big here.

  17. shashe says:

    Thank you. This past weekend, when my mind was being pulled back and forth by the news coming out of Japan and the various troubles of friends and family which seem to be multiplying these past few days and leave me with the feeling of helplessness, I pruned my first tree. I did it, with knowledge and confidence obtained from this site. I’m not saying I did a good job– but I am happy and proud of what I did and it and my work on the garden which it shades— keeps my sanity during these moments. “Hands to work, hearts to god,” indeed.

    Thanks and warm thoughts to you, Margaret– and everyone who connects on this site.

  18. Heidi S. says:

    This post really spoke to me. I managed to get out into the garden this weekend and the peace was very helpful (even with my 2 young children trying to “help”).

    I also took your advice and trimmed the old leaves off of my hellabores. They are already standing so much taller! Thanks for the advice. I saw your post about top dressing in the garden. For my perennial flower beds, do you think I should top dress with compost? I will be putting some mulch on them a little later in the season (once more plants have sprouted).

  19. Jayne says:

    The tragedy in Japan unfolding does make us put things in persepective, as I’ve been whining about Winter’s wrath on the garden. (My first college roommate, Hideko and her daughter are in Tokyo and I have just received an email from her saying that she is okay but there is a food shortage.) I also raked leaves, uncovered hellebores and adonis, and felt the calm that working hard in the garden gives.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, LJ. I love the worm-filled image of your lasagna garden! Such optimism, such hope. Thank you.

      Welcome, Patricia, and speaking of hope: seeds on the window! It’s time, and I am grateful for the chance to sow something today.

      Welcome, Karen. No words, just word: exactly. Thank you.

      Welcome, Heidi. Sound like you have some determined “helpers” over there. :)

      Hope to see you all soon again.

  20. Angie says:

    I love the Shaker mentality about daily life and hard work. It is funny because in my garden I have a sign that has the phrase “Hands to Work, Hearts to God” coined by Mother Ann Lee. It is always a reminder that through hard work, I have a closer connection to God. Thanks for reminding me of this today.

  21. pam says:

    wondering why my ornamental grasses were so easy to rake up….they had been gnawed and rolled and used as little nests for the 100 voles that inhabit my garden beds. now i am the first to admit my “design” abilities are still in progress, everything is always in flux, but i just lost most of my plants to voles. I saw them in the fall, and tried to treat them gently with a friend’s suggestion of a laxative; apparently they LOVE chocolate. OH my. i am ready to hang up my rake, my lists of plants to try this season and my muck boots. help help help. all debris is raked away, but how do i get rid of these grey furry creatures? i thought deer and woodchucks were a challenge; haha on me. some advice, please?? thank you.

  22. Catherine says:

    Oh Pam, I am so sorry and I feel your pain. Several years ago the gophers attacked my beds. I actually saw an asparagus being pulled down, cartoon fashion. I tried everything… hubby ended up sitting quietly in a chair with his 22 across his lap… waiting. I just keep on trying… some years are worse than others. Maybe this year a freak vole bacterial infection will wipe them out!

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