We have been together for going on 4 years and thousands of miles.”

Do you remember the first time you got on a bike as a kid and were able to ride away into the neighborhood and beyond? Away from the house …your parents and siblings? That feeling of freedom? Well, this aging gardener has come full circle. The bicycle is my current crush and the freedom cycling gives me is intoxicating and addictive.

I am well beyond mid-life but this crisis is real. And my poor neglected garden has borne the brunt of my time on 2 wheels. These days I am battling garden gorillas– vigorous, competitive species that once shared space kindly, but have now staked claim to more and more of an already tiny garden. I apparently have looked away… sped away…pedaled away…from this reality.

Chasmanthium latifolium

That beautiful native grass Chasmanthium latifolium…northern sea oats…has danced here and there. It is well adapted to partly shady, dryish places. The Jelitto website says “Good as a cut flower and later it has outstanding autumn and early winter effect as the drying seed heads rustle in the wind.” Indeed it does. Of course, one doesn’t want to cut the beautiful decorative seed heads too early. They make autumn picture perfect especially when back-lit. There are beautiful back-lit clumps everywhere now.

Hellebore beauty

And then there is Helleborus. I remember the days when these plants were the hot commodity. This time of the year they are so welcome! As one of the earliest bloomers in the garden, Lenten rose flowers seem almost exotic in the dull pre-spring landscape. These happy re-seeding beauties are tough as nails with thick leathery foliage that over the course of winter recline and lay flat smothering anything growing too close. Their abundant seedlings get a bit of protection and a chance to poke through when the time is right.

Sometimes I feel like I am living too close to a Hellebore.

Osmanthus with Liriope skirt

Might I mention Liriope spicata? I have to say it grows well where other ground covers might falter. I planted a few clumps early in the gardens making to have something on the back hill to hold things in place. It has done just that. Now it is a losing battle to control its slow but persistent creep.

My bike affair started in 2019 as a prelude to the COVID lock down. If anything got me through or kept me sane, it was riding Cervelo. The longing for freedom (and sun and air and movement) was, I’m sure, felt by all. Garden, too, called but sadly could not compete with the bikes ability to take me places and see the surrounding landscape. A landscape I do not have to manage.

Cervelo at Hogan’s Fountain in Cherokee Park

I began commuting to my office in 2020 to avoid riding the bus. You know– public transportation. The commute is 12 miles a day; about an hour of riding. Every day I get to ride through beautiful Cherokee Park and along Seneca Golf Course. And there are weekend rides to further away places. It is these weekend rides that have been most damaging to my relationship with Garden. Bike adventures take me away for many hours and stake claim to lots of energy.

Knob Creek Farm~a stop on my first century (100 mile) ride

Cervelo is a beauty. We have been together for going on 4 years and thousands of miles. They (the right pronoun?) are made of carbon fiber and have electronic shifting and hydraulic disc brakes. Their color spoke to me immediately…beautiful olive green, red, and orange. Cervelo is a high-end bike brand whose name “is a portmanteau of cervello, the Italian word for brain and velo, the French word for bike.” Sexy as hell.

Cervelo at the Iroquois Park overlook

Garden is also a beauty, but she is fading. Despite the waywardness of certain species just doing what they do, the beating from weather events in the past years, and neglect, she is still a place truly lovely and peaceful. I spend sitting time with her every day.

Sitting in the garden (watching cycling)

So now I wonder if I can have my cake and eat it too? Is there enough energy to do both? My bike lover beckons me to play; my garden lover is needy. You can imagine where the excitement lies. What to do? Move to a condo? Pass along Garden to a new beau?

I am a bit horrified by what I am writing. My faithful companion of 25 years cannot/should not be thrown aside. Garden and I have a deep relationship but we have changed over the years. When one needs less, the other will surely need more. We are in that awkward “she needs more of my time but I am enamored of another” phase. I will do what I can. It won’t be the intensity of the early years, but things will get done. I promise!


Just a dusting

As I write, I am getting ready to head out of the office a little early as a “wintry mix” is predicted this afternoon. Cervelo will take me home. Garden will be waiting.


Mary Vaananen is the North American Manger for Jelitto Perennial Seeds, a seed company based in Germany.