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Making It Work

  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • May. 13, 2022 - 8:13 AM

Making It Work

Longtime Newnan resident Susie Berta has many creative pursuits, including music, art, writing, cooking, gardening, entertaining and decorating. She is now pursuing her passion for writing and recently published her memoir, “The Veterinarian’s Wife,” which is available now on Amazon and locally at Corner Arts Gallery and Gift Shop. She can be reached at

Apparently, Joint Replacement Awareness Day (JRAD) is Saturday, May 14. Let’s hear it for today’s advanced orthopedics and awareness!

This could be an opportune reminder for some people, but I do not need a reminder. I am already fully aware. Trust me, I have already had one knee replaced and my husband just got a new hip. Reminders are for rookies who still have all their original joints.

The thing nobody warned me about, though, is after the joint replacement surgery and painful rehab, while allowing me to walk a painless straight line, that hard metal implant now residing in my left knee does not allow me to kneel on it anymore. And the right knee that God gave me is starting to protest.

And yet, I am still an avid gardener. Gardeners do a lot of kneeling. I make it work.

I also do a lot of talking in my garden. Yes, I talk to my plants. Out loud. Sometimes in a whisper, sometimes loudly in my best Patti Lupone. I bet if you ask them, a lot of other avid gardeners willing to admit it would say the same thing. We are not weird, we are avid. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I don’t go to the plant nursery and get a couple of pansies and spend a nice little 10 minutes arranging them in a pot of dirt.

No, I haul my Hyundai Santa Fe up to Growers Outlet in Loganville and make a pit stop on the way home at all the local nurseries (always buy local), filling every inch of vehicle real estate, seats down, with annuals, perennials, shrubs, ferns, soil amendments, and pine straw. Those uh-oh loop-straps above the passenger seats are great for suspending hanging baskets. So are sturdy suspension rods spanning the width of the vehicle. I’ve been known to create double-decker storage in the way-back cargo area which involves a sturdy palette supported by square plastic milk boxes under each corner. I store some plants inside the milk boxes, and slide flats of annuals into the open area between them on the bottom. The larger, taller stuff rests on the top. I’ve also hauled a trailer behind me a time or two. Necessity really is a mother.

Obviously, I’m an incorrigible plant-aholic. As the saying goes, “One plant is too many, and a thousand never enough.” The first step is admitting it. Gladly.

I’m not sure I want a cure, though. At least I have a bottom line: I have adopted the tradition of remembering whether I can responsibly afford, and then actually plant, all the vegetation I buy.

When one is standing in the middle of a plant nursery surrounded by glorious opportunity, it’s easy to be swept away and forget that all that luscious flora requires a budget, along with energy, sweat-equity, and someone who can still move a ton of dirt around, push down hard on a shovel, and get low enough to the ground to wield a trowel.

As much as I talk in my garden, the garden also talks back. It does not speak English, of course, but it definitely communicates. Looking back on all my years of pushing a trowel, I wish everything I have purchased and planted over decades survived. But I’m kind of glad the ones that are gone can’t attest now to whatever it was I screwed up, or what horror befell them that I had no hand in.

So far I’m glad I have survived it all, although there have been a few times I've had my doubts. I am still here to tell the tales I choose to tell.

Shoulda been there one July, thirty years ago when my gardening buddy, Leanne, my husband, Rick, and I pulled out some huge, overgrown, red-tip photinia bullies we inherited from the previous owners of our house. We dug, and sweated, and groaned, and dug, wayyyy down, only to uncover roots as big around as super-sized rolls of Brawny paper towels. Straining our backs, we tugged and chopped, but those red-tip roots were immovable as steel footings in concrete. So we eventually got smart, or desperate, depending on how you look at it. We tied those recalcitrant shrubs to the hitch on the pickup truck and yanked them out by those demon roots. That’s one loss I do not mourn. I’m also glad they are gone and cannot rat on me. Pretty sure I said a lot more than “oh darn it.”

That was, however, the first step in transforming my garden into something more gracious and beautiful. My back, however, hasn’t been the same since.

Since then, with no formal training and a boatload of books, seminars, willingness to experiment, and years of sweaty trial-and-error (heavy on the sweat and the error) I’ve learned a thing or three.

1. Gardeners ain’t perfect. Gardeners who never fail are not gardeners. They are unicorns. Dare you to find one.

2. This little ditty about perennials is useful: First year they sleep; Second year they creep; Third year they leap.

3. Composting is good and Milorganite fertilizer is also a great, off-label deer deterrent. They hate the smell.

4. Killing bees should be a criminal offense. Watch the insecticides, folks.

5. I have learned resilience, fortitude, forgiveness, and my limits. I learned that I am not Callaway or Gibbs Gardens. I don’t have full-time staff to plant, weed, feed, prune, mulch, nurture, and water a showplace of their magnitude. Still, envisioning the wooded beauty of Callaway Gardens, I once tried planting hydrangeas and some azaleas in my shady wooded area. Oh they were going to look so full and beautiful. And they did. Until they didn’t.

The azaleas started rapidly dying, attacked by bagworms from trees too tall to reach with worm-killing spray. It was also too late to save them with anything applied directly on the plants. I tried. They died.

The hydrangeas weren’t attacked, but they were sad and unhappy in their spot, and they told me so. Their leaves drooped, limp like neckties hanging from their stems and refused to thrive. The deep, dry shade was not their thing. They needed a little more sun and a lot more water, neither of which the dark, dry woods could provide. So my husband and I dug them up and moved them to the front yard where they have been deliriously happy ever since. They thank us by living large and blooming profusely. I am still really sorry about the doomed azaleas in the big, bad woods.

As spring gives way to summer, the hellebores, dogwood, cherry, and azaleas blooms are history. But oh, my, what glories present themselves... the roses are abundant, the jasmine is smelling sweet, the iris are still hanging in, things are unfurling daily and even more wonders await. Pure joy to take it all in and commune with everything that bursts with life.

Talking in the garden, working hard, usually includes sound effects, too. When I have stood, bending over double pulling endless weeds for far too long (because I can’t kneel, remember?) and my back and hamstrings are in knots, I am capable of mumbling the rudest things followed by a grunt or groan for emphasis. Can’t help it.

But I am also a doting mother attempting to nourish growing things with food and drink, praising and encouraging them to flourish. I speak words of consolation and comfort to them whether they thrive or they are sick, dying, or dead. And when they are gone, I grieve the loss (except for the red-tips). I can’t help that, either.

If they could speak English, the plants living in my garden now would report it all, the laughing, groaning, whispering, yelling, and crying in their midst as well as all the swearing:

“…the hell is that?”

“Ohhh my back. Oooh my hammies.”

“Gah! Forgot your name! You gonna make me Google you?”

“I do not remember planting you.”

“Look out, I’m comin’ in there to straighten this mess out. I am out of patience, I’m wearing really good garden gloves, and I have sharp tools.”

“Aww, you are beautiful.”

“Time for momma to rest. See y’all tomorrow!”

As a gardener who misses kneeling, I will still go on record endorsing joint replacements, as I can walk without pain now. They are ultimately a really good thing. Get ‘em if you need ‘em. Generally speaking, I’m glad I got mine, one little positional hiccup notwithstanding.

My gardening motto echoes the words of the indefatigable Tim Gunn of Project Runway fame, who may or may not have ever planted a single living thing in his life but sure can make magic with fabric. When he says “Make it work” he is serious, and things start happening.

So far I’m making do. Gardeners are tough and love a challenge. I make it work and make my garden happen. At least I try.

Longtime Newnan resident Susie Berta has many creative pursuits, including music, art, writing, cooking, gardening, entertaining and decorating. She is now pursuing her passion for writing and recently published her memoir, “The Veterinarian’s Wife,” which is available now on Amazon and locally at Corner Arts Gallery and Gift Shop. She can be reached at