Trowel & Error

What's that doing there?

You just never know what you'll find in the garden

By Nancy Crowe

Master Gardener Nancy Crowe ends the gardening year with a collection of surprises from our gardens.

This is the season of surprises … and just about everyone who gardens has encountered something unexpected.

When the lemon balm in one of my cedar-bin containers began to wilt early this fall, I got out the watering wand and gave it a good soaking. I jumped when an equally startled (and very wet) baby bunny leaped out of the bin and hightailed it across the yard. I turned off the water and took a closer look. Nestled into the soil were two even tinier baby bunnies, and they were not pleased with the impromptu shower. One jumped out, perhaps with the intent of following the evacuee. He quickly discovered this brave new world was a bit too much for him and cowered next to the back steps. 

He would also discover, I suspected, that getting out of the nest was a heck of a lot easier than getting back in. A friend managed to return the poor little guy to the bin. Since the first bunny was nowhere in sight, we set up some bricks for steps and made a bunny-accessible ramp out of an old board for re-entry. That container didn’t get touched for the rest of the season. 

In the course of returning the bunny to the bin, I found an old hose coupler I’d misplaced months before. That got me thinking about what else was waiting to be found in the garden. And what creatures, objects or plants were turning up in other people’s gardens. So I took the question to Facebook (thanks again to my colleagues for helping me get the word out, and to all who responded). 

Editor Connie Haas Zuber immediately came through with two good ones. This year a fully formed, blooming but miniature sunflower plant turned up as a volunteer under her bird feeder, just like it belonged there. No pixies or gnomes have shown up as of this writing, but at least one curious sparrow probably has. Years ago, she found a “fat and happy” hamster under the bird feeder’s former location. Hammie, as her kids named him, soon had a cage and a long, comfortable life as an indoor pet. 

Cathy Pridgen Cross said seeds from a tomato plant found their way into a friend’s patio garden through a crack in the concrete. “A cherry tomato plant began growing and actually produced awesome tomatoes,” she said. “We call them crack bites.”

When JoLyn Outman was 9 or 10, she and her mom and aunt were tilling the garden. Well, she was more or less playing in the dirt, but she found a penny. “I rubbed off the dirt and saw that it had an Indian on it” — and a date of 1890-something. “My aunt kept it for years, then had a necklace made out of it for my grandfather,” she said.

And, of course, every now and then a lost object, often highly valued, is found in the garden. A few months before her mother was diagnosed with cancer, Kathy Curtis’ husband, Bob, lost his wedding ring. Her mother was staying at their house at the time. Nine months after her death, the ring had not been found. Bob thought it may have fallen off his finger as he worked in the garden. 

Right before Thanksgiving and her wedding anniversary, Kathy was preparing the garden beds for winter. “I was shoveling compost into a bucket, which I then planned to dump onto the beds and work into the soil,” she recalled. “In a moment of frustration about the ring, I dropped the bucket, pounded the shovel into the ground, looked up at the sky and said (out loud, I think), “OK, Mom, I know you can help me more now than ever — help me find the ring!”

She then stomped back out to the garden and dumped the compost. There it sat — “front and center on top of the pile of compost, glittering with all its might through the caked-on mud and worm poop.”

Here’s to a 2014 full of discoveries.

Nancy Crowe

Master Gardener Nancy Crowe's Garden Spot column also appears in interactive format online.

Posted Fri, 12/27/2013 - 3:06 pm