ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Perennials, Miracle-Gro, deadheading and calendula. If those words sound familiar, chances are you have a flower garden like Ruth McGinness of Aulne.
“Being retired, I needed something to do to keep me busy, something rewarding,” McGinness said. “When I have flowers, I take them out to my sister-in-law when we visit there. And I’ve taken flowers to church on occasion.”
She also brings the blooms inside her farm house, located on 80 acres, and surrounded by an old red barn and other outbuildings.
In her mid 70s, McGinness and husband Ed, 81, are both retired.
Ed was a cattleman, farmer and also worked for the Agricultural Stabilization Conservation Service in Marion. He retired in 1987 from ASCS and sold his farm machinery in 1995.
A paraeducator by profession, McGinness worked for 10 years in the Marion school district and retired in 1990. Along the way, the couple raised two children and now have one grandchild.
But after retirement, the clock takes on a different rhythm. A renter now takes care of the crops on their property and land they own elsewhere.
The pen used for fattening cattle-that sat next to the country road running past their homestead-came down for a special reason.
“After we had our farm sale, we didn’t use that corral anymore,” McGinness said. “So I have my garden there.”
Ed got a little carried away when he prepared the ground for her garden, McGinness said.
“It’s bigger than I wanted-he couldn’t stop in time when he was working the ground,” she said chuckling. “It’s larger than I want by the middle of summer.”
The plot includes about 13 separate planting areas, each contained within wooden borders. The garden is defined with a fence along the south edge used as a wind barrier and support system for morning glories. The entire planting-bed area interlaced with gravel paths.
“Since I have rows out there with gravel on them, when it rains, I can go out to the garden and walk around and enjoy it without stepping in the mud,” McGinness said.
As a young girl growing up on a farm in Marion County, McGinness has sketchy memories of her family’s vegetable garden.
When she planted her garden about eight years ago, it also began as a vegetable garden with a few flowers.
“After awhile, I decided it was too much,” McGinness said. “If I didn’t have a good vegetable crop, it was a disappointment. So I decided to have flowers- at least there would be a plant. And if it bloomed, great.”
Until about three years ago, she continued to keep tomato and pepper plants in her flower garden.
Now, she cultivates a row of asparagus plants on the north edge of her garden.
“I thought that way, I could spray the bugs better than to have partly flowers and partly vegetables,” McGinness said. “Because you don’t want to use a spray that will kill the bugs well on your edibles.”
A self-taught flower gardener, McGinness said she has learned by trial and error, and with the help of information found in gardening books through the years.
“In the beginning, I just made an effort-planted seeds and hoped things would grow,” she said.
She tries to fill her garden with as many perennials as possible-those plants that go dormant during the cold winter months and return to bloom during the warm spring and hot summer months without replanting.
“And some reseed themselves, like the petunias,” McGinness said. “They just come up.”
Flower-gardening season begins in late April and early May.
“Usually, you don’t plant anything until after the last frost,” McGinness said. “And some really like warm weather, too, so they do better if the ground is warmer.”
Preparation for spring flowers often begins in fall at the McGinness homestead.
“Sometimes, my husband works the ground in the fall, and I don’t have to do a whole lot but just plant in the spring,” she said. “I mulch some things, and sometimes I leave the plant, even though it’s dead. I leave it there, and it makes its own mulch.”
An extensive list of flowers in her garden includes chrysanthemum, yarrow, petunia, miniature holly hock, marigold, dahlia, pericum, calendula, lily, hyacinth, daffodil, canna, silver mound, nierembergia, gladiola and vinca.
Her favorite flower blooms on her rose bushes.
“Two of them were given to me when I retired,” McGinness said. “Some coworkers gave me the pink ones, my husband picked out the red one, and I have a yellow one.”
Gardening chores include spraying for bugs, fertilizing, weeding, watering and deadheading.
“Petunias, marigolds, calendulas and dahlias need a lot of deadheading,” McGinness said.
“That’s just cutting off the old blossoms. They’ll put out more blossoms then. If you don’t do it, they’ll just quit. They think they’ve done their job.”
Her flowers also get a blooming boost with the help of a fertilizing product called Miracle-Gro.
Watering the garden is accomplished with the aide of a well that was dug near the old corral.
“I probably wouldn’t have that big of a garden out there if I had to pay for the water,” McGinness said. “On the two longest rows, I have a soaker hose. I water the rest of the garden and then hook up the soaker hose and let that run for a number of hours.”
But she is careful not to work with her blooms when they’re wet or have dew on them early in the morning.
“If you get out too early, there’s dew on the plants,” McGinness said. “And you’re not supposed to work on plants when there’s dew. It’s best if they’re dry.”
When Kansas summers make the thermometers soar into the high 90s, McGinness bemoans the size of her garden and the time it takes to work in the hot sun.
“I enjoy it in the spring time, when it’s not so hot,” she said. “It’s larger than I want by the middle of the summer.”
But the most difficult part of her hobby is dealing with pesky bugs.
“The grasshoppers were just so bad this year,” McGinness said. “I’ve sprayed, and the spraying got some, I suppose, but not enough to get them all.”
As the years march on, McGinness has considered putting down her gardening utensils for the last time.
“It’s a lot of work, and there will come a time when I feel like it’s too much,” she said. “Being 74, I’m not a youngster anymore, but I don’t see that in the near future.”
For now, she’ll continue to follow the direction her green thumb beckons her toward her garden plot near her home.
“It’s a dirty thumb,” she said laughing, as she carefully picked off the spent blooms of some of her dahlias in late October.