Manure and a Models Coat

The secret to gardening? Just walk out there and garden. Take it from Granny.

Excerpt from the book “They Call Me Orange Juice” by Audrey McDonald Atkins

This morning I realized that I have turned into my grandmother. I found myself in the backyard clad in my housecoat and sturdy moccasin slippers with my left elbow resting on my left knee while my right hand searched down through the damp monkey grass for the base of an offending weed. This morning I pulled that weed and a handful more and cast them over the fence.

It all started with a cup of coffee with Husband on the deck, the morning unnaturally cool. As we chatted, our attention turned to what we have come to refer to as “the backyard reclamation project.” Our sloping, rocky backyard has become weedy and overgrown, and we have been vigilantly trying to fight back Mother Nature one little section at a time, with mulch, gravel, pavers and the carefully placed, hardy shrub.

We think we’re winning, but it’s a close one.

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That’s how I came to be in the yard, in my housecoat. There was a weed, audacious and mocking, peeking out in one of my carefully manicured flowerbeds. I could not sit still. A force greater than I could ignore compelled me to go down to the bed, stoop over, and pluck the offending interloper, and all of his insidious little friends, up by the very roots. Rear end in the air, head down, the realization hit me. I am Granny.

Now Granny was an avid horticulturalist, and I, admittedly, have a black thumb when it comes to cultivating anything more than weeds. Granny would head out into the yard early every morning in her Models Coat and Baw’s old loafer-looking man slippers. She and Leroy, her yardman, would water, plant, haul, edge, mulch, and prune until the sun was high. Then, around eleven or so, Granny would head inside to clean up and get dressed for the day.

Every day, you would find Granny and Leroy, shoulder to shoulder, amongst the daylilies, camellias, zinnias, snapdragons, water lilies. The lantana, amaryllis, pansies, Johnny jump-ups, azaleas, iris. The roses, princess feathers, crinum, spider lilies, geraniums, impatiens. Granny in her housecoat, with a truckload of manure and a trowel, could grow anything.

And she won prizes!

Not only did she coax beautiful blooms from all manner of seedlings, cuttings, and bulbs, she fashioned the blossoms into glorious arrangements. She entered every flower show the Citronelle Garden Club hosted and brought home ribbon after blue ribbon. She had a true talent for taking a dry block of green oasis and studding it with the best, handpicked blooms from her yard until it was miraculously converted into a piece of living artwork.

But try as I might, with my garden clogs, Smith & Hawken garden kneeler, flowered gloves, and wide-brimmed sunhat, about the best I can do is not kill the hardiest of hardy plants. I overwater and underwater. I prune and transplant at all the wrong times. My Virginia creeper and poison ivy thrive, while my expensive store-bought plants shed leaves, turn brown, shrivel up, and die.

But maybe I’ve been going about it all wrong. Maybe today was a revelation of a different sort. Maybe it doesn’t take expensive tools and gear to turn my backyard jungle into a lush Garden of Eden.

Maybe all it takes is a little daily attention, a truckload of manure, and a sweaty, dirty Models Coat.

Born and raised in Citronelle, Atkins shares stories about growing up and living in the South in her book, “They Call Me Orange Juice,” and at her blog

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