West Lafayette, Indiana
When we emailed Barb Wiggs that the shovel she’d ordered was on back-order, she responded with a message that read, in part, "I am 73 and still dig and do all the other garden work. Even put in my own brick sidewalk a few years back. My twin also gardens at her home; if the HERS works out for me I’m sure she will want one." Having begun Green Heron Tools partly to support women (including ourselves!) in gardening or farming as long as possible, we were intrigued...
How long have you been gardening?
Barb: I started gardening in the seventies. My husband had just graduated from Purdue and we purchased a home. Mostly it was a small vegetable patch in the back yard, with some flowers added here and there. My three children were young and my life was full with family activities.
What type of gardening do you do?
Barb: Now I mostly grow vegetables/herbs for cooking—tomatoes, leeks, peppers, and herbs. I like to use the herb patch all summer and freeze what I can at the season end. I made an L-shaped raised bed, painted it Periwinkle Blue, and that’s the area for my veggies/herbs. I have a birdhouse post with the same color by the patio, and spray painted a large flower pot to match. I like the punch the color gives to the backyard.
Flowers and shrubs take up most of the perimeter of my yard, which is approximately a 50 X 50 sq. ft. space. I planted everything out there over the past seven years that I’ve lived here. I’ve included roses, both climbing and Knock-Outs, which give such pleasure and charm to the area. I have hydrangeas, clematis, larkspur, poppies, butterfly bushes, coneflowers and a birdbath ringed with Sweet Flag. It crowded out the ajuga, and it looks great.
Where do you garden?
Barb: W. Lafayette, Indiana, just about three minutes from Purdue in a typical suburban neighborhood. We have mature trees, and lots of birds visit the feeding stations throughout the neighborhood. We are just down the road from a natural preserve known as the Celery Bog... lots of wild geese, ducks, herons, and even eagles come over from the Wabash River area. With walking paths and golf course bordering the Bog, we have lots of visitors (human kind).
What do you love most about gardening?
Barb: It fills me up with creative joy. I like all aspects of being out there... from the wheelbarrow hauling, digging, deadheading, etc. to the meditation of being one with nature. I love the outdoors and always have. As a kid raised in southern Indiana I spent every day I could running through the woods close to our house and inventing my play. There I learned to examine closely the wild things that gave the woods its color and intrigue.
My house is on a natural flyway for the fowl that go to and from the Bog. Often when I’m outdoors I hear the honking overhead, even hear the sandhill cranes when they return to the northern counties. I love the feel of the sun, the coolness of misty, rainy days and the constant changing of the garden during the seasons. Often I’m surprised when I notice the errant flower coming up in an unplanned area. Reseeding is often fun in the garden. Squirrels move bulbs, or the wind rearranges the look of things. It’s the serendipity of life out there. I work out my problems as well as work my body tending to things, a “good” tired at the end of the day.
My twin sister also gardens and lives close by. We trade plants, help each other when needed and enjoy this passion together. She helped me build my refuse bin, using free skids picked up from a building site. We hooked them together with wire and twine and placed it along the back tree line.
I was married almost forty years to the same man. We had three wondrous children, two of whom are living. My husband died in 1997 of heart disease. My youngest child died of suicide when he was twenty. My family and friends have lifted me up when I needed them. And my gardens have been both a refuge and solace during the hard times.
What would you most like people to know about you?
Barb: That a sense of humor, along with a dose of humility, will serve as constant companions.
What other kinds of physical work do you do around the house? Other hobbies?
Barb: Up until the past two summers I’ve always done my own mowing; finally enlisted one of the neighbor boys to help with this. I put in a brick sidewalk three years ago; it still amazes even me. Today I’ve slowed down a bit but am already planning a brick edging along the west side of the border. I use a small stool with wheels for prolonged bending-over work. Saves my back and allows me to work longer. I do my own housework, not that it has high priority.
My activities have always included the gardens and taking good walks. I have two dogs and we try most days for a walk through this area. My hobbies include reading (a book is my best companion). Needlework, doll making, writing, cooking keep me busy and the creative juices flowing.
Any message you have for other women regarding gardening, staying healthy, anything at all?
Barb: I encourage all women/men to find activities that give you a sense of joy. I played tennis for years until a knee problem flared up. I have been blessed with good health most of my life. I try to eat healthy and cook the same.
When the sun shines, get out there, if only for fifteen minutes let that warmth in... good for your morale. If you smoke, stop. I did, and quit several years ago. I’ve been thankful every day since. Be grateful for what you have, live simply and share and give your knowledge and help to others. Life is to learn. Get those hands in the soil and grow some beauty.
-- February, 2012