Carla’s joy & inspiration in “earthing” is restored, thanks to 125 hours of garden help from friends


 COOPER, Iowa, July 30, 2020 — Throughout my adult life, gardening has been a real joy for me.  Ever since I’ve had my own yard, I’ve been digging in the dirt, planting seeds and watching things grow.

And I’ve been fairly successful at perennials, annuals and vegetables.  I’m just getting started with fruits with my new little red raspberry patch.

Sometime over the last year, I read about the concept “earthing.”

It defined me.  An “earther” is someone who likes to be in touch (literally) with the earth, physically touching, playing in and focusing on the earth with all its dirty feels and smells.  I love it!

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Carla Offenburger enjoying the phlox in her roadside garden.

As I reflect over the past 30-plus years, it is in gardening that I have found calm, quiet, peace and beauty.  It makes me happy all the time.  I am confident that gardening has cured heartaches, calmed my soul, saved my sanity and help feed my family the best tomatoes ever.

All this is why the past two years have been slowly breaking my heart.  I have to acknowledge that my health doesn’t allow me to spend full days in my gardens. Weeding, planting, replanting, creating and harvesting is hard work.  Hard work doesn’t quite fit in my cancer journey.

There used to be days or weekends when I would spend 6-8 hours at a time out “earthing.”  Now, I’m happy if I can work in an hour every day (broken up with a nap or two).

I am sure I have been trying to ignore the signs and refused to acknowledge this new reality, but earlier this spring, it was made very real to me.  Chuck and I had a new garage built, and with that came a new garden space – fresh black soil and a space between garage and sidewalk that was begging to be made into a garden.

I had it all planned.  But it wasn’t to be.  Chuck gently said to me one day, “Carla, you can’t have any new garden spaces.  You can’t physically do it.”  I knew he was right, but it felt so personal.  Such a terrible realization.  I quickly turned away and went to seek solace in the blooming lilacs and had myself a good little cry.

And now it is late July.  I have found new joy in taking care of the gardens I have – eight flower beds and one vegetable garden.   And the gardens look great.  With a lot of watering and 20 minute “weeding sessions,” I have successfully kept things growing and blooming.  Oh, and I’ve had a lot of help from Chuck, too.

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The latest of many bouquets from Carla’s gardens — this one featuring purple lupine and brown-eyed Susans.

The initial help came from my gardening friends (angels I called them).  I invited them via Facebook to a “garden party” at our place in early May.  I said the activity at the party would be tackling my spring spruce-up list, garden by garden, and I would supervise.

Those angels, by the way, ranged in age from 18 to 73.  My friend Mary Riche, who would be at the upper age range, worked hard for three hours, then smartly stated, “Carla, you need to find some younger friends.”

Actually, the garden party extended beyond that one Saturday in May.  It started even earlier for some friends, and has gone well into the summer for others.  But wow! I am filled with joy at the end result.

When I reflect on all that was done and the time spent doing it, here’s what I’m so grateful for:

  • Eight flower beds, cleaned, weeded and mulched.
  • One vegetable garden roto-tilled, planted with tomatoes, green peppers and calla lily bulbs.
  • New mulch beds around the oak and maple trees in the front yard.
  • Scrub trees out back trimmed up and cleaned.
  • The gate entry to the main garden re-done.
  • Large, overgrown barberry bushes and evergreen bushes removed from two garden areas.
  • Lilacs trimmed back and ready for new growth.
  • New mailbox area spruced up.
  • Front container garden – featuring potted plants — extended and mulched.
  • And a very small “new” ornamental grass and rose bush garden next to the garage (thank you, Chuck)

All in all, about 25 friends and family members put in well over 125 hours to make all this happen.

And I have since spent my summer days taking care of what my garden angels gave me – a gift that brings me more joy than any other.  What a garden summer it’s been!

You can write the columnist by email at carla@Offenburger.comor comment directly about this column by using the handy form below here. More photos from the “garden party” in early May are below here.

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The “angels” in the May 9 “garden party” group. Front, left to right, are Emily Ressler, Chris Woods, Aaron Ressler (just behind), Mary Riche, Priscilla Ruhe and Tammie Amsbaugh, and in back Carla and Chuck Offenburger.

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The morning after they completed planting their corn crop, farm neighbors Karen and Doug Lawton spent several hours working in our gardens.

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Randy Kienast, who works as a hired hand for Lawton Farms, put on an amazing exhibition of using a log chain and the tractor to twist, pull, and load in the scoop overgrown barberry and evergreen bushes — then hauled them to the burn pile out back.

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Emily Ressler, Carla’s former assistant when both worked at Greene County Medical Center’s community relations department, came from the Kansas City area with her husband Aaron Ressler, and she did the critical job of cleaning up and pampering the rhubarb patch. Aaron built mulch beds around our younger trees.

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Our longtime friend Mary Riche, from Des Moines, attacking an out-of-control forsythia out front.

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Mary Riche, a serious (yet fashionable) gardener.

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And on hand, as always, it seems, were the Burt sisters — with Tammie Amsbaugh (left) and Chris Woods coming from Des Moines to help Carla with the gardens.

8 thoughts on “Carla’s joy & inspiration in “earthing” is restored, thanks to 125 hours of garden help from friends

  1. I envy those who “earth” and can make plants grow! I love to enjoy others’ gardens. Gives me JOY. But I didn’t inherit my mother’s green thumb. So thank you, Carla, Chuck and your angels for making the world a more beautiful and enjoyable place for others!

    Cathy Barnett

  2. Carla, why don’t you start a new movement entitled “Garden Party”? Get folks to pitch in, hit-up Earl May for the seeds, and have that guy there beside you do a ton of promo for you? He knows how; have seen a couple of things he wrote. In all sincerity, it was a joy to read your article. Always wishing you the best.

    Jim Ross Lightfoot, White Oak TX

  3. Carla and Chuck, you have been blessed with wonderful friends, neighbors and family! Your gardens look beautiful! Working in your gardens has been “good” for your mental and physical health!

    Sue Green, Cedar Falls IA

  4. I enjoy reading how your garden angels made it possible for you to enjoy the fruits of the season. I can feel your love of the land and how refreshing to your soul. Miss seeing you.

    Lois Clark, Jefferson IA

  5. Dear Carla, I love your stories and am especially pleased to “meet” your garden angels through pictures and grateful to hear of the progress your gardens are making. You and your flowers are beautiful. I too know the calm and peace that comes when working in this luxurious Iowa soil, helping little things to grow. Here (below) is a garden poem that came to mind as I read your words — you will know the poem too — or at least recognize the sentiment. Sending love.

    Lou Blanchfield, Churdan IA

    The Lord God Planted a Garden
    By Dorothy Frances Gurney (1858-1932)

    THE Lord God planted a garden
    In the first white days of the world,
    And He set there an angel warden
    In a garment of light enfurled.
    So near to the peace of Heaven,
    That the hawk might nest with the wren,
    For there in the cool of the even
    God walked with the first of men.
    And I dream that these garden closes
    With their shade and their sun-flecked sod
    And their lilies and bowers of roses,
    Were laid by the hand of God.
    The kiss of the sun for pardon,
    The song of the birds for mirth,
    One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
    Than anywhere else on earth.

  6. I, too, have too many beds surrounding our home. There are times I find the tending to the weeds to be a meditation of focus and progress. Your rich community of friends is affirmation of your strength and compassion for all of them. I’m glad to hear that the gardens are giving you pleasure and peace in this journey through cancer.

    Mary Hilliard, Des Moines

  7. I got the green thumb when I bought the “Art Church” here in Malvern. It’s carried over to our house and a couple town projects. I’ve created several happy accidents — beginner’s luck. It’s fun to watch things grow. This is a great story. I too am a “earther”! Flowers are a surprise to me every time. It sounds like Simple Serenity Farm is in its glory.

    Zack Jones, Malvern IA

  8. Your blog was beautiful. Had to wipe my eyes with my clean fingers since I’m not a gardener. Made me wish I was but I have a black thumb. Impressive and heartfelt. You remain in my prayers.

    Kathy Mathews, West Des Moines

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