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Have you ever had a ‘substitute’ teacher?  As most of you know, a substitute teacher doesn’t do things the same way our regular teacher does.

A few years ago, I was asked to step in as a ‘substitute’ for my father-in-law’s landscape.

Meticulously pruned desert ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis)
 
My father-in-law had always been a meticulous gardener and took a lot of pride in his landscape.
Have you ever seen rounder shrubs?
 
A few years earlier, I had designed the landscape around his new home and tried to convince him to allow his plants to grow into their natural shapes.  But as you can see from the photo above, he didn’t follow my advice.
 
He eventually took out his backyard grass and replaced it with artificial turf and whenever flowers or leaves would fall on the grass, he would vacuum them up – I’m not kidding.
 
We would often joke with each other about our very different styles of gardening – especially when he would come over to my house for a visit and see my plants growing “wild and free” as he would say.  
 
But despite our differences, we shared the same love for plants and the garden.
 
Unfortunately, his gardening days were numbered and he asked me to come over and help him with the gardening tasks that he could no longer do.
 
My father-in-law was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in October 2010 and it progressed very rapidly.
 
So, I became his ‘substitute gardener’ and I was happy to be able to help out so that he could still enjoy the beauty of his garden, even if he could not care for it himself.
 
 
In early August of 2011, I lightly pruned back his gold lantana.  At this point, my father-in-law spent most of his time indoors sitting down. But, as I was pruning, I saw him slowly make his way out, with his walker, so he could watch me prune his plants.
 
At this point, he could no longer talk due to ALS and I’m certain that if he could have spoken, he might have asked me to make the lantana ’rounder’.
 
After this light pruning, the lantana would grow back to its original size before stopping during winter.  If they had not been pruned, they would have look quite overgrown for my father-in-law’s taste.
Light pruning involves removing 1/3 or less.  The timing of this light pruning is crucial – prune too late and your plants will be extra susceptible to damage from frost.  Don’t prune after early August in zone 9 (July in zone 8) gardens. Pruning in fall should not be done for this very reason. 
 
 
Another part of the garden that my father-in-law took a lot of pride in was his flowering annuals.  Every year, he would plant the same red geraniums and white-flowering bacopa in winter.  Once spring rolled around, he would plant red and white vinca. He never deviated by trying out newer colors or varieties.
 
I found myself taking over this job as well and when I came home and see all there was to do in my neglected garden – I didn’t mind.  It felt so good to be able to control how his garden looked because ALS had taken control of everything else.
 
My father-in-law died in September 2011, just 11 months after being diagnosed with ALS.  
 
It’s been almost 3 years since he passed away, but whenever August comes around and I find myself lightly pruning back my gold lantana – I enjoy the memory of one our last moments together in the garden as I pruned his lantana.

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Some daughter-in-law’s don’t have much in common with their father-in-law. 

In my case, when I married my husband 25 years ago, I wasn’t sure if I would have any shared interests with my father-in-law…..he was a dentist (I was deathly afraid of dentists), he ran 3 miles a day (I got a ‘stitch’ in my side if I tried running to the corner), he was very orderly and meticulous (I am neither of those things) and he was soft spoken (while I can be a bit loud).

I knew he loved me and I him, but sometimes conversation would lag because besides the kids and family, there wasn’t much else to talk about.

That is until I started to become interested in plants and landscaping.  You see, my father-in-law always had well-designed landscapes filled with beautiful plants.  As I decided to pursue a degree in Urban Horticulture, he was very supportive.

Goodding’s Verbena (Glandularia gooddingi)      
Even better, we now had lots to talk about.  Our visits would often include visits into each others garden.
I would show him my newest plant acquisition and he would in turn, ask me questions about a few of his plant problems.
Red Yucca  (Hesperaloe parviflora)
 
A few years later, he and my mother-in-law made the trip up to my newest job location, took me out to lunch and asked me to show them around the landscape areas I was in charge of.

Blackfoot Daisy  (Melampodium leucanthum)

 When he retired, he asked me to design the landscape for their new home.  He had some ideas of what he wanted and then let me go at it.
Damianita  (Chrysactinia mexicana)
 I enjoyed working closely with him, in coming up with a design and the plants that he liked.

Purple Prickly Pear  (Opuntia violaceae)

While I enjoyed visiting and seeing his landscape mature, I didn’t always agree with the way he like to prune his shrubs…


 His style gardening was orderly and meticulous, like he was.
We would sometimes tease each other because our styles were vastly different.

‘Torch Glow’ Bougainvillea

But no matter our landscaping styles, we still enjoyed going out into the garden together. 

Last October, my father-in-law was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).  

Phoenix Bird-of-Paradise  (Caesalpinia pulcherrima ‘Phoenix’)

In a very short time, he was robbed of the ability to speak, swallow, eat and the use of his hands.
Now, unable to work in his garden himself, he had to rely on others.
I considered it a privilege to help him where I could.

‘Rio Bravo’ Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’)

He endured this horrible disease with dignity, a sense of humor and through his faith.

Mexican Fence Post (Pachycereus marginatus)

This past Saturday, after 2 weeks in hospice care, he passed away.

We were all blessed to be by his side as he took his last, labored breath.

One of the last things he wrote was,

“My race is almost over.”


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 I think it will be awhile before I can step into his garden without shedding tears.  
I will miss sharing our love for plants together…..

A couple of weeks ago, we were spending our weekly visit with my husband’s parents.  Because my father-in-law is suffering from ALS, he can no longer do anything around the house or the garden for that matter.

My father-in-law always did his own landscaping chores.  He took great pride in having a meticulous landscape.  And yes, that included pruning his shrubs into round, green balls 😉


We would often tease each other, because I love the more ‘natural’ look as opposed to his more formal landscaping.  
Now that I help out in his garden, I am very careful not to leave any debris behind such as fallen leaves or leaf for that matter.  You see, his garden is so clean, you would almost think that he vacuumed it.
In my garden, I feel like my garden is clean if I use a leaf-blower once a year 😉
Well, back to our visit with my in-laws.  My father-in-law asked me if I would prune back his flowering Gold Lantana.
Oh boy, this was a big deal.  You see, I do not like to prune any plants that are flowering.  In fact, I get up on my soapbox often, preaching against it.
But, you know what I did?
 I pruned it…..
You can see how much I removed in the pile to the left.
My father-in-law even came outside with his walker to see how it looked, which as a big deal since he has a lot of difficulty walking now.
So why did I do it?  
Well there are two reasons.
First, it is okay to lightly prune plants that are growing large this month.  Now, my father-in-law’s Lantana really did not need to be pruned, but I knew it wouldn’t hurt them.

When pruning in August, I would avoid pruning more then 1/3.  The reason is that as fall approaches (I know it’s hard to believe with temps still in the low 100’s), plants will continue to grow until the cooler weather arrives.  So that nice-sized flowering plant can become too big by the time November comes around.

So if possible, I wouldn’t prune unless your plant is outgrowing its space.  But, if you prune lightly in August, you should be okay until spring, when you can prune your plants back more severely.

The second and most important reason that I pruned back my father-in-law’s Lantana is because I love him and I know how much his garden means to him.  I realize how hard it must be for him to not be able to do much of anything now.

After I was finished pruning back his Lantana (which really didn’t need it), I could see in his eyes how happy it made him.  He typed “Thank you” on his iPad, which is how he communicates now.  The software he uses actually ‘speaks’ whatever he types in.

Sadly, even now that is now hard for him to do.  It is harder for him to type with his one finger, which is the way he has always typed.

Yesterday was my in-law’s 50th wedding anniversary.  My father-in-law ‘texted’ my husband asking him if he could arrange to have roses delivered to my mother-in-law. 

The words he asked to be put on the card were simple, yet communicated everything:
“Thank you, my love.”

That simple phrase brought tears to my eyes.

Some of you may remember my mentioning that my father-in-law is suffering from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).  The type that he has is very fast moving and in the eight months since he was diagnosed, he can no longer talk, has difficulty walking, has a stomach tube since he can’t eat, he cannot dress himself or even take care of some of his most basic needs.

It has been such a fast progression and we can see differences from week to week.  My father-in-law is a very strong person and is a wonderful example for all of us as he bears this incredible burden gracefully.


As Father’s Day approached this year, we wondered how should we celebrate it with him?  Our normal celebrations in the past included lots of delicious food…..not such a good idea when you cannot eat.


The next idea that we had was maybe having us all go to a movie together.  A couple of hours escaping the grim reality of day to day living might be something that he would like.


In the end, my father-in-law asked us all to come over and help with some projects around the house that he can no longer do.  My mother-in-law is very busy taking care of his needs and her normally spotless house needed some attention as well.


So, we all headed on over.  The kids were put in charge of dusting and cleaning the baseboards.  My husband and brother-in-law got busy fixing some things around the house and changing the air-conditioning filters.  My sister-in-law helped with the cleaning.

Now, what did I do?  I was in charge of planting flowers and pruning.  My father-in-law always has a beautiful display of seasonal annual flowers.  But he can no longer hold things in his hands easily and his strength is rapidly weakening.  So, I was more than happy to step in.


My mother-in-law had already removed most of the cool-season annuals.


There is nothing I like more then a blank canvas.

The flowers that they selected were red and white Vinca.  Now, my mother-in-law kept saying that I had the worst job because I had to work outside in the heat.  She kept coming outside to offer me water.

But, I was really enjoying my job.


You see, in my past jobs as a horticulturist, I was used to planting hundreds of flowering annuals every season.  I always enjoyed doing it and to be honest, I could probably do it in my sleep.

Do you have something that you are good at doing?  
Now I am the first to admit that there a lot of things that I am not particularly good at.  But, planting is one thing that I do well and quickly (I really don’t like spending more time in the hot sun then I have to 😉
I enjoyed planting these flowers and it brought back memories of my past work experience.  Nowadays, I only plant annuals in my containers at home.



My father-in-law and I share a love for gardening.  But, our styles are very different.  While we both love many of the same plants – his style is very formal and structured while mine is the exact opposite – I like natural shapes and textures.

In fact, my garden can sometimes be a bit overgrown because I love how my shrubs look when in flower and I abhor pruning them off.  My garden can also be a bit messy for some.  I think that fallen flowers look beautiful on the ground, while others use leaf-blowers and even a vacuum to suck up every stray leaf and flower.

I must admit, that I was very nervous about cleaning up everything afterward.  I wanted to make sure that my completed job was nice and clean.
My father-in-law was very happy with his new flowers and was so grateful for all of the work that we all did for him on Father’s Day.


This Father’s Day was very bittersweet for me.  You see, I lost my own father 4 years ago and my father-in-law has become even more special to me.  Sadly, we do not know if my father-in-law will be here next year for Father’s Day.

I am so grateful that I had a very special dad and that I have a wonderful father-in-law.

Have you ever been given the gift of a wonderful memory?  

I have…..

 Nassau, Bahamas
 Earlier this week, I wrote about our recent vacation to the Caribbean.
We went with my husband’s parents and his sister’s family as well.  We all had a fabulous time, (except for me coming home sick).
My husband and I had a great time just hanging out with our family and having no agenda other then eating, swimming and visiting different islands.
  Me with 4 of my 5 kids in front of our ship in St. Maarten
Of course, being on a cruise, we enjoyed wonderful food (especially my husband), and none of us got seasick.
We visited different ports and had fun walking around town.
  I didn’t know that I was in this picture 😉
We enjoyed the beautiful scenery and spending time with my husband’s parents and his sister’s family.
  St. Thomas
Our vacation was very relaxing and the kids were eager for the next adventure.
My kids met some interesting people along the way….
 
My favorite day was spent on the beach in the Bahamas with my husband, 5 kids and son-in-law.  
Spending this day on the beach brought back memories of the countless times that I spent on the beach with my father.  You see, I was raised along the coast in Southern California and my dad was the classic beach bum.  He really wasn’t a bum, he was a social worker, but he loved going to the beach.
We would go to the beach all the time as kids and swim in the ocean, build sand castles and bury my dad as well.  Later, he would do the same with my two oldest daughters.
I missed him especially this day.  He has been gone for almost 4 years.  But on that day in the Bahamas, I stepped in and taught my youngest kids how to make sand castles, just like my dad taught me.

Since my father’s death, my father-in-law has become even more special to me.  He is both a wonderful father and a fantastic grandfather.  I am blessed to live close to him and my mother-in-law and they have been fixtures in my life for over 25 years.

My daughter, husband and son.

This vacation was a gift to us all from my father-in-law.  It was meant to be a special time to be spent with family, building even more memories then we already have.
While we all had a wonderful time, it was also rather bittersweet.  You see, we do not have much time left to enjoy with my father-in-law.

Last fall, my father-in-law was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) last year.  The type of ALS that he has moves rather rapidly and he wanted to give us all the gift of wonderful memories spent with him while he is still able to move freely.

This truly horrible disease is moving very quickly.  In the short 5 months since we heard of his diagnosis, he can no longer speak and is losing muscle strength and will be getting a feeding tube soon since eating is so difficult to do now.

Despite the challenges he faces, my father-in-law is a wonderful example of grace and courage.  As a believer in Christ, he is not afraid of death.  But, he is very sad about leaving us all behind until we can join him in heaven.

As a family, we are grieving for the fact that we will lose him much too soon.  But, I am so grateful for the wonderful memory of this vacation that we will all treasure in our hearts.

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When I first started this blog, I focused solely on plant and gardening information.  But, I soon found myself sharing bits and pieces about myself and my family.  

I found that I actually like to know a little about the people whose blogs I read.  It makes them seem more real to me somehow.

So, I will probably share with you from time to time how my father-in-law is doing.  It is a major part of what is going on in my life right now.

We would appreciate your prayers as we journey through the next few months 🙂

**Please check out my latest Birds and Blooms blog post “Flowering Shrubs for Hummingbirds”