Grief: Patio gardens cheer everyday life

  • Pretty gerba daisies flourish on a patio.

    Pretty gerba daisies flourish on a patio.

Updated 10/20/2019 9:25 AM

A patio garden is a favorite hobby of mine. It brings me cheer all spring and summer because it is in full view right outside my kitchen sliding glass doors and the windows above the sink. It's engaging, pleasing, fun, and taking care of the patio flowers makes me feel better. So this actually helps me deal with long-term grief, with missing my dear husband Baheej. He loved flowers.

Now that fall is here, and I am looking out at my rather bare patio, and I realize I need more pumpkins, more fall decorations and maybe I should even put up the Christmas lights early -- lights strung on the patio railings and bushes will help fill the void left by summer flowers now gone. And they will brighten up the much shorter days we now have.


Every year, about June 1, I plant flowers, tomatoes and herbs in a dozen pots on my back patio. Basil, parsley, oregano, thyme, rosemary, tarragon. They grow well and last all the summer. And so do flowers if you get ever-blooming plants such as geraniums, petunias, pansies, marigolds and gerba daisies -- both herbs and such flowers are easy upkeep. I favor gerba daisies because my husband Baheej first gave them to me as a gift for the patio years ago, and they are perky with bold colors. I get some every year. In the hot weeks, the patio pots need daily watering, which is good because it gets me outside in the morning. (But I need to be careful because gerba daisies only take half the water of other flowers.)

If you cook, the homegrown herbs and tomatoes are a joy to use in soups, roasting and salads. If you don't, they are pretty and nice to give to friends who do cook. I cook a lot.

This year, in late summer, I added a second bird-feeder pole right by the patio so now I can see some of the birds close up. It will be fun this winter. And I finally discovered a type of bird feeder that is truly squirrel-proof. After all these years of looking and trying various types of feeders! It's called "Squirrel-Be-Gone." A spring in the outer casing slams shut under the weight of a squirrel or chipmunk, covering all the feeding holes so the rascals can't get any birdseed. No kidding, it works.

My patio herbs are of course finished for this year. But I cut and dried some for use this winter. Tomatoes also long gone. But there's nothing like homegrown tomatoes for flavor.

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Years ago, we used to plant all sorts of vegetables out in our backyard. The old part of Sleepy Hollow was once a farm and has very fertile black soil. Nowadays there are many deer that come in at night and eat everything -- especially the growing tender tips of pumpkin vines, squash flowers, all the delicate bits at the tops of bell peppers, flowers on tomato plants, etc. So, these days, nothing edible reaches maturity if it's outside the protection of my patio railings. We used to have a veritable pumpkin and zucchini farm out there. I gave up and sodded in all the vegetable gardens. I now plant my herbs and tomatoes only on the patio.

My new idea for next year is that I'll also try to grow other vegetables in big terra cotta pots. I think zucchini and cucumbers may work in pots. Also I will try a couple pots of sunflowers since if they are out in the yard when they sprout, their little fresh shoots are very delicious for deer. Same problem as with vegetables.

For me, it's fun to see tomatoes and herbs grow, and then become part of home-cooked meals -- and just looking at them out the windows is appealing. Growing vegetables, herbs and flowers is hopeful and forward looking, two essential feelings for coping with grief.

Sometimes little activities, such as taking care of a patio garden or feeding the pretty backyard birds, have a big positive impact on the spirit.

Daily feeding of birds is another good excuse to get out in the yard. This summer I got a new multi-arm pole to use for my main cluster of bird feeders out in the middle of the backyard, and I put it in a better position where I can see it more clearly from the kitchen. Also, I often sprinkle some black sunflower seeds on the patio, which attract squirrels, birds and chipmunks, and provide harmless entertainment to my kitties, Sheba and Coffee Cat.


The outside animals and birds seem to understand that the cats are behind the glass doors, so all are safe. And the kitties love watching the action. All in all, the patio is a cheerful and manageable space.

Little pleasures make a nice day. Little everyday pleasures help stave off sadness -- so they help cope with grief. Sounds simple, but they add up.

Now as we move on toward Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, there will be new sources of positive feelings. But before that, I'm looking forward to the annual Khleif family reunion in New Hampshire.

The point is: In long-term grief, we need to look ahead, look forward to happy plans, hobbies, favorite activities and special events.

This could be as simple as planting the spring patio garden pots or looking forward to a family gathering. Or playing daily with our sweet pets.

I brush my kitties every morning after their tuna breakfast; they love to be brushed and I enjoy hearing their purring of contentment.

Sometimes it takes effort to think these positive thoughts, but it's worth it. It will cheer everyday life.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a Ph.D. in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College, and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at or see her blog See previous columns at

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