Cecilia McCann gardens low to the ground, close to the earth

PUNXSUTAWNEY — It’s a manner of gardening that works just fine for Cecilia (Wehrle) McCann, but at times, it may alarm passersby.

Given the fact that her eyesight isn’t what it used to be, she gets low to the ground, generally on her knees or lower, for a better look at the flowers she’s tending at her Liberty Street home.

“It’s hard on my legs, so I just get on the ground,” Mrs. McCann — also known as Aunt Deed, a derivative of her childhood nickname, Dee Dee Dumpling — said Tuesday. “I can’t stand up that long, and I can’t see that far anyway.”

A few years ago, a woman passing by saw her on the ground and panicked.
“She went to the neighbor’s house and said, ‘There’s a lady on the ground, and I need to call 911,’” Mrs. McCann said. “The neighbor said, ‘That’s how she gardens.’”

It works for Mrs. McCann, and it works for the Punxsutawney Garden Club, which named her as the recipient of its Garden of the Month honor for September, the final designation for 2011.

A Punxsy native and one of 13 children,

Mrs. McCann — “I’m 90 years old and going on 38,” she said — left the area after graduating from high school, studied nursing briefly and lived in Buffalo, N.Y., for more than 60 years before returning to this area in 2005 to be closer to family.

She said she’s been a gardener since she was nine years old. A rock garden she created as a child is still on the grounds of her family’s homestead, and she said she always had gardens while living in Buffalo. But that wasn’t the case when she first returned to Punxsy.

“All I had was two great big hosta plants,” she said of the house when she returned to Punxsy.

Gradually, family members began giving her flowers, such as black-eyed Susans, purple iris, sunflowers, day lilies, marigolds and more. Her niece, Jean Sisk, gave her a tiny rose of Sharon, which has grown to the extent that Mrs. McCann can now prune it.

What began as Mrs. McCann receiving plants has now become family members receiving flowers from her.

“She has the nursery, and we help ourselves,” Jean said.

Mrs. McCann said the soil around her house is very good, given the fact that Mahoning Creek is mere yards from her backyard, which is also adorned by an outhouse — built by Ron Brewer, the husband of her niece, Mary, to house her tools — and patrolled by her cat, Bonnie Jean.
In addition to caring for her own yard, she also takes care of the flowers surrounding the sign for Harmon Field, which is centered in the park’s parking lot, which is next to her property.

A local Boy Scout, Austin Pate, refurbished the sign in 2000 for his Eagle Project. Mrs. McCann cared for the flowers around the sign, but became alarmed when she saw the Public Works crew doing something to the sign.

“They said, ‘We’re just putting a roof on it,’” much to her relief, she said.

Mrs. McCann’s neighbor, John Smith, was among those who nominated her for the Garden of the Month prize. She protested, but he said the whole neighborhood wanted her to have the honor.

She learned about the news from another niece, Dotty Jekielek, who is also a Garden Club member.

As the season turns from summer to fall, Mrs. McCann is beginning to wrap up this gardening season. She saves the seeds for the marigolds, sunflowers and xenia, and the cold months will be spent leafing through garden catalogs in planning for next spring, when she can get back on the ground and do what she loves outdoors.

Mrs. McCann said her nieces, Jean and Mary, help her with watering and other tasks, but they insist she does all the work herself.

“That’s what gets her out of bed,” Jean said.

What Mrs. McCann’s 2012 garden will look like is anyone’s guess, but she said when that time comes, she’ll be outdoors, on the ground, working on it again.

“If the Lord is willing, I offer everything to Him and thank Him for this beautiful, beautiful planet,” she said.