Favorite photos of 2014

First off, I want to thank all of you for your kind comments on the last post and/or on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Text. Each one made the sadness just a little bit more manageable and that was so appreciated by my family and me.

We are all still bumming big time over the loss of our Casey and the new “normal” thrust upon us. It is so painfully empty in the house. And damn I had no idea what slobs the kids are; the crumbs Casey disposed of are now piling up. She did an awesome job of covering up for them.

So while I don’t have the drive or want to write up a witty post or research a favorite perennial, I did have the need to look back through ALL of my garden photos from 2014 for an energy lift out of these doldrums.

I find it so easy to immerse myself right back into the bloom and foliage colors like it is the middle of summer.

If I had any sense of smell (note to self – surgery in 2015) I could smell those flowers like they were in the room with me.

I can physically feel the warmth of that time.

This all feels damn good right about now.

So here is the what I think is the best of the best.







peony buds












mt airy fothergilla





Goodbye Casey

We lost our beloved dog Casey yesterday.

Even though she was 15 1/2 years old (how lucky were we?) and frail, it doesn’t make it any easier to accept that she is now gone. The void left behind hurts like hell and the entire family is officially out of tears. I will never forget the kids saying their final goodbyes to Casey and how a  whirlwind of old memories flashed by in an instant and punched us in the gut.

Seeing crumbs on the floor now hurts. We never had to worry about them before.

I struggle looking at the peanut butter jar. That is what we used to get Casey to take her medications over the years.

Twice I have moved to refill her water bowl.

I will forever think I hear her paws on the hardwood floor in the early morning.

But I don’t want to this post to be a downer; ha, too late. But seriously, we’ve had enough of that for now. Our therapy over the past 48 hours has been about reminiscing and laughing at all the memories Casey has provided since 1999.

We watched old videos to remember when she was young and spry. That felt good. She also clearly invented the idea of “photo bombing”, as she is literally in almost every home video.

We took out the old photographs (no digital for us in those early years) of when she was just a pup. We shared stories with the kids of Casey before they were born or just too young to remember.

So selfishly, the following pics and commentary are additional therapy for us and an homage to the greatest dog we’ve ever known. As I write this, I hope she is curled up on a couch made of bacon and is chewing away.

Here we go.

We picked Casey out of her litter solely based on the fact that she ran under a nearby car away from her siblings. She had a naughty streak we immediately took a  liking to.


The first night she was home with us, she pooped in her cage and rolled in it. Good times. We had to give her a bath 2:30 in the morning. Game on. This dog thing wasn’t going to be easy.


Casey literally never sat still that first year and wiped us the f out. Great, great practice for having children.


Casey was there while we tackled projects in our first home. On this day below, she and her uncle managed to get loose and I ended up picking thorns out of her eyelids.


A few things here. Casey loved car rides and I still hadn’t learned my lesson to not put my wallet on top of the car.


When I say she was our first baby, I am clearly not exaggerating.


She wasn’t cared for or loved at all.


The entire street would smile as they walked by the house and saw her welcoming mug.


Trips to the family lake house were not only enjoyed by the “humans”.


She ALWAYS managed to put a smile on everyone’s face.


Casey never took to any toys other than a football. One of our most distinct memories is of Casey munching on said football as she hung with the family.


But if I had to come up with one lasting image of our beautiful girl, it is of her laying her mouth on our laps while we ate breakfast, lunch or dinner. The girl adored food.


Maybe we tortured her without her knowing once in a while.


Even up until her last day when she was ready to leave us and cross over that rainbow bridge in the sky, she looked like that cute puppy.


There will never be another dog like you Casey and we all want to thank you for the impact you have made on all of our lives. We love you and will never forget you. I would kill to give you one last pizza crust and watch you crunch the hell out of it.


Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’

A quick tour of Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ from May through September of this year.

I’ve included the actual dates each of the photos were taken to show the long season of interest for this perennial.

Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ – May 14th


Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ – May 14th


Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ – May 25th


Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ – June 3rd


Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ with Dwarf Monarda – June 15th


Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ – October 5th


Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ – October 15th

Veronica ‘Royal Candles’

It is late September 2012 and I’m mourning the transition from summer to fall while I hum Taylor Swift’s “We are never getting back together”. I am in complete denial of the impending cold weather and in order to further facilitate that denial, I head online to find me some plant deals. The hunt for a bargain is always exciting and it allows me to dream of a better, warmer day.

One of the places I always check out is Santa Rosa Gardens. They are always good for some heavily discounted plants near the end of the gardening season. I have purchased a ton of ornamental grasses from them in September/October/November of each year with wild success.

On this day however, I find no grasses to my liking. But I am still desperate to acquire some new plants. After long deliberation, I remain calm and conservatively decide to buy a few bulbs. Nothing overly exciting but I still get off fantasizing about March/April blooms.

Right before I submit my order, I check out the “Bargain Bench” section one last time and without much thought, throw in an order of 6 plants at a super cheap price. To prove I’m not fibbing, you can see my actual order below.


Those 6 “throw-in’s” were Veronica ‘Royal Candles’.

A plant I had zero experience with.

A plant I had never researched.

A plant I had no plan for in terms of location (shocking, I know).

A plant that didn’t necessarily work with my conditions.

And a plant of which I now own over two dozen.


Isn’t that how it always works? The best plan is no plan at all.

After I received these 6 Veronica (Speedwell) through the mail, and in a move of desperation, I stuck them in the ground in a known wet spot just hoping they would miraculously survive the winter. Solid decision making there.

Not only did they survive the winter, they survived Hurricane Sandy only a few days after I planted them.  And they bloomed their little asses off that spring. I figured the rabbits or deer would eventually get them but they remained untouched all the way into fall.

Was it a stroke of a luck? I was leaning in that direction, so I didn’t touch them as we rolled into and through 2013. This would be the true test.

Sure enough, they kicked more booty and were once again OK with the waterlogged clay soil, the rabbits and the deer. I was hooked. Time to add a bunch more for that great punch of color.

I found them dirt cheap at my local nursery this spring and purchased a few trays. I literally placed them everywhere at the front of my beds.


And all I’ve gotten in return is purple awesomeness and hosts of happy critters along the way.



One of the complaints I’ve read about these perennials is how the blooms start to “brown up” from the bottom which takes away from the overall look of the blooms.



While this is true, I’ve found that with a quick snip of the blooms, they are quick to recover, usually blooming again within two weeks.


Yes, it is solely the blooms that make this plant interesting, but some times you simply want large bursts of color all at once and to date, this dwarf perennial has delivered the goods.



A few additional notes on this Speedwell:

  • Prefers full sun, but I have most of mine in partial sun with outstanding results
  • Size maxes out at approximately 12″ x 18″
  • Survives in zones 2-9
  • Apparently easy to divide and I will test this out next spring

You’ll be sure to hear more about these from me in 2015 as together we’ll see if they hold up well in year 3.






After the snow is gone

Now that all of the snow has melted, it has become obvious again just how much my garden is dominated by ornamental grasses. Call me crazy, but I’ll take all of the browns/buffs/beige/reddish browns over the white stuff any day. I find it oddly soothing, especially during one of our warmer and foggy days like today.

I kid you not, these pics are all from different sections of the garden even if they appear to be repeats. Even I had to look twice at some of these. I guess you can’t have too much of a good thing.

It was hard to locate angles without a grass in the shot, but I did manage to find a few.

grass winter 4


grass winter 5


grass winter 9


grass winter 6


grass winter 8


winter salix


arborvitae rheingold winter


grass winter


grass winter 7


grass winter 10

Sorghastrum nutans ‘Sioux Blue’

As you may have heard or read, I kind of like the ornamental grass. No other plant performs better in my garden and welcomes my wet and deer infested conditions with open arms.

One grass that I haven’t promoted all that much over the years has been the Blue Indian Grass – Sorghastrum nutans ‘Sioux Blue’. This U.S and Canadian native prairie grass makes a bold statement in my garden from August through the winter.


In bloom it now reaches (after five years of ownership) 7′ tall and about 3′ wide. It took a while to establish in years one and two when it started out as a small plug, but did it ever take off after that. As a means of comparison, the picture above is from mid September of this year, 2014 and the photo below is from that same time back in 2012.


I have it located in full sun but from all that I’ve read, it can work in partial sun as well. The deer have never bothered with it and it sits in rather waterlogged soil without much of an issue. Indian blue grass survives in zones 4-8 and typically starts blooming in early August here in zone 6B New Jersey.

A chronological tour from spring to fall:

This warm season grass doesn’t truly emerge until early June as seen below.


But even while small in stature during the early to mid summer months, it combines well with others shrubs/perennials. The blue/green blade color is fantastic as a contrast to darker leaved and colorful neighboring plants.




And then by late August, boom.





As you can see, the blooms are fantastic and draw the eye from all angles.

By late September, the fall color arrives and while it is fleeting, it is still damn attractive.


Even after the autumn shades disappear, the interest remains.


sorgahstrum fall

Would love to hear from you, have you had success with this grass? Have you had success with other cultivars? Have yours held up through the winter? Any success with dividing it?
















What I did wrong in 2014

“I can handle making tacos for dinner. Seriously, it is more about ‘preparing’ than it is actually ‘making’ dinner. It is one of the few meals I can’t screw up.”

That is an exact quote from me to my wife on January 5th, 2014. I know this exact date because since 1/1/14, I have logged 2-3 events from each and every day into a spreadsheet. With the spreadsheet I want to capture the lesser and easily forgotten moments to prevent them from collectively leaving our memories over time. Then on 12/31 this year (and in subsequent years), I’ll read the list off to the family and together we can laugh, get angry all over again and even cry. Brilliant, I know.

So back to the tacos.

The reason this moment stood out and was worthy of my spreadsheet, is that while I prepared the dinner perfectly fine (including black beans seasoned with lime juice, diced avocadoes, etc.) I did so with expired meat. Like really expired meat.

My wife had purchased the ground turkey a few days earlier and had taken the precaution to freeze it. However, dumb ass found another frozen package, this one beef. One he had frozen himself a few weeks earlier as a means to prevent it from stinking up the refrigerator until the way old meat could be properly disposed of.

I still remember the look on my daughter’s face when my wife said “This doesn’t taste like turkey” and I said “That’s because it isn’t.” Even she could put one and one together. Everyone’s mouth opened in unison and we had what appeared to be a well choreographed spitting out of food.

Fortunately, we were only a few bites into the meal when we called it off. But I was still convinced I had poisoned them all. I remember staying up late that night anticipating that horrific sound of the toilet bowl seat being violently raised followed by the inhuman howl. That never happened and I am happy to report I have “prepared” tacos on numerous occasions since. Fool me once …

While I haven’t reviewed my spreadsheet in detail, I’m sure it is filled with other John screw-ups. Some funny, others not so much. And as I write this, I’m thinking about a garden-only spreadsheet of events for next year. How great would it be to look back and laugh/cry at what I did wrong in my garden in 2015. We learn more from our failures than our successes right?

Speaking of which, here are just some of my failures in 2014.

I grew close to ten different varieties of tomatoes this past year and they were a welcome sight/taste all summer. But as much as I enjoyed them, I probably wasted at least half of them by not keeping up with the harvest.


Next year we grow fewer and we let not one go to waste. Shame on me.

Same goes with my broccoli plants. I didn’t harvest one stinkin head and allowed it to go to bloom before even noticing it. How the hell does that happen?


Some times an unexpected visitor is a welcome sight. Other times it isn’t. It begs you to yank it. And you promise yourself you’ll do it. And then you never do.


Here is what I will now call a “half grass”. Literally half of it never grew after it was cut back in late winter.


And this is who we blame.

spring cleanup

I should have been a better supervisor/task master so I have no one to blame but myself.

This iris (along with numerous others) is begging to be divided as seen with the sizable hole in the center.


Well that never happened even though it appeared on my to-do list for months on end.

Fool me once, shame on you (with “you” being a Monkshood); fool me twice, shame on me; fool me three times, shame on me x 2; fool me four times and well, I’m a bloody fool.


Seriously, I’ve attempted to grow Monkshood four times and each time it literally disappeared within a few months. Some times you just have to throw in the towel even if all signs and conditions point to it being a good idea.

There is color and then there is too much color.


I can’t tell you how close I was to ripping all of these plants out and starting over all while they were in full bloom. No, I wasn’t going for a red, white and blue theme. I don’t even remember the logic I applied when I pieced this together in early spring. It still annoys me to this day. It has since been rectified, but bad job, bad job John.

Yes, that is poison ivy that I ignored all spring/summer/fall and now I have no hopes of getting anywhere near that spigot in the future.

poison ivy

I continue to waste the impact and awesomeness of this Molinia ‘Sky Racer’ by keeping it solo in this yet to be developed garden bed.



The goal to eliminate more and more lawn did not take a step forward this year.


My lack of originality and creativity when it comes to container plantings continued.



Two consecutive years where the rabbits didn’t allow Chasmanthium latifolium (Northern Sea Oats) ‘River Mist’ to grow at all.


What I Did Right in 2014

I mulched one of my hydrangea today in hopes of protecting it this winter. Never mind that the deer can still find it and chow down on those delicious branches. At least I can say I put in about 35% effort.

And with that, I can now safely say that I have officially completed my last garden task outdoors this year. The temperature was in the teens here today and I am shutting it down. No more bulbs to be planted or weeds to be removed. Hibernation is in full effect.

Because of this, I am in a reflective mood. How did I do this gardening season? Have things progressed as expected? Am I any closer to hosting tours of my garden? Am I getting better at this? The answers are not too bad, not really, not even close and sort of.

For today, I am looking back on what I think I did right in 2014. As I look back on this year and review my many photos, I am proud of what I accomplished. Some things were small, others a long time coming and in some cases, I was simply lucky.

So sit back, grab your favorite beverage, crawl under your heated blanket, forget what is going on outside, turn off your TV’s and iPods and relive the 2014 gardening season with me. Coming to an IMAX theater near you soon …

Technically the dirty work was accomplished back in fall of 2013, but I reaped the rewards this spring. I used to shrug off the importance of early blooming bulbs as I find them fleeting and it is still too cold outside to truly enjoy them. All of that is true, but those first crocuses provide a spark after a long cold winter. They are a sign of things to come. I am thrilled that I finally loaded up on them and eagerly await their arrival already.



More with the bulb theme. I know definitively that I cannot grow tulips in the ground. They easily rot by spring. But what I can do is grow them in containers and store them in the garage over the winter. Come spring, once they show signs of growth I place them out in the sun and voila, we’ve got blooms. Who needs to spend $15 for them around Easter when you can buy 45 of them for like $3.99.




Simply put, you cannot have enough Allium ‘Globemaster’ and their giant 8″ blooms. Took me long enough to finally realize this.



It had been a few years, but I finally got back to growing lettuce and other vegetables in containers on my deck. The deer and rabbits can’t find them, I can control the soil and it easy to move them around for watering and various sun exposures. And it’s cheap. And the taste ain’t so bad either.



Don’t critique me, but I finally allowed many of my native plants to reseed wherever their heart desired and that resulted in more and more of these visitors.



You say this shrub has outgrown its location; I say right shrub, right conditions and it is just overly happy. Grow freely you beautiful Salix.



I read about a Carex/Ajuga combo in one of my hundred gardening books and jotted down the idea on a piece of paper. Go me for finally following through on something.



A Longwood Gardens visit was a long time coming.



I may not have succeeded in creating it in my own garden yet, but I promise you a “framed view” is always top of mind these days. Thanks James Golden!

federal twist garden12


I know I know, Baptisia are fantastic. Better late than never right?



Maybe my greatest accomplishment this year. A visit to the High Line. I’m thinking semi annual event going forward.

high line 30


The addition of multiple Andropogon gerardii ‘Red October’ already paid off in year one. I am giddy with anticipation for year two.



I wish I could take credit for this one, but the sudden emergence of like 50 Milkweed plants was simply magical. Some times it’s better to be lucky than good.



Using grasses to protect the tomatoes was a stroke of genius.

grasses protect veggies2



Getting him involved is hopefully a harbinger of things to come.



On a personal note, getting a chance to be on the radio (twice) was very cool. Hopefully a few more opps are in the cards this upcoming year.



Now it is time to sit back, enjoy what was and start planning for next year.



You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll learn what not to do