Book #2

A few days ago I was all set to officially embark on the journey for book #2.

I was seated comfortably on my favorite couch. I had my favorite mug filled with black coffee. The dog was curled into a pretzel and leaning against my right leg. I had my headphones secured and started listening to my favorite loud and aggressive bands. I had a blank Word document open on the laptop.

The writing process was in motion.

And then nothing.

For hours.

What I thought was a good concept for the next book suddenly was not. It hit me like a ton of bricks. This wasn’t going to work. It wasn’t going to work because I was choosing what was easiest, not what was best. That never works.

So I’m back to square one. I’m back to evaluating all of the partially formed ideas that reside in my head. Back to the pros and cons columns.

And then I realized what I needed to do.

I need all of you to tell me what I need to do.

Here’s the cold hard truth: The first book was basically 8 years of blog posts curated into a book. Those posts formed the backbone of the book. Once they were pulled together, it wasn’t too difficult to tweak and edit it into a coherent book.

I have no regrets. I still feel strongly about the concept but realize the layout and content could have been better. While hooking up with a publisher wasn’t in the cards and there are limited options when self-publishing, I know there was still room for improvement. But I’m happy I took the plunge and published it.

#2 needs to be different.

I want to know exactly what you as reader would want to see in the next book. Yes, I want all of you to choose the concept/topic of my next book. Who knows better than the actual reading audience?

When that is determined, I then want all of you to weigh in on the layout/outline of the book. In short, I want to crowdsource this next book. I want the entire journey of the book process to be documented. I want the highs and lows accounted for in writing. After all, the fun is in the process and in the journey. If it’s going to be a marathon, I want you all there with me.

With that in mind, here are some of those ideas I referenced earlier. Read through them and let me know your initial thoughts. My best guess is that the topic for the next book isn’t in this first list and that we’ll slowly and methodically work our way there.

Let’s do this:

Ornamental grasses – including my origin story, my favorites, advantages, maintenance, history, etc.


Designing with ornamental grasses and perennials – I’ve got a ton of combos I’ve already identified from my own garden.


Part 2 of “Perennials Through the Seasons” – but presented differently and including bulbs and/or shrubs


Short stories/collection of garden essays – that tie to life – a mix of funny/serious/emotional. Like this:

Committing crimes at the nursery


My favorite shrubs – that match specific criteria in my garden – deer resistant, poor draining





My garden – 10/11/17

A lot of changes in only a week’s time. I’m doing my best to capture those changes, both  subtle and dramatic.

To the shock of no one, the ornamental grasses lead the charge.

And the remaining flowers are few and far between.


Grasses reaching their peak







Color coming to an end








Bye Bye Berries





Seed heads




Garden tour – 10/6/17

Still holding on

The Globe Amaranth is finally showing signs of fading but what a show it put on for months. I’ve mentioned it before but it’s worth mentioning again, to myself.




You know it’s October

When there is artwork left behind each morning.





I said “Oh, shit” out loud when I saw the flowers on this Pennisetum early this morning. They are completely blinding. I think my eyesight is still screwed up hours later.



Sorbaria (Sem False Spirea) in front of Schizachyrium (Little Bluestem) in front of Panicum ‘Rots’ (Switch Grass).



I kind of like them. Especially in October.





Savoring Fall via Instagram

I can’t take enough of these types of photos.




That’s Why I Wrote the Book

The seed heads left behind on the Boltonia look fantastic right now.





Eco Garden System

I get pitched a lot of items as a garden blogger. Over the past 7 years, I’ve been offered  mosquito repellents, kink-less hoses and ostrich fertilizer. While I appreciate the passion and innovation of these start-ups, I almost always pass on accepting samples and a subsequent review. I like to think I’m a blogger with some integrity and many of these products don’t fit with who I am so I happily pass on the freebie.

But every once in a while an opportunity presents itself that is too good to pass up. A product that sells itself within seconds. A product that fits right in my wheel house. A product where I can’t say “yes please” fast enough.

The Eco Garden System is one of those products.

I was ridiculously fortunate to be given an Eco Garden System (“Original Garden”) for a trial and while it is too early to provide a full review, I can say the early votes are in and they are all extremely positive.

eco garden system

As you can see, this is a raised platform planter with so much more than meets the eye. Here are just some of the details:

  • The Eco Garden System is made out of recycled “food contact grade plastic” which means there is no leaching from wood, no contaminants and should provide more longevity than that of a wooden planter.
  • There is a water reservoir at the bottom of the planter and it is separated from the soil through a plant soil platform. This reservoir collects rain water so no water ever goes to waste.

eco garden system

  • The separation of the water reservoir from the soil and ultimately the roots of the plants above, creates a desired “air gap”. This air gap allegedly leads to “super growth” as the roots hang in the gap, absorb the maximum amount of oxygen and thrive with all of the moisture.
  • The water reservoir actually warms the soil temp above which allows for a longer growing season.
  • If the water reservoir becomes too full, there is a drain at the bottom of the planter to allow for excess water to be disposed.

  • If the water supply dwindles, you simply hook up a hose and fill the reservoir. Easy peasy.


I received mine a few weeks back and couldn’t wait to open the box and get to work.

Now if you know me, I’m kind of horrendous at all things DIY. That includes putting anything together. When the need calls, I always call my brother-in-law and beg for his guidance.

But not this time.

I did it all myself.

And while I’d love to pump myself up and tell you how proud I was of my accomplishment, the truth is it couldn’t have been any easier.

This is all I had to do a few times.

eco garden system

It took about 45 minutes to complete the assembly and I didn’t have to go back and correct myself at the very end.

Go me.

Once it was built, I found level ground in the garden and my new planter had a home.

I followed the suggestion on the website and filled the planter with a 4 to 1 ratio of organic garden soil and peat moss for moisture retention.

Since we are in the early stages of fall, I dug up some of my cold season veggie seeds and planted them in my shiny new planter.

And now we wait.

While I’m excited to see the seedlings emerge, I’m most excited to create a cut flower garden next spring.

So what do you think?

I’ll be working closely with this company moving forward and will see what we can do in terms of a giveaway/contest/discount.

More fun to come.







Tour of the garden – 9/27/17

After the events of the past two weeks, the garden has never felt more trivial yet has been a great refuge at the same time. I have no energy to attack the “to-do” list or even lift a shovel, but I could spend hours with the camera capturing it in all its early fall glory.

So with that in mind, here are some of the photos I’ve taken the past few days. I’m sure at some point in the near future I’ll be planting bulbs like a man possessed, but for now I’ll just bask in the peace the garden provides.

And a huge thank you to all that have provided such kind words to our family. While we’re all saddened and heart broken, we take solace in the fact that we can’t stop telling stories about my father-in-law, both with tears of sadness and of laughter.























My father-in-law John passed away a week ago today. It has been hell the past week trying to first understand exactly what happened and then trying to come to grips with the reality of it all. Decisions had to be made literally within minutes of finding out he had died. Calls to family and friends to deliver the horrific news was devastating. The 45-minute drive to his apartment after getting the text that realized our worst fears was as brutal as you can imagine. As was the greeting from the police officers upon arrival.

My FIL died from an iliac aneurysm and from all indications, it happened fast and he didn’t suffer. We all have questions as to how long prior the warning signs were there and we may never know. He wouldn’t have wanted to burden us all with his physical well being. That wasn’t his way.

I’ll never forget walking into his apartment that next day and seeing what I can only describe as “a normal week night setting”. Papers strewn on the table, an empty soda bottle nearby and the dishes from his dinner sitting on the kitchen counter. All so normal and yet overwhelmingly painful in its normalcy. A simple dinner at the dining room table and the next second you’re gone.

We have all spent so much time tying to relive what must have happened and only today have some level of acceptance. An acceptance that there was nothing we could have done to prevent it.

He was only 68 years old and ready to embark on the next chapter of his life. He had retired only 6 months ago and in a cruel twist of fate, had signed the contract to purchase a home at the Jersey Shore only days before he died. On Labor Day we had a chance to tour the home with him and it breaks our hearts now to think back and remember just how excited he was that day.

Fucking bullshit if you ask me.

No one deserved it more than him. He had struggled financially for a long stretch after being laid off from his job in marketing years ago and then going through the same thing again with another company that ultimately went under. While we knew the hardship he went through, he always persevered through with dignity and a determination to figure it out on his own.

In between those two jobs John had opened a coffee shop locally here in New Jersey. This had always been a dream of his and to watch him build it from the ground up was beyond inspirational. He not only developed the concept, built the business plan and hired a team, but he actually helped physically build it. I remember many long nights seeing him with goggles covered in saw dust, exhausted but determined. The place thrived for years before the financial reality of running your own business kicked in. I like to remember the crowd of regulars that had their own coffee mug stored at the cafe who he would chat up each and every morning. No one could carry a conversation like him and I watched as he had the crowd enthralled like a killer stand-up comedian.

I can’t possibly sum up his life in a blog post and the obituary we composed under duress will never do him justice. So instead of trying to cover it all, I just want to leave you all with some short thoughts that I’ve collected over the last 25 years that I’ve known him. For those of you who knew John, feel free to add comments and I’ll add them to this story. I know they are endless so this will be a chance to give him the life summary he deserves.

In no particular order:

Last Friday the mayor of the town John worked in gave the OK for all town employees to leave early if they needed to after receiving the devastating news. We can all only hope to have that type of impact.

My FIL could build you a deck (he did for us) and then bake you a cheesecake (he did many times). He also made the world’s greatest pepperoni bread.

Through all of the anecdotes we’ve heard and comments that have been written via social media, the most common theme has been his devilish sense of humor and warmth to go with it.

When we called the mortgage company to make them aware of his passing, we learned that the entire office was devastated. As was the realty company, and the car dealership where he leased his car from. That my friends, is a microcosm of his presence and love of people.

I will forever miss watching the New York Mets hit a big home run, and then counting down the seconds before Pop called to revel in it with us.

My son spent many a night with Pop and his girlfriend’s son watching sports, talking smack and just hanging out. Three peas in a pod. They all had a special bond and it will be crushing each and every NFL Sunday for eternity knowing we can’t watch him cheer on and curse his New York Giants.

I am clueless when it comes to doing anything DIY. My FIL and his son are like the best I’ve ever seen. To watch them navigate plumbing or electrical work or putting up molding or building a deck is a beautiful thing. Father/son bonding at its best.

My daughter, through tears, said she was going to miss the back and forth joking she had with Pop. She could take it and give it and I’ll miss watching the two of them go at it.

My wife and I still joke about how we would talk to him about something we needed to do around the house or a potential car purchase or a decision we had to make on buying a new dryer and how there would be phone call after phone call always starting with “You know I was thinking” or “I just researched”. He listened and cared.

The grandchildren were his life. Each had their own unique relationship with him and that will allow his memory to easily live on forever.

One last thought: I’m kind of an awkward giver of physical affection. The entire family knows it and has accepted it. I also never once called my FIL “Dad”. I don’t know why but I didn’t.

With that in mind, I’d like to officially send him a big bear hug and say “Thank you Dad” for all you’ve done for us all over the years.

There will never be another one like you and we’ll continue to laugh our asses off recounting all of the stories you have gifted to us. Like the one about the baby alligator … or De De and Da Da and Meatballs … or …

Comments from others:

I have lost a wonderful friend and colleague. A man who helped me through the care and ultimate loss of my mother with his kindness and humor. He brought us Philly pretzels and Rita’s in the summer. “John’s John” will always remain in the Finance Office. He is gone far too soon from all of our lives. To his family, I cannot imagine the sadness at the loss of such an incredible father and grandfather. Know that he was loved by all whose lives he touched. Love you Johnny D – I have the last dollar I won in our Yankees/Mets annual bet and I will cherish it forever!

I only knew John through our Construction Tech. Assistant Association. The times at our meetings he was such a funny, honest, and knowledgeable man. I know we discussed a few times our love of the New York Giants. I am so sorry for your families loss. He was so looking forward to the next stage of his life. He will truly be missed at our meetings. Blessings to your family.

Your father’s passing was especially sad I’m sure, to everyone who knew him. For us, it brought back a flood of fond memories of your grandparents and your dad over the years. We will never forget his distinctive voice and laughter. Simply said, he was a good man and we’re sorry for your loss. 





Tour of the Garden – 9/13/17

Northern Sea Oats ‘River Mist’

I’ve had zero reseeding issues with this NSO and it looks particularly killer this time of year.


Clethra (Summersweet)

This deciduous shrub has been a savior for me. The deer have ignored it. The wet soil doesn’t bother it one bit. The suckering has been minimal and I’m OK with it if it picks up in the future.

While the blooms were fantastic back a few weeks, I’ve come to appreciate the foliage color more and more. As it lightens in color now that September has arrived, it provides a great contrast to so many other nearby plants.





Stonecrop (Sedum) ‘Autumn Fire’


Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)


New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis)


Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea)


Sonecrop (Sedum) ‘Matrona’ (Yes, the deer nibble. Why only a little bit I’ll never know. Maybe it’s a rabbit?)


Obedient Plant (Physostegia) ‘Vivid’



Veronica in front of Obedient Plant ‘Vivid’.


Allium ‘Mt Sinai’


One last show

I cut back the Catmint (Nepeta) ‘Walker’s Low’ one last time a few weeks back and the reward has been just enough new flowers to keep things interesting.


Subtle autumn

The slightest foliage color change on the Mountain Mint.


Same goes for Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’.


One leaf at a time on the Viburnum carlesii.


Yes, it never bloomed but the foliage color on Hydrangea ‘Lady in Red’ is still solid. Especially next to the dark-leaved Ninebark ‘Diablo’.


Not so subtle autumn

You’ll continue to see Amsonia hubrichtii and Itea ‘Little Henry’ from me on a weekly basis throughout the fall.


And Amsonia and Panicum (Switch Grass) as well.


The Viburnum ‘All That Glitters’ is in like the hardcore autumn phase.



Ornamental Grasses

I’ll allow the photos to tell the story.






Tour of the Garden – 9/6/17

Front walkway

It takes this deep into the season for the front bed to truly shine as the grasses emerge, fall foliage color subtly appears and late summer blooms arrive.


A step back from the same scene …


… and another step back.



Physostegia (Obedient Plant) ‘Vivid’

This mass started as only 7 small plants over a year ago. It has filled in at an insane level. I like.





I love me all different shades of green. I find this section of the garden soothing. Who’s with me?



Paralysis by analysis

I have stared at this scene for weeks now. I like it but I don’t. While it’s full and a good mix of flowers, foliage, texture, etc, something is amiss. I’m close to figuring it out but would appreciate your input.



Secret weapon

This section of the garden is going to be the best in a few years. You can’t see it now but trust me, there is a lot going on here and it’s all awesome. I can’t wait to share it when it explodes in awesomeness.



Seed heads

The seed heads on the Baptisia transformed to dark black this week. I like.




Leave it alone

This combo hasn’t been touched for three years now. That must be a record for me.



Delicious foliage color

Panicum and Amsonia. But you knew that already because I talk about it every week.




Turkey foot

Here is why Andropogon (Big Bluestem) is also known as turkeyfoot. You’re welcome.



Viburnum berries

The berries on the Viburnum ‘Emerald Lustre’ continue to explode. More than I’ve had in ten years of its existence. I like.





Fine, I’ll admit it. I don’t know what this white blooming plant is. I just know that I never planted it. It has fleshy stems that multiple like mad from year to year. Help a gardener out won’t you?




What the hell is that?

There are a bunch of Northern Sea Oats growing underneath this Itea ‘Henry’s Garnet’. It has created this bizarre mash-up that looks even stranger as the Itea develops its fall color.




The Chelone lyonii (Turtlehead) ‘Hot Lips’ typically look like crap by now. All of the flowers turn black and become an eye sore. Not this year so far. I like.




Do as I say …

For those of you who bought my book, I specifically pointed out that Lady’s Mantle requires some extra attention once the blooms stop and the weather turns hot and dry in summer. I should probably follow my own advice next year.



The late August garden

The latest and greatest:

The signs of autumn are becoming less and less subtle. The Itea ‘Little Henry’ in the front are half green/half scarlet red. The Amsonia hubrichtii is revealing orange hues throughout. The Panicum in the upper left is now showing signs of its yellow fall color and even the blooms on Joe Pye Weed are transitioning to a richer and darker pink.


The blooms on Pennisetum ‘Desert Plains’ recently emerged in full force.


A smorgasbord of ornamental grass blooms. It’s tough to identify them all individually but included here are Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’, Karl Foerster grass and Indian Grass.

And now here they all are individually.

I took a few steps back for this picture of Indian Grass to show just how prolific it is as a focal point at the end of my driveway.


Red for days on Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’.


Those Karl Foerster blooms still soaking up the sun like champs.


Lobelia siphilitica (Cardinal flower) still popping up everywhere, including smack dab in the middle of this ornamental grass.


Have I mentioned Amsonia in every post so far this year? Here’s another one.


You know I attempted (key word here) to remove all of my Northern Sea Oats. While it continues to stick around, there’s no denying that it is stunning in the right light.


I’ll take the blush/pink faded blooms of this Hydrangea over the bright white blooms any day. Quintessential late summer color.


There are very few berries on Viburnum ‘Emerald Lustre’ that have been missed by the birds.


Boltonia in full bloom, fortunately being held up by the neighboring Miscanthus ‘Variegatus’.



Vernonia noveboracensis (New York Ironweed) while blooming, has been devoured by some critter so it’s a bit ugly right now. Yuck.


Butterfly chasing adventure of the week: Common Buckeye.


Tour of the Garden – 8/24/17

The Grasses

What else would I lead with at this time of year? Duh. I’m well aware that my last post featured Flame Grass, but I couldn’t resist featuring it yet again. Those silvery blooms blowing in the wind bring the garden to life. Once that green foliage color turns every imaginable shade of orange, it will be sensory overload.


Can you say focal point? Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) is killer right now. While I love it massed for maximum effect, it can hold its own on its own. While the flowers or inflorescence are a show-stopper, give me the sturdy blue stems any day of the week. Even on a Monday.


Ho-hum, another Panicum ‘Northwind’ pic.


The red is really shining through on Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’. These grasses are incredibly fool-proof and have been for over a decade now.


Multiple grasses are anchoring this garden scene. I’ll say it again, as ubiquitous as it may be, the upright and tan blooms of Karl Foerster grass add so much to the late summer garden. Massed or dotted throughout the garden, it doesn’t matter. It works and I won’t stop using it any time soon.


Just a different Instagram filter for a different vibe.


Fine, you win

I cut it down to the ground in early spring. I cut it back again in June. I chopped off a ton of the branches after they were infested with Japanese beetles.

It doesn’t matter. This Salix ‘Hakuro Nishiki’ (Dappled Willow) just keeps growing and growing. If I’m being honest, I’m bored with it but I can’t imagine trying to remove it.

Oh well.


Not looking good

All of my Achillea (Yarrow) ‘Moonwalker’ look like this or worse. The funny thing is they thrived earlier in the summer like never before.


I told myself I wouldn’t dabble in red-blooming Lobelias any longer. They have never escaped the jaws of the deer or the rabbits. Just when all 5 were starting to look great while blooming together, this happened. I even sprayed the bastards with Deer Off the night before.

I’m done.


You know I love me some Sneezeweed ‘Mariachi Series’. But for the first time since I’ve planted them, they are toppling over. It may have been due to a recent deluge of rain so I’ll do my best to remain patient.


Still chasing

Yes, still awkwardly running after each and every Monarch butterfly.


Autumn has arrived

This is the Viburnum that I ceremoniously moved to a new location in the garden a few weeks back. I’m sure the red leaves are due to the stress I put on it and not the fact that fall has come a few weeks to early. Either way, that color is solid and I have big hopes for the future as it matures.

But even better is the sign of all of those berries. This is a Viburnum dentatum ‘All That Glitters’ which requires ‘All That Glows’ as a pollinator. I have both planted close to each other and I’m assuming this is the result of that pollination. They should turn purple in color in the coming weeks.


All of my Itea (Virginia Sweetspire) turn red prematurely in August. This is the dwarf cultivar ‘Little Henry’ which I’m allowing to sucker like mad in a very wet part of the garden.


While it may be slight, you can start to see the color transformation in the foliage of the Amsonia.

Amsonia tabernaemontana

Amsonia hubrichtii


The Red Twig Dogwood just displayed its red stems for the first time this week. And for those curious, the leaf damage was from Japanese beetles a few weeks back.


Ready to shine

The Eupatorium ‘Wayside’ (Hardy Ageratum) are starting to bloom.

But have they ever taken over.

So many of you warned me of this and it is coming to fruition. It may be OK this year, but I see a problem with the years to come. I’ll need to jump on this soon to prevent a total takeover.


Sedum ‘Autumn Fire’ is rounding into form and they are all inundated with bees.


Helenium (Sneezweed) has popped up all over my garden where I least expected it and I’m good with that. That is until it falls over when the many flowers emerge at once.


They may not “shine” but Chelone lyonii (Turtlehead) ‘Hot Lips’ adds a nice dash of color in late summer.


My continuing use of annuals

I’ve added Heliotrope …

… and Persian Shield

… and I must admit I might be coming around even more on using annuals. As many of you know, I’ve rarely used annuals in the garden outside of containers but finally embraced them this year. I’m getting the “fill-in” functionality and long bursts of color. While I prefer to grow over time with my plants, I may be finally crossing the dark side.


I love you, but don’t know where to go with you

I am like totally in love with Aralia ‘Sun King’.

Look at that foliage.

Problem is I have no room for it in my garden. All of my shaded areas are accounted for and even if I made room, I worry about the deer destroying it.

So for now, I’m digging it in a container, shaded on my front porch, and will do my best to overwinter it in the container.