Autumn delivers

Last week I declared that “Fall sucks”. Yes, I proudly own that declaration, yet at the same time, understand the influx of hate mail I received as a result. You don’t “f” with the autumn with certain people. They are a united and angry lot.     

But here’s the thing, I don’t dislike the Fall as much as I miss the sweaty tasks associated with Spring and Summer. In fact, I have come to realize I have an unhealthy love of sweating and blister development- who else wants to join me in #gardeningsadomasochism.                    

Having said that, I can still enjoy what Fall has to offer, even if the thought of winter approaching makes me physically ill.

How good does Panicum ‘Northwind’ look right now?

panicum northwind fall color

panicum northwind fall color2

And Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’ as well. 

panicum rots

grasses fall color

Sorghastrum ‘Sioux Blue’ looks divine through the railing on my deck.

sorgahstrum fall

And lordy how I love Helenium (Sneezeweed) right now.




My road to gardening obsession – “Falling off the ladder”

Someone recently asked me, “How did you get this into gardening”? Most have an easy answer like, “My parents or grandparents were gardeners” or “I had an interest in plants from a young age”. For me, there  was no simple answer. 

With that in mind, I started to analyze where my passion for plants originated. And I realized it came from a series of events over the past 17 years.

Here is the story of one of those events:  

October 12, 1997:

Two weeks prior, we had just moved into our first home in Somerville, NJ. I’m 25 years old, married for one year and 100% clueless when it comes to home ownership responsibility. It is exciting, intimidating, overwhelming, fun and cozy all at the same time.

I know the exact date above because it was the perfect fall Sunday, in the heart of the NFL season and truth be told, I actually looked it up online a few minutes ago. I vividly remember watching a specific game while standing on a ladder and looking through the picture window at the front of our house. Why was I watching TV on a ladder and what does that have to do with gardening? Glad you asked.

The curb appeal on our 1950’s Cape Cod styled home was decent but it needed something more. Believe it or not, landscaping didn’t even enter into the equation at the time. I couldn’t have told you the difference between deciduous and evergreen. There were a few “green bushes” along the foundation and I had already (cover your ears) sheared them into lollipops. Perfection.  

Eventually, that something more ended up being new shutters. Once that decision was made, I confidently volunteered to hang said shutters. Did I have any idea how to do it? Hells no.  And there was no You Tube to lead the way. Here we go Johnnie Boy.

This was a huge moment for me. This was my first chance to show my new bride that she married a man who could “do it himself”. Well technically not the first time. Upon moving into the house, I did pull up a hideously awesome 70’s carpet and proceeded to pull out each and every associated staple.


Those are some solid shorts you got on there buddy. Whew. But I digress …

I knew my wife quietly feared that we would have to outsource simple tasks like the replacement of light bulbs. Failure was not an option if I wanted my lady’s respect.

That October morning, I grabbed my ladder, my newly opened drill, a couple of screwdrivers and the shutters and got ready to amaze the world. As I climbed up the ladder and caught a glimpse of the football game through the front window, I strongly considered crying uncle and hitting the couch, beer in hand. It took all of my considerable strength to push on. 

I’m not sure how, but I managed to get on two of the shutters without much of an issue. I could have quit then and been happy for a lifetime the day. End it on a good note.

I moved on next to the side of the house near my driveway (key piece of info here as you’ll see in a minute) and was all set for shutter set numero deuce. As I climbed the ladder for the third time, I could see my wife through the window and I gave her a cocky nod like “I got this shit.” Apparently “having that shit” means you proceed to fall off said ladder while perfectly framed through a window while your wife looks on in horror.

Yes, I fell off that ladder.

But luckily and comically, I fell onto my car, rolled off the hood and onto my neighbor’s lawn. One shutter was broken as was my already fragile ego. After gathering myself and calmly getting to my feet, my wife popped outside to make sure I was OK. I laughed it off and gave the proverbial “no biggie” and pretended to get back to work.

Except I opted for a meltdown instead. A contained meltdown from the outside but damn did I give myself an internal tongue lashing like never seen before in my 25 years on this planet.

“You suck John”.

“Your wife will never respect you a-hole”

“If you can’t do this John, all hope is lost.”

To make a long story … longer, no shutters were ever added to the side of the house. I couldn’t maneuver the ladder properly to be able to screw them in.

I also ended up requiring help from my in-laws to install the other two shutters on the front of the house. I had issues with screwing through the aluminum siding and made the desperate call for help.


So all in all, I failed my initial test.

I really started to worry that maybe an apartment was a better choice for us. That, or our money budgeted for groceries each week had to go towards a permanent handyman who lived in our tiny shed in the backyard. Panic time had set in.

That following week, still mentally beat up after Shuttergate, I set out for the local garden center to pick up some mums. I couldn’t possibly screw up placing two baskets on the front porch.  

Once there, I innocently picked up a Helleri Holly on sale and casually read the label. This is kind of nice and the label sure seems to indicate that it is easy to grow. What is a “zone” and why do I care?

Maybe we did need to address that landscaping after all. How hard could it be to add some flowers? And I don’t need a ladder or a drill to put them in. I can handle a shovel.   

And ladies and gentleman, there was no looking back from there.



Fall sucks

I ripped out and disposed of all of the tomato plants today.

This is officially the last tomato harvested in 2014.


If you look closely enough, you can find pieces of my heart mixed in with the tomato plant scraps. This sucks.

I will praise autumn and the color extravaganza it provides and will romanticize this time of year and the plant “circle of life”. But just know that deep down I am desperately missing the summer and the warm weather.

It was seasonably warm today; in the mid 70’s. And holy hell did I enjoy it. Yes, there were maple leaves strewn all over the lawn reminding me this was a blip on the radar.

maple leaf 2

And even the Rose of Sharon was giving out a fall vibe.

rose of sharon

But I was sweating like an animal as if it were July 15th and loving every gosh darn second of it. I cannot put into words how much I love getting in the dirt, developing blisters on my palms, blinding myself with sweat and listening to nothing but the sound of the grasses swaying in the wind. My “zone”.

And now we are heading into the “dead zone” for another four months. Before you tell me that we need this time and that we wouldn’t appreciate the spring without the winter, save it. I’ll come around eventually but not today. I want to see all of my coneflowers in bloom, not the spent versions that are currently inside my house as Halloween props (true story).

Deep down I appreciate the wonderful fall  color on my Geranium ‘Espresso’.

geranium espresso 2

And even with the less renowned Siberian irises.


But dammit, I still want to pick weeds and deal with the dizziness that comes with it.

F you Fall.

Sincerely, John.



Thanks Casey

It’s 5:18 AM this morning, Casey is barking at the bottom of the stairs. Yet another wake-up call from our 15 year old labrador retriever. This is much earlier than normal but understandable considering our beloved and elderly dog’s weak bladder.

I climb jump fall out of bed, grab her leash and head outside. As I wait for Casey to take care of business, I am incapable of thought and my eyes may not even be open. All I keep thinking about is returning to my warm bed and maybe another two hours of sleep.

After 5 minutes I realize Casey has no interest in squatting. She is only interested in smelling the deer and rabbits who visited last night. I eventually coerce her into coming back inside so she can enjoy her breakfast but I’m still confused as to why she won’t pee.

I head over to her food bowl and throw in two scoops. But Casey has no interest in eating. That never happens. She has voraciously eaten every meal since 1999. I walk over to her so we can have a chat and then realize what is going on.

My cold and bare feet are drenched.

Now I know why she never did #1 outside.

Son of a …

I grab a bunch of paper towels, some Clorox wipes and begin clean-up time. I am now officially awake for the day.

Ten minutes later and we are as good as new. Casey no longer is worried about the pee barrier to her food bowl and is chowing down. I’m cleaning my feet in the tub. Good times.

Since I am now up for the day, I make a pot of coffee and hop on my laptop. Casey and I catch up on our favorite websites as the sun rises. I love that dog but dammit, I am tired.

Casey then puts her head on my lap indicating she is now in need of pee#2. No problem. I grab the leash again, my heavenly black coffee and we head outside.

And when we do, I see this …































All part of Casey’s plan.




A peek behind the curtain

A nice looking ornamental grass – Miscanthus ‘Gracillimus’ to be exact.


Until you pull back the curtain and see that only the front half of the grass is actually growing.  


The blame falls squarely on my underachieving kids as I let them cut down most of the ornamental grasses this past spring.

So your lesson for today – don’t trust kids with power tools, they will only disappoint.

A very special delivery

You want to know what is awesome?

Beyond a fried egg on a pizza or cheeseburger.

And beyond the current version of my Excel document that lists every plant I own. That thing is closer to “really awesome”.

And beyond the fact that I have planted over 100 bulbs the past two days … as the sun was rising each morning. No, that screams “utter determination”.

Today’s “awesome” story is shockingly about … ornamental grasses. But we’re not talking about another endless photo shoot from yours truly. Nope.

I wanted to share the fact that I recently received close to 75 new grasses in the mail from my friends over at Hoffman Nursery (full disclosure, they were provided free of charge).

Upon opening the box, I fainted and had to be revived by my daughter. She is used to this type of reaction by now so it was no biggie for her. I like her ability to handle herself under pressure.

After coming to, I actually found myself pumped up and a nervous wreck at the same time. I couldn’t wait to find a place to plant them all. And I was terrified thinking about finding a place to plant them all. We all garden to relax, right?

After I carefully removed my skirt and put my big boy pants on, I came up with a plan for just about all of the grasses. Although I will ask you for the right to change my mind within the next 24 to 48 hours.

I won’t bore you (as if that has ever stopped me before) with all of the details since the grasses are still only little pups,  but I have to show you some of what I did. If only to use as the “once upon time” portion of a future post that shows just how damn awesome these grasses really are.

For true visual impact and knowing that they would be planted in a “moist” area, I planted 10 Carex grayi as a ground cover along one of the beds in my backyard.



This is my first exposure to this sedge and I am most excited about the unusual looking seed heads that are produced. To see a good shot of those seed heads, click here.

Staying with the groundcover and sedge theme, next up are the ten Carex appalachica I planted underneath a River Birch tree.



These sedges prefer a much drier soil and based on what I had researched, can withstand root competition with trees. I’ve struggled to keep anything alive under my Birch trees so I’m hoping I’ve finally found the solution.

The next two pics are of Sorghastrum ‘Indian Steel’ (you can read more about it here). I found a few locations for these natives and look forward to the their upright and deliciously blue stems.



This spring, I planted a Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’ (Blue Grama Grass) and I’m just now seeing the horizontal seed heads it is known for.



And guess who now is the proud owner of 7 more of these? I added a bunch of them around my existing grass, hoping the massing will make quite a splash for summers to come.


OK, technically I haven’t planted all of the grasses yet, but I am doing my best to keep them watered until I can find them a semi-permanent home.


I would love to hear from you if you have had any experiences with any of these grasses mentioned above.

I also planted Panicum ‘Squaw’, Panicum ‘Thundercloud’ and Calamagrostis brachytricha.

And yes, I rule.

Enjoying fall while it is still here

Ignore what I wrote on Friday. There were no bulbs planted this weekend and I blame it on the following:

  • 50% weather – we had a ton of rain late Friday into Saturday
  • 25% familial obligations – soccer game, kids Oktoberfest events
  • 15% smarts – maybe a bit too early for bulb planting here
  • 10% wanting to soak in the autumn-ness - time spent smelling the roses grasses

In regards to that last one, I am typically not one to “enjoy the moment” when it comes to my garden. I am either looking towards the future when yet again moving or adding a new plant or hating on my current day plants that are underachieving.

But this weekend I reminded myself that fall is possibly the greatest time of year in the garden, yet it is oh so fleeting. A famous man once said “Better enjoy the crap out of it while is here.”

With that in mind, more autumn photos for your viewing pleasure.

itea and clethra
Itea ‘Henry’s Garnet and Clethra ‘Ruby Spice’


Physocarpus ‘Diablo’


Physocarpus ‘Diablo’


Hydrangea ‘Lady in Red’


Hydrangea ‘Endless Summer’


Siberian Iris


Viburnum bracteatum ‘Emerald Lustre’


Amsonia tabernaemontana


Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’


Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’





I know what I am doing this weekend.


In a prior post, I waxed poetic about my new found love of Allium. After opening up the box from Bluestone Perennials this past week and seeing my beloved Allium bulbs inside, I am close to full blown swoon.


Daffodils are just about the only fail proof bulb for me as the deer and rabbits leave them alone, but most importantly, they seem unaffected by the poor draining and often times waterlogged soil.  It has become a rite of fall to add as many of these as I possibly can. I am most excited by the ‘Green Pearl’ and in typical ONG fashion, I haven’t a clue as to where I will plant them. 

Home boy is about to shake things up. Only once in the history of my gardening life have I attempted to plant Muscari. And that friggin bombed. I was presented with one small and pathetic bloom as all of the others failed to deliver.

And even if I am an extreme mouth breather with a deviated septum, I still am capable of smelling the sweet scent of the hyacinth. I miss it in the spring and desperately want to share the nasal pleasure with all of my visitors.

So with that in mind, I am going to give it a go in between my six Catmint planted along my front walkway. The soil here is actually very sandy and somewhat dry from when the walkway was installed almost a decade ago. The bulbs will not rot from the wet fall/winter/spring. I know, kind of an awesome idea.     

How about you? What are your gardening plans this first weekend in October?

Ornamental Grass Photos





bluestem foliage
Little Bluestem ‘Blue Heaven’


Little Bluestem ‘Blue Heaven’


flame grass blooms
Flame grass


flame grass2
Flame grass


Miscanthus ‘Gracillimus’


pennisetum blooms
Pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’


grass bloom
Pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’


miscanthus blooms
Flame grass and Miscanthus ‘Gracillimus’


miscanthus gracillimus
Miscanthus ‘Gracillimus’


Miscanthus ‘Variegatus’


Miscanthus ‘Cabaret’


Molinia ‘Sky Racer’


morning light and joe pye
Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ and Joe Pye Weed


panicum northwind
Panicum ‘Northwind’


Panicum ‘ Rotstrahlbusch’


pennisetum foliage
Pennisetum ‘Desert Plains’


Pennisetum ‘Desert Plains’


pennisetum joe pye
Pennisetum ‘Hameln’


Sorghastrum ‘Sioux Blue’


zebra grass
Zebra Grass

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