Fine Gardening Saves the Day

I spent the early part of this past week in Southfield, Michigan for my “day job”. By the time Wednesday evening rolled around, I was exhausted. Not because of the work, but because of my complete inability to sleep comfortably in a hotel room.

I don’t know if this lack of solid sleep is from the fear of oversleeping, missing my own bed or the effort to fight off the onset of claustrophobia in a stale and dank hotel room. Probably a mix of all three.

By the time I then navigate back to the airport, drop off the rental car, take the shuttle to my gate, check in and slog my way through security, I just want to crawl into the fetal position in my impossibly small seat on the plane and doze off.

Of course, there is always “that guy” sitting next to you on the plane who wants to chat. As I stuffed my 6 foot 3 inch frame into my seat Wednesday night and awaited the arrival of my way-too-close-for- comfort neighbor, I could sense immediately that the dude walking down the aisle was going to be one of the “them”.

Anyone who is playing air guitar while entering a plane is going to want to talk. That is a well known fact. And that is exactly what my soon to be companion on the flight was doing as he navigated the aisle on the plane. I could see him counting the rows of seats in advance and then when he realized where row 26 seat D was, he gave me the slightest smile that said “Hey roomie”. Son of a …

As soon as my new plane pal sat down, I gave him my best “friendly greeting but understand we are not talking” nod and tried to look occupied. It didn’t work. I could feel his glare and his breath on my neck hairs, just waiting for me to initiate conversation. I needed to send the message at that point that would put this conversing thing right to bed.

I pulled out the latest issue of Fine Gardening Magazine (December 2014) and while reading it, also literally used it as a shield. I could tell that Sir-Chat-A-Lot was reading the ad on the back cover and was commenting to himself, but I wasn’t taking the bait. I flipped through the pages and allowed myself to get lost in the world of plants.

Ahhhhh ….

It worked and I began to feel comfortable and relaxed for the first time that day.

My mood was only enhanced when I turned to page 18 of the magazine and saw Stephanie Cohen’s write-up on Sneezeweed ‘Short n Sassy’.

And even more jazzed when I read Michelle Gervais take on my beloved Flame Grass.

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I love both of those plants as well and I was transformed back home to my own garden. Daddy’s coming home soon …

I received a sample of Sneezweed ‘Short ‘n’ Sassy’ two years ago from Skagit Gardens and it delivered from day one.



As Stephanie mentioned in her write-up, this Sneezeweed blooms much earlier than the species. I checked my records and the blooms started around June 24th this year (zone 6B).

And it is still loaded with blooms as we speak. The deer and rabbits never touched it. A winner for sure.

Just like Michelle mentioned in her brief synopsis, I am moving away from Miscanthus and towards more native ornamental grasses. With one honking exception – Flame Grass.


I have three of these Miscanthus purpurascens in my garden and plan to divide them in spring to further the fun. The foliage color in conjunction with the silver blooms is an absolute must in the fall garden.



Thank you Fine Gardening Magazine for inspiring me, confirming that I have damn good taste in plants and most importantly, for shutting up passengers on planes. Don’t ever change.

My Best Fall Foliage Plants

This list only includes plants I have lived with and experienced in my own garden .

Amsonia tabernaemontana (Blue Star)
The more well known Amsonia hubrictii has a much more impressive autumn color but I only added them to my own garden this past spring and it is too soon for me to share any photos of them.

Tabernaemontana still is impressive in its own right as the fall foliage color starts as a pale yellow and develops into an eye catching orange hue.





Viburnum carlesii ‘Aurora’
I have quite a few different Viburnum shrubs (some real young and still small) and to date, this has been the best autumn performer. Each individual leaf starts to transform slowly to a maroon color starting at the end of September and the majority of the leaves remain on the plant until the end of October here in zone 6B.





Fothergilla ‘Mt. Airy’
This deciduous shrub, while interesting in early spring with its white bottlebrush blooms, really stands out in the fall with that kick butt orange foliage color. I’ve added a few more this year to really up the impact each autumn.



Panicum (Switch Grass) ‘Northwind’
This ornamental grass and PPA award winner may not be thought of as a fall foliage plant, but that yellow color works for me as the perfect complement to the more common red fall foliage color of other plants.



Clethra alnifolia (Summersweet) ‘Hummingbird’
Another shrub not thought of as a fall performer, but again, I like to mix in that yellow/gold color wherever I can.



Itea (Virginia Sweetspire) ‘Henry’s Garnet’
This shrub, by far, has the greatest red fall color of any plant currently residing in my garden. The fall color starts subtly in August and then kicks it into overdrive by early September. The leaves start to fall off in mid October with a few remaining as late as Thanksgiving.





Miscanthus purpurascens (Flame Grass) 
Another ornamental grass, this one takes color to all new heights. Just look at all of the color shades represented in those blades. It is the plant that draws the most attention/questions from onlookers from August through October.



Summer fades away

Yes, summer has officially ended.

In honor of summer 2014, a look at those plants that are still hanging in there as autumn arrives.

Eupatorium dubium (Joe Pye Weed) ‘Little Joe’


Perovskia (Russian Sage) intertwined with Purple Coneflower


A Solidago (Goldenrod) popping up underneath Weigela ‘Wine and Roses’


Fading Allium (Ornamental onion) ‘Mt. Sinai’ bloom


Fading Veronica (Speedwell) bloom


OK, these are more about neglect than anything else.

Broccoli flowering because I couldn’t keep up with it.


Too many tomato plants this year


The High Line

As I mentioned in my previous post, my wife and I visited the High Line while in New York City last weekend. Here is my take on this heavenly garden/park/urban oasis.

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Some background first.

The High Line is a park, thirty feet above the streets of Manhattan’s West Side. It occupies a former freight rail line that runs for just under 1.5 miles from Gansevoort Street north to west 34th street.

The elevated rail line carried freight to and from NYC starting in 1934 and running until 1980. It remained abandoned from that point forward until 2009 when it officially opened as a park.

The plantings on the High Line were designed by landscape architect James Corner and everyone’s favorite plant designer (seriously, you can’t argue it) Piet Oudolf. It is creatively chunked out into different garden environments along the way and from personal experience, feels like a true “journey” as you venture through.

The history is much more rich than what I just passed along and I highly recommend you read up more on it through a quick Google search or by reading this book, which I just happened to finish last week.


You can find it here on Amazon. I promise that if you read it cover to cover, you will find a way to make it to NYC in order to experience it first hand. The history of the rail line and the surrounding neighborhood is fascinating, even if you’ve never set foot in New York City . I will be referencing stories from this book to drop some serious knowledge on you as you navigate through this post.

A few things before I take you on a tour of my High Line excursion. Due to time constraints, we were only able to spend about an hour at the park (damn family obligations). And we only experienced from 19th street south to 12th street. That is roughly 1/3 of  the entire park. However, you will see that 1/3 was still pretty fantastic. If my math is right, multiply your enjoyment of this post by 3.34 (I rounded) to get a feel for the true wonder of this expansive space.

And one more thing, it was way more crowded than I ever anticipated.

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Because of that, it was a challenge to enjoy the park at a slow pace (I liken it to shopping at IKEA) and to photograph it without human beings ruining every shot. I vow to spend an entire day here each season so I can capture the essence of this wonder. It really was that moving.

I struggled with how to present the photographs/layout of the High Line to you and settled on breaking it out by

1)the plants

2)the vistas/views

3)the surrounding buildings/architecture

4)quirky things to see along the way

First, the plants:

You could feel the transition to Fall in the air while seemingly floating above the Manhattan streets and of course by the state of the plants. I love this time of year as the flowers fade, the seed heads take center stage, the foliage changes color on a daily basis and most importantly to this guy, the ornamental grasses dominate.

A little of all those things could be witnessed on the High Line:

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Spectacular, eh? This place is right in my wheelhouse and it begs the question, why did it take me so long to visit? I have no good answer for you, but know this, I will learn each and every detail of this place sooner than later and WILL be giving personal tours in the near future. I ain’t kiddin.

When I previously talked about vistas/views, I meant the juxtaposition between urban concrete/brick/stone/yellow cabs and soft, gentle plant life.

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And there are worse things than viewing the Statue Of Liberty from underneath a grouping of Acer triflorum trees.

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Or an FDNY fireboat spraying water all over the Hudson River (looking towards New Jersey).

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Many times, I was temporarily lost in dreaming of my future rooftop garden.

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How fun to enjoy this view of modern architecture while trying not to step on Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’.  On the left is the IAC building, the headquarters for InterActiveCorps run by Barry Diller.

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I’m incredibly relaxed and possibly floating while observing the chaos of the Manhattan streets below me.

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Behind the varying facades along the walk are world renowned designers, Google offices, etc.

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I have no idea what this is but you know there is a fascinating story behind it.

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This is the Standard Hotel which was built with the High Line in mind. It is a known fact that guests commonly leave their curtains open and wander around in the buff for all to see below. I can vouch for this as we did see one dude ironing while letting it all hang out.

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Just some colored panes of glass right? Not that simple. Read more about it here. The glass colors are based on hundreds of photos a photographer snapped of the Hudson River. Seriously, check out that link above.

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Believe it or not, this is known as “Death Avenue Amphitheater”. It is a chance to relax, stretch out and watch a framed view of NYC traffic. A bizarre concept that I loved to pieces and totally bought into while there. Only in New York …

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Even the birds enjoy the High Line … well that and all of the food spilled by all those annoying tourists.

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Another great aspect of the High Line; unlimited seating opportunities. That guy looks really relaxed.

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And finally, maybe my favorite photo from the day. I think it captures all that the High Line represents; urban meets plants life in a wonderful mash-up.

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So when are you coming with me?





24 hours in New York City

A few vital facts about me:

  • One of my top “bucket list” items is to own/rent an apartment in New York City with a roof top patio/terrace. Yes, I play the lottery regularly.
  • The one band that provided the greatest background music for my childhood memories was the Eagles. I still love them to this day and they may be the most “normal” band on my iPod.
  • I would love to be a food critic/writer or a professional eater in some capacity.
  • I love eggs, like a lot.

You needed that info before I proceed with this post.

For my wife’s birthday back in May, I gave her tickets to see the band, the Eagles, in Madison Square Garden. We had watched their recent documentary, History of the Eagles, at least five times and swore we would one day see them perform live. Nice job John, I know.

The concert was this past Saturday so we managed to dump leave the kids with my parents so we could spend the night in our beloved NYC. I love my kids and knew they needed time away from us so it was the right thing to do. It’s always kids first in our house.

As you may remember from a post back in February, we make it a point to stay one night in the Big Apple one to two times a year and we make the most of our limited time while there. My wife has a knack for finding the best spots and hidden gems in Manhattan so I just follow her lead when we go. We eat, drink and walk like kings.

So similar to my last NYC post, here is a chronological summary of the highlights of our latest venture in “the city”:

11:30 AM – arrive at the Bryant Park Hotel, park the car through valet, free of charge (unheard of in New York and a huge $$$ savings, drop off the luggage and simultaneously hit up Yelp on our phones.

12:30 PM – walk 12 blocks through the Garment District and land at the Nomad Hotel, specifically, their Library Bar. We collectively exhale and order an Anderson Valley oatmeal stout and a rose wine (please insert one of those symbols over the “e”, I can’t figure out how to do it). And no, the rose was not for me.


We had lunch reservations for 3:00 so we ate light in order to hold us over. An important aside – we never truly eat “dinner” when in NYC. We eat a big lunch and then snack at night. It’s easier to get a lunch reservation and it frees up the night so we can paint the town red in as many places as possible and we our not dragged down by a full late night stomach. Genius, you can say it.

A little trio of swiss cheeses (below) and a phenomenal fingerling and dill potato bread (not pictured because we crushed it too quickly).    


How awesome is the atmosphere in this place?


We could have set up camp in there for hours as it was the first opportunity to unwind and  carry on an adult conversation. My poor wife had to listen to my plans for a rooftop garden and how we could spend weekends in NYC in our fictional studio apartment. The beauty of dreaming.

2:00 to 3:00 PM – We walk around twenty to thirty city blocks in all directions in the rain and have exactly zero complaints. Along the way we find the hilarious Amy Sedaris, signing books and even buy a few things along the way. I forgot just how much I love shopping with my lady.

3:00 to 4:30 PM – Lunch at ABC Kitchen in Union Square, courtesy of my wife’s extensive research. An absolute stellar choice. The place was hopping with premo people watching opps (maybe some hipster fatigue eventually settled in). We tested our long lost education in the “language du Francais” while listening in to our dining neighbors conversation … and both failed miserably.

My wife and I split a roasted carrot and avocado salad with crunch seeds, sour cream and citrus.


I swear the carrots were like nothing I’ve ever tasted and as an aspiring food writer I should probably have a better description than that. I’ll work on my descriptive writing but just know this salad was off the charts delicious and I generally don’t like carrots all that much.

After the salad, we each ordered a different whole wheat pizza. I went with the mushroom, parmesan, oregano and farm egg pizza.


It was so dang good with the greatest seasoning on the wood burned crust. The egg just took things to an entirely new level. Give me eggs scrambled, fried, hard boiled, in a tortilla, on a burger with bacon and now on a pizza. A ten out of ten.

My wife had the chorizo, cherry tomato and squash blossom pizza and is still raving about it.


5:00 to 6:00 PM – walk 22 blocks back to the hotel with only a coffee stop along the way. The legs are burning but what better way to walk off a big ass lunch.

6:00 to 8:00 PM – shower and chill in the hotel room getting ready for the concert. A lot of smiles and relaxed looks on our faces. I love my wife.

8:00 to 8:05 PM – near death experience in cab ride to Madison Square Garden. Upon surviving arriving at MSG, realize the crowd skews a lot older than us. We’re cool with it.

8:30 PM – arrive in our seats just as the concert is about to start. Effectively piss off everyone sitting in Section 222, row 18, seats 24-13 as we squeeze by.


8:30 to 11:45 PM – the concert is fantastic, the band sounds like they did forty years ago and we realize we know every word to every song.


11:45 PM – 12:30 AM – leave the Garden and walk back to the hotel. We are beyond shot and ready to crash … and humming “Take it Easy”.

12:34 – 9:05 AM – slept like babies.

9:05 – 10:30 AM – take our time getting ready and down a few coffees and croissants from the bakery around the corner. I’m convinced there isn’t a bad bakery in all of NYC. Try like hell to remember our kids names.

10:45 – 11:00 AM – drive from hotel to find parking along the High Line in Chelsea. I am literally shaking with excitement in anticipation of my first visit (don’t ask why it took so long).

11:00 – 12:30 PM – tour the High Line. This will be its own post within the next few days. I will tell you we found an incredible kiosk along the way, Taco Truck.  We both had a torta (mexican sandwich) which was loaded with pork, cilantro, white onion, pickled jalapeno, avocado, crema and black beans:


Maybe the greatest sandwich I have ever had and cannot wait to sample others in the near future.

We then officially toasted to our latest NYC adventure with a Snickerdoodle and cinnamon ice cream sandwich from Melt Bakery.

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I will now spend the next week dreaming of living in Manhattan (or Brooklyn … although we are clearly not hip enough), eating our way through the West Village and Tribeca and gardening at 55 stories high.


A Different View

Views from the deck in early evening:

The Indian grass (Sorghastrum ‘Sioux blue’) is in full bloom at about 7′ high: garden


Another view of that same Indian Grass looking out towards a Switch Grass (Panicum): grasses


‘Karl Foerster’ grass lit up by the sun: grasses2


Another Switch grass (Panicum): grasses3


And a Milkweed seedpod opening up and releasing the goods: milkweed


I am slowly becoming obsessed with Allium (or “ornamental onion” for you less evolved species).  Three autumns ago I planted my first Allium bulbs and was all jacked up when most made an appearance that following spring:


I immediately fell in lust and was pleased to know that it was possible for the bulbs to not rot over the winter (for those uninformed, my soil drainage blows chunks).

Of course, they all ended up only surviving that spring and were not to be heard from again. But that was OK.  It was a small financial investment and minimal sweat equity required for the reward of those phenomenal blooms.

Last fall, I gave it another shot and planted just one Allium ‘Globe Master’, that giant blooming onion I’ve seen in so many other gardens. While there was promise that this would return year after year, at $9.95 a bulb I decided to play it safe.

I can tell you now, it doesn’t matter if it fails to make a repeat showing in 2015. What I got in 2014 was enough for me:




The 8″ to 10″ bloom was such a presence and a focal point both in bloom and out of bloom:.



Hell, I even made it my social media profile pic when it was only partially in bloom:


It wasn’t until late July when the stem actually dislodged from the ground, so two and a half months of interest was worth the $9.95.

I also started to acquire some other perennial Allium in spring and added ‘Blue Eddy’ as a groundcover that not only bloomed in late July, but also avoided any destruction from the rabbits and the deer:


Allium ‘Mt. Sinai’ was also added and bloomed like mad from early August until now:



I will continue the hunt for additional cultivars this fall and hope and pray that my attempts to find areas of better drainage in my yard pay off and we have repeat bloomers next summer.

On top of that, I just placed an order with Bluestone Perennials for a whole bunch of different Allium bulbs that include (all photos from the Bluestone Perennials website):

Allium ‘Schubertii':


Allium ‘Azureum':


Allium ‘Drumsticks':


And one additional ‘Globe Master’ because, well, it’s awesome.

Wish me luck!


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