Grasses, transitions and a new destroyer of plants

A tour around my garden:

Ornamental grasses are the dominant feature right now as they round into their peak form. So why don’t we start there.

I’m sure you are well aware of my affinity for Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’ by now but if not, here is some visible propaganda.



rots 2


More Panicum love here as well.

driveway bed


Not only do the grasses put a smile on my face but they also serve a very tangible purpose. Here they are protecting the tomatoes from the deer and doing a bang up job I must say.

tomatoes grasses


‘Karl Foerster’, kicking ass in John’s garden since ’07.



A recent addition to the grass collection, Pennisetum ‘Burgundy Bunny’ has phenomenal color right now. I am going to liberally add these wherever I can find the space for them. Love.

burgundy bunny 2


Soghastrum (Indian Grass) has announced its presence in a big way of late but I’ll hold off on photos until they are just right. By just right, I mean when all of the blooms have arrived. For now, here is a taste of one of those blooms. Love.

indian grass bloom


Speaking of blooms on the grasses. Here is one of the Andropogon (Big Bluestem) ‘Red October’ blooms. I now get why this grass is often referred to as Turkey Foot.

andropogon flower


Yes, there are plants other than ornamental grasses that tickle my fancy right now and some of these newly emerged this week. Like seen here with the first blooms of Chelone lyonii. This plant truly loves my often waterlogged soil and for that I am indebted for life.



This Boltonia bloom could be heard yelling “first” this morning.



Sedum ‘Matrona’ is playing nicely with Veronica ‘Royal Candles’ and my little hide-it-from-the-deer-game is still going strong.

sedum veronica


Transition of seasons. It is coming.

Look at what we have here. The seedheads of Baptisia are slowly opening and that makes me think winter is around the corner and that makes me cold which in turn makes me both mad and sad.

baptisia seedhead


Speaking of a transitional period, I just noticed this week that the stems on the Redtwig Dogwood are well, red and that also is freaking me out a bit. I love the red stems in winter and it is welcome winter interest, but for god’s sake, not yet.



This Rhamnus (Buckthorn) ‘Fine Line’ was inundated with Japanese beetles just a few weeks ago and looked nasty. Now I know how resilient and tough she is and that will be noted on the trusty plant spreadsheet.



This spring I ordered a massive quantity of small plugs of Packer Aurea (Golden Ragwort) from Izel Native Plants and while they all initially struggled with the heat and the humidity, they have all bounced back like a champ. I love the foliage. And I’m banking on mass blooms in early spring next year and post bloom, I plan on it being the plant to hide the ugly legs of others like Bee Balm and Sneezeweed.



I cannot for the life of me successfully grow Cimicifuga (Bugbane). It is official now. I’ve tried in full shade, mostly shade, partial shade and full sun. I’ve left alone for years and remained patient with no success. I’ve kept them consistently moist and no dice. It may be time to move on.

cimici 3


cimici 2




One last one before I go. I spotted this bloom of Hydrangea ‘Little Lime’ just laying in my front lawn this morning and thought it curious since it wasn’t actually eaten by the deer.


Upon closer inspection, there were Bee Balm plants knocked to the ground near it as well.

Upon closer inspection this was not the act of deer or any other animal.

Upon closer inspection, a certain 14 year old boy seemed awfully nervous around me this morning.

Upon closer inspection, said 14 y/o boy likes to hit a baseball across the front lawn and this area happens to be right in the way.

QOTD: How should I appropriately handle this situation?

planter bed

The August Garden

As we hit the midpoint of August and slog through the dog days of summer, I realize that the plants in my garden can be broken down into three different categories:


Still going strong

Ready to take center stage

I guess these same categories exist throughout all of the gardening “seasons”, but it seems to be at an extreme right now.

And the garden, shocker, reflects life itself. Allow me to pontificate.

With the heat and humidity at what feels like an all time high (I’ll still take it over winter) I some times find myself caving and giving in to the joys of air conditioning. Likewise, so many plants have succumbed to the conditions and have thrown in the towel. No more fighting for that last new bloom or trying to keep up the facade of clean looking foliage. Uncle.

At the same time, there are those plants in my garden that say “f you” to these conditions and keep kicking ass. Not too unlike a certain gardener I know who can’t get enough of the stinging sweat in his eyes, the burning in the calves and easily runs through three t-shirts a day. A gardener who accepts the chuckles from his neighbors and keeps pulling weeds like it was hot yoga.

And then there are those plants who sense the cooler weather is coming and are ramping up for a big time display. There are subtle signs from some and not so subtle signs from others. You can feel their excitement, their turn to take the lead in the play. Fall is their time and they f’n know it. Hopefully my kids feel that same type of energy and excitement as they soon head off to high school and 5th grade. Because all kids feel that way,right?


No plants better represent the concept of fading than the coneflower. Phenomenal in peak bloom but in my humble opinion, still killer as the pink and yellow and white washes out, turns black and eventually becomes all cone.

coneflower spent


white coneflower


astilbe coneflower spent


Almost all of the Bee Balm blooms are in full fade mode yet still have a presence. That is if you take them in from a distance and ignore the slow takeover of powdery mildew.

bee balm and joe pye


Fading Agastache still pulls in the bees and who wants to get in the way of that?

spent agastache



The dwarf Sneezeweed (‘Mariachi’ series) are still blooming strong and the deer have no interest.

red dwarf sneezeweed


orange dwarf sneezeweed

Providing a nice contrast in form and color with the emerging ornamental grasses.

planter bed


If it takes surrounding hydrangea by grasses and other deer despising plants, so be it. It has worked and this hydrangea continues to thrive even with the extreme heat of the past few weeks.



Veronica ‘Royal Candles’, one of the few plants I cut back religiously, always provides multiple rebloom periods. These were cut back only two weeks ago.

veronica prune


veronica sedum bee balm


Of course it isn’t all about the flowers and one of my favorite foliage plants right now is Diervilla ‘Cool Splash’. It brightens up one of the few shaded areas in my garden and holds up all spring/summer.



I have tried for years to find a blue evergreen that would be ignored by the deer and say “no problem” to my clay soil that can sometimes be a bit waterlogged. Some how, Juniper ‘Wichita Blue’ has been the one to take the crown and three years in I am beyond thrilled. Upright, untouched by the deer and very little winter damage has made it a winner.

juniper wichita



The first signs of bloom on the Sedum ‘Autumn Fire’ appeared this week, which is always a reminder that September is fast approaching.

sedum pink


Boltonia blooms aplenty are here with plenty more to come. Of course once all blooms are present it will lean over and not be as fun to look at but I’ll be sure to never show you that photo.



Eupatorium ‘Wayside’ or Hardy Ageratum (but not really an Ageratum) finally survived the winter for me after two previous attempts. It seems to have reseeded more than it actually survived but who can complain. I love the late season color. A fun one to photograph in fall.

eup wayside


BONUS – Ornamental Grasses

I kind of like ornamental grasses in case you are new here. You’ve been warned.

Pennisetum ‘Hameln’ in full bloom as of this week.



penn and joe pye


First signs of blooms on Panicum ‘Northwind’.

panicum and joe pye


Same goes for Miscanthus ‘purpurascens’ or Flame Grass.

panicum miscanthus blooms


Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’ and their airy blooms.

panicum rots


I “attempted” to rid my garden of all Northern Sea Oats and while there is still a ways to go, I’ve made major progress. Having said that, I can’t deny these NSO that have grown right through an Itea shrub look kind of awesome. Oh well.

sea oats

QOTD: Do you like this time of year in your garden? Why or why not?



Top 14 Favorite Plants List

After hours of research, reminiscing, comparisons, self evaluation, honest arguments with myself and numerous drafts thrown in the garbage in a fit of rage, I’ve finally completed my long awaited “Top 14 Favorite Plants List”.

Why 14? Why not, I say. Truth is that was the natural cutoff point and there was no way I could limit it to 10.

10 is so 2015.

Consider the “extra 4” a bonus for your botanical viewing pleasure.

A few suggestions before the reveal:

  1. Print this list and take it to your local nursery when shopping for plants in fall.
  2. Memorize this list and share it with your friends while at your kids soccer game.
  3. Email it to all of your friends and show them that you’re thinking about them.
  4. Share this on all forms of social media so you can say that you read this list before it exploded and became the go-to list for gardeners all over the globe. #WhatAList

When compiling this list, I took a lot of different criteria into account from multiple season impact, ease of maintaining, prettiness level, level of creature attraction, focal pointed-ness, etc. In the end, there was no official scoring system and all of these plants (perennials, shrubs, grasses only) naturally fell into their ranking. Some are ubiquitous and others not so well known.

All of these plants currently reside in my garden and I eliminated all plants from contention if I haven’t had years nurturing/killing/crying with them.

Each plant has a hyperlink to the original blog posts I had dedicated for each or were part of another story that I’d think you’d enjoy. Go ahead, click them and get educated.

So here we go, in reverse order starting with:

14. Mountain Mint



13. Viburnum carlesii ‘Aurora’

viburnum aurora


12. Sorghastrum nutans (Indian Grass)

indian panicum sage


11. Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’

karl foerster bee balm


10. Redtwig Dogwood 

pruning redtwig dogwood 4


9. Astilbe arendsii ‘Amethyst’



8. Veronica ‘Royal Candles’



7. Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’



6. Purple Coneflower 

butterfly coneflower


5. Miscanthus purpurascens (Flame Grass)

rots flame grass


4. Baptisia australis

baptisia 2


3. Panicum ‘Northwind’



2. Amsonia hubrichtii and/or tabernaemontana 

amsonia and panicum


1. Eupatorium ‘Joe Pye Weed’

joe pye playroom bed

What do you think of the list? Any surprises? Any strong disagreements? Fill those comments up now and let’s get a discussion rolling.


Thursday Thoughts

Read at your own peril:

  • When a “farmer’s tan” becomes all the rage in fashion, I’ll be on the cover of Esquire. People were literally alarmed at the beach a few weeks back and my daughter got a case of the giggles like I’ve never seen before. It’s that bad … or good.


  • I’m way late to the party, but I just finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic”. A must read for those wanting to explore their creative side more. Too many quotes to add here but just know that I’m creating things like this on Instagram as a result. Scary, I know.



  • Speaking of inspiration, I’m still all in on Gary Vaynerchuk and vow to one day work for him in some capacity. He lit a fire under this mid 40’s dude like I didn’t think was possible. I’m also creating things like this on Instagram as a result.


  • I have many book ideas rolling around in my head and they range from a “An Illustrated guide to what not to do when gardening” to “How Joe Pye Weed changed my life” to “How to survive deer and shit soil”. Would you read any of those?


  • I’m negotiating with my daughter to dispose of her swingset/playground so I can install a large and fenced in vegetable/fruit garden. On one hand, It’s killing me to end that era as I remember pushing her for hours on end just based on her smile and remember teaching both kids how to jump off a swing in style. On the other hand, this could be epic and I could teach her all about growing your own and how to tend to a garden that bears food. On the other hand part II, do I have the time for such a venture? #GardenProblems
butterfly joe pye 2

Garden bliss

Today was one of those magical garden days where I was incapable of thought.

Incapable of planning.

Incapable of finding fault.

Incapable of tinkering and pulling and snipping.

The garden just was and that felt fucking awesome.

I appreciated all that it took for these visitors to make it here and personally thanked them for bringing my garden to life.

butterfly joe pye 2


butterfly joe pye


joe pye butterfly 2


joe pye butterfly


I wish I could remember the exact day when I allowed Joe Pye Weed to come into my life. Because that day should be celebrated each year.

joe pye playroom bed


playroom bed


planter bed


There is nothing like the feeling of the sun burning your neck, the dirt under your fingernails and the feeling of warm earth in your fingertips. But it can be eye opening and rewarding to take a step back and enjoy the fruits of your labor every once in a while.

side bed 4

and then stepping back some more …

side bed 3

and some more …

side bed 2

Shit, I created that and it’s kind of great.

When this blissful type of day arrives, I can even tolerate the clashing of colors because they had to bloom their asses off to clash in the first place.

dwarf sneeze

So why not enjoy them for what they are on their own and not sweat how they interact with others. The fleeting nature of flowers/perennials is why we love them so damn much.

dwarf sneeze 2


The fading of flowers is part of the process and one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned over the years. Sure, I could cut the spent blooms to promote new blooms and keep things all tidy and sometimes I’ll do just that. But allowing the blooms to fade gracefully while others take the lead role just feels right. Take yourself out of the equation.

white coneflower


coneflower susan


And some times plant combos create themselves through some sort of divine intervention. Like this Anemone bloom crawling up inside this Blue Grama Grass. I have no memories of planting this Anemone and have never successfully seen one bloom in my own garden. Now we sit back and enjoy.

blonde ambition anemone

QOTD – Who is better, “Blissful John” or “Let’s take all the fun and enjoyment out of gardening John”? Not that I can control who appears when, but I’m curious just the same.





snapchat me

Instagram “stories”

Over the last few months I’ve decided to embrace my inner 13 year old (acne and changing voice not included) and have spent an inordinate amount of time on two younger skewing social media platforms – Instagram and Snapchat. I don’t know if I’m in age denial, trying to hang with the cool kids or if I’m really into making the most of these channels as it applies to my storytelling desires. Whatever it is, I’m all in and having a blast.

I’ve been on Snapchat for 6 months now and I love it because it’s difficult to grasp. I played around with it for weeks and made stupid mistakes like sending pictures of flowers directly to people who could give a shit. But I couldn’t stop trying to master it. Once I understood the basics, I felt like I was a part of a cool secret club. Even at 44 years old, it’s fun.

Once my 10 year old daughter joined (and guess who gets to monitor her activity?) it took her no time to show me Snapchat’s full capabilities. I picked up a lot on my own and I’m proud of my ability to be a practitioner, but these kids just have that intuition and it is fascinating and interesting to watch. Say all that you want about “millenials” and youth culture today, but these kids are creative and persistent and I love it.

snapchat meAnd now this week, Instagram announced the launch of Instagram “stories” which is a direct ripoff of Snapchat. I’ve only had two days to play with it, but here’s my take:

  • It is Snapchat but with a more user friendly interface
  • It is much easier to promote your own stories to a larger audience
  • It lacks the whimsy and fun and youthfulness of Snapchat.
  • The filter function on Snapchat, which is not part of Instagram “stories” is a big difference maker for those who love showing off their travels.

I’m sure you’ll be reading more about it in the weeks to come as the battle between social media platforms intensifies. I see no reason why both can’t exist on their own and I’ll be using both for different storytelling reasons.

I’ve created a few Instagram “stories” so far, including one that documented my trip to my local garden center. I can’t show you the videos here, but if you hurry, you can see it on my Instagram profile but do it quickly, because just like Snapchat, the stories disappear after 24 hours. This “here and gone” theory creates an immediacy not so different from how we communicate when we talk to each other each day. I get it and like it. Your Instagram photos are pretty and nicely filtered and well thought out. Your Instagram “stories” are more off the cuff and raw but more of who you are. It’s nice to have both capabilities within the same platform.

My Instagram “story” from today:


It is a bit incomplete without the videos I included, but you get the point.


I’ll be diving into this more and more and lucky you will be able to view these stories over the next few weeks.

Before I go, have any of you planted Oregano ‘Kent Beauty’? That is what you see in my haul above and I’m curious how it has performed for you?

QOTD – any interest in Snapchat or Instragram? If so, let’s connect and if not, let me know why. I won’t be insulted … easily.



To pull or not to pull?

I need your 100% honest opinion below.

If you’ve visited here before and know me even slightly, I struggle with my OCD tendencies and need for control when it comes to gardening. While I enjoy and even prefer others wild and bold and out of control gardens, it takes a lot for me to create that same vibe in my own garden. I’m getting better, but I still fight the need for order and tamed plants.

And if I could play amateur psychologist for a moment, this personal need for control but a love for the more “out of control” extends to my “real” life. I find myself attracted to those people who are more outspoken, have a louder personality and aren’t afraid to say what they feel. They are an outlet for me to live vicariously through them. I’m jealous of their fearlessness.

So are our gardening lives a true reflection of our real lives? Or can we use gardening as an outlet to explore a different part of our personalities? Me thinks this is something I’ve been working through for years now, even if I wasn’t conscious of it most of the time. There is a much deeper discussion to be had here at a another time. I just need some more time to mull it over. Because the same parallel can be drawn with writing.

Moving on.

So as I was touring the garden this morning, I came upon this bit of “wildness” (relative term of course).

ocdIt took all I could handle to allow the white and purple coneflowers to coexist previously, but I could justify it since they were of the same genus. But now things are getting all sorts of wacky with that random Phlox ‘David’ appearing out of nowhere (not really “out of nowhere”, I know how it found its way there. I’m smart.) I so want to pull it out to restore order in the garden and more importantly, in my troubled cranium. Proudly, I managed to hold off so we could discuss together.


So what would you do? Are any of you as insane as me? Do you stare whimsy in the face and say “not in my house” or are you a normal human being who appreciates such fun and random and fascinating garden happenings?

Please tell me I’m not alone.



Weekend in Connecticut

We spent a long weekend in Connecticut after being off from work all last week. Now we return to reality tomorrow and I don’t like reality very much. Actually that’s not true, I feel ready to conquer the world and do some big things in the near future. But that could be the vacation vibe talking. But who cares, right? Enjoy that feeling while it still lasts, right?

Before I jump back into spreadsheets and conference calls and holistic synergies, here are some pics from the weekend.

Time spent at the family retreat at Cedar Lake in Chester, CT always does the soul well.



I have a lot of fears in the water (thanks Mom) and thankfully my daughter didn’t inherit those genes. She jumped right in the kayak and took off around the lake. Deep breaths and a few beers got me through it.



My wife and I were graciously granted a lunch date by our host and hostess. Before they could say “enjoy”, we were at the Madison Beach Hotel restaurant, a luxurious hotel housed right on the Long Island Sound.



Of course oysters …



Followed by beach selfies with my one and only.



On our way to the beach at Watch Hill, RI we stopped at a legendary italian ice joint, Vecchittos Italian Ice in Middletown, CT. Beyond delish and easily the best I’ve ever had.



When in Watch Hill, RI one must pose for pics near the Ocean House. I wrote about this grand hotel a few years ago (you can read it here) and we are still in awe each time we see it.



Once on the public beach in Watch Hill, the kids attacked the ocean and stayed in for hours, no exaggeration.







I could go on and on about how well we were treated by all family this weekend, but you don’t know them and I need to protect their identity so only WE can enjoy it for years to come. Just know I ate Belgian Waffles for three mornings straight and never wanted for a single beverage.

And last but not least, the return to the garden. Always a consolation prize after returning from vacation.

Still plenty of blooms …

coneflowers and be susan


… but it is clear that the grasses have announced their arrival. It is their time to take center stage. Expect them dominate on this blog for weeks to come.

planter bed


karl foerster bee balm


panicum joe pye tomato cages


grasses 2

QOTD – have you ever dreamed up a big idea or made a life change decision while on vacation? If so, would you be so kind as to share the experience? I think I’ve got one but it will be a secret until it comes to fruition.


Another visit to The High Line

I spent a good part of the day Thursday at The High Line in New York City. It is one of my favorite places on earth. It overstimulates and relaxes me at the same time. It is one of the greatest juxtapositions of urban and meadow I’ve ever seen. It was designed by Piet Oudolf.

Drop the mic.

I won’t carry on too much today because I’ve written about The High Line in the recent past and you can and should check out those posts before proceeding any further.

You can read about my inaugural visit here:

The High Line

And then dive into greater detail with my visit last year, broken down into 3 separate posts because, well, the subject matter justifies it:

High Line part 1

High Line part 2

High Line part 3

The High Line runs roughly 20 city blocks and I walked it end to end at least three times.

The first time without taking a single photo, just a chance to enjoy the stroll, enjoy the day off from work and to just watch. Watch people, plants and the chaos of Manhattan down below.

The second time through was all about capturing photos of the plants against the city backdrop.

The third time was the slowest jaunt of all as I imagined the thought process behind the plant design/layout when it was originally constructed. This was my favorite walk of the day.

If you didn’t check out my prior posts above just know I am going to post pics here without much context. Just a series of pics I like and feel happy sharing.

But before I do that, I feel the need to also share with you, five things I learned about myself while traversing this abandoned railroad in the sky.

  1. I’m old and have no sense of what is fashionable for men today. Yes, I was in New York City, the fashion mecca of the world, but still, I saw more short shorts on men and more man thigh than necessary. One day they’ll look back and laugh.
  2. I love the extremes of the city and the country. The loud noise and chaos doesn’t faze me but there is something about the deafening silence at night in my little rural part of New Jersey that makes me smile.
  3. My own garden mirrors the style of the High Line more and more each year. Let me rephrase that: my garden wishes to be even 5% of the awesomeness of The High Line.
  4. I want to quit my day job and work maintenance on The High Line. The beating down of the summer sun would not phase me one bit. I’d even give tours as well. This place is in my blood.
  5. I need to visit here four times per year: April, June, October and January. I need to feel the vibe of all four seasons.

And on to the photos:














































QOTD: Tell me about your favorite public garden.