One flower, one foliage and one fail

THE FLOWER – nothing carries a more powerful scent in the garden right now than the flowers of Viburnum carlesii ‘Aurora’ (Koreanspice viburnum). When people knock at my door, I take my time answering just so I can watch their nose twitch a bit, see them turn around and try to locate the origin of the smell and then eventually ask “What smells so good out here?” 

viburnum aurora


THE FOLIAGE – This is my first year with Sambucus racemosa ‘Lemony Lace’ (Elderberry) planted in the garden (was in a container last year) and it was the quickest of all the deciduous shrubs to emerge this spring. I’m in love with it even at only a foot in height right now.



THE FAIL – The Eastern Tent Caterpillars are back on the Crabapple tree for a second consecutive year. Last year I simply slashed open the “nests” and let the birds have their way with the caterpillars and the tree seemed unaffected by it all. Will do more of the same this year.

bag of bugs

Embrace the dandelions

An open letter to my obsessive lawn loving friends and family:

I love you all, I really do. But you have to chill the hell out. There is nothing you can do about it and in fact, I’m writing this letter today with the goal of not only talking you off the ledge, but to also tell you why you in fact need to embrace them. “Them” being those delightful little pops of yellow spring flowers known as the dandelion. Please take notice that I used the term “flower” and not “weed”, because that is your first step in coming to terms with your unnecessary lawn stress.

Listen, I’m not here to patronize you, that is not the intention at all. I was once like you, wickedly concerned with the perfect looking lawn. I too shared the weekly dream of a pristine sheet of green with nothing else present but those lawnmower lines. I subscribed to the Scott’s 137 step plan and cheered on the idea of killing everything in the lawn’s path. I cut my lawn diligently each week scooping up all of the clippings along the way because any visible clump represented laziness. I’d too then trim the shit out of the lawn for like and hour or so and then grab my painfully loud blower and blow the loose clippings on the driveway into my neighbor’s lawn. I may have even grunted a bit when it was all done.

I don’t remember specifically when it all changed, but it started when we moved into our new home 12 years ago. I went from a tiny suburban lot to a 2+ acre country lot. At first, I tried to keep up with the lawn in the same manner as at the old homestead, but it became evident early on that it wasn’t going to work, I could never sustain it. From that realization forward, I slowly evolved to who I am today. I educated myself through exhaustive online research. I read all of the opinion pieces on safe and organic “turf management”. And honestly more than anything else, I came to the realization that I cared a hell of a lot more about my garden and my plants than I did about the lawn. I wanted to spend as little time tending to the grass so as not to take away from my garden time.    

Having said all that, here are some key tenets I’ve come to live by when it comes to the almighty lawn:

  • Stop all fertilization – it is expensive, requires too much effort and if you dig around a bit, you’ll see that it wreaks havoc on our environment.
  • Stop with the watering – yes I know things can look bleak in the dead of summer, but just deal with it. You’re probably not watering the right way any way. Water is a precious resource and your lawn will recover in time when it finally rains again.
  • Keep the lawn clippings on the lawn – they will break down over time and that is your lawn’s only feeding which replaces the aforementioned fertilization. 
  • Cut the lawn at its highest setting – this lessens the stress of cutting back those blades so severely each week and helps shield those weeds and weed seeds from seeing the light of day.

And now one last one – Don’t fight the dandelions.

I know it kills your lawn aesthetics dream, but maybe if you knew that it can literally save the bees, you can come to terms with it. Seriously, the dandelion flower is their first source of nectar in spring. For those bees that managed to survive the winter, it is their best chance to make it so don’t you want to be part of rewarding those feisty creatures? You do know if there were no bees, well, we’d be in big trouble?

So learn to embrace the yellow flowers as a rite of spring. Sell yourself on the color they bring to the spring landscape. If that doesn’t work for you, know that the long taproot of the dandelion actually aids in bringing more nutrients to the lawn’s soil by breaking up that soil and making it easier for absorption.

Once you come to terms with the presence of dandelions, imagine all of the newly found time you’ll have now that you’re not trying to pull them one by one or god forbid if you were spraying them (we’ll discuss that a later date).

You can’t tell me that the quick-to-emerge-again dandelion flowers don’t look cool after a recent lawn cut.


It has such a natural spring time look doesn’t it?   

And when the dandelions are blooming at their peak, well it looks a hell of a lot better than just that boring green grid so many of you love.


You are most welcome.





Phlox subulata and Geranium ‘Espresso’

There is one plant combination in my garden that is shining brighter than any other right now and that is Emerald Blue Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata) and Geranium ‘Espresso’.

phlox and espresso 2

While the phlox is in full bloom with carpets of lavender flowers, the foliage of the geranium has emerged enough to form neat mounds of dark chocolate leaves.

phlox and espresso

The color contrast between the two is eye popping and at the same time, the shape of the phlox blooms mirror the shape of the geranium leaves. And while the blooms of the phlox are due to fade in the very near future, there will soon be another wave of color contrast once these geraniums bloom themselves and reveal their soft pink flowers.

phlox and espresso 3

Once the Geranium ‘Espresso’ blooms bid farewell, both plants (after a light shearing from yours truly) will maintain solid foliage color all the way into the fall.

For those who have followed this blog in the past, you know that I suffer from poor draining clay soil. Typically, creeping phlox/moss phlox doesn’t survive well under these conditions. And I’ve tinkered with this groundcover for years and witnessed first hand how it despises the waterlogged soil. However, there is a spot along the sidewalk in front of my home that is extremely sandy/gritty due to the original construction of the sidewalk and the phlox just love it there. The deer and rabbits have never touched them so I won’t be moving these at any point in the future as they also look great spilling on to the sidewalk.

All indications are that Geranium ‘Espresso’ requires full sun in order to thrive, but I can attest to the fact that mine have performed well with only 4 hours or so of direct sun each day. I’m considering dividing these after they bloom this spring to see if they in fact thrive even more in a true “full sun” site. Once this geranium stops putting out new blooms, I shear them down quite a bit so they maintain a fuller look throughout the summer and fall.


























Discovering Gary Vaynerchuk

I’m feeling all sorts of salty and fired up today so enjoy the ride because even I don’t know where it’s going.

I despise so called “gurus” and “life coaches” and the like. I see right through their bullshit and know it is all about them cashing in on your weakness and their “special empowerment package now on sale for only $99.99”. While I’m entertained by their ability to sell their spiel passionately, I can’t buy in. You can tell me again and again that I need to believe in myself but it is only me who can do a damn thing about it. I already know that and don’t require the reminder thank you.

But then I discovered Gary Vaynerchuk. Dude … wow.

Check that, I didn’t discover him, my wife pushed me to give him a listen. That woman is ahead of the curve like no one else I know. She was on to Pinterest before all of you, she knew that The Weekend was going to hit it big before I even knew who they were and of course she married this prize before all the other ladies even had a shot. Big ups to her.

Like everything else on my to-do list in life, I procrastinated and put off giving him a shot for another day and then another day. Rinse and repeat. But on my way home from work last week, I was in a shitty mood and desperate for someone to smack me upside the head so I could wake up and get my head on straight. I never speak of my “day job” here and don’t plan to now, but just know I’m in a bit of a work midlife crisis. It’s no one’s fault but my own, but some times I need to be reminded of that.

I kid you not, within 1 minute of listening to this podcast …

Gary Vaynerchuk works harder than you do

… I was completely smitten with this guy. It was immediate and it was really f’n powerful. It’s as if he was talking directly to me through Bluetooth and had some serious intel on my backstory. There was no BS and he was as direct as humanly possible. It also doesn’t hurt that he is a Jersey guy, right around my age and curses like a sailor. I could relate to all he was spewing and he had me. I was like a red-bulled 13 year old when I got home from work that night.

“Gary said this and then he said this and I’m totally like, amen brother and then he described this kind of person who is me to a tee and I’m like I can do that and I’m ready to change and work harder and be awesome and I need to go on Instagram more and never sleep too.”

Since last Friday, I’ve consumed endless YouTube videos of his daily show, talks at conferences,etc. I listen to him on my headphones while weeding. And you know what, I’ve never weeded with more passion. The energy is palpable as is his way of looking at the world. I feel inspired and angry at the same time. Angry in a good way. Angry at myself for not pushing harder in life. Angry for not being more passionate in what I believe in and not taking more chances.

While he may be an entrepreneur and smart as a whip businessman, his themes extend to all parts of life. Self evaluation and awareness trump all else. Empathy is the key to life. Run with your strengths and don’t worry about your weaknesses. Bet on yourself. And my personal favorite, work harder than everyone else and once you get to where you want to go, exhibit endless amounts of patience. Others may have shared these same tenets, but some how his delivery makes it seem more authentic. He’s done it and can back it up. No BS pictures of yachts and Dom on Instagram. I implore you to try him out if you haven’t already.

Can I sustain this? Who knows. Maybe it is just a temporary jolt. Either way, I’m enjoying the ride and desperate for it to manifest itself into my life in all sorts of ways. I don’t even know if I used the word “manifest” right in that last sentence but guess what, I don’t friggin care, I went for it and I’m proud of even attempting to use the word “manifest”. Thanks Gary Vee.

Where is this going today? Am I angling to suddenly become an entrepreneur? Am I quitting my day job to join the hustle? Do I have a killer business idea? I don’t have the answer to any of these questions yet but I feel inspired, inspired in a way I’ve never felt before. I want to push my limits. I want to try things and fail and learn from them. I want to set ridiculous goals. I want to be more angry as a means to be more real.

But more than anything else, I want to push this blog/venture further than it has gone before. Do I know what that means yet? A bit. I’ve been doing this for over six years. Other than with my marriage, I’ve never been this committed and able to sustain anything this long in my life. That tells me something. I love writing, taking photos, playing in the dirt, making you laugh, being all high brow and low brow at the same time. Now we see if we can push it even further. Again, exploit the strengths and ignore the weaknesses.

With all that in mind, allow me to tell you why this photo sparked something as I was uploading it to my laptop today.

daffodil 4

A pretty flower, right? Surely. But you know what, I have given this and its brethren very little notice since they bloomed a few days ago. Because this is what I really see when I walk out my front door right now.

daffodil 5

All of the blooms face away from view and truthfully, the ten or so blooms don’t really make that much of an impact. Give it another few days and their inevitable decline will commence. And guess what? I’ll leave the foliage up all spring since it feeds the bulbs for what I hope will be an even bigger flower show next spring. But I won’t show you that foliage because it isn’t pretty. Amazing how the camera will avoid that area and keep it out of view. I can’t help but feel like I’m not keeping it real.

The point here? Gardening is f’n hard. It really is and I’m finding it harder and harder to sell others on how to make it easy. I can enjoy these daffodils for their brief show but ultimately, I envision them multiplying in years to come and me coming up with a combo that makes them truly pop. But that will take time and tinkering and you know what, I will love every second of it. That is where the fun comes in, that is where the payoff comes from. Then I can take a killer photo of that combo and really feel proud of what I’ve accomplished. Full effort and patience.

You will never see me push “5 low maintenance plants” or “ten steps for the perfect garden” because they don’t exist. That is horseshit marketing of the finest degree. More than ever, I want to stress the necessary work and time and effort that is required. I want to tell you to ignore those fleeting blooms on a plant that only last one week (contrary to what you are sold) and enjoy the texture that same plant has to offer for 20+ weeks following. I want to show you what failed and do my best to determine why. I’m in the planning stage (yes, planning) of how to utilize my Go Pro camera for near daily (a bit of a hedge) videos of the grind. I think you will like it.

One last one …

Sure the blooms on my Serviceberry are a welcome sign right now.


serviceberry 3

But if I ‘m keeping it real, the more important and honest question here is where did I go wrong or how do I determine why the shrub/tree truly looks like this.

serviceberry 2

Those bare branches are hard to hide each year.

More of that to come …


How one emotional journey led to apple trees

I will never give you gardening advice on this blog.

Never have, never will.

There are plenty of other places online and in killer books to find great info from experts all across the globe.

What I’ve enjoyed presenting here for the past 6 years is a peek into my own garden and what I’m doing, be it educational or smart or as you’ve witnessed many times before, just plain dumb.

I’ve also enjoyed sharing the emotions that come with hardcore gardening because yes, gardening is an emotional undertaking. There is anger when big plans fall apart over the winter. There is frustration when there is no answer as to why that stupid perennial still won’t bloom after three years in the ground. There is elation on those days when it all seems to come together. There is indifference when you get tired and start to question whether or not it is all worth it.

And all of those emotions occur within the same day.

I’ve also taken to sharing the evolution of not only the garden as a whole, but also that of specific plants. When I can, I like to capture plants in their infancy and then document their growth in subsequent years. I also enjoy sharing a plant’s ever changing look and feel from season to season. With that info in hand, it helps when deciding whether or not to purchase said plant and how it fits into your overarching garden vision.

I needed to dispense that background info before getting to the point of today’s post. Because all of that ties into what I’m about to show you.

A week or two ago my wife and I were enjoying one of our typical romantic soirees; both on our devices on separate couches while the kids watched Family Feud and the dog jumped from couch to couch trying to determine which was more comfortable and which adopted parent would offer up more attention (P.S. My wife wins every time).

After one of the many Steve Harvey “survey says?”, my wife handed me her iPad to show me a blog she had been reading. The couple and their young children were picking apples from a tree while skipping and smiling and enjoying life to the fullest. A f’n Hallmark moment. The intention was for me to see that the apple tree was producing 4 different fruits on one tree. She had never seen that before and admittedly, neither had this so-called expert gardener.

I handed the iPad back to my wife with the intention of then researching this fascinating apple tree to see if it was legitimate. But I couldn’t shake the photo. Yes, I realized it was a staged pic and the kids more than likely were fooled into giving a shit for their mom’s sake, but it still grabbed my attention for two reasons:

1)How did my own children get so old (10 and 13) so fast and were they already beyond the age of wanting to really hang with us? Could we legitimately pull off this type of scene ourselves? How much longer do we actually have in our current home knowing we’d like to move south in the future because we both hate the cold with a passion. Maybe 12-13 years? How does that factor into what I still plant here knowing our rough timeline?

2)Why haven’t I tried growing an apple tree before?

I know, you probably think this is a convenient set-up for what is to follow but I swear on all that is holy that this is exactly how it played out in my head.

That night I went on to the Stark Brothers website determined to purchase an apple tree or two. I still had time to nurse these trees to the point of giving fruit before Jack headed off to college. Poorly draining clay soil be damned, I’ll figure it our some how.

Within ten minutes I had purchased three trees:


Red Rome Beauty Apple (as a pollinator for the Honeycrisp)

4 on 1 Antique Apple (yes, similar to what we had seen in that blog post referenced above)

Time was of the essence and I could not deal with the regret of not having at least tried to grow apple trees. Too spontaneous? One could argue that, but I got caught up in the moment and allowed the nostalgic wave to get the best of me.

So last weekend, the three bare root trees were planted. It was a bit cold (in the upper 40’s) and windy and real wet but I feared not getting these in the ground soon enough. After some careful planning for like 3 minutes, I knew where I wanted them.

Out came 3′ in diameter sections of the lawn and in went my 3-4′ sticks of joy.

apple trees

Those trees are further apart than they look and the trees are all dwarf, expected to reach about 8-10′ in size. I’m not that incompetent.

After digging the holes and planting, I tried my best to ignore the reminders of how wet the soil stays with our high water table.

wet lawn 2

wet lawn

Too late, I’m all in. And determined to make this work. I even mapped out a plan to massively expand an existing garden bed off of my deck that would include two of the apple trees and a nearby River Birch. I’m thinking a small seating area with some large pots since I don’t want to mess with the roots of the three trees.

nrew bed

So there you have it.

Another opportunity to share a plant’s origin with you from the outset and we can all watch them grow up together and hopefully bear fruit some day. That, or we can laugh at my not-well-thought-out attempt at an orchard.

Either way, you the reader wins.

My emotions got the best of me here but I’m glad that they did. This should be fun and frustrating and scary and annoying …

This post is boring and you’ve been warned

After six years of willfully displaying my immature excitement at new spring plant growth on this blog, it’s time to slow things down a bit. A never ending supply of minuscule pops of green is not very entertaining. In fact, those types of posts are a turn off to the non hardcore gardener. And if I’m here to do anything, it is to convert the non-obsessive to the obsessive.

So with that in mind, forget everything I just said. I’m a happily immature 43 year old who still gets down on his hands and knees and pulls back the mulch/soil for signs that perennials survived the winter. I use my left hand to hold back dead branches while the right hand barely balances the camera and some how manages to capture the rosettes of newly emerging sedum.

Maybe next year I’ll spare you the pain of my spring excitement. If you have had enough of these types of posts, photos or have seen all you need to see in your own garden, you are now free to leave. For those who stay, I’m sorry.

The ultimate rite of spring, the emergence of the peony. Still fun.



In the not too distant future, we will have carpets of moss phlox blooms.

moss phlox


I’ve struggled to grow lilacs of any sort but things are looking up already this spring.



lilac 2


Allium ‘Globemaster’ returning for another year. No flower garners more attention than this one.



Rhamnus ‘Fine Line’ (Buckthorn) is going to really take off this year and I’ll be there every step along the way.

buckthorn 2




A rosette of Ajuga peeking through the dead foliage. Tells me it is time to strap on my shit kicking boots and get my gardening on.


“The Perennial Matchmaker” – My review

If a garden genie were to swoop down from the high heavens and offer me one wish and one wish only, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt what I would ask for. I’ve been preparing for this moment for a long time now, just as I’ve prepared my family for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can’t be too careful.

My ultimate wish would be for Nancy Ondra to take the reins of my garden for a minimum of three years where she would be graced with an unlimited budget and unlimited time. I would provide her no direction and would have no specific requests other than she do as she sees fit.

Nancy would take up residence at our house while the family and I relocate to Bermuda for those three years. Our employers would willingly allow us to work remotely while on the island and the kids would be provided with a solid tropical education. After the three years are up, Nancy would be required to make quarterly visits on an ongoing basis to ensure I am not screwing up what she will have created in my garden.

In my humble opinion, there is no greater designer of perennial gardens than Nancy Ondra. I have used her website – Hayefield – as a reference tool for for years running now, be it for researching plant combos, flowers or most impressively, the power of foliage.  I am a also a proud owner of so many of her books. I still remember being drawn in by the cover of her book “Fallscaping” at my local library back in 2008 and immediately purchasing a few Amsonia later that night. The Perennial Gardener’s Design Primer hit shelves right when my perennial fever emerged back in 2005 and it had an enormous influence on my perennial choices from that point forward. It also helps that she gardens in the same zone as I do and is located only a hop, skip and a jump away in scenic Bucks County, PA.

Which brings me to Nancy Ondra’s latest book, “The Perennial Matchmaker”.

The Perennial Matchmaker

I received a copy of “The Perennial Matchmaker” a few months back (I must let you know upfront that a copy was mailed to me because one of my own garden photos made it into the book, more on that in a bit) and I’ve already mapped out 3 new perennial combinations I’ll be attempting this spring. It is a must have for gardeners of all experience levels and the book once again crowns Ondra as one of the queens of the perennial garden.

The book includes 80+ profiles of different perennials/grasses.

The Perennial Matchmaker

The Perennial Matchmaker

Each of which is broken down into three different sections:

Color Considerations – bloom colors are analyzed with multiple recommendations for other plants that both complement and contrast with those flowers. A sample:

“The rich colors of heleniums show up beautifully among the tans and browns of ornamental grass flower and seed heads , like those of ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass.” 


Shapes and Textures – the plant form and texture is discussed, and again, numerous plant partners are suggested based on said shape and texture.

“The blooms of most irises tend to be on the big and bold side, holding their own with other in-your-face flowers, such as those of giant onion (Allium giganteum) and peonies. For contrast, combine them with partners that have small, airy, or spiky blooms, such as catmints (Nepeta).”


Seasonal Features – covers the impact each perennial has throughout each season and how it can impact design.

“Fall-colored bluestars make a great contrast to the brown-black seed heads of echinaceas or rudbeckias and the flattened, reddish heads of upright sedums, such as ‘Autumn Fire’.”   


Beyond that, there is a “Perfect Match” section accompanying each plant profile that highlights Ondra’s personal favorite companion(s) for that particular plant. Here’s a sample using one of my favorites, the bee balm:

“When I choose bee balms for my garden, I look for cultivars that have interesting bracts as well as colorful flowers. Red-flowered ‘Jacob Cline’, for instance, has dark, purplish red bracts that make an excellent echo for purple-leaved shrubs, such as ‘Royal Purple’ smokebush.”


And finally, each plant description includes a “Bloom Buddies” box which provides a listing of other perennials that bloom around the same time as that perennial. A super easy reference when we’re in the planning phase of our gardens or trying to correct a prior mistake – my personal sweet spot.

The Perennial Matchmaker


Yes, the descriptions are delicious, informative and passionately detailed, but the photos, oh those photos, are the creme de la creme of this book. Like a 2 year old, when I first received the book all I did was leaf through each and every page only absorbing the photos. If this were solely a picture book, I’d still be on board.

The Perennial Matchmaker


The Perennial Matchmaker


The Perennial Matchmaker


The Perennial Matchmaker

Quick aside – my perennial combination of Astilbe ‘Deutschland’ and Ninebark ‘Diablo’ made it onto page 46 of the book. My 15 minutes of fame are slowly evaporating.

The Perennial Matchmaker

Part 2 of “The Perennial Matchmaker” covers the “Exploring of more options”. Here Nancy Ondra educates the reader on how to really look at a perennial to understand it’s attributes, how to do your homework before purchasing perennials and ultimately how to find partners for your perennials. This section is perfect for the beginning gardener and admittedly, a nice refresher for those of us who think we know it all.

For me personally, “The Perennial Matchmaker” has provided a new and fresh outlook on how to combine and design with the perennials currently in my garden. I made a point to look up each and every perennial in my garden today in the book’s index to ultimately see all of the suggested pairings. It has invigorated me to try some new combos, combos I never considered before.

Along those same lines, “The Perennial Matchmaker” is also an incredible resource for determining where to place all of those plants I ordered over the winter. A perfect example is as follows – I ordered 1o Vernonia noveboracensis (New York ironweed) from a native plant online retailer after having seen this plant at the High Line in NYC last summer. I had made no plans (shocker) as to where it would go and who it would be planted next to. Sure enough, my answer was on page 281 where a photo of New York ironweed and Joe Pye Weed paired together made the decision easy for me.

This is how I will use this book for years to come.

A plant will not go in the ground until “The Perennial Matchmaker” has been referenced.

I suggest you do the same.

An early spring garden tour

Even with temperatures dipping into the 40’s here in Central New Jersey and wind gusts of up to 40 mph, I still managed to spend a good deal of time in the great outdoors garden on Sunday. There was still dead perennial foliage to be removed, a first wave of weeds to eradicate and the never ending task of cutting down all of the ornamental grasses. When there is an available window of time for garden chores, you take it, no questions asked.

After the “tasks” were completed for the day, I grabbed the camera and did my best to capture what’s going on. Things seem to have slowed down a bit in the garden after the colder weather arrived this past week but there are still signs that we are in fact moving forward. And that is a good thing.

Bud break on the Viburnum ‘Amber Jubilee’ promises stellar foliage is coming in the very near future.

viburnum emerging


Same goes for the Sambucus ‘Lemony Lace’ which lived comfortably in a container last season but has now made the jump to the big leagues and is in a very prominent spot in the garden.

emerging foliage


Variegated Siberian Iris will enjoy it’s first spring in my garden and here’s hoping it enjoys it’s stay.

emerging iris


Bee Balm rosettes threaten to take over all other perennials and I’m OK with sitting back and watching how it will all play out.

emerging bee balm


Daylilies … um … are green or whatever.

daylily emerging


The cool season ornamental grasses are showing signs of life as seen here with Calamagrostis ‘El Dorado’.

grass emerging


The buds on Viburnum carlesii ‘Aurora’ have turned to their usual pre-blooming pinkish hue and it won’t be long before that killer scent is wafting in my front windows and carrying me away to my happy place.

viburnum bud


I couldn’t bring myself to cut down the Panicum ‘Northwind’ yet. With nothing but cold temps and wind on the horizon, I still need to watch them dance a bit more before I can bid them goodbye.

northwind blowing


And on to the bulbs.

Daffodils, not the most original and unique of blooms but it is still color and they come back without fail year after year after year. An underrated attribute I do not take for granted.



More Narcissus not too far away.

daffodil buds


daffodil buds 2


Leucojum aestivum (Summer Snowflake) is starting to bloom and is one of the few bulbs that can withstand wet soil conditions over the winter. Hence, I have got a lot of it. Loved how the back lit sun was captured here.



leucojum 2


The Hyacinth blooms are mini in stature but I’m just psyched that they came back at all again this year. It is the first time I’ve had repeat bloomers. It’s the little things that make me happy.



The garden “trumps” all else

Chaos reigns right now.

Every other day there is a heinous act of terrorism that no longer shocks but has become background music. The sight of people running for their lives on CNN doesn’t even faze us.

After a waiting period of approximately 51 seconds, both sides of the political aisle provide their expected take on the attacks and our existing division just grows larger and larger.

Did he really just say “I alone can solve”?

Donald Trump has managed to make this presidential race both fascinating and utterly embarrassing. The optimist hopes this is the necessary low point in order to course correct our political system. The pessimist says “dude we’re a fucking disaster”. I’m leaning towards the latter after watching Trump on CNN last night, where pictures of wives on Twitter was the topic for the first ten minutes.

And guns, oh those guns. Guns are the sole cause of all our issues. Take them all away. Never mind the impact of the mental state of these shooters or those who handle them responsibly.

On the other side we hear that guns solve all issues. If only those dining in Paris were properly armed. Take my gun away and I promise more gun violence. Is a background check unreasonable? This may be my favorite Onion article of all time:

Emotional Wayne LaPierre Honors Victims Of Background Checks

Don’t even think about breathing a word about politics or religion on social media because the concept of “gray” no longer exists. I’ve witnessed many long time friends become non-friends within one Facebook post. People are angry and while it may be justified, I’ve seen plenty of angry rhetoric based in not even one tangible fact. The number of garbage websites dedicated solely to feeding the insanity of those blindly following both the left and right is out of control. They make the Onion look like hard hitting news.

I’m not one to voice my political or religious opinions but I will say this: As this nonsense unfolds my “Independent” thinking only gets stronger. And I’m doing my best to pass that type of thinking on to my children. Take each issue on its own merit and feel comfortable mixing and matching your beliefs. But really take the time to understand the issue, grasp both sides of the argument and feel free to sometimes not have a strong opinion one way or another.

And above it all, treat everyone equally and don’t fall for the conveniently categorized stereotypes. Everyone should enjoy the right to marry. Everyone has the right to be themselves. Respect all religious beliefs and those without religious beliefs. Seems easy to me and hope they agree.

That my friends is why I love my garden.

I’m incapable of thought when in her presence.

The ultimate escape.

I enjoy the control I have there and have to come accept what little control I really have.

Patience is rewarded and some times it’s fun to tell patience to suck it.

My garden is my laboratory and my garden is not mine at all.

I hate the deer but cherish the challenge in trying to fool them.

Success is overrated, failure is underrated.

I am more than willing right now to take the dog out just so I can savor the emergence of the early spring garden.

front bed

Bulbs are revealing themselves, perennial foliage appears overnight and buds on the trees and shrubs promise a greater tomorrow. The need to go, go, go dissipates and I’m comfortable sitting and staring and taking it all in for minutes on end. It’s the closest I can get to meditation.

And nothing is better for temporarily forgetting about the chaos.




Plants I’m bullish on this year

Here are 9 plants I’m hoping show big improvement this spring/summer over how they performed in my garden last year. 8 are relative newcomers, 1-3 years in the ground, so time alone should aid their jump in prominence. And 1 has been around my parts forever but only last year managed to avoid the wrath of the deer herd. Here’s hoping this is a new trend.

Coneflower ‘Sunrise’: Full disclosure – I’ve moved this three times in three years. And to the shock of no one, it finally bloomed last summer after a full year in its current spot. The flowers arrived later than all of the other coneflowers (late July) but that is OK. I expect taller and fuller plants this year, assuming the itch to move them is fought off successfully.




Abelia ‘Bronze Anniversary’ – Another oft moved shrub but one where I’m happy with its current destination. I love the golden leaf color, especially in partial shade and especially in spring as the foliage emerges, but I can do without the clashing white blooms. In fact, the plan is to immediately remove the flowers for fear of ridicule from the neighbors.




Daylily ‘Little Grapette’ – This is the oldie I referenced above that always suffered at the hands of the deer in summer. For whatever reason (my intimidation factor?), they were ignored last year. While I’m not a big daylily guy, I do like how these combine with other dark leaved plants (As seen with Penstemon ‘Husker’s Red’) below.





Ninebark ‘Amber Jubilee’ – No, not an exotic dancer or My Little Pony character, but the best foliage color of any plant I own. But as you can see in the second photo below, the deer get it each winter and in effect, prune it back hard for me which ultimately compromises the size of this shrub. If I can remember to defend her better this year, the sky is the limit. Remember though, “remembering” is not a strong suit of mine.

ninebark amber jubilee 2

ninebark amber jubilee


Allium azureum – I blew it with this one. I mistook these for wild onions and yanked them out without much thought last spring. This is the only one that actually bloomed. Luckily for me I was lazy when pulling them so the bulbs remained in tact. No such error will be made this spring.

allium blue


Peony ‘unknown other than it is white’ – This is as good of a lock as any. First flowers appeared last spring after two years in the ground and we all know that the peony is indestructible once established.

white peony

peony white


Baptisia ‘ Carolina Moon’ – Based on the success I’ve had with my other Baptisia plants, I’m counting on this one to fall right in line. Big, big things this year from this one. I cannot wait to photograph it and share it with you all.

baptisia carolina moon

baptisia lilac

baptisia carolina moon


Clematis – This appeared out of nowhere last year after I stuck it in the ground and completely forgot about it. There appears to be new growth this spring so I remain optimistic for a repeat showing. And this time, I’ll even use a real trellis to maximize the show.


clematis 2


And last but not least, the fickle …

Cimicifuga ‘Brunette’ – For three consecutive years, this perennial has looked great in spring only to fall apart when the weather really heats up and when it attempts to bloom. I’ve stayed on top of the watering and it, along with its 7 other siblings (I’m way invested at this point) get plenty of afternoon shade. The pessimist in me says, “wrong plant for you John” while the optimist says, “give it time to get established”.

Cheers to optimism.