Garden update

A few quick notes before we check out the latest and greatest in my world renowned garden today.

My mother-in-law has come and gone, we had great family time, ate like champions and most importantly, had some serious plant discussions. I should also add that she lives outside of Portland so I couldn’t be more jealous of her gardening climate and conditions.

My wife and I had a “day date” on Sunday (thanks dad-in-law) and spent the day out in neighboring Lambertville, NJ. I love my kids to pieces, but I can’t say that I missed them too much that day.

left bank

I’ve talked about my love of baseball on numerous occasions, but my number one sports love is hockey, specifically the New York Rangers. They will be playing in a game 7 this Friday night to determine who goes to the Stanley Cup finals. Please remember them in your prayers because if they lose, I may not be able to write another blog post.

On to the latest and greatest out in my garden.

Finally, the Iris versicolor (Blue Flag) are blooming, but the blooms are somewhat hidden by the foliage so it has little impact unless viewed up close.

iris 2

The Siberian irises ‘Snow Queen’ are also blooming and damn, they look handsome.



I’ve discussed pruning Weigela ‘Wine and Roses’ in the past and I am sad to report that 2 of my 3 W&R have perished over the past few winters. The one surviving shrub has never been pruned, 6 years and counting, and she still looks OK.



weigela juniper wichita


My mother-in-law witnessed my weekday plant shopping as she saw my large noggin surrounded by plants as I pulled my car into the driveway one day last week. Said plants were Meadow Rues I excitedly discovered at my favorite local nursery, Ambleside Gardens.  The two below are ‘Black Stockings’ and their incredible black stems. I am hooked.

weigela meadow rue

meadow rue


Baptisia in full effect.


baptisia 2




I cannot say enough good things about Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’. My current collection of 13 will only get larger over the years.

amsonia blue ice


My big plan of an impactful blue and orange combo never really panned out with Trollius and Salvia. This is the best there ever was. John’s grade: C-

salvia trollius


My absolute favorite time in the garden is early evening as the sun is setting. Still need things to fill in a bit more, but we are getting there.



And finally, I am sad to report that I lost two Itea ‘Henry’s Garnet’ over this past winter. I have no idea why, but it is interesting that the bark was exposed as seen below. Any ideas? They’ve been replaced by two Panicum ‘Dallas Blues’, but they will be missed.

dead itea 2




Trying to impress

Cohesion might be an issue today.

I am painfully exhausted after a weekend executing plan “Weed Shock and Awe”.

I got up at 6:00 on both Saturday and Sunday morning and spent two hours each day weeding like a man possessed. The hope was that the ferocity of my weed removal would send a message to other newly forming weeds that there was a new sheriff in town. Think twice before you decide to put on 6 inches of new growth in one day, because I’ll destroy you. I was that bad ass.

Admittedly, my relentless and focused demeanor was impressive and while the results were substantial, I’m still not comfortable sharing them with you. There is still a ways to go and only then will I share my success. To do so now would be weak and unearned.

While part of my motivation was to remove unwanted visitors who were uglying up the joint, my main driver was the arrival of my in-laws who are staying with us for the week. And I mean that in the best way possible.

No one amongst my family, friends and neighbors takes more of an interest in my garden than my mother-in law. She gets in the mix and takes in all of the plants up close and personal. She is interested in the names of the plants and their preferred growing conditions. She puts up with me using the Latin names. She remembers when some of the plants were just babies. She asks for advice and welcomes my rambling responses. It is awesome.

Because of this, I owe her a garden that doesn’t appear to be neglected or under construction. It is a time for me to make it some what presentable and I like that. A pause in the constant tinkering and shuffling of plants. A mini garden tour if you will. I enjoy prepping for it even if I put it all off until two days prior to her arrival.

After the work was done and the calf cramps had passed (I never remember if you are supposed to point the toes out or towards you) I finally had a chance to take in the garden in a non task-oriented way this evening. I was wobbly and a bit disoriented but managed to snap off some photos along the way and I’ll do my best to add some unnecessary much needed commentary. I apologize in advance if it makes zero sense.

This is relatively young Lilac and it is fully blooming for the first time. I tried to capture it best with this shot.


Looks OK but I really like this pic better.

lilac 2

And the reason is I love the peony blooms in the background. Come to think of it, I like peony buds more than I like the actual flowers in bloom. The buds equal promise and sometimes promise is better than the actual delivery. Well that and the blooms haven’t weighed down to the ground, been eaten by the deer or have disappeared within two days.



Allium ‘Globemaster’ makes a statement like no other while in bloom. Soon it will be inundated with bees and creatures and will be the star of the garden. It even kicks butt when the blooms fade as it takes on an architectural quality.


And the Baptisia in the back are quite lovely as well ain’t they. Speaking of Baptisia (I’m nailing the transitions today like an 11:00 news anchor) …

The Baptisia blooms are working their way up the stem just like science says they are supposed to.



baptisia carolina moon

Soon enough, this view will dominate.

baptisia lilac


I was taking a macro shot of this Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ flower (I know, enough already) …

amsonia ice 2

… when the guy below arrived. How convenient for this budding professional photgrapher.

amsonia ice 3

All of the ‘Blue Ice’ are ready to explode, just in time to replace the “purple/blue” view afforded by the quickly fading Ajuga blooms.

amsonia ice


Still haven’t divided those Siberian irises I’ve been threatening to attend to for two years now, They will be blooming within days so missed opportunity number 1. Will now have to accomplish post bloom. Chances of that happening? Slightly better than me watching an episode of the Kardashians.



I think my severe pruning of the Salix pissed it off and now it is going to take over and eat all of its surrounding neighbors. Wow.

back bed


Transition to be nailed yet again … the other the severely cut back shrub from weeks ago, the Redtwig Dogwood, woke up and removed all of my panic and potential regrets.

redtwig dogwood


I hate to admit this, but I never heard of a Diervilla … so I bought one.

front bed


Hot damn, the color of Ninebark ‘Amber Jubilee’ is awesome.

ninebark amber jubilee 2





I can confirm that the neurotic part is accurate.

And it was this gosh dang view that did it.

carex under tree

First off, how awesome are the Carex Appalichica above? They look unbelievable and downright radiant when back lit by the sun.

carex under tree 2

Back on topic …

I cannot stop myself from gazing at the above referenced view. It dominates my thoughts day and night.

I see it when I am ravaging the cupboards in the kitchen.

I see it when I shut off Family Feud on the TV because it is oddly inappropriate and not for a nine year old girl.

It’s the first thing my eye moves to when I set foot out on my deck and threaten the rabbits.

I see it when I pace in the upstairs hallway while brushing my teeth, trying to up the “step” count on my Fitbit.

And here’s the thing. If it draws the eye in I guess it is a good thing, but is it? I can’t decide if I love it or hate it. Look at it again please.

carex under tree

It’s too formal, right? But formal works sometimes, right? I’m over thinking this right?

With complete compassion for those who are unfortunately afflicted and diagnosed with true OCD, I fall just short of having it according to my own self diagnosis.

I require 7 strokes under each arm when applying deodorant.

I am a serial stacker (ask my wife). If papers are stacked I feel in control, even if the important ones are lost in the pile.

If you saw my desk at work you would think no one lived there. Coworkers have moved my family photos a few inches just to see if I’ll notice when I arrive at my desk. Spolier alert: every damn time.

I bunch things in odd groupings without even realizing it.

I could go on but I’ll spare you.

In my true domain, the garden, is where it gets trickier. I despise almost all formal gardens and love those that are wild and free. Except I cannot do wild and free … or formal. I operate in this middle ground where the design feels in control but not too much in control. Controlled chaos if you will. Hello neurotic.

My M.O. is to plant 1, 3, 5 or if I’m feeling nuts, 7 of a like plant and keep them in a triangle/quadrilateral pattern. In control yet trying to fool myself that I’m letting it all hang out. It makes me f’n nuts and I wish I could just embrace the chaotic. Does anyone else think this deeply about their damn garden? If so, please start a support group and invite me immediately.

This dilemma has a direct impact on the development of my now ten year old garden. When you feel the need to constantly evaluate the location of plants in your garden you become a tinkerer. A tinkerer never relaxes. A tinkerer moves the same plant three times in one day. A tinkerer never allows a plant to establish itself. As a result, the tinkerer’s garden never looks mature. Hi, I’m John and I am a tinkerer.

I also kick ass when it comes to weeding because of my neurosis. I see all weeds in all spots and need them gone. I even get a bit shaky when I can’t get to them. But I’ve never sprayed a chemical in my life. Just give me a trowel and maybe a flat head screwdriver and I’ll dominate. I can get at the toughest weed like a bulldog but then have the delicate touch in order to get the entire root system. It is an art form and don’t let anyone else tell you differently. For $50 and hour I can be had.

Can we go back to the photo one more time?

carex under tree

The grasses look too formal don’t they? Or does the sweeping curve make sense? Does it need to circle the entire tree? Should I just be happy they are thriving in that spot? Did you tune out already?





I tend to favor foliage over flowers because of the fleeting nature of those big old blooms. But I still appreciate the hell out of flowers when they arrive in spring and today is one of those days where they must be appropriately honored:

Exhibit A as to why ignoring a plant is often your best option. I got this Clematis from the Garden Writer’s Conference back in August and just stuck it in the ground not expecting a damn thing. Note to self: leave well enough alone more often.


clematis 2


Geranium ‘Espresso’ is now in full bloom and the bloom color looks fantastic in contrast to the chocolate colored foliage.

geranium espresso

geranium espresso 2


This is really the only orange blooming plant I own, Trollius ‘Golden Queen’.



ajuga trollius


Daffodil ‘Green Pearl’ was planted this past autumn and first impression is that I like it. You can’t tell from the photo, but there is a green ‘eye’, hence the name.

daffodil green pearl


I moved and divided a few Phlox ‘Emerald Blue’ last year and so far so good. I like it spilling on to the front walkway.

moss phlox


This lilac smells even better than she looks.



I could sit there for a week straight and watch the Allium blooms unfold.


allium 2


Amsonia tabernaemontana looking good.

amsonia flower

As does Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’

amsonia 2

amsonia ajuga


The tiniest sign of color on the Baptisia is a sign of things to come, most likely later this week.




Random thoughts including a brilliant idea

A few thoughts bouncing around in the old noodle today.

Last week I visited a coworkers home/property during our lunch hour to check out his landscape. It was beautifully laid out with multiple stone walls, mature trees, a small pond and it all backed up to a sweet wooded area.

The plantings were sparse so I started dreaming up a plan as if I had already been hired as his landscape architect (FYI, my rates are competitive). Turns out the dude wanted mulch and not too much else. Plants were too much maintenance and controlling the weeds was the main concern.

This has to be the 3rd or 4th time I’ve had the same conversation over the past few weeks. Mulch, mulch, mulch. I get it to an extent, but I am failing miserably in my attempts to persuade friends/family to pursue “plants”. I need  to work on my “elevator speech” so I can convert the “I don’t want to be converted crowd”.

But more on that at a later date.

I really want to talk about just how phenomenal the show “The Americans” is … just kidding. Well I’m not kidding, I’m dead serious but that is also for another blog for another day.

How about those Mets? Sorry, now to the important stuff.

While I was drooling over my coworker’s landscape, he mentioned that the home’s previous owners had taken a one year sabbatical to address their yard. How frickin awesome is that? And who the hell gets to do that? I think if I presented that idea to my boss, I would be laughed out of the cube and all the way to the unemployment line.

But damn wouldn’t that be fun and rewarding and healthy and invigorating and frustrating and expensive and tiring and life changing? Can you imagine spending 365 days solely focused on the outdoors and getting your garden/yard in shape? Oh what I could accomplish and I could realistically dream big and finally deliver on my many lofty dreams.

So I am asking you all today for a favor. Spread the word that I want a large corporation/entity to sponsor “My year in the garden”. I’ll carefully document and film it all and I’m thinking it could make it to Cannes if done right. Or maybe it is a weekly reality show. Either way, it would be inspirational and dramatic with a dash of heartbreak and humor. Remember you heard it here first and you were there from the beginning.

I’m not sure yet how I’ll address the day job but that minor detail can be worked out at a later date.


I’ll now leave you with more images of my garden as it rounds into shape. I love spring and I love plants before they are fully blooming. The promise is intoxicating.

“Here we go Trollius, Here we go.”


trollius buds


Geranium ‘Espresso’ flowers ain’t so far away now.

geranium espresso


Baptisia has become a personal favorite and it is ready to deliver.


baptisia 2


Elsewhere, flowers have arrived and I’m doing my damndest to enjoy them while they last.

Crabapple ‘Prairifire’ has phenomenal color although the shape of the tree needs to be addressed at some point.

malus 2



I really like these ‘Hillstar’ Daffodils which were planted this past November.



Let’s pretend that this Fothergilla ‘Mt. Airy’ is covered in blooms and that it was never touched by the deer. How fun.



This Brunnera came out of nowhere and I have no memory of planting it. I’m awesome.

blue blooms


I have Ajuga everywhere and when it blooms, it makes quite a statement. Nothing can kill it and I’ve found it pretty easy to keep it in check.


ajuga 2

ajuga 3


And I’ll leave you with this. Don’t fret over the dandelions. They are our your friend. I’m dead serious. Read this.


You’re welcome.


An early May garden update

The latest and greatest in my garden this first week of May:

10 days in and these ‘Double Beauty’ daffodils show no signs of slowing down. If I had to guess, they have tripled in count since I planted them three years ago.

daffodil blooms
Daffodil ‘Double Beauty’


The ‘Mt Hood’ daffodils are reliable year after year with this being their latest bloom time ever (and yes I know this for a fact based on my spreadsheet entries over the years. You’re jealous.)

daffodil white
Daffodil ‘Mt Hood’


I am happy to report that my Hyacinth ‘Blue Spike’ planted last fall have bloomed and withstood the leaf nibbling from the rabbits.

daffodil and hyacinth
Hyacinth ‘Blue Spike’ and Daffodil ‘Mt Hood’

I planted them in small bunches in between the Catmint ‘Nepeta’ along my front walkway and I am digging the punch of color they provide while everything else is slowly emerging.

front walkway


The Summer Snowflakes are all in full bloom and I can vouch for the fact that they withstand the saturated soil year after year.

leucojum blooms
Summer Snowflake


While many of the daffodils are starting to fade, I am most pleased with myself and the successful attempt to plant varieties that bloom in succession to each other. These are just emerging now.



While the deer nipped off a good 50% of these buds over the winter, the Viburnum carlesii still packs a floriferous punch with the blooms that survived the feast.

viburnum carlesii bloom
Viburnum carlesii


Phlox ‘Emerald Blue’ (Moss phlox) and Geranium ‘Espresso’ make a handsome couple don’t they?

geranium and phlox
Geranium ‘Espresso’ and Phlox ‘Emerald Blue’


The first blooms on the Forthergilla ‘Mt Airy’ have arrived and like so many others, they were nipped by the deer. It really is their world and we are just living in it.

fothergilla bloom
Fothergilla ‘Mt Airy’


Trollius ‘Golden Queen’ will be blooming soon and I will be on high alert to ensure they come to fruition, deer and rabbits be damned.

trollium buds
Trollius ‘Golden Queen’


I admittedly get a little too excited when the peonies emerge each spring. I know they are a given and tough sons o bitches, but they represent spring like no other.

peony emerging
Emerging peony


Great color on the emerging leaves of this Viburnum and I’m livid that I can’t remember the name Ninebark ‘Amber Jubilee’. I’ve failed my spreadsheet and I’ve failed you all.

viburnum foliage


The severely cut back Salix (Dappled Willow) looked like this 46 days ago.

pruning salix 3

And now looks like this.

salix hakuro nishiki

Holy recovery Batman. Looks like this will be an every other year necessity from here on out.

On the other hand, very few signs of life with the heavily pruned Redtwig Dogwood.

redtwig dogwood

Will continue to keep you all updated on this as we proceed through spring and into summer. Yes, it is that important.



Ames contest winner

And the winner of the Ames New Homeowner Collection is …


The random generator at picked #9 so I chose the 9th commenter on the original post.

Congratulations Ken and please send me your mailing address at:

Thank you all for your participation and we’ll do this again soon.




An open letter to my brother in law

Dear “brother-in-law” (name removed to protect the innocent):

I hope you realize what you have stepped into. Things will be dramatically different from here on out. Life as you know it, or knew it, is gone. And it all changed the moment you sent me this text (verbatim):

“Thanks for the Panicum tip. Thoughts on either Karl Foerster or Fountain Grass?”


I’ve been waiting for this day for a long ass time.

You are no longer just my BIL, you are part of something much bigger now. A secret society of sorts, one in which we duck out during family functions and all I have to say to you is “Rots” (more on that later) and we both know exactly what we are talking about. The first rule of Grass Club is that you don’t talk about Grass Club. Grass is no longer what you cut once a week in spring and summer. It goes much, much deeper.

The fact that you live a stone’s throw from my humble country abode makes a lot of sense now. Fate brought you here. For too long it was just me and my silly named grasses. Now I have a neighbor who gets it.

Remember that movie “What About Bob”? I’ll be a kinder and safer version of that lunatic. Just don’t be surprised if I’m peeking in your window looking for a chance to talk about cool season vs. warm season grasses.


In fact, I’ve already taken the liberty of sharing my massive grass collection with you. You don’t know it yet, but one of the Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’ I had set aside two years ago with the optimism that I could give it to someone in the future …    


… is now in your possession. 

grass 2

You are most welcome. And by the way, it is known among us grassophiles as “Rots”. This is what she looks like in all her glory in July.


You know, you remind me of a young me. Just dipping your toes into the world of plants but with a desire for information and an interest to know more than the common folk. And since you’ve been saving me from myself by acting as our handyman for the better part of 19 years now (and your 4 year old son helped me lay tile last week), consider what I’m about to tell you as small payback for your generosity.

Here are 5 things that will happen to you over the next 6 months. It will be confusing and exhilarating at the same time but just allow it to wash over you.

1. Odd numbers. While secretly planting your grass I noticed two Salvia planted nearby. Soon you will learn the mistake of your ways and make it three. And you will look at everything in the world in terms of odds and evens and realize odds always feels better.     

grass 3

2. You may like the look of mulch now but soon you will see your young plants fill in and want to add as many more as possible. You’ll also soon realize more plants equals fewer weeds and THAT is the only real solution to combating the weeds.

3. You will realize flowers are fleeting and that there will be a need to focus more on foliage. I will smile like a proud parent when you ask me about Bugbane.

4. Our conditions suck, like big time. You will fail with many plants and I will let you do it. It is part of the learning process and a vital step to becoming a true gardener. It will eventually lead you down the path to native plants. I predict by 2017 you will have at least one Amsonia in your garden (or sooner if the plant fairy pays a visit one night).


5. This one will excite and frustrate. Like myself, you have a large property here in the NJ countryside. There is always room for another garden bed. Dreams of sweeping curves and borders will dance in your head. Embrace it. It stimulates the mind and leads to killer forearms.


I hope this letter finds you well and I hope you truly are a convert. It is magical and I’ve got a ton of plants with your name on it.

Good times.

P.S. – I hope you’re cool with me sharing your garden now and in the future with millions of readers all over the world.