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.  

3 thoughts on “An open letter to my brother in law

  1. Kathy Matteo

    You have outdone yourself on this one, laughed til I cried……going through the same thing with my 34 year old daughter who has just ‘discovered’ gardening……..BLISS

  2. Fran Pelzman Liscio

    I love this post. You nailed it. I have a small yard in Montclair, NJ, where the soil is clay and oftentimes, wet. But trial and error–plants can be very forgiving–and I keep trying new plants and putting them in the ground. My garden is a big messy jumble, but I tell people–“remember, I’m not a landscaper. I’m a gardener.” So there are wonderful things in my garden. It just has that windblown, tousled, fresh out of bed look, not that balanced and groomed look. And that’s okay.

  3. Michaele Anderson

    How fun for both of you…no secret handshake needed…just some knowledge of grass names and conversation will flow about the newly shared interest. This is a wonderfully entertaining post.

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