Book #2

A few weeks back (or maybe it’s a few months, I’ve lost all track of time) I mentioned that my next book was going to focus on ornamental grasses. As you may or may not know, they are the focal point of my garden, especially right now as we head into winter. They changed my entire outlook on what a garden can be once I discovered them and I’m forever indebted to the Miscanthus, the Calamagrostis, the Panicum, the Pennisetum, the Andropogon and many others I’m sure I’m forgetting to thank.

But that book isn’t ready to be written.

Not yet.

I have work to do out in the garden, at wholesalers, at public gardens and in the research lab before it can be attempted. I need further education both in my own garden and from others.

But there will still be a book #2.

Book #2 is going to be very different from book#1:

  • I’ve written 35,000 words to date with 31 chapters.
  • There will more than likely be no photos in book #2.
  • I’m attempting to find a publisher as we speak but I’m prepared to self-publish if necessary.
  • If I do self-publish I plan on creating it as a hardcover book, a paperback and an e-book.
  • If I do self-publish I will be working closely with editors and designers rather than tackling it all on my own.
  • You will laugh
  • You will cry
  • You will be inspired
  • I hope

Here’s a sample “rough draft chapter” from the book. I hope you dig the vibe.

I honestly want your feedback and please be as candid as possible. I need the critique and I need different eyes on it.

Too short?

Too long?

Too boring?

Too awesome?


Thank you.


Falling Leaves

Every child must have chores to do. It gives them dignity in work and the joy of labor.
Earl Hamner Jr.

Every gardener I talk to or read about has an origin story.

“I grew up watching Grandma tend to her garden and together we used to watch the bees jump from flower to flower in search of pollen.”

“I remember running through fields of wildflowers as a child and spending hours there, free as can be.”

“My dad put a trowel in my hands when I was 2 years old.”

“The sight of those plump tomatoes in summer never left me.”

Me? I got nothing.

I’ve searched the archival footage of my childhood and after hours of research I can confidently say there is nothing that stands out.

In fact, I’m disturbed by how singularly focused I was as a child. It was all sports, all the time. If I wasn’t watching it on TV, I was in the backyard throwing a baseball into the tree branches above, trying to make diving catches like Fred Lynn.

The obsession I had with organizing my baseball cards is therapy worthy as you’ll see in a future chapter.

I was studying the Vegas NFL point spreads and competing in football pools against my Dad’s fellow teachers before I understood fractions and decimals.

I distinctly remember convincing my 5th grade class to bet on Georgetown in the 1982 NCAA Basketball Championship game  against our teacher, Mr. Isola. We lost and had extra homework.

Not one sign of a future gardener.

But then I realized I was looking at it all wrong. It was a much more subtle route; a series of connected events that laid the groundwork for my love of the outdoors (and when I say outdoors, I mean the “yard” and not camping and the like).

And I feel confident in saying that it all started with my father’s obsession with getting rid of the fallen leaves in fall.

I grew up on Oak Ave, an appropriately named street as our 1950’s Cape Cod-styled home sat underneath many gigantic oak trees. Those trees produced quite the bounty of leaves in autumn; as did all of the neighbors’ trees. Our backyard was one big leaf orgy.

Every Saturday, starting in early October and running through November, was dedicated to eradicating said leaves.

In the early years it was all done via raking. Rake one section at a time onto a giant tarp and then drag that tarp to the front yard where the leaves were deposited over the front wall. The township would then pick them up on a weekly basis.

As technology advanced we invested in a leaf blower and our job was that much less labor intensive. The leaves could be blown on to the tarp and our forearms were spared. I’d still have to drag the tarp to the front wall, but the limited raking was a blessing.

Rinse and repeat with the tarp walk until almost all of the leaves were removed.

It all ended with a lawn cutting where the few remaining leaves would be cut up and destroyed. It looked perfect outside each Saturday evening as we settled in, nursed our wounds and watched “Chips” or “Solid Gold” or “The Price is Right”.

The next day, however, more leaves would fall or find their way from our neighbors yards after a strong wind.

Let’s do this again next Saturday morning.

As a kid there was nothing I wanted to do less than tackle those leaves each weekend. I would try to talk my way out of it, pray for rain or pray something else would come up. 99% of the time those efforts were futile and there we were again, Dad and I ankle deep in crispy brown leaves.

I remember one specific Saturday when I begged to be able to go to the high school football game with my friends but was told that my chores came first. None of my friends ever had to tend to chores. Why was I being punished? And while I’m at it, why aren’t my sisters part of this leaf removal enterprise?

At first I sulked and begrudgingly raked and raked. The sulking then dissipated and I got lost in the joy of hard labor. I took extreme pride in my work. I loved the ache in my arms and legs post shower on Saturday evening. And I never held a grudge after my initial complaints. This was better than watching the high school football team lose by 35 points.

The father/son bonding, while often bound in silence, was something I didn’t appreciate enough at the time. It wasn’t until my freshman year in college, when I was away at school during those leaf-raking months, that I realized how much I missed it and how bad I felt that I couldn’t be there to help my dad.

Autumn was crisp weather. Autumn was football season. Autumn was apples and pumpkins and Halloween. But autumn was also raking leaves with dad, consulting on NFL predictions with dad and eating salt bagels with melted butter with dad.

The leaf management program also foreshadowed my deep appreciation of a well-kept yard. I didn’t help in the yard as much as I too owned that yard.

That notion eventually extended to other “yard” tasks:

  • Cutting the lawn
  • Trimming the lawn
  • Using an edger-with-wheel contraption that created killer straight edges along our front sidewalk.

And one other task became a part of my weekly routine spring through summer:

I would use a small handheld rake that I dragged through our garden beds, breaking up the compacted soil. I would then follow that up with a “smoothing” of the broken up soil so it all was pleasurable to the eye.

I frickin loved it.

I felt an enormous sense of accomplishment. I didn’t care if it served any greater purpose or if it was good for all of the nearby shrubs (I only remember azaleas and rhododendrons in our “garden”), it looked neat and clean.

By the time I was in high school, I was our family landscaper. I couldn’t have told you the difference between an annual and a perennial. I couldn’t identify any shrubs by name.

But I could trim the hell out of hedges. I could cut lines in the lawn like a champ. Lawn edges were always immaculate.

I carried over that notion to my first home many years later.

Where I also came to appreciate a “clean” garden but with the leaves utilized as beneficial to the garden.

John’s tip:

Leaf mold (leaves decomposed over time) is one of the best organic soil amendments. So save some leaves in fall and allow them to transform into an almost black crumbly mold. Add to the soil and reap the benefits.





7 thoughts on “Book #2

  1. Mary Max

    Your chapter is great, I wouldn’t change a thing. However, I do look very forward to your photos and hope you reconsider and include them for identification purposes.

  2. Polly Williams

    Great article, John. But please, please include pictures in your next book on grasses. I too love ornamental grasses, walking among them at the local nursery, reading about them, devouring all I can see and learn in magazines, drooling over them in plant catalogs, and thoroughly enjoying your writings and pictures about grasses. I read your “Perennials Through The Seasons” cover to cover, and look forward to your next.

  3. Marianna Quartararo

    Great start! You do have a story to tell! Funny, we don’t appreciate things we once complained about until we realize the value later in life. 🙂 In examining how we got to the garden,there are many surprises which only makes us better gardeners. It is so much more than just this or that about a plant. I consider it a calling, I believe there are worse addictions.. and you get tomatoes! Some photos (or drawings)would help tell the story, do reconsider. I am sure many of us have gotten into gardening in roundabout ways. I remember my father getting me seed to grow snapdragons in kindergarten then a few years later when a tomato plant sprouted under my rabbits cage I started planting flowers and some veggies here and there. . best darn tomatoes ever!

  4. Lori Ecker

    I LOVE your writing style – witty and intelligent, and I laugh out loud. Looking forward to this book. Thanks for sharing a sample!


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