Category: Garden problems

A more honest view of the garden

I have one knee buried in the dirt and the other comfortably resting on a surprisingly smooth rock.

I’m profusely sweating with drips of said sweat some how finding their way to the inside of my eyelids.

I’m slightly shaking from too much coffee but then shaking more worrying about my shaking.

I’m strategically using my broad back to block the sun from shining on the Astilbe below so I can snap this picture without blinding sunlight.

Why the hell am I doing this again? Oh yeah, to capture that red stem up close and demonstrate how that lends additional interest to this perennial.

I first lay flat on my back on the front sidewalk. It’s 2:45 and my son’s bus will arrive home soon so I have to get this done quickly. I slowly raise my torso so I’m only a few inches off of the scalding hot stone that lines my front walkway. The abs are getting a killer workout, but I barely have enough strength to push the appropriate button on the camera. Thank God I pulled it off, because I got this gem.

Why is this a gem again? That’s right, I wanted to show how these Carex appalachica have a beautifully airy quality, especially when you can view those oh so slight seed heads/flowers.

I try to run at least twice a week. It isn’t a run as much as it is a lot of sprinting and walking. I learned a while back that high intensity intervals are generally better for you than steady state running. So I jog for five minutes and then alternate between 30 second sprints and a minute walk. The entire thing takes close to 40 minutes. I take the exact same path every time. I don’t why these details are necessary, but it’s too late, I’ve already given them to you.

I’m not going to lie, these runs are dangerous. It’s in the middle of nowhere and if I were to ever be attacked or even fall, no one will locate me for days.

Every time I take this turn, I wonder what evil lies on the other side.

Gunshots from the local shooting range keep me running fast and there is a high probability that I may be mistaken for an intruder by paranoid neighbors.

There is a reason for the build-up here, I promise.

By the time I am done with my run, I’m physically and emotionally shot. I can barely walk by the time I make it back to my street.

But there is one final hurdle and this one is the worst of all.

I have to do my best to not view my garden from the street. I’ve gotten really good at staring at the ground until I am at the front door. But every once in a while I make the mistake and take a glance. I’m already exhausted and sore and angry after the run, but the reality of seeing my garden from afar pushes me over the edge.

I realize that the majority of the photos on this blog are close-ups of the garden. That is the best way for you the reader to truly understand the attributes of a plant. It’s also the easiest way for me to make things look all pretty. The best way for me to present my garden in an appealing way. I can hide the fact that most of my perennials start growing late in the season and therefore lead to many open spots. I can hide the warts, and the air conditioner and the not-neatly-spooled-hose.

The close-ups also allow me to highlight plant details that differentiate the more unique and dynamic ones from the mundane. Hence the need for the red stemmed photo and the grass close-up presented at the beginning of this post. I love these details and have made it the focus of this blog for 7+ years now.

But my garden as a whole, that is a different animal.

This isn’t a “woe is me” complaint, but my garden and property is large and open. It provides limitless opportunities which is exciting, but also crippling and overwhelming. The vastness more often than not, dwarfs the garden; the reason why I duck my head after a run. Denial. 

I can be in the garden and be proud of all that I’ve constructed the past decade or so, but once I take steps back and look at it in relation to the property, I become disheartened and yearn for a small and intimate space.

So with that in mind, I’m going to present a few photos of my garden after taking a walk backwards. I’m not quite ready to show a view from the street, it’s too soon for that. This is just the first step in my rehabilitation.

There will be no further comments to accompany the photos, just an opportunity for me to allow these to be out in internet land and be comfortable with it.

A truer and more honest perspective of my garden.

I’m scared shitless but happy to put it out there.




The latest and not always greatest in the garden

Some observations from out in the garden:

This white bee balm is the only one to have survived last winter and while it is nice to see it blooming, it honestly doesn’t do much for me and the powdery mildew is real bad, worse than with all of the other bee balm. We don’t know until we try, right?

white bee balm


Right plant for the right location = happiness, as seen with the Physostegia (Obedient Plant) below. This first photo was taken back in May when I dug up and divided a massive batch of these and relocated them to my newly extended and very empty garden bed.

divided obedient

Two months later and they are thriving in a very wet and full sun location. I am very psyched for the massive pink display to arrive next month.

obedient vivid


You’ve all seen all of my numerous pics of Veronica ‘Royal Candles’ and read my raving reviews of this perennial but in the spirit of my last post and with full disclosure, here is the reality of the “legs” on these right now.

veronica bad

Fortunately, I’ve shielded most of them with other low lying plants so the blooms remain the attraction.

veronica good


I love how one ‘Karl Foerster’ grass (Calamagrostis) can break up a mass of perennials and not only lend a different height/uprightness, but a different texture as well.

front bed


I cleared this area of nasty Canada Thistle by cutting them all at soil level and not by attempting to pull out the roots like a dope which has failed me miserably for years now since it actually multiplies the number of weeds when pieces of root break off.

thistle path

I will now finally track the results properly. Here is one example of the cutting.

thistle cut

And about one week later. I’m going to now cut it back again soon and will continue to do so until it kills itself by sapping all of the plant’s energy. Or so I hope. More to come.



I just purchased a few ‘Delft Lace’ Astilbes solely because I fell in love with the red stems and red tinged foliage. I’ll be sure to track this one for you and hopefully I don’t fry them since you know, they need constant moisture and it is the dead of summer. Smart.

delft astilbe


My attempt at a path with a true destination worth visiting.


These purplish bee balm are incredible right now and are my favorite current place in the garden. 

planter bed 2


planter bed


bee balm 2

They are bringing in a ton of visitors. 

hummingmoth 2


butterfly bee balm 2


Check out all of the action with this video.

QOTD – Where do you purchase most of your plants? And I want specific names and locations please.

Thank you.



Humblebrag alert – I was fortunate to have my garden featured on the Fine Gardening “Garden Photo of the Day” blog today. You can see it here. The comments from the readers are above and beyond and I truly appreciate the feedback knowing how much effort I’ve put into my garden. The years of blood and sweat and stitches and ticks and sketches and research and frustration and false elation is all worth it.

But I feel uncomfortable with the praise at the same time.

As I mentioned in a recent post, I’ve been all in on Instagram of late and enjoy how easy it is to share photos and interact with other hardcore plant freaks, not to mention the creativity involved with the pics themselves. I enjoy tinkering with various filters and the macro capabilities through my phone are even better than what I can do with my “real” camera. I’ve received great advice and wonderful feedback on Instagram and again, it is affirmation that I must be doing something right.

But now I suffer from Insta-Guilt.

If others only knew how rough a good portion of my garden looks, they may second guess their praise. It’s so easy to take bits and pieces of the garden and mash them together to make it look like it is magazine worthy. Is it our/my responsibility to paint a more realistic picture of what goes into creating and maintaining a garden? In doing so, does that put other gardeners, especially newbies, at ease and allow them to push on without the thought that they may have a black thumb? This is a question I’ve been chewing on for years and I’m still not sure what the right answer is.

On the flip side, do people simply want to escape when they are scrolling through Instagram photos? Do most enjoy thumbing through 50 photos in 30 seconds with the occasional click of the heart as a “like”? Is it not the right place to expose reality and the ugly underbelly of gardening life?

Like everything in life, does the answer fall somewhere in between the two extremes? Relish in the beauty that is nature and that is plants but keep it all in check by throwing in a dash of “what can go wrong” or “here is what powdery mildew looks like”.

Here’s a real life example.

You cannot deny the beauty of the blooms on this Dwarf Sneezeweed.

sneezeweed mariachi

“Wow“, John Q Reader says, “I need to get me some of these.” And he does just that and sticks them in the ground and waits for those perfect blooms and the perfect looking plant.

Except he wakes up one day and sees this.


He then curses himself, labels himself as a non-green-thumb and potentially gives up on gardening. A bit extreme? I guess so, but where does the responsibility lie with telling him that this is super common with Sneezeweed? The seller? That will never happen if they hope to stay in business so does it then shift to those of us who write about plants? Me thinks so. Maybe it is “yes these blooms are beautiful but you better make sure you hide their potentially ugly legs by planting something smaller in front of it.”

Example number 2.

Bee balm blooms are exceptional and plenty in summer and do they ever draw in the bees and butterflies.


But buyer beware, the foliage will more than likely suffer from powdery mildew and things can get ugly real fast.


I’ve done a decent job of exposing my garden warts from the inception of this blog back in 2010, but it was always done in more of a comical tone with self-deprivation. I don’t know that I’ve been direct enough in doling out “what can go wrong”.

When the narrative of a blog post takes me there going forward, I really want to focus on highlighting the flaws of a plant or where mistakes can easily be made. This includes really exposing my garden and what it really looks like. A step back from the close-up shots is necessary. It may hurt to be so honest but I think it will pay dividends in the long run.

QOTD – do you agree with my assessment of a more realistic view of our gardens is needed?


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

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 …


Garden lessons learned this year

Before I get to the garden lessons learned …

It’s early June, 1985 and I will be turning 13 years old in a few weeks. School has just let out for the day and a bunch of us prepubescent boys are gathered around the lockers, planning our afternoon activities. If I had to guess, I am wearing Jams shorts, a Gotcha t-shirt. and a killer coral necklace. Surfer wares for a non-surfer but damn if I don’t look good. It doesn’t matter that I had never set foot on a surfboard and still haven’t to this day. I was a fashion follower, not a leader.

The plan is to meet up at the middle school for yet another intense game of baseball. The fences are in close so we can all feel like Darryl Strawberry and hit a ton of home runs. It is even possible to hit the other school building across the street with a mammoth home run; that only adds to the excitement. If a window shatters we all run for our lives; always a good time when you are a pre-teen. Oh yeah, and anything hit to right field is a foul ball since we never have enough kids to cover the entire field. I hate that rule.

After collecting my books and heading out to my mom’s car in the parking lot, I inform her of my afternoon plans. Baseball is good clean fun, right? I won’t be staring blindly into the TV while playing Atari all afternoon. This is a no-brainer.

I can remember her response like it was yesterday.

“John, I don’t want you go. There is no supervision and anything can happen. Not today”

Are you f’n kidding me? (I didn’t say that to her). I’ve done this a dozen times before and nothing ever happened. I am not telling my friends that my mom said “no”. C’mon, do you want your oldest child to be the laughingstock of the 7th grade? I need this.

Needless to say, I talk my way into going and my mother regretfully drops me off … within walking distance of the school.

Game on.

It is a great time. No broken windows, but still fun. It’s a close game and comes down to the last out of the game to decide the winner. My father and youngest sister wait for me along the left field fence and I shout “Just one more out.” I have to focus in left field and there is no way in hell I am leaving now.

What happens next changes my life forever. And I swear to you it is the absolute truth. Mom – can you leave a comment below to confirm this really happened as I remember it? I need to keep my credibility in check. Thank you.

Line drive is hit to left field. I am ready to make the last out and secure the win. I go down on one knee to make the catch and end it in style. Everyone will jump on me with excitement and even my family will witness my greatness.

The ball completely misses my glove and drills me above the left eye. The field is dead quiet. While I guess it hurts like hell, I feel no pain. None at all. I immediately flash back to my mother’s warning and become furious. I even blame it on her as my dad ushers me to the car.

Lesson learned – Mom is always friggin right and you cannot do anything about it. Even though the black eye brought me much desired attention in school the next day, I was never the same playing on a baseball diamond again. And it all could have been avoided if I listened to the wise one.

So about those garden “lessons learned” …

To begin, I realize you’ve had your fill of these already. You’ve read about them on other sites, on other blogs and even on TV shows (that last one is an intentional joke, there are no garden TV shows anymore.) By now, we know them all. So I apologize in advance if you’ve had your fill.

But my lessons learned are killer. They’re better than all of the others combined. I’m talking life changing. Go get a notepad and pen and jot these down and keep them in a place where they can be seen daily so they reinforce how you go about your gardening ventures in the future.

I will preface my 5 lessons learned with this: I did very little in the garden this year. There were a few reasons for that and here is how it breaks out:

40% time constraints – kids, family, job

25% pipeline shock – no need to discuss this further

25% intentional – I’ll go into this one in a bit but I wisely took a break when nature called for it

10% laziness – I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Yes, every winter/spring I allege that this will be the year I transform my garden into a mini Longwood Gardens. If you are a regular reader, you know how that has turned out. But this was the first year I took a more realistic approach.

No long term goals.

Just do what I can when the time allows.

No rush.

No pressure.

And you know what? I feel like it paid off in spades.

Garden lessons learned #1 – Patience

It’s amazing what happens when you just let your garden develop on its own. No tweaking or moving plants around every other day. The plants establish themselves and those empty and bare areas fill in quickly. It’s like giving the garden a chance to breathe and stretch its legs.

Like I mentioned before, I did a lot more sitting back and enjoying this gardening season. I think I grew a little bit tired of constantly changing things up and playing plant musical chairs.

The area of the garden below has been a continuous project over the years. Last year I added perennials that I knew would establish themselves quickly. I didn’t do a thing this year and I’m thrilled with the results.

planter bed

Other areas have benefited from my absence as well.







Garden lessons learned #2 –  Smaller plant palette

I know by now what plants work well with my conditions. Anything that the deer ignore and anything that is OK with consistently wet soil. This includes ornamental grasses, deer resistant shrubs like Clethra and Boxwood and perennials like Bee Balm, Joe Pye Weed and Lobelia.

This is what I have been handed on this property and I am going to embrace it. No more attempts to try and force in plants that will never thrive here. There is enough variety within these plant choices and I will just continue to explore that avenue.

Here are some examples of my, dare I say, smart plant choices.

Clethra and Joe Pye Weed.


Bee Balm and Joe Pye Weed.


Clethra, Joe Pye Weed and ornamental grass.


Bee Balm and ornamental grass.



Garden lessons learned #3 – Repetition

This ties into the previous one and is an age old tenet of most garden designers. Repetition of plants, shape, color, etc. is pleasing to the eye. It is what separates a garden from a collection of plants. Repetition leads the visitor through the garden and enhances the visit.

By limiting my choices of plants, I’ve somewhat inadvertently (I’ll take just a smidge of credit) created repetition throughout my garden.









Garden lessons learned #4 – No planting in the heat of summer

Yes, another well known “not-to-do” among gardeners all over the world. Planting in the heat of the summer with the extreme temperatures and lack of rain is a recipe for disaster. But I’ve always been defiant and figured I could plant whatever I want, whenever I want.

This really hit  home for me one day this past summer. I was updating my plant list/spreadsheet and referenced recently purchased plants through various online plant sellers.

I kid you not, half of the plants I had ordered over the past two years had died. Most of them I had forgotten I had ever purchased. That is not good. That is what you get when you stick a small and vulnerable plant in the ground and forget about it … during the wrong time of year.

Just plain dumb.

Garden lessons learned #5 – Start small plants in containers rather than in the ground.

I’m still not sure if scientifically, this is the right way to go but it has been working so I ain’t stopping. Too often I’ve witnessed small plants purchased online not make it through the year. They easily get lost in the shuffle with all of their larger brethren. That means not enough water and potentially not enough sun if overshadowed by other plants.

My solution has been to “raise” these plants in containers so I can carefully watch them and give them a good head start. Since they stare me in the face at all times, I know to keep them watered.

Case in point is this Sambucus ‘Lemony Lace’.

garden lessons learned

This was no bigger than 5-6 inches when I purchased it this spring and now it looks fabulous. I am debating when to introduce it to the wild and may keep it in the container for one more year.

So there you go, please fire away with your thoughts and comments.






Correcting a mistake – “Carex appalachica” edition

A little over a month ago, I shared a planting dilemma with you all. Without much thought, I had planted 10 Carex appalachica under a River Birch tree in Fall of 2014. And as you will soon see, it resulted in a bizarre-formal-half circle that haunted me each time I set eyes on it.

carex appalachica

Ouch, it still hurts.

I knew at some point I would overhaul the design but struggled to come up with an alternate plan. I knew that this sedge prefers dry soil and could thrive in competition with tree roots.

With that in mind, I finally settled on a new location – under my crabapple tree. In literally 15 minutes time, I removed the ugly Ajuga that was under the tree and weaved this magic.

carex appalachica

All is now well in my world.

I’m thinking about adding something else amongst the Carex to really frickin nail it. But for now, I am content with the new, less formal design and the hideous prior attempt is in the rearview.

BTW, I can’t say enough about how much this sedge glistens in the sun, especially after a rain.

carex appalachica

Thank you yet again Hoffman Nursery for turning me on to Carex appalachica.


The forgotten Spirea and another garden TV idea

Here’s what’s going on out in the garden these days:

The hydrangea is nice and all.


But isn’t it that much better when viewed through the Andropogon (Big Bluestem) ‘Red October’?


Speaking of the oh so wonderful ornamental grass, ‘Karl Foerster’ is in full bloom and is a solid vertical accent in numerous spots throughout my garden.



True story, two years ago in a fit of rage, I heaved my three “dead” Spirea ‘Anthony Waterer’ into my woods after they seemed to have bitten it over the winter. Not one of my absolute faves, but a solid performer that was always ignored by the deer. Three more damn holes to fill in.

Flash forward to this spring and I spotted one of the “dead” Spirea looking all awesome in the middle of my woods. I could see pink flowers blooming amongst the brush.

Typical. Show it disinterest and it thrives.

Not one to dismiss a shrub that appears to be competent, I jumped into the tick infested woods and gave this guy another chance. If at first you don’t succeed …

So far so good.



And I swear to you, another alive and well Spirea has been spotted and I’ll be grabbing that one too. Maybe I have some sort of magical forest with healing powers? Maybe the ticks brought it back to life and we can now understand their real purpose. Time to chuck some other under performers in there and test it out.

What a difference even a week or two makes.


lady's mantle

I was on top of removing the spent flowers on the Lady’s Mantle, Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ and Penstemon ‘Husker’s Red’ in hopes of keeping up their appearance as we jump into summer. A definite lesson from seasons past.

The Astilbes are all in bloom.



First Bee Balm bloom of the year


With oodles to follow.

Seriously, there is no bigger bloomer in my garden than Monarda. It has spread everywhere and I friggin love it. Just wait until I show you in the next few weeks.

First Coneflower bloom.



Some Veronica I got on the cheap from Lowe’s and have no idea if I like it or not.


Achillea ‘Pink Grapefruit’ has arrived.


A Bellflower (I think) that is EVERYWHERE and I don’t have the energy to remove it. Although with the thick carpet, it is suppressing the weeds beautifully.


And I’ll leave you with yet another TV show idea that I’ll regret not having pursued.

Have you ever watched Chopped on Food Network? Contestants are given various ingredients with which to pull together and create some semblance of a meal. I’m talking like watermelon, salmon and crushed peppermint. A real challenge to present something edible but the amateur chefs always manage to pull it off.

What if we tried the same with plants that weren’t the least bit compatible? It could work, right?

The idea came to me when I attempted to put together the container below.


I had a collection of annuals given to me by an uncle and I tried to make the best of it. We’ll see how it turns out, I’m not exactly a container gardening expert.

Are you with me? Would you watch that show?













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?




What I did wrong in 2014

“I can handle making tacos for dinner. Seriously, it is more about ‘preparing’ than it is actually ‘making’ dinner. It is one of the few meals I can’t screw up.”

That is an exact quote from me to my wife on January 5th, 2014. I know this exact date because since 1/1/14, I have logged 2-3 events from each and every day into a spreadsheet. With the spreadsheet I want to capture the lesser and easily forgotten moments to prevent them from collectively leaving our memories over time. Then on 12/31 this year (and in subsequent years), I’ll read the list off to the family and together we can laugh, get angry all over again and even cry. Brilliant, I know.

So back to the tacos.

The reason this moment stood out and was worthy of my spreadsheet, is that while I prepared the dinner perfectly fine (including black beans seasoned with lime juice, diced avocadoes, etc.) I did so with expired meat. Like really expired meat.

My wife had purchased the ground turkey a few days earlier and had taken the precaution to freeze it. However, dumb ass found another frozen package, this one beef. One he had frozen himself a few weeks earlier as a means to prevent it from stinking up the refrigerator until the way old meat could be properly disposed of.

I still remember the look on my daughter’s face when my wife said “This doesn’t taste like turkey” and I said “That’s because it isn’t.” Even she could put one and one together. Everyone’s mouth opened in unison and we had what appeared to be a well choreographed spitting out of food.

Fortunately, we were only a few bites into the meal when we called it off. But I was still convinced I had poisoned them all. I remember staying up late that night anticipating that horrific sound of the toilet bowl seat being violently raised followed by the inhuman howl. That never happened and I am happy to report I have “prepared” tacos on numerous occasions since. Fool me once …

While I haven’t reviewed my spreadsheet in detail, I’m sure it is filled with other John screw-ups. Some funny, others not so much. And as I write this, I’m thinking about a garden-only spreadsheet of events for next year. How great would it be to look back and laugh/cry at what I did wrong in my garden in 2015. We learn more from our failures than our successes right?

Speaking of which, here are just some of my failures in 2014.

I grew close to ten different varieties of tomatoes this past year and they were a welcome sight/taste all summer. But as much as I enjoyed them, I probably wasted at least half of them by not keeping up with the harvest.


Next year we grow fewer and we let not one go to waste. Shame on me.

Same goes with my broccoli plants. I didn’t harvest one stinkin head and allowed it to go to bloom before even noticing it. How the hell does that happen?


Some times an unexpected visitor is a welcome sight. Other times it isn’t. It begs you to yank it. And you promise yourself you’ll do it. And then you never do.


Here is what I will now call a “half grass”. Literally half of it never grew after it was cut back in late winter.


And this is who we blame.

spring cleanup

I should have been a better supervisor/task master so I have no one to blame but myself.

This iris (along with numerous others) is begging to be divided as seen with the sizable hole in the center.


Well that never happened even though it appeared on my to-do list for months on end.

Fool me once, shame on you (with “you” being a Monkshood); fool me twice, shame on me; fool me three times, shame on me x 2; fool me four times and well, I’m a bloody fool.


Seriously, I’ve attempted to grow Monkshood four times and each time it literally disappeared within a few months. Some times you just have to throw in the towel even if all signs and conditions point to it being a good idea.

There is color and then there is too much color.


I can’t tell you how close I was to ripping all of these plants out and starting over all while they were in full bloom. No, I wasn’t going for a red, white and blue theme. I don’t even remember the logic I applied when I pieced this together in early spring. It still annoys me to this day. It has since been rectified, but bad job, bad job John.

Yes, that is poison ivy that I ignored all spring/summer/fall and now I have no hopes of getting anywhere near that spigot in the future.

poison ivy

I continue to waste the impact and awesomeness of this Molinia ‘Sky Racer’ by keeping it solo in this yet to be developed garden bed.



The goal to eliminate more and more lawn did not take a step forward this year.


My lack of originality and creativity when it comes to container plantings continued.



Two consecutive years where the rabbits didn’t allow Chasmanthium latifolium (Northern Sea Oats) ‘River Mist’ to grow at all.