Category: My book

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.





Designing with perennials and ornamental grasses

Thank you all so much for your comments on my prior post. I truly covet all of your opinions when it comes to the topic for my next book. You all know better than I do.

Between those comments, feedback on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter and chats with my people, I realize that the next book must be all about ornamental grasses. A shock, I  know.

That is my sweet spot even if I still have loads to learn. But research and learning should be part of any under taking so I look forward to the challenge.

Now the debate comes down to what to include in this book on grasses. Is it one-stop shopping or should the focus be on design only? I’m still working that out and my door is still open looking for your feedback.

I have started to build an outline and will share that with you all in the very near future.

For today, I went back and found some of my favorite ornamental grass and perennial combos.

I know I’m already asking a lot of you, but I would love to hear which ones you like the most. If it wouldn’t be too much of a burden, would you rank your top 2 and let me know in the comments?

Also, I’d love to include photos of your grasses in the next book as well. If you have any you’d be willing to share, let me know and we can work something out. I’ve got no budget to pay, but I think I can get creative in terms of reward.

Thanks again and enjoy my OG’s.


Joe Pye Weed and Panicum ‘Northwind’

This may be my fave as it starts in August and carries all the way through October.





Joe Pye Weed and Pennisetum ‘Hameln’

Again, multi-seasonal interest extending summer through fall.





Bee Balm and Karl Foerster Grass

I could include just about any perennial in my garden with Karl Foerster but the bloom color of this Bee Balm really stands out here.



Bee Balm and Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’

This one really highlights the fact that grasses are the ultimate backdrop for blooming perennials.



Baptisia and Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’

This one is more understated, but for some reason I love the combo when the blooms have faded and the black seed heads emerge.




Baptisia and Sorghastrum nutans (Indian Grass)

This is from late summer when both are back lit by the afternoon sun. Some combos have a short duration but when it hits, it packs a punch.



Rudbeckia and Karl Foerster Grass

Like I said before, all perennials mix well with Karl and here is another example.




Bee Balm and Flame Grass (Miscanthus purpurascens)

The Flame Grass on its own is stunning. But the spent flowers of the Bee Balm add a magical dimension in early mornings during the fall.



Dwarf Sneezeweed and Flame Grass

The bloom color on the Sneezeweed is represented in the foliage of the Flame Grass.




Amsonia and Panicum (Switch Grass)

The contrast is subtle throughout the spring and early summer, but really picks up in late summer and peaks in the fall.





Boltonia and Miscanthus ‘Variegatus’

I like the backdrop of the lighter colored foliage.



Ninebark ‘Diablo’ and Karl Foerster Grass

Yes, I’m cheating as this is a shrub. But I couldn’t leave it out because I love the color contrast and the texture contrast.



Book #2

A few days ago I was all set to officially embark on the journey for book #2.

I was seated comfortably on my favorite couch. I had my favorite mug filled with black coffee. The dog was curled into a pretzel and leaning against my right leg. I had my headphones secured and started listening to my favorite loud and aggressive bands. I had a blank Word document open on the laptop.

The writing process was in motion.

And then nothing.

For hours.

What I thought was a good concept for the next book suddenly was not. It hit me like a ton of bricks. This wasn’t going to work. It wasn’t going to work because I was choosing what was easiest, not what was best. That never works.

So I’m back to square one. I’m back to evaluating all of the partially formed ideas that reside in my head. Back to the pros and cons columns.

And then I realized what I needed to do.

I need all of you to tell me what I need to do.

Here’s the cold hard truth: The first book was basically 8 years of blog posts curated into a book. Those posts formed the backbone of the book. Once they were pulled together, it wasn’t too difficult to tweak and edit it into a coherent book.

I have no regrets. I still feel strongly about the concept but realize the layout and content could have been better. While hooking up with a publisher wasn’t in the cards and there are limited options when self-publishing, I know there was still room for improvement. But I’m happy I took the plunge and published it.

#2 needs to be different.

I want to know exactly what you as reader would want to see in the next book. Yes, I want all of you to choose the concept/topic of my next book. Who knows better than the actual reading audience?

When that is determined, I then want all of you to weigh in on the layout/outline of the book. In short, I want to crowdsource this next book. I want the entire journey of the book process to be documented. I want the highs and lows accounted for in writing. After all, the fun is in the process and in the journey. If it’s going to be a marathon, I want you all there with me.

With that in mind, here are some of those ideas I referenced earlier. Read through them and let me know your initial thoughts. My best guess is that the topic for the next book isn’t in this first list and that we’ll slowly and methodically work our way there.

Let’s do this:

Ornamental grasses – including my origin story, my favorites, advantages, maintenance, history, etc.


Designing with ornamental grasses and perennials – I’ve got a ton of combos I’ve already identified from my own garden.


Part 2 of “Perennials Through the Seasons” – but presented differently and including bulbs and/or shrubs


Short stories/collection of garden essays – that tie to life – a mix of funny/serious/emotional. Like this:

Committing crimes at the nursery


My favorite shrubs – that match specific criteria in my garden – deer resistant, poor draining





Coupon codes for my book and Santa Rosa Gardens

Don’t say I never gave you anything.

Head over to Santa Rosa Gardens now and save 40% on their in-stock inventory by using the coupon code “40foryou” at checkout. The deal expires on 6/8 so stock up now. I’m scouring the site as I type this.

And if you head here and use the coupon code “8KQUT6K5” you can get 25% off of the purchase price of my new book “Perennials Through the Seasons”.

You won’t regret it.

But if you do, don’t let me know.















Book and Plant Giveaway

Want to win a copy of my new book, “Perennials Through the Seasons”?

I know, deep breaths, it’s a bit overwhelming.

But what if I up the ante? What if I throw in 5 plants from my absolute favorite online purveyor of plants, Santa Rosa Gardens?

I know, dreams do come true.

So in addition to my awe inspiring book (which I will sign and personally inscribe), the winners (2 in total) will also receive the following 5 plants, all of which inspired the book:

Veronica ‘Royal Candles’

Eupatorium ‘Baby Joe’

Helenium Mariachi ‘Fuego’

Monarda Bee-You ‘Bee-Free’

Echinacea Big Sky ‘Sunrise’ 

I highly suggest clicking on each of the plant names above to see photos of these beauties.

All that’s required to enter the giveaway is to leave a comment on this post.

If for some reason you have an issue leaving a comment, please send me an email at There have been issues for some of you lately and I’m still working with WordPress to address the issue.

The contest will run through Monday May 1, 9:00 PM EST. Winners, chosen at random, will be announced at that time.

Contestants must live within the continental U.S.

Good luck.


My book – “Perennials Through The Seasons” – is out

After weeks of editing it is finally here.

The first edition of the book was 188 pages (8.5″ x 11″ paper) but I soon realized that at that length, it would be too expensive to print. As painful and excruciating as it was, I ultimately cut it down to under 100 pages.

Who knew that the actual writing of the book would end up being the easiest part of this project?

But it is done. And I am super excited.

A quick synopsis of the book:

There are 20 chapters, each a different perennial that resides in my garden today. The chapters commence with a personal story that is tied to that particular plant. It then takes you through a photographic journey, spring through winter of that perennial with 1,000+ photos in all. While the flowering of each perennial is happily celebrated, I also include other aspects that too often go underappreciated: new spring foliage, spent blooms, seed heads and fall color.

For all of you who have been loyal readers over the years, please know that this is all new material and not a copy of old blog posts.

You can purchase the book here through Amazon.

Thank you all for your support over the years as this book wouldn’t have been written without you.

I am forever grateful.

Volume 2 will be out later this year.

Sucky weather but a “Hell Yeah” moment

Hello everyone.

It has been a while since I last posted here so my apologies for that.

The truth is I have been hammering away on the book and I’m proud to report that it is completely written and I am now in edit mode. While I’ve known all along what I wanted to convey in this book, it didn’t fully gel until I had pulled in these three photos for one of the chapters.

They perfectly encapsulated the purpose of the book and my feelings on gardening. It was the “A Ha” moment and that moment felt real frickin good. I cannot wait to deliver this to you all and thank you again for your constructive feedback. That feedback has been sitting on my shoulders throughout the writing process.

On the actual garden front, I’ve got nothing.

We had such a mild winter here in the Northeast U.S. and I thought I would have been out in the garden by now, cutting down ornamental grasses, removing weeds and cleaning up the messy perennials.

But then March threw us a curve and we ended up with this.

And this.

And now that the foot of snow has started to melt, we have this.

I may have no choice but to throw on my waterproof shitkickers and start cutting and pruning.

Look for that in the next post.