After the events of the past two weeks, the garden has never felt more trivial yet has been a great refuge at the same time. I have no energy to attack the “to-do” list or even lift a shovel, but I could spend hours with the camera capturing it in all its early fall glory.
So with that in mind, here are some of the photos I’ve taken the past few days. I’m sure at some point in the near future I’ll be planting bulbs like a man possessed, but for now I’ll just bask in the peace the garden provides.
And a huge thank you to all that have provided such kind words to our family. While we’re all saddened and heart broken, we take solace in the fact that we can’t stop telling stories about my father-in-law, both with tears of sadness and of laughter.
My father-in-law John passed away a week ago today. It has been hell the past week trying to first understand exactly what happened and then trying to come to grips with the reality of it all. Decisions had to be made literally within minutes of finding out he had died. Calls to family and friends to deliver the horrific news was devastating. The 45-minute drive to his apartment after getting the text that realized our worst fears was as brutal as you can imagine. As was the greeting from the police officers upon arrival.
My FIL died from an iliac aneurysm and from all indications, it happened fast and he didn’t suffer. We all have questions as to how long prior the warning signs were there and we may never know. He wouldn’t have wanted to burden us all with his physical well being. That wasn’t his way.
I’ll never forget walking into his apartment that next day and seeing what I can only describe as “a normal week night setting”. Papers strewn on the table, an empty soda bottle nearby and the dishes from his dinner sitting on the kitchen counter. All so normal and yet overwhelmingly painful in its normalcy. A simple dinner at the dining room table and the next second you’re gone.
We have all spent so much time tying to relive what must have happened and only today have some level of acceptance. An acceptance that there was nothing we could have done to prevent it.
He was only 68 years old and ready to embark on the next chapter of his life. He had retired only 6 months ago and in a cruel twist of fate, had signed the contract to purchase a home at the Jersey Shore only days before he died. On Labor Day we had a chance to tour the home with him and it breaks our hearts now to think back and remember just how excited he was that day.
Fucking bullshit if you ask me.
No one deserved it more than him. He had struggled financially for a long stretch after being laid off from his job in marketing years ago and then going through the same thing again with another company that ultimately went under. While we knew the hardship he went through, he always persevered through with dignity and a determination to figure it out on his own.
In between those two jobs John had opened a coffee shop locally here in New Jersey. This had always been a dream of his and to watch him build it from the ground up was beyond inspirational. He not only developed the concept, built the business plan and hired a team, but he actually helped physically build it. I remember many long nights seeing him with goggles covered in saw dust, exhausted but determined. The place thrived for years before the financial reality of running your own business kicked in. I like to remember the crowd of regulars that had their own coffee mug stored at the cafe who he would chat up each and every morning. No one could carry a conversation like him and I watched as he had the crowd enthralled like a killer stand-up comedian.
I can’t possibly sum up his life in a blog post and the obituary we composed under duress will never do him justice. So instead of trying to cover it all, I just want to leave you all with some short thoughts that I’ve collected over the last 25 years that I’ve known him. For those of you who knew John, feel free to add comments and I’ll add them to this story. I know they are endless so this will be a chance to give him the life summary he deserves.
In no particular order:
Last Friday the mayor of the town John worked in gave the OK for all town employees to leave early if they needed to after receiving the devastating news. We can all only hope to have that type of impact.
My FIL could build you a deck (he did for us) and then bake you a cheesecake (he did many times). He also made the world’s greatest pepperoni bread.
Through all of the anecdotes we’ve heard and comments that have been written via social media, the most common theme has been his devilish sense of humor and warmth to go with it.
When we called the mortgage company to make them aware of his passing, we learned that the entire office was devastated. As was the realty company, and the car dealership where he leased his car from. That my friends, is a microcosm of his presence and love of people.
I will forever miss watching the New York Mets hit a big home run, and then counting down the seconds before Pop called to revel in it with us.
My son spent many a night with Pop and his girlfriend’s son watching sports, talking smack and just hanging out. Three peas in a pod. They all had a special bond and it will be crushing each and every NFL Sunday for eternity knowing we can’t watch him cheer on and curse his New York Giants.
I am clueless when it comes to doing anything DIY. My FIL and his son are like the best I’ve ever seen. To watch them navigate plumbing or electrical work or putting up molding or building a deck is a beautiful thing. Father/son bonding at its best.
My daughter, through tears, said she was going to miss the back and forth joking she had with Pop. She could take it and give it and I’ll miss watching the two of them go at it.
My wife and I still joke about how we would talk to him about something we needed to do around the house or a potential car purchase or a decision we had to make on buying a new dryer and how there would be phone call after phone call always starting with “You know I was thinking” or “I just researched”. He listened and cared.
The grandchildren were his life. Each had their own unique relationship with him and that will allow his memory to easily live on forever.
One last thought: I’m kind of an awkward giver of physical affection. The entire family knows it and has accepted it. I also never once called my FIL “Dad”. I don’t know why but I didn’t.
With that in mind, I’d like to officially send him a big bear hug and say “Thank you Dad” for all you’ve done for us all over the years.
There will never be another one like you and we’ll continue to laugh our asses off recounting all of the stories you have gifted to us. Like the one about the baby alligator … or De De and Da Da and Meatballs … or …
Comments from others:
I have lost a wonderful friend and colleague. A man who helped me through the care and ultimate loss of my mother with his kindness and humor. He brought us Philly pretzels and Rita’s in the summer. “John’s John” will always remain in the Finance Office. He is gone far too soon from all of our lives. To his family, I cannot imagine the sadness at the loss of such an incredible father and grandfather. Know that he was loved by all whose lives he touched. Love you Johnny D – I have the last dollar I won in our Yankees/Mets annual bet and I will cherish it forever!
I only knew John through our Construction Tech. Assistant Association. The times at our meetings he was such a funny, honest, and knowledgeable man. I know we discussed a few times our love of the New York Giants. I am so sorry for your families loss. He was so looking forward to the next stage of his life. He will truly be missed at our meetings. Blessings to your family.
Your father’s passing was especially sad I’m sure, to everyone who knew him. For us, it brought back a flood of fond memories of your grandparents and your dad over the years. We will never forget his distinctive voice and laughter. Simply said, he was a good man and we’re sorry for your loss.
I’ve had zero reseeding issues with this NSO and it looks particularly killer this time of year.
This deciduous shrub has been a savior for me. The deer have ignored it. The wet soil doesn’t bother it one bit. The suckering has been minimal and I’m OK with it if it picks up in the future.
While the blooms were fantastic back a few weeks, I’ve come to appreciate the foliage color more and more. As it lightens in color now that September has arrived, it provides a great contrast to so many other nearby plants.
Stonecrop (Sedum) ‘Autumn Fire’
Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)
New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis)
Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea)
Sonecrop (Sedum) ‘Matrona’ (Yes, the deer nibble. Why only a little bit I’ll never know. Maybe it’s a rabbit?)
Obedient Plant (Physostegia) ‘Vivid’
Veronica in front of Obedient Plant ‘Vivid’.
Allium ‘Mt Sinai’
One last show
I cut back the Catmint (Nepeta) ‘Walker’s Low’ one last time a few weeks back and the reward has been just enough new flowers to keep things interesting.
The slightest foliage color change on the Mountain Mint.
Same goes for Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’.
One leaf at a time on the Viburnum carlesii.
Yes, it never bloomed but the foliage color on Hydrangea ‘Lady in Red’ is still solid. Especially next to the dark-leaved Ninebark ‘Diablo’.
Not so subtle autumn
You’ll continue to see Amsonia hubrichtii and Itea ‘Little Henry’ from me on a weekly basis throughout the fall.
And Amsonia and Panicum (Switch Grass) as well.
The Viburnum ‘All That Glitters’ is in like the hardcore autumn phase.
It takes this deep into the season for the front bed to truly shine as the grasses emerge, fall foliage color subtly appears and late summer blooms arrive.
A step back from the same scene …
… and another step back.
Physostegia (Obedient Plant) ‘Vivid’
This mass started as only 7 small plants over a year ago. It has filled in at an insane level. I like.
I love me all different shades of green. I find this section of the garden soothing. Who’s with me?
Paralysis by analysis
I have stared at this scene for weeks now. I like it but I don’t. While it’s full and a good mix of flowers, foliage, texture, etc, something is amiss. I’m close to figuring it out but would appreciate your input.
This section of the garden is going to be the best in a few years. You can’t see it now but trust me, there is a lot going on here and it’s all awesome. I can’t wait to share it when it explodes in awesomeness.
The seed heads on the Baptisia transformed to dark black this week. I like.
Leave it alone
This combo hasn’t been touched for three years now. That must be a record for me.
Delicious foliage color
Panicum and Amsonia. But you knew that already because I talk about it every week.
Here is why Andropogon (Big Bluestem) is also known as turkeyfoot. You’re welcome.
The berries on the Viburnum ‘Emerald Lustre’ continue to explode. More than I’ve had in ten years of its existence. I like.
Fine, I’ll admit it. I don’t know what this white blooming plant is. I just know that I never planted it. It has fleshy stems that multiple like mad from year to year. Help a gardener out won’t you?
What the hell is that?
There are a bunch of Northern Sea Oats growing underneath this Itea ‘Henry’s Garnet’. It has created this bizarre mash-up that looks even stranger as the Itea develops its fall color.
The Chelone lyonii (Turtlehead) ‘Hot Lips’ typically look like crap by now. All of the flowers turn black and become an eye sore. Not this year so far. I like.
Do as I say …
For those of you who bought my book, I specifically pointed out that Lady’s Mantle requires some extra attention once the blooms stop and the weather turns hot and dry in summer. I should probably follow my own advice next year.
The signs of autumn are becoming less and less subtle. The Itea ‘Little Henry’ in the front are half green/half scarlet red. The Amsonia hubrichtii is revealing orange hues throughout. The Panicum in the upper left is now showing signs of its yellow fall color and even the blooms on Joe Pye Weed are transitioning to a richer and darker pink.
The blooms on Pennisetum ‘Desert Plains’ recently emerged in full force.
A smorgasbord of ornamental grass blooms. It’s tough to identify them all individually but included here are Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’, Karl Foerster grass and Indian Grass.
And now here they all are individually.
I took a few steps back for this picture of Indian Grass to show just how prolific it is as a focal point at the end of my driveway.
Red for days on Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’.
Those Karl Foerster blooms still soaking up the sun like champs.
Lobelia siphilitica (Cardinal flower) still popping up everywhere, including smack dab in the middle of this ornamental grass.
Have I mentioned Amsonia in every post so far this year? Here’s another one.
You know I attempted (key word here) to remove all of my Northern Sea Oats. While it continues to stick around, there’s no denying that it is stunning in the right light.
I’ll take the blush/pink faded blooms of this Hydrangea over the bright white blooms any day. Quintessential late summer color.
There are very few berries on Viburnum ‘Emerald Lustre’ that have been missed by the birds.
Boltonia in full bloom, fortunately being held up by the neighboring Miscanthus ‘Variegatus’.
Vernonia noveboracensis (New York Ironweed) while blooming, has been devoured by some critter so it’s a bit ugly right now. Yuck.
What else would I lead with at this time of year? Duh. I’m well aware that my last post featured Flame Grass, but I couldn’t resist featuring it yet again. Those silvery blooms blowing in the wind bring the garden to life. Once that green foliage color turns every imaginable shade of orange, it will be sensory overload.
Can you say focal point? Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) is killer right now. While I love it massed for maximum effect, it can hold its own on its own. While the flowers or inflorescence are a show-stopper, give me the sturdy blue stems any day of the week. Even on a Monday.
The red is really shining through on Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’. These grasses are incredibly fool-proof and have been for over a decade now.
Multiple grasses are anchoring this garden scene. I’ll say it again, as ubiquitous as it may be, the upright and tan blooms of Karl Foerster grass add so much to the late summer garden. Massed or dotted throughout the garden, it doesn’t matter. It works and I won’t stop using it any time soon.
Just a different Instagram filter for a different vibe.
Fine, you win
I cut it down to the ground in early spring. I cut it back again in June. I chopped off a ton of the branches after they were infested with Japanese beetles.
It doesn’t matter. This Salix ‘Hakuro Nishiki’ (Dappled Willow) just keeps growing and growing. If I’m being honest, I’m bored with it but I can’t imagine trying to remove it.
Not looking good
All of my Achillea (Yarrow) ‘Moonwalker’ look like this or worse. The funny thing is they thrived earlier in the summer like never before.
I told myself I wouldn’t dabble in red-blooming Lobelias any longer. They have never escaped the jaws of the deer or the rabbits. Just when all 5 were starting to look great while blooming together, this happened. I even sprayed the bastards with Deer Off the night before.
You know I love me some Sneezeweed ‘Mariachi Series’. But for the first time since I’ve planted them, they are toppling over. It may have been due to a recent deluge of rain so I’ll do my best to remain patient.
Yes, still awkwardly running after each and every Monarch butterfly.
Autumn has arrived
This is the Viburnum that I ceremoniously moved to a new location in the garden a few weeks back. I’m sure the red leaves are due to the stress I put on it and not the fact that fall has come a few weeks to early. Either way, that color is solid and I have big hopes for the future as it matures.
But even better is the sign of all of those berries. This is a Viburnum dentatum ‘All That Glitters’ which requires ‘All That Glows’ as a pollinator. I have both planted close to each other and I’m assuming this is the result of that pollination. They should turn purple in color in the coming weeks.
All of my Itea (Virginia Sweetspire) turn red prematurely in August. This is the dwarf cultivar ‘Little Henry’ which I’m allowing to sucker like mad in a very wet part of the garden.
While it may be slight, you can start to see the color transformation in the foliage of the Amsonia.
The Red Twig Dogwood just displayed its red stems for the first time this week. And for those curious, the leaf damage was from Japanese beetles a few weeks back.
Ready to shine
The Eupatorium ‘Wayside’ (Hardy Ageratum) are starting to bloom.
But have they ever taken over.
So many of you warned me of this and it is coming to fruition. It may be OK this year, but I see a problem with the years to come. I’ll need to jump on this soon to prevent a total takeover.
Helenium (Sneezweed) has popped up all over my garden where I least expected it and I’m good with that. That is until it falls over when the many flowers emerge at once.
They may not “shine” but Chelone lyonii (Turtlehead) ‘Hot Lips’ adds a nice dash of color in late summer.
My continuing use of annuals
I’ve added Heliotrope …
… and Persian Shield
… and I must admit I might be coming around even more on using annuals. As many of you know, I’ve rarely used annuals in the garden outside of containers but finally embraced them this year. I’m getting the “fill-in” functionality and long bursts of color. While I prefer to grow over time with my plants, I may be finally crossing the dark side.
My kids are pulling together all of their school supplies.
They’re also panicking with the current status of their summer reading assignments.
There are exhibition NFL games playing on TV.
Grocery stores are peddling all of their overrated pumpkin products.
Horrific TV shows are being pimped by the big networks.
Fall is coming and there’s nothing we can do about it.
I’m the biggest fan of summer there is and I’m in no rush to wish it away, but the reality is once September 1st arrives and the kids are hopping on and off of the bus each day, autumn has arrived. Summer gets ripped off by almost a month and I hate it.
End of rant.
From a “glass hall full perspective”, my garden may look its best in the fall. And that is all because of my large collection of ornamental grasses. Most OG’s reach their peak in September and October as their mix of stunning foliage color and uniquely colored blooms announce their presence with a fluorish.
If you ask me which grass in my garden stands out more than any other, I’d choose Miscanthus Purpurascens or Flame Grass.
The photo above doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story. From August through November it puts on one mother of a show.
Here it is current day, with its bright green foliage just starting to show hints of yellow and orange (ignore the blooms in the pic, those are from Panicum ‘Heavy Metal’ in the background).
I have a bunch of these grasses all over my garden. Most in full sun, but a few in partial shade and they’ve all been thriving for years now. In the photo below (middle of the bed and to the right), you can see how that bright green plays well in a mixed bed with other grasses, shrubs and perennials.
The blooms start to emerge anywhere from mid-August to early September here in zone 6B New Jersey. They start off red-tinged and quickly transform to a bright white.
At that same time, you can see how the foliage color really transforms into a delicious mix of green/orange/yellow.
I like to play off of the Miscanthus Purpurascens blooms with the blooms of other grasses like Miscanthus ‘Gracillimus’ below.
Or with Panicum ‘Heavy Metal’.
When this grass is backlit by the sun, it’s magical.
I’ve also come to appreciate how the flowers provide a very cool backdrop to the spent blooms of the Bee Balm or Coneflowers.
Did I mention the Miscanthus Purpurascens foliage is kind of killer?
Even as the late summer/fall progresses, the foliage remains stellar, eventually changing to all orange/tan.
One foggy and mystical-like morning last October, I took the following three photos. This alone made it worth adding Miscanthus Purpurascens to my garden.
I know. I won’t even try to be humble here. Those pics are amazing and I’m amazing for taking them.
Even as we move into the dark days of November, Flame Grass still makes a big impact in the garden with the blooms persevering and providing a fantastic contrast to all of the “brown” that has taken over.
SIZE: 4-5′ x 3-4′
EXPOSURE: Full sun to partial shade
BLOOM: August to November
SOIL: Consistent moisture required
GRASS TYPE: Warm season
MAINTENANCE: Cut to ground in late winter or early spring as with most ornamental grasses.
Miscanthus sinensis, in general, is identified as invasive in many states. I’ve had no issues with rampant self-seeding to date.
This Miscanthus is clump forming so there may be a need to keep it in bounds through division every few years.
In terms of the garden, things are looking eh; a little worn out and beaten up from all of the rain this past week.
I’ve missed Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day for a months running but fortunately remembered it for today. Before diving into my garden pics, here are a few other GBBD posts from some of my friends around the country.
It’s very rare that I’m blessed with large chunks of time to tend to my garden. The more likely scenario is that I’ve got a half-hour before heading to work in the morning. Or 15 minutes between conference calls. Or 7 minutes before the family emerges outside and insists that we depart for vacation.
Those tiny pockets of time are crucial in terms of prioritizing what needs to get done. I’m not above setting a schedule for the week where I identify my potential “gardening available time” or GAT as it’s known in my household. Each GAT is assigned one or two must-do tasks (logged in Excel of course), knowing that I must also eradicate a few weeds along the way.
No f’n around with this gardening stuff.
With that in mind, I’ve compiled the results of one of my recent GAT sessions. This one ended up with a duration of 17 minutes and I like to think it’s a realistic representation of how these sessions typically proceed.
As with everything in my life, it all starts with coffee. It doesn’t have to be morning coffee only. I enjoy and take advantage of its caffeine prowess throughout the day.
As I finish my last cup, I start to get myself pumped up. A few grunts here and a few air punches there and I’m primed to go. By the time I’m done, I have my game-face on.
Once I’m good and fired up, I head out to the garage and step into my favorite boots. Take notice of the length of the laces. I’ve never tied them over the years out of pure laziness and as a result, they’ve slowly torn off over time. I may have mistaken the pieces of lace as a small snake more than once over the years.
Once the footwear is secured, I head over to my collection of garden “stuff” and grab what I deem necessary for the current GAT.
For today, I determined that I’d first put on my trusty gloves and just do a quick walk around the garden before determining what was to be accomplished first. These Atlas Nitrile gloves are the absolute best by the way.
Yes, there are holes emerging at the fingertips, but I’ve used these extensively for three years running. And yes, that is a Fitbit on my wrist. I’ll often purposely forget a tool just so I can walk back to the garage and retrieve it, therefore upping my step totals.
So shoes and gloves are on and now it’s time to determine where we attack first. And I say “attack” because that has to be the mentality when there is limited time. I take a right turn out of the garage and down this path, into the backyard.
Once I’ve traversed the path, I glance to the right to evaluate this section of garden. It’s a somewhat young and developing section and I initially wanted to tweak it a little bit. Fill in some gaps, prune a bit or even relocate a shrub here from elsewhere in the garden. After 13 seconds of reflection, I decide to hold off for now as it quickly slides down the priority list.
We move on.
But first I get a close look at this apple tree and get sad and really angry. Year two and it looks like a pile of hot garbage. But I can’t revel in the anger right now. It needs to be pushed to the subconscious.
Shit, how did I end up here? Now I’m looking at the Northern Sea Oats that have emerged from underneath the Amsonia. I frickin hate NSO.
Again, I can’t let that slow me down today. Just grin and bear it, John.
Finally, I make my way to task number 1. I need to cut back the very spent flowers of the Catmint ‘Walker’s Low’. They line my front walkway and look tired and unappealing in their current state. I can’t have visitors judging me as they walk to my front door.
Time to cut them back severely.
Time to take the walk back to the garage where I not only grab the required tool, but also increase my steps number.
Yes, this is a battery-powered hedge trimmer because you know I’m evolved like that.
Wait, what is that? Let me put down the trimmer and grab my phone out of my pocket.
Sweet. Where was I?
Oh yeah, the Catmint.
17 seconds later and the job is done.
Clean-up can be completed during the afternoon GAT.
While I’m thrilled that the task can be checked off of the to-do list, it does result in the exposure of the poison ivy that has been plaguing me for years now.
I’ll have to schedule time with my wife so she can attend to pulling these.
While I was chopping down the Catmint, my peripheral vision provided me with my next task. Since I already have the trimmer out, why not cut down the Veronica as well? They are clearly in need of a haircut.
Oh how pretty. Look how that Veronica bloom fell perfectly on top of the Sedum ‘Red Carpet’. That’s a great photo, let me grab the phone again. Instagram, here we come.
Look at that, that one phlox I saved from near death in early spring and divided into 5 sections is actually blooming. Damn I’m awesome. I’m like the plant whisperer.
Back on task.
These three weeds need to go. They are destroying the view of this killer combo of Clethra and Panicum ‘Northwind’. This has gone on for too long.
With one single-handed grasp and pull …
… they’re all gone, roots and all.
While I’m ruthless with the weeds, I’m still careful to not remove my nearby struggling New York Ironweed during the carnage.
How much better does this little vignette look now?
One last task before we head back indoors. Time to hand prune these other Veronica plants out back … wait … is that what I think it is? … yes it is … screw these pruners …