Tour of the garden – 5/23/17

The Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ are still making a big impact even as they start to decline, especially when absorbing the raindrops.


And still drawing in the critters.

Allium ‘Globemaster’ is in peak form, mixing well with the emerging flowers of Baptisia australis.



Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ is in flower.


Baptisia ‘Carolina Moon’ is in full bloom mode and a bit ahead of Baptisia australis in that regard.


I haven’t written much about Arborvitae ‘Rheingold’ over the years, but patience has paid off as it has rounded into an appealing shape, about 7-8 years in. It sits now at a golden chartreuse and will soon change to a very handsome light green as we head into summer.


Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ (Catmint) is another perennial in full bloom in my garden right now and the drooping branches of the Ninebark ‘Diablo’ shrub add a nice contrast in color.

Nepeta also combines well with the Salvia ‘May Night’ in the background.

Speaking of ‘May Night’, it is a bee magnet.

Lots of activity today. #bee #pollinator #flower #blooms #garden #instagarden #beesofinstagram #flowersofinstagram

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Weigela ‘Wine and Roses’ is bursting in color and only after some serious dead branch clean-up was it presentable. I am leaning towards a harsh prune post-flower to hopefully improve the shape of this shrub. It has been years since I’ve pruned it at all.




Foliage contrast is in full effect with the variegated Diervilla ‘Cool Splash’, Heuchera (Coral Bells) and Monarda (Bee Balm) below.


Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle), Penstemon ‘Husker Red’ (Beard Tongue) and Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ rounding out the tour for today.







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.




Tour of my garden – 5/11/17


Long ago, I made the assumption that I could never successfully grow a Clematis in my garden. It must have been me thinking this climber couldn’t withstand my poorly draining soil. Or I was lazy. Probably a mix of both.

In 2014, while attending a gardening conference, I scored a bunch of free plants including a Clematis ‘Scented Clem’. It was free so it was a no-brainer to attempt to add it to my garden. I had zero expectations and just put it in the ground with nary a thought.

Fast forward to 2017 and we are in year three of “proving John’s dumb assumption was incredibly wrong”. This Clematis is a profuse bloomer and allegedly has a similar scent to that of a Gardenia. As many of you already know, I can’t smell a thing. I may need to pull the family in to confirm.


It’s official. Geranium ‘Espresso’ is my favorite Geranium of all time and it isn’t even close. That foliage alone is borderline orgasmic and when you throw in the lavender blooms, well, I need a cigarette.


I wrote about Golden Ragwort last week. Just here to report that it’s still blooming and looking great.


There was a time not so long ago when I had 5 or 6 Campanula ‘Joan Elliot’ plants thriving and flowering each spring. I am now down to one. But that’s OK. Through the wonders of division and some TLC, I will multiply this happy bloomer in no time.


And on the 7th day, God created … Allium. While they are still in the early stages of blooming and still forming into their happy ball of awesomeness, NOTHING screams “Happy spring time” like Allium. All of the Allium in the following three pics are ‘Purple Sensation’ and are all making a repeat visit.




The ‘Globemaster’ Allium is slowly unfurling, kind of like “I’ll take my sweet ass time because I know I’m all that.”



I know every gardener likes to take photos of their peony buds and the pics are everywhere on Facebook and Instagram. I don’t care because they’re awesome. I am holding out hope that this white peony blooms while there’s still a semblance of the Lilac blooms next door.


A comparison of Amsonias:

First we have ‘tabernaemontana’.


And then ‘Hubrichtii’

Both will be loaded with star-shaped flowers soon and that will rock my world.

As the Lilac slowly ascends to flowerdom, the nearby Baptisia tries to keep pace. If you look to the left, you’ll see I left the old flowers of the Hydrangea on the shrub for shits and giggles. I kind of like taking advantage of the ornamental quality until this year’s flowers emerge. You feel me or “no John, dumb”?



Spring flowers are great. But the emergence of foliage and it’s dynamic quality are up there in terms of impact.

My ever-growing collection of the smaller-sized Itea ‘Little Henry’ looks fantastic right now. The red hues making it all the more interesting.

The reason I write “ever-growing” is that they are all perfectly suckering (the runner roots are expanding beyond the original shrub) and creating my desired “colony” that is filling the previously empty garden space beautifully.


How great is the foliage of the Sorbaria sorbifolia ‘Sem’ (False Spirea)? I’ve yet to witness the full seasonal cycle (white flowers and pure green foliage later in summer) but the spring foliage is a winner on its own.


A request. Please ignore the weedy growth underneath the shrub below. I’m working on it. As much as it pained me, I had to expose my warts so that you all could appreciate the leaf color of this Ninebark ‘Amber Jubilee’. It’s even better in person; but you can’t come see it, I have too much work to do still.


The shrub in the two photos below is Spirea ‘Blue Kazoo’. While it displays reddish hues now in spring, it will eventually transition to a blue/green foliage color with white flowers. I love a plant that provides such distinct and different attributes spring, summer and fall. The challenge is attempting to pull it all together without it looking like a hot mess.


Oh Ligularia ‘Britt-Marie Crawford’, you look so clean now but we all know you have plans to fall apart in summer.

And why oh why can’t you develop the dark foliage as demonstrated in this photo?

I like this Heuchera but have no idea as to the cultivar name. Any ideas?


Once the Nepeta (Catmint) ‘Walkers Low’ fills in, this part of the garden starts to take shape. Flowers will be here within the week; as will those kick-butt bees.


Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle) also filling in and contrasting nicely with the Penstemon ‘Husker Red’ in the background.


Speaking of Penstemon, I have a ton of these popping up all over the garden (assuming through re-seeding) and I’m trying to determine if they are true to ‘Husker Red’. Either way, I’ve been relocating them all to fill in available spots, to create foliage color contrasts and to attain that coveted garden design feature of repetition.


As much as I am proud of my ability to manage my garden and all of it’s inhabitants, I have no clue what this is. I love it by the way. Any clue as to what it is? First to answer wins … something.



This Itea ‘Henry’s Garnet’ is almost unrecognizable. It has been taken over, actually I should say “taken under” by Northern Sea Oats and other bully weeds. It is virtually impossible to make headway on removing them. It may be time to dig it up and perform surgery as a last gasp to make it presentable.

Another reminder: Northern Sea Oats = bad

Golden ragwort

During the winter of 2015-2016, I ordered 25 tiny plugs of Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea) from my favorite online native plant nursery, Izel Plants. I knew nothing of this perennial before I found it there, but if the terms “likes moist”, “deer resistant” and “native to the northeast U.S” are part of any plant description, I’m in.

The Golden Ragwort were planted last April and a year later, well, wow.

Golden Ragwort

That didn’t take long.

An insane amount of blooms on almost all of the plants. I had been seeking a big time early spring bloomer and this appears to fit the bill perfectly.

To date they are thriving in wet locations in both full and partial sun. No creatures have as much as looked at them funny, let alone nibble them, and the blooms have looked divine for over a week now.

Ding, ding, we have a winner.

But I couldn’t leave it at that. Not this over-analytical gardener.

In bloom, the Golden Ragwort is about 2 feet tall. Once the blooms are spent and showing signs of wear, I plan on diligently cutting off all of the flowers to prevent any reseeding (they are known to be aggressive re-seeders). Once the stems are cut down to the low-lying basal foliage, they’ll be closer to 6 to 12 inches tall.

Golden Ragwort

With that in mind, I question my best use of these “groundcovers” from a design perspective. Right now in flower, they’re taller than all of the slow growing perennials and shrubs behind them. It looks a bit off and I can’t stop analyzing it.

But once the stems and flowers are removed, the appropriate “ascending in size order” look will be there.

Do I bite the bullet, enjoy the fine flowers and chill the f out?

Golden Ragwort

Or are you unfortunately like me, and subscribe to the school of over-tinkering and over-thinking?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.





Garden as metaphor for life

It’s the same routine every Tuesday and Wednesday. I’m working from home with the dog, Mia, as close as physically possible next to me on the couch. It isn’t uncommon for her to be partially leaning on my laptop. When she does, I just avoid using the letters p, l and m. At exactly 2:50 P.M, she stirs, sensing the arrival of the school bus. Once the sound of the brakes on the bus echo in the house, she darts to the front window, paws up on the windowsill and screeches uncontrollably. Her buddy is home from school and she can’t wait to greet him with kisses and scratches all over his legs and arms. We don’t have her trained at all.

On this particular Wednesday, I have no meetings so I accompany Mia to the windowsill. It’s a rare chance for me to watch my 14 year-old son in action. I watch as he walks down our street, checks the mailbox and eventually saunters on to the front sidewalk. He seems to walk now with a more refined gait. It’s as if he has made a conscious decision to walk more maturely. To me, this new walk started today. In truth, he’s been doing it for a time now and I’ve just missed the transition.

As he opens the front door and greets his furry friend, I consume his presence. Dude jumped to a new level in maturity not just with his new walk, but in all aspects of his being. He sounds like James Earl Jones as he greets me. He’s at least 3 inches taller than when I last took him in. He has a new sly smile that says “I’m aware of the world more now dad.” I love it and hate it at the same time.

When did this all change?

How and why did I miss it?

As I stepped out into the garden last night, ready to take pictures for a future blog post, I felt a twinge of sadness. Not like “waaaaaaah” sad, but more like “aw man, where did the time go?” sad. Just yesterday the Viburnum carlesii shrub was blooming and it was exciting, with the scent dancing in and out of the front windows of our home. Now they are done.

Did I enjoy them enough?

Am I too quick to embrace the next plant in line that’s ready to bloom?

First my son, now my Viburnum; why can’t I slow it all down?

I thought the garden was supposed to be a place of escape from life, not a mirror of it.

But it is, and there’s no denying it.

In fact, I’ve discovered in my middle age that I’m consumed with finding the meaning in everything I do, see, hear, eat, touch, etc. My garden is no longer of collection of plants that look pretty together, but a god damn metaphor for life. And while I fought it at first, and yearned for the simpler days of my first garden, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love the parallels and while at times painful, I cherish the life lessons I’m experiencing each time the shovel meets the earth or my dirty fingers pull a weed out of the soil or even when I’m simply evaluating potential changes in the garden.

Here are just a few of the parallels between garden and life:

The effort to be present

Each flower is fleeting. That is what makes them so special.

While there is always work to be done in the garden, there’s nothing more important than taking the time to enjoy it without judgment. Smell that flower, touch that flower, remind yourself that you planted that perennial five years ago and watched it struggle to get established. Now it’s time to experience the payoff.

There are many days when I can’t get out of my head. When that occurs, it is impossible to be present. Sure, life is busy and hectic and there is a strict timeline to be followed to ensure everyone is where they need to be on time, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be in the moment while it is all unfolding. Or we can’t take a few minutes to smell the flowers. That is why I have started meditating and so far, so good. The mindfulness practice should help in “life” and in the garden.

Feeling overwhelmed

Every gardener can relate to this one. If you can’t, then kudos to you, you are a unique species. I feel this each and every time I set foot outside, 365 days a year. If I allow it to take over, I become paralyzed with indecision.

My best way to deal is to chunk it all out. Today I will ignore everything except the front garden bed. If I can stay focused on this limited task at hand, I will successfully fend off feeling overwhelmed.

Every individual on earth can relate to this when navigating every day life. Again, if you don’t, you’re awesome … and also a liar. Feeling overwhelmed is a prerequisite for life. Be it managing a family, health, the job, etc., it is exhausting and stressful and how often do we want to throw in the towel? When it all piles on, we can’t comprehend the end of the tunnel. Similar to garden management, often the only way to survive is to manage through a to-do list; a mental one or one that is written on the stationary from the hotel you last stayed at and last felt relaxed.

Compartmentalizing is a necessity.

Planning is great, until it isn’t

More than a decade ago, I went through what I’ll call an “Arborvitae phase”. It appeared to be the best evergreen for my garden and my garden conditions, so I went all in. I purchased a ton of them in all different sizes and colors and planted them as the backbone of my newly developing garden.

Well, this happened.

And this happened.

And this happened.

The plan failed miserably and it took me years to establish a new backbone for the garden.

While I don’t suggest ever doing this, my wife and I put on an addition to our home at the same time she was pregnant with our son. As the pregnancy approached 8 months, we were clearly not going to have everything ready in time, including his room. For that last month, I built a daily to-do list with the hope of still having all of the work completed before his arrival. Looking back, the list was comical but necessary for our own survival.

Here is what we had planned for the day he was actually born (as dug up from an email from me to my wife 14 years ago):

July 12th

John off

Jerry – Light fixtures,fan,smoke detectors and thermostat

Final Plumbing inspection

Final Electrical/Fire inspection

Fill in front beds

Move couch and love seat – Dad

Buy closet fixtures

Buy door stops

Buy shelves for upstairs bathroom

Buy temporary blinds

Finish railing

Buy umbrella stand and cover

Yes, this was for one day. Don’t laugh.

Spoiler: he was born almost a month early and we happily dumped our to-do list in favor of staring at him in awe and enjoying those early days. He may not have had a room ready for two months, but we didn’t care; he was healthy and thriving and that is all we cared about as first-time parents.

Pivoting is a must

This ties into the last one. Once the Arborvitae plan fell apart, I knew I had to keep moving if I wanted my garden to even look the least bit presentable. I diversified my evergreen portfolio and really researched what would work with my conditions. While it took some time to pull it all together, I didn’t look back and didn’t feel sorry for myself. A lesson learned, great; now we push on and see if plan B will be successful.

A parent is ill and needs to move in with us: let’s clear the playroom and find a bed for cheap on eBay.

The school bus will now be arriving at 6:40 A.M: we need to add a back-up alarm to our son’s alarm, knowing he will sleep through anything. We need to buy breakfast he can ingest in 3 minutes. We need to enforce that his devices be off by 10:00 P.M.

We some how end up rescuing a dog without any prior planning: a new morning routine will be born, sleep deprivation will be a given, the kids better prepare themselves for chores and a severe dent in their routine. It will all be worth it.

Embrace or reject chaos

This is a very personal one. I could dedicate an entire post just to this one. I battle this daily in my garden, pulling from both extremes. I love gardens that are wild and out of control and fun. They best resemble how the plants would look in their natural state; the key word being natural.

That photo above isn’t from my garden, it’s from the Garden at Federal Twist. Still to this day, my favorite garden I’ve ever visited.

But my first instinct is control. I want things to be orderly and neat and weed free. I start to shake a bit when I lose control. The compromise between orderly and chaotic ends up looking my current garden: controlled chaos. If the design of my garden starts to lean more one way, I compromise and make changes to counter that leaning. It sounds stressful and overthought and you would be right. It makes me f’n nuts yet I love it as it pushes my garden to bigger heights. Here is my best attempt to attain the perfect balance.

Don’t mention this one to my wife. I’m a brutal pain in the ass. I stack everything. I close all drawers, often before they are done being used. I throw things away for my own personal relief. Before the kids finish eating dinner, I’ve put their dishes in the dishwasher. The dogs toys are put away seconds after she has pulled them out.

I’m not proud of this but I continue to do it. I know that it is potentially impacting the kids (and the dog) in a negative way. My over-the-top organization takes away from my daughter’s creativity. It’s too much and I’m aware I need to change.

When that will happen all depends on the ultimate cost of therapy.

Time management

There’s never enough time to garden.

There’s never enough time for my wife.

There’s never enough time for my children.

There’s never enough time for my dog.

There’s never enough time for me.

Patience and belief

Gardening is all about patience. We know that it takes plants time to get established and thrive with the challenge being how we provide them that time to develop while making the garden look all sorts of pretty.

Plants are expensive, especially when purchased in a large size. The majority of us can’t afford to buy large specimens so we buy them small and allow them time to get bigger and better. Again, that takes time and mega amounts of patience.

As smart gardeners (wink, wink) we know that plants need space to account for their ultimate size. That required space looks painfully bare initially and tests our patience yet again.

With all of that in mind, it took me years to photograph my garden until it was somewhat established.

How many times do we have to tell them to hang up their wet towels? How many times do we have to ask them if they packed everything? How many times do we have to remind them that if they eat poorly, they will feel awful soon after?

The answers are infinity, infinity and infinity.

But deep down, we know it will eventually sink in. They will eventually make the connection. Parenting requires unlimited amounts of patience but more importantly, the firm belief that discipline, advice and tough love will pay off in the end. All of the grunting and groaning along the way will ultimately lead to “you were right dad”.

I hope.


This is the most underrated enjoyment I get out of my garden. I love aging along with my plants. That aging runs from year to year as the plants get larger and provide more flowers or better fall color to aging within only a year’s time.

I love witnessing the slow decline of a plant from fully thriving, to “I’m kind of tired” to “I’m like way tired” to “it’s time for me to call it a year”.

Each phase evokes an emotion, an emotion that is seasonally relevant. Once a gardener understands this, it takes gardening from hobby to passion.

I can’t get out of bed without a groan. I find myself sighing not because I’m stressed or angry, but because I’m simply breathing. I mix up the dog and my daughter’s name often. I still say “I need to tape that TV show”.

But guess what? 44 year-old John is kind of awesome and a hell of a lot better than 24 or even 34 year-old John.

Even if he can’t recall a single name on the first attempt.


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.


Post-book writing bliss

These past few days have been slow. Slow in a delicious way.

I’ve never felt more relief than after clicking that “publish” button. The book was out in the universe and I couldn’t stop it or change it.

**Take a quick glance to your right and you’ll see the book is for sale at Amazon.**

No more tweaking. No more anxiety. No more over thinking. It was done and now it was time to take a breath and reunite with the family and come out of the foxhole.

Time to coach softball.

Time to talk advanced baseball metrics with my son.

Time to see my wife and relieve her of editing duties (which she killed by the way).

Promotion of the book could wait. That’s for another day/week/month/year/lifetime.

And wouldn’t you know it, one of the first places I turned for some calmness was the garden. It felt different than it had the past few weeks. My pace through the garden was slower and devoid of plant facts and anecdotes and book material. I just enjoyed growth and flowers and even those adorable little weeds.

Pops of color from the bulbs never looked better.







Even a sole bloom that seemed to have come out of nowhere just felt right.


The promise of more to come.


Some of the perennials have started to bloom.



And one shrub has the entire street asking “What is that near perfect smell emanating from your lovely spring garden, John”?


Foliage growth from the perennials continue and even a few of the grasses have awoken.




In my state of bliss, I even managed to cut down all of the ornamental grasses.


























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.