Garden Surprises

Garden Surprises

I am a big fan of surprises (when they are good ones). I especially enjoy the surprises that I know are coming. There are birthdays; you know the date and nothing new or surprising there, but then someone cares and you received something special on the special day. Christmas is always a biggie on my calendar. I love the anticipation, seeing the presents all wrapped and tied up in ribbons beneath the tree so that you cannot know what is inside. The buildup until time to open the presents only serves to make the contents more, well, more. The Easter Bunny usually manages to surprise me with a few chocolate treats each year. If the price were not so high, I would even enjoy surprises awarded by the Tooth Fairy.

Garden Surprises

Put the two, garden and surprises, together and what more could mortal man desire?

In the past it has been September that brings my surprises, but this year surprises have appeared in August. As I work and walk my garden, I know where and when to look, but I remain surprised when blooms make a sudden appearance seemingly out of nowhere. One day there is a bare spot in the garden, next day the supposedly empty location is filled with colorful blooms. My magic wand has had a kink in it for some years now, so I know they have their own magic.

First Surprise

The year I purchased my home, some thirty-plus years ago, my first surprise popped up. There was a neat and orderly row of foliage along a path that very much resemble a daffodil of some kind. Looking back I now see the foliage was much more coarse and tall than Easter Lilies (Daffodils, Jonquils) but at the time I had very little knowledge of plants. There was also an abundance of Daffodils on the property and while they bloomed, the row of foliage did not. They waited until September to bloom, and only after all foliage had disappeared.

photo Jackson and Perkins

Surprise Lily

Resurrection Lily, Magic Lily, Naked Lady, Surprise Lily is just some of the names for the old pass-along bulb Lycoris squamiger. The strap-like foliage emerges along with the Daffodils in spring, but no blooms until August of September, so foliage and bloom never appear together. When it does bloom there is a leafless stem that shoots up almost overnight to about eighteen inches in height. At the very top of the stem will be six or eight trumpets of pink which account for another common name of Pink Flamingo flower. Over the years I moved some to my garden in order to enjoy the up close fragrance.


Spider Lily

Spider Lily, Hymenocallis occidentalis, one of our lesser known native bulbs

Hymenocallis occidentalis is our native Spider Lily that behaves much like the Surprise Lily. Strap-like foliage of heavy substance emerges in spring eventually reaching about two feet in height. Come mid-July or so the hot dry weather here seems to be the signal telling it to go dormant above ground. Come mid to late August, or first of September, a nude scape arises topped with large pristine white flowers. Flowers are made up of long narrow petals with a webbing between each petal forming a “spider web”. Of all the lily and lily-like blooms in my garden this species is by far my favorite.



Cyclamen hederifolium

Ivy Leaf Cyclamen Cyclamen hederifolium

The Ivy Leaf hardy cyclamen is a different kind of surprise when compared with the other two. One day I walk by a raised bed and I am rewarded with only mulch and overhang of a dwarf Hemlock. The next day I walk the same path and there are pink shooting stars headed toward earth on four to six inch stems. Flowers are first to appear, and just as they are almost all up the leaves begin to make an appearance. And what lovely foliage the Ivy Leaf, hardy cyclamen has. My favorite patterns are leaves with pewter-silver outlined with a green border having a dark blotch in the center in the shape of a Christmas tree. And, I get to keep the foliage almost all winter. Come spring until August nothing will be going on above soil level.

All three store up energy for bloom with the previous season’s foliage, so nothing seems to hold back the present season flowers, or my delighted surprise at seeing them perform again in my garden.

Time to book Gene for next year’s garden event. Some exciting new offers in the works, so act now.

An Anniversary Rose

An Anniversary Rose

Four Roses Anniversary Rose


There are times when the world truly turns in tight little circles. Each event is tied to the next and before you know it, you are right back where you began.


Bourbon Tours

Gene’s eBook tells the rest of the garden story

My son and I have been planning two trips together this fall. One of the common interests we share is an interest in bourbon. He has made the Kentucky Bourbon Tour and we have been discussing his favorites while we plan a repeat, next time touring together. There is also a planned tour of downtown Louisville, KY Whiskey Row.


Four Roses

One distillery, Four Roses Bourbon in Lawrenceburg, KY was a highlight on his tour both for historical interest as well as the taste of their bourbons. While we were planning our trip I learned it is the 130th anniversary of Four Roses Bourbon and some special events are going on.

While dinning with my wife the subject of our bourbon tours and the Four Roses brand came into our conversation.  She has not been able to work gardening into her life this past season, but will be transplanting one new rose for her raised beds this fall. That one rose from Jackson and Perkins  fame, is the Four Roses Anniversary Rose. Told you it was a small world traveling in circles.


The Four Roses Anniversary Rose

Four Roses Anniversary Rose

I could not resist taking a look on the J&P website and I immediately saw why the Four Roses Anniversary Rose will look perfect in her garden. Photos shows blooms in red so deep you could wade in the color, making it is easy to imagine the four inch blooms with a background of aging cedar timbers in dove-gray. Individual blooms have twenty to twenty-five petals produced from early through late summer, and according to the website, pleasingly fragrant.

Foliage is medium green and glossy, resistant to rust, and powdery mildew; important to a mid-western gardener’s summers of heat and humidity. The form is upright, making room for companion plants beneath its branches which reach up to four feet in height and width. I can easily see a flow of trailing annuals and herbs providing contrast to the foliage and blooms of the rose bush.


Shipment will be in September for this area and both of us are looking forward to seeing the quality plant J&P is noted for.  My wife is meticulous when it comes to soil preparation and transplanting so I will share when she transplants her Four Roses Anniversary Rose.

Time to book Gene for next year’s garden event. Some exciting new offers in the works, so act now.

A Favorite Fern: Maidenhair Fern: Adiantum pedatum

Maidenhair Fern: Adiantum pedatum



I was walking through my garden and again stopped to admire my Maidenhair ferns and thought I would share with you. Also, perhaps it is time for a break from my blog about life-altering events for gardeners. I do not want to sound like a country song of sadness and loss, heart break and crying into beer soaked compost. So, let’s talk some plants, maybe some garden products, forgetting all else for a while.


Of all the ferns in my garden Maidenhair fern is right up there in the top five favorites. I would say the favorite, but there is too much close competition. At one time I had maidenhair ferns in three differing locations in my garden. Over the years their behavior taught me a bit about what makes for a happy maidenhair.


Early Spring Color

In early spring Maidenhair ferns continually change from emergence to maturity. They begin by pushing up what I would describe as tiny green ragged flags at mulch level which are nothing like the fronds they form. Soon after emergence they begin to put a bit of height to the stems and almost, but not quite, form a fiddlehead. The stems (rachis) are almost black and woody, very slender and delicate in appearance. Reaching about eighteen inches they begin to form the circle at the top of the stem giving the plant its common name. The tiny, immature, leaves   (pinnule) begin to form in shades of newest-spring-green and bronze. Then the fern quickly matures into fronds 2 feet tall with picturesque open circles carrying dainty downward-flowing leaves, said to resemble hair around a maidens head. All on short-creeping rhizomes forming tight colonies.


Location, Location

Pachysandra Maidenhair Fern

One location was in rather heavy soil between some limestone boulders on a ledge. While they did struggle for some years they never really became robust and established to form a colony. Between heavy soil with too much clay and other perennials taking over the territory the ferns finally gave up the ghost and did not return one spring.

Another location was at the base of a rotting elm stump older than I with well-drained soil having generous amounts of humus and a regular leaf mulch each November. The stump and fern were perfect companions and while one faded the other thrived.

The third location was in well-drained soil with plenty of compost worked in, all raised a bit behind a limestone rock edging. It gets mulched with pine bark mini chips. Three clumps are in this location and after about eight years each are two feet in height and three feet across.

Turns out studying their native habitat and attempting to duplicate the habitat when transplanting works wonders. Locally I find the maidenhair fern along limestone ledges in pockets of duff and leaf mold.


Stones and Stumps

Not a finicky fern, but one that rewards the gardener best when sited in rich well-drained soil with some light. If you garden is clay then this fern thrives in containers and raised beds, so no reason to not grow this graceful and delicate appearing fern.

Some of the native companions I selected for my maidenhair ferns are Trillium of any species, but the larger ones with broad leaves look best. Hepatica is another three-leaf beauty. Jack-in-The-Pulpit with their straight up stand and three big leaves are another native to consider.

Considering a non-native the first perennial that comes to mind is Hosta. Almost any hosta, but my preference is for a pale, light green variegation on large textured leaves of deepest green.

Of course, those limestone rocks, old logs and stumps, mosses, also make great companions.

Time to book Gene for next year’s garden event. Some exciting new offers in the works, so act now.

Just Another Adventure: Renovation Revelation: Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events


Just Another Adventure: Renovation Revelation:

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Tricyrtis macropoda, my all time favorite Toadlily

Renovation Revelation

At the very heart

In the very heart of my garden lies one of the most difficult areas to design and maintain. I have tried three different designs with numerous different perennials over the years, but few survived and the ones that did never satisfied my sight. Perhaps my being unable to consistently work in my garden for a few years helped with creating a new design. Being at a distance gave me a chance to return with new eyes and see anew. Also, whatever remained was overtaken by weeds with the entire area reverting to the wild, thus any design would have to be new. Since I had my heart repaired and renewed, it was now time to renew the heart of my garden.



The area in need of renovation is just forward of and off of the small cave and wet-weather stream where the garden began forming. Imagine a deep bowl with a wide rim. A path would follow along one half of the rim of the bowl and viewing of this section of the garden would be from above the plants.

Weeds were completely filling and choking out anything that would have been of value. I remember watching a mature giraffe attempt to walk through the area and she kept falling down laughing. Seems she was ticklish and the tips of the weeds insisted upon brushing her bellybutton. Well, by the time she had fallen over several times the weeds had been flattened enough for me to get into the area and clean it up. After a full day of digging the area was a clean canvass to become a new garden.


New View

After the cleanup I climbed out of the bowl and stood on the path above to look back down onto the blank canvas. It dawned upon me that I had been using the wrong approach to a design all these years. Whatever was to go in area would be viewed from above. I had been designing as though I was standing outside the bowl viewing the plants straight across the rim.



What is the perennial plant that looks best when viewed from above? For me, the answer in most cases, is ferns, so it is ferns that make up most of the plants in my new design. This time, instead of digging in my garden for ferns to move to this location, I did what gardeners love best, and went to a garden center. I wanted ferns that were on my list but had not made it to my garden as yet. Ferns new to not only my garden, but fresh to my eyes. I was able to find five species of ferns to purchase that fit my specifications which were medium to tall in height and varied in form and texture, hue of green. I need to make a trip to another garden center for one more fern to complete the design in my mind.

Just as I begin the walk across the rim of the bowl, there was space for one fern and that fern is a Soft Shield fern (Polystichum setiferum), which gets repeated down in the bowl. The fronds get up to four feet in height, arching up and outward, with crowded feathery foliage in gloss green.

The Robust Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas ‘Robusta’) will reach four feet in height, forming large clumps, and given room, forms a large lacy mass of fronds.

Odd one out is the Japanese Beech fern (Thelypteris decursive-pinnata) with a height of three feet, stiffly erect very narrow blades. This fern likes to make more of itself by short runners.


Toadlily (Tricyrtis) White Towers

As companions to the ferns I chose my favorite fall-blooming perennials, Toadlilies (Tricyrtis). The ferns will have had all spring and summer to fill out having their day on display, the then stiffly erect Toadlilies can stand up amid the mass of textured greens. There was a wide selection in my garden to choose from so I did some dividing and moving clumps to the area. While Toadlilies do bloom, the ones I chose as companions to the ferns were selected for foliage over bloom.

I chose all upright forms of Toadlilies. On one ‘side’ of the bowl I have located my favorite Toadlily, T. dilatata, (T. macropoda) or Divided Toadlily. In my garden it reaches two feet in height and forms tight clumps of polished foliage. Very neat and clean appearance. In this location I am looking for more vigor and height.

Another tall clump forming Tricyrtis is located on the other side of the bowl from the Divided Toadlily, and it, too, is a tight clumper in habit. It provides about three feet of height with long rounded leaves with a sharp tip. A deep green in my garden.

There is an old child’s wading pool buried in the center of the blow that was once used as a bog. I chose to leave it in place as it has rich soil and stays relatively damp, but was never good at being a bog. In this location I chose my third Toadlily whose name has long been lost and I simply admire it in the garden. Close to three feet in height, it forms tight upright colonies of dark green, somewhat wooly, leaves with dark purple-green spots. Close behind this Toadlily I have placed a clump of Variegated Hardy Ginger (Hydychium). If all goes well this will reach four to six feet in height (fingers crossed for full six feet) of tall corn stalk-like foliage with large splashed of creamy white to somewhat yellowish. In the pool it should get the soil and moisture to become all it can be.

 At times the best way to receive a revelation is to step back, half-close your eyes and not look too hard

2019 Will be here before you know it. Book now for your first choice of date for Gene to Speak to your Garden Club.

Just Another Adventure: In-Between Time & Color Green: Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Just Another Adventure: In-Between Time & Color Green:

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Pachysandra Maidenhair Fern

In Between

I call July and into August the in-between time in my shade gardens. The spring ephemerals such as Trilliums, Dicentra, and Troutlilies have gone dormant disappearing until next spring’s return. Summer flowers have completed their 6 to 8 week bloom cycles lessening the colors that usually lights up the shade garden. Some color remains, but there seems to be a pause before fall color begins its presence. Generally, gardeners’ conversations turn to how hot and humid the weather, how dry the soil, aggressiveness of weeds and how little there is going on in shade gardens this time of the year.



First of all, the color green truly is a legitimate color. So much emphasis is placed upon bloom color, and while certainly important, flowering is the shortest part of the life of a perennial or shrub. Bloom period duration is usually about 6 to 8 weeks while foliage is there for 8 to 11 months, sometimes more. Once the color of blooms has passed, then the “true” garden comes into its own with the multitude of shades of green.



Green comes in an infinite graduation of hues. There are Hosta with an overlay of blue wax over the color green in super large, often quilted, leaves. Yellow-green can be found in variegation of foliage, or as the “normal” color for the perennial leaf. Again, the variegation of a hosta provides a good example.  Japanese shade grass Hakonechloa macra “All Gold” is an excellent example of solid chartreuse leaves. There are deep, saturated, greens and light pale greens, Hooker greens, and forest greens. And there are the plants with foliage that turns colors as each season progress. Many evergreen plans shift to some shade of red or bronze in late fall, winter and very early spring. Tiarella are two that come to mind along with several shrubs and conifers.


Just One

While using the wide range of green hues available, add texture and shape, and there is no end to the possibilities for the summer shade garden. There is height in tall, medium, short and barely off the ground. Foliage width ranges from broad to the frilly of a Dutch lace fern. Texture can be thick and waxy or thin and translucent. An appreciation of the color green along with all its shapes, textures and sizes insures a color filled garden. I have long enjoyed monographs when reading about plants for my garden, such as books on only Trillium, or just Geranium, or how about Helleborus. Monochrome art in many mediums has long been a favorite of mine, such as all sepia or Chinese white on colored paper. Perhaps that is why a single color such as green can be so rich to my eyes.


There Now


While we are in this pause I find it a good time to get out into the garden before the heat and humidity builds and work on enriching this period. Today I brought together perennials from various part of the garden that would enhance each other and provide a much more meaningful show for the eye. They were just ok where they were, transplanted to the garden over time as they became available, but in walking by each one, saw how they could be much more effective.

Zingiber ‘Mioga Ginger’ has been hardy for me for three years now, multiplying nicely. It is 3 to 4 feet tall with typical central stalk and pushing out blade-like leaves and forms a colony of uprightness. . It does not have the big root systems as the gingers purchased in the grocery store, so easy to move around.

Next to the Ginger I moved Thalictrum ‘Black Stockings’ that reaches about three feet in height and has black stems supporting the airy green foliage. This Meadow Rue has the layered foliage with space between the rounded leaves making it a great foil to the stiff ginger.

At the base of all this height I transplanted a mound of Lamium ovatum. It reaches 2 to 2 1/2 feet in height with heavily textured leaves with serrated edges. This Lamium is a clumper as opposed to the usual Lamium available in garden centers.

There are two clumps of the Ginger, two stands of the meadow rue and one clump of the Lamium.

To date my favorite green gotcha is two mature clumps of Maidenhair ferns with an antique clay container seated behind them on a raised stone with Chinese gingers in glossy green with white veins and a Japanese painted fern pushing up through the ginger.



Watch the garden center for sales. When the perennial or the shrub has finished blooming it is hard to sell and gets a price markdown. All because they are not a true believer in the color green.

I will be at Cheekwood Botanical in Nashville, TN This Tuesday, July 17th. Come by and say hello.

Just Another Adventure: Beyond Help: Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Just Another Adventure: Beyond Help:

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Spigela Spilled Wine
Spring Meadows Nursery

Beyond Help



Beyond Help

I do believe I have finally ended up on the bottom side of a bell curve. Perhaps I do not truly want to know restraint; to be able to drive by a garden center without my car automatically turning into the parking lot. It was all only to take a quick look, you understand. Damn the dangers of temptations, sometimes a gardener goes full tilt in spite of the dangers ahead. At times it has to be “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!



I was returning home from a morning of doctor’s appointments and errands that took up most of the morning and my intent was to hurry home for lunch. It was beginning to look as though the timing would work until about one third of the way home I tried to pass a small garden center. Normally I do not pay much attention for I have learned in the past they carry mostly the well-known, the tried-and-true. Been there, done that, twenty years ago. Ah, but this time there were color flashes that caught my eye. No time to focus, but for some reason I had to see. The car went on by, found a place to turn around and headed back to investigate. The computer chip in my car has a mind of its own at times.


Under New Management

No one sent me a notice, but getting out of the vehicle I immediately saw major changes, both in who greeted me and the garden center itself. They still have young people who know nothing about plants and it was fun at first to pretend I knew nothing about trees and shrubs and listen to the nonsense passed for knowledge and experience. They did have numerous new trees and an assortment of new up to date cultivar shrubs. All of a sudden I saw colors and forms I had not seen before, along with colors and textures, sizes of old stand-bys. Lunch was in the fridge so no real hurry.



I knew I was beyond any help; far enough that an emergency phone call to psychiatrist would never be made, for I wanted to succumb.  Walking the aisles I saw shrubs for redoing the landscaping at the front of the house. At least three, perhaps four to six, dwarf shrubs in perfect color combinations that complimented the color of the house. Notes were duly made for that next project that had been put off for some years.

Then came the true giving in. Behold! Spirea and Weigela in abundant colors and forms. I once grew that obligatory Spirea when I first began gardening but never truly looked at it with a passion. My how things had changed. I immediately selected out three shrubs in three gallon containers at somewhat reasonable prices. You do know how badly I needed those shrubs, especially for one who is probably giving up his garden in the future.



Spirea Gold Thread Garden Debut Photo

Gold Thread™ Spiraea (S. thunbergii “Ogon”) is a golden mass reaching three to four feet both in height and width. The stems are thread-like as are the tiny leaves, making me think of a willow tree. Overall, a graceful and arching mass of color that eventually turns a coral-orange in the fall. The blooms are white in spring before the foliage leafs out, but I was after the bright golden foliage, not the blooms.



This named cultivar, Spilled Wine, only grows to two and one-half feet in height and three feet

Spigela Spilled Wine
Spring Meadows Nursery

across. Just the right size to place along a path with partners. Foliage is dark red, looking purplish to me, wavy leaves of heavy substance and a polished appearance. The shrub is a spreader, but not excessively if a little room is left when transplanting. In the past none of the Weigela held any appeal for my garden. This time I was a bit intoxicated with Spilled Wine. Oh, yes, the blooms are hot-pink magenta and that is a color I certainly would not have chosen for my garden five years ago.



The two colors and textures form a partnership of perfection with the deep wine-red Weigela foliage with heavy texture and the willow-like golden threads of the Spirea. In the garden they now have a home along a path in full sun, a Weigela in the middle with a Spirea on either side. The three sit beneath a black-leaf Catalpa tree. They are spaced about six feet apart.

I doubt I will ever see them mature and shake hands with each other, but that is OK. I can see them now in my mind’s eye.

I will be at Cheekwood Botanical in Nashville, TN July 17th. Come by and say hello.


Just Another Adventure: Heart: Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Just Another Adventure: Heart:

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events




Memory Lane

If you are old enough to have seen the Movie when released, or watched it of late on YouTube, then you probably hum a tune from Damn Yankees. The most well-known words are “you can open any door, there’s nothin’ to it but to do it. You‘ve gotta have heartMiles ‘n miles n’ miles of heart.” For the past couple of days I have been wandering around with that catchy tune refusing to leave my mind.

Often the triggers that are responsible for making me a hummer are pretty obtuse. This time I can make the association.  I had visitors who were filled with heart: so much heart that I could not help but absorb a few feet of the miles and miles they brought with them.


Loosing Mine

Portrait of weed pulling

Less than a week ago I was standing at the bottom of the hill looking up into my garden. Every opportunity I can get I am in the garden working as much as my old bod and frequent doctor’s appointments will allow. I have been fortunate that gardening friends have volunteered to come and help. But, removing my rose colored glasses, I could see that there was no way the garden would ever closely resemble a well-cared for and weed-free garden. Reality was not a very pretty sight and I felt myself loosing heart as a gardener. I felt as though I was dragging a wagon load of discouragement around behind me.


Along Came

Then along came an email out of the blue containing volunteer weeders. Not one, not two, but three sisters wanted to spend their “sister’s day” in my garden. They wanted to be here in early morning and they came from three different cities one to two hours away. Upon arriving there was no delaying their focus. All went straight to the garden in spite of me doing my best to tempt them with a chat on the front porch.

Not an hour had gone by and it began down pouring rain like tipping that well known rubber garden boot. They did give up and come on to the front porch to ride out the thunder and lightning, looking rather like, well, wet. The storm passed and out they went in spite of my dropping hints about quitting for the day. It did rain heavy enough twice more that I would (and did) stop weeding, but not these gardeners. No matter the rain and wind they all stayed with the weeding until lunch.

We had a leisurely lunch they had brought with them, then it was back to the garden while I took my nap. Dripping wet and looking as though the three played in a puddle making mud pies, they stayed until after four pm. I will admit to feeling guilty when they were all giving warm hugs.

I did my best to tempt them with plant after plant and no one would take anything home for their gardens. Had my first born son been here I may have offered him as token payment for their hard work, dedication and cheerfulness.



This time when standing at the bottom of the hill looking up into the garden it was an invitation to see through new glasses. It was if three magicians walked the garden waving their magic weeding wand. It was almost like a new garden. I could see plants that have been hidden for the past three years. The paths were clean of all debris and weeds, defining the beds of new found flowers. In one day they had transformed my garden and my outlook.

They transplanted heart all through my garden and within the gardener.

I will be at Cheekwood Botanical in Nashville, TN July 17th. Come by and say hello.


Just Another Adventure: Oh! Dear Me, Gourmet Deer: Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Just Another Adventure: Oh! Dear Me, Gourmet Deer:

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Oh! Dear Me, Gourmet Deer

 Care to take a guess on what Polygonatum, Lilies, Disporum, Tricyrtis, Trillium and Hosta have in common? The answer is coming up.

The Past

I have been very diligent and consistent over the years to keep plants favored by deer sprayed for protecting them from browsing. I have always used the best and most effective brand that I am aware of. There was a time I sued whatever was the least expensive, but learned over time effectiveness won out over price point every time.

With the spray I use it takes only one walk through the garden to treat my azaleas once in November and they are protected all winter until they begin to leaf out in spring. It is most effective over time for it sticks best and plants remain yucky tasting to the deer even after heavy rains while most other sprays do not. While the spray does stink to high heaven, that smell quickly dissipates. As new foliage emerges and little green noses peek through the leaf litter they get a spraying to teach the deer early on to leave that plant off the menu.


Naming Names

I have been an admirer of Polygonatum, Solomon Seal, almost from the beginning of my gardening. My collection is scattered throughout my garden, both native, non-native and named cultivars. I have miniatures in size, giant ones when mature, variegated forms, white blooming, orange and lavender blooming. All get a good spraying as they emerge and then again as they leaf out. The deer feed most heavily on the native (as in mowing them to the leaf mulch) Solomon Seal, sporadically on the non-native. I can never guess which ones they will hit hardest, so they all get sprayed. Solomon Seal do not like having they tops chewed off and tend to give up and go dormant early.

Disporum is a very close relative to Polygonatum so I can understand if the deer enjoy Polygonatum they will try the Disporum, or Fairy Bells.

Deer have yet to meet a lily they did not love and place number one on their desert menu. Again, my collection of both natives, named cultivars and hybrids are throughout the garden. I have martagon lily cultivars in several locations, Leopard lilies, Canada lilies, quite a few varied species, the new cross hybrids, some trumpets and Orientals to name a few. The blooms sit at the top of the stem as the lily emerges and pushes up to its intended height. It only takes one nip by a passing locus on hooves to remove all hope of seeing a bloom for that year. Usually the nipped stem begins go into dormancy not long after the beheading. This year I am seeing a grand total of one lily bloom, and it has all the leaves chomped off.

Tricyrtis, toadlily, Miazake

Tricyrtis, or Toad Lily have all had the tops nipped and in some cases eaten to the soil line. Suppose it depended upon how hungry they were for the evening. Since there are thirteen of them in the herd that we have seen thus far, no finding the culprit is likely. Fortunately the Toadlilies have time to regrow and put out blooming material is they stay moist and they do not end up on the menu again. Both of which seem unlikely.

Everyone knows Hosta are deer candy, so using them in my garden is to expect a battle royal. Believe it or not deer have left mine alone up until this spring. The crafty and patient deer waited until they matured and had the large leaves fully open before dining on every hosta I had. And yes I did thoroughly spray more than once.

Finally, where my belief in live and let live is being sorely tested and my serenity most severely tested. My precious Trillium collection is the most favored of all plants in the garden. These jewels of the forest floor have been collected over thirty years. Trilliums are relatively short in height, but have broad leaves at the top of the stem. It is as though nature specifically designed them for deer browsing. One big chomp and all is gone. Two to three years on foliage being eaten and the trillium rhizome gives up and all is lost. Some trillium are one of a kind and cannot be replaced.




I have a theory as to why all this has been my responsibility. For years I have sprayed the same plants at the same time frames, using the same brand of deer repellent. Over time the deer have adapted to the taste which has now become a favorite topping as they dine (think gravy on your mashed potatoes). This year they are only eating the plants I have sprayed. I have trained my deer to become gourmet diners.

What do Polygonatum, Lilies, Disporum, Tricyrtis, Trillium and Hosta have in common? Each and every one is a member of the lily family and they are almost exclusively plants browsed by deer in my garden this spring. Also all are plants I have sprayed with deer repellent.

Oh! Dear Me Gourmet Deer indeed!


I will be at Cheekwood Botanical in Nashville, TN July 17th. Come by and say hello.

Just Another Adventure: Memories and Memorials Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Just Another Adventure: Memories and Memorials

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Bench and Steel Gazing Ball

Memorials and Memories



My memories tend to enhance themselves as I age. As I look back over time the feelings become warmer and the details are seen through softer lenses. There was one summer in my childhood I lived with my sister and her husband on their chicken ranch and farm. It probably was one of the better periods of my childhood, but as I age it all takes on the patina of Mayberry Rfd. I do know for sure, that as I look back, I certainly appreciate that period of time more and more with each passing year.



My sister was a bit older than myself and I suppose I received attention reserved more for a son than a brother, or perhaps both. During the summer I lived with them there are memories of the “chores” I was trusted to perform, prominent among them, helping with the thousands of chickens.

Prominent among the tasks was inoculating a shipment of baby chicks. Before they could be released into their house each one had to be vaccinated. I remember the feel of picking up a tiny warm feathery ball in my hand, and turning it over to place a drop  of medicine in its eye, then setting down to run. I also remember that I stayed long enough that I was allowed to get up late at night and help catch the mature chickens, placing them in cages for shipment,


Being a preteen and a male of the species my memories of chores were topped by memories of fried chicken for breakfast with gravy and biscuits, chicken frequently for dinner and lunch. Here my memories are accurate, for things did taste better then. Everything was cooked in lard. Breakfast and desert at dinner was fried apples from a June apple tree that I can still smell waffling around in my mind. The apple tree grew at the edge of a pond that supplied water for the chicken houses.


Down the Lane

The entrance lane to the house and farm ran between a fence marking the edge of a field and the lawn, running between house and fence for some distance where the lane ran past sheds and chicken house. Farm implements in strange and unknown shapes were parked and placed between fence and lane for easy access. Among the many tanks and machines was an old gasoline tank that, for some reason unknown to me, caught and held my eye. Every time I walked the lane I would look at the big round rusting tank. I left the farm and somewhere along the line grew up, and it would be seventy years before the tank and I would reunite.


Closing Shop

My brother in law passed away and the farm was being cleaned up for sale. My wife and I were visiting my sister when she too fell in to fascination with the rusting hulk. We both asked for the ball and our wish was granted. A nephew cut the neck that held the hand crank and spout off the gasoline tank, then welded the opening shut, grinding down and polishing until the ball was perfect. Before delivery to our garden he spray painted the newly exposed metal black.

We debated painting the ball in several different colors, but in the end, decided rust and black were perfection.

We already had the exact spot in the garden where the ball would reside beneath a mature pine with a bench before it. Gardeners who visit want to sit on the bench with the ball behind them and take selfies. Somehow the garden was never truly complete until the ball found its new home with us.

Gazing Ball

In the past I have told tales of how the old rusting antique was my gazing ball into hard times. That is the short and easy answer, but truth be known, this old gazing ball is not for looking into the future, but rather looking back into fond memories.

Next up. Gene Will be at Cheekwood in Nashville, TN July 17th. Topic: Colorful Combinations in the Shade Garden

Just Another Adventure: Big C Benefits: Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Eve

Just Another Adventure: Big C Benefits

 Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Eve

Spigelia marilandica



Trying Times

I have found adversity often has hidden benefits if you look closely enough. I admit that, at times, one must look very long and hard to see, but that does not prevent the benefits from being there. Over the past few years my ability to see, to locate benefits hidden in my health problems, has taken perseverance, but I have become aware of a few examples illustrating where and how I found personal benefits in times of trouble.


The Big C

In 2008 I was diagnosed with cancer. Treatment was both radiation and chemotherapy. I will not get into the details, but only mention that treatment and recovery took about a year. Follow up visits to the oncologist took another four years.

In 2009 another cancer was discovered. Surgical procedure successfully removed the cancer and added visits to another doctor while seeing the first. I was very fortunate, for while being treated for the first cancer, unknown to us, chemo was flowing through my body treating the second cancer.


What Benefits?

Turns out there were two bonus hidden in the treatments. First bonus was the location on back of my neck where radiation was given. Behind my ear and down at the hair line there now exists a misplaced bald spot where hair will never grow again.

I had been practicing losing my hair for the past X number of years on top of my head, so I was quite proficient at producing and accepting the smaller bald spot. I had hope to have the bare skin covered with a tattoo, but was blocked by my wife. I had color-filled visions of a warning for danger radiation tattooed on the bald spot. My argument was only my hairdresser would see it for it was on the back of my neck. Possibly someone in the pew behind me if I went to church but that would have been rather seldom. But, she still would not buy my argument. But I digress.

Benefits were time saved while washing and drying less hair, and certainly time saved when getting my (less) hair cut. My hair could no longer be styled so I could throw in money saved as well as time. I was close to being thankful for another bare spot.


Glow and Glimmer

Japanee Painted Fern and Indian Pink

Back in 2008 my radiation treatments were ending just before the Christmas holidays. My greatest benefit, the opportunity to shine, appeared when setting up the family Christmas tree. What a celebration that Christmas turned out to be! After moving the tree into the preferred location and hanging all the ornaments, I sat under the tree setting up the toy train. My wife walked by and remarked “How lovely. This is the best you have ever created lighting on a tree.”  I was a bit confused as I had not plugged the lights in as yet. Then I realized it was me. I was glowing and with a bit of effort could actually, with concentration, glimmer. Most of that holiday season was spent with me sitting among the presents under the tree playing with my toy train. This was also the year I got to see Santa arrive since I was under the tree late that special night. The biggest benefit was money saved since we did not run the electric bill up plugging in all those lights.



Here it is ten years later and I get to do a repeat performance. The Big C paid me another visit. This time to my right temple. I just completed my four weeks of radiation, five days a week and can see all was not as I had envisioned. No tiny spot, but rather a rather large section going from eye to ear, form bottom of sideburn to well above my ear. Here again, I have had practice with losing my hair, so took a look in the mirror and realized the benefits. Consider the balance I told myself. Now I had hair loss on top, a patch on left rear of my neck and this treatment gave me the third front and right. I has always sought some kind of balance in my life, but did not realize it would happened quite this way.

Think of time and money saved, I told myself. I will no longer have to trim a sideburn which I had trouble getting even with the left. Time and money saved in shaving cream and blades. Less of both over the rest of my life. It all adds up.


Not Making Light

I am not making light of anyone’s cancer or the treatments. Cancer is very serious and just the word is frightening.  I do try to find some humor in my own episodes with cancer and facing what it takes to come out the other side. Bad jokes at my own expense are a part of my treatment regimen, and if I made you smile or laugh we both feel a bit better.

Next up. Gene Will be at Cheekwood in Nashville, TN July 17th. Topic: Colorful Combinations in the Shade Garden