Just One More Adventure: Surprise! Surprise! Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Just One More Adventure: Surprise! Surprise!

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

St. Louis Botanic Garden

Surprise! Surprise!


Jim Neighbors

In the immortal words of Gomer Pyle “Surprise! Surprise!” Perhaps a “Sha-zam!, or a Gall-lee or still yet a Garsh” should be thrown in for good measure. I had no idea what to expect when I sent out a call in my last blog for help in the garden. I suppose I was more or less trying not to have expectations; perhaps a bit of holding my breath in anticipation. Whatever I was, or was, not expecting, I certainly was surprised at the results.


Past visitors

Looking over the names of those who contacted me to volunteer weeding in my garden I see familiar names. Gardeners I knew from visiting my garden while my nursery was in operation. Some names stretched back over many years. Each year I could count on most of the names showing up more than once during a gardening season. It was not that I had forgotten any of the visitors, just the nursery had closed and I could not maintain the garden, so I withdrew.


Should-a, Ought-a

Seeing those names again reminds me that I should not have withdrawn from my old gardening friends. I suppose I should not take on the critical parent role and ought-a, should-a on myself. Sooner rather than later would have been much friendlier on my part if I had invited them all over for a drink on the front porch. It would also have given me help in maintaining my garden, and all I had to do was ask.


Promises Made

The volunteers have let me know they want to help out. It will be interesting to see who can make it for a visit. Lots of promises get made in an emotional moment. It is so easy to say yes when you mean maybe, or I don’t know. (I am hedging my bets here). It is not that their caring and good intentions are not there, it is simply reality rears its head under the best of circumstances. He or she wanted to help but life kept interfering.

The lady who has showed up on two Saturday mornings promptly at 8:30 has been a godsend. She is knowledgeable, dependable and follows instructions to a letter. I do not have to concern myself with what she removes while weeding. She weeds until just before noon, comes down off the hillside and washes up. We have lunch on the front porch and catch up on who is doing what in the local garden world along with memories of our past relationship. Then she heads home to the tune of a 45 minute drive leaving me to my afternoon nap. What more could a garden pal ask of another gardener?

More than Weeding

I think I am looking forward to the social aspect as much as the weeding that desperately needs to be done. I have neglected my contacts with other gardeners and now that a gardener has come calling, I realize just how much they are missed. It would seem just as the garden needs maintaining to stay healthy, so do I. Perhaps the visits are fertilizer to my social life. (There is a lot of bs gets spread about when we get together).

You all come now, you hear? Saving up to purchase that Pepsi for sharing on the front porch when you get here.

Don’t forget. Gene can be booked to speak at your next garden event.

Just One More Adventure: Help! Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Just One More Adventure: Help!

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Lobelia cardinalis, native Cardinal Flower


I have mentioned before why I did not ask for help with my garden maintenance. I always told myself that tomorrow my health would be better and I would get out there and get caught up. The weed eating, the mulching, pulling weeds, the paths cleaned and the limbs picked up. All that good “stuff” that I once did to groom my soul mate. Well, of course, tomorrow never arrived.


Now I am admitting to myself, and to you, that not much is going to change any time soon. Certainly not this fall, nor well into winter. I simply cannot stand by and watch my thirty-plus years of gardening slide down the slippery slope of neglect.


Just One Thing

My garden needs attention in quite a few areas, but first and foremost is the problem of weeds. Over the last past couple of years weeds have enjoyed my dedication to soil improvement. Their very nature is to be aggressive and to dominate and they are certainly living up to their calling. Finding good soil has enlivened weeds far beyond their usual nature. One can almost stand and watch them rub their leaves together and drool over territory to invade and conquer. A bit like an old Dastardly Dan figure in a black and white cartoon, but lacking the humor.



I most aware that while I do not live and garden in the middle of nowhere, I do reside right next to nowhere. On occasion even I have a hard time making myself drive to the nearest town. I understand that everyone has busy lives in today’s world. There is hardy time left over to enjoy an afternoon cup of tea, much less take on a volunteer project. Even Master Gardeners has trouble finding gardeners for projects and they are located in the middle of a town with decent population. Having acknowledged all the reasons why not, I am still asking for your help.



Fall blooming anemone “Anemone Pamila”. Tall and tough.

Whatever time you can spare in your busy lives would be very much appreciated. I only ask that you weed in the garden. All the other needs can wait for another time. Perhaps in spring when I am much improved in health (hopefully that is not another tomorrow). For now, bring your favorite weeder and a pair of gloves, perhaps your kneelers.

You are welcome to weed all day, half a day, morning or afternoon, weekday or weekend. Your choice on what is convenient in your busy schedule. One trip to my garden or several. No commitment, nor pressure to do more than what is comfortable.



There will be rewards other than my heart-felt thank you. I will share my Pepsi and water with you to keep you hydrated. And, I am sure you and I can find a plant or two for you to take home. You will be weeding in a shade garden with rare and unusual, native and non-native, perennials. Surely we can find a suitable reward for your generosity.



Please email meat gene@shadegardenexpert.com to volunteer your time and efforts. Please also feel free to call me on my cell phone 812-572-8516. I am looking forward to your company in my garden.

See you in Evansville, IN October 7th. Ten Months of Bloom in the Shade Garden is my topic. Holly Society, so will be fun.


Just One More Adventure: Tooth Ache Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Just One More Adventure: Tooth Ache

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events



Ever have a really bad tooth ache and the pain would not go away? You take three Tylenol, wish you had something stronger. You can’t sleep, napping does not last long or give you the rest you need. It is a form of torture and your regular dentist cannot work you into his schedule for another three days. You consider other options such as the clinic over on the other side of town, but want the dentist you know and who knows you. What to do for three days?

You move up to Tylenol extra strength and take the maximum dosage, then you walk the floor. When not walking the floor you try to watch old westerns in black and white. Anything to distract yourself from the discomfort and pain. The day before the dental appointment all the pain stops and you feel just fine. Do you cancel the appointment? Maybe the dentist will not find anything and you will look foolish, then have the privilege of paying for an unneeded appointment. In any case, you dread going to the dentist.


Funny how the pain can go away just before the cure so you will not have to experience the immediate discomfort coming. I believe my ‘toothache’ of facing the loss of my garden just got better. The closer I come, the less pain I feel. Of course I have not given up my garden as yet, but the thoughts, the discomfort, the aching in my heart, have become a bit easier as the concept gets closer to becoming reality.



Anticipating turning loose of my garden there are numerous “things to be accomplished” before I must actually let go. A list that will probably take months to ‘geterdone’. First up will be to get all my ducks in a row. I do want to see at least half my garden sold to a good home so I can afford those retirement trips to other gardens both public and private. From there every inch of the property will have to be as neat as possible. The garden will need complete and through weeding, paths restored and fresh mulch throughout. Then comes the nipping and pruning, last minute touch-ups before calling the appraiser. Once a value is set I call a realtor. The house and garden then go up for sale and we wait until someone more addicted to gardening than I comes by with a good line of credit.


Green Apples

Tricyrtis blooms

Just as sure as god made little green apples I know in my heart what comes next. Wishy-washy sets in with a vengeance. Once the garden and property is completely cleaned up and looking its best, why would I want to walk away from it? Isn’t getting everything back to normality, looking its best, all the more reason to stay where I am? Short term thinking, but then I am dealing with emotions more than my head and future reality.


Charlie Brown

I realize I am seriously afflicted with Charlie Brown syndrome and it will only grow worse over the short term.  I am aware of being as wishy-washy as humanly possible, but circumstances will cure that over the next few months. Even Charlie Brown finally went to the dentist.

See you in Evansville, IN Saturday 7th of October for Great Rivers Holly society. Title will be 10 Months of Bloom in the Shade Garden. Call Karen at 618-643-4249 for more details.

Still some open dates remaining to book Gene for your next garden event.

Just One More Adventure: Visiting a Patient Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Just One More Adventure:Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Visiting a Patient

Hemiboea henryi with morning dew

My Own Words

In the Bible there is a directive to visit the sick. In my own words and way I would like to say I got the message. Bit of epiphany since I am not speaking of another human being, a favored gardener, but rather my ailing garden. I find that I have been avoiding it, not really seeing it as it has fallen into disarray, not wanting to see the garden in its condition.  There is my own technical difficulties in the health department and I had always counted on the garden to cure me of my ills both emotional and physical.

At first I did not spend as much time as my garden needed due to my health and that began about three years back. As each year passed my garden and I became more and more ill. I went to doctors and clinics, hospitals, but the garden remained unattended and unheeded. When I could walk up the hill to visit my garden, I was too ashamed to visit my old soul mate for letting it began to fall into its decline so I began avoiding what I did not want to face.



Arisaema consanguineum Silver Stripe

I was reading a totally unrelated book when the quote from Mathew was used and for some reason the words struck me like the message was push pined to the bulletin board of my soul. “I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” My soul mate was ill; naked spots were forming as individual plants died, and since the garden, by its very nature, could not travel it was in a kind of prison. It was time to visit my garden and to visit often, to find help with its health and wellbeing. Time to follow the knowledge of someone wiser than I.


Garden condition

Having lost control (if control ever existed) of maintenance is the most disturbing. I can live with not fertilizing, not nipping and tucking, not envisioning new vignettes, nor transplanting new perennials and shrubs. Those can always be put off another season without harm. In fact, the lack of new plants could be a boon to my wallet. But not weeding is not so slowly killing my garden. Every weed seed that ever arrived by bird poop or wind has germinated with the lack of mulch that once held them back. With the improved soil they have taken advantage and grown, well, like weeds, choking some of the more delicate perennials.

Gene’s eBook tells the rest of the garden story

I did hire help on one occasion, but that only covered one small area on a single day, which immediately returned. I could not afford to have my entire garden weeded by professionals. The garden is too large and my wallet too small. Many friends have volunteered to weed, but only two actually showed up for a day each. I understand other gardener’s plight. I live in a somewhat remote area requiring travel, All are younger than I, have jobs as well as gardens of their own. We live in a very busy world. And, again I did not try all that hard to locate help for each day I was going to “get better” and would take care of my soul mate. Tomorrow. Tomorrow did not come.


Visiting the Sick

I walked up the hillside this week and visited my soul mate. I put on a brave face and thought of some of our best times together over the years so we could share memories. In spite of the physical difficulties I took my wife’s lightweight string trimmer and cut weeds in the paths of one section. The garden immediately looked improved. Then I walked the cleared paths to communicate with the garden, to see the survivors of neglect. I was rewarded for my visit with some of my autumn favorites.



Arisaema consanguineum Silver Stripe has been a favorite for many years now. This cultivar is among the latest Arisaema to emerge. The “bloom” is green with a brown tip so not the showier among the whiplash and cobra lilies in my garden. Most fascinating are the leaflets which radiate from the top of the stem like an umbrella. Each leaflet is long and narrow with a silver strip down the middle with a long drip tip and the end of each leaflet. They are about three feet in height, arching over from the weight of the leaves so that when viewed it is like looking at the top of an umbrella without a cover. It is a most excellent plant are reproducing itself from stolons so I have several in the garden. Well worth the visit.


Buds and Blooms

Tricyrtis macropoda, my all time favorite Toadlily

I won’t go into a litany of plants while making my visit, but there was my favorite groundcover wandering about with nothing sticking up through it. Just the shiny rich-green foliage looking as though it was waxed during the night. At the top of each leaf is a plumb bud making promises that I will not be able to resist. The shiny groundcover, Hemiboea henryi, must be for my eyes only for no insect, nor mammal, bother this plant.

This is the time my favorite Tricyrtis is in bloom. Tricyrtis macropoda certainly stands different than all the other species and cultivars in my garden. The dotted pinkish-white intricate blooms sit at the top of the glossy rounded leaves, making me wonder why I stayed away for so long.


I think both of us feel much better now.

Holly Society regional fall meeting in Evansville, IN October 7th and 8th. Speaking at the Mesker Park Zoo and Botanic Garden. Look forward to seeing you there. 

Don’t forget to book Gene for your next garden club meeting. 

Just One More Adventure: Dealing With Depression Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Dealing With Depression

Slightest breeze and the leaves are gone, the picture changing. One view existing in one moment in time.
















Every gardener experiences a blue funk on occasion. I can have a bad hair day even though I am bald on top. In most cases depression is mild, seemingly coming and it going beyond our control. Truth be told we do not live in a television sitcom. We cannot live in evanescence filling rooms with bubbles of our personal happiness and joy.

I will admit here that I cannot and do not, I have no interest, in doing a joyful ballet out of bed in the morning.  With my arthritis I am too busy being reborn on wobbly legs each early morn. The joy of awakening to a new day must take a back seat in a divided body and mind.


Moving On

Usually depression is short term with mild downswing in the way we think, our overall mood and yes, our bodies. When it stays around long enough to interfere in our day to day life, we have problems doing what we normally did, accompanied by pain. Depression is especially hard on not only us, but also the people who care about us.

Depression can be somewhat similar to functional alcoholics in that we hide our pain on the inside, going about daily life, while smiling on the outside.

Personally, at times I feel like I have fallen into a deep, dark pool of misery. I can feel life savers around me and see where the rope leads. When I get to the boat I cannot find the whether all to pull myself up and over, into the boat where it is dry. My shoes are filled with water, my clothes are all soaked and the added weight is pulling me down as I tire from my treading. Thus far, I have always found the strength to eventually climb into that boat and head for shore.  There are times when I can take off my shoes placing them on the dock in the sun to dry while I walk barefoot in the grass.



There are times when depression is a natural condition in response to events such as grieving over a loss. While I am not losing a human companion, I am losing a part of my soul, my constant companion for the past thirty-plus years. That is serious loss enough to bring on the grieving process and depression over my loss for there was a bond formed over those years.

I find that the loss is effecting me socially, certainly mentally and physically, as well as spiritually.


Overly Tired

Castiron Crow at waterfall

I have found that if I pay close attention to my basic needs life becomes easier and depression moves to the background or goes away. Chief among the needs are avoiding becoming overly tired and exhausted from exertion or anxiety. A good night’s rest is of prime importance for both physical and mental health. Next on my list is to eat well and on a schedule. Be aware of when it is meal time and take the time sit down to three meals a day of balanced nutrition. Communication with other gardeners who are often going through similar events in their lives. Just the telling of my story is akin to giving away part of my depression.

I would say of prime importance on my list is to have a sense of humor. Not to lose my ability to make another human being laugh or smile.



I do know that I believe, I have faith, in my future as a gardener. Hope is the conqueror of depression. I will be up and down emotionally as I grieve loss of my companion, but I will find other relationships as I walk my path.

Let’s talk some more. Invite me to speak at your next gardening event.

Just One More Adventure: Along the Blue River – Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Just one More Adventure:

Bluebird Aster with Fireworks Goldenrod

Along the Blue River

Cardio rehab takes place 3 mornings a week at the local hospital. On the days I am not showing up there I go for a walk along the Blue River which is only about one-half mile downhill. In spite of having lived here for well over thirty years I never walked the road until I began rehab. Now that I am paying attention to what is in my own back yard, it makes me wonder about myself. About how easy it is to go by the beautiful and never see. I find there is a big difference between driving and walking; what I see.


The road

The road does not stay with the Blue River but runs parallel in the bottom lands and then drifts away as the hills climb and flow. Also, at least the stretch I walk along, if not what I would call a river, but rather a creek. There are homes and vacation cabins along the stretch of road, but overall it is lightly populated. I can walk the road in early morning and have perhaps two to three cars pass me in either direction. There is no lack of company for the dogs come out and follow me short distances as I walk. On occasion someone will come to the edge of their property for a short conversation, giving me a short break in the walk.


The Sounds and Sights

The river/creek has a ripple about mid-way along the bottoms and that provides the background symphony of sounds that sooths the soul. There is nothing in the world that brings peace like the sound or water flowing over and around rocks. If I time my walk just right there is a flock of geese that awaken and take flight calling to each other on their way to feeding grounds. There is a drum roll from a pileated woodpecker working on breakfast in an old ash tree. Mostly there is the sound and feel of my walking shoes hitting the pavement one after the other.



Almost every front yard has a garden of some size. Nothing like my addiction to gardening, but each one reflects the unique soul of the resident. One yard will have a board fence with purple morning glories and sweet peas just like my mother once grew on our fence when I was a child. The next yard will have a stone ring around a tree filled with annuals, while another will show a love of elephant ears and canna. Resurrection lilies are common pass along plants. The most common shrub is Hibiscus in all its forms and colors. Some have enough age to have escaped the yards and now grow along the drainage ditches and roadsides, the edge of wooded areas.



Fields lying fallow, ditches and embankments that only get mowed once a year, if then, have been seeded by nature. Yellow is a predominant color this time of the year with fields of different golden rods. Rising above the golden rod are iron week in purple, while our tall phlox adds a pink accent. Large drifts of tickseed, sunflowers and sneezeweed along with rudbeckia, looks good with chicory in blue, and the ever present queen Ann’s lace. Every fencerow has trumpets of orange scampering up the posts and wires into the trees, accompanied by the pure white of bind weed. Clover comes in drifts of dusty pink in balls like a chenille bedspread of old. If I could remember all that I see on one walk of a bit over three miles, I could go on and on with the sights.

Could it be gardens are where you chose to see them?

Giving talks to garden clubs and organizations for over 20 years. Is your club next? Book Gene Now.

Just One More Adventure: Lesson of the Little Red Car Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Just One More Adventure: Lesson of the Little Red Car

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Lesson of the Little Red Car

A short story. A few years back I purchased a new Ford focus in the color red. When on the sales lot the only options color wise were funeral black and ruby red in the exact model I was interested in purchasing. I had already made my choice of auto before I went to the sales room.  I did not really care for basic black so I considered the red models. I had never owned a red auto and considered the color a bit on the showy side for me at my age.

I had no reason to pay particular attention to either Ford Focus models with 4 doors and hatch, or one in the color red. Especially the color red. Within two or three days of driving my new auto I began to see other red Ford Focus on the highways and byways. Humm. Now that I was driving one they seemed to be more common that I would have thought. Perhaps my choice was not as unique as I had believed. Before long almost every time I drove any distance I saw a red Ford Focus. They were always there, but never paid attention until I owned one. Then, once aware, I could see them on the road with me.


One Shorter Story

I was having my usual soul food dinner of beans and greens with cornbread at the Cracker Barrel one evening and looked up to see a family being seated. In the family group was a woman with a portable oxygen tank. She had the hose from tank and carrier to loop around her ears and then feed oxygen to nose as she breathed. She looked up after being seated and hanging her bottle on the chair back and our eyes met. We gave each other a look of recognition and understanding, then went on with our dinner.

On the way home after dinner, I stopped at a gas station for a fill-up. While standing at the rear of my car with the hose in my hand a pickup truck pulled up on the other side of the pump. As he opened the door and slide down I could see a strap across his chest that led to a mini portable oxygen concentrator. Two in one night, one right after another.

I was not aware of people who carried oxygen bottles to help them breathe and I honestly do not remember seeing one until that evening. I was prescribed one and now I could see others with the same problem as I. Having to be one is kind of a hard way to become aware.


Group Therapy

When in group psychological therapy the emphasis is in sharing. One listens to others relate their story. They are not you and their stories will be somewhat different in the details, but soon a participant begins to realize these people have similar trials in life. You hear their pain, the results of their suffering, how they are coping with their trials. Soon the realization sets in that perhaps you are not all that different. You become a member, you belong, and there are people just like you and they have found answers you can use. There is sympathy and empathy.

Again you find that you are not all that unique and there is a comfort to be found in knowing others have coped with the same problems. It will not cure a single ailment or erase a diagnosis, relieve a pain or take anything away, but it will give hope and mental comfort. Wow! Twelve other people coping with the same medical diagnosis as I and they are coping.

In spite of how I feel on occasion, I’m not all that different and I’m not alone.

Book Gene for your next gardening get together. A new year of talks are being scheduled now for 2018

Just One More Adventure: Memories of Plants and People Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Just One More Adventure: Memories of Plants and People 

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Memories of Plants and People

Jack -in-the-Pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum, and companions


It must be the crowd I hang out with. The subject of living memories in the garden keeps coming up in conversations. A couple of visiting gardeners and I were sitting on my porch with sounds of the water feature flowing and falling in the background. Cold drinks in hand on a hot day we did what gardeners do; talk plants, nurseries, nursery owners, our memories of fellow gardeners.

After my friends left I began thinking of our conversations and took a walk in my garden by myself. I walked and stood still, moved once more and became calm again, slowly moving through my garden taking a deeper look at not only my garden as a whole, but also each individual plant. With well over 30 years of gardening on the same hillside there is a lot of history to remember.


Curiosity may have killed a cat, but in a collector curiosity can kill a wallet. I was not into gardening very long before I began collecting perennials. There was this “thing” in me that wanted to know what else there was. I usually began with what grew local, then branched out to regional and finally across the temperate world. When I had the local Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) and its cousin the Green Dragon (A. dracontium) I began looking around and found there was well over 150 species of Arisaema for me to collect. Never made it to the 150 species in my garden but had a lot of excitement in the chasing and finding. That pretty much became the pattern that I followed throughout my gardening career.

Nurseries and Nursery Owners

Along with path of collection rare and unusual perennials there were all the nurseries and nursery owners along the way. Some I got to know personally over the years. I remember We-Du Nursery and their little catalog, the catalog hat was more a small print bible from Dan Hinkley of Heronswood and the temptation in Asiatic catalog with all the tiny photos. Often I can remember the name of the nursery a plant came from quicker than the name of the plant itself. When walking by Arisaema consanguineum “Perfect Wave” I immediately think of Seneca Hills Perennials and owner Ellen Hornig. Allen Bush was in business as Holbrook Farm and Nursery and when I walk the path near Delphinium exaltatum in bloom I automatically think of Allen, and I still see him on occasion.

Passalong Plants

Arisaema fargessi

Throughout the garden plants settled in as remainders of gracious gardener friends who came visit carrying gifts from their gardens. Plant they loved so much they simply had to share. When I first began gardening it was fellow gardeners who shared both plants and knowledge. There were times when I was trusted enough to be given a division of a rare plant just to make sure it would still be available if their start died. My ex mother in law gave me one of the first plants to go into my garden and her daughter gave me a brass sundial that remains to age in my garden.

All kinds of memories speaking to me from all corners of the garden as I walk past this perennial, that shrub or well-rusted lantern. When I stop to think I realize it is not the plants that make up the garden as much as the memories each holds for me. When I cannot longer garden and must leave the garden and plants behind, it will be the memories that travel with me.

Quote from Susan: It’s not really about the plants. Plants are an expression of the love we share with nature and friends and gardens an expression of the art inside of us.

It would seem I know some very wise friends who happen to be gardeners.

Let’s create some new memories. Book me to speak at your next garden event. 



Just One More Adventure: Dreams for Sale Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Just One More Adventure: Dreams for Sale

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Dreams for Sale

Hibiscus coccineus the native Scarlet Rose Mallow

Project Planned
One of the projects I had planned for my garden stretches back over several years in my Lust List book. I planned and watched nurseries for the exact perennials and bulbs to create a scene I carried in my mind’s eye. Two years ago, and then again last year, I got my act together and ordered, or traded for, almost every plant on my list. My garden was to finally get as close to complete as any garden ever becomes. Or, at the very least, cleared that project from my mind so I could create the next picture in my mind and garden.

The vignette of plants were to have found a home in a raised bed located beside the ditch that was an exit for the wet-weather spring flowing through my garden. Parallel to the ditch would have been a four foot wide and eighteen feet long raised bed with a path separating the raised bed from a small bog that was a companion project. The plants did not demand constant soaking, but consistent well-drained moisture was the goal. To that end the raised bed was to consist of coarse sand, long fiber sphagnum peat moss, potting medium and native soil, all thoroughly mixed. The bed would have been topped by a hardwood mulch from the bottom of the pile.

A holding area was created and the plants found homes in the next size up containers. At the end of the first season they were bumped up again to the next larger container and finally found a home in pots large enough to hold several of the intended combinations.

Can be thought of as divided into two groups. One which is hardy, the other considered an annual. Out native Hibiscus are the hardy, very easy to grow, perennials that prefer a location where most other perennials do not survive. While they will grow in ordinary garden soil, they have a taste for soggy to extra moisture.

Scarlet Rosemallow, or Hibiscus coccineus, originates from southeastern US with zone rating of 6 – 9, perhaps a bit more cold. The woody perennial can reach up to 8 feet when well grown and resembles a multi-stemmed shrub with narrow foliage. The 5 petal blooms can reach 10 inches across and are as startling red as the color red can be. Bloom begin around mid-July for me and last into August.

Hibiscus coccineus form alba, or White Blooming mallow, has more finely cut foliage, is more multi-stemmed and the flowers are snow-driven white pinwheels. Because it has more stems I feel it is by far the heavier blooming plant. Certainly a sight to see. Give the white version the same sunny exposure (will take some shade late in the afternoon), extra moisture is best, but is more tolerant to dry than the red blooming.

Hymenocallis occidentalis, our native Spider Lily, has to be the most fascinating bulb I have ever grown in my garden over the past 40 years. Foliage is strap-like reaching around 18 inches and as it ages tends to bend. By bloom time in July and August, if in a dry location, the foliage will have disappeared. When kept moist the foliage remains and the bloom stem come up through the straps to reach 2 feet. When mature the bulb with have 4 blooms arranged in a perfect circle displayed at the top of a nude stem. Large blooms have long narrow petals with a spider web like lacing between the petals in ghostly white. Hardiness range is Zone 5 – 8 and I have 6 bulbs that would have been arranged with the Hibiscus.

Iris louisiana Red Velvet Elvis, is a complex hybrid of natives blooming in May-June which is earlier than any of the other perennials in my selections. Hardiness Zone is 6 – 10. This 3 foot iris has strong blade like foliage and blooms in mid-May here. Flowers are large with falls in ruby and standards in mauve. Definitely a show stopper and a preview of the red to come in the hibiscus. Full sun is best and moist soil as a minimum, but enjoys standing water.

Iris versicolor John Wood has a hardiness zone of 3 – 9 and was selected for foliage as well as bloom. The 42 inch blades emerge purple-black and feather out to deepest green on the foliage. Can only be described as striking. In mid-May into June the flowers have e petals of violet and 3 of mauve-pink with violet veining. While not exactly fitting into my overall color theme, I could not pass this one up. Also ordinary garden soil suits it just fine, as does the margin of stream or pond. You might say Iris versicolor is versatile.
There are 2 clumps each of fans for both Red Velvet Elvis and John Wood.

Ligularia japonica Chinese Dragon definitely indicates this one is non-native. Having this moisture loving perennial in the garden is a bit like having 2 plants for the price of one. The newly emerging large leaves are whole, then as they age they become cutleaf. Count on a bold foliage plant reaching 3 feet and then being topped by yellow-orange flowers at 4 feet. I like the idea of pairing it off with the blade-like foliage of the Iris.

I have long been fascinated by our native lilies. They are a bit hard to come by for no one seems to want to take the time to grow these natives for 5 to 7 years before sale. When you do locate a species they are, in general on the small side. Some downright miniscule. Whatever the size, if you can afford 3 order 3 of each when you first see them offered.

Lilium canadense or Canada lily is at the top of my list of lilies, especially the red blooming selection. There are several other colors in the red, orange, yellow range, some bi-colored combinations, all with spotted throats. The reach about 5 feet in my garden and over time form offsets on the dog-bone shaped scaled tubers. Given time a colony can form. Bloom shape is narrow flared trumpets that hang from stems well away from the main stem. Absolutely breathtaking. I have some growing with white blooming azalea. Relatively small bulbs, but I also have mature stands in other parts of my garden. Moist acidic, not soupy, soil is preferred.

Lilium michiganense, or Michigan Lily, reach 2 to 5 feet in height when mature, whorled leaves and and there are 3 to 5 blooms at the top of each stem each well above the top of each stem like the spokes of an umbrella. Color is usually orange spotted in brown and the petals strongly recurve as they age forming a “Turks Cap”. Blooms are in early June along with the Canada lily. I have had the bulbs for 2 years now and they remain small. Give one something to look forward to in perhaps 5 years.

Lilium pardalinum ssp vollmeri, the Leopard Lily, while native to northern California, is hard to Zone 4. I have grown this species in my garden for many years now. The blooms are relatively small, strongly reflexed petals and some shade of orange with a yellow center and purple-brown spots, but can be yellow. Another summer blooming lily blooming same time frame as the other lilies. Good rich garden soil that stays moist to wet will produce a 3 to 4 foot tall plant. I fine them good at producing offsets. A

Lilium superbum, the Superb Lily or Turks Cap Lily, is exactly that. Superb. The tallest of any lily I have grown at an easy 8 feet and stout

Superb Lily, Turks Cap lily, Lilium superbum.

stems to carry that height and weight of the blooms. I have it in 2 locations in my garden. Both are within the limbs of a native azalea or very close to azalea. Another native summer blooming lily with strongly reflexed petals of orange and sometimes yellow or a bi-color of both those colors with maroon spots. Hardy into Zone 5, enjoys some shade as well as sun, and would probably grow even better if I gave it more moisture.



Stenanthium gramineum, Feather Bells, Grass-Leaf Lily, is a very seldom seen native that is about as rare as teeth in a barn yard rooster.

Stenanthium gramenium, our native Feather Bells or Grass-Lily

Can be found growing in full sun in wet areas or in open edge of the woods. I find it grows much smaller when in shade without the extra moisture. Does resemble a clump of arching grass until it blooms. Then nude branching stems shoot up carrying tiny bells with pointed tips in snow white. Stem is covered in these tiny bells giving it a lacy or feather-like feel in appearance. It can be up to 5 feet tall. Hardy to Zone 5.


A great dream that almost became reality in my garden. Perhaps it would look even better in your garden.


For sale. Complete collection only.
Come pick em’ up and take the entire collection as they are too large to ship. Pricing is reasonable for a mature collection. Email: gene@shadegardenexpert.com call: 812-572-8516



Just One More Adventure: Other Gardens Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Other Gardens

Giant Solomon’s Seal, Weeping Redbud, Oakleaf Hydrangea Little Honey


Other Gardens

Over a period of about 20 years gardeners came to visit me and my garden. I owned a nursery and plants were purchased by mailorder or making an appointment to come visit. Shipping days were Monday and Tuesday and visit days were rest of the week. Weekends always brought the greatest number to gardeners to come walk the gardens with me and spend some time in the nursery display.



I believe our greatest compliment was the length of travel gardeners experienced to arrive at our front door. From foreign countries Sweden, Great Britain, Japan, Ireland, Scotland, France and Germany are most remembered for the gardener from each country. Admittedly, they did not fly in just to visit here, but rather made an effort to come visit while in the US. The gardeners visiting most often were from surrounding states. Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia. Many would come with picnic lunches and share with us on the front porch after a garden tour. Over the time some gardeners and their friends would come several times a year, year after year. Over a period of twenty years you can certainly make a lot of gardening friends.


Botanical Gardens

Botanical gardens ordered from my nursery over the years and I got to know individuals behind the name and logo. My plants ended up in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and other destinations with botanical gardens. There was always a sense of pride, a boost to my ego that they would be aware of and order from me each year.



Corydalis lutea ad Ghost Fern combination.

Plants that were in my garden, plants I grew from seed, perennials I grew on, my children, ended up going home with all the gardeners who visited. Over the years thousands of plants found a home in other gardens both local and faraway places. In almost every instance when gardeners visiting here got ready to leave they extended an invitation to come see how my children were faring in all their gardens. There was always the promise to visit their gardens, but seldom did I find or take the time to leave my garden and to visit theirs. I was too busy taking care of my own garden and operating a nursery to leave. Twenty plus years of a bungee cord around my ankle pulling me back when I reached the end of my driveway. But I was always “going to” and had best of intentions.



Stone bench, container with Amorphophyllus, surrounded by Japanese woodland Salvia

A funny thing happened while lying in a hospital bed for a week and three weeks in rehab. Habits get broken. For a solid month I was disconnected from all electronics. No computer, so no Facebook or LinkedIn, no blog to write and publish each week. By the time I returned home my bonds and habits had been broken. I found myself reluctant to hit the on button and return to what took up most of the time in my life. I simply no longer had the desire. Yes, I missed following my gardening friends, but. My daily habit, my ritual, of working in my garden was forced upon me and would continue for some months to come. No internet connection, no connection to my garden.



Epimedium Pink Champagne foliage

All the years of I should do this, I really should go visit so-and-so’s garden, visit the botanical garden this year for sure, with plenty of I certainly should do that. Well, the days of should should be over. The time has become available and most excuses no longer apply. It is pretty certain now that I will be giving up my garden, moving to another location. My age and health, and other personal reasons, have caught up with me.



It occurs to me that I may not even want to have a garden when I arrive at my next destination. While it is far too soon to tell with any certainty, now that I have been separated from my garden and my old habits, I find with each day the urge to revisit the good old days is fading. Perhaps there are other paths to walk now. Instead of trying to reconstruct my life all over again in another location, perhaps simply gaining a new life with new habits is in order. Instead of building another garden, perhaps I can go visit those botanical gardens, those other gardeners and their gardens, see all those plants I once touched.

October 19th 2017 will be at Memphis Botanical Garden for talk. More details to come. Have you booked Gene for your next meeting?