Just Another Adventure: Seasons and Cycles; Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Event

Just Another Adventure: Seasons and Cycles;

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Event

Trout-Lily, or Erythronium americana withJacob’s Ladder

Seasons and Cycles




One day I am walking my garden in a long sleeved shirt on a sunny winter day, and while the next day is officially spring on the calendar, reality is overcast with rain and wet snow. I certainly will not be hanging out in my garden on the first day of this spring. It would seem that while there are beginnings and endings, seasons and cycles in your lives, we have expectations that may, or may not, be met where and when we want or need. I was expecting another spring day, but was winter delivered.


Past Lives

A bit over twenty-five years ago I experienced some serious live-altering events that changed my life. All of my expectations for the future dissolved overnight. I lost my job of over twenty-plus years and lost my retirement with only three years to go, with a medical condition that would not allow me to find employment and begin anew. At first I was an angry individual, but found I could not stay angry or feel sorry for myself for any length of time.

It did not take long to realize that I had been presented with a gift that few men my age receive. I was given the opportunity to step out of the demands of others and begin a new life for myself. I mediated, then made plans for the new me.  These last twenty-five years of my life have been far more than I could have imagined at the beginning of that new journey.


What Was Old

What was once old is now new once more, or to put it another way, here I go again. I am now about two to three years into another life-altering event with my health. All that once made up my life is either changing, or has changed, with major sections disappearing. But, I now have previous experience I can use in this event. I have reinvented myself in the past and I have the tools, the experience, to do it again. Could be I will enjoy the new me even more than the old one.


A New Cycle

Just as the first official day of spring has surprised me and I have had to change my expectations, I find my relationship with my garden both changing and remaining the same. The seasons are there and eventually we will settle into spring and then summer. I am in another cycle in my life looking forward to new beginning, another spring in my life.



Helleborus X Garden Hybrid, Slate Bloom

At this junction I am using pieces of the past as building blocks for today and tomorrow. If one piece does not fit then I can pull it out and do a replacement. My talks are many things to me. They are an opportunity to share what I have learned with other gardeners. That drive to share remains within me. The talks are an opportunity to socialize and meet new people. An opportunity to travel, to earn some funds for the next plant purchases. This past weekend was a great example of fulfillment for me.

I was invited to Taylor, MI and for a Growing Great Gardens symposium. I had a friend drive me there and back since I still cannot drive any distance. That was about twelve hours of conversations while we traveled. My presentation was one of the best I have given, feeding my contentment quotient. I met the other speakers who I was aware of only by reputation.  I was amazed by both with their stage presence and depth of knowledge. It was a privilege to meet them however briefly. Lastly there was all the gardeners who put this symposium together. They were truly individuals I enjoyed meeting.

Whatever I do or don’t do in my future I feel that my presentations, my sharing, will be a part.



My garden is what feeds the presentations. It provides experiences to share, an opportunity to take plant portraits along with their companions.

The day after returning from Michigan, I found myself renewed and in my garden with the camera and notebook. Since I am losing one half of my garden, I have a goal of taking a portrait of every blooming plant before it finds a new home.

In one hour I found thirteen portraits presenting themselves. Mature clumps of Dwarf Snow Trillium (T. nivale) offered several opportunities. Several of my Hepatica are now open and I want to capture what makes each one live up to its name. Jeffersonia dubia, or Japanese Twin-Wings is all beet-red copper and blue. I found my tiny Spring Beauty that blooms in yellow instead of white or pink. Bloodroot was lined up three abreast, perhaps line dancing to the tune of spring. With Hellebores in bloom all through the garden I had to stop and again take the portrait of my darkest slate with yellow stamens. A new-to-the-garden double yellow has sun behind the blooms, so that portrait was a must. Bluebells remained tight with their ball of blue down in the black and green foliage. More Snowdrops were opening and nodding to me.

The garden, the presentations, are a cycle feeding each other, and myself, as the seasons progress.

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Just Another Adventure: Passing a Torch; Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Event

Just Another Adventure: Passing a Torch;

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Emerging Peony

Passing a Torch


Never Say Never


Looking back over my years of gardening I never thought of what happens when the love of your life is leaving you. We have had a wonderful relationship for over thirty years. That is longer than a past marriage. So, here I stand at the end of the driveway of life waving goodbye as individual parts leave never to return. There is sadness, of course, but there is also a sense of satisfaction seeing how parts of me, of our relationship, will live on. Two old sayings come to mind. One is never say never and the other is all good things come to an end.

It would seem there is more than one way to think and feel about the ending. Perhaps it is not a final ending, but rather a new beginning coming in a different form. I may be old and have health problems but I am not deceased. There is opportunity in envisioning a different future for myself and my garden. I still have something to say, a part of me to pass on to the next generation of gardeners. I suppose a kind of passing a torch.


The Fabulous Four

The Fabulous Four from Yew Dell Botanical Garden were here again this week. I could not ask for better hands to pick up my torch than these four and the destination for the plants in my garden. I do not know the personal details of them all that well, just pieces picked up in general conversations, but I enjoy what I have seen and heard thus far. One, the new Greenhouse and Nursery Manager for Yew Dell. There are two interns, one of which goes on to Longwood Gardens shortly. There is the lady with the clipboard to keeps records of every plant dug. All are degreed, young, and enthusiastic and caring plant lovers. Who and where better to hand my torch?


More than Plants

When I get through not being able to drive any distance without falling asleep and/or doing something hazardous to myself or others, I have an opportunity to participate in the design of my garden’s new home. An opportunity to hang out with a crowd of plant people younger than I to slow down my aging process. To pass on tips I have picked up from others and my experience over the years on plant propagation and growing. Perhaps a word or two on nursery management and sales. With these opportunities I can look in the mirror and see someone who has a word or two of value remaining to pass along.



After the Fabulous Four had left I walked the garden in spite of the cold and windy weather. I had to see the damage we had done. A bit like driving past a serious autos accident. You cannot help but slow down and stare.

You know how the movies have jet fighters firing weapons as they swoop down and fly over almost at tree height, leaving holes as they go? Those holes will be equal distant in width and spacing, the same depth unless they hit something. Well, as I walked my garden I could imagine a jet strafing my garden. There were holes of the same size, equidistant from each other, about the same depth, all forming a patterns of not destruction, but of change. The sight was unsettling at first, seeing holes where this beauty once resided, or that rare plant thrived over the years, or where memories were represented in locations special plants once resided.

But, before I allowed myself to dwell on what was now missing, I remembered what it felt like when my children matured and went away. Given time they found their way back. The relationships were certainly changed, but the new difference was, in many ways, better than past. Instead of trying to dwell on the past, or what could have been, there were new opportunities for both of us. My plants will not be returning, but my relationship does not end and it is up to me to find a new way to relate.

Due to physical limitations and age I cannot take care of all the plants in my gardens. Actually, by turning them loose I am keeping them. Here they would suffer decline and perhaps destruction by the march of nature. In their new home someone else will take care of them, see that they are cared for and appreciated. I will be able to visit their new life at any time.


While they get to carry the torch into the future, I get to share the light without the burden.

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

Just Another Adventure: Contentment:

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Red Lenten Rose Bloom



The word contentment kept running around my head as though it was unable to find an exit sign. Somewhere in those recesses of my mind an old TV commercial popped up to join the swirl. You know how it is when you get a loop in your mind, such as words to a song that keep repeating themselves over and over.

Do you recall the advertising slogan “the milk from contented cows”? This slogan was used by Carnation Condensed Milk from 1907 onward. There was even a radio program named “The Contented Hour”. Crazy as it may seem, the words contented cows joined the words contentment and contented and they were circling as I worked in the garden. That commercial has not found a place in my thoughts since the 1960’s, but seemed here to set up housekeeping in my mind. By the end of the day I knew why contentment was my companion.


Another Spring Day

“Black” Lenten Rose (Hellebore x garden hybrid) opening.

We had another one of those awesome spring days. Afternoon temps reached 64 degrees. There was only a slight breeze with the smell of spring about it. Sky was a bright clear blue and the clouds were like cotton balls. The soil was not dry enough to work, but I could walk the garden in long sleeves and oxygen tank. The outside and garden called to me as though I had magnets in my pockets and they had the other pole. I offered no resistance.


Cleaning Paths

In my mind the quickest way to clean and tidy up a garden is to neaten the paths. If you have clean paths the rest of the mess will not be noticed (well, perhaps not so much). So, I began with my leaf rake to move debris one section at a time. Lots of rotting leaves got flicked back into the garden, small limbs were raked into piles for removal later. Neat piles are another sign of good gardening that may or may not receive attention “sometime soon”. One of the many privileges of raking the paths is the opportunity to stand with hands on end of the handle and stare into nothing. When I returned to planet earth I was rewarded with so many little green noses struggling to find light it was hard to return to work. Even if there was not a single bloom in the garden the excitement and promise of those spots of green among all the browns was enough to keep me magnetized.

First one section of path, and then the next, were soon joined together by piles of debris. I could stand on the upper part of the hillside garden and see the cleanliness. Awe inspiring, indeed. Enough that I raked across and down the hillside cleaning another path. I was about to become entranced, when a tired and sore shoulder and arms stepped in, so I switched to a different task.

We had a lot of heavy rain and wind over the winter and numerous limbs of all sizes up to and including sections of trees lay across the garden, so I began dragging those outside the garden to pick up points. Soon the excitement wore off and I returned to the reality of my age and health.



My home health nurse arrived for her regular monthly visit. During the visit the subject of gardening came up once more. She very much wanted to begin a garden on a hillside under shade in her back yard. She knew a little about gardening, confessed to killing her share of plants. It was such a pleasure to walk with her up the hillside and show her all that she was not aware existed. Yes, there is color in a shade garden, and you can have something in bloom most of the year.

Hellebore niger, Christmas rose in bloom

More than the adult intellectual exchange of information, watching her eyes light up and sparkle when looking a Hellebore in bloom, seeing her smile that reached from ear to ear when she saw a Trillium in bloom, was inspiring. To see her first time excitement, taking notes, photos with her cellphone, was a reward that I did not realized how much I missed until I watched her. That kind of novice excitement is infectious. As we walked out of the garden gate I realized she gave me far more than I could ever give her.


There was that sense of contentment, the mellowness behind my bellybutton, the satisfaction of sharing on so many levels.

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Just Another Adventure: Holy Hannah!: Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Just Another Adventure: Holy Hannah!

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Adonis amurensis Fukujuka

Holy Hannah!


Holy Hannah with a handbasket on a hillside!

I don’t know where to turn next. Sometimes I go around in tight little circles like one shoe was nailed to the floor. I begin in one direction and end up at an unexpected destination, doing something totally unexpected and certainly not on any list. I feel I may have been taken over by my subconscious (maybe aliens?).


Spring in February?

Yesterday we had daytime temperatures just reaching the low 70’s and the afternoon cleared off to blue skies with almost no wind. Had I been transported to another world? Today I returned from an appointment and the day was a morning of windy sunshine and a record-breaking temperature in the low 80’s. Can you believe it? Temps reaching 80’s just past middle-February!  How in Hannah’s name could any gardener be expected to remain inside on days such as those? My gardener’s need for soil under my fingernails took over mind, body and soul; not that I was resisting.


A Preview

The first day I told myself I would only go for a walk and see what was coming into bloom with all the rain we have had along with the warming temperatures. I resisted the need to carry my camera, tripod, notebook and kneeling pad. No distractions, just a walk to be in my garden for the emotional satisfaction. I spend an hour lost in going from one path to the next stopping at each little green nose pushing through the leaf litter, pausing to see swollen buds ready to open, lost in the bliss of a spring preview.

That afternoon I went for another walk, leaving all tools in the shed for one more walk to sooth those urges that were building inside again. I was just fine entering the garden and I remember stopping on the first path, but after that it all became a blank. I woke up on one knee pulling winter germinating weeds from a raised bed where the fairy house sits beneath a hemlock. I have no concept of what happened to the time between entering the garden and when I woke up kneeling with green and black fingers.


Can’t Stay Away

Unknown witch-hazel cultivar blooming in my garden.

The second day, as soon as I returned home from my errands, I headed for the garden again. This time I took my camera, special lens ready to capture fully open flowers. The Adonis amurensis are breathtaking this late winter. The species in waxy yellow, a grouping of three clumps of a named double and one more clump blooming in orange. There are still more Adonis to emerges yet. Three transplants of a rare Hellebore thibetanus had pushed the brown and tattered leaves aside to display buds and opening flowers of veined pink in a shade only this hellebore can achieve. I could not resist a Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) with a single clean white bloom open showing off the yellow boss of stamens in the center. There was a favorite hellebore that emerges with almost purple-black foliage and buds close to waxed soot-black,  All were in a tight group, the oldest at the bottom of the clump beginning to open,


More Urges

Afternoon blew in on the summer-like wind, pushing me away from an open window and up the hill into the garden again. I simply could not stay out. I noticed some of the chopped leaves used for mulch last fall had bunched up too heavily, so went to the shed and got my leaf rake. I went through the garden gently flicking the dead foliage into spots less covered. I was leaning on the rake handle catching my breath when a witch-hazel (Hamamelis) came into focus. Spider-like petals of copper-orange arranged around a brown center. Every inch of the limbs were covered in blooms. My eyes then shifted to a dwarf cultivar in bright chrome yellow. There was soft yellow, butter yellow, red and purple in and around the garden. Soon I found myself walking to each one to view flowers close-up.

I had lost track of time again and only came back to reality when my cell phone rang. I had forgotten I was carrying that demanding noise. Once awake once more I saw that it was late afternoon, past tea time, and I needed to clean up for dinner. It was my turn to cook. Back down off the hillside, back to a reality filled with an inner glow of satisfaction. All is right with my world.

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Just Another Adventure: A Gardening Rash: Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Just Another Adventure: A Gardening Rash:

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Adonis amurensis in bud, getting ready to give back the sunshine it borrowed last spring.

A Gardening Rash


Watching the news and listening to my friends it would seem that everyone and their grandmother either have the flu, or just recovered from it, still dragging around. I have avoided crowds this winter for the last thing I need is the flu. Fortunately I have remained flue free. But having escaped the flu virus thus far does not mean some other germy calamity cannot claim me. I do not have to take my temperature, make an appointment with my family doctor, or look into the mirror to recognize advancing symptoms that have befallen me. I feel that I have been hit hard by an outbreak of gardener’s rash.



We both are aware that gardening rash can happen at any time of the year, but like the flu, it strikes hardest during the last winter months. I have tried various patent medicines from the drug store with little or no affect. On occasion an additional glass of red wine with dinner will alleviate some of the symptoms, but the rash returns before morning. Some romantics have said that time heals all, but I have practiced patience and the rash only grows stronger. I find myself itching while watching TV in the evenings. There is only one cure that actually alleviates the suffering.



Always my first snowdrops to bloom.

I cannot help but be aware that I am responsible for the infection that has given me the rash. I did not take my usual precautions as I have in the past. This winter there were no containers of all sizes in the greenhouse holding held over perennials needing my attention. New plants did not arrive that needed winter storage. No seed order was placed and sown so there are no lights during these gloomy days, no additional warmth. The sense of anticipation while watching the seeds germinate and grow on, the early breaking of dormancy, was not there to sustain me. Small wonder that I went into withdrawal symptoms weakening my system. A gardening rash was inevitable.


Step Up

Having recognized my condition, I knew the cure and set about taking my medicine as any plantsman or gardener would. First of all I dressed according to weather that placed stress on a polar bear. The soil was frozen in most places, with spots of warming out of the shadows. I saw my hypertufa troughs were frozen with an inch or two of water floating on the surface of the ice. Wind was coming straight out of the north blowing across northern snow storms. But I knew the cure so on with the coat, the hat and the boots. I began to feel somewhat better before I even left the front porch.


The garden

By the time I walked up the hillside to my garden I could feel a lessening of the symptoms. Only a walk winding through every path would bring about a complete recovery. The anticipation and excitement was beginning to flow in my veins once more. What could possibly await while taking a walk on frozen pathways? Being a gardener I knew exactly were to walk this time of the year to see the required medication.


Winter Buds and Blooms

Less than two weeks ago I was all excited over seeing the first snowdrop bud open. I realize now that I had received a booster shot of flower power. I could look out the window and see something besides cold and dreary even though weather was the same as it had been. My gardener’s constitution was returning. If I could not see good weather then I could imagine how it would be “shortly”. I believe that is faith in the future, belief in tomorrow bringing a better garden than today. We gardeners are filled with it (no, manure comes from a different source). Braving reality I could walk up the hill and see how the number of snowdrops were increasing.

Walking slowly and carefully I found snowdrops has been joined by a companion. Sitting just at soil level was a darkest green bud with a waxed bright yellow eye of tightly clasped petals. That bud was a form of last year’s sunlight just waiting for an excuse to burst into bloom giving back all it had stored. Standing still and taking in the sight of Adonis amurensis I could feel the gardener’s rash flowing from my body and mind.


After all these years of having the snowdrops in one side of the garden and the Adonis in the other side I was struck by my lack of planning in not using the two plants as companions. It was obvious how they dovetailed into perfection. Correcting my oversight as soon as the two genus of plants have matured in this current season I will move one to join the other.


If I find myself making plans to get out there with a spade, then I know my gardener’s rash is in remission. I may need a booster or two, but I did get to scratch the dreaded gardener’s rash itch.

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

Just Another Adventure: One More Step:

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Trillium cunneatum, Tall Toadlily

One More Step



Quite a bit of pop psychology, self-help books, and poetry frequently use the word path as an analogy. The word and concept of a path makes a good visual that all can easily understand. Many old saws admonish us to “stay on the straight and narrow”, “take the high road (path)”, “follow your path” until the concept becomes as over used as a Stella de Oro daylily. It would seem I am about to repeat the analogy once more.



Trillium luteum seeds

I began my new journey of a thousand miles with that first step about two years ago. I find myself thankful that I found both my new journey and the path to lead me there.  Thus far it has been what you would call “very interesting”. Some places on the path I needed a good flashlight, a few received light from other travelers. But, by and large, the journey has not been all that bad for traveling unknown territory. I like to think I was good at reading signs a lot farther down the road, but found I am better off following instructions on closest signs. Even with glasses correcting my far away vision, the distance is in a haze where the small print cannot be read. I find myself carried along a path putting one foot in front of another, watching where I step, trying to enjoy the scenery.


New Friends

It is good to meet old friends along the route. Old friends who have traveled the path of life-altering events before I. I find I certainly am not traveling alone. Even more delightful is meeting new friends that come my way because of the path I chose. One such new friend happens to be the new nursery manager at Yew Dell Gardens. Young (well, at my age, everyone is younger than I) knowledgeable, so enthusiastic you get caught up in his stories. His presence is a river running quietly, cut deep. You could not help but like the man the minute you shook hands.

I do not have the ability to drive to Yew Dell, see their greenhouse and facilities as of yet, so their new nursery manager came to see me. An hour’s drive each way and on a Saturday morning, which I though was very gracious. Am I ever glad our paths crossed and aligned that morning. We sat in a warm room with the wood stove fired up and shared morning tea along with a couple hours of introductory conversation. From there we moved on to the greenhouse and talked nursery production and propagation. In spited of the cold and my runny nose freezing we walked the garden as all plantsmen would. All followed by lunch and more conversation along personal lines. I could not help but see memories of myself twenty years in the past.


The Man

This is the man who will touch every plant that comes from my garden. He will divide and pot up, transplant to the gardens at Yew Dell, sow seed and grow on to container size; have total control over the future of plants from my garden. That is the reason this man was so important in sharing a walk along my path. Two qualities stood out; the trust in his skills and abilities as a manager and trust in him as an individual. That next step on the path had been taken and all signs had arrows pointing straight ahead.


One More Step

The first step was in realizing I had lost control of my garden. The second step was taking action on that realization by placing half my garden up for sale. A third step was accepting Yew Dell as the new home for my plants. Then a new friend to travel a bit of the distance on a shared path. Walking is always more satisfying when shared.

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Just Another Adventure: Amply Rewarded: Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Just Another Adventure: Amply Rewarded:

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

snowdrop Sam Arnott

Amply Rewarded


Past Pleasures

Snowdrops in bloom. Galanthus species / selection, id lost

On the inside I suppose I have never fully matured, emotionally remaining about eight years of age. Which is just fine with me. (And, males of the species, I am told, are not built to mature emotionally) There is that period in my life when simply put, life is good. It begins with Thanksgiving. I am fortunate enough to have all my favorite foods, including sticky deserts, celebrating for not one, but two or three days in a row, as left-overs are even more delicious. Throw in a family pitch-in dinner and what more could a little boy want?

Well, as it turns out there is more. Much more. There is the anticipation of the Christmas holidays. Christmas is my favorite holiday of the year. It is a time when the world loves children most, including grown up little boys. I love to decorate inside and outside my home, then take drives after dark to admire neighbor’s displays. I get to put up the Christmas tree and it is decorated according to what this little boy thinks a holiday tree should look like, up to and including bubble lights. Food enters as a not unlike Normal Rockwell painting and I get to prepare my fantasy foods that make it a holiday. I know the validity of what I prepare for the Cookie Monster camps on my front porch all during Christmas. Then there are the surprise presents under the tree. Surly Nirvana cannot outdo the dreams of a small boy at Christmas.

New Years is more of an adult holiday. Every year I am going to stay awake and celebrate with the big people, but never seem to be able to stay awake until midnight. Also the host for that little boy has aged a bit and is too tired to stay awake half the night. Old enough that at midnight a neighbor will set off a cherry bomb or fire a weapon into the sky, creating a noisy celebration loud enough to wake both the dead and a grumpy old man.


What’s Next

After over six weeks of letting my little boy out to play, that is a long period of excitement, a sustained high, if you will. A sugar rush that has a crash at the end. January has a birthday for me, but age has tamed that celebration just a touch, perhaps leading to a slow winding down. January and February are months of overcast gloom and doom, hanging a frayed gray curtain outside the windows. Temperatures have been too cold to play outside, snow and sleet blankets my world as I stand with nose pressed to the window in a room filled with letdown.


Blue Skies

Just when I can see nothing but gray days and feel even darker feelings, along comes a break in the weather. Temps jump back up, snow melts and there is blue in the sky once more with fluffy white comforters floating across overhead. All of a sudden the soil has thawed and I see a reading of 55 degrees on the thermostat. The downward spiral has been forgotten and I look for my stomping boots and hat. Bert the Oxygen Bottle will be keeping me company. Recess has arrived once more and it is time for us to go out and play.



Snowdrops in bud with Hellebore niger foliage

It all came together as one of those perfect days. There was sunshine and relatively warm temperatures, the ground had thawed and I was being pushed out the door by an almost forgotten urge. Could it be a preview of spring? What would I find if I went for a walk in the garden? Bert the Oxygen Bottle and I headed up the hillside following my bellybutton, knowing exactly where I would end up down to the exact square foot.

Amply Rewarded

Bert and I stood at the side of a raised bed held in awe by what was happening right before our eyes. There, in all the different browns of fallen leaves and the black of soil, was the opening of the first snowdrop of the season. Streaks of bright green against all the dead of last year, a few green blades with white tips and there in the middle was a single hanging snowdrop blossom with its green markings. We elders stood there recovering our breath, while youth smiled from ear to ear and clapped its hands in glee, jumping up and down in one place.

All paths led to that one day, that one time in the afternoon to decide to take an early walk in the garden. I was more than amply rewarded.


As it turns out that little boy still loves plants, still wants to play in a garden.

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

Just Another Adventure: Counting

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events



Looking Inward

The ice and sleet, the snow, have turned to rain standing in puddles for the ground remains frozen and it has no place to go. Heavy gray clouds hang so low I feel I can stick my finger up into the air and punch a hole in the bottom of the gloom. With the sudden warm temperatures we are having the soil will soon thaw. Snowdrop blooms are just around the corner. If I look carefully I can see some almost-green in the lawn.

It is raining again so no walks in the garden to see if I can find any green noses emerging to sniff the winter air. While I cannot get out into the garden I can get within myself.



For some unknown and random reason I feel the need to inventory my good luck, count my many blessings. At the very tip of my pinnacle of piled treasures has to be simply being here to do the counting. At my age I have many old friends who are now memories of past times, old conversations and shared time well spent. Both my parents have passed on, and of eleven siblings, only four remain and I get to be among those four. Of all the blessings I can think of counting, life is the greatest gift to be thankful for.



First snow on evergreen fern in garden

I found myself in the emergency room at the hospital almost two years ago. The problem was quickly diagnosed but while running tests they found a list of more serious problems with my health. I won’t bore you with the details, but I was admitted to the hospital and would be again a year later. My quality of life would never be the same for me. Limits to my physical activities would be pretty much permanent. It was a life-altering event. But, it certainly could have been much worse.

I remain alive and I am more or less mobile. While in rehab I watched the others around me. Some were not going to help themselves, make no changes. Others concentrated on getting back to their lives best they could. Two or three made bad jokes about it all and cheered on the rest of us. For all of us that made it through surgery and into rehab there was a choice. The choice was settling into a life of depression over what was now gone or restricted, or see that you have been given another chance and make the most of it. I am not always giddy with the results, but I remain here in the upright position and have enough presence of mind to be thankful.



I have been attending gardening symposiums ever since the beginning of my gardening. Trade shows came soon after. I traveled from Michigan to North Carolina giving lectures. Much of the nursery trade was by appointment here at my garden. I have been very lucky to have met more gardeners that I can count. As a result I have friends in surrounding states as well as Japan and England. All those friends have plants in their gardens that came from my nursery, so there is an open invitation to visit the gardens and gardeners who became friends over the years. While the nursery has been shut down for a couple of years now, and I do far less lectures, friends still want to visit. My friends are blessings that are countless for I could visit a different garden and gardening friend once a month for the rest of my life and still not see them all.



If, and that would be a very large if, I never get to garden again, I have over thirty years of memories of when I could garden. In the same garden, on the same Southern Indiana hillside. All that time building not only a garden of rare and unusual plants, but of constructing a residence for my soul mate. When nothing was going well in the world, I could drop the problems at the gate and spend time in another world where worries had no place. Almost every plant has a story, a history I share in memory if no longer in soil. What a blessing to be able to have that many memories of times spent in tranquility.


Why tell you?

Snow covered Guardian of the Steps. His expression says it all.

If I have a feeling or thought, I am pretty sure we share similar thinking and emotions on occasion. Perhaps by sharing something I have learned for my benefit it may be of assistance to you on a gardenless day. There are times when sharing helps the process of my day, perhaps my week or more.


Time to book Gene for your next garden event is growing short. Email now to arrange your preferred date.

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

Just Another Adventure: Vacuum

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Arum italicum, Black Calla, with dusting of snow


 I am sure you have heard the idiom “nature abhors a vacuum”. It has been around since before Aristotle with a background in both physics and nature. Simply put, an empty space is unnatural and whenever there is an unfilled space the universe fills it.  If you are a gardener perhaps it would be best understood as the best way to keep weeds from the garden is to have plenty of perennials so there is no space for weeds to begin.

I learned early on in my gardening career that space I enjoyed between plants almost as much as the plants themselves soon became a headache. I could mulch the spaces, but nature would soon break down the mulch into a perfect seed starting bed. Nature soon sowed random seeds I had not planned upon and I found myself on my hands and knees pulling weeds. At the beginning I had a preference for the concept of space between my plants was just as important visually. As I grew older I found I had less energy and time to continually weed to keep those spaces open and began a different style of gardening where plants actually (gasp!) touched each other shading out any bare spots.



The first of each year is both the New Year in large letters and my birthday.  I usually spent the month of January celebrating by getting all my tax records together and taking a good look at myself. What did I do with the past year that I had? Where am I now as a result of the previous year’s use? Where do I go next? What do I do with this new year on the calendar and in another year in my life?

Occasionally it is “why in the names of minor gods are you torturing yourself like this again?” Most times there is a sense of adventure walking through a door into the unknown, but knowable. Sometimes I do find the chase of the new is more exciting than what I catch. But, it is about the journey more than the destination, so nothing is a wasted effort.



I am finding that abhorrence of a vacuum applies to more than physics and nature. In the decision making process I make recognizing there are “keepers” and the discarded. If something is not working, be it thoughts or action, then it gets in line to be given up. In that giving up I find that you cannot make the change unless an empty space is formed. A mental vacuum.

Once that empty area exists it will be filled again. Either by me or by remaining roots bringing back the past. If old habits don’t return then a flow of weed seeds germinates. Point being if I don’t fill the empty space with what I choose nature will.



Hellebore foetidus, the Bearpaw Hellebore in bud

Approximately two years ago I gave up my rare plant nursery with a twenty-plus year history. That was the first step in creating an empty space in my life. A second step has begun with the sale of the larger “half” of my garden. The garden is about thirty years old, so the enlarging hole is growing by the month. Sometimes it feels like by the day.

While the space is an enormous growing gap in my life, there is a simultaneous flow filling the space. The grieving is gone, replaced by acceptance and beginning of celebrating a new life. The things I can no longer do are leaving. The things that I can do, things I still enjoy, are being pulled into the vacuum.

Having you listen is a part of fulfilling those bare spots in my garden.

Time to book Gene for your next garden event is growing short. Email now to arrange your preferred date.

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

Just Another Adventure: Expectations

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Winter blooming witch-hazel beginning to bloom in mid-December in my garden.



Good Intentions

New Year’s Eve is usually a beginning of a process of promised change. I have a birthday in mid-January, so it is both a time of looking back over the expired year and the beginning of new opportunities in my life. There have been times when it has been downright depressing, but most of the time it is a time of promising myself the coming year will be different. In the coming year I will do this or that, I will stop doing something else; all with the best of intentions. By mid-March most of my good intentions toward my life are fast fading memories. I’ll get back to that one later is a favorite promise to myself.



This is the time of the year when I find myself becoming parental toward me. My parents have been departed from this world for many years but their voices remain in the attic of my mind. There are times when I can distinctly identify the voice as my mother, my father or a past authority figure. I know they are there when I begin to hear “You should”, “You oughta”, and “You must”.

That is when I begin shoulding on myself; becoming my own critical parent. On occasion it becomes their past expectations speaking to me rather than who I need to hear from for today’s decisions.


Period of Change

My parents cannot change their messages to me; the script they wrote for my life’s stage production. It is now up to me to write my own lines, create my own vignettes with an eye on the final act. When I listen to the parental part of who I am I tend to create expectations: often unrealistic ones. It is when I think and act in the adult that thoughts become realistic actions.


No Resolutions but One

Jelena Witch-hazel in full bloom. will last into last of March.

I suppose you would call this one a resolution: my intention to not make a resolution this new year.

Instead of resolving to do, or not to do, in my behavior I am punching a hole in the bottom of my bag of expectations.

In the past year I had major surgery and was told it would take a minimum of a year to recover. I resolved to do better than that. I could and would do all that was asked of me, take all meds as prescribed, go to rehabs and go beyond their forecasts for my future. I would go further than what was prescribed, take long walks and go to the Y for exercise. While I do not regret any action I took to better my health, I did set up unrealistic expectations.

When I did not reach my idealistic goals, to fulfill my expectations, due to several setbacks frustration, disappointment and depression set in and it was even more difficult to recover both mentally and physically. By having unrealistic expectations, I set myself up for disappointment, even when I was within the realm of doing well in my recovery.



Because of all that transpired in yesteryear I know this coming year will be filled with action, decisions to be made and met. Many people from my past will be making an appearance in the coming year, along with new acquaintances and business partners. Major decisions need be made effecting the rest of my life.


This Year

This year I am endeavoring to let go of expectations. In doing so perhaps I will be able to see reality as it unfolds, live in the here and now, turning loose of expectations of the tomorrows. For an individual who loves lists, notes, projects and details expecting certain results, planning tomorrow, and having expectations is a “natural.

Yoda said it best: “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Time to book Gene for your next garden event is growing short. Email now to arrange your preferred date.