Just Another Adventure: Consolidation; Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Just Another Adventure: Consolidation;

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Calycanthus x raulstonii Hartlage Wine




I suppose the word consolidation is the most apt when describing what I have been up to in the garden recently. Not sure why, but I do not really care for that word to describe what has been going on. I took the time to look up the word in my synonym finder and came up with perhaps merger or fusion. It could be all three, I suppose, but I may end up going with fusion as a best way to say facing reality and dealing with it. I don’t want to face less garden head on, but perhaps calling the emotions and my new reality by a softer word will help. Fusion, or a coming together, is far better than giving up garden territory.



Intellectually, I have stumbled around the concept for some time, but never quite accepted the emotional nor the reality, the lets-do-this next part. One of my first beds in the garden has come unraveled over the years and has been begging for attention along with a good reworking for some time. Most of the original plants had died off and Mother Nature has assisted by sowing seeds of her favorite flowers without publicity agents. Weeds. My first action was to weed the bed and see what remained. There were a few good plants that could remain where they were while bringing in fresh starts; a fresh design.

In the past my first thought would have been; Aha! Another opportunity to go purchase some new perennials. I have no idea why, but this time I realized I had the answers to my bed renovation already on hand in my garden. I set about picking perennial companions for my ephemerals to keep the bed looking good all through the seasons. One section in my garden had plants that had been overgrown some time back and they were the perfect answer, so they finally received a reprieve finding a new home. As it turned out, years had gone by and there were aging perennials and bulbs crying for attention.

While saving neglected plants to renew an old bed, I did something many gardeners do. I got distracted while wandering the garden looking for old plants that could once again become new. One of my favorite beds was no longer my favorite. The main attraction had faded away over the past couple of years, whether from my digging to share, or age, I do not know. My Currier and Ives postcard, my large drift of Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) had faded away. I certainly regretted the change, but at the same time, here was a close to blank canvas. My stumbling was about to become a dance.


A New Dance

Being a bit of a collector, over the years I have amassed a few rare or unusual perennials for my shade garden. Usually they came one or two plants of bulbs, on occasion seeds, at a time and as acquired they found homes as individuals. I was waking a path and noticed a Trillium grandiflorum flore plena in bloom; a gift from an old garden buddy once in Sweden, who now no longer gardens in this world. I remembered another site where I should be seeing more like this trillium, and there it was hiding behind a fern. As I remembered and took the time to look, I found a total of four bloom size double blooming trillium grand. Would they not look much better, certainly more dramatic, in a small drift? I dug all of this trillium and they found a home

in my “distraction bed”

Then I realized I had trillium grandiflorum scattered through the garden. Why not move all that species to another location in the bed among the random seedlings of Phlox divaricata?


On a Roll

I was on a roll. Next up was three Cypripediums that were being overrun, so they found a new home in a richer soil without the competition. I needed a background so Kearney’s bugbane (Cimicifuga rubifolia) seedlings that were maturing in another section of the garden found a new home. Next trip through the garden brought a pair of Paris quadrifolia, then four trillium that were a gift years back found a corner with a Rue Anemone (Anemonella thalictroides) huddled with a Speckled wood lily (Clintonia umbellulata).

I won’t go into the individual combinations and overall design, but once the bed had been cleaned of debris and weeds, some of the plants remained in the bed to work with the new. To mention a few, White Blooming Bluebells (Mertensia virginica alba), Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora), a native azalea, a scattering of phlox divaricata and Fire Pink (Silene virginica). There are a few others to carry color into the later seasons.

Now I am considering a good groundcover all of these plants can play well with and can be mulched each fall. I am leaning toward the small Oak fern (Gymnocarpium dryopteris) and/or the Hay Scented fern.


Fun Times

I find myself having fun with this new adventure. I just “found” another double blooming trillium grand, and see that there is a Showy Trillium (T. grandiflorum species) remaining to be transplanted. Like the song says, it just keeps rolling along.  Now that I am learning a new way to see in the garden I have located another raised bed that calls to me for a complete redesign. Perhaps an arrangement of stone and miniature plants that otherwise tend to get lost. I see visions of small ferns, hepaticas, dwarf variegated fairy lanterns, perhaps one of the mini Solomon Seals. Now my mind is seeking design and plants for a new old bed. A new-found enthusiasm has become a companion as I weed.


Now that I have found a different way to think of the shrinkage, the consolidation (that is necessary), it is easier to make the physical and emotional changes in my garden. And, both the garden and I are better off for this new way of thinking and seeing.

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Just Another Adventure: Gratidude; Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Just Another Adventure: Gratitude;

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Trillium simile with Creeping Woodland Phlox



Seeing it Happen

One day you step into a cow pile, the next a patch of wildflowers. I actually found two days in my life when all flowed together. I felt so buoyant it was as though I was in a slow moving stream with a life preserver, just bobbing along. There was some good news concerning my health. Two back-to-back days of perfect weather and no errands to run, no doctor’s appointment, no distractions. What more could be asked for? I felt like I should thank the powers that arranged my opportunities to feel gratitude. Perhaps I should get the cover off the grill and offer up a burnt sacrifice.


New Eyes

Cinnamon Fern, Osmunda cinnamom

I have been trying to see my garden through different eyes this spring. I walk the usual directions on the paths, then turn around and walk the same path in the opposite direction. A beginning of breaking a habit, of seeing my garden from a different perspective. It is still too early to see all the perennials emerge and fill out, but that may not be a bad thing. This way I can focus on the backbones of each section of the garden. After spending some time and thinking, feeling, my focus shifted to how and where to put the new thoughts into action.


Seeing too Much

At first I overwhelmed myself with all that I saw needing attention. After all, there was over three years of neglect to overcome. Then I remembered how to approach an insurmountable problem; one small section at a time. I walked the garden one more time and chose where I would begin. It was a well-defined area in the garden and of reasonable size. My guesstimation was about 4 to 5 days of focus in this one area. First the weeding, then rethinking the design, filling open spots and bringing in plants from other places in the garden, while removing a deceased Japanese maple.



A Japanese maple did not make it after five years from transplant and was preceded by another Japanese maple, then before that a native tree. All were in amended soil in a raised bed with a wet weather spring running beside the area. Perennials are doing fine in the area, but the trees have not and I do not have a clue. So, shifting gears I think I will choose one of those indestructible native trees. I am leaning toward a weeping cultivar of our native redbud (Cercis), Ruby Falls. That should kick in some drama.

I moved a clump of lilies to the base of the existing Japanese maple on the opposite end of the bed. The maple there has foliage that begins golden yellow and moves the yellow color into veins within brown-red leaves. The transplanted lily clump, that I have forgotten the name of, has strap-like undulating leaves and the flowers are Halloween-orange in color. Be interesting to see how the orange blooms pair up with the bright red-brown foliage of the maple.

I finally moved four clumps of Snowdrops (Galanthus, transplanting them near the three clumps of Adonis. I have be threatening to make that move for some years now. They are so perfectly matched in foliage and bloom I still wonder why I did not make the move long ago. Adonis has feathery bright green foliage and waxy bright yellow blooms. Snowdrops have strap-live foliage and white hanging bells for bloom. Both will quickly disappear after bloom and seed set, so I need to pair them up with something to take over the stage when they depart the current act.

Three existing ferns form the background to one section of the bed and I am considering one or three new ferns that have color besides green. Perhaps an autumn fern with its golden copper color.

There still some remaining species lilies clumps that are getting overgrown in their current location. Thinking Martagons with deep purple-black blooms to pick up the color of the new redbud tree foliage.



Transplanted carpet moss growing on aging log dug into garden soil

I am aware that science says there are friendly microbes, bacteria, assorted not-visibles in the soil that makes us feel good when we come into skin to soil contact. I am a true believer in that one. But when I get into my garden in perfect weather with lots of plans buzzing around in my head, what more could one ask of the day?

I sure am grateful my soul and I have one more day, today, to be as close to heaven one can be without becoming compost.

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Just Another Adventure: Absolved of my Resolve; Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Event

Just Another Adventure: Absolved of my Resolve;

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Even

Blue Heron watching the water for lunch.

Absolved of my Resolve



Oh No!

I cannot (but actually I can) believe my behavior this morning. After a long period of the illusion of control I succumbed to temptation. I had hoped, I had almost believed in my resolve not to purchase any more plants until my health questions were settled. I needed to know more of my possibilities for future gardening before planning more activities. All the most noble of intentions, a sense of resolution truly profound. Now I probably need a twelve step meeting after placing a plant order this morning, for my resolve dissolved.


Reasons (Excuses)

Mertensia virginica, or Virginia Bluebells

I do have explanations for the way I acted. There is a reason I did what I did. It is spring and hormones have been released in my system that compel me to order plants for my garden. I was pushed beyond my human limitations. I feel sure I will find empathy, sympathy, and understanding from fellow gardeners, along with forgiveness for my failure.

Surely there is not a gardener among you who would not absolve me from my resolve.


The Past

For a minimum of fifteen years I have had intentions of building a bog garden. I have read articles and website pages, attended symposiums and kept a file. At one point I did attempt a small bog garden with a child’s wading pool but it was not all that successful. The bog remains, but the original plants passed away due to mishandling and misunderstanding. Ever since I have made notes on small bog plants, where to construct the next one along with what size works best, construction materials, etc. There are so many native and non-native bog plants the possibilities are almost endless. An exciting gardening adventure beckoning, another project, another goal, another fascination (addiction?) You can see how I came to lose control when I saw photos of some new hybrid Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia).

I will have to find some way to regain a modicum of control for my lust list of bog plants is long. It also stands to reason that if one orders pitcher plants then they must have companions such as bog orchids and relatives.



Each evening I like to take time to see what my family and friends have to say on Facebook. Last evening I saw where my friend Brian Williams of Brian’s Botanicals had constructed a bog for his new line of picture plants. I am sure other species will be added to those I first saw, so it is a web page to watch carefully for future tips from an expert in his field. While viewing Brian’s new bog in Facebook photos , temptation sneaked up on me and pushed me to go to his website “just to see what else is new this spring” That can be interrupted as “lets go find some plants to order”. Well, Satan stood behind me and used his fork pushing me to begin clicking. Before you can say “road to hell is paved with good intentions” there I was selecting plants for a shopping cart.



The fascinating, the intriguing, the refuge from Little Shop of Horrors. The plant that eats bugs. So much breeding has happened over the past few years, that foliage and “pitchers” are as colorful as any well-drained perennial bloom. Our natives are again escaping the wild and coming to our gardens in new forms.

The prices were so reasonable I was tempted to order one of each, but managed to hold myself to the three I liked best.

Sarracenia ‘Scarlett Belle’ “a beautiful hardy pitcher plant with very unusual leaves. Each leaf is shaped like a tube with odd hooded top. These leaves act as traps for eating insects. The leaves green at the base with red hoods and white spotting and held in a rosette shape.”

Sarracenia purpurea Venosa’ is one of the hardiest and tough varieties of pitcher plant to grow. This form called Venosa is a solid red type. In full sun the foliage will turn bright red. Growing large pitchers up to over 1 foot tall with some odd markings.

Sarracenia ‘Yellow Jacket’ “is a northern pitcher plant that was selected for its yellow to chartreuse coloring. An easy and fun pitcher plant.  Mature plants reach around 1 foot tall traps and 2 foot tall red flowers.”


What I Do Know

Container with Japanese Maple, Meadow Rue (Thalictrum), Heuchera, at foot of water feature.

I am aware that as things presently stand there is no way I can construct a bog garden in my garden. The project would require digging, framing, carrying stone, mixing and filling with a special mix of peat and sand. If that one happens it will have to be hired out. I attempting to skirt around that obstacle by inserting a container into the bottom falls of my water feature. The new plants will be small and it will take some time before they mature and outgrow the container. Perhaps by that time I will be in better health and/or find someone to hire. Meanwhile, I get my bog along with new plants and plans for a future in gardening.

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


Just Another Adventure: Fantasies; Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Event

Just Another Adventure: Fantasies;

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Event




Looking out my office window I see eight deer wandering from the woods on to our side lawn. As the deer meander they pause to stop and nibble, taking taste tests as they travel. Such an idyllic, picturesque, scene right here on my very own lawn.  Holding still as not to startle, I imagine in my mind’s eye a choreograph of a gentle furred family gracefully pausing, bowing their heads then moving on to repeat their movements. As they pause spaces between the deer are filled by a ballet company of performers weaving and flowing, mimicking the behavior of the deer while Bambi’s tail flickers to the beat of nature and music from a Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky ballet.

How lucky can anyone appreciate of nature be when looking upon a scene such as this in his or her yard. (Have you picked up on the sarcasm as yet?)

Over the past two weeks my mail has been delivered by Noah’s Ark. If there was a time when it was not raining in a twenty-four hour period I must have slept through it. My Trillium were emerging, my lilies were up about three to four inches, Disporum and Polygonatum sticking their noses up to test the air. Dicentra and European anemone were in drifts of abundance. A wonderfully awakening late winter and early spring garden to walk and rejoice.

Never Before

And my garden and I were soon joined by the family of deer. In all my years of gardening I saw sights never seen before. The deer were browsing Dicentra cucullaria. They have never eaten Dicentra before. Anemone nemorosa are being grazed just before blooming and drifts have stems with no foliage in random patches. I know from past experience that Trillium will not stand a chance for I already see where deer have taken the tops from trillium lancifolium… along with potential blooms and future seeds, not to mention my sense of satisfaction in achieving a drift after fifteen years of care. Trillium stamineum now stands two inches in height and leafless. My martagon lilies have been bitten back to an inch or two of the leaf litter. Not just any of my martagons, but the best three cultivars. There are other examples of never before touched plants, but this should tell my tale of frustration.

I Knew That

So, if I knew deer would be in my garden as usual, and see their increasing numbers in my yard, why in heaven’s name did I not spray? That is where frustration waltzes into the idyllic scene. The weather would not dry out for a time sufficient to spray and have it dry on the foliage to be effective. Each dreary day I watched for sun and some drying so I could spray the susceptible plants. While I was performing my rituals to bring about sunshine, the deer were browsing through my garden each night as though they read a menu to Gene’s Diner before arriving. Not spraying gave me the opportunity to see each day bring about another prized plant browsed to the ground.

Not Just Me

Dicentra eximia, Wild bleeding HeatNot to be left out, my wife takes an active role in gardening and the plight of browsing deer. Her raised beds of annuals, perennials, herbs and vegetables have become feeding troughs so deer do not have to lower their mouths as far. In early morning and late afternoon I watch her run out the door clapping her hands, shouting and performing all kinds of dances to frighten the deer away. Like small children they know just how serious she is or is not, what the repercussions could be.  So, they raise their heads, gaze upon the funny moving and noisy person, and go back to eating their dinner. She has almost given up on growing anything in her raised beds, having moved her vegetables and herbs to a greenhouse where she constructed some raised beds. Perhaps this year we will again have tomatoes and cucumbers, cole crops, peas and strawberries.

One lesson learned thus far is to close the greenhouse doors at night for the deer will wander inside and get confused attempting to exit. Then what they do not eat they step upon.


I enjoy a good Disney animation as much as any other, still getting overly emotional over Bambi and Thumper. I can imagine fantasies where deer prance and wander about in unison in an overall flowing grace. Sticking with the Disney theme I can stay with ballet performers repeating the rhythm and motion of the deer. All of which is to take place in my side yard next to the woods.


Just not in my garden! Please.



Just Another Adventure: Lets Talk Gardening; Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Event

Just Another Adventure: Lets Talk Gardening;

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Event

Hepatica nobilis Blue Blooms

Let’s Talk Gardening


It happens every spring.

It happens to me every spring. I sometimes think I live within a ritual. Every late winter and early spring I begin to pace the garden and look for the first signs of my garden awakening. It is as if my pacing will somehow hurry the awakening along. Or, perhaps it is my own awakening, my removing a sense of semi-hibernation. Whatever the name, I would not feel normal if I did not find myself out there walking the hillside.


Have a Seat

Occasionally there is a day, or simply an afternoon, warm enough to allow me to sit on the big stone in the center of my garden. That stone is large enough to be an anchor. I can sit upon it and feel the dreary and drab drain downward in a subtle flow. I find myself felling as though I am connected to my garden and to the earth. The noise in my head gets turned down and I can hear nature around me. There is a quiet that surrounds so I can hear birds in the tree above me, squirrels scampering from limb to limb, the beat of my heart in my ears. No matter how gray the sky, I can feel a light, a warmth, within.



After over thirty years of gardening on the same hillside I like to think I have it all down to memory when that first green nose will appear, the first bloom and what plant it will be. However, each year, while there is variation, I do know where and when to begin looking. Perhaps I will be a few days early, but I still get my walk, show or no show.



Erythronium americana and Mertensia virginica meet in the garden

I find myself being surprised and pleased when my treasure hunt for green turns rewarding. One would think how can I be surprised when I know where and what to expect, but like Pavlov’s puppy dog, I react to the stimulus. How can no one not be pleased, happy, surprised, when moving the brown and black of last year’s leaves and seeing bright green promises of

what is to come. It is like receiving an invitation to a garden party.

I know where every clump of Snowdrops resides. I can count upon moving a few leaves and finding multiple noses of green. Soon, no matter the weather, they push the mulch aside beginning to keep their promise. Galanthus are always the first to deliver open blooms in my garden. Bright green blades with nodding drops of milk white, green tipped, move with the still cold winter wind. Surely their movement is the baton of a symphony director beginning a newly written piece for this coming spring.


Naming Names

False Rue Anemone

With the opening of first Galanthus there is a single Hellebore that is always the first to open, displaying a clean yellow, a caution light for the remainder of the hellebore drifts throughout the garden. Not to be outdone Adonis amurensis pushes up feather-like foliage with blooms of waxy-yellow giving a hint as to where last year’s sunshine was stored. From then on it is a rush to begin the new year in my garden.

Trillium nivale, the Dwarf Snow Trillium, opens its three white petals over blue-green leaves, none of which is taller than four inches. The trillium is a signal for other native plants to begin. Bloodroot pushes up a curled felt-green heavily veined leaf, bloom stem within the cocoon. As the leaf unfurls it releases the bloom to open into a dish of pure white petals with a yellow center. Ants have carried seed around over the years and now there are drifts of this native all through the garden. If bloodroot is open then it is time for Spring Beauties to open for they have been waiting in the wings, tiny bronze blades above the leaf litter. The very small blooms are usually a shiny pale pink with much darker veins, but I am lucky enough to have some blooming in yellow with pink markings. They are not only in many locations in the garden, they have taken a liking to the hillside paths.


Some years ago there was and American Hepatica Society and I was fortunate enough to belong while it was in existence. One of the benefits was a seed exchange and I received quite a few, some of which I was successful in growing to maturity. After all these years they still bring me pleasure by sending their seed about in the garden. The tiny Japanese species reach about three inches in height, carrying a multitude of small white blooms. Some of the seedlings from open crosses are in more open positions and have awakened in shades of lavender and white. The native species have yet to show their colors.


Walking in the opposite direction to exit the garden I see I missed as drift of False Rue Anemone (Isopyrum biternatum) in snow white with glistening drops of rain on the petals. Toothwort (Dentaria lanciniata) was somehow overlooked as I walked by.


It seems every time I walk the paths in the garden I see a new garden. There were Iris reticulata joined by early Daffodils. Anemone x Pallida in clear lemon yellow is the first of the European anemones to bloom. Both species and cultivars of Corydalis have begun opening. I am sure if I took another walk there would be another new garden.

What brings the garden walk to completion is the opportunity to share it with you.

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

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.

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


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.

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

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.

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

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.

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