Just Another Adventure: Fall Makeover: Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Just Another Adventure: Fall Makeover:

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Lilium superbum


Fall Makeover


Doing What Comes Naturally

Well, what comes naturally to gardeners. Fall has arrived, so the palms of my hands were itching to hold a spade and go dig in some garden soil. Find something to move, something to discard, something to give away, do another remake and end with a shout “Ha! Take that weeds!” I may, or may not, get all that accomplished, but I did do a complete makeover of a bed that was originally completed something like twenty years ago.

Needless to say, after all this time my original design had unraveled over the years due to using only perennials. The bed ended up with a grand total of two thugs battling it out for world (well, their world) domination.


Act One

The first act was to remove the two remaining players and that took digging and turning over soil twice. Each working of the soil took more time than anticipated for somehow my age has taken command of all projects. The soil was in good condition so I did not have to work in any compost. My best guess is next spring I will find a few little green noses taunting me.


Good Shape

I still enjoy the original overall shape of the bed so that remains as is. The back side of the bed is defined by cedar posts sunk side by side to form a rustic wall. The overall outline is of a dog bone with a bow in the middle: a narrow arched strip with a bulb on each end. The front of the bed is defined by limestone rocks picked up as the garden was originally dug. There is a bench shaded by a conifer facing the bed from across a small circular room. Size of the bed is eighteen feet long by about six feet wide.


One bulb-shaped end of the bed has a Japanese maple with foliage that opens orange, red and yellow in spring and gradually fades over to green for summer, shifting back to red and yellow in the fall. At the opposite end the other bulb now has a weeping redbud with purple foliage. Cercis canadensis “Ruby Falls” has somewhat small semi-glossy leaves that shift from purple in the spring to yellow in the fall. Blooms are lavender-pink, but I am only after the color of the foliage.



My preferred style of gardening is to have blooms in sequence as opposed to an all-out hit-you- between-the- eyes planting. I enjoy foliage textures and colors almost as much as I enjoy the more visually striking flowers. Also, why transplant one layer when you can have several layers that come and go with the seasons?  I like to think the additional expense and travel to the local gardens centers (I know, it is a sacrifice and one I am willing to perform for the garden) is rewarded with a longer showing.


Late Winter Early Spring

I began transplanting at the end of the bed where the Japanese maple was located. Among the roots of the maple I transplanted mature Christmas Rose seedlings that had sprung up in other parts of the garden. I thought the late winter blooms of Helleborus niger in white aging to red-pink with fresh felt green foliage would be a most excellent beginning. If you have hellebores in the garden then it is mandatory to add snowdrops. I began with clumps of Galanthus with their snow-white bells near the Hellebores to add bright green and clean white along with the hellebore blooms beneath bare limbs of the maple. Just as leaves begin to emerge on the maple the hellebore blooms fade to red-pink and the Galanthus are only green grassy clumps which will quickly fade into dormancy. The foliage on the hellebores gets to remain all twelve months of the year.

I dug clumps of snowdrops from other locations in the garden and placed five more clumps in a weaving pattern down the bed. About midway another Hellebore; a Tibetan hellebore was transplanted with its unusual soft pink petals with purple-red veins. Another hellebore sits beneath the weeping redbud.

While the hellebores and snowdrops are at their best they are joined by three Adonis amurensis. If you are not familiar with Adonis they form clumps of very fine feathery foliage in deepest green with bright, waxy, yellow blooms. They sure catch your attention, especially with all the other plants in bloom.



Both the snowdrops and the Adonis go dormant just after blooming and setting seed. The new foliage of the trees at either end of the bed are linked by the evergreen hellebores. As the snowdrops and Adonis fade, I now have species lilies weaving throughout the bed.

I have always had a fondness for lilies, but it is the species lilies that hold my attention best. I do have some of the large hybrid trumpet lilies in other parts of the garden, but for this area I began by moving two clumps of Lilium tsingtauense with blooms of what I would refer to as Halloween orange with freckles. The six narrow petals are widely spaced and on a flat plane with a space that makes me think it was going to add a seventh but gave up at the last minute. Next up I continued with Martagon lilies. Specifically, Lilium martagon ‘Claude Shride’ with its recurved petals of heavy waxy substance in deepest red with freckled yellow center. The red and yellow clumps of Claude Shride now form a small drift beneath the Japanese maple with its red foliage.

Extending down the bed in a weave are Lilium amabile in both orange and a yellow cultivars. By now I had reached the purple leaf redbud so I finished up the lilies with another Lilium amabile in clear lemon yellow and another martagon in melon.  I found a seedling of a coffee-brown foliage hardy geranium and thought that would make a good companion so in that  went. The area was completed with an Autumn fern in copper and gold on a right green background.


Late Summer, Fall

As the lilies complete their blooms, they will be deadheaded and I will watch for the next round of plants to emerge from the spikes of lilium. I transplanted three Arisaema fargessi with their stout stature and very large leaves. Eventually the three will form tight clumps that will almost touch each other in the bed. Bloom is like a seersucker suit in mahogany brown with white stripes. After the blooms there will be fire engine red seed clusters.

While all of the above is going on ferns emerge and freshen and will last from late spring well into winter. I began with three Athyrium filix-femina Dre’s Dagger with its narrow fronds that are crisscrossed and ending in small crests. One sits beneath the maple, the other two about mid-way along the bed with cedar posts as a background. The Autumn fern finishes up the ferns for the bed.


Now comes the wait until next spring when all my expectations become reality.

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


Just Another Adventure: Keeping a Promise to Me Part 3: Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Just Another Adventure: Keeping a Promise to Me Part 3:

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Waterfall in Anderson Japanese Gardens

Day Three


Anderson Japanese Garden

On our final day of exploring gardens I was looking forward to disappointment; being let down. How could anything equal or top what we had experienced over the past two days? I was in the process of resigning myself to a rather long day of ho-hum. Then I quickly found out just how wrong one person can be. Another life lesson for Gene. Don’t make decisions before you know the facts.



First up, the facts. Anderson Japanese Gardens is located in Rockford, IL. The short story is a businessman named John Anderson loved all things Japanese. Over a period of years he constructed a Japanese style garden in his swampy back yard. Mr. Anderson visited the Portland Japanese garden and formed a relationship with the director, Mr. Kurisu. Hoichi Kurisu became the designer of Anderson Japanese Gardens and now every tree, every stone, every path flawlessly speaks the language of Japanese gardens. If you know you will never make the trip to Japan, Anderson is the American Mecca of this style garden.


My Guess

My guess is everyone who walks the paths at Anderson sees a different garden on several levels. Physically I would say the paths chosen to walk the garden lead to different rooms of design, subtle shifts in plants and hardscaping. Then there is the spiritual aspect. It is almost impossible to find words for this sense, but if you allow it, you will leave refreshed, renewed and calmer behind your bellybutton. We spent the entire day walking the paths, crossing streams and bridges to visit each room. By the end of that day I was both exhausted and renewed.



I do not remember the existence of anything resembling a straight path. All paths wandered and meandered, each reaching out to control your speed as you walked. All textures were there to experience with each step. Some paths were wide enough to accommodate crowds of strollers, some of whom were in strollers and wheelchairs, others dictated you walk in single file. There was always a reward around each bend, another temptation see what was in the next room, the next opening with an expansive view.

If, for some reason, I could only walk one section of path it would be around the pond strolling garden.


Trees and Shrubs

With the last name of Bush, how could I not be fascinated by trees and shrubs? While I may be exaggerating just a tab, it seemed as though every limb, every twig, every leaf and needle was exactly where it should be in the overall scheme of things. The attention given to each shrub, each Japanese maple, every evergreen was as though every individual had its own personal trainer. I can only imagine the attention to detail, the stepping back and observing, walking forth and nipping, walking back once more multiplied over time and time again to achieve this end.



When driving in IL and WI I am always amazed by the smoothly polished granite stones everyone has in their gardens. I am told each stone was carried to the region by glaciers, then left as the ice retreated. The stones were rolled over and over in the ice as in a gem tumbler. Given millions of years the stones lost their edges and became smooth as a baby’s behind.

In Anderson they were literally raised to new heights. I saw stones as big as VW beetles stacked like children’s toys along the creek. It boggles the mind to try and imagine how each stone found its place one on top of the others. There were times when I entered a room featuring these large boulders and would stand in silence, lost in my imagination and the feeling that I should somehow make a connection.



From the moment I walked out the door into the garden there was water. Water flowing over falls that spoke to you as you walked by. There were falls of every size from the monster West Waterfall to the small streams gracefully stepping down to flow under an arched bridge. It seemed as though every path had its individual stream, waterfall and bridge. Usually there was a bench nearby each fall with a view.

I remember two large lakes, each filled with koi large enough to ride and flashing color as they skimmed the surface with their mouths open following each human as they came near an edge.



I remember the many Japanese lanterns in granite, the large bridges over the Spring creek, and a Tea house. There was a viewing house out over the pond and to its right a long rambling spirit bridge. I know I am forgetting so many features, but the best way to overcome my memory is to spend the day at Anderson yourself.


Future Visit

When my body becomes compost, Anderson is where I want to be sent for my next life. Perhaps become the spirit of a Cryptomeria overlooking the koi, or a solid presence in one of those huge polished granite boulders.

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

Just Another Adventure: Keeping a Promise to Me Part 2: Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Just Another Adventure: Keeping a Promise to Me Part 2:

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

One of many water features at Rotary Botanical Gardens

Rotary Botanical Gardens


Annual Arrangement at Olbrich Gardens

Day Two

Day number two of our Wisconsin adventure found us at Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville. We pulled into the parking lot just as the doors were opening. I had been introduced to this garden some years back and longed each year to make a return visit with more time to spend so I could add to my pleasant memories of this garden. Pulling into the parking area was like returning to a reoccurring dream. The front entrance of the welcoming center and areas surrounding the entrance were filled with late summer color. We stopped and wandered with our cameras for some time before entering.

We only made it to the door before stopping in our tracks to admire the displays on either side of the entrance. Aged driftwood with annuals, perennials and ferns were in the arrangement we stopped to photograph and look for id tags (to no avail). We stopped by the office to inquire but no one could be located who knew the names of the ferns.

Once we entered to purchase entrance to the gardens, we asked how long it normally took to visit the gardens and were informed that the average visitor took about one and a half hours. Perhaps we broke a record of some kind when we took until closing time to walk the gardens, and could have used just a bit more time.


Gene’s eBook tells the rest of the garden story

Memory Meets Reality

The website says Rotary Botanical Gardens is twenty acres in physical size now, but I would have sworn it was not nearly as big when I first visited. Whatever the physical outline, within there are worlds of gardening styles to visit. We drifted along letting our eyes and bellybuttons guide us through our tour, only occasionally referring to the map. We did not count the number of garden styles represented, but the website says a total of twenty-four. The number of plants in the gardens is said to be four thousand, I would have loved to have been hired to count individual plants, verifying the statistic. When a day of touring is over I suppose we all end up with our favorites. If I had to choose it would have been the sunken garden with the arched entrance and the Japanese garden. Probably Japanese garden listed first.


Color filled path in Rotary Garden

What I saw

There is no way I could describe a full day of wandering and wonder, stopping to take photos, and at times simply stopping in awe at the view ahead. First view was of immaculate paths, benches and worlds of annuals both in and out of containers. The vision was framed in color and texture. Each colorful container arrangement led to another drawing me along the paths. There were interesting hardscapes combined with the plants but each one was a tasteful support and partner to the view. Someone truly knew container arranging and this would be evident throughout the entire garden.

If memory serves me correctly I remember a small Japanese garden to the rear of Rotary that was private and I was given a tour. That garden of memory now has three lakes in a series each one stepping down the side of a sloping terrain connected by a small stone lined streams. There was a header flow with a small arched bridge and winding path. I watched each individual stand on the arched bridge and pause to enjoy the view down the hillside and then I joined them.

Bronze children at Rotary Gardens

I enjoyed the sculptures very much, especially the four children in bronze playing ring-around-the-rosy located beneath trees and bordered by gaily flowering plants. Not only were the bronzes captivating, so was the location for creating a story. To further capture you to this area was the nearby butterfly garden for children of all ages.

Unique to this garden was the aged wooden benches located throughout the garden, each with a garden related quote from such well knowns from John Muir to Thomas Jefferson and M. Gandhi. One of my favorites is by Muir, “Come to the woods for here is rest”. Perhaps more wonderful than opening a dark chocolate Dove candy and reading the secret message inside the foil wrapper. In another world I would have sat on each bench and while taking in the view, thought of the words carved into each bench. It would be worth another visit just to sit on the benches.

The memory of my previous visit stood out in colors as vivid as the original sighting and here it was once more, in even more vibrant colors. Six Adirondack chairs in a row, two of lime green, two of red, two of blue, each facing the quiet waters of a lake. The scene draws like a magnet and it is futile to resist setting in one of the chairs, watching the waters ripple against the shore at the feet of those Adirondacks. Once there it is hard to get back up and move on. Partly due to how the chair is built, somewhat due to enjoying the quiet and the view, and quite a bit of arthritis in my old bones.


One More Time

I am already looking forward to another return trip to Rotary, this time during a different season. Meanwhile I am thinking of my garden, of what I have just experienced, what I have learned, and trying to visualize how I could combine the two.

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


Just Another Adventure: Keeping a Promise to Me: Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events


Just Another Adventure: Keeping a Promise to Me:

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events


Promise Made

One of the promises I made to myself in the near past was to go visit botanical gardens both old and new. Some I have visited in the past while giving talks, others have been on my bucket list of must-see gardens. The list is a long but do-able one, and I made my first choices along with a couple of just-in-cases thrown in for good measure. I picked two gardens I had fond memories of and added one located in the same area I had not visited, but was highly recommended on several occasions.



The day before I was to begin my adventure the weather forecast was for more rain in the region of our destination with flooding. While traveling the skies were heavily overcast, and we drove through several periods of sprinkles or rain: not a good thing. However, just as we began to approach Madison, WI there was an opening of clear blue with afternoon sunshine directly over the highway. It was as though Mosses came out of retirement and parted the waters for us.From that moment on it was as though we wrote down every detail of how we wanted the trip to be and that list was rubber stamped, then passed on up the line. All aspects of our adventure simply flowed, becoming as close to perfection as I have ever experienced.


I still cannot drive long distances, so I made arrangements for a companion to accompany me on the trip for driving. Rob Chambon was an old friend going back to my nursery days when he would come visit several times a year and spend most of the day talking plants. We have stayed in touch for other short trips and both of us looked forward to adding some days to trip lengths. This adventure we would be leaving for five days; two for travel to and from and three dedicated to garden visits. I would say the companionship and conversations during the eight hours there and back would have been reward enough.

Before leaving for the adventure we made the agreement that each garden would be given full attention and it would tell us how much time to spend. Each garden spoke to us and the decision turned out to be a full day at each of the three gardens. We arrived at opening hour and left at closing each of the three days, skipping lunch and keeping on the move to the next view, the next photograph.


Arrangement of annuals at Olbrich

Olbrich Botanical Garden

I have had the privilege of speaking at Olbrich Gardens three times over the years and it has been on my must-list ever since the last talk. When speaking you are guided through the garden, but there never seems to be time enough to do more than highlights. At this garden I have always known I was missing something and needed to return and satisfy my need to see it all.  I was not disappointed.

There is so much to see and do I can do no more than give a highlight or two. I would suggest a visit to their website and then a follow-up to the gardens in person.

My first impression was neat, clean, and well-cared for down to minute details. Almost every style of garden was represented and paths led you from one design to the next. Since I visited in late summer the feature demanding the most attention was all the annual eye candy. Whoever designs and maintains all the annual plantings, including the multitude of strategically placed containers, must have one amazingly powerful magic wand. I have always been a perennial gardener, but I was mesmerized by the annual magic I enjoyed all day at Olbrich.


Other Side of the World

Thai Pavilion Olbrigh

The most international of all exhibits at Olbrich was the Thai Pavilion and Gardens. Toward the end of my touring all the gardens there was one last bridge to cross; literally an arched bridge over a tree-lined stream. There was so much detail to observe it was slow walking with lots of stops in wonderment. At each end of the bridge stumps in the stream held containers filled with tropical plants. As you left the bridge and entered the path of overhanging trees with statues and containers, baskets of plants hung from the branches. Turning a corner I stepped into the open and there was the Thai pavilion in all its bright and shiny splendor.

I have never been to Thailand, but this is how I would imagine this common structure, which is not religious, but rather a shelter from the sun and rain, usually far less ornamental. It was constructed in Thailand, disassembled and put back together at Olbrich. Sitting on one of the benches I could not help but admire and be amazed by the detailed carvings, the intricate craftsmanship, all of which was covered in gold leaf.

There is a reflecting pool with fountain, numerous containers and planting surrounding an open grassy space with the pavilion in the center. As I sat on the bench for a bit of people watching, it was interesting to see all the conversations some to an end or pause as they came from the woodland path and saw the structure. That sense of quiet seemed to stay with each visitor as they walked the paths. Going back over my experiences I can still feel the sense of stillness as I sat in its shadow.

Next Week: another garden

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

Garden Surprises

Garden Surprises

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

Garden Surprises

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

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

First Surprise

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

photo Jackson and Perkins

Surprise Lily

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


Spider Lily

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

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



Cyclamen hederifolium

Ivy Leaf Cyclamen Cyclamen hederifolium

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

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

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

An Anniversary Rose

An Anniversary Rose

Four Roses Anniversary Rose


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


Bourbon Tours

Gene’s eBook tells the rest of the garden story

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


Four Roses

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

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


The Four Roses Anniversary Rose

Four Roses Anniversary Rose

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

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


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

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

A Favorite Fern: Maidenhair Fern: Adiantum pedatum

Maidenhair Fern: Adiantum pedatum



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


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


Early Spring Color

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


Location, Location

Pachysandra Maidenhair Fern

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

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

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

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


Stones and Stumps

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

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

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

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

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

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


Just Another Adventure: Renovation Revelation:

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Tricyrtis macropoda, my all time favorite Toadlily

Renovation Revelation

At the very heart

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



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

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


New View

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



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

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

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

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


Toadlily (Tricyrtis) White Towers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Pachysandra Maidenhair Fern

In Between

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



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



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


Just One

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


There Now


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

Just Another Adventure: Beyond Help:

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Spigela Spilled Wine
Spring Meadows Nursery

Beyond Help



Beyond Help

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



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


Under New Management

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



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

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



Spirea Gold Thread Garden Debut Photo

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



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

Spigela Spilled Wine
Spring Meadows Nursery

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



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

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

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