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


Just Another Adventure: Renovation Revelation:

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Tricyrtis macropoda, my all time favorite Toadlily

Renovation Revelation

At the very heart

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



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

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


New View

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



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

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

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

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


Toadlily (Tricyrtis) White Towers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Pachysandra Maidenhair Fern

In Between

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



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



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


Just One

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


There Now


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

Just Another Adventure: Beyond Help:

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Spigela Spilled Wine
Spring Meadows Nursery

Beyond Help



Beyond Help

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



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


Under New Management

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



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

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



Spirea Gold Thread Garden Debut Photo

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



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

Spigela Spilled Wine
Spring Meadows Nursery

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



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

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

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


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

Just Another Adventure: Heart:

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events




Memory Lane

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

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


Loosing Mine

Portrait of weed pulling

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


Along Came

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

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

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

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



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

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

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


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

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

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Oh! Dear Me, Gourmet Deer

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

The Past

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

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


Naming Names

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

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

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

Tricyrtis, toadlily, Miazake

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

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

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




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

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

Oh! Dear Me Gourmet Deer indeed!


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

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

Just Another Adventure: Memories and Memorials

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Bench and Steel Gazing Ball

Memorials and Memories



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



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

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


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


Down the Lane

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


Closing Shop

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

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

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

Gazing Ball

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

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

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

Just Another Adventure: Big C Benefits

 Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Eve

Spigelia marilandica



Trying Times

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


The Big C

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

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


What Benefits?

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

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

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


Glow and Glimmer

Japanee Painted Fern and Indian Pink

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



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

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


Not Making Light

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

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

Just Another Adventure: Who’s Walking?; Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Just Another Adventure: Who’s Walking?

 Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Walking Fern


Who’s Walking

Yes, I take walks in the garden as well, but the walking I want to tell you about is my walking fern (Asplenium rhizophyllus). So. How does a fern walk? Very carefully if growing on a cliff side.



I have been fascinated by this fern since I began gardening. I purchased a wildflower guide for the local area and there it was in glossy color. I had just become focused on native woodlanders and made a list of the ferns in the guide, then began collecting. I “needed” them all, of course. As it turned out not only were walking ferns hard to find in nature, they were even more so in catalogs and through web ordering. I was able to locate a marvelous sheet of them here within walking distance. Talk about temptation! It was so difficult to resist the urge to sneak just a few from the corner where no one would notice, perhaps observing the blank space and deciding it would be ok for them to take a few. To this day I remember the sight of that enormous sheet of walking ferns reaching bottom to top of an upright boulder standing taller than I at the bottom of a cliff. Rainwater had just flowed over the moss covered boulder woven by the walking ferns and the two glistening greens formed one of those old “Kodak Moments”.


What Is

Walking ferns do not grow up, but rather the narrow fronds reach out to a length of about eight inches, and when the tips touch they root and form another fern. Thus the common name of walking fern. The deep green, glossy fronds are whip-like and over time the repeated performance forms a matted colony.


And Then

Transplanted carpet moss growing on aging log dug into garden soil

Not to be stymied, I finally located a source for my “gottahave”. I ordered three mature walking ferns along with a few other perennials to fill out an order. Talk about disappointment. Although relatively new to gardening I knew a dead plant when I saw one. There was no way these dried out ferns could possibly make it. I returned the order with my complaint and they sent me three more. Three more exactly like the first. I tried another source and received something pretty much like what I had received before. Then I realized why something so hard to find was so inexpensive. They were being ripped from the wild and then mishandled, neither of which was a “good thing”.

Patience and perseverance finally paid off. A small family-owned nursery in Michigan began selling spoor grown starts.


Spread the Joy

Hepatica growing in old hollow log. Among my favorite quite plantings.

I had read and heard all about the likelihood of failure with this fern due to it being so site-specific. I chose three different locations in my garden and did my best to mimic nature. One location was in a hollow log a friend gave me. I filled the log with a mix of granite grit and potting medium, then buried the log horizontally in a trench so that about a third was in contact with the soil, helping the log stay moist and cool. Transplanted some moss, a hepatica and the walking fern and watered once. Never a struggle and looks as though it has been there for ages.

The second location was in some layered rocks along a path near the cave opening. Looked like it would be the most perfect place, but the ferns curled up their roots and departed.  I have no idea why. I also tucked one fern with moss wrapped roots into a crevice just outside the cave entrance and it, too, went to the big garden in the sky.

Another location was a resounding success. I placed my start at the edge of a moss covered rock with the roots partly under the moss with a few roots in loose soil and placed moss over those. I watered once and should have returned to take care more often, but it did settle in and is doing best of the locations. One large rock is now completely walking fern and it is now also walking across to another moss covered rock nearby. It loves the flowing water and moss.

Growing Up

There are times in the garden when I feel like I am watching my children grow up.  I don’t need a morphing app to imagine what they will look like when mature, but yet, they continually surprise me. Even when not a surprise all remains a continual mystery revealed.

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

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

Just Another Adventure: Sitting Pretty;

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Sitting Pretty


Sitting Pretty

The idiom “sitting pretty” found a home in my mind this week. While waiting for my radiation therapy at the cancer center two ladies came into the lounge and sat down in chairs next to me to await their turn. We exchanged greetings and one of the ladies got up when called and went for treatment. The remaining lady informed me that her sister was not going to survive her battle with cancer. While waiting my turn I realized just how fortunate I was for there was no reason to suspect the same ending to my story. Looking around in the room I realized I truly was sitting pretty. Since that day I have found myself thinking that thought frequently.


What Does it Take?

What does it take for a gardener to sit in their own garden? Why can we not sit pretty in our creation more often? There is a running joke about benches in a garden. Ask a gardener how often he or she has sat on that expensive decorative bench and you receive a small smile along with ”not very often”. I have a bench in the center of my garden that rotted away from age, but I sat on it perhaps a half dozen times. There are two stone benches that I cannot remember sitting on, and an imported saddle bench my behind as yet to touch. There is also the big stone near the mouth of the cave that I used to sit on occasionally. And, a deck where I could relax on a bench and chairs with cushions. Oh! And there is the wooden bench beneath the pine tree. One would think visual evidence says I only sit in the garden.


So what does it take to get a gardener to sit and relax, take time to contemplate their bellybutton, or simply be in one moment, one place? I cannot answer for you, but I have found one sure answer for myself. It would seem it takes an outside force, a life–altering event, to slow me down to the point I am forced into another life style. The flow of life I formally paddled in has hit an eddy. When I do exit, more than likely I will remain in the slower flow along the banks. Perhaps that is a “good thing” and I can sit pretty in my kayak for the remainder of my life.


The Old Cedar

There is a very old cedar tree in the center of my garden with a path curving around its base. It was too hot and humid for me to breath properly even with my supplemental oxygen. I found that I could not stand to be in the house any longer, so I went into the garden and simply stood beneath the canopy of that old tree and leaned against the soft bark. It was much cooler and a slight breeze found me while I was supported by my old friend. I closed my eyes and simply listened for the sounds surrounding me. I could feel emotional and physical stress being taken up by the tree. So I suppose you can sit pretty while standing up.


Center of it All

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

In the very center of my garden is the small cave with a wet weather spring and a large flat boulder to the right and still within the overhang of the old cedar. There was a time when I occasionally sat on the boulder and swung my feet like an eight year old. Somehow I had drifted away, but now it was coming back to me as I sat once more. The stone felt chilly to my bottom as I sat and suddenly the weather changed around me. There was a drift of cool air coming from the cave and I felt as though I had sat down in a cold front. How had I forgotten the way I was anchored to that boulder, how the cool air revived me? The burn of my day’s past therapy became lost in the moment.

There is a special center of energy to this location in the garden; a healing as I sat pretty.


On Deck

Up on the hillside in the garden there are three mature cedar trees in a triangle. I had a small deck constructed using the trees as a roof. The only times I have sat on the deck is when I had visitors to the garden. Today the error of my ways was corrected for I took the cushions for the bench and chairs and created comfort for the company of one. There was a chilled glass of wine in my hand as I sat quietly listening to the soul of my garden whisper to me.  Its first chiding words were “where have you been? I have missed you”. I then realized how I had been missing sitting pretty with my garden.


Try Them all

Hopefully I have time to try them all, all those places to sit and relax, to be where I am, to realize just how pretty I sit.

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


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.

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