Living With Limitations: Wintergreen

Living With Limitations: Wintergreen

Gaultheria procumbens, Wintergreen

Shade Solutions Blog has been infrequent to missing lately. I have excuses. My book “A Gardener Grounded: Life’s Challenges Post Diagnosis” is in final edit for publication. Until publication date let’s talk plants.

The Gift

I received an early birthday present from Bobbie Winters, manager at Adamson We Grow Nursery. She had become aware of a new cultivar of Gaultheria procumbens, creeping wintergreen, and purchased one for herself, another for me. I have long sung the praises of Creeping wintergreen, tops among my favorite native groundcovers. To learn of, then receive a plant, fired me up to search the web, to see if any additional new cultivars existed.


Gaultheria procumbens, (Z 3-8), commonly known as creeping wintergreen, is a rhododendron relative with need of the same low pH soil. Loose organic mulch or duff assists roots in forming a groundcover.  Given shade, space to travel, it will form an open mat of polished, thick, leathery leaves. The deep green carpet matures four to six inches in height reaching an eventual three to four feet in spread. In spring flushes of new growth appear in shiny copper-red. In June white urn-shaped blooms will add a couple more inches to overall height. Wintergreen is my favorite for a fall and winter show.  Some bronzing will occur in foliage with the onset of cold weather.  The green and bronze forms a complementary back-ground for brilliant scarlet-red berries that grow in abundance.  Frost and freeze only enhances the show.

Gaultheria Winter Splash Briggs Nursery

Bobbie’s Gift

Bobbie’s gift to me was a container of Winter Splash wintergreen. It is the only variegated gaultheria procumbens currently on the market. Evergreen, same as the species, forms the same spread as a groundcover, but has the added beauty of green, white and pink leaves. All those colors become enhanced during winter when rosy-bronze colors are added.

Trader Joe’s

A week after she gave me Winter Splash I was at Trader Joes’ and saw racks of Gaultheria procumbens with large berries in numbers I had never seen before. The label did not specify a cultivar name but it sure resembled the new Berry Cascade from Briggs Nursery. On this cultivar the berries grow all along the stem creating a cascading effect. More berries would indicate more blooms as well. Orange-red new growth in spring, Burgundy foliage in winter. Two pots made the trip home with me.

More is Better

While all excited and ready to do some searching I will mention a couple more named cultivars at Briggs Nursery I am interested in for my garden. Cherry Berries has extra-large scarlet berries with all the other benefits. I have also located Winter Fiesta with white berries carrying a pinkish cast. Redwood creeping wintergreen, along with Peppermint Pear, a wintergreen with icy white berries are available through other sources.


Give wintergreen a container, place in plenty of light, but not full sun; feed with a slow release acidic fertilizer and you will not believe the transformation.  Creeping stems will circle the inside of a container forming a dense mat of foliage reaching well over six to eight inches in height.  Berries can reach grape-size when heavily fed. In a decorative container the bright waxy red berries over the bronze–green foliage certainly says Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations.

The Design

Next up, where and how I will be using my new collection of Gaultheria procumben cultivars. This one is gone to be fun.

See you in Madison Wisconsin February 8th and 9th at Landscape and Garden Expo. Two talks.


Living With Limitations: Practice Makes Perfect

Living With L:imitations

Wintergreen in Snow

Practice Makes Perfect

The old proverb practice makes perfect has been further refined to only perfect practice makes perfect. I am not sure just how perfect my new strategy for success is, but I am going to attempt putting some distance between myself and my need to garden. I am aware Yoda would say “Do not try. Do.” Also my strategy sounds like a chain smoker saying “Well, beginning today I will only smoke one a day.” Whatever the odds, I feel the timing is just right for the practice to begin.

Winter Arrival

We skipped fall and went straight into winter this year, so that forced me from actively gardening earlier than I normally wander back into the house mumbling under my breath. I was off to a good beginning. Perhaps, just perhaps, if I could shift my focus I would not miss my gardening activity so much (as in no withdrawal symptoms).

Cyclamen hederifolium, long leaf form, with Christmas ornaments


The holidays are filling much of the empty space gardening once occupied. Thanksgiving week was filled with three dinners with three families and a lunch with my eldest son. There was all the menu planning and shopping, the cooking for each dinner fingers crossed some dessert would be left over to bring home.  Just after Thanksgiving Christmas kicks in with all the decorating inside and out of home. The gift shopping, addressing the cards, special family holiday meals and get togethers. That takes up the month of December. So, November and thus far in December I have hardly missed not being in my garden.

Talk, Talk, Talk

Among the best evergreen perennials for the winter garden.

It is sometimes said when you can no longer do it, you talk about it. I may have physical limitations on my gardening to be managed, but I can use my memories to share through writing and photography, speaking. Talks are scheduled for the coming year. I have an editor for my book “A Gardener Grounded” and we hope to have the book in publication by February. Meanwhile, I am working on a new talk Alternative Gardening to accompany the book. Just in case there are some empty spaces I am completing another book to go into editing soon as the A Gardener Grounded is published. That is quite a bit of talking gardening to keep me occupied. Talks reach into mid-March so I am away from the garden until late winter blooms begin.

The Proof

The real answer to my practicing withdrawal from my garden will come in late winter to early spring with the new season begins. Anywhere from mid-December through mid-February, depending upon weather, there will be blooms of hellebores in abundance, drifts of snowdrops, and clumps of Adonis. By mid-March the early spring natives will be coming into bloom. I know I will be out there walking the garden and being a part of the design.


Stay Tuned

The big question will be, will my being away from active gardening over winter be enough for me to have adjusted to stepping back; as in no more new plants? Or, will the distance only enhance my need to get out there for just one more season?

Will I be speaking at your Gardening Event in 2020? 


Living With Limitations: But, I’m Not Finished

Living With Limitations:

Witch-Hazel tree in winter bloom

But, I’m Not Finished

But, but, but, I am not finished yet! I have been gardening for over thirty years now and one would think I know when fall is here winter is coming. It is the way the system works. It’s just you don’t get to know exactly when that winter season will arrive. Every fall and winter transition it is always the same. I am not ready to stop active gardening due to unfinished projects. This year it is picking up leaves and using them as a mulch in the garden. But, I have an excuse this year. The weather went absolutely off track and we had record breaking temps much earlier than normal. I am sure we will have some warm afternoons to get back out and work, but gardening is pretty much over here.


Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is peeking around the corner trying to wedge in front of Santa here during our overcast gray days. The symptoms are fatigue, depression, withdrawal from others and a general feeling of hopelessness. Different people react differently, but I tend to think gardeners get hit harder than “normal people.” We need to be out there in the light, getting those helpful microbes under our fingernails. Thankfully treatment is easy and effective.

Light Up My Life

Getting the missing light is easily accomplished with a special lamp. Light therapy lamps cause chemical changes in the brain linked to mood, sleep and reduce symptoms of SAD. The lights (photo therapy) have a wide range in size and prices and they can be very effective in chasing away SAD. I happened to have a preference for the activities that keep me close to gardening.

Wintergreen in Snow

Talking Gardening

Talk therapy is another method of SAD treatment, so I plan on having some gardeners over to my home over the holidays for dinner. I will also fire up the greenhouse, clean it up a bit and invite a few gardeners over to have tea or a glass of wine with cheese and crackers. Nothing cures the winter blahs better than talking gardening and plants. Next up is to make sure I attend some of the great gardening conferences that begin just after the holidays. Master Gardener groups will be putting on great conferences all around me and I plan on saying hello. My first two talks will be in mid-February so that takes care of that month. Turn loose of the internet and go out and hug a real gardener.

Monk’s Hood, Aconitum Bakeri


I am told there are meds one can take for SAD, but my answer to that one as a gardener is why? There are so many “natural” solutions. One of my projects is to work on a concept over winter designing my need for a perfect garden to be in my future. What I can and cannot physically do in a garden has changed dramatically over the past few years, so not if I am to continue gardening I must change my concept of what a garden is to me. My best guess is whatever form it takes it will have to be a passive garden. Passive, perhaps, but still remain true to what I feel a garden must be that would include me.

See You

So. Do I get to meet you over the winter? I am willing to hug if you are. Perhaps we can meet after the event and have dinner with a glass of wine. I am looking forward to your company.

A sure way to meet up with each other is to invite me to speak at your next garden event.

Living With Limitations: Coincidence?

Living With Limitations:

Astrantia major


Do You Believe

Do you believe in coincidence? The word gets tossed around fairly frequently. Coincidence is two, or more, related things having an unexplained connection. Some say since we did not have control over the experience, it must have been divine providence. Others say it is the human mind assigning meaning where random events occur. I will admit to assigning meaning to a series of connections (or what I saw as connected events) I recently experienced. Enough relevance to raise the hair on the back of my neck thinking about the series of events.

The Past

One year ago my wife gave me a special gift for Christmas. Season tickets to Louisville Orchestra Friday Coffee Concerts. The tickets were for more than live classical music; it was the total day of time away together, lunch someplace a bit upscale within walking distance of the event. A ticket stub, a program booklet, a memory each month for the drawer.

Gentiana saponaria

First Seating

The event is an hour’s drive, so we gave ourselves a bit of extra time just in case of traffic complications in downtown Louisville, KY. We ordered ourselves a free cup of hot tea and people watched until a few minutes before the concert was due to begin. We located our entrance to the hall, found our seat numbers, and took our seats with my wife going before me. We settled in and I found a place for my oxygen bottle that would not trip others as they filled by to their  seats. It looked as though all the seats in our row were filled with the exception of the two beside me and it was getting close to the program beginning. There was movement in the corner of my eye and the last two seats were being taken.

I could not help but stare as the couple close to my age took their seats, the wife next to me, and the husband laying his oxygen bottle across his lap. So. What are the odds of two males on supplemental oxygen being seated next to each other in a crowd of hundreds? I was trying to think of something to say in the way of introducing myself when the lady spoke and introduced themselves, but the music began and quieted our conversation.

Foliage and buds of Helleborus foetidus

At intermission conversation began and I was introduced to the husband, but the wife was the talkative one of the two. I learned both her husband and I had COPD, although from different sources. I also learned he was a well-respected landscaper with a special fondness for native plants, recently forced into early retirement. His wife bemoaned the large garden they could no longer take care of, and did that ever sound familiar. What are the odds? I, too, had a passion for native plants, had a large garden I had lost control over and had just retired from my nursery business. So very similar. It was as almost as though I was staring into a large mirror (but the ‘other I’ was more handsome). Although we promised to visit each other, have lunch, it did not materialize over summer break.

Return Performance

My wife subscribed for another season and so did the other couple. I was unable to attend the first two performances due to illness, but when I did attend, I was greeted by the wife describing her beginning of a long tiresome journey. She had been recently diagnosed with COPD. Cardiologists, pulmonologist, tests, echocardiograms, her new journey was just beginning.  Having some concept of what was to come for her, I could certainly sympathize.


Originally, I intended to write of this experience close to a year ago, but the story simply would not flow. The return performance episode seemed to bring it together. So. Was it all ‘just a coincidence?’  Perhaps a ‘SIGN’? Was I was looking too hard and finding woo-woo that was not there?

My bellybutton tells me there will be more to come from all of these ‘perhaps and maybes’.

Time remains to request Gene as speaker for your 2020 garden event.

Living With Limitations: Getting to Know You

Living with Limitations:Getting to Know You

Boxwood in Containers
Photo Proven Winners

The Musical

There is a popular song from the movie The King and I with the words “Getting to know you, Getting to know all about you. Getting to like you.” This Rodgers and Hammerstein musical has long been a favorite of mine from the good old day of the musicals. The lyrics have been making a return performance in my mind as I wander my garden. As I envision newly reopening territory, thinking new designs, itching to purchase another plant or two (or three or four) I find I am experiencing getting-to-know you in my garden.


The first bed being cleared back to a blank palette runs between a board fence and steps going up a hill. The previous shrubs died of old age, crowding and neglect. The dead or dying shrubs have been mostly removed, but the ephemerals and perennials are dormant, so for now it best not to dig; instead the bed will get a final raking and a chopped leaf mulch. Next spring I tackle implementing a new design. For now I will resist the urge to purchase and instead do some homework and get to know some plants I have ignored in the past.


I have been introduced to Boxwood once again and I am now realizing Buxus and I got off on the wrong foot. My first encounters was through photos in English gardening books and magazines reaching back to when I first began gardening. All I could see was formality and poor abused plants so tightly trimmed they made me think of twice wound mummies. No garden center seemed to be able to not shear these naturally neat shrubs into strange unnatural shapes. Talk about anal. (Remember, blogs are personal opinions and I will redeem myself later.) I also saw how, when used locally, they could be spotted a mile off in late winter for they looked as though someone had taken a blowtorch to them due to winter burn. More poor pitiful plants.

Buxus, Boxwood
Photo Proven Winners

Getting to Know Boxwood

Here I am years later seeing them through new eyes; getting to know boxwood. Perhaps getting to like boxwood. Climate change has helped to change my mind for our winters are not so as severe as in the past. There are now so many different species, cultivars; a multitude of sizes and natural shapes. There are selections besides the English Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens suffruticosa) as well as Japanese and Korean species. And, not every box at the garden center has been sheared like sheep. The more I get to know all about boxwood, the more I shed my previous prejudices and find lust in my heart for these evergreen shrubs.

Hakonechloa macra All Gold with Spigelia marilandica in background

Lust Filled Space

The new bed being formed by renovations is about 14 feet wide at the bottom, 25 feet in length and the bed narrows to 7 feet at the top, while lay of the land is sloped in the bed and runs up a hillside. Plenty of space for at a minimum of 3 boxwoods. Perhaps a rounded form reaching 3 or 4 feet such as Green Velvet, a tall upright form such as Green Tower which reaches about 6 to 9 feet and only spreads 2 feet, and a natural cone shape of Green Mountain with reaches about 5 feet. All arranged in a group somewhere off center of the bed. Then comes companions of hosta (maybe; there is a problem with deer), Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa) in white and yellow variegations, maybe some Carex in yellow variegation. Still making notes on possible companions, and have all winter to dream and scheme.

Standing by: Waiting for your Contact.  Still time to book Gene for that next speaker at your garden event.