Living With Limitations: Portrait of a Weed Pile

Portrait of a Weed Pile

Name your Poison

Weeds received almost as much press as the perennials they compete with in gardens. Your university extension office issues white papers after research on every aspect of weed identification, its effects upon agriculture and horticulture, and how to eradicate. Billions are spent each year on chemicals to combat their existence. Then there is the time element of spraying fields and the environmental impact along with equipment costs. The manual labor of crawling about in gardens with your favorite implement popping them out by the roots most often is the least favorite approach to weeding.

Branched Bugbane Actaea

Name Calling

I always enjoy the attitudes expressed by garden writers in gardening magazines and books concerning weeds. A few take the technical approach all very direct and informative, while most authors have a more philosophical viewpoint. Sometimes lines of print get stuck in my head as I read. Such as “a weed is a plant without a publicity agent”. Another that I hear often is “a weed is a plant out of desired place”. My final favorite is “the more perennials you have in the garden, the less room for weeds”. That one has a ring of truth, but also a touch of nursery promotion. Personally, I tend to wax a bit philosophically on weeds.

Exercise Program

I am aware of all the chemical answers to my weed problems. However, my preference is to crawl about on hand and knees and physically remove unwanted plants. I have my dovetail weeder and time. Time to myself in my garden with head down where I cannot see, nor hear the rest of the world, as my cell phone is never with me in my place of peace.  Weeding is an active meditation. All the repetitive motions of removal, the devotional actions of kneeling, then standing to carry debris away, returning to kneeling. That is the physical aspect of weeding.

The physical side of weeding is also a part of my exercise program along with walking up and down my hillside garden, carrying the debris away. I have a problem making myself ‘work out’ but no compulsion against weeding activities.

Behind Bellybuttons

A spiritual side exists in removing weeds. A removal of weedy thoughts as well the undesired to simply be in the garden. I also find a cleansing, a sense of renewal, the polishing of the space where perennials remain so they can look and be their best.

I may look a bit grubby leaving the garden, and these old bones are sore and tired, but that is only the outward and the physical. Behind my bellybutton I am a bit lighter and brighter from removing a few personal weeds.

Having Said That

The bellybutton approach does not always work. Taking my age, my medical condition into account, there are times when I do not have the energy nor the will to give what it takes to physically weed. Also, some conditions will not work with simple weeding. Yes, I now use the occasional spray to kill off the most noxious and persistent. There is the world as I would like for it to be and then there is the world of reality.

If you garden with limitations, You are in my book. Order your copy now.

Living With Limitations: Moonlight Sonata

Kousa dogwood Snow Towers bloom

Sitting on my hillside deck beneath cedar trees, looking across and down, is among my favorite garden views. The vignette is framed by the open branches of a white variegated Redbud tree. A path climbs the hill leading to the deck and is intersected by a path across the hillside. At that junction is a raised bed which is the dominant portion of the view.

The deck is a perfect place to sit quietly with a glass of chilled wine, listen to music, and watch the sun set behind the garden. One evening, while enjoying the better things in life, one of my favorite pieces of music by a favorite composer kept me still. The music was Ludwig van Beethoven’s piano sonata number 2, or as commonly known, Moonlight Sonata.

The word moonlight merged in my mind with the romance of a white blooming garden. I had a white and green frame for the picture to be created, so why not complete the concept? I do not normally sit on the deck after sundown, but a white garden with emphasis on variegated foliage can be just as lovely in daylight, I thought.


In the thirty-plus years the bed has existed I have had several designs over the years, none of which ever satisfied me, came unraveled over time, or survived only to be torn out and restarted. This time, I told myself, it will be different. I will design a white garden; a garden that will survive the test of time and my sense of satisfaction. And, with one exception, I already have the plants scattered throughout my garden.

White Flowers

The raised bed is approximately six foot wide by twelve long, primarily viewed while walking up the path into the garden, and of course, viewed from above when seated on the deck. My center piece, placed off-center, is a Kousa dogwood ‘Snow Tower” (Cornus kousa Snow Tower). I have chosen a small tree that matures twelve feet tall and four feet wide to stay within scale of the raised bed and area it will have to fill out over time. Its growth habit is upright and tight, leaves rich green, large crisp-white flowers in abundance. It performs best in plenty of light, but appreciates some shade toward afternoon.

The Two Brunnera with Fire Pink


Forming a drift I have two varieties of Brunnera, both of which, are my favorites to date. I have 3 of Brunnera macrophylla ‘Looking Glass”. The individual leaves are large, heart-shaped, tending to cup . Leaves are rimmed with a dark green border, a central green vein, all on solid silver background. Foliage forms a mound about twelve to fifteen inches tall, blooming early in the season in open sprays of blue with a white eye just above the silver and green.

Heart-Leaf Brunnera m. “Emerald Mist’ has large heart-shaped leaves have lacy collars of silver, then a light dusting of silver overall. There is brilliant green in the center of each leaf forming an intricate pattern. The green and silver is in perfect balance on leaves reaching twelve to fifteen inches in height with same spread over time as “Looking Glass”. I have transplanted two of this variety. Three of the Looking Glass, two of Emerald Mist, then a single Looking Glass”. It has the same forget-me-not blue and white flowers.


Japanese Painted Ferns (Athyrium nipponicum var.) have sprung up throughout my garden so I have a good selection of choose from. At this time I have chosen two nice clumps to play off the Brunnera, and I may chose a third later on if the rhythm calls for it. The fronds reach fifteen to eighteen inches in height, quickly forming good sized clumps. The green of each frond tends to be pale, but most of the frond is a whitish-silver which creates quite a show in a dark corner.

Polygonatum odoraatum Byakko Photo Edelweiss

Upright Architecture

With mounding and airy forms in place it is time to change gears and transplant another of my favorite plants for the shade garden.  ‘White Tiger’ Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum ‘Byakko’) was a gift to me, and I have two starts to use for this project. The variegation on this cultivar is different from all others I have seen. Cream-white irregular blotches begin where the leaf attaches to the stem and spreads outward, often covering well over half the green leaf. Leaves are alternate on some-what zig-zag red stems. No two leaves are the same. Height is from fifteen to thirty inches depending upon who you read. The starts I received were sixteen and eighteen inches, so I am going to guess, when well-grown, two feet.

You could also try the most often used P. variegate with small white accents on each egg-shaped leaf, or go for the gusto with a real kick of white using P. ‘Double Stuff’.

I am still considering a spray of Hakonechloa macra White Variegated to use in the corner of the bed so it can arch and soften the stones defining the path junction.

If you are experiencing limitations in the garden, You are in my latest book: A Gardener Grounded 


Living With Limitations: Modern Magic

Hymenocallis occidentalis: Spider Lily

Occasionally when I come out of the garden and return to the real world I experience real magic. Because it can be explained in some cases people call it science. In other cases it can be woo-woo spiritual. Then there are the times when magic is like pornography; you know it when you see it. Difficult to describe to another, but there it is right in front of both small gods and man.


Those of you who read my meanderings know I have strictly quarantined myself from the COVID-19 virus. My meds come through the mail, my wife does all shopping. I simply stay put in my own little world. That does create problems in the real world. After all, man cannot life upon bread alone, he must have peanut butter (Biblical quote) sandwiches when he spends the day at garden centers.


Following a recent update on my computer I turned it on the next morning to check my email and nope! Software would not load. I spent a day fishing around trying to get access to my email with no avail. If I had enough hair remaining I would have pulled it out. Also wanting to do email and having no access creates one hell of an itch that cannot be scratched. Finally I admitted defeat and went searching for a local computer tech.

Tech Magic

Some techs wanted me to drop off my computer since they could not come here. That was not working for me. Then I found an up to date tech who actually accepted a text and responded before I could seriously pace the floor once more. We sat up an appointment for the same day! He would not come here and I did not have to go there. He used remote magic.

Magic Wand

I have had the service used on my computer before, nothing really new, but I suppose my sense of isolation enhanced the appreciation for this service. My Computer Guy called me back and we talked on the phone while he connected to my computer remotely. I set back and chatted, described problems and

watched the curser move about the screen. While he worked on my email problem he went on to clean up and speed up my old computer, getting rid of small nuisances I had intended to tackle one day. I had an intelligent ghost in my machine. One that waved magic wands.

To shorten the story it has been sometime since I was that pleased with another’s service. Nothing teaches appreciation like missing what you took for granted.

My gift to you this week is his contact information. He, Kevin Clark, My Computer Guy, is on Facebook. 812 572-9820 Not an advertisement, a recommendation.


Gardening With Limitations? You are in my book; A Gardener Grounded

Living With Limitations: The Bench

Antique Garden Bench

Gardeners and their benches often become the butt of jokes. How we gardeners purchase and locate benches in our gardens, but never sit on them. We usually get lost on the way to taking a seat while stopping to pull weeds. I remember one garden I visited that had some form of a bench seemingly at every path curve, often a very expensive brand name in mahogany. Did he ever use one? No, no time.

This topic came up again in my mind when I paused from digging to take a break from our hot humid weather.  I have a very nice bench; one with history attached. Originally from a park, it belonged to my wife’s grandmother. A fine bench of metal frame and wood slats, certainly older than I which should categorize it as an antique (while I almost qualify for American primitive).

Lilium Lankon

Taking a Break

I was amending the soil, removing some clumps of clay, preparing an area about four feet by four feet to receive Goats Beard and Lilium lankon. About half way through mixing the soil, I realized it was time to stop and catch my breath; literally. The bench was a short walk and remained in the shade so I sought a sit-down session. I was reluctant to sit on the bench once I took a good look at it. Both metal and wood were covered by likens of gray touches of moss green. They looked so artistically arranged I hesitated to disturb them by sitting. Which illustrates the last time I seriously considered sitting on my bench.

Necessity demanded that I sit and that I did. Even while exhausted I spied weeds in the bed before me and was sorely tempted to get up and go pull that pesky plant. But this time I did not. I sat there and recovered from the heat and exhaustion so I could continue my project. Tomorrow I will pull that weed, I told myself. You know how gardeners think. They have more tomorrows than could fit on any calendar every published.


Age and COPD have been two of the best teachers I have ever had in teaching me to slow down, take breaks, and become aware of caring for myself. Both can be very insistent. Turns out breaks take patience. With a small measure of patience I find I can relax and let that weed go for one more day. Or two; perhaps three. Far better to be patient than to become one.

What Was Lost, Has Been Found

While remaining still Mrs. Bluebird came out, took a drink in the birdbath, then sat on the roof of her home. Digging the toe of my shoe in mulch like a fidgety youngin’ at church I saw a roly-poly bug take offense by rolling up in defense. While watching shade beneath a large leaved plant that was forming seed, I came eye to eye with a toad. Perhaps he saw the roly-poly. All kinds of life going on about me if only I could sit still so I could see them. Hard to read small roadside signs while doing sixty miles an hour.

Getting back up to return to my project I stood and stretched looking across the garden and saw my weeding knife handle sticking up. The one I lost last month.

Could be there are all kinds of rewards for learning a touch of patience so I can sit on that vacant bench.

Gardening With Limitations? You are in my Book: A Gardener Grounded

Living With Limitations: Two Companions

Arisaema fargessi

My two companions and I have reached a decision. My number one companion Age, along with Mr. Limitations and I, agree there is no way to give all of my garden the attention it needs to survive, much less thrive.

Yes, I know I have made this decision before. It was only two years ago that I sold one half of my garden to Yew Dell Botanical Garden where my plants would have a good home. They are, in fact, still making trips, digging in their section.

Spigelia marilandica


There is an additional push occurring due to aging of the garden. Trees transplanted thirty years ago are dying off. I have lost, or am losing three dogwoods. An Amelanchier, or Shadbush, has only a few branches with leaves, a mature pine is now woodpecker’s breakfast nook and my favorite Redbud Rising Sun split down the middle in a rain storm. Some of the shrubs could not tolerate the sudden shift to sun and are now gone.  All to say remaining shade perennials are dying off from being newly exposed. All within one section of the garden.


To save my sanity I have decided to name this area of death and dying a “sign”. The sign is a convergence of circumstance; this part of the garden has changed, I have grown too slow and lacking in stamina, my health prevents enough manual labor to react to the changes. I now find myself down to about one and one half hours of work in the mornings, perhaps two hours on a very good day. All with frequent breaks and rest on a bag of compost.

My wallet cannot afford to replant the area. Besides I no longer have that kind of time and my collection of shade perennials would not survive the wait for shade.

Reductions in Order

It is time now to take the hint and let go of this area of the garden reducing the overall size so that perhaps, this time, I will not have to further reduce the size of my soul.

Some perennials I can and will transplant where shade remains in my garden. Especially the ones near and dear to my heart and wallet.

The Candy Jack

For Sale

Others are now for sal,e such as mature stands of Arisaema fargessi (in seed) that can be divided, along with other species such as A. candidissimum, A. dracontium (in seed) and A. triphyllum (some in seed). Spigelia marilandica, or Pink Root, has thrived and there are several mature clumps. Perhaps some trilliums if I can locate them. Oh, and I should not forget my collection of Solomon’s seal from around the world as well as the natives. Among these is the giant Solomon’s seal that reaches nine to twelve feet tall. There are some lilies, other goodies too numerous to name.

I have the spade and containers, you bring your wallet (cash only), wear a mask and practice distancing. By appointment only and, sorry but, I do not ship. Contact me at:

Living With Limitations: Focal Point

Bench that became a sculpture

Mother Muse

There are times when I feel like I am being guided by unseen forces. To be more specific, I feel like I am being pushed along by Mother Muse, her large hand on my backside. I have this project form in my mind and it will not go away as long as she keeps patting me on the behind. This time it was to construct the largest focal point I have built to date.

All the materials were already here either in the garden or on the property; a plant here, a plant there, an unused container, that log we stumbled over for years. A word from my wife, a new way to see the old, and away Mother Muse and I went.

The bench that became a sculpture

The story

A friend saved a cedar log that fell across a driveway during a storm. He topped the log of branches and then sliced the log long ways, added hinges and created a bench. He gifted the bench to me and I was always going to have legs put on the bench, then get help moving it into the garden. One day my wife again looked at it and asked when, and if, I was ever going to moving it into the garden. I made my indistinct mumbling excuses and she remarked “why not just put it in the garden vertically and call it a sculpture?” She had unleashed Mother Muse upon me.

A tree died in the garden opening a perfect place to create a focal point using the cedar “sculpture.” I cut and removed the old tree, amended and worked the soil getting a new bed ready. It took two men, but the log was moved to the garden and I was ready to begin.

A foundation was created with a stepping stone, the log raised and settled on the stone with the halves opened and locked into place. Another stepping stone was placed on the base forming a shelf for a container. The location of the new bed was in the curve of a wet weather stream bed where I constructed a stone retaining wall.

Wood Sprite, Log Resident

Wood Sprite

Once the log was held open a wood sprite living within was exposed to the light of day and could no longer remain hidden. I will admit that, while it did take some convincing, the wood sprite agreed to remain on display becoming a part of my focal point.

Wood Sprites tend to be on narcissistic side and this one was no different. Once I realized and acted upon that realization, all I had to do was convince him of how many gardeners would walk by and admire him and his log.


The eastern side of the log is wooded hillside and gets little sun.  Only a narrow strip between the stone wall and foundation for the log provides room for two Arborvitae ferns (Selaginella braunii).

Coming around the upright log and following the ferns is a clump of Hakone grass (Hakonechloa m. Solar Flare). I had plenty of Hakone All Gold which is a favorite, but wanted to try the Solar Flare for the mahogany over gold coloring in the fall.

Aconitum, Monkshood seedling in garden

Following the Solar Flare mound is a stand of upright Monks Hood eventually reaching almost the height of the log. I had transplanted several seedlings from Barkers Variety scattered about in the garden that reliably provided late blooms of a rich blue.

The stand of Monks Hook was followed by another mound of gold Hakone grass. Now the front of the log and there is a mahogany colored square container in with a Praying Hands hosta brushing the chin of Wood Sprite.

Heuchera Red Lightening continues the gold color but adds a punch of red veins as it meets a dwarf hosta drift of Feather Boa, then more blue bloom is added with a drift of dwarf arching form of Monks Hood.

Gene’s book now available on

I am truly enjoying this project and looking forward to seeing it mature.

*Due to heat some plants have not yet been transplanted.

If you garden with limitations You are in my latest book.


Living With Limitations: Overheard

What happened was not intentional. I do not normally ease drop uninvited upon private conversations of others. However, (and you know what comes after the words however or but) in this case, I believe it to be unavoidable.

Japanese maple foliage

Busy, Busy

It had been a busy day in the garden with my overdoing it a bit as usual resulting in aches, pains, and mostly exhaustion. I had my shower, a satisfying dinner with desert, then headed for the deck to keep from going to sleep too early. On the way out the door I picked up my unfinished glass of French unoaked Chardonnay wine, thought what the hell picking up the bottle as well.

The deck sits almost at the top of the hill where my garden is located; a small intimate space beneath three mature cedar trees where I can look down and across results of my labors. I sat my chilled wine on the end table, fluffed up a cushion, preparing to watch the colorful sunset well on its way to dusk. A glass or so later I was well on my way to between somewhat-awake and drifting into a warm comfortable drowsiness the color of Chardonnay, with feelings like a fat cat on a warm windowsill.

Trillium cunneatum, Tall Toadlily


While floating in place I kept thinking-feeling something approaching from behind me along the old overgrown garden path. At first I thought it was my wife coming to check upon me, but she always walks with a purpose. What I was hearing was softer and would start and stop, start and stop as it approached the deck where I sat. As the motion drew closer I thought I could hear indistinct conversation just at lower hearing level. I admit to almost holding my breath and becoming as still as possible to try and hear more distinctly.

Lilium martagon


The rustling stopped just behind me and I realized it/they were not aware of me. I could not see, but I could hear. At first a babbling, an almost understanding of the sounds, then beginning to pick up on the rhythm of the speech. The voice was soft, low, and almost a whisper, but was now clear to my ears.

“… are not too young to learn being thankful. Listen carefully and watch while I point out what you need to know. Sometimes there will be signs to read when you are older.”

“You are among the luckiest alive being born near where we stand. Most your age only get to eat what is in local forest and fields. Not you. We are now in Mr. Bush’s garden. Here you can find cuisine surpassing one’s imagination.  There is a world of foliage and flower from Japan, China, the Himalayan Mountains, and more. Even the presentation is impeccable. Exactly the correct container to show off those delectable leaves with this Japanese maple. Smell and taste the bounty of Asian cuisine. Compare it to the local maple tree foliage.”

“Oh, this is yummy, Mommy. Leaves are smaller and more tender. I like the spicy taste.”

“The spiciness you taste is a special condiment Mr. Bush sprays on his exotic plants. You can take one more nibble, but don’t eat too much for I will be showing you more to eat in his garden.”

“Come along now. Over here we have food that is native to the forests of Eastern US; what we usually refer to as soul food. You can ignore the ferns, I am not sure why he grows them for they taste awful. But you will enjoy the spotted geraniums, the Delphiniums are an acquired taste. His Trilliums are beyond description; almost ever species in one garden. Absolute heaven. If you desire an after dinner mint he grows Wintergreen.”

“Can we stay here all night, Mommy? I want to eat all the trilliums.”

“You will get a tummy ache for sure, little spotted one. Far too much for one walk. When we are finished in his garden we will walk over to his water fall and get a drink. Meanwhile, let’s move on over there next. I want to show you his exclusive European cuisine.”

Here is fine dining at its best, Little One.”  The variety is exhaustive; think plants from the Alps, from Britain, France, and Baltic and near East. Every corner of the temperate world. Such tastes as one cannot imagine, only savor. Here try this; European Martagon lilies. Young stems and bloom are beyond words.”

All in secluded shade where we can be cool and unseen while we dine. Only the best for you my little spotted wonder.”

Swearing Off

I have no idea what, but I did something to cause her to notice me. That haughty white tail went straight up along with her nose. She gave a small snort, the young one copied the tail signal, and they serenely flowed from the garden leaving me there to put a cork in the bottle and empty that last glass of Chardonnay.

If you garden with limitations you are in my book Gardener Grounded

Living With Limitations: Preaching to the Choir

Preaching to the Choir

Arisaema fargessi

If you garden you are probably aware of what I have to say about staying healthy during this coronavirus epidemic. But, it is always good to return to the basics on occasion. Sometimes we forget or misremember. As gardeners we are all members of the same church, but the last time you heard this preached you may have been napping, or acoustics were bad from your pew.

Gardeners and yardeners have built in advantages over a non-gardeners. We are outside in open spaces with breezes blowing, sunlight upon our hatted heads and sp50 shirts. Gardeners generally work alone, so need for masked protection here.

Gardeners know and feel how the garden aids in staying healthy in body, mind and spirit. We also are aware how all three are connected, interlaced, for our overall health.

The Candy Jack


The words Good Health are synonymous with Exercise and Walking. When gardening I am up and down the hillside where my garden is located more often than Tommy Smothers’ yo-yo. I am always forgetting a tool, thinking of something I need back at the house or garage. Ten thousand steps are easily reached on my health app.

I do more kneeling down and getting back up from my kneeler than a devout Catholic at High Mass. Add an oxygen tank to my back while bobbing up and down weeding and removing debris and by my calculations I should be eliminating future penitence.

More lifting goes on than at an Olympic weight lifting competition. Carry those tubs of debris down the hillside and out of the garden to a waiting cart, then forking the debris out of the cart to the waste pile in the woods.

Carrying two-gallon watering cans from the house to the garden, then up the hill to water newly transplanted perennials and shrubs is definitely lifting. When filled that is almost seventeen pounds weight. I should have arms like a gorilla by now. (I had to stop carrying with only my right hand. My arm was getting longer than the left.)

I could go on and on with analogies such as digging more holes than a professional grave digger, but you get the idea. Gardening is manual labor.

Frond of Japanese Painted fern in Spigelia marilandica, Indian Pink

Contact with Our Beginnings and Endings

In case you have forgotten, the soil we play in while gardening carries a reward for us besides a receptacle for our plants. Soil, or dirt, contains something called mycobacterium. Contact improves our brain functions and boosts our moods by increasing serotonin, the happy chemical.

Another case study

You may “know” this one but do not consciously think of it. A study was held proving that blooms of a flowers cause females to smile.  Stop and think, men. What do you do to impress the ladies having them associate good feelings with you? Yep. Send them flowers. Be the smile inside or out, male or female, one cannot help but smile when looking at blooms in the garden.

Tree and Shrubs

If you are a shade gardener there are additional benefits to gardening. First that comes to mind is the lowering of temperatures in shade. Usually a gardener can count on ten degrees lower than out in the sun.

The benefits of Forest Bathing, or walking in the woods, has been known since mankind had time to sit and think about it. Intentional time among trees is like a medicinal tonic. It can reduce blood pressure, stress levels, build the immune and cardio systems. Mood, energy, get boosts.

Finally, if the soul is a container, gardening fills it to overflowing.

If you garden with limitations, you are featured in my book.


Living With Limitations: Sizzling Summer

Deciduous Azalea blooms


Hot and humid means I have problems with my breathing. Supplementary oxygen from my backpack helps, but physical efforts soon become exhausting. I give up the digging and switch over to weeding while on my kneeler, but even in a shady spot I find myself succumbing to the close air, wanting to give it all up. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak. Uncomfortable enough that I do not want to be out there in the garden past noon.

Half-Day Happiness

Looks as though physical limitations and common sense will dictate, at the least, only half-days of garden happiness while this summer weather prevails. The new schedule is into the garden for activities by 8:00 AM and back into air conditioning before noon. Lunch, a nap, and then stand with my nose pressed against the window panes longing to be outside.

Lilium Martagon

Half a Loaf

There is the old saying about half a loaf is better than none, and there is considerable truth in that one. I talk with myself about a time when I could not work in my garden, being too weak from cancer treatments. Most of those years my garden only received short visits from me, if at all. So, while I may not have everything I want when I want it now, there remains that half loaf of what I desire.

Butter and Jam

I suppose I could take my half-loaf and spread it with peanut butter and jam. Take my time that I have and enhance, enjoy, my garden in the mornings, find other activities for the afternoons. I can still walk my gardens and look at the flowers of summer and how they stand up to the heat even if I cannot. After all, they are my rewards for past year’s transplanting. I can also be thankful that it is summer heat and humidity that keeps me from actively gardening and not a worsening of my current physical conditions.

Gardening & Life

At times gardening is a bit like the rest of my life. Or, at the least, gardening reminds me of my life. How I still have options and those resulting choices belong to me. I can concentrate on the half a loaf that I do not have and do a little dance with dark clouds of depression. Or, another option would be to enjoy and appreciate the part of the loaf I have been given at the table of life. Perhaps even satisfy my sweet tooth with cookies in the breadbox, make the most of what is there, while it is there.


Afternoon tea is promptly at 4PM. I have first pick Darjeeling, crispy almond butter cookies (peanut butter and jam are for breakfast), so join me in cozy conversation while summer simmers.

If you garden with limitations you are in my book.

Living With Limitations: Well! This Is Awkward

Geranium maculatum Vicki Lynn. Photos Edelweiss Perennials


We have all seen the joke about someone painting themselves into a corner. Of course that never happens to you or I. We have more foresight than to allow such foolishness to happen to us. Having said that, I believe I worked myself into a corner in my garden. While it did take time and effort, I managed to find a way.

About half way up the hillside where my garden resides there is a stand of three mature cedar trees. The trees grow in an almost perfect triangle. My first efforts were to have a shade garden beneath, but soon gave up due to rock ledges and shallow clay soil. I did resort to cleanup with a weed eater and installing a bench, but then realized you could be seen by passing traffic on the nearby street. When in my garden I enjoy my privacy.


Soft Shield Fern
Photo Casa Flora

To the front of the first two cedars I constructed a raised bed from cedar logs with the back log against the boles of the cedars. The raised bed was the same width and length as space between the two trees. Two azalea were transplanted to form a screen. One azalea took off like a gardener’s dream, while the other sulked, pouted, and within a couple of years went to be big compost pile in the sky. The first azalea filled the bed while leaving room for smaller plants to be grown around the perimeter. Not only did I have my privacy, turned out to be a decent example of a small shade garden.

Next Move

I was never satisfied with the concept of a bench under the cedar trees, feeling it was far too limited. One day there was a cartoon balloon in the sky that read: “Gene, build a deck.” Well, how could I not? It was a sign. As it turned out there was an exact space for a ten foot by ten foot deck nestled between the three trees beginning on the opposite side of the two tree boles. That left a kind of awkward no-man’s strip four feet wide by 10 feet long at the base of the two trees. At each end where the boles were located the strip was only two feet wide.

So Now What?

I weeded that plot of neglect for some years until it finally evolved into a design challenge. I took a probe and began to locate roots in the space. Turned out soil was not all that bad. I drew up a list of plants and did a thumbprint design in my mind and went to work with my spade. That design got changed every time I hit a large root or a mass of smaller ones. Which was frequent. There were several expressions of rottenruckensuch!

Hemiboea henryi

Listen to the Tree

I sat my design concepts aside and listened to the trees. I removed the log that defined the edge of the azalea bed. Then two bags of pine bark mini chips and two bags of composted cow manure with peat were spread. Amendments were worked into the three to six inches of soil that were available to the spade. Once plants were transplanted there would be a mulch of fine pine bark chips.

Asarum maximum in Container

The Plants

All plants had to be champions of root competition, tolerant of shade and somewhat dry soil. I also wanted a good mix of foliage forms and colors with some emphasis on fall.

Asarum maximum ‘Shell Shocked’ or Panda Faced Ginger, I have grew from three starts in a large container for some years where it spent its’ winters in the greenhouse. It is rated as 6b or 7, which, I feel, is borderline hardy here. This winter both the ginger and I find out.

Clumps are eight inches tall, gently spreading to form a colony of large shiny deepest-green foliage with silver tortoise shell patterns overlaying heavy substance. Individual heart-shaped leaves reach eight inches across by nine inches. Outstanding. We will see how evergreen they will be here, but they are in a protected area.

Polystichum setiferum, or Soft Shield Fern, is two feet of airy, feathery, soft as a baby duck’s down fronds. I have had this one for years in my garden, dividing and moving it several times. This time I took a spade and cut off a chunk to transplant. Should provide great contrast to all the other plants used in this now no longer awkward area.

Geranium maculatum ‘Vicki Lynn’ is an exclusive of Edelweiss Perennials. I ordered two for this project. Flowers are a bit larger than our local species with a light center. Foliage is why it was selected with each leaf  large, glossy and maroon-red in fall.

Hemiboea henryi is the groundcover that will tie it all together. Foliage is bright green, highly polished, rounded and almost succulent with spots of purple-cinnamon on the stems. Blooms come arranged like the spokes of a wagon wheel, well displayed above the leaves. Each creamy white flower is shaped like a foxglove and have cinnamon spots in its throat. All creeping about just beneath the mulch to put on a show in September.

And, I managed to back out of that one without leaving footprints. Not so awkward after all.