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.

Living With Limitations: Rewards

Living With Limitations: Rewards


I am told that all human beings have a continual internal dialogue going. I know I seem to always be talking to myself. When speaking to myself one of the things I enjoy doing is making promises to myself. To be more specific, promises of rewards for behavior. If I (we: me, myself and I) do this one thing, then I promise I will reward myself (us) with a treat/reward.

A prime example of my behavior occurred this past week. I had a morning appointment with my gastroenterologist to review recent tests results (which were rewarded). There is always a certain amount of uneasiness concerning test results, this time with and two weeks of anticipation. The drive to the doctor’s office would be about an hour’s drive through heavy morning traffic. While this trip to the doctor was no great challenge, as some have been in the past, all goes smoother with a reward at the end of “being a good boy”.

About a block down and across the street from the doctor’s office is a favorite garden center (divine providence?), Grantline Nursery and Garden Center. They always seem to have a good selection of temptation and I like the helpful, friendly, staff. Even if I do not make a purchase I enjoy spending time among their plants, talking gardening with whoever came over to assist me. My reward this time was to check out fall arrivals since my last trip to the garden center.

For a Friend

The first plants my eyes lingered upon was two prime examples of Aralia cordata Gotemba. I had purchased one earlier in the season at another garden center and a garden friend wanted one. I made a promise to keep my eye out for him, and here they were. I grabbed a cart and first plant in was the Aralia.

Ruby Ribbons Switchgrass
photo Monrovia


I have been keeping an eye out for grasses to use as companions to new shrubs in the sunny section of my garden. From a distance I could see containers of a tall feathery grass in bloom with flashes of red. I immediately gave in to the temptation and found myself standing before a row of Panicum virgatum, or Ruby Ribbons Switch Grass. The label read new spring growth was blue-green, turning red in summer and smoky-purple flowers in fall. Height would reach 3 to 4 feet and width 2-3 feet. Their background would be foliage in yellow, bronze and purple-chocolate. No thinking was required for 2 containers to find their way into the cart strictly on an emotional must-have motion.

Little Bluestem Standing Ovation
Photos Monrovia

For over a year I have had a list of Little Bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) cultivars on my lust-list. I had not been able to locate any of size and did not want to mail order. My wishes were working out this trip. There before me in 2 gallon size was the cultivar Standing Ovation. The label says it is a no-flop in wind and rain, thick heavy stems. Foliage begins blue with hints of green, purple and pink. Come fall red and orangs steps in. Seed heads add to the color. The one I picked had an abundance of heavy stems in lavender. If I could locate another open location I would make a return trip for “just one more”.


Earlier this summer when working on a new bed for moisture loving perennials I had Rodgersia on my list, but was unable to locate any of size locally. Now a row of 2 gallon size reached out to me. Since the bed was now complete and filled there was no space nor need for a Rodgersia. But, I did not let that deter me. I placed one on my cart and headed for checkout before my credit card rebelled.

Rodgersia pinnata ‘Fireworks’ is a big and bold perennial reaching 3-4 feet in height and 3-5 feet across. Large leaves are divided, of heavy substance, having sawtooth edges colored in bronze-red boarders. New foliage is bronze over brilliant green. When blooming it resembles an Astilbe on steroids. Plumes are large, glowing deep-pink and white. Have a feeling this one will end up in a large square container of mahogany.

I would say this trip to reward my good behavior was more than fulfilled. To the point where I have had to ask myself “am I setting up doctor’s appointments so I can reward myself purchasing plants at garden centers?” Naah.

Now is the best time to book Gene as speaker for your next garden event.

Living With Limitations: An Exotic Tropical Garden

Living With Limitations: An Exotic Tropical Garden

Zimgiber mioga bloom. Hardy Ginger

An Exotic Tropical Garden

One would think standing in a mid-west garden during the middle of a drought would not bring images of the tropics immediately to mind. However, I discovered plants that had me ordering a safari jacket and shorts in kaki, my very own pith helmet, while in the background drums of Jumanji changed the rhythm of my heart.

Standing crane Variegated Hardy Ginger foliage

My original discovery took place during a trip to the greenhouse jungles of Brian’s Botanicals  a few years back. During checkout he remembered one more plant I absolutely could not go home without and disappeared back into the greenhouses. I was gifted with a start of Zingiber mioga ‘Dancing Crane’, also known as Dancing Crane variegated Ginger. I can no longer remember the other plants I purchased that day, but the gifted ginger thrives in my garden.

At first I was reluctant to transplant it into my garden due to hardiness concerns, but those concerns would prove to be unfounded. A Zone rating of 6 has been established and I have seen a report of success in Zone 5 (Kansas City).

While Zingiber enjoy consistent moisture, it is not an absolute: in fact, I find they are somewhat tolerant of drought. I did find my original transplant reached a height of just under three feet, while offsets I moved to a spot with more moisture are close to five feet. I now have three trials growing: one of a species, two cultivars, in four locations and all are doing just fine.

My first hardy ginger from Brian has great green foliage with margins and feathered centers of white resembling streaks of lightning strikes. It does not have the heft nor the width of the other cultivars I am growing while it does have the height, so it appears more graceful. Rhizomes are short so it is a tight clump-forming colony.

Zingiber mioga Krug’s Zing

My next two Zingiber came from Far Reaches Farm: the species and a cultivar selected by Krug Farms, ‘Krug’s Zing’. The species are from Japan and the cultivar from Korea. Foliage is five feet tall in my garden, almost two feet across, and individual leaves are alternate up the main stem, pointing out and up, reaching fourteen inches in length. There is plenty of space between each leaf. Krug’s Zing has a more open growth habit, blooms of yellow and lilac-pink. Both Dancing Crane and the species have flowers with buds of lemon yellow opening to fleshy cream. All three bloom at ground level with orchid-like petals flowing between the tall stalks of tropical like foliage. The blooms appear during September well into October, individual flowers fleeting.

When selecting companions care will be needed to avoid a ground cover that would hide the ground level blooms. Throw in the largest ferns you can find, a decaying log, Toad-Lilies (Tricyrtis) and leave space for porters to set up tents for tea promptly at four.


Living With Limitations: Just a Bit More Part 2

Living With Limitations:

Just a Bit More: Part 2


Picking up where I left off in Just a Bit More blog of September 4th, the concept was to make some course corrections in my gardening. I wanted to be more successful in growing perennials that, in the past, were dismal failures. Specifically those perennials that did best when given extra moisture and not allowed to dry out. I created a new bed by excavating an area and refilling with a mix of unmilled peat, peat, soil conditioner and native soil. The new bed was tear drop shaped and sat at the end of a second larger bed where two paths intersected.  My first transplant was just outside the new bed at the tip of the tear, beginning with the drama of Aralia cordata ‘Gotemba’ with its golden foliage, large serrated leaves, and striking size of 5 feet wide by 8 feet tall. The plant looks like more like a shrub, but is a herbaceous perennial.

Astilbe Showgun
Photo Bluestone Perennials

First transplants in the new bed begin with Lobelia fulgens ‘Queen Victoria’ up in the narrow tip of the new bed, directly in front of the Aralia which will eventually mature and touch the Lobelia. Consider the contrast of Aralia’s gold with the 4 foot branched spikes of Queen Victoria’s stems of deep red-bronze over deepest polished black-green in contrast. Satin red blooms in abundance over September and October heighten the drama.

No moist bed would be complete without Astilbe, so in front of Queen Victoria and centered follows Astilbe x arendsii ‘Chocolate Shogun’ with quilted foliage of deep bronze-chocolate forming a dome. Bloom height is 2 feet and with panicles of white and pink flowers, but the key words here are bronze-chocolate foliage.

To each side of the Chocolate Shogun I stepped down with smaller Astilbe ‘Color Flash’. Only 10 inches in height, but forming a mound 18 inches across, the spring foliage is polished electric green maturing to burgundy and purple, bronze-red over green.

Next up I shifted gears just a bit and transplanted a mature Hymenocallis occidentalis, or Spider Lily centered and in front of the previous plants. The long heavy substance strap-like leaves are bright green and the delicate blooms are pure white. A 2 foot stalk carries 3 to 9 blooms that open one at a time. The common name comes from the center of the petals being laced together in a delicate “web”, the remainder of the length stretching outward in graceful narrow petals.

Ligularia dentata Pandora Photo: Concept Plants

To each side of the Spider Lily are contrasting Ligularia, another plant I had no success with in the past. Ligularia dentata ‘Pandora’ is a dwarf plant reaching about 12 inches in height and a bit larger across, forming a clump of serrated heart-shaped leaves of shiny dark purple. Blooms are orange-yellow frilly daisies, not a favorite of mine, but butterflies enjoy them.

Reaching the front rounded end of the tear drop bed there is a hypertufa container sitting amid the stones defining the raised bed. The container has a dwarf Daphne and companion of a trailing Campanula.  The container now has a background of 3 Cimicifuga simplex ‘Burnette’, one at each corner and another located in the middle. Resembling the foliage of an Astilbe, Brunette has purple-black cut foliage reaching 3 to 4 feet in height.

Lilium canadense
Edelweiss Perennials Photo

In the space behind the Brunette, in front of the Spider Lily an arch of 6 Lilium canadense bulbs have been transplanted. The Canada lily reaches about 4 to 6 feet in height and has 9 or 10 nodding flowers of deep waxy red in July. The stalks have whorled foliage.

In the arch formed by the Canada Lilies is a single Veratrum nigrum, or Black False Hellebore. Large bright green heavily parallel-ribbed foliage that is pleated, often reaching 12 inches long, are arranged in spirals around the 6 foot stems. Flowers are carried in branched panicles of small star-shaped purple black flowers.

Next spring I expect a drama of textures, heights, foliage and colors to rival any Italian opera I have seen.

Don’t forget: Yew Dell Botanical Garden Plant Sale is this coming Thursday the 26th

Living With Limitations:Receiving More than Given

Living With Limitations:Receiving More than Given

Anemone hupehensis Emily


Receiving More than Given.

In the past twenty-plus years I have been giving presentations Indianapolis, Indiana has always been good to me. My visit this past week to speak to the Marion County Master Gardeners was one that gave me serious pause. I found myself taking time out to sit quietly and contemplate the entire experience.

Hotel Broad Ripple

Even before the trip, from booking to selecting a title for my presentation, to reservations, schedules and other details coming into working with MCMG coordinator Teresa Weaver, all happened without a single hiccup. My landscaper buddy Rob did the driving and we checked into the reserved Hotel Broad Ripple, my first experience with a boutique hotel. Only 13 rooms and each one individual in all details. I cannot think of any accommodations I have enjoyed in the past even vaguely measuring up to the comfort level of my experience with Hotel Broad Ripple.

The venue for my presentation was well organized and ready to go, so all I had to do was shake hands with the computer guy and hand him my thumb drive. The attendees began to arrive and I began meeting old garden friends who came to say hello and share a warm hug with me. So many hugs in one evening! I was informed the event was sold out, so 150 gardeners were out there, but I remained relaxed for so many friends were a part of the audience. Also the members of the MCMG were so friendly and welcoming to me it was like being part of a big family. I felt that my talk flowed and was among my best presentations.

Our room was lower right with our own Deck and Adirondack chairs

The event was catered and I was impressed with the quality of the buffet. I usually do not eat much before giving a talk, but there was much temptation when going through the line with my plate. Mostly I concentrated on the 3 salads available, for someone had really put expertise into the freshness, flavors, and variety.

Small spot in Avon Gardens

We slept in a bit the next morning then walked to The Biscuit for breakfast, needing someone to carry us back to the hotel we were so full. We did manage to walk most of it off on the Monon Rail Trail and the sights it had to offer. From there we shifted to a tour of the White River Park, then left Indy for Avon. No adventure is complete without a trip to a garden center and Avon Gardens was the place to complete our fun day. For once I actually showed a modicum of restraint and only purchased three perennials (desert for my Deer – Hosta).

The entire trip was a continual smooth flow positive energy seeming to charge my batteries. Once home I found myself in my garden watering my neglected plants, making busy with my soulmate the garden while humming an off key tune I could not name. With all the energy I had received my step felt like I was wearing Mercury the Messenger shoes with wings at my heels.

Looking forward too seeing all of you again at my next talk in Madison, Wisc. February of 2020

Living With Limitations: Just a Bit More

Living With Limitations:

Aralia cordata Gotemba
Photo Monrovia


Just a Bit More

Over my thirty-plus years of gardening there has been plants that continued to hold a special place on my Lust-List. I would chase one down, make a purchase and transplant it to my garden, mark it from the list and then find myself adding it back to the list. Sometimes I simply eliminated the plant from my list, making the decision there was no need to kill another. Another special plant would give me one or two good years and then decline until one spring I went out and found the plant was no longer with me. Some did not make it that far: I was growing more frustration than perennials.

Just a Bit More Effort

Over time many of the “problem plants” began to fall into a category in my mind. As usual it was the gardener who was the problem, and not the perennial. Almost all reached back to the most basic of garden rules of: locate a plant where it needs to be and not necessarily where you want it. When reading descriptions and individual plant needs for a particular plant on my Lust-List I was remembering what I wanted to remember on plant needs. If a plant description of needs said something like “Appreciates consistent extra moisture, but will perform without it” guess which part remained in my mind. Yep, “will perform without extra moisture.” Perhaps in some gardens, but mostly not so much in my garden.

Special Project

Aralia cordata Gotemba fruit
Monrovia photo

The plants that I now had notations beside in my Lust-List became a future special project.  My “technical difficulties” in health caused the project to put but on hold for I could no longer do the carrying and digging. Then along came a volunteer who wanted to give me a hand with the project. With his assistance, (well, actually he did all the manual labor), supplies and tools were carried into the garden, stones moved forming an overall outline, bags became layers to mix.

The new bed is at the junction of two paths, roughly teardrop in shape, and is the tip of a larger bed, all outlined by aged stones with the appearance of being nibbled and bored by rock worms. It is located on the north side of a hill and has sun/shade mix with sun traveling across the bed. A base of mixed coarse sand and granite grit mixed with native soil was layered with a bag of unmilled sphagnum peat and mixed. Then two bags of peat moss that were mixed with the previous, followed by bags of pine bark mulch and more peat. All received a final mixing until it filled up the inside of the stones raising above soil level. I wanted an area holding extra consistent moisture, but not a soupy bog. Then a bit of patience waiting for it all to be rained upon and settled.

The Plants

I have decided to go for drama in this bed since there are so many choices available in foliage textures and colors as well as blooms. My overall concept is for a primary play of foliage. Assembling my special plants for this special bed the first thing I realized was I had more plants than space.

Aralia cordata “Gotemba” is a large herbaceous perennial that resembles a shrub dying back to the ground each winter. If I transplanted it to the new bed and it reached full potential of 5 feet across and 8 feet tall not much space would remain for my other beauties. To solve that one I dug a hole, mixed soil well with peat, compost, and soil conditioner locating the golden foliage showpiece outside the bed at the tip of the tear. If it only reached half its potential in height and width I will be content.

The bed is 5 feet at widest point by 9 feet length:  what would you transplant next if it were in your garden?

I have completed my new bed, but want to hear your choice.  Next blog I will describe the plants I used.


Living With Limitations: Third and Final (?) Redesign

Living With Limitations: Third and Final (?) Redesign



Being a gardener I am aware there is no such thing as final in garden. Plants are always in the process of change; one dies, another takes over and smothers its neighbors, the design turns out to be nothing like photos you saw in a catalog. Then there is the gardener who always has his or her mind on that next perennial or shrub, perhaps a can’t-resist bulb order. Both gardens and their gardeners being alive are dynamic, and that means continual change.


The second section in my redesign of a southerly section of my garden took a turn (literally) toward the western edge; connecting, then running uphill. Envision a large irregular “L” shape. The western edge of my garden was mostly completed last fall so all that remained was finding a way to connect the two sections making it appear all one flowing design.


Last fall transplants

Close to midway along the western edge of my garden I transplanted one Spilled Wine Weigela, then on each side of it installed a Thread Leaf Spirea. All three shrubs settled in nicely and are looking quite nice this year. When I completed the other leg of the “L” with a Calycanthus Burgundy Spice, all came together with last fall’s yellow and dark purple foliage. The Calycanthus is taller than all the other shrubs used creating a nice pivot point where the two beds join and the path takes a left bend.


‘Completing’ the Redesign

Variegated Dwarf Weigela, Weigela florida `Variegata Nana’, flowering branches, at Visalia Monrovia Nursery

At the other end of the three shrubs installed last year I transplanted Diervilla Firefly Nightglow with its dramatic dark reddish purple foliage that shifts to red in the fall. In June and July there will be sulfur-yellow trumpet shaped blooms contrasting with the dark leaves. Dropping down in front of the Diervilla is a variegated Weigela covered in yellow and green leaves, again picking up the yellow, green, dark foliage theme.

While at a local garden center I saw Hibiscus Midnight Marvel I had been coveting on and off for a couple of years. This time I gave in to that Siren Song and the shrub came home with me. Rose Mallow Midnight Marvel has dark, purple-black-green large leaves with startling-red blossoms reaching up to nine inches across. In the past I was not sure I wanted a plant this dramatic (some may say garish), but it must be my age and failing eyesight, for this year it looked perfect for partnering with the drama of the Diervilla and Weigela combination.

I removed a perennial that had been less than stellar in its

Dwarf Nandina
Monrovia photo

performance for some years and now had a remaining space at the base of a mature wild black cherry. The space was limited, in an awkward location next to a bend in the path, and whatever ended up there needed to tie in with the drama of those last three shrubs. I put my spade down and headed for my favorite local garden center, and then on to a second garden center, all with no answer to my dilemma. Turns out the answer was in my own back yard.

Our sewer line had to be dug up and replaced requiring landscaping to be moved. In the plants moved was a dwarf Nandina which was quickly moved to my garden. It will have new foliage of red/brown, colorful fall foliage and berries of scarlet; all of which fit right in with the colors of its companions.

I then transplanted two clumps of the same daylily I used at the beginning of the bed, this time stepping down the Rose Mallow, so each end of the “L” would have the same texture and color coordination.



As I cleaned up the bed getting ready for the shrubs to be transplanted my first step was to dig all weeds by the roots. Then each hole dug was enriched with compost and after the shrub was watered in, a mulch was spread. I used old newspapers covered by pine bark mulch which is my favorite method to deal with pesky weeds.

See you in Indianapolis September 12th for Presentation: Colorful Combinations for Shade Gardens