Living With Limitations: Glad to Know You

Gladiolus Boone
Photo Far Reaches Nursery

Have you ever tripped over something that you knew was there, have walked around, avoided, for years? All of a sudden a renewed awareness, right?

I have been aware of Gladiolus flowers long before I became a gardener. I remember seeing Glads, Corn Lilies, or Sword-Lilies, in floral arrangements, quite often at a man’s funeral. Over the years a picture formed in my mind of those funneliform, irregular, flouncy flowers lined up on one side of the stem in neat formal rows. I came to think of Glads as tender florists flowers and not suitable for the open garden here in the mid-West.

Surfing a favorite nursery site for rare and unusual plants I came across a photo that caught and held my eye. You guessed it. A Glad. The attraction was strong enough that I began to read the description for details. Gladiolus dalenii ‘Boone’ had petals shaped different from my preconceived expectations, colored in rich apricot touched in peach at petal tips and throat. A summer blooming, four foot tall plant hardy to zone 6. Really? Zone 6?

Geranium pratense Black Beauty photo Monrovia

I went on to a couple more sites I trust and order from finding other Glads listed into Zone 5 hardiness. Thus far I have ordered two Glads: Boone of course, and a red with white splotch petals named Cardinal which is a zone 8 for container experiment. Several other zone 5 hardiness species and hybrids have been marked for further study (meaning orders in spring).

I will be concentrating my search for hardy Glads on the species G. communis from the Mediterranean region, along with G. byzantinum from the same region, along with G. illyricus from Europe and England. The mix will give me different colors, heights, different bloom times and full hardiness here. All corms of Glads can also be buried deep to avoid winter freezing, adding to their adaptability to gardens.

I also ordered a hard copy catalog from Old House Gardens which seemed to be a wealth of information on the subject. There is far too much information to go into in a blog, so I suggest that if you are not familiar with hardy Glads begin a search for more detailed information with a visit to Old House Gardens website

I have a location in my garden prepared for at least two different hardy Glads with a companion plant as well as the container concept. The garden site is well drained and I have mixed large amounts of soil conditioner together with composted manure. I will transplant a few corms this fall to see how they perform as well as spring transplanting. For companion plants I am considering Geranium pretense ‘Black Beauty’, or Geranium p. ‘Purple Ghost’. There are several other dark leaved Geranium pretense available with varying degrees of darkness with different color flower petals. I am trying to stay toward the purple or blue colored petals to go with the warm colors I have in mind.

Color choices could be imagined from the containers I am ordering in Tequila Sunrise with a base of chocolate. Throw in some soft peach and orange/yellow along with purple-black and I think I have containers that call for a space on the patio near the water falls.

Always about that next plant discovery, the next garden, the next season.

Aging with your garden? You need my book “A Gardener Grounded”

May not cure your ills or make you younger, but it could help you feel better.

Living With Limitations: Modest Miracles

Tricyrtis, or Toadlily

Actually, if I were not being so modest, the miracles I have experienced are monstrous.  Miracles like events that have never happened to me before in my garden. Not once in my thirty–plus years history of gardening. And, to be honest as well as modest, I will have to say I owe much to the COVID 19 virus.

Hemiboea in Flower

Minor Deities only know, the virus has certainly provided all the time needed to perform monster miracles. I have been in self-quarantine since February. Few distractions, indeed. No doctor appointments, no tests, for eight months. No trips past the end of the driveway, very little company. Just me and my garden (with my wife performing all the risky business of the outside world).  Certainly time to play in my garden. A place to maintain what little sanity remains.

From the very beginning of my career in gardening I cannot remember a fall where I actually accomplished all three of my major ‘putting the garden to bed tasks’. This fall I find myself so close to completing all three it’s like, well, a miracle (not all miracles are of the religious nature).

For sure there has always been sections of the garden I was never able to weed before they matured and set seed. By the time I got to one end of the garden, weeds had returned to where I began. I have not shied away from my own contributions this year, but it has been my friends who made the weeding a miracle a reality. This fall I can stand and see only a small area remaining to be cleared. And, there was the bonus of their company while they waved their magic weeding wands.

Zingiber mioga Krug’s Zing

This fall our drought has brought the leaves down early. It’s only the middle of October and my wife has been picking up the leaves from the lawn with the tractor and emptying the baskets of golden mulch on the freshly weeded sections of the garden. She is well over half way through that project. Normally that project last until late November, sometimes into December, but this year looks as though this month will see the end of that task. Seeing the garden put to bed with those blankets is so pleasing to the eye, so satisfying to see another fall project so close to completion.

Only October and usually I am still working into first part of December to complete transplanting. This year I have moved more, purchased more, than ever before. I shut down one more large section of my garden and have been moving my ‘must keep’ plants to the part of the garden I wish to be my final garden. There is a single shrub and perhaps half-dozen perennials to transplant and that is it for the season. I will be able to concentrate on my writing over winter.

In so many senses I am where I am supposed to be with an expired to-do list and a very short lust-list.

This calls for a celebration of the highest order: a favored web nursery to place orders for more plants.

Aging with your garden? You need my book “A Gardener Grounded”

May not cure your ills or make you younger, but it could help you feel better.

Living With Limitations: Fall Rituals

Sedum and Fallen Leaf

My Rituals

My fall rituals have begun; first a trip to the grocery to create a big pot of chili. First sign of frost or falling temperatures demands the tummy-warmth and coziness of a bowl or two with celery sticks and pimento cheese. We end up having that pot spread out over three or more days eating lunch and dinner.

While the chili is simmering on the back of the stove winter clothing comes down from the attic, gets into the dryer for a fluffing while summer weight is folded and finds its way back up the steps.

Container at Julia’s Garden

Fall Tea Time

Afternoon tea in winter calls for home baked apple cake warmed in the microwave. Gads! The aroma of tart Granny Smith apples, cinnamon, allspice and cloves. Throw in a bourbon/butter with deep brown sugar sauce not drizzled but spooned upon. Well, about a close as you can get to heaven without passing away.

Still Hope

There will still be days of clear brisk weather to play in the garden before it gets put to bed. I still have some perennials I want to transplant, a design or two began that needs completing. The biggest task around here is picking up falling leaves and shredding them with the lawn and garden tractor. Chopped leaves are pure brown gold for the garden.

We (mostly my wife now) run over the falling foliage and vacuum them up into baskets. When filled those baskets are carried up the hillside one basket at a time and spread over cleared garden beds. The brown gold will form a blanket tucking in the roots of plants, helping to keep them sleeping peacefully and later, as they decompose, provide nutrients and humus. This task usually takes all of October and most of November, but has already begun with our dry September weather.

How About Your Fall

What will you be doing with your time normally spent in the garden? If I may make a suggestion, why not remember those shut in by self-quarantine? This coming winter is going to be rough, even more so than the past months. There is already those months of isolation demanded by those with age and health problems. Add on more months to come in dreary months of winter and the threat not only of COVID-19, but also the danger of a double whammy of flu. Dangerous times, indeed, for your elderly garden buddies.

Visiting inside closed areas will be difficult, but there are cell phones and bit of time to share. May even help you pass your days of gray, perhaps help you feel a bit better?

Aging with your garden? You need my book “A Gardener Grounded”

May not cure your ills or make you younger, but it could help you feel better.

Living With Limitations: Color for Summer and Fall

Spirea Double Play Doozie Photo Proven Winners

Sunshine showed up in my garden and has remained a permanent guest. Trees died and it moved right in. If you are a shade gardener where do you go from there? What is your next act? Plant more trees at age eighty? I don’t think so: my children have no interest in my garden.

Aster Kickin’ Sapphire
Photo: Proven Winners

Resisting the Inevitable

I have put my summer hat on, picked up a larger water bottle with cold drink and embraced the change. I am thinking of the change this way: a perfect opportunity to visit the garden center and purchase more plants. (And, if my wife does not catch me, my mind will. “What are you doing purchasing more plants? You can’t take care of what you have now. Where will you put it? Yada-yada-yada” Yea, yea, I know…. Sigh.”) Meanwhile, I go right on with the excitement of designing, weeding and prepping the scorched area for a new life. This time around more color for summer and fall.


Most, if not all, plants I intend to use are already available in the garden or past purchases remaining in containers. I may not actually have to purchase anything to complete what I have in mind. You know how it goes: I seem to always have more imagination than space in the garden. Plants in containers are impulse purchases that have not found a space in the garden as yet, some left over from not fitting into the intended design.

The area I will be redesigning is irregular in shape, somewhat unusual. There will be a path outlining one side, which is open to sun, while the background will be a cliff face dropping behind the bed to a lower level. Large stones with soil between them form the drop. An existing mature Oakleaf Hydrangea forms a background for part of the bed, and another oakleaf forms the opposite end.

Hakonechloa macra All Gold with Spigelia marilandica in background

Late Summer and Fall Color

So let’s begin. As you walk up steps and take a turn to the right there is a drift of Epimedium. The Epimedium ends at a flat stone ledge which is used as a base for a large ceramic ball in crackled deep green. The new bed begins with the ending of Epimedium and ball.

I have on hand a drift of Hakonechloa m. ‘All Gold’ which is my favorite Japanese Forest Grass. I will be using this as a play off the ceramic ball and stone, the epimedium, and as an introduction to the new bed. Hakonechloa All Gold is a cushion of arching slender blades of golden yellow reaching fourteen to sixteen inches.

Following the mound of golden grass I have placed Aster Kickin’ Sapphire. A selection of a native species dumosus, or Bushy Aster. Height is about two to three feet, and covered with lilac blue rays with a yellow center reflecting the golden grass. Behind the golden grass and the blue aster is Spigelia with its upright habit of dark green leaves, red and yellow flowers appearing in summer with the grass.

Holding center stage next is Spirea Double Play Doozie that will form a lose mound about three feet tall and across. A rebloomer in bright clusters of pink-red fuzzy flowers and the spring foliage is red. In the background will be a mature Oakleaf hydrangea. Between the Spirea and Japanese forest grass I have a stand of lilies in deepest red-black for additional summer color.

Stepping down the Spirea is Solidago Little Lemon that sends up spikes of bright lemon-yellow flowers over rounded foliage, leaves growing smaller as the ascend the stems. Only reaches about a foot tall, as much in width. Late summer and fall blooming.

To the left of the Spirea and dwarf golden rod is another stand of lilies, another Kickin’ Sapphire aster with one more stand of golden Hakone grass in the rear. To the left of the grass is another stand of Spigelia.

Still a bit of space remains driving me to distraction. This calls for a trip to a garden center.

Aging with your garden? You need my book “A Gardener Grounded

May not cure your ills or make you younger, but it can make you feel better.

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.