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.