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.


Living With Limitations: Shuffling Along

Iris cristata. A favored groundcover in my gardens.

Gene’s book, available at

Spring Shuffle

We have had May in April and now March in May. We enjoyed the early warm weather and, with no forecast of freeze, moved all of our containers out of the greenhouse. Containers, large and small, went on to the front porch and patio, the deck, and up into my garden. It was not a full week later foretasted weather changed and we saw three nights of freeze warnings back to back.

Many of the containers were move up on to the porch and covered, some went back into the greenhouse, and the larger ones I moved to my garden were gathered in one sheltered location and covered.


In my excitement and celebration of early spring I began transplanting earlier than normal. Begin with in tender Asian perennials, add in newly emerging green noses and disaster was in the making. Some plants got covered with cardboard boxes, others with Styrofoam boxes and in one area I used blankets. The rest of the garden simply had to ride it out. Many of the plants were killed back from earlier frosts and now were hit harder than ever once more.

Trillium vaseyi

Shuffling Along

While moving three heavy containers from the deck to my office my wife and I shared the weight. When setting the last large container down we almost bumped heads, and she looked me directly in the eye while saying “Tell me again. Just why are we doing this?” In and out, out and in, shuffle those pots.

One More Time

This afternoon it is supposed to warm up a bit and I will be removing the covers from my tender perennials, take the protection from containers and move them back into place. Porch and patio, deck, get reshuffled once more. One would think appropriate music would be written for the dance we gardeners do. Something besides the Russian classic Volga Boatmen, or lyrics from Showboat like “lift that barge, tote that bale.”

Trillium cuneatum with Epimedium


By after dinner, I will be feeling all smug and self-satisfied for accomplishing all that manual labor and having my gardening world back in order. While Homo sapiens humans remember pain in order to avoid future behaviors that can inflict pain, Homo sapiens ssp. gardener seems to be missing that vital gene. I will keep on waltzing with the weather, shuffling along, and wondering where I can purchase that next plant.

We’re not out of the woods on COVID-19 yet. Stay home and read my latest book.

Living With Limitations: Staying Home

Trillium recurvatum



The psychology of transactional analysis states there are three basic states of ego to act from. There are adult-like, child-like and parent-like ego states. Social transactions are analyzed to understand underlying behavior. Such as: if I were to present a fact to you in a conversation, and you were receptive in the adult-ego we would have effective communication. If you saw me as parent-like there would be cross-communication and we would need to look at why the transaction between us was not working. It is not difficult to draw a simple graphic of the communication states.

We’re all Adults Here

Six circles, three to a side. Lines going from adult to adult, child to child and parent to parent egos are “healthy” transaction and crossed lines are not effective communication. One can often see the ego state on an individual’s face while communicating. So. What does this have to do with gardening adults?

Staying Home

All week long I have been trying to find some way to leave my sanctuary and return to what I once knew. In the immortal words of Popeye “It’s all I can stands and I can’t stands no more.” I have been isolated for two months now, my wife being my contact with the outside world. She stayed home from work to protect me further, only leaving our country home when necessary. I have more garden than I could ever hope to weed in several lifetimes. I have plants I can move around like chess pieces, playing design games forever.

There are sound reasons behind my quarantining myself. I have severe lung and heart problems, among other ‘technical difficulties’. If I left my safety zone and took that trip to garden centers I would be placing myself in life-threatening jeopardy. One would think living at the end of an oxygen tube for the past three years would assist in keeping me in the adult ego. The area I want to return to is a State hot spot for COVID-19. I have to ask myself. How many new plants does it take to equal my life? All of this is adult-stuff. There is also a child within that wants what it wants when it wants.


A patient and caring parent-ego begins an internal dialogue to sooth the impatient child-ego. “For now, and it is only for today, it is not wise to go out and play with your friends. Today let’s just the two of us play in the garden. We have those wonderful rare plants your gardening friend stopped by and shared with you. We need to work up a design and place to put them. If you like, this afternoon we can call the local garden center and see if that order is completed. They have already promised to deliver your plants. There are so many fun things to do today in the garden. Tomorrow is for tomorrow.”

Playing in the Garden

Gene picked up his tool bag, spade and rake and headed to his hillside garden. Before you could count to ten he was on the kneeling pad weeding a bed, getting it ready for a new design. There was lunch and a nap, then several small promised projects to entertain during the afternoon. And, there was ice cream after dinner.

If you garden one day you will appear in my book A Gardener Grounded. While staying home is a good time to find yourself. 

Living With Limitations: Oh! The Possibilities

Dogwood Golden Shadows Image Spring MeadowsOh! The Possibilities

I am not sure if spring has finally arrived to remain in my garden, but it certainly seems to have stuck inside the gardener. Along with the spring green of buds in the trees and shrubs, the damaged foliage from freeze, I see and feel so many possibilities. Walking through my garden I am almost overwhelmed by the ‘what-ifs’.  What if I moved this over there? And then if I could locate another perennial to go with those two? Now that would really make a statement. I had to stop the strolling and come back to my office so I could begin to make notes on all the concepts crowding into my mind.

Opportunities Opening

My garden is old enough that the first trees I transplanted are now declining or dead. Of three dogwood only one has any life remaining. A dogwood cultivar “Wolf’s Eyes” probably passed away from my continual digging in its root system. A white pine reached maturity and then gave it’s all to the woodpeckers. Suddenly my shade garden is becoming no longer a shade garden. This is either a tragedy or an opportunity; possibly both.

Where a deceased dogwood once provided a focal point and shade for beds both beneath and down the hillside there is now new possibilities. I am a bit old to be transplanting trees reaching full size so I have selected Cornus alternifolia (Dogwood) ‘Golden Shadow’, a Pagoda dogwood reaching only 10 to 12 feet in height and canopy spread. This small tree has distinctive horizontal branching covered with variegated foliage. Each leaf is bright yellow with an emerald green center, overlays of pinkish tones on new growth. Now imagine the gold and green foliage laced with white blooms. Oh, and it is a cultivar of native dogwood.

The tree will get a location off center in the bed and will have companions transplanted at the same time.

Ladies Mantle
Image Monrovia


Having long admired Ladies Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) I finally have the perfect companions and excuse to bring it into my garden. At a local garden center I have on order ‘Thriller’ Ladies Mantle. This particular perennial is noted for its grey-green leaves, each one distinctly ruffled with toothed edges where drops of dew collect overnight. The leaf is indented from edge to stem so that as the dew accumulates gravity rolls the moisture to the center of the leaf forming large crystal droplets. Blooms are sprays of vivid golden-yellow sprays carried above the leaves in abundance. It is pretty assertive so I only need two of these.

Years ago I ordered Helleborus foetidus ‘Gold Bullion’ from Pine Knot Nursery. The unique hellebore had long narrow serrated leaves in gold with green bells for blooms. Unfortunately it only lasted two years in my garden and then disappeared. It must have been around long enough to play hanky-panky with the other hellebores for I now have seedlings popping up with golden foliage. One area has numerous little gold leaved seedlings. Two that stand out at this time are large enough to move to the new bed with the Ladies Mantle and dogwood.

Evergreen golden leaves with burgundy tinted stems reach about two feet in height and the same in spread. In mid-winter the bell shaped flowers will be on the same stem as the leaves and they will be in lime-green. I do believe those three plants will not only hold the space, they will have stage-presence.

If sufficient rooms shows itself there is the possibility (there is that word again) of adding two Hosta Rainbow’s End with its bright gold and green foliage.

There are notes on many more combinations for the spaces opening up in the garden as well as simply moving things around while I wait for the COVID-19 virus to make its exit so we can get to our garden centers in person.

A Gardener Grounded book, available in soft cover or ebook, is available to explore all the possibilities of gardening with physical limits.

Living With Limitations: A Sad Sunday

Spring Show 

A sad Sunday, indeed. I must admit that today was a sad Sunday for adult children. The Easter Bunny did not arrive. There was no basket. A Hallmark card addressed to me was not on the kitchen table. Worse still was the blatant lack of chocolate eggs and other sweets nestled in the faux bright-green grass.  Makes one wonder about the world’s condition when the Easter Bunny has been quarantined.

Early awakening fern, Chinese ginger


To enhance the mood of the morning skies are heavily overcast, sprinkles of rain dancing through, practicing for the coming cool rain. There will be no play time in the garden, just the colorful blare of a TV, all sound and light, but now a tired distraction. This is one of those times when I will need to look within myself and locate a reserve of quiet comfort. Make-do is not enough this morning.

Looking Outward

Looking outward through the patio doors the scenery is of native Redbuds in bloom with the cultivar Appalachian Red kicking up the color several notches. Daffodils are in bloom, with Dicentra and Galtonia performing below the redbuds. The lawn if filled with Spring Beauty blooms and early violets. A backdrop of fresh spring-green buds forming the forest provides the background. My expectations created of past experiences created a let-down, but simply looking outside color parts overhanging gloom, the world goes on with its usual seasons.

Looking Inward

Now that I can see the world does go on in spite of how I feel now, I find I can look inward finding I am not all that disappointed with my world changing. I will probably survive the lack of chocolate eggs and holiday traditions. The child within is surrounded by an adult, so there will be reassurance of another day to come, perhaps some eggs from Amazon. All really will be OK for we have a comfort within that comes from being a gardener.

Birdbath, Anemone nemorosa Dee Day


Later in the day a trip to the greenhouse will be stepping into another world. One of warmth, of lights, or jungle-moist air and green plants on racks and tables. Closing doors behind me cuts off trails of disappointment and discontent. My physical and spiritual well-being just joined my mental state forming contentment. Hands and eyes will be busy watering needy plants, seedlings will be transplanted to new and bigger homes and all will be fed. I have entered a world of silent communication, of attachment, of being a part of another world.

The Garden

Misting showers have disappeared and more light has filtered in brightening the morning so I know there will be a walk in the garden. There I will continue in my place of peace and contentment. In bloom are results of all my past times in the garden, brightening my day in a way no TV screen can. As I walk I imagine all the times to come in the garden forming a continuing relationship that is always there for me.  Contentment in continuity of yesterday, today and promises of tomorrow that only gardening can give.


A very large Easter Bunny who appeared to be afraid of falling from the top of a fire engine came by my home while I was walking the garden. Siren was earsplitting, the lights flashing through the dreary gloom like a light saber. Following was the local police car making those weird watch-me sounds and light show. Inside both were waving children. While I cooked dinner my wife made lava cakes for dessert. So. I spoke too soon: Yes, the Easter Bunny did come and I had chocolate.

If you have physical limitations while gardening you are in my book. Excellent read while at home.

Living With Limitations: Covid-19 and Gardening

Corydalis solida selection 

I feel sure everyone has heard and lived enough of Covid-19 virus that you do not need more news on that front from me. However, it has definitely changed every facet of our lives and that includes our gardening. Rather than dwell upon the negative aspects, I intend to stick to the positive as much as possible. Remember, I am only chatting about my gardening. The rest of life can stand outside the gate and wait for me to return to ‘real’ life and its concerns.


With my medical conditions life out there in the real world is a definite hazard to not only my well being, but my life. I am observing self-quarantining and my wife is as well so she does not bring anything home. Over these past weeks she has used this time to clean, polish, paint, cut and reorganize everything that does not run from her. Even with my limited physical abilities I have pulled more weeds, cleaned more debris, than at any point in my gardening career. If I can keep it up my garden will look the best it has ever looked this time of the year.

Garden Centers

It is still early in the garden season for visits to my local garden centers, but they are there working and there is nothing wrong with my cell phone. I called this past week and they delivered 10 cubic years of mulch fines along with 2 bottles of deer spray. If current restrictions remain in place on shopping I have a feeling that if I know what I want in the way of trees and shrubs and my favorite local garden center carries the plants, they will deliver. Not my favorite way to select plants, but one has to adapt to ‘geterdone’. I am staying in touch with the garden center manager by phone and text to purchase trees and shrubs as they arrive.

When it comes to perennials my intention is to hold out in hopes that I can experience shopping at garden centers picking not only what is on my wish list, but seeing what else I need/want that I was not aware of.

Double Primula vulgaris hybrid

Social Distancing in the Garden

Karen, gardening friend and former nursery owner, called offering to share seedlings she had been successful in germinating. The plants were in containers and labeled, watered and arranged neatly in a box she placed in my greenhouse. As she walked my garden I waved to her and shouted my appreciation as we kept our distance. There were five seed strains of Delphiniums x millennium quart containers with multiple seedlings just begging to be separated. Another container held seedlings of a native Filipendula rubrum, while two more were filled with Salpiglossis, an annual she fell in love with at Longwood Gardens. She had also dug some perennials from her garden and they were in larger containers: Actaea for actaea japonica ‘cheju-do’ and Iris x robusta Gerald Dabney. Could not have done better had I made a trip to a garden center.

Primula vulgaris hybrid

Mail Order: Social Distancing at its Extreme

I promised myself I would not order from websites or catalogs this year and hold out for garden center shopping where the plants would be much larger for about the same money. When Covid – 19 came along that ended that bit of wishful thinking. I did give in and place two small orders for plants I could no longer live without and one order arrived the afternoon after Karen left. I waited twenty-four hours before opening the box and playing with the plants Karen gifted me. Yes, you can go to heaven without passing away (well, somewhat).

If I cannot get out and shop the plants come to me. How cool is that?


If you have physical limitations when gardening you are in my book.