Living With Limitations: On a Mission

Living With Limitations: On a Mission

On a Mission


I have always had an affinity for the smaller private gardens; those gardens created by passionate gardeners who cannot help but be collectors. On rare occasions one of these gems will be saved by foresight and sufficient funds to continue into the future. Even more infrequent is to see the garden continue to grow in size and collections eventually becoming available for public view. I have a very short list of gardens I enjoy visiting and revisiting over the years.


Revisiting Memories

My gardening friend Karen and I decided upon another road trip to see gardens and garden centers, this trip in Zanesville, Ohio. Only a minimal five hour drive each way, with another forty five minutes added to her driving to pick me up. For me, this trip was a revisiting of good gardening memories; for Karen, new adventures.


Scene from Mission Oaks Gardens web site

The Garden

Mission Oaks Gardens has long held a special place in my memories of “small” gardens dreamed into existence by “exceptionally large” gardeners.  Mission Oaks was the work of Bert and Susan Hendley, their dreams now in the care of Muskingum Valley Park District. Over the years I have visited Mission Oaks several times while giving talks at Bert’s request. Each visit was an opportunity to see the garden grow while guided by Bert introducing me to new plants and sharing visions of the garden’s future.  Bert was a generous host who shared not only time, but usually plants for my own garden. I have several “memory plants” in my garden with Bert’s name on them.


This Trip

Bert was not available to meet us this trip to his garden, but being the always gracious host, we were greeted upon arrival, then given a full tour, by Russell Edgington, Executive Director. Rather than attempt to detail what we saw, I would highly recommend a visit to Mission Oaks website, which does much better at presenting the garden than I could. Then plan a trip to see the garden for yourselves. The gardens and the hospitality truly does speak for itself.


Scene from Mission Oaks Gardens web site

Garden Centers

What is a garden adventure without a garden center to visit? When visiting a few years back Bert recommended Timber Run Gardens and after a visit it remained in my mind. Karen and I made a return trip where Karen found her weeping purple beech along with several other plants. I was on a mission to locate Rex Begonia for my wife and located two. While at Mission Oaks Russell shoveled a load of temptation into the van by telling us of Wilson’s Garden Center. After all, “it was only a short trip from Timber Run”. Wilson’s was the largest garden center I have ever seen, and yes, I did succumb to temptation by purchasing a shrub I was not aware existed, but knew exactly where it would reside in my garden. I also saw another four Rex Begonia to complete my mission. Karen did her best to support the local economy and keep a young lady on the cash register employed.

By the time we checked out of Wilson’s it was time to head home after a stop for an early dinner. We arrived home about 8:30 PM with a very tired and content gardener. While transplanting my new shrub into the garden, I reminisced about our trip and found myself thinking “you know, I have not visited Fernwood Gardens in Michigan in some years.”

Are you listening, Karen?

Just Another Adventure: Keeping a Promise to Me: Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events


Just Another Adventure: Keeping a Promise to Me:

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events


Promise Made

One of the promises I made to myself in the near past was to go visit botanical gardens both old and new. Some I have visited in the past while giving talks, others have been on my bucket list of must-see gardens. The list is a long but do-able one, and I made my first choices along with a couple of just-in-cases thrown in for good measure. I picked two gardens I had fond memories of and added one located in the same area I had not visited, but was highly recommended on several occasions.



The day before I was to begin my adventure the weather forecast was for more rain in the region of our destination with flooding. While traveling the skies were heavily overcast, and we drove through several periods of sprinkles or rain: not a good thing. However, just as we began to approach Madison, WI there was an opening of clear blue with afternoon sunshine directly over the highway. It was as though Mosses came out of retirement and parted the waters for us.From that moment on it was as though we wrote down every detail of how we wanted the trip to be and that list was rubber stamped, then passed on up the line. All aspects of our adventure simply flowed, becoming as close to perfection as I have ever experienced.


I still cannot drive long distances, so I made arrangements for a companion to accompany me on the trip for driving. Rob Chambon was an old friend going back to my nursery days when he would come visit several times a year and spend most of the day talking plants. We have stayed in touch for other short trips and both of us looked forward to adding some days to trip lengths. This adventure we would be leaving for five days; two for travel to and from and three dedicated to garden visits. I would say the companionship and conversations during the eight hours there and back would have been reward enough.

Before leaving for the adventure we made the agreement that each garden would be given full attention and it would tell us how much time to spend. Each garden spoke to us and the decision turned out to be a full day at each of the three gardens. We arrived at opening hour and left at closing each of the three days, skipping lunch and keeping on the move to the next view, the next photograph.


Arrangement of annuals at Olbrich

Olbrich Botanical Garden

I have had the privilege of speaking at Olbrich Gardens three times over the years and it has been on my must-list ever since the last talk. When speaking you are guided through the garden, but there never seems to be time enough to do more than highlights. At this garden I have always known I was missing something and needed to return and satisfy my need to see it all.  I was not disappointed.

There is so much to see and do I can do no more than give a highlight or two. I would suggest a visit to their website and then a follow-up to the gardens in person.

My first impression was neat, clean, and well-cared for down to minute details. Almost every style of garden was represented and paths led you from one design to the next. Since I visited in late summer the feature demanding the most attention was all the annual eye candy. Whoever designs and maintains all the annual plantings, including the multitude of strategically placed containers, must have one amazingly powerful magic wand. I have always been a perennial gardener, but I was mesmerized by the annual magic I enjoyed all day at Olbrich.


Other Side of the World

Thai Pavilion Olbrigh

The most international of all exhibits at Olbrich was the Thai Pavilion and Gardens. Toward the end of my touring all the gardens there was one last bridge to cross; literally an arched bridge over a tree-lined stream. There was so much detail to observe it was slow walking with lots of stops in wonderment. At each end of the bridge stumps in the stream held containers filled with tropical plants. As you left the bridge and entered the path of overhanging trees with statues and containers, baskets of plants hung from the branches. Turning a corner I stepped into the open and there was the Thai pavilion in all its bright and shiny splendor.

I have never been to Thailand, but this is how I would imagine this common structure, which is not religious, but rather a shelter from the sun and rain, usually far less ornamental. It was constructed in Thailand, disassembled and put back together at Olbrich. Sitting on one of the benches I could not help but admire and be amazed by the detailed carvings, the intricate craftsmanship, all of which was covered in gold leaf.

There is a reflecting pool with fountain, numerous containers and planting surrounding an open grassy space with the pavilion in the center. As I sat on the bench for a bit of people watching, it was interesting to see all the conversations some to an end or pause as they came from the woodland path and saw the structure. That sense of quiet seemed to stay with each visitor as they walked the paths. Going back over my experiences I can still feel the sense of stillness as I sat in its shadow.

Next Week: another garden

Time to book Gene for next year’s garden event. Some exciting new offers in the works, so act now.

Garden Surprises

Garden Surprises

I am a big fan of surprises (when they are good ones). I especially enjoy the surprises that I know are coming. There are birthdays; you know the date and nothing new or surprising there, but then someone cares and you received something special on the special day. Christmas is always a biggie on my calendar. I love the anticipation, seeing the presents all wrapped and tied up in ribbons beneath the tree so that you cannot know what is inside. The buildup until time to open the presents only serves to make the contents more, well, more. The Easter Bunny usually manages to surprise me with a few chocolate treats each year. If the price were not so high, I would even enjoy surprises awarded by the Tooth Fairy.

Garden Surprises

Put the two, garden and surprises, together and what more could mortal man desire?

In the past it has been September that brings my surprises, but this year surprises have appeared in August. As I work and walk my garden, I know where and when to look, but I remain surprised when blooms make a sudden appearance seemingly out of nowhere. One day there is a bare spot in the garden, next day the supposedly empty location is filled with colorful blooms. My magic wand has had a kink in it for some years now, so I know they have their own magic.

First Surprise

The year I purchased my home, some thirty-plus years ago, my first surprise popped up. There was a neat and orderly row of foliage along a path that very much resemble a daffodil of some kind. Looking back I now see the foliage was much more coarse and tall than Easter Lilies (Daffodils, Jonquils) but at the time I had very little knowledge of plants. There was also an abundance of Daffodils on the property and while they bloomed, the row of foliage did not. They waited until September to bloom, and only after all foliage had disappeared.

photo Jackson and Perkins

Surprise Lily

Resurrection Lily, Magic Lily, Naked Lady, Surprise Lily is just some of the names for the old pass-along bulb Lycoris squamiger. The strap-like foliage emerges along with the Daffodils in spring, but no blooms until August of September, so foliage and bloom never appear together. When it does bloom there is a leafless stem that shoots up almost overnight to about eighteen inches in height. At the very top of the stem will be six or eight trumpets of pink which account for another common name of Pink Flamingo flower. Over the years I moved some to my garden in order to enjoy the up close fragrance.


Spider Lily

Spider Lily, Hymenocallis occidentalis, one of our lesser known native bulbs

Hymenocallis occidentalis is our native Spider Lily that behaves much like the Surprise Lily. Strap-like foliage of heavy substance emerges in spring eventually reaching about two feet in height. Come mid-July or so the hot dry weather here seems to be the signal telling it to go dormant above ground. Come mid to late August, or first of September, a nude scape arises topped with large pristine white flowers. Flowers are made up of long narrow petals with a webbing between each petal forming a “spider web”. Of all the lily and lily-like blooms in my garden this species is by far my favorite.



Cyclamen hederifolium

Ivy Leaf Cyclamen Cyclamen hederifolium

The Ivy Leaf hardy cyclamen is a different kind of surprise when compared with the other two. One day I walk by a raised bed and I am rewarded with only mulch and overhang of a dwarf Hemlock. The next day I walk the same path and there are pink shooting stars headed toward earth on four to six inch stems. Flowers are first to appear, and just as they are almost all up the leaves begin to make an appearance. And what lovely foliage the Ivy Leaf, hardy cyclamen has. My favorite patterns are leaves with pewter-silver outlined with a green border having a dark blotch in the center in the shape of a Christmas tree. And, I get to keep the foliage almost all winter. Come spring until August nothing will be going on above soil level.

All three store up energy for bloom with the previous season’s foliage, so nothing seems to hold back the present season flowers, or my delighted surprise at seeing them perform again in my garden.

Time to book Gene for next year’s garden event. Some exciting new offers in the works, so act now.

An Anniversary Rose

An Anniversary Rose

Four Roses Anniversary Rose


There are times when the world truly turns in tight little circles. Each event is tied to the next and before you know it, you are right back where you began.


Bourbon Tours

Gene’s eBook tells the rest of the garden story

My son and I have been planning two trips together this fall. One of the common interests we share is an interest in bourbon. He has made the Kentucky Bourbon Tour and we have been discussing his favorites while we plan a repeat, next time touring together. There is also a planned tour of downtown Louisville, KY Whiskey Row.


Four Roses

One distillery, Four Roses Bourbon in Lawrenceburg, KY was a highlight on his tour both for historical interest as well as the taste of their bourbons. While we were planning our trip I learned it is the 130th anniversary of Four Roses Bourbon and some special events are going on.

While dinning with my wife the subject of our bourbon tours and the Four Roses brand came into our conversation.  She has not been able to work gardening into her life this past season, but will be transplanting one new rose for her raised beds this fall. That one rose from Jackson and Perkins  fame, is the Four Roses Anniversary Rose. Told you it was a small world traveling in circles.


The Four Roses Anniversary Rose

Four Roses Anniversary Rose

I could not resist taking a look on the J&P website and I immediately saw why the Four Roses Anniversary Rose will look perfect in her garden. Photos shows blooms in red so deep you could wade in the color, making it is easy to imagine the four inch blooms with a background of aging cedar timbers in dove-gray. Individual blooms have twenty to twenty-five petals produced from early through late summer, and according to the website, pleasingly fragrant.

Foliage is medium green and glossy, resistant to rust, and powdery mildew; important to a mid-western gardener’s summers of heat and humidity. The form is upright, making room for companion plants beneath its branches which reach up to four feet in height and width. I can easily see a flow of trailing annuals and herbs providing contrast to the foliage and blooms of the rose bush.


Shipment will be in September for this area and both of us are looking forward to seeing the quality plant J&P is noted for.  My wife is meticulous when it comes to soil preparation and transplanting so I will share when she transplants her Four Roses Anniversary Rose.

Time to book Gene for next year’s garden event. Some exciting new offers in the works, so act now.

Just Another Adventure: Renovation Revelation: Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events


Just Another Adventure: Renovation Revelation:

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Tricyrtis macropoda, my all time favorite Toadlily

Renovation Revelation

At the very heart

In the very heart of my garden lies one of the most difficult areas to design and maintain. I have tried three different designs with numerous different perennials over the years, but few survived and the ones that did never satisfied my sight. Perhaps my being unable to consistently work in my garden for a few years helped with creating a new design. Being at a distance gave me a chance to return with new eyes and see anew. Also, whatever remained was overtaken by weeds with the entire area reverting to the wild, thus any design would have to be new. Since I had my heart repaired and renewed, it was now time to renew the heart of my garden.



The area in need of renovation is just forward of and off of the small cave and wet-weather stream where the garden began forming. Imagine a deep bowl with a wide rim. A path would follow along one half of the rim of the bowl and viewing of this section of the garden would be from above the plants.

Weeds were completely filling and choking out anything that would have been of value. I remember watching a mature giraffe attempt to walk through the area and she kept falling down laughing. Seems she was ticklish and the tips of the weeds insisted upon brushing her bellybutton. Well, by the time she had fallen over several times the weeds had been flattened enough for me to get into the area and clean it up. After a full day of digging the area was a clean canvass to become a new garden.


New View

After the cleanup I climbed out of the bowl and stood on the path above to look back down onto the blank canvas. It dawned upon me that I had been using the wrong approach to a design all these years. Whatever was to go in area would be viewed from above. I had been designing as though I was standing outside the bowl viewing the plants straight across the rim.



What is the perennial plant that looks best when viewed from above? For me, the answer in most cases, is ferns, so it is ferns that make up most of the plants in my new design. This time, instead of digging in my garden for ferns to move to this location, I did what gardeners love best, and went to a garden center. I wanted ferns that were on my list but had not made it to my garden as yet. Ferns new to not only my garden, but fresh to my eyes. I was able to find five species of ferns to purchase that fit my specifications which were medium to tall in height and varied in form and texture, hue of green. I need to make a trip to another garden center for one more fern to complete the design in my mind.

Just as I begin the walk across the rim of the bowl, there was space for one fern and that fern is a Soft Shield fern (Polystichum setiferum), which gets repeated down in the bowl. The fronds get up to four feet in height, arching up and outward, with crowded feathery foliage in gloss green.

The Robust Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas ‘Robusta’) will reach four feet in height, forming large clumps, and given room, forms a large lacy mass of fronds.

Odd one out is the Japanese Beech fern (Thelypteris decursive-pinnata) with a height of three feet, stiffly erect very narrow blades. This fern likes to make more of itself by short runners.


Toadlily (Tricyrtis) White Towers

As companions to the ferns I chose my favorite fall-blooming perennials, Toadlilies (Tricyrtis). The ferns will have had all spring and summer to fill out having their day on display, the then stiffly erect Toadlilies can stand up amid the mass of textured greens. There was a wide selection in my garden to choose from so I did some dividing and moving clumps to the area. While Toadlilies do bloom, the ones I chose as companions to the ferns were selected for foliage over bloom.

I chose all upright forms of Toadlilies. On one ‘side’ of the bowl I have located my favorite Toadlily, T. dilatata, (T. macropoda) or Divided Toadlily. In my garden it reaches two feet in height and forms tight clumps of polished foliage. Very neat and clean appearance. In this location I am looking for more vigor and height.

Another tall clump forming Tricyrtis is located on the other side of the bowl from the Divided Toadlily, and it, too, is a tight clumper in habit. It provides about three feet of height with long rounded leaves with a sharp tip. A deep green in my garden.

There is an old child’s wading pool buried in the center of the blow that was once used as a bog. I chose to leave it in place as it has rich soil and stays relatively damp, but was never good at being a bog. In this location I chose my third Toadlily whose name has long been lost and I simply admire it in the garden. Close to three feet in height, it forms tight upright colonies of dark green, somewhat wooly, leaves with dark purple-green spots. Close behind this Toadlily I have placed a clump of Variegated Hardy Ginger (Hydychium). If all goes well this will reach four to six feet in height (fingers crossed for full six feet) of tall corn stalk-like foliage with large splashed of creamy white to somewhat yellowish. In the pool it should get the soil and moisture to become all it can be.

 At times the best way to receive a revelation is to step back, half-close your eyes and not look too hard

2019 Will be here before you know it. Book now for your first choice of date for Gene to Speak to your Garden Club.

Just Another Adventure: In-Between Time & Color Green: Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Just Another Adventure: In-Between Time & Color Green:

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Pachysandra Maidenhair Fern

In Between

I call July and into August the in-between time in my shade gardens. The spring ephemerals such as Trilliums, Dicentra, and Troutlilies have gone dormant disappearing until next spring’s return. Summer flowers have completed their 6 to 8 week bloom cycles lessening the colors that usually lights up the shade garden. Some color remains, but there seems to be a pause before fall color begins its presence. Generally, gardeners’ conversations turn to how hot and humid the weather, how dry the soil, aggressiveness of weeds and how little there is going on in shade gardens this time of the year.



First of all, the color green truly is a legitimate color. So much emphasis is placed upon bloom color, and while certainly important, flowering is the shortest part of the life of a perennial or shrub. Bloom period duration is usually about 6 to 8 weeks while foliage is there for 8 to 11 months, sometimes more. Once the color of blooms has passed, then the “true” garden comes into its own with the multitude of shades of green.



Green comes in an infinite graduation of hues. There are Hosta with an overlay of blue wax over the color green in super large, often quilted, leaves. Yellow-green can be found in variegation of foliage, or as the “normal” color for the perennial leaf. Again, the variegation of a hosta provides a good example.  Japanese shade grass Hakonechloa macra “All Gold” is an excellent example of solid chartreuse leaves. There are deep, saturated, greens and light pale greens, Hooker greens, and forest greens. And there are the plants with foliage that turns colors as each season progress. Many evergreen plans shift to some shade of red or bronze in late fall, winter and very early spring. Tiarella are two that come to mind along with several shrubs and conifers.


Just One

While using the wide range of green hues available, add texture and shape, and there is no end to the possibilities for the summer shade garden. There is height in tall, medium, short and barely off the ground. Foliage width ranges from broad to the frilly of a Dutch lace fern. Texture can be thick and waxy or thin and translucent. An appreciation of the color green along with all its shapes, textures and sizes insures a color filled garden. I have long enjoyed monographs when reading about plants for my garden, such as books on only Trillium, or just Geranium, or how about Helleborus. Monochrome art in many mediums has long been a favorite of mine, such as all sepia or Chinese white on colored paper. Perhaps that is why a single color such as green can be so rich to my eyes.


There Now


While we are in this pause I find it a good time to get out into the garden before the heat and humidity builds and work on enriching this period. Today I brought together perennials from various part of the garden that would enhance each other and provide a much more meaningful show for the eye. They were just ok where they were, transplanted to the garden over time as they became available, but in walking by each one, saw how they could be much more effective.

Zingiber ‘Mioga Ginger’ has been hardy for me for three years now, multiplying nicely. It is 3 to 4 feet tall with typical central stalk and pushing out blade-like leaves and forms a colony of uprightness. . It does not have the big root systems as the gingers purchased in the grocery store, so easy to move around.

Next to the Ginger I moved Thalictrum ‘Black Stockings’ that reaches about three feet in height and has black stems supporting the airy green foliage. This Meadow Rue has the layered foliage with space between the rounded leaves making it a great foil to the stiff ginger.

At the base of all this height I transplanted a mound of Lamium ovatum. It reaches 2 to 2 1/2 feet in height with heavily textured leaves with serrated edges. This Lamium is a clumper as opposed to the usual Lamium available in garden centers.

There are two clumps of the Ginger, two stands of the meadow rue and one clump of the Lamium.

To date my favorite green gotcha is two mature clumps of Maidenhair ferns with an antique clay container seated behind them on a raised stone with Chinese gingers in glossy green with white veins and a Japanese painted fern pushing up through the ginger.



Watch the garden center for sales. When the perennial or the shrub has finished blooming it is hard to sell and gets a price markdown. All because they are not a true believer in the color green.

I will be at Cheekwood Botanical in Nashville, TN This Tuesday, July 17th. Come by and say hello.