Living With Limitations: Moonlight Sonata

Kousa dogwood Snow Towers bloom

Sitting on my hillside deck beneath cedar trees, looking across and down, is among my favorite garden views. The vignette is framed by the open branches of a white variegated Redbud tree. A path climbs the hill leading to the deck and is intersected by a path across the hillside. At that junction is a raised bed which is the dominant portion of the view.

The deck is a perfect place to sit quietly with a glass of chilled wine, listen to music, and watch the sun set behind the garden. One evening, while enjoying the better things in life, one of my favorite pieces of music by a favorite composer kept me still. The music was Ludwig van Beethoven’s piano sonata number 2, or as commonly known, Moonlight Sonata.

The word moonlight merged in my mind with the romance of a white blooming garden. I had a white and green frame for the picture to be created, so why not complete the concept? I do not normally sit on the deck after sundown, but a white garden with emphasis on variegated foliage can be just as lovely in daylight, I thought.


In the thirty-plus years the bed has existed I have had several designs over the years, none of which ever satisfied me, came unraveled over time, or survived only to be torn out and restarted. This time, I told myself, it will be different. I will design a white garden; a garden that will survive the test of time and my sense of satisfaction. And, with one exception, I already have the plants scattered throughout my garden.

White Flowers

The raised bed is approximately six foot wide by twelve long, primarily viewed while walking up the path into the garden, and of course, viewed from above when seated on the deck. My center piece, placed off-center, is a Kousa dogwood ‘Snow Tower” (Cornus kousa Snow Tower). I have chosen a small tree that matures twelve feet tall and four feet wide to stay within scale of the raised bed and area it will have to fill out over time. Its growth habit is upright and tight, leaves rich green, large crisp-white flowers in abundance. It performs best in plenty of light, but appreciates some shade toward afternoon.

The Two Brunnera with Fire Pink


Forming a drift I have two varieties of Brunnera, both of which, are my favorites to date. I have 3 of Brunnera macrophylla ‘Looking Glass”. The individual leaves are large, heart-shaped, tending to cup . Leaves are rimmed with a dark green border, a central green vein, all on solid silver background. Foliage forms a mound about twelve to fifteen inches tall, blooming early in the season in open sprays of blue with a white eye just above the silver and green.

Heart-Leaf Brunnera m. “Emerald Mist’ has large heart-shaped leaves have lacy collars of silver, then a light dusting of silver overall. There is brilliant green in the center of each leaf forming an intricate pattern. The green and silver is in perfect balance on leaves reaching twelve to fifteen inches in height with same spread over time as “Looking Glass”. I have transplanted two of this variety. Three of the Looking Glass, two of Emerald Mist, then a single Looking Glass”. It has the same forget-me-not blue and white flowers.


Japanese Painted Ferns (Athyrium nipponicum var.) have sprung up throughout my garden so I have a good selection of choose from. At this time I have chosen two nice clumps to play off the Brunnera, and I may chose a third later on if the rhythm calls for it. The fronds reach fifteen to eighteen inches in height, quickly forming good sized clumps. The green of each frond tends to be pale, but most of the frond is a whitish-silver which creates quite a show in a dark corner.

Polygonatum odoraatum Byakko Photo Edelweiss

Upright Architecture

With mounding and airy forms in place it is time to change gears and transplant another of my favorite plants for the shade garden.  ‘White Tiger’ Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum ‘Byakko’) was a gift to me, and I have two starts to use for this project. The variegation on this cultivar is different from all others I have seen. Cream-white irregular blotches begin where the leaf attaches to the stem and spreads outward, often covering well over half the green leaf. Leaves are alternate on some-what zig-zag red stems. No two leaves are the same. Height is from fifteen to thirty inches depending upon who you read. The starts I received were sixteen and eighteen inches, so I am going to guess, when well-grown, two feet.

You could also try the most often used P. variegate with small white accents on each egg-shaped leaf, or go for the gusto with a real kick of white using P. ‘Double Stuff’.

I am still considering a spray of Hakonechloa macra White Variegated to use in the corner of the bed so it can arch and soften the stones defining the path junction.

If you are experiencing limitations in the garden, You are in my latest book: A Gardener Grounded 


Just One More Adventure: Visiting a Patient Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Just One More Adventure:Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Visiting a Patient

Hemiboea henryi with morning dew

My Own Words

In the Bible there is a directive to visit the sick. In my own words and way I would like to say I got the message. Bit of epiphany since I am not speaking of another human being, a favored gardener, but rather my ailing garden. I find that I have been avoiding it, not really seeing it as it has fallen into disarray, not wanting to see the garden in its condition.  There is my own technical difficulties in the health department and I had always counted on the garden to cure me of my ills both emotional and physical.

At first I did not spend as much time as my garden needed due to my health and that began about three years back. As each year passed my garden and I became more and more ill. I went to doctors and clinics, hospitals, but the garden remained unattended and unheeded. When I could walk up the hill to visit my garden, I was too ashamed to visit my old soul mate for letting it began to fall into its decline so I began avoiding what I did not want to face.



Arisaema consanguineum Silver Stripe

I was reading a totally unrelated book when the quote from Mathew was used and for some reason the words struck me like the message was push pined to the bulletin board of my soul. “I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” My soul mate was ill; naked spots were forming as individual plants died, and since the garden, by its very nature, could not travel it was in a kind of prison. It was time to visit my garden and to visit often, to find help with its health and wellbeing. Time to follow the knowledge of someone wiser than I.


Garden condition

Having lost control (if control ever existed) of maintenance is the most disturbing. I can live with not fertilizing, not nipping and tucking, not envisioning new vignettes, nor transplanting new perennials and shrubs. Those can always be put off another season without harm. In fact, the lack of new plants could be a boon to my wallet. But not weeding is not so slowly killing my garden. Every weed seed that ever arrived by bird poop or wind has germinated with the lack of mulch that once held them back. With the improved soil they have taken advantage and grown, well, like weeds, choking some of the more delicate perennials.

Gene’s eBook tells the rest of the garden story

I did hire help on one occasion, but that only covered one small area on a single day, which immediately returned. I could not afford to have my entire garden weeded by professionals. The garden is too large and my wallet too small. Many friends have volunteered to weed, but only two actually showed up for a day each. I understand other gardener’s plight. I live in a somewhat remote area requiring travel, All are younger than I, have jobs as well as gardens of their own. We live in a very busy world. And, again I did not try all that hard to locate help for each day I was going to “get better” and would take care of my soul mate. Tomorrow. Tomorrow did not come.


Visiting the Sick

I walked up the hillside this week and visited my soul mate. I put on a brave face and thought of some of our best times together over the years so we could share memories. In spite of the physical difficulties I took my wife’s lightweight string trimmer and cut weeds in the paths of one section. The garden immediately looked improved. Then I walked the cleared paths to communicate with the garden, to see the survivors of neglect. I was rewarded for my visit with some of my autumn favorites.



Arisaema consanguineum Silver Stripe has been a favorite for many years now. This cultivar is among the latest Arisaema to emerge. The “bloom” is green with a brown tip so not the showier among the whiplash and cobra lilies in my garden. Most fascinating are the leaflets which radiate from the top of the stem like an umbrella. Each leaflet is long and narrow with a silver strip down the middle with a long drip tip and the end of each leaflet. They are about three feet in height, arching over from the weight of the leaves so that when viewed it is like looking at the top of an umbrella without a cover. It is a most excellent plant are reproducing itself from stolons so I have several in the garden. Well worth the visit.


Buds and Blooms

Tricyrtis macropoda, my all time favorite Toadlily

I won’t go into a litany of plants while making my visit, but there was my favorite groundcover wandering about with nothing sticking up through it. Just the shiny rich-green foliage looking as though it was waxed during the night. At the top of each leaf is a plumb bud making promises that I will not be able to resist. The shiny groundcover, Hemiboea henryi, must be for my eyes only for no insect, nor mammal, bother this plant.

This is the time my favorite Tricyrtis is in bloom. Tricyrtis macropoda certainly stands different than all the other species and cultivars in my garden. The dotted pinkish-white intricate blooms sit at the top of the glossy rounded leaves, making me wonder why I stayed away for so long.


I think both of us feel much better now.

Holly Society regional fall meeting in Evansville, IN October 7th and 8th. Speaking at the Mesker Park Zoo and Botanic Garden. Look forward to seeing you there. 

Don’t forget to book Gene for your next garden club meeting. 

Just One More Adventure: Dealing With Depression Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events

Dealing With Depression

Slightest breeze and the leaves are gone, the picture changing. One view existing in one moment in time.
















Every gardener experiences a blue funk on occasion. I can have a bad hair day even though I am bald on top. In most cases depression is mild, seemingly coming and it going beyond our control. Truth be told we do not live in a television sitcom. We cannot live in evanescence filling rooms with bubbles of our personal happiness and joy.

I will admit here that I cannot and do not, I have no interest, in doing a joyful ballet out of bed in the morning.  With my arthritis I am too busy being reborn on wobbly legs each early morn. The joy of awakening to a new day must take a back seat in a divided body and mind.


Moving On

Usually depression is short term with mild downswing in the way we think, our overall mood and yes, our bodies. When it stays around long enough to interfere in our day to day life, we have problems doing what we normally did, accompanied by pain. Depression is especially hard on not only us, but also the people who care about us.

Depression can be somewhat similar to functional alcoholics in that we hide our pain on the inside, going about daily life, while smiling on the outside.

Personally, at times I feel like I have fallen into a deep, dark pool of misery. I can feel life savers around me and see where the rope leads. When I get to the boat I cannot find the whether all to pull myself up and over, into the boat where it is dry. My shoes are filled with water, my clothes are all soaked and the added weight is pulling me down as I tire from my treading. Thus far, I have always found the strength to eventually climb into that boat and head for shore.  There are times when I can take off my shoes placing them on the dock in the sun to dry while I walk barefoot in the grass.



There are times when depression is a natural condition in response to events such as grieving over a loss. While I am not losing a human companion, I am losing a part of my soul, my constant companion for the past thirty-plus years. That is serious loss enough to bring on the grieving process and depression over my loss for there was a bond formed over those years.

I find that the loss is effecting me socially, certainly mentally and physically, as well as spiritually.


Overly Tired

Castiron Crow at waterfall

I have found that if I pay close attention to my basic needs life becomes easier and depression moves to the background or goes away. Chief among the needs are avoiding becoming overly tired and exhausted from exertion or anxiety. A good night’s rest is of prime importance for both physical and mental health. Next on my list is to eat well and on a schedule. Be aware of when it is meal time and take the time sit down to three meals a day of balanced nutrition. Communication with other gardeners who are often going through similar events in their lives. Just the telling of my story is akin to giving away part of my depression.

I would say of prime importance on my list is to have a sense of humor. Not to lose my ability to make another human being laugh or smile.



I do know that I believe, I have faith, in my future as a gardener. Hope is the conqueror of depression. I will be up and down emotionally as I grieve loss of my companion, but I will find other relationships as I walk my path.

Let’s talk some more. Invite me to speak at your next gardening event.

First Week of Summer

First Week of Summer

A native species clematis

Clematis viorna , A native species clematis

 Summer Returns with a Simmer

Summer returned with simmering, shimmering, heat and humidity. And just to top it off we are turning drier than and attic-stored gourd. Uncomfortable enough that I do not want to be out there in the garden past noon.

Half-Day Happiness

Looks as though common sense will dictate, at the least, only half-days of garden happiness for the next week or two. Out into the garden for activities by 8:00 AM and back into air conditioning by noon. Lunch and then stand with my nose pressed against the window panes longing to be outside.

Half a Loaf

There is the old saying about half a loaf is better than none, and there is considerable truth in that one. I talk with myself about a time when I could not work in my garden, being too weak from cancer treatments. Most of a year my garden only received short visits from me, if at all. So, while I may not have everything I want when I want it, there remains that half of what I desire.

Butter and Jam

I suppose I could take my half-loaf and spread it with butter and jam. Take my time that I have and enhance, enjoy, my garden in the mornings, find other activities for the afternoons. I can still walk my gardens and look at the flowers of summer and how they stand up to the heat even if I am not. After all, they are my rewards for past year’s transplanting. I can also be thankful that it is summer heat and humidity that keeps me from actively gardening and not a return of cancer.

Gardening & Life

At times gardening is a bit like the rest of my life. Or, at the least, gardening reminds me of my life. How I have options and those resulting choices belong to me. I can concentrate on the half a loaf that I do not have and do a little dance with dark clouds of depression. Or, another option would be to enjoy and appreciate the part of the loaf I have been given at the table of life. Perhaps even satisfy my sweet tooth and spread some sweet orange marmalade, make the most of what is there, while it is there.


Afternoon tea is promptly at 4 PM so join me in spreading some marmalade while summer simmers.

Dirt Becomes Duff: Raised Bed 4 Design and Transplanting

Dirt Becomes Duff: Raised Bed 4 Design and Transplanting


Time to Transplant


Second Section of New Raised  Bed Transplanted

Second Section of New Raised Bed Transplanted


I have been collecting and holding rare and unusual plants for my new raised bed for over 3 years. The holding area for the plants was overflowing and plants were getting hard to keep alive in their individual containers. It was time to transplant. I drew from the holding area for one section of the raised bed and now it was time to design and plant the second section.


Second section transplanted

The second section to my raised bed is about six feet across and twelve feet long. It begins at the end of section one and is defined by a mature pine on either side. The bed ends with an old log I have buried about half way into the soil. Stones define one side and an old cedar log defines the other side.

 Plant combinations

Some of the perennials transplanted are rare enough they do not have common names and I cannot locate photos to share with you. Often they are very small starts from quart containers, or smaller. So, it is going to be a while before some mature enough to claim the space given to them and make their presence known.

 Chelonopsis moschata, Japanese turtlehead are relatives of our native Turtlehead, and begin my design. The second part of the name comes from rubbing the stem and getting a musk-like scent. Blooms are rich purple-pink with flowers shaped more like foxglove. Unlike our native turtlehead they actually prefer shade. Bloom is from mid-summer into fall.


Disporum smilacinum ‘Pink Star’, comes next and blooms just before Japanese turtlehead. I am fascinated by all things Disporum, or Fairy Bells, so a pink blooming version is a must. Only reaches about 1 1/2 feet in height and is a tight spreader. Its close companion is Rue Anemone (Anemonella thalictroides) I found with has shell-pink blooms of exceptional size. It will probably be dormant by the time the fairy bells bloom

 Aconitum lycoctanum, northern wolf’s bane,gets a central location in the bed due to its height of about 3 feet. Blooms on the ones I have grown from seed are cream and lilac. The flowers are late summer and will go into early fall. Their companions are a small Disporum/Polygonatum relative, Disporopsis undulatum. This little clump-growing wavy-leaved, almost evergreen, perennial will step down the Aconitum to the stone edge of the bed.

 Asplenium trichomanes, or Maidenhair spleenwort, reached less than a foot in height is tucked along the rocks along the edge of the bed. One cannot have a shade garden without ferns tucked in and among the perennials.

Trillium hybrid between T. sulcatum and T. flexipes

Trillium hybrid between T. sulcatum and T. flexipes

 Azalea Earl’s Gold ends this sections of the raised bed with a swirl of native plants about it. The azalea is a selection of our native deciduous azalea. At the base there is a groundcover of Galax aphylla, or Wand Flower. Rising from the groundcover will be Trillium sulcatum x flexipes. Really looking forward to seeing the red-brown and white bi-color blooms of trillium at the top of 3 very large leaves on stems almost 2 feet tall, surrounded by shiny scalloped foliage.

 All this waiting, the anticipation, of today’s plans for tomorrow’s gardening pleasure.




Garden foliage and early morning sun.

Garden foliage and early morning sun.


In the News

I recently saw an article in the newspaper about West Nile virus being found in a dead bird in a county near us. Only one case this year, but enough to give one pause.

 Mosquitoes become infected with West Nile virus by biting infected birds. West Nile virus is transmitted to birds through the bite of infected mosquitoes. Bit of a loop thing. A loop that we gardeners want to stay out of.


We gardeners know that mosquitoes are most active in early morning and late evening. So. When do we gardeners work most in our gardens? Early morning and late evening. When else? I do almost all of my gardening activity in early morning, so I would like to relate three recent experiences with mosquitoes in my gardens.

 Experience #1


I am not going to do a Texas-size brag here, but I do want to note the size of the resident mosquito population in my gardens.  How big are they? They are soooo big… they have to use air to air refueling to fly from one side of my garden to the other. Luckily for them I am available for them to tank up in flight. Usually behind my ears. It must be the landing guides called blood vessels in those large maps I refer to as ears.

 Experience #2


You know how mosquitoes like to hide under foliage as morning comes? Well, while in the garden weeding in early morning this past week I lifted up a goodly sized section of foliage with very large leaves. A cloud-like swarm of those insects came out around my head blocking out all light. For just a moment there was that panicky feeling of “Am I losing my sight? Could it be a heart attack and I am fading away? Perhaps it is the onset of diabetes and I am blacking out from lack of insulin” (Sometimes medical diagnoses come quickly)

 Experience #3


We truly have some bad-ass mosquitoes here. I know this from my last experience with them. You know how pulling weeds can be a Zen-like experience? Well, I was going along on my hands and knees with a dovetail weeder, doing jab, pop, toss.  Jab, pop, toss. Jab, pop, toss. Two more weeds I would have been so Zen I would have reached Nirvana. In fact, I felt myself being levitated. I was floating just off the garden soil. At last! Ultimate wisdom!

Turns out my ultimate wisdom was the observation that mosquitoes had picked me and I was being flown under a shrub to empty my veins.

 And, I have not considered the possibility of one mosquito in those clouds carrying West Nile. Can you say Deet?