Living With Limitations: Isolated

Living With Limitations: Isolated

Helleborus niger, Christmas Rose


Flu and the new virus Coronavirus have certainly changed the world in which we live and garden. To say the least, for me, it can be unnerving. I have COPD emphysema as well as some other ‘technical difficulties’ with my health, and I am in the middle of recovering from pneumonia.   Being the somewhat intelligent individual that I am, a decision was made not to get out there in the midst of all that potential danger. For the past month I have placed myself in quarantine. No traveling any further than my garden and end of my driveway. To insure my compliance I have attached a bungee cord to my ankle that snaps me back before leaving my home.

I would hope that, if at all possible, you are exercising good judgement in the midst of all this potential for illness.


If You Are a Gardener

Trout-Lily, or Erythronium americana withJacob’s Ladder

Isolation is not so bad if you are a gardener, so long as it does not stretch into delaying visits to garden centers. Thus far I have been scheming and drawing pictures, taking notes, ‘researching’ on the internet. Then outright and openly visiting every online nursery checking inventories and comparing to my gottahaves list. Then there are the plant searches that lead to nurseries I was not aware of with the need to check their inventories. As it turns out there were several plants added to my gottahaves list that I was not aware existed.

Then followed the serious and quite firm discussion with myself about ordering starter size plants. I am at the end of my active gardening career and time to grown on from plugs is now in the rear view mirror. The need now is garden centers where I can locate gallon and larger sizes. I know it limits actual purchases, but perhaps that is a sign from my accountant (wife).

Iris reticulata

Social Distancing

Thus far I have heeded my all advice from the experts and kept my distance for the outside world. But that does not include text, Messenger and phone calls to a local garden center. (My wife would say we are in “cahoots”). I have made arrangements to pick up supplies to kick off the spring season. Fertilizer for perennials, different one for shrubs and trees. Will need compost for transplanting new perennials, along with a new birdbath demanded by Mrs. Robin and her new brood. I also saw a large container in my favorite style and color and know exactly where it needs to be located. All I need to do now is pick a day to drive to the nursery. I will back my car in, they will load and I will hand over a check for the invoice already printed.

No getting close to another human being, out in the open, no handshakes, not elbow bumps: just grinning and spending money at a nursery. For now that is enough to complete a good garden day.


With the new supplies and a little decent weather to work in the garden cleaning up for this season I will be fully occupied and not notice (too much) being isolated from other gardeners. There is looking forward to thirty days from now when the big garden center day trip is planned. A full day of visiting selected premium garden centers with other gardeners.

Stay tuned and stay healthy. Remember soil under the fingernails is good therapy for body and soul.

 Click on the book cover above and get your copy to read while isolated.

Living With Limitations: Toxic Relationships

Living With Limitations:

Adonis amurensis and Hellebore x Garden Hybrid white

Toxic Relationships



This story goes back 3 to 4 years. Each spring I am reminded of its progress, but do what most gardeners do: procrastinate. I was vaguely aware of the situation, but only gave it a nod. Making a mental note that went something like “I really should do something about that” and moving on. After all, the relationship was only in the beginning stages and there were reasons not to disturb its growth as yet.


I was fortunate in locating and purchasing an Adonis amurensis ‘Chichibu Beni’ that had long been at the top of my up-front list, and without having to take out a second mortgage.  Adonis with their fern to feathery foliage in bright spring-green topped by saucer-like petals in yellow-orange with a hint of tan are set off by the yellow stamens in the center. What is not to lust after?

To the best of my knowledge this cultivar can only be propagated by division and they are not fast growers.  This not only means a high purchase price, but also you know the start will be small when received. I was tempted to name it “My Precious” when it arrived for transplanting.

In anticipation of My Precious’ arrival I had prepared a raised bed next to a mature white blooming hellebore. Several other Japanese woodlanders included in the order would play companion. The first year it emerged, but if I had not known where it was

located I would not have noticed the small sprout of green that quickly went dormant. The next year there was one bloom and it was small. The third year still only one bloom but overall the plant was larger and more robust. It also had a seedling hellebore that had germinated in the space intended for the Adonis. I did not want to disturb the Adonis roots so soon after transplanting so I let the relationship remain. The fourth year I saw a toxic relationship developing. The more assertive and robust hellebore was in the root system of the Adonis. They may have been a pretty couple together, but a gardener could see where this relationship would end up.


The Adonis may have been quite lovely to look at and seemingly quite delicate with its feathery foliage, but it was, once established, a perennial that could hold its own in the garden. However, the hellebore was an exceptional plant selected for its size and vigor. It was far too much for My Precious not to lose itself in the relationship and eventually fade away with its space and nutrients take up by the hellebore. If they were to

Helleborus thibetanus, Thibetan Hellebore buds emerging

flourish they will have to be separated and this year is the optimal time. The hellebore will become a gift to a gardener, and the Adonis, once dormant, will find a home with its own species in another bed. Its new companions will be yellow –blooming Adonis, snowdrops and a species hellebore H. tibetanus. All will grow together, go dormant together, with space to look and preform at their best without the threat of smothering.

In the 1970’s everyone was discovering the concept of personal space and their need of their space in a relationship. Looks like that still applies not only to both gardeners but their plants as well.


Coming Soon! All New Talk. Hosta Companions: Gene Answers the question what goes best with hosta? Book now for your choice of dates.

Living With Limitations: Hibernation

Living With Limitations: Hibernation

Helleborus foetidus, Bear paw Hellebore


Looks as though my hibernation is coming to an end. However, unlike the bear, my hibernation means I have put on weight from standing at the window eating snacks while waiting for gardening weather. Then there were the snacks at tea time to go with my scanning gardening catalogs. Perhaps a dessert after dinner while watching the TV. (The stress of no new plants in my hands demanded compensation eating sweets.) That has pretty much come to an end. Now it is salads with lots of fresh greens and veggies, cutting back on refined sugar and no desserts after dinner. Getting in shape to go outside the den now.

Helleborus x garden hybrid, Thumbprints


Coming out of hibernation and winter fat also means back to some exercise to get ready for the garden. I am not overly fond of my treadmill but if I am to be more active that is where it will all begin (another shaking my head from side to side and growling). Need to loosen up from all the times I skipped walking the treadmill in favor of Facebook. My routine will begin with short periods, increasing in increments as each day passes. Always a price for past behavior, sigh.

Hardly Bear It

I can hardly bear the weight, ah, that is wait, for spring to show up on the calendar and in my garden. The weatherman does say we will have one good day this week to play in the garden. The morning will be in 50’s, afternoon in the 60’s with sunshine and low winds. Just about perfect. I spend the morning just walking the paths in my garden. Just being there and enjoying looking at spaces where there will be excitement shortly. I called it limbering up. Come afternoon I was out there rake handle in my hands as I begin to clean debris from the paths. An hour later it was time to not overdo it and I stopped to admire my handiwork. Clean paths reaching up and across the hillside made me feel like I had created a new world, waving that long handled wand. While standing at the bottom of the hill looking upward I imagined ephemerals peeking from under leaf litter and posing for photographs.

Helleborus thibetanus, Thibetan Hellebore buds emerging


The next 3 days are to be heavily overcast with continual raining giving me more than enough time to plan a strategy for tackling the next garden chore day available. Meanwhile, there is seed and plant swapping, last minute siren calls to be answered when another new plant is discovered on the web. Shortly there will be trips to garden centers to follow up on my wish-lists, along with fertilizers, mulch and soil conditioners.

It is time for the great awakening.


Coming Soon

New Presentation to accompany my book A Gardener Grounded; Meeting Life Challenges Post Diagnosis

Living With Limitations: It Was a Sign

Living With Limitations: It Was a Sign

Delphinium New Millennium series photo: Walters Gardens

It Was a Sign


What could I do?

I had an early morning doctor’s appointment and my wife did the driving so she could join me in the consultation which included previous test results. Overall, we were both pleased with the results of the tests along with doctor’s final instructions. However, we did spend considerably more time waiting than normal. Which was a part of the sign.

Timing was perfect for a favorite garden center across the street was opening as we left the doctor’s office building. My wife turned to me and asked if we could stop by the garden center so she could purchase a seaweed fertilizer for her seedlings under light. Could I say no to her? No.  Could I deny the timing of the morning? Nooo. You can see how I had no choice but to follow the flow of the signs.


While my wife browsed possibilities, I headed to the greenhouse section to stand in the warm humid atmosphere and gaze at the seas of annual cuttings freshly potted up. Standing there taking in sights and smells of a greenhouse with all its promises was as good, if not better, than the new prescriptions in my wallet. I was being inoculated for, not against, the coming spring.

Aster Kickin series Carmine Photos: Walters Gardens

Follow Through

The specific sales person I wanted to speak with was available and I began with my hunt for perennials in my list of spring garden projects. Again, the timing was perfect. She was in the process of completing spring orders for perennials. I talked her into an email address so I could send her my list of must-haves for spring of 2020. Now, not only was I on the hunt, I had had help.

Perennials for a Project

I will be working on the western edge of my garden where sun sets. Over the past two years I have been transplanting small shrubs with colorful foliage. Now I want to set them off with some late blooming perennials inserted between the shrubs.

Little Bluestem Smoke Signal Photo: Walter’s Gardens

I was able to locate one Little Bluestem grass last year, but not the exact cultivar I was fascinated by. My heart was set on ‘Smoke Signal’ (Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Smoke Signal’). Foliage is tight growing, blue-green until fall when it becomes deep red-purple with feathered tan seed heads. It has a home between two gold foliage Spirea.

Asters are back on my list. I see a need to weave three cultivars among the shrubs. They will also look great with the little blue stem grass. I will begin by ‘borrowing’ a start of October Skies from my wife’s shrub border. Then perhaps a Kickin Aster Sapphire from the series. The third remains a mystery as yet.

I am a big fan of Delphinium, but so many of them do not perform well in our hot humid summers. My researching says Delphinium New Millennium Series is the answer. This was verified by a nearby garden buddy who swears by their performance. I can envision three tall stately clumps supported by the shrubs and picking up the colors of the asters and grasses.

And More     

There was more on my list, but for a different project in shade. A perfect location for ferns. This time I have made up a list of ferns with color in addition to the color green. That project is for a future blog.

Surely you can see I was guided by a power beyond my control. In this instance there was little or no free will. It was push on my tush all the way.

Now Booking: New Upcoming Presentation Hosta Buddies: Companions for Before During and After

Living With Limitations: I’m On Fire!

Living With Limitations:

Photo from Colorful Combinations talk

I’m On Fire!

On Fire!

Feeling like I am On Fire! This past week I made my trek to the frozen tundra of Madison, Wisconsin to give two presentations. I spent a month or so reviewing and updating my slides for their area, looking at photo after photo of past plants in my garden. Sure warmed my soul on cold winter’s days.

Erythronium americana and Mertensia virginica meet in the garden

Wisconsin Talks

The trip to Wisconsin Garden Expo was among the best trips ever. They gave me two joined rooms for my talk and I could not see a single chair empty. On Saturday I spoke on “Colorful Combinations for the Shade Garden” and on Sunday “Color in Shade; 9 Months of Natives”. More photos and plant talk. We must have all been starved for gardening for it was one of the most receptive audiences I have spoken to.

Vendors = Temptation

In between the talks my landscape buddy Rob and I walked the vendor booths where more gardening juice awakened prematurely. Spring was far away, perhaps on another planet, and here I was looking at real perennials and annuals in bloom. It was as though I was sleepwalking and being led from dream to dream. One dream had my favorite Primula vulgaris hybrids in double ruffled, multi-colored petals. A Campanula ‘Blue Like Mee’ in full double bloom fell from the booth into by shopping bag.  Another booth was selling bulbs and rhizomes: Lily sections drew me to photo illustrated crates of labeled bags of bulbs. Before I awoke I left the vendor with 3 Lilium Double Apricot Fudge and 2 Alba Martagon lilies with pink-purple freckles. It is a small wonder the plants did not sprout and bloom from my hot little hands as I carried them around seeking the next vendor.

The return trip home was delayed by a white-out snowstorm, but I returned home still on fire and, as my father would have said, wound up tighter than a thirty-day clock.  I am ready for spring to return. However, spring is not ready for me

Lilium martagon album photo lilylandmn


Thank the minor gods and my bank I have a greenhouse to play in. I spent a day in sun’s natural warmth playing in potting soil. Cleaned some containers, mixed some potting medium, each Lilium found its own temporary residence until they can join their relatives in the garden. The Campanula and Primula each were moved up to the next size pot. All received some fertilizer and warm water as they were moved to light on top of the bench. After time in the greenhouse there was only one place remaining to take my fire.

Lilium Apricot Fudge double: image Thompson & Morgan

Calling Garden Centers

My Lust-List folder was opened. It may have been reduced in size with only coals remaining, but with the fanning received coals were soon ignited and showing some fire once more. Many of the desired “coals” are new to the market and will take some effort to locate. Some I have located at their wholesale sources, now to locate the retailers who will be carrying the plants this spring. Garden centers are placing orders, so now is the time to strike with my lust-list. I began pestering (calling) local, and some not-so-local, centers with the big question:  “Do you have, or will you have name-your-plant this spring? If not can you get it for me”?

I may be only fanning the coals now, but wait until I get the bellow out come spring.

Coming Soon: Two new talks. “Hosta Buddies” and “Alternative Gardening for Aged & Impaired

Living With Limitations: Oh! The Possibilities

Living With Limitations: Oh! The Possibilities

Adonis amurensis Fukujuka

 The Possibilities

Only the first week of February, but already a spring preview has arrived in my hillside garden. The calendar says winter, but local weather tells me we are well above normal temperatures with plants responding accordingly.  I have shaken my holidays’ absence from gardening and this spring preview is the medicine I need to begin another garden season. All that is required of me is walk the paths, pause and appreciate, breath in all the expectation and excitement; the fresh beginning.

Moss in bloom on stone


Being a shade gardener I am appreciative of mosses, having several species in my garden. For me, they are the true harbinger of spring gardening. While winter still tries to hold on and spring is awakening mosses shift in color. Like a magic wand has been waved they give up their drabness and become a beacon of shiny, emerald-green. I am always reminded of landing at an airport in Ireland, seeing why it is called the Emerald Isle. In the garden they form eye-catching cushions decorating both stone and aged logs; enhancing, softening.

Adonis amurensis   

This plant is used to celebrate New Year in Japan, blooming only a few weeks later I my garden. I have several cultivars in the garden blooming with semi-double, double and species petals in varying shades of yellow and orange. Emerging first, and long lasting, only extreme weather is unkind to the blooms. As the blooms fully open a collar resembling an emerald-green feather boa hugs the base of each flower. The foliage is frilly and fern like in that same eye-catching green. They will go dormant soon after bloom is completed.

Winter Aconite adding some sunshine to the winter garden.

Winter Aconite

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)is a minor bulb resembling a dried out much wrinkled raisin that are transplanted shallow in the soil, so they can be arranged over other perennials and bulbs. I also find they are most excellent producing seeds that help fill while forming drifts. There are two species common to bulb catalogs, both blooming in a bright yellow with tending leaves of bright green beneath each open bloom. After setting seed the plant goes dormant until next late winter.



Helleborus X Garden Hybrid, red-pink bud and bloom.

Several books have been written on hellebores. This winter blooming perennial has an almost, but not all, twelve month presence in the garden. (A very few species go dormant in winter) The evergreen leaves are bold and of heavy substance often with serrated edges. Heavily hybridized, the bloom can be double, semi-double or species five-petals. Blooms come in a multitude of shapes and can be hanging bells or upright roses. Colors come in a very wide range and flowers are some of the longest lasting of any perennial. They also are easy to find, simple to grow and maintain. Look for H. niger, H. foetidus, H. x garden hybrids.

Snowdrops in bloom with old Hellebore foliage


Galanthus, or snowdrops, are another almost indestructible winter blooming bulb. There are numerous species and a long list of cultivars and hybrids to collect. Foliage resembles garlic or onion with deep green slender leaves coming in many lengths, some with variegation. On separate stems bulb hang like, well, snowdrops at the end. There is a row of petals that open to reveal inner petals usually marked with bright green. Any of the species and cultivars I have grown multiply quickly to form drifts and seeds do get around (but nearly as much as I would like.)


Jelena Witch-hazel in full bloom. will last into last of March.

Hamamelis, or Witch-Hazels are small trees or multi-stem large shrubs that can reach 15 feet across and a bit more than that in height. Bloom time can be a bit weather dependent, but I count on them from December through April. Blooms are strap-like, opening and closing with the weather. A multitude of bloom are on stems, and I have yet to see a damaged bloom. Some shade of yellow and orange are common colors available, but I also see purple and red available.


In my design I began with a witch-haze blooming in yellowish-orange. Next up Hellebores of choice became the prominent plants arranged with some extra spacing between them. Weaving in and out of the hellebores drifts of snowdrops and winter aconite are companions. They, in turn drift to the front of the bed joining Adonis and more snowdrops. All beneath a canopy of color, reflected back to the soil.

See you in Madison Wisconsin this weekend, 8th and 9th.