The Lucky Gardener

Rocks In My Head?
October 26, 2011, 10:00
Filed under: bluestone, garden design, inspiration, masonry, patios, Uncategorized

I find comfort in the company of rocks. Boulders, field stone, quarried stone or sandy pebbles – they all make me grin. The feelings run deep, relating mostly to my preference for using natural materials in my garden designs.

As with enduring lifelong friendships, certain rocks have accompanied me through more than one house move, becoming part of gardens in different locations. A good rock is hard to find and not lightly left behind.

One day last Spring, I wanted to rearrange a few plants and rocks in the garden. For some reason, I encountered exceptional resistance while attempting to move one of my larger ‘friends’ just a few inches from where it was. The wrestling match that ensued left me breathless, yet exhilarated.

At that moment, with a twinge in my back and twinkle in my eye, I realized that even though I design and build gardens every day, it had been quite a while since I was in the trenches, interacting with rocks at that more personal level. I missed the action, bloody fingers, blisters and all.

That brief encounter was an eye-opener. And, whether it was a personal challenge to summon long-dormant abilities, or a direct, some said foolhardy, attack on the aging process, I gave myself a summer project of building a bluestone patio on our property.

I set out each day full-tilt, buoyed by youthful enthusiasm and, no doubt, glorified memories of my own past conquests. With focus firmly fixed to the tough work of hauling, lifting and sorting slabs of stone, the patio quickly began to take shape.

However, as August gave way to September, fatigue and apathy had me in their grips and slowed progress considerably.

Heart and soul lost ground to creaking bones and aching joints that led to nightly bouts of live rigor mortis.

I’m convinced that had it not been for a hurricane, flattened wheelbarrow tire and my Chiropractor’s summer vacation, I surely would have finished in time for our Labor Day party.

When did rocks get so heavy, anyway?

It Must Be Love
October 12, 2011, 20:17
Filed under: garden design, inspiration, spring flowers

It must be love.

Nothing else could justify the presence of roses in my garden.

Let me explain.  Whether driven by personal design style, or an unfounded sense of Plant Kingdom hierarchy, I take pride having excluded certain plants from my landscape designs.

You wouldn’t, for instance, find a Yucca in my beds. Pachysandra wouldn’t be spec’d. And most definitely, prissy Roses were never, ever, a consideration.

With these self-imposed limitations, imagine the predicament I found myself in during a home-improvement project my wife and I undertook a few years ago.

We wanted to close off from view, the exposed underside of our wood deck, and finally finish a project started eight years before.

Tired of looking at the ugly, barren space, we struggled in choosing an approach to make the sixteen foot long, by eight foot tall space seem less imposing. Realizing the problem had no great solution, we feared that the wrong strategy would only make the situation worse.

We decided to install cedar lattice panels as screening, and though we were by no means convinced the choice would be visually satisfying, we felt we picked the best of the worst options.

Unfortunately, when the project was finished we were miserable – it didn’t work. We needed a fix, and quick!

The only solution was to grow something on the structure to disguise it, and in my heart I knew only one plant would really be right – and I didn’t like the answer. By the excited look in her eyes, I immediately knew the same thought had popped into my wife’s head, as well.

“Can climbing roses be trained on the lattice?” she asked.

Before taking time to dream up reasons why not, I heard myself stammer the unimaginable.

“Uh, I guess so”.

My answer triggered a smile that reddened her cheekbones and raised her ears skyward. I, on the other hand, was already dealing with my anxiety of actually being a rose owner.

We planted three climbers and they began to grow, covering the lattice with a profusion of blooms and gentle fragrance. The problem solved, I reluctantly tended to the needs of the vines. The scratches and punctures resulting from their pruning became constant reminders of my generosity in planting them.

One very hot day, after a particularly sacrificial session of cutting back the vines, I felt woozy from blood loss. In that semi-conscious state, a memory appeared of the flowers my wife chose for our wedding and of the vows we took that day.

Regaining strength and becoming aware of my surroundings, it occurred to me that of all the wedding proclamations we voiced, there was one I purposely had not made.

Still somewhat dizzy, and blinded by the day’s unforgiving sunshine, a voice from above commanded me, “I want more!” I was startled by this heavenly directive.

I realized it was just my wife, standing on the deck, shouting down to me.

“I beg your pardon,” I sang, “I never promised you a rose garden!”

Vegetable Gardening: Hanging on by a Sponge
October 10, 2011, 10:01
Filed under: Loofa sponge, Richard Nixon, Self-sufficiency, Vegetable Gardening

May is the month suburban vegetable gardeners rekindle their dream of achieving self-sufficiency: to live off the land by the fruits of their labors. As the first seeds are sown and seedlings planted, the desire to produce enough food to feed their family awakens from its winter idle.

Perhaps the pursuit begins even before the crops go in. Taking in the smell and feel of the earth while tilling cherished compost into the soil, mulching beds and pathways to keep feet dry and roots moist does much to stir the spirit for the season that lies ahead.

My first garden was about the size of a Volkswagen Rabbit. Though caring for it required little effort and the variety of plants was limited, I felt myself an Early Settler, carving out a section of earth, cultivating a sense of permanence.

My last garden, encompassing nearly half an acre, was more a working farm than veggie patch. Its size created nearly as many challenges as produce. I became obsessed with keeping a step ahead of the varmints and pests that anticipated each harvest as anxiously as I did. Proudly, I never abandoned my strict organic-farming methods. I did, however, temporarily arm myself with an air rifle to thwart an ever-growing groundhog menace. I gave up the gun quickly though, as my unease with firing pellets combined with the realization that the shots bounced off uselessly without the critters taking notice.

As most seasoned gardeners would agree, success emboldens us toward more cultivated land and greater crop diversity. We seek cultivars beyond the ‘garden-varieties’ available locally. Personally, the search was a combination of satisfying an urge for excitement and the desire to thrill others. At one time or another, the garden included red popping-corn, horseradish, yellow watermelon, purple potatoes as well as other less notable aliens.

The most memorable of my attention-grabbing crops were the Loofah sponges grown from seeds for the garden of ‘95. Thought seen by most as some sort of ocean pickle, Loofah is actually a gourd, with a vining growth habit similar to cucumbers. The elongated fruits were stunning as they hung from the garden fence. Conspicuously placed, they dazzled and puzzled visitors from the moment the garden came into view.

To this day, friends relate the tale, ‘The Year of the Sponge’ as treasured garden lore. Some still use the dried-sponge scrubbers I gave as novelty presents, years before they became popular bathroom accessories. In my twenty-five years of providing such garden entertainment, the Loofah reigns supreme, easily trumping the former frontrunners, a twenty-two pound zucchini and the eggplant that looked like Richard Nixon.

Originally published, June 2011, The Nyack Villager

Steve Jobs
October 6, 2011, 12:34
Filed under: Apple, Macintosh, Steve Jobs

Early on, I had to take many a stand on the important issues of the time: Yankees over Red Sox. The Beatles over Rolling Stones. Peace over War in Viet Nam.

Later in life, it was Microsoft or Apple.

I went with the Upstart.

Steve Job’s machines helped make my life creative and expressive. I identified with Apple as an inspirational company especially the undertones of political and social reform.

Macs debuted on my 26th birthday. Somewhere around my thirtieth, I bought my first, the Macintosh II. Today, two dozen years later, I joyously own at least one of every great product they make.

I remember the relief I felt chucking out the IBM clone I struggled to embrace, to make room for the new, boxy miracle machine.

I never tire of going to an Apple store, extolling to whichever salesperson I snag that, “You know, I bought my first Mac in 1988′. My words flow with an air of superiority as I set myself up with the expectation I will, in some way, be rewarded for my early belief in the company. I don’t expect the entire store to stand up and recognize my insightfulness…well, actually I kinda do.

Tip-Toeing (?) Through The Tulips
October 5, 2011, 09:58
Filed under: April Fool's, garden design, Matt James, Sanguinaria, Wild Turkey

Much of my childhood was spent in my parent’s gardens. On any given weekend,  I could be seen practicing the arts of digging holes, weeding, cutting grass and raking leaves – usually under some form of duress.

Learning about gardening, however, accounted for less than half of my garden time.

I lived in a neighborhood with dozens of kids, and like most boys and girls, we played outside constantly. Whatever the season, there were always ball games going on in the street and around the neighborhood. Errant throws and hits were indiscriminate in where they landed. Balls were lost to storm drains, overly enthusiastic dogs and into the ‘scary’ woods that surrounding our block. Occasionally a ball got trapped in the groundcover and shrubbery of ‘The Feldman Gardens’. Big mistake, especially on weekends when my dad was home. We all knew this was scarier than the woods could ever be.

Though my buddies Ricky, Danny and Jimmy were by no means immune, I took the brunt of the wrath for our wayward Wiffle balls and missed football touchdown passes.

My father’s booming voice, ”Jonathan!! – get out of the garden!” still rings in my ears, albeit now more fondly than in fear.

Finally, the Springtime weather has brought my son and I out of doors. He keeps busy with toys and games while I am puttering about. We throw a ball together and have fun chasing after them down the hill, under the deck, or…in the gardens!

The first time I watched him retrieve a tennis ball that lodged itself in the newly opened daffodils, I was immediately struck by a new, yet somehow eerily-familiar, sensation.

In our generation of father and son, my footsteps have been followed with his keen love of sport and a corresponding lack of accuracy. Though no windows have yet been broken, way too many airborne launches have found their resting places in my gardens. I’ve endured decapitation of cherished flowers, trampling of coddled perennials and an overall disregard for all of which I work so hard.

The echo of my father’s siren guides me to be more understanding with Richard, but I couldn’t hold back the time a football trashed a favorite Hydrangea.


Richard!! – …

May the circle be unbroken.