This is a gardening blog by a guy who dared to veer off the beaten path and discovered plants and gardening along the way. Join me as I write about my processes and inspirations from my “Midwest” point of view.

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It's here- the book giveaway. comment for a chance to win.

Please enjoy an except from Thomas Mickey’s new book titled America’s Romance with the English Garden. You could win a copy by simply leaving a comment in the comments sections of this post. 


About the book

The book tells the story of how late nineteenth century mass-produced garden catalogs and national garden advertising sold the homeowner the romantic English garden as a garden icon. 

Advice from the Nineteenth Century Garden Catalogs:

Teach Children How to Garden

The B. N. Strong, a Connecticut seed company, discussed in its 1852 catalog how important it was to teach children how to garden: “Children are frequently led into mischief in the absence of other means of occupying themselves. How different would it be if they were taught to turn their attention to the neatness and productiveness of a garden.”

 In 1859, the Bloomington Nursery in Illinois wrote in its catalog, “Thousands of our children pine for the want of nature’s health-giving luxury, fruit, without doubt the best stomach regulator the world affords. So, too, with their attachments and their sense of the beautiful in nature they dwindle for want of some of their most proper objects – homes and trees, and plants and flowers, and the exercise enjoyed in their cultivation.”

The Charles T. Starr catalog of 1882 discussed how improved society would be if more children gardened. Starr said, “Would that I could induce everyone who reads this to love and cultivate flowers, if not for their commercial value, at least for their ennobling and refining influence; for this is one of the few pleasures that improve alike the mind and the heart, and make every true lover of these beautiful creations of Infinite Love, wiser and purer and nobler. It teaches industry, patience, faith, and hope. Would that every American child could be brought up under such an atmosphere, and through life be guided by their teachings.”

Seed company owners and nurserymen, like others concerned for the moral well-being in the society, felt when children worked in the garden, they grew up to become productive citizens. Joseph Harris, from Rochester, in his 1882 catalog wrote about how to start a children’s garden: “The children each have a separate plot. They start many of the plants in boxes in the house. Make it convenient for the children. Do not ask them to make bricks without straw. Let them have all the seeds they want. If they get healthy recreation and some knowledge of vegetable growth—if they grow up to love flowers and take an interest in the garden—if they have something to think about besides dolls and dresses and dancing parties, we can well afford to let them waste a little seed and a little land. In fact, it is far from being a waste. It will pay ten times over.”

In 1885, Dreer also recommended giving children a decent plot of soil in the garden and adequate tools. He wrote, “Given rickety tools that have long been mustered out of service, a piece of ground that even sand burrs would blush to be seen upon, and the relics of last season’s purchase of seeds, what wonder is it that children regard gardening as unprofitable.

“A few simple tools well made, a plot of ground on which the sun shines and which is ordinarily fertile, seeds that will grow, and plants that are thriving, added to an occasional spurring of the little workers to the fulfilling of their task, will enable them to reap in due season an ample reward.”

-This is an excerpt from the new book America’s Romance with the English Garden (Ohio University Press).

 How to Win your own copy

Book Give-away Rules: To be eligible to participate in this Book Give-away for a copy of Thomas Mickey’s book America’s Romance With the English Garden, you must comment on this guest blog entry between 8:00 a.m. (EST) Monday, June 3, and 5:00 p.m. (EST) Friday, June 7.  LIMIT one entry per person. The name of the winner will be drawn from the list of those who comment. The winner will be contacted on Monday, June 10 to obtain a shipping address, and will receive a free, signed copy of the book.  Open to US residents only.



Book Giveaway

I’m honored to be selected among the blogs that will be promoting fellow blogger and author Thomas Mickey’s new book titled America’s Romance with the English Garden.

The book tells the story of how late nineteenth century mass-produced garden catalogs and national garden advertising sold the homeowner the romantic English garden as a garden icon. At a time when people bought Quaker Oats, and not just oatmeal, and Ivory, not just hand soap, homeowners wanted the English garden with its signature lawn.

Here’s how the giveaway works:

To be eligible to participate in this Book Give-away for a copy of Thomas Mickey’s book America’s Romance With the English Garden, you must comment on this guest blog entry between 8:00 a.m. (EST) Monday, June 3, and 5:00 p.m. (EST) Friday, June 7.  LIMIT one entry per person. The name of the winner will be drawn from the list of those who comment. The winner will be contacted on Monday, June 10 to obtain a shipping address, and will receive a free, signed copy of the book. Open to US residents only.


The Greatest Spectacle in Gardening

In May, two things are certain in Indiana, The Indianapolis 500 and the blooming of our state flower, the Peony. As a child, our family planted acres of tomatoes on our farm while listening to the race on a portable radio. Though we were only 35 miles away, it seemed as though we were in another universe listening to the AM broadcast. As if it weren’t exciting enough, the carefully choreographed start of the race always brought chills. Jim Nabors singing “Back Home Again in Indiana,” the “Gentleman start your engines!” from Mari Hulman George, followed by the unusual but instantly familiar sound of the cars revving their engines. It always lived up to its billing, “The greatest spectacle in racing.”

In our yard, a very different spectacle also coincided with the month of May– the blooming of the Peonies. My mom had very few perennials around the house when I was growing up. As a youngster, I found these magical ‘reappearing’ plants exquisite. It was recently that I learned our farmhouse had many established perennials when my parents purchased it in 1965. My dad found them a nuisance when mowing the lawn and “removed” nearly all of them. Only 5 were spared the fatal slash of the whirling metal blades: Yellow Bearded Iris, Tiger Lilies (probably Lilium lancifolium), a Hosta similar to H. Lancifolia, Lilly of the Valley (Convallaria majelis) and Peonies (Paeonia Festiva Maxima). This quintet taunted my inner gardener for decades, and despite a stolen moment of fascination and appreciation, my attention was often redirected back to farm work.

Today, I revel in the splendor of perennials and nothing warms my heart more than Peonies in spring. This year their display is especially glorious. I even got a bloom from the plant I accidently sprayed with Roundup three years ago. I love that it refused to die– just like my intrigue and fascination of perennials.


Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - May 2013

Spring is finally here and so are the blooms. In central Indiana, it’s been a long time coming but so worth the wait.  Above: The first Peony blooms have opened. Many more herbaceous varieties will follow in the coming weeks.

Winter King Hawthorn Tree

Foxglove ‘Goldcrest’

Heuchera ‘Circus’

Dwarf Red Pincushion Flower ‘Mars Midget’

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is a Meme created by May Dreams Gardens. Gardeners post images of what’s blooming in their garden on the 15th day of every month. All are welcome to participate.


Rediscovering My Garden

There has not been much time for the garden since I began working at Sundown Gardens just over a year ago. My enthusiasm is no match for my exhaustion. I liken it to being a chef or housekeeper. Most likely, they do not delight in cooking dinner or cleaning house after a long day at work. Yet the distance between myself and my garden has brought on something of interest– a new perspective. I see it through new eyes now. On a recent journey into the backyard, this is what I saw.

The delicate yellow blooms of Epimedium x perralchicum ‘Frohnleiten.’ Tiny, but quite cheery. Low to the ground– as in groundcover. Delicate red mottling in spring.

Pretty shades of mauve on the candles of Pinus parviflora v. ‘Glauca’ or Blue Japanese White Pine.

The short bottlebrush blooms on Fothergilla x gardenii ‘Blue Shadow’ (Blue Shadow Fothergilla) are a delight. I love white blooms and I’m inspired to create a White Garden out of annuals for the patio this year.

As the various Hostas emerge, I am struck by how intense the coloration is on the yellow plants. They seem to emit light from within, especially in the morning and early evening. Hosta ‘Paradise Island.’

The wavy edge on a Hosta leaf is referred to as a ‘piecrust edge’, and who doesn’t love pie? Hosta ‘Dancing Queen.’

This Acer palmatum ‘Kiyohime’ is a tree I regularly visit and stop to ponder. Far wider than it will be tall, the new growth stretches and pushes out farther and farther every year. I always feel as though it’s trying to tell me something. 

The flowering of Aesculus hippocastanum or Horse Chestnut Tree is always a noteworthy event. The showy white flowers are quite elaborate with just a touch of pink. 

The Horse Chestnut’s foliage is large and reminds me of tropical plants.

Not my favorite tree, but I was impressed with how many samaras (helicopters) were hanging from the branches of Acer negundo or Boxelder Tree. The tree can handle higher moisture levels and perhaps that is why it seeded itself near the banks of the creek.

Two things strike me about Acer palmatum ‘Emperor 1’: First, how lateral the older branching has become and the extreme horizontal position the leaves hold on the branches. This is my one and only red tree.

I feel exuberant when I see Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’. The whimsical coloration and form of the bracts always lift my spirits.

It’s not spring in my book without Dicentra spectabilis (Old-fashioned Bleedingheart) and Peonies. Both hold special places in my heart and memory. There is something so sumptuous about a Peony bud breaking open.

There is a threat of frost this evening and I’m not too concerned about it. Just as the individual plants have grown, so too has the garden in my mind’s eye. I hold the images of lovely springs past and present there. Come what may. Nothing lasts forever.


Business in the front and party in the back

This is NOT ME! Just an example of the mullet hairstyle.

Yes, I did just make a reference to the mullet hairstyle. That’s probably the best way to describe my landscape. I’m a gardener who keeps it conservative in the front yard and more ‘expressive’ in the back. I call it Mullet-style landscaping. Since I usually focus on the backyard so much, I thought I’d share a bit more of the front with you for this post. Since I added so many new plants last season, there’s actually more than usual going on in the front this year. I’ll admit that I lack a bit of confidence and still worry that my latest additions will not come back the following season. I’m pleased to report that most have decided to return.

Winter has held a stubborn grip on spring this year. Plants are slow to emerge from beneath the soil, but they are determined and push out a bit more with each passing day.

I planted 26 Astilbe Rhythm and Blues (Astilbe x arendsii ‘Rhythm and Blues’) last summer and every single one has come back. Every plant looks healthy and a bit larger. Astilbe was a new test for me. I knew only of it’s unquenchable thirst and worried that I may not satiate it during last year’s drought. Of all my additions, I’m most pleased to see this one coming on so strong.

My little mass planting of 33 Heuchera “Plum Pudding” is also doing well. Only one plant did not survive– one that I foolishly tried to relocate mid season. Lesson learned. No major moves until very early spring.

This little row of Green Gem Boxwood came through beautifully. My big concern here was that the plants were a bit stressed having been in the grower’s pots all last summer during the drought. I purchased them at Sundown Gardens during a sale and planted them “by the book” hoping for positive results. This short row had been a missing piece of the landscape puzzle for a few years. Guests who walk up the front walkway will be greeted by the verdant green shrubs and subtle but direct command to “turn left here.”

Heuchera “Circus” was a total impulse buy last year. This introduction by French breeder Thierry Delabroye (breeder of the every popular “Caramel”) caught my eye from day one. I had to have it. My work cohort and I bought the whole lot between us. This is first time I’ve seen it in springtime and I’m happy all three came back nice and strong. This is one of those plants whose appearance will change throughout the season. Blooms will be in Pink shades. Can’t wait!

Elsewhere in the front beds, the Hostas are coming through. The Peonies are full of buds and the Variegated Liriope’s winter growth has been mowed down to make way for a flush of new growth.

Finally, the Limelight Hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’) are coming back with vigor. I give them a hard prune right before Thanksgiving every year. You can see where the old cuts are and how the new growth emerges from the old stems. All blooming happens on new growth.

It may seem as though the party is in the front, but it is laid out very nice and tidy. In the back? Well, that’s another story. Thankfully the plants came back in high style and the mullet has not. Please share how your spring is going in the comments section.


Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - April 2013

What a difference a year makes! This time last year I had Peonies and Dicentra blooming. We are nowhere near that this year. Spring has sprung, and only the true spring bloomers have come out to play.

Hellebore Ivory Prince. The last blooms are slowly turning to green and will soon become indiscernible from the plant’s foliage.

An interior detail shot of the Hellebore Ivory Prince flower.

Hellebore White Spotted Lady presents a dynamic color contrast. Hellebores are great in the shade garden.

The maples are also begining to bloom. This is the early bloom stage of O isami Japanese Maple. Maple tree blossoms are fleeting.

I love the color combination of the Star Magnolia Tree buds. The softest shades of pink and light grey green are so sophisticated.

Before the bloom turns snow white, diffused pink shades appear on the petals. 

This flamboyant bloom is Bloom-A-Thon® Lavender Reblooming Azalea. I was given two plants so I could observe their bloom cycles and test their hardiness. This azalea’s flowers should last for 4-6 weeks in spring, and then another 12-16 weeks in summer and fall. 

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is a Meme created by May Dreams Gardens. Gardeners post images of what’s blooming in their garden on the 15th day of every month. All are welcome to participate.


Lawn Mowing Guidelines

Mowing season is here again. Follow these guidelines for a great looking lawn. This is a repost from 2011.

The secret to a great looking lawn lies in the mowing. Sure, you may need to fertilize or use a herbicide from time to time, but proper mowing can help your lawn look lush and healthy all season long while reducing the need for frequent chemical applications. Follow my mowing guidelines (riding or pushing) to stay on the cutting edge: 

  • Mow at 2.5 to 3.5 inches
  • Mow frequently
  • Return the clippings to the lawn
  • Fertilize in the fall

Let’s break it down…

Mowing Height

There are many benefits to keeping your mowing height between 2.5 and 3.5 inches. Chief among them is weed control.

It may seem counterintuitive, but mowing too short will increase weeds in the lawn. Like most plants, weeds want and need sun to grow. If you mow your lawn really short, you’re just giving them what they want. Consequently, weeds such as crabgrass and dandelions will proliferate. So set your mower at the preferred height and leave it there all season. It will minimize weed population.

Most species of grass do well with a mowing height anywhere between 2.5 and 3.5 inches. I think 3 inches looks great and is easy to remember. If you have a play area for children, I recommend you mow at 3.5 inches. It will feel luxurious and help soften their fall.

Lawns that are mowed at the recommended height will have deeper, stronger root systems and better color overall.

Mow Frequently

Mow frequently and follow the “One-Third Rule”– never remove more than one-third of the leaf blades at once. Removing more than one-third may cause root growth to cease while the leaves and shoots are regrowing. When growth is most active (spring), you may need to mow up to twice a week, but only once every 2 to 3 weeks when growth is less vigorous (summer).

Return the Clippings

It’s ok to let the clippings fall back onto the lawn as long as you aren’t leaving a dense layer. And, it doesn’t matter if you have a mulching mower or not, a discharge mower returns clippings just fine.

You return up to 25% of fertilizer nutrients back to the lawn in the clippings. And contrary to popular belief, clippings do NOT cause thatch build-up. See thatch note below. You will also help reduce water evaporation by returning the clippings. Bagging the grass takes a third more time to complete the job. Who wants that? 

Note on Thatch from University of Illinois Extension “The primary component of thatch is turfgrass stems and roots. It accumulates as these plant parts buildup faster than they breakdown. Thatch problems are due to a combination of biological, cultural, and environmental factors. Cultural practices can have a big impact on thatch. For example, heavy nitrogen fertilizer applications or overwatering frequently contribute to thatch, because they cause the lawn to grow excessively fast. Avoid overfertilizing and overwatering. Despite popular belief, short clippings dropped on the lawn after mowing are not the cause of thatch buildup. Clippings are very high in water content and breakdown rapidly when returned to lawns after mowing, assuming lawns are mowed on a regular basis (not removing more than one-third of the leaf blade).”

One final point: if you must bag your clippings, please do not throw them in the trash. This can increase your trash by up to 10% and take up unnecessary space in landfills. A better option is to use the clippings as a mulch.

Fertilize in the Fall

This is an easy one. Like most people, I’m mowing very frequently in the spring and don’t need to increase mowing by stimulating growth with fertilizers. Fall fertilization promotes a healthy turf without stimulating excessive leaf growth.

If you’re inclined to fertilize only once a year, do it in September. If you would like to fertilize twice a year, do it in September and early November. And as always, read all fertilizer labels and follow the instructions.

Final Mowing Guidelines

  • Use a different mowing pattern each time you mow
  • DO NOT bump trees
  • Do not mow when there is drought stress
  • Do not mow when it is excessively wet

Be Safe

  • Pick up all debris before mowing
  • Keep hands and feet away from the blades

Be Environmentally Friendly

  • DO NOT discharge clippings into the street
  • Follow ozone alerts 

Mower Maintenance

  • Keep mowing equipment in good working condition
  • Have mower serviced prior to the heavy spring mowing period
  • Keep mower blades sharp for a clean crisp cut

TIP: A dull mower blade frays the ends of the blades and results in brown tips which are unsightly. Have mower blades sharpened prior to the heavy mowing season.


Behind-the-scenes at a Nursery and Garden Shop

Garden centers all over the US are starting to burst into a frenzy of activity and Sundown Gardens (where I work) is no exception. Shipments of merchandise for the The Garden Shop have trickled in over winter, but now the plant material begins to arrive. The first balled & burlapped trees arrived on March 20th and it’s been non-stop ever since. To put it in perspective, we’ve already gone through 500 Liriope and just last week we ordered 1000 more. The kickoff of the growing season is very physical, very intense, and always exciting! 

Here’s an inside peak at the ‘goings on’ at Sundown Gardens in very early spring. Click the first thumbnail below to begin a slideshow.


Sundown Gardens


A Birthday, A Blizzard, and A Ball

Saturday, March 23rd was my birthday. I now have 48 trips around the sun logged in. There ought to be frequent flyer miles!! It was a pretty uneventful day as I’m trying to get over a nasty sinus infection. Still, I couldn’t help but go outdoors and enjoy the bright sunshine and 50° temps. A perfect early spring day, right? Who knows anymore. The weather forecasters are predicting heavy snow fall in the next 24 hours. Since all storms need nomenclature these days, the media has bestowed “The Palm Sunday Blizzard” on it.

It’s so gorgeous today. A blizzard tomorrow. Really?

As a gardener and employee of a nursery and landscape company, I always have an eye on the weather. I don’t remember being like this (kind of obsessed) until firmly planting my gardening stalk into the ground and my roots taking hold. As a child, my interest was limited to the possibility of a school snow day (far and few) or rain to get out of farm work. That was a big deal. Today, I’m not so sure why I follow it so closely. Must be a combination of several things: how to dress, how it affects my garden, how it will affect business, and so on.

After my 1965 birth date, my mother brought me home from the hospital just before Palm Sunday. I guess you used to stay in the hospital after birth much longer than you do today. I hadn’t been home long when Indiana experienced its worst tornado outbreak. There’s even a Wikipedia page about this. All my life I’ve heard stories about how my family rode out the storm– even saw one of the major tornados tear across the county from the upstairs window. What a sight that must have been- power out and the ghostly eerie image of the tornado gliding across the landscape visible only against the sky’s random electrical charges or lightning bolts shooting directly into the vicious funnel. Although the path was miles from the house, my brothers and sisters said they missed several days of school because it was ‘all hands on deck’ for cleanup.

Picture of the “double tornado” that hit the Midway Trailer Park in Indiana, killing 14.

Fast forward 48 years and here I am again, at the center of another Palm Sunday storm. This one promises snow and high winds sans the spinning funnels. What will the emerging peonies think? Yes, I worry about stuff like that.

My question to you is this: What is your relationship with the weather, and do you think gardening has influenced that relationship? Love to hear your answers in the comment section below.

Now a little plug for a friend.

Opera is not for everybody. That’s just a fact. But when a local friend of mine sent me the press release for the Indianapolis Opera Ball titled Divinely Dutch: Celebrating the Art & Beauty of the Netherlands, I was pleasantly surprised to learn of the visual aesthetic tie to their upcoming opera, The Flying Dutchman.

My friend Jamie Gibbs is a horticulturist and landscape architect. It comes as no surprise that he would co-chair this event and put a botanical twist on it. “Where possible the decorations for the glamorous setting will be recyclable live plants and biodegradable materials in honor of earth day. Thousands of potted Dutch Tulips will grace the dining tables and silent auction areas. These tulips will be planted on the grounds of the Basile Opera Center after the ball. Other “green” components will include reusable backdrops, LED lighting effects and projected images rather than constructing décor only to be discarded. The innovative approach to charity ball decorations is a departure from the often wasteful, and expensive, one-time décor common on such events.”

Sounds like a pretty inspiring Black Tie event, but more importantly an environmentally responsible one. To learn more, Click Here.

Weather Update: It just started snowing. Kinda hard. :/