Saturday, July 26, 2014

Chicago--Where Garden Communities Matter

I know, I know. I'm behind--again. Bad blogger. I'm having a moment of inspiration, though, because out of all of my travels so far this summer (more on those in upcoming blog posts), the past 3 days in Chicagoland hanging out with buddy and fellow partner in horticultural crime, Shawna Coronado (, have been some of the most fun! Not just fun, but really garden-centric--real gardening, vegetable and flower gardening, dirt gardening. Real people, real gardeners and the kinds of gardens that are born of a love and need and desire to do better for ourselves and to do better by and for those around us.

Chicago is the first leg of a two-week-long driving trip that started in Nashville and will take me from here to Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Raleigh, Asheville and back to Nashville before it's over. The purpose of the grand tour? I'm doing the photography for an upcoming book by Charlie Nardozzi ( called "Foodscaping" and needed a wide variety of gardens and places to visit and photograph to get the needed material for the book. So, here I am and as luck had it, I'm here on the weekend of an "edible garden tour" that is happening in the Oak Park area of Chicago this weekend. This was not just a tour vegetable gardens, though--or at least not in the traditional sense. This was a tour of gardens belonging to passionate gardeners who were blending flowers, vegetables and herbs together on their urban lots to make the most of their space, both aesthetically and productively.

I can't share the photos that will eventually be a part of the book, but I can definitely share a few snapshots of some inspirational community-based gardens that are really delivering for the folks in their neighborhoods.

The first stop of the day was the Forest Park Community Garden, where people from all around the neighborhood garden in about 30 plots.

These decorative raised beds were in a nice sized green space that butted right up to the interstate, traffic whizzing by on the street above, as well as on the freeway just to the right and slightly out of view in this photo.

Inside of the fenced area (rabbits, you know) the individual garden plots were immaculately kept and held everything from traditional peppers, tomatoes and eggplants to cosmos, salvia and other flowers for cutting and bringing indoors. One gardener was even growing their own hops! I wonder how many hops it takes to make a batch of home brew?

Perhaps my favorite of all was this small garden--maybe 20' x 30', at most--just outside of the Wonder Works Children's Museum. Magnificently done, it had everything from fresh greens to tomatoes, peppers, sunflowers and even watermelons growing vertically on a sturdy trellis. Every child who comes to the facility--a creative and imaginative education center for young children up to age 8--gets to experience this garden and all it has to offer.

The watermelons at Wonder Works were growing so well they had to be supported in mesh bags on their trellis!

This innovative vegetable garden was seen at an apartment building where space was extremely limited. Gardening vertically allowed them to grow an impressive number of plants in a small space. In this simple space--about the size of a 55-gallon barrel--there were collard greens, mustard, eggplant, kale and beans all growing together and successfully producing a bountiful harvest.

Our final stop of the day was at this small community garden. The lady who tended this bed of corn and beans, as well as the two beds you can see toward the right of the photo, was so proud of what she had accomplished and ready to tell the story of her success! At the end of the day, that's what it is really all about. Inspiration. And a little elbow grease that turns into successes that turn into more inspiration. I'm already wondering what I can take out of the garden when I get home to make room for more edibles!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Bring On Spring!

Well, as is typical here in Tennessee, spring officially arrived last Thursday and today it snowed! It snowed so hard, in fact, that when I was driving home around lunch time you couldn't see from one telephone pole to the next.  Near white-out conditions!  20 minutes later, the sun came out and as quickly as the snow came down, it was gone. Unfortunately, it cleared off late this afternoon and as I write this at almost 10 p.m., the temperature threatens to drop into the low 20's and do some real damage to tender buds and foliage that are just beginning to break.

Today, I went out and covered a few things--something I normally don't do. But I need to get some good photos of a few early risers like the trilliums, epimediums, quince, and a few spring wildflowers this year, as well as a couple of plants that are quite rare and have decided to emerge a little earlier than normal (of course!).  So...I gave in and took the blankets out to try and save a few plants from tonight's low of 22 degrees.  I hope it doesn't get colder than that or my covering may not do a bit of good.  We'll see.

Plants that are still tightly budded will be just fine and the temperatures are supposed to moderate quickly and be back to more spring-like conditions in a day or two.  In the meantime, I'm taking a few precautions and hoping for the best!  I'll post an update in a few days and let you know how it goes.  See you in the garden!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

England & Scotland's Greatest Hits!

I have another exciting opportunity for those of you who love to travel and see beautiful gardens and historic sites, but maybe couldn't work our earlier trip to England into your schedules. We still have several spaces left on a spectacular trip that starts in London, makes its way through northern England and ends up touring the castles and gardens of Scotland. The dates are June 27 - July 8, 2014.  The itinerary follows.

The cascade at Alnwick

June 26         Depart for Heathrow Airport London, England

June 27         Morning arrival at Heathrow.  Meet our motor coach for the transfer to West Green House for lunch and a visit to the garden.  West Green House was built in 1720 and is now the home of Marilyn Abbott who has restored and designed the gardens.  We visited several years ago and look forward to a return visit.  We will then continue to Cheltenham where we will spend the first two nights at The George Hotel.   This hotel is in a Georgian building and in the heart of Cheltenham.  Although the rooms have been recently redone, the building retains many of the original features.  You will have time to unpack and relax before we have dinner at the hotel. Lunch at West Green House, & dinner included.

June 28         We are trying to arrange a trip to Highgrove, the garden belonging to Prince Charles, this morning.  We will not know if we will be able to visit or when until after Feb. 1 when ticket requests are granted, but we are hopeful that we will be able to visit either in the morning or afternoon.  We will also visit the small English village of Tetbury.  We will be back in Cheltenham in time to visit the town and pick a place for dinner. Breakfast, Lunch included.

June 29         We head north today to York where you will have the afternoon and evening to explore the city of York and its treasures.  We are also trying to arrange a visit to Castle Howard and the Yorkshire Arboretum.

June 30         This morning we travel from York to Alnwick Castle for a visit of the house as well as the garden.  Alnwick is a young and modern garden, created by the young and modern Duchess of Northumberland, Jane Percy. This remarkable place even has a "Poison Garden" full of deadly plants, which we will have the chance to see! We will have a group lunch here.  After our visit, we will head for Edinburgh, Scotland which is about a 2 hour drive. We will be spending 3 nights in the Apex City Hotel.  Not only is this a very nice hotel, but the location is fantastic. Breakfast, lunch included.
The "Poison Garden" at Alnwick

July 1             After two days with relatively long bus rides, you will have a free day to enjoy the City of Edinburgh.  There is much to see. We are sure you will want to visit the Edinburgh Botanic Garden and may plan an impromptu tour on our own, with Troy pointing out some highlights and talking about some of the plants,  before dispersing to explore at your own pace.  Attendance will be optional if you want the day to explore Edinburgh at your leisure. Breakfast included.
The rock garden at The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

July 2             After breakfast we will depart for Abbotsford, the home Sir Walter Scott.  The house was completed in 1831 and was designed by Sir Walter Scott himself.  It sits on the banks of the River Tweed.  The house embodies the Romantic Movement that Scott helped to create.  We will visit both the house and garden, as well as have a group lunch at Abbotsford.  After our visit we will take the very short drive to Bowhill House where if you were going to pick a spot to create a garden with grand views, you couldn’t do much better than Bowhill. A stroll on the formal southern terraces opens up stunning vistas across the Ettrick Valley and the upper loch, which was deliberately designed to complement the landscape. Here you can also explore a rose garden, formal flower borders and a rock garden Unusually, the gardens to the front of the House are less formal. rhododendrons and azaleas fill the area. Walk to the east end of the House and you’ll come upon the Sunken Garden. We will visit both the house and garden.  After our visit at Bowhill, we will return to our hotel in Edinburgh. Breakfast, lunch, and coffee and biscuit included.
Bowhill House

July 3             We will visit Edinburgh Castle as we leave this city for Dundee.  After a visit to the castle our first stop will be Kellie Castle and garden.  This is considered to be one of the most romantic gardens in Scotland with many wall plantings. Our next stop will be Drummond which will be a treat.  We are hoping to arrange an after hours tour with wine and no other tourists.  Our hotel tonight will be the Apex Hotel in Dundee.  Breakfast included.
The Garden at Castle Kellie

July 4             Today we will visit Glamis Castle which will be a highlight of this trip.  We will visit the house and the garden and have a very special lunch in the castle.  The castle which is located in the foothills of the Angus Glens was the childhood home of Elizabeth the Queen Mother.  We will have a guided tour.  We will head back to Dundee where you will have some free time. Breakfast and lunch included.

July 5          Today we head for Glasgow where we will spend the last three nights of our trip.  On the way we will stop at Greenbank to visit this National Trust garden. Our hotel for the remainder of the trip will be the Indigo Glasgow Hotel which is housed in an old power station from the 1880’s.  The mix of old building and modern interior is quite nice and will help to make our stay very nice.  Breakfast and lunch included.

July 6          Today we will visit Culzean which is a Romantic 18th century castle which is situated with wonderful views of the Firth of Clyde and three miles of coastline.  The cliff top setting is dramatic and the Robert Adams architecture is wonderful. Again we will visit both the house and garden which is extensive.  Our other stop for today will be Lagg which has the national collection of hydrangeas.  It is also located on cliffs with dramatic views, Breakfast, lunch included.
The amazing garden at Culzean, where you will find palm trees growing in Scotland!

July 7             We will have free time in Glasgow and a special visit to Carnell.  Carnell is well known for the water features, Japanese stonework, walled garden, and pagodas.  This will be our last garden and definitely a treat. Breakfast and tea included.

July 8                Return to US

The cost of this trip is $3895.00 which includes all hotels, breakfast each day, all entry fees where we enter as a group, lunches and dinner per itinerary, guided tours at many locations, travel by deluxe motor coach in England and Scotland.  If you have questions, please contact me at

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Friday, January 24, 2014

Final Call for "Classic Gardens and Country Estates of England"

Good Morning, All!  It is frigid here in Nashville again and my mind is on beautiful spring flowers and warm summer temperatures as we take the polar plunge once again.  I'm not sure how the garden is going to fare. I have some plants that are looking pretty poorly after reaching 0 degrees here a couple of weeks ago and now we're down in the single digits again. A lot of the broadleaf evergreens (including all of my beautiful hellebores) are looking pretty freeze dried.  Epimediums are all frozen to the ground. Several broadleaf evergreen shrubs like aucuba and Florida anisebush are looking pretty rough.  We'll see what happens come spring...

In the meantime, I'm looking toward summer and the fabulous trip we have planned to England to raise funds for Volunteer Gardener, the TV show I co-host on Nashville Public Television. Unfortunately, while we have had a LOT of positive response, that response has not turned into actual commitment and we are still short of where we need to be to make the trip a success with only a week to go before the February 1 deadline for reservations. I wanted to reach out to my blog followers one more time with the link to the itinerary and my contact information, should anyone have any questions. I hope that some of you might consider joining us and if the trip doesn't fit into your own plans this year, I would encourage you to share with friends, family, clients, garden club friends or whoever else you can think of.

This is a really wonderful trip and we hope that we'll have some more interest in this next week before the deadline. You can download the itinerary at my website, here: or email me at  I hope you'll join us and help support Volunteer Gardener!

The garden at Chatsworth is just one of many fabulous estates we'll see on this one-in-a-lifetime trip!  Hope you'll join us, and in the meantime, stay warm!


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Baby, It's Cold Outside!

As I write this, we are facing some of the coldest weather we have had in nearly 20 years at the beginning of next week.  Now, I know that all over the world there are places where it gets and stays much colder than it will be here, but a high temperature of 13 degrees Fahrenheit with the low near zero is almost unheard of in this part of the world and that's what the forecast is for the early part of next week. This will put a lot of plants to the test in the gardens of those of us who like to push the zones and grow plants which, generally speaking, prefer to live a hundred miles or so further south. Inevitably, there will be some losses, but that is the nature of gardening. One plant's demise is another's opportunity! That said, here are a few favorites that will certainly withstand winter's onslaught without batting an eyelash (if plants did, indeed, have eyelashes)!

 Hamamelis x intermedia 'Primavera'

'Primavera' is one of the earliest witchhazels to flower, often beginning here in February and continuing, completely unfazed by inclement weather, until early March. Witchhazels have the uncanny ability to recoil their flower petals if the temperatures get too cold, winding them back up close to (or even inside of) the buds to protect them until the temperature moderates and the plant resumes flowering.

 Helleborus x hybridus 'Golden Sunrise'

'Golden Sunrise' has proven itself beyond a shadow of a doubt in my garden. A member of the Winter Jewels series from Ernie and Marietta O'Byrne at Northwest Garden Nursery, widely distributed now by Monrovia Nursery and a large number of mail-order outlets. In general, the plants in this series have been a little slow to establish in the garden here, but if you're patient, they will wow you with their clear and vibrant colors and exceptional form. The O'Byrnes double-flowered forms (Golden Lotus, Sparkling Diamond and others) are some of the best on the market!

 Helleborus niger 'Josef Lemper'

'Josef Lemper' belongs to the group of hellebores commonly called the "Christmas rose" because of its early bloom time. This variety takes that to the extreme, often beginning to flower as early as October and continuing right up through Christmas and well beyond. In a good year, I have had fresh, white flowers emerging nonstop from mid-October until mid-March! Few other perennials have this kind of flower power and almost none will flower this reliably throughout the winter.

 Helleborus foetidus 'Green Giant'

'Green Giant' is an older seed strain of the bear's foot or "stinking" hellebore (a terrible name, as there is nothing about it that stinks!). The foliage of Helleborus foetidus is most commonly a dark, almost blackish, green and the pea green flower buds begin to emerge from the top of the plant in November, hanging there as if frozen in time until the weather warms just enough in February to coax them open.  The display continues on through March and often well into April.

 Iris reticulata

We are just far enough north in the Nashville area that the true winter-blooming species of iris, like Iris unguicularis, won't thrive here. Enter this sweet little bulb whose leaves will emerge through the frozen soil as early as January and whose flowers may have already come and gone by February's end; certainly by the first week of March (later the further north you go). Iris reticulata, no matter the climate, is one of earliest bulbs to bloom and always gives us hope, as gardeners, that spring truly is on the way.

 Narcissus pseudonarcissus

If you live in the South, you know Narcissus pseudonarcissus as the spring daffodil (jonquil) that covers old farm and homesteads and lines the fencerows for what seems like miles in late February and early March. Sometimes, entire fields will turn yellow with a hundred years or more worth of these spritely daffodils who have reseeded themselves into every available corner of the rural countryside.

Crocus tommasinianus

I don't grow many crocus here because the chipmunks and squirrels can (and usually will) devour the entire lot overnight. Once, we planted nearly 5,000 at a client's home--naturalized throughout the lawn--and in spring we had exactly THREE blooms. THREE! That was both the beginning and the end of my crocus planting days until I discovered the "tommies", Crocus tommasinianus, which the chipmunks find less palatable. These will not only grow and bloom here, but will thrive and reseed, spreading over time into vast carpets that thrill passersby in the last days of winter.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

New Beginnings

I have been a bad blogger this year. I admit it. But writing two books in a year's time and getting the travel business off the ground has taken a considerable amount of my time and has turned my attention, for most of the year, elsewhere. And so, I'm making at least one New Year's resolution before New Year's even arrives and that is to get the blog back up and fully running again.  In fact, I have a couple of new things to share and hope you'll continue following along as I gear up and jump headlong into 2014.

To start, my new book, Plant This Instead! (Click the link) will hit the shelves sometime in February.

Plant This Instead! focuses on making wiser plant choices, offering new, improved and more desirable varieties for today's landscapes and gardens.  No more Bradford pears!  It also compares some of the "new and improved" varieties (Are they, really?) with some of their older, tried-and-true predecessors. I hope you'll take a look at the book on pre-sale now at Amazon or in your local bookstores once it does hit the shelves in February.

I will also be writing again this year for Tennessee Gardener magazine.  I will be doing fewer regional features (the ones that appear in multiple states), but will begin writing a regular monthly article about the happenings here in my home garden, Wits' End, each month in Tennessee Gardener.  In fact, the title of the new column will be "The View From Wits' End" and each month I'll relate stories from the garden, feature plants blooming during that month, talk about my successes and failures and much more.  To accompany the new column, I will also be creating and writing a second blog (in addition to this one and with the same name, "The View From Wits' End", as the magazine column) for Tennessee Gardener that will be featured on their website   This will give me the opportunity to communicate with everyone on a more personal and detailed level in between monthly magazine articles and feature things from the garden that there just aren't room for in the magazine.

Finally, we are really gearing up for a year of travel.  In October, we announced a trip that will benefit the television show, Volunteer Gardener, that I co-host and that runs weekly on Nashville Public Television. We are actively looking for travelers to fill those seats and I would be most grateful if you would help spread the word!  The itinerary, with pricing and all of the details, can be downloaded from my website (Click the link) or you can email me at and I can send an itinerary via email.  You may also call the number in the image, above, but honestly, it just takes you to a voice mailbox and you will reach me faster via the email address I just gave you.  We have until February 1 to sell this trip out and really need to do that in order to raise as much money as possible for Volunteer Gardener!

We'll have new travel announcements for later in the year coming very soon, too, so stay tuned!

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season with family and friends and I'll look forward to seeing you here regularly from now on!  Merry Christmas!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Join Us In Provence and The Cote d'Azur!

Join us in Provence and Cote D’Azur!
September 20-October 1, 2013
For more information, email

Sept. 20      Fly to France (Nice)

Sept. 21     After landing in Nice, we will meet our private coach for the trip to Villa Ephrussi Rothschild for lunch, and a tour of the garden and Villa.  Beatrice Rothschild had practically unlimited money when she built this villa and garden in the early 1900’s, and it shows.  We will have lunch in the tea room and tour the upper level of the villa. After lunch, we will visit the garden. Lunch included, dinner on your own. Hotel Victoria.

Sept. 22    Breakfast will be at our hotel, as it will each morning of the trip.  After breakfast, we will visit the garden at Val Rahmeh followed by our first chance to visit a real French market as we stop in Menton for the Saturday morning market there. After the market, we will have lunch at the Mirazur which has been listed as one of the world’s 50 best restaurants.  After our lunch we will continue to Villa Hanbury to visit the garden.  This is a vertical garden with some of the most magnificent views you have ever seen!  Breakfast & Lunch included, Dinner on your own. Hotel Victoria

Sept. 23     The world renowned Monaco Botanical Garden will be our first stop today. After this we will visit Monaco where you will have lunch on your own and have an opportunity to visit the palace and other sites in Monaco. Breakfast included.  Hotel Victoria

Sept. 24     We will head for the heart of Provence today.  Our first stop will be at the Abbey Thoronet which is a Cistercian Abbey built between 1160 and 1230 without mortar.  Our next stop will be the Chateau Barben, which we will tour. Barben is one of the oldest chateaus in Provence, dating back to 1054. Avignon will be our next stop and hopefully we will be there in time to visit the Palace of the Popes.  This is one of the greatest Gothic palaces in the world built in the 14th century.  Pope Clement V moved the papacy to Avignon to flee from political unrest.  The palace housed 7 popes between 1309 and 1378.  Our hotel for the night will be the Mecure which is located in the center of Avignon. Lunch included.

Sept. 25     A visit to the garden of the Abbey of Saint Andre in Villeneuve les Avignon will be our first stop today followed Pont du Gard, the magnificent Roman aqueduct.  It is a magical site!  The aqueduct was built in 1 century BC and carried 44 million gallons of water each day from Uzes to Nimes.  It was used until the 6th century AD when it is believed that minerals clogged the passage of the water.  Our final sightseeing stop for today will be Nimes.  Nimes is a lovely town with several interesting sites.  We will visit the Maison Carree which is a Vitruvian Roman Temple built in the 1st century AD. The temple survived because it became a church in the 4th century AD.  This temple was the inspiration for the Virginia state capitol.  Jefferson had a model made of it when he was Ambassador to France.  Nimes also has a Roman arena, an interesting shade garden, a nice museum, and good shopping.  When we depart Nimes we will go to Isle sur la Sorgue and Hotel Nevons, our home for the next several days.  Lunch included.

Sept. 26     France would not be France if we did not visit a winery.  Today we visit Chateau Val Jonais for a tour of the winery, garden, and lunch.  We will also visit a French hill town. Lunch included. Hotel Nevons.

Sept. 27     Today will be spent in Arles which is a short distance from Isle sur la Sorgue.  We will stop at Abbaye de Montmajour on the way to Arles.  Built on an island, it was founded in 948 by the Benedictines.  Arles has more in a short walking distance than any other place we have been.  We will see the Church of Saint Trophime with its wonderful 2 story cloister.  The church is Romanesque and classified as a world heritage site.  We will also see the Roman arena, the Roman baths, and the Cryptoportiques.  We will also visit one of Ron’s favorite sites in the world, the les Alyscamps.  Greek, Roman, and Christian tombs line the Aurelian way as it passes through Arles.  The sarcophages are magnificent.  You will have free time to visit other sites or shop. Hotel Nevons.

Sept. 28 This Saturday takes us to St. Remy and nearby sites.  We will stop for a visit to the St. Remy Sat. market.  Our stops will take us to Glanum, a ruined Roman/Greek town, as well as Les Antiques and St-Paul-de-Mausolee where Van Gogh was hospitalized.  We will also visit Les Baux before returning to Isle sur la Sorgue. Dinner included.  Hotel Nevons.

Sept. 29     The best market in France, the land of markets, is in Isle sur la Sorgue.'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue Today, you will have the whole day to spend in Isle sur la Sorgue at the market.  Believe us when we say, this market has everything and even if you are not a shopper you will enjoy this day. Hotel Nevons.

Sept. 30     Today we will visit Cassis and take a boat ride to see the Calanques which are wonderful geological features.  We will stay close to the airport tonight.

Oct. 1         Fly home from Marseilles.

COST:     The cost of this trip is $3250.00 per person based on Double Occupancy. Airfare is NOT included in this price. We will assist in booking plane tickets so that everyone gets the best possible price and that we are all traveling over and back together, unless other arrangements are being made. A single supplement is available.  Please inquire at if you will be traveling singly or have any further questions.

The price of this trip is based on 1.30 exchange rate.  If the exchange rate changes the trip is
subject to an additional charge.  The price is based on double occupancy.  There is a single

supplement.  The itinerary can be changed if required.