Soon to be renowned!

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Established Garden

Celebrate with me! Or don't, but at least humor me. This marks the first year in Fencebroke's history in which I have not spent the better part of the Fall, Winter, or Spring cutting and digging new planting beds. Woo! WoooooThat's right, no more inching along with a half-moon edger drawing invisible shapes in the lawn; no more sod removal; no more attacking the underside of turf chunks with my hori-hori knife in an effort to salvage priceless native topsoil; no more little piles of once-buried beer bottles, car parts, and children's toys that were to be the previous owners' contribution to our priceless native topsoil; no more bulging mounds of removed sod popping up like monstrous mole hills around the yard—correction, no more additional bulging mounds of sod—I will do something with the existing mounds, mark my words; and, most importantly, no more hours burned away on any of the above when I'd much rather be doing ... almost anything else. Woo.

This year, at long last, the beds are dug, mulch has been laid, and the garden is, dare I say, established. Which should in no way be confused with finished, or even coherent, but somewhere along the way I found enough spare minutes and plants to at least lay claim to the newly cut beds by burying things in them along the way. Unfortunately, as new leaves and flowers begin to emerge this Spring in surprising places and unexpected colors, I must admit to a rather startling amnesia regarding what exactly I planted and why exactly I did so. Here's an example:

There. What is that? Kinda pretty I guess, but how big will it get? Will it bloom? When? If so, what color? Is it edible? Poisonous? Psychedelic? Noxious? Obnoxious? I have no idea. And there are dozens of similar examples around the garden. Each doubtless planted in one of many sleep-deprived fugues to which I have succumbed in the four-odd years of the garden's and, not coincidentally, my children's, existence. Did I keep the plant tags? Of course I did. They're in ziploc bags in the shed somewhere, just like my kids' birth certificates. Can I find, much less figure out which goes to which? No I cannot. I mean, with the plants. I have a decent hunch with the kids.

So far, I'm not inclined to remove anything until I see what it does. I can be patient. I will go through the seasons experiencing my own garden with all the joy and surprise of a public garden I've never seen before ... which is pretty much all of them. Yeah, I don't get out much. But I promise, just as soon as this green clump does something more interesting or identifiable, I'll let you all know. I'm sure the suspense is killing you.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Musical Chairs

An unwilling participant in the game.

I'm always changing things, in the garden. Moving them around. Pots, plants, piles of dirt, whole beds (conspiracy theorists will insist that a mythical "paisley bed" once existed in the middle of the backyard—preposterous, of course), and the kids' plastic play slide, which never fails to suffer spontaneous disintegration into its component parts in protest every single time. It is, I suppose, one consequence of never having given a moment's forethought to the overall design of one's garden. 

Instead, the design process here at Fencebroke has been compressed into a series of ultra-dense, creative vortices, in which I swirl around frantically for a few minutes while the kids are sleeping or distracted and lest I collapse forever into the imminent singularity of too much to do in too little time. While I flirt with this event horizon, my tried-and-true process is to gather up as many plants in my arms as I can carry (which, after a career spent largely working at nurseries, is rather a lotthis I mention not to boast, merely to paint a more absurd picture of myself biting off more than I can chew) and then run back and forth around the yard setting plants down at more or less random intervals until their composition is at least generally inoffensive if not particularly inspiring. Inevitably, to achieve this gold standard of Generally Inoffensive I will be forced to dig up a few existing, happily-rooted plants that were plopped down in the same haphazard fashion during a previous vortex. Plants excised in this manner are then added—raw, exposed roots dangling down with pathos—to my enormous, mighty armful, which unfortunately changes in composition but never seems to shrink. Then I just go back and repeat the whole charade until time runs out. It's like musical chairs. There's never enough space for all the plants, so there are always a few left out when the music stops. Pfff—a few—who am I kidding? By the time the needle slides off the record when Rowan falls off a patio chair or Daisy uses a little too much of the rain barrel for her "mud farm", I usually have more plants in my arms than when I started. SO many plants in my arms, and they're heavy, too— 

Okay, okay, now I'm boasting—give me a break, I work in horticulture, there aren't many opportunities.

The results of each round of Musical Vortices attest to a given moment's random and unbridled creativity, which in no way meaningfully communicates with any other moment's random and unbridled creativity. What once, briefly, passed as Generally Inoffensive in its own right will inevitably rear up as Generally Appalling when viewed at a later date and in the context of the garden as a whole. When this happens, the music starts up, the tidal pull of distant creativity swirls, and I start grabbing plants again. This is an approach to the art of garden design that cannot, and indeed, should not, be taught. But it's the way I do it. And frankly I don't have time to do it any other way.

So ... who wants to see how many plants I can really carry? 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Keeping Busy

A still life for sanity. Yes, I made the crane ... do you doubt my skills?

What's a body to do? It's January. It's cold, dark, and dismal. The clouds hunch lower and lower in the sky until they collapse in a stupor and splat to the Earth with a great wet <plop> that will echo until June. The sun is a mythical beast. The family is restless, its father useless. The walls are closing in. The garden is ... well, it doesn't matter what the garden is because no one's stepping outside to find out. So how does the resourceful gardener stay sane in the off-season? Exercise? Pfff! NCAA hoops? I just ... no. Binge-watching old Star Trek episodes? Well, maybe. Hibernation? Tried that, I can't make myself sleep in past 5am. Or until 5am. Or for more than an hour at a time, anytime. Actually, what's the opposite of hibernation?


Don't worry, thanks to your pals .. er, pal ... okay, weird garden guy at Fencebroke Promontory, you won't have to resort to any of those soul-sucking pastimes. Lucky for you, I've compiled a handy-dandy list of meaningful, engaging activities to keep the northern-latitude gardener and family man sharp and productive right through the soggy gut of Winter. Next time you're feeling antsy, just throw a dart at this list and consider yourself occupied!

No ... you know what, don't throw a dart. Sharp projectiles and digital devices don't mix well and I don't want to be held responsible for any broken screens. Just look at the darn list and choose for yourself.

On with the list!

The list is as follows:



Winter Activities For The Boreal Gardener (A List)

1.) Make a list.

2.) Hem

3.) Haw

4.) Make a fresh pot of coffee

5.) Drink a fresh pot of coffee

6.) Get sick

7.) Take care of your family when they get sick

8.) Get to know your pediatrician

9.) Start remodeling your kitchen!

10.) Stay up all night with sick kids

11.) Learn how to remodel your kitchen

12.) Cook dinner with a microwave

13.) Does anyone know a good contractor?

14.) Consider getting sick again

15.) Talk about a book you want to read

16.) Hear about a film you want to see

17.) Binge-watch old Star Trek episodes

18.) Um ... origami?

19.) Hey, didn't we used to have a kitchen?

20.) Go smell the witch hazel

21.) Again

22.) Listen to the wind-chimes

23.) Deep breath

24.) Seed catalogs

25.) It's going to be okay

There you have it, feel free to use as many of these ideas as you want. You'll likely find some more engaging than others, but rest assured I've thoroughly tested all of them for merit. All I can say is: thank god for seed catalogs.

... Yes, and Star Trek.

Friday, December 15, 2017


They're really ... something.

There's something to be said for consistency. I'm not sure what, exactly, that something is, nor who, if anyone, is actually saying it, but it's out there, I have faith, waiting to be said all the same. It might well be something good. I mean, hey, this here sweet alyssum has been flowering at Fencebroke for almost nine straight months now. That's pretty darn consistent. Are the flowers mind-blowing? No. Are they transcendent? Certainly not. Life altering? Meh. But is there plenty of room beneath these unnecessarily hyperbolic descriptions for something ... worthwhile? Sure.

In fact, maybe we need a few more sweet alyssum-caliber benedictions in our lives. Not everything has to make you weak in the knees in order to push the day's balance a little toward the positive. We can't, after all, buy a new phone every day. I mean, yet. I certainly see people lined up in front of the Apple store every day, so god knows the demand is there. But until that happens, maybe we'd be better off noticing some of the little, consistent things in life. The things we tend to overlook which, upon closer inspection, might reveal themselves to be a bit remarkable. And full of happy bees. (Do watch out for those.) Like little white flowers still going strong in the middle of December. That's pretty ... well, it's pretty something. When I figure out what it is, I'll be the first to say it.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Basically "Mad Men"

Being a self-published author means you have to do a lot of different things. Which is unfortunate, because when I set about my writing "career" it wasn't because I wanted to do a lot of different things, it was because I wanted to, you know, write. And occasionally attend swanky awards shows, but I always just assumed these were an inevitable consequence of writing. Secretly I still do. Uhh ... don't tell anyone.

One of the things you have to do as a solo writer is figure out how to get people to read and/or buy what you've written. I've been told this is called "marketing". I'm not a fan. But, since our house gets very few door-to-door solicitations for indie garden lit. by itinerant publishers, critics, or book buyers, I've been forced to enter this strange world that is the psychology of the pocketbook. Wallet. Uh, credit card ... people don't really use pocketbooks anymore, do they? (Wait, is a wallet the same thing as a pocketbook?)

As I write this, on Thanksgiving evening, a great storm of controversy has erupted among those family members present about the term "pocketbook". It was a mistake to seek clarification in this setting.

Anyway, the point is, I now spend more time than I'd like trying to come up with novel ways to drum up readers and customers for the micro-niche of humorous horticultural miscellany I've so foolishly belly-flopped into. It basically turns my household into a scene from Mad Men. Well, minus the glamour. And production value. And, uh, rampant bigotry, infidelity, and sexism. But I've been told I could pass for a shorter, blonder, ever-so-slightly-less-dreamy Jon Hamm. Also, I've been trying to smoke more cigarettes, but so far all I can tolerate are the candy ones. Oh, and I wore a tie for a while, but it seemed to confuse the children. My poor wife has no idea what's going on.

This holiday season, especially, has kicked me into full on Mad Men mode. I put together several flashy proposals and presented them to myself in a high-stakes meeting. I criticized them ruthlessly and told myself to go back wherever I came from. I fumed, told myself off, and then fired myself for insubordination. Now I'm as confused as everyone else in my family.

So I settled on this, because I can't think of anything else:

The Kindle version of my book will be free again this whole Holiday-shopping kick-off weekend (Friday through Monday). Read it, if you haven't already, and then if you like it, maybe consider picking up the print copy as a gift for any gardener or otherwise weird person in your life.

That's it, that's all I got. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm out of candy cigarettes.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Humans Who Grow Food

Hey, check it out! Fencebroke Promontory is currently featured on the Facebook group "Humans Who Grow Food". These folks do great work telling "stories of home gardeners and farmers across borders and cultures." It's inspiring stuff; even if you don't particularly care to see any more of my garden than you already have, do yourself a favor and check out their page!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Today Only!

Hey, spread the word! Today, Sat. Nov. 11th, only: the Kindle version of my book will be FREE on Amazon! This is one small way for me to say thank you for all those who have supported and followed me on this blog, Facebook, and Twitter. Another way would be to actually tell each of you, "THANK YOU", but I don't know your phone numbers or where you all live ... or even who you are. This is easier.