Soon to be renowned!

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.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

A Funny, Awesome Thing

Nature's "Frost"-ing

Yesterday morning the vegetable garden was wilted with frost, the first of the year. This morning: snow. For many vegetables, the advent of freezing temperatures spells doom. My tomatoes, for one, resemble nothing so much as a crop blighted by the nameless evil from "Stranger Things". But a funny thing also happens in the garden when the weather gets cold. A funny, awesome thing. Some of the vegetables don't blacken, putrefy, or collapse; some of the vegetables ... they get tastier. Sweeter. Carrots, kale, rutabagas and the like actually improve after being nipped by frost.

I love that. Now, the reason why this happens is that certain plants, when they feel the cold setting in, start manufacturing extra sugars. These dissolved sugars act as antifreeze within the plant tissues, preventing ice crystals from popping open the plant cells like Wolverine at a water-balloon toss. Which is cool, even if your eyes glazed over during those last couple sentences. Think about it: there's an entire class of vegetables who are like, "Hey guys, things are getting rough out there, should we ... you know, get more awesome?" And in this spirit, they join the ranks of other, more-awesome-under-pressure heroes such as first-responders, parents who lift cars off of trapped children, and reality cooking show chefs who are able to conjure a flan from thin air with 3 minutes left on the clock. It's a pretty elite group, one to which I myself would aspire were it not for my own tendency to shake like an aspen leaf when confronted with ... well, confrontations. And when it's snowing outside, forget about getting sweeter, I'm pretty sure my own tissues turn bitter from extra coffee—my own antifreeze.

So let us all, this Winter, strive to be more like the rutabaga. Let us all, in life, turn a little sweeter under duress, a little stronger when the world turns cold. I challenge you, dear readers, to be the vegetable in your life that looks around at the chaos and gloom and says, "Hey guys ... let's be a little more awesome".

As for me, I'll be inside, drinking coffee. But I'll definitely be cheering you on.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Blues

One of the Blues.

I've got them. The blues, that is. Mostly in the veggie garden, but still, there are a lot of 'em. Not the old 12-bar variety, mind you, no grizzled harmonicists lurking in the carrots with broken hearts, no bottleneck slide guitarists drowning their sorrows in bourbon and Brussels sprouts, but still, I've got the blues.

I've got the All-of-my-fall-and-winter-veggies-seem-to-have-'blue'-in-their-names blues.

My story is relatively free of traditional blues themes such as infidelity, cheatin', workin' all day, cuckoldin', workin' all night, and whiskey (hey, I said relatively free of these themes). In their place, you'll find my blue refrain cropping up on a theme of brassicas. 'Blue Wind' broccoli, 'Dazzling Blue' Kale—hang on, should I go get my guitar? I think it'd really add something. No? No one wants me to go get my guitar? Yeah, I'm going to get it anyway.


Okay, where was I? Bluuuuue Wind broccol—wait, hang on, I gotta tune this thing.

Shoot, you know what, it's actually missing a string. Okay, forget the guitar. It's mostly lost in translation anyway. Rest assured, I was about to really cut loose on that thing.

So yeah, the broccoli, the kale, I've also got 'Blue Max' collard greens (or should I call them "collard blues"? No, no I shouldn't, that's just confusing), and I can't recall for certain, but I think the leeks I planted are actually 'Blue Solaise'. I've also got 'Roodnerf' Brussels Sprouts; I would not at all be surprised to find 'Roodnerf' translates as 'Also Blue' in whatever country it originated. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about all the blues. In the great tradition on of accidental color palettes emerging from the garden mine is doubtless one of the more agreeable and benign. I just wonder if all that blue will start to weigh on me over the course of a long Fall and Winter. Oh well, if it comes to it, I can always buy some new guitar strings. Or a harmonica. Or some whiskey ...

Monday, October 2, 2017


First of all, let's make one thing very clear: the only reason these apples don't all have bite marks in them is because I picked them while my children were napping. At any other time, my son, whose first repeated word was "apple" (or, more accurately, "b'apple") and my daughter, who seems to have a sixth sense for when I might be out picking something in the garden without her, would immediately have taken two or three bites out of each specimen, then either set it down to be forgotten or actively cast it aside as no longer novel enough to warrant attention. Each fruit would then later be rediscovered by yours truly, in an oxidized-brown, dirt-covered, fruit-fly-swarmed state, hopefully just on the ground in the garden somewhere and not, as more often happens, returned to the hands of my son, the apple zombie, who since learning to walk in a beginner's gait resembles nothing else so strongly as he shuffles around gnawing an old corpse of an apple and muttering "b'apple ... b'apple ..." under his breath. 

So it is only during these few moments while both are sleeping that I am free to entertain the silly, passing flights of fancy I would normally swat like mosquitoes. Fantasies like: I'm a successful orchardist, calmly searching his trees for potential prize-winning fruits for the State Fair; or, I'm a visionary plant breeder who has just successfully cross bred apples with pumpkins, creating a massively profitable quintessence of Fall; or, I'm a normal person who can go pick an apple and eat it without feeling the need to write about the experience. Ridiculous stuff like that. You can see why I'm normally grateful for the distraction my children provide. 

Speaking of which, the zombie stirs. I better go hide these beauties and then forget about them like everything else I try to keep away from the kids.

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Hard, Flat Spot

My thesaurus doesn't really offer a good synonym for patio. That's okay. Because where I would normally christen any new Fencebroke infrastructure improvement with a sufficiently haughty title to conceal my deep feelings of handyman inadequacy (e.g. The Great Grape Gate or the Great Wall Of Fencebroke), this time I just don't care.

May I present the great something of blahdy blah blah—let's just call it what it is: it's A Hard Flat Spot.

After six months, dozens of blisters, too much money, weekly meltdowns of our children who basically lost their parents for the Summer, and countless trips to the big box hardware vortex—during which we were only once, once! asked if we needed any help, and this on our very last trip—it's DONE and I don't care what it's called. Every garden needs a hard, flat spot on which to put chairs and other furniture, so here it is. Fencebroke's very own Hard-Flat-Spot-On-Which-To-Put-Chairs-And-Other-Furniture.

Now why didn't they put that in the thesaurus?

Oh well, I'm sick of it, but I'm also happy with how it turned out. Plus, as a bonus, we finished with nearly a half-hour of Summer weather left to enjoy! A toast was made, a game of ladder-golf was begun, and then the first Fall rains started in earnest. Sorry kids, we'll do Summer next year.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Pest Problems

Late Summer is a common time for pests to make their presence known in the garden. Plants have been taxed near to death by their own cycles of growth and reproduction compounded by long weeks of drought and heat. This cumulative stress of relentless physiology and environmental extremes leaves the garden depleted and vulnerable to opportunistic predation, parasitism, and physical damage. Here are a few of the more persistent and serious late-season pests in my own experience. I don't have any advice or wisdom to help deal with these, they just suck. Sorry. If you'd read my book, maybe you wouldn't be in this position. If I'd followed my own advice, maybe I wouldn't be.

1.) Children – There's a lot of nonsense out there about encouraging kids to get out in the garden. It's supposed to be good for their development, self-esteem, health, etc.. That's great for the kidsI'm sure the proverbial bull loves tearing around that china shop, too—but this kind of feel-good outdoor activity does not make the garden feel good. My daughter is old enough to largely limit her destruction to the tearing off of random leaves for doll's bedding, pulling five-too-many carrots in search of the perfect snack, and repeatedly throwing Frisbees into tomato plants. Catch, tomato! My son, on the other hand, thinks the fragile young Fall and Winter seedlings are things to be hatched rather than grown and plays his part by sitting on as many of them as possible. He also has developed a taste for unripe strawberries and plant tags.

2.) Hoses – This is the time of year when months of early-morning hose-wranglings, kinks, leaks, and dawn-wrought (but otherwise unrelated) existential angst culminate in spasms of blind rage. Spasms of blind rage are not inherently destructive to the garden, but when said spasms are transferred to the long, heavy, irrigating whip inevitably in hand this time of year, innocent plants are battered, lashed, decapitated, and generally smote more often than not. So-called "hose guards" are a laughable defense. The hose can be guarded-against, the livid gardener flailing the hose cannot be. 

3.) Apathy – Since it is ultimately by the will of the gardener that the garden thrives, when that will falls like unpicked fruit to shrivel and rot on the ground, the garden understandably suffers. The growing season is like a marathon, or, rather, like I imagine a marathon might be if I were ever to participate in one: halfway through I'm wondering what I got myself into, 3/4 through I'm eating leftover pizza and thinking about fantasy football. Don't judge me, gardening is hard!
Look for the first signs of apathy about when powdery mildew and blossom end-rot show up. Or don't. By that point you may already not care. 

Those are the three big, late season pests. Together they should just about be enough to make you consider next year paving over the garden in favor of a world-class hopscotch course. 


Uh, the hopscotch thing is my idea. Nobody else do that. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Midsummer Checklist

The Savanna of Summer

Now that it's too hot out and (here in the Northwest, anyway) the air too red-orange sick with the smoke of forest fires to step outside without being hassled by dehydration, heat stroke, respiratory ailments, and apocalyptic visions, I thought it'd be a good time to stay inside for a few minutes and go over this midsummer checklist I came up with.

The Summer can be an overwhelming time in the garden, so I find it helpful to make a list. Lists are always a good way to feel certain and guilty about the things you are failing to do; otherwise you'd only have an uncomfortable, vague inkling that you were failing to do things. My wife gets credit for teaching me to make lists. She finds the act of crossing items off of a list very satisfying. I wouldn't know because I believe lists are to be used for comedic relief and making oneself feel bad about one's laziness or lack of focus rather than for any utilitarian, motivational impetus. We agree to disagree.

So anyway, here's my midsummer checklist to help you evaluate your progress and achievements in the garden. Feel free to cross these off or just cry softly to yourself as you make your way through them.

  • First and foremost, have you considered giving up? Gardening is hard, especially during this trying season. Lots of work to do, lots of other stuff going on, pests, watering, harvesting ... if you've already thrown in the towel, that's good. If you haven't, if you're still somehow slogging through the daily dirty Summer grind, then this is the time of year you should definitely start thinking about giving up.
  • Speaking of watering, are you spending at least as much time watering your garden as you are sleeping at night? We are always striving for balance in our lives, and studies have shown* this to be a good, healthy ratio of watering to sleep.
  • Do you have at least one squash plant making bold territorial claims on the garden? Do you fear for the sovereignty of your land and the rule of law? Good, this type of political strong-arming by squash can sow a robust spirit of dissent and unity amongst other members of the garden.
  • Have you located your yellowjackets' nest yet? The best way to find your yearly yellowjackets' nest is by accident. They will let you know when you have found it. The best location for a nest is just far enough from your daily activity to make you think you can safely ignore it, but close enough that, actually, you can't.
  • Are you still pretending that friends, neighbors, and coworkers genuinely want your @$*&$@ zucchini and summer squash? It is important to maintain this stubborn denial for as long as possible, otherwise you'll never get rid of that incessant crop.
  • Does your lawn resemble nothing so much as a parched savanna? Are you noticing more safari-ing tourists in Land Cruisers than in previous months? Yeah, that's about right. Watch out for cheetahs, I hear those things are fast.
  • Have you managed to kill many of the plants you attempted to establish earlier in the season? You don't need to have killed all of them by this point—there's still plenty of Summer remaining—but you should have a good healthy start on killing new plants.
  • And last, but certainly not least, what do you think your're doing reading this blog!? Get back out there and do some more watering!
This concludes my midsummer checklist. Let me know if there are any other important tasks or responsibilities I have failed to make you feel bad about.

*No studies have shown this. It was basically a lie. But maybe by the time you get around to reading footnotes, it will already have (mis)informed your actions.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Sharing The Harvest

Are you swimming in summer squash? Inundated in tomatoes? Are you shoving green beans into your face as fast as you possibly can but they just keep coming? Maybe your eyes were bigger than your stomach when you decided to fill your trunk with roadside blackberries. Or are you completely stumped by all that kohlrabi you planted in Spring. What on Earth does one do with kohlrabi?

One gives it away.

This time of year I like to remind folks to consider donating their surplus harvest to local food banks, who (in my experience anyway) are always beyond delighted to accept whatever you don't want or can't use. There are lots of great organizations committed to ending hunger in local communities; here in the North King County area, Hopelink operates several branches where they accept fresh produce from home gardens. If you have lots of tree fruit that you don't have time to harvest or use, consider contacting an organization like City Fruit, which does great work in the Seattle area collecting and distributing fruit that would otherwise go to waste.

Fresh, home-grown produce is one of the purest, most profound joys in life. I believe everyone should have access to the nutrition, flavor, and satisfaction of eating food straight from the ground, regardless of whether or not they have a garden of their own.

And come on ... how many zucchini do you really need?

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Huntress

A girl and her catch.

Is this image shocking to you? Why? Is it a shudder at the violence inherent in my daughter holding by the neck two freshly slain young summer squashes? Is it the chilling reminder that such violence is implicit in all the food we eat, whether or not we bear witness to it?

(Or is it just the cluttered and ever-so-ungardenly wasteland behind her? Yes, I agree, it's not Fencebroke's best face.)

Now what if I told you she hunted and killed these squash with her own bare hands? Does your blood run cold? Are you spewing outrage at your screen and vowing to never again offer your tacit approval of such acts by reading this blog? Are you wondering where I, the ostensibly responsible parent, was during this wanton slaughter? Am I too busy watering the garden to notice my children running amok with vegetable blood on their hands? Well ... clearly not, I took this picture after all. And frankly, it makes me proud. 

That's right. I feel there is a great deal of personal empowerment that comes from slaughtering one's own produce. And while it may be controversial (though what part of garden blogging isn't, am I right?), I wholeheartedly support and encourage my children's natural desire to hunt and kill whatever squash, carrot, apple, or rutabaga happens to cross their path (provided, of course, they make every effort to butcher and consume their prey in a humane, timely, and responsible manner—hey, I'm not a monster). 

And if you're still not convinced (not that I especially care), please bear in mind the delicate ecological balance of the garden. Summer squash and zucchini, in particular, are prone to wild population explosions this time of year. It is up to the gardener and his family to provide a top-down control on such rampant overgrowth, lest the entire garden be consumed by a locust-like wave of crooknecks and patty-pans. So please, after you're done shuddering, please make your best effort to withhold judgement of this very natural and necessary part of our circle of life. Thank you.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a lesson to give in field dressing golden squash. This could get messy.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Zero-Alarm Fire

"Not a real emergency, sir." 

I called the Fire Department again. Thought the beans were on fire (one can never be too careful during the dry season). Turns out they're (still) just scarlet runner beans and that fiery red-orange blaze is just their thing. Just their flowers. Totally normal.

Turns out I already knew that and just wanted to show off how awesome Fencebroke's "Scenic Gateway To Beans" (revisit this post for context) looks with these scarlet runner beans blooming. It also turns out the local Fire Department is not an appropriate audience for such showmanship. Apparently, they do not spend their down-time between calls cultivating a sufficiently deep appreciation of local, small-scale urban agriculture to overlook my gross civic irresponsibility for some (admittedly lovely) beans.

That's okay. I bear no lingering grudge for these local heroes, even if they did blast every bean in sight with fire-retardant foam (though I do suspect this action was motivated more by a desire to teach me a lesson than by any real fear of leguminous fire spreading to nearby structures). What are you going to do? They have a stressful job.

So who can I show my beans to? The pizza place won't deliver to me anymore. The mailman refuses to come to the backyard. I told the ice cream truck driver there was a whole flock of kids out back with money to burn; he didn't believe me. Isn't there anyone I can trick into a token compliment for all my hard work in the garden?


Friday, July 7, 2017

The Beach

My daughter now calls this area "The Beach". Yeah, she takes her toys and dolls to vacation here, builds dusty "sandcastles" here, gamely avoids the broken glass and old nails disinterred here—really sells the vision. And, while I prefer the official Fencebroke land-use press release title of "Handsome And Well-Lain Patio To Be Completed When Children Grow Old Enough To Keep Themselves Alive And Occupied Without Supervision For 15 Minutes", I do appreciate her making the best of what has become an admittedly desolate corner of the yard.

Still, I can't help but think she might be egging us on with a bone-dry wit she's somehow adopted at the age of three-and-a-half. Am I overreacting? Be honest with me girl! Have you been watching British Comedy!? The nerve of kids these days.

Or, maybe it's nothing more than the burgeoning imagination of a child. You know, the sort of sheer force of creative will that lets the innocent turn war zones into wonderlands, tenements into treasure maps, abandoned lots into playgrounds, and—

—Good god, what is wrong with our yard!?

We live ten minutes from the shores of Puget Sound, if I take you there, will you stop coronating your princesses in this ant-ridden patch of parched earth we call a "patio"!? No! There are no crabs here! That's an old bottle cap! I don't know why—because the people who lived here before us didn't have a garbage can. Go wash your hands.


Maybe I could at least harness some of that youthful and euphemistic gusto and use it to re-brand our other unsightly garden features. The rock pile could become The Mystic Mountain, the water meter a Buried Treasure Chest, and Fencebroke's namesake fence would be transformed into the sturdy parapet of some Enchanted Castle! I mean, I'm onto something, right?

Meh, I don't know, it feels so forced when I do it. Dang kids and their ... whimsy.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

So Crazy It Just Might Work

In the ground? Whaaaaa ... ?
I can't tell you how pleased this makes me. Nay—giddy! Giddier than my daughter during the opening theme of Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood; giddier than my daughter ... during the opening theme of Curious George. Or Octonauts—okay, we really need to introduce some new sources of unbridled joy into our parenting repertoire. Well, in any case, giddier than any grown man ought to be. 

But, come on ... those are happy potatoes in that there photo. The first we've ever had at Fencebroke. All hilled-up and everything. I feel like a farmer. 

So what did it take, you ask? Oh ... you don't? Well I'll tell you anyway. It took a radical departure. A scheme so brilliant, preposterous, and contrary to standard procedure that it could only come from the warped mind of a once-in-a-generation mad genius. 

Good thing I happened to marry her. 

You see, for the last several years, in my own dogged pursuit of space-saving, yield-maximizing solutions for the suburban garden, I have stubbornly erected a crude cedar tower to house our potatoes. And while this structure represents my single greatest achievement in carpentry to date (narrowly edging out the stick I whittled last Summer—and that was pretty darn sharp), it has repeatedly failed to fulfill its spudly potential. 

The idea is to start with a low frame and then build the tower taller and fill it in as the potato plants get taller. Lots of soil volume in a small area=lots of potatoes in a small area (someone check my math there, please). Really what happens is the potato plants get more and more pitiful as the Summer goes on and the soil gets deeper. I felt like a parent whose small children can't fathom why they are being made to suffer. I feel like that much of the time anyway ... but, you get the picture. Oh, you don't? Well for—come on, people! Meet me halfway here!

It wasn't working! That's all you need to know. We never managed to pull more than a handful of lonely potatoes scarcely larger than the seed spuds which begat them out of that cursed box.

So early this Spring, as I despondently dragged out the lumber to once again stack my fool's tower, the aforementioned mad-genius-who-also-happens-to-be-my-wife comes out and asks—like it's no big deal, mind you—she asks, like she's not shattering every urban-agricultural precept in my big thick head:

"Why don't we just plant them in the ground this year?"


<Mind exploding> Why don't we just plant them in the ground this year?

So I tried it, all the while feeling the naughty thrill of a disobedient child. Potatoes in the ground? What if someone catches us? What will people think? What will people say?

Look at the picture. I think they'll say, hey man, nice potatoes, can I have some? 

And now, of course, I'm eager to hear whatever other crazy gardening ideas my wife might come up with. Hey baby, what about cabbage moths? Peach leaf-curl? What could we do to get better germination from our carrot seeds? What should I do when the soil is dry? 

Okay—I know, I know, sorry, you can't rush genius. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

National Holidays

Does this girl look like she needs shortcake?

"Today is National Strawberry Shortcake Day!" my daughter Daisy was told this week by the friendly local produce man. It was a delightful claim and call to celebration, if a bit suspicious. First of all, Daisy just happened to be wearing her strawberry-print dress, a "coincidence" I find too unlikely to signify anything but an opportunistic fib the likes of which sales-driven cogs in the produce industry are taught in order to capitalize on the prevalence of fruit-themed childrens' clothing; and secondly, I had already been told by the butcher that very same day that we should all pick up a package of beef because today was National Ground Chuck Day. Which one is it, fellas? Strawberry shortcake or ground beef? IT CAN'T BE BOTH!

But since the audacious fruit "holiday" did in fact coincide with the year's first decent harvest of strawberries here at Fencebroke, and since I didn't have the heart to tell my 3-year-old she was being played like a fiddle by a global cabal of shadowy, produce-peddling oligarchs, I let her believe. Like in Santa Clause. I am a very good father. So, after only a brief 40-minute cautionary lecture about the pitfalls of Corporate Fruit, I let her pick and eat strawberries from our own garden. But no shortcake. As a lesson ... or something—I don't know, maybe I didn't feel like making shortcake. I am a very good father, but also lazy.

And then I made tacos, because dangit if I'm not a sucker for ground chuck. I mean it was, after all, a National Holiday.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Tomatoes and Hans the Octopus

What Gives?

Here are the first of our tomatoes for the year. You'll notice they're in simple, boring wire cages. Yes, I grow my tomatoes in wire cages. What gives, right? This stuff is my profession, shouldn't I be above such a “Home Depot” garden solution? How could I stoop to such garden-variety gardening? After all, isn't any self-respecting gardener, when confronted with a problem in the garden—in this case how to support tomato plants and their impending load—duty-bound to ignore the advice of every other self-respecting gardener and come up with his or her own perfect, unassailable method against which all other methods pale like a Scot in Winter (e.g. yours truly). Is this not what makes one a “serious” gardener? Well, that and a casual derision at the obvious shortcomings of every other solution out there. So maybe I'm not such a “serious” gardener after all. Could that be it? Either that or …

Maybe this is the horticultural equivalent of being a hipster. The wire cages are ironic, right? The rejection of modern innovation through a loathing embrace of nostalgia. I'm making a statement. If you don't get it, forget it. Or …

Maybe I'm simply sparing you all the shame of seeing your own harvest whimper next to the obscene bounty unleashed by the implementation of my own unique modern twist on some arcane tomato trellising system I stumbled across in the dusty cloisters of an old French monastery. That's probably it. I do spend a lot of time in dusty cloisters. Or …

Maybe I already bought all these tomato cages and I'm too cheap to spend additional resources on research and development to hold up my Sungolds. Or …

Maybe, as father of two young children, I perform my gardening in two-minute bursts whenever no one happens to be eating rocks or crying about tight-fitting clothes, and thus my gardening solutions must be easier than putting a swim suit on a 3-year-old. Or …

Maybe these aren't really the tomatoes I'll be growing this year. Maybe I staged the whole thing as an elaborate ruse to confuse readers and protect trade secrets. The real tomatoes are yet to come. The real tomatoes are behind the curtain. The real tomatoes are in an underground facility, in aqueous culture, tended by a super-intelligent but catty octopus named Hans! There are no real tomatoes! Or …

Or maybe I'm just lazy.

You decide.  

Monday, April 24, 2017


Here lies a digging fork
Atop the sod it vanquished
For every bed of Fencebroke
That Apple Tree and Strawberry and Collard Green might thrive
Broken on foreign soil
In service of Earth Day
Tearing Thistle from a nearby park
They gave us hot dogs
And old coffee
For our efforts
But naught for an old fork with crooked tines
Whose spine was cracked in the Earth 
O fork
There is no Day for thee!

Sunday, April 9, 2017



Ha! Admit it, you fell for the picture. You thought this post was going to be all about our fabulous nectarine tree and how its blizzard of satin blossoms is a certain portent of fruit-laden branches to come. Well, joke's on you (and me, too, I suppose), there are no certain portents of anything in this garden! I thought for sure we'd be swimming in Italian prunes last year, but our sum total harvest was a solitary, split, misshapen plum, which windfall was claimed by two surly yellowjackets before we could attempt any sort of stone fruit wading, much less swimming. No, sadly, Springtime promises borne on pretty flowers are too often as fleeting and fragile as the bloom itself. At least here at Fencebroke. True bounty, if it is to be had at all, fills an unexpected cornucopia, like a mailbox full of coupons and long-forgotten mail-in-rebates. Yeah ... uh, just like that.

So if I didn't lure you here to boast about all the nectarines we'll be scarfing down months from now, what's really going down at FPG? Unfortunately, this:

Also pretty!

That's right, it's yet another impulsive, poorly-planned infrastructure project for which we have no realistic timetable to completion! We're calling it a patio. Whether or not it ultimately earns this appellation remains to be seen, but hey, if it involves sod-lifting, brick moving, and Fireox the Beastbarrow, you know it's going to be good. 

I do apologize for the image subterfuge, but I just couldn't bear to lead another blog post with a muddy scene of excavation limbo. I promised myself from the beginning this would never be that kind of blog. So rather than be untrue to my own impeccable values, I took the high road and deceived my readers instead. You're welcome. Look at it this way, if/when the nectarine tree fails to produce this Summer, I can at least invite you all over for BBQ on the new patio. Which may or may not be complete. But who wouldn't rather have charred, processed meat than a fresh, juicy nectarine? Eh, best not to answer that, chances are you won't have a choice anyway. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Growing Potential

A Bumper Crop of Possibility

Look at that. Can't you just taste the potential? Mmm, delicious, delicious potential. Well, whether it's delicious or not, this year I suspect I'll have to develop a taste for it. It'd be nice to plant lettuce and carrots and potatoes and other things you can, you know, actually eat, but with 8-month-old Rowan grazing the lawn every time I turn my back and 3-year-old Daisy ritualistically interring my hand tools whenever I break off to shepherd Rowan, it's unlikely I will succeed in sowing much more than this vision of freshly cultivated potential. At least it's nice to look at. Maybe I can set aside a few minutes every couple weeks to go out with a hoe and tend the potential. Pull weeds, rake the bed, think about what lovely broccoli could have grown here or snappy beans over there. Pull bits of dead leaves and bugs out of Rowans mouth while I daydream of tomatoes past. 

It is tempting, as a (self-pitying) parent, to see one's untended ambitions as lying fallow or unproductive while the primary objective of Not-Screwing-Up-Your-Kids-Too-Badly quickly drains one's strategic reserves of time, patience, and give-a-hoot. Why not, then, try to cultivate this potent dormancy as a worthwhile crop in its own right? Keep it free of weeds, fertile, and ready for the scantest input of inspiration and effort to return it to glorious and delicious productivity. Until such a time, should such a time occur, you will have a bare (but not barren!) testament to your erstwhile good intentions and aspirations. That's easily as satisfying as fresh tomatoes! Isn't it? Please tell me it is ... 

Monday, March 13, 2017


Yeah ... we'll call that good.

As this Winter's previous posts should have adequately prepared the reader, I just can't fight it anymore. The weather, that is. So if our much-anticipated new greenhouse (greenshanty? greenshack? more of a green-to, really) project stands nearly complete one day and lies toppled by 50 mph winds the next morning, I am at this point inclined to just roll with it. Yep, I don't care that it resembles nothing so much as an ill-fated foray into horticulture by one of the two less provident Little Pigs after an encounter with that huffy-puffy wolf, it gets the Fencebroke Promontory seal of Good Enough. (I've a sneaking suspicion this will not be the last time we break out that seal this season).

Therefore, it is in this spirit of lowered expectations and with no particular pride that I present ...  <cue a single rusty trumpet's broken fanfare> ... The (Sponsor-to-be-Named) Conservatory at Fencebroke Promontory Gardens, henceforth and in perpetuity known as ... The Green-To, I guess. 

This structure will doubtless provide little practical use and will serve instead as a grating reminder of the powerlessness of man and woman and the primacy, capriciousness, and wanton misanthropy of nature. Because, like a birdbath, shouldn't every garden have one of those?

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Weather Permitting

… Buuut, it's not. Cycles of petulant snow and sleet each weekend are not permitting. Inches of cold rain above the average are not permitting. Blankets of hail whumping down to cover the ground just as I zip up my rain gear for a brave, all-out assault on the impending garden are not permitting (he stands in the doorway clutching his spade—the soldier crosshaired by a fatally underestimated enemy). Tree limbs felled by cackling gales are not permitting. Groundwater and frost heave and erosion and that smug weatherman are not permitting. WHY IS HE LAUGHING? HOW CAN HE LAUGH!?

This whole @!#@% Winter is permitting little else but board games, snacks, and ominous tool-sharpening in what I'm told is uncomfortable proximity to loved ones. I'm not too close! You're too close! Where's the trail mix?

Well, that's done anyway.
I've got seeds in troves. I've got a greenhouse to finish building. I've got new fertilizer to alchemize. I've got strawberries to plant; stone fruits to prune; sod to lift; all these dang cinderblocks I've got to do something with. I have impressionable children in whom I must imbue the farmer's timeless connection to land and nature.

I've got imbuing to do! How am I supposed to imbue in all this mud!?

At this rate, with forecasts calling for bickering between polar and marine air masses until one or the other admits it was wrong and says 'I'm sorry', I'll be returned to the regularly-scheduled Spring garden (already in progress) sometime round about late April.

Weather permitting, of course.

These pruners are going to be sooo sharp by then.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Fencebroke Promontory Wonderland

Going forward, I plan on only posting pictures of the garden proper while its shortcomings are comfortably redacted with a blanket of snow. Beautiful, right? 
Wait a minute, are those cinderblocks I see scattered around the yard for no discernible reason? 
Nope, all I see are soft, playful snowblocks.
Okay, but what about that ugly tarp-covered wheelbarrow by the shed there?
Oh, you mean the majestic snowbarrow? Lovely, isn't it.
What about that spot there where the whole yard buckles upwards as though recently excavated?
Yes sir, nothing but the gently undulating terrain of Fencebroke Promontory Wonderland, certainly not the site of a recent, emergency sewer replacement project. 
Fine, fine, but come on now ... what's the deal with that purple shed door?
No questions about the purple door! That's it--this blog post is over! 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

As Promised: Arnold Promise's Promise

Arnold Unfurls

To all those who doubted when I claimed my witch hazel blooms every Winter, come sun, rain, or snow; to the legions of haters and disbelievers who assaulted my timid assertion that, yes, indeed, this Hamamelis will burst forth into the frigidest of Februaries; to the angry hoards of persecutors who pelted me with stale dinner rolls following my meek espousal of 'Arnold Promise' as the noblest of this most noble clan; to that unruly mob that picketed Fencebroke Promontory for weeks on the heels of my controversial digression into fragrant winter-blooming shrubs; to the thugs who slashed my tires when I said I liked the color yellow ... eat your heart out. Here, as promised, is 'Arnold Promise' in all his promised glory, (as seen during Monday's Snowaclysm '17).

Now, if you'll excuse me, as I do not expect this announcement to go over well with the aforementioned haters, disbelievers, angry hoards, unruly mobs, and thugs (hey, what did I expect from a life in horticulture?) ... I have an appointment with Witness Protection.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


Remember this game? You know, the one by which we instill in our children a lifelong fear of sudden heart failure? It's called Perfection, and since the goal is to correctly match all the shapes into their holes within the allotted time lest the whole game board explode like a jack-in-the-box on meth, its name seems to imply that anything less than the nominal perfection is catastrophic, cardiac-arresting disaster. Good times. That tictictictictic of the timer still makes my hands sweaty just thinking about it. WHY CAN'T WE JUST BE VERY GOOD AT SOMETHING!!??

The reason I bring up Perfection is to evoke the lit-fuse urgency and dread one feels (one belonging to the Perfection generation, anyway) whenever there is a limited amount of time in which to accomplish a large number of tasks. My previous post laid out a few of the many such tasks to be tackled around Fencebroke. What I failed to mention is that—tictictictic—there is a—tictictic—timer going on in the—tictictic—background while I hem and haw and dither and procrastinate and wait for the weather to clear.

For Spring lies in wait, ticking silently underground, like an impending subterranean nuclear test blast beneath our feet. At least that's how I feel. But I mean, what difference will it make if I manage to relocate a couple perennials and add a row of bricks to the patio and prune two out of five apple trees when tictictictic—KPPSHWHOOOMPH!!!—Spring explodes in my face come April and I can't even find the rest of the apple trees. Unless I accomplish every. Single. Thing. To perfection. Then it will all be for nought, it will all be buried 'neath the incoming, supersonic, pyroclastic shrapnel cloud of daffodils and yellow plastic game pieces. That's just the way life works. According to Milton Bradley anyway. Those folks must have been gardeners.

Sunday, January 15, 2017


Whew! Okay, uh … sorry, just had a mini freak out when I started thinking about all the off-season gardening tasks on the docket for Fencebroke this Winter. But, if there's one thing I've learned from my brilliant wife over the years, it's that there's not a problem in the world too overwhelming to be solved—or at least put off for a few more minutes—by making a list. So here goes …

*Prune fruit trees
*Design and build small greenhouse out of existing materials
*Install new cinderblock border for veggie bed; plant strawberries in cinderblock holes
*Throw away old, expired seeds
*Buy new seeds
*Stifle guilt of once again buying too many seeds
*Build support for raspberries planted last year
*Find and re-bury treasure
*Dig new bed for planting quinoa; use sod thus lifted to start a new squash mound
*Figure out why the @##$^& I can't seem to grow potatoes
*Finish planting and edging existing ornamental beds
*Conduct mass funeral for all the plants that didn't make it this year
*Clean out rain barrels
*Find a way to market my book in China; learn Mandarin
*Dig-up and relocate at least 75% of so-called “permanent” plantings; after careful consideration, replant at least 50% of those back in the same spot they came from.
*Pot-up container plantings
*Clean out fire pit; burn all incriminating documents
*Plan edible plantings for the year in order to maximize nutrition, yield, variety, flavor, preservation, kid-friendliness, and length of growing season; give up and just wing it.
*Instill in offspring a lasting sense of harmony and connection to the Earth through the thoughtful cultivation of its soil; give up and put on Daniel Tiger instead.
*Find a way to share this year's harvest with those in need
*Prune dead limbs on trees in front yard
*Make garden more bird-friendly
*Make garden less cat-friendly
*Make garden more gardener-friendly
*Re-do and expand back patio for better—

—You know what? This isn't helping at all. I can't even … I don't know where to … and the ground is still frozen … and the kids won't ever nap at the same time and—

All right, I've got a new, simplified list:

*Stay inside
*Drink coffee
*Play video games

Check, check, and … check. Turns out my wife was on to something.