Soon to be renowned!

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.