Soon to be renowned!

Monday, November 26, 2018

Smallber Giving Smuesday

Can't ... take ... anymore ... branding ... 

Yes, the shameless beating of our holiday shopping season's dismembered corpse is getting out of hand. With the recent arms race to claim exclusive marketing rights for days of the week it would be tempting to wax cynical and just boycott the whole thing. (Screw it, I'm going to shop small on Wednesday, just you try and stop me.) But, being a self-published author who works at a small independent garden center, sells his book online, and believes strongly in charitable giving, like it or not, I do have a bit of a stake in the madness. 

So to make amends for my participation in this yuletide vivisection, I have undertaken the following grafting of weekday shopping directives: all proceeds from Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday sales of my book will be donated to Hopelink, a local food bank/social services organization.

If, for some reason, you don't find snarky gardening literature on your shopping list this year, please do consider making a donation to a charity you believe in anyway. I won't even tell if you if you do it on Wednesday.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Full Disclosure

Free Kindle Version This Weekend. Yay.
I don't have it in me to play clever and coy with marketing this year as the holidays approach. The world is two-faced and deceptive enough at the moment, thank you. The fact remains, though, that I wrote this book a while ago and I've been working hard to finish my next one. It was, and continues to be my hope that people will read what I've put down and smile, laugh, or feel that piquant, nameless something that can only be transmitted by the written word.

To that end, and whatever meager "profit" follows thereof, I occasionally engage in nefarious schemes to make people aware of my book's existence. This is one of those. It's called "advertising" and it makes me cringe. But, since I've never come close to generating any substantial income, I've historically just returned all revenue from book sales straight into my advertising budget and suppressed the "yuk" factor by telling myself that at least, if more people are reading, than maybe more people are laughing. Maybe a few days get fractionally brighter. 

Do the ends justify the means?

Well, you tell me. Here's the latest pitch:

The Kindle version of Twenty Reasons Not To Garden (And Why I Ignore Them All) will be free this entire weekend (Nov. 9-12). As a gardener myself, this is the kind of book that I would love to receive as a gift and I think it would make a good gift for the gardener in your life. But then I'm biased; I wrote the thing (please don't give me this book as a gift). So why not download it for free and see for yourself?

Then I can get back to writing, which is the part of this that I actually enjoy.

Thank you.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Leaf Season

The Rising Tide

We've entered peak leaf season here at Fencebroke Promontory. It's that magical time of year when we celebrate the many delights of having three gigantic deciduous trees in our front yard. A time when blizzard-thick drifts of leaves pile against the door and a rich humusy mulch begins to accumulate on the living room rug. A time when kids disappear into leaf-piles for so long that Dad considers filing a missing persons report and then jump out screaming in an emergency test of Dad's cardiac function. A time for getting slapped in the face by earthbound, dinner-plate-sized maple leaves and to always beware the treacherous world of abandoned toy trucks and scooters now hidden underfoot. Above all, though, November is a time for raking.

And raking.

And raking some more.

To be a gardener, during the Festival of Foliar Inundation, is a repetitive labor of patience, diligence, and, when those inevitably fail, despair. Any hope of tackling one of the many, many projects typically found on a gardener's Autumn docket is quickly smothered under a wet heap of leaves. Oh, I've tried, trust me, to carry on as though I could still see the ground, like the garden was something other than a sea of red and yellow into which our house was slowly sinking, but always failed. One cannot easily transplant, for example, though the Fall is said to be a great time to do so, when one cannot discern where the garden ends and the rest of the world begins. I once spent half an hour trying to plant a Fuchsia into some exceptionally compacted soil that turned out, once the leaves were cleared, to be the sidewalk. Back to the rake, then.

Fellow horticulturists occasionally chide me for bemoaning too much of what they consider a good thing:

"Just let the leaves stay in your garden beds; they're great mulch."

"Run over them with the lawn mower."

"Put them in the compost bin, they're good as gold!"

Well, I did all of these things three weeks ago. Now I can't even find the beds, the lawn mower, or the compost bin because they've all been devoured by the autumnal avalanche that so rudely didn't stop just because the bin was full. I cannot simply redirect or quarantine the fall to favorable or beneficial areas of the property any more than you could restrict a household flood to the waterproof rooms of your house. The leaves are the property now. I'm raking just to stay afloat

But, you know, by all means, any of you leaf-hoarders out there, if you're so fond of them, please come help yourselves. Take them all. And if you find my kids, please tell them to come inside.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Cabbage In The Hay

We recently celebrated our daughter's fifth birthday with a good old-fashioned hay-hunt.  Screaming children throwing hay all over the yard in search of candy and coin—it was a delight. Really, if there's a better way to get a pile of kids good n' itchy (not to mention sugared-up) I haven't heard of it. We'll call it a parenting win. 

But I must confess to ulterior motives in pushing for the hay-hunt over other, more common birthday candy-delivery systems. Pinatas, goody-bags, IV glucose drips—any or all would have sufficed in this case. But Dad seemed to really want a hay-hunt, for some reason.

And that's because, well, Dad really wanted some hay. For the garden, of course. It makes a nice cozy blanket for all those shivering rutabagas and Brussels sprouts in the Winter veggie garden. A birthday hay-hunt, then, would conveniently kill two birds with one stone. As a parent, you can never kill too many birds with each of the precious few stones you are afforded. (Would someone please inform that miserly resource manager in charge of rationing stones that there seems to be an awful lot of birds down here?) 

A couple of weeks after the party, I even convinced the kids to help me spread the same hay in the garden. "It's like tucking-in the plants for Winter." I said. Which prompted a half hour or so of  pretty adorable, Goodnight Moon-esque vegetable tuckings-inand another week of pulling spiky hay fragments out of socks and underwear. To the kids' delight, while distributing the hay, they also turned up a few more rogue pennies and a chocolate bar or two that had been overlooked in the birthday frenzy!

All I can say is: what a magical world this must seem, to children, where treasure and prodigal Twix bars turn up even in the course of mundane gardening chores. I, for one, think that adults could do with a few more of these little magical surprises in the course of their own daily lives. Not winning the lottery, or scoring a free pizza for submitting a customer-service survey—nothing so grand or life-changing. I'm talking about small, unexpected delights which, when encountered occasionally enough, manage to change our expectations of the world and what it might have to offer. A cold-brew coffee truck that inexplicably tails the ice-cream truck one hot Summer afternoon. Health insurance decides to cover weekly massages. No traffic on a Tuesday morning. Maybe that car honking so rudely behind you is actually trying to get you to stop because the driver is in advertising and thinks you have the perfect face to represent a new line of "Haggard Dad" skin-care products. 

You know, stuff like that.

Right now, when I dig through the hay, all I can reasonably expect to find are cabbages. Which are great, don't get me wrong, but, well, I did plant them there. Not much of a "surprise!" factor. Still, now that I think about it, there is something a little bit delightful about a cabbage. Just look at it ... 

Right? Could it be then, that I've just forgotten how to be delighted by all the wonderful craziness the world hides in plain sight? Are we adults thrashing around, trying so hard to find something else in all this hay of life that we can't see the cabbages in front of us? I mean, my son just said "Ni-night bwoccowi!" and threw a handful of hay at the ground. That's at least as magical as a Twix bar, right?

I'll take it, anyway.

But next year, we're doing a pinata. The metaphors are better.  

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Still Growing ...

 Still Growing Gardening Podcast
Listen To The Episode (My segment begins at about 45:00)

This week I'm honored to be featured on "Still Growing", Jennifer Ebeling's wonderful gardening podcast. If you have any interest at all in gardening, do yourself a favor and subscribe to her weekly episodes. They are a great way to catch up on all things horticultural and hear some great interviews with interesting folks in the field.

I chatted with Jennifer a couple months ago in a phone interview for this episode. She was so easy to talk to I had little problem discussing the silly details of my book with appropriate levity. Since then, my life has ... changed. "Changed" is the wrong word, really, but let's not blame language for life's shortcomings. With the death of my brother, I find large parts of me missing or inaccessible. They may return, someday, but for now it is strange to listen to myself speak with such a light heart when it's still, at present, so hard to raise a smile for the world.

I've written many things in my life, in many genres, but I set off on this weird tangent of Gardening Humor thinking that maybe I could make a few people laugh and not take the world so seriously along the way. Now, this mission seems like an uphill struggle going forward. Recently, I've given thought to abandoning the whole thing. I have a good portion of a sequel to 20 Reasons written already, but I don't know how to return to that voice and humor that once came so easily. All those hilarious little absurdities that used to pop up around every corner have since gone scurrying into the dark. So what do I do? Give up?

No. Because it's not what Griffin would want. (Now there's a guy who could make people laugh.) He would joke that I should hurry up and become a famous writer already so my wife and I could quit our jobs and move away from the city to live near his family. When I told him, a lifetime ago, about this interview I was doing for a neat gardening podcast, he was excited and, maybe, I hope, a bit proud of his little brother. I think he'd want me to keep going with this gardening stuff. Either that, or start working on that epic, hard sci-fi trilogy I never wrote. But that sounds exhausting.

So I'll keep writing (whether you all like it or not). It may take a while to navigate the minefield of double meanings, hair-trigger memories, and emotional explosives that lies in my path, but I'll get there. Gardening is, after all, too ridiculous to be ignored for long. I mean, just thinking of rutabagas almost makes me smile.


Thursday, April 12, 2018


My brother and I

A six-pack of cheap beer, an old soup can, a handful of dirt, and a little branch of ivy.

In the right hands, that's all it took to derail my life the first time. It was a good derailing, a fortuitous one, back in the early days of college. My major was, at the time, "Cellular and Molecular Biology/Biochemistry". A god-awful, pompous mouthful of a degree. I loved it. Well, saying it anyway. You had to actually say the "slash Biochemistry" part. It was more impressive that way. The problem was, I think I hated everything else about it. I just didn't know what else I was supposed to be doing.

That is, until my older brother Griffin showed up in my dorm room one evening with the aforementioned supplies for a re-potting session and sent me tumbling through the air, in love with plants. Simply because he was. His passions were so contagious I couldn't resist following along. Whether it was fishing, motor-scooters, or the music of Tom Waits, his sincerity and unbridled enthusiasm made it seem insane not to go along for the ride.

I changed my major to Botany I think sometime later that week. The new tracks of horticulture I screeched onto were rusty, warped, and did not provide a comfortable ride by any stretch. But the places it took me, though inglamorous and unlucrative, were so much more interesting! Beautiful, dirty, exhausting, and satisfying to a degree that no laboratory, however prestigious, could ever compare. And I owe it all to him.

This week, my life derailed a second time. Again, because of my brother. But this time, because I had to say goodbye to him. He fell, and hit his head, and that's it. Sudden and senseless, random and final. Now I'm spinning through the air again, and I'm not sure when I'll land, or in what condition. All I know is that life has an irrefutable momentum and this, if nothing else will carry me forward. Hopefully, if I have enough sense to look, and can see the ground through bleary eyes, I'll make out a new set of tracks, tearing off through the future with the same brilliant, crazy fire my brother ignited in everything he set his sights on. An unspoken decree to love what you love because others may need a spark to get going.

I won't waste time trying to further explain what made my brother a great man. If you knew him, you already know, and if you didn't, nothing I say will come close. Suffice it to say there is tremendous power in the death of a good person, and while it is this power that has his family and friends reeling, I believe it can also, in time, propel us onto a truer course for the remainder of our own lives. It'll be uphill, and a difficult track, but once we land, I think we may have enough momentum to do my brother proud.

Life can end for any reason, or for no reason. At any time.

Live without fear. Live like you mean it. Make your love known.

(Griffin leaves behind his wife and three young girls, here is a link to our gofundme campaign to help support them. Any contribution helps. Thank you.)

Friday, April 6, 2018


During the month of April, all proceeds from sales of my book will be donated to GROW, a community-gardening advocacy group which also assists low-income gardeners and helps connect food banks with community-grown produce.

These are pretty awesome things to do.

Secretly, it is my dream to someday start a community food garden in my own neighborhood (er—I guess don't tell anyone). Not so long ago, in the time before Fencebroke Promontory Gardens, we lived in the city. Wellmore in the city; FPG isn't exactly a rural setting. The point is, we had no land of our own to plant. So we spent a couple years on a waiting list for a spot at one of Seattle's neighborhood P-patches. A couple looong years. It turns out, there are a lot of people who want to garden and only so much space to do so in the city. 

The demand side of this equation is just fine, but I'd love to do something about the supply. Hence this small step into the realm of non-profit advocacy. Gardening is one of my life's purest, dirtiest joys. It changes people, and never for the worse. The more opportunities we can create for gardeners to bloom, the better our society will be. Sure, we'll all have to put up with a lot more vests and seed-talk at work, but I think it's an acceptable trade-off. 

I've rarely been happier than the day the P-patch finally called and said our plot was ready. From that moment on, in my mind, I was a farmer.

This is for all the other would-be farmers out there. 

(If you've already purchased my book, or frankly have no desire to do so, please don't let that stop you from checking out GROW or a similar organization in your region. They are doing valuable work and can use the support. Thank you!) 

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.