Soon to be renowned!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year's Eve

The leaves are down. The rains and wind have settled in. Our brief Northern days are half dusk and half struggling dawn. A murder of crows patrols the low gray sky. Dour little winter birds descend to scratch and pick what little forage a sleeping Fencebroke has to offer.

From inside, windows are gazed through, as upon harvest memories not so long removed. Weeks of apples, a whole heapa tomatoes, cucumbers every day because why not? Meanwhile, the kitchen fruit basket sulks with waxy, bland, store-bought Produce®. That's not fruit. That's not a salad. Enough is enough.

The back door is cracked like a seal on something new. Flanneled morning sorties assess the garden, coffee in hand. The slumber is evaluated, dormancy surveilled. What designs for the new year? What will be come Spring? More coffee. Plans are laid. Dreams are sown. Let's do quinoa! Pickles! Still more tomatoes! A SCALED REPLICA OF THE GARDENS OF VERSAILLES! Okay, too much coffee. But the first dirt under the nails of tomorrow.

And then, like a beautiful and cathartic mailbox angel (you know, one of those) here to grant some small measure of peace to a weary 2016, the first seed catalog arrives. It brings hope and reassurance, that in the coming year, like every other, there will be seeds to plant. And some will grow, and some will not. And that, as always and after all, is life in the Garden.  

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Ten Reasons Not to Buy Twenty Reasons Not To Garden (And Why I Ignore Them All) And Why You Should Ignore Those Reasons Not to Buy It

  1. I just made you read that godawful title for a blog post, which pretty well satisfies any lingering obligation you may have felt to support my creative endeavors.
  2. The cover is such a thoroughly irradiated green that you may have trouble sleeping in the same room.
  3. The book is almost certainly headed for cult-classic status, and you don't want to seem like the kind of person who indulges that kind of pretentious alt-literature snobbery.
  4. After it becomes a cult-classic, it will likely achieve some measure of mainstream success, and you don't want to seem like the kind of person who reads books you can find in the grocery store checkout line.
  5. When people see the book on your shelf, they will probably want to ask you about it, and frankly, if you wanted to discuss books you would have just joined a book club. At least then you could drink wine.
  6. The book is meant to be funny, so if you find yourself not laughing while reading it, you might be dead inside. No one needs that kind of doubt during the Holidays.
  7. What if reading the book makes you actually want to start gardening? Then you're doomed to live out all twenty reasons not to garden I went to such great pains to point out. Trust me, they're not as funny when you're experiencing them first hand.
  8. It costs $10. That's like … two gingerbread lattes. Which would you rather have this time of year, honestly? It's okay, me too.
  9. Yes, it makes a perfect Christmas gift or stocking-stuffer, but what happens when you give a perfect gift? Sure, the person you're giving it to loves it. They'll tear up. They'll thankyouthankyouthankyou. They'll laugh and cry at the same time. They'll be forever in your debt … a debt for which they will secretly resent and despise you for the rest of your life. It's just a silly book, it's not worth that kind of baggage.
  10. How good could it really be? There's not a single vampire, zombie, princess, ghost, werewolf, secret agent, wizard, vampire-princess, zombie-wizard, or secret agent-werewolf in the whole thing.

So after all that, what possible justification could there be for buying my book? Simply put, my friends, the reason you should buy Twenty Reasons Not To Garden is this: it could end up on Oprah's Book Club some day and you want to be the person who's like, “Yeah, I totally read that before it was on Oprah's Book Club.” That's it. For once, don't you want to be the jerk who was ahead of the game? That's what I thought.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Five Kales Summoned

The Five Kales aligned.

It is written:

When the five great houses of kale
Are summoned from every corner of the garden
(And I guess one from the middle somewhere)
In the dead of night
In the Winter cold
Together upon a single altar
Then will the feast of five deliciousnesses begin
And confer to the faithful gardener
(whom many mocked for his steadfast pursuit of kalish perfection)
Fortune and immortality and yumminess.

Call forth the five kales!
'Tuscan Baby Leaf', O mighty dwarf! Say YUM!
'Scarlet x Lacinato', son of two ancient tribes! Say YUM!
'Wild Russian', untamed and unsurpassed! Say YUM!
'Tronchuda Beira', Portuguese behemoth! Say YUM!
'Cosmic', radiant sentinal! Say YUM!

And now, let the five great kales
Be simmered in juices savory
For an epoch
Or until tender and reduced to quintessence
Or about half an hour
And at long last let the gardener
Eat his weird meal

And it was so. And it was good.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Hay Hunt

Jump in! Mind the bricks, however.

All right, kiddos, it's ready! Fencebroke's traditional late harvest hay hunt is all spread and ready to dive in! Wooo! Sorry, I get so excited. These are the things that bring out the kid in me. Since the grown-up world has far fewer legitimate treasure hunts than I was led to expect as a child, it falls to me to create little ones wherever I can. It's pretty easy, really, you just have to periodically remind yourself that all of the stress-creased, frantic, sleep-deprived automatons chugging Starbucks all around you were once, not so long ago, wide-eyed children scrabbling for the wondrous caches of candy, coins, and little toys secreted by mysterious forces in stockings, pinatas, Easter eggs, hay piles, and arcades everywhere. The world was pregnant with loot.

Then they grew up and found in those hiding places only lint, runny yolks, and allergies.

So I think we all need a little treasure hunt now and then.

Sure, our tastes change as we grow up, which is why the treasure of the Fencebroke Hay Hunt consists largely of root vegetables and hardy winter greens. I've already found a rutabaga and two carrots! And not to spoil the surprise too much, but there's definitely some heirloom Scottish beet seeds down at the bottom somewhere. Oh, and the big fat earthworms are finders-keepers. But I've said too much.

Rest assured, anyway, there's something for everyone. My daughter loves Kix cereal, so maybe I scattered a box or five of Kix and maybe I didn't. (I did.) And sometimes grown-ups need a bit of incentive to break from their routine and get out there where the treasure is. So maybe I hid my wife's car keys. “Keep at it, baby, what's more important, getting to work on time, or rekindling your childish sense of wonder and adventure?”

Hey, look! Even crows like a good hay hunt. And, uh, squirrels. And raccoons and possums and seagulls and rats and—boy, kids, you better get out there before all the Kix are gone!

A couple ground rules before we get started: the hay itself is not part of the treasure, so no stealing it to mulch your own garden; there is a limit of 1 leek and 1 parsnip per person—those things take forever to grow; and finally, if you find a set of car keys, please return them post-haste to my wife, as I may have crossed a line somewhere in all this hay fever.

Thursday, November 10, 2016


Does plumbing have a place in a garden blog?

How about if we call it “garden infrastructure improvements”? After all, it was the catastrophic failure of the existing pipes which led so some unanticipated, undesired, and all together unfortunate irrigation and … er … fertilization of the grounds. And the house itself, actually. But the plants! The plants don't need this kind of trauma, please think of the plants! Damn the expense, I'll not have pipes breaking willy-nilly and “watering” the garden and laundry room whenever they please. Only the best for my – wait a minute … is this the bill? Hold on, Mario, are those gold pipes you are putting in my backyard? Was the burst pipe radioactive, subsequently contaminating the entire property and requiring extensive environmental remediation? Have you had to do battle with hoards of crab-walking mushroom creatures in order to complete the work agreed to in our contract? NO? THEN HOW ELSE DO YOU JUSTIFY THE SIZE OF THIS BILL!?

I changed my mind, the garden can handle a little unforeseen irrigation. And Fencebroke has plenty of room for an outhouse right there next to the tool shed.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The One Fence In Fencebroke That Ain't Broke

May I present the first in a series of long-overdue Fencebroke fortifications.

I may? Oh, good. Here it is:

Glorious, is it not? All hail the beautiful, brilliant, and most fearsome Queen of Carpentry, the Duchess of Design, the Empress of Structural Engineering, the High Wizardess of Woodworking, the Baronness of … er, Board-Cutting. I can never remember all her titles. But I sure am glad I married her. (Which marriage, come to think of it, probably grants me the corresponding male titles for all those things. Awesome.)

Anyway, we now have a fully-functioning gate/arbor/portcullis to both ward off fearsome raiders from the South (always after our strawberries, livestock, and stores of grain) and hide the yard waste bin from view. Which is also important. And there will be grapes grown upon it. Although … now that I think about it, those grapes are going to look mighty tempting to all those raiders who have been foiled from entering the lands of Fencebroke proper. They may just satisfy themselves with pillaging the Great Grape Gate. We might need another gate to protect the Grape Gate from raiders. Ooh! That would give us somewhere to grow kiwis! But, then the raiders …

Well, I did say that this was the first in a series of fortifications. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to entreat that Queen of mine to whip up a few more gates.  

Monday, September 19, 2016

Fantasy Gardening League

Need I say more?

During this season of overlapping passions—the garden harvest frantic but winding down; the fantasy football season just kicked-off but already kicking my … anyway, it came to me, this vision. Like some beautiful chimera born of two affectionate but very confused muses, it's an idea so perfect it practically writes itself.

Think about it. You like the capricious experimentation of the annual harvest; you like tearing your hair out over meaningless statistics; you love the artificial confidence and superiority that comes from besting others in a competition of more-or-less random events (and willfully ignore the self-loathing that is the flip side of the coin) … well then why not combine them all into one mixed-playdough lump of bewildering (but entertaining!) awesomeness?

Take a small group of competent, versatile gardeners, get 24/7 media coverage of the crops and varieties they are growing for the upcoming season, and then let millions of rabid spectators join in the action by choosing which crops from which gardeners will produce particularly high yields in a given week. Imagine the draft strategies, the conniving trades, the trash talking! Brandywine tomatoes from Farmer John on a week where rain was forecast!? Hey rookie, I've seen better tomatoes in a fast-food salad.

Look, I'll lay out a team format for you all to follow. By next March, I expect leagues to be formed and mock drafts in full swing. Here's what your team lineup should consist of:

  • (1) Legume
  • (1) Stone Fruit
  • (1) Soft Fruit
  • (1) Pepper
  • (1) Brassica (Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Kale, etc.)
  • (1) Cucurbit (Squash, Melon, Cucumber, etc.)
  • (2) Root Vegetables
  • (2) Tomatoes
  • (1) Flex Crop (basically a wild-card)
  • Team Salad (all the salad greens from a given gardener's field)

This is just a template, of course. Within your own league, your commissioner will be free to tweak the numbers and scoring system to better suit your growing region/league members.

Pretty sweet, right? I know. So what are you waiting for? Go on, you've got research to do; only six more months until next year's fantasy gardening season kicks off!

Now, I'm off to scour the planet for the three or four other people whose interests are so abyssaly disparate as to understand all the terms used in this post. Maybe they'll join my league.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

A Man Can Dream

Pretend you never saw this.

These are Mexican Sour Gherkins! AKA cucamelons. They're all the rage this year in veggie gardening. I mean, as much as anything can be the rage in veggie gardening … which is not a lot, if I'm honest. Sure, there's often a bit of Tomatomania in May, but that's about it. Maybe the occasional hubbub. Purple carrots have been known to cause a hubbub. Oh—and there was that time a few years back when I witnessed a tizzy over beans. No rages, though. (I do wonder how you'd characterize the whole Hatch pepper phenomenon. A movement, perhaps? A falderal? A hullabaloo?)

But back to the gherkins. They're incredible! They're the kumquats of the cucurbits! You grow 'em up a trellis, pick a handful, and pop 'em in your mouth. They taste just like the tiny little, sweet, refreshing watermelons they so clearly resemble and what's more—

—oh, who am I kidding?

They don't taste like watermelons. They're just little cucumbers. Tasty, sure, with a bit of a lemony zing, but it doesn't matter how great a cucumber they are because whenever I pick one my mouth starts chanting, “Watermelon, watermelon, teeny tiny watermelon.” and then practically chokes when it gets cucumber instead. Which would be fine if it just happened the first time and then my brain actually bothered to link the visual cue that whispers “Wee watermelon” to the sense memory that screams “CUCUMBER YOU IDIOT”. But instead my mind just redacts the experience altogether so that I am fooled Every. Single. Time. I eat one.
Like Charlie Brown blinded to Lucy's timeless treachery by the imagined bliss of actually putting foot to ball, I walk past the stripy little impostors and stop in my tracks. What's this? Minimelons!? Don't mind if I do …

And then I bite down, my tongue's feet go flying out from under it yet again, and we're talking a different sort of rage.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


There's a reason you never hear of any unhappy writers. The fame, the money, the lifestyle—it just comes so easy for them. I mean, for us. I always heard that writing books was a surefire path to celebrity and fortune, but even I never dreamed, when I first sat down at my Great Grandfather's writing desk twenty years ago, that it could happen to me. All I had to do was actually finish a book. That was the catch. I've got the bones of half-a-dozen different manuscripts littered around the office, all of which showed promise and momentum in their day, none of which came close to completion. But then—Bang! This Twenty Reasons Not To Garden thing came to fruition and a couple weeks after its release, my life is changed.

That's right, it is with excitement, humility, gratitude, and a little … je ne sais quoi that I announce—due to the overwhelming success of my book—my decision to temporarily retire from all current endeavors and occupations in order to more obscenely bask in the rich rewards of my achievement.

After consulting with my accountant (yeah, I've got one of those now), the to-date and projected book sales should easily fund a lengthy sabbatical. He figures I've got a good hour/hour-and-a-half's worth of revelry in which to pursue my life's dreams. But, you know what? You only live once so I'm taking a full two hours.

What'll I fill the time with? I'm glad you asked.

First off I plan to see the world. Scotland, Patagonia, Southwest China, Fiji, Delaware—all the places on my bucket list. Then of course we'll take the kiddos to Disneyland, the Grand Canyon, the Pyramids, Antarctica to see penguins, underwater to see the Octonauts, and wherever else their little hearts desire. Then my wife and I will hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Yes, the whole thing. After that, I'm sorry to say, I'll probably just blow a good portion of my windfall at the casino. Maybe Monte Carlo, maybe Emerald Queen—doesn't really matter, I've just always wanted to say “Double Down”. Ooh—and “Let it ride”. I'll drink dirty martinis, scotch, and whatever that interesting fella from Dos Equis is drinking … as long as it's not Dos Equis, I mean. Double down.

And just to show I have not forgotten my gardening roots which thrust me atop this new promontory, I plan on devoting a full ten minutes towards getting my community-gardening-for-the-homeless charity up and running.

And after that, well, I'll probably just spend the duration of my leave swimming in the ol' money vault à la Scrooge McDuck. Which reminds me—anyone know a good contractor with vault experience?

I thank you all for your faithful readership, and though it will pain me to be away, I promise I will return to regale you once more with tales and musings from the annals of Fencebroke. Someday.

We'll say noonish.

Now, where's that martini?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Loophole

I'm no glutton for punishment. Now I know that may sound disingenuous given my choice of vocation, hobby, and decision to sire children, but believe it or not it's mostly true. That's why I'm not about to look askance at the obscene bounty drooping along every roadside ditch this time of year just because it didn't come from my own garden.

Make no mistake, given the choice, I would much rather avail myself of existing produce rather than spend all that time and energy growing it myself. Trust me, if, say, tomatoes just popped up every Summer along sidewalks everywhere—to such ridiculous convenience that one must actually go out of one's way to not be assailed by a fruit that would normally flirt at $5.99 a pound from a farmer's market table—then I would immediately rededicate their prime Fencebroke real-estate to a new pickleball court. As it is though, there remains, to date, only one crop so brash as to defy cultivation by mere fact of its ubiquity.

C'mon, Nature, this is too easy.

I'm talking, of course, about blackberries, which—sure they're a noxious ecological disaster and all that—but jeez, if mother nature has a cheat code, this is certainly it. A rampant weed that gives you buckets of delicious fruit; it's like a thief who steals your car but takes you out to a fancy dinner several times a year (although to complete the metaphor, said thief would probably jab you with his steak knife at regular intervals throughout the meal). I always feel vaguely guilty when picking a good berry patch, like someone's going to jump out of the briar and close this blackberry loophole once and for all.

I suppose it's a good thing for my career and pastime that more produce doesn't flail at you from every vacant lot and fence-line the land over. If morning glory vines dropped hazelnuts and horsetails sported Brussels sprouts; if dandelion roots were baby carrots and knotweed could be pressed for a passable apple cider—the backyard gardener might soon go the way of the Walkman.

You know what? That's okay. I'd take one for the team and find a new path through life if it meant broccoli could be picked from sidewalk cracks. Now, who's going to get on that and make it happen? Anyone? Monsanto—I'm looking at you. Come on, don't let me down; I really want that pickleball court.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Twenty Reasons Not To Garden

That's right, with the oodles of spare time I've had over the last couple years—I mean, whenever I'm not working full time, helping raise one child, preparing for another, running an amateur sleuthing agency, blogging, and relearning the same Shovels and Rope song on the guitar every few weeks, I've managed to write a book.

It's called Twenty Reasons Not To Garden (And Why I Ignore Them All), and it's now available in print, Kindle, and limited edition cuneiform tablet from Amazon.

It's pretty much what it sounds like: Twenty reasons not to garden and why I ignore them all. I shouldn't really have to type that again. But it's perfect for gardeners, non-gardeners, and Sumerian businessmen alike. Funny, if you think this blog is funny, probably not so much if you only stop by Fencebroke for the stunning photography. Also, it's a pretty wicked green color, which is nice if you're into various shades of green.

So anyway, you can buy a copy or just take turns stopping by the Promontory and reading my copy. That's cool, too; it's a pretty quick read.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I've been remiss in my other duties. Methinks there's a hefty backlog of cases at the ol' driveway sleuth-booth.  

Monday, July 11, 2016

What is the Same?

We have a set of flash cards we use with Daisy. Each one shows a handful of shapes or animals or objects or whatnot, and the goal is to come up with various similarities and differences between all the items pictured. Color, shape, size, quantity, gross and aggravating cuteness, shared phylogenetic heritage of depicted species, anthropomorphic absurdity—those sorts of things (let's just say we get different responses when Daisy is answering vs. when Daddy is answering).

So, in the spirit of this educational tool that has proven to be every bit as effective, fun, silly, and skull-crushingly intolerable for the parent after five minutes as most other early childhood games, I have decided to start a Fencebroke Promontory harvest version of these flash cards. Here's an early sample:

What is the same? What is different?

In this case, Daisy's answer might go something like: “These two are purple! That's the same.” or, “These two are cauliflower” or “The white one is smaller. That's different!” To which I would respond with a fatherly hug and assurance that her keen grasp of concepts such as these would all but guarantee her a life of happiness, fulfillment, and accomplishment the likes of which mankind has never seen. (For the record, her actual response when prompted with this image was nothing so sterling, I'm afraid—mostly confused pointing and “I don't knows”. I didn't have the heart to tell her this means she has no future.)

Daddy's response to the same image, however, would likely reflect his more intimate knowledge of the crops at hand. E.g.: “They're all brassicas; that's the same!” or, “These two cauliflower contained a greater density of earwigs than I would have thought possible, seemingly violating the physical properties of cauliflower as it exists in 4D space-time; that's the same!” or, “Each of these represent more of their respective vegetable than I normally eat in a year. I don't know what I'm going to do with any of them; that's the same!” or, (hypothetically of course) "The cabbage makes a great tetherball; that's different!" Ha ha. Not that I would ever use any of my precious harvest for sport. Ha ha. Ha ... I mean ... not anymore. Ha—<ahem>

Again, that's why this game is so great. Everyone sees something different. 

Now, what do you see?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

"Saving Seed"

I don't know why I didn't figure this out sooner. It's brilliant—the best thing to happen to gardening since sliced bread. Yeah, well … hey—gardeners eat sandwiches too. I mean, as long as they're gluten-free—for this gardener anyway. So I guess it's the best thing to happen to gardening since gluten-free sliced bread … which, If I'm going to be completely honest, and with few exceptions, is pretty awful. But at least it's bread. And it's sliced. So that's something. Maybe, in retrospect, not something to include on a great-moments-in-gardening timeline, but if you stick around you'll see that this post deals in part with laziness, and, that being the case, I see no reason to waste my time deleting things I've already committed to text. So butter yourself a nice slice of particle-board GF toast and pretend this first paragraph never happened.

What in the name of gobsmacked heck am I talking about? Well, if you'd bothered to read the title, you'd see I'm newly enamored with the time-honored gardening tradition of “saving seed”. Yes, in quotation marks. It started out without them—a genuine desire to leave various heirloom vegetable crops in the ground long enough for them to flower and produce seed, which could then be collected, dried, and saved for sowing at a later date. In this way, I could theoretically do away with the overflowing grab bag of impulse-buys that is my annual seed catalog order.

In practice, however, and to date, I have saved … no seed. None. Sorry. One of two possible fates awaits each crop I leave in the ground tagged for seed-collecting: 1.) After a couple weeks it becomes so overgrown, pest-riddled, and generally hideous I am compelled to attack it by some urgent combination of horror, shame, and self-defense or, 2.) I just forget about it, becoming gradually more desensitized to its malignant presence until the window for meaningful seed-collecting shuts behind my back and I'm left wondering what all those brown, brittle corpses in the vegetable garden are.

Beets, firmly in category 2.

The previously alluded-to brilliance (and the origin of those suspicious quotation-marks) lies in the latter fate. For, as it turns out, I can justify almost any failed gardening experiment, fatal procrastination, poor plant placement, general lapse in sound horticultural practice, or just plain laziness as part of my grand “seed-saving” scheme. Nope, that plant's not dead. Just waitin' for those seeds. Yep, that one too. And that one. And that one—look, I've got a lot of “seed to save”, okay?

Do note, however, that this cunning little strategy does not translate well into other branches of domestic/professional life. Repeated failures to fold my laundry, for example, are not so easily written off as “saving seed”, no matter how insistent my appeals to time-honoredness or economic efficiency. And the neighbors' dirty looks, unfortunately, can only be averted from your overgrown lawn for so long before your “saving seed” argument wears thin.  

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Playing Favorites

Let's just start by saying it would be ludicrous for me to choose a favorite plant. Absurd. A tenured horticultural professional such as me choosing sides in the glorious orgy of plants that is the palette of my vocation? Fie! Pfff! Tssch! I should rue the day any single specimen—no matter how beautiful— blinds my eyes to the vast spectrum of color, texture, and form—nay! the very breadth of Life ITSELF—which I've the good fortune to pass before my gaze on a daily basis.

All that being said, let's just continue by saying that this here Hydrangea is my favorite plant.

Whatever. I don't have to explain myself to you.

I know, I know, but just … shut up, okay?

Here's where I should probably launch into some poetic manifesto enumerating the virtues of Hydrangea serrata 'Bluebird' in order to justify its exalted place in my personal pantheon of plants: how its beauty surpasses all others; how the grace and longevity of its bloom charm for untold months on end; how I would settle for leaf or flower alone but the two together are twin arrows through my heart; how my own little Bluebird huddled in a cramped pot for years before finally taking root outside my bedroom window to wave good morning! in the first dawn breeze and goodnight in the evening's sough; how not a week goes by in the whole year where I don't fancy a glance in its direction, now swollen bud, now breath of blue, now burnished autumn spilled upon the leaves … and now rest. Winter's rest. A rustle of paper lacecaps in the cold.

But I'm not going to do that.

Because the truth is as soon as you try to justify or explain why something is your favorite, the purity of your conviction gets all scribbled-over by the crayons of language. Like that! See what I mean? “Crayons of language”—what does that even mean?

It means I should just stop talking. Because discovering that something is truly your favorite, without preface or discourse, is a very rare occurrence in this world, and we'd do well to just enjoy it while it lasts.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Pomological Prophilaxis

Bag It or Maggot.

It's never an easy talk. Sitting down with young apple trees to discuss the hazards of reproductive maturity is going to be awkward no matter how clinical or casual your tone. Actually demonstrating the steps one must take in order to protect your fruit from the ravages of nature has all the appeal of a nude root canal. The matter is afforded some urgency, however, when your very own trees, which you planted, pruned, and protected since they were young whips, lose their entire crop of fruit to the dreaded apple maggot.

That was last year. But never again, said this orchard papa.

Now it's a strict “Bag It or Maggot” policy for the apples of Fencebroke. I'm sorry if it looks silly; I'm sorry if the other trees make fun of you. Don't listen to that jerk Nectarine—it's just angry because there's no simple cure for its leaf curl. And the Plum, well, sure it bloomed all pretty, but it was definitely premature—there weren't even any pollinators around! All its fruit fell off! So hey, guys, apples, come on, you don't have it so bad. Yes, it takes a long time to bag every single fruit—like, a really long time, in fact, this is kind of ridiculous—but surely it will be worth it to see your own healthy, shiny, ripe fruit picked by someone who isn't recoiling in disgust at the worm-riddled mess you used to be.

Right? Please, tell me it's worth it. 

Monday, May 9, 2016


Are you ashamed of your fignorance? Are you sick being called “figheaded” by persecutors real or imagined? Oh, the fignominy! Well, fignoramus, do you fig-ure (okay, that one doesn't count) it's time to do something about it? Good, because if you're ready to fignite your curiosity I've got some unfigginbelievable facts for you about the fruit that John Lennon once famously and figticiously called “figgin weird, man”.

Fig "fruits" are actually embryonic unicorns. 

This particular fig, now coming to fruition in Fencebroke West, is “Olympian”, a recent introduction from Olympia, Washington; though it may as well come from Olympus Mons for all the similarity it bears to anything of-this-world—Olympus Mons? It's a volcano. On Mars … it's only the—you know what, forget it, I'm not talking extra-terrestrial vulcanology in a garden blog. Even I've got boundaries.

Anyway, here are a few of my favorite … things to tell people about figs. We'll call them figtoids*.

1.) Over two dozen peer-reviewed studies have independently concluded that figs are the weirdest fruit in the world, surpassing the next weirdest—and lesser known—Portuguese howling cheeseberries by statistically significant margins.

2.) Figs were used to fatten geese for early experiments in proto-foie-gras.

3.) In a hush-hush and poorly-advised attempt to reclaim the fruit credibility their company name so clearly implies, Apple's iFig project was vexed from the start by slated fig engineers' inability to figure out what the heck they were looking at, much less what they were supposed to be doing with it.

4.) Fig leaves have long been the preferred medium by which religious shame is posthumously introduced to nekked old art.

5.) Figs may be green, purple, brown, or orange. Orange figs are better known by their more common name: oranges.

6.) Figs are pollinated by specialized wasps. These climb inside the “fruit”—which is actually just a bizarre, truncated, indented stem where the flowers are formed—then roll around, lay eggs, and die, incidentally pollinating all the while. Modern self-pollinating cultivars bypass this awesome and grotesque example of co-evolution run amok.

7.) When mashed into a paste and spread over the torso, figs make an effective torso-covering fig paste.

8.) Figs have been cultivated by humans since the Neolithic and may represent the earliest form of agriculture.

9.) Figs have been cultivated by Fencebroke Promontory Gardens since I looked out the window a couple weeks ago and saw figs growing on that weird-looking tree.

10.) Hearkening to Figtoid #4, it has been demonstrated that the mature size of a fig tree can be correlated to the moral purity of the gardener at time of planting. So-called “dwarf” figs are, therefore, a damning indictment on the horticulture industry as a whole.

Well, that about wraps up this edition of Figtoids. Feel free to recklessly disseminate the (mis)information presented herein with confidence, bluster, and aplomb. Now get out of here before I think of another terrible fig pun.

*Figtoids should in no way be taken as fact. Any resemblance to the word “factoid” is purely coincidental and hilarious. Figtoids may or may not be true, although a surprising number of them are. I forget which ones are which.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Grim Garden Hands®

Now that the birds are chirping and blossoms are bulging once again, it's time for everyone's favorite Fencebroke Promontory Spring gardening tradition. No, not sowing seeds or fawning over tulips or anything so watercolor as all that. I'm talking about—that's right, you guessed it: Revenue Diversification.

I know, right!?

Yeah, we're pretty pumped, too.

Woo! Okay, okay, but settle down, I've got more blog to blog.

In order to fill Fencebroke's coffers ahead of this Summer's eagerly-awaited but financially vertiginous addition to our family, we are exploring new sources of income. And while last weekend's end-of-driveway Free Plant Sale proved wildly popular amongst neighbors and passers-by, its net contribution towards the family general fund revealed some serious flaws in concept or accounting or both.

Allow me then, in the spirit of throwing half-baked things against the wall to see what sticks, to present a brand new product from Fencebroke Industries for immediate distribution and sale: The Grim Garden Hands® lifestyle kit. Because, I'm thinking, who wouldn't want hands like these? (I'm banking pretty heavily on this assumption, so please tell me you want hands like these.)

Looking good! And so can you.

I mean, aren't you just bored to death of your clean, pain-free, non-scarred and -cracked hands? Do you lay awake at night wondering whether your hand veins are grotesque enough? Does your bandaid budget go wasted every month? Well then, the Grim Garden Hands® lifestyle kit is the reasonably-priced solution for you.

This one-of-a-kind kit includes all the accessories you'll need to cultivate the enviably macabre hands of a horticultural professional. Here we have an assortment of bandages; some old damp work gloves for culturing various fungal skin afflictions (gloves must be removed whenever hand-injury is a real possibility—these are not, in any circumstance, to be used for actual protection); a length of black rubber garden hose to permanently stain your hands a ghoulish black; our proprietary dessicant hand-creme (now with bits of grit!); a special sub-fingernail dirt applicator; and a couple of concrete-filled pots, which you'll want to carry around by fingertip in your free time to really get those hand veins throbbing.

In addition to these awesome tools, you'll receive a copy of my eight-part instructional video which covers, in excruciating detail, the excercises, lifestyle changes, and attitudes you'll need to adopt in order to take your hand abuse to the next level. Here you'll find it's not just about gardening, but also the broader, determined recklessness with which you must deploy your hands in all aspects of life. Why, truth be told, I've suffered more grisly hand injuries while grocery shopping than when I'm hard at work (seriously, this has happened twice in the last two weeks … what gives?).

Yes, this is truly a remarkable product you won't find anywhere else. Why won't you? I refuse to speculate. But now, for a limited time only, the Grim Garden Hands lifestyle kit can be yours for free!  

Or, like, ten bucks I guess—sorry, my accountant is making scary throat-slashing gestures at the word “free”. So we'll go with ten bucks. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Farmer's Tan in T-Minus 5 ... 4 ... 3 ...

ll right people, welcome back. It's been a long Winter. I know it's early, but you all saw the forecast; we may not get another shot at this for two months. That's right, we have the green light for Farmer's Tan, Stage 1. Let's see some lines on those arms! Everyone to your stations, give me status.

Skin tone, do we have Winter pale?

Skin tone, pale like the moon,we are go.

Weather, show me mid-60's.

Weather, 67ºF. Toasty. We are go.


Sunshine, three straight days, we are definitely go.

Shirt sleeves?

Shedding outer three layers … 3 … 2 … 1 and we now have short sleeves. We are go.


Eight hour shifts, outside. As always … we've been here all Winter. Rain or shine. Mostly rain. We are go.

Cut the chatter, Exposure, no one likes a whiner. Gloves?

Come on, people, do we have work gloves or not? Let's see some glove lines, I want this tan to look ridiculous. GLOVES—!

Gloves! We have gloves, they were in the wrong drawer. Sorry, Gloves are go.

Don't scare me like that.

All right now, steady as she goes … good, there's no reason we can't get some neck lines going, too. Beautiful. Aaaand … stop! Okay folks, let's go home to assess.

Shirt removal in 3 … 2 … 1

<Applause, laughter, cheers, sobbing>

That's it! We did it! We have achieved Farmer's Tan, Stage 1. Good work, everybody. I knew we could do it! Looking good!

Okay, thanks for your hard work, everyone, we'll see you back here later on for FT Stage 2, Shorts and Socks. Target temperature 75ºF.


Monday, March 28, 2016

A Talking-To

I think I finally got through to that plum tree. Call it tough love if you like; I may have raised my voice a bit. Let the lazy bunch of barren sticks know I was—shall we say, underwhelmed—with its performance to date. Not a single fruit, not even a lone blossom to let me know it was trying—nothing.

I expect more of my fruit trees. See that nectarine over there? I scolded the dormant plum. Fought off peach leaf curl all last year … and it still bloomed its heart out. Came through in the clutch, too, followed up with a dozen of the sweetest, juiciest nectarines we ever tasted. That's commitment. You could learn a thing or two. What's your excuse?

Maybe I was a little harsh, they're all young trees after all. But sometimes, as a gardener, when a plant disappoints you, you're forced to make that loving, calculated decision—for the good of the plant, after all—to don your stern disciplinary vest and quietly assert the conditions of its continued membership in the garden. In the plum's case, this went something like:


Firm, but I think fair. And spoken with love. Question my tactics all you like, but the results speak for themselves:

The Plum, plumb scared

That lazy fig tree is next. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Gilded Trowel

That's right, it's awards season once again, and time to discuss the nominations for FPG's annual Tool of the Year Awards. We are excited to announce that, pending confirmation and/or acknowledgment of our existence, we have slated Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Chris Rock to host what will surely be an elegant, star-studded ceremony. Due to budgetary reticence, please do note however— should you find yourself lucky enough to receive an invitation—that we are asking guests to bring their own champagne/champagne flutes. Oh, and food. I am not cooking for everyone again. There are both McDonald's and Subway fine restaurants nearby, please avail yourselves of their reasonably-priced menus. Champagne can be procured at the Rite Aid.

Now that that's settled, on to the nominations!

The list is long, so I'll just hit some of the highlights here. (Let's face it, nobody really cares about minor technical awards like “Best Sharpening Performance” or “Best Rust-Proofing” anyway.)

First up, we have the nominees for Best New Tool. After some strong work in the Spring, many expected the Weed-Burner to be a shoo-in for this award. Judges will be forced, however, to consider Mr. Burner's over-the-top performance in last summer's regrettable Setting The Lawn on Fire, a gratuitous action piece which no one enjoyed. Simply a poor career choice, that, and a prime example of how even the most promising young tools can go awry without a competent agent at their control. Other newcomers include the Extendable Ladder, which played prominently in a tour-de-force of late season pruning. But look, instead, for Grandpa's Weeder, that dandelion-grabbing upstart which wowed Fencebroke's Queen, to steal this year's award.

In the Best Supporting Tool category, we see many familiar faces: Leatherman Wave Multi-Tool; Kneepads; Atlas Gloves; trusty old Carhartt Pants, and—the one newcomer out of the bunch—Coppertone Sport SPF 50 Sunscreen, which has always turned in stellar performances, but due to a long, hot Summer may finally have garnered the attention necessary to steal the spotlight from the incumbent and perennial winner of this category: Leatherman.

To be honored with a much-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award, the grizzled and inimitable Honda Civic Hatchback is expected to make one of its final public appearances at the ceremony. The Civic's truck-blood grit and versatility over two decades of service will long stand as inspiration to vehicles twice its size and half its age. With a check-engine light flashing, tires balding, and mushrooms growing on the floor, the car that never hesitated to fold its seats is not long for this world. The time is ripe for a curtain call.

Nominated for Most Innovative Use of a Tool we have the following:
-Hori-Hori Knife, in Cleaning the Gutters
-Hori-Hori Knife, in Scolding Crows II
-Pick-and-Mattock, in Breaking Open Daisy's Stubborn Christmas Geode
-Fireox the Beastbarrow, in Wheelbarrow Rides, a Daughter's Carriage
and, finally
-Hori-Hori Knife, in No, Officer, I Swear It's Not a Weapon
Look for Hori-Hori to run away with this one.

For Best Ensemble Performance, the nominees are:
-Half-Moon Edger, Digging Fork, Hori-Hori Knife, and Fireox the Beastbarrow, in Removing Even More Lawn Even Though You Promised We Were Done Last Year
-Extendable Ladder, Pruning Saw, and Loppers, in Maybe It's Time To Call The Arborist
-Yellow-Jacket Spray, Spray Foam, Lots of Wasp Traps, Two Big Rocks, and a Flashlight, in Failing To Thwart The Hive; A Summer Of Terror
It's anyone's guess who'll take the award, but Half-Moon et al certainly deserve the honor after having been lied to so many times before (seriously—this year, no more removing lawn, I swear).

And finally, we have the Big One, the Gilded Trowel, the Tool Of The Year.
-Hori-Hori Knife, looking to add to its already crowded trophy case.
-Felco Pruners, who, let's be honest, would probably garner a nomination just by sitting in a drawer somewhere.
-Collapsible Rake, here recognized perhaps more on the sheer volume and breadth of work over the last year than any one performance. Many in the industry think this could finally be the year we see a rake take home the big prize.
And, lastly,
-Fireox the Beastbarrow, whose strong back and puncture-proof tires have borne every last bit of sod, dirt, mulch, rocks, and woodchips dis- or relocated in the course of Fencebroke's transformation. The wheelbarrow is widely respected by peers for its unflinching resolve on the job and stolid grace when leaning against the shed between gigs.

That wraps up the nominations, be sure to check back for the exciting results! If, for some reason, you fail to receive an invitation to the ceremony, please do not be offended, it is due to one of several reasons:
a.) I don't like you
b.) I forgot to make invitations
c.) I got bored with this whole awards ceremony thing and moved onto something else

You never know, it might be all three!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Super Fencebroke World

In the much-anticipated video-game version of Fencebroke Promontory Gardens—a project admittedly early in the development phase—one thing is certain: seed-packets are to be the currency of the player's adventures.

There'll be no giant coins, rings, ammunition, inexplicable healing kits, grenades, or gemstones for my characters, no sir. Unless you count used shotgun shells, which some previous liege of Fencebroke was wanton enough to fire off in his suburban backyard with what must have been alarming regularity, I haven't encountered any of these useless tokens in the course of my gardening. Seed packets, on the other hand, always feel like real-life power-ups when I come across them. Their contents unleash such awesome abilities as Carrot Power, Kale Krush, Arugula Rocket, Tomato … well—tomatoes, and, in the right combination, they can unlock the gate to Lettuceland.

That's why, in Super Fencebroke World©, after any of the game's many small achievements—crops harvested, invasive weeds turned back, slugs thrown into the street, giant magic dragonflies tamed, saddled, and loosed upon the forces of pestilence—the player will be rewarded with seeds. Collect enough and you get an extra life. Find all the bush beans and you gain invincibility. The player, should they find themselves replete with seed packets, will be faced with a difficult choice—sow them to produce food for the hoe-wielding army of underlings they have amassed in preparation for a showdown with the Dark Lord Taraxicum (sorry, plant Latin joke)—or spend the seeds as currency, bartering for better tools, enchanted mulch, more powerful hats with wider brims, or any other character upgrades available. I'd choose wisely if I were you, but for now, just keep an eye out for those little seed packets.

Daisy Levels-Up

The game should be up and running soon, right after I teach myself computer animation and find some venture capitalists venturous enough to invest in cutting edge horticultural entertainment, so stay tuned for updates. And lest you think this whole thing is a pipe dream, I have already, through some fast-talking and the promise of bunny cookies, recruited a young, up-and-coming recording artist for the soundtrack. Sorry, that's record-er artist. Recorder. That's the … the instrument she plays. You know, the plastic shrieky-flute? Oh, who am I kidding, she's my daughter. But trust me, she's good. (Look—she's getting those bunny cookies one way or another, so I may as well try to coax something useful out of her.)

All right, enough procrastinating—computer animation, here we go …

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Which Hazel?

That one! Right there—the Witch Hazel. Like ten thousand eyelashes mascara'd with sunshine. Smells like lemons and inspiration. You can't miss it. It's the brightest thing in February. Come on, stick your face in. Huff some Hazel, you'll feel better, trust me. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Good Woodchip Fairy

I think his name was actually Doug. But, yeah, the Good Woodchip Fairy is forever how Doug shall be known in the mythos of Fencebroke. For he rattled in like a diesel-powered sprite from nowhere on an otherwise humdrum afternoon, summoned by nothing more than an ancient ocarina and an e-mail. At the reins of his magical hydraulic truck, he beep-beep-beeped back into the driveway and unleashed a blessed tide of shredded pine and cedar to quell the infernal lawn I have neither the wits nor will to fight any longer.

Hey, this stuff smells pretty good, too. All hail Doug!

Whether or not Doug approves of his role in the local pantheon I cannot say, though he seemed, at heart, a good-natured imp. A more pressing question posed by his visitation is the matter of his opposite. Is there, to balance the gardening universe yin-yanglike—a Bad Woodchip Fairy out there somewhere? Cackling over a fire-belching woodchipper in search of … well, I can't say for certain to what ends an evil Doug would employ such arbitrary malevolence, but whatever it is, I bet it's chilling.

Just in case, we shall erect a small shrine to Doug, the Good Woodchip Fairy, consisting of an upright pickle fork—his preferred tool for disseminating the medium of his enchantment—draped in Carhartt garb. To this effigy, we will place small offerings of pine needles and Monster energy drinks in order to stay in his favor and discourage the frightening prospect of his Other.

It is a small price to pay. Especially since this sea of woodchips was, inexplicably, free of charge.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

And then—BROCCOLI!

Two 'c's in broccoli, thank you

Like a groggy late-sleeper rolling out of bed straight into guilty zumba; like a truant worker sneaking in then clacking loudly on the keyboard to convince the office he was here all along; like a purple-sprouting flash mob that forgot to coordinate watches; it's broccoli time. Apparently. Late January is now broccoli time. Or so my weirdo garden would have you believe.

But why not broccoli? Who am I to question this midwinter chorus of cruciferous glee? Broccoli gotta be broccoli, y'know? Never mind that I've planted this same variety three times at all different times of year and never once gotten anything but sullen, barren stalks. Broccoli is, I guess, like a teenager—capricious, stubborn, lazy, but capable of amazing things if they would only look up from their stupid phone and put their mind to it. Also susceptible to aphids in warm weather. Is that a teenager thing? God, I hope my daughter never grows up.

We still haven't tasted it, but at this point the flavor is almost beside the point. It's fresh broccoli in January, which is like … I don't know, a foot massage at the dentist's. Only, you know, not creepy.

(*Bonus question for this post— the word “broccoli” appears in this entry almost ten times: can anyone guess how many times I correctly spelled “broccoli” on the first attempt while typing?)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Bring Forth the Hot Dogs!

 Oh sing in me, deep fires of the Earth.

<Low cackling>

Make your home in Fencebroke, within the new cauldron I have—er, the cauldron my wife has assembled for thee.

<Dragging of firepit across the lawn>

Come forth and feed upon my humble offering.

<Crumpling of newspaper and pizza coupons>

Crackle and roar into this garden. Unleash timeless inferno and blaze!

<Repeated striking of matches>

… Inferno and blaze—


Inferno and—

<Rummaging in drawer. Flicking of lighter>

Ha! Inferno and blaze!

<Weak smoldering>

Good enough! Bring forth the hot dogs! Mmmwahahaaaa!

Anyone? Hey, could someone bring forth the hot dogs? They're right there, in the fridge.

<Slumping of shoulders>

Fine, never mind, I'll get them myself.

<Muttering under breath >

POLISH DOGS!!! MWAHAHA—hey, what happened to the timeless inferno … ?

<Raining raining rainrainraining for four more months>

Timeless inferno! Can I pencil you in for early June? Wonderful. And so, let the feast of a thousand cold hot dogs begin!

<Sifting through ashes>

Dangit, where's that pizza coupon?