My Favorite Gardening Tool

When we think of gardening tools, we often think of hand tools like pruners, trowels, small spading forks or rakes, or maybe one or the more specialized tools like a Cobrahead or an Asian hand plow.

Or perhaps you are drawn to something larger. I have a fabulous upright weeder that I just draw toward me. It’s a small, specialized hoe, really, with a cutting blade on the inner edge. The handle is about 7 feet long. It requires a bit of precision to use.

Yet of all these tools, my very favorite is something that I use daily, 365 days a year. I just received my third copy at Christmas.


It’s a 10 year Gardener’s Journal. You can see the new copy, and my “old” copy, which I am about to finish, side by side in the above photo.


Here’s what the inside of the new one looks like so you can see why I write in it–and record the weather–daily.

But it’s so much more than that, since as you can see, the old one is twice as thick as the new.

I staple receipts from my plant purchases in there. I may staple larger plant tags as well on the design pages.

I will also insert notes to myself for the next season like “don’t buy anymore tomato seeds,” or “need bean seeds this year,” or “bean pole finials stored in potting shed this year.” You get the idea.

I will begin my third decade gardening with this system January 1. It definitely works for me. But even if this system is not for you, I highly recommend some sort of garden record keeping.

Summer Wisdom for Summer Afternoons


To quote Henry James: “Summer afternoon–summer afternoon: to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”

What’s clear to me about the above quote by James is that he either wasn’t a gardener, or he had someone–or a staff of someones–to do his gardening for him!

Most gardeners I know find that by about this point in the gardening season, the weeds are as high–or higher–than the plants, the lack of rain has made constant watering a chore (or the converse has happened–it’s rained too much and molds and mildews are rotting out plants). By this point in the gardening season, I am heartily wishing for winter.

That’s why it was such a treat to receive a complementary copy of Garden Wisdom: 365 Days by Cheryl Wilfong.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but the accompanying letter instructed me to open the book to “today’s date” and read the meditation, so I did. And then I read the one from the day before. And then I back-tracked and read randomly from the “Spring” meditations because I didn’t want to skip ahead and spoil the ones that I had in front of me.

Each one is a little treat, like a perfect little sweet at the end of a meal, or a cool, freshly made drink (you fill in your favorite drink of choice here!)

The book is made up of meditations from Cheryl’s blog The Meditative Gardener. Both the blog and her book have won numerous awards.

And so now, thoroughly brought back to the wisdom of living in the moment–or attempting to, anyway–I will say that I do highly recommend the book. Anything that can drag me out of a weeding funk has really got something going for it!

Book Review–A Year In The Garden: A Guided Journal


Over the years, I have reviewed many garden journals. Some are more useful than others. What I particularly like about this journal is its creativity.

The Montenegro sisters draw borders on each set of pages—which itself is visually inspiring—but then journal then goes on to prompt written suggestions, as well as suggestions for painting, drawing or sketching as well.

I especially liked suggestions that reminded the gardener to sit and observe the garden over the course of a long summer day (who would think to do that in the busy-ness of summer?) or to sketch the progress of a vine. The invitation to contemplation, which is so often lost when keeping a garden journal, is brilliant.

The top photo shows how each page in this journal–as well as the one that I reviewed Friday –have that faint dotted grid that makes it a “bullet journal. ”

The page below shows just one of the creative prompts–this one from a week in January– showing different leaf types and asking the gardener which type he or she planned to add in the coming year.

That’s a different sort of concept from just thinking about “adding new plants.” I liked this a lot, and there’s a lot of this throughout the journal.

A Year in the Garden: A Guided Journal 

By Nina Montenegro and Sonya Montenegro


Book Review–A Guided Nature Journal

Bullet journals (or BuJos for those in the know) are the darling of the analog set. They offer a creative way to keep track of daily, weekly, life goals and more. Pinterest and Instagram are full of examples of how to do this.


Timber Press now offers BuJos for the gardening and nature minded among us, with creative prompts included. Maggie Enterrios’s Nature Observer: A Guided Journal was created, it says, so that people could “experience nature in new and meaningful ways—in every season.” At the end of the year, the person completing the journal should have “a keepsake of your favorite adventures and places.”


The journal can be started in any season. The weeks and months are blank so that the person  beginning can start when he or she likes. If winter or January is not a natural beginning point, choose a warmer month, or even summer, to begin. Unlike a garden journal (see Monday’s upcoming post) which would follow the more natural progression of seasons in a person’s garden, but is also blank so it can be started at any time) this journal, being nature-themed, is perfectly suited for an outdoor trip. It can then be continued upon returning home—it doesn’t ask that the “observer” necessarily venture anywhere more exotic than his or her backyard or a nearby nature preserve or park.

The use of the words “nature preserve” may be a little confusing to some readers since it’s not one we use here in Connecticut. Just think of our many fine natural recreation areas instead. It’s a matter of semantics.

Otherwise, this journal offers prompts for observing nature in all its forms. There are suggestions for observing colors: one week we are prompted to find every color of the rainbow in nature. Another week we are asked to observe the different shades of brown in autumn. We are asked to draw spider webs in October and ice in December. Beyond visual observations, we are asked to think about flavors, and smells and scents (different things, I think).

Together with the garden journal that I will discuss on Monday this makes a fine addition to a gardener’s library and will certainly sharpen his or her senses—all of them!


Happy New Year!

It’s New Year’s Day–the say when everyone makes resolutions that last for about 10 or 15 minutes at least, right?

But we’re gardeners and we’re great planners. As soon as the garden is “put to bed,” we start planning next year’s garden, which is going to be bigger and better and every way.  So why not gardening resolutions?

I’ve done this for a few years now–and I have to say that I am no better at keeping my “gardening” resolutions than I am at keeping any other sort. I think that’s the nature of gardening–I always plan and dream much bigger than I can ever plant (although in the last year or so there have definitely been circumstances that have gotten in the way–but I digress).


One way to keep track of garden resolutions is in a garden journal. I have one that I’ve kept for 17 years now. It’s not elaborate–it’s about an inch of space for every single day of the year. I write in it each night, without fail.

Don’t think you could find something gardening related to write about 365 days of the year? You probably could. Think about the weather (which impacts the garden); and phenology (what blooms when, when things are budding up, when leaves first start to change color or fall, the first snow falls, if you’re in that sort of climate); and I even record observations about my local wildlife–which also often impacts my garden, but too, sometimes birds like the junco, which are migratory, come back at certain times and indicate seasonal changes)–you’ll soon see how much there is to write about.

I also staple my garden-related purchase receipts into the journal–you can imagine how fat with paper this book has become, particularly in the late April–mid-June time frame!

Why do I do that? It’s short-hand. I don’t have to write in the journal everything I bought. Instead, I annotate the receipts with the plant names. Since the receipts are dated with the year, I can see what I’ve bought (and what I continually buy, year after year).

And this year, when The Spoiler asked me about where I was getting my Christmas tree (it’s always a fresh cut one) I told him where I always get it–at an independent garden center. There was one year we bought it at Costco. They only did it one year but even if they chose to do it again, I wouldn’t do so. Costco is wonderful for a lot of things. Fresh cut trees, not so much.

So maybe this is the year you resolve to keep a garden journal. Timber Press has two fabulous new ones out–one specifically related to gardening and one more nature themed. You can start them any time.

Give it some thought.




Foodscaping is becoming more of a “thing”–at least I hope that it is. I was probably a very early adopter, not because I am so very clever or such a trend setter, but because the best sun in my yard happened to also be where I was growing some wildlife plants. But I started foodscaping back in 1995.

This is my tiny vegetable garden.  Along with the lettuces, there are 2 kinds of parsley,  dill, lemon balm, chives, sage and lemon thyme.  For flowers, I have the bidens I posted about last week,  violets and alyssum. Still to come are marigolds, tomatoes and pole beans.

Still,  I do not foodscape nearly to the extent–or with the same gorgeous results–as Brie Arthur, author of The Foodscape Revolution: Finding a Better Way to Make Space for Food and Beauty in Your Garden.  When I tell you that the book is published by St. Lynn’s Press,  you will know that it’s going to have that same comprehensive blend of chapters  that not only tell the reader why a foodscape garden is a good idea, but also how to grow all sorts of vegetables  (along with a chart for “hardscape” plants–perennials,  trees and shrubs–for different regions of the country  in case you are creating the garden from scratch and not just tucking edibles in among existing ornamentals).

Of course there are some of the author’s favorite recipes, and methods of preserving your harvest once your plants are ready. One of the sections I found most helpful,  particularly if someone is a newer gardener, is the pages about how to know when to harvest your vegetables.

Arthur shows some projects she has planted that are absolutely lovely as well. And she even has a section on edibles in containers,  if perhaps you are gardening on a balcony or don’t have a bit of land for planting.

What was most noticeable to me is how different her edibles are from mine. While I will occasionally grow corn, if I am going to take up that much space in my garden,  I usually devote it to non-edibles for wildlife.  I suppose I could split the difference and grow something like Aronia, for example.

She also doesn’t talk a lot about herbs, although she does grow them. Her containers have them and her plantings feature them and she does mention basil a few times. For me, herbs are probably 50% of what I grow,  and I always grow more than what I need so that some can flower for the pollinators.

I don’t find this a weakness in the book; I just find it interesting.  As I always say,  if we all liked the same thing,  we would have a very boring world!

As usual,  St. Lynn’s kindly provided this review copy to me but all opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Wordless Wednesday–The Monarch

Kylee Baumle’s The Monarch: Saving Our Most-Beloved Butterfly (kindly provided by St Lynn’s Press for review,  although of course the opinion expressed herein is my own) has a bit of something for most readers. There’s a naturalist component,  a good deal of gardening,  and even some crafts and recipes thrown in.

Incidentally,  for those of you who might wonder why I am always raving about how wonderful the books from St. Lynn’s Press are, this is one of the reasons.  They are just so interesting!  While other books might focus on merely gardening for butterflies,  or perhaps the life cycle of the monarchs and its migration journey,  not Ms. Baumle’s. We  get it all.

We also get the best varieties of milkweed to grow,  an extremely well-done discussion about why one particular annual milkweed is not really recommended, and a moving story about a tagged butterfly that she found.

She even gives a shout out to the various citizen science projects you can join (including the Million Pollinator Project that I have just finished  posting about).

In short,  for all things monarch, this book is excellent.  It’s highly comprehensive and yet really readable at the same time. It’s a wonderful addition to my library!

Wordless Wednesday–Book Review

By now, you all know that I love most anything that St. Lynn’s Press publishes. So when I was offered a review copy of Jan Johnsen’s The Spirit of Stone: 101 Practical & Creative Stonescaping Ideas for Your Garden of course I said yes. As always with review copies,  opinions expressed are always my own.

What interested me about this book and topic is the fact that I have so much stone in my own garden.  In fact, I have a version of just about every project she mentions in the book with the exception of a true rock garden.

So, since we are in the middle of a a garden trends project,  I wanted to see how stone fit into that–or how its use had changed over the 25 years or so that I have been gardening at my own property.

Since Johnsen has been a landscape designer for 4 decades,  obviously the use of stone has evolved–but many stone projects have timeless appeal, of course.  Depending on one’s part of the country, one need only to think of New England’s stone walls,  which date back hundreds of years, in some instances.

And of course the stone “henges” of ancient Britain go back many more centuries than that!

Johnsen divides her book into chapters that focus on rock gardens, stone walls, walks, steps, stone accent pieces and plant recommendations.  She also addresses the issue of sustainability in an entire chapter.  That is certainly new since some of my stone was installed and it probably would have led me to make different choices from what is there now. I was pleased to see so many of my projects in the sustainable section though.  Whew!

Because the book is called The Spirit of Stone, there is a discussion of different types of stone, its history, and using local stone. This is the very first chapter of the book. I found it very appropriate.  Some people might not care for it.

The book is abundantly full of photos from botanic  and public gardens and the author’s own installations. There is a list at the end of places to visit to see some of the photos in the book. There is also a list of books about stone (some have been quoted within the book and others are just of interest to the reader).

Whether you have been thinking about a stone project or a rock garden for yourself,  or if you just have an interest in stone,  this is a lovely,  well done book.

So What Is A Gardener To Do In Winter?

I spoke to a newly retired friend recently and she was lamenting the lack of structure in her life–and the fact that her retirement fell at the end of the gardening season so that now she had to get through the entire winter before she could garden again.

I am quite sympathetic to this plight since most of my periods of unemployment have also fallen in the winter (and to be honest, the one that did come in the summer wasn’t truly enjoyable enough that I could just sit back and enjoy it–who enjoys unemployment if it is not of one’s own making?)

So for all of us gardeners who find ourselves with extra hours in the cold and the dark this winter (or any winter) I thought I might offer some suggestions. I offer many of these same suggestions at the end of my “Putting the Garden to Bed for Winter” lecture because I suspect that garden club folks might need a little help getting through winter–as do I!

One of my suggestions is to count birds for Project FeederWatch–but that doesn’t work if you’re not into birds of course. If you are, it’s a great “citizen science project” and a great way to give back to the online science community. More information about that project can be found here. And it’s not too late to sign up for this winter.

There are many online volunteer science conservation and observation projects that you can participate in over the winter. I had my backyard certified as a habitat one winter through the National Wildlife Federation.  Not only is that fun (and you’ll probably come out feeling better about your “yard,” however it’s defined. It can even be a balcony) but you’ll learn a lot too. And you can find out what you need to do to make your yard better as well. More information is here.

If online isn’t your thing, late winter and early spring are the time when lots of plant societies are putting on symposia and flower shows. Any group that I have ever belonged to was always looking for help in that area with their various shows and symposiums and day long series of talks. A little “Googling” around ought to help you find out plenty of places to volunteer in person depending on where you live–or stop in at a local garden center. They might be able to direct you. And if not, you can still soak up some warmth and maybe come home with a new plant or two to tide you over.

Finally, there are lots of books, blogs, podcasts and the like that are always putting out the latest and greatest ways to grow things. All of the early issues of the “horticultural” magazines will have the latest and greatest new plants that are coming onto the market. The plant societies have already introduced their new varieties for 2017–some old and some new. Maybe this is the year you decide to re-vamp a garden (or several) with some new–or tried and true varieties. Winter is for dreaming–spring is for planting.

And before we all know it, it will be time to get back out into the garden!