After years of yanking the pervasive (and invasive) red roots of bittersweet from my garden beds, I am highly paranoid about the re-introduction of this noxious weed.

But I can’t deny that it is simply beautiful this time of year.  I’m constantly seeing it grace all sorts of stylish tables,  and long strands are regularly used to drape over doors and wind and twist into beautiful seasonal arrangements.  I usually snort at the editor who commissioned this and how he or she clearly has no idea what a nightmare this plant can be if it takes hold.

bittersweet vineBut, I can’t deny the lure of those orange berries with their papery yellow casings and I can’t help but lust after those pretty twisty branches.

With a quick bit of reasearch, I’ve confirmed what I already knew –  it is not compostable (unless you relish that battle).  Disposal recommendations include sending it to the landfill (this is logic I don’t fully understand and I am not going to follow this recommendation) or burning.  Dilemma solved, I can decorate with abandon, and when it is time to take it down I can safely burn it in the wood stove.

So, before the snow hits later today, I will bring my pruners with me as I walk the woods and gather the makings of lovely decorations for the long holiday weekend.

In the first issue of PITH + VIGOR,  Joanne Neale shared four great planting combos for fall-blooming bulbs – but a couple combos hit the cutting room floor.  They were pretty great – but we just didn’t have the space to print them all, so here are the other two – for even more inspiration.

Fall- Blooming True Crocus (USDA Zone 4-6)

Crocus speciosus at and

This is indeed a relative of the common spring crocus (you know, the one that looks great until the squirrels eat the flowers), with both flowers and foliage similar in appearance. Most autumn crocuses come from Mediterranean climates and are only hardy in Zones 7–9, but those from the European continent can survive in Zone 5. The most widely available is Crocus speciosus (very large violet flowers, there is also a white form). Also Zone 5-hardy are c. nudiflorus (very large violet, tolerates moist soil and naturalizes in thin grass), c. kotchyanus (purple with a gold throat)  and  the pale lilac c. pulchellus (October bloom with spring foliage; a white-flowered form is ‘Michael Hoog’).

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stag horn mounts

Fall is slowly changing over to winter here in Maine. We have already had one surprise snow storm with another on its way tonight. Over the next three months, we will work outside as much as we can amongst the cold, snow, and frozen ground. Once inside, I have a long list of designs to work on and plant catalogs to pore through. Being inside during the winter months is also a great time to dream of new gardens and fun displays. One display that I have toyed with for years is to have an indoor space decked out like a hunt club lodge. A hunt club lodge would typically have antlers decorating the walls, showing off the trophies from years of hunting. Instead of antlers, I want to display on the walls, giant, mounted stag horn ferns. I can just imagine settling down with a good book and a glass of red wine in front of the fireplace with walls of stag horn ferns hanging all around.

Staghorn wall

Stag horn ferns (genus Platycerium) are a group of large-leaved, epiphytic ferns from tropical regions of the world. Their cool appearance is due to two types of fronds: sterile and fertile fronds. The sterile fronds cover the roots and protect them from drying out. The fertile fronds are the ones that hang down from the base and resemble deer or elk antlers. When stag horn ferns are grown in gardens, they are usually mounted on a wooden plate and hung from the wall. At CMBG, we have about a half dozen small Platycerium that we grew in containers this past summer. Next week, I hope to mount these onto wooden plates and hang from the wall of my office. A good description on how to mount a stag horn fern is presented here.

Over time, these ferns can become large and quite the show stopper in the garden or conservatory. I have high hopes of bringing our small stag horns along and maybe, one day, when we build a conservatory, we can hang them from the walls like the living horticultural hunt lodge of my dreams.

Images: Dirt Flowers, The Palm Room

This morning I dropped my car off to get new tires for the winter.  I’ve been entirely failing on a daily goal of walking 10K steps (yes, I am obsessed with my Fitbit and have been for a while).  So instead of taking the ride home from the shop, I opted instead to walk to a nearby cafe for breakfast (gathering at least 500 steps and that is where I am typing this now).  I will head to the library in a little while (gathering up a promising few hundred more steps along the way).

It is amazing to me how sometimes (and always during a walk or exercise) a flood of mental clarity can just begin to flow.  I wish it would happen more often (perhaps if I made that 10K goal happen more often…duh…but as we all know, easier said than done).  You know from my last post, I have been spinning on all sorts of things for a while.  But today a flood of clarity came to me while walking; I could hardly wait to put in my breakfast order so that I could sit down and put this to paper before I lost the train of thought.

This may seem odd, but I have been doing all these things that outwardly seem so accomplished and perhaps portray as sense of really knowing what I am doing, but inwardly I have been incapable of stringing them all together.  Outwardly, people tell me that I am amazing and that they can see this great platform that I have created, but inwardly I yearn for their clarity and fear asking them too many questions about what they see in me (that I can not) – because when I do, I worry that I become a bit heavy and morose and I wonder if perhaps I come off as both insecure and insincere (and I don’t believe either is really the case). I have simply lacked clarity and an ability to provide a framework around all the things I do that makes sense to me.  I do the things that come naturally to me, but feel I have been doing them without connection or an understanding of why and what my greater purpose is. Maybe it just that I have been an intense goal setter most of my life….but lately I have not been able to find my path with this technique. And this has been bothering me intensely.

But then this just came together…..

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You are going to have to excuse me while I find my mojo.
I am quite sure that it hasn’t gone unnoticed that I am not the same blogger that I once was. For a while now, I have been ambivalent to sorting out what has changed and what that means for studio ‘g’ – but I am feeling the like I am about to spin out of this weird spiral I have been in (or at least I hope I am) and I need to right myself, shake of the dizzy and the dust and start being a bit more considered.
Nearly seven years ago I started this blog to serve as an organizing place, a place to act out creatively in ways that my clients were not always allowing, and it was a place where I practiced writing daily. But things have changed.

I wrote a book – and I’ll be honest – that had a way of purging my system of a bunch of ideas that I had been juggling in my head for years. Little bits and pieces of the idea for my book would fall out on the blog all the time and I constantly had this notion that I was building to something greater. Now that the greater thing is done, I don’t have that same drive.

I also started a magazine, shut down that magazine, and then started a newspaper. There are parts of that journey that have been nothing but exhilarating and deeply satisfying but there are other parts that have been bumpy and painful and I haven’t felt comfortable sharing it all. I’m a bit of a heart-on-my-sleeve sort of person, so purposefully not talking about the bumps and bruises along the way is not only not ‘me’ – but it is also (I have found) a first class ticket to not talking – period. And that isn’t good. I’m just not particularly fantastic at saying only partially what I think, so I have been opting to not say anything at all…
So, while I still don’t think it is a great idea to dredge through a bunch of junk (that is over and done with) in this forum, I think I am finally arriving at a place where I can draw the proverbial (or literal) line under it all and move on.

But, now what?

Yeah, that is the million dollar question.

I wrote a book and started a newspaper – that’s what!  But, is it odd that I don’t feel like the have a clearest idea what is next?

I’ve been taking classes (most recently, the very inspiring blog boss), getting out of my comfort zone (I’m starting to give more talks, meet people through book signings and am generally emerging from my house-cave), reading (lots and lots of things that are simply fantastic and, bit by bit, are helping me find my steady), shedding (you should see the piles of things going to Goodwill!) and setting new goals and directions.  I am not done and I don’t know where it will end or what it will look like, but I am finally beginning to feel like an old groove could return and feel good again.

Obviously, there is PITH + VIGOR which I am in love with, but which is also a serious undertaking.  It is the kind of thing that if I am not careful, will consume me in the same way that book writing did.  I loved that process and might even want to do it again, but I came out the other side feeling spent and tired and by the end, I realized it wasn’t something that I could have sustained for much longer. Perhaps (probably?) that is completely normal – but I’d like to chart a different course for P+V  and the next time around.  This needs to be a steadier, simpler, clearer, and calmer sort of undertaking.  One which can grow organically and has a sense of balance and consistency that will feed me personally and which will build and feed this community over a long period.

I keep reminding myself to take deep breaths every time I start panicking about what needs to be done next.  That quick-hurry sort of mindset  is easy to fall into and I find it slightly destructive to many things I hold dear – not the least of which is my sanity.   PITH + VIGOR is about digging deeper into gardening and all the people and places and things that make it fascinating.  It is about connecting communities and people and building something big and interesting, and important.  I don’t think that what it is striving for is something that will happen quickly and hurriedly so I need to make sure I don’t let these tendencies sneak up on me.

I’ve been out and about signing books and telling people about the newspaper over the last few weeks and one question keeps coming up.  “Is it about flowers or are there vegetables too?” (Now imagine that being said with a sort of nasally-bostonian sort of accent…)   This inquiry comes again and again about the book and the newspaper equally.  Is it me, or is that the oddest question ever?  As if flowers and vegetables are the only two things that any sort of garden publication can possibly be about.   At first I found it startling to hear so repetativly…but now it reminds me that this is my goal.  There are so many more stories to be told and scratching the surface with a how-to, a top ten list, a product round-up or a regurgitation of the same-old-same-lame garden stuff just isn’t interesting.  I want to find stories that go way beyond the how-to and instead instill and inspire a romance and charm and cultural identity back into the practice of working the land – it is something that I think we all kind of yearn for.

So where does studio ‘g’ fit into all of this?  I don’t know completely, but I think that just sitting down to write again, here, is the start of sorting it out; re-opening the conversation and seeing where that goes.  This is, however, what I do know…

– I will be here more often, writing whatever is on my mind.  For now, any sense of restraint, self imposed limitations for topics, and editorial planning that might once have been here needs to be stripped away until I find my groove again. I can’t wait to experiment with ideas, gardeny or whatever, and hone some new skills – this is my forum for that and I am reclaiming it.

– Rodney and Erin will keep writing their weekly posts….because who can live without all that cool plant inspiration and those motivating before & after projects? (not me!)

– PITH + VIGOR is going to tell really cool stories that take time and research (I love research!!) and people to create.  Hopefully in doing that it will grow and spread.

– The rest will figure itself out.



111214beforeHey everyone! I hope you guys were able to finish up all your fall gardening this year! I wanted to plant some bulbs this fall but didn’t get around to it (again)….does anybody else have that issue? Anyway, I wanted to share a new Before & After with you, from one of my favorite landscape designers, Michael Muro. Michael works out of Seattle, Washington and he sent me this project a few weeks ago. What started out as a common, run-of-the-mill front yard was nicely transformed into a facade that is much more inviting. Read the full post

Redbor kale

From this title, “Traffic Stopping Kale,” you may be imagining a major traffic incident in Los Angeles or Santa Barbara where a truck loaded with kale turned over on the interstate. Then tons of drivers hit their brakes and start grazing right off of the roadway. No, that is not what I am implying at all.

Although the idea of a kale wreck causing tons of health food loving and fad craving masses to mob the scene may be slightly humorous (no one was hurt during this visual introduction), that is not what I meant at all. I am talking about kale literally stopping traffic, be it by automobile, foot, or bike. The particular kale that will cause disruption in others’ daily routine is the Redbor kale. In case you have not seen it, Redbor kale (Brassica oleracea ‘Redbor’) is a 3-4 foot tale kale with deep purple, crinkly-edged leaves. This plant is such a striking presence in the garden that as it matures, it takes on the size of a small shrub. Not only is it beautiful and striking but yes, the leaves are completely edible. Add Redbor kale along a sunny sidewalk, and watch the Lululemon-clad hordes congregate in salivating awe.

Kale Redbor La

The specifics on growing Redbor kale are: it can be grown from seed or plugs, plant in late spring in a sunny, well-drained garden bed, it is ready to harvest from plugs in about 55 days, from seed it would be ready to harvest in 75 days. Redbor kale leaves can be harvested and eaten while they are young so a few plants in your garden will provide a summer full of purplish, healthy kale smoothies. In case you do not get around to harvesting all of the leaves, the older leaves will soften if left until a light autumn frost. Some of the plant sources cite that plants will come back if covered and mulched over the winter. We are going to test this notion at our USDA zone 6a gardens at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens this winter.

The leaves and stems are beautiful and sturdy so another great use is in floral arrangements. If you are having a dinner party, make a Redbor kale centerpiece so if your guests are still hungry, they can nibble on the decoration.

Add Brassica oleracea ‘Redbor’ to your list of must grow plants. I know you will love the appearance, you will have passers-by stopping to ask about the plant, and if you have kids, Redbor kale chips are the best snack food. Especially if you throw out all of the other snack food and leave kale chips laying on the kitchen table. Not that we would do that.

– Rodney

Images: Annie’s Annuals, LSU Ag Center