Leaving My Critic at the Garden Gate

Recently I’ve had an epiphany, and it’s about me and how I have felt about presenting my garden to the world. I know my critic has been voicing her little nags about this for a long time, and I’d like to say I largely ignored her, but that would not be true. The job of the critic is to protect us from being hurt, based on our notes taken as a little child, all learned from Mommy and Daddy as they laid down The Rules. The ones we were to obey if we wanted to be loved and accepted. It’s a big shift to become the adult in the room and to be able to thank the critic voice for her input (it’s her Job, afterall), but you are the conscious adult and you are in charge now, and able to reassess whether her notes are still pertinent, or were ever even true. So there was that. And I suppose I’d been thinking that as “a gardening blogger” my garden was “supposed to look a certain way.” Not Better Homes and Gardens, but, you know. Nice. So I would carefully select how I presented my garden in pictures, trying to avoid certain corners. Or, the whole big picture, if I’m being really honest, and that’s what this post is about.

I’d already begun to think about this, catalyzed by noticing I was surprised when an elderly neighbor came to visit my back garden, and given that she’s a kind of random gardener herself, I showed her every corner, thinking she would appreciate it. She did. After I walked her around she said, “I feel like I’ve been on a gardening tour.” Really? And then I was left wondering why I would be so surprised. What’s that about?


But the real ah-ha moment occurred when a gardener I know was lamenting that at end of winter her garden didn’t really show well, and for some reason, that one clicked. Because what I recognized was that the voice of the critic was lying await under what she was saying. This led me to some serious and honest thinking, which led me to this conversation with my daughter this morning.

“I’m going to write about leaving one’s critic at the garden gate, my own included. And I’m going to stop thinking my garden has to be showcased as anything other than it really is. And what it really is, Antonia, is a very big DOG RUN with a LOT of things growing on each side, mostly roses.”

And we both cracked up laughing.

Because it’s basically true. I took one look at that near block-long yard ten and a half years ago, and I saw a place my overly energetic Border Collie, Conner, could happily be exercised and safely kept behind tall garden walls. I also saw a random garden created by various renters that allowed me to know I could pretty much do whatever I wanted, and that appealed to me very much. I could experiment, and pretty much anything I did create would have been an improvement. And it has been. Let me take you beyond the garden gate and give you a really good look at what lies behind it!

First, the primary motivators, playing ball. (They are the main attraction!)

Conner and Ruby

And here’s where they get to play every day.




That’s basically the dog run part. But there’s also a bit of patio, where we sometimes play, and this is a peek at some of that.


It’s a big back yard, and it has secret places. I somehow managed to arrange it as if it were divided into vignettes. Here’s the hammock.


And my most recent foray is something I’ve long thought about, as the true myrtle (one of my favorite areas) grows in rather a circle, so I’ve always imagined that I could put something inside that circle and create something special. And that one I’ve just begun, so stay tuned. I’m seeing videotaping little chats from an early morning garden, with tablecloths and vases of flowers and hanging lovely things in the trees. Can you see it?

The Myrtle Circle

Then there was the haphazard developing of the Rose Garden, which evolved out of taking out an enormous plum tree that did no one any good, ever, not even the birds, and a teen age neighbor boy who actually told me, “I’m the brawn, not the brain” plopped in a circle of roses I’d salvaged from some elderly folks on the block who had intended to trash these amazing heirloom roses! So that happened. And was I inclined to take out the volunteer borage? No. Not at all. I’m not that kind of girl. So I enjoy the contrasting blues and reds and pinks and yellows and the abundance of honeybees and bumbles that frequent my garden from early morning ’till dusk and beyond.


Also, compliments of same brawny teenager, the lemon tree got dragged into the center of the “dog run”, in the sun, and adjacent to a grape vine I put into a large pot who is getting bigger every year. Oh, dear. And I spend a fair amount of time making sure it doesn’t wind itself into the lemon tree or get in the way of focused doggies, which does happen on occasion. Poor grapes.


There’s a large picnic table on this end of the garden, well used.


And a honeysuckle screen looking out into that area.


And, of course, the Dr. Hueys.


Among the other blessings on this property are a fig tree, an organic apple tree, a plum tree (which had been hiding behind the one pulled up!), and the English walnut.


And what I’ve added includes three butterfly bushes, insuring tons of butterflies and pollinators, lots of herbs, raspberries, blackberries, roses and more roses, irises, lilies, campanula, and all manner of flowers. I am especially grateful for the perennials.

But what this garden most offers is a habitat for birds and critters. A safe one, free of pesticides, one where nests might be built. It offers respite from my work life. Fresh air. Quiet. Safety. No deer. No snakes. (Only black widows, which I watch carefully for.) All gifts for which I am incredibly grateful. And is it “perfect”? No. It is garden tour worthy? Probably not. Do I care? No. So I hope this sharing encourages you to have the garden that suits you. Please, please, leave your critic at the garden gate. Let things go a bit, and learn about the plants you are growing. How else would I know oregano can take over a veggie garden, had I not let it happen? Or that mullein is a magical plant if I’d ripped it up before it became a stalwart force in my garden? Where would I play with hummingbirds in the early morning, showering them with a spray from my hose? Learn about scrub jay fledglings? Let your garden be. Shape it as you will. But make it a place of joy and wonder and learning. Because that’s what it is.

Love and garden blessings,
Kathryn xoxo

Book News: Guess what? May 21st I’m coming down to Healdsburg for an Author Meet and Greet. Can you come?? I’d love to see you! Also–if you have read my book Plant Whatever Brings You Joy, would you consider putting a review on my Amazon page? It all helps and is deeply appreciated. Ten thousand kisses if you do!



All About Lady Banks Roses

Honestly, I’d walked by this little bank of roses at the end of a neighbor’s fence for years and never thought much about it. Sweet, but nothing to write home about, right?


But then an elderly woman down the street, whose gardening knowledge I’ve come to respect and rely upon, motioned casually to a large spread of small yellow roses that apparently was in the process of taking over a small tree in the back of her garden, spilling over a fence and into an adjacent garden. Given that I live with a trumpet vine that long ago took over a pittosporum tree in the back yard, I still was not duly impressed.

Until I visited a nursery at the far end of town and this caught my eye.


And this!


“What’s underneath?” I asked Christine, the woman who owns the nursery.

She laughs. “See that metal frame just next to it? One of those large poles is underneath that mound of roses. It took it down!”

Wow. Truly a plant to be reckoned with! Now it has my attention.

Christine recommended that I go north down a street not far from where I live to see the awesome possibilities of a Lady Banks Rose. Next to a meandering creek, full of flowing water from the recent rains, I found this towering testimony to what a determined Lady Banks Rose can do! (Would love to know more about the woman after whom it’s named. I hope she was a dynamite lady! And I hope she traveled a lot!)


I am now fully engaged, and I’m itching to put one in the ground and bear witness to it as it does its marvelous thing. This will require some serious responsible planning, as clearly it could not care less what it eats in its path in its endeavor to be itself. As one who has written extensively about the metaphorical value of the lessons learned in the garden, Lady Banks Roses would have required an entire chapter devoted to it. As close as I came in Plant Whatever Brings You Joy is “Allow ample space for the breadth of your vision”, but also, succinctly, “Never underestimate the power of one tiny seed!”

I have a fence in mind that could use some beautifying, and I think there are no trees within its reach. OK, I just looked. Maybe a privet might get courted, but I don’t see that as necessarily a bad thing. 😉

Researching what I need to know about Lady Banks Roses to successfully grow one is heartening. I have learned they have been regarded as quite trouble free for generations. Good. And Christine has already assured me I need not bother, really, with pruning. (How would one do that on a thirty foot tree anyway?) It is found in yellow or white, though I believe yellow is more common. And it is found in both a single and double blossom.

Here’s what you can anticipate up close:



Lady Banks Roses come originally from China. They are named after the wife of the man who brought them to our sphere. Their proper name is Rosa banksiae. They bloom once a year.

Poking around on the Internets, I found this lovely tribute from a woman’s garden long ago. So charming…


Meanwhile, back to Christine’s nursery, Whispering Winds Nursery, I inquired if I might come sometime and do a small book event and she was, happily, delighted! So please take note if you are in Marin, Sonoma or Mendocino Counties (all of which I call Home) please consider coming up or over Friday, April 15th. From 1:00-4:00PM I will be sitting under a tree greeting folks, signing and selling copies of Plant Whatever Brings You Joy! And guess what? Christine and Jim have kindly offered to extend a 10% discount on any plants purchased with a purchase of my book! I found this enormously kind and generous. And be advised they have an excellent abundant choice of flowers and plants you will not be likely to find elsewhere. It’s a lovely setting. I would love to see you! And maybe afterward we could find a small cafe and sit and chat!

Warm garden love and blessings,
Kathryn xoxo

More details…


Book Notes: Good Berry Bad Berry

Good Berry Bad Berry Cover

Gardening author Helen Yoest lives in North Carolina (where I lived for two years), is a Pisces (like I am), and has a Border Collie named Pepper, whom she adores (as much as I love my Border Collies, Conner and Ruby). We also both love to garden! She is the author of several books, including Plants with Benefits, and her latest, which will undoubtedly end up in the reference section of every gardener’s library, Good Berry Bad Berry: Who’s Edible, Who’s Toxic, and How to Tell the Difference. (You want to buy it already, right?)

Good Berry Bad Berry is very well organized into sections–one for Bad Berries; one for Good Berries; one for Good Berries/Bad Idea; with Recipes, and Berries that Didn’t Make the List, arranged regionally, rounding out the book.

There are thirteen bad berries featured. Conveniently each berry is described by plant type, then details of its toxicity are highlighted, its season named, its flowers and leaves then described. A photo of each is included, so IDing will be easy even for a novice gardener or forager.

Here are two of the Bad Berries:

Nandina domesticate
Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica)

Heavenly Bamboo is found commonly in California, so I chose to highlight this one first. Helen assures us that while the berry is poisonous, the severity is very mild. I’m sure readers will be familiar with its tiny white flowers of late fall. It can grow anywhere from 4-8 feet tall and 2-4 feet wide. I had one that was exceeding its bounds and I dug it up, which was no small task, and I see it now has a little reminder growing nearby, so, not that easily gotten rid of. But I have seen it used beautifully in gardens where there was ample space. Let me know your experiences.

Nippon Lily
Nippon Lily (Rohdea japonica)

I must confess I chose this bad berry because it looks so much like Arum italicum which is my least favorite plant in my garden, as it is also poisonous. I had a very hefty vet bill after Conner played ball in it with a Border Collie friend who was visiting, called Learning the Hard Way–a cautionary tale on why it’s important to know what’s growing in our gardens! So it would take very little to convince me that Nippon Lily is not your best friend. I wonder what they share? Anyway, Nippon Lily induces nausea, the severity is mild, and its season is spring. It has leaves a foot long and two feet wide according to Helen. Here’s a picture of arum italicum, which only emphasizes why it’s important to have a good reference book like this one, as it would be so easy to confuse one berry for another.

Arum italicum

Now on to some Good Berries! There are twenty listed in the book.

Goji Berry
Goji Berry (Lyceum barbarum)

Pretty sure I’ve never seen a goji berry in my life, but I did recall that Chicago gardener/author Amanda Thomsen, of Kiss my Aster fame, was experimenting with them in her garden with mixed results. But it piqued my interest and I do love to grow berries. I have blackberries and raspberries and one lone strawberry that persists. I love them all. So maybe I will give them a go, though it sounds like they will be needing some serious space if they can bolt to 8-10 feet high in a single season! “Handling the green berries will turn them black.” Duly noted!

Mahonia aquifolium
Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium)

The Oregon Grape is native to the Pacific Northwest, so I’m anticipating that some of my subscribers will have these in their gardens and can share their stories. I’m reading they are sour when raw and best used in jams and jellies. They grow under the high canopies of pine and fir forests, in moist, organically rich, acidic soils. This makes me think Oregon is a perfect place, and I do believe I was introduced to them in the Van Couver area, years ago. Do you grow them?

I do hope you will check out Helen’s Good Berry Bad Berry. I see this as a lovely book to share with the children in your lives–to bring their awareness to the differences of various berries in our gardens, and to enhance our general appreciation of what else we might include in our gardens to deepen our connections and reap even more benefits.

Love and berry blessings,

Kathryn xoxoxo

Book News: Happy to share that The Edge in Minneapolis has included an excerpt from Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom from the Garden in their March issue! Also, the very nice folks at Happy to Survive named this blog Plant Whatever Brings You Joy to their Top Blog list in 2016. Thank you!

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