As Seen On WordPress & HGTV

At some point in the midst of COVID madness, I received a message from the WordPress gods that my blog had reached its 9th anniversary, the gift for which is pottery (hence, the opening photo). That announcement, in combination with all of the quarantine days and weeks and months I’ve had to work in the garden, I’ve had some — and by some, I mean a lot of — time to reflect on this blog… where it began (during my time as a Long Island gardener), where it is now (during my time as a South Florida gardener), where it’s going (I haven’t a clue), and all points in between.

When I made the decision to start this blog, I was at a very stagnant time in my life. So much was about work, and there was very little time for anything creative — and I felt I needed to do something, anything, to be able to breathe. Gardening has always been that for me, but the idea of a blog was a way to reignite my passion for writing, reading, and photography.

Along the way, I’ve had some posts I’ve been especially proud of and some that were outright clunkers. Similarly, some photos are “meh” at best, and others still have the ability to take my breath away.

There’s also you.

When I began this blog, I always told myself that it’s perfectly okay if no one reads it. The blog was meant for me, a warehouse for writing and photos — but it amazed me then and still does now to post something and to see the first readers’ responses, whether it’s a “like” or a “comment.” On my dashboard, I’m also able to see a map of the world and each time someone reaches my blog, his or her country lights up, and the color deepens with each hit from that country.

It reminds me of how I’ve always felt about the blogosphere, especially the gardening neighborhood. I feel as if we all live next door to one another. Each time we post or leave a comment, it’s as if we’re neighbors having a chat across the garden fence — and in these current times, that means so much more.

There are also the adventures… like the artist, Cathyann Burgess, who reached out to me after finding an interview with me on another blog about bloggers who drink coffee and have a dog. She saw a photo of Murphy and me there, but she was quite taken with one particular close up of my dog. She contacted me and asked if she could paint Murphy’s portrait for a pet rescue fundraiser. Of course, I agreed — and she sent me a copy of it. Now that Murphy is no longer with us, I cherish each brush stroke of that furry face.

I also enjoyed interviewing authors (like Linda Holden and Dr. Twigs Way), celebrities (like Dante), and gardeners (like Margaret Roach, who invited me to be a part of her book blog tour before I even knew what a book blog tour was). To be honest, as much as I enjoy the interviews, I really enjoy the challenge of the hunt. Some might call it stalking, but if I read a tidbit that a celebrity gardens, I’m on their trail to make contact. I’ve done that since I was a young teenager, writing fan letters celebrities to get their autographs. (At this point, Joe would say, “Nerd alert.”)

Finally, there’s the potting shed. Let’s face it, it’s always been about the potting shed and it will always be about the potting shed. Technically, my potting shed is no longer mine. It now belongs to my nephew and his wife, since they bought our house before we moved to Florida. Still, though…

It’s difficult to remove that picture from the side of the homepage, or to take away its own page, the one that has all of Joe’s hand-drawn building plans. Heck, it’s the cover model on my book, Seeing Green: Life Learned In The Potting Shed! (Shameless plug: the book is for sale on Blurb, a print-on-demand service. If you decide to get a copy, always check Blurb’s homepage for promo discount codes. They do that a lot!)

I have to admit something here. Although I have a beautiful area along the side of my Florida house, where I can garden and write on the same potting bench that once was in the potting shed, I still miss looking at and working in that potting shed. I loved — and love — that shed. I love every memory that was made there, especially during those white winter days, when I could garden under glass while snow fell just on the other side of the panes. As much as I love the sight of the shed alive with flowers and color… I keep a photo on my phone of the potting shed in the snow, and despite its frosty appearance, just looking at it is like feeling the embrace of a warm hug.

Apparently, I’m not alone. Occasionally, I receive emails from people who have used my potting shed plans to build their own versions of it, from full-size to miniature! I am thrilled to know that so many people are smitten with my potting shed and that I’ve been able to share it.

Similarly, of all the posts, the one that consistently gets the most likes, the most traffic, the most links, the most questions, the most shares is the one about the potting shed, The House That Joe Built. In fact, whenever those WordPress metrics gurus alert me to a surge in site traffic, it’s always because someone has shared the potting shed’s link to their own blog, website, or Pinterest page.

That’s what happened a few months ago, when a writer for HGTV found the potting shed. After contacting me, she said she would like to include it in a selection of great garden sheds. She had questions for me and I had to sign releases — and now, my potting shed is number two on HGTV’s website, and I can proudly say, “As seen on HGTV.”

I’m not sure if all of this attention has gone to the potting shed’s head, but I’ve warned my nephew that he may see garden paparazzi lurking in the shrubbery. That being said, blogging has been a remarkable adventure, packed with mostly smile, occasional tears, and always flowers. Thank you for being a part of this adventure. I’m looking forward to more. Stay safe and, as always, happy gardening.

The South Floridian Who Planted A Rose And Grew An English Garden, Part 2

In the overnight hours before landscape designer Victor Lazzari opened his English-style garden to members of a local garden club, a cold front made its way down the entire length of the Florida peninsula. Wind and light rain arrived in the darkness, but by morning, a cool breeze had pushed away any lingering clouds, unveiling a brilliantly blue sky. The typical South Florida humidity was yesterday’s memory.

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The South Floridian Who Planted A Rose And Grew An English Garden, Part 1

It’s interesting to watch Victor Lazzari in his South Florida garden. At 6’1” and 290 lbs. of muscle and tattoos, he’s certainly a looming presence. It’s also where he happens to be the most comfortable, walking along the garden’s hidden paths, gently cupping roses in hands that are just as capable of lifting 350 lbs. at the gym, and inhaling each bloom’s sweet or subtle scent.

Most strikingly, though, Lazzari’s garden is done in the English style. Yes, an English garden is growing in South Florida.

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My Means To My End

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. For me, they create too much pressure — and within a week, they’ll be in the trash heap and I’ll be spending the rest of the year beating myself up because I didn’t go to the gym or lose weight or learn a new craft.  Besides, in my world, each day gives us a chance to get a fresh start — hence, the sunrise photo at the top of this post.

This year, though, is different.

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Not-So-Wordless Wednesday: Small Packages & Good Things

As 2019 comes to a close, I thought this would be an excellent time to wrap up a few loose ends — or, rather, unwrap a few small packages and share the good things inside.

Small Package #1:

In April 2018, before I left my nursery job in a local box store, I purchased a small vanda orchid. Vandas are incredibly beautiful plants. Flowers are large and plentiful, and the roots hang down from the pot openings in long strands, absorbing moisture from the air. Normally, when these orchids are sold fully grown and in full bloom, they can cost as much as $30 — and that’s on the low end.

It’s always been my gardening opinion to not purchase expensive plants, and to never purchase plants in bloom. Personally, I’d rather have a plant that hasn’t been forced into bloom so that I can enjoy the flowers for a longer period of time.

Such was the case with my vanda, a large purple and white speckled variety. I noticed it on an endcap in the garden center, part of  a display of various orchids packaged in small bags made of netting. These are younger plants, grown from award-winning stock, and all that’s needed is time, patience, and about $11.

The plant, though, never seemed to get any larger and I was surprised to see it send up a flower spike. Maybe, I thought, this is what they do. Eventually, the flower buds opened — and the flowers, although lovely, looked nothing like the original package. They were red and they were small. Very small.

Although, I no longer had the receipt, I reached out to the company, Better-Gro, on Facebook. I shared photos of the original packaging, which I had saved, and of the flowers that bloomed. In a true testament to their excellent customer service, they quickly responded with an apology

Good Thing #1:

Within two days, a small package arrived. Inside was a replacement plant that was my original intended purchase, and one which I am now showering with time and patience.

Small Package #2:

At about the same time, another package arrived in the mail. It was from a former colleague of mine, Diana Marik, an English teacher who is now living her retirement as a paranormal romance writer.

Good Thing #2:

I opened the package and there was the most recent addition to her Seven Deadly Veils series, Veil of Orion, a story of enduring love and the forces trying to tear it apart. There was also a note.

Hello Kevin,

 This is a surprise, I’m sure… In this trying world a spark of joy is here. Since I’ve already dedicated the first six books to close friends and family, I decided to dedicate this book to you.

When we had worked together, we were both independently thinking — dreaming — of writing a book. At the time, I was playing around with the idea of compiling blog posts and photos into a book format, which eventually became Seeing Green. I had heard through the school grapevine that Diana was also exploring writing.

One day, I visited Diana while she was on hall duty and we had our first book-writing conversation. We spoke of the stresses and time, genres and the possibility of self-publishing. At some point, I mentioned that I had registered for a self-publishing conference in NYC and I gave Diana the information. We met in the city that day, attended various workshops, and shared what each of us had learned.

I never forgot the simple act of kindness of informing me about the Self-Pub Expo in Manhattan and pretty much holding my hand when I was so nervous about discovering this ever-changing, crazy world of publishing.

 Isn’t it amazing how simple acts have such a profound rippling effect even when we’re unaware of it?

Amazing, indeed. Uncharacteristically, I found myself at a loss for words. I was touched, honored, humbled, flattered — and none of these words can truly capture the feeling. It was amazing.

Small Package #3:

Joe and I stopped sending paper Christmas cards years ago. As much as we love the idea of sending holiday messages to friends and family, there was something — whether it was the number of trees needed to produce the paper or the money for the cards and the postage, and then to have all of it tossed out at the end of the season… It all seemed wasteful and especially unnecessary in this digital age.

We did, though, have so many peoples’ emails, Facebook contact info, and cell phone numbers. For us, it made better sense to make our own digital card and send it to everyone — and they could print it or delete it. Either way, they would know they were in our thoughts.

Good Thing #3:

So, from Joe and me to all of you:

The Great Hydrangea Experiment

I long for hydrangea days.

As much as I love living and gardening in South Florida, I can’t help but deeply miss the hydrangeas in my New York garden. I loved photographing them from their first green buds in spring to the fullness of color during their bloom time to the their faded glory in fall to winter’s dried-brown clusters.

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