Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.


Richard Felber was a most excellent garden photographer. And I’m lucky to count him among my friends. Over the past couple of decades, we’ve traveled together and produced more than a handful of respectable garden magazine stories together, including the notorious Allen Haskell’s exquisite garden in Atlanta, Georgia; Cole Burrell’s mosquito-ridden garden in Minneapolis; the artist colony gardens of Cornish, New Hampshire (including Ellen Biddle Shipman’s restored garden; the garden of artist Stephen Parrish, father of Maxfield Parrish; and the gardens of sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens); a phlox festival and a moss garden in Vermont (separate locations); even a cut-flower gladiola farm in Connecticut. He proudly took me to see his wife’s beautiful botanical-inspired paintings (and, of course, introduced us) in her studio at their home in Kent; invited me to his studio and eventual apartment on West 22nd Street—just a couple of blocks from where I lived—to see his current collection of mushroom spores; and he once gave me a special gift of a really old piece of American blown glass, perhaps a cordial, that he told me not to lose and which I still treasure. So it was with a heavy heart that I discovered only last week that Richard had passed away…a few months ago. The brief obituary I stumbled upon in The New York Times reads simply: “FELBER—Richard, of New York City passed away January 10. He is survived by his beloved sons, Jono and Sam, and former wife Lisa Brody. A renowned garden and landscape photographer, he built a career and life from his ability to recognize and capture beauty. May he continue to chase the light.” How could Richard Felber be gone from this Earth? He was bigger than life and a pain in my professional ass. Lisa filled me in on the details of his passing via e-mail: “Yes, I am sorry to inform you that Richard passed away on January 11th. It was very sudden. He had been suffering with what he thought was the flu or pneumonia but when he wasn’t getting better I insisted he go to the ER. By that point he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer which had already spread to his spine. He died at the hospital in NYC, two weeks after his diagnosis.” A massively oversized black-and-whte framed print of a morning glory Richard gave me dominates my living room here in Des Moines and greets me every day as it has for a decade or more. Every time I worked with Richard, he taught me a new way to look at the natural landscape, or a combination of plants, or a singularly sensational blossom. Richard’s legacy reminds me of a scene from my favorite all-time movie, Harold and Maude (1971), in which a soon-to-be octogenarian Maude asks a teenaged Harold, while parked in a field of daisies, “What flower would you like to be?” To which Harold responds, “I don’t know. One of these, maybe.” pointing to the masses of daisies. “Why do you say that?” asks Maude. “Because they’re all alike,” he answers. “Oooh, but they’re not,” says Maude. “Look, see, some are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, some even have lost some petals—all kinds of observable differences. You see, Harold, I feel that much of the world’s sorrow comes from people who are this [pointing to a single blossom], yet allow themselves be treated as that [pointing to the field of daisies].” That’s what Richard was, after all, a perfectly imperfect blossom in a field of blooming daisies.

How about growing a delicious Caserta summer zucchini that you won’t find at your local grocery or farmer’s market? Bossa Nova brand hybrid squash is popular in Brazil because of its attractive fruit, adaptability, and disease resistance. As an added bonus, the plant is compact and perfect for smaller spaces or containers. The folks at Seminis Vegetable Seeds sent me some of the squash to sample this week, and I must say, I am impressed. In fact, it is one of the All-America Selections award winners for 2015. Last night, I sautéed a couple of the zucchini along with some chopped up shallots and a handful of cherry tomatoes, tossed the whole mess with some pasta and shredded fresh basil and topped it with a cloud of fresh-grated parmesan cheese. And, yes, I cleaned my plate.

Don’t be jealous. Especially if you love hydrangeas…and I know you do. After all, hydrangeas are the most-searched plant on Google. I just returned from a delightful couple of days at Bailey Nurseries, a fifth-generation, family-owned business headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota. Bailey Nurseries is one of the country’s largest wholesale nurseries and continues to develop and introduce revolutionary shrub, tree, and rose varieties. If you don’t know the name, you most certainly know their plants: Love & Peace rose, Tiger Eyes sumac, and Endless Summer hydrangea, to name a few.

Besides exploring their display gardens, greenhouses, and growing fields, I also got to spend time with Terri (Bailey) McEnaney and her son Ryan. Terri is the President of Bailey Nurseries and Ryan handles communications and public relations. That’s the three of us in the Display Gardens at Bailey Nurseries.

Perhaps the highlight of my visit was the opportunity to spend time with the world-renowned plant breeder, Dr. Michael A. Dirr. When it comes to hydrangeas, Dr. Dirr is a rock star. When it comes to shrubs, Dr. Dirr literally wrote the book, His Manual of Woody Landscape Plants is one of the most widely used reference books in horticulture. It has sold more than 500,000 copies. In September 1998, Dr. Dirr was visiting Bailey Nurseries when he spotted a unique hydrangea, a variety he would later learn could flower on both old and new growth—the first hydrangea with this ability. On the flight back home, he scribbled the name Endless Summer in his notes. Bailey Nurseries patented the plant and trademarked that name. Since its introduction in 2004, more than 12 million Endless Summer have been sold. Dr. Dirr has gone on to introduce three more hydrangeas to the Endless Summer collection (Blushing Bride, Twist-n-Shout, and the newest addition, Bloomstruck). That’s the two of us in a field of Bloomstruck hydrangeas. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next!



Freeland Tanner created this wall art by arranging vintage tools, antique sprinkler, trellis, and used garden hoses on a base made from an old teak tabletop.

Every once in a while, you see something in someone’s garden that hits a chord. The Tanner garden in Napa, California, which we featured in the summer issue of Country Gardens, struck me not for the verdant plantings but for the innovative use of old garden tools, hoses, sprinklers and other cast-off items from gardens of the past.  In the Tanner garden, spades and pitchforks became a garden gate; metal flower frogs became wall art; old faded hoses were braided together to make garlands or used as stems for antique sprinkler “flowers”.

Antique sprinklers sprout from the ends of old hoses that have been threaded over bent rebars to create this fanciful sculpture.

It’s always endearing to me to see castoffs refreshed with new life.

Vintage metal flower frogs are skewered by repurposed bits of trellis for this artwork.

And for me, as Father’s Day approaches, the Tanner garden reminds me of my dad, who collected old tools. He spent years going to farm and house sales, buying boxes of old hammers and saws, bundles of rakes and wide brooms. Dad owned a large brick building, and he would take all his treasures to his “shop,” clean and fix them, and arrange them in patterns across the walls and along display shelves through the center. Dad has been gone for many years now—his collection sold to other collectors.

Shovels, pitchforks, and other garden tools, painted Ponderosa Green, form the core of this unique and emblematic gate.

He would have thoroughly enjoyed the Tanner garden. I know a lot of people who combine nostalgia with functionality and art, which extends to most of our Country Gardens audience as well.

Freeland braided worn-out hoses and hung them in swags to display a collection of vintage watering cans.

Check out this gorgeous new rose from our friends at Proven Winners that will be released through their Oso Easy line of roses exclusively through the pages of our magazines in 2016. Tim Wood tells me that this rose is “very fragrant, very floriferous, with a high degree of black spot resistance.” What would you name this rose? Who knows, if we like your suggestion, we’ll be sure to send you a free specimen of your very own.

My three sons helped make polymer clay plant markers for the garden.


Sometimes, the do-it-yourself projects we attempt do not turn out exactly as seen on the internet or television. At least in my experience.

While editing the 2015 issue of Easy Garden Projects, I watched dozens of DIY ideas materialize into useful and interesting garden improvements under the expert hands of our contributing editors. I vowed to tackle a handful of the projects featured in the magazine to see if my skills matched those of our experts. To start, I picked a project my kids could assist with – plant markers made of polymer clay.

My three elementary-school-aged boys helped me select the colors of polymer clay at the craft store. They also helped roll out the clay (once I kneaded it to soften) and cut out the markers using a template. After arguing over letter stamps and puzzling over the correct spelling of “thyme” they also stamped herb names into the clay. According to the teeny-tiny print on the clay packaging, I baked the finished markers at a low temperature until hard.


Many hands make interesting work – my boys crafting their own plant markers for herbs and flowers.

The kids were thrilled with the finished product. It doesn’t quite look as perfect as the ones made by Marty Ross and her husband for the Easy Garden Projects photo shoot, but my kids were thrilled with the results.

For detailed instructions and other inspiring ideas, check out Easy Garden Projects, on sale this summer at newsstands across the nation.

Plant markers made by very enthusiastic boys.

The plant markers made for Easy Garden Projects magazine.

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