The Gardener’s Lament: You Should Have Been Here When…..

The thing about a garden is that it never looks the same as it did the last time you looked.  A tree may grow leaves….then flowers…then berries…then the leaves change color…then they fall,  exposing the bark.  No matter when you take a stroll through the garden it always looks a little different than it did the last time.

Whenever I have visitors to my garden, no matter how much they are admiring of what they see, I find myself explaining that it doesn’t always look ‘this’ way; That last week those Irises were not blooming and they will stop blooming in a couple of weeks but the flowers will be replaced by seedheads that I like to use in dried arrangements.

Those big, blowsy white flowers that just appeared on the Oak Leaf Hydrangeas will be pink in a couple of weeks.   The blue sheets of Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snow) that are covering the ground will disappear completely, replaced by whatever plants come up in their place – Irises, Japanese Anemones, Ornamental Grasses, etc.   And they will also change – the grasses, for example starting out as green leaves, then perhaps adding soft, beigy-pink plumes, then turning gold for autumn.

So when people ask me when the garden is at its best I don’t have an answer.  Except…you should have seen it last week…or you should come back next week.

This changing beauty is one of the things I love about gardening, so it’s not really a lament.  Rather, it’s the Gardener’s Song and we sing it constantly.


Anticipation & Endless Preparations. What I Really Want to do is Make a Garden

I’ve always loved the state of anticipation.  Planning and preparing for a vacation.  Hearing the orchestra tuning up before a concert or ballet.  The moment a plane begins to speed up just before lift-off.  Waiting for a movie to start (yes, really).  Thinking about the new puppy I’m getting (yes, really). 

 But this is almost too much.  It’s all anticipation – and no garden. 

 So far some of the paths are in.  And as I walk along the path through the future woodland I can imagine myself surrounded by the shade of the trees and shrubs I have planned.  The path through the perennial border takes me (in my imagination) through the bountiful, colorful  lushness of a flowering border.

 This week I’m having deer fence and rodent barriers installed.  It’s a big job, enclosing about 4.5 acres to keep out deer and a lot of other critters.   I know it has to be done.  I’m putting in dozens of trees and shrubs, hundreds of perennials and groundcovers.  And having them eaten by deer, or damaged by beavers or dug up by groundhogs would be a disaster. 

 And there are still so many other things I need to have done before I can have a single plant put in the ground.  Finish grading.   Irrigation.  Weed removal and prevention.  Soil preparation. 

 I do enjoy it all. Everything about making a garden is exciting for me;  I’ve actually been known to curl up in bed with a good book on grading and drainage. 

 But I can hardly wait till fall, when the first trees and shrubs can go into their (my) new home.


To everyone who has asked for our websites:

We’ve just had an article/interview published in the Kansas City Star and the response has been so warm and welcoming.

Several people asked for a link to our websites so they could see more of our work

Here they are:  John Gillis’ is

                               Cynthia Gillis’ is



One of the ways I’m planning to separate one garden area from another is by the kind of groundcover I use.  Here are some of the plants I’m using as groundcovers.  Lawn grass of course, probably a no-mow Fescue;

Carex pennsylvanica as a woodland groundcover

Carex pennsylvanica as a woodland groundcover

Carex pennsylvanica  – not a true grass but looks like it, only it grows to about 12” and then arches over so gracefully.

Cinnamon FernI’ll use lots of ferns – various kinds  like Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides, in the shade of the Woodland, Ostrich Fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris on the north side of the house; this is Cinnamon Fern

Trillium luteum

Trillium luteum

Trillium luteum – yellow flowering with its three-cornered flower making its own design statement;

Epimedium grandiflorum

Epimedium grandiflorum

Epimedium, every passionate gardener’s favorite groundcover, its overlapping heart-shaped leaves making it one of the most beautiful woodland plants;

Chives as a woodland groundcover

Chives as a woodland groundcover

Chives.  Yes Chives.  Allium schoenoprasum is the true garden chive and I’ve used it before as a groundcover, but there is another,  Allium angulosum ‘Summer Beauty’, which I may use instead as I am told the seedheads remain attractive all winter.

Tiarella with Maidenhair Fern

Tiarella with Maidenhair Fern

Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) a foamy white swath travelling through the woodland.

More to come.

It’s starting to feel real

The plants are about 60% selected – most of the trees, about half the shrubs and about 10% of the flowers and groundcovers.  And we now have a plan of the garden showing all the areas and the plants.  See the new photo up top.

Some of the paths are installed by the way, the ones that go through the woodland garden and the perennial border.

And in the next couple of weeks the deer fencing will go up, keeping out a lot of the critters that would be making a meal from my work.