A Moment of Crazy

I want to encourage you today because yesterday I hit a wall and maybe you did too.

Here’s the craziness:

Two weeks ago, my landlord told me to get a lawyer and get out. He was reacting to a very large bill from Orkin that he didn’t want to pay. A proposal I should say, which both the landlord and I now understand was possibly a scam. But his “get out” reactionary moment terrified me because I live in Asheville, North Carolina, where housing is way more than income. At least my income. I suddenly understood what facing possible homelessness feels like.

Last week, a big work “thing” happened. You know the person that we all avoid at work. That person who corners you and drives you mad until you tell them everything you know and then uses that information against you? Yeah, that person happened and caused some serious repercussions.

To finish, this year all my PTO was used for a boring illness in January and a beautiful wedding (my son’s) in September, which tallies up to no vacation or even a quick weekend away. I work 60-70 hours a week and well, remember all work and no play Jack? I hit a wall.

This was my wall:

I finished up with a client and got back into my truck to leave. I was on Kimberly Avenue, a street in Asheville I know as well as I know the street in front of my house, but I couldn’t think of where I was. My brain refused to cooperate and I kept looking at the street trying to make my brain bring up the information. I wondered later why I didn’t just check my GPS, but I don’t think it would have mattered. I felt the same way I did when my landlord told me to get out. Lost. And absolutely no clue where I was. For a full ten minutes. (A friend who travels for a living told me that he often wakes up in hotels and has to call the front desk and ask what city he’s in.)

Okay, so yeah, a meltdown occurred. I googled it. It’s called burnout and it’s real.

I texted all the wrong people. You know. The friends who tell you to pull it together. Yeah. Those types. Hey, I need those types of people in my life, because sometimes I need to pull it together. (I remember a midwife telling me to pull it together when I was in labor with my first son. So needed that.) But I had spent ten minutes trying to pull it together and I couldn’t. I started driving, hoping something familiar would trigger my brain into functioning again. The Fresh Market, a place I shop a lot, was that trigger. I am a forever customer now because of the familiarity their sign on the front of their store provided me.

I didn’t need the power-through, locker-room pep talk yesterday. I needed a listening ear. I needed to vomit out (forgive the metaphor) all the crap of the last two weeks–the crabby boss, the knee-jerk reacting landlord, the weirdo-manipulator at work, the long work weeks with no end in sight, the power-through mentality that only gets you so far. I needed a friend who would do nothing more than hear my life right then.

Fortunately, I have two of those friends and one was happy to meet for coffee. We didn’t solve a thing. I’m still burned out. The crazy person is still crazy and they’ll be at work tomorrow. My landlord may one day soon say get out and mean right this second. It’s his house, he can. But the weight of my little world was less and when I got back into my car, I knew exactly where I was.

Downsizing in Life and the Garden

The longer you live in a home, the shadier the landscape gets. This always baffles folks and they stare at me not quite sure what to make of that simple observation. “Look up,” I say. They do. “Are the trees taller?” “Was your neighbor’s home there before?” 

It dawns on them that this is true, that trees grew, houses were constructed, fences of green now separate homes, and like our own aging, it snuck up on them. What was once a new home with a blank slate for a landscape and full sun, is now an older home with mature trees, and lots of shade. The echinaceas quit blooming years ago, but they were busy raising kids and didn’t notice until this very moment with me–the garden coach–standing in their yard, our necks bent backward, faces looking up at a canopy of trees.

I sense what they’re thinking. They’re wondering where all those years went and how they missed those trees growing. Did they miss the kids growing, too? One is in college, another one is going this fall. That’s why they’ve called me. No one plays basketball in the driveway anymore so balls don’t land on perennials beds. There are no more bike paths through the worn-out grass. The chalk drawings on the stones in the patio faded years ago, and the shrubs that were once so small little feet could trample them, are now hiding windows appearing to devour the house.  There’s possibly a Japanese maple in the front foundation somewhere, at least there’s a vague recollection of planting one. 

I know I am there to help determine what “to do” with the landscape now that kids and dogs aren’t going to be there to destroy it, and there’s the possibility they may downsize, but they aren’t sure yet. Where would they go? Their friends across the street have already left, making the decision to leave two years ago. We gaze up at oaks, poplars, maples, pines—some planted by them, some not—and time stands still for a precious few seconds while we acknowledge, quietly, the enormous transition happening. 

So, is this the last one? I ask. I mean the last child leaving the nest. 

Yep, they nod. One of them mentions how quiet it’s gotten. Both of mine are gone and I’m a grandmother now, I tell them. What’s that like they want to know. Oh, It’s a game-changer, for sure. The grandchildren are perfect, naturally. Adult kids are a whole new ballgame (I use way too many cliches), and downsizing is not a bad thing. I joke about being able to plug the vacuum cleaner into one spot and vacuum the whole house. Everybody understands that. We laugh. 

I change the subject back to the landscape–the reason I’m here. I start discussing the Helleri hollies eating the front windows. Perhaps it is time to remove them, I say with compassion. These changes are hard enough. Wouldn’t it be nice if a few things stayed the same? But, I know, clinging to one part, is clinging to all of it.

Some plants can be rejuvenation pruned, meaning you can cut them back to the ground, and they will start all over again, growing a new shrub. Honestly, it could all use a bit of an update. A fresh look, like a new coat of paint. I stand still beside them and let my words sink in. I imagine what it looked like when they first planted it and how proud they probably were of their new yard.

We don’t know how much to spend they say quizzically. The question is: If we’re moving do we spend a lot or a little for curb appeal? If we’re staying, do we spend a lot or a little since we don’t know how long we’ll be here?

This is one reason why they hired me. They’re unsure of what it will take to spruce the place up without breaking the bank while making it attractive in case they downsize now.  

I break it down into 3 categories. 1. A complete redo. 2. A moderate upgrade. 3. A few new plantings and clean up of existing plants. Their family home is in a popular neighborhood, near good schools. It will sell easily, no need to go all out. In that regard, they’re fortunate. Besides, I tell them, chances are very good that whatever you plant, the next homeowner will tear out and start over. People like to put their own stamp on a place. I don’t tell them that I’ll likely be the person helping those folks to do just that. Right now, that feels like a betrayal. 

We all have our time and it’s the job of each generation to make room for the next. My clients span the generations. I work with young families like this couple once was. I work with those downsizing due to empty nests or loss of a spouse. I work with single moms whose budget is so little it’s hard to justify my cost. I’ve watched the seasons of life as closely as I’ve watched the seasons of a garden. I often participate in sacred moments with my clients, but then life began and ended in a garden so it makes sense when you consider my job.

Those trees are really tall, the husband says, his face still looking upward. I nod in agreement. Should we cut some down if we’re going to replant? Yes, I say and give him a referral for someone to do the tree work.

Are we going to do this, his wife asks, more to herself than her husband or me. The husband takes the wife’s hands and they ponder for a minute then tell me to start the process. They’re going to downsize. I smile at them both and say to get a place with a pool closeby, grandchildren love to swim.

Is fall a good time to plant, the wife wants to know. Yes, it is, I say. Soil temperatures stay warm as air temperatures drop, helping the plant to set down roots since the plant’s energy goes into root development instead of shoot development. Fall is the best time for transplanting because roots can get established more quickly. I’m talking about the garden, but the three of us know, I’m talking about life too.  

corner of house used for herbs and veggies, transplanted and still blooming, Cinthia Milner

Garden Coaching: What Is It?

I’ve got an excellent gig. I’m a garden coach for a garden center. That means I drive to folk’s homes and coach them regarding their landscapes. Before you get the idea that it’s all about the master gardeners and hobby gardeners desiring to use my services to expand their horticulture knowledge, it isn’t. I rarely have a client who wants to garden. The primary directive I receive from my patrons is, “I want a low maintenance or no maintenance yard.” Sadly, that’s a lot like wanting the body without the gym.

Primarily, I help with small designs. And, I identify what plants are what. I show them how to prune. (Horror films could be produced from people’s fear of pruning.) I help them decide what plants should be “edited.” (Political correctness crosses into the garden.) I explain that their new garden will look like a pet cemetery until the plants grow into themselves. I discuss drainage. (Water has to go someplace and your neighbor’s yard is not a good idea.) I lure them out into the street to look at their home from a drive-by view–possibly for the first time since they drove by as a potential buyer. I affirm. I listen. I hug. I help decide. I tell them life started in a garden. I offer condolences. I pet dogs, play with kitties, push kids on bicycles, and help children and elderly up the stairs. It’s called garden coaching but it really is just life coaching in a garden.

Rarely are my clients from Asheville. They moved here for a variety of reasons–the breweries, the mountain biking, the cheap housing (to them), the views, the grandkids, etc. So, naturally, my clients are surprised when they discover I am a native—which around here is translated as four generations back. They think I am the luckiest person to live in a beautiful place where my ancestors lived, and my family continues too. It seems a lot of people haven’t found a home yet. Part of my job is helping them to find a home, and it helps that I never had to look for mine. It gives me a leg up.

My people skills are probably more helpful than my plant skills and as much as I’d love to merge the two–plants and people–sometimes it is not a happy merger. Recently, a woman from New Mexico was looking for advice regarding a huge, stone planter in her backyard that spanned the distance of her patio. Her neighbors had offered up their ideas for the space, which fronted a furniture-less terrace. That phrase is significant–furniture-less.

After reciting the neighbor’s thoughts–herb garden, annual bed, perennial garden, rock garden–I asked if she ever sat outside. Her patio was quite large, running almost the length of her home and wide enough for a nice set of chairs, a table, and lots of container gardening. It faced east and looked over a wooded lot. It was a gardener’s dream. She responded, “No, I never sit outside. I like to read and sit indoors and look out that window.” She pointed to a window that looked over her patch of woods.

“Then why do you want to plant anything?” I asked.

“Well, this stone bed is here and it seems a waste not too, and the neighbors are telling me too,” she responded.

“Are the neighbors going to do the work of maintaining the garden?” I wondered.

“No,” she said flatly.

“Then, let’s ignore the neighbors. What do you say?” I asked her.

She agreed, though a little reluctantly. It is difficult to tune out one’s neighbors, especially on the issue of such a pretty stone bed with nothing planted in it. I’ve found it odd over the years how our neighbors feel free to make suggestions and comments regarding what we should plant and where but thankfully, keep those same comments and suggestions regarding the inside of the house to themselves. I guess we should be grateful for that, at the least.

I said, sort of as a joke, “Now that we have the neighbors dealt with, let’s talk about the landscape. Or is there anyone else we need to discuss before we do?”

“My daughter is having a few problems. It’s been keeping me up at night,” she replied. What I meant as a joke, she took quite seriously.

“Okay,” I said, “let’s talk about that if you’d like.” She liked.

Sometimes, you need to clear your head before you can move into a project. I find it helps tremendously.

Our conversation did not solve the issue of her daughter but we both felt we gained some ground regarding the 26-year-old and by the time we moved onto the subject of the yard, she was more than ready to dismantle the bed and send it away with whoever might want it. Turns out she doesn’t cook either, so an herb garden was somewhat pointless. Neither of us do. We prefer prepared foods.

We finished with a conversation about the best place to get chicken salad or broccoli salad, then I charged her 85 dollars and left. Her note to me later said it was the best 85 dollars she’d spent in years. I hear that a lot. And, think about it, all I did was give her permission to do what she already wanted to do.

I’m always thrilled to hear my clients affirm the money they spend for my services, but if my goal was to make everyone a gardener, I am doing a horrible job. As often as not, my interaction with my clients is exactly that–giving people permission to ignore the neighbors or even themselves and spend their happy dollars on what makes them happy. Life is short, the neighbors will be fine.

It’s all about the questions. My therapist from a billion years ago asked the most thought-provoking questions. I learned a little trick from her. It turns out it isn’t the deep questions that reveal; it’s the simple ones. Where do you hang out in your yard? How do you travel around your yard? Do you enjoy entertaining? The most innocent questions can provide the most transparent picture of a life sometimes.

In my quest to help homeowners transform their landscapes, I’ve opted to suggest turning the deck into a screened-in porch and buying furniture, and skipping the plants for now. I’ve recommended not worrying about the late husband’s garden this spring, plenty of time for that later when the wounds aren’t so raw. I’ve sat at the children’s picnic table and listened to a young mom cry about her marriage, her kids, and her overwhelming life and said maybe now isn’t the time to redo the landscape. I’ve told parents to get the firepit and use it with the teenage kids and told parents of toddlers to skip it for now. I’ve weighed in on downsizing, upsizing, and making that final move. I’ve participated for one hour in countless lives. If I were keeping stats, I’d venture to say that less than 5% of my clients become avid gardeners and even fewer gardeners at all. But maybe, like myself in so very many beloved gardens, all remember the exact moment the pressure was released and where they were standing in the garden when they felt they could breathe again. Were the roses blooming? Or was it the hydrangeas? Either way, when I drive off, I know I’ve done my job.

My Back Porch


B.B. Barns, my place of employment, has a container specialist. Her job is designing and installing containers for clients. Of course, everyone wants that job because it sounds so cool (it is). I’m the garden coach. I help people with their landscapes, everything from what is in it (plant identification) to how to take care of it (a lot of pruning lessons) to plant diagnostics (Japanese beetles or voles almost always) to small designs (limited to the front foundation or perennial borders mostly). I don’t help with containers. Instead, I ask our container designer for tips. She really is the best.

But once in a blue moon, a client will ask me, “What about my porch?” They mean, of course, what should I do to make my porch more inviting?

I’m not our container specialist, but I do know the number one reason a porch doesn’t typically “work.” She told me.

Bigger, I say.


Bigger. The scale is off. You’ve got a million dollar porch with a bunch of tiny plants from Lowe’s on even tinier plant stands. Pretend you’re in Florida.

I don’t know why, but the minute I say pretend you’re in Florida, folks know what I mean. Big plants, big pillows, big pots, even if your furniture is small. Forget tiny plant stands filled with 6″ pots of bromeliads. Get giant elephant ears potted in giant pots and placed behind your furniture. Just do everything bigger. When none of the plants or furniture come above the 3.5′ porch railing, and the ceilings are 10′ high, the scale is off.

Stand back and look at your porch. The first thing you’ll notice is all the blank air above the railing and how dwarfed the furniture looks. Now imagine big tall plants behind the furniture. Or imagine those hanging Boston ferns hanging much lower (instead of almost touching the ceiling) and filling up the airspace. See? That’s what’s missing.

My neighbors have a plantain style porch with at least 18′ ceilings, wicker furniture and dinkiest black, rod iron plant stands covered in tiny pots of geraniums. Small pots of ivy line the porch railing. I am tempted, every time I walk Aggie by their house and they are sitting on their porch, to holler, “Go bigger!” I’m betting she knows something is off because even when you don’t “know,” you “know.”

My own back porch is the reason I haven’t moved from this house, though my children keep having children so the probability is high that I’ll move if I ever want all my grandchildren in my house at the same time. Although, yesterday I contemplated turning the screen porch into a sleeping porch, as much for me as for them. I think they would love sleeping out there at night surrounded by a canopy of cherry trees and that would solve the space issue.

I use my porch year round. As noted, it is screened and quiet even though my house sits on a corner lot at a four-way stop. I am purposeful about how I decorate it because it’s my favorite place to be. Aggie likes it too, and we’ve spent hours at night sitting in the dark letting the air and the quiet calm us down before bed-time or my favorite, drinking early morning coffee before the world starts moving.

I don’t know if it means the same thing in other parts of the country, but in the South the word porch and sit are synonyms. I’m old enough to remember the phrase “sit a spell,” and I don’t mind if I do. But, the best thing about any porch is how they ease anxiety in an anxiety-ridden world. What is it about a space where permission is given to do nothing but sit, and rocking chairs and gliders calm jangled nerves of adults and fussy babies? It’s magic, of course. Porches are magic spaces, at least mine is.

My fish pillow, of which I am very proud, is almost the same size as the glider. It’s the prominent feature of the porch. Right beside the glider is a metal and wood plant stand (I don’t love but it is budget friendly at the moment) with 10″ Kimberly Queen ferns that provide privacy from the road. On the other side of the porch, but large enough to reach both sides is my elephant ears plant. It provides privacy, vertical height, and interest.

Aggie listens to my back porch musings while dreaming of a ceiling fan above her. Her favorite season is winter.

I use Kimberly Queen ferns over Boston ferns because I love their upright habit (instead of drooping) and they’re drought tolerant. I go weeks forgetting to water them and they don’t mind. I use them on the porch where I want privacy and green, and in containerrs in the garden where I can’t plant because of tree roots.

For the vertical space, I love my elephant ears but I also like hanging baskets. This is a new cachepot with a philodendron.

View from my back steps. I love that the last owner put the canvas porch awning on the outside to shield the sun. It’s functional but helps create an intimate space.

My garden is right out the back door, so I keep garden tools in a little basket by the kitchen door. Also, handy is a hammer (saving trips to the garage where tools are kept) and a bottle of mosquito repellent by I MUST GARDEN. I live in a rain forest, so bug spray (all natural) is crucial.

Nothing on my porch is expensive. Here’s the place where I say expensive doesn’t matter, and honestly, it doesn’t in the big picture of life, but it is nice. I know because I sit on it at work and expensive is very comfortable (my fish pillow is my splurge). Still, bottom line: You can make plastic Adirondack chairs cozy and comfortable with the right cushions from Amazon.

Sunday porch time.

Extra touches: An old Smith and Hawken metal flower vase that I still use, a canister full of bird seed, and another splurge, a Guy Wolff terra cotta pot.


I leave the porch door open and it makes my house feel bigger and open. View from the living room.

Final thought: Be sure to add lanterns with candles in them. You’ll be so glad you did.

The Gardener is Thankful for the Gardeners

I rent a little brick rancher. It’s a lovely home and I am happy here, sans a garden. I dream of a space for a Cinthia-designed (i.e. a quirky mix of formal and not-so-formal) garden but until, or if that happens, I am blessed to live near a park.

Aggie and I walk to Silvermont Park almost every day. It’s a couple of blocks from our home. It took us awhile to discover it because I thought it was just a big, old house. But, one day we went exploring and found a vegetable garden, woodland garden, butterfly garden, shade garden, native garden, and walking paths. Even free doggie bags (I make good use of those).

There is always something in bloom, little surprises tucked around corners and quiet spaces for reflecting. I am grateful to the crew of Master Gardeners I often see there. They volunteer their time and efforts to plant, prune, transplant, divide, cut back, cut down, weed, design, water, the list and the work goes on. I’ve watched them teach elementary school kids about bees, stage open house days, pumpkin patch sales, and a Halloween “garden path of horrors” called The Twilight Trail.

The building is now for senior citizen activities. There’s a small playground for kids, a basketball court for the teens, and a tennis court where people get private lessons, and I am completely convinced that one day I will sign up for those lessons.

But mostly, Aggie and I revel in the plants we miss in our rental yard, the quiet of woodland paths and the benches tucked away for Sunday afternoons. I found Silvermont one January morning in 2017. We’ve explored the whole of it and never tire of it.

It is my solace in a world that often seems too big for a gardener. It is my secret haven, just two blocks up and one block over. It is what I look forward to on Sunday afternoons, balancing book, coffee, camera and Aggie’s leash. Hours are spent there literally thinking of nothing, or clicking away with my camera.

Check it out.  This is a year in pictures. A big thank you to all those people who help create this space for my dog and I. A gardener without a garden appreciates it indeed.


Five Years of Blur and Two Timelines

Fortunately, my daughter-in-law remembers everything because the last five years, for me, were a blur. I’ve worked two jobs most of the time and three jobs a lot of the time. When I finally got a full-time, benefits, paid vacation days job, I slowed down a bit. Enough to notice that I really couldn’t say what had happened in my 1/2 decade.

I knew the big stuff. My husband left for a woman he said God gave to him. God confirmed the gift of this woman through a Scripture verse and a dream, according to my ex. (The good thing about somebody saying something like that to you is this: 1. You entertain the notion that perhaps God did exactly that. After all, God can do whatever God pleases. And, if he did give your husband a new wife, well then you’re left speechless regarding the matter. 2. You look at your husband and think, dear God, you’re insane. Which again, leaves you speechless. Likely the only time I was speechless during our divorce. So, there’s that.)

What I couldn’t do was fill in the day-to-day stuff, or the traditions. What had my family done, say, last Christmas?

My daughter-in-law to the rescue. She helped me fill in the gaps from holidays to my own daily life. She remembers every stinking detail, but she also cares, and that’s huge for a daughter-in-law and for a young mom with gaps of her own to fill in.

She helped me make a timeline. I am floored when I review it. Some of the highlights: New job, new home, new friends, new town, new church (that’s a lie, still no new church), new hair, new clothes, new dog, new furniture, new car, new, new, new.

The lowlights: My dear Donna getting brain cancer and dying. This July, it will be a year. I still don’t know how to think about that. My mom dropping over dead in her home, alone, three years ago in July. I still don’t know how to think about that, either. My brother-in-law dying unexpectedly, another dear friend and teacher of my children, an uncle, my father-in-law, all have died. I suppose you never really grow up until both parents have died. I can say I’m a grown-up now.

Big highlight: Two more grandchildren were born, and now I have three completely adorable granddaughters who will one day rule the world for good.


I went on a trip to California for 10 days, and it completely cleared my head (for ten days). I should do that again. I went to the Keys for 9 days with my grandchildren which did not clear my head but was a blast. Moment-memory making stuff.

Oddly, I spent time with all my old boyfriends. Not because I called them up, mostly because I ran into them. I feel certain they all breathed a sigh of relief after seeing me at almost 60. Likely, I am no longer the one that got away. And, maybe they aren’t for me either, now.

I spent a ridiculous amount of money establishing this new life, but it was necessary.

I have been doing life these past five years with a determination and defiance that astonishes this introvert. Where did all that drive come from? It is amazing how quickly life can wake you up, out of your doldrums, and get you moving when money is needed to put a roof over your head and food on the table. What the ex did stings, but there’s no time to think about him and his new woman. (She’s gone now, too. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.) There’s no time to think, period. And, that is a good thing. I used to think too much.

Sometimes, reflection is good. Sometimes, reflection is paralyzing. Going through my divorce I was terrified to make a decision for fear of making a wrong one. I processed what went wrong, what I did wrong, what I could have done differently. I don’t have time for that now. Now, I am quick to make decisions because there is no time to luxuriate in the what-ifs. And, when I make a bad decision, I don’t have time to fret over it or beat myself up. I only have time to get back up and go to work. Work is a huge blessing.

I remember once, while still married and mom to little ones, I did the same thing, came to a full-on stop and wondered, what have I been doing for the last decade? I made a timeline then, too. The result, as I reviewed that timeline? I realized how much I loved my life. I wasn’t missing it because I was busy with two little boys, a husband, a home and all that entails. I was living it. It was perfect and I loved it.

The result as I read over this current timeline? I am in love with my life. There are so many people I miss, dear Donna, my parents, but they are here in a way I didn’t really expect them to be because well, I don’t watch Hallmark movies. (Okay, another lie, I do watch them, I just don’t believe they’re true.) I didn’t expect to “feel” their presence with me every day as I do. Donna’s voice is never far from my ears, coaxing me on in my faith. Mom’s sheer force of will pushes me when I’m not sure of myself. My faith tells me that I will be with them again, and, I cling to that. I am looking forward to everyone not just being in the same time zone, but literally in the same world.

I admit I didn’t expect the result to be that I loved my life when I reviewed this latest timeline. I mean, come on, I am never going to be able to retire. That alone should make me stomp my feet. But I do love this life. For several reasons. 1. It is life. I am waking up each day. 2. I have so very much to be grateful for and content about. 3. Turns out I haven’t a clue if God gave my ex his new woman or if he gave him the newer woman after her. I haven’t given it much thought, really. But here’s what God gave to me, myself. Aside from the gifts of himself, my children, my grandchildren, and my daughter-in-law, I’m one of his best gifts he’s ever given me.

Turns out it isn’t that so much has happened in my life these last five years that it was a blur. Again, it’s that I have been living my life. The life that didn’t go as I had planned, perhaps, but that is still my life. The timeline presents no theme, no plot line or thread that one can follow and say, oh this is where she came from and this is where she is headed. But it does show you that she is alive. And that is a good thing.




Top 5 Plants for Indoor Toxins

In 1989, NASA teamed up with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) to study the affects of houseplants on indoor toxins, with a goal of improving the quality of indoor air. Their goal was cleaner space station air, but their findings proved useful for our well-insulated, energy efficient homes, as well. On this rainy, winter day, it’s good to know our houseplants (3 per room is recommended, but 1 makes a difference) are helping to keep our homes free of toxins while we sip hot chocolate with our feet to the fire.

Below is NASA’s chart of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), or household toxins, common to most homes. We all know being outside in nature is great for stress reduction, and filling our lungs with fresh oxygen, so bringing plants indoors just makes sense. Now, with NASA’s study, it makes even more sense.

Houseplants can absorb unwanted indoor toxins through their leaves and roots, thus purifying indoor air. The benefits keep piling up: Stress reduction, fresh oxygen, and purified air.

NASA Volatile Organic Compounds

Here are 5 easy-to-grow houseplants with super “cleaning powers.”

1. Peace Lily. These are great starter plants for beginners. The deep, green leaves give every room a pick-me-up. They manage well in low, natural light, such as light from a north or north eastern window. They tell you when it’s time to water. (They start to droop, and then immediately after watering, perk up–though that is stressful for the plant, and not recommended). They’re also one of the few plants that remove all five indoor toxins, making them pretty much a have-to-have plant. And, bonus: They have nice white blooms.

2. Mother-in-Law Tongue. There’s a reason this plant is found in restaurants and bars. Like the Peace Lily their light requirements is also low, natural light. They aren’t super thirsty plants, and the variegated cultivar works best for cleaning up the toxins. It absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen during the night (most plants do so during the day), so the bedroom is a perfect place for these plants for a clean-air boost while sleeping. These plants remove four of the indoor toxins, leaving only ammonia for the Peace lily to clean up.

3. English ivy is a beautiful plant indoors. Outside, it’s invasive and destructive. Indoors it thrives well in medium, natural light, as in a south east window. It can be an interesting topiary, used in hanging baskets or added to other containers for trailers. It is most efficient for removing formaldehyde found in many household paper products.

4.Red-Edged Dracaena. This evergreen can get large in the right conditions (8-15′ tall and 3-6′ wide), but is relatively easy to care for. It tolerates sun or shade but prefers relief from a hot afternoon sun. It does well with moderate water, (is fairly drought tolerant) and handles almost any soil conditions. It removes indoor toxins that seep indoors from lacquers, varnishes and gasoline.

5. Aloe Vera. A sunny, kitchen window is all this succulent plant needs (bright, natural light, such as light from a southern or western exposure). Little water, it propagates easily to give to friends, the gel inside its leaves is great for burns, and it removes chemicals from cleaners and paints. Can’t really say no to that.

Other studies, done by the American Horticulture Society, are proving still more useful benefits when you add plants as part of your indoor decor. Click here for a complete list of NASA’s suggested plants (Remember some of these plants are toxic to pets. Here’s a list for those plants.)

Random Weed Day (And Other Days)

I did learn a few things from my ex. It wasn’t all smoke and mirrors.

Like, don’t drink Mike’s Hard Lemonade before doing yoga. It throws your balance off. And, if you wait long enough, and are still enough, a copperhead will come back out of the woodshed (that you saw it go into 2 days before) and then you can kill it. (Got that?)

In the garden, I learned a few lessons, too. One crucial one was really, oh-so-simple. There’s always poison ivy. My 2016 garden exemplifies this truism. The poison ivy is spectacular while everything else is withering from heat and drought. Which brings me to random weed day.  Without benefit of the ex’s wisdom, I stumbled upon random weed day by myself. Well, that and Impulse Hill, but that’s another post.

It goes like this.

If you’re a gardener and you’ve lived long enough, you’ve planted way more than possible to tend too, and now it’s July with August bearing down on us, and lo and behold the weeds are aplenty. Where to begin? Ugh. It’s too hot to make a plan. It’s too hot to weed. Enter random weed day. You get to go into the garden, miss the poison ivy, but pull a few weeds here and there and bonus, call it a productive gardening day. Yes, that’s the icing on the cake for random weed day: You get to call the day productive. (I have a similar day called random exercise day, which again, is a post for another day.)

When random weed day is over, the garden will still look a mess, but you’ll feel better. A few of the real troublemakers are gone (that oriental bittersweet threatening to take over the hibiscus), so don’t diminish that. The hibiscus now survives the mess another day and soon September will come and you will return to the garden with a vengeance. And, you’ll step outside without wishing to die.

Why must every day end with a clean slate? Why must everyday’s to-do list be marked off right down to the bottom?

Admittedly some days are going to be Super-Saturday, where you wake up with a burst of energy that goes straight on until 6 p.m. when you do open that first Mike’s Hard Lemonade (having already done your yoga). But if I watch Little Kitty and Evil Kitty (my cats, of course), they have such wisdom regarding this heat. Nap on the screen porch, under the ceiling fan, where the dog can’t get to them, and sleep the day away.

It’s like Joe said about doing garden installs in this heat. “My feet feel like they have cinder blocks on them.”

Truer words. I want to follow Evil Kitty’s example, skip being evil for a bit and nap away. I did today, actually. Fell asleep on the glider and dreamed of rain. It was a heat-induced nap that reminded me of childhood and hot classrooms and teachers who bored you silly.

But it isn’t always the heat. Random weed day applies to all sorts of situations. Random friend day. (Like all their stuff on Facebook, but ignore the texts–phone died.) Random healthy eating day. (Throw a salad in with that Panera flatbread sandwich and chips and call it healthy.) Random return phone calls and emails day (close your eyes and pick).

I refuse to believe that every moment of my every day must be productive. Surely, some days should just give way to randomness. Surely, the mind should be allowed to wander every now and again, and the hands find nothing to do except whatever random thing is in front of them. Not every day, but a few random days here and there.

If that isn’t the sort of thing you can abide, then join my ex. I believe he is still sitting, waiting on that snake,







BB Barns Garden Center, Garden Tour, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Edible Gardening from BB Barns Garden Center

“Who doesn’t love homegrown tomatoes?” asks Letha Hinman, BB Barns Garden Center’s annual, veggie and herb buyer. One could also ask, after a visit to Letha’s garden, who doesn’t like rhubarb, shiitake mushrooms, hops, squash, fruits, raspberries, and more?

This blog kicks off BB Barns Garden Center’s Garden Tours for the month of August. Four brave employees volunteered to give you a peek into their gardens, so look for a new blog each week (A Native’s Garden, What Can You Plant on a Bank, Edibles and Ornamentals: From Barney Bryant) . Letha’s garden is first because, as she said, “Who doesn’t love homegrown anything?” And veggies are always a good place to start, especially if you are a beginner, because what’s more rewarding than eating what you grow?

A little background on Letha (for those who always wondered about our engaging annual buyer). Letha grew up in Minnesota on a rural dairy and poultry farm. When she wasn’t helping with farm chores, she was baking. Not much has changed. She’s still gardening and cooking. But, after marrying Naval officer, Mike Hinman, her food palette expanded to include foods from around the world as she and Mike lived the military life. Now, fish and lamb (discovered in Iceland) are a family favorite, and papaya and mango (from their time in Hawaii) are added to her table’s fare. BB Barns’ customers benefit from her vast gardening knowledge, but we co-workers have the privilege of benefiting from her culinary skills. Now, you can too. Read on for a great recipe provided by Letha. This one originates from her roots, Rhubarb Meringue Pie.  If you’re game, when you see Letha, ask her about her shiitake mushroom recipe. She might share that too.

Every good garden starts with a place to store tools and some bees. Welcome to Letha and Mike’s garden. Click on the pictures for additional information.

Letha’s garden contains the standard fare, spicy jalapeños, squash, and tomatoes of several varieties. (Click on each picture to find out what’s growing.) Her good fortune is a large space to spread out and grow everything from corn to onions, but Letha assures us small spaces produce large amounts too, even container gardens can feed a small family.

And while every garden has it’s standard fare (What’s a summer without cucs and squash?), Letha’s garden goes a step further. Husband Mike didn’t agree to share his brewing recipe with us, but his hops make for a very pretty picture. Climbing up a cage where the family tosses the rocks from the garden, the hops shine in the sunshine, hiding the rocks and showing that food can sometimes be functional and tasty.

BB Barns Garden Center, Garden Tours,  Hops, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Hops for Mike’s brewing hobby.

Letha’s love of new ideas keeps the annual department hopping (no pun intended), and last year she tried something very new. shiitake mushrooms inoculated on old logs. Normally, she gets a spring and fall crop, but this year, bonus, when we were taking pictures we discovered a summer crop!

Letha has traveled to places many of us only dream of, but her roots are Minnesota. The perennial rhubarb has a spot in her garden, and below the picture is a recipe shared from her years of baking. Give it a try, and, make a note now, so you won’t forget: It’s time to plant fall crops. Brussel sprouts, spinach, kale, lettuces, brocoli, all go in the ground now. Check out the new plants Letha just brought in, and yes, even beginners can start now.

Letha's rhubarb. Many assume because we're zone 7a, we can't grow it here, but we can. Rhubarb is definitely a cold weather lover, and so Letha's home place of MN even has rhubarb festivals, but we're right on the border of growing it. One hour down the road in Greenville and this perennial vegetable with its beautiful red stalks wouldn't make it.

Letha’s rhubarb. Many assume because we’re zone 7a, we can’t grow it here, but we can. Rhubarb is definitely a cold weather lover, and so Letha’s home place of MN even has rhubarb festivals, but we’re right on the border of growing it. One hour down the road in Greenville and this perennial vegetable with its beautiful red stalks wouldn’t make it.

From Garden to Table, Letha’s Rhubarb Meringue Pie:

Prepare one pie crust

  • Mix together 4 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar (some brown sugar can be used)
  • 1/4 cup minute tapioca
  • 6 cups chopped rhubarb
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Dash of ground cloves
  • 1/4 cup of milk or cream
  • Let mixture set for 10 minutes. Then fill crust with mixture. Bake for 45 minutes at 400° degrees until set.

For meringue beat 4 to 6 eggs whites with 3/4 tsp cream of tarter on high until foamy. Gradually add 1/2 cup sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Stir in 1/2 tsp vanilla. Spread atop baked pie while still hot, starting with edges of crust making sure no gaps appear between crust and meringue. Then fill in center. Return to 350° for 15 minutes or until peaks of meringue are golden brown.

Thanks Letha and Mike for sharing your garden!

Container Gardening with edibles, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Edibles and Ornamentals: From Barney Bryant at BB Barns Garden Center

(The third “garden tour” of BB Barns employees. Hope it gives you inspiration. Check out Ellen’s garden, and Chris’ garden too. Enjoy!)

Twenty-six years of trucks have rolled into BB Barns Garden Center, carrying everything from tropical plants to trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials. We’re talking literally thousands of plants a year. You’d think, for co-owner, Barney Bryant, the excitement of these daily arrivals would’ve waned. Not so. Barn, as he is fondly called by friends and family, says very definitely, “I am passionate about people, plants and gardening,”  The nursery, located in Asheville, North Carolina, is a destination garden center, and it encompasses all three in that order. People. Plants. Gardening.

Barn, a certified plant geek, is still thrilled by the new cultivars and the old favorites. In his newest garden, one he calls a celebration of sun, Barn has returned to his mountain roots, growing dahlias and edibles side by side. A native of Franklin, North Carolina, he remembers his grandmother overwintering dahlias in her root cellar where it was cool and damp. He overwinters them in his garage, tucked away in vermiculite in dark boxes, where watering is limited to once a month. As the weather warms, the dahlias are pulled out of their dark winter homes, and by April 20th, they’re ready for planting. “Dahlias,” Barn says, “are great because they’re insect proof, and deer proof.”

BB Barns Garden Center, Red dahlias and coleus, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

‘Taxco’ and ‘Chiapas’ dahlias with ‘Mardi Gras’ and ‘Under the Sea’ Coleus. Before the dahlias emerge in early summer mixed greens are queen of this spot. While the dahlias are still blooming, lettuce, arugula, and other greens are seeded in for a fall crop here.

BB Barns Garden Center, Dahlia Border, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

The dahlia border; ‘Veracruz’ dahlias with ‘Little Lamb’ hydrangea paniculata and Dwarf Globe Blue Spruce

BB Barns Garden Center, Yellow Gardening tub, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

It’s possible to match your gardening tubs with your garden. Yellow gardening tub, yellow dahlias.

BB Barns Garden Center, corner of house used for herbs and veggies, transplanted and still blooming, Cinthia Milner

The corner kitchen: Right outside of Barn’s kitchen and next to the patio where he enjoys entertaining, are climbing cucumbers, and climbing spinach, Malabar spinach is a warm season spinach. It loves heat, and since it climbs, it is the perfect edible for a small garden. Used in salads and cooking. Moon vine, an annual vine that blooms in early to late fall, is climbing up behind the edibles. The dill is supported by the ‘Casa Blanca ‘Asiatic lilies that are just opening.

Casa Blance Asiatic lily

‘Casa Blanca’ Asiatic lily, highlighted by ‘Taxco’ dahlia, their sturdy stems could hold almost anything up, even heavy dill.

Barn loves to cook and garden, so it only makes sense that he combines the two. His taste in gardening leans toward an English cottage garden. His taste in cooking is more likely to lean toward his native mountain fare where vegetables were homegrown and home cooked. The garden reflects both.

His English garden approach is seen in his use of vines. “The English,” Barn says, “love their vines,” and Barn believes every garden should mix annual vines in with the perennial ones.

BB Barns Garden Center, Clematis 'Henryi', Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Clematis ‘Henryi’ and Thunbergia or Black Eyed Susan vine growing together on the edge of the house opposite the corner kitchen.

BB Barns Garden Center, Bergenia under soffitt, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

In keeping with the English Cottage Garden, no spot is left un-planted in Barn’s garden. No, this is not an edible, though it leaves look tasty. It is an ornamental bergenia, or pigsqueak. The common name belies it great use as a groundcover in dry shade (this is growing under the soffit), its beautiful magenta blooms in apring, and lovely burnished colors in fall.

BB Barns Garden Center, Kewensis with aralia, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

If Barn were asked for a favorite plant, he’d be hard pressed to give you one, but this Kewensis (Euonymus Kewensis Wintercreeper) would come close. A great dwarf groundcover that grows slowly, forms a thick mat, and attaches itself to walls. In front of it, Aralia ‘Sun King’ for a splash of lime green, and sweet box that is yellowing a bit. No garden is perfect, not even the owner’s garden!

BB Barns Garden Center, Malabar spinach, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Close-up of leaves of Malabar spinach. Barn says to use the young leaves and steam in lemon basil butter for 10 minutes. Simple and good.

BB Barns Garden Center, Malabar spinach and honeysuckle vines growing up the new arbor together, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

A new garden celebrating the sun, edibles and ornamentals. Growing up the arbor is Climbing Hydrangea, (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris for winter interest), Rosemoor’ Clematis (blooms May-September), and until those fill in the Malabar spinach is front and center. A perfect combination for those who love to cook and garden.

Header picture: container gardening and rhubarb growing over the steps