geranium in clay pot, stunning, transplanted and still blooming, cinthia milner

Garden Coach Tip: Permission to Skip Stunning

You can skip the stunning factor in your yard. Here’s why: We’re losing the ability to be charmed. And, we’re spending all our time worrying how we look to others.

I live in a brick rancher that sits at a four-way stop. It’s a modest 1300-square-foot house that has been beautifully taken care of by previous owners. Along the west side of the house is a white picket fence that separates the house from the neighborhood sidewalk. That’s where my garden is. I have roses and salvia and veronica on the house side of the fence. Sedums, donkey tail, Shasta daises, Siberian iris, echinacea, and dahlias are on the sidewalk side. Oh, and salvia ‘Hot Lips’ which is a fun, silly plant. I have one slightly stunning factor at the end of the fence line, a hibiscus, ‘Cranberry Crush,’ though, I am officially declaring it dead, disappointingly so. Not even a hint of green has made an appearance. Hugely upsetting for my small garden and our neighborhood. We’re in a dither about it. Hellebores and primroses make up the rest of the garden in the back under the cherry trees because they’ll grow there, and I like them.

My clients say, “Your garden must be stunning.” (They feel their garden should be stunning or it just won’t do. They’re worried it won’t be.) “No, my garden is not stunning,” I say. “I don’t have the time, energy, or money for stunning.”

My garden is charming, which I prefer. I believe the world needs more charm. I consider stunning over-rated.

Here’s the garden coach question for the day: Is the big stun factor for you? If so, go ahead. Is it for the neighbors? If so, skip it. If the neighbors need to be stunned, then let their dime do the stunning. Setting boundaries not only applies to your personal self, but also your garden.

Here’s my garden coach tip for the day: Plant what you like.

My  mother-in-law always had pots of geraniums. I used to tease her that only ladies over 60 could grow them (I’ve killed every geranium I ever tried to grow). She kept them in clay pots, in clay dirt, in her basement, all winter, with complete neglect. Then, come warm weather, she gathered them up, and lined them along the side porch, where the rain watered them, not her. They were stunning. She loved them. When I visited, she’d point them out and say, “Aren’t they stunning?”

Yes, they were. And, not a neighbor for miles could see them. They were stunning just for her.

spring daffodil, transplanted and still blooming, cinthia milner

5 Things To Do Now That It is Spring

It is spring.

Well, officially at 6:45 p.m. today, but feel free to go ahead and celebrate. It’s been one doozy of a winter.

My co-worker, plant affascinato-partner-in-crime, dance partner (yes, we silly dance), and all round goof-ball of a friend, Carol, made the comment yesterday that you sure were sick a lot this winter. Oh my. Truth in spades.

The flu and grey skies. Who’s excited for spring? Me too.

But, I insist we hit the pause button before spring-fever begets spring-fervor.

Here’s why:

I’m going to call it spring-panic. Each spring my clients go into full-on spring-panic mode. One sweet woman texted yesterday to tell me that here it is 70 degrees and I have not pruned one rose bush, not even one. She only has two. I refrained from asking her if she had power-washed the deck yet.

Spring brings with it a load of chores, some necessary, most not. So, before you start making your list and checking it twice, here’s my spring to-dos for my clients. See what you think.

1. Acknowledge. Don’t dive into those spring projects without stopping to acknowledge the season. Don’t miss it. Pick daffodils, get your vitamin D by being outside, listen to the birds chirping, notice the mint-green leaves budding out on trees. No one is promised tomorrow. Today is the blessing. Be blessed by sunshine and spring rains and spring bulbs. Stroll. Spring is simply made for strolling. So, stroll and be blessed by the sweetness of the season.

Because maybe, your winter was a doozy, too.

2. Delete. Double check that chore list. Do you really need to do all that? This may not be the year you start a vegetable garden, or a new landscape plan, or decide 100 baby chickens is a good idea. So, get your pen out, and cross something(s) off that to-do list.

Listen to me: You don’t have to do it all.

3. Delegate. Even if it means getting your check-book out. My newly-divorced friend is hiring the mow-blow-and-go guys to do her yard this summer because, well, she’s not superwoman. And, neither are you. Help the local economy out, hire someone to do some of those chores, and free up some time for fun. For what? FUN.

The whole DIY thing is so over-rated.

4. Add. Like I said, FUN. Add it to your list. And, just so you know, fun can be porch-sitting with a glass of tea, reading a book, or taking a nap. Fun doesn’t have to be glamorous. Plan a weekend trip to nowhere, or a day trip to a pretty garden. And, while you’re at that pretty garden, do not say, not even once, I wish my garden looked like this, just enjoy the garden and go home.

Definition of fun: restorative, not exhausting or expensive.

5. Breathe. Open a window, sit on a porch, sit in your car with the windows down, or take a walk, but remember to breathe in the fresh spring air. How sweet is that smell? Relax your shoulders, un-crunch that neck, and breathe. A friend of mine used to say that while we shouldn’t smoke, we should do what smokers do; take breaks and breathe.

Bag the chore list (chores aren’t going anywhere) and breathe in spring.

Now, let the spring-panic subside, and oh yeah, feel free to stop by the store to silly dance with Carol and I. What else have you got to do?


garden carrots transplanted and still blooming cinthia milner

Veggie Gardens (and) Dahlia Gardens (and) Empty Nests

Yesterday, a friend was bemoaning her soon-to-be empty nest. Two beautiful girls graduating (one from high school and one from college), and the college girl getting married. All within a couple of weeks of each other. Her house will go from hustle and bustle to tomb-stone quiet. Her therapist suggested a hobby. Why do therapists think hobbies are a good replacement for kids?  Anyway, gardening was suggested, but she’s never gardened, and hasn’t a clue where to begin.

So, if your kids are leaving, or you’re just bored and feeling a tad interested in gardening, here’s a wee bit of advice.

Start with a veggie garden.

#1 reason why: You are rewarded with your own food. You’ll have the delicious thrill of holding in your hand, one sun-warmed, juicy-ripe tomato that you grew. What better hobby than one that produces produce?

#2 reason why: You will till, sow, weed, water, harvest, and basically tend to your garden, if not daily, several times a week. It is gardening 101+.

It is baptism by veggies.

You’ll begin by finding the sunniest spot in your yard. You need what I call parking-lot sun. Direct sun 10-4 is best. If you live with no yard, containers work too. I grow my lettuces in big, fancy pots that I used to plant elaborate container gardens in, but now prefer the lettuces. And, since there’s no reason to reinvent the how-to-garden, veggie garden instructions, here’s a great book on getting started. It’s fairly cheap on Amazon, or I’d bet the local library has a copy. I have one copy if anyone wants to borrow it, and feel free to pass it along to the next gardener-in-training when you’re done.

Veggie Garden Book Ed Smith

Here’s the link for his book.

Side Note: I regularly tell my clients, you don’t have to do everything in the book. I’m generally speaking metaphorically, but in this case, I mean it. This guy loves his vegetable garden, but you’re allowed to start small. Overwhelmed = Failure. Do a 1/4 of what this book suggests. Another little, pithy thing I tell clients, it is easier to add than to delete.

We want success here.

Last bit of advice: Buy and plant dahlia bulbs around your veggie garden. (You buy these now, and get them in the ground over the next few weeks.) They’ll bloom late summer when the veggies are winding down, and keep you motivated to get out to the garden and clean up the summer veggies, or plant fall veggies. Here’s inspiration.

firepot dahlia transplanted and still blooming cinthia milner

Firepot Dahlia


dahlia garden transplanted and still blooming cinthia milner

Assorted Dahlias

dahlia transplanted and still blooming cinthia milner



tomato cinthia milner transplanted and still blooming tomato

No You Cannot Plant Tomatoes Now. Here’s What You Can Plant.

Everyone is dying, and I do mean dying, to dig in the dirt. My sister texts me almost daily with a “Can I start….?” And, every body really wants to get their tomatoes in the ground. So, here’s a little jingle for you:

Tomatoes won’t grow if it’s 50 or below.

But, to make you happy while you wait to plant your tomatoes, here’s a quick YES YOU CAN ON WHAT YOU CAN go ahead and plant. Let’s get in the dirt.

For you veggie gardeners.

When the soil is warm enough for you to dig, there are some veggies you can plant. A lot of vegetables like the cooler temperatures and can even take some frost. Rule of thumb: nurseries follow the gardening schedule, i.e. if it’s in the garden center, you can likely go ahead and plant it. So, here’s a few things to get you started, and have you harvesting long before your tomatoes get in the ground.

  • Lettuces, spinach, argulua, raddicho–all those good salad ymmies can go in the ground now
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Brussel sprouts (I have a great recipe for those included at the bottom.)
  • Cauliflower
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Peas
  • Radishes
  • Cilantro (This one is iffy, but I plant now because once the weather gets warm, it bolts.)

For those interested in landscaping.

The question is: May I plant trees and shrubs now? 

The answer: Yes.

So long as those plants are watered. It is not the cold that will kill them, but the lack of water. I water new plantings (even in winter/early spring) with a drip line hose, twice a week for about 5-10 minutes depending on the plant’s size (the bigger trees/shrubs, obviously the longer). The goal is to get the roots established, and you want those roots to go deep. So drip lines are good for soaking deeply. But again, please remember that the nurseries will bring in certain plants at certain times. So, while you can find lots of conifers, fruit trees, berry bushes, and spring blooming camellias now, those billions of hydrangeas you see in garden centers come May and June aren’t quite here yet.

For you perennial lovers.

Go back indoors.

Kidding, but you will need to wait just a few more weeks. There are some great Lenten Roses (Hellebores) you can plant now, a few groundcovers would be okay. But most perennials are still just roots. So hold off on those lovely blooming things for a few more weeks. Don’t worry, you’ll soon have more pots of things than you can plant.

For everyone.

Use your Preen now. Weeds seem immune to weather. Get a head start.


Warm Brussel Sprout Slaw with Bacon

  • 3/4 thick sliced bacon cut into 1/2″ pieces (Olive oil can be substituted.)
  • 4 tbsp of unsalted butter
  • 2 lbs of brussel sprouts thinly sliced in food processor
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, cored, coarsely shredded and pat dry (FYI: I cut mine into thin slices and use that way, it works too)
  • 1 tsp thyme leaves

Cook bacon, drain, reserve 1/4 grease. Melt butter in pan, and add brussel sprouts in batches, cooking over high heat until soft (5-8 minutes). Add thyme, apples, and cook until apples are warmed through. Add bacon back to mixture and serve. 

This recipe is from a friend who would likely die if I mentioned her on a blog, so I won’t. But, I do work for her brother. See if you can guess who. 


fireplace transplanted and still blooming cinthia milner

Introverted Snow Days

I like winter and I like snow. No, I’ve never lived in Minnesota or upstate New York, or I might be making a springtime playlist about now. But, right here, in Western North Carolina, snow means snow days. If you don’t know what that is, it’s a day off. This past February, it meant 2 weeks off. One of the best parts about living in a place with curvy, windy, mountain roads? It doesn’t matter what kind of snowplows you have, some roads will stay inaccessible. For school kids, that is happy news. I was that kid once, listening for the blessed proclamation on my transistor radio (with case), that Buncombe County Schools would be closed due to snow. And, I’m still that kid. I still love a snow day. I did when my kids were little, and snow boots and leg warmers littered my kitchen floor, and I do now when it means I’ll spend the day indoors alone, staring out the window at a world of white.

Is there anything more blessed than being stuck indoors, with a foot of snow outside, and nothing to do?

I realize that some of you might not approach a snow day as we introverts do, with utter happiness that absolutely nothing is expected of us for an entire day. It is truly a day we excel because there is no party to be the life of. As the girl at the eye doctor said when I told her I was looking forward to the upcoming snow storm, “Oh, you’re one of those.” Yep. I am.

For 365 days a year, I am forced out of my shell, and out the door (actually a place I love to be–outside–if it’s in the garden), to be around people. That was stressful for me as a third grader, and while, I’ve honed my social skills and social graces since that dreadful year (the year Adam Bengle stapled my dress to the chair, and somehow I didn’t notice until I stood up), I am still that geeky, nerdy, shy kid who finds herself wondering why in the world she said THAT. I do not mix and mingle well. Parties can still unnerve me, and schedules–that be here, now be here, sort of busyness Americans thrive on, can cause such indecisiveness in me that I’ve been known to cancel everything out of sheer confusion.

I was horribly shy in a family of extroverts, and a school full of future terrorists. A snow day meant no chores, no teachers boring me to death, and no navigating the lunchroom or playground. It meant time was all mine, that there was no one dictating where I should be when for one whole day. Snow days were not only eerily quiet all morning (until the neighborhood kids were released from their houses for sledding), which I loved, they were blessedly free of everything. Mom never insisted that chores be done. Dad went sledding with the kids, and for once, in my extroverted family, I was given permission to either join in on the bonfire and sledding, or stay in my pjs and read. I mostly read. Sometimes. I joined the sledding. But, it was seriously nice to be given a choice.

My mom, the woman who never met a stranger, once asked me if I needed “help” with my introverted ways. She was politely suggesting therapy. She’s not alone. Many an extrovert has quizzed me on my introverted self, trying to discern if I were sad or troubled because I preferred to spend the day alone rather than at say, Disney World. It was unfathomable to my mom that anyone would choose not to be the center of whatever crowd was around. Fortunately, all 3 of my other sisters fit that role beautifully, and they can navigate people like my Coastie Son can navigate a boat. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I explained to mom that there were extroverts and introverts, and it was OKAY. Introverts did not need to be fixed. (FYI: Mom loved me anyway.) Unbelievably, I recently explained the same to a friend who was convinced that as an introvert she needed to change.

Our society screws us up in more ways than fashion and body size.

But, it is nice to have a few extrovert friends thrown into the mix. If they’re good friends, they help move you through the muddy waters of a world where interacting with people is a must and locking yourself in your room would likely have you committed. But really. Why do we all want so much attention?

Perhaps one reason I work outside is that I still get snow days (and rain days!). The announcement comes via text now, not a radio, and it says “You’re flexed off,” which technically means, I’m not paid for the day. But, sometimes, a snow day is better than money.

Being a kid is just plain hard. Being a kid in school is even harder. Being a kid on a snow day is awesome. Being an adult on a snow day is still pretty amazing. It’s one day out of everyday that I am not faking it. I’m not pretending to be whatever it is people need me to be. Everything shuts down, and I am quiet. It’s the quiet that works in me. The quiet of softly fallen snow quiets the fears and worries in my brain–those fears and worries that never really seem to go away. I’m in my pjs reading a book, and all is right with the world. For one blessed day.

If you’re wondering if escape is my life’s theme, I suppose it sounds like it, but it isn’t. It’s the need to hear myself think for a day. It’s the need not to hear the world for a day. It’s the need not to rise to meet the challenges of the day. Big decisions can stay big decisions until tomorrow. If it needs to be figured out, I can figure it out tomorrow. My brain is on vacation, while I spend some quality time with my pjs and a good book. Permission is given by the sound of a radio, or the ding of a text, to take the day and let things be. Don’t misunderstand, I am happy when I conquer a challenge or rise to the occasion and make the tough decisions. All those things make me feel pretty good about myself, but every once in awhile, a girl needs a day when there’s no need for a hero. Her pjs are on. She’s under a pile of blankets, and a good book is in hand, (or a nap is taking place).

I’m told I am an INFJ on the Meyer’s Briggs. Supposedly, there are less than 1% of my personality type in the world. Maybe. Who knows? I don’t know how they measure such things. But, surely, there is more than 1% of the population that would like a day off. Surely, there is more than 1% that is rooting for a snow day. I know I am. I bought hot chocolate just in case.


I Will Garden (Part One)

It’s been a feverish week. My fever has stayed around 104 without medicine. 101 with it. I’m alternating Tylenol and Ibuprofen every two hours like I did with the kids when they were little and ran high temps. It’s the flu. 7-10 days I’m told. This is day 6. I don’t hold out much hope for day 10 if I continue like this. But, we’ll see.

Amazing how resilient the body is and yet, how not.

I will recover from this flu, though I suspect it will lag on into spring with a miserable cough, but the day will come when I tell my flu story during the February that all the doctors shut their doors due to “inclement weather.” There is several inches of ice in my backyard. The roads are fine (I know, I drove myself to the store out of necessity), but I suppose even doctors need breaks, and seized the excuse of black ice to have one.

Here’s the skinny: my mom died, and I’m going to garden again.

I know. Wow. Random, right? Nah. Because when you’ve lost both parents, as my absentee doctor says, it changes your position in the family. In other words, my granddaughters had three barriers between themselves and death. Their Maurme (my mom, their great-grandmother, so minus one barrier now), their YaYa, me, the grandmother, and their parents. While they could die early, it is more likely that they will pass the years as I have, and one day be the generation whose turn is death. Admittedly, I probably still have another 20-30 years, but just as likely, I may not. A dear friend, for whom I’d move heaven and earth to let no harm come to her,  is facing the unknown of her health right now, and we’ve texted late nights about the “what-ifs.” This is the hard stuff. Flat out. It just doesn’t get any harder than this.

I’ve arrived at the age where friends, siblings, and myself must look death straight on, and ask ourselves this question, what will be my response to death?

I will garden.

Because truth is, I don’t know yet. Death is a different subject than life, and I’m still dealing with the hassles and yes, joys, of life, no matter where my biological age has landed me. Life doesn’t say to you, oh, you need a moment to sort? Catch your breath?  Okay. Go ahead. Take a moment. I’m not sure how to navigate what seems like the very precarious space between life and death right now. I have to work. Pay bills. Eat. Do the normal things of everyday life while feeling like someone opened a door and shoved my mother through it, and I’m waiting on them to open it back up, and push her back into my life again.

I will garden.

Until my mind calms and creativity and death have formed some sort of pact.  I will go to the garden. I always have. It’s one place where peace reigns, time stands still, and death must linger beyond my garden gate, even when I am killing plants I’d rather keep alive.

I haven’t gardened in awhile. Not since I left South Turkey Creek. I didn’t see much point in actively gardening in a rental property, so mostly, I got the yard cleaned up, uncovered some pretty perennials, got rid of a billion firepower nandina (there is no plant I loathe more), and a few scraggly abelia that were in too much shade. It was rather like taking a good set of pruners outside and shaping things up a bit. But not much more. That’s what I did the first summer I was here.

The second summer, the unfinished path by the white picket fence was finally too much for me, so I finished it. I used cedar mulch for the path and planted David Austin roses to climb the fence. I splurged on an Agapanthus for Aggie. The fence faces South, and forms a barrier between the sidewalk, the roses, the path and the house. A great place for sun-loving plants, and since Brevard is located next to Pisgah National Forest (a rain forest), water and drying out in a Western exposure wasn’t an issue for the roses. It turned out to be the least mildew-inspiring spot. I jazzed up the the sidewalk side of the fence for walker-bys. It seemed a gracious thing to do. I chose fun plants for the kids: Echeveria, paddle plant (Kalanchoe thyrsiflora) and Euphorbia Myrsinites (Myrtle spurge or Donkey Tail), and colorful plants for the moms and those driving by: Salvia greggii ‘Hot lips’ lots of echinacea, penstemon, even day lilies (not a fan), but I wasn’t going for what I liked. I bought off the sale table at work. The succulents wouldn’t live through our presently 6 degree winter, but they were cheap, and lively, and added texture among the lilies and fancy penstemon. It worked. Folks stopped during their morning and evening walks to admire and ask what this or that was.

But, that was it really. Renter’s curb appeal. Being a good neighbor and keeping my yard ship-shape. The only true gardening I did was a test garden. As a horticulturist, the only way to know how it grows is to grow it.

But now, here I am. At this awkward and yes, scary place in life. I find myself wondering which friend, which sister is possibly next? Such morbid thoughts but death has that quality to it. So, this morning with dawn’s light creeping into my backyard, and prayers whispered for my dear friend who’ll spend her day chasing down doctors, I got dressed in boots and coat (leaving pjs on), and surveyed the back yard. Two cherry trees are the crowning glory, stretching their flower-laden branches between my yard and my neighbors. They need pruning desperately. 35-40′ feet tall and 25′ wide, that is a big job. Mental note to call Aaron, my handyman-soon-to-be-forester student. He’ll need to climb up in them for a proper job, but those lovely double blossoms will be blessed by it.

Second mental note: Weeping Snow Fountain Cherry must go. Horrible tree. Grafted and the trunk is completely out of proportion with the top. The blooms are slightly pretty, but not pretty enough, and besides it stands crowding a Hicksii yew. Who wants that? If I chose, I chose the Hicksii. It reminds me of my friend, Carol, who worked at the famous Hick’s Nursery on Long Island where it was developed. Plants that remind me of lovely friends are keepers.

And, out with a blooming crab tree in a corner by the picket fence. It looks like a jungle in that corner. Replace it Arborvitae ‘Emerald Green’ because the power line cuts right through there and with their max 12′ tall they’ll give privacy but not touch the power lines.

The cold felt good on my hot skin. I could breathe again momentarily. And my thoughts were my own, not crowded with loss, but planning a garden. I would have stayed a bit longer but my neighbor stuck her head over the fence and yelled, feeling better are we?

“No,” I said, “just making plans for spring.” My moment of reverie was gone. My brain was getting fuzzy again, anyway.

She threw up her hand in agreement, and disappeared behind her frozen walled fence that I’ve never gotten a glimpse behind. Perhaps for the best.

Yes, I said to myself, I am making plans for spring, and a garden.

My backyard has one large eye sore, a chain link fence. On a good day, those things reek of death, but on a winter’s day, with its shape outlined in ice, even more so. Something must be done about that fence, I pondered, but that was a problem for another day. Still, I could not go inside and let it win, with its glint-y iciness, so I spoke aloud. “Spring is coming. Spring is coming, Mr. Chain Link Fence, and you cannot stop it.” The resurrection of life is as sure as death. It is coming.

And, I will garden.


Winter Window, Hut in Winter

(Not) Pulling Weeds in January

The garden has weeds, even on this blustery 29° day. I know because while the dishwasher maintenance guy was scraping ick out of my dishwasher, I went outside to answer a phone call, and pulled a few random weeds from my picket-fence garden. They were growing on top of the landscape fabric (I did not put it down, but I am steadily pulling it up–how I loathe that stuff), and in the midst of my cedar-chip mulch that serves as a path beside the roses. I am missing my roses. My heart aches for them.

But, I do not want that ache resolved with spring’s early arrival. I want winter to finish its cold work. I want the icy fingertips of winter to rid my garden and myself of the weeds that have taken root. Those weeds that take up critical space where more fruitful or beautiful things could grow.

Let winter kill the bugs, the pests, the rotten things that creep quietly beyond my garden fence, and please, kill the busyness, distractions, worries, hurry, hurry, hurry and rush, rush, rush that blooms in me all growing season. While my clients discover that gardening can be a meditative element in their light-speed universes, I go at warp speed, because their garden is my job, and like everybody else, I do my job like it all has to be done in a day.

If I lived in California or Florida, I would work all year long. Instead, I work mid-March to mid-December. For 3 months I am unemployed, and no, I don’t collect unemployment. I must plan for the time off.

My roommate from college, who spent her child-rearing years in Florida, bemoans the growing season here in our zones 7a-8a gardens. What does a gardener do in winter, she asks?

Sleep, I reply.

And, catch up with myself.

Gladly, I don’t live in Florida or California. I live in the mountains of North Carolina where the growing season stops due to winter’s frigid temperature, and to my thinking, that is as it should be. Because today, with a winter storm warning on the horizon, I am sitting by my fire, listening to Ed Sheeran’s, Thinking Out Loud, a song the College Son downloaded onto my IPhone  before he left for a semester in Costa Rica. (My kids have never quit thinking that my phone is also their phone.)

I also do my taxes, and open mail I didn’t even know I had, and call up friends who have written me off, and go out to eat with them, and go out to eat by myself. I walk the dog without being in a hurry, watch the same movie 20 times, and sit a spell.

I work very hard, many weeks 7 days a week, for 9 months, and then, I rest. It’s probably not the most balanced way to approach day-to-day living, but as a gardener, I seem to have taken on the same cycle as the garden.

I do have the general panic over this 3-month work hiatus, but I am learning to let it go. I am learning that God provides, and my days don’t need to be guilt-ridden while calling myself lazy. I’m not advocating to quit your day job, and sit by the fire but, I am advocating that while hard work is necessary, so is rest. So is remembering who we are every once in awhile.

The College Son tells me that the Costa Ricans would consider me rich. Me, with my 1300 square foot home, complete with (now functioning again) dishwasher. He told me that many of the Costa Ricans are poor, but despite their poverty, they live life Pura Vida! It means pure life. I thought he meant they all had one big Jimmy Buffet experience. He said, “No mom, Jimmy Buffet is about escaping life. Pura vida is about living life, letting life seep in–whether you’re in the best circumstances or the worst.”  Ah, well then, pura vida, indeed.

Let life seep in.

I woke up this morning and finally, thankfully, I did not feel rushed (it takes a bit), and the voice that likes to shame me (You’re surely not going to waste your day away doing nothing again, are you?) was silent. My mind was a blank, and then, I thought of allium. I thought of tall, purple, globe shaped allium next to my white picket fence. What better way to say hello to my neighbors as they take their morning jogs or their evening strolls? What better way to say hello to myself? Did I remember to purchase any when I bought the spring bulbs? A quick trip to the garage in my pjs and robe answered that. Yes, I did! Perfect. So, I planted allium today, and it felt good. It felt creative and simple and worthy.  (And no, it’s not too late. The bulbs have been in my cellar since September. They’ve had their cold.)

allium not pulling weeds in January

Just in case, you’re wondering. This is an allium.


My mind made room for creativity today, and my garden made space for beauty. Weeds were pulled, if not by me. Winter is doing its work. I’m going to sit a spell and let it. Pura vida.





cinthia milner, transplanted and still blooming, crocus rose david austin english roses

Dream of David Austin English Roses

If you’re my College Son you’re currently enjoying 72° days with 66° nights in Costa Rica. If you live on the East Coast, you’re currently enjoying a blast of Arctic air. The lovely rose pictures below are for those huddled by fireplaces and wood stoves, not those donning sunglasses and snapping selfies with the word “Epic” tagged on them. So make a cup of tea, sit back, feet up, in your favorite chair, near the heat, and relish the pictures while dreaming of summertime and roses.

This first one is so lovely it makes my heart hurt. It is The Lady Gardener, a David Austin English rose released for 2015. I think its petals look like paper mâché, and its color like a creamsicle.

cinthia milner transplanted and still blooming lady gardener david austin rose

David Austin English Rose | The Lady Gardener | Shrub rose | 3 1/2′ to 4′ tall, 2 1/2′ wide | blooms 4″ across | Tea fragrance with hints of cedar and vanilla

The Lady Gardener was named to raise awareness for Plant Heritage, a national council for the conservation of plants and gardens in England. David Austin maintains the national collection of English roses in their rose garden, located at their Plant Centre in Albrighton, Shropshire, England. The Lady Gardener makes its stunning debut this year, after 8 years of trials, prior. It is so worth the wait.

I spoke with Michael Marriott, the company’s senior rosarian and technical manager this week, not in person, but via phone. He in England at his desk, and I in my car, hoping my cell phone signal would not die, or the heat in the car quit, since it was a whopping 10° outside. In my warm, fireplace-roaring, toasty-comfy house, I can lose cell signal, and while friends and family generally just let the line go dead, and catch up with me later, Mr. Marriott scheduled an hour of his time to answer my questions about the beautiful David Austin English roses. I really didn’t want to see the dreaded “call failed” notification on my IPhone.

My fascination with David Austin (the breeder), and his English roses began at South Turkey Creek with my purchase of Constance Spry, a climbing rose that I used as a climber/shrub over the vegetable garden fence (literally over it, the one rose sprawled up and over both sides). In the world of it-must-repeat-bloom, this rose wouldn’t make it with today’s garden center customers. It blooms only once a year, but that “only” time is perfect, making it more than worthy of the garden space. Besides, I have made my views known on the whole bloom-all-dang-summer topic.  Luckily, most of David Austin roses are repeat bloomers (in my Brevard, NC zone 7a garden, generally 3x a growing season, each time pretty spectacularly), and so folks can have their cake and eat it too.

Mr. Marriott answered a ton of questions for me, but my favorite answer was to this question, “What characteristic are you primarily breeding for?”

“The rose must be beautiful,” he said. “If a plant isn’t beautiful, then there’s really no reason to have it in your garden, is there?”

Absolutely agree.

I’ll share more of the interview with Mr. Marriott later, but for now, while the Arctic air keeps the doors barred, enjoy these lovely beauties, and dream of David Austin English roses.

cinthia milner, transplanted and still blooming david austin english roses constance spry

Constance Spry doing her one-time blooming pretty fabulously.

cinthia milner, transplanted and still blooming, david austin english roses, maid marion

Maid Marion | Another 2015 release | Fragrant (myrrh, fruity) | 3′ x 3′ shrub | Repeat bloomer

cinthia milner, transplanted and still blooming, david austin english roses, Susan Williams-Ellis

‘Susan Williams-Ellis’ | 135 petals per bloom | Blooms May to frost (pretty much non-stop) | Fragrant | 4′ x 3′ | Very winter hardy | Really, are you still going to get a Knock-Out Rose?

cinthia milner, transplanted and still blooming, david austin english roses, heathcliff, thomas a becket,

En masse ‘Heathcliff’, ‘Thomas a Becket’, ‘Jubilee Celebration’

cinthia milner, transplanted and still blooming, david austin english roses, lady of shallot

‘Lady of Shallot’ a favorite in my small, picket-fence rose garden | Can be a climber (6-10′ tall) or shrub 4′ x 3 1/2′ | Fragrance (spiced apples) | Super disease resistance in my garden that gets 66″ of rain annually

cinthia milner, transplanted and still blooming, david austin english roses, 'tess of the d;urbervilles'

‘Tess of the d’Ubervilles’ | Blooms summer to frost | Crimson color | Climbs to 6′ or shrub of 4′ x 3′ | Old Rose fragrance.

cinthia milner, transplanted and still blooming, david austin english roses, wisley 2008

‘Wisley 2008’ paired with asters. Blues and purples make good companion plants for roses that have no blue.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking, yes, they’re beautiful, but they’re roses. So much trouble, so much headache. Stop. Just keep dreaming and determining the perfect spot for your rose, and I’ll get on that subject later. Head’s up: its good news for you and your future roses.

(If you’re wondering about the header, it is Crocus Rose.)

So, find a favorite? Have other roses you love? Or are you terrified/exasperated by roses and refuse to plant them? Please share with me below, and let’s chat. Garden chats are always good for the soul.

The Definition of Success and the Top 5 Posts of 2014

This is my definition of success: doing what I love.

If my life adds up to a combination of the work and people I love, then I consider that a successful life. So far, so good.

Here’s a few pictures of that success to date.

cinthia milner--transplanted and still blooming--definition of success

My “boys” over the holidays


I’m guessing every mother would start with her kids, and rightly so. These are mine, two awesome men. My main goal as a parent was that we’d all survive it, and come out on the other side still liking each other. Again, so far, so good. (I’m leaving the reflected light from the Christmas lights in this picture because the oldest thinks it looks like a light saber that he’s about to kill his brother with. Men and their Star Wars.)


cinthia milner--transplanted and still blooming--definition of success

YaYa’s 2 favs

Here, I claim nothing. I did nothing to deserve these darlings. This is an example of life throwing you a freebie every once in awhile. Another precious girl is coming in May, expected to arrive on the 4th. (As the eldest son and father of this soon-to-be-child says, “May the 4th be with you.” Again, men and their Star Wars.)

So, if you live long enough, I do wish grandchildren for you.

cinthia milner--transplanted and still blooming--defintion of success

A duaghter-in-law helps keep the testosterone level.


My daughter-in-law is an inspiration to me. I read this quote once and thought of her. It speaks to success, so it fits here. “Whatever you want in life, other people are going to want it too. Believe in yourself enough to accept the idea that you have an equal right to it.” —Diane Sawyer That sums up my d-i-l perfectly.

cinthia milner--transplanted and still blooming--defintion of success

I’m a gardener, a horticulturist. a blue collar girl. I am proud of these titles. and I never get over the excitement I feel when I tell someone what I do. The awe-factor is still there for me.

As I evaluated 2014 today, it had its ups (a precious granddaughter born in Feb., a fun plant trip in Jan.), and horrific downs (my mother unexpectedly passing away on July 28, too soon for her to leave us), but I am still on course, which for me means staying forward. It also means a Goliath-sized perseverance, but you already knew that, didn’t you?

Nothing happens easily. Success is hard work made to look easy. That’s my quote. Feel free to use it.

On that note, my top five blog posts from 2014 are listed here if you want to re-read them, or perhaps read them. These are the posts that seemed to resonate with folks the most. Thank you for reading my scribbles here. I love you muchly.

#1 Advice from a Blue Collar Girl 

#2 One Good Mama and One Bad Mama

#3 Why You Need a Landscape Designer

#4 Getting Off the Treadmill Without Going Off the Grid

#5 Why I Hate Encore Azaleas

Happy New Year, and may what’s looking for you in 2015 find you. 🙂


Why I Love being a Garden Coach, Aside from My Awesome Boot Collection

I seriously love being a garden coach. For one, it gives me reason to have an awesome boot collection.

Here are my new boots from Altar’d State. I only wear them on sunny, dry days in the afternoon. Here’s my totally waterproof and stylish (yes, those boots exist) Rockport boots. (These made the trek down the Oregon/California coast with me. I looked darn good standing in the Pacific Ocean in them.) My Land’s End snow boots (in black, not brown, hate that red stripe on the brown), and my LOWA boots which I admit I did not want to drop the cash on, but will also admit that they are handy in cold, wind, rain, sleet, and snow. Plus, all the guys are completely jealous of them, so they were worth the cash for that alone.

Boots aside, I love being a garden coach because I love strolling through gardens chatting with folks. I mean, come on. What a great way to spend a day. And, my folks are every bit as diverse as the plants we discuss. I never want our hour to end.

I want time to stand still while the 37 year-old autistic man gets his courage to ask for the instructions to be repeated again. He must be brave to say, “Will you go over it again?” I want to shout with delight, “YOU did it! You asked for what you needed.” And, yes, I will. I absolutely will go over it all again. And, so we do. How we measure ‘on center’ for planting. How the roots should be broken up to look like the spokes on a wheel when placed in the ground. How we determine color according to bloom time, and what deadheading is.

It isn’t just him. It’s too much information for anyone. When to prune what, when to fertilize, how to amend the soil, what is mulch and what kind to use. How to determine sunlight hours, and how those hours determine what plants we’ll pick. It’s a lot of material to remember, and no one gets it all the first time. Besides, he’s learning about more than plants. He’s learning to look out for himself. He’s learning to get his money’s worth. He’s learning to speak up and be heard. That is so terribly important, but even more important, he’s learning to listen. If I correct him, he makes the necessary adjustment. I watch him and learn, and make the necessary adjustment myself.

My personality is quiet and calm, so I’m a good fit to walk in the garden with the young father whose 8 year-old son recently died of cancer. “Everyone wants us to plant a tree to remember him,” he says, pointing to the place in the yard it’s supposed to go. “But I don’t want a tree. I never keep anything alive. What if I kill the stupid tree?” He’s wondering if he killed his son, somehow. If, as his father, he could have done something different, something more. Taken him to the doctor sooner? Asked the right questions? Found a different doctor before it was too late? Was this his fault? What if the tree dies, and just confirms his fears that he did not save his son? He’d rather have his son than the tree, anyway. I suggest a small statue. Perhaps the one of the boy reading a book. Didn’t your son love to read?

“You mean I don’t have to plant a tree?” he asks. He’s feeling so much pressure from God knows where or who. “No. You do not,” I say as firmly as I can, while looking directly into his eyes. You did not kill your beautiful son, and we do not have to plant anything you don’t want too.

My favorite client ever is quirky, and tall, and gorgeous, and artsy, and lives in a pretty conservative neighborhood with her uber-conservative husband who was trying to get in on the garden fun, and so painted a rod-iron staircase magenta. What a complete shock for her (and myself) as party night drew near. But what a dear she was to love him more than the staircase or the party-goers. We got some super funky-fun chartreuse pots, and filled them with purple wandering jew, pink angelonia, and white bacopa (sounds hideous, but it was awesome). Then we added big pots of bright red hibiscus. If you’re going magenta on the rod-iron staircase against the brick-red house, all bets are off and the fun is on. Anyway, the whole family has a slightly, crazy bent that make them my loves for life.

I can’t leave out my boxwood client, whose yard is full of the most gorgeous boxwoods–years old, well established, pruned to perfection, and without a bare or brown spot to be seen, except on the two next to the driveway. He feared it was boxwood blight, which would mean all of them would have to go. He held his breath while I examined. “Does anyone park here that has a bad exhaust on their car?” The gardener does. Of course. The gardener is always the culprit in murder mysteries, why not in boxwood mysteries? Tell the gardener to stop parking where his exhaust is spewing on your pretty boxwoods, and, tell him to prune this out. We had a delightful chat in the perennial garden following our hour, complete with tea, and a very interesting talk about his hemlock hedge, and his last child leaving home for college. Really. Conversation about hemlocks is balm for the soul. Did you know that?

Sometimes, I think my job is so meaningless because I am not writing a brilliant novel, or using some new life-saving surgical technique on a patient, or teaching a child to read. It’s just plants and where and how to plant them, and the cultural care needed for them to thrive. But, if this were not my job, I’d have missed that moment when, the young mom who loves permaculture, showed me her first chicken eggs and her bright, red tomatoes she planned to serve her family. Pure delight. She was beside herself. Plus, she loved my new boots, and oohed and aahed as much over them as I did her fresh produce. We determined, we both love a compliment.