Skip Navigation

Living the Cultivated Life

Dig the latest news about our garden.


This section is very much under construction (just like the real garden!), although "2001" is kind of readable... Actually I haven't updated much of anything since early 2003.


My maternal grandmother (who lived with us when I was growing up) was an avid gardener who possessed the means, the time, and the energy to pursue her passion enthusiastically. We had a big yard (for a house in the city) that offered her many creative opportunities. As a kid, I wasn't interested in gardening and the fact that my brother and I were often pressed into service as forced laborers didn't improve my opinion of gardening as a pleasurable pursuit. It was just hard work.

My opinion changed when I grew up, and I enjoyed visiting the gardens at Winterthur and Longwood Gardens. After I bought my house and cleared out the fruits of five years' neglect, I hired a landscape architect to create a plan for the yard, but my ambition exceeded my income, and I never implemented any part of the plan. Part of the problem was that I wasn't willing to do much of the work myself. I wanted the results without putting in the effort. My property simply offered too many challenges for me, and I limited my efforts to just keeping the grass cut (eventually I hired someone to do it for me!).

Meeting Anne changed everything. She is an avid gardener, and she has awakened my latent interest in working on my own property. These pages chronicle our efforts, season by season.

Cubicle Jungle

I haven't done much in the way of gardening myself, but I am quite proud of the fact that I (a notorious killer of plants) have managed to keep four plants alive in my cubicle. Actually they are not only alive, but thriving (I hope to have a picture to prove it someday). They are: a dracaena, a diffenbachia, a philodendron, and a spathiphyllum. Update: On June 3, 2002, the second bloom on my spathiphyllum opened.

Mowing the Lawn

We don't have a lawn actually. At least not with any grass. It's just an area where we keep the weeds really short. When I moved in to my house, I bought a Honda self-propelled mower to cut the grass and after a few years, hired a landscaper to do this chore, donating the Honda to a friend. When we decided to take back the chores the landscaper was doing, we needed a lawnmower. We both had nostalgic memories from childhood of push (reel) mowers and we didn't want the noise and maintenance of a gas mower, so we decided we would take a chance on a push mower. After a little research, it was clear that one mower was a favorite: the Brill Luxus 38. We bought ours from Lee Valley Tools. It wasn't expensive, either ($139).

When it arrived, it was clearly different from the push mowers I had used as a kid. For one thing, the mower is very light (17 pounds) and consequently easy to push. In fact, it's not much more difficult than walking behind a self-propelled mower, and a lot easier to steer. I had been concerned about the effort of pushing a push mower, and I was glad to find I wasn't giving up any labor-saving advantage by switching from a gas mower.

I did find a few things that I am giving up, however, by switching from a gas mower. One is maintenance; the Brill requires no maintenance. The blades are made of hardened steel and are not designed to be sharpened. The recommended replacement interval is ten years. I am also giving up having to store gas and parts like spark plugs. I'm giving up cleaning the air filter. I'm giving up sore arms from starting the thing. Finally, I'm giving up a lot of noise. The Brill isn't silent, but it is very quiet, and the sound it makes is quite pleasant. It's nice to be able to stop mowing for a second and talk to someone in the yard; just stop walking. No need to shut it off (and restart it afterward). Without the noisy and violent gas lawnmower, you'll find there will be other people in the yard with you while you're working.

Don't get me wrong--the Luxus isn't perfect. It has a number of limitations, however, that you should be aware of, although none of them offset its considerable advantages, as far as I'm concerned. Its cutting width is only 15 inches, which is narrower than most other mowers. Its maximum cutting height is only 1-3/4 inches which is on the low side. Because it lacks the suction of a rotary power, in tall grass the mower merely flattens the tall grass instead of cutting it. One technique I found involves walking very slowly to allow the tall grass to spring up enough to be clipped. These limitations add up to a mower that is only at its best on even lawns that are cut fairly frequently. If your lawn is uneven, or you have very thick or tall grass, then this is not the mower for you. I have an uneven lawn and still prefer using this mower for its quiet operation. It is so light that recutting the problem areas is no problem.

The mower is quiet enought that you can listen to music while you're cutting. It makes what is really a pretty monotonous job go more quickly. For a portable music player, I considered one very portable possibility, Apple's iPod, but this unit, although small and light, has a number of disadvantages. Sure it's small, but it's so much work to use one. I'm trying to avoid work. If you want to listen to a CD, you have to get it into the iPod. This means ripping the tracks off the CD onto your computer (Mac only at the moment). Ripping sounds easy, but it's not. Hmm. What bit rate should use? What about that variable bit rate? And what the heck is "joint stereo"? Hey, I don't do drugs, and I don't like the Grateful Dead. Ripping is very slow on my Mac--I can rip only at about two times the CD speed. It'd be dark by the time I get some CDs onto the computer. Sheesh. In place of the impractical iPod, I use a regular portable player. I just duct-taped a camera strap to it, and I'm good to go. Just slap any CD into it and presto! Instant music. Sure it's funky looking and not as slick as the iPod, but it's cheap and it works. I call it the oddPod[TM].


One of my favorite plants is a wildflower (Monotropa uniflora) commonly called Indian Pipe. It is distinctive because it completely lacks chlorophyll, which accounts for its pale white color. I have seen very few Indian Pipe in part because they require very specific growing conditions to flourish. In the summer of 2001, we were in Boston and found quite a fine stand.


Indian Pipe

I had never seen so many in one place before...


Indian Pipe

It had rained earlier and the pipes were still bejeweled with droplets.

Posts in “Garden”

March 8, 2008

Philadelphia Flower Show 2008

I always enjoy the Flower Show in part because we work in a nice pub dinner either before or after. Back in the day (before I got into beer), we used to go to Independence Brew Pub. I am mildly curious about Field House, which replaced it, but in no hurry to go there, so we decided to go to McGillin’s, a place that has been patiently waiting for our custom since 1860. It was our first time there, and I’m sure we’ll be back. When I am in the neighborhood, I usually go to Fergie’s, which is a little more visible. Choice is good.

The theme this year was Jazz It Up; let’s go to the pictures:

Philadelphia Flower Show 2008 - Chihuly piano

The Peter Dugan trio was playing when we arrived (although they were long gone when I took this, obviously); this is the Chihuly-designed piano.

Philadelphia Flower Show 2008 - piano

Many of the exhibitors jazzed up their displays by placing instruments in the landscape, such as the guts of this piano.

Philadelphia Flower Show 2008 - tuba fountain

Brass instruments are just pipes after all and make wonderful fountains, don’t you agree?

Philadelphia Flower Show 2008 - brass fountain

Another fountain incorporating all the brass instruments.

Philadelphia Flower Show 2008 - parade

A New Orleans-style parade wound through the crowd at one point.

Philadelphia Flower Show 2008 - parade


Philadelphia Flower Show 2008 - mouse drummers

Aw, mouse drummers. Kyoot!


McGillin's has Beamish on tap I'm told!

Albert, Yes, and that's what I had. Good!

I really enjoyed your photos, especially the brass fountain. I missed out this year since I was sick. Bummer cause I loved the jazz theme.

March 10, 2005

Philadelphia Flower Show 2005

A number of years ago I found myself at the preview party for the New York Flower Show at one of the piers on the West Side. I regarded the proceedings with some disdain, because compared to Philadelphia's Flower Show, the Big Apple's Spring festival was a wan and pitiful thing that needed water and fertilizer stat. I swelled with hometown pride with the knowledge that at least one thing was better in Philadelphia than New York. If we here in the Quaker City take the Flower Show for granted, we shouldn't—it is special.

We went on a Monday morning this year in a continuing quest to find a time when crowds would be at a minimum. The show seemed just as crowded then as any other time. Maybe next year we'll try going in the afternoon. Except for the crowds, it was a perfect day. For one thing, the weather was glorious; the high was 70 degrees! (It snowed the next day. Go figure.)

The theme this year was “America the Beautiful,” but I didn't see as much evidence of exhibitors sticking to the theme as usual. We gawked for a while, paying special attention to window boxes and porch treatments, and then headed out to lunch. I suggested a cozy pub I glimpsed when we were looking for parking, but it turned out to be just another entrance to the Independence Brew Pub where we've eaten many times, so we ventured into Reading Terminal Market. The Market, which is always busy, becomes a seething mass of humanity at lunch time. We edged our way through the throng and queued up at DiNic's for sandwiches; I love their stuff. Anne had roast beef with cheese, and I had Italian sausage wrapped in collards. Scrumptious!

We finished up the day back at the show with some selective shopping, picking up a beautiful dried wreath for the guest room. Before leaving, I took a quick tour of an exhibit of photographs of national parks presented by the Department of the Interior. It was a well-edited collection of large (20 x 30) digital prints, and included some of my favorite landscape photographers, among them Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell. The exhibit introduced me to beautiful work by Pat O'Hara and David Meunch as well, and there were a number of others.

This year's show wasn't the most inspired one in memory, but it was certainly inspiring with its abundant and tantalizing visions of a Spring only a few weeks away.