John Packard has spent most of his life working in and enjoying the outdoors. During high school and after college he labored and lived on a 200 acre produce farm in Pennsylvania. In 1993 he moved permanently to Wisconsin, where he has gardened and landscaped ever since. As a partner in Mother Nature and Sons (1995-2002) he helped introduce natural garden design and organic maintenance to south-eastern Wisconsin. Since 2003 he has owned and operated Botanica Fine Gardens and Landscapes in Lake Geneva. Botanica emphasizes gardening in harmony with nature, land stewardship and horticultural best practice. John’s horticultural interests include: woodland and prairie restoration, vegetables, conifers, native plants, weed management, artisanal stonework, and enjoying the fruits of his labors with good friends, beer and music at the end of the day.

Recent Blog Posts

Mar 01
About this “Flow Hive” thing…  

Apr 19
Testing Positive for E.A.B.   (2 comments)

Aug 11
Party star Prunus persica: Kill the Baby Peaches II  

Jul 11
Gluttonous Green Goats   (2 comments)

Jul 05
Sandaled Stone Work  

Jun 22
Screen Door on the Solstice  

Jun 11
Kill the Baby Peaches   (2 comments)

Jun 02
Lilly’s Placenta Tree  




Kill the Baby Peaches
by John Packard - posted 06/11/13

The reaping of 2013 will live in infamy for the piles of dead baby peaches.  Our first hive full of honeybees had been busy, their eyes agleam, pollen sacs bursting.  Bud be-burdened branches soon bent down low with fertilized flowers, an abundance of slowly forming fruit, destined to satiate no one, for there is no single exquisite peach without a thousand-fold moments of fecundity foiled.


Requiem for the Baby Peaches


UW-Extension Handout A3639: Growing Apricots, Cherries, Peaches, and Plums in Wisconsin notes “FRUIT THINNING: During years with favorable weather, stone fruit trees may produce or ‘set,’ large quantities of fruit.  This will result in many small fruit at harvest.  To avoid this situation, thin the crop by removing some of the immature fruit.  To improve the size of the remaining fruit, thin as early as possible after the fruit set and before they are dime-sized.  The fruit of peach, plum, and apricot trees should be spaced at least 6 to 8 inches apart on a branch.  Remove the smallest fruit and leave the larger ones. Large fruits early in the season will be large fruit at harvest.  Thinning will result in fewer fruits of higher quality.”


Kill the baby peaches.



Planted in 2008, this 'Reliance' Peach tree is,  "an unusually hardy peach that

withstands below zero temperatures and also has excellent bud hardiness.

High quality freestone fruits are medium in size

with yellow skin blushed with red, the flesh bright yellow, juicy, soft and sweet.

Vigorous, fast-growing trees are self-fruitful. Ripens late July"

--Jung Seed Catalog



Do I dare to kill a peach

so cute and fuzzy

pressed each to each?


With extreme prejudice

plucked and dropped

into a coffee can for contemplation.


Listen quietly to the echoes of their silent screams

a pile of thwarted promises

to yield 1 exquisite peach.


Kill the baby peaches.


Do I dare to kill a peach, so cute and fuzzy, pressed each to each?


Gardening courts death to consummate life.



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Lilly’s Placenta Tree
by John Packard - posted 06/02/13

Lilly's birth 13 years ago today completed our perfect family.


13 years ago our last and littlest was born.  Lilly’s birth was special in many ways. Our fourth child and second girl, she completed our perfect family.  Lilly was born at home, in the office, while a lead called and left a message requesting an estimate for lawn mowing. 

The office where Lilly was born.


Lilly was weighed in our living room with a fish scale, and her 3 siblings were gathered around her a few minutes later to “Oh !” and “Ah!”


A few minutes old, our last and littlest is weighed with a fish scale...


...and then her siblings meet her.


To all who met her, Lilly was clearly an old soul who deserved a venerable name. We took three days before choosing Lillian Catherina in honor of Grammy Packard, the kindest and gentlest of women, who raised four remarkable children, including my father, in defiance of the dire straits brought on by the Great Depression and World War II. 

Grammy Packard with 4 of her grandchildren, Lilly's father on the left.


Maybe most unique about our last and littlest’s birth 13 years ago today is Lilly’s placenta tree.  Prunus maackii,  Amur Chokecherry is a cherry tree revered for its glistening golden bark which sparkles and glows year round.  In the harsh light of Wisconsin winters, its bark is especially bright and beckoning   Between the house and the road where we, our neighbors and passersby could all enjoy it, we sited a 6’ Amur Chokecherry.  At the bottom of the hole, we placed Lilly’s placenta, bequeathing the tree a long and vigorous life.


When she was 1 day old, Lilly's placenta tree was planted.


Leaving a garden behind is painful for anyone who loves the land. So in 2005 it was with heavy hearts that we turned our back on 7 years of planning and planting, and moved across lovely Lake Como to a bigger house and larger property with more room for our thriving family and grandiose gardening ambitions.  Lilly’s tree stayed behind, where her placenta sustained it well. We returned to visit our old gardens in 2010 and found them in disrepair: weedy, overgrown, and forlorn with neglect.  Lilly was the most distraught of us all by the sorry state of what was once glorious, and sought solace beneath her tree, wishing she could take it home with her.


"It's such a sad thing to see beauty decay. It's sadder still, to feel your heart torn away."

Bob Dylan, "Cold Irons Bound"


Fortunately, in the fall of 2011 we had the opportunity to rehab our old garden, and among the many surprises lurking among the weeds, we found a few root suckers growing far from the trunk of Lilly’s placenta tree.  I carefully cut a chunk of the root that nurtured the suckers, over-wintered it in a hoop house, and then planted the chunk of root and suckers in the spring of 2012.  The summer of 2012 brought a devastating drought. With supplemental water and lots of love, the little piece of Lilly’s tree that we transplanted survived.  Today, the tree is 3’ tall, low branched, with a trained central leader ready to zoom to the sky.  Just like Lilly, we look with wonder at Lilly’s  tree and marvel at its growth, resilience and promise to bring joy and love to the world.


Happy Birthday Lilly!

It's five years later, and one thing that everyone would agree on, is that much of the world has changed. Well the more things change, the more some things stay the same. Lilly and her tree continue to grow with promise and joy, like all well-loved children and saplings.


Lilly's Placenta Tree was 15' tall on her 18th Birthday


She's off to Franklin and Marshall in the fall...


...we will miss you very much Lilly, but will admire and tend your tree

with the same great love that we have for you!

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Garden School: Cropping 420-pound Stones with a 7-year-old
by John Packard - posted 04/14/13

The cavalry arrived Friday when a 7 year old boy donned some safety glasses and spent the day cropping rocks.  On Thursday the 1 man Army had built a short stepping path through a barrier planting of transplanted Miss Kim Lilacs. The second phase of the rock work entailed cropping irregular pieces of 8” thick Fon du Lac stone in tension zones and as accents.  What good is a 70 pound boy at setting 420 pound stones?  In the words of Eomer, Captain of Rohan, “twice blessed is help unlooked for.”

Garden School Dingo Ride
"Twice blessed is help unlooked for." --Eomer, Captain of Rohan


Most of the fall the 1 man Army had blown leaves and mowed lawns solo.   A brutally hot and dry summer, an economy stuck in neutral, and an election masquerading as Armageddon made new work scarce.  The summer help went back to college, and there was no need to hire replacements.

Landscaping solo is a double-edged sword.  The most experienced and highly trained laborer is doing everything, so what gets done is what needs to get done, in the most efficient means possible, at the business owner’s standards.  Priorities are determined in the field, and all decisions are final and absolute. There is no weed whipping because we weed whip every week. The little mower sits in the trailer because the man behind the big mower isn’t about to tear up the grass doing lazy man pirouettes. If it shouldn’t happen, it doesn’t.  If it needs to get done, it does.

Simultaneously, how much does anyone have to say to their self?  When doing rock work there are only so many rock songs the 1 man Army knows: “Rock you like a Hurricane”, “Third Stone from the Sun”, “Easy Wind”. And if there is no one there to ask, “What does the Dead classic “Easy Wind” have to do with rocks?” , then there is no one there to enjoy a Pigpen wannabe singing, “I’ve  been breaking up rocks from dusk til doom, while my woman hides my bottle in the other room.”  It’s lonely working alone.

But Friday a 7 year old boy missing 2 front teeth jumped off the porch and slurred “Whatcha doin’?”  After a couple “Pardon mes”, I got his inflections and replied “I’m laying out rocks.” “Wha for?” “To keep little boys outta the garden.”  “How come?”  “So they don’t stomp the plants.” “I can stomp the plants!”  “I bet you can.”  “I jump over that one.”  “You jump over that Barberry? It’s 6 feet tall!”  “Well, I used to, but I landed in it once so I don’t do that anymore.”

Garden School Barberry
“You jump over that Barberry? It’s 6 feet tall!”
“Well, I used to, but I landed in it once so I don’t do that anymore.”

Working with a pallet of randomly shaped cropping stones requires the landscaper to surrender to the moment and figure something out.   Design and planning don’t get the rocks laid out.  The foundation planting around the late 19th century home had been gutted.  Bed lines had been adjusted to facilitate traffic flow and mirror the long strong lines of the porch. A gentle sweeping curve had been created to provide some rolling interest and to accommodate a Redbud in front of a bay window with a bad view.  A barrier planting of transplanted Lilacs gave some privacy to a stamp-crete patio, but also sat squat in the middle of the main traffic flow off the sidewalk and out into the yard.  The house harbored children, boys, hockey players, and judging from the one I met, with energy to burn.  A stepping path of Fon du Lac flagstone channeled the excess energy out into the lawn, where rocks could be thrown at Dingos and stone turtles beheaded.   The cropping stone was meant to compliment the path, to accent choice shrubs, to create niches for plants, to deflect humans and pets in tension zones, to offer standing and sitting places, and to provide 4 season architecture in the garden.  How does that happen when 1.9 tons of stone lands at a job site and the 1 man Army has 1 day to install them?


Gentle flowing curves and cropping stones complimented
the simple long lines of this 19th century home.

“Why are you trying to break that rock?” “Cause 1 isn’t enuf.  I need 2.”  “Why do you need 2?” “Cause I want to cradle a tree with rock.” “Wha?  That’s stupid.” “No. What’s stupid is trying to break this rock.” “I’ll help!”  “You can help but you’ll have to wear eye protection.  You should always wear eye protection. ALWAYS.  In the tub, at school, while you sleep.” “What’s eye pro—deck—shin?”  “Safety  glasses.  I’ll get you some.  Do you have a hammer?”  “Yeah!  I’ll go get it!”


Energy can not be destroyed, only guided. This path channels traffic through the garden
and creates space for a barrier planting of transplanted Lilacs. Like gardening,
education must accept the nature of energy.

A few stones lay themselves out.  Other stones are like some women; you wish you had never seen their beautiful face.  The stamp-crete sidewalk met the bed line and formed a concave triangle. The spot was a tension zone, and a standing and sitting point.  Of the 8 stones on site, several would fit.  The first attempt was a cool long stone with triangular ends and a reverse sweep.  It’s the sort of rock you spend your whole life dreaming about, and then when you finally get your gloved hands on it, you have no idea what to do with it.  It just didn’t look right, didn’t feel right, and all the rationalization in the world wasn’t going to make it right.  That rock went back onto the plywood in the middle of the yard, and a sweet simple solid triangle was brought over to replace it.

Garden School Too Sexy
Too sexy for anyone's good, this stone was a challenge to find a home for in the garden.

“That looks like an arrowhead!”  “You like arrowheads?”  “Or a piece of pizza!”  “I love pizza.”  “I have an arrowhead collection.”  “I did too, but I gave it to my girls.” “Why are you digging around the rock?” “To plant it.” “You can’t plant rocks.  That’s stupid!”  “I plant rocks.  It makes them look natural.”  “Oh...  Can I dig too?”  “Sure. You gotta shovel?”  “Yeah.  I’ll go get it!”

Prudence dictates that all rocks are laid out before they are planted.  Once a rock will work in a spot, there is 1 less rock to work with.  Our pallet of stone weighed 1.9 tons and held 9 stones, or roughly 420#s per stone.  One of the 9 was simply too large for the jobsite and went off to the boneyard.  That left 8 stones to work with. Thus, every time a stone was committed to a spot, possibility was reduced by 12.5%.  There are easy moves and difficult moves.  Committing to the arrowhead for the corner was easy.  It fit well. There were 2 other rocks similar to it so it could be spared. And it had no visible cracks so it promised a bright and prosperous future in this prominent spot bouncing people back onto the sidewalk and warming smokers’ butts in the cold winter sun.

Garden SchoolArrowhead
The "Arrowhead" stone defined border and bed, deflecting traffic,
and offering a place to set pots or butts.

“O.K. You can help finish digging around the stone but you gotta put your eye pro-deck-shin back on.”  “Why?” “Cause you should always wear eye pro-deck-shin. ALWAYS. At the movies, playing video games, during supper.” “I play video games! I play Calla-dudy Black-pops.”  “What?”  “Calla-dudy Black-pops.” “Call of Duty: Black Ops?”  “Yup!”  “What!?!”

If it looks like the rock will work, it’s moved around in its spot until it looks just right, then it’s perimeter is marked with an all-steel straight bladed shovel, better known as a bomber for its potential to rip out Buckthorn, flip 420 pound cropping stones, and knock out idiots who lean it up against something instead of laying it on the ground.  Then it’s time to flip the stone out of its spot, scrape out some soil to create a roughly level planting space, flip it back in place, and see for sure if it will work.  If it’s a go then you leave it there in its spot, roughed out, and move on to laying out the next stone.  Eventually all stones are roughed out, and then it’s time to check in with the client to make sure they dig the conception.

The "Too Sexy for Anyone's Good" stone eventually found its home in a prominent spot
beneath a large Redbud, accenting the bed lines and offering a place to sit and
contemplate the pleasures and perils of natural beauty.

“O.K. Now we gotta move the rock.”  “You can’t move that rock!  It’s too big.”  “I can move that rock.   Watch me.”  “No! I’ll do it….It won’t move!”  “Here.  Let me show you how. First I need to create space under the rock for a fingerhold. Do you see those chisels over by the path? Grab ‘em for me.” “What chit-cells?”  “Chisels.  Those yellow handled things over there.” “Oh…I’ll go get them!” “Thanks buddy.  So I take the chisel and I hammer it between the rock and the ground like this.”  “I can do that!”  “You sure can.  We need 2 at least.  Hammer 1 under right here… Yup. That’ll work.”  “Now you move the rock?”  “Not yet.  Now I take my bomber and slide it into the gap centered between the chisels.  I could use the sidewalk for a fulcrum but I don’t wanna ding up the stamp-crete.  That sh*t chips and breaks too easy.  Oh… did I mention it’s o.k. to swear when you work?”  “What?”  “To swear, cuss, say bad words.  To get things done working men swear. Do you swear?”  “Sometimes but I get in trouble for it.”  “Yeah... me too. But it’s alright when you’re working, cause sometimes swearing is the only way to get something done.  Anyway, so I saved this chunk of flagstone from yesterday for a fulcrum.”  “A what?”  “A fulcrum.  It what gives a lever its power.  So I slide the bomber under the stone, put the fulcrum at the top of the blade where it meets the handle, and then I sit on the bomber.”  “You’re gonna sit on that shovel!?! That’s gross!” “Just a little bit to get the stone started. See? Now I can slide my fingers under the stone and lift it.”  “You can’t lift that stone!”  “Hold on.  You’re right.  This is important.  This is the most important thing.  If I believe I can do it, I can.  It doesn’t matter whether you believe that I can do it or not.  If I don’t believe I can move the stone, I will never move it.  But I own that stone, and I going to move it right now.  Errrrrgggg!!!”  Flop.

The physics of flipping an object 2.5 times your weight are elegant and invigorating.  A wedge creates the gap.  The gap accepts a lever.  A fulcrum energizes the lever.  A butt dissipates some of the lever’s energy, allowing the fingers to enter the danger zone.  The back straightens, knees bend fully and eyes appeal to the heavens.  Several deep breaths, a final resolve, and exhaling while standing up, the rock flips over. I may be smart, but I would still rather move heavy objects.  Most boys would, and all men are boys.

“Why did you move the rock? You said it was going there.” “We need to scrape out the dirt, and flip it back in and make sure it works.”  “We gotta move the rock again.” “Yup.  Actually we have to move each rock at least 5 times. To its spot. Out of its spot.  Shape its spot. Back in its spot. Out of its spot. Sand in its spot. Back in its spot, make sure its level, and leave it, hopefully for keeps.  Say 1500 pounds of rock.  Flipped 5 times each.   That’s about 7500 pounds or 4 tons of rock—always round up when talking about lifting weight-- we will move by hand today.”  “Wha? That’s stupid.”  “Sure is.” “Ouch!” “What? Did some dirt get in your eye?”  “Yup.”  “You o.k.?” “I’m o.k.  I can take it.” “I bet you can, but put that eye pro-deck-shin back on o.k.?”  “Why?”  “You just saw why.  It’s all fun and games until someone loses and eye. That’s why, we always wear eye pro-deck-shin. ALWAYS. At Thanksgiving dinner, skateboarding, in the bathroom.”  “I can skateboard.” “I bet you can.  Your Dad’s a local legend.” “Yup.” “Yup” “O.K.  I’ll always wear it.”  “Deep enough.” “Wha?” “That’s deep enough.  1st rule of landscaping…you never dig a hole deeper than you need to. Also applies to life. That’s deep enough. I’ll grade out the dirt by hand and flip that stone back in the hole.” “You just flipped it out!”  “Yup. So it goes.”

There’s only so long that the difficult moves can be put off.  On this jobsite the biggest challenge was cradling a sweet cut-leaf Japanese maple in a couple pieces of cropping stone, creating the appearance that the Maple had come to grow in an ancient crevice of stone.  Creating a niche and then filling it with plants lends the garden a sense of permanence, as if the rocks and plants of the garden existed long before the home was built around and in harmony with it.  Or so says theory.  In this instance, the rock was being retrofitted to an existing plant, and the trick would be creating a rock cradle that reversed time.  

This single stone sheared off its top during handling, creating a "Niche Rock".  It was set to
accentuate the shear, creating a niche into which Sedum or other crevice loving plants can
grow.  The final effect lends the garden a look of permanence, much like lichen growing on
a stone bespeaks eternity.

Rarely, two separate stones can be set to appear as if they were once one.  On this site, the pallet of possibilities offered no such luck.  So the next and only option was to break a single stone into two and crop the pieces around the Maple.  Breaking a stone in two is an exercise of faith and folly.  Plenty can go wrong.  Fon du Lac cropping stone is a sedimentary rock that accreted in layers over eons, but horizontal seams aren’t of much use for this task.  What’s required is a vertical crack, preferably running completely across and through the candidate stone.  Using chisels and the weight of the stone against itself, the crack is encouraged to expand, the larger portion of the stone resting on a pallet and the rest suspended in space, with the crack set just a few inches back from and along the outside edge of the pallet.  The chisels are gently hammered along the crack, flecking of bits of stone until the chisel’s wedge begins to bite and stand upright on its own.  Then another chisel is added further down the crack, gently hammered in place, and then another. With a chisel placed about every foot along the crack, we hammer and hope. It’s patient slow stupid work.

“Are you trying to break the rock again?” “I am.”  “Why did you stop the first time?”  “It wasn’t going well, so I took a break. Discretion is the better part of valor; sometimes ya gotta retreat and live to fight another day.” “I like to fight! Specially on Calla-dudy...can I help?”  “You bet.  Just keep tapping this chisel with your hammer and I’ll tap this one.  And watch out for shrapnel!  You know what shrapnel is don’t ya?”  “No…what’s shrap-ell?” “You’ve got grenades in Call of Duty right?”  “Yup!”  “Well, when you throw a grenade a charge blows up and sprays metal all over the place.  That metal is shrapnel, and when hammer on stone we spray stone shrapnel.”  “I wanna spray shrap-ell!”  “Hold on buddy. We gotta be real careful now.  This is an important rock. You can’t just hammer it into pieces”  “I’m hammering pensises?  That’s gross!”  “Nevermind…You know what?  Screw this.  Let’s just drop this dawg on another stone and see what happens.”  “Cool!”

Sometimes a stone simply refuses to cooperate, and at that point coercion replaces persuasion. Chisels and hammers carefully wielded can persuade many a stone to break artfully.  When they fail, it’s Dingo-time.  What’s a Dingo?  It’s not what ate the baby.  A Dingo is Toro’s version of a compact utility loader, and after my family, the Green Bay Packers, beer, and John Coltrane, my Dingo is the love of my life, my metallic mistresses, the creator and destroyer of all my dreams.  Some men turn 40 and trade in their wife for a younger model and a Red Corvette.  I beat my mid-life crisis to the punch, and got a dump-trailer and Dingo at 37, and ever since I can’t lace up my muddy boots without them.

Raising a stone as high as it will go and dropping it on another sedentary stone is to admit defeat and submit to chaos.   Much of gardening and landscaping is performed at the mercy of dynamic natural forces, but such truths are too much to bear. Thus we subscribe to the myth of design and planning, as if a pretty piece of paper and a timetable can fend off drought and beasts, pestilence and disease.  Design and planning can’t, but we can’t dare to acknowledge brute fact. We chose instead to garden in blissful blinkered disregard, trusting in faith and perseverance to defeat natural forces.  Sometimes they do and we keep digging, planting and harvesting.  No such illusion is available when you hang a ¼ ton of stone 4 foot high and let it fall to its fate with a song – “Easy Wind” is charmed—and a prayer: “Lord grant me the stupidity to drop this heavy object on another, the courage to rationalize it will work anyway when it doesn’t break how I wanted, and the wisdom to pretend for the client that it broke perfectly.”

“You should probably stand back.”  “Why?”  “Cause I’m gonna drop this stubborn rock on that sedentary one”  “Cool!”  “Sure hope so buddy, cause otherwise, we’re S.O.L.”  “S.O.L.?”  “Sh*t outta luck my friend…S.O.L.”

Once a rock is split in two the task is to crop it so that 1) either a plant can grow between and among the cracks and fissures, or 2) a plant is cradled by the cracks and fissures.  This site offered both opportunities to create niches for plants and to retrofit niches to plants.  The Maple was a retrofit, and also the original inspiration for cropping stones in the garden.  There was a lot riding on the roll of the stones, and fortunately fate was in a pleasant mood, and the cropping stone broke in a way that was amenable to cradling the Maple.  If it hadn’t then we would have had to go back to the quarry, and since Botanica is occasionally a business, in spite of some leads who believe it should be a charity, failure wasn’t an option.

This sweet Cut-leaf Japanese Maple is the centerpiece of the front foundation planting,
and yearned for some stone to accent it and deflect hellions like my helper.

“Sorry buddy, you can’t help me crop this one.”  “Why not?!” “Well, you see how you keep bouncing off the Maple and snapping branches. You’re reducing it to rubble, and it’s the whole reason for the stones in the first place.” “What’d ya mean?”  “Well, I saw this sweet little Maple, and knew it was the centerpiece of the garden, but we need to let everyone else be able to see that, so we cradle it in rock, to accent it, and deflect hellions like yourself.”  “That’s stupid!” “Well, it’s gonna be if you snap another branch.  Seriously kid, I’m being serious now. Ya need to back off.”  “O.K….I’ll go drive the Dingo instead!”

Astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson accurately summed up the mission of America’s public school system as: “We spend the first year of a child’s life teaching it to walk and talk, and the rest of its life to shut up and sit down.”  Real education is messy and noisy. The students move of their own accord and ask questions when they need to know the answer.  There is no sitting down, standing in line, or raising of hands.  Consider the cavalry’s curriculum during Friday’s rock-cropping.  We did addition and multiplication in our heads or Applied Mathematics.  We studied levers, fulcrums, and wedges, or Applied Physics.  We learned new words, practiced their pronunciation and used them in conversation, or Applied English and Communication.  We discussed the steps necessary to crop rocks, or System’s Analysis. All the while, this boy was jacked on Halloween candy and Culvers, running amok in the yard whenever interest flagged, joining his Dad in stoking a scrap wood fire and raking leaves, and eventually proving to me that he could run around the house in 30 seconds when his energy threatened mayhem and destruction.

 In spite of his unbridled energy, the cavalry was studying and practicing some exceptionally subtle stuff, the values and ethics which are the grease of collaboration and which schools struggle to teach.  By the time we were cropping the last two rocks, my buddy was bringing me my tools BEFORE I needed them, in anticipation of the next step in the task at hand.  He demonstrated a healthy work ethic, an understanding that there was a task that needed to be completed in a set time, and a willingness to work as a team member in deference to a leader. Certainly some of my helper’s values and ethics can be attributed to his parents and his soul, but without the opportunity to express and experience the rewards that hard work, focus and team work offer, such values and ethics will never be nurtured enough to grow and stick.   

“O.K. buddy I’m gonna need your help here.”  “How come?”  “Well these last two stones frame the stairs, and they need to be both level and at the same height, but I’ve only got a 4’ level that doesn’t reach both stones so we gotta be clever.”  “I can be clever! How we gonna be clever?”  “Simple really. You hold the level right here. No. Right here, one end on the stone, the other centered on the sidewalk, and make sure the bubble is between the lines…is it between the lines?” “Yup!”  “Cool. Now I measure down from the level to this point on the sidewalk, we’ll mark it, and that tells us the height of the stone relative to a fixed point.  5 and 3/8 inches. Can you remember that.”  “Yup!”  “Now we do the same with the other rock.  You know where to put the level?” “Yup. One end on the stone, the other over our point.”  “Yup.  And the bubble between the lines, and our measurement is….5 and 3/8 inches.  Perfect, and you are officially charmed my friend.”


Karma is a force of nature. Good people get good gardens, partially because the people
building the gardens do so with love and joy in their hearts.

The current educational debate takes on blind faith that our children’s education would be improved with more time in school.  Simultaneously, nearly everyone agrees that our public school system is broken or at a bare minimum, in need of reform.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the logical fallacy in this reasoning.  Spending more time in a broken school system isn’t going to produce more highly educated children; it’s going to produce more of the same, children who have ever-shorter attention spans, who are bored unless they are constantly entertained, and who lack the basic communication and reasoning skills to know what they want to do with their lives and how to do it. 

I believe that the Great Recession had many silver linings, including under-employed parents having more time to spend with their kids.  Consider my adventures rock-cropping with a 7 year old.  My buddy was off from school and home with Dad because Dad’s business was slow.  The 1-man Army was in the field and able to accommodate working with a kid because Botanica likewise has been slow that fall.  If there had been an employee on the job, there is no way I would have been open to incorporating the kid into the job at hand, because I would have been too busy keeping the employee moving to appreciate and accommodate the skills of a child.

An alternative innovative educational system would take advantage of parents and businesses with more “free” time and integrate children into the working and everyday world.  Obviously, there are tremendous risks and challenges to such a proposal.  During the course of a day cropping rocks with a 7 year old, my helper also chased me with a flaming stick, almost broke a couple cropping stones, attempted several times and succeeded once to fire up and drive the Dingo, threw rocks at equipment, and beheaded a stone turtle garden ornament.  A potential for accidents and a lack of measurable educational outcomes will prevent school systems from embracing an educational model that gets kids out of the classroom and into the world.

“Allright.  We got one last test.”  “What’s that?”  “It’s the walking test.  We gotta see how our stones walk.”  “What’d ya mean?”  “Well, they look pretty good, but they gotta walk well too.  These last two frame the sidewalk and porch stairs, but they also accommodate the natural traffic flow, which is through the garden, not around it, so we gotta see if we can walk off the steps, onto the rock and out into the yard without landing in the garden.  Like this.”  “I can do that!”  “Sure.  You would be the one to test the rocks, for sure.”  “I’ll test them from the top!”  “Wha?  You can’t jump from the top of the porch over 5 steps and land on that rock.”  “Watch me!”  “Nice gator roll my friend, and yeah, I guess they pass the test.”

These two stones create a natural frame for the front steps and deflect traffic
out of the garden. They also function as landing pads for jumping off
the porch and gator-rolling into the yard.

 A fool would think our busted school system could be replaced completely with kids hanging out at home with Dad, and working with the landscaper, yet such experiences play a critical role in instilling the values and inculcating the skills that make kids want to be in a classroom and capable to learn.  If our goal is to educate our children—and like Neil de Grasse Tyson I am skeptical that our public school system’s primary goal is to educate; the public school system more often simply aims to control students—then we will succeed when we innovate ways to get kids out of the classroom and into the field, where true multi-faceted intelligence is modeled and taught.  Our children would be better educated with less time in school, and more time in the garden.

Ours kids will only rise to great heights when we trust enough to let go and permit them the
freedom to be fellow human beings, creating and participating as equals contributors
in work and play. The garden is a wonderful place for that to happen.

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