Your Subtitle text


Isn’t it the time of year – after planting those last few daffodils (why, oh why, do we get sucked in by those luscious catalog pictures, meaning year after year we’re caught having to chip through several inches of frozen soil to complete the planting task), pounding in the posts for that invaluable deer fence around the western garden (oh, heck, why do we fool ourselves into thinking that deer can’t find some avenue over or around or under it?), chopping up some leaves to mulch around plants  that might want a little extra protection against the imminent winter, scratching our heads over the last few (well, ok, more than a few, if you must know) pots of plants that lingered on the edge of the driveway all summer (mainly those “let’s have that” kind of plants that came to us without any idea of where they might end up – certainly not along the edge of the driveway - honestly, we did have good intentions), and cleaning out the garage to accommodate the two cars that were parked on the driveway all summer, right alongside all those plants (with some fancy footwork we managed space for Arla’s car, mine might be another matter completely) – that we enjoy a brief well-deserved respite from all the doing, doing, doing.  Isn’t it what makes spring, summer and fall so enjoyable hereabouts – the knowledge that the other season – winter - provides time to do what we please when we please – knowing that the urgency of weeding, watering, and pruning is laid to rest. Momentarily.


Hasn’t fall given us an unusually fine display of color?  Or do we say that every year, I don’t know.  Right now, in addition to the usual suspects, tamarack (larch) are at their best.  Even after all these years, I somehow forget that tamaracks aren’t meant to remain green all year long.  Along with white pine and arborvitae shedding some of their interior foliage in October (which always seems to alarm some folks), tamaracks turning their trademark golden hue confound folks as well.  Perfectly normal for this deciduous evergreen.

I wish tamaracks would be used more, as they’re adaptable, fast growing, and carefree.  American larch grows 80’ tall in an open, pyramidal form.  Branches become attractively drooping with age.  Well-known hereabout (so prevalent at one time that the city of Long Lake was called initially Tamarack) where it inhabited swamps and lowlands. Indeed, tamarack are often associated with tamarack swamps, but are equally at home in upland setting.

A young grove of tamarack trees above the Pioneer Museum building in Long Lake is especially attractive right now.


I got to musing (I’m prone to musing a lot in fall, an especially melancholy time of year, don’t you think?) after writing about the annual sighting of roadside asters.  That continuity of experience, that constancy, that connectedness, that predictability of thinking, “Oh yes, here we go again” led me to think, isn’t that the definition of home, of being at home.  When our lives mesh with cycles and rhythms, we come to know what to expect in our day to day.

There’s a serenity in knowing just where we are, when the disappointments and achievements, the joys and the hurt become meaningful, comforting, reassuring waypoints in our interactions.  We’re not just passing through, we’re home.


I’m forever inspired and delighted by the unexpected.  Asters bloom along roadside ditches every year at this time.  Well, not exactly at this time – mostly they’ve gone by, but I somehow didn’t get around to recording them at their peak.  I hope you noticed the tall purple, lavender and dusty pink daisy -like flowers that brought smiles and lots of recognition.  What fun to herald these unrecognized stalwarts.

How they press on despite neglect.  They’re surely due a round of applause for their effort.  Yes, yes, fall is upon us when the roadside asters brighten our day.

We let our guard down and now we’re berefit of the fall-blooming Japanese anemones in our garden.  We know that deer love them as much – more – than we do, so we’re religious about applying weekly sprays of liquid fence.  We’re mostly successful enough that we felt the effort well worth it.  Then during those back to back rainy spells the last few weeks, our sprayer didn’t make it out of the garage.  You can imagine the consequences – anemones awaited all season – one of our favorite fall delights – were pretty much a no show. Sad.

In what must have been a lull in the conversation, a gardening pal a while back wondered about our favorite plant this year. Oh dear, what a silly question – could have been any number of candidates from the maidenhair fern unfurling its delicate sprays, any number of epimediums with their jaunty flowers, the filmy gauze of prairie dropseed in bloom, to the burgundy black colored astilbe ‘Chocolate Shogun’. But I think my questioner meant me to think of a new plant that caught my fancy.  Put on the spot thusly, of course, nothing came to mind.  Only later did an AHA moment shake loose a likely suspect.  The coneflower tribe has been plagued with a plethora of “new and improved” recently, all screaming to be awarded star status. From this abundance, how to choose several representatives – how many coneflowers does a gardener need – to smile upon the garden.  We wouldn’t be without Echinacea ‘Pica Bella’, a cute, short one that is a reliable and profuse bloomer, or  E. ‘Fatal Attraction’ which lives up to its name with richly – colored flowers and dark -  colored stems. A new one to us, the punchy ‘Coral Craze’ is vying to become a favorite.  I was a real standout in the garden – and still is – this summer.  It’s been sending forth it’s blooms – coral pink maturing to lavender pink – for months and months.  And shows no signs of letting up.  The compact plants sport large flowers with wide, horizontal petals.  Combined with sporobolus ‘Tara’ and hydrangea ‘Firelight’, the ensemble made for any eye-catching vignette.


Sunday is usually our morning to sleep in, which doesn’t mean languishing for hours, but only a bit of an indulgence.  This Sunday, however, an odd sunlight coming in our second floor bedroom windows roused us.  Perhaps you saw it, too.  It was unusually foggy with a yellowish light – broken into narrow, well-defined sunbeams poking down from on high toward the ground.  Was almost like a movie effect-unreal and transfixing.  We thought we could almost reach out and touch the light, it seemed so tangible.  A wondrous sight.  We felt lucky to have caught the spectacle, as it didn’t last long.

So much for sleeping in.



I know we’ll delight in some spectacular, end of summer days yet to come this year, and there’s not much we can do about the weather so we shouldn’t complain, but the last week or so of an on again off again rain, sunless days and cool temps have us longing for better times weather-wise.  We need some warmth and sun to help the tomato crop mature.

At least we can take some consolation in the joy of the garden this time of year.  The weeds have been vanquished at last. There’s really not much pressing garden maintenance weighing upon us.  If we’ve planned things right, there’s still plenty of garden color and texture to capture our interest.  Japanese anemones (the ones the deer haven’t had for lunch) cast their perky presence, turtlehead and the late-blooming snakeroots grace shady corners, hydrangeas are at their dusky rose best, hardy hibiscus are almost blatantly attractive, hogging the scene, and Thalictrum rochebrunianum continues its long – playing froth of lavender pink bloom.  For fragrance, Hosta plantaginea’s large, pristine white trumpets are a welcome source of mouthwatering perfume. And wasn’t I surprised at the old-timey fragrance of the annual alyssum.  Other annuals such as nicotiana and Verbena bonariensis and annual salvias delight with their pops of color.

We appreciate this time of year as we can fool ourselves into thinking that we can coast along for a bit, enjoying the splendor of it all.  Fall will proceed in its own time.

OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD- Sept. 3rd, 2019

Labor Day.  These 3-day weekends always seem to come around in the nick of time – just when that extra 24 hours of “leisure” is most appreciated. So, didn’t we feel cheated when a rain – gentle and of short duration, But a rain nonetheless – scotched Sunday’s plants to putter in the yard at home.  We haven’t any entertaining scheduled for awhile and the property’s maintenance demands have lessened in scope so there was not the urgency to spiff things up.  Still we noted on our to-do list duties such as deadheading, removing underperforming plants, clearing pathways, edging, mowing and-can you believe-weeding. And, heavens, after months of doing, doing, doing doesn’t the gardener deserve time just to relax and enjoy it all?

Our garden is incomparable in fall (ok, ok, late summer for you who don’t like to rush the seasons) with plants in their big, blowzy, abundant mood.  The phlox elbow the Joe Pye weed.  The grass swarms across the hardy hibiscus.  The turtlehead crowds the ferns.  Hydrangeas make themselves at home – and how – wherever they’re planted.  Form and texture are paramount. Colors are dusky, romantic, restful.

Whether we want to admit it or not, fall seems upon us.  Sumac, Engelman ivy, maples, pears and blue beeches are showing signs.  We haven’t broken a sweat for days; colorful local apples entice us at farmers markets.  And doesn’t that extra blanket at night seem welcome?

I think it’ll be recalled as a dandy summer for being outside and for the prosperity of the gardens, though I hear folks dwelling on the negative aspect of the summer weather.  At least there’ve been no hurricanes hereabouts.


 Again, and again I’m reminded of the notion of gardening as an antidote to these fast times, where impatience is the rule of the hour.  There’s no rushing plants along, after all, their rate of growth, maturity and decline has nothing whatsoever to do with our ministration.  Seasons come and go like clockwork, keeping the gardeners grounded in time and place.

  When we were lads, it was rare for folks to change jobs and to pick up and move away.  “House for Sale” signs were a curiosity and cause for gossip. Neighbors were friends for life.

  On the now Kelley and Kelley land, settled by my ancestors,  I admire trees that were planted over a hundred years ago (I know, I know that’s a blip in time to those who grew up in the east, but it’s the best we can do hereabout) by my great grandparents.  There is craggy old Scotch Pine, Norway Pine, White Pine, Douglas Fir and, nurtured by following generation of Kelleys Ginkgos, Kentucky Coffee Tree and Ironwood.  I like to think they had thought of the future, rather than planting for immediate gain.  Indeed the sluggish growth of most trees suggests their timelessness.  They weren’t going anywhere, those Kelleys, and the purpose of those trees reinforced the notion of permanency, a melding of past, present and future.  I like that thought.


Ok, all you ladies and gents who fight the annual battle against slugs in the garden (and I suspect that includes most all of us). How about some sharing of eradication information – what worked, what failed miserably, and on what is the jury still out?

My great uncle Rod, who in his semi-retirement had time on his hands evidently – would lay small piles of leaves, bits of board or even upended grapefruit rinds around the woodland garden here, making the rounds every morning to harvest the clueless critters napping beneath his “traps”, plopping them into a coffee can (remember when coffee came in  cans?) full of gasoline.  These days, all that fuss wouldn’t seem worthwhile.

Several plans of action I’ve heard of recently and would like to try include spreading used coffee grounds (not decaf) around affected plants.  On a visit last week to the arboretum, we spotted coffee grounds amongst the plants in the Hosta glade.  I’m not a coffee drinker, so Arla is working overtime to supply the household.

The newsletter of a local garden club indicates Epsom salts as deterrent.  Worth trying?

Diatomaceous earth has long been promoted as a safe slugicide.  We’ve tried it at the nursery the last few years and seem to think it might be somewhat effective.  How’s that for a lukewarm recommendation?

If we can keep the pests down to a dull roar – we stand no chance of eliminating them altogether – I’d be happy.

What say you?


Though I was born in Minnesota, I sometimes – not often – question my sanity for sticking around all these years into adulthood.  I do question what keeps me here in times of distress, discontent and spells of high anxiety.  Times such as when the mosquitoes of midseason seem to be a calamity beyond words, when ceaseless rain makes an unholy quagmire of the garden, or when winter chill and summer sizzle takes the breath from me.  At times like those, the answer to the question that began this paragraph is an unqualified, “Yeah, what’s the point?”  That question and that answer occur to me perhaps ten or twelve times a year.  On the other 353 to 355 days, why in the world would I think of questioning whether Minnesota is the most satisfying place on earth to spend a lifetime of days.  Days like yesterday.  The temperature and humidity were at optimal levels for a late July day.  Picture-perfect cotton clouds skittered across a lapis lazuli sky.  A faint breeze invigorated spirits.  Would I live anywhere else is not a question I ask myself when hearing the crackle of the loons, when recalling Grandmother Kelley at the whiff of Honeysuckle or Lily of the Valley, or when trips to the Boundary Waters gift us with peacefulness and skies awash with more stars than we ever knew existed.  At times such as these, I know deep down that this neck of the woods holds the best of life for me and no amount of Chamber of Commerce puffery could convince me to pack my bags. 

P.S. Oh, and don’t forget fireflies, Izzy’s ice cream and the Guthrie Theater.


Here’s a curious and humorous incident.  One that had nothing whatsoever to do with horticulture.  I was walking across the parking lot at Kelley and Kelley yesterday and passed behind a dirty red SUV.  That in itself wasn’t exceptional. Well, maybe it was – mostly folks around here are pretty fussy about their cars.  And aren’t most vehicles these days shades of white, black and gray.  Red does stand out, even more so if it’s dirty.  At any rate, you know how now and again you see where someone has taken a fingertip and spelled out “wash me” on a dirty car window?

Well, that’s old hat, as indicated by what I saw emblazoned on this car’s rear window – a tic tac toe game. The sight prompted a grin and stopped me in my tracks to get a closer look.  In the upper left-hand corner of the tic tac toe grid was an “O”, the lower right and lower right spots were both filled with an “X”.  Well, I couldn’t let Mrs. “X” whoever she might be, get away with winning the game so easily, so I traced an “O” in the middle bottom space.  I carried on, so can’t tell you how the match ended (most likely by the car being taken to the carwash).  I haven’t played tic tac toe for years, and probably won’t soon again, but you never know.

OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD – JULY 23RD (where has the year gone?)

I walked the garbage cans out to the end of the driveway this morning early.  Though the Lilies in the garden were at least several hundred feet away, still their spicy fragrance reached my nose.  Delightful. Oriental lilies are putting on quite a show right now at the nursery. The lily bench is awash with pungent color, from the maroon – almost black – ‘Landini’, the pink-spotted ‘Salmon Star’, the soft pink ‘Dizzy’ to the ever popular pure white ‘Casa Blanca’.  New to us is the slightly shorter (only 20” tall) white ‘Coldplay’. Many others are yet to come into bloom.  Treat yourself to some midsummer fragrance. Any sunny garden has room for a few lilies tucked in.

With a return to seasonally – appropriate weather, we can dismiss as an aberration the sweltering Friday last.  Maybe it was all a figment of our imaginations?



  Along the roadsides, right now Elderberry is abloom – panicles of creamy white flowers smother 8-10’ tall shrubs.  Though the flowers are used to make Elderflower water for confections and cosmetics and a delicious liqueur, and the fall fruit is a favorite of birds and can be used for jellies and juices.  Still, Elderberries get no respect and are mostly considered a weed.  They sucker freely, suffer winter dieback and have a generally unkempt habit.  Though several cultivars are available, you’ll never find Elderberries taking the landscape market by storm, but in a naturalized setting, can be effective.


  We think of garden Phlox as midsummer bloomers, at which time they achieve star status.  A recent Phlox offering, The Fashionably Early Series, is blooming now and they are magnificent.  glossy, dark green foliage appears resistant to cover the plant.  Flower colors include white, lilac pink and light purple.  They’ve been proven performers in our gardens the last few years.

   At the nursery, Astilbe are coming into bloom – our selection – from ground-huggers to skyscrapers – is rather tantalizing. a premier plant for shade, of course, where it remains attractive In and out of bloom Astilbe can also take some direct sunlight if not let to dry out.  Personal favorites – really, you’re asking me to play favorites – might include the unusual Chocolate Shogun, whose chocolate – colored leaves need no floral complement, Delft Lace with burgundy tinged leaves and light pink flowers, Key West is a shorty with deep magenta flowers and Vision in Pink is a sturdy little plant with clear pink flowers.



For a while there, I halfway thought we were getting somewhere, gaining ground.  How foolish a thought – I should know better. Several scheduled June garden tours to the home grounds – we book these things the previous November when all thought of June madness is far from our minds – kept Arla and me in seeming perpetual motion since the last of the snow receded.  Weeds I mean to say. Would gardening be all the more enjoyable were it not for weeds?  I could imagine-what a vision, that – an aimless stroll early in the morning east down the garden path, no particular goal at hand, a clenched coffee cup (actually, for me, it’s more likely orange juice in a glass, but somehow the prospect of coffee sounds more romantic in this tale), wondering at the curious fritillaria that’s popping up in the most unusual places, absentmindedly snapping off a spent flower or two, puzzling over the intent of the squirrel – up to little good, no doubt – who scurries at my coming around the corner.  And not a weed in sight, oh happy thought.  Truth is, we’ve waged a never – ending battle – as have you as well, we’ve not being singled out – against chickweed, thistle, purslane, oxalis, knotweed, garlic mustard, clearweed, and all manner of seedlings resulting from overarching boxelder, maple (have you ever seen such huge maple seeds as this year?  What’s that about?), crabapple and elm.

Just as we round the corner and give ourselves a pat on the back for eradicating May’s crop, we avert our gaze and June has us fretting over a fresh round.  But isn’t that what gardeners are known for – fretting, fussing, primping, doting, cajoling, castigating, trussing up, cutting down. How odd it would seem to have nothing to do but revel in it all.  Who’s to say it might not be an enjoyable experience, though.


I suffered a ‘touché’ moment recently.  An, I thought, busy friend asked about these breezy writings from Steve Kelley.  I wondered to him how he found time to read these musings.  Snapped he, “How do you find time to write them?”  I have no idea how you all cram so much reading into your days, but I know how I find time to pen these lines (Yes, pen them.  If you know me, you well know I’m not on speaking terms with technology). Late at night, after the day’s newspaper has been digested, and before lights out, there is often a spare moment to collect thoughts and transcribe them on paper.

I’m thinking I haven’t been keeping up to date.  I meant to write a few days ago about yet another favorite fragrant shrub – White Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus).  Grown as a shrub or small tree, Fringetree’s chief attribute is its pure white flowers in late May, early June.  Cascades of slender, delicate panicles shimmer in the least breeze. And fragrant.  My, the fragrance is mouthwatering – a sweet spiciness. I’ve mentioned we’ve sited a Fringetree outside our back door at home, where the fragrance is carried across the back terrace. Delightful.

Look for Gray Dogwood, which is making a statement just now. Creamy white flowers cover the shrub where you can spot them colonizing roadside rights of way.  Its other season of magnificence is fall, when its foliage turns a dusky maroon.

You can smell tree Lilac long before you spot their bloom, which are abundant in late June.  The pungent, musky fragrance isn’t too pleasing to my nose.  Most folks find the flowers more attractive then noseworthy.

As kids, didn’t we delight on many a summery evening at magnificent firefly displays! Can’t imagine how – or why – we captured them in jars.  Quite a sport.  We’ve been bereft of fireflies in recent years, but just the last few weeks nighty sightings out the bedroom windows have pleased and amused us.

And dragonflies – dozens of them darting head-high across the yard have seemingly helped to keep the mosquito population on the run.  At least that’s what we hope.  Keep it up, guys.


My wife accuses me of being a horrible driver – of not paying attention to the road ahead in favor of gawking at the passing scenery. I readily admit the transgression.  But I’m afraid I’m not anywhere near ready to change my stripes.  Besides, how would I find plenty to write about?

I do a lot of driving, a tiresome amount at times, it seems. And the byways provide a wealth of interest. An example at the moment – at Noerenberg gardens, the Azaleas are a riot of mouthwatering color – blush pink, rose and coral. There’s a mass of them visible to passersby – mature plants situated under stately pines.  I don’t think you’ll find a finer display outside the arboretum itself.  Azaleas are another of those shrubs that fade from view when out of bloom, but for now, the show is dazzling.

We were enjoying an icy glass of tea (or was it something stronger, I forget) on the back terrace over the weekend and were amazed at the swarms of dragonflies above our heads.  We hope they were busy consuming their quota of mosquitoes.  Other wildlife – the first firefly of the season.  Cardinals back and forth at the Three-Flowered Maple at the corner of the house.  Baby deer cavorting – chasing each other around at the edge of the weeds out back.  Humorous.  Even crows seem to be suffering a bit of spring fever – they’re acting almost as if they’ve sipped on that tea of ours.

They predicted a cool wet summer, and it’s shaping up that way – love it. A gentle rain today puts a smile on our faces and, I’m sure, the faces of many a plant that sulked during our recent spell of sultry weather.


If it seems I’ve been fixated lately on fragrance in these musings, forgive me.  On second thought, no, I won’t ask for forgiveness – doesn’t spring in nature present a cornucopia of noseworthy scents?

So why not tout them?  How to escape them, even if we wanted to?


On either side of the entrance of our home property, a pair of venerable Honeysuckles arch over the driveway, likely at least 60 years old.  Sadly, who plants old-fashioned Honeysuckle anymore?  If it’s even available in the trade.  It’s no great shakes of a shrub and takes a back seat for much off the year. But for a few shining weeks in May, early June nothing can compare.  That delicious, sweet aroma carries me back.  And as I get even older, I find myself pleasantly carried back by a rich bank of memories quite a bit.


No fragrance attached to Bridalwreath Spirea, but this early June bloomer brings with it many fond associations with its graceful, pure white bowers of billows. Romantic.  Sadly, this is another shrub out of favor at the moment.  I well-remember it lining the byways of the old Highcroft estate.  Quite an attractive attraction.


You can love or not love Dame’s Rocket, that Phlox – like bloomer in pink, white or lavender that pops up about now without warning.  Great sweeps of it fill roadside ditches with amusement.  And then they’re spent for another year, but not before casting their seeds far and wide assuring even greater luxury to come.  I like them.

In addition to colorful pastel bloom that spring fills the air with, don't the attendant smells bring pleasant memories to the foreground!   As I walk up Kelley and Kelley's driveway, the unmistakable scent of Lily of the Valley provides a link to grandmother Kelley's garden.  Growing up, we Kelley boys lived right next door to the senior Kelleys so the opportunity to get to know them presented itself handily.  By their back door, a pastiche of Ostrich Fern, Violets and Lily of the Valley provided both a visual and an olfactory presence.

Then, of course brought on by my 2019 nose, a cascade of long ago memories - grandmother. A gentle soul, ear to ear smile, her white hair always perfectly put up (and surely done at home - not at the corner beauty parlor), her sugar cookies, the welcoming home always meticulously maintained.

Funny how one little remembrance can bring back those carefree youthful days. 


In enumerating spring-blooming trees and shrubs in this space recently, how on earth could I forget to give mention to Fothergilla ( no common name) and Exochorda (Pearlbush)? Both are at their blooming best right now.

Fothergilla sports creamy white bottlebrush - like flowers at branch ends long before leaves emerge and have a faint honey-like scent. Flowers are attractive for a couple of weeks.

Poor Pearlbush. For 50 1/2 weeks of the year it maintains a rather obscure position in the landscape, not especially showy in outline or leaf. But for a brief shining moment in late May, boy, does Pearlbush take center stage. Glistening white pearl-like buds up and down every stem followed by charming daisy-like flowers transform the dowdy old maid into a stellar beauty.

Neither of these shrubs have gained the attention I think they deserve. Well-worth looking for.

I guess it's high time to start weeding - if only the rains would cease long enough to allow us time in the garden. We remember this time of the year the millions and millions of seeds Maple and Elms pawned off on us last fall. A week ago Elms germinated, followed by Maples bothering us this week. We could start a nursery. Garlic Mustard is abloom now - best to knock it out before it goes to seed or you'll be sorry.


Seems like we're infested with a broader range of landscape pests these days than when I was a kid so many years
ago.  Bugs have safer travel plans these days.  Hitchhiking around the world is no big deal for critters threatening entire classes of plants.  Elms are the classic one of course, they're the pester children for all that can go wrong.
But we've also seen devastation wrought on Birch, Ash, Oak, Maple, Spruce, Pine, what's next?  Well, I'll tell you.

We've recommended Magnolias for years.  There's nothing quite like their large fragrant booms seen this time of year.  Magnolia 'Merrill' was a particular favorite that we'd used frequently.  I say "was" because we've had to pull in our horns in our recommendation of Magnolias, a heart-wrenching decision.  Several years ago an ugly scale that encased Magnolis branches leading, if unchecked, to a weakening and eventual death of the plant.  A slow death, but death nonetheless.  There is a treatment, but the chemical used sounded more injurious to wildlife than we were willing to accept.  We made the decision to destroy mature Magnolias at home and at the nursery.
Sad , as there's no substitute for Magnolias.


Even before spring arrives for good, we delight in spotting hints that seasons are changing.  Pussy Willows bring a smile and attract early-bird pollinators.  The chartreuse foliage of weeping willows brighten up the lowlands and, beacon - like, can be seen from afar. Isn't this the time of year that Willows are at their best?

Website Builder