All Aboard!

I have a customer who has, over the years, grown into a friend of mine. We fondly call him Mr. Bill. He’s a friend of mine, he’s a friend of the nursery, he’s a friend of the cafe and a fan of Maple Rock Gardens.

Let me paint a picture. Mr. Bill is larger than life. Classy, friendly, upbeat, always looking at the positive things in life. Throughout his long career and life he has amassed decades of wisdom he occasionally drops on me. Always a wave. Always a smile. Always a hug. Mr. Bill is a snappy dresser. Bright colors from orange to red to vibrant purple striped socks, red shoes and red cashmere sweaters match the red High Hand hat he always wears when he visits. What else can I say about him? You got the picture? Sounds like an amazing person, doesn’t it? Well, he is. I always think that when I’m around him, I want to grow up just like that. Internally and externally happy.

I met Mr. Bill one day when he asked me to come out to his house and take a look. I was a bit intimidated by his garden. It was beautiful, well-kept and it rivaled Maple Rock Gardens. Bill said, “Scott, I’m tired of it. I want to make some changes.” So, we set out to do just that. The instructions from Mr. Bill? “Scott, do whatever you want. I just want it to look happy. I want a garden that smiles.”

Monday, I had the privilege of being able to spend a few minutes with Mr. Bill as we walked the garden. I was a bit grumpy. You could say I was a bit of a grumpy alligator. I was a bit in my head, kind of numb to the world with a committee talking in my head. Lack of sleep over a few days was catching up on me and you could say my coping skills were just a wee bit depleted.

And then I turned the corner.

I was snapped back to the present by the sight of a happy garden. I’ve been working in this yard going on three years. Bill has given me free rein to change, flip, transplant and organize his sanctuary. Little did I know that the garden I have worked on for over three years would help me get through a challenging day. It was kind of like being slapped up against the side of the head. “Stop it”, the garden said. “Don’t come here and be grumpy. Be happy.”

I stood there and paused for a moment and kind of giggled. This garden walk is really made up of three of the most underutilized plants out there. On the left hand side are three beautiful Rose of Sharon trees that will bloom for months throughout the summer. On the right side a sun kissed splash of yellow lantana, complemented by a smooth and calm lavender lantana. At the end of the lawn a simple arch greets you, draped by a white rose.

I walked further down the lawn, through the arch and headed to the top of the stairway. I paused at the top of the stairs and took in the simple, calming effect of green.

I don’t think gardening has to be complicated. Like most things in life, we overthink gardening as well. Three simple plants – hibiscus, lantana and a rose and the simple color of green, made all the difference. Don’t overthink it. Gardening really can be that simple while creating a lasting impact.

Get on board. Think simply about your yard and breathe in what it has to offer.

All Aboard!

The train is about to leave the station. Please join us. Maple Rock Gardens is hosting the Sacramento Valley Garden Railway Society.

You can:

  • Tour the garden
  • Listen to live music
  • Enjoy lunch from High-Hand Cafe and, of course
  • Enjoy the garden railroad
  • Free parking

Live steam trains will be running as well as our garden railroad. Click here to purchase your tickets.

We would love to see you at Train Day, September 9th at Maple Rock Gardens.

Say a prayer for all of those being affected by the hurricane. My thoughts and prayers go out to all.


The Little Engine That Could

Spoiler Alert: I was never really that good at gardening. I suppose maybe it’s because I took gardening for granted. After all, nature is perfect at it. Gardening is so easy, some of the best gardeners are squirrels.

As early as I can remember I used to love playing LP’s on my little funky record player. Besides my coveted Partridge Family album, my all time favorite was my Little Engine That Could album. I sat on the floor and listened to the album over and over again, sucking my thumb and rubbing a soft part of my “gaga” against my cheek. (“Gaga” equals “blankie”.) The rhythm of “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can” is still floating in my head to this day. Every time I listened to the album I was hoping the little engine would get to the top. For some reason, I always thought there was a chance it couldn’t no matter how many times I listened to the story.

“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can” changed as the train reached toward the top to “I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could”. I think after I listened to this story 5,000 times during the most impressionable period of my life, ages 2-4, the chant changed for me. It’s now “I know I can, I know I can.”

Gardening is one of the few past times that, if you’re not naturally perfect at it, you’ll give up on it right away. It’s too bad. I found that gardening is one of the most rewarding past times for me. Not because I have to have my hands in the dirt, but simply because plants are like a paintbrush and I’m always surprised at the unintended consequences when everything comes together. It’s the life that shows up. Birds and the bees. The smell and a child’s glee at a colorful flower. I think gardening should be approached organically. Not from a practical standpoint, but as a mental approach. Experimenting, having the courage to fail and adjusting to nature.

Gardening is the number one past time that we give up on if we are not naturally perfect. I’ve already said this, but if a four year old can grow a marigold in a Dixie cup, you’re telling me you can’t grow flowers in your garden? Is your fall back position always “Let’s try succulents!”? If you don’t succeed, Google it? Ugh. The internet has really taken nature out of the equation. Don’t take the information on Google and become a zombie with it. You really do have to apply it to the world that is immediately at your present.

High Hand Nursery is my mountain.

With a “Knew I Could” drumbeat, we set out to climb the mountain with a dedicated team of great folks. We will continue to steam ahead and continue to climb the endless mountain of creativity that has become High-Hand Nursery.

Without you as our source of inspiration, we would not have the steam.

The Little Engine That Could

I am completely thrilled to be able to relive my childhood memories of the Little Engine That Could. So, inspired by that album that has really become the drumbeat of my subconscious, we are bringing the Little Engine That Could to Maple Rock Gardens. With trains running all over the gardens and steam engines steaming ahead, join us.

You can:

  • Tour the garden
  • Listen to live music
  • Enjoy lunch from High-Hand Cafe and, of course
  • Enjoy the garden railroad
  • Free parking

Live steam trains will be running as well as our garden railroad. The Little Engine That Could would love to see you. Click here to purchase your tickets.

This weekend at High-Hand, Farmer Ryan will be here with melons. Come taste and sample fresh heirloom watermelons from Maple Rock Gardens. Ask him why he farms.

As our great-grandparents gardened and farmed, what would have happened if they had quit? I don’t think we would be here right now, would we?

We were all looking up.
The best view was provided by nature at your feet.
Who needed sunglasses to see the eclipse.
The Eclipse Through the Leaves of Nature.
Did you notice?
See you at High-Hand Nursery this weekend. Come say hello to Greg on Sunday as he plays for you in the garden.

Corn In My Petunias

Once upon a time there was a Japanese beer company who decided to dabble in the flower business. It’s natural for a beer company to develop a flower, right? I don’t know about you, but the more beer I drink, the more I feel like tiptoeing through the tulips. I perfectly understand the correlation.

Well, as the story goes, this beer company developed the modern day petunia. For years, countries all over the world grew petunias, developing new colors, growth habits and disease resistance, trying to create the latest and greatest jaw-dropping breakthroughs. From Helsinki to Havana to Honolulu and Portland, Oregon, petunias are the most popular annual.

I suspect that the beer company started developing a new line of hops. That makes a lot more sense and somehow stumbled upon the modern day petunia. Life was so simple back in the early 1900’s. We could walk by a flower back then and go, “Hmm, nice flower.” But if you ask me the world has finally run amok. Nuts. I think the world is simply nuts. I know what’s going through your mind right now. You’re thinking of all the stupid crap going on in the world. I mean, seriously, we have real problems to deal with in this world and for some reason the petunia has arrived front and center onto the world’s stage of controversy. Let the petunia carnage of 2017 begin.

Let’s go back to Helsinki because it started there. A dude was walking along near a train station in Helsinki. We’re going to call him “Dude” to protect his identity because quite frankly “Dude” has too much time on his hands.

It just so happened that Dude studied plant pigments, i.e., flower colors at the University of Helsinki thirty years ago. Who knew that flower colors were worth going to college for? The flower he came across was a vivid orange petunia in a planter. The same one pictured above. Dude being the plant geek he was knew that no orange color that he had worked on ever made it to market. Dude was curious, so he stole a stem and put it into his backpack. Dude took this evidence and did some studies. Evidently, Dude is a smart dude. He was flummoxed. Flummoxed by the orange blooms he saw in the Helsinki train station. He decided to test the plant to figure out why the sight of the flower was cheating him, fooling his eyes. The flower has a yellow pigment on top because Dude studied pigments. So he tested it and it revealed a DNA insert. (Menacing music in the background.) The petunia had been GMO’d, genetically modified. OMG.

Now, here’s where it gets really stupid. Who cares? I get it. We don’t want dogs having cats and we certainly don’t want to genetically modify a man to have a baby. Frankly, I don’t think men could stand the pain anyway so they would not be a good baby host.

The DNA was corn. Doesn’t that mean the world is changing and isn’t that evolution? Isn’t evolution, evolution and it is what it is? I’m not going to roll into DNA, GMO or Crisper for that matter. But evidently, Dude was a little bit perplexed about how corn got into his flower. We have a lot of problems in this world. Some times the problems are small. Some times the problems are big. But I have faith that no matter how complex the problem may be, humanity will ultimately win out.

So, check this out. You can no longer buy petunias you have been buying for years. This year, all the growers in the United States and in Europe have been instructed to start the carnage and destroy all orange petunias and some red. This is all because petunias had sex with corn. (Mic drop.) You heard it. Dude said too much. Finland’s Food and Safety Body called for the destruction of eight varieties of petunias. Other European nations followed suit. The USDA went on full alert and searched out suspect petunias and now here we are today. Instead of protecting endangered species, we are destroying them. I’m sorry, but unless I’m missing something here, I think this is freakin’ stupid.

So, there you go. Just a little inside info into the nursery world.

Let’s move onto train day.

Trains will be coming to Maple Rock, September 9th. I keep telling you this because I don’t want you to get caught on the train tracks.

You can:

  • Tour the garden
  • Listen to live music
  • Enjoy lunch from High-Hand Cafe and, of course
  • Enjoy the garden railroad
  • Free parking

G-scale trains and live steam trains will be on display. Click here to purchase your tickets.

Farmer Ryan is back at High-Hand Nursery this weekend with the almighty musk melon. Come sample. Meet Farmer Ryan. Take home a melon. Our Maple Rock heirloom melons keep coming. Stop in throughout the coming weeks and see what other varieties pop up.

Good news, you will not be asked to rip out your orange petunias. Chances are, the petunias being annuals, will not survive North America’s winters and by Spring of next year they will most likely be history anyway. I’m bummed.

See you at High-Hand Nursery, where there will be no orange petunia carnage.


Fizzy Lifting Drinks

It is no secret that Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is my all-time favorite movie. My kids and I used to watch it over and over. For some of us, it fills us with fantasy and the thoughts that dreams can come true. I used to a sing a song to my little girl, Tara. I would sing, “Who can make the sun rise and sprinkle it with dew?”. When I got to the end of the verse it was her turn. And slightly off key, she would say, “Daddy man, Daddy man can” as she bobbled her curly little locks. We still chuckle about that.

Against all odds, against the world, Charlie found the last Golden Ticket. Even when he didn’t read the small print in Willy Wonka’s contract (by the way there’s no way he could have), he won. And, all his dreams came true.

“We won”. Against all odds, High-Hand Nursery won 2017 Best of the Best Garden Center. I can’t thank you enough. Thank you for the generous support that catapulted us ahead of over thirty garden centers and Big Bad Box stores (BBB in code). Your votes are so greatly appreciated. Thanks for helping us elbow the big box stores a bit.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. It simply doesn’t happen without you. All of us at High-Hand are thrilled and humbled.

We’re back. Maple Rock Gardens opens again — TRAINS, TRAINS AND MORE TRAINS
Next up at Maple Rock, September 9, Sacramento Valley Railway Society presents Train Day. Click here to purchase your tickets.

You can:

  • Tour the garden
  • Listen to live music
  • Enjoy lunch from High-Hand Cafe and, of course
  • Enjoy the garden railroad
  • Free parking

G-scale trains and live steam trains will be on display. (Sorry Farmer Fred, not the real steam engines, but the G-scale steam engines.)

Do you want to know what else is back? Maple Rock’s heirloom watermelons. Whaat? Yeah, you read it right.

This weekend, come to High Hand Nursery and meet Farmer Ryan and his heirloom watermelons. Varieties will include Orangeglo, Ali Baba, Bingo, Daisy, and Moon & Stars. You will be able to sample a few melons as Farmer Ryan will chop as fast as he can.

What’s an heirloom watermelon anyway? Did great-great-great-great-grandma bring a watermelon on the Mayflower? Did the watermelon get passed down the generations and now sits proudly on the mantel of your fireplace? Nope. I don’t think so.

Heirloom watermelon seeds are found to be wild ancestors of cultivated watermelons in Southwest Africa. It hangs on its survival and its ability to take up large amounts of water during short rainy seasons. As the vine dies over the dry season, the thick-rind fruit lies scattered in the sun, hibernating. Months later, water stored in the melons provides seedlings with a source of moisture as they burst forward in anticipation of oncoming rains. That answers the question of how a watermelon grew in our parking lot last year. Now you know.

Pop quiz. What do you think the name of the melon in the picture is? Answer the question to Farmer Ryan when you see him. All those who get the answer right will receive $10,000.00 cash directly out of Farmer Ryan’s pocket.

(Huge disclaimer – I’m just kidding about the $10,000 cash prize directly out of Farmer Ryan’s pocket. For the record, there is no cash prize.)

Stop in throughout the coming weeks and see what other varieties pop up.

I was originally going to go with “Trains, Planes and Automobiles” as the theme of this email. I was going to shift it to “Trains, Watermelon and Conifers”. So, let’s get to the conifer part.

This weekend, Saturday, all of our conifers in the nursery are 50% off. Why, you ask? ‘Cause I want to. What’s a conifer, you ask? Well, we learned about watermelons, so let’s learn about conifers.

The question is what’s the difference between an evergreen and a conifer. Yes, there’s overlap between the two, but they are different, in fact. I don’t want to get all science on you. I want to try to keep it simple. The corresponding adjective is “coniferous”. You can say a conifer reproduces by relying on cones rather than a flower to hold its seeds. You can say that conifers are evergreens, but not all of them are. In the summer Tamarack looks like an evergreen because it bears needles. Don’t even look it up and try to buy it. It doesn’t grow in our region. This “conifer” is a deciduous tree, losing its needles. To be honest, the definition of a conifer versus evergreens which people generally equate to redwoods is a bit overlapping and is too involved and outside of my literary abilities.

Come in on Saturday. Ask for Adrian and he can direct you to our conifers. Mugos, cedars, etc., etc., etc. All 50% off. Adrian might on a few items give you just a bit more off. “Scosh” I like to say.

But, wait. There’s more. We have some plants that are free. F R E E, free. Why, you may ask? Because I want to. Do not run over Adrian as there is a limit. Let’s say 15 plants per customer. I really don’t want somebody backing their truck up and piling them in.

So, there you have it. Trains, Watermelons and Conifers. Oh, and Fizzy Lifting Drinks. I looked up the recipe. The first thing the recipe said was “Make sure an adult is present when making Fizzy Lifting Drinks.” True story. After all, the drink does contain a lot of hydrogen.

Whether it’s Fizzy Lifting Drinks or Trains, Watermelons and Conifers, you can say I’m a bit sentimental this week. Tara is leaving to go to Europe to study for her Masters (yea Tara). The song “Who Can Make the Sun Rise” was dancing in my head as I started this email so I switched the theme up. If she would ever sing the song to me, my part would be “Tara can. Tara Bear can”, as I bobble my bald head.

Please don’t stampede Adrian.

See you at High Hand Nursery.


I bring you the P.S. and P.S.S. so that I don’t forget the subjects of the coming emails. They popped into my head and I just don’t want to forget. This is a P.S. and P.S.S. for me.

P.S. Next week’s email – How did corn make it into a flower and create an uproar? And …

P.S.S. The week after, how using perspective and lessons from the past can change your gardening habits, i.e., don’t feel guilty about watering.

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