DSC_0082_LRBobPI have lived and gardened in the South for more than two decades.  No, I’m not from around here.  I was born and raised in central New Jersey. Before coming to the South, I worked for a short stint at a retail garden center in West Long Branch, NJ (we lived in an apartment in Asbury Park–two blocks from the Stone Pony).  In 1987 I began my trek South with a position as a Fairfax County extension agent in northern Virginia.  My primary responsibility was commercial and residential turf, but I was involved in many other projects that  included managing a plant diagnostic clinic staffed by Master Gardeners and conducting educational programs for arborists, garden center/nursery operators, and landscape managers.

In July 1990 I accepted a position at Clemson University where I continue to craft my skills as a horticulturist, educator, garden writer, researcher, and TV/radio talent. From 1993-2006 I was the “Q & A” columnist for Horticulture magazine.  My columns derived from letters/emails from all over the country were deftly edited by Roger Swain.  In 2009 I directed my lifelong study of horticulture towards earning a Ph.D. in Plant & Environmental Sciences at Clemson University.

As I contemplate this “About” section of my blog, I think of two great influences:  my grandfather and my parents. When I was 4 or 5, I spent a lot of time at my grandfather’s house on the other side of our small town in central New Jersey. His turf-free front yard was planted with bearded irises and his backyard was a vegetable and flower garden with a sweet cherry tree, a rabbit hutch, and a compost pile. My Polish grandfather, who farmed before WW II, led me to the realization that gardening sustains the body and nurtures the soul.

My parents showed me the way when I was in high school. They bought some land in northwest NJ with the dream of growing fruits, vegetables, and cut flowers. On the weekends and often during the week in the summer we’d drive an hour and 45 minutes to

At Barnsley House with Rosemary Verey and my friend, Linda Cobb. May 25, 1998.

At Barnsley House in Gloucestershire with Rosemary Verey and my friend, Linda Cobb. May 25, 1998. Photo by Linda McHam.

“The Farm.” We’d work until dark, drive home, and then do it all over again. Whenever I hear “Badlands” by Bruce Springsteen, these lines hold special meaning for me: “Workin’ in the field ’til you get. your back burned; Workin’ ‘neath the wheels ’til you get your facts learned; Baby I got my facts learned real good right now”.  I’m reminded of “The Farm.” We picked a whole lot of beans, tomatoes, strawberries, stones, apples, peaches, what-have-you. My folks like to say that “The Farm” kept me out of trouble.  They eventually turned that place into a 24/7 farm and realized their dream of living off the land.

I also think about the many incredible people that I’ve met over the years. The greats have left us but will not be forgotten, including Dr. J. C. Raulston, Fred Galle, Rosemary Verey, Christopher Lloyd, Dr. Marc Cathey, Dr. Bonnie Lee Appleton, Jim Wilson, and so many others.  I also remember the wide variety of gardens that I’ve visited across the U.S. and Europe. Still, it’s the Southern gardener and the gardens they tend that never fails to inspire me:  a first generation American of Polish descent who emigrated to the South from “The Garden State“.


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