Thursday, July 31, 2014

When Life Gives You a Hurricane – Make a Birdhouse!

 “The hurricane devastated our wooded lot; we’re still in clean-up mode. I was determined to create something that would symbolize the positive energy of new life that can grow up out of death and destruction – the hope of birds nesting and laying their eggs in a house made from the wreckage of Hurricane Sandy.”                      .....Dan Freed, Wood Artist

I know this may sound trivial compared to what has happened to folks at the shore, but most of our trees are more than 60-feet tall. Hurricane Sandy seemed to hover over us for hours and the sounds of the trees creaking, crackling, and collapsing was horrible. Anything more than a light breeze still puts me on high alert.

Best in Show
The Undergardener has put his demons behind him, though. A wood artist, he exacted the ultimate revenge by using pieces of those shattered trees to create a work of art that is also a birdhouse. He calls it “Hurricane Sandy – Brought to Justice.” What made that revenge extra-sweet was that the birdhouse was awarded Best in Show at the Skylands Juried Art Exhibit in May.

Since then, Sandy has been making her way around Sussex County. She was on display at the county administration building during June and will show up at the Sussex-Wantage branch of the Sussex County Library in September, where Dan will be giving a talk on woodworking for families and kids on September 27th at 1:00pm.

The Inspiration
In the spirit and philosophy of the Arts and Crafts Movement, from which he takes inspiration, Dan says, “Nature has an equal power of renewal, which was the seed of my intention to transform that torn root ball into something to help heal the pain,” The central piece is actually a birdhouse constructed of cherry, walnut, and maple. Sandy’s wild and wooly hair is made from the roots of a 100-year-old ash tree that had been the focal point of the back yard and a black cherry that was also blown down. Sandy’s head is mounted like a trophy. A placard reminiscent of a mug shot, showing her arrival date as the ID number hangs from her neck.


“Think Bride of Frankenstein. I wanted to depict all of Sandy’s horror and ugliness, yet show respect for her power,” he said. “I pretty much worked out all of my hostilities about the hurricane through that piece. It restored balance to my life and I hope that, in a small way, it can do the same for others.”

An artist and self-taught woodworker, Dan developed his skills over a lifetime of experimenting. His interest in wood as a primary medium was kindled by a boyhood friend who became a professional cabinet maker. “The simple aesthetic pleasures of touching a finely finished piece of custom furniture always had a special appeal to me,” he said.

Dan began his explorations of sculpting wood in the early 1990s making custom walking sticks, which he sold at the Peter’s Valley Craft Show for several years. Since then, his focus has shifted to furniture and garden projects here at home.

Help us put the Sandy birdhouse on tour.
He’d love to have “Hurricane Sandy -- Brought to Justice” tour all of New Jersey’s 21 counties. If you can help us find a location for her in your town at a public venue, such as a museum, library, administration building, arts council, etc., send me an email at loisj7(at)gmail(dot)com.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Eagles Have Landed

The Duke Farms eagles, that is. By 7:17 this morning when the screenshot was taken, one chick had hatched and another was pipping. The third chick is not due until Sunday but, since the first two were late in arriving, it's likely the third one will be, as well. You can watch live at:  

The eagles' tree was downed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. They built a new nest in a nearby tree and researchers were able to locate the camera so that it has a perfect view of the nest. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Orchids in Bloom

Whether you like your orchid shows big or small, ‘tis the season.

Stony Hill Farms’ 26th Annual Orchid Open House starts today and continues through Sunday, March 9th. It includes free lectures, and wine and cheese tasting stations hosted by vendors from Sussex County. Stony Hill’s orchid house is located along Route 24/513 West in Chester, NJ. Go slow along the driveway; it’s narrow, but has several pull-overs where two cars can pass.

We visit each year, if only to inhale the fragrance of the Miltoniopsis (not all are fragrant) and Dendrobium nobile. Their plants are all bloom-size, reasonably priced, and I’ve learned how to keep most of mine alive. They also offer a nice selection of cachepots. I like Stony Hill because it’s a small, family-owned business that’s a pleasant drive from where we live. Quarters are a little cramped when everyone flows out of the lecture and into the greenhouse, and you may have to wait in line to pay for your purchase, but everyone is cordial and the staff has their pack-and-pay process down pat. There are plenty of folks in the greenhouse to answer your questions about specific plants, growing conditions, etc. Get driving directions and more info at

Those willing to trek across the Hudson can treat themselves to an orchid show of dramatic proportions at The New York Botanical Garden’s Enid A. Haupt Conservatory through April 21st. This year’s theme is Key West Contemporary. For the more adventurous, there are musical events, poetry readings, talks, book signings, and all sorts of orchid classes, as well as guided tours. You can get a taste of the show via videos on the NYBG website: 

Those who live closer to Philadelphia than New York might prefer to cross the Delaware and travel to Longwood Gardens for their Orchid Extravaganza, which continues through March 30th . Longwood offers a wide variety of programs throughout the month, so check out their calendar to see what else there is to do on the day of your orchid trip .


Friday, February 7, 2014

Share The Love - give me a piece of your mind

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/
Here’s your chance to play a part in shaping the future of Cultivating The Inner Gardener. Please take a few moments to weigh in and tell me a little about yourself, share your thoughts about how you prefer to receive information, what your interests are, and my newsletter (even if you aren’t a subscriber). There are just 10 questions that you can answer in 5 – 7 minutes (most are checkboxes). Take the survey now by clicking here . I’ll be closing it on Valentine’s Day.

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

2013: The Year in Review






Where I’ve Been and Where I’m Going

Looking back. 2013 was a year of ups and downs and all-arounds during which I eventually returned to the place where my journey had begun. My connection with the natural world has always been a profoundly spiritual one and that is where my strengths lie. While I do enjoy the horticultural eye candy that the growers spread out before us each spring, my mission and my message run much deeper.

The past year has provided opportunities for me to more fully integrate my interests in physics and metaphysics to produce a clear vision of how people who love to garden can begin to repair some of the damage that humankind has done to planet Earth. This approach doesn’t appeal to everyone, but I can tell you from experience that there are more of us out there than you can imagine.

Two years of transition.
I spent 2012 recovering from breast cancer, testing my physical limits, and trying to keep pace with my previous hectic schedule. From that experience, I created a program that deals reducing the stress generated by cancer and cancer treatment through gardening.

Then came Hurricane Sandy, which devastated our garden and woodlot but, thankfully, not the house. We spent most of 2013 cleaning up and starting to repair the damage.

2013 also saw the germ of an idea grow into a pilot project on sustainable gardening resources. I traveled to Pennsylvania, Quebec City, and Los Angeles to present the concept to professional educators and was delighted to learn how widespread interest in this topic has grown.

Garden tours in Washington, DC and Montreal, CA called out to me, as did the Garden Writers Association Symposia in Tucson and Quebec.

At the same time, there was renewed interest in the Cultivating The Inner Gardener book concept from some unexpected corners. Six weeks evaporated as I made major revisions to my proposal.

What’s in store for 2014 - For me:
o    More repairs in the storm-damaged garden
o    Plant vs. deer experiments in the woodlot
o    Continued collaboration on sustainable gardening resources
o    Cultivating The Inner Gardener – still in search of  the just-right publisher
o    Introducing Garden Away Your Cancer Stress to the world via a new website, speaking engagements, and a book proposal
o    More garden and wildlife tours

For you:
My blog and newsletter will reflect these changes, in content, distribution, and frequency. Over time, the newsletter will transition to Mail Chimp, you can expect to see some surveys, and subscribers will receive occasional emails that offer new and inspirational ways for us to work together.

Make 2014 a great gardening year!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Cicada Van Winkle's Garden

Magicicada septendecim
Photo credit:
It’s National Garden Week and I thought it would be fun to follow on the heels of last week’s Brian Lehrer Show open phone segment by imagining what Cicada Van Winkle would think if he woke up in your garden today, after having been asleep for 17 years.

So I’m calling on all garden bloggers and gardeners to write a post that answers the following question: 

If you were Cicada Van Winkle and you just woke up for the first time since 1996, what would be the first thing you would notice about your garden in 2013? 

Post a link to your blog in my comments section. If you don’t have a blog, just answer the question in the “Comments” box.

My answer to the question is that the house is a little bigger and the garden is five times as large and far more colorful than it was in 1996. And, oh yeah, there seem to be a lot of trees missing (compliments of Hurricanes Irene and Sandy and several ice storms).

Even though the Brood II Magicicada’s range is limited to the East Coast, join in anyway, because it’s an interesting conversation to have.

To find out more about periodical cicadas, see the NJ Conservation Foundation’s post: “Rip Van Winkle of bugs to awaken,” or go to the Cicada Mania website at It includes maps of where they’re likely to emerge, fun facts about their life cycles and habitats, recordings of their song, and videos. 

And, get out and cultivate your inner gardener.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Making Your Creative Mark In Gardening – Part 2

This is the second excerpt from a new book by America’s foremost creativity coach and my writing mentor, Dr. Eric Maisel. It’s called, Making Your Creative Mark. I’ve added editorial comments to the excerpt to help you see how you can use Eric’s suggestions to express more of your own creativity in the garden.

ERIC: 4. Complete projects for the sake of making progress. When you make new work that you think aims you in the direction of your genuine voice, try to complete that work rather than stopping midway because “it doesn’t look right” or “it isn’t working out.” You will make more progress if you push through those feelings, complete things, and only then appraise them. It is natural for work that is a stretch and new to you to provoke all sorts of uncomfortable feelings as you attempt it. Help yourself tolerate those feelings by reminding yourself that finishing is a key to progress.

LOIS: Sooner or later, every gardener finds him/herself in the middle of a big project and thinking, “What have I done?” This type of panic usually sets in at the peak of visual disarray, when it is too late to go back and too soon to see any improvement. The natural reaction is to second-guess ourselves, and suffer mounting dread that we may have made an irreversible and very expensive mistake. The only way out is through the mess and through the fear. At moments like this, it helps to recall past garden project successes and realize that this is the same process, just on a larger scale.

ERIC: 5. Think at least a little bit about positioning. You may want to develop your voice independent of art trends and say exactly what you want to say in exactly the way you want to say it. On the other hand, it may serve you to take an interest in what’s going on and make strategic decisions about how you want to position yourself vis-à-vis the world of galleries, collectors, exhibitions, auctions, movements, and so on. It isn’t so much that one way is right and the other is wrong but rather that some marriage of the two, if you can pull it off, may serve you best: a marriage, that is, of marketplace strategizing and of intensely personal work that allows you to speak passionately in your own voice.

LOIS: Gardening trends and fads develop very similarly to the fashion industry and are cyclic. “Black” plants were” in” one year and “out” the next. Whether hot pinks or cool blues strike your fancy, it’s best to choose what you can love for a long time when selecting shrubs and perennials, which are the foundation of the garden. Save the sparkly stuff for container plants and annuals. Those trendy colors are meant to pop and they’ll show up best against the garden’s primary neutral color – green. Strategically position the trendy plants where they can easily be replaced by next year’s latest thing, while keeping the essential personality of the garden intact.

ERIC:  6. Try to articulate what you re attempting. Artists are often of two minds as to whether they want to describe what they are attempting. Paraphrasing a visual experience into a verbal artist’s statement often feels unconvincing and beside the point. On the other hand, it can prove quite useful to announce to yourself what you hope to accomplish with your new work. By trying to put your next efforts into words, you may clarify your intentions and as a consequence more strongly value your efforts. The better you can describe what you are doing, the better you may understand your artistic voice — and the more passionate you can be in talking about your work.

LOIS: A gardener’s statement should convey what you hope to accomplish by molding the natural world into a controlled space. Wildlife habitat? Display space for a sculpture collection? Kid’s adventure land? Science experiment? While a landscape plan is an important map to show how the garden can get where it is supposed to go, it doesn’t help in determining the destination. Too many gardeners skip this crucial step and just dive right in with hiring a contractor, a designer, or even doing it themselves, before they’ve established in their own mind what they want to express by constructing the garden in the first place. Do this part at the outset and you won’t be disappointed with the result. It’s the slow, fast way.

Excerpted from the new book Making Your Creative Mark ©2013 by Eric Maisel. Published with permission of New World Library