You Lookin’ At Me?

All avid gardeners feel compelled to inspect their gardens after any sort of lengthy separation. In fact, the separation may have been only between 8 am and 6 pm of the very same day. So you can imagine how I felt after returning from my prolonged hospital stay.


The early species tulips are past their prime, but the later-season ones, like these Tulipa tarda, are reaching their peak.

The early species tulips are past their prime, but the later-season ones, like these Tulipa tarda, are reaching their peak.


The English garden writer Beverly Nichols called his inspections The Tour. For him, The Tour had to be conducted in compliance with ironclad rules, most important of which was that each patch of the garden must be viewed in the correct order.

View of the front garden, May 3, 2014.

View of the front garden, May 3, 2014.

If this rule is not observed, according to Nichols: “… you will find that you rush wildly around the garden, discover one or two sensational events, and then decide that nothing else has happened.”

False Forget-Me-Not

False Forget-Me-Not

For myself the exact sequence of the garden inspection is not so critical. Nichols is correct, though, that a garden inspection is not about highlights, but about an infinite number of details gleaned from gazing intently at every square foot of ground. What matters most to me is that the garden inspection must not be rushed, no matter how much you are irritating members of your immediate family.

The early hybrid tulips in containers have begun blooming. In front is

The earliest of the hybrid tulips in containers have begun blooming. The really short red and yellow is ‘Keiserskroon’, the taller is ‘Flair’.

Virginia bluebells are blooming in warmer or sheltered spots, such as here behind the back porch.

Virginia bluebells are blooming in warmer or sheltered spots, such as here behind the back porch.

Also, time is needed during a garden inspection to apply the Stare of Life. The Stare of Life is an intense gaze that warms the soil and hastens processes of cell division and photosynthesis. It can be applied only by gardeners with pure hearts within their own gardens, and scientists are still struggling to understand the phenomenon. I have found it to be most useful in encouraging plants that have not yet broken out of dormancy or whose new growth is frustratingly slow.

Celandine poppies have begun blooming among the spicebush.

Celandine poppies have begun blooming among the spicebush.

Not infrequently neighbors have found me staring intently for long periods at apparently barren patches of frozen earth. I do not try to explain to them about the Stare of Life.

Great merrybells with Narcissi.

Great merrybells with Narcissi.

On yesterday’s tour, there were signs of the transition to the latter part of the season. Many Narcissi have begun fading, but the merrybells (Uvularia grandiflora) have come into bloom.

Great merrybells - Uvularia grandiflora - is a fine spring wildflower native to North America.

Great merrybells – Uvularia grandiflora – is a fine spring wildflower native to North America.

In a shaded spot, the merrybells’ foliage fills in and makes a nice groundcover for the remainder of the season.

Ostrich fern fiddleheads.

Ostrich fern fiddleheads.

I was also pleased to see that the ostrich ferns (Metteuccia struthiopteris) are now making up for lost time.

A foundation planting of ostrich ferns along the front of the house.

A foundation planting of ostrich ferns along the front of the house.

You can see how they respond to the warmer soil closer to the house. I can tell that soon I will be supplying free ostrich ferns to whoever is willing to take one.

In future posts I will write in more detail about what is happening in different parts of the garden.

How do you conduct The Tour in your garden?

68 thoughts on “You Lookin’ At Me?

  1. Happy to swap you those yellow daylilies you wanted with red rust eye for some ostrich ferns. I know what you mean by inspection. I do it almost daily but I do more than stare. I have conversations with plants and warn them that if they don’t do better they will be replaced. It is amazing how quickly they shape up and finally grow.

  2. Ha! The stare of life! This is so funny and yet so very true! I was out in my pajamas the other morning just wondering about in my front garden bed. Oh the things we do to inspect and assess! Your garden is coming to life in the most beautiful ways! Just so very pretty! Have a great week ahead…with the 80 degrees we may be getting things are really going to start bursting! Nicole

  3. Alas, the stare of life is not working for me with some plants. It seems “a watched pot never boils.” And then I turn around, and come back two days later, and the thing is in full bloom. I’m pleased that several plants I started from seed appear to be growing. Still waiting for later-season perennials. My Fiddleneads are just starting. I know what you mean by having too many. ;-)

  4. Hello Donna, i hope you are very well, i haven’t been here for sometime and my posts dwindled too. Your plants are looking great. I hope you didn’t get some eyesore for intently staring very long! haha. I smiled with that phrase “stare of life”. I cannot do it in mine as it is fortunate if i can see my garden on weekends, sometimes i can be with them only 2 wkends/month. I arrive Sat afternoon, stay with them until about 9pm, sleep, then go with them again first hour upon waking up, even before coffee. I leave only when eating inside the house and when i leave at 3pm on Sunday. Time with them is sooo short, but they say quality time is the best!

  5. I know the stare of life, and I also talk to my plants. I´m convinced they can feel my concern for them, The passersby probably think I´m a bit crazy and also my family. I do the garden tour every day after work. Usually in the same order, so not to miss out on anything new.

  6. Yes, after time away the first thing I do is walk around the garden (and I do have a particular route, although I’m not fanatical about it). Just back from a short trip back to the UK and there were so many new things happening. Great you’re home again, don’t over-do things in the garden.

  7. The front of your house is looking lovely Jason. Your neighbours are clearly not gardeners if they don’t understand The Stare of Life… thanks for giving it a name, as I think I’ve been doing it subconsciously! LOL! The inspection is always in the same order in my garden too, simply as there’s only one way of walking around. I just wish I had time to do it more often, or more slowly. I love the Merrybells! Have never seen them here. The Virginia Bluebells are so pretty too. Aren’t ostrich ferns amazing? I can almost watch mine growing here!

  8. It’s all looking lovely. Gorgeous tulips and your Uvularia is amazing. I always apply Beverley Nichols’ rules for the tour when I have been away. But I think you are kidding yourself if you believe the stare of life works. I do it myself and I think it just makes the plants recalcitrant and determined to come out in their own time. Take my Peony rockii; I ‘ve stared at it, I’ve talked to it, pleaded with it, but the big fat bud is taking an awful long time to open. I’m sure it is doing this to be awkward. If I’ d just ignored it, it would have been out ages ago.

      • Difficult to carry this out though. Does it mean you must’t even glance at the control group? An intense glance would upset it all. And then you have the negative effect on the control group of being slighted.Anyway you might forget and stare in an absentminded moment without realising.This is an experiment that is doomed to failure. We’ll never know the answer.

  9. Wonderful to see all the snow has gone and you are at long last experiencing spring…..once it starts there is no going back……thanks to you I am now in the process of putting a photographic walk around my garden together….watch my space.

  10. When i return from a spell away, I’m both excited and fearful..I know you understand! I hold my breath as I go around assessing what did really well (or not so much!) in my abscence! LOL the Stare of Life…fabulous phrase!
    ps. glad you’re home and feeling good. those cheery tulips would make anyone perk up!

  11. I am so glad you are back with your entertaining posts, I look and walk around every morning, but currently on slug and snail patrol with a vengeance. When we are away for a little longer I go past the post and the emails to look at whats grown first and whats got out of control. Happy recuperation in the comfort of your emerging garden.

  12. I often do a tour too, but not in any order. I’m afraid this does lead me to think that nothing else has happened. I’ve found that the Stare of Life can also bring plants you thought had died over the winter back to life, although just as often being ignored for long enough has the same effect.

  13. I had to giggle when I read about the gardener and his ‘Tour’. I have been known to return home after and trip, late and night, and walk around looking at things with a flashlight. ;)

    I have a wonderful friend down the road and we have already started our gardening season ritual. One walks to the other’s house, has a ‘Garden Tour’ and a coffee, then both walk back to the other’s garden for the ‘Garden Tour Part Two.’

    It’s so much fun. Lovely post.

  14. I tend to do the tour but I don’t have half the garden you do. I believe in the stare too, but also the laying on of hands. I swear I caressed my little wispy redbud sapling into growing up to be a big strong tree. I just wish the squirrels didn’t like it so much, it’s a great springboard onto the feeder…

  15. I wish you the speediest of recoveries! I am well acquainted with the Stare of Life. I give healthy daily doses as I make my garden rounds. With my poor nerve-damaged leg, these strolls are an important part of my own therapy; so the garden and I both benefit. Lately I have been accompanied by my cat Autumn, who must stay on a leash for her strolls because of her bad history of wandering. Autumn also engages in the Stare of Life, though I suspect it may actually be the Stare of Death as she searches for critters she dreams of killing. I have come to call our daily stroll the Cat Walk.

  16. Hi Jason, that is so true, it’s exactly what I used to do in the old garden, I’d walk to a spot and stare around at the ground, usually muttering something intelligible, then move on a few feet and repeat. Being a small garden there were two ways round (the second being the first but backwards). I did usually have to rush the inspection though because I would do it in the precious few minutes before having to leave for work on a morning. I’d be more thorough at the weekends.

  17. Jason, I’m just catching up with your blog after much too long away — and just learning about your gall bladder surgery. Not fun! I hope you are now just about fully recovered.
    I have a very ritualized tour of the garden. It happens just before breakfast each day, when I pour my first mug of tea and take it with me on my morning inspection. Like Nichols, I always take the same route and few the various garden areas in the exact same order. It’s one of my favorite parts of the day.

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