Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Place Where Things Begin

It has been said that the hardest part of making a garden is getting it started. Starting a garden requires the confidence and faith to know that the simple act of turning over that first spade of dirt will eventually result in the gorgeous perennial border you have always dreamed of. Or, having enough assurance that the simple straight line you draw on a piece of graph paper will eventually turn into the central path that defines the architectural backbone of your entire garden.

In the same way, the toughest part of any new writing endeavor is getting that first word on the page.  When I considered what the initial blog entry from Juniper Hill might look like, I have to admit I thought less about what I would say and more about what that first entry’s visual impact would be.  In other words--to put it in gardening terms--I wanted to skip the digging and get right to the dreamy part.  The web is, after all, a tough place to compete as a writer.  There’s an ocean of information, web sites, and blogs out there and it’s no secret that attention spans aren’t getting any longer.  So, I wanted something compelling enough to capture the attention of the reader who might somehow trip over my blog as they browse their way along the information highway on their way to Google.  

I first imagined a couple of glorious garden photos, nestled there among a few words of welcome like some sort of floriferous fireworks display. Photos that would jump right off the page and grab you faster than a shot of Kniphophias on nitrogen. But, then I thought,... like one too many Kniphophias in the garden, that would somehow feel cheap. And, anyway, it didn’t help that we are buried in waist deep snow here in New Hampshire right now, so current photos of the garden are a bit boring and monochromatic to say the least. Knock your socks off flower power is not exactly part of the landscape here right now.  

So, I decided that,  since this first blog entry represents the beginning of something, I would stick to that theme and tell you a little bit about a place where lots of things have begun in our garden.  And, instead of floral splendor (there will be plenty of time for that later when the snow melts), I would include this rather boring picture of a small table and chairs.  Did I just lose you? 

Not long ago, I found myself stuck at an event where the level of conversation never rose much above the weather, the latest political scandal, or what a fool Snookie made of herself last week on Jersey Shore.  Obviously, this wasn't a group of gardeners, whose conversation always centers around interesting topics like..."what's the best way to kill a slug."  However, knowing that I was a gardener, someone in this group did ask me an interesting question, which was..."what do you think is the single most important tool you have in your garden?"  Feeling a little blindsided by the question, I blurted out..."my Felco pruners." Then, on the way home, I thought... what a stupid answer!  That can't be right.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my Felco pruners but are they really my most important gardening tool? Did they really play a significant role in defining this garden?  

With a little more reflection, and a slight stretch of the imagination, I came to the realization that my most important gardening tool was not really a gardening tool at all.  It was, in fact, the little millstone table and chairs shown in the photo above.  It’s the spot, tucked away in the corner of our kitchen, where I sit every morning, have my breakfast and coffee, and then plan what my day in the garden will look like.  It’s also the place where, for inspiration every morning, I read any gardening book or magazine I can get my hands on.  It’s literally the spot where every design plan in our garden was hatched; where almost every plant was chosen; and where the seed of every idea I’ve had about gardening here at Juniper Hill has sprouted. It’s one of those special places where things begin; somewhat uncomfortably, I might add.  I mean, just get a load of those chairs!  

I suspect that every gardener has a spot like this in their home or garden; a place that’s tucked away somewhere in a kitchen, den, library, potting shed, greenhouse, or corner of the garden; a place that serves as a little incubator for gardening ideas. I’m not the type to get too mystical about the whole thing but I like to think that these special places are imbued with certain inspirational powers that we don’t understand very well and that, in the end, they certainly contribute as much to our gardens as any single favorite gardening tool.

So, from my special little spot in the kitchen to your special corner, wherever it might be, I say welcome to Notes from Juniper Hill where I hope, together, we can build a conversation around a huge variety of gardening topics.  

There will, of course, be regular postings to the blog about the happenings here at Juniper Hill, both from the farm and the gardens. But, in addition, there will be several regular special features that I hope you will find interesting. There will be featured gardeners, both the famous and the not-so-well known; featured gardens that I have visited and fallen in love with; profiles on plants, covering both the stalwarts of the garden but also those new “exotics” of the current season that create near riots at the local nursery. And, there will be talk of books, art, and garden photography.  

While I have you here, take a look around the site where you’ll find more detailed information on the farm, the gardens, and a little bit about who I am, as well. You can be confident that much of what you’ll read in future entries in this blog has been formulated, over a cup of coffee, on that little, rather uncomfortable bistro chair.

And, OK, since you’ve been kind enough to wend your way through this textually laden post and make it to the’s a little flower power to reward your efforts. It’s not a Kniphofia OD’d on nitrogen, but Hydrangea macrophylla 'Purple Majesty,’ one of my favorite hydrangeas that we use liberally throughout the garden here. I’m not sure it jumps off the page but, sitting here in the middle of winter, it does make me yearn for things to come. So,...let's begin! 


  1. Joe,
    Welcome to the blogosphere!! What a wonderful blog. Looking forward to future posts!

  2. Well, I'm not surprised. Only you could hatch this full-blown swan and skip the awkward duckling stage entirely, Joe. This is the finest resource I've read in a coon's age. It's basically one stop shopping done with an aesthetic that's like reading Zen poetry first thing in the morning and glimpsing at an art gallery exhibit before breakfast. Need we look elsewhere? But why would we doubt that total inspiration would come from Juniper Hill? I mean, check out what you sit on -- if backaches be the mother of invention, then you've got a corner on the market. And is anyone going to come to the defense of Kniphofias here? -- Tovah Martin

  3. You are surely tugging at my heart with the rememberence of your lovely farm and my dear village...I miss my gardens and you as a gardening friend. So until the time that I find my way "home" again, I'll treasure these posts! Lisa

  4. What a BEAUTIFUL and INVITING site. Aesthetically it's a work of art . I've already been lost for hours in wonder and delight. I think we all need to go out and get a set of those 'uncomfortable' bistro chairs and a millstone table. But something tells me there is more to your inspiration than that. What a gift! Thank you. ~ Maude

    And 'no' Tovah, I cannot come to the defense of Kniphoflas.

  5. Hi Joe

    I am coming to you by way of Lisa (Itztru) who I have had the great pleasure of meeting by way of my blog. She wrote tonight to tell me there is someone I had to meet....and I am so glad that she did.

    What a wonderful blog you have and I so enjoyed this post. Being a Massachusetts girl I had to laugh when you mentioned conversations that run around the weather. It is always the first questions someone from 'home' asks me when I call. My husband and I always chuckle when we hear each other start our conversations around the location of the sun.

    It has been some time since I tended my own garden. We have been travelling for several years, here and there. I have been able to establish a garden I love once or twice only to leave it behind. I would love to live it thru a blog like yours in anticipation of tilling soil of my own again someday.

    I live in Surrey, England and have to say that it is fine country for passionate gardeners. It blows my mind is more like it. I post photos when I can via my blogs...yes, I have more than one and can relate to every word spoken in this post :) I will have a think of posts that might interest you and pop in link every now and again.

    In the meantime, I am checked into your Twitter and Facebook and I will follow you here. Looking forward to it...

    All the best from cloudy skies over London....

    Jeanne :)

  6. Hi Joe,

    Mazel-Tov! to all of your gardening and farm restoration projects. I am always showing people out here that are "Constant Gardeners" your work and all the artistry you have put in to it. One of my managers at work, a culinarian but has always aspired to be a 'gentleman farmer" is delighted with it. he is a great conversationalist, so if he was ever in your neck of the woods, he would be a good dinner guest. ( I'll cook!) If you ever need anymore Photos, I have a whole collection devoted to JHF. meantime, good luck with it, and I hope to come home soon!

    Chef and Photographer,


  7. Hi Michael,

    Thanks so much! And, it's a treat to be featuring a link to your great blog, The Gardener's Eye, at

    Hi Tovah,

    Thank you for such kind words! Coming from a gardener I have always admired, I am truly flattered. I haven't heard any support for the Kniphofias though. And, as for the chairs causing the backaches...did the French invent these things? You can all read Tovah's wonderful blogs at and

    Hi Lisa,

    Thank you! We all miss you, too! And, hope that you'll soon find your way home. There's a garden somewhere in the village waiting to be nurtured.

    Hi Maude,

    Thank you so much for the wonderful compliment! Knowing it comes from a REAL artist and friend makes it especially meaningful and flattering! Everyone can check out Maude's garden artistry at

  8. Hi Jeanne,

    How great to get a response from a New England girl in Old England! Any friend of Lisa's is a friend of mine! Thanks so much for checking out the blog and I'm thrilled to hear you'll be following me here in the future. I'll look forward to more conversations and I'm sure we will be crossing paths in "twitterville."

    Hi Susan,

    Great to hear from you! And, thanks for the good wishes. Tell your 'gentleman farmer' friend he is always welcome for dinner. The major problem we have here, however, is that when you're behind the Wolf range, people never want to leave. Looking forward to seeing more of those photos!


Thank you for your comments!

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