I will garden tomorrow!


This is clearly a statement of procrastination.  …and, I understand.

As  a classic introverted, overly dedicated to observation, and an idealist, I find myself in this mental trap.  I have just come to realize, inherent in this quandary, is the belief that I am better tomorrow than I am today.  Of course, I’ll have more stamina for a decision tomorrow.  Maybe I’ll know more tomorrow.  Maybe I’ll be smarter too.  Hmmmm…

Step back!  Those all strike me as false statements and perhaps I now have a key to getting up off my rear and actually getting out into the yard!  I am NOT better tomorrow than I am today.  I am good today.  I have what I need today to get up and go garden… or do whatever I wish to do.

So I shall.

Loyola Design Competition / Burrowes Garden

On Feb. 21, 2015 I had the privilege to participate in a design competition with other experienced, design professionals.  We were all tasked to work with a small group of Loyola students to conceptualize a new garden for Burrowes Hall.  This historic George Maher designed home is currently used by administration officials and is fortunate to have an eastward view out over Lake Michigan.

I’m attaching the design the students worked on.  You’ll have to forgive the rendering as it’s mine.

Their work was focused and heartfelt.  They worked from a formal big picture down – adding in delightful, playful and restive features.  The plant contribution is essentially mine but follows their directive of being a blend of ornamental, edible, and native.  I believe the outcome is unique.  My compliments to all who participated and learned from this exercise!



D. Brian Houck, Narative, Loyola Design Competition 2015 02 21, Burrowes Garden D. Brian Houck, Landscape Design, Loyola Design Competition 2015 02 21, Burrowes Garden


D. Brian Houck, Landscape Design, Loyola Design Competition 2015 02 21, Burrowes Garden

Hot tomato…

Keeping with the theme of sharing some of my humble garden beginnings, here’s another non-resume item that is perhaps a universal experience.

I was six. I promise I won’t go year by year through my childhood and share each gardening memory or an exacting evolution of my great appreciation! However, this is special. It’s a vignette in time. I can’t tell you what happened before or after on this day. It’s just a distinct memory, existing alone with vague understandings about the outside world.

I remember heat – summer, oppressive heat and a new, unfamiliar woman leading me into her hard, red dirt, back yard. I might of been barefoot.  My family was there but I wasn’t paying attention to them. We had a destination because she was intent on showing me something IMPORTANT. I didn’t know what but I had great expectation. Into her vegetable garden we went. She opened the gate. Was it large? 10’x10′? 1/2 acre? I can’t say.  And, this is where my focus gets a bit fuzzy – image you’re a bit in a Charlie Brown movie where adults are large, speaking in muffled voices and your own perspective is rather removed from theirs.

I approached the great tomato patch! These vibrant, green, leafy monsters, floppy – hairy stemmed, staked beasties had managed to corral themselves into neat rows that lined up with such depth they seemed like an endless corn field. The kindly and informative adult voice was carefully explaining that tomatoes actually come from plants and not the grocery store. WHAT?!?! This was a tomato PLANT! Awesome. Bizarre. What a confounding thought that was.

Then she did something remarkable… I wouldn’t of thought of this myself – ever! I didn’t think it was possible. Her great arm reached over me and picked a red fruit. Now maybe she was growing a Better Boy, medium sized, salad/slicing tomato. This was in the early 70’s and those hybrids for the resistance to fungal and bacteria rot were certainly all the rage. I am not sure what cultivar was there except that it was – now placed in my hand – the temperature of sunshine, hefty, soft and firm, smooth and curious. What happens next is quite predictable. She encouraged me to eat – right there! In the garden! Not in the house with a napkin, plate and fork… but, unwashed, and – without knowing this word- it was ‘primal’.

So it happened, my first bite into a real, flavorful tomato – shattering all I knew about bland, waxy, lumps of pasty red stuff before. This was different! This tasted rich without words… I knew it was GOOD, BETTER, and what a tomato should be.

Last year, and, of course, many years after this epiphany, Mom and I put the pieces of this puzzle together. We were at her college friend’s home in Oklahoma on our family, cross country extravaganza. I had sat on the hand rest in the front without a seat belt for about 2,000 miles that month!  And, who would guess that later, I would take part in growing 100s of heirloom tomatoes for Tomatomania out in California. And, also discover that Yellow Pear and Matt’s Wild Cherry would become such favorites that I’ll still gladly pay top dollar for them in any store!  Actually, let me retract that, I’ve never seen Matt’s Wild Cherry in a store which makes perfect sense.  Those little flavor bombs are so enticing they never make it in the house, let alone to any market.

Now, I can’t wait for summer!


For some fun, check out www.tomatomania.com and dream some winter dreams of what your summer tomato garden could be.

…and, with a vision much is possible.

Here’s a story I’ve told a few times recently. You know how that happens… You get a story about yourself stuck in a groove and repeat it when you’re in new groups. Is it canned? Is it part of self-understanding? I’m not an actor, so it’s not an act. I’ll just choose to take it at face value as simply this is what is on my mind.

I will garden at home again for the 2015 season. On the face of it, this may not seem like any sort of a revelation but it is! This is certainly part of my evolution. For years (ok, decades), I gardened at work and gardened at home. My hands were always in the dirt. Fingernails clean? You must be joking. Those were busy times and much enjoyed!

…and somewhere along the line, I got tired like we all seem to do as one gets a touch older. Naps became important. Projects were prioritized and planned. Post-meal naps became an indulgence. Age certainly has something to do with this but also, we found eating did too.

During the transition to Chicago back in 2006, an idea took root.   I did NOT have to garden at home and work! We found an apartment and then a condo where gardening in ANY SHAPE OR FORM was not possible. I wore this as a badge of honor that I only needed to garden at work.

Naps continued – which is rather understandable really.

…and, along came a new way of eating – plant-based / no oil. Radical? Perhaps from the perspective of the standard American diet but not so radical if you’re searching out defensible ways to be healthy. Over two years ago, this change in eating was the beginning of a cascade of changes.

No naps and I woke up! I want to garden at home again. This next February I will put my application in for a community garden plot. I much admire the efforts of the Peterson Garden Project. I hope to join their ranks. Stay tuned for dirty handed adventures in gardening!


This “blogging thing”

Plant or child's toy?

Plant or child’s toy?


At the start of this ‘blogging thing’, maybe it’s best to share a bit of my start in horticulture.  I suspect the goal of this site is to share my musing, perspective and horticulture expertise to those who may wish to hear.  I wonder who you are!  I wonder what sort of relationship we are going to have!  So, I’ll begin with a bit about myself.  The resume is a bit of a bore so let’s begin with some stories that you won’t find on the resume.

One of my first ‘horticultural’ memories is really a tale of destruction and guilt.  I was five.  I was allowed to walk a few blocks over and play with my friend, Craig.  He was a bit of a wildcat and instigating all sorts of trouble.  We would make up fantastic milkshake concoctions.  I am not sure how much chocolate syrup is appropriate in a glass of milk but I am sure we well surpassed the limit!  On this particular sunny day, I can image that school was out, Craig’s older sisters were our unattending supervisors and we found ourselves playing in the front yard without even a stick to play swords.  Well, we fixed that.  A mature, rather lovely, Agave attenuata was growing peacefully between the two houses and seemed to provide the perfect sword.  This agave is delightfully blessed by not having thorns, so a little boy could easily reach in, grab an elongated leaf by the base and rip it off in one clean jerk.  Easily done!  This went on for quite awhile.  More leaves were acquired and the poor specimen took on more and more of a lollipop look.  Now the delightful bit about being a child is that one can not look into the future and predict a consequence.  We were ‘in the moment’!  The guilt came later – actually much, much later.  I don’t have any memory of Craig’s mother offering us any feedback though I suspect she had strong opinions on the subject.  When I was at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, I learned the latin name for this plant and the impish memory crashed back upon me.  I cannot but think of this woeful tale every time I see a mature blue agave now.  I am regretfully aware of just how slow they grow and the patient care necessary for them to achieve a large, unblemished, mature stature with that lovely silvery-blue waxy sheen on each leaf.

And, so it begins…  my tales will continue and certainly they can only get better!

Signing off for the first time – Brian