Thank you for all your lovely comments on the last post – later this week or next week I will try to respond to as many as I can.

Meanwhile, I want to share some photos of spring in the garden with you. The garden is blooming its heart out, which is both a great comfort and a reminder that Jason is not here. Because we both traveled so much for work, we texted a lot, and I keep finding myself wanting to take a photo of something spectacular in the garden that he needs to see.

Let me give you a little tour.

First, the bloodroot, which I am trying to watch closely — it has a way of blooming one day and being gone the next, and I don’t want to miss it! (It’s also possible that this is just wild ginger, and that the bloodroot has died out — I hope not!! Feel free to offer opinions in the comments.)

Here is one of the May Apples. I love the spring ephemerals, but you really have to watch them, or they’re gone before you know it. You can see the bud; it’s hiding below the leaves to make it even easier to miss.

A couple of years ago, Jason planted Golden Ragwort. It was spectacular in 2020 and 2021, but failed to appear last spring. It seems possible that it was accidentally pulled by the gardeners because it closely resembled a noxious weed as it came up. These things happen. I’m hopeful that this is it, coming back strong. Its bright yellow flowers are so intense and cheerful.

The hellebores are covered with flowers, and have been for weeks. I’ve picked five bouquets to fill bowls, for myself and for friends, and still there are so many more flowers. One thing I have learned: I put about 15 flowers in a Tupperware with some water to send home (to St. Paul) with David for his wonderful partner Meridith. Alas, when the flowers get their faces wet, they don’t want to float any more. I further proved this by taking some flowers to friends who invited me to dinner; they (the hellebores, not the friends) only had 20 minutes in water, not the seven hour drive to Minnesota, but they too refused to float properly.

Here’s the trillium that Jason planted a few years ago. There are two or three plants (one too small to be sure that’s what it is). I thought they had grown bigger and more established, but I could be wrong. At least they are still here and blooming. They have a history of being difficult.

We used to have a lot more Bleeding Heart. It’s one of those flowers I didn’t think I was going to like (too pink!) and then fell completely in love with. I have made a note that we need to plant more. It’s especially lovely combined with Virginia bluebells and ferns (although the Ostrich ferns in the front window bed are just barely starting to come up, see photo below in the collage).

The yellow flowers below are uvularia. We discovered them when we briefly lived in Madison, Wisconsin, in a house whose border garden had been allowed to go wild, next to a woodlot with lots of natives. When we moved to our current house, 20 years ago, uvularia was not common in plant catalogues, but Jason found some. The main planting is on the west side of the house, where it gets less sun, and is still just opening. (Don’t you love the red birdhouse, it turns any plants nearby into a lovely vignette.)

Serviceberry. What can I say. One of Jason’s favorites. A shrub that I didn’t appreciate at first, but have come to really like.

Is it even possible not to like False-forget-me-nots? Their cheery blue is just the thing most corners of the garden need in early spring. I’m sure most of you would not confuse these Brunnera with Myosotis aplestris, or (real) Forget-me-nots. Brunnera have heart-shaped leaves and are perennial.

X%?#@ Rabbits!!! They are hopping about eating things in the garden, though mostly less destructively than here with this poor denuded Virginia bluebell stem. I’m watching the Martagon lilies like a hawk, and will fence them in at the first sign of munching. Tulips in the front yard have also been nibbled.

Virginia bluebells and Celandine poppies, a classic combination here. The poppies are coming on just as the daffodils are passing their peak, an excellent bit of timing and some consolation for the loss of the earlier blooms. (The poppies have really started to spread everywhere; I asked the gardeners not to pull too many of the ones that had traveled to new sites because I love them; I hope I don’t regret it. I am much less ruthless than Jason.)

This corner, which a month ago was filled with snowdrops, continues to make me smile. Celandine poppies, witch hazel, moss. Leaves at lower left will burst with allium in May.

I realize I can’t show you everything, and it all moves so fast — especially since we had weather in the upper 70s last week. So here is a collage of blooms from the front yard. I’m so happy that the Princess Irene tulips made it through the winter (in a pot, in the garage). There’s the Ostrich ferns, just poking their heads up. Lower left, the clove currant is wafting its scent across the sidewalk.

One more bit of spring growth to show you — our delightful granddaughter Addie, who is now eight months, and has just started to crawl. She is absolutely full of smiles and giggles.

Coming up next, I’ll try to respond to some comments on the post about Jason, and I’ll pull together some photos from our trips to the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary.

Many heartfelt thanks to those of you who have sent cards and donations (see the previous post).

As those of you who have been reading this blog over the last few years know, Jason has been sick with pancreatic cancer since the summer of 2020. With chemotherapy, the advance of the disease was slowed, but early this year it became clear that the chemo was no longer working as it had been, and Jason decided to begin home hospice care. This last weekend, early on Saturday morning, he passed away, surrounded by Judy and his sons, David and Daniel.

This blog was an important part of his life for more than a decade – a creative outlet, a community, a tribute to his love of gardening and sometimes a place to reflect on other things in his life, including family – and so we (his family) wanted to share a little bit more about him here.

Jason was born and raised just outside New York City on Long Island. He was the youngest of four siblings, and his parents, Paul and Barbara, exposed him to a love of gardening early. (He wrote a little bit about his father and his father’s garden here.

Jason and his father

After high school, Jason briefly lived on a kibbutz in Israel. In addition to lots of valuable cultural exchange, this allowed him decades later to instruct his children on the best ways to load resistant, sharp-clawed turkeys into trucks for slaughter. This is one lesson his children have yet to put into practice.

After a few years in Queens, New York, and Madison, Wisconsin, Jason moved to Chicago in Spring 1983 to work for DSA, the Democratic Socialists of America. He met Judy in August 1983 when they went to a conference together (assigned to the same vehicle, which happened to be a small stick-shift pick-up truck, which Judy barely knew how to drive; Jason had no driver’s license at the time). Before the end of a three hour drive from Chicago to Madison, sparks were flying (actually, before they reached the Belvidere oasis).

Wedding photo, from left: Bridesmaid Andrea Miller, L. David Miller, Karl Hertz (Judy’s father, who performed the ceremony), Judy, Jason, Barbara Hertz (mother), Paul Hertz (brother) and Paula del Cerro (Paul’s wife).

Jason had a keen sense of social justice, and was always active, both professionally and in his personal time, in fighting to protect the dignity and rights of all people. In Chicago, he worked for the Metropolitan Tenants Organization; then organized families of nursing home residents; worked as a paralegal for the eldercare program of Cook County Legal Assistance; and became Executive Director of the Illinois State Council of Senior Citizens Organizations (now the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans). He liked fighting for the rights of senior citizens, but he hated fundraising and administration (he was worried about tax reports for ISCSCO for years after he left, although he had done them as well as he could), and was glad eventually to transition to the political affairs department of AARP. There, he worked in the Dakotas and Nebraska (though based in Chicago), which led to further cultural exchange, such as the time he tried to get a haircut in Pierre, South Dakota, and his barber (who was not familiar with curly Jewish hair) refused to believe he hadn’t had a perm. Later, he worked in Wisconsin, where he helped pass legislation creating a new program to reduce the cost of prescription drugs for seniors (before the Medicare Part D drug program was launched).

He spent the last two decades of his career at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFSCME Council 31, a union which represents 90,000 Illinois public and nonprofit employees. He masterminded victories for pro-labor candidates in important legislative and local government elections, and was a critical part of legislative lobbying efforts to raise wages for low-paid human services workers, especially those caring for people with developmental disabilities.

Here is Jason with his colleagues at a rally in support of health care, most likely during the Trump years.

In his free time, of course, Jason loved to garden. It was the ultimate escape from lobbying in state capitols and fighting state and municipal bureaucracy to secure decent working conditions, and from the craziness that has overtaken our country in the last several years. Gardening brought him great satisfaction and joy (as well as the usual frustration of gardeners everywhere).

August 2020, with Covid hair, by the driveway garden. Many people planted Tithonia as a result of Jason’s enthusiasm.

As readers here know, his love of gardens came as much from a sense of whimsy and simple appreciation for beautiful things as a love of working outdoors in the dirt and an appreciation for the scientific, historic, and cultural meaning of gardens and gardening. He was as likely to stop and appreciate a flower or wild grass in a park or on the side of a path as he was to spend hours flipping between garden catalogs and a sketchbook to fine-tune the next season’s plantings, or to make his way through stacks of books on the history of gardening in England or Japan, or the latest from Piet Oudolf. He kept Judy busy taking photos to document everything so that it could be shared with all of you.

And of course he loved to share his appreciation and knowledge. He did that here on his blog, with family and friends, and neighbors or anyone else who stopped by to admire his garden at home. He took writing this blog very seriously, and wanted to provide real information, along with a smile and a personal perspective. (We hear him over our shoulder telling us that this post is much too long; he would have broken it into two.)

Jason and Judy were both astonished and delighted by the number of good friends they made through mutual appreciation of gardens, through this blog, as well as people who stopped on the sidewalk to admire our garden, and people they met on Garden Blogger Flings and through the course of admiring other peoples’ gardens and public gardens. Even the hospice doctor who came to our house last week exclaimed that she had driven past our garden many times and loved it. 

You only have to read through this blog to see how much Jason loved plants and gardening. He talked to and communed with plants. He was always sneaking in an extra shrub (without letting Judy know), but he also planted many flowers because Judy admired them (hellebores and tulips among others) and most of them, he came to love – and Judy even came to love most of the shrubs.

Besides gardening, Jason applied his good humor and curiosity to a number of other subjects, including American and Russian history, geography, birding, and travel. (Here are some posts about travel to New York, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Russia, Turkey, and Japan.) In the last seven months of his life, he picked up a new interest: his granddaughter, Addie. He was particularly good at making her laugh with new “games” like using a blanket to cover her and then pulling it away.

Jason could make Addie giggle with the mere flick of his wrist.

Most importantly, Jason was a loving and supportive father, husband, and grandfather; friend and colleague. He instilled his values and love of learning in his children, and brought joy to many through his exuberant gardens and his writing. Thank you for being a part of the community he created here, and we hope you’ll stay as we continue to post occasional updates and photos of the garden and our family. As mentioned in an earlier post, we have hired a wonderful garden service, Vivant Gardens, to help maintain the garden.

For those who wish to make a donation in honor of Jason, we have two suggestions.

The labor movement and fighting for the rights and dignity of all workers, but especially low-wage workers, has been very important to Jason and his family. We know personally how important labor unions are. Jason was diagnosed with cancer at age 61, and was unable to continue working. Under many if not most circumstances, this would have been financially devastating. However, the union continued his health insurance for several years until he was eligible for Medicare, provided excellent disability insurance, and a defined benefit pension. In addition to how much we love all the colleagues Jason worked with, and who feel like family, we also appreciate the union movement as a whole. Every worker should have these benefits.

We have looked for a meaningful place for people to send donations in Jason’s memory. One of those we would like to recommend is Warehouse Workers for Justice, a workers center that organizes and fights for the rights of workers in distribution and logistics in Illinois. If you use Amazon or other online shipping companies but want to see the workers who make those deliveries possible receive the wages, safe working conditions and job security they deserve (or you don’t use those services because of the precarious nature of those jobs), WWJ is a great place to support. You can donate here. It doesn’t look like you can designate a donation in memory of someone through the online portal, so we would appreciate if you could drop a card to the PO Box below, or post in the comments, so that we can thank you properly.

Secondly, of course, we have a garden donation recommendation. Jason loved gardens far and wide, but he also really enjoyed the public parks right here in Chicago, such as the West Ridge Nature Center and Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary. In a few days, we’ll do a post about some of our recent visits to Montrose Point. We plan on collecting donations to the Chicago Parks Foundation, to be used to help pay for a memorial bench for Jason at Montrose Point and also support the programs and work of the Foundation. If you want to make this donation, we’re asking for checks to be made payable to “Chicago Parks Foundation” with “Jason Kay” in the memo line, and to be sent to:

Judy Hertz, 848 Dodge Ave, Box 348, Evanston, IL 60202

We’ll collect them and turn them in together, and arrange for a bench. We’ll post a photo when the bench is placed.

If you want to send a card to the family, Box 348 is also a good place, unless you have our home address.

Stay tuned, more to come — and we want to say again how much your participation in this blog conversation meant to Jason, and means to us.

Judy, Daniel and David

There’s lots of news and updates, and I (this is Judy) have a small favor to ask (so read to the end).

To begin with, we are excited to announce the arrival of our first grandchild! When Jason complained that I wouldn’t let him dig up ALL of the grass in the backyard, this is who I was saving it for. She is tiny now, but it won’t be long before she will need space for running around and will be falling in love with the flowers and butterflies.

Three days old. One of the wonderful nurses in the NICU made this bow.

Her name is Addie, and she is seven weeks old. She is adopted from a birth mother in Florida. New parents Daniel and Beckee spent three weeks in Tampa while Addie did a bit of growing in the NICU. We are so glad they are all home and doing well now!

Daniel and Beckee are over the moon, even if Addie hasn’t yet learned to keep reasonable hours. They plan to come over every Wednesday, so that we can watch Addie while they work (and sneak in a nap if time allows), which sounds like a lovely plan to us.

Snuggling with her Gramps.
I took up embroidery during Covid, and this dandelion onesie that Addie is modeling during tummy time is part of my handiwork.

The garden is flourishing with help from Vivant Gardening Services, whose owner and gardeners can throw around the Latin names of obscure native plants right along with Jason, in a way that inspires confidence.

Last week, Jason supervised the reorganization of the driveway bed — the yellow coneflowers had crowded to the front, along with the ever-expanding Betty Corning clematis, and they all needed to be put a little further back, where they can still get the attention they want, without blocking everyone else, including visitors trying to use the sidewalk. A new batch of tulips will be planted later this month.

Meanwhile, Jason has had so much chemo that we have lost count, though I think we are over two dozen sessions. He is tired but holding on, and enjoying feeding, cuddling, and singing to Addie, and trying to keep the plants and the cats from misbehaving.

Now here’s the favor I would like to ask:

Jason’s birthday is this month, and if you have enjoyed reading his blog, and if you have been inspired for your own garden, if would be lovely if you could drop Jason a birthday card and let him know. Is there something you planted because you saw it here? Have you enjoyed reading the blog with your morning coffee?

I have set up a mailbox to receive cards:

Jason Kay, 848 Dodge Ave, Box 348, Evanston, IL 60202

Of course, you could also email at jasonbertkay at gmail dot com, and copy me in judyhertz at gmail dot com, but cards would be extra lovely. Comments here would be great, too, of course.

Jason and I went for a walk around the garden yesterday, to see what might be poking its head up, and to encourage ourselves that spring really is coming.

There are a surprising number of Kaufmaniana tulips sticking their noses up! We planted a lot of these bulbs last fall, with the help of our friends Jo ana and Anne. What an excellent thing to have done, now that it is early spring, and we are in need of good cheer.

The crocuses are coming up, and a few of them are even escaping the predations of the rabbits. As I said, it was a rainy day, so they weren’t open, but there were still bits of color here and there. Jason has a spray bottle of rabbit repellent, and will be out after the rain clears to douse everything that is vulnerable.

One of the things I like about this time of year is that you can see the shapes of the trees. This is our hackberry tree, in the bed along the street. It replaced a Norway maple about ten years ago.

Our street had numerous full-grown Norway maples, and they died one after another, over about five or six years. They were most likely planted because they were popular, quick growing, and tolerated urban conditions. However, Morton Arboretum says that they are “invasive” and “can’t be recommended.” An article in the Baltimore Sun says that Norway maples “are notorious for strangling themselves to death” with girdling roots. “Death can take decades, but often happens just when trees reach a pleasing size and shape.”

In any case, we chose the replacement from a list of trees that our city plants, and got a hackberry. I thought it was ugly and awkward for years, but as it has grown, it has become more graceful. I like the mix of angular trunk connections and curvaceous limbs. And I always love to see the nests in the branches when the leaves are gone, and know that someone has made a home.

The bark is very pleasing too.

Like this tree, some of the flowerbeds are still wintery. Here are the stalks of the cup plants, newly cut back by our gardening team, who will be coming twice a month to help maintain things. (More about that in a future post.)

Continuing our stroll around the garden, we find many, many daffodils emerging, here, there, and everywhere. You can never have too many daffodils. We each won 200 bulbs from Colorblends at the Toronto Garden Bloggers Fling, and we have added many more in addition.

In the backyard, the snow drops have been providing cheer for a month now. Nothing stops them, not rain, sleet, nor snow.

The hellebores had leathery green leaves all through the winter, and when the gardeners carefully cut them back, the plants began to burst into bloom. These blooms and more should go on for months. It’s taken a few years for them to establish themselves, but they are now living their best lives in the raised bed in the backyard.

Here’s my task for the next sunny day. I scrubbed out the bird houses and put them on the patio table to air out (I don’t imagine the birds like their houses to smell of disinfectant any more than I do). (Reading this over, I wondered whether birds have a sense of smell; the answer is here.) Now I need to screw the bottoms back on and hang them up to be ready for families of wrens and chickadees.

I’ll conclude with a brief update on Jason. He’s just started a second round of chemo, after a reprieve of eight months. It’s leaving him pretty tired out. We’re both hoping the fresh spring air and evening sunlight — not to mention the flowers that are coming! — will provide some tonic.

Which signs of spring do you look for most eagerly, and have they already arrived, or are you still anticipating them?

I haven’t written a post for several months. As some of you know, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer back in mid-2020. The treatment has kept me going but my hands are numb and this makes writing a challenge. Some have suggested dictation software and I’ve been meaning to look into that.

Common Witch Hazel blooms in October

I’ve also been combatting fatigue and difficulty concentrating, so I’m not sure if dictation will be an effective answer.

However, it’s a new year so I thought I would try to generate a short post.

Highlights of my last few months:

We went to Maine in October where we ate an insane amount of fresh seafood, walked through coastal villages, and had the pleasure of lunching with Laurie Graves of and her husband Cliff.

View from a Maine lighthouse

Our good friend Jo Ana did the lion’s share of putting the garden to sleep for the winter. As always, her help has been invaluable during my illness. Also, thanks to her I got a good look at the Common Witch Hazel we have tucked away in an obscure spot on the east side of the house. Most years I don’t think to look until after the blooms are all done.

In spite of everything, we planted over 250 bulbs, thanks again to Jo Ana and also our good friend Anne. Of these, 100 or so went into containers – mostly some Tulipa kaufmanniana varieties that are new to us, but also some ‘Princess Irene’.

‘Princess Irene’

Then we planted some more ‘Ballerina’ Tulips in the Driveway Border and some T. clusiana and Narcissus ‘Geranium’ and ‘Barrett Browning’ in the Parkway Bed.

For Thanksgiving, we drove with our son Daniel to Minneapolis where we had a long weekend with David and his partner Meridith, and a holiday meal hosted by my brother and his wife. We stayed in Chicago for Christmas, celebrating with Daniel and Beckee and her parents. We’re expecting a visit from David and Meridith later this month, Covid permitting.

Incidentally, I’m trying to keep up with everyone’s garden blogs but no longer comment for reasons stated earlier.

So that’s about it. Best wishes to everyone for a happy 2022.

Prairie or Sullivant’s Milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii) is worth considering as a garden alternative to Common Milkweed (A. syriaca). A key difference is that Prairie Milkweed is much less aggressive, in fact in my garden it has been fairly slow to establish.

So I had the good fortune to meet a fellow avid gardener recently. His name is Mike Miller and he lives in the adjacent town of Wilmette. He was nice enough to invite Judy and me to visit his garden. As soon as we pulled up to the curb, I could see that it was something special.

It seems that plants are always teaching me new lessons about how they behave in the garden and respond to weather and other conditions. This summer, there are three native plants that have been on my mind.

The Driveway Border

First, Yellow Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata). I’m fond of this plant with its central cone like a clown’s nose and bright yellow yet droopy ray flowers. In rich garden soil, though, it tends to grow too tall (5′ or more) and flop. To limit this tendency I use tall tomato cages.

So we got back from our trip to New York about a week ago. We had an excellent time, though travel wears me out more than it used to. Judy took about a thousand photographs (not an exaggeration). Most of the material I’m going to keep for later, but I do want to do one post now about a garden in New York that just opened this year.

Little Island is a 2.5 acre garden that is built on the remains of an abandoned pier on the Lower West Side.

So guess what. Judy and I are going to New York City for a few days and I have to get ready, so this will be a short post.

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