A Christmas Story

Each year as I prepare for my holiday baking, I take an inventory of the ingredients and spices I keep in my pantry. I always plan a special trip to select and purchase the things that I need to refill or replace before I begin. As part of my personal Christmas celebration, I visit a shop that I set foot in only once a year. It sells spices and oils along with an array of unusual baking supplies that truthfully are more expensive than I would normally consider purchasing. For me this trip is a pure indulgence and I must always carefully set a budget because it is just too tempting to get carried away. It’s always crowded during the holiday season but they prepare little treats to taste and something warm to drink while you wait for your turn to be served. I never mind waiting because everything is displayed and wrapped so beautifully and just looking around is a feast for my eyes.


Last year something happened in the shop that I will never forget. As I was waiting in line, the woman behind me was very irritable. She shifted her weight back-and-forth and occasionally bumped into me, then she would apologize. She complained under her breath that there should be more people available to serve the customers and more than once deemed the situation ridiculous. I imagined that she must of been in a hurry, so I turned to her and smiled. I offered her my place in the line explaining that I was not in a hurry at all and I would be happy for her to go before me. She refused and said that wasn’t necessary and it was not my fault that they didn’t have enough people working in the store. I insisted, telling her it would be a Christmas gift to me if she would allow me to help her with her shopping trip. She still did not smile but replied, “I don’t know what difference this will make, but okay.” As she moved around me I noticed that she was not very stable and her face appeared drawn with pain. A few more minutes passed as customers ahead of us were helped until finally we stepped forward and she was to be served next. She complained bitterly to the young girl who rang up her purchase and continued to be distraught while waiting for the transaction to be completed.

As she turned to leave we were standing face-to-face with a crowd of people all around us. I smiled and said, “Merry Christmas.” For just a moment her face softened as she said, “Thank you sweetheart, yesterday I was fitted with this new prostatic leg and it does not suit me very well. It was very nice of you to give me your place in line.” She managed a weak smile and said, “Merry Christmas.” I reached out to give her a hug but only managed to gently place one hand on her shoulder. I was overcome with emotion and could only whisper another small, “Merry Christmas.”

I always tell my children to be kind to everyone because you never know where someone has just come from or what they might be experiencing.  So as I set out today to purchase a bit of vanilla and cinnamon, I will remind myself that anyone I meet could be facing a challenge much greater than just waiting in line. I will remember to be kind and wish them all a Merry Christmas.

remember, goodness grows,


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Where to Find a Bit of Peace in Turbulent Times

I have the unique opportunity to experience the gifts of nature by earning my living while out in gardens every day. Many speak about hardships with their work, so I feel extremely lucky to do something that is rewarding both spiritually and financially. It’s easy to feel fulfilled when the world is lavishly arrayed with trees and flowers and every imaginable living thing.

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I have learned that one key to being satisfied is to be grateful for everything that is going on around us without a need to control it. Many of us struggle with the concept of ego, a part of ourselves that wishes to describe and then influence situations in our lives so that people, circumstances and events fit better with our expectations. But I have come to think of ego in another way. It is just our mind trying to make sense of Everything Going On. Each time I remember that my true self resides in stillness and yet is available to witness everything going on, it’s possible to look for the gift underneath all the activity.

If we could release our judgments, resentments and criticism, would it be possible to eliminate our feelings of dissatisfaction? We can find contentment by detaching from our worries of good or bad, and right or wrong. We can choose to simply look for something to be grateful for in the midst of whatever we observe right in front of us. At times that may not seem easy, but we can practice by looking for tranquility in nature.  

The sunshine is never doubtful, a breeze does not resist, a butterfly knows no remorse.photo 1

A tree has never scolded you for making a mistake. The ocean has never left you feeling unwanted. A flower has never criticized your choices. Every evening, the sunset is beautiful because it is a mirror reflecting your essential being. Nature always accepts you just as you are, that is her gift.

The same divine source that created everything you admire in nature, also created you. This is the essence of who you are. Once you understand this, you will see that nature is a reflection of your own beautiful soul. Cultivating an appreciation for the natural world has quieted my desires. I have found a spiritual sanctuary that is always open and available. There is no charge for admission.

img_1582-3“If you wish to know the divine, feel the wind on your face and the warm sun on your hand.”  Buddha

remember, goodness grows,


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Life By Design Inside and Out-Fourth Edition

This is the Fourth Edition in a series of creative perspectives about life and the design process from Interior Designer, Kim Macumber and myself. You can read Kim’s blog here!

This summer we had the wonderful opportunity to get together and explore a historic home and garden in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The former home of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is a National Historic Site. It was occupied by General George Washington before the Revolutionary War during the Siege of Boston, from July 1775 until April 1776, prior to Longfellow’s ownership. So, George Washington really did sleep here! The home is now managed by the National Park Service and is open year round to visitors.


Kim discovered lots of inspiration inside the Longfellow House and of course I was drawn to the inviting paths and garden structures I found outside. The home was built in 1759 along the Charles River in area that was once rich farmland. At one time there were orchards and productive gardens that surrounded the home but in the early 1900s Longfellow’s daughter Alice took over responsibility for caring for it and made changes to the gardens.

She brought in Martha Brookes Hutcheson and Ellen Biddle Shipman, two well respected landscape architects, to design a garden that would be reminiscent of the original and also harmonize with the architecture of the house. Colonial design featured geometric patterns and controlled garden beds and here you can get a feel for the formality of the traditional border gardens.

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Neatly trimmed boxwoods, Buxus sempervirens, border plantings of magenta summer phlox, Phlox paniculata.


A mass of classic white shasta daises, Leucanthemum × superbum, rise to blossom along one of the curves toward the house.


A white trellised seating area with planted urns brings a taste of colonial architecture into the garden.


A blooming Lily of the Nile, Agapanthus umbellatus, is a dramatic focal point.

I can imagine Alice Longfellow sitting here in the shade, enjoying a summer breeze and remembering childhood days spent playing in her father’s garden. I am sure he would be proud to know that her dedication to restoring the home and gardens has preserved a national treasure.

Kim and I both came away with the same observation. We never really know if what we are collecting or caring for could one day become something of great importance. How does one determine the future value of something left behind from one generation for the next? We can only do our best and try to remember that hints from our yesterdays can help us understand where we have come from. Exploring a path from the past might help us discover where we might be able to go.


“In all places, then, and in all seasons,

Flowers expand their light and soul-like wings,

Teaching us, by most persuasive reasons,

How akin they are to human things.”

“Flowers” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1837)


remember, goodness grows,


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What’s In A Name?

When I started my garden design business twelve years ago, I debated the wisdom of naming it after myself. Some of my clients recommended it because they thought it would be a great way to capitalize on the referrals I was already receiving. Others thought a catchy garden reference name would be cute and easy to remember, something like Dig In or Sprouts. But I always had another name in mind.

Not many people know that my gardening company is named after a flower…


Veronica x ‘Goodness Grows’

To be honest, I fell in love with the spiky blue blossoms the first time we met. The name just made them even more charming. I couldn’t help but think, yes indeed, goodness does grow!

Through the years there has been some amusing confusion. There have been calls inquiring about community charitable services and others for children’s daycare. My favorite time was when we were building out an exhibit for a garden show at the Austin Convention Center. Every time one of our delivery trucks drove inside the building there would be a loudspeaker declaration blaring, “Goodness Grows.” After about five trucks and announcements, all the other exhibitors thought it was some kind of pep talk to keep them focused while working.

I like that the name of my company is a positive affirmation. It’s always fun for me to hear other people say it and who knows, maybe it provides a little encouragement wherever it pops up.

remember, goodness grows,


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A Living Tapestry

What an amazing Spring we are enjoying here in Central Texas.

IMG_1301Numerous and copious rain events have canceled our drought, replenished our lakes and nourished our native vegetation. Unseasonably cool temperatures have encouraged our famous wildflower meadows to bloom on and on.  It seems that every inch of available earth along our roadsides and highways has become crowded with a spectacular tapestry of buds and blossoms.  Lady Bird must be smiling in heaven.

IMG_1429 2“Where flowers bloom, so does hope.”  Lady Bird Johnson

I am endlessly impressed with the delightful combinations of colors and forms that Mother Nature skillfully sews together. Her palette is bold and she has no reservations when stitching together flowers from one family next to another. Inside this crazy quilt, a complex web of life thrives amongst its members. There is sophistication, even elegance to what appears to be a random bunch of plants.

IMG_1441 2Ratibida columnifera (Mexican hat) with Gaillardia pulchella (Indian blanket)

This wide variety of plants evokes a garden web of life, inviting an array of wild animals, birds, insects and even beneficial parasites to make a home in the meadow. Diversity protects the entire community and keeps the environment in balance. An ecosystem rich with diversity is more resilient.  When external pressures from pests or disease invade, the array of species can limit the destruction because each member of the community carries its own inherent strengths.

IMG_1433 2Monarda citriodora (Lemon beebalm)

Perhaps, we can take this simple wisdom from a meadow and apply it to our own state of affairs. If plants can complement and even benefit each other while living side by side, why can’t we? We should not undervalue the importance of diversity or discount the power of even one individual’s potential contribution. Let’s take a sewing lesson from Mother Nature and begin to stitch together the fabric of our communities. Each and every one of us is unique and fascinatingly beautiful. We are always stronger together.

IMG_1583 3“You can’t be suspicious of a tree, or accuse a bird or a squirrel of subversion or challenge the ideology of a violet.” Hal Borland

remember, goodness grows,


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Life by Design Inside and Out – Third Edition

This is the third in a series of creative perspectives about life and the design process from interior designer Kim Macumber and myself.  You can read Kim’s blog at:


A Garden Symphony by Heather McLean 

DSC02108“The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Last week I worked with a client who felt overwhelmed by a perpetual mess in her garden. She had committed long hours of weeding, clipping and racking mulch but still felt it looked jumbled and without order. She thought she needed more flowers to break up the monotonous border of shrubs that lined up along her back fence. Under the shade of mature oak trees, she reported that her roses did not bloom and annuals she planted never flourished.  She asked me to meet with her and create a plan for a garden she would love.


When I arrived I discovered a long hedgerow made up of a variety of small evergreens that had been pruned into submission. All of the specimens were about the same color of green, with small ovate leaves that had been trimmed into a neat little herd about three feet tall.  They were all lined up along the fence like a dejected band of kindergarteners sentenced to time out.

One of the most common mistakes that I encounter in garden design is a lack of diversity in foliage color, shape and size. When everything else looks the same, even the flowers will not stand out. Structurally a garden is much like a musical composition, where the chord progression and melody must support the lyrics. Repetition and contrast give the music rhythm and the variations in tone and volume makes it more interesting. Trees, shrubs, and grasses need to create a beautiful background for flowers to highlight. The colorful blossoms are the crescendos of the music, making it vibrant and exciting.

DSC00371“There is music amongst the trees in the garden, but our heart must be very quiet to hear it.”  Minnie Aumonier

I like to think of the garden as a symphony evolving in movements; the blossoming of Spring trees, followed by the bouquets of Summer and the swirling leaves of Autumn. Even the resting time of Winter should hold our interest. In classical music a portion of a complete work will stand well on its own and is often separated by a brief silence. This break gives the ear a rest just as quiet spaces in the garden can give us respite from our busy lives.

Our gardens offer us a gift each and every day and in all seasons, if only we will take the time to look… and listen.

remember, goodness grows,


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Creating Space

In honor of a rather spectacular Mercury retrograde occurring now through May 22nd,  I am sharing a bit of my book about the seven seasons we face as we travel through this garden of life. If you are not familiar with this extraordinary celestial event check out this article from the Washington Post:


The trials and tribulations you may be experiencing might just be nature’s way of clearing a space for new growth. 

You’ve Been Grounded – from The Seventh Season, Wisdom from the Garden of Life by Heather McLean

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Adversity does not build character; adversity reveals our true nature. Challenging times expose our core beliefs. They expose the foundation our personality is built upon. Tough times reveal the fundamental beliefs that define our way of being in the world. Many rely on their faith in times of hardship, but what is faith? If faith is a belief in the unseen, then what do you stand on when your whole world seems to be crumbling around you?

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You must stand upon what you know. Knowing is entirely different than faith. You do not believe the sun will rise tomorrow, you know that it will. You do not have faith that the seasons will change; you know that they will. Perhaps the only secure place to stand upon when your life is in complete disarray is firmly planted upon your Mother Earth.

“Become totally empty. Let your heart be at peace, amidst the rush of worldly comings and going, observe how endings become beginnings. Things flourish, each by each, only to return to the source. To return to the root is to find peace.” Lao Tzu 

Most of us are just flying along through our lives passing from one experience to another, until something big stops us right in our tracks. We might use phrases like, “It knocked my legs right out from under me,” or, “I was brought to my knees.”All of a sudden, everything seems to have changed.

You may be experiencing one of those times right now. The difficulties you are facing might seem insurmountable. When we are challenged we must reconnect with what is our own personal truth. Facing that truth can be heartbreaking, but it can also be the opening to allow our highest nature to express itself. It’s been said that when an egg cracks on the outside it is broken, but when it cracks from the inside something new is being born. Perhaps this is the purpose of heartbreak. When our heart is broken it creates an entry point for compassion to begin to pour forth and through us. It then becomes our work to allow this compassion to flow out into the world and contribute to our collective healing.

Natural disasters like floods and fires can destroy what we have become accustomed to, but also bring about the birth of something completely new. There are seeds that will not germinate without exposure to great extremes. The giant redwoods and giant sequoia are majestic symbols of strength and beauty, towering hundreds of feet tall. They can grow up to fifty feet in diameter and live for hundreds of years, but they cannot reproduce without a forest fire. Their seeds sleep silently inside mature cones until the extreme heat awakens them and the seeds are released. These magnificent trees rely on episodic fires for their very survival. The burnt remains and ash on the forest floor provide the optimal planting bed for the seeds to germinate and begin their journey to towering new heights. The forest fire has cleared space and increased the amount of sunlight available for a new tree to grow.


Sometimes we also have to walk through the fire and navigate the flood to find our own new growth.

Always remember, goodness grows,


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Life by Design Inside and Out – Second Edition

This is the second in a series of creative perspectives about life and the design process from interior designer Kim Macumber and myself.  You can read Kim’s blog at:


Clearing Space In The Garden by Heather McLean

Spring is a great time to make a fresh start. As the seasons change, it’s natural for many of us to begin to think about spring cleaning and clutter clearing the inside of our homes, but this can also be an ideal time to evaluate our garden outside. Whether you hire a professional to consult with, or do it yourself, there is a lot to be gained by getting a clean start.


“All through the long winter, I dream of my garden. On the first day of spring, I dig my fingers deep into the soft Earth. I can feel it’s energy, and my spirits soar.” Helen Hayes

Once someone asked me if my garden consultations were complimentary. I had to laugh because all I could think was, yes, if it’s a pretty nice garden. The truth is, I am always able to see more potential in the situation than most of my clients are able to see. My job is mostly about finding appreciation for the inherent beauty that is sometimes hidden. The magic is taking that bit of beauty and amplifying it. But sometimes beauty is hidden under many years of overgrowth and collections of random stuff.

Gardeners are notorious for acquiring and keeping all sorts of things. Along with the expected hospital of sickly and recovering plants, I always find stacks of pots. Many are broken and unusable but saved for some future need, “just in case.” I often sort through vast collections of decorative statues. I have seen gardens where bunnies, gnomes, kittens, puppies, turtles, mushrooms, fairies and even Buddha and St Francis are all hanging out together at an endless garden party with an unrestricted guest list. Some gardeners have birdbaths, wind chimes, fountains and feeders that have all been carried home and set out in the garden. I have also seen old doors, broken chairs, former christmas decorations, mirrors, shoes and boots made into planters, picture frames, plastic flowers and even a kitchen sink that found a retirement home outside.

But where is the garden? For me, a garden plays a symphony with its sequence of bloom and tells a story with it’s ornaments. So many things acquired over time may have been interesting individually but all together they can lose their meaning. It’s like too much jewelry overpowering an outfit or too many accessories in a room. We need to start with a clean slate. I often ask if I can clear the space of all of the items so that I can see the garden’s structure underneath. Then I can evaluate what needs to be cut back, what needs to be planted and what might need to be removed. Once the garden has been tidied up we can bring back the items thoughtfully.

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I always say “Landscape like you mean it!” If you are creating a habitat for birds, let’s organize those items together in a purposeful arrangement. If you are collecting bunny statues, let’s think about planting an area that gives the right setting for their size and scale. If fairies have been setting up shop in your garden, let’s go all in and create a miniature garden world for them.

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You don’t have to choose a single theme for your garden, but it will feel less cluttered and make more sense if you dedicate a space for each collection or interest. So why not go get a bit of fresh air and take a tour of your garden. Let me know how your tidying up goes. Clearing space can open up your garden and your heart. I bet you will feel better both inside and out.

remember, goodness grows,


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Growing Together

Last week I was called out to consult with a family who needed help deciding whether or not to save a tree. As you can already imagine, I was prepared to side with preserving the tree.


They had already met with an arborist who had given them an estimate of expenses they would incur if they decided to take precautionary steps to save it. They had also been given a price to remove it. My clients wanted to keep the tree but it looked like that option would be far more expensive. They wondered if it they could just start over with a new tree; perhaps that would be a better way to spend their money.


Sometimes we have to make difficult choices when deciding what will stay and what must go.

When I arrived at the residence I knew at once that we needed to save the tree. I found a majestic Escarpment Live Oak (Quercus fusiformis) standing tall in the front yard. It had grown in this spot long before the neighborhood was developed, this home was built and probably long before any of us were even born. Unless you are over one hundred and fifty years old, this tree has been around longer.

The problem was the massive root system had spread everywhere under the soil and the homeowners could no longer grow a lawn, or much of anything else under the tree. There were also problems with the walkway to the front door because the roots had caused the concrete to crack and shift. The arborist had recommend pruning the canopy of the tree to let more sunlight in and removing the sidewalk. He had suggested a path made of stepping stones that would “float” above the root zone and protect the tree.

I suggested to my clients that they accept the proposal from the arborist and together we could re-imagine their front yard. Could we consider it a garden of preservation? What if we put all of our resources into creating a habitat where the tree could continue to thrive and the residence would still be functional. When the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center was being built, I heard Lady Bird said, “Let it rest lightly on the land.” Perhaps we can all adopt her perspective.

As I sit down to formulate a plan and design a new garden for my clients, I feel privileged that I can help to protect this tree. It might be easier and cheaper to remove it and start over, but I know that there is much more to be gained by saving it. There is honor in recognizing what has endured the test of time and in learning to grow together.

FullSizeRender“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”  Warren Buffett

remember, goodness grows,



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New Beginnings

I spent the weekend tidying up my garden to create space for the new growth of spring. Under a brilliant blue sky, my pear trees celebrated each breeze with a confetti of tiny white flower petals. The wind chimes sang out in approval as I clipped and cleared away the dried brown branches from my perennial border. My basket filled with the natural remains of a season gone by.

I always leave the crispy foliage to overwinter on my perennials. I believe it offers some protection for the plants from the cold and it also adds some interest to the winter garden. Occasionally I will braid the old foliage down or rake it back into the border, but most of the time I leave it to be. It somehow honors what has come and gone.

I wait for the first signs of Spring.

IMG_0817Texas Redbud Tree (Cercis canadensis var. texensis)

Here in Austin, the Redbuds are the first to burst into bloom. Next the Texas Mountain Laurels perfume the air with grape scented flowers and the Mexican Plum trees literally hum with bees enjoying their white bouquet of blossoms.

IMG_2143Texas Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora)

If I look carefully, I can then find the first tender shoots of new growth emerging from underneath a tangle of faded out leaves and sticks. That’s my signal to clear away the old, to make way for the new.

“There is a continuity about the garden and an order of succession in the garden year which is deeply pleasing, and in one sense there are no breaks or divisions. Seed time flows on to flowering time and harvest time; no sooner is one thing dying than another is coming to life.”  Susan Hill and Rory Stuart

remember goodness grows,


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