Greetings from Clatter Valley!

– Posted in: Miscellaneous

That’s what they called our neck of Farmington, Connecticut back in the day, when stagecoaches rumbled through a notch near our ridgetop home on their way down to the Farmington Valley. The old coaches must have made a lot of noise, but today the main sound we hear is the 3 pm call of a Barred Owl, who’s as reliable as an alarm clock.

Steve SilkWe’re located near about the middle of Connecticut, in Farmington. I like to think I garden in a warm Zone 6, but that sometimes reflects my optimism more than the actual climatologic data. My wife Kate, son David and I live on 12 acres, much of it protected by a conservation easement to the local land trust. The rest – four stony acres, basically, a hole in the woods – is my garden playground, where I tinker with plants, pots and structures. The overarching idea is to be a responsible steward to our little patch of earth and to leave it a richer, more diverse environment than it was when we first walked its rolling knolls and swales looking for a place to build our house. And, of course, to have fun doing it.

I arrived at my current garden geekdom via a roundabout that included newspaper photography – everything from forest fires in Big Sur to Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones – and travel writing from Boston to Bali. Seeing countless plants all over the world in their myriad adaptations to deserts, jungles, cloud forests and alpine meadows ultimately led me back to my own yard, where I’m now trying, essentially, to create an imaginary country, a distinctive world of plants, colors and structural elements that might lead one to believe they’d need a passport to get in.

Here I play with every kind of plant I can find, whether it’s native to the tropics or the tundra.  My major gardening interests are container gardening, early and late blooming woodies and perennials, plant propagation, colorful and bold foliage, color in general, unusual annuals, bird-friendly plants, and overwintering tender perennials and tropicals without a greenhouse. I’m also enthralled by magnolias, Japanese maples, hydrangeas and viburnums.

I take a rather irreverent approach to gardening and have learned that lots of what people consider to be gospel garden truths are simply misconceptions that have been handed down from one garden writer to another over the years. I like to have fun out there, and do what I want, when I want. As someone once said, gardening is the slowest of the performing arts. But it’s also the most forgiving, and you can bury your mistakes. So, I’m not afraid to experiment – the worst that could happen is that some plan or other may not work out, and then I have to fix it – which gives me an excuse to do a little more gardening. If there’s a plant in my yard that hasn’t been moved, it must be the one I’m planning to move tomorrow.  I take lots of inspiration from my tropical travels – we still visit Latin America at least once a year – especially the plantlife of the cloud forests and the fearlessly whimsical use of color so common throughout Mexico.

So much for the vitae, now for the curriculum: After 15 years as an award-winning photographer and travel writer at the Hartford Courant, I moved in 1996 to Fine Gardening magazine, where I was Managing Editor.  Though I’m still a Contributing Editor for that magazine, I have left the fulltime cube farm to freelance as a garden coach and designer, photographer, writer, editor and speaker. Last summer I wrote an entire special issue for Fine Gardening which covered the plants and techniques that constitute my foolproof Thrillers, Fillers and Spillers recipe for planting mixed containers. My photography has garnered two Garden Writers of America awards for best portfolio. And I’ve collaborated with Sydney Eddison on “Gardens to Go” (published by Bulfinch), a book about container gardens. We also worked together on “The Gardener’s Palette: Creating with Color in the Garden,” (published by Contemporary Press). I’ve appeared several times on HGTV’s “Gardening by the Yard” and am a past President of the Connecticut Hardy Plant Society.

Steve Silk

Steve Silk

Steve Silk

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fsorin January 26, 2008, 6:13 am

Welcome! I’m so delighted that you’ve joined our team at GGW. Beyond all of your much admired credentials, the one character trait that I look forward to you putting to use here will be your irreverence. Let the wild rumpus start! Your blogging buddy-Fran

Lisa at Greenbow January 26, 2008, 7:45 am

Nice to meet you Steve. I like the idea that some of my plants might need a “passport” to get into my garden.

Steve Silk January 27, 2008, 5:07 pm

Thanks to both of your for the warm welcome. I’m looking forward to many more exchanges.

And Lisa, as for some of those plants that need passports, it often turns out they have short-term visas. But, hey, if I’m not killing a plant or two now and then, I’m not taking enough chances with my designs. Pushing the limits can be fun

Saxon Holt January 28, 2008, 12:55 pm

Welcome Steve ! Umm, after reading your “My major gardening interests are …” couldn’t you have just said I love it all ?

keep any irreverence and if you have any camera always lies anecdotes, don’t be shy about sharing a fellow photog’s “trade secrets”.


Steve Silk January 31, 2008, 1:53 pm

Saxon–I couldn’t truthfully say I love it all, because I don’t care for weeding, don’t like watering (even what little I do water), and detest deadheading. My problem is that I love creating things, but then find caring for them a challenge.

As for the camera, I like to think the little box is not a liar, just that it tells the truth subjectively.

OK, very subjectively.

Virginia Kirby February 8, 2008, 4:57 pm

I may be wrong but I thought I had seen comments in your blog about burying pets in the garden. Several readers gave their comments. Can’t find now, can you help?

Hi Virginia!
I hope Steve doesn’t mind me stepping in here to answer your question. I believe you’re thinking of this post at Garden Rant:

There was also a post by Jodi at Bloomingwriter:

I hope that helps!

Karen Pizzaruso April 22, 2009, 12:09 pm

We are looking forward to your presentation at our June 17th Lecture & Luncheon Fundraiser at the Dunes Club.

I hope you will give us a mention on your web-site and Clatter Valley blog.

Thank you,
c/o Karen Pizzaruso

Thanks Karen–I look for ward to seeing you folks too. I used to work at the Pro-Jo and have always loved Naragansett.-Steve

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