My Good Friend Bobby Miller

I’ve decided to rework a bit of this post and then republish it, to honor one of the finest men I have ever known. This was originally posted in October of 2009, following my visit to see him and a few days yucking it up.

Word recently reached me that my good friend Bobby passed away. This is a hurtful loss for me. Bobby Miller embodied all that is good and all that is fallible in life as a human being. He was handsome, playful, energetic and as loyal as the day is long. He never spent any time being dishonest nor did he ever design to hurt another human who did not deserve a Karmic Reward.

Like me, Bobby never really grew up inside. His nature was pure, in so many ways, it is why losing this gem of a person hurts. He was fresh air at any time.

Bobby’s humility was his greatest accomplishment. He was exceptionally hard-working and took nothing easy. He inspired me – and I wager many others – with a wisdom beyond his years when he gazed deeply into your eyes with his normal perceptiveness. He would go far, far out of his way NOT to upset someone, no matter how appropriate it may have been. His compassion was tremendous – just a stunning asset which ought to teach us all the more about life. Like the Tibetan antiquities he sported on his walls, Bobby was the real deal in this.

He would respond thoughtfully to every single thing you ever said – well, unless we were having hella fun anyway. Then he was the guy you most wanted to be with because he never called a halt to fun, either. He had an uproarious laugh which was another gift he gave. His laughter was somehow always intelligent – maybe at goofy stuff – but, still……….  😉   He loved irony like few others ever will. Those were always the best laughs.

Bobby Miller, man. I’m sure gonna miss you. I love you madly.

(left click all images to enlarge…..sometimes twice)

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I can’t help but call him Bobby, since that’s who he was when I met him, way back in high school. The truth is, I met his sister Regina first, but that’s another story. She was drop dead gorgeous and a real hoot to be with. But so was her brother, I found out to my distinct pleasure. Bobby and I had some serious adventures and there never has been a more honestly curious person than this exceedingly honest and modest man. Right now, Bobby’s battling some serious illness – with a hopeful treatment he’s going for in Nashville – so we keep our fingers crossed. I recently spent a couple days and a night with him and we reminisced about old times as well as questioning our place in Life and for the future. I really don’t believe I spent a bad day with this guy – ever. No. I KNOW I never did.

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The log cabin he is posing in front of up there he built himself. It is one of those divine Thoreau-esque sorts of places that fits so well in its environment, it nearly appears to have grown there. What is most remarkable about his spread is that it is built on reclaimed strip mined property. Well, actually “reclaimed” is wrong – because it was abandoned back when strip mines would simply get mined out, very much ‘un-reclaimed’, leaving humongous trenches behind as if some Mighty God had scratched his fingers in dirt leaving parallel lines of destruction behind. But the forest and Nature herself reclaimed what we see here, and it is actually quite something. Here’s a shot off Bobby’s porch:

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Here’s the man himself, tinkering with some gadget while I take bad pictures. But it also gives a glimpse into the interior of this – perhaps the single most livable, most comfortable home I ever walked into:

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The wood stove to the right in the above picture is the heating unit for the place. Owing to the thickness of the logs constituting the house walls and their tight milling, the insulation properties are off the charts good. He burned one log while I was there – a 24 hour heating job. There is plenty of the “raw” look which authenticates the “do-it-yourself” aspect of the construction but it is decidedly not an amateur job – not by any stretch.

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The massive stonework fireplace was a chore and a half, according to Bob, and was done by a friend while Bobby lugged in a few tons worth of rock. This picture is a little dark, but the scale shows here, I think:

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Warm and inviting, Bobby crafted himself a pure luxurious and homey hideaway. His nearest neighbor is a mile away or so and he is surrounded by everything a Kentucky forest offers. That means moles, ticks, fleas and a bazillion nuisances, lol. He has some great tales of critters and dealing with their intrusiveness. He is constantly afflicted by stray cats who glom onto his place and create kittens. He has liked some of them immensely but soon realized the local hawk and owl population liked them more.

A lot more. Bons bons for the wilderness!

Bob has the greatest porch I ever saw:

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He landscapes his place marvelously, using tasteful groupings and stressing his lawn which adds so much domestication to this wild joint of his. Like many American men, Bobby is sort of fanatical about his grass. I always get a kick out of that, myself, having installed so dang many of them personally. To me owning a lawn is like acquiring a pet – way too much trouble! But these guys love them and, I admit, I can see why. Besides, it’s Kentucky, not Reno, Nevada and it is the very home of Bluegrass.

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Here are some looks from the road that leads to his place, featuring views of these old strip mines whose lakes now contain fish – no matter how difficult it is to actually get to the water from some slope of about 70 impossible-to-climb degrees:

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It’s now just a little bit of Paradise for a very deserving person and one whom I plan on seeing a lot more of. I like this great sweatshirt he’s wearing, sporting the cool look of my favorite town:

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My personal feeling is that if I deserve a friend like Bobby Miller, I am a very blessed man. A little dumb, come to think of it, but then – that’s not a crime yet. Hell, look at our politicians!

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Very, very cool place. I’ll miss you, Bobby Miller.

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Bernheim Forest – Spring 2011

We made it!

The busted hose notwithstanding – now all fixed and working properly –  I made the journey with My Own Mom out to her favorite place on Earth, Bernheim Woods, 15 miles South of Louisville, on a gorgeous, slightly hazy but satisfyingly warm day. We kept the crimes to a minimum on our way out.

(click on images to enlarge them)

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The unusual Spring we’re experiencing – complete with these flirtations with warmth and then ice cold periods following – have acted to preserve a few blooms and fade others. Of all blooms I enjoyed most, the Chinese Pears had a wonderful show this Spring – not buckled by the heat which often sends the blooms cascading down in sheets, but, rather, keeping them fresh for just a bit longer.

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It did put the Dogwoods off a week or so, although they are now pretty much at their height again, providing what I see as a unique Kentucky feast for the eyes. The native Dogwood and Redbud blooms sprinkle local forests like pixie dust, highlighting the fresh lime-green leaves of the Oaks and Walnuts, the Hickories and Maples and making a tableau which is somewhere at an “Urbanite’s Lunatic Fringe of Freshness”, if such a thing could be said. It’s a true Spring scene.

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Spackled throughout the forests here, like the best tourist brochure pictures, native Spring-blooming trees provide a warm and pretty picture which every native Kentuckian misses when they get transplanted – to a man. The fragrance and visual delight of Spring Kentucky forests is special, making Spring an entire phenomenon all of its own and comprising 0ne of the purest and most compelling reasons for loving this lush and gorgeous geography.

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The completeness of Spring seems to round itself off with the dogwoods while less native plants still give out hefty efforts at being as beautiful as genetics can make possible, such as this nice Soulangiana Magnolia.

Picture 202But, still and all, Bernheim shines yet again with absolutely pristine local character, some by design, other by the strict cooperation with Nature.

Picture 331Here we have the somewhat rare Vasey’s Trillium, a native with an unusual brown flower and the tiniest of flowering periods. We felt extremely fortunate to be able to catch this one at its prettiest phase. While other trees and shrubs had bloomed already and dropped, these little gems seemed to have waited for us as we tromped over the where we had observed them a year ago. “Voila!” – there they were!

Picture 336I attached a completely anthropomorphic activity to the entire scene in the picture above:  a classic look at a pretty ballet soloist, using her grace and natural ability to achieve an act of rare beauty. I was struck by this scene’s simplicity and its restful but sensual color and form.

I was getting into it.  😉

Picture 355Bernheim, like my other favorite parks, Hidden Hill Nursery (Bob Hill) and Yew Dell Gardens, features human creations other than the landscaped grounds.  Nothing focuses the mind like a riveting sculpture, perfectly situated in its own grove.

And then, of course, I also like the Supernatural part of the park – among others, the Magnolia’s. I realize there has been some die-off recently from the severity of Winter Storms in recent years, but the remaining supple suckers still put on an impressive show. Magnolias are ridiculously photogenic, for one thing.

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I have a real thing for the yellow-blooming Magnolias. I planted two large trees here in Louisville last Fall and they should be happening now. I just think they may be the only plant I ever saw that looks “lit up” at daytime.

Anyway, the plant is new to me and it’s a current rave. It may be old hat to a lot of people, but for someone still somewhat new here, it’s another dimension.

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Last picture of the Yellow Magnolia’s. Promise!

Picture 342The yet more photogenic Magnolia’s make their bold little splash below:

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Enlarged is how this picture needs to be seen. It’s pretty busy!

Picture 345Eventually, we went and walked along a small creek that courses through the grounds. This one is where Mother had spotted Siberian Iris plants hard by the banks of the creek bed in year’s past. Sure enough, they were busting out.

Picture 350And the creek is more “Kentucky” than Kentucky is.

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Yes, that is My Own Mom, looking fresh after a small crime spree we went on. (It involved a bazooka and an Eggplant….long story. 😉  oh, and an Anteater.

And here’s that creek:

Picture 349Louisville has some of the greatest creeks. All that limestone and the tough cuts made by water over incredible lengths of time. As a child here, I vividly recall hunting for arrowheads and Civil War relics. Fossils were very much in the mix as well. Many was the time I traveled with a pocket full of rocks which – come to think of it – says more than I care to say about how I ended up.

Looking down the other way –

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On the way home, that Anteater got loose in the bank we went to and made a real mess. We’ve used that scam quite a few times and it has paid off handsomely.

We’ll get over to Audubon Park in the next couple of days. It’s always dogwood crazy.


A Busted Hose And Springtime In Louisville

I was squiring my very own Mother out to one of our favorite destinations – Bernheim Forest – for this year’s Spring Orgy Of  Bloomage when we were rudely sabotaged by a radiator hose which sent the heat levels in the car to Code Red conditions. It was panic time until the problem was analyzed and I realized that the hose was an easy fix – but it had to occur at home, at best. At the time of this writing, I am looking out onto the vehicle, sending some mental daggers and hoping that Santa will bring the correctly-sized hose soon. 😉

I’ll fix it when I finish this. Unless I take a nap. Mother is all social with her buddies at the moment, and plans on more of the same tomorrow, so the urgency is less, although the discomfort is unchanged.

At any rate, what we saw last year, in scenes such as this one below, will have to wait a couple of days:

(click any image to enlarge, some twice)


Below are two of my all-time favorite pictures of Bernheim, to this day – today just gives me an excuse to show it again:

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Love this one:

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Anyway, our car troubles notwithstanding, it’s not as if I did not rally with many fine – more local – experiences, camera in hand. There is nothing not to like about Spring Time. I will argue in favor of this point for pretty much ever. So here’s some local pictorial news, around the “hood”.

This gorgeous combination of Flowering Quince blends exceptionally well with the Flowering Plums on either side. I love this design by a local family. As it develops, it will provide absolutely momentous Springs for them and their neighborhood. “Sumptuous”comes to mind as a description.

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Another well-dressed Springtime subject is yet another “bias” completely on my bent mentality. I have always liked trees which were hybridized to grow as a “Columnar” type. These Columnar Chinese Pears are a special treat especially in my experience inasmuch as I have established these and Columnar Cherries alongside many long driveways. Their horizontal nature and the lushness of their blooms offer a possibility in design few other plants can offer.

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In Louisville, many of the gorgeous Columnar Pears are used in boulevard placements. That’s pretty peachy:

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The truth is, even the animals are thrilled – check out the teeth on this smile……….

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Sure – I hang out where kids do. I like excitement – I’m not dead, ya know.  😉

Anyway, it’s still just a teensy bit early. This Dogwood has a week, anyway, until he pops out in full living glory.

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Heck, even over by Freddy’s house, even he has cherries popping out and T Bird’s growing. And he hates gardens!

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Louisville – Yew Dell Gardens

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(click all images to enlarge)

Peaceful, exotic, unusual, Yew Dell gardens is not your everyday visit. While they have the most gorgeous groupings of evergreens in their classic routine – with smaller, lower-growing species below and the taller groupings behind in a wash of evergreen textures, and all developed carefully over time – there is much more here. Even the more deciduous areas were constructed with the longer view, which means depth, color and structural form of an incredibly appealing nature.

First the evergreens:

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Then those more deciduous groupings:

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This is a garden that would have to have been a nursery-owner’s delight. Experiments galore still stud the grounds in a riot of stable,aged and  standard plantings, mixed with some real bizarre eye candy. Lovingly constructed by the instigator of all this and his loving wife, Theodore and Martha Klein had them some real fun. Here is a short blurb taken from their website (

“Beginning with 33-acres of Oldham County farmland in 1941, Theodore and Martha Lee Klein spent the next 60-plus years developing an exquisite private estate, a successful commercial nursery and an extensive collection of unusual plants and outstanding gardens. Known locally, nationally and internationally as a first-rate plantsman, Theodore Klein was also a self-taught artisan who personally crafted the buildings and gardens that became known as Yew Dell.

Through the years, Klein collected over one thousand unusual specimen trees and shrubs which were displayed and evaluated in his arboretum. He also worked to develop new plant varieties for the regional landscape, amassing an impressive list of more than 60 unique introductions over his professional career.”

A perfect example of the level of “whimsy” Mr. Klein brought to bear on his property rests here, in the form of his small “Castle”:

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Mr. Klein’s love of and appreciation for stone work is redolent throughout the entire place. His walls and even other entire buildings show a severe appreciation for the beauty and form of stone houses, walls and steps into gardens:

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I love this wall. It reeks, somehow, of Kentucky, reminding one of the rows and rows of “slave walls” dry set and loose along the roads around horse farms in Central Kentucky:

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In the end, however, it remains the plantings which left the largest impression on this visitor. Here is a series of different-colored Xanthosoma – ranging from a lime green, through a cultivar featuring deep purple stems to another entirely purple variety which absolutely stunned me with its deep purple tone and downright uniqueness. (Check out the reverse side of those gorgeous huge leaves and how they become a dustier “negative” of their reverse):

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The velvety texture of the darker portion is hard to capture on camera, but it feels just as lush as it looks.

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The fact is, the garden’s fascination with “Purpurea’s” of all types does not stop at those uncanny Xanthosomas. Here is a tiny set of purple Shamrocks –

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Odder yet – and tons more purple – is this most surprising Mimosa Tree:

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The Yew Dell Garden is a true delight. It’s a bit smaller than I had thought it would be but they manage to cram all sorts of fascinating, weird, wild and wonderful stuff into it in a riot of species, colors and form. We caught it at the onset of Autumn, so we missed a lot of some equally-unusual annuals and the perennials which had just pretty much finished doing their thing.

Frances at FaireGarden will appreciate their love of that gorgeous Muhley Grass, however, stuck as it is here at the entrance to the place –

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Fearless, experimental and plain fascinating, sculptures are sporadically placed around the Gardens in auspicious spots as well.

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I was particularly taken with The Hand – the sculpture which opened up this post at the top. It’s stark posturing in the middle of a wide expanse of grass just speaks volumes to the unique perspective this gorgeous and interesting garden exudes in so many ways:

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Here’s a walkway through some pruned Holly Trees, hard by those purple Xanthosomas and another sculpture. Like I said – the interesting stuff just doesn’t quit.

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I confess to my own bias – I am also fascinated with purple as a garden color for some strange reason – and maybe that’s it – the strangeness. But Yew Dell certainly has it in abundance, combined with other slices of absolute uniqueness.

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Color everywhere – even in Fall – this garden is well worth anyone’s visit. Eccentric gardens are not that unusual in North America. I know a family in British Columbia who once made themselves a small retreat out of Rhododendrons and Azaleas which got bigger than themselves. Some of these places are now parks people gladly pay to visit in season. Yew Dell, motivated by a nurser and handy man with resources has become every bit of that.

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Thanks for coming along!