Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Celebrating National Learn About Butterflies Day - A Giveaway!

Although any day is a good day to eat pie (I'll take Dutch apple, please!), March 14th is designated National Pie Day. Actually, it's "Pi" day – the day we honor the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. This unique number in math never ends.

So far, it's been calculated to 22.4 trillion digits with no pattern repeats, and named for the Greek letter π. We usually say pi equals 3.14, so that's why March 14th has been chosen as the day to celebrate this imaginary number. (This might help you understand imaginary numbers. Or not.)

Now you understand why we are all eating pie today.

Today is also National Learn About Butterflies Day. That, I can get into, even more than pie. These days, I'm spending a good deal of time sharing information about butterflies, specifically, the monarch butterfly.

Monarchs are unique among their kind. They do things that no other butterflies do. You know, like travel up to 3000 miles to a place they've never been before – a very specific place – the same place their ancestors have gone for thousands of years.

Cerro Pelon monarch sanctuary, February 22, 2018

I just returned from visiting three of the monarch sanctuaries in Central Mexico, where these beautiful butterflies go to wait out the winter until it's time for them to make the return trip north. (They're heading north now!) As I stood high on the mountains in the sanctuaries (around 10,000 feet above sea level), I considered this insect and its story. I thought about just what it took for each of those thousands and thousands of monarchs to get to where they were at that very moment.

El Rosario monarch sanctuary, February 21, 2018

If you don't know about the unique life cycle (including the migration) of the monarch, you're missing one of nature's most fascinating phenomenons. I suggest that you pick up a copy of my book, THE MONARCH: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly, to learn about it. At a current price of $12.88 on Amazon, this 160-page hardcover book is a bargain, packed with facts, anecdotal stories, projects, plant and predator information, and resources for learning even more.

Today, in honor of National Learn About Butterflies day, I'm giving away one signed copy of my book. All you need to do is leave a comment on at least one of these places:

On this coming Sunday night, March 18, 2018, at midnight EDT, a random winner will be chosen from all the entries. You can enter on all three locations, which will increase your chances of winning, but only three total entries are permitted per person.
If you don't want to take your chances on this giveaway, signed copies of THE MONARCH are also available for purchase in my Etsy shop, Folio and Focus Co. Signed copies of my first book, Indoor Plant Decor: The Design Stylebook For Houseplants, are also available, as well as a unique handmade butterfly bracelet (only one left!).

Enter to win now, and then go have a piece of pie.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Niki Jabbour's VEGGIE GARDEN REMIX - Win One!

One of the best things about gardening is that there is an unlimited choice of things to grow. We tend to grow those things that we love, year after year, but it's always fun to try something new, too.

In 2008, I grew a lot of purple veggies. This
is Phaseolus vulgaris 'Purple Queen'.
One year, I decided to grow purple veggies. Researching what vegetables came in purple, I was surprised to find out how many there were. I already knew about eggplant and cabbage, of course, but there was also sweet corn, okra, potatoes, “green” beans, carrots, kohlrabi, lettuce, and several others.

Seeds were purchased and planted, and my purple vegetable garden was born.

When I would talk about my purple veggie garden, the number one question I got was, “Do the purple ones taste the same as the regular colored ones?” And the answer was yes. There was no discernible difference, other than slight variations you would expect from one cultivar to another, independent of color.

Besides being fun to do, I learned something along the way. Those purple beans magically turned green when they were cooked! We called them our magic beans.

For all of you adventurous gardeners, there's a new book that will have you salivating at all the wonderful and quirky choices available for growing. Niki Jabbour, star of growing year round, even though she lives in Nova Scotia, and author of bestselling The Year Round Vegetable Gardener, has written a fun new book – Niki Jabbour's Veggie Garden Remix.

This book is like looking at a catalog of 224 choices of a wide variety of edibles that you may not have thought about growing or may not have even known existed! But better than a plant catalog, Niki shares growing tips, plant origins, how and when to plant and harvest, different ways to use them, and a host of other information.

If your vegetable garden has become a little ho-hum, or you've lost a little enthusiasm for gardening in general, Niki's book can jump start it all again. How can you get bored growing things with names like 'Poona Kheera' (cucumber) and 'Orange Jelly' (turnip). I'm not a turnip fan, but ORANGE JELLY!

A carrot in parentheses!

I can think of no better way to begin this year's garden than flipping through this book and making a list of seeds that will elevate my veggie-growing space to stellar star status. It's like how I used to go through the Sears Christmas catalog the day it came and I made a list of all the toys I wanted. That was such fun, too.

We've been doing the Blue Apron thing for over a year now, and we've been introduced to some foods that we might otherwise not have known about. We found new foods to love, including some you'll find in Niki's book.

Win a copy of Veggie Garden Remix!

I was sent a complimentary copy of Niki's book and you could win a copy of your own! 

Just comment on this blog post by midnight, EST, on Sunday, February 25, 2018. One random commentor will get a copy of Niki Jabbour's Veggie Garden Remix sent to them from her publisher, Storey Books. Be sure to indicate how you'd like for me to contact you, in case you're the winner.

Good luck!


Niki Jabbour is the award-winning author of Niki Jabbours Veggie Garden Remix, The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener, and Groundbreaking Food Gardens. Her work is found in Fine Gardening, Garden Making, Birds & Blooms, Horticulture, and other publications, and she speaks widely on food gardening at events and shows across North America. She is the host and creator of The Weekend Gardener radio show. She lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and is online at

Monday, January 22, 2018

Listen to the Sounds of Monarch Butterfly Wings in the Cerro Pelon Reserve in Mexico!

I just learned of a project that allows you to hear sounds in various locations around the world. Called Locus Sonus, it is a French-based research network that focuses on the relationship between sound and space. It had its beginnings in 2005, and works in cooperation with several research labs throughout the world, including the School of the Art Institute (SAIC) in Chicago.

While I don't entirely understand their goal or purpose, what I do know is that they set up listening devices using open mics in places in order to capture their soundscape. Mainly an artistic endeavor, it relies on technology and science to operate.

Why am I interested in this? Because one of the locations where a microphone is located is in the Cerro Pelon monarch butterfly sanctuary in Michoacán, Mexico. By tuning in to this particular channel, you can hear the sounds of monarch butterfly wings, birds chirping, and wind through the trees in the location where the monarch butterflies were first found in their wintering location in 1975.

Click on graphic to enlarge soundmap. To go to the site, click here.

The listening map is located here and you can find the Cerro Pelon mic in Mexico and click on it. You'll want to have your sound turned up to its maximum level in order to hear the low level sounds.

The listening equipment is solar powered, so there will be times when no sound is being transmitted (at night, for example, which will be indicated by the darkened areas on the map) and the volume may vary. It's very new, so there will be times when equipment adjustments are being made. During those times, the microphone may not appear on the map. Check back later. It will be worth it!

Taking it all in at Sierra Chincua sanctuary, March 3rd, 2017.

Having been in a couple of the monarch sanctuaries myself, I can confirm that yes, it's very subtle, very quiet, which is the beauty in it, especially when you're in its midst. Just as in the actual location, you will not hear loud anything streaming through the microphone and you might be underwhelmed by what you hear. But make no mistake, you can hear those delicate wing flutters.

When the sun is out, the monarchs can be seen fluttering about, like
these, in El Rosario sanctuary on March 2nd, 2017.

Because the monarchs are much more active on sunny days, this will affect what you hear when listening in. If it's cloudy or rainy, you won't hear the sounds of butterfly wings, because the monarchs will be clustered together on the trees with very few, if any, flying around. So if you don't hear them at first try, go back and give it a listen on different days at different times. I got lucky and heard the wing flutters the first time I tuned in. 🦋


Saturday, January 20, 2018

How the Lifesaver Plant Got Its Name

Winter is a time when most of my houseplants get the most love they're ever going to get. That's because if I want to keep these plants - mostly tropicals - they have to live in the house with us during the winter and I generally pay more attention to those things that share my living space. We're in Zone 5b here and it gets way too cold for them to stay outside year round.

These begonias do well in the bright shade of the pergola, but need to
go inside for the winter.

One day, in the summer of 2016, I went nursery hopping with my good friend, Shelley, and while I showed some restraint as we visited various places, only buying what I needed for a photo shoot for a trade industry magazine article I was doing, I found something I couldn't live without. It only cost a few dollars, but we all know that when it comes to plants, cost often has little to do with our buying decisions.

I'd heard about the lifesaver plant many years ago and had seen photos of it - such a cactus-y looking thing with surreal candy blooms. I wondered if those flowers (I felt funny even calling them that) really looked as plasticky in real life.

But now here it was, right in front of me, and oh boy, yeah. It really did look like its photos. So I bought it. In the time since that day, it has taken turns growing in the house, in the conservatory, and outside during the summer. It seems to be a happy camper no matter where it is. You've got to love a plant like that.

Here are the growing stats:

Common name: Lifesaver plant
Botanical name: Huernia zebrina
Plant type: Succulent
Zone: 10
Light: Full sun
Water: Let dry thoroughly between watering, then soak. Tolerates neglectful watering.
Height: Under 6 inches 
Bloom time: Intermittent

FUN FACT: Huernia zebrina belongs to the same family as milkweed -  Apocynaceae. But no, monarch butterflies don't use it as a host plant. 😉

For ideas on how to use houseplants that coordinate with your personal style and decor, see my first book, co-authored with Jenny Peterson: Indoor Plant Decor: The Design Stylebook For Houseplants. (2013, St. Lynn's Press)

Friday, January 19, 2018

Return to Mexico and the Monarchs

I haven't yet blogged in detail about my visit to the monarch sanctuaries in Mexico last March, and I promise I will, VERY soon. That was a trip I will never ever forget, and not just because of what I saw, but because of what I felt. Seldom in my life have I been moved to tears by the very sight of something so  magnificent.

Clusters of monarchs in the El Rosario sanctuary, on March 2, 2017

When I left Mexico, I knew I wanted to return sometime, but I didn't know if that would be a reality or not. And then I got a message a few days before Christmas from Jim West, owner of Craftours, the world's largest touring company in the craft industry. He asked me this:

"...we are working with the SAVE THE MONARCHS FOUNDATION and we are interested in knowing if you would like to be our special guest for a tour in Mexico when we actually go to a monarch sanctuary and see hundreds and thousands of these beautiful monarchs."

Well...ummm...let me think about that. FOR TWO SECONDS!

To make a long story short, yes, I will be returning to Mexico to see the monarchs, along with 18 other people. I will be their go-to person for questions and information about the monarchs. I'm really glad that I've been there before, because that gives me background experience along with the information I've learned over the years, in order to help make the trip more interesting and enjoyable.

The Sun Man in the Cosmovitral

I'll be there February 19-26 and will be visiting three sanctuaries this time. El Rosario and Sierra Chincua, which I visited last March, and a third, Piedra Herrada, which I've not yet seen. We'll be going to the Cosmovitral in Toluca, which I've also seen, and is one of the most unique botanical gardens in the world. But we'll be traveling in and out of Mexico City this time, so visiting that city will be a new experience for me.

With just one month to go before I head out, I'm starting to get pretty excited about it all, and I can't wait to share my enthusiasm with my fellow travelers. I'll be sure to keep you posted when I go, with photos and updates via Facebook.

You can read more about the trip here.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Visit With Sue Grafton, Author

In June of 2016, garden communicators from GWA Region III had a two-day get-together in the Louisville, Kentucky, area. One of the highlights of the garden tours was a visit to the home and gardens of author Sue Grafton, whose home is just east of Louisville.

If you aren't aware of who Ms. Grafton is, perhaps you've heard of her books. She's the prolific author of the "Alphabet Series" of detective novels. Beginning with A is for Alibi in 1982 and ending with Y is for Yesterday in 2017, she wrote the series after a 15-year career writing screenplays.

When we sat in Grafton's sunroom that Friday afternoon, listening to her share writing methods and anecdotes about her writing career, we didn't know that she already was battling cancer.

On December 28, 2017, we were saddened to hear that Sue Grafton lost that battle and passed away at her second home in Santa Barbara, California.

Those of us who had the privilege of spending that day with her began reminiscing about it. I realized I'd never written a blog post about the visit, so I'm righting that wrong here and now.
When I heard a couple of months prior that we were going to be visiting Sue Grafton's home, I immediately bought a copy of the first book in her famous series. Though many who attended that day were already fans of her writing, I had yet to read a single book she'd penned. Detective novels aren't my favorite genre (that would be historical fiction), but I wanted to read at least one before I met her.

A is for Alibi was a good read. By the time I got to the ending, which was worded brilliantly, I could understand how and why people were so enamored with her writing.

Of course, I took my copy of her book with me for her to sign, which she so graciously did. I gave her a copy of my own first book, Indoor Plant Decor: The Design Stylebook For Houseplants, as a hostess gift.

Sue and her husband, Steven Humphrey, purchased their beautiful home in 2000. The property encompasses nearly 30 acres and was the former estate of hardware mogul William Belknap. The home was built in 1911, and Belknap named it Lincliff. Situated along the Ohio River, it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Author Sue Grafton welcomes garden writer and author, Barbara Wise,
to her Louisville home.

We started our visit with Sue welcoming us into her home, where we then settled in for a fun and informative chat with her. She explained how she approaches her writing and encouraged us to be less inhibited in our own writing.

Her husband, Steve, gave a tour of the gardens, but we were also allowed to roam her property at our leisure.

The gardens were formal in design, which complimented the Georgian Revival style home. It was Steve who took on the restoration of the gardens and he did his research, discovering that John Olmsted, nephew of Frederick Law Olmsted, designed the original residential layout.


About 20 years after the home was built, it was landscape architect Bryant Fleming, designer of Nashville's Cheekwood Estate, that created the gardens. Steve had access to the original plans and used them to guide his restoration.

Steve became interested in gardening before Sue, and he taught her to appreciate the finer points of landscaping. Besides the tailored gardens on the property, they grow edibles too, such as potatoes, asparagus, and an assortment of berries. I don't recall seeing that part of their gardens, but our time was limited enough that we couldn't take in the entire property.

At the time of our visit, Sue fielded a question about what she would do once the final letter "Z" was finished in her series of Kinsey Milhone adventures. Since she had just finished writing Y is for Yesterday, which was released three months after our visit, she still had plenty to think about for Z is for Zero, slated for release sometime in 2019. But she said she had no writing plans past "Z."

When news reported Ms. Grafton's passing, her daughter, Jamie Clark, spoke on behalf of the family:

“She was adamant that her books would never be turned into movies or TV shows, and in that same vein, she would never allow a ghost writer to write in her name. Because of all of those things, and out of the deep abiding love and respect for our dear sweet Sue, as far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y.”

GWA Region III meeting attendees.
The region includes Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin,
Michigan, and West Virginia.

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