Monday, April 25, 2011

Arkansas - Land of Adventure!

As if the butterflies of attending the first ever Garden2Blog event with P. Allen Smith weren't enough, Mother Nature decided to provide us with some of her best today. As some of the 20 garden bloggers attempted to make their way to Little Rock, planes were delayed, flights were canceled and little did we know that the day would end with some drama.

Personally, my flights from Ft. Wayne to Chicago to Little Rock were uneventful, other than a warning from the pilot on the way to Little Rock that we were expecting a rough flight at some point. I've flown in worse, but the text messages I was receiving let me know that others were having a much different experience.

Jenny Peterson, who was coming from Austin and was supposed to be my roommate tonight, ended up being stuck in Dallas. Laura Mathews, coming from Pennsylvania, was supposed to share a ride from the airport with me. Her flight was canceled and she finally arrived at the hotel around 9:00.

"We hope we all arrived safely at our destination."
~pilot on Laura Mathews' flight

I arrived at the Capital Hotel in downtown Little Rock around 4:30 and as I tweeted and checked in on Foursquare, "P. Allen Smith sure knows how to treat a girl."  The hotel is an historic one and is by far the nicest hotel I've stayed in. Oozing with class and charm, I could spend an entire day just exploring its halls and architecture and sipping delicious lemonade (provided fresh daily in the lobby) on the covered balcony on the second floor.

Second floor balcony

I got a personal tour of the kitchen and bakery by the Director of Rooms Division, Nick Bradley-Hole. Seeing the pristine kitchen and the staff in action was a treat. As he was showing me the wine cellar, Shirley Bovshow, from Garden World Report magically appeared. It was great to meet up with her and after the tour concluded, I joined her in her room for some catching up on our respective lives.


We met others in the lobby at 7:00 - Jean Ann van Krevelen, Mary Ellen Pyle, Melinda Jones, Mike Lieberman, Jackie D'Elia and Teresa O'Connor. The weather outside was pretty ominous and certainly captured everyone's attentions, but we went in the hotel's Capital Bar & Grill to get something to eat.

Under a tornado warning from the time I'd arrived, it was thundering and lightening at a pretty good rate outside and the rain was coming down in sheets. Lights were flickering and we no sooner got our food when the staff told us to leave everything, as we were being taken to shelter in the ballroom. The tornado sirens were wailing and the room filled up with guests, diners, and staff.

Front row: Robin Horton, Teresa O'Connor, me, Jean Ann van Krevelen
Back row: Shirley Bovshow, Jackie D'Elia, and Mike Lieberman

It was somewhat of a party atmosphere, if you can imagine that. We were perhaps in the room for half an hour when we were allowed to return to our previous activities. The meal was finished without incident and our dining party eventually grew to include others - Chris Sabbarese from Corona Tool, Robin Horton, Kerry Michaels, and Laura Mathews.

We spent the evening eating, drinking and generally being merry, talking about the weather, blogging, the event, and what shoes we were going to wear the next day. We're looking forward to another eventful two days - just not of the weather variety.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

P. Allen Smith's Seasonal Recipes From the Garden

I usually do my book reviews on my other site, Gardening by the Book, because as Book Review Editor at Horticulture magazine, I receive a lot of books to review. But because of the super exciting event that's coming up next week, this one is appearing here.

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Farm

Next week, along with about 20 other garden writers, I'll be spending a couple of days at P. Allen Smith's Garden Home Retreat in Little Rock, Arkansas for the first Garden2Blog event. I can't tell you how honored and surprised I was to be invited and already have butterflies just thinking about what fun we're going to have. More on that later. You can be sure that I'll be snapping a lot of photos to share!

But back to the book...

Allen recently wrote another book, P. Allen Smith's Seasonal Recipes from the Garden (Clarkson Potter, December 2010, $32.50). Now I will freely admit that I love cookbooks. I also love kitchen gadgets. Pots and pans excite me. Specialty serving dishes catch my eye. But there's one problem. I don't like to cook. I never have.  Oh, I can cook and when I do it, people say it's really good and I have a few specialties. But I've always marveled that just when I cook a meal one day, don't you know, we have to eat the next day, and the one after that!

So while I was excited to receive my autographed copy of Allen's new cookbook, and sat right down to browse through it, salivating as I read the recipes, my usual thoughts went through my head. Cooking. Unless I was planning on becoming Allen's neighbor and hoping to be invited for dinner now and then, I was going to have to make these delicious-looking dishes myself.

Image copyrighted by Ben Fink

But you know what? The closer I looked at the recipes, the more I was inspired to actually try them. Not only do they have instructions that are simple to follow, but they use ingredients that are easy to find, with many of them grown right here in the garden at Our Little Acre. Now really, what's better than taking your grocery list to the garden to get what you need for your next meal?

There are over 120 recipes, some from Allen's family, some from friends, and some from chefs of restaurants where he first enjoyed them. Grouped by season, the recipes make use of the garden's coffers at the time the ingredients are ripening.

One of the best things about the recipes in this cookbook are that they are down-home cooking, yet suitable for fine dinners. Many of them are easily adapted to your own tastes, too. The Chilled Pea Soup with Bacon and Whipped Cream could just as easily be served warm.

Chilled Pea Soup with Bacon and Whipped Cream
Image copyrighted by Ben Fink

There's something else that this book has inspired me to do, and that's to try things that I haven't particularly liked to eat in the past. I don't share Allen's love of radishes, but the Radish Top Pasta recipe looks delicious! And this year I'm growing Round Black Spanish Radishes with seeds from Botanical Interests, so maybe I'll decide I like radishes after all.

The recipe I'm most excited to try is the Buttermilk Pecan Pie. I once had the most amazing pecan pie I've ever eaten in my life in a little tea house in Godfrey, Illinois, and they wouldn't share the recipe. I've been on a quest to find a recipe that duplicates that one and this could just be it.

Each recipe is accompanied by tips, trivia and anecdotes and the book wraps it up by giving concise helpful information about what to grow and how to grow it.

First of all, thank you, Allen, for sending the book to me, and secondly, thank you for writing a cookbook that inspires me the way this one does. My starving husband thanks you, too.

P. Allen Smith is a popular television personality and a bestselling author as well as one of America’s best-known garden designers and lifestyle contributors. Host of the weekly public television show P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home, the syndicated television program P. Allen Smith Gardens, and gardening reports on The Weather Channel, he also makes regular appearances on The Today Show.  He recently launched a new public television series, P. Allen Smith's Garden to Table, which is based on the book in this review.

P. Allen Smith's Recipes From the Garden was provided to me by P. Allen Smith with no obligation or suggestion to review or recommend. The thoughts expressed here are my own.  Unless stated otherwise, photos are copyrighted by Hortus, Ltd.  Book cover copyrighted by Ben Fink.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Recycled Plastic Provides a New Home For Birds

Last year's bluebird at Our Little Acre
I've seen a bluebird already this spring. Many years we never see a single one the entire year. I was at our neighbor's house last Thursday, and we were standing in her driveway talking about chickens when her face lit up as she pointed. "Look! A bluebird!" Sure enough, there it was, on the side of our road, then it flew up into the tree. Its vibrant blue and rufous colors were a welcome site.

As I walked back home, I hoped the bluebird would follow me and make a nest in one of our three bluebird houses, like a couple of them did last year. But wait...we have four houses this year!

When I attended The Philadelphia Flower Show last month, this little red bird house caught my eye as I walked up to the display by Plastics Make It Possible. There were other fabulous outdoor items in their display, including those darlings of the gardening world, Woolly Pockets.

But red is my favorite color and red gets my attention. The bird house was such a little thing, but it doesn't take much red to make an impact. I was thrilled when the plastics people told me I could have the bird house when the show was over.

A couple of weeks ago, Romie put the bird house up in a maple tree, where I can see it from our family room. It wasn't up more than an hour when I saw a bird checking it out already. I wonder if the red color catches the eye of certain birds, too. We know hummingbirds are attracted to red, but I don't expect they will make a nest in this.  It's not their style.

Loll Designs is the maker of this red bird house that I love so much. It's made of recycled plastic milk jugs, as are many of the products made by Loll. The bird house can be recycled post-use, but they're made to last, so I expect to have it for many, many years.

*My trip to The Philadelphia Flower Show and the Loll Designs bird house were provided to me by Plastics Make It Possible.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Let Sleeping Bumblebees Lie

The blustery days of late have produced behavior in humans that is normal for those that are clamoring for warm, sunny weather. We're still wearing heavy coats at times and we avoid going outside unless we have to. Oh, we've had a few nice days, but not nearly enough and we're losing patience with Mother Nature.

We aren't the only ones.

As I was walking about the gardens this evening, snapping photographs of spring flowers - getting right down in their faces - I found myself intruding on the privacy of one Mr. Bumblebee. It was about 7:30 p.m., 50°F, and the winds were blowing at 25 mph. It felt cold. I had a coat on, but Mr. Bumblebee was taking shelter inside a large-cupped yellow daffodil.

I saw the butt end of things and for a second, I thought he had crawled in there and died. But knowing that bumblebees sleep inside flowers and having witnessed it many times before, I gave his fuzzy little bum a tickle. Not dead - just sleeping and trying to keep warm.

Whether they're just sleeping, trying to keep warm, or both, you can pretty safely "pet" these bees if you're gentle, as they'll be pretty lethargic. Males are much more likely to stay inside a flower overnight and male bumblebees don't sting, so despite the fact that I'm allergic to bee stings, I didn't really feel like I was taking much of a risk by touching the bee. His only reaction was to move a hind leg a couple of millimeters in super slow speed.

Bumblebees are like butterflies, in that they can't fly if they get too cold, so I think I'll go out in the morning and see if he's still there before the day starts to warm up. Do you think he will be? Do you think the day will warm up? I'm not betting on either one.

EDIT: As of 8:00 this morning, Mr. Bumblebee is still snug in the daffodil, and with good reason. It's 37°, the wind chill is 32°, and it's pouring down rain.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Using the Wind to Our Advantage and Yours

It's flat as a pancake here in northwest Ohio and spring means we're going to have some windy days. A lot of windy days. Being farm country with only little dots of woods here and there, there isn't much of anything to stop it in its path, so unless you live in town, you might as well learn to live with it. A former neighbor hated it so much that he mentioned it more than once as a contributing factor for wanting to move.

Yes, it can be that windy, which is actually a good thing, in one respect, especially in spring. Our area used to be a swamp. With a lot of hard work, early settlers cleared and drained the fertile land and most farms have tile installed for ongoing help with drainage of the clay soil. With spring rains, the soil can remain wet for a long time, so strong and sustained winds help dry it out.

Those same winds have made this area a recent hotbed of wind farm installations. The construction of the towers and turbines has begun and last weekend, we drove the short distance to see the first completed one. There are several towers erected, just waiting for their turbines and many, many more in various stages of construction.

Kara, who is 5' 10" tall, is dwarfed by one of the turbines.

We'll have them on three sides of us, eventually. Some will be closer than others, but all will be visible, to some extent. Personally, I love them, for two reasons. I find them to be architecturally beautiful, especially when there are several in a group. It's kind of like plants - one is fine, three is divine. Things just look better en masse. :-)

The most important reason I love them is because of what they do. The wind is there for the taking. Why not use it to generate electric power?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What's That Smell?

While I was listening intently to Melinda Myers show me how to spruce up the small spaces in my garden at the Proven Winners Outdoor Living Extravaganza in Milwaukee last Friday, my husband was putting in a frantic call to me. At the lunch break, I listened to his message and as he whined and complained his way through it, I got more and more amused.

"I opened the utility room door this morning and you would NOT believe the SMELL in there!! I thought maybe one of the cats made a mess, but it doesn't quite smell like that. Is it one of your plants??"

At first I couldn't imagine what it was and then I remembered the voodoo lilies I'd planted up a couple of weeks before. I'd bought the bulbs at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show - three of them - and a couple of weeks ago, I noticed them shooting out of the bulbs while still in the plastic bag. In fact, one of them was nearly a foot tall already!

When I got home, Romie had banished the voodoos to the conservatory and asked me to go out there and smell them. He wanted to know exactly what I thought they smelled like.

Two words: cow manure.

I'm no stranger to that smell, and it took me back to the days on my grandparents farm. I was transported to the big white barn, with its resident kitties, smelling of straw and... cow manure. While those memories are nothing but pleasant, the voodoo lily fragrance isn't. But there's a method to God's madness.

The voodoo lily, like many of its relatives, emits an odor when it blooms that some say smells like rotting flesh. Not having had that sensory experience, I can't say, but the smell attracts flies, its main pollinators.

There are several varieties of voodoo lilies, but I believe mine to be Typhonium venosum. It's only supposed to be hardy to zone 6, but being in zone 5b, I'll risk it outside. I've now planted them out, in a very protected location on the east side, right next to the house. I might lift one of them this fall, just in case, but I'll mulch well and hope for the best for the other two.

Gardening is very much a sensory experience. In spite of the rank odor these things put out, I'm happy to have them, because it's things like this that spice up my gardening life. Yeah, that's it. Spicy.

Monday, April 11, 2011

2011 Proven Winners Outdoor Living Extravaganza - Milwaukee Style!

Now really...who drives six hours (one way, through four states) and pays for one night in a hotel for a one-day event? Two gardeners who are pretty sure that they're going to get more than the cost and time of doing that, in return. And we weren't the only ones, as eight states were represented at this event!

Last week, Mom and I drove to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for the Proven Winners® Outdoor Living Extravaganza (OLE), held at the Milwaukee County Zoo. As we drove north of Chicago, we noticed that spring had not yet arrived in Wisconsin, but at the Peck Center, there were plenty of brightly colored blooms for everyone.

The third of four Proven Winners® OLE events (previously in Seattle and Atlanta, and next in Toronto on April 15), we were treated to topics by four speakers unique to the Milwaukee event.

Kerry Meyer, Proven Winners® Program Manager, gave us the behind the scenes story of how a plant becomes part of the Proven Winners® line, and eventually part of our gardens. PW's first priority is summer garden performance. The rest is details, because Proven Winners®' main goal is to have a product that the home gardener has success with. If we're successful, we'll buy more Proven Winners® plants, right?

About 1000 lines of plants each year are trialed for two years or more, by 60 breeders in various locations throughout the world, in the ground and in containers. From these, 15-30 new plants per year are introduced. Proven Winners® plants are trialed for good branching, heat and drought tolerance, clean clear color, no need for deadheading, and disease tolerance or resistance.

Solenostemon scuttellarioides Colorblaze® 'Alligator Tears'
In the background, Nemesia Sunsatia® Coconut and Sunsatia® Lemon

Some of this year's new plants that you'll want to look for:

Solenostemon Colorblaze® Alligator Tears (A sun coleus!)
Absolutely Amethyst™ Iberis (Perennial candytuft, in purple)
Lobelia Lucia® Lavender Blush
Intensia® Blueberry Phlox (An annual phlox)
Leucanthemum Daisy May (Shasta daisy that blooms all summer, when deadheaded)

Anisodontea Slightly Strawberry™

Nemesia Sunsatia® Cranberry

 Angelonia angustifolia Angelface® Blue

Bidens ferulifolia Goldilocks Rocks™

Kerry teased us with a look at some of the 2012 plants, too!

Melinda Myers guided us in how to make the best use of small spaces in our gardens and gave us a handout listing some of the best plants to use and just how to use them.

She got a bit of laughter from us when she started out by saying one of the keys to success is to "plan first and shop later." She got a lot of laughter with that, actually, since we've all been rendered helpless when faced with all that eye candy as we walk into a garden center!

"If you don't have enough space to grow all the plants you want to grow, you have a small space garden."
~Melinda Myers

Melinda lives in Wisconsin and besides being the author of several gardening books, she's also featured on television and radio, as well as in many other publications. You can learn more from Melinda at

We took a break for lunch, which was an absolutely delicious meal of a marinated lettuce and tomato salad, stuffed chicken breast, grilled green beans, grilled potato cubes, fresh fruit, and dinner rolls. There were other things that I can't remember, but I would have dumped the bowls of pecan halves in my purse if I thought I could have gotten away with it.

Lunch was a time to catch up with familiar faces and to meet new ones. It's always nice to see Danielle Ernest, Public Relations and Brand Development Coordinator at Proven Winners® . I'll get to spend some more time with Danielle when we both attend the upcoming Garden2Blog event at P. Allen Smith's Garden Home Retreat in Little Rock.

I got to see and chat with Sandy Wentworth (Customer Relations for Proven Winners®), too. I'd met her previously in Dallas at the Garden Writers' symposium. Jessica Reinhardt, Marketing and Public Relations Specialist from Dramm Corporation, was a familiar face too, as we had met in Dallas and she's provided me with some of those wonderful Dramm products that I've mentioned in the past.

Pat, Brenda and me.
I met several other gardeners, including a Wisconsin reader of my blog who recognized me as I was going around taking photographs. Brenda is from Madison and was there with her friend and neighbor, Pat. We spent some time chatting about gardening and cats and chickens! I'm so glad she came up to me and introduced herself!

Danielle introduced me to The Impatient Gardener, a.k.a Erin, a fellow garden blogger who lives in Wisconsin and frequents Twitter, as I do. It's always fun to meet those people in person that you "see" online.

After lunch, we got to hear Tim Wood, Product Development Manager for Spring Meadow Nursery (MI), tell about his searches the world over for new and interesting plants.  That's why he's known as The Plant Hunter. He shared some of his travels to The Netherlands, France, Japan, and other places, where he meets the breeders of some of the plants we have in our gardens. Travel and plants - what a great job, eh?

He also filled us in on how shrubs get to be in the Proven Winners® ColorChoice® family of plants. Key characteristics of these shrubs are:

  • great garden performance
  • interesting foliage
  • multiple seasons of interest
  • long-blooming
  • unique look or use
  • compact habit or growth
  • ease of care

Popular Proven Winners® shrubs include Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight', the only continuously blooming H. paniculata; Physocarpus opulifolious Coppertina™; Berberis thungerii Sunjoy® Gold Pillar; and Weigela florida My Monet®.

Closing out the speaking line-up was P. Allen Smith, who really needed no introduction, but in case you don't know who he is, Allen is the star of P. Allen Smith's Garden Home on PBS and just recently launched a new series, P. Allen Smith's Garden to Table. At lunch, he was constantly being photographed and it didn't stop when he began speaking.

He showed us ways to use containers in our gardens, whether they were on porches, patios, or integrated into the flower beds themselves. We got to see many examples of how he uses Proven Winners® plants at his home and in his designs. Allen proved to be a charming comedian too, with his dry sense of humor and he kept the gardeners grinning.

During breaks in the program, garden products from Dramm, Corona Tools, Cobrahead, The Seed Keeper Company, Lechuza, local garden centers, and many other companies were given away. Proven Winners® gave away many of their plants, too. P. Allen Smith gave away three of his new card sets that were just published on roses, bulbs, and veggies & herbs.

Two lucky gardeners won a Seed Keepers kit, held here by Danielle.

We all got to take home a Calibrachoa Superbells® Coralberry Punch. I was thrilled about this, because I'd seen it in Proven Winners® The Gardener's Idea Book and fell in love with it. Superbells® Blackberry Punch is a winner, too. Several of the new introductions were available for purchase.

Calibrachoa Superbells® Coralberry Punch
Calibrachoa Superbells® Blackberry Punch

In our swag bags were many publications to help us with garden design and plant choice, including a sliding graph plant chart from Proven Winners®. We also got a window thermometer from PW, a trowel from Corona Tools, Milorganite® organic nitrogen fertilizer, Organic Bio-tone® StarterPlus plant food, Zum Bar® Goat's Milk Soap from Indigo Wild, a garden ruler from The Seed Keeper Company, and a Rite in the Rain® mini notebook.

Before we knew it, the day was over and we drove the six hours back home, arriving at Our Little Acre around 11:15 PM. As we drove east on U.S. 30, the conversation centered on what we were going to do in our gardens and how we would use many of the Proven Winners® plants we saw that day.

There were 10 of these combination planters for sale, and about 30 people
that wanted to buy them. Names were put into a container and drawn out
for the right to buy one. Mom got one!

Thank you, Proven Winners®. Thank you, speakers. Thank you, sponsors. What a wonderful event this was. For those of you who've never attended one, there's still time to go to Toronto for the final event this Friday!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

You Can't Fool the Plants

In spite of colder than average temperatures for this time of the year, according to the plants, spring has arrived. There's no stopping it now. With the first blooms of the ephemerals, we'll not have a single day without blooms until next winter. Now isn't that a lovely thought?

Iris reticulata 'Cantab'

New to the garden this year:
Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), planted with Muscari latifolium

Crocus tommasinianus ' Barr's Purple'

Crocus tommasinianus 'Ruby Giant'

Narcissus 'Jetfire' is just beginning to open.

Various cultivars of Helleborus, including 'Ivory Prince', 'Red Lady' and
'Sunshine Selections'.  Look at all the little seedlings!

Helleborus 'Red Lady'

Helleborus 'Ivory Prince'

Helleborus 'Sunshine Selections'

Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Anemone acutiloba), one of our most charming
native wildflowers.

Iris reticulata 'Harmony'

Striped Squill (Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica)

There are many, many things that are breaking through the surface, such as the Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica), Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), our native red Trillium, Dutch iris (Iris hollandica), Dutch hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis), and many species tulips. The ramps (Allium tricoccum)are up and all three of the Allium schubertii made it through another winter!

So now that what I've been wanting to hurry up and get here is here, I want it to slow down. It's always a little sad when the first blooms to appear (snowdrops) start to wilt. Even some of the crocus are done. But on the bright side, each of them seems to hang on long enough for me to revel in their beauty and the miracle that each one is.

Were I to live a thousand years I still would know that flaming thrill,
That rush of joy when first appears — the golden daffodil.

    A thousand times my heart would sing when purple irises unfold;
    Or when forsythia's branches bring their dazzling showers of gold.

I could not see an almond tree with branches all a rosy glow
But that a tide of ecstasy would through my being flow.

Were I to see, a thousand times, blue scilla bells amid green grass,
I know I'd hear their fairy chimes as I would pass.

Were I to live a thousand years I'd never watch the nesting birds
Except through eyes bedimmed with tears, my tongue bereft of words.

Were I to weave ten thousand lays, knew I a thousand songs to sing,
I still would lack the power to praise — the miracle of Spring. 

Taken from “Silver Lining” by Wilhelmina Stitch, 1942 

Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa forbesii)

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