Monday, January 30, 2012

Coming Soon! The 2012 Northwest Flower & Garden Show

This is the time in winter when I start to get twitchy. I look outside and though I love seeing the snow showers we're receiving right now, I'm tired of having to bundle up every time I go outside to do anything. My indoor growing keeps me going, garden-wise, but I really long for the fresh smell of spring and the sounds of birds singing in the mornings.

That's not likely to happen here for awhile yet, so I have to come up with other ways to pass the time until it does. Last year, I really wanted to attend the Northwest Flower & Garden Show in Seattle, but just couldn't swing it. I told myself I was going to go in 2012. And I am.

Next Wednesday, Mom and I will wing our way across the country, back to one of our favorite destinations - the Pacific Northwest. We spent 11 days there last July and I was ready to move. This time, we'll be inside most of the time, but I'm just as excited about going.

The Northwest Flower & Garden Show takes place at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle every year, and is well-known to showcase the latest and greatest garden designs to thrill show-goers. There will also be presentations by those in the garden industry to entertain and educate those in attendance. And I'm excited to meet up with my fellow garden writer friends, some for first time in person.

There are 22 show gardens, with such themes as  "April in Paris," "Birdsong," "Grunge Garden," "Rhythm and Roots," and "Symphony Orchidstra." It will be fun to see how these are interpreted using plants and landscaping  materials.

There are oodles of interesting seminars (over 120!) and these are just a few that I plan on attending:  Jessi Bloom's "What the Cluck?"; "Creating Harmony in the Garden" with Rebecca Sweet; and "Creative Flower and Garden Photography" with Charles Needle. I've got chickens, I'm design-challenged, and who can't use a little help with their photography skills?

Joe Lamp'l will be there, as will Jamie Durie, and wait until my girls hear that Chris Balew, the lead singer for The Presidents of the United States of America will be performing (except that here he's performing as Caspar Babypants). I remember them listening to his music back in the '90s.

The show runs February 8-12, and we'll be in attendance for most of each of those days. I'm hoping to be inspired by what I see and learn there. One of the advantages to seeing garden shows in different parts of the country is that they each have their own flavor, just as the places where they're held do.

For more information about the show, visit their website: Northwest Flower & Garden Show.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Update on the National Wildlife Federation - Scotts Partnership That Isn't

I'll make this brief, quoting a joint statement released by the National Wildlife Federation and Scotts Miracle-Gro today (January 29, 2012):

"The National Wildlife Federation has worked together with ScottsMiracle-Gro over the past two years on programs to educate gardeners about global warming, connect children to the outdoors and help restore habitat following the Gulf oil disaster. Both parties recently announced plans for an even broader partnership that was based on our common interests.

Since that time, Scotts announced a pending legal settlement related to events in 2008 that predate our partnership, which has made it clear that the partnership is not viable. Therefore, NWF and Scotts will work together to end the partnership in a friendly and mutually beneficial way."

In case you aren't familiar with the "pending legal settlement," it was announced on Friday that Scotts was charged with selling bird seed tainted with chemicals intended to keep insects from eating it, while knowing that it was toxic for birds, fish and other wildlife. They are charged with doing so for more than two years. More on that here:

Scotts to pay $4.5 million in fines - Columbus Dispatch, January 27, 2012

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sweet on the Queen's Tears

About a year ago, I came across a photo online of a beautiful bloom. I read the caption, then read more about the plant sporting it. was a tropical, so I kind of dismissed it because finding certain tropicals in the north can be as much a waste of time as shoveling the snow while it's still snowing.

Just a few short weeks later, I attended the Fort Wayne Home and Garden Show, as I usually do each year. Making a bee line for the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory's booth, I was anxious to see what they had to offer for sale. They have great stuff and sometimes unusual plants, for quite reasonable prices.

I picked a couple of things out, paid for them, and had them hold them until I was ready to leave the show. As I was walking away to see what else was at the show, something caught my eye that I hadn't seen, somehow. It wasn't in bloom, but the stiff spears of foliage made me take a closer look. When I read the tag - Billbergia nutans or Queen's Tears - I couldn't believe it. This was the plant that I'd read about.

This one wasn't in bloom and wasn't exactly something that would warrant anything more than a passing glance. I'm not sure why I checked it out, but I snatched it right up and took it home with the rest of my treasures. It was bursting out of its small plastic pot, so much so that it was misshapen, so I made a mental note to repot it into something slightly larger when I got the time. I put it in the conservatory.

I forgot about the repotting, but it must not have minded, because it bloomed a few weeks later. It was as beautiful as I'd seen, even though it only had a couple of blooms.

Spring came and things got busy around here. The Billbergia finished blooming and I kept putting off the repotting. I left it in the conservatory for the summer, watering it as it needed. Soon it was fall and time to start loading up the conservatory with the tender plants that had enjoyed the summer outside. Still, the Billbergia was waiting for repotting, and I knew I couldn't put it off any longer.

Earlier this week, it rewarded me for giving it more room. There are eight shoots of blooms on it this year and I'm not sure it's done shooting them out yet. Normal time for them to bloom is mid-spring, so it's early. Last year, it bloomed in mid-April.

They're as beautiful as ever, as seen in the photos here. This plant, which is a terrestrial epiphyte, couldn't be easier to care for, in fact, it tends to thrive on neglect, I've found. It's also called Friendship Plant because it produces "pups," which can eventually be separated from the mother plant and potted up.

While they might be common in warmer climates, they aren't that easily found here where I live. Keep your eyes open and you might find one, too.

Billbergia nutans
Zone 9-11
Bright indirect light. If grown outside, keep in shade.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

In Case You Haven't Heard About the NWF/Scotts Affair

If you monitor the goings-on in the gardening world, you know that a firestorm is raging that began with the announcement by the National Wildlife Federation that they're partnering with Scotts Miracle-Gro. If you haven't heard about it, I want to make you aware of the impact of this quite frankly, puzzling, partnership.

Snowberry clearwing moth (Hemaris diffinis) aka
Hummingbird Moth on Bee Balm (Monarda sp.)
The National Wildlife Federation has historically been an advocate for wildlife. Their latest move has many of us questioning just how deeply their commitment goes. After all, an organization that claims to care about the environment as it directly relates to living things surely wouldn't partner with a company that does billions of dollars of business a year selling chemicals known to be harmful to the environment, would it?

They did. And many many of us can't understand why. They seem to be strange bedfellows, to say the least.

Roundup® is especially toxic to amphibians.
Don't get me wrong. I don't think Scotts is the devil, as some do. And I'm not for throwing out the baby with the bathwater; Scotts is working towards producing more organic products. I don't want to take away from that. But they do produce many products that are known to harm the very things that the NWF claims to care about. (Roundup®, for one, and it's a BIG one.)

It remains to be seen how this will all play out. The NWF is surprised by the public outcry over their decision to partner with Scotts. It amazes me that they didn't think about the reaction that they might receive before they made that decision. There's been a call for boycotting all things made by Scotts to hit them where it hurts, but as someone has said (sorry, I've read so much I don't recall who it was), many of the people that object the most don't buy Scotts products anyway.

I had our garden here at Our Little Acre certified as a "Wildlife Habitat" in 2008. (See certificate in right sidebar.) The fact that I desire to reduce any harmful effects on the environment and those who live here with me in it by providing a relatively safe place for all of us to live, means that I keep my chemical use to a minimum, if using any at all. (I honestly can't remember the last time I used anything that wasn't organic.) I thought this was the philosophy that the NWF embraced, too. This hook-up leaves many of us not as sure about that as we once were.

Unlike many of those who object to this partnership, I'm not going to tell you how you should feel about it. That's for you to decide. But I did want to help raise awareness of the controversy if you weren't already aware of it. And I have meager hopes that something good might come of this. I am a glass-half-full kind of gal, after all.

For further reading:

UPDATE: NWF posted this on their site today, in an attempt to answer to the concerns of so many:

I sincerely hope that these goals can be met. I have some doubts, due to incongruous statements in Mr. Schweiger's letter. Time will tell. But I think NWF now knows that they've got their work cut out for them, both in achieving their goals and winning back the trust of those supporters they've lost by this action. 

    Wednesday, January 25, 2012

    The Owl and the Pussycat

    We love our cats. We love our Great Horned Owl, too. But they don't love each other. Well, one of them does, but not for reasons we particularly are fond of. This was brought home to us this week.

    A couple of weeks ago, Tinker Belle, the latest stray to find its way to Our Little Acre, and who is normally the sweetest, most loving kitty you'd ever meet, was ouchy. Downright grumpy and growly. As near as we could determine, she was hurting in her hind quarters, but she wouldn't really let us investigate things very well without protest.

    She seemed to be eating okay and getting around all right, so we kept an eye on her until a couple of days later, she went missing. That wasn't like her, since she was always around, once she'd chosen this as her home.

    When the second morning dawned with no Tinker Belle, the thought went through my mind that perhaps she was really ill and had wandered away to die, as cats have been known to do. But later that afternoon, there she was, right on time for the afternoon feeding. This time, she let us pick her up and she seemed to be back to her normal adorable self.

    Not quite.

    We found an inch-in-diameter open sore on her back, near the base of her tail, that was starting to scab over. Since we'd been meaning to take her in to find out if she'd been spayed by her previous owner, this seemed like a good time to get her to the vet. (She showed up here several months ago, with a collar, and in asking around, no one knew who she belonged to.)

    He looked at her and said it looked like she'd probably had a puncture wound and that it had abscessed, burst, and was trying to heal. A round of antibiotics were in order and we left the office with an appointment for about ten days later to have her spayed.

    I arrived to pick her up after the neutering yesterday and Vicky informed me that I'd be surprised when I saw Tinker Belle. While she was under the anesthetic, the doctor had shaved the wound area and cleaned it out. As he did so, he found many more puncture wounds. When Tinker Belle was brought out, my only reaction was, "Oh  my..."

    Poor little baby. What on earth had she come into contact with?? I took her home and Romie and I discussed it. A dog? Perhaps, but with the number and nature of the wounds, that didn't really seem right. But there are any number of things out there that can be dangerous for little kitties.

    This morning, I believe Romie put his finger on the cause of all those wounds. Our resident Great Horned Owl was hooting in the front oak tree and suddenly, it made sense. Talons. Talons could make wounds like Tinker Belle's.

    Raptors are known to snatch cats for food. There are reports of cat collars being found in eagles' nests. (I couldn't find any substantiated reports of this in a quick Google search - only hearsay.) Owls are raptors too, and are apparently much more likely to grab cats than eagles, from what I could find out.

    We'll never know for sure if it was our owl that did this to Tinker Belle, but given the fact that Hootie hangs out here on a regular basis and we've heard him quite a bit lately, it's a distinct possibility. We'll never know what happened to Jilly either - yet another of our cats that was not known to wander.

    We're calling the feral cat Bandit. If I hadn't been inside the
    house, taking this photo with my zoom through the front
    door, I could never have gotten this photo.
    Before any of you take us to task for not keeping all of our cats in (three of them never go outside), I'll give you the shortest answer possible. We have ten of them. All rescues, except for the one we've had the longest (Simon), whom we got from a cousin. Only two of our cats were chosen by us. The others chose us. Yet another stray (feral) has been hanging out here for many months, but only for a bite to eat. So we're feeding 11 cats at present.

    We do what we can for them: neutering, vaccinations, flea medication, feeding, medical care when they need it. It's expensive. But we choose not to take them somewhere that we know they'll be euthanized in three days. The no-kill shelter is always full. Several of our cats spray. You wouldn't want cats spraying in your house either. So we provide a place for them to get out of the weather outside.

    We do the best we can. But sometimes things happen. What we really wish is that people would take responsibility for their animals, because sometimes they end up being that of someone else.

    Monday, January 23, 2012

    Linnaeus Day: Cornus sericea 'Cardinal'

    Carl Linnaaus
    My friend, Christopher Tidrick (From the Soil blog), has a new meme launching today that he calls Linnaeus Day. It is so named in honor of Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), the Swede who is credited with the origin of plant taxonomy, or the naming of plants. He prepared the way for the use of binomial nomenclature, using Latin to provide each living thing with a unique name.

    On Linnaeus Day, Chris challenges us to pick a plant from our garden and find out more about it. This is a wonderful project for information junkies like me. I find history of just about anything to be fascinating and when it involves one of my favorite pastimes, it’s irresistible. 

    Since I have an acre to work with here, I’m doing my best to fill it up, growing hundreds of different plants in the gardens and landscape. How could I choose one to research? My inspiration came in the form of a beautiful red bird that frequents our bird feeders and it so happened that it posed for my camera yesterday, as I was trying to think of which plant I'd research.

    Ohio's state bird, the cardinal, just outside our window

    What does that have to do with my choice of plants for Linnaeus Day? I grow a red-twig dogwood in our gardens – three of them, in fact – whose botanical name is Cornus sericea ‘Cardinal’. Winter is its true time to shine, because once it’s lost its leaves for the winter, it allows the branches to be seen. And in winter, their normally green branches turn bright red. (Dirr notes that the red winter color is not as good in Zone 7, where it’s more of a yellow, with a trace of orange.)

    Cornus sericea 'Cardinal' with Yucca filamentosa 'Color Guard' in December
    To keep this shrub producing the best red branches in winter, it’s advised to prune the older branches in the spring, as the deepest red color is shown on the younger growth. Pruning isn’t necessary though for growth's sake, unless you want to rein in this fast grower. 

    I remember when I got mine (2008) and I planted them in a group of three. My mom came for a visit and promptly advised me that I’d better spread them apart a little more, unless I wanted one ginormous shrub, because she knew their growth habit. I promptly followed her advice, and it wasn't long before I was glad I did.

    Azure butterfly on Geranium phaeum 'Lavender Pinwheel'
    While researching information about this particular shrub, I learned that it’s a host plant for the spring and summer azure butterflies. We have both azures, but they look so similar, I can’t tell them apart when I see them flitting about in the yard and gardens.

    ‘Cardinal’ was developed by Dr. Harold Pellet in conjunction with the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, which released it in 1987.  The University’s Woody Landscape Plant Breeding and Genetics program was formally initiated in 1954 to breed trees and shrubs capable of withstanding Minnesota's harsh climate. Since that time, the program has been responsible for the release of 46 cold hardy woody landscape plants.¹

    Cornus sericea ‘Cardinal’

    Deciduous shrub – Hardy in Zones 2-7
    Light: Full sun to Part shade
    Soil: Moist, acidic to mildly alkaline
    Mature size: 8-10 feet wide and high
    Fruit: Clusters of white berries follow tiny white spring blooms

    Information gathered from the following sources:
    Wikipedia, "Carl Linnaeus"
    Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees & Shrubs
    , Timber Press, 2011 ed., pp. 222-223.
    Missouri Botanical Garden

    ¹University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

    Tuesday, January 17, 2012

    All Seeds Considered

    The seed catalogs are coming fast and furiously now. The companies are playing to our weakness, especially those of us that live in the north. We're all rested from last year's hectic gardening season and we're ready to get back at it. The beautiful photos of the flowers and seed packets make us want to roll up our sleeves, grab our gloves and get planting!

    But we're still in the planning season because the weather dictates it. It's still too early to start seeds inside. And I don't know about you, but I can't exactly make up my mind just what I want to grow this year. I always want to try a couple of new things and I'll be doing that again, but there are just so many wonderful things to choose from! And those seeds hold so much promise...

    Lycopersicon esculentum 'Sungold'

    "Who plants a seed beneath the sod
    And waits to see, believes in God.
    ~ Unknown

    I know I told Romie that I don't want a larger garden, but unless I tear some existing things out, I'm not going to have nearly enough room (again) to grow all the veggies and annual flowers that have made it onto my list for the coming season.

    It isn't as if I really even need to buy any seeds at all. I've got three Seedkeeper Kits full of seeds and another box full of big bags of saved seed from previous seasons. I took inventory of my seed stash last weekend and honestly, I could probably supply my entire hometown with seeds for this year. (My hometown boasts a population of only 180, but still.)

    The thing is, what I have here doesn't contain packets of some of the things I want. As I said before, I want to grow Brussels sprouts this year. Since they have a long growing season, I've considered buying young plants, but I've grown them from seed before and it's quite doable. Maybe I'll even grow the purple ones ('Red Rubine').

    I want to grow tree cabbage, too. Not for eating, but for the novelty of it. Native to the  Channel Islands, that cabbage grows to heights nearing seven feet tall! How fun would that be? And it's doable here. 'Megaton' would be fun, too. Imagine a cabbage that grows to 22 inches in diameter! If we grow that, we're definitely going to need a bigger garden, because I'm not giving up bean or beet space.

    'Tuscan' kale makes the list. I've never grown kale before and I've never eaten it before either, but I want to make some of those kale chips everyone was raving about last summer.

    Purple okra bloom from my 2008 garden

    There was a big bag of purple okra seeds in my saved seeds collection. It's been several years since I grew it, so I know the seeds aren't all that fresh. I'll overplant and thin them if I have to. The plants are gorgeous and okra is great to add to vegetable soup.

    There are some annual flowers on my list, too. I skipped a year growing calendulas and I missed them. It's such an easy annual to grow and it will self-seed if you let it. Commonly called pot marigold, there are several varieties, and don't you know, I didn't find a single packet in my seed stash. Must buy some.
    Moluccella laevis in my 2008 garden

    I might try Bells of Ireland again. I've tried to grow this annual several times and while I get some seedlings, few of them ever make it to a large enough stage to produce those ├╝ber cool stalks of green bells. Only once did I get to see them in my own garden.

    If there's one flower that I've tried unsuccessfully to grow more than any other, it's the elusive Himalayan blue poppy. I bought seeds (again) when I was at Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island last summer. I've never had the privilege of seeing one in bloom in person and it might be that I never will. But I'm willing to give it another go.

    Are you going to be trying something new this year?

    Wednesday, January 11, 2012

    Spring in the Heartland

    Anemone coronaria
    I love spring. Especially when it's in winter.

    Except for a couple of times when we got some snow and ice, this winter has been anything but wintery. It doesn't feel like an extension of fall; it feels more like early spring. In just three more weeks, Punxsutawney Phil and Buckeye Chuck will be crawling out of their holes and telling us if we can expect an early spring or not.

    I've got news for them - spring is already here.

    All over the country, we hear about temperatures way above normal and it isn't just a fluke of a day here and there either. It's been like this for weeks, and plants are confused.

    The daffodils are up...

    Narcissus sp.

    So are the Crocus...

    Crocus fusctotinctus

    The irises never really died down...

    And the Dutch irises came up several weeks ago. Now all they need are blooms.

    Iris x hollandica 'Silvery Beauty' and Felis catus 'Jack'

    Magnolia 'Leonard Messel'

    I worry about the magnolias, which always form their buds in fall, as do many other shrubs. I worry because they might take this warm weather as a sign that it's okay to just open up and bloom.

    But there's no way we'll have extended warm weather. Will we?

    If we do, the quince will surely bloom...

    Chaenomeles superba 'Crimson and Gold'

    Some of the roses still have flower buds on them - "frozen" in time - while others are leafing out.

    The Snow in Summer (Cerastium tomentosum) foliage looks as good in winter as it does in summer - although a little shorter.

    The 'Autumn Brilliance' fern looks gorgeous as the late day sun shines through its fronds.

    Dryopteris erythrosora 'Brilliance'

    The red-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea 'Cardinal') has it right, with its wintery red branches, which provide great contrast with the 'Color Guard' Yucca filamentosa.

    Yucca filamentosa 'Color Guard' and Cornus sericea 'Cardinal'

    The hellebores have beautiful green foliage (this is normal) and emerging flower buds (also normal)...

    Helleborus sp.

    The newly-planted golden feverfew looks as fresh as spring, despite being previously covered by the last snow. I love the frilly chartreuse foliage.

    Golden Feverfew (Tanacetum partheneum 'Aureum')

    "Best Winter Foliage" award probably goes to Arum italicum. Winter? What's winter?

    Arum italicum

    The vernal witch hazel is definitely early this year - about two months early.

    Hamamelis vernalis

    Who would have thought we'd still have petunias growing green in January???

    Offspring of Wave™ Petunia, below the flower boxes where the
    original Waves™ grew. No blooms, but still...

    The biggest surprise in the January garden goes to the hydrangeas, which are leafing out.

    St. Francis of Assisi stands watch over the
    Hydrangea macrophylla
    , in leaf.
    In January.

    The birds are singing like it's spring too, but I'm certain winter will make a comeback soon. In fact, word on the street is that we're in for some very cold weather by late Thursday, with 2-4 inches of snow expected. Isn't that just like the Midwest?

    Winter. Just when we were enjoying spring.

    Monday, January 9, 2012

    Maybe There's a Reason You Don't Like Brussels Sprouts

    Ask me if I like Brussels sprouts and I'm likely to turn up my nose. But I really don't have a good reason to do that, because to be honest, I've never tasted them. But now I want to.

    I grew Brussels sprouts in 2008, but I never ate them.
    It wasn't because of the aphids either.
    Annie White, Editor-at-Large of Inside Grower, brought an interesting little tidbit of information to my attention in her latest newsletter. It seems that there is a genetic predisposition for liking Brussels sprouts or disliking them. About half the population has a gene type that causes the vegetable to taste bitter to them. The other half has a mutation of the gene that allows them to eat Brussels sprouts without tasting the bitterness.

    Brussels sprouts contain PTC - Phenylthiocarbamide - and people who can't taste it are more likely to enjoy eating them. This discovery was made by the Eden Project in Cornwall, Great Britain.

    I grew Brussels sprouts once, four years ago, but I never ate them. Now that there's this genetic link to liking these or not, I want to grow them again and this time, I'll eat them. I'll eat them at least once, just to find out if I'm a "taster" or not. Then I'll make my husband eat them to see if he likes them. And then - you know what's coming, don't you? - I'll make our girls eat them to see whose genes they inherited.

    Yeah, it will be a downright scientific experiment.

    Friday, January 6, 2012

    Save the Heirlooms! (And a Giveaway)

    When our grandparents were busy plowing the fields and hoeing the gardens, they were likely growing plants from seeds that were saved from year to year. They saved the seeds from the best plants each season and each year the results were [theoretically] better than the year before. Why were they better? Because the plants that did well in their unique growing situation were more likely to do well in that same situation again. They thrived because they adapted to their environment. Same plants, only better.

    'Sun, Moon and Stars' Watermelon
    (Heirloom, introduced commercially in 1926)
    Yes, it's usually larger than this!

    Seeds that are saved in this way are open-pollinated, meaning one kind of plant wasn’t purposely pollinated with another to create a specific and different plant. They simply were pollinated naturally by insects, the wind, or birds. With hybrids, two different plants are purposely cross-pollinated with a specific purpose in mind – to create a plant with a specific color, growth habit, hardiness, or some other desirable trait.

    As more and more plants are created by the hybridizers, the heirlooms (as those plants that have been passed down over the years via saving seeds are called) are disappearing. This is especially worrisome when it comes to seeds that grow edibles. Many of the varieties that our ancestors enjoyed are becoming scarce, if not non-existent. The diversity of crops, which is vital to the health of our homegrown food supply as well as the insect population (the balance of good guys to bad guys), is taking a huge hit.

    The purple streaked beans are 'Dragon Tongue', an heirloom from 18th
    century The Netherlands.

    I’m not against hybrids. Thousands of beautiful and delicious plants have been created by hybridization and I grow many of them in my gardens. I just hate to see so many of the heirlooms disappearing. We need to grow more of them to assure that they won't be lost. Hopefully, you're already growing some heirlooms in your gardens!

    Emilee and Jere Gettle,
    with daughter Sasha
    Jere and Emilee Gettle, owners of Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company in Mansfield, MO (home of Laura Ingalls Wilder), have devoted their lives to the preservation of heirloom seeds. They recently wrote a book about it. The Heirloom Life Gardener is a great read on the subject of heirlooms and how to grow them.

    You can see my review of their book on my garden book review site,  Gardening by the Book, as well as on Horticulture magazine’s website.

    And, since I received two copies of their new book, I’m giving one away to one lucky reader! All you need to do to be entered to win is leave a comment to this blog post and tell me what heirlooms you plan to grow this year. Are you trying a new one or do you have a favorite that you grow every year? Be sure to fill out the Rafflecopter form too, so I’ll have a way to contact you if you win. The giveaway ends in three days, at midnight EST this coming Monday, so don't wait to enter!

    Monday, January 2, 2012

    New Beginnings and Second Chances

    Dear Readers,

    This blog post is very personal in nature. I realize that many of you won’t care to read it and that’s okay. While this is mostly a blog about gardening, it’s also an expression of who I am. Writing it fulfills something in me that I find difficult to explain to others, so I don’t usually try.

    Before I’ve finished letting the words spill out onto the page today - the fifth anniversary of the beginning of this blog - gardening will emerge as a major player in the story, but the real deal is that it’s a reflection of past events and an appreciation for new beginnings. I’m grateful for each of them and for you, because you too are an important part of the path my life has taken.    


    For as much as I dislike winter – more and more as the years go by – January has historically been a good month for me. It has brought new beginnings, as it traditionally does for many. Many make New Year’s resolutions, but none of the events that I am going to tell you about here today really happened in January by design; that was purely coincidental.

    I do like the idea of making resolutions, many of which can be life changing, if you stick with them. But there’s the problem I have – that stick-to-itiveness. My level of distractibility is something I battle constantly. I second guess myself on many levels and sometimes this is so overwhelming that I can’t deal with it and I abandon the project or idea altogether.

    So these new beginnings I speak of were mostly thrust upon me through no choice of my own, with one exception. The first January event that I can remember having a profound effect on my life happened 48 years ago.

    In the fall of 1963, I entered first grade. My September birthday was late, by school entrance standards at the time, so I was actually four years old when I began kindergarten, and five when I walked into Mrs. Gantt’s first grade classroom. Three weeks later, I had my sixth birthday, which then put me at the same numeric age as my classmates.

    One day, right before Christmas break, the school psychologist walked into our classroom, went to the blackboard and wrote a word on it: forsythia. She asked if anyone knew what the word was. I knew it, but not wanting to call attention to myself, I kept quiet. After she left the room, I got up and walked to my teacher’s desk and discreetly told her what the word was.

    I don’t recall what my teacher said, but in the next few weeks, I remember going through some testing, and when semester break came in January, she changed my seat to the other side of our room. Ours was a split class – common in our small school – with half of it consisting of first graders and the other half of second graders.

    That year, I spent the first semester in first grade and the second semester in second grade. The next year, I went on to third grade. This was both a blessing and a curse. It wasn’t all that common to accelerate students back then and now being the extreme “baby” of the class, I felt a constant pressure to do well - to live up to the expectations my teachers and my parents had of me.

    This wasn’t an entirely bad thing, because it came more in the form of encouragement from others, but I also put a certain amount of pressure on myself so that I wouldn’t suffer embarrassment if the move turned out to be a bad one.

    Academically, this was a life-changer, to be sure, but at that young age, academic excellence wasn’t the most important thing to me. Changing grades determined who my classmates would be and who my friends were. Learning has always come easily to me (in most things!) and I had great friends, many of whom are still good friends decades later. But there is no doubt that that day in January affected my life in a big way.

    Fast forward to 1999…

    I’ve spoken of the events of the third week of January of that year many times on this blog. I contracted bacterial meningitis and partly due to its being misdiagnosed on my first trip to the emergency room as the flu, I became gravely ill to the point that my infectious disease doctors didn’t think I would live. In fact, one of them told me later that they weren’t sure why I did.

    My explanation for why I’m still here and why I don’t have more lingering physical or mental effects from the disease than I do, is divine in nature. While I believe that God gave us free will, and that the decisions we make greatly affect the course of our lives, I also believe that He intervenes for reasons perhaps unknown to us, and in ways that work for our own good or for the good of others.

    Hundreds of prayers were spoken on my behalf and in the end, it’s my belief that my life was spared for the sake of my family, not for me. As the father of 16-year-old and 18-year-old daughters, Romie’s life and theirs would have been vastly different if I had died.

    When January comes around each year, I look back on the events of the past year and whisper a prayer of gratitude for another year of life and all the wonderful things that it held. I am not oblivious to the fact that others have been in similar or worse situations and that they did not have their prayers answered. I don’t presume to know the answer why. But I continue to pray for others and to give thanks for the blessings in my own life.

    I hate writing.

    Nah, that’s not true, but I’ve had a fickle affair with writing for years. I’ve always leaned toward the literary end of the scale when it comes to favorite pastimes, being an avid reader since the age of four. (Thanks, Grandma!) And there haven’t been more than a few weeks in my life when I didn’t have my nose in a book. I was one of those kids who used a flashlight to read under the covers at night so that I wouldn’t get in trouble for not going to sleep when I was supposed to.

    Several years ago, I was asked to be an editor of an online magazine that later also published in print. As sometimes happens, deadlines occasionally weren’t met and I was asked to supply an article real quick-like. This wasn’t my favorite thing to do. My motto was, “You write it; I’ll fix it.” But after having written a few articles, I decided it wasn’t so bad after all, this story-telling.

    Around Christmas of 2006, our older daughter Kara, who was 26 at the time, challenged me to start a blog, writing about my passion for gardening. I had only begun seriously gardening the year before and I found it hard to curb my enthusiasm. Writing turned out to be a great outlet of expression for me as I began Our Little Acre with its first post on January 2, 2007.

    Today is the fifth anniversary of my beginning what eventually became a second career for me – one that I never could have predicted. A dental hygienist since 1977, I thought that was how I would spend the rest of my working days. I still work as a hygienist, though not on a regular basis and due to wonderful and unexpected opportunities that have come my way because of my blog, I now consider writing to be my principal source of income.

    I write for several publications on a regular basis and thoroughly love it. In the process of getting from there to here, I've learned much and I’ve met some incredible people that are now my colleagues. Many have become close friends. And this is where I thank you, dear readers, for coming along on the ride and offering encouragement by way of your comments and your conversation that has spilled over into social media venues like Facebook and Twitter. That has been the highlight of it all for me - you make it more fun.

    January is indeed a month that holds new beginnings and a world of possibilities. I wonder what it will bring this year...

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