Saturday, March 31, 2012


I set foot in California for the very first time in my life earlier this week and it was just one of those times when you think to yourself, “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.” California is a place that lives in its own little world, or so I’ve heard it said. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

We all do, really. I am most definitely a product of the Midwest and there’s not anything wrong with that either. It’s because we can’t choose who our parents are or where we live until we get out on our own, and by the time that happens, a great lot of who we are is already ingrained in us.

But no one stays the same and there’s a lot of us left to change and move, and many of us do just that when we get the opportunity. A good friend of mine from high school moved to California after she graduated from OSU and got married (she said the weather made them do it). She and her husband lived there for many years, then moved up to Seattle, where they’ve lived for the last 20 years.

If you recall, I was ready to move to Seattle after the first two days I was there last summer – my first visit to that place, too. I still think I could live there just fine, but I’m certain it won’t happen. My husband’s job is here, and family is here, and our first grandchild is on the way. Here. No way am I moving away from that.

I think I can be content wherever I am and with whatever I have, which I’m convinced is the key to happiness. And the more I travel, though I absolutely love doing it, there really is no place like home.

Here are some observations from my first time in California:

  • Palm trees. It’s always the palm trees that stick out to a Midwesterner, because we don’t see those, except in gigantic pots in the mall center court.

  • Mountains. You SURE as heck don’t see those in Ohio. Not my part of the state anyway. In fact, northwest Ohio is as flat as the Bonneville Salt Flats, which my seatmate on the flight from Chicago to San Diego had never heard of, in spite of being a brilliant brain (I could just tell) on her way to a chemistry symposium. She was just young.

    View from the air, shortly before landing in San Diego

  • The fragrance. I was going to say “smell,” but for some reason that makes it sound like it stinks, which it doesn’t. It actually smells like a greenhouse. All green and herbally and fresh and sometimes sweet. It’s probably because of all the vegetation and flowers blooming everywhere, including citrus. I just have to find out what all those charming little orange and yellow daisy-like flowers are that are blooming all along the side of the roads and up the hills. I could live with that. All the flowers and the smell. Not that Ohio doesn’t smell good, too. It’s just different.

  • Rattlesnakes. As I was checking into the hotel, the desk clerk got a phone call. I heard her say, “Oh no! Do you know where the rattlesnake catcher is?” O. Kay. A rattlesnake was on the driving range, which was across from the parking lot. She cautioned me not to go to the driving range. No problem. I saw a rattlesnake up close and personal once and I’m thinking once is enough.

  • Alien boulders. There are these gigantic boulders that look like something out of a sci-fi movie. You know, like an asteroid exploded all over the mountains or something. I wonder if they’re like icebergs - bigger underground than above. I think they have to be or else they’d roll down the mountain. Weird, but kinda cool at the same time.

  • ATMs at the gas station kiosk. I had to fill up the rental car before returning it and I pulled into an Arco station and noticed right away there was no credit card slot on the pump. There was an ATM where you were supposed to pay with cash or a debit card. No credit! So, for the second time in my life, I used my debit card. It comes in handy sometimes, I guess. Oh, and they had attendants giving free windshield washes while you got gas. When is the last time you had a gas station do that? Nice!

  • Cold nights. Now that was a big surprise. This is southern California, right? I figured it was tropical like Florida. Wrong. Every night when I got back to my hotel room, I immediately went into the bathroom and spent some time with the hair dryer to get warm. I just can’t get over how cold the nights are, and I’m told this is normal. I could probably get used to it, but there’s nothing like a warm summer night when you want to take a late walk and you can do it wearing the same amount of clothing you wore during the day.

  • Traffic. Even out in the rural areas, there are major freeways. I suppose the mountains hamper infrastructure to some extent. It’s darned expensive to blast away mountains to make way for roads, so there are fewer of them than where I live, where the land is mapped out in mile squares. Missed your turn? Just turn left three times and that will put you on the road you missed. Southern California? Can’t do that.

    Succulents at Proven Winners West

  • Way cool plants. Imagine clivias growing in the ground year round. Or all those fabulous succulents like Echeveria, Crassula, or Aeonium. I could go on and on.

  • Way cool homes. Stucco! Tile roofs! Multi-levels! Style!

  • No-grass yards. Well, with all those way cool plants, who needs grass, right? Although it's no secret that I love my grass, I have to remember that southern California also needs to conserve water. This isn't an issue where I live. Northwest Ohio is home to the former Great Black Swamp, which threatens to return whenever we have our spring or otherwise heavy rains.

  • Earthquakes. My host said she experiences an earthquake nearly every time she visits California. I kept waiting for one, but all was quiet on the Western front. I think Californians like it that way.

  • Randomness. As I was sitting in the San Francisco airport, a young man flew by on a skateboard. Really. In California, that just seemed normal.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Spring Trials at Proven Winners West

During Spring Trials, various growers showcase their plants at locations up and down the California coast. Buyers come to see what they've got and make decisions on what they'll choose to carry. They get to see what's new and what's been improved upon in plants already on the market.

The white greenhouses are Euro-American/Proven Winners near Bonsall, CA.

I've spent the last two days at Proven Winners' western growing facility (Euro-American) near Bonsall, California (about an hour north of San Diego), touring the different areas where those beautiful plants get their start. More on that later, but for now I'll share some of the eye candy that PW laid out before us so we could see what's in the works for your home gardens. I think you'll like it!

At Proven Winners, a large display garden is the first thing you see when you enter the show area. It's an incredible explosion of color...

Big pots - a trend I've seen at garden shows - showed up here, too.

Annual containers

The perennial showcase

That's the overall view. In the next few weeks, I'll give a closer look at some of the individual plants that will be coming your way. Some will be available this year, and some won't be seen in your garden centers until next year, but it's all good! I've got some favorites picked out already that are going on my shopping list.

Proven Winners provided my transportation, hotel, and meals for my trip to California to see their Spring Trials presentation. My observations and comments are strictly my own; I was not asked nor required to say anything specific regarding my experience.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Linnaeus Day: Bloodroot

I find spring to be one of the most fascinating times in the botanical world. Perhaps more dramatic in the north, as we crawl out from under winter (this year, we ran), the awakening of the sleeping underground helps us come alive, too. Each day brings a new gift.

Dutchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) and Trillium sessile.

This year, it was almost like when Dorothy opened the door to her house after it landed in Oz. There was no transition into spring; we went from gray and brown to a rainbow of colors in an instant. We delight in this assault to our senses, but we mustn't blink or we'll miss something. These spring flowers aren't used to sustained temperatures in the 80s and they wilt under the heat.


Last week, as I walked the woods and the banks of the creek near us, a small white spot caught my eye. I walked to get a closer look and the clasping leaf at its base told me it was bloodroot.

I'd never before seen it in this place that I'd walked a hundred times before. There was just one, though I knew in an undisturbed place such as this, there had to be more.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is an interesting plant. It's the only species in its genus and is found in the eastern United States and Canada from Nova Scotia to the Great Lakes, all the way down to Florida. It gets its common name from its orangey-red root that seems to ooze "blood" when it's broken or cut.

Flowers appear from March to May, before the foliage, which unfolds once the bloom opens. The blooms don't last long - just a day or two - when they're pollinated by small bees and flies. The seed pod then forms, matures and opens, and the seeds are dispersed by ants, which take them to their nests, where they remain until they germinate. This process is called myrmecochory.

Deer like to munch on these plants, so perhaps that's why I never noticed them before; the location where I found the bloodroot this week is a popular deer hangout. Bloodroot is ephemeral, meaning they only last for a short time and then they go dormant and disappear until the next spring.

Double Bloodroot
(S. canadensis forma multiplex)
There's a double form of bloodroot too (S. canadensis forma multiplex), which I have yet to add to my wildflower garden, but if I ever come across it at a nursery in my travels, you can be sure I'll buy it.

Bloodroot in my wildflower garden

Botanical name: Sanguinaria canadensis
Zone: 4-9
Light: Light shade to full shade
Height: 6 inches and under
Bloom time: Late winter to early spring
Note: Bloodroot may be a protected species in your location.
Please check before relocating plants found in the wild.


This post is part of the meme, Linnaeus Day, created by Christopher Tidrick (From the Soil). Each month on the 23rd, garden bloggers delve more deeply into the history and characteristics of a plant in their own gardens. Visit Chris's blog to find more Linnaeus Day posts.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Did You Ever Wonder Why Pulmonaria Blooms Change Color?

Dan Heims
When I attended the Chicago Flower and Garden Show earlier this month, I had the pleasure of hearing the great Dan Heims speak. If you love heucheras, you may know who he is, but in case you aren't familiar with him, he is responsible for many of the heucheras on the market today. Based in Portland, Oregon, he is the owner of Terra Nova Nurseries, where all those beautiful plants get their start.

I always learn something from him and it's usually something very, very cool. This time, it involved another favorite plant of mine, and it wasn't Heuchera.

Pulmonarias are known for their gorgeous, fuzzy spotted foliage, and the early spring blooms of pink-turned-blue. Did you ever wonder why those blooms change color? Why not stay pink?

Pulmonaria longifolia 'Roy Davidson'

It turns out that it has to do with attracting pollinators. The color of a plant's blooms attracts specific pollinators - just the right ones for that particular plant. That's not a big surprise, but this changing color thing is.

When the plant is fully primed with pollen, the color of the plant attracts its pollinators. Once pollination has occurred, the plant changes color. The reason? Mother Nature can be very efficient.

Pulmonaria 'Trevi Fountain', hybridized by Dan Heims

To discourage pollinators from wasting their time visiting an already-pollinated plant, the bloom changes to a color that the pollinator isn't particularly attracted to. They'll pass this one by.

I find that incredibly, marvelously fascinating.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What Are Spring Trials?

One of the reasons I love gardening so much is because there's always something new to learn and experience. If I lived longer than anyone on earth, I would never run out of challenges, surprises, and adventures.

This weekend, I'll be the guest of Proven Winners at Spring Trials in California. Sunday morning, I'll leave the cold and windy unseasonably warm March weather of Ohio and wing my way to San Diego. Not only will it be my first time attending Spring Trials, it will be my first time in California! I'm pretty excited.

But what's the big deal about Spring Trials anyway? Just what are they?

According to their website:

This premier event is where the world's prominent plant breeders, propagation specialists, growers, marketing professionals and plant enthusiasts present, share and discuss the floriculture industry's bounty.

Participants in California Spring Trials set the standards for the finest of plant introductions and new breeding. From California Spring Trials, thousands of trial gardens around the world test and evaluate Spring Trial introductions in their locale, determining the Best of FloricultureTM.

I've seen smaller trial gardens before, at Michigan State University, the Erie Basin Marina in Buffalo, NY, and those at The Ohio State University. Most recently, I visited the trial gardens at Costa Farms in Miami, and saw some Proven Winners plants being grown there.

There's nothing quite as colorful as a trial garden, and it's fun to see the new and current plants that are being grown and tested in the various locations.

Costa Farms Trial Gardens

California Spring Trials is a week-long event that takes place at 25 different locations in The Golden State. I'll be at the Proven Winners Trial Gardens at Euro-American Propagators, LLC, in Bonsall, CA. You can be sure that I'll be snapping photos and taking notes and reporting back with what I see there!

My trip to Spring Trials in California is provided by Proven Winners, including transportation, hotel, and meals. I'm grateful for this opportunity to experience this event in the world of horticulture.

Wordless Wednesday: Magnolia 'Leonard Messel'

A bouquet within a bloom...

Magnolia x loebneri 'Leonard Messel'

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Little Plants Looking For a Garden... (A Giveaway)

Just before my visit last month to Arrowhead Alpines near Fowlerville, Michigan, Joseph Tychonievich, who is a friend of mine that now works for them, asked me if I'd be interested in hosting a giveaway. I love giveaways - entering them, hosting them, and winning them! So, of course I said yes, and here we are.

Arrowhead Alpines is known for their huge assortment of alpine plants and unusual perennials. That's what drew me to them several years ago, in a search for a certain plant. I love the unusual and they've got 'em. 

Click on the photo to see a larger version of the miniature hypertufa
garden I planted, using four plants given to me by Arrowhead Alpines.

Draba hispanica throws up balls of
yellow flowers above its clump of star-
shaped foliage.

Alpine plants, because of their native environment of thin, rocky soil at high altitudes, do well in containers, so they're giving away one Trough Garden Collection (Very Small). Included in this collection will be four small plants along with one small conifer or shrub appropriate for the winner's location.

To enter the giveaway:

~ leave a comment to this blog post telling your USDA Zone


~ provide your contact information via the Rafflecopter form.

The giveaway will end at midnight, Sunday, March 25th. The winner will be contacted via e-mail as well as being posted on this site. Good luck!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

March Madness!

March Madness usually refers to the basketball tournament frenzy. In fact, the state high school basketball championships nearly always bring about a snowstorm around here, but not this year. And I'm not complaining one little bit. We're easily a month ahead of schedule, and I'm thrilled with this early spring we're having, to the point of being giddy.

I heard someone say that we here in Zone 5 just experienced a Zone 7 winter. There were only two snowstorms to speak of, and even those were barely enough to warrant calling off school for a day.  Last year the conservatory went through two tanks of propane and even though we kept it 5-10 degrees cooler this winter, we used just half of that.

This week, I worked three straight days in the garden and experienced the familiar soreness of using muscles that, like the plants, had been pretty much dormant all winter. While I was down on my knees, cleaning and pruning the dead away on most things, I was astounded at all the new growth I saw.

Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica)
Even late emergers like the butterfly bush (Buddleia ), which some years doesn't emerge at all, is leafed out.  The ninebark (Physocarpus), another late one, is unfurling its foliage, too. The Virginia bluebells are not only up, they're budded and showing color. I suppose the hardy hibiscus will be next.

I can't hardly keep up with all the new blooms.  Even as I put this video slide show together, another new one appeared. March is bustin' out all over!


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Costa Farms - They Do Houseplants (And More!)

It's been a crazy two weeks here at Our Little Acre, because one of us has been here and there and everywhere and the other has so wonderfully kept things under control all the while. My husband - bless him - has fed and watered the chickens, taken care of the cats, and has even watered plants in the house and conservatory while I was out and about. And he did it without complaining. He's a good man.

Just a week ago, I traveled to Miami as the guest of Costa Farms for Social Summit 2012. Ten writers and photographers from across the country joined together to tour the Costa facilities, home of the largest indoor plant producer in North America. Costa also provides annual bedding plants for much of the southeast, but due to shipping constraints (annuals don't hold up as well in shipping), we don't get those here in Ohio.

I'm no stranger to Costa Farms. Even before I considered myself a real gardener, I grew houseplants, all the way back to my college days. In the last eight years, I've managed more than 175 plants (probably more like 200 now) both in my house and in my conservatory and many of those are Costa Farms plants.

Our group was an interesting mix of gardeners and home enthusiasts: Jason Loper from Apartment Therapy, James Farmer from Southern Living, Cara Wilkerson from Living the Home Life, Jane McKeon from Better Homes & Gardens, Tabitha Alterman and Tim Nauman from Mother Earth News and Natural Home & Garden, Jill Fehrenbacher and Yuka Yoneda from Inhabitat, Robin Horton from Urban Gardens, and me.

We began our day with Costa Farms with an overview of the business by Marta Garcia and Melissa Marteaga-Marti, along with other employees and Maria ("Mane") Costa Smith. Mane is the granddaughter of Costa Farms' founder and she, along with her husband, Jose ("Joche"), are the current owners and CEOs of the business.

Yes, Costa Farms is a family business and it hasn't been easy. There was the initial hard work in building the business and then came Hurricane Andrew. The entire business was wiped out, and there was no insurance, but the family pulled together and rebuilt it, literally from the ground up. Their heart and soul is invested in everything they do.

From there, we went to the succulents division, where we met the charming Alfredo Bergolla, who told us the story of his flight from Cuba, where he left his valuable collection of rare succulents. He, too, had to start over when he came to the U.S.

There were tables of those fabulous succulents of all kinds for us to drool over and I was glad to hear that there are some new ones coming our way via Lowe's, Home Depot, IKEA, and Walmart, just to name a few of the places that Costa Farms supplies.

New this year are the Minis.

Dr. Kate Santos
Next up was the orchid house and just imagine walking into a huge greenhouse that holds blooming orchids almost as far as the eye can see! There, we learned great tips from Dr. Kate Santos, in regard to growing orchids (it's easy!) and several of us got to repot an orchid and learn the proper way to do it. (That's easy, too.)

The next activity was tremendous fun! We were divided into three groups  and given plants, containers, potting soil and other elements necessary for potting things up.  We had ten minutes to figure out how we were going to design and plant our containers, and once we finished, we presented them to the group.

Photos were taken, and they were posted to Facebook, where readers had a chance to vote on their favorite container among Team Succulent Garden (I was in this group, with Jane McKeon of Better Homes & Gardens and Yuka Yoneda from Inhabitat), Team Terrarium, and Team Houseplants. I just learned that our group won!

It's a winner!

It was time for lunch by then, which was held in the Trial Gardens and though the food was delicious, I wanted to spend my time walking through the beautiful rainbow of color laid out before us. We saw annuals from many familiar companies being grown there: Ball, Proven Winners, Drummen, etc. And before we left, we each voted on our top favorites. (Now that was difficult.)

Osteospermum 'Sunny Lola' and Solanostemon 'UF 10-81-001'
from Proven Winners. Man, I hope they change the name of that coleus if
they end up bringing it to  market.

After lunch, we visited the Mandevilla fields, which I think were the largest fields of all that we saw.  I could barely see the end of it as I stood looking across pot after pot of white, pink, and red mandevillas, which is one of Costa Farms' biggest sellers.

Next, we visited the coir (coconut shells) processing facility, where we learned about how Costa Farms is using coir fiber as a potting medium. This is a highly sustainable product, being a by-product of a by-product that at one time was just discarded. It's great for plants because of its moisture-retaining ability while also being fast-draining. I had purchased some Costa Farms plants just prior to making this trip and they were planted in coir. I like it.

Now that's a lot of coir!

The last stop was to see the Tropic Escape® Hibiscus - Costa Farms' newest line - and I have never seen such large hibiscus blooms in my life. The colors and frilly-edged petals were just gorgeous. Here, we had tropical drinks and hors d'oeuvres.


After a short time back at our hotel for freshening up (it was a hot day and several of us got sunburned), we were treated to dinner at the home of Joche and Mane Smith. And when I say treat, I mean it. The home and property are simply gorgeous. Elegant, yet not overdone, the landscaping and outdoor rooms were the ideal place to enjoy an evening of friendly conversation and delicious food and drink. It was the perfect ending to a gardener's dream of a day.

"Moon over Miami"

The next morning, we met at the hotel for a recap of the previous days' activities and discussion about ideas and insights we all had. Costa Farms is very in tune with their customers and they really do care what we think and what we want as consumers. I'm grateful to Costa Farms and Garden Media Group for the opportunity to be a part of this summit. It was inspiring in some ways that I didn't expect and a valued part of my ongoing education in the world of horticulture.

My trip to Miami, including all transportation costs, hotel, meals, and other expenses were provided by Costa Farms. The purpose of the visit was to provide information and education about houseplants and Costa Farms' part in bringing them to the consumer. They requested nothing from me in return.

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