Saturday, November 29, 2014

Postcards From the Past

Last week, I wrote about collections for my garden column that I write each week for our local newspaper, the Paulding Progress. Gardeners collect plants, certain genera of plants, garden tools (such as hoes), and old garden books. I do the former and the latter, but I used to collect something else.

Long before I ever knew or even thought about becoming a gardener, way back in the sixth grade, I collected postcards. Cheryl, my best friend at the time, and her family were antique buffs and I often went with them on their journeys to local antique dealers to look for treasures. I often came home with odds and ends of things, but always more postcards to add to my collection.

I still have that collection, kept in a shoebox and stored in a closet, but now and then I get it out and look through it for a certain postcard that pops into my memory for some reason or another. A couple of weeks ago, as we were cleaning out the attic over the garage, another box was found - a box of old family photos and memorabilia from my mom's side of the family.

Found amid the pieces was this postcard, addressed to my great-grandma. A friend of hers had sent  greetings from Belle Isle in Detroit, depicting the Horticultural Building. The postmark was dated August 31, 1920. My great-grandma would have been 28 years old at the time.

I knew Great-grandma Gertie, and so did my girls, though I doubt they remember much about her. She died in 1988 a little over a month away from her 96th birthday.

World Cup of Gardening

Though I don't live that far from Detroit (2½ hours), I've never been to Belle Isle, and I'm not familiar with it, but finding the postcard piqued my interest. Next summer, I hope to attend the first World Cup of Gardening event to be held on none other than Belle Isle, located in the Detroit River.

This premier gardening show, running from June 16-21, 2015, is expected to be world-class, showcasing ten 1000-square-foot gardens designed and built by internationally acclaimed landscape artists from around the world. There will be educational opportunities, vendors, entertainment and diverse food offerings.

More information about the show can be found on the official website as well as in this brochure.

Belle Isle National Park

The 982-acre park, which is the largest island park in the U.S. and on the National Register of Historic Places (so designated in 1974), was designed in 1883 by the famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted.

Photo by Elizabeth McMillan/Wikipedia CC

The Horticultural Building, also called the Conservatory, was begun in 1902 and completed in 1904, when it opened to the public. Originally a wooden structure, the frame was rebuilt with steel and aluminum in 1949.

In 1953, it was renamed the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, after Ms. Whitcomb donated her collection of 600 orchids. It is the oldest continually operating conservatory in the U.S. and is open to the public at no charge.

A bit of a mystery though, is the Lily Pond. Online sources tell me that it was not a part of the original design and that it wasn't constructed until 1936. This postcard, clearly postmarked 1920 would suggest that "a" lily pond existed long before that.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Pumpkin Torte on the Thanksgiving Table

It's been two years since I posted my pumpkin torte recipe, but since there are always new readers to this blog, and I get asked for this recipe every year around this time, I'm posting it again. This is seriously good stuff and it's my personal favorite dessert of all time. Enjoy, and happy Thanksgiving to all!

With Thanksgiving looming on the horizon, thoughts turn to food and those special dishes we enjoy as we dine with family. I'll be doing the turkey again this year as well as the pumpkin torte that I'm known for. With the exception of my husband, our family likes this dessert better than pumpkin pie. It's not that he doesn't like the torte - he does. He just likes pie better.

To each his own, I say.

I've posted my recipe for the pumpkin torte a few times before, but I always get asked again for it when Thanksgiving rolls around, so here you go:

Kylee's Pumpkin Torte

1 yellow cake mix (take out 1 cup)
3 eggs
1¼ cup white sugar

¾ cup butter

¾ cup evaporated milk

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 large can pumpkin pie mix
(30 oz.)

: Mix the cake mix (less 1 cup) with one egg and ½ cup butter. Press into the bottom of a greased jelly roll pan (10½ x 15½ x 1).
Filling: Mix until smooth - pumpkin pie mix, 2 eggs, and evaporated milk. Pour on top of the crust.
: Mix 1 cup cake mix, sugar, cinnamon and ¼ cup butter. Sprinkle on top of the pumpkin mixture. Bake at 350° for 45-50 minutes. Serve with whipped cream.

Enjoy the torte, enjoy the day, and don't forget to give thanks!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Updated Lowe's Creative Ideas Project: Swing Shelf Planter

Swing Shelf Planter in March 2013
About a year and a half ago, I did a project as a member of Lowe's Creative Ideas Garden Team in which I potted up a trio of herbs in a shelf planter that hung in a window. I designed it and making it and putting it together was a joint effort with my husband. My herbs grew well for several months in that south window, but the day came when I wanted something different.

In the summer, that window can really generate some heat, and I had a few cacti that I thought would work out better. The herbs were constantly thirsty, so I transplanted the herbs to the garden and the cacti to my red pots. They've been living happily there for a little over a year now.

Last month, I spoke at the Ohio Master Gardeners State Meeting at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware. My husband and I arrived early with enough time to look through the vendor's area.

'Frizzle Sizzle' at OFA 2013
I'm always attracted to unusual plants - most gardeners are - and though I vowed not to buy any plants while I was there, Groovy Plants Ranch had a couple that I simply couldn't resist. The price was good, too, at just six dollars each.

I'd first seen Albuca spiralis 'Frizzle Sizzle' at OFA in Columbus the summer of 2013. James Greenhouses had several specimens of this curly cutie on display and they were causing a lot of buzz.

This distant cousin of the hyacinth (you'd never know it though) is a bulb that must be grown in well-draining potting soil and allowed to dry out between waterings or the bulb is in danger of rotting. If you live in Zones 8 or warmer, you can grow it outside year round, but for me it has to be grown as a houseplant.

It likes full sun, and though it will grow in part shade, the more sun it gets, the curlier the foliage will be. Around late winter it will shoot up flower stalks that will bloom with yellowish-green flowers that are unremarkable but are said to have a slight vanilla fragrance to them. That's if it's grown outdoors, where it will go dormant in summer.

I wonder what it will do in summer here. I haven't been able to find any information online that tells whether it will lose its foliage in summer when grown as a houseplant. Maybe one of my readers can enlighten me?

Albuca spiralis 'Frizzle Sizzle'

I started to walked away from the vendor area with my plant as I began to prepare myself mentally for my presentation. And then this caught my eye:

 Opuntia cochenillifera f. variegata

It was a variegated prickly pear cactus - without the pricklies. Sometimes called Warm Hand Cactus or Velvet Cactus, it wasn't the lack of spines that fascinated me. It was the fact that it was variegated, because variegated plants in general are one of my weaknesses. If it hadn't been variegated, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have noticed the plant at all. Ho hum.

Opuntia cochenillifera f. variegata is hardy to Zone 9 and needs the same care as many succulents - minimal water with good drainage and full sun/part shade. It can grow up to 3-4 feet tall, but I'm pretty sure it won't do that for me. If it does, I'll have to find another spot for it other than the swing shelf. ;-)

Four cacti and a 'Frizzle Sizzle'

In case you were wondering, that hairy cactus in the middle is an Old Man's Cactus (Cephalocereus senilis). I've had it for several years now and it's about twice as tall as when I bought it. I learned early on that I had to keep it out of the reach of Simon, one of our inside cats, because he loved to lick it and chew on it. But mostly lick it. I guess he thought it was in need of grooming.

My Old Man's Cactus is sporting a cowlick.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Growing Amaryllis: Easy for Everyone (and a giveaway!)

Hippeastrum 'Gervase'
For as much as I dread winter every year, there are some things about it that I look forward to. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Fluffy snowfalls. The smell of winter air. Curling up on the sofa with a blanket, a kitty, and a good book.

And amaryllis.

Gardening continues for me, in spite of the outside gardens going dormant during the winter months. I've got plenty of houseplants to keep me busy, both in the house and in the conservatory. Most of those simply need to be watered, but I'll pot up my collection of amaryllis all winter long and have beautiful blooms from winter through spring.

Even though I get a few new bulbs each autumn, I save the bulbs from previous years, growing them outside over the summer. This year, I set aside a specific area for growing them, using galvanized aluminum firepit rings. I plant them, making sure to keep part of the top of the bulb exposed, and let them do their thing. Usually one or two of them will reward me with a bloom stalk sometime during the summer.

This is where my amaryllis bulbs lived for the summer,
before I dug them up just before first frost.

'Apple Blossom' bloomed outside in June.
Before first frost, I trim away the foliage, dig them back up and store them in the cool, dark basement until I'm ready to pot them up again.

New to my collection this year are 'Lagoon', a deep pink variety, and 'Magnum', which is red. 'Lagoon' is already potted up and beginning to grow and I put 'Magnum' in its container today. For the last three years, Longfield Gardens has sent a free amaryllis planting kit to me and being the amaryllis-crazed gardener that I am, I've really enjoyed this surprise gift.

Longfield's bulbs are some of the largest I've ever seen and a larger bulb means more blooms. Last year's Longfield bulb produced three flower stalks, and of the nearly 100 amaryllis bulbs I've grown, that was a first for me.

This year's amaryllis kit from Longfield Gardens contained a large 'Magnum'
bulb, potting medium, a plastic-lined "bird's nest" basket, and Spanish
moss for top-dressing the container.

 Potting them up is easy:

Choose a container just a little larger than the bulb. Amaryllis like it snug. The heavier the container, the better, because by the time it blooms, it's going to be top-heavy. I use a fairly inconspicuous plant support like this one to give the flower stalk stability once it gets some height to it.

Most bulbs like very well-draining soil, and this is especially important when planting in a container. I like to use a potting mix designed for cacti (which also need good drainage) when potting up my amaryllis and I make sure that there's a drainage hole in the bottom of the container. Soggy soil encourages bulb rot and fungus gnats and you don't want that! If the container you want to use doesn't have a drainage hole, you'll need to be extra vigilant about not overwatering.

Make sure that you leave the top fourth of the bulb exposed when firming up the soil around the bulb. Water thoroughly but don't water again until you see signs of growth. Thereafter, only water when the top inch or so of soil is dry to the touch. Err on the side of underwatering if you aren't sure.

I use  Haven Brand Compost Tea for watering all my houseplants and the amaryllises are no exception. It's nearly impossible to overfeed them when using this natural, organic product.


  • Some amaryllis will have the flower stalk appear first and foliage later. Others will do just the opposite.
  • Amaryllis make great cut flowers. In fact, the blooms tend to last longer when cut and put into a vase of water. Be sure to change the water daily though.
  • You can keep your amaryllis bulbs from year to year. Continue to care for the plant in its container, or do like I do and plant them outside for the summer, after all danger of frost is past. Grow them on throughout the summer, then cut back and dig up before first fall frost. 

Here's a short video featuring some of the amaryllis blooms from my amaryllis collection over the years:

Want an amaryllis of your very own?

Now that you know how to grow them, guess what? Longfield Gardens wants to send a 'Red Lion' amaryllis bulb to one of my readers! And Annie Haven provided some extra Moo Poo Tea in with my last order, so I'll send the winner a 3-pack of that as well.

Here's what you need to do to be entered:

1. Leave a comment on this blog post, telling me about your amaryllis experience. (Have you grown them? If so, what is your favorite one? Do you keep your bulbs from year to year?)


 2. Fill out the Rafflecopter form below with your contact information. I'll use this when choosing a random winner and to contact you if you're the lucky one.

Enter by midnight EST next Sunday night, November 30th and a winner will be chosen on Monday.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

WINNER!  Rafflecopter has spoken! Lona B. is the lucky winner of the giveaway and has been notified. Thanks to all who entered and commented. Look for amaryllis bulbs in your garden centers now!

But wait! There's MORE! 

My friends Dee Nash of Red Dirt Ramblings® and Robin Haglund of Garden Mentors are each giving away a bulb from Longfield Gardens and some Moo Poo Tea too! Robin is a new amaryllis grower and I love her excitement and enthusiasm over it. Dee is a veteran grower like me and has grown some beautiful varieties. Check them out and triple your chances at winning a bulb and some Moo Poo goodness:

Garden Mentors  - "Amaryllis Advent Calendar"
Red Dirt Ramblings® - "Growing Amaryllis is Easy"

If you want to read more about my Adventures in Amaryllis, here are some links to earlier posts about them:

Amaryllis Blooms Never Fail to Deliver
Amaryllis Season Has Begun!
Green Thumb Sunday - Amaryllis 'Lemon Lime'
Remember the Amaryllis!
The Hippeastrum on the Shelf
Absolutely Amazing Awesome Amaryllis
Desperately Seeking Susan
'Tis the Season
Wordless Wednesday: 'Gold Medal' Amaryllis
Amaryllis is a 'Dancing Queen'
Play 'Misty' For Me

Longfield Gardens sent me a free amaryllis kit and has provided an amaryllis bulb for the purposes of this giveaway. Annie Haven provided a 3-pack of Haven Brand Compost Tea as a bonus in my order, which I am giving away here. All opinions about these two companies are my own.

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