Friday, November 6, 2015

Gardener|Cook Redux

After many months and numerous delays, Gardener|Cook returns with an all-new look, an all-new attitude and a re-energized approach to bringing you the most beautiful gardens, the finest food and the best-of-the-best in travel destinations from around the world. 2016 is shaping up to be a banner year with numerous speaking engagements already on the calendar and the hopes of a new book to be photographed and written in the coming months, for publication in early 2017!

When it comes to travel, I am hitting the road and the skies more than ever before and I want to invite you along! Soon-to-be-announced destinations for 2016 include:

Ancient Sicily and the Amalfi Coast

Virginia Garden Week and Historic American Gardens

Under the Tuscan Sun (with Volunteer Gardener/Nashville Public Television)

Gardens of the Emerald Isle

Gardens and Natural Wonders of New Zealand (with an optional extension to Sydney)

All of you, no matter where you reside, are invited to join us on any or all of these exciting excursions to beautiful destinations. I will be posting complete information here, at Gardener|Cook, as well as on my website at as it becomes available in the very near future. If you have interest in a specific destination, please email me at and I will make certain your receive the information by email as soon as it becomes available.

In other travel news, we are now offering customized, private tours for garden clubs, Master Gardeners groups, plant societies, plein air painters groups, or any other professional organizations who would like to explore travel for their members. These can also be turned into fundraisers! Email me at for more details.

In the new format, posts will appear at least weekly and sometimes more, alternating between garden posts (some from my own garden and some from gardens I visit), food posts (some I cook and some I just eat--and yes, I'll post recipes when I can!), and travel posts (including upcoming destinations for tours that I will be leading or co-leading, as well as those about places we have visited previously). There will be lots and lots of photos (though I'm going to have to start watermarking them--sorry about that, but people are "borrowing" them without permission and then republishing them as their own) to go along with the plentiful information.

If you haven't signed up to receive blog updates via email, you can do so immediately to the right of the articles, in the sidebar where you see the "Subscribe" link. It's good to be back and I'll see you in the garden (or in the kitchen, or on a plane)!


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Lenten Roses

I have posted several times in the past about the "roses" of winter--Lenten rose, Christmas rose and their kin--none of which are roses at all, or even closely related. That said, they are, perhaps, the most anticipated flowers of the year for me if for no other reason than the time of year they bloom. Well, that's not the only reason. They're also incredibly beautiful, but the timing of their flowers has much to do with it since their blossoms can appear anytime between Thanksgiving and Easter depending on which species and cultivars you grow. Helleborus is the Latin name you should call them by if you want to be most accurate. Mine took a beating this winter when the temperatures dropped into the single digits out here on my bitterly cold and windswept ridge with no snowcover. With snow, they wouldn't have suffered at all. Unfortunately, their buds were already pushing through the soil during the last cold snap and many were severely damaged. The show will not be as spectacular this year, but this is the way of things. Next year will be better!

In the meantime, I thought I'd share a few pictures from years past of some of my favorite varieties and those that have performed well here. Keep them happy by planting them in bright, dappled shade in well amended "woodsy" soil. If you're successful with hostas, Solomon's seals and other denizens of the shade garden, hellebores will pose little problem. Once established, many are quite drought tolerant, particularly the "bear's foot" or "stinking" hellebore (though there is nothing stinking about it!), Helleborus foetidus. Enough rambling! On to some personal favorites:

Helleborus x hybridus 'Golden Sunrise'--I love the color of this one. Hybridizers have been working on a good, clean yellow for decades and this is one of the best. It also is one of the more vigorous plants in the Winter Jewels series from Ernie and Marietta O'Byrne, near Portland, Oregon.

Helleborus x hybridus 'Sparkling Diamond', also from the O'Byrnes and part of their Winter Gems series of double-flowering hellebores, has performed admirably here. Give it a couple of seasons to settle in before you expect a real show, but once it gets its feet under it, it is nothing short of spectacular!

This flower and the following both belong to the same varietal group, again from the O'Byrnes Winter Gems series and perhaps one of the more coveted (at least by me) of the bunch. 'Golden Lotus' bears semi to fully double blooms in the most luscious shades of buttery yellow, often with a reddish or purplish picotee edge. 

A clear, unmarked form of 'Golden Lotus'. Exquisite beauty! The variation in these strains come from the fact that they are grown from seed, but in a very select way that ensures the colors remain true to form. This slight variation in forms and colors, for me, is part of the fun!

A more complex hybrid, 'Winter Moonbeam' has performed exceptionally well in the garden here for several years. The extreme cold of this winter did freeze most of the blooms as they were beginning to emerge, but the plant will rebound and next year, the show will go on. The first flowers often open here in January and continue opening and changing color for 6 weeks or more.

'Elly' is another double flowering variety that is a little looser and almost frilly in form. Unfortunately, the plant has been weak here and I may remove it to plant something that will be a better performer.

'Tutu' was a gift from a friend and I love it! The plant is vigorous and the blooms plentiful. Each is highlighted by a central boss of enlarged nectaries that do, indeed, look like a tutu.

'Red Lady' is part of an old seed-grown strain which, if you can buy them when the plants are in bloom to get the richest and purest colors, are well worth adding to the garden. This one has flowered reliably every year, even when we've had crazy swings in the temperature.

I love this form of Helleborus foetidus named 'Gold Bullion', with bright, golden yellow leaves and chartreuse flowers. Being evergreen, this adds a great splash of color to the garden throughout the year. Helleborus foetidus reseeds prolifically where it is happy and 'Gold Bullion' comes largely true from seed. Solid green or weakly variegated seedlings should be pulled out to keep the brightest gold forms thriving.

One of the more unusual species I have in the garden is Helleborus multifidus, its pale green flowers appearing in early spring followed by the most finely dissected leaves of any of the hellebores. It is worth growing for its foliage, alone, and the flowers, in my opinion, are just a little extra beauty in the early spring.

A personal favorite in the garden that I have, unfortunately, lost and need to replace is Helleborus niger 'Double Fantasy', one of several double-flowering forms of the so-called Christmas rose. While it is usually just a little later than Christmas, it does flower quite early in the year, opening its pristine white blooms by mid- to late January here.

As it ages, the sepals (petals) of 'Double Fantasy' often turn green while the petals in the center remain white, giving a beautiful two-tone effect to the flower.

And finally, one of the top performers here, Helleborus niger 'Josef Lemper', from the Heuger breeding program in Germany. This is the "little engine that could" in my garden, with its blooms appearing as early as mid-November and continuing without stopping for more than two months. As it finishes flowering in mid- to late January, the other species are beginning to emerge so the show never stops!

This doesn't even begin to cover the many species and cultivars that are in the trade today (it doesn't even scratch the surface of all that I grow), but showcases a few that have grown well here over the past several years as I've developed the garden. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Two Amazing Travel Opportunities, Autumn 2015

As most of you know, 2012 found me partnering with Ron & Linda Williams, of Garden Travelers, to further expand my business and see yet another part of my dream come true--to be able to travel the world seeing some of its most beautiful natural and historic sites while also visiting some of its truly exceptional gardens. Autumn 2015 finds us traveling to two truly stunning destinations, the basics of which are below and the fine details availalbe by emailing me at 

The first of the two trips finds us traveling to Belgium & Normandy where we will visit the cities and towns of Brussels, Bruges, Canon, Rouen and others, as well as sites like the Castle & Garden at Freyr, the Castle & Garden at Annevoie, le Jardin Plume, Monet's Garden at Giverny and, of course, the beaches of Normandy.
Date: August 24-September 5, 2015
Cost: $4450.00 per person, double occupancy, ground package
Please inquire for more details and information regarding airfare at

The garden at Annevoie

Bruges, Belgium

Monet's Garden at Giverny

The Rouen Cathedral

Le Jardin Plume

Le Jardin Plume

These are but a few of the destinations we will see on this stunning trip with the gardens in their late summer glory and the prestigious chateaux and castles always at their finest.

Our final trip of 2015 finds us exploring wild and wonderful New Zealand & Australia, discovering some of the world's most pristine landscapes and amazing gardens, as well as wineries, wildlife and so much more! We will spend 9 days touring both the North and South islands of New Zealand before making our way to Australia's mainland, where we will spend time in both Melbourne and Sydney.
Date: November 19-December 8, 2015
Cost: $7500.00 per person, double occupancy, ground package
Please inquire for more details and information regarding airfare at

Scenic New Zealand

Thermal Spring in Rotorua, New Zealand

Glow Worm Caves, New Zealand

Penguins returning to Philip Island from a day of fishing. Melbourne, Australia

Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney, Australia

Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia

 We take travelers from all over the U.S. to some of the world's most beautiful and exciting destinations. We hope you'll join us on one of these or on a future trip! If you would like to be added to my permanent mailing list and receive information about our travel for the upcoming year (we publish itineraries 9 to 12 months in advance), please email me at

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Come Out and See Me Sometime!

It's a new year, and along with a new year come new opportunities! As most of you know, I spent much of last year (and part of the previous one) writing two books, both of which are now on the shelves! Plant This Instead! arrived almost a year ago (can't believe it!), in February, and Southern Gardener's Handbook followed on November 1! While writing two books in a year's time is not a schedule I recommend, I am so proud of both of them and am happy they are selling well. It also meant that I really neglected the blog. Well, it's 2015 and I'm back! Be ready! I'm going to start filling your In-boxes with all kinds of fabulous things from floral design to gardening to food and lots and lots and LOTS of TRAVEL!!! Here we go!

I'm going to be out doing a lot of speaking and promoting of these books over the next few weeks and months, so I thought I'd share my schedule with you in case I'm going to be in your area. I'd love for you to come out and see me where I'm going to be!

First up is Callaway Gardens (where I did my first college internship 24 years ago!), followed by an appearance at the Wilson County Master Gardeners meeting in Lebanon, TN and then I'm off for 5 days in Seattle as a Garden Judge and Speaker for the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, the 2nd largest show of its kind in the country. Only the Philadelphia Flower Show is bigger! I am honored. My full schedule for the spring and early summer is listed below. We are getting ready to publish this to my website, where it will be updated as new events are added:

January 23, 24, 25--Callaway Gardens Southern Gardening Symposium

January 30, 31 and February 1--Antiques & Garden Show of Nashville
I am not speaking, but will have a hand in Cheekwood's garden, which will be located at the show's entrance. We are going to take STYLE to a whole new level!

February 3--Wilson County Master Gardeners, Lebanon, TN

February 10, 11, 12--Northwest Flower and Garden Show, Seattle, WA

March 5, 6, 7 & 8--Nashville Lawn & Garden Show, Nashville, TN
I will be speaking at least once and signing books on at least two occasions, I will update this information on my website with exact times and dates once they are confirmed. More information will also be posted on the Nashville Lawn & Garden Show website at

March 21--Book Signing, Barnes & Noble, Cool Springs, Franklin, TN
More information to come.

March 23--Hosta Society of North Alabama, Huntsville, AL
Speaking and signing books at the monthly meeting, which begins at 6:30 at the Huntsville Botanic Garden.

March 25--Centennial Club of Nashville, Private Speaking Event

March 27--Soleil Garden Center, Union City, Tennessee
Speaking and signing books at Soleil Garden Center in the afternoon and evening. Times and further details will be added once confirmed. In the meantime, here is a link to their website

March 28--West Tennessee Home & Garden Show, in association with WLJT TV.
Details to be announced.

April 16-28, Ancient Sicily and the Amalfi Coast with Garden Travelers

June 7--University of Tennessee Hosta Garden Dedication, Knoxville, TN
Details to be announced.

June 8--Marietta Gardener's Garden Club, Marietta, GA
Speaking and Book Signing at the Marietta Education Garden Center, 7:30 p.m.

That get us through the first half of the year and I hope that if I'm in your area, you'll come out and say hello! I love meeting fellow gardeners and plant enthusiasts and am having a blast doing these talks and book signings! We have two more trip announcements coming soon, too!

Enjoy this beautiful arrangement from a prior Northwest Flower and Garden Show. I can't wait!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Garden Travelers On The Go In 2015!

Ancient Sicily and the Amalfi Coast
April 15-28, 2015
(with an optional Amsterdam extension, April 28-30)
While winter weather sets in across much of the country, my mind is on traveling! 2014 found me leading groups to England, Scotland and Tuscany and 2015 is setting up to be even more exciting! We will be doing a total of three trips next year, the first in April to Sicily and Southern Italy with an optional extension to Amsterdam. You will find the full itinerary and pricing below.
September 9-21, 2015 will find us leading a trip to Normand and Belgium. That itinerary will be available soon and will also be posted on the blog, as well as on my website when complete.
November 19-December 4, 2015 will find us leading one of our biggest tours yet, exploring Australia for 17 days. We are currently working on this itinerary, hoping to have it complete by mid-December. It will also be available both on my blog and my website.
I hope you will consider joining us for one of these amazing tours to some of the world's most spectacular destinations. For questions, please email me at
Ancient Sicily and The Amalfi Coast
April 15          Depart the U.S. for Palermo, Sicily
April 16          Arrival in Palermo, Sicily--Dinner at our hotel in Erice
April 17                      Today we will visit the ancient Greek temple at Segesta, which can make a valid claim to being the best preserved in the world. This archeological site, about seventy kilometers southwest of Palermo and reflecting the presence of several ancient civilizations, will certainly amaze you.  Its amphitheater boasts a hilltop position on Mount Barbaro that is second to none.  We will return to Erice in time for you to enjoy free time in this wonderful town.
April 18                      Our second day of sightseeing finds us at The Cathedral of Montreal, one of the greatest extant examples of Norman architecture in the world. It was begun in 1174 by William II and in 1182 the church, dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, was elevated to the rank of a metropolitan cathedral. The church is a national monument of Italy and one of the most important attractions of Sicily.   We will continue to the Villa Romana del Casale, a Roman villa built in the first quarter of the 4th century and located about 3 km outside the town of Piazza Armerina, Sicily. Containing the richest, largest and most complex collection of Roman mosaics in the world, it is one of 49 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy.  We will spend the night in Taormina.
April 19                      This morning we will visit the private garden of Rossella Pezzino, Giardini Le Stanze in Fiore. Rosella began the villa restoration in 1996 and the garden followed shortly thereafter in 2000.  After visiting this garden masterpiece, we will be treated to a wonderful garden lunch. This afternoon we are in for another treat as we visit Villa Cuseni.  Often considered to be the finest house in Taormina, Villa Cuseni has enviable views of both the sea and Mount Etna. The terraced gardens were carefully designed to hold the rainfall from winter until needed during long, hot summer months. The gardens each display a stunning, eye-catching feature, as well as being adorned with some of the original citrus, other fruit trees, roses, vines and wisteria. As a relatively modern 20th century garden, you will see bold Rococo and Art Deco design. Dinner on your own tonight in Taormina.
April 20                      We will begin our day with a trip to the Benanti Winery where we will not only enjoy a tour of the winery, but also lunch and a wine tasting.  This winery, one of the most important in Sicily, has won several awards over the last twenty years and is located directly on the slopes of Mount Etna.  After lunch, we will return to Taormina where you will have an opportunity to visit this charming town at your leisure.
April 21                      Today we will visit the Garden of Biviere and Villa Borghese.  The garden’s owner, Maria Carla Borghese, will be our guide.  We will have a wonderful lunch after our guided tour and we promise that this will be one of the highlights of the trip!  After lunch, we continue to the garden of the Grand Marquess of San Giuliano at Villasmundo, near Siracusa. The property has been in the Marchesi PaternĂ² Castello di San Giuliano family for more than 800 years.  After our visit we will check into our hotel in Siracusa.
April 22          Today we will see ruins!  An early visit to The Archeological Park of Siracusa will start our day.  Until the Arab conquest of 878, Siracusa was the capital of Sicily and was by far the most important city on the island. We will visit the Ear of Dyonisus, the Greek Theatre, and the Ara (altar) di Ierone. Afterwards, we will walk through the historical centre of Ortigia to admire the Cathedral, constructed over the ancient Temple of Athena, the Aretusa fountain and the ancient and baroque streets. Lunch will be at your leisure in Ortigia. We will then depart for Catania where we will spend the night.
April 23          This morning, we will depart Sicily for our short flight to Naples. Once we have landed and collected our luggage, we will meet our private coach for a visit to Pompeii. As you know, Pompeii is one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites, having been buried in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. when it was a thriving city of 11,000 people, complete with a complex water system, an amphitheater, a gymnasium and a port. When we finish at Pompeii, we depart for the Amalfi Coast.  Tonight will find us staying in Ravello, one of the most beautiful and picturesque towns in all of Italy.  You will not be disappointed in Ravello!
April 24          We have been on the go since we landed in Sicily more than a week ago, so we hope you find this day a real gift—a day of leisure to explore Ravello! Ravello is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town’s Duomo (Cathedral), the villas Rufolo and Cimbrone and their gardens, the church of San Giovanni del Toro, and more await you in this most beautiful place. Or maybe you’ll make your way down to the water for a relaxing and leisurely afternoon.
April 25          Today we will travel to the Island of Ischia where we will visit the private home and garden of the late Lady Susana Walton.  This is a truly magical place and you will be awed by its beauty.  We will tour the garden and be treated to a garden lunch, followed by some free time in Ischia before returning on the ferry to Ravello for the evening.
April 26          This morning, we will depart Ravello and make our way north to Rome via the Palace of Caserta, known as the Versailles of the south. This extraordinary palace and garden is difficult to describe. Its sheer size and beauty will take your breath away. You really have to see it to believe it!  We will also make another special stop before arriving in Rome.
April 27          Today, we will spend the day in Rome. You will have the opportunity to see some of Rome’s most famous sites, including the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and more.
April 28          Depart Rome for the U.S. or take the optional extension to Amsterdam, listed below.
The cost of this trip is $4,250.00 per person. This package includes all ground transportation by private coach in both Sicily and Italy, your flight from Sicily to Naples on April 23, all entrance fees into the public and private sites visited as a group as noted in the itinerary, a minimum of one meal (breakfast) each day with some lunches or dinners also provided. Not included are the tips for our coach drivers in Sicily and Italy, usually $5.00 per traveler, per day.
Should you wish to travel singly, a single supplement is available on request. Single spaces are always limited due to limited availability of single hotel accommodations, so please inquire early.
Dec. 15, 2014—Deposits of $450 are due no later than December 15 and preferably sooner to secure your space on the trip. ***If you are traveling singly, your single supplement will be due at the same time as your deposit to secure your space.
Jan. 10, 2015—The first installment of $1,000.00 is due to Garden Travelers.
Feb. 10, 2015—The second installment of $1,400.00 is due to Garden Travelers.
Mar. 10, 2015—The final installment of $1,400.00 is due to Garden Travelers.
Optional Extension:  Due to the timing of this trip, we have a unique opportunity to add an optional, 3-day extension to Amsterdam to visit the world famous bulb display at Keukenhof, Het Loo palace and leisure time to explore Amsterdam. The cost of this extension is $450 per person, which will include a 3-night hotel stay (April 28, 29 and 30), ground transportation for group visits, cost of admission to the sites we visit as a group and breakfast each morning.  ***PLEASE NOTE*** If you choose to join us on this optional extension, you will be booking a “multi-city” international flight. You will be flying from the U.S. to Palermo, Sicily and then from Rome, Italy to Amsterdam, returning to the U.S. from Amsterdam at the end of the extension.  This is not difficult to book and we will be happy to answer any questions you may have. If you choose to join us on this extension, you will be returning to the U.S. on May 1, 2015 (staying in Amsterdam the nights of April 28, 29, 30 and flying out the morning of May 1 to land in the U.S. that afternoon/evening).
AIRFARE:      International airfares are NOT included in the price of the trip. This allows travelers to use a variety of means, including airline and credit card points, to purchase their airfare. Garden Travelers will be happy to answer questions and can offer some assistance to travelers in booking airfare and will suggest flights for all travelers to ensure that the group arrives at the appointed destination in a timely manner and we stay on our first day’s schedule.  ***PLEASE NOTE*** (repeating from above) You will be booking a multi-city flight if you choose to do the Amsterdam extension—U.S. to Palermo, Sicily, then departing Rome for Amsterdam and then Amsterdam to the U.S. at the end of the extension. Please consult with us regarding flights and times to ensure that the group arrives in a timely manner at each destination where the group will meet.
TRAVEL INSURANCE:  Garden Travelers does not offer travel insurance, but it may be obtained reasonably by individual travelers. We strongly suggest that you consider insuring your trip, as none of us knows when an unforeseen issue may arise. If you have questions about purchasing travel insurance, please do not hesitate to contact us, as we are happy to help.
PASSPORTS: Current passports are required for travel to nearly all destinations outside of the U.S.  Please be sure that your passport is current or that you apply for your passport (if you don’t have one) at least 90 days prior to departure, and even further ahead of time is preferable and highly encouraged.  Better to be safe than sorry!
G  A  R  D  E  N     T  R  A  V  E  L  E  R  S
T   E   R   M   S       &       C   O   N   D   I   T   I   O   N   S
RESERVATIONS & PAYMENT:  To guarantee your reservation, a deposit, noted above, is required at the time of booking. Payments must be made in accordance with the payment schedule.  Final payment is due no later than 60 days prior to departure, or as noted in the itinerary, after which time a late fee of $100 per person may apply.
CANCELLATIONS & REFUNDS:  A full refund minus $500/person administrative charge will be made where written notice of cancellation is received more than 90 days prior to departure.  If the airline ticket has been purchased, the client will own the ticket and will pay for it in addition to the $500.00 administrative charge.   Cancellations received 45-90 days prior to departure will incur a cancellation fee of 50% of the total tour price.  It the airline ticket has been purchased, the client will own the airline ticket and must pay for the ticket in addition to 50% of the total tour cost.   A cancellation fee of 100% of the total tour price will apply where notice of cancellation is received less than 30 days prior to departure. Garden Travelers will try to recover from its vendors part of the cost of the trip, but cannot guarantee what will be recovered for the client.  Once a tour has commenced there can be no refunds on unused portions. We strongly recommend that you take out trip cancellation insurance, which we are happy to make recommendations for.
PRICE CHANGE:  Tour price is based on a minimum of 20 passengers. Should the number of passengers fall below 20, Garden Travelers reserves the right to alter the tour price, in order to reflect that change. Price is also based on hotels as given, motor coach costs as negotiated, and an exchange rate of 1.5. Should hotels change for reasons beyond our control, or coach companies impose a fuel surcharge, or should the value of the dollar drop significantly against other currencies, the tour price may increase. Increase in tour price, for whatever reason, will not exceed 15% of list price.
TOUR PRICE DOES NOT INCLUDE:  Airfare (unless otherwise noted), excess baggage charges, items of personal nature, telephone calls, room service and alcoholic beverages or other special beverages ordered at group meals, optional extensions, meals not listed in itinerary, or tips to the tour guide and driver. (At some special meals the cost of beverages will be included, and the customer will be made aware of these occasions.)
PRICES:  All prices are based on double occupancy and are in US dollars. Single supplements are charged to cover additional costs imposed by hotels on Garden Travelers for single occupancy rooms.
RESPONSIBLILTY:  Tour itineraries are planned in advance.  Garden Travelers reserves the right to make necessary alterations, should local conditions dictate.  When weather or unforeseen conditions beyond our control affect our routes or itinerary the best alternative will be provided. In exceptional circumstances outside the control of Garden Travelers, its agents or suppliers, such as, but not limited to the threat of war, political unrest, riots, civil disturbances, terrorist threat or action, legal or illegal labor disputes, adverse weather conditions and Act of God, Garden Travelers, its suppliers, or agents cannot be held responsible for such limitations or withdrawal of facilities. The use by Garden Travelers of transport and accommodations in connection with the tour is subject to the conditions of the operator/owners of such transport or accommodations, for whom Garden Travelers act as an agent.  If air travel is not booked with Garden Travelers, the client is responsible for meeting the group at the destination airport upon arrival.
Passengers agree that Garden Travelers or any associates thereof, will not be held liable in the event of any circumstance that may cause personal distress or injury to any traveler.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Chicago--Where Garden Communities Matter

I know, I know. I'm behind--again. Bad blogger. I'm having a moment of inspiration, though, because out of all of my travels so far this summer (more on those in upcoming blog posts), the past 3 days in Chicagoland hanging out with buddy and fellow partner in horticultural crime, Shawna Coronado (, have been some of the most fun! Not just fun, but really garden-centric--real gardening, vegetable and flower gardening, dirt gardening. Real people, real gardeners and the kinds of gardens that are born of a love and need and desire to do better for ourselves and to do better by and for those around us.

Chicago is the first leg of a two-week-long driving trip that started in Nashville and will take me from here to Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Raleigh, Asheville and back to Nashville before it's over. The purpose of the grand tour? I'm doing the photography for an upcoming book by Charlie Nardozzi ( called "Foodscaping" and needed a wide variety of gardens and places to visit and photograph to get the needed material for the book. So, here I am and as luck had it, I'm here on the weekend of an "edible garden tour" that is happening in the Oak Park area of Chicago this weekend. This was not just a tour vegetable gardens, though--or at least not in the traditional sense. This was a tour of gardens belonging to passionate gardeners who were blending flowers, vegetables and herbs together on their urban lots to make the most of their space, both aesthetically and productively.

I can't share the photos that will eventually be a part of the book, but I can definitely share a few snapshots of some inspirational community-based gardens that are really delivering for the folks in their neighborhoods.

The first stop of the day was the Forest Park Community Garden, where people from all around the neighborhood garden in about 30 plots.

These decorative raised beds were in a nice sized green space that butted right up to the interstate, traffic whizzing by on the street above, as well as on the freeway just to the right and slightly out of view in this photo.

Inside of the fenced area (rabbits, you know) the individual garden plots were immaculately kept and held everything from traditional peppers, tomatoes and eggplants to cosmos, salvia and other flowers for cutting and bringing indoors. One gardener was even growing their own hops! I wonder how many hops it takes to make a batch of home brew?

Perhaps my favorite of all was this small garden--maybe 20' x 30', at most--just outside of the Wonder Works Children's Museum. Magnificently done, it had everything from fresh greens to tomatoes, peppers, sunflowers and even watermelons growing vertically on a sturdy trellis. Every child who comes to the facility--a creative and imaginative education center for young children up to age 8--gets to experience this garden and all it has to offer.

The watermelons at Wonder Works were growing so well they had to be supported in mesh bags on their trellis!

This innovative vegetable garden was seen at an apartment building where space was extremely limited. Gardening vertically allowed them to grow an impressive number of plants in a small space. In this simple space--about the size of a 55-gallon barrel--there were collard greens, mustard, eggplant, kale and beans all growing together and successfully producing a bountiful harvest.

Our final stop of the day was at this small community garden. The lady who tended this bed of corn and beans, as well as the two beds you can see toward the right of the photo, was so proud of what she had accomplished and ready to tell the story of her success! At the end of the day, that's what it is really all about. Inspiration. And a little elbow grease that turns into successes that turn into more inspiration. I'm already wondering what I can take out of the garden when I get home to make room for more edibles!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Bring On Spring!

Well, as is typical here in Tennessee, spring officially arrived last Thursday and today it snowed! It snowed so hard, in fact, that when I was driving home around lunch time you couldn't see from one telephone pole to the next.  Near white-out conditions!  20 minutes later, the sun came out and as quickly as the snow came down, it was gone. Unfortunately, it cleared off late this afternoon and as I write this at almost 10 p.m., the temperature threatens to drop into the low 20's and do some real damage to tender buds and foliage that are just beginning to break.

Today, I went out and covered a few things--something I normally don't do. But I need to get some good photos of a few early risers like the trilliums, epimediums, quince, and a few spring wildflowers this year, as well as a couple of plants that are quite rare and have decided to emerge a little earlier than normal (of course!).  So...I gave in and took the blankets out to try and save a few plants from tonight's low of 22 degrees.  I hope it doesn't get colder than that or my covering may not do a bit of good.  We'll see.

Plants that are still tightly budded will be just fine and the temperatures are supposed to moderate quickly and be back to more spring-like conditions in a day or two.  In the meantime, I'm taking a few precautions and hoping for the best!  I'll post an update in a few days and let you know how it goes.  See you in the garden!