Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

March 2013

As we countdown to spring, here are three things I’m looking forward to.


Bleeding heart: I’ve always had a soft spot for this spring perennial.


Though they bloom for just a short time, I love seeing opulent, petal-filled peonies.


Kousa dogwoods, with their starry blooms, put on a breathtaking show in my yard.



How about you? What are three things you’re looking forward to?


There was nothing I dreaded more as a young teenager than waking up way too early on a Saturday morning to the far-off baying of our good hound dog Jake as he was on the scent of a cottontail in the fields that surrounded our suburban home. When we adopted him—from a Hoosier farmer with half a right arm—they said he was half beagle and half basset hound. Since we (me and my dog-starved brothers and my mother and father) only met the beagle mother and littermate sister, who was decidedly more feminine with dark eye shadow and long lashes, weren’t so sure. But when my father pulled the pup’s hangdog ears a good inch past his moist black nose, we never doubted his stated pedigree. After much arguing and discussion, my father declared his name Jacob, because it was biblical and the monosyllabic nickname was Jake, which was easier for a dog to learn, he explained. Jake’s muted majestic call meant one of us boys had to climb out of bed and pull on our blue jeans and follow the trumpeting pronouncements until we’d successfully cornered and leashed our winded escapee and dragged him all the way back home.

Jake was my best friend since the moment our eyes first met when I was nine years old in 1969. Dogs so occupied my thoughts as a boy that—when my family moved from Indianapolis to New Jersey, in an effort to smooth the transition across country—my mother had each of us boys select the fabric for curtains as well as a wall poster to adorn each of our new bedroom walls. My next-oldest brother Craig picked a Peter Max poster, but I selected a poster of all the recognized dog breeds in the United States just like the one that hung in the waiting room of our veterinarian’s office. I memorized each of the breeds. It wasn’t long before Jake and I tackled obedience school together (we had to take the beginner’s class twice until we mastered the basic commands of “sit” and “come” and “heel”). I even worked up the nerve to enter Jake in an amateur dog show (we took home an honorable mention…I still have the ribbon). Jake loved nothing better than to play in a pile of oak leaves or a good game of tug-of-war. He was a steadfast friend who listened patiently as I poured my heart out to him, and he was always good for a reassuring lick on the cheek. Sometimes, at just this time of year, when I was taking him on our requisite evening walk after dinner, I would sing to him my favorite songs from Oliver or The Sound of Music as we watched the twinkling lights in the foothills that surrounded our neighborhood in New Providence, New Jersey. By the time we moved to Missouri when I was 15, I had signed up to volunteer at the Humane Society of St Louis and I eventually found a job at a dog kennel about a mile up the road from where we lived. I thought I wanted to be James Herriot, whose first book my mother gave to me to read when I stayed home sick one day from elementary school.

Jake lived a good long life for a hound dog. He used to wait up downstairs under the front hall light until the very last member of our family was tucked in safe and sound. The last night of his life, he was parked under the front hall light when I finally arrived home from college for Thanksgiving vacation at 2 a.m., his white-tipped tail thumping on the floor. He was almost a decade old and my steadfast companion, but he didn’t make it through that night. I like to think I spot his spirit when I look into the eyes of my good terriers Scout and Finch. In fact, I feel that I’m looking into Jake’s big brown eyes whenever I gaze deeply into the eyes of most friendly dogs. I don’t know about you, but the dogs in my life have made me a much better person.

Written by Kelsey Schirm

Thinking back to my first day as an editorial apprentice for Country Gardens, I remember how irrationally nervous I was. I wore my most professional outfit—my black pencil skirt, black heels, and a ruffled, turquoise top with my black suit jacket. After meeting what seemed like a thousand new faces, I walked into my new cubicle and my nerves settled. Of course it was outfitted with the typical computer, squeaky desk chair, and stapler combo, but the other accompaniments are what set the tone for my apprenticeship. Next to my computer was a miniaturized sample of a deck railing. The back of my cubicle housed a large, green rain barrel flanked by a selection of straw hats.  And let’s not forget the bottle of flaming squirrel seed sauce (for birdseed) that greets me every morning (complete with a peculiar picture of flames and steam exploding out of asquirrels’ head). Instantly, I smiled and thought to myself: This isn’t going to be your typical apprenticeship.

I was right. Something new and exciting awaits me almost every day I step into my cubicle. I’ve had the opportunity to work on just about every part of the magazine from writing stories to proofreading, interviewing sources to attending press meetings, and creating captions to assisting in photo selections. It’s safe to say that just about every spread has been through my office for some reason or another. I’ve also gotten the opportunity to call in products and produce the photo shoots for our shopping stories. I was even a hand model in one of the shoots. That was my favorite story. There’s something extremely satisfying about knowing I selected the products, modeled them, and wrote the content. But those are just my editorial duties. My editor, James, likes to throw fun projects on the side for me every now and again—like using jam from one of our upcoming stories to create a sweet treat for our pinup. For about two months he challenged me to use grow my own basil in my office. Given my reputation for water-deprived plants I was sure it would be a bust, but thanks to a self-watering garden system my basil thrived and found its way onto the plates of many people in the office. Currently, I am starting to grow mushrooms from a mushroom-in-a-box kit. Let’s hope my newfound green thumb prevails.

Equally unique to my experiences as an apprentice are the people I work with on a day-to-day basis. When you put out ten titles a year with less than a handful of people on staff you’ve got to have some fun. Whether it’s a “meow” as Nick, our art director, passes our cubicles, James bringing me an endless supply of goodies (he’s very aware of my sweet tooth), or me sneaking a mannequin head with gummy worm eye brows, a straw hat, and a giant, paper clock necklace into our editorial assistant Heather’s office, our days here are never dull. We work hard together day in and day out and they’ve become my home away from home. My apprenticeship ends in just a few months and I know it will be hard to go. Wherever I end up I know I will worry if James has to eat all those sweets himself or if Nick has someone to throw snowballs at during the photo shoots. After six months here I feel silly when I think about how nervous I was on that very first day. No one should ever be nervous when they get the opportunities I’ve had. I’ve done many things and met many people here, but I have yet to wear that pencil skirt in the office again. It doesn’t fit in here and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

One of the hardest parts of being a garden editor at Better Homes and Gardens is that we cover a national audience and gardening isn’t a national topic. Different regions have very different gardening needs — and plants for that matter. Some of the best-recommended plants for New England, for example, fail in Texas (and top Texas plants don’t stand a chance in Massachusetts).

That’s why we launched Gardening Where You Live — this new feature on BHG.com helps you identify the best plants and gardening techniques for your particular part of the country. It’s a quick and easy way to filter through all the gardening advice we have online to pick what’s most relevant for you.

We’ll be updating and adding to it as we go, so check it out through the gardening season!

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