Written on May 16, 2013 at 1:34 pm , by James A. Baggett
Country Gardens friend and cookbook author Nancy Baggett (no relation, really) visited us last week to produce a story on sweet violet recipes with our crackerjack crew in the Better Homes and Gardens Test Kitchen. She made violet syrup, candied violets, violet marshmallows, a violet salad with violet vinaigrette, and a violet fizz cocktail, so we needed a LOT of violets for the photo shoot. Since my neighborhood is blessed with more than a handful of nature-loving children, I recruited my friend 11-year-old friend Caroline (a.k.a. Poppy) and her friend Maggie into service the afternoon before collecting hundreds and hundreds of violet blossoms in jelly jars. Here they are in my refrigerator.
Violas—violets, violas, and pansies—are popular edible flowers for good reason. They are a cinch to grow and they actually taste good. The pungent perfume of some varieties of Viola odorata adds inimitable floral sweetness to desserts, fruit salads, and teas while the milder pealike flavor of Viola tricolor and most other viola combine easily well with sweet and savory dishes. The heart-shaped leaves of Viola odorata provide a free source of greens throughout the growing season. Look for our story in the Spring 2014 issue of Country Gardens.
Written on May 3, 2013 at 9:01 am , by James A. Baggett
The Burpee Home Gardens Grow Anywhere Tour rolled into town Wednesday and Country Gardens art director Nick Crow and I caught up with them at the Moulton Extended Learning Center here in Des Moines. The Grow Anywhere Tour launched in March and is traveling 10,000 miles to deliver 13,000 plants and 30,000 pounds of produce to 23 cities with food deserts or areas with limited access to fresh produce.
The location for each Grow Anywhere Tour event was voted on via Facebook earlier this year by community members, students, and staff at local schools and community organizations. It was so cool to watch as neighbors and school children picked out a tomato or a pepper or a cucumber plant, fill a five-gallon container with compost, and plant up their new plant to take home. Everybody also got to take home a shopping bag of fresh produce as well as organic fertilizer. It was wonderful to see so many folks turn out on a cold and blustery afternoon in May and it was nice to catch up with our friends Jerry Gorchels and Katie Rotella —that’s me and Katie (above) from Ball Horticultural who have partnered with Burpee Home Gardens on this impressive program. By helping communities explore the basics of gardening and demonstrating simple ways to grow food, Burpee Home Gardens is showing the county just how easy it is to grow anywhere
Written on April 19, 2013 at 11:03 am , by James A. Baggett
Our friend and contributing editor Debra Lee Baldwin dropped by for a visit here at our headquarters in Des Moines last week. Debra is nothing if not passionate about succulents and she thoughtfully brought me this sweet little succulent boutonniere that she made for me.
Debra has a new book on succulents coming out any day now called Succulents Simplified (Timber Press), in which she demystifies these popular low-water beauties. Debra’s previous books include Designing with Succulents and Succulent Container Gardens. We discussed upcoming stories for Country Gardens and I gave her and Mark Schneider (the new Executive Director of the Iowa Arboretum) a tour of the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden, our Test Kitchen, and photo studios, before we enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Des Moines Arts Center with our editorial apprentice Kelsey Schirm and former CG editorial intern Kelly Norris, who is now the horticulture manager for the Greater Des Moines Botanical Center.
What could be better than spending a rainy day over a bowl of hot soup with green-hearted friends in a building designed by Eliel Saarinen surrounded with artwork by Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keefe, and John Singer Sargent?
Written on April 3, 2013 at 9:37 am , by James A. Baggett
My friend Tovah Martin once told me that I should be sure to sow my poppy seeds (Papaver somniferum) on top of the last snow of the season right where you want them to grow. But each year I doubt my meteorological instincts. I figure any snowfall in March is fair game, so I’m glad I finally scattered the seeds I’d saved from my pretty purple poppies a couple of weeks ago. I purchased the original seeds some years back at VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, British Columbia, and had been saving them from year to year ever since.
Poppies will grow in any well-drained soil in full sun. Without fail, within a few weeks, here and there across my front-yard flowerbeds, will spring dozens of dainty gray-green seedlings. By early summer, I’ll have papery petals of soft lavender-purple with dark purple markings dancing throughout my garden. And those blossoms will mature into handsome dried seedheads that rattle like miniature botanical salt shakers filled with thousands of tiny black seeds. Which I will save to sow another year.
Written on March 18, 2013 at 1:53 pm , by James A. Baggett
Last week I escaped the freezing rain and melting snow that seems to define March in Iowa to attend the Philadelphia Flower Show in our City of Brotherly Love. The 2013 theme was “Brilliant” for all things decidedly British. There was a handsome new million-dollar Hamilton Horticourt for plant competitions, which historically were the reason the show was started in 1829.
According to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the show’s producer, the plant entries have doubled in the last decade to almost 6,000. PHS president Drew Becher attributes this to “younger competitors, high school garden clubs, and college students who’ve had success growing herbs on the kitchen windowsill, and garden clubs and social media spreading the word,” he says. “It’s become sexy again.” Check out the size of this yellow clivia in the Horticourt.
We’ve always thought plant competitions were sexy around here. But I also loved seeing more emphasis on organic gardening, native plants, and wildlife habitats, and a growing culinary presence under the general theme of “From Garden to Table.” However, the centerpiece of the flower show was a high-tech recreation of Big Ben with palace gates and a fast-paced video with rock music, flashing lights, and iconic images such as the royal family and the Beatles.
Loved bumping into my old friend Jerry Fritz from Linden Hill gardens in Ottsville, Pennsylvania. That’s us above catching up in front of his retail display. I also loved meeting Trenny Robb and Bob Michaud of Sutton, Vermont. They make the coolest custom Arts and Crafts lamps out of copper and brass with mica lampshades embedded with plants and petals from their own garden. Here’s the first one that caught my eye made the leaves of Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia macrophylla).
Their business is called High Beams (www.highbeams.com). They also had lampshades with bloodroot, horsetail, Solomon’s seal, grapevine, even maidenhair fern. Don’t be surprised if you read about them in a future issue of Country Gardens.
Written on March 5, 2013 at 1:00 pm , by James A. Baggett
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.