Posts by James A. Baggett
By Abbey Barrow
After a long, sometimes treacherous, winter, the first signs of spring are beginning to emerge. The temperature is slowly climbing, parks and outdoor hotspots are packed, and the first buds are blooming on our trees and in our gardens. But one of the most welcome signs of spring is that of the songbirds are chirping in the trees. Their melodies make for early morning greetings and a reminder that the full-fledged beauty of spring is right around the corner.
Just in time, The US Postal Service is celebrating the sounds of spring with their collection of songbird postage stamps. Featuring a wide array of 10 different birds from across the nation (including the Mountain Bluebird, Baltimore Oriole, and American Goldfinch), the collection is sure to add a little dose of joy to the mail. The beautiful songbird images, created by illustrator Robert Giusti, feature each bird perched upon a branch accented with buds, leaves, and flowers.
But the timing of the stamp collection also correlates with a dangerous time in the life of a bird as several of the species featured on the stamps will be migrating within the next couple weeks. Besides marking mail with a beautiful songbird to raise awareness of the migration trials, there are other ways to help out our avian friends during this challenging season.
In fact, the American Bird Conservancy has released a list of migration season dangers and suggestions for how we can help the birds in our areas thrive. These include everything from making sure cats are inside, to applying treatments to prevent birds from hitting your windows when they’re travelling. The ABC even suggests ways you can foster a bird’s habitat with a backyard native plant garden. This area will supply a native insect population for the birds to eat, helping the area’s species to thrive. But perhaps the best way to help the birds is one of the simplest: watch them. Take note of their patterns and develop an appreciation for just how amazing these creatures are. To purchase the Songbird Collection of Stamps, head to Usps.com/stamps or US Post Offices nationwide
For more information on spring migration, see the rest of the American Bird Conservancy’s tips here (http://www.abcbirds.org/newsandreports/releases/140320.html)
Who could possibly be drilling at this hour of the morning? I thought as I tossed and turned in the early spring morning darkness a few days ago. Just as I’d drift back off to sleep, the incessant hammering would start up again. For someone to be jackhammering at this hour, it must be an emergency! Not until I gave in to the fact that I wouldn’t get back to sleep, I pulled on my jeans and leashed my two good dogs to attend to our early morning ablutions in the front yard. There, astride the roof vent atop my two-story bungalow, was a Northern Flicker—handsome black-scalloped plumage and bright red chevron at the nape of the neck—methodically drumming away for all the world to hear. I should have known. After all, the Northern Flicker’s wicka-wicka-wicka calls from high up the contorted branched of the Bur Oaks that dominate my turn-of-the-century neighborhood have been the soundtrack to my evening dog walks as of late. The House Finches are singing their sweet twittering song, the striking male Northern Cardinals’ are defending their turf with their constant metallic chips, and the red-breasted American Robins are whistling their melodic cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up. And, right on schedule, the majestic Turkey Vultures have returned from their winter vacations from as far away as South America, their distinctive two-toned white and black undersides and pinkish red unfeathered heads visible as they glide the thermals and fill the evening sky. Groups of vultures spiral upward to gain altitude in groups called “kettles” and last night—to my rapture-loving delight—I counted more then 60 soaring with their V-shaped wings making swooping, wobbly circles above me. The sensation was literally vertigo-inducing. My snowdrops are finally blooming, my witch hazel is showing promise, and spring has officially arrived in Iowa.
When it comes to the symbolism of the heart, I defer to my dear friend Felder Rushing, author of Garden Hearts (St. Lynn’s Press): “In my garden wanderings,” he writes, “I have discovered many plants with naturally heart-shaped leaves and flowers. I have also found heart shapes painted on walls, cut into fences, fashioned into gates, made out of bet metal, and pottery bits impressed in concrete. There’s even a cool blue stained glass heart overlooking the grave of Elvis.” We’ll satisfy ourselves this Valentine’s Day with the russet-tinged leaves of barrenwort (Epimedium sp.).
Once upon a time, I didn’t even know the difference between a landscape designer and a landscape architect. Oh, how naïve I was. And while I’m still by no means a Master Gardener (which is a real title, by the way), I have come pretty far in my gardening knowledge over the past few months.
You see, this year, I’ve been granted the stellar opportunity to work as an apprentice with the Meredith Corporation Garden Group. And although being an “apprentice” sounds like I’m working for a blacksmith or Donald Trump, what it really means is that while still attending Drake University, I get a chance to work part-time, learn about the world of magazines, and contribute to various gardening publications.
Although I just started in September, I’ve already had some amazing experiences here. Not only do I get to work with a really great, fun, and kind group of people, but I also get to have a few adventures along the way. In fact, one perk of the job is that I even got to chat it up with a celebrity earlier this year. His name is Bill Christopher and he played Father Mulcahy on MASH. Now Bill and his wife Barbara have a home in Pasadena with an incredible corner lot garden. I got to speak with Bill and Barbara about their garden and write a story about it for the upcoming issue of Gardens Ideas magazine. It was a pretty great experience, and I only got a little bit star struck.
In another pretty crazy twist of events, this apprenticeship also marks my modeling debut. Garden Ideas includes a story about how to build your own backyard compost bin…and guess who stood in as the model? It turns out that showing off a homemade compost bin on a frosty Des Moines morning was not the kind of glamorous Spanish Rivera photo shoots Tyra Banks gets to do, but it was still an absolute blast. That’s me, above, with art director Nick Crow.
But it’s not all glamorous celebrity chats and photo shoots around here. I’m picking up some real knowledge about writing, editing, shooting, and producing magazines. And while the major thing I’ve learned is that so much work goes into creating these publications, my apprenticeship has also changed the way I look at the world around me. I can now talk hardscaping with the cashier at Home Depot and advise my mom that combining different textures of greens in the front yard would add a new lushness to the space. But moreover I recognize that’s there’s a beauty to nature and to writing about nature. As and English major, I’ve always been a huge fan of people like Keats and Wordsworth who wax on the wonder and power of the natural world, but I don’t know that I fully understood what they meant until I started working here. Now I see that the garden really is a beautiful thing and it’s a pretty rare privilege to be able to bring that beauty to others through magazines.
Almost fifteen years ago I traveled to Portland, Oregon, to meet an adolescent green thumb named Gavin Younie. At the time I was the editor of Rebecca’s Garden magazine and we were photographing a story on this remarkable young man who had turned his parents’ half-acre suburban backyard in the West Slope area into his fresh-faced version of an English cottage garden. Gavin’s insatiable interest in plants was sparked at the age of six, when he and his twin brother wandered into the garden—a virtual living classroom—of neighbor and garden writer Barbara Blossom Ashmon. “Even at that early age,” said Barbara, “Gavin was very interested in the various plants and flowers. He was full of questions and very observant. He notices everything about a plant, even the most subtle differences of stem color and the way a leaf is ruffled or crinkled or smooth.”
Imagine my surprise last spring when contributing editor Debra Prinzing called to announce she’d met an impressive young landscape architect she thought we should feature in our annual magazine Deck, Patio & Outdoor Living…and that his name was Gavin Younie. So I jumped at the chance to visit The City of Roses once again to catch up with this impressive plant prodigy and to see what he’s been up to. I admit I was also psyched to spend some time with my friends Debra, photographer Laurie Black, and her husband Mark King. You can see the results of our visit with Gavin in the new issue of Deck, Patio & Outdoor Living, on sale March 25th. And remember: This is the same person who once told me, “So far my plant knowledge has all been self-taught from books, garden shows, and visits to gardens. But one day I hope to become a landscape architect.” One look at his front yard and you’ll agree he’s found his calling.
While nosing around Richmond, British Columbia, looking for stories recently, I had the chance to spend a delightful morning with chef Ian Lai of the Richmond Schoolyard Society at the Terra Nova Rural Park Community Garden. The Richmond Schoolyard Project was founded in 2006 by Ian, a school instructor as well as a chef. He was frustrated by his students’ lack of knowledge about how the food cycle works, so he started this not-for-profit community-based project that connects elementary and high school students with the earth, the community around them, and agriculture at large. Working with adult volunteers from the neighborhood, students learn to grow, harvest, cook, and eat nutritiously. Letting nothing go to waste, chef Ian creates everything from dandelion wine (delicious!) to his own ground wheat bread onsite. Chef prepared us a lovely breakfast in the garden using ingredients from the garden. Look for a story on this impressive organization in a future issue of Country Gardens!