Posts by James A. Baggett

James A. Baggett

All Grown Up

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.

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James A. Baggett

The Richmond Schoolyard Project

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!

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James A. Baggett

My Recipe for Tomato Bliss

Don’t know about you, but I’m still deep in what I like to call Tomato Bliss. Enjoy it while it lasts because it comes but once a year: fresh-picked tomatoes all day, every day. It seems to commence the first week of August and proceeds all the way to the first hard frost. I wait all year for its sweet juice to drip down my unshaven chin. This year’s crop includes pretty little Yellow Pear Heirloom Cherries, dusky-pink Native American Cherokee Purple, extra-large Mortgage Lifter from West Virginia, and the prolific Mr. Stripey, a good-sized yellow striped heirloom with radiating lines of crimson from the stem. All of them go into a single pot. My beloved apple-green Le Creuset Dutch oven, but any large oven-safe saucepan will do. Cut every last one of your ripest tomatoes into reasonable pieces and add  them to a pot that’s been prepared with a generous amount of good olive oil. You want a depth of at least an inch or two of tomato bliss. Now add four fresh bay leaves. I’ve been pillaging the healthy Proven Winners’ Sicilian Sunshine Sweet Bay Laurel that’s still thriving, despite a season of intense drought, in a container in my front yard. Add three smushed cloves of garlic and a healthy dose of kosher salt. Place the whole thing uncovered in a 375° oven for an hour, stirring and mashing up the goodness every once in a while. This roasted tomato sauce becomes a fragrant and downright delicious caramelized nectar that’s the very essence of tomato goodness. Toss it with pasta. Use it to smother grilled fish or chicken. Sop it up with crusty bread. Add cream and puree it into a decadent soup. Trust me. It’s that easy, go ahead. Put that pile of tomatoes to work and join me in my tomato bliss.

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James A. Baggett

Medinilla magnifica?

While attending the OFA Short Course in Columbus, Ohio, a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon a really cool new plant. Well, new to me…and probably for you as well. Originally from the Phillipines, this truly magnificent houseplant—dubbed Medinilla magnifica—is the size of a medium hosta (or a poinsettia)and produces a handful of massive pink cascading fist-sized blossoms, “a graceful waterfall of flowers with angel’s wings and delicate magic pearls,” as the Canadian grower’s marketing materials describe it. Check it out at www.medinilla.ca. After all, they’re looking for distribution in the United States. I carried one home on the airplane in my carry-on and here it sits in my office blooming its head off. They say to treat it like an orchid: Bright, indirect light and allow it to dry out completely between waterings. What do you think?

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James A. Baggett

Luther Burbank: Boy Wizard

Luther Burbank (1849-1926) was one of America’s most famous and prolific horticulturists, developing some 800 new varieties of plants including the Shasta daisy and Burbank potato, a form of which, the Russet Burbank, is now the world’s most widely grown potato,” writes my friend Scott Kunst in the new edition of his online newsletter for Old House Gardens. “Burbank was also very interested in education, and I think any nature-lover will appreciate—and long for—the kind of education he describes here: ‘Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb, brooks to wade, water lilies, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hayfields, pinecones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets; and any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of education.’”

Which got me thinking about a series of books I especially loved as a child called The Childhood of Famous Americans (The Bobbs-Merrill Company). I worked my way through all of the orange-covered editions in the children’s section of our Carnegie Library in Carmel, Indiana. Today I pick them up whenever I find them at yard sales and used bookstores and I’ve gathered a nice-sized collection, including Florence Nightingale, Kit Carson, Paul Revere, and, of course, Luther Burbank.

Here’s a snippet from Luther Burbank: Boy Wizard by Olive W. Burt (1948):
“It was a summer afternoon in the summer of 1856. The Burbank children and their friends were playing hide-and-seek around the old Burbank house. But Luther was playing another kind of hide-and-seek. His playmates were not boys and girls but honeybees! As he crouched in the deep clover of the meadow, hidden from the other children, he noticed something he never had before. A big fat honeybee came zooming over the wall, stopped on a blossom and pushed its hairy body deep into the cup of the flower. Luther watched it fly a little way to light on another clover blossom. The greedy bee flew right over the daisies and the beautiful red roses. Luther could not understand. At dinner that night his cousin Levi told him how bees pollenize just one kind of flower at a time. And Luther had his first experience with a mystery of nature. From that time on he was forever watching the flowers and soil and insects for other mysteries and getting new ideas for better plants and easier ways to make things grow.”

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James A. Baggett

Sweet Violets

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.

 

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