Everyday Gardeners

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Country Gardens Awards!

Just wanted everyone to know that we’ve notified the winners of our 16th Annual Country Gardens Awards and will be photographing CG readers’ gardens this coming season in Oregon, Michigan, Florida and Washington. Plus, we’re especially psyched to let you know that Cool Wave Pansies will be officially presenting our 17th Annual Awards for 2015! If you’d like to see your garden in the pages of America’s favorite garden magazine, be sure to enter. Look for these award-winning gardens in the Fall 2015 issue, which goes on sale next August.


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150 Years of Hillier’s Nursery

While attending the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London last spring I stumbled upon a radiant grove of azaleas, rhododendrons, birches, and maples around the central monument in the Great Pavilion. This was Hillier Nurseries’ annual exhibit, for which, this year, the company won a 69th consecutive gold medal. At Chelsea, in what is Hillier’s 150th anniversary year, I spotted a fourth-generation family member: company president John, who first helped stage the exhibit in 1959—that’s the two of us, above, as John shows me around his Pavilion exhibit. Hillier’s began in 1864 when a 26-year-old journeyman-gardener, Edwin Hillier, bought a florist’s shop and three acres of land in Winchester. Edwin had spent 12 years working on country estates, including the Duke of Northumberland’s Syon House and Studley Royal in Yorkshire, as well as for the legendary Veitch nursery on King’s Road in Chelsea. Edwin’s ambitions are traced in a book, Hillier: the Plants, the People, the Passion, written by Robert Hillier’s wife, Jean, to mark the company’s anniversary. The 10-year project took the couple across England to archives and libraries, villages, churchyards, and estates associated with generations of Hilliers. In dusty crates in Hillier’s head offices, Jean found Edwin’s notebooks, which made it clear he aimed not to become a head gardener, but to run his own business. From those beginnings, Hillier has evolved into Britain’s largest wholesale hardy plant and specialist tree nursery, annually growing more than two million shrubs and perennials.

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Royal Horticultural Souvenirs

Last spring, I was fortunate to be invited by Collette to attend the Chelsea Flower Show in London as well as to tour other Royal Horticultural Society properties, including Wisley, Hyde Hall, and Harlow Carr, and Windsor Castle. While exploring the vendors at the Chelsea Flower Show, I stumbled upon Garden & Wood, a dealer in antique garden tools, furniture, as well as ephemera. Here was the garden gear of my greenest dreams: Handsome, fully restored spades and forks, hand tools such as trowels, daisy grubbers and dibbers; unusual glass cucumbers straighteners, grape storage bottles, hot bed thermometers, and seed measures; seed catalogs, seed packets, garden journals, and more. I struggled to find a suitable souvenir (that I could get back on the airplane) and settled on the two items you see here: A diminutive (just 3 1/2 inches tall) yet elegant green-patinaed toy or child’s watering can and a hand-colored etching of a Stapelia dated 1823.

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Powerful Plants

While serving as a judge for the 2015 Green Thumb Awards for the Direct Gardening Association a few weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find an entry definitely worthy of a shout-out. Powerful Plants is a new “edutainment” and healthy lifestyle brand from Al Benner, a father of twin eight-year-old boys who has been passionate about plants all his life. He feels that plants and the exploration of our natural world have taken a backseat to more passive forms of entertainment such as watching TV and playing video games. Powerful Plants is both a line of books as well as a line of vegetable and flower seeds packaged as characters that will appear in the books, like Snow Whate (‘Snow White’ cherry tomato), Dinosaur Kale (Lacinato kale), and Dragon’s Tongue (‘Dragon’s Tongue’ bush beans). Powerful Plants is all about getting kids re-engaged with the natural world and understanding how important it is to protect our environment, and our food supply. In the first book, The Carrot-Napping, Daucus our likeable carrot character is carrot-napped by Mean Gene and taken to his secret lab to be genetically modified. Can he be saved? Young readers find out the answers by responding to questions about what they have just read to unlock each animated scene. For more information, visit

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Don’t be a weed enabler

One of the most well-worn garden topics is “putting a garden to bed” before winter. I think it’s written about a lot because there isn’t much else to talk about (garden-wise) in November. Gardens are going dormant, you’ve planted your bulbs by now (or you SHOULD have!), and fall plants are fading out. Not much to do now except tidy up, wrap any tree trunks that need it, and go inside for few months.
That makes it sound quite simple. But that’s not to say it’s easy. If you have a sizable garden, it’s no small task to cut off all the spend growth  and dispose of the debris. I thought I’d discovered the best solution a few years ago. Lay the clippings out on the lawn and go over them with a mower, two or three times if necessary. Then rake up the shredded plant material and drop it in the compost bin.
As a way to dispose a lot of material quickly, it’s fantastic. But it created an issue that I think is worth pointing out. If, like me, you “cold compost” (i.e. you don’t work to get the compost hot), seeds in the compost may remain viable. So next year, when you spread all that wonderful compost over your beds, you’re creating (potentially) a weed nightmare. There are several plants that I can’t seem to stomp out. Rose of Sharon, coneflower, Rudbeckia, aster, and Datura, among others.
I now take care to discard most of the seed heads in some other way (like sending them to municipal composter, where they methodically process compost so it adequately heats up. Something to think about.

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Creating a Mini Rainforest

Finished product of the biOrb

Country Gardens apprentice, Bailey McGrath, provides a guest post:

My adventure as an editorial apprentice for Meredith Corporation Special Interest Media began just over a month ago. With a working background in plant pathology, I am excited to continue to work with the beauty of nature, while fulfilling my true passion of writing. I have the privilege of going to school at Iowa State University full-time and coming down to Des Moines three days a week to learn from an incredible group of people.

As a new member of the gardens team, I have already learned so much about the gardening world. As a true test of my green thumb, I was given my first hands-on gardening project. I got to bring a tropical feel to my desk with the biOrbAIR terrarium.

I started by going to our local Earl May Nursery and Garden Center and searching for some tropical plants with our assistant editor, Risa Quade. There are slim pickings this time of year, but we managed to walk out with a few pretty plants, including goldfish plant, which bring orange blooms in the shape of goldfish.

I picked several plants for my mini rainforest, including goldfish plant.

When I got back to the office, it was time to put the biObAIR together. It was a pretty simple process. The kit comes with its own compost and special formulated water for the misting system. All I had to supply were plants and decorative rocks, which were easy to pick with the help of the planting guide.

The total process took me around two hours. I made quite the mess—spilling water and compost all over my cubicle—but I enjoyed every minute of it.

The directions made it a super easy step-by-step process.

After assembling the base, scooping in compost, arranging tiny tropical plants, and filling the misting reservoir, the time finally came to plug the miniature rainforest in. The LED lights kicked on, and the mist began to swirl down upon the plants. It was kind of mesmerizing. I wasn’t the only one fascinated by the rainforest-in-a-bubble. It has been quite a hit around the office.

The biObAIR goes through a 24-hour cycle, simulating a sunrise, 12 hours of daylight followed by dusk and 11 hours of night. It’s a perfect way to host a taste of summer throughout winter and allows tropical plant species to thrive. It runs at $599.99 and can be purchased via the biOrb website:

With little maintenance, the terrarium should bring me warmth during the freezing winter season.


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