Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

Don’t be jealous. Especially if you love hydrangeas…and I know you do. After all, hydrangeas are the most-searched plant on Google. I just returned from a delightful couple of days at Bailey Nurseries, a fifth-generation, family-owned business headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota. Bailey Nurseries is one of the country’s largest wholesale nurseries and continues to develop and introduce revolutionary shrub, tree, and rose varieties. If you don’t know the name, you most certainly know their plants: Love & Peace rose, Tiger Eyes sumac, and Endless Summer hydrangea, to name a few.

Besides exploring their display gardens, greenhouses, and growing fields, I also got to spend time with Terri (Bailey) McEnaney and her son Ryan. Terri is the President of Bailey Nurseries and Ryan handles communications and public relations. That’s the three of us in the Display Gardens at Bailey Nurseries.

Perhaps the highlight of my visit was the opportunity to spend time with the world-renowned plant breeder, Dr. Michael A. Dirr. When it comes to hydrangeas, Dr. Dirr is a rock star. When it comes to shrubs, Dr. Dirr literally wrote the book, His Manual of Woody Landscape Plants is one of the most widely used reference books in horticulture. It has sold more than 500,000 copies. In September 1998, Dr. Dirr was visiting Bailey Nurseries when he spotted a unique hydrangea, a variety he would later learn could flower on both old and new growth—the first hydrangea with this ability. On the flight back home, he scribbled the name Endless Summer in his notes. Bailey Nurseries patented the plant and trademarked that name. Since its introduction in 2004, more than 12 million Endless Summer have been sold. Dr. Dirr has gone on to introduce three more hydrangeas to the Endless Summer collection (Blushing Bride, Twist-n-Shout, and the newest addition, Bloomstruck). That’s the two of us in a field of Bloomstruck hydrangeas. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next!



Freeland Tanner created this wall art by arranging vintage tools, antique sprinkler, trellis, and used garden hoses on a base made from an old teak tabletop.

Every once in a while, you see something in someone’s garden that hits a chord. The Tanner garden in Napa, California, which we featured in the summer issue of Country Gardens, struck me not for the verdant plantings but for the innovative use of old garden tools, hoses, sprinklers and other cast-off items from gardens of the past.  In the Tanner garden, spades and pitchforks became a garden gate; metal flower frogs became wall art; old faded hoses were braided together to make garlands or used as stems for antique sprinkler “flowers”.

Antique sprinklers sprout from the ends of old hoses that have been threaded over bent rebars to create this fanciful sculpture.

It’s always endearing to me to see castoffs refreshed with new life.

Vintage metal flower frogs are skewered by repurposed bits of trellis for this artwork.

And for me, as Father’s Day approaches, the Tanner garden reminds me of my dad, who collected old tools. He spent years going to farm and house sales, buying boxes of old hammers and saws, bundles of rakes and wide brooms. Dad owned a large brick building, and he would take all his treasures to his “shop,” clean and fix them, and arrange them in patterns across the walls and along display shelves through the center. Dad has been gone for many years now—his collection sold to other collectors.

Shovels, pitchforks, and other garden tools, painted Ponderosa Green, form the core of this unique and emblematic gate.

He would have thoroughly enjoyed the Tanner garden. I know a lot of people who combine nostalgia with functionality and art, which extends to most of our Country Gardens audience as well.

Freeland braided worn-out hoses and hung them in swags to display a collection of vintage watering cans.

Check out this gorgeous new rose from our friends at Proven Winners that will be released through their Oso Easy line of roses exclusively through the pages of our magazines in 2016. Tim Wood tells me that this rose is “very fragrant, very floriferous, with a high degree of black spot resistance.” What would you name this rose? Who knows, if we like your suggestion, we’ll be sure to send you a free specimen of your very own.

My three sons helped make polymer clay plant markers for the garden.


Sometimes, the do-it-yourself projects we attempt do not turn out exactly as seen on the internet or television. At least in my experience.

While editing the 2015 issue of Easy Garden Projects, I watched dozens of DIY ideas materialize into useful and interesting garden improvements under the expert hands of our contributing editors. I vowed to tackle a handful of the projects featured in the magazine to see if my skills matched those of our experts. To start, I picked a project my kids could assist with – plant markers made of polymer clay.

My three elementary-school-aged boys helped me select the colors of polymer clay at the craft store. They also helped roll out the clay (once I kneaded it to soften) and cut out the markers using a template. After arguing over letter stamps and puzzling over the correct spelling of “thyme” they also stamped herb names into the clay. According to the teeny-tiny print on the clay packaging, I baked the finished markers at a low temperature until hard.


Many hands make interesting work – my boys crafting their own plant markers for herbs and flowers.

The kids were thrilled with the finished product. It doesn’t quite look as perfect as the ones made by Marty Ross and her husband for the Easy Garden Projects photo shoot, but my kids were thrilled with the results.

For detailed instructions and other inspiring ideas, check out Easy Garden Projects, on sale this summer at newsstands across the nation.

Plant markers made by very enthusiastic boys.

The plant markers made for Easy Garden Projects magazine.

Spring is definitely Cardinal Season…and I’m not just speaking for my steadfast baseball-loving friends and family in St. Louis—where I grew up during my junior and senior high school years—but for red-bird-lovers everywhere. Every evening as I walk my good dogs Scout and Finch on the sidewalks of our turn-of-the-century neighborhood here in Central Iowa, I’ve noticed at this time of year that a ruby-red male Northern Cardinal’s defended territory seems to encompass about every other property. There he is, in every other front yard, perched on a prominent branch with his head thrown back and singing his territorial song. The male sings in a loud, clear whistle from the top of a tree or other high location to defend his territory. He will aggressively chase off other males entering his space. The Northern Cardinal learns its songs, and as a result the songs vary regionally. He is able to easily distinguish the sex of another singing Northern Cardinal by its song. So while we were on our stroll the other night, I noticed a pair of cardinals perched in a full-on blooming redbud. The distracted couple didn’t seem to notice me or the dogs from a few feet away as we witnessed an endearing courtship ritual: the red-robed male would flit to the ground and return to his prospective mate with a single seed which he would proceed to feed to her beak-to-beak in a simulated kiss. Mate feeding is thought to be part of the pair-bonding process; it gives the female an inkling of how well her suitor will provide food for their eventual young. Makes sense, right?

So imagine my surprise when I opened my mailbox and discovered Into the Nest: Intimate Views of the Courting, Parenting, and Family Lives of Familiar Birds by Laura Erickson and Marie Read from Storey Publishing (2015). This is such a cool book! I immediately turned to page 177 to find the image above of a courting male Northern Cardinal as he feeds his mate. Organized by species, this book focuses on the details of courtship, mating, and parenting that are so often hidden from our view. With the support of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the authors bring the diverse personal lives of raptors and hummingbirds and woodpeckers and wrens into stunning focus. Buy the book!

Excerpted from Into the Nest (c) Laura Erickson and Marie Read. Photography by (c) Dave Welling. Used with permission of Storey Publishing

Be sure to check out the Today Show this Friday (between 8 and 9 a.m.) and watch Country Gardens build a garden for Tamron Hall’s mother in Texas in honor of Mother’s Day. Editor James A. Baggett and Art Director Nick Crow worked with Tamron to create the garden her mother had always dreamed of…in honor of her late husband. Set your DVRs!

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