Favorite Edibles: Tomatoes

Let Them Eat Tomatoes!

By Debra Knapke

I’ve seen reports that we are losing selections of our heirloom vegetables, but I can’t imagine trying to sort through more tomato options than we have right now. With thoughts of downsizing and focusing on tomatoes we have grown and enjoyed, I choose seven cultivars of tasty tomatoes. I ordered seeds and sat back to wait for them to arrive.

Then I was on Ron Wilson’s Saturday morning radio show, and he just had to introduce me to several tomato cultivars and a new catalog. There are now 12 cultivars of tomatoes – six seeds for each – sitting in the greenhouse taking advantage of this sunny day. If they all germinate there will be 72 plants… who wants tomato plants?

Here is my list with some comments.


  • ‘Blue Berries’ from Wild Boar Farms – Brad Gates is offering this tomato that is packed with anthocyanins; can’t wait to try this purple cherry.
  • ‘Black Vernissage’ – a gift package from Baker Creek Heirlooms; another dark tomato from the Ukraine… we are going to be so healthy.
  • ‘Litt’l Bites’ – a determinate container cherry from Renee’s Garden that will please my granddaughters



  • ‘Gold Medal’ – an old standby for us; big and juicy, more sweet than tart.



  • ‘Kellogg’s Breakfast’ – Ron insisted that this is one of the best tomatoes ever; not sure I will eat it for breakfast.
  • ‘Mandarin Cross’ – this is a hybrid that just said: try me.



  • ‘Moneymaker’ – Botanical Interests (and other seed companies) offers this red slicer tomato that is an old English heirloom. I like heirlooms…
  • ‘Crimson Carmello’ – I jumped across the Channel to try this French hybrid heirloom. Our tomato choices are quite international.
  • ‘Red Brandywine’ – one of our favorites; need I say more?



  • ‘Black Krim’ – another favorite that we plant year after year.
  • ‘Cherokee Purple’ – not planting this just might be grounds for divorce (just kidding; I think)
  • ‘Indigo Apple’ – another Wild Boar Farms introduction that beckoned from the pages of the Baker Creek catalog.


Last note: this isn’t our longest list of tomatoes. One year I started 16 kinds of tomatoes including a white cultivar and a green cultivar. Please observe that neither of those colors are represented in the above list.


Favorite Flora: Witchhazel

Diane witchhazel (Hamamelis xintermedia ‘Diane’ a hybrid of Hamamelis japonica and H. mollis)

By Debra Knapke

Depending on the weather, the hybrid witchhazels may be flowering right now.  This plant blooms in winter after a brief warming period which means they can bloom anytime from mid-January to March.  Watch for signs of swelling buds. And, make sure you go out and breathe in the spicy scent, once the flowers have fully opened.  A wonderful way to battle the winter blues!  If you can’t wait for the blooms in the garden, cut several branches and bring them inside to force blooms.


Going Giddy for Spring Gardening Ideas

Ten ways to brighten your 2015 garden 

By Teresa Woodard

Blame it on cabin fever, but I’m giddy over the jackpot of spring gardening ideas showcased at the recent Columbus Home & Garden Show. White kale and golden forsythia branches for spring container gardens. Out-of-the-ordinary conifers in bright yellow, two-tone colors and funky shapes. A 10-foot waterwall for a patio. Disney-esque fountains for the backyard. And even some new twists on those ever-popular pollinator houses.

With fellow blogger Michael Leach as my guide, I snapped lots of pictures to share with Heartland Gardening readers. Let us know ideas you’re “Pinning” for this year’s garden.


IMG_4738Known for its bright yellow winter color, this Pinus contorta ‘Chief Joseph’ is a winner in a snowy landscape.

IMG_4746A unique water feature that brings a soothing sound and visual appeal to this outdoor bar design.

IMG_4758A great water feature for tight spaces and an eye-catching sculpture carved from an old wooden palette.

IMG_4761A two-sided fireplace is shaded by an attractive sail cloth.

Pollinator hotelThis pollinator hotel by Steven Maravich offers plenty of rooms for beneficial insects.

IMG_4762Greenhouses are becoming popular with backyard gardeners who want to grow food year-round.

IMG_4763Ornamental kale is not just for fall displays. Here, Warwick’s Landscaping uses kale with birch logs, pussy willow, forsythia and ivy.

IMG_4754This fountain creates an arched entry to this garden design by Landscape Design Solutions.

IMG_4750This blooming cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas ‘Golden Glory’) is a crowd stopper at Warwick’s display. The multi-stemmed shrub blooms with star-like yellow flowers in later winter.

IMG_4752Larry Burchfield and his team at Cedarbrook Landscaping offered another fun-filled, themed garden with its “Saturday Night Fever” design. It highlights many vintage finds from this fountain of saxophones to a set of old bed springs turned into a bed of succulents.

20150219_124049It’s disco fever – or perhaps spring fever – for Teresa and Michael at the Home & Garden show.

Plants, Gardens Becoming Trendy — Again

20150217_114333Science helps industry tout plant benefits to boost sales

By Michael Leach

Brace yourselves.

Instead of being merely muddy and vaguely nerdy, we gardeners will soon appear cool and with-it to our family, friends and perhaps the rest of the world.

In order to sell more flora, the horticultural industry is touting scientific studies showing positive effects of plants. Meanwhile, interior designers are rediscovering gardens and nature and predicting such themes as  trendy in 2015. (More on this in an upcoming report.)

Today we’ll look an industry campaign showing ways plants help people, from stress relieve to a better environment. (We recently discovered some of their erotic effects in Teresa’s review of Plants with Benefits.)

The sales approach is a far cry from the traditional song and dance about new varieties and bigger flowers and fruit — stuff only gardens care about. Science is proving what gardeners have always known, plants are good for you and working with them is even better.

Plants Love You — GreenhouseGrower, a horticultural industry trade magazine, reports the Canadian Ornamental Horticulture Alliance is promoting a campaign aimed at inspiring people to make plants a part of their life. The theme is Plants Love You.

The goal is “… to educate consumers about the benefits of plants. In addition to pushing plants’ aesthetic benefits, the campaign produces documented health, environmental and economic benefits.”

Plants “pay you” —Trees, for instance, score in environmental and economic ways. “They provide cooling shade that can reduce air conditioning costs, sequester carbon dioxide (the notorious greenhouse gas), while releasing oxygen, and provide windbreaks.” Don’t forget they can be beautiful and fruitful, too. 20141114_083606_Android

As for that humble pothos and other potted plants on countless cubicle desks — drum roll please!

Plants improve your memory — “A recent study indicated people received a 20 percent increase in memory and concentration in the presence of ornamental plants at work.” The report adds, “Researchers believe the calming influence of a natural environment increases the ability to concentrate on the task at hand. Work performed in the presence of plants was of higher quality and completed more accurately than in an environment without plants.”

One must presume these plants are in a healthy condition. Some of the potted flora we’ve seen over the years would more likely inspire depression, given their withered leaves and scrawny stature. Still, my home office is going to get much greener — before I forget again.

Helpful websites — Along with the Canadian program, a couple of Florida growers were cited for making sales from telling buyers the positives of plants. Both have websites that can help we Midwest types in buying houseplants and summer tropicals.

Check out Costa Farms and Delray Plants. The latter has its own trademarked line of “Plants with Benefits.” Those shopping for houseplants will find easy-to-access information, presented in visually appealing ways.

If you know other nurseries or garden centers with especially useful websites, please send them along.

(Writer’s note: This is another of our now-and-then posts focusing on why you H.A.V.E. to garden — to benefit your health, attitude, property values and environment.)Leach garden (43)


On Thursday at 1 p.m., Michael will answer gardening questions as part of a Garden Guru panel at the Columbus Home & Garden Show.  He’ll also be leading Garden Showcase Tours at noon on several days at the show.


Book Notes: Plants with Benefits

Plants with benefits


Amp Up Your Valentine’s Day with Some Sexy Plants

By Teresa Woodard

Planning a romantic dinner for Valentine’s Day? Well, seek out garden writer Helen Yoest’s intriguing book, Plants with Benefits for some helpful advice and titillating recipes.

From arugula to watermelon, she compiles an uninhibited guide to 45 aphrodisiac plants and cleverly uses this sexy topic and a good dose of humor to share the history and science lessons behind each plant.

After reading her account on lavender, I’ll definitely be planting more of this intoxicating perennial to my landscape. Lav ang. Hidcote Marys garden cropFrom historic days, women like the Queen of Sheba and Cleopatra knew the power of this alluring scent as they doused themselves with this love potion. More recently, Yoest says a food aroma study proved the scent’s seductive power among men. In fact, the fragrance of lavender increased participants’ blood flow by 40 percent compared to pizza (5 percent) or popcorn (9 percent).

While the book’s lavender cookie recipe might make a good addition to a Valentine’s Day menu, I’m thinking I’ll start with a basil pesto spread. Yoest says the herb was used as a love token thousands of years ago in Malaysia, Iran and Egypt, and its aroma still “drives us wild” today.PPA Bowood Farms 2 7-22-09 resize

For the entry, I’ll serve up my husband’s favorite tenderloin steak with a flirtatious side dish of asparagus and morels. Yoest praises asparagus for its suggestive qualities and hormone-boosting power. Morels, once named Phallus exculentus by father of taxonomy Carl Linnaeus, is praised for its warming effects much like cayenne and its power-packed nutrients.

And of course, for dessert, chocolate may be the classic choice, but I think I’ll have more luck with a honey treat, like Honey Apple Crisp. Yoest writes how Cupid, the trickster, dipped his arrows in honey before aiming at lovers.

Check out Plants with Benefits for planning your own Valentine’s Day menu and planting a love-filled garden.

“A plant that helps us to love is a plant worth having,” says Yoest.


Catch Us If You Can

Catch Debra at the 36th Annual conference of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA). She will be offering a two hour workshop on Permaculture: Fitting It into the Context of Your Life. There is still space at this eclectic conference which is this weekend, February 14th and 15th in Granville, Ohio.  

Here is a description from OEFFA’s website:  “With almost 100 workshops to choose from throughout the weekend, OEFFA’s conference has something for everyone to love! Eighteen workshop tracks will be offered, covering everything from farm and garden basics, commercial production, food and farm policy, research, sustainable living, and much more!”  

The exhibition hall is filled with local producers of food, and items for the home, garden and farm.  And, wait, there’s more: for readers there is a bookstore.  Check it out!


Book Notes: Garden-pedia and The New American Herbal

Curl Up with A Good Book . . . Or Two

By Debra Knapke

It’s another cold evening and instead of curling up with a good book, I am writing about two good books that I have had the pleasure to peruse.


We use words to communicate, but one person’s definition may be greatly or ever so slightly different from another’s. And, there may be several meanings for a word. Capturing and documenting the meanings of words and concepts is what drives the creation of dictionaries and encyclopedias. The Ohio team of Pamela Bennett and Maria Zampini offers us a lexicon for the modern gardening world in Garden-pedia.

All entries have a concise definition, and most include an expanded explanation of the term or concept. This is the fun part, because here Pam and Maria discuss controversies and variations on a theme. Here is where the book shines. Anyone can write a definition, but it takes years of experience to offer concise, accurate information and advice for the beginner to intermediate gardener. And, that they have in abundance.

For instance, there is a lot of discussion over the definitions of the words/concepts: native plant and nativar. They are, respectively: “a plant that occurs naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without human intervention” and “a cultivar or hybrid of a native plant”. The definitions seem straightforward, but the “story” behind them isn’t. Nativar is a recently coined word and one that has riled some designers and ecologists who work with native plants. Check out Garden-pedia for the short backstory.

The pictures are excellent and add to the overall attractiveness of the book. This isn’t a book you take out of the library once; it’s a book to own.

The New American Herbal

Another beautiful book is Stephen Orr’s The New American Herbal. A common, but unwarranted, complaint about herbs is that they are not beautiful or colorful. This book counters this with artful pictures of herbs and mouthwatering images of herb-filled food. I can’t wait for late spring when my green garlic is up as it is an essential ingredient for the Socca Pancake on page 190. And in summer I will make the Baked Stuffed Tomatoes with Oregano with fresh, sun-warmed heirloom tomatoes.

The first sixth of the book covers general topics and specialty herb groups. The rest of the book is plant portraits and recipes. The usual species are covered along with a sampling of herbs that less represented in general herbal books like muitle (Justicia spicigera) from Mexico, ngò om (Limnophila aromatica) from Viet Nam and Indian hemp/marijuana (Cannabis sativa). Each herb is categorized as to its basic uses, safety and growing tips. Other content varies with respect to its history, expanded use information and available cultivars.

This book seems to want to be everything herbal. And as much as I enjoyed reading it, I feel that a beginner might be overwhelmed by the amount and organization of the information. And, if you want pictures of the whole plant, you will need to look in another reference or log onto the internet. This book appears to be for the more advanced “herbie”. Although, it could be one of those books that you grow into.

A final thought

Both are references books, both display the voices of the authors and both go well with a cup of tea.

Catch Us If You Can


bloggers pic

Debra Knapke:

On Saturday, tune the radio (WTVN in Columbus or WKRC in Cincinnati) to hear Deb Knapke on In the Garden with Ron WilsonOSU ring She’ll be sharing ideas for planting scarlet and gray gardens in celebration of The Ohio State University’s football championship. Will it be Red Riding Hood tulip and red fernleaf peony with White Nancy lamium?  Maybe royal catchfly and Little Devil ninebark with Silver Brocade Artemisia.  Of perhaps for fall, Fire Spire American hornbeam and lavender and deep red snapdragons. And, of course a red buckeye,too. Go Deb, and go Bucks!!

Michael Leach:

garden show logoMichael Leach is pulling together a stellar line-up of speakers and programs for The Columbus Dispatch Home & Garden Show at the Ohio Expo Center .  For the past several years he has brought in a range of experts to help visitors gain a better understanding of the world of home gardening and landscaping. Educational programs range from sustainable landscaping to fairy gardens. He and Fred Hower, The Ohio Nurseryman, will be leading tours of the show gardens to discuss landscape design basics. The show opens Valentine’s Day and runs through Feb. 22.

Teresa Woodard

Check out Teresa Woodard’s latest article in the newest issue of Country Gardens MagazineCountry gardens 15She shares a story on Tom and Carol Plank’s enchanting conifer garden near German Village and a how-to for growing miniature conifers in containers.  She’s also helping Ohio Master Gardener Volunteers share their stories — from harvesting a vegetable garden at a juvenile detention center to  new landscaping for a human trafficking rescue house.  See the stories on the Ohio Master Gardener’s new website.




Winter Shadows Fire the Imagination

Feb-09 animal tracks resizeFinding ways to celebrate a difficult season

By Michael Leach

Winter sun turns a snowy lawn into a giant geography map. At least it seems so to me. My imagination transforms the shadow of a gnarly old tree into the Nile Delta. On the flip side, it could be the tributaries of the Mississippi River.  Sometimes I imagine the snow is a sea dotted with islands (footprints). Sled tracks suggest railway lines running hither, thither.

Those pale blue shadows of shrubs, poles, fences and more on a brilliant sunny day make an abstract pastel watercolor sliding silently, imperceptibly across the whiteness.

And on a full-moon night comes a jaw-dropping view from the bedroom window upstairs. Deltas, islands, roadways, all faintly visible in the silvery glow.

Is cabin fever getting the best of me? Is it time for a change of scenery? Possibly, but I prefer thinking of this coping tactic as a way of making winter — my least favorite season — a more pleasant time. These and other little mind games help me look forward to more than the rest that dormancy and bitter weather force me to accept. Perhaps you, too, find reasons to welcome winter.

Because winter sun is rare in my part of the Midwest, any appearance is cause for excitement.

Tree leaves, not to mention frequent haze, obscure sunrise and sunset in summer, when the sun is taken for granted and sometimes cursed. In barren winter, things are different. The first sliver of orange disk can be seen through distant trees as I gaze from that bedroom window, a mug of steaming coffee in hand.

Some evenings, depending on weather, I walk in a nearby park, one on the edge of open farm fields. The sun reverses itself. Sliding silently behind bare trees on the horizon, the sun ripens into an ever-larger orange oval. For a moment or two, the distant woods seem to be aflame. Then only an ebbing campfire burns before the sky darkens.20150120_072356_LLS

Because cloudy skies are the norm, I decided to “celebrate” winter a few years ago by stringing white Christmas lights on a volunteer cedar I see from the kitchen sink window. Suddenly winter sparkled with a festive air. The little tree is especially handsome mantled with snow. A greeting card I send to myself.

Trendspotting: Bright forecast for 2015

Winter sunrise (640x427)By Teresa Woodard

Welcome to the new year and what’s promising to be a bright one for gardeners!

According to the Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 State of the Industry Survey, 71 percent of growers report 2014 sales increases over 2013, and that sales growth is spurring optimism for 2015, with 73 percent of growers saying they expect to increase production volume for the coming season.

The positive outlook is dittoed in the Garden Media Group’s 2015 Garden Trend Report. Check out this handful of interesting trends:

·         New gardening faces: The garden industry is welcoming two growing population segments – the Millennials (ages 18-35 years) and Hispanics. kale Robinson herb garden Cornell 6-19-07 resize crop Young men especially are outspending other garden consumers by more than $100 each year.

·         Healthful motives: Gardeners are no longer planting just for beauty. Today, they’re gardening for the stress-relief benefits and nutrient-packed crops like blueberries and kale.

·     IMG_2884    Garden-Tainment: Homeowners are expected to spend $7 billion on outdoor décor as they enjoy cooking, dining and entertaining in their outdoor spaces.

·         Compact gardening:  Gardeners are investing in jewel-box gardens as they select high-quality plants for their increasingly smaller spaces. In addition, container gardens remain strong as smart solutions for tight spaces and their portability.front view of gardens

·         Bed head style: Purposefully unstyled landscapes are gaining popularity as gardeners welcome a more naturalistic approach.

·         RebelHoods: Residents are campaigning to reverse ordinances to transform their neighborhoods to more sustainable agri-hoods – complete with urban chickens, bee houses and lawn-less landscapes.



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