Heartland Gardening Book Release

heartland gardening FINALCOVER1

We are excited to announce our upcoming book release, Heartland Gardening: Celebrating the Seasons. We’ll launch the book on Sunday, March 18 at 2 p.m. at our talk at Inniswood Metro Gardens in Westerville, Ohio.

Our new book celebrates gardening in the Midwest with a collection of our best blog posts. We’ve assembled gardening lessons and reflective essays and woven them together with beautiful images and illustrations. The book leads readers through the region’s heralded seasons, offering tips for favorite plants, recipes for beloved edibles, plant design ideas and advice for top garden destinations. It’s a great tribute to Midwest gardening and an excellent gift for gardening friends.

To register for the “Gardening in the Heartland” event, visit Inniswood.

Inniswood Garden Talk

Inniswood garden talk

Join us on Sunday, March 18, 2 – 4 p.m. at Inniswood Metro Gardens in Westerville. We’re delighted to share the stage in three talks on spring container gardening, what’s hot and not, and healthy gardening strategies.

We will also be giving away a $125 gift card to Kurtz Bros Mulch and Soils and announcing our Heartland Gardening book release.  We hope you will join us for this fun gardening event!

Tickets are $15/IGS members and $20/non-members.  Call 614-895-6216 to register. Inniswood Metro Gardens, 940 S. Hempstead Rd. Westerville, OH 43081.

March Madness

Early Spring Tasks

By Debra Knapke

 Blustery winds, snow, wintercress setting bud, temperature changes that make you feel like you are on a rollercoaster … it’s March, and the time I look out into my garden and create a to-do list. I save the major clean-up of my garden for March. Stems and seedheads of perennials offer winter interest while providing protection to herbaceous crowns and food for wildlife. They also may be insect nurseries.

My list for this year:

1. weed-weed-weed:  bitter wintercress is beginning to bloom and must be removed. If you catch it before it buds, you can leave it in the garden, roots side up. Look for the early rosettes of garlic mustard. Separate the roots from the crown and you can leave this to compost in-place, too. Chickweed, which is an edible spring green, is bursting out, too. Dandelions are beginning to show. The plants in the garden will end up in salad. I don’t concern myself with the ones in the lawn.

1a. Remove invasive plants that you have planted or have shown up – uninvited – in your garden

garlic mustard resize

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) — remove it in its rosette stage before it blooms.


bitter wintercress frosted 3-5-18resize

Even after being frosted several times, bitter wintercress (Barbarea vulgaris) keeps on blooming!

Ranunculus ficaria 3-5-18resize

This cute perennial is a thug in disguise. Lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) will spread by seed and root tubers in a very short time.

2. Cut down the stems from the herbaceous perennials. I only cut them down to 6-8”as native bees may use them for their bee nurseries. The blue mason bee is already flying and searching for tubes to lay her eggs in. Watch for eggs and egg cases and leave those stems standing.

fennel stems 3-5-18resize

Stems of fennel stay in the garden for now.

fennel stems pith drilled 3-5-18crop

Notice how the usually solid pith is drilled. There might be a resident inside.

3. Cut down last year’s grasses. Chop the leaves into 8-12” pieces and leave them in piles. In my garden I lay them in the “wild” area in the back for birds to use for nestbuilding. The leaves that are not used will breakdown and add to the nutrition in the soil.

4. Make sure that leaves left in the garden are not covering emerging crowns. Most plants will grow up through leaves, but snow may pack the leaves, especially oak leaves. This will trap moisture around the crown and cause crown rot.

5. If you mulched in the fall, fluff it. Mulch can flatten and cause an impermeable surface that blocks water and air movement into the soil. If you are thinking of mulching in March, chase that thought right out of your mind. That is a mid to late April task when the soil has warmed. In cool-spring years, I have delayed adding mulch until early May.

6. Edging the garden beds; especially good for the times when you should not be stepping on saturated soil and compacting it. February and the first week of March have been very rainy this year. In the low areas of my garden, edging and weeding  the perimeter of the bed is the only task I will be doing for the next week or so.

7. Check trees and shrubs for broken or dead limbs and remove them. Prune suckers and crossing branches. This is better done in the fall, but if you didn’t get to it, do it now. An exception to this is any maple species. I prune live wood on maples in the late summer to mid-fall to avoid causing sap flow from the wound.

8. Look for plants that are heaving out of the ground and press them back into the soil. A side note: the deer have been very active in my garden and while tiptoeing through several areas, they have uprooted plants and bulbs. Look for this type of animal damage and fix it.

9. Sit back, breathe, and enjoy the early bulbs and perennials that are emerging, but don’t be surprised if Mother Nature snows on your parade.


Jewel Box Blooms


Teeny, tiny flowers are potent symbols

By Michael Leach

Small packages can contain fabulous wealth. Consider the simple cube. Hardly bigger than two plump thumbs, it opens to reveal a glittering diamond and emerald ring that sits like an imperial crown upon a velvet pad.

So it is with some of the smallest bulbs in my garden, snowdrops and snow crocus. Their tiny flowers generate excitement on a scale far beyond their size not to mention an early meal for pollinators. Those teeny, tiny blooms are powerful signs of better things ahead.
These diminutive flowers are especially potent this winter, which arrived early with a nastier attitude than usual. It’s taken itself far too seriously in my opinion. Fortunately a thaw in late February turned into a few days of late-May weather, prompting those precious little flowers to pop open.

The mild weather also pushed the two big silver maples in the back yard to get into the act. Their flowers are even smaller thanthe bulbs’ but their masses of swelling buds create a pastel yellow aura around one tree and burgundy the other. Unfortunately their beauty appears too far over head to appreciate the flowers. 

Because wee blooms are lost in a vast scene, legions of them are needed for a visual statement in a expansive landscape, such as mine. Those trees produce their own show. Bulbs require my effort.

crocusMy token blossoms always inspire visions of lavender and yellow swaths of snow crocus, white drifts of snowdrops and golden rivers of countless daffodils for next spring. 

What will probably happen is a repeat of the disappointment of many past springs. The reality of bulb planting season is fatigue, hard soil and sprawling plants that I tangle with while digging holes. The garden season always seems to require too many weedings, waterings and plantings. Near exhaustion, not enthusiasm results. Instead of the thousands or even hundreds to bring alive these visions of spring glory, only a few bags of various bulbs are purchased and planted.

galanthusKnowing such fantasies are unlikely to take root, a practical thought comes to mind. A few dozen tiny bulbs would suffice to greatly enliven the portion of the perennial border nearest the sunporch windows. Why not order from one of those clever bulb companies? Their catalogs, spiced with early bird specials, arrive during the heyday of spring bulb season. Instead of a token few, I could buy enough to create a modest statement. Because the bulbs will bepaid for months ahead, my frugal nature will insist that there be no waste of money. This will generate sufficient energy to dig the required holes.

Perhaps this is the year. But for now, I must go out and gaze at the wee wonders who seem to whisper, “Winter’s done for.”




Holiday Greetings

img_0489.jpgCheck out our latest podcast as Michael Leach shares “Real or Fake?,” a humorous essay on the recurring Christmas tree debate.

Sharon Meadows Constructed Wetland

Working with Mother Nature and the Community to Solve a Problem

By Debra Knapke

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted in a while. There has been a lot going on this past spring, summer and fall, and blogging, unfortunately, became a lower priority.

One project that was all-consuming in the spring was the transformation of a waterlogged park into a constructed wetland. In less than three months an amazing team of people created a place that would normally need a year or more of planning.

In the first season, volunteers have seen many different species of butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies. We had frogs and toads in the wetland, and frog eggs in one of the shallow pools. The upland plants were visited by a myriad of bees, beetles, wasps and more. The bluebird boxes were full and the resident bats and tree swifts ate any visiting mosquitoes. Next year, one goal is to inventory the animals that use the wetland for food and /or shelter.

I invite you to take  a moment, 5 minutes and 34 seconds to be precise, to experience the making of a wetland.

Brace yourself! Winter returns

PocketwatchWinter starts with an act of Congress.

By Michael Leach

How else can a gardener — or anyone else — look at the end of Daylight Savings Time?

One night you sit down to supper in the fading amber glow of late autumn sunlight; the next,  it’s a black expanse as vast and forbidding as Siberia.

It’s a mind game. No matter the temperature after time change, winter is as real as any wind chill reading or stinging sleet.

An urge to hibernate grows and reminds us this is the time to gather near the  hearth (more likely a furnace register),  be still, cover up and rest. For weeks this hibernation-like  approach makes for  guilt-free indolence of reading and dozing on the sofa after supper. There is rejoicing. We have a  reprieve from weeding. It’s too cold for watering.

Hope lives on indoors with potted tropical foliage, herbs and a few clippings of summer favorites. My contained garden, even in a room with large, south-facing windows, is appealing but still fails to satisfy as much as a few minutes working warm garden soil filled with free-range plants.

Gardeners are outsiders. We flag under the gray pall, just as a  sun-loving potted plant grows spindly and pale when placed too far from the windowsill. Like the unhappy plant stretching toward the light, we too lean to the window searching for some sign of spring’s return.

Our grounding in the world beyond the glass makes gardening essential. We can almost root into the earth as we till and sow, while our heads remain in the air and sunlight. We are nurtured even as we nurture. Plants literally feed us and give us oxygen, so why wouldn’t they inspire joy when we see them turning green, flowering and breathing life into the stale scene of straw lawns and skeletal trees.

When hope seems lost, Daylight Savings Time returns. What better harbinger of spring than an extra hour of daylight. Instead of hunkering down to dinner in the dark, there’s time to garden after dessert.

Surprisingly, Congress managed to do something at least halfway right.

Counting Dragonflies

The Dragonfly

Poem by Louise Bogan; images by Teresa and Brian Woodard taken at the Odonata 2017 conference.

You are made of almost nothing
But of enough
To be great eyes
And diaphanous double vans;IMG_3818 (2)
To be ceaseless movement,
Unending hunger
Grappling love.IMG_3618 (2)

Link between water and air,
Earth repels you.
Light touches you only to shift into iridescence
Upon your body and wings.IMG_2747 (2)

Twice-born, predator,
You split into the heat.
Swift beyond calculation or capture
You dart into the shadow
Which consumes you.IMG_3561 (2)

You rocket into the day.
But at last, when the wind flattens the grasses,
For you, the design and purpose stop.IMG_3766 (2)

And you fall
With the other husks of summer.

IMG_3686 (2)

Common whitetail dragonfly male (top) and female (below)

Learn More

Inspiration: Columbus Park of Roses

Where Beauty and Wisdom Grow

By Michael Leach

In a world where social media and the daily news serve up an ever-increasing diet of violence, vulgarity and vitriolic verbiage, gardens and gardening are needed more than ever. Whether it be a few potted plants on a window sill or carefully tended acres, gardens make an instant and effective antidote to media overload.

Such thoughts were inspired by a recent visit to the Columbus Park of Roses for the dedication of a new entryway to the 13-acre site, one of America’s largest public rose gardens. The new entry is a fitting welcome to the 12,000 rose plants that grow in spite of often-harsh Ohio conditions. That perseverance is something to marvel at. More than 400 rose varieties, from some of the oldest heritage types to the newest hybrids, are featured. The park also has perennials and herbs.(For additional information on the garden, visit http://www.parkofroses.org.)

The Columbus Recreation and Parks Department and volunteers keep the flowers blooming. That’s another bit of inspiration from the garden — cooperation.

Elegant in its simplicity, the new entry features several stone columns, each adorned with a metal plaque containing wisdom for the ages. The pillars were donated by community groups, businesses and private citizens.

Few sound bites or FaceBook posts are ever as revealing or comforting as the thoughts of the poets, gardeners and others displayed. Here’s a sampling of the words and flowers that grow in our part of the Heartland.

Rose garden Jekyll quote


First prize rose

Rose garden quote

Brass band rose

Rose garden M Teresa quote

Houseplants with Attitude

Orchid eyes

Orchid Reveals Ruthless Gardener’s Approach

By Michael Leach

This house is the Bates Motel for potted plants. I’ll grant you that my human keeper waters me more or less regularly, gives a dash of granular organic fertilizer at appropriate intervals, lets me spend months outside, and trims off faded flowers and the occasional yellowing leaf. So why the sense that Alfred Hitchcock directs daily life?

He murders plants. Many human beings consider houseplants as surrogate children. I’ve gathered this from overheard phone conversations and his endless chatter with visitors. I also know about this from the potted plants and rooted cuttings he occasionally receives from other people. We plants share stories, don’t think we don’t. He should consider us in the same way dog and cat owners are notorious for going all stupid over some slobbering Labrador or snooty  Siamese.

He wasn’t always this way. When I first came on the scene, he was more like other growers. But over our 20-plus years together, that heartwarming attachment faded, replaced by his dreadful notion that plants in this household  exist  only to satisfy his aesthetic sensibilities. Fail to keep producing fresh, lush foliage and flowers and you’re out. “Grow or go,” he says almost every month. It all started with that dreadful poinsettia.

He’s so cheap that one year he decided to keep the poinsettia and get it to bloom for the next Christmas. Those things are ridiculous, in my opinion, but I am an orchid after all, and Cattleya or corsage-type orchid at that. Pfff to poinsettias I say. They’re gaudy for weeks throughout the winter and then commence a prolonged death scene worthy of a melodrama. After he put that has-been holiday star outside for summer, it turned into a shrub with lush foliage worthy of the tropics.

Then he began the tedious process of trying to fool it into blooming. The poinsettia wasn’t fooled. Instead of massive swaths of red, only puny, vaguely red bracts emerged and this barely days before Dec. 25. He was livid and tossed the plant onto the compost pile in December! We were agast. After that Christmas, when asked what should be done with poinsettias he blithely said, “Throw it on the compost pile!” 

It was the following autumn I noticed things began to change. As usual, the tiny sunporch was crammed with houseplants returning to winter quarters and some impatiens and geraniums salvaged from the garden. There was the giant fern in the early days, just kept getting bigger because he lusted for the status of a big plant.

Those annuals always caused trouble. Being unaccustomed to the dim light of cloudy Ohio autumn and early winter, they suffered horribly, even in the south-facing sunporch windows. As you know, plants drop flowers, then buds and finally leaves — lots of leaves — when stressed by lack of sun. It’s a near death experience. This clashed with his sense of tidiness that borders on obsession.

Grumblings were heard daily, as one after another of the impatiens went to that big mixed border in the sky, leaving a mess behind. In early December, the massive fern began its slow death spiral that never ceased until it went back outside again in early May. By then only sickly green fronds remained. Somehow the old girl always managed to produce three or four flimsy new fronds in the growing light of early spring. That was the only thing that saved her until the day he snapped.

It was late autumn and the big fern continued to sit in a shaded place under the crab apple tree, despite temperatures plunging faster than stock prices in a crash. Still he seemed oblivious to the fern. Then it happened, the first freeze of the season.

The fern was a mushy, dark green mess the next day. He looked out and said, “Oh. I forgot to bring in the fern.” I swear there was a fiendish grin and a note of glee in his voice. The rest of us trembled in our places on the windowsills, table tops and warm corners of the porch. What kind of monster is this we wondered? We couldn’t help but lose a few leaves and petals.

One after another, the straggly and overgrown were “forgotten” in the first freeze. “A nice addition to the compost pile,” he said, tossing their frozen-stiff corpses into that wretched tumble of banana peels, coffee grounds and pulled-up weeds he calls a compost pile.

Me? I plan to grow, not go. Despite my too small container, stale potting mix and inadequate winter light, I continue to produce a bounty of lavender flowers, starting about Thanksgiving Day and continuing into mid-January. The oohs and aahs prompted by my delicate, lightly scented blooms keep me in good graces. “I’ve never seen an orchid this big,” visitors gasp in amazement.

While he glows and swells with pride. I sigh. Guaranteed another year for me it seems.

This short story by Michael Leach was done as a monthly assignment for the Grove City Writers’ Group.

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