Hope Taft Champions Native Plants

One of Hope Taft’s favorite garden chores is caring for the Heritage Garden’s water garden.

By Michael Leach

Those of us at Heartland Gardening have long admired Hope Taft, Ohio’s visionary former first lady. Debra has worked with her for many years in the Heritage Garden at the Governor’s Residence in Columbus. Teresa met her while they were wading the Olentangy River observing concretions with a mutual friend. Michael interviewed her about the garden at its inception when he was working as garden reporter for The Columbus Dispatch. The venerable house is America’s only governor’s residence with a landscape showcasing the state’s native plants and vignettes of its five major natural areas.

As Hope has been instrumental in bringing Ohio Native Plant Month into reality, we thought it a good time to for a Q&A session. Her replies have been edited for space considerations. 

Why do you garden?

Gardening to me is something that takes your full concentration and attention. When I am working in the yard, all consideration of worries or time go away. I find it very refreshing to come in tired from pulling invasive plants and weeding. Instead of the hour I had planned to spend, three have passed, and the area looks so much better! More important, the worries I had before venturing into the yard are so greatly reduced in size, or a solution to the situation has emerged. In our present home, I view what I do as gardening, but it’s more restoring its natural habitat. Wildlife has been nice enough to let us share their home, so I am trying to create a space where all can live in harmony. I recently heard the term “conservation gardener” and think that is what I am.

How do you find time to garden?

Even a few minutes outside, picking herbs for supper or looking for a gift of nature to bring inside for the table, can refresh me. But it’s hard to limit the time to a quickie, so the dinner doesn’t burn! On hot summer days, I find the best time is early in the morning. When I come home tired, if I can walk in the yard and pull a few weeds before I open the door, I am a much happier person.

The prairie garden at the Heritage Garden of the historic Ohio Governor’s Residence

What inspired the Heritage Garden?

When I was fortunate enough to be the first lady of Ohio (1999-2007), we gave many tours of the historic Governor’s Residence. Guests always wanted to know what was from their part of the state. We could do that with artifacts throughout the home. While traveling the state, I realized Ohio is made up of many different regions that favored different plant communities.

One day it dawned on me, we could highlight Ohio’s special topography and plant diversity in the yard and let people from all parts of the state find a spot they could relate to. And it would provide blooms from early spring to late fall!

(A master plan, featuring the five major regions and some of the plants that grow there, was drawn and planted. The small areas around the back lawn include a water garden representing a tiny cranberry bog, sand dunes from Lake Erie shores, and a boulder from Appalachian, which supports a host of plants.)

To further promote Ohio’s natural heritage, Hope helped develop the Geologic Walk Through Time at the Ohio Expo Center and State Fairgrounds in Columbus. 

Why continue working in the Heritage Garden?

Gardens, yards, nature and environments are continually changing. It is that change that is exciting to me. We sometimes call the residence and grounds a “living museum” because its occupants, furniture, colors are always changing, just as the plants and landscape do outside. I feel blessed that first ladies who have come after me have allowed me to stay involved, so it can be maintained, nurtured and protected. Wonderful volunteers under the leadership of our native plant habitat curator help us maintain the garden, as well as learn the value of, and how to care for native plants. It has become a test area of what works well and what doesn’t, and why it doesn’t.

Protecting nature

“I now believe that by saving or restoring our natural areas and the life that lives in them, we are saving ourselves,” Hope said. To that end she’s currently promotes Ohio Native Plant Month, protection of the Little Miami River, a state and national scenic river;  the Ohio Scenic River Association; Tandana Foundation, a nonprofit started by the Tafts’ daughter, Anna; and works to win designation of the Hopewell ceremonial mounds found in three major clusters in Ohio as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

A passion for people 

Long before becoming Ohio’s first lady, she  was active  for many years in the campaign to end drug abuse.  People have always seen me as an organizer or networker. So when the mayor of Cincinnati (where the Tafts once lived) asked me to help with the emerging crack cocaine crisis in 1986, I said yes. As a young mother at the time, I could see the havoc alcohol, tobacco and other drug use was having on youth and families, so it was easy to work on preventing the problem. 

While serving as Ohio’s first lady, she helped start Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free in 2000. After her husband’s term of governor ended, she became executive director to this nonprofit of first ladies and traveled the country, helping the U.S. Surgeon General release his report on Underage Alcohol Use. The organization disbanded in 2013. 

At the request of Gov. Ted Strickland and Gov. John Kaisch, she served on the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professional Board. Now I am on the retired, senior list of several organizations still involved with this issue.

Time management tips

I learned from a wise woman many years ago to deal with a piece of paper or email when you first receive it. Now my policy is to read all my emails for the day before I go to bed. It makes for some late nights sometimes, but this helps me sleep. (She also recommends, rest, good diet, enthusiasm for the work, keeping your calendar up to date, and having good friends who have special knowledge in your areas of concern that you can depend on to help.)

What’s next?

“As one interest leads to another, it will be exciting to see how my passions evolve in the coming years,” she said. “What other ways can I work towards leaving the world a better place?”

“But,” she added, “I am realizing that others need to be encouraged to take up the efforts that matter to them, because none of us lives forever! I am realizing the importance of planting seeds and mentoring their growth in the next generations.”

Hope Taft at the Heritage Garden with Debra Knapke and Ed Marriman.

Celebrating Ohio Native Plants

By Michael Leach

Today we are helping launch April as Ohio Native Plant Month, with a post about how this became Ohio law.  In a few days, we’ll share an interview with Hope Taft, former Ohio first lady, who not only helped make this happen, but has long been a champion of Ohio native plants and natural areas.

It takes more than trowels and watering cans to make a gardening statement. For April to become Ohio Native Plant Month, ideas, conversations, meetings, legislative hearings, political action, and the signature of Gov. Mike DeWine were part of the mix.

The purpose is to increase public awareness of Ohio’s native plants, and the many benefits they provide to pollinators, Ohio’s economy, and health of Ohio’s environment.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine with Hope Taft (far left) and Ohio Master Gardeners

One of the behind-the-scenes champions is Hope Taft, wife of former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft and “mother” of the Heritage Garden at the Governor’s Residence in Columbus. It’s the only one in the country featuring a landscape showcasing the state’s native plants and vignettes of its principal ecosystems.

The idea for native plant month sprouted around three years ago when she learned Texas planned a native plant week. She said,  “This struck me as a great way to broaden the impact of the Heritage Garden and increase the use of native plants in residential settings.”

However, it stayed in her memory bank because “…. my background told me it would be a lot of work to get the legislature to go along and even more to have a group of like-minded organizations to do it without supporting legislation.”

Eventually she met Kathryn Cochran Wiggam, wife of state Rep. Scott Wiggam of the Ohio House of Reresentatives, and daughter of Ken Cochran, retired director of Secrest Arboretum. She is a member of the Garden Club of Akron, part of the Garden Club of America. Another memory deposited.

Eventually, several memories and meetings resulted in action. Nancy Linz, the Zone X horticulture chair of the Garden Club of America, Nathan Johnson, director of Public Lands for the Ohio Environmental Council, and Hope worked out a plan to get the facts and information needed to present it to the legislature. She said, “The stars were aligning!”

We surveyed every garden club, associated group and green industry member we could think offor the best month, she said. April was chosen because a wide variety of groups across Ohio could participate and nurseries could be stocked with native plants “when the public is most interested in their own yards.”

Rep. Scott Wiggam and Sen. Bob Hackett guided the plan through the legislature. Committee hearings were required. After making many trips to Columbus to testify in the House and Senate committees, getting school children, green industry representatives, and garden club association representatives to testify, and encourage many others to write letters, the bill was signed into law July 18, 2019,” she said.

The group isn’t finished. The trio is working to form a nonprofit organization, develop a website,www.ohionativeplantmonth.org, and encourage use of information there. “Nancy is the driving force behind Ohio Native Plant Month and hopes it will get national traction,” she said.

Recently the group received notice the Montgomery County Commissioners, which includes Dayton, issued a proclamation honoring Ohio Native Pant Month. This is important, Hope said. It puts the local government on records supporter of using native plants. 

Another way to promote Ohio plants, she said, is for local beautification groups to add “use of natives” as a criteria in selecting outstanding gardens. 

While the COVID-19 crisis forced cancellation of native plant events in April, the Ohio Native Plant Month website will list new events, provide updates, give information on invasive plants, and show tallies of Ohio tree plantings to reach the United Nations Trillion Tree Campaign, www.trilliontreecampagin.org, to plant a trillion trees by 2050.

They also will provide information on adding Ohio native plant pollinator gardens to home landscapes and using Ohio natives in existing landscape plantings.

Green And Beyond

Bloggers share favorite colors in the garden

By Debra Knapke, Michael Leach and Teresa Woodard

Green for Debra:

What do my car, the accent walls in my house, the wallpaper in the dining area, and most of my clothes have in common? The tints, tones and shades of green. 

A harmonious vignette in green

Pre-mid-80s, my favorite color flipped between blue (main high school color) and red (OH-IO!).  But as gardening became the way for me to find that calm place in a busy life filled with young children and my job, I found myself drawn to green. I didn’t notice it at first, but I remember the day I looked at my closet and realized that red and blue had given way to green accessorized with brown and purple.

In April, these native plants begin to cover the ground in my small wooded area; wild ginger, goldenseal, and waterleaf.

Green is the color of life: renewal, growth, nature, and energy. For many, it symbolizes harmony, fertility and the environment. Traditionally, green is the color of money – in the US – and envy!

Wishing you harmony and growth.

Yellow for Michael:

Children’s drawings almost always show the sun as a yellow circle, usually with straight lines for rays shining in all directions. As a child this was my go-to symbol for sunshine, which somehow connoted happiness, too.

Maybe that’s because one of the earliest memories in the garden involves yellow crocus. Mother’s plump yellow crocus flowers were a symbol that the stifling house arrest of dreary, winter and the endless weeks of too-cold-to-play-outside were ending. The bees sought  the crocus blossoms, too. They clambered inside the flowers until it looked as if they wore bulging bloomers of orange pollen.

No wonder Mother, my sister and I looked so intently for those first signs of the needle-like green tips of crocus. Only Ponce de Leon’s passion for the mythical fountain of youth excelled ours. Next came frequent checks for signs of buds. At last the flowers, always gone too quickly. Eventually daffodils, iris, sunflowers and mums were added to Mother’s flower beds. Sunshine bloomed almost everyday from spring into autumn.

Yellow holds the top spot on my color popularity chart, but just a fraction below is lavender and then pink. My garden color scheme is the three primary colors, but in pastels. (Even yellow is best as butter, not taxi cab.) 

The solar connection to yellow is probably why I had the house painted “jonquil” a few years ago. No matter how gloomy the Midwest weather, there’s always sunshine and spring’s promise waiting outside.

Red for Teresa

Yes, red is my favorite color. I first embraced its boldness as a rebellious teenager trying to make a statement.  I regularly sported crimson shoes and chose ‘Laser Red’ for my first car. I accumulated a closet of all things red, and slowly learned too much of this intense color can overwhelm. Could ‘less is more’ apply to my favorite color?

Later as I began gardening, I discovered the power of red in small doses – a pot of red begonias on the front porch, red tulips planted along a walkway with grape hyacinth, and ‘Lucifer’ crocosmia tucked in a perennial border. For winter interest, I added red-twig dogwoods and red-fruited hollies.  For Mother’s Day, I was thoughtfully gifted with various red roses but never became a fan for their high maintenance and nasty thorns. Tucked away in my cutting garden, I finally realized I could defiantly break the ‘less is more’ rule and plant with abandon red zinnias, gladiolas and cockscomb.

More Colors

What are your favorite colors in the garden? For more inspiration, check out these books on garden color.

Adjusting to Spring Time

Snowdrops, as their name implies, aren’t afraid of being among the first blooms of the year.

By Michael Leach

My garden spends months waiting to exhale into green tips and tiny blossoms. This breath of life is held captive all winter beneath a crust of cold, wet soil, dull brown leaves and leaden clouds.

Despite the seeming dormancy, daffodils, crocus, snowdrops and other early bloomers have little patience with this situation. They make the best of it for weeks, by growing roots. But eventually the time comes to send up  pinpoints of green. Timid at first, they grow bolder in the warmer, longer days. 

Bees enjoy the early flowers of snow crocus, too.

More and more plants join them. With this breath of life called spring, the earth is transformed, almost as we watch, into green everywhere, swelling flower buds, blossoms opening. In just a few weeks, this part of the Midwest will be filled with a chartreuse haze, softer than a whisper, that seems to hover over every branch and twig. Hillsides become fluffy, pale green clouds, accented with tufts of redbud and dogwood flowers. 

Daffodils push their way through the cold soil and old leaves. Flowers will soon appear.

Even as those first tiny shoots begin sticking it to winter’s backside, cardinals sing again in early morning. They are probably only marking territory, but I prefer to think they’re heralding the coming spring.

Redwing blackbirds do the same thing, singing brightly. Spring is coming, along with those migrating birds. True, bitter winds, snow and ice can make an appearance anytime in March — usually after a couple of balmy days — but their return is short lived. No wonder birds sing with hope.

Adding to the effect, is a powerful artificial construct — daylight savings time returns not long after the redwings.

There are downsides to this. One, the inevitable poor man’s jet lag of getting the body adjusted to a new time zone — without leaving home to visit a different place. And for a few weeks, morning coffee will revert to waiting for signs of dawn, instead of marveling at the play of light on the white sycamore branches. Evening, however, suddenly grows longer, hinting at summertime.

This gift of evening light from the government could mean a bit of weeding after supper. Or I could gaze at the charming, ever-changing scene. The latter choice is wisest, for spring vanishes almost as quickly as the last note of a cardinal’s cheery trill.

Natural Beauty

A Border Brings Splendor and Pollinators

By Teresa Woodard

Two years ago, Debra and I had the opportunity to revamp an outdated 85-foot border with a natural-style one at the entrance of Hidden Creek, a 600-acre conservation development west of Columbus. While the charming entry with its stone wall and brick-trimmed gatehouse originally had a border of zebra grasses, daylilies, shrub roses and taxus, the plants had become overgrown and dated. We were challenged to bring a fresh look more in keeping with the development’s conservation purpose. The border also needed to be aesthetically pleasing with four seasons of interest, require minimal maintenance, offer pollinator appeal, tolerate a heavy deer population and survive with no supplemental water beyond the first year.

Together, we designed a densely planted mix of 400 natives, native cultivars and pollinator-friendly plants. The tight planting scheme meant less mulch, while producing more color impact and structural support for the plants.

The best part of the project was the sense of community it created. Neighbors joined in helping with the installation and used the opportunity to learn more about the plants. One neighbor even volunteered to water the new plants as they became established during the first season.

Now starting its third year, the border shines each season and attracts a host of bees, birds and butterflies.  In spring, alliums, nepata, amsonia, baptisia and salvia begin the show. 

In summer, the border peaks with purple and white coneflowers, liatris, agastache, Joe Pye weed and globe thistle.  In fall, coneflower seedheads, purple asters, little bluestem, prairie dropseed and amsonia’s gold foliage bring a season finale. Neighbors often stop to offer compliments and call to ask about for plant IDs. Others have added similar plantings in their own landscape. A few even had fun spray painting the border’s allium seed heads for the July 4th holidays.

Plant list:

Try planting some of these natives, native cultivars and pollinator-friendly plants in your own backyard. The list includes prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), little bluestem (Schizachyrium ‘Standing Ovation’), coneflower (echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ and ‘Ruby Star’), false indigo (Baptisia ‘Indigo Spires’), Joe Pye weed (‘Baby Joe’ Eupatorium), salvia (Salvia nemorosa ‘May Night’), gayfeather (Liatris spicata), globe thistle (Echinops ritro), catmint (Nepata ‘Walker’s Low’), Carex pensylvanica, Amsonia hubrichtii, Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’), Aster ‘October Skies’ and Allium.

Hidden Creek is a 600-acre conservation residential community along the Little Darby River, a National Wild and Scenic River west of Columbus, Ohio.

Book Notes

From Orchids and Weeds to Succulents

By Debra Knapke

So often you hear books are a thing of the past, but there is no sign of that in my home. Winter – quiescent garden, staying indoors, wearing soft sweaters –  sparks the need to settle into a good book while holding a cup of tea.

Books are not only for the gathering of information. They open a window into someone else’s life and passion. I find that I am drawn to those books that not only tell me about a subject, but also introduce me to or reacquaint me with a friend who happens to be the author.

What I am reading, perusing and enjoying this week:

Orchid Modern: Living and Designing with the World’s Most Elegant Houseplants by Marc Hachadourian offers a broad, yet concise overview of the addictive world of orchids. Beginner to intermediate orchid enthusiasts will find what they need to grow and create an orchid collection. The orchid calendar is the best synopsis I have seen for what needs to happen when with your orchids. The Orchid Projects chapter was a pleasant surprise. It made me think about what I could create with my orchids and the materials I have on hand. Soon I will have an orchid kokedama – the Japanese art of growing plants in moss covered balls – in my living room. Finally, there is a short encyclopedia of species and hybrids that are available and tend to be easier to grow which is followed by a resource list.

I have been growing orchids since 1980. Can’t call myself an expert – there are about 25,000 orchid species and countless hybrids and cultivars, but I’ve grown a few hundred of these beautiful plants. If someone asked me for a book recommendation on orchids, this book is in the top three for accessibility, attractiveness and personality.

Wild about Weeds: Garden Design with Rebel Plants by Jack Wallington proposes a different way to look at the plants that some consider to be weeds or too aggressive to allow into the well-mannered garden. Wallington’s explanation of  why plants can become weeds is on target. Plants that have been transplanted to new places may not have the competition that keeps them in check, and then there is that great garden soil that the gardener has worked so hard to improve. Wallington stresses that what may be weedy in one location can be invasive in another, so check local noxious weed and invasive plant lists before you bring a potential problem into your garden. Most of the book is taken up with plant descriptions and where each species works best within a design framework: sunny gardens, dry and poor soils; shade, containers and more.

Overall this is an attractive book and it does make you consider that one person’s weed may be another person’s favorite plant. I have grown many of the plants listed, but there is one that I could never recommend to anyone, anywhere. (There is always one, isn’t there?). Even with all of the cautions in the book, giant hogweed – Heracleum mantegazzianum – should be avoided. It’s not worth finding out that you are indeed sensitive to the furanocoumarins contained in the plant.

Succulents: choosing, growing and caring for cactuses and other succulents by John Bagnasco and Bob Reidmuller. Succulents have been hot for years and their allure shows no sign of diminishing. When I first started caring for these architectural plants, most references were primarily monographs on different genera or books with mostly black and white pictures – we are very spoiled with the access we now have to good pictures. The introduction covers the usual cultural information – liberally salted with beautiful pictures – that we have been trained to expect in our plant books. I did find a cool tip for watering: check out page 83 for a low-tech hack for determining soil moisture.

The plant encyclopedia portion covers a wide variety of succulents and the plant information is concise for growing inside, and occasionally, for outside. John Bagnasco lives in San Diego and can grow many of these succulents outside. Please ignore the note of envy you may have picked up there. My only small complaint is that one of my favorite genera – Gasteria – was left out. But I’m sure that the authors had a tough time trying to decide what to leave out of the book.

Now I need to stop writing and continue reading in preparation for my next post of winter reading.

A selection of succulents in my greenhouse from one of my favorite garden destinations — Groovy Plants Ranch.

Garden Resolution Fail

“Bonsai” Brussel Sprouts

New Year’s garden goals already at risk

By Michael Leach

This year I resolve to give up vegetable gardening.

Too often I’ve been victimized by foolish, optimistic voices (usually the loudest and most persistent is in my head). But no more. 

This chorus promises that growing your own food is rewarding. You can: try varieties unavailable at the supermarket, harvest at peak flavor, save money, share with friends, take pride in doing it yourself, and preserve the surplus to savor summer in bleak January.  

While I have had success in one and sometimes all these areas, it’s only because the plants grew to harvest stage. Hardly a given. 

Misconceptions about the ease of productivity are fueled in part by our quest to become more proficient gardeners. We turn to books, fact sheets, websites and articles. As with other how-to manuals and user guides, the ideal world of the information rarely matches the messy reality of withering foliage and moldy spots. “What caused this?” we cry, but to no avail. 

That’s because gardening sources usually divide various aspects of our delightful addiction into specific sections: Water, Light, Temperature, Weeds, Pests, Pruning, and so forth. Such broad topics are further divided into specific issues, topped with bold-type subheads: Prune for More Bloom, Fertilizing Containers, … . Peppered throughout are bits of jargon such as bones, texture and evenly moist.

We learn about a host of insect, animal, bacterial, fungicidal and even alien pests in tidy, bulleted lists under subheads in smaller bold type.

It’s as if all these things are independent agents acting alone.

Nature behaves differently. Nature conspires against us with diverse enemies acting in concert, not neatly defined issues treated rationally in a book or article. How else to explain those withering leaves and moldy spots when you followed the bulleted how-to list to a T?

I have ignored this conspiracy theory for the last time.

On August 20, 2019, I tallied a range of woes and a couple successes:

No leaves on the sweet potatoes; tomatoes eaten off, one plant pushed over; fresh sowings of basil, kale, cosmos failed to sprout due to heat and drought.

Garlic, a runaway success, unlike 2018 when monsoons rains dissolved most heads, leaving barely enough “seed” for a new crop.

Brussels sprouts have lacy foliage due to countless generations of cabbage worms.

The asparagus died out.

Turnip greens riddled with flea beetle holes and leathery due to scorching weather. 

The last straw — the groundhog ate off the zinnias, leaving nearly leafless stumps. 

Unlike Scarlett O’Hara, who confronted a similar scene of dismal ruin, I headed to the farmers market for fresh, local produce and hoped for better things to come.

That’s because Ohio gardening sources say cooler and moister weather usually returns in September. It didn’t turn cooler and moister for weeks. The parched brussels sprouts became bonsais, complete with miniature cabbage heads.

Remarkably leaves emerged for the second (or third?) time on the sweet potatoes, sufficient to produce a few fist-sized tubers. Some were pocked by a combo of subhead issues concerning pests and soil.  

Two of the scraggly tomato plants (worthy of Charlie Brown’s garden) were imbued with survival instincts rivaling cockroaches. These managed to produce a handful of cherry tomatoes before frost. Scant inspiration for planting toms again. 

Cooler-moister arrived just in time to induce planting of the choicest garlic cloves for harvest next summer, and jump-start the turnips into lush, spot-free top growth. By then frost had forced the flea beetles to scurry for winter digs.

Floating Row Covers and Turnip Greens

Come mid-February, when days grow longer, the leaves should resume growth, assuming my paltry efforts to protect with floating row cover shields them from harsh winds and rapid temperature swings. (I don’t think rollercoaster temperatures are found under any chapter subheads, but it’s a fact of Midwest gardening life.)

Some will argue that turnip greens and garlic make me a vegetable gardener in 2020, thus breaking my resolution. Technically though, these were planted in 2019, well ahead of the resolution-making season. 

OK! I’m waffling as usual. Tomatoes have been grown by my family for generations. Can I halt such a tradition for a silly snit on a blazing August afternoon?

Maybe not.

Suggestions anyone?

Growing Gratitude

pink lilyGardeners harvest more than flowers and food

By Michael Leach

Plants star as Thanksgiving Day traditions. From cranberries to pumpkins, flora rivals fauna when it comes to menu musts on festive dinner tables.

Gardeners value flora for more than traditions. Those of us who grow vegetables and fruits savor homegrown flavor unrivaled by competition in stores. Anyone who grows flowers, knows their fragrance and color bring a smile.

Besides the obvious, there are subtle, subliminal harvests that come to mind during this too-short-season of deliberate gratitude.

Be thankful for the family members, friends, neighbors and others who introduced you to gardening and nurtured you along the way. I think of Grandpa Leach and his furrows straight as laser beams. Mom, my mother’s mother, who grew a higgledy-piggledy collection of all sizes and colors of plants in her small backyard. My garden’s appearance meshes the laser sharp and come-what-may of their poles-apart approaches.

Auntie and Uncle had a mixed vegetable garden. She tended rows of marigolds and fiesta colored zinnias. He carefully cultivated Beefsteak tomatoes.IMG_0214

Perhaps the most important people are my mother and father, who allowed my little sister and I to have our own plot in the large backyard surrounded by flat, farm fields stretching to the ends of the world. Grow what you like we were told. For me, it was some of Auntie’s zinnias and marigolds, plus a couple of small lilac starts.

The latter continue to hang on despite the dense shade of a sycamore tree, once a mere sapling pulled up from a back woods creek in Adams County, Ohio. Little did I realize this souvenir from a marvelous autumn  afternoon hike with a friend would tower so high, so quickly. (Well, it has been almost 40 years since the young sycamore was planted here.)

Numerous gardening friends have shared plants that make amiable companions with family heirlooms.

None of these people share Thanksgiving Day with me anymore, though their memories return when walking through the backyard. They come alive when I see their favorite plants in my garden or those of others. They live again whenever I share how-to moments with those new to gardening, always hoping my enthusiasm is as contagious as theirs was to me.

Narcissu Geranium cropThere are subconscious effects of plants. A “host” of dancing daffodils brought the poet Wordsworth more than visual pleasure on a sun-filled spring day. Wise gardeners know what he meant when he  wrote,

… What wealth to me the show had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie in vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.

Perhaps your dancing partners are violets, roses or lilies. No matter.  Simply gaze at them, inhale their fragrance, let their beauty flow deeply into your heart and mind. Recall the memory as often as you like. Be a part of nature, not a mere photographer or observer, and thank God for a world filled with such treasures.

In a way, I suppose all of our planning and planting is a subconscious (primal?) attempt to reclaim Eden, the place of beginning. Perhaps this is why sitting in a garden, beside a shore, within a forest or along a flowery meadow brings such peace. An ancient need is met, drawing us ever back to nature and its Maker.Rosa Dr Van Fleet crop 6-17-06 Whetstone-Roses

Flower Power

America in Bloom Communities Flourish

By Teresa Woodard

Across the country, flowers are transforming downtowns, attracting tourists to once sleepy river towns and becoming the centerpiece of communities’ destination events. And, for the past 18 years, America in Bloom has been fostering and rewarding these communities for their outstanding efforts.

At a past AIB national symposium, board member and economist Charlie Hall talked about the financial impact of plants. Statistics show horticulture creates 2 million jobs. Plus, America’s public gardens contribute $2.3 billion in community tourism spending, and stores with landscaped areas have expanded sales from longer shopping occasions and higher value pricing.

America in Bloom was founded in Columbus, Ohio, in 2001 and has since awarded top honors to several Midwestern communities. Here are videos sharing several stories. Perhaps, you’ll find inspiration for your own community or discover a new place to visit.

Holland, MI – Known for its famous tulip festival, Holland recently gave tulips fields a second life as they offered community garden plots during the summer months. In addition, 800 volunteers plant tulip bulbs in community parks and adopt beautification projects at museums and more. 

St. Charles, IL – Located on the Fox River just west of Chicago, this community showcases its heritage, service and community beatification programs through America in Bloom. Its beautiful river attracted early settlers who relied on the river as a source of power and transportation. Today, the community mixes its cultural heritage with a hip vibrant downtown.

Logan, Ohio – Volunteers are the workhorse of this Appalachian community’s beautification efforts. Statistics show volunteers donated 85,900 hours and raised more than $90,000 for projects like the downtown street beautification, the gateway displays welcoming tourists to the region’s nature attractions and its Washboard Festival. Pretty impressive for a community of less than 10,000!

A Mother’s Day Gift

A Mother’s Day gift that keeps giving is this pink dogwood along the driveway. The yellow shrub is Kerria japonica ‘Pleniflora.’

Special trees, like dogwoods, take root in your heart

By Michael Leach

The affair started with the first glance and continues almost a half century later. As with similar affairs, it’s unrequited love. The object of my affection couldn’t care less and never deigns to notice me. Yet enchantment grows and reaches fever pitch for about a fortnight each spring.

My aloof horticultural love in this case is the pink dogwood tree, Cornus florida f. rubra. I encountered pink dogwoods when taking a shortcut to church through an old cemetery near my apartment in the small southern Ohio city of Portsmouth. This was during my cub reporter days. Jaw-dropping clouds of cotton candy tethered daintily to slender black trunks were scattered across the sward of Irish green grass.

I had to have one. I eventually bought two — as Mother’s Day gifts that I planted at the home place in suburban Columbus. Mother, who had planted two white ones in the yard, was delighted.

My journalistic career took me from Portsmouth to Kentucky, Florida and finally back to Columbus 30 years ago. I moved into the home place. Every spring since then, I’ve had my own little pink cloud to look at. Sitting in an old wicker rocker on the sunporch makes a comfortable, all-weather viewing spot. 

One of the pinks was cut down almost four years ago, new growth couldn’t keep up with the dying branches. The second tree was stingy with flowers this spring, after being a small cloud of pink in previous seasons. Perhaps this is only a hiccup. Mother’s little white trees slowly declined and were cut down about 20 years ago. This is not great territory for  dogwoods.

Pink dogwoods serve as memorials in Greenlawn Cemetery in Portsmouth, OH.

Meanwhile, Portsmouth’s Greenlawn Cemetery launched a memorial pink dogwood plan in the 1990s.  Even in that much friendlier clime, they aren’t known for longevity. However, the ones that do live decades become spectacles. At the base of many trees are small white marble markers with the names of special people. Their horticultural legacy is a tree with burgundy foliage in fall, a silhouette worthy of a Japanese print in winter, and those pink clouds every spring.

In recent years of semi-retirement there’s been time to head south to Portsmouth for a view of the dogwoods. Along U.S. 23 are what could pass for tufts of clouds that got too close to the branches of the chartreuse wooded hills. They are groves of dainty white dogwoods, often accented with redbuds. It’s a 3-D Impressionist painting.

The allure and excitement never dims. Each spring I thank God for granting me another view of pink clouds. And each time I pass the little tree at the end of the sidewalk, I remember Mother.

In autumn, dogwoods produce another spectacle.

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