Garden Happenings: Art in Bloom

By Teresa Woodard

Celebrate the artistry of flowers as three Midwestern art museums host “Art in Bloom” exhibitions, this spring.  Top floral designers from each city will create stunning arrangements as they interpret select pieces in the museums’ collections.

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is known to have sprouted the idea in 1976, and museums around the United States and other countries have since adopted their own versions.  Many host a weekend full of luncheons, floral design workshops, garden tours, evening galas and gardening lectures.  One likely sellout will be the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ lecture by Nancy Clark, former chief floral designer at the White House as she shares insights into the distinctive styles of six First Ladies and several behind-the-scenes anecdotes.

Check out the “Art in Bloom” nearest you:

  • Milwaukee Art Museum (March 29-April 1) – The four-day “Tribute to Art and Flowers” will feature guest appearances by celebrity floral designers and gardeners Zannah Crowe, Mark Dwyer, Melinda Myers, and René van Rems, and presentations on European High Style design, shade perennial selections, colorful gardens and easy methods for growing orchids.
  • Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio (April 19-22) – Staged around a Venice theme, highlights of the Italianesque weekend include a wine tasting, “Evening in Venice” gala, jazz brunch, garden day trip and several workshops.
  • Minneapolis Institute of Arts (April 28-May 1) – Join the Institute as it hosts its 28th “Sensing Spring” Art in Bloom with works of 150 floral designers, several lectures, a floral design demonstration, luncheons, family activities and an after-hours party.

Posted in Happenings


Gardens to Drive: Tulip Displays

By Michael Leach

Is a trip to the Netherlands for tulip time out of the question? Don’t despair. Colorful vestiges of the Dutch tulip obsession are sprouting in several Midwest locations.

Dutch immigrants left more lasting impressions than wooden shoe footprints in Michigan, Iowa and elsewhere. Their love of tulips was contagious and spread far beyond their settlements.

Given this year’s Sun Belt winter and spring heat wave in most of the Midwest, who knows when the tulips will blossom. Not to worry, I’ve learned of places worth a visit with or without tulips.

For instance, there’s Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. The tulip display is reported to be considerably ahead of the traditional May tulip time but who cares? Chicago has so much else to offer and the plantings that replace the tulips are outrageously grand all summer.

With a name like Holland you expect tulips. The Michigan namesake town hosts perhaps the best known and most elaborate festival. An estimated 6 million tulips bloom in city parks and along 6 miles of streets. This year’s Tulip Time Festival is May 5-12.  Holland isn’t far from the sandy shores of Lake Michigan. A ferry from nearby Muskegon crosses to Milwaukee in 2.5 hours, saving hours of driving, while adding a nautical element to a spring visit.

Go further west, and you’ll find a Dutch touch in Pella Iowa, southeast of Des Moines. A working windmill, built in 2002, is a focal point of the Vermeer Mill and Interpretive Center. This wheat grinding model, which looks like those in the Netherlands, is considerably more picturesque than the modern wind turbine. Pella’s tulip bash is May 3-5.

In northwest Iowa, a bit of tulipmania grows in Orange City with the Tulip Festival , May 17-19.

Topeka, Kan. holds its Tulip Time Festival April 7-23. According to the April issue of Midwest Living, there are 200,000 tulips and daffodils blooming a historic sites around town.  The current issue also lists other flower-theme festivals.

Besides festivals, tulips are practically de rigueur in public gardens. The one nearest you probably has a display to make spring that much brighter. So check it out.

Good Eats: Roasted Collards and Carrots

Posted March 19:

Here on the last day of winter, Teresa and Michael are delighting in their latest garden harvests.  Teresa dug winter carrots that she sowed last fall, and Michael’s been enjoying a covered row of collards through this mild winter.  Now, they just need Debra to create a good recipe with the two ingredients.  For next season, they’re making more plans for multiple crops.  Michael has a cold frame ready to plant tomato seeds, and Teresa recently planted peas and lettuce seeds.  What vegetables are you planting this spring?

Debra’s Response:  Most of the Midwest has experienced a very moderate winter with respect to temperature.  The collards and carrots that Michael and Teresa are enjoying have a sweetness to them that is born of being frosted, but not frozen.  Today, while planting peas, I noticed that our kale has resprouted from the stems that I cut back last month after we harvested, what I thought, was our last kale.  It has been a most surprising winter!

For a quick yet very satisfying side dish, try roasting carrots and collards.  Again, I’m offering a free-form recipe; a cooking technique rather than a specific dish.

 Roasted Collards and Carrots

Preheat the oven to 425°.

Scrub or peel the carrots, 2-3 per person depending on the size, and slice them into 1 ½” pieces

Toss with 1-2 TBS of olive oil – I use Extra Virgin – and herbs of your choice.  One of my favorite combinations is dill, shallot pepper (from Penzy’s) and salt.

Spread the carrots out on a roasting pan.  About pans: I have round deep steel pans and stoneware baking sheet pans.  Both are great.

Roast for ~25 minutes or until you see the carrots starting to carmelize.

While the carrots are roasting, wash and chop the collards (or kale) into 1-2” pieces.

When the carrots are at where you want them, toss the collards on top, mix quickly, and cook for 5 minutes.  The collards will slightly crisp and take on a toasty flavor.

An optional addition: toss some sesame seeds on top of the vegetables when you remove them from the oven.


Favorite Flora: Seeds Beautiful Seeds

By Debra Knapke

Warning: This is not one plant, but a group of plants that grace the table and are grown by your own hand.

Now is the time to order and set up a seed planting schedule for those favorite food plants of the summer: veggies!

Seed catalogs are my favorite late January and through March reading material.  You have to drool while reading this description of Black Cherry tomato:  “sweet yet rich and complex… irresistibly delicious” (Tomato Growers Supply Company, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds) and you have to find a place for the precious Pixie cabbage: “early maturing baby variety … dense 5-6” heads with excellent sweet flavor” (Renee’s Seeds)?  The Traveler’s tomato which is sectioned so it can be eaten a piece at a time, must be planted because it is so strange.  The list goes on and on.

Traveler's Tomato

If you are new to the world of seeds, start small.  Pick one or two varieties of your two to three favorite vegetables.  Order from a catalog or purchase from your local garden centers – seeds are arriving at your favorite garden center daily!  Read the packet, take a deep breath and just do it. Those who are old hands at seed starting know the selection of seeds, heirloom and hybrid, just keeps getting better and better.

This year, we are only planting out four varieties of pole beans, four of beets, five of chilies, two of cucs, one of eggplant, nine of greens, two of leeks, two of peas, two of spinach, twelve of tomatoes and one zucchini.

What are you planting?

Snapshots: Carrots and Collards

Here on the last day of winter, Teresa and Michael are delighting in their latest garden harvests.  Teresa dug winter carrots that she sowed last fall, and Michael’s been enjoying a covered row of collards through this mild winter.  Now, they just need Debra to create a good recipe with the two ingredients.  For next season, they’re making more plans for multiple crops.  Michael has a cold frame ready to plant tomato seeds, and Teresa recently planted peas and lettuce seeds.  What vegetables are you planting this spring?

Posted in Snapshots


Garden Happenings: Spring Symposiums

By Teresa Woodard

It’s time to feed your gardening mind, and there are plenty of upcoming opportunities to learn.  Check out these public gardens’ spring symposiums for a preview of the season’s newest plants, vegetable gardening tips, design ideas and new strategies for pest control.  Also, call your local extension agency to ask about workshops hosted by local master gardeners or post your favorites here.

Posted in Happenings


Favorite Flora: Succulents

Succulent – in the food world it means delectable; luscious.  In the plant world, the same adjectives may come to mind as you gaze on succulents’ richly textured and subtly colored forms. Thick leaves that store water, leathery surfaces that reduce moisture loss and soft, muted colors that reflect light rather absorb it; all are ways that these plants survive a less-than-hospitable environment.

Give succulents good light, allow them to dry out between waterings and fertilize them frugally.  Use them inside, outside, in containers and in the ground.   Their diverse forms grace any sunny garden setting.  For a preview of the season’s succulents, click on the video below.

Good Eats: Currant Jam

Currant jamBy Debra Knapke

We are now enjoying the currant jam that we made in July.

This is a hands-on, work-with-it recipe…. in other words, you need to be flexible and work with the amount of fruit that you pick.  Also, be aware that different moisture levels in the soil will affect the water content in the currants.

There are many ways to make jellies, jams and preserves.  This is a recipe my husband has been working on for several years.

Tony’s Currant Jam

Pick the currants, rinse and remove berries that are rotten or green.  Under-ripe fruit is OK as long as it isn’t hard.

Wash your jars in very hot water and pour boiling water over your canning lids and rings.

Mash the currants in a large soup pot, bring to a boil and gently boil for 3-5 minutes.  Put the cooked fruit through a food mill and press out as much juice and pulp as you can without forcing small pieces of skin through the holes.

Measure the juice as you return it to the soup pot.  For every 1 ¾ cups of juice/pulp, add 1 cup of sugar.  Mix well.

Cook for approximately 25 minutes at a gentle boil.  Skim off excessive foam off the top.  As you get close to 25 minutes, test the juice by cupping some on a spoon. If it covers the spoon and slightly gels, it is ready for putting into jars to be canned or to be refrigerated.  In high moisture years (like 2011), you will need to cook longer, up to an hour.

To judge how many pint jars, lids and rings you will need to wash and sterilize, here are the last two years of currant jam data:

2010:  13 cups of juice and 7 ½ cups of sugar yielded 12 cups of jam (6 pints)

2011: (too much rain, a lot of the fruit rotted before we realized that the fruit ripened earlier than usual) 7 ½ cups of juice and 4 ¼ cups of sugar yielded 8 ½ cups of jam (4 pints and the leftover went into the refrigerator)

To can or not to can: freshness of flavor – the more you process, the more cooked the jam will taste.  We prefer to refrigerate and not can our currant jam.  The room in the refrigerator is worth it.

A note about pectin — never had to use it as currants normally have a high pectin content.  Last year, it might have been a good addition.

Posted in Good eats



Trendspotting: Upcycling in the Garden

By Teresa Woodard

Upcycle.  It’s my favorite new word and such a positive twist on recycling. Instead of recycling or (or “downcycling”) which recreates something of lesser value, upcycling turns disposables into something of higher value.  According to a recent article in Entrepreneur Magazine, the upcycling trend is especially popular among the online artist marketplaces.  In fact, the number of products on Etsy tagged with the word “upcycled” rocketed up from about 7,900 in January 2010 to nearly 30,000 a year later–an increase of 275 percent.

The opportunities for upcycling are alive in the gardening world, too.  Just check out these upcycled containers – a handbag and baby shoes at deMonye’s Greenhouse and industrial containers at the Springfield Flea Market Extravaganza.  I also love this bird feeder from a used tire.

Inspired, I’m now on the prowl for things to upcycle.  Rather than buying new trellises and garden art, I’m scouring flea markets, garage sales and even our basement for treasures to upcycle .  Isn’t it great that it’s fashionable to be thrifty?  Let us know what you’ve upcycled.

Favorite Flora: Snowdrops


By Debra Knapke

Snowdrops are usually the first breath of spring in the late winter garden.  The distinctive leaves often emerge through the snow and are quickly followed by the nodding white flowers that are marked with kelly green on the inner petals.  In the riotous spring and summer season, these diminutive bulbs might go unnoticed; in the winter, they are stars.

This has been a winter for the record books.  Snowdrops have been in bud and bloom since the first week of January in my garden.  Usually I say that these early blooming bulbs will grace your garden for 4-6 weeks depending on the weather and the cultivars that you plant.  I’m now counting eight weeks and they are still in their glory.

In the above picture, you can see that the front plants are in bloom while the ones in back have gone to seed.  It is not unusual to have some bulbs bloom later than others.  While you may have started with all of the same cultivar or species, snowdrops will self-seed, and then the fun begins.  You will see variation among the flowers such as different heights; changes in the green accents; different sizes and widely open to closed blooms.  Snowdrops are loved by the gardeners of England and theses variations are cherished.

Snowdrops are poisonous to most animals.  A notable exception is slugs.  Take a close look at the picture and you will see that these flowers have been visited by the land mollusk we love to hate.  In a cold winter, slugs are not an issue; in a warm winter or when snowdrops bloom later in a warm early spring, watch out.

A note about propagation:  When your clumps produce fewer flowers it is time to lift, separate and replant the bulbs.  Do this while they are “in-the-green”.  This is the stage when the blooms have dropped and the seeds are beginning to form.  They will droop initially, but they will recover.

In the language of flowers, snowdrops represent hope and constancy probably because they often emerge in the late winter when we are all pining for spring, and, this year especially, they grace the garden for a long time.

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