Had enough Midwest winter with its brown, black, gray and glum? Beginning to think your garden is dead, not merely dormant? Are glittering icicles over head a bit too disconcerting and sparkling snow drifts too annoying?
Then head for the tropics if schedule and budget allow — or a reasonable facsimile should you, like me, be lacking in the time and money departments. Instead of Florida or someplace even closer to the Equator, I took a short drive to a warm, lush place — Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus.
It was a double treat. Not only were the waterfalls cascading and giant palm fronds overhanging the paths as usual, but the annual orchid show had recently opened. There are scores of exotic blossoms throughout this gift from foresighted civic leaders, which has been expanded and lovingly tended since its debut in 1895.
Other Midwest metro areas boast of Victorian and newer conservatories. However, a tropical experience on a more intimate scale is possible in towns where some garden centers have greenhouses filled with light, warmth and life. Think of this as green therapy.
Among the Midwest public gardens featuring orchid shows during the seemingly endless wait until spring are:
The possession a person values most varies as widely as personal tastes. Cars, boats, houses, antiques, islands and jewels certainly rate as most valued for some. Not me.
Like many people across the ages and continents, I
value something that seems commonplace but uniquely expresses its owner.
While I certainly like a smooth-riding car and
comfortable home, my treasure offers so much more than dust-collecting
furniture. When calm and isolation are required, I needn’t board a jet (private
or commercial) to flit to a distant tropic isle in an azure sea. As for jewels,
few pirate chests contain more splendor.
Where else does music, art, history, family
tradition, science and sustenance meld in a single creation? Truly this is
a many splendored thing.
Those of us who have such a possession give our
treasure a unique twist, for the basic elements can be infinitely arranged,
timed and colored, Constant, though imperceptible, change is a given and
usually welcomed. Time eventually changes everything, but not always for
the better. Cars rust. Paint fades. Roofs leak. We, however, plan for a future
that will probably be radically different from where we start.
Each season, actually each moment, brings changes in
hue, shape and content. Over the years, only photographs will bear witness to
what it was “back then” and what it is now. Due to the fragility of our
most-valued possession, such graphic evidence is all that remains after we
leave it behind, as inevitably we will.
Depending on its design and scope, our possession
may enfold us in seclusion or put us centerstage in a dazzling show. Some of us
have possessions that do both. Broad smiles, sighs of pleasure and occasional
gasps of delight are usually heard when we share our possession with others.
Our treasure may exude a fragrance no perfume maker can duplicate. It may
produce songs Mozart could never compose or colors to make Monet jealous.
No matter its size or cost, we are stewards of an
incredibly complex operating system that consists of countless life forms.
Can’t say that about a car or diamond ring.
We hold life itself when seeds spill from a little
paper packet into our cupped hand. From such tiny, insignificant
things, we can produce a living mosaic of seedlings, giants towering a 100
feet, and a host of all sizes in between.
We invite birds, butterflies, bees and toads to
share the treasure. Few mansion owners want that kind of company on their
Our treasure is a garden, whether potted plants by
the window, manicured acres or postage stamp plots. My garden around the family
home place includes sugar maples over a century old ,planted by great-uncles,
flowers passed down from almost every side of the family, gifts from gardening
friends, and a few new introductions. Some are native plants, others from China
or Europe. The Madonna lilies from Grandpa Leach’s garden have been
cultivated since ancient times.
Money is an essential for creating and maintaining a
garden; some say it is the best manure. But the most important ingredient is
passion. Ours is a labor of love. We dig, water, prune and fertilize with our
hearts. Working with nature, the forever owner of our treasure, we cultivate a
vision in three dimensions and a span of time.
We are called gardeners. Is that because our most
valuable possession possesses us?
Hello 2019! It’s an exciting time for the plant world as the horticulture industry experiences a renaissance. According to the 2019 Garden Trends Report by the Garden Media Group, American gardeners set a record $47.8 billion in lawn on garden retail sales (from bulbs to outdoor furniture), and the average household set a spending record of $503 up nearly $100 over the previous year. And 18-34 year-olds are spending more than ever.
Houseplants Craze: In Nov. 2018, the New York Times reported plant influencers in their twenties and thirties are fueling a new generation’s obsession with houseplants that’s growing faster and more tenaciously than English ivy. Horticulture stars of Instagram, like Houseplantclub, now have book deals, sponsors and hundreds of thousands of followers. In addition, a host of highly curated houseplant stores including Midwestern ones like Stump, Fern, Darling Botanical, Art Terrarium and Mod Gen are cleverly promoting plants such as pilea, fiddleleaf fig, succulents and Monstera (#MonsteraMonday).
New Plant Performers: Today’s newest annuals and perennials are more than pretty. To make it past tough trial garden managers, these new introductions also must appeal to pollinators and stand up to the Midwest’s weather extremes. This year’s standouts include Allium ‘Millenium,’ Agastache rugosa ‘Little Adder,’ Vinca Tattoo series, Celosia argentea ‘Asian Garden,’ Mangave ‘Inkblot,’ Portulaca ColorBlast Double Magenta, and Gomphrena ‘Truffula Pink.’ Check out the complete list of trial managers’ favorites.
‘Stem to Root’ Edibles: While plant-based diets remain hot, it’s no surprise the trend spills over into vegetable gardening and support for local growers. One theme that is gaining momentum is the stem to root concept. Advocated by Ohio chefs like Jamie Simpson of the Culinary Vegetable Institute and Cara Mangini, author of The Vegetable Butcher, they teach ways to use all parts of a vegetable. For example, Jamie showed me how to make an asparagus salad sautéing the tips, shaving ribbons of the stalks and pressing the stem ends into a juice for a dressing.
Plants As Social Change Agents: More and more communities are recognizing the power of plants as catalysts for social change. Downtowns are carving out more green spaces for public parks. Urban neighborhoods are planting community gardens to bring nutritious produce to food deserts. Streetscapes are being redesigned with more plants to attract consumers and create an environment for increased spending. All over the country, gardens are being planted to engage veterans, convicts, at-risk teens, recovering addicts, women’s shelter residents, cancer patients, college students, immigrant families and more.
Insect Apocalypse: The plight of pollinators and Monarchs has been in the news for several years, but a German study on insect decline is drawing attention to threats on the broader insect population. Personally, I’ve been tracking dragonfly counts as a part of the Ohio Odonoata Survey, and the experience is giving me a new appreciation for the role habitat plays in supporting healthy insect populations. In the gardening world, gardeners can help curb insect decline by creating healthy habitats and by learning responsible pest control practices such as IPM (Integrated Pest Management). Joe Lamp’l of Growing A Greener World does a great job of explaining IPM for home gardeners.
Plastic Waste in Gardening: Last year, plastic straws were on the hot seat as communities began to ban them and food service companies like Starbucks and McDonalds announced plans to phase them out. National Geographic coverage of floating plastic masses in the Pacific Ocean spurred further conservations about plastic pollution and the need to reduce single-use plastics. The gardening world is taking positive steps by organizing plastic pot recycling events and developing compostable containers.