Spring Countdown: 7 days

Experience the living "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte" through Columbus's Topiary Park http://www.topiarygarden.org

Experience the living “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” within Downtown Columbus’s Georges Seurat- inspired Topiary Park 

By Michael Leach

“Summer afternoon — summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language,” said American novelist Henry James.

Admittedly he probably was referring to an English summer afternoon, more like a late May afternoon in the Midwest. Yet in our region of often sultry summer afternoons, not to mention stifling dog days, summer afternoon still conjures a pleasantness unique to the season of school vacations, swimming pools and backyard barbecues.

Winter, on the other hand, offers little in the way of appealing — much less beautiful — word pairings. Does anyone ever want to read polar vortex again, much less survive it?

How about: mixed precipitation, freezing rain, ice storm, wind chill, snow emergency, road salt, snow shovel, ice scraper, record snowfall, record low, blizzard conditions, jackknifed semi, icy freeways, near whiteout or pot holes?

Some may cite “white Christmas” as beautiful winter words, but after this dreadful winter, is anyone dreaming of that yet?

Spring Countdown: 8 days


March: a wild corner of the yard; later to be covered with green. The grasses in the background will soon be cut down and added to the pile.

By Debra Knapke

one, two, buckle my shoe,

three, four shut the door

five, six, pickup sticks

seven, eight lay them straight

nine, ten, do it again!

This perfectly describes what I am doing in the yard right now.  Branches from two red oaks, sugar, silver and black maples, hackberries and a dawn redwood litter the front and back yard.  Even our stalwart ginkgo has lost branches this winter.  Wind and snow graced us this past winter, and there are many “hangers” in the trees and twigs on the ground.  It seems that there are more branches down this year than the “usual”.  Although, I’m beginning to wonder what “the usual” is anymore.

This bounty of branches goes into my wood compost pile or into a wild corner of our lot.  This is where Mother Nature can do what she wants.  Later in the season, Jerusalem artichoke will come up along with many plants some might call weeds: pokeberry (although, I only leave one or two; apologies to Mother Nature), thistles, dock, red clover, ironweed, goldenrod, cup plant and more.  I have not taken a picture of this area, because, well… it’s messy.

I also place the leaves of cut-down grasses here.  Need to do this soon.  These seemingly useless old leaves have been used by resident chickadees and wrens to build their nests.

Yesterday, as I wandered around the yard picking up sticks, I also catalogued the chores to come; can’t wait!

March:  the quiescent garden – plastic covered object is an Earth oven protected for the winter.

March: the quiescent garden – plastic covered object is an Earth oven protected for the winter.

Spring Countdown: 9 days

By Abby Fullen

After a long winter of dull gray, white, and depressing, there’s no better way to brighten up your garden than by adding the Pantone Color of the Year, Radiant Orchid, in your garden.

This year’s trendy color is described by Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute and the visionary behind Pantone’s Color of the Year, as a “descend[ant] from the purple family, which is kind of a magical color that denotes creativity and innovation. Purple is just that kind of a complex, interesting, attracting kind of color…[The] back-story to purple is that it inspires confidence in your creativity, and we’re living in a world where that kind of creative innovation is greatly admired. In the world of color, purple is an attention-getter, and it has a meaning. It speaks to people, and we felt that it was time for the purple family to be celebrated.”



The color purple is a rare find in nature. Our earlier ancestors probably never saw a purple anything. According to colormatters.com, “The earliest purple dyes date back to about 1900 B.C. It took some 12,000 shellfish to extract 1.5 grams of the pure dye- barely enough for dying a single garment the size of the Roman toga. It’s no wonder then, that this color was used primarily for garments of the emperors or privileged individuals.”

Purple is indicative of nobility and luxury to many people around the world. The shade of purple is important, too. Lighter shades of the color are light-hearted, floral, and romantic. Seems appropriate then that Radiant Orchid is a lighter shade of purple, don’t you think?

As the name implies, Radiant Orchid can be a very bright, eye-catching color. But then, who wouldn’t want to show off their newly accented-with-orchid garden? If you’re unsure, start small. Plant a couple orchid-colored floral plants here and there, and add to the appeal by incorporating the color to a porch or patio, too. Here are some great ways to show off this bright, new, winter-busting color.

Abby Fullen is a Senior at Hilliard Davidson High School. She tends a square-foot vegetable garden with her mother. This piece was written to serve in conjunction with her Career Mentorship class at the Dale McVey Innovative Learning Center.Abby-radiantOrchid

Spring Countdown: 10 days


The temperatures are fluctuating like they usually do in March and these can be as damaging to our plants as deeply cold temps.  Watch for heaving plants as we go through freeze – thaw cycles.

Speaking of cold temperatures: thus far in Central Ohio we have experienced a Zone 5b winter: -10°F to -15°F, and, my three-year-old rosemarys are toast.  Deep in my heart I knew that they would eventually succumb to low winter temperatures – see picture above – but I was spoiled by two Zone 7 winters.  Some rosemary cultivars can withstand temperatures down to 0°F and even a bit lower if they are covered with snow, but they can’t go down to -14° which is what I had in my back yard.

Fortunately, there is a rosemary-in-waiting in my greenhouse, pictured below.  I have started some cuttings, but I have a feeling I will be looking for a few larger plants during my spring shopping expeditions.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Spring Countdown: 11 days

By Abby Fullen

Mini fountains, horizontal planks of peace, rock formations, wood blocks.  A little taste of Italy, a touch of whimsy, and a leap into the world of pure imagination. What do these things have in common? They are some of our “Spring Countdown” trends spotted at the Columbus Dispatch Home and Garden Show, earlier this month at the Ohio Expo Center.

Gardeners, architects, and landscapers alike definitely showed off their longing for spring with creative and clever ways to welcome the warmth with fresh ideas.

On my insider tour with Heartland Gardening blogger and Garden Stage Program Coordinator Michael Leach, I was enveloped by the scent of sweet flowers and the steady rush of water from all different areas.  The immediate word to come to mind was: peaceful. Every exhibit presented different ways to embrace a contented and peaceful way to experience the outdoors.  Here are a few highlights:

  • Go Horizontal. An unconventional, but DSC_1094refreshing way of constructing a gazebo uses horizontal boards versus a conventional vertically planked one.

  • Honor the Past. Momentos of childhood and years past in the garden provides whimsical, happy ways to showcase a favorite pair of high heels, the sneakers worn in the winning basketball game, or the baby shoes with which we’re not easily parted. What a perfect example of upcycling, too.DSC_1102
  • Start Small. Smaller-scale fountains may feed into watery habitats of potted plants, from spouts in thin, descending layers, and even stream from the lips of a fantasy animal from Avatar towards a cradle of branches accented with the fantastical ‘“Woodsprites” from James Cameron’s imagined “Holy Tree”.

  • Work the Rock. Rock formations lend an asymmetrical aspect to clean-cut presentations. Whether large and simple, or small and more complex, these creations exude an earthy, raw presence.DSC_1101

  • Piece Together a Puzzle. As another example of upcycling, wood beams can be cut into pieces suitable for a 3-D puzzle made to let in the light, store a variety of plants, or be painted in purple color redolent of the Pantone Color of the Year.

  • Bring Italy to You. As if a bow wrapping a gift, Italian lights are strewn not only within exhibits, but to lead the way to the best part of the Home and Garden Show: the gardens, naturally. An ambiance to fall in love with, the soft lights shed calm and soothing on all fortunate enough to pass beneath.

Other notable features included: a bottle tree, the Avatar tree of souls that illuminated the radiant red of the tulips below, moss that grew from the cracks in stone and within rocks, a hanging garden (perfect for keeping bunnies from eating lettuce), and fountains that poured onto stones. Did you know that bees need water for their hives, but they can’t swim? Help your bees out by adding this feature to your garden so that they may safely get the water they need.

May you bless your gardens and your guests with renewed creativity.

Abby Fullen is a Senior at Hilliard Davidson High School. She tends a square-foot vegetable garden with her mother. This piece was written to serve in conjunction with her Career Mentorship class at the Dale McVey Innovative Learning Center.

Spring Countdown: 12 days


By Teresa Woodard; photo by Janet McCune

The daffodil bulbs are just emerging in my backyard, but a story that I wrote about this lovely Dayton daffodil display and garden party for Midwest Living is now on the newsstands.  Here, a 1-1/2 acre hillside is planted with some 140,000 daffodil bulbs, primarily the classic trumpet varieties like Carlton, Fortissimo, Fortune, Unsurpassable and Dutch Master. The gracious couple invites guests to an afternoon party to celebrate spring and enjoy (and pick) the daffodils.  Check out the online version of the story for party ideas, including daffodil cookies, bouquets and menu.

Spring Countdown: 13 days

sundialBy Michael Leach

Spring starts with an act of Congress.

Daylight Savings Time revives winter weary gardeners with a bright hope more potent than any herbal tonic or miracle drug.

With an extra hour of daylight at supper time, winter’s mind game is up. Hope shines through the west windows long after the evening news. Instead of hunkering down to dinner in the dark,  there’s time to garden after dessert.

Winter’s psychological start comes with the autumnal switch back to standard time. Something about coming home in near darkness, when the day before it was a fading sunset, that makes winter as real as stinging sleet.

An urge to hibernate descends with the early dusk and reminds us this is the time to gather near the stove, cover up and rest. For a few weeks, this approach makes for a guilt-free spree of reading and dozing on the sofa after supper. I rejoice in the reprieve from weeding, watering and working outdoors.

Hope stays alive inside with potted begonias, succulents and other subtropical favorites. But a contained garden, even in a sun porch with large, south-facing windows, fails to satisfy to the same degree as only a few moments spent working sun-warmed garden soil filled with “free-range” plants.

Those of us who are natural outsiders eventually chaff at this seasonal house arrest. Just as a  sun-loving plant grows spindly and pale when placed too far from the windowsill, we gaze out the window and search for some sign of spring’s return.

Perhaps our need for grounding in the world beyond the glass makes gardening so special. Gardeners connect to the earth as we till and sow. We wear sun hats and silly grins in the spring air and sunlight.

We are nurtured even as we nurture. Plants don’t merely feed us and give us oxygen, they inspire joy when we see them greening, flowering and breathing life into the stale scene of straw lawns and skeletal trees.

This gift of evening light comes with a price, so typical of almost any congressional activity.

First, there’s poor man’s jet lag lasting several days. Because biological clocks don’t reset with the ease of a digital alarm, we live in discombobulated bodies that feel like they flew to a different time zone.

Spring is as mercurial as a cat, especially here in the Midwest. One minute all purring and nuzzling, the next hissing snowy wind.

We endure remembering these wintry mood swings are short-lived and the season eventually stretches itself with a big lazy yawn into the steady warmth of late May.

Desperate for a sunshine and fresh air fix, we tackle absurd chore lists on a single spring afternoon. Inevitably, bodies ache in places we never knew muscles and nerve endings existed.

This too will pass as muscles tone and strengthen with the rhythm of weeding, watering and working that return with daffodils, robins and Daylight Savings Time.

Spring Countdown: 14 days


This will be one of those “list” posts: books I have to read before the spring gardening season starts…

There are more books to read than I have time: luscious slice of life stories, philosophical tomes, science-based books that increase my knowledge and practical how-to-garden books.  And, I have a problem.   While I’m reading one book,  I will find another book  – or two or three – that I have to read.  I have the pictured books all partly read, now I have to find the time to finish them.

Richard Louv’s book, The Nature Principle, caught my attention through the quote on the back:  “Imagine a world where we’re as immersed in nature as we are in technology, where we come to our senses, where we feel more alive.”  This time of year finds me yearning to get back into the garden.  This book speaks to this need.

How can you not read a book entitled Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares?  I have always been intrigued by the fruiting bodies of fungi.  Their forms, colors and life histories are fascinating.

Teaming with Nutrients is a follow-up book to Jeff Lowenfels’s book, Teaming with Microbes. His second book promises to be just as informative as his first, and I intend to incorporate some of his information into my Plant Sciences class at Columbus State.

The Forest Unseen was a gift.  Imagine sitting and looking at a small patch of ground and thinking about all the influences and interactions that led to its appearance and its continuation.  Now write it all down in a journal.  I just finished February.  I’m trying to read this book along with the unfolding of this year, so I will not finish this book before March 21st.

The last book is a seasonal, herbal journey through the year.  I think I will dip and sip as I need the different topics that it offers.  Its intent is similar to The Nature Principle in that it invites you to bring nature into your life through the celebration of the cycle of the year.

So, maybe they all don’t have to be finished by March 21st… thank goodness!

Spring Countdown: 15 days

By Debra Knapke

I’m Late, I’m Late!!  Like the White Rabbit in Alice of Wonderland, I’m running around trying to catch up – already.  Usually, Tony and I have ordered and received our seeds by now.  What happened to the winter… oh, yeah, shoveling snow.

I just ordered some seeds from Renee’s Seeds, several new, to me.  I can already imagine the flavors of summer and fall:  baked sweet miniature Honey Nut winter squash with sautéed Darkibor kale on the side complemented with a salad made of Gala mache, Black Cherry tomatoes and heirloom mesclun greens.

tomato basil combo crop resize 3


My garden, several years ago.  I look at this picture this time of the year
to remember and say to myself: soon, soon …


Spring Countdown: 16 days

IMG_0210By Teresa Woodard

Snow still remains in my backyard, but that doesn’t keep pussy willow shrubs from bursting their trademark fuzzy catkins along leafless branches.

While these willow shrubs are easily overlooked in the summer, they present an unmatched beauty in the Midwest’s stark winter landscapes. As spring approaches, their stem colors of red, yellow, blue and purple become more vivid. And, their tight buds give way to downy blooms among the season’s first. Their petal-less flowers, called “catkins”, appear in silver, yellow and black and provide vital food for bees and other insects waking from winter hibernation.

Willows (Salix) grow best in full sun, moist but well-drained soil and open spaces away from the competition of other plants. New willow plants initially need consistent watering to establish roots, willowbut after a year they are fairly drought tolerant. Thankfully, willows are fast growers so there’s plenty of opportunities to cut stems to bring indoors each spring.

To learn more, visit the impressive willow collection at Chadwick Arboretum.

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