Vertical beauties

2 11 2011

When my friend Senthil was visiting in September (to be photographed for the cover of the upcoming November/December 2011 Hearing Loss Magazine), Michael and I dropped him off at the U.S. Capitol building so he could get some photographs. I went over to check out the sprawling vertical garden display outside the U.S. Botanic Garden, which is in view of the Capitol.

Apparently the exhibit has been in place for a couple of years and I just got to see the very end of the exhibit. I can’t find anything on the web regarding who designed it or any details on the types of plants, how-to’s, etc., but I do have some photographs to share. It was really a sight to see—and had I the room to build something like this in my own backyard garden, it would happen in a nanosecond. I shot some closeups so you can see the details. The wood frames have coco fiber “shelf baskets” held into place with wire screen. The plants are tucked either directly into the liner baskets or through holes made in the side of the baskets.

There were a lot of plants that I recognized immediately, including vegetables and ornamental plants, plus herbs such as oregano, sage and basil; various coleus plants, licorice plants, flowering annuals, sweet potato vine, ferns, ivies, catmint and catnip, just to name a few. Read more about vertical gardening here.

Michael and I saw these Woolly Pocket living planters in the gift shop at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden last week. They’re made from recycled plastic bottles and come in unlined (for outdoor use) and lined (for indoor use) versions, along with wall anchors. You can line an entire wall with these pockets (which come in a multitude of sizes and colors), fill them with a variety of plants, and achieve impressive results!

But the type of vertical gardening that makes me swoon are the “succulent gardens” shown on Flora Grubb Garden’s blog here and their main website here. Jaw-dropping beautiful pieces of living art—they remind me of landscapes as seen from the air. Flora Grubb sells the tray components to achieve these looks in your own home or on a garden wall.

Authors and gardeners Susan Morrison and Rebecca Sweet recently published Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces, available here. Author and garden photographer Derek Fell has written Vertical Gardening: Grow Up, Not Out, for More Vegetables and Flowers in Much Less Space, available here. And on my list of books to add to my gardening library is green thumb artist and French botanist Patrick Blanc’s tome The Vertical Garden: From Nature to the City, available here. Want to see some spectacular living walls? Visit Blanc’s website here.





P. Allen Smith Luncheon at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion

30 04 2009

smithbookOn April 21, Sue, her Aunt Gay and I attended a lecture and luncheon honoring outdoor living expert and gardener P. Allen Smith at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion. The event was hosted by The Friends of the Mansion. He was also selling and autographing his newest book, Bringing the Garden Indoors (which, of course, I had to have!). Check out his website here—it’s nicely designed and very informative. Click here to find a plethora of short gardening videos featuring Smith on youtube.com.

Smith’s lecture started at 10:30, followed by an outdoor luncheon and leisurely tour of the gardens, which he designed. He has worked on the gardens for the past 25 years. Allen is a very engaging speaker and quite funny. We really enjoyed the presentation and although we didn’t win any of the “guess the plant and win a plant” prizes, we still had a great time.

SUE’S FERVENT MISSION
Years ago I told Sue that I thought Arkansas was the most dreadful state in the U.S. She has been determined to prove me wrong ever since. My opinion was not unfounded. Almost every time Michael and I made the road trip from here to visit my family in Texas, we took the “shortcut” (as if a 1,600 mile one way trip can even be associated with the word “short”) through the Little Rock area, and we never really had a pleasant experience. All I saw was flat, flat, FLAT earth. Grassy fields. Wire fences with Red-tailed Hawks perched on every other post (yes, I even counted them to pass the painful time away). Red-tailed Hawks swooping in to terrorize tiny field mice. Heat. Lots of it. Sometimes even in November.

One year we decided at the last minute to surprise my parents and drive down for the holidays. We found ourselves with a week off during Christmas and hadn’t planned to do anything. I called my younger sister, who was staying with parents at the time, and told her about our plans. The last thing she said was, “you’re going to hit those ice storms in Arkansas!” I dismissed her warning and we packed up the car and left that same night. Yes, in the night (young and foolish, we were). We were vagabonds. Gypsies. The blue highways were calling. Ice storm, smice storm. The next evening, we were on the outskirts of Little Rock. It was night—very cold and very dark. Michael was asleep; I was on driving duty. It was as if the pavement went from bone dry to black ice with a line you could actually see. I went from 65 mph to barely 3 mph in seconds. There were freight trucks jack-knifed in the ditches on either side of us. I punched Michael awake and hollered, “if we’re going to die in this, you’re going to be awake for it!” Even with my foot off the gas pedal, we were still sliding forward. There was nothing to do but slide toward the nearest exit and find a hotel. What we hadn’t bargained for was that everyone else had the same idea. There was no room at the inn for Mary and Joseph. I suggested we pull over and sleep in the car. Michael nixed that idea, stating we would surely die from exposure. (He hails from Ohio; I’m a South Texas native—just imagine who knows more about cold weather).

The last hotel we went to directed us to the temporary Red Cross Shelter at a local Baptist church. After a restless night on a hard church pew, followed by cold grits (with no salt or butter in sight—hello?) and even colder biscuits (yum!), Michael and I looked at each other and silently agreed—we were leaving even if we had to skate to San Antonio. As we headed out the door, we were pummeled with, “you shouldn’t leave….it will be 3-4 days before it’s safe to leave!” Spending three more nights sleeping on a hard church pew was more than we could bear (Yes, we were grateful for the refuge, but driving 17 hours straight had rendered us both a tad grumpy). Michael and I linked arms and elbows and glided (sounds graceful, doesn’t it? Trust me, it wasn’t) our way to our car in the church parking lot. We looked over our shoulders at the group of ice storm refugees just shaking their heads in disbelief. We didn’t care if we had to drive 3 mph the remaining 11 hours to San Antonio. We drove through a residential area, heading on a detour south. Not even one mile from the church, the roads were ice-free. We were jubilant! A few years ago, I started a new Virginia-to-Texas road trip tradition—as soon as we hit the Arkansas border, Michael would have to drive and I would sleep through the entire state until he could declare that we had crossed the Texas state line.

So there you have it. This was the basis for my opinion about Arkansas. I never gave Arkansas a chance. Never ventured off the interstate and into the hills, mountains, valleys and streams. Until this past week, that is. (I felt the same way about New Jersey, when all I ever saw was the Jersey Turnpike, en route to NYC. Then I got a chance to see other parts of the state—changed my opinion completely!)

RUBBING ELBOWS WITH POLITICS AND PLANTSMEN
Sue’s Aunt Gay lives in Little Rock and Sue was determined to show me another side of Arkansas. I told her the only way I would go is if I could meet Mike Huckabee and P. Allen Smith (two of the only celebrities I could think of from the (formerly dreaded) state—and when one has a blog, one is always looking for adventures to write and photograph about!). She pondered this request and said, “Lemme get back to you.” Not long after, she called to say her Aunt Gay had gotten us tickets to this luncheon honoring P. Allen Smith, and although Mike Huckabee wouldn’t be in town, the luncheon would be at the Governor’s Mansion, so technically I would be somewhere he had lived. Was that close enough? I conceded that it was. Little did I know that Huckabee’s wife, Janet (who is a friend of Gay’s), would be a last-minute guest and I would have the opportunity to meet, talk and photograph her. She was kind, gracious, and even co-signed an autographed copy of her husband’s seventh book, Do the Right Thing, for my mother (who is a Huckabee fan). She gave us a mini-tour of the living and dining areas of the mansion before the lecture and even served as an impromptu photographer, too, with my camera. In my searches online, I came across an article by Danielle Burton, compiled the U.S. News & World Report library staff. It’s titled, “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Janet Huckabee.” The first one mentioned she was a star basketball player at Hope High School, a fact that didn’t surprise to me—she’s quite statuesque, as you can see by the photo of her next to shorties Sue and Gay!

Gay is also an Arkansas celebrity—she’s a former First Lady of Arkansas. She was married to former Arkansas Governor Frank Durand White, who was only the second Republican governor of Arkansas since Reconstruction. He was the 41st governor of Arkansas and served a two-year term from 1981 to 1873. He was best recognized as “the little-known Republication candidate who defeated Bill Clinton in 1980 after Clinton had served only term as governor.” Frank passed away in 2003. Click here and here to learn more about Governor White.

After the luncheon, we toured P. Allen Smith’s city home, just two blocks away from the Governor’s Mansion (photos to come). Thank you, Gay and Sue, for arranging this wonderful day as well as the opportunity to meet P. Allen, Janet and Ginger. I have solemnly promised that, after a week of wonderful weather, ample subjects to photographs, visits to gardens (photos to come), a lovely day at Gay’s lake house (photos to come), and shopping in Hot Springs, I would no longer think unfavorably about Arkansas. Gay’s hospitality and Sue’s road trip companionship has made the great ice storm adventure a distant memory. Almost.

SUE’S TRIVIA CORNER:
Did you know that Arkansas grows 85% of the rice consumed in the United States?

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Above: Sue, Gay and Janet Huckabee at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion

Below: Sue with her Aunt Gay in the gardens at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansionsue-gay-gov-mansion-lorez

Below: P. Allen Smith at the podiumdsc_0226-lorez

Below: P. Allen signs his newest book, Bringing the Garden Indoors, with the assistance of Cathy Crass from the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion Association.book-signing-1

Below: Dining alfrescoluncheon-panoramic1

Below: Gay White with the current Arkansas First Lady, Ginger Beebe.gay-ginger

Below: Sue and Carolyn, a master gardener and Arkansas resident. I told Carolyn she reminded me so much of the actress Ellen Burstyn. Do you see the resemblance?sue-carolyn

Below: Sue, Gay and Janet before the P. Allen Smith Lecturesuegayjanet-5x71





“With Basil then I will begin, Whose scent is wondrous pleasing”

13 10 2008

…from Michael Drayton’s 1612 topographical poem, “Polyolbion,” describing England and Wales. Drayton was an Elizabethan poet and one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries.

Yesterday Karen and Gina and I made far more pesto than we really needed. My basil harvest was fairly skimpy this year (enough for about 4 cups total). Gina’s harvest was about the same. Enter Karen—that’s her in the first photo, arriving with a bountiful harvest of both Genovese and Purple Basil that she and I planted in late spring in her memorial garden honoring her mother.

In the second photo, you’ll see all the ingredients necessary for a “Pesto Preparation Party.” Ample basil, olive oil, pine nuts, cheese, garlic, a food processor, salt and pepper, and plastic containers for freezing. The soda and brownie bites are simply fuel for the cooks (but every bit as essential).

Gina and I have made pesto from our homegrown basil for the past two gardening seasons. This year Karen joined us (thankfully—otherwise, our final product would have been far more skimpy!). Having never made pesto, Karen was an eager and willing assistant. We told her our basic recipe, but after watching us “tweak” the recipe batch after batch, no doubt she is now confused on exactly how much of each ingredient we really used. Gina, as usual, served as the quality control inspector, sampling each batch on a bit of bread, then announcing, “needs more garlic,” “tastes too green and/or basil-y,” “add more salt,” and “cheese, must have more cheese!” Each batch was a little different from the previous one, so we ultimately just combined all the batches into one. Please don’t ask me for our final recipe. We have no idea what it is. We just make it from a basic recipe similar to the one here, then tweak to perfection as we go along.

We ended up with SIXTEEN containers of pesto. When Gina and I prepare pesto with our meager harvest, we max out at about seven containers. Muchas gracias to Karen and her contribution this year!

SIDEBAR: Every year Gina and I make pesto in preparation for the much-anticipated annual Pesto Fest that Michael and I host in our neighborhood. This year’s event was slated for Sept. 27, but had to be cancelled due to the constant rain we had that week, including the day of the event. We thought rescheduling for one of the next two weekends would put us into too-cool-to-have-it-outdoors scenario, but that was not the case. The past two weekends have been glorious. Sigh….take a look at last year’s festivities here. There’s always next year!

P.S. Gina and I made “Sage Pesto” the first year and strongly advise that you avoid it at all costs. Ewww.

Click here for the “How to Make Pesto like an Italian Grandmother” recipe.

Click here for a slew of pesto-based recipes.

Click here for more recipes, folklore, and growing tips.

Click here to learn more about growing, harvesting, and cooking with basil.

And finally, click here to read about basil in literature and art at the site for The Herb Society of America.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.





I’m in (catnip) heaven…

20 06 2008

I thought I had lost Jasper in the “Jumanji” part of the garden this afternoon. I peered through the Concord grape vine into the herb garden and saw him settled in, completely surrounded by the run-amuck catnip. Seriously, I need to do some weeding, culling, and cleanup in the garden this weekend. The recent storms have created a little shop of horrors in my backyard!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.





Purple overdose

16 06 2008

In an effort to keep my sister Debbie entertained (and it’s not hard to do, I’m happy to say), we drove up to the Pennsylvania Lavender Festival in Fairfield, Pennsylvania. An annual event, the festival is hosted by Madeline and Tom Wajda, owners of Willow Pond Farm. The 32-acre, family-owned herb farm is located fifteen minutes west of Gettysburg. Willow Pond Farm offers nearly 100 certified organic varieties of lavender on three acres. Three of the varieties, ‘Madeline Marie’, ‘Rebecca Kay’, and ‘Two Amys’, were developed at the farm. There are also a dozen demonstration gardens—culinary herbs, edible flowers, antique roses, mint, scented geraniums, salvias, medicinal herbs, biblical plants, and dye plants. There is also a silver “moon” garden, a sun garden, a shade garden, a butterfly garden, and a 200-foot-long perennial border.

I had the opportunity to talk to author Susan Belsinger. Susan co-authored The Creative Herbal Home with with Tina Marie Wilcox. Susan wrote three of the books in my personal library—Not Just Desserts, Gourmet Herbs, and The Garlic Book. Check out the other titles in Susan’s bookstore.

Author Tina Marie Wilcox has been the head gardener and herbalist at the Heritage Herb Garden at the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View, Arkansas, since 1984. She has collaborated with Susan on articles that have appeared in The Herbarist (published by the Herb Society of America), The Herb Companion and Herbs for Health.

She is also a contributing editor of The Herb Companion, an excellent resource for all things herbal. Susan said the magazine was recently redesigned and is even better! Since I sometimes have a hard time finding the publication at local bookstores, I decided to finally sign up for a subscription on the spot.

We sampled the lavender lemonade, chocolate and lavender scones, and lavender cookies. You can order culinary lavender from Willow Pond Farm. There were about a dozen vendors offering a variety of products such as soaps, lotions, garden crafts, pottery, jewelry, French linens, teapots and accoutrements, and food. This year there were several free “cooking with lavender” sessions as well as several fee-based workshops on a variety of topics—nature leaf painting, making herbal teas, photographing your garden, making herbal cordials, and making natural dyes ($15 each). There is a “make your own lavender wand” craft session for $7.50. Willow Pond Farm also sells a variety of lavender and herb plants. And for just $5, you can cut your own lavender straight from the field!

Debbie’s husband Bill did a search on the Web to see where we were and discovered that there was a (much larger than the one we went to) Blanco Lavender Festival taking place at the same time in Blanco, Texas. Blanco is about 45 minutes from their home in San Antonio. There are eight lavender farms on the Blanco Lavender Festival tour. Three guesses where I’ll be next June!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.