Celebrating Our Songs

As we approach the July 4th holiday I can’t help but think of Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” from his collection of poems Leaves of Grass. The first line is particularly poignant for me – “I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear.” I love the idea that each of us has our own melody, don’t you? Our diversity is our strength and our song; from old and young alike; from this land that sustains us, a place of hope and bounty, a land that we love.

What would the words be to your personal anthem? Definitely something to ponder as we celebrate our country’s 239th birthday.

I Hear America Singing

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand
singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as
he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning,
or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work,
or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young
fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.
– Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass

Nine Flowers for your Vegetable Garden

A vegetable garden without blooms is like a cocktail without a garnish. Flowers aren’t essential in a vegetable garden, but they sure make it better. From a practical stand point flowers work to attract pollinators and add the unexpected to your garden’s design. Plus by combining ornamentals and edibles you’ll maximize your available space.

If you want to mix and mingle vegetables and flowers with success remember, as with all bedfellows, to choose plants with the same growing requirements. Typically vegetables require at least 6 hours of sun each day. There are exceptions such as lettuce, parsley and spinach that will tolerate light shade. Vegetables also need well-draining soil and consistent moisture. There is a huge selection of blooming plants that like full sun as well and benefit from a similar watering routine as their edible companions but always check the plant tags to make sure.

Below are nine plants from my Proven Winners® Platinum Collection that will add the maraschino cherry and twist of lime to your vegetable garden.

‘Cat’s Meow’ Nepeta


Catmint is an excellent companion plant to help keep away flea beetles, aphids, Japanese beetles, squash bugs, ants, and weevils. I also place bowls of the dried blooms on the kitchen counter to deter ants. ‘Cat’s Meow’ will cover itself with blue flowers without much attention from you.
Perennial zones 3 – 8; full sun; upright habit; 17 to 20 inches tall.

Dark Knight™ Lobularia


This low growing plant is an excellent choice to use as edging or mix among salad greens. The fragrant, deep lavender flowers are favored by butterflies and honey bees.
Annual; full sun to partial shade; mounding; 4 to 6 inches.

Supertunia® Pretty Much Picasso® Petunia


Petunias are a helpful pest control plant that repel asparagus beetles, leafhoppers, aphids and tomato worms. These flowers are a delightful blend of hot pink and chartreuse – a real conversation starter.
Annual except in zones 10 and 11; full sun; trailing habit; 8 – 12 inches tall.

Senorita Rosalita® Cleome

20150601_PWSenorita
This cleome is thornless with sterile flowers that don’t produce seeds, which means it won’t spread. The lavender pink blossoms are produced on upright stems. It’s a great plant for mixing with bold-leaved vegetables such as squash.
Annual except in zones 8 – 11; full sun; upright habit; 24 to 48 inches tall.

Supertunia® Vista Bubblegum® Petunia

20150601_PWBubblegum
These hearty petunias will produce mounds of bubblegum pink blooms even during periods of heat and drought. I like to plant them where they will spill over edges and into garden paths.
Annual; full sun; mounding habit; 16 to 24 inches tall.

Luscious® Bananarama Lantana


Butterflies and hummingbirds will gravitate to the clusters of yellow flowers. This is a great plant to take the attention off of a heat weary vegetable garden because it really kicks into high gear during hot weather.
Annual except in zones 10 – 11; full sun; mounding habit; 18 to 30 inches tall.

Supertunia® Black Cherry Petunia


Smoky red blooms shaped like a gramophone horn send out a clarion call to honey bees and other nectar seeking beneficials. The color is lovely when paired with purple basil.
Annual; full sun; mounding and trailing habit; 8 to 12 inches tall; trails to 24 inches.

Lo & Behold® ‘Lilac Chip’ Buddleia


The pollinators love the fragrant, lavender blooms that appear from spring until fall. ‘Lilac Chip’ is non-invasive so it won’t spread through your vegetable garden.
Shrub zones 5 – 9; full sun; mounding habit; 2 feet tall.

My Monet® Sunset Weigela


My Monet® has a compact habit (18 inches tall) that makes it perfect for edging vegetable beds or planting in a container. The foliage transforms from chartreuse to purple to sunset orange as the seasons change.
Shrub zones 5 – 8; full sun; mounding habit; 12 to 18 inches tall.

Four Fragrant Mother’s Day Gift Ideas

Are you scrambling to find to perfect gift for your mom this year? You can never go wrong with the gift of fragrance. Aromatique is a decorative fragrance company in my home state of Arkansas so when I give scents, I always reach for Aromatique. My friend Patti Upton started the company in 1982 with a line of potpourri made with materials she found in the woods surrounding her backyard. Since that time the company has expanded to include approximately 500 fragrance lines and can be found in store across the country. You can buy the Aromatique online here, but if you want to shop local use their retail finder to locate a store that carries their fragrances here.

Vanilla Bean

Does your mom love the simple comforts of life? Is her style simple elegance—an intimate garden, good friends and home? I’m betting she’d love a gift of vanilla cupcakes with buttercream frosting on cupcake stands, a dessert cookbook and Aromatique’s Pure Vanilla fragrance.

Gardenia

Your mom is tranquil and serene, but enjoys a good belly laugh from time to time. Her style is modern and playful with an eye for the classics. She makes great shadow animals and cherishes close friends, family and a fragrant garden. A gardenia in a decorative container along with Aromatique’s Smell of Gardenia.

Hydrangea

A cheery disposition and a great sense of humor set your mom apart. Friendship, honoring the past and the beauty of outdoor living have a special place in her heart. Give your mother a hydrangea shrub, garden gloves, a trowel and fragrance from Aromatique’s Fresh Hydrangea line.

Honeysuckle

Fresh as a daisy with a love of home and hearth describes your mother. Every day is spring cleaning day for her and she’s always working on a project to spruce up her house. She’ll enjoy the fresh fragrance of Aromatique’s Honeysuckle Vine with a bouquet of white roses in a sweet filigree vase.

Unique Eureka

I’m lucky that my line of work enables me to travel all over the country, but some of my favorite trips have been to places right here in my home state of Arkansas. Recently I had the opportunity to visit northwest Arkansas and check out the hidden gem of the Ozarks, Eureka Springs. This town carved into a rocky ravine is on the national registry of historic places and is one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s top 12 distinctive destinations.

I love history so one of the first things I do when I visit a place is learn something about its past and Eureka Springs has quite a past. The town literally rose up out of the ground when people started converging on the area’s unique cold water springs. After the Civil War soldiers who had walked the land during the war came back to partake in the region’s healing waters – a treasure well known to the territory’s Native Americans. At the time medical treatments were limited and it wasn’t unusual for people to use natural healing waters as a treatment. In fact, it’s a tradition that goes back to biblical times and many still believe in the power of spring water today. In 1879 word began to spread about the springs and people started coming. And coming and coming. What was once wilderness went from a population of zero to 15,000 in one year and on July 4th, 1879 the members of the encampment decided to name the place Eureka Springs.

Now, you can’t go from zero to 15,000 without someone taking notice. Arkansas’ governor Powel Clayton recognized the potential of Eureka Springs as a tourist destination and set his mind to making it easier for folks to get there. On Valentine’s Day, 1880 the state of Arkansas declared Eureka Springs a city and by 1882 a rail line was built so people could get to it from anywhere in the country.

Not long after the railroad came to town the Crescent opened. This grand resort is perched at the top of the city and has the distinction of being the most haunted hotel in the United States. The oldest spirit in residence is that of a young Irish stone mason who died during construction of the building. Legend says he takes a particular shine to the ladies who stay in the hotel. Probably the largest number of ghosts arrived during the time when the hotel was a treatment center run by a charlatan who promised a cure for cancer.

In 1934 the Depression shuttered most of Eureka Springs including the Crescent Hotel. It sat empty until Norman Baker, a radio broadcaster with a good eye for a fast buck, purchased the building in 1937 and opened the Baker Cancer Cure Hospital. Baker bilked over $4 million from his clients before being arrested for mail fraud in 1940. Sadly many of the patients died under Baker’s care and some say they are still at the hotel. The Crescent sat empty through WWII and then in 1946 it was opened up again as a hotel. If scary is what floats your boat I suggest you take the Ghost Tour at the Crescent to learn about the hotel’s other-world guests. You’ll even get to visit the old Baker Hospital morgue in the basement.

In addition to a large population of ghosts Eureka is also home to a vibrant artists’ community and great restaurants. The area is well known for its rivers, hiking trails and lakes. Nearby Lake Leatherwood Park covers 1600 acres with an 85 acre spring fed lake formed by one of the largest hand cut lime stone dams in the country.

With its rich history and contemporary attractions, Eureka Springs is a fascinating and fun getaway.

Flower Arrangements for Spring

Looking for a cure for the winter blues? I suggest a few cut flower stems to get you through the last stretch of cold weather. Most of us don’t have many blooms in the garden right now, but there are a few things to pick (early daffodils, quince, hellebores) and you can bolster your bouquet with flowers purchased from a florist.

Camellia japonica ‘La Peppermint’ from the garden. The short, woody stems are kept in place by inserting them into bit of floral foam wedged into the vase.

A small bouquet of daffodils, Muscari and tulips with purple Loropetulum and heather. A layer of marbles at the bottom of the vase give the short stems height. Daffodils produce a sap that will make other flowers wilt. Before using them in an arrangement keep them in a separate vase for a day and refresh the water every few hours. This will wash away the sap.

I love to hang buckets of daffodils from tree branches. So simple and chic.

Wisteria makes an elegant bouquet. The fragrance only adds to the beauty. I grow American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens) ‘Amethyst Falls’.

Cut glass is a stylish choice for simple blooms like these Summer Snowflakes (Leucojum aestivum) ‘Gravetye Giant’.

Flowers with a Conscience

Are you aware of the efforts by American flower growers to get consumers to think local when purchasing flowers? In addition to the typical reasons for buying local (economy, ecological footprint, and chemical-free) you can expect domestically grown flowers to have more fragrance and appear more natural. Plus they last longer. For instance, with the proper care California roses will last up two weeks versus imported roses.*
Find a local flower farmer.

California Organic Flowers

*Palmer, K (2013, March). Blossoming Close to Home. Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Tabletop Spring Garden

Welcome spring into your home with a tabletop garden planted with spring blooms from your local garden center or grocery store.

Materials:
Potted flowering plants
Plastic baggies
Decorative container
Sheet moss

Directions:
Remove each plant from its pot and slip it, soil and all, into a plastic baggie. This is optional. If your decorative container is large enough to accommodate the plants in their pots, simply slip them into the container. Otherwise the plastic baggies make it easier to arrange the plants.

Once the plants are in the container cover the bags or pots with sheet moss to conceal. That’s it!

For the longest life, place your tabletop garden in a spot away from source of heat. Water the soil with a spray mister.

For this arrangement I used pots of forced ‘Tete-a-tete’ narcissus, primroses and variegated ivy. After the blooms fade I’ll plant the ‘Tet-a-tete’ in the garden. This variety is a prolific multiplier.
The galvanized tray is available in my online shop.

Revolutionary Roses

Do you shy away from rose bushes because of their fussy reputation? Well, get ready to revise your thinking. New varieties are easier than ever to grow while retaining the classic qualities that we love some much about these beautiful blooms.

I asked Kristen Smith, New Plants Coordinator at Star Roses and Plants, about their updated rose varieties and what we can look forward to in 2015.

What is a top trend in rose gardening this year?

Gardeners are looking for roses which will work and perform in containers these days. More and more consumers are gardening in limited space and don’t have the time available in their busy schedules to commit to building and maintaining garden beds for roses.

Gardeners are interested in plants that are disease resistant, easy to grow and abundant. How are these characteristics expressed in new rose introductions?

Our new roses receive at least three years of testing under no spray locations on both coasts. This style of testing simply allows us to select for those varieties which are more disease resistant. Newer introductions are being released each year which have been tested extensively for resistance to disease, vigor, and repeat bloom. These are all characteristics which make a variety easy to grow and enjoy. The leader of the pack in disease resistance today is still The Knock Out® Rose which is exceptionally resistant to black spot and powdery mildew. It also repeat blooms from spring through fall.

Drift® Roses are what I call double duty plants. They are wonderful for filling space, but the blooms are delightful too. What’s your favorite design idea for these roses?

My favorite design idea for the Drift® Roses is using them in a cottage garden style. They tuck in nicely with other bulbs, perennial and woody plants and can be used reliably for color effect throughout the season while many other perennials may only bloom once and fade.

Coral Drift®

What 2015 introductions are you excited about?

The Peachy Keen™ Rose and The Icecap™ Rose are two really good new introductions for 2015. They were trialed for two years in trial gardens all around the country and were the top performers in a class of potential introductions that were trialed alongside of them. Peachy Keen™ has pretty soft pastel blooms that are enhanced and made more interesting with a yellow center. The Icecap™ Rose has white blooms and an excellent bushy and rounded habit. These two are sure to be very easy to care for and reliable in the garden.

Icecap™ Rose

It’s exciting to see breeders creating roses that are easy-care and adaptable so that gardeners can grow roses without all the fuss. What are your top three rose care tips?

My first suggestion, which isn’t really a care tip, but important nonetheless is to make sure that your rose gets planted in a site with at least 6 hours of full sun per day. Sighting your rose properly will be important for overall quality, health, and flowering of the rose over the long term. Second would be making sure that watering needs are met for at least the first 30 days after planting. Keeping an eye on watering during the first year of planting will help establish the rose in its new location making for a rose that will need little to no supplemental water in years to come. Lastly, I would advise on pruning back the rose by 2/3 once in late winter. This will help rejuvenate the rose, eliminate any dead wood left over from the winter, and improve the overall shape and vigor of your rose.

Peachy Keen™ Rose

What’s your all-time favorite rose?

That is a really difficult question to answer, especially since new and improved varieties are being introduced every year. There is a new rose every year that becomes my favorite, until the following year. I would say that my favorite right now is the series of Drift® Roses. As a group, they are compact with good disease resistance and have a multitude of uses.

Pink Drift® at Moss Mountain Farn

American Farmer: The Urbanite

Imagine for a minute that your neighborhood doesn’t include a grocery store. Not unusual, but what if you don’t have the means to travel outside of your neighborhood to find a store? You live in what is referred to as a food desert – an area that lacks a source of affordable, healthy food whose residents don’t have access to transportation. It’s a jarring thought and sadly not uncommon in the U.S. The good news is American farmers are stepping up to the plate to reach these communities in need.

One type of farmer is bringing the mountain to Mohammed by establishing urban farms in the nooks and crannies of their cities. You might see a farm on a rooftop or in an abandoned lot or in your neighbor’s backyard. Some farmers have converted warehouses to year-round grow houses. Their efforts are pretty amazing and, in some cases, ingenious.

The concept of urban farming as a way to alleviate food insecurity isn’t new. Consider Victory Gardens during WWII or go back even further to the 1890s when “Pingree’s Potato Patches” sprung up in Detroit as a way to help people through an economic downturn. Urbanites have a rich history of shoring up our larders by producing food within the city limits.

The 21st century version of a philanthropic urban farm works to promote awareness, education, and empowerment as well as supplying inexpensive, homegrown food to the community. These groups want to show others what they can do for themselves and their neighborhood.

In most cases these urban farms get financial support by selling what they produce to local restaurants or directly to the consumer at farmers’ markets, retail stores and through community support agriculture (CSA) programs. Supporting a local urban farm couldn’t be easier. All you have to do is buy their products or participate in their workshops.

Wheelbarrow Gardens for Salad Greens

Resources for finding out more about urban farming:
Urban Farm Magazine
USDA Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food
EPA Steps to Create a Community Garden or Expand Urban Agriculture

Urban farms in my home state of Arkansas:
Arkansas Grown
Little Rock Urban Farming
Appleseeds
The Field
Farm and Food Innovation Center