Say No to Nicotine and Yes to Nicotiana

Nicotiana 'Perfume Deep Purple'Today, May 31st is World No Tobacco Day so in honor of that celebration I’d like to tell you about a few Flowering Tobaccos!

Smoking tobacco, Nicotiana tabacum came from the New World and circled out to cultures around the globe. Flowering Tobacco, the cousin of leaf tobacco, is a charming heirloom flower experiencing a Renaissance with gardeners lately. The best part about this ornamental is that it fills the summer garden with large, brightly colored trumpets of star-shaped flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Many hybrids offer smaller, more compact plants with abundant flowers that bloom throughout the summer.

I also grow Nicotiana sylvestris for its statuesque presence and sweet aroma. It makes a bold statement in my flower borders and frequently comes back as a volunteer. The plant is very fragrant with tubular-shaped, white flowers that dance on 30″ – 36″ tall branched stems during the summer.

Another one to try is Nicotiana langsdorfii because it too grows to an impressive height and I love the waxy, lime green blooms. A third species that I just discovered is Nicotiana x hybrida ‘Tinkerbell’. It is similar in appearance to N. langsdorfii but produces lime green and rose flowers with amazing azure blue pollen.

Try Planting an Evening Garden

I enjoy Nicotiana alata for its strong, jasmine like fragrance at night. Introduced into garden cultivation in the United States and England in the early 1800’s Nicotiana alata was prized for its white, highly scented night-blooming flowers. In Victorian times, Nicotiana sylvestris was intentionally planted along walkways and paths so that those strolling by could enjoy the sweet fragrance of the flowers.

A noted garden writer of the early 20th century Louise Beebe Wilder describes Nicotiana alata as a “poor figure by day … but with the coming of the night the long creamy tubes freshen and expand and give forth their rich perfume and we are then glad we have so much of it…”

I have to agree, I’m a huge fan of all of the Flowering Tobaccos!

American Farmer – Soybeans

One benefit of the increasing interest in where our food comes from is the resurgence of the American farmer. Invisible through much of the 20th century, this important player in our history is making a comeback. I say hoorah! There’s a lot we can learn from our farmers.

I am proud to be part of this country’s agricultural heritage. My family has been farming in America since the 1690s and my childhood memories of farm life are reflected in what I’ve created at the Moss Mountain Farm Garden Home. Farming culture taught me about the importance of family and community ties and stewardship of the land. I was recently reminded of this while attending the spring livestock show in Little Rock.

In Arkansas we have close to 50,000 farms and 13.8 million acres of farmland*. There aren’t many degrees of separation between the people and farming here. Our three “king crops” are rice, cotton and soybeans. While rice is still our number one producer, soybeans hold their own. Almost 50% of our cropland is planted with soybeans, which contributes a billion dollars to our economy annually.

Soybeans are a relatively new crop for Arkansas. Early in the 20th century they were planted as a forage crop plus soybeans replenish nitrogen to the soil. Thanks to George Washington Carver, he discovered the value of soybean protein and soybean oil so then planting soybeans became more popular all over the U.S. However, it wasn’t until after WW II that farmers here started taking them more seriously. The attraction? Soybeans are a low risk crop with a good return. They grow well without irrigation; are a useful rotation crop that adds nitrogen back to the soil; and don’t require as much fertilizer as rice or cotton.

Right now we’re in the middle of soybean planting season in Arkansas – mid-April through the end of June. On a typical day farmers get out in the fields right after sunrise and come back in after 7 p.m. It’s a 12 hour a day, 6 days a week job during planting season. I don’t envy them the work. How about you?

As with any crop, timing the planting is important. Soybeans are day length sensitive. As soon as the required hours of darkness are reached the plants will begin to bloom. You can almost set your clock by it. Sow too late and the plants will be too spindly to support the blooms.

Back in the day farmers planted ‘Larado’ and ‘Jupiter’ soybeans. Today ‘Maturity Group 4’ soybeans are the norm. The name isn’t as fun, but they produce more with less water and pesticides.

Throughout the fall farmers will be out in the fields harvesting. Soybeans are allowed to dry on the plant before harvest. Seed fields are left longer so the beans can go through cool autumn temperatures.

The next time you cook with vegetable oil or apply lip balm, think about the guy or gal who sowed the seed that grew into the plant that produced the soybean that made that product possible.

Talk Like a Soybean Farmer

Dry Land Acreage – Fields without irrigation. Soybeans are better suited for dry land acreage than rice and cotton.

Maturity Group – Based on latitudinal lines across the U.S., maturity groups indicate with a soybean will flower. The lower the group number (i.e. maturity group 4) the sooner the beans are harvested.

Plant Behind – A crop that follows another when rotating crops. Farmers plant soybeans behind rice and cotton because soybeans add nitrogen to the soil and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers.

Seed Field – Soybean crops planted for seed production. Usually planted later in the year so the beans can experience the colder fall temperatures.



Design maven Tobi Fairley is back with this guest post about one of my favorite summer fabrics – seersucker.

Hello Allen’s readers…and hello summer!!

Warmer temps and the relaxed, lazy days of summer call for a cool, casual fabric that can be your go-to for any situation. What am I talking about? Seersucker, of course!

I recently had the opportunity to host an entire party built around the simplistic beauty of this carefree fabric. It’s featured in this month’s issue of Southern Living. You can check out those tips for building a party theme around this popular pattern here, but today I want to share with you a few of the reasons why I have a passion for seersucker.

1. It’s refined — yet, relaxed. In other words, it’s one of the most multipurpose fabrics known to man. I used it to create a beautiful luncheon table, gentlemen don it for the Kentucky Derby, and yet it’s still a beach-bum favorite for shorts and skirts. The classic stripes give it a polished appeal, while the lightweight cotton fabric makes it easy to use or wear!

2. Wrinkles are welcomed. Like I said, it’s relaxed. Part of seersucker’s beauty lies in the “puckers” or characteristic wrinkles you’ll find in the pattern. They are like a great patina on an old weather vane or a wooden fence that has gotten just the right amount of sun. They add character and give the fabric part of its appeal. Plus, there’s no need to iron!

3. Can you say Southern staple? From the Carolina shores to The Grove, you’ll find seersucker being displayed in every Southern state. Whether it’s a monogrammed set of cocktail napkins, a child’s swimsuit or an upholstered settee, nothing screams summer in the South like seersucker. The U.S. Senate even has a day known as “Seersucker Thursday” where all members are encouraged to wear suits cut from this cloth. The tradition is a nod to the days when Senators from the South changed to the lightweight fabric during the warm months, and in turn started a trend that was followed by their friends from the North.

Can you see why I love it so much?? It’s hard not to like something that’s tried-and-true as well as versatile. Leave a comment and tell us how you use seersucker.

Happy summer!

xo, Tobi

[images: Southern Living, Google &]

Behind the Scenes: Glam Up Your Garden

One of the main “products” my company produces is content – for television, YouTube, web and social media. The past few weeks we’ve been working on a “weekend warrior” idea to illustrate how to glam up a garden in one day with colorful annuals from Proven Winners®. For this topic we’re produced photos, an article for my website and a segment for television.

It took a team of people and a few colorful plants to make transform this idea into a reality.

1. Chip – Stylist, florist, and general Jack-of-all-trades

2. Bill – Video editor and go to guy for source of salvaged house parts

3. Anna Claire – Co-conspirator of the written word

4. Rockapulco® Rose Impatiens – Queen of the summer annuals for shade

5. Nikki – Producer par excellence, woman of many talents

6. Keegen – Digital artisan and idea guy

7. Charmed® Wine Oxalis – Purveyor of continuous summer color

8. Robbie – Cruncher of code, drinks out of a Darth Vader coffee mug

9. Catalina® Pink Torenia – A little something different for summer color

10. Brent – Man of mystery who just wants to create beautiful video

Step 1 – Creative Meeting
The first thing we did was talk. Sometimes we get together in advance; sometimes it’s a day before the shoot. During our creative meeting we kicked around ideas. Then Anna Claire headed off to write and Nikki to iron out the details and set a schedule.

Step 2 – Logistics
Next we set a date and location and picked up the props. The weekend warrior story was about how to spruce up an average size flower border, so we picked the City Garden Home for our location. Chip and I discussed the Proven Winners® plants we wanted to use and he got them pulled together.

Step 3 – Writing
With the plants and location decided, Anna Claire and I got to work on writing a story. I gave her some general ideas I wanted to cover and she flushed it out. Then she handed the copy over to Nikki who rewrote it in script format.

Step 4 – Shoot the Cover
With the story in place Nikki and Brent headed out to tape the before, during and after shots of planting annuals – cover video that accompanies the voice over narration.

Step 5 – Shoot the On Cameras and Voice Overs
Around the office they call me “the talent.” As the talent it’s my job to do the on camera and voice over narrations. The former involves me standing in front of a camera talking; in the latter Brent records my voice. We shot the on cameras at a garden center so I could discuss plant selection for this project. The voice overs were shot in the studio.

Step 6 – Editing
With everything shot, our editor Bill got the video and turned it into a segment that will be used in the half hour show P. Allen Smith Gardens and online. He wove together the on cameras, cover shots and voice overs.

Step 7 – Programming
While the editing was going on, Keegen and Robbie in the web department took the original copy that Anna Claire wrote put it on the website. These days everything is digital so to get images all they had to do was freeze a frame of the video.

And that’s how we go from an idea to a piece of content that we can use both on television and the web! Click here to read the article. Watch the video online in about 3 weeks.

Lemon Verbena

Lemon verbena with its sugary lemon scent is an herb you’ll want to have in your garden for the fragrance and flavor. And plant it somewhere close! It’s one of those plants that release scent every time you touch the leaves.

Lemon verbena is a shrubby herb with loose, twisting branches and bright green foliage. It can grow to 6 feet tall by 8 feet wide where it is perennial (zones 8 – 11). In my zone 7 garden it stays a little more contained because I grow it in a pot that I move indoors for winter. It’s a fast grower that needs full sun and excellent drainage – too much water will rot the roots! Lemon verbena has a sweet lemon flavor – I tend to use it with desserts and as a seasoning for meat dishes, but I also love placing it near my outdoor living areas so I can enjoy its lemony scent. In fact, it was its lemony scent that led me to make this lemon verbena infused honey, and I can’t wait for you to try it.

What you’ll need

  • A few stems of lemon verbena, cleaned and dried
  • 1 mason jar
  • Honey

All it takes is a little herb-tidying. Pluck the lemon verbena leaves off of their stems, rinse them, and dry them with a paper towel. Loosely fill a mason jar with the leaves and then pour the honey over the top. While you may want to try it right away, put the jar in a cupboard for a few weeks to infuse. After two weeks strain the honey to remove the leaves.

You’ll end up with a lovely lemon-flavored honey that you can stir into tea, drizzle over nuts or cheese, or use as a sweetener.

Do you want to know more about this great herb? Jump over to the Bonnie Plants website to read about growing lemon verbena.

Red Alert for Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds

In honor of National Migratory Bird Day on May 12, I just wanted to alert you that in Arkansas, this is Ruby-Throated Hummingbird Migration Time!

I have been waiting and watching because the Rubies should be back in Arkansas any day now. Usually they start arriving in early April, and sometimes they come as early as mid-to-late March and then leave again in September or October.

This year, for some reason they’re a little late but I am busy preparing my hummingbird feeders because once they’re back – they’re hungry from their flight up from the south.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds normally spend the winter in Central America and their trek north is an amazing one. These tiny flyers manage to fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico, traveling up to 2500 miles each fall on their way to nest. From March through May they pass through the eastern two thirds of Texas. Some swing up through Cuba and Florida, probably with a stop at a resort hotel in Orlando, you can bet!

Other brave, strong Rubies barrel straight across the Gulf of Mexico. The birds reach the southern Gulf coast in late February and early March. Later migrants fly to breeding grounds further north so their arrival time to their nesting grounds coincides with when their food source plants are blooming. Only the Ruby-throated Hummingbird breeds east of the Mississippi River. The tiny little newborn hummingbird is about the size of a honeybee, their egg, the size of a pea.

Conversely, their departure times corresponds with the end of the blooming period for those nutrient plants. The fall migration lasts from late July until late October in the southern states.

Nearly all Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds fly south of Mississippi for the winter. Ten other species can be seen in the region during winter so it’s a good idea to leave at least one feeder out.

Amazingly, the Ruby-throat beats its wings 40-80 times a second, and maintains an average flight speed of 30 mph while their escape speeds can reach 50 mph. No wonder they can outdistance Marge my cat!