WaterWise® Giveaway

Congratulations Duyen! You are the winner of the WaterWise® Easy Container Watering Kit from Proven Winners®. Thank you to everyone who participated. The correct answer is Diamond Frost® Euphorbia.

One way to get the upper hand on a drought is to choose plants that have low moisture requirements.

This one of my favorite plants to use as a filler in both flower borders and containers. It holds up like a champ even during the driest weather. Can you guess what it is? Tell me in the comments section below for a chance to win a WaterWise® Easy Container Watering Kit from Proven Winners®.

Need a hint? It’s a plant in my Platinum Collection from Proven Winners®, which you can check out here.

I’ll select the winner at random and announce the name on Wednesday September 5, 2012. Click here to read the official rules.

3 Tips for Working with Color in Your Home

Interior designer Tobi Fairley is back with a guest blog post about creating a colorful home.

Hello Allen’s Readers! It’s great to be back here to share with you again today.

In my design work, color is often one of the notable or distinguishing factors. I am a fan of using color in a big way to create interiors that are bold, yet still tailored. It’s like putting a fresh spin on a classic. In my Design Camp A to Z, I also teach a section devoted entirely to color and the process of selecting and working with a room’s palette. Today I thought it would be fun to share three of my favorite tips with you. Hopefully they give you inspiration for your own interiors.

1. Use bold color in one area.

If you go bold with a wall color, tone down the accessories in the room to create a nice complement. Likewise if you have a more neutral wall color, adding bright accessories can help to give the room personality. Adding intense color in just one of these areas and allowing the other to be more neutral will keep a balance that’s pleasing to the eye.

2. Consider creating a pattern with color.

Whether it’s stripes as shown in this teen’s bedroom, a lattice motif or a simple grid, using paint to create a pattern is a classic way to bring a fresh look to any room. While stripes are certainly a trend of the times, they have a timeless appeal and can be executed in a variety of different ways (think horizontal, large-scale, even pinstripe!). Blending a painted color pattern with other fabrics in the same palette can create an inviting and timeless look.

3. Add a pop of color in an unexpected place.

The ceiling is often one of the most overlooked surfaces in a room. Yet, adding a splash of color here can enliven a room and give it a one-of-a-kind touch. Swap beige, cream and stark “ceiling white” for a color that complements the rest of your decor such as the green shown on this kitchen ceiling.

Color can add so much life to a space. I hope these tips will inspire you to use color throughout your home.

Happy Decorating!
xo, Tobi

P.S. Want to learn more about working with color? Join me for Design Camp A to Z where I teach an entire section called ‘C is for Color.’ You can learn more and register at designcamp.tobifairley.com. Can’t join us for a full camp session? Purchase my ‘C is for Color’ telecall and you’ll receive an hour of tips!

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: Eat Local

If there’s one thing I really love about Arkansas, it’s got to be the sense of community. People know each other by name here; know about their families and lives and what they like to get up to on the weekend. Recently, there’s been a lot of development of that community-vibe in our food system. I’ve been thinking about local food sources and the community it creates, and so I went out and spoke with a few people from restaurants or markets that source local ingredients.

We throw that term “local” around loosely, but what does it really mean?

“Food you love from people you know- that’s really what it’s about. It’s more than getting yourself full, it’s a connection,” said Stephanie Hamling, a jack-of-all-trades at North Little Rock’s Argenta Market.

The Argenta Market is a grocery and deli in the downtown community of Argenta that draws clientele and goods, from the adjacent Saturday farmer’s market. Hamling said there’s a good “synergy” between the two – Argenta Market offers the farmers free coffee, and when the farmer’s market ends they’ll come in to see what we need for the upcoming week in produce, jams, cheese, and sauces.

“We have over 100 local vendors, and they make this a destination spot,” Hamling said. She works on the website, manages customer service, and sources local products, but while she was originally a graphic artist, it’s the relationship with the customers that is her real concern. She said that she knows 75% of the people who walk through the front door, and while I was having lunch from the deli I saw her walk up to a man and hand him a gift certificate because she “appreciates him always coming to visit them.”

That’s what I’m talking about when I talk about community. But there’s more to it than that.

Loblolly Creamery is soda fountain a few blocks from our office. The digital team takes a walk over there at least once a week – it’s their “spot”, so to speak. For Sally Mengel, co-owner of the artisan ice cream shop, a local business is one that supports its community.

“We do that by buying all local ingredients and making everything from scratch,” the artisan ice cream maker said.

While we talked about their small-batch ice creams and traditional Arkansas ingredients, Sally said hi to a few customers by name, and knew what a couple of them were going to order.

“It makes it more enjoyable – you know who you’re serving, you get to know people. We’re creating this dialogue- we’re not a traditional soda fountain, sometimes we don’t even have vanilla. We’re kind of opening people’s perceptions and palettes… All with local ingredients.”

I like to buy Arkansas ingredients for a lot of reasons – I’m from Arkansas, want to support my fellow farmers and have those dollars flowing back into my state’s economy. Like Jack Sundell, from The Root Café, said, “whether its food or a hammer from a hardware store, if you seek out local suppliers you’re supporting all that local business, a place that has its own personality, and your community on the whole.”

But Brandon Brown, owner of Hillcrest Artisan Meats (“H.A.M.”), noted that “local” is kind of a trendy topic, and one that doesn’t always work for a business model.

“There’s a big difference between local food and good local food,” he said. “I think that people fall into a trap of ‘just because it’s local it’s great.’ There’s a lot of local stuff that’s not great.”

While we sat in the in the charcuterie, rich aromas hanging in the air, Brown pointed out the pictures adorning the wall – pictures from the farms where they source their meat, both in Arkansas and around it. He and his wife moved to Arkansas from Oregon, and saw an immediate need for a free-range, grass-fed meat source and started to befriend farmers, some of whom are in those photos.

“We were really disappointed in the food that’s available in Little Rock – so we opened this place out of selfishness and necessity!” he said with a laugh.

And that’s why he, and others, see the local food movement as an opportunity to educate.

“People expect to come here and have every vegetable or egg to be local. I try to explain that we don’t have local milk because our last local dairy closed a few years ago or that you just can’t grow avocados in Arkansas, so we have to source them from somewhere else,” Hamling said about Argenta Market. “I think we’re educators more than anything else.”

Part of that education means explaining that the price of high-quality, locally grown food is worth the extra cash.

Brown told a story of a first time customer coming in to pick up a whole chicken. When Brown rang his total up- about $20 for just the bird- the man was appalled by the price, but bought it anyway. By the next afternoon, the customer had posted to HAM’s Facebook page an essay about just how wonderful that chicken was and how he’d never buy another commercial chicken again.

“It’s really expensive to grow meat well, without hormones. What we buy it for reflects that, what we sell it for has to reflect that,” Hamling said.

Sundell says that there’s no comparison between these high-quality local foods and industrial products – people want good taste and good health.

“People are interesting in eating healthier. You’re eating local food closer to the time it was picked, so it just has more nutritional value than a tomato that was picked two weeks ago, shipped green, & sprayed with ethylene gas to ripen. It looks like a tomato, but it doesn’t taste like a tomato,” Sundell said. “Another big issue is transparency. You hear about food borne illnesses and outbreaks – that type of thing rarely happens when you’re dealing with a local food system because production isn’t so industrialized.”

And less industrialization means better tasting food.

“It doesn’t take a chef or a knowledgeable food critic to taste the difference between an Arkansas tomato and a store-bought tomato. There’s no comparison.” Sundell said.

When I go to the farmer’s market, I see a mixed bag of people both selling and shopping – young, old, first-time farmers, third-generation land owners. But eating local food isn’t a new idea.

“Before there was convenience food and all these packaged goods, people grew their own food and had to buy from farmers… But now it’s becoming more valued,” Mengel said.

Hamling echoed that sentiment.

“In generations past everybody was trying to get off the farm, but now I think people are looking for community and connection where they can get it, like going back to the land, and we want to support that.”

Like I said, I love the community aspect of my home state. We support our farmers, and there is a growing movement of people who want to make that more common. I think local food and the fellowship it creates is a powerful movement, but I couldn’t say it better than Jack Sundell does.

“I don’t see it as something that’s a passing fad. With local food, it’s something that builds community so naturally and it’s something that people really crave and haven’t had access to. When they come together over good food, I think they get something special that you can’t just find anywhere.”

Super Star Shrubs Come in All Sizes

Shrubs have traditionally been cast in supporting roles with the occasional star billing for seasonal blooms or color. However, hybridizers are continuously introducing varieties with attributes that push these workhorses to center stage.

Size is one characteristic that has seen an increase in possibilities. Whether you need a shrub to create an enclosure or brighten the corner of a patio garden, there’s something for you.

From tall to small my friends at Proven Winners® have some fabulous shrubs to choose from. Here are 10 worth considering for setting a dramatic scene in your garden.

‘American Pillar’ Thuja (Arborvitae)
20 – 30 feet tall
3 – 4 feet wide
Full sun to partial shade
Hardy in zones 3a – 7b
This tall, columnar arborvitae is known for its dense branching and rapid growth. It’s an excellent choice for screening and creating enclosures. Learn more about ‘American Pillar’ arborvitae onProvenWinners.com.

Berry Nice® Ilex verticillata (Winterberry)
6 – 8 feet tall
6 – 8 feet wide
Full sun to partial shade
Hardy in zones 3a – 9b
I. verticillata is a deciduous holly with brilliant red berries in winter. It is very dramatic when planted in groupings. Learn more about Berry Nice® Ilex verticillata onProvenWinners.com.

Bloomerang® Purple Syringa (Lilac)
4 – 5 feet tall
4 – 5 feet wide
Full sun
Hardy in zones 3a – 7b
Unlike other lilacs Bloomerang® flowers in spring, then again midsummer and continues through the fall. A compact, mounding shrub that’s suitable for mixed borders, it has the same delightful fragrance you expect from lilacs. Learn more about Bloomerang® Purple lilac on ProvenWinners.com.

Incrediball® Hydrangea arborescens (Smooth Hydrangea)
4 – 5 feet tall
4 – 5 feet wide
Full sun to partial shade
Hardy in zones 3a – 9b
This North American native shrub produces impressive flowers (up to 12 inches across). I love it so much that I selected it for my Platinum Collection. Learn more about Incrediball® Hydrangea arborescens on ProvenWinnners.com.

Snow Storm™ Spiraea x media (Spiraea)
3 – 4 feet tall
3 – 4 feet wide
Full sun
Hardy in zones 4a – 8b
Snow Storm™ produces hefty white blooms in spring. Foliage turns a striking orange-red in fall. This is a good choice for mass plantings or as a seasonal focal point in a mixed border. Learn more about Snow Storm™ spiraea on ProvenWinners.com.

Little Henry® Itea virginica (Sweetspire)
2 – 3 feet tall
2 – 3 feet wide
Sun to part shade
Hardy in zones 5a – 9b
Little Henry® is the compact version of one of my favorite North American native shrubs. It will grow in sun or light shade and tolerates moist soil. Little Henry® produces showy white blooms in early summer and the foliage is fantastic in fall. It’s part of my Platinum Collection. Learn more about Little Henry® Itea on ProvenWinners.com.

Lo & Behold® Blue Chip Buddleia (Butterfly Bush)
24 – 30 inches tall
24-30 inches wide
Full sun
Hardy in zones 5a – 9b
Now everyone can grow a butterfly bush in their garden. This little shrub produces fragrant blooms from mid-summer through fall. It stays under 3 feet tall. It’s a great bedfellow for perennials and annuals or grow it in a container.  Lo & Behold® Blue Chip Buddleia is part of my Platinum Collection. You can learn more about it on ProvenWinners.com.

Show Off™ Sugar Baby Forsythia
18 – 30 inches tall
18 – 30 inches wide
Full sun
Hardy in zones 4a – 8b
Show Off™ Sugar Baby produces the same amount of bloom as larger Forsythia varieties but on a compact plant. Mass plant in larger gardens or use as a spring focal point in small spaces. I love it in a container, surrounded by daffodils and grape hyacinths. Learn more about Show Off™ Sugar Baby Forsythia on ProvenWinners.com.

Sunjoy® Mini Saffron Berberis thungergii  (Barberry)
18 – 24 inches tall
24 – 30 inches wide
Full sun
Hardy in zones 4a – 8b
Sunjoy® Mini Saffron sets itself apart with its compact form and dazzling foliage. The sunny yellow leaves tinged with orange turn a sunset orange-red in fall. Learn more about Sunjoy® Mini Saffron barberry on ProvenWinners.com.

My Monet® Weigela
12 – 18 inches tall
12 – 18 inches wide
Full sun to partial shade
Hardy in zones 4a – 6b
My Monet® boasts variegated foliage and pink flowers but in a petite form. Mix it with perennials and annuals in a flower bed or group several together for impact. It also grows well in containers. Learn more about My Monet® Wiegela on ProvenWinners.com.

New York City Trip – 5 Places I Never Miss

For a guy who loves his fruits and veggies, the “Big Apple” can’t be beat. New York City is a place that inspires me every single time I visit, and I was lucky to be there early this summer. I’ve been going to New York for years, and while I love hunting for new restaurants or book stores or furniture shops, there are few staples that I can’t seem to pass up when in the city.

The Met

Located in the heart of Manhattan, The Met is as much an architectural gem as it is art museum. Besides the fact that it’s one of the world’s largest art galleries- it holds over 2 million permanent works!- it also is packed with an incredible array of temporary exhibits that I like to research before I arrive. If you get to visit, I recommend the rooftop garden. With a café and bar, it’s the perfect place to sit and ogle the Manhattan skyline and Central Park.

The Whitney

As much as I adore The Met, it’s the much smaller and less well-known Whitney Museum of American Art that I turn to first. I have always been a fan of American History, and the museum focuses on 20th and 21st-centuray American Art, pieces that tell the story of our country’s modern history. My favorite aspect of the museum it that it sources many of its works from living artists and showcases young and upcoming artists each year.


Whether it’s off Broadway or on, the theatre scene in New York is unbeatable. I always try to make time for at least one show, and on my most recent visit I got to see Wicked! I’ve been in the audiences of some of the most famous and long-running shows like Cats and The Lion King, and gotten to be one of only a few thousand people who have seen shorter-lived productions, but you just can’t go to New York and NOT see a show. I think it’s actually a state law…

NY Public Lib

I never seem to spend as much time as I want to at the New York Public Library, a space whose history is almost as lovely as the building itself. The library originated in the 19th century from the combined efforts of all different kinds of groups- grass-roots organizations, social libraries, and private donations from bibliophiles and philanthropists alike. Each time I visit the newly-restored Rose Main Reading Room I feel like I’ve entered one of the great cathedrals of Europe- the ceiling is painted with murals that give the impression that you’re actually look through the ceiling, up to the sky- but it’s the thick red quarry tile from Wales that gives the room its powerful echo, reminding you just how big the space is.

Union Square Farmers Market

You can take a farm boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy! New York may be famous for its restaurant scene, but on a breezy day there’s nowhere better to be than the Union Square Farmers Market. At the peak of the season, there are almost 150 farmers, fishermen and bakers sharing their New York-sourced goods, but there are also 60,000 shoppers enjoying the cooking & canning demonstrations, recycling & composting how-to’s and general camaraderie of the market. I recommend grabbing some local cheese and tomatoes and fresh bread, sitting down in the grass, and watching the world pass by.

Best of all, New York is the perfect place for people-watching. No matter when you go, or where you stay, just make sure you have time to wander through the different boroughs and imagine your life as a New Yorker.

Pickling Punk Rock Style

I’d like to introduce you to my friend and fellow gardener Laura Mathews. She’s a garden writer and photographer who contributes to several websites including Punk Rock Gardens. She’s also the Northeast Garden Guru for Proven Winners. Laura attended our annual blogger event at the farm, Garden2Blog, in 2011.

While scouring the virtual garden for harvesting and preserving tips I discovered that Laura knew quite a bit on pickling. I asked her to share her knowledge, which she very graciously did. Plus a recipe for bread and butter pickles you can freeze. I can’t wait to try them.

If you have questions for Laura and just want to find out more good gardening information look her up on Twitter (@punkrockgardens) or Facebook or visit PunkRockGardens.com.

At times in the growing season, the bounty from our vegetable gardens can be a bit overwhelming. Many of our backyard vegetable garden favorites mature within weeks of each other. One way out to this annual pickle… is to pickle.

Pickling may seem like a frightening black art practiced only by women of the past with extraordinary quantities of technical kitchen skill, but it’s actually much less complex than say, maintaining a quality compost pile. With attention to a couple important things, pickling is easy. It also generates a lot of value. Pickling turns inexpensive homegrown vegetables into crunchy, tangy delights that cost far less than they would at the grocery.

The first thing to grasp is that pickling via canning is that it’s not cooking. You cannot safely fiddle with the recipes. Follow modern recipes to the letter. Make sure your source for the recipe is reputable. Consider as well, employing safer methods of pickling. Grandma’s recipe for refrigerator pickles – that may include letting the pickles stand at room temperature for hours – aren’t considered safe by the USDA. The trendy practice of pickling by fermentation is also best left for those with deep understanding of food safety. Canning your pickles or making easy freezer pickles is the safest way to start.

Next, your pickles will only be as good as the vegetables you use. Find or pick very fresh young cucumbers for pickles. The fresher the cuke, the more natural pectin it contains. This pectin will keep your pickles crisp. Some recipes call for products like pickle crisp or suggest ice baths to preserve the crunch. Make sure to cut off the blossom end of the cucumber because it contains enzymes that will soften the cucumber. If you’re purchasing cucumbers, don’t buy any that have been waxed. The wax will interfere with the pickling processes.

Vinegar is key to pickling. Acidity in the vinegar is what keeps microorganisms from spoiling food. Be sure to check your vinegar labels for acidity percentage. Recipes are tested using vinegar with 5 percent acidity. Don’t skimp on the salt or substitute table salt for canning salt. Additives in table salt will cause cloudy brine. Stay away from Kosher salt unless the recipe specifically calls for it. Kosher salt is measured differently and can cause your pickles to be too salty.

For canned pickles, look for fresh pack recipes. You’ll need sterile jars and a pot large enough to boil several jars at once. A rack or good tongs will be needed to take the hot jars from the canning bath. The steps are easy. The recipe will dictate how to slice the cucumbers. Add the spices and the slices to jars. Cover the vegetables with the hot pickling solution which is mostly comprised of specific proportions of water, vinegar and salt. Seal with hot canning lids and cook for a bit in a boiling water bath. Cooking times for pickles are less than other forms of vegetable canning. After the jars cool, flavors will develop in a matter of weeks and you’ve made your own pickles.

If you want a no heat and no worries place to start, try freezer pickles. This is also fun to do with children. This recipe comes from Martha Zepp, Lancaster County Food Preservation Consultant with Penn State Cooperative Extension.

Martha’s Freezer Bread and Butter Pickles

Step 1
7 cups thinly sliced cucumbers
1 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons canning salt

Layer cucumbers, onion, and salt in a glass bowl or non-metallic bowl. Weight down and cover. Do not add water. Let stand overnight in refrigerator.

Step 2
2 cups sugar
1 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon celery seed (this can be adjusted for taste. Try adding some mustard seed.)

Next morning, combine, but do not cook, 2 cups sugar, 1 cup white vinegar, and 1 teaspoon celery seed, Zepp says. Stir until very smooth and sugar is dissolved. Drain sliced cucumbers and rinse well. Return to bowl, add syrup and refrigerate an additional 24 hours. Place into freezer containers leaving 1/2 inch headspace and freeze.

Pickling is simply an artful mix of vegetable, acid, spices, sugar and salt. Don’t limit your pickling to cucumbers. Dilly beans are a personal favorite. Adding a little vinegar, some spices and salt to vegetables is really all that’s required to preserve your garden veggies while adding flavor and interest.