Fresh Holiday Greenery Without the Hassle

See how to customize fresh evergreen wreaths for the holidays. Read my column in this month’s AY Magazine. Click here.

I’ve always found the holiday season to be a magical time of year, and nothing says it better than fresh greenery adorning your home. After years of making individual pieces by hand for my friends, I started designing fresh greenery holiday décor, and now you can have these pieces in your own home. This year, my Holiday Collection is made from beautiful Noble Fir, the finest and most fragrant pieces handcrafted by my friends at Berry Family of Nurseries . I’ve created several designs that I’m sure you’ll love because beautiful styles and wonderful aromas of my Holiday Collection are the perfect way to enjoy the holiday season. The best part is that there’s a little something to bring the holidays to every style and every space.

You can purchase the Colonial, Chocolate & Spice, Williamsburg, Lodge, and Classic Collections online at and the Rustic Collection at The Collection is also available at independent garden centers across the country, select Sam’s Club stores, and Reasor’s in northeast Oklahoma.

Hobby Farm Dreaming

I was delighted to receive a copy of Julia Rothman’s book Farm Anatomy, The Curious Parts & Pieces of Country Life from Storey Publishing. You may be familiar with Julia’s illustrations, wall papers, notecards and pattern designs. She has been featured on the blog Design Sponge ( and in magazines such as O At Home, ReadyMade, and Domino.

This book is right up my alley. Not only does the subject matter interest me, but it’s a visual treat. Whether she’s discussing plants to use for natural dye or how to plow a field, Julia relies on illustrations with just a bit of text to convey the information. This makes otherwise complicated topics pretty darn easy to understand. Makes me wonder why other books aren’t written this way.

Of course, the clincher for me is the spread on heritage turkey breeds. How can I not love a book that includes heritage turkey breeds?

So how about a copy of Farm Anatomy for your library? Post a comment about what you would raise on a farm for a chance to win Farm Anatomy. I’ll pick a winner Monday December 12, 2011.*

Check out more of Julia’s illustrations online at & read her book blog at

Coffee Table Books Make Great Gifts

I’ve always loved the gift giving tradition of the holidays. We have a large family so we tend to stick to simple and thoughtful pieces, and one of my favorite gifts to give is coffee table books. They are elegant and cost-effective and with so many quality ones to choose from, you can really personalize this gift to the recipient. I’ve recently discovered two books written by dear friends that I can’t wait to wrap up and place beneath the tree, Empress of the Garden by G. Michael Shoup and Natural Companions, The Garden Lover’s Guide to Plant Combinations by Ken Druse.

Empress of the Garden

Text and Photographs by G. Michael Shoup

200 pages with color photographs

ISBN: 0-9678213-2-0

$39, available for purchase online or at the Antique Rose Emporium

Empress of the Garden tells the story of antique roses and is bold in every sense of the word. Behind its square cover lies an immense library of stunning photos and descriptions of the ancient roses that Shoup has spent the last 25 years breeding and researching. He identifies these roses under a variety of types of women like Drama Queens, Captive Spirits, Tenacious Tomboys and Big Hearted Homebodies and his brief but detailed description of each breed includes adjectives about each of their personalities. With his intimate knowledge of the history and lineage of these old garden roses, Shoup seems to have a personal relationship with each of them. Whether you’re looking for the perfect rose for your garden or simply looking to be inspired, this is a coffee table book deserving of the many fine adjectives that its author assigns to his roses.

Natural Companions: The Garden Lover’s Guide to Plant Companions

By Ken Druse, Botanical Photographs by Ellen Hoverkamp

250 pages with color photographs

ISBN: 978-1-58479-901-6

$40, available for online purchase Amazon or Abram’s Books

Natural Companions is equally stunning, and where Empress focuses solely on roses, Natural Companions explores the entire plant kingdom. Garden writer Druse shares his immense horticulture knowledge to show recipes for the perfect plant pairing for every yard and experience level. His simple, streamlined style presents different ways to plan your garden to have diverse species that complement one another and bloom at the same time. From color to fragrance to type of plant, there is a how-to for every gardener. And even the blackest thumb can be inspired by the full-page images of gardens across America. This coffee table book is sure to capture the eye of gardeners and designers alike.

Apple Seeds Teaches Kids Healthy Nutrition through Gardening

I want to get on my “seed box” for a minute about a topic that shouldn’t be a topic in one of the richest countries in the world – childhood hunger. Arkansas has the highest rate of childhood hunger in the nation. At the same time, approximately 38 percent of Arkansas students have been found to be overweight or at risk of being overweight each school year. My recent visit to Northwest Arkansas and the Apple Seeds afterschool program introduced me to those baffling statistics, but also made me wonder “how do we fix it?”

According to Beth Ashbaugh, executive director of Apple Seeds, it’s all about community buy-in.

Apple Seeds is an after-school program based in three Fayetteville schools that focuses on creating healthy lifestyles for students and their families. School gardens, cooking, field trips, and farm-to-fork initiatives are what make healthy living come alive for these students. Their hands-on activities help teach them to make lifelong nutritious food choices and to create a sustainable food system.

“Gardening is just the catalyst to get the kids interested in something they wouldn’t be likely to care about otherwise,” said Lucy Kagan, an AmeriCorp VISTA volunteer and the Plant to Plate coordinator for Apple Seeds.

At Owl Creek Elementary, one of the afterschool gardening programs, there are six adult volunteers that make the program a success. They have students work in the gardens, write about what they’re seeing, cook with the ingredients that they’ve grown, and eat these healthy snacks.
“The organization has been growing and empowering healthy children for seven years, but we saw a huge jump in the impact of the program once we started getting more community participation,” Ashbaugh said.

While Ashbaugh organizes the gardens and shows kids how to plant, she says that it’s the knowledge of the other program leaders that truly brings that information to life. A local chef teaches the students’ parents how to cook simple, healthy meals, the 5th grade science teacher uses the gardens as a lab for the students, and the school nurse instructs the kids on fitness and healthy living choices.

“Our mission can go so much farther when other people, especially experts, offer their skills,” Ashbaugh said. “One of our goals is to find community partners that we can set up with the resources that they need and support them. They, in turn, support these kids.”

Kagan’s goal is for every child to know where his or her food comes from, and she thinks the program is making that a reality.

“The change in attitudes that you see from kids after three weeks of working in a garden is amazing,” she said. “There’s an attitude of positive peer pressure with ‘who can eat the weirdest thing’ and the students see a connection with their bodies and what they eat. You never know what will lead kids to make better eating choices in the future, but it’s happening here every day.”

Just witnessing the program in action was an inspiration, but like Kagan and Ashbaugh pointed out, “there’s something like this in every community- it’s going mainstream now.”

“People are looking for alternatives. The economy is weak, we have more access to information about good foods versus bad foods, and people want to know about and cook their own food. They just need a little guidance and advice, and we can do that.”

I encourage you to reach out to these types of programs in your own community. You never know how your skills might help create healthier lives.

Old Traditions, New Recipes


During the holidays, I always look forward to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of a Smith Family Christmas. The holiday traditions of my family have been carried throughout the years, and I love passing our family stories and recipes on to my nieces and nephews. This year, though, I’m hoping to create a new tradition around the dinner table with an alternative to our typical recipes- this year, I’m making Pekin Duck.

Pekin Duck is one of my favorite “sounds fancy, cooks easy” main dishes, and when paired with a citrus glaze it is a beautiful and delicious meal with a holiday twist. Long Island Ducks are what we know as “Pekin.” They were bred in China and in 1873, exported to Long Island. It’s the most common duck meat consumed in the U.S. and in my opinion, the tastiest. We tend to rely on the holiday meal staples, but I think trying out a different bird this year will be a hit and hopefully start a tradition of trying new recipes each holiday.

Pekin Duck with Mandarin Sauce