Homegrown Wedding Flowers

Click the cover image to read more of Allen's wedding bouquet ideas on AYMag.com.Whether you’re saying “I do” in spring, summer or fall, there are a bounty of blooms that are easy to grow for use in arrangements and bouquets. Here are a few of my favorite, garden stems for these three seasons.

Spring

Daffodils – If you’ve been to my farm, you know daffodils are one of my favorites. Plant the bulbs in the late fall and you’ll enjoy vases full of the yellow charmers as soon as the temperatures begin to warm.

Peonies – Peonies are one of the hardiest and most resilient plants in the garden. What’s more their prime time for blooming starts in mid-May and runs through June—perfect for the wedding season. If you plan to cut peonies from the garden, I suggest selecting half-opened blooms, simply because they will last longer.

Tulips – You can find a tulip in just about any shade and there are a variety of bloom shapes too. Plant bulbs in fall. Check the bloom time for the variety to make sure it will be in flower at the time of your ceremony.

Bouquet Idea
Contrast the cup shape of tulips with the soft curves of calla lilies. I think yellow calla lilies paired with pale yellow to cream tulips would be lovely.

Summer

Hydrangeas – Because hydrangeas are so full you only need a few stems to create a lush bouquet. It’s important to know Hydrangeas do have a tendency to lose their vitality, so you’ll want to keep them in a cool place and give them plenty of water after they are cut. If possible, cut them the morning of the wedding to ensure the freshest bouquet.

Lilies – Lilies will come back year after year and be prolific producers of open full blooms. White Oriental lilies make for an elegant and fragrant bouquet. For the best color selection choose an Asiatic variety. Be sure to remove lily stamens to keep the pollen from getting on clothes.

Zinnias – Plant zinnias and you’ll enjoy a bounty of wildflower-like beauty from early summer until the first frost. I like cutting these and loosely arranging a mason jar for an effortless look. For a bouquet, I suggest tying with natural raffia.

Bouquet Idea
For casual, but colorful flowers mix red, yellow and orange with pink and green zinnias.

Fall

Sunflowers – An iconic symbol of the close of summer and start of fall, cut a few sunflower stalks and loosely assemble with ribbon for a tied bouquet or simply enjoy their beauty in tall metal or glass vase.

Cockscomb – With a vase life of 5-10 days, cockscomb’s modern look makes for a hardy bouquet. Mix with other seasonal selections from your florist or market, such as button mums, for a fall display.

Dahlias – One of the most cheerful blooms in the garden, you’ll want to plant your dahlias around the same time you put tomatoes in the ground. You can expect to have cut flowers from late summer until the first frost.

Bouquet Idea
Any of these blooms would be lovely for a monochromatic arrangement or bouquet. All three offer varieties that produce different bloom forms so you can pick flowers in the same color family, but with different shapes.

Buffalo, Yoga and Black Walnut Pie

I recently spent a great couple of days around the Jasper area shooting some segments for an upcoming episode of my Garden Home television show. This scenic town is nestled in the Ozark Mountains and surrounded by the natural beauty of the Buffalo River.

The Buffalo River Valley

My trip included a stay at the historic Arkansas House. This inn is ideally located along scenic Highway 7 with easy access to both the Buffalo River and Ozark National Forest. Janet Morgan, owner of the Arkansas House with her husband, Joseph, graciously taught me how to make her famous Black Walnut Pie.

Janet showed me how to make the famous Arkansas House Black Walnut Pie.

I also visited with the Ratchford family on their farm. Originally founded in the 1950s, Ratchford Farms grazes buffalo, elk, and cattle on a 500 acre spread. The farm is located along the Buffalo River, which provides a beautiful area for the cattle to roam the open meadows and drink from pure spring water.

Jethro mugs for the camera and for a treat.

Finally, I visited with Holly and Matt Krepps, owners of the Circle Yoga Shala. They were kind enough to walk me around the 25 acre working homestead located on Shiloh Mountain. The property includes a fruit orchard, grape vineyard, pastures, and walking trails. They also showed me some easy, but beneficial yoga poses for gardeners.

A little yoga before gardening.

It was a wonderful trip and I highly recommend spending a few days in this beautiful part of our state.

News from Moss Mountain Farm

Close to 98 percent of U.S. farms are family owned.Arkansas farmers aren’t the only people talking about soybeans in spring. For the second year in a row we’ve held two events at the Moss Mountain Farm Garden Home to help spread the word about the importance of agriculture and soybean farming in my home state. Both events were born out of my partnership with the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board.

Soybean University
First up on the calendar was Soybean University. Students from the Brinkley FFA and Arkansas 4-H visited the farm to learn about careers in agriculture and soybean farming.

More than 30 students attended.

Rhonda Carroll lives on a soybean farm with her husband Jim. She showed the kids how to make soy milk with raw beans. If you don’t have soybeans growing outside your back door like Rhonda you can purchase them from a feed store, a health food store or online.

Students then test tasted soy milk with soy nut cookies. Get the recipe.

We walked up to Poultryville to discuss the importance of soy in animal feed.

Moose was in heaven.

As were Smudge and Squeak.

Ben Thrash, a student at the University of Arkansas is an Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board Fellowship recipient. He spoke with students about careers in agriculture, the impact of agriculture in Arkansas and his background as part of a farm family from Conway, AR.

Students planted Arkansas Kirksey Edamame seeds, which were developed as a part of an ASPB research project and are now grown throughout the river valley region of Arkansas.

We ended the day with an ice cream social featuring soy ice cream and candy-coated soy nuts.

Bean2Blog
Mid-May the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board and I put together a day of workshops focusing one of our state’s most valuable assets – the soybean. All the attendees were Arkansas women bloggers so we got to celebrate a talented group of women too.

The bloggers heard from West Higginbotham, Vice Chairman of the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board and an Arkansas farmer, about soybean uses and farming life.

Tamara won the Bean2Blog ticket giveaway on Facebook and arrived at the event looking for ideas for the farm she recently purchased. I think the highlight of the day was holding Amos.

Once again Moose was the center of attention.

Lockstars was on hand again this year to demonstrate how to make soy candles.

I demonstrated how to make edamame hummus.

We asked each of the bloggers to come up with a new catch word for soy. Soy-licious, soy-tisfying, soy-percalifragilisticexpialidocious, soy-ragious, soy-lovely, soy-izzle, and soy-tastic are just a few of the creative words they suggested.

During a round table discussion we got to learn from the bloggers about their industry and receive feedback about the day’s events.

Everyone took home edamame seeds to plant.

The 2013 Bean2Blog group!

Here’s a list of the participating bloggers with links to their blogs.

June Bloom – Hydrangea macrophylla

How many of you remember the part of Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty where the fairy godmothers fight over whether Sleeping Beauty’s ball gown should be pink or blue? I think of that scene every time the old-fashioned mophead hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) burst into bloom in June. The colors are so rich they are the stuff of magic.

It’s not a fairy godmother that determines whether this hydrangea’s blooms are pink or blue, it is aluminum. Lots of aluminum makes for blue flowers, lack of aluminum and the blooms will be pink.

The pH of the soil determines how much aluminum H. macrophylla can absorb.

Sweet soils (pH of 6.0 to 6.2) = pink hydrangea blooms.

Neutral soils (pH of 5.5 to 6.5) = purple blooms.

Acidic soils (pH of 5.5 and lower) = blue blooms.

Add lime to the soil for pink blooms; add aluminum sulfate for blue blooms. The amount of lime or aluminum sulfate needed depends on the soil composition.

If you are dead set on your hydrangea being pink or blue, grow it in a container where you can easily control the soil pH.

Two Days and One Pond

Last week we hosted our third annual Garden2Blog workshop. We get together with our Garden Home Partners and invite garden bloggers from around the country to spend two days with us at the Moss Mountain Farm Garden Home. It offers the chance for all of us to do something kind of old fashioned – have a face-to-face conversation.

This year our partner Laguna Ponds did something that I thought was pretty amazing. They installed a water feature in two days. Come to find out, it wasn’t amazing at all because it’s that easy to put in a pond. The hardest part about the project is digging the hole.

We placed the pond behind my brother’s new house where you can see and hear it from the back deck.

One day one the Laguna team dug the hole, put down the liner and edged the pond with native stone.

The Durashield Pond Liner they used is good for natural looking water gardens because it will conform to curves and shelves.

When they dug it the guys created a shelf around the hole for stacking native rock to secure and conceal the liner.

On the second day the pond was filled with water and the bloggers added plants.

Pebbles packed in around the native stone further hides the liner and gives the edge of the pond a finished look.

These floating planters make it possible to grow just about anything in the pond including flowers and herbs.

The waterfall leading to the pond. I think Chris and his wife Joyce are really going to enjoy the soothing sound of this!

 

 

Small Beginnings, Big Rewards

Children who are involved in gardening reap benefits that are both tangible and intangible. Studies show they tend to eat more vegetables and be healthier overall, while growing a portion of their own food provides them with a sense of self-reliance, knowledge of plants, awareness of the seasons and higher self-esteem. Involvement in gardening helps them understand their connection to the earth and encourages eco-friendly living. Moreover, hands-on experience with gardening connects them with the agricultural roots of America.

I believe that teaching children to garden helps them to see the parallels between the care and growth of living things with the care and growth of their own lives, families and communities. You could say that it’s my mission to grow more gardeners so I was delighted when Bonnie Plants asked me to travel to southeast Arkansas to meet Emily McTigrit of Star City’s Jimmy Brown Elementary School.

Emily grew a 16-pound cabbage with a circumference of 43.5 inches this year, making her Arkansas’ Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program winner.

Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program provides more than one million free cabbage plants to 3rd grade classes around the country each year. This program fosters a love of vegetable gardening in youth. Here’s how it works: Children raise their cabbages at home or in the school garden with the goal of growing a monster-size cabbage. The variety, the O.S. Cross, produces giant heads, and some have been known to grow up to 50 pounds. That’s right— a 50-pound head of cabbage! At the end of the season, the child who grows the largest cabbage in the state wins a $1,000 scholarship.

Emily was presented with her check in a school-wide assembly, and I interviewed her for my TV show. She told me all about how she watered and fertilized the cabbage, made sure to pick a sunny location and how the 16 pounds of cabbage provided her family with buckets of coleslaw.

Visit BonnieCabbageProgram.com to see more big cabbages and learn how to participate in the program.

Deer Resistant Plants? Fact or Fiction?

Raise your hand if deer like to graze in your garden. How many different tactics have you tried to protect your plants? Have you tried hanging bars of soap from tree limbs, sprayed predator urine or scattered human hair around flower beds?

While these inventive measures may work temporarily, a long term solution requires a holistic approach. First, you have to give up the idea that you are ever going to deer proof your garden. Unless you build a 7-foot tall fence around your place, there’s not much you can do to keep them out. Next, make your garden less appealing to deer. Stop planting their favorites like tulips, roses and hostas and choose plants that deer are less inclined to eat. A few plant characteristics to look out for are fuzzy foliage, an antiseptic aroma and a bad taste.

Are there plants that are 100 percent deer resistant? No. The truth is that deer will eat anything when food is scarce, but if your garden is filled with plants that deer find unpleasant, there is a good chance they will move on to the delicacies in your neighbor’s yard.

 

May Bloom – Roses

Come rain or shine the last week of April and first few weeks of May are when the roses in my garden start their spring show. Even though we are a few weeks behind because of cooler than usual weather, the roses are right on schedule. This is good because Mike Shoup of the Antique Rose Emporium is coming for a visit in just a few days.

Mike is an expert on heritage roses so I thought it would be appropriate to invite him to speak on the subject when the roses are at their peak. To make the event even rosier Mike’s talk is at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion where heritage roses abound in the gardens.

I know not everyone can make it to the lecture and not everyone has roses blooming yet so I’m giving away a copy of Mike’s book Empress of the Garden. It’s a big, coffee table-sized book that defines rose varieties by their personalities, which makes it easy to decide if a rose is right for you. Mike introduces us “Balloon-skirted Ladies” and “Petite Party-goers” as well as “Mysterious Ladies.” And let me tell you it’s always good to know you’ve fallen for a “Petulant Diva” before you bring her into the garden.

If you’d like to win a copy of Empress of the Garden tell me what you love most about roses – fragrance, color, rose hips? Just post a comment below. I’ll select a winner at random on May 8th, 2013.

Congrats to Nancy Olig! She’s the winner of this month’s giveaway. Check your inbox Nancy for an email explaining how to get your copy of Mike’s book. Thank you to everyone who participated!

 'Star of the Republic' is a variety in the Pioneer Series developed by Mike and the Antique Rose Emporium.

I grow a hedge of 'Sarah van Fleet' roses at the Moss Mountain Farm Garden Home.

Mike classifies 'Mutabilis' as a "Big-hearted Homebody." The blooms open yellow and mature to pink and then red.

'Sombreuil' is a climber that produces very fragrant blooms. In his book, Mike writes that she is obedient, pure, and enchanting.

'Ballerina' is one of the more carefree roses that I grow in my city Garden Home. She's planted in the front garden in high shade and seems quite happy.

Tomato Tales

This is an excerpt from my column in AY Magazine. Read the entire article here.

Long before social media was even a spark in our collective conscious, bits of “wisdom” have been going viral via word of mouth in the form of old wives tales and folklore.

For me, these stories are interesting because they are part of our oral tradition. For instance, how many of you have heard that it is bad luck to place a hat on a bed or that going out in the cold with wet hair will make you sick?

Of course, my favorite anecdotes are about gardening and some of the best are related to growing tomatoes. It seems everyone’s grandmother had a pearl of wisdom about getting the growing the best tasting tomato.

Matt's Wild Cherry Tomato

Here are a few tomato tales that I’m familiar with. Some are based in fact, while others are pure fiction.

  1. Sprinkle sugar in the planting hole or water your tomatoes with sugar water to make them sweeter. This is untrue. The sweetness of a tomato is determined by the variety. If you want a sweet tomato try planting ‘Sungold’ or ‘Mr. Stripey’.
  2. If you have a tomato plant that is lush, but doesn’t set fruit, beat it with a broom. The idea behind this tip is that the beating will stress the plant and prompt bloom. More blooms mean a better chance for tomatoes. I haven’t tried this one, but the old-timers swear by it.
  3. To prevent blossom end rot add crushed eggshells to the planting hole. This suggestion actually has legs to it. The eggshells are a good source of calcium, which helps reduce blossom end rot.How about you? What’s the best tomato growing “advice” you know? Have you tried any of these tips?

Soil Secrets from an Expert

It’s often said that the secret to successful gardening is good soil. But what’s the secret to getting good soil? I asked Jen Neve, President of Oppenheimer Biotechnology, to shed some light on the mystery.

I first met Jen in 2011 when she spoke to a group of garden writers at Moss Mountain Farm. Her company specializes in growing the microorganism Archaea. Archaea is like the Incredible Hulk of microorganisms. Aggressive, fast and tolerant of harsh conditions, it is used at oil spills to recycle contaminants into natural compounds. The microbes break down complex materials into basic nutrients and trace elements that are beneficial to plants. For this reason Archaea is also a great soil amendment, which is why you’ll find it in fertilizers offered by my friends at Jobe’s Organic Fertilizers.

While she was at the farm I noticed how Jen was able to take fairly complicated information and translate it into something we could all understand – sort of like Archaea! I thought she’d be the perfect person to explain the nature of good soil.

Here are the questions I posed to Jen and her responses.

Allen: A common mantra in gardening is “feed the soil, not the plants.” What does this mean and how can gardeners feed the soil?

Jen Neve: Plants get most of their nutrients from the soil – so the way to have a healthy plant is to make sure your soil is healthy. When you start your garden make sure you use sand, compost and organic fertilizer and mix it into your existing soil. Microbes are hugely important and often chemicals can harm them so they may not exist in sufficient numbers in backyard soil. I suggest using an organic fertilizer that has beneficial bacteria, mycorrhizal fungi and especially Archaea. Plant whatever you want, mulch, and once or twice a year apply organic fertilizer then leave it alone. Too much digging and fiddling disturbs the root system, in fact it disturbs the whole soil structure and can harm your plants. I know I started that way – dig, dig, dig…fiddle, fiddle, fiddle – it was just more work for me without really helping the plants. So my gardening mantra is now “get it established and leave it alone.”

Allen: How can a gardener tell is their soil is healthy? What do you consider to be the most important elements of healthy soil?

Jen: I think the best way to tell if your soil is healthy is to take a look at the soil. Soil is a complex assemblage of decaying organic matter, stable organic matter, fresh residue and many living organisms ranging in size from the tiny bacteria, Archaea, algae, fungi, and protozoa, more complex nematodes and micro-arthropods, to the visible earthworms, insects, small vertebrates, and even plants. The most important elements are signs of life and non-uniformity. By signs of life I mean can you see little creatures in it? Are there bits of plant matter (green as well as decaying)? Can you see grains of sand? Tiny rocks? Perhaps some leaves and sticks? Contrast that to sand in the desert – yes, it’s pretty but it’s uniform & for the most part lifeless.

Allen: How does Archaea contribute to soil health? How is it different from mycorrhizal fungi?

Jen: Within the soil the mycorrhizal fungi establishes a symbiotic relationship with plant roots by penetrating plant root tissues and surrounding root mass to more effectively take in needed nutrients. The Archaea are microorganisms similar to bacteria that work in the soil to release greater amounts of nutrients so the plant can take in nutrition as required. There is a natural cooperation developed between Archaea and beneficial bacteria making them more effective as a group. Archaea also breaks down organic matter into usable forms that plant roots and mycorrhizal fungi can identify, absorb, and ultimately incorporate for new growth. There has been some interesting research in Europe indicating that Archaea have an important role in the nitrogen cycle, one that is completely different than the traditional role limited to bacteria only.

You can think of the mycorrhizal fungi as an extension of the plant roots allowing the plant to use more of the nutrients the Archaea have made available.

Imagine a family all sitting around the dinner table with different kinds of food all along the center of the table – where most of the food is in unopened cans. The Archaea are the can openers, allowing the food to be available but only to the people right in front of the food. If you hand some of the people 2-foot long forks (aka mycorrhizal fungi) they can grab food from anywhere on the table – allowing them a more varied diet and therefore a healthier life.

Allen: Beyond good soil, what’s your best tip for a successful garden?

Jen: Plant what grows & be patient. Seems simple but we all try to make plants grow where WE want them NOW. I always scour all the local nurseries and even big box stores looking for plants in small pots (lots of native plants) and then plant several different kinds all in one area and wait a season to see what happens. Then I buy & plant more of what thrived without extra attention from me. If a “weed” happens to grow and looks pretty then I leave it in the garden. I happen to love the wild English garden look so this method works for me. My friends all say I have a green thumb but actually, I just plant more of what has grown for me. Also, as I mentioned earlier – get the healthy soil established and just leave the soil alone.