Monday, April 27, 2009

Blotanical – A Garden Blog Reader's Best Friend

It wasn’t long ago that our lives existed without blogs. In fact, those were the days when a “blog” sounded like something to clean up with a paper towel, to paraphrase my photographer friend Isabel Gomes.

That’s the past, however. Today there are literally a gazillion blogs out there with loyal readers – and many of them feature great gardening tips.  
Where to begin? Well, Blotanical will get you off to a good start. The directory features more than 1,350 gardening blogs from 60 different countries. 

To get the scoop, Seasonal Wisdom spoke with Blotanical founder Stuart Robinson of Busselton, Western Australia.  Here’s what he had to say:
Reason behind Blotanical?
Stuart says his desire was “to have one place where you could find, and interact with, garden bloggers who lived locally and also those who lived in other countries.”

Importance of directories like Blotanical?
“Blotanical helps us reach out to those around us who have similar garden experiences and learn from those who have more [knowledge] while giving back to those who are keen to learn,” he explains.  “The directory is very helpful as a starting point for this interaction.”
Pleasant surprises?
“I love to hear stories of relationships that have been forged through this site,” says Stuart. “I think it is one of the most endearing traits of Blotanical.  It’s an element that can’t be counterfeited, yet when it’s apparent it is obvious that the directory is healthy and growing.”
New developments in pipeline?
Look for new features to be added soon to the directory. “As a site, Blotanical is only just warming up,” adds Stuart. “In the next 12-18 months, I think we will see some amazing features put in the hands of gardeners.”

For more information, visit 

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Vegetable Gardens Way Up This Year

Step aside lawn and grass. You're no longer the number-one spending priority for gardeners in the United States.

Yes, I understand you've held this position since 2003. But you've been replaced by vegetables and fruit this year. Pure and simple.

If you don't believe me, just look at the 2009 Early Spring Garden Trends Research Report released this month by the Garden Writers Association Foundation.

We know you did your best, lawn and grass. In fact, consumers are expected to spend the same on overall lawn and grass expenditures as they did last year.

It's just that spending for vegetables and fruit is expected to grow eight percent in 2009. How do you like them apples?

Why the rapid growth? One reason why so many gardeners are growing their own food is concern about the economy, according to Anne Van Nest, president of Garden Writers Association.

"But it also speaks to their worries about food safety and how far food has to travel from the fields to our tables," Van Nest said. "Consumers want fresh food that tastes good and there's nothing more local than the backyard."

In fact, 3 out of 4 gardeners said "better quality, taste and nutrition" were the main reasons that vegetable and fruit plants were getting the lion's share (35 percent) of their gardening dollars this spring.

But don't despair, lawn and grass. When you combine gardeners' first and second most important spending priorities, you're still number one.

How long you'll stay in that position, however, there's no telling. Once gardeners get a taste of home-grown vegetables and fruits, it often becomes a lifelong love. Consider yourself warned -- there's less room in the garden for lawn and grass this year.

Images credit: These photos were shot by Isabel Gomes a couple years back in my California garden.

Are you growing more vegetables and fruit in your garden this year?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sprouting Seeds for Speedy Summer Plants

This spring I've decided to try something new with the seeds I'm sowing in my garden.

Typically, I'll wait until after May 8 (last average frost day in Boise) to direct seed those warm-season plants like heirloom beans, winter squash and cucumbers right into the soil.

But this year I'm attempting to get a head start by starting these plants inside. I do know beans, squash and cucumbers prefer to be direct seeded in the garden. Yet I figured I can always plant more seeds outside in May. Why not experiment now?

First, I presprouted the seeds by placing them in wet napkins. Each plant variety was in its own napkin. Then I placed the napkins in a sealed plastic bowl or container. Tip: keep track of what you're sprouting by making a list.

To avoid diseases, I prewashed my container with hot soapy water. (If I was particularly concerned, I could have also wiped it with 70 percent rubbing alcohol or rinsed it in diluted bleach water.) Each day, I opened the napkins to check on the seeds' progress. This allowed a little air circulation, which was helpful for germination.

After several days, some seeds had sprouted. The fastest (from left to right) were burpless cucumbers, 'Dragon's Tongue' beans and 'Musquee de Provence' squash. Once the seeds had sizeable roots, they were planted with seed starter mix into 4" plantable pots to reduce transplant shock down the road.

I selected peat-free pots after learning recently that it takes 220 years to replace the peat stripped away in just one year from rare bog habitats. Read more on why peat harvesting is tough on the environment.

About a week later, the beans and squash had already started to grow into strong little plants, as you'll see below.

By the time it's taken me to write this post, these little critters have grown even stronger. I swear. Other new plants have also started to emerge. So, they're off to a good start.

Next steps: In about 5 days, I'll start hardening off the larger plants in a sheltered part of my yard for about a week. Each day, I'll gradually lengthen the time the seedlings are kept outside. Then it's off to the garden plot.

Will they all survive? Or will some grow too large before it's time to transplant? Very good questions. Tune in to see what happens... Meanwhile, how do you get your warm-weather plants off to a speedy start?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Poisonous Plants for Pets

Meet Maggie O'Connor, the newest addition to our family. She's a sweet-tempered, lovable hound mix that we adopted from the Idaho Humane Society a few months ago. Isn't she a beauty?

Keeping her safe is our top priority. That's why we knew it was important to familiarize ourselves with plants that could make pets like Maggie sick.

What's Dangerous? According to the Humane Society, there are hundreds of plants that can cause everything from mild nausea to death in animals. Here's their list.

Coleus, chamomile, calla lilies and chrysanthemums are just a few popular plants that can make your pup ill, reports the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

Incidentally, these coleus (or "coleuses," if you're a stickler for grammar) were grown by Elaine and Pat McCoy from seeds. Fortunately, the McCoy's two dogs -- Hillary and Clinton -- stay far away from these plants.

Biggest Problems? To determine the plants most likely to poison pets, Veterinary Pet Insurance Company (VPI) reviewed more than 400 claims it received for these types of incidents in 2008. The top 10 poisonous plants most likely to be ingested by pets are:

1. Raisins/Grapes
2. Mushrooms
3. Marijuana
4. Lily
5. Walnuts
6. Onion
7. Sago Palm
8. Macadamia Nuts
9. Azalea
10. Hydrangea

Did Your Pet Eat a Poisonous Plant? If you think your pet is ill or may have ingested a poisonous plant, the ASPCA advises you to call your local veterinarian or its 24-hour emergency hotline directly at 1-888-426-4435.

As for Maggie... It's discouraging that so many plants can make our pets sick. With Maggie, we're limiting her exposure to various plants, and we're correcting her whenever she tries to eat any plant. So far, she seems disinterested, fortunately.

Meanwhile, we welcome any pet-friendly suggestions for gardens that work for you.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Earth Day 2009

"I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues."
The Lorax (1971), Dr. Seuss

Earth Day is one of the best ways to speak out and show your support for the trees, the flowers, the mountains, the beaches and all the rest of nature.  And speak out, people do.

In 1970, an amazing 20 million people across the United States participated in the first Earth Day.  Nearly 40 years later, Earth Day is the world's largest environmental event. Almost 1 billion people participated in Earth Day 2007.  And that number should grow even larger this year.

Earth Day's founder, the late Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, believed the event was successful because it allowed concerned citizens to speak out for nature.

With Earth Day, Senator Nelson explained, "The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes and air, and they did so with spectacular exuberance."   

Here's more of what he had to say.
How You Can Get Involved in 2009

Plant trees. Clean beaches. Restore forests. Even build city gardens. There are lots of ways you can participate in Earth Day 2009.
Earth Day officially falls on April 22, however, many activities are planned for the weekend before.  Earth Day Network and Green Apple Festival have planned volunteer events April 17-19 in New York, Boston, Washington DC, Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Austin, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. Not to mention some pretty cool concerts as well.  Learn more.

You can find more events and volunteer opportunities at EPA's Earth Day site. And don't forget the Earth Day Network. You'll find activities around the globe and you can calculate your ecological footprint all while drinking your coffee.  Check it out!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Happy Easter!

Since the earliest times, spring and the renewal of life after winter have been celebrated around Easter. Most people know Easter as a Christian holiday marking the resurrection of Jesus.

But here are Easter facts you might not know:

Ancient Links: Venerable Bede (circa 672-735) believed Easter was derived from Eostre, an Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring. This ancient goddess was called many names, including Ostare, Ostara, Ostern, Eastur and Austron.

Some scholars – particularly the British historian Ronald Hutton – aren't completely convinced that Bede's evidence conclusively links Easter with this goddess and a pre-Christian festival.

But some facts appear certain: April was called Estor-monath (or something similar) in Germanic languages around Bede's time. And the Anglo-Saxon word eastre is linked to several Indo-European words signifying dawn.

In other words, new beginnings have been celebrated around this day for a very long time.

Spring Equinox: Easter is held on the first Sunday – after the first full moon – after the spring equinox.

If Easter Sunday falls on the full moon, the holiday is postponed until the following Sunday.
That means Easter can occur any time March 22 to April 25. The sequence is so complicated that it takes 5.7 million years to repeat.

Time for the New: Want good luck for the year? Then wear something new today. Otherwise, you'll be sorry, according to this old proverb:

“At Easter, let your clothes be new
Or else be sure you will it rue.”

Easter Bunny: It has long been said that fertile folks can “breed like rabbits.” No wonder many ancient cultures associated rabbits and hares with fertility, regeneration and spring. Old folklore believed rabbits cured sterility or difficult pregnancies. Even now it's considered good luck to carry a rabbit's foot.

Perhaps the only ones who don’t consider rabbits a lucky symbol are the gardeners who have seen their flowers and vegetables devoured by the furry critters.

Immigrating Germans brought the Easter bunny to the United States. But the tradition wasn't widely adopted in this country until after the Civil War.

Easter Eggs: It's hard to imagine Easter without eggs. Yet, this tradition has roots that extend back to the earliest known civilizations. In fact, eggs represented rebirth and fertility to many ancient cultures.

As Ronald Hutton writes in Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, “The bird’s egg has always been one of the most ubiquitous human symbols of new life in general and of spring in particular.”

Ancient Greeks, Persians, Egyptians and Romans exchang
ed eggs during spring festivals.

In 1290, the household of British King Edward I purchased and decorated 450 eggs in gold leaf to distribute among his royal entourage.

By the 1600s, Germans were exchanging decorated eggs at Easter – especially among young lovers.

In Central and Eastern Europe, egg decoration has become a true art form. Ukrainian Easter eggs – called “pysanka” – are especially popular. Learn more from the Ukrainian Museum.

And who can forget the fabulous Faberge eggs created for the Russian Tzars? Diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires adorned these exquisite eggs that often depicted important moments in Russian history.

Green Easter: Looking for ways to celebrate Easter in a more earth friendly way? Then hop on over to Huffington Post for lots of green ways to celebrate this spring holiday.

Images Credit: The lovely vintage Easter cards illustrating this post came from an amazing collection belonging to riptheskull on

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

iPhone Garden Photo Tip

You know how it is. The perfect garden photo is right in front of you. But you've forgotten your camera -- and all you have is your cell phone.

Don't despair. This photo was taken by Kurt Triffet of Triffet Design Group using an iPhone and a 3-lens pocketsized magnifying glass bought at RadioShack.

Kurt advises, "Just cover the iPhone lens with one or more of the magnifying lens and you can get a shot like this."

Incidentally, the ladybugs in this picture were photographed on Kurt's lemon tree, which just happens to be blooming right now. You can imagine how heavenly it must smell in his coastal California garden these days.

Great Victory Garden Resource

So, now that you've learned a bit about the Victory Gardens in WWI/WWII -- not to mention how one artist interprets The Victory Garden of Tomorrow -- are you hooked yet?

Want to learn more about Victory Gardens? No problem. Just get yourself over to Red, White and Grew.

It's a wonderful clearinghouse of resources, ideas and viable strategies for encouraging more Victory Gardens to be built in communities throughout the United States. Don't miss her blog. Spread the word.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Historian Looks Back at Victory Gardens

Imagine a world where millions of healthy kitchen gardens are created throughout the nation, for the rich and the poor, because the government makes it the patriotic thing to do.

Is this idea some wild and strange utopian concept? Nope. It's happened before in the United States. In fact, the seeds of this initiative sprouted more than 90 years ago.

To learn more about these old wartime gardens and how they continue to impact our public policy, I turned to Rose Hayden-Smith.

A practicing U.S. historian, Rose is a nationally recognized expert on Victory Gardens, wartime food policies and school garden programs. She's also a 2008-2009 Kellogg Food and Society Policy Fellow, and has long been actively involved in regional and national Master Gardener and 4-H programs. This year, she became the first woman director of Ventura County’s U.C. Cooperative Extension Service.

Recently, Rose sat down with me to give me the dirt on Victory Gardens:

Q: There’s a lot of talk about Victory Gardens these days – especially after the exciting news that a kitchen garden will be built at the White House for the first time since Eleanor Roosevelt. Why were Victory Gardens important to our nation’s history?

A: The Victory Gardens of WWI and WWII provided a way for the government to increase the health and vitality of American citizens.

Victory Gardens reconnected rapidly growing urban populations back to the land, and taught those in the cities how to grow their own food again.
At the same time, these gardens allowed citizens to express solidarity, patriotism and shared sacrifice during challenging periods in our nation’s history.

Every socio-economic group grew Victory Gardens. Not just at homes, but at schools, parks, open lots and government buildings too. The campaigns were highly successful.

Q: Sounds interesting. How were the gardens supported?

A: During WWI, a nationalized school garden program was created by the Federal Bureau of Education and funded with War Department monies. The result was the United States School Garden Army – which led millions of students to build gardens at school, at home and in their communities. These young “soldiers of the soil” grew food for the nation.
Using the power of mass media, the government also launched the highly successful Liberty Garden campaign (later named the Victory Garden campaign after the Armistice). The campaign encouraged Americans of all ages to build gardens. Within two years, nearly 2 million new home food-producing gardens had been created.

These programs were so successful the campaign was reinstated during WWII. Twelve days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the government held a National War Garden Defense Conference. This launched a Victory Garden campaign that called upon Americans of all ages to garden for the nation and the world.

By 1943, nearly 40 percent of fresh fruit and vegetables were grown in school, home and community gardens. More food was being exported to troops and starving European allies. And an estimated three-fifths of Americans participated in some type of gardening activity. Even Eleanor Roosevelt had a Victory Garden at the White House.
Q: What have you found most fascinating in your research?

A: The same issues important during WWI are still relevant more than 90 years later. Back then, the government worried about the security and quality of our food sources.

They wondered how to reconnect people (especially children) to the land. And they were looking for inexpensive ways to improve nutritional levels in diets.

Today, we’re still grappling with these issues.

Fortunately, these old Victory Gardens provide us with plenty of lessons learned. Not to mention, several successful historical models that can direct our public policy today.

Q: Why is the Obama garden so important for the nation?

A: The White House is the nation’s first house. So, it sets a wonderful example for our citizens. This kitchen garden will significantly increase public awareness of the benefits of gardening and eating locally.

Incidentally, one of the most active supporters of this garden was Roger Doiron. He’s the founder of Kitchen Gardeners International and a 2008-2009 Kellogg Food and Society Policy Fellow. Roger’s Eat the View campaign is an important grass-roots program that drew national attention to this topic.

Q: Do you expect to see more such gardens nationally?

A: I certainly hope so. I’d love to see more kitchen gardens built on public spaces all over the nation.

I’m particularly excited about the planned USDA People’s Garden. I was honored to attend a forum about this garden in March, along with representatives from the National Gardening Association, Audubon Society, Seed Savers Exchange and other organizations.

The USDA demonstration garden removes 1,250 square feet of unnecessary paved surface. Instead, it transforms this space into a sustainable garden filled with edibles, native plants and progressive conservation and energy-efficiency ideas that citizens can apply to their own homes.

In fact, the USDA hopes to build community gardens at all its facilities worldwide. So, progress is definitely underway.

Q: What can we learn from these historic gardens?

A: Victory Gardens remind us that the United States has created a successful national gardening program before – and we can certainly do it again.

Some say these gardens are a fad. That they can’t contribute much to our culture. Yet, we’ve seen Victory Gardens can provide meaningful food production, when enough people participate. Not to mention, all the other benefits that go along with a program like this.

When you think about it, there aren’t any downsides to encouraging more Americans to garden. There really are only positives.

Learn more about Victory Gardens, Rose’s research, public policy models and other related topics at:

Rose’s VictoryGrower blog
Rose’s VictoryGrower Web site
Roses's VictoryGrower on Twitter

The Victory Garden of Tomorrow

Call these art posters the answer to old-fashioned Victory Garden propaganda for the 21st century.

At The Victory Garden of Tomorrow, Portland, Oregon-based artist Joe Wirtheim mixes vintage-style themes with contemporary concerns about organic foods, recycling, composting and more.

Fun art that promotes a good cause. What could be better? Check 'em out!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

April in Paris

"The last time I saw Paris
Her heart was warm and gay,
I heard the laughter of her heart in every street café."
Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960)

The year was 2004. As my friend Marian Dunshee wandered the streets of Paris one April afternoon, she happened upon Au Nom de la Rose, a lovely little florist and gift shop on rue du Bac in the 7th arrondissement.

From bouquets to beauty products to marmalades, this charming store celebrates everything to do with roses. Even its romantic street display reminds one of a private courtyard garden.

Speaking of small private gardens, here's another jewel from that spring day in Paris. The garden is literally bursting with cheerful flowers like pansies, primroses and tulips. Let's hope it sparked smiles on those rainy April afternoons.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Are You Fooling? It's April!

"Hail April, the Medea of the year,
That makest all things young and fresh appear."
R. Chambers, The Book of Days, 1866

It's the first day of April. Each day, spring grows stronger in its fight against winter. And our gardens start to look especially lovely after months of gray, dreary days.

The colorful bulb garden (above) belongs to my neighbors, Elaine and Pat McCoy. Stroll around their suburban garden and you can tell Elaine was trained as a master gardener in Idaho. The soil is amended each year with well-aged cow manure, and they are meticulous about cleaning up debris that might have overwintered pests and pathogens.

The effort shows in the McCoy's thriving gardens. I shot this picture last year around mid-April. Wait until you see how lovely their vegetable garden will look in a few months. These two are experts at growing loads of edibles in a small amount of space. Most of which they started from seeds.

And I'm not fooling! Even though today is called "All Fool's Day."

Incidentally, is it stormy where you are? That's not a bad thing, according to this old proverb:

"If it thunders on All Fools' Day
it brings good crops of corn and hay."