Seasonal Wisdom Gardening Food and Folklore Sun, 28 May 2017 20:41:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Review: Troy-Bilt’s TB490 XP™ 4×4 Self-Propelled Mower Sun, 28 May 2017 20:41:59 +0000 ]]>

mower in back yardWhether your garden is flat or hilly, this 4×4 Self-Propelled Mower by Troy-Bilt can handle the challenge. Come check out this product review and see a bit of my garden – along with a surprise visitor!Troy Bilt mower on patio

As many of you know, I’ve reviewed a number of products from Troy-Bilt in recent years. Recently, the company asked me to try out Troy-Bilt’s TB490 XP™ 4×4 Self-Propelled Mower in my garden. Here’s what I learned.

“Troy-Bilt’s TB490 XP™ 4×4 mower is the industry’s first four-wheel drive mower that lets you switch between front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive on the go,” says the website.

You can basically switch with one hand.

Now, I’m a bit of a gypsy. When many of you first met me, I was living in Boise, Idaho on a medium sized lot with several hills. Currently, I’m living in Southern California on a much smaller lot that’s completely flat. Who knows where I’ll end up next…

So, I like the idea that this machine is flexible. We need that feature around here.

motor oil in troy bilt lawn mowerMy lawn mower required about 15 minutes of assembly, although I would imagine that most people would buy their mower already assembled at the store.

This powerful machine has a 190cc* Honda® GCV series engine with Automatic Choke System (ACS) to prevent engine flooding.

adding gas to a troy bilt lawn mowerBe sure to use the motor oil provided by Troy-Bilt, along with clean, fresh gasoline. I also added some fuel stabilizer, because it keeps the mower’s fuel fresh for up to 24 months. And I want to keep things running well, especially when I’m not mowing as often.

IMG_7688There is a rear grass catcher that was easy to attach. But you might want to experiment with the side discharge chute.

By returning the grass clippings to your soil, you can save water and fertilizer. That’s because you are basically returning many of the nutrients back to the turf, while leaving behind a light mulch.

This works best when you can mow more frequently, so the layers aren’t too thick on your turf. My grass was rather long, and I kept the rear grass catcher on this time.

woman and troy bilt lawn mowerI found that the mower started right up. The self propelling mower really made it easier to cut the grass, and I could really feel the oomph when I put the mower in four-wheel drive.

I didn’t get a chance to try the machine on a hill, but maybe in our next home?

I liked the fact that it was easy to adjust the cutting length of the grass. I’m going to leave the grass a little longer, now that we’re coming into our drier season.

lady and troy bilt lawn mowerFrom this angle, you can see how the rear wheels are a bit larger than the front.

There’s also a deck wash that allows you to easily attach a nozzle to rinse grass clippings from the deck’s underside. I didn’t try this out yet, but I have a feeling it’s going to come in handy.

woman with dog and lawn mowerMeanwhile, look who photo bombed me! My hound dog Maggie, who always wants to be part of the story!

I recommend this self propelling motor for gardeners, who need a reliable system that is flexible for all kinds of terrains. It’s a bit like having three machines in one.

With some basic maintenance, this lawn mower should last me through all my future moves, regardless of where we land.

Disclosure: This blog post was sponsored by Troy-Bilt, who also supplied this lawn mower for me to review. I was not told what to write, and my opinion is all mine.

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A Garden Tour in Spring Sun, 21 May 2017 22:39:40 +0000 ]]>

Sage and vegetable gardenAfter a four year drought, California has finally had a rainy winter and spring. My small suburban garden has perked up quite a bit since we bought the property three years ago. So, I thought I would throw open my garden gate and invite you in for a little visit. Especially if you promise not to notice any weeds…

morning viewThere is nothing like opening the kitchen door and looking out on jasmine, scented geraniums, herbs and succulents on a spring day. Rosemary, thyme, marjoram, basil and sage are close enough for flavoring dishes.

blue kitchen gardenEdibles like tomatoes, lettuces, peppers, eggplants and broccoli are mixed among ‘Victoria Blue’ salvia, pink lantana, roses and flowering herbs.

kitchen garden at nightI often combine flowers and food in some of my garden beds, because that allows me more growing space in my small garden. The flowers and flowering herbs attract pollinators like butterflies and bees for my edible plants. Plus, I don’t spray, so there’s no danger to the food plants.

rain barrels and lantanaEven with a rainy winter, we still have water issues in California. So, I’ve installed four rain barrels in my garden, which harvest rain from the gutters.

Did you know that just one inch of rain on a 1,500 square foot house can fill a 50 gallon rain barrel?

I’ve noticed my plants respond much better with rain water than from the tap. When I have four full rain barrels, I feel like a wealthy woman in Southern California.

The purple flowers are verbena, which attracts lots of butterflies and bees. Broccoli is planted underneath.

rosemary, thyme, sageRosemary, thyme, sage and marjoram are gathered in this sunny spot of my garden. They all like these Mediterranean growing conditions.

I let the thyme plants flower to attract bees. The flowers are edible, so when I prune them off, I add them to soups and casseroles.

borageThis borage self seeded itself, as they often do in Southern California. This annual grows best from seed, because it has a long tap root. That’s why I pull up any babies I don’t want, as they don’t transplant well.

The flowers are edible and taste a bit like cucumbers. Add them to salads and soups. Not only humans, but bees love them too. I always have a couple buzzing around in the mornings.

Here are eight edible flowers you can grow in your garden.

artichokesMeanwhile, artichokes thrive in Southern California and this was an excellent spring. I’ve left quite a few on the plant to turn into those luscious purple flowers.

Here’s more about growing artichokes.


And this roque squash self seeded itself in a quiet part of the garden, which surprised us all.

Hope you’re having a great spring. What’s growing in your garden?

Seven Things I Learned About Food Sun, 02 Apr 2017 22:37:45 +0000 ]]> gateIt’s been months since I’ve written in Seasonal Wisdom! My apologies and I’m about to remedy this situation. But one main reason is that I’ve been working on a full-time contract with the University of California’s Office of President to write about food and agriculture for its blog

Why in the world should you care? Well, I’ve learned quite a bit that I wanted to share, including edible gardening tips.  If you like food – and who doesn’t, really? – check out these delicious stories. Photo: Martijn de Valk.

But, first, a bit about UC Food Observer

The UC Food Observer is your daily serving of must-read news from the world of food. It includes interviews and analysis of influential agricultural and food people and trends. And it supports the University of California Global Food Initiative, which addresses one of the critical issues of our time: how to sustainably and nutritiously feed a world population expected to reach eight billion by 2025.

I’m the assistant editor and work closely with Rose Hayden-Smith, who is renowned for her knowledge of sustainable agriculture and food history. You may remember these stories about her wartime garden research here and here. Rose is wonderfully talented, inspiring and knowledgeable. It’s been a delight, and I’ve learned a lot from her.

Seven Yummy Stories

Here are seven stories you might enjoy in no particular order:

Seed Savers Exchange

Photo: Seed Savers Exchange

1) Genetic Diversity is Key … And You Can Help

Learn how important open-pollinated heirloom seeds are towards saving heritage foods. See how many once-beloved foods are disappearing, and why gardeners can play an important role in protecting and increasing this genetic diversity.

“Participatory conservation is very important to our work. It’s not enough for us to have a seed bank and keep these seeds in a Fort Knox-like setting. We want these seeds to grow and be maintained in different gardens around the country and world.” John Torgrimson, Executive Director, Seed Savers Exchange

Read the story.

a syrphid (aka flower fly or hover fly) on tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii)

Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey

2) Pollinators are Beautiful

On most days, you’ll find Kathy Keatley Garvey outside finding, photographing and documenting insects, especially pollinators. This Communications Specialist for UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology has received international recognition for her photos.

“I see the world through a viewfinder. The work that I do is about the diversity of pollinators, their importance in our food supply and ecosystem, the beauty and the awe, and how we can protect them. Bees are responsible for pollinating one-third of the food we eat. They are crucial to our ecosystem.” Kathy Keatley Garvey

Read the story.

nea opera

Photo: Wormfarm Institute

3) Agri + Culture = A Good Idea

Nestled among the rolling hills of the unglaciated region of south central Wisconsin you’ll find the Wormfarm Institute, a 40-acre organic vegetable farm and creative hub that is winning applause for reconnecting the link between “agri-culture.”

“For thousands of years, farmers in cultures around the world interwove dance, music and art through rituals of planting and the harvest in celebration of the land and those who care for it.” Donna Neuwirth, co-founder of Wormfarm Institute

Read the story.

cattle ranching-final

4) Cattle Ranching has Ecological Benefits

Did you know livestock is California’s number-one land use? I certainly didn’t, and I’m not alone.

This complex connection of California ranching to food production is a mystery for many, according to Sheila Barry, Livestock Advisor and Director of Santa Clara County for University of California Cooperative Extension. She tells me:

“Working ranches occupy roughly 40 million acres in California. Whether these working ranches are public land or privately owned, many ranchers represent the fourth or fifth generations stewarding the land and their livestock.”

Read the story.

dotpolka - nopales

Photo: DotPolka

5) Mexican Food Deserves Another Look

Who told you Mexican food was unhealthy? It simply isn’t true, according to two professors in the San Francisco Bay Area, who co-authored “Decolonize Your Diet.”

Their research shows traditional, indigenous food from Mexico (available before the Spanish colonists arrived) is misunderstood and is actually among the world’s healthiest foods. Luz Calvo, Professor of Ethnic Studies at Cal State East Bay told me:

“The Latino/a Immigrant Paradox led us to look carefully at the health knowledge and practices that immigrants bring with them – especially knowledge about food, recipes, remedios (home remedies), and so forth.

The Latino/a Immigrant Paradox is powerful, because it shows that one does not need to be rich to have good health. But one does need to be connected to ancestral knowledge and culture.”

Read the story. and don’t miss the recipe!

6) Food Sovereignty with Native Americans

In Northwestern Washington, between Seattle and Tacoma, lives the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe. This Indian tribe is composed of descendants of the Duwamish and Upper Puyallup people who inhabited Central Puget Sound for thousands of years before non-Indian settlement.

To learn more about the Muckleshoot people and food sovereignty with Native Americans, I spoke with Valerie Segrest. She is a Native nutrition educator who specializes in local and traditional foods. She serves her community as coordinator of the Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project and also works as Traditional Foods and Medicines Program Manager. She also is a storyteller and told me:

“Stories not only provide the knowledge we need to thrive in the world, but also solutions to the complex and major challenges we face in this modern world. There is cultural storytelling, and also just people stories; the stories people carry around on food traditions and how food has improved and changed their lives in positive or negative ways.”

Read the story.

Millets_4624_Millet diversity-small

Photo: The Millet Project

7) You Should Try Sorghum and Millets

Sorghum and millets are two ancient grains that have a bright future. For instance, sorghum is gluten free grain with high fiber and healthy nutrients. Millets also deserve a moment of your time.

Millets are a diverse family of grains. They are gluten-free and often contain lower carbohydrate content than rice, corn or wheat, as well as higher levels of protein, fiber and minerals, such calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and iron.

In these articles, you’ll find information on both types of grains, as well as recipe ideas and nutritional information.

Take a second for sorghum.

Millets are worth a minute.

Stay tuned for more gardening stories in upcoming weeks! Just in time for another gardening season. What are you looking forward to growing this year?

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Ventura Farm Day Connects the Community Wed, 02 Nov 2016 17:10:08 +0000 ]]>

kids-looking-at-lemonWhen was the last time you spent any time on a farm? Well, if you are like most people, it’s probably been quite a while … if ever. And that’s what a group of farmers about an hour north of Los Angeles want to change. More than 20 farmers in Ventura County, California are swinging open their barn doors and inviting the community to visit. Let’s take a look.

As readers of Seasonal Wisdom know, we’re big fans of family farmers and local foods. We enjoy farm-to-table meals and locavore dinner clubs.

So, imagine our delight to hear about the Fourth Annual Ventura Farm Day on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. There are tours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at farms throughout the county. This free, popular event connects the community with its farming neighbors, and encourages them to visit the farms in their backyards, according to Students for Eco-Education and Agriculture (SEEAG), the nonprofit that organizes Farm Day.

“This year, we moved Farm Day from summer to fall,” says Mary Maranville, SEEAG Founder and Executive Director. “The weather will be cooler, plus, in keeping with the spirit of giving during November, it gives the public an opportunity to say ‘thanks’ to our hardworking farmers who grow the food we eat.”

Participating farms, museums and farming operations include:

–Houweling’s Tomatoes and McGrath Family Farms in Camarillo;

–Chivas Skin Care and Otto & Sons Nursery in Fillmore,

–Apricot Lane Farms in Moorpark;

–Friends Ranch, Earthtrine Farm, East End Eden Farm and Ojai Olive Oil in Ojai;

–AGQ Laboratory, Agromin, Deardorff Family Farms, Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Gills Onions and San Miguel Produce in Oxnard;

–UC Hansen Ag Center, Calavo Growers and Ventura County Ag Museum in Santa Paula;

–Rancho Camulos Museum in Piru;

–Petty Ranch and Rincon Vitova Insectaries in Saticoy;

–Alpacas at Windy Hill in Somis;

–Diamond W Cattle Company and Salad Bar Farms at Balboa Middle School in Ventura.

Coldwater CanyonThere’s a farm-to-table barbeque at the Ventura County Fairgrounds (San Miguel Building) in Ventura. The barbeque is 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. and features live country music by Coldwater Canyon and Friends, farm-fresh food prepared by Young Farmers & Ranchers and Dearmore BBQ Catering, locally-produced craft cocktails, beers from Institution Ale and wine from Summerland Winery. Lots of free kids’ activities are also planned. Barbeque tickets are $40 for adults and $15 for children under 12.

This year’s Ventura County Farm Day (November 5) will kick off a day early with its first Food and Farm Film Fest, Friday, November 4 at Mission Park in downtown Ventura. The free, family-friendly event will feature short films produced locally that tell the story of life (both human and animal) on the farm and the popular kids’ movie “Babe.”

“The films will be a real treat for those who are not familiar with daily farm life,” says SEEAG’s Maranville. “All the films are shot beautifully. It is the perfect introduction to what people will see and experience the following day at our local farms.”

Wherever you live, take some time this month to say thanks to the folks who grow your food everyday!

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Troy-Bilt Hedge Trimmer Powered by CORE Wed, 13 Jul 2016 00:17:13 +0000 ]]>

Troy-Bilt Cordless Hedge TrimmerWhen it comes to garden chores, one of my husband’s least favorite jobs is trimming the 12-foot (often  higher) Cape honeysuckle growing in our backyard.  It’s a dirty, thankless job that needs to be done every few months so the plant doesn’t get out of control.

But a new innovative cordless, battery powered hedge trimmer by Troy-Bilt has made this chore much faster and easier. Check it out.

cape honeysuckle When we moved into this house in California, we inherited a huge ­­­­­cape honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) that covered the back fence of our property. Hardy in Zones 9 to 11, the cape honeysuckle is a colorful, carefree and drought tolerant plant. It’s also very attractive to hummingbirds and bees.  We consider it a good living privacy screen for the property.

But this plant grows so quickly that it can be a real pain in the neck in California. It’s a good idea to cut it back every few months, or even monthly to maintain the shape.

Troy-Bilt Hedge Trimmer Powered by CORESo, you can understand why my husband was rather eager to review the new Troy-Bilt cordless hedge trimmer, powered by CORE technology.

This beast of a plant needs serious tools to keep it under control.

Troy-Bilt Core Hedge TrimmerThe Troy-Bilt hedge trimmer is cordless, which makes it much easier to maneuver while on a ladder dealing with a monster plant.

“I’ve had corded trimmers before, and it’s so much easier to use this Troy-Bilt trimmer,” says my husband. “I really liked not having to worry about plugging it in or accidentally cutting the cord. It’s a lot more convenient for quick, spontaneous jobs too.”

He especially liked the way this hedge trimmer is powered with a new proprietary CORE technology that provides the kind of battery power that rivals gas engines.  “This trimmer cuts like a hot knife through butter,” he adds. “It’s got plenty of power to cut through those thicker branches.”

Basically, the patented motor has a new design. You won’t find the heavy copper coils you typically find on brushless motors. Instead, these CORE motors have a printed circuit board that operates together with magnetic rotors to deliver concentrated power when needed.

Here’s more about Troy-Bilt CORE technology

Troy-Bilt cordless hedge trimmer on cape honeysuckleBut my husband doesn’t really care about all that – he’s just happy to have a battery-powered trimmer that really can tackle this monster hedge. With 22-inch chrome-plated blades that move 3,000 strokes per minute, this tool works exceedingly well on this dense and tall hedge.

He’s also a big fan of the 40 volt lithium-ion battery, which can be used with any of the tools powered by the CORE system. Now that my husband has the battery and charger, he can use it with all the other CORE-powered tools and just buy the bare tools.

cape honeysuckle and troy-bilt hedge trimmer“I’ve owned corded and cordless trimmers in the past,” says my husband. “But this is the best trimmer I’ve ever used – corded or cordless. This is now my favorite garden tool in our shed. It’s the gold standard of trimmers.”

The Troy-Bilt hedge trimmer powered by CORE is the industry’s only motor with a limited lifetime warranty.

Disclosure:  This is a sponsored post. I am a Saturday6 blogger for Troy-Bilt this year. This tool was provided at no charge. But I was not told what to write, and my opinions are my own. My husband’s opinions are DEFINITELY his own. If he didn’t like something, believe me, he’d let us know.

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Creating the Cocktail Hour Garden Mon, 27 Jun 2016 00:11:35 +0000 ]]>

Cocktail Hour Garden deck in early springHave you ever become so busy that you simply forgot how to unwind outdoors at the end of the day? Well, C.L. Fornari wants to change that. She wants you to create such a relaxing outdoor space that you can’t wait to watch the sun set and the evening begin in your garden – especially with good friends.

So, make a toast to enjoyable cocktail hour gardens with these good tips from a popular garden educator and book author.

Cocktail-Hour-Garden-Fr-Cover-smallRecently, I had a chance to read the new book by C. L. Fornari, The Cocktail Hour Garden.  There’s a lot of helpful information on creating outdoor spaces conducive for “Green Hour” gatherings. Along with good general gardening advice, the book addresses how to attract nature to your gardens, as well as design elements that can bring the essences of air, fire, sound, water and scent to these spaces.

From plant suggestions to party-enhancing designs, this clever guide helps you think differently about your gardens.  And with any luck, you’ll find yourself spending more time outside in nature, watching the light change in your yard. Recently, C.L. Fornari agreed to give Seasonal Wisdom readers some tips for building your own cocktail hour garden.

Q) What inspired you to write the book?  

C.L. Fornari: I was inspired to write this book, because of my back deck. (Shown in the photo above) My husband and I work constantly, both for our professions (he’s a marine geologist and I’m a garden communicator) and in our gardens. We both love our work, but when we moved to Poison Ivy Acres nine years ago, we began to see the wisdom of stopping work in the evening before dinner, putting down garden tools and all digital devices, and pausing to reconnect with each other and the natural world.

Cocktail Hour Garden with yellow flowers and conifers

We sit on our back deck with snacks and beverages, and watch the birds, butterflies and other critters. We take the time to see how the light illuminates the plants, and to comment on the day. For at least a half-hour we enjoy what we’ve created and just relaxing in each other’s company and our surroundings. From this practice came the idea to do a book about this cocktail hour ritual.

Q) Why are late-afternoon and early-evening landscapes a worthwhile consideration for gardeners?

C.L. Fornari: Too often gardeners and home landscapers focus on the work of planting, mowing and maintaining…we forget to pause and appreciate what we’ve created. And these days we’re all so screen-connected that we need to almost force ourselves to put down our phones and computers and look at the miracles that are going on in our own backyards.

Most of us aren’t able to do this in the early morning or mid-day, so the cocktail hour is the perfect time to create this opportunity for relaxation.

Cocktail hour garden in veggie garden

Q) What are some common misconceptions about cocktail hour gardens?

C.L. Fornari: Many people think it’s only about an alcoholic beverage. One reviewer commented that there weren’t enough cocktail recipes! The book isn’t called “Garden Cocktails” but “The Cocktail Hour Garden” – in other words, it’s not the beverage that’s most important here, but the environment and creating a ritual to relax and enjoy it.

Misconceptions aside, one of the frequent “ah-ha!” moments people have when reading this book is the realization that we could be using our veggie gardens more completely during the evening hours. Those who grow vegetable gardens spend a great deal of time planting, weeding and harvesting, but often forget that we can also just hang out there and appreciate the garden visually. A foldable bistro table and chairs can instantly transform the veggie garden area into a cocktail hour garden…and the sugar snap peas or cherry tomatoes are instant snacks.

Sun teas for cocktail hour garden partiesQ) Anything you’d like to add?

I think that too often we who love gardening and plants talk so much about the process that we forget to stress the environment and experience that is created. Although garden communicators want to help people be successful by providing useful information, I think we can do more to paint the picture of what all the soil amending, planting and weeding is about.

It’s about creating flower beds where we pick “give away bouquets” to leave on co-workers’ desks or in the drawer in the drive-through banking windows. It’s about being able to pick the freshest, most flavorful food on earth thirty minutes before dinner. It’s about having colorful, fragrant plants surrounding our outdoor offices during the day and fire pits at night.

For me, this book is my way to encourage people to go out into their own yards and gardens frequently for a unique experience that sustains body and soul.

Thanks for your time! Hope you have many wonderful cocktail hours in your garden.

The Cocktail Hour Garden

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the author. I was not compensated to write the post, nor was I told what to write.

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Troy-Bilt Brush Cutter Makes Its Mark Mon, 20 Jun 2016 00:22:11 +0000 ]]>

Troy-Bilt brush cutter near a wall It could happen to anyone, really. Our friends came home from vacation to an overgrown backyard, where the grass had grown really tall. In some places, the lawn had grown nearly knee-high, and the yard needed more than just a normal lawn mower to cut it.

That’s when my husband decided to try out the Troy-Bilt brush cutter attachment on their backyard. We wanted to see if this tool could really stand up to thick, tall grass. Here’s what happened…

man in overgrown backyardNormally, our friends have a delightful backyard with lots of trees and flowers. But a long vacation trip, and several rainy days while they were gone, made their yard a real bear when they returned home.

My husband mentioned that Troy-Bilt had recently sent us the TrimmerPlus® Add-On Brushcutter to review. “If any backyard could use this tool, this is it,” he explained.

We decided this yard would make a good test spot, and our friends were happy to agree.

Troy-Bilt cordless starterThis tool uses Troy-Bilt’s JumpStart™ Lithium-Ion Engine Starter, which makes it quick and easy to turn on these tools.

troy-bilt cordless electric starter up closeThis starter works with all the TrimmerPlus attachments, and it’s one of my husband’s favorite aspects of the tool. Forget about pulling a cord to start this machine. This cordless electric starter gives you 25 starts without recharging it.

man with troy-bilt brush cutterIt quickly became apparent that this tool meant business, even though it was cutting thick grass and weeds.

close up of troy-bilt brush cutterThe brush cutter has an 8 inch steel reversible brush blade for heavy weeds and brush. It also has a pro-style straight shaft design that allows for easy trimming under shrubs and low branches.

brush cutter makes a path through grassHere, you can see how the brush cutter is making a path through the tall, dense grass.

man with brush cutterEven our friend wanted to try out the tool to see if it was easy to use. The J-style barrier bar and comfort should strap are included, and make the brush cutter simple to maneuver.

The entire lawn was cut back within an hour.

brush cutter near a fountain and rosesThe brush cutter isn’t a normal tool to use in cutting your grass. But on those rare times, when you need to quickly and easily cut back thick vegetation, it’s a great tool to use.

This brush cutter made short work out of tall grass. It paved the way for the lawn to be finished with the mower. And it won two impressed and loyal fans on a summer afternoon.


Disclosure: This is a sponsored post, and I am a Saturday6 garden blogger for Troy-Bilt. I was not, however, told what to write and my opinions are my own.

Cultivating Garden Style with Rochelle Greayer Wed, 18 May 2016 01:45:23 +0000 ]]>

sunset in meadowWhat are those special ingredients that elevate a garden into a stylish and unforgettable space? What’s the best way to unleash your garden personality, and how can you create an outdoor place that’s uniquely your own?

Just in time for another gardening season, Seasonal Wisdom sat down with London-trained landscape designer Rochelle Greayer for ideas on developing personal style.

Photo copyright Adam Woodruff

pith and vigor newspapersIf you’re an avid gardener or reader, you may already know Rochelle Greayer. She was a graduate of the English Gardening School in London. She is the creator and editor of  the hip gardening newspaper Pith + Vigor. And she also writes regularly for Apartment Therapy. I’ve gotten to know her better, because we are both members of the Troy-Bilt Saturday6 national blogging team.

cultivating-garden-style-by-rochelle greayer

Rochelle is also the author of Cultivating Garden Style: Inspired Ideas and Practical Advice to Unleash Your Garden Personality (Timber Press). This hard cover book is packed with photography, design tips and advice on styles ranging from Playful Pop to Xeric Hacienda and Handsome Prairie.

Cutivating Garden Style

Whatever style you enjoy, you’ll find a wide variety of garden accessories – from modern umbrellas to retro fire pits to comfy loungers. There are literally hundreds of ideas to get your creativity flowing.

Cultivating garden style

This visually stunning book is designed to help you determine the look that’s right for your home. Along with lots of design ideas, there is The Little Green Book in the back with good garden resources. You’ll also find general gardening advice for everything from firescaping a yard to choosing the right tree. There are many  little gems in this jewel of a book.

Obviously, Rochelle is a good person to ask about garden design:

Garden with pebbled pathPhoto copyright Marianne Majerus

Q) How does someone cultivate “style” in the garden? 

Rochelle Graeyer: I think everyone has a personal style whether they know it or not.

Sometimes it is hard to find. But you can see personal style in the car they drive, the clothes they wear, the things they eat and the art they like. I think people are often afraid to embrace their style, particularly in the garden, because it can be so visible to everyone around them.

Finding your style is about finding what sings to you – the colors you love, the stories you like, the books you read, the images you are attracted to – and then learning how to translate that into a garden.

Pinterest is my favorite tool for people to use to find what they love. A fun activity is to go to Pinterest and perhaps go to someone else’s page that has a wide variety of boards.

The point is, expose yourself to a huge array of images. Then start liking — not pinning – but liking images.  Liking is super fast; you just click the heart in the corner on anything that looks interesting to you for any reason.   Let it come from your gut. The faster the better, so you aren’t over thinking or letting your critical thinking mind engage at all.

Don’t pin; that stops your freedom… it makes you organize and judge. The point is to turn that part of your mind off. Once you have done that, take a look at all the likes and see what patterns you find.  Did you like stuff with a particular color, style or element? What threads do you see? Sometimes a thread in your boards can be hard to find, but a friend can see it more easily. The threads are the beginnings of finding your personal style.

garden with fire pitPhoto copyright Hugh Main

Q) What are some common misconceptions about garden style?  

Rochelle: Style to me is very personal. It is not what the neighbor has down the street, although that may look great! Lots of people aim for what their neighbors have in the garden, but I think that only leads to a boring world (and boring neighborhoods).

Creating space around you that uniquely serves you, inspires you and comforts you is something that can only be done for you and by you.  Style isn’t universal – it is personal and unique.

Potager garden designBrooke Gianetti

Q) What have been some of your most important garden design inspirations?

Rochelle: Art and fashion are both hugely inspiring to me.  Both tell stories and when you are drawn to something (like art or fashion) you are drawn to some element of the story that it is telling.

Then, of course, there are other garden designers. From them, I am often more inspired by the technical elements – such as how they built something, or the plants they choose and how they put them together. If they are really thinking, then I can be very inspired by the stories they are telling. For example, I’m a fan of avant garde garden shows like Chaumont, because the whole point is to get away from “pretty” and more into an idea or concept.

Pretty is great – and of course pretty can carry the day in a garden – but just pretty can also be sort of a boring story.

espaliered treePhoto copyright Andrea Jones

Q) How would you recommend people deal with their “inner critic” and create their own garden style?  

Rochelle: Maybe thinking of it as “art” or “style” is too stressful and puts too much pressure on it?

Think more about what you love. Consider how you want to spoil and indulge yourself first. Then, once you know what is meaningful to you, it is easier to tell the inner critic to shut-up and go away. It’s all about you and whatever makes you happy. Who cares if that rhubarb plant is next to the mailbox, if it makes you happy?

checkerboard garden designPhoto copyright Jim Charlie

Q) Is there anything else you’d like to add?  

People always ask me, ‘What about my homeowners association?’ And to that I say, there is always the back yard.  Build a fence if you must. Then do what you love and what inspires you out there.

Thanks, Rochelle! Best of luck with your own garden this year.

This is not a sponsored post. I was provided a free copy of the book from the publisher, but I was not compensated in any way.

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Discover Audubon’s Birds of America Mon, 02 May 2016 01:00:17 +0000 ]]>

Barn owl illustration from audubonIf you love nature and fine art illustrations, you may like this news.  The National Audubon Society is offering free high-resolution prints of John James Audubon’s Birds of America. Printed between 1827 and 1838, the illustrations include 435 life-sized watercolors of North American birds, including this striking barn owl detail.

Fox coloured sparrow illustration by audubon

Detail of Fox-Coloured Sparrow.

The National Audubon Society has generously offered access to the wildlife illustrations that made naturalist John James Audubon so renowned. (I am only showing a portion of each illustration in this blog post.) Along with free prints, there are also observations about each bird from Audubon’s own notes.

American Flamingo from Audubon

Detail of American Flamingo.

The American Flamingo section, for example, includes Audubon’s observation that he saw his first flock of flamingos after sailing from Indian Key, Florida in May 1832.

Carolina Parrot Illustration by Audubon

Detail of Carolina Parrot.

About the Carolina Parrot, Audubon wrote, “At dusk, a flock of Parakeets may be seen alighting against the trunk of a large sycamore or any other tree…”

Canada Jay illustration by audubon

Detail of Canada Jay.

The images are provided courtesy of the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove in Audubon, Pennsylvania, and the Montgomery County Audubon Collection.

It’s worth a visit to admire these historic wildlife illustrations in their full glory, and perhaps pick up a free print for your home. You may just look differently at those birds in your backyard. I like to think that Audubon would have liked that too.

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Five Tips for Your Best Garden Ever! Fri, 01 Apr 2016 01:23:51 +0000 ]]>

Pear tree blossomsAnother gardening season is here. If you’re like me, it’s easy to get a bit overwhelmed with everything that needs to get finished outdoors – instead of enjoying your time playing in the soil.  So, in the spirit of pleasure and priorities, here are five tips for keeping your garden looking its best this year.

Unforgettable Foliage

Flowers come and go, but fabulous foliage looks good in the garden all season long. Look for plants with striped, variegated, spotted or unusually colored foliage. Often the flowers are insignificant or unimportant; it’s the leaves that matter.

fancy leaf geraniumFor example, you could grow an ordinary geranium with traditional green leaves and red flowers. Or, you could experiment with the stunning ‘Mrs Pollack’ geranium (shown above), which sports dramatic red, green and yellow leaves, along with red flowers.

key lime heuchera copy‘Key Lime Pie” heuchera adds a bright dash of color to a garden spot, especially when combined with darker plants such as black mondo grass.

From lighter leaves to bold, variegated patterns, plants come with different colored foliage that can bring plenty of drama to your garden, long after the flowers have stopped blooming.

Fragrance Matters

We’re often in such a hurry to pick good looking plants for the garden that we don’t consider other important factors, such as how those plants smell.

night blooming jasmine copyIt’s easy to overlook the importance of aroma in the garden, until you happen to catch a whiff of sweet, spring-blooming jasmine on a California evening. Then you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.

Wherever you happen to garden, make it a priority to add more fragrant plants to your outdoor spaces. From jasmine, rose and citrus to heliotrope, gardenia, even pine needles and eucalyptus leaves, there are lots of options for fragrant plants. Make aroma an important ingredient in your garden’s pleasures.

Healthy  Soil

The most beautiful gardens start with the healthiest soils. Every spring, I add a couple inches of compost  to my garden beds to revive the nutrients and microbial activity levels. Ideally, you’re striving for about 5 percent organic matter in your soil, which will help retain water, add good drainage, improve soil texture and add micronutrients.

Roses growing in the gardenThis spring, I fed these roses with a one-time serving of a homemade tea made from Authentic Haven Brand alfalfa tea.  Then a few weeks later, I sprinkled a quarter-cup of Epsom salt around each rose plant and watered well. The plants have rewarded with me with bright green foliage and plenty of blossoms that are just now coming, as you can see. Although I had tried this company’s cow manure teas in the past successfully, this was the first time I had bought the alfalfa tea.  I recommend it as your rose garden beds are waking up in the new growing season.

Control Weeds

Another way to keep your garden looking attractive is to effectively manage the weeds. This year’s rainy spring has germinated weeds like crazy around here!

dig weeds with troybilt trough copyMake it a goal to keep your weeds under control. Start early in the season, before they spread. Work on dirt that is slightly moist, because it’s easier to remove weeds when the soil isn’t bone dry. Carefully loosen the soil so you can remove the entire root system. This Troy-Bilt Premium Garden Rake ($6.99) is an effective tool for this task. It’s made of galvanized steel, so it can stand up to the job.  Even if I wasn’t a Troy-Bilt Saturday6 blogger this year I would still recommend this tool.

Prevent weeds by covering the soil with mulch. I like to put about 8-10 sheets of newspaper on the soil, and then water it well. I cover the newspaper with three to four inches of fine wood chips. Over time, the newspaper and wood chips will decompose slowly into the soil and add organic matter, but in the meantime, they will smother the weeds and save water in the garden.

woman using troy-bilt small hoe in community garden Recently, I helped Troy-Bilt and Planet in Action build a new edible community garden at Travis County Park in Austin, Texas. During the day, I spent hours using the Troy-Bilt Long Handle Garden Hoe ($29.99), as you can see above. It came in handy breaking up and spreading the soil over the day. There may be times when you want or need to weed standing up; this tool can really save your back.

Grow Food

salad in a hand copyFrom red lettuces (shown above) to deep purple eggplants to yellow cherry tomatoes, growing your own food is an easy way to add beauty, taste and fun to your garden.  Once you get used to picking your dinner fresh from the backyard, you’ll never look the same way at those grocery store vegetables again.

Don’t have a big garden? Feel free to mix your edibles with your ornamental plants, as long as you garden organically. Besides some of those vegetables are just as pretty as flowers, and deserve a front row spot in the garden. Don’t forget containers. Lettuces and salad greens grow easily in window boxes and pots of all sizes. Mix them with edible flowers like nasturtiums, violas or pansies.

yellow swiss chard Swiss chard (shown above) is a “cut and come again” vegetable. When you clip these leaves back to the ground, they’ll grow again. Here in California, these plants have been growing in my garden for a couple years already in a sunny spot.

Start with Seeds

John Scheepers Kitchen Garden SeedsMany vegetables grow easily from seeds, and you get a lot of plants for the price of a seed pack. Seeds allow you to grow more unusual heirlooms, which are often hard to find as transplants. Growing food from seeds also teaches patience and persistence, while waiting for the plants to germinate.

If you want to grow tomatoes, peppers or eggplants, start those indoors about 8 to 10 weeks before your last frost date. So, the time to start these seeds is February or early-March in many places.

But you can plant many other seeds in the ground right now.  John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds recently sent me a free selection of seeds to review, and all are easy to grow when directly seeded into the garden.

Spinach, carrots, radishes, beets, peas, lettuce and Swiss chard are just some of the vegetables that grow well from seeds sown in the garden right about now. In fact, many of these plants prefer to start from seed in your garden, rather than as a transplant. Personally, I’m eager to try ‘Little Snow’ peas, which start to produce in only 30 days. These would be ideal for areas with short spring seasons.

But, Most Importantly …

However, you decide to garden this season, remember to have fun. The most beautiful and memorable gardens are the ones where you can tell the owners really enjoyed themselves while planning and working there.

As Kate Morton wrote in The Forgotten Garden, “It was such a pleasure to sink one’s hands into the warm earth, to feel at one’s fingertips the possibilities of the new season.”

Hope you have a great time this year sinking your hands into the warm earth and feeling the possibilities in your garden.


Seasonal Wisdom is a Troy-Bilt Saturday6 blogger for 2016, and this is a sponsored post. The John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds were provided for review at no charge.

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