Fun Stuff in the Garden

Gardeners shouldn't take themselves too serious. True, the garden is about food, but it's also about enjoyment. Following here are some fun things I've found in other people's gardens and I'm hoping you might get an idea or find some inspiration. I know I have - I just can't find spaces for all of these ideas!
Balancing stones is an ancient art. You have to use trial and error to find the right spot for the balance.
Built on metal supports the flowerpots in this sculpture are quite large and heavy.

Here's something to do with all your extra flower pots. Flowerpot guy stands at a nursery north of Tyler, TX.
Another very cool thing to do with your extra flowerpots! This is an arch on the grounds of the Antique Rose Emporium, outside Brenham, TX. The pots are strung on heavy wires and wrapped around a metal support. Notice the "bells" at the top of the arch.
How about these in your garden? Round Top, TX, where I visited last week, is the site for a twice yearly antique festival. Tents full of things like this, which aren't antique, but tempting, stretch on for 10 miles or more. How about one of those on each side of your garden gate? Even one of the steers, behind the horses, would look good in a garden.
Or how about a purple fence with an orange cat?
These are stunning rose supports for climbing roses. They are on the grounds of the Antique Rose Emporium.
Happy roosters always look good in the garden.
If you look close, this rooster is made from car bumpers and chrome car parts.
But no matter where you go, or what you see in someone else's garden, nothing is quite as peaceful and inspirational as a quiet little frog who believes his current color makes him invisible.

Happy gardening!


Herbal Forum, Festival Hill, Ginger Beet Cake

I love springtime and I've gotten to see it from cold to hot in just days. From Michigan to Ohio, in moderate but still winterish weather, I drove south to home, where spring was showing, but just a little. Unpacked, repacked, I drove to Texas where spring is truly in full gear. Everywhere I drove, the wisterias were in bloom and the air was filled with the fragrance. I don't think I've paid much attention to wisteria fragrance before, but it was really pleasant. Every town, every roadside, had wisteria sprangling through the trees, over fences and looking like lavender lace over rooftops.
This was the 16th annual Herbal Forum at Festival Hill, at Round Top, Texas. It's held on the grounds where the late Madalene Hill's gardens are located. Several of us took advantage of the full moon and walked through Madalene's gardens by moonlight. What a treat! I thought several times I heard her say to look at this plant or that.
The first part of Madalene's garden and it only gets better from here!
The Pioneer Unit of the Herb Society of America sponsors a plant sale at the Forum each year. The last time I was a speaker there (1997) the plant sale was a little affair. Not any more! There must have been several hundred people from the surrounding area, and not all of them attending the Forum, lined up at 7:30 a.m. the first day. And more on the second day. It was a madhouse of plant sales!
One side of the plant sale (it's huge!) on the second day after things had calmed down.
Same spot, looking the opposite direction. There was way, way more behind the tents. Henry Flowers had used my list of plants from my, "New Herbs to Grow" program to order for the sale, along with many, many, many more tempting herbs of all kinds. I bought 3 flats of plants plus a box or two, as well.
This was our lodging for the speakers. The dining room is downstairs, where the chef was the private chef for Dean Martin. We ate well! If you could look to the right of the house, you would see the view of Madalene's garden (as seen a few pictures above).
The Concert Hall, where famous musicians from all over the world perform, was the setting for all of our lectures, demonstrations and programs. If you click on it to enlarge the photo, you'll see lighted balconies surrounding the Hall.

Like all herb events, food was a big part of the Herbal Forum. Lots of demonstrations, tastes and great meals.
One of our meals was served on the patio behind the big Victorian house. It was in the mid 80s, so lots of folks headed for the shade. This shows about a third of the entire group who were signed up for the event. I gave 2 of my "Less Stress, Better Sleep" workshops as well as the new plants program.
One of the stars of the big outdoor lunch was this Ginger Beet Cake. It was outstanding and I made it for our after dinner dessert tonight. It is really good! Thanks to the chef and the folks at Round Top for the recipe.
Ginger Beet Cake
1 15 oz. can of beets (not pickled, just canned beets)
1 1/2 cups flour
2/3 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs, beaten
2 cups sugar (I substituted 1 1/2 cups granulated stevia and 1/2 cup sugar)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons dry ginger
2 Tablespoons fresh grated ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup nuts, chopped (I used pecans)
3/4 cup coconut

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a food processor, empty the entire can of beets, juice and all. Blend it up well (I then added the nuts and chopped them). Combine the rest of the ingredients, mixing well. Pour into a 9 x 13, oiled and floured baking pan. Bake until a knife inserted comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Let cool. Serve with real whipped cream. People were going back for seconds, saying this couldn't possibly have beets in it.
Ginger Beet Cake, moist, delicious and no, it doesn't have any chocolate in it (but you could probably add some!)
It was a lot of driving, a lot of work, but it was great seeing old friends and making new ones. Thank you to all who bought my books and said nice things about my workshops and programs! It was great seeing Texas in the springtime.


A Week of Bentwood and Horseradish (and Fish Fries)

Display at the front of the room where the speakers lectured.

This was my first visit back to the Michigan Herb Associates since 1997 and it was fun seeing lots of old friends and making new ones. I was pleasantly surprised to find lots of earth showing between the patches of snow, and it only snowed about 2 inches while we were there. I'd expected it to be like upstate New York, with 6 feet of snow on the ground and no bare earth showing for another 2 months. Instead, it was 40-ish degrees each day, down to almost freezing at night, and a spot of sunshine one afternoon.
This is the herb garden at the Toledo Botanic Garden when I spoke to the Maumee Valley Herb Society.

Like most herb conferences, the MHA conference revolves around food. We had cooking demonstrations, a snack table each day of made-from-home herb foods, book sales, silent auctions, vendors and nice meals in the hotel each day. Most herb folks grow herbs because they like to eat, and herb events, no matter how large or small, make food the centerpiece.

One of the food demonstrations was given by Connie, who demonstrated salads, hors d'oeruvres, dips, cheese balls, soups and desserts. Then people lined up to have a taste.

The tablecloth makes these foods look a bit messy, but they were actually beautiful. There's a chicken salad stuffed into the red lily (edible lily) and a raspberry, greens and goat cheese salad in the yellow edible lily.
 It was fun to see Theresa Mieseler from Shady Acres Herb Farm. We served on the Board of Directors for the International Herb Association some years back. Lots of long time friends were there, too, so we got to visit with lots of folks we don't get to see often.

I gave 2 programs, Making Bentwood Trellises and Cutting Edge Plants and both were well received. The MHA folks were a great and generous audience and I always draw energy from such good groups. The bentwood trellis I made in the demonstration was given by my friend, Jon Hoffman (who had been one of my "wounded" Civil War soldiers back in 1997) and was auctioned off to benefit the 4-H Childrens' Garden in East Lansing, where the conference was held. (The Conference was on the campus of Michigan State University, home of the Spartans. We had great fun reading over the signs on campus like, "Enjoy our Spartan Hospitality" which no else seemed to think was funny. Spartan, sparse, it made us laugh).
Connie's great looking food samples had everyone excited.
Horseradish was the featured herb, since it's the Herb of the Year in 2011. Chuck Voigt, who has been the chair of the Herb of the Year committee for the International Herb Association for the past several years, made it his goal to see horseradish recognized. He's a professor at Illinois State Univ. and consults with the horseradish growers in his state. In case you don't know, Illinois is the leader in U.S. horseradish production. You can find more information about this Herb of the Year on the IHA website, as well as on the Herb Society of America's website and on my Herb of the Year blog. We dubbed Chuck, "Mr. Horseradish" some time back and his program, "More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Horseradish" was outstanding.
Dr. Chuck Voigt is the Principal Research Specialist at the University of Illinois, Urbana, Ilinois and a promoter of horseradish. He's been a tireless worker with the Herb of the Year project for many years.
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I helped auction off the bentwood trellis, then I was off to the Maumee Valley Herb Society for 2 programs at the Toledo Botanic Garden. Those folks, too, like herb food, and had a buffet table of cookies, cakes and other tasty desserts.

My hosts, Mark and Georgeann Brown, treated Josh and me to our first-ever, Catholic fish fry. (You may recall, I tried to buy fish in a pub in Madison, WI last spring, but it was Wednesday and no fish was to be had). Well, the tradition in the northlands, is, fish is a Friday food. During Lent, all of the Catholic churches have fish fries on Friday nights.

Our friends took us out for fish fry dinner and we were not disappointed. You pay at the door, told to get in line (get there early, the lines can be long) and folks on the other side of the service window pile your plate with perch and shrimp, along with scalloped potatoes, green beans and coleslaw. You can go back as many times as you want (3 for me, 2 for Josh) and there's desserts to choose from, as well.
The perch is from the Great Lakes and quite tasty. It reminded me of the suckers, a local fish here in the Ozarks, that are the feature of Sucker Day Festivals in the summer.
The herb gardens at the Toledo Botanic Garden are tended by the members of the Maumee Valley Herb Club and even though I couldn't see the plants because of the snow, the bones of the gardens were beautiful. I like to see the architecture without the plants, it makes it easy to see the shapes and forms of a garden.
The blue bench in an otherwise black and white world was a nice addition to the garden. It's a memorial to a long time member of the Maumee Ohio Herb group.
These are espaliered fruit trees along the back fences of the herb garden.
Our trip to Michigan and Ohio were enjoyable and we survived the cold. Wednesday I'm heading to Austin, TX where you may remember I found lots of fun stuff last fall (you can look through previous blog posts to see our adventures). I'm speaking at the Roundtop Festival Institute and you can see the gardens there if you follow this link. The redbuds are in bloom already and spring will have arrived by the time I arrive in a couple of days. They may even have some Catholic Church fish fries, who knows. Happy gardening!


Michigan Herb Associates

In Michigan for the Michigan Herb Associates annual conference. Today was my bentwood trellis program, tomorrow I'll give "Cutting Edge Plants" then on to Toledo, Ohio for "Eat Your Landscape" program.

I dreaded all the snow up north, but it's actually bare ground in some places and above freezing. Not too bad. Next week, Austin, TX for some warm weather. Photos to follow in a day or two.