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August 25th, 2011

What I did this summer.

Blogging has been on my mind, especially since my last communique was in March. But I have an excuse. I’ve been traveling, which is what many gardeners I know love to do. So here, in retrospective order, are snapshots of just a few of the places I have been this past summer.

Chicago's latest new citizen

Chicago's latest new citizen

August: The Independent Garden Center hosted its 5th annual conference at Navy Pier; Organic Gardening was there (with our first booth) to meet the free-range garden enterprises that sustain and maintain the diversity of our gardens across the nation. Many of our advertising partners were there, too, displaying the garden goodies (and some are very good indeed) we’ll see in local garden retail outlets next year. Along side copies of Organic Gardening, I hope!

The prairie and the city.

The prairie and the city.

A visit to Chicago is not complete without a stroll through the fabulous Lurie Gardens on Michigan Ave, right next to the Art Institute of Chicago. As this is my hometown (GO CUBBIES!!) I’m a booster for the major contributions the city has made to public horticulture and landscape. And Millenium public park is one of them.

A section of SSE's huge seed selection

A section of SSE's huge seed selection

July: Heirloom gardens (see June, below) need heirloom vegetables, and I was excited to be in Decorah for the Seed Savers Exchange annual camp out cum conference. Every time I visit that place I come away inspired, educated and chilled out. It’s not the easiest place on earth to reach, being located in a distant northeast corner of distant Iowa, but boy is it worth the trip.

SSE is the mothership of many of the vendors of heirloom seeds, Baker Creek included, and it just astonishes me what they’ve achieved since starting on Diane Ott Whealy’s kitchen table. And you’re in need of a good book and some inspiration, I recommend “Gathering”, which is Diane’s memoir of how this great American organization came into being.

Real Fresh Foodie fun in KC

Real Fresh Foodie fun in KC

June: Another garden center association, the GCA of Greater Kansas City, brought me to Missouri in  when I returned to my old college town, (a short and utterly unremarkable moment at the Art Institute school). I had enough time there to visit the Nelson Atkins showing of the Monet waterlilies, before delivering the first of two presentations and to be one of the judges for a recipe contest at the Urban Farms & Gardens tour picnic in support of urban farming initiatives; the winner was raw food chef, Debbie Glassberg’s  Cold Sorrel Soup. For a fair to middlin’ size Midwest town, KC positively bristles with community gardens and leads the way through the issues surrounding environmental sustainability.

Just outside Kansas City is Powell Gardens, a private, not-for-profit botanical garden that is making great strides in developing the publics’ awareness of prairie gardens and native plant restoration. At its core lies the Heartland Harvest garden, the largest fruit and vegetable garden in the Midwest … or is the USA? A masterpiece of horticulture that brings together traditional formal kitchen garden design and the varieties best suited to the variable Midwest climate.

Heartland Gdn aerial view

And that is how I spent my summer — it was as good as a vacation.

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February 25th, 2011

Seed Savers Exchange: The Story

In the early 1980s, when I first began serious vegetable gardening, on an allotment in London, England, my father-in-law in Wisconsin sent me information about this group, who were into saving and distributing seed for heirloom varieties. Being something of a garden history geek, I was enchanted, and asked Pa to obtain some of their rarities and send them along. I recall there were corn, beans, and maybe a tomato variety. But it was all really exciting and a perfect complement to the membership I had with the UK’s Henry Doubleday Research Association, who had a similar program, and also promoted organic, raised bed gardening. That was my introduction to Seed Savers Exchange.
Over time, and our return to the USA, I found myself drawn ever deeper into the SSE web. Events at Heritage Farm, the group’s HQ in Decorah, Iowa; the people I have met and the staggering amount I have learned from them, have been a source of inspiration and encouragement in my life — gardening and generally.
Like so many endeavors, SSE began with a passion, and a mission, undertaken by founders, Diane Ott Whealy and her ex-husband, Kent, and then shared freely with people all over the world. SSE has truly created a gardening community to which all are welcome. And I am just as pleased as I can be that Diane and SSE will now be regular guest bloggers for Organic Gardening, and say “Welcome to our party.”

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