The Hamster in the Wheel

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By Karen Chapman 

“And what do you do?”

“I’m a landscape designer…and an author, freelance garden writer, speaker, coach, consultant, and keen garden photographer. I maintain our 5 acre garden, help my husband with marketing his woodturning business and I’m a new nana and….” Geesh, I’m exhausted just listening to myself yet this is my 2017 answer. Ten years ago the answer would have been “a container garden designer.” Twenty years ago – full time Mum and part time music teacher. Thirty years ago? Research scientist.

Our lives and careers evolve, often in directions we never imagined. How do we balance all these facets and associated demands? How do we live a life full of passion and creativity yet still pay the bills? Continue reading “The Hamster in the Wheel”

Photo-Gardening: A Texas Blogger’s Perspective

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By: Bill Adams

Adams Mixed radicchios_Web.jpgOutside there’s a garden photo opportunity pulling at me. A section of lettuce transplants that I covered with a worn out piece of fiber row cover is doing much better than the plants on the side that didn’t get covered. My camera is currently outside, acclimating to the temperature/humidity of Texas so I won’t be frustrated with a fogged lens when the time comes to snap photos of that lettuce.

As I sit at my computer to write, I confess I’d rather be either working in my garden or photographing it. But GWA Grows editor Ann McCormick has inspired me to give this blog thing a shot so here I am.

Break time. I escaped outdoors just before the sun blazed through the clouds. I was able to get a few shots in the soft morning light. Back inside I stared at the computer for a while then decided to take another break. I managed to get a few rows of ‘Little Gem’ lettuce seedlings moved before I was pulled back inside again. And so the morning goes – write, photograph, garden, garden, photograph, repeat.

I confess I love photography as much as I love gardening. But it always seems to me that Adams transplants with row cover.jpgthe perspiration flows more freely when I’m trying to capture a clean, creative photo than it does when I’m hoeing weeds. I remind myself, “Look, and look some more before you click the shutter because fixing it in Photoshop is a pain in the A—.” But I have to admit that digital photography is wonderful and pixels are cheap. One SD card can last me for months, if not years.

I think garden writing and photography just naturally go together. In all my years of garden communication – writing, speaking, radio, and TV– I’ve used very few stock photos and have never written about a garden that someone else photographed. There’s nothing wrong with this type of collaboration. But I prefer having the photography skill to complement my writing. I wish the GWA Media Awards included a category for writing and photography combined.

Adams Roxanne_clean.jpgYou can see the results of my style of garden communication at Bill’s Blog, which I write for Arbor Gate Nursery in the Houston, Texas area. I cover a variety of garden subjects, from a recent trip to Ireland to my lust for tasty tomatoes. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to my garden. There’s a great photo calling my name.


Meet the Author:

Adams Bill with Burgundy onions.jpgGWA member William D. (Bill) Adams joined the organization in 1974. He’s an Oklahoma State graduate, worked for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension in Houston for 31 years and loves gardening, writing about his Central Texas garden, and photographing it. Bill has written for newspapers, magazines and still has three books in print. He has served as a Regional Director for several terms and is the outgoing National Director for Region V. Bill’s wife Debbi is also a member of GWA.

Talking Shop With Growers: An Interview With Proven Winners ColorChoice Flowering Shrubs

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By Katie Elzer-Peters

When I left the GWA Annual Conference in Atlanta this summer the bellman who helped me load my plants and wheel 17 bags to my car said, “All of this dirt…it just appeared out of nowhere!” he exclaimed. “What were you AT?”

Proven Winners ColorChoice Logo 2 Color.jpgLeaves, flowers, and potting soil are all but inevitable in the wake of GWA conferences, thanks to exhibitors such as Proven Winners ColorChoice Flowering Shrubs (PW), and we love them for it. My garden is a bit of a showcase for plants from GWA exhibitors – that is, when I actually get the plants in the ground. I admitted as much to Mark Osgerby, who handles Public Relations and Marketing for PW, when we chatted on the phone recently.

“I’m either your best friend or your worst nightmare when it comes to plant trialing,” I confessed. “Other people will send you beautiful photography [of your plants]. In my case, IF the plants actually make it into the ground, they’re in the harshest area of the garden that is farthest from water. I’m also quite good at trialing bench-worthiness, a.k.a. letting them sit too long before planting.” I admitted this, knowing I might be taken off the plant sample list for next year. Continue reading “Talking Shop With Growers: An Interview With Proven Winners ColorChoice Flowering Shrubs”

My first GWA Regional Meeting at New England Grows

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By Jan Johnsen

On Friday, December 2, we held the Region I GWA meeting in the Boston Convention Center during the landscape show, New England Grows. This year NEG event coordinators changed the date from their normal February time slot to the beginning of December. They did this to get around the snow problems encountered during the last few shows. This also made sense for the heavy equipment sellers since their customers in the past had been out snow plowing and could not get in to see the new plows, mowers, and excavators on display.

johnsen-new-england-growsHowever the date change to early December did not make sense for the landscapers, designers, and garden center workers who were all at the height of their Christmas decoration craziness! Many of those landscape professionals simply could not get away at this busy and lucrative time of year to go to an industry show in Boston. As a result the show floor was stocked with heavy equipment but other categories appeared to be under-represented this year.

The unusual timing of the show was also reflected in a smaller member turnout for our Johnsen Monica Hemingway.jpgGWA meeting. This was a shame since we had a fabulous speaker, Monica Hemingway of ITG Multimedia. She opened our eyes to the oh-so-important world of websites, email marketing, social media, and so much more. It was one of the best talks I have attended in a very long time. I urge you to attend any talk Monica gives.

The other noteworthy aspect of our meeting was the wonderful variety of donated garden products members received. My fellow Region I GWA Director Carmen DeVito did an amazing job of getting sponsors for the meeting. We had an impressive selection of wonderful Timber Press books to raffle off. I also raffled off three issues of Garden Design Magazine. One of our meeting sponsors, Sandy Parco of Neptune’s Harvest, gave a short talk about organic fertilizers and gave us Johnsen Crab Shell.jpgeach free bottles of two of his products. Sandy’s talk was very enlightening. Being a soil nerd, I wanted to know more about his new crab shell product. What great benefits we enjoy at these meetings!

This was my first GWA Region I meeting. I was running it along with our new Region I National Director, C. L. Fornari. She guided me through the set up – who knew that ordering coffee, tea, and cookies could be so complicated? I think the best bit of advice I can give is to bring a small rolling carry-on bag to transport items like books from the hotel to the meeting room. I packed it with the goodies to give out to everyone and rolled it over. Easy peasy!

I really enjoyed meeting the GWA members that came and look forward to hosting other meetings. I am talking to Roger Marshall about having one in Rhode Island…any other ideas out there for Region I? If so, feel free to contact me at


Meet the Author

jan-johnsenJan Johnsen is a longtime landscape designer and author of Heaven is a Garden who loves to share her passion for gardens and the natural world. Her blog is ‘Serenity in the Garden’ and her FB page is Serenity in the Garden blog (among others). Her upcoming book is The Spirit of Stone, published by St. Lynn’s Press (February, 2017). Her firm’s website is at


Homegrown Marketing Strategies

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by Niki Jabbour

When my first book, The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener, was nearing release in late 2011, I realized that I needed a game plan to spread the word. My publisher had an in-house marketing department but that didn’t mean I shouldn’t also take responsibility for my book’s marketing. I began to talk to fellow authors, research marketing strategies, and scour the internet for advice and ideas.

From my research I developed a marketing game plan. I joined social media (better late than never!), placed the typical author order of postcards and bookmarks (waste of time and money), and wrote posts on my blog (definitely worthwhile). Since then, I’ve written two more books. With my latest one set for release in 2017 I’m once again beginning to shift into marketing mode.

My marketing strategies have changed dramatically since that first book in 2011. I’m more active in GWA. I travel across North America to talk to gardeners at clubs, shows, botanical gardens, and conservatories. I’ve even become a savvy social media marketer. Here are four homegrown marketing strategies gleaned from my experience that I’ll be using in 2017. Continue reading “Homegrown Marketing Strategies”

Cool Plants For a Hot Climate: Region VI Visits Mountain State Wholesale Nursery

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By Noelle Johnson

As a horticulturist in the desert Southwest, I rely on attractive, drought-tolerant plants for

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Dazzlewine ™ Chiliopsis Courtesy of Mountain State Wholesale Nursery

my client’s landscapes. Plants that I use must thrive in our hot, dry climate while providing beauty. Years ago, few plants fit those criteria, leaving much to be desired. Today, this has changed with local nurseries filled with a large variety of flowering plants and succulents that flourish with little attention to drought tolerant gardens. Many of the arid-adapted plants that we have access to today are due to nurseryman Ron Gass of Mountain State Wholesale Nursery.

Johnson Scott Calhoun Monica Hemingway and Nan Sterman.JPGWhen he arrived in Arizona in 1969, Ron took on the challenge of finding plants suitable for Southwest landscapes. That same year he founded Mountain States Wholesale Nursery (MSWN). His goal was to find native and arid-adapted plants with improved flowering, larger blooms, and less maintenance. Over the years this nursery has become a preeminent grower and developer of arid-adapted plants.

To celebrate their 47th anniversary MSWN recently opened their doors to landscape professionals and writers. GWA’s Region VI Connect event took place at the open house celebration. The folks at MSWN gave us a warm welcome as we arrived on a beautiful, sunny November day.

Before the festivities began, we held our Connect meeting with fellow GWA member Johnson IMG_4349.JPGNicholas Staddon, serving as our host. Members shared with each other the challenges and joys of being a garden communicator in the Southwest. We agreed that people are expressing more interest in gardening. People see it as a way to enrich their lives while benefiting the earth as they focus on growing native plants or plants adapted to the regional climate.

After our meeting was over, we joined the open house festivities. We began with a trolley tour of the 120-acre nursery led by Bart Worthington, General Manager of MSWN. He drove us through fields filled with over a million plants including several new varieties not yet available to the public. MSWN frequently introduces new cultivars and trademarked plants that consistently demonstrate that the Southwestern plant palette isn’t limited to cactus. Of particular interest to us were new varieties of desert willow (Chilopsis linearis) and members of the Hesperaloe group. I know that I wasn’t the only one who was tempted to jump off the trolley to examine these new plants more closely.

Johnson Jacqueline Soule.JPGAfter the field tour we strolled through collections of plants that were introduced by MSWN throughout their 47-year history. Then we enjoyed lunch underneath white tents. Conversation flowed freely between landscape professionals – except for the occasional interruption of F-16 fighter jets from the Air Force Base next door.

During lunch I experienced an unexpected thrill when MSWN founder Ron Gass and his wife Maureen sat at our table for lunch. Ron was incredibly gracious. I felt honored to have had the opportunity to visit with the man who has impacted my career, allowing me to create beautiful outdoor spaces with plants he had developed.

At the end of the event, guests received their choice of one of the newer varieties of

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“Pink Parade” Hesperaloe Courtesy of Mountain State Wholesale Nursery

Hesperaloe cultivated by MSWN. I chose a ‘Pink Parade’ Hesperaloe to take home. It is now planted in a prominent spot in my garden to remind me of that special day.

Meet the Author

Noelle Johnson.jpgNoelle Johnson is a horticulturist, landscape consultant, and certified arborist from the desert southwest. Many know her as the “AZ Plant Lady.” She is passionate about helping people create beautiful, drought tolerant landscapes using plants that thrive in arid climates. In addition to her garden blog, “Ramblings From a Desert Garden,” she has written for several publications including Birds & Blooms, Home Depot, Phoenix Home & Garden Magazine, and Tractor Supply Company. She can also be contacted on Facebook at AZPlantLady and Twitter at AzPlantLady.

Choosing Your Next Camera: Tips From a Professional Photographer


By Mark Turner

Give three people the same camera, have them stand in the same place, and you’ll get at least three different photographs. That said, different cameras do have their strengths and weaknesses. The art of choosing a camera is to find the best compromise that works for you.

Any modern camera is capable of capturing a decent exposure. It’s not the camera that makes the photograph. The person holding the camera uses their creativity, knowledge, and experience to channel their vision through their camera to create an image.

Trillium (Trillium ovatum) among Pacific Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa). Photographed with an iPhone 6.

As I look at the market today, I see four major categories of cameras: cellphones, compact “point and shoot,” mirrorless, and single-lens reflex. Here’s a quick rundown on each of their strengths and weaknesses.


Cellphone Cameras – If you’re like me, this is the camera you always have with you. No wonder it is so popular.

  • The biggest advantage of carrying a cellphone camera is that it’s nearly idiot-proof. Just pull it out, compose, and shoot. I’ve made some wonderful images with my iPhone cameras.
  • Being idiot-proof also means you  have limited control over exposure or anything else, but that doesn’t really matter if you only want something simple.
  • Cellphone cameras have a fixed wide-angle lens so it’s easy to have everything in focus from near the camera to a distant horizon. It also means they’re not so great for portraits. A wide-angle lens often makes faces look fatter than they really are.
  • Cellphones also have very small image sensors. This means they’re not very good at low-light photography.
  • Another downside to a cellphone camera is the limited battery life. Most don’t have user-replaceable batteries.

Compact “Point and Shoot” Cameras – These cameras are small, lightweight, and usually incorporate a zoom lens. Like cellphones they’ll fit in a pocket.

  • You can change the battery and memory card when they run out or get full.
  • Pocket cameras give you much more creative control than you get with a phone camera. You’ll probably be able to choose aperture-priority or shutter-priority auto exposure as well as a fully-automatic mode.
  • They make technically better photos than a phone camera, but the results aren’t necessarily more creative.

Mirrorless Cameras –They’re called “mirrorless” because instead of having a mirror that

Sea Holly blossom (Eryngium sp.). Photographed with a Canon G12 pocket camera

directs what the lens sees to an optical viewfinder, they have an electronic viewfinder or rely only on a digital display on the back of the camera.

  • Being mirrorless significantly cuts down the size, weight, and mechanical complexity of the camera. This makes them less expensive than SLRs while retaining most of their strengths.
  • You get interchangeable lenses, a full set of exposure modes, and a host of features. I purchased a Sony A6300 just before heading to GWA Atlanta in September. I’ve been very impressed with the technical quality of the photos I’ve made with it.

Single-lens Reflex Cameras – Back in the film days if you were a serious photographer you had to have a SLR camera (make that a DSLR now for the digital version). Even with the new technology, it’s still hard to beat a SLR for the greatest control.

  • You see exactly what you’re going to get with a high-quality optical viewfinder.
  • You have a large selection of interchangeable lenses. SLR cameras are also part of systems that include sophisticated electronic flash units.
  • SLR’s have all the possible exposure modes, including full manual, bulb, and aperture- and shutter-priority auto modes. You can even put them in a full-auto mode and treat them like a big point-and-shoot.
  • The biggest downside to SLR’s is their size, weight, and complexity. You trade these for near infinite creative control. As a full-time photographer I use my rather large Canon 5D Mark III SLR and a bag full of lenses for all of my client work. I could get just as good a result with my Sony A6300 mirrorless, but there’s a certain “wow factor” with clients when I show up with a bigger camera and all that equipment.

Making Your Decision

Japanese Garden pond in rainstorm. Gibbs Garden Ball Ground, GA. Photographed with Sony A6300 mirrorless camera

Ultimately, you’ll choose a camera in one of these four categories. But within each group there are many makes and models to choose from. So how do you decide?

First, think about the features that are most important to you and narrow your list to the ones that have those features. Then visit your local camera shop so you can actually hold and play with the cameras on your short list. If possible, rent your top choices so you can make actual pictures with them.

Technical considerations aside, almost every camera choice I’ve made has come down to ergonomics. Does the camera feel comfortable in my hands? Can I see the picture in the viewfinder? Can I find the settings I need in the menus? How easy is it to change the settings I use the most?

If you’d like to read more of my thoughts about choosing a camera, I wrote an article for

Lacecap Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla cv.) with Purple Loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata “Purpurea’ in island bed in the author’s Bellingham garden. Photographed with a Canon 5D Mark III DSLR. 

my online newsletter back in 2010 about selecting a pocket camera. The models have changed since then, but the critical questions are the same. You can read it at 10 Things to Look For When Choosing a Pocket Camera. You also might benefit from going to DP Review and comparing camera specs and read reviews.


Meet the Author

Turner 7982_Turner_160425.jpgMark Turner has been photographing gardens professionally for more than 20 years. His work has been published in numerous magazines and books. He’s the photographer and co-author of two popular field guides published by Timber Press, Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest and Trees and Shrubs of the Pacific Northwest. He lives, gardens, and currently makes more of his family’s income photographing families in Bellingham, Washington. Learn more about him at Turner Photographics.