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.

Making Garden History Come Alive

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By Thomas Mickey

Every garden story includes a bit of history. For some gardens the link to the past is just more evident than others. As you write about a garden why not make the history connection more explicit?

When you dig into history and write about a garden, you enter a world of endless ideas, with many resources to help you along the way. You could write about the history of a plant, an old garden book, and even a place.

For example, when you write about dahlias, why not mention when they first became popular garden plants?Mickey Dahlia Chromolithograph.jpgThis happened in the mid-1880’s, although they had been in America since the early part of the nineteenth century. The dahlia went through an up and down period when it was in and out of fashion because people considered it garish and too showy.

mickey-bishop-of-llandaffA century later in the early 1990’s England’s Great Dixter Garden with Christopher Lloyd at the helm re-introduced the dahlia to the gardening world. He let everyone know that he loved the classic dahlia called ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ with its little red flower and purple leaves. This dahlia first entered the garden scene in the 1920’s. With Lloyd’s recommendation, the dahlia took off again and became an even more popular garden favorite today.

Where do you find out about these historical connections in gardening? Reading old garden books is one way. You might also look at histories of the garden. Because the English garden has long served as a model for the American garden, you’ll often find American garden writers recognizing our debt to the English for teaching us about gardening and garden design.

One such writer was Wilhelm Miller, a Chicago landscape architect in the early 1900’s. He wrote books and articles along with many entries in The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture, the classic garden resource published in 1901. Miller later wrote a popular book called What England Can Teach Us About Gardening. To further emphasize this connection the book’s original cover included an image of a romantic English garden. mickey-what-england-can-teach-us-about-gardening He also wrote an article with the title “English Effects with Hardy Plants” which appeared in The Garden Magazine in September 1909. In the article Miller said,

“The English have a deeper passion than we for ‘collecting.’ Everywhere you find someone who grows fifty or more varieties of his favorite flower, e.g. German or Japanese iris, or peony, or the florists’ penstemon. One English catalogue contains 346 varieties of phlox, 224 of border carnations, 180 chrysanthemums, etc. – fully three times as many as you can get in America.”

Garden writers can also chronicle the history of a place. Take for example Edith Wharton’s garden at The Mount, her country house in Lenox, Massachusetts, built around 1900. Wharton used her garden as a showcase for the Italian design that she loved. Her own landscape design book Italian Villas and their Gardens (1904) mickey-italian-villas-and-their-gardensput her in the forefront of the new interest in Italian garden design in that period.

Mickey Edith Wharton Home.jpgToday at The Mount her garden has been restored to its early glory, including the fountain with its flowerbeds. These gardens were part of a GWA Region I meeting earlier this year.

So instead of just writing about the newest dahlia – which is hard to do since there are hundreds of dahlias on the market – you might focus on dahlias as garden fashion, first in England and then in America.

You will also find that certain garden writers take as their theme the history of the garden. One of my favorite English writers is David Stuart. Over many years he has written several books about the history of plants and gardening.

Whether you write about a plant, a garden book, or a place, try finding a link to its history. To incorporate parts of garden history into your writing. All of this requires some research but that could be fun. You learn so much along the way.


Meet the Author

Tom Mickey.jpgThomas Mickey, a GWA member for twenty years, gardens on the New Hampshire seacoast. He is a retired Professor of Communication Studies at Bridgewater State University, Bridgewater, Mass.


Region V Visits Tulsa’s Great Gardens


By Sharon Beasly

The weather could not have been better for the GWA Region V meeting to see the great public gardens of Tulsa. October this year in Oklahoma was exceptionally nice and warm, perfect for our time together.

beasley-region-v-04Our first stop was the Linnaeus Teaching Gardens ( in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Woodward Park. The Linnaeus Garden may be small with only l.55 acres, but it packs a punch. We strolled through the entry under a canopy of 100 year old red cedar trees. A few years back one of the old trees died. It had been transformed into a work of art by Clayton Coss (, a chainsaw carver from Wagner, Oklahoma.

At the end of the entry walk, we encountered a statue of Carl Linnaeus who seemed posed to welcome us. In one hand he held a bloom of Gaillardia pulchella, the Oklahoma state wildflower, and in the other hand a botanical book, symbolizing the botanical naming system he developed that is still in use today. We couldn’t resist gathering around old Carl for a group shot.

Barry Fugatt, Director of the garden, met us near the entrance and gave us a tour through the six different garden areas: Water Garden, Fountain Garden, Boulder Garden, Fruit and Vegetable Garden, Herb Garden, and Orchid Shelter. Every garden is a wonderful place for generating ideas for the home landscape.

In addition to the many gardens, the developers also managed to find room for a red barn they used for a learning center, a small greenhouse, and gift shop. All of these features had to be designed to fit on property with a 13 ft. change of level between the highest and lowest points. Somehow they did this without damaging the large trees on the site.

At the end of the tour, we each picked our favorite spot in the Linnaeus Garden to enjoy Beasley Region V 02.jpgtasty box lunches from Lambrusco’z Deli in Tulsa. After lunch we drove off to the Tulsa Botanic Garden.

The Tulsa Botanic Garden ( is a very new garden endeavor only eight miles from downtown Tulsa but out in the boonies – no kidding – with a master plan designed to have the garden eventually cover 60 acres. Walking the Tulsa Botanic Garden provides plenty of exercise for a day.

In just three years, they have made a good start bringing the plan to life with a seven-acre lake surrounded in part by a fantastic two-acre Children’s Discovery Garden, a three-acre floral terrace divided by a grand cascade of water terraces from the top down into the lake, and a plethora of plants everywhere.

Perhaps the most memorable sight was the whimsical image of the 15 foot Spring Giant statue overlooking the head of a water spring in the children’s garden. It is a bit formidable with deep-set glass eyes, a crawdad nose, and mouthful of large teeth over which water flows. If you walk to the backside of the Giant you can enter a grotto that is his body, complete with stalactites hanging from above.

Beasley Region V 03.jpgOn the A.R. and Marylouise Tandy Terrace there were wonderful displays of “over 8,000 permanent plants including trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses, roses and perennials set in terraced beds on a hillside which offers views of downtown Tulsa from its peak.” But the area that I loved most was a field where pink and white cosmos were allowed to grow wild. It was a wonderful sight reminiscent of the prairie native to the area.

I do not have enough room to describe all the marvelous features of this new botanic garden but I highly recommend it as a garden to visit. We were fortunate to have President Todd Lasseigne guiding us around the gardens. I hope to return next year for the spring tulip display. Next time, though, I will remember to wear my best walking shoes.

Meet the Author

sharon-beasleySharon Beasley has been addicted to gardening for over 30 years. She gardens on an acre in Newcastle, Oklahoma. Her weekly garden column has been in the Newcastle Pacer ( since 1992. She is a long time member of the Oklahoma Horticultural Society ( and GWA:The Association of Garden Communicators.


My Cuban Adventure

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By Louise Clarke

Clarke Mural.jpgIn June, 2016 I seized a last minute opportunity to join an escorted tour to Havana and western Cuba with other horticulturally-inclined travelers. This trip had been arranged by Holbrook Travel , Gainesville, Florida to highlight historic Havana, its horticulture, and botanic gardens. With President Obama’s earlier visit in March, and the prospect of normalizing relations, now seemed an opportune time to go before the fabric of Cuban society changes with an influx of American cash and culture.

Departing Miami on a sultry Sunday morning, my plane touched down at José Martí International Airport, southwest of Havana in less than 60 minutes. I soon discovered that my flight was a trip back in time to the 1950’s. The first indication of this was my descent down the rickety aircraft stairway to reach the shimmering tarmac. No motorized jet ways here. Continue reading “My Cuban Adventure”

Converting Photos to Garden Art on Demand

Found on this is called “California Sunflowers”

By Betty Mackey

Do you have a hard drive filled with photos taken over the years you’ve been a garden communicator? This resource can be used to create online art that will provide an additional source of income. With the holiday shopping season now here, that’s something worth thinking about.

A writer and independent publisher, I am now also a print-on-demand (POD) artist. My garden images are a resource for decorating products which I sell through online art sites. My portfolio includes both photography and digital paintings. Being a POD artist covers producing more than books and canvas prints. Pillows, fabrics, phone cases, leggings, shirts, dresses, scarves, mugs, and more can be ordered one at a time by consumers. I would love to see more work from my fellow garden communicators on POD sites. Continue reading “Converting Photos to Garden Art on Demand”

The Real Chanticleer: Notes on a Season at America’s Most Inspiring Garden

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By Christopher Freimuth

Chanticleer Garden, the former estate of the Rosengarten family of pharmaceutical fame, is a relatively small “pleasure garden” in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Since opening to the public in the early 1990’s, it has quickly become, in the words of Garden Design,  “America’s most inspiring garden.” Good call, Garden Design.

Chanticleer01.jpgI just finished a six-month stint interning at Chanticleer as part of my two-year academic program at the New York Botanical Garden’s School of Professional Horticulture. I had three goals: to expand my plant palette, to learn progressive horticultural practices, and to engage in dialogue with Chanticleer staff about garden design. I looked forward to being in a supportive learning environment and connecting with the larger gardening world. In taking me on, the staff at Chanticleer committed to providing these opportunities. Six months later, what’s my assessment? Did Chanticleer live up to its reputation and its promises? Continue reading “The Real Chanticleer: Notes on a Season at America’s Most Inspiring Garden”