Drums for the Doldrums


By Steven Biggs

As I walked my youngest son, Keaton, to the local drum shop to sign up for lessons I thought, “The noise will drive me bonkers.” He was already whacking a big bongo drum and shaking maracas as I filled out a form and paid.

Sitting outside the studio for the first couple of drum lessons, I thought, “Wow, that’s loud.” But I also caught my feet and hands moving to the beat. Not long after that I took my kids, Keaton, Quinn, and Emma, to a drum workshop to fuel Keaton’s excitement. I also came home with drums on the brain. All that talk of texture, layers, and colour really intrigued me.

I asked Keaton’s instructor, Altaf, if he has adult students. “Lots,” he said, explaining they typically have desk jobs and want to blow off a little steam. Then he started talking about rhythm and life. He made it sound so obvious as he described the importance of rhythm in life.

That talk of rhythm got me thinking about writing. I was coming out of a writing drought and sensed that rhythm was key to regrowing my writing habit. A good routine makes me a far more productive writer.drum-set

I started drum lessons the very next week. One week after that, I backed the van into my driveway and unloaded an old drum set to the amusement (and horror) of my wife,

The Early-Morning Writing Beat

Quality writing time doesn’t just happen. I have to make it happen. And making it happen depends on having a good rhythm in my life.

My best writing time is before the rest of the household awakens. I love the early morning. When my mind is sometimes still foggy I can imagine things that I can’t at other times of day. I can connect dots that don’t appear at other times. Stray thoughts aren’t chipping away at my focus.

Over the years, I’ve tried different early-morning routines including meditating and jogging. I now know that for me, early mornings are best reserved for writing. I don’t waste them on anything else.

To wring the best results out of my early-morning writing window, I minimize distractions. For starters, I prepare the coffee percolator the night before so that all I have to do in the morning is plug it in. As the coffee perks, I turn on the light at my desk, fire up the computer, and grab a red pen.

E-mail is the easiest way to contaminate this time, so I leave it for later. The same goes for the social media vortex. Seed catalogues are a definite no-no.

Different Times of Day, Different Tempo

As I walk home from the schoolyard after the get-the-kids-ready-for-school hustle, my mind races in a dozen different directions. This time of day is a good time for phone calls, e-mails, and less creative work. Mid-morning, when I shift gears and get back to writing, I turn off the telephone ringer.

By early afternoon, when I’m bleary-eyed from writing and my neck and shoulders are stiff, the drum set beckons. It’s an afternoon espresso, a workout, an adrenaline rush, and a stretch all rolled into one. It’s a new anchor to my routine.

Rhythm, Writing, and Lifedrum-players

A good rhythm makes me much more productive. The beat that anchors my writing habit is regular early-morning writing. Drums jazz up the afternoon. And the Thursday
afternoon drum lesson punctuates the week.

Sometimes I lose my writing beat. It’s normal. Life is full of unexpected opportunities and challenges. There is also the predictable rhythm of the seasons, bringing gardening weather and the temptation to write less. But I can get back in the writing groove when I make time in my life for good rhythm.


Meet the Author

Horticulturist Steven Biggs writes and speaks about farming, food, and gardening. He is the author of the Canadian bestseller No Guff Vegetable Gardening (No Nonsense Vegetable Gardening by St. Lynn’s Press in the USA), the award-winning Grow Figs Where You Think You Can’t, and Grow Gardeners: Kid-Tested Gardening with Children, which he wrote with his nine-year old daughter, Emma. Find Steven at www.stevenbiggs.ca.

GWA Visits Botanical Treasures in Fort Worth


By Shelley Cramm

Oklahoma and North Texas area GWA members and their guests recently enjoyed an engaging and informative afternoon January 27 at the Botanic Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) in Fort Worth. The program was overflowing with inspiration, from the landscape artistry of local painter Rebecca Zook to presentations by speakers from the North Texas area. Touring the marvelous herbarium and libraries at BRIT was the heart of the afternoon. This was followed with connections and conversations among area GWA members, artists, horticulturists, scientists, editors, landscape designers, and writers. And in true GWA tradition, attendees were sent home with foliage and floral display for their gardens, courtesy of Plant Development Services.

What is BRIT?

The Botanic Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) is located next to the Fort Worth Botanic McCormick BRIT plant donations.jpgGardens in Fort Worth’s cultural district. Its library collections and herbarium began when holdings from Southern Methodist University (SMU) libraries grew too large and sprawling for the university to contain. It was time for “propagating by division,” so to speak. In the early 1980’s, the books and specimens were separated from SMU as the first two gifts toward creating BRIT as an institution in its own right.

To make this happen Barney L. Lipscomb, current Director of BRIT Press and Leonhardt Chair of Texas Botany, and a handful of like-minded colleagues and supporters, worked in a visionary manner to draw in donors and found the new entity. The organization sprang to life in converted warehouses near the downtown Fort Worth railroad depot. In 2011 BRIT was replanted to its current, sustainable campus, complete with a Living Roof.

The mission of BRIT is “to conserve our natural heritage, to deepen our knowledge of the plant world, and to achieve public awareness of the value plants bring life.” This should strike a chord with GWA garden communicators. Both local and national garden writers are encouraged to explore the botanical treasures in assembling articles, blog research, books bibliographies, etc. To search the online catalog, visit www.brit.org/library/. For in person library appointments, contact Laura Venhaus, our gracious host for the afternoon, at lvenhaus@brit.org.

GWA Connect at BRIT

Ann McCormick was the first one to introduce me to BRIT’s impressive facilities. She arranged for us to meet with BRIT’s Director of Libraries, Laura Venhaus. Inspiration abounded that day. Deciding to capitalize on this tremendous venue, we made plans to organize a GWA Connect meeting, and create an opportunity for local members to get together in between GWA Annual Conferences. An afternoon of tours through BRIT’s treasures, complimented by guest speakers, would make for a complete program offering and hopefully contagious creativity.

The afternoon at BRIT kicked-off with a viewing of over 25 paintings in an exhibit entitled, “Native to this Place: Earth and Sky Featuring the Clouds and Grasses of Texas.” Rebecca Zook, local landscape artist, was on hand to speak with attendees about her work. Each piece of her artwork was accompanied by her written comments on the painting and its mood, motivation, and beauty observed.

Then the formal meeting began with an introduction to BRIT—the archives, specimens, and research materials in botany, horticulture, and natural history. GWA members and guests were shepherded by one of the lead volunteer ambassadors on a tour of these areas. He began by providing insight into the U.S. Green Building Council LEED-certified design of the building. He is one of 418 volunteers who give over 7800 hours annually to help steward the collections. His knowledge and enthusiasm were well-communicated!

The BRIT Herbarium contains over one million plant specimens, which makes the facility the largest independent collection in the United States. Our tour guide ushered us into the inner workings of the institution, where gathered samples are pressed, frozen, mounted, and recorded. We continued our journey back through the climate-controlled area containing rows and rows of floor-to-nearly-ceiling movable storage cabinets housing the specimens. They are organized taxonomically by plant family and continent. The setting gave us an appreciation for the wealth of plant variety, as well as the commitment to keep botanic records intact for researchers and enthusiasts alike for generations. The collection inventory was recently updated. Anyone interested in accessing the BRIT Digital Herbarium can click here.

Next we went upstairs to the libraries. Several libraries compose the bibliographic holdings. We lingered mostly in The Oliver G. Burk Memorial Library rare book room. The McCormick BRIT specimen detail.jpgsmell of old books drew us in, a cherished scent for most writers! We looked over beautiful volumes of botanical illustrations on display and browsed the spines of books from the last 150+ years of botany and natural history. In addition to these rare books, BRIT houses over 100,000 volumes in their research library, a secure, climate-controlled room of institutional book stacks which we skipped over to enjoy the more vibrant, user-friendly Burk Children’s Library. BRIT’s extensive, joyful children’s collection of titles hopes to inspire young people with garden stories and gardening basics, complete with colorful carpeting, furniture, and weekly “Bella’s Storytime.” Bella is a pink begonia, a persona created to promote the connection between science and literacy (and fun!).

After the tour we regrouped in the meeting room for snacks and coffee. Then Dottie Woodson, of Texas A&M AgriLife Research & Extension, horticultural sage to area gardeners, horticulturists, and home owners alike, spoke to us on extension education, from its historical roots and structure to observations on today’s changes in landscaping methods. In her frank, friendly style, she emphasized the approachability and availability of extension agents like herself, an asset to Texas garden writers.

McCormick BRIT library.jpgWhile Woodson addressed the garden-end of things, Erin Booke, editor of the LIFE section of The Dallas Morning News (TDMN), spoke to the writing-end of our profession. She discussed the changing state of newspaper publishing, the importance of social media, and the key role of visuals in developing an article idea. We were particularly interested to hear that she was looking for story ideas that integrate with social media as well as print. She told us that TDMN, like other newspapers, was experiencing an increasing shift in focus toward the digital world, particularly video.

Finally, attendees browsed and admired shrubs donated by Plant Development Services, an old friend to GWA. These included:

  • ‘Soft Caress’ mahonias for shaded areas from the Southern Living Plant Collection, with feathery, soft leaves and yellow spray of pom-pom flowers.
  • ‘Lemon Lime’ nandinas, a low growing, border shrub, also from the Southern Living Plant Collection, that brightens the landscape with chartreuse-colored new growth.
  • Three new varieties from the Encore Azalea line, with blooms in the pinkish tones and winter foliage interest with leaves turning to deep bronze as temperatures drop.

Like all other GWA Connect meetings, this event was a success on many levels. Longtime members enjoyed the chance to catch up and visit with each other in the New Year. Guests and prospective members were given the opportunity to learn more about GWA and enjoy first-hand the benefits of membership.

The meeting ended as we gathered around a laptop, campfire-style, and viewed the video “Welcome to GWA2017!” The Buffalo arrangements committee has prepared a warm and exciting invitation to this city. We all are eager to see the adorable, creative gardens of Buffalo for ourselves this summer!


Meet the Author

Shelley CrammShelley S. Cramm, is the General Editor of God’s Word for Gardeners Bible. She writes a bi-weekly blog called Garden In Delight. Shelley joined GWA six years ago with little experience and a big commission to explore the Bible from a gardener’s point of view. From her GWA membership she gained the needed education and encouragement to write, market, photograph, and speak on her work.


A Day at NCNLA Green and Growin’ 17!

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By: Anelle Ammons

Thursdays are busy days for me. I get up, get my kids to their respective schools, and try to get a little sanity before picking them both up again later. However, I also like to spice things up when I see an opportunity. So this January, after a small snafu with my babysitter, I was able to slip away by 12:30 and head to North Carolina Nursery & Landscape Association’s Green and Growin’ 17 in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Arthur CD57AA58-BB1D-4466-B657-16C8D3524480.JPGThe trip was a little over an hour’s drive from my home. Soon I was signing in for my complimentary badge. A big thank you to NCNLA for letting GWA members attend for free.

I had attended this trade show last year, but I was still overwhelmed when I walked in the front door. There were booths and people in every direction. I found some amazing plant displays, as well as ones for tools and heavy equipment. I talked to several representatives of local nurseries that I had met before and met several more that I hadn’t realized were working in my area. I even found a local plant wholesaler whose business owner’s mother walks through my neighborhood and chats with me and my boys often. Small world!

Walking the trade show floor was an adventure. Along with meeting up with some of the GWA members on the floor, I found several friends from North Carolina State University that I don’t get to chat with often. There was also some sort of putt-putt tournament at a lounge that was drawing in quite a crowd. I didn’t stay for the final scores.

Networking is one of the most important parts of NCNLA. I was able to meet several of theAmmons riding mower.jpg NC State professors I’ve worked with online but never seen in person. I had a long, impromptu conversation with my horticulture major advisor about my upcoming research. We also spoke with some of the nurseries we will be working with this coming summer.

Even though I only spent about four hours at the show before closing, my feet were tired. I felt like I’d “seen” everything even though I hadn’t had enough time to spend visiting every booth. You really need more than four hours to get the full experience.

Arthur IMG_1823.JPGAs fun as the trade show was, and as fun as it was seeing some of my friends from the university, perhaps the best part was the GWA Connect meeting afterward . We retired to the bar at the hotel where the bulk of the conference was being held. We were a small crowd, but that lent itself to more personal conversations and connections. We even had some of the nursery representatives stop by to introduce themselves.

I left that evening for the drive home wondering if I could manage my schedule to drive back down for the day Friday, as well. Although Green and Growin’ isn’t one of the biggest shows in the country, it sure has a lot to offer. I left excited to find some more shows to attend and ready to return again next year.


Meet the Author

anelle-ammonsAnelle Ammons is a plant geek, garden writer, and graduate student in horticulture at North Carolina State University. When she isn’t playing with her husband and two sons, she can be found in the garden, on a hiking trail, or sharing horticulture on Twitter at https://twitter.com/anellesgardenin .



TPIE 2017: Insights Into the Tropical Plant Industry

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By Louise Clarke

For the second year, garden communicators were invited to the Tropical Plant Industry Expo (TPIE) held in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, January 18 – 20. This mid-winter event is produced by FNGLA, the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association.

This year Association members Sylvia Gordon and Jennifer Nelis rolled out the red carpet for GWA. Glowing reports from first year attendees and the alluring promotional materials we received enticed 40 garden communicators to attend this year, up from 2016’s 18 attendees. Timed immediately after the GWA Board meeting, TPIE provided opportunities for two days of GWA-exclusive tours before and after the trade show.

clarke-patch-of-heavenOn Tuesday, prior to the opening of TPIE, Sylvia and Jennifer hosted a special morning-into-night tour for GWA. We stopped first at The Kampong, winter home of the famed plant explorer David Fairchild and now part of The National Tropical Botanical Garden. Situated on beautiful Biscayne Bay, it is home to many of the plants Fairchild introduced to U.S. soil.

Passing under the enormous Baobab tree at the Kampong gates with its dark tangle of aerial roots, we entered an earthly paradise of lush greenery and birdsong. There we enjoyed swaying palms, prehistoric cycads, flowering trees, and exotic fruits, including over 50 varieties of mangos. The early morning light was perfect for the photographers among us.

Next we boarded our bus for the secluded Patch of Heaven Gardens in Miami-Dade County. We toured the property with Owner Bruce Chesney and horticulturist Fred Hubbard. Upon entering Bruce’s house, we crossed a wooden bridge over a meandering piscine stream, with trickling waterfall walls on either side. Orchids, ferns, and bromeliads perched on the native rock. Asian furnishings accented the tropical ambience. The indoor pool had views out to the endangered tropical hammock forest.

We next visited Costa Farms for a tour of the trial gardens and a delicious buffet lunch. Clarke Costa Farms Trial Gdn.jpgJustin Hancock, Costa’s Consumer Marketing and Digital Specialist, gave us an overview of Costa and highlighted the trial garden features. There were many photo opportunities as we viewed row after row of annuals, perennials, and succulents, and garden vignettes. Armed with our swag bags and a Costa-grown houseplant, we departed for another nursery visit.

Robert Fuchs, owner of R.F. Orchids, greeted us at his Homestead property. Amazing blooming orchids festooned the trees, among them the rare Florida native ghost orchid. In the retail nursery hung hundreds of Vanda orchids in a rainbow of hues. Our schedule prohibited us from lingering, so we did not get to sample Bob’s scorpion-infused liquor.

Clarke Mont Bot Ctr Gwa 2017.jpgLate afternoon found us visiting Montgomery Botanical Center in Coral Gables. Executive Director Dr. Patrick Griffith led us on a tour of the grounds. Palms and cycads from around the world, some critically endangered, are grown and studied here. Then we were treated to a buffet dinner inside the Montgomery’s former residence. As evening descended we said our goodbyes amid the cacophony of crying peacocks.

Our final stop was South Beach’s Lincoln Road, an historic shopping and dining promenade. Dating from the 1950’s and featuring “Miami Modern” architecture, it was one of the first pedestrian malls. In 2010 landscape architect Raymond Jungles filled the center of the mall with plantings of Florida Everglades plants and other tropicals. Several towering cypress trees in watery planters anchored the space. Uplighting added a warm ambiance to the nighttime milieu. Under balmy, moonlit skies, we strolled to Juvia, an ultramodern restaurant perched atop a designer parking garage, featuring uplighted green walls. It was a lovely finale to a thoroughly fascinating, but exhausting day.

Wednesday was dedicated to TPIE. We enjoyed complimentary access to all events, VIP Clarke Hucker property.JPGseating at the keynote presentation, and unlimited access to the show floor. FNGLA had designated Wednesday as “Garden Communicators Day.” Keynote speaker and trend spotter Jane Lockhart opened the show talking about changing demographics, Pantone’s Color of the Year “greenery,” and how plants connect people to the places where they live and work.

Lloyd Singleton, TPIE committee chair and University of Florida extension agent, hosted our GWA-exclusive tour, ushering members around the show, introducing us to key exhibitors and highlighting cool new products. After that we were turned loose to roam five acres of aisles and over 400 exhibitors. I came away with free samples, numerous tropical nursery contacts, and a plethora of ideas for lectures, workshops, articles, and blog posts.

On Thursday after TPIE Sylvia Gordon gave us a tour that took us to more green walls, a commercial bromeliad nursery, and private gardens including Block Botanical Gardens. Our first stop took us to Hyde Beach Residence and Resorts. As we watched, the parking garage’s western façade, facing busy Hallandale Beach Boulevard, was covered with a living wall manufactured by GSky Plant Systems, one of the TPIE exhibitors. GSky’s service manager Patrick Ballay explained the installation process, and site challenges. With necks craned, we watched a team of installers lift pre-planted modules into place.

Clarke Green Wall Tour.JPGOur next stop on Collins Avenue was Acqualina Condominiums, home to more GSky green walls. Patrick showed us exterior green walls and the sales office’s interior green wall. When the sales manager heard that media was visiting, he graciously invited our group to view the model condominium, priced at a mere $7M, and enjoy the balcony views of beach and surf. Winding our way past the Rolls Royces, Bentleys, and Ferraris in the resident parking area, we boarded our transport for the next stop.

Situated in a gated community on Biscayne Bay, the Hucker property was a compound of two contemporary residences surrounded by tropical gardens designed by Brian Rogers of Avalon Gardens.  Entering through the wooden gate, Brian introduced us to a lush area of swaying palms, bromeliads, heliconias, and fragrant gardenias.  These plantings softened the imposing white angular mid-century modern architecture. Strolling past the blue Balinese-styled swimming pool and pavilion, we had stunning views of the canal, Biscayne Bay, and the remnants of Stiltsville, a historic fishing camp.

Clarke Peaches Dr Block.JPGWith little time to linger and enjoy the expansive views, Sylvia urged us to board our bus for a visit to family owned Bullis Bromeliads. Dazzling bromeliads including aechmeas, alcantareas, billbergias, and neoregelias, with colorful stripes, splotches, and other-worldy blooms charmed us. In addition to the nursery, the property boasted a large landscape display with a lake and waterfalls, designed to highlight bromeliads in garden settings.

The day’s final stop was Block Botanical Gardens in residential Miami, situated on a former mango grove. Owner Dr. Jeffrey Block greeted us and proudly showed us the National Champion mango tree, a vestige of the area’s past. Live oaks, palms and cycads from around the world, orchids, bromeliads, and the country’s largest outdoor planting of lipstick palm (Cyrtostachys renda) were displayed to horticultural perfection. Peaches, Dr, Block’s salmon-crested cockatoo, was a big hit as she talked, sang, and danced on Block’s shoulder during our tour of the enclosed plant collection.

Clarke TPIE Show 2017.jpgAll in all, the TPIE experience combined with two days of tours gave attendees valuable insights into the tropical plant industry of southern Florida. It was a triumph of cooperation and communication between GWA and FNGLA. Hats off to Sylvia Gordon and Jennifer Nelis, who invested countless hours making this a special event for GWA members.

About the Author:

Louise Clarke with coco natural, Cuba, 6/18/16

Region II Director Louise Clarke is employed by The Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia. Besides tending a sustainable landscape which includes rain gardens and green roofs, she leads workshops, lectures, creates social media content, and writes for Seasons, the Arboretum’s periodical, and Washington Gardener Magazine. After hours she tends Halcyon, her personal garden, home to a tiki hut surrounded by lush plantings reminiscent of a Rousseau painting.

MANTS Sets the Tone for Garden Writers

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By Daniel Gasteiger

My vernalization begins in January. That’s when cold temperatures numb my synapses and I become desperate to shake it off and start to produce fruit in defiance. I’m cautious, however, and mulch my synapses to protect them from the miserably deep freeze likely to settle in before a spring thaw. One of my favorite mulches for this purpose is the Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show (MANTS). I’ve assembled some thoughts for you about this year’s show.

My Need for Frugality

MANTS is fantastic, providing access to about 1,000 industry businesses in a single convention hall. The show runs in Baltimore for two-and-a-half days each January. It’s more than a day trip for me. Even when I stay through the whole conference, I fail to visit every booth that interests me, so staying over is essential.

MANTS of 2017 had 1,536 booth spaces occupied by 952 companies. You’re seeing about half in this photo. 

I always cringe when I check out hotels offering special rates for conference attendees. It’s hard to trade the cost of two weeks of groceries for a night’s sleep and a shower. So I search for inexpensive alternatives within a reasonable drive of the show.

This year I selected a Red Roof Inn near the airport. They charged about one third what I’d pay to stay in town. Two nights there plus daily parking fees cost less than a night’s stay near the conference center.

MANTS Treats Press Well

For GWA and other members of the press, MANTS provided a room that featured seating and work tables, a dedicated bathroom, refreshments, wi-fi, and an entrance directly onto the show floor. On the second morning of the show, there was also a breakfast in the press

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GWA members tend to gravitate to the association’s booth where they swap insights about the show-where to find the most sensational hellebore, for example. 

room where organizers talked about the show’s history and attendance statistics. Several vendors presented plants or other products they were introducing.

Throughout the conference, handouts about the show were available in the press room. One packet listed new products as reported by vendors. You could start the show by perusing that list and identifying vendors whose stories would most interest your audience.


On the first day of MANTS a GWA Connect meeting provided an opportunity for members to relax and become better acquainted. When the show floor closed, GWA members trickle into the lobby of the nearby Lord Baltimore Hotel and shared stories about their travels, people they met at the show, new products, upcoming events, and more. Each year’s GWA Connect meeting feels like a happy family gathering.

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Lunch for interested GWA members on the second day of MANTS was informal gathering a restaurant across from the convention center. 

Around one o’clock on the second day of MANTS, GWA members and acquaintances gathered in the lobby of the conference center and crossed the street to a cafeteria-style restaurant for lunch. There were brief introductions and lively conversations – and at least some craziness ensued.

There was an Emergent party that involved GWA members. Emergent is a collective of young horticulture professionals who represent the future of the industry.  Emergent and the Horticultural Research Institute (HRI) invited GWA to a reception where we learned that Steve Black of Raemelton Farm received the Nursery Management Grower of the Year award. Such events provide GWA members opportunities to learn about horticultural industry influencers and to meet people whose activities may inspire articles.

One of my favorite opportunities for GWA members at MANTS is our booth on the show

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In the week after MANTS, I filed an article about water gardens and sold a few photos along with it. This one ran with the article, though sadly in black-and-white. 

floor. If you have a chance to work the booth at any trade show, do it! We greet passers-by and offer encouragement to join up. Often vendors, hoping to get attention for their products, visit the booth. You may end up with something new to try in your own garden—or at least an interesting story to tell.

Aside from enjoying the camaraderie, picking up some samples, discovering new products, and learning more about industry organizations, I benefited financially from MANTS. So far, the newspaper I write for has published a feature I scooped there and has accepted a second one for publication soon. I’ll submit a third article shortly. Photos, interviews, and collateral I collected at MANTS may play a part in half a dozen articles before spring.


Meet the Author

Daniel Gasteiger.jpgDaniel Gasteiger writes about gardening and food for The Daily Item in Sunbury, PA. He blogs at http://www.smallkitchengarden.net though health problems have distracted him from it quite a bit in the past year.

Coached into Growing


By Donna Balzer

Peggy really wanted to grow food but she wasn’t sure if she had the time or the place. We were meeting over Skype for a coaching session and I was trying to inspire her to just get growing.

“Grow a sprout overnight, a micro-green in a week or a radish in a month,” I said with a grin. “It’s so simple!”

Peggy was ready to give greens a try in her small apartment because she wanted home-grown edibles ASAP. Sprouts are the speediest but micro-greens take less than a week from seeding to eating and they look more like real food. And if she had more time? I suggested she grow radish – it only takes a month.

A garden in the traditional sense is too far off for Peggy, especially in Canada in February Balzer Greens on a Plate.jpgwhen we are months away from outdoor gardening. With fingers twitching and green thumbs fading, Peggy wanted to get growing. So I prescribed micro-green pea shoots. All she needed was a few seeds, an open plastic tray, potting mix, and a heat mat.

Seed left over from last year’s garden is good enough. You can also buy special seed at Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds. The plastic plant tray is probably in your shed or garage, left over from last year’s bedding plant season. Whatever you use, make sure it has drainage holes in the bottom.

I recommend filling the tray with moistened, sterile potting mix such as Pro-Mix instead of real soil. I’ve seen seeds rot and mildew when grown in compost or garden soil. In fact to prevent disease it is best to use clean, sterile soil for each batch planted. All the energy needed for greens is in the seed, but disease can cling to the flats or soil. I fill the flat with 3 cm. (about an inch and a half) of new potting mix and generously sprinkle the seed in a fairly thick single layer. Then I spread additional soil to cover the seed and water well so the soil is completely saturated.

I use a “diaper” under the soil-filled tray so the water doesn’t pour out as soon as it is added to the standard 28 by 44 cm. (11 by 17 inches) plastic tray. A layer of felt or section of newspaper makes a great diaper and stops the flooding.

Once excess water is drained away, I place the flat on a heating mat such as the Jump Start heating seed mat. If you have a grow light or an in-floor heating system (as is common in Canadian homes) you can start seeds on top of the lights or warm floor instead of on the special mat. Seeds will sprout in a day or two like regular sprouts. In six days micro-greens are tall, tasty, and edible.

Balzer Microgreens.jpgFor traditional seed starting I generally use a four-foot bank of lights. The stacked lighting is a fabulous luxury, if you can afford it, but only if you are going to get serious about growing salads. If you just want a few micro-greens to add to store-bought salad mix, you can do without lights.

The mistake I first made growing micro-greens was to put them under grow lights. This kept them short and stocky. This is fine if you’re starting full-sized plants for the garden but they were so short they were hard to cut as greens. As soon as I balanced the trays on top of my bank of lights instead of under them, my luck and my crop changed. The roots were warmed by the lights below them while the stems were forced to reach for the light. With this change the micro-greens looked just like the sprouts I saw for sale at the market – tall, delicate, and thin. Who doesn’t want to grow something that looks as good as store-bought?

Not long ago I wrote about this on my website. When I was getting photographs taken for my page I forced Dan, my photographer, to try a bite of some pea greens I had grown for the photo shoot. He winced. Pulled away a bit. But I pushed them up to his mouth. He was forced to take a bite.

“Mmm, that is good. It tastes like green peas.” Not surprisingly, onion microgreens also taste like onions and kale greens taste like kale.

As you dream of spring, you can enjoy the taste of summer if you start growing micro-greens on a regular basis. Depending on the size of your family a tray of greens might be enough for a week’s worth of salads. My coaching student Peggy decided to start with half a tray because she lives alone.

It is great to keep the rotation going by starting new seeds again in a second tray the day you start harvesting the first batch. Then, like Peggy, you can grow food even when the outdoor temperatures are frigid and nothing inspires you to step outside.


Meet the Author

balzer_i5a9174Garden expert, speaker and author, Donna Balzer is also a regular guest on CBC radio in Alberta, Canada and host of internationally aired Bugs & Blooms on HGTV. She helps gardeners grow and beginners blossom so they can have lots of fun growing great gardens using simple practical tips. Get connected with her at http://www.donnabalzer.com/.

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?

I certainly don’t have all the answers but by sharing my journey I hope to help you to assess your own choices, ultimately leading to a more balanced life while avoiding the crazy “hamster in the wheel” syndrome, where no matter how fast you run you never seem to reach the end.

What is Your Motivation?

Chapman Foliage First cover.jpgMy goal when starting a container garden design business ten years ago was simply to earn enough money to put our two children through college. My husband was earning a healthy paycheck in the IT industry so I had the luxury of accepting or declining clients as whim and inspiration called. However, after a series of injuries, I realized that this physically demanding career was going to be short lived. I needed to diversify – fast.

Thus began my writing career when I was asked to design and write about a number of shade container gardens for Fine Gardening in 2006. Other than scientific papers I hadn’t written anything more original than shopping lists since graduating from University. I soon discovered that I loved this new outlet for sharing my enthusiasm for gardening and design. From this the seed for eventually writing a book was sown.

The following year I joined GWA and started my blog, Garden Adventures for Thumbs of All Colors. I acquired a wide range of readers – home gardeners, editors, plant growers, and publishers. Those blog posts led to other writing assignments as well as consultation and design clients.

In these early days, before I established my reputation as a designer and writer I gladly accepted low paying writing assignments for companies such as Houzz. These expanded my areas of influence, built my resume, and helped me understand the nuances of working with different editorial styles and meeting deadlines. Did I work for “exposure”? Sure. I knew no better and I had nothing to lose – then. But things change.


A major shift came in 2012 when my husband lost his job. Suddenly I was the sole earner. I had to make every minute count. Working for free or “exposure” was no longer an option. Spending two days to write a short piece for Houzz that only earned $40 was not a good use of my time. Funnily enough, as soon as I turned down these so-called opportunities I received requests from other companies and websites asking me to write for them at a much better rate. This helped validate that potentially risky decision.

Now I started to seek clients who were not only asking for a garden design but had a healthy budget to see it installed by professionals. By offering my services as a project consultant I was able to significantly increase my income from the earlier container gardening or design-only clients.


As part of my business marketing I now write both a newsletter and a re-vamped blog but I Chapman High res book cover.jpghave discovered that more people sign up for my newsletter than my blog. It therefore makes sense for me to spend more time sending out a newsletter every month or quarter (with plenty of calls to action and links to buy services and products) than I do writing informative but non-income generating blog posts.

Are blogs worth the time it takes to write the post? This is a question many of us have asked in recent years. Why are you writing a blog? For me it was initially about creating an online presence, establishing a following, building a brand, and learning how to write concisely, accurately, and quickly. I achieved all that but I have now reduced my posts from twice a week to twice a month. My focus today is to use the blog to promote my landscape design business first and foremost as well as sell books, video classes, events, and workshops. I don’t need to write so often to get the financial results I want.

My income from publishing (freelance writing, book royalties, sale of photographs, and shared revenue from Craftsy videos) now exceeds that from design. I am strategic in my agreement to work for ‘exposure’ – there has to be a really good reason, either philanthropic or business, to give my time, resources, and expertise away.

I am still the primary earner but thanks to the success of my husband’s new business Stumpdust, some of the pressure has been alleviated. We have also reduced our monthly expenses by making significant changes to our lifestyle.

Today my focus is to find the balance between enjoying our new grandchild and generating a livable wage. Both writing and landscape design will continue to provide our primary income while allowing me to work flexible hours. I also am beginning to generate some supplemental income from photography.

My peers and friends at GWA continue to provide me with a sounding board and offer both support and advice as I navigate each step. While I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, I am learning how to adapt to new challenges and changing times. I understand the importance of re-evaluating my personal hamster wheel on a regular basis. How about you?

Meet the Author 

Karen Chapman.jpgBorn in England, Karen owns Le jardinet, a Seattle based landscape design business. She is co-author with Christina Salwitz of Gardening with Foliage First (Timber Press, 2017) and the award winning Fine Foliage (St. Lynn’s Press, 2013). See her author blog at http://www.lejardinetdesigns.com/blog/