Interior Details at P. Allen Smith’s Moss Mountain Farm

Having returned back home after participating in P. Allen Smith Garden2Blog 2013 event in Arkansas, I’ve been reflecting on how this year’s event was different than my inaugural trip in 2012. Last year, I focused so much on the wonderful people involved in the event that I missed a great many of the details that make Moss Mountain Farm such a inviting place. This year, I was determined to capture more of the warmth of the place.

I’m far from an interior design expert, but even my unrefined eye could appreciate the precision and thought Allen has put into his home. Down to the angle of each piece of pottery, the interior of the farm house is at once perfect, yet hospitable. I hope that my images below convey a small fraction of the beauty of Allen’s home.

The majority of the cost of this trip including lodging and travel were provided to me at no expense for participating in the Garden2Blog event. There was no obligation to write about my experiences and all opinions stated here are my own.

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American Beech: The Magnificent Spectacle

After living in Central Illinois for the last 20 years, I can’t say I’m all that attentive when it comes to watching roadside scenery. After all, corn, soybeans and soil tend to meld into a unending conglomeration of boredom, save for the occasional spectacular sunset or storm. Variable topography and natural vistas are in short supply, so when we travel, the roads become a veritable immersion of beauty whirring past at 65 miles per hour.

This past week, on a family vacation that brought us through West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky, our eyes were attracted to a small tree that lit up the forest, even as spring remained in groggy hibernation. From a distance, I thought it might be some species of Prunus, but I hadn’t seen any sort of wild cherry hang so tightly to its foliage throughout the winter months. I took a photo and sent it to Steve Bender, my friend and senior writer (a.k.a., the Grumpy Gardener) at Southern Living. I knew that if there was a person best suited to identify a tree south of the Mason-Dixon line from a blurry photo, it was the Grump.

Steve identified the tree as the American Beech (Fagus grandiflora), one of his favorite native trees and a beautiful specimen in winter. It hadn’t occurred to me think of beech as a forest understory tree, for most of the beech trees that grow in our area are grand specimens whose trunks remind me of elephants.

I’ve since learned (from University of Minnesota Extension) that American beech trees are marcescent, a description for deciduous trees that hold onto their leaves throughout the winter. Marcescent trees do not grow an abscission layer between the leaf petiole and stem, so do not easily lose their leaves in fall. It’s a quality that beeches tend to outgrow (especially on the upper branches), which creates the effect we witnessed along the roadsides. While the forests were full of mature beech trees, only the younger generations stood out because they still held their leaves.

I was able to find a few mature specimens when we pulled off for lunch at the Nolin River Dam in central Kentucky. Up close, I could appreciate the mottled grey bark that Steve had mentioned, as well as more closely examine the foliage that had caught our attention so many times during the trip.

In the areas surrounding Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, the young beech gave the forest a magical quality on the cusp of spring. Someday, I hope to return to the area, to enjoy and capture what Michael Dirr calls the “magnificent spectacle” of the beech forest.

Amaryllis Unwrapped

The amaryllis that I wrote about a month ago — a surprise gift from Longfield Gardens and Garden Media Group — unwrapped itself this week. I now know that it’s a variety called ‘Apple Blossom’ with iridescent white petals tinged toward the ends in pink. The first bud opened into five large, green-throated flowers that now grace the sideboard in our dining room.

These amaryllis, like most amaryllis, have needed very little care. Aside from couple of light waterings, they’ve grown unattended for weeks. If you’d like to learn how to grow them yourself, please visit Shawna Coronado’s blog where she demonstrates how easy it is.

As you can see, there are more blooms on the way. We’re bound to have a blooming ‘Apple Blossom’ for weeks to come. I’ve read that they last even longer as a cut flower in water, so I may try that with one of the blooming stalks.

Cut flower or not, these amaryllis are a beautiful addition to our winter home.

A note about the iridescence of the petals. My wife asked me if I knew why they were iridescent. I didn’t, so I looked it up. In short, while most color is the result of the chemical composition of plants, iridescence is thought to be the result of structural qualities of plants. Check out this article if you’re truly a plant geek and want to know more.

Thanks to Longfield Gardens and Garden Media Group for providing these amaryllis, without agreement or requirement to promote or publicize. All opinions are my own.

Amaryllis – The Gift That Unwraps Itself

A little over a year ago, I wrote Confessions of an Amaryllis Convert about my new found love for a bulb that brightens the winter months. I guess my conversion has been genuine, for one of the items on my Christmas wish list this year was amaryllis bulbs. While I am thankful for an extremely joyous and generous holiday, there were no amaryllis under the tree on Christmas morning.

Much to my pleasant surprise, I came home last week to a package on the front porch. Inside was a gift of two of the largest amaryllis bulbs I’ve ever seen from Longfield Gardens and Garden Media Group. They came packaged in a decorative wooden box, green tips just barely peeking out from the top of the scaly bulbs.

I potted the amaryllis up in two ceramic pots, placed them within the wooded box and gave them a prominent home on our dining room sideboard.

As I’ve watched them grow, it occurs to me that amaryllis is the perfect gift plant. It comes pre-wrapped and does the unwrapping all on its own. I’m so looking forward to the true gift of flowers sometime later this winter.

Thanks to Longfield Gardens and Garden Media Group for providing these amaryllis, without agreement or requirement to promote or publicize. All opinions are my own. 

A Winter Visit to Missouri Botanical Garden

I had the pleasure this past weekend of touring a small corner of the Missouri Botanical Garden with a group of my fellow garden writers. It may have been cold and grey outside, but inside the Linnean House, Shoenberg Temperate House and Climatron warmth and color surrounded us. Read on to see a selection of the images I captured while enjoying some of the history of the gardens and the company of my gardening friends, old and new.

Linnean House (West entrance)

Camellia japonica ‘Descanso Yuletide’

Sculpture by Dale Chihuly

Camellia japonica ‘Descanso Yuletide’

Camellia japonica

Camellia japonica 

Wollemi nobilis

Linnean House (North entrance)

Inside the Shoenberg Temperate House

Sarracenia

Euphorbia

Gecko (used to pollinate some of the plants in the Climatron)

Bamboo

Cattleya Orchid

Calliandra

Phalaenopis Orchid

Eugenia uniflora

Lucuala spinosa

Phalaenopsis Orchid

Freycinetia multiflora

Freycinetia multiflora

Brightening the Winter Blahs with Cut Flowers

Having four distinct seasons is a way of life here in the northern climes. I wouldn’t change it if I had the chance, as I truly enjoy the cold end that winter brings to the year. The clarity of a sunny, crisp winter day is beyond description. But, each season has a downside. For winter, that downside can arrive in the form of grey, overcast skies that can seem endless. When the main source of our light comes from an electrical outlet, our moods sour and our minds and bodies go into a sort of survival hibernation.

This winter, I’ve decided to combat this hibernation by having a steady supply of fresh cut flowers in the house.

You might ask, who’s got the money to buy flowers all the time?

While there is a certain cost, it’s not as much as you might expect. Most grocery store floral departments offer medium sized bouquets in the $5-8 range. If you cut the stems a couple of times and remove any fading flowers, one of these bunches will last up to two weeks. In fact, the spider mum in the center of the photo above was purchased on November 28, and is still in bloom as I write this.

I expect I’ll spend less than $50 over the course of the winter to maintain a steady supply of fresh-cut flowers until spring arrives. If you think about the benefit of seeing this daily dose of beauty and cheer, it’s a small price to pay to brighten the winter blahs.

Plus, what guy wouldn’t want to bring his wife flowers all winter long?