Monday, March 19, 2018

Week 9

Home and garden show

Every year Grand Rapids has a Home and Garden Show and for the past three years I have been a part of a program sponsored by 4H Club and Michigan Master Gardeners for local school children.  I am an advanced Master Gardener (that just means that I have volunteered a lot of hours – last count I am over 780) and am also registered as a 4H volunteer.  Part of the perk of doing this program is that I get into the show for free later in the day when it opens.

My Mom gave me wings awhile back.  I wore them with a black hat with pipe cleaner antennas on it. 
Someday I’ll get someone to take a picture of me in my full attire.

This was the main poster for our event and I think it is beautiful.

This year’s theme was all about monarch butterflies with a 10 minute PowerPoint lecture followed by a scavenger hunt through the show booths to find different spots where a person gave a short explanation of an aspect of a monarch’s life and the kids got a sticker to add to their monarch passport.  I was the station that talked about the chrysalis stage.  I started off with the question what goes INTO the chrysalis? And invited the kids to shout it out and then asked what comes OUT?  Then we talked about how a caterpillar would get into the chrysalis and compared it to trying to get into a sleeping bag toes first without using your hands and then we wiggled.  I talked to over 500 kids in 4 hours.  My voice was pretty toast after that but it was fun.

I drew a chrysalis prop to get the kid’s attention and have a focus. 

After the kids were all packed up and left on the buses, I had an hour to walk around before the classes started.  These garden related classes count towards the required education hours I need to keep my certification as a Master Gardener.  The hours spent with the kids in the morning are logged as volunteer hours of which I need 20.  I usually have no problem getting many more than that with the different projects I run with the library children’s garden and classes I teach.  However, the education hours are harder as one usually has to pay for them and the number of required hours has increased to 10.  Yes, you have to pay to be a Master Gardener volunteer AND you have to usually pay for your ongoing education.

Anyway, the GR Home and Garden show had seven garden classes given that day that I can count towards my education and they are all free with admission.  Since I get in free for five hours of volunteer work in the morning, they are truly free for me.  Score!  Seeing how this is a garden blog, I thought it might be interesting to give you a brief (ha, I don’t think you know what that word means Shannon dear…) synopsis of my garden classes and what I learned from them along with any thoughts that they provoked.  I also met some pretty cool plant people.

1 PM  Smart Gardening to Deter Deer – Sarah Rautio, MSU Ext Horticulture Educator

I was hoping that this class would be very educational for me as we have a herd of deer in our neighborhood and we want to put in a food forest which includes fruit trees and other plants that deer would love to come munch on.  Sarah is from Tawas, Michigan where deer walk down the street and she started with a picture of a deer and polled the class on who thought Bambi was cute, who hated him and who just wanted to eat him.  I thought it was hilarious.  She approached the deer problem with information about how to understand deer behavior upon which the suggestions were based to deter them.

Is he cute or evil?

Deer only have bottom teeth so they have to pull or bite off plants they want to eat which influences what they eat.  Unlike a cow, they can’t shear off grass so they are going to eat things that are leafy and tender like all your hostas.  Everyone who has had ALL the hostas leaves disappear overnight raise your hand.  Mine went up too.

Knowing what deer DO like to eat is a key to selecting plants that they don’t like to eat.  Sarah gave us a list of adjectives such as smelly, fuzzy, toxic, leathery and grass-like, followed by plants for each category.  Since one probably isn’t wanting to give up ALL plants that deer like, her suggestion was to plant the non-deer attractive ones on the edges and mixing up all the plants so it makes finding the “good” ones harder.  Then the deer will go off and eat your neighbor’s bounty instead.

The other suggestions were to use repellents to keep deer away that taste or smell bad, or have the scent of a predator.  While I knew that bobcat, fox and coyote urine are scary to deer, apparently so is human BO.  Next time I work out, I can drape my sweaty shirt in the apple tree.  Scaring the deer or making them afraid to come onto your property is also a great idea and she had several suggestions of ways to do this.

The final idea which is also the most effective, is to physically prevent them from entering the property with a barrier such as a fence or a cage for the plants you want to protect.  A discussion followed about how high a fence had to be, how to best zap a deer – peanut butter on aluminum foil on an electric fence, and other configurations of barriers.  Her last caution– deer are smart and determined and if you can’t keep them out, they do make for good eating.

2 PM Container Gardening: Our Seasons of Interest – Paul Zammit, Director of Horticulture- Toronto Botanical Garden   “Drama for Every Season”

This guy was a couple of inches taller than me, a grandfather and had the energy of a teenager.

Ooooo, this was FUN!  Paul Zammit grew up in Malta and is passionate about well, everything.  I had the opportunity to talk to him a couple of times that day and we share a common view of stewardship, holistic practices and responsibility for the planet and others, and the idea that if it isn’t fun, then no one will want to do it.  It was my antenna that caught his attention and I showed him how to make them so he can use the idea for his staff for programs at the Toronto Botanical Garden.  They have various insect wings already but needed something more to help easily identify staff.  My antennas are cheap and easy to do – perfect solution for a non-profit organization.

I took several pages of notes during this presentation and had several ah hah moments.  His two classes were by far my favorites of the show.  He LOVES containers.  I mean really loves them and collects them and has LOTS of beautiful containers overflowing with gorgeous flowers and foliage.  The usual recipe for container creation is thriller – something tall, filler – the middle plants, and spiller- the stuff that falls over the edge.  Yep, done that and my containers look pretty standard and rarely do you go “WOW, that is amazing”.  “Oh that’s pretty”, is common but not WOW!

Ready for greatness… an empty pot has such potential!

He took container creation to the next level with a list of ideas to influence the decisions you make while choosing plants and location of the container.

  • Height – what is the scale of the place / position of the pot to the surrounding area and what plant or accent will fill that space appropriately?
  • Drama – what story or interesting plant or accessory can be added to the container?
  • Fragrance – the scent of a plant can connect you on another level to a container garden.
  • Color – not just flowers count here but also foliage is important.
  • Texture – contrast for interest.
  • Color echoing – what colors can you pull from the surrounding area, pot color and plants in the container to repeat and connect the various parts into one cohesive picture?
  • Connection – how does the container connect to the surrounding landscape?  Does it fit?

He also emphasized that the garden never goes to bed.  Your containers shouldn’t either.  The idea that your container moves through the year by switching out plants appropriate for the season is not a new concept for me.  Two years ago a member of Fredrick Meijer Gardens gave a talk on how she designs her containers to look spectacular throughout the year.

It was an amazing amount of work as they “flipped” parts of the pot every two weeks and she assured us that most people do not have the ability to do this at their home without the resources she has.  That is true BUT Mr. Paul encouraged us to extend our season of containers by planting and then editing that container so it stays beautiful for most of the year.  He explained how he does this and what kinds of plants he uses.  It was much more doable on a home owner scale and even interesting to me to maybe try.  I have discovered that I am a project type girl.  I do a project and then I’m done.  I don’t want to go back and keep working with it.  However, this is a little like decorating for the seasons, swapping out the snowflakes for the watering cans inside while putting out bulbs to be replaced by calibrachoa later.

My collection of blue pots

He also had words of wisdom about the container itself.  He suggested that containers are more than just pretty.  They can be used to direct people / animals a certain way, contain rebel plants or decorations, hide an undesirable view or used as a focal point.  It is also NOT a container unless it has a drainage hole.  He repeated that one a couple of times.  I thought about all the plants I have in glass and thought… um…. Oops?  His point was that it is too easy to overwater and then you drown the plant.  I have mastered the watering part I think so it is ok for me, but his point is valid.  I just don’t know how to drill holes in glass and don’t really want to for some of my glass globes.

He also encouraged us to invest in amazing containers that are beautiful, big and winter hardy.  The winter hardy container is expensive and I am not very free with my money, but he has a good point here too.  If it is winter hardy, it can stay in place and can be big and thus you will use it all year around.  My pots have to get emptied and put away in the shed every winter and their size is limited by what I can physically move.  Maybe someday I’ll really invest in some gorgeous outdoor pots that I can leave in place.  I’ll add it to the wish list.

3 PM  Smart Gardening with Natives – Nate Walton, MSU Ext Horticulture Educator

Nate is an entomologist – a bug guy and he was pretty clear that the choices he made for his list of plants was largely based on the benefit to pollinators and native insects.   He talked about how butterflies have a specific tongue length and not all flowers will work for them.  The same is true for bees and other insects.

I wrote down plant names frantically as he went through slides and starred the ones that will work in my yard for our food forest.  I think our success will depend on intentionally choosing more diversity with the toughest plants.  A sand dune is a kinda hostile place to grow.

4 PM Good Bugs, Bad Bugs – Abi Saeed, MSU Extension, Consumer Horticulture Program Instructor

First I have to say Abi is so cute.  She is fun, has lots of energy, is passionate about insects and truly loves her job.  She was wearing a t-shirt dress with large beetles on it with maroon leggings and black boots.  Not many people could pull off wearing clothing with 4 inch insects on it and get compliments.

The beautiful poster she had in her PowerPoint.   

Her talk was fairly basic focusing on learning about the different insects and arachnids that can be found in the garden and to NOT kill them just because it is a bug.  She shared stories of saving spiders and I have to say I also save spiders crawling around in my house.  They do get a trip outside though rather than released in my room.  While it is a myth that people eat 8 spiders a year, I still don’t want one to crawl on me when I’m asleep.

Abi did give some really interesting ideas for native bee hotels and gave some statistics of the number of bee varieties:  400 – 500 in Michigan, 4,000 + in North America and 20,000 in the world.  That is a lot of bees considering most people can only name a honey bee when questioned and believe that a bee’s greatest job is to make honey.  It’s not; its job is to pollinate the world.   Without bees humans would starve.

I’ve got bees and that makes me happy!

Her lecture gave me the idea that I needed for creating a destination at the bottom of the orchard path for my food forest.  I have a corner that will not receive enough light or water to really grow something spectacular.  Sir T and I aren’t really big on sculpture (unless big, bright butterfly chairs count) and a water feature would not receive the attention it needed to be beautiful.  Enter the bee hotel.  I think I’m going to construct some fun version of an insect / bee / nesting materials for birds structure.  I think I will make it colorful.

I want to make a big version of this small bee hotel for the corner of my orchard.

5 PM Invasive Forest Pests and their Impact on Michigan’s Urban and Natural Areas – Michigan Dept. of Agriculture and Rural Development, Plant Michigan Green

The lady that gave this talk was very dry, intense and cared deeply about the issues invasive pests create.  While I did not find her presentation fascinating, it was a good reminder that every action we do has a lasting impact in some way on the world around us.  I’m sure the person who let the first Asian Longhorn Beetle into the US would never dream of mountains covered with dead and dying maple trees.

She also talked about the expense of trying to eradicate these pests and had a progressively horrifying list of the relationship of the expansion of the pest to the millions of dollars it takes, along with man hours, to combat it.  There is a life lesson here:  Take care of a mistake or wrong doing right away, at the beginning for it will be progressively harder and more “expensive” to repair the damage the longer you wait.

6 PM Low Maintenance Perennials for Any Landscape – Tony England, Fredrick Meijer Garden and SP Horticulturist

After the short invasive pest lecture and while waiting for the next class to start, I wandered over to the Fredrick Meijer Garden booth and ended up in a conversation with an employee who is in charge of the sculpture park and a retired landscape architect who was now volunteering at FMG to quote, “Learn how to grow a plant.”  It was probably in the top 5 fascinating conversations I had that day.  It surprised me that a landscape architect would not know how to grow plants.  She dealt with soil, structures and the hardscape that the plants were later put in.  She and I share a dislike for drawing on computers and when questioned about a tablet and pen option, she stated that she hadn’t wanted the learning curve so close to retirement.  I’m still interested in exploring that idea as I just can’t draw with a mouse like I can with a pen.  Granted, I’ve never had a good opportunity to try one out, I just think they would be great to use.

The employee was about my age and he shared an interesting and surprising fact with me about his job.  Besides having too many acres to manage, he spends a great deal of his time removing plants, perhaps as much as he does maintaining or adding.  Part of the problem is the invasive plants that he has to manage to prevent them from overwhelming the native or intentionally planted trees.  He is fighting a huge battle.  I guess I never really thought about what garden maintenance is truly comprised of.  I like to think it is just adding in the pretty and planning a new bed, but in reality it is more about what is already there than what you want to do.

I think this garden makes butterflies and bees happy.

The presenter for the next class was also a FMG employee and seemed to have a reputation for getting where he needed to be at the last minute.  He literally speed walked in, I pointed him towards the sound guy (with whom I had also had a couple of conversations with over the course of listening to 7 hours’ worth of lectures) to get his mike and away he went with his talk.

Tony’s list of requirements for a low maintenance perennial included: minimal upkeep such as pruning and deadheading, multiple seasons of interest, blooms for a long time, little to no pest issues and fills in / matures quickly but is not too aggressive.  That’s quite a list to live up to but he gave almost two pages worth of plants with their details.  I wrote frantically as he talked and starred all the ones that would work on my sand dune.  I think I got some really good information.

7 PM Spring / Fall Gardening Practices - Paul Zammit, Director of Horticulture- Toronto Botanical Garden

He’s back and this was a fun class too.  As mentioned before, Paul does not believe that the garden should be put to bed and forgotten during the winter.  He started with early, early spring and worked his way through the season then jumped over summer and into fall with gorgeous pictures and words of wisdom while being wildly energetic and funny.

I’m just going to hit the high points because as before I took several pages of notes.   Work with your space and time – the space changes as it goes through the season, things die back or fill in, it is cool then it gets hot.  Make choices that take advantage of this change.  He encouraged growing edibles such as lettuce in the cool time before most flowering annuals can survive outside at night.  Mix in your edibles with the ornamentals.  Feed your soil and make compost in place.  Just chop up your cuttings with your pruners and spread them around the plant you just pruned.

He stressed how important the soil is to the success of everything.  I understand and agree with the addition of mulch and covering and feeding the soil and its inhabitants.  I also tend to try to protect the soil and never walk directly on a bed due to understanding how compaction destroys the ground.  However, over the years, I have fought a losing battle to make other people understand this concept and even wondered if it really wasn’t important in the face of other’s mental eye roll.  Tony showed us pictures of how he and his staff DON’T walk on the soil.  They place boards down to distribute the weight of the gardener and gently refluff any soil that does get compacted.  It has given me new determination to stick with my guns and keep nagging people to PLEASE don’t walk on the garden bed.  It does matter!

You would never want to step on this lovely garden soil.

He also gave advice about decision making in the garden.  Does each thing you do have a function?  When making choices about which flower to add, think about the function of that flower, not just the beauty.  A double bloom is beautiful but has very little to no pollen to offer to insects and butterflies.  Paul encouraged us to make choices for beauty that had the greatest function or could be engaged in multiple ways.

He encouraged us to use our cameras to help us make better decisions too as a lot of bias gets cut through when you look through a lens at the whole picture.  I tend to focus on a single flower or plant because I often only see the mess or what I’m not happy about in an overall picture.  Paul said to use those pictures as stepping stones, to focus on what can change for the better.  You can also see how the garden changes from season to season and edit or add plants, structures or decorations to enhance it.

Paul finished up with fall and reiterated that fall is not the end.  It takes you into winter which can still be a beautiful time in the garden.  He also made the statement that he eats home grown food from his garden 365 days a year.  Now this I had to hear as he lives farther north than I do and I am pretty sure nothing grows in the garden in January that is harvestable.  Sneaky, sneaky, he was talking about growing microgreens.  Even when there is snow outside, you can still eat a healthy food that you grow.  It made me want to get in the habit of growing sprouts again.

I really enjoyed my very long day and unlike past years where I tried to rush through to see all the booths and stuff, I instead focused on some really good conversations with people.  Since this is my third year attending, there were several people who remembered me from past years and it was nice to catch up with them and their lives along with learning some really cool things.  It was a blessed day and I hope that I was a blessing too.