Top 10 Performer #5: Rudbeckia

A variety of self-seeded rudbeckias as the end of a border.

It was a close call between #5 and #6 because both are essential, but rudbeckia finally won the debate because it is SO much easier to grow. Here in my Zone 5 gardens, rudbeckia is usually a perennial, sometimes a short-lived one lasting only three to five years, depending upon how soggy our seasons are, sometimes longer. Rudbeckias don’t like a lot of wet roots, and definitely not a wet crown, especially in winter. Another winning factor is that they are excellent self-seeders, which means I can usually count on a number of interesting “new” colors and forms each year without having to purchase any seed at all! All of the plants shown in the photo above evolved from a couple of plants of “Chim Chimnee” planted 7 years ago in the South Island. “Chim” is known for its interesting colors ranging from yellow to orange to rust tones and its quilled, pointy petals. As you can see, some of them have retained those quilled petals and some of the “children and grandchildren” have not. Some have retained the single row of petals and some have actually become doubles. I love them and find the slightly smaller flowers like those in the foreground are longer lasting in bouquets than the sometimes slightly floppy larger-petaled ones in the back.

The Cutting Garden in 2021…the gold yarrow is blooming and LOTS of self-seeded rudbeckias will provide blooms for many bouquets.
The rudbeckia seedlings are on the left…

If however, one doesn’t have rudbeckias already established, they are certainly easy to grow from seed as well. One can direct seed them outdoors in late summer to bloom the following summer, or start them indoors 4-6 weeks before the last frost to get blooms yet the same year, or direct seed them in early spring and hope for a late first frost. I usually chill the seeds for a couple days in the freezer, then a few days in the refrigerator before very lightly covering them with vermiculite in the seeding flat. They need light to germinate. After only 5 days on the heating mat, they are usually sprouted. These new babies are very tiny to start but grow very quickly. In a matter of days their fuzzy leaves are the size of a dime and are ready to transplant to 4-packs or pots in about two weeks. Water the roots but keep the crown dry.

More unusual self-seeded rudbeckias….what fun to see what Mother Nature has up her sleeve!

Once growing in the gardens, rudbeckias will produce several bloom stalks per plant. There is some variation in height from different varieties. I find “Cherry Brandy” and “Sahara” to generally be too petite for bouquets unless I’m doing a shorter arrangement, but these can be lovely toward the front of the border or in containers. They are happiest in full sun with good drainage.

Rudbeckia, zinnias, scabiosa, feverfew, verbena

Like most flowers with hairy stems, rudbeckias are classed as a “dirty” flower, which means it quickly aids bacteria to grow in water, so put a few drops of bleach in the bucket at harvest time and when you change the water in the vase.

I love all the rudbeckias that thrive under the Lady Cottage’s windowbox. So cheery!

Last summer there were a variety of rudbeckia blooms from June 11 through July 18. I had planted new babies (the plants in the second photo above) but the rabbits made a hole in the row cover and merrily devoured them all. They were supposed to be my succession crop to bloom after the “old, established” plants in the garden were finished. So, this year I’m trying again with more protection. Once they are established, rudbeckias are rarely bothered by rabbits or deer. It is only in the very early part of the growing season, when the young and tender leaves of newly planted babies are introduced and there isn’t a lot of other food available that rabbits and other critters are tempted. The varieties I’m seeding this year are “Irish Eyes” which are wide yellow petals around a green center rather than a brown one, and more “Chim Chimnee” mainly for the plant sale because I don’t want to dig any of those plants out of my gardens this year. (and I can always use more!!)

A group of mid-June bouquets, some on the left with the first rudbeckia blooms ready for delivery to shut-ins, the grieving, the newly unemployed, the newly diagnosed…anyone who needs their days brightened.

There are many, many rudbeckias from which to choose. Geo lists 4 varieties of Rudbeckia fulgida; one “R. grandiflora Sundance” which is a whopping 5′ tall; and 21 “R. hirta” choices with names like “Cappuccino,” “Cherokee Sunset,” “Goldilocks,” and “Chim Chimnee.” They range in size from very short “Toto” (8-10″) to 3′ tall “Irish Spring.” The old-fashioned Black-eyed Susans are also included in R. hirta class and they are useful as supporting cast flowers later in the summer to early autumn. For something very unusual, grow Rudbeckia occidentalis “Green Wizard” 3′ tall with a large dark center cone with stiff green sepals. All rudbeckias are good for pollinators.

So if you need a really cheery, easy to grow, usually perennial in your gardens, give rudbeckias a try. The pollinators will thank you and you’ll have lots of flowers for cutting or just to enjoy!

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Fighting the Winter Blues

Meet “Splash”!

It’s late January and we’ve had over a week without sunshine. The past two days we’ve had snow. Yesterday everything was shut down for a “Big Winter Storm” with 6-10″ predicted. Schools, businesses and roads were closed….. We got 1 1/2″ (not complaining about that!) The downward spiral had been creeping in; I could feel it. It always happens this time of year, when there are so few hours of sunshine. Last year I tried one of those “happy lamps” which is supposed to counteract SDD, but I ended up with red spots on my face so I haven’t even plugged it in yet this year. Instead, I grow amaryllis. Usually I start a succession of bulbs to begin when the holiday decorations come down. This year I was a bit tardy, and the first flower just opened two days ago. The one above is “Splash” which quickly became one of my favorites (even though it is red!) when it came mislabeled with two compatriots that were orange. Just looking at its magic helps lift my spirits.

This one is “Voodoo”

Yesterday “Voodoo” began to open and was a cheering sight with the background of falling snow. The flowers are much smaller than “Splash” but it’s also a double petaled bloom that is a bit more in the orange spectrum. This is my first year growing it, but I think I like it. It’s always interesting to see the succession of blooms. I start a new bulb every week or so until they are all planted so theoretically there should be one flowering all the time January through mid-May. Years ago I started with one after-Christmas discount bulb for 50 cents. Over the years, I’ve used birthday checks to purchase more, been given some as gifts, and my earliest bulbs have multiplied until now I have 28! However, I never have that many weeks of bloom because some bulbs are slow growers, and some are very quick to bloom! I suppose it depends upon their size, but also if they are native to the southern hemisphere or the northern. For example right now there are three in bloom, the two above and this one that opened this morning.

“Appleblossom” was a prize!

“Appleblossom” is definitely more pink. In fact it looks darker in the photo against the snowy background than it actually is. It’s a soft, soft pink with slightly pinker tips on the single row of petals. I won it at a Christmas party last month, so it’s a first-timer also. So the amaryllis are my first line of defense against the winter blues.

The seedling light stand is already filled!

The second thing that keeps me going in winter are my plant babies. Already in the basement are over 1,000 potted seedlings plus many, many more sprouting and growing that will be transplanted over the weeks to come. There are lisianthus, dianthus, snapdragons, yarrow, delphiniums, rudbeckias, sweet peas, mountain mint, monardas, penstemons, foxgloves, lemon catnip, agastache, feverfews, centurea, anchusa, coleus, and salpiglossis. In flats in the other room ranunculus and anemone corms are sprouting, and pots of lavandin “Abrialli” that I took as cuttings in late August are growing on. Some mornings I rush down to see if any new seeds have sprouted, still in my pajamas while the tea brews! These little green babies are so full of life and potential. They obviously believe that Spring will come! How can I doubt it?

Doesn’t look like a birthday cake, but it is!

Yes, today is my birthday…number 76 I think, although who really cares about numbers other than the license bureau. I did check mine, and it doesn’t require renewal until next year. Whew! So, I baked my self a cake, and Yes… I can have cake for breakfast if I want to, a sliver mid-morning and again for lunch! No bother with frosting or candles, but there were strawberries from the freezer that tasted almost fresh from potager to top it. There are some benefits to growing old! Few around to criticize for one, and not having to share the cake!

And how am I going to spend the rest of my day, you may ask? Well, sadly I’m traveling to a funeral, which seems to be happening a lot as I age. That also contributes to the downward spiral, but we battle on, counting our blessings, cherishing our memories of good times and good people, tending our baby plants, watching the magic as petals unfurl, and dreaming of Spring!

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Top Ten Performers: #4 Celosia

Luscious orange celosia, softer orange dahlias, bright orange zinnias, peach daisy mums, a bit of boneset and “Blue Bedder” salvia in this end of October bouquet

Let’s talk about Celosia, often called the “brain flower” because of its convoluted round heads. My first encounter with celosia was when I was a little girl. Grandma Miller always had a big garden, even after they moved to town on Mill St. I don’t remember her growing them when they lived at the farm. Maybe when she moved to town and no longer had all the chores of the farm in addition to the housework, she had more time to grow flowers. One day when I was visiting Grandma asked me if I wanted to help get out the Christmas decorations which were in a box in her sewing room. It was a small room, and I remember when we went in it was cold, because they didn’t heat it during the winter. On top of her closed old Singer (the one I now have in my entryway) was a tall vase full of very deep red flowers with heads bigger than a softball! Now remember, this was in the days before any artificial flowers. How did Grandma have flowers in the middle of winter? It must have been magic! I was entranced and never forgot those flowers.

Fast forward to the late 70’s and all through the 80’s on the old farm in southern Indiana, where we grew acres of flowers for drying. We sold them locally at farmer’s markets, craft fairs, etc. and shipped them to various shops in other states. Celosia is one of the very best dried flowers there is so we grew thousands every year, mostly the big deep red ones Grandma grew, but by then we could grow them the size of basketballs and sold them for an amazing $5 each! We also grew them in a soft orange and a lovely deep rose color. And, by then there was also a revival of the celosia with more of a fan shape rather than round, which is why the common name for celosia was “cockscomb.” Dried flowers went out of fashion, as all things do but now they are making a comeback, as things generally do about every 20 years.

A jar of just picked flowers before arranging: orange celosia, orange zinnias, purple verbena

During the herb farm years here in Blackford County, I only grew a few celosia plants for sale and a few for the gardens at the farm and my home gardens. After I sold the farm, I’ve only grown the bright orange ones shown in the photo and the “Fresh Look Orange” plume celosia because I love them in my gardens. They provide a burst of color from late June until the first frost. But now with the rise in popularity of dried flowers, and with the skyrocketing number of flower farmers celosias are making a huge comeback. As bouquet material, celosias are some of the finest candidates because they have an extended vase life, strong stems, have several different forms and come in a wide variety of colors. And because they are harvested at the fully open stage they make a bold statement in flower fields and U-Pick operations. Customers love them!

Can you tell I like, no LOVE orange? Orange celosia, soft orange dahlias, “Queen Lime Orange” zinnias, tansy buttons

Consulting the Geo catalog, there are 28 listings for Celosia cristata, the rounded or fan shaped flowers. With names like “Brainiac” or “Dracula” series it’s easy to remember the flowers’ appearance. These rounded or “globe” flower heads also come in a range of heights (6″-48″!) and colors (red, rose, pink, orange, bi-color yellow and red, purple, yellow, brick red, scarlet, persimmon) As mentioned, the original celosia were probably fan-shaped, giving rise to the common name “cockscomb” which they resemble but they fell out of fashion in favor of the “bigger is better” rounded forms.

Celosia “Asuka Green”

Now the fan shapes are back with the “Bombay” and “Asuka” series being the top performers. I find the fan shapes a bit easier to work with in terms of bouquets, mainly because of size and because it provides a different shape than so many round flowers. My favorite is “Asuka Green” because it can go in any bouquet but it also comes in orange, pink and purple. My second favorite is “Crystal Beauty,” which sadly is not even listed in this year’s catalog. Fortunately I saved some seed, and I’m hoping it comes true as the lovely cream fans with coral or apricot top edgings were so useful with many of my favorite dahlias and snapdragons late in the season.

Celosia “Fresh Look Orange” the stars of my potager’s exterior border all summer to frost

Another form is the plumed varieties (Celosia plumosa) and Geo lists 19 of those. As you would guess, they are lovely long, feathery plumes in a wide range of sizes (8″ to 48″) and colors. The shorter ones are often used in containers or as edgings, and obviously the mid to tall ones are used as background plants or in bouquets. One of my favorites is “Fresh Look” which actually comes gold, yellow, and red in addition to my favorite orange. It’s listed as 14″ but closer planted they often grow 18″ branches which are fine for bouquets. The tall “Sunday” and “Century” series are often grown by flower farmers for longer stems and a broader range of colors: Red, Pink, Fire, Rose, Salmon Pink, Yellow, Orange, Gold, Wine, Bronze and Bright Pink.

Celosia “Celway Orange”

The Spike Celosia (Celosia spicata) has been around for a long time. We grew “Flamingo Feather” at the old farm for its pink “wheat-like” shape. Newer and improved are the “Roseberry Parfait” and “Ruby Parfait” series. As do all the other celosias, the Spikes dry very well and come in shades of pink to burgundy. Recently introduced is the “Celway Series” (shown above) which has become an instant hit for its much wider range of colors and ability to hold its color when dried, and also its more branched, showy plant form. They are a bit shorter than the old “Flamingo Feather.” I especially love the “Orange” and the “Terra Cotta” Celways, but the rose, yellow and white are also very useful.

Compared to something like lisianthus, celosia are easy and quick to grow. Classified as a tender annual, they do need warm soil both to germinate and to grow and cannot tolerate any frost at all. To get the earliest flowers for my Front Garden, the “Fresh Look Orange” celosia is seeded in the basement on April 1st. There’s no sense starting them earlier because they can’t be planted out until mid-to-late May after soil warms and they don’t want to be pot bound from being indoors too long. On a heat mat, they germinate quickly, usually 4-5 days and were transplanted into 4 packs on May 19. They probably could have/should have been transplanted earlier, but at that time of year I’m swamped with the number of plants in pots needing tending, the direct seeding, the planting out, harvesting daffodils and tulips, delivering bouquets, the garden club plant sale, etc., etc., etc.

Oh, and did I mention that most celosias are cut and come again? In fact harvesting the older flowers helps keep the plants looking fresher in the borders all summer, rather than having some go to seed which causes the plant to begin to wither and fade away. Celosias are pretty drought tolerant as well, and don’t seem to be bothered by any critters. Often they self-seed. My “Fresh Look” is especially good at that, and always provides several volunteer seedlings which can be easily moved to fill in bare spots or additional plantings.

Another asset is the texture and visual interest celosia provides in a bouquet. Most flowers have smooth, often silky almost shiny petals but celosia is a fuzzy, bumpy flower that provides a real contrast to smooth leaves and petals. And, the number and variety of pollinators that visit celosia flowers is always surprising to me.

Celosia truly deserves the name “everlasting” because they are one of the longest lasting dried flowers that can be grown. To dry, simply cut the fully formed flowers, strip off all leaves and hang heads down in an airy dark place to dry. The blooms hold their color and shape extremely well for years, unless exposed to bright light or moisture. Do be aware that celosias produce hundreds of tiny black seeds that often drop as they are moved, or even as they hang to dry so choose an area that is easy to sweep or use brown paper bags loosely fastened around the heads.

This year I’m growing: (Crested) Asuka Green, Crystal Beauty, Captain Evanthian Mix, Orange Queen Improved. For plumes: Fresh Look Orange, Summer Sherbet pastel mix, Century Mix. For spikes: Flamingo Feather, Celway Mix. That should provide hundreds of beautiful blooms and textures for bouquets.

And that, gentle readers is 2022’s #4 Top Ten Performer! Keep watching for #5!

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Top Ten Performer # 3: Agastaches

Agastache “Blue Fortune”

This one may surprise a few people! Some may not even recognize the scientific name “agastache” and only know a member of this family by its common name, “Anise Hyssop.” I started growing this plant way back in the late 70’s when I began growing plants for teas on our old farm in Owen County. A hardy perennial through Zone 3, its leaves have a sweet, slightly anise scent and flavor. It’s a tidy plant with pretty scalloped edged leaves, and although technically a member of the mint family it doesn’t spread by underground runners. It’s probably one of the easiest plants you will ever grow! It will drop seed from its lovely purplish flower spikes if allowed, but extra seedlings pull easily. A hardy perennial that returns year after year, it will grow happily in full sun (with adequate moisture) or in shade, although the scent and flavor will be better with some sunlight during the day. I’ve had Anise Hyssop in my gardens since those early days, and won’t be without it, God willing.

Bouquet with Anise hyssop, lisianthus, zinnias, purple statice, a bit of white annual phlox

Anise Hyssop was one of my favorite “fillers” for bouquets this past year. In making bouquets one needs the focal flowers, the supporting flowers, filler material, and verticals. There were plenty of choices for the first three categories from spring to fall, but the verticals were often a problem…without anise hyssop! And that’s exactly why I ranked it so high on the list. Not only did its foliage provide lots of pretty green “filler” but it was a great, much needed vertical. A double duty plant! Beginning in late June, there were purple spikes to add that much needed vertical element right up until hard freeze. That’s a long bloom time! Most of my plants are in the potager border since both the leaves and flowers are edible, which also means they get shade all morning from the fence. Plants out in the open might bloom a bit earlier, so I’m actually putting some back in the berry rows in full sun this spring.

The 17 arrangements I made for the Ladies Afternoon Tea at the fairgrounds all contained some anise hyssop, appropriate since it is a tea herb!

The “purple” spikes of Anise Hyssop may vary a bit in color. Some will be a darker purple, some more lavender, some pale nearly mauve. For a really nice selection of colors, visit Select Seeds. The purple spikes combine so well with most other flower colors: pinks and rose and dark burgundy to be sure, but also with oranges and yellows.

Another very useful agastache “Golden Jubilee ” Anise Hyssop named for Queen Elizabeth’s golden jubliee years ago.

No doubt my favorite anise hyssop is “Golden Jubilee” because I adore plants with golden foliage. This reliable perennial also has purple spikes and the same anise scent and flavor. I use it to brighten up darker areas of the Deck Garden, but I also harvest it for bouquets. It’s not quite as tall as standard green-leaved anise hyssop but in the size bouquets I make it works fine. Surprisingly, it comes true from seed, retaining those golden leaves. I used it a lot with purple sweet peas, green “Asuka” celosia, Bells of Ireland, sometimes with a bit of white annual phlox or feverfew.

Even if you don’t make bouquets or tea, grow it for the bees & butterflies!

It doesn’t require any careful post-harvest care. Cutting in the early morning will help it rehydrate faster, putting it in a bucket of tepid water immediately, and then moving it to a cool, dark spot to rest for a few hours will help vase life, which is excellent. In fact, anise hyssop flowers also dry well and the darker tones hold their colors. I always used them in kitchen wreaths.

Look for the vertical green spikes!

The Agastache family is very large and includes many, many members that are not hardy in our Zone 5 climate. However, another of my favorites is indeed hardy, and even more versatile than Anise Hyssop! Meet Giant Yellow Hyssop! Since green goes with everything, I can use it in every single bouquet that needs filler or a vertical element. I wish I’d taken an up-close photo of it growing in the garden, but apparently I didn’t. I hope you can see the green vertical spikes with their tiny yellow flowers so pale they often appear white. The bees love these as well. I’ve been looking for Giant Yellow Hyssop since I began thinking of making numerous bouquets for the “Growing Kindness Project” because I remember admiring it at a flower farm in Virginia decades ago. I finally found it last winter at Fruition Seeds. (Where I also get their wonderful “Poulet du Poitou” shallot seeds and purple millet at a decent price!) I seeded the tiny seeds early, on January 19 because as a perennial it would take longer to form blooms. Germination was terrific and on Feb. 5th there were seedlings ready to transplant. They were sturdy plants the end of April when I set half of them out at the end of one of the berry rows with hoops and row cover (to replace the “Hardening-off” procedure that I’ve abandoned.) However, I hadn’t counted on a family of rabbits that tore open the row cover and ate not only my giant yellow hyssop seedlings, but all the newly planted yarrow and rudbeckias! Wascally Wabbits! Eventually most of the hyssops and yarrows recovered, but sadly the rudbeckias did not. Such is the life of a gardener: win some lose many…

So, I only had half as much Giant Yellow Hyssop as I wanted, but I harvested those few plants as much as possible right up through the first hard freeze. That may have been a bit harsh, all that cutting off of branches of first year plants. I’m not sure all of them made it through our recent arctic blast, possibly because I’d stressed them out all summer! So, I’ve already seeded all the old seed left from last year, and have a new packet on the way as well! Can’t have too much of this winner!

New this year to my gardens, “White Licorice” anise hyssop!

I’ve added this white flowered agastache from Select Seeds to my list this year because assuredly it will be usable in nearly every bouquet as well, and I’m also sure the bees and butterflies will thank me for planting it. (and possibly those rabbits, too!) The seeds haven’t arrived yet, but as soon as they do I’ll be planting them. Can’t wait to add these neutral spikes to bouquets, and hope to have some extra plants for the garden club plant sale in mid-May.

That’s my pick for #3 Top Performer! Were you surprised? Do you grow any of these winning plants? Can you guess what #4 will be? If you are the first person to make a correct guess in the comment section (before I publish the post) and you live in the U.S. (sorry all my “foreign” readers!) I’ll send you a prize!

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Corm Comparison: Ranunculus

Some mixed “Sunset Shades” ranunculus from last year

It’s time here in Zone 5 to pre-sprout the ranunculus corms. The first batch was soaked and planted in a flat, placed in the dark corner of the basement where it’s cool and will be ignored for at least a week. Well, I probably won’t be able to resist peeking in now and then just to give them an encouraging word and check on moisture levels, but it usually takes at least 10-14 days before any green shows. The second batch will be done as soon as I finish this post! Spoiler alert! Ranunculus did not make the Top 10 Performers of 2022! Some year they might, when I learn to get the timing perfected and the weather is just right! I liked growing them well enough, and felt they were valuable in that “after the daffodils and tulips are gone but the zinnias aren’t quite ready yet” lull. They definitely would have been in a “Top 20” but they didn’t make enough production over a long enough period to merit the “Top 10”. And they were not large enough to be focal flowers, only supporting cast members. Maybe when I find the right corms production will be higher. Last year I purchased a few corms from Van Engelen and a few from Longfields. I didn’t treat them in the same way culture-wise, so there was no way to make a fair comparison and I took few photos of the flowers and no photos of the corms. I had flowers, but they were not as abundant per plant as I’d hoped and not as large as most promo photos show. This year, I’m determined to do a better job!

The orange flowers in this bouquet are ranunculus…not a great photo, but apparently the only one I took!

I was curious to see if different vendors offered different sizes of corms, and how the prices compared. So this year’s crop will contain corms from 5 different companies. I waited to pre-sprout any corms until all had arrived so that I could take a comparison photo. And now that I see it on the screen, I realize I should have put a coin or a bottle cap or something on the poster for a size reference. Too late now as some of the corms are already soaked and planted! I also should have put the price per corm on the poster for easy reference…..maybe next year?

Ranunculus corms from 5 different companies (and that should be Van Engelen)

First of all you should know that each corm shown is representative of the AVERAGE size of the corms for each company that I received. I did not pick the largest, or the smallest but chose what seemed to be most common. Some companies (K. van Bourgondien and Fleur Farms had very consistently equal sized corms)

Secondly, all of the ranunculus corms are Telecote varieties EXCEPT Fleur Farms, which are Amandine (generally more expensive than Telecote because they supposedly produce a much larger flower.) The fastest to ship was Easy To Grow Bulbs…I ordered on a Sunday and received them on Tuesday morning!!!

Here’s the price per corm breakdown, along with the minimum order per variety pricing

Easy To Grow, by far the largest corms, many 2″ across and as long….1.10 per corm (based on 10 corm pricing) Can’t wait to see if bigger corms make bigger or more flowers per plant…or both! Wouldn’t that be great?

Fleur Farm 1.24 per corm (based on 10 corm pricing, but these are Amandine…and they came in a fancy be-ribboned organza bag with a colorful “thank you for ordering” post card. I’m really eager to see how these produce. “Amandine” is supposed to be a bigger flower, but the corms I received are smaller than most of the Telecotes. Time will tell!

Holland Bulb Farm 28 cents (based on a 30 corm pricing) but I must say that so far each 30 corm bag I’ve opened only had 28 or 29 corms! They definitely had the smallest corms, and many of them were broken. There was quite a range in sizes; some much larger than the one shown and some much smaller. But if they do well, that’s quite a deal!

Van Engelen 75 cents per corm (based on a 50 corm pricing) and remember this company is wholesale only so one needs a business license to order. The flowers were acceptable last year, and definitely outperformed the Longfield corms but I’d like bigger, fuller flowers.

K. van Bourgondien 36 cents per corm (based on 25 corm pricing) This is a glossy catalog company…I get three or four copies each year so they spend a lot on printing and postage! The corms are not quite 1″ long. They definitely had the smallest corms, and many of them were broken.

I’ve added more pastel shades (last year I just grew “Sunset Shades” and an Orange/Red mix) and lots more salmon, plus a dark purple to compliment the asters and stock that bloom at the same time. Hopefully I will remember to take more photos, and do an evaluation of performance for each of the companies, so I’ll know who I want to place my order with next year.

Maybe this will be helpful to others. At least it gives me a record so I’ll have the beginning info for evaluation purposes later on. Happy Thursday, and have a great weekend!

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Top Ten Performers: #2 Lisianthus

Pink lisianthus, anise hyssop, pink statice, “Blue” asters and Blue Bedder salvia spikes

I fell in love with lisianthus the first time I saw them! Amazing colors and forms draw the eye, and so very romantic. Many people at quick glance assume they are roses, and they do resemble roses before they fully open (and in some varieties after opening fully!) but without those nasty thorns and diseases, and in colors roses can never achieve! In 2020 I ordered 1 packet of seed (“ABC mix”) to experiment.

The toothpick is pointing to a tiny, tiny new seedling…and it will stay that size for weeks!

Lisianthus has a much justified reputation for being a bit difficult. First of all it takes an exceptionally long growing season (120 or more days after germination) much of which must be indoors in our Zone 5 climate. The seeds are so small (like dust) that they must be pelleted which makes them more expensive, and even at that they are tiny. They need warmth and light to germinate, which make take weeks. When they do germinate, one practically needs a magnifying glass to even see them! Then they need continual care for months. Finally, when they have four true leaves and are about the size of a quarter they can be planted outdoors where they seem to just sit and pout until they finally decide to grow. Then suddenly they shoot up to knee high, and produce such glorious blooms in such luscious colors that you immediately forget how much trouble they were. It’s rather like giving birth to a child!

Rose lisianthus, double feverfew, Bonita blue asters, white hydrangea, Blue Bedder salvia, boneset filler, and airy fairy talinum.

Those first flowers convinced me I needed more….many, many more! If their wonderful appearance isn’t enough to convince you, can you imagine a 10-14 day vase life? Can colors from white to pink and rose, pale yellow to ‘Orange Flash’, deep rose to nearly red, pale lavender to deep, deep purple, unusual shades of reddish brown, or green, or blooms with picotee edges in contrasting colors make your mouth water? Or do highly doubled blooms, some with fringed or ruffled edges ring your bell? And, to top it all off, after a brief rest, given decent care they do it all again in September into October! And, with just a pile of leaves on top, a few trial plants even over-wintered here in Zone 5 and produced blooms the following summer, although the stems were only about 12″ tall they were still nice enough for dinner table bouquet use.

One of the overwintered pink lisianthus in the Cutting Garden. Not as tall but still pretty.

So, in 2021 I seeded “ABC 1 ” on Dec. 10, which germinated Dec. 21st. On Dec. 27th “Voyage Mix,” ” Soiree ”Orange Flash” and “Arena Mix” were seeded. “Arena” germinated in 7 days, “Voyage” in 9 days and “Orange Flash” in 12 days. Actually choosing which varieties to grow is the first challenge. My Geo seed catalog lists 47 different varieties! Within each variety is often a list of colors that are available separately. I chose “ABC1” because I’d had really good luck with it on my first try. “1” also has most of the colors I want (purple, Rose Rim, White, Yellow, Deep Rose, Misty Blue and Green) and the “1” indicates it is the first group to bloom. I was hoping “Orange Flash” would actually be orange, but it was white with a coral/peach edge…still very pretty and combined especially well with a lot of orange and apricot flowers. “Voyage” was selected for its very full blooms with fringed edges, and “Arena” is fully double in some colors I wanted to see (blue picotee, gold, apricot, red, white, green, purple.) As soon as they were germinated they went under lights in a cooler area of the basement. Although they like warmth to germinate, they like cool conditions for growing. Keep an eye on the root systems; up size rather than let the roots circle around the pot or plug. I was surprised that plants the size of a grain of rice often had roots over an inch long already!

Not very impressive, even after being in the ground for over a month, but if you dig down, the root systems are growing like crazy!

They were finally big enough to move into 72 plugs Feb. 7th, where they languished in luxury until April 4th, when they went into a raised bed in the potager under a low tunnel. Lisianthus can tolerate cold pretty well, and they like the well-drained condition of a raised bed. They aren’t heavy feeders, but I will state the ones grown this year in raised beds produced many more blooms per plant than those planted last year in the pitiful soil of the Cutting Garden.

Some “Voyage” lissies, rich, fully double with fringed edges! My favorites!

Because they get tall and have a bouquet of blooms at the top, it is wise to provide some type of support to keep them from falling over, or from the wind blowing them over. I use the wire hoops from the low tunnels needed in spring to make a “fence” along the inside edge of the raised bed, and an additional one or two within the bed if required. This “fence” came in handy at the end of the season when frost threatened. While the plants can withstand a freeze, the blooms cannot and even the buds may be damaged if its too cold. When frost was predicted, I threw a sheet of row cover over the fence to protect those buds, which allowed me to have blooms until November 4th! I probably could have had flowers even longer with another layer or two of protection, but everything else in the gardens was pretty much gone and I was busy planting those 3500 bulbs!

Those short first blooms are still lovely in a low bouquet for the dining table. With white larkspur, sumac leaves, talinum and white annual phlox.

Another good thing I learned is that the first bloom to open on each plant is fully formed and very pretty, but should be harvested as soon as it begins to open, or even as it first forms. The stem will only be 5-6″ long, so it’s not useful for a standard bouquet, but works fine in a low arrangement or boutonniere. If you wait until it fades and drops off, the plant will have already expended LOTS of energy to begin to produce seed. And that triggers to the plant that it doesn’t need to produce more flowers because procreation has already been achieved. If that first bloom is harvested early, many more flowers will be produced. Also, when that main stem with all the flowers is cut, cut it within 4-5″ of the soil line. You may not need a stem that long, but leaving a stalk that’s 12″ or more tall will result in several flowers with weak, short stems rather than another harvest of good flowers with good stems.

This year’s lisianthus crop is already underway. Selections include: The same “Arena” and “Voyage” mixes I grew last year. They were both wonderful. I’m doing ABC 1, and adding ABC 2 and ABC 3. I’m happy with the ABC series, but since I’m growing lots more (crossing fingers!) plants this year I didn’t want them all to bloom at the same time. Seeded at the same time, ABC 1 will bloom first, 2 a week later, and 3 a week later than that. Also ABC 2 has some additional colors than 1 (lavender, Blue Rim, Misty Pink) and 3 only lists purple, rose, and white.

Also new this year are “Gavotte Yellow” because my notes on bouquets for that time period said I needed more soft yellows. “Gavotte” is a 3-4, so it will be interesting to see if it re-blooms too late here. Only time and first freeze date will tell. “Rosita 3” got high marks from other growers. Its double rose-form flowers are slightly smaller but grow in “sprays” that have a lovely look in bouquets and arrangements, and there’s a really wide range of colors. Finally, “Roseanne Brown 1” is a fully double, no pollen shedding bloom in unusual shades of maroonish-brown (much prettier than it sounds!) I’m hoping it will go well with fall colors.

So that’s my Top Ten Pick #2. As long as I am able, I will grow lisianthus for its beauty, durability…and yes, for the challenge. Not everyone can grow it, so every time I do manage to get them to thrive I give myself a little pat on the back! Hope you enjoyed this “tutorial” on lisianthus…at least what works in my region. Pick #3 will be coming soon!

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Top 10 Performers in 2022: #1…ZINNIAS!

A fully open single orange zinnia

Today begins a series of posts about the flowers that I found most useful for bouquets during the 2022 growing season. They will appear in the order in which I felt they were most important, which is why I’m beginning with ZINNIAS. I suspect if one asked most flower farmers or cut-flower lovers their answer to “What flower worked hardest for you during the overall growing season?” their answer would likely be the same as mine. There were flowers that I liked better, and flowers that appeared earlier, but without doubt zinnias were the strongest workhorses in the garden overall. In my Zone 5b garden here in slightly northeast, central Indiana there were zinnias to cut from June 11th until our first frost on Oct 4th. And it’s not just that they have a long bloom period, but that their flowers come in such a wide array of colors allowing them to happily blend with and compliment other blooms. They also provide a lot of bulk in a bouquet, so one needs fewer flowers. And, the larger blooms like the “Benary Giant” or “Giant Cactus” series can be the stars of the bouquet, or they can be the supporting cast when the blooms get smaller toward the end of the season. Or there are varieties with slightly smaller flowers like the “Oklahoma,” “Cresto,” or “Queen” series. Even if you are not a cut flower producer, planting even a few zinnias will provide blooms all summer, and attract and benefit many, many types of pollinators with very little work on your part!

Lavender Queen Zinnia

I’ve been growing zinnias for many decades. I can recall as a child, sprinkling the zinnia seeds carefully along the long, long row that separated our family’s vegetable garden from the dusty gravel road. Not only did it provide a bit of barrier from the dust, but those colorful flowers on tall stems helped screen what was often not a beautiful view of less than attractive vegetables. We were a super busy farm family, so weeds sometimes got an upper hand and spent vegetable plants were not removed in timely fashion. Beauty was not the goal. Providing enough food for the coming year was the aim, and that was always achieved despite a few weeds and empty rows. Those zinnias were the only non-edible crop on the entire farm!

I love the “Profusion Salmon” zinnias along the border of the Deck Garden, but not for bouquets!

In 2022 I actually grew 31 different varieties of zinnias in the gardens, not just for cut-flowers but because I was giving a presentation on zinnias to our local garden club and wanted as many kinds as possible. Some types were short, good for containers or edgings, or had unusual flower forms, like “Red Spider, ” “Aztec Sunset,” “Soleado,” “Crystal Series,” “Profusion Series,” “Persian Carpet,” “Magellan series” and others but they are not good for tall bouquets. To see the varieties I grew for cutting, click here.

Zinnias are one of the easiest annuals to grow. They need warm soil, so don’t put them outside or direct seed until the soil is warm. They cannot tolerate even a hint of frost. They appreciate adequate water, and a bit of fertilizer at planting and again mid-season. They vary in height from 8″ to 40″! Most are very good at branching, so give them some space. They are cut and come again flowers and the more you pick, the more they will produce. They are annuals, so don’t expect them to return next spring, but the seed is easy to save if varieties are kept isolated. Or, you can save seed and just get some surprises from the bees cross pollinating work!

Zinnia “Inca”, one of my favorites!

Zinnias come in many forms as well. There are singles like the very top photo, with only a single row of petals, tidy dahlia forms with several rows of petals like the “Lavender Queen” in the second photo, shaggy cactus forms like “Inca” above, and the “crested form” which are like a powderpuff surrounded by a single row of flat petals shown below. There are several “crested” varieties available, including “Cresto,” Zinderella, and “Cupcake” but all of them seem to have a very low percentage of actual “powderpuffs” and are more likely to be singles like the first photo. Unlike most flowers harvested for bouquets, zinnias are allowed to open fully, but usually harvested before the golden “ring” (easily seen in the first photo) appears. Once that ring appears the flower will have a very short vase life because it will likely have been pollinated and will begin to form seed and brown. Purposefully, in my gardens some singles (like the orange flower in the very top photo) were grown and allowed to fully open to provide pollen and nectar for pollinators even though that made them poor candidates for bouquets. Zinnias are considered a “dirty” flower. If a few zinnias are put into a glass of water, it soon becomes brown and cloudy from bacteria formed. This can affect not only the vase life of the zinnia but the other flowers in the vase as well, so it’s best to put a few drops of bleach in the water when harvesting and to change the water in the vase daily.

The first properly formed “Cresto Orange” zinnia to bloom this year

In an attempt to get the earliest zinnias possible, many varieties were seeded indoors in mid-March, moved to the greenhouse in mid-April and transplanted into the gardens under row cover on May 12, which is about our average last frost date. The row cover was used to replace the “hardening off” process of moving plants in and out to adjust to outdoor conditions after having been sheltered indoors for weeks. It’s not so much for protection from cold, but as a protection from wind and direct sunlight that they have not experienced. Open tunnel ends allow a bit of breeze that gradually strengthens stems. Although they showed no visible ill effects, I don’t think they enjoyed going into cool soil which may have set back their flowering a few days. This year, the plan is to put one of the plastic covered berry boxes over the bed in early April to warm that soil before transplanting zinnias into the space.

Some varieties were direct seeded into beds on June 1st when the soil was finally above 60 degrees F. Interestingly, the direct seeded zinnias bloomed just two weeks later than those I’d babied and cared for since March! Lesson learned. This year, only a few of the zinnias (“Oklahoma White,” ” Miss Wilmott” pink, “Lilac Empress,” and “Isabellini” pale yellow) in colors I really need to combine with sweet peas, asters and Dutch Iris will be started indoors and all the others will be direct seeded.

If continually harvested or deadheaded, zinnias will keep branching and producing more flowers up until frost if they are given adequate moisture. A bit of liquid fertilizer in the water, or a layer of compost mid-season will help as well. However, by early September many of my zinnias were looking more tired and blooms were smaller. A few were getting powdery mildew and many of the old, heirloom varieties like “Envy,” and “Whirligig” were getting leaf spots. Zinnias are subject to powdery mildew if overcrowded or if conditions are very humid. Overhead watering can also trigger both powdery mildew and leaf spots, especially if done in the evening.

As usual, this year there is a new plan! That’s a big part of the fun of gardening for me, planning and plotting and then seeing if the results are what I expected and hoped for! There’s a variety of “Yoga” zinnias I haven’t tried before that are non-branching! They are best direct-seeded, closely spaced, one cut and done. I’m assuming that since the plants are not using energy to form branches, they will use that energy to form flowers quicker. (Crossing fingers that that logic is valid!) Note: there is another variety “Super Yoga” that is branching, so choose carefully. I’m going to do a seeding under a berry box as a very early crop in early to mid-May (depending upon weather conditions) and direct seed other varieties on either side of them in early June. When the Yoga are cut, that will provide plenty of space for the branching neighbors to expand. Then I’ll direct seed more rows of “Yoga” as other crops come out to hopefully have fresh, strong large flowers from early September until frost. “Yoga” is 36″ tall, double dahlia form, and comes in strong colors (orange, purple, scarlet, yellow, rose, white, salmon) that will compliment the autumn dahlias, purple millet and amaranths.

Zinnias come in a wide array of colors: red, purple, yellow, orange, pink, coral, wine, apricot, lavender, white, green…just about anything except blue, black, gray and brown!

Speaking of colors, I can’t finish without mentioning the vast rainbow of colors available in zinnias. White, ivory, cream, pale yellow, lemon yellow, bright yellow, golden, soft orange, bright orange, deep orange, salmon, salmon rose, apricot, peach, pale pink, soft pink, medium pink, dark pink, rose, carmine rose, coral, red, scarlet, deep red, wine, lilac, lavender, purple, violet, lime and bright green. There are also bi-colors like “Zowie” and “Whirligig” and flowers with specks and streaks like “Peppermint Stick” and the “Pop Art” series.

Queen Lime Orange in the garden

And the revolutionary “Queen” series seems to add a luscious new color or two every year! These are smaller blooms, usually 2-3″ double dahlia form is extradorinary, often muted, antique-looking, dusky color blends. “Queen Lime Orange” is my personal favorite but you may also try “Queen Lime Red,” “Queen Raspberry Limeade,” “Queen Lime Blotch,” Queen Lime Peach,” and “Queen Lime Blush.” My Geo catalog lists 45 different varieties of zinnias, many of which are subdivided into specific colors, so choosing can be difficult.

A late summer bucket of flowers including zinnias, sunflowers, feverfew, lisianthus, dahlias, celosia, snapdragons, gomphrena and a sprig or two of lavender!

For 2023, I’m not adding a larger number of zinnias or more space for zinnias because I felt there were plenty of flowers for the number of bouquets I intend to produce. I just need more zinnias that I can actually use! There were lots of zinnias that were nice, but their colors didn’t go with the other flowers available at the time so I’m growing fewer mixes, but more of the separate colors that co-ordinate well. I definitely needed more pale pinks, lavenders, purple and white. I gave a lot of space to “Envy” because I wanted green flowers (love them, and they go with everything!) but many of them were misshapen and they were very prone to disease. They are being replaced with “Magna Pistachio.” The Magna series was excellent in 2022 and I used all of the colors. I grew a lot of “crested” varieties but they were all disappointing so additional members of the “Queen” series will get that space. “Whirligig” was fun but again, prone to disease and too many of the flowers were defective so they are out. None of the shorter zinnias will get space in the potager or Cutting Garden this year, and I’m not growing any of the types with very small “beehive” flowers. They are cute in bouquets, but I’d rather use other flowers with contrasting shapes as fillers to make the bouquets more interesting and unique.

I hope you’ve found this post helpful. Let me know in the comment section…… I wonder what flower will win spot #2?

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Yes, I’m still growing food!

I can’t imagine the potager without a bounty of edibles!

With most of my focus on growing flowers for the “Growing Kindness Project” in 2022, and plans to expand it a bit this year, many people have asked if I’m planning to grow any food. That was my main focus after I sold the herb farm and built the potager in 2015. In 2021, my little potager produced 1500 lbs. of edibles. That was WAY more food than we could eat, especially since with Covid we’d had few guests for meals, no parties, etc. And, without company we weren’t working our way through the hundreds of jars I’d canned or the freezers completely bulging with food. Plus, admittedly I was getting a little bored and wanted a new learning experience. I pretty well had the scheduling and growing optimized. Thus, growing flowers for bouquets was a new, fun challenge.

I would miss braiding shallots, and they are so expensive in the store I’ll always grow them!

That being said, last year half the potager was still planted in veggies. I just didn’t write about them much because I felt I’d said it all in prior posts in prior years. It still produced WAY more food than we could eat and as usual we gave much of it away. The only things I canned were diced tomatoes, tomato juice, kraut, strawberry jam and pickled beets. I froze peas, fava beans, green beans, pepper strips, French horticultural beans, diced peppers and strawberries. We are well stocked with braids of garlic, shallots, bags of onions. We’re still eating lettuce, carrots, and leeks directly from the potager, and there are still cabbages and parsnips in a refrigerator bin.

There’s nothing like the anticipation of waiting for miniature melons to ripen to luscious sweetness!

For 2023, about 1/3 of the potager will produce food. There are some things I love to grow: miniature melons and the luscious EarlyDew, lettuces of all kinds, spinach, garlic, peas, beets, carrots, French Primor leeks, Royal Burgundy beans, various herbs. Since I built the obelisks, I may as well grow a cucumber or two (even though D doesn’t like them!) My Napa cabbage was beautiful last year; I just grew too much of it. Pac choi is tasty, and when it bolted in the heat made a great filler for bouquets! I adore the French Horticultural beans, and the timing to plant them on the pea fences when the peas are finished just works so very well, and they are basically no work until it frosts when they are picked and shelled indoors by a cozy fire. All pleasant!

French fillet bean “Velour”

I’ve just whittled down the list to the food we especially love to eat, the crops that produce a lot in a little space, things that are expensive in the stores, and the things I enjoy growing. I’d rather use my energy to dig holes for dahlias than for potatoes. I can buy lovely potatoes very cheaply, but beautiful dahlias are hard to come by! I no longer grow pumpkins because I can support local family farms and my freezer still has boxes and boxes of pureed pumpkin and squash for more pies than we’ll ever eat. We live in a major sweet corn growing area, so it’s senseless for me to battle the raccoons when often I can trade for all the corn we need. Fresh green beans are a must, especially the French fillet bean “Velour” and the hearty “Dragon Tongue.” I will need to can green beans, although my mother canned over 50 quarts last summer and doesn’t even like them so she said I can help use hers! And I do one batch of kraut every year. The strawberries are still established so those beds are a given, but there will be few tomatoes, no winter squash, fewer varieties of peppers. David loves kohlrabi, so those are a must as well. We really don’t need 6 kinds of summer squash, so one or two plants will be sufficient even with the “Zucchini Sugar Cream Pie” that was such a hit last summer being on the request list again by many.

So that’s the “plan”. The veggies will be there for the taking, but the FUN is in the FLOWERS!

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Before the Tree comes Down

The tree looks cheerful and full even without lights!

Before the tree comes down on January 6, I enjoy spending time looking at the ornaments and remembering their significance. Some people have a color-coordinated tree, or use new ornaments each year, but our tree ornaments each have a special place in our hearts and find a place on our tree year after year after year without fail. Some of them are probably old enough to be classified as antiques! I’m sharing a few of my very favorites!

This ornament hung on my Grandma Miller’s tree.

I once had several ornaments that belonged to my paternal grandmother, but one year our beagle pulled the tree over while we were at work. We came home to dozens of broken ornaments, many that were chewed, and several that were missing, which required a quick trip to the vet for a stomach pumping. Fortunately he survived to ordeal, even though many ornaments did not. He never bothered the tree again, but I lost several precious-to-me treasures.

One of many hand crocheted snowflake ornaments

My mother-in-law was a very talented lady who loved to crochet. The first Christmas I was married (1965) she made a dozen snowflakes, each one different, for our tree. In later years, she hand crocheted bells, angels and more snowflakes. Just like real snowflakes, each one is unique. She didn’t need a pattern; she could just design as she stitched!

Hand crocheted Santa

These cheery crocheted Santas are some of my favorite items on the tree, also made by my mother-in-law. I wish I had a dozen more.

A hand-made pink elephant! His head is the size of a baseball, so he makes an impact on the tree!

My first daughter Andrea’s very first Christmas ornament came from her Aunt Zettie. It looks in very good shape for its age. I can’t believe that this elephant and my baby are over 50! Where did the years go?

We always called this one “Raggedy Andrea”…

A few years later, when my second daughter was about 3 years the girls loved the Raggedy Ann books and picked out this ornament for the tree. That year I made them both Raggedy Ann costumes for Halloween. Somewhere I have photos that I should look for this winter. I wonder what happened to those carefully made costumes; I can’t recall…..

Home-made ornaments…lots of those!

When I went back to college, there wasn’t much extra money so we made lots of our ornaments. One year we made dozens of birds and snowflakes out of appetizer picks, toothpicks, cardboard circles, glue and twine. The kids had fun making them with me, and the memories were priceless, as are these ornaments to me.

Hand sewn onto a hinged hairclip to hold it on the branches.

One year me made dozens of these felt candles as gifts for friends and family, and also to sell at craft fairs. I only have one left; maybe it’s time to make some more, if they even manufacture those hinged hair clips anymore!

Pear gourds grown & dried have lots of potential as ornaments!

Another year we made hundreds of little 3″ gourd ornaments like this farmer. Others were Santas or sports fans. We had a 200′ trellis across one field just to grow these little pear-shaped gourds. After they were harvested and cured, we tossed them into a cement mixer with a shovelful of sand and some water and let it run until all the outer skin was smoothly worn off. Dump them out, give them a good rinse, let them dry and they were ready to paint! Over the years, we sold thousands of gourd ornaments.

The first “teacher” ornament I received.

Boy, that was another lifetime ago…way back in the 80’s!

From our first trip to England, 1997!

To give me something happy to look forward to other than turning 50, my sweet David took me on a trip to Europe. First stop England, and I fell in love with that country. Amazing gardens, tea shops in every village, castles, history, wonderful book stores! What’s not to love?

A carved wooden bee skep to commemorate my bee-keeping days

Can’t remember who gave me this adorable bee skep, but it was during my bee-keeping years. That was before I developed an allergy to bee stings and nearly died. Still miss keeping bees; such a fascinating hobby and the honey from the lavender field was delicious!

A miniature landscape painting of the Tuscan countryside

One year we took all our kids and grandkids to vacation at a villa in Arezzo, a small town in Tuscany. The villa was owned by a count and surrounded by a winery. Talk about making memories! It was mid-summer, so not a very good time to shop for Christmas ornaments, but I found these tiny 2″ paintings and they look find on the tree.

A small hand-stitched country church…priceless!

My very best friend for over 40 years made this little ornament for our tree when our children were very young. Beth was an amazing person who blessed many lives before she lost her battle with cancer. I still miss her every single day….

An ornament from the first Chelsea Flower Show I attended.

The Chelsea Flower Show was on my bucket list for years before I was finally able to attend. It was even more special than I’d imagined, and made even more perfect because my two daughters went with me as well. We spent several wonderful, magical days in London and this ornament brings back all those good memories.

A cookie cutter ornament

My daughter Alicia brought back this cookie ornament from one of her many European travels. She picked it because it reminded her of all the times we baked cookies together, so that makes it special to me as well. I need to ask her which country it came from!

My first ride on an American train!

One autumn David and I went on a trip out west to visit friends, family, and the Grand Canyon. We had a great time and rode on the scenic train. At one point we were robbed by “bandits” but fortunately, the sheriff rode up just in the nick of time! Such fun!

A clip-on hedgehog ornament

This little cutie reminds me of my two pet hedgehogs that lived at the herb farm, Marjoram & Mrs. Pennyroyal. Sadly, they are both gone, having lived to ripe old ages. They were very interesting, and the grandkids enjoyed them. No plans to replace them as I gave away the cage, etc.

From our first trip to Ireland!

Thatched cottages were a common sight on our first trip to Ireland, so I picked out this darling little ornament as a remembrance. Good thing, because on our next trip a few years later, the only thatched cottages we saw were in historical parks or museum settings! We were told the insurance had become too costly, and there were so few skilled thatchers that the price to re-roof had skyrocketed. Sad, because they were beautiful.

From our second family vacation in Italy…

We had such a good time with all the family in Italy that a few years later we did it again, this time in “the heel of the boot” in Lecce.

We have a lot of carved wooden ornaments from Germany

Since our daughter and her family have lived in Germany for sixteen years, we have a lot of ornaments from various trips we’ve made to visit them. This is one of my favorites, showing the fairytale castles.

A lacy ornament from England

Before they moved to Germany, Andrea and Paul lived in Norwich, home of the famous cathedral, where this ornament was selected.

Our last big trip before the Covid years!

In 2019, David and I took a trip to Monticatini, Italy. It was one of our best trips ever…just the two of us driving all over the mountains and through the countryside. One of our day trips took us to Collodi, the home of Pinocchio, and since it was just before Christmas there were dozens of booths at the market selling ornaments!

A miniature cow bell

One of the things we enjoyed most, and still talk about although it was over 25 years ago was the sound of the cow bells in the mountains of Switzerland. Different herds had their bells tuned to different chords, so the cowherd could keep track of his herd’s location. It was a lovely sound and an interesting tradition.

Tiny wooden shoes…

Another bucket list item finally checked off was a visit to the vast tulip fields and gardens at Keukenhoff, in the Netherlands. We also attended the once-every-ten-years major gardening event “Floriade” which was held that year in Venlo. Amazing, amazing experience!

A carved wooden angel from northern Italy.

Our third family vacation was in the northern Dolomite mountain part of Italy, very near the border with Austria and France. Everyone enjoyed the lovely garden at this home on the edge of Kaltera and the grandkids loved the pool. Some of the best scenery ever, and some of the best gelatto. And since both German and Italian are commonly spoken there, it was easy translating (as long as we had a grandkid with us!!!Ha!)

A perfect ornament for me!

And lastly, our Arizona kids gifted me this pretty ornament that combines two of my favorite things: tea and black labs! I drink a dozen or more cups of tea a day, and I’ve been blessed with two fabulous black lab best friends over the years. CoriBeth lived with us for over 14 years. My beloved Wicca was with us for 19 years, and passed away on Christmas eve a few years ago. It seems like yesterday….

I hope you’ve enjoyed viewing some of the priceless ornaments that grace our tree. I leave it up as long as I can, and then take my sweet time handling and wrapping each one, savoring the memories that each one generates. Of course, all traces of the holiday decor must disappear before February 1, to prevent bad luck the rest of the year!

Thanks for reading, and Happy, Happy 2023!

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For Good Luck

Mince pies…YUM!

Just a reminder that old lore says that eating a mince pie each of the twelve days of Christmas will bring one good luck each month of the coming year. I guess I’d better bake more today because all of those baked for the parties earlier this month are long gone! Happy Holidays!

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