As winter continues to fill our view, (It’s snowing as I write this.) spirits can begin to tumble. Fortunately, the dedicated group of Master Gardens in Elkhart County, Indiana and the surrounding area, known as the Michiana Master Gardeners, came to the rescue with ” Think Spring!” This was the group’s first ever Garden Expo, and having been to hundreds of such events over the past several years, this reporter feels they did a great job! Overcast and dreary outdoors, inside the fragrance of flowers and bright blooms brought smiles to every face. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group of gardeners work so hard at making sure everyone felt welcomed. A cheerful volunteer was posted here and there, and definitely at all the critical spots to answer questions and give directions. There was ample time to enjoy coffee and a delicious “French Toast”muffin and still visit nearly fifty garden-related vendors. Of course, my first stop had to be the used gardening book stall.
Despite my resolve, a copy of Rosalind Creacy’s “The Edible French Garden” for only $2.00 was irresistible. There was a delightful variety of booths selling planters, garden decor, bird houses & feeders, worm castings, and plants including the host group’s offerings of herb plants, seeds, bags of canna bulbs and more. And there were tables of tempting silent auction items that were drawing the attention of the early crowd. The highlight for me, and the main reason I drove over two hours was to hear Barbara Pleasant, long-time contributor to “Mother Earth News,” “Organic Gardener,” “Grow Veg,” and “American Gardener” magazines, as well as the author of several books.
Her morning presentation was “Spring into the Season: Better Gardens, Less Work!” Filled with pictures of her bursting Virginia gardens and years of experience, this talk alone was worth the trip. I especially appreciated the way she tied bits of Indiana into her talk, and various garden quotes like “The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance, the wise man grows it under his feet.” James Oppenheim. I’m pretty sure everyone in the audience learned something, no matter how experienced they were. I also attended an excellent talk given by a former herb farm customer, Marcy Dailey entitled “Take Time to Smell the Herbs.” Anytime I can sit with a group of herb lovers, I’m happy. After a quick lunch, Ms. Pleasant’s second presentation, “Plant to Preserve” was given to an enthusiastic audience. Based on her newest book, “The Homegrown Pantry” it was filled with pictures of mouth-watering veggies, shelves of preserved jars and crates of squashes and pumpkins. Lots of ideas on preserving the bounty beyond just winter storage, canning, and freezing were offered, including some of the best varieties to grow for long term use. The information on commercial produce from whatsonmyfood.org convinced many attendees to begin to grow their own. I’m definitely going to make her “Onion Jam” and beet raisins.
There were other speakers doing concurrent talks, and additional talks later in the afternoon, but with a two-hour drive back home I elected to select my free seeds and depart. Having just read a blog that research shows NOT to soak sweet pea seeds in water, which I had just done two days before, I picked out more sweet peas, yet another lettuce, some interesting fava beans (I mean, with the poor results I get I can never have too many fava seeds!) and a bush acorn squash. Volunteers urged me to select more…there were boxes and boxes of free seeds, but I didn’t want to be greedy. All in all, it was a very Barbara Pleasant Day!
I encourage you to seek out gardening events, especially those hosted by Master Gardener groups or the Herb Society of America to help eliminate the winter blues. Just being around a group of gardening enthusiasts, rubbing a few plant leaves, and picking up brochures for future garden walks and plant sales coming up in your area can boost your spirits.