The Chicago Flower and Garden Show will help usher in spring at the Chicago Flower & Garden Show, presented by Mariano’s Blooms March 15-23, 2014.

Chicago Flower and Garden Show,"Evening in Bloom' at Navy PierGardeners at any level can learn about the latest, hottest plants, products and ideas for beautifying their green spaces at the Chicago Flower & Garden Show, presented by Mariano’s from March 15-23, 2014 at Navy Pier.

I’m so pleased to be part of the action.

I’ll be presenting my Edible Spaces in Small Places program on Sunday.

I’m just a small part of the show that includes two-dozen stunning featured gardens, a full-scale “Marketplace” filled with leading industry suppliers, nationally-recognized experts conducting sensational seminars, “Garden Gourmet” events featuring top chefs, a “Kids Activity Garden,” and amazing, professionally-decorated “Tablescapes” of outdoor beauty brought to your dining table.

The idea of planting in small places fits perfectly with this year’s show theme: ‘Do Green. Do Good.’

A Record Year for Growing and Giving

Gardeners set a record for vegetable donations in 2013 as part of the Plant a Row for the Hungry-Colorado campaign.

PAR 2013We all know gardeners are a generous bunch, but this year area gardeners set a vegetable-donation record…

10,941 pounds–more than five tons of produce!

The Plant a Row (PAR) campaign got off to a great start early in the season with several big kickoff events.

PAR sponsors provided the gardening give-away items that gardeners received at The Denver Post’s Garden Night and the Denver Master Gardener’s annual plant extravaganza.

Nosiest Eggplant is 2013 Weird Veggie Winner

The results are in for the 2013 edition of the Weird Veggie and Funny Fruit gardening contest. Entries came in from across the country, but in a strange twist (absolutely fitting for an oddball vegetable contest) the first and second place winners are from Colorado.

Gardener Geri Koncilja has judged the Weird Veggie contest since it started in 2009. She received the photo entries by email after the contest ended on Friday and had no idea where any of the wacky fruits were grown.

First place goes to The Nosiest Eggplant, submitted by Ashley Grabb. The eggplant was grown on Shepard Valley CSA farm located outside of Boulder, Colo. The farm also sustains the Farmer Cultivation Center called Everybody Eats!

1st Ashley Grabb eggplant 2013

First Place-The Nosiest Eggplant, Ashley Grabb, Boulder, Colo.

Hot Weather Help for Gardens

When the weather heats up, plants need extra help. My mantra? “Mulch like crazy.”

Leaves1A few summers ago, in the heat of a Colorado July, I had to to leave my garden to present a xeriscape program to a master gardener group in the southwestern part of the state.

I fretted about how to keep the vegetable garden in good shape while I was away. I didn’t want to hire a garden sitter and there wasn’t time to hook up an automatic irrigation system. So I decided to implement the cheapest and easiest plan possible. I mulched like crazy.

All the bags of dry (untreated) grass and leaves that I raked from the front yard would finally come in handy.

Before I left on my trip, I deeply watered the vegetable bed that was filled with tomato, pepper, and squash plants. Then I took the dried grass and leaves and heaved great bunches onto the garden.

New Ideas in Straw Bale Gardening

I can’t think of a single gardener who wouldn’t want to plant a vegetable garden that could grow anywhere–without soil—and never needed weeding.

Straw Bale GardensWhen something sounds too good to be true, in most cases it means watch out for all the pitfalls. Gardeners are used to hearing claims for plants, products and tools that sound perfect, but end up being a big disappointment.

But Joel Karsten’s new book may be an exception. “Straw Bale Gardens” (Cool Springs Press, 2013) promises to be The breakthrough method for growing vegetables anywhere, earlier and with no weeding.

He practically guarantees gardeners can get big yields and grow 100 percent organic anywhere. As proof, he suggests planting in straw bales on balconies or driveways. No soil required.

“You plant your garden directly in bales of straw. Add some water, fertilizer and sunshine (not necessarily in that order) and your garden will explode with beautiful wholesome produce. No tilling, no cultivating, no weeding,” he writes in the Introduction.

New Items for Gardening from Territorial Seed

The new gardening catalog from Territorial Seed Company is about twice the size of other seed catalogs.

I’ve written about Territorial Seed Company in the past and have placed orders with them. But the company’s garden seed, plants and supply catalog for spring 2013 is something special.

This catalog is huge and features 240 new gardening products for 2013.

Territorial Seed, located in Cottage Grove, Ore., was the first mail order catalog to offer the Mighty ‘Mato grafted tomatoes after trialing them in its gardens.

Gardeners responded to the superhero status of the Mighty ‘Mato and Territorial Seed sold out most varieties last season. The double variety (‘Sungold’ and ‘Sweet Million’) was especially popular with gardeners who wanted to grow two flavorful cherry tomatoes on one plant.

Grafted vegetables are included in the 2013 catalog including grafted peppers. One eggplant variety, ‘Rosa Bianca’ is also in the catalog.

All the grafted vegetables are grafted by hand.

New Line of Organics from Renee’s Garden

Renee’s Garden is introducing a new range of organic seed for the 2013 gardening season.

Renee’s Garden, a long-time supporter of the Safe Seed Pledge developed by the Council for Responsible Genetics, has gone a step farther.

This year Renee’s has added a complete range of USDA Certified Organic vegetable and herb seeds.

Some of new line include heirlooms like ‘Chioggia’ beets, ‘Royalty Purple Pod’ bush beans, ‘Jade Green’ container lettuce, ‘Marvel Stripe’ bicolor tomato and much more. The complete line is featured in the online catalog.

As with all of the vegetable, herb and flower seeds offered by Renee’s Garden, the organics were selected after testing them in her own trial gardens. Detailed instructions for planting and growing are included on every packet.

Years ago when I first heard about Renee’s Garden, I had an image of a gifted gardener named Renee starting a specialty seed business selling based on the plants grown in her own garden.

New Gardening Seeds and Things for 2013

If it’s January, it’s time for the new seed catalogs to come rolling in.

Once the rush of holiday shopping is over and the retail catalogs slow to a trickle, it’s time for the seed catalogs to take over.

As a gardener, it has to be one of my favorite times of the year because each catalog holds the promise of warm spring days and bountiful summer harvests.

So many seeds, sow little time.

There are hundreds of new annuals, perennials, fruits and vegetables just waiting to be be purchased and planted.

I’ve taken a look at what’s in store for the 2013 gardening season and I’m amazed at what I’ve seen. There are more interesting choices for gardeners than ever before:

New sunflowers that will knock your socks off.
Sweet corn for container growing.
Gorgeous pink-and-rose colored petunias with 3″ blooms.
Personal sized melons.
Two-pound tomatoes bred for making sauce.
Cantaloupe-colored echinacea.
Broccoli that looks like long stalks of asparagus.
Grafted tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.

2012 Growing and Giving Gardening Report

The results are in for our 2012 Plant a Row for the Hungry campaign in the Denver metro area.

When I stood in the pouring rain at Harvard Gulch Park handing out garden starter kits on May 19, I didn’t know what kind of gardening year 2012 would be.

After a couple of good spring rains, gardeners were challenged with hot, dry weather and I didn’t have high expectations for our Plant a Row effort.

I’m happy to report our hardy gardeners weren’t at all deterred by difficult gardening conditions.

We ended the season with a total 4,890 pounds of produce donated to 16 different service agencies.

That’s over 2.4 TONS of food to help feed the hungry in our community.

Special recognition goes to Saint John’s Cathedral. Volunteers there collected 1667 pounds for Metro CareRing.

How to Grow a Renoir Painting

Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted his “Fruits of the Midi” in 1881 and I recreated it from my garden this year.

The last time I was in Chicago, I had just enough time to take a brisk walk through the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC). I made it a point to put my eyeballs on some of the famous paintings there like Grant Wood’s American Gothic and Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.

But I spent the majority of my limited time in the galleries that featured the artists of the impressionist period.

It was there that I stopped in front of Renoir’s still life called Fruits of the Midi. I admired everything about it, from the variety of colorful fruits to the way they were arranged on the platter. I loved the way he captured the essence of each piece of fruit and how the eggplant, peppers and tomatoes spilled onto the table.

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