Friday, July 18, 2014

2014 Garden Bloggers Fling: Hello, Portland!

Mt. Hood from the airplane
Mt. Hood from the airplane window

I spent last weekend at an annual event called the Garden Bloggers Fling, touring public and private gardens in Portland, Oregon with two busloads of garden bloggers from the US, UK, Canada and Spain. The first Fling was 'flung' in 2008 by a group of Austin garden bloggers who thought it'd be fun to host a national garden bloggers' get-together and show them some of Austin's best gardens. Chicago, Buffalo, Seattle, San Francisco and Asheville have hosted Flings, and next year's event will be in Toronto.

It's a ton of work for the bloggers in each host city to coordinate schedules and draw up maps, reserve tour buses and block hotel rooms, arrange meals and secure sponsorships, in addition to work, family and home responsibilities. Thank goodness for their labors of love, because the Fling is always so much fun. By bloggers and for bloggers, Fling allows gardening fanatics to get to know each other in person while exploring and experiencing the heart of any host city - its gardens.

The weekend got an early start on Thursday evening with a pre-Fling cocktail party at beautiful Pomarius Nursery.
Pomarius Nursery

As I entered the grounds, I couldn't help but notice a vigorous red-stemmed vine near the entrance that was loaded down with what looked like kiwifruit or Chinese gooseberries. I've never seen those growing in Central Texas, sigh.
Gooseberries at Pomarius Nursery

Wandering the grounds with a glass of wine in hand, I spied several Portland bloggers and a renowned "guru of grasses" sporting head adornments featuring the flora of the region.
Kate Bryant and John Greenlee
Garden writer Kate Bryant with grass meadow expert and landscape designer John Greenlee

Ann at Pomarius Nursery
Ann Amato-Zorich of Amateur Bot-ann-ist

Let's get a closer look at Ann's homage to Frida Kahlo, Portland-style. Love, love, love the tiny berries, ferns, smoketree flowers and cattails!
Close-up of Ann's hair adornments

Did you notice the small white-flowering tree behind Ann? That's a hydrangea topiary. Can't grow those in Central Texas, sigh.
Hydrangea tree at Pomarius Nursery

I suddenly noticed several bloggers eating these amazing-looking tamales wrapped in banana leaves. They pointed me toward the Tamale Boy food truck parked near the entrance, where a queue was starting to form. Yummy dinner, hooray!
Tamale Boy dinner

After eating and chatting a bit, I shot a few more photos as the light began to fade. Ha - check out the Monarda didyma photobombing my wide shot.
wide shot of Pomarius Nursery

Several bloggers couldn't resist snatching up pots of Eucomis (pineapple lilies), and although I'm a bit sad I didn't spring for one, it's probably for the best. I'm certain it wouldn't like our cold winters, and I'd tire of lugging it in and out during our oddball winters.
pineapple lily flower

Another offering that caught my eye was this bonsai-sized conifer rock garden in a rugged hypertufa planter. Precious.
Bonsai conifer in hypertufa

I fell in love with these mini-ponds in heavy low pots,
mini-ponds at Pomarius Nursery

and the tables of potted succulents and tropicals in the greenhouse.
Inside the greenhouse at Pomarius Nursery

As we left, we were encouraged to take the table arrangements, donated by the California Cut Flower Commission,  so I quickly grabbed this pretty bouquet. Here it is, brightening up my hotel room the next morning.
pretty bouquet of flowers

What a perfectly lovely welcome to Portland! Thanks to Loree Bohl of Danger Garden, Scott Weber of Rhone Street Gardens, Jane Howell-Finch at MulchMaid, Ann Amato-Zorich at Amateur Bot-ann-ist and Heather Tucker of Just a Girl with a Hammer for organizing it all.

Stay tuned for a Fling Day #1 recap where I visit a leading garden book publishing house, a Chinese garden, two outstanding nurseries and two knock-your-socks-off private gardens in a single day! It might be a few days before I get to it - we just got three inches of rain and a 15 degree drop in temperatures, and I've got to get out and garden!

Words and photos © 2009-2014 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Hey, I can grow food!

This is the most productive year my veggie garden has ever had.
Three Sisters garden
'Three Sisters' bed in front, potato patch in back

I've been cultivating this plot of land since 2005 and all the hard work is really starting to pay off. Over the past month, I've harvested pounds and pounds of potatoes,
'Kennebec' white potatoes

'German Johnson' tomatoes

'Tatume' squash
'Tatume' squash. The large ones are firm like acorn squash, the small ones are tender like zucchini.

green beans,
green beans and squash
'Blue Lake' bush beans and 'Tatume' squash

'Inchelium Red' and 'Lorz Italian' garlic

'Boston' and 'lemon' cucumbers

and beets. Or rather, beet.
giant Chioggia beet
Yep, that is one giant Chioggia beet.

I even had a measurable corn harvest. The ears were small but numerous, with well-formed kernels at the base and a fresh, corn taste. The tips of the ears had poorly formed kernels, bugs (aphids, ear worms) and/or corn fungus, so I cut off the tips and we ate the good part.
'Stowell's Evergreen' white corn

We've been eating fresh vegetables from our garden nearly every night.  I made homemade tomato sauce, and I even pickled that big old woody beet (it's marvelous). 
canned beets
Get the recipe at 

I can't say growing my own food is less expensive than market-bought. Over the past 9 years, I've spent hundreds of dollars on compost and garden soil, a drip irrigation system, tools, hoops and trellises, shade cloth and frost cloth. But now that the garden is established, my costs are going down. I do buy seed, transplants, and organic nitrogen fertilizer, as well as a few bags of compost each season (my small bin only makes enough compost to top off one bed).

Mulching the beds keeps water use down; pine straw is my favorite because it lasts a long time. Someday soon I'd like to install a large rainwater collection tank.
muskmelon seedling
Muskmelon seedling mulched with pine straw

I'm working on lowering my seed costs by saving some of my own.
seed saving
'German Johnson' heirloom tomato seeds

To me, there's few things more satisfying than harvesting fresh homegrown food right out of my own backyard. Others find it's too much toil and trouble and prefer to leave all that work to the farmers. Where do you stand?

Words and photos © 2009-2014 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Spring harvest and garden friends

"New" potatoes, "old" spinach - all so good!
spring harvest

(How do you like my makeshift spring cornucopia cobbled together from a cobalt blue plastic mixing bowl, a Fiestaware rice bowl, and a tea towel?)

Sure, there's a few holes and yellow spots in the spinach, but it tastes so fresh and sweet, and once it's sautéed up with garlic, no one will see the holes.

Yesterday, I found this little guy, licking dew off chard leaves and eating bugs.  Keep up the good work, little buddy!  I'll be sure to wash off the lizard spit.

Words and photos © 2009-2014 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A must-see Austin garden tour

The Inside Austin Gardens Tour is this Saturday, May 3 from 9 to 4.  For $15 you can tour six gardens selected by the Travis County Master Gardeners Association for "exemplary quality and design" - or pay $5 to see a single garden.  There will also be plant sales, book sales and informal discussions at each garden.  A map and all the details can be found at, but here's a quick look at four of the six gardens.

Dugie and David Graham’s Garden
Graham Garden

Graham Garden

Graham Garden

Austin Neal’s Garden
Austin Neal's garden

Austin Neal's garden

Austin Neal's garden

Ken and Robin Howard Moore’s Garden
Howard Garden

Howard Garden

Howard Garden

Jerry Naiser’s Garden
Naiser Garden

Naiser Garden

Naiser Garden

Lori Daul's garden is not pictured here, but it's amazing - if you can only see one garden, see hers! KLRU's "Central Texas Gardener" visited her garden recently, you can watch the episode here.

I'll be working the AgriLife Extension Demonstration Garden (also not pictured) from 12 to 4, and you can see it for free, so come see me!

Words and photos © 2009-2014 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Rollicking larkspur in the front garden

rol·lick·ing (adjective) \ˈrä-li-kiŋ\
: enjoyable in a lively or noisy way

: boisterously carefree, joyful, or high-spirited

Synonyms: hell-raising, knockabout, rambunctious, 

raucous, robustious, roisterous,

boisterous, rowdy, rumbustious [chiefly British]

Antonyms: orderly

Every stem of larkspur in my garden is an indirect passalong from MSS, who has blogged at Zanthan Gardens since 2006.

M cultivated this readily reseeding heat- and drought-loving annual over several years, culling all the pink-blooming stems before they went to seed, leaving only shades of blue, purple and white.

She gathered the abundant seeds and shared them with her friends who garden, who shared them with their friends who garden, and so on, and so on.

Now her larkspur runs roughshod over Austin gardens every spring - except in her own garden. She recently blogged that she has hardly any larkspur blooming this year.

What's rollicking in your garden this spring?