The Very Best First Runner Up: NatureWorks Organic Garden Center

Last month, Healthy Grow fertilizers announced the winning garden centers from a multi-month contest that asked garden centers to #ShowTheirGrow by sending in photos of their Healthy Grow fertilizer displays. One of the prizes offered was a spotlight on my humble blog.
Pretty much the winning entry

NatureWorks in Connecticut (a state I can not spell without spellcheck) won second place... but it was super CLOSE. So they deserve a feature, too.

Especially because it turns out that they totally rock.

I'm already drooling

That's a heckuva selection!

NatureWorks is located a stones throw from Stars Hollow, which is totally not a real place with real people in it, but that's not stopping me.  I imagine Lorelei and Rory hitting up NatureWorks, leaving with faces painted like Monarch butterfly wings and a tray full of plants that never make it back out of the trunk, once placed in there.

Like, 3 years later, there's still a tray of dead plants back there.


Seriously, some garden centers are just special. NatureWorks is a hub of their community, a place for education, a place for happy employees AND happy customers. If you're able, you should check them out!
Here they are on Facebook                   Here they are on Instagram                     Here's their site

Plant This! Giant Red Mustard

I talk about Red Giant Mustard in presentations and classes that I give, but I can never find a photo on the internet that does it justice. I can't seem to take a good photo of it, either, because I'm not in love with some of the plantings behind it and there's always junk in the way (more accurately, my front door compost bins). I decided that stinkin' thinkin' needs to END. Of course any photo I take is going to be just good enough to get the point across. Uh, right?

This is a gorgeous and totally edible plant that is dang near fool proof and it isn't too late to plant it, this summer, for envious stares from passersby. It reseeds like crazy so before you know it, you can have a full-sized drift of it. If you throw some seeds down in late winter (yeah, I do mean THROW) you'll have a 24"+ tall flowering crop in June. That is, if you don't eat it all before it gets a chance to flower.
It's never too late to sow this stuff.

The young leaves are AWESOME in salads and instead of lettuce on sandwiches and burgers. It's shockingly tasty and, uh, mustardy. The color is badass. I think you'll really like it.

Let your spring crop go to seed, eventually it'll die back and then you'll get another crop once temps cool in the autumn.

You can do this. It's easy and tasty.
If I can post these substandard photos that make me feel all vulnerable and icky, the least you can do is give it a try?

And Now For Something Different: A Retail Display Contest from Healthy Grow

Heathy Grow is a fertilizer company based here in Illinois. They make a mighty fine chicken litter fertilizer that is the "end" product (ya know, manure) from the hens that lay the eggs I buy at the grocery store (or Target). I felt good about buying the eggs to begin with, knowing that they come from a farm that's focused on humane hen care and sustainable farming practices. When I found out they were composting and making a chicken manure fertilizer product available to gardeners (for me it's a local product) it just felt like the right thing to do. A no-brainer! Slam dunk!


Between now and May 1stHealthy Grow is hosting a contest for retailers. They want to see photos of your display(s) of their products in YOUR store! As a person with a passion for independent garden centers, neighborhood hardware stores AND visual merchandising, I'm stoked about this contest, I hope to sneak a peek at the photo entries too!

The prizes for this merchandising contest range from a 1K Visa gift card to a copy of my book. 

Now, I'm not going to give you any hints... that would be cheating. But if I was going to do that, I might whisper to you that using toy chickens, from something like this or even this is a funny/great way to start a conversation with customers about the how and why of this product. As the Healthy Grow peeps say, "The Way It's Made Matters" and there's no better way to explain that to customers than to start at the beginning!

Again, I'm not giving out hints, but if you had a bucketful of red wigglers on a display, you could more easily explain the value of Healthy Grow's worm castings. They could certainly start people talking, then you could mention how great worm castings are for plants. It's just too bad that when you compost with worms at home, sometimes the worms escape in the middle of the night and have a dance party in your bathtub or shower floor. You could then very easily explain the value of this worm casting fertilizer....All the fantastic fertilizer without any of the worms. 

I mean, I'm not going to help you with any helpful hints- but I could possibly let it drop that props, sometimes fun and silly ones, help start conversations and really sell stuff. 

You can find out more here:

Let It Begin: Planting Season 2017 Pep Talk

You might have killed a few plants in the past, maybe a lot of plants. You might think you have a thumb that is a color that’s incongruous with the rest of your body. You’re quite positive that gardening isn’t for you, it’s for old people that have time to dote and keep demanding greenery alive. It breaks your heart that you’ve killed every houseplant ever, even the “indestructible” ones. You tried to start seeds once but it ended in death and lots and lots of mold.

I’m here to tell you, real gardeners kill shit all the time. I, myself, have killed 8 things today and it’s only 10AM and it's February. The difference between you and a freaking FULL-TIME FARMER is that they didn’t give up and you backed down pretty quickly.
Now, I don’t mean to point a finger, I mean to pump you up so that you feel the need to germinate again. All you need is to…
  1. Let’s try looking at dead and dying plants in a different way
  2. Try, try again. Don’t be a quitter.
  3. Some advice on finding the right plants for you that isn’t too complicated. Talk to an actual salesperson that knows what's what.
  4. Understand that we’re all a generation or 2 away from people that grew all their food and it’s really in your genes to get back to growing stuff

Let’s start with #1...
When you compost (that’s the act of helping nature make decayed organic matter that one can use as fertilizer), every plant you kill becomes new life (fertilizer) for other plants that aren’t demanding little asshats. That’s right, if a plant wants to mess with you and let you down, they get thrown in a pile and eventually get fed to plants that think YOU ARE AWESOME and play by your rules.
What part of this doesn’t sound great to you? You’re the boss of your yard. YOU.

Your yard, your rules!

My guess is that you were missing the whole “compost” link in this chain and now the pieces are all coming together. Am I right? You were never to blame, gardening hasn’t been aimed at people like you for a long time, so bonus points to you for even trying in the first place. Now you are going to start your metamorphosis into a badass gardener that makes everything green by just sneezing on it.
And if it doesn’t work out, you just compost it.

You’ve got this.

Succulent Jewelry: Save Your Money and Make It Out of Crap You Find Around Your House

So, I made this succulent jewelry for the cover of this Month's Green Profit magazine. Now, I think succulent jewelry is on the silly side but they asked me to do it and I love a challenge. They didn't even have to doubledogdareme. 
In making it, I had so much fun that my cold, sad heart warmed a little at the idea. So I made a pro and con list as all totally normal people do. 

  • Succulents break like it's their job. In fact, it is. So if you have actual movement planned for the time that you're wearing it.... insert sad face
  • Most people aren't going to propagate the cuttings afterwards, or compost them. It just goes in the garbage after a few wearings, if it lasts that long
  • They are being sold for a shitload of money via Etsy and Instagram
  • Can't wear it if you are a person that experiences Winter, because booger-freezing temperatures kill plants

  • I made it with stuff I had lying around the house, so it ended up being FREE
  • I have a bunch of leggy, overgrown succulents and this was a PERFECT use for them. I just went around the house and clipped everything leggy or overgrown into a bucket and used that. If it was leftover in the bucket at the end, I set them up to be propagated
  • Better use them before the cat gets them
  • I love hot glue gun burns

So, it was as easy as this. I found an old necklace I wasn't wearing, glued a thin layer of dyed chartreuse reindeer moss down and added little bits of succulent cutting on top, with my hot glue gun. The hot glue doesn't hurt the plant, whatsoever, but it can hurt the living heck out of YOU so be careful. You may like to use tweezers to set the tiny bits into tight spaces.

I used some little chunks of gem stones that, no kidding, we got in one of those "mine your own gems" things for kids in the Wisconsin Dells. I took a larger stone, laid it in the driveway and whacked it with a hammer to get tiny shards. There were places were another cutting or hunk of moss seemed totally wrong, but the little piece of stone was just the right texture.

Once I was done, I kept them in the fridge for a few days to monitor any changes they might undergo. Nada!
Since I made one, I tried my hand at a bunch of other stuff. 

In the end, I made one necklace, one bracelet, a ring (LOVED this!) and one earring, since it was for a photoshoot and you wouldn't see both of the model's ears....
This is easy stuff, it would make a fun workshop or party activity, especially for a bridal party! Or maybe drinking a lot might be more fun for that. 
I forgot. 

It's Over Isn't It- Top 10 from 2016

Years ago, I took a ukulele class at the Old Town School of Folk Music. I would start a song, with the class, pretty well but before the end of the song I was just miming along like I was still playing when I had really been out of my depth for a few minutes.

That’s what this summer was like for me. It started comfortably, a soft trickling of flutes, violins and piccolos that have now Boleroed into timpani and trombones and tubas that I can’t keep up with.

So good riddance, summer 2016. I’m going to start fresh next year and I’ll race you to the finish line. Take that.

Here were my top 10 favorite garden things this year:
  1. A 5 gallon bucket of sand with a beach umbrella stuck in it: I could move this apparatus anywhere in the yard for some shade to work under. It was a VERY HOT SUMMER, so this helped enough to actually get work done
  2. MAJOR DISCOVERY: I thought corn gluten was just good for preventing weed seed germination in lawns, but I used a ton of Healthy Grow Corn Gluten in my pea gravel patio and it COMPLETELY prevented the usual crabgrass invasion I deal with. It cut my weeding time down to a sneeze.
  3. Chipmunk inhibitor: You know how squirrels will pull your tomatoes off the vine, take one bite, then reject it and leave it to rot? Well, I think I’d prefer that over the chipmunks that will just eat the whole tomato. I tried curry powder, because I was out of chili powder, and it worked quite well. Then I ran out of curry powder. So I used wasabi powder. I feel like I’ve unlocked some sort of achievement badge in tomato retainment! horror
  4. Variegated Pineapple plants! Who knew? I didn’t. They combine my love of all things Hawaiian with all things variegated. I popped it in next to my front door and I get to admire it all the time. I wonder if it would grow variegated pineapples??
  5. Free municipal mulch: I’ve preached this to others for years, but only figured out how to do it for myself recently. It made my heart beat faster. I just called and they plopped it down in my driveway the next day.
  6. Compost at the front door: Aesthetically not the best choice, but for me it's practical and has me composting absolutely every scrap, no cheating. I started with one bin, now I'm up to 3. No apologies.
  7. Zero end rot: I always get end rot, you know, in my tomatoes but not this year thanks to Healthy Grow tomato formula. I used a ton of it and had the best tomatoes of my LIFE.
  8. Black Mustard puts on a show! I threw some seeds down in spring and was shocked at how awesome (and flipping tall! 5'!!) they came up... and everywhere. They ended up looking very architectural and are definitely keepers. I couldn't capture their awesomeness on film properly so you'll just have to take their word for it.
  9. Pipe Down! Dan gave me dormant pipe organ tubers this spring and I planted them. Look what came up!!
  10. Sensual Touch tulips were the BIGGEST surprise of 2016. I can't believe I can like a tulip this much. I mean, I don't like tulips, but these were INCREDIBLE and looked really great with masses of Brunnera. It looks like a painting at the Art Institute. Uh, the flower, not my planting.... The name is a little icky but the bloom definitely isn't.


Monarda and Mommy Brain

I can’t remember the names of plants anymore. A few weeks ago, someone asked me what daylily that was in my garden and I had to make something up (I said, “Uh, High School Lipstick?” and they bought it). Don’t worry too much about me, there’s nothing wrong that a time machine wouldn’t help, not that I’d use it. 

I seem to suffer from an affliction called “Mommy Brain”. Basically, I lost my mind when I had that kid and it hasn’t come back. 
Maybe it’s like when you have a kid, you give them half your brain and half your heart. Then they have a brain and a half and a heart and a half and you’re left staggering in the corner trying to cope and still think of the word “oatmeal”.

Thinking I was losing my mind, I read a million articles about Mommy Brain and I make sure I go to therapy monthly so I keep it 100. My therapist promises to tell me if and when I’m even stupider. The great thing is that reading and talking to adults is the antidote to Mommy Brain, however they are also the hardest things to do. Here’s me: “No shit, I did 18 loads of laundry yesterday. Have you seen the most recent Paw Patrol? Isn’t it great that after 35 years of being creepy, Lady Elaine Fairchild is in a loving, stable relationship?” These conversations do not make for brain calisthenics over brunch.

I’m sure that currently spending 89% of my life talking to a kid* is to blame for my inability to speak to adults without getting stumped on normal, everyday words or my complete lack of focus for reading anything depthier than a shampoo bottle. Working from home probably doesn't help, either. Some articles **point to the cause of Mommy Brain as increased estrogen leftover from when all that obstetrical stuff went down years ago***, which means I’ve only got, what, 10 more years or so to go in that game. So 10 more years of losing my car keys, 10 more years of translating conversations spoken in English, back into English. Can’t wait to enter the CRONE ZONE!
Pre-Hazel, remembering plant names and having a rockin’ garden was the center of my universe, a real point of pride, and then I created a new center of my universe (with an assist from my husband). Now gardening just something I do when possible, as a luxury or treat. I used to walk my garden each morning, noticing growth and new blooms, now I notice growth and new blooms on my only child each morning, in the 5 minutes after she wakes up and is all smiley and sweet, before she starts whining. The garden pales to her needs and love, although it’s a lot less sassy and pees on me less. It’s a staggering change. It’s been 5 years and I’m not adjusting fast enough. Not that I would change a single thing...

Someone asked me which Monarda this was and all I could come up with was "Uh, red one"

*To be fair, her vocabulary is on point, but she’s still just five.

**I’ve read some articles that say that if my Mommy Brain has lasted this long, I’m doing something wrong. I should pull back, live more mindfully...basically get out in the garden more.
***I saved this particular article but now I can't find it (wah wahhhh)

Return of the Terrarium

Eight years ago, I blogged about my search for a vintage globe-shaped terrarium like my parents had when I was little. For more than EIGHT long years, I searched for one of these things,and I found some, but usually for about $225.

I only wanted to spend about $75, of course. I'm a thrift shopper and my sense of value is catawampus. It's so catawampus it's like my idea of what things should cost is permanently wasted on champagne from Target and dancing on a table.

After so many years, I started to accept moving out of my price range. I started embracing the fact that this endeavor was gonna cost me $200, or more.I had already worked through the other steps of vintage-terrarium-price-acceptance, denial, anger, Ebay custom searches and depression, so it was time. Now, Dan is always willing to pay to get things right, he likes nice things and thinks part if their niceness is what you pay, but hearing me give up and be ready to pay out the nose must have shocked him into action. 

Because he found me a terrarium. He was so stoked that he called me, everyone knows not to call me unless it's something HUGE. "Can you drive to Fort Wayne tomorrow?"

That's a 3 hour drive plus a time zone change. It's not totally abnormal around here to drive that far for renowned pancakes or a $6 Clematis. 

Me:"Why? I really can't drive to Ft. Wayne tomorrow, but oddly I'm speaking about 30 miles from there next week"

He tells me why:
It's $35 and 3 hours away! So he calls the people with the terrarium to offer to Paypal them the $35 right now and... will they hold it for a week? That is our proposed scheme. Of course they could say "no", they could take our money and sell it to someone else anyways, there's a world of messed-up that we are willing to enter at this point. 

Pretty much the worst thing that could happen is that they realize these crazies are willing to drive 3 hours (plus a time zone change) to get this thing, do some research and jack up the price. That would be un-Midwestern of them. 

But that doesn't happen.

They say that of course they would be willing to hold it for us for a week, they are wholesome Midwesterners, like myself, except they won't be home. They are going on a 2-week vacation. 

Yes, they are going on vacation. 
But they are flying out of Midway, approximately 14 minutes from MY HOUSE. 
AAAAAND they are willing to bring it with them from Ft. Wayne, Indiana and rendezvous with us near HERE!


And yes, it's not as white as it used to be and there's a crack that's completely impossible to discern while it's planted up. But, it's MINE!
Want to see how I finished it??
Live moss, a few tiny ferns and a early 2000s toy Yoda that I used to have glued onto the dashboard of my Toyota (get it??).

Like it?? Was it worth the $35?

Putting A Ring On It

When I go speak to a group of gardeners, I talk about bowling balls, glitter as a mulch, toilets as planters, how to let dandelions grow to feed the bees and 15 foot-tall garden gnomes. I speak of very little that would give someone a reason to trust my honest opinion on anything other than where to find the nearest junk yard. Yet, inevitably, the first question I get asked is what fertilizer I recommend. Perhaps they know I'm so full of, uh, manure, that I might know a thing or two about it?

My status with fertilizers, until now, has been "it's complicated". I've used whatever organic fertilizers I could find easily, mostly at the Big Boxes, and a few more hard-to-find, multi-step products too, but nothing I could be "in a relationship with". Now I'm loving on Healthy Grow fertilizers for these reasons:
1. I love the story of a first-grade teacher turning the act of showing kids how chicks hatch into sustainable, big deal, organic egg operation. This guy seems to have wanted to do the right thing at every turn and now runs a OMRI listed, certified humane, self-sustaining chicken operation. The chicken poop that is the by-product of the egg producing operation is a perfect organic fertilizer.
2. I've actually been buying eggs from this producer for years, not knowing that they took this thing FULL CIRCLE into the fertilizer biz. That's a feel good if ever there was one. I buy these eggs that are a little more expensive because I want to do the right thing, now I'm composting their egg cartons and egg shells AND using their products to make my plants GET HUGGGE!
3. I can get this stuff shipped via Amazon. And as I always say, "Always buy local... or Amazon".
4. For me, this is a local thing. They are Illinois based and I'll jump all over something that is based in the Midwest.
5. In few weeks I've been using this stuff, I've seen great results, so far in containers and on my seedlings. The results have been good enough that I've buzzed through many of the samples Healthy Grow has sent me and I've bought more on my own. So this post is sponsored/not sponsored. I'm thrilled to put my money where my mouth is. Get it? Because I'm going to eat the food I'm growing in my garden!

6. I've always wanted chickens, so I could harness their poop for fertilizing purposes, but we have a ton of coyotes here (the one we see most often is named "Blueberry, according to Hazel) and I just see heartbreak in it. This eliminates a lot of the heartbreak.
7. They have worm castings in a big ol' bag. Which, since I murdered my red wigglers in 2012, I'm relieved to find in a method that's non-murdery.

I've passed up a lot of opportunities to work with companies in the past. I'm stoked to watch my garden grow on this stuff this summer and, oh yes, you'll be hearing more about it!

 You can find out more about it here, yo.

Put A Shrub In It

Everyone does summer containers but it's not so common to see small trees and shrubs used in containers. I'm not sure why, since you can put a tree or shrub in your containers for the summer, then get them into the ground before it gets too cold and then you...
 A) can use them for your containers again the next year
B) You have more trees and shrubs in your yard

As I don't like to repeat myself much,as I don't like to repeat myself much,  I shoot for things that can be reused in my yard someplace. Last year I used a super sexy Black Diamond Crepe Myrtle in my pot right next to my front door. I loved the proportions of using a shrub in back of all the annuals, PLUS the dark foliage of this particular plant really lit things UPPPPP!

Scale is important when using shrubs in containers. I like the way almost all shrubs look in a pot with other plants clustered around, but you might not want to use a plant that's more than twice as tall that the other plants in the pot. You want it to look like a happy combination, not 2 separate thoughts in a pot, like some kind of nightmare hi/lo bridesmaid dress. It can be hard to line up all the plants at the garden center to see how they'll look together, since the shrub is most likely in a pot much larger than it's new playmates.

I always admire how they use trees and shrubs in the containers when I visit the Morton Arboretum. No kidding, right?? It's kinda their job but I really think they do it STELLARLY. (Turns out, that's not a word. Should be)

Take My Tomato, Please!

Tomatoes are the raison d'etre for gardeners. No debating it.

But still--I don't lovvvvvvve tomatoes, or growing them, honestly.
I'd never eat one like an apple, but I do enjoy a nice BLT (facon or real bacon, your choice), or a little mozzarella and basil and I'm in. I make salsa so potent that the grade of tomato isn't even important. I don't see myself having the time to can or even freeze anything while my Hazelnut is young... Plus tomato plants get so dang HUGE and they take over by the end of summer, tomato hornworms are so gross and sometimes the fruit splits before I can make use of them. Still, I grew about 10 kinds last year and totally enjoyed handing brown paper sandwich bags full of them to people I like.
laundry baskets do it all
this was a volunteer
a day's harvest

Here's my top 4 from 2015:

1. Pork Chop- I will not mince words, this is the holy grail of tomatoes, especially if you like yellow ones, which I do. I'm pretty much obsessed with yellow tomatoes. They lack mellowness, much like myself. This one is sweet, bright but not too acidic. Also, like myself.
Everything about this tomato is exciting. It ripens overnight, after an unholy long wait. You will think there's no way that thing will ever, ever ripen and then... It's like when Beyonce drops an album or video out of the blue. Yes. It's just like that.
the first Pork Chop
Pork Chop gets so large and orangey-yellow that Hazel calls them pumpkins. You can, and should, get the seeds here
bringing tomatoes to an unsuspecting winner

that spider totally ate those tomatoes up, in their entirety

slice me!

2. Rapunzel- I knew the sales photos were too good to be true, but they weren't too far off! This is a new tomato, great for containers and... this tomato is unstoppable. It kept going after a frost, after a few frosts, in fact. And, yesterday, when I went to clean out the containers I grew them in last year? There are still fruit that look mostly fine laying around the pot. What the what??
Rapunzel and friends growing in a vintage toy box

Of everything I grew, this was most frequented by hornworms , but the parasitic wasps were RIGHT THERE, on top of their shizz.
Hornworm, entertaining guests
They were standard grape tomatoes. Nothing amazing about the taste, just gorgeous and tough...uh, much like myself.
I'd grow these again, but I wouldn't go so far as to start them myself. If I saw some starts someplace, I'd buy them in a heartbeat. If you want to try them, you can find the seeds here.

3. Tiny Tim- This12" tall cherry tomato should be sold on it's lush blue-green foliage and the fact that it's more shade tolerant than the rest of the crew, but it isn't. Who cares how it tastes? It's beautiful, works great in containers (it really is tiny!) and works places it shouldn't be able to. A great tomato to start too many seeds of so you can share with friends. Get it here.
Tiny Tim & Nasturtiums

4. Garden Peach- This fuzzy, peach-colored tomato should be grown just to confuse people. Bonus: It was BY FAR the earliest tomato in my garden. And, as first tomatoes go, it was delicious. I didn't get a ton because I seem to have planted them in a dead zone. Nothing I planted in that new bed flourished, but it kept on going. A trait which I admire... Get it here.  
Garden Peach- you can't really see the fuzz, but it was there!