Thursday, June 24, 2010

Chapter 2 Fun at the Iris Convention

Inspiration comes to a grinding halt

Isn't it disappointing when an inspiration can come to a grinding halt? I was psyched when I penned the first few paragraphs of THE JOURNEY BEGINS. The words I composed seemed to be shot out of a cannon. The words flowed like a river. However, when I was unable to download my special pictures my inspiration began to wane. For several days my story got delayed while I was struggling to master some blogging techniques. Sometimes things can seem so complicated when in reality, they are not.

The good news is I experimented and played with the Google Blogger tools. Most importantly I talked to my capable son, and I finally figured out how to download and size pictures through the Google blogger platform. What a relief to have solved what seemed like such an insurmountable problem. Back to the story at hand with renewed vigor and enthusiasm.

You meet the most intersting people on a tour bus

Did I tell you the one about the 82 years young woman that I met while on the Tour bus? We toured several Iris Gardens at the National Iris Convention hosted by the Madison Wi Iris Society. She sat right in front of me. Her name was Venita Faye. Did you ever hear of the name Venita before? I surely hadn't known anyone with that name. It sounds like a derivative of the name Venus, as in Venus De Milo.

We had assigned bus seats for three days of garden tours so the captain could keep track of us. (Like school kids) Venita had a friend named Annette that sat next to her. Annette had a southern drawl that wouldn't quit. She also had a very dry sense of humor; beat you to the punch, too. They were total cut-ups. We had more fun razzing each other. When Venita wanted to tell me something she would reach around her seat, on the isle side and tap my ankles to get my attention. (The bus noise made it hard to hear each other) She did this several times while we were traveling to the next Iris Garden.

To get their attention I would lean up and poke my head between the two seats in front of me. "Ok, I said softly, I am not going to goof off anymore, I will leave you two in peace". I leaned back in my seat, pretending I was sincere; knowing that they didn't believe me one bit. Simple fun. (More to come) Makes you wonder why we don't loosen up and be spontaneous more often. Do you find the time and place to just let go once in a while and be spontaneous?

How many 82 year old women do you know that are as sharp as a tack?

In addition to being very alert and talkative, Venita Faye was very good with her camera. She shared some of her shots of Iris with me, and I told her "Venita, I think the color in your camera is superior to my camera. Any chance I could get a copy of your photos". "Sure, she said enthusiastically; when I get back I will have a friend of mine put them on a disc for you and I will mail them to you". "That would be great, I will give you some money for your expense". I said. "Oh, don't worry about it, we can handle that afterwards", she replied. Well, two weeks after the convention, guess what I got in the mail yesterday? Yep, a CD; a disc with all her pictures on it. I hurriedly downloaded it to check out the color and quality of the pictures. Sure enough, spectacular photos of guest Irises grown specailly for the American Iris Society convention. I will soon begin to display some of her photos as well as mine. Together we probably have over 600 shots. (Some will be duplicates, so I can use the best shots. (Coming soon)

It impressed me that she would go out of her way for a stranger

It touched me that a total stranger (who became my friend on the bus) was willing to have her photos burned to another disc and take the time and effort to package and mail them to me, at her expense. I wanted to thank her in a special way. She she had an Iris hybrid named after her; the Iris is called VENITA FAYE, I thought it would be fun to create a greeting card for her using the flower named for her.

I made a trip to Fed Ex Office to make an original Greeting Card

I downloaded a picture of her Iris on a flash drive, went over to my favorite Fed X Office store and had them create an original Iris card for her. In addition I had an 8x10 of the same flower printed and I plan to frame it and send it to her. As I got home I decided "I have to write my Thank you note to Venita right away." First I had to print my Garden of Deegan logo on the card and that took quite a while to get set up; the margins, etc. Then I had to score the center of the card so I could fold it; all this work before I could put pen in to hand to write some kind thoughts. "No time like the present", I thought. "I have to mail this card to her tomorrow"

In the card, I told her how sweet she was to be willing to send me all her Iris photos. I hope she is surprised when she opens her mail to discover an original greeting card I made for her. In addition I will send her today, under separate cover, a nice 8 X 10 color photograph of her Iris: Venita Faye. It was hybridized by a long time hybridizer named Ken Keppel, He registered the new Iris in 2008.

For in the dew of little things the heart finds it's morning and is refreshed

The above verse is from The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran. It is amazing how simple things can give you so much joy. It was fun getting the photos from my Texas friend and then enjoyable creating the card. I have to tell you that I left a voice mail for Venita after the CD arrived at my home. She called me back and we talked for several minutes. When I asked her how the weather was, She said, "It's hotter n hell down here; 102 degrees". She just came in from mowing the grass. I said, "What? you are still mowing the grass at your age"? She replied, " Sure, why not, it gives me exercise and I can handle it". I was quite impressed with Venita before, but now I was astonished by her zest for life. Just think, 82 years old, lives alone, does her own chores, flew to Madison Wisconsin by herself and takes time to make others happy.

I want to be that engaged when I am 82. My goal is to live to about 85. Ever think about how long you would like to live? Of course my ideal would be to have the physical health to be pulling weeds at 85. Unless I can be pruning my apple trees and pickig raspberries from my raspberry patch in my 80's I may prefer the Garden in the Sky rather than passing time in a nursing home. That is not a put down of nursing homes; my brother is in a very nice home and receives excellent care from dedicated staff. I just prefer being active. My new Texas friend put it this way (when I told her I was impressed with how rambunctious she was)"Well, you might as well live until you die". I couldn't have said it better.

Ever have something named after you?

Venita's late father was an active member of the American Iris Society and would take her to the annual conventions. Over the years she got to know some of the hybridizers(dedicated plant people who cross pollinate different Irises in order to create new variations) that knew her Dad. One of these hybridizers was Ken Keppel. (See picture above) He became friends with Venita and in 2008 Keppel named one of his new hybrid Tall Bearded Iris after Venita. He named it VENITA FAYE. What a nice tribute to a lovely lady and a warm recognition of a long family friendship.

Just think if you join your local Iris Society you could learn how to hybridize Iris and perhaps name an Iris after one of your loved ones. You have to admit that would be a fairly creative expression of love. Do you remember the poem from the Victorian era poet Elizabeth Barret Browning: How do I love thee? It is worth reading once again: (See Elizabeth's Barret Browning 1806-1861 picture below.)

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, --- I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! --- and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

This poem is certainly one of the most profound expressions of love ever put into words. I dare not seriously add or detract from its exquisite form. For the sake of a point I want to make I think we can speculate that Elizabeth Barret Browning never dreamed in her wild imaginings that one of the ways to love was to name a new flower after her loved one. A hybrid Iris is a 'one of a kind'. Just like a 'sweet love' is one of a kind, so permit me a moment of 'poetic license' and suggest another verse to Elizabeth Barret Browning's poem:

I love thee enough to name my newly fashioned Iris after thee

Now, I confess my line above is at best a feeble attempt to expand the scope of the poem to make a point; while the line above does not have a classic ring to it, will you agree it has a modern ring to it? May I suggest there me be Iris hybridzation in your future. Don't be surprised if you are inclined to name one of your Iris 'offspring' after a dear friend or loved one.

Cross pollination leads to the formation of seed pods

I succeeded in my first attempt at cross pollination this spring (late May) and the seed pods you see above will be ripe within two to three weeks from now. The seed pods must turn brown before the pod starts splitting to release the seeds. Hopefully, I will remove the seeds shortly before nature does it for me. There is a process of what you do with the seeds prior to planting. I will explain this process as the time for seed harvesting approaches.

Any idea if you have a local Iris Society near you?

There is intrigue and adventure in growing and appreciating Iris. If you want to discover if there is a local Iris Society near where you live go to and the American Iris Society web site will come up. You can then look for affiliate Iris Societies by Region and State.

To learn more about what membership can mean to you please go to the following web site: and click on membership. You can also explore the photo gallery to see a treasure trove of beautiful Iris pictures.

This is the website for the North East Ohio Iris society, located near Cleveland, Ohio.I would love to see your comments when you join your local Iris society. It would be great to hear first hand from you what you are learning and how you are enjoying your Iris Society experience.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Chapter I Special Journey Begins

A Special Journey Begins

I recently returned to Ohio after attending the American Iris Society's National Convention in beautiful Madison, Wisconsin. Over 300 people from around the country, Canada and New Zealand convened at the Marriott Madison West Hotel for five days of stimulating events.

Since this was my first Iris Convention I was like 'a little kid' in the candy store'. I attended two full days of educational sessions and three days of garden tours where we observed over 2,000 spectacular guest iris blooms. The highlight of the week's events was the Awards Banquet on Saturday evening when leading hybridizers were recognized by the Society for excellence in several categories. In addition each member voted for their favorite TOP FIFTEEN Iris that were exhibited in the gardens.

They call Wisconsin 'God's Country' for a reason. The countryside we experienced had the pastoral scenes you expect to see in Wisconsin. As we traveled to several personal and public Iris Gardens we meandered through quaint villages and small farm towns. We were moved by the image of one room school houses, and the traditional wood frame churches painted white.

The palpable charm of country living pulled at my heart strings. I had that spontaneous feeling that this is the way we are supposed to live; with elbow room and the beauty of nature all around us. We drove by many hay fields and stands of Oak and Pine trees. How refreshing it was to be in the 'country'.

Is there anything more stimulating than travel?

You get away from it all, have time to think and reflect upon your life; what is really important to you. The drive to Madison from Cleveland Ohio is about 9 hours the way I drive. I was by myself so I was not distracted and had time to do some soul searching on the way there and on the way home. I even kept some notes and used my digital recorder.

Oh, I guess I am not going to live forever!

When you reach a certain age; not sure what that age is, but you start accepting the fact that you are not going to live forever. In the paternalistic culture in which I grew up a man's identity tended to be wrapped up in his work. It was very common for my generation to focus on security; raising the kids, and providing for them. It was more a luxury to fantasize about what you really wanted to do with your life. Make a living; that's what you do with your life. Have a career, or two, or three.

I started out as a teacher but spent most of my career in business. My health insurance career actually started with WPS, a health insurance Company still headquartered in Madison. Where did the last 30 years go? All of a sudden (so it seems) our two sons are grown, established and on their own. Somehow I forgot to plan for what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Life sneaks up on you, doesn't it?

What do you love doing?

Recently I have decided it is no longer a luxury to ask myself, "what do I really love doing and what do I want to do when I grow up"? It has become increasingly clear to me that it is a spiritual necessity for me to ask the right questions and come up with good answers. Are you asking yourself some of the same questions?

I have already begun making poignant discoveries and am delighted to share them with you. As Ulysses said: " My purpose holds to sail beyond the sunset, to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield, until I die".

Do You Love to Grow Things?

It is evening now on June 16, 2010. This is my second entry on this blog. I never knew creating a blog could be so interesting and therapeutic. You may have guessed by now that gardening is a very special part of my life. In the past few years I have realized how passionate I am about growing things. On most days I would rather be in my greenhouse or gardens than almost anywhere else. Why did it take me so long to recognize growing things makes me happy?

The seedlings below are Beefsteak tomatoes and Cockscomb, an old fashioned perennial. The Cockscomb is a fascinating flower that is great as a cut flower.I dry them and have a vivid maroon bouquet that lasts all winter. Beefsteak tomatoes are the classic tomatoes you slice for use on your summertime grilled hamburgers. Remember, I start these plants indoors while it is still cold out.

Although I grew up with gardens (My Mother had a vegetable garden and rose garden in Lyons, Illinois) and I have had a vegetable and flower gardens ever since I was married, it has only been in the past few years that my passion has begun to accelerate. In retrospect I should have been a botanist, horticulturalist or at least a gentlemen farmer. Should you have been something else also? Do you ever day dream about it? Of course hindsight is 20/20, right?

Is Gardening in your genes?

Are you one of those people who have a gardeners DNA? Don't you think it has to be in our genes? It seems to me you either love to grow things or you don't. There is no in between. I think there is a difference between someone who likes to transplant annuals each year or grow a handful of perennials versus someone who loves to grow things from seed. (We will talk about being a seed addict later) No matter what kind of gardener you are, on a scale of one to ten, it doesn't matter. One thing we can agree on; you are different from the folks that don't like getting their hands dirty.

A nice yard versus a need to get your hands in the dirt

Nearly everyone likes to have nice landscaping and a beautiful appearance to their yard, but how many people love to transplant their seedlings and can't wait to mix up their potting soil with compost, pearlite and peat moss? Don't you think there is something about growing things that ties you to the soil; the proverbial origin of all of us. "Dust you are and to dust you shall return". Sorry, that is pretty heavy for a blog isn't it? I will try to loosen up a bit; just like the soil is looser when we add pearlite and peat moss to the potting mix.

The magic of composting

Are you one of the privileged few that know what compost can do in your vegetable or flower garden? If you have never composted, honestly, you haven't lived. I learned to compost from a fellow gardener. He told me to build a chicken wire frame about 8 feet by 8 feet and 30 inches high. He said to leave one side open so I can easily dump my wheel barrow of leaves or grass clippings rather than shovel them.

I used some old 2x4's for the frame and regular chicken wire that you can buy at any Lowe's or Home Depot store. You can use a carpenters stapler to staple the chicken wire to the frame. To offset the periodic odor from decomposition, you can add a dusting of lime to the top of the heap once in a while. You can get a bag of lime at your local hardware store as well.

Disciplined composter or a little lazy?

I usually depend on the rain and snow to provide the moisture necessary to enhance the breakdown of the material. However, in dryer weather its a good idea to wet down your compost heap. Also, it helps to turn the pile over every now and then. However, if you are a little lazy, nature will do the entire process. It usually takes me a complete season to get mature, rich, black humus. I actually have two compost bins; one for current organic material and one that I leave alone, so I can use it the following season. Do you also put all your organic kitchen scraps in your heap? i.e. brown lettuce, apple cores, orange peels,watermelon rinds, corn on the cob, etc.

Ever grow 3 foot tall Zinnias outside your kitchen window?

The nutrients in the resulting humus are so incredible, one year I produced Zinnias that were at least three feet tall. (See colorful Zinnia bouquet to your right) We could watch them grow outside our kitchen window; it seemed they grew overnight. The hot pink and white colors were worth capturing on film. I wish I could remember the name of the Zinnia so I could order the seeds again. Suggestion: Keep a garden log with the names of the seeds you plant.

My pickling cucumbers were so abundant my wife could not pickle them fast enough. Generally I mix my 'magic deegan soil' with with 1 part rich and deep black humus, 1 part peat moss and one part pearlite. I do it like a chef; I don't really measure it, I just seem to have a feel for what the right mix should be.

Do you get a little impatient with the compost?

Sometimes I get a little anxious and cheat. I typically use some of compost before it is ready; especially when I plant the vegetable garden about the third week in May. It has not completely turned to humus, so it has some leaves still present.

A few weeks ago I placed the special soil mix (Deegan's magic soil) in the holes when I planted my tomato and pepper seedlings. It just seems to give all my plants an extra shot in the arm and with all that organic matter, you know they are happy campers. You wouldn't believe how big my bell peppers get, or how many jalapeno peppers I get off of one plant. A garden just can not reach its full potential without fertilizer; and in my opinion, organic matter (compost) mixed with peat and pearlite can not be surpassed for healthy results.

An Hydrangea with over 40 blooms this year

After the frost got my Hydrangea bush last year all the buds were killed so I had zero blooms. This spring I covered the plant whenever there was a threat of frost. I also spread a generous amount of Hollytone all around the bush and worked it into the soil. When I originally transplanted the Hydrangea I surrounded the roots with my humus mixture. The Hollytone definitely helps the blooms turn blue also. Well, right this minute I must have at least forty blooms coming. (See blooms above)I have several opened and there is a lavender blue tint. I can't wait to see if the tint remains light or if it will get darker. I know with confidence that my Hydrangea has become so lush because of my compost mix. The bush is about four years old now and this is the first season with a bountiful bloom.

June 18, 2010 'Garden of the Week' honors

My Iris bed was recently photographed by the Twinsburg Garden Club because the Iris were apparently worth a second look. The color combinations were quite breathtaking if I don't say so myself. My Garden was selected as Garden of the Week.

A picture was published in the Sun newspapers along with a nice narrative, and some of the names of the Iris. The Iris were all of the Tall Bearded variety, including Supreme Sultan, Batik, and Stepping Out. It was a thrill to have the Iris recognized for their attractive appearance. When I got home from Madison Wisconsin my wife Nancy broke the news to me.

Garden of the Week was a pleasant surprise and a special reward for my efforts. As you know it's a lot of work to create a flower bed, enrich the soil with compost; keep the bed essentially weed free and watered on a regular basis. The Twinsburg Garden Club chooses a garden of the week which demonstrates a beautiful appearance and diversity of flowers and plantings along with other attractive landscaping features. Perhaps your local Garden Clubs may want to consider this fun activity. It draws community interest and creates some excitement and fun for the local gardeners.