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.

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