Visiting Seed Savers Exchange

Visiting Seed Savers Exchange

On a perfect summer day last week, Mike and I made the trip to Decorah, Iowa to visit the Seed Savers Exchange. I’ve heard about Seed Savers Exchange for many years, but since our trips to Iowa were often very short, we just didn’t have time to include this in our itinerary. Not so now!   Seed Savers Exchange Mission: We conserve and promote America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.       The very charming Lillian Goldman Visitors Center was our first stop. I probably should have taken a photo of the inside of this building, with walls filled with their seed offerings and various gardening books and tools, it was a little bit of heaven! I purchased several packets of seed and off we went to explore the test gardens. “Diane’s Garden” is certainly a highlight!  Surrounded by a white fence with a gorgeous red barn as the backdrop, this garden is packed with flowering plants, vegetables and herbs. Many are labeled (and I have a feeling the few labels I couldn’t find have been engulfed by the plants!) and makes it easy to go inside and purchase additional seeds. Seed Savers Exchange hosts many special events throughout the year and on the day we visited they were preparing for an evening concert. These Heritage Farm poppies struck a cord with me. For many years we would visit a nearby neighbor who would grow these beautiful flowers and then share their seed pods with us. Their clear pink flowers aren’t too long lasting, but the strong seed pods seem to make up for this. It was nice to see the plants being grown in a garden setting as well as in more rigid trial beds. It is much easier to appreciate how these will behave when grown at home when you can see how they interact with their neighbors. In addition to the gardens, there are miles of trails for exploring the property.  I won’t lie, it was hot and I only had sandals on, so our hiking was limited. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the folks at Seed Savers Exchange even allow visitors to bring leashed dogs on their visit.  If you are traveling with a pet there are no excuses to not stop by here!   Our bit of walking did take us to the historic orchard on the property. The Historic Orchard has over 900 varieties of apple trees and the newly planted Amy Goldman Heritage Orchard featuring Midwestern apple varieties. These apples don’t look like your grocery store apples. They are different colors and sizes and the Seed Savers Exchange serves as a sort of “vault” for these historic varieties. Just outside the charming town of Decorah, we spent about an hour and a half here but could easily have stayed longer with better shoes and cooler temperatures.  Visiting Seed Savers Exchange was a great first stop to our day and we were happy to spend time enjoying the restaurants and breweries which also call Decorah home. Ready to plan your visit? Go ahead, enter this in your phone and find out just how long it will take you to get here. Address: 3074 North Winn Rd Decorah, IA...
What does poison ivy look like?

What does poison ivy look like?

What a way to start a blog post, eh?  “What does poison ivy look like?” has been heard a few times around here lately. We are clearing out an area of old trees, shrubs and underbrush and my lack of familiarity with some of these plants is prompting this question.   So, what does poison ivy look like? Leaves of three, let them be… Leaves of five, let them thrive.  This little rhyme is keeping me in check these days with my poison ivy “sightings.”  Look for plants with leaves in groups of three as an initial indicator. Not to get too technical, but I have to put in here that technically these are leaflets, comprising a single leaf. As a vine, look for hairy roots that are holding on tightly to a tree or wall. This plant, Virginia Creeper, is the plant most often confused with poison ivy. It can be a spreading plant on the ground or a climbing vine, but its five count of leaflets will help to rule it out as the cause of unwelcome itching. The folks at GreenPal have put together this handy infographic for identifying poison ivy. It helps me to see these poisonous plants next to each other, and, even though they gross me out, the photos of how your skin looks after an encounter with poison ivy. If nothing else, the next time you hear “what does poison ivy look like?” you will be all set to help sort out the...
DIY Retaining Wall Makeover

DIY Retaining Wall Makeover

Its been a crazy busy time for us– there seem to be an unending number of projects and tasks for us to take on in our new home. Nonetheless, this DIY retaining wall project has been one of my favorites!  We spent about two hours working on this and I couldn’t be more please with the results. Just see for yourself… We were lucky to have a pile of this limestone already on site. Before starting we decided to use what we had, not to buy any more, but hopefully to get the height we needed. The old railroad ties originally used for this retaining wall have seen better days. This is on the backside of our house, and the saying “out of sight, out of mind” was probably never more true than here. The others around the house have been replaced, but this is tucked between the deck and garage and didn’t seem too important. Until now, that is! Our first step of this DIY retaining wall project was to remove the old railroad ties that were already in place. Due to the fact of their 20+ years in this location, they were easy to pull off and remove. It is difficult to see, but when we did this project in late April, the hostas and ferns in this bed were just starting to show buds. It was nice to have most of the soil stay in place so as to not disturb these too much. As you can see in the first photo, they haven’t skipped a beat and look great now. With the old wall removed, our first layer of limestone had to be done right. This first layer was leveled and extended a few feet further (under the deck) than the earlier version. We did our best to alternate long pieces of stone with short pieces, hoping that for our next layer we wouldn’t have any seams right on top of each other.   To keep this DIY retaining wall project as simple as possible, we didn’t cut any of these stones. We tried our best to get the “seams” at the front to be tight so that if the stone was broken at an angle, that angle would be open to the interior part of the flower bed. On the corner we also alternated the crossing of the ends to help with some added strength. The layers continued to build really well!  It was surprising how quickly these came together. Knowing that we were only using the limestone we had made it easy to know when to stop– and also when to not be too picky!  As we got near the final few layers we tried to keep some of the longest pieces as our top piece. The smaller sections were easy to secure and include lower down. The before and after of our DIY retaining wall project. What a difference a couple of hours will make!    ...
Moving plants to our new home

Moving plants to our new home

Moving plants, or should I say, moving with plants?  Moving itself is a torturous experience, but combine that with fretting about how you will move your great plants collected over the years and you’ve got your hands full. I am happy to write that Mike and I are now settled in to our new Zone 5 (okay, maybe 4) home in Iowa.  It was very tough to leave our friends and careers in Florida, but we are excited about this new adventure. I know this sounds crazy, but I was very stressed out about my plants and what would be able to move with us and what would have to be left behind. I established very early in our moving process that I would require one large Tupperware container to go in the trunk of the car we were driving. A moving truck would take our household items, but we would be making the twenty hour drive with our two dogs and kitty all in the car.  Believe it or not, I think it was very important to establish this expectation early so that when it looked like something was going to be left behind it wasn’t my plants. Moving plants from Zone 9 to Zone 5 requires some thought. We were in the thick of “plant sale season” in Florida as we approached our move, and although it killed me not to by things for our yard, it did limit my purchases to small plants in 3-4″ containers.  See the container here? It was jammed full of many small plugs and small pots of plants. The only thing that didn’t make it was the bat plant, Tacca integrifolia, which died a slow death when we got to our new home. I decided the vanda orchids were an easy “yes” when it came to moving plants. Due to their epiphytic nature, they are grown on wire hangers, sometimes with a small basket, but are generally a two dimensional plant. I was able to lay these out on top of each other a tuck them into that last remaining cavity in the top corner of our trunk. I felt like I was really starting to get the hang of growing these in Florida so I will keep my fingers crossed that they are successful here. Some things were too bulky to include in our car, so I took the risky move of sending them in my car being shipped. Risky? Yes, there was a two week delivery window and it is hard to say in early April if the plants in here would be toasted when they arrived or not. The good news is that the terrariums, succulent topiaries and “pot heads” all made it in five days in good condition. I started taking air layers of many of my favorite plants several months ago but very few of them were ready to go. I am hoping that when we visit later this summer they will be ready for a delayed move to Iowa! Will all of these plants survive here, even as houseplants?  Probably not. Moving plants always involves finding the right new place for these plants and with such a big change it is hard to say how everything will grow. Some of the smaller plants will be enjoyed this year as tropical annual color and add a great touch to our new gardens. Stay tuned for updates on our new Iowa garden!  Things like apple trees, asparagus and hostas are all making their way into our new home. Ahhh....
Formal Double Form Camellias

Formal Double Form Camellias

Camellia season is starting to wind down and I am left with images of beautiful camellias in my mind. Mostly, I picture the formal double form camellias. These little showstoppers are my favorites. Not always the largest, but with amazing form that only formal double form camellias can achieve. When I was first introduced to camellias, I was unaware of the different flower forms. I saw only beautifully saturated flowers of all different colors and sizes. It wasn’t until I saw one of my first formal double form camellias that I understood just how important the flower form is to camellias. Camellia Forms Camellia flower forms are divided into six categories: Single: One row of not over 8 petals and having conspicuous stamens. Semi-double: Two or more rows of petals and having conspicuous stamens. Anemone: One or more rows of large outer petals lying flat or undulating; the center a convex mass of intermingled petaloids (similar to a petal, but smaller and a bit irregular in shape) and stamens. Peony: A deep rounded flower of two forms; Loose peony: Loose petals, intermingled with stamens and sometimes petaloids. Full peony: Convex mass of mixed irregular petals, petaloids and stamens or with no stamens showing. Rose Form Double: Overlapping petals, showing stamens in a concave center only when fully open. Formal Double: Fully overlapping, many rows of petals, never showing stamens. The variation in formal double form camellias can vary. The ‘Brooklynia’ flower below shows a very “stacked” type of flower form. The petals line up one on top of the other to create really interesting layers.   Others, like Camellia ‘Miss Bessy Belville’ are a more loose type of petal arrangement. This variety is considered a medium size, but at 4-6″ in diameter are fairly large for the formal double form camellia category. Formal Double Form Camellias I enjoy looking back through my photos and admiring so many of the different images from the season. With formal double form camellias on my mind, I hope you enjoy these images of cultivars featuring this form.                ...
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