Friday, September 19, 2008

The Garden Faerie Meets Paul James

Paul is on the left. I'm the grinning pale blob to the right!

I am not a fan. I don't follow sports teams. I don't have a favorite actor, musician, or celebrity. There are many people I admire or respect, but I am definitely not crazy wild to meet them.

And then there's Paul James, host of HGTV's Gardening by the Yard. Here's a guy making his living doing what I do as an amateur. Here's a guy who clearly loves plants and is knowledgeable, funny, down to earth, and a bit irreverent. And occasionally downright goofy. What's not to like? I admit that the more I learned about him through watching his show over the years, the more I thought he seems like a decent human being, not just a cool TV host.

So when I discovered he would be making an appearance at Goldner Walsh nursery in my metro area, I figured, why not go? As the time to leave drew nearer, I admit I was getting a bit giddy (or as my friend Pete calls it "squeeing fan girlish"). I wondered whether he would be like he seems on TV. I was hoping to say a few words to him and, best case scenario, press Fun with Winter Seed Sowing into his hands if it seemed in any way appropriate. I really wanted to stay this side of respectful admirer without crossing into crazed fan who pounces on him like an exuberant puppy whose owner just came home. You know.

The drive took just over an hour in much heavier traffic than my brain or eyeballs are used to, and I arrived a little early. I was perusing the greenhouses when I saw someone I thought I knew in the next aisle, only to slowly realize it was in fact Paul James! I ducked behind a plant because, well, um, I just did, OK?

Just as I settled my nerves, I saw someone in the aisle in another direction who said "I know you!" I turned around to see if Paul was behind me, but he wasn't. It turns out the woman, Diane, was in fact addressing me. She had attended my session this past Saturday at the Wayne County Master Gardener Conference and had also purchased my book! We chatted.

On my way to the main event, I saw Paul standing in a hallway. I did not hide this time but kept walking. As I got near him he said to no one in particular "I lost my guide." Without missing a beat, I said "You must be your own guide." Partially because I've been reading a lot of inspiring Dove Promises messages* lately, and partially because, well, who the heck knows. I like to think he found this insightful and inspirational (HA!), and I felt a bit calmed that I responded to him as I would have to anyone else in that situation. Sure, I may have sounded like an idiot, but this was me being myself, not me jumbling my words as a squeeing fan girl. Victory!

I found my way to the main room where the presentation would be and chatted with a few other people. I also entered my name for a door prize, which is pretty much an exercise in practicing cursive since I never win door prizes. Ask anyone I attend conferences with! Seriously.

So, Tim Travis, the owner of Goldner Walsh spoke, as did a local organic farmer, as did the chef who created yummy treats from said farmer's produce, and then Paul James answered questions. He was just like on TV: funny, down to earth, and full of practical knowledge. He said HGTV had not renewed his contract as they felt he was too old and gardeners were too old and they're really wanting to cater to an under-35 demographic. (I have a whole rant about this but I'll save that for another day.) Someone asked if he was going to write a book. He said he had many publishers asking him but he was afraid anything he'd write would piss some people off. Plus he said he thought most gardening books were beautiful and slick, but contained very little hands-on or new information. This made me beam to myself as, in my very tote bag, was my book which a) is not at all slick; in fact, obviously self published and put together by hand (with a GBC-bound spine), which I admit sometimes makes me feel like a "fake" author and b) actually contains hands-on practical information! Hence, a segue to use to feel less awkward pushing it on him. Hooray!

Then they did the drawings: two prizes of a cookbook and a pot of various perennials. Tim told the first winner that one of Paul's recipes was in the book and she should see him afterward to have him sign the cookbook. Then they called the second winner, one Monica Milla of Ann Arbor. I was just about to curse this lucky winner when it dawned on me--um, wait what? Did he say Monica Milla of Ann Arbor? Hey, I know her! Hey, that's me! And Tim recognized my name as we'd been emailing about an article I'm planning for my MLive blog about his nursery's new plant pot recycling program, which he announced to the crowd!

Not only was it cool to actually win something, but I now had a shy person's excuse to ask for his autograph as well as the aforementioned book segue. For once in my life, it seemed like the universe was aligned with me, not against me (which it often seems like at my day job).

After the talk, many people crowded around Paul while I chatted to Tim briefly, getting a few more details for my blog entry. I then walked around the nursery a bit. When I returned to the room, Tim was taking a photo of a couple with Paul, and they were the only people left in the room. I had taken my camera though I hadn't expected any opportunity to use it to arise, but I rode the momentum and asked Tim if he'd take a photo of Paul and me. Paul motioned me to stand on his non-injured arm side, which I would have done anyway, and then he put his arm around my shoulder. For a split second this freaked me out; not only because I have a fairly strong personal space bubble unless I know someone quite well, but also because I was overly conscious of not crowding him and trying to give him his space. But, hey, I'm nothing if not adaptable, so I put my arm around his shoulder as well. Purely to be polite, you understand. I mean, I'd hate to appear rude! (Quiet, you in the back!) Of course, this made me feel a little giddy again, hence the huge smile on my face in the photo!

I then had him sign the cookbook and I said I knew just what he meant about glossy impressive books that may lack in hands-on tips, so I hope he'd enjoy this book which was the opposite. He said "Ah, winter seed sowing" and asked if I was Monica, the author. I said I was. I said something else about liking his style and using humor in my own presentations and then it dawned on me there was no one else left in the room and he probably wanted to move it along to the food section, so I bid him farewell, a happy flight home, and a quick recovery from his arm injury.

At least that's how I think our exchange went. Even though a strange calm came over me when we were talking (similar to what happens when I speak in public), afterward I was admittedly a little star-struck (in fact I did actually squee at the photo preview later alone in the hall), while trying to act like it was the most natural thing in the world for me, the small potato garden faerie, to chat with Paul James, the Gardener Guy. So, in retrospect, it was all a bit of a blur.

I look forward to finding out what endeavors Paul undertakes in the future, especially at a time where I'm on the brink of some unknown future undertakings as well.

*Dove Promises are yummy chocolate pieces that come in wrappers with printed messages. My favorites are "Be your own Valentine," "Keep the promises you make to yourself," "Test your own limits and keep going," and "Go to your special place."

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Late Summer Garden Stroll

Oh, hello. Have you been waiting for me long? Good. You're just in time for a little garden stroll. It's not so hot today, so we won't need sun hats!

First up, here are some hens and chicks my mom brought me in a paper bag. They fit perfectly into a spare pot I had!

Isn't it cool how these hollyhocks are backlit by the sun?

Here on the ledge of the railing on my front porch is my little thyme plant, which I got when I visited the Chicago Botanic Garden back in July with gardengirl. They were handing them out for free as small plugs in a paper bag. I put it in my empty plastic cup and carried it around the garden that day and then in my backpack the next sweltering day, all around Chicago and home on the bus. I'd say it survived quite well, and I'll plant it in the ground soon. How does yours look, Linda?

Next, we simply must look at my winter-sown tomatoes! Not just because I really love tomatoes (their taste and the smell of the foliage), but because people sometimes find it hard to believe tomatoes can be grown through winter seed sowing. Well, here's proof from zone 5!

Despite a few things I did, um, suboptimally, they are kickin' ass and takin' names.

(Incidentally, Fiona is also kickin' ass, but she doesn't care about names.)

The bottom of this pot has filler material, and it shouldn't, as tomato roots need all the room they can get. (I really know that!) Also, I possibly pinched off too many leaves when I noticed the tomato fruits weren't getting enough sun. And clearly, the staking leaves something to be desired. And, ideally the pot needs to be moved somewhere sunnier (the shade has changed throughout the season!). But despite all my foibles, the plant doesn't care and is producing huge fruit anyway.

I made two main boo boos with these tomatoes planted in the ground: I planted them too close together and I planted two eeny beeny seedlings per cage, intending to cut the scrawnier-looking one down a few weeks after planting. (Did I mention they were eeny beeny when I first planted them?) Of course, it rained so much this spring they grew by leaps and bounds and by the time I remembered to thin them out, it was difficult to see what to cut, and harder to reach (inside their little fence), so I just left them. Also, this is a new bed that I didn't have the chance to enhance with compost, so the soil is pretty bad. But, again, despite these suboptimal conditions, they're producing pretty darn well!

Two of my favorite fall bloomers are sedum (which you can see a bit of in the last photo) and Japanese anemone. These beauties are just so cute! I have some white ones and pale pink ones in other locations that aren't blooming quite yet.

Another favorite fall bloomer is sneezeweed, whether the native yellow kind or the orange or reddish cultivars. It makes a nice screen (of sorts) for my rain barrel.

Also, it is very sexy close up.

I got this cute little globe arborvitae 'Mr. Bowling Ball' free from Lake County Nursery in May 2007 in Cleveland at a regional Garden Writers Meeting. I generally am not a big fan of shrubs that are trimmed into geometric shapes (or that look like they were), and I never would have bought this little guy, but as it turns out, I really like it. The pale foliage and texture are great. (The same nursery gave out "Eternal Gold' junipers, which I liked at the time and continue to enjoy.)

I don't know how obedient plant got its name, as I find its tall habit and bright color more spunky than obedient. I got this one at a plant swap two years ago and it's well over three feet tall. Cute!

While the berries on this beautyberry bush are still small and not too impressive yet, they will soon turn unbelievably bright fuchsia-purple. At least I hope they will. We went for six weeks with no rain and even though I've been watering it, I'm not sure how it will turn out.

Even though late summer was dry (my lawn was dusty), spring was quite wet which meant my purple smokebush, which had been struggling for years, put on about six inches of new growth. I love the way its foliage looks covered in dew.

And what's fall without mums? I bought a bunch of small, past-bloom mums for 25 cents each two falls ago at Lowe's. I couldn't tell what color they were and planted them arbitrarily in my beds. As it turns out, they all match their surroundings! (If only I had that kind of luck in other areas of my life!)

And, finally, I've saved the best for last: Fiona and James pose near my new stepping stone (yep, I made it. Can you tell?!). They would offer you something to drink, but frankly they're really more concerned about what you may have brought for them. Some tuna or a mouse, perhaps?

Monday, September 1, 2008


Due to the twice-weekly deadline of my MLive blog, I've been oddly silent over here. You may be interested in some of these MLive entries:

- My Dahlia Confessions (photos from a recent visit to the Toledo Botanical Garden)
- Gardening Math: 1+1=10 (about how one thing leads to another in the garden)
- Ypsilanti Garden Walk (pretty photos of plants and one prehistoric-looking tortoise)