Monday, October 31, 2011

The Secret Life of Bees

October 2011
The Merry Weather Garden Club met on Thursday, October 13, 2011 at the home of Jean Biggers. Linda Latzak co hosted the meeting. Guest speaker was Jim Byce whose topic was bees and beekeeping.  Unfortunately an unexpected thunderstorm precluded the plans to meet at the Byce home where his hives are located, but Jim brought the basics of beekeeping to Jean’s living room!
Byce started keeping bees about 35 years ago when he moved to the country.  He was not successful in his first attempts but today people in the county call Byce to remove swarming bees. Byce explained how useful bees were for gardens and pollination and many members had seen the 18 wheel transports moving bees to areas where pollination was needed.
Byce began by explaining the types of bees: the queen, drones, and workers. The drones sole purpose is to mate with the queen and then they are shoved out of the hive by the worker bees.  The queen’s only job is to lay eggs. The workers bring the nectar to the hive, make the honey, and make sure the queen is maintained at a perfect temperature-92 degrees.  To do this they fan to circulate air or cuddle and group around her.
The workers travel to hundreds of blooms to collect nectar and bring it to the hive in their “honey pouch.”  Other workers chew the nectar and break down the sugar with their enzymes and produce a simple bacteria resistant sugar mixture which they put in the honeycombs, plug with wax, and keep until they need to eat it.
Queens are larger and more elongated than regular bees and may be spotted in the hive. Byce has removed older queens which are not productive and replaced them with a new queen.  The new queen comes in a small cage that is plugged with bee candy.  The workers chew through to get to the new queen and the hours this takes allows the new queen to spread her distinct pheromone on to the workers so they will accept her. The distinct pheromone of a hive is what keeps the bees knowing who is a stranger or invader.
Club members asked about killer bees which are an African strain that was crossed with a European variety in the hopes of cross breeding to make better bees.  African bees are hard workers at pollination and making honey but also aggressive.  They have migrated into Georgia now.
Byce answered questions about yellow jackets that can re-sting and chase you down whereas a honey bee stings once and the stinger comes out.  Beekeepers wear white as it is a calming color for bees. Long sleeves, gloves, head protection are also important. The cost of three pounds of bees and queen is about $75, the hive and frames, $125.  The costs get higher if you buy a honey extractor which spins the frames to release the honey and the heated knife to cut the wax plug from the combs.
Byce showed the frames of a hive and the brood chamber.  He recommends a 2:1 ratio of sugar water to help a new hive build and boost production.  He demonstrated using a smoker to fool the bees into thinking there is a fire and they go into the hive to protect it. Byce reads extensively about bees and explained well how bees think and operate.  The “secret life” of bees made for a fascinating program.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Autumn Wreath-making

The Merry Weather Garden Club met on Thursday, September 22, 2011 at the home of Helen Claussen in Harris City.  Toots Hobson co hosted. Claussen lives in Meriwether’s first gated community-one that she developed-and it was interesting seeing the new extension to our county airport on the drive in to her home.

Members were met with delicious refreshments made by Claussen and many brought back by Hobson from Hawaii featuring macadamia nuts or coffee flavors.  Claussen entertained the group with readings from popular emails, jokes, and stories before the business meeting.

Linda Wilburn gave an update on Greenville streetscapes noting that the work is coming to a completion. The wrong size railing was ordered and delivered, but that error was caught by Sally Estes and corrected. The $300,000 Phase II portion has been approved that will renovate the west side of the downtown area. Matching money from the Callaway Foundation, the city and the county should allow for the project to be done. $50,000 was raised privately for Phase I, and $70,000 will be needed for Phase II. Wilburn expressed her thanks to Sam Welborn of the DOT who has been most helpful with extra funding for Phase I.

Phase II will reuse many of the granite slabs currently on the sidewalks as well as add pavers. The next step will also redo the traffic signs with the hope there will be fewer of them. Currently one downtown island has eight directional and traffic signs on it.

Toots Hobson presented the program on wreaths noting that their use goes back to the Greeks who “wreathed the vines” and used them as crowns. She showed the club Scandinavian wheat straw woven into wreaths that were displayed hanging horizontally instead of on the usual vertical plane.  African grasses from Tanzania are commonly woven into wreaths as are German E aster wreaths of twisted grass.

Months earlier, Hobson had cut grapevines and twisted and shaped them into wreaths for the club members to use.  She purchased colorful and whimsical fall items for the ladies to decorate their wreaths noting, as Diane Sawyer also found, that she could find no American made decorations at the craft stores. Scarecrows, bright orange leaves, feathery plumes, sunflowers, ivy, and beautiful ribbons all made for a fun afternoon of decorating wreaths which each member took home.

The next meeting of the garden club will be October 13th at which Jim Byce will entertain the club with the secret life of bees and the fun of beekeeping.  Jean Biggers and Linda Latzak will host the meeting.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Serenbe Farms

August 2011
The Merry Weather Garden Club met on Friday 19th of August and toured Serenbe Farms in Palmetto. The tour and lunch was arranged by garden club hosts Sallie Mabon and Mary Anne Harman.
The club was met by Ryan Graycheck a UGA landscape architect graduate who was serving one year apprenticeship at the organic farm. Maya Velasco, a second apprentice, helped with portions of the tour.
Graycheck explained the mission of Serenbe Farms: to grow organically as much healthy produce as possible on five acres; to educate the community about healthy farming practices; to build community through food. The farm is fulfilling its goals as the small five acres produces a 60,000 pound harvest yearly which it sells to the Serenbe community’s three restaurants, and supplies their 115 subscription families with food, plus supplies the weekly market sales made at both Serenbe on Saturdays and at Atlanta markets. The subscription cost to receive thirty weeks of fresh produce is $25 per family.
Oak logs for the Shitake Mushrooms
Education through garden club tours and apprenticeships are proving successful too especially for apprentices who move on to top jobs because of their experience in Palmetto. Serenbe’s last objective of building community recognizes that a generation of people have grown up eating out or consuming fast food, and its goal is for families and communities to harvest, cook and sit down together to enjoy healthy home grown meals.
Four people work the five acres that were once a cotton farm.  Lots of organic matter is added to yearly to the soil to build it up. Composting, crop rotation, and cover crops are the three C’s practiced.  Buck wheat is the most popular cover crop because it adds phosphorus to the soil, and ryes and legumes add nitrogen. A ten year vegetable rotation plan is used. Drip and light spray irrigation is used on our hot summer days with 3-4 hours of water on the crops.
The fall crop from seeds germinated nine weeks earlier in the greenhouse had been planted with summer crops in full harvest.  The crew was dreading picking the itchy okra. Five varieties of okra were planted such as Red Burgundy, Hill Country Red, and Clemson Spineless. A number of varieties of every vegetable are planted to ensure full production. Fifty four varieties of peppers are planted and they are in beds marked sweet to hot.
Edamame (soybeans) almost ready to harvest.
The garden club first viewed the beds of greens: lettuces, mustard, bok choy, arugula, and cilantro that were under a shade cover. Blueberries, raspberries, watermelons and muskmelons were being cleared of pests by free ranging chickens that are part of Serenbe’s pest control plan. Heirloom varieties, especially tomatoes, have an increased number of pests.  The farm uses Neptune’s Harvest and Maxi Crop which are certified organic products in its irrigation system.
An eight foot electric fence protects the wooded side of the farm from deer. Cover cloth is used over young squash, cucumber, and zucchini plants until blooms appear and the cover is removed for pollination.
After touring the garden, the club enjoyed slices of cold watermelon-a new yellow meat variety grown on the farm.  Members watched one apprentice as she readied greens for market.  Club members were allowed to pick flowers (celosia, amaranth, and zinnias) as well as pot seeds (patty pan, zucchini, and cantaloupe). The garden club day ended with a stop at Frank’s Family Restaurant where everyone enjoyed a delicious lunch.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Southern Belles Soap Co.

When you combine an artist and a gardener into a laid back, fun loving farm girl, the garden and home results are a mix that makes for whimsy, interest, surprise, and fun.  Members of the Merry Weather Garden Club and two guests from the Iris Garden Club met at Marilyn Austin Carter’s home and garden in Woodland for the July 18th meeting.  Co hosting was nearby neighbor Lynda Woodall.
Garden clubbers met early and car pooled to Woodland and beat the heat by walking through the garden in cool morning temperatures with the dew still on the grass.  Carter’s garden is a myriad of paths lined with colorful bottles, folk art, and artistic creations. Carter has taken bicycle rims, spray painted them and used them to support phlox and other fine stemmed bloomers.  But the symmetrical addition of the horizontal circles makes for interest and surprise in the garden.
Carter has also taken the bike rims and wired in odd patterns of crystal saucers that catch the light and then hung them from trellises and trees. The artsy focal point is an addition that members said they were going home to make for their gardens.
Carter’s flower beds surround her lake and home with a purpose-moving through vegetable areas, to areas with bright bursts of colorful annuals to classic Southern perennials.  Unusual plants she pointed out were toad lilies, white and blue native orchids, water magnolias, and the fruit areas of pomegranates, blueberries and grapes. “Naked Ladies” was a lovely pink blooming plant on a tall stalk with no leaves-hence called naked.
Guests enjoyed seeing Carter’s chickens and guineas and her back yard buildings filled with flea market and estate sale items she will turn into beautiful art. She currently is working on odd pieces of colored crystals from glasses to saucers that she “married” into statuesque garden art that reflects the light.
Carter introduced her friend of forty years and one time relative, Nancy Barrett, who presented the program on Southern Belles Soaps that are made in Warm Springs and shipped worldwide. Barrett has worked with the soap company for six years that was started twelve years ago by Linda and Bob Seymour. Nancy said she was the guinea pig for testing the new recipes and fragrances but has thoroughly enjoyed working with the handmade milk soaps. She said some like the earthy fragrances while others go for the floral scents. Scents and ingredients have purpose in their soaps with some made for those with allergies, some made to calm the nervous temperament, and others to soften and smooth the skin.
Calendula is infused in the soap and helps with diaper rash; zinc oxide helps those with acne, eczema, and psoriasis; and citronella goes into the Bug Off Soap. Southern Belles Soap have a spa line with soaps made of coal and clay to exfoliate, Dead Sea salts and Neem Oil to clean then heal, milk and mud to tighten skin, and Sea Buckthorn for cell regeneration. They make soaps for athlete’s foot and for your favorite pooch’s hot spots.
All the soaps are made by hand in small batches of fifty bars.  Nancy cuts the giant square mold of soap with a cheese cutter, and says the process may be viewed on Utube under Georgia Goats Milk Soap. For the Seymours, the business started at the kitchen stove then moved to the spare bedroom and bath before moving into the garage, expanding, and adding additions to the garage. 
The business imports items from as far away as Egypt. They have six goats they milk. They grow the “tried and true” herbs natural to this region and import others from organic growers. Some herbs are dried while others are cooked and added into the soap.  The ingredients are mixed with oils like coconut, olive, palm, sweet almond, grape seed and soybean or with butters like shea and cocoa. The softened mixture is heated with goat’s milk added and stirred for 5-8 minutes.  Goat’s milk is preferred because it has more peptides than cow’s milk. After being poured into a heavy wooden square mold, the soap sits for several days drying before being cuts into logs, drying some more, then cut into bars with the edges mitered. The trimmed edges are rolled into “Family Soap” or round balls. 
Currently Southern Belles Soap is preparing for the Christmas season.  The soaps are finished in 4-6 weeks and vendors buy in September and October for Christmas. Popular winter purchases are their Hand and Heels stick.
Lynda Woodall and Marilyn Carter served a delightful lunch and guests spread out throughout Carter’s interesting house and garden to dine.  The next meeting of the Merry Weather Garden Club will be on August 19th when the club will tour the organic community gardens at Serenbe in Palmetto.  To make reservations call Sallie Mabon by the 12th .

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

First Flight: A Mother Hummingbird's Story

The Merry Weather Garden Club met on Tuesday, June 21st 2011 at the home of Linda Wilburn.  Wilburn and Babs Gordon hosted the meeting. Members and guests enjoyed shortcake, ice cream, and fresh peaches from Woodbury while they chatted and had a brief business meeting.
Wilburn gave an update on the streetscapes noting the special order engraved tiles were the delay and when they come in much of the work can be completed. Landscaping will not take place until October when simple dwarf crape myrtles and shrubs will be installed on the islands. Phase 2 of the streetscape plan has been approved with $300,000 for renovating the west side of the square. Wilburn also gave an update on the animal shelter noting the hearing in Atlanta, meetings with the commissioners and Friends of the Meriwether Animal Shelter with the plan to get one commissioner on the board of FOMAS.
Linda Wilburn provided the garden club program which came from a purchase she made from Birds and Blooms magazine, a publication much admired for its stunning nature photography. The video, First Flight: A Mother Hummingbird’s Story, was filmed and produced by Las Vegas homeowners Noriko and Don Carroll. They purchased a home that had a Black chinned hummingbird make its nest on their clothesline in the open sided garage attached to their home. The clothesline gave the cameras a 360 degree view of the action at the nest making for near perfect filming views. The camera was triggered by a remote that family operated in the house when they saw movement.
The bird came every year for three years, rebuilt the same nest, laid clutches eggs, and raised her young. She made the nest on the clothesline between two clothes pins that kept the nest upright. It was made of plant fiber plus spider webs that were sticky yet flexible so the nest stayed secure in breezy weather. The nest was about two inches in diameter.
The hummingbird made the migration to Mexico every year but always returned so the Carrolls began filming.  The eggs are the smallest of all birds’ eggs compared to their size and were the size of a coffee bean. The mother protected the eggs for about two weeks until the hatching happened.  The film was phenomenal showing the movement inside the shell before hatching then the baby birds made a line of holes in the shell and worked for hours to emerge.
The mother bird’s life went into speed mode as she began to feed the babies insects on a dizzying schedule. It was a constant two weeks of foraging for food for her young. By day 14 the pin feathers were clearly showing, and the wing flapping and fluttering began.  They used the oil from under their tails to preen their feathers.
By the 17th day the babies were so big she could not land on the edge of the nest to feed them but had to hover with the wings beating 50-70 times a second. There was also humor in the film when the family cat hung out in the garage.
The fledglings were more difficult to film and follow but the Carrolls had snippets of film of them learning to fly and land on limbs. The mother bird was stressed to stay with and protect the birds.  The film was most enjoyable as most club members followed hummingbirds in their yards and had colorful sugar water feeders for them.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Warm Springs Winery

The Merry Weather Garden Club met on Friday, May the 13th in Warm Springs at “Dinner’s Ready” for lunch. Hostess Erma Jean Brown arranged with chef and owner Chad Garrett to serve a delightful addition to the meal with the preferred dessert being chosen: Chad’s seven layer chocolate cake.
The club had a fun social time before moving down the road to Warm Springs Winery at 7227 Roosevelt Highway and touring the facility. Winery staffer Joe Bankovitch welcomed the ladies with most remembering him from running the Grand Wisteria from 2000 to 2005. Owner Ed Rocereta, a semi retired pharmacist was filling in at the garden club meeting time and date and could not lead the tour.  Bankovitch did a super job explaining every step taken at the winery with the only disappointment being that the fourteen acres of actual vineyards being too far a walk for the club to make with the chance of showers looming.
For over eighteen years Rocereta has propagated or “grown the grape” as the Italians say and made wine for his own consumption. He has converted the garage into a winery and moved in much equipment. There were grapes on the property but Rocereta has cultivated fourteen more acres over the last four years and this fall will harvest from the new plantings.
Bankovitch explained the wine making process pointing out the 1500 gallon tanks where the juice is first placed.  It takes several weeks to settle the sediment which is washed out three different times with chemicals that break down the impurities until a pure juice form is made. The yeast begins to digest the sugars present in the grape juice and carbon dioxide and alcohol are by-products of this process. The liquid is moved into other tanks and the blending process begins.
Warm Springs Winery uses only muscadines and the Georgia grown Norton grape.  The different blends make for the different varieties.  The wine is filtered into 750 ml bottles then goes to the machine which vacuums out the air and adds the cork. The labeling machine places labels front and back and finally they wrap plastic around the cork. Ed Rocereta designed the labels himself. The bottles are then stored at 72 degrees and upside down to keep the cork moistened.
Bankovitch explained the difficult licensing process at which time Warm Springs Winery has a license to be a winery and to consume on the premises, but they are working to get a license so our Meriwether wine can be distributed and sold in stores and served at restaurants.
The garden club members sampled seven varieties from Warm Springs Winery served in their distinctive logo etched glasses which are also available for purchase. Beginning with White House White-an off dry and crisp wine- they moved through Unfinished Portrait, a dry blush, to Lotus Pond White a lightly sweet wine.  Recognizable are the clear Roosevelt references and local landmarks with the lotus pond being a familiar sight on the right as we travel into Warm Springs before going under the narrow train trestle.
Kudzu Rosé is a semi sweet rosé named for the official state invasive plant. It was followed by one of their most popular, Tribute, which has a distinctive muscadine aroma. Bankovitch kept reminding the ladies to swirl and aerate their wine and sniff the bouquet before drinking. Old Atlanta Red was a popular sweet red wine the club enjoyed. A last wine, Blueberry, was not so popular or tasty and Bankovitch pointed out that they only bottled 260 blueberry and they may not make it again which has encouraged some to buy it for the that reason alone!
Bankovitch allowed member Gail Coffee to remove the cork with an elegant de-corker attached to the wine tasting counter. Members purchased a number of bottles of wines and the winery’s glasses before departing. All agreed that by sampling the seven varieties they learned their favorite types and flavors, but overall, the lowly muscadine made a delicious wine.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Lunch and Learn in Concord

April 2011
The Merry Weather Garden Club met on Thursday, April 14th and traveled to Concord for “Lunch and Learn” sponsored by the garden club in Pike County.  Sally Neal and Angie Williams coordinated the Meriwether club’s trip.
Held in the recently renovated Strickland Country Store, the ladies arrived to find delightful table arrangements featuring market baskets filled with colorful fresh produce from rhubarb to radishes. The Concord club introduced and thanked the many members who made the luncheon possible and also awarded their annual horticulture scholarship. Guests brought picnic lunches and the Concord club provided drinks and desserts-a simple plan that has worked brilliantly for over a decade with many clubs attending from throughout the Redbud District in Georgia.
Speaker for the Lunch and Learn was Sheri Castle from Chapel Hill, NC who is a noted food writer, cooking instructor, and delightful storyteller. Recently publishing The New Southern Garden Cookbook: or Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Roadside Stands, and CSA Farm Boxes, Castle encourages cooks to use fresh produce in season and grown locally. The cookbook is organized in a unique way A to Z by the main garden ingredient: apples, asparagus, beets, blackberries to turnips, winter squash, and zucchini.
But Castle’s great sense of humor and cooking tips were the delight of the day.  She began telling about her entrance into the cooking industry by being a ghost writer and test cook for a number of famed cooking personalities who really could not cook. Then she lived in Italy to become a Mediterranean cook which she compared to being a good Southern cook. She pointed out while Southerners are known and judged for those special holiday and Sunday dinners, their faces really light up when asked about fresh vegetables and fruits from their gardens. Mama’s and Grandmama’s specially orchestrated meals are food memories that make up our most tenacious nostalgia.
Some of Castle’s basic cooking guidelines were to always use freshly ground black pepper, Kosher salt, large eggs from free roaming chickens, butter instead of margarine, milk, yogurt and dairy products that are always whole and not low fat, real buttermilk and not powdered, fresh cream not ultra pasteurized, and fresh stone ground corn meal. She recommended using light, thin aluminum metal baking pans, and insisted on preheating the oven twenty minutes before baking. Vanilla flavoring should be pure and not a flavored item and spices needed to be fresh and not from the wedding gift spice rack given to you when you married three husbands ago!
Each recipe is prefaced with a anecdote or cooking tip such as Ozark pudding cooked by Bess Truman to cheer up a homesick Harry Truman, the French Huguenots bringing the recipe over for their taverns, or thinking of the eggplant as a huge oversized berry. Merry Weather Garden Clubbers lined up to purchase her book and compliment her on her talk.
The next meeting of the Merry Weather Garden Club will be in May and the club will tour the new Warm Springs Winery.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Lee Cathey "Photography in the Garden" at Hills and Dales

The Merry Weather Garden Club met on Saturday, March 12th at Hills and Dales in LaGrange for the Lee Cathey workshop “Photography in the Garden.” Ellen McEwen and Patti Acheson hosted the monthly meeting. Horticulturist Jo Phillips welcomed the group which included a number not in the garden club itself. Door prizes were given, fruit and breakfast pastries available, and Phillips invited those to come for the elementary and middle school program called CSI in the Garden where children learn to look for clues in nature to solve insect and plant growth problems.
   Noted local photographer Lee Cathey took up photography when he worked for the Georgia state archeologist while attending West Georgia University. He often photographs the gardens at Hills and Dales as it is such a beautiful garden with great light.  His first tip for the class is to set shooting times when the sun is at an angle that creates interesting shadows.  The noon sun coming straight down is bright and less interesting.  The human eye focuses and can see depths in the garden that the camera can not see so shadows and depths are important.
   Cathey recommended looking for repeated patterns, shadows and structural lines to photograph the beauty and sculptural elements of a place where, “God’s beauty meets man’s creativity.” In deciding how to capture the subject area with the camera he tries to capture form, shape, and design, and patterns working with the horizontal line of the picture. For example, capturing the grill work of an iron fence at an angle adds interest but still allows the major subject of a plant in bloom to shine.
   “Use the entire frame,” was Cathey’s tip.  The old Kodak adage was focus, aperture, shutter, and think, but today’s auto focused digital cameras makes anyone a photographer because you can take an unlimited numbers of photographs from which one or two shots are bound to be good. Cathey recommend good cameras brands like the Panasonic’s Lumix with its German lenses and Nikon and Canons but said it’s not so much about the cameras as when you pull the trigger or shoot.
   Cathey had a number of his photographs for the group to study.  A slow shutter speed allows him to let in more light and the blurred background can be used for creative effect. On a shot of a tree looking from the base upwards Cathey adjusted the shutter and kept the subject in focus, showed the details of the bark of the tree as well as the background of the picture and the upper most branches of the tree.  An orchid picture shot close-up without a tripod using autofocus shows the details of the plant’s delicate parts with a blurred, fuzzy background.
   Another tip he offered was to change the normal perspective of shooting a photo.  He regularly carries a ten foot step ladder to Hills and Dales to capture images from an out of the ordinary angle.

   Cathey’s creativity was shown in his display of photographs.  His printer allows him to print as big as he wants.  He may use Photoshop to make his pictures look like a painted canvas, but his display collage of photos was clearly most memorable.  A series of photos was folded accordion like so that from one angle the background was one color and another from the other angle. A trip to Washington DC included unique architectural details like the capital on a column, a door handle, a statue’s hand, and small different perspective details from the trip. He created a collage for his parent’s 50th anniversary that included the steeple of the church where they were married, the podium from which his mother taught Sunday School, the sun setting over the lake where they live, the door to where his father always worked, and other important details of their lives together-clearly telling a bigger story than one snapshot can.
   Those attending the workshop strolled the gardens at Hills and Dales, took pictures and got constructive tips from Cathey. Camellias, yarrow, tulips, jasmine, spring vegetables, thrift, violets, budding trees and the fresh green of spring made for stunning photo opportunities.
Cathey attributes much of any photographer’s success as being at the right place at the right time. He pointed out that no photo today is un-manipulated. Attendees at the workshop asked if there were another, cheaper app than Photoshop-the industry standard.  He said GIMP has a free download but that it was harder to use and Photoshop is the best.
   After the workshop members enjoyed lunch at Lemon Tree Restaurant where Mary Ellen Hill joined the group.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Southeastern Flower Show-February 2011

The Merry Weather Garden Club met on Friday, February 25, 2011 and traveled to Cobb Galleria in Atlanta for the Southeastern Flower Show sponsored by the Southeastern Horticultural Society. It was “Garden Club Day” at the show, and the ladies were delighted to be given bags filled with coupons, subscriptions, magazines, seed packets and more.
The show’s theme was “In Tune with Blooms,” and the music theme was evident not only in the arrangements but with live performances by instrumentalists and vocalists during the show. There were five judged divisions in the show: Artistic Floral Design, Garden Design, Discovery, Horticulture and Photography. The photography, as in years past, was excellent.  The horticultural entries fewer in number than in years before but always interesting to see what is blooming in other people’s yards.
The designer showcase was new this year and was beautifully carried out with entries like “Moulin Rouge” featuring rich deep purple/violet in all its drapery, upholstery, tablecloths, and flowers. An Italian Renaissance Wedding, Sax in the City, I Love Paris, Georgia on my Mind, Rock Lobster by the B-52s, and Yesterday by the Beatles were other splendid creations by event designers. The club’s favorite was a romantic and elegant table setting featuring pristine white damask linens, sparkling crystal, gleaming silver and silver vases filled with white and blush roses.
Members always enjoy walking through the landscaped gardens that followed the music theme with “Moonlight Sonata,” ‘Round Midnight,” “Midsummer Night’s Dream” that feature forced bulbs, shrubs, and blooming trees, pebble or stone walkways, the latest outdoor furniture and fireplace and grill scenarios, and water features.
Always popular are the discovery gardens featuring perennials, inspiring designs in vegetable gardening, container gardens with themes like “Laissez Les bon Temps Rouler” and The Secret Life of Trees.
The marketplace vendors featured everything from needlepoint shoes and designer clothing with music or gardening themes to water hoses, nozzles and gardening tools to olive oils for dipping. Gutter salespeople were juxtaposed with artists, homemade soap vendors, and outdoor lighting specialists.  Club members enjoyed the shopping. The garden bookstore and raffle tables also inspired the imagination.
Undoubtedly one of the most popular aspects of the show was the speakers.  Twenty nine guest speakers were slated for the three day event and garden clubbers enjoyed three especially popular ones on Friday: Vince Dooley, Walter Reeves, and P. Allen Smith.
UGA Coach Vince Dooley, Honorary Chairman of the event, delivered a delightful talk to the standing room only crowd.  His adventure with gardening had the best of roots as he took advantage of being in a university town and sat in on many horticulture classes, took notes, and then told the students “Good luck” when it was exam time. The classes paid off as proved to be adept with botanical names and never faltered with varieties and species of plants, their planting and care. Over the last few years he has transformed his garden, hosted garden tours, traveled around the world to visit gardens, and is the author of a book about his gardening experiences. He has truly been bitten by the gardening bug.
Ever popular Walter Reeves spoke on Cool Tools and Funky Fertilizers.  The tools he displayed are ones he is given but often are not distributed nor sold through the large gardening chains.  His website,, features the new tricks of the trade: better mousetraps that don’t snap the finger of the human installing them; several weeding tools, cobra heads or leveraged designed items for digging up dandelions; water weeders made for wild onions; pine cone picker uppers and devices for voles.  Moles, Reeves pointed out, do not disturb plant life and recommended simply stomping down their tunnels, but voles are critters that ruin plants and he showed how to catch them. New plant cameras made for watching the sequential growing, blooming, and blossoming life of plants in the garden were a new item for the devoted gardener.
Reeves held lengthy questions and answer moments that targeted the problems we face from fertilizers, diatomaceous earth, and pre-emergents to pruning.  Foremost was “Crape Murder” which he discusses at length on his web site.  Letting the myrtles grow into tree form was preferred but he blasted the common yardman who leaves the horrid misshapen knuckles that distort the trunk lines of the tree.
Popular nationally syndicated gardener, P. Allen Smith, was the clear entertainer and, like Martha Stewart, showed what having a crew of professional helpers and millions of dollars can create.  His farm in Arkansas was a showplace.  He planted 250,000 daffodil bulbs which sweep the pasture entrances in color in the spring and then local schoolchildren sell bouquets of 10 stems for $5 as their fundraiser.
Smith’s landscape around his home is divided into “rooms” featuring vegetable gardens, roses, trellises, herbs and more.  His container gardens were overflowing and lush but he also showed slides of the garden in winter when you could see the “bones” of the layout. His talk was interspersed with questions and prizes where Mary Anne Rasmussen and Sally Neal both won flats from Bonnie Plant Farm for naming the plants correctly.
The next meeting of the Merry Weather Garden Club will be on March 19th at Hills and Dales in LaGrange for Lee Cathey’s work shop on Photography in the Garden. Call Ellen McEwen for more information.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

January 2011

January 2011
The Merry Weather Garden Club met on Thursday, January 20th, 2011 at the home of Linda Wilburn.  Wilburn and Babs Gordon hosted the meeting with guest James Mitcham from Details of the Garden who presented the program.
Members present signed up for a month in 2011 in which to host and do a program. Linda Wilburn asked to be excused from mailing out the meeting announcement postcards every month and Sally Neal volunteered to take on the job. Neal also told the club we had received the Redbud District’s financial statement and the 2010 President’s Report was due in February. Club dues were paid and Jean Biggers gave the club’s financial report pointing out the garden club had purchased a paver for Greenville’s streetscapes project.
Wilburn gave a summation of the streetscapes project in Greenville.  The contractor has been selected and the Georgia Department of Transportation next approves the choice.  Wilburn pointed out that she is very excited because we are actually getting close to construction. Wilburn said the application was submitted before Christmas for grants to next do the streetscapes for the west side of court square, College Street, and about half a block down LaGrange Street.
Wilburn introduced James Mitcham from Details of the Garden in Pine Mountain.  Mitcham decorates Wilburn’s house at Christmas and Wilburn complimented the care and detail that he brings to the job stating that every limb on the Christmas tree has lights wounds around it and the effect is stunning.
Mitcham grew up in a florist family as his mother was Callaway Gardens’ first floral designer and later the family owned seven florist shops. Mitcham worked with the Wall Street Journal until retirement and then worked at Callaway Gardens managing special events. He has been doing events and weddings and special occasions for fifteen years and brings a unique touch to that special day.  He noted that today’s bride is “greener” now and is using herbs and grasses instead of classical formal arrangements and often the ring bearer’s pillow is now a bird’s nest.
Mitcham’s nephew Ross Harper has returned from a year teaching and studying in France and he brought pictures of entire downtown walls that are made up of topiary plantings.  Usually creepers and ivies fill walls but the unique topiary effect is easy to reproduce. The program for the garden club was making a topiary.
Mitcham used a simple wire tomato cage that was inverted and anchored in a pot that could be fitted into a larger decorative urn or planter. He prefers to use a transportable pot so that in winter the plants can be lifted out and brought inside.
The project requires using bolt cutters, pliers, a good knife and scissors plus cling wrap or shrink wrap.  Mitcham recommends using a plastic wrap because the membrane does not dry out.  Mitcham wraps the cage in layers as he moves upwards, slicing the plastic and adding succulents layer by layer.  He chose succulents for the project because they require little moisture. 
The variety of shades of grey, green, and purple succulents that Mitcham purchased from his plant supplier, the  Blooming Idiot in Pine Mountain Valley, led club members to ask if Mitcham would demonstrate placing the plants in a pattern. To fill a standard tomato cage he uses approximately 40 plants but would use less if he wanted the plants to grow and spread. Mitcham also uses sheets of moss or burlap if he wants to use fewer plants and leave room for them to reproduce.
This topiary can be filled with a variety of plants: herbs would be pretty if exposed to a lot of sun, succulents also need a lot of sun, sultanas or impatiens would make a pretty topiary planter too especially topped with a cascading plant.
Club members asked many questions which Mitcham adeptly answered or showed an easy method to make or design.  Mitcham also filled the club in on all the happenings and events coming up in Pine Mountain and noted how several of the popular restaurants and stores had changed hands and were opening under new management.  He recommended that the club come to Pine Mountain on February 18th for the “Taste of Pine Mountain.”
Hostesses Wilburn and Gordon served a delicious carrot cake along with Chai tea latte. The next meeting will be in late February and members will attend the Southeastern Flower Show.