Friday, February 27, 2009

Fort Wayne Home & Garden Show - 2009

Let the gardening season begin!

For us - meaning Mom and me - the Ft. Wayne Home & Garden Show is the kick-off for the gardening season. No, we can't go home from it and run right out and start digging in the dirt, but we start really planning for the not-far-away days when we can. Seeds are bought, maybe some bulbs, and we get to see some perennials up close that we might want to get for our gardens.

We arrived at the Memorial Coliseum a few minutes before the doors opened to the general public, but since we were both members of the AHS, we got to enter through the exhibitors' door - early even! The usual hallway of spring blooms greeted us as we made our way into the garden expo hall.

Landscape displays were to the left...


and center...

...but we made a beeline for the rear of the hall, where Dr. Lori was going to be speaking at noon.

Dr. Lori is a certified fine art and antiques appraiser, an award-winning TV personality and TV talk show host, and a nationally syndicated columnist. Today, she was offering one free antique appraisal and I'd brought one of the books in my Winnie-the-Pooh collection - a 1946 French edition.

What makes my French Pooh book unique, besides being a relatively rare item, is that I believed it to be signed by A.A. Milne. The inscription didn't contain "A.A. Milne," rather it was signed, "For Vi, From blue," with the familiar fluorish under the name. But I knew that Milne was known to his friends and family as "Blue."

My turn came and Dr. Lori asked me how I acquired the book (online from a used book store in France) and what I'd paid for it. She explained that it was a relatively rare item, in good condition (though it had some acid burn on the dust jacket), and confirmed that it was indeed signed by Milne. When all was said and done, her appraisal was over 300 times what I'd paid for it. I was a happy girl! No plans to sell it just now, though.

Now that that was out of the way, we proceeded to check out the various gardening displays and exhibits. I always love to visit the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory booth, because they bring so many wonderful plants from their greenhouse, with extremely reasonable prices on them.

This year was no exception, and though my intention upon attending this year's show was to just look and not buy, I was a goner when I saw the variegated Bougainvillea in bloom and the variegated Jade plant. Sold. Both of them!

The next favorite spot for me is the Three Rivers Orchid Society booth.

Ohhhh, such loveliness and fragrance all in one spot! There were several beautiful orchids for sale, but I settled for taking some pictures of some of my favorites.

I spoke with one of the members regarding the lack of rebloom of a couple of my orchids, and she provided some advice (repot and move to a new location).

I don't know if it's because this is my third year in a row attending the show, but I was underwhelmed by the landscaping displays. There wasn't much new in the way of design or hardscape and the lack of actual plantings didn't help. I did like the use of large flat rocks for walkways, in comparison to the use of smaller ones so commonly seen.

In the aisles between displays were several extremely large stone or clay pots heavily planted and situated with park benches. These were quite attractive and lots of positive comments were overheard as we passed by them.

We paid a visit to the booths of local garden centers and nurseries, several of which were familiar to us from previous shows. Lots of wonderful offerings were there for the buying, but I resisted since I'd already purchased two more plants than I'd intended.

Succulents of all kinds seemed to be in abundance and I wondered if it was a reflection of the hot, dry summers we've had in recent years.

There were several booths by businesses that didn't have plants to sell, but plenty of garden decor and whimsy.

Rusty Gate Decor
(Notice the bird feeder stakes.)

One of my favorite displays was by DeWald Gardens, new to the show this year.

DeWald Gardens is the first greenhouse in Indiana and one of only four nationwide to receive the distinction of "Up and Coming Greenhouse Business for 2008" . Steve and Maria DeWald both have had successful careers as plant research scientists and have Ph.Ds in horticulture. Maria, who was born in Italy and lived in Venezuela (her accent is charming!), has had her container designs featured in several gardening magazines.

Their display showed a lot of class and I loved the pottery. There were beautifully planted containers, several healthy coleus cultivars (one of their specialties), and a gorgeous Japanese Maple bonsai for sale. I had a delightful conversation with the owner and plan to visit them in the coming months.

We left the garden expo hall and walked over to the home section of the show. Here was where you could see exhibits for home improvement, lawn equipment, cooking equipment, and various other related businesses. There were plenty of food items for sale and sample as well.

One of the more unusual booths was by River City Links, which is an 18-hole putting course in Ft. Wayne. It is a well-known fact that I am the black sheep of a golfing family, due to my lack of ability to cause a driver to make contact with a teeny tiny white ball, no matter how hard I concentrate on keeping my head down.

Both of our girls played on their college golf teams and went to state with their high school golf team, no thanks to my genes. However, I can putt. Go figure. River City Links gave the opportunity to make a hole-in-one for a free round of golf. Mom and I both managed to do it, so guess what we will be doing this summer?

I'm not sure why home and garden shows feature exotic pets, but it's not the first time we've seen this. At the Indianapolis show Mom and I attended last year, there were sugar gliders. Today's show in Ft. Wayne had snakes. Now I happen to think snakes are cool, but not everyone shares my enthusiasm, so I've kept the photo of the milk and corn snakes to the right at thumbnail size. If you would like to see it in all its glorious, scaly beauty, just click on it.

I still had a few dollars burning a hole in my pocket, so I purchased a couple of packets of seeds from Renee's Garden (sold by the Conservatory): Cerinthe 'Pride of Gibralter' (Cerinthe major atropurpurea) and Butterfly Monarda 'Bergamo Bouquet' (Monarda hybrida). Both are annuals here. The Allen County Public Library was giving away free packets of French Dwarf Marigold seeds at the Master Gardener's booth, so we picked up one of those, too.

Mom and I both purchased new hose nozzles, invented by a fireman, and guaranteed for life and guaranteed not to leak. If they'd been cheaper (we paid $25 each), I would have bought three of them instead of just one, but one of the nice features is the washer is integrated so no worries about losing it when switching it from one hose to another.

One of the fun things about going to a local home and garden show such as this is that you run into people that you haven't seen in awhile. Both of us saw several friends and acquaintances and stopped to chat for a little bit before moving on. We left the show buoyed by the goodness of it all and with a lighter heart, in spite of the cold wind that greeted us as we went out the door.

Spring is on the way!

Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’) in full bloom at the show, courtesy of Blue River Nursery.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thomas Edison and Henry Ford Estates - Ft. Myers, FL

"Be courageous! Whatever setbacks America has encountered, it has always emerged as a stronger and more prosperous nation.... Be brave as your fathers before you. Have faith and go forward."

~ Thomas Alva Edison ~

Thomas Edison was born in Ohio. I've seen his birthplace in Milan and it's not all that far from where I live. I learned much about him in my Ohio History class in junior high school, but before today, about all I could remember to tell you about him is that he invented the phonograph and the light bulb. Now one of those is not exactly true, but more on that later.

Edison lived in several places, but he spent his winters in Fort Myers, Florida. He built his "Seminole Lodge" home there and his good friend Henry Ford had a home right next to his. Much of his work in Florida was dedicated to botanical research and development to find a plant that could be grown domestically that would produce enough latex for commercial use. This, of course, was of interest to Ford as well, since tires for his cars were made from latex rubber.

When we were about halfway to Fort Myers to tour the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, which were an hour and a half south of us, I remembered that I had forgotten to bring my AHS (American Horticultural Society) membership card along. This was a costly oversight, since that would have allowed me to take the Home and Gardens Tour for free. Instead, I had to pay the $20 fee.

It was a beautiful day that we chose for making our trip here and we meandered through the grounds, which were on both sides of McGregor Boulevard. The Edison and Ford homes, as well as the guest house and cottage, overlook the Caloosahatchee River, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

We took the self-guided tour where we were provided with recordings on a device that we wore like a necklace. When we came to a location with a numbered sign, we pressed that number on the device and it would play a short message with information about that location. I found it ironic that Edison was credited with so many inventions that involved telecommunication and here we were, using just such a device to tell us about it.

Edison home - Seminole Lodge

Edison and his second wife, Mina, were both interested in plants and flowers, for different reasons. Mr. Edison was interested in breeding goldenrod for latex production and eventually produced a variety that grew four times as tall as most goldenrod and produced more than twice as much latex. This goldenrod was named for him - Solidago edisoniana - and a specimen of it is mounted in a case on the wall in his laboratory.

Mina loved the beauty of flowers, and grew a variety of them, both for use as a backdrop for her entertaining and as a way to entice birds. She was instrumental in the formation of the Audubon Society.

We visited the Moonlight Garden, where she planted white-flowering plants so they could be seen at night. Today, there are other colors here, but still many with white blooms.

Rosa 'Mrs. B. R. Cant'

The bougainvilleas on the property are impressive, especially the large purple one located just east of the Edison home. Climbing over 20 feet tall, it was covered with blooms, and was simply amazing. Crazy amazing.

And then there were the pink ones across the street where the research labs are located. These are in a row as a hedge and they were a solid mass of blooms - more crazy amazing.

The next part of our visit was a look at Edison's laboratory. Here, he spent countless hours working with four assistants on his research and experiments.

He was a workaholic who once attributed his success to the fact that he had no clock in his laboratory. He often worked such long hours that he took naps on his desk, on the lab tables and even on the floor. His wife had a cot brought in, where he took his naps from then on.

Edison spent his last ten years working almost exclusively on the development of the goldenrod as a viable resource for producing latex on a commercial level, but at the time of his death, he hadn't yet accomplished it. Mina continued to run the lab for five years more, but no breakthrough was ever made and the lab shut down.

There is a museum on the grounds, highlighting Edison's life and his inventions. It was really neat to see some of the things he is credited with inventing and many originals and prototypes are on display there. He invented a baby's high chair and even had a company that produced baby furniture.

"Of all my inventions, I liked the phonograph best...."

Photo by Jenna DeCraene

One of the most astounding things we saw on the grounds was the gigantic Banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis). It was originally brought to Edison by Harvey Firestone from India as a four-foot-tall specimen and it now covers nearly an acre. There are several similar figs throughout the property, as well as many, many different palms.

The largest Banyan tree in the United States is here.

Orchid Lane, which was a path behind the Edison house, had many orchids growing in the trees, but only a few of them were in bloom while we were there. They were scattered throughout the property in other trees, too.

Oh, that light bulb thing? There were others before Edison that had invented various forms of the light bulb, but it was Edison who found a way to produce one that could stay lit for long periods of time and be used commercially. With 1093 patents to his credit, he was always looking for new ways to improve items already invented and to improve life for people in general.

More scenes from the Edison and Ford Winter Estates

The outside of the Moonlight Garden



Friendship Walk

The Herb Garden by the laboratory


Lipstick Tree (Bixa orellana) - its seeds are used for dyes

Just another little lizard...

Mysore Fig

Henry Ford's home was under renovation and not open to the public during our visit. We were given rain checks for a return visit, though it's doubtful we'll do that.

A couple of Ford's cars

Edison's swimming pool

Rain barrel

Pier on the Caloosahatchee River


Tree Crinum

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow Flower (Brunfelsia latifolia)

Orchid (?) growing on tree

Unknown Crinum

Staghorn (Platycerium sp.)

L-R: Me, Aunt Kay, Thomas Edison, Jenna, Uncle Bob