Rethinking Fire…a Fresno Art Museum exhibit

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The Fresno Art Museum has been a well loved fixture in my community for many years, offering multiple exhibits annually and many opportunities for special events and education. The last couple of years, several friends and I have made a point to take in each changing exhibit whether it be sculpture, painting, photography, fiber arts or mixed media. A few hours in the museum followed by a fun lunch is a welcome respite to our normal daily activities.

One of the spring exhibits–Rethinking Fire–really struck a chord with me. It was not only beautiful to look at but also timely and thought-provoking in this era of increasing devastation to California by wildfires.

Multi-media artist Bryan David Griffith came to the pursuit of art full-time after an engineering education and a successful career with an international management consulting firm. He lives and works in the Arizona mountain town of Flagstaff, Arizona. In 2014, after the Slide Fire threatened his home and studio he was invited to study wildfire with scientists from the Southwest Fire Science Consortium and join a project entitled Fires of Change, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts.

In his own words from his Artist Statement for the exhibit Bryan tells us “In Western culture we traditionally view dualities–light and darkness, life and death, forest and fire–as opposing forces in an epic struggle of good vs. evil. We see ourselves as fighting nobly to preserve life and subdue death by taming nature to prevent unpredictable disasters like wildfires.”

Bryan’s art takes the position that these forces are not opposed but rather part of a continuous cycle. He proposes that by keeping fire out of the forest we have disrupted this natural cycle of life and his work seeks to provoke questions; finding solutions we can all work together to achieve.

The works Broken Equilibrium and Reconstruction, both from 2015 form the centerpiece of the exhibit.

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Broken Equilibrium, 2015 and Reconstruction, 2015 both by Bryan David Griffith

Broken Equilibrium portrays both the dense overgrowth of today’s forest and the destruction wrought by today’s wildfires. The trees on the right, also seen below from another angle, came from the Observatory Mesa thinning project. The burned trees on the left of the spiral were salvaged from the Slide and Schultz fires.

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You are invited to enter the sculpture and reflect upon man’s relationship with fire, with the broken natural spiral of life surrounding you.

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A slightly different camera angle reveals Reconstruction in the spiral’s core. An old growth downed tree was sculpted by cutting and burning. It’s puzzle like form references in the artist’s words, “the works of scientists and land managers to piece together an understanding of history and restore climate resilience to forests before ecological disaster and human tragedy unfold.”

The smallest part of the exhibit can be seen in the background of the above pictures and was to me the most moving of the works displayed.

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Each charred leaf in Requiem for Paradise, 2019, represents a life lost in the 2018 Camp Fire–the deadliest wildfire incident in California history in which the town of Paradise was literally burned to the ground.

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The Impermanence of Forests, 2017 by Bryan David Griffith

The artist photographed smoky this scene in a forest near his home and printed the haunting image from film onto silk. The silk’s edge was burned and the small pile of charred remains placed below were collected from the scene where the photo was taken.

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Rebirth, 2017 by Bryan David Griffith

Rebirth was inspired by the regrowth of aspen trees in an area on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon which was severely burned in 2006. The natural life cycle of mixed conifer and aspen forests is that while dense conifers dominate the aspens, lacking sun, no longer thrive. When wildfire destroys the canopy and opens the ground to sun the aspens are quick to regrow from underground roots even though their parent trees have died. Conifers reestablish more slowly as so for a time the aspens dominate.

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The aspen leaves in the piece are coated in encaustic beeswax and the cinders at the base are from the site of the fire. I love the way these leaves produced dancing shadows in the still and somewhat dim room.

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Box & Burn, 2015 by Bryan David Griffith

The title of this work comes directly from a term firefighters use to fight wildfires by using fire. The piece alludes to the suppression of fire from 1910 until present. The forest life cycle is broken and unable to heal. The open space, created by cutting and burning this old growth timber, represents the loss of age old information carried by the hundreds of years old tree.

These art works were meant to make viewers stop and think about how modern culture views fire, attempts to manage forests outside their natural cycle and ultimately reaps the consequences. This is an exhibit you could stop in to see for a few minutes or spend several hours in thoughtful repose on the room’s bench, viewing from all angles and considering the artist’s intent. We hear about the most important issues of climate change and forest management almost every day from scientists and politicians–I was inspired by seeing these challenges through the eyes of an artist.

Please visit for more information about the museum’s current exhibitions and newly reopened gift shop.

The power of flowers…

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The flowers we make part of our lives are often chosen because they evoke powerful memories of the people and places which have shaped our lives. In one of my first posts, Reminders of my life in the south…, I included a couple of Camellia japonica photos from a small collection I have in my current garden specifically for cut flowers. Even though they are planted in what amounts to a service area on the far side of my home and virtually unseen in bloom except from the bedroom windows I anxiously await their buds every year because they remind me of a my wonderful historic neighborhood in Georgia which was home to literally thousands of mature camellias, many over 50 year old and a dozen feet tall.

Camellia blossoms hold another, even older, memory for me. My mother had a wide shallow blue glass bowl in which she floated camellia flowers. My parents never owned a home and, being a military family, moved in June every three years just like clockwork.  I can’t even pinpoint in which of our many rental homes we had a large number of camellias but I can close my eyes and see that beautiful blue glass bowl in the center of the dining room table filled with blossoms as if were yesterday. Although I had probably not even seen the blue glass bowl in 45 or 50 years when my mother died in 2008, it was the only thing I really wanted from her. It was no where to be found.

So now I cut camellia blooms every year to float in my own wide, shallow bowl. Clear, not blue, but beautiful still. Memories from long ago and not so long ago as well as those we are creating for our families and friends long after we’re gone are all happy by-products from our lives as gardeners.

What flowers hold special memories for you?

Bigger than a See’s candy but smaller than a coffee table…at least so far

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I guess some plants just know when you’ve picked the right spot for them and they reward you in kind. Such has been the life of Salvia ‘Bon Bon’ since I dug it in near the base of our mailbox on March 20th of last year as part of the replanting of an area previously predominantly turf.

I’d like to say the ‘plan’ for this area was laboriously developed, plant by plant, using age-old principles of good landscape design. Alas, it came to be as most other parts of my garden have–with the statement of a broad goal (reduce irrigation) and whatever plant materials I find in my garden travels supplemented by stock from big box stores and the very few independent garden centers in my city. Sometimes the pickings are good, other times not so much. There is no benefit in developing a design for an area with a pre-planned plant list if those plants cannot be sourced fairly locally.

Having bought several selections new to me at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden’s fall plant sale in October 2017 I was still in salvia mode when I ran across a single sad 1 gallon ‘Bon Bon’ at a local nursery, Willow Gardens. It looked as though it had been hanging around awhile and while not especially appealing it was one I didn’t have and fit my broad parameter of being at least moderately xeric. I stand guilty of buy now and research later on this one.

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March 21, 2018

At planting it was not even worth a close-up pic but you can see it just to the left of the stone mailbox. Monterey Bay Nursery’s website described it as “a perky, cute little native hybrid of S. clevelandii ‘Aromas’ and S. leucophylla ‘Point Sal'” and as “a very tough, low diminutive dry garden ground cover for full to half sun.” While I can attest to its toughness–this spot has NO source of summer water and it is full on south facing–I am assuming the diminutive appellation is relative to other closely related salvias. Its size is described as about 30″ tall when in flower by about 36″ wide.

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Settling in nicely on May 24, 2018
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At summer’s end–September 23rd, 2018–no rain since April, out of range of the irrigation system and no hand watering–I am looking way more worse for the wear after summer than ‘Bon Bon’
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Coming into bloom in late February 2018

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From only a slightly different angle this bed has filled out beyond my wildest dreams in the last year! Salvia ‘Bon Bon’ is a standout snuggled up against the mailbox’s stone column and awash in blooms and bees. I am still unsure if this is its normal bloom cycle. I recently added another to the opposite side of the front walk and it is also starting to bloom. This second spot is slightly less dry and I’m interested to see if the additional water results in a less robust plant. At just a year in the ground it is already at Monterey Bay Nursery’s mature size estimate. I am planning to tidy it up when these blooms are done and that effort will be the first I’ve made on its behalf since it was planted–my kind of minimal maintenance requirements for sure. I’ll let you know when it gets to be bigger than a coffee table! I’m giving ‘Bon Bon’ an A++ for its fledgling year.



A not so memorable road trip to the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show…

My years in Georgia allowed me to be a regular attendee of the Southeastern Flower Show–a fabulous explosion of color, creativity and educational opportunities, not to mention pretty good garden world shopping. I have also been lucky enough to experience the Philadelphia Flower Show and Canada Blooms! in Toronto.

With those memorable garden show experiences in mind I have literally gnashed my teeth that the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show always seemed to fall when other commitments took precedence. From 2009-2012 my hopeful heart actually purchased advanced tickets which went unused because I just couldn’t seem to get there! A week or so ago a whim took me again to their website to check the dates and I was excited to see that the other goings-on in my life had left an open spot to make that road trip for a day at the 2019 show. I was also confused by the fact that this year’s show was to be held at Cal-Expo in Sacramento. More about that was revealed as I read through their website which includes a brief history of the 34 year old event.

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The San Francisco Flower & Garden Show started as a fundraiser in 1985 for the SF Friends of Recreation and Parks and was originally called the San Francisco Landscape Garden Show. Twelve years later the show was acquired by an events company and given its current moniker. The famed Cow Palace was the show’s home for the next ten years until, in 2009, the San Mateo Event Center became its venue and another change of ownership occurred. Yet another event company acquired the show in 2013. 2018 marked a long awaited return to the historic Cow Palace which the event owners had hoped would be its permanent home. According to “due to unresolved scheduling issues and the pending California State Legislature’s move to tear down or sell off the Cow Palace, the Show has found a new home at Cal Expo, in Sacramento.”

A road trip to Sacramento always offers the chance to visit a couple of good garden centers in the area so with nothing to lose and, as disconnected as it may sound, I set out on the road to our state capitol for this venerable San Francisco event! Having no previous Shows to compare it with I have no idea if the 2019 effort was typical so I am going to fall on the side of positivity and declare this to be a ‘transition year’ with hopefully more vibrant Shows to come. Let me be clear–the local Sacramento gardening community was out in force, represented by numerous specialty clubs, their community gardening organization and their Master Gardeners. Everyone was very pleasant and helpful with their well manned booths offering brochures and experts to encourage and consult. Several had make and take activities for both adults and children. My comments about the Show overall in no way diminish their efforts and participation–a good garden show starts with time and attention from its owner or promoter.

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Master Gardeners consult and advise
The River City Food Bank’s Growing Circle highlighted the work of the local community gardening collective

Other than the awning in the first photo there was virtually NO SIGNAGE anywhere on the show floor which was one large room. There was neither an information area as you passed through the Main Entrance nor a sign directing you to an information area anywhere else in the Show. There was NO show program or brochure giving you the layout or timeline of what was happening on the two small stages. Toward the end of my visit and while I was in search of a restroom I happened on a pleasant volunteer at the very back of the space in a small booth (also without signage.) She had a pile of printed out maps of the layout attached to a schedule of events and advised me that their color brochures had never arrived. If I’d had a piece of paper, a Sharpie and some tape in my bag I would have made a sign to put by the entrance to let visitors know she was back there!!

The highlights of any flower show for me are the display gardens designed and installed by local landscape designers and contractors. They should be a cutting edge look at what’s new and upcoming in the landscape industry and have always been a source of inspiration for my own garden. The Show’s website has photos from previous years 2015 and 2016 showing 14 and 11 display gardens respectively. In 2018 it looks as though 13 were expected but only 9 appear in the digital brochure online. A preview of this year lists 14 display garden participants but there were only 7 on the floor. Only one of them inspired me to get my camera out of my bag!

A Fire Resistant Garden was the submission of Nathan Beeck from Clearwater Designs Inc. and was not only really interesting but very timely given the recent devastation in areas all over our state.

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Looking across the reflecting pond (which also serves as a water source for fire suppression) to a cosy sitting area

The designer encourages us to think outside of the box to create new California landscapes using materials and plants resistant to fire. The room was dark and the garden’s hard surfaces were also quite dark–a combination which challenged my mediocre photography skills.

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Another view of the pond and  covered structure

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The structure is predominantly steel and the wood that is used has been charred with an ancient Japanese technique called Shou sugi ban which makes it fire resistant. Dianella and ferns have been tucked into pockets to soften the hard surface.

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The pockets allow for greenery at a variety of heights

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The plantings were provided by Brent Cruz of Site One Nursery and were selected for their fire resistance. Everything was clearly labeled and a plant list was available for the taking. This display garden was definitely a winner for me!

Although flower arranging is not a particular interest of mine, flower shows often present interesting themes and challenges to those who excel at this art and I like to walk through just to see how individual flower arrangers meet the task. As with the rest of the venue there was NO signage to give visitors a clue as to what the displays parameters were to be–no statement of theme, zip, nothing. Only after I got home and went back to the website I learned that the flower arranging participants were members of the Sogetsu San Francisco Bay Area group. Maybe I would now know what ‘sogetsu’ is had there been some explanatory or educational signage provided by the show…this is not the responsibility of the participants but of those organizing the show.

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I really appreciated the skill of the bonsai artists whose works were on display. The morning of my visit a number of the contributors to this exhibit were on hand to answer questions but again,  no signage other than what the plant’s owners had provided.

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Just barely starting to leaf out!

A quick pass through the marketplace offered little of interest to me. Although there were several specialty plant vendors who seemed to be attracting interest there were far too many booths of what I consider to be non garden related goods. I have never used a Cutco knife in my garden and I think the window companies are better served at the ubiquitous ‘home and garden’ shows next to the solar companies. Here’s the best of what I saw.

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Lorena’s Edible Garden had lots of herbs and herbal products
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Dan’s Dahlias was the most colorful booth at the show!

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Now if I’d had anything resembling a brochure…I might know the names of these booths! Even after I had accidentally found the lady hidden in the back with the maps I was still in the dark as the booths were numbered on the map but there was no key nor a list of vendor names. If I had paid for a booth with the belief that guests would walk out the door with something in their hands to refer back to that had my business’s name and contact information I would probably be pretty unhappy…

My single purchase was this perky little clay armadillo. My sweet digging David’s childhood nickname was Armadillo and I’m an easy mark for any new ones I can add to my collection.

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This little guy is instantly recognizable to Fresnans as a Margaret Hudson sculpture.

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You got it–I traveled to SACRAMENTO to go to the SAN FRANCISCO Flower & Garden Show and purchased a clay sculpture from an iconic FRESNO artist’s gallery. All in all an efficient and productive day trip, don’t you think?

Generally I have taken the attitude that if I am disappointed in an event or tour I just don’t post about it. There is already enough negativity in the blogging world and no need to add more but my day at the San Francisco Flower & Garden left me with many lingering questions. This show has been listed on more than a few lists of ‘Top Ten Flower Shows’. I have many readers in the Bay Area and would love to know–has the event simply declined over the years with changes of ownership and now location? How did it seem to you compared to previous years? Am I judging too harshly given its transition to a new city and venue? Does this show have a real future in Sacramento? Love to hear your experience and insights on this event.

Dipping my toe into the stock tank gardening craze…

The last few years stock tanks, traditionally used to water livestock, have been popping up in gardening magazine and websites repurposed in all kinds of creative ways. Even the largest sizes are relatively inexpensive in light of of the visual bang for your buck in the garden and they fit right into the upscale farmhouse home and garden vibe so popular now. On my trip to Austin last May I saw great examples of stock tanks used as both raised planters and water features. If you missed the Austin posts or just want a refresher check out both Howdy from Austin…digging under the Death Star and Howdy from Austin…Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center for stock tanks used in both residential and public garden environs.

It was just a stretch for my ranch raised husband to understand why I would would even want a pond made from a stock tank in our emerging lawn free front garden so I am starting small(er), easing into the idea by using an oval tank as a problem solver in our back garden. An inexpensive, non-construction dependent solution to an existing garden challenge is a lot easier sell than any type of pond which just looks like more maintenance to him.

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When we built our outdoor pavilion in the back garden in 2011 city code required the structure to be set in 15′ from our fence line. In our part of the city the fence line is considered to be our property line–hard to understand why we spend so much time and money trying to maintain that long strip between the fence and the street…but, oh well. Behind the newly built pavilion we added a second 10′ deep concrete slab to increase our outdoor dining options for large groups. The remaining 5′ deep border was home to a number of mature cherry laurel trees whose roots, along with the in-ground irrigation system was inextricably intertwined with the roots of the very large Bradford pear planted on the other side of the fence as part of the home original landscape. We laboriously removed those cherry laurels last summer, leaving the area bare. The effect of that root system on the fence is easy to see but the value of the shade tree in summer far outweighs the lifted fence. I am sure that when this fence eventually falls down we will have to install the new one with a ‘bridge’ over the root system to safeguard the tree.

The stock tank will allow me to replant this area with the least tree root disturbance as possible. It is pushed forward to the edge of the patio to allow about two feet of clearance behind it to accommodate the worst of the root raised surface and still be level and plumb. An added bonus will be that the off the ground plant material will somewhat remove visual focus from the wonky fence. The two sprinkler risers which once watered the cherry laurels remain intact (I’m pretty sure we could never get them out without doing damage to the buried PVC) and they will be fitted with drip tubing and mini emitters on stakes to water the trough.


We call the area behind the pavilion the Secret Garden as it is not really visible from the house and only fully reveals itself as you approach this shady outpost in a very sunny back garden. In addition to just walking through the pavilion, stone paths on either side offer access to the Secret Garden.  Above you can see the tank’s location as viewed from both ends of the paths.

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The stock tank is centered on the pavilion’s columns and, when planted, will be a focal point drawing the eye through the structure when viewed from the pool. We typically have two 4 person wrought iron tables with chairs sited either side of center but I have been greedily gazing at websites with swinging beds…when the pavilion was built the cross beams were engineered for significant weight specifically for the addition of such a ‘lowcountry’ bed.

Since the full 3′ depth of the stock tank is not necessarily needed for successful planting and as a way of reducing the monumental amount of lightweight planting mix I’ll need to purchase to fill the 8′ long container I have been looking at alternatives to take up a little space in the bottom.

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This is my current scheme but to fill out this layer and add a second one we will have to drink a whole lot of bubbly stuff! I plan to pull the tank’s drain plug out and affix a piece of screen over the drain hole. The bottles will hopefully provide little air space to prevent dirt from clogging the screen. May a layer of burlap over the bottles? I’m open to any suggestions y’all may offer, including an eco friendly alternative to the bottles.

I’m heading to the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show (bizarrely being held in Sacramento this year–going to have to get the back story on that while I’m there) and I hope to get some inspiration for plantings. The Sacramento location takes me right by a couple of my favorite Sacto area garden centers so hopefully next time you see this stock tank it will be fully planted!


‘Bill Wallis’ welcomes me home…

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Preparations for my youngest son’s marriage to his darling Laura have kept me out of the garden, both in focus and physically, for the last couple of months. In addition, we have had an incredibly wet winter here in the Central Valley of California–strictly an observation–not a complaint as anyone gardening here will never complain about rain, even when it comes day after day in torrents. A soggy winter can carry us quite far into spring before needing to think about supplemental irrigation!

The one project that has carried on, as the skies have allowed, is the front garden renovation started in earnest in the fall. Only a small area still remains to be double dug and amended and as much as I have had plants in reserve to work with I have marched right along behind the digging putting in perennials and small shrubs conducive to our goal of reducing the need for summer water.

Many plants which have performed well for me have been dug and divided from other parts of the garden to incorporate into the new area. A few things which had languished unenthusiastically in their current homes have gotten new addresses also. One of those ‘unhappy in its starter home’ specimens is Geranium pyrenaicum ‘Bill Wallis’ whose blooms are pictured above.

I have been a collector of hardy geraniums for several years–I never leave a nursery or garden center without first checking their offerings for species and hybrids to add to my booty. Check out my post A tiny monster any girl can love… for a little info on the geranium vs pelargonium confusion. My zone is not terribly friendly to most of the hardy Gs although many of them thrive naturally in challenging climates all over the world–even with irrigation the air is simply too dry here in the summer months. Think the UK and much of Eastern Europe where they scramble and ramble to the point they are sometimes considered invasive! I consider them a challenge with rewards worth a little extra tending.

‘Bill Wallis’ has had a spot under a crepe myrtle tree in my front garden for more than two years, having been purchased on a now not distinctly remembered garden center ramble out of town. When I dug it up just after Christmas and moved it about three feet from its original home I swear it had only the same three leaves on it as when I purchased it and it had NEVER flowered. It’s new abode, in freshly double dug and very well amended earth was apparently the shot of adrenaline ‘Bill’ needed and the sad little clump, whose root mass had fit in the palm of my hand, sprung to life.

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This is ‘Bill Wallis’ as seen on my first garden walk-around upon returning from Joshua and Laura’s North Georgia mountain wedding. My initial research after purchasing the little guy was that it would eventually form a large mound  and, as it reseeds readily, could naturalize in ground that has been disturbed–not at all what my experience with the plant had been. Perhaps it was the ‘disturbed ground’ or the more fertile soil provided by copious amendment that was missing from the necessary cultural conditions needed to make Geranium pyrenaicum shine. Clearly February is not its natural blooming peak so only time will tell how it fairs through spring and summer. I especially love its sprawling red stems–cutting them back when the 1″ blooms are spent should produce new stems=new flowers. Fingers crossed on that! If I get so lucky as to have too many seedlings there will be plenty to pot up for gardening friends–how’s that for starting 2019 with a positive attitude?

I have a lot of garden travel on my calendar in late spring and summer, including this year’s Garden Bloggers Fling in Denver. Also have a dear friend moving to Arizona this year and that could require a new garden consultation–going to have to read up on all those spiky things! You won’t even have to pack a bag to join me as I see new places and new gardens throughout the year.

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