I would not have passed for a sex-symbol last Saturday, that’s for sure, sporting scrubby clothes, a pony tail, gloves and work boots. But I sure was happy.

Saturday was my garden kick-off day and I was up to my elbows–literally–in compost. Gorgeous, rich, and nearly perfectly cooked with the exception of a few large broccoli stalks that were added to the mix a bit on the late side for this round. No worry; just tossed them right back in and away I went with the wheelbarrow, a shovel and a song to nourish my plants. Life is good. I could tell by Rob’s expression he was amused by the joy I found in this “black gold,” as compost is often called. Still, it was wonderful to work outdoors at last and since I’m on the garden tour this year, there is much to do to get ready. (If you want to mark your calendar early, it’s going to be June 10th from 4-8pm; I’ll let you know when tickets go on sale. The garden tour benefits the Haddon Heights Library.)

What do garden designers and “birds of our feather” do in the winter? Aside write blogs and dream of the next season? Attend symposia and workshops. I sat in on “Today’s Horticulture” at Longwood Gardens shortly ago. Now that is a place to go to see sexy plants, for darn sure. Flower pornography at nearly every turn. Eye candy. Top-heavy flowers lovingly staked. Petals like pouting lips–you get the visual. This year the Orchid display was on just adjacent to the ballroom where the lectures were presented. You might want to try one as they are not for professionals only; plenty of home gardeners attend, too. Presenter Sean Hogan spoke on “Sexy Plants You Thought You Couldn’t Grow, But You Really Can.” Here are some from his “Whooda Thunk” Plant list that I was interested in taking a look at: I will put the botanical name in full so you can check them out: A bunch of Agaves–americana, palmeri, neomexicana and especially parryi. I am fascinated with Agave and even the one I am overwintering indoors is looking pretty good. Hogan also listed some Yuccas–gloriosa v. nobilis, schotti, schotti “Chiricahua High,” baccatta var. vespertina “Hualampai Blue,” nana, angustissima “South Side,” and rostrata “Sapphire Skies.” Just paste these into your browser to get a look. the form and texture of these plants in the garden are so striking. Local nursery owners attend these types of events, too, so hopefully they will be adding some to their inventories to make shopping easier.

Next up was a talk on bird migration. (I apologize that I didn’t get the presenter’s name; he was substituting for the scheduled presenter and I didn’t catch his name.) Here are some interesting facts: 500 of our 800 North American birds migrate. They migrate mostly at night and often fly hundreds of miles without stopping or eating. Bird migration is an important part of our ecosystem and as gardeners, we love to have birds around. (I will be doing a partnership workshop with Wild Birds Unlimited, Cherry Hill, on Earth Day, April 23rd. More info coming.) Here are some things you can do to help our feathered friends:
1. Landscape with nature in mind. Plant in layers–trees, shrubs–evergreen and deciduous–grasses, perennials, places where birds can rest, nest and feed;
2. Knit together environmental facets if you can. This means if you live along a woodland edge, let your own landscape blend into that edge naturally;
3. Be organic and buy organic. Birds spend a lot of time on farmland;
4. Keep pet cats indoors. It is estimated that 4 billion birds per year are killed by house cats;
5. Use recycled paper to keep Canadian forests intact; these are so significant to birds;
6. Drink more coffee–but coffee with the “bird friendly” logo which means the coffee is grown in Central America on shade grown coffee farms that are havens for migratory birds. If you would like to read more on this topic Silence of Songbirds and Living on the Wind are two you might enjoy.

The final presenter, Dr. William Powell, spoke on the work and research to bring back the American Chestnut tree. Without going into a lot of scientific detail, at the turn of the 20th century the American chestnut was one of the tallest trees in our forests, providing timber, canopy and nuts. The blight that attacked it has killed nearly every one, removing a beautiful tree from our landscape that had an important place in our culture. (The blight came over on an exotic chestnut tree that is resistant to this blight but carried it along.) After more than ten years the scientists have found success and are before several government agencies to see if this “new” resistant chestnut is ready for release. I would give a big shout-out for their efforts; I have very fond memories from childhood of time spent under a chestnut tree–one I suppose that had not yet succumbed to the disease. A few remain; not many.

Longwood Gardens offers classes year ’round. With most classes you also get admission to the gardens, reason by itself to take a class or two.

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