Friday, January 25, 2008

Tulip Talk





“Talking Tulips with Eric Olson of DeVroomen,”

By Becke Davis

Tulips are one of the most easily recognized heralds of spring, providing welcome color in beds and borders. To landscape contractors, though, tulips sometimes spell trouble. “They worry about deer damage and tulips only lasting one year,” observes Eric Olson, sales and marketing adviser of De Vroomen Holland Garden Products in Holland, MI. While Olson agrees that deer can be a problem, he adds, “People need to try other types of spring flowering bulbs.

Tulips are not the only spring flowering bulbs, so try some of the other spring beauties. There are no deer resistant tulip varieties yet, but researchers are working on it and getting closer. Maybe some day we will have this problem figured out. As for the other concern, we do have new research on tulips that perennialize. You can also plant a combination of early, mid and late blooming tulips you can have 40 days of bloom, from the first part of April to mid-May in the mid-west. Mix in other bulbs and you can extend that to three and a half months of bloom.”



The timing of those blooms can be essential, for example when millions of tulips must flower all at once for Holland Michigan’s annual tulip festival, usually timed for the middle of the tulip season. De Vroomen prepares for all eventualities by growing both early and late-blooming varieties to make sure there will be plenty of blooms if weather is not normal. The tulip festival is not the only demand on the tulip crop where timing is an issue. “We have received call from universities in the past that need masses of tulips for graduation day, or others may be needed for a May wedding,” says Olson. “We plant early and late blooming tulips together, mixing them will make sure one or the other will be in full bloom. You never know what the weather will be and you have to have them blooming on that special date so we cover a longer blooming time.



“Red is still the best selling tulip color, usually followed by yellow,” Olson notes. “That can change -- pinks and purples are also popular lately. A few years ago oranges and purples were very slow but now those two colors together are very popular. Darwin hybrid types like ‘Apeldoorn’ in red or ‘Golden Apeldoorn’ yellow are the basic cup shaped best selling tulips, reaching 20 to 24 inches but the Triumph-type tulips, which reach about 16 to 18 inches, are also popular because they are a manageable height and available in wider range of colors. They don’t lean over as much in wind conditions. The single late tulips, which reach 24 to 33 inches tall, are also basic cup shaped tulips that bloom a little later. The double-flowering pink tulip ‘Angelique’ is not as popular as it was a few years ago but it is still a good one. Other double (peony-looking) tulip varieties and colors have become more popular and we have seen more blend of these varieties. Purples are in demand -- ‘Queen of the Night’ is well known but its blossoms are a little smaller and darker than some, and it blooms late. Purple tulips with a blueish color such as ‘Attila’ and ‘Blue Ribbon’ are popular especially when looking for red, white and blue combination plantings.



“Fosteriana ‘Emperor’ type tulips have a very big flower head in proportion to their 12 to 16 inch height. Greigii types like ‘Red Riding Hood’ is always popular -- it has a big leaf with red striping. ‘Czar Peter’ is similar with really showy flowers, white with a red stripe. One that is very popular but a little more expensive is Tulipa praestans ‘Unicum’ which has a variegated white-edged leaf. Coming up out of the ground they almost look like hostas. It has a smaller, bright red flower but it’s multiflowering. With top sized bulbs you can get two to five blossoms per bulb for a nice cluster of flowers.



“All of the Apeldoorns are still the biggest sellers -- they are good, reliable tulips,” says Olson. “There are others that also come back for years. Cornell University recently was part of a study to determine which flower bulbs perennialized best for different zones. Some tulips have been hybridized in the past for forcing or for new colors and are not know for returning year after year. The single early & Darwin hybrids are closer to the original species -- they haven’t been crossbred as much so they naturalize better. Newer varieties like red Darwin hybrid ‘Oxford’ and ‘Golden Oxford’ are a little bit better growers. The red ‘Come Back’ naturalizes a little better, and name says it all.”



In recent years there have been some big changes in the way people buy tulips bulbs, Olson explains: “Instead of just wanting to know what basics are available, our customers are now looking for blends or mixes. When different colors are planted together, they will look to see what’s different in the flower beds every day. A mass of red tulips has the ‘wow’ effect but it loses interest. Instead, plant early, mid and late-blooming tulips in a combination like “the wave,” with short tulips such as the white, 8-10 inch mid-season ‘Calgary’ in front of a taller blooming tulip such as the red, 18 inch Triumph ‘Oscar’, which blooms at the same time. Try planting some Muscari (grape hyacinth) in front of ‘Calgary’ -- it is used a lot in Europe. Muscari is inexpensive and covers a lot of ground with a flash of blue color.



“We have been promoting a lot of blends, mixing two, three or four different varieties, mixing colors, or mixing early, mid and late-season bloomers. People are asking for these blends, combining tulips like ‘Angelique’, ‘Lilac Perfection’ and the white ‘Mt. Tacoma’. We recommend that people get away from the basics, the rows of tulips planted like little soldiers. Planting tulips in little clumps is more effective than planting them in straight lines. One of the biggest problems here is the tendency to plant tulips six to eight inches apart. This creates the ‘little soldier’ effect instead of a nice mass. In Europe, tulips are usually planted closer together. Six inch spacing is okay but for that ‘wow’ effect, closer to four inches is better. Here, tulips are often just used to fill the holes, so the amount of bulbs planted per square foot is usually different than it would be in Europe. If you are planting double-flowered or parrot tulips which have larger blooms, you don’t need quite as many, but there is a big difference in the effect they make if you pack them in.”



Another reason to pack in a lot of tulips initially is the likelihood that you will lose some tulips after a year or two, Olson notes. For commercial plantings, spotlighting a company entrance or sign, Olson recommends planting tulips that will create “a big show.” “The goal is to draw your attention to the sign. A blend of bright colors gets you out of the ‘blur’. The tulips you select would depend on the height of the sign, but the Darwin hybrid ‘Daydream’ is one people wanted this year. It’s listed as orange, but it comes out yellow with an orange edge, turning more orange as it matures. This year the demand for ‘Daydream’ exceeded our supply.



“The Emperor tulips are very showy, shorter with big flower heads. Combine one or two colors -- Emperor tulips come in red, yellow, pink, orange, white and more. ‘Fancy Frills’ is a pink tulip with an ivory back and a fringed edge, while ‘Green Wave’ is a new pale pink and green parrot tulip. We’re always looking for a better mid-season pink, and one I really like is ‘Lydia’, which is a good medium height. We used to have it for special order only but now it is in our catalogue.”
For landscape contractors, one of the concerns about tulips is whether to take a chance on them coming back from one year to the next. Some contractors dig up the bulbs, store them and replant the same bulbs the next spring, while others treat them as annuals by digging the bulbs and disposing of them when they have finished flowering. “If you need to make it look good and you don’t want to take a chance, treat tulips as annuals -- lift them and replace them,” says Olson. Lifting and storing them can be trickier. “If you dig them up, the plant will still be green when it is done flowering,” he says. “They need time to store energy, so give them a few weeks to die out before lifting them. If a bulb doesn’t have enough food stored, the next year you’ll will not have flowers and all you will get is big, wide leaves to help the bulb collect energy for the following year’s flowers.”



To ensure the best tulip display, it is important to add a slow-release fertilizer, Olson says, and not necessarily the old standby, bone meal. “Bone meal has changed over the years. It used to be 4-12-5 but now they take the bone marrow out and it’s usually 0-11-0, with no nitrogen, which bulbs need. You can use a fertilizer like Bulb Booster, which is a slow-release coated urea 9-9-6 formulation that helps build the following year’s flowers and give you more, bigger flowers. A bulb food like Osmocote also works. The important thing is that the bulbs get a slow-release nitrogen in early spring. We use Holland Supreme slow release bulb food, a 9-9-6 formula with Polyon.”



Many problems with tulip performance come down to just a few things, in Olson’s experience: lack of fertilization, lack of soil preparation and insufficient planting depth. “As a rule of thumb, bulbs should be planted to a depth three times the thickness of the bulb. This does not refer to the depth of the hole, but to the amount of soil on top of the bulb. When in doubt, it’s better to plant deeper than not deep enough. Good drainage is a must for most bulbs. If the ground is very hard with lots of clay covered by four inches of topsoil, the water won’t drain through the clay and the bulbs will be sitting in water. You have to work the soil to about twelve inches deep to allow for root growth. If there is no food and no place for the roots to grow, the bulb won’t perform or flower. If you need a hole six inches deep, prepare the soil to a depth of twelve inches.”



One of the most commonly concerns to those new to bulb planting is whether bulbs will grow if they are planted upside down. “The ideal would be to plant them right side up,” says Olson. “On tulips, the point of the bulb is up and the root forms at the opposite end. Tulip bulbs have a flat side from which the leaves form and a more rounded side, and they tend to be heavier on one side than the other. This means that when we dig trenches for bed planting or use larger bulb planters to plant the bulbs, the tulip bulbs tend to land on the heavy side. The pull against gravity and sunlight will help the bulb find its way up, but they might not be as uniform spacing as if they were each planted with the points straight up. With a big bulb like hyacinths it can be a potential problem if the bulbs are planted upside down, because they have big, thick heavy stems that can push the bulb right out of the ground. Fritillaria imperialis, the crown imperial, is a big bulb that is hollow in the middle where the stem comes out. If the drainage is not good, water can collect in the hollow area. In this case, it is a good idea to plant the bulb sideways unless there is good drainage. And again, deeper is better.”



Planting bulbs and perennials in combination can be useful since the emerging foliage of some perennials will camouflage the dying foliage of the bulbs, which should not be cut back until it has completely dried out. Olson notes that competition is not normally a problem since the root system of perennials don’t usually go down as deep as the bulbs are planted. His only concern would be making sure that fertilizer reaches the bulb, a problem that should not arise if a slow-release fertilizer is used. When combining perennials or other bulbs with tulips, Olson’s advice is straightforward: “Try to come up with combinations that will extend the season. In Holland trials, bulbs were mixed with sedums, three-season perennials, and perennials like pulmonaria that bloom together with the bulbs.”



When it comes to promoting the use of bulbs, particularly the concept of planting bulb blends, mixed types of bulbs and bulbs planted with perennials, Olson’s advice is to take plenty of pictures to illustrate your ideas. “Don’t wait for your customers to come to you. Take pictures in the spring and use them to promote your ideas, reminding your customers that fall is the time to plant bulbs.”

END

Editor’s Note:


For over 30 years, Eric Olson has been involved with growing, selling and promoting tulips and perennials to mail order companies, garden centers, landscapers, greenhouse and perennial growers and final consumers in the U.S. and Canada. While in high school, he worked at a tulip farm and gardens in Holland, Michigan and became involved with the annual Tulip Time Festival. He graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in business and marketing. For more than ten years, Olson was general manager and part owner of a tulip garden that grew over four million tulips annually. Olson has been marketing and sales advisor for DeVroomen Holland Garden Products for over 20 years. He is also the sales representative for midwest and specialty accounts throughout the U.S. and Canada.


At least once a year Olson travels to the Netherlands to research new plants and bulbs and to work at De Vroomen's main office and nursery. Olson is vice president of NAFWA (North America Flowerbulb Wholesaler Association) whose membership includes most of the bulb companies in the U.S. and Canada, along with associate members involved with promoting flower bulbs within the same area.



“The Roots of De Vroomen”

De Vroomen Holland Garden Products has been a member of the ILCA since 1982. This family business was established in Holland in 1925 and has been a supplier of quality bulbs and bare root perennials ever since. De Vroomen’s founder, Jacobus Theodorus De Vroomen, grandfather of the current president, started growing bulbs in 1890 as a hobby that gradually evolved into a small business.



The company had its ups and downs in the early years, but despite the struggles it continued to grow. The advent of World War II brought some dramatic changes when the Dutch army took over the building and settled officers in the family home. After the German invasion of Holland, De Vroomen land was used as an air raid shelter and the company car was fitted with air raid sirens. The senior De Vroomen was held as a prisoner by German followers for two months in 1943.



After the Allies liberated Holland in 1945, the company began to rebuild and three of the founder’s sons became partners in the business. About the time of the company’s fortieth anniversary, a perennial nursery focusing on peonies, daylilies and hosta was added. The sales force ventured across the Atlantic and as some of the family settled in the U.S., De Vroomen Bulb Company was formed to serve the American market.



The 1980s were eventful for the company and for the De Vroomen family. Ben De Vroomen was awarded a royal medal of honor for his contributions to the company, to the bulb industry and to his community of Lisse, Holland. Dick De Vroomen was active in both the American branch of the Federation of Bulb Traders and the Dutch ice skating team. His skating talents earned him a medal of honor from the Dutch Olympic Community and from the Dutch royal family. The company expanded into the European market and also became a major exporter of perennials.



Today De Vroomen Holland Garden Products is a modern company flourishing in Lisse, Holland and Russell, IL. It is still a family business, with one of the largest nurseries in Holland, and is one of the largest importers of perennials into the US with about thirty-five percent of sales focusing on Dutch bulbs and sixty-five percent on bare root perennials such as peonies, hosta, daylilies and iris, specializing in new and different plants from Europe. Their U.S. market mainly aims at zones 4, 5, 6 and 7, providing plants that will survive in those regions with twelve sales representatives throughout the US and Canada to help with selections and information.

END


This article was first published in The Landscape Contractor magazine, published by the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association.


SOURCES:

Telephone interview with Eric Olson
DeVroomen Holland Garden Products
665 136th Ave., Suite 120
Holland, MI 49424
1-616-399-1919
Cell: 1-616-610-0048
Email: e.j.olson@att.net

Photos by Becke Davis
The top two photos were taken on Chicago's Michigan Avenue in May 2007

Friday, January 11, 2008

Where Have All the Bees Gone?




Where Have All the Bees Gone?"

By Becke Davis



"Winnie-the-Pooh sat down at the foot of the tree, put his head between his paws and began to think.

First of all he said to himself: "That buzzing-noise means something. You don't get a buzzing-noise like that, just buzzing and buzzing, without its meaning something. If there's a buzzing-noise, somebody's making a buzzing-noise, and the only reason for making a buzzing-noise that I know of is because you're a bee."

Then he thought another long time, and said: "And the only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey."
And then he got up, and said: "And the only reason for making honey is so as I can eat it."

Ever since A.A. Milne's tales of Winnie-the-Pooh were published more than half a century ago, Pooh's adventures with bees have made the honey bee more of a familiar face than a menace with a sharp sting. In the real world, some people are concerned that declining bee populations may mean that the only knowledge of bees future generations have will be in the pages of books.

Where have the bees gone, and how does their decline affect us? While the average person knows that bees make honey, they may not be aware that bee play an important role in the food supply. According to a report in Science Daily, "Bees. . .are essential for the pollination of over 90 fruit and vegetable crops worldwide , with the economic value of these agricultural products placed at more than $14.6 billion in the U.S. In addition to agricultural crops, honey bees also pollinate many native plants within the ecosystem." 1

Newspapers across the country have been buzzing with concern about the bee shortage. The Courier-Journal in Louisville, KY noted, "Among the hardest hit nationally are commercial beekeepers who transport thousands of hives across the country by tractor-trailer to pollinate orchards and crops, sometimes at a rental rate of more than $100 a hive. . .Melons and squash, some vegetables, sunflowers, almonds and many fruit and berry crops need bee pollination. Alfafa grown for seed also requires pollination by bees, though pollination may be shared by other bee varieties." 2 Other crops pollinated by bees include apples, peaches, pears, blueberries, cranberries, nectarines, cherries, strawberries, pumpkins and broccoli.

The Los Angeles Times discussed a possible cause for the bee decline, Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD): "A fungus that caused widespread loss of bee colonies in Europe and Asia may be playing a crucial role in the mysterious phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder that is wiping out bees across the United States. . .Researchers have been struggling for months to explain the disorder, and the new findings provide the first solid evidence pointing to a potential cause." 3 According to the article, the fungus is a single-celled parasite called Nosema ceranae that has been found in affected hives and also in hives where some bees survived. The mystery has not been solved definitively, though, and the article notes that where the fungus was found there were also "two other fungi and half a dozen viruses in the dead bees."

The bee population has been affected by diseases in the past, including the Varroa mite which decimated many bees in the latter part of the 20th century. Other causes of bee decline are weather conditions and exposure to pesticides. Although it is difficult to know the exact numbers of bees that have been lost in the past, it appears that the current loss of bees is without precedence. One estimate indicates that as much as a quarter of this country's 2.4 million commercial colonies have been lost since last fall.

The recent reports suggesting that CCD might play an primary role in the current bee decline has only added to the controversy, says the Louisville Courier-Journal: "Widespread media reports about CCD have fueled rumors and much conjecture over the cause of the disorder -- including the proliferation of cell phone towers, genetically modified crops, certain pesticides and global warming. Scientists generally have dismissed cell phone and global warming theories, but are studying other factors such as viruses, mites, mite control chemicals, the pesticide imidacloprid and other possible toxins or microbes. They do note regard CCD as a human health issue." 4

Determining the cause of the bee decline is easier said than done, in this instance. The Chicago Tribune reports, "Across the nation, honeybees are vanishing by the billions, a medical mystery with few clues. Because unlike past die-offs, corpses aren't littering the hives. Instead, the adult bees fly off to work and never come home, leaving behind a queen, perhaps some freshly laid eggs and a handful of overburdened young adults. . .One theory is that the bees leave the nest and aren't able to orient or navigate their way back, so they die in the fields." 5

The bee decline is serious enough to have warranted a session of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture, Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture on the topic of CCD in honey bee colonies in the United States. Among those addressing the House on this topic were Professor Mary R. Berenbaum, head of the Department of Entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Diana Cox-Foster, a professor in the Department of Entomology at the Pennsylvania State University. These sessions took place on March 29, 2007.

Dr. Cox-Foster observed, "The exact impact of CCD across the United States is difficult to gauge since essential data on the number of bee keepers, number of colonies, and death rates are not measured. A preliminary nationwide survey, initiated last month by the Apiary Inspectors of America, suggests that a 17% loss of colonies is considered normal, which is astonishing, given that one would be hard pressed to find another agricultural commodity sustaining losses of this magnitude on a regular basis. The same survey also found that approximately one-quarter of responding beekeepers suffered CCD. . .It is now clear that CCD is a problem facing all bee keepers; it will have a major impact. . .Researchers at North Carolina State, University of Illinois and Texas A&M are beginning to ask how genetic diversity in bee populations correlates with CCD and resistance traits. Developing new resistant strains of bees for commercial production may be essential to the future of beekeeping." 6

Dr. Berenbaum summarizes these concerns: "Over the past two decades, concern has grown around the world about apparent reductions in the abundance of pollinators of all descriptions, with declines reported on no fewer than four continents. During this same time period in the U.S., the western honey bee Apis mellifera, the world's premier managed pollinator species, experienced dramatic population declines, primarily as a result of the accidental introduction in the 1980s of two bloodsucking parasitic mites. Between 1947 and 2005, colony numbers nationwide decline by over 40%, from 5.9 million to 2.4 million. . .Even before CCD came to light, our committee estimated that, if honey bee numbers continue to decline at the rates documented from 1989 to 1996, managed honey bees will cease to exist by 2035. . .Human technological innovation has not, in most cases, replaced or even improved upon animal pollinators and is unlikely to do so in the immediate future. 'The birds and the bees' remain an essential fact of life; as long as plants depend on pollinators, so will people and it behooves us to shepherd them wisely." 7

END

File Name: Bees.doc
Word Count: 1,245

SOURCES:

1 "Bee Colony Collapse Disorder and Viral Disease Incidence Under Investigation," Science Daily, April 24, 2007, adapted from a news release issued by Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

2, 4 "Scientists at a loss as bees disappear across the nation," by Byron Crawford, The Courier-Journal, Louisville, KY, May 11, 2007

3 "Experts may have found what's bugging the bees," by Jia-Rui Chong and Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times, April 26, 2007

5 "Loss of bees threatens a fatal sting for us all," by Julie Deardorff, Chicago Tribune, April 7, 2007

6 Prepared Testimony of Diana Cox-Foster, Professor, Department of Entomology, The Pennsylvania State University, before the House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture, Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture on Colony Collapse Disorder in Honey Bee Colonies in the United States," March 29, 2007

7 Statement of May R. Berenbaum, Professor and Head, Department of Entomology, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Chair, Committee on the Status of Pollinators in North America Board on Life Sciences and Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, Division on Earth and Life Studies, National Research Council and The National Academies before the House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture, Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture on Colony Collapse Disorder in Honey Bee Colonies in the United States, March 29, 2007, www7.nationalacademies.org

First published in The Landscape Contractor magazine, July 2007
Photo courtesy www.chrishiggins.com

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Daughter of Time




The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey is going to be our featured mystery for February at the BN.com Mystery Book Club. It is often listed as one of the best mysteries of all time. It's a great book by a British author who deserves more recognition. If you haven't read this yet, you're in for a treat.

Sorry about the picture quality, not sure how to fix that.

Greg Iles in February




This month at BN.com we are featuring these two books in the Mystery book club. I've been a fan of Greg Iles' books for awhile and these two very different books have one thing in common -- once you start reading them, you'd better make yourself comfortable because it will be a long time until you can put them down. I stayed up half the night to finish Third Degree in one sitting. Come join the discussion!

The Garden in Winter







Right now it's pouring rain in Cincinnati, but I thought I'd share some pictures that I took last winter. This isn't good for the trees, but it is certainly beautiful in its own way.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

I'm baaack!





Wow, I really have been a slacker about this blog. I'll try to do better in 2008 -- does that sound like a resolution?

Under the heading: "Excuses, excuses" I'd just like to point out that I was away more than I was home in 2007. The new year is continuing to follow this trend.

Since I last wrote, I've had so much going on I hardly know where to start. My news isn't all garden related, so somewhere along the line I may have to change the name of this blog. Oh well, if you will bear with me we'll see how it goes.

In the latter part of 2007, I was in Chicago about every other week. We have been thinking about moving back up there, maybe to a small place in the city. Now that we are empty nesters the call of the big city is strong again -- we did love living in London all those years ago and we've always liked Chicago. Then again, Chicago is the "green" city not the "cheap" city -- we saw this great condo near Belmont and when we checked the price it was close to a million dollars. There may be some wealthy authors out there -- I am not one of them!

So, we've also been considering Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Ann Arbor, maybe even a different part of Cincinnati. There's a kind of freedom when you can uproot and go anywhere you like. Since our families are scattered all over creation, we have to commute to see anyone, including our kids. And who knows where they'll end up. So, if you know of any places with lots of bookstores, eclectic shops and restaurants, mixed ethnicity, and (sorry for introducing politics) leaning toward blueness, let me know. Warm weather is a plus. Since Marty and I are both primarily working from home these days, all that we require is a hookup for our computers and an airport nearby. (Or a Megabus route if I'm feeling cheap or fed-up with airports.)

BN.com has been hopping lately. I had one fun month of moderating the Romance Book Club while they were in-between regular moderators. I am also moderating the occasional featured book, such as Alice Sebold's Almost Moon and Nicholas Sparks' The Choice. In Mystery we have featured Janet Evanovich and Greg Iles in recent months (True Evil and Third Degree are still on for this month). In February we will be featuring Josephine Tey's classic Daughter of Time, which is often listed as one of the best mysteries of all time. In March we will be featuring M.C. Beaton's books, not sure which ones yet.

On the BN.com gardening board, which has kind of gone dormant for the winter, our featured books are The Garden in Winter by Suzy Bales and P. Allen Smith's Living in the Garden Home. Join us!

In October I had one of those life-changing experiences you hear about. I went to a writer's conference in Covington, KY where Jennifer Crusie, Lani Diane Rich, Alesia Holliday, Anne Stuart and other authors read excerpts from their upcoming books and taught writing classes to published writers and others who are working on books. I didn't fit in either category but I love Jennifer Crusie's books and I have always thought that "one day" I would set aside my non-fiction commitments long enough to try some fiction work. My biggest problem was that I just didn't know where to start.

At Cherry Con, I took copious notes, talked to lots of people about their writing, did some networking, found a lot of new authors to read, ditto a lot of books on the writing craft to read, and learned enough about structure to get myself started. I'll let you know what happens with this. My original plan was to submit something to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, where your goal is to push through and write 50,000 words in a limited time period.) I had one false start then once I got going on a storyline that I liked, I had to set it aside for writing work I would actually get paid for. (I have a kid in college, what can I say?)

I had to set the story aside for another two weeks over the holidays but, amazingly enough, the first draft of book one is finished and I've already started a rough draft of another book with in a slightly different genre. Book One is making the rounds with my "first readers" so I figure I'll work on Book Two in the meantime. I feel like I turned on a water faucet that had been turned off for years, and the water is now exploding from the tap. I can't stop writing, and hopefully some of it won't be crap! Wish me luck, and thanks to all of you who are critiquing these freshman efforts.

In November I was in Chicago (again, did I mention it's practically my home away from home now?), this time for the GreenBuild Expo. Out of 600 people with press passes, I was lucky to be one of only 100 who were allowed in for former President Bill Clinton's keynote message. The expo was really interesting, on a personal and professional level. I've been writing a lot about sustainability issues, green roofs, etc. and this expo was definitely the place to be.

In December, my daughter Jessica graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in English/Creative Writing. You will definitely be seeing her name on some books in the future, most probably in Literature or Young Adults, maybe Poetry. She is looking into grad schools right now, if can recommend any good schools with Editing/Writing offered at this level, let me know. Location doesn't matter since she'll probably have to relocate anyway.

My son, Jonathan, and his girlfriend drove down to Florida for her graduation while Marty and I flew down. It was fun having a crowd for Christmas -- and not at our house! Our first Christmas away from home, but since our kids and their loved ones were with us, it still felt like home. Our trip included side trips to see relatives near Tampa and my best friend from high school who lives in Fort Lauderdale. We had never been that far south and we were pleasantly surprised, it was beautiful and the weather was amazing! (We had one day of 40 degrees in Orlando, but since Chicago and Cincinnati were being hit by blizzards that week, we didn't complain much.)

We got back to Cincinnati just in time to get our son packed up for a semester abroad in Barcelona. He and his girlfriend (who came down from Hayward, WI just to spend New Year's with him -- thanks, Al, for chauffeuring her!) went to a party, came home and slept a couple hours, then headed up to Chicago on Megabus (we are their biggest customers lately). The next day, his girlfriend accompanied him to the airport and he was on his way. Halfway over the Atlantic, his flight plunged 100 feet or so several times. He said there was complete and utter silence on the plane, and he was scared out of his wits. He said if there was a boat home, he'd be on it. In the meantime, he is getting settled in, trying to become fluent in Castillian Spanish overnight and drooling over the architecture. Oh, and drinking way too much -- he is not quite 21 but the legal drinking age is a lot younger in Europe. Hopefully, the novelty will wear off soon.

Next week, I'm back up to Chicago for the Mid-Am Show, a landscape trade fair. I'm supposed to be in Columbus, OH for the CENTS show a few days after that, but I'm not sure I'll be able to make it to that one.

Watch for my monthly gardening tips that appear in a variety of newspapers in Illinois. I will back at the Cincinnati Flower Show in April -- and if you are a plant/landscape/garden author or expert, contact me if you would like to be a presenter at this acclaimed show. We're always looking for new talent!

In the meantime, I'll post some plant pictures I took last fall at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Enjoy!