Inspiration Garden Feed

The Winners of Our 'Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener' Book Giveaway

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Winner Lynne Griffin, of Aurora, Colorado, USA.

We're pleased to announce the winners of our book giveaway. Two lucky subscribers each received a signed paperback copy of Tammi Hartung's book, The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener. Winners Lynne Griffin and Lila McClellan are avid gardeners and nature lovers, and they also both live in Colorado, a landscape that can be a challenge as much as it is a joy for gardeners. We're excited to share their stories and images with you.

Lynne Griffin of Aurora, CO

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In Lynne Griffin's garden, a monarch on purple coneflower.
 
Our first winner talks about what it's like to garden in Colorado. As it's also where Tammi Hartung herself runs Desert Canyon Farm, Lynne is in good company. Lynne explains:
Since we have a fairly short growing season in Colorado, we normally start the seeds indoors in March and plant during the Memorial Day weekend, after the ground has warmed. We put in the usual vegetables; multiple varieties of tomatoes, multiple types of squash, cucumbers, cabbage, beets, etc. We also grow several herbs like basil, rosemary, thyme, parsley, sage, etc. 
 
Our flower gardens are literally for the birds and the bees. Our yard has lots of native species of flowers to help keep everyone happy. We have several seed feeders as well as multiple bird baths. Since we're birders, we just love watching all of them visit.

Living close enough to visit Desert Canyon Farm, Lynne was already a fan of Tammi Hartung but had never read this book. She's now a regular reader of Cat in the Flock, too, and we're really glad to have her. "Many thanks for mailing Tammi Hartung's wonderful gardening book," says Lynne. "I've started reading it and am greatly enjoying all of her advice and wisdom." 
 
More pictures of her garden.
 
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Lynne makes birds welcome with a bird bath and feeders, in addition to native plants.
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We love the solution to the backend slope, with a grouping of native trees and plants set off by a rock wall.

Lila McClellan of Coaldale, CO

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Lila McClellan is an accomplished painter and photographer in addition to gardener; you can see her breathtaking work over at Wolf's Head Art. Before COVID-19, she took a whole season of classes offered at Desert Canyon Farm, drawn to Tammi Hartung's focus on living in harmony with nature. "I am looking forward to reading this latest book and using her techniques for helping the wildlife and pollinators," says Lila. "Thanks so much."
 
Lila already does quite a bit to make her garden wildlife-friendly, whether that's placing perching spots - in this case, crystals - in her bird baths to enable small insects to sip there in addition to the birds, or putting in bluebird houses. But she's excited to find new ideas in Tammi's book.
 

While Lynne's garden has more of a suburban feel, Lila's is a bit more rugged. Her struggles with the harsh Colorado environment are sometimes profound:
Living at the foothills of 12,000-foot mountains has its challenges. I mostly plant natives that are adapted to this climate of harsh winds, extreme temperatures, and the multitude of animal life and insect populations. I know gardening starts with the soil, so, I've been paying closer attention to this and began making my own compost with worms and an insulated compost bin. We also have 11 ducks that help by adding lots of fertilizer and eating the bugs (especially those voracious grasshoppers). We also mulch the outdoor beds with their 'used' straw when we clean out the duck pen in the spring and fall.
 
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The bird bath gets some visitors in Lila McClellan's garden, at the foot of the mountains.
 
Lila's biggest foe isn't the lack of water or the shorter growing season, though. It's the weather itself:
The number one problem I have is the WIND! It can be discouraging to amend the soil and watch it blow away on windy days. I also wonder how the plants survive when they go sideways instead of up. My husband built a seven-foot wall on the south side of our yard to block some of the wind, which helps a lot. This summer, I will be putting up paver stones to make two-foot walls on some of the beds. I installed a soaker hose watering system a few years ago, which is a tremendous help since it saves water and time. Some wells near my house can go dry when there is a severe drought situation, but we haven't had that problem.
 
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Spirea, growing in Lila's garden.
We decided to use the wind to our advantage; this summer, my husband will be installing a wind turbine to power the electric in our geodome greenhouse that we finished last fall. To keep it cool in the summer and warm in the winter, we have a swamp cooler and a heater, which will greatly extend our growing season for herbs and produce. Living in/with nature is an ongoing process as the seasons change. I enjoy the challenges and rewards and am thankful and in awe of the plants that survive. 
Geo-dome
Lila's domed greenhouse, soon to be powered by the wind.
 
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Beets and chickweed.
 
Congratulations to Lynne and Lila on their wins, and we hope they both enjoy Tammi's book as much as we did.

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The 'COVID Cabana' Might Just Save Us All

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We outfitted our 'COVID Cabana' space with old lawn furniture, a tiki bar from a friend, and an area rug. All photos by Sue Frause.

By Sue Frause

When the COVID-19 pandemic made its way to the United States in January of 2020, my husband and I were mildly concerned. But even more so when the first confirmed case in the U.S. was diagnosed in our home state of Washington. That patient was being treated at Providence Medical Center in Everett, less than an hour away from our home on Whidbey Island. It was a little too close for comfort. In March 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee initiated a Stay Home, Stay Healthy order in our state to fight the virus. And since then we’ve been adhering to the basic guidelines of wearing masks, washing hands, and staying six feet apart. Plus a whole lot more. 

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Kids to the rescue again, donating a BAR sign they didn't have room for. Farmer Bob outfitted it with lights.

Summer was easy, as we spent a lot of time outdoors, occasionally gathering with family and friends at our home or theirs. But when the cool, wet weather of autumn arrived, all that changed. It was the season to hunker on down indoors. Which for us, meant not having friends or family over for in-house gatherings, and not going to theirs. It was going to be a long winter.  

Gas Fire
Our son and his wife gave us their never-been-used gas fire pit to cozy up the space. S'mores, anyone?

 Here on Whidbey Island and beyond, along with the proliferation of alfresco dining options, people were creating outdoor spaces where gatherings would be much safer than in their homes. That’s when I realized we had the perfect space to put together a venue where we could invite folks over to share a glass of wine or two. Our Covid Cabana was born! 

Barn
Farmer Bob's barn was built in 2005 with the help of friends and relatives. Our Covid Cabana may be seen in the forefront before it was transformed.

Its location was ideal - a 7 x 14 ft. covered area off the side of our barn. When we built the barn in 2005, the original plan was for the space to house our chickens. But my husband, aka Farmer Bob, soon realized it wouldn’t be such a great spot for a flock of egg-laying hens. So over the years, it has morphed from a carport to a storage area for picnic tables, lawn furniture, and our tiki bar. A loft above it housed even more outdoor goods. 

Wine Room
Farmer Bob created this temperature-controlled wine room located inside the barn, just steps away from our Covid Cabana.

 But in November, all that changed when we transformed the catch-all space into a cozy Covid Cabana. The best part of the process was being able to use everything we had - we spent zero dollars in creating a comfortable space for up to six people. Here’s what we recycled:

  • Two teak benches that seat four, with a matching coffee table
  • Two outdoor chairs
  • Area rug
  • Tiki bar with two stools 
  • Bar sign
  • Strings of lights on a dimmer
  • Gas fire pit 
  • Grapevine wreath

When summer arrives in June of this year, Farmer Bob plans to build and install six barn doors on the two open sides -- making it an all-season, indoor/outdoor space. And I’m hopeful that sooner than later, we can change its name from Covid Cabana to … Cozy Cabana!

H-l-about

Sue Frause is a prolific, long-time journalist and photographer whose work has appeared in print and online in the U.S. and abroad. For 15 years, she wrote an award-winning column for The South Whidbey Record. She currently writes not one, not two, but three blogs: Eat|Play|Sleep, Closet Canuck, and married to martha. She is also a regular on Around the World Radio. In her many travels, she's visited all seven continents, but her favorite place in the world is right there on Whidbey Island.

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Cat in the Flock's Top 5 Posts of 2020. No. 1 Is for the Birds!

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Milkweed seed pod on a rose bush.

By Lisa Brunette

Two-oh-two-oh was a surprising year for Cat in the Flock, as between the extensive lockdowns and social distancing measures and our decision to forgo social media, Anthony and I found ourselves with more time to write. While our day jobs at Brunette Games never ceased, as its already established remote-work structure allowed us to continue working without fail, we saw family and friends less often, and most interesting activities outside the home were either canceled outright or made less attractive due to the requirement to wear masks and social distance. So, we opted to stay in. We published more on this blog in 2020 than anticipated, with a total of 52 posts, or an average of one per week!

What's most exciting about the past year at Cat in the Flock is that I saw the blog grow beyond me. The responsibility for those 52 posts was shared across 7 different authors. Notably, Anthony joined the fray, and his write-up on our bamboo squash tunnel was one of the most popular of the year. Besides the Anthony-and-Lisa duo here at Cat in the Flock, we also published posts from a former wildlife biologist, two award-winning travel writers, an acupuncturist, and a certified herbalist. One of these also made the top five.

All of our most popular articles share gardening as a theme, and with the combination of our own passions for the subject and a surge in interest due to stay-at-home mandates, it's not surprising to see why. Here are the top five posts judging by total number of page views, starting with fifth on the list and working our way to the top.

No. 5 - Native Plants As the Stars of the Show

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Quercus shumardii, or native Shumard oak, in fall color.

The very first post of 2020 was also our fifth most-viewed: Garden Stars of the Year: How to Win with Native Plants. It's basically a native plant gardening 'how to,' with suggestions for how to go about populating your garden with plants that have evolved to your geographic location's unique ecosystem rather than filling it with a lot of exotics. What can we say? We're still drinking the native plant Kool-Aid. Exotics are harder to care for, and they don't feed native pollinators, birds, or animals anywhere near as well as the plants our native fauna have evolved to consume. To us, going native is a no-brainer.

No. 4 - More Mushroom Mania

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Image courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation.

If you hadn't noticed, we're a bit obsessed with mushrooms here at Cat in the Flock, and our fourth most popular post reflects that. "Mushrooms Become Less Mysterious - with the Right Field Guide" is pretty much a love letter to both our stellar Missouri Department of Conservation and the mushroom guide it publishes, Missouri's Wild Mushrooms, by fellow St. Louis writer Maxine Stone. If you're anywhere in the Midwest, I highly recommend the guide.

New to the whole mushroom foraging idea? Check out this great piece by guest blogger Ellen King Rice that breaks down everything you need to know. And for funsies, you might also read our further account of mushroom foraging right here in the back 40 for the delicious and plentiful 'shroom known as reddening lepiota.

No. 3 - Farmer Bob's Jam

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Bob Frause in the garden. Photo by Sue Frause.

Over Sue Frause's long, award-winning career as a travel and lifestyle feature writer, she's amassed quite a following, which partly explains the popularity of the post coming in at the No. 3 spot, On Whidbey Island with 'Farmer Bob' and His Inspiration Garden. But I also think that asking a travel writer who's written about places hither and yon to turn inward toward her own backyard yielded just a truly wonderful piece about gardening, family, and what it means to call a place home. She mentioned to me how surprised she was by the response, and I believe her readers were hungry for this self-made profile.

The Frause's Whidbey Island garden is a very special place, just perfect for our regular 'inspiration garden' feature. It's inspired me ever since I had the pleasure of staying there back in 2008, and it continues to remind me of what's possible. 

No. 2 - Long Live the Squash Tunnel!

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Anthony and the freshly made bamboo tunnel.

As I mentioned above, Anthony's bamboo squash tunnel piece received quite a bit of attention, boosting it to second place for the year. It's possible that in a gardening-focused time of high unemployment, the prospect of a free bamboo tunnel for veggies was too strong to resist. 

Tragically, the squash tunnel fell victim to one of our dramatic Midwestern summer storms, but for a time, the arch anchored the garden, supporting cucumbers and, of course, squash, as well as providing birds with an interesting place to roost. Besides, it just looked so cool.

No. 1 - This One's for the Birds

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A surprise search-engine darling for us this year is Easy DIY Bird Baths for Your Stay-at-Home Pleasure. It regularly brings in readers in the same vein as the squash tunnel piece, as a highly thrifty way to get out in the garden and do something ecologically minded. 

I think what consistently puts this one ahead is that it's about a good, original idea: to use leftover tempered glass pot lids as reservoirs for bird baths. I've never seen anyone do this before, and it's surprising because it works so well. I still have four variations of them in the garden this winter, and the birds continue to use them on a daily basis. They're easy to clean and care for, and the tempered glass ensures they stand up to the extremes of winter and summer weather.

There you have it. I'm not sure we'll be able to keep up the once-per-week pace in 2021, especially since Cat in the Flock still doesn't earn any income for us. On that note, if you're a fan of our content, consider popping a few into our tip jar - and tell your friends about us. The more the merrier in this flock!

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On Whidbey Island with 'Farmer Bob' and His Inspiration Garden

Garden 3
Farmer Bob's garden includes a greenhouse, barn, and chicken house. ©SueFrausePhoto

By Sue Frause

Editor's note: Today's 'inspiration garden' guest post is extra-special to me. I had the pleasure of working with writer Sue Frause back in 2007-09, when I served as deputy editor of Crosscut. Around the same time, I also had the privilege of staying at the guest apartment on Whidbey Island that she and 'Farmer Bob' offered to city folk like me. Whidbey is one of my most favorite places on the planet. It's a short ferry ride from Seattle but feels worlds away, and the Frause House easily undid me with its charm and the owners' hospitality. Here's Sue.

Welcome to Farmer Bob’s Garden on Whidbey Island. While many folks are sprouting green thumbs during the coronavirus pandemic, Farmer Bob’s turned green many moons ago. But first, a bit of backgrounder about Farmer Bob - who also happens to be my husband. 

Bob Frause and I were married in the summer of 1974, but his love of gardening started long before. “My first gardening experience was at age three at our home in Burien, south of Seattle,” said Bob. “It was always a large garden and a family affair, with work to be done.” That meant spading, laying down manure, weeding, and picking and preserving the crops. “One of my big dreams as a kid was to live on a farm and have a garden.” 

Bob in Garden
A three-year old 'Farmer Bob' pictured in the 1940s at his family's garden south of Seattle.

Although our first year as a married couple started out in a Seattle apartment, that didn’t stop Bob from growing a few crops. He built small planter boxes and placed them outside our fourth-floor kitchen window on the fire escape. “We had lettuce and tomatoes coming up until the Seattle Fire Department made us remove them just as the crop was in full bloom,” recalled Bob. 

After moving to Whidbey Island in 1975, where we bought a 1930s house on three acres in Langley, Bob planted his first ‘official’ garden - and he’s been digging in the dirt ever since. During those early years, the yearly plowing of the garden was always a chore. Our first springtime tilling of the soil was done by a neighbor who rotovated the garden with his tractor. The next few years, we rented a rototiller, but eventually ended up buying a Masport cultivator from New Zealand. It was a small machine and took a long time to till, but it worked for several seasons. And then Farmer Bob moved into the ‘real gardening’ category, purchasing a used Troy-Bilt rear tine tiller from a friend’s father. To this day, Bob continues to use the Troy-Bilt for smaller finishing jobs, but for the past 7-8 years, he’s been working the soil with his Kubota tractor and its five-foot wide rototiller. 

Sunflower

Ongoing improvements at Frause Acres are a big part of Farmer Bob’s garden. Fruit trees were planted early on and included apple, Italian plum, peach, and cherry trees (our neighbor’s goat devoured one of the apple trees down to the ground one year, but it survived and is now the largest tree in the garden). New structures were also added, including a large barn, chicken house, greenhouse, and a seven-foot high fence around the entire garden to keep out the deer. At the same time, we were also raising chickens, rabbits, turkeys, and cows - which resulted in plenty of free manure for the garden.

So what does Farmer Bob’s garden grow? Annual crops include arugula, beets, lettuce, radishes, spinach, garlic, onions, lettuce, carrots, beans (pole and dried), peas, corn, broccoli, cabbage, squash, cucumbers, 4-5 types of peppers, tomatoes, pumpkins, basil, and sunflowers. Perennials in the garden include artichokes, herbs, raspberries, strawberries, horseradish, and a variety of flowers. 

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A basket of summer vegetables from Farmer Bob's garden. ©SueFrausePhoto

Over the past 40+ years, we established a farm business and sold beef, eggs, vegetables, and preserves - the idea being to defray the expenses of farming and gardening. And for a number of years, Farmer Bob sold basil to local stores and restaurants under the Bob’s Basil Factory brand.

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Farmer Bob brings in a batch of basil for pesto making. ©SueFrausePhoto

So what about harvest time? “Processing the bounty has been a chore, but fun,” says Bob. “We freeze, dry, pickle, and juice a lot of what we grow.” He even designed Farmer Bob labels for jams, jellies, and pickles. Vegetables from the garden (along with veggie starts from the greenhouse) are given to family, friends, and neighbors.

Farmer Bob Jam
Farmer Bob's Whidbey Island Raspberry Jam. ©SueFrausePhoto

Several aspects of Farmer Bob’s garden have evolved since those early days. For several years, we invited friends for a summer dinner party in the garden. The only requirement was that all the dishes (except the meat/fish of choice and beverages) had to originate from the garden. This was long before ‘farm to table’ became a global trend. 

In 2021, Farmer Bob’s Garden turns 45 years old. Let’s hope we can all gather around the table once again for a summer dinner party in the garden with friends. And raise a toast to Farmer Bob, whose childhood dream to have a farm and garden really did come true.

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Bob and Sue Frause's son Max and granddaughter Emilia head out to feed the chickens. ©SueFrausePhoto

H-l-about

Sue Frause is a prolific, long-time journalist and photographer whose work has appeared in print and online in the U.S. and abroad. For 15 years, she wrote an award-winning column for The South Whidbey Record. She currently writes not one, not two, but three blogs: Eat|Play|Sleep, Closet Canuck, and married to martha. She is also a regular on Around the World Radio. In her many travels, she's visited all seven continents, but her favorite place in the world is right there on Whidbey Island.

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We Go a Bit Daffy for Daffodils

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We Go a Bit Daffy for Daffodils

Tahiti

By Lisa Brunette

A curious thing happened this spring here at the Dragon Flower Farm. All manner of daffodils sprouted up and rung their little bells to signal the change of season. It was curious because this is our second spring here at the farmhouse, and last year, we didn't get this kind of show. We think the latency might be because the year we bought our house, the developer who flipped it had basically razed the grounds down to nothing but short grass and nubs. Since bulbs won't flower again if you cut their leaves too early, they might have gone into a bit of shock from that defoliation and needed time to recover. The neighbors told us the yard used to be full of flowers every spring, and now we can see it for ourselves!

Daffodils are of course a classic harbinger of spring, and that's definitely true in St. Louis, where they grow in abundance. Living here again and experiencing the full four seasons in all their extremes has put me back into that mode of feeling a rare joy to see them as winter gives way to spring. To have them suddenly come up like crazy on my own property amped up the good feelings considerably.

The orange-tinged beaut pictured above is growing in huge clusters near the front stoop and in the back where we tore out the old chainlink fence in the fall. I'd never seen one like it, so I took to Instagram for some ID help from our followers. Jason Delaney of @phsdaffodils informed me it's a double daffodil called Narcissus 'Tahiti.' Hybridized by the great Irish daffodil breeder J. Lionel Richardson, 'Tahiti' was introduced in 1956 and is "one of the most awarded double daffodils in the garden and exhibition sectors," according to Delaney. So we have a prestigious daffodil growing right here on the farm.

Delaney's Insta feed will make any daff lover salivate, by the way. In addition to his own version of the 'Tahiti,' he posted THIS INCREDIBLE FREAK OF A FLOWER whose name 'Sunny Girlfriend' doesn't even begin to do it justice.

Freakyfurlydaff

I. Want. That. Flower.

It's a really gorgeous spring here in the River City, so let me show you more from out and about. My brother Jason is over in Illinois (St. Louis is a "bi-state area," for those of you who don't know. We're on the Missouri side, but Illinois is just across the Mississippi River, so our culture hugs the riverbanks on either side.) He sent this pic from his own yard, the classic yellow daffodil.

Jasondaff
They're audacious and a little surprising, the way they pop up after months of cold.

Jason and I also went hiking one afternoon recently, and we came across a cluster of daffodils that had naturalized in the middle of the woods. This was on a hiking trail on the grounds of the World Bird Sanctuary, which is worth a visit even if you can't manage the two-mile hike through the hills around it. These daffodils are pure white with just a small red rim on a yellow-centered corona. Gorgeous, no?

Daff red center

Here's one growing in shade behind our house, a smaller flower than Jason's but still in that classic style. There are more than 14,000 daffodil cultivars, so I don't have the ID on this one nailed down, but it could be Narcissus 'Akala.'

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Narcissus 'Akala'?

This weekend, my husband and I met my sister and her family at The Butterfly House, where they were having a native plant sale. Speaking of natives, of course daffodils are not native to Missouri, but... what can I say? It's springtime, and they're beautiful. We have a quarter-acre to fill, and if there are already some daffodils (and other bulbs) taking up a few slivers, I think that's OK. We're not purists. Anyway, both my sister and I bought a few native plants, and I'll talk about those selections in a later post. But for now, the garden around the Butterfly House was in full spring glory, and that meant bulb flowers.

Daff and pink tulip
At The Butterfly House.

The subtle pastels put us into an Easter-y mood, especially with my nieces, aged 5 and 7, along with us. The five-year-old is all unicorns and ballet tutus, but the seven-year-old prefers a fire-breathing dragon, or Darth Vader if we're really getting into it. So pastels for one and bold primaries for the other.

Daff and red tulip
Also at The Butterfly House.

The Butterfly House is part of the world-renowned Missouri Botanical Garden, and it shows in the grounds, which are a lovely frame for the butterflies within. If you visit St. Louis, you have to check out both these places.

Back to the scope of farms and yards... While we're amazed here to have a few clusters of 'Akala' and her showier cousin, 'Tahiti,' some of the people I know are being treated to vast swathes of daffodils on their land, such as this array in the suburban property of my friend the mystery writer Pam De Voe.

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Photos courtesy Pam De Voe.

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Says Pam of her yard:

Ours is not the typical suburban manicured backyard. We do keep the front yard neatly mowed, etc., for our community, but I like a more natural look, and we can get away with that in the back.

If you like mysteries, you should check out Pam's work. She has a new one out in her Ming Dynasty Series called No Way to Die, and this Easter weekend only, the ebook version will be 100 percent free at this link.

Nowaytodie

What's getting YOU going this spring? We never tire of flower shots, and we love to hear of folks' struggles and triumphs in the dirt. Feel free to share below.

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