Being injured in winter in Summit County is like having a hailstorm wipe out a crop just before harvesting.  With extra time on my hands, I decided to go on my first official Winter Gardening Trip:  The Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle.
Seattle has always held a special place in my heart, living there for a few months 10 years ago. It was where I discovered my passion for horticulture. Attending the second largest flower and garden show in the country was a great opportunity to get back to one of my favorite cities.   Upon entering the show I was blown away by the amazing scent of spring.  Although grey and rainy outside, the endless amount of bulbs, flowers, colors and smells were incredible.  Garden enthusiasts and contributors from around the country filled show gardens, free seminars, and retail booths.
It was the time in the City and on the streets that really inspired and spoke to me.  Spring bulbs planted and blooming in anything and everything in the city, in February.  Beautiful patio container gardens and displays throughout that didn’t appear to go dormant or need rest.  Forsythias, Plums, and Crabapple blooms months ahead of our Zone 3-4 harsh environment.  Fresh markets where you hand pick flowers and vegetables grown in local farm and brought straight to stands.  Everything seems so effortless- endless rain, temperatures above freezing, great food, people and atmosphere.  Here are just a few of the inspirations I took from my time in the Pacific Northwest that I will introduce now, and discuss in more detail later.
1: Create your own space with your own style
Regardless of how big or small your garden space is, creating an area to enjoy on your own is a great way to improve your life.   There has been a lot of research recently suggesting that getting your hands dirty and creating growth can be more successful to your mental and physical health than the billions of dollars spent on medical bills and medications each year in America.   This can apply to almost anything- depression, recovery from cancer, a breakup, anxiety, or any other medical or mental condition you are dealing with.  Short on space or renting?  Containers, containers, containers!  Regardless of the situation (mental or physical) or space you are dealing with, remember to create a space using your own personal style.   Use your favorite colors for blooms or containers, grow your own healing herbs and vegetables, maybe you like to entertain and need a sitting area, a place to practice yoga, perhaps you are looking for somewhere quiet to hang your hammock and escape with a good book.
2: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
While enjoying a Washington Sauvignon Blanc served from the wine garden and shopping, one section of the retail booths in the conference stood out from the rest.  Various antique shops had turned old kitchenware, bed springs, bicycles, painted soup cans, and pretty much anything you could think of into plant containers.  Filled with succulents and pansies it was apparent that anything could be turned into a planter with just a couple rules to follow. Drainage holes are very important for airflow and plant health in all containers and can easily be added with a drill.  Also, be very selective when choosing a container to grow food and veggies- sometimes these antiques are not the best choice.  One of the favorites at the show was an old tire that was turned into a giant teacup planter by garden blogger Sow and Dippity from Canada.  Thrift stores, garage sales and reconsidering items before sending to the landfill can eliminate waste and create more space for your plants.
3: Encourage Nature to live in your Garden
Living in Summit County, we are incredibly lucky to have nature and wildlife right outside our doors.  Hundreds of hiking trails and outdoor activities surrounding us most likely brought you to the area- but let’s not forget the creatures that were here before us.  Planting trees providing cover and putting out bird seed can increase the life expectancy of the various birds that overwinter in Summit County.  Choosing blooms that attract the attention of butterflies, hummingbirds, and pollinators contribute to a healthy ecosystem.  Dandelions are one of the first food sources for bees in Spring so choose an area to control and allow them to bloom- I leave all dandelions in my turf area and remove from garden beds.  Water features attract wildlife and can be as simple as a water pump in an old pot, or as complex as a pond system.  Trust me- I know the frustrations of cleaning up trees and shrubs nibbled by moose and deer, and the presence of the pesky voles munching on my blooms, but remember- they were here first, and creating an area where we can live together is the goal.
4: Where are all the Millennials?
Probably my largest concern and the biggest thing missing from the Pacific Northwest Flower and Garden show was the presence of other people from my generation.  Masses of perfect, white-tight permed elderly women engulfed the convention center, and I can’t help to be a little concerned.  This is an issue that affects everyone in the Horticulture community regardless of your age or area of contribution to the industry.  How can we inspire younger people to grow their own food and plant things that contribute to their environment?  Who do we attract as contractors when we are looking for young minds and strong bodies to hire for summer jobs?  Who will be shopping at garden centers and taking care of the beautiful gardens planted by our grandmothers in the near future?  How exactly can we communicate that gardening is young and hip and necessary for sustaining our environment in the future.  There is not an easy or quick fix. I suggest starting with a social-media presence to learn and share gardening tips with younger generations, and participating in a garden-related community service event.  Mountain Roots also vows to contribute 10% of its sales to local non-profits. The company also has in the works a growing contest for 5th graders with winners receiving grants for college.
5: Shop Local
If you have spent any time at the Pikes Place Market you were probably just as impressed as I repeatedly am with the amount of locally grown fruits, vegetables, and flowers to hand pick from farm to stand.  The endless amount of freshly caught fish and seafood is something I only dream of experiencing in Summit County.   Year-round farmers markets and fresh seafood are out of the question for us but how can we mimic this system of locality and apply it to our community that is so unique and seasonally different? A first step: support Summit County businesses and restaurants.  This summer visit the numerous Farmer’s Market events around the county and supplement (not replace) your shopping list with items purchased here (start small).  Locally grown and supplied items can be more expensive but you are supporting a local family as opposed to a CEO. This could be as simple as purchasing whole bean coffee from a local coffee shop to brew at home as opposed to the grocery store.
6: Encourage growth!
This summer I encourage everyone regardless of your budget, health, personal style, or available space to find the inspiration to grow something.  Remember to start small and be realistic when planning your garden.  Make connections with your neighbors and trade seeds, harvests, and best practices to grow your personal community.  Invite your kids and grandkids to plant, water, harvest, and be a part of the growth of this critical contribution to the future.    Get creative before you throw things out and shop used when possible.  Finally, don’t forget to encourage wildlife to share your outdoor space with you.