Coached into Growing


By Donna Balzer

Peggy really wanted to grow food but she wasn’t sure if she had the time or the place. We were meeting over Skype for a coaching session and I was trying to inspire her to just get growing.

“Grow a sprout overnight, a micro-green in a week or a radish in a month,” I said with a grin. “It’s so simple!”

Peggy was ready to give greens a try in her small apartment because she wanted home-grown edibles ASAP. Sprouts are the speediest but micro-greens take less than a week from seeding to eating and they look more like real food. And if she had more time? I suggested she grow radish – it only takes a month.

A garden in the traditional sense is too far off for Peggy, especially in Canada in February Balzer Greens on a Plate.jpgwhen we are months away from outdoor gardening. With fingers twitching and green thumbs fading, Peggy wanted to get growing. So I prescribed micro-green pea shoots. All she needed was a few seeds, an open plastic tray, potting mix, and a heat mat.

Seed left over from last year’s garden is good enough. You can also buy special seed at Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds. The plastic plant tray is probably in your shed or garage, left over from last year’s bedding plant season. Whatever you use, make sure it has drainage holes in the bottom.

I recommend filling the tray with moistened, sterile potting mix such as Pro-Mix instead of real soil. I’ve seen seeds rot and mildew when grown in compost or garden soil. In fact to prevent disease it is best to use clean, sterile soil for each batch planted. All the energy needed for greens is in the seed, but disease can cling to the flats or soil. I fill the flat with 3 cm. (about an inch and a half) of new potting mix and generously sprinkle the seed in a fairly thick single layer. Then I spread additional soil to cover the seed and water well so the soil is completely saturated.

I use a “diaper” under the soil-filled tray so the water doesn’t pour out as soon as it is added to the standard 28 by 44 cm. (11 by 17 inches) plastic tray. A layer of felt or section of newspaper makes a great diaper and stops the flooding.

Once excess water is drained away, I place the flat on a heating mat such as the Jump Start heating seed mat. If you have a grow light or an in-floor heating system (as is common in Canadian homes) you can start seeds on top of the lights or warm floor instead of on the special mat. Seeds will sprout in a day or two like regular sprouts. In six days micro-greens are tall, tasty, and edible.

Balzer Microgreens.jpgFor traditional seed starting I generally use a four-foot bank of lights. The stacked lighting is a fabulous luxury, if you can afford it, but only if you are going to get serious about growing salads. If you just want a few micro-greens to add to store-bought salad mix, you can do without lights.

The mistake I first made growing micro-greens was to put them under grow lights. This kept them short and stocky. This is fine if you’re starting full-sized plants for the garden but they were so short they were hard to cut as greens. As soon as I balanced the trays on top of my bank of lights instead of under them, my luck and my crop changed. The roots were warmed by the lights below them while the stems were forced to reach for the light. With this change the micro-greens looked just like the sprouts I saw for sale at the market – tall, delicate, and thin. Who doesn’t want to grow something that looks as good as store-bought?

Not long ago I wrote about this on my website. When I was getting photographs taken for my page I forced Dan, my photographer, to try a bite of some pea greens I had grown for the photo shoot. He winced. Pulled away a bit. But I pushed them up to his mouth. He was forced to take a bite.

“Mmm, that is good. It tastes like green peas.” Not surprisingly, onion microgreens also taste like onions and kale greens taste like kale.

As you dream of spring, you can enjoy the taste of summer if you start growing micro-greens on a regular basis. Depending on the size of your family a tray of greens might be enough for a week’s worth of salads. My coaching student Peggy decided to start with half a tray because she lives alone.

It is great to keep the rotation going by starting new seeds again in a second tray the day you start harvesting the first batch. Then, like Peggy, you can grow food even when the outdoor temperatures are frigid and nothing inspires you to step outside.


Meet the Author

balzer_i5a9174Garden expert, speaker and author, Donna Balzer is also a regular guest on CBC radio in Alberta, Canada and host of internationally aired Bugs & Blooms on HGTV. She helps gardeners grow and beginners blossom so they can have lots of fun growing great gardens using simple practical tips. Get connected with her at

The Hamster in the Wheel

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By Karen Chapman 

“And what do you do?”

“I’m a landscape designer…and an author, freelance garden writer, speaker, coach, consultant, and keen garden photographer. I maintain our 5 acre garden, help my husband with marketing his woodturning business and I’m a new nana and….” Geesh, I’m exhausted just listening to myself yet this is my 2017 answer. Ten years ago the answer would have been “a container garden designer.” Twenty years ago – full time Mum and part time music teacher. Thirty years ago? Research scientist.

Our lives and careers evolve, often in directions we never imagined. How do we balance all these facets and associated demands? How do we live a life full of passion and creativity yet still pay the bills?

I certainly don’t have all the answers but by sharing my journey I hope to help you to assess your own choices, ultimately leading to a more balanced life while avoiding the crazy “hamster in the wheel” syndrome, where no matter how fast you run you never seem to reach the end.

What is Your Motivation?

Chapman Foliage First cover.jpgMy goal when starting a container garden design business ten years ago was simply to earn enough money to put our two children through college. My husband was earning a healthy paycheck in the IT industry so I had the luxury of accepting or declining clients as whim and inspiration called. However, after a series of injuries, I realized that this physically demanding career was going to be short lived. I needed to diversify – fast.

Thus began my writing career when I was asked to design and write about a number of shade container gardens for Fine Gardening in 2006. Other than scientific papers I hadn’t written anything more original than shopping lists since graduating from University. I soon discovered that I loved this new outlet for sharing my enthusiasm for gardening and design. From this the seed for eventually writing a book was sown.

The following year I joined GWA and started my blog, Garden Adventures for Thumbs of All Colors. I acquired a wide range of readers – home gardeners, editors, plant growers, and publishers. Those blog posts led to other writing assignments as well as consultation and design clients.

In these early days, before I established my reputation as a designer and writer I gladly accepted low paying writing assignments for companies such as Houzz. These expanded my areas of influence, built my resume, and helped me understand the nuances of working with different editorial styles and meeting deadlines. Did I work for “exposure”? Sure. I knew no better and I had nothing to lose – then. But things change.


A major shift came in 2012 when my husband lost his job. Suddenly I was the sole earner. I had to make every minute count. Working for free or “exposure” was no longer an option. Spending two days to write a short piece for Houzz that only earned $40 was not a good use of my time. Funnily enough, as soon as I turned down these so-called opportunities I received requests from other companies and websites asking me to write for them at a much better rate. This helped validate that potentially risky decision.

Now I started to seek clients who were not only asking for a garden design but had a healthy budget to see it installed by professionals. By offering my services as a project consultant I was able to significantly increase my income from the earlier container gardening or design-only clients.


As part of my business marketing I now write both a newsletter and a re-vamped blog but I Chapman High res book cover.jpghave discovered that more people sign up for my newsletter than my blog. It therefore makes sense for me to spend more time sending out a newsletter every month or quarter (with plenty of calls to action and links to buy services and products) than I do writing informative but non-income generating blog posts.

Are blogs worth the time it takes to write the post? This is a question many of us have asked in recent years. Why are you writing a blog? For me it was initially about creating an online presence, establishing a following, building a brand, and learning how to write concisely, accurately, and quickly. I achieved all that but I have now reduced my posts from twice a week to twice a month. My focus today is to use the blog to promote my landscape design business first and foremost as well as sell books, video classes, events, and workshops. I don’t need to write so often to get the financial results I want.

My income from publishing (freelance writing, book royalties, sale of photographs, and shared revenue from Craftsy videos) now exceeds that from design. I am strategic in my agreement to work for ‘exposure’ – there has to be a really good reason, either philanthropic or business, to give my time, resources, and expertise away.

I am still the primary earner but thanks to the success of my husband’s new business Stumpdust, some of the pressure has been alleviated. We have also reduced our monthly expenses by making significant changes to our lifestyle.

Today my focus is to find the balance between enjoying our new grandchild and generating a livable wage. Both writing and landscape design will continue to provide our primary income while allowing me to work flexible hours. I also am beginning to generate some supplemental income from photography.

My peers and friends at GWA continue to provide me with a sounding board and offer both support and advice as I navigate each step. While I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, I am learning how to adapt to new challenges and changing times. I understand the importance of re-evaluating my personal hamster wheel on a regular basis. How about you?

Meet the Author 

Karen Chapman.jpgBorn in England, Karen owns Le jardinet, a Seattle based landscape design business. She is co-author with Christina Salwitz of Gardening with Foliage First (Timber Press, 2017) and the award winning Fine Foliage (St. Lynn’s Press, 2013). See her author blog at

Photo-Gardening: A Texas Blogger’s Perspective

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By: Bill Adams

Adams Mixed radicchios_Web.jpgOutside there’s a garden photo opportunity pulling at me. A section of lettuce transplants that I covered with a worn out piece of fiber row cover is doing much better than the plants on the side that didn’t get covered. My camera is currently outside, acclimating to the temperature/humidity of Texas so I won’t be frustrated with a fogged lens when the time comes to snap photos of that lettuce.

As I sit at my computer to write, I confess I’d rather be either working in my garden or photographing it. But GWA Grows editor Ann McCormick has inspired me to give this blog thing a shot so here I am.

Break time. I escaped outdoors just before the sun blazed through the clouds. I was able to get a few shots in the soft morning light. Back inside I stared at the computer for a while then decided to take another break. I managed to get a few rows of ‘Little Gem’ lettuce seedlings moved before I was pulled back inside again. And so the morning goes – write, photograph, garden, garden, photograph, repeat.

I confess I love photography as much as I love gardening. But it always seems to me that Adams transplants with row cover.jpgthe perspiration flows more freely when I’m trying to capture a clean, creative photo than it does when I’m hoeing weeds. I remind myself, “Look, and look some more before you click the shutter because fixing it in Photoshop is a pain in the A—.” But I have to admit that digital photography is wonderful and pixels are cheap. One SD card can last me for months, if not years.

I think garden writing and photography just naturally go together. In all my years of garden communication – writing, speaking, radio, and TV– I’ve used very few stock photos and have never written about a garden that someone else photographed. There’s nothing wrong with this type of collaboration. But I prefer having the photography skill to complement my writing. I wish the GWA Media Awards included a category for writing and photography combined.

Adams Roxanne_clean.jpgYou can see the results of my style of garden communication at Bill’s Blog, which I write for Arbor Gate Nursery in the Houston, Texas area. I cover a variety of garden subjects, from a recent trip to Ireland to my lust for tasty tomatoes. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to my garden. There’s a great photo calling my name.


Meet the Author:

Adams Bill with Burgundy onions.jpgGWA member William D. (Bill) Adams joined the organization in 1974. He’s an Oklahoma State graduate, worked for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension in Houston for 31 years and loves gardening, writing about his Central Texas garden, and photographing it. Bill has written for newspapers, magazines and still has three books in print. He has served as a Regional Director for several terms and is the outgoing National Director for Region V. Bill’s wife Debbi is also a member of GWA.

Talking Shop With Growers: An Interview With Proven Winners ColorChoice Flowering Shrubs

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By Katie Elzer-Peters

When I left the GWA Annual Conference in Atlanta this summer the bellman who helped me load my plants and wheel 17 bags to my car said, “All of this dirt…it just appeared out of nowhere!” he exclaimed. “What were you AT?”

Proven Winners ColorChoice Logo 2 Color.jpgLeaves, flowers, and potting soil are all but inevitable in the wake of GWA conferences, thanks to exhibitors such as Proven Winners ColorChoice Flowering Shrubs (PW), and we love them for it. My garden is a bit of a showcase for plants from GWA exhibitors – that is, when I actually get the plants in the ground. I admitted as much to Mark Osgerby, who handles Public Relations and Marketing for PW, when we chatted on the phone recently.

“I’m either your best friend or your worst nightmare when it comes to plant trialing,” I confessed. “Other people will send you beautiful photography [of your plants]. In my case, IF the plants actually make it into the ground, they’re in the harshest area of the garden that is farthest from water. I’m also quite good at trialing bench-worthiness, a.k.a. letting them sit too long before planting.” I admitted this, knowing I might be taken off the plant sample list for next year. Continue reading “Talking Shop With Growers: An Interview With Proven Winners ColorChoice Flowering Shrubs”

My first GWA Regional Meeting at New England Grows

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By Jan Johnsen

On Friday, December 2, we held the Region I GWA meeting in the Boston Convention Center during the landscape show, New England Grows. This year NEG event coordinators changed the date from their normal February time slot to the beginning of December. They did this to get around the snow problems encountered during the last few shows. This also made sense for the heavy equipment sellers since their customers in the past had been out snow plowing and could not get in to see the new plows, mowers, and excavators on display.

johnsen-new-england-growsHowever the date change to early December did not make sense for the landscapers, designers, and garden center workers who were all at the height of their Christmas decoration craziness! Many of those landscape professionals simply could not get away at this busy and lucrative time of year to go to an industry show in Boston. As a result the show floor was stocked with heavy equipment but other categories appeared to be under-represented this year.

The unusual timing of the show was also reflected in a smaller member turnout for our Johnsen Monica Hemingway.jpgGWA meeting. This was a shame since we had a fabulous speaker, Monica Hemingway of ITG Multimedia. She opened our eyes to the oh-so-important world of websites, email marketing, social media, and so much more. It was one of the best talks I have attended in a very long time. I urge you to attend any talk Monica gives.

The other noteworthy aspect of our meeting was the wonderful variety of donated garden products members received. My fellow Region I GWA Director Carmen DeVito did an amazing job of getting sponsors for the meeting. We had an impressive selection of wonderful Timber Press books to raffle off. I also raffled off three issues of Garden Design Magazine. One of our meeting sponsors, Sandy Parco of Neptune’s Harvest, gave a short talk about organic fertilizers and gave us Johnsen Crab Shell.jpgeach free bottles of two of his products. Sandy’s talk was very enlightening. Being a soil nerd, I wanted to know more about his new crab shell product. What great benefits we enjoy at these meetings!

This was my first GWA Region I meeting. I was running it along with our new Region I National Director, C. L. Fornari. She guided me through the set up – who knew that ordering coffee, tea, and cookies could be so complicated? I think the best bit of advice I can give is to bring a small rolling carry-on bag to transport items like books from the hotel to the meeting room. I packed it with the goodies to give out to everyone and rolled it over. Easy peasy!

I really enjoyed meeting the GWA members that came and look forward to hosting other meetings. I am talking to Roger Marshall about having one in Rhode Island…any other ideas out there for Region I? If so, feel free to contact me at


Meet the Author

jan-johnsenJan Johnsen is a longtime landscape designer and author of Heaven is a Garden who loves to share her passion for gardens and the natural world. Her blog is ‘Serenity in the Garden’ and her FB page is Serenity in the Garden blog (among others). Her upcoming book is The Spirit of Stone, published by St. Lynn’s Press (February, 2017). Her firm’s website is at


Homegrown Marketing Strategies

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by Niki Jabbour

When my first book, The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener, was nearing release in late 2011, I realized that I needed a game plan to spread the word. My publisher had an in-house marketing department but that didn’t mean I shouldn’t also take responsibility for my book’s marketing. I began to talk to fellow authors, research marketing strategies, and scour the internet for advice and ideas.

From my research I developed a marketing game plan. I joined social media (better late than never!), placed the typical author order of postcards and bookmarks (waste of time and money), and wrote posts on my blog (definitely worthwhile). Since then, I’ve written two more books. With my latest one set for release in 2017 I’m once again beginning to shift into marketing mode.

My marketing strategies have changed dramatically since that first book in 2011. I’m more active in GWA. I travel across North America to talk to gardeners at clubs, shows, botanical gardens, and conservatories. I’ve even become a savvy social media marketer. Here are four homegrown marketing strategies gleaned from my experience that I’ll be using in 2017. Continue reading “Homegrown Marketing Strategies”

Cool Plants For a Hot Climate: Region VI Visits Mountain State Wholesale Nursery

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By Noelle Johnson

As a horticulturist in the desert Southwest, I rely on attractive, drought-tolerant plants for

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Dazzlewine ™ Chiliopsis Courtesy of Mountain State Wholesale Nursery

my client’s landscapes. Plants that I use must thrive in our hot, dry climate while providing beauty. Years ago, few plants fit those criteria, leaving much to be desired. Today, this has changed with local nurseries filled with a large variety of flowering plants and succulents that flourish with little attention to drought tolerant gardens. Many of the arid-adapted plants that we have access to today are due to nurseryman Ron Gass of Mountain State Wholesale Nursery.

Johnson Scott Calhoun Monica Hemingway and Nan Sterman.JPGWhen he arrived in Arizona in 1969, Ron took on the challenge of finding plants suitable for Southwest landscapes. That same year he founded Mountain States Wholesale Nursery (MSWN). His goal was to find native and arid-adapted plants with improved flowering, larger blooms, and less maintenance. Over the years this nursery has become a preeminent grower and developer of arid-adapted plants.

To celebrate their 47th anniversary MSWN recently opened their doors to landscape professionals and writers. GWA’s Region VI Connect event took place at the open house celebration. The folks at MSWN gave us a warm welcome as we arrived on a beautiful, sunny November day.

Before the festivities began, we held our Connect meeting with fellow GWA member Johnson IMG_4349.JPGNicholas Staddon, serving as our host. Members shared with each other the challenges and joys of being a garden communicator in the Southwest. We agreed that people are expressing more interest in gardening. People see it as a way to enrich their lives while benefiting the earth as they focus on growing native plants or plants adapted to the regional climate.

After our meeting was over, we joined the open house festivities. We began with a trolley tour of the 120-acre nursery led by Bart Worthington, General Manager of MSWN. He drove us through fields filled with over a million plants including several new varieties not yet available to the public. MSWN frequently introduces new cultivars and trademarked plants that consistently demonstrate that the Southwestern plant palette isn’t limited to cactus. Of particular interest to us were new varieties of desert willow (Chilopsis linearis) and members of the Hesperaloe group. I know that I wasn’t the only one who was tempted to jump off the trolley to examine these new plants more closely.

Johnson Jacqueline Soule.JPGAfter the field tour we strolled through collections of plants that were introduced by MSWN throughout their 47-year history. Then we enjoyed lunch underneath white tents. Conversation flowed freely between landscape professionals – except for the occasional interruption of F-16 fighter jets from the Air Force Base next door.

During lunch I experienced an unexpected thrill when MSWN founder Ron Gass and his wife Maureen sat at our table for lunch. Ron was incredibly gracious. I felt honored to have had the opportunity to visit with the man who has impacted my career, allowing me to create beautiful outdoor spaces with plants he had developed.

At the end of the event, guests received their choice of one of the newer varieties of

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“Pink Parade” Hesperaloe Courtesy of Mountain State Wholesale Nursery

Hesperaloe cultivated by MSWN. I chose a ‘Pink Parade’ Hesperaloe to take home. It is now planted in a prominent spot in my garden to remind me of that special day.

Meet the Author

Noelle Johnson.jpgNoelle Johnson is a horticulturist, landscape consultant, and certified arborist from the desert southwest. Many know her as the “AZ Plant Lady.” She is passionate about helping people create beautiful, drought tolerant landscapes using plants that thrive in arid climates. In addition to her garden blog, “Ramblings From a Desert Garden,” she has written for several publications including Birds & Blooms, Home Depot, Phoenix Home & Garden Magazine, and Tractor Supply Company. She can also be contacted on Facebook at AZPlantLady and Twitter at AzPlantLady.