Sally, The Gardening Guru,  Sally is a life-long Michigan gardener.



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Deck the Hall with Fall

 by Sally the Garden Guru


Oh, putting that garden down! While we concentrate on pulling out the leggy petunias and putting a few pots of chrysanthemums on the front porch to assure folks that we know it’s autumn, that very concentration often prevents us from also realizing that there is a whole lot of productive gardening left--some live plants, some dried, and some for next spring. In fact, now is the right time to plant spring bulbs and sow some seeds suitable for a late fall harvest, many greens and lettuces, for instance. It is the time to divide perennials, replanting some divisions for strong plants next year and giving others away to gardening friends. It’s time to hunt the ditches for cattails, interesting pods and a few good weeds. Such rustic bounty signals that nature is announcing autumn. Perhaps they are a signal for us, too:  Deck the halls with fall…and also the mailbox, window boxes, decks, porches and doorways.


Where do we start?  Thankfully, in Michigan, if you seek a pleasant idea, look around you. There are many, but sometimes they are akin to the “hidden pictures” of childhood. But, with a concentrated perspective, you’ll find things to bring autumn into the home right in your own garden or yard and in roadway ditches and woodsy trails, too. There are even ideas in putting away the summer garden. Consider these starting points:

…As you empty pots of their summer plantings, take cuttings to root from suitable plants and vines. Tender ivies, pachysandra and common impatiens are only a few of many, many plants that root easily and give color to fall and autumn homes.  Garden shops and catalogs offer beautiful, colored Italian glass “rooters” that are sheer joy in a sunny window.

… Scrub the summer’s  pots well with a disinfectant in the water, and reserve the prettiest pots in various sizes to use now.  Large ones can be focal points aside doors, including garage doors, when filled with interesting twiggy and grasses, and even the smallest pots are bright spots on the desk with a few rose hips and the dried herbs or special grasses like lemon grass.


…This time of year, local markets feature gourds for easy arrangements and dill, meant for pickles, is great fill material in natural arrangements.  The bright orange of dried Chinese Lanterns is lasting--and, with miniature pumpkins--perfect for Halloween time, too


… Mature rose hips, large and colorful, from tough garden roses (rugosa) or from wild roses in the woods are the old faithfuls of dried arrangements, giving bright reds to holiday arrangements.


… Alone, and placed in a perfect place, even a handsome stone brings nature and art into the home.  Artists are known to wrap a smooth stone in twine or raffia like a precious package.


… Do you have a blue room?  Small bouquets of fall’s sky blue roadside chicory work nicely into a blue theme.  Frilly white Queen Anne’s Lace is the perfect background for more prominent blooms, fresh or dried. 


…. Rings, often called “collars” by florists, blossoms, fresh or dried (cut stems short) that circle inside the rim of a low container. The star of the arrangement is placed in the middle. Materials, last of summer fresh or newly dried, work well. Perhaps your (or a friend’s) garden will furnish fresh leek blossoms before they go to seed. Also, French marigolds, dills, fennels, lavenders, sages and savories and the last large leaves of summer lettuces from palest green to darkest red make attractive collars in low bowls to highlight one last dahlia or a late-blooming clematis.


… Here, in our countryside, in our small city, we can’t miss with cornstalks. We all can find a farmer’s market nearby or on a short drive from the city.  Those last leggy petunias will never be missed.

# Sally Ketchum is a northern Michigan garden and food writer.  She likes to hunt in her gardens and woods to find pretty or unusual plants, live or to dry or already dried, to arrange with a few other natural autumn treasures—pods, twigs and stones.



Author and Gardener

Sally D. Ketchum


Super Student/

Happy Kid!

A Practical Student Success Guide for Everyone

by Sally D. Ketchum


Sally Ketchum is a Michigan food and garden writer. She works in a large kitchen garden, two herb gardens and borders with English roses. 


Sally is also the author of Super Student/Happy Kid, a practical student success guide for everyone.


Sally's Summer Garden






“I do not have to lean or   squat,

To garden in a lovely pot.

A basket full of marigold

A mini-garden to behold.

Color in a window box

A bright array of Four O’ Clocks

Pale water lilies in a bowl

Are ample garden for my soul.

--Sally D. Ketchum

Field of Dreams

(Farm markets)

 by Sally the Garden Guru


While a few of us can look the window and look over amber waves of grain and  some of us might see a tomato plant or two in a small kitchen garden; a lot of us are city folks whose windows have more urban views. Nevertheless a field of dreams is possible for all, and that particular bounty is in our local farm markets.


In mid-summer farmers spread the generosity of nature in bushels and baskets and stacked in pyramids and mounded in colorful heaps on tractor-trailers. From apples to zucchini, local vegetables fill recipes, inspire recipes or simply serve as snacks or as dishes in a healthy menu. Do you aim to eat a certain number of servings of fruit and vegetables daily?  Farm markets are an answer.


Obviously getting the freshest, usually organically grown, produce is a worthy accomplishment. And as, experienced customers of farm markets say, “they are an uplifting experiences.  Psychologists agree.  University of Michigan’s experts on mental health suggest, “breaking the supermarket habit.” By this, they mean passing up impersonal supermarkets for specialty stores and, when possible, shopping farm markets.


At farm markets, the buyer can talk to the seller (in this case the farmer of farm family member), get information about how the produce is grown, what its special merits are, and—if ever so lucky—a possible tip on preparation or even a recipe!  Ginny Girard, a Michigan State home economist, says that getting to know the growers means that the shopper gets information such as what is the best and freshest produce and who has it.  Besides chatting with the growers, here are some tips for getting the freshest and finest vegetables in season and having the happiest shopping experience to boot!


Green and yellow snap beans: choose those that are about the same size, the size you prefer for cooking and presentation. Beans should be free of spots, crisp and they should “snap” when broken as their names suggest. Seeds should be hardly visible.


Broccoli: Avoid limp, hollow-stemmed, loose-headed heads. Look for closely bunched flowers with a blue cast. The best will be kept cold, even iced.


Carrots: If the tops look fresh, the roots will be fresh, too. There are many colors available in carrots now, purple to yellow. Deep colors signify high vitamin A content.


Eggplant:  A glossy skin means fresh eggplant. Happily, farm markets, unlike most stores, may have eggplants in different types and colors: purple, fuchsia, green and white, and also in a variety of sizes and shapes and ethnic types, Italian, Oriental, Lebanese and more. The best will seem heavy. If you can easily impress a mark with a finger, the eggplant is too old. (Diet tip: Baked eggplants stuffed with other vegetables and grains and mixed with the eggplant flesh are among the healthiest of all vegetable dishes. Look for recipes.)


Greens: Lettuces, spinaches, chard, leafy herbs and the newly popular greens like mizuna, rocket and mustard-spinach crosses should have springiness about them. “Crisp” is the key.


Leeks: Fresh leeks should have moist upper leaves and clean root ends.


Melons: Cantaloupes should have an old-fashioned cantaloupe fragrance. Since watermelons can no longer be  “plugged” for taste, a shopper might thump to hopefully hear a hollow sound. The watermelon stem should be attached, and the underside should be a pale yellow. Honeydews will have a fruity scent and be very slightly soft at the stem end.


Onions and garlic: Green onions should be bright green, moist and firm. Garlic heads should be fat. Avoid yellowish or very dry heads.


Peppers: Peppers should feel heavy. Red peppers are more mature and will not keep as long.


Summer squash: Small squash are by far the best. Look for unblemished young squash under 7 inches and baby squash about 3 inches in diameter.


Tomatoes: Some of America’s best chefs, e.g. Alice Waters and Paul Bertolli, will not use fresh tomatoes out of season. In season, look to the farm markets for a range of taste and color in tomatoes. Fruit should be firm, although very ripe, but not spotted, tomatoes are good for sauces. Take advantage of the heirlooms, the best in taste and available at farm markets but rare at stores since they do not ship well commercially. These include

Brandywines, German Green, Old Yellow Pear, Oxhart, Arkansas Traveler, Yellow Sausage (paste) and Opalka (paste).


Exploration of a local farm market is a shopper’s field of dreams. It is a happy

time. There is camaraderie among farmers and customers. There are sensations that delight the eyes with the color and the nose with the fresh fragrances. It is no wonder that health experts find market shopping invigorating.  Often, adding an irresistible purchase or two enriches the fun. The surprise might be an informal bouquet of cosmos and cornflowers or dried Bells of Ireland.  On rare occasions, and very happy ones indeed, a small child, finishing shopping with the family might tag along behind, holding a small puppy or kitten. Family shopping.  America’s local farm markets. Fields of dreams.


"Adopt the pace of nature;

her secret is patience."



by Luanne Torblaa


Weeds, yes, weeds! What an appropriate subject for spring. Some people are probably sneezing because of them at this very moment. A weed is a plant of no value that chokes out desirable growth. Everyone has a few obnoxious growths to contend with whether you're an apartment dweller, renter, or a mortgage owner; weeds are an aggravation yet a beauty.


Without a few weeds around in yards and fields it would look rather boring around here. Just look at all the free blue ground cover, small white flowers sprouting and yellow posies on the landscape. These and other wild flowers grow from weeds. In fact, many states have wild flowers as their state flower. Children are attracted to weed-flowers; they pick bouquets for everyone in the neighborhood. It makes kids proud to decorate the kitchen table with such beauties of nature. I know a few grown-ups who do the same, especially while camping. Some weeds make gorgeous arrangements, fresh or dried; most of the time they're free to the picker.


Weeds come in all shapes, sizes and colors; and they functional to boot. They're used to spice foods, make potpourri sachets, salad greens, decorations and to enhance flower arrangements. Although, you can get arrested if you smoke them. Who'd think a thing such as a weed could be so useful? Even the color green seems to blend with everything.


Gardeners have a tough time controlling these green sticks. Weeds seem to grow where they're  not wanted, and proliferate at that. Some farmers even grow weeds, such as dandelions, on  a controlled basis to sell as salad greens. Lawn tenders usually spray them until they're brown and disappear. I truly believe a few weeds in a lawn are acceptable and even colorful, but then, I'm in the minority. A favorite pastime of my kids  was to blow the dandelion white seeds all over the yard. (Dad just loves it!) We spend lots of money to fertilize weeds, then more to eliminate them. Whoever said grass had to simulate a green velvet carpet? As long as the lawn is not full of stickers and rocks; you can play football and volleyball on it.


Happy weed sneezing, and pulling this season! Try not to sacrifice too many fingernails, protect your knees, watch out for your back and don't sneeze too hard (hernias, you know). Weeds are sometimes more trouble than they're worth. Maybe we should just enjoy them!



Author, Luanne Torblaa


For Books and items by Luanne, click on the links below.




Bride/Groom embroidered

golf shirts


Flower Girl/

Ring Bearer embroidered




Glass Slipper

Shoe Bags


Hand -Crocheted Poopa Ducks


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