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Kitchen Garden Store

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Tucson La Paloma lobby

I can’t say that Tucson is more gorgeous than central Pennsylvania, but it is different gorgeous. The view across the bar in the hotel’s main lobby included a peek at craggy arid mountains unlike anything in my neighborhood.

In a post titled Back from the Garden Writers Symposium in Tucson, I reported about my trip to the annual conference held this year in Arizona. I shared photos from the one garden tour I was able to enjoy, and from the gardens along walkways at the hotel. I also explained about the conference’s show floor.

The GWA Symposium draws a decent contingent of garden industry suppliers who set up booths on a show floor in the hotel. GWA members spend nearly eight hours spread over two days visiting the booths and learning from experts about industry products and services. Manny suppliers offer free samples to the garden writers in hopes that we, the writers, will feature those products in our writing.

Report from the Show Floor

I had only a few hours on the show floor near the end of the exhibition. Of course, I scouted for products of special interest to kitchen gardeners.

In the “appeals to all gardeners” category, there were two tool companies that I remember visiting. One, Dramm Corporation, was showing a very colorful collection of tools—especially ones you’d use to water your garden. The other, Corona Tools, was showing ComfortGEL pruners—tools with slightly squishy grips that are supposed to be easy on your hands.

Corona Tools ComfortGEL pruners

I was happy to pick up a pair of pruners from Corona Tools to use in my own gardening. I got a few extra sets as well, and will give them away on my blogs in the near future.

BlackGold products had a place on the show floor. BlackGold is an extensive collection of prepared organic soils and soil amendments—appropriate, I think, especially for apartment dwellers and other folks who need to garden in containers. Even more specifically for container gardeners was a product line called UrBin Grower. This is a planter that maintains airspace between the bottom of the soil and the top of a water reservoir.

LiveWall showed a compelling expression of green wall technology. The planters hold soil in trays that hang on horizontal tracks; plants grow up rather than out. This looks like a green wall a plant would design for itself. A freestanding unit on wheels was particularly compelling. I suspect it could manage a fine salad garden as well as several more demanding vegetables in a very compact space.

30-day DriWater watering gel

This modest tube of squishy gel will keep a potted plant hydrated for 30 days. You may find DriWater in garden centers in coming months.

The most memorable product in the “appeals to all gardeners” category was DriWater. DriWater comes in a squishy clear plastic tube—a lot like brown-and-serve-style sausages. The product is a gel that is 97% water. You use a tube by slitting it open along one side and laying the slit against soil nurturing a plant you want to hydrate for an extended period.

According to the representative, bacteria in the soil digest the gel, releasing water from the package. A single DriWater package can hydrate a container plant for 30 days. Municipal parks workers can set out DriWater units and reduce the number of visits necessary to keep city gardens green.

Seeds from Renee's Garden

Renee’s Garden offered up a few varieties of vegetable seeds I’ve thought of growing over the years. I was happy to bring those home along with others that looked appropriate for next year’s garden plan.

Ornamentals

In the plant category, I saw more ornamentals than I can recall. Some were specific to warm climates and would not survive in central Pennsylvania. Others were hardy enough for my home state. From Encore Azalea, I picked up the Autumn Sunburst which is supposed to blossom repeatedly through the growing season. From Skagit Gardens, I brought home the Kennedy Irish Drumcliff Primrose, hardy to zone 5, and Festuca Beyond Blue—a gorgeous clump of ornamental grass that’s hardy to zone 4.

Flirting with hardiness issues, I found Amistad Salvia from Southern Living. I wish I’d checked the tag because they recommend it for hardiness zones 9 and higher; about 2 zones farther south than it is now. More promising, from Star Roses & Plants, is Flamenco Rose Salvia. This Salvia has pink flowers, and I’d love to have it survive in my garden, but it’s hardy to zone 7—that’ll be hit-or-miss for me.

previously potted plant ready for travel

A great opportunity for garden writers at the Symposium is to get ahold of new types of plants that breeders are introducing. Producers give us free samples to try in our own gardens, and I was happy to try BrazelBerries blueberry and raspberry plants. Plants come potted, and it’s terribly impractical to leave them that way and still lug them home on an airplane. So, I shook soil off the roots of my samples, and packed them into zipper-topped bags. I left an 18 pound bag of potting soil near the door of my hotel room, and brought about two dozen plants home alive.

Finally, on the non-edible side, I picked up a three-pack of Sunrosa rose plants from Suntory. These promise to be covered in red blossoms through most of the growing season.

Edibles

VIVA! Offered up Scentsational Lavender, a variety they told me was on the hardy side of the lavenders. My last lavender plant gave out after three years, and the representative for the VIVA! product told me that was typical of lavender—I’d always thought it was a perennial that lived on the edge in my hardiness zone, but now I have more reasonable expectations for this lovely herb.

My greatest thrills came at two booths. One, Renee’s Garden had two racks of vegetable seeds and invited me to select any I’d like to try in my garden. It’s hard to find space for the seeds I save from my own plants, but I have a significant expansion in mind for next season, so I’m trying a small assortment from Renee’s.

My second thrill came at the BrazelBerries booth. BrazelBerries come from Fall Creek Farm & Nursery and have small habits appropriate for container gardening. The BrazelBerries line includes two varieties of blueberry plants, and one of raspberries and I got samples of each.

BrazelBerries Jelly Bean blueberry plant

Several days after I returned from Tucson, I had planted all of the plant samples. This is the BrazelBerries Jelly Bean blueberry plant, bred for container gardening. While literature that came with the plant recommends it for “large” containers, there’s nothing that says “how large.” I used a 7 gallon planter which is the largest I’ve ever used. If the plant someday looks stressed, I’ll find a place for it in the garden.

Only Time will Tell

With so many live specimens available to try, the challenge for conference goers is to get the plants home. It’s not practical to jam all those flower pots into a suitcase, so I spent an hour at the hotel shaking potting soil off the roots and repacking plants into zipper-topped plastic bags. These I stacked surrounded by clothing in my suitcase—some in a carryon and others in a bag I intended to check. Happily, all the plants came through in fine shape and I’ve since planted them in my garden and on my deck.

I’m excited to see how the plants do, and will share my observations in coming seasons.

Soon: a Giveaway

I happened to reach the Corona Tools booth as vendors were packing to leave. There, my friend Chris gave me a handful of ComfortGEL pruners along with sharpeners to keep them in top form. In an upcoming post, I’ll launch a giveaway of those pruners with instructions for how you can enter to win a set. They feel great in my hand, and I expect to pack some next summer when I head out to pluck suckers in my tomato patch.

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