November 2011

Photographer, nature lover, story teller, teacher Bill Brink passes away

Bill Brink lugs a camera to shoot whooping cranes at Goose Pond in Greene County, Indiana in March 2009. Many of his award-winning photographs have been exhibited at Eagle Creek Park, Perk Up! and other venues. (C) Photo by Carl Pryor

The local nature loving community is mourning the loss of Bill Brink, aka The Mayor of Broad Ripple, who suffered a heart attack and passed away Nov. 15, 2011, at age 63.

Bill was a founder of the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society, traveling through knee-deep snow to attend the first organizational meeting in February 1993. To get the group started, he donated seed money. At one time or another he was a board member of the Amos W. Butler Audubon Society and Friends of Holliday Park.

Bill credited his mother, Alice Brink, for nurturing his love of nature. Our first meeting was by phone when Bill scolded my inexperience in gardening. In a column, I’d espoused the attributes of several honeysuckle species that were considered invasive in Indiana.

He told me about INPAWS and invited me to his Broad Ripple family home where he’d planted a prairie in the backyard. My first bird walk was with Bill to Holliday Park about this time of year, 20 years ago. He helped me identify the song of a golden crowned kinglet, notes I still recognize today.

Bill Brink. (C) Photo by Chuck Russell

He owned The Great Outdoors lawn care company, an aptly named venture for someone who loved nature almost as much as life itself. He raised, trained and handled award-winning English Pointers and earned quite the reputation as a wildlife photographer.

“His lifelong study of the outdoors and conservation made him a walking encyclopedia of the natural world and its important personalities and celebrities,” said Carl Pryor, a lifelong friend.

Bill, decked out in his Western hat, boots, vest and belt, was a familiar figure at the Perk Up, a Broad Ripple coffee shop where he regaled patrons with Indiana lore and more. Bill’s nature photo were exhibited at Perk Up and at Eagle Creek Park, where he started the practice of displaying photography and other art at the Nature Center. It was there he told me that hummingbirds tend to visit plants that are in the sun when the nectar is rich. He was so proud of the cleanup of weeds and invasive species and planting of native plants there.

It was standing room only at the memorial service and celebration of Bill’s life Nov. 20, 2011 at the Riviera Club. Lots of stories, photos, songs and shared memories amongst the tears.  Several people wore cowboy hats to honor their friend.

“Bill was a true gentleman cowboy,” said C. “Frog” Russell. “He didn’t swear around women and rarely around men. I personally have never heard him speak ill of anyone and he would give you the shirt off of his back. I was proud to call him my friend.”

So was I.

Blueberry shrubs add striking color to the fall landscape

Pink Champagne blueberry. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

We think of tall trees and ornamental shrubs when it comes to fall color. Red maple, dogwood, ninebark and oakleaf hydrangeas take front and center in their seasonal display.

But food, too, can be showy in fall, starting with the blueberry shrub (Vaccinium). I bought one two years ago solely because of the deep red leaves this time of year. After the leaves fall, red stems color the winter landscape.

The blueberry, of course, is a power food, known as a healthful fruit loaded with antioxidants. There are two types of commonly grown blueberries  —  highbush (V. corymbosum) and lowbush (V. angustifolium).

Although blueberry is a native Indiana species, it struggles a bit here in the central part of the state. That’s because our soil and water are alkaline and blueberries, like cranberries, rhododendrons and hollies, prefer an acidic environment.

To grow blueberries here, prepare a portion of the bed in full sun where you can acidify the soil with peat moss or sulfur. Many gardeners grow blueberries in boxes (about 2 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide), filled with soil enriched with peat or mixed with sulfur. These products acidify the soil. For exact measurements, download Ohio State University’s “Growing Blueberries in the Home Garden”

I opted instead to use an acidic fertilizer, such as Espoma Holly-Tone or Organic Traditions Soil Acidifier, but any high quality natural acid fertilizer would work. Always read and follow the label directions.

Some types of blueberries require more than one plant for good pollination and fruit production. However, there some newer varieties that are self-pollinating, such as Northsky, a dwarf shrub that gets about 3 feet tall and wide. There also are two new pink blueberries on the market, Pink Lemonade and Pink Champagne, both self-pollinating. But instead of blue fruit, the berries are pink and still nutritious.

Doc Martin’s tropical landscape transports visitors to another land

A tunnel of fragrant brugmansias leads visitors to Martin's backyard and more tropical splendor. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Most of us have been moving our pots of rain lilies and bananas indoors or digging dahlias, cannas and other tender plants for winter storage, protected from freezing temperatures.

For Freeman Martin, this rite of fall takes at least two weeks and six box trucks to move hundreds of tropical begonias, gingers, cordylines and hundreds of other exotic plants. Some of his plants, like the brugmansia, tower at 7 feet or more.

The goal is to avoid cutting the plants back each year so that they keep their size, drama, color, scent, flower and foliage. He moves them to his vacant childhood home. After the first frost, the 74-year-old Indianapolis physician populates the homestead with the plants, kept comfortable with temps in the 50s and a few overhead fluorescent lights.

Freeman Martin. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

His tropical fever began years ago when visiting a friend in the Caribbean, where he snipped a piece of a plant to start his own collection. Known locally as Doc Martin, he’s a frequent shopper at garden centers, where he hunts for the latest coleus or begonia and buys about any large tropical he can find.

Tropicals “totally give you the feeling of being somewhere else,” said Martin on a late summer day at his residence on Indianapolis northwest side.

From the time you drive up, you know you are some place exotic. Dozens of lantana adorn the bed that greets the street, followed by numerous begonias, impatiens and fuchsias planted among hardy hostas. A tunnel of brugmansias leads visitors to a backyard, densely planted with more exotic plants.

He moves plants from their winter home to his suburban landscape beginning in mid-May. “I was still arranging them on this July 4, so I was a little later than usual.”

Every year he says he threatens to cut back. Seeing him joyous in his element, though, you sense it’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

Author Sydney Eddison tells us how to garden for a lifetime

Sydney Eddison and Phoebe. Photo courtesy Timber Press

Sooner or later gardeners have to decide what to do when we no longer have the time, energy or wherewithal to tend our gardens. It could be we’ve gotten older and less flexible or we tire more easily.

The popular word is downsizing, especially once the kids are out of the house. But Sydney Eddison, an award-winning author, prefers the word simplify and it’s not always defined as leaving the garden you love.

When her husband died a few years ago, Eddison wondered how she would care for the landscape the couple nurtured for 50 years. She wanted to know how she could continue gardening, not how to stop. “I’ve not turned any beds back into grass,” said Eddison, who shares what she learned in Gardening for a Lifetime (2010, Timber Press, $19.95, hardback). She will speak about this at 2 p.m. Sunday (Nov. 6, 2011) in the Toby at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Sponsored by the IMA Horticultural Society, the talk is free.

An easy step is replacing perennials with shrubs that offer multiple seasons of interest, she said in a phone interview. “Ask yourself ‘do all of these plants make my heart go pitty-pat’? At first, you think you can’t spare anything.”

Start by evaluating how much work each plant is, such as pruning needs or messiness. Other candidates for replacement come after “all of the buts, such as I have always loved that plant, but….”

For some, simplifying does mean a move to a smaller place and garden or reliance on containers. That’s all right, too, she said.

It’s not just older gardeners who benefit from a simplified landscape life, Eddison said. These steps can help anyone whose life has changed, such as a new job, baby or an illness in the family.

“You’ll know when to start simplifying when there’s more to do than you can do,” she said.

November garden checklist posted

The checklist of things to do in the garden in November is posted.

2011 Indiana native plants conference focuses on corridors and connections

November 12, 2011
7:30 AMto5:00 PM

The 2011 Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society’s 2011 conference Connectivity & Corridors covers the science and issue beghind interest in corridors. Habitats are fragmented and wild places are few and far between. We can create landscape corridors between disconnected fragments of plant and animal habitats. Leave with ideas about specific plants tht can create a functioning corridor in your own backyard or neighborhood.

When: 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Nov. 12, 2011

Where: Schwitzer Student Center, University of Indianapolis, 1400 E. Hanna Ave., Indianapolis

Admission: $60 INPAWS member; $75 non-member, $35 student

Registration form