September 2012

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, September 2012

State Fair zinnias

When I think of my friend Sue’s yard, I see zinnias, ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea and Rocky Mountain Red geraniums. These were her favorite plants.

She loved State Fair Mix. Every year, she’d buy a flat to plant the annuals in the sunny back corner of her yard around the false indigo (Baptisia). Not too long after she moved into her house, I got a start of the baptisia, which has grown into a large healthy plant in my yard.

We met nearly 40 years ago, each of us married with young sons. We were in a group with several other couples and we’d get together every few weeks or so for dinners on Saturday nights. We’d play group Jeopardy! or charade.

We had a lot in common. Sue worked at a garden center in Broad Ripple called the Hoosier Gardener, and I worked in my uncle’s garden center, Heidenreich Greenhouses, on the southside. We went to Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, each of us on a multiyear study plan, which meant we didn’t graduate until our thirties, her with a degree in religious studies and me in education and journalism.

We had many weekly dinners and watched dozens of movies together. She got me watching Law & Order, taught me about Umberto Eco and read Tarot cards. She also read a wide range of fiction and non-fiction. She turned me onto Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series of detective novels one day when I called her from an airport, asking her to recommend something for me to take on the plane.

Sue died Sept. 11, 2012 and while I’m rich with memories, it will be the baptisia and zinnias that will always remind me of her.

Mock orange. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

My friend Linda gave me a clump of no-name mock orange (Philadelphus) when I moved here. It came from her late grandmother’s century-old farm in Illinois. Every time I smell the mock orange, I think of Linda’s generosity. I also think of my late mother, who loved mock orange and had a few worked into her wedding bouquet.

Jim Story was the very first person to send me a letter when I started writing my weekly gardening column in The Indianapolis Star in 1989. He gave me a prairie trillium (T. recurvatum), which blooms every spring, and a tiny, no-name hosta. Jim died in 2005 and when I see these plants, I am reminded of Jim’s generosity and all the lessons I learned from him, especially about gourds.

Cathy Peachey gave me a Clivia miniata a short time before she died of breast cancer in 1994. Cathy owned a couple of CATH Inc., coffee shops, where they served pecan sticky buns that rivaled the memory of my German great grandmother’s. The lemon bars weren’t bad, either.

Clivia miniata. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

I divided the clivia and gave it to Sue. Not too long ago, I divided it again and gave it to Carol Michel at May Dreams Gardens, where Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day was born.

These stories about plants and the memories they hold offer comfort when I walk through the garden. And though none of these is in its prime on this Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, they are blooming in my heart.


Take Mike Homoya’s new book with you the next time you hike in the woods

Maidenhair fern retains its graceful beauty well into fall. © Photo Michael A. Homoya

For those of us who trek woodlands in search of flora, Michael Homoya has written the perfect book companion.

Wildflowers and Ferns of Indiana Forests (Indiana University Press, 2012, paperback, $22.95) covers nearly 300 native species, their attributes, habitats and snippets of natural history.

“I’ve traveled around our country a bit, even to other continents, but nowhere have I seen anything to compare to the springtime in our state’s forests,” Homoya wrote in the field guide’s introduction.

The Illinois native is a botanist and plant ecologist who has been with the Indiana Department of Natural Resource’s Division of Nature Preserves since 1982. All of the book’s royalties will go to the DNR Heritage Trust for land acquisition. Homoya also is the author of Orchids of Indiana, published in 1993 by IU Press.

Just like his orchid book, which revealed that Indiana has 42 native orchids compared to three species that call Hawaii home, Homoya’s new offering is full of surprises, just like the state’s landscape.

“Throughout the growing season, there are plants of almost every size, shape and color. Look and you will see,” he wrote.

Homoya tired to hedge a bit when asked to name some fall favorites.

Jewelweed. Photo courtesy

“There are so many favorites,” he said, finally naming jewelweed or the spotted touch-me-not (Impatiens capensis), Short’s aster (Aster shortii) and maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum).

Short's aster. Photo courtesy

“Short’s aster, named after the great Kentucky pioneer botanist Charles Short, is a stunningly attractive aster. The touch-me-not is a fun plant in many ways, especially setting off the exploding seed pods. And maidenhair fern is grace epitomized,” he said.

Homoya will be one of the speakers at the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society’s annual conference Nov. 3 ( at the University of Indianapolis. He also will speak at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 15 at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Sponsored by the IMA Horticultural Society, Homoya’s talk is free in The Toby.


Indiana has more native orchids than Hawaii

This Hoosier Gardener column was published originally May 29, 1994 in The Indianapolis Star

Who says Indiana isn’t paradise?

Certainly not orchid lovers. Hawaii has nothing on Indiana when it comes to native orchids. Would you believe there are three species of orchids that occur naturally in Hawaii, while Indiana is home to 42?

Despite their number, it’s unlikely we’ll be greeted at the airport with a lei of puttyroot or lady’s slipper, however.

We have to work a little harder, almost developing a sixth sense to find these jewels of nature that are every bit as exotic as we think orchids should be.

Michael A. Homoya, a botanist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, has written a beautiful and easy-to-use book that’s a must for wildflowers wanderers (and wonderers). Orchids of Indiana is, as Homoya calls it, a “labor of love.”

He first “met” a native orchid in 1970, when he and his mother, Marcia, wandered into Jackson Hollow, a sandstone gorge in southern Illinois, near where he grew up in Carterville, Ill.

Memorable day

Although it was a foggy day in the silent hollow, Homoya found it an unforgettable experience. At one point, he stumbled onto a rattlesnake plantain orchid. It might as well have been the orchid’s namesake, because the encounter left an indelible mark.

“(The find) illustrated that wild orchids do indeed occur in our temperate soil. Although I saw many other spectacular things that day, including rare ferns and phenomenal rock formations, it was the rattlesnake orchid that so transfixed me. My passion . . .was born,” Homoya writes in the preface.

The 40-year-old naturalist has retained that enthusiasm through the years, as evidenced recently during a trek through Eagle Creek Park. Park ranger Fritz Nerding led the way to two (one surprisingly large) patches of twayblade (Liparis liliifolia). One of the plants was budded up, ready to show its translucent purple flowers. Nerding also saw, and showed to others, the tell-tale leaf of the puttyroot orchid (Aplectrum hyemale).

But do not be deceived. All of these plants are hard to find, primarily because there is so much greenery in the woods. Sometimes it’s easier in winter. The puttyroot, for instance, has a winter leaf (hyemale means winter).

Homoya give hints of where to find Hoosier orchids, but he’s not specific in his book. He and other naturalists fear that revealing exact locations of native plants will encourage people to dig them up.

“They just aren’t easily grown” outside their natural habitats, Homoya said. “The best advice for our native orchids is to let them grow in the wild,” he said.

History and description

The book includes some history and background on orchids in Indiana and how to find them. There are plenty of illustrations and photographs (many by Homoya’s co-worker and fellow naturalist, Lee Casebere) that help identify the orchids.

The book has a chapter on each of the more than 40 Indiana orchids, a little history about each one, a description, blooming period, range and habitat. Each entry has a map of the state with dots in counties where that particular plant has been found, but no exact locations.