VP at Veg Plotting has recommended a great way to beat the February blahs, suggesting everyone host a dinner party and invite up to 5 special guests. The ever-creative VP has challenged us to think of who we would really like to invite with no concern about limits of time or place.
This sounded like a great idea to me, but first let me explain that I don't "do" dinner parties. Get-togethers at the Prairie Estate are infrequent, usually family affairs, but nearly always casual.
I break out the china and silver once, maybe twice, a year for holiday dinners, and only then to keep them from getting too dusty or tarnished. If I'm going to invite friends over, we're more likely to grill out in good weather or have something simple like Italian Beef rather than a 5-course meal. For tonight's dinner I want to keep it simple so that I can enjoy my guests instead of fussing in the kitchen. Lasagna, a salad, and garlic bread will probably be on the menu since they can all be prepared ahead of time. And for dessert--my favorite thing to make--we'll definitely have something chocolate. Maybe I'll search through some of Joey's recipes for something truly decadent.
Now as for the guest list, the people I would really like to invite are my blogging friends, gardeners or not. I couldn't begin to limit my choices to just 5, so I am going to invite 3 special guests and extend the invitation to everyone. Since many of you are planning your own dinner parties, I've postponed mine until tonight so more of you can attend. Just let me know an hour or two ahead of time so I know how many chairs to set up.
Assuming many of you will be able to make it, I'm going to move the party downstairs to the basement family room. I no longer have a formal dining room, so my dining room table and china cabinet now reside downstairs. For our family dinners, the adults can linger at the table after dinner and still keep on eye on the little ones as they play in the adjacent play area. I have plenty of room for setting up folding tables, but if we run out of room, perhaps a few of you more petite guests could sit at the kids' table, if you wouldn't mind. As hostess, I would be the first to sit here, and I can assure you the chairs are very sturdy, though one's knees do ache after an hour or so.
Now as to the special guests, I had to think long and hard. VP has assembled a very prestigious guest list, and I would expect many of the rest of you will be inviting some famous landscape designers or gardening experts who are published or have their own television shows. But I really don't know too many famous people in the field of gardening, although there are two icons in the field of literature I would like to invite.
Certainly, if I could invite anyone from any era, first on my list would be William Shakespeare. Although I've never read that he was a gardener, old Will must have known a thing or two about plants because there is so much flower imagery in his writings. A second guest I'd love to meet is Emily Dickinson, who as we all know was about as tuned into nature as one could be.
However, Will's theatre schedule will probably prevent him from being able to attend, and Emily doesn't like to socialize much. So instead, I've invited three local gardening experts who love to share their knowledge with others. Unless you live in central Illinois, you won't be familiar with them, but local gardeners will appreciate their knowledge of plants for this area and problems with pests, diseases, or the weather in our gardens:
1.Sandra Mason: a horticulture unit educator for the University of Illinois Extension in Champaign County who also trains Master Gardeners in the area. She can be seen on several local television gardening segments and shows, but is the most familiar to me as the writer for a weekly column in our local newspaper. Sandra's column covers so many topics related to gardening and landscaping that I have become a faithful reader every Saturday. As a local gardener, her tips are related specifically to this area, so I know if she says it's time to plant tomatoes, then I'm going to get those seedlings in the garden as soon as possible. It was her column that identified those pesky tiny bugs flying about last fall as pirate flies, and another column of hers that gave me information about the woolly worms I wrote about in October. Last week's column was a humorous piece entitled "You know that you're a serious gardener if . . ." This sounds a bit like Carol's Garden Geeks, doesn't it? One of her many answers to this question was..."You're a serious gardener if in the middle of winter, you start cultivating the mold in the refrigerator just to see something grow." I haven't tried that one yet, but I depend on her expert advice in many other gardening projects.
2. Dianne Noland: a horticulture instructor at the University of Illinois who also hosts the weekly "Illinois Gardener" which airs on our local PBS station. The show is a question and answer format in which Dianne and two or three other guest experts answer gardening questions from viewers' calls. Dianne says in her bio, "I teach landscaping, so it's my vocation. But gardening is my avocation." I am not a faithful viewer of this program, but I do watch it occasionally. However, I was lucky enough to attend a workshop last spring with Beckie led by Dianne entitled "Fun in the Garden." She covered a wide range of topics in this talk, including some design techniques, container planting, and adding whimsy to the garden. It really was a "fun" workshop because Dianne is such a cheery and enthusiastic gardener you can't help but like her. I would think her college courses are very popular--no dull professorial lectures here!
3. Judy Faire: a charter member of the county's Master Gardeners, "Miss Judy" is best known as one of the hosts on a local radio call-in program on Saturday mornings, "Coffee with the Plant Experts." After listening to her for many years, I've concluded that if she doesn't know the answer to a gardening question, then you don't really need to know the answer! Judy works at Prairie Gardens, a local garden center, and is often found motoring through the aisles on her scooter, answering questions from customers. Prairie Gardens holds many gardening workshops, and yesterday Beckie and I attended our first one this spring on starting seeds indoors. Judy was one of the presenters and, as expected, gave a comprehensive guide for success in seed-starting from choosing the proper containers to transplanting the young seedlings.
After my disastrous first attempt at starting seeds last year, I was eager to learn what I had done wrong. Judy's workshop pointed out how to avoid the mistakes that I made last year so that I could avoid damping off or having seedlings die when I transplanted them to a bigger container. It was certainly an hour well-spent, and to top it off, all participants were given a 20% coupon off anything in the store.