Ear to the Ground: The Insider Dirt to Gardening in Upstate NY

by Michelle Sutton

Carol Ann Harlos and Lyn Chimera have been frequent almanac co-writers in Upstate Gardeners’ Journal since 2008. Each lives in Erie County.

“The lupines are a mixture of some I grew indoors from seed anad two I received as presents. Baby lupines are adorable! I was afraid I would step on them or weed them out, so I put metal cloches over them until they got bigger. I know they are a short-lived perennial, so one day I will have to repeat the process.” Photo by Carol Ann Harlos

Did you grow up gardening with family? If not, when did it grab you?

Harlos: I had no interest in gardening when I was growing up. However, when I majored in in biology in college, that opened my eyes to the plant world. I taught biology for five years before taking time off for my children. That’s when the gardening bug really got hold of me. I did projects with our three daughters, growing vegetables, herbs, and flowers. I was hooked!

Chimera: My family had two conservation farms growing up, so I developed an appreciation for nature, which led to my interest in native plants. Our family gardening was planting trees and putting in ponds for wildlife, although we always had a few tomato plants and my mother loved her small perennial garden. Gardening really grabbed me when I was married and had a place of my own. I was struggling to be successful and learning through my mistakes as we all do.

How did you meet each other and become co-writers of the UGJ almanac?

Chimera: Carol Ann was my mentor when I first became a Master Gardener in 2005. We were Hotline partners; I learned so much from her and still do. We share a love of nature, insects, and learning. She also encouraged me to write, which I had always wanted to do but was afraid to try. For the almanac, generally I do a draft and then Carol Ann adds to it and we work it out together over email.

Cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) in Chimera’s garden. Photo by Lyn Chimera

How has UGJ influenced you over the years?

Harlos: I’ve been reading UGJ for a long time. I frequently take copies of the magazine with me when I give talks because the information is timely, entertaining, and informative.

Chimera: Like many people, I picked up the first issue free at some gardening event. I was impressed with the quality of the information and the fact that it was local. It was the first garden magazine I subscribed to and honestly I can’t even remember how long ago it was. Over the years I have learned to rely on it to keep abreast of what is happening in our region.

What other publications do you write for?

Harlos: I write a monthly column for Forever Young, which is Western New York’s oldest and only full-color senior publication, with both print (40,000 copies a month) and online editions. [You can see several dozen of Carol Ann’s Forever Young columns by searching her name at buffalospree.com.] I’m also a frequent contributor to The Herbarist and The Essential Herbal magazines; Iwrite a monthly newsletter for Herb Gardeners of the Niagara Frontier; and I’m the editor and a writer for the monthly Erie County Master Gardener News. One of these days I hope to compile my writings into a book.

Chimera: In addition to UGJ, I write for After 50, Figure 8 (the Federated Garden Club publication), the Erie County Master Gardener News, and monthly garden tips for clients and people on my mailing list.

Snapshot from Chimera’s garden. Photo by Lyn Chimera

Apart from writing, what do you enjoy doing most?

Harlos: I love, love to teach! I am a backyard beekeeper and do many talks on bees as well as herbs, insects, plant diseases, autumn gardening, bulbs, downsizing the garden, living with deer, garden botany, garden Rx, garden ideas for the classroom, houseplants, hydrangeas, making more plants, pollinator gardens, and tillandsias. I love giving talks (not lectures!) because there is so much joy interacting with people. I have a great time and so do my audiences. I go anywhere I am asked because it is so much fun. I have given talks out-of-state several times.

Chimera: After retiring from teaching I became a Master Gardener (MG). Working the Hotline was and still is my favorite part of being an MG. In doing that, I saw how many people had garden-related questions and just needed some guidance, so I started a garden consulting business called Lessons from Nature (lessonsfromnature.biz). Basically, I make house calls and coach folks on everything from groundcover and weed ID to pruning, always stressing an ecological approach … helping people realize gardening is a natural process, not a battle.

Another part of my business is giving presentations to groups, which I love. Once a teacher always a teacher. I specialize in native plants and ecological and sustainable approaches to gardening but have more than twenty topics and am always developing new ones based on requests. I also teach for MG programs and present at Plantasia and other gardening events, usually within the WNY area.

In your own gardens, what are your passions and priorities?

Harlos: I am a generalist. I want to grow everything, so I end up planting vegetables in between perennials and annuals. I love working in the garden and hearing and seeing honeybees (which I swear are mine) and other pollinators buzzing about and going from flower to flower. I also feed birds (nine feeders).

Chimera: My goal in gardening is always supporting nature. I have more than 100 varieties of native plants in my little half-acre village lot. However, I have many nonnatives that are productive as well, so I’m not a total natives snob. Not using pesticides or herbicides is one of the best and easiest ways we can help nature. My gardens have been chemical-free for about twenty-five years—and the results are amazing.

What are your favorite horticulture resources?  

Harlos: I favor the writings of Sally Cunningham, who taught me and encouraged me to give talks. I love A Garden of Marvels by Ruth Kassinger, The Secret Life of Plants by Tompkins and Bird, and Fruit Key and Twig Key to Trees and Shrubs by William Harlow, my go-to book for identification since college.

Chimera: Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy was a real eye-opener for me as to the importance of planting to support beneficial insects, the basis of the food chain for birds and other creatures.

Another favorite is The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. You will never look at a tree in the same way again after reading this book.

Harlos’s garden in the fall, including fruitful crabapple tree in background, rose bush, pineapple sage, dahlias, papyrus, and more. Photo by Carol Ann Harlos

Who are your favorite local, regional, national, or international horticulture personalities?

Harlos: Sally Cunningham, Jane L. Taylor, Eleanor Perenyi, Fredrick Law Olmsted, and Tracy DiSabato-Aust.

Chimera: Locally, Sally Cunningham has been a mentor and does so much to educate the public about gardening and good horticultural practices. On a national level, Doug Tallamy is always wonderful.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Harlos: I also love growing indoor plants, plant propagation, seed starting, growing orchids (I have only fifteen to date), and hydroponics (aerogardens).

Chimera: I have enjoyed writing the almanac for UGJ. It keeps me on my toes and makes me more aware of what I should be doing when.

Michelle Sutton is a horticulturist, writer, and editor.

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From the Publisher: March-April 2020

by janem on March 15, 2020

Twenty-five years ago this month, I published my first issue of Upstate Gardeners’ Journal. People have asked me since then what compelled me to do such a thing. I lived in the Park Avenue neighborhood of Rochester at the time and was studying ornamental horticulture at what was then Community College of the Finger Lakes. [Now Finger Lakes Community College. Rumor had it at the time that the name change was because the school kept getting mail addressed to “Community College of the Finger.”] There was a house with such a wonderful garden—it’s Vinnie Massaro’s garden and it’s still there and still wonderful—that I felt compelled to write about it. But then what? Shop it around? This was before the Internet got big, and getting published in local newspapers was more difficult than it is now. Also, I was working in my former grandmother-in-law’s business, which was … a local newspaper. But I was selling advertising, not having anything to do with the editorial side. 

That’s the background, but the part I usually tell people is about waking up in the middle of the night and exclaiming, “I’m going to start a gardening magazine!” Which is also true. 

But I wasn’t completely impractical, even in my early twenties. So I went around to some green industry professionals and asked, “If I do this thing, will you advertise?” And I got some loyal early supporters. That first year, Roger Powers of Powers Farm Market, Ken Hill of Rolling Hills Landscape, Duane Schenk at Country Corners Nursery, Ted Miller at Gardner’s Greenhouses, Sharon Coates and Steve Coates of Phoenix Botanical, and even Chase-Pitkin got on board! 

Since then, the UGJ has grown and grown. We’ve spread into Buffalo, Syracuse, and Ithaca, gone on lots of trips including two to the Chelsea Flower Show, made thousands of friends, and forged our own little company culture, mostly with everyone working remotely. It’s been a wonderful twenty-five years, and I’m looking forward, very much, to the future.

Thanks so much for reading, and have a wonderful spring!

Jane

Jane Milliman, Publisher

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