REVIVAL OF A GARDENER'S SOUL

This weekend was one of those amazing gifts that Mother Nature throws our way every once in a while that revive the sleeping soul of a gardener. Saturday was in the 50s and we set a record on Sunday with temps in the low 60s. This is pretty much unheard of for Wisconsin in February.

Check it out: Signs of life!

The snow is melted in all but the lowest, shadiest spots where it was piled up. My earliest daffodil is poking its head up, and when I pulled back the leaves on the hellebores, fat buds were standing tall. Little green shoots are coming up where I think I planted some snowdrops (I'm never label that stuff) and birds were singing all weekend long.

After attending a garden seminar Saturday morning (a lovely presentation on fragrant gardens by Mark Dwyer, director of horticulture at the fabulous Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville, Wisconsin), I enjoyed just poking around outside. The yard is in a typically disasterous state. There are plants that weren't cut down in fall to be dealt with, huge piles of leaves and all sorts of other messes. But I know well that it's too early to be doing a big spring cleanup. In fact, we're due for more snow Monday night into Tuesday and frigid temperatures are certainly in the realm of possibility.


The stem I really wanted to take out was the one farthest to the right in this photo, but that would have left the shrub hopelessly unbalances. Instead I took out the one sticking out at an odd angle on the left, leaving three large main stems. 

I did break down and prune the big Limelight hydrangea. It felt good to get something real accomplished. As I've been doing for the past few years, I pruned out one of the oldest stems all the way to the ground, and then just did some light pruning around the top, focusing on crossing branches and shape. There is a large stem in the back that I would have liked to take out, as there is no growth at all on it until about three feet up, but removing it would have left the shrub seriously out of balance. There are lots of new shoots near it where I took out a big branch last year, so I'll give those some time to develop before I take that big guy out of there.

It felt early to me, but looking back, I see I did it in early March last year. The difference being that I had to walk through a lot of snow then.


I also spent some time organizing my abundance of seeds. It is safe to say I have completely gone off the rails this year as far as seed starting goes. I have way too much. I'm going to try to restrain myself from starting too much of any one thing so I have room. I also worked on updating my seed starting spreadsheet for this year to adjust dates based on my experience last year and add in the new varieties I'll be trying. In doing so, I realized that technically I should have been starting sweet peas this weekend. In addition to not being set up at all for that, I'll be out of town later this week and I like to be able to keep daily watch on seedlings, especially something like sweet peas that I'm highly emotionally invested in. So the first seed sowing will happen next weekend.


And, because it was just way too nice outside to spend one more minute inside, I grabbed all my garden tools and took them to the sunny spot on the front patio and gave them all the cleaning and sharpening I should have done back in December. I washed all the dirt off the handles and gave the wood handled tools a light coat of linseed oil, and then shined up all the blades and sharpened them all, and gave them little touch of light oil. I even went so far as to completely take apart my Bahco pruners to really get in there and get all the dirt out and then sharpen them up and oil the mechanics. It is so nice to have everything ready to go the moment it's time.


FRIDAY FINDS

It's Friday Finds time! If you missed today's earlier post showing off my now hanging staghorn fern, check it out here.

Deborah Silver photo

I have long been in love with Deborah Silver's "grass" floor, but now she's gone and put English daisies on it and I'm completely smitten.

Some great seed starting do's and don'ts from Erin at Floret Flower.

Cocktail recipes by zodiac sign. I'm right between a Capricorn and an Aquarius so I often check out both when it comes to horoscopes and the like just to see which one is more fitting. In this case I'm Aquarius all the way (minus the cherry part).


Just so you know, these bits of wonderfulness are coming to my house soon.

Some of these sound pretty good. Some of them sound downright strange.

Before we go merrily into this weekend, which is predicted to have temperatures in the 50s here (hence the merrily), I'd be remiss if I didn't note a sad happening in our house this week. On Wednesday we lost our beloved little kitty Desdemona. Desi was our first pet and my first cat. I picked her up at the humane society shortly after we bought our house because Mr. Much More Patient was traveling a lot then and I wanted a friend at home. And she fulfilled that role of friend for nearly 14 years (we never did figure out how old she was, but we guess she was 15 or 16), continuing to love us in her catlike way even after we brought home giant dogs in whom she had no trust and no use for. She would meow my name (I'm not kidding, she said, "Erin" when she really wanted something) and demand to be fed first, which she was without fail. On the rare occasion that she would escape to the outdoors (she was declawed on all four paws when we got her so we were very careful about not letting her out), she mostly just wanted to lay in a sunny spot in the garden. We'll miss her.


HANGING THE HORN

Remember how I repotted the staghorn fern in a grapevine ball a couple months ago? Because of the renovation to the back room (which has been finished for awhile but I still haven't gotten around to putting everything back in that room and therefore having shown you what it looks like now), the fern has been living in its ball but sitting in a pot.


But last weekend I was able finally hang it up. You may recall that I followed Kylee's tutorial on how to plant a staghorn fern in a grapevine ball. It took me awhile to find a bracket that I liked enough to use. This one came from a seller through Houzz.com. It was my first time ordering through Houzz but all went smoothly and I couldn't find this same bracket available for sale anywhere else. 

I didn't really want the bracket tight up to the door frame, but it ended up there because I wanted it to be mounted into a stud vs. just using wall anchors. Chalk this up to counting my chickens before they hatch, but staghorn ferns can grow to be huge and maybe I might get lucky enough to need all that support that a stud offers sometime in the future.


I wanted it to hang tipped forward just a little, so getting the fishing lines to be in just the right place took a little fiddling, but in the end I got it. I still haven't cut off the excess line on top yet because I wanted to make sure I liked how it was hanging. 

I love how it looks hanging and come summer I'll move it outside to hang in a shady corner of the pergola. 

By the way, the fern seems to be doing OK since the transplant. It does require a lot more watering than when it was in the plastic pot, but that's good. You don't ever want them sitting around in water. I just take the whole thing to the sink and squirt a bunch of water into the ball and occasionally give the fronds a bit of a mist. 


The sterile frond that was bright green when I repotted it has started turning brown (it's OK, that's what's supposed to happen) and another one is growing rapidly off the back. Eventually the entire grapevine ball should be covered in brown shieldlike sterile fronds. 

The staghorn is the only thing hanging in the room (maybe I'll get back to hanging art this weekend), but it certainly makes an impact. 


THREE PLANTS I'LL GROW THIS YEAR

Much of the past decade of gardening at my house has been an alternating pattern of creating new gardens and improving existing gardens. A couple years ago I realized that I probably have as much garden square footage as I can handle (and frankly probably too much) at this point in my life, so my focus has shifted to refining the existing gardens, some of which were installed in haste and not well thought out.

I don't regret just getting on with those gardens, because as we know, gardens are ever changing, one of many reasons why gardening never gets boring. I've made no secret of the fact that some of the first gardens I created were not really designed at all, but had random plants plunked in them. Now, as I revisit those areas, I'm taking a much more conscious and measured approach in my plan. My color and plant palette is more restrained (although still probably not restrained enough) and I give much more thought to plants selection.

Last fall I cleaned out a large section of what I call the patio garden, the most prominent garden we have. For years, much of that part was filled with rudbeckia and anemones that were allowed to spread out. Both are excellent plants that I wouldn't be without, but I struggled to make them work in that location and constantly struggled with plant combinations. I incorporated a fair amount of compost and leaf mold to refresh the soil there so a blank slate will await me in spring.

It looks like a complete mess in this photo that I took in fall, with overgrown annuals surrounding it. But I have a vision of a more refined space.



Although I've not worked up a complete planting plan for the area, I've selected three plants that will make up a bulk of the planting there (and that I'll repeat farther east in that garden).


Fall color: White Flower Farm photo
In flower: Grimms Gardens photo

The first is Amsonia hubrictii. This is not a new plant. In fact it was the perennial plant of the year in 2011, but for whatever reason I didn't take note of it then. Then last year, I kept running into it at various gardens and couldn't get it off my mind. It's the foliage that I love. Wispy, threadlike leaves create a cloudlike texture that I love. And it turns a brilliant yellow in fall, which will provide some much-needed color in that part of the garden.

Side note: The Chicago Botanic Garden did a plant evaluation of hardy amsonias. These are amazing resources so I always look for them when deciding what to plant.

• • • • • • • • • • • •


The second plant is Calamintha nepeta 'Montrose White'. Again, it's not a new plant, but was one I wasn't familiar with until last year when I attended a talk by designer Carrie Hennessy from Johnson's Nursery. It was named by Mike Yanny (who is responsible for developing some amazing trees and shrubs), whose wife got it from Montrose Nursery and saw how it thrived. It's deer resistant, doesn't flop, gets no more than 18 inches tall, and is said to bloom from June through frost. It's also sterile and is said to root incredibly easy from cuttings. What more can you ask for in a perennial? I've said it before and it still holds true: The bones of a practical garden need to be no-nonsense plants. That doesn't mean you can't have divas, but they can't all need coddling.

• • • • • • • • • • • •


And lastly, I think I'm going to put in some Hydrangea serrata Tiny Tuff Stuff. I was excited when this plant was introduced last year (or maybe the year before) and everything I've read about it seems positive. I felt like the amsonia and calamintha really needed something with a coarser texture in order to show off their finer texture attributes, and this hydrangea, which is small in stature, still has nice big, thick leaves.

This won't be it, of course. I'll need some taller elements and maybe something a bit spiky or strappier. I think Verbena bonariensis would look great dotted amongst them, and perhaps some  'Howard David' dahlias would work.  But these three will be the foundation for that area, one I'm comfortable with for their numerous traits and low-maintenance nature.

What's most important to you when it comes to choosing new plants to add to your garden?


FRIDAY FINDS

Gosh, gang, I'm really sorry there weren't more posts this week. I've got 25 balls in the air and none of them have quite landed yet so I'm never quite ready to blog about any of them and they keep me too busy to blog about anything else.

But I do love a good Friday list, so let's go for it.

I'm not a huge product person, but when I find something I really love, I figure other people might want to know about it too. I've been using Antipodes moisturizers for the better part of a year, but lately I started using their Joyous serum and Avocado Pear night cream at night and my skin is so soft and hydrated in the morning. I've been using the same bottle and mini tube for a couple months now and there's lots left which makes me feel better about the price. Plus, there are no nasty chemicals. (No affiliate links here ... just me spouting off about something I really like.)


If there is any plant that is having a moment, it has to be snowdrops. I had never even heard of snowdrops a few years ago and I didn't really pay attention to them until I started seeing stories about them on British gardening television. And now they are everywhere! If you want to grow them, here are a few tips from Lovely Greens. I did plant a few bags of snowdrop bulbs in fall so we'll see what comes of that.

Rainy day gear for gardeners. You gotta love it!

All about window treatments. Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with them. Mostly that means that I tend to love them in photos of other people's houses but don't really like them in my own except in the spaces where they are really needed for privacy. In our house that's just in the bathrooms.

Herbs to grow for natural remedies.


That's it for this week. Hopefully there will be some more action on the blog next week. In the meantime, have a great weekend. What's on your agenda for the weekend?





ALMOST PERFECT + SPRAY PAINT = LIGHT LOVE

There are times when you wonder what someone was thinking when they decided to make something one way or the other. I now believe that this is exactly why spray paint was invented.

I ordered this pretty light for the office / back room (heretofore just called the office even though there's really not that much work that happens back there, but this slash thing is getting annoying). Yes, the ceilings are low (well, 8 feet, which I guess is normal, but it's normal low, not normal high) and I've since read 40,000 designer blog posts about how I really should have a flush mount light there, but I didn't want a flush mount light. I wanted a pretty pendant light to be a fun dash of pizazz in the room.
Pretty light but bad canopy and chain color.

Lighting is one of those things where you can spent $10 or $1,000 and in the end you still have something that illuminates your room. It's just that the $10 looks like a boob and the $1,000 is a work of art. Most of us choose lights that fall somewhere in between. In this case, I was closer to $10 than $1,000 but still at a level I was somewhat uncomfortable spending for a light, even after finding a pretty good coupon. But when that light arrived I was smitten. Until I pulled the canopy and chain out of the box. Because while the light is scalloped-shaped bits of heaven (OK, capiz shells) finely lined in 14-karat gold (not 14-karat gold), the chain and canopy were spray painted a hideous shade of orange that I think was supposed to replicate copper but didn't in any way, shape or form replicate copper or any other actual metal.

There was also a pressing design issue with the chain: There was no way to shorten it. We tried to cut open a link, remove the excess links and close it back up again, but there was no way that sucker was going to go back together. Since by this point I realized that we were going to have to repaint the chain and canopy, we picked up a stainless steel openable chain link that twists shut and used that to make the connection where we had cut off the chain.

My mini spray booth setup and the canopy and chain in all its orange coppery glory.
The cutest can of spray paint ever.
And after a few coats of spray paint.

I scuffed up the canopy with a little bit of sandpaper, cleaned it well, rigged up a mini spray booth in the box the light was shipped in and went to town with a very cute mini can of gold spray paint.

Three coats later and all was forgiven.

The now-improved light looking great.
You can see the twist-close link we added to the top and the spiffy new gold color that matches the rest of the light perfectly.
Yes, it irritates me that you can pay not a little bit of money for a light and still have to fix it yourself, but I love it so much that I would have ordered it anyway even if I knew that ahead of time. I've come a long way. Years ago I would have sent that light back because if something was new it was supposed to be perfect. These days, I just get out the spray paint.

Here are some other random things I've spray painted over the years.

So what about you: Are you willing to make modifications to something new but not perfect?


FRIDAY FINDS

I've got most of my seeds ordered (and delivered), I just ordered some more willow twigs to start this year and I've got my eye on this dogwood and have come *this close* to ordering it about three times but I can't think of where I'd put it.

Cornus kousa 'Rutpink'

This is the time of year that I really have to be careful what I order. I'll admit that there have been springs when boxes have shown up and I have no idea what I might have ordered months earlier that is arriving and where in the world I thought it might go.

While I cool my heels waiting for spring, here are a few Friday finds for this week.

Why re-invent the wheel? Margaret Roach's seed-planting calculator is so helpful, I find myself referring to it year after year. I also consult other sources but this is a great place to start. Unfortunately, the link to find last frost dates is incorrect, and I can't find a list of them on NOAA's site, but I have found that you can get straight to the PDF with information for a particular state by using this address and substituting the two-letter state abbreviation for your state where "WI" is  (in red) in this one for Wisconsin.
https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/climatenormals/clim20supp1/states/WI.pdf

Deborah is singing the praises of Garden Design magazine. I subscribed for a year, but didn't renew. It was pretty, but I didn't find much that I found informational in it. And most of all, I missed the ads. Is that weird? Some of the best nurseries and garden suppliers I've found have been through magazine ads and I look at them and read them right along with the articles. I subscribed to Gardens Illustrated, which costs about the same as Garden Design (about $45 a year) for 12 issues vs. GI's four. It's a British magazine, so it comes about a month "late" (late for a magazine is pretty much on time with the publication date). I like it enough that I renewed. And of course I'll always get Fine Gardening.

I think this is one of the best chair makeovers I've ever seen. And easy too!

Confession time: I sort of hate a dozen red roses. And I especially hate them around Valentine's Day because they are artificially marked up in price because of demand. I love mixed bouquets and oh my gosh would I be in love with some of the ones over on the Floret Flower blog. All that said, it's the thought that counts, so I'm appreciative for any flowers I get any time.

http://lovelygreens.com/2016/02/how-to-make-massage-oil-candles.html?utm_content=buffer29748&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer
Lovely Greens photo

Since it's Valentine's Day this weekend, here's a little DIY that would be a sweet (and maybe romantic) gift. Massage oil candles!

Do you have big plans for the weekend? We don't. We're fuddy duddies that way I think. Maybe we'll do something really romantic and couple-ish like paint something together. :)


A PATH OF GREEN

Last fall I discovered how to get a bird's eye view of my yard via Google Earth and it was rather enlightening. I discovered that the bed on the north side of the house is all kinds of wrong. I already sort of knew that that area had issues. It never really felt right. It was too deep, and the yard drops away as it nears the creek.

There's nothing I can do about the drop off. Well, technically there is but I'm not going to do anything with it. But the deep bed is difficult to organize, harder to maintain and generally visually lacking. The rest of the bed suffers from wavy edge syndrome, something I did a lot of when I was first making gardens at our house.



It wasn't until I redid the back yard that I discovered how much I prefer a nice, bold curve vs. many little ripples. You can see how the bed to the north of the house is curvy for curvy's sake, but the curved oval in the back (really the side) yard, has purpose.

The bulbous nose bit on top is the main issue. You can see how ridiculously deep that bed is. But I like to have garden in that area and I have some nice plants on the tip of that nose that make for beautiful viewing out our living room windows.

So I'm going to take a note from a garden I toured last year (all my best ideas come from garden tours) and create a path through that bed. It should make that garden much more visually appealing and will certainly make it easier to maintain and design. I think it will also add some interest in that area, which, frankly, is needed. I'll reshape the rest of that bed from there, but I'll start with a plan for the path and that should help guide the new outline of the entire area.

As you know, I love garden paths and my most popular (and favorite) Pinterest board is my collection of great garden paths. I'd love to have a garden that incorporated every kind of garden path you can imagine, but I'm pretty sure that would be a mistake. Still, I love the fact that I have a somewhat unexpected opportunity to add another path. But what kind should it be?

I think I've ruled out a grass path because 1.) That seems boring and 2.) I'd have to make it wide enough to easily mow with the riding mower and I don't think a path that wide is appropriate for this application.

However, this path will lead from grass (the path that leads to a bridge across the creek, although some day that might get jazzed up too) to grass, so I don't think anything that is mostly a hard material is appropriate either. Bricks, gravel or even flagstone would feel out of place there.

Some kind of wood plank type path may work, but I feel like a softer, more organic material might be better. So I'm thinking about a walkable ground cover.

I've been down the walkable ground cover route before. When we just had a small path cutting through the garden (before I extended the path all the way to the garage) I attempted to grow all manner of things between fieldstones. I killed a ton of thyme and more than a little Irish moss. It was the combination of winter (frozen, shoveled, stomped on plants are not happy) and some leaching from a screened limestone base I used to set the stones that really did them in, I think. Both of those plants are pricy and covering an entire path with them, sans stones, would be cost prohibitive.

I need a low groundcover that can be walked on, although it would be mostly strolls through the garden, not daily trods. One option I'm considering is Veronica repens or another creeping speedwell. These are very low growing, deer resistant and grow fast.



Of course growing fast is also dangerous because no ground cover knows where it's not supposed to grow and I'd have to figure out some way to keep the beds from being overrun by it. Still, it has the advantage of having a great texture, a short period of bloom (blue or white flowers depending on the variety) and should stand up to some traffic. It also does well in sandy soils, which is definitely what's going on in that area. And Allan Armitage likes the 'Sunshine' cultivar, so that's something.

I'll have to keep thinking on this one. But I'm thrilled to have another place for a meandering path in the garden.

FRIDAY FINDS

I spoke at a local school's career day yesterday. It was, um, odd. And then I looked around and found out that of the other people speaking at the career day, two were good friends a year older than me, and another two were two years old and two years younger than me. And I though, huh, I guess we are officially at that age when you speak at career days. This astonishes me.

And that was sort of my week. Odd.

Anyway, let's get into Friday Finds ... from bug houses to people houses, here we go.


Urban Hedgerow photo via Gardenista

Can we all just agree that we're not going to go out and BUY bug houses (no matter how pretty they are)? I hate to get preachy about what you should be buying and what you should be DIYing because everyone has different skills and priorities, but come on ... if we can't make our own bug houses maybe we ought to leave it up to the bugs.

You probably already read this blog. It's funny and a little crazy, and this post is both with a little truth thrown in. She's so right: You used to have to go out of your way to feel bad about your house and now it's right there all the time. That said, save for maybe going a little TOO far into the land of gray paint, I'm comfortable that all of the design decisions in our house were made because I really love them, not because they were trendy at the time. Our all-white kitchen was white (although a different white) when we bought our house and it's been like that since 1990. My grandmas BOTH had all white kitchens, so don't tell me I did it because it's a trend. I did it because I like it. And maybe it is also a trend, but I know I'll like it for years to come.


Speaking of trends, you know how the whole chinosserie thing has been in for quite awhile (and again, one of my grandmas had plenty of it in her house for as long as I could remember)? For awhile I've been thinking, why don't the big home stores get on that and start offering some affordable alternatives. Well Pier One listened in my brain and did just that. And now they have this cute, affordable coffee table that I'd happily buy and paint a nice bright color if I were in the market for a coffee table, which I'm not.

This is crazy: I see these Audobon prints everywhere for sale. Guess what? You can download them for free and print them yourself!

This article on producing mass quantities of cut flowers applies principles that can be used in any garden.

I'm with Linda: When my phone digs a hole for me (or better yet, starts pulling weeds), then we can talk about technology helping grow the garden.

What's on your agenda for the weekend? Will you be watching the Superbowl? Have a great weekend!


STARTING THE TASTE OF SUMMER FROM SEED

Before there was a vegetable garden in my life there were tomatoes. I first grew tomatoes in 10-inch plastic pots in the first apartment I lived in after college. The pots weren't big enough and the squirrels grabbed every fruit the moment it appeared.

When I moved to my next apartment, I tried to grow a tomato in a north-facing window box. I have always been an optimistic gardener. After we came home from living in New Zealand, I covered a patio with tomatoes in containers along with all kinds of flowers. I think the gardening prowess in New Zealand must have rubbed off on me because I came back a much better gardener, despite not doing any gardening there.

I've been growing tomatoes for 20 years now and I have never started one from seed.

That's about to change. This year I'm going to be starting most of my tomatoes from seed (I'm allowing myself an out to buy a couple plants that might catch my eye).

It's not that I'm afraid to start tomatoes from seed. It's quite the opposite: I'm afraid I won't be able to stop starting tomatoes from seeds.

I have room for about eight tomato plants in my garden and various containers and that's probably pushing it. Every packet of seeds has about 25 seeds in it. And yes, I can give away excess plants. But will I?

I've struggled more than a little with making my selections as well. Depending on the source you consult, there are between 3,000 and 10,000 types of tomatoes. I need eight or fewer.

I picked up Craig LeHoullier's book Epic Tomatoes, which had information on several interesting sounding varieties as well as everything else you need to know about growing tomatoes. (The most interesting thing I learned is that not all suckers are bad and you don't need to get rid of them all.

My personal priorities for tomatoes are:
  1. They have to grow and produce reasonably well in our short growing season.
  2. Taste. (Although I've never met a homegrown tomato that wasn't 1,000 times better than a tomato from the store.)
  3. Disease resistance.
I usually look for varieties that are quick to reach maturity, and that can come at the expense of taste. I also like to get a wide variety of tomatoes in terms of color, use and size.

Given all that, here are the varieties I've ordered seed for so far (I'm linking to the places I bought them but obviously many places carry the same varieties):



MEXICO MIDGET
LeHoullier said his wife would never forgive him (or maybe divorce him) if he didn't grow this tomato every year. This very small cherry tomato grows on large trusses and provides amazing flavor. If this one is as good as LeHoullier says it is, I don't expect many of these to make it in the house.

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CHEROKEE PURPLE
This may be my favorite of all tomatoes and I can't imagine not growing it (or substituting Black Krim) every year. It's sweet and dark and meaty and everything I want a tomato to be.
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SHEBOYGAN
This is a paste and canning tomato, which is a bit of a change for me as I rarely grow that variety. What drew me to it is that supposedly this heirloom was grown in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, (Mr. Much More Patient's hometown and a mere 20 miles from our house) where it thrived. I want a tomato that thrives and gives me more fruit than I can possibly figure out what to do with.

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This was developed at my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, so it must be good, right? I was drawn to this tomato for the same reason as I was drawn to Sheboygan: It stands a good chance of doing well in my area.

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I'm a sucker for an interesting tomato and this one is intriguing to me. Descriptions of the flavor range from "horrible" to "sparkling." Apparently if you pick these when they are anything but ripe the flavor is not great. I'm willing to give it a shot.

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This is described as a pinkish brown tomato with green stripes. It matures quickly and the flavor is said to be outstanding. I'll classify this one as an experiment.

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I will also probably add in a Kellogg's Breakfast tomato, as that has been one of my best producers for several years and I love the orange-yellow tomatoes that taste more like a red fruit than a yellow.

Now comes the waiting. 

Do you know what kind of tomatoes you'll grow this year? Do you plan it out ahead of time or just grab what strikes your fancy?