Get to know Josh from Iowa’s In the Country Garden and Gifts

In the Country Garden and Gifts is one of our favorite nurseries. Not only do they carry great unique hostas (my favorite shade plant) but they’re also located in Eastern Iowa where Ryan and I grew up. Josh specializes in both hostas and water gardens and his family nursery both delivers on plants as well as teaching gardeners of all ages and abilities.

Welcoming you to In the Country Garden and Gifts

When did you start In the Country Garden and Gifts?

We started the business the year I graduated from high school in 1998.

How does your location outside Independence, Iowa influence your nursery and what you grow?

We are rural. We’re actually located on the family farm on a gravel road! The biggest challenge this proves is some difficulty for our local customers to find us.  Most people don’t mind, though, and a trip to In The Country actually becomes a whole fun experience.  A completely different atmosphere and setting than a visit to an every-day garden center.  In addition to the nursery, our personal garden acts as a display garden that customers are welcome to explore.

A water garden at In the Country Garden and Gifts

We began getting serious about mail order about 3 years ago.  We have a loyal local customer base, but the very specialized nature of our business (hostas, water plants, and a handful of misc. uncommon annuals & perennials) captures the interest of a very specialized gardener. Mail order offers a huge market and has grown tremendously for us each year.  Mail order also helps level out some of the seasonal nature of the nursery business…die-hard hosta collectors order the latest and greatest new hostas all winter long for delivery in the spring!

Of course, running a local and mail order nursery brings many challenges, which we continue to figure out along the way!

How many hostas do you carry currently,  and how did your interest in hostas begin?
We currently carry around 350 different varieties.

My interest in hostas began when I was around 10 or 12 and my grandmother began buying hostas for her shaded yard…often buying duplicates for me. Within a few years I had accumulated a modest collection and there was no turning back! My personal hosta collection has grown to over 900 varieties and my brother-in-law and I have started to experiment with hybridizing.  My hosta addiction has resulted in a number of my articles being published in The Hosta Journal (the official publication of the American Hosta Society) and lead me to serve on the American Hosta Society Board of Directors as the Website Editor since 2008.

Bright Lights and Blue Angel hostas at In the Country Garden and Gifts
Currently, what are your favorite hosta cultivars?

My standard answer to this question is “it depends on the day!”  My short list of favorites will always include ‘June’ and ‘Sagae’….both proven performers.  Among the multitude of new introductions, ‘Rhino Hide‘ and ‘Curly Fries‘ are at the top of my mind.  I also think ‘Ripple Effect‘ and ‘Goodness Gracious’ are going to be fantastic hostas. See…it goes on and on!!

Do you have any advice for gardeners with lots of shade in their yards?

Work with it…don’t fight it!  In addition to hostas, there is a huge and fascinating array of shade tollerant perennials out there.  Sure you may have to do some digging to find the nurseries that carry them and they may be a bit more expensive than the standard selection of perennials, but they are out there.  Do your research!

To help do your research, check out The Hostapedia: The Hosta Encyclopedia by Mark R. Zillis.  It’s the most definitive work on hostas in print and is a must for every collector, nurseryman and gardener. The book contains:

  • Over 7400 hostas  listed from A-Z
  • Over 1800 color photos
  • 1120 pages filled with descriptions, facts and stories
  • Complete index of hosta names

Introducing Krieger Greenhouses from Jefferson, Iowa.

1) What makes Krieger Greenhouses unique and worth checking out?
What makes us unique is that we are still family owned and operated. We care about our customers and know that our customer’s success is ultimately what will drive the next generation of our business.

2) When did Krieger Greenhouses begin?
“Growing for you since 1892” is our company motto. We’ve been in business for four generations. It started by my great great German grandfather. His father was a gardener for the King of Prussia.
Funny story – when he emigrated to the us he worked for a beer distributor. He moved west and wound up in Iowa where he worked then owned a beer distributorship as well as a truck garden / greenhouse. Decided that there was a better future in green goods instead of beer. My grandmother swears that she will kill him when she finally meets him at the Pearly Gates. The small beer brand that he gave up on was soon to become Miller!

3) Has Krieger always been a greenhouse?
We did start out as a Truck Garden but then quickly expanded into wholesale and specialty markets.

What’s a truck garden? Commercial vegetable growers were known as Truck Gardeners. They grew veggies in hot houses then moved them into the fields. This crop was harvested and sold to markets and grocery stores via trucks.

4) What kinds of plants do you specialize in?
We are strictly annual growers. Cost efficiencies come from a narrow product line and we pass these cost savings onto our customers.

5) Personally, what’s your favorite plant to grow and why?
My favorite flower or plant is a “Gardens to Go”.

“Gardens to Go” is an idea that we came up with around 10 years ago. Customers were walking out of retail settings with one or two packs of flowers. They would come back later in the afternoon because they had not purchased enough plants to fill out the basket or planter box. Also because they had not planted enough flowers they had to wait for weeks for their flower beds to fill in and start to look good.

A “Garden to Go” features 24 flowers that will fill out 4 hanging baskets, 2 large planter boxes or one 6’*6′ flower bed. You plant more plants, closer together which gives you quicker response time in the garden. Plants fill in faster and look better sooner! A “Garden to Go” is much more cost effective for a customer than purchasing individual packs of flowers.

Another great benefit of the “Garden to Go” is that it uses half the amount of plastic of ordinary flower flats and packs. Less plastic means less plastic to recycle or to fill up your garden shed.

Lastly, the “Garden to Go” is the perfect gift because it comes in a “trendy” gold flat with a convenient carry handle. The package just looks SUPER!

6) Do you have advice for the gardeners out there who grow Krieger’s plants?
Ask questions, learn and most of all TEACH! Tell others about your successes and failures but most of all SHARE your appreciation for cultivating beauty in the outdoors!

Get to Know Crystal From Gold Hill Plant Farm!

Crystal from Gold Hill Plant Farm in Waverly, Alabama has some of the coolest plants we’ve seen. Her nursery of slipper orchids, goldfish plantsrabbit’s foot fern, string of pearls, inspired us to add more to our own plant collection. Here are a few pictures of the farm and examples of her great selection of unique plants.

Why did you pick the name Gold Hill Plant Farm? What’s the story behind that name?

About 25 years ago we moved to Gold Hill, a beautiful rural area with rolling hills and lots of trees, pastures, deer, and in recent years coyotes and armadillos. The Southern Railroad track crosses the highway and facing west the sign on the tracks says Gold Ridge. The story goes that when the train used to stop here the freight would get mixed up with that from Grove Hill, so the railroad tried to change the name, but it did not stick. Some think that way back there was an unproductive gold mine here, but I think the name derives from the red/gold color of the soil. When I thought about naming my plant business, the name Gold Hill had a good history, and is well known in the area as a beautiful and quiet place.

What about Waverly, Alabama makes it unique?

Gold Hill is a suburb of Waverly. The idea makes me smile, because both places are little more than communities, and not big ones at that. Waverly does have a Post Office, a restaurant (The Yellow Hammer), and a couple of businesses. One is quite famous. Standard Delux ships screen printed T-shirts all over the world. Locally, Waverly has the reputation of doing an admirable balancing act between the old timers and the new group of local artists.

What made you start growing your plants?

My love of plants started early as my family were farmers. Both grandmothers loved houseplants and my mother had potted plants and was interested in them till she died in her 90’s. I say I inherited my love of plants or else it was drilled into me at an early age. I guess it is true that one person’s treasure is another person’s weed. A plant is hardly worth growing if it does not require at least some care. I think this explains why many lovely native plants are largely ignored. It may explain why the preponderance of plants I grow are tropicals.

You carry a lot of tropicals and orchids. How can someone in a colder growing zone enjoy these plants?

I am continually trying  out greenhouse plants to see if they can make it outdoors in my zone 8 garden. Almost everybody can devote a little space on a window sill or by a glass door to grow a plant or two and plants pull more than their weight in decorating and cheerfulness.  A  rosary vine is an uncommon and easy to care for plant that anyone can grow. Rex begonias are also stunning , but do require a little more care than a rosary vine. A pencil plant can become an indoor shrub  fairly quickly, and is also a departure from the ordinary houseplant.

When we saw your first plant, the Night Blooming Cereus, we knew Gold Hill would be special. Tell us more about having a party to celebrate them.

I frequently call friends to come over when my night cereus is going to bloom. I can tell because the flowers turn up with a crook in the blossom the day they will bloom that night. I have had amateur photographers come and friends who are interested in plants or who want someplace to go for an evening. We sit on the porch and listen to the crickets and cicadas and revel in creation and our place in it. I have a blog where I write about plants and also occasionally throw in some personal philosophy and reminisces.

Meet Kathleen from Tulip Tree Hill Farm

Kathleen and her brother as children with the animals.

Tulip Tree Hill Farm is a tiny little farm in Southern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania specializing in heirloom vegetable and herb seedlings. Their selection is perfect for gardeners who enjoy growing food for the table that has been served in American homes for generations Tulip Tree Hill specializes in not your run-of-the-mill varieties. Instead, they offer many unique heirlooms including tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, and melons. They also raise interesting and unusual seedlings for the adventurous gardener: artichokes, licorice, roselle, and even cotton, not to mention flowering beauties like German Chamomile and Munstead Lavender.

With such an extraordinary selection, we wanted to know more about Tulip Tree Hill and Kathleen, the wonderful grower behind these great heirloom varieties.

1) What’s this history behind Tulip Tree Hill, and how did you come up with such a beautiful name for your farm?

Five years ago I purchased this property from my parents who were ready to downsize after living here for nearly thirty years. The name of the farm and studio stems from the numerous Tulip Poplars in the woods at the back of the property. Also, the farm sits at the top of a hill which is one of the high points in the area.

2) How does being in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania influence what you grow and raise?

Lancaster County is blessed by some of the richest farmland around and has a long farming history. Southern Lancaster County, especially, is still largely composed of small family farms, although Tulip Tree Hill is likely one of the smallest!

3) When did you start specializing in heirloom vegetable and herb seedlings, and what made you turn to growing such unique heirlooms plants?

2009 was my first real foray into growing heirloom vegetable and herb seedlings. While there are many greenhouses locally, most sell bedding flowers and perennials and it is almost impossible to find heirloom and unusual vegetable seedlings. Since my own interest lies in unique and unusual varieties, I saw a niche that had yet to be truly filled. So 2009 became a year of planning learning, and building the greenhouse.

This year sees not only the beginning of selling heirlooms, but also of the market garden. The very same varieties I’m selling as seedlings will also be put in the ground here to be nurtured, raised, harvested, and sold at local growers markets.

4) Which heirlooms are are you favorites to grow and eat?

Tomatoes have to be at or near the top of the list because of the many sizes, shapes, and colors available. But I also adore peppers and enjoy making hot sauces for my own kitchen as well as gift-giving. Eggplants also come in a surprising variety of colors and I’m looking forward to the reactions I’ll get with them at market. Something new in my kitchen last year was fried squash blossoms – delicious!

5) What heirlooms would you recommend to someone just starting out with their own vegetable garden?

I’d say don’t try to fight your local weather, but work with it. Someone gardening in a warm, sunny area would do well with tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, while a gardener in a cool, wet area might have better luck with broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. But having said that, I have to admit I’ve never let that stop me! Last year, for instance, I tried growing cotton here in zone 6, just for fun. It was the coldest, wettest summer I can remember and even so, I still got a couple of cotton bolls. My best advice is to experiment, have fun, and see what happens!

6) Does Tulip Tree Hill grow anything besides plants?

Tulip Tree Hill is also home to Babydoll sheep, Shetland sheep, American Buff geese, and a variety of bantam chickens. We have a limited number of their offspring available for sale here on the farm in the spring (we don’t ship animals). Keeping me company amongst all of this are my three standard schnauzers, Big, Dora, and Ava.

The resident sheep of Tulip Tree Hill

7) Beyond growing plants, you’re also a very accomplished artist. How do you see Tulip Tree Hill influencing your art and your art influencing your outdoor surroundings?

Where I live definitely influences my art. The natural world, with it’s flora and fauna is where I draw my inspiration from. The cawing of crows in the woodland, a quiet dewey morning, and seeing the sheep grazing at twilight all fill up my soul.

Kathleen Stoltzfus, “Migration Song”

Kathleen Stoltzfus, “Wonder of Flight”

Discover Your Pennsylvania Pride!

Pennsylvania Pride, an extraordinarily unique farm near Leesport, PA, provides a unique selection of over 200 trees including dogwoods, willows, cedars, and cypress. Also, they really stand by their trees, producing healthy plants and a wealth of knowledge fit for any gardener or landscaper. We’ve been enamored with their Japanese Dogwood, Niobe Gold Weeping Willow, and Dawn Redwood. We found that their story is every bit as unique as their selection. Here’s more about Pennsylvania Pride.

1) What makes Pennsylvania Pride worth checking out?
Pennsylvania Pride is unique because through this premier brand we are now able to take the trees we grow directly to the homeowner. Pennsylvania Pride also provides assistance for years to come through our grower team on the nursery. We are able to offer advice and tips for all those who choose the brand through our support website In addition, Pennsylvania Pride grows over 200 types of trees. We will be making more and more trees available as the season goes so it is definitely worth checking out regularly.

2) When did you start Pennsylvania Pride and why?
We started the Pennsylvania Pride brand in 1995 when we realized we needed to have the ability to get in touch with the homeowner. We needed to find a way to differentiate our trees from other generic growers for the benefit of our customers. All growers are not the same and all methods of growing are not the same. Our production methods are focused on growing trees that perform vigorously, not just survive. We understand the pain in failure for our customers and we work hard to avoid any plant loss. We also believe more trees are needed and with Pennsylvania Pride we can promote the benefits of trees.

Leesport's own Pennsylvania Pride farm.

3) You have a great selection of dogwoods. Why did you decide to start growing dogwoods and how many varieties do you grow?
Besides Dogwood being one of our favorite trees it is also one of the best well-known trees that does so much for the home landscape. We wanted to produce a ‘northern’ grown Dogwood that was suited to the northern climates planting season. Our nursery is about as far north as you can be to grow Dogwood successfully. We currently grow twelve selections and are testing three or four more at any one time. Our production is limited on this difficult crop but we expect to add more selections going forward.

4) Personally, what is your favorite tree that Pennsylvania Pride grows?

Wow, that’s a tough question! We love trees, all kinds and we see the value in all. There just isn’t a bad tree when grown well and planted well. If we have to choose….Redbud, a native tree that is one of the earliest flowering trees in spring. We grow five selections of redbud and hope to have these available soon. Redbuds can be grown successfully in almost any condition and they perform very well. They range from purple-leafed types, Purple, Pink and White flowered selections and weeping forms.

5) Are their any trees that you’ve grown that have surprised you, either with their foliage or their hardiness?
You know we have been surprised by Cryptomeria ‘Yoshino’, what a beautiful underused evergreen tree. Fast growing, clean and beautiful foliage. We cannot believe it is not used more, the tree just isn’t that well known, even by Garden Centers. Yoshino Cryptomeria is a great replacement for traditional overbearing evergreens and is much more suited to the smaller yard. If you have a spot, plant one of these. I love mine at home and out of the 120 different trees I have in my yard. It is my favorite!

6) Do you have advice for the gardeners out there who would like to get a dogwood but don’t know where to start?
Listen, Dogwoods are traditionally hard to get going. They are slow growers and can struggle in the first couple of years. Pennsylvania Pride specializes in Dogwood and for us to be successful, our customers have to be successful so all we do is focused on the success of our trees. Our trees are container grown and well rooted, thus avoiding the burden of field harvest and reducing almost totally the transplant shock. Not only that, but because we grow in containers you can expect real growth in the first year and we can almost guarantee blooms in the second year!

7) Are there any new tree species, varieties or cultivars that we should keep an eye out for at your farm?
I am excited about this question! We recently have applied for patent on ‘Pink Heartbreaker’ Weeping Redbud and we expect to be able to make available very soon to all!. This unique weeping form of Redbud was discovered on the nursery in 2002 and has proven to be a great tree. We are currently granting licenses to grow this tree around the world!

Other new selections we are growing include specialty type evergreens in
weeping forms and many underused trees for the home like Frankinia, Stewartia and some really cool variegated Sweetgums. While we have a limited offering today, we will be adding to our list on a regular basis. Not all Trees are available for shipping at all times so our product list will be changing monthly anyway.

Pennsylvania Pride is always worth coming back to. The farm has an ever-growing and changing selection of great trees that will bring rare and unique specimens to your region and your yard!