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Garden Bloggers Fling – Willowsford Farm

Thursday, June 29th, 2017

Hi, everyone. Anneliese here. I’m back! Did you miss me? After four years away from CobraHead, I’ve returned to the family business, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

One of my resumed responsibilities is representing CobraHead at events like the Garden Bloggers Fling. Geoff and I attended the very first Fling in Austin, TX in 2008, and I continued attending every year until 2012. The garden bloggers who attend the Fling are invariably a wonderful group of people, and I’ve maintained friendships with many of them over the years even when I wasn’t working in the gardening world. After several years away, it was a privilege both to see many old friends and to make new friends with bloggers who’ve started attending Flings in my absence.

This year’s Fling was held in the Washington, D.C. metro region, and boy, was it a good time. Probably my favorite site of the entire Fling was the very first garden we visited, and it was really more of a farm than a garden. In fact, the place was called Willowsford Farm.

Willowsford Farm

Willowsford is a relatively new residential development not far from Dulles Airport in northern Virginia. They’re committed to keeping 2,000 acres of open space, and 300 of those acres are kept for the farm. Willowsford’s Director of Farm Operations, Mike Snow, graciously led us on a tour.

Mike Snow of Willowsford Farm

Our first stop on the tour was the farm stand. Mike explained that the food produced on the farm is available to consumers in a number of different ways. They operate a CSA with members picking up their weekly produce shares, but for those who would rather not commit to a CSA share, they can always stop at the farm stand for a la carte shopping.

Produce for sale at the Willowsford Farm Stand

The farm sells some of their produce to the Willowsford Kitchen, where it’s processed into various ready-to-eat goods and then also sold at the farm stand. Some of their items are brought in from other nearby producers.

The dairy cooler at Willowsford Farm Stand

Right next to the farm stand is the “you-pick” garden, where visitors can harvest their own fruits, veggies, and flowers.

Bloggers enjoying the “you-pick” garden at Willowsford Farm

Mike then took us to the production areas of the farm. Our first stop was a corral with a chicken coop and a pair of geese. The fencing was easily movable so the animal pen could be relocated every few weeks. This way the animals could naturally fertilize different areas over time.

Movable fencing for the chickens and geese

The farm had several acres under cultivation and produces a wide variety of crops. Here Mike is explaining the fabric row covers that are used for insect damage prevention on certain crops. If I recall correctly, these were radishes or perhaps cole crops.

Crops with row covers for pest prevention

I asked Mike if they started their own plants from seed, and the answer was yes, most of the time. The farm utilized several hoop houses for both seed starts and some greenhouse growing.

Covered crops, lettuces, and hoop houses in the background

I was really interested to see that one of the hoop houses was being used to grow ginger and turmeric. These aren’t crops that are commonly grown in Wisconsin, and it’s always fun to see some of the plants that can grow in different parts of the country.

Ginger and turmeric growing inside a hoop house


I truly enjoyed my visit to Willowsford Farm. They’re doing great work using both traditional and innovative food production methods, and it was a perfect reintroduction to the Garden Bloggers Fling.

Cucumber and squash trellis

Ethnobotanical Garden of Oaxaca

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012
Agave Cactus


I recently had the privilege of spending the month of November in Oaxaca, Mexico. I was there to work on improving my Spanish, but I also had the opportunity to do a bit of cultural exploration. Right in the heart of the city is the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca (Ethnobotanical Garden of Oaxaca). The garden is located on the grounds of a former Dominican monastery, but for many years in the late 19th and early 20th centuries the site was used for military barracks. When the decision was made in the 1990s to turn the grounds into a botanical garden, quite a lot of cleanup was required, as much of area had been used for dumping grounds.

Yes, the spines on this tree are sharp.

Yes, the spines on this tree are sharp.

One Sunday morning my schoolmate Daniel (who happens to be an organic farmer) and I decided to take the tour of the gardens. Usually when I tour botanical gardens I like to take pictures of the plant labels so I’ll remember later what the plants are. However, the garden in Oaxaca has no plant labels. We were reliant on our tour guide to explain to us what most everything was. As is typical with me, I didn’t bother to write anything down. Let’s see what I remember.

We’ll start with the edibles. I’m much better at remembering food.

Sweet potato border

Sweet potato border

Okay, that wasn’t so hard. I certainly know what sweet potato leaves look like.

Raised beds

Raised beds

Ah, another one I’m good with. Marigolds in the front, corn in the back, tomatoes in the middle, and in the back left corner are peppers. In Mexico, peppers are perennials, and their stems were quite woody.



Well that’s just a neat looking fountain. No other identification necessary. This isn’t so hard!

Cactus Walk

Cactus Walk

Several cactus varieties, but heck if I know the names of them. I think our guide may have called the big slouchy one in the middle a biznaga. I only remember this because it was also the name of a restaurant in town that I frequented. See? Food is what I remember.

Living Wall

Living Wall

This is a wall made of closely-planted cacti. I asked Daniel to jump in the picture for scale. He’s 6’5″.

Prickly Pear

Prickly Pear

You may notice this particular prickly pear isn’t all that prickly. Some commercial varieties have had the spines bred out of them for easier harvesting and handling.



I really like the way this cycad is leaning.

Elephant Foot

Elephant Foot

If I recall correctly, our guide referred to this as an “elephant foot” tree.

Well, there you go. If you happen to find yourself in Oaxaca (you really should find yourself in Oaxaca), be sure to take the tour at the botanical gardens. There’s a lot more to see than what I posted here, and the history of the place is very interesting.


Reallygoods Live up to Their Name

Friday, October 19th, 2012

It’s not often that I feel the need to shout to the world how great a product is, but I’ve wanted to do just that about Reallygoods for quite some time. I first encountered Reallygoods about a year and a half ago when Noel and I were on a road trip through central Wisconsin. Our longtime family friends, Chris and Steve McDiarmid, were the proprietors of a food and wine shop in the village of Coloma, and we decided we should take a quick break from our travels to stop in and say hello.

During our visit, I noticed a small stack of interesting looking nut bars loaded with coconut, macadamia nuts, raisins, and more. I decided I needed to grab a few for road snacks. Chris then told me how they had been making their raw “things” for family members for quite a while, and they were so popular that they started selling them in their shop. Noel and I grabbed a couple for ourselves, and we made sure we had an extra one to take back home to Judy.

Some miles down the road I took the wrapper off my “fruit and nut thing” and took a few bites. It was not what I expected. I mean, I expected to like it, but I certainly didn’t expect to LOVE it. I’ve had plenty of other raw fruit and nut bars before, and they’re usually… well, they’re usually just OK. Other raw fruit bars are often dense, chewy, and healthy-tasting – a decent snack to be sure, but not necessarily habit-forming. This was delicious and sweet but not overly so. It had a satisfying crunch, but there was still the right amount of chewiness. It was almost like a cookie. After a few more mouthfuls I turned to my dad and said, “Wow. This is really good!”

Through an amazing assertion of willpower on my part, the final “thing” managed to make it home to Judy. Surprising absolutely no one, she loved it, too.

We knew we wouldn’t make the hour and a half trip to Coloma very often, so we started ordering our snack things by the case. Last year, Judy ordered enough to make sure everyone in our extended family had a tasty stocking stuffer for the holidays.

Meanwhile, Chris and Steve knew they were onto something. They decided to shutter the doors to their wine shop and make a go of producing and selling Reallygoods, as they had come to be known. During that process, we were honored to be product testers while Chris and Steve perfected their recipe. Samples were sent to us with each new tweak. It was a rough gig.

Now, finally, Reallygoods are ready for market, and I can’t wait to see them on grocery store shelves everywhere. While we wait for that to happen, you can always order them online from the Reallygoods website. There’s even a monthly subscription plan for addicts like me.

My First Bloom!

Thursday, March 15th, 2012


After two years in my house, I finally decided it was time to add to the garden collection. So last fall after road crews finished tearing up my street, I took advantage of the bare soil the road crews left by the curb and planted over 400 crocus bulbs. Pictured above is my first official bloom from something I planted myself. This particular variety is Crocus chrysanthus ‘Ard Schenk’ from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. And yes, I’m proud of myself for actually keeping track of what varieties I planted.

Not long afterwards, I had another variety pop up: Crocus ancyrensis ‘Golden Bunch’.


I planted five varieties in total, but the other three haven’t shown their little faces, yet. I expect to see them all soon, though.

Sorry for the picture quality — I took these with my phone! Actually, this entire post was composed and published via phone, so all things considered, I think it turned out okay.

Another Spring, Another Fling

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Okay, so it’s summer, but summer doesn’t rhyme with fling.

For the past four years, a group of garden bloggers has met up each spring or summer in a different part of the country. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of attending all four Garden Bloggers Flings, and this year it was held in Seattle. The weather cooperated beautifully, and we were treated to sunny days every day except one. Over the course of four days, we visited a number of gardens, both public and private. Here are just a few of the photos I took.

The garden of Suzette and Jim Birrell was a great mix of edibles and ornamentals. You can tell that they really love color.

The Prettiest Garden Shed I've Ever Seen

Gorgeous Swiss Chard

Just next door was Shelagh Tucker’s garden, where I may or may not have snitched a raspberry from the backyard.

Garden of Shelagh Tucker

I didn’t really get a great shot of Michelle and Christoper Epping’s rather amazing garden, but I did get a few decent shots of the rather amazing view (actually, there are several views).

Pictures of People Taking Pictures

In the Olmstead brothers designed Dunn Gardens, I spied this funky old moss-covered shed. I like the tree branch “antlers”.

Hidden Shed in the Dunn Gardens

During our trip to West Seattle, we visited the garden of one of Seattle Fling’s organizers, Lorene Edwards Forkner.

Lorene Edwards Forkner's "Urban Hillbilly Chic" Garden

On the last day of the trip, we were treated to the weather one expects on a trip to the Pacific Northwest. There was a good bit of rain, and even a little lightning and thunder. I didn’t really mind though, because that day we visited the Bloedel Reserve. The rain kept me from taking too many pictures, which is fine, because I’d rather just take a walk in the woods and enjoy myself. Besides, you don’t get moss like this without a bit of rain.

Moss Garden at the Bloedel Reserve

In all, it was a fantastic trip. It was great to see old friends and make new ones. I can’t wrap up without thanking the tireless organizers of the trip Lorene Edwards Forkner, Marty Wingate, Debra Prinzing, and Mary Ann Newcomer. Often on trips like this one, things don’t always run as smoothly as they’re supposed to, but if they didn’t, I never noticed. I was truly impressed with how well everything was put together.

Next year’s Fling will be in Asheville, NC, and I’m already excited!

Cleaning an Overgrown Garden Bed — Video!

Monday, June 27th, 2011

Noel and I made another video last week demonstrating how he uses a few different tools to help him clean out a totally overgrown, weedy garden bed. As you can see in the video, a few of the beds in the vegetable garden have grown out of control. The daunting task of clearing the beds was made quite a lot easier with the use of proper hand tools.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day June 2011

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

Welcome once again to Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, where garden bloggers around the world share the flowers they’re enjoying in their own gardens.

You’ll have to forgive my pictures for this month. By the time I was able to take photos, the sky was dark and overcast, so I hurried through the garden a bit quickly. You’ll also have to forgive the complete lack of identification of all blooms. I can name some of the flowers and not others, and unfortunately I don’t have enough time today to spend a couple of hours doing Google image searches to try to figure out what I’ve got growing. However, I think it’s better to post several pics of lovely unnamed blooms than to skip Bloom Day altogether.

Please enjoy!

Using the CobraHead Long Handle as a Scuffle Hoe

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

Noel and I decided to seize upon the nice weather we had today and shoot a few short videos in the garden. Here, he’s demonstrating how the CobraHead Long Handle® can be used as a scuffling hoe. Please enjoy!

We plan to post more videos as the summer progresses. Please let us know if there’s something you like to see from us!

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day May 2011

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

Well it’s Bloom Day again, and I’m ashamed to admit that it’s been a rather long time since I last put up a Bloom Day post. Even longer still since I’ve posted about my own garden. It’s not that I have a shortage of flowers during the “warm” months (I put warm in quotes because it’s currently in the 50s and rainy here), I just usually tend to forget to take pictures of them.

But not today! For your viewing enjoyment I trekked through my garden (in the rain!) to snap a few pics of some of the lovely color I have right now.

My daffodils are pretty much all spent, but I still have quite a few tulips.


Around in the back of the house there’s a Bergenia (Pigsqueak).


A little further in the back are some cute primroses and a groundcover that I don’t know the name of.


And way back by the fence I found some grape hyacinths.


Moving on over to the front side of the house are the bleeding hearts.


Just a little beyond that are some Virginia bluebells.


Turn around, and (hooray!) my cherry tree is in bloom.


And over on the corner the pear tree is producing a few blossoms of its own.

So there you have it! Not bad for a cold and rainy day in May.

Announcing the Young Gardeners Contest Winners!

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

You may remember that last month we announced an essay contest in which participants were asked to write about a young gardener.  Today we are pleased to announce the winning entry was written by Sharon Reed.  Sharon chose to write about her nine-year-old grandson, Fisher.  Here is her letter and a picture of one of Fisher’s favorite places in the garden.

I am a Master Gardener and provide advice to many gardeners in the community, but the most important gardener to me is my young grandson, Fisher.  He is nine years old, and not a ‘veggie’ person so I thought if I gave him some responsibility for my vegetable garden I could create some enthusiasm for eating the vegetables we grew.  We planted rows of tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash, edamame, strawberries, corn, pumpkins, sunflowers and gourds.

At first it was a challenge to get him interested and away from the Wii games he loves to play.  But with a lot of encouragement, he became interested.  We planted our plants and seeds, then covered each row with newspaper covered with grass clippings.  Soon we began to see our plants getting bigger and new plants emerging.  My grandson, Fisher, watched closely the new plants, until he spied a garden toad.  He loves toads and other garden critters.  We made a hypertufa ‘toad house’ placing it in the middle of the garden.  Fisher visited the ‘toad house’ each time he worked in the garden.  He was able to see the pathways created by his friend, the toad, that enabled the toad to get to various parts of the garden under the mulch. He was also fascinated by the family of bluebirds that nested in the bird house in the center of our garden.  He would visit the house regularly checking on the babies.

As the weeks went by, I would find Fisher in my garden.  He was ‘taking care’ of the strawberries, or so he said, but I found his face was always stained with strawberry juice. When the peas began to ripen, he could be found in the pea patch, shelling pea pods, but he was eating them as fast as he could.  So I marked this as a success, my grandson will eat strawberries and PEAS.  Aha, a vegetable!  As time went by, we harvested some ‘flying saucer’ squash and some ‘red kernel’ sweet corn.  We prepared the squash on the grill along with the corn.  Fisher enjoyed both of these veggies as well.  He had a lot of fun picking tomatoes and peppers, but he did not eat them. Maybe next year.  He did not enjoy the time we spent digging potatoes until he found one that looked like a duck.  He was excited about the ‘duck’ potato, and wanted to take some of the harvest home to his mother.

Anytime we had guests, he quickly took the lead on the ‘family garden tour.’  He would tell the guest all about the plants, how they grew, what the plant needed for water and sun, the produce the plant would provide, even how to cook and eat the produce.  He would show everyone the toad house and the bird house.  He learned so much this year.  I know we created a summer garden but more importantly we created lasting memories that far outweigh the initial purpose of getting Fisher to eat and enjoy vegetables.

Congratulations to both Fisher and Sharon!  Fisher will receive a prize package of a CobraHead, a Garden Padd kneeler, and a copy of the book “Good Bug, Bad Bug” by Jessica Walliser.  Sharon will receive a gift certificate for $25 off an order at  Many thanks to all who participated!