Oklahoman’s show their hospitality to national garden writers

Oklahoma hospitality is really something very special. We often forget or take for granted just how wonderful our state and its people are, until we get to spend time here in our state with people visiting from all over the country. It is a real joy to hear visitors bragging about this great state we call home. Since our last visit the National Garden Writers held their national conference in Oklahoma City with side trips to gardens here, in Stillwater and Tulsa. Over 500 garden writers were here from major magazines like Better Homes and Gardens, Horticulture, American Gardener and Fine Gardening as well as most of the major newspapers in the country. We also hosted many garden book publishers and writers. Most were from large cities and many from the two coasts.

To hear them talk many were not excited about coming to Oklahoma before their arrival. It is amazing to this day how many folks that have never been here still expect cowboys and Indians or the wild west. Amongst garden writers many expected the dust bowl and very limited horticulture or gardening. I had numerous visits with folks like the Philadelphia writer that told me she really had not wanted to come to Oklahoma City because she expected a gardening wasteland still dealing with the dust bowl. She said a writer at another paper who had been here previously talked her into coming saying she would love the people and be surprised by the gardening. By the end of the conference she was telling me it was the best meeting she had ever attended and the people she met at the hotel, on the streets and on the garden tours were the friendliest she had ever met and the gardens were amazing.

The garden writers probably only agreed to come because of our state’s centennial and the leadership of Steve Dobbs, a former writer of this column who just finished a two year term as National President of the garden writers. The enthusiasm of the local host committee helped attract them to our state as well. Once here it is the regular folks our visitors meet at the airport, in cabs or busses, at hotels, restaurants, shops and on the street that really sets our state apart. The local arrangements committee led by John Fluitt, Linda Horn and Patrick Bones put together an amazing set of seminars and special events. Hundreds of Okie volunteers pitched in to make each event special.

The Myriad Gardens is a special treat anytime but is almost magical on a perfect fall evening for dinner among the beautiful outdoor gardens followed by a special Route 66 story telling program under the stars. Another evening had 10 tour busses going out to visit the new Route 66 “Pops” gas station with 400 kinds of pop from all over the country and hay wagon tours through the impressive new wholesale Deep Fork Tree Farm. The surrounding Arcadia Farms is a magnificent showplace of natural plains and wildlife habitat that hosted special Oklahoma food and beverage stops along the way. The final night was at the beautiful Cowboy Hall of Fame with its pretty grounds and magnificent art and western collections.

The star attraction besides the warmth of our people was beautiful landscaping and gardens. Many visited the Bricktown Canal, Arts Museum, Zoo and other public attractions on their own but the private gardens stole the show. Many of the tour stops will show up in future months in national magazines and you heard repeatedly from folks that they could not believe they were finding these gardens in Oklahoma. When you get a chance to see any of these yards on neighborhood garden tours from time to time, buy a ticket and go to enjoy these remarkable gardens.

Hugh and Jennifer Stout, national leaders in the daylily and iris societies were one of the most photographed stops and have a lot of fun plantings and artwork incorporated into their gardens. OSU Oklahoma City was a big hit with their beautiful gardens, All American Trials, greenhouses and Farmers Market where many peanut eating writers got to see and take pictures of their first actual peanut plant loaded with below ground nuts. The Kenneth and Nova Minick water gardens were spectacular and the impressive Express Ranch gardens with their “Dallas” style mansion overlooking the gorgeous river valley full of cattle and an oil well or two was a special sight and just would not all fit in a single picture.

The Bombing Memorial has a powerful but solemn impact on our visitors and this group was especially touched by the endurance and persistence of the survivor elm. Two small yards in Crown Heights had a significant impact beginning with the beautiful English style Vater family garden topped off with a colorful cutting garden hidden behind her studio. The MacMayhill and Baker garden featured one of the most imaginative and relaxing outdoor living areas I have ever seen literally nestled in a beautiful oasis.

The final garden tour to Nichols Hills featured the magnificent Italian gardens of Christian Keesee and the beautiful yard and great kitchen garden of Don and Fanny Bolen. The new gardens of Jackie and Barbara Cooper are less than 2 years old but already look like a great European style estate garden while the David and Kirsten Griffin Gardens feature some beautiful formal boxwood plantings and another impressive and comfortable outdoor living area. Two of the biggest hits were the Guilford gardens of Kamela Gamble where she grows many of her own vegetables, herbs, edible and cut flowers for her Kam’s Kookery. The Japanese inspired gardens of Jerry and Sherry Cash are absolutely stunning and feature incredible ponds, bridges, rockwork, koi fish, over 20 varieties of bamboo, water lilies and other impressive plantings.

We have a great state, a great city and wonderful people. We all need to believe in ourselves, be a little prouder of our state and keep showing that great hospitality to everyone whether they are here for business, for pleasure, for horse shows or the garden writers national conference. This next weekend the National Zoo horticulturists are going to be in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Lets make the same great impression on them.

Now is the time to plant hardy mums, pansies, ornamental kale and cabbage. You can also select and plant your spring flowering bulbs to make your garden a special Oklahoma treat.

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