The Arkansas blue star, Amsonia hubrichtii, has been chosen by the Perennial Plant Association as its 2011 perennial plant of the year. This native herbaceous shrub, which grows into about a 3-foot mound, is named for its wands of star-shaped blue-petaled spring flowers. But the wow factor really kicks in when you see the billowing clouds of its threadlike, glowing yellow fall foliage.
It's hardy here in USDA Zone 6, it likes full sun and partial shade, and it tolerates dry conditions once established. Deer tend to avoid it because of its milky sap. In summer, A. hubrichtii makes a fine, feathery green foil for other bright perennials, including echinacea, and an understory filler layer to tall grass seed-heads. Year after year, you'll find three seasons of use for this splendid winner. For more information, go to Perennialplant.org.
I'm looking forward to an old-fashioned, down-to-earth holiday season. For me, that sometimes includes meandering through fields, gathering dried thistles and tall stalks with seed pods for arrangements, then taking them home and spray- painting them gold and silver — a trick I learned as a child.
Here are three ideas for activities that have homestyle appeal for an old-fashioned holiday:
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■ Foxhollow Farm: Just northeast of Louisville, Foxhollow Farm is a collaboration dedicated to producing and supporting local food sources and Earth-friendly agriculture.
Online or in person, you can check out holiday gift baskets through its farm store, whose items include bourbon barrel smoked peppercorns, locally produced eggs and grass-fed beef. You can hike the 3/4-mile nature trail around the pond or perhaps sign up for the wreath-making workshop from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday. The cost of the workshop is $20. The farm is at 8904 Ky. 329, Crestwood. Go to Foxhollow.com or call (502) 241-6869.
■ Athens Schoolhouse Antiques Show: Here's the ideal place to discover presents from the past. From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Dec. 11, and noon to 5 p.m. Dec. 12, you can visit the Holiday Open House in the old Athens-Boonesboro School at 4800 Athens- Walnut Hill Road.
Admission, which includes cider and cookies, is $2. Items include antique china and furniture, vintage ornaments, German feather trees from the 1930s and old teddy bears. There's also a gingerbread house booth, with home-made cookies, chocolates and candies. "A lot of ideas can be found here, like old ice skates, vintage toys and ornaments to use in wreaths and holiday decorations," manager Jean Allen Kemper says. Go to Antiqueskentucky.com or call (859) 255-7309.
■ Swedish Star Woven Ornament Class: The traditional craft of weaving star-shaped ornaments is being taught by Eastern Kentucky University's Community Education instructor Jill Renfro. In just a few hours, you'll be able to create a collection of natural fiber stars to decorate wreaths, trees, windows or packages.
The class is 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday at EKU's Danville campus, in Danville Manor Shopping Center, 1560 Hustonville Road. Registration is $20 or $5 for ages 65 and older, plus a $15 materials fee payable to the instructor at the class. Register in advance at Ceo.eku.edu/CommunityEducation. Call (859) 622-1228.
Gardening for a Lifetime: How to Garden Wiser as You Grow Older. By Sydney Eddison. Timber Press. 204 pp. $19.95.
My friend Davis Gardner invited me during the summer to visit her garden. Her Asiatic lilies were huge — almost a foot across the bloom and more than 5 feet tall. Around the garden beds, pastel colors and delicate textures were eye-catching, and almost everything was within an arm's reach of the borders. After years of husband Jess's rose-keeping, she'd opted for something not as chemical or care-intensive, and she arranged for extra help to maintain the plantings.
"I hadn't realized how rewarding gardening can be," Gardner said.
Her words came back to me as I read Gardening for a Lifetime, Sydney Eddison's musings about adapting life in a garden as one reaches new life stages.
Eddison has won many awards for her six previous books, and she is an instructor at New York Botanical Garden. She keeps a conversational tone throughout each chapter, as if she and the reader have been friends for years.
My favorite cautionary advice, good for any overzealous gardener, is that having such a large garden that you can't possibly maintain it by yourself is a warning sign.
This well-seasoned expert offers tidbits of garden wisdom to all ages. Completed by black-and-white sketches by Kimberly Day Proctor, this is a gentle and thoughtful reminder that "gardens and gardeners age and change," and adapting to new situations is the key to continuing a rewarding relationship.