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Green Army Man Garden Gnome

What is a garden without a garden gnome? I've always wanted a garden gnome, but never placed one taller than a couple of inches in the garden because I couldn't ever find a gnome I felt represented me, until today. Let me introduce you to the green army man garden gnome that will live in my garden.

Green Army Man Garden Gnome on Rocks

Traditional garden gnomes are fantastic, but as I mentioned above, they don't really represent me. They're a little too old school for me. There are other garden gnomes like the middle finger-flipping garden gnome, but I find him too hostile to place in the garden. Even in an urban garden like mine. Then there's the zombie garden gnomes that have become popular in recent years, but again, not really my style.

Green Army Man Garden Gnome Houseplants

So when Big Mouth Toys contacted me earlier and asked if there was anything in their catalog that I would like for my garden to review, I almost ignored them because I didn't see anything that I just had to have. Then I saw the green army man garden gnome and knew I just had to have him.

Green Army Man Garden Gnome profile

Nothing quite takes me back to my childhood like the plastic green army men this garden gnome is modeled after. This army man garden gnome weighs 1.45lbs, stands 13 inches tall, and is made from weather proof resin but feels pretty solid.

Army Man Garden Gnome

This garden gnome has a brought a smile to the face of everyone who has seen it, especially the nephews and niece. He has become such a topic of conversation in the home that I have decided to keep the green army man garden gnome indoors where he and his bazooka will keep watch over the houseplants. My only critique of this gnome is that there aren't more figures. I'd love nothing more than a few more gnomes posed like the iconic plastic army man toys it is modeled after.

Need a gift idea for a gardener that will bring a smile to a face? Give them a green army man garden gnome and watch their eyes light up. But don't be surprised if they start playing with it and making shooting noises and calling for reinforcements. Big Mouth Toys gave me this garden gnome for free, but you can buy them at the links I have provided. If you purchase it at Amazon through this blog post, I'll earn a small commission on the sale.

Do you own a garden gnome, or are you one of those people who find them tacky, and wouldn't display one in your garden?


A Grand Time at Grand Teton National Park

The last day of #ALEX14 was very bittersweet. That morning we woke and the participants separated into two groups. The group I was on decided to take a horseback ride along the trails that surround Togwotee Mountain Lodge. I decided to take the horseback riding excursion because I had never been on a horse before, and I figured if I was going to ride a horse for the first time, doing it in the American West was pretty appropriate.

The trails around Togwotee were just as scenic and interesting as any hikes within the national parks themselves. I wish we had spent some time just wandering around because throughout the horseback ride, we kept spotting animal tracks, and I even saw some Indian Paintbrushes blooming. Castilleja linariifolia, as it is properly know, is the state flower of Wyoming. Sadly, I didn't get a chance to take many photos during the ride since I was focused on staying on my horse, but I did get an opportunity to participate on the I’m on a meme, even if it was a few years late.
A video posted by @mrbrownthumb on
Later that afternoon we met with a photographer from National Geographic and posed for a group photo before taking a boat ride. It was the anniversary of 9/11 and the American flag fluttered behind the boat as we go our first close-up view of the glacier at the top of the Grand Tetons. During Day One of #ALEX14 we met Kevin Schneider, Deputy Superintendent of Grand Teton National Park, who said he considered the National Park Service to be an extension of the armed forces. In the way the military protects our country at home and abroad, the National Park Service protects the interior of our country.

I didn't understand it at the time, but that afternoon on the water, with the flag fluttering in the wind, I totally got it. Not only do the members of the National Park Service act as guides and interpreters of the parks, but they are there to protect us from the wildlife, the wildlife from us, and ensure that people and development don’t encroach on protected land.

Later that evening we went to a sunset dinner where we met David Vela, Superintendent Grand Teton National Park, who is the first Latino to serve as a superintendent of a national park. It was fun hearing Superintendent Vela’s story of how to got to this point of his career, and the connection he had with Grand Teton National Park as a youth, and how his life has come full circle.

I thought the highlight of this dinner was going to be me going beyond my comfort zone and eating elk. I had no idea I would be meeting an historic figure, and that the superintendent would be swearing us in as Junior Rangers and giving us our own badges. Granted I’m a little older than Junior Rangers normally are, but this moment solidified what I had been feeling about national parks, and Grand Teton National Park in particular. I felt like the parks were part of me and that I was leaving part of me behind in the parks I had visited.

                                   Sorry for the blurry David Vela photo of our swearing-in!

There is currently a lot of discussion about how the parks can be more inclusive and how park attendance can reflect the diversity of America. In the months that I've been back home from this trip, whenever I talk to people about it, they always mention that the National Park Service is desperate to reach new, diverse members. The national parks are prohibited by law from spending money on advertising--which I think is just ridiculous--so it isn't as a simple as saying they should create an ad campaign that targets a diverse pool of Americans, and their problems will be solved.

It's going to take a solution that is very nuanced, and some playing mediator between the different groups that may encounter themselves in national parks for the first time.

During one of our group meals there was an instance where a table of diners left the restaurant we were eating at because they said we were “too loud.” Granted we were a large group and some of the decibel levels could be attributed to Latin@s being naturally loud. If you come from a big family you learn early on in life that you have to make yourself heard or be forgotten. I wasn't offended by this slight. If anything, I was perplexed by the how quiet people were after spending a day seeing the most glorious scenery and wildlife. I felt like shouting about all the amazing things I had seen, not sitting quietly with the only other sound being the clinking of silverware on plates. The people around us sometimes acted as if they were at a funeral, while our group behaved more like we were at a birthday party.

There's going to have to be some outreach and cultural exchanges and understanding between people who are familiar with visiting national parks and those of us who are new to them. The National Park Service is going to have to convince many people who partake in the American tradition of vacation road trips in order to get us on the road visiting many parks a summer. But we'll get there, and the parks and our country as a whole will be better off. This trip was described as being a once in a lifetime experience. I don’t see it that way at all. I came away feeling like I had been baptized into a new lifestyle and can’t wait to visit more national parks, and sharing experiences like this with members of my family, especially the younger children who I hope come to love the national parks. See Day One of #ALEX14 and Day Two of #ALEX14, and Day Three of #ALEX14 if you are planning a trip to Grand Teton National Park on your next vacation.

What is #ALEX14 ? It is the hashtag of the American Latino Heritage Fund Expedition for 2014. In its second year, ALEX is an effort to introduce the national park system to a new generation of Americans who will in turn introduce the national parks to other Americans who have never been or are even aware that visiting national parks is even an option. Eight Latin@ blogger and social media influencers were selected by the National Park Foundation to tour the Grand Teton National Park and discover our role in the future stewardship of national parks. The trip was made possible through partnerships with Go RVing, Aramark, Columbia, Alaska Airlines and REI who generously paid for accommodations, clothing, food and travel costs.

Are you planning on visiting any national parks soon?


West Thumb Geyser Basin Yellowstone National Park

Day Two of #ALEX14 was pretty inspiring, what with the hike up Jenny Lake to Inspiration Point. But it would pale in comparison to what the National Park Foundation had in store for the third day. On this day we would hit Grand Teton National Park and make our way up to Yellowstone National Park and spend the morning at the West Thumb Geyser Basin.

After a hearty breakfast at Togwotee Mountain Lodge, we met with Sean Beckett a biologist and guide with the Teton Science Schools' Wildlife Expedition. Sean is also a photographer and blogger. You can find his blog at The Green Man Blog. In particular, check out his amazing series of posts on the phenology of Yellowstone, since it coincides with this post. I don't know where those bears were when we went looking for them, but I'm glad to see them in photos at least.

This day would teach me that you can't visit an area like Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park and get everything out of the experience unless you are going with someone who knows the area like the back of their hand. So, if you're ever visit Grand Teton or Yellowstone National Park, I recommend booking guided trips with Teton Science Schools.

Grand Teton Willow Flats

This day gave me the opportunity to try my new Canon PowerShot G16 that I purchased to take pictures on this trip. All of the photographs of in this post were taken with the PowerShot G16. The photos I used in the posts for Day One and Day Two were taken with my phone, a Samsung Galaxy S3, and my Canon Rebel XT DSLR Camera. We started the morning at Willow Flats, an area where you can actually see a lot of wildlife. Animals come down and give birth here and leave their offspring in the willow bushes. The willow bushes act like a Faraday cage for the scents of the babies. The bushes keep the scent of newborn calves down and out of the air where it could be picked up by predators.

West Thumb Geyser Basin, Yellowstone

A relatively short drive that morning took us to the West Thumb Geyser Basin at Yellowstone National Park.
Unfortunately, the road that leads to Old Faithful was closed during the trip, but the geysers here more than made up for it. I'd never seen anything so enchanting in my life. The colors at the hot springs and hydrothermal vents were mesmerizing. This was a cold morning and I'm glad it was that cold because we got the full effect of visiting hot springs. One moment your teeth are chattering, and then you're engulfed by hot steam rising from the spring and vents.

West Thumb Geyser Basin

Yellowstone West Thumb Geyser Basin

The West Thumb Geyser Basin overlooks Yellowstone Lake, the largest lake at high elevation in North America. Every day the geyser basin pours 3, 100 gallons of hot water into the lake. Surprisingly, all of that hot water does little to change the temperature of the lake.

Geyser Basin, West Thumb

Given how beautiful the area is, it was no surprise that there were busloads of tourists here that morning. Trying to take pictures when you’re surrounded by throngs of tourists is a little difficult so I forgot to make not of the names of all the springs and geysers as I was taking pictures. But I think this may be the Abyss Pool at the Geyser Basin.

Geyser Basin Water Crust

Just look at these beautiful colors in the pools of the geysers. The colors are a result of the microorganisms that live in the waters. The crust at the pools is very fragile and you can quickly find yourself submerged in water reaching 200 F in some of the pools. We were told the boardwalk you use to traverse the geyser basin has to be regularly maintained because it breaks down really fast.

Bones in Geyser Basin, Yellowstone

Anyone thinking of a dip into these pools would quickly meet the fate of the elk that fell into the pool and was boiled last winter. Can you see the bones?

Hot Springs Geyser Basin, Yellowstone

It's hard to depict how eerily beautiful it is to walk along the hot springs at this geyser basin. When the steam rises people can disappear and appear seemingly out of nowhere. See this Instagram video I took at Black Pool to give you an idea.

Big Cone Geyser, West Thumb Geyser Basin

Big Cone Geyser at West Thumb Geyser Basin juts out into Yellowstone Lake. Eruptions from this geyser are rare and only reach a couple of feet high. But you can see Big Cone letting of just a hint of steam in this pictures.

Yellow Monkey Flower

According to my Mac's Field Guide to Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks: Trees & Wildflowers this is a Yellow Monkey Flower, and they can even be found blooming among the geysers in winter because the warmer temperatures.

Fishing Cone Geyser

Fishing Cone geyser overlooking Yellowstone Lake. Back in the day, it was popular to fish at Fishing Cone geyser because you could catch a trout in the lake, swing your pole around, dip the fish into the cone and cook the fish without taking it off the line. Due to damage caused by fishing at Fishing Cone, fishing is no longer allowed here.

Lakeshore Geyser West Thumb Geyser Basin

Lakeshore Geyser, West Thumb Geyser Basin. Although it often erupts a few feet, the last time this geyser erupted with any significant force was in the 1970s. The smaller of the two geysers is usually not exposed until mid to late August.

Sean told us that all the hot water that is sent into the lake allows the shoreline to be used by animals in the dead of winter. So you can go in winter and find animals drinking from the lake when it has frozen over.

Seismograph Bluebell Pools, West Thumb Geyser

Seismograph Bluebell Pools, West Thumb Geyser Basin.

Seismograph Bluebell Pools

Seismograph/Bluebell Pools, West Thumb Geyser. These were renamed Seismograph Pools after the 1959 Hebgen Lake earthquake. Nobody is sure what changes occurred here to warrant a name change, but I like Bluebell Pools name better because there were bluebells blooming near here. The muddy pools are caused by the mud pot runoff nearby.

After a too short visit to the geysers, we stopped an had lunch before continuing with the rest of our adventure.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. Sean kept mentioning that we were going to the the "Grand Canyon" and I almost had to pull out Google Maps to make sure I knew what state I was in. It turns out that there is a Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. Yes, Virginia, there is another grand canyon in America.

When we arrived here I was ready to pitch a fit because there were throngs of tourists on buses arriving. I had to push my way through people to get this picture. And then Sean says, "Come with me, I know a better spot for pictures."

Yellowstone River

After a hike that seemed to take all of five minutes and we were at the top of the canyon looking down on the Yellowstone River from the top. It was secluded and quiet but I didn't manage to overcome by fear of falling into giant canyons to get really close. One of the other bloggers on the trip would later says that she had this odd desire of jumping into the canyon. Which I found funny because to me the canyon was very evocative of something in the way Georgia O'Keeffe paintings are evocative of something. It had an oddly inviting feel to it.  

Here's a panorama of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone that I took with my phone. I decided to include it even though it wasn't taken with the camera mentioned above because the pictures didn't quite depict the vastness of the canyon.

Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River

Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River from the top of the canyon. On the way back to the car I found myself picking up candy wrappers and small pieces of trash that was left behind by the visitors on the tour buses. And I was feeling that same annoyance I feel when I pick other people's trash out of my garden. I guess this was the moment that I began to feel a sense of ownership of this land. I was all in, as they say. 'This Land is Your Land' played in my head on the car ride to the next location.


A short drive, u-turn, a quick hike down a woodland path, and Sean delivered us a pristine waterfall where many selfies were taken.

The day with an amazing sunset back where we started at the started and we even caught a glimpse of a bald eagle and a buck with his harem at the willow flats. It was a perfect end to an amazing adventure. I'm glad we had Sean and Grand Teton Science Schools with us this day because it felt like visiting an area with a friend who knew all the cool spots where you wouldn't be surrounded by tourists.

...this land is my land...

Don't miss my posts on Day One at the Phelps Lake, Day Two at Jenny Lake. Have you ever been to Yellowstone National Park? Did you get a chance to see bears?

What is #ALEX14 ? It is the hashtag of the American Latino Heritage Fund Expedition for 2014. In its second year, ALEX is an effort to introduce the national park system to a new generation of Americans who will in turn introduce the national parks to other Americans who have never been or are even aware that visiting national parks is even an option. Eight Latin@ blogger and social media influencers were selected by the National Park Foundation to tour the Grand Teton National Park and discover our role in the future stewardship of national parks. The trip was made possible through partnerships with Go RVing, Aramark, Columbia, Alaska Airlines and REI who generously paid for accommodations, clothing, food and travel costs.


Jenny Lake Grand Tetons

Day One of #ALEX14 at Phelps Lake was filled with inspiring beauty and set the stage for the remainder of the trip. The second day of the National Park Foundation's expedition brought even more inspiring beauty, but outdid itself by introducing us to inspiring people at Jenny Lake in the Grand Tetons.

ALEX14 Day Two

I have been writing about and photographing gardens and plants since I was in my 20s. Whenever I have met others outside of gardening and garden writing, I got the impression that people were often surprised by the amount of gardening knowledge I knew and how I communicate it to others. "He's so knowledgeable," I've heard people say. Sometimes they commented on how "young" I was, as if being young and knowledgeable were mutually exclusive traits. Honestly, sometimes I wondered if there wasn't some kind of racial or ethnic bias behind the surprised at my "youth" and experience.


The Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve

Day one of the National Park Foundation's #ALEX14 expedition was a good indicator of what I would be expecting on this trip. The National Park Foundation and the American Latino Heritage Fund conceived and organized an amazing experience in a national park for eight Latino bloggers of various backgrounds and niches. I was the only gardener on the trip.

National Park Foundation #ALEX14

The day before #ALEX14 officially started I had traveled from Chicago to Los Angeles and then to Salt Lake City to meet the rest of the bloggers that would be part of the expedition.


Chicago Parks in Vintage Postcards

Chicago's motto "Urbs in Horto" translates to "City in a Garden" and there is no best example of this motto than the our collection of public parks. While our collection of parks today is nice, it was once impressive. As you'll see from these Chicago parks in vintage postcards depicting Washington Park, Garfield Park, and Lincoln Park Conservatory.

Washington Park Chicago Conservatory and Flowerbeds


How to Make Seed Bombs

Undoubtedly you have heard of guerrilla gardening and seed bombs. The most popular seed bomb recipe was invented by Japanese farmer, Masanobu Fukuoka. If you would like to beautify an empty lot or neglected planters seed bombs are the perfect option. With a bit of clay, soil and seeds you can create seed bombs in an afternoon that will sprout plants and flowers in hard-to-reach areas. I call my method of making seed bombs, the lazy guerrilla gardener’s way of making seed bombs, because the ingredients do not require mixing, and you don’t need water. See the video and photos below on how to make seed bombs for all the details.

How to Make Seed Bombs

Guerrilla Gardening Seed Bomb Video

I've held hands-on workshops where I've taught urban gardeners how to make seed bombs at seed swaps and events in Chicago like a Prince concert (yes, that Prince) and at Macy’s Flower Show. Here's a video demonstrating how I make guerrilla gardening seed bombs really quickly and easily. Please note that in the video I accidentally say morning glory when I meant marigolds. :0)


Resurrection Plant Rose of Jericho

If you're the kind of gardener that likes to grow holiday-themed houseplants, allow me to introduce you to resurrection plant, also known as Rose of Jericho. The Easter Cactus, and Easter Lilies are grown this time of year because they have come represent rebirth and hope. While a resurrection plant isn't as pretty as the aforementioned plants, the way it springs to life when exposed to moisture makes it a great representation of the season.

Resurrection plant is a bit of a novelty plant. I picked mine up at a flea market a few years ago. As such, I don't know whether this Rose of Jericho is an Anastatica, or an Selaginella lepidophylla. Considering that I picked it up a flea market popular with the Mexican community of Chicago, and S. lepidophylla is native to the Chihuahuan Desert, I think it's safe to assume this plant is S. lepidophylla.

Watch Resurrection Plant Come to Life

Here's a quick time lapse video I recorded of me bringing my resurrection plant to life for the Easter holiday. Vendors at local flea markets and swap meets usually sell these plants around the Easter holiday for about $1.00 a piece.


Macy's The Secret Garden Flower Show

Macy's annual flower show opens opens Sunday, March 23 and runs through Sunday, April 6 2014. This year's theme is "The Secret Garden" and something you don't want to miss. Here are some photographs of the garden vignettes and plants at the Macy's State Street store in Chicago taken during the media preview while the exhibits were still being planted.

Macy's The Secret Garden flower show

I won't show you all of the gardens so as not to spoil "The Secret Garden" displays but the entrance to the flower show is pretty spectacular. It features a tall mannequin in a living dress composed of hundreds of leafs and some plants. When completed it will look like she's picking up a garden while dragging her dress through the garden. Oh, and there's lots of topiary for those of us who love the art of topiary.

Bike Garden Planter

A charming antique bicycle planted with Gerbera daisies is part of Salvador Dali inspired garden that is really surreal.

Macy's Secret Garden blue man legs

A blue mannequin planted in the surreal garden makes an impact. It looks like Doctor Manhattan had an accident while working in the garden.

Planted piano, Macy's The Secret Garden

Another antique element in the surreal garden. This piano is planted with various colorful bromeliads.

Japanese Maple hanging upside down

A Japanese maple planted upside down. I don't think this photo does justice to just how striking this feature of the surreal garden is.

Small-space urban garden, Macy's The Secret Garden

One of my favorite garden exhibits is the urban garden that showcases some interesting small-space garden ideas. Here's a seating area with a vertical garden planted with succulents.

Small-space urban garden planters

The same urban garden with colorful tire planters populated with succulents among some colorful garden bed ideas. On the right is a metal tub acting as a raised bed.