New Jerry Apps book, events, trips for gardeners

Jerry Apps' newest book is a mix of practical advice and homespun storytelling.

One of my treats on Sundays is reading the latest blog entry by prolific Wisconsin writer Jerry Apps, whose keen observations about life always seem universal. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a farmhouse or high-rise condo.

My favorite part is “The Old Timer Says,” a one-liner of homespun wisdom. Examples:

“Sometimes I don’t see as well as I think I remember.”

“Try not to get ahead of yourself. And never forget where you’ve been.”

“If all you have left in the pantry is potatoes, you still have plenty to eat.”

I think that last one is a good introduction to Jerry’s newest book, “Garden Wisdom: Lessons Learned from 60 Years of Gardening” (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, $27). It’s a fine blend of rural reminiscence, food heritage and practical advice.

The University of Wisconsin professor emeritus reflects upon his life as a Waushara County farm kid whose family “ate potatoes three times a day, seven days a week. Fried potatoes for breakfast, boiled potatoes for dinner, baked or boiled potatoes for supper. In those days we grew as many as twenty rows of potatoes, so we had an ample supply.”

Accompanying little stories like this one are tips about how to be a better vegetable gardener, the history behind the foods we can grow and common-sense recipes – most from wife Ruth, a professional home economist – about what the average home cook can do with whatever is harvested. Case in point:


1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 cups milk
2 to 3 boiled potatoes, sliced

Melt butter in frying pan. Stir in flour, salt and pepper, stirring constantly until blended. Remove from heat. Stir in milk.

Return to medium heat and stir until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat and stir constantly for 2 or 3 minutes, until mixture begins to thicken. Add the potatoes and stir until potatoes are warm.

“For me, the following words begin to describe why I garden: mystery, awe, anticipation, patience, surprise, disappointment, elation,” Jerry writes. “Perhaps above all, gardening gives me the feeling that I am doing something important” and “planting a garden keeps me connected to the earth.”

He tells me that he no longer counts the number of books he has written, but he guesses this one is “probably in the 40s.”

“This year is a strange one,” he adds, because “Garden Wisdom” is the first of three titles he’ll help release. A revised and enlarged version of “Rural Wit and Wisdom” by Fulcrum Press in Denver comes out in June. Jerry’s fifth novel, “Tamarack River Ghost,” has an autumn University of Wisconsin Press release date.

Each of Jerry’s novels has dealt with a rural issue in fictional Ames County, Wisconsin. “Tamarack River Ghost” is about an industrial-sized farm with plans to move in thousands of pigs.

Son Steve Apps, a longtime Madison newspaper photographer, provides the illustrations for “Garden Wisdom.” Jerry and Ruth start making the rounds this month, to talk about this newest work.

Upcoming events include a 6 p.m. dinner and talk March 24 at Patterson Memorial Library and Community Center, Wild Rose. For details, call 920-622-3835.

Other events and Jerry’s blog are posted at, and that’s where to sign up for free email updates of what he writes.

Paging through seed catalogs and plotting a garden on paper help us weather the winter, but so do these events that cultivate earthly connections before the first seedling goes into the ground.

“Garden Getaway: Garden Art and the Art of Gardening,” March 31 and April 1 at Shake Rag Alley in Mineral Point, entails 18 workshops on sensible to whimsical topics. Most last three hours.

Use the products of nature to make a garden trellis, carve gourd flowers or dye a silk scarf. Learn to grow and cook with herbs, preserve foods or start a worm farm. Create a terrarium, yard art or a willow basket. The cost per session is $5 to $65, depending upon class materials. For details:, 608-987-3292.

Landscape historian Lee Somerville talks about 19th and early 20th century ornamental gardens at 6:30 p.m. April 24 at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison. She is the author of “Vintage Wisconsin Gardens: A History of Home Gardening” (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, $25). For more:, 608-246-4719.

Gardeners are organizing bus trips to the annual Chicago Flower and Garden Show. Olbrich hosts a day trip March 15, and a UW-Fond du lac outing (see occurs March 16. For more about the Chicago event, March 10-18 at Navy Pier, see, 312-595-5400.

Keep in mind that gardening enthusiasts sometime organize excursions much farther away. For example:

Green Bay Botanical Garden’s “Sweet Carolina Blooms Tour,” April 10-17, includes the North Carolina Azalea Festival. Rotary Botanical Gardens, Janesville, takes a trip abroad to the Netherlands on the same dates.

The Olbrich “Magnificent Gardens of Europe” trip, May 13-23, heads to the Floriade World Horticulture Expo in the Netherlands, gardens at Giverny near Paris and Chelsea Flower Show in London.

“Roads Traveled” columns began in 2002 and are the result of anonymous travel, independent travel, press trips and travel journalism conferences. What we choose to cover is not contingent on subsidized or complimentary travel.