I really like winter. This is “down time” for me. It’s when I take trips, read catalogues, seed a few things in the greenhouse, take trips, read and reread the seed trials from the January Quarterly, get ready for taxes, go through my files and throw old stuff away, generally get ready for the next season and take trips. Was that 3 trips? Where did winter go? It’s early March and hardly anything was done on my winter list this year.  But, I did get to take two trips.  
In December I went to Texas for our family’s annual Christmas gathering in Galveston. For the past 6 years I’ve combined this with a visit with Arnoskys and other old friends ( I lived in Houston for 14 years before moving to D.C.). It was great fun with Frank, Pam and family – especially since Frank was showing off his new land. Those Arnoskys are really expanding.  They’ve bought 98 acres of good bottom land near their farm. With 2 new wells, a good acre of larkspur, and 5 big cold frames, mostly  full of ranunculus, they are already producing on this new place.
Trip number two. In early January I called Mimo Davis to firm up a visit to her farm in Missouri for early February. She said “Fine, but I just talked to Vicki Stamback about visiting her in Oklahoma and we ought to both make a road trip out of it – it’s only a 3-hour drive from my place”. I’d  always wanted to visit Vicki, but Oklahoma – it’s so far from everywhere. I called Vicki and invited myself with Mimo. Two days later I was talking ASCFG business with Treasurer Betsy Hitt and told her about the trip. She’d also wished for a trip to Vicki’s.
So, on February 9th, Betsy and I landed about the same time in St Louis and Mimo met us during her florist delivery rounds. We met some of her fancy customers in their Valentine frenzy and then headed for Central Missouri and WildThang Farms for a tour through Mimo’s productive heated cold frames – mosly tall snaps and fragrant stock, with lots of other things coming on.
After a great meal at Mimo’s mom’s and a comfortable night in Mimo’s cabin, the three of us were on the road in the morning heading toward Oklahoma.
Word travels fast. Ron Chaskelson had heard about our trip, so after almost 2 hours of Missouri countryside we pulled into a designated Pancake House and met Ron – he also wanted to visit Vicki and he was “on the way”.  A quick look at the map assured us that Ron wasn’t far off when he said “Stillwater must be another 4 hours – Springfield, Joplin, Tulsa, then Stillwater”.
Well, 200 plus more miles might seem like a long way, but you know what it’s like when 4 crazy flower growers get together – chatter never stopped and suddenly we were looking for Vicki’s place on the outskirts of  Stillwater.
Wow, what an operation we saw that afternoon. Vicky and her husband Terry have built 5 (or is it 6?) big, strong (for Oklahoma winds) greenhouses. All but one is heated and all have raised beds just full of snaps, ranunculus, tulips, poppies, lupines, and lots more. And, in pots she’s growing Karma dahlias with supplemental lighting.
Terry and Vicki were great hosts. They showed us some of OSU’s campus, took us to a famous student pizza place (excellent), and showed us their new home and feline family. We stayed at a nearby Hampton Inn and after a great breakfast we headed out to see Vicki’s outside growing area. This is a big flat open area just below the greenhouses. Only nuts like us can appreciate standing in a freezing wind, looking at rows of muddy mounds (raised beds), excited to talk for 10 minutes about growing yarrow and other perennials. You don’t have to visit farms in the summer when things are blooming – we know what they look like when they grow well and when they don’t.
Vicki has amended her clay soil with lots of compost and has covered her perennials with mulch. There’s an irrigation system that’s totally necessary in the hot summers, but that was hard to imagine walking around in the soggy winter mud. Thanks again, Vicki.
Back in the car again – ready for 6 more hours of driving – we had much more to discuss. After all, we had to review all we had seen at Vicki’s and there was lots more we hadn’t covered  the previous day. We also worked out a plan whereby I was dropped off with Ron and went on to his beautiful farm for a tour, family hospitality and a trip to the St Louis airport the next day.
So, why am I going on about my personal trips? It’s because I had a conversation with a friend and fellow ASCFG grower recently in which he noted that our membership dues had been slightly increased for 2004, and he wondered just what he was getting for his money. I can only answer that question for myself and the camaraderie of these winter visits go a long way to answering that question for me.