Martha Stewart blossoms with banter at Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Martha Stewart blossoms with banter at Birmingham Botanical Gardens
The queen of homemaking was in the house at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, as Martha Stewart talked with patrons about gardening tips and her new book, 'Martha's Flowers.' Stewart showed off her quick wit, bantering with co-author Kevin Sharkey (left) as she regaled the crowd with tales about her homemaking shows and storied career as America's favorite decorator. (Contributed)

Martha Stewart was in Birmingham Friday, Oct. 5, for a Botanical Gardens fundraiser … and caught a bass.

The 77-year-old homemaking-and-cooking guru spoke at two, one-hour sessions on her new book – her 90th – “Martha’s Flowers.” Known internationally for books, magazines and television shows, Stewart spent the 1:30 p.m. session cracking funny one-liners as much as she talked about gardening.

Asked about a new show with rapper Snoop Dogg, she replied, “I’m now really deep into cannabis. I don’t partake. But I invest.”

On her next purchase – a farm in Tasmania for her children and grandchildren – and the fact it’s so far away: “I’m not afraid of nuclear war. I’m not sure I’d get there in time anyway.”

And on the book’s co-author Kevin Sharkey – who dialogued with her on stage – and how he rose through the ranks of her media empire: “He pretty much did as he was told.”

And the bass? She caught it Thursday fishing in a pond with former Time Warner executive Don Logan, an owner of the Birmingham Barons, who has worked with Stewart since the mid-1990s and who she once called her mentor.

To be sure, Stewart didn’t embark on a standup comedy routine. But she used humor throughout her slideshow presentation, giving a comprehensive history of how she got involved in gardening and honed the skill.

She started with her father, Edward Kostyra, whose parents were from Poland, considered one of the gardening meccas of Europe. “My father gardened to death” a one-fifth-acre plot at their home in New Jersey, from whom Stewart initially learned her gardening skills with apples, figs, tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables.

“Everything he grew was fantastic,” she said, adding she learned to cook by growing what he produced. Her father also gave her the fishing bug.

“I was one of six children, but I did all the labor,” she deadpanned. “I had to gut the fish and cut their heads off.”

After showing other gardening mentors and gardens around the world she admired, Stewart took the crowd of 275 on a tour of her four estates and expansive gardens. The first was Turkey Hill in Connecticut, defined as her initial “practicing ground … it was a (gardening) laboratory for me.”

Next was Lily Pond in East Hampton, New York; followed by homes in Bedford, New York and Seal Harbor, Maine – called Skylands – that was once owned by Edsel Ford of the Ford Motor family.

Stewart dissected each property, showing trees, plants and the horticultural changes she made to each. In one instance, she transplanted 900 rose bushes from one estate to the other.

She talked about the essentials of having drones photograph a property to ensure “symmetry and asymmetry” in gardening and landscaping, and how she loves to hide away in her greenhouses.

“On a Sunday afternoon, there’s nothing better than to go to my greenhouse and get lost pruning and cutting,” she said.

The forum for the presentation was Starkey and Stewart seated on the same couch on stage having a one-on-one conversation, with Starkey serving as a catalyst.

The event was part of the four-day fundraising campaign Antiques at the Gardens, organized by Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

Proceeds benefit educational programs at the gardens, with $4.7 million raised since 2006.

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