A to Z Challenge

Blotanical

Gardening Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog 

Directory

Seattle Fling 2011

Garden bloggers meet in Seattle in 2011

Fancy Foliage for the Ornamental Garden

 

Caladium 'White Christmas'

Caladium ‘White Christmas’

When people think of the ornamental garden their first thought is of flowers, but it is foliage that holds a garden together. Flowers on naked stems would not be as lovely as they are when surrounded by foliage, leaves of various shapes and in various shades of green ranging from almost white, to almost blue, to almost red, as well as deep green. We take foliage for granted, but it can be used to increase the interest of the garden and sometimes be a real show stopper.

Hostas are one of the most familiar and popular foliage plants. When on a garden tour ofSeattleand environs in 2011 I visited the amazing gardens of Michael Shadrack, author and hosta expert. In his garden the full range of hosta possibilities was on display, from the plant stand on his deck that held potted miniature hostas, to the lush beds of hostas where variegated, blue, green and chartreuse hostas mingled beneath the dappled shade of tall trees.

Shadrack explained that there are several reasons for the hostas popularity. They are easy to grow in fertile, moist-but-well-drained soil, many are hardy in our climate, they thrive in shade or part-shade and are fairly tolerant of short periods of drought or flood. They do produce flower stalks, but people usually do not grow them for the flowers. One caveat. Deer love hostas!

To illustrate the range of color and form we saw ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ that have tiny blue-green leaves. They grow in neat mounds eight inches tall and bloom in mid-summer. They grow well in containers as well as the garden. Other ‘blue’ hostas include the gigantic ‘Blue Angel,’ three feet tall and wide; and the medium sized blue ‘First Frost’ with gold margins that age to cream

An interesting 20 inch tall variegated hosta is ‘Remember Me’ which has golden centers with a green edge in spring, but changes over the season until the center is white with a narrow margin of blue green.

They grow so vigorously that hosta growers often have divisions to give away. Shadrack calls it a friendship plant because it is so easy to share.

Caladiums are another shade loving foliage plant. No flowers. This is a summer bulb that can be carried over during the winter, or you can just treat it like an annual. Last year I grew two large pots of red and green caladiums on either side of the Cottage Ornee door. I find it so hard to resist shades of red, but this year I am ordering ‘White Queen’ from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. The large leaves are mostly white with red veins. I think the white foliage will be more attractive and more eye catching in the Cottage’s shade.

‘Moonlight’ is the whitest of the Brent and Becky caladiums, but there are others with white speckles and veins, and others in shades of green and red or pink. Caladiums are really dramatic plants that are not hard to grow. If you grow caladiums, or any plant, in a pot make sure you water the pot every day during the summer. Pots, especially terra cotta pots, dry out very quickly in summer heat and breezes.

Heucherella 'Cracked Ice' courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries

Heucherella ‘Cracked Ice’ courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries

Heucherellas are a fairly new plant on the foliage scene. Heucherellas are a cross between heucheras, coral bells, and tiarella, foam flower. I like heucherellas because they have a more substantial flower than regular coral bells. Even though they do bloom, it is the colors and markings of the foliage that attract most people. And variety there is.

Most heucherellas prefer well drained, humusy soil and some shade, but others are quite tolerant of full sun.

‘Cracked Ice is a new variety this year with blue and green toned foliage with dramatic veining. In spring and fall there is a silvery pink overlay making it very difficult to describe this dark foliaged plant.

‘Sweet Tea’ has large rich reddish foliage that darkens in the summer but then becomes paler in the fall. It is about 20 inches tall, with a spread of 28 inches, and white flowers that bloom above the foliage in June and July,.

Another new entry is ‘Fire Frost’ whose yellow foliage has a frosted red center. This is a smaller plant, only 10 inches tall and with a spread of 18 inches. It will bloom from July into September.

For a very different form of foliage there is Hakonechloa, an 18 inch ornamental grass that bends  and sways gracefully. I think has a very oriental look about it. H. Aureola was the Perennial Plant Association Plant of the year in 2009. It has become very popular, and is a lovely edging in a shady bed.

Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’ is this year’s Plant of the Year. This is another grass, but this switch grass variety is notable for its very upright five foot tall growth. It prefers sun, but can tolerate some light shade. The blue-green foliage turns golden in the fall.

Looking at the PPA Plant of the Year choice is always a good idea because they choose plants that are not only beautiful, but dependable in a wide variety of circumstances. Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ chosen in 2012 has pretty forget-me-not flowers in spring, but it is the season long frosted foliage that makes it desirable.

What plants have you chosen because of their foliage?

Between the Rows   April 12, 2014

CSA – Community Supported Agriculture is for You

Winterfare Market February, 2012

For some people the initials CSA are just another of those annoying acronyms that can make our conversations sound like an unintelligible inter-office memo. For some CSA means Community Supported Agriculture which encompasses delicious local food, help for the farmer, and a community of like-minded folk who enjoy fresh food, and enjoy knowing they are supporting farmers and farms, and the very land and environment that surrounds us.

Small farmers never think they are going to get rich doing what they love. They only hope they won’t go broke after a bad season. In the 1980s a new idea came on the scene when the first community supported agriculture farms were first organized. The idea is that people would buy shares in the farm and its harvest at the beginning of the growing year, essentially sharing the risks the farmer would face over the course of the season. Would there be flooding rains? Drought? Would blight kill all the tomatoes? Mother Nature can throw all kinds of disasters at a farmer. CSA members are essentially buying the harvest as crops are planted and becoming a part of a community – a “we’re all in this together” community sharing the risk, the worry and the joys of the farm.

When I first became aware of Community Supported Agriculture some years ago, there were not many CSA farms or people buying shares. The organizational elements were fairly standard. An individual or family would buy a share in the spring, and then as the May and June harvest started coming in they would pick up their weekly boxed or bagged share of greens, beans, radishes and vegetables of every type in season. Because man does not live by carrot alone, many CSAs also included a bouquet of summer flowers.

Now there are many more CSAs in our area. I spoke with Phil Korman, Executive Director of CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) who said that in the three counties, Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden, in 2009 there were about 4550 farm shares sold, but in 2012 that number had increased to about 7300 farm shares sold. Some of those shares were to people outside the three counties. The expectation is that the number has continued to increase but statistics are only collected every five years. Korman pointed out that those farm shares did not include winter shares which are now available.

In fact, there are now many more kinds of CSA shares that people can buy. In addition to the regular vegetable garden shares, there are shares for meat, fish, eggs, flowers, and grain.

The last few years have seen other changes in CSA distributions. Originally, a shareholder paid up, and then picked up that share weekly at the farm. Nowadays CSA shares can be delivered to various sites including schools, retirement communities, and work sites.CooleyDickinsonHospitalallows staff to pay for their share with a payroll deduction, and the share is delivered to the hospital.  Some people share a share with a neighbor

Hager’s Farm Market and Upinngill Farm sell vouchers. The Hager vouchers are dated for use throughout the season, but they can be used at the Market on Route 2 in Shelburne with the shareholder making his own choices, for produce or pies, eggs or yogurt. Upinngill’s vouchers are not dated. Several can be used at one time. In both cases, at the Hager Farm Market and the Upinngill farmstand, the vouchers provide for a discount, so you are saving money, as well as getting wonderful produce.

There are 15 CSA farms inFranklinCounty, inGreenfield, Montague, Gill, Leyden, Colrain,Sunderland, Ashfield, Whately, and Berndarston. Each CSA farm delivers its share one day a week. All of them are now signing up shareholders for the 2014 season.

Western Massachusettshas been “an incredibly receptive community” to desiring and buying local farm products Korman said. The first local, and now longest running CSA farm is Brookfield Farm inAmherst. The first Winterfare was created inGreenfieldby volunteers just a few years ago. Now farmers plant winter storage crops for the 30 winter farmers markets that are ongoing across the state. CISA was the first non-profit organization in the state and created the Local Hero marketing project.

Currently there are 55 Local Hero restaurants using local produce for a total of about $2 million a year. There are also 240 Local Hero farms. They sold between 2002 and 2007 $4.5 million worth of farm products, but that amount has now doubled to $9 million. Food coops account for $16 million in sales. Right now in the three counties between 10%-15% of our food is fresh local food, but CISA’s goal is to have 25% of our food grown and enjoyed locally.

I was shocked that we are eating so little local food, but Korman gently pointed out that the whole population ofFranklinCountyis only half the population of the city ofSpringfield. I can see that it will be a great day when everyone inSpringfieldgets 25% of their dinners from local farms. I have to keep reminding myself that not everyone lives in our beautiful and fertile valley or near a hilltown farm where fresh food is available for a good part of the year.

It’s finally getting warmer. It’s time to think about fresh salads, grilled vegetables and corn on the cob. It’s time to think about the possibility of joining a Community Supported Agriculture farm.

You can find a full listing and information about local CSA farms on the CISA website. http://www.buylocalfood.org/buy-local/find-local/csa-farm-listing/

Between the Rows  April 5, 2014

Epimediums and Hellebores Thrive in Dry Shade

Epimedium ‘Rubrum’

Dry shade is a challenge in the garden, but epimediums and hellebores, two very different plants, both turn dry shade into an opportunity. For years I admired epimediums in other gardens, always asking the name of the beautiful low plant with heart shaped leaves. Sometimes I got no answer, but even when I did I was incapable of remembering the word epimedium. I finally saw a pot of this plant at the Blue Meadow nursery in Montague and, out of the several varieties there, each with a nice little name tag, I bought Epimedium ‘Rubrum.’ I chose this because it was listed as the most hardy. Even then I was afraid Heath was too cold, but a friend who was working there that day just shrugged and told me to give it a try.

“Give it a try,” is always good advice. A plant in a pot is not much of a financial investment, and we all must learn to endure disappointments and failed experiments if we are to have a happy life.

Epimedium ‘Rubrum’ has thrived in my garden, planted beneath a ginkgo tree which provides shade for part of the day. I love the heart-shaped green leaves with their reddish border. The tiny pink flowers were a bit of a surprise. I had never actually seen an epimedium in early spring when it blooms. The delicate little flowers are best seen at eye level which means not only down on hands and knees, but maybe even down on your stomach, chin in hands, to admire them at leisure.

I have given away bits of E. ‘Rubrum’ to friends, assuring them that this easy care plant will increase at a stately rate. It is not invasive. It is a native ofAsia, but adapted to a well behaved life in Zones 3 to 9, depending on the variety. I later learned that there are some very hardy varieties.

Epimedium ‘Sulphureum’

And there is variety. I bought my second epimedium, E. x versicolor ‘Sulphureum,’ at the Bridge of Flowers plant sale a couple of years ago. The yellow flowers at the end of wiry stems are slightly larger so it is easier to see why epimediums are sometimes called bishop’s hats and fairy wings. It is less easy to see how anyone came to call it horny goat weed or rowdy lamb herb. Perhaps goats and lambs find it intoxicating, but I don’t know that for a fact.

Now I have two varieties of epimedium, but if you look at the Garden Vision  or Plant Delights catalogs you will see dozens of epimediums in many shades of lavender, purple, red, pink, white, orange and yellow. The flowers take many forms, including some that almost look like spiders, and the foliage varies as well. Not all the varieties have heart-shaped leaves, some are spiky and some are mottled.

Epimediums require very little care. The dying foliage should be cut down in the fall to clear the way for early spring growth.

Garden Vision nursery is located in Phillipston, Massachusetts. They open their nursery to viewing and sales the first two weekends in May.

Hellebores are another early bloomer that doesn’t mind dry shade. Right here I should say that any new plant should be kept adequately watered while it is settling in the first year, giving it time to let its roots grow enough to support the plant even when it is dry.

The term shade has many shades. Pun intended. There is dense shade like that under evergreens, there is high shade, a much weaker shade created by trees whose foliage begins up high, and dappled shade that dances dark and light. There is summer shade that is created when trees are fully leafed out, and the early spring sun can no longer shine through bare branches in the same way. But remember, some sun is usually needed for any flowering plant to actually bloom.

The BridgeofFlowershas a few hellebores, otherwise known as Christmas or Lenten roses because they bloom early in the spring. I always think of them as having blossoms in shades of green, but some bloom in shades of white, pink and deep red. On the Bridge they get a lot of sun which shows you how tolerant they are of differing conditions. They can survive in the shade, but they need some sun to bloom well.

Hellebores have deep roots and they do not need dividing the way most perennials do. This means they should be planted in a soil deeply dug and well enriched with compost and aged manure.

They are quite trouble free, and have a long bloom period. The dead flower stems should be cut back after blooming, and the dying foliage can be cut down in the late fall.

Last year I visited the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museumfor the opening of the newly designed and planted Monk’s Garden. This small area is now a serene woodland underplanted with many hellebores as well as other groundcovers. Michael Van Valkenburg, the designer, said the place would be ‘crazy with hellebores” in the spring. I am planning to make another trip this spring and admire the craziness.

In the meantime I’m waiting for the snow to leave so I can see my epimedium shoots, and wonder where I might plant a hellebore.

Between the Rows   March 29, 2014

 

Five Plant Gardens by Nancy Ondra

 

Five Plant Gardens by Nancy Ondra

Nancy Ondra has been gardening for over 20 years and she has ten books to show for it and  Five Plant Gardens: 52 ways to Grow a Perennial Garden with Just Five Plants (Storey Publishing $18.95) is her latest. This book has something for everyone, but it takes garden design to a new level of ease and understanding for the novice gardener.

Even an inexperienced flower gardener understands pretty quickly that you put tall plants in back of the short plants. Then what? Ondra actually has more than 52 ways to design a garden because she suggests alternates for each of the five plants in a garden, and suggests that you can build out from the five plant garden. By treating a five plant arrangement as a building block you can plan long borders along a path, around a deck or patio, or half moon plantings by a doorway or around a lamppost. It will not take long for even a new gardener to find places to install one of Ondra’s gardens.

Before she gets into general gardening advice Ondra explains why she chose Five Plants. “It’s enough variety to give you a good mix of flowers and foliage, heights and shapes, and seasons of interest, but not so much that the collection looks like a jumbled mess. It’s also a manageable number of new plants to learn about at one time, as well as a limited amount of money to spend.” How understand and practical she is.

I have been gardening in Heath for over 30 years, and I still found good advice in this book. Even those of us who have been playing in the garden for many years trot off to a nursery or plant sale and are quickly seduced by plants we never thought of before. When we get home we often just stick them wherever we might have a bare spot and have to think all over again about height, shape, texture and bloom time. For most of us, practicing interesting and attractive garden design is an ongoing process.

Ondra’s book is first divided into two parts, sunny gardens and then shady gardens. Within each section are 25 five plant combinations, but with some alternate plants in case you want to provide a little more variety when you are extending the original plan. For example, theWelcomeSpringGardenappeals to me because I am so hungry for flowers after our long winters. The five suggestions are Jacob’s ladder with its tall lacy foliage and clusters of blue flowers, deep blue Caesar’s Brother Siberian iris, ‘Corbett’ a yellow wild columbine and a striped bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum var. striatum) and ajuga ‘Burgundy Glow.’ I was pleased that Ondra gave a warning about the vigor of ajuga. Ajuga is wonderful because it so quickly covers a lot of ground but it is so vigorous that it is difficult to contain. I don’t mind the ajuga that has invaded a section of my lawn because I am no devotee of fine turf, but it is good to be warned.

I think it is good to have early spring flowers right near the house where they will be a comfort and be admired while going out and coming home as the days warm. Alternates are the wonderful blue anchusa, or ‘Telham Beauty’ campanula, almost any other Siberian iris or a foxglove, and any columbine would also be pretty, as would dianthus.

Ondra is only addressing perennials in this book, but after working on ourBridgeofFlowersI have learned that it takes annuals to keep a small garden like this in bloom for the whole season. Ondra’s spring choices bloom early, but you might like to think about adding a few annuals once the season warms up. She notes how many of each perennial to put in her five plant scheme, but perennials are not always large when you buy them. You can add pansies or violas to boost that early spring bloom, and as the season progresses you can add other annuals taking your color cue from Ondra’s plan.

Ondra is known for her passion for foliage, and this  is especially evident in her plans for the shade or partial shade garden. She describes a lovely array of ferns, hostas, grasses and ground covers like European ginger with its shiny leathery leaves. She also notes which flowers will attract humming birds or wild pollinators.

Nancy Ondra is an encouraging writer. Her 2009 book, the Perennial Care Manual, is still an important resource for me whenever I need to check if a plant I have impulsively bought should be planted in sun or shade, whether it will tolerate a damp spot, or a very dry spot. I know how often I have told a friend that the secret to a successful garden is putting the right plant in the right spot. I know this is true, but I sometimes forget the specifics for a given plant and I’m glad to have this book with it full advice for the care of over a hundred popular plants.

I think spring will arrive in a rush, as usual, and this book will be a big help to the new and experienced gardener.

Between the Rows   March 15, 2014

Cabbage – Here and There – Beijing

 

Chinese cabbage in Beijing

Cabbage. Such an ordinary vegetable. We don’t give it much thought. We shred it into a salad, dress it into coleslaw, or boil it up with corned beef, but there are many types of cabbage in the world, and many ways of serving it up. Think of corned beef and cabbage!

            I began thinking about cabbage this week when, while sorting through some old photographs, my husband and I found a few shots of the ai guo bai cai harvest in Beijing in the fall of 1989. I had been working at Women of China Magazine since April, but every day still brought new understandings of daily life. That was a time before ‘capitalism with Chinese characteristics’ took hold. At that time the government controlled the farms, the stores, workplaces and housing. In 1989 there was a huge cabbage crop. What is grown must be eaten – or at least sold. Therefore the government decreed that every household must buy 40 kilograms (more than 80 pounds) of bai cai, Chinese cabbage to us.

            Trucks brought the cabbage into the city from outlying farms. Then blue-suited white capped workers, often women, unloaded the cabbage on street corners, and in front of the state stores. Every night the TV news talked about the sale of ai guo bai cai, literally ‘love country’ cabbage, or patriotic cabbage.

Chinese cabbage Courtesy National Garden Bureau

            Chinese cabbage, as most of us know, is not like the hard green heads that keep well, and are so familiar in sauerkraut and coleslaw. Chinese cabbage has looser, more elongated heads. It is not a cabbage that Chinese workers enjoyed stacking up in the hallways of their cold Beijing apartments. Nor did they enjoy eating their way through all that cabbage. I should note at this point that Beijing is a desert city. It is very dry. Also, Chinese apartments at the time were very cold in the winter. Even though these cabbages are not the storage cabbages that we are familiar with, they kept fairly well. The outer leaves would dry out and protect the inner leaves. They would be removed when it was time to prepare the fresh inner leaves for cooking.

            On the rare occasions when I worked a full day in the office with my colleagues I got to see the lunches that were provided by the work unit canteen. Workers brought their own metal bowls which they carried downstairs to be filled with a big helping of rice topped with some vegetable. That fall the rice was topped watery cabbage. This sort of meal was not considered suitable for a foreigner, so I was sent down the street to eat at the newly opened McDonalds.

            Barrel headed Chinese cabbage and other asian greens like pak choi and tatsoi have become more popular and more common in the U.S. since we were in Beijing so long ago. Catalogs like Johnny’s Selected Seeds and the Kitazawa Seed Company offer a range of Chinese cabbage and other asian greens.

Cabbage courtesy National Garden Bureau

            All cabbages, Chinese and American, are cool weather crops. You can plant early in the spring for summer eating, and a mid-summer crop for fall storage. They are all heavy feeders and need a fertile, humusy soil with a pH of pH 6.5 to 7. Regular even waterings are essential for good cabbage development. Cabbages are susceptible to club root and bacterial soft root disease, soil borne diseases. This means you should rotate your cabbage beds with non-brassicas, in a five or six year rotation. Also look for disease resistant seeds. Bilko, a 12 inch tall, dark green Chinese cabbage from Johnny’s is resistant to both club root and fusarium yellows.

            You are more likely to find cabbage starts of the more familiar greed and red cabbages at garden centers in the spring, but seeds are available for many asian greens that can be ready to harvest in as little as three weeks.

            The Kitizawa catalog lists 21 varieties of pak choi. Some have the typical dark green leaves with crisp white stems., other have reddish, or yellow-green leaves. They have a slight mustardy flavor and are used in many Chinese dishes from soup to noodle dishes to stir-fries. The Chinese also pickle the coarser leaves. Pickling is an important and traditional method of food preservation in China.

            We are very aware of the changes in China since we were there, but at the time it was unheard of for vegetables to be eaten raw. We assume this was a cultural habit because the Chinese traditionally used ‘night soil’ or cleanings from outhouses and such as fertilizer on farms. Even in 1989 we occasionally saw a man on a bicycle hauling his ‘honey pots’ filled with night soil from the city out to the nearby farms.

            Locally, we can buy asian greens like mizuna, tatsoi, and komatsuna which are often used in salad mixes, but can also be grown for another couple of weeks for cooking. Pak choi seeds are including in the Botanical Interests Seeds Savory Mix of microgreens that I have growing in our guest room. More on that another day.

            Cabbage is a nutritious vegetable that provides a big helping of vitamins, minerals and fiber. I cannot speak to the value of the cabbage boiled up the way I saw it served from the Women of China canteen, but I can say that growing cabbage, Chinese or American, and gently cooking it will give us all a big nutritional boost.

Between the Rows           February 15, 2014

In the Pink at the Lyman Plant House, Smith College

In the Pink at Lyman Plant House

Banish the winter blues and get In the Pink at the Annual Bulb show at the Smith College Lyman Plant House. This annual show, always fabulous, is running from now until Sunday, March 16.

It is no surprise to me that the powers that be would choose In the Pink as the theme for this year’s show. I love pink, as anyone who strolls down the Rose Walk can attest.  But there is something spring-like about all shades of pink from the most delicate aqueous shell pink to vibrant pinks, all of which find their most perfect expression in flowers.

Walking into the Lyman Plant House rooms that are perfumed with the fragrance of an early spring, it is hard to imagine all the planning and work required on the part of the greenhouse staff. I once asked Rob Nicholson, Manager of the greenhouse what it took to open the Bulb Show on the assigned date. His reply was succinct, “Patience and careful monitoring of temperature.”  That almost sounds easy.

Of course, there is work to do in the greenhouse all year to keep this wide array of plants from the tropical jungle to the arid desert in good health. I asked if they had to use a lot of pesticides and things to keep the plants in good shape.

“Of course, we’d prefer never to use pesticides, but when a collection of rare and exotic plants is kept in an enclosed greenhouse it sets up a situation where the plants inevitably are infested since they are not in a complex ecosystem where there are checks and balances. When we need to use pesticides we tend to use very mild ones that break down very quickly as we have to be able to allow visitors in the next morning. Pesticides are rated with an REI (re-entry interval) that dictates how soon humans are allowed back into the space so we are limited to those with REIs of 4-12 hours. Then I try to use ‘biologicals’ which are geared to disrupt insect metabolism such as molting cycles, rather than the old style neurotoxin types. We also use insecticidal soaps . . . which suffocated the insect pest. I find the pesticide laws are pretty inconsistent as any consumer can go to any box store and buy materials more dangerous than what we use, and misuse them,” Nicholson said.

I asked if they used neonicotinoids, nicotine based chemicals that have become controversial and are in so many pesticides. He said “The neonics we used were systemic. Granular material is applied to the soil, dissolves and gets absorbed into the plants. They have a long term effect. They were very low toxicity to humans, easy to apply, and worked well to keep our mums clean of mealy bugs.”

However, he added, “There is a lot of concern about this class of pesticides contributing to collapse of beehives. The European Union banned them last year. . . .the pesticide gets into pollen, bees collect the pollen and bring it back to the hive and taint it. As our Chrysanthemum Show in November can attract a large number of bees if the weather conditions are right (and greenhouse vents are open) we felt we could no longer use these on flowering plants that could draw in outside bees.”

Nicholson expressed his concern about the importance of protecting bees which are so vital to our food system. “. . .our country needs to take a hard look at this class of pesticides, do the proper research and then act accordingly.”

Nicholson feels strongly that we all need to be informed consumers, buy as little of any pesticide as possible, and follow instructions to the letter. All pesticides should be stored under lock and key. “As a toddler I drank pesticide stored in a Planter’s Peanuts can in my neighbor’s garage. It almost killed me,” he said. Then he reiterated the necessity to educate ourselves about “a very complex subject and industry,” especially since there are so many pesticides available that are not dangerous to the bees or to our children.

Recently there has been research that suggests acetamiprid and imidacloprid, the two most dangerous chemicals in the neonicotinoids, may cause damage to young children’s brain development. Because I have young children on my lawns from time to time I would never knowingly use products that contain neonicotinoids. That means I wouldn’t dare use common pesticides like Ortho Flower Fruit and Vegetable Insect Killer or Knockout Ready to Use Grub Killer which are only two of the many products that contain acetamiprid or imidacloprid. Further information about which products contain these chemicals are on the Xerces Society website,

The purpose of the Xerces Society is to protect invertebrates like bees, butterflies and many other creatures including mussels and crabs. I take Rob Nicholson’s advice to do my research seriously. Education is key, for all of us, and the Xerces Society is one place to start. Of course, I believe that using pesticides on the lawn is totally unnecessary, and agree with Nicholson that there are many safer products to use on plants.

To feel In the Pink, (March 1-16) the Lyman Plant House is open every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The suggested donation is $2. You still have a week to get there.  Talcott Greenhouse at Mount Holyoke College is also hosting a spring bulb show for the next week, through March 16.  Hours 10am – 4 pm.

Between the Rows  March 1, 2014

 

Microgreens for Nutrition and Fun

Microgreens on my windowsill, Savory Mix and pea shoots

What are microgreens?  You can find microgreen seed mixes in the seed racks. You can find ‘baby’ greens mixed in with salad mixes at the supermarket. Why are these tiny greens becoming more and more popular?

The term microgreen is fairly self-explanatory. Microgreens are lettuces, spinach and other green vegetables that are harvested when they are about two weeks old, and hardly more than an inch or two tall. This makes them ideal for winter growing in the house.

But the appeal goes beyond the pleasure of multiple harvests over the course of the winter season. Recent research shows that microgreens are amazingly nutritious. Qin Wang, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (AGNR), and graduate student Zhenlei Xiao of the AGNR Department of Nutrition and Food Science participated in a study “which looked at nutrients like Vitamin C, E, K and beta carotene found in 25 different types of microgreens including cilantro, celery, red cabbage, green basil and arugula. . . Their research ultimately discovered that the microgreens contained four to 40 times more nutrients than their mature counterparts.”

That is a lot of nutrition for a tiny plant! Microgreens have been used as garnishes in upscale restaurants for some years, but all of us can enjoy them for mere pennies.

It takes very little to set up a microgreens project, and would certainly be fun if you have children in the house. I bought all my equipment at the Greenfield Farmer’s Cooperative Exchange, and aside from seeds, I spent about $10.  I bought two 10×21 inch black plastic trays, and six 5×7 plastic planting boxes with drainage holes, and a bag of soilless seed starting mix. You can lower your cost if you have any plastic salad containers from the supermarket. These will need to have drainage holes punched in the bottom.

Put at least two inches of dampened seed starting mix in your planting box. Tamp it down so the surface is fairly flat. Then sprinkle with seeds. You do not need to plant in rows and since these seedlings will be harvested when they are tiny they can be planted thickly. Someone made the analogy that because these germinating seeds don’t need nutrition from the soil, they are just like day old chicks that are still getting all their nutrition from the egg yolk that is absorbed before they hatch.

Then sprinkle a bit of seed starting mix over the seeds and tamp down lightly again. I prefer not to water from above. I put the planting trays in the larger trays and pour water into the larger tray so that it covers the bottom. The water is then absorbed gently into the planting trays by osmosis. I’ve put my trays on a card table by a big south window in my cold guest room. I used a heat mat below the trays, but this is not necessary, although germination will be slightly slower.

I planted my first three little trays on February 2. Two were planted with a savory mix (beets, swiss chard, radishes, mustard, cress, cabbage, mustard, pak choi and kohlrabi) of microgreen seeds from Botanical Interests, and one was planted only with pea seeds. I took my first harvest of microgreens on February 14, cutting all the microgreens in one box into a Valentines’s Day salad. On February 17 I harvested the single box of pea shoots and added them to another salad. A new harvest every night since then. My only tool was a scissors to cut the seedlings down.

Because the microgreens aren’t getting any nutrition from the soilless mix, you can replant right in the same planting box, by sprinkling more seed and then covering them with a bit more of the seed starting mix. This is the way you can keep the microgreens growing and being harvested until you are ready to start planting vegetables outside.

This is a great way to use up leftover seeds. My collection of leftovers includes lettuces, radishes, beets, cilantro, basil, cabbage and spinach. Even if they are not as viable as they were you have nothing to lose.

You can continue to plant and harvest microgreens outdoors when the weather warms up. You just need to remember to keep them watered.

This is a great gardening project for children. It does not require a lot of skill. Set up mess can be contained on a few sheets of newspaper. Numerous lessons can be found in seed starting. You can begin with vocabulary. As children notice that the seedlings are always trying to lean towards the sun you can teach them about heliotropism, which is the growth of a plant towards the sun. Anyone who has grown plants on the windowsill has noticed that the plant leaves will always come to lean towards the sun, and need to be turned regularly to have an even appearance. This is particularly noticeable and rapid in seedlings which makes them a good example.

Then you can talk about the first part of that word helio or Helios which is the name of the Greek sun god. I hope you have a nice picture book of Greek myths in the house because so many of our words have an origin and history in those ancient stories – narcissus, echo, cereal, crocus, daphne and iris. Children love stories of gods, goddesses and magical creatures. So do I!

Between the Rows     February 22, 2014

 

New Vegetables for 2014

Artisan tomato collection
courtesy Johnnys Selected Seeds

What’s new in vegetables? What a question. While I am not aware of any completely new species of vegetables, there are always new varieties which at least purport to be better, have shorter or longer growing season, more disease resistance, be smaller for container growing, larger for those who enjoy the thrill of giant vegetable growing, more flavorful for demanding cooks or more nutritious for the ever more health conscious.

Every seed catalog begins with a page or two of new varieties being introduced for the first time – at least for that seed company. Johnny’s Selected Seeds is one of my favorite companies. This year they are offering Artisan Tomatoes ™, a new family of tomatoes that have been bred for the specialty market. They are small, pretty tomatoes with good flavor. Artisan Pink Tiger, Green Tiger and Blush Tiger get their name from the tiger stripings on the skin. Because a mix of these pretty tomatoes is part of the appeal, you can also buy a packet of Artisan ™ Tiger Mix. There is also Purple Bumble Bee and Pink Bumble Bee which are round cherry tomatoes. Double pleasure is available in the Artisan ™ Mix which gives you all the Tigers and Bumble Bees. These seeds are also available at Totally Tomatoes.

Burpee Seeds is looking at tomatoes in a different way. They are offering a new Beefsteak Hybrid that promises to produce three pound tomatoes with heirloom flavor. Like the little Artisan ™ tomatoes these are indeterminate, which means the tomato vine will keep growing and growing, up to 12 feet, setting fruit until frost. Determinate tomatoes are more compact and will grow to about four feet, don’t need much staking. Determinate tomatoes will all ripen pretty much at once, within two weeks.

Burpee is also introducing Pick-a-Bushel semi-bush hybrid cucumber that can be grown in containers. Each plant will produce 10-20 small cukes. Pick-a-Bushel is a 2014 AAS Regional winner, and is a disease resistant variety.

Speaking of AAS, or the All-America Seed Selections, which have tested seeds for dependability and desirability over a wide range of conditions, I was attracted by the bush bean Mascotte. It has bushy upright growth, and its compact size makes it suitable for container growing. The fine pods are long and straight, and disease resistant. I love green beans, and wax beans, too. More and more people are determined to grow a few vegetables for their dinners, even if they have to grow them in a pot on the deck.

Pepper Mama Mia Giallo is another AAS national winner. This elongated yellow sweet pepper has compact growth and resistance to tobacco mosaic. I have never grown peppers, but these ripen in a (relatively) short period, 125 days. They can be started indoors and then moved out to the garden in 5-6 weeks. My Front Garden, right in front of the house, faces south and is protected from the wind. I believe in global disruption more than global warming as far as the garden is concerned, but this might be the place and time to try peppers. Watch for the AAS logo on seed packets when you go shopping.

Hakurei turnips are not new at all, but they were new to me last year and now I plan to grow them every year. These little round white turnips look a lot like radishes and they can be used raw in salads like radishes. This is how I have eaten them, but they can also be cooked up quickly with their greens and eaten hot. I like them because they can be planted early in the spring and late in the summer, harvesting them in 30 days when young or in 40-50 days when mature and about 2 inches in diameter. They resist frost and when a floating row cover is used they are also protected from flea beetles and root maggots. These sweet and spicy delights are for eating fresh. They are not suitable for storage.

If you can’t wait to start gardening you can get a jump on the season by planting microgreens indoors. Microgreens are not only ready for harvest in 14 days, recent research shows that these tiny plants are a powerhouse of vitamins. Twenty-five microgreens were tested by the USDA at the University of Maryland. Results showed that almost all had four to six times more nutrients than the mature leaves of the same plant. I planted a Savory mix from Botanical Interests which includes beets, swiss chard, radishes, mustard, cabbage and kohlrabi seeds. I also planted a flat of pea seeds and plan to harvest the pea shoots for my salads as well. Several companies are offering similar mixes, or you can just use some of the seeds you plan to plant outdoors.

To grow my microgreens I used little planting flats and watering trays, and seed starting mix.  You can also use plastic containers that mushrooms and other vegetables come in, but put drainage holes in the bottom. My microgreens are not ready for their closeup yet, but keep watching.

Whether you are trying a new variety of vegetable that has just come on the market, or a vegetable variety that is new to you, it is time to make some decisions, because it will not be too long before you can start planting those seeds indoors. 

 Between the Rows   February 8, 2014

Garden Planning IV – Review and Renew

 

Redvein Enkianthus

            Before I end my discussion about garden planning, I want to add a few words about the view from the house, or more specifically, the view from a window.

            We spend time in the garden working, and time socializing in the garden, but we can also enjoy the garden when we are inside the house. Do you have a kitchen or dining table by a window that looks into the garden? When you look up from your newspaper or book, do you look across the room from your reading chair and out a window?

            Our dining table is right by a large window looking out at the Lawn Beds, and across the lawn to an ancient apple tree. The field beyond that is bordered by trees with hills in the far distance. This is an expansive view of the garden and the landscape beyond. A more intimate view is from my reading chair back towards the tractor shed which is hung with the lovely white, green and pink foliage of a hardy kiwi vine, fronted with several pink rose bushes, and an edging of annual blue salvia. It is such a pleasure to look that this Shed Bed garden, that as disorderly as I often am, I try to keep this area neat.

            What would you like to look at from your reading chair, or from your table? Flowers? Birds flitting and settling on a feeder? A burbling fountain set beneath a flowering tree? I have been told that the sound of water will attract birds to the garden even more surely than a well stocked feeder.

            What kind of garden tableau would please you? It only takes a little planning to create a view that will give you immense pleasure.           

           I hope I have not led anyone to believe that garden planning is ever done once and for all time. When a garden plan is implemented unforeseen obstacles may arise, as may unforeseen opportunities. We must never let a beautiful plan get in the way of a beautiful result. A plan must always be flexible.

        Even after a garden plan is beautifully in place, enjoyed by the gardener, and admired by visitors, time will bring change and alterations will be required. We all know this, or come to know it after only two or three years of a gardening career. I remember a time after I planted my first perennials under the late Elsa Bakalar’s tutelage, when she came to visit and looked at the garden. She suggested, gently, that it was time to divide the yarrow and bee balm.

         “What?” I couldn’t believe it. I thought the whole point of perennials was you put them in place, cared for them and they were perennially there, no more thought or work required. It was a simple lesson, and is relearned when plants need to be divided because the clump gets too big, or when a plant grows taller, wider or more vigorously than expected or planned, or when you realize that a particular plant like plume poppy has spread itself all through the garden.

Plume poppies, Macleaya cordata, which is not really a poppy at all, looked beautiful in my garden. Plume poppies are tall, up to eight feet, with large slivery blue scalloped leaves, and plumey blossoms. They increase by sending out new rhizomes. They are stunning, but to say they grow vigorously is an understatement. That kind of growth was not part of my plan, and I ripped them out. Gardening Goes Wild takes a different view of the plume poppy.

Redvein Enkianthus – nevermore

This past fall I cut a redvein Enkianthus shrub down to little nubbins. Years ago I planted this shrub in the middle of the North Lawn Bed because it was described as growing gracefully tall, producing little bell-like flowers in June, and good fall color. It is disease and pest resistant, not fussy about soil, or dry weather. It sounds like a wonderful plant, and in many ways it is.

When I chose Enkianthus I somehow did not take in the fact that it was a very slow grower. That was my mistake. And I found the little bell-like flowers very small indeed. Both of those disappointments would not have mattered if it took the graceful form promised – layered branches spreading out three or four feet from the center of the plant. Mine grew into a widening dense column, with no grace at all.

            I made another mistake. I did not take into consideration the growth of the other plants around it, the ginkgo trees, the weeping hemlock, also very slow growing, and the fast growing low junipers. The whole area was too crowded, something had to go; I chose the Enkianthus. Now there is breathing room.

            Calculating how big and how fast plants will grow is not always easy. We can research a plant, read the nursery label and make our best judgment, but we will not always be right. Then something has to go. Sometimes we will simply not like a plant after we have seen it in our garden, and sometimes a plant will not like our garden, dying a miserable death. Either way, the plant leaves the garden, and we have to come up with a new choice, if not a new plan.

            Garden planning is never done. How can it be? Time brings change to our garden, we are always learning about new plants, and visiting inspiring gardens. Keep planning. Keep gardening.

Between the Rows   January 25, 2014

Garden Planning II – What Does the Garden Need?

            

Green and wax beans

 

For me garden planning is difficult because I am always rushing about with a new idea for a new project. Things work out in the end, but I understand the unfettered enthusiasm that a new gardener, or a gardener with a new space, feels as she looks out at that space. However, I know that the best way forward is to move thoughtfully, and maybe with a pad and pencil in hand.

            First, inventory your new site. Make a rough sketch, don’t worry about scale, that will indicate the space the house and any outbuildings take, as well as any other permanent elements, trees, shrubs, fences, and paving.

            On your sketch note the aspects, north, south, east and west. This will give you a basic idea of the sunniest and shadiest parts of your site. It will really take a year of careful observation to understand how shade moves across your site. Indeed, if you can keep yourself in check for a whole year, it is a good idea to see what plants are already in the landscape, as well as the movement of light and shade.

            “Form follows function” is one of my favorite quotes. What functions will be performed in your garden? Do you need play space for children? Do you enjoy meals in the garden? Do you enjoy entertaining in the garden? Do you want vegetables and other edibles? Or flowers? Do you want to eliminate lawn?

            I am not really talking about garden design here, which is a very big topic, but if you think about the ways you need, or want, to use your space you can begin to think how your garden planning might arrange those elements into a harmonious whole.

            After you consider what you need and want, you must consider what any garden needs and wants. The first need is a fertile soil. In our neighborhood you can generally assume that you have acid soil. You can buy a soil testing kit that will measure the pH or acidity. You can also get a full soil test from the University of Massachusetts that will not only give you the pH, but also a measure of your nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium as well as vital trace elements. After many years I did a full soil test for my vegetable garden in 2012 and found that all the years of adding compost, lime to raise the pH, rock phosphate for phosphorus, and greensand for potassium really paid off. Now I have good fertile soil with nine percent organic matter. My efforts always go into feeding the soil.

            Since your soil needs organic matter, and your garden will ultimately give you substantial organic matter, find a place to put a compost pile. Compost will not attract pests as long as you only put in vegetable matter. No meat scraps!

            Fortunately you can buy beautiful compost locally. A truckload is a luxurious way to begin a new garden. Martin’s Farm and Bear Path Farm are excellent local sources.

 I have had great success starting a new bed by using the lasagna or sheet composting method. First, mow or clear the space as cleanly as possible. Give it a deep watering. Then spread four or five inches of good compost and water again.

            On top of the compost use a layer of cardboard. Some use several layers of newspaper, but I prefer cardboard. Since you will probably be using several pieces of cardboard make sure there is plenty of overlap. Wet and soak the cardboard.

            Top the cardboard with soil or a mixture of soil and compost. The quality of the soil matters very little because the roots will be growing through the rotting cardboard and into the layer of compost. Once you have your lasagna bed you can just maintain it with annual fertilization.

Of course, you can just dig your bed and till in compost and fertilizers. I always use organic fertilizers and more compost because I am feeding the soil. Healthy soil is filled with living organisms that will give you healthy crops and beautiful flowers. A healthy plant is more resistant to both pests and disease. A healthy plant in healthy soil.

Raised beds inside a frame are very popular now, but I warn you, that even a raised bed with enriched soil will eventually need weeding.

            Water is absolutely essential especially if you have a vegetable garden. An ornamental garden can be left to itself in a drought, and will recover fairly well when the rains come, but vegetables require regular and adequate watering.

            Soaker hoses work well in the garden. The black hoses are almost invisible as the plants grow. They efficiently put the water near plant roots where it is needed. Using a sprinkler is fine, but then watering must be done early in the day so foliage will dry before evening. Most of us try to use water efficiently because in town wasted water has implications for the water bill, or for the sustainability of the well in the country.

            Water is essential for plant growth. It is also a desirable ornamental element. With small submersible pumps available, some that solar powered, it is easy to set up a fountain or even a tiny stream or pond. What luxury to sit in the garden and hear the burble of running water.

            We are edging into the realm of garden design now. Next week I’ll be talking about the mixed border, and lawns.

            Between the Rows   January 11, 2014