Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Going to the Dogs

Going to the dogs - dogwood that is!

Way back when...the Clinton Power Plant was being built, Illinois Power's forestry personnel were returning the landscape around the lake to a naturalistic environment.  They had an area where they planted small starts and would then replant to forest other areas. 

This dogwood easily sprouts from twigs, suckers and seed - making it perfect for mass restoration.   

When an area had an open house they would send some of those starts to the office as free give aways to our customers.  Most starts were bushes or small trees.  All the starts were taken except a few tiny Red Osier Dogwood.  Rather than throw them away, I took them home and planted. 

That was four houses ago.  I'd dig up a few shoots each time I moved and they are still gracing my yards. 

The Red Osier Dogwood has many great qualities. Obviously, the color of the stems during the winter is a great quality. To have red stems, cut 1/3 of the bush down every few years. The red stems are new growth.

Red Osier Dogwood Cornus sericea, is a native of Illinois.  It's other names are Red Willow, Kinnikinnick, Redstem Dogwood, Redtwig Dogwood, Red-rood, American Dogwood, Creek Dogwood, Red Dogwood, Squawbush, California Dogwood, Red-stemmed Cornel, Redbrush, Gutter Tree, Red Willow, harts rouges, Poison Dogwood, Shoemack, Waxberry Cornel, Dog Berry  and Western Dogwood.   Is it any wonder there's confusion on names in the plant world?  

This dogwood, a broadleaf deciduous bush, grows to about 8' x 8'.  They are hardy to Zone 3.  They like mineral rich soil.   

They will have the brightest twigs in full sun and tolerate shade which allows them to be incorporated into a woodland.  It's considered semi-fire tolerant.  The native prairie fires would cause the seeds to germinate and it would be one of the first plants to grow after fire.

A bush for all seasons, it has white flowers in the spring, berries and red/purple leaves in the fall.  The leaves are typically a medium emerald green although there are varieties which have variegated leaves.  The bush is not tight and has an informal look.  Birds are forever using it for cover, for food, a simple perch or to nest.  The berries aren't eaten until late winter when other food is gone.

The Lakota and other plains Native American Indians would use the berries for treating colds and slow bleeding.  They would blend the inner bark with tobacco to smoke and this became the Kinnikinnick word for this plant.  The twigs are still used for basket weaving.

The roots spread widely and is good for erosion control.  For a huge visual impact, plant in mass.  For the edge of a woods or as a specimen plant, make sure they are where they can be viewed.  They will send up suckers.  These suckers can be mowed if they begin to creep into your lawn.  They often form huge thickets in wet undisturbed areas.

Provides cover for small critters and is a favorite of deer and moose although I've never had mine destroyed.  Bees will be all over the flowers.  Trim up the bottom and they will resemble a small tree.
                                                                           Side Note:  The Henry County IL Soil & Water Conservation District 2012 Spring Tree Sale is being held until March 19th.  Call 309-937-5263, Ext. 3, for a brochure.  They offer two kinds of red twig dogwood. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The 1-2-3 of 8

I know it seems the wrong time of the year to talk about preserving vegetable produce - aka "canning".  It takes a plan in the spring to be sure there are the right kind of vegetables for the end result - aka "delicious". 

Here's a few things I've learned and used for making a vegetable juice mixture.
  • Use a heavy stock pan about 1/4 larger than the quantity of produce to cook.  This helps prevent scorching and boil overs.  Tomatoes do both easily at high temperatures. 
  • If you don't have all day or have trouble lifting heavy pots, make smaller batches more often.
  • Have a sturdy long handle spoon. 
  • Wash fresh produce for canning in a mild dish washing soap.  I know it sounds crazy, but, it makes me feel better.  A quick in, rub completely, and quick out.  Never let celery sit in soapy water, it will take up the water and taste like soap. Rinse VERY thoroughly.
  • Never use moldy or spoiled produce.  It could ruin the entire batch.
  • Skin tomatoes if you aren't going to run through a food mill. 
  • Use a food mill if you can't eat or don't want seeds.  It will remove the seeds, the skin and blend all vegetables.  The food mill makes the best juice.     
  • Never can the skins of tomatoes when preserving - they become tough.
  • Different colored tomatoes tint the juice.
  • Use the most meaty, sweet and juicy tomatoes for the canning process.  

Here's a simple recipe for vegetable juice using the food mill - assuming everything is clean:
Tomatoes with skins, cored and cut into quarters.  Cutting tomatoes into quarters helps prevent the fruit from exploding when going through the food mill.
Peel onions, quarter.  I believe the more surface - the more flavor.
Optional:  Garlic cloves, peeled and slightly squashed.
Summer Squash:  Remove stem, chop into golf ball sized pieces.  The golf ball size is optimal for fitting into the food mill receptacle.
Carrots:  Cut off top and cut into small pieces or grate .  Carrots take longer to cook when left large.
Celery:  Cut off bottom of bunch, cut into one inch sized pieces; include leaves.
Peppers:  I use sweet bell and banana.  If I want something with more heat, I add hot peppers at the time I use the canned juice.  It gives more options.  Core peppers and cut into pieces.
Optional:  Hot peppers:  Keep in mind the entire batch will be hot.  As the juice cooks and after it's preserved, it may increase in heat.  If you cook the hot pepper seeds, it will make it much hotter.

That is the basic recipe.  You will note I didn't add quantities.  My rule of thumb:  Half a pan of tomatoes, one-quarter of other items.  I most often use what I have on hand so batches may be different tasting.

Any of the following may be added for more nutrition:  Greens such as spinach and lettuce.  Fresh beans.  Realize if you use cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc., their flavor will over ride most of the other flavors. 

Use what's available (either in your garden or at the farmer's market.)

Seasonings:  Again  I use what I have on hand.  Routinely, I use basil (it's flavor diminishes some during canning), rosemary, thyme, parsley.  Others if you want a distinctive taste:  cilantro, lemon balm, sage, and chives.   I'm sure there are others.  I don't use a herb, vegetable or flavoring that limits what recipes I can make.  Specific flavors can be added at the time you use the juice in your favorite dish.  I add fresh ground pepper.  I don't add salt at the time of canning.

Fruits:  Yes, you can add fruit to your vegetable juice.  Some of the brighter colored fruits will impart a subtle taste of their own.  The lighter the fruit the less likely that will happen with the exception of citrus.  I often make at least one batch of tomato juice by seasoning with lemon juice and zest.  It's good in salad dressing, in bean dip and as a drink.  Not so good in savory dishes.

Cook ingredients prior to putting in food mill.  Follow the canning instructions exactly until you understand the why and why not.   Not only do you want a perfect juice, you do not want to give anyone food poisoning.  I know - I had to say it. 

Tomatoes can be processed in a water bath because they are acidic.  The more vegetables you use, the more acid you should add to the ingredients such as vinegar or citrus juice.  A tablespooon of white vinegar per quart jar will not change the taste.

As for ingredients, the point of vegetable juice is to add as much nutrition as possible.   The point of making your own is you are able to control the taste, the looks, the cost, the quantity, the nutrition, and eliminate negative or dangerous practices..

Side note:  If you don't want juice, this same recipe can be used for "chunky" tomatoes.  Take out the seeds prior to cooking if they bother you.  Skin the tomatoes prior to cooking.  Cut vegetables into smaller pieces. Don't run through the food mill.

Why talk about tomato juice preservation now?  It's time to look at seeds and seed catalogs.  A couple of sites you might like:

www.ezfromseed.org  is the Home Garden Seed Association.  They have directions for "Seed Buying 101:  A Seed Gardener's Glossary".

http://www.selectseeds.com   A site for rare, choice and heirloom seeds.

http://www.reneesgarden.com  A site that offers organic seeds.

There are numerous other sites and stores near you.  Most have instructions along with their catalog of seeds and plants.  Have fun making "the plan"!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Slide into Spring

Here's a couple of slide shows that will make you want to rush into spring. 


Go to Annie's Annuals photostream.  Then "Spring Slideshow 2012".
This one is from Annie's Annuals.  I've mentioned her catalog before.  Annie's is located in California and in a rather tough urban location.  Note the high fence topped with barbed wire.  Annie's is beautiful, casual, eclectic, and definitely fun.

This is located on You Tube.  If you can't link into it from this site, enter in search:  Monet-Giverny.pps .  It's titled "Claude Monet and Giverny".  Increase to full screen size.  This is a slide show of Claude Monet's home and gardens in Girverny, France.  It was where many of his most famous paintings were done and is now open to the public.  He certainly shows his eye for beauty was translated into his garden. 

There are many ways to view a garden slide show: admire the beauty, scope out plants you might want this year, gain some design knowledge, or be entertained. 

Snow in this part of the woods this morning - beautiful!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Is White a Color?

No, technically white is not a color.  In nature, white is seldom really white.  It is shades or layers of colors.  Our eyes and minds may perceive it as white when in fact it isn't. 

The new garden catalogs started me thinking of white in the garden.  I've written about it before in "Moon Garden" article #60.  Today I'd like to focus on the use of white flowers in containers.

I live in a yellow house trimmed in white.  It's the Swedish look for an old house build by a Swede.  It's warm and cozy, but doesn't have any blast of bright colors.   

I get my little flash of color from using a bright royal blue in my gardens and on the back porch.  Hence, all my plant pots out back are that color of blue.  Surprisingly, very few flower colors clash with this shade of blue. 

Each color, when combined with royal blue, gives a different mood.  Blue and white tends to look very formal and slightly Swedish.

I like using large pots - although I tend to limit them to the maximum my husband will willingly move. . . . .

Here's some really good choices for white flowers in pots:

"Cool Wave" White Pansies
White Impatients
White Cornflower.  (May self seed)
Datura "Evening Fragrance".  (May self seed)
Chrysanthemum parthenium Feverfew.  (Several white varieties)
Four O'Clock "Alba".  (May self seed)
Petunia "Rainmaster"  (Strongly scented - may self sow)
Tobacco "Jasmine"  (Sweet fragrance)
Verbena "White Lily"  (Strong scent)
Cleome "White Queen"  (May self seed)
Nasturtium "Milkmaid"  (Trails to 3 foot)
Zinnia "Polar Bear"
Morning Glory "Pearly Gates".  (vines & self seeds)

Annual Veggies:
Eggplant "White Star"   (plant grows to a max. of 3 foot)
Cilantro has small white flowers if left to bloom.
Early White Bush Scallop Summer Squash.
Floral Spires White Basil "Ocimum basillcum"
"Snow White" cherry tomato. (pictured from Reimer Seeds) 

A combo of tender bulbs and plants:
Dahlia 'White Perfection" is a dinner plate variety, growing to 4 foot.  (Need a big pot)
Gladiolus "White Friendship" grows to 3 foot.  (Great for the back of a pot)
Caladium "White Christmas" features white with green veins.  (Can take shade)
White Calla Lily.  (Can take some shade)
Angel Trumpets Brugmansia White.  This is a tree.
White Odorata Begonia.  (super fragrant and drapes over the side of pots)
"Ermine" Canna.  36-48 inches tall.

Perennials  (get them back in the ground in the fall or bring inside):
White Oriental "Casa Blanca" Lily.  (Highly fragrant)       
White Hibiscus "Texas Star Moon Moth".  (The can become a tree)
Bearded German Iris "Immortality".  (Very fragrant)
Daylily "Dad's Best White".  (Lots of white and near white daylilies)
Shasta Daisy.  (These will self seed)
Echinacea purpurea "Milkshake" coneflower.  (This is a touchy little plant; you may loose it if you wait late to transplant in the ground.)
Fire and Ice Hosta.  (Or the old fashioned, highly fragrant "August Hosta" plantaginea)
Hybrid miniature white rose bushes.
Perennials that need pots brought in during our Zone 5 winters:
Pampas Grass Cortaderia selloana "White Feather".  This will be REALLY tall.
Nassella tenuissima Mexican feather grass "Shimmering Garden Jewel". 
Solanum Jasminoides album.  Jasmine "Starbright"
Mandevilla "Bride's Cascade".  (Vines - pictured from Oglesby)
Cape Fuchsia "Candy Drops Cream".  (hangs over edges of pots)
White Geranium
Polianthes tuberosa "Pearl" is from 1870.  (fragrant)

I didn't include bulbs for spring pots although there are loads of crocus, hyacinths, tulips, narcissus and daffodils readily available in white.  They may take a little more planning and specialized care to make sure they have the winter conditions needed for spring blooms.

The above lists are only a few of the white flowers available. 
One of the best things about many of the beautiful white flowers is their fragrant.  Most smell strong and sweet.  Often the most intense fragrance is in the evening.  Place those pots of fragrant flowers near your evening sitting or entertaining area.  White flowers will show up most nights and you'll be enchanted by the evening scents.

Side note:  We (as in husband) use an appliance cart to move pots.  Slip the bottom under the pot, secure with a bungee cord, tip back and roll to the new location. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

An Invasion?

Mike Gray, University of Illinois Extension entomologist, has some insect predictions for the coming growing season 2012. 

"Japanese beetle infestations will continue to vex producers this year," Gray said.  The Japanese beetle grubs will burrow down at least two foot if the ground freezes that deep.  With such a mild winter, I can't imagine many grubs died.

David Voegtlin, a retired entomologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey said soybean aphid populations may be down.  Gray observed, "The fungal epizootic swept through the impressive aphid buildup on buckthorn and decimated the population." 

The European corn borer reached all-time population lows across Illinois last year.  Gray expects them to be hardly noticeable this year.  The western corn rootworm densities are low.

“Considerable speculation has arisen regarding whether or not the large-scale increase in Bt usage may be suppressing corn rootworm populations, similar to what happened with European corn borer densities,” he said.  He suspects environmental conditions last season served as the major contributor to the collapse of the corn rootworm population.  The wet soil conditions last spring resulted in high mortality of western corn rootworm larvae soon after hatch occurred."

It’s too early to assess the potential impact of insects that migrate into Illinois such as black cutworms, corn leaf aphids, potato leafhoppers, fall armyworms and corn earworms. Weather is a critical factor surrounding if insect populations will have successful migrations.

For insects that overwinter above ground the mild winter temperatures have been good.  If we should get a freeze, the lack of snow cover will leave them exposed and in danger.

Having sunny mild winter days may cause overwintering insects to become active before they have food.  This activity causes them to use stored energy and they could starve before spring. An insect gradually winterizes it's body.  Having swings between 0-50 can increase death rates.

Should there be a late hard freeze, many migrating insects could be killed. And should there be a cold snap later when the leaves are on the trees, that could cripple the insect population for lack of food.  Gray adds , they’re all pretty hardy, in fact a lot of insects actually need a cold snap to develop, so don’t count on that.

To the sadness of all out door people, the mosquitoes will survive.

Death due to weather conditions affect both beneficial and destructive insects.  This can be good as populations may even out.  More than the mild/harsh winter factors, what happens in the spring can cause more insect damage.  Cool damp springs encourages the development of fungi that attack insects.

It's predicted, critters may double their populations this year due to mild winter weather.  Not especially good news for gardens where deer frequent.

Bee populations have drastically decreased over the years.  Loss of habitat and insecticide use are blamed for much of that decrease.  Having a prolonged late winter freeze might cause them to starve.

Bottom line:  those in the know are making their predictions and all of them hedge their bets right along with your favorite weatherman.  The science of prediction is still a guess; even if based on history, science, data and observation.   

Monday, February 20, 2012

Z is for Zinnia

I could not list "Z" without it being one of my favorite summer annuals - the zinnia.  It has a long list of positive attributes.  Let's work our way through the list.

Zinnias are usually in very rich and clear colors and some are multicolored.  I've never seen a blue zinnia.  The "new" bi color this year has chartreuse and mauve petals  - called Zinnia Queen Red Lime.  The tones are more pastel.
Bloom descriptions:
Zinnias are miniature up to very large.  They can be a low clump (6 ins.) or tall  (40 ins.) and sprawling. The flowers may be singles, doubles, domed, twisted, cactus, Mexican, dahlia, and tetraplois.  All with a yellow center.  Some varieties have been hybridized to look like marigolds, cosmos, and galardia.  I'm not sure why since both zinnia and these other plants have value on their own.  
Bloom time:
If in the ground early, they will bloom by mid season and continue until frost.  The richer the soil, the better the plant and flowers.
Powdery mildew has plagued zinnias especially during wet summers and if they are crowded.  Select varieties that are mildew resistant, use a mildew formula dust or live with it.  Mildew seldom kills a zinnia or harms the flower.  It may cut production somewhat.  Do not water from overhead.
Nothing significant.  Zinnias usually attract so many good bugs, they eat any pests.
Zinnias are a butterfly and bee magnet.  If you plant a large quantity in one place, the butterflies will see them and it will become a stop and shop the rest of the summer.  The flat variety is most enjoyed.
Zinnias are considered an annual in this area.  They may also self seed and it is easy to collect the seeds to use (FREE) next year.  They like full sun, rich well-drained soil, good air circulation, and are pretty much no care once established.  They do well in pots.  Sow seeds or plant sets outside as soon as the last frost is over and water once.  This is one easy and hardy annual. 
Cut flowers:
They are a long lasting cut flower (always take off any foliage that will be under water).  IF you aren't going to save seeds, deadhead to prolong the blooms, making a neater looking plant and helping tall varieties keep from flopping.
Year end:
The foliage begins to turn brown towards the end of summer.  I usually ignore or strip the brown ones and leave it blooming on semi-bare stems.  It's not an indication of disease or pests, it's the cycle of life. 

Zinnias are an excellent plant for first time gardeners and for children.  Seldom do they fail and no part is poisonous.  However, they are not considered a foodstuff. 
These beauties are considered a native flower ranging from the southwest United States into Central and South America.  One has to admit, one of the top reasons for having an annual flower in the garden is having all summer beauty.  Did I mention they are the perfect flower for photographers!!

“The Amen! of Nature is always a flower.”
            - Oliver Wendell Holmes

Thursday, February 16, 2012

And, I Quote

In 1862, when President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the act of congress that established the Department of Agriculture, he commented, "...no other human occupation opens so wide a field for the agreeable combination of labor with cultivated thought, as agriculture." (Mr. Lincoln Rose)

At that point, the political process started its big engine and has been plowing our fields ever since.  Some regulations, subsidies, departments and heads of committees have benefited agriculture and some not so much.

“Cultivators are the most valuable citizens…they are tied to their country.” – President Thomas Jefferson

Because I live in an agriculturally based community, my families are farmers and I have a lifelong love of gardening; I tend to read the issues surrounding agriculture with interest.  Seldom does on issue have a clear black and white solution or explanation. 

“Our farmers deserve praise, not condemnation; and their efficiency should be cause for gratitude, not something for which they are penalized.” – President John F. Kennedy

It’s the largest self interest group with the most money that typically turns the political vote.  Listen to two people at a coffee klatch and you will find two polar opposite opinions and both sure they are right.  What the listener can begin to notice, sometimes opinions are based on the publicity advocating a position for their own agenda. 

 “In no other country do so few people produce so much food, to feed so many, at such reasonable prices.” – President Dwight D. Eisenhower  (Twinleaf (Thomas) Jeffersonia diphyllia) 

Some really huge agricultural issues revolve around chemical use, genetically engineered seed, global warming, growth hormones, import/export and habitat loss.  All are tied to profit and loss and concern big business as-well-as each of us.  

"Agriculture, manufactures, commerce and navigation, the four pillars of our prosperity, are the most thriving when left most free to individual enterprise."  President Thomas Jefferson

Make no mistake, what happens in agriculture affects our own gardens and our own families.  Harm and success in agriculture will affect the entire global citizenship.   

“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.” – President Dwight D. Eisenhower

We’ve all bought and used products that were later proved harmful.  We’ve all had to change some of our work practices.  When you buy or sell garden and agricultural products, make informed decisions.  When you hear a claim about a product, read the whole story.  If change is necessary, do your best to make those changes.

(President Ronald Reagan daylily)  from www.franksmithdaylilies.com  

“It will not be doubted that with reference either to individual or national welfare, agriculture is of primary importance.” – President George Washington

To our gardeners and farmers who lead the way making tending our soil an honorable vocation, let me say, “Thank you.”  Our Presidents honor you and so do I!   

Y is for Yucca

In the Midwest, Yucca Filamentosa is typically seen in older gardens, cemeteries, and public areas.  In more arid parts of the country yucca may grow nearly everywhere and often wild.  They can, also, be grown as a house plant.

I don't see yucca in many local nurseries and certainly there aren't a lot of varieties hardy to our zone.  I bought my yucca at the Garden Station in Monticello, Indiana.  My variety is "Golden Sword" and is hardy to Zone 4.

Yucca is a good plant to consider if you're wanting to water less - or - designing a xeroscape garden.

Yuccas should be planted in poor soil, have excellent drainage, and full sun.  They especially don't like standing in winter water.  Raised beds with good drainage work well.  The root neck especially should not get soggy.  It's why you see some outstanding yucca plants with a 2 inch layer of small stones or granite chips as mulch. 

If planting in a large hole or raised bed, put a 7-15 inch layer of gravel in the bottom.  Set up a drainage bed especially if you have clay soil.  Add gravel to clay soil to make it 50% soil-50% gravel.  This isn't a picky plant, but it will certainly die from rot if it doesn't have good drainage.

I've never had one live that had been transplanted from other people's gardens because they don't like to be moved.  It's suggested buying from a garden center.

If neatness is your thing, you can cut off dead leaves.  ALWAYS wear thick garden gloves when planting or working with a yucca; the leaves are sharp and can cut a finger off - yes off.   That brings me to a word of caution:  If little children or others can run into the plant - you may want to either not have a yucca, put where there is no traffic, or have a barrier around the plant.

My yucca has beautiful striped two-toned leaves, the reason for the name.  It turns a bright pink in the winter.  Some of the old varieties are a dull medium green or blue green year round. 

Most yucca bloom.  The flowers are often on tall (6 ft.) stems, cream colored and are called fragrant.  The fragrance is a mild soap smell.  They bloom summer through fall.  It's alright to cut the flower stalk off after it blooms. 


Cool information:  They are used by certain moths for mutualistic pollination which includes food for the larvae.  It's an interesting little series of moth events if you'd like to read more.  Some species will not pollinate without the Yucca Moth.  To flower, some species need more than one plant.

Stuff:  There are different species and sub species so it's best to read before you buy.  They have had many practical uses for the Native American Indians.  Some of the new hybrids stay relatively small - others may become trees. 

Common names:  Yucca: Pale; Spineless; Spoonleaf; Palm; Banana. Adam’s Needle, Soapweed, Joshua Tree, Ghosts in the graveyard, Spanish Bayonet, Spanish Dagger, Palma China, and Datil.

I'm still hoping to put a couple beside my driveway.  I like the look of sentinels standing watch.  They are almost like giant gate posts.  It will take lots of soil prep since I'll be dealing with field clay.  They do make outstanding feature or accent plants.  Plant them right and they will be there probably longer than the homeowner.

Top two photos are from my garden.  Bottom two photos are from www.yuccado.com   Most of their plants are not hardy up here although they can be great houseplants.  It is where I get my very favorite plant tags and stakes: DooHickey    

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Perky Perky

Perky. Perky. Perky.   I've talked death, politics, left and right wing, gray skies and I'm ready for perky.

Bright flowers fall into the perky category for me and there are some real beauties out there this year.  I'm going to borrow most of the photos from on line catalogs - give credit where credit is due - and the only endorsement I'm giving is to say the photos do look beautiful - - - and perky.

 This beauty is called "Amish Cockscomb" and it's featured at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds www.rareseeds.com   This variety was discovered growing in an Amish garden near Arthur, IL. Beautiful large red heads on compact 1-foot tall plants.  

I haven't seen cockscomb growing in gardens in years.  I plant a few every few years and always wonder why I don't do it more.  Children love it and it really packs a punch in late summer when other flowers have stopped blooming.

The antique Sweet Pea "Queen of the Night" from Renee's Heirloom Garden www.reneesgarden.com  The Queen has super fragrant blend in the deepest shades of navy blue, mauve-blue, bicolor maroon and lilac, dark crimson and salmon pink.

This is grown as an annual up here and could grow to eight foot.

People shy aways from sweet peas for some reason.  There are also perennial varieties.  They won't grow where there are walnuts (sigh...)

The stunning Union Jack dahlia from 1882, is one of the world's oldest.  It's also known as the "Star of Denmark".  Featured in Old House Gardens, a heirloom bulb supplier  www.oldhousegardens.com  plus they have loads of information. 
The good thing about dahlias is you will have the bulbs from year to year (plus all the babies they produce.)  The bad thing about dahlias is they must be dug up in the fall/replanted in the spring. 
Nothing beats dahlias for the huge formal wow factor.
Campsis "Minnesota Red" Trumpet Creeper is one you may want to consider the fact it can grow in Zone 4 to 40 feet.  Do not plant where it can damage siding or trees.  I have mine planted on a twelve foot stump of an old tree.  This native vine  is from Brushwood Nursery at www.gardenvines.com                                                                      





Oakes Daylilies at www.oakesdaylilies.com is where I bought my stunning "Dorothy Lambert".   Registered in 1966, it is a vibrant rosy pink 6 inch flower that is often called tropical.  Anything but tender, it is hardy to Zone 4.
Hope you've enjoyed some bright perky flowers because tomorrow we have snow predicted and I'm so sure a little perky will be just the ticket.
“In my garden there is a large place for sentiment. My garden of flowers is also my garden of thoughts and dreams. The thoughts grow as freely as the flowers, and the dreams are as beautiful.”   Abram L. Urban


Love Is In The Air

Does the love of your life want roses for Valentine's Day or can you go a little into the garden scene for a sweet treat?

If you have a love, and you get a valentine's present for your love, and you haven't had "specific instructions" - Perhaps some of the following might expand your options.

I realize some recipients only want big and expensive and specifically REALLY big and expensive. 

I realize some recipients want a beautiful card, the traditional dozen red roses, heart shaped box of chocolates and dinner at a fine restaurant.

The reason I feature the photos of wine gift baskets is to help you towards thinking about some different types of gifts for this valentine's day.  If a gift is nice, is thoughtful, and something the recipient actually enjoys, why not go different?

Think about these:

  1. Gift certificate from a nursery
  2. A trip to a nearby botanical gardens - including lunch
  3. A new set of garden tools
  4. Ergonomic rake, shovel, or hoe
  5. A red wide-brimmed garden hat
  6. A water feature for the yard - plus installation
  7. A computer program to record garden plants, etc.
  8. A camera with a good zoom lens
  9. And for the adventurous - a wagon load of aged manure
  10. Bird houses and feeders 
  11. Subscription to a garden magazine or a new garden book.  (if you subscribe for a Kindle type device, make sure it will download photos well or it is pretty worthless for looking at beautiful gardens.)
Should you both be gardeners:

  1. A set of his and her outdoor lounge chairs
  2. A large patio umbrella
  3. A ceiling fan for the porch
  4. A train trip to an area of the country for an annual flower convention or tour of historic gardens.
  5. A tree
  6. A pergola
  7. Outdoor cooking devices
  8. Weather station
Warning:  If you've got the traditional kind of love in your life - do not and I stress DO NOT attempt to break that tradition on Valentine's Day.  There is nothing wrong with red roses, chocolate candy and a great meal topped off with something from your favorite jeweler.  The point (aside from increasing market sales) is to show love and that you care.

Budget minded:  If you are in your lean years (I mean financial not weight) - a love letter could be the most important and favored gift you ever give to your sweetie.  

Friday, February 10, 2012

Out of Style?

The other day I heard someone described as "classy" and "dignified".  I realized it's been a long time since I'd heard those descriptive words used. 

According to my Websters:

Classy is slang for something elegant or stylish.

Dignified is marked dignity of aspect or manner; noble; stately. 

Do you think the reason for disuse comes from:

  1. There are fewer classy or dignified people or things?
  2. Today's descriptive slang uses different words?
  3. The words are of another generation?
  4. Maybe all of the above?

Classy and dignified can definitely be used in the garden world: 

  1. How a plant looks and behaves.
  2. How a garden is composed or designed.
  3. The manner an insect or bird goes about it's tasks.
  4. The position of a plant in a photograph.
  5. How a gardener presents his or her self to others.
  6. The descriptions or claims in a catalog or nursery.
  7. The design of garden structures.
  8. Maybe all of the above.
I always considered classy and dignified a positive attribute - still do.  Hope these descriptive words don't fall into such disuse that the the description or behavior are removed from society. 

On that note, I read an article stating what 2011 descriptive words are now "OUT" and using them in 2012 means you're not up with the times.  I realized I didn't use any of them in 2011.  Does that mean I'm so out - I'm actually in?        

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Purple Tomatoes?

I grow a few heirloom tomatoes every year.  I consider them fun and in the process I've had some favorites.  The Cherokee Purple (Solanum lycopersicum) heirloom tomato tops my list of favorites.

When growing heirloom tomatoes be prepared to "think out of the box" on flavor, looks, texture, seeds, disease resistance and production.

The flavor of a Cherokee Purple is a very VERY sweet old fashioned tomato taste.  One of the best for serving fresh.

This plant doesn't have a huge production of tomatoes - plant with other varieties if you plan to use with lots of cooking or preserving. 

As you would expect from a tomato named "purple", don't expect to see bright tomato red.  As the photo shows, it's green and purple and dark red when ripe. 

This tomato has very dense insides, translating into good sauce and juice.  When cooked, it will tint the product a darker shade of red. 

It takes a lot of moisture to do well in the garden.  During drought years, you will need to water deep twice a week for high production and to stop the skin from splitting.  Insects love a tomato that has a split.  During perfect summer weather, they are relatively maintenence free.  Otherwise, keep watch for the usual tomato problems and fix early.

As this Burpee catalog photo shows, the tomatoes are large, dense and heavy (about 12 oz.).  The plant should be supported on something sturdy.  They take about 80 days from the time the plants are in the ground to production.    

If you get plants in the garden early, they may grow over six foot.  Keep that in mind when your placing in your garden plot.  There are catalogs featuring organic tomato seeds if you care to raise your own. 

Cherokee Purple was the first "black" tomato.  It is considered beefsteak style.  Craig LeHoullier claimed the cultivar is over a century old and originated with the Cherokee Native Americans.  It has been included in the Seed Savers Exchange as a heirloom.         

A gentleman developed his own web page for the tomato:    www.cherokeepurple.com
I have to admire a person who is so excited about a single variety of tomato, he has  dedicated it with photos of every stage.  I tend to do this with my daylilies, so, I can understand that kind of passion. 

If you're a tomato lover - one that anxiously awaits your first tomato sandwich, one that eats cherry tomatoes straight from the plant, one that always plants more than a sane person can consume - aren't you almost tasting that fresh tomato as you read this article???    Soon - very soon!  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

2012 The Year of the Herb

The National Garden Bureau and the Herb Society of America have named 2012 the Year of the Herbs!

The International Herb Association has named 2012 the Year of the Rose!

Looks like a busy year for gardeners striving to be involved in the year of herbs and roses.  Members of these respective non-profits voted their "Top Ten" list:

  1. Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum)
  2. Chives(Allium schoenoprasum)
  3. Dill (Anethum graveolens).
  4. Greek oregano (Organum vulgare hirtum)
  5. Bay (Laurus nobilis)
  6. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
  7. Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
  8. Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
  9. Common sage (Salvia officinalis)
  10. Lavender (Lavandula)

The IHA is promoting the rose as a herb because of the many edible uses for the petals and the seed heads.  The seed heads, called hips, are a common ingredient in teas, herbal medicines and natural vitamins.  (Use only roses not treated with chemicals.)

How easy to get involved in this year's herb extravaganza.  Grow from seed or buy plant sets.  All of the above "Top Ten" are easily found, pretty easy to grow and can be used in your cooking and food preservation.  Not to mention they are lovely plants in the gardens.

I typically don't lay down in front of moving traffic for my ideals - although I do occasionally pick up the pen for what I consider a deserving cause.  Today, there appears to be one looming in California at UCLA.  Check out  http://www.hannahcarterjapanesegarden.com   If you find the cause to preserve this garden something you care to support, sign their petition.  They need 2,000 signatures. 


It's especially difficult to insure even the simplest home gardens will be preserved once the original gardener sells the property.  It may be the new owners simply can't afford the gardens, doesn't want or can't  work at gardening, loves the house/hates the yard, has different tastes or priorities, or who knows...   With the above Hannah Carter Japanese Garden, even a trust with an organization and signed legal documents aren't insurance a national treasure will be preserved.  How less insured is a simple family garden.

If gardening is your passion, I suggest you involve your family - the next generation if possible.  It's a reason to take time from the process and enjoy the beauty you create.  Photograph your gardens and invite others to enjoy your works.  As-much-as most of us think our particular garden is wonderful, the next resident may not.  (Right here I visualize many a gardener clutching at their heart with a little whimper of disbelief!)  I know, who wouldn't love the daylilies, the old walnut trees, the hosta, the old brick paths, etc. etc. etc.????  

My garden instruction for the day:  
Enjoy your gardens every single chance you get.  

“Who loves a garden still his Eden keeps, perennial pleasures plants,
and wholesome harvests reaps.”
- Amos Bronson Alcott, American educator, philosopher (born 1799)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Thick as Soup

A few pretty photos taken during one of our recent fogs.  Another reminder so many weather conditions often produce beautiful photographic opportunities besides those in full sun. 
Little bird perched on a frosty bush.
Always busy, a resident squirrel is in his favorite walnut-eating place.

Our weeping willow is always beautiful and even more dressed in the hoarfrost.

Fog and frost lend an aged appearance to photos.  This picture of an old barn might be today or fifty years ago. 

Old trees by the former strip mine lands, lean towards the road.

As the sun pushed through the fog, layers of "clouds" rose from the tilled fields.

Off subject, here are three pots trying to sprout.  I had place the left pot out in the garden late last spring.  I tossed it in a bed and pretty much forgot the leftover Easter lily.  "Assumed" it was long dead/ruined one winter day so brought the pot inside, sat it on the garage work bench and forgot to compost.  Last week I noticed it had sprouted!  What fun.  Sometimes procrastination works!  The other two pots contain Amaryllis bulbs I'd stored in a paper bag in the basement.  (I never seem to have the time to get them going for a Christmas display.  I was once told by a visitor to my home that I shouldn't have them in March - only at Christmas.  Aw well, we each have our own opinions...)  The one in the plaid container had already started it's sprouting - perhaps a reminder it was ready for Christmas blooming after all.  At any rate, I'll have some pretty awesome flowers in a couple of months.  

Side Note:  If you'd like to read more about hoarfrost, check out a past article "The Snow Fairy Was Here"  #109.