BILOWZ ASSOCIATES INC. is an award winning landscape architectural design firm with a proven philosophy: "Creating Design with Harmony & Balance."
Our company blog, Annie's Gardening Corner, takes a sneak peek at how we balance our own love for everything green + a place to find inspiration, garden ideas and landscape design tips.

To browse our award winning landscape design portfolios, click on our company website at WWW.BILOWZASSOCIATES.COM

Friday, July 31, 2009

Weekend Garden Thoughts and Ideas

It’s Friday and you may already have your list of endless garden chores for the weekend. The weather looks promising to tackle any outdoor activity. If you decide to duck out for some garden inspiration beyond your own property, why not try a walking tour. Two of the most extensive botanical collections in Massachusetts are located at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge and the Arnold Arboretum in Boston.

Mount Auburn offers a 1.5 mile walking tour on Saturday, August 1st at 2:00 PM. Steeped in history, architecture and horticulture, it has a broad collection of tough, resilient groundcovers such as native ferns, Waldsteinia, Heuchera, Lamiastrum and many others. These drought-tolerant, native and naturalized species are often overlooked in the average garden. Keep in mind when touring the cemetery, automatic irrigation systems do not exist. It’s a must for any gardening enthusiast. Admission is $10. Call 617-607-1981 for information.

Another choice in Jamaica Plains is the Arnold Arboretum. With one of the oldest and most extensive collections of plant materials in New England, this is another must-see. They offer free walking tours on Saturdays at 10:30 am or Sundays at 1:00 pm and last 60-90 minutes. Don’t miss the outstanding bonsai collection. It’s located between the Dana Greenhouses and the Leventritt Shrub and Vine Garden. Call 617.384.5209 for more information.

There is always time to do the things you have to do, but remember to do the things you love to do. Recharge the botanical batteries. In the words of John Lennon, “Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted.” Have a great weekend. Post your comments if you go…Annie.

Photos of groundcover at Mount Auburn.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Height of the Hydrangea Season

There is nothing more versatile and striking as a hydrangea in bloom. A high-impact shrub for any garden, its flowers bridge the gap of summer into early fall. Hydrangeas kick into gear when early blooming shrubs and mid-season perennials start to fade. The peak to late bloom transition of a hydrangea is a distinctive feature with this genus, making it a favorite for cut and dried flower arrangements.

There are various species and varieties to pick from but choose them carefully. Know your hardiness zone. Many of these hydrangeas, particularly the blue varieties that thrive on the Cape and the Islands perform best in zone 6 and 7 (i.e., Blue Mopheads and Blue Lacecaps.)

One of our favorites, hardy to zone 3 to 4, is a Paniculata Hydrangea variety called H. paniculata ‘Unique’ that has stunning blooms with complete and sterile flowers. It starts off brilliant white and slowly transitions to a faded pink to mauve tone. Part of its beauty is watching the color change; you’ll feel like you have two varieties of hydrangeas in your garden. Try a spectacular combination in your border by layering ‘Unique’ with a mid- to late-summer daylily (‘Strutters Ball), as shown in the photograph.

Another very robust variety that the floral industry has embraced is H. paniculata ‘Limelight’. Both the ‘Limelight’ and ‘Unique’ varieties require some elbow room to grow. A soft lime-green to white-hue flower, this variety should be protected from hot afternoon sun unless it has adequate moisture.

Hydrangeas have the three best features when selecting plant material for your garden: long-lasting visual impact, robust growing capacity at a reasonable price. You get a lot of bang for the buck!

Best time to plant: spring

Check out the American Hydrangea society at or a grower on Nantucket that we heard speak at a Master Gardener program, Mal Condon at He will give you lots of great tips on pruning and general cultural practices along with some of the latest and greatest varieties being developed. Have fun!
'Unique' Hydrangea combined with Daylily 'Strutters Ball' (From our garden)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Importance of Nature and Children

Driving our border collies back from the vet’s office, we noticed a grandmother playing in her flower garden. On her hands and knees, she planted annuals while her grandson hopped along the driveway. Then came that flashback moment of being a kid again, watching my grandmother on her hands and knees tending to her garden.

A love for the outdoors is like any of the wonderful things in life: music, art, literature or food. If you are not exposed to them, one never understands or appreciates its complexity or beauty. As Richard Louv's book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, points out the value of spontaneous outdoor play and the connection with nature during childhood.

Rachel Carson states, "If a child is to keep his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in." Take it upon yourself to be that one adult to a child. If you love nature, share it. Don’t keep it a secret. Spread your enthusiasm.

Take them to a farmer’s market if they live in an urban environment. Expose them to the locally grown produce and to the people that grow what they eat. Bring them to a park or a children’s program at a local botanical garden. Go to the U-Pick farms and allow them to experience nature while enjoying fresh fruit they can touch and taste.

As Zenobia Barlow, “Confluence of Streams” writes, "Children are born with a sense of wonder and an affinity for nature. Properly cultivated, these values can mature into ecological literacy, and eventually into sustainable patterns of living." While Facebook may be their social network, expose them to the network of nature. Children are the future stewards of the land.

Here is a favorite photo taken at Bodnant Garden in Northern Wales, UK.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Eight Good Reasons to Wake Up Early

At dawn, the garden is active with nature and beauty. William Longgood said this about early rising, “Morning is the best of all times in the garden. The sun is not yet hot. Sweet vapors rise from the earth. Night dew clings to the soil and makes plants glisten. Birds call to one another. Bees are already at work.”
If this warm weather becomes too oppressive for gardeners as it does for me, schedule overlooked tasks in the early morning. This is the optimum time to be in tune with the dynamics in your garden.
1. Weed: Remove problem weeds that proliferate in this warm weather
2. Water: The morning is the best time when the air is still and the sun is not hot. Also the foliage will dry as the sun rises, reducing fungus problems.
3. Check for insect activity: Observe what is damaging your plants. If you have Japanese Beetles, a pest in any garden, an easy non-chemical remedy is to fill a big yogurt container with dishwashing soap and water. Drop the beetles inside to reduce your population.
4. Deadhead your perennials: This visually freshens up your garden by removing the faded blossoms. This may extend bloom on certain species. At minimum, it makes for more vibrant plants. In certain botanical gardens, a full day is dedicated to dead-heading each week. A pair of scissors or snips and a one-gallon plastic pot are all you need to simplify this task. Most of what you collect is also good for the compost bin.
5. Photograph the garden - This is often the best light of the day. This visual journal can be used for winter reference when you are planning next year’s combinations. You may even capture a moment worth framing.
6. Pick some flowers for your vases. There is nothing more beautiful and frugal than flowers gathered from your own garden. You can admire the fruits of your labor.
7. Mediate or read a gardening book: The sounds are the real thing. You don’t need piped-in nature. If you are looking for a great new gardening book to read, check out Understanding Perennials – A New Look at Old Favorites by William Cullina. Hot off the press.
8. Speaking of hot, it is also the best time to drink your morning coffee, enjoy what’s happening in your garden and watch nature do its thing.
And if you are so inclined, don’t forget to do the tomato dance. We need those green monsters to turn red!

Monday, July 27, 2009

How to Expand Your Plant Palette

When you want to diversify and expand your plant collection, where do you go to discover new and unusual perennials? Do you shop the big chain stores or do you like to discover the rare find? While you can get great bargains from time to time at the larger chains, your local nursery centers are your best bet for finding an extensive collection of quality plant material. A well-established garden center has trained staff to answer your plant questions and can offer a wealth of information. Visit many and find your favorites.

Go to garden tours, plant sales, botanical gardens – the list is endless. There are specialty growers and plant societies that can be tapped into for information and can be a valuable resource for expanding your plant collection. Browsing the glossy magazines is a start in the right direction but if you want to get jazzed about a particular plant, get out and experience it.

One favorite perennial for the shade garden is Epimediums. A few features worth mentioning - delicate low-growing foliage, a wide variety of blossom colors and deer typically won’t eat them. While you can find a few different types at local nurseries, this is where a specialty grower is a must. One of the country’s most extensive collections is very close by in Hubbardston, MA. (Garden Vision Epimediums/Phone: (978) 249-3863) Mainly done by mail-order, Garden Vision has open garden days in the spring when you can visit, purchase and enjoy the collection first-hand.

Expand your plant palette by discovering the people that love them! It’s bound to be contagious.

Top photo taken at Garden Vision Epimediums in Hubbardston, MA
Other photos display our own shade garden collection immersed in some other favorite shade-loving plants.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Dividing Up the Candy Bar

In the business AP headlines, Hershey, the nation’s 2nd largest candymaker, saw its 2nd quarter profits soar by 72%. “Stores are clearing more shelf space for the cheaper chocolate treats that are attracting recession-conscious consumers.” Interesting stuff because we still want the little things that make us feel good. We all know chocolate is a bit like ice cream – medicine for the soul.

So if you are one of the many that buy Hershey candy bars, consider this. Ten chocolate bars can buy a healthy perennial from one of your local growers. This one plant (with proper care) can produce ten blossoms in its first year. If you divide your plants periodically, over the first five years you can get 15 divisions out of this initial purchase, which equals 150 blooms. This is the beauty of perennials – most are easy to divide and multiple.

Right now, you can find some great deals at your local garden centers. If you are searching for that stunning flower to substitute your chocolate fix, look no further. A personal favorite, Crocosmia 'Lucifer' is a dynamite perennial with its brilliant red-orange flower. Its common British name, montbretia, is hardy to zone 5. It’s related to the gladiolus and has similar foliage. Great for cut flowers with an extended bloom, this versatile perennial compliments ornamental grasses.

Unlike the candy bar experience that ends when the wrapper is empty, these plants will continue to grow, flourish and offer beauty for many years to come. “There are always two choices. Two paths to take. One is easy. And its only reward is that it's easy.” Anonymous Quote
A shot of Crocosmia 'Lucifer' in our perennial border.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tomato Talk

The talk of the summer (if you're a gardener) is tomatoes - the jewel of the garden. Anyone who starts a vegetable patch usually has this vine growing somewhere in between the squash and cucumbers.

A note of caution in this slow, growing season - fertilize accordingly. Additional fertilizer doesn't necessarily produce a better crop. Too much fertility can create a lush plant with a moderate to low fruit set. It can actually weaken a plant, making it less tolerant to the elements. This being said, it is a good idea to inspect your plant and look for signs of nutrient deficiencies. This should not be confused with signs of early or late blight. Check the web and gardening books for images displaying the differences.

Regarding nutrients, you may like to use water-soluble fertilizers like Miracle Gro or Peter's Professional to feed your plants. Water-soluble applications tend to leach out of the soil quickly, especially with all the heavy rains. If you use granular organic fertilizers (Plant-tone by Espoma) during planting, the nutrients are slowly released as it breaks down and becomes plant available. It lasts throughout the growing season and adds trace elements that build your soil, similar to compost. A good rule of thumb for all your plantings: feed the soil, not just the plant.

You can check earlier posts for some other tomato thoughts.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Art of Growing Grapes

The art of growing grapes
In recent years, New England has seen an upsurge of vineyards and the promotion of wine trails. While becoming popular destinations for many, these vineyards produce some impressive wines. Traveling the path to find these wineries is half the fun.

Take Sakonnet Vineyards in Little Compton, RI, part of the Southeastern New England Coastal Wine Trail. Founded in 1975, Sakonnet's expansive vineyards and coastal farming location is par to any West Coast rival. Sakonnet produces some phenomenal wines and amazingly, it is all done without any irrigation.

Spending an afternoon with the manager of the vineyards, you find that the art of growing grapes is as much intuitive as it is applying proven methodologies. Understanding how grapes grow and what keeps them healthy takes years of experience in a vineyard and hours of reading and researching the latest products.

To promote healthy growth and vigor in these gnarly vines, you need lots of heat and sunshine. With this summer's weather, it's been tough to stay on top of the vine's nutrient requirements. Insects, fungus and disease become tricky territory to treat; one size does not fit all. You need dry weather and dry foliage to spray, a juggling act especially when some applications restrict access to the vineyard for days. So how do you keep up with pruning and thinning in this compressed growing season?

Yikes. That's a lot of work to produce grapes for a bottle of wine! Never underestimate the art of growing grapes.

For a useful source to find information on New England wineries and events, check out Also check out a previous post regarding the Savor Mass Initiative Wine and Cheese trail at

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Freezing Fresh Fruits – A Quick, Easy Way to Savor Summer Flavors

Capturing and preserving summer fruit at its peak can be a juggling act and require lots of pots and pans. Jellies, jams and fruit butters, though wonderful to stock in the pantry, can be a bit tedious and time-consuming. A simple way to preserve your fruit is by freezing them. Fresh fruit, unlike vegetables are easier to freeze because they do not require blanching. Fruit also retains its nutritive value when frozen and can be kept up to a year until your next harvest. You should freeze only mature fruit so know when to pick your favorites and learn when it is truly ripe and at its best. That requires lots of taste testing in the field!

Do a little homework on each type of fruit you intend to freeze. Certain fruits tend to discolor during freezing, like peaches and nectarines, so adding a pectin mix and immersing the fruit completely can avoid discoloration.

Each type of fruit also has different preparation requirements. If you love fresh apricots and want to preserve flavor, it is best to skin the apricots prior to freezing them, an added step but worth it. The skin on apricots can toughen while frozen. If you do forget to peel the skins, not to worry - you can always use them for cooking. A great coffee cake recipe with apricots can be found in Giada's Kitchen: New Italian Favorites. As Albert Einstein said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

Monday, July 20, 2009

Annie's Gardening Corner Officially on The Worcester T & G

It's official. You can now find "Annie's Gardening Corner" under the Worcester Telegram's Blog page under "Annie's Gardening Corner." The look and feel is a bit different but the content will be the same. So if you are a regular T&G reader, you can catch your news and follow my blog all in one read!

And remember, you can still find my blog by coming here at and post, become a follower, or subscribe to the feed! Thanks for reading my blog. I enjoy all the emails I receive from people. So please post, email and keep on gardening!

Peak Daylily Season

The Rock River Artists Open Studio Tour in South Newfane, VT proved to be an absolute blast. The laid-back, informal nature of the tour made for a relaxing Saturday afternoon. Meandering on the route of artists, you couldn't miss Olallie Daylily Gardens as it bustled with folks taking in the moment. Breathtakingly beautiful, it felt as though every single daylily in the garden bloomed that afternoon. A perfect spot to take in the daylily experience, Olallie's sea of colors and carefully designed walking paths make it easy to fall head over heels for daylilies. Their hybridized daylilies, some dating back to the owner's grandfather make it a true learning experience as well as their trial areas displaying new and interesting daylily form. The towering Scottish Thistle, reminiscent of a British border grows in their various display beds. It is a cool biennial, often overlooked but extremely hardy to Olallie Garden, which is a zone 4. You can also purchase the Scottish Thistle. Olallie provides you with the cultural advice on how to keep it growing in your own garden.

If you want to venture off the back roads in Massachusetts, here are a few favorite growers to find some special daylilies. Bob Seawright, located in Carlisle, MA is a well-known daylily grower. You can find an extensive collection of hostas and daylilies. It's a great, first stop and there is ice cream close by. Not too far down the road, check out another grower, Blanchette Gardens. Leo has an extensive collection of unusual plants, astilbes being one of his specialties. He also has a number of daylilies to offer but check the online catalog for rare and unusual perennials. All plants are sold as container stock. Golden Skep Farm in Berlin, MA also offers a wide choice of daylilies and hostas. Pleasant Garden Daylilies in Bolton, MA. is another favorite. Although smaller in nature, you'll receive personalized attention from Sally Ann, an extremely knowledgeable and passionate grower.

Daylilies are an extremely resilient plant - a must for a New England garden. This is the time to research varieties for bloom, color, size, and form.

NOTE: All daylily growers listed above sell their plants primarily by bare root division with the exception of Blanchette Gardens.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Summertime Grilling

In this morning's news, WBZ ran a story on propane companies shorting folks on the amount of fuel put in pre-filled tanks when exchanging their empty ones. Let's look at alternative grilling options so there is no dealing with this headache.

If you're a purist, authentic barbeque doesn't have a propane tank attached to it. Hardwood charcoal and/or briquettes supplemented with some aromatic woodchips like mesquite, hickory, apple, cherry etc. adds a distinct flavor to the food. Authentic barbeque isn't for the Pop-tart generation. When cooking a brisket, it's an all-day event. There is an endless list of information on this subject - a personal favorite is the "Barbeque Bible" by Steven Raichlen.

While grilling with charcoal requires more patience than the easier-to-use gas grills, charcoal grilling allows you to work on other home projects while the smell of barbeque lingers in the air. This gives you plenty of time to plant, dig, fertilize, mow...and still have dinner ready when your evening guests arrive at sunset.

If you prefer a vegetarian menu, you can create some imaginative dishes with grilled vegetables. An all-time favorite is grilling eggplant. Slice the eggplant thin, lengthwise with skin on, salt lightly to extract some of its bitter flavor, dress with a little olive oil and grill. It depends how long as the heat varies but intuitively you know when it is done. Dress it with the herb-infused oils from an earlier post. If you have a bumper crop of eggplant, you can make batches and freeze, stacking them in zip-lock bags for your mid-winter parmesans. If you do intend on freezing the eggplant, only partially cook them.

Make a stand this weekend. Use charcoal.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Sweet Summer Taste of Berries

Raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, currants -the fresh fruit of summer is finally ready at your local farms. Whether you plan to make jams, can or freeze these flavors to savor in the cold, winter months, now is the time to hit the fields. If nothing else, it's a must to pick the fruit for one or two sittings. The raspberries and blueberries sprinkled with a dash more sugar is simply gourmet!

(Our snapshot from berry picking includes five pints of raspberries, a pint of blueberries, and two pints of gooseberries.)

If your weekend schedule includes the Rock River Artists Open Studio Tour in South Newfane, VT, plan for a morning detour in Troy, NH. Three miles out of the center of Troy is one of the prettiest spots to berry pick. Monadnock Berries, a U-pick farm offers a wide selection of fruit for picking, goats, donkeys, a picnic area, gift store and spectacular scenery. Written up last year in Yankee Magazine, it made a spot on the Favorites page to check it out during this year's berry season.

(Our photos from a recent Monadnock Berries visit.)
You can get more details by visiting their website at or calling ahead at (603) 242 6417.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Open Studio Tour/July 18th & 19th (FREE)

It's always a pleasure to find events that combine art and gardens in a picturesque setting. But when inquiring on fees and told the price was FREE, The Annual Rock River Artists Open Studio Tour was a must for Annie's Gardening Corner.

This weekend, in the quaint village of South Newfane, VT, artists will open their homes, gardens and studios to the public. It's a self-guided tour, running 10 AM to 6 PM, allowing flexibility to discover a wonderful corner of the Green Mountain State. All within a comfortable distance, a variation of your favorite style and media can be found. Whether you love pottery, photography, sculpture or want to see the artists' cottage-type gardens, don't miss out on this event. According to Paula, Publicity contact for Rock River, many artists have notable gardens, including Leonard Ragouzeos, Deidre Scherer and Dan Dewalt.
If chores aren't on your honey-do schedule, consider this an option for a relaxing day-trip or weekend getaway. A daylily grower on the 'must visit' list is also located in South Newfane, VT, too -Olallie Daylily Gardens. For daylily lovers, this is the perfect side trip. They also offer U-Pick rows of organic blueberries and a picnic area.

For more information on the Annual Rock River Artists Open Studio Tour: contact Paula Melton 802-258-9082

(NOTE: garden photos of artist Dan Dewalt's garden supplied by Paula Melton)

Maximize the Growing Season

If your veggies are limping along, don't fret. Expand your growing season with creativity and resourcefulness. Here are a few tips to help you bounce back from this year's cool, wet weather.

If you only think tomatoes and cucumbers, open your mind to a myriad of other choices. Research your seed catalogs and do a little homework. Think cool season vegetables. You can still seed string beans, Swiss chard, and spinach etc. Scout out the local greenhouses; you may still find straggler sets. At this time of the year, you can plant a second crop of zucchini and summer squash. Another plus; the squash vine borer has finished its growth cycle. This insect is very destructive to zucchini and summer squash.

Usually by this date, we roll quickly into fresh, plump tomatoes. Unfortunately, most fruit may be a few weeks behind schedule, unless of course you have a greenhouse. A thought for the tomato lover: cover with clear plastic, creating a temporary hothouse later in the season. There are additional ways to protect your tomatoes and mimic ideal summer conditions by increasing your heat source during the day and maintaining it during the nighttime hours.

Many people wonder if it is worth the time and the investment to grow your own produce. The National Gardening Association puts out the figure that the average family with a vegetable garden spends $70 a year on it and grows an estimated $600 worth of vegetables. (A factoid from Ball Publishing's newsletter) Your choice tomatoes on average will cost .27/lb. instead of $2.50/lb and a head of lettuce a mere.16/head instead of $1.50. Not a bad deal, especially in this economy.

(Photo from the internet - one can only hope we will be reaching this high for our tomatoes!)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Savor Mass Initiative

In case you missed the recent kickoff for the Savor Mass initiative wine and cheese trail, the launched its new brochure for those interested in touring Massachusetts' 33 wine and cheese producers. This is the hot new buzz for farmers to rethink their crops. The influx of cold-climate grape production has broadened the spectrum of wines produced throughout the United States. Virginia has swapped many of their tobacco plants for grapes and some of the best Sauvignon Blanc produced in the country is from Long Island's North Fork, with many of these wines more reasonably priced than Napa.

The Kickoff was held at Nashoba Valley Winery, Orchard and Restaurant promoting the many vineyards and artisan cheese makers that dot the region. Hardwick Vineyard & Winery in Hardwick, MA, one of the wineries listed for Central MA region is worth the trip for the scenery alone. Hardwick, a small town nestled on the western border of Worcester County feels a bit frozen in time.

The Samek family, who are the fourth owners of the Giles E. Warner farm, offer a selection of 6 wines ranging from a dry white and red to some sweet wines. You can find more information on their website at or call (413) 967-7763. If you are looking for a road trip, consider combining it with the 247th Hardwick Community Fair, August 21st and 22nd or one of their Sunday afternoon Jazz Festivals, which run the first Sunday of the month. And don't forget to find the artisan cheeses along the way, with Crystal Brook Farm in Sterling being one of the many in the region.

(*Photo of the Mass Wine & Cheese Trails cover is from the website)

Friday, July 10, 2009

It Looks More Like Indian Summer

With temps this morning in the mid-40's, one wonders if we will ever see our vegetable gardens flourish. This is one, bizarre summer for growing warm-weather veggies. So instead of talking flowers or bugs or anything related to the garden, there is a great happening worth mentioning in Sterling on Thursday evenings at Meadowbrook Orchards.

The Chandler family is offering barbeque night with BYOB. The farm also offers lunch, breakfast, a store and U-pick fruits and berries. (Check for details) They offer a real authentic barbeque in a serene setting. The pulled pork tastes great and the ribs are extremely meaty and fall off the bone. You get hefty portions with two sides plus cornbread, which tastes delicious, almost like dessert. There is a play area for kids and indoor and outdoor seating; all at a reasonable price.

In today's economy, businesses need to 'zag' to be unique. The agricultural industry is no different with many family farms slowly disappearing. So the next time you splurge to take the crew out, instead of dining at one of the local chains, consider a place like Meadowbrook. The food isn't processed and the setting is good for your soul.

P.S. The blueberries are in! They had boxes of them.

An aerial view of Meadowbrook Farm (Photo - compliments of Meadowbrook Farm Website!)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Herb-infused Oils

Drying herbs is challenging with the wet conditions. You need a solid week of dry weather to prevent the herbs from molding. One way to capture the essence of your garden's herbs before the season passes is to infuse good olive oil. My favorite combination is spearmint (!), rosemary, basil and garlic.

To start:

Use recycled mayo, pickle or salsa jars for infusing the oil. Save your wine bottles and corks for storing the finished product. Clean your jars, lids and wine bottles meticulously; sterilize so there are no leftover flavors. Collect your herbs before they go to flower. Cut, wash and dry your herbs on paper towels, removing any excess moisture. Place herbs and garlic with olive oil in the jars. Let sit for no more than two weeks. Strain the oil to remove all the herbs and garlic, pouring the infused oil into the wine bottle for storage.

When cooking with infused oils, use at the end of the cooking process so as not to lose the herb's intense flavors. Use your imagination with all types of herbal combinations such as basil, garlic and lemon. Try rosemary, sage, garlic and a few chile peppers for a bread-dipping oil. Dill and lemon is another favorite for adding a finishing touch to sauteed vegetables. This flavor combination also compliments grilled lamb. You can use the same recipes to create outstanding flavored vinegars. Don't forget, you can make plenty of pesto and herb-infused butters, all of which can be stored in the freezer for wintertime use. Enjoy!

(Note: picture of spearmint - an internet image)

Drought-tolerant plants

With all the recent rains, it may seem silly to touch bases on this topic but a great drought-tolerant plant mentioned in yesterday's post (close-up shot below of Eryngium 'Sapphire Blue') is worth revisiting. It's a plant often overlooked. Its salt-tolerance makes it a fitting choice for coastal plantings and it is eye-catching for cut-flower arrangements.

Day lilies are another great choice; the varieties and colors are endless. They also offer early green foliage and some have extended blooms. Ornamental grasses and sedums also provide varying height and textures to a perennial bed and require little water. An appreciation of the prairie mixes that contain flowers such as Rudbeckia hirta (Black-eyed Susan), Echinacea purpurea, (Cone flower), Gaillardia aristata (Blanket Flower), Gypsophila elegans (Baby's Breath),Dianthus barbatus (Sweet William) and Asters, although typical to wildflower plantings, require less water and offer stunning contrast. Creating these types of drought-resistant plant combinations also establish an enticing habitat for wildlife in your garden.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What is thriving in your garden?

Today's forecast is not looking promising and the rest of the week is predicted to be 'a bit dismal' as well. That being said, there are a few things doing spectacular in the garden. A few weeks ago, this is how one of my planters looked - very healthy, but much smaller in comparison to where it is today. Photo taken 6/22/09 (Far right - Eryngium 'Sapphire Blue'.

I wanted to point out another amazing perennial. It is called Eryngium 'Sapphire Blue'. Its common name is Sea Holly. I have attached the link for the patent information from Blooms of Bressingham. This will give you the growing requirements. It is a traditional staple in British borders but performs exceptional in this climate. Also in the photo is bronze fennel. This is a newly established plant bed, mainly for our figs that we planted this year. It has great southern exposure and is very protected.

Here is a photo taken in today's drizzle. As our good friend, Artie must be saying this morning, "Is it greybreak yet?"

Monday, July 6, 2009

Catch-up time

"Make hay while the sun shines" didn't originate from Wall Street. It came from those hard-working farmers who weren't sitting still in this weekend's beautiful temps. Catch up is the name of the game and despite all the soaking fields and talk of late blight, our friends at the Nicewicz Farm in Bolton are still hopeful about their crops. The blueberries, apricots, peaches, apples, plums, pears all seem to be thriving and their veggies were looking good amid the soggy paths. They won't be at the farmer's market for a couple of weeks depending on what nature dishes out. Hope for a heat wave to kick the garden into gear.

It was Ken who told us years ago, "If it is so hot you can't sleep at night, your vegetables are thriving." So, even though I dislike the hot, sizzling heat waves of summer (this weekend in my book was a ten) I might have to hope that we have one of those very quickly. We planted some new tomatoes and we removed the ones we suspected had late blight. The fungicide did not come out this weekend because the winds were a little too brisk. We applied this morning Again, read all product labels carefully; every product is different. If you are like us that have a passion for the heirloom tomatoes (our favorite is Brandywine) they have very little resistance to diseases and are some of the first tomatoes to get affected so keep a close eye on them.

Please post or email about your trials and tribulations in your garden. And again, if you are looking for sources, the extension programs are a wealth of information but don't forget about asking your local farmers. They are a heartbeat and pulse away from it all.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Celebrate the sun

The sun finally peeked out of the clouds this AM and it may not last long. The meterologists are predicting unsettled weather and downpours later today. The 4th is looking somewhat more stable but Sunday should give us all reason to celebrate. So get your spray out for the tomato plants. I received emails from many a troubled soul that admitted to buying fungicide to deal with these weather conditions. With any type of chemicals, follow the directions on the label carefully. Use your best judgment - if the tomato is too far gone, remove it from your garden and don't compost it. Dispose of it in a plastic bag. Sunday is probably your best bet to spray if you are not too busy celebrating the sun! You need to have dry conditions. If we have a good batch of sunshine this weekend, I might try my luck at some sun tea. In any case, please have a safe and happy 4th!

(Photo of our recent trip to Cold Spring Orchards/UMass - Sonia & Ann inspecting the trellis system for grapes. More on our grape adventures to follow. )

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Sterling hit the hardest in this morning's rain...

From Heavy Rain, Floods, Lightning Hit Several Towns -----North of Worcester in Sterling, several roads are washed out and there is major flooding in town. Carl Aveni of the National Weather Service in Taunton said the hardest hit areas appear to be Sterling and just north in Leominster. Our border collies still seem to find the joy in it all....

And the Forecast Is....

You guessed it...rain! The local doppler radar this AM doesn't look hopeful. I feel like I am in Hilo, HI, the rainy side of the Big Island. This is like the rainstorms you see there. I did hear the birds tweeting earlier but I think they are even putting on their snorkel gear! So for today, I want to tell you about a great plant that attracts hummingbirds to our garden every year. I don't entice the birds with feeders - just plants. We do have a perfect habitat (meadow and woodland edge) but it's the flowers and the small habitats we have created that bring them within ten feet. One of our favorite plants (and it is not drooping in this rain) is catmint. There are several varieties but this is our favorite - Nepeta sibirica 'Souvenir 'd Andre Chaudron'. It is hardy to zone 3-8 and as Van Berkum Nursery ( has listed on their site, "A wicked rugged plant...that can stand the test of time." This versatile plant is drought tolerant and has a long bloom. Our plants have grown five feet although the catalogs may say 2-3'. It will depend on your site conditions. But give it room as it is robust enough to smother out even the toughest of weeds . Keep transplanting it in different areas of your garden. That's one thing we can continue to do in this wet weather!
A photo of Nepeta sibirica 'Souvenir d'Andre Chaudron' in our garden on a sunny day.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Don't forget the good ole' days

The morning of Dec. 12th, 2008 isn't that long ago so if you are tired of the rain, remember the crippling ice storm in Central MA. Mother nature is one of those things that remind us that working with the elements is tricky. The heavy rains continue to raise havoc on this year's growing season, and in New England, it is a short one. There was an article in today's T&G that strawberry picking season will come to an end this weekend so stop by your local 'you pick' grower or a farmer's market to scout out the last of the berries. We did have to break down and get some fungicide sprays for the tomatoes and our newly planted grapes, yet when to apply is tricky because you need to spray when it is not raining. We do have the copper, which is the organic way to treat, but as you can tell from the alert yesterday, it is not effective on late blight. We've already stocked up on replacement plants in case the ones growing take a nose dive. If a plant goes down, do not replant the same species of plant in the same location. The pathogen is in the soil and will infect the new plant. Learn as much as you can about proper crop rotation to keep your garden productive for the long run. Post and let me know your particular questions and/or concerns and, of course, any successes. Many of you requested vegetable and agricultural tips because this growing season is particularly tough. We do have some cool weather plants that are doing very well; i.e., broccoli, escarole, lettuce, endive. We had some baby bok choy from a local grower, Clearview Farms Let me know what's happening in your garden.

© 2009

© 2009 Ann St. Jean-Bilowz/Bilowz Associates Inc. (including all photographs, unless otherwise noted in Annie's Gardening Corner are the property of Bilowz Associates Inc. and shall not be reproduced in any manner nor are they to be assigned to any third party without the expressed written permission and consent of Bilowz Associates Inc.)