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Monday, August 31, 2009

Garden Necessities

In this morning’s Worcester Telegram, it is exciting to see a school involved in one of my favorite gardening chores: composting. For me, it’s a daily ritual, like morning coffee where food by-products (and my coffee grounds) produce my ‘black gold.’ Quabbin’s program takes composting to another level by teaching the students how to produce and market the end results. A quick excerpt from the article: “Quabbin’s program of composting cafeteria waste, using the compost to establish an organic garden, and then either selling harvested crops at the local farmers market or using them in the school cafeteria is unique.”

Kudos to those involved. This proves an effective use of grant money but more importantly, it teaches and motivates our kids with a hands-on, start to finish farm project. It’s training them to get their hands dirty, to work the soil and to reap the end benefits. How cool is that! The inspirational gardening thought of the day is by Anne Scott-James. “However small your garden, you must provide for two of the serious gardener's necessities, a tool shed and a compost heap.” See the full Telegram article, “A healthy garden of their own: Composting program at Quabbin plants seeds to success” at and post your comments. Tell the students and those involved about their good works. Inspire these young learners to keep connected to the land.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Seasonal Changes

Late August is that time of year for back to school shopping, the last of the summer barbeques and a change in air that signals fall is right around the corner. Although there may be hot days in store for us, it’s time to plan the list of fall garden chores. The first chore on my list is to recharge my writing batteries. I’ll be back to the five-day blog soon. In the meantime, enjoy the corn, peaches and tomatoes.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Seasonal Bargains

Late summer is often a good time to hunt for bargains and add to your plant palette. Unfortunately, with the economy still in a state of flux, there may be more close-out sales like the one I received notice of this weekend from Ashdown Roses in South Carolina. All roses $5.95 while they last. They are closing their plant sales as of October 1st. You can find out more information by going directly to their website at

If you are a peony lover, now is the time to select and place your order. A great resource located in Minnesota is Swenson Gardens. The rootstock is amazing though not inexpensive. Klehm’s Song Sparrow is another mail order company specializing in peonies and other assorted perennials. The peony rootstock is smaller in size but Klehm’s developed many varieties and offers a wide selection to finish off your garden. Be certain to follow the planting directions as they must be set at the right height. Also, if you want to divide and transplant any peonies, fall is the season. As always, monitor the weather.

If you aren’t one for shopping by mail order, visit your local nurseries. Carefully inspect your plant materials. Make certain you purchase the most vigorous stock you can find in the selection. With perennials, if they look tired, they most likely are tired. A plant in the pot too long can become root bound. Not a great choice, even at discounted prices.

Be a frugal plant shopper and enjoy the seasonal bargains. If you don’t want to end up like Steven Wright, the comedian, “I went to a general store but they wouldn't let me buy anything specific”, then do your homework. Research what you want to add to your garden before the end of the season. On that note, the inspirational gardening thought of the day, “"A garden is never so good as it will be next year."-- Thomas Cooper

Friday, August 21, 2009

Storm Prep 101

With the threat of a hurricane looming over New England and the sticky heat bogging down my creative juices on gardening thoughts, I resort to my observations of nature and how it influences us as gardeners. My own resiliency is certainly stronger with this summer’s unpredictable weather patterns. As gardeners, we tune into our instincts and that of nature because in unpredictable times, intuitiveness is an invaluable resource. Sometimes, it is our means of survival.

This is a good time to take note of your garden and make certain everything is securely staked and stable for the upcoming storm. If it hits, it can cause a lot of damage. Check all plants that are susceptible to wind damage, especially your tomatoes. Any newly planted trees should be properly supported with guying systems. If a guying system is installed, check its tension – not too tight, not too loose. And in closing, the inspirational gardening thought for the day is “Don't knock the weather; nine-tenths of the people couldn't start a conversation if it didn't change once in a while.” ~Kin Hubbard

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Make it a Country Bumpkin Weekend

If you are looking for an enjoyable way to find out who is producing the best locally grown products the old-fashion way, attend one of the many country fairs taking place across New England. These annual events, mainly in rural, agricultural communities were established for farmers to trade and display their crops and livestock, which expanded into a harvest-themed celebration still carried out today.

The atmosphere of the fairs, although festive, brings together a group of tight-knit and intuitive farmers that are still passionate about their profession. This is a great opportunity to experience and discover specialty growers and trades, from beekeeping, known as apiculture to viticulture and viniculture (grape-growing and wine-making). Wander through the many booths and immerse yourself in the days of farming and self-sustainability. Go to a pancake breakfast or a fair supper and chime in on the weather. A country fair is an impressive experience for children, filled with tradition and fresh air.

One particular fair that starts tomorrow, August 21st and runs until Saturday, August 22nd is the 247th Hardwick Community Fair. Visit to find out more particulars about this fair that dates back to 1762. Visit the same website mentioned in yesterday’s blog, and put ‘fairs’ as your search term and you can pick and choose your community of choice.

In the words of Samuel Johnson, “Agriculture not only gives riches to a nation, but the only riches she can call her own.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Few Gardening Options for Dealing with the Heat

There are two ways to deal with the summer heat: either run away from it or embrace it. If you’re one of the tough nuts that can handle this weather, now is a great time to explore the many gardens of New England. A helpful link to find the unknown hidden jewels is by visiting New England.Com’s website at and search for gardens. If you decide to venture to one of the many gardens, remember to bring lots of water and sunscreen. Don’t forget the camera, notepad and tape measure to record great ideas.

If you seek air conditioning, here are a couple books worth reading by Michael Pollan. A book about plants and our food chain is The Omnivore's Dilemma and Botany of Desire is man’s relationship to a few plant species. The chapter on apples is classic. For specific gardening books, there is an endless list; some still in print and others only available in your library or a used bookstore.

A great used bookstore worth the scenic drive is the Montague Book Mill in Montague, MA. They have a fairly extensive collection of used gardening books. Don’t forget to stop at the Ladykilligrew CafĂ© next door to the book mill. It’s one of my favorite getaways.

A book is like a garden carried in the pocket. ~Chinese Proverb

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Easy Recipes from Annie’s Gardening Corner

We are in the peak of the hot weather veggies. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and corn are growing quickly in these spiking temperatures. Here are some quick recipes to beat the summer heat and use the wonderful produce available in our gardens or farmers markets.

Cucumbers with a Mediterranean flair: Tzatziki
Peel, seed and coarsely grate 1 large cucumber. Spread the grated cucumber over paper towels to a 1/2 inch thick layer and lightly salt. This helps draw some of the water out and seasons the cucumber. Gently peel the grated cucumber from the paper towels into a mixing bowl using a plastic spatula. You will not get everything but that’s fine. You should have approximately 1 cup to 1 1/2 cups of grated cucumbers. Add 2 cups of strained whole milk Greek yogurt, juice from 1 fresh lemon, 4 tablespoons of good extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon of fresh dill, chopped fine.(You can also use fresh mint). Add 1 small clove of fresh garlic, finely chopped. This is to taste, but don’t overpower with garlic. Add salt & pepper to taste; go easy with the salt. The cucumbers may have enough salt from the first step. Mix together and place in a small serving bowl. This refreshing appetizer is generally served with pita bread. Tzatziki is also served with grilled meat, mainly lamb and goes nicely with crumbled feta cheese, Greek olives and sliced watermelon.

Southwestern Heat: Corn Salsa
A great way to use fresh corn, tomatoes and peppers is to make a corn salsa. Use 1 cup of cooked corn on the cob, 2 cups of diced tomatoes, 1 medium sweet pepper cored and finely chopped. Optional: 1 habanero or jalapeno pepper cored and finely chopped for heat, 1/4 cup of finely chopped cilantro, one medium-sized sweet onion chopped fine, juice of 2 fresh limes. To add some depth to the salsa, add a 1/2 teaspoon of dried ancho chile pepper and salt and pepper to taste. Chill in the fridge for a few hours before serving with your favorite tortilla chips.

Gertrude Stein is my pick for the inspirational gardening thought of the day. “A vegetable garden in the beginning looks so promising and then after all little by little it grows nothing but vegetables, nothing, nothing but vegetables.” Relax on the patio this week and enjoy the bounty of the garden.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Late Season Perennial Choices

At this time of year, many of the showy perennials start to lose their oomph. Our borders begin to show the early signs of a tired garden. Now is a perfect time to evaluate your plant mix. Is there enough late-season interest to carry over into the late summer/early fall season? If not, here are a few tried and true perennials to keep in mind.

A favorite of Greg’s that most consider a weed is a stunning variety of golden rod – Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’. It grows 4 to 5’ with showy yellow flower spikes that resemble the appearance of fireworks trailing through the sky. It’s a tough, drought-tolerant addition plus a great butterfly magnet. It compliments a purple Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidi), which also attracts butterflies.

Another candidate to consider is ‘Autumn Joy’ Sedum (Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’.) It has great foliage and texture during the summer months but its late season bloom transitions from a red-coral to burgundy. We don’t cut the seed heads back in the fall. We let them stay all winter to add interest in the snow.

A final recommendation to contemplate is the number of native and improved varieties of asters that bloom now until late into the season. Heights vary from six inches to six feet. A few to choose from: Frikart’s Aster (Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’) the Smoother Aster (A. laevis ‘Blue Bird’), Purple Dome (A. novae-angliae ‘Purple Dome’) and Stiff-leaved Aster (A. linariifolius). A little tidbit for the avid fisherman or woman/gardener: when the New England Asters bloom in the fall along the roadside, it indicates the beginning of the trout spawning season.

As Stanley Horowitz reminds us, “winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.” Take a walk around your garden and notice the beginning hues of the fall season. Now is the ideal time to add more color to your mosaic.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Practice the Art of Sauntering

Edwin Way Teale, Circle of the Seasons eloquently states why we often miss out on our surroundings. Simply put, he notes, “It takes days of practice to learn the art of sauntering. Commonly we stride through the out-of-doors too swiftly to see more than the most obvious and prominent things. For observing nature, the best pace is a snail’s pace.”

This weekend, take the time to saunter through your garden. Appreciate the moments that unfold as you meander through your vegetable patch or capture the last blooms of the summer flowers. Make your mental notes for future chores. If you slow down, there isn’t enough time to discover and uncover all the items on your to-do list. Something distracts your attention and you find yourself absorbed in what is around you.

Sauntering is a great way to reenergize your creative thoughts and get a broad perspective on what is happening in your backyard. It may not increase your cardiovascular heart rate but it certainly doubles your appreciation for all your hard work. What else are weekends for? Relax and enjoy the last lazy weekends of summer.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Think like a Photographer

Photographs help us to see the elements of a landscape. Let’s use this image for an example. It depicts the site’s primary elements: the beautiful sunset, the structure of the trees, the curved driveway and the mass of plantings and lawn in the foreground. When you jot down these elements, it becomes easier to envision the fundamental building blocks of a location.

If you are beginning a new project, it’s important to spend some time evaluating and compiling a list of the site’s attributes and its missing components. A camera lens is often helpful in gaining this perspective. Take lots of pictures. Think like a photographer. Lay them out on a rainy morning like today and analyze them. This exercise encourages you to read the setting. Have fun. Inspirational Gardening Thought Of the Day: “A photograph is usually looked at - seldom looked into.” ~Ansel Adams

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What’s on Your Bucket List?

If you have yet to experience ‘WaterFire’ in Providence, RI, it really is a must-see. The next scheduled event is on August 22nd. Although you may wonder what this has to do with gardening, this is what good design is all about - connecting people to the environment. It is this connection to the senses that make a garden or a cityscape come alive. This is a world-class example of a city supporting a comprehensive idea and plan to revitalize and energize a downtown area. The man behind the fire and all the many volunteers and sponsors that make this happen, continue to create a magical experience between two very simple yet powerful elements: water and fire.

Whether you experience WaterFire by strolling along the canal, dining at a local cafe or meandering through the water by boat, all participants are mesmerized by the sights and sounds. As the crews begin the procession of lighting 100 fire baskets carefully positioned along the canal, the crowds begin to cheer. The soothing sounds of music are carefully composed to set a scene; so much so it makes you wonder if you are in another country. The tranquil combination of water and fire come to life when the crowds dissipate later in the evening so I recommend you don’t rush your way through it; take your time and make an evening of it.

Although WaterFire is sponsored and funded by donations, there is no admission and there are plenty of places to find free parking. Having traveled to many cities, home and abroad, Providence and WaterFire are real gems. If it isn’t on your bucket list of the top things to do, put it there. These powerful elements are bound to leave a lasting impression.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Importance of Trees in Our Lives

Trees provide many beneficial elements: oxygen, reduction of carbon dioxide levels, shade and protection as well as aesthetic and monetary value to a property, neighborhood or park. If you drive through the areas hit in Worcester by the Asian longhorned beetle, one quickly realizes the importance of trees.

First, it was Chestnut blight in the early 1900’s. Then came Dutch Elm disease and now enters the Asian longhorned beetle decimating the maples. The maples were planted to replace the elms. Do you see a pattern? The overuse of any single species planted as a street tree increases the potential of various diseases or insects wiping out an entire planted area.

It’s basic, common sense; the broader your mix, the less vulnerable. Many local nurseries are assisting municipalities to break this trend of single genus/species planting. Numerous disease-resistant shade and ornamental trees are available in the industry.

Budgets and politics often cloud comprehensive planning. We see too often the 5’ shade tree that grows into a 60’ maintenance hog planted underneath electric lines. You then spend 30 years pruning it back at great expense to the town or city. The cost of removal, pruning and maintenance is greatly reduced when proper planning takes place.

This is a great time for citizens to get involved. Visit the Massachusetts Introduced Pests Outreach Project at Learn about these devastating pests, report pest sightings or sign up for alerts. Start a grass-roots group if one doesn’t exist to plan for the future of street tree plantings in your town or city. As Confucius said, "If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Think Green with Your Lawn

Our obsession with the perfect lawn does not meet the “green” standards of today. Lawns consume the largest quantities of water and chemicals per square foot, more than any other surface on your property. Every effort should be made to reduce water consumption and any chemical usage with your yearly maintenance programs. One way of practicing good ‘green’ standards is to aerate, thatch and top-seed your lawn. On average, the optimum times to start these practices are when the days are shorter and the nights cooler.

By the simple task of aerating, you can reduce soil compaction and water penetration. Aerating machines are available at most tool rental stores. *Note: If you do have an irrigation system, flag the heads before you run the machine through the yard. The next step, thatching, is also done with another machine called a thatcher/power rake, which is also available at rental stores. Thatching removes the layer of hay-like dead grass that harbors insects and disease; it also helps improve air circulation of the grass crown. (A word of note regarding rentals – book them well in advance. Now is a good time to put one aside.)

The last step to making your lawn green is top-seeding with the latest and greatest varieties of Fescue and Perennial Ryegrass. To the untrained eye, these varieties appear equally as green and beautiful as Bluegrass with one-third less water and fertilization requirements. These improved ryegrasses harbor enhanced levels of endophytes, a naturally occurring fungus that acts as insecticide for leaf-eating insects. The Webster definition of an endophyte is any plant that grows within another plant, as certain parasitic fungi or algae.

With the perfect window of weather approaching us, pay particular attention to the forecast. Rent your machine and plan your day for aerating, thatching and top-seeding. And as Clyde Moore points out, ” There's one good thing about snow, it makes your lawn look as nice as your neighbor's.”

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Language of Flowers

William Cullina, in his new book, Understanding Perennials asks, “Why is that we are drawn to flowers?” He can determine no genetic answer to this question…but as he confirms “the language of flowers is one that we all understand.”

Those of us that toil the soil, waiting for the wonderful experience of our flowers and vegetables to blossom are drawn to this meditative practice despite its many obstacles. With so many methods and techniques to discover and so many gardening ideas circulating around us, it is the stumbling upon this ‘language of flowers’ that constitutes even the most mundane task of weeding to be an absolute delight.

As we approach the shorter days of summer, these lingering moments in our garden turn into our most precious moments. A taste of a freshly grown organic tomato is often remembered long into the winter months. And even if the weather seemed to take the wind from most of our gardening sails this growing season, gardeners and farmers alike pick up their tools and ‘keep on’ with their tasks.

It is this drive; this passion that I believe is the ‘language of flowers’. For with this, you can always understand a garden’s subtle moments of wonder. Without it, you will only see the weeds.

Inspirational Gardening Thought of the Day: “Gardens are a form of autobiography. “ ~Sydney Eddison, Horticulture magazine, August/September 1993

You can find more information about Wiliam Cullina and his books at

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Feed Your Herbaceous Perennials

At the end of a strenuous day, you may need a boost of energy. Skipping breakfast or eating only a few snacks may find you a bit famished. What you really crave is a hardy meal loaded with some nutrients to recharge your batteries. Now, think of yourself as an herbaceous perennial. This plant goes from full dormancy with no top growth to generating a complete set of leaves and flowers. This requires an enormous amount of energy and nutrients.

Like you, it’s important your perennials build up an adequate reserve of carbohydrates to maintain its health. If you skip feeding your perennials before they go dormant at the end of the season, the plants can get weakened. This can reduce its winter hardiness, its resistance to disease and its vigor during the following year’s spring flush.

August is the perfect time to give your perennials a hardy shot of slow-release organic fertilizer to build its reserves for the dormant months ahead. Talk to your local nursery and find out what they recommend or try Plant-tone by Espoma. ( This is a favorite we use in our garden.

Don’t let your perennials go to bed without dinner. Now is the time to feed them a dose of nutrients to assure next season’s show of flowers.

In the words of Miss Piggy, the inspirational gardening thought of the day is, "Never eat more than you can lift."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Vegetable Garden Strategies

Depending on how you look at life, whether you are a glass half-full or half-empty kind of person, this year’s growing season is in its final stretch. It’s what you do in that final stretch that is important. With approximately sixty to ninety days left to produce some home-grown nibbles, plan now for the last of those seasonable days. Let’s strategize to get the best results from your vegetable garden.

First, take good care of your current crop. Monitor daily and nurture what is already in the ground. If you head out of town this time of year for vacation, don’t assume your garden can be left on autopilot. Get a gardening buddy to help you out. Maintain good levels of nutrients and moisture and don’t take your eyes off the weeds. This time of year, weeds grow as aggressively as the vegetables. Keep weeds to a minimum; they compete with your crops for the much-needed nutrients and moisture.

If you have a tired row or patch, pull out what’s growing there, dress the area with compost and turn it over to prep for a rotated crop in this area. With 60-plus days of good growing to maximize, here is a list of vegetables and herbs to consider: lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, escarole, arugula, cilantro, basil, and beans. Look at your seed catalogs or contact a company like Johnny Selected Seeds. (Toll Free: 1-877-Johnnys (1-877-564-6697) Located in Maine, they understand the New England climate and current conditions.

When the humidity breaks and drying weather suddenly hits, don’t forget to take advantage of those days to dry your onions, garlic, early potatoes and herbs. Speaking of herbs, pesto comes to mind. Make as much as possible to freeze. If your basil plants or any of your herbs have gone to flower, cut them back to within 8 to 10”. Flowering makes the herbs bitter but with a quick hair-cut, you should produce a few sets of sweet leaves before the end of the growing season. You can make pesto from many herbs: mint, cilantro, dill. Think creatively and your garden can offer you wintertime bliss.

Vegetable Garden Strategies 101 – Never take a vacation during the growing season.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Simplify Your Perspective

Claude Monet said, “The richness I achieve comes from Nature, the source of my inspiration.” If you enjoy impressionistic art, let your own garden be your canvas. A great exercise when starting to develop a new garden space is to look for landscapes that impress you. Now look at them through the eyes of an impressionistic artist. Don’t look for too much detail at first; simplify your perspective. See the form and color composition; envision what soothing elements may apply to your own garden.

Great design starts with a composition of forms first and foremost. Look at what pleases you. Then discover the tree, shrub, or structural element that blends into your landscape. It is the contrast and form that define and compliment the overall landscape.

Go to an art museum if you feel overwhelmed by your own garden. See and feel the color and the compositions on the canvas. Then go back to your garden and squint your eyes and start to build your garden space.

Gertrude Jekyll, a famous English garden designer and artist created some of the most outstanding color and textural compositions in her art and garden designs. Though her vision was impaired, her philosophy was ‘you should be able to strain your eyes and see the forms, masses and drifts of color and texture.’ Her lack of consideration to fads of the day and ‘going against the grain’ is what makes her still remembered today.

A photograph of Hestercombe Garden, UK - A Gertrude Jekyll Design

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sharing the Bounty of Your Garden

What better way to start your Monday then to kick it off with a good deed from your own backyard. If you are fortunate enough to tend and bend in your vegetable garden and have an excess supply of squash, herbs, and cucumbers, you may consider sharing your surplus produce. An elderly neighbor or community member struggling in these difficult times would certainly savor some freshly picked veggies from your harvest. Your local food banks, soup kitchens, and service organizations also would appreciate any additional bounty. One in Worcester that comes to mind is Rachel’s Table ( If you have an abundance of flowers but no extra veggies, bring a fresh floral arrangement to a nursing home or a hospice.

Although the growing season has been slow at best, plan ahead for ways to distribute your excess bounty. Everything we sow in New England is precious. Don’t let anything go to waste; share the fruits of your labor.

Inspirational Gardening Thought for the Day

"Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant." - Robert Lewis Stevenson

Here are a few quick recipes for summer squash:

Quick sautĂ© – wash and cube summer squash into ½ to ¾ inch chunks. Pre-heat non-stick skillet, add tablespoon of olive oil, summer squash, a dash of garlic powder, and salt & pepper to taste. Cook for two minutes at high heat until brown on one side. Give them a quick toss in the pan, adding a tablespoon of water. Cover to steam and complete the cooking process. The squash should be al dente. Turn off heat and drizzle a tablespoon of herb-infused oil. (You can find recipes for making your own herb-infused oils on an older blog post at Toss and serve. If you like, you can add a little grated Romano cheese and thinly sliced basil leaves.

Summer Squash Bake - wash and cut three summer squash and one medium-sized onion. Place in food processor to coarsely chop. Pour in mixing bowl and add one to two eggs and a package of grated cheddar cheese (or any cheese of your choice). Add a tablespoon of olive oil and salt & pepper to taste. Mix and pour into a casserole pan. Bake at 350 degrees until casserole is golden brown on top. You can finish this dish off with a tablespoon or two of the herb-infused oils before serving.

Also try one of my favorites- a squash flower recipe on an older blog post at

Enjoy and have a great Monday.

© 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.)