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, April 30, 2010

Celebrate May Day

George Washington Carver quoted it best. “Nothing is more beautiful than the loveliness of the woods before sunrise.” Let’s take his advice one step further and be a kid again. Celebrate the first day of May tomorrow by waking up early and capturing daybreak. Enjoy the sun before everyone else does, maybe even the birds. Soak in the lush green of the garden and all that is in blossom. And if you can spare a moment, bring back a fading May Day tradition. Find some lovely blossoms in your travels and dabble a few sweets in a decorated basket. Drop off an anonymous assortment of flowers and goodies on a friend’s doorstep and bring an unexpected smile to someone’s face. Make the month of May the celebration of flora and spread spring around! Annie

Early morning shot of an Apple blossom by Greg Bilowz
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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Living in Your Garden

Frank McKinney Hubbard once said, “In order to live off a garden, you practically have to live in it.” So when you hear that edible gardens may be the rage, make sure you understand one thing – growing your own vegetables and fruits require hard work plus an investment of time. Growing edibles is not just a buzz word; it’s a lifestyle. A bountiful garden is not a ‘set it and forget it’; it’s a commitment. Ask any family farm owner. It doesn’t take acres; it takes effort, passion and lots of hard work.

Hubbard was spot-on when he made this off-handed remark - that in order to prosper in anything worthwhile, one must do more than talk about it but live it. Timing, hard work and investment are ultimately the key to every success story, including your garden. You can live off your garden but are you willing to do what is necessary (live in it) to get the dividends?

Most garden because they love the outdoors; it is therapeutic and healthy. If you look at it in Hubbard’s way, it appears to be a death-sentence or an insurmountable task. If you start off slow and keep the glimmer of enthusiasm, it is amazing what you can accomplish and grow. It’s all based on attitude. It’s just one small project at a time. Keep the balance. Make it a labor of love, not a ball and chain. Tomorrow I’m writing about a flower. It’s a lot easier. Have a great day.

Photos from the internet - which category do you fit?
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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Magnolia Magnificence

In the 60’s and 70’s, many of suburbia’s front lawns were adorned with that one special specimen tree, the Saucer Magnolia. Even in the urban areas, these trees were a hot item. If you go into Boston’s Back Bay, Saucer Magnolias are still a staple ornamental tree. Today, there are numerous varieties of these Asian-type Magnolias i.e., early flowering that are available in the market, some in breathtaking variations. There are yellow varieties like Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ and ‘Butterfly’ that are hardy, robust growers with a magnificent bloom. One variety truly worth seeking out is ‘Daybreak’. Accurately named, this flower has subtle hues of the sunrise – soft lavender, pink and yellow tones like the early morning sky.

Many of these types of Magnolias are currently in bloom. One word of caution with Asian Magnolias - early spring frost can damage the blossoms. Provide full sun and protection from prevailing winds and if at all possible, locate in a spot with northern exposure. This can delay the bloom cycle. If you haven’t been paying attention, this season’s display is simply spectacular. So check it out before the colors fade.

As the Swiss Architect, Le Corbusier said, ““Architecture is the learned game, correct and magnificent, of forms assembled in the light.” Okay, that may be more mind-boggling than inspirational. If you look at the photo, you can see why form assembled in the light is so important.

Photo of Magnolia 'Elizabeth' - Photo by Greg Bilowz
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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tuesdays with Annie 04 27 10

Paul Eldridge once said, “In the spider-web of facts, many a truth is strangled. “ The purpose of the Monday morning brain teasers is to get you thinking about all the tidbits of information floating around in the world of gardening and decide whether it is fact or fiction. Tuesday is a breeze because you can sit back and get the answers.

1) Umbrella-pine, Sciadopitys verticillata is a slow-growing pine. True. This is one of Annie’s favorite specimen evergreens. A native to Japan, its unusual form, texture and slow growth habit make it a unique addition to anyone’s collection. Unfortunately for the plant lover, it fetches a dear price in the nurseries. It requires full sun but likes moist conditions. It is worthy of a look the next time you go tree shopping. Once you see it up close, you’ll understand why it is so desirable.
2) A good way to conserve water in your vegetable garden is to plant in black plastic. True. Certain plants work well growing through black plastic such as tomatoes, onions, squash, cucumbers, and pumpkins. If you lay your plastic down on a calm day (with at least two sets of hands) and cover your rows when the soil is still moist, very little irrigation will be required throughout the growing season. The black plastic also heats the soil, making plants grow faster plus it suppresses unsightly weeds. It is fairly easy to find and is a smart way to reduce your water bill.
3) Now is a great time to plant sweet peas. True. Sweet peas are one of the earlier seeds that can be sown while the soil conditions are cool and moist. So get those sweet peas planted now. You can also get your seed potatoes and onion sets in the ground.
4) April’s Birth Month Flower is the Daffodil. False, the April birth month flower is a Daisy or a Sweet Pea, not to be confused with the vegetable mentioned in question 3. Daffodils are the March flower.
5) Fiddleheads are a cultivated crop and can be found in the supermarkets throughout the year. False. They are not a cultivated crop. Fiddleheads come from rural areas where people gather them from the wild. Only three fiddleheads per crown are harvested to sustain the fern and can only be found in the market seasonally. There are quick and easy recipes for fiddleheads. So if you haven’t tried them, it is definitely worth the culinary experience.

The inspirational quote for Tuesday is by Vernon Howard. “Always walk through life as if you have something new to learn and you will. “ Don’t squelch the experience. Keep your eyes open to the many lessons that unfold throughout your day.

Photo by Greg Bilowz
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Monday, April 26, 2010

Monday Morning Brain Teasers 04 26 10

It’s the last Monday in April and spring has kicked into full throttle for gardeners. Every spare minute of the growing season is spent tilling, prepping and planting. So here’s the breather in between to sharpen your skills and test your knowledge. The true and false format makes it easy enough to play the game, Monday morning brain teasers. Answers are in tomorrow’s blog. But before we shove off into the workweek, the inspirational thought of the day is by Ellis Peters. “Every spring is the only spring – a perpetual astonishment.” If you haven’t been outdoors enjoying the month of April, you have five days left. Rain or shine; get outside! There is only one spring 2010.

1) Umbrella-pine, Sciadopitys verticillata is a slow-growing pine.
2) A good way to conserve water in your vegetable garden is to plant in black plastic.
3) Now is a great time to plant sweet peas.
4) April’s Birth Month Flower is the Daffodil.
5) Fiddleheads are a cultivated crop and can be found in the supermarkets throughout the year.
Photo of Umbrella Pine from the internet.
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Friday, April 23, 2010

Don’t Wing It on the Grades

Thomas Jefferson once said, “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” With landscape design, this is applicable. Style can flow throughout a property; it can have its own signature. You can create a minimal, formal, or classical style that blends within the landscape yet when it comes to principle, you cannot waver. There is a proper way to develop a site and implement a plan.

Regardless of the style of wall, the type of paving pattern, species of tree or shrub, there is a correct way of constructing the wall, installing the pavement and planting the tree. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. When you begin to excavate and disturb a site, correct grading and drainage is critical. These calculated details are the fundamental building blocks of any properly implemented landscape project. Exceptional masonry work and high quality plant installation can be trumped by poor site development. Figure out the grades first even if it requires consulting with a professional. Get the first step correct to set the project off on the right footing. It’s common sense just like Jefferson’s quote yet it is surprising how often this first step is ignored or done incorrectly. The style is merely the frosting on the cake. The basic fundamentals must be solid like a rock.
That's not good! - Image from the Internet
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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Illuminate Your Garden with Color

If you garden, you tend to collect plants. One herbaceous perennial that has a special spot in my garden is Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red'. This is the first plant I ever purchased at a local garden club plant sale. The common name you may hear folks call it is beardtongue. This hardy (Zone 3) perennial has moved from place to place in my garden, never missing a flowering beat. It is transplanted often to another slope or empty pocket of soil and does not require loads of aftercare. As a matter of fact, this is one plant I can put in a clump of loam and come back a few weeks later to see it flowering. Its burgundy tone leaves make this perennial a must for a cold-climate garden. Plant this low-maintenance perennial in full sun to partial shade with well-drained soil.

Its soft delicate white to blush flower and its stunning foliage make this a favorite in my book. Known for attracting butterflies and hummingbirds, it is also quite fetching in a vase of cut flowers. There are many Penstemons to choose from; some less hardy and more dainty than the ‘Husker Red,’ which grows 2-3 feet tall. In the UK, many delicate colors and varieties are used throughout the English borders. In colder climates, these less hardy varieties can be planted as annuals.

If this perennial is already in your garden, then share it with a newbie gardener. As an unknown author once said, “Flowers and butterflies drift in color, illuminating spring.” Share your love for the earth. It is Earth Day and the best way to appreciate its beauty is to draw in nature, illuminating your garden with drifts of color. Give a clump or two away of a favorite flower!
Image of Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red' from the Internet
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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Hidden Jewel Groundcover

This is a perfect time to seek the hidden jewels for your garden. One groundcover that has been noted in Annie’s Gardening Corner but is worth another mention is Barren Strawberry (Waldsteinia ternata). Gardeners always look for versatility in plants and this one has it covered when it comes to the four seasons. This underrated and extremely useful groundcover can handle cold winters (Zone 4) and offers more than just a pretty yellow spring flower with lush green leaves. Its fall foliage also turns a beautiful bronze color. Waldsteinia can handle full sun or partial shade and tolerates dry conditions. This low maintenance charmer is good for slopes and bare spots under trees. Are you looking to add a hidden jewel to your garden? Look no further than to Barren Strawberry. Plant it 4 to 6 inches apart and within no time, you should have a carpet of delicate groundcover. To end this segment, Wendell Phillips states it best. “Seldom ever was any knowledge given to keep, but to impart; the grace of this rich jewel is lost in concealment.” Let the spring fever bug get you in the planting mood. Look for the hidden jewels. Then you can hit the Staples button, ‘That was Easy.” Have a great Wednesday. Annie
Photo of Barren Strawberry (Waldsteinia ternata) by Greg Bilowz

If you like this blog, check in for your daily share's worth of garden inspiration, landscape architecture and design tips; always original, not cookie cutter and copied. Just like our design work, we strive for unique! We invite you to contact Bilowz Associates, Inc., or to browse our portfolios. Like our Facebook follow on Twitter or subscribe to the blog to receive posts daily via email or a feed. You can follow with visuals on Pinterest and find us on LinkedIn and Houzz, too.  And you can also find us back on our Google+ Business Page. (Landscape architects/Landscape Design/serving Massachusetts and New England.)

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tuesdays with Annie – 04 20 10

The black flies are out and about but that shouldn’t stop you from getting outside and enjoying the beautiful spring days. There is so much in bloom and so much still waiting to pop. Everyday is a garden miracle. With that said, let’s clear the slate and get the answers from yesterday’s brain teasers. It’s always good to learn something new every day, especially about plants and gardening!

1) English Ivy can be an invasive plant. (True). English Ivy, although at first glance may be attractive on a fence or a chimney can become extremely invasive, especially in the wrong location. This fast-growing vine can serve its purpose in the landscape when planted in the proper spot; one where it can be harnessed for its vigor. One other word of caution with this plant - it also serves as a host of bacterial leaf scorch. Unfortunately many vines, when left to its own accord require eradication with chemicals such as Round-up. For overgrown and deep-rooted vines, you may need more than one treatment. You can try to dig them out with lots of grunt labor but if you miss a root, you are right back where you started. Good luck, Bonnie and thanks for asking about English Ivy. P.S. You may be able to pot some plants and bring it to a local garden club sale.
2) The image shown here is the leaf-form of a Japanese Maple.

(True) This is the leaf-form of an Acer palmatum with its unique 7-lobed green or red colored leaf. Identifying trees by bark and leaf form is very helpful when shopping at your local nurseries or during your garden travels. Many trees have unique features that aid in identification. There are many Japanese Maple varieties to choose from for your garden. Look for good structure and find a location that offers some protection from winter conditions.
3) Sour cherries, Prunus cerasus are mainly used for eating. (False) Due to the high level of acidity of sour cherries, these cherries are more commonly used for cooking. For those bakers in the crowd, this is the hard-to-find, highly sought after cherry used in quality baked goods. Some commercial growers are attempting to establish this crop for market. It is a challenging tree to grow in the New England region as it is prone to disease and its fruit is tempting to birds and often splits just prior to harvest. If successful, they bear a handsome price per pound.
4) European pear trees, Pyrus sp. have a shallow root system. (False) When planting your fruit trees, the pears typically require the deepest hole. The root system tends to have coarse anchoring roots, similar to some apple tree root stock. Most growers use a wide-bit post hole digger to dig the planting pit.
5) Pluots are a cross between peaches and apricots. (False). This tasty fruit is a cross between a plum and an apricot. It was developed in California by a gentleman of the name of Zeiger. It is a fairly new introduction in the orchard industry. Some local growers are attempting to produce them commercially. The jury is still out for New England’s cold winters and hot, humid summers. A more intensive spray program may be required to keep the fruit healthy, more so than other types of fruit. We just planted two for our test orchard so we will see if we give up on these in a couple of years.

The inspirational quote of the day is an excerpt from the book, ‘Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten’ by Robert Fulghum. “Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the plastic cup. The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.” So get outside and enjoy the wonder. I’ll be posting some spring photos later on the Facebook fan page. Don’t forget to join and participate!
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Monday, April 19, 2010

Monday Morning Brain Teasers – 04 19 2010

Margaret Atwood starts off our day with her inspirational quote. “In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt. “ Did my gardening friends take advantage of the cool, damp weekend temperatures? It was perfect spring planting weather in our region. So if you didn’t put on your overalls and dig in the dirt, then the Monday Morning Brain Teaser quiz is a required task today. Good luck. As always the true or false answers are in tomorrow’s blog post, ‘Tuesdays with Annie.’

1) English Ivy can be an invasive plant.
2) The image shown here is the leaf-form of a Japanese Maple.

3) Sour cherries, Prunus cerasus are mainly used for eating.
4) European pear trees, Pyrus sp. have a shallow root system.
5) Pluots are a cross between peaches and apricots.

Hope you liked the questions. Enjoy the sunshine. Annie
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Friday, April 16, 2010

Quick Tips for Cool Spring Weather

If you love to garden, weather determines what to do and when you do it from planting, to pruning to spraying and on and on. Here are a few tips to help you hunker down for the cool spring days and nights we can still experience in our tender gardens:

Don’t panic! The warm weather has kicked many plants into bloom very early this year. Some plants will not be harmed by slushy snow, which is predicted for the higher elevations this weekend. Small tender perennials can be covered but larger plants should be able to handle these fluctuating temperatures. Unfortunately, you must let nature take its course. Because spring temperatures can rise and fall on a moment’s notice and occur in short stints, you must sit tight and watch what happens as the plants finish flushing out and harden off.

Always go by the planting rule of thumb for your vegetable garden and only plant seeds that prefer the cooler temperatures. As tempting as it is to buy your annuals and get them in the ground early as they pop up in the nurseries, in New England, you should always wait until the latter part of May before planting them outside. Unfortunately, if you do garden, you learn that weather can be your friend when the buds are popping and can cause great angst when trees and shrubs flower too soon.

Our inspirational quote of the day is by Alice Hoffman. “When all is said and done, the weather and love are the two elements about which one can never be sure. “ Great weekend to bake the banana bread from Thursday's post! You can always count on good food.
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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Going Bananas Over Bread

There is never a shortage of ripe bananas in the fruit bowl and one is never wasted. Sweet tasting banana bread is the only option for this seasoned fruit. If you are tired of the usual and sometimes dry banana bread, this simple recipe mixed with dried fruit offers something good in every bite. Banana, crunchy fig and apricot baked into chocolate bread makes for delectable sweetness with your morning coffee.

The basic recipe from the trusted Great American Brand Name Baking:

Cocoa Banana Nut Bread

2 extra ripe, medium bananas, peeled and cut into chunks
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups sugar
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa (recommend going less if you want less chocolate flavor)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 /2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
1/3 cups chopped nuts (Optional) Choice nut for this recipe is usually walnuts

Added to this recipe:
6 mission figs, cut in small pieces
6 dried apricots, cut in small pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Puree bananas in food processor or blender (1 cup puree) or you can blend the old-fashion way for chunkier banana pieces. In large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, salt and baking powder. Add eggs, oil, bananas, figs and apricots; mix until dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in nuts. Pour batter into greased 9X5-inch loaf pan.

Bake 55 to 60 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove from pan. Cool completely before slicing. I actually leave the bread cool longer in the pan.

So don’t throw your bananas in the compost bin. There is still life for them in bread. Our inspirational thought for the day is by Emily Post, who seemed to find the value in this staple. “Bread is like dresses, hats and shoes – in other words, essential!” Happy baking and enjoy the garden while the sunshine lasts.
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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

No Excuses – Let’s Garden

Today may be the last sunny spring day in New England for a bit. If this weather doesn’t energize you to put on your gardening boots then maybe something I read in the local paper could get you ready for planting season. Many folks have limited space or can’t find good soil for gardening. It’s a lucky day for 30 residents in North Central Massachusetts. Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner is setting aside 30 garden plots to sow your seeds. The only thing one must do is apply for the plot. They are also offering an organic gardening class to teach you the basics. There is a nominal fee and you can find more information and applications for this program on the college Web site, or by calling (978) 630-9262.

In many neighboring cities and towns, there are opportunities for everyone to garden. If you don’t have your own space, this is the time to find a local community plot and get your hands dirty. There are lots of reasons to get involved but no excuses. Let’s garden!

To end with our inspirational thought of the day, a quote from Hubert H. Humphrey seems appropriate. “The impersonal hand of government can never replace the helping hand of a neighbor.”

Information for this blog was obtained from the following Worcester Telegram article
Image from internet
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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tuesdays with Annie 04 13 10

Alfred E. Newman gets us rolling this morning with some food for thought. “We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavors and furniture polish is made from real lemons.” Enough with the artificial flavors; it’s time to start growing your own fresh herbs. Here are the answers to yesterday’s brain teasers.

1) Spearmint is an annual and must be planted each year. (False) Spearmint is a hardy perennial, even in my Zone 5 garden. It is one of those herbs that must be contained or else you end up with more spearmint than you bargained for. In other words, it can be invasive Check some earlier posts about spearmint, including my meatballs and sauce recipe.
2) Thyme is a good source of iron. (True) It is also a very low maintenance herb. It prefers fairly dry conditions and can handle deep freezes and still remain fresh. We can pick our thyme in December.
3) Dill likes to be planted next to Fennel. (False.) If you plant these two herbs together, the plants cross pollinate, therefore making the dill taste like fennel. Grow them in separate areas and you can enjoy the unique flavors of both herbs.
4) Cilantro and Coriander is the same herb. (True.) You either like this herb or you don’t. It’s a love-hate herb. It can be overpowering for some but the fresh citrus-like taste adds a unique dimension to Asian and Mexican dishes. It is very easy to grow in a pot or in the garden by direct seed.
5) Fennel is an herb that is said to improve your memory. (False) Rosemary is said to improve your memory but fennel improves your digestive tract. So use both and stay healthy.

All herbs provide beneficial properties and also add great flavor to your many dishes. For instance, making a paste of fresh thyme, rosemary, salt and olive oil coated on a roast beef brings it to another level. For fresh flavor to your dishes, try garnishing a pasta dish with finely sliced basil and Italian parsley or sprinkle chopped cilantro and Thai basil on a chicken soup. These are really simple steps that add amazing flavor to your dishes.

Oh, the beauty of herbs. Most are easy to grow and can be done in tight spaces. With a little sunshine, soil and water, you can plant a myriad of herbs in a small kitchen garden.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Monday Morning Brain Teasers 04 12 10

It’s difficult capturing the attention of gardeners that are feeling spring fever. Unfortunately, the beginning of the work week brings us back into reality. But don’t stop daydreaming about all the great things one can grow in the garden. Keep the spring in your step.

If you are up for the challenge, take a few minutes to test your knowledge about something gardeners can be preparing for now – your culinary herbs. If you missed out on overwintering some of your choice ingredients, it’s a good time to make your shopping list. The scent of fresh dill, rosemary, spearmint is heavenly.

Here are five true or false brain teasers about some of Annie’s favorite herbs. Remember, the answers are in tomorrow’s ‘Tuesdays with Annie.’

1) Spearmint is an annual and must be planted each year.
2) Thyme is a good source of iron.
3) Dill likes to be planted next to Fennel. (Clue – this was mentioned in a previous blog to see who is paying attention.)
4) Cilantro and Coriander is the same herb.
5) Fennel is an herb that is said to improve your memory.

To end the morning brain teasers with a bit of inspiration, a quote from Francis Bacon, Sr. , an English Philosopher and Lawyer seems appropriate. “A man's nature runs either to herbs, or to weeds; therefore let him seasonably water the one, and destroy the other.”

And don’t forget to pick your dandelions. Even though we think of them as weeds, this green cooked with polenta is a traditional Italian specialty. Pick them before they flower for tender and nutritious greens. Happy Monday – Annie.

Image of Dandelion Greens from the Internet
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Friday, April 9, 2010

A Spring Flower to Catch Your Heart

If you are looking for a traditional late spring, early summer flower that can survive some tough winter elements, the standard Bleeding Hearts – Dicentra spectabilis is an excellent choice. A staple in many old-fashion gardens, the standard is known for its unique form and color. In its moment, it is a show-stopper. One word of caution – it is a poisonous plant if ingested.

In my garden, I have both the white, ‘alba’ and old-fashioned pink. It displays well with hostas, ferns, and the usual shade garden choices. With so many perennial selections, it makes sense to add ones that can survive the difficult elements. This includes low maintenance although in a really dry season, a little watering is helpful and necessary to keep the plant healthy. A little sun can be tolerated but it prefers woodland shade. It is a great understory perennial.

Don’t be surprised when the plant fades after blooming. This is typical; similar to poppies. No need for alarm. Position in your garden accordingly and as its showy flower fades, there is something else to take its place. A suggestion - plant behind a drift of hellebores or hostas so there isn’t a gaping hole. Michael Nolan captures it best with his inspirational quote of the day. “There are many things in life that will catch your eye, but only a few will catch your heart...pursue those.” Happy planting. Annie.
Top Image of Dicentra spectabilis from the Internet 
Bottom Image of Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba' plant combination from the internet
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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Are You Free this Sunday?

Joseph Addison’s quote inspires us with his outlook. “Sunday clears away the rust of the whole week. “ The extended forecast for this weekend in Central Massachusetts - clouds and sun with a slight chance of a passing shower but the temps are expected to be in the upper 50s. For gardeners, this is perfect weather for tackling the many outside chores but one may be enticed by a ‘free admission all day’ event on Sunday, April 11th at Tower Hill Botanical Garden in Boylston, MA. This impressive botanical treat has been mentioned in past blogs but you shouldn’t pass up this opportunity if your Sunday is open for a road trip. From 10AM to 5PM, Tower Hill’s doors open to the public for its grand opening of the ‘Reception Gateway’ with hourly raffle drawings for gift cards, membership, concert tickets, shop merchandise, and more. It is a great opportunity to see a garden gem in its making as there are still several areas waiting to be developed in its bold 50-year master plan. If you are looking for an example of actualizing a landscape design vision, this is a perfect example.

Various early season flowering trees, shrubs and bulbs should be in bloom with splashes of color. The swath of daffodils is always impressive. With the overcast weather predicted, photographers can get some great close-up images of these first signs of spring. There is plenty to see and do; my favorite spot is the Orangerie although it may be a bit crowded on Sunday to enjoy what I find so peaceful about this haven.

To all my gardening friends who haven’t seen this advertised and want to explore this Sunday rather than start digging in their own yards, check out this free event. Anyone we have directed to this garden, even chums from the UK, have not left disappointed. So check out the Tower Hill website and set aside your day of rest to discover spring and clear away all the winter rust. Annie
Top Photo of Orangerie at Tower Hill - Bottom photo of Daffodils at Tower Hill
Photos by Greg Bilowz
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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Drop Your Pen – Pick up a Petal

As Morpheus once stated, “When bright flowers bloom, Parchment crumbles, my words fade The pen has dropped ...” A bit of a spring hiatus is always useful so I dropped my pen for a few days to soak in the beauty of spring. I hope you do the same. And if you haven’t noticed, the Cherry trees are coming into bloom with the recent warm weather. As a matter of fact, the Cherry Blossom festival in DC kept getting moved because the peak bloom came earlier this year.

Keep your eyes open for many of the flowering cherry trees. A particular favorite that creates quite a show of soft pink to white flowers is the Yoshino Flowering Cherry tree - Prunus x yedoensis. It is hardy to Zone 5 temperatures making it a perfect specimen for certain areas of New England. Extreme spring weather conditions i.e., real warm to cold, which can happen often in this area can shorten an already brief bloom time.

A word from the wise gardener – if you drive by a spectacular blooming tree, pull over and take a stroll. The next time you pass by, it may not be in bloom so don’t miss the moment. This is the beginning of the flowering tree season so pay attention to your outside world. Take a walk at lunch or drive to a nearby park. Drop what you are doing inside and wander into spring’s amazing beauty. The inspirational quote of the day is by Elwyn Brooks White. “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” Today's weather forecast is sunny and 85 degrees. You can watch the blossoms open right in front of you on a day like today. Enjoy your Wednesday.

Image of Yoshino Cherry Tree from Internet
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Friday, April 2, 2010

What Makes the Grass Grow Greener?

Did you ever wonder about the green grass in Easter baskets? It must be all artificial; certainly not natural. So how can you make your grass grow green without all the artificial chemicals? Think of growing a green lawn as you would growing a healthy vegetable garden. You must prep the soil prior to planting your crop.

The current ideology with turf grass is to feed the lawn, not the soil. Due to very effective marketing from lawn chemical companies, we are programmed to think a green lawn comes in a bag, much like the Easter Basket stuffing. So when prepping for your lawn, don’t just think green grass; think healthy soil. Sand, silt, clay and organic matter make up the main components of soil. Often overlooked are the complex communities of interdependent bacteria and fungi that assist in the simulation and absorption of nutrients necessary for healthy plant growth. Unfortunately, many of the chemicals used in turf grass management can be detrimental to these organisms. A counterintuitive process but enough with the soil science - what should we do in our own backyards?

Think basic, think organic and think slow-release. If you currently use synthetic chemical programs, you must wean the turf from the reliance of these chemical fertilizers and treatments. Is your lawn going to look perfect? No. Are you going to have some weeds? Yes. Crabgrass is probably the most problematic weed for lawns. If you use one chemical application, use your pre-emergence herbicide applied between forsythia and lilac bloom to keep the crabgrass at bay. If you decide to use these herbicides, don’t use the clippings in your vegetable garden for mulch.We don’t use any chemicals. We let our grass duke it out with the weeds.

Start your season off on the right foot. Assess your lawn now. We are within a week or two of the first fertilizer application. Begin with some cultural practices. Thatch and core aerate your lawn. Then apply organic fertilizer. Is it going to respond immediately? No. Unlike the synthetic fertilizers, you won’t see quick results. It takes time for these organics to respond.

It’s important to improve your soil and make conscious efforts to reduce your chemical and water usage. When seeding or reseeding any lawn area, use the newest varieties of drought, disease, insect-resistant fescues and rye grasses. This alone can reduce your water consumption. These varieties require a 1/3 less water and fertilizer.

As pointed out in previous blogs, we should always pay attention to what is happening in other areas of the country. There is a new regulation, the Water-Efficient Landscape Ordinance that became effective in California this past January. This type of control could eventually reach the East Coast and other areas. Read the attached link for details. Be proactive as this legislation starts with the green lawns, which are the largest drains of resources per square foot on our property.

To end with our usual inspirational thought of the day by Ilya Ehrenburg, “You could cover the whole earth with asphalt, but sooner or later green grass would break through” Grass is tougher than you think. Happy Easter and enjoy the beginnings of your spring garden.
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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Don’t be a Foolish Gardener

With all the recent rains and warm temperatures headed our way, we may be tempted to start digging and prodding in the mucky soil. Don’t be foolish. Allow your soil to drain and dry out. If you dig too soon, often times you make more of a mess.

Just a reminder: an important task for April gardeners. Spend some time at your local nurseries scouting out that specimen tree or shrub you listed in your winter notebook. April is the ideal month to shop the nurseries for the best selection of woody plant materials, i.e., trees and shrubs. Be a savvy gardener and locate the cream of the crop. The best structure, health and diversity are available now for the season. If you want to discover unique, this is when you find that feature tree.

For planting, if you don’t want to be a slave to watering and expose your plants to hot, dry weather, now is the time to get woody plant materials in the ground. If September is the best month to seed a lawn, April is the best to choose trees. The official spring planting season for woody plant materials is when the ground is thawed i.e., no frost in the ground and the soil is moist but not saturated. It varies depending on your location and weather conditions but typically in New England, April through mid-June is the ideal window for planting woody specimens. There are always variables but this is a general rule of thumb.

And remember, April is designated as Landscape Architecture month. So don’t be a foolish gardener. Think like a pro and pay attention to the seasons. And more than anything, always have fun doing what you love. The inspirational quote of the day is by Mark Twain. “The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year.”

The Easter Bunny is early – he’s no fool!
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© 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.)