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, May 28, 2010

Cool Recipes for the Heat

Whether you are planting in your garden or relaxing at a friend’s barbeque this weekend, here are some easy recipes to prepare on the fly. Both include a refreshing fruit that everyone loves and associates with summertime fun – watermelon.

The first recipe is an Egyptian favorite. We had this at a friend’s barbeque last weekend. The refreshing taste is perfect for warm weather. You will need:

Watermelon – 4 cups of seedless watermelon cut in small chunks
Mild Feta Cheese –1 cup of feta cheese cut in cubes (French Feta is ideal – creamy and mild. Best Central Mass. source – Ed Hyders’ Mediterranean Market (not open on Sundays)
Pitted Calamata Olives – ½ cup of olives chopped fine (Ed’s is also a great source for olives)
Fresh Spearmint – ¼ cup of fresh spearmint chopped fine
Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil
Toss together, chill and serve.

We whipped together this next recipe for that very barbeque. This salad also blends refreshing and sweet flavors, complimenting other summertime foods. Don’t forget to use the salad dressing recipe from the May 18th blog.

Here’s what you will need:

1 head of Boston lettuce
½ cup of wild arugula
2 cups of washed hulled and sliced fresh strawberries
1 Asian pear
1 cup of seedless watermelon cubed
1 cup of shaved asiago cheese
4 Tablespoons of sugar
Hot crushed pepper

Wash and slice the strawberries and add sugar, place in fridge for ½ hour. This draws out the juices.
Thinly slice the Asian pear and cube the watermelon. Toss into the strawberries.
Wash and drain the lettuce and arugula and place in large bowl.
Spread the fruit mix around the outside of the bowl.
Shave the asiago cheese and place in the center of the bowl.
Sprinkle hot crushed pepper. Serve the salad dressing on the side. It should not be tossed into the salad prior – toss when serving and go lightly so as to experience all the flavors.

It is hard to believe it is already Memorial Day weekend. Enjoy the garden, stay safe and remember to take time to honor our fallen soldiers. Thank you for our many freedoms. Annie

To keep with the freedom theme, Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin provides our final Memorial Day inspirational quote of the day. Rather verbose but a very French way of describing barbeques. “Seating themselves on the greensward, they eat while the corks fly and there is talk, laughter and merriment, and perfect freedom, for the universe is their drawing room and the sun their lamp. Besides, they have appetite, Nature's special gift, which lends to such a meal a vivacity unknown indoors, however beautiful the surroundings.”

P.S. As promised on yesterday’s fan page, there will be a fun Memorial Day Contest. Two free passes for Tower Hill Botanical Garden in Boylston, MA to the 125th Facebook Fan. You have to join our Facebook page and become a Fan!

Image of Watermelon Salad from the Internet.
This recipe looks like it used parsley but a very cool way to serve it!
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Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Natural Landscape

On this Memorial Day weekend, many of us pack up the cars and travel across town or state, plunking ourselves in a beach chair or at a picnic table to enjoy food, family and friends. Take a moment while you travel the roads to discover the natural landscape. Notice the native mix of trees, shrubs and flowers and log it in your memory bank.

When you get back to your own garden, ask yourself if any of these native species would play into your own landscape. First, find out if those trees, shrubs and wildflowers you spotted on the roadside are invasive species. When you see an expansive stand of a single species, this can often be an indication of an invasive. There are many of these plants on this list and as astute gardeners we should be aware of them. To name a few, Norway Maple, Winged Euonymus, Autumn Olive, and Honeysuckle are some of the species on the Massachusetts’ list. (Note: There are lists for each specific region or state.)

These invasives take over everything and must be eradicated in order to maintain a diverse plant community. The cost of dealing with eradication and control is mind-boggling yet most people don’t even think about it. If you happen upon any of these in your own backyard, remove them so as not to infiltrate your garden. The purple loosestrife, that beautiful wetland flower has been raising havoc for years. It is hard to believe that this plant started in people’s perennial borders and has since choked out vast areas of wet meadows and marshland.

In keeping with the theme of freedom for this week’s quotes, it is fitting to use the words of William Wordsworth. “How does the Meadow flower its bloom unfold? Because the lovely little flower is free down to its root, and in that freedom bold.”

Don’t forget to check in tomorrow. There will be quick recipes for the weekend cookouts. Have a great day. Finally, our gardens have a little relief from the heat!

A Photo of Purple Loosestrife from the Internet
Bold and beautiful yet invasive!

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tips for the Wilted

This hot weather is making me wilt so imagine what it does to your newly planted vegetables. The root systems of these tender plants are not yet established so you may see some drooping despite your desperate attempts to stay on top of watering. And water we must if we want to see good results. Although this may seem repetitive or logical, it is always best to give the plants a drink in the daybreak of morning before the heat turns up a notch. It’s equivalent to that first cup of coffee when your feet hit the floor. But just like you, the coffee doesn’t quite do it in terms of giving you that boost of long-lived energy. When it is this warm, many plants, especially the tender, young material just installed may start to droop. It’s not just a matter of moisture. Plants, especially the newbies, respond to extreme heat. Ride it through. Check moisture and if the soil is moist, allow the plants to run its course. Even if you are tempted, hold off on the fertilizer until things cool off a bit. You want your plants to get established first. Rapid growth is not always a good thing during stressful weather conditions. Again, think of the coffee. One cup isn’t bad but five is not great. If a little is good, a lot is not necessarily better. Later in the season, when the plants are established, then you can give it that extra boost of fert. To end today’s warm weather tip, the inspirational quote for the day is by Albert Einstein. “Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.” For any of our active duty military, here is something for the entire family this summer. Thank You!

FREE Admission to Active Duty Military
(Worcester Art Museum and 329 other Museums)
Tuesday, June 1 - Sunday, September 5
Active duty military personnel and their families will receive free museum admission to Worcester Art Museum. You must present an active military identification card to receive free admission. WAM is one of 330 museums from 45 states nationwide to participate in the Blue Star Museum program that offers free admission to active personnel and up to five family members.

Worcester Art Museum 55 Salisbury Street Worcester MA 01609

Image of wilted tomato seedlings from the Internet
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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Flowers Perfect for the Vase

When the mornings heat up quickly, wander through the garden paths to notice what is popping while it is still fresh and vibrant. See what is available for cut flowers. It seems every morning new blooms are waiting to be discovered. It’s like the flowers are saying, “Look over here. I just sprouted perfect colors for your kitchen vase.”

Some of the best flowers to create these works of art are wildflowers. A favorite ready to bloom is Sweet Williams (Dianthus barbatus). This puffy flower comes in an array of colors to add with the Daisies and the Lupines. All of these spring blooms came from a wildflower mix we threw down years ago to stabilize a sunny slope. This blend of flowers compliments the other plants, trees and shrubs. Over time, many of the seedlings moved to other parts of the garden, either by choice or by moving tiny clumps to a bare patch. Before you know it, drifts of color are proliferating in the garden each year.

A hint for your garden as well as floral arrangements – don’t just think color. Texture is equally important. Use the foliage plants from your shade garden for a backdrop. Hosta leaves are great for flower arrangements, especially if you plant the unique variations. Ferns also compliment a vase with its green feathery texture. Use Rodgersia, a bold foliage plant from the shade garden. Want some red stems? Don’t forget your Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red' for some additional color and you can always throw in a sprig of ornamental grass. Add the early blooming and fragrant rugosa hybribs like 'Therese Bugnet', ‘Sir Thomas Lipton’ or ‘Hansa’ and your vase comes alive. There is an endless list depending on what’s popping in the garden but even with an abundance of blooms, I still have a hard time clipping away some of the natural beauty.

So as one strolls through the garden, carry your snips and arrange the flowers as you walk. Enjoy the sunshine early in the morning and create your work of art while the dew still rests on the petals. In honor of our freedom theme for Memorial Day, the inspirational quote is by Ambrose Bierce. “Liberty: One of imagination’s most precious possessions.” Enjoy the day and find time to be in your garden.

Photos of Hosta Leaves and Sweet Williams from the Internet
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Monday, May 24, 2010

Planting Frenzy

Memorial Day weekend signifies for New Englanders that the vegetable garden is ready to plant and the window boxes are safe to decorate with tender annuals. For the hardy gardeners that brave unpredictable spring conditions, a sigh of huge relief comes over all when we hit this home stretch. This is the busiest time of year for planting. The frenzy strikes and everyone, including non-gardeners jump in the game. It’s time to purchase those pretty hanging planters or take a chance at a few tomato plants.

Because there will be plenty of time to chat this week about our gardens, let’s switch gears to cooking. Sometimes by adding one ingredient, often by mistake, you can make an already beloved recipe something spectacular. This favorite delectable is not regionally grown so we must break the rule of ‘buy fresh, buy local.’ Simply put, Artichokes are the Filet Mignon of the vegetable world. A member of the Thistle family, Artichokes can be prepared a number of ways. One of our favorites is to steam and dip the Artichoke leaves and heart in drawn butter. By adding one tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice to a half stick of butter, you can kick the flavors up a notch. It introduces zip and zing to savory. It sounds fattening and it is, but Artichokes with butter and lemon are heavenly. Skip this week’s ice cream and try this recipe. This is peak season for Artichokes. Your grocery stores should have a great selection to choose from and you can’t beat the price. This vegetable served steamed is not geared for the annual cook-out so try it out before all your guests arrive with the hot dogs and hamburgers.

In honor of this upcoming weekend’s remembrance and celebration of Memorial Day, each inspirational quote this week reflects on freedom. Please remember to honor all of our fallen soldiers for their sacrifice and service. “The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.” Thucydides

And for all my Sterling readers, don’t forget to exercise your freedom to vote in your local elections today. Polls opened at 7:00 AM and close this evening at 8:00 PM.

Image of Artichokes and butter from the Internet
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Friday, May 21, 2010

Extend the Pizzazz

Some of the frequent dilemmas in our gardens are finding the right color and texture that extend pizzazz throughout the growing season. Tricky though it may be, playing with different varieties within a species is an excellent way to achieve this goal. Azaleas are a great example.

One way to vary the palette of Azaleas is to break away from the standards like ‘Delaware Valley White’ and ‘Blaaws Pink’ (the low semi-evergreen varieties) and delve into the vast selection of deciduous types. Some of these shrubs can reach impressive heights of 10-12’ and create wisps of color from April to July.

Azaleas typically like high-organic, well-draining moist acidic soils. So if you have these conditions, here are a few of our favorites that might expand and extend your color palette past the early spring season. The list is in order of blooming sequence so plan accordingly in your garden.

• Azalea (Rhododendron) mucronulatum ‘Cornell Pink’
• ‘Weston Pink Diamond’ – This is a cross of PJM Group and Rhododendron mucronulatum 'Cornell Pink'
• R. vaseyi, Pinkshell Azalea (A native to New England – also a Cary Award Winner, which means it is a proven champ.) Check out this list for other Cary Award winning plants -
• Pinxterbloom Azalea
• R. schlippenbachii, Royal Azalea – This shrub has a very distinctive foliage unlike any other and is hardy to this region.
• R. calendulaceum, Flame Azalea – Well-named for its hot colors, you may find flower variations from orange/yellow to red/orange when shopping in the nurseries
• Any of the ‘Highlight’ varieties
• R. kaempferi - Torch Azalea
• Azalea x Exbury hybrids
• Azalea viscosum - Swamp Azaleas
• Numerous summer bloomers like ‘Lollipop’, another Weston Nursery introduction.

Haven’t convinced you yet? Jot down these reasons to check out these deciduous shrubs:

• Some are natives, which makes your overall maintenance regime and success rate for a healthy plant mix achievable. Even the non-native varieties are very cold-hardy. Perfect for New England.
• Many of them have fragrant flowers.
• The color selection is par to none and can give you a vast array of splash throughout the season.
• The fall color is phenomenal.

Remember to pick your plants wisely when shopping the nurseries. Look for stock that is fresh. In other words, no glaring bruises, dings and blemishes. You can prune out a few minor misgivings but you can’t correct poor handling of plant materials. Enjoy the sunshine and take Calvin and Hobbes’ advice for our inspirational quote for the weekend “You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood What mood is that? Last-minute panic.!”
Image of R. schlippenbachii, Royal Azalea from the Internet
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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tea in the Garden

If you can’t make it to England in the springtime to visit some of its spectacular gardens, then perhaps one of the premier English gardens can come to you. How about adding tea and scones in an exquisite setting and by golly, you may just feel like you are at Great Dixter.

Christopher Lloyd, whom has since passed, owned this country manor and its beautiful gardens. He was a witty gentleman and renowned horticulturist. Lloyd bestowed his wealth of knowledge, plant combinations and topiary finesse upon his head gardener, Fergus Garrett. We were fortunate to hear both of them speak and it was truly a treat.

Here is one of those June events, like the garden tours mentioned in yesterday’s blog that shouldn’t be missed. Garrett is well-known in the lecture circuit and is well worth the trip to Blithewold Mansions and Gardens on June 27th. Attached is the link to find more information about the program.

Hopefully you can fit this noontime tea and lecture into your schedule to hear about the wonderful gardens at Great Dixter. And don’t forget to take in the beauty of Blithewold; a hidden jewel for New England gardeners.

The inspirational thought of the day is a quote from Fergus after Christopher passed away and he stayed on as the head gardener. "The easy thing would have been to leave. But I thought: I haven't finished here. There's so much to do. And if Dixter ever bored me, or changed for the worse, I'd leave tomorrow." Gardens never leave us, we leave them and most of us realize that these pieces of ourselves planted in the soil are never quite done.

Image of Fergus Garrett, Head Gardener at Great Dixter, UK from the Internet
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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Check Out the Club Scene

Looking for fresh ideas on how to add impact in your garden? A really fun way is to check out many of the local garden tours that typically occur during the month of June. These outings are generally open to the public and the gardens on display are carefully chosen for originality, creativity and style. You can find traditional to eclectic all within a 10-15 mile radius.

Scratching your head for ideas? Clear the cobwebs and think out of the box – someone else’s box. You can often get new ideas from other’s trials, errors and accomplishments. Many times the owners are available to chat. I have yet to meet a shy gardener. Most are humble but proud of their hard work. If someone else designed it for them, it still gives you the opportunity to see the end results. You can find kitchen gardens, water features, stone patios and terraces. You name it; there are always interesting details and elements to inspire you.

Check out the local papers, contact your garden clubs and check a link mentioned in past blogs. You can find many garden events in the Boston area at Boston Hilda keeps her site up to the minute on these listings. This should be a favorite bookmarked for my garden readers.

Just a word regarding the vegetable garden - get those more delicate veggies in the ground. It should be safe to plant your tomatoes, eggplant and squash. There is warm weather in store, which makes for good planting and gets those veggies started on the right foot. We should be out of the woods when it comes to a hard frost but always keep an eye on the weather.

To end today’s blog with a bit of wit and sarcasm; we look no further than the American Comic, Paula Poundstone. “Adults are always asking little kids what they want to be when they grow up because they’re looking for ideas.” So schedule some garden tours and find what’s happening in someone else’s sandbox.

Picture of a local garden tour from the Internet
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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Greens Will Be Coming

The local farmers markets and our own vegetable gardens are certain to be kicking out some fresh greens soon. Spring and early summer is the time when you see the highest quality of locally grown salad blends available in New England. Arugula and Boston lettuce, two of my favorites are a delectable combination of tangy greens. Vinaigrettes can make this blend of greens pop with tang and spice. Here is a zippy homemade dressing to bring all the flavors together.

Makes about 1 cup of dressing:

2/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil (the good stuff used for salad dressings)
1/3 cup of white balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons of maple syrup
Salt & Pepper to taste

A few basic ingredients from the kitchen pantry create a simple dressing with none of the preservatives or additives. It is much healthier to make your own vinaigrettes and tastier by far. This is also where you can play with the flavors to bring out the peppery taste of the Arugula and the sweetness of the Boston lettuce. Sow those seeds and get ready for the greens!

We end with Oscar Wilde’s inspirational thought regarding what make those greens great. “To make a good salad is to be a brilliant diplomatist -- the problem is entirely the same in both cases. To know exactly how much oil one must put with one's vinegar.” Always taste your dressing with a leaf of lettuce to make sure you get it just right!

Image of greens from the Internet
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Monday, May 17, 2010

Find the Traditional Value

Often times, the history of a plant is forgotten and left behind on one’s perennial pallet. Once a plant is hybridized and developed into more fancy varieties, the standard, tried and true species gets left by the wayside. To find traditional value in a plant, look to its origin. One perennial that fits this bill is Heuchera, also known as Coral Bells or Allium Root. H. americana, the species, is a hardy, low-maintenance, long-lived drought tolerant groundcover perennial. We found H. americana in baking sun with no irrigation at Mount Auburn Cemetery. There are a number of improved Heuchera varieties that offer great color, texture, extended bloom time and still have the rugged traits of the species.

A word of caution while shopping your perennials - there is always a huge buzz in the plant industry when developing splashier varieties, particularly with Heuchera. Look for ‘Palace Purple’ that took ‘Perennial Plant Association Plant of the Year’ back in 1991. We have this particular variety in our shade garden; fifteen years old and still battling for turf with Pachysandra ‘Green Sheen’.

Longevity and performance prove to be as important as color and texture when planting your borders or garden areas. Most Heuchera varieties are known for its foliage rather than its bloom. Some of the more delicate varieties require a protected area with partial sun. Play it safe and plant in moist but well-drained soils. Always use the planting rule of thumb when planting delicates and place one or two sparingly and mass the more traditional varieties. The holes are less gaping when you lose a feature; it can easily be replaced with something else.

A versatile perennial, Heuchera can handle some very tough site conditions including coastal environments. So let’s take Aristotle’s advice. “If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development.” Words to live by in gardens and life!

Image of Heuchera 'Palace Purple' from the Internet 
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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Friday, May 14, 2010

First Impressions

Have you ever driven down a country road and you see this charming house for sale but its lawn hasn’t been mowed and what few flower beds surround the house, well, it all seems a bit unkempt? It may sound like your own ‘House Beautiful’ because life just comes at us and we all get too busy to make our outsides shine.

But ask any good real estate agent and they are certain to tell you that the outside of your home, the approach and arrival to the front door is what makes that first impression. Yep, the landscape is equally important as that freshly decorated kitchen or the number of bedrooms and baths. It’s because first impressions do last and if you feel welcomed before you even walk through the door, it makes everything else you see much more pleasing to the eye. It’s not to say that what is inside doesn’t matter but it gets you in a better frame of mind and it opens your senses. And this little tip is even more important for you as a homeowner because you aren’t just trying to dress up your house to sell it; you are living there everyday.

When you drive home from a long day at work, isn’t it nice to see your approach to your house? It gives you that warm feeling that you can relax, especially if the lawn is mowed and the beds are colorful and neat. Again, I like the wild and wooly approach. Remember, my personal gardens are always in experimental stages and I thrive on what I should do next. But if you want to make that first impression, remember to shine from the outside first!

Not to forget our inspirational quotes, I’ll leave you with two as we fast approach our weekend. Somehow there is this waging battle for those of us who love to be outdoors! First, the unknown author’s observation is that “man is a peculiar creature. He spends a fortune making his home insect-proof and air-conditioned, and then eats in the yard.” But Esther Meynell quickly reminds us that we never blink twice about being outdoors because our gardens provide us with such pleasure. “A garden has a curious innocent way of consuming cash while all the time you are under the illusion that you are spending nothing.”
Image from Internet - Tom Hanks in the movie 'The Money Pit'
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Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Plant for the Tricky Landscape

Gone are the days of the standard green Hosta; that staple plant used along pathways and foundation plantings. For those who may still think of Hostas as that ‘one shape and color fits all’ perennial, think again. The expansion of Hosta hybridizing and breeding has grown exponentially for the last thirty plus years. The selections are endless and the versatility of this plant puts it into the fundamental building blocks for perennial plantings. Adaptable to varied conditions, some Hosta varieties can even do well in lots of sun although most like it shady, moist and cool. Some Hostas do well even in certain coastal conditions.

You can find many specialty nurseries that carry a vast selection of this plant. Its low maintenance regime and longevity make this is an easy sell. The color range is phenomenal: from standard green, cream, blue, yellow and variegated with the latest hybrids offering orange and purple flashes. There are many dwarf varieties for smaller, compact areas as well as those that require a huge piece of real estate. Some Hostas can grow to over 6’ in diameter with foliage more reminiscent of tropicals. Plan accordingly and work Hostas somewhere into your perennial gardens. This can be that versatile plant for those tricky locations and is a good bang for the buck. You may say ‘ouch’ on first purchase but you shall not be sorry with the end result. Some Hostas may even seed themselves throughout your garden, especially if the plant is happy in its location.

Many of the new releases eventually make it to the box stores a few years after introduction but if you want the latest and greatest, shop the specialty boutiques. If you become totally head-over-heels with Hostas, you can even join your local Hosta society. Members get the first dibs on many of these new hybrids.

So to shake that thought about standard Hostas, let’s end today with our inspirational thought of the day by John Constable. “There is nothing ugly; I never saw an ugly thing in my life: for let the form of an object be what it may, -- light, shade, and perspective will always make it beautiful.” This truly sums up the beauty of Hostas!

Check out our FB fan page later today for a listing of some of the new and latest varieties.
P.S. One reader asked me for the blog that mentioned the fab chocolate banana bread. It’s been great baking weather, too with a touch of frost in the air this morning.

Photos by Greg Bilowz

Sun Power (Can handle sun but likes it moist)

(Great Expectations - Shade Garden)
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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Garden as Our Lab

Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” So how does one achieve excellence in the garden? Become a mad scientist. Make a small portion of your garden experimental. Test the extremities but in small doses. When you find the right combinations, apply them in larger scale. Unfortunately, I must admit, most of my own personal gardens are in a state of flux, research and testing. I am the mad scientist. Some of the best plant combinations have come from doing the ‘wrong thing.’ This is also the case with growing vegetables. Although you should heed the advice of the expert farmers, remember the envelope is constantly being pushed. It is the only way we make advancements in excellence.

For example, on a simple scale, one of our local farmers had 150 tomato plants lined out in the ground since the early warm spring temperatures. He had most of these plants protected with row covers. (Remember this contraption was mentioned in a previous blog.) With Monday’s frost, he lost all the tomato plants under the row covers and the few exposed to the cold air suffered no damage. There could be a number of reasons this occurred or a combination of a few. He still has a large number of his remaining crops in greenhouses but you get the drift. Experimenting with the elements is the only way to learn what works, when it works and under what conditions. In other words, think like a scientist. Take the advice of David Cronenberg and apply it to your garden. “Everybody's a mad scientist, and life is their lab. We're all trying to experiment to find a way to live, to solve problems, to fend off madness and chaos.”

Tip of the day: With frost still a factor in this neck of the woods, you can safely line out the Brassicaceae family or mustard family (also called Cruciferae) Cruciferous vegetables. This includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and turnip. If you do purchase your sets from a local nursery, chances are these plants were protected in greenhouses. You still have to harden them off to the elements before planting them in the ground. We still have some cold nights ahead of us.
Image from Internet
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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tuesdays with Annie May 11 2010

When it comes to spring in New England, we must, as Hannah Arendt states, “Prepare for the worst; expect the best; and take what comes.” If you experienced any frost last evening, hopefully you protected the delicates that can suffer in these types of unpredictable growing conditions. I just read an interesting tidbit yesterday that the "average temperature at the South Pole was a minus 54.2 degrees Fahrenheit in 2009, making it the warmest year since records began in 1957." I don’t know what you can grow in those conditions so dealing with New England's late frost is manageable.

Here are the answers from yesterday’s brain teasers.

1) The Astilbe does well in moist, shady locations. (True) These perennials can handle sun better than they can tolerate dry conditions so just make sure you can provide moist, organic rich soils to ensure this flower’s success. Leo Blanchette of Blanchette Gardens in Carlisle, MA has one of the most extensive collections of these plants. Be sure to check out his nursery. It is loaded with many unique finds for your garden.
2) The blossom on a daylily lasts one day, hence its name. (True) If you do make a trek to Carlisle, be sure to check out Seawright Gardens. Bob has a great selection of daylilies. The best time to visit is in July when the daylily bloom is at peak.
3) If you grow strawberries, last-season frost can damage a crop. (True) Late-season frost can damage the flower and fruit-set. Try to protect/cover your strawberry patch. For the last two nights, we have covered our strawberries with tarps. No damage and we did have frost last evening.
4) Exposed topsoil is subject to erosion and deterioration. (True) For an interesting history class, look back at the dust storms that took place in the mid 1900’s. This was a rough ten-year period for the farmers of the Midwest; they learned this lesson the hard way with scalding temperatures and a drought to boot. Wind-blown topsoil in its extremes can also create very high levels of static electricity. Agriculture 101 – never leave your topsoil exposed
5) Green manure is fresh manure spread on a garden in the fall. (False) Green manure, which is also known as a winter cover crop is used to stabilize the soil throughout the winter months. It adds organic matter to the soils when it is later tilled in during the spring. Winter rye is typically used because it is inexpensive and germinates in cool weather.

P.S. Sending birthday wishes to one of my daily blog readers – Happy Birthday, Mary S.
Don’t forget to follow for more tips, photos, discussion and postings on our Facebook page. Have a great Tuesday.

Image from the Internet
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Monday, May 10, 2010

Monday Morning Brain Teasers May 10 2010

If the winds subside anytime soon, here is a tip for all the vegetable gardeners. The soil moisture is perfect due to the recent rain and cool weather. If you intend to use black plastic to cover your rows, get your boots on and lay that plastic. You do need to let the winds subside or you’ll be flying a kite instead.

On another note, the Monday morning brain teasers will be taking a spring-summer hiatus. I’m taking Mark Twain’s advice. “If you hold a cat by the tail you learn things you cannot learn any other way.” Hopefully the daily blogs and tips inspire you to get out there in the garden and learn it first-hand.

I appreciate all my readers and encourage you to post your comments and questions to make the blogs and daily tips what you want to hear about. As always, the true or false answers are in tomorrow’s blog, ‘Tuesdays with Annie.’ Have no fear, I’ll still be writing regularly. Just taking a miss on the quiz show until the winter! Happy Monday. Annie.

1) The Astilbe does well in moist, shady locations
2) The blossom on a daylily lasts one day, hence its name.
3) If you grow strawberries, last-season frost can damage a crop.
4) Exposed topsoil is subject to erosion and deterioration.
5) Green manure is fresh manure spread on a garden in the fall.

Photo of Daylily Blossom by Greg Bilowz
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Friday, May 7, 2010

Processed Produce

Photo of fresh picked berries by Greg Bilowz

With the tumultuous rollercoaster economy and the recent E. coli recall of Freshway Foods Romaine lettuce, growing your own produce is common sense. (Note - Massachusetts is one of the 23 states involved in this recall. ) For most folks, knowing where your food comes from is the number one factor people go direct to the farmer or produce it themselves. If you don’t have the space or the time but want to know where your produce is coming from, you can always look into Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). The simple concept is to buy your share of the crops from a particular farm. Each CSA can be set up differently so find one that suits your needs. These programs are expanding exponentially every year due to the popularity of locally produced food. It’s a win-win situation and a great way to support the local agricultural industry.

The above message may get repetitive but sometimes repeating a message is the only way it penetrates the old noggin. Besides, everyone is already telling you what great gifts to buy for Mother’s Day. You can always check our fan page a little later this weekend for any last-minute ideas.

So as another Friday approaches us, let’s end this week’s blog posts with a common sense yet inspirational thought by Jim Davis. He hits the core about why growing your own produce is important. “Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie.” There is always room for sweet things in life. Have a great weekend, celebrate Mother’s Day, and keep gardening.
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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Timing our Garden

Is it too early to plant your tomatoes? Yesterday a reader asked me this very question. My brief reply was unless you plan on protecting your plants, it is best to wait until all the cold nights are behind us. This is New England and the weather is funky. It is best to think like a farmer and take those extra precautions. If you want to get your tomato plants in the ground early, you can purchase either hot caps or row covers. These fairly inexpensive contraptions can be set up to act as a mini-greenhouse. Here is a quick link from Burpee for the row covers. The hot caps are individual set-ups so it is strictly a customer choice.

If you don’t want to go this route, hold off on buying your plants too soon. Tomatoes, or any living plant left in its pot for too long is stifled; the plant ends up struggling once it gets in the ground rather than take off with vigor and vibrancy. With anything you plant, providing the best conditions is critical to its survival. Be a bit more patient with your timing. Wait until you are ready to plant those tomatoes before you buy your sets. Dig your growing area and prep it well. Start some other veggies and herbs that are more time-sensitive to get started and take Stacey Charter’s advice. “Life is all about timing... the unreachable becomes reachable, the unavailable become available, the unattainable... attainable. Have the patience, wait it out It's all about timing.” Hope this helps, Tracy.

Perfect timing for a photograph of ferns unfolding in the morning light
Photos by Greg Bilowz
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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Window Dressing

Window boxes or container gardens are not like planting a landscape. Think of it like growing a crop - maximum impact within a very short season. The best examples of these petite flower arrangements are those that receive constant care and nurturing. While you may have some difficulty with certain exposed conditions, i.e., wind, salt, and dry, you cannot forgo the maintenance. If you really want a splash of color and vibrancy, clipping, snipping and attention should not be limited to whenever you get to it. However, here are a few tips to assist with a low-maintenance regime.

1) Use a fertilizer like fish emulsion with every other watering.

2) In very dry conditions, add a small amount of Terra-Sorb or an equivalent product that is a moisture retentive polymer gel. Follow the directions and only use what is necessary.

3) If it is extremely dry and an exposed, windy location, avoid plants that are tall to prevent breakage.

4) For a bulletproof plant list, you can also check into what is used on green roof systems as these locations are also exposed to difficult conditions. recommends sedums, which is a perfect solution for exposed window boxes.

Here are some hardy annuals and perennials for challenging conditions or limited resources. The list can go on but just to get you headed in the right direction.

Sedums (see link above but there are many varieties to choose from)
Hens and Chickens
Succulents (offer green/blue tones)
Wax Begonias
Ice Plant
Portulaca (Annie’s Favorite Annual)
Ornamental grasses (Blue Fescue, Blue Oat Grass, Dwarf Fountain Grass)
Ornamental Peppers

All of these require minimum water, can handle full sun, wind and salt exposure and still provide a varied arrangement of color if done correctly. Shop your local nurseries and pick your plants wisely. Use a little imagination and by all means, do not be afraid to fail. Of course, there are always plastic flowers if you just can’t get it to click.

Today’s post ends with a bit of inspirational wisdom from Gertrude Jekyll, the famous English horticulturist, designer, writer and artist. “There is no spot of ground, however arid, bare or ugly, that cannot be tamed into such a state as may give an impression of beauty and delight.” Thanks to Brenda for her question. Hope this helps everyone with those pesky window dressings. If you need additional ideas, always feel free to post your comments and questions. Enjoy the day! Annie

An early planting of Succulents (These can be overwintered)
Photo by Greg Bilowz
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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tuesdays with Annie 05 04 10

Langston Hughes expresses my sentiment on this beautiful spring morning. "I stuck my head out the window this morning and spring kissed me bang in the face." Everything is in bloom along with all the pollen. The best remedy for allergies is to just get outdoors and enjoy it. And while you are planning your calendar for the next couple of weekends, let’s make a rundown of some happening events. Yesterday’s blog offered a great option to explore a specialty nursery for the next two weekends but let’s hope you can squeeze in Greg’s two-day course at Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum in Bristol, RI.

‘Creating Your Own Oasis’ gives you hands-on experience with designing your own private space. You can find all the details at where you can register for this two-day class on Saturday, May 15, 2:00 - 4:00 pm & Monday, May 17, 6:30 - 8:30 pm. For all my regular blog readers, this is a great opportunity to take all the things you enjoy about ‘Annie’s Gardening Corner’ and tie it in with the guy who provides me with most of my technical expertise, Greg Bilowz. Enjoy a beautiful arboretum while learning the how-to’s of applying design principles to your own garden in a fun and interactive environment. If you live a distance, plan on making a three-day weekend experience: you can attend the lecture and explore the phenomenal wineries, coastline and nurseries in this area. At the very least, make Blithewold a destination. It’s a real botanical treat and a must-see for garden lovers. W. Earl Hall expresses it best for our inspirational thought. "Science has never drummed up quite as effective a tranquilizing agent as a sunny spring day." Hope to see you at Blithewold in May.

An early morning image taken by Greg Bilowz of Hellebores in our garden
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Monday, May 3, 2010

Monday Morning Brain Teasers 05 03 10

Due to the high humidity, our brains may not be functioning up to snuff. The hot weather is too fast, too soon so it’s a miss today on the Monday morning brain teasers. Let’s go back to last summer’s July 27th, 2009 blog; it may have been just as hot. Mentioned in this post was a favorite shade perennial, Epimediums as well as a local specialty grower that propagated and sold the most extensive collection in the United States. Situated outside the center of Hubbardston, MA is Garden Vision Epimediums run by Karen Probst. Two weekends in the spring, this little gem of a nursery, which is strictly mail-order throughout the year, has open nursery weekends. If you live within a 100-mile radius of this small town, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to see first-hand the extensive collection of Epimediums in bloom. Make no excuses. This is the last year for this event to be held and while many of the plants are for sale, you should call ahead for any special varieties. We are fortunate to have accumulated a collection of Epimediums from Garden Vision over the years. It’s one of the spring highlights in our shade garden.

Plant enthusiasts are always looking for the unusual. If you want to become enthusiastic about Epimediums, experience them firsthand. Visit Garden Vision and catch them in bloom. Terri Guillemets states it best. “If you've never been thrilled to the very edges of your soul by a flower in spring bloom, maybe your soul has never been in bloom.”

Epimedium Photo taken by Greg Bilowz

For additional photos of Epimediums taken in our garden, you can visit our Facebook page at and become a fan.

Here’s the skinny for Garden Vision Epimediums Open House Nursery Weekends:

Fri- Sun. May 7-9; 10AM-4PM
Fri- Sun. May 14-16; 10AM -4PM
Located at 63 Williamsville Rd, Hubbardston, MA
Website –
Phone – (978) 249-3863
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© 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.)