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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Are you the Host or Guest of the Party?

It’s official. By this time, flowers and veggies are at a peak and all is well as long as no rain is predicted for the Big 4th shin-dings. Cookouts and outside events galore, this is our smack-dab, middle point of summer.

If you aren’t packing up the coolers and heading to the coastline, outdoor entertaining may be in the plans. This is when exterior living space becomes as important as the family room. Designing this outside area is often overlooked in the construction process. Budget cuts start here and the exterior living space, one of the most important places in my book is left out. Some important features to consider when planning exterior entertainment areas will depend on what you enjoy most about the outdoors but here are a few to ponder when putting your space in process.

How many people do you want to accommodate? If you designed for five to six and you always end up with twenty, sitting and eating space becomes competitive. Also, you should make your entertainment area large enough for your outdoor furniture. Consider a sitting wall for overflow seating. It’s more attractive and efficient then stackable chairs.

Will you be cooking/grilling outside? Position your workspace close to your kitchen for prepping convenience. There is nothing worse than having to do the 100-yard dash 100 times over during an outside event. Make it simple, convenient, and efficient space. Think of it the same way as the interior.

This is just a quick and dirty checklist although so much more goes into this design process. It can be simple to sophisticate – it’s your call. A general rule of thumb is your exterior space should be 1 ½ to 2 ½ times the size of your interior entertaining area. People move around; they circulate.

If you want to design a great outdoor living space, be a guest first to see how others do it well. Feel the space and dimensions. Be an inquisitive guest. When you figure it all out, then it’s your turn to be a great host. And as Max Beerbohm reminds us, “People are either born hosts or born guests.” Where do you fall on the entertainment scale?

If you grill like this, you may reconsider where you position your outside cooking area or continue as a guest!
Photos from the internet.
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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

If Only For One Day

In this summer heat, there is always one flower I can count on to look perky and vital in the garden. Its bloom lasts only for one day; an unusual characteristic for a plant lover to embrace. But Day Lilies by far are one of the most versatile perennials in my book. I was on a Day Lily kick for quite some time. Every spring to early summer, I would hunt down new varieties to add to the borders. Although I have taken a break from collecting the mix of colors and shapes in the genus Hemerocallis, this perennial brings pop and sparkle to an otherwise boring backdrop. I still have to contend with many of the repetitive orange first taken from my mother’s garden. I can neither control or get rid of these lanky roadside Lilies that can tolerate being bunged into the side of the driveway with nothing but its own root and find life there, but each one add its own color combination in areas often ignored. This is the time to track down your color and style for difficult spaces. Mass them together or pop them in between another favorite perennial, annual or shrub. Heck, you can even put them around your veggie garden. However, with that being said, I must note that Daylily rust, (Puccinia hemerocallidis) a fungus native to Asia has affected several Daylily varieties. It was first spotted in the U.S. in 2000 and first reported in Massachusetts in 2003. (Source -ProGrow News/July/August 2010 edition). Here is a quick link to check out symptoms and hosts.

There is a huge responsibility we own as lovers of the garden and the outdoors. We are the vigilant guards always on the lookout for the nasty within the beauty. But as Samuel Butler reminds us, “All animals except man know that the ultimate point of life is to enjoy it.”

All Photos taken this AM in the summer heat by Greg Bilowz
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Monday, June 28, 2010

To Tame or to Transplant

The Monday morning bulletin: A reader asked how to tame her beastly Spirea. You are not alone. You have a lot of company including me. We find a plant that we love and think we have just the spot for it. What starts as a 1-gallon stick in a pot ends up turning into a monster. A word to the wise – always inquire at the nursery about your plant’s growth habits and spacing requirements. Trying to tame a plant that needs elbow room may be an indicator of improper spacing. In Nancy’s case, I would recommend she relocate her Spirea where it has more room to expand and mature. Pruning the plant back is not the answer.

With that said, there are some variations on pruning techniques. It is best to find out the specific variety and research whether it flowers off last year’s wood or on new growth. Spireas offer hardiness and versatility, which make this shrub desirable for your garden composition. They vary in size from large old-fashion standard varieties like ‘Bridal Wreath’ to dwarf/alpine types like Spirea japonica 'Alpina'. Flower, leaf color and spectacular fall foliage is a reason that you should not overlook the Spireas. If you have full sun and average soil, you can have great luck with this shrub. Spireas can thrive in exposed locations. They are ideal for coastal environments. A personal favorite is Spiraea thunbergii ‘Ogon’. This is a big boy with white showy flowers and lacey yellow foliage so plant it wisely.

The inspirational thought for the day is by Lyman Abbott. “Patience is passion tamed.” Gardening requires both of these virtues. If you don’t have the passion to garden, you’ll never make it to the patience part: one to inspire, the other to persevere. Nancy, hope this helps. I recommend not taming but transplanting.

Top image sent in by Nancy B.
Second Image of Spiraea thunbergii ‘Ogon’ from the Internet
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Friday, June 25, 2010

The Weekend Gardening Bug

Container gardening stats are up; flower bed plantings are down. That was the news yesterday from a Ball Publishing bulletin. Numbers and stats are so much fun. Everyone always try to figure out what the numbers mean and before you know it, the stats change again. Here is Annie’s quick list of why container gardening may work for you.

If you read yesterday’s blog post, ‘The Lettuce Banditos’ you’ll quickly find out that with containers versus plant beds, there is more control over nasty insects and slithering bugs. Although I do get pretty charged up when I see worms in the soil, you know it is quite different when I spot slugs. I planted two big pots of escarole and when I last checked, nothing was eating them. So, for battling the insects, troughs, containers and pots are an easy way to control those buggers that can ruin our flowers and veggies.

Let’s not forget weed control, which may also play into the increase of container gardening. Most folks like the beauty of the garden without all the headaches. There is tons of bending and weeding involved with plant beds. I do believe ‘real’ gardeners love to weed and get their hands in the soil. I confess. I am one of those crazy weed-a-holics. If there is any love-hate relationship in a gardener’s life, it is weeding. Although meditative, when the heat kicks in and an out of control weed fest occurs, surely container gardening becomes much more appealing even to us die-hards.

Another reason containers sales could be up is that pots are much more manageable and can be used in tight spaces. If you use small enough containers, you can move them from place to place without the woes of transplanting. Are you handy with a dolly? This is the best purchase to make if you want to plant containers. This life-saving device is not just for loading docks. This tool becomes invaluable when that flash 50 lb. ceramic pot is more suitable in the front yard then the back terrace. It also works well for the early-bird winter flight from the yard to the garage or the greenhouse.

The planting choices are endless for containers. Aesthetically, each individual pot can add structure and color to a garden. For me, I love it all! Give me containers, a greenhouse, flower beds and more soil than I can handle because there is nothing more satisfying than digging your hands in the dirt and finding a fat and slithery happy worm. That’s what I would miss if I went strictly containers and the meditative weeding that can only be found in the plant beds.

As always, we end with the inspirational thought for the day. Lewis Gannit captures it best for those who love to play in the dirt. “Gardening is a kind of disease. It infects you, you cannot escape it. When you go visiting, your eyes rove about the garden; you interrupt the serious cocktail drinking because of an irresistible impulse to get up and pull a weed.” Enjoy the weekend and if you drop your drink, impulsively tugging a weed from your neighbor’s garden, take one aspirin, drink plenty of fluids and rest. It’s the gardening bug!
You can’t fit that in a container!
Photo by Greg Bilowz
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Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Lettuce Banditos

Did you ever go out the door with two different socks, or shoes, or your shirt inside out? I seem to do it all the time and in most cases, it doesn’t really phase me. But for some people who are extremely sensory defensive, this would send them into orbit. So let’s flip this thought inside out and tell me what’s bothering you in your garden.

What bugs me every year is the deluge of slugs that multiply by the bucket-load. There is nothing worse than those gooey masses of ‘creepy crawlers’ in the lettuce leafs. Explain that one to a guest! The warm, humid weather keeps these slimy buggers coming in droves and they are ruining our heads of beautifully grown greens. I’ve scattered swimming pools of beer throughout the garden, which only works for one sunny day. I must admit, though there is great pleasure in watching one dissipate in a bath of cheap lager from last year’s barbeque. So what to do about slugs? I know about Sluggo and the products that claim to take care of these yuck critters but they just like our rich, moist soil. So unfortunately, we may always have these buggers renting space in our garden. So what’s bothering you in your garden? I would like to hear your comments! Today’s inspirational quote is by an unknown amphibian. “Frogs have it easy; they can eat what bugs them.” Hope you’ll share your gardening woes.

Cartoon Image from the Internet
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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Rock and Stone

One of the most beautiful features on a property can be its stone elements. Referred to as the hardscape, rock and stone is the skeleton and core of a landscape. Why choose brick, concrete pavers or concrete block walls for your outdoors projects when there are so many choices with natural stone. Some stone options are comparable in price to the manufactured products. There is nothing like the look and feel of natural stone. A few years back, a client with an obvious passion for hardscape stated, “Stone walls are like naked women. I’ve never seen one I don’t like.” But the stone mason, obviously with a much more discerning eye, quipped in and said, “Trust me. I’ve seen a lot of ugly naked women.”

Stone elements can be very subjective. As the old saying goes, ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’ With that said, if you are thinking of any hardscape projects, it is worth doing some rock and stone homework. Research and find color options that blend with your natural landscape. You will be surprised with the endless options. Forgo the modular product and opt for something a bit more organic. Dig for images that capture the style and the mood you are trying to create in your landscape. This helps solidify and convey your vision. It is also important to find a good stone mason. Seek someone with a talented hand and a discerning eye. Defining a style of wall or paving can be as personal as decorating the interior of your house. As you observe masonry work in your travels, you can see the many variations and personalities. Take a look at the old craftsmanship of stone churches, libraries and farmers walls. Find a mason who still understands that this is a not just a trade but truly a form of art and expression. To end our blog post, the inspirational quote is a simple statement made by Etienne Hajdu. “Where the material ends, art begins.”

Image of stone walls in the UK from the Internet

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Let’s Rock and Plant

If you like the band, the Red Hot Chili Peppers like I do then maybe you might be interested in the plant world’s version of wild and fiery. Kniphofia, A.K.A. ‘Red Hot Poker’ is a staple perennial found in many British borders. This is where we first discovered this phenomenal showpiece for the garden. People don’t pay too much attention to this plant in our neck of the woods. But once someone spots its funky form and color, it becomes a must-have plant, especially when it is already situated in a border. Its unique eye-catching flower spike has bright red-orange to yellow variations. It also displays ivory but that’s its ho-hum color. Although it claims to be hardy to zone 5 conditions, it may not reach its normal size without protection. If you are in a very exposed area, you can give it extra winter armor by wrapping it.

A few minor details about where to place it: full sun, well-drained soil and although it does like it hot, give it ample moisture during dry spells. You might select a protected area rather than one of the more exposed locations in your garden. A few plant ideas to go with Red Hot Poker: Russian Sage, Geranium ‘Nimbus’, Eryngium 'Sapphire Blue' commonly known as Sea Holly and Crocosmia 'Lucifer'. Although none of our Red Hot Pokers have matured to full size like they do in the British borders, you should still give these plants plenty of elbow room. So if you like personality in your garden, then give the red hot’s a go. Turn on some Chili Peppers and get rocking and planting. (And for those of you who know I took up the drums this year, my favorite Red Hot Chili Peppers’ CD to practice to is ‘By the Way’. And by the way, our inspirational quote of the day is by Albert Einstein. “When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That's relativity.” Sorry, none of the lyrics make too much sense from the Chili Peppers to be our inspirational quote but I love their beat! Plus Einstein really gets his point across on relativity. Hope I do, too on this gardening gig. Now let’s rock and plant!

Image of Kniphofia, A.K.A. ‘Red Hot Poker’ from the Internet
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Monday, June 21, 2010

Monday Morning Technical Bulletin

Parched, much like our plants at this time of the year, hitting a dry spell can be difficult to handle. I am referring to my writing so instead of a dedicated one-topic blog this beautiful Monday morning, there is a list of fast and furious thoughts to get out there to my gardening kin. And for those of you who haven’t noticed, it is the first official day of summer. Yahoo!

Topic of priority: keep your eyes on your tomato plants. Late blight has been spotted in Southern New England. Although you may not think we have symptoms for late blight, these nasty pathogens may have hopped a flight into your garden this year. While it may not be time to press the panic button, as was suggested in last week’s blog, get with a spray program (organic or a conventional type ) and stick with it. I will keep you updated on this topic.

And while you are in the veggie garden, if you planted garlic last fall, check for the seedpods starting to sprout. Known as ‘garlic scapes’, these pods are coming out a tad early this year; just like everything else in the garden. They usually form in July but in our garlic patch, there are some varieties already displaying their wears. Remove these pods when they are young and tender to use them for salads, soups, or sauté them for vegetable dishes. This little technique also helps put the energy into forming the garlic bulb.

While there are many plants growing at record pace in the veggie garden, our perennials are also ahead of schedule. So don’t forget their existence in the landscape. There may be some perennials you forgot were there and for that matter, even liked when they first got plopped in the ground. It takes time for things to come into their own as plants mature and develop so pay attention to new combinations and perennials that bored you last year. You may see them in a new perspective.

While on the note of ornamentals, the official planting season (i.e., Nurseryman standards) for woody plants is wrapping up. Within in another six to eight weeks, these trees and shrubs are already preparing for next season. They will be forming their buds and storing food for the upcoming winter. If you intend on planting woody shrubs in the next few weeks, plan accordingly for appropriate aftercare. Water is the key element. Remember, we all get parched!

So enough with the technicalities and get out and enjoy the first official day of summer. Today’s inspirational quote is brought to us by Phillip Scherrer. “To the best of our knowledge, our Sun is the only star proven to grow vegetables.” But then again, we are all-stars in our gardens!

P.S. Image of garlic scapes from the Internet. Cool, sculptural and tasty! Who can live without garlic?
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Friday, June 18, 2010

A ‘Beat the Heat’ Recipe

Looking for a quick and easy recipe for this sizzling hot Father’s Day weekend? Do you like savory flavors even in warm weather? Then you might want to try this simple but tasty recipe using Couscous. This grain product can be bought loose or in a package. I prefer to buy it loose as it is less expensive in bulk and in my opinion, a better flavor than the packaged stuff. It is a cinch to cook plus one of the healthiest grain pastas. There are endless cooking ideas with couscous but here is a recent one we tested in our own kitchen. Hope you enjoy it on these last few days of spring that are sure to feel like summer.

You will need:

Couscous (3/4 cup)
1 medium-sized Eggplant
1 8.5 oz. can of Artichoke hearts
Pitted Nicoise or Kalamata olives (1/8 cup, chopped)
1 tomato (Diced)
1 Lemon (2 slices)
Minor’s Chicken Base or a similar product (2 teaspoons)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Parmesan or Romano Cheese (1/4 cup grated)
This recipe serves two to four depending on the eater and what else is being served!

Boil 1 cup of water. Take the pan off the burner. Add 2 teaspoons of chicken base and 2 lemon slices in the water and stir. Then add ¾ cup of couscous. Cover and set aside for at least five minutes.

Peel and cube 1 medium sized eggplant. Spread out on a cutting board and lightly salt the cubes. Pat with a paper towel to absorb some of the bitter juices. Heat a frying pan, adding 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Sautee eggplant until soft. While eggplant is simmering, drain the artichokes, cut in quarters and remove any tough leaves. This varies depending on the brand. Cut and dice the tomato. Chop up 1/8 cup of olives. When eggplant is done, toss in artichokes, olives and tomatoes to warm through. Take off burner.

Fluff the couscous with a fork, removing any lumps. Take out the lemon slices and toss. Add a glug of good quality extra virgin olive oil and the ¼ cup cheese of choice. Mix thoroughly. Place the couscous on the plate and add the mix of eggplant, artichokes, olives and tomatoes on the top. You can also garnish with thinly sliced fresh basil or spearmint. Serve with meat, salad or just by itself.

Hope you find some great things to do with Dad this weekend and don’t forget to keep on gardening!

P.S. We can’t forget our inspirational quote of the day by Fellini. “Life is a combination of magic and pasta.” I am sure he meant to stick gardening in there somewhere. Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads!

Photo of Couscous from the Internet
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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Perfectly White

A simple photograph to share an observation on this gloomy Thursday - add a touch of white to your flower garden for overcast days. The beauty of this Japanese Iris speaks for itself.

Tomorrow’s post will be an easy recipe for the sizzling heat. It’s time to prepare for the hot Father’s Day weekend ahead and enjoy the flowers blooming in your garden. As Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us with his inspirational quote, "It is not length of life, but depth of life." Remember our flower gardens have a short shelf life in New England so enjoy each one in peak bloom! Annie

Photographs by Greg Bilowz
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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What’s in your Soil?

This year’s garden seems like it is on steroids. Everything is growing in massive size. It could be a number of factors, including the weather but we conclude that in large part, it is the rich compost we have been mixing with our soil. When that smelly pile shows up from a local farm, besides the dogs being in 7th heaven, it’s time to start improving the soils.

Bringing this up now may seem like an afterthought because you may think you are past that point in your garden. This tidbit is for anyone still turning over a new planting area and prepping the soil. It can also serve as a reminder for those watching what is happening in their gardens now and to make note for next year.

Soils vary even within a small radius. It is important to understand what is in your soil and what prep work is required in getting it to its highest level. If you want success, good growing conditions start from the ground up. Some of you may not opt for the local farm’s manure. You may only have a small area so that rich compost may be overkill. A good choice is the bagged manure for those small plots. For those who have sizeable areas and are serious about getting good vegetables and healthy plants, then consider testing your soil for pH, nutrients and texture. If you planted this year’s crop and you aren’t seeing a good success rate, it may make sense to assess your soil. There are many universities that offer local extension programs and testing. We are fortunate to have the University of Massachusetts, a top-notch reliable source. Here is the link for their services and testing fees.

There were a lot of choices for today’s inspirational thought but a quote from Xenophon, Oeconomicus, 400 B.C. truly shows the importance of understanding soil. “To be a successful farmer one must first know the nature of the soil.” So don’t fret and throw in the shovel. Understand your soil and delve into its contents.
Cartoon Images from the Internet
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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

It’s A New Dawn

The sun is finally shining strong this AM and it certainly feels like a new dawn. With the recent rains, the garden was starting to look a bit droopy, particularly the roses in bloom. This morning as I gazed over the grounds, ‘New Dawn’ seemed to be perking up again. This prolific climbing rose is a classic; kind of like an old '55 T-bird. Although this honey of a plant is susceptible to the usual diseases/insects that cause such dilemma with our roses, this variety makes up for any misgivings with its sprawling beauty. Its soft blush color blends nicely with other perennials and is a true treat. Try it with Clematis 'Henryi' for a stunning combination.

This rose can outlive you so it is one of those plants you want to add to your shopping list; that is if you are in this gardening thing for the long haul. I may have mentioned this climber in passing but I have never given this rose its own feature post. And if this doesn’t convince you to add a 'New Dawn' to your garden, then listen to Michael Buble belt this song out. If you don’t perk up after listening to this song, then reread yesterday’s post, ‘Checking The Vital Signs.’ Have a great day. Annie

Photo of 'New Dawn' by Greg Bilowz
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Monday, June 14, 2010

Checking the Vital Signs

Caroline Schoeder said, “Some people change when they see the light, others when they feel the heat.” The plant world reacts much the same way as people. With that said, I’m wondering what all this damp, humid weather can do for our gardens. If the mosquitoes and rain kept you from puttering outside this weekend, you may want to consider showering yourself with bug juice and checking your garden for diseases and insects. Although certain plants thrive in these types of conditions like ferns, this weather can raise havoc, specifically with our vegetable gardens. It’s best to treat early and often; stay on a cycle. Diseases, unlike insects can be more challenging if you don’t spot it early. If you miss it, it may be too late.

There are a number of alternatives for protecting your crops with fungicidal applications, some of which are rated for organic gardens. For instance, if you have heirloom tomatoes, continual treatment is necessary. These varieties are highly susceptible to diseases. One of our local farmers said that as soon as he plants his tomatoes, he sprays with copper, which is a fairly benign treatment and is organically rated for vegetable gardens. There are a number of organic alternatives to consider, especially for those with an aversion to any spray programs.

Your vegetable garden is looked at differently than your landscape plants. Your vegetables are grown in a compressed season with one goal in mind – to produce a crop. Ornamentals are not treated or seen in the same light as your vegetables. Find the exact program that works best with your specific plant. Do your homework and as always, read the labels and apply accordingly.
If you do find diseased plants, remember to remove from the garden, do not replant in that area for 3 to 4 years and never compost the diseased plant. You will only harbor the pathogens. So spray yourself with bug juice and assess what may be ailing in your garden.

This may be a repeated message but it is worth the air time, especially during these periods of high-disease pressure. Think of it like checking your own vital signs. Make sure all your plants have a clean bill of health.

Cartoon Image from the Internet.
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Friday, June 11, 2010

An All-time Favorite Herb for the Garden

Over ten years ago, one herb we acquired for our kitchen garden soon became a favorite foliage plant throughout the property. One 4” pot of creeping golden Marjoram has turned into drifts of chartreuse throughout the borders, terraces, walls and steps. One small plant has provided over 100 square feet of luminous vegetation and is still going strong. This unique herb compliments difficult areas that otherwise would remain bare. It can handle dry, hot conditions and its color adds an unusual hue that can’t be found in many plants of similar growth habit. You can combine this herb with drifts of roses, skirt splashy Hostas, or it can be used by itself, planted in the crevices of a stone terrace or retaining wall.

To expand your plant palette, don’t just think annuals or perennials for seasonal interest – think herbs. Some culinary herbs have amazing ornamental value. Golden Marjoram can be hard to find but it is worth the hunt. Vincent Van Gogh reminds us of the importance of bright colors in our gardens. "How wonderful yellow is. It stands for the sun." Hopefully we will see glimpses of the sun this weekend. If not, plant some golden Marjoram in your gardens.

All Creeping Golden Marjoram photos taken by Greg Bilowz
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Thursday, June 10, 2010

What’s in Store for our Gardens?

In today’s news, despite recent cooler temperatures, the WBZ meteorologists said this has been the warmest Northeast spring on record.
So what is in store for our gardens? In terms of flower bloom, everything has been accelerated this year. One orchard grower said earlier in the season if the weather continued, “Petal drop (after apple blossom) was last week. And next week, we will be open for picking.”

With that said, here are a few vegetable growing tips for the above average spring temperatures:

1) Remove sucker growth to keep the tomato vines clean so the energy is put into developing the fruit.
2) Make sure the tomato vines are properly supported with ties.
3) If you are growing lettuce, make sure you provide ample water. If it is too dry during the warm spells, lettuce becomes tough and bitter.
4) If you are growing potatoes, you must mound them. The warm weather and moisture has potatoes growing at record pace. After the second mounding, mulch them in for the season.
5) This is a great time to direct seed many warm season crops including beans. The soil is moist and warm. One of our rows germinated in three days!

Stay on top of your garden and keep an eye on diseases and insect problems. Many times they grow as fast as the garden. Enjoy the rainy day. As one of my favorite Scottish comedians, Billy Connelly says, “In Scotland, there is no such thing as bad weather - only the wrong clothes.” If you have ever been to Scotland or close to its border, you get it!

P.S. Don’t forget that Dads can get free weekend garden admission (June 19-20) at Tower Hill Botanical Garden, Boylston, MA. Start planning your activities for Dad’s day out.

Image from Internet
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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Squash Blossoms Abound

The summer squash and zucchini blossoms are just starting to come in. Back by popular demand, we revert back to one of my blogs from June of last year for a favorite adapted Mario Batali recipe. It is quick and easy and everyone seems to love it; even the most novice chefs should give it a try. If you planted squash this season, start searching under the canopy and get cooking.

To end with our inspirational thought for the day, Robert Collier’s approach seems to take advantage of the moment. “As fast as each opportunity presents itself, use it! No matter how tiny an opportunity it may be, use it!” Don’t forget to slow down to smell the roses (everything is blooming right now) and try this tasty squash recipe! Annie

Image of squash blossoms from the Internet
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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Filling the Gaps

Often times when planting new garden areas or finessing old ones, holes appear that can be temporarily filled with something of interest. We aren’t always quite certain what belongs there yet the gaps are noticeable.

For instance, when you plant new shrubs, you should always space the plants accordingly. You must allow ample room for the shrub to mature. In the interim, you may have to contend with a number of bare spaces between the shrubs. One method of creating some seasonal interest without hampering the growth of your shrubs is to fill the gaps with perennials or groundcovers. Pick compatible plant materials. Same thing applies when establishing a perennial border. Often times there is spacing, more than you would like to see in that first season. You can always plant quick growing annuals that also offer color throughout the season. Another option is to use containers and pots.

In this photo, the high-bush blueberry (in the far back) was recently moved to this location. The Chinese Rhubarb, there the year prior, adds real contrast and texture to the border with its sculptural leaf. It also picks up the subtle hues of the recently placed terracotta pots. Chives are in the vase-shaped container and basil is in the forefront. It’s a work in progress yet the larger gaps are filled and more interest is added to an otherwise boring spot.

This year, I opted not to purchase lots of annuals for my containers. I am using my larger pots for herbs and veggies. Although there are many already planted in the garden, the extras in the containers cover up the bare spots and provide additional nibbles for the table.

Through the eyes of Oscar Wilde, the holes in the garden can be looked at two ways. “Between the optimist and the pessimist, the difference is droll. The optimist sees the doughnut; the pessimist the hole!” Fill in the gaps and enjoy the filling. Get it – jelly doughnuts have filling! Have a great day. Annie

Photo by Greg Bilowz
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Monday, June 7, 2010

Follow the Flow

After days of humidity and tumultuous weather, this morning couldn’t be more beautiful. Even the dogs are ecstatic. Their energy level perked up a notch, as did mine. So where can kids and dogs run in your landscape if you desire manicured gardens? Do you constantly restrict access or put fences in places that don’t add any aesthetic value?

There have been numerous articles written about dog-friendly or kid friendly landscapes and I think the best rule of practice is to let them play. Kids and dogs behave like the flow of water in nature. Water always finds the path of least resistance. Like kids and dogs, if you redirect them in a particular manner, they typically find what feels natural to them. They run with or without obstacles; somehow they manage to find their way around them.

Animals and kids have a habit of carving their own paths that may contradict your gardening plans but in the grand scheme of things, it all works well. It is human nature to find these “desire lines”. It is finding the path of least resistance. College campus planners in certain parts of the world have been smart enough to realize this natural fact. They will develop a section of campus and intentionally not design or install any landscape for that area. They wait and allow the students to determine the proper path system. They design and install after the ‘desire lines’ have been established by the students. In essence, the students set the framework.

It works well in our gardens. For instance, we planted three rows of potatoes in a new section that was always open space and not part of the vegetable garden. The dogs immediately carved a path right through the middle of the rows. That is the only path they use despite the potatoes.

So do what is instinctive to your family. It is your lifestyle, not the one in the magazine. In other words, don’t fight it. Go with the flow. It is less frustrating and in the end, the rewards are a harmonious landscape. People don’t tend to walk in straight lines unless we are told. Nature has an organic element and flow. It is not symmetrical.

The inspirational thought for the day is by George Bird Evans. “I think we are drawn to dogs because they are the uninhibited creatures we might be if we weren't certain we knew better.” We should listen to nature and follow that path. Annie

Photo of Cokie romping. Ben is nowhere in the photo. Off making his new path.
Photo by Greg Bilowz
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Friday, June 4, 2010

Tomato Tip of the Week

With heavy rain predicted for Sunday, you should consider extra protection for your vegetables, particularly the tomatoes. Recent summerlike conditions have these warm season vegetables growing fast and furious. If you grow any of the heirloom tomato varieties like Brandywine and Rose, these plants can be highly susceptible to a host of diseases.

For preventive measures, you may consider spraying the plants with a fungicide to keep the foliage clean and healthy. We seldom spray but young plants require extra protection during intense growth periods. Especially with warm, humid, wet weather, diseases can run amuck.

Don’t want to spray? Another option is to cover your tomato plants with plastic during heavy rain events. This keeps the foliage dry and less apt to leaf diseases. Some local growers are producing substantial amounts of tomatoes under hoop houses for just this reason. It extends their season and prevents many of the weather-related diseases, therefore minimizing chemical applications.

Make sure your tomatoes are staked and are properly supported with ties. You may have a bit of a scramble before the weather but don’t procrastinate. Protect your crop. Take Laurie Colwin’s tip. “"A world without tomatoes is like a string quartet without violins." Have a great weekend. Annie

Image of Brandywine tomato from the Internet
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Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Color Purple

One of the magical things about a garden is how many surprises can unfold in the course of a day. At this time of year, it seems impossible to keep up with the different plants in bloom. The amazing facet about perennials is the much anticipated yearly show; you survive the dreary winters for these colorful moments in your garden.

Last fall, we picked up an assorted mix of perennials and planted them here and there. What a surprise to finally see them in bloom. One of those perennials that popped out of the woodwork just last week is a proven favorite. It also took this year’s title, ‘Perennial Plant for 2010’.

Looking for a splash of purple for a sunny area? Baptisia australis, or False Indigo fits that bill. This rugged perennial adds bold drifts of color to your plantings. The soft sage green leaves create an interesting backdrop for other perennials. It is a native to the Eastern United States plus attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. What more could you look for in a hardy perennial? It is a ‘do not disturb’ plant so make sure you find the right spot and leave it there. Give it ample room as it matures into a fairly sizeable crown.

I’ve been meaning to write about this perennial for months but I forgot we planted it until I saw it in bloom. Take the advice of the French classical author, François de la Rochefoucauld. “Nature creates ability; luck provides it with opportunity.” That’s how I see my garden. Annie

Image of Baptisia australis from White Flower Farm Website
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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Tips for Eradicating Invasive Species

Last week’s post about the natural landscape spurred some discussion about the best way to eradicate invasive species. If you have some of these problem plants on your property, it does not mean that you must eradicate but it is advisable to keep them in check. What often occurs is the invasive takes over a neighborhood, not just your own property if left unattended. If you find an invasive plant in your yard, you have two options: keep it from spreading or remove and replace it with a non-invasive.

Here are some simple tips to eradicate any problem plant material:

The first option is the old-fashion way by physically removing the plants including its root system. The second option is chemical treatment. For woody plant materials i.e., woody vines, shrubs or trees, you should flush-cut the plant at ground level and treat the stump with stump killer.
For herbaceous material like Japanese Bamboo, Poison Ivy and Bittersweet, this is best treated by spraying the foliage with a strong non-selective herbicide like Round-up that is used to kill brush. The absolute best time to apply is when the plant is in flower or setting seed. This is when the plant is at its most vulnerable state and has the lowest amount of reserves. The other time to treat is when the plant is under stress from extreme heat or drought conditions. Simply put, eradicate the plant when it is most vulnerable. If your timing is right, sometimes one application is all that is necessary. Your goal is to kill any part of the plant that has the potential of regenerating.
When it gets this bad, you know you are in trouble.

Unfortunately, you must get the heavy duty chemicals or be in great shape to dig out the root systems of these problematic species. Sometimes these jobs are best left to the professionals who are licensed applicators.

We can think of eradicating invasive species in the same way we would weeds. Astrid Alauda states it best. “You must weed your mind as you would weed your garden.” Don’t let your landscape be cluttered with the unnecessary. Enjoy the beautiful sunshine and remember to join our Facebook page for additional tips, photos and a place to comment and post your questions.
Above images from Internet
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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.)