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, October 29, 2010

Pass the Scream and Sugar

Getting ready for the spookiest weekend of the year? This Internet photo shows you just how creative you can be with those fruits and veggies to embellish the side door. In case you forgot to plant garlic in your garden last year, here’s your shovel-ready project for this upcoming weekend. Some of you may only be thinking about goblins and ghouls but if you want garlic in your garden next summer, tis’ the season to sow the cloves. Last year’s basic planting tips should get you moving in the right direction.
So get that crusty trowel out of the shed and sow your garlic.

To end on our funny bone Halloween note, an Internet riddle is appropriate. “What do ghosts drink at breakfast? Coffee with scream and sugar.”

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thursday’s Tip for Garden Book Lovers

Douglas Adams, a famous British Comic Writer starts today’s post with his dry wit. “This must be Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays.” If you are still trying to get the cobwebs out of your head and make it to Friday, you just may relate to this saying. But let’s jump back on topic for the garden book lover.

While browsing the shelves of the local library, I discovered a gem of a book published in the UK in 2000, loaded with inspiring imagery and great homespun tips for the garden. Although it is called, ‘Winter Gardening’ by Steven Bradley, it is not your typical winter gardening paperback. This book is ‘chock a block’ with tips and illustrations for the four seasons. Although UK’s milder climate is similar to our Pacific Northwest, ‘Winter Gardening’ is applicable to the colder temps, too.

While the fall color is still brilliant in this neck of the woods and there is much still blooming in the garden, the winter gardener should stay engaged throughout the cooler weather. There is never a dull moment in the gardener’s life. We are always looking for new ideas, techniques and concepts but we should also take heed and practice the traditional methods, which this book illustrates brilliantly.

So let’s try to get the hang of Thursdays and find ourselves a great gardening book. Please post your favorite. There are plenty of ways to comment! Annie
Image of 'Winter Gardening' Cover from the Internet

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Easy-to-grow Fall Bouquets

Searching for a catchy quote to capture this week’s Indian summer-like weather, this unknown author summarized it best. "There comes a time when autumn asks, "What have you been doing all summer?" It’s not time to be drawing a blank. With fall color at its peak, it is still nice to see what is blooming in your garden and better yet, what you can still fetch for indoor color. These perennials in the below photos have cut flower flexibility and fall spread that can take hold in some pretty tough locations. Want some last-minute fall sun power and splash for indoors? Plant die-hards like these. You won’t be scratching your head and saying, “What did I do all summer in the garden?” I must warn that these Chrysanthemums and the Bamboo is a bit invasive and the Willow-leaved Sunflower takes up a fair amount of space, but if planted in the right location, these flowers offer dynamite impact for your floral arrangements.

Willow-leaved Sunflower
Bamboo for your greens (Always available for floral arrangements and invasive so plant wisely!)
Have fun and post your favorite fall floral arrangements for indoor vases. Use the blog search button to find previous posts on all of these plants! Annie
All photos by Greg Bilowz

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Annie’s Apple Cider Chicken

A favorite way to have chicken, especially on these crisp fall evenings is roasting a chicken in the pan for a few hours. The danger of this, besides the crispy skin, which is an addiction, is that the chicken can often dry out. I’m always looking for new ways to spice things up so here is a quick recipe I tried last week. It made the most phenomenal roasted chicken plus it is a great way to use some of the sweet apple cider that is still available at your local farm stands.

So here are the tips and the ingredients.

Get a large roasting chicken (Best chicken to buy – use the leftover parts and meat for delectable homemade chicken soup the next day.)
Line a large roasting pan with aluminum foil. (This avoids a ‘yuck’ pan that must soak for days if you forgo the liner.)
Wash and remove the innards of the chicken.
Place correctly in the pan (unlike me who sometimes has the back-end up!)
Use ½ to 1 cup of apple cider and ½ cup of orange juice and pour over the chicken. The pan will have at least a 1/2 inch of juice surrounding the entire chicken.
Okay, all you Trans fat cats, don’t blow your stack on the next step but this is the trick to crispy chicken. Take a few tabs of Crisco and slather on various parts of the chicken skin.
Salt and pepper the skin.
Cut up one medium size onion and place in the pan with all the juices surrounding the chicken.
Cut one lime in half and stuff inside the chicken with a sprig of rosemary.

That’s it – time to cook for a few hours on a 325 oven for about 1 hour and then increase the temp to 375 or 400 depending on your crispy factor for another 1 hour to 1 ½. Make sure the popper on the chicken has popped. The trick is that the juice mixture does not dry out while cooking; the pan should maintain at least a ¼ inch of liquid at all times.

If you serve with homemade pilaf (another easy cinch to make) and fresh fall squash roasted in the oven, you have yourself a winner. If you aren’t thinking calories, you can skim the fat from the juice and top your veggies with it. You can also use any leftover pilaf the next day for your soup!

Post your favorite ways to use Apple Cider. Today’s quote for the day is by Luciano Pavarotti. “One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating. “P.S. I just may try this trick on the Thanksgiving bird. We will get back on track tomorrow with shop talk - more on garden and design tips.

And remember to tell your friends about the easy ways to find our blog posts ( and subscribe via email) or tell them that there are always extras on the Facebook Page or Twitter Page Whichever way you would like to discover us and follow, we hope you do! Annie

Images from the Internet

Monday, October 25, 2010

Honey, Is that Skunk Cabbage I Smell?

If you take a lot of walks in the woods, you have probably smelled Skunk Cabbage. Well, it isn’t Skunk Cabbage season, which is early spring and it may not be breeding season for skunks but if you smell that funky aroma that only a skunk can share with its best friends, you may have just hit the Chanel aisle for Pepe’ Le Pew. If you are too young to remember one of the best Warner Brother cartoon characters, well, there is always YouTube.

So to get back on subject, our ‘live for the moment’ Border Collie Ben decided to experience a huge dose of skunk oil on Saturday night just before we were heading out the door for dinner. Sorry to say, the plans went a miss but I did find a remedy that beats tomato juice or vinegar. Fortunately, we had the mineral oil to protect his eyes. Although his muzzle and head is still a bit skunky, this concoction sure did the trick for the massive oil spill on his chest. So for all my dog loving readers out there, stock up on these items. You don’t want to look like me – crazy Annie with a Wal-Mart shopping cart barreling to the checkout counter with 10 bottles of hydrogen peroxide and boxes of baking soda.

I don’t know that Ben will become a platinum blonde but he seems to be doing just fine. The toothpaste and apple cider brew I used on his muzzle is a tad crusty. That was my creation but it seems to throw off a better scent.

So in Annie fashion, I end with the inspirational quote for the day by Diane Ackerman. “Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains.” This is one of those unexpected scents so it’s worth being prepared. Have a great Monday.
Images from the Internet

Friday, October 22, 2010

What’s Growing Beneath Your Feet?

Looking to stretch your groundcover palette for your shade garden? Look around and discover what grows beneath your feet. Gaultheria procumbens, a native hardy to temperatures as cold as Zone 3, can often be noticed on your woodland walks. Its shiny leaves are used for gum, toothpaste or teas and commonly identified as Wintergreen, Teaberry, or Checkerberry. In the month of October, you can find this groundcover showing off its intense red berries. In the spring, you can spot it by its tiny white blossoms, which often blanket the evergreen understory. So when you are scratching your head about what to add or delete from your woodland garden, look to the natives. And as Helen Keller so profoundly points out, “It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision.” In other words, don’t be sightless to the many possibilities. Discover the great outdoors and create it in your own garden.
Photo by Annie

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What’s Filling Your Fruit Bowl Lately?

As a kid, fresh fruit or what appeared to be fresh fruit was always important to have on display. Remember those plastic apples, bananas and grapes? It was like a ‘Leave it to Beaver’ stage prop for the winter months. Fruits from the Southern Hemisphere were not as prevalent in those ‘Happy Days.’

If you haven’t harvested a bushel or a peck of locally grown apples this fall, what’s stopping you? To convince you that it isn’t over yet, the foliage on the Maple trees is also quite nice. There are still some vibrant moments worth capturing with your camera and the family. Many U-pick orchards are soon to be wrapping up the apple picking season. Some of your favorite varieties may no longer be available on the trees but can still be purchased from cold storage. The latter part of October is the best time to grab utility apples perfect for baking, drying, sauce or butter. I spotted a sign yesterday at one of the orchards in Berlin. Forty pounds of utility apples for $20.00 – what a bargain.

So don’t miss out on the end of the season sales for tasty apples. Call ahead to your favorite farm or you may find a roadside stand while you venture to the AppleFest-CelticFest at Wachusett Mountain October 23rd & 24th. You could discover lots of your favorite fall items in one place. Check out the agenda and hope to see you milling around. Ooops. It’s not Saturday yet but if you get your AppleFest-Celtic Fest tickets in advance, you save a couple bucks.

So what’s filling your fruit bowl lately? A beautifully displayed bowl of fruit exudes abundance and health. I’ll have to check the consignment stores or my mother’s attic to see if that plastic fruit is still kicking around. Yikes. I think they still sell it. There is endless shelf life with no blemishes or bruises on that stuff. And yes, it is shiny and tasteless.

Today’s inspirational quote touches upon that plastic fruit dilemma. Elspeth Huxley understood the paradox of great tasting fruit versus eye appeal. "You cannot sell a blemished apple in the supermarket, but you can sell a tasteless one provided it is shiny, smooth, even, uniform and bright." So dust off your fruit bowl and fill it with locally grown!

Image of plastic fruit from the Internet

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Don’t Catch Your ZZZs Yet

It’s a typical fall morning in New England. Frost covers the lawn, leaves fall in mass quantity and the garden snoozer button sounds one of its last plant warning horns. There are always chores and miscellaneous items to do but the bulk of our growing season’s list is near completion. Our garden thoughts turn cautiously to hibernating and indoor activities and any outdoor chores require extra clothing and limited daylight. Just the thought of it can make you numb, wondering if you want to venture out into the soil and plant your garlic, peonies or bulbs.

The inspirational quote today is by Robert Collier. “Pictures help you to form the mental mold.” So here is a great video to help you picture what you need to do with planting your bareroot Peonies. Photos and illustrated how-to’s are a good way to get yourself outdoors and still in the garden. Don’t let the frost nip your chores in the bud. It’s not time to catch up on your garden ZZZs yet.

Image from the Internet

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Keeping it Simple

Plato has dominated my entire morning with a cup of coffee and a quote. So here goes with my interpretation of his important philosophy when he said, “Beauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on Simplicity.”

Successful design always achieves balance with a level of simplicity. Outdoor living spaces should reflect your personality yet not overwhelm your visitor. The challenge of any design is capturing the basic elements without clutter. But finding simple isn’t always easy. This is where we get hung up on little details that blur the bigger picture. Sometimes we need an objective viewpoint to remove the unnecessary and enhance the hidden. That’s why design professionals are brought inside as well as out – to achieve a composition with flow and rhythm less the clutter. An effective design consultant should demystify your plan, navigating you through the process by breaking down a project into simple components. Design is an important aspect to our everyday lives yet it is a real head scratcher for the novice. The moral of the story: when the rudder gets stuck, sometimes you just need a little push in the right direction. In the words of Plato, “Beauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on Simplicity.”
Image from the Internet

Monday, October 18, 2010

Postcard from the Tropics

Vita Sackville-West once said, “A flowerless room is a soulless room…”so it’s time to get hip and bring a little soul inside your homes. Whether you indulge in culinary growies or tropical flora, plants are a must for the inside blasé spot. Don’t get garden fatigue now. Some of the best plant experiences can be had in the upcoming winter months. One way to rejuvenate your horticultural soul in the midst of this seasonal transition is with a fall field trip. Check back to the September blog for the trip to the tropics’ details. It’s a must-do, must-see! Logee’s is not as much a greenhouse as its own indoor ecosystem. This place definitely has soul. It’s alive and full of history. Tropical plants grow right out of the dirt floor and walls; you can tell it’s been here forever. The magic of this greenhouse, although at first glimpse to the visitor may seem rough and tumble, brings out that youthful spirit of adventure. You can wander off into small pockets and tiny aisles of flora that shroud you in its growth.

So that’s your teaser. It’s like a trailer for a hit movie. I can’t divulge anymore or I will spoil the ending. It’s all yours to experience; just leave enough room in the car for souvenirs from your plant safari. That’s my only tip! Have fun. They do have an open house coming up on November 5th-7th but I might save this for a quieter day when you could have the place to yourself. To wrap up this whole soul thing, I end with a John Muir quote. “They tell us that plants are not like man immortal, but are perishable—soul-less. I think that is something that we know exactly nothing about.” I’m expecting postcards from your tropical visit!
(Above Photo by Greg Bilowz - Below photo of photographer from Annie's Phone)

Check out our facebook page for a photo album of our Logee's trip later today.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Food or Fuel

On occasion, a controversial article related to the agricultural industry pops up that is worthy of pointing out to my readers. We don’t live in a vacuum. What happens on a national level should always concern us on a local level.

The subject matter is at the core of green economics and our desire to be conscientious stewards of our environment. It is an ongoing debate. What are the pros and cons of ethanol production and how does its hand play out? Some say it takes more out of the energy pool to produce than it replenishes so where is the balance? This article is required reading as it points out some interesting factoids about a recent EPA decision and a very controversial subject that eventually comes home to roost. Read on…. and don’t forget to post your comments.
This week’s ending quote is by Confucius. “To go beyond is as wrong as to fall short.”
Image from the Internet

Thursday, October 14, 2010


In the world of fast-food and processed everything, one may be hard-pressed to find the real article. Much has forced the food industry’s hand to pasteurize, homogenize, and stabilize everything. We have reached the point that an ingredient’s true essence and flavor is lost. Sometimes you must travel off the beaten path to rediscover the unadulterated. One must go to the source; the heart of where the ingredient is grown. So if you are looking for exceptional apple cider, head to the orchards.

Now is the time to pack up your wagon and hit the trails. We are in the heart of New England’s apple season. This year’s dry, hot summer has produced fruit with intense flavor. You won’t be hard-pressed to find extraordinary cider this fall. The simple equation: less water = more sugar. Last year’s steady six weeks of rain produced enormous but fairly tasteless fruit. You had to hunt to find tasty cider. So don’t miss out this year. The flavors are outstanding and are worthy of a cider quest.

If you live in Massachusetts, a couple of my favorite unpasteurized, unprocessed apple ciders can be found at Clearview Farm in Sterling and Phil’s Apples in Harvard. As the season advances, their ciders transition with different varieties of apples. In the next few weeks, the Mac cider will be wrapping up and the mix of late season blending begins.

Ciders vary like wine. It’s not just the variety but the soil, the location and the weather conditions that all take part in the apple’s flavor. Speaking of wines, there are also a lot of nice ice ciders that local artisans are creating and worthy of a test taste. These ciders are similar to dessert wines; great for fall sweets like apple pie or crisp. We sampled three ice ciders one evening, two from Montreal and one locally produced in Harvard. Hands down, the Harvard cider trumped all.

Still hard-pressed on knowing what real apple cider tastes like? Don’t pick up the jugs in the supermarket. In Frank Clark’s words, “Why not upset the apple cart? If you don't, the apples will rot anyway.” And don’t forget the cider donuts. If you get them warm…well, try one for yourself. I’m not a big donut fan but you must have at least one. Happy orchard travels and by all means, post your favorite cider haunt.

Images from the Internet

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Storm-proof your Landscape

Dolly Parton claims that “Storms make trees take deeper roots.” That’s country music for you - “three chords and the truth.” In order to keep your trees strong during the storms, your plant material must be healthy. The number one ingredient missing this summer was rain and the number one way to keep your plants healthy is adequate irrigation. Before you tuck your plants in for the winter, make sure you give them a good drenching. And if you use an irrigation system, hold off on winterizing for another few weeks. We are still due for some Indian summer weather. A note to protect your irrigation system - cover the backflow preventer (the brass fitting attached to your house) with a blanket during any cold snaps (i.e., in the 20’s).

If we experience a heavy rain event in the next few days, the majority of this precipitation never makes it into the ground. Slow, steady rain is ideal. So don’t assume these heavy rain events provide adequate moisture for your plants. It goes deeper than that. Check the soil conditions over the next few weeks. This is the most critical time to balance soil moisture; before the ground freezes. Extremely dry soil conditions that prevail into the winter expose plant material to stress conditions. Everything may look good on the surface but it really hasn’t penetrated to those deeper roots. Even after plants drop their leaves, there is still a fair amount of root growth and activity.

The muted fall foliage this season is an indicator of the moisture stress that many trees and shrubs have experienced from this summer’s hot, dry weather. Take a close look; dig a 12” hole and inspect your actual soil conditions. After last week’s rain event, many soils are still powder dry a few inches below the surface. We aren’t out of the woods yet. Now is the best time to make sure your plants have sufficient moisture before the winter. Get your trees, shrubs and plants storm-proofed.

Above image from the Internet
Above quote by Harlan Howard. "Country music is three chords and the truth."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Turning Over a New Leaf

Fall is a great time to take heed to the old proverb “turn over a new leaf” but what about that tired soil in your garden? Remember, your soil worked hard producing this season’s crops. Is it ready for next spring’s plantings? For any of my garden friends that thought they were ready to pack up the garden tools, if you haven’t turned over your soil in the veggie garden, set aside an afternoon to tackle this task. This year’s garden plot should look clean as a whistle before we head into the winter. Here are a few quick tips to get that soil prepped for next season’s crops.

1) Take out all the dead plants and weeds from this year’s crop and dispose accordingly i.e., don’t compost but burn or put in a trash bag.
2) Apply lime accordingly. Pick up a home pH soil test kit at local garden centers and review your results. Test kits are self-explanatory and give a recommended rate of how many pounds of lime to apply per thousand sq. feet.
3) Top-dress the garden with 3” of shredded leaves, manure and grass clippings (only use non-chemical lawn grass clippings) to replenish the soil from a season of hard work.
4) Now for a little muscle. Forgo the gym and till or loosen your soil. I recommend using a spading fork or a broad fork to turn over your garden plot. You can also use a Rototiller to break up some of the large clods but don’t whip it into a frappe. Go lightly with this tool. You do not want to damage the soil structure. The biggest don’t in this task is don’t turn over wet or muddy soil.
5) If you have a sizeable garden, seeding it with a winter cover crop (winter rye-photo below) is recommended to stabilize the soil and provide a layer of green manure (quickly composted vegetation). This last step also adds supplementary organic matter that must be tilled into the soil next spring. The biggest don’t of this tip is don’t let the rye go to seed.

The moral of turning over a new leaf is that if you do it smart, your hard work can produce great results. So I end with another proverb to help out in the procrastination department. “If and When were planted, and Nothing grew.” There is no way out of it. Hard work is involved in having a bountiful veggie garden. So if and when you get around to it, make sure you get your soil turned over.
(Images from the Internet)

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Yard Gig

This upcoming long weekend is by far the most popular for New Englanders to pack up the car and venture the back waters in search of autumn color. But the weather couldn’t be any better to finish the mile-high list of garden chores. So if it isn’t in the cards for a leap peeping road trip, make sure you check back on the fall to-do blogs in Annie’s Gardening Corner. Here are a couple recent entries to get you focused on work versus play.

This week’s weather conditions made the soil perfecto for everything on the fall to-do list. If a road trip is already in the makings, try to at least squeeze in some nursery stops. The time couldn’t be better to get some last minute deals. But check the materials closely. A low price doesn’t necessarily mean a good, quality plant. It was a hot, dry summer so take extra precautions with inspecting all plant materials. Avoid root-bound container stock. Inspect all foliage for health and vigor. Always look for good structure in any woody plant material. Avoid anything that shows signs of insect or disease problems. Suggestion: go to a few nurseries for comparison purposes. Healthy plant materials stand out and problems become more apparent. And in the words of Napoleon Hill; “Don't wait. The time will never be just right.”
Don’t pack up the garden tools. Now is the time to tackle the last of the garden chores.
Photos by Greg Bilowz

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Right Time, Right Light

Aaron Rose once said, “In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary.” There is certainly something to be said about sunshine and how it impacts our sense of aliveness and energy. So if you are looking to liven up your fall garden with a beam of light, the perfect flower that radiates with foliage and yellow flowers is the Helianthus salicifolius Willow-leaved Sunflower. Don’t envision the typical sunflower with a bold brown/black middle. This flower’s weightless foliage and small yellow blooms illuminate with wisp and color. I wrote about this flower in July, but who was paying attention to fall color back then. Check out this link for perfect growing conditions and features. This plant is a staple in European borders; everyone uses it there. Just in case you skip the link, remember that this plant is a monster. In our garden, it grew 6 feet in its first year. So the right space and placement is necessary to make Willow-leaved Sunflower radiate in your border.

Don’t let size scare you, though. If you are thinking that this honey of a plant is just too darn huge, there is a back door with this one. Van Berkum Nursery’s 2011 spring line-up will include a compact version of the Willow-leaved Sunflower ‘First Light’ with the same great foliage and flowers but just in miniature form. Van Berkum is a wholesale nursery but there are many folks in the industry that can access their wide selection of plants. The 'General Information' section of Van Berkum’s website can be a very useful tool so check it out at

Helianthus salicifolius ‘First Light’ - Photo from Van Berkum Nursery 9/27/10 newsletter

So that’s it for Thursday’s blog post. In the musical words of Monty Python, “Always look on the bright side of life.” Whistle, whistle, whistle…you get it. Put some October sunshine in your fall garden. Plant some Willow-leaved Sunflower. Have a great Thursday and don’t forget there are a number of ways to get your copy of Annie’s Gardening Corner. Sign up for the email subscription list or RSS Feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter or just go to our website at and hit the Blog button. And by golly, please send your comments and questions. The top photo is from our garden...taken by Greg Bilowz

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Food for Thought

While perusing the Centennial issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine, I spotted an interesting quote that set me on my way for today’s blog. In March 1983, John Rahenkamp said, “It is an alarming fact, but countrywide, farmland is being permanently removed from productivity at a rate of 1.5 million acres annually…” In the 80’s, developmental pressures were high, setting the stage for deed restrictions on a percentage of agricultural land. However, another alarming fact is occurring right now. See this latest article from the BBC. The title reveals it all. “US Investors Plough Cash into Farmland”, which gives you an idea of the see-saw effect and the need for balance in every community, locally and globally.

Picture yourself as a kid on the see-saw. When your side got too high up in the air, the slam of the other sides’ lift-off from the ground was jolting. Balancing the see-saw is important for a safe ride.

A combination of pressures over the course of years have raised havoc with the farming industry nationally and more importantly, on a local level. Industrial agriculture or small farmers as separate entities are not enough to sustain society. The agricultural base has to be diversified to sustain what Mother Nature or population may throw at our food supply. It is a finite resource so find the balance.

One way that you can try to stabilize this trend is very simple. Grow your own food; support your local farms and the local agricultural industry and stay on top of what’s happening on a global level. People don’t give food a second thought as long as the shelves at the local supermarket are full. I encourage you to read the linked article and weigh in. The food for thought today is by two folks that obviously were stating the same fact. Will Rogers said, “Buy land. They ain't making any more of the stuff” and Mark Twain, who said it first.” Buy land, they're not making it anymore.”

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

To Do or Not to Do

Realistically speaking, there is not much time left in the New England planting season. So ‘tis the time to hurry and scurry; remember the following deadlines:

Evergreens – Get them in the ground before mid-October. Don’t stretch these parameters. If the cold weather closes in quickly, it can raise havoc with evergreens. Their success rate can plummet if planted too late. This classification of plant material needs time to acclimate before the ground freezes.

Deciduous woody plant materials - This is a good time of year to plant many deciduous trees and shrubs with the exception of those that are considered fall hazards, i.e., nut trees and pitted fruit trees. For deciduous woody plant material, the rule of thumb is if the plant is shutting down or going dormant for the season and the ground is not frozen or saturated mud, it is an ideal time to get this classification of plants installed and tucked in for the winter. You can plant until the ground freezes.

Peonies – Get your rootstock in the ground before the end of the month. If you are dividing your own rootstock, make sure you remove and properly dispose all of last year’s growth to avoid disease and insect issues. Above all, plant at the correct depth to ensure flowering and protection from winter conditions. Before you move ahead with the Peony plantings, digest the easy diagrams available on reputable growers’ sites that will give you this pertinent information.

Bulbs – If you haven’t ordered your bulbs yet, get trucking. Bulbs are a crop. There are a limited number that come in from Holland so you have one shot to get the latest and greatest. Selection gets sparse so don’t hold off any longer. You want your bulbs planted by middle of November.

Unfortunately, the fall foliage may not be as brilliant as years past. I am beginning to feel like we are in L.A. rather than Massachusetts. The lack of color this year gives us gardeners plenty of time to work on these last minute plantings rather than schedule in leaf peeping. Today’s quote comes from David Letterman. “Fall is my favorite season in Los Angeles, watching the birds change color and fall from the trees.”
Images from the Internet

Monday, October 4, 2010

Early Morning Coffee Companion

Do you need something of sustenance to get you going on these chilly fall mornings? By George, I think I found the next best thing to wool socks. In Annie’s test kitchen this weekend, I ventured beyond my comfort zone. Rather than use the week-old ripe bananas for my favorite cocoa banana bread, I discovered a new recipe in my tried and true baking book.

It may have been the maple syrup and oats that caught my eye. And in Annie fashion, dried fruits were added to give it an extra boost. Nuts could provide a bonus crunch, making this bread taste like granola cereal instead of just your ho-hum banana-rama treat! Add a cream cheese smear to a warm slice and you might work all day in the garden without realizing you just had a doorstop special.

This is for all my gardening friends who want to swap out garden tools for kitchen utensils on these chilly days when baking is just as fun as gardening. And if I can bake it, you know it is a doable recipe.

One note of caution – I am always adding Annie extras, even when I bake, which is usually a no-no in a baker’s kitchen. So give this bread additional time in the oven if you add the extra tidbits. It is worth it! Not too sweet; perfect with your early morning cup of Joe! So before we get to the guts of the recipe, we need a Bob Monkhouse quote to get us in the cooking mood. “I'm not saying my wife's a bad cook, but she uses a smoke alarm as a timer.” So let’s test your smoke alarm and get baking.

Banana Oat Bread (From the Great American Brand Name Cooking)

1¼ cups unsifted flour
¾ cup quick-cooking oats
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (2 medium – make sure they are extra ripe!)
½ cup plus Real Maple Syrup – none of that corn syrup stuff in the grocery aisle
3 tablespoons vegetable oil (I may have added a tad more because I never measure accurately. Remember you can always use olive oil in your breads)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Preheat over to 350 degrees. In large bowl, combine flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, ½ teaspoon cinnamon and salt. In small bowl, combine eggs, bananas, ½ cup pure maple syrup and oil. This is where you can add extra tidbits. I added dried apricots and dates chopped into bite size pieces. Stir these ingredients into the flour mixture just until moistened. You can add your nuts here or put them on top of the bread before placing in the oven for extra crunchy. Turn into greased 9 X 5 inch loaf pan. Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool ten minutes before removing from pan. Brush top with remaining 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup. Combine granulated sugar and remaining 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon; sprinkle over top. (Recommended – get a tiny shaker jar with cinnamon and sugar blended together and you can add to everything, including your coffee. Enjoy this rainy, windy Monday and always save your ripe bananas for these tasty treats!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Time to Pull the Plug

Attempting that perfect lawn for next spring? The clock is ticking. Fall is the best season to renovate your grass. With moisture in the soil from this week’s recent rains, it’s time to core aerate your lawn. The moisture holds the soil together, allowing the aerating machine to pull out a clean plug.

While I am all for finding shortcuts when it comes to chores, there are a few things that must be done with a little muscle in the garden. If you were considering the easy way out by using lawn aerator shoes, it may not be as simple as you think. You have to walk your entire lawn at least fifty times over to get any significant impact. Also, if you have irrigation, be careful not to sprout a leak by stepping on the heads. There is some controversy about the effectiveness of these shoes. Depending on the soils, this process can actually compact the sides of the hole. A solid tine (Spike) compresses into the soil similar to a nail in wood. The ideal method is using a hollow tine that pulls out a clean plug of soil. A good quality aerating machine has this type of tine and is typically available at tool rental stores. You may need a little muscle to maneuver the machine but it is made for aerating large lawn areas. In small, tight spaces, you may end up fighting the machine so if you have a tiny lawn or tight corners, the aerating shoes may be the perfect solution. Something is better than nothing.

But you aren’t done yet. Follow up with thatching to remove the build up of dead grass and an excess layer of thatch. There is still time to slice seed or top seed bare areas that need a little help. Don’t forget lime and starter fertilizer. And above all, keep an eye on moisture. Young grass needs ample amounts of precipitation and/or irrigation. It is the consistency of moisture that matters. On an Indian summer day, young grass may need to be watered multiple times throughout the day.

As we approach leaf season, make sure you start mowing your grass shorter. Adjust the blade in your lawn mower accordingly. Rule of thumb – tall grass catches leaves. Leaves rotting on the grass eventually kill the lawn. If you mow it close i.e., 2 to 2 ½ inches, the leaves blow away vs. getting stuck in the blades of grass.

This may be repetitive but lawns are the biggest drain on water resources. Improperly maintained lawns i.e., compacted lawns waste even more water. A few cultural practices listed above improves the quality of your grass while reducing water requirements. So if you are thinking green, don’t save your lawn improvements for the spring. Focus on it now. Leonardo da Vinci sums it up best with water consumption. “Water is the driver of nature.” So best to conserve it and the easiest place to start is in your own backyard.

© 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.)