Tag Archives: plants

A Whole New Start to the Garden!

How is it possible that it’s been almost a month since my last post? Last year I was on top of everything. I had already done my garden clean up, started seeds indoors, and even honored St. Patrick’s Day by making Irish potatoes. But this year, this year, I’ve done none of them, and I’ve let an entire month slip by. What can I say…I’ve been busy!

At the end of February, we bought a house. It’s in Kennett Square (the mushroom capital of the world by the way), about 25 minutes from our last place, and practically across the street from my work. Pretty nice, I know! But since then, there’s been cleaning, painting, packing, moving, unpacking, oh, and waiting WEEKS to get internet set up. Finally, after all of that time, and after 8 inches of snow the day before we had movers coming, we’ve settled in, and it’s time to return to normal.

With the move, I have an incredibly interesting situation on my hands with the garden. The house was built-in the mid-70s, and has very established trees. In fact, the back yard is incredibly shady. On top of the shade, the property also backs up to the woods and a creek. As a result, I’m thinking I might have to change my vegetable gardening practices, as I’m sure the critters will be an issue. Luckily there’s a large deck for pots.

The property has also been neglected for a number of years, so the trees, bushes, and plants are all completely overgrown. Over the next several months, I’ll be assessing what’s growing, what’s not, what might need to be cleared, and what additions and changes I can make. It will definitely be a different approach to my gardening the last several years, but I’m incredibly excited.Already, I’m starting to see some new growth and movement, and I can’t wait for more.TreesThe backyard is filled with trees. I can’t wait to see what they look like come spring.PachysandraPachysandra is everywhere. This is one of the few sunny spots. It seems prime for some perennials.VinesVines are also everywhere. They’ll have to come out too!RododendronThis amazing rhododendron is growing next to the deck.daffodilsThankfully some daffodils are poking through the ground.Flowering TreesTrees are showing some life!

I’m excited to see what comes up, what doesn’t, and what changes we can make. This year, I’m even more anxious for spring! Of course, tomorrow we’re supposed to be getting more snow, but at least that will give me some time to unpack more boxes! 🙂

Witch-Hazel for Weary Winter Weather!

Right now, the temperature is 11 degree! It’s scheduled to drop to 4 degrees tonight! Yes, 4 degrees! Today we had wind chills of -15 degrees, and we’re expecting another 4 inches of snow tomorrow. Winter just keeps chugging along. As it does, I keep dreaming about the spring, and gardens, and blooms. This is definitely the time to start planning for the spring. It’s also a great time to start ordering seeds and bulbs. But the best way to get into the gardening mood and satisfy that craving is to see beautiful blooms in your garden, coming through the snow. With witch-hazel, that is possible.

I have to admit, until this past summer, I haven’t had much exposure to witch-hazel. Sure, I’ve heard of it, but I was never inspired to plant it until I read David Culp‘s book, The Layered Garden, about extending the season and adding interest all year-long. I was inspired. This summer, when I joined David and others on a nursery tour, I decided I had to have one of these amazing plants.witch-hazelWitch-hazel is a small, deciduous tree, growing to anywhere from 9 feet to 25 feet. It has a beautiful spread, with a lot of interest. The image above is thanks to Indiana Public Media to give you a sense of what the blooms look like. Unfortunately, mine isn’t anywhere near this big yet…yet! As you can see, the best part about this great tree is the bloom. In winter, sometimes as early as January or February, they are covered with these wispy, beautiful blooms in striking colors of yellow, orange, and even red.

As the buds develop, they are just round clusters that seem to grow and grow, not very large, but full of beautiful blooms. Below are some images of the trees at my work. They are farther along than mine at home, and you can see the color starting to shine through.progressingseed podsThis summer, I found a great variety of witch-hazel at RareFind Nursery in New Jersey. The plant I bought back in June has done well this summer and fall, and the blooms are just starting to appear. I can’t wait till it’s covered in amazing bright orange color. Witch HazelThankfully, it did well in the summer!winter witch-hazelAnd it continues to do well. Now just waiting for those blooms to open!close upIf you’re looking to extend your garden season or just an interesting addition, consider witch-hazel. It’s a wonderful accompaniment to the garden, and a very interesting tree to have. It also can help take care of that gardening itch in the dead of winter. Also, with a name like witch-hazel, I’m sure it would help with any potions you’re trying to brew too! 🙂

A Summer of Nursery Tours

I’ve been very lucky this summer.  I have had the opportunity to tour several nurseries and garden centers, some of which are not always open to the public.  It was so inspiring to see the huge variety of plants that these gardeners are making available to the public, and the cutting-edge techniques some of these nurseries are employing to ensure they are helping, not hurting, the environment.  It was also very exciting to be able to take some of their amazing plants home with me! 🙂

Peace Tree FarmIn June, I attended a nursery tour class through Longwood Gardens.  Our tour guide, and general expert, for the day was David Culp, a knowledgeable gardener and author of The Layered Garden. David planned a tour of several amazing nurseries that day.  The first stop was Peace Tree Farms in Kintnersville, PA, with an impressive greenhouse and state of the art production.  They are certified organic, and they have the most amazing begonias I’ve ever seen.  I’m happy to report that I’m now the proud owner of 6 of their begonias, and they are doing great!

Peace Tree Farm Production

BegoniasWe then went to Paxson Hill Farm in New Hope, PA.  They have a beautiful nursery, filled with amazing plants, but also a garden maze, peacocks, and even turkeys.  I was happy to be able to take home some of their varieties of coneflower and a few other perennials that are doing great in the garden.  Paxson Hill Farm MazePaxson Hill Farm TurkeyPaxwon Hill Farm PeacockOne of the last stops we had that day was at RareFind Nursery in Jackson, NJ.  They had wonderful trees and shrubs, and a great variety.  I’m happy to report that I am now a witch-hazel owner after spending some time at their nursery!Witch HazelNorth Branch Nursery HydrangeasAlso this summer, I was visiting in Ohio and was lucky enough to meet the owners of North Branch Nursery in Pemberville, OH.  North Branch Nursery is a truly impressive operation with over 300 acres and 300 varieties of trees and 300 varieties of shrubs.  They grow over 20,000 perennials each year and have 75,000 plants in container production.  It is an absolutely beautiful property.  The property is huge, and we were happy to take a tour.  You can meander through the fields, seeing all of the trees and shrubs they have growing.  And the greenhouses with perennials is a site with such a great variety!  They grow just about everything!North Branch Nursery RosesNorth Branch Nursery ClematisNorth Branch Nursery TreesWhile we were there, I got a Little Lime hydrangea that I was very excited about.  I haven’t seen these before, but it’s a dwarf variety and has the most amazing lime green blooms.  The plant was beautiful and very hardy.  It is doing great in the yard.  North Branch Nursery Little LimeLittle LimeI was also thrilled to receive their 2014 catalog this week in the mail.  You can really see the breath of offerings they have in the catalog.  I can’t wait to dive in and see what other inspiration I get for next year!North Branch Nursery Catalog

So often, we get used to convenience, and if you’re looking for plants, that could mean looking no further than your local Home Depot.  But there really is so much out there.  If you haven’t explored some of those hidden nurseries in your area, even if they are a drive away, give them a try.  Catalogs are also a great way to get variety, but there is nothing like wandering through a nursery to get your creative juices pumping!  I know it was a great experience this summer for me, and I plan to keep it up in the future!

The Garden’s Food-Compost

When my grandmother was gardening, she had the most amazing roses.  I don’t even know what types they were, but the thick bushes were always filled with beautiful, fragrant blooms.  She had vases full of roses in the house all summer.  Her secret?  She would “feed” the roses.  She would dump coffee grounds, egg shells, even banana peels into the dirt, work it under the soil so it wasn’t unsightly or stinky, and over time, the “food” would break down for the roses.  And, while my grandmother never used the term “compost” or probably even knew what it was, she certainly knew about feeding the soil.

Compost ReadyFor those of you who have been gardening for a while, compost is probably old hat.  But if you aren’t currently composting, or haven’t heard much about it, let me make a suggestion…as Nike would say, Just Do It!  Compost is basically organic matter that decomposes into rich fertilizer.  As I tell my niece and nephews, you’re take trash and making dirt (or dirt food) out of it.  The added bonus is that you’re recycling a lot of your kitchen and garden waste, cutting down on actual trash that makes it to a landfill somewhere.  Also, it is easy to do if you have a spot in your yard for a pile.

PilesMany years ago, when I was in college, I built my first compost pile.  I was so excited, I did tons of research.  I read about the right proportions and what should be included.  I built a “pen” out of old wooden skids and filled it with the right mix of nitrogen rich green matter and carbon rich brown matter (suggestions are 1/3 green to 2/3 brown, but I don’t really follow that these days).  I added earth worms and shredded newspapers.  I watered the pile and turned it often.  It was perfect.  I can remember one cold September evening that first year when I could see the steam coming off of the pile, knowing that mother nature was hard at work, working her magic.  Then, one of my neighbors thought it was just a junk pile and dumped loads and loads of grass clippings into my pile.  It ruined my perfect balance, and, while I tried to clean it out and save my hard work, my enthusiasm was crushed.  I took apart the pile the following year and that was it.

StructureWhile my first attempt was a bit OCD, several years ago I created another compost heap.  With this go around, I have become much more lax, and much more successful.  The first thing I did this time around was create two piles side by side.  My thought was that the one pile could be for dumping “new” material while the other pile was decomposing the “old” material.  I used inexpensive metal fence panels to create the walls of my compost pile. As I mentioned before, I had used wooden pallets in the past, but the wood started to decompose as well, so metal seemed like a better choice.  Each panel is 36 inches wide and 42 inches tall.  And because the panels are open, there is a lot of air flow, which also is good for compost.  Because I was using the fence panels, I needed 5.  I left the front side for each pile open, so it was easier to turn the piles periodically, and they share the middle panel.

PileOnce I had my structure built, I was ready to start adding to it.  For a compost pile, you can add almost any organic material, with a few exceptions.  First, be careful with weeds.  If the weeds went to seed, then they could spread those seeds in your compost, basically meaning you’re planting seeds as you spread the compost out.  And do not include clippings of diseased plants.  Again, this could just pass the disease to other healthy plants when using the compost.  Also, don’t add any kind of animal products from the kitchen.  You can add egg shells, and they are great for compost, but don’t add any meat or vegetables that are cooked with meat.  This will only attract animals to your pile.  For the most part, that’s about it.  Everything else is pretty fair game.

I add all of my clippings and deadheading As I mentioned when I was cleaning out the garden, I also add all of the leaves and debris I clean out of the garden in the spring.  Most of this already has started decomposing, so it works perfectly.  I add any soil I’m getting rid of that was in pots from the year before (with the dead plant, why not).  My sister is a big fan of campfires, so I also add in the ashes she has after her big bonfires.  And I do add weeds. especially the young ones that I pull in the spring.

Kitchen CompostAs far as the kitchen, I always have a bowl on my counter that I use for compost waste.  I know there are fancy things you can buy, but I just use a bowl.  I wait till it fills up, or starts to smell, whichever comes first, and then take it out and dump it on the pile.  I add egg shells, vegetables, fruits, banana peels, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, and even used paper towels (if just wet).  Most of the materials end up drying out a bit, so the bowl rarely smells…I usually just dump it when it’s full.

On Vegetable GardenOnce you start building up the pile, just turn it every few weeks or so to get air in it and get things moving.  As I mentioned earlier, throughout the spring and summer, I like to add to 1 pile, then the other is the one from the year before that may have some compost at the bottom, or may just need to sit longer.  You also want to make sure it stays moist, but I’ve found that summer rainstorms work pretty well for that.  After a while, you’ll notice that everything starts to break down and you’re left with a rich soil.  Use it wherever you feel your flowers, fruits, or vegetables need some extra nutrients.  I’ve been spreading mine on the vegetable garden before I till the soil, and it’s worked out really well.  I also add some to the hole when I’m planting any new trees or shrubs.  But wherever you use the compost, you’ll be rewarded.

And, if we’re being honest, back to the turning and watering, I’ve gone months where I’ve been busy and have completely forgotten to turn or water the pile, and it still works out great.  I’ve essentially ignored it, but I’m still rewarded.  The biggest difference is speed.  The more you turn it and take care of it, the faster you end up with compost.  However, I’m a patient person! 🙂

Ordering Seeds and Getting Ready for SPRING!

I had a glimmer of hope for spring this week, and now I just can’t let it go.  I was in Austin at a conference for work, and while it wasn’t as warm as it could be in Texas this time of year, it was in the 60s, and it made me excited for spring…even after I came back to the snow.  But spring is coming, and if it’s coming, for me, that means planning for the garden and ordering seeds.

CatalogsI love gardening.  Whether it be flowers, trees, shrubs, vegetables, it doesn’t matter, I just love to play in the dirt, as I like to say.  And when those catalogs arrive (see my post from January for more on that), I get so excited about the possibilities.  The most exciting for me at this time of year is the vegetable garden, because I basically start from scratch every year.  While there are some perennials people may have (like rhubarb or asparagus), I don’t have any in my vegetable patch.  I get to reconfigure every year, and last week, that’s just what I did. 

Fava BeansMy first step was figuring out what I wanted to plant this year.  Sure, I have the staples every year, tomatoes, lettuces, zucchini, and squash.  But this year, I wanted to try a few new vegetables.  I love beets and kale, and especially fava beans, so I’m adding those to the mix this year.  And I’m giving Brussels sprouts a try (mainly because I love them).  The next step was figuring out the varieties.  If you’re used to picking up plants at your local garden center, you probably haven’t had the opportunity to play with different varieties.  Sure, there were probably many Listvarieties of tomatoes, and maybe even one or two heirlooms, but aside from that, many garden centers just carry one variety of other vegetables.  That’s one of the reasons why I like to start from seed.  When you open those seed catalogs, there are so many different varieties, it’s amazing.

This year, I decided to get my vegetable seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  I really wanted to focus on heirloom varieties this year, and I’ve heard great things about their seeds from a friend of mine (who also blogs, but, unfortunately for me, it’s in French…Le Hamburger et le Croissant).  If you haven’t seen their site or catalog, Baker Creek has a great variety, and their catalog is beautiful.  The vegetables and plants are expertly photographed.

GraphThe next part, and for me one of the most fun, is planning out the layout.  I’ve found the easiest way to plan out the garden is to use graph paper.  Just figure out your dimensions and use some sort of scale.  I used one block for one foot in the garden.  Then go through and plot out your garden.  Pay special attention to any light restrictions (mine is all in the sun, so that wasn’t an issue) but also how far something spreads, if they are vines, etc.  Once you have this map, it’s so much easier to get out there and actually plant in the next few months.

I don’t know about you but I’m excited.  My seeds are already on their way, and I’m looking forward to starting them indoors.  I’ll probably write about that in another week or two.  Oh, and if you’re interested in what I purchased, here’s what I chose:

  • Extra Precoce A Grano Violetto Fava Bean-SKU: FB105
  • Detroit Dark Red Beet-SKU: BT110
  • Long Island Improved Brussels Sprouts-SKU: BS101
  • Marketmore 76 Cucumber-SKU: CU101
  • Astrakom Eggplant-SKU: EG174
  • Birdhouse Gourd-SKU: GD108
  • Tronchuda Kale-SKU: KA107
  • Sugar Snap Pea-SKU: SN106
  • Caserta Squash-SKU: SSQ138
  • Rouge Vif D’ Etampes Pumpkin-SKU: SQ118
  • Boston Marrow Squash-SKU: SQ221
  • Brandywine Tomato-SKU: TK115
  • Zucchini-Lungo Bianco Squash-SKU: SSQ119

Happy gardening (or at least thinking of gardening if you’re still dealing with snow on the ground like we are)!

 

It May be Freezing Out But Start Thinking about the Garden!

I don’t know about you, but here, outside of Philadelphia, we’ve been getting slammed this winter.  We’ve had tons of snow, crazy wind and wind chills, and even the polar vortex, whatever that is!?!?  But, in the midst of the snow, ice, and frozen limbs, the winter is a great time to start thinking about your garden!

Martha Stewart GardeningWhen I was in my early twenties, I was thrilled to get my first gardening book.  I had always loved to garden, having spent tons of time with my grandmother, helping her care for her immaculate roses (I still can’t get mine, or even hers, to perform as amazing as she did), and I took over my parents’ landscaping when I was in high school.  But I needed to better understand design, when to do certain things, and even what type of flowers were available.  So, for my 21st birthday, my parents gave me Martha Stewart’s Gardening: Month by Month, an absolutely beautiful book that shows month by month what Martha does in, and can expect from, her garden.  And right away, I was hooked.  I know what you’re thinking, what 21 year old boy wants a gardening book, let alone Martha Stewart’s, but I was, am, and always will be a huge fan.  What can I say, “it’s a good thing!”

There were so many great ideas in that book.  I think my favorite part was the sources section in the back, where I now had the names, addresses, and phone numbers (remember, we’re talking 1996, sadly there were no websites) of amazing providers of mail order plants, trees, and seeds.  I immediately called those companies and got on the mailing lists, and I’ve been on their mailing lists ever since.  The beautiful thing is, usually around late December, early January, they send you these wonderful catalogs and you can get lost dreaming about the garden, even with a foot of snow outside.  The catalogs have proven to be invaluable for inspiration on different varieties, and often times, the plants are incredibly cost effective.  They have so much more than your local Home Depot (I can only have so many black eyed susans, daisies, and standard hydrangeas).  Below are a few links to some of my favorite companies, but really, if you haven’t yet, look online, find some good suppliers, and give it a try.

My Garden LogOne other thing I did, taking direction from Martha of course, was I started to keep a garden log, noting how things were progressing in the garden.  This proved to be invaluable.  So many years, I’ll remember I planted the pumpkins too early, or the frost took those tender annuals, but I can’t remember exactly when I planted them and how I should adjust.  Keeping a quick log is so helpful to plan for the following year.  If you don’t do it, you should try.  It doesn’t have to be time consuming or difficult.  Just jot down some notes, and date it.  I’ll admit, I haven’t done it in years, but this year, I’m starting again (thanks to a little encouragement from Grow Tend Cook Eat).

Martha's Garden SketchSo, grab some catalogs, or your tablet/laptop, curl up with a blanket, maybe a drink, dream about the garden, and start planning.  And if you happen to have Martha’s book, or come across it, definitely take a look at the inside cover.  I fell in love with the sketches of her amazing property…and I have to admit, I still try to create similar sketches of my garden today, although mine are no where near as beautiful as hers.  Of course, I don’t have half a billion dollars to support it and a staff of who knows how many, but I can dream!