Another good reason to plant alliums

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A. GlobemasterAs you select and plant spring-flowering bulbs, consider alliums. Not only do they present great long-lasting, late-season color and texture in their globe-like blooms, but they return season after season and once the blooms fade and the heads dry, the seed heads remain in the sunny garden all summer long for a touch of contrast.

There are several allium varieties from huge to diminutive and bloom colors from white to deep purples.

But this morning as the chilly winds begin to blow out of the north, I discovered yet another good reason to plant these bulbs. Out in the garden a gang of goldfinches perched on the sturdy dry stems gracefully feasting on the little seeds that form at the outer ends of the dried blooms.

Alliums are truly the bulbs that keep on “giving.”alium seed heads

Garden shoes for the long run

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My favorite garden shoes, the L.L. Bean gum shoe

My favorite garden shoes, the L.L. Bean gum shoe

Call me a traditionalist. I don’t mind. When it comes to what I wear on my feet when I head out to the garden, I go with the tried and true, old-fashioned L.L. Bean gum shoe. And even though I realize there has been a rash of garden shoes, clogs and boots on the market in recent times, here’s why I believe my Bean’s shoes are the best gardening footwear to be found:

• Easily slipped on and off, no bending down to fasten buckles, etc.
• They offer good traction, important when it comes to wet surfaces
• Unlike some of the clogs and sandal-type shoes, they always keep your feet dry
• Good summer and winter when you want warm socks
• Just hose them off when you are ready to head indoors
• Long-lasting and bottoms can be replaced
• They are available in both men’s and women’s sizes

Beating the heat with color

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Are you growing strawflowers or lantana this summer? These colorful annuals are perfect for those hot summer days when lesser plants wither and shrivel. Heat-tolerant, these annuals from Proven Winners just keep blooming no matter what with no deadheading needed.

Mine are in a large terracotta pot placed where they get plenty of sun and their non-stop color can be enjoyed. The strawflowers also have a little surprise in that come sundown, the perky blooms close up for the night, reopening the next day when the sun shines.

Rhubarb season



It is that time of year, the rhubarb is ready. What a treat it is to harvest something fresh from the garden now when even the trees are struggling to wake up from the winter. We’ve already enjoyed rhubarb crisp, and today I’m picking more stalks to make my husband’s favorite, cinnamon-fragrant rhubarb bread.

Rhubarb is easy to grow, but like a like of northern perennial plants, it requires a period of dormancy. That means it is definitely not a plant for the Deep South. Each fall my rhubarb patch  — which stands guard at the end of the two rows of raspberry canes — gets an application of compost and a thick mulch of hay once it goes dormant. In the spring when things start to thaw, the tender stalks spring forth. Occasionally rhubarb will send up a bloom stalk, which should be removed as it redirects the plant’s energy. Avoid harvesting too many stalks from a particular plant as this too can weaken the plant. It is important to plant several and give them room to divide and spread so you’ll have plenty of rhubarb to enjoy fresh in baked goods and even have enough to stash in the freezer for treats later on. To harvest, just select a stalk and holding it near the base, give it a tug at a slight angle from the base of the plant. The stalk should pull away without breaking.rhubarb bloom

Anyone who grows rhubarb should also consider growing Sweet Cicily, a perennial herb with attractive fern-like foliage. This old-fashioned herb has many uses and in Colonial times its seeds were harvested and crushed for their oil. Today we grow this plant to help naturally sweeten rhubarb dishes and reduce the amount of sugar. You’ll need to experiment a bit, but I find that about a tablespoon of minced leaves added to the rhubarb in a crisp recipe for example, will “sweeten” it up nicely along with the sugar/oat topping. As the season progresses, the Sweet Ciciy will put out lacy panicles of white blooms. Image

Here’s the rhubarb bread recipe which is from my friend Susan Manning, who it also happens I got my start of rhubarb from as well! It makes two small or one large loaf, which is even better the next day. And my recipe for rhubarb crisp with a brown-sugar and thick cut oat topping.

Sam’s Rhubarb Bread

2 large eggs
3/4 cup oil
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups diced rhubarb
1/2 cup chopped nuts
3 cups all-purpose flour (can use half whole wheat flour)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Combine eggs, oil, sugar, rhubarb and nuts. Mix dry ingredients together and blend into rhubarb mixture. Divide between two loaf pans (4×8) or one large (5×9) loaf pan which has been greased and dusted with flour. Bake at 350 degrees about one hour or until loaves test done. Cool completely on rack and wrap in waxed paper.

Rhubarb Crisp

3 cups chopped rhubarb (fresh or frozen)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon minced Sweet Cicily (if desired)
1 cup thick cut oats
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a one and half-quart baking dish, spread rhubarb and sprinkle with the Sweet Cicily and cinnamon. Combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, oil and salt. Spread topping on rhubarb and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Serve warm.

The case for garden geometry

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Not your usual approach to topiary, this specimen works on many levels — including textural and colorwise,

Not your usual approach to topiary, this specimen works on many levels — including textural and colorwise.

There are those who pooh-pooh the very idea of “meatball” or “lollipop” shrubs. You know those small-foliage shrubs such as boxwood or Yaupon holly closely cropped into the little round balls or a number of plants which are made into standards. Proponents of the “natural look” eschew, even deride this approach to gardening.

While I agree that sometimes the concept can be overdone, especially in commercial landscapes — I think a green-growing geometric shape or two can uplift just about any garden. Here’s why:

• No garden is “natural.” You say you are going for the natural look, right. The very fact that it is a garden defines it as a place where the hand has exhibited control. There really is no such thing as a natural garden. It’s what they call an oxymoron. You want natural, head for the woods.

• Topiary is a time-honored garden tradition, and for good reason. Like the example above, topiary can evolve into something challenging the concept of tradition.

• Geometric shapes in a garden perform a couple important tasks. Squares, rectangles, balls — anything but shrub-shaped — can provide textural contrast with the completely natural elements. They also provide focal points, that incongruity of something a bit out of place, so un-organic, yet at the same time being completely organic and so very right.

So there you have it in a nutshell. You may not agree with me, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

yaupon holly

“Meatballs” of Yaupon holly, providing textural contrast.


Asparagus, broccoli, artichokes — treat ‘em like the flowers that they are

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asparagusWhen you realize that fresh asparagus, broccoli or artichokes are basically the flowering parts of plants, you see them in a whole new light. At least you see how to handle them to get the most out of them and keep them fresher and brighter longer.

Just as you would treat cut flowers upon arrival home, that is by slicing off a bit from the bottom of their stems and quickly plunging them in water — you can do the same for these fresh vegetables. By slicing off a bit from the bottom of their stems you allow them to take up water, thereby keeping them fresher. Store them in a jar of water in the refrigerator until it is time to prepare. Even if you plan to cook them the same day, do this and you’ll be surprised at the difference. artichokes



Petunias — a quick guide to selecting the right one

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RW&B petuniasThe National Garden Bureau (NGB) has named 2014 The Year of the Petunia. These familiar summer sentinels are indeed the essence of summer.

In recent years the world of petunias has become a complex world, for there are literally hundreds of named petunia varieties with differing characteristics. The NGB offers a bit of advice for pairing the right petunia with your gardening needs can be summarized, in part, in the following manner.

• Grandiflora: large-flowered blossoms (4-5″) consisting of both single- and double-flowering cultivars form mounds of colorful solid, striped, deeply veined, variegated or edged in a contrasting shade called picotee. Grandifloras prefer a cool, dry sunny environment in protected areas and dislike hot, wet or windy conditions, and work well in both containers and beds.

• Multiflora: compact plants with smaller (1.5-2″) flowers than the grandifloras; however, they bloom prolifically and freely all season long. These plants have single or double flowers and are available in a rainbow of colors, often with contrasting centers or stripes. Bred primarily for the wetter climates these petunias perform admirably in adverse weather conditions especially during very hot or very wet spells.pnk wave petuna'

•Milliflora: petite, (1-1 1/2″) blossoms produced with wild abundance that cover the plant with beautiful vibrant colors. Perfectly suited to containers, hanging baskets, miniature gardens and as edging plants, these delicate beauties bloom earlier, do not stretch, add fullness and contrast of size and color when combined with larger blooming plants.

• Spreading: low-growing plants only (4-6″) in height that can spread up to 5 feet across. These are fast growing plants with excellent heat and drought tolerance, require very little maintenance, and make excellent flowering ground covers. Their greatest popularity lies in their wild profusion of blooms that tumble out of hanging baskets, window-boxes and tall containers from late spring well into late fall in milder and warmer regions.

• Hedgiflora one segment of Spreading: have growth habits based on how closely the plants are spaced in the garden. Grown close together, they form a dense, mounded hedge from 16 to 22 inches tall. Grown in restricted space with some support, they act like vines growing upward an extra 2 to 3 feet. But when given plenty of space to roam, they make a floriferous groundcover spreading 2 1/2 to 3 feet.

• Floribunda: an improved multiflora petunia bred to have larger single- and double-flowered varieties that bloom earlier while producing an abundance of flowers. Like the grandifloras, they flower earlier, yet tolerate both hot and wet periods, perking up quickly after every rain shower. Floribundas are a fantastic selection for mass plantings in the landscape, and for container plantings in pots and hanging baskets.

• Petchoa (SuperCal): a combination of the best characteristics of the petunia and calibrachoa plants. The Petchoa “SuperCala” plants deliver unique colors, sturdy blossoms and non-sticky foliage to overflowing hanging baskets.

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