A Tall, Cool Drink for the Eyes: Quiet, Calm Camassia – Wild American Beauty of the Marshland and Meadow…

May 24th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Camassia quamash, North American native Camas Lily, © 2010 Michaela at TGE

A few years ago, at the low edge of my garden where open meadow meets slow transition to cultivated borders, I planted a handful of native camas lily bulbs, (Camassia quamash). The first spring after planting, an orphaned fawn wandered into my life, and he nibbled the tops off my camas lilies before they could bloom. Did you just gasp? I probably would have too, if I’d never met “L’il Deer”. My reaction may surprise you. I’m not denying that I winced -loudly- when I caught my voracious guest browsing my garden – but I quickly fell head over heels in love with that fawn, and his presence in my life was more than worth the sacrifice of a few blue blossoms. Funny how that works…  isn’t it?     (I promise to tell you more about my friend the fawn another day.)

Beloved by bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, camas lilies have a long and interesting history as a food source for many creatures – including humans. Before the arrival of Europeans to the North American continent, sweet camas bulbs were harvested and eaten raw by Native Americans. Although I have never tried them (it’s hard to pull them up when they produce such beautiful flowers) the flavor is described as chestnut-like, with a creamy, pleasant cooked texture…

Camassi quamash © 2010, Michaela at TGE

Camas lily species are all useful garden plants. Some, such as Camassia cusickii and leichtlinii, are stunning in perennial borders, and others, such as C. scilloides, (wild hyacinth), and C. quamsah, (common camas lily), are perfect for naturalizing at the edge of a pond, meadow or forest. Camas lilies are difficult to propagate from seed -and also challenging from divisions- but they are easily grown and readily available from most bulb companies for planting in fall. C. cusickii, (Cusick’s camas), as well as C.leichtlinii, (Leichtlin’s camas), and variously colored cultivars, from white to lavender and deep violet, form beautiful, well-mannered clumps in the garden.

Native to North America, from Canada to the southern plains, camas lilies range in hardiness from 3-9, depending upon the species. These beautiful and graceful flowers prefer locations with ample moisture in springtime, and later, as they go dormant in summer, they like for their soil to remain a bit drier. Position Camassia species and cultivars where they can be enjoyed blooming in late spring-early summer, and where other plants can fill in for them as their foliage dies back in dormancy. Once established, blue camas will create a soothing visual oasis in the garden, moving like water in a gentle stream with the slightest breeze. While they are blooming, I will forever picture a delicate fawn, drinking at a forest brook…

Camassia at the Edge of the Meadow © 2010, Michaela at TGE

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Article and photographs © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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“Native Plants: Why We Love Them and How to Use Them” – Free Seminar – This Saturday at Walker Farm in Southern Vermont – Please Join Me …

May 13th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Native mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, (here a cultivar named ‘Pink Charm’), are durable, evergreen plants suitable for ledgy, exposed sites… far more hardy than their more tender cousins, the rhododendrons. To read more about Kalmia latifolia, click here.

I am very fortunate. This place in Vermont, where I live, is a true paradise and I cherish it. Every morning I wake up to the beautiful sights, sounds and smells of the Northeast American native forest. The songs of the veery, hermit and wood thrush, the mist rising from the Green River valley and the fragrance of the woodland surrounding my home relax and comfort me. Of course, I am not alone – many people, including a great number of my friends, share this passion for the native forest, and I love hearing about their woodland hikes, experiences and discoveries. I have also traveled throughout North America, and I know that every spot I have visited on this continent -as well as those I have yet to see- has it’s own unique and irreplaceable natural environment. This great love of nature is part of the reason that our native plant species are so important to me. There are many, many beautiful trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants all over the world -and I do have quite the collection of exotics growing here in my garden- but none more beautiful or important than those growing naturally outside my front door.

As is often the case with horticultural terms and phrases, native plant can have different definitions and meanings, depending upon the source of the information. In the strictest sense -and according to The New England Wild Flower Society–  when describing woody plants and perennials on this continent, the term native “refers to plants growing in North America before the European settlement”. Does this definition include species cultivars that have occurred since the European settlement through natural selection? I imagine so. But I would expect that the NEWFS definition excludes individual cultivars and hybrids created via the hand-of-man. My own definition of  native plant is somewhat looser and more tolerant of the various seedlings and crosses commonly found in gardens and in the nursery trade – but I’m no research scientist. Perhaps because one of my favorite North American native trees, Serviceberry, (Amelanchier) , is a horticultural wild-child, (freely hybridizing with neighboring species within the genus), I see the process of plant evolution as inevitable and fascinating. Mother nature seems to approve of variety, as do I !

Beautiful, spring blooming trees of the forest understory, such as North American native Halesia tetraptera, are excellent choices for home landscapes…

Beyond their obvious importance in the natural ecosystem, native plants also make fantastic additions to the garden. In fact so many North American native species, such as coral bells, (Heuchera), coneflower, (Echinacea), gayfeather, (Liatris), and cranesbill, (Geranium), have become such superstars in the nursery trade, that many gardeners have no idea that many common garden center plants are actually wild-flower cultivars. As far as I am concerned, that is good news because native plants, and nursery-grown native cultivars, provide season-spanning food and habitat for local animals and insects, and they also tend to require less water, commercial fertilizer and chemical support than imported plants. And again, I am no purist when it comes to my own garden. I have a great passion for exotic plants – especially Japanese maple! However, I make every effort to garden responsibly, both in my own private paradise, and in the various landscapes where I work as a professional gardener and designer.

This Saturday morning, (May 15, 2010, from 9:30 – 10:30), I will be presenting a free, introductory seminar on native plants for home gardeners at Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont. If you are in the area, and you would like to learn more about how to use some of these incredibly beautiful and hardy plants in your own landscape, please stop in and join the fun. The emphasis will be on home garden design; creating season-spanning interest, and wildlife support in your back yard oasis, by choosing trees, shrubs and perennials native to the Northeastern United States. Examples of lesser-known native plants will be on display, and free color handouts, (including design tips, plant information, and online resources), will also be provided. Visit Walker Farm online or call 802 – 254-2051 for more information.

Native Lady fern, (athyrium felix feminina), and selected cultivars such as ‘Lady in Red’, shown here, provide shady habitat for toads and frogs, and durable but delicate beauty for dappled gardens… Especially in combination with other natives such as Heuchera and Phlox divaracata.

An excellent ground-covering choice for acidic, shady areas, native labrador violets are stunners whether blooming or not…

Clethra alnifolia, our native summersweet, is a low-maintenance shrub producing pollinator-magnet flowers in late summer…

Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’ is a lovely, select pink-flowering cultivar of our native summersweet shrub, shown above

Aruncus, commonly known as the ‘goat’s beard’, is a statuesque June bloomer for perennial borders and woodland edge…

Fothergilla major, (witch alder), and Lindera benzoin,(spicebush), provide a changing backdrop for gardens all season long…

By combining native shrubs and cultivars, a natural but dynamic, sustainable design can be achieved…

Fothergilla gardenii, our native witch alder, lights up the garden in spring and again in late autumn…

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For further information on native plants, I highly recommend the following books by Allan Armitage and William Cullina; two accomplished, renowned, horticulturalists and brilliant and poetic authors I admire…

William Cullina – Wildflowers

William Cullina – Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines

Armitage’s Native Plants for North American Gardens

Article and photographs copyright 2010, Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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A Year in the Life of a Gardener: Celebrating Our First Anniversary and Giving Thanks to All of You…

April 1st, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Snowdrop I © 2010 Michaela at TGE – all rights reserved

One year ago this month, I started keeping an online journal -somewhat sporadically at first- and I named it The Gardener’s Eden. What began as a labor of love, and a way to share information with my gardening friends and clients, has quickly blossomed into a beautiful web of friendship across many time zones and continents. Most of you know me simply as Michaela, a somewhat quirky gardener living on a mountaintop in Vermont. Some of you have met me in person and we have become friends; maybe we met in a meeting, or perhaps we were briefly acquainted at one of my gardening seminars or workshops. A great number of you have never met me at all. It’s possible that you first heard about this online journal from a gardening friend, or you may have found me through another blog. Many readers have connected to The Gardener’s Eden through social networking sites, where you have encouraged my writing and photography with thoughtful comments, and propelled me forward with article suggestions and challenging, thought-provoking questions. And dear readers, in only a year, you have grown from a small handful of devoted followers to a relatively large audience numbering in the thousands. Some of you chime in regularly through blog comments, or on Facebook or Twitter, but the vast majority of you follow along quietly. It’s nice knowing that you are out there, and I am so grateful for your company…

Crocus © 2010 Michaela at TGE – all rights reserved

Snowdrop II © 2010 Michaela at TGE

If you have been following along for awhile, then you are likely aware that in addition to creating and maintaining Ferncliff -the garden I often feature here- I also work professionally as both a gardener and garden designer. My line of work is seasonal in New England, and although I do a bit of ornamental pruning work in late winter, there is a long, quiet period from November through March. In years past, I have found that the winters pass very slowly -but that has changed. This year was less lonely, with all of you keeping me company…

Melting Ice on the Frog Pond © 2010 Michaela at TGE

And now that spring has finally arrived -ice melting and bulbs blooming- I have returned to my seasonal gardening work. Today, as I headed out for my first day of spring clean up at a client’s garden, I found myself thinking about all of you. As I clipped back ornamental grasses, and dodged emerging narcissus and blooming hellebores, I wondered about how I will find the time to share everything with you in the coming weeks. This is a busy time of the year – and it is a beautiful time of the year. Things happen so quickly in early spring. I always feel a bit breathless trying to keep up.

Today at my garden, Ferncliff, the first ‘Tommies’, (Crocus tommasinianus), opened in the bright sunshine; all puffy, golden pollen and silky lavender petals. And after all of the heavy rain and today’s warm temperatures, the vernal pools sprang to life beyond the vegetable garden. I thought I was being sneaky, tip-toeing down the hillside with my camera -but I was wrong. As soon as my shadow extended across the sparkling melt-water, dozens of frogs and salamanders squiggled, hopped and wiggled into the muck and mire below the surface. But I waited. And I waited. And slowly the frogs rose to the surface for air…

Seasonal Pool © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Frog in the Melting Pond Water © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Seasonal Pool II © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Frog Swimming Away © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Welcome sweet April. Doesn’t it finally feel like spring now? A new year is just beginning; filled with hope and promise. But, who really knows what the future will bring. I like to breathe in the fresh air of the moment. We are all just passing through, and… isn’t it a lovely ride?  Thank you for joining me. I hope you will find beauty here in The Gardener’s Eden. Sharing my little slice of paradise with you gives me great joy…

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Words and Pictures copyright 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All Rights Reserved.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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A Rhapsody in Blue: Selecting and Planting Vaccinium corymbosum, (Highbush Blueberry), Plus a Favorite Recipe for Blueberry-Lemon Bread…

March 31st, 2010 § 11 comments § permalink

A Rhapsody in Blue 

What would you say if I told you that I know of an amazing cold-hardy shrub, with creamy, bell-like spring flowers, glossy green leaves, brilliant fall foliage, colorful winter stems and an attractive, well-rounded form? Interested yet? It may come as a surprise that the shrub I am describing is none other than the common highbush blueberry, (Vaccinium corymbosum). Of course, the highbush blueberry is widely cultivated for its delicious fruit, but it’s often overlooked as a useful addition to ornamental gardens. Native to eastern North America, this gorgeous shrub can be found growing wild in acidic soil from central Canada all the way down to Florida, with a western range from Minnesota, south to Louisiana. Typically reaching a mature size of 8-12 feet high and wide, highbush blueberries are most commonly found in USDA zones 3-7. Although lowbush blueberries,(Vaccinium angustifolium), are also a fine and quite hardy shrub -famously grown for fruit in the state of Maine- they too are are rarely grown in ornamental gardens. This is a shame, as lowbush blueberries make a fine ground cover, producing pollinator-friendly blossoms and very sweet fruit. They also display beautiful autumn color.

If you live in a climate with lengthy cool seasons, highbush blueberries are easy to cultivate either in the vegetable garden, berry patch or mixed border. This is a relatively long-lived shrub, with few pests and diseases. When provided with the proper conditions, blueberry bushes make fantastic garden plants. Although Vaccinium corymbosum are generally trouble-free, a few growing tips will help increase berry yield and plant health…

Vaccinium corymbosum autumn color

In life, I often find that a group of diverse, mixed company creates great culture. With blueberry varieties this is especially true. When buying plants, keep in mind that for best pollination and fruit set, you should choose two different varieties of blueberry bushes that bloom at the same time. If you would like fruit throughout the season, try growing several different varieties in the same patch. When choosing plants, ask a local grower which varieties grow and produce best in your area. Some excellent early to midseason varieties include ‘Blueray’,’Duke’ and ‘Berkeley’. For later fruit try ‘Jersey Blue’ and ‘Elliot’ varieties. Again, ask your local grower for some recommendations. Remember that every variety will have a slightly different flavor.

When growing blueberries, one of the most important aspects of cultivation to consider is soil acidity. All blueberry bushes prefer a pH below 5, with an ideal range between 4.5 and 4.8. Be sure to test your soil pH with a kit. If your soil is more alkaline (even neutral is too alkaline for blueberries) you may lower the pH by adding sulfur, pine needles and/or other naturally acidic materials both to the soil and as a regular top-dressing in mulch. Blueberries are shallow-rooted plants and they require moist, but well-drained soil. Unless your garden receives at least an inch or two of rain per week, you will want to water your shrubs. The best way to keep soil moist and plants weed-free is to apply a wood chip/pine needle mulch. When planting new blueberry bushes, be sure not to plant too deeply. Keep the top of the pot level even with your existing soil, and add 1/3 peat moss to the planting mix when you backfill the dirt. Be sure to saturate the soil and peat, as well as the planting hole, with water. Do not fertilize your blueberry bushes for 2-3 months after planting. Once the plants are established, use an organic fertilizer in spring at bloom time, and again 3 weeks later while fruit is setting. Plants should not be fertilized later than this, and never in summer  or fall as the shrubs may suffer winter damage on soft wood ….

Fresh washed blueberries from the garden

In general, when grown for fruit, highbush blueberries should have 5-10′ of spacing, (depending upon variety). But if you are planting in rows, space plants 4-5′ apart in rows with 8-10′ separation. Some growers recommend removal of flowers in the first season for a better crop the second year. This is optional. No pruning is needed in the first three years, but in the fourth season, thinning may begin during dormancy, (late winter/very early spring). Remove weak branches, and any branches restricting sunlight and airflow at the center of the shrub. If fruit is your primary goal, aim for 12 healthy, strong canes per plant. The younger wood will produce the best fruit, so choose a good mix of branches, removing older sections each year.

By following these simple tips, delicious and health fruit will soon be on the way! But beware: birds love to eat blueberries too. If you grow Vaccinium corymbosum solely for ornamental value, then maybe you will leave the fruit on these shrubs for our birds to enjoy. However, if you are growing blueberries as a crop -perhaps as a hedging plant in your potager- you must cover the shrubs from the time of fruit set ’til the point of harvest. My father always used tobacco netting on his highbush blueberries, and I tend to recommend it or the modern-day equivalent, Remay. Plastic netting is hazardous to birds and other creatures, and I find Remay or tobacco netting work as well, or better.

And now, what do you say? Shall we use up some of those plump and delicious blue fruits? Oh, of course! Why not? A couple of weeks back, I featured a favorite recipe for Blueberry Hill Hotcakes and Syrup. They are scrumptious. Over the weekend, I was feeling the blues again, (maybe it was all the rain?). So I took to the kitchen. But this time around, I whipped up my favorite blueberry-lemon bread. This versatile recipe can also be used as a muffin mix, if you’re in the mood for a tasty-treat to-go. The lemony-sugar-syrup is optional, but I find it provides an extra bit of moisture and an added kiss of sweetness – plus I love the shimmery-effect on top. And although frozen blueberries work well here… there’s nothing quite like the fresh berries we will be enjoying later in the year. On a quiet weekend morning, I’m always in the mood for a rhapsody in blue…

Blueberry-Lemon-Bread-Muffins-thegardenersedenBlueberry Lemon Bread / Muffins, photo © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Blueberry-Lemon Bread with Lemon Syrup (or muffins)


Ingredients for one loaf of bread or one dozen average sized muffins:

2          cups all-purpose flour

1          teaspoon baking powder

1          teaspoon baking soda

1/4       teaspoon salt

1/4       cup sugar

2          eggs

1 1/4   cup sour cream

1/4      cup melted butter

1          tablespoon fresh lemon zest

2          cups of fresh or frozen blueberries

Lemon Syrup:

1/2      cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

1/2      cup of sugar

4          tablespoons water

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375°. Butter one 9″ x 5″ x 3″ bread pan or two muffin tins.

To make batter: Toss flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, combine eggs, sugar, sour cream, melted butter and lemon zest and beat until well mixed. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix until just blended. Add blueberries and stir lightly to combine.

Pour the batter into the bread pan or muffin tins, (each muffin tin should be filled to 2/3 full). Bake bread for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until top is golden brown and a wooden stick comes out clean after inserted at center. If baking muffins, 15-20 minutes in the hot oven should do the trick.

To make the optional lemon syrup: combine the ingredients in a small saucepan and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and set aside.

After removing bread or muffins from the oven, prick the top with wooden stick, (all over for bread, or in 3 or 4 places per muffin). Drizzle the lemon-syrup slowly over the surface. Allow the lemon-bread or muffins to cool for 10 or 15 minutes before slicing or removing from the tins.

Serve warm with Earl Grey tea and fresh blueberries if they are in season. If you skip the syrup, the muffins also taste great with a bit of butter and honey.

Mixy, mixy…

 For further inspiration, there’s always…

Gershwin: Rhapsody In Blue/An American In Paris

Photography & Text ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Welcome, Soft Harbinger of Spring: Oh Come to Me, My Sweet Willow…

March 19th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Salix discolor: North American native pussy willow © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Salix discolor, North American native pussy willow – Pitcher by Aletha Soulé. Photo © Michaela TGE

Welcome! Oh welcome sweet, silver-tipped harbinger of springtime. Is there anything that makes a heart race faster than the sight of the first pussy willow catkins in March? I should probably install a blinking sign on the back of my vehicle; “Warning: I break for pussy willow”. Yes, it’s true. I am quite the springtime roadside hazard. Fortunately, the mud-slicked trails I travel in search of Salix discolor, (as our North American native pussywillow is formally called), are usually avoided by traffic at this time of year. Yesterday afternoon, after a bit of swampy adventure, I returned home with a flush in my cheeks and armfuls of downy-budded branches. I love the beautiful, soft texture and the sculptural quality of pussy willow arrangements.

Salix discolor is a North American native shrub or small, understory tree, (5-15′ tall and perhaps 8′ wide). Often found beside brooks and forest streams, or in low-lying thickets and swamps from Canada to Georgia, the pussy willow is hardy to USDA zones 4-7. Stands of Salix discolor form important wetland habitat for nesting birds and other creatures. Mindful of this, I have been carefully harvesting where shrubs are plentiful, and making clean cuts with my Felco pruners.

Pussy willow are easy to propagate from springtime cuttings, (this is a good project to try with kids!). Simply harvest pliant, year-old branches, (approximately 18-24″ long), and keep stems in a vase of water in a sunny spot. Plant whips outside when roots have formed, right after the last frost date in your area. This year I harvested some branches to use in everlasting arrangements, and some to propagate for my garden. Pussy willow make wonderful, textural-interst shrubs for wetland transition areas in the naturalized landscape. I hope to propagate enough for future cutting as well as for enjoying in the permanent landscape. Remember, these native shrubs are fantastic cover for small birds in the garden too. If you harvest pussy willow for arrangements, and would like the catkins to remain in their silvery, bud-like state, place them in a vase without water to halt development. The preserved twigs and branches can be used in wreaths or other decorations, and will remain beautiful throughout the year. If placed in water, the catkins will slowly develop a greenish cast or “bloom” and eventually, alternate, oval-shaped leaves will spout along the branches. Plant Salix discolor in a garden low spot, where it will catch spring run-off and moisture throughout the seasons…

Salix discolor, North American native pussy willow © Michaela at TGE

Salix discolor – vase by Aletha Soulé. Photo © Michaela at TGE

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Article and photographs copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through the affiliate-links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to The Gardener’s Eden, and will help with site maintenance and web hosting costs. Thank you!

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Hello Friend – WAIT – Whose Team Are You On Anyway?

March 9th, 2010 § 7 comments § permalink

It’s easy to recognize this friend as an adult. A ladybug rests upon Peperomia. Photo © Michaela at TGE

Hello friend… or foe? In all of life it’s important to know your friends from your enemies, but as gardeners this issue is especially important. We are conditioned to think of bugs as destructive, ‘icky’ and ‘bad’. Of course this isn’t always the case. Hardly. In fact, some bugs are easy to like – especially if they are beautiful. Butterflies and moths easily charm us with their colorful patterns as they dance on the breeze, and dragonflies delight us with their bright colors and aerobatic maneuvers. Honeybees seduce us with their sweet nectar, and their bumbling cousins are equally charming as they buzz about the garden. Perhaps the most famous of all, pretty red and black ladybugs have become the pin-up girls of the beneficial insect world. In fact right now, as I type this sentence, hundreds of these helpful creatures are emerging from hibernation in my house, covering my houseplants like a smattering of little red polka-dots.

But what about the other “good” bugs? Would you know a beneficial insect if you saw one? It’s certainly been a long time since my last entomology class, and I admit that I am a bit rusty. Although I can easily recognize most garden pests, and I know how to combat them, I am not always spot-on with my identifications. Part of the difficulty lies in the nature of insect metamorphosis. What? Yes, that’s right: metamorphosis. Remember that from school? And no, I’m not talking about Franz Kafka’s famous novella, (although that is one of my all time favorite, freaky-works of fiction). Most of us become familiar with the process of metamorphosis in elementary school, when butterfly caterpillars, (particularly Monarch and Swallowtail), are collected in containers during science class. Kids of all ages love to watch as a mature butterfly emerges, transformed after weeks inside a moody, magical chrysalis. All insects live out their lives in stages, and it’s important for a gardener to know how they look in their ‘baby’, (larval, nymph, pupa), phases as well as in their mature form.

Most experienced gardeners will recognize the black and orange ‘monster’, (pictured below), as a ladybug, (or ladybird beetle, also known as Coccinella septempunctata), in its larval stage. In one of the more dramatic insect transformations, this freakish-looking creature morphs into the cute little red and black beetle we all know and love. If you have never  seen one before, do get to know this chameleon, for it is your dear, dear friend. The ladybug is a garden hero, and it does an extraordinary amount of work before it even reaches adulthood. Aphids; mites; scale: these garden pests are the ladybug’s favorite foods. In fact, a single ladybug can consume thousands of destructive aphids, mites and other insects within its lifetime. Would you have killed this creature, (pictured below), if you saw it in your garden? Many do. Sometimes the ladybug larvae is mistaken for a pest, and other times it is accidentally wiped out with an application of insecticide intended for the very aphids it is actually consuming, (warning: many organic pesticides can kill beneficials, especially in the larval stage)…

But would you recognize it as a baby? (An immature lady bug feasting upon aphids. Photo: Vejezus via Wikimedia Commons)

The first step toward becoming a responsible, organic gardener is to recognize the natural things living around you, and to learn about the role they play in the ecosystem. ‘Good’ or ‘bad’, all creatures are part of the web of life, and we should respect them. Of course this doesn’t mean that I invite aphids to join me for dinner in my vegetable garden. Heck no. I plant my garden to enjoy –  and to EAT! But, I do try to work with nature, not against her, in order to keep my garden free of insect competitors!

Like most gardeners, sometimes when my plants are under siege, it’s hard for me to decide who or what is to blame. Even the calmest gardener can start to panic when a favorite cultivar is being skeletonized. Learning to recognize the tell-tale evidence left behind during or after an insect attack is one of the keys to gardening success. Recently I posted an article, “Help! Something Is Bugging My Plants, (And Me Too)!” on the Garden Variety Blog at Barnes & Noble. There you will find some helpful diagnostic resources. I also believe that a good, easily transportable, insect ID guide book is an excellent gardening tool. Below I have linked my two favorites, in order of preference. For quick reference, I am a big fan of the indestructible, laminated Mac’s Field Guide to bugs, which hangs on my garden gatepost all summer like a wild-west “Wanted” poster. One side has “good” guys, flip it, and on the other, “bad” guys are illustrated in all stages – very useful. While you are here today, have a look at the right hand side of this blog. Scroll down until you see the “Insects and Entomology” category – there you will find a list of useful links. Explore some of the free online resources listed there. Many of these sites offer fantastic images to help you identify common, as well as uncommon insects, and some offer excellent information on how to combat backyard pests in a safer way.

The garden season is on its way! It’s time to flip through the list of regular insect-characters, and familiarize yourself with the different players and costume changes you will encounter this year. Friend or foe? Before you start attacking, or laying out your welcome mat, it’s wise to spend some time getting to know your garden “guests”…

Your friend, Milkweed Assassin Bug, is one of  over 4,000 members of the Heteroptera order. (Photo credit: Ira Eskins via Wikimedia Commons)

Buy from Amazon : NWF Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America

Buy from Barnes & Noble: NWF Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America

Buy from Barnes and Noble : NAS Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders

Buy from Amazon: NAS Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders

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Article and photographs, (with noted exceptions), © Michaela at TGE. All rights reserved.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden, and may not be used or reproduced in any way without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world an link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Feathering the Nest: Providing for Birds This Spring in the Garden…

February 15th, 2010 § Comments Off on Feathering the Nest: Providing for Birds This Spring in the Garden… § permalink

My dad’s homemade wren and bluebird houses, cleaned, ready and waiting for placement…

Well, I have pulled out my bird houses, but as you can see, they won’t be filled with tenants anytime soon. It’s snowing here in the Green Mountains today. Nothing major, thank goodness, but we may be getting some accumulating snow tomorrow, (sigh). Still, now is a good time to start thinking about bird houses and their placement in the landscape. Birds are of course essential in every backyard eden. Beyond their obvious beauty and the poetry of their song, birds are the ultimate in organic insect control. Consider that a single insectivorous, (bug eating), bird can consume more than 100 bugs per day. If that isn’t reason enough to set out bird houses, feeders and bird baths, I don’t know what is!

Beautiful functionality: image from Terrain

The trouble is, many bird houses and feeders are unattractive. I am always on the lookout for beautiful, functional garden objects, both for my own garden and for my client’s landscapes. As a garden designer, I can be pretty critical. Simple and natural objects always looks best to my eye. Below I have linked some beautiful and useful bird houses available online from Duncraft and Terrain. There are some others listed in the Potting Shed page, and in my previous post on birds. You can also build your own houses from kits. For awhile, my dad was on a real bird house manufacturing kick. He started with a simple kit, like the ones linked below from Duncraft, and then he graduated to patterns, and eventually he developed some of his own designs. The bird houses above, (top photo), and probably fifty others, were created by my father over the course of a single winter. He’s moved on to other projects now, (much to my mother’s delight, I am sure), but I still love and use his handcrafted bird havens and feeders. If you are even the least bit crafty, bird houses are very easy to build from kits and patterns, (more on this subject will be coming soon).

Lovely green moss bird house from Terrain

I like to encourage bird house and feeder construction as a winter project for families with children. Respect for the natural world is usually something we learn from our parents or other important adults in our lives. If you have youngsters in your circle, lead them to The Audubon Society via their wonderful website, and encourage their interest in identifying birds through quality guidebooks. There are more useful bird-centric links in the blogroll at right. Now is a good time to clean and look over old birdhouses for safety and disease prevention. Before you get busy with yard work, think about bird house placement and get things up and ready before the new rush of tenants arrive. I am really looking forward to the return of songbirds. Aren’t you? My favorite is Vermont’s state bird, the hermit thrush. What birds visit your garden in summer? Do you put up birdhouses?

Natural Twig Bird House, $38, Available at:  Terrain

Vintage-Inspired Bird Notebook : $12 from Terrain

Ceramic Gourd Bird House, $32.95, Available at: Terrain

Natural and stylish: Duncraft’s Pretty Thatched Roof Nesting Pocket – $7.95

Simple, unobtrusive and classic: Duncraft’s Basic Bird Houses from $12.95

Build your own bird houses with easy kits (a great winter project with kids):  Bird House Kits in solid wood for only $15.95 from Duncraft

A functional and beautiful garden ornament, (great for wedding/housewarming):  Duncraft’s Beautiful Copper Roofed Songbird House – $99.95

More beautiful and functional houses, havens, feeders and more are available online at: Duncraft Bird Houses

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Top photo © 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All other images are the property of the linked websites, as noted. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Please do not take images or text excerpts without obtaining permission via ‘contact’ link at right. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships, stealing makes for bad dreams…

The Gardener’s Eden’s strict editorial policy does not permit sponsored posts. Products and promotional materials are not accepted as payment for review. Although The Gardener’s Eden does not receive payment of any kind for product mention, any purchases made through advertising links will result in the payment of a small commission, which helps to support The Gardener’s Eden, (at no additional cost to you). I hope you enjoy this site and thank you for your support !

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Go a Little Less Green for the Environment: Rethink Your Lawn…

February 13th, 2010 § Comments Off on Go a Little Less Green for the Environment: Rethink Your Lawn… § permalink

The Front Wildflower Walk in my Garden in June…

Lush, wide, green and rolling; in America we love our lawns. We like to sprawl out on the grass for a picnic, gather on the neighbor’s lawn for a game of touch football , and set up our folding chairs and tiki-torches in the backyard green for summer barbeques. I like doing these things too, and I have a small lawn of my own in Vermont. But it’s important to remember that lawns, from and environmental perspective, provide little support for the ecosystem. In fact, the tremendous amount of water, fossil fuel, fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides used to maintain most suburban lawns makes our green-fixation downright irresponsible. And although green areas do reduce heat in cities, tightly cropped lawns do little to create habitat and provide food for birds, bees and the many other creatures sharing our world…

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’, attracts a buzzing dinner guest…

 

So, how do we balance our desire for outdoor recreational spaces with environmentally friendly landscaping? When I design gardens for suburban homeowners, I like to suggest a compromise: keep some lawn in the backyard for play-space if it is truly used, and devote the front yard to nature. Usually, the front yard in an urban environment is no more than a strip of earth between the front door and the sidewalk or road. This part of the property is often dry and dusty, and it is rarely used for recreation. Sometimes the area between the house and street is steep and difficult, or even dangerous to mow. In many neighborhoods, roadside turf grass turns brown and unattractive by midsummer, (if it ever looks good at all). There are far more appropriate plants for such spaces; plants that will provide food and habitat for wildlife. In may areas, simply replacing grass with clover or another flowering ground cover is an excellent choice. For the more adventurous, a front garden filled with a mixed selection of native plants can be both beautiful and rewarding. Although there will be initial expenses and work involved, replacing front yard turf grass with more viable plantings can eventually save money and make a home more appealing and marketable as well as ecologically friendly.

For experienced gardeners, alternatives to turf grass will immediately spring to mind, but for novices the sea of choices and garden plan decisions can often seem overwhelming. If you are at a loss for ideas, Liz Primeau’s Front Yard Gardens is a great place to look for inspiration. This lovely paperback book is filled with hundreds of photographs of front yard garden designs, taken in a wide variety of climates. But more important, Primeau is quite practical, her book includes detailed plant lists and step-by-step plans to suit all climates, tastes and budgets. Usually I advise simple design plans and lower maintenance, native plants for new gardeners. Of course, what is considered a native plant will vary tremendously from one place to another, and this is where a bit of research comes in handy. It’s important that your garden suit your location. Perhaps one of your neighbors has a successful front yard garden. What plants grow well for them?  Most gardeners love to talk about plants and they tend to be very generous with advice. Also keep in mind that many communities have gardening clubs and plant swaps groups, and they usually welcome newcomers with a wealth of tips and information – sometimes even perennial divisions !  A small, neighborhood garden center is also a fantastic place to go for advice. Ask experienced, local nursery staff for some native plant recommendations. Be sure to mention that you would like to grow plants with open flowers and extended bloom periods to attract bees, butterflies and birds to your yard. If you are new to gardening, remember to start with a modest plan, and expand your garden as you develop confidence and success…

 

Why mow on a dangerous slope ? When terraced with natural stone, this ‘problem area’ in my garden became a lush, mixed border filled with shrubs, ground covers and perennials, blooming from early spring to late autumn…

Purchase Liz Primeau’s Front Yard Gardens( 2003 ed.): from Barnes and Noble

Purchase Liz Primeau’s Front Yard Gardens (new 2010 ed.): from Amazon

 

An excellent choice for beginners to more advanced gardeners, mixed daylily gardens cover ground, (even those tough to maintain slopes), and bloom from early summer through frost. Expand the early spring bloom time by adding bulbs in the fall. This beautiful daylily combination in my front garden is from White Flower Farm

Hosta are a good choice for new gardeners with shady outdoor spaces. Hosta produce white to lavender blossoms, providing pollen for hummingbirds, butterflies and bees, and cool summer shade for other living creatures. Early blooming bulbs can be planted between hosta in autumn, to extend a landscape’s bloom period. The image above is from White Flower Farm

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This article was originally written by Michaela (TGE), for The Honeybee Conservancy Blog as part of a volunteer, collaborative effort. Please visit the HBC site to learn more about this important cause, and how you can do more to help support and protect earth’s pollinators.

Article and photographs, (with noted exceptions), © 2010, All Rights Reserved : Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without written consent. Please do not use anything on this site without permission

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Providing for our Feathered Friends in the Winter Garden – Part One…

January 12th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Dark-eyed Junco, (Junco hyemalis)

Last week when snowshoeing through the forest, I was amused by a small group of chickadees bouncing from branch to branch in a hemlock stand. With so few sounds in the woodland at this time of year, the chirping birds really stood out and made me laugh. I try not to anthropomorphize – but they really did sound like they were having a passinate debate about something very important. And who knows, maybe they were.

I love watching birds in my garden and in the forest surrounding my home, so I tend to plant trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals with birds in mind. Come autumn, instead of cutting my garden back, I always leave my perennials and annuals, particularly those with seed-heads, standing for the overwintering birds. Safe backyard-havens with conifer shelters, (such as hemlock and spruce), winter fruit, and seeds are very attractive to birds. The western side of my home is buffered by a hemlock stand, where birds congregate, protected from the wind. I have also noticed juncos and sparrows crouching beneath the ornamental juniper along my walkway. Sometimes a group of of little birds will surprise me when they take flight from the shrubs in the entry garden, reminding me that they are making use of the space even when I am not.

In addition to the many cultivars of winterberry, (ilex verticillata), viburnum, cotoneaster, and other fruiting shrubs in my yard, I have also planted native perennials for seed. Beautiful gold and purple finches are always attracted to coneflower, (Echinacea), black-eyed susan, (Rudbeckia), ornamental mint, (Nepeta), and bee-balm, (Monarda). Standing sunflower heads and other annuals left overwinter in the vegetable garden attract both small and large birds, and of course the occasional squirrel.

As winter drags on, supplemental feeders with seed are useful if you want to continue providing for, (and watching), birds in your backyard. Below I have linked some excellent resources for gardeners interested in birds, (including books and recommended feeders). If you are planning to hang feeders or scatter seed in your yard, please be sure to keep cats indoors, and protect visiting birds from neighborhood felines by siting feeders away from potential ambush spots, (cats like to lurk in shrubs or beneath porch hide-outs). Woo (my overweight, senior bird-watcher), is mainly an indoor cat. Although I allow her supervised time outdoors in summer, I don’t let her out when birds come here to feed in winter, (it’s safer for her indoors anyway). Also, be sure to keep all feeders clean, (wash at least twice a year), to prevent mold and spread of disease. Remember too that birds need access to fresh water year round. I have natural brooks and ponds on my property, but if you don’t there are plenty of water-bowl options. My father has a heated bird-bath for winter, and I have noticed birds visiting it regularly.

Of course, not everyone visiting this site lives in a wintery climate. If your are lucky enough to be enjoying mild temperatures at this time of year, then chances are good you will have hummingbirds, as well as other local and migratory birds, in your garden. There are a few hummingbird and songbird resources here as well, and there will be more to come.

Over the next few weeks I will be passing along more information on how to attract and support birds in the garden. But for now, one of the most important and trusted resources for birders is, of course, the Aububon society. The Audubon website is a great place to visit if you are interested in learning more about our feathered friends. There is a wealth of information on bird feeding and bird watching for everyone from amateurs to seasoned ornithologists.

Are you seeing birds in your garden right now? A reader, (who wishes to remain anonymous), sent in the photos of Black-eyed Junco and the Cardinal you see here. If you have taken some great bird photos, consider sending them in to be featured on The Gardener’s Eden, (with credit of course), over the coming weeks. And please feel free to share your bird-sightings in the comments here. I’d love to hear about the winged visitors to your backyard havens…

Northern Cardinal, (Cardinalis cardinalis)

Dark-eyed Junco, (Junco hyemalis)

The Audubon Backyard Birdwatcher: Birdfeeders and Bird Gardens

The Backyard Bird Feeder's Bible

The Backyard Bird Feeder’s Bible: The A-to-Z Guide To Feeders, Seed Mixes, Projects, And Treats (Rodale Organic Gardening Book)

projectsforbirdersgarden200

Projects for the Birder’s Garden: Over 100 Easy Things That You can Make to Turn Your Yard and Garden into a Bird-Friendly Haven

Smith and Hawken for Target Bird Feeder

Teardrop Roosting Pocket

Avant Garden Berkshire Lodge Feeder

Avant Garden Berkshire Lodge Feeder

Thistle Feeder

Bird Quest SBF5Y 36

Natural Bird Roost : Shelter

Acorn Roosting Pocket

Hummingbird Gardens: Turning Your Yard Into Hummingbird Heaven (21st-Century Gardening Series)

Hummingbird Feeder

Etched Hummingbird Feeder

Humming Bird Feeder Glass Crackle

Bird Brain, Crackle Hummingbird Feeder, Yellow

audubon oriole feeder

Plastic Oriole Feeder

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Article copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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A New Year’s Resolution for Gardeners: Making Informed Choices About Gardening Practices and Products to Support a Healthy, Natural Environment…

January 5th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

We  ♥ Mother Earth

The new year often brings about a desire for change and personal reckoning. We make promises, resolutions and plans to better ourselves and the world around us. Over the past couple of years, many people have committed to building environmentally conscious, self-sufficient lives. As a result, gardening, particularly vegetable gardening, has re-emerged as a popular interest and hobby.

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This return to the earth is a good thing. But it is important to remember that even in our backyard vegetable plots and tiny rooftop potagers, the way we garden, and the products and practices we choose for our gardens, all have lasting consequences for our environment. Every action we take in the natural world must be considered carefully. Words like “organic”, “green”. “sustainable” and “eco” are being tossed about freely these days. Buzz words can sometimes be confusing and misleading.

Perhaps the single most important thing we can do as gardeners is to educate ourselves. There are many websites, magazines and books written to help inform gardeners about environmentally sound horticultural practices. If you are new to gardening, or even if you have been tending a plot for decades, publications such as Organic Gardening Magazine, and books, particularly Linda Chalker-Scott’s The Informed Gardener, and Jeff Gillman’s The Truth About Organic Gardening: Benefits, Drawbacks, and the Bottom Line, are essential for up-to-date, accurate scientific information. I will be writing much more about this topic come springtime, but winter is also a great time of year to read and research these important topics, before you begin planting your garden.

If I can send one message out to new gardeners it is this: just because a product or practice is organic, it doesn’t mean that it should be applied or adopted indiscriminately. Take organic pesticides for example. Even OMRI, (Organic Materials Review Institute), approved substances such pyrethrin, rotenone and neem, can be harmful or deadly to beneficial insects, including honeybees and ladybugs. All pesticides, even organic products, should be used sparingly, and only as a last resort in gardens. The best way to avoid diseases and harmful insect infestations is to provide garden plants with the growing conditions they require, and to avoid mono-culture, (growing large numbers of only a few kinds of plants), and environmental stress.

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For new gardeners, I highly recommend learning the basics of vegetable gardening from respected teachers and authors. Edward C. Smith’s The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible (10th Anniversary Edition), is an excellent place to start. In addition, Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver, by author Fern Marshall Bradley, can serve as helpful reference to all gardeners. Also remember to take advantage of free, reliable online resources, such as beneficial insect identification sites. Three great online pages: The easy and fun Insectidentification.org, the comprehensive Texas A&M University Vegetable IPM site, and of course Cornell University’s Vegetable MD Online all offer excellent photographs and descriptions to help gardeners recognize natural allies and pick up on small problems before they become large and unmanageable.

I am not a big New Year’s resolutions kind of gal, but January is a good time to turn a new leaf, (even if the trees are still naked). So if you are planning your first vegetable garden this spring, or even if you have been growing your own food for many years, I hope the first leaf you turn this year dangles from the tree of knowledge. Education is a life-long process. With the help of solid, scientific information, we can work with nature to cultivate a safer, healthier garden environment for all…

The Nasturtium Seat in the Potager at Ferncliff

Early Greens in the Potager at Ferncliff


The Informed Gardener by horticulturalist, Linda Chalker-Scott

Rodale’s Magazine, Organic Gardening (2-year)

Jeff Gillaman’s The Truth About Organic Gardening: Benefits, Drawbacks, and the Bottom Line

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Article and photographs are copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

This article originally appeared as a guest post at The Honeybee Conservancy Blog, please pay this important non-profit cause a visit !

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written consent. Please do not use article excerpts or photographs featured here without contacting me first. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Thank you !

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Art Inspired by Nature: A Moment with Talented Author, Artisan and Beekeeper Marina Marchese of Red Bee Apiary…

December 16th, 2009 § 5 comments § permalink

GateSign

The lovely and welcoming Red Bee Apiary in Weston, Connecticut

Marina Marchese Portrait

Marina Marchese: beekeeping farmer, author and founder of Red Bee Apiary Photograph by Jeff Becker

The subject of this weeks ‘Art Inspired by Nature’ on The Gardener’s Eden, is a lovely and talented woman living the life of many a discontented, city-dweller’s dreams. Not only is this beekeeper a successful boutique farmer and maker of artisan honey, she is also an accomplished author, illustrator and designer. And to top it all off, the founder and owner of Red Bee Apiary and Rossape, all-natural health and skin care products, began her amazing agricultural life when she stumbled upon her dream in a neighbor’s backyard. Meet Marina Marchese, the accidental beekeeper. So how exactly does one find the courage to up and quit the “rat-race”, becoming a beekeeper, boutique farmer and creator of artisan honey in the process? Well, the story of Red Bee and Marina’s delightful gourmet honey all begins with her visit to a small apiary and subsequent love affair with one of earth’s most precious creatures – the honeybee…

HoneybeeCrocus

A honeybee on crocus at Red Bee Apiary

Nearly a decade ago, Marina was leading a hectic, urban professional’s life; working in the city and traveling between New York City and China. Then, one day in the spring of 2000, this busy and successful illustrator and designer visited a neighbor’s apiary and made an life-altering discovery. There amongst the hives, surrounded by gardens and bees, Marina found herself filled with a calm, comforting sense of peace. Allowing the honeybees to crawl freely upon her hands proved to be a transformative experience for Marina. Soon she was setting up her own hive, learning about beekeeping, artisanal honey and farm life. The story of Marina’s life-altering relationship with the honeybee is compelling, and a great inspiration to anyone longing to make the leap and follow a dream. I find this woman fascinating, and I am not alone in my admiration. In fact, just this year Marina published her first book, Honeybee: Lessons from an Accidental Beekeeper, chronicling her fascinating life’s journey, (you may read reviews and excerpts, or buy Marina’s book by clicking on the links here and below)…

HoneybeeCover

Marina Marchese’s book:

Honeybee: Lessons from an Accidental Beekeeper

Over the past ten years, with hard work and devotion to the bees and her artisanal process, Marina has grown a great deal both personally and professionally. A second generation Italian-American, it seems only natural that Marina studied wine making as part of her educational process. Studying how wines are tasted and evaluated helped Marina to develop the exquisite, artisan honey she creates at Red Bee Apiary. Running a farm based business of any kind is a challenge, so it is particularly impressive to encounter Marina’s creative style, enthusiasm, drive and success. This beekeeper is a hands-on entrepreneur; involved in every detail of her business from garden to beehive to harvest. In addition, all of the Red Bee products are beautifully packaged with labels designed by Marina, (it looks like her education at The School of Visual Arts in NYC, and years of work as an illustrator and designer came in handy when creating her company’s signature style)…

Hiving

Marina ‘hiving’

BeeFrame

The “accidental beekeeper” holding a bee frame…

Uncapping

Here, Marina demonstrates the uncapping of a frame from a bee hive…

Spinner

Harvesting honey from uncapped frames in the spinner – and below the end result of this collaborative effort between Marina and her bees…

MarketTable9.JPG

A market table filled with Marina’s artisan honey and Red Bee products…

Red Bee Apiary and Gardens is based out of Marina’s private residence in Weston, Connecticut. All of the beautiful, sustainable products featured here are handmade and sold under Marina’s Red Bee and Rossape trademark labels. Her delightful honey, health and skin care products and candles may all be purchased directly from her farm through the Red Bee Website linked here.

Pictured below are just a few of the delicious and lovely, handmade offerings from Red Bee. If you are looking for special, inexpensive homemade gifts this year, I encourage you to support Red Bee, and other small artisans and farmers. Thank you Marina, for sharing your story, and giving us both inspiration and a peek into your beautiful world.

Red Bee has developed an extensive selection of artisan honey to tantalize your taste-buds. Honey may be purchased in sampler gift-packs, in beautifully labeled bottles, or in its all-natural state – the honeycomb….

Gift3

Artisan honey gift set from Red Bee

HWildGp2

Red Bee offers a wide selection of artisan honey including raspberry, blueberry, tupelo, clover and many other exquisite varieties. Pictured above is Marina’s signature wildflower honey.

Comb

Red Bee honeycombs, or as Marina calls them, the “Jewel of the Beehive”, are very popular. This delicious treat is harvested and sold in its all-natural state. Try some with soft cheese and warm bread for a special holiday appetizer, or use it as natural sweetener on your morning toast.

Marina’s all-natural health and skin care products, sold under her Rossape label, are a natural way to pamper yourself or someone you love. Bee pollen and honey is well known for its health benefits. Pictured here are but a few of Marina’s beautiful and popular products. The Gardener’s Care Gift set really caught my eye. I am eager to sample this alluring collection…

Gardeners

Gardener’s Care Gift Set from Red Bee’s Rosape skin care collection

HoneyFace2

Red Bee’s Creamy Honey Facial Scrub is an all natural way to clean up after a day spent in the garden, or even more to the point, after a day spent in a grimy city !

ButterB

And for moisturizing.. Marina has created many potions, including a delightful Honeybee Butter Balm…

Body_Face

One of the many beautifully packaged skin care sets for face and body from Rosape by Red Bee. See the Red Bee website for a wide selection…

Honey Vial Necklace

This little vial of honey necklace really caught my eye. And what a great stocking stuffer at only $6-

Marina also creates beautiful beeswax candles. These candles are currently available in very limited in supply due to their seasonal popularity. If you like long, clean-burning candles, without cloying, artificial fragrance or smoke, then old-fashioned, beeswax candles are an excellent choice. Beeswax candles are naturally aromatic, long-lasting and drip-less. Marina’s Red Bee website has a lovely selection of styles to choose from, including classic tapers as well as more decorative honeycomb and molded creations. Here are a couple of my favorites…

Asparagus

Molded asparagus candles, (an unusual gift for a cook or gardener)

Pine

Beautiful beeswax candles, shaped into pine cones, (my favorite !)

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All photography in this editorial feature, (with the noted exception of Marina’s portrait), is courtesy of and copyright Red Bee ®  These images were used with the consent of Marina Marchese. Please contact her before using or reproducing any of these images. Thank you for your cooperation!

Rooster

A poetic, pastoral scene at Red Bee Apiary and Gardens

For further informations about Marina Marchese and Red Bee ®, visit:

Redbee.com

RedBee_Logo


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Would you, or someone you know, like to learn more about bees and beekeeping? Here are some excellent, critically acclaimed books and online resources:

keepingbeesAlison Benjamin’s popular book: Keeping Bees And Making Honey

October2009Cover

Bee Culture Magzine Online – A great resource for apiaries

BBHH_Jacket.indd

Bee Culture editor Kim Flottum’s most recent book on beekeeping:

The Backyard Beekeeper’s Honey Handbook: A Guide to Creating, Harvesting, and Cooking with Natural Honeys

Hive Management

Apiary Richard Bonney’s well respected beekeeping book:

Hive Management: A Seasonal Guide for Beekeepers

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For More Online Resources and Bee Related Organizations, Please Visit :

shapeimage_3

The Honeybee Conservancy Website and Blog

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Article copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced for any purpose without express, written permission. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

All articles and reviews on The Gardener’s Eden are purely editorial in nature. As a matter of personal integrity, no payment of any kind, (monetary or product gift), is ever received as compensation for mention here. However The Gardener’s Eden is an Amazon.com affiliate, and any purchases you make at Amazon.com at their online store when visiting through the links here will help to support The Gardener’s Eden, (at no additional cost to you), by netting this site a small percentage of the sale. Thank you for your support !

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Announcing Collaborative Work with The Honey Bee Conservancy: A New Series of Guest Posts Begins…

November 8th, 2009 § Comments Off on Announcing Collaborative Work with The Honey Bee Conservancy: A New Series of Guest Posts Begins… § permalink

Honeybee Conservancy Logo

I have recently been invited to guest-post a series of articles on gardening with bees in mind for The Honeybee Conservancy blog. The first installation, supporting pollinators by planting native plants, posted today. You can read the article by clicking here.

Honeybees as a species predate human beings by tens of millions of years, and they can be found almost everywhere on earth. Although honeybees have existed in North America for centuries, they are believed to have been imported, (as were many other things including people, animals, plants, and even 30% of earthworms), when Europeans came to the New World in the 1600’s. While honeybees may not technically qualify as a native North American insects, they have certainly become an important and beneficial part of our ecosystem. In the United States and in most other countries, honeybees also play a significant role in agriculture. Pollination is of course essential to the production of food, including most fruits and vegetables, and bees are the primary pollinators of these flowering crops. Bees also produce wax, a natural ingredient in many health and beauty products. And of course, bees are also responsible for golden, delicious honey – a delightful and natural sweetener many of us enjoy. Supporting bees and pollinators of all kinds is important to us, our economy and earth as a whole.

As gardeners we have the opportunity to help out all pollinating insects and animals by practicing ecologically sound, organic and sustainable gardening methods, and by supporting natural habitat and native plants. Over the coming months I will be writing more on this subject both for this site and for The Honeybee Conservancy blog, (an article will post on the first Sunday of each month for the next four months).  I hope all of you will pay The Honeybee Conservancy website and blog a visit to see the fine work this non-profit group is doing in support of bee pollinators throughout North America.

Thank you to Guillermo and everyone at the Honey Bee Conservancy for all of their educational outreach, wonderful collaborative efforts, and hard work on behalf of the bees. I am so pleased to be part of your buzz…

Visit The Honeybee Conservancy at www.thehoneybeeconservancy.org Today !

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Logo at top belongs to The Honeybee Conservancy

Article copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced for any purpose without express permission. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Art Inspired by Nature: Butterflies, Birds, Bees & Moths – Exploring the Exquisite Work of Cara Enteles…

October 7th, 2009 § 3 comments § permalink

Peril detail

Peril in the Branches, (detail), oil on aluminum, 48″ x 72″, © 2009 Cara Enteles

Stop. Behold the fleeting, delicate beauty of a butterfly lighting on flower petals, or the whir and buzz of hummingbirds and bees as they dart about, competing for late season pollen. What an amazing and diverse world we live in. As gardeners we tend to be keenly aware and respectful of the living miracles all around us. Time spent in the garden provides many opportunities for close encounters with spiders, bugs and birds as they instinctively go about their daily tasks. These amazing creatures and their relationships with one another, as well as with humankind, are the subject matter of this week’s  Art Inspired by Nature: The Work of Cara Enteles.

I first encountered Cara’s paintings last summer through the Emily Amy Gallery in Atlanta, Georgia where we are both represented and exhibit. Cara’s work is truly beautiful to behold. Metallic aluminum and transparent acrylic supports enhance the saturated hues, surface, depth and detail of her paintings. Immediately mesmerized by the luminous quality of her work, I found myself further drawn in and captivated by the complexity of her natural themes. After looking closely at Cara’s paintings over the course of time, I was not surprised when she told me that she is an avid gardener. Her work communicates both a rich understanding and respect for the natural world, and a joyous, uninhibited sense of wonder.

Many of us have become deeply and legitimately concerned about shrinking habitat, changing climate, and other ecological imbalances both natural and manmade. Cara’s work speaks to these concerns by exploring the complex relationships between the species in both her ‘Alternative Pollinator’ and ‘Predator and Prey’ series’.  I hope you will make the time to look closely at Cara’s work and to share it with others. Artists of all kinds play an important social role by raising awareness and inspiring action. Cara’s work gives voice to the concerns of the honeybee, the hummingbird, the butterfly and the plants they pollinate; the natural world and web of life, upon which we all depend.

Cara Enteles‘ paintings can be seen in galleries and collections though out the United States, and this month she is participating in Art London with Four Square Arts in the United Kingdom, October 8-12th. The artist divides her time between New York City and her home in Abramsville, Pennsylvania, where she works in her beautiful vegetable garden, pictured below…

~ Click to enlarge any photo ~

Cara Enteles, working bees oil on acrylic sheet 2' x 2' cara enteles

Working Bees, oil on acrylic sheet, 2′ x 2′, © Cara Enteles

Peril in the Branches Oil on Aluminum 48x72 inches

Peril in the Branches, oil on aluminum, 48″ x 72″, © Cara Enteles

Cara Enteles, Alternative Polinators 5, oil on acrylic sheet, 2' x 2', cara enteles

Alternative Pollinators 5, oil on acrylic sheet, 2′ x 2′, © Cara Enteles

Hummingbird Pollinators 2 Oil on Aluminum 26x36 inches lr

Hummingbird Pollinators 2, oil on aluminum, 26″ x 36″, © Cara Enteles

Cara Enteles, The Last Days of Summer, oil on acrylic sheet 36" x 36"

The Last Days of Summer, oil on acrylic sheet, 36″ x 36″, © Cara Enteles

Cara Enteles, Mostly Moths # 3, enamel and oil on aluminum, 48" x 32", Cara Enteles

Mostly Moths #3, enamel and oil on aluminum, 48″ x 32″, © Cara Enteles

Butterfly Installation, oil on aluminum 9' x 3'

Butterfly Installation, oil on aluminum, 9′ x 3′,  ©  Cara Enteles, (detail below)…

Butterfly Installation, detail, oil on aluminum, 9' x 3'

For more information on where to see/acquire Cara’s work, please visit her website: www.caraenteles.com

Thank you so much Cara, for sharing your work !

All artwork displayed on this post is the copyrighted property of Cara Enteles, and may not be reproduced or used in any way without her express written consent.

Cara's garden

~ Cara’s Pennsylvania Vegetable Garden ~

Learn more about protecting the honeybee, birds and nature at these sites:

The Honeybee Conservancy

The National Audubon Society

The Nature Conservancy

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Article copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Maybe the Princess was On to Something: A Gardener Falls in Love with Reptiles & Amphibians, Scales, Warts & All . . .

July 8th, 2009 § 2 comments § permalink

frogPhoto ⓒ Michaela at TGE

While I have certainly kissed my fair share of frogs in life, I can not say that any of them turned into princes. However I have never tried to kiss the warty, slimy amphibians residing in my garden, so it may be that they are the true royalty after all. And though I have always appreciated the beauty of a snake from afar, I am afraid I must be honest about my instinctive feelings toward those slithery creatures made famous by the Garden of Eden. Let’s just say we haven’t, historically speaking, been chums. But times change and people change, and sometimes it turns out that the creatures you find most repulsive can truly become your best friends.

garter-snakeEastern garter snake – Photo ⓒ John Miller

Take my new pal the garter snake for example. Mild mannered and rather shy, this helpful reptile is now a most welcome guest in my garden. Truth be told though, correcting my attitude toward the garter wasn’t exactly easy. Although it isn’t fair, we often pre-judge individuals by their kin, and the snake family and I have a somewhat checkered past. Our trouble began long-ago, in a childhood incident with a black rat snake. Playing in the backyard, I inadvertently stepped on or otherwise threatened this harmless creature and, in self-defense, it struck me with a painful bite. I no longer remember the details of this encounter, but apparently the bite mark on my arm frightened my parents enough to warrant a visit to the emergency room, where they were relieved to discover that the bite was non-poisonous. Perhaps if I had become a more sedentary, contemplative child, this would have been an isolated event. But no, this was not my destiny. As the years of my country-childhood went by, my arms and legs were punctured on various occasions by serpents, not that they were in any way to blame for our quarrels. I am afraid that on each and every instance, the snake was either stepped on or mishandled by yours truly. Eventually my curiosity turned to aversion, and from there it slid on down to genuine dislike. By the time I began gardening, I had come to loathe all snakes, (this attitude due to fear and ignorance on my part), and considered them my enemy.

Humans can be so foolish. As the years passed, and my work and studies took me further into horticulture, I found that avoiding snakes was all but impossible. Fueled by a desire to conquer my fears, I decided to investigate the snake, and educate myself about the various kinds I might encounter in the wild. As it turns out of course, snakes are pretty wonderful and amazing creatures. Some snakes, such as the brown snake, live on a diet consisting mainly of slugs and snails. Brown snakes are not biters; usually they will release a foul, musky-odor in order to defend against attack. Likewise, the passive ring-neck snake is an excellent predator of that ruinous garden slug. The common garter snake, as well as the smooth green snake, northern red belly and worm snakes are all serious insect eaters. How fantastic is that? Non-toxic, environmentally friendly and all-natural: these snakes are the perfect garden-guardians. Even larger snakes, (such as the black racer, eastern hognose, and my original “enemy” the black rat snake), are extremely helpful to gardeners because they control populations of destructive mice and moles. Rodent-eating snakes are more likely to strike at humans when threatened, but in spite of an unpleasant sting, most are quite harmless. Unfortunately countless snakes are killed every year. Often this violent action is a knee-jerk response to the same fear and ignorance I carried with me for years. Now that I am a friend to the snake, I try to educate my friends and neighbors whenever I can. Most snakes provide us with natural control of insects and rodents, creatures human beings often attempt to eliminate with toxic substances that poison our air, food, soil and water. Helpful snakes will make themselves at home in stonewalls, woodpiles, stumps and other cool shelters in your garden. From these safe-havens, they will patrol for insects and slugs, helping protect you and your garden while maintaining a balance in the natural world. If you want to attract beneficial snakes to your yard, observe potential spaces to create snake-friendly habitat. Keeping some “wild” zones on your property and safe, cool hiding spots will encourage snakes to make a home in your garden.

Of course, not all snakes are as defenseless as those I have just mentioned. Some snakes have highly toxic venom, and they should be considered quite dangerous. In New England, where I garden, hike and play in the outdoors, poisonous snakes are virtually non-existent. The timber rattlesnake and the copperhead are the only two poisonous snakes living here, and they are considered rare or even endangered in some states. This is not true however, for other parts of North America or the world.  In fact in some areas, poisonous snake populations are a serious threat to pets, small children and adults alike. If you live in an area with poisonous snakes, it is best to educate yourself about their preferred habitat and environment in order to deter their presence near your home.  It is always a good idea to learn how to identify the creatures living around you, and respect their rightful place in the world.

The amphibian is another unsung garden hero. Unfortunately, many people are still repulsed by the thought of slimy pond-water filled with tadpoles and slippery frogs. While I have always liked salamanders, frogs and toads, I have only recently become interested in working on their PR campaign. Frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and their cousins are all excellent insect hunters. Some research claims that a single toad can consume over 100 insects per day!

Frogs are identified by their smooth, slippery skin, webbed feet, long hind-legs and bulging eyes. They like to live in and around water, where they lay clusters of eggs. Toads, conversely, have dry, warty skin, squat, stubby bodies, short hind-legs and glands between their eyes. Toads lay eggs in long chains in and around water. These two amphibious creatures are mainly carnivorous, and eat an extraordinary number of insects every day. In order to encourage their presence, some people like to place purchased toad-houses in their gardens, to provide these garden-friends with cool shelter from the sun and protection from predators. Toad shelters can also be created at home with old flower pots tipped to the side and concealed with twigs an branches, or naturally, with piles of stones and logs. Beware that toads can become ‘trapped’ inside houses without backdoors when pursued by snakes or other hunters. So, be sure to provide your warty friend with a second exit to the shelter. Frogs are most attracted to gardens with water features. Ponds and garden-pools are ideal for frogs of course, but even a sheltered water-bowl or dish will provide the moisture a frog needs. The same conditions attractive to frogs and toads are also pleasing to salamanders. As organic gardeners, the environment we provide is much safer and more hospitable to amphibians and reptiles than places where toxic pesticides and herbicides are used. Many of the chemicals in these products, as well fertilizer combinations used in inorganic lawn care, can kill amphibians, make them sterile or drive them off. A few minutes spent watching a frog capture mosquitoes should be enough to convince anyone to protect this garden prince from a toxic world.

Snakes and amphibians do not get particularly good PR rap in our culture. Its really up to all of us to change that. These days, when I see a child instinctively recoil from a reptile or amphibian, I think of my own experience and try to encourage a more positive, cautious curiosity. I like to point out that these animals will not harm us, (and in the case of snakes, will not strike unless we threaten them), and that they are helpful to us by eating the mosquitoes biting us and the slugs destroying our vegetable plants. The seeds of my irrational fears were sown in childhood, and it took many years of self-discipline and education to overcome my dislike of snakes. I would like to spare others from such a fearful relationship with any animal. While a fast moving serpent can still make me jump, (OK, perhaps even scream), I now quickly recover and laugh at myself as I return to my work in the garden. The snake may surprise me, but I know it is a natural helper and garden-friend.

ribbon snakeA Northern ribbon snake on my front terrace. Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

For help with identification, or for more information about snakes in New England, visit The Snake Lady of Rhode Island‘s website. For information about all North American reptiles, including snakes, turtles and more, visit the National Biological Information Infrastructure website. In addition, information and help with identifying snakes in North America may be found by visiting the excellent snake identification webpage developed by Doug Henderson and Dennis Paulson for the Slater Museum of Natural History.

For more information on amphibians, such as the frogs, toads and salamanders of North America, visit the USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center’s Checklist of Amphibian Species and Identification Guide.

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1st garter snake photo copyright Diane and John Miller, courtesy of The Old Schoolhouse Plantery

All other photos and article copyright 2009 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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