Marking Time’s Passage in the Garden: Beautiful & Practical Journals…

December 2nd, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

Keeping a permanent record of your garden is one of the keys to horticultural success! I keep records for both my vegetable plot and my ornamental gardens

December 2010. It’s hard to believe that another year is drawing to a close, isn’t it? While flipping through my garden journal last week, I couldn’t help but marvel at how different the weather and crops were in 2010, compared to 2009. I just started a new section in my blank book to record observations on my winter vegetable garden (crops grown beneath hoop houses as well as horticultural pursuits indoors), and to make plans for spring 2011 planting.

Keeping a permanent record of your garden is one of the keys to horticultural success -and it’s also fun! I have a practical garden calendar/record (day-runner type with 3-ring binder and handy pockets for seeds and tags) where I keep dated notes on seed sowing and vegetable/fruit harvests, crop rotation maps, location records/photos, pest notes, fertilizing reminders and so on. But I also have a more traditional free-form journal (pictured above and just below) for thoughts, observations and sketches. This is the time of year when I usually order new inserts for my three-ring binder garden calendar/record and replace my free-form journal if necessary. Sure, I keep notes on my laptop and iPhone too, but I enjoy the process of sketching and writing with pen on paper.  And over time, I have learned the hard way that electronics, mud and water aren’t really the best of companions.

Planning 2011 Seed Order (Botanical Interests 2011 Seed Catalog)

In addition to laying out next year’s vegetable garden —rotating crops helps prevent repeat insect infestations and diseases— I’m also planning what varieties to plant based on past seasons. I have limited space in my potager, and I want to get a head start on orders before companies sell out of the choicest seeds. The Botanical Interests 2011 seed catalog arrived in my mailbox last week, and I have been circling items to order both for holiday gifts and for my own spring garden. My journal is helpful with this planning and ordering process, because I have written down which varieties of vegetables and herbs performed well in my garden, which did not, and which varieties I would like to try based on friends’ success. Every year, some companies discontinue seeds and others offer new varieties. So, as seed catalogs arrive, I scan lists to see where I can find and order my favorites (or, make a note to save my own seed when possible).

Garden Journal, Leather Cover Exterior (refill annually with a separate 5 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ calendar/journal)

A durable and beautiful garden journal makes a great gift for a new gardener —or any gardener not currently keeping one— particularly if it’s personalized with a few favorite seed packets, photos, notes, web-links, or even a gift certificate to a local garden center or online retailer, like Gardener’s Supply Company. If you —or the gardener you are shopping for— have a large garden, then consider a 3-ring binder type of journal cover and fill it with a calendar/notebook. A beautiful leather journal cover can be re-used from year to year, and makes a great gift. There are literally hundreds of notebooks, calendars and covers to choose from, but when you are shopping for a horticultural journal, keep in mind that for most serious gardeners, an easy-to-clean cover in leather or vinyl is really essential. Replaceable annual-calendar inserts make sense, as do extra plastic pockets. I like the day-timer style garden journals because they are flexible and can be used/filled anyway you like. Mine is the ring-binder type with plastic pockets and zip-lock pouches for seeds, tags, business cards, etc.

Garden Journal, Leather Cover Interior (free form style will fit any kind of notebook within the size constraints. This one has useful pockets for plant tags and seed packets)

This Garden Journal Leather Cover is nearly identical to the one directly above it, but it has a handy metal binder for loose leaf paper, calendar inserts and additional plastic pockets. I prefer this kind of journal for my day-to-day record keeping in the garden, because it keeps everything together. If I need to add more plastic pockets, I just swing by a local office supply store and match the stock to my binder.

Pretty, Simple and Inexpensive: Blossom Journal (Magnetic Closure). I’d choose this type of journal for a more meditative garden-writer or someonealready in possession of a task-oriented horticultural binder.

If the gardener you are shopping for tends more toward free-form record keeping or simple journaling, then a blank book would be a good choice. This type of journal is usually less expensive than zippered, three-ring-binder calendar/journals. A good, heavy cover is still important, although choosing a blank book with a pretty botanical theme seems right. I just ordered two journals (the one just above and below) as gifts. Will I keep one for myself? Hmmmmmmm….

Tree of Life Leather Journal (lined)

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Please note: The Gardener’s Eden is not an affiliate of Botanical Interest Seeds, but Michaela is a long-time, happy customer!

Article and Photos (Excepting Linked Product Photos) are ⓒ 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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Preparing the Garden for Winter: Protect Young, Ornamental & Fruit Trees from Gnawing Rodents…

November 11th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

My young Royal Frost birch (Betula populifolia x Whitespire ‘Royal Frost’) tree’s golden-orange foliage in November

Several years ago, when my father had heart surgery at the VA hospital in Boston, I was away from home quite a bit during the last three months of the year. Preoccupied with my dad’s health and juggling various responsibilities during his recovery, I neglected end-of-season chores in my garden. Later on, as the first month of winter passed and my father’s condition improved, I found myself staring at a box of unplanted bulbs and a check list of unfinished tasks.

Soon, spring arrived. Waves of forced bulbs —potted and chilled in late December— began to emerge from the depths of my refrigerator. Although I regretted not getting my little treasures into the ground, I was grateful for the bright color of early tulips and tiny, fragrant narcissus when the snow began to recede; exposing muddy patches of half-frozen earth. Later, as I began rummaging around my cellar in search of gardening tools, I made a grim discovery: an entire box of wire cages that never made it around the trunks of my young trees. My heart sank. I looked out into the Secret Garden —at my still-buried Japanese maple— and I knew that I was in trouble. Immediately I raced out the front door and down the steps to my beloved Blue Green Dragon (aka ‘Seiryu’) at the Secret Garden Door. I began furiously digging at the foot of ice and snow still mounded ’round the tree trunk. My cold, raw fingers felt of the smooth bark for tell-tale signs of mouse-damage; scratches, gouges or ridges. Eventually, after clearing the entire base of the tree, I breathed an enormous sigh of relief. No rodent damage here. But then, I turned my attention to the Japanese maple inside the Secret Garden -my beautiful ‘Butterfly’.

The gorgeous spring colors of Acer palmatum ‘Butterfly'(from Almost Eden Plants)

I went inside to grab a pair of gloves and shovel. Snow always drifts and piles higher inside the Secret Garden, and the shade prevents early melting. As I began digging, I quickly uncovered a cylindrical channel leading from one of the stone walls toward the tree. Drawing closer to the trunk, I could see tiny bits of bark scattered about the white tunnel. I slumped down in the snow. Still digging, as I uncovered one side of the stripped trunk, I started to cry. I knew what I would find, and I was right. The tree had been completely girdled (living bark gnawed clean off in a full circle around the trunk). If you’ve never seen this kind of rodent-damage before, my reaction may seem a bit over-dramatic. But if you’ve ever experienced the heartbreak of losing a beloved tree or shrub to winter girdling, you will understand. The rodents must have begun their chewing after the sap started to run in late February. As the weather warmed, the tree began to leaf out. What a pathetic scene. The gorgeous crimson-tipped leaves and coral-pink stems taunted me as I watched them unfurl; knowing that this would be my beautiful, young tree’s last spring. I couldn’t bear to dig it up, and I couldn’t stand to walk through the garden.

The beautiful leaves of The Blue Green Dragon (Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’) in Springtime

Eventually, I came to accept reality, and I removed the ‘Butterfly’ from my garden. I could not find another specimen, so I changed course, dug up the earth, and planted a young Stewartia pseudocamilla in her place. She is, of course, stunning in that spot. And one day, I will create another protected nook and bring a new ‘Butterfly’ to my garden.

If you have young trees and shrubs with tender bark in your garden, protecting those valuable plants from winter rodent damage is absolutely essential. Every November, I pull out my homemade wire tubes and surround the base of my precious plants. You can buy protective tree tubes at many garden centers, or easily make your own from fine wire mesh sheeting (available at most hardware stores). I had extra metal lath leftover from several construction projects, and that works well too. The important thing is that the spaces between the wires be small enough to prevent the tiniest of mice from slipping into the tube. Make the width of the cylinder about twice the diameter of the tree, and at least 18″ tall (depending on average snow depth, you may want to make your cylinder two feet tall)  For extra insurance, I often spray the bark of my trees with hot pepper wax before securing the wire tubes, and I also pour a few inches of sharp gravel around the base of the tube to prevent tunneling.

Gently settle the tube around the tree and push slightly into the mulch. Take care not to damage shallow-rooted trees like Japanese maple by pushing wire into the tender roots at the surface.

Secure the tube with medium-guage steel wire. Gasp! Put down those Felcos! Use wire cutters to snip that steel!

Secure the tube well, tucking the wire beneath itself to prevent injury to your fingers in springtime

This is what the tube looks like when properly installed around the base of the tree. Once you have made them, you can easily recycle them from year to year. Replace them every November. Larger trees can withstand a bit of mouse gnawing. Mature trees, with tough bark, rarely experience gnawing. But, I protect all of my smooth-barked specimen trees. It only takes about a half an hour to do my entire (very large) garden.

Japanese Golden Forest Grass (Hachonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) continues to provide late season color in the Secret Garden, and…

It also provides a bit of camouflage for my Stewartia’s protective, wire tree-tube

Before long, the silver-grey tubes in my garden will be buried beneath the snow. But because I am a garden designer, I am very preoccupied with how the garden looks throughout the seasons. So, I try to plant a ‘screen’ at the base of my young trees to help conceal these seasonal tubes in late autumn. In the photo above, golden Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) and Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ provide a fine camouflage.

And although I still pine for my ‘Butterfly’, I accept that sometimes accidents happen. My garden is important to me, but my family and friends are far more important. I’m happy to report that thanks to the team of medical professionals at the VA Hospital in West Roxbury, MA, my father made a full recovery from the heart surgery that saved his life. And every year on November 11th, as I go out in the morning to faithfully wrap my trees, I am reminded of the many veterans I met during my father’s stay at the Veterans Hospital four years ago. Thank you for your service to our country dad, and thank you to all of your brothers and sisters in arms. We are ever-grateful for your sacrifice, and we salute you.

A Time of Reflection- Veterans Day, November 11th

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Article and Photographs (with exception noted & linked) ⓒ 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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Fire and Ice: The Flaming Red Foliage of Abelia Mosanensis Sizzles Beside Cool Blue Juniper Horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’…

November 4th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

Fragrant abelia (Abelia mosanensis) and Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’ (aka ‘The Blue Rug’)

They say opposites attract —think Bogie and Bacall, Hepburn and Tracy, Lady and the Tramp, Bert and Ernie— in passionate relationships.  And it’s certainly true that sparks tend to fly in nature, as well as on the silver screen, when something hot and fiery comes into contact with the cool, calm and steely. In the late autumn garden, such contrasts are particularly spectacular when blue-tinted conifers are played against orange and red-colored deciduous beauties. In October and early November, the magnetic charge between red-orange abelia and blue-green juniper produces some serious, show-stopping drama in my garden; especially on a moody, overcast day.

The Brilliant Autumn Color of Abelia mosanensis Holds Straight Into November

Fragrant, hardy abelia (Abelia mosanensis) possesses some of the most brilliant fall color in my late-season garden. Beginning in mid to late October, her lustrous foliage —medium green and glossy throughout the growing season— slowly shifts from glowing orangey-red to fiery scarlet. The color of her autumn leaves is so brilliant, it literally glows like a campfire on a foggy day. You may recall my affection for Abelia mosanensis from a post in late spring, when this delightful plant produces beautiful pink, intensely fragrant blossoms (beginning in late May here int VT) that rival the sweet scent of lilac and daphne. If you’ve never met Abelia mosanensis, you should know that this is not a beautifully shaped plant —requiring careful positioning and June pruning to maintain an acceptable presence in a more formal garden situation— but her sweet, springtime blossoms and glorious fall color more than make up for her rather scrappy form. Listed by most growers as hardy in zones 5 to 9, here on my windy, exposed hilltop (zone 4/5), she has performed very well for five seasons with no absolutely no effort on my part. When her modest requirements are met, (moist, well-drained, average garden soil) fragrant abelia can reach six feet high and wide in full sun -but she’ll also tolerate partial shade, where a gardener can expect the mature shrub to be of somewhat smaller stature.

Fragrant abelia, draped in May blossoms (Abelia mosanensis) with ‘Blue Rug’ at her feet (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Rug’)

And the perfect yang to fragrant abelia’s delightfully feminine yin? In both spring and fall, I adore the contrast of steely, blue-tipped conifers with Abelia mosanensis. In the entry garden, sprawling at fragrant abelia’s feet, the ‘Blue Rug’ (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’) looks particularly lovely to my eye. Tough as nails, this splendid ground-cover is extremely hardy (USDA zones 3-10) and tolerates many soil types as long as it is provided with full sun and excellent drainage. Although it may sprawl to 10 feet or more, like most juniper, the ‘Blue Rug’ is easily contained with regular pruning.

Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Rug’ in November, with a Frosty Coat of Ice Crystals

When I’m pairing plants in my garden, I usually end up thinking about characters in a film.  To bring out the best qualities of one plant, it often helps to place it beside another with opposing charms. There’s nothing like watching the sparks fly between a feisty leading-lady and a cool and classic leading man. Why not follow suit in the garden, and watch your late-show sizzle to life.

Inspiration: Romantic Opposites…

Bogie and Bacall

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Article and photographs ⓒ 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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Shelter Me: Keeping the Kitchen Garden Warm and Productive as Temps Drop…

October 11th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

Basil and Calendula cozy up beneath a misty dome in my garden…

The first frost of autumn sparkled on my lawn when I awoke Saturday morning. And although it wasn’t a true ‘killing-frost’ —the morning glories slipped right through Jack’s chilly hands— a few things were nipped here and there in my potager. Most of my tender crops are now covered with hoop-house cold-frames —mainly tomatoes, peppers, basil and other herbs— and later, the cool-season crops like spinach and lettuce will be covered as well…

Tomatoes, ripening inside the hoop-house cold-frame in October, are safe from Old Jack Frost

Beneath greenhouse-grade plastic, purple and green basil, tomatoes and other herbs are protected from chilly nights, and given a ripening-boost during the day

I will be enjoying these ‘Lemon Boy’ tomatoes soon —not fried and not green (though that IS an excellent way to use them up!)

Last year I posted a tutorial on building hoop-house style cold frames, and if you have a free afternoon and some basic carpentry tools, I encourage you to give them a try (click to here to see tutorial post). I now have four hoop-houses in use, and although these miniature-greenhouses are unheated, they actually get quite toasty inside during the day, and the temperatures stay well-above freezing overnight. To keep things from getting too hot, the temperature inside each of my hoop-houses is moderated with a easy-to-install, automatic back-vent. Of course later in the autumn, unless I provide supplemental heat, these tomatoes will eventually succumb to overnight cold. But other crops —including lettuce, spinach, arugula, kale, chard and broccoli— can make it straight through the Winter Solstice in an unheated hoop-house (and even beyond in some years)!

There are many other ways to extend the vegetable growing season in cold climates, and I will continue posting ideas on how to stretch that post-frost ‘Indian Summer’ for as long as possible. Also, keep in mind that even if you don’t fancy the idea of a building project yourself, you can easily purchase cold frames, kits and other garden shelters from companies like Gardener’s Supply Company online.

Have you had a killin’ frost in your area? Do you try to keep things going past the freeze?

Sungold and bright red cherry tomatoes will continue to ripen beneath the plastic, well past the hard-frost

A hoop-house protects tender vegetables in my fall vegetable garden, while cold-weather crops remain uncovered.

Still Glorious – ‘Heavenly Blue’ Morning Glories in the Potager, October 11th

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Article and photographs ⓒ 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…

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 will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Sweet Summertime Risotto with Zucchini, Basil & Golden Peppers & Cultural Notes and Tips from the Kitchen Garden…

July 22nd, 2010 § 6 comments § permalink

Summertime Risotto ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Endless summer. Between the deep green leaves in my kitchen garden, zucchini plants offer up their tender, young fruit and bell peppers glisten in the morning sun. Green and purple basil plants —pinched to form bushy mounds— brush my ankles, scenting the air as I walk along the pathways. Sungold tomatoes drip sweet from their vines and haricots verts fill my harvest baskets.

This certainly is the season of abundance, and one of my favorite ways to enjoy it is a simple summertime meal of risotto and garden-fresh vegetables. There are many, many wonderful possibilities when it comes to cooking risotto, and I like to use whatever is plentiful and freshest at any given moment. This week, another half dozen zucchini seem to present themselves every day, and the first ripe peppers have just begun to appear – what a delightful combination with a handful of basil leaves and freshly grated parmesan…

Summertime Risotto – Photograph ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Summertime Risotto

Ingredients: serves 4 moderate dinner servings or 6-8 as a starter. Double recipe to increase portion size or quantity

2          Tbs olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

3          Small zucchini, washed and  diced (4-5 inch freshly picked zucchini for best flavor)

1          Orange or yellow bell pepper, washed, seeded and diced

1          Clove fresh garlic, chopped fine

1          Small to medium sweet onion, chopped fine

1 3/4   Cup Arborio Rice

3          Tbs dry vermouth or dry white wine

3 1/2    Cups homemade or high quality vegetable broth, on simmer

1           Tbs unsalted butter

1/2       Cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese – plus extra for serving

1/2       Cup of fresh basil leaves, washed and torn into small bits. Plus a few whole basil tips for garnish

Directions:

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil on high heat. Add zucchini and orange pepper, quickly sautéing (about 2-3 minutes) until gold. Lower heat and stir in garlic. Cook for another half a minute or so, stirring constantly. Remove and set aside to a plate.

In a Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil on medium. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent (about 2-3 minutes). Toss in the rice and cook another 2 minutes, coating the grains in oil. Add the vermouth while stirring. Immediately follow with a ladle (about 1/2 cup) of stock, stirring constantly. When the stock is absorbed, add another ladle, stirring steadily. Continue to ladle in stock as the rice absorbs the fluid. After about 20 minutes, taste the risotto. It should have a very creamy, but firm to the bite, consistency. At this point, stir in the butter, reserved zucchini and peppers and their juice. Add the torn basil and grated parmesan and stir gently. Remove from heat. Drizzle with oil and serve hot with a sprinkle of parmesan and a garnish of fresh basil.

Summertime Risotto with Zucchini, Basil and Orange Bell Peppers – Photograph ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Cultural Notes and Tips for Growing Great Zucchini – From the Kitchen Garden

My vegetable garden is growing and producing well this year, but I still keep a watchful eye for signs of trouble. In high-summer, when the weather in New England tends to be quite humid, I apply a homemade, organic fungicide to prevent powdery mildew on cucurbits (this plant family includes zucchini and other squash, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins and more). This simple remedy (see recipe below) is mixed fresh in a pail and applied when the air is still, with a hand spray-bottle. Try to water the garden in the morning, focusing the shower at the root zone. I also patrol the garden for squash bugs (they attack all cucurbits, including cucumbers) removing them by hand when I spot them and applying insecticidal soap to plant leaves. Mint, oregano and nasturtiums are good companion plants for deterring squash bugs, though you may wish to contain aggressive mint —and rambunctious cousin oregano— in planters. Keep in mind that zucchini and other squash should be picked daily to promote fruiting and avoid the dread “door-stop zucchini”. Try to harvest small fruits (4-5 inch long zucchini have the best flavor and texture) in the morning.  Squash are heavy feeders, preferring compost-rich soil with a high nitrogen content. I plan ahead by amending the soil in next year’s squash bed (rotate to prevent disease) with ample compost and dried blood. If the soil in your garden needs work, then squash will benefit from supplemental feeding with fish emulsion during the growing season.

Homemade Anti-fungal Baking Soda Solution

3 Tbs baking soda

2 Tbs vegetable oil

3 gallons (plus) warm water

In a medium sized kitchen bowl, combine 3 tablespoons of baking soda with 2 cups of warm water. Add the oil and whisk together. Pour the mixture into 3 gallons of warm water. Transfer to spray bottles and use immediately, spraying the undersides as well as the tops of leaves. If any is left over, store in the fridge and warm in sun before using.

Use on cucurbits during warm, humid spells and at first sign of powdery mildew. This remedy is also useful for black spot.

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Article and photographs ⓒ 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…

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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Chinese Proverb: The Best Fertilizer is The Gardener’s Shadow…

July 18th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

The Gardener and Her Shadow Delivering Fish Emulsion to Cippolini Onions… Photo ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Morning Chores After the Rain Storm. Photo ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

High winds, driving rain, thunder and lighting; a violent band of storms shook me wide awake last night and when I heard hail on the tin roof, I immediately began fretting about the garden. Fortunately, when I headed to the potager this morning to inspect the damage, I discovered but a few minor knock-downs and some torn leaves on the summer squash. A wren house, no longer occupied, fell to the ground, and my weeding baskets were tossed about here and there. Lucky this time, even the morning glories seemed to smile at the new day…

Morning Glories in the Potager ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

We gardeners can not control the weather, but there are some other hazards we can at least try to prevent. Fungal infections, insect infestations, excess competition from weeds; these are a few of the expected garden threats which I can control. I tend my vegetable garden daily, and by doing so, I keep my work load light. If the weather is particularly dry, I may spend most of my time watering the root zone of thirsty plants and potted herbs. And if things are wet and humid, evening hours will be occupied by plucking slugs from my broccoli plants and alpine strawberries. There’s always something to do…

Serenade Garden Disease Control from Gardener’s Supply Company Online

Serenade and Bonide organic disease and insect control products are also available to order online at Amazon.com and in most garden supply stores

Last year, much of the United States was troubled by late blight, causing the loss of tomato and potato crops, particularly in the Northeast. I was fortunate, and the blight missed my garden last summer, but I didn’t want to take any chances this year. There is no cure for late blight, and once infected with the disease, tomato and potato plants are doomed and must be removed from the garden and burned. Prevention is the key, and although there are no guarantees, OMRI approved copper fungicide has proven somewhat successful in keeping late blight at bay. I regularly dust or spray my plants with Serenade or Bonide (copper fungicide) and keep my tomato and potato plants clear of weeds and debris. Burpee also sells organic insecticides and fungicides for online…

Burpee Organic Fungicide/Insecticide

In truth, diagnosing a problem can be difficult without seeing, and learning to identify diseases first hand. Such skill comes to all gardeners eventually, with time, experience and education. Vegetable MD Online, the diagnostics page from Cornell University’s horticulture department, is an excellent, free online resource for all gardeners. Good photography combined with a wealth of great, up-to-the-minute information on plant disease and control makes this site my top choice for diagnostics. If you want to be a successful organic gardener, then learning natural ways to maintain healthy plants is key. The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control, from Rodale, is my favorite resource for the latest information on disease and organic trouble shooting. Keep in mind that even organic solutions can be harmful to beneficial insects, such as honeybees, when applied to plants indiscriminately. Insecticidal soaps and oils should only be used on targeted problems as they appear.

The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control

Weeding, pinching and pruning, mulching, dusting, fertilizing and harvesting; yes, my garden is frequently visited by the gardener’s shadow. But unlike Peter Pan, I haven’t quite figured out how to separate from my silhouette. If I could, maybe it would be willing to do half of the work…

The Ever-Present, yet Elusive Shadow ⓒ TGE

Disney’s Peter Pan

Hello Shadow, Won’t You Come Help With the Watering, Weeding and Harvest?

See these gorgeous steel baskets and more wire caddies, plus metal flower buckets and other garden treasures I have found online in The Potting Shed.

Inspiration/Image: Walt Disney’s Peter Pan

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

All other images are copyright as noted or linked.

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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Long-Distance Garden Design: Creating Structure & Year-Round Color for an Elegant Residence on Long Island…

July 17th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

A summertime border of mixed colors and textures: Deciduous and evergreen shrubs anchor a perennial garden planned for season-spanning interest…

In winter: Red rose hips and glowing dogwood twigs will add brilliant color to the entry garden, punctuated by verdant conifers and broadleaf evergreen shrubs…

Rosanna, my new friend and client, lives on Long Island and works in New York City. I live and work in Vermont. We met by chance this spring at Walker Farm after one of my seminars, when I stayed on for the afternoon at the garden center, answering questions about trees, shrubs and perennials. Rosanna and her gardener were shopping for —and spontaneously designing— a new garden for the front of her weekend place in the nearby Mount Snow region. I helped Rosanna choose trans-seasonal plantings for the Vermont garden, and shortly after, she began to follow this blog. Meanwhile, back in New York, Rosanna was faced with an unexpected problem: re-working the garden in front of her house without help. After seeing Dan and Laura’s garden design posted here this spring, an unusual idea came to her mind. Given the overlay design-drawing and photographs presented in that post, Rosanna thought perhaps I could design a garden for her —long-distance— and she contacted me about the idea…

Have you ever played Battleship? You remember, the game where you and your partner have identical grids —which you conceal from each other— calling out blind coordinates, striking at unseen targets? Well, that’s kind of what designing a garden long-distance is like, except we are working with living plants. It’s challenging, a little scary, strangely thrilling and great deal of fun, all at the same time.

This probably wouldn’t work in every situation —and certainly not with every client— but after talking with Rosanna about the project, and getting to know her a bit by phone, I had a hunch that she was going to be a really good general contractor. Rosanna is a self-described “type A personality”; highly organized, super efficient, and extremely attentive to detail. When I gave her an initial task list —including soil testing, sunlight charting, dimension recording and multiple-angle photographs— she came to our next phone conference not only with her homework completely done, but also emailed to me in advance. Impressive. I decided to take on the project with Rosanna, even though I knew we could —and likely would— encounter a variety of un-forseeable challenges…

The (almost) clean slate. Photograph by Rosanna.

With Rosanna’s site information and photographs in hand, I began to work on a new design for the front garden. Meanwhile, my enthusiastic game partner sought out a new gardener —to help her remove the existing plants, rebuild the soil and install the new design— and a local nurseryman willing to work with us to fulfill the plant list and/or help with available substitutes if needed. After Rosanna approved the design pictured at the top of this post, Santos, her new gardener, prepared the site (see photo above) and I presented a plant list for her local nursery. As always, the most important part of any garden is establishing an architectural framework. With this in mind, I began with three key woody plants.

Prior to Santos’ fantastic clean-up and refurbishment of the front bed, the garden contained an overgrown holly (situated beside the Picea glauca), a few small Chamaecyparis and a hodgepodge of perennials. Rosanna wanted structure and season-spanning color for her front garden. The existing holly threw the garden off-balance, with too much visual weight at the far end of the house. Green, green, green = boring. It had to go. In a garden this small, it’s important to choose woody plants with as much year-round pizazz as possible. I looked at several variegated shrubs to fill the holly-void, and settled on Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’; selected for it’s softly mounded form, creamy blossoms, subtle green and white variegated leaves, and brilliant red stems to provide winter color. This gorgeous shrub will stand in striking contrast to the evergreen Alberta spruce  (Picea glauca) and the backdrop of white siding throughout the year.

After introducing some subtle leaf pattern to the border, I decided to play with shadow against the black and white exterior of the home. With Rosanna’s Italian heritage, (and of course her name!) I couldn’t resist South Central-European native Rosa glauca. This ‘red-leaf rose’, as it is commonly known, has always been one of my favorites. Of course, the dark, blue-green foliage and delicate pink and white blossoms are a stunning combination – but the arching form is also useful, and in winter, spectacular deep red rose hips provide dramatic color until they are gobbled up by hungry birds. This shrub will work with several dark leafed perennials in the front of the design, and it also echos a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) nearby on the property.

Beneath the bay window, I needed a low-growing, horizontally spreading woody plant with season-spanning interest to soften the architecture and provide structure for perennials to the front and either side. Rosanna loves hydrangea, and has several on her property. Because of this, I knew she would like Viburnum plicatum ‘Newport’ (sometimes listed as V.p. ‘Newzan’). With creamy white blossoms early in the season and red autumn foliage, this compact cultivar often comes to mind when I am designing a small garden. The design also includes a pair of boxwood globes flanking the Rosa glauca.

As I expected, we ran into a few snags, starting with our plant list. By July, most nurseries are a bit picked over, and some of the key plants were unavailable. Although the local garden center was able to provide a fine Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’, the owner was unable to locate Rosa glauca and Viburnum plicatum ‘Newport’. Not one to be deterred, Rosanna found a small but healthy red-leaf rose online, and I located a Newport viburnum in nearby Massachusetts, which she will pick up from me in early autumn. Most of the perennials —or acceptable substitutes— were found by Rosanna and her nurseryman, and the others will be added later this season or next spring. So far, so good. Next up, details on the plant installation (last weekend), the irrigation system and the mulch. Did we succeed in our mission or did we sink the battleship? We break now for Rosanna’s scheduled vacation to Italy. Stay tuned, this story will be continued in an upcoming post later in the season…

Milton Bradley’s Battleship. I will never look at this game quite the same!

***

Image credits: Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’: Krysztof Siarnek Kenraiz via Wikimedia Commons, Rosa glauca: Franz Xaver via Wikimedia Commons, and Viburnum plicatum ‘Newport’: Sooner Plant Farm

Article and Garden Design Drawings © 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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Some Like it Hot! Keep Things Cool & Enjoy Long, Slender Haricots Verts: Chilled Green Bean Salad with Feta…

July 16th, 2010 § 9 comments § permalink

Chilled Salad of Haricots Verts with Feta – Photo ⓒ 2010 Michaela Medina

The Long, Hot Summer. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Some Like It Hot. I don’t know about you but I just love a sultry summer, and we are sure getting one this year in the Northeast. Summertime humidity… It makes your hair curl and your skin glow, and dapples your water glass with beads of condensation. I think it’s kinda sexy. Of course, not everyone agrees with me, and plenty of my friends are getting fed up with the heat.

So what do you do when you’re feeling wilted by the mid-day sun, dabbing away at your dewy brow and glistening collar bones? Well lately, my answer is to get daily chores out of the way early and to avoid a hot kitchen like the plague. When I have a little extra time, I like to prepare cool salads and sun tea (lemon-mint is my favorite) in the morning, so that I can enjoy a languid lunch in the hammock or a slow dinner on the terrace later. Chilled summer salads are particularly wonderful when it gets this hot. Cucumber, tomato, arugula, pea and pasta; why the combinations are almost limitless in high summer. But at the moment, my favorite just happens to be a cool salad of haricots verts and feta…

Haricots Verts – French Style, Slender Green Beans- Photo ⓒ  2010 Michaela at TGE

Haricots verts —or French-style filet beans— are slender, beautifully green and very flavorful. All beans should be picked frequently in mid-summer —daily when hot— to insure a steady crop. Unpicked beans will stop producing if allowed to go to seed. When the mercury rises, I think it’s best to pick beans very early in the morning, to enjoy later in the day. Summer savory, which is believed to improve the growth of bush beans and deter beetles, is a fantastic companion plant for haricots verts. Soil enriched with well rotted compost and regular foliar feeding (applying liquid fertilizer to leaves in a spray or shower) with Neptune’s Harvest or fish emulsion will help to provide a beautiful, tasty crop. Always wash beans thoroughly when harvesting, especially after applying fish emulsion or any fertilizer. I like to freeze bags of haricots verts to enjoy in wintertime, but I also love them steamed, sauteed, served in soup —and of course— in chilled salads…

Freshly Harvested Basket of Haricots Verts in my Garden – Photo ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Chilled Salad of Haricots Verts with Feta – Photo ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Chilled Salad of Haricots Verts with Feta


Ingredients – Serves 6:

1           Pound of freshly haricots verts (filet beans) end stems trimmed

1           Large red onion chopped coarsely

1           Clove garlic minced

5           Tbs fresh chopped cilantro (more or less to taste)

2           Tsp fresh chopped oregano

4           Red or pink radishes sliced thin (other colors may be used, the red is a nice contrast)

1           Pint sungold or other cherry tomatoes cut into quarters or 2 heirloom yellow and/or red tomatoes cut into small wedges

6          Ounces freshly crumbled feta

4          Tbs fruity red wine vinegar or raspberry/red wine vinegar

6          Tbs extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

Pour an inch or two of water into a pot with steamer. Bring the water to a boil. Place beans in a steamer (or colander) above the boiling water. Cover and steam for approximately 7 minutes. Check frequently and remove from the heat when just tender (the texture of fresh beans is ruined when overcooked). Rinse the beans in cool water and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and vinegar.

Transfer the beans into a large bowl.  Add the onion, garlic, cilantro, oregano, radishes and crumbled feta. Add in fresh ground pepper and sea salt to taste.  Add the vinegar and oil and toss.  Chill in the fridge until ready to serve.

For a a pretty, colorful presentation, arrange the salad on a large platter and top with red and orange tomatoes and a bit of cilantro. You can also simply toss everything together and serve on individual plates or bowls.

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French-style filet beans, or haricots verts, as they are commonly known – Photo ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Of course, when it comes to loving summer, a little, steamy, celluloid-inspiration can’t hurt…

The Long, Hot Summer

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Some Like It Hot

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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The Accidental Gardener: A Short Story About a Dog Named Oli and His Wondrous Wildflower Walk…

July 9th, 2010 § 7 comments § permalink

The Wildflower Walk in July at Ferncliff ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

As a professional garden designer, I take a certain amount of pride in my work. My clients always seem quite pleased with the gardens I create, and I think I’m a pretty good designer. Yet every July I am served a very large dish of my favorite dessert – humble pie. In midsummer, visitors to my studio are invariably knocked-out by the entry garden, which I now call ‘The Wildflower Walk’. They ooh and they ah and they coo over the wide swaths of bright color and the natural feel of this welcoming, open space. “What a beautiful garden”, they exclaim. And yes, I have to admit, it certainly is quite stunning. But, thanks to the brilliant artist I live with, my ego remains fully in check. Why? Well, you see, I didn’t design this gorgeous wildflower garden – my dog Oli did.

I know. You’re probably wondering how this is possible. How can a Labrador Retriever design a wildflower garden? Perhaps you think I am exaggerating or maybe even making it up from thin air. Or worse, you might be wondering if I’ve gone quite mad, since clearly I am suffering from delusions. But I swear –on my Vegetable Gardener’s Bible — it is true. In fact, not only did my crazy canine design this garden, but he also planted it all by himself. Yes, I promise I will explain – but first, let me back up a little bit and tell you the story of my dog, Oli…

Midway Point on the Wildflower Walk at Ferncliff in July ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

It was late in the summer of 2002, and I’d just finished building the studio-barn I now call home. There were no gardens here back then. In fact, the land was quite raw and, like most construction sites, it was a mess. I knew it would be a year before I could begin work on my landscaping projects and –frustrated with the ugliness– I spent most of my free time elsewhere. I’m an avid kayaker, and throughout that first summer, I floated my evenings away on local lakes and rivers. Late one August afternoon –hot, sticky and harried– I loaded my kayak on the car and headed out to the Connecticut River. Distracted as usual, in my haste I forgot my backpack at home. I didn’t want to miss sunset on the water, so I stopped by a local farm stand to grab a snack and a drink to take along on my paddle. Fate however, had other plans for me  –and indeed she moves in mysterious ways– because that’s when I met “Old Yeller”, as he was then called; a dirty, flea-infested, one-year-old, retriever pup with sad eyes and a ‘toy’ beer can. “Yeller” was chained to a foundation post and his legs were all tangled up in rusty links. Immediately a large crack –likely audible throughout the valley– split straight through my ribcage and broke my heart. Of course I thought about the dog the entire time I was out on the river, and the next day I stopped by the stand once again. He was still there; same beer can, same sad eyes. By visit three, my weakness must have been plainly visible, for the farm hand –three sheets to the wind– announced that the “flea bag” was headed to the pound by the end of the week. “If  you want him, take him” he said, “for free“.  It seemed that the wild pup had already worked his way through three homes, and his current owner –recently disabled from a stroke– could no longer handle him…

My dog Oli, in the studio…

Well, you know how this part of the story goes. Of course, by Friday, the wiggling, slobbering “flea bag” –renamed Oli– was bouncing around the back of my car on the way to his new home. He was, to put it mildly, a terror. Have you seen the film “Marley and Me ? Well, good for you, because I can’t watch more than 20 minutes of it. It’s just too close for comfort. And besides, my dog Oli, makes that dog Marley look like a saint. I kid you not. During his first year in my formerly-peaceful life, Oli did more damage than an F1 tornado. Goodbye car interior (including all back seatbelts and cushions), so-long sexy shoes, see-ya-later kayak seat and farewell furniture. Left alone for more than five minutes, Oli would rip through and devour anything in sight. His ingested-item list even includes a Mikimoto pearl necklace (yes, in its box, pulled from the top of my dresser), and we made more visits to the veterinarian than I care to remember. I was told by dog-loving friends that this behavior would ease up within a year. I was promised this was merely a prolonged puppy phase. I was advised that he had separation anxiety and that training would help. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Oli continued his reign of terror straight through the following summer, when I began working on my new gardens. Unimpressed with my horticultural pursuits, Oli uprooted perennials as fast as I planted them and devoured several young shrubs. He even stripped the branches from a rare Japanese maple, defoliating and destroying it within minutes, while I unloaded groceries in the kitchen. Yes, I still love him, but I would be lying if I told you that I never had a dark thought about my dog.

A bag of collected Lupine seed…

Around this time, I started thinking about planting a wildflower meadow on the west side of my clearing. My parents had created an impressive, self-sustaining field of wildflowers on their property, which bloomed from spring to fall, and I wanted to replicate that here. My father collected seed from the garden, and gave me two bags to take home. One contained pouches of Lupine and Adenophora, and the other was filled with Rudbeckia hirta. When I got back to my place, I brought one bag of seed up to the house, let Oli out of his crate, and started to unload the rest of my car. Then, the phone rang. You would think that I would have learned my lesson after the Japanese maple fiasco – but no. Of course not. Finally, at some point during my telephone conversation, I looked out the window to see Oli running full boar down the walkway – brown paper bag held high, head shaking to-and-fro, black seed spewing out in all directions. My scream could have stopped a train dead in its tracks, but it didn’t even register with Oli. He only seemed to run faster. I tore down the pathway after my wild dog, chasing him in circles ’round the ledge at the top of the drive – but it was too late. The bag of Rudbeckia was scattered everywhere – all over the walkway and throughout my carefully designed entry garden…

Rudbeckia hirta, in a design by Oli, the accidental gardener…

Eight years have come and gone since Oli hopped into my car on that fateful, hot summer evening, and I have given in to his chaos on many levels. Hey, if you can’t beat them, join them I say. So, I added more wildflower seed to his design; sprinkling Lupine and Adenophora throughout the walkway and into the surrounding mixed borders. What can I say – it works. And yes, he’s a genius. But athough he may be talented, Oli –now growing fat and grizzled about the muzzle — can still never be left alone in the house…

Oli and Me

***

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…

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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Ruby-Red, Fragrant Fraises des Bois: Life’s Sweetest Little Luxuries…

July 2nd, 2010 § 5 comments § permalink

Fraises des Bois, or alpine strawberries, offer a continuous supply of summertime fruit – Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Oh the magic of Fraises des Bois! To me, they look as if they belong at the center of a tiny table in an enchanted forest; one set just for leprechauns, fairies, nymphs and elves. Alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca) are fragrant, delicious and easy to grow. Sometimes called ‘the wood strawberry’, this rose-relative is a separate species from the common garden strawberry, (Fragaria x ananassa), and is native to North America, Europe, northern Africa and some parts of Asia. Unlike their runner-forming cousins, these lovely mounded plants produce fruit throughout the growing season – spring to fall. Many cultivars are available, including the delightful red ‘Alexandra’ and ‘Mignonette’, and for the more kaleidoscopic plate, there are even white and yellow alpine strawberries! Strawberries of all kinds are best planted out to the garden in early spring – but it is important to prepare the site well in advance (unless you are growing in containers). So if you would like to grow alpines in your potager next year – read on….

Alpine strawberries are herbaceous perennials (the foliage dies back in fall and then returns from hardy roots in spring). Many cultivars are very cold hardy (some to -30 degrees fahrenheit) and they can be grown directly in the garden, or in containers – especially strawberry planters – on decks, patios, steps and terraces (if grown in containers, the berry plants are best moved indoors for overwintering in cold climates). Alpine strawberries are easy-care perennials, and they are usually propagated from seed (collected or purchased),  or easier yet, by division of plants. All strawberries prefer slightly acidic (pH 6-6.5), hummus-rich, well-drained soil. Growing strawberries on a slight slope  –raised bed or in containers– helps to provide both drainage and air-circulation. When grown directly in the garden (as I grow mine), spacing plants at least 16″ apart will result in best fruit production. Mulch is important both to protect the shallow roots from dehydration and temperature fluctuations. In winter, I heap mounds of clean straw over alpine and common strawberry plants, and I try to protect them from late spring frosts with removable row covers (though as patches increase in size, this becomes much less feasible). Alpine strawberry plants can and should be divided every few years – in cold climates this is best done in early spring so that the root systems will have time to establish. Early fall division is also possible, though much riskier in zones north of USDA 6. When the task is undertaken early in the season, the easiest way to make more alpine strawberries is through division of the underground stolons (though collecting and drying seed for germinating indoors works too, if you are patient). I fertilize all strawberry plants with good compost, and I regularly test the soil in all of my garden beds to assure a proper balance of key nutrients (particularly phosphorus)…

The jewel-like color of the fruit, sensational fragrance and sweet flavor more than compensate for the tiny size of alpine strawberries. Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Alpine strawberry blossoms ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Frais des Bois at harvest ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Competition for alpine strawberries comes in many forms; from weeds and insects to chipmunks, mice and birds. In my garden, the boisterous mocking bird clan living in the adjacent scrub seems particularly interested my strawberry crop this year. I do love their singing and bug catching, but I wish the mocking birds, robins and other winged-robbers would stay away from my strawberries! Now, don’t you feel too bad for my feathered friends – they have plenty of wild elderberries (Samubus canadensis), bramble berries and bugs to feast upon. If birds are snagging your berries, you can always cover them with safe Bird Netting, which allows air flow and pollinating bees to fly in and out. Alternately you could use insect pop-ups (such as those linked below) set in place when berries are close to harvest, and then removed at intervals for critical wind and bee pollination. Slugs can be a real problem during rainy periods (copper edged raised beds, beer traps and diatomaceous earth are some commonly used deterrents), and insects –particularly sap beetles, tarnished plant bugs and bud weevils — are always an issue with strawberries of all kinds. Never apply an insecticide, even an organic insecticide, during bloom periods, as you will kill beneficial insects (including our precious honeybees) along with the less desirable, ‘bad bugs’.  For backyard berry growers, I advise hand-picking insects and the limited use of row covers (see below) when berries are close to ripe.

For more on berry growing, check out my review of Barbara Bowlings excellent Berry Grower’s Companion (linked here) available through Barnes & Noble online. And say tuned… More berry growing tips will be coming soon!

Containers with pockets, like the one pictured from Amazon above, are a great way to grow alpine strawberries.

***

Article and photographs, (excepting last four by affiliates), © 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…

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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US - MANTIS® ComposT-Twin -Free Activator - 2010

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Father’s Day Post Leads to Old Fashioned Push Mower Shopping… Thanks Dad! Happy Father’s Day!

June 20th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

Detail from a Schlitz beer ad, circa 1950

It all started innocently enough. This morning I wanted to publish a quick ‘Happy Father’s Day’ post for all the dads out there. My dad has always been a fabulous gardener, expert berry grower and lover of native plants and trees… But he hated mowing the lawn. HATED. And can you blame him? Lawn mowing is loud, smelly and invariably fraught with mechanical troubles. My father lives in a condo now, and he no longer mows his own lawn, but I will always remember him parked in a plastic lawn chair, clutching a cold Pabst Blue Ribbon, legs stretched out, glaring at the frequently broken-down lawnmower. Poor dad! Laughing at the memory, I immediately began searching for an image to capture the feeling. I couldn’t come up with anything good from 80s, but I did find this old Schlitz beer ad from the early 50s – and I love it! Get a load of that fabulous push mower!

Well, no sooner did I crop the photo and scan it to this draft post than an obsession with old fashioned lawn mowers overtook me. My clunky Sears Craftsman model -inherited from my dad when he closed up the country house a few years back and moved into a condo with my mother- has seen better days and it has been sputtering and moaning ever since I made the mistake of overfilling the oil-well last summer. You could say I killed my mower with kindness, but that would be too kind.

As much as I support the ‘un-greening’ of the American suburb -replacing grass turf with low maintenance ground covers, native plants, vegetable patches and other ecologically friendly options- I am not completely anti-lawn. Grass is beautiful, and I believe that a modest lawn, in an appropriate climate, is a wonderful garden feature that needn’t be an environmental hazard or drain. I live in Vermont – the lush, Green Mountain state – but I don’t have a large lawn. There’s just a petite patch of sod for lounging ’round Dan Snow‘s fire sculpture, and a few verdant paths leading to outdoor rooms. It’s not much more than a postage stamp, really, but I still need to cut the grass if I wish to maintain my tiny emerald carpet…

My petite lawn, surrounding artist Dan Snow‘s beautiful Fire Sculpture

Of course I considered an electric mower; quiet, efficient and ultra-modern, the newer models are very tempting. And I also weighed the possibility of a more economical gas model, but I dislike the smell of fumes and all the engine noise -never mind the obviously wasteful use of fossil fuel. So what to do? Well a modern reel lawn mower has always been at the back of my mind. And thanks to Mr. Schlitz at the top of the page, I’m all over the idea – like a dog rolling on freshly cut grass. So for the past few hours, I have been researching and reading reviews. Here’s what I’m looking at…

Scotts 2000-20 20-Inch Classic Push Reel Lawn Mower

With 242 five-star and 168 four-star Amazon reviews, the model above is currently at the top of my list. Retailing for a very reasonable $99.99, it’s clearly quite affordable and popular. The only negative I really see is the 6″ side-clearance, which makes a clean edge difficult and string-trimming mandatory (with my current mower, string trimming is not necessary).

American Lawn Mower Company 1705-16 16-Inch Bent Reel Mower

Running neck-and-neck with the Scott’s mower is the American Lawn Mower Company’s model pictured and linked above. I have read that both mowers are made by the same company. This model is four inches narrower, so it will cut a smaller path through the grass and get into tighter spaces. At $98.49, it’s also quite reasonably priced and although there are fewer reviews for this product on Amazon, they are mostly quite favorable, (69 out of 83 reviews are 4 and 5 star). In the end, this may be the one that wins out, as I am leaning in the direction of a narrower path. Like the one pictured above, this mower is made in the U.S. – important to me with the tough economy we are in.

Gardener’s Supply Company Reel Mower

Then there is the Gardener’s Supply Company Reel Mower, pictured and linked above, which is both lightweight, cute and well-made. It’s comparable to the American Mower Company model above, with the same width and blade height, but it has the advantage of a more comfortable looking handle and safer-looking guard. It’s more expensive at $199 – but from the photos and reviews I have seen, it is both popular and well-made.

Gardener’s Supply Company Reel Mower

The final contender is at the high-end of the price scale, ($299). Also from Gardener’s Supply Company, the reel mower above has received great reviews and also looks comfortable and easy to maneuver and use.

So what will I do? Well, I’m not sure yet. I’d like to try a couple of mowers out to see which model is easiest to lift and fold for winter storage. But there is, without a doubt, a push-style mower in my near future. Do any TGE readers own modern reel mowers? What do you think of them? Do you have a model you would recommend? I’d love to hear from you.

And for all the dads out there: Happy Father’s Day !!! I sure hope you avoid the lawn-detail this Sunday! Go find yourself a comfy hammock or lawn chair and a cool bev. Enjoy your day – you deserve it. Thank you for all you do! xo Michaela

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Article © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. Hammock Dad image is the property of the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company, (aka Pabst Brewing). Mower images courtesy Amazon and Gardener’s Supply Company, respectively.

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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I Know They Are In There Somewhere! Companion Planting in the Vegetable Garden: Guest Post by John Miller of The Old School House Plantery…

June 2nd, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

Radishes and Carrots Together Again at the Market, (photo © Michaela TGE)

“They”, in this instance, being carrots and parsnips. In my previous post I mentioned how farmers use plug sown onion transplants to overcome the problems associated with the slow germination time of onions. Onions are not the only vegetables that exhibit long germination times, raw (naked or unpelleted) parsnips and carrots can also take six weeks to germinate. Unfortunately neither of these crops readily lend themselves to transplanting as the desired part, the root, can be easily damaged and result in misshapen or stunted growth. Transplanting can be done on a small scale but requires care and attention to precise handling to avoid damaging the root (in spring it also requires even more space in one’s probably already strained propagating area!).

Italian heirloom radish ‘Candela di Fuoco’ and Rainbow Mix carrot seedlings, (photo © John Miller)

Hoed row, (photo © John Miller)

Unless you have a sterile seedbed (a technique requiring foresight and a flame gun, clear plastic and sunshine or a herbicide) then your direct sown carrots or parsnips will be competing against weeds in your garden while they are germinating and emerging. However these same weeds are not concerned with your desire for that sweet first home grown carrot of the season or that wonderful roast parsnip with your Thanksgiving dinner- they want the space and the nutrients! In six weeks weeds can romp away in the race to germinate and establish themselves and leave you, the custodian of the crop, the time consuming task, usually on hands and knees, of delicately moving rampant weed foliage, probably covering the entire bed, trying to spot the still minute seedlings of that hoped for crop.

There they are! Parsnip and radish seedlings (photo © John Miller)

But wait! There is hope. No, it won’t stop the weeds germinating but it could make spotting the row a lot easier. It involves sowing either carrots or parsnips with a faster growing crop, such as radish, together in the same row. Radish are one of the faster growing crops, maturing in as little as 35 days, and will keep pace with even the most vigourous weeds, in my case Fat Hen and Galinsoga (I often hear that mis-pronounced as Gallant Soldier). The radishes are sown relatively thinly. I aim for one every foot, as you may pull the main crop by accident if the density is too great. The radish makes spotting the row quite easy, and I can quickly hoe in between the rows before the weeds get too big and require hand pulling. Hoeing all but a narrow row then makes hand weeding the crop itself a quick -dare I say it- almost enjoyable, task. Then I will reward myself with a freshly pulled radish, or two! Any fast growing crop that you prefer, arugula or Broccoli raab for instance, could be used instead of radish.

Radish and Carrot Bunches at Market (photo © Michaela TGE)

Article and photographs as noted in this post, © 2009/2010 John Miller

John Miller and his wife Diane Miller own and operate The Old School House Plantery in Brattleboro Vermont

Visit the Miller’s Etsy shop, Eclecticasia, for a selection of rare and beautiful plants.

***

Market photos as noted are copyright 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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Front Yard Gardens: A Peek at the Design Process…

May 26th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Front Yard Garden Design Proposal – Early Autumn View – Drawing © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Just look at this sweet little house! It’s easy to see why my clients Laura and Dan fell in love with this place, isn’t it? I was instantly charmed by this classic New England home. From the slate-covered hip roof and romantic front porch to the spacious back yard surrounded by elegant old trees – including a knock-out old Acer palmatum alongside the drive- it’s the perfect small town residence…

The Front Yard Garden Before Removal of Hemlock and Yew

But although the house itself has both a beautiful interior and exterior, the lack-luster, green-on-green entry garden -pictured in the ‘before’ shot above- didn’t do the place justice, and the new owners knew that it just had to go. Laura and Dan are both enthusiastic do-it-yourselfers, however they lead busy, professional weekday lives, and want to keep weekend gardening chores to a minimum. When they called me to consult on their first landscaping project, Laura and Dan were more than eager to pull the ho-hum hemlock and yawn-inducing yew populating their front yard. From our earliest email communications, it was immediately clear that Laura and Dan both wanted to add color and life to the front entry of their pretty home.

Located on a busy downtown street, the front yard of this home is surrounded by a concrete sidewalk, two driveways, and a heat-generating asphalt road- but the side and backyard gardens are sheltered by the shade of mature, graceful trees. Owners Laura and Dan have modern, minimal taste, and their desire for a low-maintenance landscape made them ideal candidates for a combination of native plants and easy-care ornamental grasses with season-spanning interest. I instantly connected with Laura and Dan, and their clean aesthetic sensibilities, and I was excited when they pulled out a copy of one of my favorite gardening books,(see below for links), Nancy Ondra’s Grasses, (read my review of this book and The Meadow Garden, here in this week’s Garden Variety blog at Barnes & Noble online ), during our first meeting.

Nancy Ondra’s Grasses is available online at B&N or Amazon

Two compact, deciduous shrubs, (Viburnum trilobum and plicatum ‘Newport‘), will soften the edge of the building, providing changing interest with foliage, pollinator-friendly flowers and bird-attracting fruit, while maintaining trans-seasonal garden structure with their attractive, contrasting forms. A gorgeous golden hops vine, (Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’), will add a luminous, romantic touch to the seductive shade of the front porch. Other key plants filling out the front yard garden plan -designed with an emphasis on form, color and movement- include mass plantings of flame grass, (Miscanthus purpurascens), blue fescue, (Festuca glauca), low maintenance daylilies, (Hemerocallis ‘Entrapment’), and ground-covering stonecrop, (Sedum). This fall, I recommended that the owners add daffodil bulbs to the front beds, to provide early season color and fragrance to their garden. At the opposite, protected corner of the house beside the front steps, a pink flowering dogwood, (Cornus florida rubra), will provide balance to the asymmetric design, with a flattering horizontal shape to soften the edge of the house and break up the vertical line. Dogwood is a great small-scale landscape tree, perfect for framing a home, and this particular selection, with its pink flowers and red autumn foliage and fruits, will really light up against the charcoal-brown siding.

One of the key new plants in this desgin: Miscanthus purpurascens, aka ‘Flame Grass’

And for contrast: Blue Festuca Grass from Spring Hill Nursery Online

Also in the works, a shady side yard garden to compliment the gorgeous, mature Japanese maple on the property. I will be back soon with more details on this fun, upcoming project, including a report from the owners on the do-it-yourself installation process. For more information on ornamental grasses and their use in the landscape, travel back in blog-time and see my earlier post on the subject here. See you with more on this easy-care garden design project soon…

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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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Prune in June? Well, Sometimes. Wondering What, When and How to Prune? The Basics of Pruning: A Weekend Workshop and a Giveaway…

April 28th, 2010 § 28 comments § permalink

Horizontal juniper, (photo © 2010 Michaela at TGE), pruned to highlight stonework and clay pot focal point…

Japanese maple, (photo © Michaela at TGE), pruned to arch over the Secret Garden doorway…

Microbiota decussata, (Siberian cypress), (photo © Michaela at TGE), pruned to highlight the edge of a walkway…

Pruning: Why, when, how and what? Oh the frustration and confusion on the gardener’s face when given their first red handled Felco pruners. And you know what? I understand completely. I wasn’t born with scissor hands – though I sometimes feel like it. I love to prune, and I love teaching gardeners about pruning. This weekend, I will be presenting a free seminar on ornamental pruning at Walker Farm – please come on by if you are in southern Vermont this weekend, (call 802-254-2051 or visit walkerfarm.com for more information). For me, what began as a loathsome task many years ago, has become one of my greatest passions. Pruning is indeed an art, but it is also a science. To train a tree or shrub artfully is to create living sculpture, and to correctly prune away damage is to prevent disease. Think of the great bonsai of Japan, and the masterful topiary in Europe. Oh the beauty and skill – oh the intimidation!

Oh yes, I understand. Not every gardener wishes to create a maze of boxwood hedges, (mmm, but wouldn’t it be fun?). The truth is, all master pruners begin their craft with a simple pair of bypass pruners or other secateurs, and an introduction to the effects of various kinds of cuts on plant growth. In fact the most basic type of pruning, pinching, requires only a pair of fingernails! Curious to learn more about pruning? Travel back a bit on this site to a post I wrote last year on pruning. There you will find an introduction to the hows and whys of this craft.

A few simple tools and supplies are needed to get you started: a good pair of bypass pruners, (I use Felco 8 or Felco 6 for smaller hands, but there are higher end pruners, and also less expensive types); a quality Grecian, (or Felco Folding Saw), saw; a Bow Saw for tackling large limbs; and a pair of basic, manually operated hedge shears will come in handy for tackling hedges or large clumps of ornamental grass…

My pruning tools after a day of work, (photo © 2010 Michaela at TGE) ready for cleaning, sharpening and oiling…

Although major structural pruning usually takes place during the dormant season, (here in Vermont, this tends to be in February and very early March), there’s always a need for the occasional snip, trim or cut in the garden. Damaged branches should always be removed as soon as noticed, and spent flower blossoms, especially on roses, are best removed when they fade. I will be writing more about pruning, and caring for your tools of the trade. But for now, I encourage you to begin with the introductory article I posted last year. And of course, please enter this week’s giveaway contest…

Thinning horizontal juniper, (photo © 2010 Michaela at TGE)…

Felco Classic Pruner (available at Amazon Home/Garden)

The right tools are key to success in every garden task, and for pruning jobs, one of my favorite tools is the classic Felco 6 or 8 bypass pruner. And at the end of this month, one lucky reader will receive a complimentary pair of Felco 6 or 8 pruners, (depending upon hand size), from The Gardener’s Eden! In honor of our first anniversary, The Gardener’s Eden is giving away one last, special gift. In order to enter, simply answer the question below in the comment section of this article. Be sure to post your answer prior to 11:59 am Eastern Daylight Time cut-off. Only one entry per reader, per give-away please. The winner will be chosen at random from all of the correct entries received, and will be notified by email. Gift recipients will also be announced both here on the blog and on our Facebook Page, and all gifts will ship at the end of the month. So now…

The question is: No quiz today! Simply state whether you wear a small, medium or large size glove, (to help determine Felco pruner size). In order to enter the contest, please post your answer in comments here on the blog, (not on the Facebook page). All email addresses will remain unpublished and kept in complete confidence. Your email will only be used to notify you if you have won. Good Luck!

* In order to provide each reader with an equal chance to win, your comment/ entry will not appear until 4/29*

Entry must be posted by 11:59, Eastern Time, 4/28/10

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Article and photographs are 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…

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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Waking Up the Garden in Spring …. Free Seminar at Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont – Tomorrow…

April 16th, 2010 § Comments Off on Waking Up the Garden in Spring …. Free Seminar at Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont – Tomorrow… § permalink

Early risers: Glory of the snow blooming this month in my garden…

Will you be in the Southern Vermont area this weekend? If so, please join me this Saturday morning at 9:30 for the first in a series of free gardening seminars at Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont. “Waking Up the Garden in Spring” covers the perennial garden maintenance chores that should be on your early season checklist. Don’t let the raindrops stop you! Come on by beautiful Walker Farm and enjoy an hour of fun in their lovely ‘Grand Central’ greenhouse. Seating is limited, so please call ahead, (802-254-2051) to reserve a spot: click here for more details on upcoming spring seminars.

Narcissus Rip van Winkle blooming in my Vermont garden this week…

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Photographs copyright 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…

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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Smooth Moves: Gliding Through Spring Cleanup with a Sweet Adjustable Rake. Tool Talk Part Two…

April 5th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

Cleaning Up Without Damaging Bulbs (After photo)

Cleaning up with an adjustable rake pulled to a tight setting (During)

OK. So I am feeling a little sore tonight. I admit it. Shoulders; triceps; middle back = Ouch. I have been busy with spring clean up in a few of my client’s gardens, among them, the lovely Walker Farm. But that isn’t why I’m feeling sore. A saner person would probably come home, have a tall glass of ice water and hop in a hot bath. Me? Oh no. When I get home from my garden work, I go out to work in my own garden. So, I am burning a few calories these days, and I am left with more than a few burning muscles.

I tidied up the Secret Garden today, which until recently was still too wet to disturb. It’s important to tread lightly in early spring, for although the weather may be dry, your soil may still be saturated. But, a bit of clean up is usually necessary to air out beds, and create an attractive backdrop for emerging bulbs. One of the most challenging aspects to this spring chore, is raking around delicate narcissus, crocus, and other ephemeral beauties. I knocked a few heads off today, (sorry girls), but overall, the improvement was worth the light collateral damage.

Last spring when I presented one of my garden seminars, “Waking Up the Garden in Spring”, (coming up again April 17th, admission is free at Walker Farm in VT, please call to pre-register), I demonstrated what I consider an indispensable tool in both my own garden, and the others under my care. This isn’t an expensive object, by any means. In fact at most garden centers and hardware stores, the adjustable metal rake usually rings in under $15. There are more expensive versions, but I actually like this cheap one the best. And last year, about a week after the seminar, I stopped in at the local hardware store to pick one up for a friend, and they were sold out. “Someone gave a garden maintenance talk in town last weekend”, said the clerk, “and now we’re sold out. I wish they would have warned me in advance”. Rut-ro. I avoided eye contact, sheepishly added my name to the waiting list and slipped away before the nice lady figured it out. I guess I should warn her about that this year? I keep forgetting…

Adjustable rake in open position on a pile of debris

In case you’ve never tried one of these little babies, I will give you a quickie demonstration here. See the photo just above? That is my adjustable rake in the open position, resting on a pile of debris from the Secret Garden. There are no bulbs up in this shady room -since the snow only recently receded-so I can use the rake in its wide position and move quickly through the courtyard. However, moving out into the entry garden, there were many narcissus to dodge, (see the photos, top of the article). So, in order to handle this delicate situation, I simply pulled the lever, reducing the width of the rake, (see photos before), and the length of the tines. The rubbery red handle then moves back to the locked position. Sweet! When raking out perennial beds, I always advise gardeners to use a light hopping-motion, never pull and/or drag. Gently pop up debris and lift it out with an aerating motion. This is easier on your body, and the garden…

Rake adjustment handle

Adjustable rake in closed position, (good for tight spots around bulbs and perennials)

This little rake is also handy for spreading mulch around perennials and for tidying up steps and tight corners in the garden. I love the thing. Bamboo rakes are very cute, but I trash them in a matter of weeks. And those flexible-fingered adjustable rakes are never strong enough to really move debris. And forget plastic. Plastic is fine for lawn, but it just isn’t strong enough for the rough terrain in my garden. So here you have it. The ultimate dance partner for your perennial garden clean-up chores. It could be the Fred Astaire to your Ginger Rogers, or vice-versa. Just put on some music and go to town….

You can buy a adjustable rake like this one, (mine is Greenthumb brand), at many True Value and Ace Hardware stores, as I did. Or, you can order one online. They are inexpensive, (usually around $10-$12) and easy to use. Keep yours dry and well oiled and it will last for years.

Here is a link to an,($9.99) Adjustable Steel Rake at Amazon.com

There may be other sources online, but I think I am going to go run a hot bath now. I will catch up with you again soon..

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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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Shop at SpringHillNursery.com to save $25 on a $50 order!

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***

Selecting Quality Gardening Tools to Last a Lifetime: Part One…

March 29th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Looks like it’s finally that time of the year: Gardening season! Time to pull out the tools and get to work. Most of my gardening equipment is in pretty good shape, but there are a few repairs and replacements I need to make this year. I can still remember shopping for gardening tools with my father when I was a kid. We bought our tools at the not-so-local hardware store, (this was the 80’s, and where I grew up, it was an hour and a half drive, round trip, to the nearest big town). There was considerable grumbling involved. My dad has always been frustrated with the declining quality of tools, and he still complains about the mass-procuced, cheap new “bargains” pushed alongside the fairly-priced , but more expensive, “good-value” tools. A country boy to the core, my father grew up working on farms and in orchards, and he’s always favored hand forged tools with good blades, and rakes, forks and shovels with time-worn wooden handles. He’s never been fooled by flimsy spot-welds and cheap plastic handles. But during the recession years, in an effort to pinch pennies, he bought a few of those tools and he quickly regretted it. When you buy cheap tools, I fast learned, they tend to break, and you soon need to buy replacements. No money saved there.

These days I turn my compost pile with an old farm fork I inherited from my father, and I have a few of his other handmade tools in my garden room. My folks live in a condo now, and although they still have a small vegetable garden and modest flower beds, their bigger garden tools have been passed on to the next generation. When I started shopping for my own hand tools, I knew that it would make sense in the long-run to buy the best quality I could afford, and take good care of my investment. As any New Englander will tell you… frugal and cheap are not the same thing! I started with the basics: Felco bypass-style pruners, and both folding and bow saws for pruning; a digging spade and fork for vegetable and perennial gardening; several good quality rakes in three styles and a basic shovel; a classic New England Cape Cod weeder, and of course the Gardener’s Supply Company garden cart and a good wheelbarrow…

Felco F-6 Classic Pruner For Smaller Hands

Felco Classic Pruner with Comfortable Ergonomic Design #F-8

Every year, I help gardeners learn how to prune their trees and shrubs. There is an article based on my pruning seminar notes you can read here, explaining the kinds of cuts you will make and the types of tools you will need, (there is another on June lilac pruning here). Bypass pruners are the most important tool in my shed. In fact, I usually have a pair in my car and/or pocketbook. Some gardeners use anvil pruners. I dislike them because they pinch-cut instead of clean-cut. So, I recommend the bypass style. There are more expensive and less expensive pruners, and I have a few other brands, but Felco is still my favorite. For smaller hands, start with the Felco #6, (top link above). For longer or wider hands, go with the #8, (lower link above). For larger trees and shrubs, you will also need a folding, (or Grecian), saw and a bow saw for big limbs…

Felco Classic Folding Saw with Pull-Stroke Action #F-600

Spear & Jackson R681 County 24 Inch Bow Saw

Many of the tools pictured here may be found in your local hardware store, but I have also linked them to two of my favorite online tool resources: Amazon.com Home and Garden and Gardener’s Supply Company. I buy many of my working tools from Gardener’s Supply Company online. This employee-owned store is located here in my home state of  Vermont, (to the north, in Burlington), and they ship tools all over the country via orders placed on their website. They carry many of the high-quality brands I know and trust, as well as some excellent products of their own. In fact, their sturdy garden cart has been such a fixture in my life that when I began building my place 8 years ago, a friend told me that she knew she found the right clearing when she saw my little wood wagon in the drive! Oh how I love that cart. I have had it for years and I constantly use it to move heavy perennial divisions, (like big clumps of ornamental grass); to tote bulky items like dog food from the car;  and to haul firewood to the back terrace. The removable back makes dumping debris easy and the entire cart tilts back for easy storage. I have never seen a better utility-wagon design. And although I have a variety of poly-bed wheelbarrows for taking with me on jobs, I prefer the two-wheel-barrow design linked below for stability when carting heavy loads of mulch and compost. And good-grief, I so prefer tires that can be filled with a bicycle pump. The other kind – what a pain!

These are the best versions of tools you will need to create and maintain your garden. I won’t lie to you – I have a few cheap shovels, rakes and wheelbarrows that I take with me to work, (where they might get lost or crushed by a dump-truck). But for pruning and work around home – I don’t mess around. I have invested in good tools, and I take good care of them. I will be reviewing more gardening essentials in April and May, and sharing some tool-maintenance tips from the old-time farmers and orchard keepers in my life. I learned a thing or two in college, yes it is true, but when it comes to everyday common-sense, it sure is hard to beat the wisdom of a farmer! Let me know if you have any time-worn favorites of your own… or new fangled discoveries I can share with my dad. I do love a good garden gadget!

DeWit Cape Cod Weeder, Right-Handed

(may be out of stock, if so, try the Amazon link below)

DeWit Dutch Cape Cod Weeder – Right Hand

DeWit Perennial Planter
(for digging and planting on your knees)

Spear & Jackson Stainless Steel Digging Spade

Spear & Jackson Stainless Steel Digging Fork (essential for dividing plants and loosening soil)

Large Gardener’s Supply Cart, Red (also available in natural color)

Poly-Tough Cart

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Article and top photo © Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All rights reserved.

Images in this post appear courtesy of Amazon.com and Gardener’s Supply Company.

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through links here. 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 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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Rich, Beautiful, Dreamy Dirt…

November 6th, 2009 § 7 comments § permalink

A nice delicious bowl of…. dirt?

Has someone been making mud-pies? Sometimes I think I got into gardening because I never grew up. Yes, I know, that is a silly photo. But I couldn’t help myself. All the cooking blogs and magazines showcase gorgeous, slightly-off center bowls filled with the most mouthwatering food. So I got to thinking – what about the plants? They need to eat too! If plants could read cooking blogs, this photo would really pull them into the recipe – rich, beautiful, dreamy DIRT !

There is nothing more exciting to me than playing in a big, sun-warmed pile of dirt. I just love it. And of all the gardens I work in, it’s the vegetable plots I get really excited about – think of all those mounds and mounds of dirt! So, right now I am having a ball, because fall is when I usually plan and prep new vegetable plots. This is the best time of year to test and supplement garden soil, because it takes awhile for organic materials to decompose and for pH to change, (more on that in just a bit…). If I make adjustments now, the soil chemistry will have plenty of time to correct before next year’s planting season rolls around. So I have been playing with dirt a lot lately. Glee !

Great vegetable gardens always begin with beautiful, fertile earth. And every kitchen gardener wants a productive potager filled with healthy plants and colorful, plump, delicious vegetables. The good news is that building productive soil isn’t magic – it’s simple science. But in order to give plants what they need, a gardener needs to observe soil structure and learn a bit about chemistry…

compost, marigold, spinach

I am going to keep this as simple as possible, because most of us aren’t aiming to turn our backyards into farm-schools – we just want our little plots to produce good food! It really only takes a half an hour, a few supplies, and a little effort to get the basic answers you need about your soil’s fertility and, if need be, how to correct it.

Plants require Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus, (P) and Potassium, (K) in order to steadily grow a strong framework and create vigorous, richly colored leaves. Plants with insufficient nitrogen often look yellowish and unhealthy, and if a garden is low in phosphorus, plants will be stunted and produce poorly, (a purplish cast on tomatoes is a common sign of phosphorus deficiency). Potassium deficiency is harder to detect, but equally problematic. Plants suffering from potassium deficiency are internally weak; unable to control moisture and distribute nutrients, among other things. And perhaps most important of all, in order for a plant to absorb N, P and K, the soil needs to have the correct pH level. Nutrients will not dissolve in water that is too acid or too alkaline, and unless nutrients dissolve in water, plants can not absorb them through their roots. No one wants to starve their garden! How can a garden feed us, unless we feed it ?

A simple and fun way to find out about your garden’s soil chemistry is to buy a home soil-testing kit. This is a great project to do with kids. Basic soil chemistry kits are inexpensive, (almost always under ten dollars for a basic kit, and under 20 for more extensive testing), and can be purchased in most garden centers and mail-order supply stores online. The kit I use most frequently requires a one to five ratio of dirt to water for testing nutrients. So I begin by scooping up a cup of soil from the garden, or if I am working in a large garden and want to do various tests, I will take a cup from several different areas, (marking the sample with a location note)…

Soil Sample for TestingSoil sample scooped from the vegetable garden. Take your sample 4-5 inches below the surface for best results…

I usually test soil pH first, since I only need a small amount of dry soil, (see photo below). This particular soil-testing kit requires that I add soil to the first line of the test-tube. I then add pH reactive powder, (it’s non-toxic and safe for kids to handle), from the color-coded kit, add water to the top line, replace the cap and shake the vial, (ideally distilled water, which you can get in most supermarkets, should be used for all of these tests). This test-tube is set aside while I continue with the rest of my experiments…

Dirt in a vile for pH testing...The first test is for pH…

Next, I take my cup of garden soil and place it in a glass, ceramic or plastic bowl. To the dirt, I add five cups of water and stir thoroughly. This muddy mixture needs to settle for at least ten minutes. So, while I am waiting, I investigate the results of my pH testing…

Dirt in a Bowl plus WaterNext, five cups of water are added to one cup of soil, stirred and left to settle 10 minutes or so…

Below you will see pH test-results from two different vegetable gardens. The color of the water will range from dark green to bright orange, with green indicating alkalinity and orange, acidity. It sometimes helps to put a piece of white paper in back of the tube when comparing the color-results with the pH chart. The first test, (A: directly below), indicates that the pH is just slightly more acidic than neutral. Most plants prefer a pH in this range – but it is always a good idea to know the exact preference of your crops. Soil testing kits usually come with a small pamphlet about this, but if not you can look this information up in a good gardening book, (see recommended book linked below). The third photo, (B), indicates alkaline soil. The soil in this garden will need to be amended in order for plants to properly absorb nutrients…

pH test in progressTest A: Slightly acidic soil

soil testing kit color barTesting chart

Ph test alkalineTest B: Here is an alkaline soil sample, (it actually looked darker greener than it appears in this photo). This soil will need to be amended with organic matter and/or agricultural sulfur this fall in order to bring it closer to the acid-neutral range.

Soil that is too acidic for vegetable gardening can be corrected, (or ‘sweetened’ as farmers sometimes say), with lime. Limestone and wood ash both raise pH. Organic lime can be purchased at most garden/home centers. Be sure to follow instructions and wear a mask when spreading lime on soil. Wood ash is an old-fashioned remedy for poor soil, and it is useful because ash also adds magnesium and potassium. If nutrient testing reveals low potassium, then wood ash is a good, economical supplement for an acidic vegetable garden. However, if the garden soil is alkaline, (as in test B), wood ash should not be added.

If test results reveal alkaline soil, (as in vial B, above), there are two ways to lower the pH. The best long-term solution for improving alkaline soil is to add organic matter. Composted oak leaves, pine needles, peat moss or untreated sawdust are all good supplements. However, it takes time for these additives to work. So, if you are looking for faster results, or your soil is very alkaline, (like test B, above), then adding agricultural grade sulfur makes sense. This supplement can be purchased at garden centers and it is applied in the same manner as lime. Always work additives into the soil with a garden fork after they have been applied, and then cover the bed with a good, thick layer of compost.

For the next three tests, (N,P,K), samples are drawn from the bowl containing the soil-water mix. Take care not to disturb the settled soil when obtaining the samples. There is a bit of organic matter floating in the tubes shown below. A small amount is OK, (it can be tricky to get a clean catch in super organic soil, especially for little hands), but try to keep as much as possible out. Your results won’t be skewed from a bit of floating debris, so no worries if some gets in the tube. Next add the reactive powder to each vial, replacing the color-coded cap to match the test. Be sure your caps are on tight! Then, shake the tubes and wait another 5 to 10 minutes for color-results…

soil test with some depletionsHere are some test results for K, N and P  – The Potash, (orange) content is good. Nitrogen, (purple) is very low, and the Phosphorus is depleted, in fact it’s just about non-existent !

When the color in the tubes has developed, match your results with the chart provided in the testing kit. Low and depleted levels of nutrients can be corrected with organic supplements. Low nitrogen? Good compost will raise the nitrogen in garden soil and fish emulsion or blood meal will also correct low nitrogen. During the growing season, cover crops like alfalfa can also be turned into the soil to raise nitrogen levels. How you improve soil fertility depends upon when you are correcting the situation and how depleted the soil is. In cold climates, adding a rich layer of compost to the soil in fall will often do the trick for correcting fertility in the long term. But if levels are particularly depleted, additional supplements may be needed. The phosphorus test above indicates complete depletion. To improve this situation, rock phosphate is recommended. Like the other supplements mentioned, this can be purchased at any garden center. Always follow instructions on the bag. The orange-capped test above indicates ample potassium. If potassium is low however, it can be improved by adding granite-dust, greensand or wood ashes. But remember, wood ashes will raise pH. Only add wood ashes if your pH test indicates acidic soil. And remember, you can add supplements like greensand and rock phosphate to your compost as well – they are all natural…

compost:hands

In addition to checking soil chemistry, it is important to have a look at soil structure. If a garden has particularly sandy soil, or clay soil with poor drainage, now is a good time to add organic matter to the garden. Compost, leaf-mold, clean straw and other organic matter can be worked in and raked over the garden in the autumn. This healthy mix of ingredients will continue to decompose over the winter months, building a healthy, hearty stew for next year’s plants.

Building a vegetable garden, testing and building soil can be fun and rewarding for kids. This soil testing process is a great way to teach young gardeners about practical science. For less than $20, a real-life skill can be acquired while having a great time. For more information about creating great vegetable gardens, I highly recommend Edward C. Smith’s book, The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible , linked below. This book is easy to read and follow, and it makes a great gift for beginning vegetable gardeners, (and even the more experienced, for reference!)…

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Article and photographs 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 without express written permission. Inspired by something you see here? It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Gardening Beyond the Harvest Moon: Extending the Growing Season with Hoop-House Cold Frames…

September 8th, 2009 § 25 comments § permalink

September’s Harvest Moon

It may seem a little premature to be writing about cold frames and frost on a beautiful late summer day, (sunny with daytime temps in the 70’s here in Vermont). But the gorgeous Harvest Moon this past weekend served as a reminder that we are nearing the end of the growing season in the northeast. Nights are getting cooler now, warning us that fall is coming and frost will soon be on the way. Although I am excited about the coming autumn, I am definitely not ready to give up my homegrown produce. So I won’t – at least not until December. I don’t have a greenhouse yet, but there are plenty of late-season, cool-weather crops to plant now and enjoy later. In order to extend my growing season last year, I began using hoop-house style cold frames in my kitchen garden to protect a few beds from frost. Unheated cold frames can save many vegetables from killing frosts, including tender herbs such as basil and rosemary, and mature warm-weather crops such as cherry tomatoes and peppers. Later, my spinach, chard, and broccoli will be protected inside the hoop-houses from harder freezes in late November and early December. By using hoop-houses to protect my crops, I was able to extend my growing season by more than two months last year.

Constructing a basic cold frame is a great two-person weekend project for early September. Cold frames are nothing more than unheated miniature greenhouses, and they are useful at both ends of the growing season. By protecting crops from frost with hoop-houses, cold-climate gardeners can still enjoy some vegetables into early December or longer. I now keep four hoop-houses installed in my potager throughout the winter. Although I am not able to make use of the garden in January and February, come spring the soil in these 4′ x 8′ beds will be warm and ready for planting weeks before the rest of the garden is clear of snow. Baby salad greens, spinach, broccoli and other cool-season crops can get a protected jump-start beneath the warm plastic of the mini-greenhouses. Hoop-houses are also a great way to protect and warm plants requiring extra heat, such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant in the early part of the growing season.

Hoop house with baby greens and chardBasic hoop-house cold frame protecting baby greens and chard

For someone with a few basic carpentry skills, a hoop-house is a simple project. If you can operate a skill saw and a screw gun, the assembly will be relatively easy. If not, maybe you can offer to share some produce with a handy friend or neighbor in exchange for a bit of help. Although the tasks involved in building a cold frame aren’t complex, this is definitely a two-person job. The simple design of the frame takes advantage of standard sized lumber, (8′ length), and only one cut is necessary to create the base. The ends of the wood are butted and screwed together with coated deck screws. Plastic tubing is cut to length with a hack saw and attached to the inside of the frame with pipe clamps. Then, ( to build an open-ended house), plastic is stretched over the tubes, folded beneath the rectangle frame and stapled to the inside edge of the wood. I keep the plastic ends on my un-sided hoop-houses folded closed with metal clamps. A plywood back and vent can be added on one side of the hoop-house for greater function and durability. I use both styles. Cold frames are inexpensive to build, and when cared for properly, they can be used for years. With longevity in mind, it makes sense to seal the wood parts with oil to protect them from moisture. Maintenance is simple; occasionally, if you use your hoop-house throughout the winter in a snowy climate, the plastic may tear and need to be replaced. The cost of materials to create two simple cold frames in 2008 was about $74.50, (adding plywood and a vent to the back added an additional $25 per unit for a total of $62.25 each). Your costs may be higher or lower, depending upon where you live, where you shop, and what kind of bargain-hunter you are.

If you have some experience building things, and would like to make  a cold frame of your own, review the materials list below and read the instructions carefully before you get started. The series of photos here were taken at various points during the construction of two hoop-house sets; one set was made with a vented ply-wood end, and one set was constructed without. I would recommend starting with the basic hoop house first. If you feel comfortable with the building process you can always add a plywood back later. The photos below can be enlarged by clicking for a closer view of the frame. Keep in mind that these structures are very simply designed. They are only intended to protect your crops from frost and they do not need to be perfect. Go slow and, as they say, measure twice and cut once.

hoop house frame constructionBasic hoop-house cold frame

hoop house stage 1Simple hoop-house cold frame ready for plastic

hoop house plywood with vent, before installationOptional plywood back with vent for greater protection and temperature control

hoop house frame with vent installedVented plywood back installed on basic frame

Hoop house stage 2Covering ventless hoop-house with plastic; pulled and stapled to one end of the wood frame

hoop house with vent:plastic installedVented hoop-house with plastic, ready to set in the garden

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Materials List for ONE  4′ x 8′ size hoop-house cold-frame

Tools:

skill saw

hack saw

jig saw (for vent-back model)

screw gun

hardware staple gun

tape measure

Materials from lumber dept.

3  2”x4”x8′  spruce or pine boards

1  full size sheet 1/2″ plywood (for vented-back model)

2  1”x3″strapping (optional, prolongs life of plastic by protecting the stapled inside edge)

Materials from hardware dept.

4 PVC pipe, 1/2″ cut to 6′ lengths, (or slightly larger for a bigger cold frame design)

pipe clamps 1/2″ (can be found in electrical dept)

1/2″ screws for clamps

3″ coated screws for all-weather use, (one small box), for the frame

2″ coated screws (optional for installing vented plywood-back model and for optional strapping at base)

hardware staples

heavy weight 06 mil plastic (we purchased ours online from a greenhouse company)

1 foundation vent, ( optional : for vented back hoop-house, *automatic opening is best)

thermometer (optional, for monitoring temps inside hoop houses)

Instructions:

To construct one cold frame you will need three  2” x 4” x 8′ spruce or pine boards. Cut one board in half to create two 4′ length pieces. Set the short boards inside the two long boards to form a box, as shown in the photos above. Screw the pieces together well, using at least two, (3″ coated), screws at each join. This rectangle forms the base of your hoop house. Sealing the wood base with linseed, (or other), sealer is a good idea to preserve the wood. If you do this, you will need to wait about 24 hours dry-time before continuing with the next steps of the project. If you are planning on adding a vented plywood back, this would also be a good time to seal the plywood with oil or stain.

Next, measure and cut your PVC tubing with a hack saw, to approximately 6′ length pieces. Space the tubes evenly on the inside of the frame and affix to the frame with pipe clamps screwed, (1/2″ screws), into the wood. I prefer to measure and mark before attaching for even spacing, setting all the clamps in place first with one screw on each side. When assembling the hoops, it is easiest to affix all pipes to one side of the frame first and then affix the opposite side.

* Note: If you are adding a plywood-vent end, draw a semi-circle outline on your plywood slightly larger than the shape of the hoops, (you can measure out the 4′ bottom edge end and then use one of the cut hoops as an outline for your circle). Cut the plywood semi-circle with a jig saw. Trace the interior shape of your vent in the upper middle of the plywood, and cut with a jig-saw. You may want to err on the tight side and test your vent fit in the opening. You can always make additional cuts with your jig-saw to fit the vent as you go. Finally, install your vent according to manufacturer instructions. Once set, slip the plywood wall inside one end of the hoop house frame, and then screw the plywood in place to the base,(using 2″ coated screws), as shown in the photo above. Clamp the plywood to the end hoops, (at least three points), and screw in place with 1/2″ screws. You are ready for the next steps below.

Once the hoops are evenly in place, lay out the plastic. Do a dry-run and stretch the plastic over the hoop house, checking to be sure that your length of plastic will fit evenly around the hoops with a few inches remaining to fold under the frame and staple. You also want to be sure the plastic is long enough on the open-ends to fold shut on both sides, (and to staple/fold and close the ends of a vented-style house). Be sure to allow some slack to spare before cutting. Once you have completed the dry run, lay out and cut the plastic and set the edge of one long-side, (8′ side), of the hoop house toward the end of the plastic with the remainder of the plastic trailing away from the structure. Be sure to leave a few inches to fold up under the wood frame. It is easier if one person holds the plastic in place while the other staples. Once the first side is secure, pull the plastic up and over the hoop house from the outside, and bring it around, lifting the other edge and setting down, once again with a few inches to spare for folding. This time you will be working from inside the enclosed hoop-house, so it may be helpful for the second person to hold up the finished end slightly for ease of stapling the other side. (Optional: For extra durability, it is useful to add strapping to cover the stapled plastic edge. To do this, cut a 3 1/2′ piece of strapping and lay it over the stapled plastic edge, and screw it in place with 2″ coated screws. This will help protect the plastic edge from tearing at the staple points).

If you have installed a plywood back with vent, at this point you will need to tightly fold or roll the extra plastic at the end and staple it to the plywood exterior. You can protect the edges with strapping, (wood, or recycled plastic as shown in the photos above).

The hoop house cold frame is ready to install!

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oli with bug sprayThough Oli is invariably involved in these projects, he can not be counted as a helper.

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Article and photos 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 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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The Zen of Weeding…

August 24th, 2009 § 6 comments § permalink

I often recycle my old wicker laundry baskets for weeding chores. Not only are they inexpensive, lightweight and easy to move in and out of tight spots, but once they begin to fall apart, I can just break them up and add them to the compost pile!

As I sat down to write this article, I got a bit worried. It occurred to me that some inaccurate conclusions might be drawn from the working title. You might even think I am some kind of Martha (And we all know that I love Martha Stewart, but I’m no where near as tidy and organized –especially in the garden!). So before I get rambling, I want to make a few things clear. I do not regularly meditate, nor do I practice Zen. And I must confess that my garden is most definitely not an organized, tidy, weed-free zone. In fact it’s far from that ideal. You will probably find a bit of  crab grass in the walk, some jewelweed in my shade garden, and you will definitely spot plantain in my lawn. And right about now, the weeds in my perennial borders rival the flowers (OK, so I exaggerate, but you get the picture). So in case you were worried that I might start judging you, smugly preaching across the electro-static divide with my Cape Cod weeder held high… Well forget about it! I garden for a living, and this means I spend a great deal of time weeding my clients’ yards. So when I get home on a hot summer afternoon, I am no slave to my own. Of course this doesn’t mean that I allow my gardens to go wild. No, I would never let the scale tip too far in that direction. And no, this doesn’t mean I dislike weeding. But it does mean that I understand the average gardener very well. I’m one of you. We get busy. Things slide.

jewel weed Spotted orange jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) in the Secret Garden. This is a hummingbird favorite. But I prefer it in the woods, not in my flower garden.

Weeding is a chore to most people. My design clients are always telling me that they haven’t the time for weeding, and I am constantly asked to create “no maintenance gardens” (if anyone has seen one, please let me know). And to tell the truth, I used to hate weeding. Really, I did. I found it boring, hot and tedious. But that was before I learned to time my weeding correctly and to truly give myself to the task. Now, once I start, I actually love the process of cleaning up my garden. Somewhere along the line, I suppose it dawned on me that gardening is weeding. Eventually, if you like to garden, you figure this out. And once you do, you “give” yourself to the process and let go of the product. The result of this surrender is usually a better maintained garden and a happier gardener. There is a Zen to weeding. In fact there is a Zen to all non-intellectual tasks, or ‘busy-work’ as some call it. Many people have a favorite ‘mindless’ task. Some of my friends love to do dishes by hand; calmed the circular motion of the sponge against the plate and the warm, soapy water. Others enjoy the drone of the vacuum cleaner and the back and forth motion on the floor. Repetition. There is freedom for the mind in physical repetition.

These days, I get some of my best ideas while weeding. As my mind slowly clears of day to day thoughts, things pop-up from my proverbial “back-burner”. I might remember my friend’s birthday, and think of a clever gift. Ideas for difficult design projects will suddenly spring to mind. With my front burners turned off, away from mental distractions, the back burner cooks. And then, slowly, something even more amazing happens. On my best days, my mind quiets to a whisper, and then becomes silent. Thoughts disappear and I simply become my hand, pulling weeds from the soil. If you have ever experienced this kind of “working meditation”, you know exactly what I mean, and how liberating it feels. Some people call this “the zone”. It happens when I am running. It happens when I am cleaning. And it happens when I am weeding. When I find myself in this magical state, I finish my garden chores in the most relaxed mood you can imagine. It’s great therapy, and I get a tidy garden as a bonus. Nothing clears my mind and relaxes my mood quite like the repetitive motion involved in pulling weeds.

claw and cape-cod weederMy weapons of choice: good gloves and quality tools. Here a Cape Cod weeder and Claw

If you are new to gardening, you may not be familiar with “weeding bliss”, in fact right about now you may be thinking, ‘this woman has really slipped off the raft’. I can understand that. I used to feel the same way about weeding. And lest you start to think of me as some kind of monk, I want to be honest; there are days when the bugs and the heat are so distracting that I become far more irritated than illuminated. But nothing is perfect. And weeding is a practice. It’s something you can get good at and learn to like over time.

Arming yourself with some basic tools will help make weeding physically easier, and staying on top of the weeds will keep the task manageable. Every gardener ought to own a Cape Cod weeder, 3 tine cultivator, and a dandelion tool for hand weeding. A good hoe is necessary for the vegetable garden, and a standing cultivator (or claw), is great for large borders with deep-rooted perennials and shallow weeds. Make time to really learn how to use your tools. If you have never been taught how to properly hoe, ask a more experienced gardener to give you a lesson. Everyone starts somewhere, after all. And remember to take care of your body. Protecting your hands from thorns, stinging nettles and rough plants also makes a lot of sense. If you are uncomfortable, you will likely give up quickly. I try to apply moisturizer to my hands before I start working, and I wear durable, water-proof gloves. I like Womanswork brand gloves for everyday weeding chores, leather gloves for bramble-infested gardens, and Cool Mud for the really wet places. I always keep an extra set in my tote in case my gloves are soaked through or tear. And I protect my body with long sleeved shirts and pants as well. Bugs are always a problem here, and if you would like a few tips on dealing with them, check out my June post, ‘ Hey, BUG OFF! ‘. Remember to wear sunscreen anytime you are outdoors, and try a light-weight, wide brimmed hat to shade your head.

stinging nettlesStinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is best handled with gloves. Once exposed to heat, it’s actually a fine, gourmet edible!

poison ivyThis is poison ivy, and you really want to avoid it altogether !

Of course, in order to start weeding, you have to know the difference between a weed and a desirable garden plant. So if you are just starting out, or returning to gardening, you may ask, ‘what exactly is a weed and how do I tell the difference’? Well, if you want to get technical about it, a weed is just a plant, (any plant), growing where it is unwelcome. Some North American gardeners loathe goldenrod (Solidago), and others welcome it as a native plant. To me, Queen Anne’s Lace is a beautiful flower in my meadow garden, and yet it crowds out vegetable seedlings in the potager, so there I consider it a weed. White clover makes a fantastic ground cover and lawn-substitute (and is a favorite food source of the honey bee), but when I see it popping up in my ornamental ground-cover and perennial borders, it gets a quick heave-ho. Likewise, I try to allow stands of jewelweed, in the wild parts of my property. Some more conventional gardeners may gasp in horror, but jewelweed is a delight to hummingbirds and honey bees, and an important food source. Keep in mind that many native plants (aka ‘weeds’), are part of our natural ecosystem. Removing weeds from your vegetable plot and perennial borders makes sense, of course. But keeping some natural areas is important to birds, butterflies and bees, if you can find the space.

queen annes laceQueen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) is a biennial and spreads by seed. It’s great for attracting beneficial insects around the edges of a garden, or in a meadow.

If you want to get really good at weed identification, keeping a reference book handy while you are working will really help. Try tossing one in your garden tote with a few tools. For the Northeast, I like the paperback, Weeds of the Northeast, by Uva, Neal and DiTomaso from Cornell University Press. The book covers North American regions including southern Canada, and points from Wisconsin eastward and Virginia northward. In fact, many of the weed identification charts would be helpful beyond these geographical parameters. For the west, Weeds of the West comes highly recommended and for the Great Plains states, Weeds of the Great Plains is available from the Nebraska Dept. of Agriculture. I picked up Weeds of the Northeast last year in response to an increased number of questions from my garden clients. Although I can identify most weeds, I do get stumped now and again, and I often have trouble remembering all of  the common and latin names (I have more than enough desirable plants in my gray-matter database to worry about). When I remember to put in in my pack, this reference book makes a great educational tool. In addition to identification, this book will help you learn the difference between annual and perennial weeds. If you catch annual weeds before they set seed, you will save yourself some work down the line. And as far as perennial weeds are concerned, you will need to take extra care in removing all of the roots, as well as any seeds. So, it’s good to know the difference.

white clover invading ajugaWhite clover (Trifolium repens), a perennial, here invading ground-cover ajuga. Clover is an important food source for bees. It makes a fine ground cover in relaxed areas, however you have to keep it in check or it will invadeyour beds & borders.

crab grassLarge crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis), is a summer annual, it spreads by seed. This weed is common in lawns. I allow it to grow at the edges of my garden, because I enjoy seeing wild turkey, and they come to my meadow for the seed.

plantainBroadleaf plantain (Plantago major), shown in my walkway, is also a common, perennial turf weed. This is handy to have around in the event of a bee sting. Just chew the leaves into a pulp and apply it directly to the sting. You should feel some relief in a few minutes.

vetchVetch (Vicia cracca), is a perennial and spreads aggressively via rhizomes. This one is tough to fight, and not something you want in a perennial border. However, bees and butterflies love the flowers. Plant this on a slope and it will attract beneficials and prevent erosion.

Some tricks to weeding are learned from experience. If you weed your garden thoroughly in spring, mulch with weed-free compost, and continue to pull weeds once a week through early summer, your garden should remain relatively manageable. When I go out weeding, I like to choose a spot and just start. I don’t focus on how much I need to do, or pause to figure out what is left to do, or how much has been done. I just stay right where I am and focus on the ground in front of me. This helps me to stay in the moment and to do a good job. I just grab the right tool and dig in. In my experience, removing most annual and tap-root weeds is easier either during or after a good rain. Conversely, I find that most running-root grasses are actually easier to remove when the weather is dry. A three pronged claw is great for teasing out the roots of running weeds like white clover, but a fork is the tool you want for tap-roots like dandelions. And remember that all garden chores are easier to do when the temperatures are cool and the sun is low. Try getting up a bit earlier and to start at first light, or make your weeding a sunset chore.  The mid-day heat isn’t good for you, and it contributes to fatigue. Light weeding baskets (I recycle old wicker laundry baskets), wheelbarrows and garden carts are really helpful with many garden tasks, including weeding. Be sure your handles are sturdy and keep tires firm with air.

rabbit foot cloverRabbitfoot clover (Trifolium arvense), is an annual spread by seed. I love seeing this plant in drifts along the roadside. It’s so pretty. But again, it doesn’t belong in my perennial garden.

Over time, I have learned to really enjoy the intimate garden experience that is weeding. Getting right smack in the middle of things brings me closer to the subtle smells, sights and sounds of the garden. I love working beside the bees, and getting buzzed by a curious hummingbird. The smell of wet earth, fragrant foliage and flowers is incredibly relaxing to me. And as an artist, I find that the shapes and textures of many ‘weeds’ are actually quite inspirational to my work. Sometimes, instead of tossing the contents of a basket straight into the compost heap, I find myself picking out bits of rabbitfoot clover, burs or thistle. I bring these garden remnants inside to enjoy close-up in a bud vase. Hey, beauty is where you find it. To me, gardening is about my relationship with nature, and I find mother nature endlessly fascinating. And so I have come to see that gardening is weeding. And weeding, at least for me, is pretty close to Zen.

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Article and photographs ©  Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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