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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Healthy Garden

A garden can be a magical place filled with all kinds of amazing creatures. Over the past 13 years we have worked hard in our garden here in South Huntington to make it attractive to all the beautiful creatures around us.

Praying Mantis fill the gardens, the young praying mantis is hard to spot but the adults are quite large and are easier to see. Every year we will find one praying mantis in the butterfly bush under our kitchen window. They don't eat the pollen or the leaves on the butterfly bush, they eat the insects that are attracted to this bush.

Butterflies will fly throughout the garden on a sunny day. There are many plants that grow well here on Long Island that will help attract and feed the butterflies. They always can be seen on the Liatris in our garden.

Here's a butterfly on the butterfly bush! The botanical name for this bush is Buddleia davidii.

Bees are also beneficial insects in the garden. Without bees, we wouldn't have flowers, vegetables and all the other wonderful plant life. If you leave the bee alone, it won't sting you.

Ants will also help spread pollen around. Can you see the ants climbing on the Bronze fennel flower?

One thing many people don't realize is that you need to have plants that will feed caterpillars if you want to have butterflies in the garden. That means that some of your plants will be chewed upon but just imagine how beautiful the garden will be with those butterflies flying around.

Not only do you have to have plants for the wildlife in your garden, you need to have water for them and you need to have an organic garden. By that, I mean that you should not use chemical products in your garden if you want to attract insects and wildlife.

Birds are creatures that we love to have in our garden. They eat many insects such as mosquitoes and they fill the air with the most wonderful sounds!

This photo shows a baby bird when it first flew out of it's birdhouse. Do you think it's asking the gnome "are you my mother"?

We are always so excited when we find a turtle in the garden. If we were putting chemicals on our lawn we might have nicer grass but we wouldn't have any of these cool creatures.

Some people don't like the rabbits in their garden because they eat the plants but how can you not love this adorable creature? If you don't use chemicals on your lawn, you will have lots of clover and the bunnies will eat the clover instead of your flowers.

There's all kinds of things to see and do in your garden. We all think of gardening as planting seeds and flowers but you can do more than that. My daughter Emily used to love to go around the garden and photograph the creatures that she found.

One day she found a baby robin that had fallen out of a nest. We read that the mother bird would continue to care for it even though it was on the ground so we moved it to a part of the garden where it had some shelter from plant material.

Emily named the robin Einstein, can you tell why?

We continued to watch Einstein for many days and weeks and he grew up to be a beautiful robin.

This post has been written for Mrs. Diane Labate and the students at Maplewood Elementary school in South Huntington.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Heat Wave! TLC for new plants

Today we are expecting record high temperatures here on Long Island. Just earlier this week we were cold and wet, the plants have not had a chance to warm up very much.

In the garden you might see larger leafed plants wilting. They will be fine once temperatures get back to normal but if you are worried about them, you could place something near them that would shade them.

I've used beach umbrella's stuck into the ground to shade newly planted babies. I also have an old set of wrought iron furniture and I will take a chair and just place it over a plant.

Don't use PVC furniture to shade plantings, they blow over too easily and I've had plants squashed when I thought I was protecting them.

The ideal weather to plant new arrivalss is a cloudy day or even when there's a light rain falling. Hot sunny days are the worst condition to plant things. Unfortunately, when it's hot and sunny on a weekend people don't always have time to wait a few days.

Don't forget to water your plants in well. If you can wait to plant them, store your new plants in a shaded area and wait a day or two. If you must plant them today, try to do so in the late afternoon or evening. You could prepare the area during the heat of the day, don't forget to work in lots of compost and loosen the soil.

Another tip for you, don't forget to photograph your new arrivals so you can keep track of what you have. This photo shows a Eupatorium 'Phantom' that I purchased last year. On my computer I can zoom in enough to read the tag. This plant has not yet popped up in my garden but I have another Eupatorium that is well established and it too has not yet come out of the soil.

Some perennials are very late to come out, especially ones that bloom in late summer and fall. None of the Platycodons (balloon flowers) have come up yet, the Liatris (Kansas Gay Feathers) are just now breaking ground. I try to leave myself a little reminder with a tag or some of last years foliage so I don't make the mistake and dig up the healthy roots of a plant.

Out to play in the rock garden today. Thanks to all of you who came yesterday and made my opening day a huge success! It was exactly what I had hoped for.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Open Today!

Come see us and see what we're all about.

Our inventory is just coming up, a few things are for sale, and we'd love to chat with you.

10:00 am - 4:00 pm (sharp)


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Open for business!

Well, it looks like the Mother Nature will be smiling down upon us this weekend. That can only mean one thing, we'll be open for business!


Today's inventory count was about 240 various perennials, plus 70 daylilies, plus 50 hosta, plus approx. 100 pots of Sedums and Sempervivums.

Not everything is ready to be sold, some plants like the hardy Geraniums are just rooting now.

The Phlox is well rooted but certainly not close to blooming like you see in the opening photo.

Hosta 'Janet' is waiting for division along with a few of her beautiful friends. They are on the short to-do list (instead of the long to-do list that has things that won't get done for another month).

Coreopsis pots are soaking right now, they just started pushing up growth a few weeks ago but like the enegizer bunnies, they are primed and ready to go!

Daylily 'Dear Prudence' is one of the number of cultivars that are potted up. Lots of different varieties will be availabe, not all this week, they'll keep coming out.

What's different about the sale this year is it's not a one day sale. I hope to be open most Saturdays during the spring plus a few week days here and there. Sunday's are possibilities too, it all depends on what my family has in store for me and of course, if the weather holds.

If you come on Saturday, I'll have a sign up list for e-mail notices, remind me if I forget to tell you about it. We'll be open at 10:00 am and stay open until 4:00 pm sharp.

A quick list of what is potted up:
Columbines (very few)
Siberian Iris (blue)
Echinacea (small and few, too early in the season)
Polygonatum (a few but more to come)
Hardy Geraniums (should really wait one more week)
Lychnis coronaria (looks great)
Silene armeria (ready to go!)
Coreopsis (could wait another week)
Violas (popping into bloom as I write this)
Iris (sky blue bearded iris, to-die-for blooms)
Dicentras (these bleeding hearts are ready)
Thalictrums (wait a week)
Alchemilla mollis (needs a bit of warm weather to plump up)
Ligularia japonica (holy canoli, this plant is AWESOME!)
Sisyrinchium (looking good)
Nepetas (going to bloom soon, get them now)
Bronze Fennel (would love to be planted soon)
Euphorbia (another one that's going to start blooming any day now)
Stachys monierri (you have a bit of time with this one but get one someday!)
Sedums (some potted up, many more to come)
Daylilies: Stars Over Alabama, Faith Hope Charity, Lightning Bird, Lana Ishee, Stella De Oro, Hot Town, Always A Pleasure, Dragon King, Purple Arachne, Uncle Bryan, Sovereign Queen, Peach Magnolia, Celtic Christmas, Dear Prudence and more to come.

You can cut and past the daylily names into Google images and you'll get to see what they will look like when the bloom in July.

Hosta, right now only "lost name" plants are potted up and the leaves are just starting to unfurl. Still plenty of time to dig the named varieties. "Sum and Substance" and "Blue Angel" are both on the short to-do list.

Don't worry if you can't come on Saturday, I'll be open next weekend too.

Digging away,

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Perennials for Long Island Gardens

Tonight I had the pleasure of doing a lecture for the Dix Hills Garden Club. What a delightful group of ladies! They meet during the evening, at the Dix Hills Library. Many of them are extremely experienced gardeners but novice gardeners are welcome too.

What I enjoyed the most was knowing that they all lived within a five mile radius of my garden so we all share similar growing conditions. Shade fills many of our gardens so I could tell that the shade plants were popular like the Corydalis lutea and Iris cristata seen in the first photo.

Euphorbia polychroma is such an old fashioned plant. It's easy to grow in sunny spots and yet I rarely see it for sale. Everybody agreed that it's a beauty.

Lotsa Hosta, who could turn these lovelies away? The topic of voles came up, if you don't have them be grateful. Voles are a type of field mouse that just love to chomp away on your Hosta roots.

Another old fashioned, simple to grow, shade plant that got oohs and aahs was Lamium 'White Nancy'. I just love this flower and her sister 'Pink Nancy'.

Finally, Phlox subulata, seen here cascading over some boulders in my driveway. I do so love spring, it's the most amazing time of year!

Thanks ladies for the fun evening :-)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Paper Pots

This morning I was lucky to spend a wonderful 45 minutes with some of the first grade students at Oakwood School. We made pots out of newspaper, planted pea and corn seeds, looked at all kinds of soil additives, smelled gardeners gold (shredded leaves) and set up a praying mantis tank.

You would not have known that it was hailing as I drove to the school, in that classroom it was GREEN!

These photos show the steps to making your own pots out of newspaper. I will be doing this program with many more students in our district. What fun!

To make newspaper pots you must first take a single sheet of newspaper and fold it lengthwise.

Next, take an empty container such as a jar, water bottle, soup can or so on and roll the newspaper around the container. Leave a good 1.5 inches overhanging on the bottom.

When you are finished you will have a tube like this.

Next, take the bottom of the tube and fold it in so the paper overlaps and forms the bottom of the pot. Don't worry if it's not pretty, or perfect, it's not supposed to be.

This is what the bottom looks like. You can use a piece of tape to hold it shut but I don't use anything since the tape would not breakdown in the garden.

Next, slide out the container from the inside. Take the top of the pot and fold it over to form a collar that will hold the whole thing together.

This is what the collar will look like when you finish. Don't worry if it tears a little, that happens all the time.

Finally, fill your pots with potting soil and then plant your seeds. (These are last years photos so they show sprouted pots instead of newly planted ones)

Hooray! A perfect alternative to plastic pots. You can plant your whole pot in the garden since the newspaper will breakdown quickly and the seeds will keep on growing.

If you'd like to know what I use to fill the pots, you can jump over to my other gardening blog, Melanie's Old Country Garden (just click on the title here).

Happy potting!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Getting Ready for Opening Day

Mother Nature did her best to help us get ready for opening day. Although there's a gazillion things I'd like to still get done, it looks like we'll be ready to start sales on Saturday, April 25th. I'm going to list the official opening time as 10:00 am. It won't be our "Grand Opening", just a preview sales day. If the weather holds, we'll be selling on Sunday morning too. I'm still figuring out a way to let folks know when we are open.

Only a portion of our plants have been dug and potted but some of them are starting to bloom and I know people want to get them while they look so good.

Both the blue and the pink Viola's are full of buds and I've got both varieties potted up now. They do seed around quite a bit but for those of you with shaded areas under trees, these little darlings are perfect!

The holding area is just crammed full of pots, in fact, I need to start a third holding area (this is actual the second spot already). The Dicentra spectabilis (Bleeding hearts) have started to bloom too, as usual there is only a very limited selection of them in pink and in white. I think the Euphorbia polychroma (Cushion spurge) will start to show color any day.

Uh oh, it looks like I waited a bit too long on dividing up the large Thalictrums. I've got them soaking in a tub with water, hopefully all they need is a few days of moisture and shade to perk them up again.

The Hosta are finally up enough that I can start to dig them too. This is Hosta 'Pineapple Upside Down Cake'. I love how the pips are purple on the bottom and lime green on the tips.

In the bottom left corner you can see what 'Pineapple Upside Down Cake' looks like. I love it so much that I haven't decided yet if I have the heart to dig and divide it. Don't worry though, there's lots of Hosta in pots already and lots more that will get divided.

Off to soak in the tub for a bit,

Friday, April 17, 2009

Perennial annuals

The other day I posted about perennials, what the term "perennial" means to me. As I wrote then, a perennial is a plant that returns year after year.

Annuals are plants that live their life in one growing season and then do not return. And yet, the strange thing is that sometimes, some annuals do return. This does not make them perennials. The difference is that a perennial returns from the same root stock while some annuals will make seed, scatter those seeds and the seeds grow to form a new plant that just happens to be identical to the previous years plant.

Hopefully this makes sense. In the first photo there is a perennial in the bottom left corner and an annual in the top right corner. The annual is Silene armeria (nicknamed "catchfly" because of the sticky bands on the stem) but it self seeds quite nicely in my garden.

Here you can see the Silene combined with a lovely sky blue Iris that I happened to divide up yesterday.

It really is wonderful to have a plant that happily seeds itself all over. I find the Silene is not at all invasive, all you would have to do is pull a rake through the bed a few times and the seedlings would not return.

I don't know though if I've ever seen this plant in anybody else's garden...ever! Have you?


Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Magic-maker

This might look like a kind-of-battered, pretty-dirty, seen-better-days piece of garden equipment. In truth though, it's a magic maker!

Many years ago we borrowed this Flowtron leaf eater from a neighbor. When we went to return it, they told us we could keep it as they didn't use it any more.

This is one of the piles of leaves on our property. I had bagged up close to 70 bags of leaves last fall. A nice mix of Oak leaves and various Maple leaves were gathered. I do have to add that having all those bags of leaves lying around isn't the most attractive thing but now that spring is here, we are so happy we put up with the sight of those leaf bags.

My husband Don has been shredding leaves when ever he can find a spare hour or two. It's an easy job but very time consuming as this older model leaf eater will clog if you dump too many leaves in it at one time. By the way, there is a new, super-de-duper model of Flowtron leaf eater available at and it looks amazing!

The final product that comes out of this leaf mulcher is the most amazing stuff. It's soft and fluffy, smells heavenly and best of all has no chemicals, dies or stuff like that added to it. It's the ultimate organic product for the garden.

I will use these leaves to mulch beds, add these leaves to potting soil to give it some "oomph" and also use them to mulch the tops of the pots that I've been potting up. What ever is left after all of that will get added to the compost heap which is mostly leaves anyway.

One more note, today some of the ladies from our local gardening club are coming here at 10:30 to learn how to divide some perennials. Some more women are coming tomorrow at 4:00. If you are reading this and are in the vicinity of South Huntington, you are welcome to stop by and watch as I divide plants. If you can't make it, don't worry, there's lots more dividing to do and we'll be running workshops through the next month or two.

See ya!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

So what is a Perennial anyway?

Dicentra spectabilis (Old Fashioned bleeding heart)

I've been blogging for about three years now at my other site, Old Country Gardens (click on the name to visit that site). The blog is listed with a Garden blog site named Blotanical. Most of the readers that visit that blog are avid gardeners, lots of experienced gardeners and also beginning gardeners.

Hardy Geranium (Cranesbill)

Today I realized that so many of the words and terms that advanced gardeners take for granted are words that many people just aren't familiar with. My new business cards came and I began handing them out today. At first, I handed them out at my garden club and of course, everybody knew what I meant when I said that I'd be selling "perennials". Next though, I started handing out my cards at the local school and it quickly became apparent that while some people enjoy gardening, they were not as familiar with gardening vocabulary.

Now, I am quite open about the fact that I am not a scientific person. My goal is not to stump all of you with lots of words when more simple words would do the same job. Even my definition of a "Perennial" and for that matter, an "Annual" will not be the same definition you would find in a dictionary.

(My herb garden in early spring, all perennials, all came through the winter)

For me, a perennial is a plant that returns year after year. Here on Long Island we live in zone 6b (further away from the water) or zone 7a (near the shore). Most people in Huntington village or north of it are 7a, those of us further south are 6b. These are really numbers that just say that we have cold winters, temperatures stay below freezing for long time periods, we don't get reliable snow cover and Long Island suffers a prolonged frost/thaw period during spring.

So, once again, a perennial is a plant that returns year after year. Some perennials only return for 3 or 4 years. That is called a short lived perennial. Some will come back for as long as you are living at your house. Some are called perennials but still die after one winter. It might just be that they are perennials in a different part of the country. My focus is on plants that perennially return here, on Long Island.

Coreopsis (Tickseed)

The photos I've been showing here are of some of the perennial plants in my garden. The first was a Bleeding heart. It's true botanical name is Dicentra spectabilis. While you don't need to know how to pronounce that name, it helps if you can at least copy and paste the name into Google. By doing this you can look up growing information for anything once you know it's name.

Inside the parenthasis I will also list the nickname if I know it. Nicknames are not a reliable way to find information about a plant because nicknames change drastically in different parts of the state, country, and world. That's why I take the time to write out the botanical name.

(Shade perennials such as Hosta, Epemedium, Pulmonaria, Brunera and more...)

Perennials are attractive to me because I could never afford to purchase new plants every year to fill all the gardens on my 1.3 acre property. If you came past my place right now, you'd see tufts of fresh growth filling all my garden beds and even some early spring blooms. Those plants were not planted this year, they were planted sometime during the past 12 years and have returned once again.

A plant that is killed by a frost or freeze, that does not live through our winters, is called an "Annual". The most well known annuals are Impatiens, Marigolds, Coleus and so on. I grow them too but I grow just a few of them as they just don't fit into my budget. When I purchase annuals, I am extrememly picky, looking for something to add to a container or a certain spot of the garden that I want to highlight. Actually, the Coleus at the right of this photo would live for years in a tropical garden but here it's not winter hardy so Long Islanders think of it as an "annual".

Now here's the crazy thing, there are annuals that will come back year after year. How's that? Well, you'll just have to come back and visit me again to find out!

I'm typing this late at night in hopes that the rain we are having will stop by morning and even though it will be muddy, I have dreams of getting some time in the garden tomorrow.

Wish me luck!