Search This Blog

Saturday, March 29, 2008

1st purchase of the Season

This past week I visited Zaino's Nursery in Westbury. It's a little known nursery and from the front you'd never know it but in the back they have the most wonderful selection of shrubs & trees.
The most delicious scent filled the air as I was walking past the Pieris japonica section. It wasn't hard to make a decision on which one to take home with me. 'Valley Valentine' had the most amazing color blooms and a nice strong scent. I chose the pot with the least opened blooms so I can enjoy it here for the rest of this month.

Just look at these buds and blooms, this shrub is covered with them. By the way, a well accepted nick-name for this plant is Japanese Andromeda. Here in my garden on Long Island they are very happy with our acidic soil and semi-shade conditions.

This weekend is chock full for us so I will only have a quick post on Sunday morning and will be back to visit all of you on Monday.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, March 28, 2008

It reverted?

The first time somebody pointed to one of my plants and said "oh, it reverted", I had no idea what they were talking about. Every now and then a visitor would make this comment, usually when looking at one of my Hosta but it happened with a few other plants too.

Finally I figured out what they were saying. The plant in question had been chosen for it's unusual form, possibly a color breakthrough or a foliage variation. In the above photo of Hosta 'Janet' you can see the solid green leaves scattered about. They come from a part of the plant that "reverted" back to the original form.

It's still a bit confusing. You see, originally there was a solid green Hosta. It had a mutation, one part of it had a lovely variegated leaf. An observant grower isolated that variegated section, multiplied it, introduced it and now you had a variegated Hosta named 'Janet'. The problem is that sometimes these new introductions will revert, that is, go back to their original color or form.

This is Sedum 'Frosty Morn'. I'm absolutely crazy about this Sedum, with good reason. It looks stunning in the garden.

See this photo of a newly weeded perennial border (taken in 07). It's easy to find Sedum 'Frosty Morn', she just stands out wonderfully. The best thing is I got this plant for free. I was walking through the perennial farm down the road when it was in business a few years ago. There were weeding buckets scattered around and one of them was filled with wilted Sedum cuttings. I asked if I could take those cuttings home and try to grow them on. The answer was "yes" and just about every cutting grew for me.

Yesterday as I was out in the garden I checked over my newly emerging Sedum. From past experience I've learned that some varieties will revert. As you can see in this photo, Sedum 'Frosty Morn' is one of those.

So what am I to do? Many times the reverted portion can be a stronger grower than the variegated portion so you really need to remove it. In the case of Sedum, it's easy, just slip your fingers down to the base, wiggle a bit and pull that piece out.

Hosta are much harder, you need to cut out the reverted portion. Hosta 'Janet' has been lifted three times and cut three times. I don't know if it's just prone to reverting or if I'm always leaving a small piece of the solid portion behind. The hard part is you can't lift it now in March and cut, you have to wait until it's leafed out to see the different parts. At that point I'm pretty loathe to lift and cut that beautiful plant.

This lovely yellow/blue variegated Sedum is another one that reverts every year. You can see here that I left it along for a year or two before splitting it up. This is an older photo and I didn't know at the time how easy it was to separate Sedum.

So what do you do with the piece you cut out? Is there something wrong with it? Nope, it's just not what you originally thought you planted.

This photo shows you two Sedum. The dark one in the foreground is Sedum 'Lynda Windsor'. Behind it with the light foliage is a Sedum that grew from one of the reverted pieces I stuck in the ground. I don't remember which plant this reverted piece came from but it's so beautiful that I'm propagating it now.

I have no idea if the "reverted" piece is actually now the same as the grandparent plant or if it is a totally new thing. It really doesn't matter much to me, I'm having so much fun with it!

As for the solid colored Hosta pieces? I've found homes for all of them, either with other gardeners or here at my own place, where I've put them along the border of our little woods.

Do you have plants that revert? What do you do with them?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Heirloom seeds for a Historic House

Tuesday morning was cold but that didn't stop members of the Nathan Hale Garden Club from gathering together for the first horticultural workshop of 2008.

Our club is located in the township of Huntington New York, which is a charming town on the north shore of Long Island. Our club's focus this year is "going green, the natural way". To keep with the theme, our first workshop was learning how to make newspaper pots and planting Heirloom seeds.

You can tell from our members attire that the temperatures were only around 40 degrees but that didn't stop us from rolling out those pots like a well oiled machine. Here you can see Patty showing us how nicely the bottom of the pot holds together.

Looking along our work table you can see Kim reaching for one of the tall glasses we used as the form for the pots. At first we tried different cans and bottles but these glasses turned out to be the perfect size and shape to work with.

If you scroll along my blog here you will see a list of labels at the side. Click on the one that says "Garden How To" and it will bring you to my post showing step by step instructions on making these pots.

As you can see, we quickly had quite a number of pots that were filled with lovely metro mix potting soil.

Our club is lucky to have Kim as a member, she is the driving force behind many of our projects. I'm even luckier as she is also a good gardening friend of mine and together we go on many gardening adventures. Kim ordered heirloom seeds from two locations. One set came from the gardens at Monticello and the second set came from the Seed Savers Exchange.

We were all working so hard when we suddenly heard some crashing noise through the underbrush. I quickly grabbed my camera and was lucky to get an elusive shot of jungle kitty trying to sneak up on us.

Here's Jungle Kitty looking her most ferocious. As you can see, she was only encouraged by our laughter at her antics.

Our members each took home a pan of pots with seeds. We are babysitting them until early May when they will be brought to the Kissam House in Huntington Village. The Kissam House was built in 1795 and our club has been working on planting and maintaining historical gardens at the location.

For the first two years we were happy just to clear much of the weeds and get an attractive planting started. Now we'd like to add to the gardens with heirloom plants and perhaps start adding fruit trees, shrubs and possibly a vineyard.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Enkianthus - Who knew?

Enkianthus campanulatus is a shrub that I rarely see mentioned anywhere. Four years ago I saw one for sale, my interest was piqued and I brought it home with me to give it a try.

While neither of my photos do this lovely shrub justice, I still had to share with all of you the beauty and ease I've had growing this specimen.

Google brought me to hort. dept. of UConn where I found out more information on this shrub.

Here in my garden on Long Island, New York, I have never done anything special for this shrub. It blooms heavily in mid May as you can see in these photos.

What I found interesting when researching it is that supposedly it seeds easily. I will have to check the ground for little seedlings now. It also states that soft wood cuttings are highly successful so I will be giving those a try too.

A nice addition is that it has wonderful foliage color in the autumn. This year I see that my local nursery will be carrying a new variety, 'Summer Hill' which grows 15 to 20 feet tall! That would work nice in some of my wooded areas so guess what will probably be coming home with me next month.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Crazy for Cone Flowers

There's something about cone flowers that make me think of joy and laughter. Maybe it's the way they caper about, never too stiff or somber. Perhaps it's the clear colors that beckon to me and cast their spell upon my gardening soul.

Between Echinacea (purple cone flowers) and Rudbeckia (black eye Susans) there are many cone flowers to chose from. While many varieties are hardy perennials here in my zone 6b garden, some are annuals too. I'm pretty sure this is Rudbeckia hirta in this photo, it's not a perennial here on Long Island.

Cone flowers tend to scatter their seedlings with vigor. I leave the dead heads on because I love the gold finch they attract to the garden. This photo shows the back of my thyme garden. It was the year I put corn in my planters and I loved that look so much!

In the back you can see a tall Rudbeckia laciniata. It's the one Rudbeckia I ruthlessly culled from the garden. In two seasons it almost engulfed this corner and three years later I still have to be vigilant for seedlings popping up in that area.

Unlike the rest of the cone flowers, Rubeckia maxima is quite slow growing. It also has quite different foliage, a glaucous colored leaf. After 6 years I will finally have a clump large enough to divide this spring. While the foliage on this one isn't too tall, the bloom stalks shoot way up there, looking me eye to eye, and sport the most fantastic cones.

In my experience here, not all cone flowers are easy to grow. The Echinacea 'White Swan' was quickly overtaken by seedlings (none of which were white). I've also tried three of the newer varieties of Echinacea in the new colors and not one has made it through a winter here.

But as long as I have my wonderful Rudbeckia 'Herbstsonne' rising above my head and waves of Echinacea purpurea through out the gardens. I will laugh and sing with my joyful cone flowers.

Bird houses - Help needed Quick!

Quick question for all you birders out there. I have a number of beautiful birdhouses in the garden. Just now I saw several birds flitting around this lovely house my friend Tony built.

You can see that last year's residents were quite busy, they stuffed the house to the point where it split at the seams.

Should I climb up there today and clean it out? Is it too late? If birds already started nesting in there will they return after I clean it and shut the side door tight?

So many questions, hoping for some quick answers!

Flower show exhibits - For children

As populous as Long Island is (over 7.5 million people making it the most populated island in any US state or territory), it doesn't have a flower show. When I was a young girl there was a big flower show every spring at Nassau Coliseum. Supposedly that show closed because of difficulties and expenses in setting up exhibits while working with local labor unions.

About six years ago Hofstra University (also an arboretum) decided to try to bring flower shows back to this area. While they had a perfect venue and a great location (right next to the Coliseum and near many highways), they did not have an advertising budget so the show dwindled in numbers each year until it closed. This is not a criticism of the management there, it's just how it was.

Four times I was the designer of their children's garden. The first year I had a budget of $15,000 and the second year a budget of $5,000 thanks to the generous donation of a private benefactor. The third year was the toughest, I shared $2,500 in materials from Lowes along with the federated club doing the flower show. I'd guess I got under $1,000 that time. The last year was slightly better, the $ amount from Lowes was less but I also was able to pull plant material that was coming in for the arboretum.

I learned quickly that what I wanted to design and what the school wanted to have were two different things. They wanted a draw for families with little children, and more than once I was told about how a local nursery did things with little bunnies and seeds in cups. Yet I was supposed to cover a large area! Also, my focus is on kids aged 8 to 15, a much harder group to grab and yet the age I want to get out in the garden and away from the TV/computer/electronic games.

These photos are from the third year, the toughest of them all. I had no hired help whatsoever in the set up. A friend of ours and my husband built the press box (shed) and my daughter Lauren worked two days with me. I put down the brick walkway myself, rolled out the sod, and built the characters on my own.

The theme was a musical garden. Since Hofstra hosts the big marching band festival every October, I used that as my musical focus. It didn't hurt that Lauren was in the high school marching band and we were able to borrow uniforms and flags.

A good portion of our budget was spent on copper pipes and connectors to build these stick figures.

I was allowed to choose things from the school's "junk yard area" and they hauled in a vehicle without an engine. Lauren did an amazing job painting it.

We had a tail gate party set up at the back of the truck. Many of the accessories were my own, my SUV was loaded down every day as I went there to set up. The cookies were our secret weapon, anybody who walked through our garden got a cookie :-)

Unfortunately the budget for plant material was almost non-existent. As grateful as I am to Lowes for their generous donation, a true plant geek would understand me when I say that it left much to be desired in choosing plant material.

Scrounging around the exhibit hall I found roll away stairs that became our bleachers. Clothing came right out of our dirty clothes hampers, were stuffed with newspaper & plants and went back in the hamper a week later.

The press box shed was a favorite idea of mine. Here at my house I have a shed like a cottage because I had little girls when we bought it. I was thinking that if I had boys, I'd like a shed that they'd like to play in. Wouldn't this be fun! We had a microphone inside the viewing window and an old blackboard so they could write on it.

The fencing was set up by a company that had a booth there. They were always the best part of working at the show and guess what? It's a white vinyl fence!

The public attendance that year was horrible. Only flower show people who had exhibits came to the show and most of them didn't have little children. The kids that did come though were wonderful. My daughters and their friends taught them how to spin color guard flags or helped them bang on the drums.

As a final shot, you can see my husband Don, my girls Lauren and Emily and me, sitting in our "bleachers". I had to make those tall signs at the end because we had absolutely no height at all in the exhibit.

I wish I could do that garden all over again with the right sized budget and plant material and a crew of workers.

Over the next week or two I'll post about the other three gardens working my way up to the best one.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Melanie's Non-traditional Spaghetti Pie

The first few times I ate spaghetti pie I didn't like it. It was served just slightly cooler than room temperature and I don't like my pasta and italian cheeses that way. It was also bland so I never gave it much thought.

A few years ago a friend had spaghetti pie for me for lunch but in a new format, it was hot and delicious! It opened my eyes to the fact that one could make this pie in many different ways, not the traditional family recipe.

Last year I made this for Easter, coming up with my own recipe, it almost started a family feud.

Here's how I made mine today. The nice thing is you can change the ingredients around based on what you have in your house or what you prefer.

I had a frying pan on the stove with sweet italian sausage meat (a 1 lb package or 6 sausage). The sausage casing is taken off so I was left with seasoned pork meat and I added a small finely cut onion.

In a second pot I put on water to boil and then added two boxes of spaghetti (1 lb. boxes here). I ended up using about 3/4 of that so maybe 1 and 1 half boxes?

While everything was cooking I beat two eggs into a Large mixing bowl.
Then I added two pounds of ricotta cheese (kind of like cottage cheese but it's an italian cheese).
Next comes 1/2 pound of grated mozzarella cheese.
One heaping handful of parmesan cheese (Locatelli is another good cheese for this)
Salt, Pepper, and Garlic powder to taste (I like lots of pepper and garlic for a bit of kick).

Drain the sausage and onions and add them to your cheesy mixture.

Drain your spaghetti and add them to everything. Mix well.

Today I put it in a lasagna pan but many times I will use a round dish like a deep dish pie pan. I just wanted enough for left overs so I made a large quantity. You could make this with only 1 lb. of spaghetti but not cut the cheese by that much. It's all by feel.

When my friend served it, she made it in individual muffin tins so we each had our own portion.
It looked so classy!

Other times in the past I've used diced prosciutto ham instead of the sausage an onions. Just be careful and add less salt then as prosciutto is already a salt cured ham. I've also seen recipes with salami in them but that doesn't interest me as much.

What's nice is you can make this in advance, put it in your pan, put the pan in the fridge and then heat it up when you're ready.

I baked my in a 350 degree oven for 45-50 minutes, when the top got toasty brown and the cheese was bubbling, then I knew it was done.

Wish I knew how to convert this into metrics for everybody. My mom is an awesome cook and she never measures and changes her ingredients each time so I learned the same way and I just add bits and pieces. Things come out differently every time but tonight my husband announced (quite loudly) "mmm, this is the BEST spaghetti pie I've ever had!". His mom didn't eat much of her portion but Calie the wonder-doodle didn't mind polishing it off and even licked the plate afterwards.

Easter Surprise!

Last night we got a phone call at 8:00 pm. Our daughter Lauren was on a bus from Florida to Pennsylvania (a 20 hour trip). The bus had made excellent time and she expected to get back to her college before midnight. After some fast talking, my husband Don decided to go get Lauren and bring her home for Easter.

I was sleeping when they got here in the wee hours of the morning but the whole house feels different knowing that she's up there sleeping in her bed. I crawled around the attic last night and quickly pulled out a few of the Easter decorations. Thank goodness I still had some pansies left from my spring planting.

Now it's time to make the traditional Italian Easter Spaghetti Pie. Since I'm not Italian I make it completely differently than the rest of the family so I guess it's not so traditional. I'll take a picture of it later, it's delicious and I'll share my recipe. It's an easy make ahead dish although today I'll make it right before serving.

Oh, if you are Italian and you are reading this and you think "I never knew spaghetti pie was traditional for Easter" you need to remember that I'm only talking about traditional for 4 generations Brooklyn New York Italian. Not Italians in Italy (a world of difference if you ask me and probably them too).

Happy Easter, it certainly will be one in this house!