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Book Review: Improving Your Soil

Improving your soilGood soil is basic to any garden and Keith Reid’s book, Improving Your Soil, is a comprehensive guide for learning how to create the best soil for your plants. Written for gardeners with either small or medium sized gardens, the author covers wide variety topics that will help gardeners optimize their soil so they can produce plants with bigger vegetables and more flowers. With the aim of demystifying soil and offering practical methods for growing better plants, Reid draws on his love for soil and his long experience as a soil scientist to write a well written, easy to read guide for soil improvement. [click to continue…]

Book Review: The Sun King’s Garden

The Sun King's GardenIan Thompson’s book, The Sun King’s Garden, presents a cultural, social, and political history of the times that surround the creation of the gardens of Versailles. He shows how the gardens reflected not only the wants and needs of the King Louis XIV but also the traditions of the past as well as the talents and insight of landscape architect Andre Le Notre. Thompson’s story focuses on the triangular relationship between Louis XIV, Le Notre, and the gardens within the context of 17th century France.
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Take a walk with your dog in a place where common burdock grows and you will spend the following half hour pulling the brown burs off your clothing and pet’s fur. Common burdock is so annoying that it is hard to imagine that it has redeeming qualities like being edible, a valuable herb, the source of a fiber used in paper and the inspiration for Velcro. A native or Eurasia, this biennial weed has spread through most of the upper half of the US where it inhabits pastures, hay fields, roadsides, shrub borders and fence rows. It grows in sun or shade and in rich or poor soil. [click to continue…]

amelanchier-laevisThis deciduous tree is native to eastern North America from Nova Scotia and Ontario, south to Georgia and west to Kansas where it grows in woodland edges, thickets, rock outcroppings, and roadsides. It is a member of the rose family, Roseaceae, that also includes cherries, lady’s mantel, and Pyracantha. The plants may be single stemmed or clumping and have a medium texture. The stems are reddish brown turning silver to charcoal-gray with age, and the elliptical 1 ¼-3” long leaves emerge with a purplish tinge in the spring before turning gray-green in the summer and orange to red in the fall. Fragrant white five petaled flowers are carried in pendulous racemes in early spring before the leaves for a brief display from one day to one week. The flowers are followed by edible red berries ripening to dark blue in early summer and appealing to birds. Allegheny serviceberry is used as a specimen, shade tree, or tall hedge when pruned or sheared. A good choice for woodland, native, or bird gardens. Several cultivars are available that vary most significantly in width.. The genus name Amelanchier comes from the French Provincial name for a related tree. The specific epithet laevis comes from the Latin word meaning smooth or hairless and refers to the stem or foliage. [click to continue…]

elderflowerThe European elder tree (Sambucus nigra) that produces elderflower of culinary use is native to most of Europe where it grows in both wet and dry, fertile soil, mostly in sunny sites. It is deciduous and grows up to thirty three feet tall but often sends up shoots and becomes shrub-like. The warty stems support dark green leaves that are pinnately compound with five to seven leaflets two to five inches long. The small creamy white flowers have five petals and are carried in lacy flat topped clusters up to seven inches in diameter for a couple of weeks in late spring. The fruits are dark purple to black berries, 1/3 inch across, and bitter when fresh. [click to continue…]

Rose casino2Deep yellow buds open to light yellow flowers that fade to creamy white. The flowers are borne singly or in clusters and have a Hybrid Tea-like form in the first flush, becoming more Floribunda-like with less petals in subsequent flushes. They are about 4.5 inches across, quartered, very full, and have a mild fruity fragrance. Hips round and large. Plants are vigorous and have glossy dark green foliage. They can be used for pillars, porches, arbors, or pergolas and the flowers are good cut flowers.  Grows best in warmer climates. [click to continue…]

Book Review: Eating Wildly

Eating WildlyForaging for food is nothing new but urban foraging is becoming a rising star. No, it is not dumpster diving but rather finding all sorts of edible plants growing in the urban scene.  As a native of Queens author Ava Chin is an expert on urban foraging and in her book, Eating Wildly, she takes the readers on a virtual trip through the streets, backyards, and parks of New York City as she looks for edible plants. But the trip is more than just an informative guide to urban edibles, it is also a personal journey of discovery as Chin examines the relationships in her life and relates them to the food that she finds.
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Growing Plants from Seed: Cosmos

cosmosThe white, pink, or rose flowers of this annual cosmos native to Mexico are a welcome addition to the garden along with its fine fern-like foliage. They are easy to grow from seed, require little care, do well in lean soil, and tolerate drought when once established. Cosmos are cross-pollinated by insects so grow only one variety at a time if you plan to collect seeds for future years. Dark color and the blotch at the base of the petals of some varieties are dominant traits when crosses are made. The yellow, orange, or red flowered Klondike cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus), however, does not cross with C. bipinnatus so you can grow them together without fear of mixing the two different species. [click to continue…]

quercus-engelmannii-lvsEngelmann oak, also known as mesa oak and Pasadena oak, is rare tree native to the open woods and chaparral in the foothills of Southern California and northern Baha California. It is a member of the oak family, Fagaceae, that also includes beeches and chestnuts. The single trunked trees have sparsely branched limbs and brown to light gray to whitish bark. The leathery blue-green leaves are oval with shallow lobes, 1-2.5 inches long, and may be wavy. They are usually evergreen but may be deciduous in hot dry summers. The small yellow flowers are produced in male and female catkins in the same tree and the female flowers give way to acorns half to one inch long. Trees are valued for their handsome foliage and the shade they can provide. Although the wood is strong it warps and cracks when dried so is not a good source of timber. [click to continue…]

campanula_persicifoliaPeachleaf bellflower is an herbaceous perennial native to the mountains of Europe, North Africa, and Asia where it grows in meadows and woodland edges. It forms a evergreen basal rosette of leathery leaves that are narrow, four to eight inches long, and have rounded teeth. The stem leaves are similar but only two to four inches long. In early summer each stem carries a loose raceme of one to several blue-violet flowers that are broadly bell-shaped, 1.5 inches long, and erect to nodding. Many cultivars are available providing flowers in white and different shades of blue, as well as semidoubles and doubles. Plants do well in areas where night time temperatures do not go above 70 F. In zone 8 the colors are faded and plants only last one to two years. Although many species of bellflower are vase-worthy, peachleaf bellflower has the longest vase life. [click to continue…]