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grassesOrnamental grasses are becoming more and more popular for gardens as the desire for naturalistic gardens increases. Nancy J. Ondra’s book, Grasses: Versatile Partners for Uncommon Garden Design, introduces the reader to the use of grasses alone or in mixed borders to produce stunning effects. Combining design principles with solid information on growing grasses, Ondra shows how grasses can create unique effects in a variety of conditions. [click to continue…]

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img_5772My husband and I have long been fans of Madeira wine. We have visited wineries in Funchal, Madeira, and tasted samples that are over 100 years old. We love the drink and frequently serve it to guests with dessert. So, it was with some amusement that I found in the wine making book of my paternal grandmother, Helen S. Wright, a recipe for Madeira wine. [click to continue…]

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Plant Profile: Almond (Prunus amygdalus)

Prunus amygdalus flAlmonds are deciduous trees native to the Middle East, Indian subcontinent and North Africa and are members of the rose family, Roseacea. They are in the same genus (Prunus)as plums, cherries, apricots, nectarines, and peaches but are most closely related to peaches. The upright trees have wide spreading branches and rough gray bark. The bright green leaves are simple and tree to five inches long by 1 1/8-1 ¾ inches wide. The white to pale pink flowers are one to two inches across and have five petals. They appear singly or in pairs in spring before the leaves emerge and give way to oblong, brown fruits, 1 ½ inches long. Although commonly called a nut, botanically the fruit is a drupe, similar to the pit of a peach. Almonds are commercially grown for their fruits but are also very attractive garden plants when they bloom. They need hot summer temperatures, dry air, and wet winters to set good fruit and are widely grown in the Central Valley of California that accounts for over 75% of the world’s production. Trees begin bearing fruit at three years of age. [click to continue…]

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Rose Campion & Spanish Lavender combinationRose campion provides a long season backdrop for many plants and Spanish lavender is one of the most striking. Both plants have attractive silver gray foliage all season into winter but make their biggest impact in the garden when they burst into bloom in spring. The bright purple flowers of Spanish lavender create a vivid color combination with the magenta flowers of rose campion that appear at the same time. By deadheading rose campion, its flowering can be extended to much of the summer. And when the flowers are gone Spanish lavender is a handsome plant with fine foliage that provides a pleasant contrast in texture to rose campion’s coarser woolly leaves.  Grow in full sun, average to lean, medium moist, well-drained soil. [click to continue…]

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Plant Profile: White Poplar (Populus alba)

Populus alba lvsWhite poplar is a suckering deciduous tree native to moist areas in Europe and central Asia but widely planted throughout the US where it naturalized and is especially prevalent in the East. It is a member of the willow family (Salicaceae) that also includes aspen and cottonwood. With a wide-spreading, open canopy, the tree has grayish white bark and greenish white branches with white wooly twigs and buds. The bark darkens with maturity and becomes fissured. The leaves have wavy margins and three to five lobes, and are toothed and two to six inches long by 1.5 to 3.5 inches wide. They are dark green above and covered by white wooly hairs beneath so give a shimmering effect in a breeze. In spring red male flowers and grayish green female flowers appear in catkins two to three inches long on different trees before the leaves emerge. Female flowers elongate after pollination and give way to small capsules that open in late spring to early summer and contain numerous tufted seeds. White popular is an adaptable tree and good for such uses as erosion control and windscreens but because the roots are shallow, spreading, and invasive, the trees should be grown far from sewer lines, drains, sidewalks, and pavements. In addition, strong winds may topple the trees and/or break branches, and abundant seed production and suckering may allow white poplar to crowd out native species. [click to continue…]

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Book Review: Power Vegetables!

Power Vegetable!From the Lucky Peach comes Power Vegetables!, a collection of recipes focusing on vegetables. The self-proclaimed goal is to produce vegetable dishes that are awesome and the center of attention at a meal. The recipes do not contain meat but some have fish like anchovies, as well as dairy products and many are suitable for a vegetarian diet. Fruits are included but pasta and bowls of grain are not. [click to continue…]

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Roses in Art: Middle Ages

ma-mary-in-enclosed-gardenThe Middle Ages is generally considered to be the time from the fifth century to the fifteen century. During this time feudalism was strong and the power and influence of the Church rose to take the place of the central government that had collapsed as waves of migrating peoples swept over Europe. The people lived on manors, in small town, and in religious communities such as monasteries. Trade declined, warfare was common, and famine was a constant threat. Life was difficult for most people. [click to continue…]

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Platanus racemosa lvsAlso known as Buttonwood, this deciduous tree is native to California where is grows in moist sites. It is a member of the sycamore family (Platanaceae), a small family with only one genus and eight species. In their natural habitat they often have picturesque shapes with a gnarled double trunk and contorted wide-spreading branches. The reddish-brown bark is exfoliating to create patterns of white, gray, and green. The leaves are palmately lobed with three to five pointed lobes and are up to nine inches long and ten inches wide. They are soft light green above, and lighter green with yellow hairs below. In the fall the leaves turn brown and sometimes persist on the tree until early spring. The red male and female flowers appear in racemes on the same tree in late winter and spring and the female flowers give way in summer to clusters of dark brown, golf ball sized, aggregate fruits of achenes and remain on the tree into fall. Plants tolerate heat, smog, and some wind although the branches are brittle and may snap in high winds. The pollen and hairs on the leaves can cause nasal irritation so trees are best used away from patios and heavily used areas. [click to continue…]

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Amsoni hubrichtiiBlue and lavender flowers in the spring garden are a treasured commodity because they are often difficult to find. But the effort of ferreting them out is worth the trouble because they add so much to the border. The serenity and calmness they bring make the garden a welcome hide-away and their ability to harmonize with so many other colors makes them very versatile. [click to continue…]

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Jacaranda acutifolia mimosaefoliaJacaranda, also called black poui,is a deciduous tree native to South America and a member of the Bignoniaceae family that also includes hardy gloxinia, trumpet vine and catalpa. The bark is thin, smooth and greyish-brown when the tree is young, tuning slightly scaly with maturity. The light-green fern-like leaves are up to eighteen inches long and bipinnately compound each with eighteen to forty eight ½ inch leaflets. For two months beginning in late spring lavender-blue,1.5 inch long flowers appear in twelve inch long terminal panicles all over the tree creating an outstanding floral display. The flowers are trumpet shaped and have a barely visible white throat. When they shed their petals the ground beneath them becomes a mass of lavender-blue adding to the over-all beauty of the vision. Woody, flattened capsules that resemble oyster shells follow. They are two to three inches wide and contain numerous flat winged seeds. Crafters often collect the capsules for use in decorations. Both petals and capsules last a long time on the ground and can be a litter problem. Jacaranda is a popular street tree in tropical and subtropical areas and is grown in pots in colder areas for its foliage. [click to continue…]

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