Archive for the ‘Yard Talk’ Category

Selby Botanical Garden

Icon Written by Wayne on October 1, 2009 – 12:01 am

Whenever we travel we make it a point to visit as many botanical gardens and nature centers as possible. I suppose this is only natural considering our interest in plants and gardening. We are sure some of our friends and family think we are strange, but then most people have a mistaken impression of what botanical gardens really are.

Most people think of botanical gardens as outdoor museums where plants bear labels with unpronounceable names. Fortunately modern botanical gardens are fun places devoted to the culture, study, and exhibition of living plants in a park like setting. While committed to developing, documenting, verifying, maintaining, sharing, propagating, and disseminating their plant collections they also offer a wide variety of activities. Most offer not only areas to simply stroll and relax, but also gift shops, picnic areas, wedding and banquet facilities, restaurants, and cultural events.

One of our favorite Winter time botanical gardens is the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens located right in downtown Sarasota, Florida. Named after Marie Selby who donated her Sarasota Bay home and grounds “to provide enjoyment for all who visit the Gardens” it is a great place to get some quiet time and enjoy the natural beauty of Sarasota.

You can stroll through the Tropical Display House with orchids and colorful bromeliads, wander the garden pathway past plantings of bamboo, under



ancient banyans, and through the mangrove along Little Sarasota Bay with spectacular views of downtown. You will find more than 20 individual gardens, complete with waterfalls and terraced walkways. Special areas include the Butterfly Garden, Koi Pond, Cycad Garden, and Baywalk.

An exciting open-air exhibit of more than 20,000 colorful plants, including a living collection of more than 6,000 orchids, many collected in the wild from tropical rain forests, can be enjoyed by young and old. In fact, the Selby Gardens maintains one of the finest collections of species orchids in the world for use in its programs of research, education, and display. There are rotating exhibits of botanical art and photography in a 1934 restored mansion, a café under the banyans, and the Rainforest Store, with gifts and tropical plants.

 The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is a must-see for those garden enthusiasts visiting the Sarasota area. The Gardens are open daily 10-5, except Christmas. Admission includes all outdoor gardens, Tropical Display House, Plant Shop, Book Shops, and the Tree lab. All areas of the Gardens are wheelchair accessible and wheelchairs are available at no extra charge.


Tips of the Month

Some other botanical gardens which we have enjoyed and highly recommend are:

The Allerton Estate and National Tropical Botanical Gardens on Kauai, Hawaii  is a garden paradise extending over an area of more than 100 acres. The grounds were the mid-1800s summer cottage of Queen Emma, wife of King Kamehameha IV, and the former home of Robert & John Allerton. They have been returned to their former glory, as have the surrounding stately gardens. The Allerton Estate is managed by the adjoining National Tropical Botanical Garden, a non-profit organization that conducts guided tours of the estate.

The Florida Botanical Gardens offers a unique blend of native and exotic plants displayed in both natural and formal gardens. The site also has abundant wildlife from rare birds to native alligators. This was my first introduction to  palm trees which I will never forget. This is a must see visit for those in the Clearwater/St Petersburg area.

Secluded between rugged cliffs dropping down to a peaceful valley floor outside of Poupoi, Hawaii, the McBryde National Botanical Garden is a treasure house of tropical flora. Explore the unique bio-diversity of native and exotic plants,and see rare and endangered Hawaiian species and learn about the efforts to save them. Stroll through McBryde Garden’s Bamboo Bridge section, visit the living laboratory where scientists are still discovering the secrets of these plants. 


Flower of the Month

000241a2Phoenix roebelenii ‘Pygmy Date Palm’

It is a small to medium sized palm to about 9 feet, although older plants can be quite tall. Has very attractive dark green feather leaves, and spined petioles. Not self cleaning, so old fronds need to be manually removed. Houseplant in bright light, container plant, or a palm for shady outdoor areas. Moderate growth rate, single trunk.

The stem is covered with old leaf bases and is topped with a dense head of rich green pinnate leaves that grow to about 4′ long. Delicate leaflets, arranged neatly along the upper length of the leaf lend the plant a very graceful aspect. Lower leaflets are modified into pointed 2-3″ spines that are very sharp.

Cream-colored flowers are held on short, 1′ infloresences (photo at right) and are followed by small black dates on the female plants (male flowers are borne on a separate plant). Although this palm is single-trunked it is most commonly container raised by nurseries in group of from 3 to 5 specimens. When grown like this the pygmy date palm makes an especially attractive specimen with the trunks tending to curve gracefully away from the center of the clump.

Pygmy date palm excels in containers of all kinds. Also looks great by patios and entry ways. Use clumps of these palms as specimens and to serve as focal point in a mass planting of annuals. Also nice combined with evergreen shrubs in a mixed hedge.


Web Site

Fontenelle Forest Nature Center in Bellevue, Nebraska offers visitors the opportunity to explore native plants and animals in much the same setting as out forefathers. Hiking their extensive trail system is like taking a step back in time. Our family spent many happy moments at this wonderful site.

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Our Favorite Groundcovers

Icon Written by Wayne on September 1, 2009 – 12:01 am

Every gardener uses groundcovers in their landscapes even if they do not realize it. Often times groundcovers are overlooked, simply taken for granted as the green stuff growing on the hillside. When we do get around to discussing groundcovers, the first thing that pops into our minds are low spreading ivy, vinca minor, spreading junipers, and ajuga that we planted to hide something bad.

Ask a lawn maintenance company in our local to name a ground cover and he will state without hesitation “Kentucky Blue Grass.” Personally, I think groundcovers are any plant used to protect the soil by forming a dense protective blanket, if it is attractive so much the better. 

Well just what then is a groundcover and what does it do! The Melbourne Water District defines groundcover plants as:

“Goundcovers are tough, prostrate-growing plants that can help retain soil moisture, keep soil cool and suppress weeds.” 

While the Virgina Extension Service describes groundcover as:

Groundcovers are low-growing plants that spread quickly to form a dense cover. Grass is the best known ground cover,but grass is not suited to all locations.”

Usually ground cover plants are utilized for, steep banks, shady areas under trees, under plantings in shrub borders and beds, where tree roots grow close to the surface and prevent grass from growing, and very wet or dry locations.

Groundcovers not only solve problems but also unify different components in the landscape. A low groundcover can provide a transition between the lawn and taller plants used in beds. They soften hardscapes such as walks, steps, and driveways. 

What plants you use are based on the conditions of the site and on what you like. The groundcovers you choose should require only minimal care. They should be able to depend mainly on the  rainfall for nourishment. An annual application of fertilizer may be given, but not necessary, to keep  the plants growing vigourously. Selected plantings should only be divided if they cease to grow well through overcrowding. The most common mistake made by the home gardener is in not using enough plants in the initial planting to adequately cover the area. Please do not skimp in this area to save money, it will only give you years of grief.

Groundcovers are merely another gardening tool, one when correctly used will, save you time and money, while adding to the overall beauty of your landscape.  Choose your planting wisely and they will provide years of carefree charm. Do not be afraid to experiment with different plants, all groundcover does not need to look like English Ivy.


Tips of the Month

The following are our favorite plants for use as groundcovers:


Asarum europaeum ‘European Ginger’

 Asarum europaeum ‘European Ginger’

This little creeper gives off a strong scent of ginger from its large fleshy tubers. Though it can be situated in borders, it comes into its own as a ground-core plant in moist and shady parts of the garden. The flowers are a deep red but even more important are the silky leaves.

Gazania rigens

Gazania rigens

Gazania rigens

This is a perennial grown as an annual that grows well in rock gardens or in other hot, dry areas. It forms a very low, ground-hugging ground cover, producing bright yellow, orange or red, daisy-like flowers. Flowers close at night and on very cloudy days. Plants grow 6 to 12-inches tall with blueish foliage. Do not plant in the partial shade as a full day’s sun is required for healthy plants.


Tama No Genpei

Epimedium grandflorum ‘Tama No Genpei’ 
It emerges in spring with attractive purple tinted foliage. Epimediums will never be the traffic stoppers like roses, but these perennials are the unsung workhorses that tie the woodland garden together. Epimediums are easy to grow, tenacious perennials that provide a welcome first breath of spring with their airy flowers, then a solid backdrop of attractive foliage for the remainder of the growing season. 


Juniperus procumbens

Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’
This dwarf juniper is especially good for groundcover or cascading over walls with its tight growth habit and bright green foliage. One of the most sought after low growing junipers with a very interesting growing habit. The very best of the low growing junipers.


Lavandula angustifoliia

Lavandula angustifoliia ‘Hidcote ‘
This is one of the most versatile herbs, inspiring poets, gardeners, artists, cooks and healers for hundreds of years. The scent of lavender has long been linked with romance, as Shakespeare’s writings exemplify. Aromatic, evergreen greyish foliage.  


Dennstaedtia punctilobula

Dennstaedtia punctilobula ‘Hay Scented Fern’
This is native to eastern North America is a popular garden fern being very adaptable and tolerant of many conditions. Fronds: lanceolate 3-5″ wide, twice to tri-pinnate, pinnae toothed with irregularly cut margins or teeth, scattered hairs on rachis and stipe

Flower of the Month


Variegated Japanese Solomon's Seal

Polygonatum odoratum thunbergii Variegatum -Variegated Japanese Solomon’s Seal 

This is graceful shade plants that provide nice form and structure to the garden. These plants have long arching unbranched stems, they have nice clean, veined leaves with clusters of bell like greenish yellow to whitish yellow flowers hanging down from the stems at the leaf axis. In late summer and fall showy berries are produced that are blue to dark blue in color. 

The rhizomes of Solomon seals are white, long, thick and somewhat knobby, they usually grow about 2-4 inches underground in a horizontal angle to the surface. Most Solomon seals grow in spreading colonies that are easy to dig up and divide. 


Web Site of the Month

Collector’s Nursery is a retail mail order nursery with an interest in unique plant material. They specialize in dwarf and rare conifers and uncommon, choice perennials, with a strong emphasis on shade plants. Collector’s also have a wide offering of variegated plants, and an expanding selection of rare trees and shrubs. We propagate almost all of our own material from our large display garden. Some of our favorite genera are Epimedium, Tricyrtis, Corydalis, and Arisaema.

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Growing Heirloom Tomatoes

Icon Written by Wayne on August 1, 2009 – 12:01 am

In Past Yard Talks we talked about the red slicing tomato such as Burpee’s Big Boy and Big Girl, Rutgers, and mammoth Beefsteak. These were the big round tomatoes of our youth, the pride and joy of our parents and grandparents garden.

We have also talked about my personal favorite, the cherry tomato. I eat more of these darn things then I care to admit. These are the tomatoes of salads. snacks, and preserves. Easy to grow and with a taste that cannot be beat by any modern plant.

Today we are going to talk about the tomato of our grandparents parents, the Heirloom Tomato. This variety of tomato is enjoying a well deserved comeback in the home garden. Maybe not as easy to grow as today’s hybrids but well worth the effort.

Heirloom tomatoes were bred for flavor, not resistance to disease, pests, heat, cold, or transport. Granted, some years, a heirloom variety was so unproductive it was not worth the space it took up in the garden. You can put months of tender care into a plant and do everything right, but a scorching hot day can cause all the blossoms to fall off. Last season’s cool wet weather completely wiped out our Brandywine crop.

This is why you do not find heirlooms in supermarkets. All tomatoes sold today are hybrids that have been bred to possess traits that favor growers rather than consumers, for example, tomatoes that ripen all at once so they can be harvested at one time or tomatoes with thick skins that are less likely to bruise.
Unfortunately, in developing all these traits, flavor has been overlooked.

An heirloom is generally a plant that’s survived the test of time and produced an abundance of tomatoes with great flavor. Most people consider a plant to be a heirloom if it is over 100 years old, although this is not a hard and fast rule.

The most popular heirloom variety is Brandywine, dating to 1885. Everyone who tastes it loves it’s superb flavor. The fruits have a very large beefsteak shape and grow on unusually upright, potato-leaved plants. We have grown this plant for years in our garden for it’s fine flavor. Make sure to plant several as it is not a big producer.

Some other varieties which we have grown and recommend are:

  1. Big Rainbow

    Big Rainbow

    Big Rainbow which has flesh that is marbled with red in the bottom half of the fruit. It has a big, beefsteak shape with a very mild and sweet flavor.

  2. Cherokee Purple

    Cherokee Purple

    Cherokee Purple has a flavor that is rich and full, and often compared to Brandywine. The flesh is brick-red and very attractive sliced on a plate.

  3. Black Krim

    Black Krim

    Black Krim is a medium-sized, very dark maroon beefsteak, with wonderfully rich flavor. This medium-sized, very dark maroon beefsteak, with wonderfully rich flavor is extremely tasty.

  4. Yellow Pear

    Yellow Pear

    Yellow Pear has an enormous number of yellow bite-sized fruits in 75 days, indeterminate. This extremely old variety makes a vigourous plant, which bears enormous numbers of bright yellow, bite-sized fruit. The flavor is deliciously tangy. Perfect for summer party hors d’oeuvres.

These are but a few of the many heirloom varieties that have been passed down through generations of gardeners. We highly recommend you add a few heirlooms to your garden, they are well worth the effort.


Tomato Tips of the Month

My grandmother use to make the best tomato preserves that I just loved. Unfortunately, the recipe was lost when she passed over to the otherside. I had almost completely forgotten about it until I came across this recipe when researching for this Yard Talk. It sounds very close to what my grandmother made and I would like to pass it on to you.

Vine-Ripe Golden Tomato Marmalade

This delicious golden marmalade is an excellent accompaniment to any main course, from lamb chops to chicken to roast pork. Or if you wish, serve it alongside home-made corn bread for a great addition to any dinner menu. You may vary the type of yellow or orange tomato, as your garden dictates, and the results will be equally delicious, but I suggest using medium to large sized tomatoes rather than cherry tomatoes if you want to avoid considerable labor. This is not a heavily sugared marmalade and should be refrigerated to maintain its freshness.
• 6 pounds ripe yellow tomatoes
• 1 pound sugar
• 2 cinnamon sticks
• 1 star anise
• 3 cloves

With a sharp knife, score the skin of the tomatoes in an X on the blossom end. Place in boiling water for 15 to 20 seconds. (This may be done in batches) Plunge the tomatoes into a large bowl of iced water to stop the cooking process. Slip the peel off and remove any hard cores. Cut in half and squeeze out the seeds.

In a deep pot, combine the peeled tomatoes with the sugar, cinnamon, star anise, and cloves. Bring to a rolling boil then lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the tomatoes are falling apart and beginning to thicken. (This may take more time, depending upon the water content of the tomatoes.) Watch carefully to avoid scorching and stir often. Remove from heat when consistency is similar to a thick jam. Discard the cinnamon, star anise, and cloves. Store in airtight jars, refrigerated, for 2 to 3 weeks.

from James Waller, Executive Chef, Duck Club Restaurant, Monterey, California


Flower of the Month

000341sSweet Basil is a classic herb, used in tomato sauce, pesto and salads. Basil tastes great in tomato and pasta dishes but it also gives a sweet scented, minty aroma when crumbled over baked chicken, lamb, or fish. It blends well with garlic, thyme, and oregano. Crush dried leaves with your hand or in a mortar and pestle to release the herb’s flavor. Start early indoors or outdoors after danger of frost.


Web Site

The Burpee Company ( was started in 1876 and quickly became the leading seed producer to the home gardener. The site offers a broad range of information on gardening as well as a wide range of seeds and plants.

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What to Do or Not Do About Lawn Moss

Icon Written by Wayne on July 1, 2009 – 12:01 am

Here, in Southwestern Lower Michigan, we can honestly state that moss will grow anywhere, at any time, and with little help from the home gardener. In fact, moss is one of the most persistent and annoying weeds that occurs in home lawns. Peter Landschoot, associate professor of turfgrass science at Penn State says:

“Moss is an opportunistic plant that grows in bare soil or where grass is weak and thin. Once moss has invaded the lawn, grass will not spread into those areas.”

To control moss, you have to consider the reasons why it began to grow in your lawn. Moss only grows in areas of the lawn in which grass does not want to grow. This is areas of shade, low fertility or poorly drained soil. The moss does not kill the grass, the underlying growing conditions are so unfavorable that the grass simply dies out. Attempts to get rid of moss are rarely effective unless a dense, actively growing turf can take its place.

If heavy shade limits good turf growth, steps must be taken to correct the situation. This means removing some trees and shrubs to increase sunlight and air circulation. Rarely will just removing limbs and thinning out branches be enough to impact soil conditions.

To improve soil drainage, you must add large amounts of rich porous topsoil soil high in organic matter. This does not mean going to the local yard and garden store and picking up a few bags of topsoil. We are talking about adding 5-6 inches of new soil, this translates into truck loads not bag loads of soil. The soil adamants must then be worked into the existing loam to a depth of 10-12 inches.

Providing adequate sunlight and drainage can be both difficult and expensive. Low fertility, on the other hand, can usually be easily corrected. The first step in controlling moss is to test the soil for nutrient content and pH. Simple soil test kits are available at most lawn care centers or at your local state extension service at little cost. You can increase the fertility by applying a well balanced lawn fertilizer, such as 13-13-13, while pH can be adjusted with ground dolomite.

You can always kill moss by spraying it with copper sulfate or iron sulfate mixed 2 to 5 ounces to 4 gallons of water and applied at a ratio of 1 gallon per 250 square feet. Unfortunately, new moss will grow back in short order. Similarly, you can mechanically remove the moss and plant the area in sod. This method is a quick fix if you want to hide the problem for a season or two.

An alternative, where shade is quite heavy, is to plant a shade tolerant ground cover rather than grass. This does not correct the problem either but it will improve the appearance of the area. One of the most common uses of English Ivy is to cover shady hillsides or around the base of shallow rooted trees such as maple or white ash.

Another solution, catching on in this area, is instead of trying to get rid of moss and grow grass is to get rid of the grass and grow moss. The Japanese have been using moss for years in the lawn and garden. The appearance of green moss is both vibrant and revitalizing when used correctly. Gardening with moss adds a degree of serenity and timeless beauty to any garden.

While the year round beauty of moss is obvious, it is the resiliency, reduced maintenance, and cost effectiveness that make growing moss appealing. Moss can tolerate extremes in temperature and moisture levels. Even during periods with severe cold, moss, unlike grass, remains a dark green color. Excessive heat or lack of rainfall, also have no permanent effect. Best of all no mowing, fertilizing, watering, and dethatching which means more time and money for the gardener to spend elsewhere.

I know on the surface this does appear extreme, maybe even a little bit crazy but it does work. If you are like me, only growing grass for the green color, moss could be just the answer. Be a little crazy and give moss a try.


Tips of the Month

Here are some basic tips on growing moss in your lawn and garden. Moss is very easy to grow once you understand its culture. Since moss obtains all their nutrients from the air they require only shade, acidic soil, and adequate moisture to flourish. They need a firm soil, with a high clay content in a shady location. It is also imperative that the area in which moss will be grown be kept clear of leaves and other debris.

Selection of the location for the moss lawn or garden is by far the most important consideration you need to make. Most mosses prefer a medium to fairly dense shade. Direct afternoon sun should be avoided. Full sun locations will never work for moss as it likes growing on shady, wooded hillsides. Northern or eastern facing slopes in the woods or lawn are by far the best choice for growing moss.

Before utilizing moss as part of your shade gardening plans, the soil should be tested. The pH should be between 5.5 and 6.0, if necessary, the soil can easily be amended with liquid sulfur or aluminum sulfate to lower the pH.

Place the moss in contact with the soil as you would sod, press firmly into position but do not use a lawn roller. Water the moss regularly for the first three weeks and then gradually reduce watering


Flower of the Month

Fern Moss

Fern Moss

Fern Moss is often called Splendid Feather Moss, Step Moss, Stair Step Moss or Feather Moss. It is a very versatile, low growing moss with a high transplant success rate. It thrives in shade, but will also tolerate partial dappled sunlight. The color is medium green. There are several species of fern moss all are perennial, relatively large 4-6 inches long, robust, often occurring in wide loose patches. It is abundant and often dominant in coniferous forests, occurring on ledges and in rich humus or decaying wood. Fern moss is often found in cool, moist ravines and mountain woods of the East. It will dry up quickly when the canopy cover is not adequate to prevent high evaporation. Growth is better in undisturbed areas than disturbed areas.


Web Site

Moss Acres is a source for those interested in growing moss. They are located in the northeastern fringe of the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania on a 54 acre wooded hillside. Where, according to their web site, moss has been growing for millions of years. From this site they package and ship moss for gardening enthusiasts throughout the Eastern and Midwestern states. When it comes to knowledge and experience with growing moss in the landscape, Moss Acres are the best.

Book of the Month

Moss Gardening: Including Lichens, Liverworts, and Other Miniatures
by George Schenk ()This book, is great for those of us who like the green mosses and lichens of the outdoors. The descriptions are thorough and well illustrated with full color photographs moss being used in the garden.

We found the book fun to read as well as informative although it is geared toward the small container grower.

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Our Favorite Prairie Flowers

Icon Written by Wayne on June 1, 2009 – 12:01 am

One of our special flowers for the sunny gardens are the common coneflower found throughout most of the United States. Coneflowers are found from the North Carolina Piedmont northward across the prairie states and into the Dakota Badlands, from the Mississippi wetlands to the Colorado Front Range mountian meadows, and even in the harsh high deserts of the Southwest. This native American perennial puts up with heat and humidity, infertile soil, and even drought. This common purple flower has been found in the flower garden for centuries.

Well just what is so special about a common purple flower which has been used in the garden since the dawn of gardening? Well for starters the coneflower has become anything but common nor does it only come in shades of purple. We now can choose from yellows, whites, oranges, reds, and many shades of purple. We see double, semi-double, and single flowering plants born on stems from knee height to over six feet tall. Big things have been happening to this “common” native wildflower in recent years.


Echinacea Sunset

We suggest trying Echinacea Sunset which has blooms 4 inches wide, with bright orange petals surrounding a large brown cone.  This long blooming flower carries 20-30 blooms at one time on thick stems ideal for cutting. This plant is 30 inches tall and wide, well-branched and sturdy, blooming from Summer well into Fall. A snap to grow, putting up with everything from heat and humidity to poor soil, cold winters, and drought. 

Echinaccea Sunsrise

Echinaccea Sunsrise

Echinacea Sunrise is another good choice with it’s 4½ to 5 inches rich yellow flowers with a sweet fragrance. As the blooms mature, they turn a darker shade of yellow. This is another coneflower with sturdy thick stems. Sunrise reaches 18 to 24 inches tall and 24 inches wide, well-branched and sturdy. The butterflies and bees will have a field day with the huge central cones. 

Echinacea Primadonna

Echinacea Primadonna

We also like Echinacea Primadonna which has a large central cone and tightly-packed white petals that really stand out in the garden. They also make fine bird attractors in the Fall, after the petals drop and the large seed-filled cones dry out on the plant. Primadonna , once established in your garden, it will put up with heat, humidity, cold, poor soil, and even drought. Very long-blooming, it is largely untroubled by pests or disease, and can be sheared back after flowering. 

Echinacea Fancy Frills

Echinacea Fancy Frills

Our last selection is Echinacea Fancy Frills flowers heavily well into Fall, flowers reach 3 to 5 inches wide and are semi- to fully double. Each bloom has a large, wide amber-brown central cone, surrounded by two to three rows of short, slender, very tightly-packed petals. It has a rich, sweet, and far stronger smell than most other coneflowers. Fancy Frills reaches about 30 inches high and wide and is great for cut flowers with it’s long thick stems.

All of the above coneflowers are currently being offered by Wayside gardens. We think that this is only the beginning, expect to see many new coneflowers being introduced in the near future.We strongly suggest that you give this plant a try in your gardens.



Tips of the Month

Here are some other coneflowers which we have tried in our gardens over the years:

1 Echinacea pallida ‘Pale Purple Coneflower’ which  blooms in early summer, 2-3 inch, pale-lavender, slender ray flowers droop gracefully on this lance-leaved prairie native. This is an elegant Coneflower that is more subtle than E. purpurea. Beautiful in the meadow garden with grasses and Yarrows. Native.

2. Echinacea paradoxa ‘Yellow Purple Coneflower’ is a prairie native that is a rare form of Echinacea with graceful, drooping rays of warm yellow. A toughie for full sun and lean soils; plenty of seeds for the birds.

3. Echinacea pupurea ‘Rubinstern’ is a medium tall coneflower with glowing red flowers with horizontal petals on robust plants. Stands out immediately when first seen. Beautiful in the meadow garden with grasses and Yarrows.

4. Echinacea purpurea ‘Art’s Pride’ is an amazing coneflower that comes from the breeding program of Dr. Jim Ault of the Chicago Botanic Garden. The lack of summer orange in the garden has been cured. Each two foot wide clump of slender green foliage is topped starting in late June and continuing through the summer with spikes of rustic-orange flowers.

5. Echinacea purpurea ‘Kims Knee-High Coneflower’ was introduced by Niche Gardens in Spring 1999, this compact purple coneflower has brilliant pink blooms, incredibly long season of bloom, and sturdy height, typically topping out a foot shorter than the species. We think the excellent qualities of the lovely coneflower will keep you coming back for more.

6. Echinacea purpurea ‘Kims Mop Head Coneflower’ is a single, white-flowered selection with a greenish disc, this sister to E. ‘Kim’s Knee High’. The “mop head” description refers to the petals that are fringy . This compact selection makes a great addition to the front of sunny borders, and glows along paths in the evening garden.

 7. Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus Coneflower’  a native found in open woods and on prairies. It grows to 30 inches and has long stiff stems with one large cone with showy purple ray flowers. The flower has long rays that reflex downward somewhat with a cone that is hard and prickly. This is a much valued perennial for the garden loved by butterflies

8. Echinacea purpurea ‘Pale Purple  Coneflower’ has flexed, hot-pink petals that reach upward then slowly expand, widen and gracefully bend down. The cone becomes a very prominent, iridescent orange with red tips. An eye-catcher both from afar and on close inspection.

Further information on all of these coneflowers along with pictures can be found in our Plant Data Base at our web site at We encourage you to visit our site  for lots of useful gardening information.


Flower of the Month

000278aEchinacea purpurea

‘Fragrant Angel’ is a white coneflower that others can only aspire to. Grows just like ‘Ruby Giant’, with large, fragrant, and horizontal flowers with layered, overlapping petals and huge yellow cones. The strong branching stems extend the blooming season through summer and fall.


Web Site

Prairie Nursery ( is dedicated to bringing their customers quality plants and seeds, and sharing our knowledge of cultural and landscape uses of native plants.Since 1972 Prairie Nursery has been devoted to improving and rebuilding the environment by encouraging ecological gardening using native plants for soil, water, and habitat conservation. Their mission is to preserve native plants and animals by helping people to create attractive, non-polluting natural landscapes that can support a diversity of wildlife.

The act of ecological restoration with native plants provides us each with a spiritual connection to the earth.  It brings us closer to nature as we invite all forms of life into our world.  It is simply amazing to see the various butterflies, moths, birds, and other beautiful creatures that visit the native plants upon which they depend for sustenance and survival.

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Growing Speciality Tomatoes

Icon Written by Wayne on May 1, 2009 – 12:01 am

In Past Yard Talks we have talked about the red slicing tomato, cherry tomato, and the tasty Heirlooms. There are still a lot of varieties that are grown for other reasons. Some are grown for their long keeping qualities while others because they make good sauce or salsa. Some are designed for the apartment dweller or the patio.

Here are a few varieties that you may wish to try:

  1. file4Red Grape is a bite-size, firm, oval-shaped grape tomato that is bright red and bursting with flavor. It has outstanding color, flavor, texture, and preferred small size.

  2. file0Fresh Salsa is for salsa lovers. You can chop this tomato into tiny cubes that remain perfectly firm and solid yet also sweet. Large, plum-shaped and dripless, all meat, ideal for salsas, bruschettas and Italian sauces.

  3. file12Bush Steak Hybrid is the best of the large patio tomatoes, exceptional taste, size and quantity. This surprisingly compact plant is just loaded with large flavorful tomatoes. It combines big meaty fruit and early maturity on a dwarf plant, perfect for small garden and patio containers.

  4. file21Red October Hybrid’s fruits can hang a long time on the vine without softening or losing flavor. The first long shelf life tomato with the indeterminate plant habit that goes hand in hand with top-notch taste. Harvested fully ripe in fall, they will keep 3-4 weeks longer than other varieties.

  5. file31Tumbler Hybrid is the best tomato for hanging baskets and containers. It produces up to 6 pounds of sweet, bright red cherry tomatoes.

While you may not be able to locate all of these at your local nursery, they all can be purchased from seed at Burpee’s, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, or Territorial. These companies have been highlighted in past issues of Yard Talk and have links on our web site.


Tomato Tips of the Month

Making your own dried tomatoes is very simple and certainly is much less expensive than purchasing them at the grocery store.

  1. The first thing is to pick the correct tomatoes, you want small meaty tomatoes for drying such as Fresh Salsa or one of the plum tomatoes.
  2. Carefully wash and dry your tomatoes. Cut the fruits in half lengthwise, you can remove seeds if you like, but it is not necessary. Larger tomatoes should be cut into one inch slices. Cutting a slit in the skin side of the tomato will help accelerate the drying process.
  3. Drain your tomatoes on paper towels and then place the halves skin side down on the racks of your dehydrator, leaving enough space between the pieces for the air to circulate. You can salt them at this time for a little more flavor and the salt will help to draw the liquid from them.
  4. Drying tomatoes in your dehydrator may take from 6 to 12 hours, depending on the thickness of your slices.
  5. To oven dry, place your tomatoes by putting them in single layers on wire racks. Your oven temperature should be between 140 and 150 degrees and prop the door open slightly. Oven drying will take from 12 to 24 hours. Do keep checking on them and remove ones that are done.
  6. The tomatoes are dried when they are leathery, but non-sticky. They should not be hard and brittle or moist. The drying process will concentrate all the flavor in the juice.
  7. Store your tomatoes in glass jars with an airtight lid, stored at room temperature in a cool, dark place. They will keep this way for up to 12 months before the flavor, nutrition and flavor will begin to decline.
  8. To rehydrate your tomatoes, soak them for 5 to 10 minutes in hot water.

Here is one of our favorite uses of dried tomatoes:

Toasted Baguettes with Mozzarella and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

1 baguette
Olive oil
6 ounces thinly sliced or shredded Mozzarella
16 sun-dried tomatoes, drained
Basil leaves

Thinly slice the baguette and arrange them on a baking sheet. Brush the top side of each slice lightly with olive oil, then broil the slices until golden and toasty.

Spread each bread slice with a portion of the mozzarella, then top with a sun-dried tomato and basil leaf. Bake in 450-degree oven just until the cheese has melted, about 5 minutes.

Flower of the Month

file41The Burpee Big Boy Tomato Flower is one of the prettiest of this plant species. It has a clear yellow shade darkening toward the center. We have found it very fragrant, attracting bees and other insects.

Featured Web Site

erritorial SeedTerritorial Seed has been serving the seed gardener for over twenty years, offering a wide selection of seeds. We were particularly impressed with its large selection of garlic sets, over ten varieties. Visit their site to see the results of the 2004 Great Northwest Tomato Taste-Off.

New Daffodils in Our Gardens

Icon Written by Wayne on April 1, 2009 – 12:01 am

No other flower heralds the arrival of Spring in Southwestern Lower Michigan like the first blooming daffodil. There are a number of  Spring blooming flowers but the daffodil stands in a class of it’s own. There just is nothing like waking up in the morning with that first cup of coffee in hand and  walking into a garden surrounded by the warm yellow glow provided by early jonquils.

We just cannot use enough daffodils in our gardens. We have them naturalized throughout our woodlands, planted in formal raised beds, scattered amongst the perennials, and even in pots and containers. All 13 divisions are well represented in our gardens. You will find varieties from the large trumpet classics Dutch Master or King Alford down to the petite mini Chit Chat.

While our favorite color is the classic bright yellow of the large cupped Camelot, you will also find the whites and pinks well represented. We use the white, small cupped daffodil, Polar Ice in large numbers mixed with the hellebores . Also, Ambergate, with it’s brick red cup is a real eye catcher along the front walk. Every year a few of the pinks, such as Chinese Carol, find their way into the gardens.

There is just something magical about daffodils. Each Fall you plant all of these ugly brown things in the ground, quickly forget about them, and in the Spring out pops these gorgeous blooms. For, us daffodils provide a never ending Adventure in Wonderland.

Last Fall  we added to our adventure by planting the following varieties in our gardens:



Colblanc – has a pure, snow white flower with a ‘green eye’ that looks like something grown in the tropics. It is 14 to 16 inches tall, a midseason bloomer.

Apricot Lace

Apricot Lace

Apricot Lace – a Brent and Becky original grown seedlings from ‘Palmares’ and  “Jonquilla’, with great qualities of each parent. It blooms in mid-late spring with the flowers being held on 12-18 inch stems.



Avalanche – has 15-20 white petals and a demitasse-shaped cupped, sweetly fragrant flowers on 16 – 18 inch stems, an early to mid season bloomer. 

La Belle

La Belle

La Belle – is little 6-10 inch intermediate flowering daffodil that brightens up the garden in late to mid Spring.



Kaydee – the pinkest of the midseason cyclaminius, its white petals enhance the vivid salmon pink cup, 10-12 inches tall.



Jamestown – a beautiful, late-mid Spring, 14-16 inch tall daffodil that really stands out in the garden.

Barbie Doll

Barbie Doll

Barbie Doll – an intermediate sized mid – Spring daffodil that performs along walks.

Whatever division, color, or size you choose, you will not be disappointed by the daffodil. Make sure you choose several varieties that bloom at different times to insure continually supply of fresh blooms.


Tips of the Month

Daffodils are classified by the The American Daffodil Society into one of the thirteen  divisions described below: 

  • Division 1 – One flower to a stem, trumpet or cup as long or longer than the perianth segments. 
  • Division 2 – One flower to a stem, cup more than one third but less than equal to the length  of the perianth segments. 
  • Division 3 –  Short cup have one flower to a stem, cup not more than one third the height of the perianth  segments.
  • Division 4 – Double daffodils have a clustered cup, petals or both. There can be one or more flowers per stem.
  • Division 5 – These usually have more than one flower to a stem, head drooping, perianth segments often reflexed  and of silky texture. 
  • Division 6 – Have one flower to a stem, perianth significantly reflexed and corona straight and narrow. 
  • Division 7 – Usually have several flower heads to a stem, flowers usually fragrant, stem is round in  cross-section and foliage is often rush like. 
  • Division 8 – Usually three to twenty flowers to a stout stem, sweet scented and very short cupped. Perianth segments rounded and often  somewhat crinkled.
  • Division 9 – Have one flower to a stem. White petals sometimes stained with the corona color at the  base, small flat cup edged with red.
  • Division 10 – Small flowers resemble a “hoop petticoat” form.
  • Division 11 – Corona split for at least one third of its length. Split-corona daffodils with the corona segments opposite  the perianth segments, the corona segments are usually in two whorls of three.
  • Division 12 – Daffodils not falling into any of the previous categories.
  • Division 13 –  All species and reputedly wild forms. 


Flower of the Month

Sternbergia hybrid "Autumn Daffodil"

Sternbergia hybrid "Autumn Daffodil"

Sternbergia hybrid “Autumn Daffodil”
It is a terrific bulb to use in naturalizing. They have bright yellow, crocus-like flowers that pops up out of nowhere. Grow in partial shade for autumn color. These bulbs must be dug and stored each fall where killing frost in colder climates.


Web Site

teaserBrent and Becky’s Bulbs are a hybridizers of daffodils. They are third generation bulb growers, growing many unusual and specialty bulbs on their ten acre farm in Gloucester, Virginia. They  offer a wide selections of the bulbs species, from old favorites like Dutch Master to new introductions, such as Katie Heath.

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Growing Palm Trees Indoors

Icon Written by Wayne on March 1, 2009 – 1:25 pm

I love Palm trees! Big ones, little ones, fat ones, skinny ones, it makes no difference to me I like them all. This makes no since to me as up until a few years ago I never had even seen one except in picture books or movies. Being a northern boy I should love Oak/Beech/Maple forests or at least White Pine stands.

I was in seventh heaven when a local community started planting full size Queen Palms during the Summer months along their parkways. Unfortunately, this was short lived as they soon discovered that the cost of leasing the trees was just too much. Personally I thought it was worth every penny.

Now the only way I can ever see a live palm tree everyday is by growing them indoors. Several years ago this would not have been a problem as we had a tropical greenhouse. Unfortunately, we now live in a home with forced air heat, air conditioning, and surrounded by a mature hardwood forest. Not the most ideal environment for a tropical palm.

So what do palms want? The answer to this question is easy, “Palms want to be in Florida, Hawaii, or Any Place Warm”, just like me. Since my wife says this is impossible we can start by putting in humidifiers, setting up fans throughout the house, and maintaining a constant warm temperature. Also, choose locations in the home with the most light exposure and consider supplementing with artificial lights. Group the palms together in pebble trays will also help.

You should select species that are easier to grow indoors such as the Sago Palm. The Sago Palm is a long-lived exotic palm that tolerates neglect but thrives with attention. Sago Palms will grow in almost any soi,l although they prefer soil that is well drained and rich in humus. It adapts to indirect light or full sun and has a wide temperature range from 15 to 120 degrees. A slow growth rate allows indoor specimen’s to remain in the same container indefinitely.

 Generally, palms should be treated as a cactus and watered when almost dry. Unlike most plants which can wilt when dry or turn yellow from lack of fertilizer, Cycads give little indication of when to water or feed. If the plant is receiving morning or afternoon sun or temperatures are warm, Sagos may need to be watered at least weekly. Plants grown in low light or cool temperatures may need watered every few weeks or so.  We generally water a plant twice.  The first time wets the soil, the second watering a few minutes later soaks the soil. 

Palms are ideal to plant inside apartments, where space, lighting and fresh air is limited. You can breathe the fresh, clean air in a confined apartment room, when you plant a palm to freshen the air and add aesthetic enjoyment to your living area. The same can be true of the home, it only requires a little more work. But what is work for the palm lover that cannot live in Hawaii or Florida year round?


Tips of the Month

1. Keep palms relatively moist, in spring and summer, or when temperatures are warm and days are longer, water them as soon as their soil feels dry a little below the surface. Allow the soil to get slightly drier in winter.

2. It is important that potting soil drains well and containers you use have functioning drain holes..

3. Fertilize lightly from late winter through early autumn, the time when houseplants are likely to grow most actively.

 4. A build-up of fertilizer salts in the soil results in brown tips and edges, especially if you allow the soil to get too dry between waterings. If you’re unsure about fertilizing, error on the side of too little rather than too much. 

5. Keep palm fronds clean as Spider Mites are attracted to dusty foliage and can balloon into a serious problem, particularly in winter when relative humidity is low indoors.

6. Palm roots will often die if cut or torn, so be careful not to injure roots.

7. Palms have the ability to sprout new roots from the sides of their trunks so it is better to plant them a little bit deeper then most plants.

8. Palms are commonly fertilized with a palm special fertilizer that contains trace element supplements.  If palm special fertilizer is not available, composted manure makes a good, readily available substitute.

9. The only pruning that most palms need is occasional removal of dead fronds. The growing bud of a palm should not be pruned. Palm trunks cannot grow new buds and pruning the bud could result in death to the palm.



Flower of the Month

Canary Island Palm

Canary Island Palm


Phoenix canariensis ‘Canary Island Date Palm / Pineapple Palm’ or Feather Palm

It is a large, stately palm often reaches a size too massive for most residential landscapes but, fortunately, it is very slow-growing and will take a considerable amount of time to reach its 50 to 60-foot- height. It is most impressive with its single, upright, thick trunk topped with a crown of 8 to 15-foot-long, stiff leaves with extremely sharp spines at their bases. The stalks of inconspicuous flowers are replaced with clusters of one-inch-diameter, orange-yellow, date-like, ornamental fruits which ripen in early summer. The trunk can reach a diameter of four feet and is covered with an attractive, diamond-shaped pattern from old leaf scars. Moderate growth, single trunk


Featured Web Site

One of our favorite Winter time botanical gardens is the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens ( located right in downtown Sarasota, Florida ( . Named after Marie Selby who donated her Sarasota Bay home and grounds “to provide enjoyment for all who visit the Gardens” it is a great place to get some quiet time and enjoy the natural beauty of Sarasota.

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Monkey Pod Tree

Icon Written by Geoff on October 1, 2008 – 2:55 am

One of our favorite trees is one we cannot even grow. I guess that only makes sense as I usually want the unattainable. Like that old Hoosier saying goes, “the grass is always greener on the other-side of the road.” I fell in love with Queen Palms in Florida and Monkey Pods in Hawaii, now all I can do is “Stare across the road” and dream. As you can see in the picture we took outside of Kona, on the Big Island of Hawaii, the Monkey Pod is a large graceful tree with wide spreading branches. It just seems to shout, “Come sit under me”!

This native of Mexico was introduced into Hawaii in 1847, when Peter A. Brinsmade a businessman returned to Hawaii with two seeds, both of which germinated. One of the seedlings was planted in downtown Honolulu, the other at Koloa on the island of Kauai.

Monkey-pod is a fast-growing tree that while generally planted as a shade tree and ornamental has been naturalized in many of the islands. It is greatly valued in pastures as shade for cattle on Kauai. While it has spreading crown when planted in the open, it forms a long, relatively straight stem when closely spaced. Its wood is widely used for carvings and furniture. We, also saw many beautiful bowls and dishes carved from the wood of the Monkey Pod.

Actually the Monkey Pod has many names from the Saman of Latin America, to the Mimosa of the Philippines. Somehow we just feel that the name Monkey pod just fits this tree. You just expect any minute to see monkeys swinging through the branches. Of course we never did but, it would have been nice to have seen a few! In retrospect, I guess there are not too many free ranging monkeys in Hawaii, just mina birds and chickens.

The Monkey Tree is said to have medicinal and even magical powers. We, in fact, observed that grass growing under the Monkey Pods was always greener, even in times of drought. Native Hawaiians believe that the trees actually produces rain at night. The unbelievers say that ” the shading effect of the crown, the addition of nitrogen to the soil by decomposition of litter from this leguminous tree, and possibly, the sticky droppings of cicada insects in the trees all contribute to this phenomenon Habitat.” They probably do not believe in the Tooth Fairy either!

Monkey-pod grows where the annual rainfall ranges from 50 to 150 inches. They attain their best growth on deep alluvial soils that are well drained and neutral to slightly acid in reaction. It can, however, grow well on a wide variety of soils when planted and can withstand seasonal flooding. Monkey-pod is frequently found on old home sites near streams in the forests of Hawaii where it is usually associated with mangos and guava. It is, however, very intolerant of frost which means no Monkey Pod our present gardens. I wonder where we could move our gardens to that would be more Monkey Pod friendly?

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Gardening in Heavy Soil

Icon Written by Geoff on September 1, 2008 – 10:45 am

You would think that since my wife and I have been avid gardeners for over four decades that the first thing we would look for when buying a new home would be the soil. If not the first, at least the second item to consider for plant freaks has to be the growing medium. Actually, we never even so much as kicked the dirt. All we just saw was a beautiful home sitting on top of a very big hill, surrounded by large Red Oaks, Sycamores, and even very big American Elm. The creek running merrily through the adjoining wood-lot was the clincher. It was love at first sight.

Boy was this a big mistake! Our “very big hill” turned out to be a glacial moraine complete with gravel, stones, and very big rocks glued together with some of the stickiest clay I have ever seen. To dig even the tiniest hole required a pick axe. We suddenly realized why the previous owners had planted no trees or even flowers, only a few scruffy junipers by the front door. These nursery-grown shrubs had been fighting for over sixteen years to adjust to the clay soil.

For someone use to sandy soil, taking three hours to dig a hole to plant our first tree (a Blue Spruce that died after only one year) was not a pleasant experience. Nor did it help being told, by the local County Extension Service, how lucky we were to have “a good clay soil as it is one of the best soils you can have as it will grow just about any plant with a little work.”

All we saw was a soil that was soggy and wet in Winter and like pahoehoe in Summer. Clay particles are extremely small, compared with larger sandy soil particles. As a result, clay packs closely and binds water tightly by surface tension preventing it draining away. This same binding power makes it tougher then concrete when it does dry out.

Fortunately, clay soils naturally break into smaller lumps when they shrink, allowing the soil to be worked. We learned that there are brief periods in October and April/May when our clay soil could be easily dug and beds prepared. By prepared we mean adding lots organic matter, especially compost, shredded bark, and wood chips. The key word here is “lots” as too little is worse than none at all.

Work any and all available organic matter in as deep as possible, ideally 10-12 inches, more if possible. While you can do this with a shovel or turning fork we suggest using a rot-o-tiller. We found one of those little tiller/cultivators named after a carnivorous insect, broke up the clumps the best. The important thing is to get as much organic matters as possible worked in deeply.

If you find you cannot work the soil deeply enough, as was our case, consider using raised beds. These do not have to be any fancy framed in structure. We simply kept piling on compost and loamy topsoil followed by tilling until we had build the workable soil to the depth we wanted. On top of this we added several inches of well composted wood-chips to serve as a mulch. Every Spring we worked the old mulch in and add a new layer.

Unfortunately, this will be an ongoing process which you will repeat for the life of your gardens. The good news is that such clay beds tends to be much higher in nutrients than a sandy soil. After twenty years of work we are growing some very wonderful plants in our raised beds. As you might guess:


Best Plants for Clay Soil

Here are some trees, shrubs, and plants that we have found that do well in our heavy soil:

Trees Shrubs Plants
Ash Arborvitae Coreopsis
Honeylocust Lilacs Echinacea
Beech Mockorange Silphium
Basswood Mockorange Monarda
Concolor fir Cotoneasters Andropogon
Maple Viburnums Hemerocallis
Crabapples Flowering Quince Rudbeckia
Oaks Forsythia Helianthus
Hawthorns Witch Hazel Aster
Yews Hydrangea Asclepias
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