Posts Tagged ‘Gardening’

Wildflower Gardening for Wildlife

Icon Written by Wayne on June 1, 2010 – 12:01 am

DeerWildflower Gardening is a must for those gardeners interested in attracting wildlife. Whether your interest lies with butterflies, moths, birds or other critters the surest way to attract them into your gardens is by planting what is familiar to them. No self respecting White-Tailed Deer would be caught dead in a bamboo cane break. Also you would not find many American Bullfrogs feeding on insects in a sunny cacti garden. If you provide wildlife with the right food and shelter they will come.

Some gardeners worry about wildlife doing damage to their plants. Unfortunately, many uninformed gardeners actually go to great lengths to discourage natures critters. We have found that if you provide plants that wildlife naturally feed on, they will do little damage to your other garden plants. Sure you might have a few plants nibbled on, particularly in times of stress, but this is a small price to pay for having wildlife around.

Last Spring we were fortunate to have twin White-tailed Deer born in our wetland area. We watched the “twins” grow from cute little spotted fawns to full size deer through the Summer. Some of our plants became a little tattered from their nibbling and we definitely did not have to cut back our roses in the Fall, but what fun we had watching them grow up. We would not have traded the experience for all the plants in our gardens.

MonarchSimilarly, the Monarch Butterfly larva can eat a lot of Pink Swamp Milkweed foliage, but what wonder it is to watch an adult emerge from its Chrysalis. We are only too happy to see butterfly and moth larva feeding on our wildflowers as we know soon adults will be drifting about laying more eggs for the next generation.

file3How we remember the times when pesticides were so over used that it was rare to see any butterflies and moths. Fortunately, today we realize how important all of natures creatures are and how they interact with each other. Knowledgeable gardeners now plant to encourage their presents, and why not, what would gardening be without them.

Fortunately Wildflower Gardening has enjoyed an increase in popularity as gardeners have discovered their importance and how to use them effectively. Wildflowers are not only finding their way into the traditional garden but, are being used increasingly as a replacement for the traditional lawn, all but eliminating mowing. States are turning to wildflowers along highways to reduce maintenance costs. While large well groomed lawns and roadsides may be attractive to some, they are actually a very barren natural environment.

Successful urban wildflower gardening requires careful planning, soil preparation, and seeding. Pick your site carefully. Make sure that the area receives plenty sunlight, 6-8 hours for most wild plants. Usually site preparation will take one to two years using a combination of cultivation and herbicide applications to eliminate existing growth, roots, and weed seeds.

Your task will be made easier if you choose a site that does not border areas of aggressive weedy plants. You will also have to allow for the soil type in site selection. For example, many plants hate heavy clay soils while others cannot stand to have their feet wet.

Select a variety of wildflowers including some of our native grasses. You want to have a variety, not only for color but to maintain bio-diversity. By providing plants occupying different parts of the soil, you help insure that wildflowers will squeeze out competing weeds. This is one of the secrets to having a low maintenance garden.

file11While wildfowers have become more widely available today, do not expect to buy a packet of seeds at the corner drugstore, sprinkle them around, and magically have a field of flowers. By all means avoid buying seed at your local nursery unless you know that they specialize in wildflower gardening. Most pre-packaged seeds are not worth the effort to plant. It might be nostalgic to use “North Manitou Island Wildflowers” or “Yellowstone’s Buffalo Blend”, but the chances of the seeds growing into something beautiful are slim.

Make your seed selection carefully. Look not only for flower type but also purity of seed. We recommend using nothing less then 95% pure seeds. We strongly suggest that you visit Prairie Nursery and Wildseed Farms web sites before starting. Both sites have a tremendous amount of helpful information on site selection, preparation, and plant selection. Both sell top quality seeds that the home gardener can depend on.

With a little planning and some up-front work, you too can have something that will last for years with little maintenance. We consider wildflowers just that, native plants for the wildlife to enjoy. Hopefully, we all have had our enjoyment out of them. If they are tattered, worm eaten, and grazed over by the end of the season it really does not matter. The butterflies, birds, and other wildlife will love you too. We know that the “Twins” sure loved our roses.


Tips of the Month

Wildflowers come in many shapes and colors, what is found growing in one part of the word as wild is probably being cultivated somewhere else. Many of our native plants have made the jump from being called weeds to being nurtured as prize specimen plants. Probably this is not better illustrated than the life of our native prairie Coneflowers and Black-Eyed Susan. We recommend the following plants, all of which can be found in our Plant Data Base:

  1. Echinacea pallida Pale Purple Coneflower blooms in early summer, 2-3 inch, pale-lavender, slender ray flowers droop gracefully on this lance-leaved prairie native.
  2. Echinacea pupurea Rubinstern is a medium tall coneflower with glowing red flowers with horizontal petals on robust plants. Stands out immediately when first seen.
  3. Echinacea 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.
  4. Echinacea purpurea Magnus is a native found in open woods and on prairies. It grows to three feet in height and has long stiff stems with one large cone with showy purple ray flowers.
  5. Echinacea purpurea Art’s Pride is a coneflower 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.
  6. Echinacea simulata Glade Coneflower or Wavyleaf Purple Coneflower is a very showy coneflower with long stalks and long drooping dark pink petals around a dark brown, dome shaped central disk.
  7. Rudbeckia grandfloria Black-Eyed Susan has long-stalked leaves, hairy stems, robust form and gold daisies with dark eyes are characteristics of this drought-tolerant species.
  8. Rudbeckia laciniata Herbstonne is a delightful plant with drooping warm yellow petals relaxing around a green central disc. A large plant that really stands out when in full bloom.
  9. Echinacea purpurea Kim’s Mop Head is single, white-flowered selection with a greenish disc. The “mop head” description refers to the petals that are fringed . This compact selection makes a great addition to the front of sunny borders, and glows along paths in the evening garden.


Flower of the Month


Rudbeckia amplexicaulis Clasping Coneflower

A hardy annual native to the southeastern United States, and has naturalized throughout most of North America. The identifiable black, cone-shaped heads are surrounded by bright yellow, drooping reflexed ray flowers. Often forms dense colonies in moist areas. A very heavy reseeder.


Featured Web Site

Easyliving Native Perennial Wildflowers

It is a site for and about wildflowers native to the Midwest. Beautiful Native Wild Flowers for Home Landscaping and Prairie Restoration can be found here. Seed for wild flowers that are easy to grow, resistant to drought and pests, and provide unlimited pleasure by attracting butterflies, hummingbirds and other critters. This site has loads of information, photos, and resources for the home gardener

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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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.

Raised Beds in the Garden

Icon Written by Geoff on October 1, 2007 – 5:38 pm

We have often referred to raised beds in past issues of Yard Talk. For example, in the article on culinary herbs, we talked about having to construct raised beds because of a drainage problem. In Gardening for Senior Citizens, we recommended using raised beds to minimize bending and kneeling. Well just what is a raised bed, why should we use one, and just how do we build one of those things? 

A garden is considered raised if the soil in the bed is higher than the surrounding soil. We normally tiink of a raised bed as being enclosed by some medium, such as wood, concrete, or plastic, to hold the soil in place. Actually the bed does not have to be enclosed to meet the definition of a raised bed. A raised bed should be no wider than four feet, so it can be easily maintained from the outside. The length and shape can be whatever suits the site or gardener’s needs. 

The most important advantages are: 

  1. Greatly reduced soil compaction since a properly designed raised bed garden allows you to do all your gardening from the garden path.
  2. Plants can be spaced a little closer together in a raised bed. This increases productivity and reduces weeding.
  3. Plants will grow much larger in raised beds.
  4. Raised beds drain better than ordinary garden beds. In areas, like Florida, that have saturated soil, this may be the only way you can grow many types of plants.
  5. Soil conditions can be controlled more effectively in a raised bed .
  6. Reduced amounts of water, mulch, and fertilizer,will be required because they only need to be applied to the garden beds.
  7. Raised garden beds bring your garden closer to you, less bending and stretching.
  8. Raised beds can extend your gardening season. They tend to warm up a little sooner in the Spring and remain productive later in the Fall.

The first step in constructing a raised bed, is to choose a sunny location and decide on the size and shape you want. Keep the beds narrow and match their length to the site and the watering system. We recommend tilling the soil before building raised beds, to provide additional room for root development. Remember that a raised bed is not easily moved, so plan carefully. 

While the frame can be made from any nontoxic material we find cedar to be most attractive, given a little time and sunshine, the cedar takes on a charming silver-gray sheen. Cedar is also naturally resistant to rot and insects. We prefer northern rough cedar 2 x 8’s for the sides, and 4 x 4’s for the corner posts. The overall height of the bed should be 18 inches with their length 10 to 12 feet. Make sure the frame is secured with four inch galvanized lag screws at the corners to inside blocks of wood. Make sure you pre-drill all holes or they will split. 

If cedar is not available, pressure treated wood is an acceptable substitute. A study by the Institute of Environmental Toxicology at Michigan State University, has shown the potential for contamination of vegetables and fruits is very small, and any residues would be at levels far below those known to cause toxic effects. 

Fill the frame with a good-quality lightweight soil mix and add a generous amount of compost. Avoid using soil straight from the garden. It usually is too heavy and does not allow for good drainage.

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A Weed by Another Name – The Joe Pye Weed

Icon Written by Geoff on September 1, 2007 – 7:07 pm

Joe Pye Weed is a tall, dominating upright perennial, three to twelve feet tall, with a green to purple unbranched stems, that are mostly hollow. The lance shaped leaves are eight to twelve inches long, and arranged in whorls at each node on the stem. When crushed, the leaves have a slight hint of vanilla. The blooms are white to mauve and densely packed in several large rounded clusters at the top of the stem. The showy flower clusters can be up to twenty inches across and invariably covered with butterflies, wasps and bees, and beetles from summer until late autumn. Characteristics of all species run together, and identification of individual species can be confusing. 

In the wild, Joe Pye Weed grows in moist fields and pastures, along road shoulders, and at the woodland edges. An Eastern plant, it grows from Central Florida west to Texas and north into Canada. They often grow in thickets along streams and ditches. Some Joe Pyes can be very cold hardy, growing as far north as Quebec and Newfoundland. Normally they are considered cold hardy from Zone 3 through Zone 9. 

Joe Pye Weed is a very popular ornamental plant in Europe but rarely used in gardens in our country. This is starting to slowly change as the home gardener discovers just how useful they are, particularly in the butterfly garden. Most varieties are at home in the background of the border garden. We like to use them in a semi-wild naturalistic garden such as alongside a stream or pond. 

Joe Pye Weed are big and bold enough to hold their own among shrubs in a mixed border but grows best in full sun. Plants grown in partial shade will get too tall and flop over. You can prune them back in late spring and they will bloom at a much lower height. They all like plenty of water but will survive in dry sites. We consider them to be drought tolerant, but they will never be as showy as when grown with abundant moisture. 

Joe Pye Weed is one of the showiest perennials in autumn, towering above summertime’s worn out flowers and shrubs. We like to use them with Solidago rugosa Leraft and Panicum virgatum Cloud Nine or Prairie Sky. On a smaller scale we use Joe Pye Weed with Boltonia decurrens Snowbanks and Solidago rugosa Fireworks or Golden Baby planted in the foreground. All of these and more can be seen on our Plant Data Base. 

Joe Pye Weed has underground stems, called rhizomes, which grow laterally and send up new shoots. The root is woody, thick and purplish brown with cream colored flesh. The above-ground parts die in the Winter and the rhizomes start new stems, leaves, and flowers the following year. We easily propagated them by dividing the root clumps with a sharp shovel or spade during the dormant season. 

Native Americans used concoctions of Joe Pye weed to treat a diversity of internal and external ailments. The Algonquin, Joe Pye, was said to have cured typhus fever with the plant that received his name. The entire plant was used as a medicine with the roots being the strongest part. Crushed leaves have an apple scent and are dried then burned to repel flies. Boil dried root and flowers for a diuretic tea to relieve kidney and urinary problems. Tea is also used to induce sweating and break a high fever. 

We grow the Joe Pye Weeds not for it’s medicinal properties but because they look good in the garden and attract butterflies. We have seen ducks, geese and wild turkey weeding on them in the Fall. In our gardens the Eastern Cottontail and White-tailed Deer really flock to the tickets looking for the seeds. Our favorite is the impressive Gateway, although Carin and Little Joe are hard to beat. Joe Pye Weed attract butterflies and other insects, smell good, are attractive, easy to grow, and even provide food for wild critters. Not many plants are so versatile.

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Athyriums in the Garden

Icon Written by Geoff on August 1, 2007 – 6:33 pm

Athyriums have long been prized by the home gardener not only because they were very easy to grow but, because of their color and texture. Lady ferns, particularly look good when grown in clumps or mass plantings. We use these ferns throughout our shade gardens. Actually, this is one down right spectacular plant. 

Lady Ferns are a highly variable species, with numerous varieties in cultivation. More than 300 varieties, in shades of grays, greens, and burgundy, have made their way to the home garden. Some, like ‘Frizelliae’ are extremely odd in appearance. This delicate, finely cut deciduous perennial fern is at home in the garden as the woodlands and meadows. The plant can even be used as a ground cover or on a wet hillside. 

Athyriums are relatively sun and soil tolerant, compared to many other ferns. Despite its delicate appearance, lady ferns are quite rugged and adapt well to cultivation. In the woodland setting they even do better with an occasional burning. For best growth plant them in partial shade in soil that is rich and moist. Give them a little shelter from wind to protect fronds from breaking and they will perform well for years. 

These ferns need a neutral to acid ph soil which drains well. A mixture of equal parts of loam and leaf mold is suitable growing medium. Lady ferns require no fertilization. Athyriums grown in a greenhouse or home should be planted in peat and loam with a bit of sand. 

Propagation is by division in the spring, although spores may be sown in Summer. Division is most successful and by far the easiest method for the home gardener. Simply divide the clumps every few years, with a sharp spade and replant crowns at soil level. 

In the wild, lady fern often occurs on wet sites but can colonize cracks in rocks and crevices if roots are protected and in constant contact with water. We use them, with hostas and other broadleaf plants, along trails, naturalized on banks, mixed with grasses, or bordering walks. They work well at the base of sculptures, garden benches, and potted plants.

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Culinary Herbs in Our Garden

Icon Written by Geoff on July 1, 2007 – 6:53 pm

We have been growing herbs for over 20 years here in Michigan. Actually our son Geoff got us started when we lived in Omaha, Nebraska. He was in grade school at the time and was looking for something relatively easy to grow yet still rewarding. One thing lead to another and he soon had a 200 square foot herb garden. He grew most of the culinary herbs, such as, Sweet Basil, Greek Oregano, Sage, Thyme, Sweet Marjoram, Fennel, Chives, and Rosemary. 

When selecting a site you must consider drainage. Most herbs will not grow in wet soils. We built raised beds and installed underground drainage tiles in Omaha. Herbs, also, need a sunny location as the flavor oils are produced best when plants receive six to eight hours of full sunlight. 

Herbs will grow in any good neutral garden soil with average organic matter. In fact, most herbs do not do well in highly fertile soils as they tend to produce excessive foliage with poor flavor. When Geoff prepared the bed, he added 10-12 bushels of peat moss per 100 square feet, although compost would work just as well. Peat improves the soil condition and helps it retain moisture. 

Once established, herbs require minimal care. Quite frankly, we never had to water them, even during the driest times. Just an occasional application of compost at the beginning of the growing season kept them going. Pest were never a problem and weeding was seldom required. 

When we moved from Nebraska to Michigan we dug up most the herbs and brought them along. With the exception of Sweet Basil, the following original herbs still grow today in our garden. 

Fennel, a hardy, perennial, will grow in most any soil. Seeds should be sown directly in the garden in the late Spring. Be warned, the plant will self-sow generously. Use the leaves with pork, veal and fish. 

Sweet Marjoram, may be grown from seed or started from Summer cuttings. Use fresh or dried leaves in salads, dressings, meat, sausage, lamb dishes, beans and soups. To keep the plants neat, cut out all dead wood and remove dead flowers and stalks. 

Sweet Basil, is an annual herb used in tomato sauce, pesto and salads. Basil grows best in full sun and rich, moist soil. Sow seeds indoors in spring and transplant them after all danger of frost is past, or sow outdoors when temperatures are reliably warm. 

Rosemary is an attractive evergreen shrub with pine needle-like leaves. Propagate from cuttings of the non-flowering branches in early summer. Rosemary can also be grown from seed. Choose a sheltered position and well-drained soil and lots of sun. It is used on meats, stews, sauces, and soups. 

Greek Oregano, is a perennial widely used in Italian dishes, tomato sauce, pizza, fish and salad dressing It is easy to grow, we recommend propagating by cuttings in the Summer. 

Common Thyme’s leaves are used to season meats, poultry, stews, sauces, soups and dressings. It should be planted in full sun for best flavor. 

Common Sage, a familiar plant in the home garden, is used in sausages, poultry, meat, bread, dressings, vegetables, omelettes and stuffing. You can never have enough Sage. 

There is nothing like the taste imparted by fresh herbs, although if done correctly, dry herbs are very good. We would not know what to do without our herb garden.

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The Cherry Tomato

Icon Written by Geoff on June 1, 2007 – 6:36 pm

In Past Yard Talks we discussed the round slicing tomato such as Burpee’s Big Boy and Big Girl, Rutgers, and Beefsteak. These big round tomatoes are the most common varieties found in the home garden. Our parents and their parents grew up growing and eating these fruit. When they thought about tomatoes these are the ones that popped into their minds. Ask anyone over 40 what his or her favourite tomato is and they will say one of the slicing tomato. 

Ask someone from a younger generation and you will be surprised as they will surely say the cherry tomato. Yes, those funny round things we find buried in our salad greens. My grandmother use to raise them along her patio although I never saw anyone eat them. As a kid they made useful ammunition for our trusty sling shots. It would not seem like Summer if the dogs, cats, and neighbourhood girls did not all sport red spots. 

Well folks, as much as I hate to admit it, my favorite tomato today is the lowly cheery tomato. I eat more of these darn things then I care to admit. There are more varieties of these grown then that old slicer and they taste better to boot. 

They are used in salads, stuffed, baked, and canned as preserves. Put a bowl of Sweet 100’s out as a snack food and watch how quick they disappear. We really like Stuffed Devilled Cherry Tomatoes or as a quick lunch Tuna Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes. Eaten fresh from the vine, they are sweet and juicy. With a higher sugar content than many tomatoes, cherry tomatoes have become fast food, finger food and kid-friendly. 

My favorite Cherry Tomatoes are:

  1. Super Sweet 100 Hybrid is a scarlet indeterminate which bears cherry-sized fruits in 70 days on long clusters right up to frost. Bursting with sugary flavor. Scarlet, cherry-sized fruits are produced in long clusters right up to frost.
  2. 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.
  3. Juliet Hybrid an indeterminate tomato that looks like a miniature Italian plum tomato but it is really a juicy and sweet cherry. Big vines produce grape-like clusters.
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