Friday, June 29, 2007

Day Trip to Montserrat

It was cloudy and threatening rain when we left this morning for Montserrat, a monastery in the mountains north of Barcelona. But we had only today to see it so off we went. By the time we got there it had cleared up, tho not enough to see to Barcelona or the Pyrenees, which you can on a really clear day. We took the subway to the train station and then the train to the town just below the monastery. We had a choice of cable car or train to take us to the monastery, we took the train. The original monastery was destroyed by Napolean and then rebuilt and some of it looks quite modern. The basilica is very ornate and has a wooden statue of a dark Virgin Mary and Jesus that was found in a cave nearby. We walked down to the cave, which now has a shrine built around it. The path to the cave and the statuary along the route were designed by several Modernista designers, including Gaudi. Then we took the funicular up the mountain and walked to another chapel, that of St. Joan. The views were stunning from up there.

We took yesterday at a somewhat more leisurely pace, still using our "Turistica" hop on, hop off bus pass. We toured the southern end of the city, seeing some of the Olympic venues when Barcelona hosted them in 1992 and taking in the Mies Van Der Rohe pavillion and the Joan Miro Museum. Alexa and her granddad visited the Farnsworth house last month in Plano, IL and she said the pavillion was similar in design. On exhibit was the famous Barcelona chair that he designed in 1929 and still looks quite contemporary today. The girls have also enjoyed the modern art we have seen here in Spain. Last week when the whole group was together, the girls voted Madrid their favorite city and the Prado and the Reina Sophia Art Museum (which specializes in modern art) their favorite museums. When we were in Paris seven years ago, their favorite art museum was the Pompadieu Center, which also houses a fine collection of modern art.

Alexa and Julia are off doing their laundry in preparation for going to Dublin after we leave here on Sunday. When they get back we will ramble down "Las Ramblas" in search of dinner, since it is almost 9pm and actually early for dinner by Spain standards. I must say I could get used to the afternoon siesta and late dinners. Lori, any chance we could close say from between 2 and 4 in the afternoon? Of course the rest of the staff might not be too happy staying open then until 9pm.

See you next week.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Hola from Barcelona

We are in Barcelona after seeing Segovia, Avila and Santiago. We enjoyed Segovia, with its Roman aqueduct and cathedral. The final night of a week-end long music festival was in progress. And the town is full of American college students doing Spanish culture and language immersion programs. Monday we toured the town and then caught a 2pm bus to Avila. The whole point of going to Avila was to catch the night train to Santiago. We had run into some fellow travelers in Cordoba who had really enjoyed Avila so I was looking forward to it, but there really wasn´t much there, except the 400-year old finger of St. Teresa.

We had a little kerfuffle with the luggage. Not wanting to carry our back packs with us, we walked from the bus station to the train station to leave our bags in a storage locker, but the train station had closed the lockers. Ever since the Atocha station bombing in Madrid, security has been very tight. The few places we have left our luggage, such as Cordoba, the bags had to go through security. The train station in Avila was too small to have that service. So back down to the bus station to leave our bags there. We spent a few hours sight seeing, had dinner, then spent about 5 hours cooling our heels at the train station waiting for the train.

Taking the night train always seems like such a great idea, but it never works out that way in practice. In this case the train´s air conditioning ran all night and we were freezing. The seats did not recline and it was hard to sleep. When we arrived in Santiago, we had the same luggage problem and ended up going out to the airport to leave our bags there, then taking the airport shuttle back into town.

Santiago itself was great. It is the terminus of one of three medieval pilgrimages to holy places. In this case the bones of St. James were supposedly found in a field here and the cathedral was built. Today many people make the 500 mile walk from France. When we were there a group of bicyclists rode into the square and celebrated.

In Barcelona we decided to buy the "hop on, hop off" tourist bus ticket as a quick and easy way to get an overview of the city and then go back to see the highpoints. We spent yesterday seeing the Anton Gaudi sights, including the Sagreda Familia, still under construction for over 100 years, and several of the houses that he designed and built. Today we will do a different bus route and tomorrow we will go to Montserrat.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Winterizing Roses

Garden Trivia Quiz: Last week´s question kept with the rose theme and asked what other fruiting plants were related to roses. The answer is below. This week´s question has to do with rose flower color. Roses do not bloom in what two colors? Good luck and don´t forget to e-mail me the answer at

Winterizing Roses: After dealing with diseases and Japanese beetles, one of the most asked questions about roses we get here a C´side is how to winter them over successfully. Roses can be a little tricky and even I lose one every so often. Winterizing roses actually begins when you first purchase your roses. Be sure to purchase roses that are hardy for your area, which in our case means Zone 4-5, depending on where you live. Even though we have encouraged you to fertilize frequently during the spring and summer growing months, stop fertilizing around August 1 or two months before the first frost date in your area. Growth that occurs after over fertilization will produce weak, spindly canes that will have a hard time surviving our winters. The canes need to have time to develop into thick, study stems. Finally, resist the urge to prune in the fall. The best way to winter over your roses is to use rose collars. These are plastic rings that go around the base of the plant and are back-filled with black dirt. Mound the dirt 6-12 inches over the base of the plant, then be sure to pull it away from the plant in the spring as the plants come out of dormancy. Spring is the best time to prune back the dead canes.

Shrub roses generally don´t need the rose collars and their growth habit makes it difficult to use them, anyway. Come spring prune back the dead wood and give them an over all shaping. They can be cut back to 12-18 inches, as can your hybrid teas.

The answer to last week´s trivia quiz: Raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries also are related to roses in the sub-family Rosoideae - (rose-OY-dee-ee).

Next week I will talk about companion planting with roses and I have picked up a few new ideas from a few gardens we visited on our trip to Spain.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

More from Spain

We just finished the first half of the trip and put two of our traveling companions on the train for Madrid and then home. We drove from Sevilla to Cordoba, turned in the rental car and took the train ourselves to Madrid, then a bus to Segovia, where we are enjoying a lovely evening just chilling out after a week of hard charging touring.

When we left Madrid we took the AVE (fast train) to Toledo. We upgraded accomodations and stayed in a lovely hotel in the heart of the old city. It was still relatively inexpensive but not as cheap as the MAD Hostel in Madrid. The cathedral there is very gothic in style. We also spent some time seeing the city´s Jewish history. We enjoyed a great traditional meal at a small restaurant near our hotel. We left the next morning for Cordoba, which meant we took the train back to Madrid, then boarded another one for Cordoba. It took less than 2 hours to get there. We spent the morning and part of the afternoon touring the Mezquite, the Christiana de los Reynes and some lovely gardens. The synagogue we wanted to visit was closed. Cordoba is the high point of Moorish rule in Spain. The mezquite is a gorgeous building with high ceilings and many columns and arches to hold it up! No flying buttresses yet. We rented our car and then visited the archeological ruins of the medina before heading to Granada.

Usually, we take public transportation when traveling in Europe. It is relatively inexpensive and usually convenient to the city center. With five people in our group it was cheaper to rent the car, though that can present some problems. Narrow streets are only a minor nuisance compared with some of the other problems we encountered. Signage, as in street signs, can be sparse or even non-existent. Traffic circles I can usually deal with, but here in Spain they have "jug handle" left turns that I always miss, resulting in an illegal U turn to get where I need to go. It helps to have a great navigator, as I did, to get around in the car.

Well back to Granada. Our mission in Granada was to visit the Alhambra. If Cordoba was the high water mark of Moorish occupation, then Granada was the low point. This was the last Moorish stand before being driven out of the Iberian peninsula and the reconquest of Spain by the Christians was complete. The Alhambra was impressive, but I think our group liked the Mesquite best. After our tour we drove to Tarifa, the southern most tip of Spain and only 10 miles from Africa. Friday we took the ferry to Tangiers, Morocco and enjoyed a tour of the city and area with our guide, Aziz.

Anywhere else we would have gone on our own, but after talking with several friends and reviewing a few guide books, we decided 5 unaccompanied females would not be a good idea. The mother of our young friend Julia estimates that 10 percent of touring is wasted, either in time or money, and since we were only there for the day and wanted to make the most of it, we decided to hire the guide. And it was worth every penny and then some. I picked his name from the Rick Steve´s guide to Spain. I was able to e-mail to make the arrangements and I called him that morning just to confirm the arrangements. We visited sights outside the city we would never have gotten to and we never would have made our way through the intricate twists and turns of the kasbah. The tour through the market was fascinating and we enjoyed a typical Moroccan lunch at the end. This excursion got everybody´s vote for "Best Day."

We were sad to put our two friends on the train this morning and hope they had a great flight home. We are on to Santiago de la Compostela and then flying to Barcelona for 5 days.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hola from Spain

As I write this I am in Madrid, Spain, getting ready to head to Toledo. I haven´t found a way yet to upload the pictures I am taking, but as soon as I do I will post them. The first two days here it rained. We forged ahead anyway, taking in all the sights though getting drenched in the process. Yesterday it cleared up and we had a nice time seeing the Reina Sophia art museum (modern art, including the mind bending works of Dali and Picasso.) We also saw Picasso´s famous painting, "Guernica," the painting he did as a tribute to those killed in the Basque town of Guernica by the Germans during the Spanish civil war. We enjoyed a picnic lunch in the Royal Botanic Gardens. This garden has been in existence since 1755! The butterfly bushes were over 6 feet tall and in full bloom and there were several display gardens featuring herbs and vegetables.

I am traveling with my youngest daughter, her friend, my friend and her 15 year old. Anyone who knows me, know I am notoriously cheap when it comes to accomodations so we are staying at hostels and pensiones. The hostel here in Madrid is the Mad Hostel, and is pretty nice. The beds are running $14 per night and it does include a continental breakfast. We are in a 6 bed room (there are five of us) and figured what were the odds of a single person showing up. But what do you know, we shared our room each night first with a young man from Texas and then with a young man from Mexico. Not their lucky day. This morning we leave for Toledo and then for points south, including a day trip to Morocco, which the kids are definetely excited about.

It always helps when traveling in a group to travel with people who have similar tastes, food schedules, etc. I am a big breakfast eater. It can be difficult if someone in the group isn´t, since then the whole meal schedule gets thrown off. I always tell my kids, "Eat when you are hungry or when you get the chance!" Not that it ever works, because there is always one who gets up late and misses the free breakfast, then makes you stop at 10am because they are starving. I also enjoy stopping at the local market and selecting fruit, cheese, salami, bread etc. for lunch on the run. It is usually less expensive than eating in a restaurant and it is fun to shop with the locals.

Well, that is all for now. Hope the weather is nice in Crystal Lake and John, don´t forget to water my plants!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Off on Holiday

Tomorrow I am off to Spain for two weeks and I am busy getting the garden ready. I finally got around to fixing that old split rail fence post and in the process of cleaning up the bed I discovered that my buddleia (butterfly bush) survived yet another winter. Yeah! They are very slow to come out of dormancy so I am never really certain it survived until I see it leaf out, sometimes not until June. It's surprising how tender this plant is here, because once in London I saw one growing out of a crack in the facade of a building three stories up! I also dug out the Balloon flower (Platycodon) that had become a little invasive. Some of the roots were as thick as my thumb! When I get home I will have to find something other things to plant there.

I have been watering like crazy, making sure to water really deep so even if it doesn't rain the plants' roots can reach moisture. I am sure watering will not be a big priority for Mr. Ross. For a guy who grew up on a ranch, you'd think he'd be more attune to that sort of thing. I have the girl down the street coming in to check on things and water my containers and hanging baskets. With limited amounts of soil in the containers and nowhere for the roots to go once they reach the side of the container, those need special attention when you are away.

I promised myself several things this year with regards to my garden:

1) I was going to work on the weeds in the lawn. Besides the usual dandelions, I have some thistle, medic and clover. I have been using two products: the Bonide Ultra, which also works in cooler temperatures, and Bonide WeedBeater. The Ultra only comes in a Ready-To-Use spray bottle (or as we call it, "the carpal tunnel bottle), but the Weedbeater comes in RTU, hose-end and a concentrate. When spraying weeds, be sure to spray early in the day before it gets hot. Herbicides work by being taken in by the stomas that are on the leaves. It is where transpiration takes place. In order to survive the hot weather plants will close down their stomas in the heat of the day so they don't lose too much moisture (it's what causes plants to wilt). It also means they aren't taking in any moisture either so your spraying will not be effective.

2) I was going to work on getting rid of the grassy weeds that have grown up in my rose bed and mulch. I used Roundup to get rid of the weeds, but now new seedlings have sprouted up. Last night I got out the hoe and hoed in there, so I hope that took care of the grass. When I get back I'll lay down the mulch.

3) Work on the front bed. Well, so far I got the fence fixed, now I just need to fill in a few areas with some new plants. That bed is mostly pastel colors with phlox and penstemon and the butterfly bush, although it's been so long since I've seen it bloom I've forgotten what color it is.

One more thing: Thanks to my goof ball friends who came by Monday night and TP'd my house in honor of my birthday. It was the big 5-0 and I must say I am looking forward to the next however many years I have left. I guess one thing that keeps me going is no matter how old I get, Lori will always be older!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Planting Roses

The Gardening Trivia Quiz Last week I asked for the technical term for the "thorns" found on roses. The answer and explanation is below. Keeping with the rose theme, here is this week’s question: Roses are part of a much bigger family. What other fruiting shrubs are related to roses?

Planting Roses
One way to ensure at least one growing season, is to plant the rose properly. This means selecting the proper site, with full sun and good drainage. Full sun means 7-8 hours of sun, although it doesn’t have to be all at one time and in this case, more is better. To check for drainage, dig a hole 18" deep and fill it with water. If the hole drains within 5-6 hours, you have adequate drainage. If not, consider raising the soil level by using top soil or building a raised bed. Roses also prefer a neutral to slightly acidic soil. Having slightly acidic soil allows the plant to take up nutrients more efficiently. We ask a lot of our roses (all those magnificent blooms) and to perform roses need a soil that is light, porous, moisture holding and full of nutrients. To achieve this, most soils, especially ours here in No. Illinois, need to be amended. A 50-50 blend of native soil and some type of organic compost is best. There are many products available commercially. Composted cow manure, mushroom compost, or Cotton Burr compost are recommended.

If you are planting a large bed, you can dig the compost in the whole bed. Otherwise, when you back fill the planting hole, use a 50-50 mix of native soil and compost. When digging the hole, dig it at least 2 feet in diameter and slightly deeper that the container you purchased the rose in. It does not hurt to plant the rose graft an inch or two below the soil surface. This helps protect the bud union during our winters. It is extremely important that you dig the hole at least 2 feet in diameter so that the feeder roots, the ones responsible for taking up water and nutrients, can get established. Adding bone meal or super phosphate at the root level when planting will also help these feeder roots develop. We also recommend using a root stimulator, such as Plant Start or Quick Start, when planting. These are low in nitrogen and high in phosphorus, to encourage root growth over top growth. Once the plant is established (6 weeks or so), you can switch to a regular fertilizer.

Summer Care for Roses
Assuming you have established plants, the most important thing you can do for your roses is water and fertilize. Use a good rose or all purpose perennial fertilizer. I usually recommend using a granular, slow release fertilizer, so that nutrients are being leached into the soil continuously. If you use a water soluble fertilizer, such as Miracle-Gro, you will have to fertilize every time you water, or at least once a week. I’m not that motivated. Spread the fertilizer in a 2-3 foot diameter circle around the plant and work into the top several inches of soil, then water thoroughly. Fertilize once a month until August 1. Fertilizing after that time will cause weak canes to develop that will not survive the winter. Also this is a good time to quit deadheading. Deadheading also encourages new growth which leads to weakened canes.

Most plants need an inch of water a week. They prefer to be watered deeply to encourage the roots to grow deep rather than frequent, shallow waterings. It is best to water in the morning, and to water the soil rather than spray the foliage.

Deadheading In order to keep roses blooming it is important to remove the spent blooms, called deadheading. For the first deadheading of the season, you can cut back to 1/4 inch above the first set of 3 leaves. After that you can deadhead back to the first 5 leaf set.

Rose Diseases and Pests

Roses are susceptible to fungal infestations and several insects. Powdery mildew and blackspot are two of the most common fungi. Fungi are usually present in the soil and are best dealt with before you see them on your plants. Use a good systemic such as the Bonide Rose 3 in 1 that is a fungicide, miticide and insecticide. It is sprayed on the leaves on a regular basis. If you find powdery mildew or black spot on your rose leaves, remove the leaves and throw in the trash and begin a spray program. Make sure you water properly as this will help reduce the incidence of fungal infestations.

Roses are also susceptible to aphids and Japanese beetles. The aphids will be killed if you use the Rose 3 in 1. If you want an organice treatment, you can release ladybugs into the rose garden and they will eat the aphids. We had a customer in last week with another insect problem, the rose slug. The rose slug is actually the larvae stage of the sawfly and it can skeletonize a rose leaf very quickly.

Garden Trivia Quiz: Thorns develop from the branch tissue of a plant. The "thorns" of the rose are actually the superficial outgrowth of the stem and are correctly termed "prickles." Now, doesn't that make you feel better?

A Rose By Any Other Name

National Rose Month
June is National Rose Month, so in honor of this distinction I will be blogging about roses. I love roses. As I often say, I am a martyr to my roses. I put up with the thorns (which I don’t do for any other plant), I fertilize, I deadhead, I replace if one croaks over the winter, and I come home from work every night in July and August and spray those darn Japanese beetles. I have tea roses (mostly) and some shrub roses surrounding a bird bath. After my pond, my rose garden is my favorite spot. So, please indulge me while we spend some time this month on roses.
Gardening Trivia Quiz
Last week’s question had to do with the banana plant. The answer is below. For this month we will have questions, obviously, relating to roses. One issue that comes up often in the rose garden is the problem of thorns. What is the correct name for the pokey things that are on the rose stems? (Just as a hint, I got most of my information for these blogs from the ARS web site.) If you know the answer, or even if you don’t, e-mail me at I look forward to hearing from you.

Selecting Roses
Rose Classifications
Roses can be grouped in to three main classes: Species (wild roses), Old Garden Roses, those in existence before 1867, and Modern Roses, or those not in existence before 1867. Within the Old and Modern classification there are shrub, tea and climbing tea, as well as hybrids. Here at C’side, we classify our roses as either hybrid tea (including grandiflora and floribunda), shrub, David Austin (Old English roses) and climbers.

Tea Roses

Hybrid Teas- Tea roses came from China and were hybridized in England to become the quintessential rose we know today. Tall and stately, with long pointed buds on long stems, the flowers come in all except black and blue. There are now over 6,000 varieties of hybrid teas available. These varieties are the result of lots of inbreeding which has led to reduced disease resistence and winter hardiness as well as fragrance, but with 6,000 varieties available, you should be able to find a hybrid tea to suit you.

Floribunda- The floribunda rose is a cross between the hybrid tea and a polyanthus rose. Introduced during the 1939 World’s Fair by Jackson Perkins, this cross resulted in a plant that is more compact with superior hardiness and disease resistence.
Grandiflora- This rose is a cross between the hybrid tea and the grandiflora. It is characterized by having clusters of flowers on long stems. It is a taller rose than the floribunda and works well as a screen or in the back of the garden. Generally, it is not as fragrant as either the hybrid tea or the floribunda.

Shrub Roses– These roses are really the work horse of the garden. They are exceptionally winter hardy and disease resistant. They tend to be wider than they are tall. They work well in the "mixed herbaceous border," as the English would say. They range from the "Blanket" series that are 12" tall and 24" wide to the , which are 5' tall and as wide. This group also contains the wildly popular "Knockout" series, that now includes the red, pink, blushing pink and the rainbow varieties. Other popular lines are the David Austin, Sub-Zero, Canadian Explorer and the Meidiland series. Notice the shrub rose has multiple flowers on the stem, rather than a single flower as with a hybrid tea.

David Austin Roses: These shrub roses are hybridized and marketed by David Austin of Wolverhampton England. They are based on the Old English roses and are characterized by being more shrub like in appearance with a very densely petalled flower. They also tend to be more winter hardy and disease resistant than the hybrid tea roses.

Climbers: Roses with the name "Climbing Rose" or "CL" as a prefix are sports or genetic mutations of shrub roses of the same name. These roses will have an initial spring flush of blooms, then bloom sporadically the rest of the season. Other climbing roses without the "Climbing" or "CL" prefix are a cross of two bush varieties. These roses generally have a spring flush of blooms, then a repeat bloom and a final fall flush. With their shrub rose parentage, climbers also tend to be very hardy and disease resistant.

Notice I have hedged when describing these roses as being "more resistant" or more "winter hardy." More than any other plant (I think) roses are trickiest to grow. Not that I do everything "right" when planting or generally maintaining my garden, but every couple of years even I lose a rose and I have no idea why. The one next to it did okay so what happened? Who knows. All I know is I like them and I’m willing to put up with their idiosyncracies. As I tell my customers at C’side, just because it’s a perennial doesn’t mean you can’t kill it.

Own Root Roses One more thing to consider when selecting roses, is whether or not the rose is on its own root or grafted on to a root stock. More and more roses are being grown on their own root stock so that if the plant dies back to the ground the new canes will be true to the original variety. If the rose is grafted on to a hardy root stock and dies back to the graft, the resulting growth will be that of the root stock and will have no relation to the variety that was originally purchased. Does that mean a rose on its own root stock is hardier? I don’t know–is it, Kim?

The Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: True, the banana is classified as a herbaceous plant and not a tree. Here are some other fun facts to know and tell about bananas: They are 75% water but only .2% fat. They are a great source of potassium, which is an important electrolyte, and in conjunction with calcium aids in the functioning of the nervous system. My friend Shelly that works at another local garden center that I can’t name on our blog, always recommends adding banana peels to the soil in the rose garden. In the winter when the ground is frozen she bakes the peels in a slow oven until they are powdery and adds them to the soil in the spring.

Greenhouse Staff Gets a Break

Well the busy season for us has ended and we are all looking forward to 5-day weeks instead of the 6-day weeks we had been working. Last Saturday we had a green house staff potluck to celebrate. We still hope to see you and now you probably won't have to take a number get assistance with your purchases. Some of us will be taking much needed vacations. Jana is on her vacation now and I leave for Spain on Friday. I hope to be able to blog while we are there and also to post pictures.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Annuals--More Color Bang for the Buck

The Gardening Trivia Quiz
Our own Laura Fergus was the staff winner last week for correctly answering the question about what family rosemary, sage, oregano, thiyme and marjoram belong to. Young Pamela wants to institute a new rule for staff--no Google-ing. Just to clarify, only the Countryside staff has to get the correct answer to win the batch of mini-chocolate chip muffins. The rest of you will still get the coupon even if the answer is not correct. Obviously, this is a marketing gimmick, but I still would like to hear from you and it is nice to know someone is out there reading this. This week's question is a toughy: True or False (or as we say in Italian: vero o falso): The banana has no trunk. It is held upright by a tightly wrapped bundle of leaf stalks. Thus the banana is not a true tree. Good luck. E-mail me with your answer at

Planting Annuals

The more I garden, the more I have begun to appreciate annuals. Don’t get me wrong, perennial beds are wonderful and every year more varieties are introduced that add color or texture to the garden. But for great color all season long, you can’t beat annuals. During the dog days of summer when your perennial bed is perhaps not looking its best annuals will be there to provide continuous color. There is certainly a spot in the perennial bed for them.

I think broad sweeps of annual beds can be quite dramatic. I have a bed in front of my house that is about 20' by 3' that I plant in impatiens every year. It takes about two and a half flats to fill it. I do tend to plant my annuals closer than recommended on the tag because I want them to fill in faster. My coworker, often referred to in these pages as young Pamela to distinguish her from us old folks that work here, gave me a great tip last week. She uses a bulb auger attached to an electric drill to plant her bedding plants. I tried it last night and it worked a treat. Of course, I couldn’t take the pictures and do it myself so I enlisted the help of my neighbor, Sandy. We strive for perfection here at Countryside and I had to take numerous shots to get the perfect one. By the time I did, Sandy had just about finished the planting. Couldn’t have been any easier. (I wonder if I can get her to do it again next year.) I treated her to a glass of wine after and of course we had to get the perfect picture....
(Hey, and a big thank you to my neighbor, Sandy, for being my "comic foil.")

The other day a customer wiped us out of our entire horseradish supply. I couldn’t help but ask what he was going to use it for, since it does spread once established, and how much horseradish sauce does the average person use in year, anyway. Well, his recipe for horseradish is an old family recipe and the sauce is in huge demand from his family and friends. He agreed to share the recipe with us as it is posted on his blog. So here is the address for those of you who are interested: . It is listed under the tab "dawg recipes."

Herbs and Vegetables
It is finally warm enough to plant the veggies. If any of you attended our spring gardening seminars in April, the vegetable seminar focused on integrating vegetables into your ornamental beds. Many vegetables make great foliage additions to the garden and have the added benefit of being edible. One of my favorites is the Bright Lights Swiss Chard. When I was in France last August, the Bright Lights was used extensively in many of the municipal flower beds in Paris and elsewhere. The leaves of the swiss chard can be used like spinach and the swiss chard won’t bolt in the heat like spinach does. In addition, Bright Lights has great coloration in the stalks. Eggplant is also a great plant to use in the ornamental bed. The star-like purple flower is very attractive as are the resulting purple or pink fruits that add color to garden. Sliced and grilled is a great way to serve it this summer.

Even if you never cook with fresh herbs, the purple basils make a great border around a sunny garden bed. Of course you should use fresh herbs and here is a quick recipe using sweet basil. My garden club friend, Donna Cramer, makes this hors d’oeuvre using sweet basil and grape tomatoes. She uses one grape tomato, a basil leaf and a small cube of mozzarella cheese on a toothpick and drizzles a little olive oil over them. Delicious

If you are interested in attracting butterflies to your garden plant pineapple sage and parsley. The pineapple sage really does smell like pineapple and it gets a small tubular scarlet flower that attracts both humming birds and butterflies. Swallowtail butterflies lay their eggs in the parsley and the caterpillars feed on the parsley. If you do plan on using the parsley, check it closely for eggs and caterpillars! If you would like to know more about butterflies, check out the Crystal Lake Nature Center’s Butterfly House. It is located at Veteran’s Acres, at the Main Street entrance.
The Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question:
Rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme and marjoram all belong to the mint family. I can see where oregano, thyme and marjoram are in the same family, but rosemary and sage really don't look like the first group and none of them seem to have the same characteristics as mint. Mint has square stems, although the leaves are somewhat similar looking. Good luck with this week's question!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Heirloom Vegetables

There are many definitions of heirloom vegetables. For some people the vegetable variety must be "old." What constitutes old is open for discussion. The year 1951 is often used as the cut off date as this was the beginning of mechanized agriculture and the need for vegetables that withstood large scale production. Others use WWII as the date as people often shared seeds from their "Victory" gardens. Heirloom plants must be open-pollinated so that the resulting seed will germinate "true to type," that is saved seed will germinate the next year and be just like its parent. Hybridized plants often produce sterile seed that does not germinate or does not grow "true to type."
Some heirlooms can be difficult to grow as they have not been bred to be disease resistance. When growing heirloom varieties it is important to use good horticultural practices. Water only the soil and water only in the morning. This will help to reduce fungal infestations. If your garden allows it, rotate your crops every year. Be careful when mulching and only mulch between the rows, not right up to the plant. If fungal infestations are a problem, start applying fungicides before the problem arises. Prevention really is worth a pound of cure, since it is hard, if not impossible to eradicate an infestation once it becomes apparent. There are several organic and low toxicity products available on the market.
One thing everyone does agree upon is that heirloom vegetables taste better. Below is a list of some of the more popular varieties.