The real dirt on gardening trends

Gardening is always evolving. The reasons may be as numerous as the practitioners, but experts cite these three: consumer tastes, weather, and plant breeding advances.

Last year, the must-haves were vertical gardens and any orange flower. This year, low-water-need plants, perennial edibles, and plants for petite gardens are in demand.

“Gardens are smaller,” says Angela Treadwell-Palmer, trend-spotter and founder of Plants Nouveau LLC. “We’re more urban due to economic and social reasons; our gardens are becoming like those in Asian countries where space is at a premium.”

Susan McCoy of the Garden Media Group has been issuing a yearly gardening trend report for more than a decade, and she reveals that edible shrubs such as ‘Peach Sorbet’ blueberry (see p. 26) from Fall Creek Farm & Nursery, which fit easily into the landscape, will be all the rage in 2013. Herbs, too, she says: “Their essence bursts with flavor, and they look gorgeous among flowers or in pots. Plus, you can bring them inside, sit them in a sunny window, and enjoy them in meals during the cold months.” Continue reading The real dirt on gardening trends

Inside out: the skills of an interior designer blossom in the garden

It had been Many years since I’d last visited eastern Long Island, and so when I arranged to meet Conni Cross at her Cutchogue home and garden, my mind went back to images formed during childhood trips to Montauk or Orient Point. Back then, the landscape seemed to consist mostly of pockets of scrub oak set amid acre upon acre of flat, sandy potato fields, interrupted occasionally, by 30-foot-tall wind-breaks of common privet, a despised shrub turned unexpectedly graceful. Most of that was gone, of course, replaced by housing developments and boutique wineries. But as I discovered when I arrived at Cross’s garden, the change hasn’t been all bad. Far from it.

Over the last ten years, Cross has transformed the five acres of sandy soil and scrubby oak and cherry woodland around her house into a series of gardens, each with its own character and distinctive plant palette. By and large, herbaceous plants are not at the center of this palette, although Cross uses them freely to provide spots of seasonal color or, as in the case of ornamental grasses and yuccas, to contribute striking forms. But their main purpose is to set off the garden’s real glory: its woody plants. Here a bit of history is in order. Continue reading Inside out: the skills of an interior designer blossom in the garden

Setting down roots on a slippery slope

Everything is harder to do on a steep hill. Soil erodes, buckets roll downhill, materials and tools have to be schlepped up and down. A full wheelbarrow needs a zigzag path and a place to park where it won’t tip over. Footing is iffy. You have to pay attention all the time.

But there are rewards. Gardens ascending behind my two-story house are visible from every room, giving me year-round pleasure.

I didn’t start with anything as useful as a clean slate or a clear design. The gardens developed organically; I didn’t have a clue about what I was getting into when I first stood looking up at a deer-infested mountainside of rocks, invasive multiflora roses, Japanese honeysuckle, and bittersweet, with a perennial in one hand and a shovel in the other.

I’ve learned much to ease the way and unlearned quite a bit of what I knew about gardening as well. Continue reading Setting down roots on a slippery slope

Dyeing for color: even if you don’t knit, felt, or craft with natural fibers, plants used for dyeing may thrive in your beds

Coloring your textiles and yarns with homegrown plant dyes is a fun and ecological step in creating beautiful, one-of-a-kind projects. Creating a dye garden offers a source of desirable colors ready for the picking. Plant one now to use for dyeing this year or next–or just to enjoy, knowing that your garden is home to a rainbow of possibilities.


Indigo, made from several plant species, is considered the royalty of all plant dyes: Its leaves were used to produce vibrant blue-tone garments for royalty and the wealthy as far back as 1600 B.c. During the Industrial Revolution, Levi Strauss popularized the color in denim jeans.

The tender shrub I. suffruticose is a perennial in its native Mexico and the Caribbean and an annual elsewhere. It performs best and produces optimum dye color if provided well-drained soil amended with compost and regular watering in areas with long, hot summers. Soak indigo seeds in water overnight before sowing directly into the garden once the soil is warm and there is no risk of frost.

Indigo bears small, tan flowers in midsummer, which are followed by pealike seedpods. For brilliant color, put only the freshly picked (not dried) dark green leaves into the dye pot. Harvest leaves during summer or early autumn. Indigo produces a large range of blue and black shades. Continue reading Dyeing for color: even if you don’t knit, felt, or craft with natural fibers, plants used for dyeing may thrive in your beds

How to get these gigantic, delicious, honey-flavor fruits to thrive in a pot?

When friends come into our farmhouse for figs and a glass of homemade red wine, they savor the golf ball-size purple nuggets and ask, “Where did you buy these figs?”

“I didn’t buy them,” I say proudly. “I grew them.”

Because fig trees are associated with Mediterranean climates, most people assume that they can’t grow figs. Wrong. For over 50 years, I have been growing fig trees in containers at my family’s farm, Casa di Campagna, in Ridgefield, Connecticut. I currently have two ‘Brown Turkey’ dwarf trees and one ‘Blanche’ dwarf, which produces what is also known as the Italian honey fig.

My fig trees grow in 25-gallon, wooden, whiskey half-barrels. Large plastic tubs will also work. Whatever you choose, be sure to drill half-inch drainage holes in the bottom of each. Continue reading How to get these gigantic, delicious, honey-flavor fruits to thrive in a pot?

Be water-wise: grow a wide variety of plants, using less water and effort

Gardeners all across the continent are facing periodic drought, as well as high water bills, seasonal water restrictions, and a global concern about potable water. Considering these challenges, water-saving gardening not only makes good “green” sense, but also saves time, energy, and effort. The basic techniques are simple, whether you’re building a garden from scratch or working with what you have.


First of all, take inspiration from Mother Nature. Over the eons, she has developed a wide variety of plants that cope splendidly with drought. They tend to have deep root systems and may have thorns, hairs, or silvery foliage to keep leaves cool, reduce water loss, and reflect sunlight.

Look at the plants thriving naturally in your region. These plants will be the foundation of your water-wise garden. Consider those with long bloom times and interesting foliage as well as color and form. Look also to the arid regions of the world, taking a gardening lesson from true deserts and dry, hot, Mediterranean-type climates.

Continue reading Be water-wise: grow a wide variety of plants, using less water and effort

Protect Your Garden

Spray cold water on the leaves to dislodge them.

Stir together 1 quart of water, 1 teaspoon of liquid dish soap, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Do not dilute before spraying on plants. Soapy water solutions should be reapplied every 2 to 3 days for 2 weeks.

Purchase beneficial insects, such as lady beetles and parasitic wasps, and release them near affected plants. They will feed on aphids.


Put stiff paper or cardboard collars around plant stems, especially at transplanting time.
Sprinkle used coffee grounds around plants.

Keep up with cultivation. Cutworm moths prefer to lay eggs in high grass and weeds.

At the end of the season, plow or till the garden and mow surrounding areas to expose cutworms and destroy their winter habitat.


Put a transistor radio in your garden and keep it on all night. Switch the station when you think of it.

Set up an inexpensive motion detector light in your garden. When a deer triggers it, the light will scare the deer away.

Plant azaleas, bee balm, black-eyed Susans, coneflower, daffodils, fuchsia, lavender, lilacs, peonies, Shasta daisies, and yucca. There are no deer-proof plants, but deer seem to find these plants less appetizing. Continue reading Protect Your Garden

How to grow a Vegetable Garden in your home

Gardens are most than just a beautiful backyard decoration! It is not just an aimless past time for the hobbyist with a green thumb. It can bring you tranquility, peace, and a great appreciation for life. When you excel at gardening, these effects can prove very positive within you life.

Plant perennials that are slug-proof. Creatures like snails or slugs can destroy a plant in a single night. These pests prefer plants with thin smooth leaves. Plant some Helleborus or Euphorbias along with your other perennials. Perennials with hairy, tough leaves as well as those with unpleasant taste are not appetizing to snails and slugs. Some perennial families that snails and slugs won’t eat include Achillea, Campanula, and Helleborus.

Vegetables are softest during the warmest hours of each day, so picking them then, no matter how gently, runs the risk of damage. See to it that you cut their connection to the vine as opposed to twisting them, because twisting could hurt the plant.

Novice gardeners should read the manuals on all gardening tools and chemicals prior to using them. You might end up damaging your plants or getting a skin irritation. Directions, especially safety rules, are there for your own good, so make sure you follow instructions on your tools and chemicals to the letter. Continue reading How to grow a Vegetable Garden in your home

California kaleidoscope

FOR ME, a garden without vegetable and herbs is as barren as one without birds singing. My garden needs the perfume of sun-warmed alpine strawberries and the sounds of neighborhood children hooting with joy as they pull carrots. And I certainly can’t imagine a garden where my friends and family are not able to help me harvest ‘Sugar Snap’ peas and baby greens for an impromptu supper.

I started growing my own vegetables and herbs here in California 20 years ago after a friend casually commented, “With all your interest in cooking, I’m curious why you only grow flowers.” My answer seemed so obvious: “How can I grow vegetables when I have such a small plot, and the only sunny space is in the front yard? Everyone knows you can’t grow vegetables in the front yard!” In my mind a vegetable garden looked either like my father’s large, rectangular Victory Garden style plot or like the traditional walled kitchen gardens I’d seen at estates in England and France. My lack of space, time, and money meant neither was appropriate for my suburban property.

But my friend had struck a chord. I had fond memories of my dad’s tomatoes and strawberries and had been frustrated for years in my efforts to find fresh tarragon, red bell peppers, and other types of produce. Soon after our discussion, my friend and I started a garden in her backyard, putting in rows of corn, tomatoes, beans, and strawberries; hills of melons, squash, and pumpkins; and a bed of herbs. It was wonderfully rewarding. I learned a great deal about growing vegetables and herbs, and my cooking repertoire became entirely dependent on having dewy-fresh baby lettuces, corn that was picked minutes before, and, of course, perfectly ripe tomatoes.

I was soon frustrated, however, by having the garden miles from my kitchen. I yearned to run out and nab a few tomatoes or sprigs of thyme, and to keep an eye on ripening melons and corn. It became obvious I needed my own vegetable garden.

Thus began the slow conversion of my front yard and my ongoing odyssey with edible plants. First, I mixed a few vegetables and herbs in the flower border. I planted artichokes and let a few bloom. With their large, gray, deeply cut leaves and spectacular lavender blossoms they made a dramatic focal point at the back of a large border planted with flowers of white, purple, and pink. Among marguerite daisies, dahlias, lavender, and variegated society garlic, I tucked eggplants, red basil, oregano, and bell peppers and edged them with pink begonias, alpine strawberries, and thyme. My planting expanded year after year until mixed beds took up half the front yard. Continue reading California kaleidoscope

Winter care for a rhododendron

Rhododendrons may need help to survive the winter in regions where temperatures drop below zero and the soil freezes. These plants continue to transpire through the winter months and lose moisture through their leaves, especially on warm, windy days. When the soil is frozen, however, rhododendrons’ roots are unable to take up and replace this moisture, resulting in an irreversible break in the water supply. While this injury may not be immediately apparent, ultimately it becomes clear that branches or whole plants are dead.


As the weather cools in fall, it can be easy to forget about watering. However, continuing to irrigate your plants will ensure that they enter winter with moisture in their tissues. Until the soil freezes, use a soaker hose or sprinkler to water every couple of weeks, soaking the soil to a depth of about two feet.


Rhododendrons grow best with a year-round mulch, which helps to control weeds, conserve moisture, and provide nourishment as it breaks down. Renewing the mulch every year in late fall by applying it in a layer thick enough to reach the lower leaves will help limit the penetration of frost into the ground and allow the deepest roots to continue drawing moisture. A thick layer of winter mulch will also protect the surface roots against alternate freezing and thawing. Oak leaves, pine needles, wood chips, and ground bark are all excellent choices for mulch. It is best to avoid using peat moss, however, since it prevents water from penetrating the soil once it becomes dry.


When sprayed on leaves and branches, antidesiccants or antitranspirants such as Cloud Cover and Wiltpruf will form a thin film that seals in moisture and helps to prevent water loss during winter. While best applied before the first frost of the season, they can also be applied as late as two hours before a predicted frost. Most applications will last for about three months, but check the labels of specific brands to determine if further applications will be needed.


Rhododendrons in especially exposed locations may need further protection from bitter, drying winds. A simple windbreak can be made by driving three or four stakes into the ground around the plant and stapling or nailing burlap to the stakes. For very large plants, a two-sided, V-shaped windbreak, positioned so that the corner points in the direction of the prevailing wind, is easier to construct than one with three or four sides. Do not use plastic film for the windbreak, since it cuts off needed air circulation and can cause the plants to overheat on warm days.