Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Merry Christmas

and Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Word Origins

While dusting book shelves, I came across an old book - Word Origins and Their Romantic Stories, by Wilfred Funk, 1978 edition.

I felt compelled to stop dusting. I was never fond of dusting anyway.

I paged through trying to find something romantic, or humorous, or fascinating and stumbled across the chapter “Word Histories of Your Garden.” A few excerpts, in 1978 style, follow:

Poinsettia – The Honorable Joel Roberts Poinsett of Charleston, South Carolina, was a distinguished diplomat, Secretary of War in Martin Van Buren’s cabinet . . . appointed special minister to Mexico. It was while there that he became attracted to the large, flaming flowers that we now know so well. He brought some of the plants back to the States and his name Poinsett gave us poinsettia.

Hydrangea – The seed capsule of these showy flowers is shaped like a cup or miniature water-vessel, and when we turn to our Greek lexicon we find the component parts of hydrangea in hydr-, “water,” and angos, “seed” or “capsule.” They look like a “water” cup.

Alyssum – A dainty plant of slender, silvery leaves interspersed with fragrant clusters of small golden or white flowers. The Greeks regarded the plant as a cure for madness and so called it alysson, a-, “not,” and lysa, “madness.”

Tulip – Again among the descriptive names is tulip which, with its showy colors and velvet texture, has somewhat the appearance of a turban. The word comes to us through the obsolete French word tulipan, from tulbend, the Turkish way of saying “turban.”

Other chapters include words about humans, war words, and words of attitudes and emotions, among others.

In the chapter “Where Words about Human Beings Come From”

Fool – Let those who talk too much take care, for the Latin word folis, which gave us fool, means “a windbag.”

I think I’ll go back to dusting.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


The Euphorbiaceae is a widely diverse group of plants having about 300 genera and 7,500 species – everything from invasive spurge through succulents to poinsettia. The plants often contain milky sap. I find the differences astonishing.

The familiar poinsettia pictured here is Euphorbia pulcherrima ‘Fismars’ (Mars™ Red). It is certainly a bright holiday plant.

Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost®' is an annual. The mature height is 12 to 18 inches. I would like to try it in some of my pots next summer. Since the plant is drought tolerant, has a cascading habit and likes full sun, it should do well in the pots on the deck.

All I have to do is find it.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sustainable Landscapes

Another movement toward growing healthy plants and reducing the use of fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides is Sustainable Landscapes.

On November 1, 2007 a “Preliminary Report on the Standards & Guidelines Sustainable Sites Initiative TM” was published.
An impressive list of experts worked to create “. . . an interdisciplinary partnership to develop national, voluntary standards and guidelines for sustainable land development and management practices as well as metrics to assess site performance and a rating system to recognize achievement.”

As stated in the preliminary report:


“Establish Sustainable Sites as the standard which recognizes and provides direction for achieving sustainable land development and management through the creation and implementation of clear and rigorous design, construction, operations, and maintenance criteria.

Intended Audience

“The products of the Sustainable Sites Initiative provide tools for the land development and management industries to create positive change and lead the way to a sustainable future. The standards and guidelines are available for those who influence land practices to address increasingly urgent global concerns such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, and resource depletion. Sustainable Sites is intended to stimulate an open dialogue among a broad and diverse group of stakeholders.”

A few additional research projects and publications:

The National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and have combined efforts to create a sustainable, organic lawn area at the National Mall.

Virginia Cooperative Extension published a long Sustainable Landscape Management Series

In 2003, Rodale Institute and Pennsylvania State University started experiments with compost tea on crops.

(Picture: Longwood Gardens at dusk 12/4/07)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Integrated Pest Management


Integrated Pest Management - see

What it is.

A quote from Longwood Gardens:

“IPM does not simply mean that more pests must be tolerated or that pesticide applications should not be made. IPM seeks to find the most effective yet least intrusive way to reduce the potential impact of pests.”

What it isn’t.

It isn’t easy.

IPM starts with selecting the right plant. Healthy plants are less susceptible to stress related disease and pests. Toting mulch and compost are necessary chores. Shrubs and trees need to be pruned – plant litter cleaned up. Weeds need to be pulled. A soil test is necessary to tell exactly what the soil needs instead of fertilizing by month of the growing season. Grass may need to be mowed more than once a week in good grass weather if cut at 2 ½ to 3 inches. Understanding the life cycle of insects is essential in order to use insecticides wisely. There is a lot to learn and do.

Penn State University’s IPM publications offer loads of information for homeowners.

Creating Healthy Landscapes Series (all PDF files)
#9: Use Nature's Signals to Manage Landscape Plants

IPM may generate low maintenance lawns and gardens in the long run. Healthy plants require less upkeep. Choosing plants wisely, planting with care and conserving natural enemies will go a long way to reduce work in the yard.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Longwood - Service Area

As part of our Longwood Gardens tour, we visited the service area directly behind the Main Conservatory. (Yes, we went beyond the sign.) 30,000 square feet of state-of-the-art production greenhouses produce plants used in the exquisite displays.

Huge fans keep the greenhouses cool in summer. Cool air is pulled in from the wooded area behind the greenhouses through the tan, corrugated screen shown here behind the coleus. Miles of pipes, automatic temperature and water controls, gizmos and gadgets make it a gardener’s dream. According to Longwood’s publication, “Each greenhouse is equipped with its own computerized system that automatically controls temperature, bench and perimeter heat, snow melters, and devices for cooling and shading.”

“In the mid 1950s, Longwood began a breeding program to develop new cultivars. Today, outstanding cultivars are continually being selected and regularly introduced.” More than 100 cultvars have been introduced by Longwood Gardens Research Staff – everything from Acer platanoides ‘Stand Fast’ to Wisteria frutescens ‘Longwood Purple’.

The huge greenhouses were almost pristine inside. Believe me, there was no soil or plant litter on the floor.

The greenhouses also serve as a holding area for replacement plants for the display gardens. Tables were filled with red, pink, salmon poinsettias, bright red and white cyclamen, dusty miller.

As we walked through, an intern from Ohio expertly transplanted snapdragon seedlings Antirrhinum majus ‘Appleblossom’. (Picture in bloom ) They should make a beautiful display.

A long row of Velvet Groundsel - Roldana petasitis lined one of the service halls. It is considered a “pest plant” in New Zealand. (Here is a picture in bloom )

It would be fun to return to Longwood in another season to look for the plants we saw in the greenhouses.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Longwood Gardens

I visited Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square yesterday with the Coplay Garden Club and came home on sensory overload.

Pierre du Pont bought the Peirce farm in 1906 and began creating what would become Longwood Gardens. Today, extensive educational programs, plant research, performing arts programs, and displays keep visitors amazed.

After a spectacular lunch, we started in the Main Conservatory which was built in 1919 and houses 20 indoor gardens and over 5,500 plants.

An over-the-top display of pink poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima 'Pink'), grey dusty miller (Senecio cineraria ‘Cirrus’), pink amaryllis (Hippeastrum 'Vera') greeted us in the Orangery. The Main Exhibition Hall fashioned a peaceful splendor with fountain, palm trees and evergreens.

Winterberry enhanced the natural flow of the East Conservatory. The park-like setting is complete with a stream and grass and accented with red cyclamen (Cyclamencoum) and white Easter Lilies, (Lilium longiflorum).

And that was just the beginning of our tour of 4.5 acres of covered gardens. I’ll continue with more of the highlights next time.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Christmas Cactus

The first to bloom. The attractive white/pale pink cactus started to bloom on November 17. The red and orange blooming cacti are setting buds. To be continued . . .

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


A blizzard of leaves covered the yard like golden snow.

Our maple trees hold on to their leaves longer than any tree in our neighborhood. We had a cold night last Friday (27 degrees) and all the leaves seemed to drop at once. Well, most of them.

We ran over the leaves with the lawn mower. Then we raked and carried the chopped leaves to the compost bin. When the bin was full, we made a pile under an evergreen tree. The balance made a pile in the gutter to be picked up by the city to add to the community compost pile. I love recycling.

I can almost hear those leaves turning into black gold. And the price is right (if you don’t mind a little work).

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Cornell Lab of Ornithology “All About Birds” is a great informational site

There are identifying keys, audio and video recordings. In the search feature of the Bird Guide (tab), type cardinal or robin or a bird of your choice. It will bring up sites where you can read a description of the bird, learn about its habitat or listen to its sound.

I used the site last May when cardinals built a nest in a holly outside our living room window - an exciting birds eye view, so to speak. The information on the site helped me follow the process from eggs to fledglings leaving the nest.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Diagnosing Plant Problems

"Diagnosing plant problems requires patience"

The above title was posted by Karen Bernhard, Entomologist, Lehigh Co. Cooperative Extension, on November 8th on The Morning Call web site

Many times the folks at the County Extension office know what’s happening with your plant, lawn, vegetable, shrub or tree because they have received other calls or they are seeing the same problem in their own gardens. Sometimes the information will be posted on the blog.

Sometimes the question is extremely difficult to answer. These are the problems that take time and patience. Is it caused by a bug, a virus, bacteria? Or is it cultural – the weather, site problems, hardiness problems, problem with sprays, or a host of other reasons?

In the Master Gardener Blog, a helpful questionnaire is posted under “Garden Resources” in the right-hand column. Click “Send Questions to a Master Gardener.” Click again on “Submit your questions online”. The form will give you some idea of the information needed to accurately assess the problem.

If it is a really difficult problem, you may be asked to bring a sample. Take as much of the plant as you can. Often the answer is in the transition zone between the good growth and the problem zone. Sometimes it is even in the roots. The samples will need to be fresh. If you can’t get to the office right away, store the sample in a plastic bag, keep it cool and get it there as soon as possible. When you call, the people at the Extension Office will advise you how to handle the specimen.

A helpful guide for the do-it-yourself gardener “A Guide to Diagnosing Diseases of Landscape Plants” Virginia Cooperative Extension

If you have a difficult problem, be prepared for a tough answer.

- Sometimes there is nothing you can do. The plant is toast.
- Treatment may be delayed until another season. A pesticide may only work at a certain stage of the insect’s life.
- Sometimes there’s nothing you need to do. It will eventually go away.

Hopefully, the people at the extension will be able to provide a plan of action and not a dire diagnosis.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Promise of Spring

Even though I’m in the “season of brown” mentally, there are signs everywhere of the promise of spring.

The PJM Rhododendron with its burgundy tinted leaves cradling buds waiting to explode next April.

Buds of the Dogwood trees pop straight up among the fall colored leaves.

Pussy Willow buds swell in anticipation of late winter sun.

Azaleas and Rhododendron buds wait for April.

Time to get over the brown mood. It’s time for a garden tour! The Coplay Garden Club’s Longwood Garden tour will be a treat. Then there are the house plants – the Christmas cacti are setting buds. The topiaries need a trim. The amaryllis will bloom. The cuttings are growing and will need to be cut and rooted. There are flower shows to look forward to. And all those flower and garden catalogues. I’ll need to asses this year’s garden and make a plan for next year. I have a few new garden books on my Christmas list that will keep me reading through the winter. It’s time to rake leaves. So, I guess I’m over the "season of brown" mood. There’s too much to do.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Color Before the Frost

Last week:

Even though the Mums fell over in a windy rain, the bright colors remained.

Snapdragons were not about to give in to a light frost.

Hydrangea color lingered among bright green leaves.

Even the Impatiens held their own while waiting for the compost pile.

The Sweet Peas were happy in cool weather.

After the frost this week most of the colors are gone. A few Mums hang on but I see the beginning of what I call, “the season of brown.” Thank goodness for evergreens!

Saturday, November 10, 2007


The Canna plants were beginning to look a little tired and showing burn from the frost on the edges of the leaves. Time to dig them out. It may be a little early according to some experts but I have to work in the garden when time and weather permit. Don't we all? (See October 15, 2006 post)

I cut off the large stalks about 3 to 4 inches from the ground. The stalks are waiting to be taken to the city compost center. I dug the rhizomes with a garden fork. Trying to keep as many roots as possible, I turned them upside down and let them dry for a few hours. I gently cleaned off most of the soil and put them in the wheel barrow and a plastic container to finish drying.

Once they are dry, I’ll store them in a cool (not freezing) area of the garage in a container and surround the rhizomes with peat moss. I’ll check them from time to time over the winter to make sure they are not too dry or too wet. If they are too dry, I’ll cover the container. If they are too wet, I’ll add more peat moss.

The rhizomes are huge masses again this year. Next spring I’ll separate the rhizomes, keeping at least 2 or 3 eyes per cutting, and re-plant. Hopefully, I can give some away to my friends this year because I know they will multiply again next summer. I hope I never run out of friends!

Cannas by Quality Gladiolus Gardens has some helpful tips on growing cannas Old House Gardens also has some great tips for care of all kinds of spring planted rhizomes and tubers

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Tree of Heaven

The Tree of Heaven is not a heavenly tree. This invasive tree was imported from China in 1784 and rapidly spread in the US. It was greeted as a great landscape tree because it grew fast and had no natural enemies. In China it is known as “stinking chun”. I hear the leaves and male flowers smell like rotten peanut butter.

Tree of Heaven resembles a Sumac. The leaves reveal the difference.

Tree of Heaven has one to three serrations at the base of the leaf.

The Sumac leaf is serrated throughout.

The Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) is difficult to get rid of once it is established. It spreads by seeds and root suckers. It can grow 10 to 15 feet a year. Repeated and frequent cutting before it gets large is recommended. For larger trees, the stump may need to be painted with an herbicide immediately after cutting. Vigilance is required to eliminate suckers that pop up. It may take 2 or 3 years to totally eliminate it in the landscape.

More information from Maryland Department of Natural Resources - Forest Service:

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Lawn Weeds

Two obnoxious weeds have invaded our lawn in the last few years. They are described in Penn State’s “Weed Management in Turf” publication as follows.

Nimblewill (Muhlenbergia schreberi)

Nimblewill is a blue-green perennial grass that is common in Pennsylvania lawns during summer. It spreads over existing turf by stolons and forms dense patches. Leaf blades have a medium texture (about ¼ inch wide) and are short (1½ to 2 inches) with leaf tips tapering to an abrupt point. The stems are long, slender, and wiry with prominent nodes. Ligules are short, membranous, and jagged. The leaf blades have long hairs at the margins but do not possess auricles. Seedheads are long, slender, and inconspicuous. Nimblewill grows rapidly during the warm summer months and turns brown or tan in winter.

Ground ivy (Glecoma hederacea)

Ground ivy is a low-growing, creeping, perennial broadleaf weed. Leaves are oppositely arranged on stems and are round or kidney-shaped with scalloped margins. The upper leaf surface has distinct veins and is sparsely hairy. Stems are square, creeping, and long. Ground ivy produces nodes that root at leaf and stem axils and that can form new stolons. Flowers are blue or purple and trumpet-shaped. This weed is most common in shaded areas, but it can also grow in full sun.

Penn State web sites contain information to help a homeowner deal responsibly with their lawn and

Turfgrass serves many purposes - earth cooling, open space, a playground, an athletic field, a filter, to reduce soil erosion, to increase property value, a frame for your flower or vegetable garden - among others.

With good lawn care management, some patience, and a little common sense and we won’t end up polluting the earth with chemicals. Every expert recommends taking a soil sample (see September 29, 2007 post). That way you can be sure to add only the fertilizers or herbicides (either organic or chemical) that the lawn can use.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Frogs and Toads

I’ve been doing some research on how frogs and toads benefit the garden.

According to Frogs by Dan Greenberg – Benchmark Books 2001: “The American toad is indeed a voracious eater of garden pests. One study estimated that 88 percent of the toad’s diet consisted of insects that were harmful to garden plants, including mosquitoes, locusts, grasshoppers, snails, slugs and hairy caterpillars.”

I’m lucky because there are a lot of American toads in the neighbor’s pond. I love to listen to the trill on a warm spring evening. You can listen to the cacophony here: About 100 feet of vegetative growth separates our deck from the pond reducing the toads love song to pleasant background music.

I plan to add a few toad houses to my garden next summer. You can find some ideas here: or here

Why are frogs so happy? Because they eat what bugs them.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Fall Garden Cleanup

A few days of badly needed rain has caused a temporary halt in garden cleanup.

In the last few weeks, I managed to get a few things done.

Even though we have not had a frost, I’ve been emptying pots and composting the potted annuals. The pots were cleaned and stored for the winter. The pot pictured is ready to roll toward the compost bin. I never do a great job of cleaning pots before I put them away. I dump the soil and brush out a little remaining soil. I use new soil mix in spring and I haven’t had any problems. I guess this is OK but I’m sure there are better methods.

I cut back a few of the black-eyed Susan and cone flowers. I leave some for the small birds to feed on. They like the little seed heads.

I cut back and cleaned the iris bed a few weeks ago. This is the first year I’ve done this. Most years I tend to ignore the mess altogether. The yellow iris blooms profusely every year with almost no care at all. I hope the iris like being neat and tidy for a change.

The peonies were cut off and discarded in the trash. They were a mildewed, unsightly mess.

I picked the last of the tomatoes and pulled the plant the other day before the rain. I harvested 8 green tomatoes and one almost ripe. Most of them will ripen off the vine – or become green fried tomatoes. Next year I want to try Brandyboy tomatoes if I can find them. It's large beefsteak that I’ve heard good things about from other gardeners.

If we get a frost this weekend, I’ll cut off canna stalks. I’ll dig up the canna tubers with a garden fork. They will be dried and stored in peat moss in a cool place for the winter. The rest of the annuals will need to be cleaned out of the garden.

Hopefully, I’ll have time to spread some compost and mulch before leaf raking starts in earnest.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


As I slowly work on garden cleanup (who could rush in such glorious weather), I continually stop to admire the plants.

The mums in bloom, the grasses against a blue sky, the annuals bright colors and even the obnoxious beans on the locust tree grab my attention.

It’s hard to get serious about cleanup with all that’s still happening in the garden. Even the resident bunny is lulled into a leisurely, relaxed life.