Organic Gardening News

Can’t Keep Mum

Organic Gardening 2 - Sat, 2022-10-29 08:00

It’s no secret I love my edible garden. Nothing beats eating fresh from your own landscape. I also love my flowers. The perennials are currently finishing up their last blooms, but there is a ray of hope. The mums are flowering, and the asters are in full bud. The fall crocus are here, with their delicate pink petals. Some things are changing, but I still have my flowers.

Autumn Flowers

The nights are getting cooler. In fact, I have had to put on pants to do evening outside chores. These are the first pants in months (shorts being optimal). I was even tempted to turn on the heat one evening but decided that was admitting defeat. The end of season harvest is almost over, some leaves are turning, and the corn husks are drying out. I guess this means the end of one thing and beginning of another.

It’s always hard to say goodbye to the warm weather and growing season. The smell of wood smoke is in the air, not due to wildfires, but from home fireplaces. When I get up there are sparkles of dew on the grass and I am reducing watering by half, since the soil is not drying as quickly. All in all, these are the unmistakable signs of fall’s approach.

Autumn is actually a favorite season of mine. I love starting to get cozy inside. It is a time when I can get lazy and read all day, watch movies, or just knit. It is also time for brightly colored winter pansies, fall hued Chrysanthemums, and bright purple Asters. Fall flowers help greatly with the transition from warmth to cold, growth to hibernation, and sundresses to fleece.

Mums and Other Fall Flowers

Our property’s previous owner adored her flowers, and it is obvious from February until November. We only have a couple of months without blooming plants outside. Fall is no exception with huge, bushy Chrysanthemums adorned with brilliant yellow flowers. If I deadhead them, their cheery countenances keep producing until a hard freeze. I added the Asters. I love the rayed blooms in their tones of blue to purple. The crocus to which I referred are actually not really crocus, although they are called Autumn crocus. They are Colchicum, another genus entirely. The pink flowers come up without any foliage and are iridescent pink. They almost glow with an otherworldly aura.

There are still plenty of flowers hanging in there. The petunias are going gang busters, while the coral bells have bright salmon blooms that are still feeding the hummingbirds. I don’t lack color in the garden, but the presence of the previously mentioned fall flowers is an undeniable signal. It’s okay. I have plenty of summer food put up to take us through the winter. My summer clothes can be retired and will seem new when I unveil them again next year. My winter coat beckons some evenings. The sunsets have been beautiful. I’m ready for a snuggly winter rest, before I’m back outside with a vengeance, eager to tend my lovely garden and start the first of the vegetables.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Brian Minter: Outdoor plants are the perfect complement to seasonal decor

Organic Gardening - Fri, 2022-10-28 12:00
This fall, we are seeing far more designer pumpkins, corn stalks and hay bales, as well as colour-matching large chrysanthemums on front porches
Categories: Organic Gardening

My Secret Fall Delight

Organic Gardening 2 - Fri, 2022-10-28 08:00

Many people list spring as their absolute favorite season, and who can argue with that? New flowers after a long winter brighten the hardest heart. But I am one who lives for autumn and its incredible sensual delights. While the fragrant roses may have passed, the invigorating yet comforting smell of crackling fires and burning autumn leaves utterly fills up my senses.

Outdoor Scents in Fall, from Sweet to Acrid

The sweet smell of apples ripening in the orchard. Crimson and orange leaves flaming on the maple. The spicy odor of pumpkin pies in the oven. The rich fragrance of hot cocoa in a mug. The burnt-sugar smell of marshmallows roasting. The crisp, clean, blank pages in new notebooks ready for the school year. The soft, sweet fragrance of the rain clouds approaching.

It’s hard not to be head-over-heels in love with the sights and smells of autumn. It is, for me, the sensual season, where the entire world of nature seems to put on an incredible party to celebrate the end of summer.

Fall as a New Beginning

For me, it is a time of beginnings, not endings. That may sound strange, since many consider fall as a nostalgic moment to think back on joys that came and disappeared during the bright, sunny months of summer.

But I have been a perpetual student, going from my community college days to a four-year university for my BA, then getting a masters and other degrees. And in between the degree programs, I have taken many classes. Like what? I’ve done extensive language classes, motorcycle training, photography courses, botany classes and a lengthy program to train as a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. I have taught English literature and English conversation classes in France.

Most of these programs and courses began… you guessed it! They began in the fall, so that is why I feel my life blood quickening as the leaves begin to fall.

Favorite Fall Smell

My favorite fall smell is the heady, evocative smell of outdoor fires, and especially burning leaves. Given the truly destructive wildfires that have caused loss of life, property and forests in both California and France, I am slightly hesitant to admit this. Fire can be an incredibly destructive force.

Yet nothing says “fall” to me in a more powerful way than the snap and crackle of a small fire in the backyard, especially when the sweet, acrid smell of burning dried leaves is part of it. I heat my home in France with wood, so there is always a bit of a fire on cool evenings, but the joy of sitting by the outdoor fire pit, with its dancing flames and pluming smoke, is truly a sensual experience.

And then there are the foods I cook on outdoor fires, starting with the traditional marshmallows, but not limited to them. Roasting vegetables, seared veggie burgers, baked potatoes buried in the ashes: all adding delicious fragrances with promises of delicious eating ahead.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

More Than Just A Pretty Potted Plant

Organic Gardening 2 - Thu, 2022-10-27 08:00

Chrysanthemums have long been one of my absolute favorite plants to grow in the fall. Dwarf potted chrysanthemums were among the very first flowers I ever attempted to grow in my home landscape. For a novice gardener, their ease of growth and pronounced beauty was very much a celebrated success.

Mums in the Fall

Having not yet taken the plunge into the world of cut flower growing, my main objective in growing the plant was simply to add a bright burst of color to my home outdoor space. In addition to welcoming new visitors to my front porch, the potted chrysanthemums served as a much needed source of optimism as the cool, rainy days of fall approached. Beyond the very first growing season, my love of chrysanthemum plants quickly morphed from a mere interest in autumn decor, to an extensive collection of heirloom plants of varying shapes, sizes, and forms.  

Potted Mums

Potted chrysanthemum plants are celebrated for their size, and for their usefulness. Reaching a maximum of only 2 ft. (60 cm.) in height, these plants are ideal for ornamental use indoors and in small spaces. Though smaller, more compact hybrid varieties have become commonplace at garden centers and home improvement stores, diversity among chrysanthemum species is actually quite impressive. In fact, it is not uncommon for some heirloom varieties to grow to upwards of 4 ft. (1.2 m) tall, with exceptionally strong stems. For cut flower growers and chrysanthemum enthusiasts, this added height can be an attribute worthy of praise. Though growing mums can be a labor of love, the process of finding and propagating one’s own favorite chrysanthemum cultivars can be fun and exciting.

Varieties of Mums

Chrysanthemums range greatly in color. With the exception of true blue and black, gardeners are likely able to find blooms in nearly every shade. Though sometimes referred to as “football mums,” growers generally classify chrysanthemum types by the size and shape of the bloom, with each displaying flowers described as reflexed or incurved. Reflexed chrysanthemums are often compared, in form, to zinnias. Various types of incurved flower structures can vary, but must display petals which curve upwards in some way.

Heirloom chrysanthemums may also demonstrate one of several other flower shapes, as well. Among the most common are decorative, which are frequently seed in bedding varieties, and pompom. More specialty plants, like spoon types and those with spider-quill flowers, may be more difficult to obtain. 

Due to the ease at which chrysanthemums are able to be propagated, growers can quickly and efficiently multiply their plant stock at relatively little cost. Doing so each spring by taking and rooting cuttings, is a certain way to ensure large expanses of color with the arrival of cooler weather in autumn. Where hardy, each of these perennial plants can then be overwintered, with the process beginning again the following spring. Fortunately for those living outside of the plant’s growing zone, dormant plants may also be overwintered indoors, as a means to save and protect plant stock throughout the coldest months of the year.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Mums In The Garden And Fall Displays

Organic Gardening 2 - Wed, 2022-10-26 08:00

Nothing beats chrysanthemum flowers for fall décor. I love them! Although I live in an area where these plants are hardy, I usually treat them as annuals. I’ve previously planted more than my fair share of mums in the garden, and finding space for others isn’t that easy. Still, you can’t beat those late summer/early fall plant sales when chrysanthemums are readily available. The colorful blooms add instant appeal to the front porch, or anywhere a little pop of color is needed.

Ssh! Mum’s the Word

It goes without saying that I’m only human and, as such, I’m far from perfect. While I have planted numerous mums in the garden, they don’t always flourish. – OMG, what? Everyone thought you were a bona fide gardener. How can this be? 

As sad as that is, it’s true. It doesn’t matter how long someone has been a gardener or how much inciteful info they might know, not every plant will perform perfectly for everyone. My mother, for example, has been a gardener far longer than me. I’ve seen few plants she couldn’t grow, like my grandfather before her. Yet, she struggles with getting zinnias to grow, one of the easiest flowers (in my opinion) to cultivate. For me, the challenge is normally with succulents, though the chrysanthemum’s life beyond fall in my garden can be a bit iffy too. Some of them grow beautifully for years but then simply go kaput. Others struggle in our summer drought, as the plants tend to prefer moisture. I’ve even had mums that, well, just don’t grow as big and lush as they once did, or put their blooms out in spring and never again (even with pinching). Whatever the case may be, it never hurts to acquire more, whether it’s through the seasonal sales or by propagating new plants from cuttings of current ones. And I’m always doing one or the other, or both.

Nowadays I’m just happy to have them around me for however long they wish to be here. If they make it through another fall season blessing me with colorful blooms, I consider that a win. And if not, I just enjoy them while I can. Annuals are always welcome. They serve their purpose well, offering up instantaneous color and seasonal appeal. Mums work well in fall displays with pumpkins, gourds, corn stalks and the like, but they’re just as impactful on their own. While different gardeners have different struggles, they share different tastes as well. Mums will always have a place on my front stoop each year, and if they make it beyond that in the garden, I’ll take that too.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

No Pumpkin Spice For Me

Organic Gardening 2 - Tue, 2022-10-25 08:00

I love spring when the newly greening plants erupt from the soil. Summer has its place with burgeoning temperatures and longer days, and winter is beautiful when the landscape is coated in snow. But hands down, my favorite season is fall.

Fall has it all. Daytime temperatures are still warm but the nights are cool enough to sleep snuggly. Color in the landscape abounds with late blooming asters and chrysanthemums, and the smell… well the smell is incredible.

What Is it About Fall?

When I was a kid a million years ago, fall’s arrival was heralded by the aroma of burning leaves and other yard detritus. Fast forward light years and while burning in the city is now illegal there remains a smell above all others that I adore: the decay of fallen leaves.

I know decaying leaves doesn’t sound very romantic — in fact it sounds a bit macabre — but it turns out that there is science behind this elusive aroma. The decaying of fall leaves and other plants is chemically, biologically and psychologically entrenched in people. It all comes down to the sense of smell really.

When we smell something, receptors in our noses pick up aromatic molecules from the air. In the summer, hot, muggy air holds more of these scented molecules so when we breathe in we are assaulted with a miasma of aromas; so many it is difficult to pick any one scent out.

In the fall however, the cooler drier air allows us to smell more specific scents… that and the fact that there are fewer trees and plants blooming and growing. So we can more easily pluck out specific aromas such as that of leaves decaying.

Emotional Olfactory Response

The smell is then emotional, as it triggers the brain to recall memories associated with it. Now of course, for some people the smell of fall leaves might be unpleasant (or they are allergic), but to me it reminds me of playing in leaves with my sister when we were children.

So what do decaying fall leaves smell like? Well it would be different for different people but the science behind the aroma is that as leaves decay their sugars break down which to my nose at least, results in a musky/sweet scent.

Just writing about the smell has me recalling my childhood. The crunch, crunch of my boots through the dead leaves and our shrieks of laughter as my sister and I plowed into a pile freshly raked up by my father.

So, way before there was a pumpkins spiced latte available on every corner, the smell of rotting leaves is what reminds me of fall and I still love it.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Kinder Youth Gardens

Organic Gardening 2 - Mon, 2022-10-24 10:00

We responded to Cherease Glaspar’s application for a Gardening Know How sponsorship with a resounding yes. She is at the helm of the Kinder Youth Gardens in Harris County, Texas. 

The Harris County Kinder Shelter program exists to provide young victims of child abuse, as well as runaway and homeless youth, with holistic resources to teach them skillsets that will benefit them into adulthood. 

Children at the Kinder Youth Gardens have usually arrived by way of Harris County’s protective services for children and adults. They often come here on a non-voluntary basis through the schools and courts, but this is also a safe shelter for kids who may be homeless or having problems at home. The good people here work on placing these children and finding services for them so that if and when they return home, the services are in place. Services and education are offered to parents, as well, such as workshops for common sense parenting. The center is open 24 hours a day, and therapists are available for guidance at any time.

The former director of the program was with this agency for forty years. Over time she had made numerous requests for a garden within the shelter’s grounds, knowing that the best thing for these young people would be to get outside and experience healthy physical activity. The garden was her last request before she retired. The executive director was able to find the money in their budget and, along with hard work and community donations, five raised garden beds materialized on the property. Cherease says, “With a blessing and a prayer” the garden was furnished with seeds, soil and the energy to get it going last year.

Leadership and Gardening

When Cherease and the staff asked what kids and their parents wanted from the agency, they took the response to heart. The parents and children wanted a positive youth program that would teach leadership skills with a focus on at-risk kids. The garden turns out to be a great forum for practicing leadership skills. 

Kids who are involved in learning leadership skills help other kids in shelter, as well as in the garden. As a group, they talk a lot about asset-building, and working the garden falls into that category. They’ve partnered with a local grocery store for obtaining buckets. The kids plant their vegetables and flowers in their own buckets and take plants along with them when they leave the program. They’ve also learned how to carefully transplant growing tomato plants into buckets so they can be taken home. 

Cherease and the kids do everything in the garden. Cherease oversees the process, and the children plant what they want. This often includes tomatoes, peppers, hot peppers and bell peppers. They plan to grow cucumbers in the summer, and some want sunflowers. In fact, one garden bed is dedicated to sunflowers. Young people at the shelter are invited to do what they know and what they’re good at in the garden. For some, turning the soil is a rewarding activity, and others enjoy watering and feeding the plants 


Cherease enjoys explaining the cycles of plant growth: from seed to sprout, and how the small yellow flower on a tomato plant will turn into a green tomato, which will eventually grow and turn red. This is fascinating to her students, and they often take photos of each stage of the plant to look back and see the process. They have recently been learning on the Gardening Know How site about how to propagate sweet potatoes.

Along with Cherease, the kids do most of the maintenance work. Some retirees return to do volunteer work and there are a couple of staff members who like to help out. 

Produce from the garden is shared among the kids and staff. This year they are practicing a farm to table theme, learning to cook with whatever they’ve planted. The agency holds bi-weekly cooking classes. A chef comes in and teaches the kids to make salads and basil pesto with produce they’ve grown and harvested from the basil they’ve grown in cups. Any excess produce is donated to the Houston food bank. On Earth Day this year the kids volunteered at the park garden where they observed different kinds of gardens.  

The agency is supporting Cherease as she studies to become a Master Gardener at the Texas A&M extension service. All her mandated volunteer hours are spent at this garden. 

The very idea that children can be homeless or displaced is disturbing, but with agencies like this one, they are afforded experiences they would not otherwise get. We’re honored to be able to help out, and hope for the best for all of these kids. We thank Cherease and her co-workers as we, too, are learning the incredible value of involving children in gardening.

Learn More About Our School And Community Garden Sponsorship Program

Every year, Gardening Know How awards $1,000 to 20 different, hand-picked garden projects across the United States and Canada. If your community or school garden has a growing, unmet need for more soil, seeds, fertilizers, building materials, or even just help getting the word out about your program, we’re ready and willing to help you meet those needs. As community gardens and school gardening programs spring up all over, we’re happy to do our part to help.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Gardening By Instinct

Organic Gardening 2 - Sun, 2022-10-23 08:00

As a new, young gardener, I wanted to do everything right in the garden. That means, during my first year’s gardening, I did way more than was good for the plants and wildlife. As I gained experience, I learned that I could rely on Mother Nature to take care of her botanical children in large part. But I still have plenty to do in the garden.

First Year’s Gardening

I started gardening when I moved to France and it almost killed me. I’m exaggerating, but I was a typical newbie, getting up at dawn to pluck out weeds that had ventured to stick their head up during the night.  And considering that I had more than an acre of land to nurture, it took a lot out of me.

In addition to the veggie garden, I had installed roses – the only roses on the entire mountain. Of course, aphids appeared quickly, and another of my daily gardening tasks in that era was inspecting both sides of every rose leaf. I also planted trees and began a losing battle to keep the wild Basque ponies called pottoks from coming in to eat the new young shoots. By the time August arrived, I needed a long vacation.

Relaxing in the Garden

I have to admit, this is my classic behavior when I start learning something: I am so afraid I will do it wrong that I get felled by the stress. When I arrived in France, I also started to learn to cook and was equally stressed about following recipes, carefully measuring everything three times and setting a timer to be sure I stirred exactly the right amount of minutes.

Fortunately, my traveling companion was a great cook and very casual about it. He never measured anything, sprinkled in the ingredient according to instinct and taught me to stop being so worried about it. This attitude quickly spread over to yard work and I found myself relaxing in the garden; I stopped worrying about precision in my daily gardening tasks and started enjoying it a lot more.

Gardening by Instinct

These days, when I am in France, I still spend a lot of time in the garden, but my daily gardening tasks are history. I consider the weather and my energy level, and quickly determine what would be the best way to spend my garden time.

I call this gardening by instinct, doing whatever strikes me at the moment as most important. The days of fearing weeds are far behind me. So what do I do when I first head to the garden in the morning? I take a stroll around the entire grounds, looking here and there, admiring colors and textures and noting new shoots, spotting mushrooms in season, and letting it all sink in. By the time I am done with the tour, I know exactly what I should do in the garden that day.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

My Desk Plant

Organic Gardening 2 - Sat, 2022-10-22 08:00

As a bona fide plant girl, I have to have plants in every room and my office is no exception. I get very little light in this room, but I do have several plant lights set up to keep my babies happy. There is even a small greenhouse in the corner for super special specimens. I’m also a fairly lazy plant mama and really enjoy the varieties that take little time and care. So, I ordered a self-contained plant that has the moisture and nutrients it needs all in one glass cloche. It is one of the easiest office plants I possess.

Growing Small Plants

I like anything that is miniature. I happen to have two very tiny cats that could almost be considered dwarf felines. Small is simply charming and this extends to plants. This might explain my interest in bonsai, which are developed from full sized plants. By careful root pruning even a Douglas fir can be contained in a small, shallow dish.

When plant catalog time occurs in February, it is always fun to look at new introductions of plants. Since plant breeding is an ongoing process, I can usually count on a new variety of a favorite plant, often one that has been downsized. Mini versions of a standard never fail to fascinate. They have a Siren’s lure to possess and enjoy, a trait that breeders will certainly capitalize on and encourage.

My smallest plant is a tiny sundew. It originally came in a sealed glass dome. Sundews are a group of around 130 species, with some as large as a bush, and others as small as one’s pinkie imprint. My little guy is a mini sundew and had some agar or something in the container to provide it with nutrients. The sealed dome retains moisture. The idea is that the whole thing is self-sufficient and won’t need any care.

Well, I have had it for nearly a year now and the roots that can be seen in the glass are huge, so I decided it was time to liberate the plant. Research shows it may be grown in moss. My first problem was finding something in which to grow such a tiny specimen. Honestly a thimble would be appropriate, but I only have one and putting drainage holes in that would be difficult. I searched around the house for any suitable container and found some small, clear containers I had purchased for air plants. The cats got hold of the air plants so the little containers, which have suction cups to attach to tile or windows, are available. This looks like the perfect place for growing sundew.

I nestled my mini sundew in a bed of dampened sphagnum moss. I put the container on the side of the interior of the greenhouse. Since they are carnivorous plants, I deduced that the occasional fungal gnat I get would provide adequate food. It has wee little, sticky leaves that will ensnare tiny bugs. The bug will eventually melt into the leaf, providing necessary nutrients. So far, the plant is doing well. It is surrounded by other tiny plants, as I get some of my seeds going.

I’m not sure how big my sundew plant will get, but I know they are very slow growers. I’m quite sure its current home will be sufficient for years. I enjoyed the enclosed plant so much that I have ordered another. It is a mini moss terrarium, which I’m quite sure I will enjoy.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Brian Minter: Let’s all make an effort to support stressed trees and plants with water

Organic Gardening - Fri, 2022-10-21 12:00
Opinion: In a record drought situation, like this current one, with so many trees and plants at risk, we share a responsibility to help them survive.
Categories: Organic Gardening

Tried And Tried Again

Organic Gardening 2 - Fri, 2022-10-21 08:00

I like to experiment in my vegetable garden, whether with new varieties of tried and true veggies or new types of vegetables to grow. Most of the time, these newbies are successful, but that wasn’t the case when I tried to grow sweet potatoes.

Growing Sweet Potato Slips in Water

In our circle of friends, most of us know a good-hearted cat person. While the image of a gray-haired granny feeding the neighborhood strays comes to mind, I’m talking about any cat lover who goes out of their way to help a feline. I’m this way, except with plants.

I can’t resist stray plants. These could be volunteer tomatoes that I transplant to more appropriate areas of the garden, or flowers that somehow manage to pop up in the middle of the yard. So naturally when I saw my unused Thanksgiving sweet potato sending up sprouts in midwinter, I couldn’t resist rescuing these wayward plants-to-be.

Not having anything to lose, I carefully snapped off the slips and plopped them in a glass of water. Having absolutely no experience with growing sweet potatoes in Ohio, I had no idea if this was the correct way to root slips. Luckily, my plant intuition proved to be right.

My rescues soon grew roots. I eventually got around to planting them in the garden, but the vines never took off. They exhibited lackluster growth and when I dug them up in the fall, only a few roots contained pencil-thin enlargements. With this disappointment under my belt, I didn’t try again for a few more years.

Try, Try Again

I attributed my failure to the long sweet potato growing season. Most varieties require 90 to 120 days to reach maturity. Statistically, we have enough frost-free weather in Northern Ohio, but I’ve seen late frosts in June and early frosts in September. Realistically, growing long-season crops in my area is a gamble.

Yet, there is something about a failed effort to grow a plant that doesn’t sit well with me. I simply don’t like Mother Nature telling me what I can and can’t grow. So I gathered up my gardening courage and tried again. This time, I planted earlier in the season and covered the newly-planted slips with cut-off 2-liter soda bottles.

This gardening hack did the trick. That fall, I harvested quite a few large sweet potatoes. I have since tried growing sweet potatoes in pots with equal success. When my store-bought sweet potatoes sent up shoots, I placed the slips in water and potted them up as soon as they had 2 inch (5 cm.) long roots.

I kept the planters in a sunny spot in the house over the winter. I admit their growth wasn’t very impressive inside the house. But come spring, I began hardening off the vines like I do the veggie seedlings I start indoors. By the time the nights were warm enough to leave the sweet potatoes outdoors, the plants were well under way.

I was impressed by my harvest of container-grown sweet potatoes. Plus, I realized the benefits of harvesting sweet potatoes grown in a pot. I simply dumped the planter. No marred skins from digging tools and no overlooked potatoes. Lesson learned!

If at first we don’t succeed as gardeners, there’s always a new growing season next year!

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Comfort Is Always Classy

Organic Gardening 2 - Thu, 2022-10-20 08:00

Everyone has their own style and manner of living. This is reflected in outdoor decor and furnishings. I call our style country modern, a mixture of modern furniture with traditional Latin country fabrics, pillows, rugs, and knickknacks. The overall effect emphasizes comfort, a truly relaxing area that we enjoy with family and friends, surrounded by large planters and bright flowers.

Country Modern Living

We spend most of our time outdoors when it isn’t winter. That means outdoor decor that is comfortable and adaptable. The style outside is modern country, while the interior is contemporary. Both have their appeal, but the exterior decor is durable but soothing. It encourages kicking back and taking in the view. 

We have a bit of Mexican flair in our patio. There are several terra cotta pots with traditional etching and large bright cobalt blue containers that recall Mexico’s azure sea. There is an outdoor rug in Mexican patterns of indigo and cobalt. I have several statues acquired from past trips to Mexico, as well as some clay masks dotted about. Smaller collectables peek out from the lips of planters and among the foundation plantings. Inside my home, I don’t tolerate many dust catchers, preferring to have small items as outdoor decor. 

There are also larger decor pieces. A wrought iron sunflower taller than a man anchored by a rustic, huge stone. My rusty metal mariachi band frogs the size of toddlers. Each one has a different instrument and are from a Latin import store. I guess I like a combination of whimsy and kitsch in my outside adornments. 

Outdoor Furniture

The anchors of the patio are the couches. They were originally in cream fabric, a ridiculous color for outdoors. I made my own covers for them out of marine fabric that is water proof, nearly indestructible, and fade resistant. I also covered the back pillows in the same fabric and then got another outdoor patterned fabric to make throw pillows. They are a cozy place to take a siesta or read a book, and have been the site of numerous parties and BBQs. Flanking the couches which are arranged in a U-shape, are several other chairs, with similarly upholstered cushions. 

I always feel that one area to relax outdoors isn’t enough. We had an outdoor fireplace built of rock that we removed. It was on a small cement pad. There is a love seat and matching chairs in sunflower yellow in this area. It also contains a Mexican tile topped, iron legged table which is my pride and joy. Here we also have an outdoor heater to warm up chilly Autumn evenings. 

There is one more mostly outdoor area. We have a covered porch with 2 side walls. We installed mesh on the front to keep out the bugs and it is here that we can extend our outdoor time well into fall and early in spring. Big comfy chairs, a coffee table, and storage for our sunhats and mud boots. A very simple area, but one we use in cooler, rainy weather on a daily basis. 

Inside is comparatively boring. I like clean lines, neutral tones, and little in the way of tchotchkes. Art on the walls provides decor. And of course, plants. Lots and lots of plants! They help enliven our days while we wait to resume our outdoor living. 

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Finding Inspiration From Gardens Past

Organic Gardening 2 - Wed, 2022-10-19 08:00

Back in the day gardens were grown for their usefulness rather than just ornamental appeal. There were no nearby grocery stores or pharmacies with food and medicines readily available. And none of the luxuries we’ve come to appreciate today. People relied on plants for food and medicine, and other things too. Other than field crops, everything was usually grown near the home all together – a wonderful mix of flowers, herbs and veggies. Most familiar of these is the less formal and carefree cottage garden. Colonial gardens also included a little of everything but were typically laid out in beds. Both are appealing to me, but the wildness of old-fashioned cottage gardens speaks to me.

My Wildly Chaotic Garden Inspired by the Past

There’s nothing wrong with formal gardens or perfectly aligned beds if that’s your thing. And if you’re into all that grooming maintenance, that’s fine too. But it’s just not for me. Finding inspiration from gardens past was important to me when I began my gardening journey so many years ago. I tried many different garden styles, but it was the old-fashioned cottage gardens that seemed to always call out to me. So I finally decided to create a garden oasis using elements commonly seen in these older garden designs, with a twist of my own.

I include all manner of plants within my garden. I have numerous ornamental plantings that include old-fashioned favorites like hollyhock, sweet william, foxglove, columbine, and roses to delight the eye. Many of my ornamental plants perform double duty in the garden with some that are edible (like daylilies) and some with medicinal uses, such as lamb’s ear (nature’s band-aid). You’ll find a number of herbs mixed in too, both culinary and medicinal. Vegetables are also scattered throughout the garden. Tomatoes, for instance, might be growing amongst borage, marigolds and basil. Kale is a great veggie but also looks nice tucked into the garden with nasturtium flowers, which are also edible, and cilantro. I grow various fruit trees, shrubs and ornamental grasses in the mix as well.

It may not always look perfect, but that’s the point. I love the wild, carefree look. Every plant within the garden serves its purpose, including those that attract wildlife and beneficial insects. I’m not worried about deadheading everything or keeping it tidy. I let nature take care of all that, simply maintaining as needed. It’s my wildly chaotic garden inspired by the past, and it’s mine.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Lavender And My Grandmother

Organic Gardening 2 - Tue, 2022-10-18 08:00

They say that scent memories can be some of the most powerful ways to travel back in time, and I believe it. It feels to me that these type of associations bypass the thinking part of the brain, tapping straight into the heart. 

One of the shrubs that I can grow in the sun of southwestern France, but not in San Francisco’s fog, is lavender. It is very nostalgic for me. One whiff of the fragrance carries me back many years to when my grandmother – my mother’s mother – was alive.

Lavender Scent Memories

I was named for my Polish grandmother, but she died when I was a young child. Most of the actual memories I have of her are sad ones, revolving around her disappearance when I was six. Yet her loving essence seems to return to me when I smell lavender plants. 

Did she wear lavender perfume? Did she have lavender in her garden? I don’t know, just that the scent brings her to me again — her kind, protective, caring, small, neat form. I even keep a bottle of English lavender perfume beside my bed in California so that I can go back to that feeling of being loved and protected in sleep.

Lavender Plants

Lavender plants have so much going for them that anyone with a sunny climate should consider growing them. The scent is sweet and evocative, but the flowers are also like something from a daydream, masses of downy purple, sky blue or bright violet spikes that sway gracefully in the summer breeze. 

These deliciously lovely plants are incredibly easy to grow and offer a long blossom season if, and only if, you can site them where they get at least six hours a day of direct sun, ideally eight hours. Other than requiring lots of sun and top drainage, the pretty plant with its gray-green foliage is not picky. It does just find in almost any soil, including poor soil. 

Caring for Lavender

Once you’ve got your lavender situated, the last thing you want to do is fuss over it. This is a tough plant, native to rocky soil around the Mediterranean region, and “drought tolerant” is its middle name. Like every other plant, lavender needs weekly watering after transplant, a chore that will continue through establishment. 

After the plants are established though, they only need occasional water, once every two or three weeks until the buds form. The plant is a perennial and will come back stronger year after year. If the scent of lavender stirs memories for you too, consider drying some for a sachet under your pillow. 

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Living Healthy. Simplified.

Organic Gardening 2 - Mon, 2022-10-17 10:00

At its worst, Category 5 Hurricane Michael in 2018 took down 80% of the tree canopy in Bay County, Florida. An area that was already a food desert got hit the hardest and even the low-income grocery stores were destroyed. Food here became a huge concern. In the midst of the 2020 pandemic, Samantha (Sam) Mello undertook a challenge that was daunting, at best.

Sam gave a lot of thought to creating a community food project. She initially considered the idea of a community medicinal garden but didnt really want a community garden in the traditional sense, since raised beds would require more maintenance and upkeep. She stumbled onto the food forest concept and proceeded to develop Living Healthy. Simplified. (LHS), a food forest that would be open to everyone in the community.

Living Healthy. Simplified. is now an educational gardening non-profit that works with the community to create spaces that are ecologically sustainable for humans, as well as the surrounding wildlife. Their goal is to educate the residents of Bay County on simple practices for a healthy lifestyle through growing food, creating pollinator gardens, using sustainable practices and utilizing native plants. 

At the LHS main food forest there is a honeybee hive enclosure. Sam and her support people are working on an educational program to teach the community about the importance of pollinators for our food system. A compost program is in the works for their local community, as are cooking classes – primarily for youth, but open to all ages. 

With a strong belief in the concept of partnering, Sam got this new non-profit off the ground by working with Panama City to secure property for the food forest. Her vision was to bring education to people through gardening, raising food and volunteering. So, if local residents can voluntarily plant and tend the garden, all the better. But, if they aren’t able to volunteer, they’re still welcome to go into the food forest garden and gather whatever is growing there to feed themselves and their families. 

But there’s more to it than feeding humans. This food forest is designed to provide food for human and wildlife consumption. In fact, Sam wanted to make sure the offerings included native plants for pollinators and bees. In addition to honey, blueberries, figs, oranges and a wide range of crops grows well in this warm regionGrant money funded a huge pollinator garden, a portion of which includes medicinal natives and herbs.

Teaching is a significant component of the LHS program. Garden visitors have the opportunity to learn about soil and gardening, as well as integral approaches to living healthier… simplified! There are no specialized teachers at the site, but those who are self-taught in different areas share their knowledge and gifts. 

If you’re interested in learning more about this amazing project, check them out on Facebook or their website, or make a donation here. 

Learn More About Our School And Community Garden Sponsorship Program

Every year, Gardening Know How awards $1,000 to 20 different, hand-picked garden projects across the United States and Canada. If your community or school garden has a growing, unmet need for more soil, seeds, fertilizers, building materials, or even just help getting the word out about your program, we’re ready and willing to help you meet those needs. As community gardens and school gardening programs spring up all over, we’re happy to do our part to help.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

From Slugs To Dust

Organic Gardening 2 - Sun, 2022-10-16 08:00

As a new gardener to this side of the state, I feel a bit like Dorothy when she touched down in Oz. Nothing here is as it was on the other side. The other side was coastal, temperate, and rainy. Here it is windy, dusty, devilishly hot in summer, and well below freezing all winter. This is a learning curve that I have failed several times in the last few years, but I keep learning!

Gardening Changes

The place I lived for 35 years was pleasant, although occasionally a bit wet. Literally everything I put into the ground not only lived but thrived. It was the perfect gardening climate, where all my plants flourished with ridiculous ease. I didn’t even have to contend with many weeds or pests, and the weather was cooperative year-round. Flash forward to now and things are much different.

To put things in perspective, let’s talk temperatures. Last year we had sustained highs of up to 114 degrees F. (46 C.) and lows of -17 degrees F. (-27 C.). Now I don’t want to complain, but come on! Those highs and lows really do a number on plants. We are listed as zone 6b, but after some trial and error, I have decided only to install plants hardy to zone 5. The tricky bit here is that those cooler season plants don’t really like it when the temperatures are over 100 for a long period.

Growing Plants in Extremes

I’ve had to get creative using microclimates. This is where I take advantage of areas in the landscape that may not get as much wind (and boy do we get wind!) or have some shelter from advancing snow and ice. Since we have no trees except for the new orchard, this means placing anything I think will be tender on the lea side of the house. I also use my huge planters a lot. I can lift bulbs to store and move containerized things into the garage in winter. Some plants that aren’t too large come inside when the cold temperatures start peeking in.

Mulching has also become crucial, as have groundcovers. Not only do they keep the soil cool in summer and warm in winter, but they prevent the bounty of nasty, tenacious weeds we seem to have here. Our town has a compost pile for leaves and grass clippings from which I often steal in fall. I take these and pile them around perennials and other plants to help protect them.

I also have to use shade tunnels when veggie season comes around. The unrelenting sun can do a real number on my seedling babies without some protection. The tunnels also protect them from the blasting winds we get. Once the plants have established, I remove the tunnels so they can get bigger and say a little prayer that they are strong enough to withstand the punishing conditions here.

It may sound like I am unable to get anything to grow, but that is far from the truth. I struggle with my ornamental plants, but my perennials are huge and healthy. My vegetable gardens produce more than we can use in just a couple of months. My fruit trees are coming along nicely, and I even have many tender summer bulbs that flower beautifully. It’s just not as easy as it once was, but I am adaptable, and this old dog has learned new tricks.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Learning to Grow ‘Easy’ Daylilies

Organic Gardening 2 - Sat, 2022-10-15 08:00

Do a quick search of easy, low-maintenance plants and perennials, and most lists will contain daylilies. When I moved into my current home, I inherited a pretty patch of daylilies. Despite the fact that they’re supposed to be hands-off, I have struggled to keep them happy and thriving. This is what I’ve learned over the years.

About Daylilies

Hemerocallis is a genus that contains several species of daylilies. Related to lilies but not true lilies, these flowers grow from a fleshy root rather than a bulb. They get their common name from the fact that each flower only blooms for about a day.

The experts say this is an easy plant to grow, and that it’s great for beginners. Daylilies tolerate poor soil and drought and don’t have a lot of diseases or pests. They should continue blooming throughout the summer with little to no intervention. So what went wrong with mine?

Uneven Sunlight

Yes, daylilies are tough and forgiving, but they do prefer full sun. My patch of lilies gets full sun, depending on the time of year and the state of the large shrub next to them. At times, the sunlight cover is definitely patchy and unreliable.

I read early on that daylilies did not need full sun, so I didn’t think much about it. After a few years, they seemed to have lost some vigor. They didn’t grow as big or bloom as much as they had in the past. Rather than pull up the entire bed, I worked on trimming back the large honeysuckle growing next to it and looked for other solutions.

Excessive Weeds

Early on in my gardening career I only weeded for aesthetic reasons. I didn’t understand how weeds left in place could out-compete other plants for nutrients and water. Because lilies grow tall and wide, I didn’t bother pulling weeds from under their leaves. Out of sight, out of mind, right?

After learning more about how weeds impact other plants, I decided to be proactive. A few years ago, I started early when the lilies were just babies in spring. I pulled out every violet and dandelion trying to emerge, and kept at it as the lily leaves grew in. Removing weeds early made it an easier task for me and has improved the overall health of the lilies.

Neglected Divisions

Another task I neglected for too long was dividing the lilies. As it turns out, it’s important to divide the patch every few years. This is not just because they spread into unwanted areas but also because crowding isn’t good for them. They lose vigor and health.

I divided several plants in the bed, pulling them out by the roots in early spring, and planting the divisions in a second area.

All of these steps have reinvigorated my little patch of daylilies and they are healthier than ever. They once again provide me with daily, cheerful, orange blooms. Now, I just need to figure out how to keep the deer from nibbling the leaves in spring.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Brian Minter: Addition of some taller, narrower trees might improve the look and feel of your home

Organic Gardening - Fri, 2022-10-14 12:00
OPINION: During cold, dark winter nights, if you light columnar trees with LEDs, they will create a little magic.
Categories: Organic Gardening

The Longest Pepper In The World

Organic Gardening 2 - Fri, 2022-10-14 08:00

I admit it. Sometimes I like to brag about the produce I grow in my garden. Whether it’s harvesting the most, the biggest or the tastiest, showing off my homegrown veggies is a way to impress friends and spark a bit of friendly competition with my gardening buddies. Which in turn, encourages me to try harder each year.

Dirty Little Vegetable Secrets

So here’s the inside scoop. I’m not an extraordinary gardener. But I do know how to read a seed catalog and therein lies my secrets for success. (I’m about to share one of my secrets with you now.)

If you want to impress family, friends and neighbors by growing the biggest sweet peppers they’ve ever seen, start with a variety of peppers that has a track record of greatness in the size department. That would be the Aconcagua. Many consider it to be one of the longest varieties of sweet peppers in the world.

This Argentina heirloom, named for the mountain which dominated its native range, can grow up to 12 inches (30 cm.) long and 2.5 inches (5 cm.) wide. Now that’s a big pepper. Yet, this South American beauty brings much more to the table than its hefty size.

The Giant Aconcagua pepper has a very sweet and fruity flavor. Its thick walls give it substance in salads, salsa and other recipes which call for fresh peppers. Yet, its tell-tale cone-shaped body betrays the fact that Aconcagua is a type of frying pepper. Its tender, thin skin doesn’t become tough when cooked.

Growing an Aconcagua Pepper Plant

The real reason I love planting the Aconcagua is these extremely prolific plants are very easy to grow. I’ve never had an issue with diseases or insect pests attacking these pepper plants. The deer seem to leave them alone as well.

I transplant them outdoors when the ground has warmed and frost no longer threatens. I water, weed and fertilize as needed, but most years these pepper plants need very little attention to reach their maximum height of 3 to 4 feet (.9-1.2 m.).

While I love the Aconcagua, I don’t advise planting them as your only variety of sweet pepper. They take a bit longer than other types to mature. When these plants do start producing, expect an abundance of peppers on each plant. In fact, some gardeners stake Aconcagua peppers to keep the plants from bending, breaking or becoming uprooted.

Immature Aconcagua peppers are a light green color, but transition through a streaky greenish-orange hue before reaching their final mature color of bright red. They tend to ripen later in the season, right about the time I’m frying and roasting peppers for the freezer.

By now you’re probably wondering how large my Aconcagues actually get. I wish I could tell you, but this pepper has a funny habit of getting wavy and sometimes curling as it grows. Perhaps it’s because they grow so long, but only a few remain perfectly straight as they reach their maximum size.

However, I can assure you this variety of peppers have given me some pretty impressive bragging rights. And what’s more fun than watching the eyes of unsuspecting visitors widen when I pick what appears to be the longest pepper in the world from my garden. Shhh! Just don’t let on that I’m not the extraordinary gardener they think I am.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Citrus Dreams

Organic Gardening 2 - Thu, 2022-10-13 08:00

Plants touch all of our senses if we let them. Leaves can be fuzzy or smooth or prickly; they are different shapes and interesting to observe. Their wind song soothes like a lullaby in our ears, and the fruits offer different and often delicious tastes.

But fragrance is among the most powerful of their attributes. I love the smell of every living plant, but one marked me more than any other over: citrus blossoms. While I first fell in love with citrus smells from orange blossoms, today I get a daily dose thanks to my container lemon tree.

Orange Blossoms Forever

For years, when I lived primarily in France, my “second home” was a Volkswagen van named Whitney, after Mount Whitney, the highest peak she has ascended. She is purple with a pop-top and has transported me from California to Canada and up and down the West coast of Mexico too.

Once when I was coming up to the City by the Bay from Mexico, I crossed Death Valley and took winding backroads toward the coast. Coming up one particular rise, I was totally overwhelmed by a fragrance so powerful it felt like a living force. I stopped the van and just sat there breathing in the heady fragrance for 10 minutes, admiring the flowering trees on either side. They were orange trees, filled with orange blossoms, and I have never in my life been so completely enchanted, even bowled over by a smell.

My Backyard Lemon Tree

I was never able to cultivate an orange tree in my yard in San Francisco, and France temperatures dropped too low in winter to allow for an orange tree, let alone groves of them. But I was able to recreate the experience in miniature by bringing in a lemon tree. Even so, I planted it in a large pot, not the ground.

The lemon tree I selected was an Improved Meyer Lemon, and the first season it stayed about a foot (30 cm.) tall and offered no lemon tree blossoms at all. I moved the container lemon into the house in winter. But the second year, I woke up to a whiff of the glorious citrus fragrance I longed for: one lemon blossom had opened.

Potted Lemon Power

I have to say, after that first blossom opened, my container lemon has never failed me. Buds appeared regularly after that initial flower opened, exuded fragrance and created fruit. The tree has grown to some 4 feet (1.2 m.) tall and is almost always decorated by white blossoms and egg-yolk-yellow fruit.

Improved Meyer Lemon is a terrific way to break into growing citrus. The keys to success are mild winters, some sun every day and well-draining soil. I guarantee the fragrance will improve your life every single day.

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Categories: Organic Gardening


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