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2011 Best Garden Finds and Lessons – First in a Series

Hello everyone. 
Purple and white mums with orange pumpkins on a three tier standIt’s mum time again…  As the leaves turn color and drift down from the trees, I’ve been reflecting about my 2011 garden and some of the best finds and lessons learned of the year. 
I’m going to start with an unexpected recommendation: a new tool. 
When I was coordinating the April 30th workshop, “Expert Advice andPractical Tips to Beautify Small Urban Spaces,” I read about a hand tool called the Cobrahead®.  

It claimed to be “The Best Tool In Earth” (clever) and would help with weeding, digging, planting, transplanting, edging and furrowing.   I sent an email to Geoff Valdes at Cobrahead asking for one of the tools to give as a door prize at the workshop.  Geoff generously sent a short handle Cobrahead Weeder and Cultivator as a door prize AND another to use myself.  At the workshop, several of the experts told me I’d be sad to give that tool away.  I was glad to tell them that I had one to use. 
And did I use it!  In my street-side tree garden, the roots grow up and into the added top soil, making a mesh that can be inpenetrable.  I’m fairly strong but it takes dedicated effort to loosen the soil enough to remove the tenacious roots and begin to plant… With the Cobrahead, it was so much easier!  Surprisingly so.  Cobrahead calls this tool a “steel fingernail.”  That’s a good description.   It cut through the soil and was very effective in pulling out weeds.  Many times I used it in place of a trowel.  The price is $24.95 and I recommend it.  Consider buying for yourself or giving as a gift to your gardening friends and family. 

The tool is made in Wisconsin.  The sales materials say the handle is a mix of recycled polypropylene and agriculturally grown flax fiber.  The steel blade is American made with a minimum recycle content of 60%.  The tool is tough and should last many years.   

Learn more at


Gardening Blog and Books for Your Reading List

Hello Everyone: 
The weather in Boston today was glorious!  Sunny, warm and delightful!
Red, white and purple flowers and ivy on three tiersWanted to share the post below.  It comes from the Garden Club of the Back Bay –  The gardening blog and book recommendations were worth passing along.  Enjoy!

“GCBB member Susan Ashbrook alerted us to a very interesting blog, the and three postings of gardening classics which are well worth examining.  Some listings and reviews will be well known to many, such as Anna Pavord’s excellent The Curious Gardener: A Year in the Garden, while others are ripe for discovery, such as Weeds: A Cultural History, and Four Hedges by Clare Leighton.

Find links to all three garden book installments at of Four Hedges book

Fall Gardening – Going Beyond the Mum

Let me be honest.  My garden looks too darn good right now to think
about adding in more flowers to give it a fall boost.  Not yet. 
But I have created a top 5 fall flower list for those looking to add some vibrancy and texture to the end of season garden.  You may be surprised to see that the chrysanthemum is not on the list. Frankly, I’m not a big fan of the mum.  There’s something not right about one particular species of flower showing up in every garden, White and purple mums with three orange pumpkinswindow box and stoop as soon as the air gets chilly.  Yes, mums are hardy and come in gorgeous colors.  I’m just not keen on seeing the same big, bulbous mounds on every corner.

So here’s my top 5 list of mum alternatives.

1. Asters – These flowers are my new best friends.  Your local garden
shop and big box garden stores should have plenty of varieties and colors in stock.   They’re extremely easy to grow.   They love full sun but tolerate light shade.
Invite these pretty gals into your garden. You won’t be disappointed.
2. Helianthus:  Sunflowers are just the perfect flower to have in your
garden when the weather turns cold.   
Who can resist the bright, perky yellow
when you are pulling your sweater tight?

3. Goldenrod: This is not the plant that will make you sneeze! Put that thought out of your head.  This feathery plant will give color and texture throughout the fall.

4. Sedum: There are many varieties of sedum and many types are topped by starry flowers in late summer and fall.  A common name for this plant is stonecrop.

5. Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed) – Rosemary, the assistant minister at my church, suggested this plant for the fall garden.  She says it’s a real winner and provides great color and texture.

Refreshed Container Gardens as Wedding Presents

Yellow wedding bells with flowersOne of my best friends from college got married this weekend.  What a gift to see a couple so in love and so happy! 
As a wedding gift, we did some weeding and spruced up the planters in the couple’s front yard.   Purple flowering sweet potato vines in gray urn
On the front stairway, the two gray urns received new soil, a healthy dose of plant food (we used Osmacote) and then we planted three beautiful, flowering purple sweet potato vines in each urn. Simple but striking.
In the urns flanking a brown bench, we put in new Brown bench flanked by two gray urns with Arborvitae, ivy and annual flowerssoil, plant food and planted Golden globe arborvitae, with annuals Calibrachoa Noa “Blue Legend” and Sutera Cordata Scopia Gulliver White alternating in the front with English ivy around the sides and back.  These plants – especially the arborvitae and ivy – will last a good long time, even with Gray Urn with Arborvitae, English ivy and Scopia Gulliver White and Calibrachoa Noa Blue Legendthe intense afternoon sun.  And let me put a plug in for arborvitae, an evergreen tree/shrub from the cypress family.  Found throughout eastern Canada and Northeastern United States, the arborvitae has leaves that are soft to the touch, rather than prickly.  Love that!  Arborvitae prefer colder climates and will provide good color and show healthy branches all year long. 
Have a Happy Labor Day!

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Garden in Bloom!

Janine's Street Side Tree Garden - Impatiens, Black Eyed Susans, Lantana, Dahlias, Silverdust and more!Just had to share the
latest photos of
my street-side garden. 
The flowers are  blooming their little hearts out!
Just look at the colors –
purples, pinks, yellows! 
After a tough start, these plants are loving the rain and humidity of August. 

I’m especially happy with the rose-colored dahlias, the black- eyed Garden abloom with silverdust, dahlias, impatiens, black eyed Susans, Lantana and more!Susans (rudbeckia) and the Superbells Lavender (calibrachea hybrid).  
The Lantana is also a wonderful surprise.  This tall flower, in the back corner, starts as berry clusters and blooms into beautiful little bouquets of color. 
And the Silverdust aka Dusty Miller is a great anchor plant for the front edges.  They have thrived amid dogs and people.

As beautiful as my little garden is, it did not take any honors in this year’s Mayor Menino Garden Contest.  I Garden View with Silverdust, Black-Eyed Susans, Dahlias, Lantana and moream looking forward to entering again next summer.   My neighbor commented that the Contest judges seem to like height in a garden.  Hmm.  Next year I’m going to find taller, lusher and more colorful flowers to plant.  What a great winter project… But that is a long way off…  
Enjoy these wonderful August days and  remember to water the plants!

New September Classes at New England Wildflower Society

Black-eyed susans by Suzanne GaffHello everyone. 
I hope you are enjoying your gardens and this beautiful August  weather! 

Wanted to share with you a few of the classes, courses and field trips being offered in September by the New England Wild Flower Society’s Education Department.  The September 17th Native Gardens class in Newton looks interesting to me.  Seems like a great way to learn more about gardening in small spaces.  Perhaps I’ll see you there! 
For information on all the courses, visit

Saturday, September 17, 2011, 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m.,
Native Gardens in Newton
, Newton, MA.
Instructor Risa Edelstein helps us learn how a landscape designer working with urban properties and their sustainably- minded owners can create enticing native gardens in small spaces. The first garden we visit, situated around a Victorian house, received a front yard overhaul, which was achieved by removing lawn and creating a habitat garden by adding many natives with four-seasons of interest. The second homeowner wished to make her garden as eco-friendly as possible, reducing its carbon footprint, reusing materials and creating habitat for wildlife. A walkway of recycled brick was installed, rain gardens improved drainage around the existing edible garden, and 100-year old recycled seawall blocks were installed as sitting walls. Shrubs from the front of the property were replanted in the back and a mostly native woodland garden was created under a red maple. Fee: $22 (Member) / $25 (Nonmember). Pre-registration is necessary, contact the registrar at 508-877-7630, ext. 3303. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011, 10 a.m.-1 p.m., Wildflowers in Fall, Garden in the Woods, Framingham, MA. As a follow-up to our spring course, “Wildflowers of New England,” instructor Neela de Zoysa highlights flora in the last stages of the growing season. What fruits have been produced by spring wildflowers and how are they dispersed? What flowers are blooming in the fall and why? Which pollinators are active? The program includes a walk in the Garden, a power-point presentation to illustrate the key points, and samples for dissection and close observation. References for fruits and winter ID provided. Fee: $36 (Member) / $43 (Nonmember). Pre-registration is necessary, contact the registrar at 508-877-7630, ext. 3303.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011, 7-9 p.m., Design a Native Mixed Border Garden in the Fall, Garden in the Woods, Framingham, MA. Your border garden can have four-seasons of beauty! Take advantage of ideal fall planting conditions to establish borders filled with native perennials, shrubs, vines, and small trees. Horticulturist and landscape designer Laura Eisener discusses how to artfully combine a variety of beautiful plants, and illustrates basic design principles you can apply to planning and planting a mixed border of any size and shape. Fall bargains abound in nurseries, and this is an ideal opportunity to begin fresh or redesign existing border areas in your garden. Fee: $26 (Member) / $32 (Nonmember). Cosponsored by New England Wild Flower Society, MA Audubon Drumlin Farm, and The Landscape Institute. Pre-registration is necessary, contact the registrar at 508-877-7630, ext. 3303.

Hydrangeas – Nature’s Gift to Cape Cod

Blue Big Leaf Hydrangeas along a Harwichport Road

It’s not that Patti Page got it wrong.  Visitors to Cape Cod will still find sand dunes and salty air, quaint little villages here and there, it’s just that Patti didn’t sing about  one really important Cape icon  -big, showy, blooming  hydrangeas!
“Indeed, the blue hydrangea (hydrangea macrophylla or big leaf hydrangea) is one of the signature shrubs of a Cape Cod Garden,” according to Roberta Clark in her “Growing Hydrangeas” fact sheet from  the UMASS Extension Program. 
Blue Lacecap hydrangeasWhy?  Cape weather – misty – and the soil – sandy – give the shrub the one-two boost that makes it so beautiful and demanding of attention.   And the colors!  Blue to purple to white and pink to deep red. 
Those colors are heighted by the aluminum in the soil.  The more aluminum, the deeper the blue.  The lack of aluminum, the more pink the blossoms.  WhiteWhite Hydrangeas hydrangeas remain white, regardless of the soil content.  Pink and Blue Hydrangeas along a white picket fence

For city dwellers, hydrangeas work best in containers.  That’s the best way to moderate soil and water content.   To learn more about hydrangeas, click on the link below

Hydrangeas for American Gardens by Michael Dirror borrow or purchase
 “Hydrangeas for American Gardens”
by Michael A. Dirr. 
This is an excellent reference book
published by Timber Press.

Dahlia Thief in Boston

Yes, it’s true. My garden now has five holes where lovely, white dahlias once were Street side garden with white dahlias in the front rowplanted.  Sigh… Sometime during Wednesday night, someone pulled the plants out and took them away.  Guess they wanted them for their own garden.  Just hope they are being well tended wherever they are…  Here’s a picture of my garden when the dahlias were in the front row.
FYI: Haven’t heard yet from the people in charge of the Mayor’s garden contest. 
If I’m a finalist, I’ll have to do some speedy replanting! Finally, it remains hot (no kidding) so give the flowers, shrubs and trees an extra watering if you can!

Enter Boston Garden Contest – Check

Okay folks, it’s official.  This afternoon I sent in the nomination form and several photos of my garden for consideration in Mayor Menino’s Boston Garden Contest.

Now I’ll wait a week or so to hear if my little garden makes the cut and is named one of five  finalists.  If yes, the judges will come to see my perky, street-side garden and give it the once over…
 Garden in Bloom - Purple, pink and white flowers around a maple tree trunk
Regardless of the outcome, I’m very proud of the garden this year.  I chose a new and wide variety of plants with marvelous texture and color.  I adore the Dusty Miller Silverdust I planted at the edges.  And while the Salvia, Amsonia and Silver Mound have all been replaced, they offered lovely blooms for a time – a real treat for the eyes and the soul.  The current garden is abundant shades of purple, white, green and pink.  And all the flowers are healthy – at least today they are.    The hard heat earlier this week killed the African daisies and the purple astilbe.   So I had to replace them with white dahlias (don’t you just love saying that word – Daaaahlias, darling)  and a Lantana plant that has a lovely flower that looks like a wedding bouquet. 

Fingers are crossed that I’ll be a finalist.  Thanks for all the encouragement.   I’ll keep you posted! 
Enjoy these wonderful  summer days and don’t forget to water your flowers!