Archive: Sep 2016

  1. Easy Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Cinnamon Buttercream

    If you have fresh or canned pumpkin, try this sweet seasonal dessert! These pumpkin cupcakes are something the whole family will love, and they are so easy. If pumpkin is not available, you can also use shredded zucchini, carrot, or mashed sweet potato in its place. Gather the following ingredients and preheat the oven to 350° F. Cake …

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  2. Tangy Mediterranean Potato Salad

    Looking for the perfect side dish for your next barbecue? Try this tangy Mediterranean potato salad that incorporates a wide variety of veggies straight from your garden. Not only is this recipe delicious, but you can also show off what you’ve been growing! Fresh corn, basil, and tomatoes are three summer ingredients you may be able …

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  3. Season Your Garden with Designer Herbs

    Golden oregano (top) and variegated pineapple mint (left) are two perennial ornamental herbs that should be planted alone.


    Knowing designer herbs is to love them. Like all herbs, they are easy in pots, window boxes and containers, but they are also as beautiful as they are fragrant and delicious, making them perfect for creative planting designs. Some have variegated or colorful leaves and others columnar or compact forms giving them a visual edge. A bold lemon grass in a patio container, trimmed mini basil contained in an urban kitchen garden,  or glorious variegated lemon thyme spilling out of a windowbox all look as splendid as they taste.

    Visually appealing herbal delights cover most culinary favorites. Sage, rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, and marjoram come in lots of pretty variations. Others, like lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus), make a big impact in their natural form. Here is a sampling of some of the most interesting and lovely herbs to add to ornamental containers and beds.

    This trough planting of oregano (left) and tricolored sage (far right) shows the rhizomatous oregano engulfing the clump-forming sage, which is why oregano should be planted alone.

    Basils (Ocimum spp.) are some of the easiest summertime annual herbs for pots and many are colorful and attractive. Two for beauty and good performance are the purple-hued Thai basil ‘Siam Queen’, variegated non-flowering ‘Pesto Perpetuo’. Both add unique interest to containers and continue to produce flavorful leaves from planting time to frost. Purple sweet basils, like ‘Amethyst Improved’, are also beautiful but only remain flavorful and full if their flower buds are continuously removed. If allowed to bloom and set seed, they have fewer leaves and develop a sharp, strong flavor.

    Oregano is a classic perennial herb for containers and Origanum vulgare ‘Gold Tip’ and ‘Aureum’ are real show offs with gold-enhanced leaves and somewhat cascading forms. Two marjorams for color are the golden-leaved Origanum majorana ‘Aureum’ and beautifully variegated Origanum majorana ‘Variegata’, which has green leaves with irregular ivory edges.

    Some of the most diverse and interesting herbs for foliar color are sages (Salvia officinalis). These semi-evergreen herbs all have soft, velvety leaves. Three are real ornamental standouts. The rounded, silvery leaves of ‘Berggarten’ sage are unusually ornamental as are the purple, ivory, and green leaves of ‘Tricolor’ sage and the golden variegated leaves of the classic ‘Icterina.’ Purple sage (S. officinalis ‘Purpurea’) is another charmer.

    The bold, silvery leaves of ‘Berggarten’ sage (background) will add pleasing cool color to any container.

    Trailing and weeping plants consistently add flair to containers, which is why the trailing rosemary plants Rosmarinus offinalis ‘Lockwood de Forest’ and ‘Huntington Carpet’ add extra flair at the base of containers. Thymes are also choice trailers for spilling over the edge of a potted herb garden. Of these, the lemony gold- and green-leaved ‘Doone Valley’ is a perennial favorite, as is the silver-edged Thymus x citriodorus ‘Silver Queen’ and fine, compact Thymus serpyllum ‘Elfin.’ All add lush looks and strong fragrance to containers.

    When creating designs with ornamental herbs it pays to think of habits and heights as well as textures and colors. Life cycle and root spread are also important considerations. Small, annual, non-spreaders, such as compact basils, should be planted together. Aggressive, spreading perennials, such as ornamental oreganos, should be planted in pots on their own or given plenty of space in an herbal border.

    When designing plantings, remember that groupings look best in threes. One complimentary combo of three for a container would be the variegated and columnar ‘Pesto Perpetuo’ basil, a bushy purple sage, and clambering ‘Silver Queen’ thyme. Choose a spacious attractive container, water it regularly during the heat of summer,  and it will look lovely all season long. And when the annual basil dies through winter it can be replaced the following season.

    Aggressive spreaders should be planted alone. All mints spread quickly via rhizomes, and the colorful and deliciously fragrant variegated pineapple mint (Mentha suaveolens ‘Variegata’) is no exception. Oreganos spread almost as quickly and will overcrowd other herbs. Lemongrass is another that will create a huge clump by summer’s end, if provided a large pot and consistently moist soil.

    All herbs mentioned are sun-loving garden plants that grow best in fertile, well-drained medium like Black Gold All-Purpose Potting Soil. A light application of slow-release fertilizer early in the season will also help them remain vigorous and happy. Give them good care, and they will reward you with contained culinary splendor all season long.

    The finely variegated leaves of Thymus x citriodorus ‘Silver Queen’ will add interest to any potted planting.

  4. Gorgeous Garden Goldenrods


    Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) is one of the most common field species in North America. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    It is hard to think of goldenrod (Solidago spp.), as something precious and special when it is so extraordinarily ubiquitous.  Native to all of North America, it bursts into bloom in late summer and early fall, lining field edges, roadsides and just about every sunny space where it can gain a foothold.  In its native land it is often damned with faint or non-existent praise.  Even worse, it is unjustly damned as the source of pesky, end-of-summer hay fever attacks.

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    The compact ‘Little Lemon’ is a tidy, small goldenrod fit for border edges and containers. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Ragweed, goldenrod’s seasonal fellow traveler, is the true cause of most late-season allergies.  Ragweed is a stealth allergen. It’s so visually nondescript with its humdrum green flowers that people overlook it in their quest to point accusing fingers at goldenrod’s bright plumes.  Like many hay-fever-trigger plants, ragweed is wind pollinated. It relies on the breeze to complete its pollinating chores, sending tiny pollen granules flying through the air where they meet up with sensitive human beings.  Goldenrod, on the other hand, is pollinated by bees and other insects, meaning its pollen never becomes airborne and causes us no harm.

    Common and condemned, goldenrod had to go all the way to Europe to lose its bad reputation.  Europeans, untroubled by hay-fever concerns, common origins, and supposed coarse appearances, fell in love.  When plant people on the other side of the Atlantic got hold of the winsome field flower, that love translated into hybridizing.  The result of international travel and human-initiated plant hanky-panky is that gardeners have the option of getting their goldenrod two ways—wild or bred into garden-worthy forms.

    Solidago 'Crown of Rays' is a tidier cultivated form for the garden. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Solidago ‘Crown of Rays’ is a tidier cultivated form for the garden. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Goldenrod’s lineage makes it a natural for the home garden.  At first glance the resemblance is hard to see, but Solidago is in the daisy family, Asteraceae.  Each lush flower panicle is made of up of many miniature golden daisies that can be seen up close. Loaded with pollen, they attract bees, butterflies, and many other insects.  If you have ever eaten wildflower honey collected in fall, you have most likely tasted the autumnal richness of goldenrod.

    In the garden, these hardy perennials ask for little. Established plants can tolerate dry spells in fine fashion, and some species are tolerant of moist soils. Sunny space is ideal for the plants, although some will also prosper in light shade, sporting somewhat fewer flowers per stem.  Anyone familiar with field goldenrod, which is frequently, but not always, Solidago canadensis, knows that it can grow 3 to 6 feet high and forms large clumps due to its vigorous, spreading root systems.  Clearly this is not ideal for all gardens.  Fortunately, breeders have come up with more civilized, compact garden goldenrods that are perfect for small spaces or containers.

    2209Fafard N&O Potting_3D-1cu RESILIENCE front WEBOne of those compact varieties is Solidago ‘Little Lemon’, which reaches only 12 to 18 inches tall. It looks cute in seasonal containers, but this perennial should be replanted along a border edge before frost descends.  The popular ‘Crown of Rays’, which grows 18 to 24 inches tall, is another compact form to consider. For a medium-tall variety, try the popular Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’, which grows 3 to 4 feet tall and spreads less aggressively than some wild forms. The winter seed heads of all goldenrod add garden beauty by attracting the lovely, yellow-feathered goldfinch.

    To make potted goldenrod thrive, fill your chosen container with Fafard Natural and Organic Potting Soil. This premium mix is full of the kind of rich organic materials that a goldenrod would chose for itself, if it were able. Amend garden soils with Fafard Premium Natural and Organic Compost before planting.

    The word “Solidago” comprises two Latin words that mean “to make whole”.  “Solidago” shares a common root with the English word “solidarity”.  This seems perfect for goldenrod, which finds solidarity with a variety of plants that bloom at the same time.  The most prominent of them is the blue-purple Symphiotrichum novae-angliae (New England aster).  Mums, especially those in burnt orange or dark red shades, also make good companions.  In the fields, the waving golden wands harmonize with the last of summer’s true blue chicory, not to mention purple ironweed (Vernonia spp.) and lots of airy native grasses.

    Goldenrod is a great garden plant, but it also makes an excellent cut flower.  Best of all, since no one has ever been inclined to pick ragweed and add it to a vase, you can enjoy goldenrod’s sunny fall flowers indoors without resorting to allergy medicine or the tissue box.


    Strands of Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ intermingle with a fall planting of red dahlias and Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

  5. Elegant Spider Chrysanthemums

    Chrysanthemum x morifolium 'Kishinonishi'

    Spider chrysanthemums, such as ‘Kishinonishi’, produce long tubular ray florets which may coil or hook at the ends. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    There’s so much more to chrysanthemums than the ubiquitous “garden mum”.  Spider chrysanthemums are a wonderful and weirdly beautiful example.   Like common “garden mums”, they trace their origin to hybrids of Chrysanthemum indicum, first developed in China more than 2000 years ago.  Over the centuries, these so-called “florist’s chrysanthemums”, known botanically as Chrysanthemum morifolium, have diverged into a dizzying array of forms and colors, some of them bordering on the bizarre.

    Which, brings us back to spider mums.  As described by the National Chrysanthemum Society, this class of florist’s chrysanthemums produces blossoms with “long tubular ray florets which may coil or hook at the ends.”  The masses of spaghetti-thin, curling “petals” do indeed have a spidery, or medusa-like, or starburst effect – spectacular in some cases, and almost sinister in others.  Their distinctive form makes them favorites in wedding bouquets and other special-occasion floral arrangements.

    1760FF Pro Potting Mix 2cu RESILIENCE FrontAs with most of the 13 classes of Chrysanthemum morifolium, spider mums have been bred and selected mainly for cut-flowers rather than for garden use.  Consequently, few can tolerate frozen winters.  Their October bloom times also leave them vulnerable to fall frost, limiting their usefulness as annuals to regions where frost comes a bit later (USDA zones 6-7 and warmer).  Where suitable, they make choice additions to cut-flower borders and attention-grabbing (but relatively fussy) alternatives to common garden mums.

    In the garden, spider mums are best planted in spring after the danger of frost has passed. They thrive in full to partial sun and friable, fertile, humus-rich soil. Numerous cultivars are available by mail order from specialty growers, with a few sometimes finding their way to local nurseries and greenhouses.  Among the most notable are ‘Descanso’, which bears huge medusa blooms in shades of bronze and apricot, the white-flowered ‘Chesapeake’, and ‘Fleur de Lis’ with its fountains of lilac-pink “petals”. To find these and other spider mums, visit King’s Mums.

    Of course, in whatever climate, spider chrysanthemums can be grown the traditional way: in containers.  Young plants purchased in late winter or early spring will prosper indoors or out (after danger of frost) in a coarse, fertile, compost-based potting mix, such as Fafard Professional Potting Mix.  A deep 4-inch pot is good to start, but vigorously growing plants should be moved to larger containers every couple of months.  After plants flower, they can be cut back and kept relatively dry in a cool, frost-free location.

    For the full traditional effect, these mums should be disbudded.  This involves pruning out all but a few stems, and removing most or all of their side shoots.  Only one to several flower buds are left to develop at the tip of each stem, resulting in exceptionally large blooms – just the thing to wow greenhouse visitors or chrysanthemum show judges. If you don’t disbud, you will get more flowers, but they will be smaller.

    Chrysanthemum x morifolium 'Kokka Senkin'

    Chrysanthemums come in many other forms, such as this irregular incurve, ‘Kokka Senkin’. These and many others can be viewed at select Chrysanthemum shows across the country.

    Several U.S. public gardens – including Smith College Botanical Garden in Northampton, Massachusetts, and Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania – offer the ultimate in chrysanthemum “wow”, staging lavish displays of hundreds to thousands of florist’s chrysanthemums, grown (and disbudded) to perfection.  Spiders, Anemones, Quills, and all manner of other chrysanthemums take center stage at Lyman Conservatory at the Botanic Garden of Smith College from November 5 to 20, and at Longwood’s 4-acre conservatory from October 22 to November 20.  These chrysanthemum celebrations will convince even the most jaded observer that there’s far more to mums than the cushion mounds at the local garden center.

  6. Best-Tasting Winter Squash

    Fall time is winter squash time. Whether you plan to make squash soup, a pie, or pasta, some varieties taste better than others. Here are some of the very best to seek at market and consider growing in the vegetable garden. Many are beautiful and all have outstanding flavor. Several of the varieties mentioned were …

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