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If you love orchids and outdoor gardening, then it’s time to welcome some beautiful hardy orchids into your garden this season! There are a surprising number of garden-grown orchids available at garden centers and specialty nurseries these days and many are surprisingly easy to grow. Once they put forth their first delicate blooms of the season, you’ll be hooked. (more…)
Tiger lilies (Lilium lancifolium) are spectacular tall bloomers that appear in late summer. (Photo by Jessie Keith)
Most gardens can use a visual lift in the dog days of late summer. This is where late-blooming lilies come in. When their voluptuous, often deliciously scented blooms make their grand entrance in July and August, it’s like a royal fanfare in the landscape. Goodbye, garden doldrums.
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Garlic, herbs and squash have been planted in this newly planted garden hugel. (Garden by Annalisa Vapaa)
Looking to create truly sustainable vegetable gardens? Try a layered hugelkultur garden! These raised gardens layer in organic material to create deep reserves of truly rich soil for vegetables. They also allow gardeners to use yard waste, such as leaves, grass clippings, logs, and branches, for no-waste vegetable growing.
Over time, hugel gardens naturally develop deep layers of organic-rich soil.
Hugelkultur (meaning “hill culture” in German) is a European planting style that uses permaculture methods to create fertile planting beds rich in organic matter and microorganisms. Designed for food production, the raised “hugel” gardens rely on a base of hardwood logs, branches, compost, and topsoil which, as they slowly decompose, increase fertility and water retention.
Hugels can be as small or large as desired and should be sited in sunny spot that’s flat and spacious. They can be built from reclaimed materials from your own property or a friend’s yard. This will help you save money and increase the garden’s sustainability. Here are the materials and directions for making one.
Hardwood Logs (Decomposing logs hold more water and break down faster.)
Outline the Bed: Create the hugel base by lining up your hardwood logs. Place larger logs along the outside and smaller logs along the inside. (You can also dig out a furrow to deeply set your logs, but this is not necessary. Large logs can create substantial outer supports for hugel beds. Some hugels are even outlined with rocks, logs, or even woven willow wattle for extra support.) Layer in Branches and Smaller Logs: Line up smaller branches within the log frame—trim large or unwieldy branches for a tight fit. A 2-foot layer is recommended. Compress Branches: Press and stomp down branches to reduce air pockets. Layer in Leaves and/or Grass Clippings: Layer in your leaves, leaf mulch, and/or grass clippings, being sure to pack everything between the branch layers. Add Compost: Add in a thick layer of Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. Poke the compost down into any remaining pockets. Good soil-to-wood contact will help your branch layer break down faster. Add Topsoil: Add a final layer of Fafard Premium Topsoil and rake and shape your hugel to form an attractive mound. (Some hugelkulture guides recommend pyramidal hugel beds, but these are prone to erosion and difficult to plant. A rounded mound with a flatter top is better.) Water: Gently water in your hugel for at least an hour to allow moisture to seep deep down. This also encourages settling and will reveal any areas that might need extra topsoil. Let the hugel settle for a day or two before planting. Add Straw Layer and Plant: Cover the hugel with a 2- to 3-inch layer of straw, leaves or grass clippings to hold down the soil and reduce weeds. Simply move areas of straw aside to plant in your vegetables and herbs.
Hugel beds will slowly break down over several years as the wood layers decompose, and as they break down, they will lose loft. Each year it helps to add a new layer of compost and straw to further enrich the beds and keep them weed free. In time, they will take on the appearance of more traditional bermed garden beds with the added benefit of very deep organic matter.
Extra wood and rocks can be placed outside the hugel for added side support.
Over time, hugels break down and take on the appearance of standard bermed beds.
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.
Red Kuri Kabocha Squash
Several of the varieties mentioned were bred outside of North America, but all winter squash originate from the New World. Species were first cultivated by Native Americans and developed over thousands of years. There are three primary culinary species known to cultivation—C. maxima, C. moschata, and C. pepo. True pumpkins and acorn squash are C. pepo, butternut squash are in C. moschata, and turban and kabocha squash are in C. maxima.
Across the board, the winter squash on this list rate at the top for flavor, according to countless formal and informal trials and reviews. Gardeners can be confident in choosing any one, if good taste is what they value in a squash. Most are also high performing in the garden.
Baby Pam Pie Pumpkin
Kabocha (C. maxima) are squat, orange, green or gray-green squash that originate from Japan. They have dense, dry flesh that is bright orange. Two of the more common, and nicest tasting are ‘Red Kuri’ (92-100 days) with its orange-red skinned fruits and smooth flesh that is less sweet but nicely flavored, and the gray-skinned ‘Winter Sweet’(95 days), which has dry, sweet flesh.
Winter Luxury Pumpkin
Acorn squash (C. pepo) are wonderfully sweet, deeply lobed, acorn-shaped, and great for roasting. The cream-, gold-, and dark-green-striped cultivar ‘Jester’ (95 days) is just as pretty as it is tasty. Another comparable variety with super sweetness is ‘Sweet Dumpling’ (90-100 days) with its smaller, squatter, ivory and green fruits, and honeyed orange flesh. A less sweet, but colorful, variety is the orange-, cream-, and dark-green-splashed ‘Festival’ (90-100 days).
One of the finest pumpkins for pie is the tender-skinned C. pepo ‘Winter Luxury’(105 days). Each year this variety, and the small, pie pumpkin ‘Baby Pam’ (105 days), are the pumpkins that I choose for making homemade pie. The ‘New England Pie’ pumpkin (105 days) is an old heirloom from the 1800s that is also highly recommended. The unusual, lumpy, blue-gray-skinned C. moschata ‘Marina di Chioggia’ (100 days) is an Italian heirloom turban squash with dense, sugary, orange flesh great for pies, soups, and desserts.
The cream- and green-striped, elongated fruits of Cucurbita pepo ‘Delicata JS’ (100 days) are thin-walled and have sweet, nutty, golden flesh. The small, ornamental fruits of ‘Sweet Lightening’ (100 days) look like tiny pumpkins striped with cream. Its sweet, stringless, pale orange flesh is said to be even better tasting than that of ‘Delicata JS’.
Delicata JS Squash
Butternut cultivars are pretty consistent when it comes to flavor. All have richly sweet, nutty flesh favored for all kinds of fall and winter cookery. The compact variety C.moschata ‘Butterbush’ (75 days) is short-vined and bears small butternut squash that are dark orange, dense and very sweet on the inside. Vines are quite productive and early to bear.
Winter squashes need to be started in spring for fall harvest. Be sure to plant them outdoors after the threat of frost has passed. It pays to plant them on berms (click here to read all about berming) amended with lots of organic matter. Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost, and Fafard Garden Manure Blend are recommended for spring soil enrichment.
Full sun and space are essential for these sprawling, vining plants. Many may require as much as a 12’ to 15’ patch to grow to their fullest. You will know the fruits are ready to harvest when they are hard, have full color, and their supporting vines start to whither.
Marina Di Chioggia Turban Squash
There are several pests and diseases that cause squash vines real trouble. Powdery mildew is a common fungal disease that damages leaves and gives then a white, dusty appearance. (Click here to learn how to manage powdery mildew.) Squash vine borers bore into vines and cause them to quickly wilt and die. (Click here to learn how to manage squash vine borers.)
Right now you should be able to find these squash at farmer’s markets and orchards. You might also consider planting one or two in your garden next year.
Peony ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ is an old-fashioned pastel pink bloomer with a heady sweet fragrance. (Photo by Jessie Keith)
By the end of winter, gardeners long for the sweet scents of flowers. Some of us take solace in cut flowers from the florist or supermarket while thumbing plant catalogs and indulging in flowery daydreams. Convert those daydreams to reality by planning a few fragrant garden flowers to your beds, borders and containers.
Scents of Early Spring
The ultra-fragrant ‘White Pearl’ is an exceptional hyacinth for the spring garden. (Photo by Jessie Keith)
Daffodils (Narcissus spp.) are the essence of spring and some varieties are delectably fragrant. ‘Campernelle’ is one of them, a multi-flowered yellow species narcissus that blooms early and gracefully. Towards the end of the daffodil season, luxurious ‘Rose of May’, a double-flowered white bloomer, lives up to its name, exuding a sweet scent.
The legendary courtesan, Madame Pompadour, loved hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis) and nearly three centuries later, they still carry the fragrance banner into mid-spring, with stocky heads of highly scented florets in an array of Easter egg colors. At about the same time, intensely fragrant lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) scent shaded places with their unique “Muguet des bois” aroma, long a favorite of perfume makers. If you already grow lily-of-the-valley, dig up a budded clump, pot it up with some Fafard Natural and Organic Potting Soil and enjoy the fragrance indoors while the flowers last. Afterward, return the clump to the garden.
Late Spring Fragrance
The deep purple blooms of sweet pea ‘Cupani’ offer spicy fragrance from late spring through summer. (Photo by Jessie Keith)
In pots or trained against walls or trellises, old-fashioned annual sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) send out a ravishing scent. The maroon and purple Cupani types are among the most fragrant, but all varieties please the nose while tantalizing the eye with delicate orchid-like flowers. Get a jump on the season by starting sweet pea seeds indoors in trays or cell packs filled with Fafard Natural and Organic Seed Starter.
By late spring, fragrant garden peonies (Paeonia lactiflora) command center stage, with tall stems, handsome dissected leaves, and big, bountiful flowers. Older varieties, like the rose-pink double, ‘Sarah Bernhardt’, offer winning fragrance and make excellent cut flowers as well. Well-tended peony plants will live for decades in the garden.
Summer Scent Extravaganza
Sweet scents abound in summer. Biennial stocks (Matthiola incana) are sun lovers that grow one to three feet tall and bear colorful, dense clusters of spice-scented flowers. Carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) echo that clove fragrance, with familiar ruffled flowers in single and bi-colored combinations of reds, whites, yellows, pinks, and purples. Both stocks and carnations can be grown from seed started indoors eight to 12 weeks before the last frost date, but are also available from nurseries in starter packs.
Standing tall at the back of the early summer border, nothing perfumes the air like Oriental lilies (Lilium spp.). Hybridized from several different Asian lily species, Orientals grow three to four feet high and may require staking. The effort is worth it to support the enormous scented trumpets that are borne in profusion on mature plants. Freckled pink ‘Stargazer’ and pristine white ‘Casa Blanca’ are among the best-known Oriental lilies.
The Nicotiana alata hybrid ‘Domino White’ scents the air on summer nights.
Fragrant night-blooming plants open their petals in the evening hours to attract pollinators. One of the best is flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata), which bears long tubular flowers that flare into white or yellow-green trumpets. Look for the fragrant species form, rather than unscented hybrids, and plant near seating areas or paths where evening visitors can enjoy them.
Fragrance is harder to find as the growing season winds down, but plants that provide it are worth seeking out. Perfume shady spots with cimicifuga, sometimes known as black cohosh or bugbane (Actaea racemosa). Rising four to six feet tall, Cimicifuga bears elegant, deeply dissected foliage. Sweet-smelling white flowerheads, each one bearing scores of tiny fragrant blooms, wave high above the leaves in the early fall.
Dahlias are great garden and cutting flowers, but are not known for fragrance. It pays to plant the few that combine beauty and scent. ‘Honka’ is one. Thriving in sunny spots, the single flowers sport eight narrow yellow petals apiece. The combination of beauty, scent, and hardiness won ‘Honka’ the Royal Horticultural Society’s coveted Award of Garden Merit.
Location is Everything
Position fragrant flowering plants strategically throughout the garden and combine them with a selection of shrubs, trees and foliage plants that also exude distinctive scents. Even weeding seems easier when the fragrance of flowers hangs in the air.
Many Dianthus are highly fragrant. (Photo by Jessie Keith)
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