A Gardening Year

The adventures and misadventures of an heirloom gardener

Saturday, March 31, 2007

All Hands Alert!

An urgent call for volunteers has gone out from Rutgers Gardens. The spring sales are rapidly approaching. Thousands of plants need to be transplanted into their sale containers. The Gardens obtains many of their sale plants from Kube Pak, a wholesale grower. Any trays, or plugs as they call them, that have poor germination or have had some of their plants removed to fill out orders resulting in partial trays are donated to the Gardens.

This is what the greenhouse looked like today after the latest run to Kube Pak:

All of those tiny plants have to be transplanted into 4- and 6- packs for sale to the public. One tiny plant at a time. Hence the urgent call for help from as many volunteers who could spare some time as possible.

This is how we did it:

Each plant is "popped" out of its tray into a container and then replanted into flats. In the background, you can see the flats being filled with the potting soil which is actually a soil-less mix.

Confession time: I'm not quite as altruistic as you think. I do get something out of this besides gratitude from Rutgers Gardens. Any leftover plants are donated (or "re-gifted") to the volunteers. Here's my haul:

In the rectangular pot are two types of coleus and various begonias, color unknown (leftovers aren't labelled). The round pots have petunias in them. Again, I'm not sure of the color. But, hey! Free plants! It's all good.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Winter Sowing Update

So far, my wintersown seeds have been doing very well. I've started a new spreadsheet on the the germination dates so I can compare from year to year when various seeds germinated. Today, two more containers are showing green: Nicotiana sylvestris and Snapdragon "Black Prince". I've direct sown both of these in prior years with no success so I'm happy to see them. The snapdragons are destined for my new Butterfly/Hummingbird Garden. The nicotiana will be planted in the bed along the Ugly Green Fence.

Winter Sowing Sprouts!
Bachelor's Buttons
Cleome "White Queen"
Cosmos "Seashells"
Nicotiana alata “Lime Green”
Nicotiana sylvestris
Snapdragon "Black Prince"
Verbena bonariensis
Wild Purple Foxglove

Mystery Plant #2

I'm thinking of starting a new series "The Mystery Plants of Spring". Here's another little mystery I uncovered today:

It's in my oldest border. I don't recall planting anything new there last year, but this is obviously a perennial because I cut back some old stalks.

Update: I started this post earlier today. Since then, I remembered that I transplanted a few scraggly catnip plants last fall from the pot where I had (tried) to grow them to this border. They were in such bad shape that I didn't expect them to survive the winter. I'll keep an eye on these and if the stray cat that I am feeding in my backyard takes a sudden interest in them, I'll know for sure!

The Weirdness Chronicles 2007 - Chapter 1

The "Mystery Plant" that we all agreed was some sort of lily has instead turned out to be:

A snowdrop! This bed is probably the ONLY place in my yard that I have never planted snowdrops. Perhaps Mother Nature is trying to tell me something. Maybe I have finally found the place where snowdrops like to grow in my yard.

Or the squirrels have their larder here.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Winter Sowing Update

Two more containers have sprouted: Cleome "White Queen" and Wild Purple Foxglove. Normally I would be growing Cleome "Rose Queen", a nineteenth century heirloom. When I reviewed my plant list for my plot at Rutgers Gardens, I realized I needed to vary my color scheme. I had (pink) Cosmos "Seashells" and (purple) Verbena bonariensis on the list. Pink cleome would just be too much. White cleome would stand out and provide nice contrast between the pink cosmos and the purple verbena. At least I hope so.

I'm really excited about the Wild Purple Foxglove. Unlike just about every gardener I've ever talked to, I have been spectacularly unsuccessful at growing foxglove from seed. I've tried all different kinds and with the exception of Straw Foxglove, have not grown a single plant. The Wild Purple Foxglove will be transplanted into both the Wildflower Garden and the Purple Garden.

Winter Sowing Sprouts!
Bachelor's Buttons
Cleome "White Queen"
Cosmos "Seashells"
Nicotiana alata “Lime Green”
Verbena bonariensis
Wild Purple Foxglove

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Winter Sowing Update

Please bear with me. This blog also functions as my garden journal. If my winter sowing experiment is successful, I will want to do it again next year. Then I will be curious as to when seeds began to germinate this year.

Probably owing to today’s warm weather (80F, 26C), four more containers have sprouted: Johnny-Jump-Ups, Love in a Mist, Nicotiana alata “Lime Green” and Verbena bonariensis. I’m probably the only gardener in the world winter sowing Johnny-Jump-Ups, normally a nuisance in the garden. I have as much luck with them as I have with Snowdrops, so I plant Johnny-Jump-Ups every year.

Winter Sowing Sprouts!
Bachelor's Buttons
Cosmos "Seashells"
Love in a Mist
Nicotiana alata “Lime Green”
Verbena bonariensis

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Mystery Plant

I've discovered my first mystery plant of 2007!

It's obviously a bulb of some sort. Just one problem. This is the border along the Ugly Green Fence erected by my neighbors two years ago. Aside from some Thalia daffodils planted near the Alpine Strawberries, I've never planted any bulbs in this bed.

So what is it?

Green Thumb Sunday


I take it back. The squirrels didn't get all of the crocus bulbs that I planted last fall. This is just one bunch of species crocus that I planted in my Wildflower Garden. Two more bunches also survived and bloomed. I love the color. So different from the usual crocus that I plant. These are going to look great in a few years as they multiply.

Gardeners, Plant and Nature lovers can join in every Sunday, visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Home Gardeners' School - Spring 2007

It's that time of year again! This is my third year attending the Home Gardeners' School offered by the Office of Continuing Education at Cook College now known as the College of Environmental and Biological Sciences. They offer it twice a year, in March and September. It's all day on a Saturday. You can take up to four classes. There are also speakers and Q&A's during the lunch break.

My first class was on composting. I loved the instructor. She was very enthusiastic and had the rare gift of inspiring that same enthusiasm in her audience. She offered a lot of the same techniques as I had read in Teaming with Microbes . I did come away from the class with one new idea: when cleaning up your leaves in the fall or spring, leave a pile of them next to your composter. Every time you dump kitchen waste or other green matter in it, cover it with leaves which are brown matter. Voila! A great way to keep your brown to green ratio correct.

The second class of the morning session that I attended was on foliage in the garden. The lecturer was the garden writer, Judy Glattstein. I've taken classes from her before. She is always entertaining as well as informative. I chose this class, based on her book Consider the Leaf: Foliage in Garden Design, because I need variety in my garden beds. Foliage is an excellent accent if used correctly. Judy showed us many combinations of color, texture and shape and pointed what worked and what didn't and why.

There was a Q&A with a few of the instructors during the lunch break. My favorite question: how do you get rid of moles/voles? Judy answered that question and her answer was the same one I would use: Get a cat! It's completely organic and doubles as a lap warmer in the winter.

Next up, after lunch, was "25 Common Plants (and Options): Care, Culture & Use". Now why would I be interested in this? I don't grow any of the "common" landscape plants. The answer is quite simple. Everyone knows that I am a Master Gardener, so they bring me all of their gardening questions. That's tough for me because, as noted above, I don't grow that stuff so I know nothing about it! Thanks to the Director of Rutgers Gardens who taught the class, I now know a lot more about the trees and shrubs used by most homeowners in New Jersey as well as good substitutes.

For the fourth class of the day, nothing was offered that piqued my interest so I helped out at the plant sale sponsored by Rutgers Gardens. The plants are always ones that not found in the local nurseries and big box stores. It's great way for me to learn about new plants as well as help out the Gardens. They depend on their volunteers to set up and tear down the plant sales, answer questions and help people carry their purchases to their cars. It was a fun way to end my day of garden learning.

There is also always a book sale sponsored by the college bookstore. In prior years, I haven't found the selection very interesting. This year, the books were more varied. I snagged the last copy of A Pompeian Herbal: Ancient and Modern Medicinal Plants. I've added it to my stack of unread gardening books, which also includes Gertrude Jekyll's Lost Garden and The Garden at Highgrove. It has to rain sometime, right? And then maybe I'll have time to read my new books!

Friday, March 23, 2007


I love snowdrops. They are very dainty and appear to be delicate. They are much tougher than they look, however. They grow and bloom in the coldest and snowiest of weather. They give me hope that my long wait is nearly over. It won't be long before I am released from my imprisonment indoors and can once more spend hours playing in my gardens.

I first fell in love with snowdrops at my previous home. In the neighborhood was a tiny old house that had an enormous patch of snowdrops in one corner of the front yard. They had obviously been planted years ago and since multiplied. When they bloomed, they seemed to light up the entire yard. Just looking at them made me smile.

I've tried and tried to duplicate that patch at both my previous house and this one with no luck. I just can't seem to get snowdrops to grow, let alone multiply. I have planted them literally all over my yard in the hopes of finding at least one spot that they liked. No luck. Two years ago, I decided to change tactics and try planting a different type of snowdrop: double snowdrops. Even worse. They didn't grow at all.

I had completely forgotten about them until yesterday. I was walking past the bed I had planted them in on my way to check my winter sowing containers when I noticed out of the corner of my eye, a single snowdrop!

Hope springs eternal. If I have suddenly developed a green thumb with indoor plants, maybe I will also start to have better luck with snowdrops.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Mouse & Trowel Awards

I began reading blogs a few years ago. At first it was the usual political/humor/personal offerings. Then more and more garden blogs as they gained in popularity. I even started one of my own! It was very soon after I started reading blogs that I became aware of the Bloggies, annual awards for blogs. Every year I submitted my nominations and voted on the resulting finalists. It was always great fun when one of the blogs I read regularly was nominated and/or won.

The categories change every year, reflecting the changing blogosphere. But I notice a definite bias towards political/humor/personal. So-called hobby blogs seem to be regarded as inferior. Oh sure, they've added a "craft" category. And "food" which I suppose encompasses those of us who love to cook. As the editor of Garden Voices I have seen the gardening world literally explode into the blogging universe. If knitting blogs can win awards, why not garden blogs? How about our own category?

How about our own awards? Colleen Vanderlinden of In the Garden Online has stepped up and created the Mouse & Trowel Awards celebrating garden blogs and websites. Here's our chance to showcase our hobby/passion.

In addition to the "usual" categories, she has one that is probably unique to the gardening world:
"Garden blogger you'd most like to have as a neighbor". What a great reflection of the wonderul community of online gardeners!

So get out your blogroll . . . nominations are open until Sunday, April 14. Finalists will announced on Monday, April 15. You'll be able to vote for your favorites until Friday, May 11. The winners will be announced on Sunday, May 13. Winners will be able to proudly display the Mouse & Trowel Badge on their blogs/websites demonstrating to the world that they are the best of the best as determined by gardeners from all over the world.

Winter Sowing Update

Yes, I know I just did this yesterday, but I had to peek again. A third container has sprouted. Cosmos "Seashells". All three of these containers were planted for my plot at Rutgers Gardens. Just in case they didn't work out, I have duplicate seed packets for my gardens at home. If you recall, last year I lost all of the seedlings I started in the greenhouse and was forced to transplant plants from my own gardens. This year, I wanted to make sure that all of my bases were covered and that I would have plenty of plants for both "home" and "away". So far, so good!

Winter Sowing Sprouts!
Bachelor's Buttons
Cosmos "Seashells"

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Garden Bloggers' Book Club

My company sent me to a seminar in Manhattan earlier this month. The seminar, on management techniques, was excellent. The commute was a nightmare. I am accustomed to just hopping into my car and driving for 20 minutes during non-rush hours (I work from 4 PM to midnight). For three days I was forced to endure two hours of trains and taxis each way. Compounding my misery was the weather. 14 F (-10 C) each morning as I stood shivering on an exposed train platform, hurriedly changing trains in Newark and then standing in line outside of Penn Station waiting for a cab. 24 F (-4 C) when I made the reverse trek back to New Jersey each evening.

I had anticipated the long journey. I checked with the company who was giving the seminar to make sure a laptop was not necessary for the class. I wanted to travel light. No laptop, no briefcase, just a small handbag containing my Blackberry for email along with the usual stuff we women can’t go anywhere without. I also needed something to read on the train. The Gardener's Year, the March selection for the Garden Bloggers' Book Club was the perfect size to fit into my purse.

It is also the perfect topic for a gardener, unable to garden due to weather and working conditions. It is the perfect format for a commuter. The chapters are short and each can stand on their own. The author's lighthearted look at the wonders and disasters of gardening kept a smile on my face despite the cold and long hours.

I was particularly struck by his assertion that a gardener's spring is actually in the fall. How true! How many hundreds of bulbs did I plant last fall? How many perennials divided, planted and transplanted? Fall is the time to rectify mistakes. Plants are moved. Beds are re-arranged or even created. Wishlists are begun of plants, seeds and bulbs in anticipation of the catalogs that will be overflowing my mailbox during the winter months. I have always thought of the fall as the end of the growing season. It's not. It's full of beginnings not endings.

Winter Sowing Update

The weather has turned milder although still below normal temperatures for March. Just for fun, I peeked into my winter sowing containers. I was thrilled to discover seedlings emerging in two of them. I carefully lifted the containers to check the labels on the bottom, still legible! I have Bachelor’s Buttons and Calendulas sprouting.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Green Thumb Sunday


To really appreciate this picture, you have to go back to last October and view the last photo. This is what those coleus cuttings have grown into since then.

Gardeners, Plant and Nature lovers can join in every Sunday, visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Garden Bloggers' Snow Day

Remember those cheery crocuses decorating my yard two days ago? A winter storm blew through yesterday leaving an icy snow surface so hard, I could literally walk across my backyard and never break through the crust. The cute little striped crocuses are completely buried in the front of my house. The yellow ones and dark purple ones in front of the shed are bravely sticking up through icy drifts.

My winter sowing is definitely getting a workout. I'm eager to see how many seeds actually germinate after this:

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

There was a time not long ago, when houseplants died horrible deaths in my home. Lately, though, I seem to have developed a Houseplant Green Thumb. I just stick stuff in pots, water them and they grow and bloom!

This is a Scilla violacea. It was a cutting given to me by the Extension Horticulturist. Sorry about the lousy picture. I’m still fiddling with the macro on my camera.

Also still blooming are the primroses and African violet featured last month.

Outdoors, the crocuses are making bright splashes of color around the yard.

This is a clump next to the door of my shed. It vies with another yellow clump in the front of my house for the title of “First Crocus” every year.

On the other side of the step are these deep purple crocus.

And last, but certainly not least, these lovely purple striped crocuses in the same bed with this year’s “First Crocus” in the front of my house.

I am very, very disappointed this spring. Last fall, I planted about 100 snowdrops and crocuses in various beds around my yard. I was hoping for a spectacular show this spring. I got nothing. Zero. Zip. Nada. A few crocuses have sent up leaves but that’s all. Either the bulbs were bad or they are waiting until next year or the squirrels got them.

Next month I hope to be able to report whether or not the pink daffodils that I planted in the Entry Garden are indeed pink.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Straw Hat Foodies

Readers of my cooking blog know that my fellow Straw Hatter, "A" loves to cook as much as I do. She has been contributing reviews of recipes she is trying. This involves her emailing the recipes and her reviews which I then have to copy and paste, rearrange, retype, etc. So I am really excited that "A" has agreed to become a co-blogger.

"A" also has a plot at Rutgers Gardens in the veggie area. Quite a few of the recipes she makes use ingredients that she has grown herself. If you're a veggie gardener too, you definitely want to check out her reviews.

Starting today, she will be posting her own reviews and recipes. As she gets the hang of this blogging thing, she will be adding her own links to the sidebar. So if you're wondering what to make for dinner tonight, take a look at her Lentil & Bulgar Pilaf with Squash. I can't wait to try it myself!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Green Thumb Sunday


Before I began my shift filling containers for hanging baskets last week, I took a stroll through the Orchid Room at Floriculture. These are the smallest orchids I have ever seen!

Gardeners, Plant and Nature lovers can join in every Sunday, visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

2007 Springfest Flower & Garden Show

Important disclaimer: The following post is my personal opinion only. It is in no way a reflection of the opinion of Rutgers Gardens or anyone associated with it. As a volunteer, I have no authority to speak on behalf of Rutgers Gardens or any of its personnel.

Back in 2005, I started attending garden shows. I was quite disappointed by them. They seem to feature mainly hardscape with few plantings. I've been attending the New Jersey Flower & Garden Show regularly as a volunteer for Rutgers Gardens (please see important disclaimer). It has improved each year. I hadn't been back to the Springfest show because it is held in Sussex, which is over an hour distant. But when the Head Hatter was looking for volunteers for the Rutgers Gardens booth (please see important disclaimer), I decided to give it another look. Even better, my fellow Straw Hatter, A decided to join me. We had a fun day answering questions while taking turns touring the show.

Like the New Jersey Flower & Garden Show, Springfest has greatly improved since my first visit. Less hardscape, more plantings and lots and lots of water. Everywhere I turned, there was a water feature:

Some companies did strive to be different:

Here's a familiar face. The same company that designed the "World of Water" garden at the Flower & Garden Show last month, also had a garden at Springfest:

Look at the size of those koi!

Most of the water features in the display gardens had koi in them. Except for these people, who apparently felt that Barbie was more appropriate:

The most spectacular garden was an enormous cottage garden:

I was pretty excited by this until I took a closer look. Go ahead, double click on the picture below.

You see it too, don't you? They've mixed shade lovers like hosta and astilbe with sun lovers like delphinium and roses. I was appalled. People look at these gardens for ideas. Can't you just see a gardener who doesn't know any better trying some of these combinations, failing and then blaming themselves not realizing that these plants have different requirements?

We need to take a moment here. Remember! Personal blog. Personal opinion. Nothing to do with Rutgers Gardens.

Thank you.

I did come away with one idea from this show. And I didn't even see it until I looked at the pictures I took.

Trowels as garden ornaments!

I was very disappointed with the vendors at this show (Personal blog! Personal opinion!). Lots of frou-frou decorative stuff. Most of it looked like it wouldn't stand up to the elements. Or the voracious Middlesex squirrels. Nevertheless, I will be returning to this show next year if volunteers are needed for the Rutgers Gardens booth. I'm looking forward to even better exhibits (and vendors!).

More pictures can be seen on Flickr.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Green Thumb Sunday


This is Maggie, the Greenhouse Cat at Floriculture Greenhouse on the Cook College campus. She is Beatrice's replacement and still new at her job. She is being introduced to the greenhouses, one room at a time. They made a good choice. She is friendly and not afraid of all the strange people coming and going in the greenhouse. I have to get back into the habit of slipping a few treats into my pocket whenever I am working at Floriculture.

Gardeners, Plant and Nature lovers can join in every Sunday, visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Saturday Work Day

The volunteers at Rutgers Gardens are busy preparing for plants sales in April and May. Regular Work Days are scheduled almost daily. I made some time today to help out. Our task was to create hanging baskets of petunias and fuschias .

Just like last time we started out with bales of soiless potting mix.

I worked with another volunteer filling containers with the mix:

The containers were filled with plugs from Kube Pak. These are petunias.

They are planted 5 to a pot. In just a couple of hours, close to 100 pots were created by half a dozen volunteers working in an assembly line:

Only 8 weeks left until Ag Field Day, the first big plant sale of the year.

The orchids at Floriculture are in bloom! You can see my photos of them on Flickr.