We can look at great gardens as works of art being delighted purely by the visuals or we can dig a bit deeper as we tour these landscapes and look for clues on how to become great gardeners ourselves. Now a new book about Wave Hill, the world renowned public garden in New York City, does just that. “Nature Into Art: The Gardens of Wave Hill” lets us feast on the design daring, the color plays, the garden pictures captured in its extravagant photography, but at the same time it tells us how they were accomplished, teaching us the tenants of the Wave Hill way of gardening that we can put into practice at home.
Tom Christopher, a graduate of New York Botanical Garden School of Professional Horticulture and longtime garden writer and friend, wrote the new book. And along the way even Tom, with all his prior training, enjoyed a sort of insider’s advanced course in garden making and maintaining. He’s here to share some of the many Wave Hill “aha’s” gleaned along the way.
Unusual Fruit: About 10 years ago, Dan Furman joined the nursery and mail-order operation his parents Kasha and David had started in 1989 in Connecticut to specialize in Chinese tree peonies, which are still a mainstay of the family business. Well, Dan brought with him a growing interest in edible ornamentals, he says, “to make landscapes more bountiful, not just beautiful.” And with lots of personal research and experimentation, he has added a great assortment of them to the Cricket Hill lineup.
Like writer, artist and wildlife rehabilitator Julie Zickefoose, I am particularly fascinated and also often startled by the interface of birds and people. Her latest book, “Saving Jemima,” is the story of an orphaned blue jay and Julie’s decision to try to help save it. And it’s also a much bigger story with provocative chapter titles like “Who’s Saving Whom?” and “Lessons From A Jay.”
Julie and I spoke recently about her eight-month relationship with Jemima. That special bird opened up many subjects for her, including patterns of blue jay movement and behavior that Julie was able to begin to grasp once she learned to recognize individual jays, including Jemima, by the markings on their faces. We even talked about Julie’s recipe for a winter feeder bird food called Zick Dough.
The backyard harvest is probably coming in fast and furious, and the farmstand and farmer’s market tables are loaded, too. So, what to do with all those gorgeous zucchini, tomatoes, and how to savor every kernel of the fleeting peak moment of sweet corn?
I called my friend Alexandra Stafford, author of “Bread Toast Crumbs” and creator of the indispensable food website alexandracooks.com for ideas, and she had as many as I have zucchini at the moment. Uh-oh. If you haven’t followed Ali on Instagram, where her how-to videos and stories are like a short course in better cooking, don’t delay any longer. She joined me on the radio show and podcast to talk about summer’s best flavors, with recipes for squash, corn and tomatoes in particular–galettes and gazpacho, fritters and more.
Orchids: You can’t live without them, and you can’t keep them alive. I’m kidding, sort of, but who among us hasn’t wished we could do better with a gifted or adopted beauty that just won’t re-bloom, or generally looks less happy now than when it arrived last year?
I asked Marc Hachadourian, author of the new book “Orchid Modern” and senior curator of the world-class orchid collection at the New York Botanical Garden, to let us in on some insights.
Besides curating the orchid collection, Marc is Director of Glasshouse Horticulture at NYBG, overseeing the cultivation of tens of thousands of tropical and temperate plants grown for conservatory exhibitions and permanent display there. The Orchid Show there each March and April is a must-visit. And Marc’s new book teaches us not just which ones to grow and how, but also kind of how to apply a mini-version of the signature showmanship and artistry of that big event to how we display our plants at home.
Learn how to water properly, and the subtleties of repotting—a step most of us fear, and put off, which can really set a plant back. But which way to repot which kind of orchid, since not all want the same treatment? Most of all, get some ideas for using orchids more creatively: no more just those garden-center plastic pots lined up on a windowsill. And enter to win the new book by commenting in the box at the very bottom of the page.
Your recent questions ranged from favorite blue hydrangeas to junipers with browning needles, and even birds tapping incessantly on window glass and tackling the weed oxalis or wood sorrel. It’s Urgent Garden Question time, and Ken Druse is back to help answer what listeners asked about. Longtime friend and fellow garden writer Ken is author of many books, including “The New Shade Garden” and “Natural Companions” and “Making More Plants.”
And for those of you listening from near the Capital Region of New York State, Ken will join me at the New York State Writers Institute’s second annual Book Festival on Saturday, September 14th, 2019, and we’re going to have information about how you can join this wonderful, big, free day-long book festival and meet us.
Join Ken and Margaret at the Albany Book Fair
An amazing, author-filled day is planned by the New York State Writers Institute, on the SUNY-Albany Uptown Campus, on Saturday September 14th, 2019. From Dani Shapiro and Madhur Jaffrey, to Jamaica Kincaid and Joyce Carol Oates…we’ll be part of a group of more than 100 authors and poets participating. Ken and I will do a Q&A session together at 10:30 AM; we’ll also do individual events at 12:30 (Margaret) and 1:30 (Ken). Ken will be kicking off his upcoming new book—his 20th!—called “The Scentual Garden,” with a slide talk about botanical fragrance—and though the gorgeous new book doesn‘t come out till October, early copies will be available for sale, too. Get the schedule of all Festival events, and the list of participating writers. Come one, come all!
Asian Jumping Worms: So-called crazy worms or Asian jumping worms, several invasive earthworm species that are spreading alarmingly in many areas and degrading soil and natural habitats, are probably the most common pest question I get from readers and listeners lately. Many of you have asked specifically, “How can I stop them?”
To find out what scientists know so far, I called researcher Brad Herrick of University of Wisconsin-Madison, who gave us a 101 last year on these destructive worms, and has since published some new insights that may in time help lead to answers.
Brad is Arboretum Ecologist and Research Program Manager at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum, where the staff first noticed the destructive effects of Asian jumping worms in 2013. He’s been studying them ever since.
Native Bumblebees: Biologist Robert Gegear wants our help. He wants us to become Beecologists, as in, citizen scientists who help with the study of the ecology of bees. Our native bumblebees, specifically. He wants us to get to know them by taking photos, and contribute to scientific research by sharing those sightings, and in the process, learn to make gardens and landscapes that support them.
Gegear is an assistant professor of biology at University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, whose research interests include the conservation of native pollination systems, floral evolution, and bumblebee ecology. He’s one of the founders of the Beecology citizen science project, with Worcester Polytechnic Institute, funded with a grant from the National Science Foundation. Begun in Massachusetts, it is now getting data from citizen contributors over a wider area, and welcomes photos of bumblebees on flowers from throughout North America.
In our chat, I was surprised to learn that a bumblebee species may prefer a different plant for nectar than it does as a source of pollen, and also what role pollen serves for the bees (not just the plants they pollinate). And that though there are a lot of lists out there of “bee plants,” many of them aren’t based on research—but rather on less-formal observations of bees being seen on certain flowers. It’s time for that to change, and each of us can help.
Nimble Cooking: Each season I ask my cookbook writer friend, Ali Stafford, what new books look exciting to her. And for spring she had one in particular she said I mustn’t miss, “The Nimble Cook” by Ronna Welsh. Ronna asks us to think differently, to think about ingredients first, before recipes. And Ali was right, I love it.
Ronna Welsh, a former restaurant cook who operates the New York cooking school, Purple Kale Kitchenworks, has been teaching chefs and home cooks for more than 20 years. Her new book is called “The Nimble Cook: New Strategies for Great Meals that Make the Most of Your Ingredients.” We talked about her approach, and even got a very different approach to making a frittata.
Primroses: What’s not to love about primroses? And I felt that way even before I read Elizabeth Lawson’s deep-dive social and cultural history of them in her new book, “Primrose,” part of a botanical series from London-based Reaktion Books.
She introduced me to the best primulas for our gardens today, and some primrose legend and lore. Elizabeth Lawson is a naturalist and writer from Ithaca, NY, with a doctorate in botany. She’s also the new president of the American Primrose Society.
It’s Urgent Garden Question time again, which means Ken Druse visited my radio show and podcast to help provide the answers about topics ranging from good and bad materials for making garden paths, to issues with powdery mildew on various plants, and roses with black spot-and even a question about transplanting ginkgo seedlings (or not).
When we spoke, longtime friend and fellow garden writer Ken was just back from a garden-filled lecture trip across the nation, with stops at Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and in Northern California. He shared highlights from those stops, too, including various bold foliage plants he enjoyed seeing, while also answering listener questions.
Raised Beds: I built my old-style wooden raised beds for vegetables about 30 years ago, and they’ve served me well. Lately on social media, I love seeing younger-generation gardeners embracing raised beds, too, but using creative designs and even doing so in smaller spaces than mine, like Kevin Espiritu of the “Epic Gardening” podcast.
Kevin’s new book, “Urban Gardening: How to Grow More Plants No Matter Where You Live,” includes many raised-bed construction styles to consider and his tips for success in growing in them. Kevin’s garden couldn’t be much more different from mine. He’s in San Diego Zone 10B; I’m rural New York Zone 5B. Most of his garden is in raised beds and other containers, and mine is mostly in the ground, but we have lots in common, too. We talked about successful above-ground growing methods and more.
Okra: If you had told me I’d be reading an entire book about okra, and often laughing out loud delightedly in the process, I’d have said, “No way.” But here I’ve been lately, my nose in Chris Smith’s just-published, “The Whole Okra: A Seed-to-Stem Celebration,” gaining an entirely new perspective on this much-maligned but resilient vegetable that Smith predicts will be important for future food security in a changing climate.
British-born Chris’s day job is as communication’s manager for Sow True Seed in Asheville, North Carolina. Before and after hours, you’ll often find him growing or maybe cooking and certainly eating okra, lots and lots of okra, or directing The Utopian Seed Project and serving on boards of other non-profits focused on seed and food security and sustainability.
Fertilizers: What fertilizers should I feed my (fill-in-the-blank) plant? A lot of you ask that question, about things ranging from magnolias to tomatoes. Soil fertility, and how to best achieve it, is today’s topic, with long-time organic gardener and author Lee Reich who, among his three postgraduate degrees, has one in—you guessed it—soil science.
All those different fertilizer formulas in the garden center, labeled for particular kinds of plants, seem to imply that we need to add something, no matter what. But is that always the case? Lee, the author most recently of “The Ever Curious Gardener: Using a Little Natural Science for a Much Better Garden,” talked with me about building healthy soil and growing healthy plants.
Honey Bee Hunting: Beekeeping is a “thing” in recent years, an increasingly a popular hobby, but our relationship with honey bees goes back much further to one we had as early human hunter-gatherers, following wild bees in hope of finding their hives and the honey therein.
This history of the subject of beelining, the other way to connect to honey bees besides keeping hives, is the subject of the book called “Following the Wild Bees: The Craft and Science of Bee Hunting,” by Cornell University biologist Thomas Seeley, just released in paperback edition. Tom is the Horace White Professor in Biology in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell. He’s been passionately interested in honey bees since high school, eventually doing his doctoral thesis on them, and his scientific work since has primarily focused on understanding the phenomenon of swarm intelligence with the help of these incredible animals.
Herbaceous Peonies: Among shrubs, the most common ones I hear people wondering aloud about are hydrangeas, hydrangeas, and more hydrangeas. But when it comes to questions about perennials, herbaceous peonies top the list. To help us learn more about these extravagant, long-lived bloomers, I called peony expert Jeff Jabco of Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. Jeff is Director of Grounds and Coordinator of Horticulture there, and an officer of the Mid-Atlantic Peony Society.
Learn from Jeff when and how to plant them for best results; which varieties stand up to wind and rain best without toppling; how to have a peony season that extends to about seven weeks of beauty, and even when to cut flowers and prepare them to be longest-lasting in a vase (that answer may surprise you).
Native Plants: I hear many times each week from readers or listeners wanting advice about native plants—about pollinator plants, for instance, or making a meadow, or which woodland wildflowers to plant and how to care for them. Uli Lorimer has extensive experience with all of the above, and says the way to get to know native plants is to spend time outside among them, to observe them in their natural context. An adventure in field botany, he says, can inform your practice of horticulture back in the home garden.
Uli Lorimer has made a career of observing and working with natives. He was longtime curator of Native Flora Garden at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and recently, became director of horticulture at Native Plant Trust, the new name of the former New England Wild Flower Society, America’s oldest plant conservation organization, founded in 1900.
Garden Design Ideas: A note from a listener addressed to me and my Urgent Garden Question-answering sidekick Ken Druse asked our advice for planning a garden from the very beginning, while his home construction is under way. Well, when Ken and I began discussing possible answers, the subject quickly mutated to garden planning in general, and the things we wish we’d included in our places right from the start, and that every gardener should make room for whatever stage his or her garden is at.
Ken Druse, author of nearly 20 beautiful and inspirational garden books, including “The New Shade Garden” and “Making More Plants,” helped me tackle the subject of garden design from the ground up, and which must-have elements even established gardens need to find room for. Like good views from the house, and lots of outdoor faucets and electrical outlets, among other things.
ICAN IDENTIFY A LOT OF PLANTS, and I’m pretty good with my local bird and frog species, but a landmark book has me putting down my trowel every time someone buzzes by and having a careful look at bees–especially bumblebees. The book is “Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide,” and one of its four esteemed co-authors, Leif Richardson, joined me for a bumblebee 101 on the radio. Get a closer look at bees, and maybe win the book, too.
Richardson, who got his doctoral degree in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Dartmouth College and is now an ecological consultant and post-doc candidate, created “Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide,” for Princeton University Press with Paul Williams, Robbin Thorpe, and Sheila Colla. As you’d see in a field guide to birds, range maps for each species are included, along with sections on natural history and conservation and even a glossary with up-close images of bumblebee body parts and more.
A book I read recently changed the way I think about pruning, and actually about trees in general in the most profound way: William Bryant Logan’s “Sprout Lands: Tending the Endless Gift of Trees.” Logan is an arborist based in New York City, a member of the faculty at New York Botanical Garden, and the award-winning author of four books. His most recent, “Sprout Lands,” is a 10,000-year journey into our relationship with trees, their impact on our lives, and our culture. We talked about how mankind learned to use trees and evolved alongside them, about pruning tactics like pollarding and coppicing, and also how nearly immortal trees are.
Succession sowing: Whew! You finally got everything into the ground, transplanting every little seedling and sowing every seed, and it’s time to sit back and pat yourself on the shoulder. Or is it? Sorry gardeners. Especially when it comes to plants we grow as annuals, like most of our vegetables and cutting and container flowers, once is not enough.
Today’s subject is succession sowings, which to do and when and how, and our guest is Niki Jabbour, a resident of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and an award-winning author and popular lecturer, who also hosts “The Weekend Gardener” radio show. Her recent book, “Veggie Garden Remix,” celebrating unusual edibles we can and should grow, just won a 2019 American Horticultural Society book award.
Learn tactics for succession sowing from Niki, who despite her northern location harvests vegetables year-round from her garden, cold frames and more.
Kenn Kaufman: The spring migration is on, so bird migration was the subject of my recent conversation with Kenn Kaufman, author of the recent book, “A Season on the Wind: Inside the World of Spring Migration.”
Kenn, originator of the indispensable Kaufman Field Guide series, is one of the world’s leading naturalists and experts on birds. His lifelong interest in them began at age 6. He and his wife, Kimberly, director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, live on the west end of Lake Erie, where spring brings millions of birds virtually to their doorstep.
We discussed what triggers birds to move—and why some go long distances versus shorter ones, or choose to fly by day or instead by night. Kenn encourages us to track signs of the migration right in our own backyards, and offers other encouragement. And we talked about a theme in the new book that isn’t so upbeat: How one form of renewable energy, wind turbines, pose a substantial hazard to birds when places in their concentration points—such as where migrating birds stop over during their long journeys.
Advice from Joe Lamp’l: “My how times have changed,” I write in the beginning of my new-old book, “A Way to Garden,” out April 30, 2019 in revamped form a shocking 21 years after its first edition. New plants, new techniques, new knowledge, plus lots of evolving science to guide today’s gardeners, too.
My friend Joe Lamp’l, host of the Emmy-winning PBS show, “Growing a Greener World,” has been teaching people to garden through the media for those same 20 years. We got into a chat the other day about some of the changes in that time span—about things we still do the same way and what we do differently—and we want to let you in on the conversation.
Things like using peat moss (which we no longer do), or how we clean up these days to start and end the season (not so perfectly as before). How big a hole we dig for a shrub (not so big) and how we mulch, and why. And this: It turns out we both have the same horticultural “flaw” we wish we’d outgrow, but cannot seem to. Oops.
Besides his TV show, Joe Lamp’l creates the joegardener.com website and companion podcast, has a big Facebook group and a new online organic gardening course called Organic Gardening Academy. Like me, he has been an organic gardener from the start of his backyard adventures.And note: This segment is a companion to a conversation we began on Joe’s podcast that goes live April 25, 2019, if you want to check that out, too.
Margaret’s new book: The latest podcast is special, because it’s a special time for me, just days from the 21st anniversary version of my first award-winning book, “A Way to Garden,” comes out in an all new edition. My longtime friend and regular guest on the show, Ken Druse, took the driver’s seat and interviewed me for a change
I had to shut up and turn the mic over to Ken, an award-winning garden author and photographer of more books than I can count or apparently write myself. And he began (jokingly) like this:
Ken: Hello and welcome to “A Way to Garden.” I’m your visiting host, Ken Druse. I’m the author of, as someone said, soon to be 20 books on gardening, and our guest, our special guest today is someone who is familiar to all listeners to the radio show and the podcast and visitors to Margaret Roach’s blog, “A Way to Garden.” It’s Margaret Roach.
We then went on to talk more seriously about each getting older in aging gardens, about plants we’ve lost (and miss), and ones we wish would go away, about editing the garden, and more.
Great shrubs: So many shrubs, so little time. I’m kidding, sort of, but I think shrubs are a gardener’s best investment, and were the topic of conversation with long-time plant hunter and plant breeder Tim Wood, of wholesale Spring Meadow Nursery. Tim, the Product Development and Marketing Manager there, devotes his career to developing and identifying outstanding new woody ornamentals for the retail and landscape markets.
He visited my public-radio show and podcast to talk shrubs: what’s new, what’s coming next, and what’s going out of favor and why—new barberries that don’t seed and become invasive; better viburnums maybe that resist the leaf beetle, and more.
I’ve watched birds for decades, but in one matter, the matter of sparrows, I mostly took the lazy route, simply marking down “sparrow” in my eBird checklist whenever I saw a streaky little brownish bird, not trying to figure out which sparrow. If I’d had the new book “Peterson Reference Guide to Sparrows” back then, maybe I’d have behaved better.
Its author, Rick Wright, has long delved deep into the world of birds, and he has a rich academic background, too, in languages, philosophy, life sciences, and even medieval studies. Through it all he kept on birding and is a leader for Victor Emanuel nature tours, and the author of state-specific American Birding Association guides, for Arizona and for his home state of New Jersey.
We talked sparrows—how they’re related, how to learn to ID them, and more.
Mushroom growing: Have you ever grown mushrooms? Or perhaps they’ve just grown themselves in different parts of your garden at different moments of the season and you’ve wondered: why there, and why then? I know I do; I’m fascinated by fungi. I asked John Michelotti of Catskill Fungi to encourage us to try cultivating some edible ones and to go take a mushroom walk too, to get to meet some of the incredible diversity out there.
John is a self-described “mushroom guy” and has studied fungi with some of the country’s top mycologists. On his family farm in Big Indian, New York, he cultivates indoor and outdoor mushrooms, and provides guided mushroom classes, cultivation courses, private consultations, and even creates mushroom health extracts. John is also part of the Amazon Mycorenewal Project, researching the utilization of fungi to remediate oil spills in the Amazon Rain Forest.
Katherine Tracey of Avant Gardens and I talked about their nursery, and especially about working with succulent plants. I’m already dreaming about summertime containers, though the first flat of spring’s pansies won’t arrive in the local nurseries for a month. My extra-early visualizations feature succulents—sculptural, low-care plants in a range of textures and colors—pots full of them, and maybe even a “wreath” (above) for the patio table. I knew Katherine Tracey of Avant Gardens Nursery in Massachusetts would be able to help me with how-to and design ideas. Her advice, in print or the weekly podcast:
Cutting garden 101: The expression “cutting garden” sounds dreamy, laden with the promise of colorful flowers to harvest and bring indoors for bouquets in the months to come. But let’s get practical: like which of the many possibilities to grow, annual, perennial, or otherwise, and how? That’s today’s subject with flower farmer Jenny Elliott.
Jenny Elliott of Tiny Hearts Farm in Copake, New York, is a farmer-florist. With partner Luke Franco and their crew, she grows flowers organically, both for the wholesale market, for subscribers to her weekly flower CSA, and also for events, including weddings that she designs and more.
She’s my beloved neighbor and friend and also one of my collaborators May 11th and again June 8th, when we join forces with HGS Home Chef Cooking School in nearby Hillsdale and Broken Arrow Nursery and put on a full day of programs coincide with my spring open garden days. She’s got a calendar for classes at her Tiny Hearts Flower Shop, too, in Hillsdale, and is the featured speaker at Spencertown Academy in Austerlitz, New York, on June 15th, all of which will be detailed on A Way to Garden dot com with the show transcript.
Thanks to your bountiful supply of Urgent Garden Questions, my friend Ken Druse and I are being kept busy. In our latest Q&A edition of my podcast, we’ll tackle how to plant groundcovers under established trees, and the gentle care required working in their root zones, to what to do with that gift plant like a Primula, after you enjoy it for a week or two as a centerpiece.
Ken Druse needs no introduction, but I’ll offer one anyhow. He’s a longtime friend and prolific garden author and photographer with hit books like “Making More Plants” and “The New Shade Garden,” and “Natural Companions.” Plus, he makes me laugh, which is very important.
Epimediums: I will confess right off, I love epimediums, but apparently not as much as Karen Perkins, who boasts the largest selection of these choice perennial plants for sale in the United States. Though often thought of by gardeners as simply a tough groundcover for dry shade, epimediums are much more, Karen says.
Karen Perkins has since 2009 owned Garden Visions Epimediums, a small retail mail-order nursery located in rural central Massachusetts, and founded in 1997 by Darrell Probst. She’s also open for visits and in-person shopping a couple of spectacular weeks each May during Epimedium peak season.
Advice from Wave Hill: In my quest for a wider plant palette and for ideas on how to put plants together with confidence and a bolder hand, I asked Director of Horticulture Louis Bauer of Wave Hill, the renown garden in New York City that has been long praised for its dramatic plantsmanship, for advice. Whenever I visit a public garden, I see irresistible plants that are new to me and wonder how the horticulturists behind such designs, like Louis and his team, find all these goodies and figure out how to use them so spectacularly.
We talked about the advantages of growing from seed; about extra-cooperative little “filler” plants like certain sedges and Erigeron (fleabane) that can beautify even tough spots like at the roots of trees; about using pots to announce garden areas, and the signature plants of each of the distinct gardens at Wave Hill, too.
Hot annuals: Maybe you’re looking for fun new annual flowers for this year’s garden, fresh ideas for adding seasonal color to pots and beds. Whenever I visit a public garden, I see gorgeous plants I don’t recognize and also ones I do sort of, but in some extra-special variety I haven’t seen before. So how does the horticulturist behind such designs find all these goodies and know how to use them so boldly?
I decided to invite one to the show to find out. Here to help is Head Gardener Timothy Tilghman, of Untermyer Gardens Conservancy in Yonkers, New York, an ambitious restoration of a historic landscape that he’s been undertaking with his team since 2011 and gaining lots of praise in the press and from visitors.
Growing Root Vegetables: Do you know what it takes to grow a perfect root vegetable? When I recently asked A Way To Garden’s readers and listeners what their most common seed-related issues were, one recurring theme came up that surprised me: troubles with root crops, from poor germination of carrots to radishes and beets and others that never sized up.
If you want to know how to grow any crop to perfection, call a person who grows them for a living, I figure, and better yet someone who does that in formal trials where every last detail is recorded and evaluated.
Daniel Yoder, a research product technician at Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine, has a particular specialty in the world of root vegetables, and we talked about prepping the bed before sowing roots crops, how to space and when to thin the seedlings, keeping them well-watered so they can bulk up, and more.
More seed how-to’s: How’s that seed shopping going? On the radio show and podcast, Ken Druse and I covered more of your seed questions, from which seeds to sow indoors versus out; outsmarting animals who gobble up direct-sown seeds; to why some seedlings just sit there, like miniatures, never reaching full size.
My annual Seed Series continues and with help from Ken, author of “Making More Plants: The Science, Art, and Joy of Propagation,” I also tackled growing primulas from seed, spinach failures, direct-sowing some perennials and biennials, and Ken’s adventures growing citrus and more.
When we reached out in December to get your Urgent Seed Questions, we got so many that we taped two shows—and even at that, some will be tackled in future episodes with guest experts. As we did in Part 1, we’re giving away a copy of Ken’s book “Making More Plants.” Enter over on awaytogarden dot com.
Pollinator plants: Native plantings are a giant part of the equation in supporting pollinators, but many other smaller efforts we can make with ornamental plants, and even the edibles we choose to grow, can add up, too. I was delighted to see the latest Uprising Seeds catalog was themed “Pollinate.” Brian Campbell, with Crystine Goldberg, grows organic seed at Uprising in Bellingham, Washington, and we talked about some of his favorite plants on the farm that are always abuzz with beneficial insect life.
“They’re our biggest unpaid staff workers,” says Brian. “They’re the pollinators that we depend on, so we really pay attention.”
We discussed why building up your pollinator palette of extra-early bloomers in particular is important; which families of plants have the most impact, and how certain flowering things like Alyssum and Phacelia that may help attract aphid-fighting helpers.
Gorgeous grains: I’m currently captivated by thoughts of gorgeous grains and grain-like annuals adding drama to my upcoming garden, and at the same time potentially feeding me and my beloved bird friends. Sarah Kleeger, of Adaptive Seeds in Oregon, has a passion for these dual-purpose, edible ornamentals like sorghum, millet, amaranth, and more.
Sarah Kleeger, with Andrew Still, founded Adaptive Seeds in 2009 as a farm-based, organic seed company where they grow and harvest more than 80 percent of the seed they sell, including a gorgeous assortment of grains and grain-like annuals that were the subject of our conversation.
We talked about high-yielding and statuesque sorghum—perfect for porridge or even popcorn-style—and amaranths in a range of colors, plus flowering oil-seed crops like sunflowers, poppy seed, Camelina, and flax. We even got into some hints on cover-cropping for soil-building.
How to start seeds indoors: What seed-starting growing medium and other indoor propagating gear is best, from flats or pots to heat mats and lights–and what’s worth growing from seed, anyhow? How can we water seedlings the best way and otherwise care for them? Those are some of reader and listener questions my friend Ken Druse and I addressed.
It’s seed catalog season, when we gardeners in many regions may not be able to grow much outdoors, but can dream big. Ken, author of “Making More Plants: The Science, Art, and Joy of Propagation,” joined me on the radio show and podcast to help us all get ready for a successful season of growing from seed.
This show and story is part of my annual Seed Series, and we’ll be giving away a copy of Ken’s book on A Way to Garden dot com.
I don’t want my salad delivered in a plastic box or to pay a ransom price per pound either, meaning I want to produce homegrown as many months of the year as I can. Today’s topic is how to plant for the best salad year ever with organic seedsman Tom Stearns to guide us, as I kick off my annual Seed Series on the radio program and podcast.
Tom Stearns is founder of High Mowing Organic Seeds in Vermont, with more than 20 years specializing in breeding, selecting and marketing of organic varieties. From microgreens indoors to baby-leaf to mini-heads and up to full-sized heads in the garden, we talked about timing, spacing and making lettuce happy—even which types hold up best in the heat (and ways to help all lettuce do better when summer arrives).
Soil Solarization vs. Weeds: An article about soil solarization for weed control, the practice of covering beds or fields with plastic to keep down unwanted plants, caught my attention last summer. It was published on the Cooperative Extensions online home called extension.org and was written by University of Maine doctoral candidate, and she’s my guest on the radio show and podcast.
Dr. Sonja Birthisel completed her PhD at the University of Maine in late 2018, where she was a postdoctoral research associate focused on helping farmers by studying practical solutions for issues posed by climate change, weed management and more. That included the subject of soil solarization that many of us gardeners use, too, in the name of weed suppression. I was excited to hear what she learned that we can maybe benefit from.
Beneficial Insects Best-of: What are insects thinking–or if that sounds like I’m anthropomorphizing, what at least are insects desiring? The more we humans seek pollinator connections in our gardens, and strive to create a piece of habitat and not just a purely pretty backyard, the more we want to get inside their heads and understand their cravings, right?
I have the pleasure of interviewing entomologists and ecologists pretty regularly on the program, and in 2018 a few conversations touched on my a question about what insects are after. The year ends in my northern garden with outdoor insect activity at its low point, but I’ve nevertheless been thinking of them, and of some key takeaways from interviews this past year about “the little things that run the world,” as Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson famously called insects and other invertebrates. Today’s show recalls some of what I learned about insects in 2018.
Best design ideas 2018: The garden might be mostly sleeping where I live, but it’s not out of mind by any means. I keep going back to a couple of conversations that I had on my public-radio program and podcast with guests this last year, discussions aimed at helping all of us who garden to think about tying things together better visually—about making more successful design decisions.
I think that’s one big area that stymies a lot of gardeners, myself included, and I looked back on highlights of what I learned from interviews on the show in 2018. Where to put what–a bed, a border, a patio, or even several different plants in relationship to one another—can be elusive, to say the least.
One conversation that really stayed with me, and also one of the most popular interviews of 2018 with listeners, was my chat with Susan Morrison,a California-based garden designer and author of “The Less Is More Garden,” a book that really helps us try to identify what our signature style is.
In an anecdote in the book’s introduction, Susan talks about visiting two women’s gardens near each other on the same day, each with its very own distinctive style despite the fact that each garden was relatively small–and again, practically neighbors. They could not have been more different–one was all about color, the other nearly flower-less and all about textural plays.
To me that really speaks to what the goal is, bottom line: to establish what Susan calls a signature style of our own. I love that idea. Not to mimic something in particular, or follow some set of rules from some lofty textbook on landscape architecture, but to put OUR signature on our garden.
Flowering Houseplants and More: What really perplexed or downright frustrated gardeners in 2018? I asked that recently on Facebook and elsewhere, harvesting the final crop of Urgent Garden Questions for the year, and Ken Druse helped answer them as we do each month on the radio show and podcast.
My longtime friend and fellow garden writer Ken of Ken Druse dot com is author of many books including “The New Shade Garden,” and “Making More Plants,” and “Natural Companions.” We tackled subjects ranging from propagating coleus from cuttings, to repotting a jade plant—and repotting in general—and even why a jade might be blooming now, after many years of ownership with no blooms. Ken shared ideas about some of his favorite unusual houseplants, too, including several that bloom in the offseason.
Indoor Plant Lights: My houseplants are sulking, whispering among themselves about “Why doesn’t that woman get us some more light in here?” And then before I know it, seed-starting season will begin with leeks and onions, but what’s the right light to make those plants happiest indoors?
Leslie Halleck is author of “Gardening Under Lights: the Complete Guide for Indoor Growers.” Since her graduate research at Michigan State, where she explored greenhouse production, Leslie’s become an expert in the subject of light and plants. She shared some insights into what kind of light plants utilize, about short and long-day plants, and more.
Top 2018 cookbooks: Cookbook author and food blogger Alexandra Stafford of alexandracooks dot com and I have declared it so: The Twelve Days Of Cookbooks begins now, as in perfect gift picks for holiday giving.
Last year around holiday gifting time, my serious cookbook-collecting friend Ali and I talked about our all-time favorites of the genre. And this year, we’re focusing on the latest harvest, cookbooks that caught our attention among the many published in 2018.
Ali is author 2017’s “Bread Toast Crumbs,” a book I love to give as a gift, by the way.
We’re including recipes to some of the dishes Ali has cooked from the books that caught our attention this year—including the Salted Maple Pie from “Sister Pie” that’s a great holiday dessert. And we’re giving away 12 different books.
Native plant conservation: When you’re talking plants and not people, how do you figure out who lives where? You can’t send census takers door to door to get a head count, but doing so is a critical step in devising conservation strategies in a changing world, among other key goals. A New York Botanical Garden botanist is coordinating such an effort.
Robert Naczi is a Curator of North American Botany at the New York Botanical Garden where the classic reference to the plants of all or part of 22 U.S. states and five Canadian provinces is being fully updated.
We talked about the dramatic increase of established invasive plants in the landscape, about native geraniums and orchids, and about various surprising relatives of milkweed (including Vinca!).
WASTE NOT COOKBOOK: Having been raised in the presence of a Depression-era grandmother who even went to college to study home economics, I have a built-in thing about food waste. So I was delighted to see a new cookbook from the James Beard Foundation called “Waste Not: Recipes and Tips for Full-Use Cooking from America’s Best Chefs,”and a campaign of anti-food waste advocacy spearheaded by that organization.
Chef Tiffany Derryis a contributor to the “Waste Not” cookbook, and a former star and fan favorite of “Top Chef,” among other culinary accomplishments. We talked about becoming “thoughtful, intentional cooks”–about getting the most out of every vegetable and herb (no, not just the tender little leaves but even the stems), why cooking a whole fish is the most economical way to go, and much more.
I also learned about the 200ish chefs who have gone through the Beard Boot Camp to become advocates on sustainability and social issues.
Innumerable Insects: Before I saw it myself, a reader alerted me that she’d come upon a new book I shouldn’t miss, called “Innumerable Insects.”
“I’m just a nurse interested in the world, not a biologist.” said Teresa in her kind note to me. “And yet,” she said, “I found it very compelling and full of ancient, beautiful illustrations.”
Dr. Michael Engel is the author of “Innumerable Insects: The Story of the Most Diverse and Myriad Animals on Earth,” lavishly illustrated with historic prints from the American Museum of Natural History Library collection. Dr. Engel is a research affiliate at the museum, and also University Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Senior Curator of Entomology at the University of Kansas. He joined me to talk about insects–their evolution, and just how amazing they are.
Vegetable soup ideas: Strange but true, though I’ve been following a vegetarian diet for decades already, it wasn’t until just a few years ago that I finally mastered a really good version of vegetable soup. Now I’m gradually extending my repertory and today we’ll talk about just that, about variations on vegetable-based soups, plus ones with beans and even ideas for mushroom soup, too.
Regular listeners and readers will recognize my friend Alexandra Stafford of Alexandra Cooks dot com, author of the “Bread Toast Crumbs” cookbook, and a mad collector of cookbooks and therefore possessor of recipe ideas galore.
Besides recipes, we talked brining beans; about changing up the texture of a soup to you’re your preference, and about that “extra” ingredient that can make all the difference: dill with mushroom, orange rind with black beans, and other such flavor surprises.
Q&A: Clivia, chestnuts, staking–Yes, it’s us again, me and Ken Druse, here to answer your latest crop of Urgent Garden Questions.
We covered topics as diverse as using landscape fabric (or not!); viburnum leaf beetle; blooming and then overwintering Clivia; artistic staking of dahlias and other plants; chestnuts, and more.
Ken is a longtime garden author and photographer, with many books to his credit including “The New Shade Garden” and “Natural Companions” and “Making More Plants.” He can be found at Ken Druse dot com.
Winter squash: I’m mad about winter squash—about pumpkins—and so is my former “Martha Stewart Living” colleague Lucinda Scala Quinn, who you may know as author of the “Mad Hungry” cookbooks, and a former host of the PBS series “Everyday Food,” and of her own “Mad Hungry” TV show. We’ll talk pumpkin recipes, including a Libyan spread or dip called chershi. Lucinda Scala Quinn has written five cookbooks with inspirations as diverse as Jamaican to rustic Italian, but whatever the culinary tradition she’s writing and cooking in, her approach is always smart can-do meals—ideas developed to feed and please her family of five, including her three mad, hungry sons. I’m so glad to reconnect with her today
Better birding: For a lot of us gardeners, our connection to birds perhaps started with, or maybe even still centers on, putting up the bird feeder. Kathryn Schneider, wants to nurture us to move from bird watcher to birder, and her new book tells us how.
Kathryn is past president of the New York State Ornithological Association, has directed New York’s Natural Heritage Program, and conducted bird surveys for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Her new book is “Birding the Hudson Valley”, and she’s also one of us, a gardener.
We talked about some things you probably didn’t know about sparrows. things you can do to up your birding game, and more.
Eliot Coleman: What are our vegetable garden “pests” trying to tell us, and how can we move past the mindset of it being all about us against them, and knee-jerk interventions with some so-called “remedy” every time they show up? That’s just one of the attitude-adjusting insights I discussed with organic farming and gardening champion Eliot Coleman, whose 30th-anniversary edition of “The New Organic Grower” is just out.
Eliot Coleman has written extensively about organic agriculture since 1975. He has more than 50 years’ experience in all aspects of the subject and has been a commercial market gardener, the director of research projects, a designer of tools for farmers and gardeners, and a teacher and lecturer. He and his wife, Barbara Damrosch, operate Four Season Farm, a commercial year-round market garden in Maine.
Learn why he invokes us to “cultivate ease and order, not battle disease and disorder,” and more—plus enter to win the revised book.
Late in the season, when all else in the flower garden is losing its head, dahlias are coming on strong and having their moment–not just in backyards, but at competitions around the country. The 52nd annual American Dahlia Society national show just took place at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania.
Longwood’s senior horticulturalist and dahlia expert Roger Davis was heavily involved in bringing the national show to Longwood in late September, and he joined me on the show to talk all things dahlia, from ribbon-winning varieties to cultural tips for best performance, and even timely ones for off-season storage of those tubers.
Photo by William Hill
Wonder how to get ready for the mad stash—just how to prep and where to put away all those tender plants to hopefully make it to next year? Or maybe you wonder about what went wrong with your hydrangeas if they didn’t bloom as well as you hoped this summer.
With help from Ken Druse (longtime friend and author of many popular garden books including “Making More Plants” and “The New Shade Garden” and “Natural Companions”), I tackled these Urgent Garden Questions in the latest installment of our ongoing series.
We’re at a cusp—the coming of fall—and that is not a time to lament, but rather to take in what the new season and the one beyond it have to offer, each to its own. So says Margaret, and so says Tovah Martin in her latest book, “The Garden in Every Sense and Season.” We have timely advice for both to-do’s (and an attitude adjustment should you need one).
Tovah Martin gardens on 7 acres in Connecticut with some goats, a cat, and a whole lot of plants, both indoors and out. She’s the author of “Tasha Tudor’s Garden” and many other popular garden books. She told me how to force hyacinths (which she highly recommends as an antidote to winter) and more.
Zen masters call it beginner’s mind, the state of being free from preconceived views and willing to learn—a state they encourage us to cultivate, though it can be disconcerting. Sometimes we’re thrown into that not-knowing mind by a change in circumstances. Like when Andy Brand, one of the most plant savvy people I know, moved to a new job, a new garden and a new state, and suddenly met a lot of unknown plants.
I asked Andy to use his recent experience to inspire all of us to dare to open up to a wider plant palette, too, whether by necessity or just for fun, and where to look for inspiration. He’s even adopted a hashtag on social media, #somanyplantstolearn, to celebrate the unknowns.
Andy Brand was long-time nursery manager at Broken Arrow Rare Plant Nursery in Connecticut until he moved to Maine and became plant curator at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Since then, he’s been on a steep learning curve, getting acquainted with exciting new plants in the garden’s collections and in the surrounding wild landscape.
She doesn’t have greenhouses or even a giant garden, but Toronto-based Gayla Trail, a.k.a. You Grow Girl, has plenty of homegrown leafy greens to eat over a very long season—including some wild varieties I bet you’ve never tried. Last time I checked, Gayla was harvesting basketful Number 40-something of the season with lots more to come.
Gayla was the first garden blogger I ever heard of, and she’s been online since February 2000—long before a lot of us even knew what a blog was. She’s always organic and actually more than that—“moreganic,” as she refers to it, which we discussed—and also the author of various books including “Easy Growing” and “Grow Great Grub.” And most of all, she’s someone I count as a friend.
Who among us doesn’t have at least one Urgent Garden Question? This month on the public radio show and podcast, Ken Druse and I answered a diverse list of them: About fighting the parasitic vining plant called dodder. About why sometimes not all nursery plants bought at the same time perform the same once planted in our gardens. About some different Nicotiana, beyond the usual suspects. About when and how to save seed from Eucomis, the pineapple lily, to propagate more bulbs. And about selecting “improved” plants that show up in our own gardens to perhaps save seed from, to create our own strain. You all know Ken Druse, my long-time friend and fellow garden writer, author of “The New Shade Garden,” and “Natural Companions,” and “Making More Plants” among other great books.
THE HARVEST IS FINALLY ACCELERATING, which got me thinking about a tool that’s as critical to success right about now as my mower and spade: the perfect canning jar.
One morning this week, over a cup of tea on Skype with my friend Gayla Trail a.k.a. You Grow Girl, we ended up having an entire conversation about them, in fact. Bottom line: neither of us knows how we could live without them!
I spent much of the summer transfixed by this year’s pair of phoebes who nested on the back porch as usual, and from a favorite low perch just across the way from there, launched themselves repeatedly into mid-air to catch insect after insect.
How do birds get their food, and what do they eat, anyway? Well that depends on the bird, and Ellen Blackstone of BirdNote.org has some answers. A million people a day and more than 200 radio markets hear the 2-minute public radio show called Bird Note, and now “BirdNote” is a book too, which Ellen edited.
I’ve been relishing a harvest of diverse tomatoes, though I only planted two varieties in my own garden this year. My virtual harvest in all colors, shapes, and sizes has been courtesy of Craig LeHoullier on Instagram, and he and I talked top tomatoes and tomato troubles and more.
Craig, a.k.a. the NC Tomato Man, a retired chemist and author of the great book “Epic Tomatoes.” He has been showing his Instagram and Facebook followers each variety and progress from seed to fruit on his social-media streams this year. It’s such fun and so informative, and I wanted to know more.
I had to talk myself off the ledge repeatedly through the last half of July and into early August. The trigger? A garden that looked pooped and a gardener that felt the same. With the right plants and tactical tricks, though, the beds and borders can carry on right through fall. Garden designer Katherine Tracey helped me with advice on how achieve that.
Ready to tune up your garden with a longer view into autumn with some tweaks now and some long-range plans and planting for coming years? Kathy of Avant Gardens retail and mail order nursery in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, also helps clients design and refine their landscapes, creating spaces she describes as intimate but not fussy, like her home garden, using a wide palette of perennial plants.
From recommendations for unusual-shaped almost bonsai-like trees for the garden, to the subject of male conifer cones (yes, there are males and females!), invasive sweet autumn clematis, perfect paint colors for outdoor garden features, and even how to harvest, cure and stash garlic: All of those were among readers’ and listeners’ Urgent Garden Questions this summer. Ken Druse, longtime friend and author of such beloved garden books as “The New Shade Garden” and “Making More Plants” and “Natural Companions,” helped me answer them.
WHAT MAKES a particular native plant a good choice for the home garden? And where can we look for clues into which natives will do best in our particular location and conditions?
Dan Jaffe is propagator and stock bed grower at New England Wild Flower Society, and author in collaboration with his colleague Mark Richardson of “Native Plants For New England Gardens.” Wherever you garden, he has advice to help you think about what to look for in a garden-worthy native and more, and how to really define native, anyway. I learned the concept of ecoregions—about choosing plants not because I live within a particular county line on a map, but instead guided by bigger natural factors.
When I talk about intermingling several plants to serve as a mixed groundcover, perhaps under trees and shrubs, I often refer to the idea as “making mosaics.” No surprise, therefore, that a new book called “A Tapestry Garden” caught my attention. I talked to its co-author, Marietta O’Byrne, about ideas for weaving plants together artfully.
Longtime nursery owners and hellebore breeders Marietta and Ernie O’Byrne co-created “A Tapestry Garden: The Art of Weaving Plants in Place.” Their property, Northwest Garden Nursery in Eugene, Oregon, includes their extensive and inspiring tapestry-filled gardens. We discussed how to knit plants together — what qualities to look for (and avoid) in pleasing partnerships.
Jane Hurwitz says that her mission is simply this: to get more of us to garden with butterflies in mind. I suspect that sounds like something you wouldn’t mind being nudged to do, or do more effectively. Jane Hurwitz is editor of “Butterfly Gardener” magazine, and former director of the Butterfly Garden and Habitat Program for the North American Butterfly Association. Her new book from Princeton University is called “Butterfly Gardening, the North American Butterfly Association Guide,” and offers practical advice—both the overall principles and also plant-specific palettes, region by region. We talked about the role of native and non-native plants, about what the Number 1 plant gardeners around the country credited as being an effective attractant, about taking into account the borrowed landscape around you, and what an adult butterfly looks for in a flower, anyway.
The latest crop of Urgent Garden Questions ranges from peonies that just didn’t bloom, to ants on peony buds and ants in flower pots, mosquitoes in water gardens, slugs in everything and more. Ken Druse and I teamed up to respond to them.
Ken is author of many books, including “The New Shade Garden” and “Natural Companions” and “Making More Plants,” and is also a longtime friend.
How do you grill vegetables to perfection? And what do I do with my garlic scapes, or the greens on all those radishes? And so many of the other extras of the garden, or perhaps from your weekly CSA share delivery. These are just some of the questions I have at the moment, and I suspect that you may, too. In this increasingly bountiful produce season, whether from the CSA share, farmers’ market, or backyard, I’ve been turning to inspiration to my friend Alexandra Stafford’s website; alexandracooks.com, and to her Instagram feed, too. Ali’s here with some advice, from how to store vegetables to make them last longest (hint: cut green off those roots at once, for instance) to recipes for veggie tacos to a pasta carbonara that uses a ton of them, and various sauces, quick pickles and pestos, too.
I don’t grow a lot of roses, just a few favorites, but birds plant the occasional multiflora rose seed here and there around the garden. One of the resulting seedlings looked really strange when I noticed while weeding in an out-of-the-way spot the other day. It was all disfigured, and red, and—uh-oh—rose rosette disease comes to my corner of Nowheresville.
I hear from a lot of you who have encountered rose rosette disease not on some weed as I did, but on your prized rose bushes. I invited research scientist Christina King of Star Roses and Plants—known for more than a century for many favorite garden plants, including the most popular roses today, the Knockout series—to explain what this disease is all about, and what promise lies ahead for fighting it.
Since I have lived full-time in a rural place the last decade, I find that probably not coincidentally, my reading list tends increasingly toward tales of the natural world. The new book “Saving Tarboo Creek: One Family’s Quest to Heal the Land,” made it to the top of the pile recently and I want to tell you about it, and introduce its author, biologist Scott Freeman.
Scott is Principal Lecturer in Biology at the University of Washington and author of various biology textbooks. His latest book is at once a tale of his family’s 17-acre project that involved salmon and reforestation, and tackling invasive species and more, but it’s also about how each of us can engage in a role of stewardship with the earth, and about how to live a more present and engaged life as a citizen of the planet. It’s a tale of ecological restoration, which Scott says “is really just gardening with native plants on a big scale.” But how do you know what to plant in a world of changing climates?
The vegetable garden is starting to provide in earnest. But before we all dish out the same old side of steamed broccoli or green beans or kale every night from here to the first freeze, it’s time to get some recipe ideas that are as fresh as those veggies.
What do you say we all make this the year of the more inspired approach to eating our vegetables? To that end, I called friend and cookbook author Alana Chernila, whose latest volume is “Eating from the Ground Up: Recipes for Simple, Perfect Vegetables.” Get her tips, recipes, and a chance to enter to win the cookbook, too.
‘m a gardener, someone who loves showy plants in artful arrangements. But in recent years, I’ve been looking less with a collector’s eye when shopping and more from the point of view of an insect. Yes, really.
That means more and more I’m layering native plants to my landscape, but which ones among the ones tagged “native” do the very best job of creating effective wildlife interactions and habitat?
You’ve probably heard the word “nativar,” as in a cultivar of a native plant, but what does it mean and how effective are these often showier cultivated varieties at supporting wildlife? I asked Doug Tallamy, professor of entomology at University of Delaware and author of “Bringing Nature Home” and “The Living Landscape,” to help me understand more about this important subject.
Anybody got an Urgent Garden Question? Apparently so, and because you keep asking them in comments on the website, in emails, and even on Facebook, and now at @awaytogarden, on Instagram, too. Friend and fellow garden writer Ken Druse keeps coming back to help me answer them. This month’s topics range from transplanting hydrangeas, to tackling horsetail or Equisetum, to growing the stinking hellebore (Helleborus foetidus) and much more.
Fireflies: They never fail to bring out that sense of first time wonder, the excitement of a child on a summer camping trip when the sky darkens and the flashing begins. But until a new field guide reached my desk, I hardly knew anything about them beyond that feeling. In time for their flight season this year, I wanted to get a Firefly 101, so I know more about who they are and what they’re doing out there.
Who better to get schooled in the world of fireflies by than Lynn Frierson Faust, author of Fireflies, Glow-worms, and Lightning Bugs from the University of Georgia Press, a guide to the natural history and identification of fireflies of the Eastern and Central US and Canada.
We speak of butterfly plants and of making butterfly gardens, but how well do we really know the diversity of butterfly species that might visit those offerings? Butterflies, and especially how to sharpen our ID skills and become keener butterfly-watchers, were the topic of my recent chat with Dr. Jeffrey Glassberg, author of “A Swift Guide to Butterflies of North America,” among other books.
Glassberg is President of the North American Butterfly Association, and an adjunct professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology of Rice University.
Barry Glick has been involved in the plant world since 1954, when at the young, impressionable age of 5, he witnessed Don Herbert (“Mr. Wizard” on TV) put a cutting of a plant in a glass of water only to sprout roots a few shows later. Barry replicated the experiment with his one of his mother’s prized Coleus plants, and as he watched the roots grow, knew that he was hooked for life.
Growing up in the 60s in Philadelphia, a Mecca of horticulture, Barry would hitchhike to Longwood Gardens before he was old enough to drive. In 1972 he realized there was just not enough room for him and his plants in the big city environment, so he bought 60 acres of a mountaintop in Greenbrier County West Virginia where he gave birth to Sunshine Farm & Gardens, started his plant collection, and has remained there since.
The collection now numbers more than 10,000 taxa, many unknown to cultivation. Several of these plants have been introduced to gardening in recent years. Barry exchanges seeds and plants with people at Botanic Gardens, nurseries and private gardens in virtually every country in the world.
It was almost six year ago to the day that I had my moth epiphany thanks to Seabrooke Leckie, who in 2012 co-authored the “Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America,” and joined me on my radio program then to tell me about it. Why get excited about moths you ask? Well, we’ll get to that in a moment.
Seabrooke Leckie is a Canadian-based biologist with a special interest in moths, and with David Beadle, she has created another Peterson Field Guide on moths, this time featuring the species of Southeastern North America. We talked about why you should sharpen your focus on them as she got me to.
I love the science behind gardening, the stories that reveal what makes things tick in the natural world. A new book by Lee Reich called, “The Ever Curious Gardener: Using a Little Natural Science for a Much Better Garden,” is loaded with such stories. Lee Reich, or should I say Dr. Lee Reich, has degrees in chemistry, soil science and horticulture, and is author of many previous books including, “Landscaping With Fruit,” “The Pruning Book,” and “Weedless Gardening.” The topic of our recent conversation was more about wondering and explaining not just the how-to, but the why and how things happen in those subjects and more: ways to know your soil better, to propagate bulbs by understanding their physiology, or nudge fruit trees not to skip a year of bearing fruit and more.
WHEN THE NEW SECOND EDITION of “Garden Insects of North America” arrived recently from Princeton University Press, I quickly went down a rabbit hole. Well, maybe it was down the burrow of a tiger beetle, or a ground-nesting wasp. But at any rate, I got lost in the sheer amazement of it.
Dr. David Shetlar is a professor of urban landscape entomology at Ohio State. With Dr. Whitney Cranshaw of Colorado State, author of the original 2004 edition of “Garden Insects,” he created the second volume, and we talked about who’s in this updated indispensable reference, and how we can get to know them better to help us in our gardens.
You know the routine: I ring up my longtime friend Ken Druse on Skype each month and then we tackle your Urgent Garden Questions. Thanks for submitting lots of good Urgent Garden Questions to me and Ken. You can always ask us anything, urgent or otherwise, on Facebook, or in comments on my website, or using the contact form there or on Ken’s web site
I’m not the most DIY type ever, but my friend Joe Lamp’l promises me that even I, armed with a $20 bolt cutter and some so-called livestock panels of wire fencing, can have a more orderly, better-looking, and better-functioning vegetable garden than ever this year. Joe has just such a garden, and offered to help us.
You know Joe Lamp’l as host of the “Growing a Greener World” show on PBS stations and of the Joe Gardener Podcast, but apparently besides being a great gardener, his resume also includes having had a show on the DIY Network for three years. So before all my vining crops and tomatoes are in need of support and other such impeding issues, he’ll help us do some proactive garden organizing, DIY-style.
If you’ve got elephant’s ears or calla lilies, some Jack-in-the-pulpits in your shade garden, or maybe a philodendron indoors on your windowsill, you’re well on your way to a collection of the plants called Aroids. I don’t know anyone with more of these diverse and curious creatures than today’s guest, Tony Avent, who’s here to tempt us to collect some, too.
Aroids are some of the most popular perennials at Plant Delights Nursery, where they are a specialty and a particular passion of founder Tony Avent’s. I kind of have a thing for them, too, lately, so selfishly I am extra-delighted to have him on the line today to give us—me!—a tour of the best of the bizarre bunch.
I get a lot of questions about invasive species, and lately a week doesn’t go by without at least one asking what to do about so-called crazy worms or Asian jumping worms, which more and more of us are alarmed to be finding in our garden soil. I sought a researcher’s perspective on this really challenging and frankly terrifying pest.
Brad Herrick is Arboretum Ecologist and Research Program Manager at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum, where the staff first noticed the destructive handiwork of Asian jumping worms in 2013. He’s been studying them ever since. Though our understanding of these organisms is in the very early stages, we talked about their biology, their impact, and what control tactics are being explored by scientists seeking a solution.
In their native habitats, Clematis don’t have that post holding up your mailbox to support them, or a piece of wooden trellis. In nature, they scramble and climb through other plants, which offers us a hint of just how versatile and willing they are, and the many ways to use them in the garden.
Linda Beutler is author of three books about clematis, president of the International Clematis Society, and curator of the Rogerson Clematis Collection in the Pacific Northwest, just outside Portland, Oregon. Suffice it to say, Linda knows from clematis, and I’m so pleased she made time to speak with us.
She provided tips on matching the right clematis to the right support, and what to look for (not flowers!) when buying nursery plants, and why following the strictest rules on pruning without applying some common sense, too, isn’t the way to go.
“I don’t know how you tell these ferns apart,” people have been saying to for as long as she can remember. FYI, ferns do not all look alike, at least not once you’re clued in to how to look with a more practiced eye. It’s all about the details with these ancient and diverse plants. Few people have a more practiced eye about ferns than Judith Jones, who joined me recently from Fancy Fronds in the State of Washington to introduce us to some distinctive favorites from among her vast
Few gardeners would dispute the fact that garden Phlox is a worthy addition to the summer landscape, and nectar-seeking butterflies emphatically agree. But which varieties among the many offered at nurseries and catalogs do the best job of both adding beauty and supporting beneficial insects?
George Coombs manages the trial gardens at Mt. Cuba Center Native Plant Garden and Research Facility in Delaware. In past conversations, George has helped me make our way through the daunting selections of Heuchera, Monarda, and Baptisia. Now George and the trial garden team have spent three years evaluating 94 different sun-loving selections of Phlox for eye and butterfly appeal and mildew resistance, plus 43 shade-garden choices too.
If it thaws outside, should I clean up now, or what if I do and then the weather gets freezing cold again? What am I doing wrong with my African violets? How can I tackle lily leaf beetle, and can using wood mulch spread hemlock woolly adelaide? My friend and fellow garden writer, Ken Druse, and I tackled these and more of your Urgent Garden Questions on our latest podcast together.
Acclaimed scientist and author Bernd Heinrich has returned every year since boyhood to a beloved patch of western Maine woods. What is the biology in humans that explains this deep-in-the-bones pull toward a particular place, and how is it related to animal homing?
Heinrich explores the fascinating science chipping away at the mysteries of animal migration: how geese imprint true visual landscape memory; how scent trails are used by many creatures, from fish to insects to amphibians, to pinpoint their home if they are displaced from it; and how the tiniest of songbirds are equipped for solar and magnetic orienteering over vast distances.
I don’t have a small yard, but I nevertheless sat down with a new book called “The Less Is More Garden” by landscape designer Susan Morrison, and came away with numerous practical ideas for fine-tuning the design of my outdoor world.
One thing that struck me in particular: Susan’s advice on what goes into developing a signature style for your garden—and who doesn’t want that? Susan Morrison is a landscape designer based in the Bay Area of California known especially for her experience on solving the puzzle that small-space gardens can pose. Her own backyard is just 30 by 60 feet, but anything but boring.
The subtitle of her new book, “The Less Is More Garden,” is “Big Ideas for Designing Your Small Yard,” but even big-yard types like myself have plenty to learn from Susan’s ideas.
Niki Jabbour‘s adventures with oddball, unexpected edibles began when she grew a 5-foot-long snake gourd intended as an element of Halloween decorations. And then almost accidentally she learned from her Lebanese mother-in-law that young fruits off the vine were also delectable vegetables. Today, Niki’s new book, “Veggie Garden Remix,” profiles not just that cucuzza, but 223 other possibilities to shake up your vegetable garden, as she has.
A popular lecturer and author, Niki gardens in Halifax, Nova Scotia, producing harvests in all four seasons — and not just your basic everyday edibles, either. I welcomed her back to the program to talk about a wacky wide range of things to grow this year—and especially about eight surprising substitutes for spinach, in case you crave the flavor but have trouble with spinach in some portion of your growing season, like maybe in the hottest part of summer.
You know the routine: I ring up my longtime friend Ken Druse on Skype each month and then we tackle your Urgent Garden Questions—which this time range from growing pansies from seed, to trees in pots, to keeping garden journals and more. Thanks for submitting lots of good Urgent Garden Questions this month to me and Ken. You can always ask us anything, urgent or otherwise, on Facebook, or in comments on my website, or using the contact form there or on Ken’s web site
A Way to Garden with Margaret Roach: Don Tipping on Growing Brassicas
The other day as I was plotting who I could ask for help outsmarting the coming season’s cabbage worms, and coaxing the Brussels sprouts to fatten up on time for holiday meals, I got an email from organic seed farmer and breeder Don Tipping of Siskiyou Seeds in Oregon. You might remember Don from his last visit to the program, when he taught me how to grow onions like a pro from seed, one of the most popular subjects ever on my show and website. Well, apparently, Don had somehow heard what was on my mind, because he wrote to suggest a conversation about what he calls Brassica success tips. Serendipity — sometimes you do get what you wish for!
Don Tipping has been growing and selling wholesale seed on his farm called Seven Seeds for about 20 years, and in 2009 started a retail seed company as well, Siskiyou Seeds, offering his own seed and also the best varieties from a number of organic seed farming friends. Don also hosts a five-day Seed Academy each spring, teaching farmers, gardeners, and others to have success with seed, breeding, propagating, growing, harvesting, and saving. Get his Brassica tips and more in the latest show.
A Way to Garden with Margaret Roach -Joseph Tychonievich on annual flowers
Joseph Tychonievich, a garden writer and backyard plant breeder and passionate flower grower, has gone on a bit of a sunflower binge, declaring it his personal Year of the Sunflower. He and I chatted recently about the best of the old and new Helianthus, some favorite catalogs for sunflowers and many other easy flowers—and also about growing sweet peas, which apparently are also front-and-center on Joseph’s wish list this year.
You may recall previous confessionals from Joseph, about his “issues,” shall we say, with gladiolus and hollyhocks. He is the author of books on backyard plant breeding and also rock gardening, among his many botanical interests. Our interview is another episode of the A Way to Garden annual winter seed series, when I virtually shop the catalogs with various expert friends and get growing advice, too.
Ever-grow an open-pollinated or heirloom variety from seed, only to have it not look or taste like the photo on the packet—or even like the “same” variety when you grew it before? Maybe not your fault. Seeds aren’t like widgets; someone has to take care of the living genetics to make sure subsequent generations remain true to type, and even continue to evolve. But who’s doing that critical, demanding work? I interviewed geneticist and longtime plant breeder Dr. John Navazio—former senior scientist with the Organic Seed Alliance and now manager of plant breeding at Johnny’s Selected Seeds—to answer those seedy questions and more.
It’s time: time for the A Way to Garden annual winter seed series kickoff, when I virtually shop the catalogs with various expert friends and otherwise talk about seedy stuff, like what to grow and how to grow it, and how in the world we can each resist ordering one packet of everything we see. With Craig LeHoullier, author of the hit book “Epic Tomatoes,” and a co-founder of the Dwarf Tomato Project—and also the guy who named the beloved ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomato in 1990—I talked about a couple of the tomato’s Solanaceous cousins, eggplants and peppers. And I basically learned what tomato-mad Craig grows when he’s not growing tomatoes.
Craig is known to many as the NC Tomato Man and to others as the straw-bale gardening guy, but besides his expertise in both breeding tomatoes and writing a book about them—you can enter to win a copy of “Epic Tomatoes” in the comment box at the bottom of the page—Craig also has an epic collection of seeds of heirloom eggplants and peppers. Shop the catalogs with us, from new developments in greens, plus learn to grow beets unexpectedly from indoor sowings, and eggplants and peppers, too.
A Way to Garden with Margaret Roach-Ken Druse Q&A on Shade Gardening
To mark a year of monthly Q&A podcasts together, Ken Druse and I themed our latest conversation to a topic that many listeners ask about, in one way or another, a lot of the time: gardening in the shade, a particular expertise of Ken’s, who has written two books on the subject.
This is the 12th of our monthly Urgent Garden Question Q&A shows, and we thank you for your support—and for your questions most of all. You can keep them coming any time in comments or by email, using the contact form, or at Facebook.
We discussed the dreaded Norway maple, ground covers for shade (including sedges) and more.
It was, for me, a serendipity that an acquaintance recommended the book “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer at this particular moment in time as one year closes and another opens. The book’s subtitle is, “Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants.” Its author, Robin Wall Kimmerer, describes herself as a mother, a scientist, a professor, and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She tells us more about herself and about the plant called sweetgrass from which we can all learn so much, and about some Indigenous ways of knowing that might help us set intentions for the year ahead.
A Way to Garden With Margaret Roach invites you to visit our underwriters who make A Way To Garden Possible by clicking on their logos and supporting them!
High Mowing Organic Seeds
It was for me a serendipity that an acquaintance recommended the book “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer at this particular moment in time as one year closes and another opens. The book’s subtitle is, “Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants.” Its author, Robin Wall Kimmerer, describes herself as a mother, a scientist, a professor, and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She tells us more about herself and about the plant called sweetgrass from which we can all learn so much, and about some Indigenous ways of knowing that might help us set intentions for the year ahead.
A Way to Garden With Margaret Roach invites you to visit our underwriters who make A Way To Garden Possible by clicking on their logos and supporting them!
High Mowing Organic Seeds
In the garden-to-come in the new year, I intend to do some things differently, or better, and I figure it can’t hurt to say them out loud, in case my resolutions are maybe on your list, too. My friend Joe Lamp’l of joegardner.com and his accompanying podcast is thinking likewise, and together we recapped our highs and lows of the year and set some of those new intentions together.
Joe gardens in the Atlanta area, but has for years visited gardens around the nation as the longtime creator and host of the much-loved “Growing a Greener World” program on public television. I’ll confess that he’s also someone I treasure as a virtual colleague, someone I often email with my own Urgent Garden Questions for advice, so I’m especially glad he’s helping us get started on our 2018 paths.