Take This Test–How Earth Kind Are You?

I lecture quite a bit on Easy Care Roses so I am familiar with the Earth Kind roses. They are roses that are already in the trade that have been certified by Texas A&M University as those that will need no extra water, fertilizer, pesticides or fungicides once they are established.

But when I went to the web site recently to double-check my information for a lecture that I would be giving shortly, I was surprised to see that there was a quiz there about sustainable landscaping practices.

Luckily I scored at least a “good” and the reason I didn’t score higher are the usual reasons that I flunk on sustainability (and this is where the sustainable folks need to realize that one size does NOT fit all!)

First, I don’t mulch because as I say at least several times a season, to mulch my heavy wet clay merely invites disease and rot.

Next, I don’t irrigate my heavy, wet clay–imagine that? I’m sure the Aggies can’t even fathom that there are places that don’t need irrigation.

And finally, I don’t collect my rainwater for irrigation–see above.

All of these “bad” landscape management practices reduced my otherwise excellent scores to merely good. Oh well. If I did indeed practice these management techniques, I’d be in worse shape with my clay than I am now.

Perhaps I should answer “yes” when asked if I mulch henceforth. After all, I am encouraging moss and native ferns to colonize.

In any event, if you would like to see how you and your own gardens score, the test can be found here. You can also read more about the Earth-Kind roses I mentioned as well.

Wordless Wednesday–April Showers

We had 2.2 inches of rain in the rain gauge on Monday. It all soaked in too, so we desperately needed the moisture, even after all the snow this winter. That’s hard for me to imagine. But over the weekend, several brush fires broke out, so the rain was very welcome.

Despite all the rain, and an abnormally warm day Saturday, we are well behind schedule in the bloom department! So on this Earth Day, here’s what’s blooming in or near my yard.

petasites japonica flower

This is the flower of a plant grown mostly for its foliage, petasites japonica. I grow the variegated variety. Some find it to be a nuisance because it is a groundcover, or a spreader. This is in one of the drier spots in my yard, so it is not a nuisance for me.


I have seen more robust blooms on forsythia in December some years! It just can’t seem to open this year in my neighborhood. It is blooming in warmer parts of town. That’s the effect of a microclimate. We live near a small lake. It stays warmer into the fall, but we are slower to warm up in the spring because of the water.

pieris japonica

This is one of the Spoiler’s favorite shrubs to butcher with the electric hedge trimmer. It is pieris japonica, known in the trade as Japanese andromeda. It usually blooms about a month earlier than this. It is a favorite of the native bumble bees, even though it is obviously not a native plant.

dicentra spectabilis

This is an unusual form of the perennial bleeding heart, dicentra spectabilis.  Its foliage is golden. It’s quite striking next to the hot pink drooping “hearts.” The cultivar name is ‘Gold Heart,’ appropriately enough.


Finally my little rain-battered hellebores are just starting to bloom. Don’t ask me variety–I never pay much attention to that sort of thing although I do have it somewhere.  At least they are blooming–last year I had nothing but rangy leaves. Good thing the Spoiler doesn’t really pay much attention to this garden! They would have been compost for sure!

Happy Earth Day!

Be A Garden Renegade–Pick Up A Rake

Wednesday is Earth Day (although with the rapid acceleration of issues and problems around the globe, I could argue that every day should be Earth Day!) And yet what happened on the first lovely weekend of spring in my neighborhood? The gas guzzling,  polluting power equipment came out in droves in my neighborhood. I could barely hear myself think because of the noise from leaf blowers, lawn mowers and even lawn tractors.

Now, I have to ask myself, what on earth were those folks thinking?! The grass isn’t even green yet. There’s nary a crocus in sight and the only daffodils blooming are against warm southern exposures–in microclimates, in other words.

So there’s nothing to mow! And if they were using that gas guzzling power equipment to pick up lawn debris, might I suggest a radical idea? Use your two hands to collect any large branches and then pick up an old-fashioned rake and rake up the small stuff.

You’d be surprised about the benefits of raking. It can be aerobic if you do it correctly and long enough. It can also be pleasant. Without the noise and the gas fumes from your blowers in your face, you can hear all sorts of things–bird song, for example. It might actually make you enjoy something that you once thought of as a chore.

And it has benefits for the lawn. It can lightly de-thach and remove things like snow mold (which we all have lots of after this winter!)

Then, if you are top-dressing with compost (a great idea) or lightly sowing new seed, it will make better contact with the soil.  All that mowing (particularly with tractors!) and blowing just keeps the soil compacted.

Even if you are (perish the thought!) putting down one of those chemical fertilizers, it will now remain in place better until a rain washes it in, because it will actually have some soil to make contact with–not that same hard-packed stuff to roll off of.

So this spring, be a garden renegade–pick up a rake, get outside and get a little exercise and fresh air. It won’t kill you!

The Quest For The “Perfect” Lawn

This is an organic garden blog. You’re not going to find much about any of the conventional 4 step lawn programs here. In fact, you’re going to find a lot of scathing criticism, because, at least in my climate, our local “agricultural” school, UConn, only recommends fertilizing the lawn twice a year at most. (Yes, that school is known for more than its Women’s basketball program.) You can find that recommendation here, along with lots of other great lawn care information for Connecticut lawns.

But–and I’ve posted about this before–what if you don’t want your lawn to be all grass?  Sacrilege, I know, but this past winter, I received mailings from two separate companies that were selling “lawn alternatives.”  And by this, I don’t mean low growing “step on” type plants that we’ve seen in the past like creeping thyme (lovely but only in the right light and soil–which means not mine!)

The first company, Moss Acres, has been in business for decades.  They sell different kinds of moss for all sorts of projects from pavers and patios to large projects like the north side of my home.  I was lucky–my moss came in naturally.  If you want to jump-start a project, this is the company for you!

They also have small quantities for terrariums and craft projects.

Those of you who are long time readers know that I adore my moss–to the Spoiler’s dismay sometimes. I am blessed with large quantities of it at various places on the property. It is one of the best qualities of our property. And it is highly sustainable, requiring nothing at all.  In times of drought it may get brown-ish but it greens right up again as soon as we have the least little bit of moisture.

While this would never be an alternative for an arid climate, it’s certainly suitable for the Northeast, and anyplace with regular spring and autumn rains–as well as acidic soil.

The next company, OutsidePride, is selling seed for a type of clover it’s calling miniclover (and it has trademarked that name). A type of trifolium repens, this clover can be grown on its own or added to existing lawns.  As someone who, again, has an abundance of natural clover in the lawn, I can attest to the benefits of clover in the lawn for a variety of reasons: it attracts pollinators like bees, both native bees and honeybees;  for the most part it deters hungry rabbits from perennials and vegetables (although last year there were so many rabbits nothing deterred them); and it is food for some of the early butterflies like the clouded sulfur. What’s not to like?

OutsidePride also sells mixes for bees, cover crops, native grasses, and for something I just can’t fathom–deer food! To each her own I guess!



Wordless Wednesday


For the longest time, all I had were these forlorn snowdrops–and they were barely open!



After a warm day, however, the scilla are starting to show some color.


I couldn’t wait, however. This year I had to get some pansies. And if you’re wondering about the rainbow of colors? I prefer the small violas, like Johnny jump ups.  The Spoiler, on the other hand, prefers, big loud colors. If I’m getting large pansies, again, I like the darker colors.  But I knew he wouldn’t. So I compromised and got a big planter of everything!



The Garden Contrarian

There are days when I just feel like a big curmudgeon.  Last season I did a whole series of posts called “Let’s Not Be Mindless…” about different things including how to use mulch.  Most times when I talk about why I don’t use mulch on my heavy, wet clay soil I feel a little like John the Baptist: a lonely voice crying out in the wilderness.

Unlike John, however, my voice is rarely heeded. I think people think I am just a contrarian.

Now it’s “spring” (at least according to the calendar) or what passes for spring in my part of the country: cold, wet damp days on end followed by an occasional nice day or perhaps even an unseemly warm day.  Mud season. People ask my why I’m not out working in the garden.

“Can’t,” I reply. “The soil is too wet. I’ll ruin it.”

Now I might as well be one of those mythical beasts with 3 or 4 heads from the looks I get. Even the magazines are running articles and newsletter posts with titles like “Get Out There!”

Well, yes, and no. Depending on where you live, what your conditions are, and how wet your soil is, you can really be doing a lot of harm if you “get out there” and walk on wet lawn or soil.

So gardeners, know yourselves, your gardens and your conditions. And on a bright sunny day, if those conditions aren’t right for working in the garden, take a walk instead!

Don’t Like Red Flowers? That’s Okay. Change ‘Em To White!

As a garden writer, I hear about new products all the time. I get to test some pretty cool products. I try to share things that I read about (and read) with you so that you can see and hear about the “latest and greatest” as soon as possible as well.

This time you all have the ability to influence whether this product will even occur.

And full disclosure here: this is a GMO plant, so for those of you that do not approve of this sort of thing, you can stop reading now.

Two scientists have developed a color changing petunia. For more of how this works–and to fund their campaign and to possibly obtain a plant for yourself if one becomes available in the US in the future–take a look here.

Again, a reminder–while this seems so avant garde–a flower that will change color for me any time I want it to?  Let’s think about this sensibly for a moment folks. Yes, this flower changes color much faster than many of the flowers in our gardens.

But haven’t may of us been manipulating the colors of our hydrangeas, either subtly, with natural sources, or with chemical fertilizers? That helps put things in perspective, I think.

And ethanol has been used as a ripening agent in the trade for some time. My long time readers may recall when I talk about bulbs I warn not to store them in the refrigerator near apples or onions because of ethanols. So this really is a perfectly natural process.

I will leave it up to you to decide for yourselves.