Monday, May 27

May is Lilac Here in New England

"May is lilac here in New England," wrote Amy Lowell in her poem entitled simply Lilacs. May is lilac. "Lilacs, False blue, White, Purple, Color of Lilac, Your great puffs of flowers are everywhere in here my New England."

Indeed, this spring, as every spring in New England, our whole landscape looks and smells like lilacs. Lilac perfume fills the air with is magical ability to bring back memories of long ago spring-times.  Lilacs inspire poets and painters, butterflies and bees, and all who fall under the spell of lilacs. Amy Lowell writes of lilacs in dooryards and churchyards, hillsides and pastures all over our New England states.
"Among your heart-shaped leaves
Orange orioles hop like music-box birds and sing   
Their little weak soft songs;
In the crooks of your branches
The bright eyes of song sparrows sitting on spotted eggs   
Peer restlessly through the light and shadow   
Of all Springs. 
Lilacs in dooryards
Holding quiet conversations with an early moon;   
Lilacs watching a deserted house
Settling sideways into the grass of an old road;
Lilacs, wind-beaten, staggering under a lopsided shock of bloom
Above a cellar dug into a hill.
You are everywhere.
You were everywhere." 
Read Lilacs by Amy Lowell in its entirety here.
Lilacs first came to America in the 17th century with colonists from England. Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew lilacs in their gardens. Native to Eastern Europe and Asia, the botanical name syringa has roots in Greek mythology. Syringa, a beautiful wood nymph, caught the admiration of Pan. He frightened her so much when he pursued her through the forest, that she changed into a lilac bush to escape. Not only do the Greeks describe in myth how lilacs came to be, but, since the wood from the bush is excellent for flute making, the story tells us that Pan's first flute was made from the reeds of the lilac. In Pan's Song, John Lyly penned these words, "From that deare Reed Pan's pipe does come."

Indeed, Syringa comes from the Greek word syrinx which means hollow pipe. Lilac wood has been used since antiquity in the carving of flutes.
Lilacs are the state flower of New Hampshire. When I was growing up my family sometimes shopped at the Lilac Mall in Rochester, N.H. which is known as the Lilac City. Many New England towns hold Lilac festivals in May.
As with all flowers, lilacs are dripping with symbolism. They are the symbol of first love, as well as the color purple's association with spirituality. In some cultures they are the flower of Easter.

At one time, lilacs were associated with the period following a year of mourning when a grief stricken widow could shed her widow's weeds for the color lilac, which was considered appropriate for that stage of mourning. White lilacs were often used for funerals. Because of this past association, some still consider it bad luck to bring lilacs into a house, lest something terrible come to pass.
Not only do lilacs grace the landscape of New England, references in our history, poetry, music and culture are many. Way back in the ancient branches of my family tree is my 10th great grandmother, Susannah Martin. Susannah was accused, tried and executed during the hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials. What does this have to do with New England lilacs in May, you wonder?  Susannah was arrested in the month of May in 1692. The folk song written about Susannah proclaims, "Susanna Martin was a witch who lived in Amesbury. With brilliant eye and saucy tongue she worked her sorcery. And when into the judges court the sheriffs brought her hither, the lilacs drooped as she passed by and then were seen to wither."

Tragically, Susannah was executed on July 19, 1692.

Listen to the haunting folk song "Susannah Martin" performed by Touchstone on YouTube here.

On a happier note this sunny Memorial Day here in the year 2013, the lilacs bloom in abundance in my garden, and all over New England, as Amy Lowell tells us in her poem,

"Standing beside clean doorways,
Friendly to a house-cat and a pair of spectacles,   
Making poetry out of a bit of moonlight   
And a hundred or two sharp blossoms.
Maine knows you,
Has for years and years;
New Hampshire knows you,
And Massachusetts
And Vermont.
Cape Cod starts you along the beaches to Rhode Island;   
Connecticut takes you from a river to the sea.   
You are brighter than apples,
Sweeter than tulips,
You are the great flood of our soul...."

Friday, May 24

Note to Michele: Malabar Spinach

Hi Michele,

When the rain let up a bit this afternoon, I took the opportunity to sow some seeds in the garden. Today's weather has been dark and gloomy, but I got out there anyway to do some seed sowing. The mosquitos were just about eating me alive so I worked quickly. I planted all of the seed varieties you sent from our seed list. I also planted an interesting plant I picked up at my local garden center. It's called Malabar Spinach or Climbing Spinach. I had never heard of it before but the packet looked interesting, so I thought I'd try it.

I planted the seeds in a large terracotta pot. A few days ago I got a great bargain on some extra large terracotta pots at a local thrift store. Some were stuck together, but the price was right so I took my chances. When I got home I ran cold water over the stuck pots and they came right apart no problem.

After I planted the Malabar Spinach seeds today, I thought I better find out some information about what I'd just planted. So, I found this terrific video by John at Growing Your Greens with a lot of detailed information about the plant, as well as a super way to use it in a veggie wrap. I can't wait until mine is ready to eat so I can try this recipe.

Until next time....


Thursday, May 23

Curb Side Garden-Portland, OR

Here is an example of a perennial curb side garden in my neighborhood.
It is just one of many curb or tree lawn areas that have been taking over by the home
owner and planted. Technically curb side land is planted with trees and grass and is
owned by the city, but the home owner is responsible for maintaining the land. I have seen curb side gardens planted with many types of plants. Vegetable curb side gardens are very popular here. It is amazing how much panting space could be right outside your front door. I should caution that ripping up your existing curb side may not work in many areas of the country and may get you fined. Planting gardens in abandoned lots and curbs is part of the "guerrilla gardening" movement. The video below is a speech that Ron Finley made. Ron is a guerrilla gardener on South Central, LA.

Friday, May 17

May in Bloom in Maine

April showers bring May flowers, the old saying goes. It certainly is true here in my garden. Blooms are  popping up all through my garden on a daily basis this time of year. Today, I strolled through my garden, camera in hand, to capture this spring moment.
Bleeding Heart- one of my absolute favorites. This particular bleeding heart is a miracle plant. My children gave me this one for Mother's Day last year, but it died within a month or so.  And I mean dead, dried up, no signs of life at all. I didn't have the heart to dig it up. So I left it all through the summer and fall, thinking it needed to go to the compost pile but I just couldn't. Yet, here it is. It started growing back this spring and is more beautiful than ever.

In addition to bleeding heart, along my garden path you'll find violets, creeping phlox, ajuga, strawberries, vinca, Solomon's-seal,  and last but not least, sunny yellow dandelions left to bloom for the bees.

  May is so beautiful:
Orchards are fair;
Branches of fruit trees
Make gardens of air. 

Flowers of fragrance
Bloom in the light;
Fall like the snowflakes
Showering white. 

Orchards of heaven
Grow with a grace,
And like a blessing
Perfume the place. 

Each tree in blossom,
Each lovely spray,
In this month of Our Lady,
Bring glory to May. 

by Helen Maring
The Magnificat. Volume LXVIII. Number 1. May 1941.

Thursday, May 16

Community Garden Update-May 16th, 2013

This is my first raised bed and I love, love, love it!
It is so easy to get the bed ready in the spring and I swear my vegetables are growing
faster. Another raised bed bonus is hardly any weeding.
 In the photo below you can see my lettuce are
ready to harvest. No sight of any pods on my peas yet.
 Here are some photos I took at my visit to the garden today.

Wednesday, May 15

First Rose Bloom-OR

Yesterday the twig was brown and bare;
To-day the glint of green is there;
Tomorrow will be leaflets spare;
I know no thing so wondrous fair,
No miracle so strangely rare.
I wonder what will next be there!
~L.H. Bailey

Saturday, May 11

Sprouts 20 Favorite YouTube Garden Channels

As gardeners, we have found YouTube to be a great source of growing wisdom. Gardening videos are so plentiful, one could spend a good deal of time glued to the computer touring gardens around the world.  It's one of the wonders of the modern gardener's reality.

We've put together a list of our favorites. You'll find gardeners both pro and amateur who open their garden gates for us to visit.

Certainly,  many more fantastic gardeners are posting videos on YouTube, so we're asking for your suggestions. Please share your personal gardening favorites by leaving your recommendation in the comments. We'll compile all suggestions into a future post.

Below you'll find Sprouts 20 favorite YouTube garden channels list. This list is not in any special order- just our compilation of  YouTube gardeners we find inspirational.

1. The Produce Garden

   On The Produce Garden Channel, Christian's passion for organic gardening and self sufficiency is contagious. He gardens on a small holding in central Victoria, Australia where he's developed creative, down to earth organic gardening methods. We really like a recent video about his personal method of crop rotation. Practical, yet brilliant. You'll also find over 350 videos on a huge range of topics like containers, natural pest control, seed saving and more. Too many good tips to list here, so do pay Christian a visit.

2. Claire's Allotment

    Claire shares hints and tips from her allotment and greenhouse in the UK.  She's been gardening since childhood when she helped her granddad in his garden. She shares her garden wisdom in over 200 entertaining, informative videos.

3. Growing Your Greens

    John Kohler has uploaded 799 videos as of this writing. All are packed with information and inspiration delivered with John's zeal for growing your own organic food at home. He's a man with a mission to get us all to eat healthier by growing our own greens. In addition to showing us his own garden, he visits a variety of locations of interest to organic gardeners.

4. Patti Moreno The Garden Girl

    Patti is located in the Boston area. She's all about sustainable living and related topics. Check out her raised bed system to grow an abundance of produce in the city, as well as raise chickens right in the same system of raised beds.  She'll show you step by step how to do it, as well as numerous other skills.

5. New England Gardening

   This channel offers excellent information on growing unusual varieties in cold climates. Check out videos about growing figs, citrus, bananas, and other crops. You will also find videos on flowers such as orchids, as well as New England birds.

6. Laurence Ireland

    Laurence Ireland has uploaded beautifully presented and detailed videos of his immaculate garden and greenhouse in England. Do visit with him to see all the care he has given to his gardens. Topics include propagation, container gardening, permaculture, greenhouse growing, and tomatoes.
7. Bealtaine Cottage

    For one of the most peaceful bits of earth on YouTube, visit Bealtaine Cottage located in the West of Ireland. Describing the beauty of these permaculture gardens in words is next to impossible, so you must go have a look and meander the garden paths yourself.  Really. Go.
8. Homestead Acres

    This channel, created by a Canadian family homesteading on one acre, demonstrates a simple, frugal lifestyle which includes gardening. Be sure to check out the greenhouse they built from used materials.

9. Gary Pilarchik

   Gary teaches viewers about tomato and vegetable gardening through his videos. In addition to his YouTube channel he writes a blog which boasts an active community of gardeners.
10. Mr. Grizzer Bear's Channel

      On this channel you'll find some of the best garden programs to watch- including Around the World in 80 Gardens, The Edible Garden, How to Be a Gardener, and Love Your Garden.

11. P. Allen Smith's Garden Home Living

     A designer, writer, gardener, and lifestyle expert, P. Allen Smith has, in addition to his successful PBS TV programs, a YouTube Channel.  Check it out for his professional advice and ideas.

12. Work With Nature

      David is based in Ireland and creates videos for his YouTube channel about organic gardening, self sufficiency, beekeeping, natural building, natural places, and seed saving. He has extensive experience in gardening and works as a landscape gardener. 

13. Grow Organic Peaceful Valley

Trish at GrowOrganic Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply presents 130 exceptionally well made videos with helpful tips. We like that offerings include topics not often found on other channels such as how to grow olives and persimmons!
14. The Horticultural Channel

     The Horticultural Channel hosts a variety of gardeners all in one place such as Sean's Allotment Garden, Titli's Busy Garden and more. Their goal is to provide practical advice for amateurs. They also visit gardening shows around the world.
15. The Ten Minute Gardener

     Mark Abbott Compton uploads episodes of his program, The Ten Minute Gardener, to his YouTube Channel which is entitled Learn How To Garden. He also has a website and newsletter. Mark covers a variety of topics. We enjoyed his videos on using seaweed in the garden.

16. Jamie Oliver 

    Jamie Oliver needs no introduction, but  let us explain a little about his channel. If you click on the link above you will arrive at what appears to be a food channel and indeed it is, especially with a name like Food Tube! But, if you do a little digging, it's also a gardening channel because Jamie has some of the most amazing gardens to grow the food he cooks. Of course, you'll also be inspired to use your home grown produce in some of Jamie's creative recipes, too. Good stuff!

17. Empress of Dirt

     In addition to organic gardening, Melissa also demonstrates some lovely garden art how-tos you might like to try.  We love her garden art glassware flowers.

18. Irena Stallard

      From the state of Virginia, Irena presents perfectly lovely videos of her English cottage style garden.  We're both fans of the cottage style, so we give Irena's channel a big thumbs up.  Roses, anyone?

19. Willem Van Cotthem

      Willem has 118 videos on his channel, many dealing with creative container gardening. Willem has designed and built a bottle tower garden and has many videos showing his results over time.  The end result is a great looking vertical garden that anyone can make using plastic bottles.

20. Lark Kulikowski

     Backyard gardener, Lark Kulikowski  gardens in the state of Wisconsin. She's filmed 84 videos on a multitude of topics. We like her clear plastic tote greenhouses in particular.  Also, check out her channel for videos on kids in the garden, harvesting worm castings, cottage gardening, container gardening and much more.

Thursday, May 9

How to Propagate Pussy-Willows

One of the first signs of spring in Maine is when the furry little catkins of the pussy-willow develop. On Easter this year, my daughter cut some branches from her grandmother's pussy-willow tree, stuck them in her brown thermos with water, and set them on the window sill. She watched, somewhat sadly, as the fuzzy catkins turned into leaves. Since then the can of branches sat on the sill, pretty much forgotten.

Until this morning when I decided maybe it was time to chuck them in the compost pile. 
But, when I pulled them out of the stinky water,  I found long healthy roots!
So, we planted them in some light seed starting mix. 
In a few weeks, we'll transfer each one into its own pot. 
and, with luck, have five healthy pussy-willow saplings to plant in the fall.

Propagating pussy-willows is so easy it happened by accident for us, but here are some tips to guide you:

1. Cut branches early in the season.
2. Choose healthy branches about 12 inches long.
3. To improve success rate, scrape the bottom inch or so of the branch with a knife.
4. Remove leaves below the water line to keep away that rotten water smell.
5. Pussy-willows like wet conditions, so don't let the soil dry out.
6. Transplant in autumn.
7. Choose a location with plenty of space. Pussy-willows will grow into good sized trees.
8. Prune in any shape or fashion desired. 

Interestingly, pussy-willows produce a growth hormone, so rooting powder is not necessary. In fact, you can add cuttings from other plants in with the pussy-willows to take advantage of the natural rooting hormone.  Water in which willows have steeped is known as willow water and was used by ancient peoples to encourage root growth.

Pussy-willows have been enjoyed in many cultures over the centuries. In China, the plant was used in Chinese New Year celebrations. In some cool climates, pussy-willow branches were used in place of palms for Palm Sunday services. In my family, the little catkins become mice for dollhouses. Pussy-willow branches make lovely additions to flower arrangements and can also be used to make wreaths. 

Monday, May 6

Note to Michele Mom's Flowers

 With Mother's Day approaching, I thought I'd show you the blooms in my mother's garden. I took these photos as the sun set the other night.

 Mom has many forsythia bushes in bloom which supplied this spring bouquet.

 She's making plans for her summer garden and window boxes. Below you see morning glory seeds soaking. This makes germination easier as these seeds have a tough shell.

Saturday, May 4

Note to Michele: My New Pile of Loam and the Virtues of Rock Dust


Just wanted to show you my new pile of dirt. Specifically, it is three yards of screened loam that arrived today. I think I'm going to order some rock dust to add to it. I've been watching Growing Your Greens on Youtube and John talks a lot about the virtues of rock dust. In addition, I'll add some compost and then to my gardens it goes. When my house was built, gravel fill was used with very little topsoil, so I've had to bring in good loam for the gardens over the years. When my kids were little, a truckload of loam was always a happy event for them. Their collection of Tonka trucks came out of storage and they'd play for days making roads, towns, and rivers in the loam pile. I almost hated to lug it to the gardens and spoil their fun.

Here are a few videos by John at Growing Your Greens discussing rock dust. I'm intrigued and want to give it a try!

Want to see more? Go to YouTube and search for Growing Your Greens Rock Dust.  John has even more to say on the subject. I'm convinced!

What to do when it is just too Darn hot to Garden?

It has been a very hot summer everywhere. From what I have been told it is normal to get 100 plus days from the months here from  May to Oct...