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Timely Tips Before 2012

October 2016

September 2016
Cold Frames

May 2016

April 2016

November 2015
The Lily

September 2015

May 2015

April 2015
Ornamental Pear

March 2015
Witch Hazel

October 2014

September 2014
Mona Lavender

June 2014

April 2014

October, 2013
Powerful Plants

September 2013
Forcing Bulbs

June 2013

April, 2013
Downy Milldew of Impatiens

October 2012
Garlic, The Stinking Rose

September 2012
Black Walnuts

June 2012
Cornus kousa

May 2012
Country Wisdom

April 2012
The Three Sisters


Timely Tips is a regular part of Farmers Club Meetings
presented by George Pouder

October 2016

It certainly has been a tough summer for our gardens. Our plants are still suffering from
what seems to be an unending drought. Predictions of heavy rain storms invariably turn
out to be mere drizzles for Bedford.

Newly planted shrubs and trees, particularly evergreens, should be thoroughly soaked
before the ground freezes.Hydrangeas were especially disappointing because they were so susceptible to thedrought. The "hydra" in its name tells it all- hydros is the Greek name for water.It's the plants favorite beverage- and don't ever forget it.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Hydrangeas also got clobbered after the mild, snow-less winter brought prolonged windy, zero weather in March. Later, freezing nights nipped fruit blossoms in May. Hydrangea varieties that we knew as children were "Mop Head ," potted greenhouse types that we often received at Easter and planted out later- okay in normal winters outdoors in zone 6 , like us.
These produce this year's flowers on stems grown last year. Neatniks who are about to trim that sprawling hydrangea, beware- you will prune off all of 2017's flowers. Fortunately, plant breeders have developed types that are hardier and bear flower buds on current season's growth. Some form flower buds on old AND new stems .resulting in a prolonged blooming span . One of these is "Annabelle," a pure white, with huge, abundant flowers and tolerant of pruning mistakes.
The color of some, but not all, "Mop Head" varieties is governed by thepH of the soil in which they grow. AlowpH, acidic soil with lots of peat and oak orpine organic matter will produce blue flowers. The same plant in a high pH soil will grow pink flowers. You can reverse this with chemicals- lime to turn blue to pink and aluminum sulfate to go from pink to blue. Note- this is a slow process which does not occur over night.
"Lace Cap" as well as "Mop Head" hydrangeas are also available in nurseries. The flowers are flat, rather than rounded .Single florets around the perimeter and a cluster of double in the center. Marisii is a popular blue and white example.
The "Pee Gee" hydrangea's real name is paniculatagrandiflora, which describes it rather nicely in an abbreviated way. It is native to Japan and China and was first introduced to the United States in 1868. The Victorians were wild about it and every front yard soon sported a "Pee Gee" trained into tree shape. The white cone shaped flowers turned pink , dried well and often graced parlors , gathering dust till the following spring.
It was easy to grow, easy to prune and became very popular because of its dramatic, profuse blooming habit.
A deep pink, dwarf Pee Gee has recently appeared with the unfortunate name of "Pinky Winky." This is a significant addition to the hydrangea inventory.
Our first MaryA3eorge friendship occurred about five years ago. George had no dahlias blooming in time for the BFC display at Yorktown Fair. Mary to the rescue with huge baskets literally overflowing with spectacular white Pee Gee hydrangeas from her garden that earned us a "best in show" ribbon.
All of the hydrangeas we've mentioned are natives to the Orient. There is a climbing Hydrangea that is native to the south east U.S.. White,lace cap type flowers cover the vine. A transplant may may take two or three years to establish itself. A mature vine requires a strong support and can grow to forty feet or more.
As the saying goes for vines and babies, "it sleeps at first, next it creeps and then it leaps."Return To Top

September 2016
Cold Frames

The U.S. Plant Hardiness map classifies Bedford in zone 6b. Our coldest temperature is
minus 5 degrees to zero. Our average date of last frost is April 31, our average first frost is October 20. Forty nine years of gardening in Bedford causes me dispute those "average " dates. They are not written in stone. As they say, "Averages are often misleading." Drive down 684 to illustrate the concept. Snowing in Bedford, sleet at the airport, rain at the Hutch, forsythia in bud in Pelham and wide open on Long Island.

Cold Frame













Cold Frame (Photo George Pouder)

Although we are permanently rooted in zone six, a cold frame will extend our seasons. It will protect plants from low temperatures, shield them from chilly winds and sneak frosts. It creates a microclimate that will put you into one zone milder.

Preassembled cold frames are readily available and can cost you an arm and a leg. I found it more pleasurable to make my own. An old storm door or glass shower door makes a fine roof, and scrap lumber forms the box shaped frame. Be sure that the recycled wood does not contain creosote or other harmful preservatives.

Cold frames should be built on level land, facing the south, if possible. The box should be approximately 18 inches high along the north side , and slope to about 12 inches on the south . This allows for rain or snow to slide away. A rich, screened, well drained soil is important.

The soil in the frame absorbs solar heat when the glass is in place. However, it requires vigilance and will keep you on the jump. It is extremely important to ventilate the frame to avoid excessive solar heat during the day. Just be sure to prop it open by day. In late afternoon the glass should be closed to trap the heat for the night. The inside overnight temperature usually holds to about ten degrees warmer.
On extremely cold nights an old rug or blanket can provide further insulation for your plants.

A cold frame makes a perfect "half way house" for the seedlings you have raised indoors on your window sills. Or, start your seedlings directly in the frame. They will gradually toughen up to cooler temperatures and be exposed to stronger sunshine.

My cold frame has provided us with two lettuce varieties from April into December. We ate a Bibb butter crunch type until Thanksgiving. Even more resilient was mache, often called lamb's lettuce or corn lettuce, native to the alps. It is so hardy that the Swiss sow the seed right onto the snow.
It is a gourmet green, highly priced and highly prized at upscale food markets Has a
nut-like taste and you eat the whole rosette of greens. Seed that was sown in the frame on August 28 produced a crop that matured in January and routinely survived zero nights.

Three dollars worth of lettuce seed, grown in our garden, provided completely organic and chemical- free fresh salads for almost ten months. Supermarket lettuce was grown in California, shipped 3000 miles, and sold for three dollars a box. My seed investment paid off a hundred fold.

The timely tip is if you buy or build a cold frame now you will wonder how you ever did without it.Return To Top


May 2016

Vines are among the most useful assets of a garden. They can provide shade, screening, and flowers. Except for grapes, we rarely realize that vines can produce something edible as well. Annual vines like peas and pole beans can also supply nutritious food to your table. These two legumes even manufacture their own fertilizer with nitrogen captured from the atmosphere. They actually enrich the soil in which they grow.

Although beans and peas are both vines, they climb in entirely different ways: peas with tendrils, as we discussed last month; and beans with twining stems. Both will adapt to a fence or trellis but pole beans love a teepee-shaped tripod.


Pole Beans

Tripods are efficient and use very little space. That space yields two to three times more than bush beans in the same space. It is easy and inexpensive to build a tripod – three stakes, tree branches or bamboo poles, seven feet high-- will make it much simpler to harvest your bean crop. Install your tripod before you plant the bean seed. Pole beans, unlike Jack’s rambunctious bean stalk) will NOT stretch to the sky!

Plant your beans in a sunny, well-drained place. Beans are warm weather crops. The seed should be planted after the soil reaches sixty degrees and is no longer cold and wet, or subject to a frost. You can extend the season by starting them indoors, six seeds to a pot, and add a few twigs to accommodate them until planting out when safe. Beans do not transplant well, so be careful not break the soil ball.

Pole beans are highly productive and a tripod will continue to produce right on to frost if the beans are picked periodically. Pick when the pods are young and tender and still stringless. Even so, I have found that many ripe beans are often overlooked. You may be surprised to find you’ve missed many that are dry and filled with ripe beans. These, too, can be eaten and ha much tastier flavor than anything you can buy in a market. My personal observation: no bush bean has the flavor and texture of a pole bean.

Scarlet Runner is an heirloom pole bean that has an abundance of attractive red flowers as well as large, meaty pods. It attracts bees and hummingbirds, as do all the pole beans. It is native to the Andes and was first brought to England in the 1780s. It is a reliable producer in the cooler English summers and a popular vegetable there. Unfortunately, it very often stops flowering and setting pods in our hot American summers.

If you prefer peach-colored flowers, try Sunset which will give you a tasty harvest. Pole beans also come in colorful violet and yellow pods.

Heirloom climbing varieties include:

Kentucky Wonder, a long-time favorite that still gets rave reviews. In the 1850s American homesteaders carried its seeds on their way west. It is extremely productive with an exceptional flavor and stringless pods (if picked young).
Blue Lake is another heirloom that dates back to 1822. It produces tender, seven-inch, stringless straight beans.

Several Romano varieties are worth growing. The Romanos are a large, flat, meaty but tender beans with a flat pod, distinctly nutty taste and an extended harvest. Last year, my Helga provided beans from early June well into October.

A proposition: vines that climb counter-clockwise north of the equator, climb clockwise south of the equator, similar to the behavior of eddies. Is this fact or fiction? This is for you to investigate and form a scientific opinion!Return To Top

April, 2016

We’ve all heard the expression, “averages are often misleading.” This is particularly true of the “average spring.” This one has been the least average that I recall. Two April snows, high winds, nights in the low twenties; even the forsythia was blasted.

The very timely tip for this crazy April is that this is just about the last call for planting peas.

Peas are heirlooms that originated in the Middle East thousands of years ago.
During the Middle Ages dried peas were a year round staple for most of the European population. It would have been wasteful to eat green peas, and green peas were only available for a month to the aristocrats. Rather, peas were allowed to mature and turn from sugars to starches. Starches filled people up faster. Dry peas could be stored indefinitely. All peas required shelling to extract the seeds; a laborious task, and the pods were thrown away.


Peas and Tendrils

“Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold” was not just a saying; it was a thick pea soup that sustained the masses summer and winter. Remember, potatoes and corn were unknown until the Spanish explorers discovered them in South America.

For two hundred years, pea soup was THE soupe du jour .
Then, several milestone dates occurred for peas:
In 1870, the Campbell company began to can green peas for sale the year round;
In 1920, peas were quick frozen for the first time; And, not to be forgotten, in 1962, Andy Warhol immortalized Campbell’s soup cans, and included peas.

But it wasn’t until the 1970s that snow peas and sugar snap peas came on market.
Much of the hybridizing was done in Oregon by Dr James Baggert. For the first time his new hybrid peas could be eaten pods and all. No shelling !

Pick them when young -- the sugar turns to starch as the pod matures. Sugar Snaps bear from late May to early July. Unlike beans, peas are a cool weather crop that ideally should be sown as soon as the ground can be worked. The harvest is short; they will not do well after July.

Soak the seeds in water for several hours before planting. They prefer an alkaline soil and will need a support on which to climb. Heights vary in sugar snaps; most will need a support that is shoulder high.
You can use brush or branches, the traditional New England way. Or wire or netting.
One serious problem.... you can’t make it back to the house without eating all the peas!

Their climbing method is amazing. Unlike beans, their stems do not cling or encircle their support. They ascend by using tendrils. The tendrils are modified leaves that move to, and clutch, anything they touch. When tendrils contact something there is faster cell growth on their opposite side that creates a tightening fist-like grip on the support. This not only fastens the tendril but enables it to be a shock absorber that steadies the plant in a wind. Pea tendrils are harvested these days as a delicacy.

Peas and other legumes like beans and lentils have the amazing ability to extract nitrogen from the atmosphere. Alfalfa and clover also do this. Nitrogen-fixing rhizobacteria form nodules on legumes’ roots, and are packed with the nutrient. Your pea harvest can be increased by first coating the seed with an inoculant of powdered rhizobacteria after soaking. Personally, I have not found this to be effective in soil that has previously grown legumes.

For this reason, legumes growing in a neutral pH generally do not need additional fertilizer containing nitrogen. Adding nitrogen will produce lush growth and few peas.

Tip: Besides the root nodules, the green stems and leaves of peas and beans are packed with nitrogen. Be sure to compost them or turn leguminous crops under when they stop bearing.Return To Top


"Consider the lilies, how they grow..."
November 2015

The lily of the Bible may well have been the Madonna Lily, native to the Mediterranean, blooming in mid-summer and often with twenty or more fragrant white flowers.

Easter lilies are a major florists' crop. These lilies are natives of Okinawa and the bulbs were first grown commercially in Bermuda in 1853.

The flowering lily fields became a major tourist attraction until 1930, when they were wiped out by a blight. Commercial bulb production then shifted back to Japan. After the war, American grown bulbs captured the market, and now 37 million are produced each year in California and Oregon.


Since Easter dates vary each year, commercial growers have to coax their lilies to be punctual for the holiday. It is much easier to push them for a very early Easter than try to hold them back for a very late date. Timing your lily crop has been known to separate the men from the boys. There is no forgiveness and no market for your product the week after Easter.

The genus Lilium is defined as having scaly bulbs, alternating or whorled leaves, erect,
pendulous or reflexed flowers with six petals. However, not everything that is called a lily fits this description. Lily of the valley, water lily, calla lily are by no means lilies, nor is daylily . Kaffir lily is Clivia, plantain lily is Hosta, both in the genus, but are not lilies by definition.

During the last thirty years new lilies have been developed that may even surpass King Solomon in all his glory. Most derive from Chinese and Japanese species that bloom from June to late summer when few other perennials are in flower. All attract butterflies and hummingbirds. All have intoxicating fragrance.

Classifying these new hybrids became so confusing that the lilies were given trade names and are now listed into three categories.

ASIATICS bloom in June, have upright flowers on short stems, slight fragrance.

ORIENTALS bloom in July and August and are intensely fragrant.
The magnificent Casa Blanca, is described as "the most prized oriental lily of all time,"
and Stargazer is equally popular.

ORIENTPETS are Orientals crossed with the Chinese Trumpet lily.

A planting with these three types will give you a parade of show stopping flowers.
The tip- We think of fall as tulip and daffodil planting time, but lily bulbs planted now will result in much stronger plants than those planted in spring.

Prepare the place for your lilies in advance. Lily bulbs are never completely dormant,
dry out quickly and should be planted as soon as you receive them. Most will require staking. Put a handful of (non- salted) sand under each bulb for drainage. Most lilies are stem rooting bulbs and should be covered with about five inches of good garden soil. Madonna lilies, on the other hand, are base rooting and should be barely covered. Madonnas must only be planted in the fall. Not to worry, they know what they are doing when they promptly send up a tuft of green leaves.
Lilies make an unusually long lasting cut flower. But be sure to remove the anthers of the flower to prevent staining.

Remember, every rose has its thorns and every lily has its pollen.Return To Top


September, 2015

Warts and all!

In horticulture we sometimes have to accept that a plant that is the object of our affection often has faults. Cornell says that one of my favorite perennials is prone to: Verticillium wilt, gray mold, powdery mildew, rusts, yellows, fungal leaf spots, stem cankers, blister gall, nematodes, aphids, mites, slugs, and snails. To these negatives I could add that it will also require staking, and does not last well as
a cut flower. Perhaps that's why plant scientists renamed it, hoping to project a better image. And so, the pronounceable and helpless aster has been reclassified into three groups-First I have to catch my breath- SYMPHYOTRICHUM, DOELLINGERIA, and EURYBIA.


And from here on they will be referred to by their previous name, asters. The former category includes the native New England aster and the New York aster; both range far beyond the metropolitan area.

One of the glories of our fall season is the pageant of asters and goldenrods, but Americans were slow to appreciate them. Fortunately, much work has been done by European botanists. One of their finest hybrids is Alma Poetschke, a cerise/pink. Several species and many improved cultivars are highly resistant to mildew and fungus. Since they vary in height from six inches to almost six feet, there's an aster for any place in your garden. Most native asters are in shades of purple and lavender, but also come in white. Several oriental asters have been discovered that flower more profusely, are resistant to foliar diseases, and whose qualities are being inbred into our native species.

But to get back to Cornell's caveat-Many of those foliage problems can be avoided by simply keeping the leaves dry. Of course, rain will spread mildew, but asters will be less prone if you don't wet the leaves with your hose too. A spray of horticultural oil, or of one tablespoon of baking soda to one gallon of water will be effective and eco-friendlv. Give them ample spacing - three feet apart for the tall, one foot apart for the low growers.

Air circulation is important. Every two or three years asters should be divided in the spring. Smaller clumps mean better circulation, more light, healthier foliage. Yes, some asters do grow so tall that the weight of their flowers pulls them over. If that's a fault, it's easily remedied by a stake, or tying them onto a fence . Pinch the outer stems more deeply than the center ones so that more light and air will reach the interior. (And pinch no later than 4th of July.) Yes, you may find aphids, slugs and snails on asters. And by September on everything else, too. Just as your garden looks weary and worn down the purple asters come to the rescue and compliment the oncoming autumnal reds and yellows.
Fungal spots, mildew, stem cankers and blister gall, if any, are hidden under the asters'
lavish display.

The starry flowers are busy places, loaded with the last chance of nectar and pollen for
bees, migrating monarch butterflies and hummingbirds.

During ten years of Timely Tips I've never focused on what's wrong with a plant. In my opinion Cornell has come down too hard in exaggerating asters' faults. As for me, I will never grow a garden without perennial asters. That's because I love them warts and all.Return To Top


May 2015

Very few flowers evoke the nostalgia of lilacs and everyone seems to associate their fragrance with a mother or grandmother's garden of long ago. Marcel Proust wrote that fragrance (not to mention madeleines) turned him on and prompted involuntary memories of by-gone times.

Your mom's, grandmother's and Proust's lilac is Syringe vulgaris, the so called common lilac. Its ancestor originated in the Balkans but it has been cultivated in western Europe since about 1550, and arrived in the American colonies about 1750. It requires a cold, long, winter dormancy to flower. Many cultivars have been developed, especially in France by the Lemoine nursery, and now there are innumerable varieties of common lilac.

In the past, nurseryman always grafted lilacs on privet under-stock. The theory was that the privet, which is compatible and closely related to lilacs, has a stronger root system that didn't sucker. Now, lilacs are always grown on their own roots.

Centuries ago, as students in Grafting 101 at Farmingdale, we were graded on our numerical success or failure. We were each given one hundred lilac scions and grafted them onto one hundred privet roots. The grade for the exam was the number of our grafts that took.
Horticulture professor Michael Dirr describes lilac as being "oblivious to the transgressions of man." It is carefree, easy to grow, requiring little fertilizer but insisting on a sunny spot in thegarden. Everything you will ever read about lilacs tells you that they want an alkaline pH and to add lime to the soil. The professor observes that ancient lilacs are still found at abandoned New England farms, thriving in acidic soils, and that they "don't read the literature."

Lilacs not flowering can usually be attributed to less than six hours of direct sunshine, improper pruning, or too much fertilizer.

Any pruning should be done now, right after they flower. Remove dead wood and some older woody canes. It is a good idea to remove most of the suckers from the base of the plant.

Keep in mind that next year's flowers will be formed on this year's growth. Picking the flowers and dead-heading any seed pods will probably be pruning enough. Pick and enjoy huge bouquets. Fill your home with Proustian recollections !

Tip- the flowers will last longer if you smash their stems with a hammer.

One feeding in late winter or early spring is adequate. It is often overlooked that lilacs growing next to lawns will receive excess nourishment from lawn fertilizers, which will promote lush leaves and no flowers. Remember- excess nitrogen = excess foliage arowth.

Lilacs sometimes are disfigured with scale and always seem to be covered with mildew by late summer. Mildew thrives and spreads on wet leaves.You can't control the rain, but keep your sprinkler off the lilac bush. Scale seldom damages mature plants and mildew is more cosmetic than harmful. Scale can be controlled by spraying with an environmentally friendly horticultural oil.

Lilac time is so short that plant breeders have been challenged to prolong its flowering span. Fortunately, twenty or more oriental species have been discovered that bloom earlier or later than S. vulgaris. Some do well in the warmer states, others in northern Canada. When you buy these late flowering types be sure to inquire about their fragrance. Lilac fragrance is one thing, others smell like privet.

I've said many times that the people associated with the plants fascinate me as much as the plants themselves.


In 1921, a 40 year old woman, a trained horticulturist, had to overcome gender bias to get a job in the Toronto Agricultural Station. Isabella Preston was reluctantly hired, but only as day laborer at the minimum wage. It seemed that Miss Preston had already hit the glass ceiling. And it was not the greenhouse roof. However, her skills and enthusiasm soon caught the attention of her boss, William Macoun. Later, when no man applied for a new plant breeder's position she was promoted by default, but only as a temporary. She proceeded to bring fame to herself and the Toronto Botanical Garden by hybridizing dozens of roses, iris, lilies and apples, all bred for the harsh Canadian winters.

Isabella had the last laugh and pointedly named her hybrids for the women who were the stenographers in the office. I realized long before this that she was not an "apple polisher", but assumed that in the spirit of noblesse oblige that she had named the Macoun apple for her boss. But no, it was Cornell University that had honored him.

She became a much acclaimed plant hybridizer until her death, forty years later. Miss Preston's most important accomplishment was crossing two lilacs, Syringa villosa and Syringa reflexa at the Toronto Botanical Garden. This produced over seventy magnificent "Preston" hybrids, which were named in her honor. These mildew free and sucker free fragrant lilacs have extended lilac time well into June.

Some spoil sports feel that having lilacs flower into early summer diminishes the nostalgia for them. But as for me, lilac time should be forever.Return To Top


A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
April, 2015

After this horrible winter you'll be delighted to see them everywhere in town: sculptured trees covered in early spring with an abundance of white flowers. You'll admire their their glossy green leaves all summer, followed by showy, long lasting orange-red foliage in the fall. No insect will chew them, no disease will trouble them. No sub zero weather will faze them. Sounds like the perfect tree- but this is the Callery, or Bradford ornamental pear- a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Ornamental Pear

Ornamental Pear

Originally from China, Pyrus calleryana, the Bradford pear, was introduced to the United States by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as an under-stock resistant to pear blight. Nurseries began to grow it, delighted by its prolific flowers, easy propagation, fast turnover and even faster buck. Home owners clamored for it, architects praised its cookie cutter shape, landscapes planted it on every job. The tree was an instant success-early flowering, sterile, no messy fruit and tolerant of every adverse growing condition. Municipalities across America planted a monoculture of thousands of Bradfords as street trees, too often excluding everything else.

After about ten years it became evident that the Branches of the mature tree were highly
prone to splitting under heavy snow or wind. Plant breeders set to work and were able to produce several hybrids, Cleveland and Chanticleer, that had stronger branching habits.

Sounds good?

Well, although they are less susceptible to storm damage, they are, unfortunately, capable of cross pollinating not only each other but also every sterile Bradford within 300 feet. Birds and animals distributed the now viable seeds and turned the ornamental pears into yet another invasive species on the loose. They endangered the ecosystem by rapidly converted the seedlings into thickets of pears that choked out native plants. These hybrid pear seedlings came with something new-long, sharp thorns that made them difficult to destroy.

Yes, thorns; the thorns on ornamental pears are so tough that they are capable of puncturing tractor tires. As the trees grew larger and more plentiful many people noticed that the flowers smelled to high heaven. Individual trees began to grow vigorous suckers that quickly surrounded the parent tree. By age 30 almost every tree had significant structural damage. Later they would discover that most died by age 40 and had to be removed, stump.roots and all.

Ornamental pears have been planted coast to coast and now are turning into a majorexpense in thousands of towns . Rather than diversifying their street trees, manycommunities planted only Bradfords or its cultivars. Now every storm brings the risk of trees falling on cars or pedestrians. Many localitiesbanned them as invasive species.

Eventually, every one will have to be cut down and roots dug out. Critical thought should be given for Bradford's replacement. Several small, well behaved native trees are recommended; Cercis canadensis, Red Bud, is an early blooming small tree with pink flowers. Amelanchier canadenses, Service Berry, blossoms at the same time with white flowers. Halesia tetraptera, Silver Bells, a little later, also white flowers. Chionanthus virginicus, Fringe Tree, even later, white flowers. None of these natives have messy flowers or fruit, all grow to about 25 feet. Some sterile flowering cherries or crab apples might also be included. It seems that once again the imported genie has escaped from its bottle.Return To Top


Witch Hazel,
March 2015

After a cold and endless winter spring can be painful for gardeners . Muscles unaccustomed to work, scratches, bruises, poison ivy itch, insect bites, chapped hands.


Witch Hazel
photo: George Pouder

It's rather unlikely that Native American warriors would fret about their chapped hands. But they DID use witch hazel to alleviate their aches and itches. (Some of their other claims would raise eyebrows at the U.S.A. Food and Drug Administration.) They showed settlers how to boil or steam twigs and leaves of the witch hazel shrub and to apply the "magic water" to the skin. In 1860, the Dickinson family began to manufacture a commercial witch hazel lotion, using the same technique and ingredients. The identical formula is still sold today. Barbershop haircuts or shaves were always followed by a sprinkling of witch hazel lotion. Scientists now realize that it is an astringent that is high in antioxidants . Dowsers knew that witch hazel branches could locate underground water.

But what really interests me is not witch hazel the lotion, but witch hazel, the shrub.
Witch Hazels are amazing shrubs or small trees that are unique in being the very last to bloom in the late autumn and the very first to bloom in the late winter. Having this early March meeting enabled me to share mine with you, bravely flowering in today's freak snowstorm.

Two witch hazels are native . Both flower from October to December.

Hamamelis virginiana, has fragrant yellow flowers . Despite its name, virginiana, it is native to the entire eastern part of the United States, Maine to Florida, west to theMississippi. Hamamelis vernalis, has showy red flowers and originally grew only in the Ozarks. Both have fall foliage that turns bright yellow to scarlet. As soon as the leaves drop the seed capsules explode and can propel the ripe seeds up to ten yards from the plant. At that point the fragrant flowers begin to open on the bare branches and remain until well into winter. Crossing these two American witch hazels has resulted in many colorful, fragrant and robust hybrids.

There is also a Japanese witch hazel and a Chinese witch hazel. Crossing these two has created some of the most extraordinary specimens in the plant world. Much of this work was done at the Arnold Arboretum in the 1960s. Crossing japonica and mollis resulted in the cultivar x "intermedia". Intermedia comesin dozens of sizes and colors ranging from yellow to orange and to red. Most of these, especially the Chinese mollis parent, are extremely hardy - down to minus ten. No problems even in this brutal winter.

The asiatic Hamamelis begin to flower in mid February and are intensely fragrant. Their strap like flowers curl up on cold nights and unfurl when the morning sun shineson them. The flowers can persist for eight weeks and are often mistaken for forsythia.
Four of the finest asiatic witch hazel hybrids are:

"Arnold Promise"; On February 1 the buds were showing color. Twelve below zero
and deep snow did not faze it. The petals clench into a tight fist to protect themselves. A sprig brought into the house began to open in water after three days. Outside in the garden the buds began to open a week ago and the branches are now covered with fragrant yellow flowers, as you will see.

"Diane" is the best copper-red hybrid, flowers early-mid winter, ethereal scent.

'"Jelena" has almost - but not quite everything- going for it, interesting copper-red flowers, showy fall foliage color, early winter flowering. But, alas, no fragrance.

"Pallida", hands down, the best of the yellows . The choicest yellow flowers , a lemon fragrance and the best fall leaf color. Mid winter

Witch hazels look great in all four seasons, are maintenance free, are not fussy about
soil, have no insect or disease problems. They'll give you bonus days to enjoy your fall garden, cheer your winter, hasten thereturn of your spring. You'll welcome them long before the first robin arrives or the first snowdrop or crocus makes its spring debut. Plant them near a walkway or door to enjoy their unique flowers and fragrance. After December the dormant twigs can be cut and forced. The flowers will last about two weeks in water. They look best with a background of evergreens.

My "Arnold Promise" is in front of an American holly. Great placement. But I foolishly planted it there, forgetting that I have to shovel fifty feet of snow in the winter to reach it. In horticulture, as in life, we get old too soon and smart too late.Return To Top

October, 2014

Some of us of a certain age, may recall a singing commercial for a brand of L & M cigarettes that hoped to convert their listeners into chain smokers: "They said it couldn't be done, they said nobody could do it I never fell for the ad, but the catchy tune has stuck in my memory.


photo: Richard Ten Dyke

Singing it takes courage, but here goes "They said it couldn't be done, they said nobody could do it"

In nine years of doing Timely Tips I have never burst into song about a new plant. And while I'll be happy to answer questions later, I absolutely refuse to sing an encore.

Charles Valin, 29, is a French botanist who thought he could do it.No neophyte, more than 150 of his hybrids are already in the market, including sunpatiens and a spectacular new verbascum called "Blue Lagoon." Everyone except Valin agreed that it was impossible to make an intergeneric cross
between the biennial Digitalis, foxglove, native to Britain, and Isoplexis, a shrubby
perennial, native to the Canary Islands.

Although theoretically impossible, Valin was determined and succeeded after six years. The hybrid, called Digiplexis "Illumination Flame," had the best characteristics of both parents.

Tiny slivers of plant tissue were grown in vitro in Thompson and Morgan's lab. Within one year nine generations of tissue culture had produced thousands of identical clones for sale.

"Illumination Flame" made an enormous impact and was voted "Best New Plant" at the Chelsea Flower Show last year. This year it won the greenhouse growers' award. And Charles Valin won the Royal Horticultural Society's silver cup. It was described as "a foxglove with lipstick", in luscious shades of watermelon, fuchsia and mango. I was fortunate to evaluate some plants this summer, thanks to my friend Ruth Clausen, horticulturist, author and lecturer. Thompson and Morgan's sales soared, and nurseries that stocked Digiplexis werequickly sold out.

Here's why: Unlike foxglove, Digiplexis flowers almost non stop from May to first frost.
After the initial burst of color the numerous side shoots start flowering. I brought some of
these for you to see today. The nodding, tubular blossoms are colorful and last well as cut flowers. The foliage stays attractively green all summer. Deer don't eat it, it has no insect or disease
problems, it is friendly to bees and hummingbirds. Does best in sun or partial shade.
It has the shrubby characteristics of its Canary Island parent, grows two to four feet high. It is perennial from Virginia south, but is not hardy here. It is sterile, so produces no seeds, and instead puts all its strength into making new flowers.

One cautious tip- Be aware that Digiplexis has inherited the toxic nature of its foxglove parent and contains digitoxin in all its parts. Keep children and pets away. Take care handling it, the sap may cause a rash for some people. Well, we can't have everything, can we ?

(It will be available at White Flower Farm, Wayside , Burpee and similar local nurseries.)Return To Top


Mona Lavender
September, 2014

The world of horticulture contradicts the saying, "there's nothing new under the sun." Almost all of our modern garden plants like zinnias, dahlias and marigolds are hybrids of quite ordinary wild flowers. Berries and fruit trees bear no resemblance to their wild ancestors. This has occurred in natural breeding, but also by human intervention.


Mona Lavender
Photo: Richard Ten Dyke
Today we'll see a hybrid plant from the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in South Africa. Their botanist, Roger Jaques, crossed a summer flowering Plectranthus with a winter flowering variety. It required collecting pollen and finding a way to keep it viable for use six months later. After several years he succeeded and it resulted in this amazing plant, "Mona Lavender" that has so much going for it. The plant was patented, with a royalty going to the botanical gardens.

Attention Elvis fans : There is also a variety called "Velvet Elvis". He has larger inflorescence, matures earlier, is covered in deep purple velvety foliage and, just like Elvis himself, is endowed with "excellent vigor". Plectranthus is related to mints, lamium and "Swedish Ivy." It is easy to propagate your own cuttings.The royaly and plant patent restrictions only apply to commercial sales.
Mona does best in moist, humus soil, has no insect or disease problems. It requires no special care, likes some shade. Plants in sunnier places tend to be shorter and more compact. It can be planted out in masses or specimens in a bed, looks exceptionally well in groupings of pots. And it gives you another option to replace impatiens.

The leaves are attractive all summer, dark green on top and an eggplant purple color underneath. Just as August gardens become tired and faded , Mona Lavender comes to the rescue in a burst of its unique color. Pink and lilac shades are coming on the market too.

Like chrysanthemums, the onset of flowers is triggered by the shorter and cooler days of fall. The flowers are prolific and long lasting, and the falling temperatures intensify the color of the blossoms and foliage. Butterflies and hummingbirds love it.

Best of all, deer don't eat it.

It is an annual this far north and is sensitive to frost. Perhaps Mona's most endearing quality is that it makes a pretty decent house plant in a sunny window. I had one flowering in a south window till Thanksgiving last year. Rather than digging out a plant, bring in one that has already been in a pot all summer. Keep it sunny and on the dry side and do not feed till spring. Make tip cuttings in the spring .
Commercial growers manipulate blooming by regulating the day length for spring sales. However, it never looks as colorful in the spring as it does in the fall. Many spring buyers pass it by, not realizing its potential.

Next spring you can find Mona and Elvis at the better nurseries, and also on line.

The annual warning tip for frost usually doesn't come before our October meeting, but we have already had a number of 50 degree nights and three at 41 degrees.
Be aware that a cloudless sky, dropping temperatures and no wind are the perfect scenario for an early frost, especially in low spots. Cover up! Getting your plants past this first frost may buy you another two or three weeks of enjoying your garden before the real killer arrives.Return To Top


June 2014

Hopp Ground Lane is in Middle Patent. Hoppfields was a popular Bedford restaurant. Hopp Ground garden club is a Bedford institution . Bedford's original name was Hopp Ground; obviously, the early settlers were growingand using hops way back in 1680. John Jay preferred Madeira wine but grew hops to keep his beer drinking employees healthy and happy. After all, the beer was safer than the water.


Humulus Lupulus Cones
Photo credit H. Zell

Museum records show that Farmers' Club founder, William Jay, provided beer and hard cider to celebrate the raising of a barn in 1831. Farmers certainly made their own home brews. And not only that--Elizabeth Levin says that some of our members, our very early members, had stills in their cellars.

What are hops ? In medieval times Dutch and German brewers used hops to flavor and preserve beer. However, the English thought that hops were " wicked weeds that induced melancholy." They banned them from Britain and used meadow rue and chamomile for flavoring. But by the time of the Bedford settlement hops were also widely used in England for their bittering, preserving and flavoring qualities.

Beer making became more profitable for English brewers--by using more hops, less grain was needed.
It was thought that a pillow of warm hops would cure toothaches, earaches, and "nervous irritations." A concoction was good for "sluggish livers", cleared the blood and was a remedy for neuralgia, rheumatism, bruises, boils. Hops also induced sleep. Significantly, hops and chamomile are still used in herbal medicines. Hops were reputed to made a drink "strong enough to turn an old topper's head."

And it is no coincidence that there is an expression, "all hopped up." Just the restorative needed in old Bedford's medicine chests.

Hops have a melodious botanical name, Humulus lupulus. Humulus lupulus rolls off the tongue like a pint of Guinness stout. Humulus derives from the humus soil they prefer. Lupulus refers to lupus, the wolf, because of its aggressive growth habits. "Hops" is from the Anglo-Saxon name for climbing. These three words neatly describe the plant. Hops have male and female flowers on separate plants.

Like holly, it takes two to tango. The female flowers ripen in the fall and resemble little husks or cones. They produce lupulin, a sedative and aromatic powder that flavors, stabilizes and preserves the beer and supposedly makes the drinker feel "relaxed and richly contented." Hops is a fast growing decorative vine that will quickly cover a fence, trellis or arbor. The husks have a resinous fragrance that will attract butterflies. The herb garden at John Jay may be the only location in Bedford where hops are still grown. There is usually an attractive specimen there for you to study.

It's fun to grow a plant that was associated with Bedford for 325 years, and even to make your own craft brew. Timely tip- Don't attempt to compete with our host, the Captain Lawrence Brewing Company.

Return To Top


April 2014

The dictionary describes a weed as a plant that is considered undesirable, unattractive or troublesome, especially if growing where it is not wanted. Weeds that compete with farm crops are all of the above and are frequently controlled with chemical herbicides such as Round Up.

herbicidesAgricultural crops are often genetically modified for greater yields, cold hardiness, insect resistance, drought resistance, salinity resistance. And they can also be genetically altered to resist the Round Up so that the herbicide will selectively kill only the weeds but not the crop. In the United States eighty five percent of corn acreage and ninety five percent of soybeans and cotton acreage are planted with seeds of cultivars that are genetically resistant to damage by Round Up. The use of Round Up, Monsanto's best selling herbicide, has grown to ninety million pounds a year, and is increasing by a scary twenty five percent annually. As the weeds become more resistant to glyphosate, farmers have to spray more often and at stronger concentrations to control them. We are told that Round Up is safe, has received Federal approval, breaks down rapidly and does not remain in the soil or reach the groundwater. Not only the Round Up, but Monsanto's genetically modified plants themselves are topics that are highly contentious for many of us here today.

Years ago, Long Island potato farmers were allowed to use Temik, a super-toxic aldicarb
manufactured by Union Carbide. It was approved by the USDA as a systemic insecticide for nematodes. Farmers plowed a furrow in the sandy soil, spread the granular insecticide and planted the seed potatoes over it. The rains came and the deadly insecticide percolated into the shallow water table. Four years later, fifteen hundred contaminated Suffolk county wells required Temik filters. Union Carbide picked up the tab @ $650 each. The E.RA, banned it in 1989 but changed its mind and rescinded the ban in 2007 . However, it will finally be permanently banned world wide this year.
There's a lesson in this- the wheels move slowly.

That said, Round Up can still be a useful tool for the prudent home gardener. Wear goggles, gloves and protective clothing. Beware of drifts, spray on a calm day, keep away from waterways, pets, birds, food crops, children's play areas. Be especially sure to read the label and carefully follow directions. Better still, why not avoid spraying altogether? Woody weeds like bittersweet, barberry, poison ivy, knotweed are easily killed by cutting them back and painting the stubs with the herbicide. No drift, less chemical, no residue, safer control.

Rather then taking chances with potentially dangerous herbicides and rather than letting your weeds get ahead of you, why not stop them before they even emerge?

Try an environmentally friendly weedkiller that has zero safety or environmental issues. Iowa State University research discovered that corn gluten is a natural pre -emergence herbicide. It is a totally safe by-product of cornstarch that will break down into harmless compounds. You can also buy corn gluten in bulk at seed stores like Agway. Smaller amounts in different formulations are sold as "Preen". If you decide to buy Preen be sure to get the one called "Vegetable Garden Organic", which is all gluten. Other Preen products contain tryfuralin ,2-4-d, which has serious issues.

Preen prevents many annual weeds from germinating in the first place. It will control annual grasses like stilt and crab grass and broadleaf weeds like purslane, lamb's quarters, pigweed and others. Unlike Round Up, organic Preen will not kill existing plants, is safe for children and animals, can even be applied in vegetable gardens and on established lawns.

Mid April, when Forsythia blooms, is the ideal time to spread Preen while the ground is still bare and the weeds haven't emerged. If you are using it on mulched plants, do not remove the mulch. Spread it over the mulch because mulches often contain weed seeds. Slowly water it in, it will not work in dry soil. The watering will allow the corn gluten to penetrate the soil and inhibit the roots of germinating weeds before they emerge from the ground. Plants, even weeds that are already growing, will not be damaged by corn gluten. The lip of the container can be used to broadcast the granules at five pounds per hundred square feet and the area will stay weed free from two to four months, or more.

Corn gluten is also available as "Gluten Eight", a sprayable liquid that is easier to apply by using a garden hose; one quart of liquid equals 20 pounds of the granular gluten. This is a practical and safe way to keep weeds from growing between bricks and flagstones or through pebbles or bluestone. Even safer control would be that old remedy, a kettle of boiling water. Corn glutens are also nitrogen fertilizers. This can be a plus if used in the spring or early summer. One caveat however: nitrogen applied later in the summer will stimulate soft vegetative growth that will die back in the winter. Do not apply corn glutens around trees or shrubs after mid July.

I have no other motive in endorsing Preen or Gluten Eight except to share my own experience with you. I used the organic Preen last April and didn't see a weed there till October.

When working with pesticides and herbicides the three timeliest tips are : "Read the Label'. "Always read the Label" and "Be sure to read the Label".Return To Top


Powerful Plants
October, 2013

The Science Barge that we are visiting today is a totally sustainable plant growing facility that verdantly floats in the vastness of the Hudson River.

NASA Lettuce on Space Station
Lettuce growing on Space Station
Photo courtesy NASA

NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, plans similar verdant and self-sustainable projects for the vastness of Mars and the Moon. Space grown green vegetables will provide healthy food, create oxygen and uplift spirits for space explorers. NASA also envisions sending plants as passengers in its unmanned spacecrafts. Green plants will remove excessive pollutants that can short circuit sensitive electronic components inside the craft.

When Endeavor blasted off into space basil seeds were on board. The astronauts were not planning to spend their long voyage making pesto. Their task was to see if the seeds would germinate and grow roots in the absence of gravity. Experiments revealed that the seeds will re-orient themselves and adjust to growing their roots while in space. Lettuce seeds will be sown during next month's flight to the international space station. And twenty eight days later the crew is scheduled to dine on the world's first interplanetary salad.

These experiments encouraged NASA to consider growing food crops in self sustaining greenhouses on Mars and the Moon.

A two year study at NASA also proved that certain house plants have the ability to reduce air pollution in buildings on earth too. This is particularly true in energy efficient structures that prevent the exchange of outside air. The toxic contaminants benzene and formaldehyde are often present and are derived from plywood, cleaning supplies, synthetic carpets, fabrics and plastics. NASA determined that one fair-sized green plant per hundred square feet could absorb significant amounts of chemical contaminants in a house.

The plants that scored highest were spider plant, pothos, peace lily, Chinese evergreen,
snake plant, philodendrons, aloe, and dracaenas. Most do well in low light, are decorative and are often found in earthlings' homes. All absorbed pollutants as well as performing their vital function- changing carbon dioxide to oxygen during photosynthesis.

To me, the most fascinating discovery in the study was that the plants' ROOTS activated microorganisms in the potting soil that are also capable of biodegrading the toxic chemicals.

We recognize that plants' psychological benefits will lift spirits that are space bound and perhaps spirits that are house bound too. But who would have imagined that their potting soil might also keep us healthier!Return To Top

Forcing Bulbs
September 2013

September doesn't have to mean the end of your gardening fun. You don't need a greenhouse. A sunny window will keep your green thumb growing things till spring . A pot of spring bulbs will lift your spirits on a gloomy winter's day -- and they are all the more enjoyable (and even smell sweeter) if you grew them yourself. Instead of waiting six months for the first garden bulbs to bloom you can trick them, and time them into flowering at your command from November to April. Buy top size, firm bulbs for this purpose.

Tete a Tete

Tete a Tete

Paper white narcissus can start your floral parade. It is the easiest of all and requires no chilling and only a few weeks of dormancy. Set the bulbs in a bowl of pebbles, pointed end up. Blue stone works fine. Fill with water up to their base, cover and place in a dark, cool spot. It is very important that the growing tip is above the water line. An unheated garage is usually dark enough and cool enough for paper whites. The bulbs will root into the pebbles, start to grow and after three weeks can be brought in to a sunny cool window to flower.

Forced paper whites often stretch and flop over and will require staking. Cornell University discovered that adding one part of vodka to seven parts of their water will stunt their height but will not affect the flowers' size or fragrance. However, you may feel, as I do, somewhat reluctant to waste your Stoly on horticulture. In that case, rubbing alcohol, one part to ten of water is just as stiff a drink and will work just as well. Timing is important, so start the bulbs in plain water and do not replace it with the alcohol mix until the green shoots reach about two inches .

Planting (of course, non-alcoholic) paper whites is a great project to do with a young child; quick results, foolproof and a lasting impression. A budding young naturalist can take it home, learn from it, enjoy it for weeks, and will surely remember who showed how to do it. Repeat forcing the paper whites every two weeks . Discard the spent bulbs- they can not be forced again and are not hardy in this climate. In January you can switch to a miniature, multi-flowered yellow narcissus, Tete a Tete, the earliest of the good stuff.

You'll have to work a little harder to force Tete a Tete but it is really quite easy. Just be sure that the bulb is planted pointed tip up or it won't be at all forgiving.
To start, they must be grown in a pot of soil. Pebbles and water won't do, but ordinary garden soil is fine.

Plant three or more bulbs in a pot- they look best if crowded. You will have to plant all of the pots of Tete a Tete that you plan to force at the same time. Water them well, and bury them all outside in a trench.

They will come out easier if you sprinkle a little bird gravel or sand on the pots before you cover them with a couple of inches of soil and add some leaves for a mulch. Be sure the sand does not include salt- "playground" or "sandbox" is what you need. Mark the trench with a tall stake so that you can find it under the snow. Do not dig until after New Years, and thereafter every two weeks for steady displays in a sunny window. Tete a Tete potted and buried by mid-October, dug up January 10, will flower in the house about February 1, just as you despair that the winter will never end. Daffodils, tulips, crocus, minor bulbs and hyacinths can be forced the same way but need a longer period of dormancy until you start forcing them in February. Unlike paper whites, you can salvage them by planting them out in the spring and they should be placed in a sunny window and kept well watered and fertilized. Remove all the dead flower heads so they don't set seed and they will often re-bloom in your garden the following year. Some people get a rash from handling daffodil and hyacinth bulbs. Avoid touching your face or eyes, wash your hands or wear gloves.

Forcing bulbs requires patience, do not rush them, especially hyacinths which will abort the flower bud. Start them all inside in a cool, bright window and then gradually move to a warmer place.

While you are enjoying your winter garden remember the words of a Persian poet seven hundred years ago, "buy hyacinths to feed the soul".Return To Top

June 2013

If deer are out of control on your property, you have plenty of company. Today we are going to learn how Rod Christie controls them here at the Mianus Gorge. Boxwood Is one of the very few plants that deer never eat. A generation or two ago it was rare to see boxwood growing this far north, in zone 6. The global warming trend has resulted in longer growing seasons and higher winter temperatures. Now, perhaps by default, they have become the mainstays of many a garden. Although boxwood originated in the temperate regions around the Mediterranean it will tolerate occasional zero nights.
It was grown in Roman and English gardens and was brought to Virginia in 1652. It thrives best in milder areas like Maryland and Virginia and cherished 250 year old specimens can be seen in Williamsburg, Gunston Hall and Annapolis .

Boxwood's best color is in a partially shaded, wind free place. It is surface rooting, so avoid cultivating under it. Fertilize only in late winter or early spring, feeding or pruning it after June will produce tender growth that is highly susceptible to winter damage. Although it may resemble a broad leaf evergreen like azaleas, it is not, and requires an alkaline 6 -7 pH. Do not use an acidic fertilizer like Holly Tone . Mulch it with a couple of inches of wood chips and water it in extended dry periods.

In recent times new kinds of boxwood have been discovered in China, Japan and Korea and are now commonly found in American landscape plantings. The so called American boxwood, Buxus sempervirens and the likewise misnamed English boxwood, Buxus suffruticosa, both native to the Balkans, have now become indispensable in deer proofing Westchester landscapes . Sempervirens is upright, there is even a tree type; it grows rapidly, is good for screening, is foolproof. This is the variety that you too often see pruned into meatballs. Unpruned specimens, however, lend a classical elegance to gardens.

Suffruticosa has a smaller leaf, is lower, more spreading, billowing, and best unpruned.
It is extremely slow growing, perhaps an inch each year. Deer avoid Boxwood and its "cousin", pachysandra, because of their high alkaloid content.

Boxwood is is troubled by a leaf miner that burrows into the leaf and hollows it out. The insects responsible are mosquito sized flies that emerge in swarms from last year's blisters to lay their eggs in the new leaves. They can be controlled by spraying with a horticultural oil when the larvae emerge, usually in mid May. It is also important to clean up dead leaves and bag them in the garbage.

Boxwood physillid is another fly that emerges from last year's leaves and lays its eggs in the new uppermost leaves, causing them to pucker and cup. Although unsightly, they do little harm and when the plant makes more growth the damaged leaves are hidden. Both insects can be controlled by horticultural oil spray, by removing the cupped leaves by hand picking and by sanitation.

Boxwood makes a dense growth and it is important to allow air and light to reach the
Interior of the plant and to remove any dead branches. Boxwood is amazingly tolerant of pruning. Overgrown plants can be carefully pruned and will fill in within a year or two. Prune or trim boxwood no later than right now so that new growth will be hardened before cold weather.
Mature plants are often pulled out of shape by heavy snows- brush the snow load away by carefully using a broom.

Some people have an aversion to what has been called the pungent "malodorous fragrance" of boxwood leaves, and say that they smell like cats. Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes surely would have ruled against boxwood being pruned into meatballs.

As for the "malodorous foliage", the learned Supreme Court Justice had a dissenting opinion: Mr Justice Holmes said that boxwood had "the fragrance of eternity". And the jury is still out on this.

PS. When I wrote this last winter boxwood's problems seemed to be few. I changed my mind when Bill Cary pointed out last month in the Journal News that boxwood blight, a new species of destructive fungus, has begun to wipe out Westchester boxwood. Initially, brown spots appear on the leaves, the stems display black lesions, the leaves turn straw colored, defoliate, and the plant dies. The spores are dispersed by wind and water, just as with downy mildew of impatiens. What can you do? Avoid overhead watering, keep your sprinkler off boxwood. Don't work with wet boxwood. Pruning boxwood into tight round shapes makes the plant more vulnerable, since it limits air circulation.

Infected branches and plants should be removed, bagged and put with the garbage- do not compost them. Remember that the pruning shears will be contaminated with the sticky fungus and should be sterilized after use. Use chlorox or alcohol. The disease is so new that chemical controls haven't been found as yet. The beleaguered Cornell plant pathologist says "we need time to figure out what to do". The nursery industry has donated a half a million dollars for research. Meanwhile, quarantine your garden and do not bring any new boxwood into it that may a trojan horse that is harboring unseen fungus spores. And yes, since pachysandra is related to boxwood it is also susceptible to the new fungus, although it does show more resistance.

I am sorry to once again be the bearer of bad news about yet another new
plant disease, but hope the suggestions will help you avoid or manage the problem if it
comes to your garden.

ForcingForcingReturn To Top


Downy Milldew of Impatiens

April 2013

You either loved them or hated them.

I, for one, loved them and had plenty of them. I loved their wide range of colors, their thriving in the shade, their abundant flowers, their adaptability . And as a commercial grower, I admit I loved the profit in growing several thousand flats of their seedlings. They were nearly number one in American bedding plant sales. The US Department of Agriculture estimated that almost 500 million of them were sold last spring.
Downy Milldew
But overnight, IMPATIENS has become an endangered species. The culprit is the pathogen, downy mildew. It had rampaged through Europe but had not been a problem in the States till Spring, 2011, when there was an outbreak in Massachusetts and a few months later in Florida. It is thought that a "snowbird" in Cape Cod carried an infected impatiens back home to Florida. Plant pathologists sensed the potential danger and immediately began searching for ways to stop its spread.

One year ago, in the spring of 2012, they recommended controlling it by applying fungicides before the customer bought it. Nevertheless, by October last year the disease had spread to 35 additional states, and leapfrogged the continent to Oregon, Washington and California.

I was amazed how little publicity this received in gardening magazines andowny 2d newspapers all winter, and decided to research it to alert our members at about it at our first meeting this spring. Last Saturday The Journal News beat me to the punch, but here goes-Downy mildew spores can travel on the wind for hundreds of miles, or in drops of water, and will overwinter in the ground. They are triggered by chilly weather and wet leaves. The impatiens leaves curl, turn a grayish-white underneath and drop off, leaving only the stems, which then collapse. Once infected, fungicides won't help and there is no hope, no cure, no recovery. The plants should be removed, roots and soil, bagged, and put with the garbage. Do not compost or you'll have the disease forever. You will be lucky if the problem stops there and you have only lost a couple of dozen plants; a commercial grower can lose thousands of plants and thousands of dollars, as we did in our greenhouses.

There is no way of knowing if the healthy young impatiens you buy now is harboring the
disease. They may fool you by thriving during the hot, dry, summer and then collapse as
the weather turns cooler and wetter.

The doubles, and walleriana, the standard impatiens, are highly susceptible. New
Guinea impatiens is the most resistant. Sunpatiens does well in the sun and light shade
and is also resistant. Both are grown from cuttings rather than seeds, and therefore are

Plant pathologists, urged on by the commercial growers, have doubled their efforts to control the disease. Margery Daughtrey, a leading Cornell pathologist, feels that progress will be measured in decades rather than years. Updates can be found at the lab's website:

But what to do this year?

First- Relax- downy mildew infects the common garden impatiens, walleriana, and no other plant. If you had this problem last year it will be fatal to plant them again in the same
contaminated soil. Be resigned that you will have to grow New Guineas, Sunpatiens, or something else.

Ah yes, something else. Something that will be as colorful, compact, tough, no risk. And also thrive in the shade. This is a tall order.

Coleus, caladium, browallia, torenia , fuchsia all do well in the shade but do not have the color range or adaptability, and do not make the impact of impatiens. To me, begonias seem to be the only practical solution. The once ubiquitous impatiens will be harder to find and to buy this spring. Many growers have cut way back this year or have stopped growing them entirely. Once burned, twice shy.

The grower may or may not have applied the fungicides every two weeks. Spores of
downy mildew may be on the plant, no matter how healthy it seems to be when you buy it.

An ethical commercial grower will warn you about planting impatiens; you shouldn't be surprised to lose them all. Don't expect that candid advice at a big box supermarket outlet or a food store. Photos of infected plants will be available after the meeting and will be on line at our club website.

I welcome your questions now or later. That said, after reading about it in the Journal News and hearing about it at Bedford Farmers' Club- if you buy impatiens and it dies You should not expect to ask for your money back.Return To Top


October 2012

October is bulb planting time for tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, crocus. The dormant bulbs grow roots before the ground freezes and reward us with their flowers in the spring. It's also time to plant garlic, affectionately nicknamed, The Stinking Rose".

garlic scapes For centuries Northern Europeans thought its only use was to ward off vampires. Mediterraneans knew better, and called it The Sweet Breath of Life". Garlic is mentioned in the Bible in Numbers, chapter 11. Some of the people complained to Moses about the monotony of only eating the Lord's manna from heaven. They told him that they preferred the food they ate in Egypt, which included onions and garlic.

The Lord and Moses were not amused.

The Koran has this to say about garlic- "Whoever has eaten garlic should not come to our mosques". It then modified the ban by saying, "those who eat garlic or onions should eat them in a cooked form".

Red blooded Americans craved "meat and potatoes", ridiculed garlic, joked about it but
never ate it.

Julia Child wrote, "garlic was considered suspiciously foreign, probably subversive,
certainly 'lower class', and is now the darling of food lovers".

"The Joy of Cooking" grudgingly agreed that garlic was finally gaining acceptance. It cautioned, however, that "it is perhaps the most contentious addition to food", although the editor confided that she had "learned to use it discreetly". By the 1970s Mediterranean cuisine had become popular and the appreciation of garlic soared.

One hundred thirty thousand foodies converged on a garlic festival in trendy California.
Chicken stuffed with 40 garlic cloves was the signature dish of a Hollywood restaurant
called, you guessed it, The Stinking Rose". Garlic jelly and garlic ice cream topped off the menu.
It is widely believed that eating it in moderation will prevent or alleviate many health problems. Garlic supposedly lowers blood pressure, is an antioxidant, antibiotic, antifungal, and antiseptic.

In " A Midsummer Night's Dream" Shakespeare advised ," Eat no onions nor garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath". In other words, garlic can also be...anti-social! Tip- Eating parsley helps.
Garlic is an allium, related to onions, leeks, chives and ramps. Alliums like a deep, rich, organic soil and lots of sun.

One garlic clove can produce a head with up to 20 cloves. The individual cloves should
be planted in October, tip up, an inch deep and 4" apart. The cloves quickly grow green
shoots that emerge in the fall and should be lightly mulched till spring. Garlic will repel rabbits and moles and keep them out of your garden. But, sorry, even garlic doesn't stop woodchucks or deer.

Garlic has become immensely popular and seed houses sell garlic bulbs from all over the world for fall delivery. The catalog of Territorial Seed Company lists 29 different kinds and assures readers that "... garlic is a food that can be enjoyed in a manner much like fine wine".

You can also plant the cloves from supermarket California garlic. However, these often have been treated with a chemical that retards sprouting. "Hardneck" types have 5-10 large cloves around a central stem. "Softneck varieties
have double layers of up to 20 cloves.

Better still, plant cloves from the garlic grown and sold at local farmers' markets. Our neighborhood farmers know which varieties do best here. The garlic is ripe and ready to dig when the leaves dry up in the following June. If you feel that you simply cant hold off till June, the scapes of hardneck garlic are ready to eat when they curl, and before the flowers and cloves ripen. Scapes, "the garlic lover's nirvana" are the loopy, twisted green stems that bear a flower head. Harvest the plants and hang and store them in mesh bags in a cool dry place.

After you dig the garlic you will still have room and time to grow a crop of string beans or lettuce. And you can follow them with another crop of garlic.

Why then is garlic called," The Sweet Breath of Life" ? Because garlic on your breath just might protect your throat from vampires .Return To Top


BLACK WALNUTS (Juglans nigra)
September 2012

The Hudson Valley fall foliage display is one of nature's showiest treats. We are dazzled by the color of the gorgeous oaks and maples. Standing apart from them, like a wallflower at the debutants' ball, is the dull foliage of our nut trees.

Black WalnutsFarmers' Club lepidopterists take note:
Dull foliage or not, luna moths are attracted to walnut, butternut and hickory trees and lay their eggs on the underside of their leaves. Eggs take about ten days to hatch. The larval stage, the caterpillar, feeds on the foliage for several months; then it morphs into a pupate stage that is covered and camouflaged by spun leaf litter. The adult luna moths emerge from the cocoon the following spring. Black walnut, the aristocrat, host to the luna moths , is tall and spreading, highly prized for its nuts and wood, and much in demand for fine veneers and furniture.

Farmers' Club gourmets take note:
One taste will convince you that black walnuts are worth the effort to open, although
the saying ,"a tough nut to crack", must have originated with black walnuts. This highly prized nut should be collected as soon as it falls from the tree. The heat from decomposing husks will discolor the nutmeats and make them rancid. Black walnuts should not be stored before the husk is removed.

Squirrels don't have a problem removing husks but it can be a messy job for humans.
Wear rubber gloves, the walnuts produce an indelible yellow dye that stains. Butternut
and walnut dye were used to color fabrics in colonial times.

You'll find that a hammer is the easiest way to remove the husks. Strike glancing blows,
taking care not to crack the nut. After removing the husks hang the cleaned nuts
in a mesh bag in cool, airy place. Leave them for about three weeks. Then, soaking the nuts in water for a couple of hours will make them easier to crack. Wear safety goggles and attack the shells with the hammer.

Even more interesting than their veneer, dye and fruit, walnut trees also produce a substance called juglone, a natural herbicide that is toxic to many plants growing within 60-80 feet of a mature tree. (Juglone's name is derived from walnut's botanical name, Juglans.) This chemical is found in all parts of the tree. Rainfall washes it off the leaves and into the soil below. Nuts, husks, leaf litter and roots also release juglone. Because of this, black walnut trees usually stand alone and tolerate no nearby competitors.

Allelopathy is the effect of beneficial or harmful biochemicals produced by a plant that sometimes enhance, but more often inhibit, another's growth . It often determines the composition of plant groups.

Other plants have this ability.

Ailanthus," Tree of Heaven", "Brooklyn tree", wages chemical warfare upon its victims.
Sunflower seed husks are toxic to many plants.

Thistles are tough, and sure, they can be killed with "Round Up". But an experiment
showed that when buckwheat is sown among them its natural biochemicals can destroy
up to 80% of the thistles. In recent years we have seen the invasive garlic mustard conquering our gardens. This is an example of negative allelopathy in action- it produces a natural chemical that
unfortunately clears the way for more garlic mustard.

Understanding this phenomenon may be the key to eliminating some of the
environment's riskiest herbicides, such as the notorious " 2 4 d" and "atrazine".
Natural herbicides are now coming into the market;
"Callisto", is the trade name of a synthetic derivate of the plant, Callistemon, that
controls broadleaf weeds in corn and turf.

"Preen" is 100% organic corn gluten that kills weed seeds before they can sprout. It can
be used among established plants, and is safe for children and pets.

In time we will see more and more of these safe herbicides.

Today our guest speaker, Fiona Mitchell, will tell you how to compost your leaves.
I suggest that you exclude any black walnut foliage. Not only walnut's leaves, but its husks, wood chips, saw dust and mulch are also toxic .

And Farmers' Club equestrians take note: Keep them out of horses' bedding.
P.S I have brought some walnuts that you are welcome to take, to plant, to husk, to
crack, to sample or to feed to your favorite squirrel.Return To Top

June 2012

Cornus florida, Flowering Dogwood, one of our finest native trees, has long been the glory of American woodlands. The annual dogwood festival in Fairfield, Connecticut, draws hundreds of visitors each May. The splash of white against the unfolding green means that spring has finally arrived. Unfortunately, a destructive fungus, anthracnose, has also arrived and is stressing and killing native dogwoods everywhere. Leaves shrivel, twigs die back and cankers form on the tree's trunk.

Cornus kousaTrees growing in the shade are most vulnerable. The fungus needs water to disseminate and infect; a shaded leaf is more vulnerable because it stays wet longer than a sunny leaf.

A rainy spring like this one means an outbreak of anthracnose.

What to do?

You can't control the rain- but pruning away anything that shades your dogwood would allow more sun and breeze to get in for a quicker dry. You CAN control your lawn sprinkler- be sure it is not wetting the dogwood leaves and branches.

One of the most common infection sites is from mechanical injury caused by string trimmers or lawn mowers. Be sure you don't get too close and scrape or damage the bark. Fungicides like daconil and benomyl are effective if applied thoroughly and biweekly until hot, dry weather arrives. Although we think of dogwoods as a shade plant they do very well in full sun if the roots are well mulched and well watered. Incidentally, the mulch should not come in contact with the tree trunk.

Several anthracnose resistant American dogwoods, the "Appalachian" varieties, are now available and well worth trying.

Cornus kousa, Chinese Dogwood is a great substitute. Even better, a great addition to our Flowering Dogwoods. It extends the season by blooming profusely about a month later. It is resistant to anthracnose and no insects trouble it. Unlike Flowering Dogwood, Kousa's showy white flowers, appear above the leaves and after the leaves unfurl. The tree is more vigorous than our native dogwood and will grow to about 25' by 25'. The interesting bark is sinuous and mottled and the foliage has a purplish color late in the fall. It is late to leaf out and holds its foliage well into October.

Every article I have ever read about Kousa raves about its fruits. Birds supposedly relish them and I'm sure that the Audubon Society recommends them. They are pink and about the size of a cherry. Internet bloggers are excited about them, peel them, eat them raw, say they taste like mango and pineapple, make them into jams and jellies, and make a wine that is "fit for the gods".

Sounds great, but have I missed something ? Somehow I have grown Kousa for forty years and overlooked all these attributes..

Here's my personal take on Kousa: The flowers (bracts) are magnificent but are carried above the leaves. A mature tree is best appreciated looking down at it from a window, a raised deck or downhill towards the tree.

Their one problem is a bumper crop of berries , (actually drupes) year after year. And everything you'll ever read about the Kousa fruit praises them. If I am ever reincarnated I will keep planting Kousas, but never again where they will overhang a car, a walkway or a patio.

Here's the tip: I believe that they are making a virtue out of a fault. The fruit sticks to windshields, it attracts bees, chipmunks, squirrels , skunks , deer and raccoons. It rots and smells. And it gets squashed under foot and tracked into the house. My birds ignore the Audubon's recommendations, take one peck and fly awy.

Only my dog , Argos, a confirmed omnivore, loves the fruit and devours it skin, stem, pit and all and comes back for more. I wanted to show you some Kousa flowers but they are all busy now, transforming themselves into puppy chow. Return To Top

May 2012

Bedford Farmers Club was founded in 1851 to promote the exchange of ideas for improving agriculture. Our founders were way ahead of the curve. It took Congress until 1862 to establish the Land Grant Agricultural Colleges, and much later the Extension Bureaus and Experiment Stations in every state.

The club minutes often reveal that some of our rank and file members had a strong aversion to change- "my way is the best way", "educating a boy will make him leave the farm", "no college kid is going to tell me how to grow a crop". Those dirt farmers weren't guided by book learning but by experience and by their very certain (and vocal) convictions. They subscribed to "The Farmers' Almanack", read " The Rural New Yorker", and also had a rich heritage of weather folklore. Remember- there was no Weather Channel to tell them what weather was ahead.

MoonBut people lived more intimately with the land than we do today, were more aware of weather patterns and learned from their experience. Observant farmers even knew that the weed called "Poor Man's Weather Glass" closed its flowers when rain was on the way. (Anagallis.) Jim Wood says that Braewold's farmer, Harry, was an encyclopedia of country wisdom-Harry's favorite motto- "Don't plant your corn before oak leaves are the size of mouse ears"

Other popular sayings:
Plant your peas on St Patrick's day.
A ring around the moon means rain or snow.
The width of a wooly bear caterpillar's band predicts the winter ahead, as does a heavy crop of acorns or pine cones.
Spring arrives six weeks after the groundhog's shadow.
Red skies in the morning, take warning.
March comes in like a lion, out like a lamb. (But in 2012 it came in like a lamb in February and never left.)

Harry might have also believed this one- "when a cow's tail is towards the west the weather will be the best".

More Country wisdom-
The saints were often associated with weather legends. Saint Swithun, Bishop of Winchester, died in the year 862. He wanted to be buried outside the cathedral so the rain would fall on his last resting place. Hence, the legend that if it rained on his liturgical day, July 15, it would rain for the next forty days. This was rather improbable because that hadn't happened since Noah launched his ark.

For centuries farmers in England and northern Europe were wary of planting anything out before the "Chiily Saints" days were past. The " Drei Eisheiligen" were May 12, St Pancras, (It was 39' at my window at 7 o'clock that morning.) May 13, St Servatius, A popular saying was that if you sheared your sheep before this day you valued the wool more than your shivering flock. May 14, St Boniface Yesterday, May 15, was the last hurdle, St Sophia, nicknamed "Cold Sophie", after which there would be no frosts. (Note that when the Gregorian calendar was adopted the equivalent dates became May 23-26. A frost on May 26 is not unheard of.)

And then, there's the moon! Everyone knows that the moon's gravitational pull controls the tides. The full moon is notorious for a spike in domestic violence, accidents and emergency room activity. Not coincidentally, luna is the word from which lunacy is derived. Planting by the moon phases was common for centuries and still is today. Some scoff but others are convinced that fish bite better at full moon. Some even believe that getting your hair cut during a waxing moon will make it grow in more thickly !

Before YOU decide, consider this- It's a scientific fact that a full moon also influences ground water tables and sap flow. A ten year study at Northwestern University confirmed maximum germination for seeds sown at full moon, and that they absorbed more water- even though they were out of the actual sight of the moon. Lunar gardeners sow their seeds during the waxing (increasing) moon for maximum germination. Conversely, they prune during a waning (decreasing) moon because the diminished sap flow means less bleeding at the cut. Root crops are said to grow better as the water table drops during the waning moon. The easiest time to dig your garden is during the waning moon-the soil is lighter and drier because the water table is lower. Cut your firewood then- it will be drier during the waning moon. Root crops like potatoes, carrots, turnips should be dug as the moon decreases. If you are interested in doing some lunar gardening, we had a full moon from May 3 to May 8 and since then have been in a waning moon.

The next new moon, Monday, May 22, will start a waxing moon. (A calendar for monthly moon phases can be found on the internet, at

That said, today's timely tip is irresistible- Don't gaze too long at the full moon.

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April 2012

Bedford's first farmers were not the 1680 English settlers in the Hopp Ground, not John Jay and not the Bedford Farmers' Club. They were, of course, the local Siwanoy tribe of Native Americans. Indians were the first custodians and stewards of our land. The region abounded in game and the men were the hunters and gatherers. Because of this, the braves were erroneously believed to dine solely on "guts and grease".Actually, their diet was quite balanced, although meat was a large component.

Shell heaps attest to oysters and clams carried up from The Sound. Seeds, berries, fish, and nuts- especially chestnuts- were also eaten and preserved. Sassafras roots and herbs were in every medicine man's backpack. Three Sisters 1

To supplement nature's bounty they farmed too-They grew Jerusalem Artichokes and ate the roots. Sunflowers were grown for their nutritious seeds. Indians believed that tobacco was a blessing from The Great Spirit. They cultivated it, used it in their rituals, and smoked, snuffed, or chewed it. Some blessing ! Indians are still blessed by tobacco- but now it is tax free, mail order cigarettes.

But the best blessing was corn, called maize. Maize could be stored all winter; it was grown by all the tribes and they grew lots of it. Indian corn was not like our hybrid, genetically altered vegetable but resembled what we would now call cattle, or field corn. Corn saved the starving Mayflower pilgrims after they helped themselves to an Indian cache on Cape Cod, known to this day as Corn Hill. Maize was made into bread, eaten as corn on the cob or as hominy or popcorn. Nothing was wasted, the cobs were used as fuel, the husks and leaves were woven into baskets.

Indian villages were sited on sunny, level ground near water, and sheltered from strong winds. Native Indians were Bedford's original organic gardeners and they enriched the soil with slow release, organic supplements like manure, bones and fish. Wood ashes added potash. Crops were rotated because they realized that corn and tobacco are heavy feeders that depleted the soil fertility.

The anchors of Native American cuisine were corn, beans and squash. They planted them together and affectionately called the symbiotic trio, "The Three Sisters". Crops were planted in shallow saucer-shaped beds that caught and retained rain water. The pole beans climbed up the corn stalks and their roots added nitrogen to the soil.

Squash had been cultivated in the Americas for over 10,000 years and was a staple much loveThree Sisters 2d by the Indians. Chunks of squash and pumpkins were dried over a wood fire and could be preserved for months. When planted between between the corn and beans squash crowded out the weeds. Theirs was a highly intensive practice of agriculture.

Many of the weeds that we endure today didn't trouble the native people. What we now call "invasive" did not invade, as now, from the orient, but from England, usually in cattle fodder and bedding. They called the plantain weed "Englishman's footprints" because it suddenly appeared in every English settlement and just kept spreading.

"Succotash", an Indian word, meant corn and beans cooked together, just as it does today. Beans could be baked, made into bread or fried. Dried beans were stored for long periods of time.

They made "hominy", another Indian word, by soaking the corn kernels in a solution of hardwood ashes and water. This weak lye solution prevented the corn from germinating and preserved it indefinitely. Lye removed the husk and made the kernel easier to digest.

And although they never heard of vitamin B, this process also made the corn's niacin more absorbable. One snowy February night in 1644 the 500 men, women and children of a Siwanoy native village not far from Bedford enjoyed their dinner of venison and succotash, smoked their tobacco, wrapped themselves in furs and settled down for the night in their cozy huts Our member, Tony Godino, the speaker today, will tell you what happened next.Return To Top


s and poor soil. In Bedford you can see a vigorous colony in flower on the north side of 172 at the entrance to north-bound 684. And another in action on Route 22 at the service entrance to John Jay.

Once you recognize it you will find it just about everywhere. In fact, you'll be surprised if you don't see it everywhere. It was all over Maine this summer- on every highway, in isolated villages and even on islands in the bay.

If you have been invaded by this monster what should you do. First, you have to realize that every fragment of root, stem or flower. will easily generate a new plant. Never put them in a compost pile. Instead, stuff them into black plastic bags and leave them to bake in the sun.

To eradicate Knotweed: (Incidentally, this also holds true for out- of-control- hardy bamboos.)

Spray frequently with Roundup during the summer Cut new shoots back repeatedly. Paint stubs with Roundup* Dig out the roots- remember that the tiniest piece will survive. All of the above, plus a non-chemical approach:

Smother the patch with a wide tarp, wide, thick black plastic or old carpeting. Best of all, use the heavy old carpets. You may want to conceal them with woodchips-Especially if ifs orange shag. Be sure to overlap the seams generously; the emerging canes act as tent poles and will lift the cover to escape out at the seams and edges.

And to reassure our hosts, Marian and Lany, this specimen came to Amawalk Farm in a plastic bag, and is going out the same way after everyone has had a look.

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