Timely Tips for 2012-2013

October 2011

September 2011
Karma Dahlias


May, 2011
Bleeding Heart

April 2011
Espaliers and Topiaries

October 2010
Putting the Garden to Bed

September, 2010
Small Fruits,

June 2010
Pruning Climbing Roses

May 2010

April 2010
Skunk Cabbage

October 2009:

September 2009

June 2009

April 2009

October 2008

June 2008

May 2008

April 2008

September 2007:
Jerusalem Artichokes

October 2007

May 2007
Moss Gardens

April, 2007

September 2006

Sept 2005


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


The Return of the Native Metasequoia, a Living Fossil
October 2011

Millions of years ago a magnificent tree flourished all over the northern hemisphere. Scientists only knew it from the fossil leaf imprints that were dug up in the Dakotas as well as Iceland, Siberia and Scandinavia. No living tree had ever been seen. Botanists named the fossil, Metasequoia, because it resembled Sequoia. Everyone agreed to one thing: the tree was as extinct as Stegosaurus and Tyrannosaurus. But in 1941, a stalwart living fossil was found growing in a remote village in Northern China.

metasequoiaThe tree was so impressive that the peasants protected it, believed that a god lived in it, and made it into a shrine. World War Two interfered with further investigation. In 1947, Harvard's Arnold Arboretum sent an expedition to save it from extinction. A few more living trees were found and their seeds were collected for propagation. This was facilitated by a Chinese botanist, Dr Wu, who had been an exchange student at Harvard before the war.

By the spring of 1948, seedling Metasequoias were back home in North America after an absence of five million years. The patriarch American tree, grown from the very first seeds, can be seen at the Arnold Arboretum, near Boston. No further contacts were possible after the communist revolution. But Arnold had sent the seed to arboretums all over the world. Seedlings were distributed to commercial nurseries, municipal parks and to the public. An experimental forest of 5,000 trees is thriving in North Carolina. Maine foresters are interested in its lumbering possibilities. (n China it is now appreciated as a cultural heirloom and used extensively in reforestation.

Metasequoia's English name is Dawn Redwood. It is a deciduous conifer. That means it sheds its leaves every year, but bears cones. And like its near relatives, larch and cypress, it also thrives in wet soils. The oldest American grown Metasequoia is only 64 years old- an extremely brief history for a tree. Botanists didn't know (and still don't know) just what to expect--they had only seen the fossilized leaves and cones.

One surprise was that the American trees grew faster here than in China. Our oldest trees have already reached a hundred feet or more, and still growing. Perhaps Massachusetts is more to its liking. Obviously, this sort of tree is not for your average home garden. But, full of curiosity, I bought three seedlings about 40 years ago. Making my usual blunder, I planted them too closely, only 30 feet apart. Fortunately, the middle tree died, but now, even at 60 feet apart, the branches are already touching.

Metasequoia needs plenty of elbow room and is at its best as a specimen in parks, golf courses and campuses. I saw a fine specimen at Pound Ridge Reservation last month. The tree grows in the shape of a pyramid. Long, graceful branches sweep to the ground. The summer foliage is soft green and fern like. In the fall, just before the leaves drop. the color changes to a pinkish copper shade. Cones are similar to hemlock cones and do not begin to form until the tree is about 30 years old. The tree has a massive buttressed trunk. This picturesque feature becomes more
prominent in older trees as the twisted roots and shaggy brown bark add another
sculptured dimension. If you have never recognized Metasequoia, I have brought pictures and samples of the leaves and the bark.

Should you be tempted to plant "the living fossil" on your property, remember the Timely Tip: "GIVE IT PLENTY OF ROOM".

My thanks to members Tony and Judy Godino (proud Metasequoia owners) for
suggesting this topic. I welcome your comments and suggestions for next year's programs. Return To Top


Karma Dahlias
September 2011

It would have been fun to talk about the Leatherman's garden. In his book, Dan DeLuca, our speaker today, states that the Leatherman "kept small gardens in several locations". If he was French, he might have grown aubergines or haricots verts to supplement the handouts at kindly homes. But that seems unlikely to me, with all the rabbits, woodchucks and deer prowling around his cave.

That said, the topic today will be dahlias. Dahlias were first mentioned by the Spanish explorer, Hernandez, who discovered them in Mexico in 1615, almost 400 years ago.

dahliaIn 1804, the plant was named Dahlia crinita to honor a student of Linnaeus, Andreas Dahl. "Dahlia" was obvious enough, honoring Dahl. But "crinita", which means hairy, did not describe the flower, but instead immortalized Dahl's heavy beard. This was an academic botanical joke and it proved that the University faculty really did have a good sense of humor. Who says Latin names are stodgy and dull?

Half a century in commercial horticulture have made me skeptical about claims and descriptions in gardening articles, and especially in ads. Last year I read rave reviews about a new breed of dahlias that had been patented by the Verwer brothers, two Dutch growers in Leiden. These were superior to anything that they had ever hybridized before. They can be forced in greenhouses for early, premium sales, or outdoors for summer cutting. All have iridescent colors, strong stems, long and abundant flowering time, 5" flowers, and sturdy growth.

Dahlias don*t usually last long after cutting, but Karma flowers hold up a week or more in water. And especially vital to the Dutch growers, they ship well too. The Karma dahlias were an instant success in the highly competitive Dutch cut flower industry. No doubt, the flower auction clock in Aalsmeer came to a screeching halt. Initially, sales were limited to wholesaling meristem cultured plants to Dutch commercial growers in large quantities. Later, individual tubers were available to home gardeners in Holland. By 2009 several American dealers were offering tubers to the public at reasonable prices- about $5 each.

Still having misgivings about the hype, I bought six to evaluate last year. A four legged critter destroyed four plants. Surprisingly, the battered survivors were everything and more than the ad had promised. This year they are much easier to buy- even Amazon sold the tubers. A new and taller fence solved my predator problem, I grew ten Karmas, picked arms full of flowers. Rather than attempting to describe their spectacular colors, you are invited to see for yourself today.

Dahlias need plenty of sun, high levels of potassium and potash, a rich soil and stake support. My tubers were planted on April 20, shoots emerged the end of May, first flowers about August 1. As you see, they are still producing while the rest of my garden looks pretty weary.

It is recommended that Karmas should be pinched after the third set of leaves, which will make for a more compact plant. Although this does make more flowers, they are delayed several weeks and have rather short stems. Next year I'll only pinch half of them. The plants grow to a height of about five feet. The first flowers begin to cut in late July and continue till frost. Dig the tubers after the first killing frost and store in a cool, dark place for the winter. Wait till spring to divide the clumps.Return To Top


June 2011

Here's another fascinating story behind the men and women who made so many remarkable plant discoveries.

Long before Commodore Perry opened Japan to the West, the industrious Dutch had established a trading post that was confined to a small island off Nagasaki. In 1823 they hired a German physician, Philip Siebold, as post doctor. After he cured a prominent Japanese statesman, he was permitted to travel anywhere off the island.

Like Robert Fortune, Dr Siebold was also an avid botanist.

HostaOn his days off he would set aside his stethoscope, pick up his trowel and explore the countryside for new plants. He sent his discoveries back to Europe and many were named Sieboldii or Sieboldiana. In his honor, including today's subject, Hosta.

Hosta, now grown world-wide, is native only to Korea, Japan and China.

In 1905, a German nurseryman, George Arends, successfully crossed a Hosta discovered in China by Fortune with one discovered in Japan by Siebold. The result was a botanical break through moment: "Elegans", a vigorous, blue-green, heart shaped hybrid, is the ancestor of today's hundreds of blue Hosta varieties.

The first Hostas were originally called Funckias - not an especially catchy moniker. The Victorians loved the lance shaped form and used it lavishly in the intricate tapestry plantings of the time.

But by the 1930s, Funckia seemed ugly, and formal plantings were no longer in vogue. As a kid then, I recall that it was banished to the path to the garage. Or to circle a telephone pole or fire hydrant. Or even worse, planted in an old tire.

Twenty years later, Japanese plant scientists began to discover new and previously
unknown Hostas, growing in the wild. Significantly, they also found startling mutations in Hosta seedlings that were growing near atomic waste dump sites.

By the 1970s, genetically altered hybrids had transformed Cinderella Hosta into the Belle of the Ball. Along with their more euphonious name, the new Hostas made their debut in lush tropical foliage of glowing golds, metallic grays and exquisite green variations. Now widely popular and on center stage, they stole the show in oval, puckered or heart shaped foliage. Some could make a bold, dramatic garden presence. Others were dwarf enough to grow in pots or rock gardens.

I have brought one of these delightful miniatures for you to see. "Blue Mouse Ears" only grows to the height of seven inches. It sold for $250 ten years ago and has won numerous blue ribbons ever since. Priced now at about $20. Horticulturists had also improved the flowers- many Hostas now have long blooming, fragrant white or lavender blossoms that attract hummingbirds.

Shade loving Hosta, especially the yellow leafed form, can also take considerable sun. The blue varieties do better in deeper shade. All prefer an organic, moist, peaty soil and organic, slow acting fertilizers. They blend beautifully with bulbs, ferns, Astilbe and other woodsy shade lovers.

Their foliage suppresses weeds and will brighten a dark corner of your garden right on to frost. Many will self-sow, and new varieties appear all the time- there are now over 1500cultivars.

Hosta is considered a delicacy by the Japanese, who eat the tender shoots and flowers. Unfortunately, not only humans love them- so do deer. (And I'll bet, so do alpacas.)

And so do slugs, the nocturnal public enemy number one in your garden, especially in wet weather. Slug bait works well, but always cover it with a flower pot or board so birds or pets can't reach it.

If you prefer more eco-friendly measures, a toad-in-residence is a voracious slug predator.

Slugs dislike crossing gritty sand. Copper strips or wire also repel them. Wood ashes deter them, but have to be renewed after a rain. A pinch of salt will dehydrate them.

Recycle the empty half of your breakfast grapefruit or melon and they will crawl underneath overnight, docilely waiting to be exterminated the next morning. Simply drop the whole mess in water and a detergent.

Feico pruning shears make a dandy guillotine.

A saucer of cheap, stale beer will entice them. Your slugs will either succumb to drowning or die from a colossal hangover.Return To Top


Bleeding Heart
May, 2011

Everyone agrees that we import too much from China. But that shouldn't apply to their garden plants.

In 1842, Britain imposed the Treaty of Nanking on China, which allowed them to occupy the port of Hong Kong. One of the first westerners to arrive was Robert Fortune, a botanist from the Royal Horticultural Society, who had been sent to search for new and unusual plants.

Fortune was a ruddy Scot with plenty of chutzpah. Ignoring the diplomats, he headed straight for the interior. He stained his skin, shaved his head, added a black pigtail, and disguised himself as a mandarin traveling in a rickshaw. His entourage included coolie bearers and an interpreter who explained that his nobleman only spoke, and only understood, the dialect of his own distant village.


Bleeding heartHe discovered over one hundred new plants, especially rhododendrons and azaleas, and sent them back to Britain. Whenever you admire a plant labelled Fortune! you can thank Robert Fortune.

In 1848, the East India Trading Company employed him to return to China. This time his mission was to break the Chinese monopoly on tea by smuggling tea seeds and cuttings into British India and Ceylon.

Fortune put on his mandarin costume and black pigtail and was again successful in his mission. He survived tsunamis, epidemics, battled bandits by land, and pirates who tried to capture his ship as he sailed out of Hong Kong in 1851 with seeds and 20,000 tea plants. Ten years ago a movie, "The Tea Thief", told his incredible story Truly, the early plant explorers were often as fascinating as their discoveries.

Today I'll talk about his most familiar and most beloved discovery that dated from his first trip. It arrived in England in 1843, and was soon proclaimed "the finest perennial of the century". One hundred and sixty eight years have only added to its popularity.

It stole the hearts of the Victorians, who called it" "Little Girls' Charm Bracelet", Hearts on a String ", "Bloody Heart" and, you've guessed it, the more familiar "Bleeding Heart". Kids love the botanical cardiology of its flower. Dissection reveals a second heart within, a spoon, six fishhooks, a swan, a rabbit, a swimming turtle, baseball bat and ball. Imaginations ran wild.......

Prurient little boys were quite sure that they could see "a lady in a bath tub".

I have set up a display of these curiosities , suggesting that you imagine them as through the eyes of a child. An heirloom plant, always associated with cottage and country gardens, Bleeding Heart prefers dappled shade, likes a moist and woodsy situation. It combines beautifully with tulips, ferns, hosta and astilbe.

The scientific name, Dicentra, means two spurs; spectabilis affirms that it is spectacular in pink or white. (Since that seemed too logical, the name has just been changed to Lamprocaprios.)

Pink is the most popular. The white, although not sanguine, is also elegant. There is a yellow leafed variety too. Spectacular, I suppose ...... in its own way. Bleeding Heart makes a great cut flower. It has no insect or disease problems and is rarely eaten by deer. The fern-like foliage should be allowed to die back completely in July.

Plant it among ferns and Astilbe and they will quickly fill in the empty space. Seedlings often germinate under the plant and they can be transplanted to form a new colony Bleeding Heart roots are extremely brittle and should only be moved in late summer or the fall. Container grown plants can be safely transplanted at anytime.

There are also several delightful American woodland Bleeding Hearts. These natives are alt dwarf varieties that bloom heavily in the spring, sporadically through-out the summer, and do not die back.

D. eximia, "Fringed Bleeding Heart", is a hybrid with reddish flowers. "Burning Hearts" is a compact red and white , "Ivory Hearts" is white. Both are new and pricey. D. formosa (meaning beautiful, not Taiwan) is a west coast native. D. cucullaria is our native east coast, white flowering "Dutchman's Breeches". Large patches used to flourish in our Westchester woodlands, aided by the ants that disseminated its seeds. D. canadensis, "Squirrel Corn", is very similar to "Dutchman's Breeches".

More the pity, deer relish these American Dicentra, and they have almost disappeared from our woods , along with the rest of the understory and so many other choice native plants. If you have never seen them before I'm sure you will find them today, thriving (between the rain drops) on the deer-proof haven of Wildflower Island.

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Espaliers and Topiaries
April 2011

Espaliers and topiaries are classic horticultural art forms that alter the natural shape of a tree and simultaneously create a living sculpture. These techniques date back to the Middle Ages and were perfected in sheltered monastery and castle gardens.

Dwarf espaliered apple and pear trees need little room, and produce high yields in small gardens. They are long lived, low growing, with beautiful flowers and lots of abundant and easy to reach fruit.

Attractive as a hedge, fan shaped, or attached 10 a wall, their angular and geometric shapes will create interest all winter. Espaliered trees allow more sunshine to penetrate into the interior flowering spurs. Their bent branches encourage more flowers and larger fruit and you'll pick a bumper crop comparable to Harry and David's.

Farmers Club members saw fine examples of the espaliered apple and pear fence that enclosed the Dreyfus vegetable garden. We saw them at Martha Stewart's farm too. Some choice specimens are growing against the mansion at Caramoor. And a fifty year old espaliered pear is thriving in the Cloisters' museum courtyard.

Today we are going to hear about renewed interest in growing produce in the Hudson Valley and elsewhere. You can be part of this movement by raising some fruit at home.

The easiest way to grow your own espaliered fruit is with three to four year old trees that have been trained by experts. You'll need a sunny location and a fertile soil. Get two varieties for better pollination. There's still time to plant them this spring. For me, the experts in this rarest of horticultural skills means the Leuthardt Nursery in Mattituck, Long Island. This fourth generation specialist supplied the espaliered trees for the restoration of George Washington's Mt Vernon kitchen garden, plantings at the United Nations and many other prestigious sites.

A guide to pricing:

A three year old specimen espalier 3 1/2 feet high with four arms, costs about $125. Components for a living fence 4 feet high cost about $50 a unit. Modern as well as Heirloom varieties are available, all grafted on dwarf under-stock.

They ARE a challenge, but these robust trees come with a well written care and pruning manual.

And remember that they will need protection from deer and also from mice and rabbits.

The venerable art of topiary predates espalier by a thousand years. Topiaries of bay trees have been identified in Pompeian atriums and murals. The "plant surgeon", the "Topiarius", was the most highly skilled, highly praised and highly paid of Roman gardeners.

Topiary gardens flourished in the palaces and manor houses in Europe in the sixteen hundreds. Sapling evergreen yew or deciduous hornbeam, now mature and over 10 feet high. were coaxed into whimsical and imaginative shapes of chess figures, St George (including his dragon), and even Adam and Eve. Many of these gardens still exist and are open to the public.

Several outstanding topiary gardens can be visited here in the northeast.

Ladew Gardens in Maryland and Green Animals in Rhode Island feature green sculpture using the faster growing deciduous privet hedge. Ladew's most acclaimed sculpture is of a pack of hounds in full chase of a fox that is leaping high over a hedge.

My favorites in Green Animals are an elephant and a giraffe, both 10-15 feet high. Slow growing evergreen boxwood is more commonly used in the south, especially in Colonial Williamsburg.

You'll need ten years or more to grow a substantial topiary. But if your tastes run to a somewhat smaller table-top specimen there are reasonably priced rosemary, ivy and boxwood available in local nurseries. You can find them already trained into baskets, balls, hearts, circles, spirals, all just right for a sunny window sill.

It is fast and easy to grow your own, especially ivy. Wire forms can be purchased or you can make them out of a coat hanger, chicken wire and sphagnum moss.

Topiaries and espaliers have a place in - and add an exclamation point - to every garden.

But perhaps they all--not only Adam and Eve--should be displayed somewhat more discreetly behind the house.

This gardener suspects that Pompeii's "Topiarius" would be horrified to see the hatchet job done by modern "landscapers" who have slaughtered helpless forsythias, azaleas and boxwood and proudly featured them in some local front yards. The lawn guy has not only butchered them into meatballs but has also served them up on a bed of wood chips dyed the color of tomato sauce!Return To Top


Putting the Garden to Bed
October 2010

Reminding you to:

Compost your leaves,
Order and plant spring bulbs; plant garlic, ( but only if your spouse likes it too)
Pick green tomatoes,
Get tools and hoses inside,
Bring in house plants; checking them first for insects and diseases,
Dig dahlias, glads and cannas,
Make cuttings of the coleus, geraniums, begonias that you like,
Soak newly planted shrubs and trees; shut off the outside water and drain the pipe,
Put out the bird feeder.
Locate your snow shovel- you'll be needing it.

While tucking in your garden for the winter, dont forget your terra cotta pots.
Terra cotta means baked earth. Its warm, earthy color is natural, timeless and elegant. Clay looks great, especially after acquiring a weathered, mossy patina. Plant roots love its natural porosity.

It is also heavy, so it costs a lot to ship and that makes it expensive. Plus it breaks
easily. Because it absorbs so much water it is highly vulnerable to freezing and thawing cycles and to expansion and contraction of its soil. Freezing water is terra cotta's worst enemy and will flake and crack your pots.

The Chinese terra cotta warriors had no casualties for over 2000 years. But that terra cottahibernating army was discovered buried 16 feet deep under the frost line. Terra cotta has survived underwater for thousands of years in Greek and Roman shipwrecks.

Your expensive planters will not appreciate spending their winter outdoors in chilly Bedford, instead of comfortably ensconced underground in China, or in the depths of the Mediterranean.

Carefully empty the pot of all its soil. Bring the containers inside- heated or unheated, where they will never get wet. If heated, it's as simple as that.......'nuff said, no further tips.

But if unheated, listen up:

If placed in an unheated garage or covered shed, don't store the empty pots so that they rest on a dirt or concrete floor. The pot's base is likely to freeze to the floor and will be severed from its top. Place a wooden board underneath to insulate and protect them, or put them on a shelf. And be sure they are empty, or the soil will expand and contract and split the terra cotta.

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Small Fruits
September, 2010

There's an old saying about strawberries that doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did. I say, doubtless He planted currants and blueberries in Eden, too.

Once a standby in every American garden, currants are seldom grown any more. Many people have never eaten fresh currants because they are only occasionally found in farmers' markets and are rarely sold in supermarkets.

currantsIn the 1920s, currants were suspected of being the alternate host for blister rust, a disease that was ravaging white pines. The U.S. Department of Agriculture waged a relentless campaign to destroy and ban growing currants near pine trees. Currants disappeared from almost every garden.

The ban was rescinded in New York in 2003. It was determined that the main culprit was the black currant, and the red variety was relatively harmless. In the interim, plant scientists had also bred resistance into new varieties. Sad to say, Americans never missed currants and few hastened to replant them. But I wouldn't be surprised to find them being grown here at Stone Barns.

Europeans continue to consume currants, particularly the black type. They are dried as raisins, eaten fresh, eaten in jams, juices, pies, and in the syrup used to flavor Kir, a
French aperitif. Surprisingly, black currants are in the secret Guinness Stout recipe, and are, perhaps, the ingredient that makes "Guinness Good for You".

The British have always been fond of gooseberry, currant's cousin, especially in tarts and jams. Gooseberries are the pastoral sort of English plant that you might expect to gooseberryfind growing at a Bronte parsonage or in "The Wind in the Willows". Large currant crops were grown in Britain during wartime when citrus was unavailable. Currants are high in vitamin C. They are superb anti-oxidants and low in calories. Easy to grow, takes some shade, has few plant problems, needs no chemical sprays. As with the blueberries, birds will be your serious competition. Once established, currants will grow for many years. My "Red Lakes" are 42 years old and still produce a good crop every year. (And right next to a stand of thriving white pines.)

Blueberries, unlike currants, have soared in popularity, not only for their taste but
also because of their terrific health benefits. Blueberries seem to have everything going for them. Cablueberrieslled "Nature's Super Fruit", blueberries are anti-bacterials, low in calories, high in vitamins A and C, pectin, dietary fiber and anti-oxidants. They are easily grown at home, not only providing fruit but also handsome landscape plants. They blend in nicely with azaleas and rhododendrons, with the bonus of
gorgeous fall color. Blueberries require a peaty, acidic soil with a pH 5. Since they are shallow rooted, they need plenty of water. They require few or no chemical spays. They've been popular for so long that it is hard to realize how radically different the
modern product is.

Low Bush blueberries are a North American fruit that was valued by native people who used them to make pemmican for winter. Back in the 1600s, the Indians taught the Pilgrims how to dry and preserve the berries.

Fast forward to 1911:

The White family, Philadelphia Quakers, owned a 3000 acre cranberry bog in South Jersey. Their daughter, Elizabeth, noticed the wild Low Bush blueberries, considered weeds, growing among her cranberries. It occurred to her that she could make a few bucks by selling the tiny berries before the cranberry crop was harvested. This proved successful. But picking tiny berries was tough on the back, too labor intensive and too time consuming. ( No one who has ever filled a pail with huckleberries would disagree.)

She then selected plants that were taller, stronger and had larger berries and contacted
a botanist, Dr Frederick Coville, in the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. She and Dr Coville started a breeding program that resulted in the cultivated High Bush, large berry type that we buy today.

After five years of experimentation, the enterprising Elizabeth had enough tall, large
berried plants to open the very first commercial High Bush blueberry farm. Marketed
under the catchy name of "Tru-Blu", sales went from zero to 20,000 barrels a year!

Elizabeth White is acknowledged as founding today's multibillion dollar world-wide
blueberry industry. At least three of her Heirloom blueberries are still grown and sold by nurseries- "Ruble", early, "Elizabeth", mid-season, and Coville, late.

Strawberries, currants, blueberries and grapes are double-duty ornamentals that
deserve a place in your garden. Strawberries for edible ground covers, currants and
blueberries for edible hedge plants and specimen plants. Add grapes to provide shade
and fruit under arbors.

Plant now or in the spring. You'll have your very own Garden of Eden from May to September. Be a locavore!

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Pruning Climbing Roses
June 2010

Gertrude Stein was right- "A rose is a rose is a rose".

But roses differ in growth habits, blooming seasons, degrees of hardiness, and pruning techniques. They all require lots of sunshine, fertile soil, good drainage, and good air circulation.

Roses have been celebrated in song, story and folklore since ancient times. Every day we evoke them when we say, "rosy future, rose colored glasses, smelling like a rose, and everything is coming up in roses".

Today the subject is roses, specifically climbing roses.

Although "I never promised you a rose garden", maybe it is time to give your climbing rose a haircut because it's encroaching on a path, breaking its arbor or dismantling the gutters on your house. I say "maybe", because pruning climbing roses is one of the most misunderstood tasks in horticulture. (And incidentally, not easy to describe without having a plant at hand.) It is no job for the faint-hearted and usually results in multiple abrasions, contusions and lacerations to the pruner. Have the band-aids and bacitracin on the ready.

Climbing roses should not be pruned for their first three years- this is because they
flower on the canes that grew in the previous year. If your climbing rose is over three years old and blooms once in the season, like New Dawn or Blaze, prune right now after flowering. Next year's flowers will be borne on the new growth that it will make this summer.

If on the other hand your climber re-blooms all summer, like Climbing Peace, or Golden Showers, hold off till early next spring before pruning. Never prune any rose in the fall, because the stem will die back from where you have
made your cut.

In any case, step back and take a cool, calculated look at what you want to do.
Measure twice before you cut once.

Wear gloves and long sleeves. Plunge confidently into the thicket using a pair of long
handled, sharp shears. Your job is to remove a couple of the oldest, thickest and woodiest canes while preserving the framework of the younger, vigorous lateral canes that will bear the flowers. These canes should be shortened to allow air and light to reach the interior of the plant.

After blooming, remove the dead flowers to encourage new flower bud formation,
instead of seed pods. Cut the flowers above a five leaflet leaf, which will encourage a new flower bud to form and bloom again this season. Carefully clean up any litter that may harbor plant diseases. Do not compost it. Finally, give the plant a feeding and good watering.

Perhaps you've hesitated to plant a prickly climbing rose near a path or doorway where it would snag and scratch a passerby.

Here's a tip about a Bourbon rose that originated in France in 1868: You will love Zephenne Drouhin, a super-fragrant, raspberry-pink, thornless climbing rose. She will not only solve your thorny problem but she will also tolerate a half day of sun.

After you've met the seductive and elegant Mademoiselle Zepherine you'll never
believe that every rose has a thorn.
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May 2010

Two thousand nine, the summer from hell. Heavy rain for four months, (25 days of it in June), cold, two hail storms, late frosts. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut all were agricultural disasters with 45% crop losses. 90% of tomatoes were killed by a wet weather blight similar to the fungus that destroyed the Irish potato crops of the 1840s. Farmers' tomatoesmarkets had no tomatoes, Stone Barns dumped fifteen hundred ailing tomato
plants. Nobody could bite into a BLT.

Is it worth planting a garden after last year's fiasco?

Robert Frost, the farmer, provided this timely tip, "Give us pleasure in the flowers
today... and not to think about the uncertain harvest".

Tomatoes were unknown to Europeans until Cortez collected them among the Aztecs
and Incas. Initially, the Spaniards were afraid to eat them, believing they were as toxic as deadly night shade, bella donna. Nevertheless, many gladly risked it, mainly because it was rumored that they were aphrodisiacs. Little or no convincing was needed in Provence, where the amorous French called them pommes d'amour, love apples. Spain and Italy, skeptical for the moment, had a more prosaic name, porno d'oro, golden apple, simply because the original tomatoes were yellow.

By 1700 everyone dared to chance it, and tomatoes quickly become a Mediterranean food staple. Only the British remained dubious, convinced that "tomahtoes" were poisonous.

In 1781, Thomas Jefferson was probably the first American to grow and eat tomatoes.

After the Louisiana Purchase, Americans got a taste of Creole cooking in New Orleans,
and loved them. Jefferson even served them in White House banquets.

By 1887, they had become such an important American food crop that the Supreme
Court in its infinite wisdom, ordered tomatoes to be classified as a vegetable, not a fruit.

You have to be an optimist to be a gardener, but it also helps to follow a few tomato guidelines. Here's a season's supply of growing tips:

- Pray for a better summer than last year.
- Tomatoes need a lot of sun.
- Plant them about three feet apart so they will have plenty of air in circulation.
- Plant them two or three inches deeper than they were in the pot- bury a leaf or two. If
the plants are leggy and crooked dig a furrow and lay them in it. They will root all along
the entire buried stem.
- Staked plants produce more than those running wild on the ground. Put in the stake when you plant, to avoid severing the roots later.
- Never use fertilizers that are high in nitrogen - which will result in lush leaves, instead of fruit.
- If you still smoke, remember that your hands will spread tobacco virus to infect your tomatoes.
- Remove suckers. (Suckers are new stem shoots at the leaf axils, flowers arise on the stem BETWEEN the leaves to make the fruit.)
- Remove any over-ripe fruit.
- Keep them well watered, without wetting the leaves.

Tomatoes come in determinate and indeterminate varieties. Most are indeterminates,
that is they are a little later ripening, but continue till frost. Determinates, like Rutgers, don't need staking and are sold to commercial farmers who want an early, one shot crop that can be harvested and then be pulled out. If you buy plants look at the labels, it is probable that you will want indeterminate hybrids like Beefmaster, Big Girl, Early Girl, etc.

Most Important tip: You'll be glad if you waited to plant them out till now. Cold May
nights and frosts nullify early planting and actually set them back.

The best news is that Cornell assures us that the blight can not overwinter this far north.
And, never mind "the uncertain harvest". Good gardeners just know that they will grow a bumper crop.
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April 2010

Poets have written about a host of golden daffodils, a violet by a mossy stone, and hearing the first peepers in the spring. But nobody has ever praised skunk cabbage.

Perhaps you think it's odd that skunk cabbage means spring to me. What's so remarkable about it? The daffodils, violets and peepers have to wait for the ground to thaw before skunkcabbagemaking their debut. Skunk cabbage produces its own anti-freeze. Using oxygen, it breaks down stored starches into sugars, heats the frozen ground, and pushes its spathe, its "periscope", up into daylight.

Incredibly, thermogenesis makes it capable of maintaining 36 degrees for almost two weeks, day and night, regardless of the outdoor temperature. This warmth, and its skunky odor, attract the earliest beetles, bees and insects that pollinate the flower. The odor, just coincidentally, gives it its name and its bad rap.

Symplocarpus foetidus, for that's its scientific name, is distributed in wet places all over the north east. There is also a west coast variety. It is an Aroid, closely related to the familiar houseplants, Dieffenbachia, Anthurium and Spathophyllum, and to Jack-in-the-Pulpit.

All the Aroids perch their flower on top of a curved, modified leaf, called a spathe; Calla lilly is the most familiar example. The skunk cabbage spathe has evolved into a hooded, leathery enclosure for the flower within. The flower itself is just about as weird as the spathe; it is round, fleshy and about the size of an olive. After the flower opens the broad green leaves begin to grow.

The root system stores vast amount of starches, and is another unusual feature of skunk cabbage: powerful roots grow and contract, pulling the plant deeper and deeper into the muck, making it virtually indestructible and difficult to remove.

A good many springs ago, a boy I once knew was so fascinated by skunk cabbage that he dug one out of a swamp so he could study it closely every day. He lugged his heavy treasure home for half a mile, smelling like a polecat, and dripping mud and swamp water all over himself. His mom encouraged him, and was a good sport about her pungent son's muddy shoes, filthy overalls, and even his planting a skunk cabbage in her flower garden. He watered it faithfully, but was terribly disappointed when the leaves died back in July and there was nothing to be seen of his hard work and his green thumb. However, his trophy reappeared the next spring- and skunk cabbage has been a harbinger for him ever since.

Maybe I still haven't persuaded you, but remember the old saying, "On the way through life, take time to smell the flowers along the way". The Timely Tip is: Just don't take it too literally for skunk cabbage.
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October 2009

Until we came to the Recycling Center today few of us were aware of the huge amount of trash that we create in Westchester County. Composting leaves is a great way to do our part in reducing this waste.

Recently this news item appeared in local papers:

"To cut costs, North Castle will discontinue its leaf vacuuming at curbsides and save compost$165,000 a year. Homeowners will be forced to bag their leaves or do composting on their own, or blow their leaves into the woods. It is anticipated that fewer residents will bag their leaves, choosing instead to compost or dump in the woods."


Tons of leaves will be diverted from the landfill. The landscape guys will have to stop raising decibels, dust and tempers as they blow their leaves into the street (and often at passing motorists).

In Timely Tips last October, I said that it broke my heart to see all those pesky leaves at curbside and destined for the dump. Composting would have turned then into black gold. Dead leaves are packed with minerals , but lack nitrogen. And nitrogen is the catalyst that enables bacteria to process leaves into compost.

Here are some composting tips:

Make it faster and easier by shredding your leaves with a lawn mower. Just add nitrogen in the form of green grass clippings, vegetable peelings, manure, bonemeal, top soil or organic fertilizers.

Use the "lasagne" method; start a pile with six inches of shredded leaves and add a layer of the nitrogen. Keep alternating the layers until your bosky lasagne is about two feet high.Water well, cover the top with plastic to retain the moisture and the heat it will generate. Like its culinary namesake, season well, keep it warm but don't let it dry out.

It is important that the layers of leaves don't mat down and exclude oxygen. So try to remember to turn it over two or three times before spring.

There's even an easier way to process those leaves. Fill a bag with the leaves. Punch holes in the bag. Add some soil and organic fertilizer, shake well and water. Next spring the leaf mold will be a tonic for your garden. It will aerate your soil, soak up and retain water, and reduce the landfill.

And, you'll be in good company-

The painter, Claude Monet, had an artist's image of the black gold when he envisioned :"In the fuming heaps I see the beautiful forms and beautiful colors that will be born of it". Just think of it; EVERYTHING in Monet's Givemy garden was happily rooted in compost.
(Except, maybe, his water lilies.)
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September 2009

As we leave to visit the schoolhouse we'll approach the Brundage blacksmith shop that was moved here from across the road. You don't want to miss the tree in front of the forge, where, "under the spreading chestnut tree the village smithy stood".

Everyone is familiar with horse chestnuts but few would recognize an American chestnut tree.

The chestnut tree that Longfellow wrote about was the native American variety. Once dominant in our forests, it could grow to be a hundred feet tall with a circumference of five feet. One in every four hardwood trees was an American Chestnut.

We're casual about billions and trillions these days. But a hundred years ago FOUR BILLION chestnut trees were eradicated in one of the worst ecological disasters in history. Asiatic chestnut blight was first noticed in 1904 and in the next twenty years it had spread one thousand miles and would just keep going.

Numerous wild life and cattle depended on the nuts and they had been a staple for native Americans and early settlers. Chestnuts were the cash crop for many an Appalachian village. Chestnut stuffing and turkey were on every Thanksgiving menu and chestnuts roasted on every hearth.

For 300 years most houses and barns east of the Mississippi were built with chestnut lumber. The wood was highly prized by carpenters and many beams in this ancient building testify to its durability. The chestnut we'll see here is the blight resistant Chinese variety. The nuts are not that tasty and the growth is not so robust. What's important about it is that its genes will be the salvation and resurrection of the American chestnut. Plant scientists have crossed the resistant Asian chestnut with surviving American chestnuts, hoping for a hybrid with the best qualities of each parent. This hybrid was then backcrossed again with the American chestnut for blight resistance. After six generations, botanists feel they finally have accomplished their goal to restore this majestic tree.

This particular Chinese chestnut is doing very nicely, and has a bountiful crop of nuts. Those prickly burrs will pop open after a frost and release their harvest. It will never grow to a hundred feet and will never be a lumber crop. But a chestnut it is, and at the village smithy to boot. And twenty years ago someone was clever and imaginative to plant it at this spot for our enjoyment.
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June 2009

Today I'm going to talk about rhubarb. When I researched it I was amused to leam that there is a slang definition of the word "rhubarb" that means "lengthy or superfluous speaking or writing".... in other words, hot air. With that in mind....I'll begin:

I'll wager that right about now, our early members were thinking about picking their first rhubarb . They called it "pie plant" but also made wine, juice and jams, and often stewed it with strawberries and apples. It makes a great sauce for venison, chicken and salmon, too. By the way, Hilltop- Hanover sponsored a rhubarb pie class last Saturday, and today's New York Times has lots of rhubarb recipes.

rhubarbRhubarb and molasses was the favorite spring tonic, a tart remedy that they thought would clear the blood, and cure just about anything that had ailed them all winter. Probably because rhubarb is rich in vitamin C and calcium. One cup (without the molasses) contains only 25 calories.

But rhubarb has been around a lot longer than the Farmers Club. In 1252, Marco Polo noticed in China, where it was cultivated for medicinal purposes. It originated along the Volga river in Russia. The first plants didn't arrive in England or America until about 1800, and soon every gardener had to have it. I remember the wonderful patch flourishing, not coincidentally, next to the cow barn at Braewald Farm, and another thriving at Martha Stewart's.

Rhubarb loves a very rich soil, and at least a half a day of sun. The plants resemble hosta , are quite robust and decorative and come with red or green stalks. Both taste the same, but the red is more attractive, especially in pies.
Cooking rhubarb in a metal pot will discolor the stems but won't affect the flavor. Use glass or stainless steel to preserve the red color.

Spring planting is best, and there's still time to do so. It is better to plant roots, rather than seeds. Six plants will easily supply a family. You have to be patient and not pick any until the second year. The knack of picking is to twist the stem as you pull it off the plant, discarding the leaves.

Being a nurseryman, I always suggest patronizing a local grower. But long experience convinced me that rhubarb was not exactly the hottest item on our shelves, and many nurseries don't stock it at all. However, you can still get it through some mail order seed houses like Burpee, and you can also buy it on line.

Rhubarb leaves and flowers are poisonous and only the stems should be eaten. The flowers are quite unique , and grow on top of a long, strong stem. They should be removed before going to seed. And I hate to disappoint you, but the deer love rhubarb, even though the leaves are filled with oxalic acid.

Recently, botanists at Yale University discovered that the leaves can be boiled and the liquid is a great natural insecticide spray, especially effective on aphids.

I hope you haven't found this rhubarb information to be lengthy and superfluous, But one more word. In 1852, our predecessors in the Farmers Club got their spring tonic from rhubarb and molasses. In 2009, members who don't like molasses might try the recently invented Rhubarb Martini, Described as "real nice looking and tasty" It consists of rhubarb juice, and gin or vodka. And nary a drop of dry vermouth.
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April 2009

Of course, a wide selection of safe and excellent mushrooms may be found in the market. But gathering mushrooms in the woods can be injurious to the health, to put it mildly. And you REALLY have to know whatfallencomrade you are doing when you pick wild mushrooms.

A course in mushroom identification at the Bronx Botanical Garden, still hasn't prepared me to risk it. Sadly, just last year two people were killed by toxic mushrooms that they had picked in the woods right here off 684. The culprit, as usual, was Amanita. It's called "Destroying Angel" for very good reasons. Eating only one half a CAP can cause a violent death within five hours. It masquerades as an edible mushroom and is fatal almost every time.

This old saying is worth remembering:
"There are old mushroom hunters,
There are bold mushroom hunters,
But there are no old, bold mushroom hunters".

That said, mushroom lovers, cheer up. Forget the Food Emporium and Mrs Green; now you can safely grow your favorite varieties indoors at home. It's a fun project, clean and safe. Pure mushroom spawn is inoculated into a block of sterilized woodchips, sawdust or straw. All you have to do is to mist it regularly and you'll be rewarded with a bumper crop in about two weeks. You don't even need a dark cave; in fact these mushrooms require light and air.

You can also grow mushrooms outdoors by using wooden plugs that have been impregnated with mushroom mycelium. You find an appropriate stump or log--even firewood--drill holes and insert me dowel. In about nine months the logs are colonized and will keep producing for several years.

Besides the familiar types, you can grow gourmet kinds that do not ship well and are seldom found in the markets. You can even get lobster ,chicken or oyster flavored mushrooms like this one. Besides their culinary uses, mushrooms have been used for centuries in Chinese medicine, supposedly curing everything from acne to cancer. Perhaps more important than anything else, is their role in the ecology.

Mushrooms and fungi recycle most of our planet's vegetative waste, from a blade of grass to the tallest tree. Otherwise, it is said that the earth would be covered with several feet of debris and all life would perish, but for the lowly fungus.

If anyone is interested in growing mushrooms, this kit is from Fungi Perfecti and I have their catalogs with me. I want to emphasize that I receive no, freebies. Nor would I accept them, if offered. Only to say that I have had good luck with their product.

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October 2008

On March 30 1999 the New York Times ran an obituary for a 93 year old gardener who was survived by three children, seven grandchildren and one great grandchild.. But this amazing woman left another legacy - thousands of her progeny, named in her honor- a new breed of plants, the Merserve blue hollies. Kathleen Meserve loved the elegant English holly she grew in her St James, Long Island garden, but was disappointed that it winter killed so often. She also grew a rather common Japanese holly that thrived on neglect. She wondered if she could cross the two. Plant scientists assured her that they had been trying for years, but it was impossible because of the chromosome counts.

MeserveLater, Mrs Meserve observed, "I didn't know what could be done and what couldn't so I just did it". And, without any horticultural training, she succeeded in crossing the two.

The results were a new breed of cultivars, the so called "blue hollies" that combined the best characteristics of their two parents. Blue Boy and Blue Girl were the first of a series of vigorous hybrids with blue green foliage, that tolerated severe winters . Believe it or not, The Bedford Farmers Club has a wonderful association with Mrs Merserve. In 1975, the Garden Club of America gave her the award named for our long-ago member, the Eloise Payne Luquer Gold Medal.

I have been so carried away with the romance in this story I've almost forgotten the tips on holly.
Like all of us, hollies come in males and females and to form holly berries it takes two to tango.
You can tell male flowers by yellow stamens in the middle of a white petals. Females have a green ovule in the middle of the white petals. In the world of holly, (and only in the world of holly) one guy can handle half a dozen females. Generally, the male is a more robust so (in the holly world) he should be kept somewhere in the background. Hollies prefer acid soils, some shade and lots of moisture. Keep mulched with peat or pine needles and do not cultivate under them. Most have red berries but there are also black and yellow berried types.

The Merserves are more adaptable than their parent, the English holly, the type sold at Christmas. Several other Meserves are available- Blue Stallion, Blue Angel, China Boy and China Girl, each with subtle differences or growth habits. Equally tough is the native American holly that grows as far north as Cape Cod and Boston. Chinese holly, Hex cornuta, is an attractive glossy shrub and has no spines on the leaves. It is popular in the south but rarely survives this far north. However, it has been hybridized into a hardier cultivar, Nellie Stevens, which does. All hollies, even the Blue Hollies, do best when not facing south or west All these hollies keep: their leaves for three years. Ilex verticilata is a deciduous type.

If you have a holly that doesn't set berries there are several reasons- Too much fertilizer. A chemical spray has killed the pollinating bees Dense shade. You pruned off the flower buds for the next year (don't prune after early July) More likely- The plant is a male or it is a female without a nearby beau. If that is the case, it is possible to pick flowering branches from a male tree and set nearby in a bottle of water I did this last spring for three lonely females and got a great berry set. Birds-especially robins-love holly berries and will clean out a tree in very early spring. Unfortunately other wildlife love it too. Deer avoid the spiny leafed hollies but love the soft leaves of the Blue Hollies.

In closing, I would like to quote Mrs Merserve again. She said, "I didn't foresee my success. I just wanted to create something that was going to give pleasure and be beautiful."
WHAT A LEGACY !Return To Top

June, 2008

When the first Stewartia was discovered in British colonial America in 1753, Linnaeus named it for John STUART, the Scottish Earl of Bute. However, Linnaeus spelled it STEWARTIA, and we are certainly not inclined to quibble over that technicality, chez Martha.



It is still a rather rare plant and has been described as la creme de la creme
of the plant world. Besides the American species, it is also found in Korea and China.

The one that we are presenting to Martha Stewart is Chinese. It will grow into a bushy tree about twenty feet tall. Stewartia prefers a moist and humus type soil and appreciates a little afternoon shade. It has no significant disease or insect problems.

It flowers profusely in July and August when few other trees bloom. The single flowers have five petals reminiscent of camellias, to which It is related. Surprisingly, it too, is a member of the tea family.

The mottled orange and green bark is very attractive in mature plants, and the foliage turns yellow, red or purple in the fall.

Large Stewartias are difficult to transplant and should always be bought in a ball or container. Once established, it is extremely hardy and has survived very low temperatures.

When it takes its place in Martha Stewart's magnificent garden we hope that it will remind her of the Bedford Farmers Club's appreciation of her hospitality today.Return To Top


May 2008

I love to recommend a plant that tolerates shade, endures drought and low temperatures, has no insect or disease problems and is deer-proof. Especially if it's deer-proof.

But, here's one to avoid at all costs and exterminate IF you can.It is Japanese Knotweed, Polygonum cuspidatum, now renamed Fallopia japonica. But, just as a rose by any other name doesn't improve its scent, neither does renaming it make Polygonum more likable.

knotweedIt was imported from Japan in the 1800''s and has morphed into a world wide problem. It has been described as the Godzilla-Killer of gardening hopes and dreams. Significantly, its Japanese name is Itadori, which means "strong plant"

Strong it is, growing six feet high, and with roots that subdue everything in its path. It can burst through cracks in a sidewalk and move the concrete The roots can tunnel under a road and emerge on the other side.

It thrives in landfills, highway shoulders 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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April 2008

My favorite poet, Robert Frost, once wrote, "Late in life I have come on ferns".

I had this epiphany too, and became a femaholic. For me, no other plant is more elegant, adaptable, restful, or luxuriant. Ferns have shapes and textures to enhance every garden.


Fern: Pteridium aquilinum

The native ferns that are easiest to grow (and most easy to identify) are Regal, Maiden Hair, Christmas, Hay-scented.. Three taller ones are Cinnamon, Interrupted and Ostrich. To these should be added a non-native, the Japanese Panted fern, that has been winning All America awards since its introduction. The botanical names are forever being reclassified and changed. Now you can refer to them quite accurately in plain English.

All of the ferns prefer some shade and moisture. Some do best in lime soils, but most are highly adaptable.

When ferns emerge in spring the shoots come up crozier-shape, like a bishop's staff. This is the New England culinary treat: Fiddle Heads. And the tastiest are from the Ostrich fern. Pick them before they unfurl and quickly steam or boil them. Butter or lemon juice enhance the earthy asparagus/bean flavor. After a winter of eating starches and root vegetables the fiddle-heads were probably the first greens found on colonial tables in the spring.

The deer will graze them occasionally but the crosiers keep coming, and picking doesn't seem to harm the plant.

To multiply, ferns produce spores, not seeds. The spores contain only half of their necessary chromosomes and form underneath certain leaves. When ripe, the spores are ejected and are dispersed by the wind. If they land in a moist place they grow into a prothallus. If conditions are suitable male and female cells develop producing a zygote with a full chromosome count, which then becomes a seedling fern.

This dilatory courtship may make you wonder how ferns have managed to persist and thrive for millions of years. An article in "The New Yorker" last year explains how tough and tenacious they can be: It seems that they are now colonizing the stone railroad viaduct through the Harlem barrio. The spores came in on the breeze, or the train, or from a vegetable market. or perhaps on a Bedford commuter's shoes. They found a nice moist spot, felt right at home and there's no stopping them. Next time your train emerges from the Park Avenue tunnel check out the fernery on the railroad wall between 103 rd and 110 th. Streets.

Bedford Farmers Club members can take pride that the most energetic traveller is the Wood Fern. as is our peripatetic president, Jim Wood. Return To Top

October 2007

Of course, I'm only joking, but any time now we will hear the first Christmas carols and see the holiday decorations, and the Poinsettias appearing in the stores. So it seems timely to talk about the quintessential Christmas plant, the Poinsettia.


One December day in 1830, an American diplomat who was stationed in Mexico, noticed euphorbia, a stringy weed with a bright red flower. He sent cuttings back to the States. Growers were quick to propagate it, customers loved the splash of color in a dreary season and florists had a ready market Botanists named it for the diplomat, Joel Poinsett.

Some growers found it was prone to root problems in cold, wet soils. It is fussy about trace elements like boron, zinc, iron, manganese in the soil. Others found that sometimes those red flowers didn't appear till January. Everyone seemed unable to control the height- a plant could often, reach three feet or more and then drop most of its green leaves.

At this time, 1 should level with you- the "flowers" are not flowers, but are bracts, modified leaves.. The actual flowers are the yellow cluster in the middle of the bracts We grew about five hundred pots in our greenhouses and when our kids were little they knew that the yellow flowers had a drop of delicious honey that they extracted on the tips of their fingers. In 1900, a California grower, Paul Ecke, began to introduce improved colors and shorter plants.

But the real breakthrough came about 1950 with the Hegg series, named for a Norwegian grower. These are extremely dwarf, do not have all the root problems and can tolerate cooler temperatures and darker days. They are the ancestors of the whole palette of colors on the market now- even a "yellow" one.

Plant scientists discovered that the length of the night, called photoperiodism, triggered the Poinsettias' shift from green leaves to red bracts. One grower consistently missed timing fox Christmas. It was discovered that his night watchman would come into the nice, warm greenhouse and turn on all the lights during his midnight coffee break. The darkness was interrupted, the poinsettias would flower a month after Christmas when, as you can imagine, nobody wanted them.

In our greenhouses we had one section of a bench that always flowered later than the others. Checking it out, we discovered our neighbor, 50' away, left her front porch light on all night

A good neighbor and a piece of cardboard on our side of the bulb, solved the problem. The "trigger time" for bud-set comes in September. This will initiate color by Thanksgiving and full color at Christmas. If you have plants outdoors that you are trying to hold over till Christmas, get them in to the sunniest window you have, make sure that they are out of a draft and not kept wet. You don't have to put them in a dark closet! Just keep them in a room that gets dark at sunset and light at sunrise. Do not put them in a room that you use- a spare or guest bedroom is good. Make sure no street light or auto lights shine in to shorten their night. Poinsettias make a long-lasting cut-flower. To do so, hold the end of the stem over a candle flame to blacken the cut Avoid touching the astringent white sap.

Happy Holidays.

And speaking as a former Poinsettia grower- "Buy lots of Poinsettias"
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September 2007

The deer have almost eradicated this native plant from Northern Westchester, but you can still see it growing along the roadsides down-county. The plants are easily Recognized - about 5' high and covered last month with bright, yellow daisy type flowers.

jerusalemThere's no question about its botanical name, Helianthus tuberosus, which means,"a sunflower with tuberous roots." It's the common name that's so confusing “Jerusalem Artichoke," since it has nothing to do with the Holy City or with artichokes, for that matter.

"Jerusalem " is a corruption of the Spanish and Italian word for sunflower- GIRASOLE, meaning turn to the sun., which is what all good sunflowers do.

In 1585, Sir Walter Raleigh, observed it being cultivated in. Indian villages in Virginia.

Samuel Champlam sent Canadian tubers back to France in 1600.

To this day they are more appreciated in Europe than here in the States and it is actually four times more productive per square foot than potatoes.

Recently, Madison Avenue bestowed a catchy new moniker on them, "SUNCHOKES", and they are being sold in trendy greenmarkets and produce stores. If you buy them save a few and plant them.

Eaten raw, they have a delicate, nutty flavor and are crunchy like Jicama and Chinese Water Chestnuts. They can be roasted, boiled, steamed just like potatoes. ( However, It does not submit to French fries).

Mine are thriving in a fenced garden secure from deer and the occasional terrified woodchuck that Elizabeth Levin sends reeling down the brook to me.

A single tuber will mature into a large plant the first season., even in poor soil and half shade. Mark the spot and mulch heavily so that you can find them under the snow. It has no insect or disease problems and the flowers are prolific and long-
lasting when cut

The tubers are extremely cold-hardy and actually taste better after a hard frost. They do not store well and should be left in the ground.

Although the skins are also edible, many people prefer to slip them off after cooking

You can make sun choke pancakes, or even a chiffon pie, like Euell Gibbons described in his book "Stalking the Wild Asparagus".

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May 2007

Every May I give the same timely tips: Remove the seed pods from your daffodils and tulips after they bloomed. Let the foliage ripen; remember that the foliage makes next year's flowers. Be sure that you have sufficient drainage in your window boxes and pots. Cover the drain holes with stones or with those plastic peanuts we never know how to get rid of. Place a single sheet of newspaper over them, fill with good soil. Protect your houseplants from full sun for a few days after you've brought them

Moss Garden

Moss Garden, Bloedel Reserve, Washington State

outside for the summer. Beware of a late frost! We almost had one a few nights ago, 35 degrees, and could surely have frost on the next calm, cloudless night. Several years ago we had frost on May 28. Our Farmers Club old timers knew not to plant
before Memorial Day.

But what I'd really like to talk about today is moss.

Moss gets a bad rap and seems to imply negative connotations. A mossbunker is an ugly deep sea fish that is covered with mossy scales. A mossback is a human who is firmly set in his ways. A mossy sidewalk or swimming pool guarantees a nasty tumble.

But if you hate pachysandra and ivy, consider moss for those bare corners in your garden. The Japanese moss gardens in Kyoto are a prime example of the restful beauty of moss.

Mosses are completely different from the usual garden plants The botanical classifications are extremely complex and technical. Few have common names and the botanical names are all jawbreakers. The only two I know in English are the Great Star Moss and the delightful Hessian Soldier, who sports a little red helmet.

Mosses should not be confused with lichens, which are a symbiosis of algae and fungus.

Mosses do not have true roots, true leaves, true flowers or true seeds and their entire life cycle depends on rainfall and mist. They usually prefer shady, moist, low pH conditions. Strange to say, they like a hard-packed surface.

To get them started in your garden first remove any weeds or grasses that are in the way- It is important not to disturb the soil. Rather, water the spot well, stamp on it and rake it lightly. If you have moss growing elsewhere transplant it in sheets, gently step on it- moss hates air pockets underneath. Keep damp for a month or more.

Sheets of moss can be bought from a number of commercial nurseries that guarantee it is a renewable resource and environmentally okay. Several are listed on and Google under "Moss Gardens"

More fun is to cultivate your own moss crop. Collect some, mix it with buttermilk. Make it into a slurry, and spread over the prepared ground. Keep moist and in about 6 weeks your own Kyoto will materialize. Moss is especially handsome under rhododendrons and azaleas, which shouldn't be cultivated, anyhow.

This is also an excellent way lo give an immediate aged patina to your new terra cotta pots and garden ornaments Use an old paint brush, keep them moist and shaded.

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April, 2007.

It seems appropriate to quote the scriptures in the Quaker Meetinghouse.

For lo, the winter is past
The rain is over and gone
The flowers appear on earth
The time of singing is come
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land."

Now that the rain is over and gone and the flowers are appearing on earth, we're all looking for a perennial that the deer don't eat, the insects don't bother, that loves the shade, naturalizes well, that flowers from late winter to mid-summer, that has gorgeous foliage, and is a long lasting cut flower.
Does such a plant really exist? Yes, Does Any one know it ?
It is Hellebore.


Is there a catch here? Maybe. All parts are toxic, so enjoy it, but handle with care.
The hellebores like humus, resent being moved, may take a year or two to re-establish. They look great with hosta, ferns and Virginia Bluebells. Buy potted plants. If you move an established plant get a large root ball and try not to disturb the roots
Until recently, there were basically two types in cultivation. But lately plant breeders have been producing all sorts of new colors, in sizes and shapes previously unknown.

The two older types were:

Helleborus niger, misnamed "Christmas Rose", which has never made it
on time for me. The flowers are white singles, and are now available in doubles . The flowers mature into an attractive pale green, long lasting cutflower. It is not unusual to have 35 blooms on a mature plant. Be sure to wash your hands after touching them. Christmas rose has a long history in horticulture and medicine and supposedly was introduced to British gardens by the Romans.

The other beauty is the so-called Lenten Rose, Helleborus occidentalis. This mild winter, long before Lent, I picked a bouquet on January 6 for Phebe Washburn and Twink Wood. Orientalis, originally a lavender-pink, now has many break-through colors- shades of creamy yellow, pink, rose, apple green, all fading to a light green and persisting till summer.

Wayside Gardens, White Flower Farm and other nurseries sell these rarities and they are priced accordingly... $40 and $50 a 3 inch pot. Pictures at the munchies table.
Along with the Biblical quote, and with the crazy winter now past, take the advice of the famous American horticulturist Allen Armitage:
"Life is sweet when you can go out and play in the dirt."

Other poisonous plants-tobacco, datura, oleander, foxglove, rhubarb leaves, monkshood, mistletoe, morning glory seeds, sweet pea seeds, yew berries.Return To Top


September 2006

Fifty years in the nursery business have made me very skeptical of descriptions from seed catalogs, but I like to try something different each year. As Thomas Jefferson put it, "I'm an old man but a young gardener" Because I’m an old man I'll read this, or I'd forget what I was saying!



“My choice this year was an old favorite of the Victorians. The Victorians gave rather odd and romantic names to their garden plants. Some examples are, "Kiss me over the garden gate", "Job's Tears, " Love in a mist", "Bleeding Heart”, and my choice this year, "Love lies bleeding" "Love lies bleeding's” botanical name is Amaranthus caudatis. If you think that botanical names are boring, Linnaeus made an insider botanical joke out of this one. Amaranthus means immortal. Caudatis means a tail-like appendage. "An Immortal with a tail"

Amaranthus originated in South America, and several forms of it are now distributed all over North America. The familiar garden weed, Pig Weed is a type of Amaranth. Euell Gibbons, who sampled everything, ate it too.

Another, Amaranthus quitensis, bursting with vitamins and native to Quito, Ecuador, is grown commercially for its edible seeds and leaves.

This is also true of "Lovelies bleeding", I enjoyed eating the spinach-like leaves. The nutritious seeds react like popcorn when roasted and can be crushed and added to muffins and pancake mixes.

The downward facing flowers can produce 100,000 timy seeds per plant. Commercial growers in South America have bred a type with upward facing flowers to facilitate mechanical harvesting

The flowers are long lasting when cut, and can be dried for wreaths and floral

Amaranth needs at least a half day of sun, does well on good or poor soil. It is especially adaptable to sandy, salty conditions. Just the thing for your place in The Hamptons or Nantucket! Get a head start with a sowing inside in March, which will produce a plant five feet high. Plant it in the rear of the border, and it may need staking. A sowing outdoors in May will make a shorter and delayed flowering plant.

If you've never tasted Amaranth cereal, sample Mrs Green's brand, on the refreshments table. Nibble a leaf too, if you want. As we used to say in the greenhouse, "If we can't sell it we can always eat it"

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September 2005

Hop Ground Lane is in Middle Patent. Hopfields was a popular Bedford restaurant. Hoppground Garden Club is a Bedford institution. John Stockbridge and Shirley Bianco will tell you that Bedford's original name in 1680 was The Hopp Ground


Hops (Humulus lupulus)

Did the early settlers grow hops? Yes. Did the Farmers Club grow them? Probably. Almost every farmer made his own cider and beer in those days. Elizabeth Levin says some had stills in their basements! Did John Jay grow them here? Jay drank wine, Madeira, but employees drank beer. Libby Mossman told me today that when his barn was built in I831 they celebrated the raising with beer and cider.

What are hops?

In medieval times continental brewers, especially the German and Dutch, used them to flavor and preserve beer. However, the English thought they were "a wicked weed that induced melancholy" and banned them from Britain, using meadow rue and chamomile instead for flavoring. But by the mid-1600's, the time of the Bedford settlement, hops were widely used in England for their flavoring and preserving qualities in beer. Beer making became more profitable. By using hops, less grain was required.

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 and boils, and induced sleep". (Significantly, hops and chamomile are still used as herbal medicines).

Best of all, hops made a drink "strong enough to turn an old topper's head". Just the restorative needed in old Bedford's medicine chest!

Hops have a fascinating botanical name, Humulus Lupinus. Humulus Lupinus rolls off the tongue like a pint of Guiness Stout.

Humulus supposedly derives from the humus soil they prefer. Lupinus refers to lupus, the wolf, because of its aggressive growth habits. Hops is from the Anglo-Saxon name for climbing. These three words pretty much describe the plant.

Hops is dioecious, that is, male and female flowers are on separate plants. Like holly, it takes two hops to tango. The female flowers, ripening now, resemble little husks or cones and produce lupolin, the powder that flavors and preserves the beer.

Timely Tip . . .

Hops is a fast growing, decorative and tough perennial vine that will speedily cover a fence, trellis or arbor. The flowers have a resinous smell and attract butterflies. A variegated form of hops, Aureus, was popular in Victorian times. It is less rambunctious, has larger flowers. Libby Mossman grows it and has brought a sample for us to see. A third cultivated form can be seen on the American Herb Society's herb garden here at John Jay. It has even larger flowers and seems to be less rampant.

Hops has few insect or disease problems and I've never seen deer grazing it. Keep a wary eye on it, it can get invasive, but unlike like bittersweet, it does not spread by seed and it dies back every year.

It is fun to grow a plant that had been traditional here for 150 years. You can even make your own microbrew.

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Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons or Richard Ten Dyke
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