Step Into Spring With Strawberries – A Growing Guide For The Intermountain West

The official start of Spring is just a few weeks away and as the weather warms and spring fever strikes your soul, think about stepping into the gardening season with strawberries.

DSC_0011Strawberries are adorable because they are so adaptable and can be grown in almost any climate. This is one great quality, but do you know about the other fabulous features of strawberries?  For instance, the berries are packed with vitamin C, manganese and fiber.  Certain types of strawberry plants produce delicious berries in the first growing season and since they are perennial plants they come back each year (if properly cared for).  Also, they can be grown in very small spaces if necessary.   Quite a lot to adore wouldn’t you agree?

If you’re game for growing strawberries, get started with a trip to a plant nursery.  Local nurseries have certified disease-free, bare-root or small plants available now and usually carry varieties well-suited for your particular climate.  While there, consider which TYPE of strawberry you want to grow before making your selections.

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‘Tri-Star’ is one of my favorite day-neutrals.

For “instant gratification” (helpful if you are impatient or have involved kids in your project) choose some Day-neutral or Ever-bearing types, that produce sweet, medium-size fruit during the first summer. June-bearing strawberries are another type, offering great flavor and the biggest berries, but they typically will not produce until their second summer in the garden.  A fourth type, is the Alpine strawberry.  These plants produce small, intensely flavored berries that are red, white or gold.

Once you’ve picked plants, decide how to grow them. Remember how strawberries are adaptable and can be grown in small spaces? This means they can flourish in hanging baskets, containers, raised beds or even unconventional objects lIke rain gutters!

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Photo date: May 8th, near Boise, ID

If you have a raised bed available, this is a great option for strawberries and they tend to thrive in this environment.  However, if that option is not available, how about a container, maybe even an “official” strawberry pot.

A strawberry pot (urn shaped, with a series of small pockets running along the sides) is efficient  because you plant at different levels, saving space and making good use of water.  Pots also offer portability, in case there is a need to move your garden. And when it is time to overwinter, simply place the pot in a garage or sheltered area away from hard frosts. Day-neutral, ever-bearing and alpine plants are the best types for containers. (Always use a high-quality potting soil when planting in containers.)

Courtesy of Terri's Notebook

Courtesy of Terri’s Notebook

The growing method I’m trying this year is a wooden strawberry tower.  The tower method can be constructed in a few different ways but is usually in the form of a pyramid, enabling space efficiency and the benefit of keeping berries off the ground, away from slugs or other hungry ground rogues. (Plans for a robust wooden strawberry tower can be found at myoutdoorplans.com)  Here are some options for the tower method.

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Photo courtesy of Bruce Post Co.

 

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74297928c292b6aa733b00927e8e3eeaIf you are an ardent DIY-er, a fun idea for growing strawberries is to re-purpose an old rain gutter as a container.  A 4-5’ length of rain gutter can be used for 4-5 plants. The main steps include drilling drainage holes every 4-6 inches, on the bottom of the gutter and then capping the ends.  Once the ends are in place, caulk the end-cap seams with silicone. Next, plant small strawberry plants about 9-10” apart using a good potting mix.  Keep soil a half-inch from the top lip of the gutter so it doesn’t wash out when watering.  Elevate off the ground for drainage and even consider mounting to a fence, shed or deck.

Photo courtesy of Rex Manning Day

Photo courtesy of Rex Manning Day

All of these methods are great for saving space but they will require more frequent watering than raised bed or in-ground plantings.  If you have plenty of space and well-draining soil, just plant in-ground.  A tip for this growing style is to rake soil into raised mounds at planting time and then place one plant per mound.  This slightly raises the plants improving drainage and providing some protection against rot and pests.

Below is a simple reference guide to help insure success in growing and caring for strawberries in the Intermountain West.  Plant now and enjoy garden deliciousness in just a few months!

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Grow Great Strawberries

Family: Rosaceae

Genus: Fragaria

Species: Fragaria x ananassa

Nutrition: Strawberries are a good source of Vitamin C, manganese and dietary fiber.  They are also packed with antioxidants.

Growing Conditions: Strawberries need a minimum of 8 hours of sun and loose, well draining soil.  A moderately fertile, enriched soil produces good yields.

Spacing: 12”-18” apart.  If planting in rows, allow for 3’ in between rows.

*How to Plant:  Depth is important in planting strawberries.  Make sure the hole is deep enough for roots to be positioned straight down, not spread out.  The crown (where the roots meet the shoots) MUST NOT be buried and should be planted so just half of it is under the soil line. The top of the crown should be exposed to water and light. Water each plant individually right after planting.

Watering needs: Keep soil evenly moist but not waterlogged which can encourage disease. Drip or hand watering is a good choice.  If overhead sprinklers are used, water early in the morning to allow foliage to completely dry by nightfall.

Care: Pick strawberries frequently during the harvest season. Do not let fruit rot on the vine. If it does, pick it and discard.  Most types of strawberries produce numerous runners with baby plants at the tips.  These runners often root themselves nearby, yet remained attached to the mother plant.  For best fruit production it is best to clip most of the runners, allowing each plant to produce no more than three baby plants each summer.

If planted in rows, renovate your strawberry patch at the end of the season by reducing the width of each row to 12”. Protect strawberries during winter, by spreading mulch around Dec. 1. Spread the mulch around plants about 1-2” deep. It will prevent the plants from losing moisture during dry spells and protects against root damage caused by freezing and thawing of the ground. Check plants the following March for new growth and once it appears part mulch away from the new leaves.  As spring continues, gradually remove the mulch around the growing plant just leaving it in areas of bare ground as a soil mulch.

Fun factoid:  Strawberries grown in the Intermountain West develop some of the best flavor because the days are long and sunny and the nights cool.  This allows berries to develop a lot of natural sugar for severe sweetness!  Yum!

 

 

 

 

Try A Terrarium For A Simple Winter Garden

It’s mid-January and life has returned to normal. The celebrations have been completed and now we get to return some time to the activities that provide motivation and enjoyment to our everyday life.  For those of us that love gardening, but live in cold climates where winter makes a solid statement, it is a great time to try a terrarium. Even The Washington Post said so this week!

Let it be known upfront that I AM a plant person, but I AM NOT a craft person. Therefore, I have resolved to keep my distance from certain garden projects that seem too “crafty,” albeit requiring a lot of fine detail work.  However, my resolve crumbled. Maybe it’s the gloomy winter skies or just the ubiquity of beautiful terrariums everywhere I go (physically and electronically), but I could no longer resist trying one of these miniature living worlds.

Surprisingly, I found these indoor gardens quite easy to construct!  So, if you too feel the need to create something with plants that emphasizes simple, natural beauty, try a terrarium. Here are the basic steps and tools needed to create something lovely!

DSC_0234First things first, select a container.  Terrarium containers must be glass or another clear material so plants inside can absorb light.  This could be anything from a mason jar, to a vase, to a cloche and shallow tray. For first timers, it is best to select a vessel with a large enough opening for easy placement of soil and plants. (Don’t start out with a perfume bottle as your first container!)

It is also important to think about where your terrarium will be placed.  If you build an ‘open’ terrarium, they can usually take some direct sunlight.  However, terrariums that are enclosed (have a glass cover over the top) should not receive any direct sunlight as the temperature inside can quickly rise and “cook” the plants. Place closed terrariums in an area that receives only indirect sunlight.

Photo courtesy of The Silly Pearl - www.sillypearl.com

Photo courtesy of The Silly Pearl

Choose some plants and adornments. Lots of plants are adaptable to terrarium life and some popular choices that are readily available are succulents, cacti, air plants, ferns, small houseplants and mosses. It is important to consider the size of your vessel when selecting plants. Unless you have a really large container, you’ll be looking for plants in 2- to 4- inch pots. If you choose a specimen with a 4” rootball, you will need at least 4” of soil in your terrarium. After selecting plants, think about other embellishments you might want to add.  Shells, stones, and sea glass are some of my favorites but there are many possibilities. The perfect doodad(s) for your terrarium may be sitting in a drawer somewhere!

Photo courtesy of Analog Me

Photo courtesy of Analog Me

Create a foundation for healthy plant life. Since a terrarium doesn’t have drainage holes, you must create a drainage system to keep plants’ roots healthy. Place a layer of clean gravel on the bottom of your vessel. (Any small, clean stones will work.) The thickness of this layer depends on the size of your container but typically between one and four inches is best.  Smaller containers use thinner layers, and vice versa.

 

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Photo courtesy of carterandholmes.com

The second level of the foundation is horticultural charcoal. The main benefit of adding charcoal is that it absorbs toxins (or chemicals) in the soil, water, and air that can build up in the terrarium and create damage. Charcoal also absorbs unpleasant odors that are a common problem for closed terrariums.

The final layer of the foundation is soil. The type of soil to use depends on the plants of choice.  If going with succulents/cacti, use a mix that is specially designed for these plants and is fast draining. If designing with ferns, houseplants, moss, etc… go with a high quality potting soil. (Avoid soils with moisture retaining agents.)

DSC_0068Place the plants and create the scene.  Add the amount of soil your plants require to the container.  A funnel or small pitcher can be helpful during this step because it allows better control of where the soil is placed and keeps it from splattering up the sides of the container.  Next, create a “hole”  wherever you want to place a rootball of a plant.  Once the plant is set in place, smooth soil around roots keeping the soil level just slightly lower than originally planted, if you plan to add decorative stones or sand on top.  If space is tight, use a plastic or wooden spoon to reach into the container and smooth the soil in place.

A good strategy is to place the largest plants first, then add smaller ones with adornments situated last.  When fixing embellishments, use chopsticks, an old toothbrush or tweezers to move items in place.  Alternatively, you can approach this last step with a bit of a laissez-faire style.  Let things fall out of your hands and land where they may as this can result in a more naturalist design.  And if you don’t like it, you can always tweak it.

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DSC_0106There are lots of good sources for terrarium design.  I liked some of the ideas in “Terrarium Craft” by Amy Bryant Aiello and Kate Bryant.

 

Tips for Best Results:

  • Terrarium containers should be throughly cleaned before use.
  • Choose plants that can cohabitate together.  They must have the same soil, moisture and light needs.
  • Take care of any necessary pruning or grooming (washing/dusting/removing shriveled leaves) before placing in terrarium.
  • Inspect all plants for signs of insects or disease before placing.  Don’t use unhealthy plants.

Tool Basics:

  • Small pitcher or funnel to place soil
  • Plastic or wooden spoon to smooth soil around plant in tight spaces
  • Sponge paint brush to wipe excess soil or sand particles from side of container
  • Small paintbrush to cleanup any excess soil on plants after design is finished
  • Baster for watering plants after planted

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2014 Gardener’s Gift Guide – Find Gardening Inspiration Here!

It’s Cyber-Monday and that means the Holiday gift-giving season is really starting to roll. Thanksgiving is a distant memory although there may still be leftovers in the fridge… It is inevitable that your attention will become more and more focused on gift-giving in the coming days and lucky for you, I’ve put together a gardener gift guide including practical, posh and just plain fun gift ideas.

Sure, these are my personal choices (I have no special ties with any of these vendors) but I’ve been dabbling at the green arts for 18 years – long enough to know about some things that can put excitement and happiness on a gardener’s face!  Take a look, even if only for inspiration. Besides, you might even find something for your own “wish list.” :)

Rubber Boots - Gardeners love rubber boots! They are handy because they slip on and off very quickly and easily.  A top choice to wear during the muddy days of spring and the cold days of winter when running out to the compost pile, the garage or even the mailbox.  In the fall, they are perfect for working in the moistened soil during clean up and provide some protection from spiders or wasps that might think about crawling up a pant leg. Here’s two good choices and these companies offer both mens and womans footwear.  Hunter Gardener Boots, $135 (us.hunterboots.com) Breezy Mid Muck Boot, $114.95 (www.muckbootcompany.com)

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More styles and colors available. The gardener boot features a dig plate and ankle wear patch for working in the garden.

 

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Many more styles and colors available through their website.

Pruners - Every gardener NEEDS a smooth operating pair of hand pruners. These clippers need to be highly durable and comfortable to grip because they are used so often.  Hand pruners are used to shape plants, deadhead, remove damaged growth and cut back perennials.  Felco’s bypass type pruners are highly recommended and worth the investment in my opinion. The company offers a life-time limited warranty if you purchase from the online Felco Store. Felco 2 Pruner, $47.43 (www.felcostore.com)

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The company offers a variety of bypass style pruners. Even specially designed versions for lefties.

glassybaby - Bring a warm light and a warm feeling to a gardener this season with a beautiful hand-made votive.  Seattle-based glassybaby employs local glass artists to create colorful votives whose names such as, ‘cabo’ and ‘skinny dip’, evoke personal memories. It is noteworthy (and in the spirit of giving) that 10% of each glassybaby purchased is donated to a corresponding charity. $44 (glassybaby.com)

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 Steel Life Loft Mod Dish - Just because it’s winter, doesn’t mean gardeners give up plants!  They like to always have a little something growing and this gorgeous tabletop planter is the perfect thing for succulents and/or air plants that are all the rage.  From Bend, Oregon, this planter line features up cycled steel that is powder coated for vibrant colors and durability.  (Rubber footings to protect your surface are included.) $139 (www.shopsteellife.com)

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Gift Certificate to Local Nursery – Although gift certificates sometimes have a reputation of being generic and thoughtless, that is NOT what gardeners think.  Getting a gift certificate to a local nursery in the off-season is truly a treat, for as the garden changes each year, so does a gardener’s needs. Trust me, gardeners adore going to a nursery at the beginning of a new growing season with a gift card riding in their hip pocket.  A must-have will be found!

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For Local Readers:

Edwards Greenhouse (4106 Sand Creek St., Boise)

Farwest Landscape Garden Center (5728 W. State St., Boise)

Franz Witte (9770 W. State St., Boise)

Madeline George Design Nursery (10550 W. Hill Rd. Pkwy, Boise)

Zamzow’s (various locations in Treasure Valley)

Trip to Northwest Flower and Garden Show – It’s nice to get a break from winter and a great place for most gardeners to do that is the Northwest Flower and Garden Show (NWFGS) in Seattle. This five-day February event heralds the upcoming arrival of spring with an entire acre of show gardens displaying the latest trends in gardening and outdoor living.  The show’s Marketplace is a great place to stock up on bulbs and plants, fun garden accessories and tools.  The NWFGS is also known for its free seminars with horticulture experts from around the country. A favorite thing about this event is that it is located in downtown Seattle.  Once you have your fill of garden delight, wonderful shopping, eating and city exploration is just steps away!   The show website has info on hotels that offer special rates and are an easy walk to the show.  Show tickets can be purchased through the website as well. (www.gardenshow.com)

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February 11-15, 2015

Rocky Mountain Gardener’s Handbook - Like the title suggests, this is a  gardener’s go-to-guide if living in the Rocky Mountains or Intermountain West.  Co-written by Boise’s very own Mary Ann Newcomer and Denver’s John Cretti, this book is chock-full of gardening know-how. It includes specific sections on annuals, bulbs & rhizomes, edibles, ground covers, lawn & ornamental grasses, perennials, roses, shrubs, deciduous trees & conifers and vines. Serious levels of plant information reside in this book, including how to plant, grow and care for your selections. $24.99 Available at Amazon.com 

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Potlifter - This is the perfect tool for folks that do a lot of container gardening and need to move pots in and out of shelter. It is a huge backsaver as it enables two people to work together and comfortably lift and move large pots or other heavy objects. The potlifter can be used to lift objects up to 200 lbs and up to 7 ft in circumference.  $29.99 Available at Amazon.com or paletrading.com

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Deluxe Manicure – Manicures are not commonplace for many a gardener since they always have their hands in the dirt or are using them to pinch, pluck or pull out something. However, a gift to pamper and polish those hard-working hands in the off-season may be just the thing for the gardener that has everything.  Available in your local area. Prices starting around $25.

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Fall Gardening: It’s all about that base, er… those bulbs!

One of the more fetching things (or shall I say people) I learned of during the garden show season last March, was a Dutch woman who has mastered a fresh approach to planting bulbs in the garden.  Jacqueline van der Kloet doesn’t do the standard daffodil/tulip thing – which is to plant  intense, monochromatic clumps of a single cultivar to provide a “spot of color,” that is gone in a few weeks with lots of boring foliage left behind. Instead, she frees up bulbs, unleashes them from the cluster and integrates them in a more naturalistic manner that can truly showcase their collective beauty.

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Photo courtesy of BBC

Now who out of us gardeners, doesn’t want a spring wonderland brimming with naturalistic rhythm and enchantment?  When the temps begin to climb out of the freezing zone and a bit of rain falls, we crave the signs of new life and our desire for naturalistic gardens is at its highest.  The “proof” of this craving is the multitude of blog posts, instagram photos and tweets sharing the “glory” of the first Snowdrop! (Galanthus nivalis)

Although Ms. van der Kloet is a world-class garden designer, working on projects for the New York Botanical Garden, Chicago’s Millennium Park and famous gardens in Europe, her designs are not just for public spaces where plant material is changed every few months.

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Seasonal Walk at NYBG; Photo Courtesy of Jardins Sans Secret

Her design style embodies longevity.  Van der Kloet takes into consideration many types of flowering bulbs as well as perennial kin and her method can be carried out in a big or small space, making them oh so suitable for us home gardeners!

But here’s the thing…to implement some of Ms. van der Kloet’s signature style, we must think beyond tulips and daffodils.  One of van der Kloet’s convictions is that there are many under-used bulbs that can be combined with favorites for a more lengthy, multi-dimensional spring-flowering show. For example, small flowering bulbs such as Chionodoxa and anemone bland can provide a layered effect when blooming with tulips, hyacinths and mid-season daffodils.  They create an interesting understory for the well-known “stars.”

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Fritillaria meleagris; Photo courtesy of wikipedia

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Erythronium; Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Fritillaria and Erythronium or trout lilies are most likely on her short list of under-used specimens.  Species tulips too.

The main idea is to think about how spring bulbs can be used together to create an interesting tapestry of flowers and textures.  For a small space, it is recommended to use around three varieties in a spring bulb palette and in larger spaces up to seven varieties.  Color, height, bloom time and length, as well as sun exposure should be considered when making selections.

Spring blooming perennials are part of a van der Kloet-inspired design and plants like aubretia, creeping phlox, cerastium, hardy geraniums, euphorbia, forget-me-nots, bleeding hearts, etc… add more color and texture to the wonderland.

The really fun part of her design method comes when it’s time to plant.  (Even kids will enjoy this activity.)  The bulb selections are all mixed together and then tossed by handfuls in the space where they are to be planted. The bulbs are planted at the appropriate depth based on the growing requirements but this style of “sprinkling” proves to yield a natural, appealing result.

bulbsSo last week, before the snow fell and I mean right before it fell, (a couple of hours between my freezing hands and the first snowflake!) I mixed together the bulbs of my Dutch inspired design.  I then tossed them in my front bed and started planting.  Here are my selections:

Clockwise starting from bottom left; Tulip humbles 'Magenta Queen', Crocus 'Ard Shenk', Narcissus 'Tete A Tete', Tulip 'Purple Prince', Fritillaria persica

Clockwise starting from bottom left; Tulip humilis ‘Magenta Queen’, Crocus ‘Ard Schenk’, Narcissus ‘Tete A Tete’, Tulip ‘Purple Prince’, Fritillaria persica

As you can see, I didn’t give up hybrid tulips.  (I could never do that!) But, I did incorporate a species tulip.  Some of these lesser known tulips such as kaufmanniana, greigii or humilis bloom quite early and offer pretty, mottled foliage.

I’m hoping to achieve a layering of color and interest that starts in March and holds interest until the large perennials (iris and large hardy geraniums) begin to bloom in mid-May.  It’s an experiment that going to be fun to see especially since my craving for springtime wonder will be at its highest!

But for now, everything is tucked away under a thick blanket of snow.

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How about you?  Do you plant spring-flowering bulbs in your garden?  If so, what is your method?  Have you heard of Ms. van der Kloet and her designs before?

 

 

 

 

 

The Fall Garden, Both Fun and Fierce

Much time has passed since my last post on the August garden and during that time subtle changes each day have led to the arrival of –  “The Fall Garden.”

The Fall Garden is both fun and fierce.  There are many joyous events taking place as the end of a long growing season arrives, yet much fierce growth and work is still in process.  For the next few weeks, I’ll be highlighting the fall garden form a fun and fierce perspective.  Join me to see if you can relate to my garden musings during this fabulous season.

One of the more fun things happening now is the ripening and picking of apples. I have two apple trees (Gala and Fuji) and they have been grown in an espalier style for 4-5 years. This year has been a great year of production and loosely counting I will get about 170 apples from the two trees combined.  Yipee! Because there have been years where I only get about 20 apples from the two trees!  Actually, I am learning that it is pretty normal for  apple trees to yield large harvests every other year.  Do you experience this if you grow apples?

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I got my girls out to help do some picking one Sunday morning and they got a bit silly but it was fun!  Notice they could easily reach everything…one of the big benefits to espaliering fruit trees. Easy access to all parts of the tree.

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fallgarden1If you are wondering what the little white things are hanging in the tree they are pheromone traps that can be used to monitor adult coddling moth activity.  Once an adult coddling moth gets stuck in the trap, you know there is activity and can choose a method to prevent the coddling moths from attacking your apples, basically making them filled with worms.  To learn more about apple codling moth and how to protect your apples (or pears) click here.  Overall, I have found it pretty easy to use pheromone traps and then spray spinosad 2-3 times throughout the season (starting when fruits are at least a couple of inches in size)  to effectively control coddling moth.  Of course, using an insecticide is  a serious decision for most home gardeners and I get it if you are opposed to this technique.  To be fair, here is a link to more info about Spinosad as an approved, organic control method in agriculture as well as a link to organic control of codling moths. 

Now for a little fierceness…who is out there growing tomatoes and not in battle with them to save whatever is in their path from being swallowed completely?! This could even be your home if you have a tiny space!  This self-seeded ‘Sungold’ tomato (or parent of a Sungold, since it is a hybrid) found it’s way over to my clematis trellis and has “trellised” itself!

From this –

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To this –  In just a few weeks!

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Yes, the tomato growth is fierce right now in my zone 6 garden. I go out every couple of days and cut back the most offensive new growth while harvesting a good-size bowl of tasty fruits.

fallgarden2This year during ‘tomato overload time’  I’ve decided all I can do is feel lucky to have so many tasty ways to eat them!  I am not stressing about getting them all picked and making batches and batches of spaghetti sauce.  Instead, I am giving some to family and friends and using them nightly in dinner preparation via salads, pasta sauce and a few other tasty recipes.

fallgard3fallgard4 In a few more weeks as freezing temps get close, I may reach the level of spaghetti-sauce making or maybe I’ll just donate to the food bank instead. Hmmm…maybe both.

One more fun event in my fall garden is the heirloom roses  (‘The Impressionist’ and ‘Louise Clements’, both from Heirloom Roses) are finally putting out glorious, long-lasting blooms.  They have a hard time keeping any blooms on (they wither in a day) in the 90-100+ degree days of summer, but as soon as the heat wanes they bring forth some beautiful color that lasts!

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How about you?  What is fun and fierce in your Fall garden?

 

Hot Color In The August Garden

Ooohh, there is hot color in the garden right now! Both blooms and bounty are shades of red, orange and yellow with a measure of plum and violet thrown into the mix.

My garden has been a delight (for the most part) this year. I’ve enjoyed much of the ornamental garden and have a smaller “change order” list than usual for this fall. Of course, I garnered new inspirations over the summer, especially during the Portland Garden Blogger’s Fling, and will be adding and subtracting plants but overall, I like what I see!

Certain insects such as earwigs, aphids and cabbage loopers have been more of a nuisance than usual but I’m thinking this is because there hasn’t been a freeze since March and there’s been a bit more moisture than usual. My suspicion is what makes for a good growing season makes for a good bug season too!

I’ve been away much of the summer so haven’t captured as much of the garden as I would like, but being away and coming back to see the change has been a pleasure. I’ve learned that some areas can get along beautifully without me, while others are in true need of my daily puttering to keep things in order. And, there’s always that batch of summer sprouting weeds that tries to claim King over the land, but I was home just enough to win that war!

The edible garden is booming right now with lots of tomatoes and raspberries to harvest every few days. Pole beans are coming on and all of the red potatoes, carrots and garlic have been harvested. Lots of food pics and maybe some recipes to come…. But for now, enjoy some color during these dog days of summer.

 

The Bounty

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The Blooms

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Kniphofia ‘Ember Glow’

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Hudson Valley Zinnias

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Color in new front garden…

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Gaillardia

 

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Hips of Rosa pomifera

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Unknown Orienpet lily. Not as hot but I still find a warmth in it!

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And, a bit of violet to mix up the palette! This is phlox paniculata ‘Nicky’ paired with some ornamental stakes that I finally placed.

How about you? How has your garden grown this summer? Do you have a favorite plant blooming this August?