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Green Thumb Nursery
May 17, 2012 Newsletter

Green Thumb Nursery

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If you plan to preserve some of your garden's bounty, you may prefer to grow vegetable varieties that will be ready for harvest all at one time. On the other hand, you may prefer processing several small batches rather than making a marathon effort. In this case, reseed or transplant seedlings every two or three weeks for continuous harvests.
 

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Green Thumb Nursery

by Liz Forsyth

Summer is so eagerly looked forward to because of the riches of visual delights it brings.  Not the least of these is the myriad of birds that are drawn to the birdhouses that we’ve erected, and the safe havens our eaves provide for nest-building.  Watching the mating process, the nest building, and eventually the first day of flight are treasures of Nature in which we are allowed to partake.

Just as we need to hydrate during the warm season, so do birds.  One way that we can pay back to Nature is to provide safe and clean drinking and bathing arenas for them.   If you have a deck, this is an ideal place to set a bird bath – particularly if it’s close to a hose for easy daily cleaning.  It will draw birds that are not just visiting your feeders for seed; these include vireos, warblers, orioles, bluebirds, thrushes, buntings, and even more.  Plant gladiolus around your deck and the hummingbirds will be able to eat and drink; there are few greater pleasures than watching these marvelous little birds, especially when they seem suspended in space.

Traditional bird baths consist of a basin on a pedestal, but the available colors, textures, materials and finishes are so varied that you can easily find one consistent with the style of your garden.  Choose one with gradually sloping sides that provides several different depths of water.  Small birds, such as chickadees, need water less than an inch deep while larger birds like robins will bathe in 2 inches of water.   With a solid rim on which to perch, the birds can more easily tip their heads to drink.  But they also need to bathe, which is why we encourage you to have a basin with a slope that will allow for both drinking and bathing.  Why not consider a clamp-on bird bath that attaches to your deck’s railing and has both shallow and deeper areas that accommodate birds of all sizes?  One caveat – glazing may be more attractive to our sensibilities, but it can be a slippery surface, so consider first a bath made of pottery, stone, or cement composition. 

The most important aspect of providing water for our avian friends is that it be clean water in a clean environment.  Do a daily scrubbing on your bird bath, and refill with fresh water.  If there are tough stains, use a very little bleach mixed with water, scrub, and rinse THOROUGHLY before you add the fresh water.  Adding this task to your daily regimen will prevent algae from forming.  And if you’ve placed your bird bath close to your garden hose, it will be even easier to provide safe hydration.

There are so many bird baths from which to choose, that we’ve listed a few of the ones with unique qualities. 

  • Just like children, birds are drawn to the sight and sound of dripping or splashing water.  Dripper bird baths run a tube from the faucet to the dripper with an adjustable valve that enables you to make the drip very slow, thus conserving water while still attracting the birds.
  • Solar fountain bird baths contain a solar panel that circulates the water with a pump.  They are energy efficient, but only functional during hours of bright sunlight.
  • Misting bird baths are a particular favorite of hummingbirds who fly through them to bathe.  If nearby leaves get wet, some birds will bathe by rubbing against them

No matter which kind of bird bath you choose, place it in the open so that its visitors can watch for predators, but also provide landing spots within 10 feet of the bath.  And then feel good about yourself for having made Life in the wild just a little bit easier for your garden’s denizens.

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Garden Pro
Green Thumb Nursery

by Liz Forsyth

Whether we call it xeriscaping or water-wise gardening, the contemporary approach that we take to our gardens has by necessity altered due to the change in weather conditions and the increasing scarcity of water.  Which in an odd way is a positive thing.  It has caused us to re-think our aesthetic and pragmatic gardening practices, leading to a less boxed-in, less rigid visual that not only uses less water, but also less effort to maintain. 

Several years ago I found myself writing about the then-nascent practice of xeriscaping including drought-tolerant plants and natives.  I felt as if I was writing the same article over and over again, and the plants that I introduced into my own garden through my writings were not providing me with quite the satisfactory visual I could “see” in my mind.
Some of the world’s best ideas have developed through a necessity for change, and an instinct to try a different path.  Literally. 

Grass, while providing a beautiful, soft playing field for our little athletes and our larger weekend warriors, can be expensive, time-consuming to maintain, and demanding of water resources that may be in precious supply.  So while I do not advocate that we remove all of our own lawns and replace them with hardscape and drought-tolerant plants, through my own hands-on experiences I have come to realize the extraordinary range of possibilities by combining lawn with other options. 

Our property is very uneven, bordered by a stream that overruns with heavy rains, and which can be challenging to mow, necessitating the use of a power mower, a tractor and a weed whacker.  Exhausting, especially during the lush months when a twice-weekly cut is called for.  So we have begun terracing.  We collect stones from the stream during the dry months, a zen experience in itself.  We let the stones “talk” to us, and those are the ones brought up to form a series of small stone walls buttressing areas of lawn and gardens, and leading to a series of steps.  We use curves instead of straight lines (an echo of Nature), which then create water run-offs that send the rain water not straight through one path in which nothing but mud flourishes, but works rather like an organic sprinkling system.  We use the trees to help guide us in deciding where the next terrace goes; the steps are then flanked with trees, and around the base of the trees I plant ground covers, hostas, and ferns.  These are natural weed reductive plantings.  Before I go any further, I want to remind the gardener that just as chopping is essential to cooking, weeding is an essential part of gardening.  When you plant ground covers and self-sowing plants for the first couple of years, you will need to be vigilant in your weeding.  The pay-off is worth it, and your patience pays off in a very short time.

Just as when skiing the average skier will opt to navigate the hill by wedge turning rather than straight running, creating a series of small slopes contains the growth of plants, the retention of nutrients, and that all-important water absorption and run-off.

So what we have in essence created is a series of small hills.  The planting concepts I shall address below can be enlarged to apply to hillside planting.  One of our Green Thumb friends lives in an area of hills that has a variety of light conditions and heat/cool scenarios; hopefully this will guide him in taking advantage of living in such a beautiful, yet garden-challenging area. 

We always recommend a blend of plants, no matter what the style of your garden.  Different heights and a base of ground covers will hide a myriad of flaws.  At the same time, different foliage will diffuse the rain impacting the slope.  Keep thinking of an organic sprinkler and the way that rain bounces off of an umbrella. 

I always recommend starting with ground covers.  As they root along the stem length, thus forming a mat, they do not need much more than a sprinkling of soil to take root.  They are self-sowing, so a few plants judiciously placed will within a couple of years become a lush carpet of flowers and foliage.  Plant so that you have season-long blooms.  Clumping plants, which produce several stems from one root, will also give you an ever-expanding garden.  Deep-rooted plants are reliable for holding their own on even the steepest of slopes.

This gardener personally loves English ivy, vinca, ajuga, and most especially acre sedum.  These low-growers fill up nicely and quickly, gift with strange, delicately beautiful blossoms, and adjust to a fairly wide variety of sun/shade requirements.  When they get leggy, which they tend to do in mid-summer from the sun and drought, just weed whack them back and within a couple of weeks you’ll have spring-fresh plants!  I have shale hills with practically no soil sporting an array of ground covers.

Do avoid planting shallow-rooted trees as winds and storms can cause toppling.  Instead think in terms of bushes such as buddleia and spirea.  The new dwarfs need little pruning to keep a nice shape, and if your hillside garden is difficult to easily maneuver, incorporating dwarf varieties will cut back on your labors.

Here are some broad-range plant suggestions for hillside and terraced gardens:

For Sun

  • California lilac (Ceanothus spp.)
  • Catmint (Nepeta spp.)
  • Creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis)
  • Forsythia (Forsythia – try “Arnold Dwarf” for small spaces)
  • Little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium)
  • Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)
  • Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium)
  • Rockrose (Cistus spp.)_
  • Rockspray cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis)
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
  • Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
  • Shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa)
  • Snowberry (Symphoricarpos spp.)
  • Star jasmine (Trachelospermum spp.)

For Shade

  • Astilbe (Astilbe spp.)
  • Common periwinkle (Vinca minor)
  • Japanese pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis)
  • Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis; leaves turn yellow in summer; plant with a partner that looks good in summer) – hostas are a fine companion plant
  • Siberian carpet cypress (Microbiota decussata)

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Green Thumb Nursery
by Liz Forsyth

What you’ll need:

  • ¾ cup Italian breadcrumbs
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 8 boneless pork chops, ½ inch thick
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 ½ cups Marsala wine
  • 1 ½ tbsp. butter
  • 2 eight ounce pkgs. Sliced fresh mushrooms
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Step by Step:

  1. Stir together breadcrumbs, flour, Parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste; coast chops with breadcrumb mixture.
  2. Heat oil in a large skillet; add chops and brown in batches over medium-high heat, 3 to 5 minutes per side or until done.  Remove chops; keep warm.  Reserve drippings in skillet.
  3. Add wine and butter to skillet, scraping up browned bits.  Add mushrooms; bring to boiling, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes or until mushrooms are tender.  Spoon over chops.  Sprinkle with parsley, top with additional freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and serve.

Serves 8
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes

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