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Dogs – Now and Then

April 9, 2011 Columns, Poetry of Hugo E. DeSarro Comments Off

From Baghdad with Love is the story of an extraordinary dog and how he changed the life of Marine Lt. Col. Jay Kopelman. Publicity photo.

An essay by Hugo E. DeSarro

The behavior of dogs has improved over the years.  They are less aggressive toward other dogs and less hostile toward strangers.  They are more obedient.  It isn’t because the dogs of today have more intelligence than the dogs of yesterday.  It’s because dogs (and other pets) are better treated today.

There was a time, not many years ago, when dogs were tied in the yard and stayed there for most of the day.  Sometimes they were brought in at night and during inclement weather.

Some dogs were kept outside day and night.  They slept in doghouses.  They had little contact with the family and little or no contact with other people and other dogs.  They lived their lives in the yard.  Their only contact with the family was at feeding time when food was brought out to them.  It was animal cruelty.

The treatment of dogs and other pets improved with the boomer generation.  Baby boomers treat their pets more humanely than earlier generations.  They keep them indoors and give them the run of the house.  They take them for walks and demonstrate more affection for them.  Many take their dogs with them wherever they go.

When I was young and lived in Hartford, dog fights were frequent.  Dogs were frustrated and defensive.  They chased cats and often shook them to death when they caught them.  The dogs were treated brutally and developed brutal dispositions, as a result.  There were exceptions, of course; families that treated their dogs and other pets decently.

Today, most dogs are friendly.  They seldom fight.  They are friendly with other dogs and no longer instinctively chase cats.

They are intelligent and easily trained and they perform valuable duties.  They lead the blind and are companions to the elderly and the handicapped.

They work with policemen and firemen and save lives.  They sniff out drugs and serve in the military in war time.  Above all, they are affectionate and trustworthy companions

Talk to your dog.  They listen to you.  Like children, they want to learn and to please you.  They are eager and interested in what is going on.  They make wonderful lifetime friends and companions.

Posted April 9, 2011

Editor’s note: If you enjoyed Mr. DeSarro’s essay, you may enjoy these three related links.

Soul of a Dog by Jon Katz http://www.bedlamfarm.com/bedlam_books.asp

From Baghdad with Love, by Lt. Col. Jay Kopelman http://www.bookreporter.com/reviews2/1592289800.asp

NorthStar Foundation – dogs for children with autism, based in Storrs CT http://www.northstardogs.com

Have a news item or event (or an essay?) you’d like posted on this news site? Simply send your information to editor@htnp.com and include your town in the subject line of your email. Please also include a phone number where you can be reached if there are questions.

Companion planting – a little help from their friends

June 20, 2010 Areawide, Gardening with Cheryl Comments Off

Combining flowers in vegetable garden looks nice and can benefit plants by deterring insects or attracting pollinators.

Combining flowers in vegetable garden looks nice and can benefit plants by deterring insects or attracting pollinators.

Almost every home gardener has heard claims of aromatic plant species repelling insects and that some plant associations are more compatible than others.

By using certain plant-insect relationships, it may be possible to minimize their chances of attack by insect pests.

Some believe that less pest damage will occur in gardens containing a variety of plant types because the multitudes of stimuli produced by mixtures of plants may cause the insect to become disoriented, and disrupt its feeding and breeding cycles.

From a scientific viewpoint, not very much is known about these interactions, although the underlying premise is sound from an ecological perspective.

What is “companion planting”?

Companion planting refers to the interplanting of two or more plant species in close proximity. These may be vegetables, annual flowers, herbs or perennials.

Companion planting attempts to mimic the diversification found in nature, which for the most part, creates a balance of insect and plant populations.

It is commonly thought that there are at least five ways in which one plant can influence a neighboring plant.

  • It can attract insect pests away from their target,
  • it can repel animal or insect pests,
  • it can interfere with the growth of an adjacent plant by out-competiting it for light, nutrients or water,
  • it may attract beneficial insects which can control pest insects,
  • and it can improve the health (and some say flavor) of nearby plants.

The most familiar concept in companion planting is the use of aromatic plants such as herbs and marigolds. These are interplanted with a specific crop in an effort to offer it some protection from insect pests. For instance:

  • summer savory when interplanted with beans is said to deter Mexican bean beetles.
  • Hyssop, thyme and members of the mint family reportedly discourage the white cabbage butterfly from laying eggs on broccoli, cabbage and other brassicas.
  • Calendulas are thought to repel asparagus beetles and tomato hornworms.
  • Horseradish is reputed to be an effective deterrent to Colorado potato beetles
  • and probably everyone has heard that certain marigold species can reduce nematode populations. There is even a marigold cultivar called ‘Nemagone’.

Vegetables can also be interplanted with each other.

Planting potatoes next to squash hills is supposed to eliminate squash bugs.

Tomatoes in your asparagus bed are said to foil asparagus beetles and members of the onion family are thought to discourage the carrot rust fly.

Also, during the heat of summer, vegetables that like cooler temperatures, such as lettuce, could be planted in the shade of taller corn or pole beans.

What is “alleleopathy”?

Scientists have also known for years that some plants have alleleopathic abilities. Alleleopathy is the process by which a plant produces certain chemicals that can affect, usually in a negative way, the growth of another plant.

The classic example of this is the black walnut tree that produces the compound juglone. Few plants can grow under a black walnut tree and it is thought that the juglone is largely responsible.

These same types of compounds, however, may render your plants less palatable to hungry insects or animal pests. For example, while no plant is 100 percent immune to deer feeding, they usually stay away from aromatic, silver-leaved plants such as artemesias.

Another facet of companion planting involves the use of plants that attract beneficial insects.

Many of our flowering native wildflowers provide food and shelter for beneficial insects such as:

  • parasitic wasps,
  • predatory beetles,
  • flies
  • and mites

Low growing ground covers, for example, provide a home for ground beetles and spiders that feed on slugs, aphids and caterpillars.

Other plants such as fennel, coriander, dill, anise, caraway, lovage and daisies serve as host plants for beneficial insects such as parasitic wasps. These tiny creatures can effectively control the larval stages of various insect pests.

Trial and error

Although scientifically developed guidelines for companion plantings are lacking, this does not mean it is not worth a try. The key to successful companion planting, as with so many other aspects of gardening, appears to be experimentation.

Try pairing some plants and see what the results are.

Also, now that you know more about how plants affect each other, when you are looking into why a plant is failing miserably in a certain area, consider its neighbors, as well as cultural and pest problems.

If you have more questions on companion planting or on other home or garden topics, call toll-free, at (877) 486-6271, and visit our Web site at www.ladybug.uconn.edu Or contact your local Cooperative Extension Center.

Posted June 20, 2010

A tour of the 2010 CT Flower & Garden Show

March 6, 2010 Columns, Gardening with Cheryl Comments Off
ct-flower-show-063-htnp

StoneBridge Craftsmen Exhibit. All photos © Cheryl Pedemonti.

The Connecticut Convention Center was transformed into a spring playground for gardeners during the 29th annual Connecticut Flower and Garden Show in downtown Hartford.

The show, which was held on February 18 to 21, included award-winning landscape exhibits, a standard flower show, gardening seminars and a slew of garden-related vendors.

I look forward to attending the show because it’s a nice break from winter and it gets me thinking about gardening again.

There is something magical about walking into the Convention Center and seeing flowers in bloom on a cold winter day. I think this winter was exceptionally gray and dreary, so attending the flower show was an uplifting experience in more ways than one.

“Spice of Life” Standard Flower Show

"Titillating Tango"

"Titillating Tango"

The Federated Garden Clubs of Connecticut, Inc. put a great deal of work into creating horticultural exhibits and floral arrangements. The 2010 theme for the flower show was the “Spice of Life.”

Talented gardeners from garden clubs throughout the state entered their floral arrangements and other horticulture displays.  There was something for everyone, including natural arrangements made from flowers, fruit and fabric.

There were also some rather unusual arrangements, including a pair of mannequin legs covered in black fishnet stockings with bright red flowers. It reminded me of the lamp in the Christmas Story movie. Take a look at that photo!

Award-winning landscape exhibits

Rooftop garden by Prides Corner Nursery

Rooftop garden by Prides Corner Nursery

In addition to the flower show provided by the Federated Garden Club, there were amazing landscape exhibits created by local landscape companies.

My favorite part of the flower and garden show are these exhibits.  I give all of the contractors a big thumbs up for the amount of preparation and physical labor that goes into creating these temporary exhibits. No detail is overlooked.

The exhibits included structures, patios, fire pits, water features, retaining walls, specimen trees, flowering shrubs and masses of bulbs forced into bloom for this winter spectacle.

As a landscape designer, I enjoy observing the details that make each landscape exhibit stand out from the next one.

Something for everyone

Supreme Landscapes Exhibit

Supreme Landscapes Exhibit

Awards are given to the landscape exhibits based on best use of color, texture, plants, stone work, water, structures and other criteria.

Every exhibit included something that caught my eye, such as the heart shaped paver insert in front of the stone fireplace by Supreme Landscapes or the red cushioned chairs in the rooftop garden display by Pride’s Corner Nursery.

Pondering Creations is famous for their stone mosaics and they brought back the amber colored globes from last year that help to light up their water display.

The display by Hillside Nursery included an outdoor bar, complete with granite countertop and television – but it was a pair of mature Swiss Stone Pine trees in their display that captured my heart.

Lawncare, Etc. Exhibit

Lawncare, Etc. Exhibit

Lawncare, Etc. had an ambitious exhibit with a hillside planting complete with retaining wall, paver patio, water garden, lush turf and a covered dining area.

As you can see in the photo to the left, there was no shortage of daffodils, tulips and azaleas in full bloom at the Convention Center.

Lights, cameras, action!

Aquascapes of Connecticut Exhibit

Aquascapes of Connecticut Exhibit

Many visitors at the show were enchanted by the colorful light display coming from the water fountain in one of the exhibits by Aquascapes of Connecticut. The fountain changed colors and was synchronized with music.

I was more intrigued, however, with their exceptional use of landscape lighting against a garden shed and throughout the surrounding garden area that included a picnic pavilion.

Their exhibit included two espaliered Japanese Maple trees that were an excellent use of specimen trees.

Aquascapes of Connecticut exhibit

Aquascapes of Connecticut exhibit

Aquascapes was an adventurous contractor this year and set up a second exhibit. It was a large circular exhibit with a small sailboat docked on the edge of a pond which included a carved stone waterfall.

A white gazebo stood off to one side and was surrounded by a lush planting of rhododendrons and evergreens. This free-standing exhibit was surrounded by large logs, which added a unique “edging” to the landscape design.

And the award goes to…

My personal choice for the best exhibit this year goes to an Italian-inspired design built by StoneBridge Craftsmen (see the photo at beginning of this column).

They created a fascinating design complete with a stone archway that was draped with red roses.  The archway beckoned you into a pleasing landscape of soft green turf and a smooth sandstone patio with a table set for two.

The backdrop was a stucco house painted white, then aged by applying stain with a brush. The house had a red door and red window boxes that would have made my Italian father-in-law feel like he was back home.

A mix of evergreens and flowering shrubs gave the exhibit a splash of color.  And a circular stone pool repeated the curves that were used throughout the entire design.

In the center of the pool was a fountain with water bubbling out of the top of stacked stones. The sound of splashing water enhanced the peaceful feeling of this landscape.

If it hadn’t been for the signs warning visitors to keep off the display, I could have easily made my way over to the table and chairs to enjoy a glass of vino in this Tuscan village.

Shop ’til you drop

One of the seasonal items for sale

One of the seasonal items for sale

When I had finished admiring the landscape exhibits and horticultural offerings by the garden club, I couldn’t help but “walk the gauntlet” between rows of vendors.  There are hundreds of vendors who fill up the nearly 3 acres of display space within the Convention Center.

I saw garden tools, tractors and a shed to store it all in.

Then, I perused the hats, gloves, T-shirts, birdhouses, wreaths, garden decorations, fences, gazebos and hot tubs.

There was every type of plant available, including flowering houseplants, forced branches of pussy willow and forsythias, orchids and some amazing bonsai specimens.

If you were not interested in the above vendors, you could shop for food, candy, herbs, lotion, soap, jewelry, paintings, photography and everything else gardening-related you could think of.

Starry flowers on Witchhazel

Starry flowers on Witchhazel

During my adventure through the vendor section, I purchased a garden dibber, a black-red double flowered peony for my garden collection and a glass wall hanging of preserved butterflies in every iridescent color you could imagine (the butterflies died of natural causes and the proceeds were donated to save the rain forest).

Schedule for next year…

If you haven’t seen the CT Flower and Garden Show in the past few years, I would recommend that you put it on your calendar for next winter.  It offers plenty of inspiration for your own garden and it’s a great escape from the cold, gray days of winter. Spring is just weeks away and I am looking forward to getting out into the garden once again!

Posted March 6, 2010

Dietters Water Gardens - A colorful display using plants and ceramic water fountains.

Dietters Water Gardens - A colorful display using plants and ceramic water fountains.

Autumn branch

September 21, 2009 Columns, Poetry of Hugo E. DeSarro Comments Off

yellow-leaf-cropFrom the upstairs window,

the branch hangs in full view.

A slender, slanting branch

with fragile, yellow leaves,

centered in the window frame,

it floats lighter than air

and catches my attention

each time I glance that way.

It is only a branch

like other branches

colored by the chill of autumn;

but sometimes when the air is still

and bright with sunlight,

I see it with a start.

It is so delicately made,

so balanced and precise in every part,

I feel strange trepidation

and wonder, is it there by chance ?

- Hugo E. DeSarro

Published Sept. 21, 2009

The fine art of weeding

May 10, 2009 Gardening with Cheryl Comments Off
A rogue weed amongst the Threadleaf Coreopsis ('Zagreb' C. verticillata). Photo © by Cheryl Pedemonti for HTNP.com

A rogue weed amongst the Threadleaf Coreopsis ('Zagreb' C. verticillata). Photo © by Cheryl Pedemonti for HTNP.com ----------

May is such a glorious month to be in the garden. The leaves start to unfurl on the trees and deciduous shrubs create interesting patterns. Lawn grass turns emerald green. The birds welcome the morning with a variety of songs. Pastel blooms look cheery even on those rainy spring days.

Aside from all the splendor happening in the garden right now, there is something lurking there that will become a monster, if not put into its place. We are talking about weeds!

Weed Now, Play Later

If you overlook the weeds now while enjoying the bountiful blooms in your garden, you will have double the work trying to remove the weeds from your garden at a later date.

The longer you wait to pull out the weeds, the deeper the roots will dive into the soil. Instead of the slight tug on the stem it takes now to remove the weed, you will be digging out the roots with a trowel later.

And take advantage of the rainy spring days that we are experiencing, because weeds are much easier to pull out when the soil is moist.

Dandelion seeds.

Dandelion seeds.

The other reason to pull out weeds during their spring season infancy is to prevent the weed from making flowers that will then produce seeds. Once the weed has set seeds, it has increased its presence in the garden 100 times or more! Think of those wispy dandelion puff balls that we blew upon as kids – and as they wafted away on the breeze, they scattered their seeds far and wide.

Please know that I don’t enjoy pulling weeds in my garden any more than other gardeners, but there is no way I want the weeds to get the upper hand and multiply in my garden.

Pre-Emergent Herbicides

If you really want to prevent weeds from sprouting in your garden, you should apply what’s called a pre-emergent weed preventative – and the rule of thumb for when to do this is  before forsythia flowers drop from the shrubs.

Weeding tools, such as this knife, gardening gloves and a kneeling pad make the task a little easier. Photo courtesy of The Country Gardener.

Weeding tools, such as this knife, gardening gloves and a kneeling pad make the task a little easier. Photo courtesy of The Country Gardener.

Preen is a popular name brand that you may have seen in the garden center. This herbicide will not eliminate existing weeds in the garden, but it will prevent any new weed seeds from germinating.

Keep in mind that a pre-emergent herbicide will also prevent all other seeds from germinating where it is applied.  So, you should not apply it to your garden if you have self-sowing annual flowers that you want to keep coming up in your garden from year to year.

The same is true if you have biennial flowers such as foxglove and hollyhock, which return to the garden every other year by sowing new seedlings.

And do not use pre-emergent herbicide when starting a new lawn by seed.

Post-Emergent Herbicides

So what do you do if you didn’t use a pre-emergent herbicide? You’ve got to get down on your hands and knees and start pulling the weeds out by hand, unless you favor the use of post-emergent herbicides.

But be careful when using herbicides to kill weeds because the chemicals may also harm your ornamental plants. Read the label carefully to see if any of the ornamental plants in your garden will be affected by the herbicide.

A variety of weeds you may have spotted in your lawn. Photo courtesy of Western College.

A variety of weeds you may have spotted in your lawn. Photo courtesy of Western College.

Beware non-selective herbicides such as Round-Up, because they will kill any green plant matter that the spray touches.  “Non-selective” means it will kill grass, flowers and weeds. In other words, it doesn’t have a chemical preparation to selectively kill weeds only.

You can look for herbicides that can be used on the lawn that are formulated to kill broadleaf weeds only, but it becomes a bit trickier when using these herbicides in the flower bed or mixed border. The term “broadleaf weeds” may include some of your prized flowers!

Weeding the Old-Fashioned Way

I practice organic methods in my garden, which means I pull weeds the old-fashioned way. I like to go out to the garden and pull weeds after a tough day of work.

Even though weeding is not my favorite chore in the garden, I have to admit it has a therapeutic side effect. If you are angry or tired, go pull weeds for an hour or two and see how calm you feel afterwards.

Get yourself a padded cushion to kneel on to protect your knees. If you have a problem kneeling in the garden, you can invest in one of the small garden scooters that roll around on wheels.

Have a small trowel in hand so you can loosen the deep roots of dandelions or other persistent weeds.

Watch for tiny seedlings of flowers that may have self-sowed in your garden. Only pull them if they have sprouted in an area where they are unwanted.

Keep Out the Grass

Be especially vigilant to keep creeping grass roots out of the flower beds. If you let grass overtake a garden, it will become very difficult to clean up around the flowers.

If you did not stay on top of removing grass from your flower beds for the past few years and the bed is now overtaken by the grass, you will need to lift the clumps of flowers from the bed. Then remove all grass roots that have tangled up between the stems and roots of the desired plant. Remove any remaining grass and roots from the garden bed before replanting the cleaned up flowers.

Make sure you edge the beds on a yearly basis to prevent the grass roots from creeping into the flower beds.

Preventive Measures

Keep in mind that weeds need sunlight to germinate. If you apply a thin layer of mulch to the soil, it will help to suppress the weeds. Mulch can consist of shredded hardwood or composted (and shredded) leaves or pine needles.

If you keep your garden tightly planted with desirable ornamental plants, this will also help to shade the ground and suppress the growth of weeds.

So get out there now and start pulling those baby weeds before they grow into big bad monsters that want to take over the flower bed!

[Editor's note: Cheryl's upcoming columns will feature plant profiles so you can get out to the garden center and start looking for new and unusual shrubs, ornamental grasses and flowers.  If you have questions for Cheryl, please post a comment on this story.]

Home-Schooling: Current trends and information you can use!

April 11, 2009 Columns Comments Off
Ruth Alumbaugh

Ruth Alumbaugh ----------

Our editor asked us to do a column about some of the trends in home-schooling, why people choose to home-school, and what are some of the advantages.

We went onto a couple of websites such as www.nheri.org (National Home Education Research Institutes), www.hslda.org (Home School Legal Defense Association), and also used a presentation that students at Eastern Connecticut State University did about home-schooling.  This project was done with our cooperation and resource provision!

We have a few bullet points that we think you will find interesting – and maybe shocking.  Try these on for size…

*There are about 2 million home-educated students in the U.S.  There were an estimated 1.8-2.5 million children (grades K-12) home-educated during 2007-2008 in the U.S.

*The home-school population is growing at a rate of 5%-12% per annum over the past few years.

*About 15% of the families who home-school are non-white/Hispanic.

Home-educated children typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public school students on standardized academic achievement tests.

Home-educated children typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public school students on standardized academic achievement tests.

*A wide variety of people/groups home-school; atheists, Christians, Mormons, conservatives, libertarians and liberals; low-, middle- and high-income families; Hispanic, and white; parents with Ph.D.s, GEDs and no high-school diplomas.

*Most common reasons given for home-schooling include the following:

  • customization/individualization of curriculum to cater to a child’s learning style,
  • can accomplish more academically than in schools,
  • to enhance family relationship between children and parents and among siblings,
  • providing a safe learning environment,
  • and the opportunity to impart a particular set of values, beliefs and worldview to children and youth.

*Home-educated children typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public school students on standardized academic achievement tests.  They also score above average on the SAT and ACT tests that colleges consider for admissions.

Adults who were home-educated participate in local community service, vote and attend public meetings, and go to and succeed at college at a higher rate than does the general population

Adults who were home-educated participate in local community service, vote and attend public meetings, and go to and succeed at college at a higher rate than does the general population

*Some think that boys’ energetic natures and tendency to physical expression can more easily be accommodated in home-based education. Many are concerned that a highly disproportionate number of public school special-education students are boys, and that boys are 2.5 times as likely as girls in public schools to be diagnosed with ADHD.

*Adults who are home-educated participate in local community service, vote and attend public meetings, and go to and succeed at college at a higher rate than does the general population.

*Home-educators and their families are not dependent on public, tax-funded resources.  In the state of Oregon alone, they saved taxpayers at least $61 million dollars per year!

*Home-educated children are more mature and better socialized than are those sent to school.

Some think that boys’ energetic natures and tendency to physical expression can more easily be accommodated in home-based education.

Some think that boys’ energetic natures and tendency to physical expression can more easily be accommodated in home-based education.

*A doctor at the University of Michigan explored adults who were home-educated and found that none were unemployed and none were on welfare.  I wonder how much money this saves the taxpayer each year!

Home-schooling is a great opportunity to sow into the lives of our children.  I personally quit my day job to home-school.  In a nutshell, it’s a lifestyle, not just something I do or my husband does a few hours a day. With all of the advantages, we are convinced that we are doing the right thing for our children/students.

Posted April 11, 2009

Early spring: what to do now in the garden

April 4, 2009 Gardening with Cheryl Comments Off

crocus Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti for HTNP.com

Crocus are a good sign that spring in Connecticut is finally on its way. Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti for HTNP.com ———-

Spring offers eternal hope to the gardener each year.  After surviving another cold and dreary winter, the garden always amazes me when I see the green shoots of daffodil foliage begin to poke their heads through the cold ground.  Snowdrops and crocus are already blooming and give us our first dose of color in the garden.  I love the early morning song from the birds and enjoy watching their activity as they flit excitedly from the trees and shrubs or scratch around in the garden beds.

With this early spring activity in mind, I wrote my garden column thinking of ways to help you jump-start your own spring celebration in the garden.

Forcing Spring Blooms Indoors

One of the easiest ways to celebrate Spring is to force branches of forsythia into bloom, right now.  It is quite simple to do and once the branches are brought into the warmth of the house, the buds will begin to swell in a week or so.

One way to bring early spring into your home is to force some Forsythia into bloom. Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti for HTNP.com

One way to bring early spring into your home is to force some forsythia into bloom. Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti for HTNP.com

I like to fill a tall ceramic pitcher with ten or more stems of forsythia and watch with anticipation as the green buds open to bright, cheery, yellow flowers on my kitchen counter.

When you start clipping the branches for forcing, keep the shape of the forsythia shrub in mind and make well thought out cuts.

Young thin stems will have the most flower buds, so I will start by cutting off some of the longest whips.  Then I will look for some of the older branches that have crossed into the center of the shrub and will cut a few of these to be forced.

You may have read or heard that you need to smash the ends of the stems with a hammer before placing them in water, but it’s not necessary. Once the stems are cut, immediately place them into water and keep the branches in a cool location.  After 5-7 days, you can move the container of stems into the living space of the home to enjoy the bright blooms.


Forsythia is one of the easiest shrubs to force into bloom so I recommend starting with this one – but if you are brave , you might try forcing stems from ornamental trees such as Cherry, Dogwood or Bradford pear.  Count back six weeks from their usual bloom time, and this is the ideal time to force the branches into early bloom.

Tread Lightly on the Soil

With the recent warm weather, you might be tempted to head out to the garden and start working the soil.  It’s still a bit early for that and your soil structure will be healthier if you wait another 2 weeks. The soil needs to completely thaw and ease back into place as the days grow longer and warmer.

Greenery begins to push up from through last fall's leaves. Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti for HTNP.com

Greenery begins to push up through last fall’s leaves. Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti for HTNP.com

If you step into your garden now, be it a flower bed or vegetable garden, you will compress the soil and compact the layers.  Stay on the paths or step lightly in the garden for now and your plants will do much better when their roots begin to awaken and start growing.

Cut Back Ornamental Grasses

One thing you can do in the garden is to cut back any ornamental grasses that were left intact for winter interest.

If the clump of grass is large, the easiest way to perform this task is to tie rope or heavy twine around the center of the grass.  Use an electric hedge trimmer to cut the grass at the base of the clump.  The entire clump will stay together and can be easily carried to the compost pile.

For smaller clumps of grass such as Blue Fescue or Fountain Grass, I use my manual hedge trimmers and clip away at the clump.

Cutting back ornamental grasses now is one less garden chore in the busy weeks to come. Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti for HTNP.com

Cutting back ornamental grasses now is one less garden chore for the busy weeks to come. Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti for HTNP.com

For taller grasses, I leave a 4-6″ high base of grass and for smaller grasses, I leave a 2-3″ high base of grass.

Rake out any leaves that might be stuck within the remaining clump of grass.

The ornamental grass won’t put out new growth for another few weeks, but this will be one less garden chore to do in the coming weeks.

Prune Summer Blooming Shrubs

Another pruning chore you can do right now includes cutting back the summer blooming shrubs such as Hypericum (St. Johnswort), Potentilla, PeeGee Hydrangea, Bumald Spirea and Japanese Spirea.

Don’t prune your roses until the Forsythia shrubs are in bloom.

I don’t heavily prune Butterfly Bushes, Japanese Beautyberry or the Bluemist Shrub until I see the buds start to push out new growth.  The same goes for woody perennials such as Russian Sage.

We still have danger of heavy frost or late spring freezes and if you cut these stems too severely right now, you may not have anything left if they are damaged in early spring.

Deadhead daffodils when the blooms die but leave the foliage to feed the bulbs for next year's blooms. Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti for HTNP.com

Deadhead daffodils when the blooms die but leave the foliage to feed the bulbs for next year’s blooms. Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti for HTNP.com

You can remove some of the top growth to get rid of the dead stems or lanky growth, but wait another couple of weeks to cut them back completely.

Deadhead Daffodils and Tulips

When your daffodils and tulips are done blooming in April, you should promptly remove the spent flower bud so the bulb does not waste energy producing seeds.

Remove the flower head but keep the stem and leaves intact to feed the bulb.  Don’t remove the leaves until they turn completely brown.  If the bulb is not allowed to feed itself properly, you run the risk of having no flowers the following spring.  You can also apply a bit of bulb fertilizer to the soil now and this will help to feed the bulb for next spring’s show.

The smaller bulbs such as Crocus, Snowdrops, Grape Hyacinths, and similar don’t need to deadheaded as they easily go to seed and will multiply in your garden year after year.

Chionodoxa bulbs after a rain shower. Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti for HTNP.com

Chionodoxa bulbs after a rain shower. Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti for HTNP.com

Do take stock of your garden right now and make note of the areas that could use some early color in the spring from bulbs.

Bulbs are planted in the fall, so you tend to forget about the lack of spring color.  That’s why I make my “bulb planting list” in the spring.  Taking photos this time of year will also be a good reference for areas that need bulbs planted in the fall.

I really like using the small bulbs as a carpet under the deciduous shrubs, as they get plenty of sun before these shrubs leaf out.  And when the shrubs leaf out, you barely notice the shriveling foliage on these tiny bulbs.  It is a perfect plant combination to give your garden color in every season.

Rake Up The Leaves

It’s safe to remove any leaves that may have collected in the garden beds, but I usually do this on an overcast day.  The foliage that was buried under the leaves may be tender and a bit yellow from the leaf cover and will need to be protected from bright sunlight. A recent weekend was perfect due to the cloud cover on Saturday and the misty weather on Sunday.

Don’t apply new mulch to your beds just yet, as the soil is just starting to warm up.  Mulch applied to the soil now will hold in the cold and delay your spring bloomers.  I like to wait until I have finished all my pruning and cutting back of spent perennial foliage before I place new mulch in the garden.

Watch for my next article, which will include information about early spring blooming perennials.  And if you have any questions or suggestions for future columns, send them to me in an email addressed to multiphaseconst@comcast.net

Posted April 4, 2009

2009 CT Flower & Garden Show: a spring break in full bloom

February 22, 2009 Gardening with Cheryl Comments Off

Hillside Landscaping - inspired by a trip to Pikes Peak in 1893 when Katharine Bates penned the lyrics to "America the Beautiful"  - display of natural stone and rock outcroppings. Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti.

Hillside Landscaping - inspired by a trip to Pikes Peak in 1893 when Katharine Bates penned the lyrics to "America the Beautiful" - display of natural stone and rock outcroppings. Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti.

The Connecticut Flower and Garden Show, which ran from Feb. 19-22,  couldn’t have arrived at a better time. The month of January was icy and bitterly cold, and February hasn’t been much better, with the groundhog predicting six more weeks of winter.

This year’s 28th annual flower show was a breath of fresh spring air. The minute I walked through the doors of the Convention Center in Hartford, I felt the weight of winter lift from my shoulders. Visions of spring lay out in front of me with daffodils, tulips and rhododendrons in full bloom! With my camera in hand, I took off to discover the wonderful landscape exhibits that welcomed my weary soul.

‘America the Beautiful’

In keeping with the “America the Beautiful” theme for this year’s show, many of the landscape exhibits included the American flag or used red, white and blue in their designs.

Supreme Landscapes - a colonial New England setting with a rustic dwelling. Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti.

Supreme Landscapes - a colonial New England setting with a rustic dwelling. Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti.

The variety of landscapes represented America’s heritage throughout the years. A log cabin reminiscent of Abe Lincoln was included in one display. The Old Glory flag from 1776 was included in an urban garden exhibit. Earth friendly exhibits mingled with the historic displays.

The Connecticut Horticultural Society’s display demonstrated the contrast between a neglected city building and one that had been renewed with earth-friendly materials and flowers.

Federated Garden Club - herb garden display for the "Happy Days" division Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti.

Federated Garden Club - herb garden display for the "Happy Days" division Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti.

Many exhibiters were keen to educate the homeowner about the importance of using native plants but also avoiding the use of invasive species that harm our wetlands and forests.

The secondary theme represented in the landscape exhibits demonstrated how important it is to make the landscape an extension of the home.

Most exhibits included a stone or paver patio with a fire pit or outdoor fireplace and a water feature placed nearby. A pergola or gazebo created an area to take cover from the sun. Retaining walls or boulder-strewn berms were used to show off landscaping or to create terraced areas for structures within the exhibits.

StoneBridge Craftsmen - recreation of an 18th century farmhouse with herb garden. Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti.

StoneBridge Craftsmen - recreation of an 18th century farmhouse with herb garden. Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti.

From a behind-the-scenes observation as a landscaper myself, I could also appreciate the physical work that went into building these incredible exhibits; most of the landscapers I spoke with said it took them four to five days to build their exhibits.

And as a designer, I can tell you that many hours of planning took place before these gardens were built under the roof of the Convention Center. Let’s not forget the time it took to force the trees, shrubs, and flowers into bloom and add unseasonable color to these displays.

Award-winning landscape exhibits

Although every landscape exhibit included in the garden show was amazing, I did have two favorite displays.

One exhibit was inspired by Katharine Bates’ trip to Pike’s Peak and featured natural stone retaining walls and rock outcroppings. The large display also featured a white pergola on a raised stone patio. Rocking chairs placed on the patio underneath the pergola offered a place to sit and relax while looking down onto a secondary bluestone patio with a fire pit and dining area.

Shoreline Stone Supply - exhibit of pavers and retaining wall - a really nice design with a large patio as an outdoor dining area. Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti.

Shoreline Stone Supply - exhibit of pavers and retaining wall - a really nice design with a large patio as an outdoor dining area. Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti.

The exhibit included large trees and evergreen specimens, rhododendrons, azaleas and winterberry placed among rock outcroppings on large berms.

A Dawn Redwood tree caught my attention, due to its bright green emerging foliage that glowed beneath the spotlights. White and red tulips were planted along the edge of the exhibit and echoed the colors of the pergola and winterberry. This display was clearly a favorite of the judges and its awards included “Best Horticulture,” “Best Cultural Perfection” and “Best Outdoor Living Space.”

My second favorite exhibit was a recreation of an 18th Century farmhouse depicting life during simple times.

This patriotic display included a white clapboard home with a blue door and red curtains in the windows. The house was set atop a stone retaining wall with a brick sidewalk and granite steps leading up to the brightly colored door where the American flag was proudly displayed. An herb garden was located to the left side of the cottage, and it included a star pattern created with cut bluestone in the center of the herbs. White wicker furniture was set up on the lawn for enjoying the sights and scents of the herb garden.

Dietters Water Gardens - 100% native plant material in their display - koi fish were in the pond and the patio and bench looked over the pond.  Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti

Dietters Water Gardens - 100% native plant material in their display - koi fish were in the pond and the patio and bench looked over the pond. Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti

Information available for gardeners

Seminars are one of the reasons that gardeners pay the $14 admission to enter the doors of the flower show. Well-known presenters this year included Tovah Martin, Roger Swain [of the PBS Victory Garden], Heather Poire, Virginia Small and Sydney Eddison.

There were many other knowledgeable presenters who spoke on a wide variety of topics such as garden design and maintenance, plant choices and landscape construction techniques.

The Connecticut Green Industries display included a stepping stone path leading between our native trees, shrubs and flowers. A representative handed out the CT Garden & Landscape Trail brochure that maps directions to nurseries, garden centers, greenhouses and landscapers found in our state. If you would like more information, call 800-562-0610 or visit www.CTGardenTrail.com for a copy of the brochure.

Pondering Creations - exhibit featured natural stone including custom mosaics built from stone, pond, fountain, stone patio, and naturalistic plantings to attract birds Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti.

Pondering Creations - exhibit featured natural stone including custom mosaics built from stone, pond, fountain, stone patio, and naturalistic plantings to attract birds Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti.

Right next door, was a native plant display by Pride’s Corner, a wholesale nursery located in Lebanon. I shared an interesting chat with Ben Zotter and Len Giddix about the organic pre-emergent herbicides available to gardeners.

I had known that corn gluten was an earth-friendly weed preventative, but Len educated me about the fact that the mixture must include the proper ratio of nitrogen. It is the bacterial by-product that creates the pre-emergent herbicide and I was told the product should be applied to the garden bed while the forsythia is in bloom. It can even be applied at this time of year, if your garden bed is not hidden by snow!

They recommend using a product by Jonathan’s Green Organics, if you want to give it a try. Preen also has an organic product, if you have used this product in the past. By the way, Len is one of the speakers on the WTIC 1080 radio show called “Garden Talk with Len and Lisa.”

Advanced-Standard Flower Show

The Federated Garden Clubs of Connecticut is an integral part of the flower and garden show each year. Members from garden clubs across Connecticut display their creative talents in the form of floral arrangements, from large displays using unusual material to miniature displays within a box.

Beautiful table settings are on display; mailboxes and birdhouses are decorated; bulbs are forced into bloom; and every type of horticulture is exhibited including cacti, herbs, flowers and evergreens.

CT Horticulture Society - Make America Beautiful - neglect vs. renewal in the cityscape. Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti.

CT Horticulture Society - Make America Beautiful - neglect vs. renewal in the cityscape. Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti.

“Of Thee I Sing” was this year’s flower show theme, as a celebration of our great country and its horticultural diversity.

The garden club members also volunteer their time as judges and hostesses, and sell books during the show.

Something for everyone

The garden show offers something of interest for everyone. There are numerous small vendors and artists who sell plants, birdhouses, paintings, jewelry, tools, and anything else related to gardening or horticulture.

Landscapers have displays to sell their services, and large vendors hawk their hot tubs, gazebos, garden sheds, outdoor kitchen appliances, fireplaces and fire pits.

The vendor area can be a bit overwhelming and crowded during busy times, but most people come back year-after-year to find something new for their garden. You are guaranteed to walk away, carrying something under your arm by the end of the day. I found a watercolor painting of a wren with violets, a bronze pig statue, and an unusual houseplant with purple foliage.

The highlight of my day came when I saw a young girl taking a photo of a statue in an herb garden. When I asked her why she liked it so much she said, “My poppy is in the garden.”  I was a bit confused, because there were no poppy flowers in the garden. As I stood up, I saw her proud grandfather standing there with an ear-to-ear grin that was priceless. Her “poppy” was the artist who had created the beautiful statue that we both were admiring!

AquaScapes of CT exhibit - America the Beautiful - days gone by Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti.

AquaScapes of CT exhibit - America the Beautiful - days gone by Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti.

Outdoor kitchen - the "hot" items for today's home landscape. Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti.

Outdoor kitchen - the "hot" items for today's home landscape. Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti.

Lawncare Etc - 1776 Flag and Betsy Ross - Old Glory - award for best urban garden Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti.Co

Lawncare Etc - 1776 Flag and Betsy Ross - Old Glory - award for best urban garden Photo © Cheryl Pedemonti.Co

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