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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

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