October 29, 2009

Rose hips

These make the best jelly.

October 16, 2009

First frost of the season

The past two nights were frosty ones, and it even flurried last night. By late morning there was no trace of the light snow, but some of the tender plants bore signs of the temperature dip. Basil, coleus, eggplants, dahlias, and cannas were all burnt, but curiously most of the tenders in the backyard were fine while the front garden was the most affected. It must have something to do with the cold front usually approaching from the northwest (where a lot of the burnt plants are located). Next week we may be back in the 60s, so I'm hoping to get some closeout gardening done then!

September 6, 2009

Adventures in Canning 2009

Canned some pickles from our garden produce for the very first time. This:

became this:

Had a lot of green tomatoes that were probably going to shrivel before ripening. Pickling seemed to be a great use for these guys. Oh, and I have to admit that the cucumbers are not from the garden, they're from a local farm. Tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, carrots, garlic, and onions are all homegrown however!

August 6, 2009

Comments are finally fixed!

Yes, they are. Sorry about taking forever to fix it.

August 5, 2009

Late Blight Alert

Late blight has apparently reached central New York State. Kathy of Cold Climate Gardening has reported infected potatoes, and some neighbors of mine here in Syracuse (a few blocks from me) have also had tomatoes dying from the disease. We've been spared thus far *knocks on wood* at my house, but I am exceedingly worried (this thing spreads through the wind!).

Look for splotches on leaves, dying plants, and mushy tubers. Remember, don't compost these plants! Good luck to all of your solanaceae.

August 2, 2009

Rose 'Glowing Peace'

This was transplanted about two months ago, but despite
that it's still blooming!

July 29, 2009

Garlic Harvest 2009

Fresh from the garden this morning. Much of this will
go to pickling and canning!

July 25, 2009

In Search of the Tropicalesque

One of my projects this year is to install a "tropicalesque" garden. What exactly this means is somewhat open for interpretation, but I generally think of it as a garden that intends to look tropical with plants that may or may not necessarily be tropical. Cooler-climate gardeners often attempt this as a sort of challenge, and this season I am one of them.

What exactly is a “tropical look”? This, again, is open for interpretation, as tropical climates range from rainforest to grassland to desert. There are certain plants that are strongly associated with the tropics, and can be found throughout the zone. These include palms, bananas, and ficus. Often it is large leaves, spiky leaves, or palmate leaves that characterize a lot of these plants, and generate what is considered a “tropical look”. Some are even hardy in zone 6 Syracuse, believe it or not.

There are also many other plants that are not necessarily tropical (and quite hardy in Syracuse), but are able to connote a tropical “look”. Many of these are native, such as yucca, pawpaw, catalpa, sumac, and various lilies. Large ferns, such as ostrich, contribute as well. The creative use of broad-leaf evergreens can really contribute to a tropicalesque garden. Rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias, hollies, and camellias can be used for their glossy, evergreen foliage. Yes, camellias! I have a few here in my Syracuse garden. There is a family of camellia cultivars called the ‘Ackerman hybrids’ which can withstand colder winter temperatures as low as zone 6, possibly even zone 5.

Of course, there are plenty of traditional tender perennials that can be thrown into the mix. These include cannas, dahlias, gladiolas, and calla lilies. These make good fillers for the little spaces left in the garden. They are usually not hardy here, but a select few might be able to make it through the winter with some mulching.

The crown jewel of my experiment is definitely the Musa basjoo, or 'Japanese fiber banana'. This plant is the cold-hardiest banana in the world, possibly being able to handle temps down to -30 F. This is accomplished with heavy winter mulching of course, but even without mulching this banana may be able to survive zone 6. This upcoming winter will be my first experiment with leaving the banana outdoors. I got it last May, and grew it in a pot indoors throughout last winter, but now it is sizable enough to be outside.
The 'Tropicalesque' garden. Musa basjoo center-

June 14, 2009

Thornden Park Association Garden Tour

Next Sunday, June 21st, the Thornden Park Association will be hosting its 17th annual garden tour of the Syracuse University neighborhood area. Select private gardens will be featured and open to the public from 1pm - 4pm. Admission is $10 (proceeds go to the association's efforts to upkeep Thornden Park), which is payable at the field house located at Thornden Park. Read more about the tour here.

I highly recommend the tour, as you get to meet the gardeners themselves. This allows for the opportunity to ask questions or discuss anything that might peak your interest about their garden. As a matter of fact our garden was featured last year (not this year however, maybe next!). The variety of gardens on the tour is also quite amazing; large and small, sunny and shaded, open and wooded. You'll probably also see a new plant that you'll want to try at home. It's definitely worth it!

The End of Iris Season

When the iris are in bloom I feel like I'm in a candy store. Not only because of the colors and shapes, but more importantly the scent! I'm waiting for the day when iris-flavored candy will be invented, which is probably doubtful since they're quite toxic. I'll just have to settle for the few weeks of scent in May and June (and gin, which is partly flavored with iris root). Anyway, here is some of the "candy" of the garden:

'Supreme Sultan' (bought this at the farmer's market!)

possibly 'Flavescens', a cultivar dating back
to 1813

possibly 'Honorabile', from 1840


'Before the Storm', by far the most strongly-scented
iris in the garden (and one of the most beautiful)

June 13, 2009

Commenting Problem

Hi all - Just letting you know that I'm aware of the problem with the comment section, and I'm working on it! Check back often :)

April 29, 2009

Lesser Celandine: Scourge of the Garden

Does this plant look familiar?  If it does, then I am sorry.  You probably have to fight it in your garden, where it forms a choking green mat that prevents anything from growing.  This invasive Eurasian plant is currently everywhere in our garden, and is creeping its way into the woods behind the house.  And don't think that simple weeding will do the trick.  Lesser celandine forms little tubers that break off very easily when pulled, and new plants will grow back from these tubers.  In short: it is extremely difficult to eradicate.  We've got a method of weeding where we delicately tease the plant out after first loosening the soil with a claw.  Do not compost this plant, as the tubers will survive in your homemade fertilizer and you'll risk spreading it all over the place.

We can win Syracuse back from lesser celandine.  All it takes is vigilance.  Good luck.

April 28, 2009

A Long Overdue Spring Update

As with many graduate students this time of year, my life has within recent weeks been consumed by that weird concept of actually finishing my thesis, which I (successfully) defended last week and will be presenting tomorrow. Regardless, I couldn't keep myself away from the garden blogosphere any longer, even though I promised myself to put extraneous activities on pause in a sort of triage where only work pertaining to my thesis was permitted. Anyhow, so much has been happening in the garden that I had to at least throw up some photos of the action.

Let's backtrack just a bit. Here are some early spring blooms, which are now gone of course (especially after the 90 degree heat wave):

Bloodroot and lungwort in early April

Grecian windflower (Anemone blanda)


Hyacinth, of course

I'll admit I'm not much of a tulip or narcissus fan. But when I'm up at 6am on a cool spring morning it's very difficult not to appreciate these temperate gems, with the rising sun gleaming orange behind their silhouettes:

Darwin hybrid tulip, variety 'Daydream'

Narcissus, possibly variety 'Fortissimo'

Darwin hybrid tulip, possibly derived from the 'Dover' variety.
Apparently the colorful streaks are caused by some kind of

And of course the more subdued blooms:

Viola sororia 'priceana', apparently called the
"Confederate violet". My favorite violet in the garden.


Even though they're relatively plain, there's something about
the green variety of Lenten Rose that I find elegant and appealing.

February 17, 2009

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: February 2009

This black-eyed-susan vine is doing wonderfully hanging in a sunny window.

February 10, 2009

February Harvest

While outside enjoying the mild temperatures today, I opted to take a stroll around the garden in search of life. Instead of snowdrops, surprisingly (I think they’re still covered with a layer of ice), I came across narcissus:

And with delight, kale:

As well as cabbage and bok-choy:

The kale, cabbage, and bok-choy probably won’t make much of a meal, but I’m just happy for fresh greens in the middle of winter.

February 9, 2009


51 degrees on Wednesday! I should just stop talking about the weather. :)

February 6, 2009


So it appears that what I said about a warm week will ring a bit hollow (maybe). Some sort of chill has descended, and although it will certainly rise above freezing for most of the week, it probably won't be the early spring for which I got so excited (damn groundhog ruins everything). The weather is truly fickle (all too often unfortunately), but I'm still going outside tomorrow with my camera to capture something indicative of spring.

Recently, while reading my favorite food blog, I was introduced to a new term; food porn. It's exactly what it sounds like; delectable photographs of food. I've made the tasteful decision to adapt the term for garden blogging, so please enjoy this plant porn from last spring; it is a German iris 'Supreme Sultan' that I bought at the Farmer's Market. And yes, there will be much more plant porn in the future. :)

February 3, 2009

1) Fantasize 2) Order Seeds 3) Fantasize

February has begun on a somewhat warm note, like a little appetizer before spring. Next week however is going to be the starter salad; and not a delicate bowl of greens but a Cobb salad. With croutons. (Sorry about the food theme. I’m hungry.)

We’re going to have temperatures in the forties beginning on Saturday, lasting pretty much throughout the rest of next week. And I, personally, cannot wait. Not only will the ice melt away, overwhelming our combined sewer overflows with salty runoff, but some of this spring’s first flowers may just be visible in the mud, and I can finally start my full-fledged fantasizing about all the plans and schemes (more on that later) I have for the garden. Not that I haven’t already been fantasizing. It’s just that I try to keep it in check during the depths of winter so as not to, how do I put it, overexcite myself (Yes, I get excited about plants).

I’m all about four-season gardening, and to me planning one is just as much a part of the process and experience as sowing and weeding. Spending an afternoon in January or February browsing seed catalogues, and making a list of delicious heirloom tomato varieties with which I’d like to make homemade puttanesca, is my own version of winter gardening.

In a way, it does take some abstract thinking. For example, choosing what seeds to order now, in February, will ultimately affect what food I will be eating next February (If I’m successful in my canning ventures, that is. But more on that some other time.) And while I can (and do) buy canned tomato products for making excellent homemade sauces, with proper planning I’ll be able to open up jars of my own practically garden-fresh preserves (and nothing store-bought can compete with that).

My housemate and I are bulking our seed orders together (except for one special variety that I’m purchasing for myself). Here is some of what is being ordered:

· Woodle Orange tomato
· Black Cherry tomato
· Tigerella tomato
· Chocolate habanero pepper
· Chichiquelite huckleberry (actually related to the tomato)
· Honey Rock melon
· Early Hanover melon
· Japanese ‘White Egg’ eggplant
· Romanesco Italian brocolli
· Amish Snap Peas
· Hidatsa Shield Figure bean
· Calypso bean
· Any many more…

It will be my first time growing these varieties, so feel free to comment on your experiences if you’ve cultivated any of them before. As for the “special variety”, it is Six Nations bush bean, which I’ll be ordering from Ozark Seed Bank. It apparently originates from the Six Nations (Iroquois) agricultural tradition, and being a member of Slow Food here in Syracuse, it makes sense for me to try growing this locally indigenous bean.

For anyone placing their order soon, I would highly recommend the Riesentraube tomato and the purple tomatillo, for the mere fact that they last a long time. I’m not kidding you when I say that I made two different salsas from them last week (tomato-eggplant salsa and salsa verde). Yes, from fresh ones that were harvested last summer, sitting on my dining room table. The tomatillos were flawless, and the tomatoes were at worst a tad wrinkled from the dry house air. Of course, I made cooked salsa; I wouldn’t have wanted to eat them raw at that point, but I probably could have.

As for the rest of the seeds, they’re coming from Baker Creek and Seed Saver’s Exchange. And after taking a look at the total cost for our order, I’ve decided that this year I will start trying to save seeds from my own harvest. :)

January 29, 2009

Some January blooms

Some people say they stink, but I can't get enough of that
paperwhite perfume (they smell just like hyacinth to me, and
c'mon who thinks hyacinth stinks?? Okay fine, maybe it doesn't
smell exactly as good as hyacinth, but pretty close.)

Even dime-a-dozen Kordana and Parade roses provide
cheer in the depths of winter.

The big bloom in the center was once a funny-looking bud
like the two on the right. These blooms look different from
others on the same plant, so they're probably some kind of

January 20, 2009

Cold-Spell Gone, Not Forgotten

With the clipper out of the way, let’s take a look at what it actually brought. Accuweather provides a nice monthly record of temperatures for a given location; check out January’s temperatures (thus far) right here. It seems we only got as cold as –2 degrees Fahrenheit on two occasions; January 10th, and January 15th (the clipper-induced low). I’m not counting my chickens yet…January isn’t over! However if –2 is the lowest we will see this winter, then we are looking at another year of sweet, sultry zone 6.

January 13, 2009

Clipper Update

Alright so Accuweather now claims that Thursday's low will be -6. However the National Weather Service is predicting -11! Oh the suspense is killing me. I'm contemplating purchasing one of those garden thermometers, because regardless of what weather station says what, I'd like to know exactly what the low will be in my own garden. Also, I think the NWS collects its weather data for Central New York in Binghamton, which may be colder since there's likely less of an urban heat effect. Crossing fingers here!

January 12, 2009

Alberta Clipper

It's coming. Within the next few days. It may actually bring our yearly low in Central New York. What am I talking about? Why, the low-pressure system sometimes called the 'Alberta Clipper', infamous for chilling any garden in its path. Accuweather.com claims that our coldest will be 0 or -1 degrees on Thursday. Of course this can change at any time, but hovering around 0 is still comfortably within zone 6. Hopefully this will be our low for this winter (I believe last winter's low was -4 degrees Fahrenheit for Syracuse). It doesn't appear that we're going to get our 70 degree January day this year! Oh well, I'd just be happy with another zone 6 winter.

January 5, 2009

Indoor Gardening

When I step outside into a Syracuse January, my mind can’t help but drift to June days when the peonies, roses, and lilies are in full bloom, and we get our few months of tropical weather as a reward for drudging through a very frosty winter. While the bite of a 10-degree wind chill soon jolts me back into reality, the urge to cultivate plants is still there, and I satisfy it by tending to my indoor garden.

“Indoor garden” is just a fancy way of saying houseplants. It’s right around this time of year when many gardeners enjoy growing flowers and plants in the convenient climate-controlled atmosphere of their own home. Fortunately, there are many plants that thrive in the warm, dry atmosphere of a centrally heated house. And even if some don’t, there are always a few tricks to keep houseplants healthy and happy.

At Christmas many people like to start forcing bulbs such as amaryllis and narcissus. Keeping certain plants like poinsettia and wintergreen are also popular. Here’s a tip: right after the holidays many of these plants are drastically reduced in price. One thing I don’t like about the commercialization of these plants however is how they are marketed as being disposable and ‘meant’ to be purchased new every year. Actually, with proper care they can be kept for many, many years. You can even plant some of them outdoors!

This year I’ve started a few indoor gardening projects. I received
an amaryllis ‘Cinderella’ (actually Hippeastrum sp., ‘amaryllis’ is a
misnomer) for Christmas and I planted the bulb a few days ago. Hopefully I’ll be rewarded with large, spectacular red and white blooms in about 5 or 6 weeks. Always the horticultural bargain hunter, I purchased some post-holiday paperwhite bulbs (Narcissus tazetta) for about 3 dollars, which I’ve also started. Yesterday I picked up two Kordana miniature roses for 2 dollars each from a supermarket clearance shelf. These pretty little roses are not fragrant, but how can I complain about 2 dollar roses? They bloom profusely, and they are hardy to zone 5, which means I can plant them in the garden or maybe along the sidewalk out front.

The trick to keeping these kinds of supermarket plants alive is knowing what they actually need to thrive. Often what you see in the store has been living in greenhouse conditions, over-fertilized. In the case of Kordana roses, they are often treated with growth retardant to keep them at a certain size. I’ve learned that what you think is one “rosebush”, is actually several plants jammed into one container. The best thing to do is enjoy them for a bit, then start thinking about separating the plants into their own containers (some for that sidewalk or walkway, some for houseplants). It’s probably a good rule of thumb to remember that however the plant came from the florist or grocery store is definitely not the best way to keep it in the long-run.

January 2, 2009

Long Island Observations

Happy New Year! For the holidays I spent some time visiting family in Long Island. For the first time, I was really able to notice the botanical and climatic differences between Long Island and Syracuse. I’ve always known that it was a little warmer there (zone 7 compared to our zone 6 in Syracuse), but it surprised me as to how much I was able to feel the difference from a mere one zone change.

Besides the milder temperature and less ice, the next thing I noticed were the rhododendrons. Not only in people’s yards (almost everyone has rhodies in their front yards), but also along the highways in the woods. For example, along the Northern State Parkway wild rhododendrons abound. These aren’t just Department of Transportation plantings either; I’m talking deep in the woods wild rhodies, like you would see in the Appalachians. Now the woods, they are pretty typical second-growth hardwoods. However, I noticed many healthy-looking American beeches. Healthy that is, until the Asian bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) thriving in those woods kills them. The bright red bittersweet berries are beautiful, but disheartening because those berries will be carried by birds to continue the spread of this very invasive plant.

The next thing I noticed was the widespread planting of yucca. These are along buildings, at gas stations, in front yards, inside highway medians, etc. Many of these aren’t just the little spiky clumps; they are trunking yuccas. It gave the appearance of little palm trees everywhere. Now several yuccas are quite hardy; I have some in my garden here in Syracuse. I don’t know my yuccas very well however, and I’m not sure if the kinds planted in Long Island are of a more tender variety. I know that not all of them trunk, so there’s probably a few different kinds planted there. Many of them are probably Yucca filamentosa which is a common garden plant. In fact, I believe there is a relatively new planting of this along a building wall on the north side of Erie Boulevard here in Syracuse.

Finally, the crown jewel of my Long Island observations; Southern magnolia. I noticed two specimens growing in Great Neck in front yards. They weren’t very large trees, but well beyond saplings. I’d say they were about 12-15 feet tall.

· Long Island is acidic (rhododendrons need acid soil to thrive)
· Long Island is warmer (large, healthy Southern magnolias and preponderance of yuccas, both of which can be grown in Syracuse, but which grow faster in warmer climates)

Thus concludes my holiday report. Happy New Year (again)!