Greengirls Helen Yarmoska, Nicole Hvidsten, Martha Buns, Connie Nelson, Kim Palmer and Mary Jane Smetanka are dishin' the dirt from the back-yard garden and beyond. Whether you're a greenthumb or greenhorn, they're eager to learn from your mishaps, mistakes - and most importantly, your sweet successes - all growing season long.

Posts about Weekend chores

Days of vines and roses

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: July 18, 2013 - 8:12 AM


I recently overheard a small boy ask his mother if she were a plant, what kind she'd like to be. He earnestly volunteered that he'd want to be a vine, so he could grow around things.


He's got a point. Vines rise above it all, and have a great grasp on life, even while relying on others for their support. From the gardener's perspective, vines are a great way to add some height to the back of a border or disguise an otherwise unattractive structure or fence.

My favorite vine combo is clematis growing on roses, although getting both plants to bloom at the same time is an inexact science.

Right now many of the vines in my garden are outstripping their support structures. The pole beans have hit the top of their obelisk and are flopping down the other side waiting for me to provide another foothold. Ditto with the hops. Clematis plants that have overrun their trellis have started wrapping around themselves. But other vines are resolutely turning their backs on their intended support. When presented with a perfectly serviceable trellis, the cucumbers and watermelon are instead intent on winding themselves as tightly as possible into the protective chicken wire that surrounds them despite daily efforts to give their thoughts another direction.

If you're in the market for some plants that will grow on you, here's a link to some perennial and annual vines broken down by height and sun requirements:

One of the plants on the list is zone hardy wisteria, which looks lovely, but I've heard people complain it's hard to control and needs really heavy duty support. Have you grown wisteria, and if so, how have you controlled it and would you recommend yea or nay?


While I 'm a sucker for most vines, not all the vines growing in my garden are welcome: Bindweed has gotten loose in one area. Just like their favored flowering counterparts, vining weeds sometimes grow a little too fast to keep up with.



How to prolong summer bloom time

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: July 11, 2013 - 8:14 AM

Most of us have a sweet spot in our garden season, that magic time when our gardens are at their best. For a friend of mine, it’s usually late June when her back yard is a lovely sea of roses. It’s a treasured moment around which she plans her outdoor entertaining schedule. For me, it’s that instant in time when the lilies burst forth, the clematis and delphinium are still putting on a show, and the weeds haven’t yet performed a complete eclipse of the stars. There are a host of supporting players in bloom now, too: astilbe, campanula, veronica, achillea, a few roses and some daylilies.

Then comes the rest of the summer, when the bloom bonanza is over, and I have to direct my gaze carefully to the few bright spots that remain and take solace in variegated or colored leaves. Even the coneflowers start to look faded, and sometimes it seems the only things in rampant bloom are the phlox and the annoying harebells I can never quite quell. (I’ve resorted to using the harebells as cut flowers after yanking them out for the weeds they really are, mixed with the ferns that have volunteered in unwelcome spots.)

I do my best to stretch the perennial flowering season. I keep flowering blooms well watered so they aren’t stressed. And few things spur my interest on a plant tag so much as the phrase “long bloom time” or “prolific repeat bloomer.” Be still my heart.

I’ve also tried to add more fall bloomers to keep the sedum Autumn Joy company. But even the New England asters, which are supposed to be my fall mainstays, have jumped the gun and started blooming, so I’m wondering how long they’ll be able to keep up the show.

One way to prolong summer bloom time is by deadheading. Not all plants will rebloom if you pinch off the spent blooms, but many will reward your efforts. And some plants like centaurea will enjoy a second wind if you cut them back. Here’s a handy guide:

The list of long-blooming perennials includes coneflowers, rudbeckia, daylilies, Veronica, scabiosa, coreopsis and Shasta daisies. Here’s a much longer list to pick from, many of which are zone hardy:

Possibly the best way to assure yourself of some late summer color is to keep your pots of annuals well watered, or pick up some hanging baskets in the late season sales.

What are your strategies for keeping summer blooms alive? What are your long-lasting mainstays?


Parenting a garden

Posted by: Nicole Hvidsten Updated: July 5, 2013 - 8:05 AM

As the growing season progresses and the monotony of yard and garden work sets in, I find myself using my gardening time to reflect. This week, as I was making the rounds, it struck me that raising flowers and vegetables isn't unlike raising children. Some similarities:

Boundary issues: The tomato plants might be caged, but that doesn't stop them from wanting to branch out, so to speak, into other areas of the garden. I love to see them grow and reach their full potential, but a little respect for boundaries would be nice, and the other plants would appreciate it.

Boundary issues, part 2: Strawberries. Need I say more?

Why is only one of them flourishing?

Why is only one of them flourishing?

Growth patterns: You have two plants (in this case, clematis), feed them and love them the same, and one flourishes and the other, while still growing, is having a harder time. These sibling plants are right next to each other, and you know how people judge. What's a gardener to do?

Guilt: One weekend out of town + one forgotten hanging plant = the first casualty of the gardening season. I never was fond of the plant, but did I subconsciously orchestrate its demise?

First impatience: You wait and wait for the seeds to germinate, the first blossoms on the tomatoes and finally, FINALLY the fruits of your labor.

Then regret: Before you know it you're knee deep in tomatoes and zucchini and can't make tomato sauce, salsa or zucchini bread fast enough. Why did I insist on those last two plants? But once the growing season is over and there are no more fresh tomatoes for BLTs and sweet corn is a distant memory, you think not only should I have insisted on those last two plants, I should have insisted on two more.

Oh, the mess! Watering and feeding are basic needs, but the weeds are just like a messy room. I only wish plants could pick up after themselves. (Children too, for that matter.)

And finally, pride: Much like bringing home a good report card or a piece of artwork that's bound to be the next Picasso, the first piece of harvested produce is brought into the house with smiles and a great sense of pride and accomplishment. We all see that if you nuture and care for something the right way -- even if there are a few mistakes along the way -- the end results are outstanding.

Happy July Fourth from the garden

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: July 4, 2013 - 10:42 AM


I went looking in my yard for some fodder for a red, white and blue bouquet. I've got a sea of blue to pick from, but I came up short on the red front.  The berries in my neighbor's yard were the only patch of red to catch my eye.


My weeds are knee high by the Fourth of July. Luckily I have a day off to liberate my garden. If the weeds aren't enough incentive, I've got a stack of mulch bags taunting me, piling on the guilt.

But once I'm done, there's a lawn chair and a tall glass of lemonade with my name on it.

Have a great day, whether you're weeding or kicking back and enjoying your garden.

One step closer to fresh produce

Posted by: Nicole Hvidsten Updated: June 18, 2013 - 8:21 AM

Gardeners, we have liftoff.

I was downright giddy when I checked my garden over the weekend and saw the sunflowers peeking through and realized that the carrot seeds did not get washed away after all. Tomatoes are thriving, the strawberries are coming into their own and my herbs become more fragrant by the day. Alas, the poor peppers are trying to stay strong after it appears rabbits used a fair share of their leaves for a tossed salad. But now that my little gardens look like Fort Knox (thanks, Pa!), I expect them to flourish as well.

But something I didn't expect? Just how happy my little gardens make me. I love checking them to see what's new, I love how they look in the corner of my yard and I love that neighbors stop to talk about what's growing and the curse of rabbits. Gardening gives me a different kind of energy, and it's refreshing.

Even the rest of the yard has benefited from the gardens. After a few lackluster year

A little mulch and some hand-me-down pavers dress up the area formerly known as the garden.

A little mulch and some hand-me-down pavers dress up the area formerly known as the garden.

s, the lilac bushes are in full bloom, not wanting to be outdone by the new kid on the block. The space formerly known as the garden was spruced up with mulch and pots of herbs, making it much more pleasing to sit outside on the patio. We even raked the lawn after mowing, and have vowed to be more committed to trimming.  I'm starting to think about the yard in terms of possibilities, not just a chore. (Because really, who needs more chores?) Even the kids are getting into it, with one daughter eyeing the perfect spot for a flower garden with a bench for reading. The ideas are flowing much quicker than time or money allows.

The key to my success, though, is not only making time for gardening but trying to maintain this momentum. It's easy to get excited when the seeds start to sprout or the first tomatoes start to turn -- I can already taste the BLTs -- and we have fresh strawberries with our homemade ice cream. What will happen when the adrenaline wears off and the weeds start to invade? A couple of years ago I might have been more concerned. This time I'm approaching gardening very differently: It's not what gardening does TO me, it's what gardening does FOR me. Yes, I believe I'm hooked.

When did you become hooked on gardening? Did it take a couple of tries? What does gardening do for you?




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