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Archive for December, 2011

Seed Catalog Smarts

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

December 28th

December seed catalogs

In just a very few days, the hubbub of the holidays will be past; guests will have returned home, and assorted kids gone back to college. Once again the guest room will be empty and the refrigerator full. It’s time to dig out the garden catalogs that have been arriving for the past several weeks and delight in a favorite pastime, wishing upon a catalog.

Choose a sunny day when you’ve got a free hour or two to indulge in your garden fantasies.  Grab a mug of coffee or cocoa and spread your material out in a pleasant environment, such as your now-available dining room table.

Hopefully you will have already winnowed the selection down to just a few. I like to sort my catalogs from the get-go. When one arrives in my mailbox that I know I’m never gonna order from, into the recycling it goes. The rest I glance at, then store on a shelf in the family room. When choosing day comes, I display the five or six favored ones, (no more, or I’ll get discombobulated and overwhelmed). I like Bluestone Perennials, in Ohio for their modestly-priced, quality offerings. I always look at Burpee , mostly out of tradition.  Wayside Gardens offers a wide choice of plants, tools, and treasures . For exquisite vegetable photography and old-fashioned flavor, there’s Baker Creek Heirloom seeds. . And I wouldn’t be without Johnny’s Selected Seeds , an employee-owned company in Maine, which will sell small quantities of seeds if the customer desires.

I make out my list, dividing into sections such as annuals, perennials and shrubs. Of course the list is always too long, so in the ongoing effort to keep the domestic pocketbook intact, I whittle down my wants to just a few must-haves.

Next I get out the sticky notes, and mark the pages in each catalog describing a cherished item. I write on the note what the item is, so I can see at a glance who has what.  Finally I compare price, and make my selection. Nowadays it’s possible to order online, by telephone or by using the cute little order blank included in the center fold. (I’m one of the Neanderthals who still prefers to fill out the form). I verify my choices, write my check, and pop the order in the mail.

A couple more suggestions:  When your seeds arrive, mark the sowing date on the envelopes, and place in chronological order. And, when your live plants arrive, note on the packing form where in the garden you’ll be putting them. This is so you don’t find yourself a few days later, wandering (like me) around your overstuffed garden, orphan plant in hand, muttering, What Was I Thinking?


So remember, whether you’re growing beans, baptisia or buddleia, the gardening year starts not when the first yellow crocus pops in late March, or when the soil warms in April. Nope, the garden year starts right now, with the catalogues.  Be prepared.




Don’t Miss These Gardening Reads!

Monday, December 12th, 2011information

My column for Hearst Connecticut Media Group,  December 9th, 2011

Photo courtesy of Cool Springs Press

The economy still hasn’t righted itself, so for many of us, taking an exotic foreign vacation is out of reach. It may be, however, a perfect time for a gardening “Staycation” in the good old USA.   We can indulge our inner horticulturalist, keep our dollars in these United States, and plan adventuresome, awesome vacations around America’s best public gardens.  Guess what?  There’s a book for that!

Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp’s book, The Visitor’s Guide to American Gardens (Cool Springs Press, 2011) gives the particulars on hundreds of American gardens. Divided by state, they include Botanical and estate gardens, arboreta, historic plantings, sculpture and bird-friendly gardens as well as a plethora of garden walks, talks and events. The 336-page, easy to use guide to the very best horticultural hotspots  is essential if you’re traveling to visit grandchildren, taking a kid to college, exploring on your own, or motoring with a spouse. Isn’t there always time for a quick peek at a fabulous garden? Accompanied by clear pictures, handy-dandy state and regional maps, and neat-o QR codes, The Visitor’s Guide is color coded, and just the correct size to toss in your bag.  A sampling from nearby New York State includes such stalwarts as the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, but are you familiar with Montgomery Place in Annandale or Snug Harbor in Staten Island?  Here’s your chance to make the most of your travels and feed your soul with garden road food.  Put The Visitor’s Guide to American Gardens on your holiday wish list, or gift a garden friend. You won’t regret it.


Following her smashing success with 2009’s Wicked Plants is Amy Stewart’s new book, Wicked Bugs. (Algonquin, 2011) If you are visited by creatures such as banana slugs and brown marmorated stink bugs, or are curious about tomato hornworms or brown recluse spiders, this is the book for you.  Wicked Plants became an international best seller (a rarity in the world of horticultural books) and now Amy has ventured into bugdom with her new work. Not only will you learn the wicked, wicked ways of various nefarious denizens of the insect world, you’ll meet their relatives and learn whether they should be considered horrible, destructive, painful, deadly, or simply dangerous.  This small red book is a perfect size to be dropped an inquisitive gardener’s Christmas stocking.


Connecticut author and photographer Karen Bussolini’s new book is The Naturescaping Workbook, written by Beth Young and photographed by Karen.  (Timber Press, 2011)  But don’t let that deter you from grabbing a copy of her last book, The Homeowner’s Complete Tree & Shrub Handbook. (Storey, 2007)  Written by Penelope O’Sullivan with Karen’s detailed photographs, it’s subtitled The Essential Guide to Choosing, Planting, and Maintaining Perfect Landscape Plants.  The book is a 386 page primer on exactly that. Don’t know when to prune your pine? Not sure how to harvest hydrangea? This tome will tell you. Karen’s clear, beautiful photographs illustrate the various sections on design, purchasing, planting and troubleshooting the bones of any garden… its trees and shrubs. The book includes sections on diseases, pruning, tools, containers, and an indispensible list of plant material.  A colorful and useful addition to any horticultural library (however groaning those shelves might already be), you’ll want to keep this book at the ready; you’ll reach for it time and time again.



Gardening is difficult (though delightful) work, so I’m always happy when late autumn rolls around and the season dwindles to a close. I don’t possess a greenhouse and don’t grow many houseplants, so December initiates my three-month vacation from outdoor gardening.  Every year at this time I rediscover that winter in New England is the perfect time to curl up in an easy chair with a cup of coffee and a gardener’s best friend, a book on gardening.



Colleen Plimpton’s garden memoir, Mentors in the Garden of Life was Finalist for the 2011 Connecticut Book of the Year and is available here on her web site, at local bookstores or on Amazon. Plimpton answers gardening questions at





Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011


Autumn color on bittersweet overtaking the woods

Section of bittersweet vine










I carry my implements with me in the truck;  loppers, clippers and a saw.  Thus, I’m able to screech to a halt & whip them out at a moment’s notice. What for? My mission is to help our New England trees by freeing them from the strangling  bittersweet vines. This curse has come upon us rapidly…in northern Fairfield County, CT, it’s been perhaps the last 15 years. The seeds are spread by birds,  who deposit them under trees. Once Asian bittersweet (celastrus orbiculatus), sprouts,  it grows quickly, overtaking everything in its path. The woody vine clambers up trees to a height of some sixty feet and murders in three ways….by strangulation, by shading out the canopy, and by overweighting the canopy so that the tree cracks in a high wind or heavy snowstorm.

We lose more trees every year to this monster, and little can be done, except by people who care. Asian bittersweet has no natural competition, thus it continues its rampant destructive path through our roadsides, woods and forest edges. Add the fact that in many areas the deer have consumed most of the young, native trees and shrubs, and you have an ecological disaster occurring  right before our eyes.

What can you do?  Much.

1)  Grab a pair of clippers and loppers, and scout your property. Cut bittersweet where you see it, and attempt to pull it down from the tree or shrub. Paint the stump with Roundup.

2)  Inform your neighbors of your task, and ask them either to help or to give permission for you to destroy the vine on their property.

3)  Tell your landscaper to scout and cut as well.

4)  Spread the word!  Take the issue to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Write letters to the editor, and inform your town leaders of the dangers.


This calamity probably cannot be contained unless we the people care enough to do something.  If you wish to retain the amazing beauty of our forests, do your part. Every little bit helps.




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