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Archives for January 16, 2016

Historic Landscape Design presentation at Skylands


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  • Photos courtesy of NJBG/Skylands Association

    The Magnolia Walk is part of the formal Italianate garden in the New Jersey State Botanical Garden. The garden design was by created the renowned landscape firm of Vitale and Geiffert, who also designed the landscaping at the National Gallery of Art and Rockefeller Center. Planted in the 1920s, the sweet bay magnolias, which line the walk, are uncommon in New Jersey. The two photos show them when they were first planted and today.


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Skylands, the New Jersey State Botanical Garden in Ringwood, is a unique botanical and architectural gem, a former country estate featuring elegantly landscaped grounds, historic buildings, and a vast collection of unusual plant species from around the world. What many people do not know is that Skylands is also home to New Jersey’s only State Botanical Garden.

Head Landscape Designer Rich Flynn will offer a presentation on “Landscape Design at Skylands: A Historical Perspective” on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, at 10 a.m. in the Carriage House at the New Jersey State Botanical Garden in Ringwood. All are welcome; a $5 donation is requested.

In 1922, Clarence McKenzie Lewis, an investment banker and trustee of the New York Botanical Garden, purchased the property from the estate of Francis Lynde Stetson, who founded Skylands in 1891. Over the next 30 years, Lewis built the existing Tudor-style 45-room Manor House and transformed Skylands into a botanical showplace.

Italian landscape designer Ferruccio Vitale (1875-1933), who developed his reputation through important civic commissions such as the National Mall and the National Gallery of Art, created the country-estate landscape of Skylands. Most of the trees now framing the house were planted by Lewis and his crew of over 60 gardeners (in peak seasons), including the magnificent copper beeches. Wanting to appeal to all of the senses, Lewis stressed symmetry, color, texture, form and fragrance in his gardens.

NJBG/Skylands is located off Morris Road in Ringwood. For an event schedule, membership brochure, directions or more information, call 973-962-9534 or visit


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Master gardener: Quit wasting money in your garden

Yellow Coneflowers (Fred Schneider)

Oklahoma must be full of rich gardeners who have excess money to burn and unlimited energy to expend in their gardens. Many seem to have little concern for water conservation, care little about habitat loss for our state’s birds, butterflies and insects, and only wish to have gardens like their neighbors.

There is no doubt that we can grow just about anything in this state, provided we expend the cost and effort of fertilizers, insecticides and fungicides. Plus, of course, we must use the extra water that might be necessary to grow these exotic plants.

But why continue in this fashion? Why don’t people grow more native plants in our state instead? Why not be daring and grow something your neighbors don’t have in their yards?

With the calendar flipping to January, now is the time to develop our 2016 gardening and landscaping plans. If you’re an Oklahoman interested in planting local plants, you’ve come to the right place. With many people using more water, fertilizer and money than they need to in their gardens, let’s look at Oklahoma’s ecosystems and find some native options that offer many benefits.

Oklahoma’s ecosystems

Oklahoma is a unique state, being located at the intersection of four major ecosystems and possessing within its boundaries 13 smaller ecosystems. The state ranks third in the number of plant families it possesses. We have more species of native plants than one could ever grow in the average garden. We also have several excellent sources for these plants.

When I speak of “native plants,” I mean those that are indigenous to our state, not those introduced from other regions or countries. Unfortunately, few Oklahoma gardeners are fully appreciative of our state’s natural bounty and beauty, including trees, shrubs, herbaceous flowering plants, grasses and cacti.

The following five native Oklahoma plants are personal favorites of mine because they are “happy” here and have adapted to our varied soils, moisture levels, temperatures and winds.

Blanket Flower, Gaillardia pulchella

Every garden should contain Oklahoma’s state wildflower. A hardy, prolific bloomer throughout the summer and fall, this plant grows from 1 foot to 2.5 feet tall and spreads from 1 foot  to 2 feet. The flower heads range from 1.5 inches to 2.5 inches and are reddish-orange with yellow tips. This plant reseeds well and can be very profuse, so you may wish to remove a few of the seed heads before they scatter their seeds. This is a prairie plant that prefers full sun and good drainage. You probably want several of these plants planted near one another.

Pale Purple Coneflower, Echinacea pallida

I find this species most attractive of the echinaceas. This is an elegant plant with long, delicately drooping white florets perched on a stem one foot to 30 inches long. The florets become slightly pink as the season progresses. There may be several stems to each plant with long linear green leaves. This is considered a long-blooming perennial that needs full sun and good drainage. A cluster of the plants makes for a good show.

Pale Purple Coneflower
Pale Purple Coneflower (Fred Schneider)

Butterfly Milkweed, Asclepia tuberosa

This spectacular plant is a butterfly magnet. Emerging late spring, it possesses clusters of small showy orange flowers on one-foot to two-foot stalks from May to August. Possesses shiny green leaves and is common to dry soils throughout much of the state. The plants possess long tuberous roots and are best left undisturbed once established. Avoid planting annual plants adjacent to this plant. I would suggest at least three plants planted together.

Little Bluestem Grass, Schizachyrium scoparium

Every garden needs a specimen of one of our widespread and hardiest native grasses. This clump-forming plant possesses one-foot to 16-inch light green blades associated with two-foot to four-foot stems bearing fuzzy flowers and seed heads. This plant is great in the garden during the fall and winter for its notable brown to pink color. This makes a great specimen plant in the garden or to line beds and walkways.

Snow-on-the-Mountain, Euphorbia marginata

Another great, standout-specimen plant. If you enjoy variegated leaves, this plant is for you. It possesses stout, erect one-foot to 3.5-feet tall branched stems. The small white flowers are rather inconspicuous; the dazzling green and white bracts (or leaves) are the feature of this plant. I have received more questions and comments about this plant than any other in my garden. I tell people that, as they drive through the rural areas of the state, take occasional looks at the plants growing on our prairies, pastures and roadsides. This plant is a common sight.

Many other native plants can offer a beautiful array of flowers as well:

Caring for native plants

Although native plants are hardy, they do need consideration when they are planted in our yards and gardens just as are all our garden plants.

One must be conscious of considerations of exposure, soil type, moisture, and drainage. Most plants do like their feet immersed for long periods in moist or wet soils. This is particularly true for many of our native plants. Drainage is important as is sufficient sunlight.

Native plants do need water when planted and perhaps additional watering before they become established. Little or no fertilizer depending upon soil conditions and plant needs. Most people tend to over water, and over fertilize their yards and gardens.

One major reason for considering these plants as members of our “household” is that many are perfect candidates for xeriscape gardens. Xeriscape basically implies low maintenance and minimal fuss. Since these plants are true native Oklahomans, they are “tough.” They have learned how to survive in our state long before we arrived and drew artificial boundaries.

Unlike various introduced plants, these are not pantywaists that require pampering. Once natives are established in our gardens, they pretty much take care of themselves. As with all plants, they need to be placed in appropriate growing conditions. They will need little water other than what nature provides, they will need little-to-no fertilization, and, generally, we will have fewer concerns about nasty pests and fungi destroying our plants. In addition, because these plants are part of the natural environment, critters such as butterflies, bees and birds are familiar with them and have adapted to their presence and their uses for food and shelter. What more could we want from our gardens and plants?

Last, buying these plants from reputable sellers helps support local and regional businesses. As we begin to involve ourselves with our friendly “natives,” we also start to become more sensitive to the fragile nature of the ecosystem around us, and we begin to gain an interest and a respect for our natural environment. The current crisis surrounding Monarch butterflies clearly demonstrates this issue.

For research-based information on gardening and yard maintenance, contact your local county extension office. For information on native plants, contact the Oklahoma Native Plant Society.

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GREEN THUMBS UP: Landscaping for the birds

Posted Jan. 16, 2016 at 2:00 PM

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Backyard bird feeding

Posted: Saturday, January 16, 2016 12:30 am

Backyard bird feeding

By Bob Beyfuss
For Columbia-Greene Media

Before I begin this week’s column I want to pass on a suggestion from a reader. Many people who utilize local food pantries also have pets and pets must be fed too.

My late friend, Kathy, loved her pet cats dearly and sometimes she would spend her last money on cat food instead of food for herself. If your local food pantry allows it, consider donating some pet food along with groceries. Most privately run pantries will not object and you will be doing a really nice service to those less fortunate than most of us.

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Saturday, January 16, 2016 12:30 am.

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Top tips for January from our Cwmbran gardening blogger

Here’s this month’s column from Cwmbran gardener Sean O’Dobhain, you can read more on his blog at

JANUARY, while bleak on the plot, is a month which promises things to come; catalogues arrive from horticultural suppliers and the shops begin to fill up with bulbs, tubers and colourful packets of seeds. For the plot holder, it’s an opportunity to do a bit of shopping, an antidote to the winter blues.

Thoughts obviously turn to planning the season ahead. Last month I had a bit of a review in which I had a look at what worked and what failed, with that in mind I’ve made my seed list for 2016. I always go through last season’s seed packets first, throwing away any seriously out of date as old seed doesn’t germinate very well. I tend to order more specialist seed varieties online or via catalogues but bulky items like onions sets and potatoes are easily sourced locally.

Talking of potatoes, this month you can purchase your spuds and set them out in seed trays to ‘chit’. Chitting encourages the potato stalks to start growing before they are planted out in early spring. Chitting benefits all potatoes but especially the ‘first’ and ‘second’ early varieties.

After buying your seed potatoes, look at each carefully and place them with the ‘rose’ end, or ‘eyes’, upward in the tray. Some may already have shoots developing, others might not, so check them regularly just in case a few have been placed upside down! Egg boxes are handy if you have them but seed trays lined with newspaper are fine. Place the chitting potatoes in a light, cool but frost free place until planting time.

This year I’m growing the ‘first early’ potato ‘Rocket’, a variety that did well for me last season and can be dug from 10 weeks after planting. While ‘Rocket’ isn’t the most flavoursome, the tubers don’t fall apart during boiling and they are usually plentiful. Other quick first early varieties you might consider are ‘Foremost’ and ‘Swift’ as well as the old favourites, ‘Pentland Javelin’ and ‘Arran Pilot’.

Last season I grew a second early potato too but they were decidedly average compared to my first early so I’m just sticking to ‘Rocket’ this year. Once again my main crop potato will be ‘Sarpo Mira’. These pink skinned potatoes are the first of the ‘Sarpo’ blight resistant varieties. The foliage of ‘Sarpo Mira’ doesn’t need to be cut down in late summer to stop the blight spores spoiling the tubers. The plants get a chance to grow on longer, forming larger potatoes. Again, these did very well for me last season but if you want to stick with the tried and tested varieties then the usual main crop potatoes like ‘Maris Piper’, ‘King Edward’ and ‘Desirée’ are on the shelves now.

Allotment jobs for January:

• Plan where and what you want to grow on the plot this season – remembering to rotate your crops to avoid potential pests and diseases in the soil.

• Buy onion and shallot ‘sets’ ready for March planting; ‘Sturon’ won’t let you down.

• Continue to pick winter veg from the plot like leeks, cabbage, Brussels Sprouts, kale, turnip, swede and parsnip. If you don’t have any of these on your plot then add them to your planting plan for this season!

• Dig up and divide rhubarb crowns. Split them with a spade ensuring that each section has roots and buds, replant in a new position to the same level with a mulch of well rotted manure or compost.

• Check for damage to structures on the plot due to winter weather, secure them until they can be repaired properly.

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Gardening Tips: Beekeeping fun hobby with important role

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Thinking ahead: Alan Titchmarsh tips on preparing your garden for spring

Make fitting them into the picture a pleasure rather than a chore.

By all means plan a particular border – in terms of plant suitability, height, colour and shape – but allow yourself a bit of elastic so you can change your mind at planting time.

Of course, even if we are in the middle of an unexpected deep freeze there are some things you can do – like making sure birds do not go short of food and water.

If heavy snowfall is bending the boughs of evergreens and conifers, knock it off. Try to do it while the snow is still soft.

If the weather is mild, try digging over the vegetable patch but take it slowly. Dig for no more than 15 minutes to start with, then up it to half an hour. Take breaks, and don’t use a massive spade.

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Jack Christensen’s garden tips for the week starting Jan. 2

1 Defense against borers: Protect stone fruit trees from borers (moth larvae that feed inside tree branches, causing bark to flake off on the upper side, seriously weakening or even killing the trees). Cut out severely damaged branches, if necessary, then spray the leafless tree with any available “dormant spray” product. This will kill any larvae or pupae that are inside your tree. Prevent new springtime infestations from neighborhood borers with three applications of Malathion, seven to 10 days apart, in May, as new larvae hatch and try to get a foothold. Apply on the ground around the trunk, then up the trunk and over all the supporting branches.

2 Bare necessities: Buy and plant bare-root stock, being careful to choose plants with plump unwrinkled stems that are still dormant and unsprouted. Be sure to cut back the tops of bare-root roses, cane berries and grapes, and even mound extra soil over the branches of rose bushes for two weeks to ensure a good “take.” Plant blueberries in containers with an acid soil mix, such as “leaf mold” or composted wood and well-moistened peat moss. Trim side branches off bare-root fruit trees, forcing them to develop stronger new stems.

3 Fruit tree care: Prune and feed deciduous fruit trees. Cut back the top at whatever height you want down to 8 feet, and thin out branches from the middle of the tree so sunlight can filter through. Leave short “spurs” along the branches of plums, prunes, apricots and apples, but cut back the long branches. Leave long “hangers” on peaches and nectarines, but cut off the short stubby stems. Feed with a balanced plant food and apply a cup of Epsom salts around the drip line — the outside margin of the leaf canopy.

4 Give ’em a soaking: When planting bare-root roses, soak plants overnight so their stems are plump. Cut back tops to 8 inches and trim off any leaves or sprouts. Plant so the crown of branches is at soil level then cover all the stems with excess soil for two weeks to insulate against drying out. After two weeks remove the excess soil, and feed when new pea-size flower buds first appear.

5 Grasses to cut, not cut: Mow cool-season lawns, such as bentgrass, bluegrasses, fescues and ryegrasses, regularly — this is the season when they look their best. Prevent orangey rust diseases on these turfs by feeding and mowing them regularly. Irrigate dichondra lawns if we don’t get enough rain. Do not mow warm-season lawns, such as bahiagrass, bermudagrass, carpetgrass, centipede grass and zoysiagrass. Although St. Augustine grass is also a warm-season lawn, it may keep growing during mild winters; in this case, it will need to be mowed.

— Jack E. Christensen

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Jack Christensen’s garden tips for the week starting Jan. 9

1 Planting time: Now is the best time to buy and put in a surprising variety of plants. These include bare-root roses, berries, fruit and shade trees, vines and perennial vegetables, such as artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb. Also, choose azaleas, camellias, cymbidium orchids, primroses and other winter flowers while they are in bloom, and don’t overlook the winter-flowering succulents and cacti. Be sure to water them in well after you plant them.

2 Daylily maintenance: Clean up daylilies and start new plants by snipping off the leafy little plantlets that developed on old flower stems. Leave a couple of inches of the flower stalk attached to the sprouts to anchor them in the ground, and trim the leaves of the plantlets down to two or three inches in length. Bury the bottom of the plantlet only a half-inch or so deep with the length of flower stalk deeper to hold it in place. Water lightly and do not feed until early spring.

3 Remove old flowers: Deadhead azaleas and camellias as flowers fade. Deadheading is the removal of old flowers. This is necessary on azaleas, because dead azalea flowers hang on and look ugly. It’s necessary on camellias to prevent spreading of petal blight, a fungus disease that rots camellia flowers and turns them brown and mushy.

4 Be water-thrifty: Check for broken sprinkler heads and repair them. Also, with cooler weather, plants don’t need as much moisture. In fact, for some types of plants, too much moisture during cool weather can damage roots and even kill entire plants. For most of us, automatic sprinklers can safely be turned off until spring except for windy or warm spells. No sense wasting our precious water — or your precious money to pay for unneeded irrigation.

5 Still time to harvest: Continue harvesting winter vegetables as they mature. Peas will produce more if you harvest every day or two, and broccoli and cauliflower will yield additional edible sprouts from remaining stems after the main heads are cut. Add a little plant food to all winter vegetables to encourage continued production. Replant as needed to replace cabbages, beets, etc., where harvesting includes the whole plant.

— Jack E. Christensen

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George Osborne avoided official channels with garden bridge scheme

George Osborne avoided official channels and Department for Transport oversight to offer the London mayor, Boris Johnson, funding for the garden bridge scheme, parliament’s spending watchdog has found, warning the project may not have been approved if the normal processes had been followed.

The National Audit Office said the public money being poured into the £175m Thames bridge is at greater risk than the private funds, and a “high degree of uncertainty” hangs over the scheme’s value for money.

The chancellor’s unilateral decision to commit public funds to kickstart fundraising is described in a letter from the NAO to MPs as unorthodox. A total of £60m of public money has been granted to the project, whose chief cheerleader is actor Joanna Lumley.

Sir Amyas Morse, of the National Audit Office, said of the project: “It is important to note that the results would not in normal circumstances suggest a compelling value for money case … The department’s own quantitative analysis suggested that there may or may not be a net benefit and, especially once concerns over deliverability were taken account of, the project might well not have met the department’s normal threshold for allocating its finite funds.

“In this context it is important to recognise the wider context, particularly: the initial funding commitments were made by the chancellor to the mayor of London, without the DfT’s involvement.”

The letter added: “The garden bridge is expected to be predominantly financed through private donations. However, public money was transferred at an early stage in order to allow expenditure on pre-contract award activities with a view to kickstarting fundraising efforts. While this rationale is clear, the timing puts the public sector … at a higher risk than private finance sources of funding proving abortive.”

George Osborne and Boris Johnson Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

The watchdog’s verdict emerged alongside fresh questions over precisely how much has been raised by the private sector towards the bridge. On Wednesday, the Garden Bridge Trust announced Sky had offered £5m to the project, making a total of £85m in pledges from private sources. The £85m was, however, cited by the trust two months ago, prompting accusations of a lack of transparency over the true level of private funding.

Michal Ball of campaign group Thames Central Open Spaces said: “It seems as if Sky was already a previously undisclosed donor given the private investment amount has not gone up since last autumn.”

Bee Emmott, executive director of the trust said: “The garden bridge is making huge progress and construction will start in the summer. We have a robust business case and we are confident we will reach our targets.”

Elsewhere, scrutiny has been growing over a series of meetings held by Johnson, one involving the bridge’s designer, Thomas Heatherwick, on 1 February 2013, two weeks before Transport for London invited Heatherwick Studio to tender successfully for the project. The meeting, though, was omitted from the mayor’s official report to the Greater London Assembly despite the inclusion of his main activities being a statutory requirement.

Critics also asked questions over a mysterious trip by Johnson to San Francisco in early 2013. Although the mayor admits the trip related to the garden bridge he has refused to provide any further detail and, again, also omitted the excursion in his monthly report to the London Assembly.

The NAO provided its damning judgment after Meg Hillier, chair of the public accounts select committee, had asked it to examine the DfT’s rationale in providing £30m for the project, matching £30m from Transport for London. It found that the money had been agreed because the chancellor had already promised it. However, the NAO reported that “should the project fail, the department is at risk of having obtained no substantial benefits in return for its grant”.

Gareth Thomas, MP for Harrow West, on Friday called on Osborne to justify the use of public cash on a “vanity project”. He said: “At a time of deep public sector cuts, this money could have been spent on countless other projects where the business case has already been proved.”

Lib Dem mayoral candidate, Caroline Pidgeon, said: “It is incredible that, while the real benefits of the garden bridge are hard to quantify, George Osborne didn’t hesitate to instruct both the Department for Transport and the Mayor of London to pour taxpayers’ money into the scheme.”

In correspondence relating to the bridge, previously released under the Freedom of Information Act, it has been revealed that Osborne encouraged the mayor of London to support the plan for an “iconic” new bridge. Lumley, a longstanding friend of Johnson who has been a vocal champion for the bridge between Temple and the South Bank, also lobbied in 2012 for Johnson to meet her and Heatherwick. She is now a trustee on the Garden Bridge Trust, the charity that will maintain the river crossing if and when it is built.

Opponents say cyclists will have to push their bikes across the bridge, which will be shut every night and once a month during the day for corporate fundraising events.

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