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Archives for November 13, 2016

Madison eyes a German-style beer garden for Olbrich Park

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Book advises older folks seeking low-maintenance gardens

“Our gardens should be our love, not our labor of love.”

That’s the mantra of Jan Coppola Bills, garden designer and author of the new book “Late
Bloomer: How To Garden With Comfort, Ease and Simplicity in the Second Half of Life” (St. Lynn’s,
160 pages, $18.95).

“Even though it’s called ‘Late Bloomer,’ it’s a book that really gives practical tips,” Bills
said recently by phone from Michigan, where she runs Two Women and a Hoe, her landscape-design

Among Bills’ top pointers for low-maintenance gardens:

• Put the right plant in the right place, a concept echoed by many landscaping experts.

If you choose an appropriate spot — considering issues such as sun, soil and wind — a plant will
be happy and do the work for you.

But if you place, say, a sun-loving flower in a shady spot, you’ll be fighting nature, and the
plant will never thrive.

• Use mulch correctly and generously.

“Mulch is a key ingredient in your garden that will ensure healthy, well-established plants and
trees,” Bills writes.

It offers numerous benefits for plants and soil — and it makes gardens look beautiful and

Bills also writes about caring for the gardener as well as the garden.

“I will plant only what I can comfortably tend” and “I will ask for help, if necessary” are
components of her “Late Bloomer’s credo.”

Another key step is to relax.

“When we really do let go, we see that Mother Nature is perfectly imperfect,” she said by

Her book concurs:

“By its very nature, a garden is not about perfection. It is a living, changing being — just
like you, just like me.”

As for the physical aspect of gardening in the second half of life, “It’s knowing our limits and
being OK with that,” she said.

For instance: “Stretching is important.”

Her book includes sections on “Staying Healthy: Garden Yoga,” “Tools To Make Things Easier” and “
Work Wear: Comfy, Practical Clothes.” (Knee pads and rubber boots are musts.)

To save time as well as wear and tear on the body, her book recommends avoiding shrubs that
require pruning for size or shape as well as high-maintenance perennials that need frequent

“I do everything organically, and it’s all about sustainability,” she said.

A big part of that approach, of course, is choosing plants that can take of themselves.

For instance, Bills praises ground covers, such as shade-loving pachysandra, as “a straight
ticket to less maintenance.”

Here’s a sampling of other suggestions from her book:

• Coneflower (echinacea), an easy-care perennial with summer flowers in a range of hues.

• Palace Purple coral bells, a perennial that thrives even in dry shade.

• Elijah Blue fescue, a low-growing ornamental grass that tolerates dry soil.

• Limelight hydrangea, a versatile shrub with showy flowers.

• Disease-resistant roses such as Double Knockout and Drift Groundcover.

• Autumn Brilliance serviceberry, a small tree that boasts white flowers in spring.

Diana Lockwood, a freelance writer covering gardening topics, posts on Facebook at

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Ornamental grasses add texture, beauty to your landscape – Tribune

Ornamental grasses add texture, beauty to your landscape

Updated 23 hours ago

Ornamental grasses are some of the most gorgeous plants for the fall and winter garden. Not only are they easy to grow, pest resistant and tough as nails, many ornamental grasses have beautiful fall coloration. They require very little irrigation and only need to be tended to once a year. Essentially, the only care they require is a haircut each spring, when they should be cut down to six or eight inches before new growth begins.

Most ornamental grasses produce their flower stalks late in the season, adding further interest and texture to the landscape. Plus, the winter snow looks beautiful resting on the stalks of ornamental grasses, and as they rustle in the wind, they add a lovely sense of movement to the garden.

But some ornamental grasses are better than others. Several of the non-native species, such as maidengrass (Miscanthus sinensis) and ravenna grass (Ripidium ravennae), are becoming invasive as they spread out of cultivated landscapes and into natural areas. Several introduced grass species are on the watch list for their invasive tendencies in the mid-Atlantic region and other parts of the country.

Instead of growing introduced ornamental grasses, gardeners should turn to North American native species. Not only are these varieties stellar performers in the garden, they’re also easier to grow and less likely to seed everywhere.

Though not all the varieties I list below are native to Pennsylvania, they are all native to North America and are great choices for Pennsylvania gardens.

Look for these native ornamental grasses at your local garden center. You can still plant them this fall, until the ground freezes.

• Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) is one of my favorite ornamental grasses. This grass grows into a nice-sized clump and has narrow stems with an upright habit. During the growing season, the narrow blades are blue-green, but they turn a lovely brownish orange or red as the fall progresses. Little bluestem is drought tolerant and makes a great vertical accent in the garden. There are several cultivars on the market that are well worth growing. “Prairie Blues” and “The Blues” are both quite nice, but my favorite is “Standing Ovation” for its tight growth habit and brilliant red fall foliage. This grass reaches three to four feet in height.

• Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) is another clump-forming grass that has deep green foliage throughout most of the growing season. But, come fall, the plant turns red. “Red October” is my favorite cultivar of big bluestem because the scarlet leaves and flowers are simply breathtaking every autumn. Give this plant plenty of room, though, as it will reach six feet in height each season.

• Blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis) is a good choice for smaller areas as it only reaches two to three feet in height. In my opinion, “Blonde Ambition” is the variety to look for. The large tufts of narrow-bladed grass are blue-green. Then, in the late summer, crazy, flat, airy flowers pop out the top of the plant. This is such an unusual plant, but it’s incredibly low maintenance and drought tolerant.

• Ruby muhly grass (Muhlenbergia reverchonii) is a great grass for the landscape. The clump-forming plant has fine-textured foliage that turns a show-stopping ruby red in the late summer. It’s heat and drought tolerant, and the clouds of tiny flower heads float above the foliage. Look for the selection named “Undaunted,” as it’s hardy to USDA zone 5. Plants reach about a foot and a half in height.

• Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) is a personal favorite. The cultivar I have is “Shenandoah,” and I’m particularly fond of it because the tips of all the blades turn the most brilliant crimson red in mid-summer. The airy flower clusters are also a soft red. It reaches two to three feet in height and has an arching, but upright, growth structure.

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.

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Master Gardners: November gardening tips



Posted: Saturday, November 12, 2016 3:00 pm

Updated: 3:02 pm, Sat Nov 12, 2016.

Master Gardners: November gardening tips



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      Saturday, November 12, 2016 3:00 pm.

      Updated: 3:02 pm.

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      Garden Tips: Take advantage of mild weather to do fall garden chores – Tri

      It is hard to believe that it is almost the middle of November and there has not been a killing frost. Why not take advantage of this mild fall weather to do some fall garden chores?

      Now is a good time to get your vegetable garden cleaned up. Pull and chop remaining vines and plants. Chopping can be accomplished by running over the materials several times with a rotary mower or by using a machete. This increases the surface area of the materials, enabling faster decomposition by decay organisms. However, do not include any diseased plants or weeds with seeds.

      Enrich your garden soil by digging a trench in the garden, filling it with the chopped material and covering it up with soil. The decayed plant matter will be mixed into the soil when you till the garden next spring. Another option is to spread the materials over the garden’s surface and till them into the soil now.

      Leave at least one garden hose readily accessible for late fall and winter watering, but other hoses should be prepared for winter.

      Tree leaves should be raked up as they accumulate on the lawn. This prevents leaves from creating a matted layer that excludes light and air, and kills the grass beneath. Chop up the leaves and add them to soil, or start a compost pile.

      Woody materials and other slow-to-decay garden waste, such as corn stalks, can be chopped up using a shredder if one is available. Use this shredded material for mulching landscape plants. Do not add it to the vegetable garden or the compost pile, because it will tie up available nitrogen in the soil as it decays.

      Every year, I emphasize the importance of fall and winter watering of trees and shrubs. So far, we have had enough rainfall and have not needed to worry about soil moisture. However, extended mild fall and winter weather without significant precipitation can lead to dry soil, necessitating occasional deep watering of landscape trees and shrubs, especially evergreens.

      Leave at least one garden hose readily accessible for late fall and winter watering, but other hoses should be prepared for winter. Do this by removing any spray nozzles, disconnecting the hose from spigots, and draining any water still in the hose. Remove any kinks, and coil the hoses tightly before storing them in the garage or garden shed.

      There is no need to remove the dead, dry stems of flowering perennials. During the winter they provide cover and food for birds.

      Now is also a good time to pay attention to landscape. There is no need to remove the dead, dry stems of flowering perennials. During the winter, they provide cover and food for birds. However, it is advisable to cut back plants that were bothered with fungus diseases, such as powdery mildew. This helps reduce the potential of reinfection next year.

      If you feel a need to cut all of your perennials for the sake of neatness, cut the tops back to about 2 to 3 inches from the crown or base of the plant, but take care not go too far. You can harm the plant’s crown where the buds for next year’s growth are located.

      Do not do any extensive pruning of trees and shrubs. Only remove broken or diseased twigs and branches. Wait until late winter or early spring if you need to prune more heavily to reduce size or redirect growth. Prune roses only enough to keep extra long canes from whipping around in winter winds. Wait until spring to prune roses back more severely.

      Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.

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      Dining By Design offers tablescape inspiration

      Tired of the same old centerpiece on turkey day? Here’s some inspiration for a table that will wow from some of the area’s top designers and florists who brought on the glitz and glam for the recent Dining by Design fundraiser.

      And while we’re not suggesting you try to recreate these over-the-top tablescapes, maybe an idea or two will make it to your holiday table.

      For example, mix potted botanicals with blooming flowers for a lush garden look. Add candles and crystal objects that reflect light to make a dazzling statement. How about a striped tablecloth? Or a mix of creamy white flowers accented with greenery? Or pearl bracelets for napkin rings? Shop your yard for natural elements like branches and bamboo. And you can’t go wrong with gold, which will add a rich luster to your table.

      Let your centerpiece grow tall, while not obstructing the view of your guests, or let it amble down the length of the table. 

      The designers and florists for this year’s Dining by Design, orchestrated for the eighth year by chef John Folse as a fundraiser for Sister Dulce Marie and her Cypress Springs Mercedarian Prayer Center, worked with the theme “The Mercy of God Covers All.” It celebrated Pope Francis’ Jubilee Year of Mercy and marked this summer’s shootings of law enforcement officers and the historic flood, which put the prayer center ministry underwater.

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      Ilkley garden designer celebrates most successful year

      Next Up

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      Daisy’s sunny outlook in winter



      When I look over my garden in winter, I especially appreciate the hardiness of the paludosum daisy, which adds welcome white accents to a largely green palette (pictured at right next to a golden feverfew).

      It’s one of the best little flowering annuals you never noticed in the garden center.

      This is a cool-season plant. Gardens with hot summers can grow it primarily fall to spring, but in near-coastal gardens it can be in bloom any month of the year. It will thrive in sun, part shade or even bright winter shade. The plants, which grow 6-12 inches tall and wide, bloom for several weeks. They are mostly self-cleaning, although once in a while you might see a spent flowerhead that you’ll want to pluck.

      It’s a miniature daisy that remains bright and healthy in a damp, foggy garden even when some plants are succumbing to powdery mildews or gray mold. Snails and slugs seem little interested in it. Where you’d use white sweet alyssum, try this instead. It can be scattered singly to provide accents, used as an edging plant or massed for a solid sea of bloom. It’s also nice in containers.

      When a paludosum daisy plant is bloomed out, pull it. In the coming weeks, if it’s rainy or if you are watering frequently to get other seeds to come up, you might see a few paludosum seedlings, but never crowds of them. I usually find about as many as I want to dig and replant where I want them to grow. If you do grow seedlings, pinch off the first (central) flower bud to encourage the plant to branch and form many flower stems.

      This plant is native to southern Portugal and Spain, where it grows in sloping, rocky land in plant communities similar to our chaparral. It is still sold as Chrysanthemum paludosum, and I won’t bore you with what happened between the time that name was botanically correct and now, when it is correctly called Mauranthemum paludosum. But by whatever name, this plant is a winner for our regional gardens.

      Pam Peirce is the author of “Golden Gate Gardening: Third Edition.” Blog: Email:


      Rebate on barrels, cisterns: Before municipal water systems were available, homes often had wells and sometimes had water-storage cisterns buried in the yard. As our growing population puts more pressure on our fickle rainfall, some gardeners are turning again to cisterns, or the smaller rain barrels, to capture and store the rain that falls on their roofs to use in their gardens. The Public Utilities Commission is encouraging these solutions with a rebate program.

      The program offers San Franciscans a $100 discount each on as many as two 45- to 60-gallon rain barrels, or a $350 discount on a 130- to 860-gallon cistern. Read more about the program at There are links to application forms, a property owner release form (required for renters), and an online Rainwater Harvesting Manual. You can also learn more by calling the Urban Farmer Store at (415) 661-2204 .


      For the midlife gardener: Here is a small book that presents a nonintimidating introduction to gardening for the midlife beginner. “Late Bloomer: How to Garden With Comfort, Ease and Simplicity in the Second Half of Life,” by Jan Coppola Bills (St. Lyons Press, 2016), emphasizes a relaxed approach to creating a more rewarding garden. Bills says a midlife garden should be defined by words like “simplicity, beauty and harmony; comfort and ease; celebrating life with food from your soil; and relaxation and letting go.” With this “soul-pleasing” goal in mind, the book covers basic topics such as garden and container-planting design, lawn removal, plant choice, weed management and water conservation. The author, who does garden design and maintenance in Detroit, illustrates principles with examples from her clients’ gardens.

      TOOL TIP

      Try a short shovel: I was tickled to find in the book “Late Bloomer” that the author suggested one of my favorite tools: the D-Handled Short Shovel (pictured). I have been using a 27-inch-long shovel for many years. It is stronger than a trowel but just as manageable for small-scale digging while sitting on the ground or working in a raised bed. I use it to prepare soil for planting; to dig root crops; or to remove weed roots.

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