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Archives for November 27, 2016

Column: Tricks to make your home more comfortable

One of the wonderful things about living in Hawaii is landscaping with lush tropical plants. Blessed with daily sunshine, fertile volcanic soil, frequent rain, and a year-round growing cycle, we can quickly transform our yards into exotic gardens.

Utilizing tropical friendly landscape designs can make a significant difference in your home’s comfort level. Unless you live on the west side of the Kohala Coast, or at another arid location in Hawaii, placing plants too close to your home and planting trees that shade your home will increase the humidity level of your home, while decreasing air flow and sunlight entering into the home.

After it rains, sunshine plays an essential role in drying out the home and the ground surrounding it. Shade trees and other plants planted near the home create a moist environment which increase humidity levels.

We feel more comfortable when humidity levels inside the home are lower than 50 percent. When humidity levels increase above 60 percent, not only do we feel hot and sticky, mold flourishes. If you feel you are suffering from vog, and the humidity level in and around your home is consistently above 60 percent, you may be suffering from the ill effects of excessive mold spores, rather than vog. An inexpensive and relatively easy method to combat mold is to apply a fungicide on the siding of your home and under the eaves at least once every two years.

To reduce maintenance while creating a better living environment, landscape the perimeter of the home in a manner that directs water to flow away from the foundation. Low growing plants, like asparagus fern and society garlic are ideal to plant within six feet of the home. When possible use crushed volcanic rock as ground cover and use drip irrigation when planting near the home.

Cutting back and removing overgrown plants enhances the appeal of your home while reducing humidity levels. It only takes a few years before attractive smaller plants, bushes and trees to become overgrown and unattractive. Unless you are landscaping with plants that have a limited height, you should anticipate re-planting every two to three years.

Keep in mind that if you are fortunate enough to have an ocean view, good neighbors in Hawaii do not plant trees behind or on the side of their homes. So if those trees you planted some years ago have grown tall enough to block your neighbor’s view, your neighbors will most likely want to lend a hand when you trim them back or remove them, while you benefit from the added comfort of your home.

Blessington is a resident of Kailua-Kona.

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Garden Notes: What about a turkey season?

Turkeys nibble at sprouting corn in West Tisbury.
– Susan Safford

Being grateful for what one is given takes work, but is often the path to contentment. “Every disadvantage has its advantages,” a quote from the Dutch soccer great Johan Cruyff, has been a key quote in our gardens; over all, a pretty good year.

Thanksgiving and turkey day, coming right up. And, increasingly year ’round, coming to a garden near you, it has also been “turkey day.” The flocks roaming their preferred ranges on the Island have swelled to substantial numbers. The damage they can do to a garden is substantial as well.

We were mystified at the damage occurring — rodents? — in a compact Vineyard Haven flower bed, up against a house wall, to plants that are known to be immune to that sort of thing; but the cause became clear when we saw the turkey phalanx boldly advancing across the lawn one day, as we were finishing up.

Another garden, this one off South Road, Chilmark, contains a small, fully fenced vegetable patch; the Tuscan kale the owner specifically requested kept disappearing, with nothing else touched. Several replantings later, the culprit was seen to be a hen turkey, flying into and out of the enclosure. She had apparently developed quite a choosy nutritional sense.

No one knows just how many feral turkeys roam the Island, but they are increasing here. Perhaps our human nutritional sense could be developed to the point of petitioning to open a season on them?

Currently the season for wild turkey in Massachusetts is Oct. 24 through Nov. 5. Because here they are not wild but escaped domestic turkeys (“feral”), originally enlisted as an economical tick control, sportsmen are apparently not allowed to shoot them. Over the years our family has had many Thanksgiving dinners that featured game; I anticipate feral turkey gracing the holiday table in future.

Wild turkey recipe

A recipe for wild turkey in “Eat, Drink and Be Merry in Maryland” (compiled by Frederick Philip Stieff, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1932), found among those for marsh rabbit (muskrat), rabbit pie, and roast quail, suggests dressing the bird and letting it hang outside on a porch for six or seven days if the weather is cool: “Prepare stuffing with fine bread crumbs and chestnuts as follows: Boil chestnuts until mealy, and mash them up fine. Put one half bread crumbs and one half chestnuts with some butter and mix up well. Stuff the turkey with this filling. Put in oven to roast, putting plenty of butter on turkey, also some small strips of bacon. Cover same with a cloth. While roasting baste thoroughly, and when turkey is about done, take the cloth off and brown it thoroughly. Put salt and pepper on turkey with butter before starting to roast.” (That’s it — no numbers, no temps, no times. Evidently, 84 years ago people just knew how to cook.)

Leaf harvest

After unseasonable delay, leaf fall is finally here. The upside of the delay may be that local drought-stressed trees have been able to claw back some vitality from the extended season. At least this week’s sleet was not early snow; when that happened some years ago in Vermont, it was a disaster for in-leaf trees, with broken limbs and fallen trees widespread.

It should also be noted that trees and many other plants like the mulch of their own debris. When we go into the woods, there is no raked and bare soil! While we think that cleanup is a responsible element of home ownership or gardening and landscaping, this is an entirely human approach, one of “lookism,” not one that benefits trees, shrub borders, and their surrounding soil. Lawns are a different matter; removing matted leaves does benefit them.

For gardeners, the harvest of leaf fall may be viewed similarly to all the other harvests, but this is a harvest of humus, carbon (the “brown” component of compost), and soil tilth. Stockpile them or run them through a mulching mower.

Leaf litter in beds and borders may be a plus, depending upon one’s own point of view. The litter keeps soils soft and protected from erosion, and performs many of the functions of laid mulch. However, like laid mulch, litter may obscure the presence of weed seedlings, moles, voles, and chipmunks.

Commence pruning of shrubs and trees once leaves have fallen and plants are dormant: Look for crossing or rubbing branches. Rubbing opens wounds in shrubs’ and trees’ bark. Crossing branches may be no more harmful than merely interfering with a tree’s aesthetics, but generally, a branch growing toward the center of the crown is better removed.

A leaf muddle is shorthand for accumulations of leaves lodging in plants’ interiors, especially of evergreens, and typically occurs in such as yews, boxwood, shrub hollies, and other broad-leaved evergreens. Remove them before snow or ice catches there and their weight deforms or breaks the plants. Leaf muddles have also been known to house rodents that gnaw the underlying bark.

Pluck boxwood ( to grow stockier plants less prone to breaking open under snow and ice load. The pluckings can be recycled into holiday decorations, or used to fill window boxes and containers. While clearing leaf muddles, take time to check how whippy the plants are. If they are bendy and split open easily, bundle loosely with twine or wrap with burlap.

Dahlia digging

New thoughts on dahlia digging by Matt Mattus are at his Growing With Plants blog,, including his recommendation to dig them before tops have been blackened by frost, and then washing and dividing tubers immediately. The reason is that for a short interval, a warty section of stem shows where new growth will sprout.

Drain rain barrels. Clear gutters. Thanksgiving cactus: Keep in bright indirect light, and water when the soil is dry.

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Master Gardeners continue mission to educate

Some may not realize how much work goes into the Teaching Garden at Will Rogers Park in Claremore, yet over 60 members of the Master Gardeners Association of Rogers County certainly do. Working hard year round to maintain the garden is only part of what the members do in the community.

Each member of the Master Gardeners Association must complete a 12-week Oklahoma State University Extension course to obtain certification to be part of the program before giving 50 hours of participating assistance in the first year and 25 hours of approved community service beyond that.

The purpose of the Master Gardeners is to meet the gardening needs in the community. Beginning in 2002 the non-profit organization took off and has grown since that time. The city allowed the Master Gardeners — working solely from donations from the community and a few fundraisers — to build a Teaching Garden at Will Rogers Park that opened in 2014.

The club renovated flowerbeds within the park, which led to the city providing them with an irrigation system earlier this year. “It really helped us out a lot, because before the city did that for us, we watered everything by hand,” said Master Gardener Merry Steinley.

One feature added this year is the Pixley Waterfall Garden funded by Pixley Lumber Company.

The waterfall project is an example of something the association would love to see more of.

“We have had a few local businesses take part in sponsoring parts of the garden and it helps out tremendously,” Steinley said.

The group also takes part in helping educate K-2 grade students at schools in Rogers County by offering a curriculum and giving children a hands-on learning experience. Members of the program speak to the children and then leave them each with a seed and a cup so they can enjoy watching it grow.

“We really want to add a children’s garden at the park,” Steinley said, adding that the organization is hoping to make that happen in the coming year.

The group is also proud of its new website, where members will eventually post updates and gardening tips, something they currently do on their Facebook page.

Though one has to take the certification course in order to volunteer at the Teaching Garden, monthly meetings are open for the public to attend.

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5 garden tips for the week starting Oct. 29

Winter harvest

Plant cool-season vegetables within the next few weeks. These include beets, broccoli, carrots, lettuce, peas, radishes and spinach. You also can plant Swiss chard in its variety of colors, as well as parsley and more. Some will be ready to start harvesting in December.

Time to act

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, if you want to plant drought-tolerant shrubs and groundcovers, get them in the ground now. The roots will develop over the next several months, so they can be fully drought-tolerant next year in case the drought continues. Consider planting ornamental grasses, lantanas, manzanitas and more. But do it soon.

Rain on the way

Prepare your property for hoped-for winter rains. Start by providing pathways for proper drainage (hopefully not into your neighbor’s yard). Clean rain gutters. Maybe even purchase water barrels to collect and store the rain that comes down from the rain gutters. And check your roof and any skylights or vents. They may need a new application of water sealant to prevent leakage; old sealant often shrinks or cracks during hot, dry weather and needs to be repaired.


Take time to clean up your garden by removing any fallen fruit, old vegetables, plant debris and weeds. Many weeds are releasing seeds now, so timely removal will greatly reduce the threat of weeds, and your efforts now will help to prevent problems from pests and diseases in your garden next season.

Smart option

Aspidistra is a good evergreen ornamental to put in very dark, shady areas. It does not produce noticeable flowers, but it is always attractive and stays under 2 feet tall. Its wide arching leaves look rather tropical. Called the “cast-iron plant,” it grows happily in conditions that would kill many other plants — including in containers indoors. Once established, it is nearly drought-resistant. A rich-looking variegated form also is available.

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Essex police tell residents prickly bushes will deter thieves

But angry residents have claimed it is a cop out – and say they need more bobbies on the street instead.

Retired teacher Marjorie Hammond, 62, whose home in Tendring, Essex, has been broken into twice during the last five years, said: “If thieves will break my windows to get in, they’re not going to be put off by a couple of rose bushes.

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Garden Tips: Proper way to select, use garden shovel – Tri

When researching digging shovels for last week’s column, I discovered that selecting and using this simple utilitarian tool correctly is more complicated than I imagined. Here are just some of the things I learned.

Shovel lift: A shovel’s lift is very important. The lift is the angle formed between the handle and the ground when you place the blade flat on the ground. Low-lift shovels are best for vertical digging, such as digging up garden plants.

High-lift shovels work well for jobs involving lifting and moving soil out of holes, or for loading soil or other materials. This is because the higher angle allows the user to bend less when lifting materials, causing less strain on their back. Shovels with high lift also frequently have a more curved or cupped-up blade for making it easier to move materials.

Using a shovel: I have to admit that even though I am a lifelong gardener, I never learned how to use a straight handled shovel correctly. A critical part is picking a shovel with the correct lift for your size and frame.

Select a shovel so that your arms are fully extended when the blade is straight up and down, when situated close to your feet. When you put your foot on the blade to push it into the soil, it should slice vertically into the soil, not at an angle. Then lower the handle to waist height and move your left hand down the handle while bending your knees. This allows you to lift using your knees instead of your back. After lifting the soil, you then simply rotate and dump it next to you, instead of lifting with your back and tossing it out of the hole. Take small slices of soil, rather than large ones that make the load heavier and leads to clods that will need breaking apart. To see this demonstrated, go to

Stamped, forged, stainless steel blades: Shovel blades are formed in different ways with types of materials. Your lower cost shovels tend to have weaker steel blades that are stamped out of metal. Shovel blades made from forged steel are typically thicker, stronger and heavier. The blade tends to stay sharper longer, and the shank that attaches the blade to the handle is sturdier. Stainless steel blades do not rust and are smoother, making it easier to cut into the soil, but they are usually not as strong as carbon steel blades.

Shovel blade points: Digging shovels generally have a rounded point. Shovels with square points are more useful for moving gravel, soil, mulch and compost from hard surfaces.

Closed and open backs: Better shovels have a closed back. Closed-back shovels have a plate welded to the back of the blade that provides additional strength and prevents soil from accumulating in the handle socket. Less expensive open-backed shovels do not have this covering.

Blade step: One thing I do know to look for on shovels is the step on the top of the blade where you situate your foot to push the blade in the soil. I find digging much easier and safer when a shovel’s step is generous with a raised tread.

There is so much more I could write about shovels, especially their handles, but I will let you research that on your own. Before buying a shovel, see if you like its feel and decide if it will work well for regular digging tasks. Even the most expensive shovel is not worth the investment because it is not a good fit.

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

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Small Business Saturday: Holiday Shopping with The Garden Gossip

It’s that happy time of year again, when thoughts turn to “What the heck am I going to give to Aunt Bessie?” The best thing about this Holiday Shopping Guide is that you don’t have to leave Carpinteria to find the perfect gift. And even better, the shops in Carpinteria are all small, locally owned businesses. Yay! These are the folks we should be supporting this holiday season. Here is a brief tour of some of the Carpinteria shopping options (with a garden twist of course).


The secret’s out about Porch. Proprietors Christie Boyd and Diana Dolan do the hard work of sourcing impeccable merchandise from around the world. All you need to do is show up and be prepared for awesomeness. They specialize in home and garden furnishings that you will not find anywhere else. But more to the point, at Porch you’ll find something for everyone on your list (and perhaps a little something for yourself, too).

Eye of the Day Garden Design Center

Brent and Suzi Freitas have been providing homeowners, garden designers and architects garden decor for over 20 years. Brent literally travels the globe sourcing exquisite outdoor furnishings—anyone looking for pottery, sculpture, fountains and the like, need look no further than Eye of the Day. But besides all the “big stuff,” they also have a wonderful collection of “little stuff” like garden hats, candles and that “perfect pot” for your patio. Do I sense a gift certificate coming? Great idea.


I love giving (and receiving) orchids for many reasons. They are gorgeous; the bloom lasts for months, and the plants can last a lifetime. In the right location they will bloom again and again and again. I am an orchid lover and collect “orphans” that have been abandoned by others. As a result, I always have something in bloom. Keep it local by gifting orchids created by our local growers. Pick out the orchids you like and a container and they will create one-of-a-kind orchid gift basket at no extra cost. Gallup Stribling and Westerlay Orchids on Via Real, as well as Island View Nursery on Foothill Road, are all open to the public.

Carpinteria Valley Lumber

I love hardware stores and Carpinteria Valley Lumber is the old-fashioned kind, with old-fashioned friendly service. I include it in the Holiday Shopping Edition because they have everything you could possibly need for your garden. In the main store there are construction materials and tools. Then in the parking lot there are fountains, birdbaths and tons of other stuff. The garden shop has the rest: seeds, fertilizers and even barbecues and hibachis. I wasn’t kidding when I said they have everything. Gift certificate anyone?

Antique shops

There are too many antique shops to mention them all, but just take a stroll along Carpinteria Ave down Linden and peruse the alleyways, you’ll find tons of fun spots for unique gifts and get in a nice walk too. Here you’ll find lots of creative plant containers and garden art from teacups and old boots to birdhouses and garden gnomes. Perfect to add a bit of whimsy to your garden.

Hopefully you are in the mood to shop and particularly to shop locally this holiday. Until next time, fill your garden with joy and have a wonderful holiday season!

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Well-planned gardens offer year-round beauty

Too often, winter is considered the dead season in the garden. It doesn’t have to be that way when you plan and plant with every season — not just spring and summer — in mind.

“There is nothing more beautiful to me than the silhouette of trees against a winter sky,” said Peggy Krapf, of Heart’s Ease Landscape Garden Design in Williamsburg, Virginia. “This is where good or bad pruning becomes really evident. Trees should be carefully pruned so they are as beautiful in the winter as they are in the summer.

“I also love ornamental grasses in the garden any time of year, but especially winter. They are a lovely foil for other plants around them and the birds love to eat the seeds they produce. They add great interest to the winter landscape. I cut them down in early spring, just as the new growth begins.”

In Krapf’s viewpoint, the best winter gardens have a good balance of evergreen plants to deciduous species so everything doesn’t “disappear” in winter. Be sure to choose plants carefully for winter because deer are hungriest at that time of year, she advises.

“I especially love gardens with a lot of strong structural elements, as well … or good ‘bones,’ ” said Krapf, a member of the Virginia Society of Landscape Designers.

“Paving, walls, fencing, patios, even statuary and accents like benches and birdhouses give interest to a space when many plants are dormant or not looking their best,” she said. “Even containers can be filled with greenery and colorful berries to carry through till the worst of winter is past.

For an eye-catching winter garden, Krapf favors perennials like Hellebores (both orientalis and foetidus), evergreen ferns, euphorbia and some herbs such as rosemary and sage.

“One I especially love is Arum Italicum, known as Lords and Ladies,” she said. “I call it ‘hosta for the winter,’ but this one is deer resistant. Shiny, speckled, arrow-shaped leaves appear in great clumps in late fall and persist all winter long, looking fresh even in the coldest weather.

“I use them in flower arrangements with hellebores and other winter evergreens. When weather warms the leaves go dormant and completely disappear. The plants then send up foot-tall stems in summer that are covered with orange berries for multi-season interest.

In Yorktown, Virginia, Allan Hull, nursery manager at Peninsula Hardwood Mulch, likes mahonias such as Winter Sun and Soft Caress.

“Winter Sun is a fabulous hybrid shrub adaptable from shade to sun,” Hull said.

“Each cane will sprout a large bright yellow bloom spike in winter, typically all December long. It is lightly fragrant and will also produce small green berries resembling grapes, which the birds eat,” he said. “Soft Caress is a dwarf version of Winter Sun except the leaves are slender and are not thorny.”


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