Pleasing Plant Combinations

Designing gardens is all about bringing plants together with an eye toward how the flowers and foliage shape, color and structure work next to another plant.

The following two pairings of perennials look wonderful together.

The first is for full sun – Coneflower and Russian Sage.P1040654

The second is for shade Japanese fern, hosta and European ginger.texture2

These combinations work so nicely because of the various textures, the glossiness of one foliage against another and the play of soft, subtle colors.

What’s for Dinner?

I’m looking around the garden thinking about what I can make for dinner tonight.

I have fresh tomatoes, peppers, onions, and basil in the garden. And I have chicken breasts in the refrigerator. If I stop at the Italian deli and pick up some shredded parm, I can coat the cutlets with cheese, bread crumbs, and seasoning. I could serve the cutlets over pasta with a fresh tomato, onion and Italian peppers sauce.

Sounds good to me. I looked up the ingredients online for some recipe guidance and found a similar idea by Rachel Ray that I will use as a starting point. Here’s Rachel’s recipe:

I’ll let you know how it turns out. But really, how can you miss with these ingredients. Yum.

After Dinner Update: Yum is right. I added some cream to the sauce to use up what I had in the refrigerator. And I was very generous with the basil and garlic. Dinner turned out really well. The cream made the sauce delicious. My husband — a natural foodie — loved it and went back for seconds.

Designing the Front Yard

This is a switch for me. Usually I am working in other people’s gardens, but this week I’m focusing on my own front yard. My goals: less lawn to mow, more color, little added maintenance.

Everything in front of the house changed a couple of years ago when a Linden tree split during a storm and had to be removed. The area went from full shade to full sun. Out went the pachysandra – never a favorite but it did the job – and in came an old-fashioned Annabelle hydrangea, new Limelight hydrangeas, a caryopteris ‘Blue Knight,’ a few day lilies, some forget me nots and lady’s mantle.

Deciding What to Grow

I like plants that are undemanding and bloom for a long time. Hydrangeas do that with flowers that start in July and go until frost. I also like to dry the blooms and use them to decorate the house for the holidays. So, I enjoy these big, fluffy panicle of flowers for a long, long time.

frontofmadisonIn front of the hydrangeas is a 12 by 5 feet rectangle on each side of the front walkway. This is currently lawn. The plan is to take this out and plant something low maintenance that flowers as long as the hydrangeas. My choice: Double Red ‘Radtko’ Knock Out roses.

For this year, the plan is to plant the 3 roses on each side which means they will have plenty of room to spread to their mature size of about 4 by 4 feet. If it looks too spare next season, I will add petunias to fill the space visually as I did in the photo above.

In time, the roses won’t need fillers. If you had more room and wanted to add plants in front, you could add perennials such as Walker’s Low catmint or Lady’s mantle with its frothy flowers and appealing green round leaves — either of these would look very pretty.

Getting Started

The area is grass now and there are bricks to be move to line the sidewalk and create the rose bed. The next step will be to add topsoil and peat moss to the sandy soil that is the base of the garden. Then digging holes, planting the Knock Outs, putting down cardboard under a high quality landscape fabric and mulching. The cardboard will smother the grass and weeds that grow there now.

To water this section, I plan to use soaker hoses on a timer. This method has worked well for me in other areas.

The Plan

Today I am shopping for a specimen tree for the corner of the house. I’m thinking of a Rose of Sharon ‘Diana’ which is pure white and reaches a height of 8 to 10 feet. In front of it, I will plant another white hydrangea and to the side a Hinnomaki Red gooseberry.

Growing food is an interest of mine and I already have honeyberries, blueberries, strawberries, elderberries and quince in the home garden. Adding gooseberries is a natural and this shrub will produce lots of vitamin-rich fruit, not outgrow its designated space, and add interest with red berries that should be made even more visible with the backdrop of white hydrangeas.

That’s the plan. I’ll keep you posted.

Tomorrow’s Garden Plans

I will be in the garden tomorrow morning cleaning up and tending to Family Gardening Program plots.

Anyone who hasn’t been able to come during the week and who would like to talk about what is happening in their plots is welcome to join me starting at 10 a.m., ask questions and get assistance. If it is your home garden that has an issue, bring a sample of the insect or diseased plant in a plastic bag.

Disinfecting Tools

If you have Early Blight remember to clean your tools in a solution of bleach and water to disinfect them. And, after you handle your diseased plants wash your hands to avoid spreading the problem.

How I disinfect my clippers, trowels, etc. Start by putting on old clothes.

Then: mix 2 gallons of water with 4 cups of bleach in a five-gallon bucket. I place the tools into the water/bleach solution for 15 minutes. Don’t rush it, just let them soak.

If you only have a few tools to clean, the formula is 1/2 cup bleach to a quart of water. I like the bucket because I can place shovels next to trowels, etc.

After 15 minutes, I use rubber gloves and take the tools out of the bucket. Rinse them in water and dry them with a cloth. Then I let them sit in the sun for a while before rubbing the tools with a drop of oil on a cloth to keep them from rusting.

I recycle the bleach water by: going after mildew and algae with a scrub brush, washing down plastic lawn furniture, and cleaning the trash cans.

See you in the garden.


Not Even This Humidity Can Dampen Gardening Spirit

I checked the humidity before I headed into the garden at 6:45 and saw it was 88 percent. Ugh.

Motivating to do physical work when it feels like this is near impossible.

It’s just too hot and sticky. If you must do some chore, keep yourself hydrated, keep it simple and keep it short. I lasted 22 minutes, managed to rake one small area of mulch smooth and felt like a winner.

Now, I’m inside, drinking an iced coffee and looking at the photos I took yesterday at the Moreau Community Garden where we are growing pumpkins, tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers, carrots, dill, rosemary, basil, tarragon, green beans, snap beans, rhubarb, zucchini, summer squash and more.7MCG8

Moreau Community Garden

The area I am responsible for is approximately 20 plots that are part of the Family Gardening Program, an initiative funded by a $2.1 million dollar Carol M. White PEP Grant that was awarded to the South Glens Falls school district to promote fitness and nutritional programs over a three-year period. The Family Gardening Program is part of this grant and designed to teach nutrition and a healthy style of living to children and their parents by growing food organically.

As the Garden Coach, I’m doing that and more because I’ve opened the garden lectures to all Moreau gardeners interested in learning to vegetable garden successfully. All community members are welcome to come, ask questions, bring samples of their garden problems – in a sealed plastic bag please – to be identified and remedies discussed. And each week, community gardeners have attended and asked questions about their plots in the community garden and their home gardens.

Learning how to garden builds confidence, teaches cooperation, caregiving and discipline and gets you outside in the fresh air, bending, stretching, lifting, digging, raking, weeding . . . in other words exercising as part of an activity you enjoy. This is the best kind of exercise because when you enjoy what you do, you will do it again and again.

It’s not work if you love it, right?

As part of the experience we do:
Math – For example: we divided our garden plots into equal squares and within each square evenly spaced a predetermined number of seeds depending on the future size of the plant.
Estimating – For instance: We will have a contest this week to see who can guess the correct number of seeds on the average strawberry.
Science – We are continuously identifying insects and what they do, their lifestyle and whether they are good for the garden or not. We do the same for weeds and had a wildly successful weed scavenger hunt. These gardeners know their weeds from common crabgrass to red-root pigweed and the edibles: purslane, lambsquarters and dandelion leaves.
Language skills – Example, we review labels and learned how to read a seed packet for the information we need about disease resistance, days to harvest, plant requirements, etc.

We are going to need a recipe for Bok Choy soon!

We are going to need a recipe for Bok Choy soon!

Food, Fun and Friendships

Our garden is social. When we need a break, the picnic tables under the trees offer a place to sit in the shade, share stories and sometimes food from the garden. We’ve had lip-puckering rhubarb lemonade, Fran’s home-made salsa, and as the vegetables mature we will have a tomato taste test of the different varieties we are growing, pasta sauce, a salsa making demonstration, and at least four more variations of lemonade using the herbs we are growing, including mint, rosemary and basil. This week, because strawberries are at their peak, we will sample strawberry lemonade and I will read aloud a Native American legend about the first strawberries.

(I can tell you the strawberry lemonade is very good, having made it yesterday. But I can’t tell you the average number of seeds on a strawberry until after Tuesday. Wink.)

Every week we begin with a garden talk led by yours truly. I show people the insects currently in the garden, the damage they do, and how to get rid of them without the use of harsh chemicals. We have had sessions on knowing when and how much to water and setting a fertilizer schedule using organic products such as fish emulsion. Everything we do is organic.

There’s an “Acceptable Garden Products” information sheet posted here on this blog and also in the garden on the bulletin board showing what can be used in this organic community garden.

I teach how important observation is in the garden. When you look closely and know your plants, you spot things before they become big issues. If I had to say what one thing makes one garden successful over another, that would be it. Look, really look, and you will notice small things like holes chewed in a leaf when it’s just one bug doing damage and not an entire army of bugs.

Bulletin Board and the Blog

The goal is sharing information. In the garden, attached to the Recreation building, is a bulletin board and under it is a wicker window box. On the bulletin board are sheets updated weekly with information on insects, diseases and weeds to help the gardeners. There is also a plastic container in the window box where gardeners can trap insects they can’t identify. When I come to the garden I identify the pest, print out a mug-shot and what needs to be done to remedy the problem if anything. There are good bugs, too. And we welcome those.

The blog’s goal is to reach all the gardeners and review what is happening in our plots. My goal is simple: I want everyone to build their gardening skills, have a successful experience growing nutritious, healthy food and enjoy the many different ways vegetables and herbs can enhance a meal.

Gertrude Jekyll once said: “The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies.”

I believe that.

I hope to meet you in the garden, Natalie Walsh, Master Gardener

Gardening Must-Do List for Today

This morning I’m helping a friend in her garden and then I’ll be in my garden.

Feel free to stop by with a Dunkin Donuts iced coffee (just cream) if you’d like. 🙂

Here’s what I need to do on my property.

I had a sick tree removed yesterday, the stump is gone and now I have to trim back the roots, rake and amend the soil and prepare the area for new plants.

I also need to dig up some green and white hostas along the foundation and replace them with small, smooth rocks held in with a metal edging. It is a neat and tidy look that needs no maintenance. I like that . . . who wouldn’t.

If anyone has room for an old-fashioned panicle hydrangea. Let me know a.s.a.p. as it needs a new home with six hours of sun. The blooms are creamy and attractively tinge red on the edges in the fall. I dry them and use them as Christmas decorations as they are so abundant and beautiful. UPDATE: THE HYDRANGEA IS SPOKEN FOR AND WILL HAVE A LOVELY HOME IN VERMONT.

Then, I’m hoping to head into the back 40 (feet not acres) and tend to some lady’s mantle blooms that have passed their peak. I also need to weed one area.

And, I’m thinking of a shopping trip to Toadflax (get off exit 17N and travel towards Glens Falls. It’s on the right) for some Asiatic lilies I saw earlier this week. The rosy color is perfect for near the base of a purple smoke bush.

It would add pop. I’ll post a picture later on.

See you tonight at the fireworks! Natalie

Seeing the Garden’s Beauty

I was in the Saratoga Springs Community Garden walking around and admiring what’s been growing on there.

Here are some photos of what I saw.

Does anyone else see the extraordinary beauty of these vegetables? So very colorful, rich in texture and so very healthy and delicious.


A Garden Poem

Every time I enter the garden, I carry the stirrup hoe with me and gently coax the weeds out. So last night, when I came upon this poem by John Updike, I smiled to know that the satisfaction I feel, other gardeners feel too.


I sometimes fear the younger generation will be deprived
of the pleasures of hoeing;
there is no knowing
how many souls have been formed by this simple exercise.

The dry earth like a great scab breaks, revealing
moist-dark loam-
the pea-root’s home,
a fertile wound perpetually healing.

How neatly the green weeds go under!
The blade chops the earth new.
Ignorant the wise boy who
has never performed this simple, stupid, and useful wonder.

Gardeners Learn New Skills, Enjoy Salsa and Sunshine


We accomplished so much in the garden yesterday and had fun too.

In addition to the usual chores of weeding – so easy with the stirrup hoe – I taught the gardeners how to thin Swiss chard, beets, cucumbers and how to trim tomato leaves to create healthier plants. We also transplanted at the proper spacing for continuous harvest throughout the season. Thank you Roger for your input.

I also planted a giant pumpkin. It doesn’t look giant now, but it was planted in a mix of composted cow manure and soil and I have high hopes. 3-mcg

The trellises for our vining plants were made by Bob and Gina LeClair and painted in bright colors. Thank you. They are sturdy and colorful. Soon they will be dripping with tomatoes, tomatillos, cucumbers and other climbers. 5mcg

Bill was there building teepee trellises for his tomatoes. Basically, you take three sticks and tie the tops of them together to form a support for all the juicy, red tomatoes we will have in the months to come. Bill MCGbill2mcg

Fran brought a jar of home-made salsa. Yummy. The ingredients came from her garden last season and she made and preserved the salsa. It was delicious. And best of all, Fran has agreed to teach us all how to make it when peppers, tomatoes and tomatillos ripen. Believe me, you won’t want to miss that demonstration.

The insects we covered in the lecture were aphids, flea beetles, squash bug and squash vine borer. Aphids and flea beetles are in the garden. If you find aphids in your plot – look on the underside of leaves – use a spray of water to dislodge the aphids. This should do it.

Flea beetles can be dealt with by knocking them into soapy water, spraying them with water with a drop of dish detergent added, or using a spray of tomato leaf water which is made by shredding two cups of tomato leaves in an equal amount of water and letting it sit overnight. In the morning, remove the leaves, and add a second cup of water. Strain into a spray bottle. I have read this works because tomato plants contain alkaloids in their leaves. When this compound is released through shredding and added to water, the spray becomes effective in flea beetle and aphid control.

Squash bugs and squash vine borer are more difficult. We haven’t seen them in the garden but mid-June is when they show up, lay eggs and do their damage. Be observant. If you find eggs near the base of squash, pumpkins, etc. remove them with your fingers and throw them away. It is the best way to keep our garden healthy.

If you don’t know these insects, come to the next meeting!

The group will meet next Thursday at 4 p.m. PLEASE NOTE Starting June 25th, we will meet at 11 a.m. Tuesdays since school will no longer be in session.

All community gardeners are invited to attend the lecture and work alongside other gardeners. It is a wonderful opportunity to ask questions of a master gardener and learn how to grow food.

I hope to see you next Thursday at 4 p.m.