THE BLOG: let's talk gardening

MAY
5
2015

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Plant of the Week:

Endless Summer Hydrangeas - The Original

There are some plants that should be in every garden and hydrangeas are at the top of our list ~ an absolute must-have! Nothing says summer like these beautiful blooming shrubs. These shade-lovers infuse color in the garden at a time when many spring-blooming plants are no longer flowering. Hydrangeas make a great addition as a stand-alone “feature” plant, or grown in rows to create a privacy hedge. Their blooms also make some of the best cut flower arrangements. Snip a few blooms for an instant summer vase arrangement! In colors ranging from white to pink to blue, these softball-sized flowers brighten up any landscape.

We especially love the Endless Summer Original -- a customer favorite! It's a mop-head variety with the unique ability to bloom consistently on both old and new wood. The result is a plant that provides beautiful flowers all summer long. The flowers grow up to 8" in diameter, with PINK blooms in alkaline soils or BLUE blooms in acidic soil. It is still the hallmark of the shrub collection and with good reason. It was the first hydrangea discovered that blooms on the previous year’s woody stems and the new season’s growth. With The Original, you get an endless summer of possibilities and incredible color from spring through fall. And, who doesn’t want an Endless Summer?

Learn how to change the color of your hydrangeas! PINK OR BLUE, IT'S UP TO YOU >>

photo from endlesssummerblooms.com

MAY
4
2015

Grow What You Eat

by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener and gardening writer living in York County, Virginia

Dad was never a fan of ornamental shrubs and flowers. His philosophy was: Grow what you can eat! And, by golly, we ate good from his huge summer gardens filled with potatoes, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, string beans, spring onions and anything else tasty he could squeeze into the 40-by-100-foot plot behind my childhood home in Newport News.

Those summer gardens fueled my own desire to grow what I could eat, even though Dad continued to spoil me with fresh produce until his health recently declined. Today, I often grow edibles in raised beds fashioned from plain boards of lumber, or try my hand at straw bale gardening, which I really like because the entire garden can be recycled into compost.

My favorite edibles continue to be tomatoes – small grape tomatoes like Juliet and cherry tomatoes like Super Sweet, as well as mini pickling cucumbers that cut up nicely into fresh spinach salads. Eggplant and squash are also easy to cultivate in a backyard garden.

For the past two to three years, I plant extra miniature tomatoes like Juliet because my yard turtle, Fred, favors them so much. Each morning, bright and early, Fred creeps from the creek, along the grassy back lawn, into my pollinator garden where I place one or two tomato plants just for him. He always knows they will be there, and I know he will always be there – it’s one of the best parts of my mid-summer gardening days when the fruits begin to ripen.

This year, I’m introducing my 3-year-old granddaughter, Mattie, to gardening. Using a kit of cedar boards, she and I will plant a small garden of veggies, things like tomatoes, basil, oregano and onions for a homemade pizza, and surround it with marigolds for color and extra pollination.

In addition to my father, my grandmother in Lynchburg mentored my love for any kind of gardening. We spent many hours under her grape arbor, shelling fresh-picked butterbeans and shucking corn. I hope to pass that love onto Mattie and inspire her to grow what she can eat – it’s a healthy way to love your grandkids, for sure!

MAY
2
2015

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Homegrown Herbs

Fresh herbs are easy to grow and can make all the difference between a good dish and an extraordinary dish! Once you begin to use fresh herbs in your favorite recipes, you'll never want go back to using just dried herbs again. Chefs know that fresh food is always best and fresh herbs are no exception.

Here are our favorite herbs to create the basic kitchen garden. Of course, this is just a start, there are many others to experiment with in your garden that will add bold flavor. A herb garden can be as simple as having a pot just outside your kitchen door or a group of planters in your window sill or even an extensive garden planted outside. No matter the size, cooking with herbs can be fun and you can’t make a mistake - so be creative and savor the flavor.

Basil - With lots of varieties to choose from, this king of the herbs offers something for every palette. While the taste of sweet basil is bright and pungent, other varieties also offer unique tastes that are true to their name like: lemon basil, anise basil and cinnamon basil.

Parsley - Use this herb for the mild flavor it adds to a savory dish and for the coloring it adds as a garnish.

Sage - This is a must-have herb for seasoning any poultry dish. It has a slight peppery flavor and is best used on meats in a marinade but is also good in stuffing and sauces. We also love Pineapple Sage which is great in pitchers of water to offer flavor.

Rosemary - Rosemary is best used to season fish and seafood products, but it is also a great seasoning for grilled meats, lamb and potatoes. Try Barbeque Rosemary to use as skewers on the grill.... a real crowd pleaser!

Thyme - This is the basic herb used in dishes from all over the world including French, Italian, Indian, Greek and Spanish cuisines. Use thyme on lamb, meats, poultry, soups and stews.

Oregano - This classic culinary herb is one of the most commonly used herbs worldwide. Use in Italian, Greek and Mexican cooking. The flavor is strong enough to stand up to bold flavors like tomatoes, onion, garlic, and beef. We love the Hot & Spicy Oregano in pasta sauces.

Dill - This easy to grow herb is a member of the parsley family. Cut often to keep producing. Dill pairs well with fish and is used for pickling, to flavor salads and in soups.

Mint - Is a beautiful herb that has one of the most recognizable aromas. Spearmint and peppermint are the most popular types of mint, but more unusual varieties like Mint Chocolate are available. Use in drinks, or simply gather a small bunch to offer aroma for a room.

MAY
1
2015

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Let's Talk Tomatoes

Check out what's trending in the tasty tomato world. Enjoy a homegrown harvest right from your own yard. Tomatoes are one of the easiest & tastiest foods to grow, and, best of all homegrown tomatoes are much tastier than store bought varieties. Simply choose a few of your favorite varieties. We offer more than 40 different types including slicing, cherry, grape and old fashioned heirlooms. Here's five of our favorites...

  1. Sun Gold - With explosively sweet flavor, this is one of the garden’s sweetest. Sun Gold ripens in long clusters of 10 to 15 fruits. The sweet flavor is ready about a week before full coloring. Wait to pick fruits at their deepest hue and you’ll experience a richly sweet, fruity flavor.
  2. Sweet 'n' Neat Cherry Red - A McDonald favorite, this super sweet, cherry-sized tomato continuously produces all through summer. It's compact size makes it ideal in containers, on decks or in small spaces.
  3. Super Sweet 100 - You'll love these cherry tomatoes bursting with sugary flavor. The scarlet, cherry-sized fruits are produced in long pendulous clusters right up to frost.
  4. Better Boy - With 8 to16 oz round fruit, it has a classic tomato taste and is a great for slicing. The fruit has just the right balance of acid and sugar. This one is a climber and requires a cage for best results.
  5. TomTato - The newest and coolest 'mato on the block dubbed Ketchup ‘n’ Fries™. This tomato plant is grafted onto a potato plant yielding up to 100 cherry tomatoes and 2-5 pounds of potatoes in a year. Yes, tomatoes AND potatoes in one plant! Grow it in a veggie garden or patio container. (available in stores, May 15)

After you select the tomatoes that are best for you, you'll want to purchase a tomato cage to keep them upright. For best results and to ensure a bountiful harvest, a cage will support and ensure maximum growth. The cage will give your tomatoes something to grow through and keep the fruit off the ground and help support the stalks and keep them from bending and breaking. We especially love using colorful cages in red, yellow, orange, green and even purple.

Finally, to make your tomato plants’ roots strong and your fruit plumper, we recommend using Espoma Tomato Tone Fertilizer. This organic fertilizer feeds your plants naturally and will not force rapid growth at the expense of blooms and tomato yield. We suggest applying Tomato Tone after plants are well established (10 - 14 days) and then twice a month during the growing season (May through August).

TOMATO TIP: When planting tomatoes, we suggest adding lime to the soil to fortify the calcium in the soil thus helping to eliminate a common tomato problem, Blossom End Rot.

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