Thursday, January 31, 2008

Winter Plants by KCB

As the Days Grow Longer………

KCB is a professional gardener and friend who does wonderful work in the Greater Portland area. KCB is also an accredited Master Gardener by the Cooperative Extension Service and we are honored to have KCB as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family!

In the first KCB posting (all postings can be found further down the Skillin’s Garden Log) called The Mid-Winter Maddening Mayhem and Mania of a Maine Gardener , KCB describes winter angst and then comes to terms with that angst and recognizes the good parts about January from a gardener’s perspective.

In Red, White and Blue , KCB brings us OUT into January on an auto ride.

In Winter Landscapes KCB brings us back indoors but with an eye to the outside; for the gardener victory is at hand—a winter wonderland of landscaping possibilities awaits.

Now KCB concludes our January trip in the fourth and final January installment by telling us about the winning plants for winter interest. It is time to plan that winter landscape! It is a gardening season that must be recognized, dealt with and as KCB tells us celebrated:

How Exciting……..

As I drove to my ‘other’ job this afternoon, I was able to catch the last glimpse of pink/orange that was the sun. A few minutes shy of 5 o’clock, the realization that the sun had not completely set was enough to cause a ‘jump’ in my heart. You know that feeling; it’s not really skipping a beat, more like it leaped with excitement.

At 11:59 PM this Thursday, we will say good-by to January. February will take hold seconds later. I am so tempted to begin singing the praises of our shortest month; but there is time enough for that. The dusting of snow Portland experienced this weekend reminded me that I have some unfinished business. This will conclude my winter landscaping series.

So many of us are planning the future filled with bold colors with green accents, where butterflies, humming birds and bumble bees frolic. Purchasing plants with next winter’s landscape in mind seems rather dull. Besides who wants to wait a year for a garden to offer excitement? It is only human nature to look for instant gratification. Don’t be fooled! Some of Maine’s biggest snow falls occur in March or April. As your seeds break thru the peat below grow lights, winter still plods on with all the fury she can muster. Might as well enjoy the view!

Ah, do not lose faith. So many of the shrubs listed herein thrive on attention. Not the high maintenance kind of attention, but the ‘hey look at me’ kind of attention. You see, many produce the first flowers of the early season, pushing forth buds and blooms before their foliage wakes.

Blossoms of white, pale pinks, subtle yellows, creams or vibrant reds and pinks share their stage with no one. It’s as if they say ‘Let me be the first to welcome you to spring’, only to bide their time until they can hold their own against the winter landscape.

Red berries do not alone a winter garden make. A landscape of shape, silhouettes & form against the gray white of winter offers restrained solace. Do not overlook the subtle shading, muted colors and texture of bark. While content to stay unnoticed most of the year, overshadowed by their flourishing foliage, the trunk of a tree, or curve of a limb now passively demands attention during this winter time.

As I compiled this list, it seemed just when I thought I was done, another specimen would come to mind. The evergreens so prevalent in the Maine landscape were not included. Greens of silver blue, yellow gold, deep forest and all the hues and shades in between speak for themselves. Once the texture of our spruces, pines, junipers, or cedars is factored in, well, they deserve their own story.

Descriptions of each plant will be broad. Plant tags offer such a plethora of information. Everything you ever wanted to know about shrub, grass, perennial or annual can be found in abbreviated form. Nursery catalogs will become your ‘wish book’. I would be remiss if I didn’t sing the praises of professional nursery or garden center staff. After all, they are gardeners too and are willing to share.

Okay, enough. And the winners are………


Plants & Shrubs that offer Winter Interest

Shrubs/Trees:


Viburnum (American Cranberry Bush, Cardinal Candy, to name just 2)
Winterberry
Red Twig Dogwood
Hydrangea
Common Snowberry
Cranberry Cotoneaster
Washington or Winter King Hawthorne
Weeping Cherry
Weeping Crabapple
Any weeping dwarf species
Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (better in form than function)
Witch Hazel
River or Paper Birch
Paperbark Maple
Threadleaf Japanese Maple

Plants with showy Seed Heads or Pods

Echinacea (Cone Flowers)
Joe Pye Weed
Sedum
Rudbeckia

Movement and/or texture

Ornamental Grasses
Sedges
Russian Sage
Lavender
Heaths & Heathers

There are many others, please feel free to offer your suggestions. See you next month……..

KCB
for Skillin's Greenhouses
January 31, 2008

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Skillin's "Basics"

Hello again,

It is a New Year and many of our electronic subscribers might be fairly new to
Skillin's so I quickly want to review Skillin's history. This post was first sent out as email on January 16,2006 and repeated again on January 11,2007. So for some of you who have read this before I apologize but we will be quickly onto new things. For the moment however I would like to review our history and give credit to a few people who made Skillin's what it is today!

As you may or may not know we have been a family enterprise since 1885. We
currently are in our 5th generation of Skillin's. Alexander "Pa" Skillin and
his brother Charles founded Skillin's way back in 1885. At that time,
Skillin's mostly catered to the crowd of people who populated Falmouth and
other area estates in the summer. We sold our summer friends fresh cut
flowers, garden plants, vegetables and knowing "Pa" we gave away lots of
free stories. The business was indeed on the present Route 88 site in
Falmouth. Charles soon drifted away to other pursuits but "Pa" stayed at it.
I am not sure what he did year round but I do know he spent many nights
shoveling coal into the furnace to keep the cold at bay.

Through the early 20th century the business grew as year round population
started to become more and more common. By this time, Skillin's was doing
much yard and tree work for people and "Pa" had been joined by his son
Alexander or "Alec". My Aunt Sally fondly remembers "Alec" as the nicest man
she has ever met (not bad considering he was her father in law). The
business was growing into the year round selling of plants and we were also
becoming a florist; my Aunt Florence (Alec's sister and daughter of "Pa")
helped in the greenhouse and floral areas and also did the bookkeeping.

Aunt Florence had no children but Alec fathered John and David Skillin--the
third generation--and many of you might know of them today. Tragedy struck
in 1950 as Alec died of cancer. "Pa" was getting along in years (but still
working, only taking less naps), John was attending college at UMO, and
David was only 13. The decision was made for John to come home on weekends
and work but for him to finish his education, for Dave to hopefully "turn
out all right" and for Aunt Florence to "hang on" and wait for John. Aunt
Florence was one brave lady and her contribution to Skillin's should never
be forgotten.

John arrived on the scene fully in the spring of 1952 and the business was
in tough shape. Alive but hurting. Times were tough and Skillin's owed many
people a lot of money. Good and wise friends who knew finances were telling
John and his family to give up the business--it could not work. John went
around and promised to make good and then some on what was owed. If you ever
knew John Skillin, you would trust him and believe him. Because he was John.
He delivered.

Dave Skillin arrived from the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture and a
bout with the U.S. Navy in 1960. Aunt Florence was still on board. Larry
Leeman, a trusted family friend, also came on board. "Pa" died in 1958 but
momentum was strong--the Skillin's modern era had begun. John and Dave were
young, personable, visionary and absolutely dedicated. Skillin's as you know
it now was beginning to form. John and Dave used to visit many Massachusetts
and Connecticut garden centers on trips to pick up the best in plant
material. I have good memories of those trips as a child. They borrowed many
good ideas and came up with a few of their own and developed Maine's first
garden center and nursery. By 1966, our Falmouth gift shop was built with
the help of good friend Fred Chase. Skillin's Greenhouses was now a full
scale greenhouse, nursery, garden center, gift shop and florist.

Skillin's was also one of the leading landscapers at the time. Dave Skillin
headed this area of the business along with trusted and important friends
like Al Lappin. Terry Skillin--the leader of the fourth generation--and Joel
Leeman, still with Skillin's after 40 plus years got their start with
Skillin's as landscapers. But Dave and John wanted to start a new store and
make new friends, and this led to our opening of our second store in
Brunswick Maine in 1969. The landscaping side was eventually closed as we
focused on making Skillin's in Falmouth and Brunswick the type of stores you
see today. John and Jeff Skillin built energy efficient true Solar
greenhouses during the energy crisis days of the 1970's.

The early days were kind of quiet at times in Brunswick as Dave would often
mow the lawn in the front just to let people know that we were there. Long
days and nights were spent selling apples, cider and peanut butter at the
Topsham Fair just so we could meet people. But as the greater
Bath/Brunswick/Topsham area has grown so has Skillin's in Brunswick. Gordon
Merrill and many others have picked up the baton from Dave Skillin and we
have a first rate store and a first rate staff with people like Charley
Madden and Chris Gill from our past leading to Hilda Green, Ed Levay and Darcy Sachs along with many others who are part of our
present and future. And Gordon Merrill deserves special mention again--his
dedication over the years has paid off in a model operation at Skillin's in Brunswick.

During the 70's and 80's we had 3 successful Mall stores at the Maine Mall,
Promenade Mall in Lewiston, and the Windham Mall. Terry Skillin (fourth
generation) came on board to lead our Mall store effort. Jeff Skillin, his
brother, graduated from UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture in 1980 and
has modernized our all important plant production. Terry and Jeff are sons
of John and now lead the business.

Back in Falmouth, we salute the efforts of good friends like Larry Leeman, Rick Price, Al Lappin, Jesse O'Brien, LaurieJameson and many others who have helped us greatly and who we will always begrateful to. Mary Mixer came to Skillin's via the Maine Mall in 1975 and is
still our hardest working person here. Sally Bolstridge, Tim Bate, Sue
Destefano and Elaine Warner are here daily and offer over 50 years of
experience between them to help our customers. Rick Price just completed
another year of helping us--he has been part of the family since the 1960's.
Melissa Skillin Smith and Mike Skillin are Dave Skillin's children and we
try to help wherever we can! And Dave Skillin is still very active in the
business after almost 50 years of leadership here!

John Skillin passed away in 2002 but he has touched us all. That same year
saw the arrival of the 5th generation, Chad Skillin (Terry's son) who like
his grandfather John graduated from UMO; with a degree in landscape design
and he has brought a new angle to Skillin's.

In 2003, we combined forces with the Allen Family in Cumberland and now
operate Skillin's Cumberland. Phil Allen has passed away but his wife Wendi
works with us and she has become a valued and trusted friend.

We all work hard here at Skillin's and we love it. But without the support
of our families at home we could not so easily do our jobs.

We owe a special and biggest thanks to you, our customer. I have listed a
lot of names and dates here but your loyalty has kept us going over good
times and bad. We cannot wait for 2008 and are looking forward to seeing you.

Thanks for reading this and please let us know if you have any gardening
questions,

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
January 30, 2008

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Garden Talks January 27, 2008

Hello again,

I spent some time listening to our good friend Paul Parent on the radio early this morning. I definitely recommend the Paul Parent Gardening Club as a great gardening resource. He can be heard weekly in the Portland area on Sunday mornings at 6 AM. Check out Paul's website at www.paulparent.com.

Paul made many good points this morning including:

January and February are the best months to have large trees in your yard pruned. These trees are largely dormant at this point; if you wait into the Spring the sap in the trees get running and open wounds and infection can result.

We take many questions from gardeners about why their lupine don't come back that well after terrific first years in the garden. Yet if you are riding along Maine roads in mid to late June you cannot help but see bountiful bunches of flowering lupine. Why can so many of us NOT grow lupine well (we give it wonderful soil, regular feedings and all types of favorable conditions)? Paul has put some thought to this and he came up with a wonderful idea. The summer grass that gets matted down in winter probably well protects the lupine plants in our Maine fields from the harsh winter weather. So for the last couple of years Paul has planted his lupine in his garden BUT in the middle of early season flowering perennials such as ground phlox or Candy Tuft (Iberis). Any good ground cover will do! And sure enough his lupine is prospering in his garden! I have a sunny sort of wild section in my yard that gets pretty grassy as the season progresses. I am going to try some lupine myself there.

Paul also had a guest on who spoke about a number of exciting perennials. This guest reminded us that coneflower (coneflower should be a staple in ANY of our perennial gardens) cut right from the garden makes a fragrant and long lasting cut flower in a vase. So let's remember this in the summer. Purple, orange, yellow and white coneflowers--one of my favorites make a GREAT flower for us to enjoy indoors!

Over and out for now!

Thanks for reading the Skillin's Garden Log!

If you have any comments or questions we would love to hear them!Simply post a comment by clicking on "comments" at the end of this posting OR drop us your question with an email at info@skillins.com!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
January 27, 2008

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Winter Landscapes by KCB

Hello again,



KCB is a professional gardener and friend who does wonderful work in the Greater Portland area. KCB is also an accredited Master Gardener by the Cooperative Extension Service and we are honored to have KCB as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family!




In the first KCB posting, KCB describes winter angst and then coming to terms with that angst and recognizing the good parts about January from a gardener’s perspective. In the second KCB posting, we venture OUT into January on an auto ride.

This installment brings us back indoors but with an eye to the outside and a mind to the outside; for the gardener victory is at hand—a winter wonderland of landscaping possibilities awaits:

Baby, it’s cold outside……..

A confession…………the past couple of days have even been too cold for me. If it wasn’t for my faithful 4 legged companion, the only out of doors I would experience is the trip to and from my truck.

There are a good many people who do not or can not tolerate the cold. Winter is a time to cocoon with a cup of tea in one hand and a gardening or travel magazine in the other.

Good news! It is not mandatory to leave your house to appreciate a winter landscape. A winter wonderland awaits outside your windows. Now is the perfect time to design next winter’s wonderland!

When designing a landscape, the views from within the home can be over looked. Think about it? Subconsciously or not, we so often look up from our task at hand and peak through a window. Why not stop a while to enjoy what you and nature created. Gray of winter is a perfect opportunity to add interest often without adding plant material.

Yes, what follows is quite a list. Take your time and focus on one or two areas that are the most visible to you. Incorporate the theory; less is more, yet nothing is still, nothing! Collect items over time. Do as I do, every garage sale, thrift store, or decorative furnishing store holds treasures. Expand your purchasing process to include your garden and outdoor oasis.

Where to start? Any room in your house can be a starting point.

œ Take special interest in views from inside your home, especially where you are likely
to spend time looking out of doors either intentionally or not.


o Kitchen window over sink or view from prep area.
o Directly outside French or Sliding Doors.
o Breakfast nook
o Bathroom-Tub, Shower, or whatever
o Home Office
o The very couch or chair from which you may read or watch television.
o Morning or Dusk view from bedrooms.

œ Take note of shadows on the land from existing plants, trees, and structures.
o The play of light/dark adds depth.

œ Include sculpture, interesting stone, boulders, twig furniture, other found objects that withstand the elements.
o Create your own sculpture by piling stones one upon another. They may be all similar in shape such as rounded river rocks in various sizes or perhaps a flat stone topped with an angular companion.
· Heavy snow fall may bury the object, however, wind patterns, degree of melting and the subtle change in topography creates depth and interest.



Warm you body, heat your soul when the sun rules the sky.


œ Create a place to bask in the warmth of the sun as it makes its way higher in the sky.
o A cement, stone or a park-type bench provides a place to sit while you hold your face towards the sun.
o A refuge to escape from the anxiety as to the outcome of a football game.
o A much needed breath of fresh air without having to walk too far.
o Or, like me, a place from which I throw and receive the ball while my Golden Retriever gets her exercise.

Restful moments are not solely for the day. A moonlit night offers beauty all its own.

œ Fresh or unblemished snow appears a smoky blue against the black of night.
o Ice particles capture moon beams and become diamonds.
· A thermos of mint or hazelnut laced hot chocolate complements the scene.
· Be adventurous, bring along a friend and a sleeping bag and look for falling stars.

In my gardens I often include items that were never meant for a garden
Have fun with this!

œ Look for materials, cement, marble, stainless steal, iron, or wood that will survive beyond the first freeze or snow. Extra points for interesting patina.
o A collection of copper tea kettles playing hide and seek among Autumn Joy Sedum.
o A brightly painted bucket (try blue or lime green) laid on its side to fill a vacant spot.
· For those of us who prefer a more subtle effect, rusted milk cans or the dulled steal of sap buckets do the trick.
o A wrought iron finial atop a pole or rod as a sentry to the dormant decaying foliage of once glorious ornamentals.
o A garage sale find rocker that has seen a lifetime of better days adds a perfect focal point. A resting place for your eyes or wildlife that just wants to stop for a while.
o A rusted wagon to hold found or purchased winter greens and berries.

œ Some of my favorite whimsical pieces once were at home in Skillin’s Bargain Corner.
o Our Maine winter may reduce its life as a decorative element to only one season. Who cares? Beauty often fades…Moreover you will have fun all over again replacing it!

œ Blank spaces offer an avenue for existing plant material to cast a shadow.
o Varying plant height, foliage coloring, and texture become more prominent when the eye has a place to stop (rest) as it scans the landscape.
o The ground after all, that all important first layer of design.

œ Create pathways, angles anything to break up the landscape.
o Even if it is not possible to navigate a path this time of year it will create a place for your eye and imagination to travel.
o The hint of a secret garden behind the garage or under the majestic limbs of an old growth hemlock.

Take advantage of existing structures or add more. Arbors, trellises, fences or a solo garden gate.

œ Do not overlook vertical elements.
o With minimal or monochromic color of the deep winter landscape, layering of elements seems more critical.
o Become perches for birds or placement of additional feeders or suet cakes.
o Cast shadows. (notice any themes?)


œ Add color and sparkle.
o Hang brightly colored or shiny objects on invisible fishing line from an arch, tree limb, or arbor.
o Fresh snow is a perfect canvas and often reflects color.


· Blank or damaged DVD or CDs are known to cast a rainbow over fresh snow or an icy ground.
· Reflected moonlight from these same objects offer an illusion of The Northern Lights

I’ve saved the best for last. Furry and feathered friends.


œ Bird Feeders.
o Even the plainest offer beauty when visited by feathered friends.
o Pole feeders at variable heights offer the shadowing mentioned earlier.
o Bird Baths can be useful during these frigid times in addition to an artistic element.
· Special heating elements are available.


We are lucky enough to live in a land of 4 seasons. Why not make the most of all of them………….



Next….The plants, grasses & Shrubs of a ‘winter garden’.



KCB

for Skillin's Greenhouses

January 24, 2008

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Finding Mary

(Photo taken by good friend Margie Mills--a co-worker of Mary Mixer. Mary
has been found repotting on the fly; smiling as usual!)

Hello again,


Mary Mixer has been a valued member of the Skillin's Greenhouses Family for over 30 years. Anyone--staff, customer, or visiter--who has spent any time at all at Skillin's at Falmouth has probably run across Mary Mixer who has held a variety of roles here at Skillin's.


The best role she has ever held here is simply being Mary--simply being passionate about plants and the people who love plants. Mary loves to help people and she is one hard worker with a wonderful smile and a huge heart in a not too tall body. At Skillin's Falmouth, she is easily the most asked for person for our customers who need some help or just "a lift". Mary is The Best.


Back in June 2006, Mary had another of those darned birthdays. It was a busy day here at Skillin's and only a few of us were able to gather for a short amount of time for a quick piece of cake and well wishes for one of our favorite co workers. At that gathering kind friend Dale Lincoln orated the following story about Finding Mary. It is a classic.


Mary moves fast; she often has a few things going at once and those white sneakers she wears are usually moving really fast. She moves so fast, there are often more than a few of us looking for Mary. "Where is Mary?"; "Have you seen Mary?" is often asked.


What follows is the Skillin's Classic (penned and originally orated by Dale Lincoln in a way that noone else could. Several of us were laughing so hard, the tears were just flowing down our cheeks--including Mary!):


FINDING MARY

A customer on Skillin’s Scene
Was listening to a tall man in green.
“Your plant needs help,
but we can fix’er,
Dale, go find Mary Mixer.”

(I went through the store asking employees about Mary’s where-a bouts.)

I wondered where Mary was at,
I last saw her giving love to a cat,
Sitting in the wedding room,
Wedged between a mop and a broom.

Mary has a lot of spunk,
She moves around like a scared chipmunk,
By aiming her boots in her special way,
She’s never in one place to stay.

A potting shed gal had this to say:
“Mary’s having a busy day
She always tries to do her best,
And may be under a little stress,
Before starting a mission she was over there
Giving a little twist to her hair.”

Marge said,” She’s around here somewhere,
She was out near the fish pond when I was there,
Talking to a plant, she does that you know,
Hearing her voice, seems to make some plants grow.”

I checked the wheelhouse, then in the trash bin,
If something’s lost, she’ll climb right in,
My missing pie plate, put her in there, (found it at home in the fridge.)
To find Mary you need to check everywhere.


I went upstairs, hoping to find her soon,
The time was getting along toward noon,
Mary was finally found that busy day,
In the break room eating a PB and J. (Sandwich)

When I told Mary of the customer’s need,
She put down her sandwich, went top speed,
Several minutes later, that mission done,
She finished her sandwich at quarter to one.

Time seems to pass quickly, through good times and “tears.”
Mary has worked at Skillins—nearly thirty years
After writing these words there is more to say.
The Skillin’s crew wish Mary A HAPPY BIRTHDAY.


BY Dale C. Lincoln
June 9, 2006

Special Request:

Could anyone who has had the good fortune of meeting Mary and being helped and cheered by her give her a hello note at skillins@maine.rr.com or by leaving a COMMENT at the COMMENT section following this post. I would love to show Mary how you all feel about her!

Thanks,

Mike Skillin

Garden Talks January 23, 2008

Hello again,

I am checking in with some more gardening tips for this time of year!

Here are a few tips from our friends at Home and Garden Showplace (www.gardenplace.com). Home and Garden Showplace is a nationwide cooperative of high quality independent garden centers and Skillin's has been a member of Home and Garden Showplace since 1988.


From Ashes to Bloom

"Recycling is good for the environment...and it's great for plants, too. In fact, did you know that recycled wood ashes are a great source of nutrients for plants? So don't toss away the ashes at the bottom of your fireplace. Instead, after enjoying a warm winter fire, collect the ashes and store them in a sealed container to use in the spring. When your plants are in full bloom in the spring sprinkle the ashes over flowers and vegetables. These fireplace ashes are an excellent source of minerals that keep plants healthy all season long. "

I certainly agree with this point; I actually let my ashes go cold for a few days in a metal bucket safely away from the house and then I just incorporate my ashes into my compost pile.

Put Some Blooms in Your Rooms

"It may be snowy and cold outside, but you can still enjoy the fresh smell of spring indoors right now. Cut Forsythia branches and other shrubs, bring them in doors, and arrange in vases filled with water. It will take around 2 weeks (during this time of the year), for the blooms to appear. Their fresh aroma will help subside your longing for spring."

This is just super advice and forsythia is the best plant for this project. Flowering crab and other plants may be used as well. At the Falmouth store, I just noticed that we have some very bright yellow forsythia in for sale right now!

Repotting Can Cure Your Winter Blues

" If you're eager to get your hands back into the soil, now's a great time to get your fingernails dirty! Mid winter is perfect for repotting your indoor plants since many plants need to be transplanted into larger containers every two to three years. Here are a few signs that tell you that it's time to move your plants into new digs:

Roots begin to creep out from the bottom of the pot around drainage holes or they peek through the top soil.

Whitish or off-colored deposits appear on the soil's surface. These are a sign of "tired," or nutrient stripped soil, that's begging to be changed. They may also indicate that you are fertilizing the soil too much.

If your plant appears especially listless, if it's not producing buds or new leaves (and your routine care of water and sunlight hasn't changed), this could be a sign that it's time to expand your plant's living conditions. When repotting, make sure you buy potting soil that is appropriate for the specific plant type and place the plant into a container that is one size bigger than it's current size. If you use a clay pot, soak it in water for 45 minutes to keep the clay from absorbing the soil's moisture."

Lots of good advice here. In most cases, we recommend cutting back on plant food in the winter time unless you are using a wonderful natural fertilizer like Neptune's Harvest Fish Emulsion.
We absolutely recommend Coast of Maine's Bar Harbor Blend Potting Soil for most plants. It is a wonderful organic blend that is the highest quality soil that we know. And the price is right in line with all other soils.

Also, the advice about moving up your plant "one pot size" higher is critical; this is often only 1 to 2" in diameter around the top.

Lastly, we have some great deals on pots right now! We are in the midst of our year end inventories and are picking out some "old friends" that need to find a "new home" as part of our Drop and Shop Sale. We have so MUCH Spring inventory coming that we want to emphasize that we are passing on some good deals to you!


Transplant operations

"Depending on how far south you live, late January will be a good time to start laying plans for the annual flowers and vegetables you'll start growing indoors for transplanting once the spring frosts have passed. To avoid the common problem of "damping off" in which seemingly healthy seedlings or buds suddenly keel over--make sure to sterilize the soil by microwaving it briefly, then keep the soil warm and avoid overwatering the new seedlings. Merely mist them until they start showing significant growth. "

Some real good advice here. Although we live pretty far north, planning for your annual color and for your vegetable gardens is always a good idea. If you can, remember to rotate those vegetable crops even if you have a small garden. This rotation also "evens out" the different nutrient draws that vegetable plants may have and also can fool soil residing insects who might prey on your vine vegetable plants. So switch those tomatos and cucumbers and squashes around!

Actual seed starting for most annuals and vegetables is still weeks and weeks away although woody and perennial flowering plants can be started NOW!

We also have heat mats to help keep the soil warm!


Thanks for reading the Skillin's Garden Log!

If you have any comments or questions we would love to hear them!

Simply post a comment by clicking on "comments" at the end of this posting OR drop us your question with an email at info@skillins.com!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
January 23, 2008

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Red, White and Blue by KCB

Hello again,

KCB is a professional gardener and friend who does wonderful work in the Greater Portland area. KCB is also an accredited Master Gardener by the Cooperative Extension Service and we are honored to have KCB as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family!

This week KCB goes on a local auto journey, also known as a "ride"; what KCB describes can be seen by all of us--what KCB describes is right around us!

Berry, Snow, Sky


Red, White & Blue. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear these colors mentioned? The American Flag? Good for you. Memorial Day? The 4th of July? New England Patriots?

For those who didn’t answer ‘the winter landscape’ perhaps soon you will.

Light powdery whiteness covered our earth again this week. The morning following the snow brought forth a blue sky as crisp as the ground beneath my feet. I ventured out early in the day to be greeted with snow relatively untouched. Chaste. Until I approached a Hawthorne Tree. Birds had already been busy knocking the bright red berries to the ground. Shielding my eyes to the sun, I looked through the branches to the sky beyond. Red against the Blue, Red against the white. I love the color red.

Red is the color of fire, blood. Passion, love, strength and determination are other attributes associated with red. It warms my soul. It makes me smile. Surely I am not alone.

Red is the perfect color for the winter garden. Red attracts and catches your eye. A glimpse of a cardinal scouring the white blanket for fallen seeds or taking rest on the snow tipped limb. Lipstick Red berries of the American Cranberry or Cardinal Candy Viburnum offer food for wintering birds and a feast for the eye. Who among us is not familiar with the Winterberry? Yes, there is the holly berry, bursting forth against the deep green gloss of the leaf. However, I prefer our deciduous friends. They offer naked branches armed only with berries against the winters of Maine.

Red punches of the winter landscape are not claimed by berries alone. Redosier or Red Twig Dogwood boast of red stems extending beyond the snowy landscape.

Train your eye to scan for red sprinkled along the horizon, not quite touching the blue or gray of a winter sky. Yet do not forget to look downward. The Cranberry or Creeping Cotoneaster offer red to maroon berries that wind and peak through the snow. When trained to cascade over the granite of wall, the berries appear as strands of garnet pearls.

Red is both Cupid and Devil. . .I am often reminded of this. On a recent drive, I glanced along the following landscape. Arches of dull red branches born from the Multiflora Rosa dominated the roadsides, power line trails and other places left unchecked. Waves of muted red rosehips like the road and my thoughts rambled for miles………

My ride was coming to an end but not the color red. The setting sun punctuated by naked branches set the horizon on fire. A sliver of blue embraced the graying landscape. As if to say Good Night, a cardinal weaved and dived as he made his way to shelter. I guess it was time for me to head home as well.

KCB
for Skillin's Greenhouses
January 18, 2008

P.S. Coming soon from KCB, some "How To" suggestions for creating a Winter Landscape--and more!

Oh Deer!


Barbara Gardener checks in with this contribution from a Montana friend of hers. This could easily be "Maine"!











Thursday, January 17, 2008

Garden Talks January 17, 2008

Hello again,

I just thought I would pop into the Skillin's Garden Log with some January garden topics that are always good to review!

January is the time for garden planning. This is a good time for you to update your garden records of areas that you might have limed or fertilizer. Most areas should be limed every 2 to 3 years although we recommend doing a soil test every now and then.

Map out your vegetable garden and remember that it is vital to rotate your vegetable crops. If you have room consider leaving a piece of your garden empty for a year to better allow the soil to replenish. Most of us do not have that kind of room so that is why we recommend using natural fertilizers like Plant Tone by Espoma or Pro Gro by North Country Organics that nurture the soil. Crop rotation also confuses pests that lie in wait for the vine crop that is in the same spot every year or the root crop that you have planted in that same row.

Hey folks, the days are getting a little longer! We have gained over 30 minutes since the shortest day of the year (December 22). It is a great time to start seeds for perennials, geraniums and fun hanging plants like verbena and fuschia. We have a great variety of seeds that are available!

One of my favorite companies that we feature is a seed company called Botanical Interests a family business based in Colorado. Their focus is to provide high quality seed at a reasonable price. Combining the art and science of gardening, Botanical Interests offers a full line of untreated flower, vegetable, and herb seeds as well as a Certified Organic seed line. Their seed packets feature incredible detail about the plant you will be growing. Not only how to grow the plant but the best uses as well as history for the plant. Check out Botanical Interests seeds here at Skillin’s as well as their informative web site at www.botanicalinterests.com. A lot of seed, a lot of information for not much money!

The folks at People, Places and Plants magazine (produced right here in Maine) check in this issue with some great gardening tips that deserve special mention. Their web site can be found at www.ppplants.com:

“Design and plan the spring garden space. Early planning allows time to research plants' habits and performances. Review notes and photographs from the previous year.”
Now is the time for planning! Let us know if we can help you with any aspects of landscape design! We do have a landscape designer on staff named Chad Skillin who would love to speak with you!

“Check your seed starting supplies. By the end of the month supplies will be rolling into many garden centers."We have them now!

"Start perennials, geraniums and pansies. Many other plants such as lobelia and verbena also need to be started indoors by the end of the month to be ready for spring.” This is true and we can give some great tips on how to get your Spring off to an early start!

“Remember to water forcing bulbs. As the roots develop on the bulbs that are being forced for indoor flowering, the demand for water increases. Check each pot every two or three days; it should feel moist, but not saturated.” This is great advice and can often be missed.

“Care for house plants. During the dark winter months many of our house plants become dry and vulnerable. Move even shade-loving plants such as begonias and ferns into a sunny area. Be sure to remove any excess water from containers, yet frequently spray the plants with a light mist - except for African violets. Keep plants away from a direct heat source, or a cold window, and watch for insects. Fertilize lightly.” The low light of late fall and early winter can really set plants back. Get your plants near a window!

“Re-coat your evergreen plants with an anti-desiccant such as Wilt-Pruf on a dry day when temperatures rise above 45 degrees. This will help the plants' foliage retain the limited moisture available until spring.” Good advice especially as we head into February. Wilt-Pruf is an all natural product that will really help protect your broad leafed evergreens!

“Check mulch around outdoor plants during mild days. Mulch is applied to keep the ground frozen, and frost heaves on mild days can push plants upward.” We have had a pretty good snow blanket so this advice may not ring as true this year as it does other Januarys. I will say I have one south facing perennial bed that I do apply mulch to in late fall to keep the ground cold. But on sunny winter days that sun can beat down hard on my little perennial bed. This bed is at the top of the driveway so I take special care to shovel as much snow as possible on top of the perennial bed to keep that ground nice and cold and frozen in place through the winter.

Thanks for reading the Skillin's Garden Log!

If you have any comments or questions we would love to hear them! Simply post a comment by clicking on "comments" at the end of this posting OR drop us your question with an email at info@skillins.com!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
January 17, 2008

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Terrariums!

(above picture courtesy of P. Allen Smith)

We have been making up some neat terrariums here at Skillin's and that fact has been stirring me to write an article about terrariums. Well, the irrespressible P. Allen Smith beat me to it. Here is a great article!


"As temperatures cool, I turn my attention to the many ways I can enjoy the garden indoors. Terrariums are simple to assemble and the best news is that they will pretty much take care of themselves.


I have a terrarium on my desk that has thrived for months with low light and no additional water. It's not so much a miracle as it is the science of nature. The plants inside the terrarium create their own mini-climate, transpiring water vapor that condenses on the glass and then flows back into the soil.


Science aside, I find a terrarium fascinating to look at, like a miniature landscape in a jar. Don't be intimidated by the process of building a terrarium. With all the supplies in hand, you can put one together in a few hours.


Materials:


wide mouth glass containersomething to cover the jar top such as clear plastic wrap, a pane of glass, or Plexiglaspotting soilsmall plants pea gravelwatering can or spray bottle


Directions:


Select a container for the terrarium. For easy access, choose one that has a wide mouth. A fishbowl or aquarium is a good choice. I used an apothecary jar with a glass top. If your container does not have a lid, you can cover it with clear plastic wrap, a piece of clear Plexiglas or a sheet of glass.


To avoid insect and disease problems wash the gravel with hot water and use top quality, sterile potting soil.


Fill the bottom of the container with about 1 inch of gravel. If you container is especially deep, you may want to use 2 or 3 inches.


Top the gravel with 3 inches of soil.


Now comes the fun part, planting the landscape. When you choose plants, select varieties that all have the same growing requirements ? light, water, and humidity. Slow growers with small leaves are best suited for the confines of a terrarium.


Remove the plants from their pots and plant them in the terrarium just like you would in the garden. Place the taller plants in the back, mid-sized plants in the middle and low growing things like moss toward the front. If possible, keep the foliage away from the sides of the container.


Once you have the plants in place, moisten the soil lightly and put the lid in place.


How often you will need to water your terrarium depends on how tightly the lid fits. A loose fitting lid lets moisture escape. A good indication of when to water is the condensation on the glass. If there is no condensation, water the soil very lightly. If there is heavy condensation, remove the lid to allow the terrarium to air out.


The neat thing about terrariums is that you are only limited by your imagination. Add large rocks to represent craggy mountains or small mirrors for ponds. You can even create a desert landscape with succulents and cacti.


Good Terrarium Plants:


Acorus

African Violets

Creeping Fig

Moss

Maidenhair

Spleenwort

Needlepoint Ivy

Oxalis

Peperomia

Prayer Plant

Peacock Moss (Selaginella uncinata)
Come see us and we can help you with a terrarium!
Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
January 16, 2008

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Bus Station

Hello again,

Kind friend Dale Lincoln checks in again with a story in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King that is not yet complete:

The Bus Station

A year of sea duty with the U.S. Navy was behind me. Prior to reporting to a new duty station in California, there was time for a round trip to Maine. I took advantage of an inexpensive military flight on a cargo plane from Santa Ana, CA to Cherry Point, NC. It was my first ride on a large airplane. From the air in early September the farmlands of “the land of the free” were beautiful. They looked like home-made quilts with patches of green, yellow, and brown. The year was 1958. A glimpse of living in the USA that I had not previously noticed was about to happen.

It was late in the afternoon when the plane landed as scheduled. It had been a long flight. I was tired and still many miles from home as a taxi transported me from the military base to the bus depot in New Bern, North Carolina. Observations inside the bus station and on the bus shouldn’t have been a surprise, but like many other people at that time I was na├»ve to the fact that segregation was a way of life.
The lobby was divided with a railing that went to the ticket window. One side was plainly marked COLORED; the other side WHITE. The WHITE side of the station had been freshly painted. The COLORED side looked like it hadn’t been painted for twenty years.

Upon boarding the bus I found a window seat near the middle of the bus. It didn’t take me long to realize that I occupied the last seat in the WHITE section toward the front of the bus. When the passenger’s tickets were being checked, the young, black lady directly behind me told of her family emergency and convinced the driver that she had lost her ticket. I heard her sobbing through the night as the bus traveled toward New York City. ( I still have good thoughts of that bus driver for letting the young lady remain on the bus.)

Two years after my round trip across the USA (1960) my boss on an oil tanker often said to me; “You should be able to do everything! “You’re free, white, and twenty one!” Until then I had spent very little time thinking about my God given gifts or why He had given them to me. Those three items gave me advantages over millions of people in the USA. The attitude of that same Chief Engineer made me aware of one of those advantages: A new officer, an African American, joined our ship. He was a Mate-in-training and I was an Engineer-in-training. We worked the same hours. On his first day, at lunch time, he arrived in the Officer’s Mess room ahead of me. With extra officers aboard, there was not enough room at the table for all officers to have a dining spot to call their own. The new Mate happened to sit in the place where I usually ate my meals. When I arrived in the mess room I made a welcome greeting to the new officer, sat down where the engineer with the afternoon watch had recently vacated, enjoyed my lunch, talked, and made a new friend. Later that afternoon I was shocked when the Chief Engineer approached me, used profanity, and said: “Knock off fifteen minutes earlier tomorrow morning so that ‘NEW GUY’ won’t get your seat!” The Mate stayed on the ship for only a few days but my education about people’s attitudes continued. That same summer John F. Kennedy was running for President of the USA. I listened to heated discussions in the Officer’s Mess room. Many times the people near me at the table made it known that they hated “African Americans,” Catholics, Jews, and Mexicans. For some reason I guessed that my attitude, opinions, and living up North didn’t place me on their “best buddy list”! A few weeks later I wasn’t sorry to leave that ship.

In 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. His words: “A person should be judged by the content of their character not by the color of their skin” have been heard many times. I join many people that are in agreement with those words.
Each year as the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is observed I will be thinking of the many atrocities that happened to people of the USA both before and after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made his famous speech. It is easy to learn about them, but changing the attitude within a person’s heart that will prevent man’s inhumanity to man from happening today, or in the future, is extremely difficult. For me it’s easy to stay in my comfort zone and return to having the same attitude I held as a young man, before arriving at the bus station: “If it isn’t happening to me, my family and friends, it really can’t be happening!. The shameful part is that I know better but continue to do very little about it. I learned to respect Dr. Martin Luther King , Jr. He made a great effort and helped many people in the USA.

Dale Lincoln
Zephyrhills FL
January 13, 2008

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Mid-Winter Maddening Mayhem and Mania of a Maine Gardener

Hello again,

KCB is a professional gardener and friend who is does wonderful work in the Greater Portland area. We are honored to have her as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family!

Greetings Skillin’s Garden Log family……….

Being a huge fan of this site I just had to be a part.

I did make a cameo appearance recently in the ‘newspaper for mulch’ question. There is one point I must clarify. I meant to say that I water and soak the ground before a heavy hand weeding.

There is no other feeling in the world like reaching a gloved hand into the mud, grabbing a weed by its tap root or invasive runners, and slowly pulling it and all its glorious roots completely from the earth. If you don’t mind mud, this is the way to weed. Of course, having the Mays and Junes of the past few years, simply weed in the rain. Water-proof gear, head to toe, not optional.

My writings, not unlike Dale’s, will be sprinkled with memories and dreams topped with information, all in a gardening base.

Let’s go……….

The Mid-Winter Maddening Mayhem and Mania of a Maine Gardener!

Living on the Eastern Edge of Munjoy Hill, my neighbors known and unknown have been cursing the snow. Digging out, parking bans, endless shoveling, streets nearly impassible. You get the picture.

Not me, I smile. That is after I dig out, shovel, and take my life into my hands navigating the narrow streets. I look at all the buried beds and early spring blooming shrubs and think ‘blanket’, ‘protection’, ‘insulation’ and ‘nourishment’.

‘Nourishment?’ The Gardens that are left in my care receive their seashell rich compost in the late fall. I am programmed to perform this ritual precisely before I or the ground freezes, while waiting until all threat of new growth has passed. Sigh. As I think back, the recent fall offered about a 10 minute window for this task.

Today my focus is on winter. Winter in Maine. What energizes local gardeners between the Holiday Happenings and the Spring Sprouting ?

Some are lucky enough to spend the time in much warmer climes. Others drool over seed catalogs and mark off days on a calendar. I am in awe of those who look to the first nicking & scratching of a tender seed as a right of passage. They feel exuberance at the first emergence of green. They nurture & nourish the sprouts until faced with the daunting choice; which tender seedlings will survive for future prosperity while others are sacrificed to alleviate over-crowding.

Reluctantly I now reveal to the world, or at least the corner of the world populated by our readers, I am not a sower of seeds. No grow lamps, peat pots or miniature greenhouses can be found in my 2nd floor apartment.

There must be others like me? What keeps our blood flowing? What motivates us to continue life until we can finally don our straw hat, slather on sunscreen and pull on the first non-insulated glove of the season?

Are there any others who read seed catalogs just as a source of information? On occasion admit to the pang of parenthood and ponder as to the best spot for a grow light, followed by clarity causing the feeling to wane?

Winters, once upon a time, caused many a sullen mood while watching any gardening or landscaping programming. It wasn’t fair that all these smiling happy faces were digging in the dirt, installing, pruning & primping beds. Each ½ show at it close revealed an out of door oasis that I would have enjoyed if I wasn’t so stuck in the ‘woe is me’ mode.

I felt deprived. Less than whole.

The time between recycling the dangerously dry Christmas trees and first crocus sighting seemed to drag. I was restless, even my over 40 hour a week corporate job couldn’t fill the void. Perhaps I would just have to move to the South West Coast of England. In a future writing I will reveal more about this choice.

Well, I am still living in Portland Maine, a professional gardener and love winter almost as much as ‘the season’. What metamorphosis occurred? It happened about the same time gardening overtook passion to emerge as a calling.

No longer are my inner voices taunting me with phrases such as ‘who needs all this snow?’ ‘January has to be the longest month’. ‘Is my complexion as gray as my mood?’

JANUARY IS NOW A TIME TO REGROUP AND ENERGIZE. Not unlike our woody and ornamental perennials. Our ‘friends’.

Maine’s winter weather is not completely void of causes for concern. We’ve experienced later and warmer than ‘normal’ falls. Bitter cold without benefit of snow cover. Early freezes, late frosts. Yes, winters such as these, are not the best for our dormant friends. Yet I don’t worry.

I am speaking purely as an ornamental gardener.

Weather and Nature are things we have no real control over. I’m not speaking of publicized efforts to stop ‘global warming’ and/or ‘climate change’. Weather will do what it will do. Plant well, work hard, nourish and maintain. These tasks are within our reach. For the rest nature will take its course. Gardening, Winter and living in Maine taught me this lesson. In gardening and in life, it works.

Appreciating winter resulted in a more patient gardener. A more creative gardener. A gardener more in tune with the phases and life stages of gardening and self. The winter landscape offers so much. The pace of nature is slower. It speaks in whispers.

I no longer channel all my energy for the months of May through September. I now offer it to every month of the year. In doing so it seems I have more than enough energy to spare. I now take the time to ‘smell the roses’, because I took the time to appreciate the season when I can not.

KCB
for Skillin's Greenhouses
January 11, 2008

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Warm Day in January!

Hello again,

It is a sunny, warm day here in Southern Maine with the temperature at about 44 degrees at mid day.

Just a couple of suggestions for you gardeners for some useful gardening tasks on such a day. I was at home for a few minutes and I took the opportunity to take 2 of my large houseplants OUTDOORS for a short time but long enough to give them a very thorough watering and then merely drain the excess water in their pots and saucers outside.

I find it hard to thoroughly water such plants that are too big for my sink in the winter. These big guys can be taken to the bath tub for a thorough (2 to 3 gallon watering) and "drain out" but I often just try to let these plants get by a series of short quick waterings that merely leave the top 1/2 of the root system watered and the bottom 1/2 not. Thus, my big plants aren't always at their healthiest in the winter.

Another gardening opportunity on a dry January day with temps in the mid 40's or above is to apply Wilt Pruf to your broad leafed evergreens such as rhododendrons and azaleas IF you did not get to do this last fall. Wilt Pruf is an all natural product that we heartily recommend as a protective coating against the dry winter winds. Wilt Pruf helps prevent severe browning of leafs that can occur in early Spring.

Another great and quick thing to do on a day like this is to apply long lasting deer repellent to some of your tasty evergreens like arborvitae. Deep snow can make food hard to come by for those four legged deer but while I do not want them to starve we really don't want the deer to take the easy way out by munching on your arborvitae or yews or other tasty plants. We often recommend Liquid Fence an all natural deer repellent that if applied according to the easy directions will last for quite a few weeks. Liquid Fence can be found at Skillin's and can be described at http://www.liquidfence.com/.

If you have any comments or questions we would love to hear them! Simply post a comment by clicking on "comments" at the end of this posting OR drop us an email at info@skillins.com!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
January 10, 2008

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Houseplants for the New Year!

Hello again,

The irrepressible P. Allen Smith checks in with a GREAT article about Houseplants for the New Year. I think the article is well written and incredibly well timed so I hope P. Allen is okay with the fact I have reproduced his entire article below:

"Putting away decorations after the holidays can leave our homes looking somewhat lifeless and bare. A quick fix for this condition is to add a few houseplants to your decor.

Growing houseplants is easier than you might think, especially if you follow a few simple guidelines. And you will be amazed at the variety of interesting foliage and gorgeous blooms to choose from. There is something to suit every style of interior. Here is a list of my five favorite houseplants for cheering up my home after the holidays. (All of the following plants are sold right here at Skillin's!)






Mother-in-law's Tongue (Sansevieria)
This plant is nearly impossible to kill and the dramatic, sword-like foliage will complement any style home. I think Mother-in-law's tongue is especially attractive when grown in a simple container that allows all the attention to be focused on the plant itself.

One of the reasons I like this plant so much is it can tolerate very low light conditions and it will actually thrive with just artificial light.

When it comes to water you want to keep it on the dry side. Mine has actually gone for months without water. If you water too much it can actually damage the roots, causing the blades or leaves to turn soft and slimy.

Occasionally I like to clean the leaves because the air can be dry and dusty. To do this I just put a little mild dishwashing soap in warm water and wipe the leaves with a cloth. They clean up beautifully. (Careful there P. Allen! I have seen even mild dish washing soap burn the leaves of plants--I would definitely recommend cleaning the leaves of your plants but I do recommend using just lukewarm water!)



Cyclamen
During the holidays I always use a few cyclamen in my arrangements because after the decorations have been put away these plants still have plenty of blooms to carry me into the New Year.
Cyclamen come in a wide range of color, from white through the various shades of pink into the deep maroon. And if that's not enough, the foliage looks like a handpainted masterpiece.

Cyclamen blooms and attractively marbled leaves are a knockout when combined in an arrangement with other winter flowers such as primroses, paperwhites or amaryllis.

There are a few tips you may want to follow to help keep your cyclamen fresh and vibrant. First, you never want to let them wilt. They never fully recover and when it comes to light, make sure it is indirect. Full sun is hard on the plant's leaves and blooms.
(While some plants we sell are contract grown for us in Florida, we do grow ALL of our own cyclamen right here at Skillin's in Southern Maine. Cyclamen are a Skillin's specialty and ours look gorgeous right now!)



Bromeliads
I am partial to bromeliads because of their tough nature and interesting shapes and blooms. These plants are equally suited for a modern or classically designed interior. Like the Mother-in-law's tongue they are best displayed in a simple container that showcases the fun and funky form of the plant.
Low light, low humidity and dry air make it unbearable for many plants, but not bromeliads. In their native habitat they can grow, with very little root system, on tree branches, trunks, even on rocks.
With so few roots you might guess it wouldn't require much water. Well, you are right. In fact over watering is the number one cause of death of bromeliads in our homes. Too much moisture around the roots will cause them to rot. But this plant has other ways of storing moisture. Its leaves overlap to create cups, which actually hold water.

When it comes to fertilizer, very little is necessary. A diluted solution, say down to 25 percent of an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer is all you need for plenty of vigorous growth. Just feed them every two weeks or so. (I also heartily recommend the type of houseplant fertilizer that you apply by droplets to your water every time you do water--that you won't forget the fertilizer but by following the directions you always give your plants milder feedings. Milder feedings are generally better for your houseplants. We often recommend such a fertilizer manufacured by the Schultz Co. and sold right here at Skillin's).

If your bromeliad has not bloomed in a while there is the way you can trick it into flowering by simply using a plastic bag and an apple. Make sure there is no stored water in the leaf cups and cover the plant with a clear plastic bag along with an apple. Ten days with the ripening apple will be long enough to encourage the plant to begin producing a flower stalk. (I have not tried this method myself but I would trust P. Allen in this case!)




Amaryllis
While an amaryllis is not what you might think of as a traditional houseplant, it is hard to beat in the bloom department. These bulbs produce gigantic flowers in a fantastic assortment of colors and forms. I like to plant the white or lemony green varieties because they look so fresh, but you can also choose red, hot pink, salmon or even striped.
To grow an amaryllis in your home, simply place the bulb in a clay container that is a few inches wider than the bulb. Fill with soil, leaving approximately a quarter of the top of the bulb exposed. Water and place in a sunny location.

In about six weeks you will be rewarded with showy flowers that are so large the stalk may require staking to prevent it from toppling over.

Now once your amaryllis finishes flowering, and yours may already be in that stage if you planted it before Christmas, just cut off the stalk but leave the foliage. This will help reinvigorate the bulb so you will have plenty of blooms next year.

During the non-blooming part of its life just treat amaryllis like an ordinary houseplant. And then in mid-October cut back the foliage, put it in a dark place and stop watering. About a month later bring it out, begin watering, put it in full sun and presto, you will have a whole new generation of flowers.



Orchids
When it comes to duration of bloom, orchids will always come in first place. The arching stems adorned with delicate butterfly-shaped blooms add elegance to even the drabbest room.
I like to create a winter garden container using orchids with other houseplants such as cyclamen, variegated English ivy and ferns. These long blooming arrangements carry me through the coldest days of winter.
One of the easiest orchids to grow is the phalaenopsis. It will take low light conditions and as far as the ideal temperature goes, if you're comfortable, it is too.
When it comes to soil, orchids really don't grow in it at all. They prefer the bark of fir trees. Some growers like to create a similar growing medium by blending fifty-fifty fir bark and lava rock.
Orchids are light eaters. You only need to fertilize them with twenty-five percent of the recommended amount on a liquid fertilizer label. And they should be fed about every other week.
Orchids hate salt build-up from fertilizer so it's important to wash that out when you water.
After the blooms fade, cut the stalk above the 2nd or 3rd node and reduce fertilizing to once a month.
(Note: On Saturday, January 26th at 9 AM we have an exciting Orchid class at each of our stores with exciting guest instruction from the Maine Orchid Society. Feel free to sign up for those classes at info@skillins.com and also check out our entire upcoming series of classes that we posted below on January 6, 2008!)
If you have any comments or questions we would love to hear them! Simply post a comment by clicking on "comments" at the end of this posting OR drop us an email at info@skillins.com!
Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
January 8, 2008

More Discussion on Newspaper as Garden Mulch!

Hello again,

Soon to be Garden Log contributor KCB has checked in with us with her thoughts about using newspaper as mulch. KCB is a landscape professional who does a great deal of inspiring gardening work in the southern Maine area:

" I have used (newspaper) in creating new beds. I have always covered it with compost. Penobscot Blend (from Coast of Maine sold right here at Skillin's) would be my choice (as the compost)..... Other points....some 'invasives' will still persevere (wild violets). If creating a new bed it may be best to rototill first. ALTERNATIVELY, thoroughly hand weeding the ground first.
Besides a thorough handweeding makes for excellent weeding and such fun laundry!"

"Excellent advice regarding the colored ink.....
There is a side affect of using Newspaper as a mulch ---earthworms. One result which was first unexpected and a more than happy finding. Earthworms love the newspaper. I haven't researched the why. I have heard of those who kitchen compost w/the 'red squigglers' add newspaper. I can attest to an earthworm rich soil. It doesn't take long for the paper to break down. In some cases I have turned it in; sometimes I just let it be. All depends on the reason for using this mulch. The newspaper does make it a little difficult to plant directly afterward as the newspaper after all is a barrier. I did do a small lamp post planting area a couple of years ago using this method. I did it mid fall. The original intent of the bed was for Crocus & Hyacinth early spring, then annuals. I moistened the area first and proceeded to plant the bulbs a couple of weeks later. The 'bulb' planter penetrated the paper. I cluster my bulbs and once I reached it I just pulled back the paper. To this day this little piece of color still only sprouts an occasional blade of grass, produced from a runner from the lawn."

Thanks KCB for your contribution!

If anyone else has any comments we would love it! Simply post them as a comment by clicking on "comment" at the end of this posting OR drop us an email at info@skillins.com!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
January 8, 2008

Monday, January 7, 2008

Newspaper as Garden Mulch

The following is an excerpt from a question and answer between Barbara Gardener and myself. Barbara G. is always looking for that "gardening edge" and she asked us here at Skillin's our thoughts about using newspaper as garden mulch.

"Regarding your question about using newspaper as mulch; I have checked various living and internet sources and the general consensus is that newspaper will work fine as a mulch.

Don’t use old newspapers as many newspapers printed before this decade contained ink that might have some toxicity to it. For the same reasons don’t use colored newspapers only black and white.

Newspaper is effective at smothering weeds but make sure you add a layer of mulch or compost or even soil to the newspaper. This natural matter will interact with the newspaper and will accelerate the decomposition of the newspaper which should help ensure that any mud or wet soil will not slide off the newspaper. Finally, as the newspaper becomes part of the soil underneath it adds a great humus type additive to the soil thus it really helps the composition of the soil."

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
January 7, 2008

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Skillin's January-February 2008 Classes and Events!

Hello folks and Happy New Year!

We are a little later than usual getting these classes and events to you but here they are:


Our classes will be held Saturdays at all three locations (unless otherwise stated). Space is limited so reserve today for the classes of your choice. Class participants receive a special Skillin’s 10% discount coupon for use on the weekend of your class.

JANUARY

19th –Floral (9AM & 1PM)
Create your own colorful fresh floral masterpiece to brighten your home. This limited space class has been the most popular series of all class offered by Skillin’s. It is no wonder; Maine’s five times voted favorite florist by People Places and Plants magazine. $15.00 fee

26th -Orchids and Their Care (10 AM special time)
Special guest instruction from the Maine Orchid Society! Wrap your favorite orchids snugly and bring them to the class for some show and tell as well! Free

26th - Birds in the Backyard (1 PM)
We will show you how best to attract and support birds in your yard! What a great way to add color, vitality and motion to your winter landscape. Free




FEBRUARY
1-Spring Bonds Go On Sale!

The 18h year of selling our pre-season SPRING BONDS. When you purchase a $50 bond you pay only $37.50!!! This 25% off coupon can be used anytime after April 1 for almost all regularly priced items. Supplies are limited so buy your SPRING BONDS before they run out!

2nd -Fresh Flower Arranging (9 AM & 1PM)

We’ve got the flowers, have you got the time? Let us show you how to brighten your home with fresh cut flowers. This is a limited space class so sign up early. Skillin’s offers encore floral class so check with your local Skillin’s for times and dates. $15.00 fee

9th Growing Healthy Houseplants– (9 AM in Brunswick and 1 PM in Falmouth, both times Cumberland)
Time to learn how to make your houseplants green and clean! Wrap your houseplants nice and warm because we will do some free repotting that day for you. We will show some of the tricks of the trade and maybe a few family secrets! Have nothing to repot—just want to learn, that would be great! Come one, come all! Free


9th -Landscape Design Principles (9 AM Falmouth, 1 PM Brunswick)

Join Chad (5th generation) Skillin as he discusses landscape design principles. Chad is a graduate of UMO and also has great experience with landscaping and practical landscape designs. Let Chad educate you on some good solid landscape design practices as well as giving you some informal help with your yard design. This is also a great opportunity to schedule time with Chad to visit your yard and create an effective plan for your yard. Free

9th - Bonsai Care (1 PM Falmouth only)

Join an expert from New England Bonsai as she discusses bonsai care. Wrap your favorite bonsai snugly and bring them to the class for some show & tell and question & answer as well! Free

16th - Planting Perennials Party (9 AM Brunswick & Cumberland only)

Plan to get your hands dirty! We will show you the right way to transplant perennials; you’ll keep two plants! The fresh smell of soil and new plants! The joy of Spring! There is a $15 fee to cover materials.

16,17,18- Falmouth 44th Annual Spring Open House—Maine’s Original Flower Show— See You there!

23rd -Windowsill Gardening (9 AM & 1 PM)

The sun is getting warmer and the days longer. We have the containers and the color. Let us show you how easy it is to bring it all to your home! We will also show you how to grow some great herbs to spice up your life! Free

Special Four Part Hands on Design Class
Falmouth
February 6, 13, 20, 27 5:30PM
Brunswick
March 5, 12, 19, 26 5:30PM
There is nothing like the pride you feel when creating your own landscape. Chad Skillin will teach you the fundamentals of form and design. How to plan for all seasons, sunny yards, and shady yards. He will show you how to pick the right plants for your yard and get your own design down on paper. This is a very limited space class so sign up early. There is a $35.00 fee for supplies.

Looking for something special to do this winter, all of our classes can be specially scheduled for your group of 8 to 15 people. We can customize it to fit your occasion, maybe a birthday celebration or just a great night out with your friends. Call 1-800-224-3860 or email skillins@maine.rr.com and ask Sally Bolstridge for details.

Friday, January 4, 2008



With the recent cold weather and cost of heating oil, interest in the all natural Coast of Maine Cedar Logs has ignited! We are happy to be selling these all natural logs right here at Skillin's! I have been using the Cedar Logs in combination with some wood that I purchased here at Skillin's and I love them!

Coast of Maine Cedar Logs are made entirely of aromatic cedar sawdust and shavings, compressed and extruded into a 12” long, 2 1/2 “ in diameter segment. They are sold in a heavy duty plastic bag with a convenient handle and come ten logs to a bag.

Cedar Logs are easy to start, burn efficiently and won’t spit or spark. They are the all-natural alternative to pre-packaged manufactured logs made with petroleum waxes thus can be used in fireplaces, woodstoves, chimineas, firepits and campfires. The Northern White Cedar used in their manufacture is harvested in the great north woods of Maine and New Brunswick. All you need is a little kindling or paper to get them started. Make sure to store in a dry place.

Safety: Our Cedar Logs are dehydrated to a moisture content of less than 5% so as to burn hot and efficiently. As a result, never burn more than three logs at a time in a woodstove or enclosed firebox.
Open your fireplace damper before starting a fire, close only when ashes are cool.
Make sure your stove, fireplace, etc. is well maintained.
Carefully control the flow of air and amount of fuel to any enclosed fire to prevent overheating.
Never start a fire using flammable liquids.
Never leave a fire unattended.
With woodstoves and chimineas, carefully follow the manufacturers’ instructions. Fire-logs, fire-bricks, coal and kiln dried wood cannot be used in some woodstove models. To prevent overheating, never use more than three cedar logs at a time.