Thursday, May 29, 2008

Let Blooms be the Bonus! by KCB

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.

Memorial Day, just seemed so early this year. There is so much of May left. When I was a kid, it was on the 30th of May. Years later when the US Government opted for Monday Holidays, the State of NH kept the tradition of the 30th while Maine adopted the Monday Holiday. Confusing for someone who commuted from Portland to Portsmouth to serve as a bank’s Compliance officer. Solution—I’d take the week off. This meant I did not have to fight the crowds on Memorial Day to purchase my plants. I had a week in which to perform this ritual. In past writings I revealed I was not a child of gardeners. Memorial Day did mean driving to the one Nursery within miles of Rochester, NH, the city my mother felt was ‘the county’. I do remember the throngs of people with the nursery owner dressed in denim overalls and a plaid shirt /sleeves rolled to the elbows. No embellishment but honest to goodness truth.

Yes, everyone is so eager to buy plants. There are bare spaces to fill, a desire for color, and a need to be at one with the earth. All are good things. The smell of dirt; AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. I long for rain, slow, sensual with the scent of steamy hot top, musty grass, and drenched blooms. Many of you will identify. Spring is a shiny new toy that we cannot wait to get our hands on. One advantage of this toy is if we play with a vision and determination at the beginning, what the time of our rest we can reap the rewards of our beginnings. That is, if we planned.

Within the confines of space and time, I want to change the way you envision a perennial bed. So often, the flowers are the focus. Perennial blooms are around for a finite period of time. It takes careful planning to establish a garden with various blooming times. Often we must supplement annuals to appease our need for color. This is not a bad thing, yet could be costly and time consuming. What to do? Look beyond the bloom. Look to foliage. Variances in color, texture, and growing pattern can fill a bed with interest before a single bloom is spotted. Combining plants is part of the plan. There are no rules other than to utilize plants that require the same light and food requirements in the same bed.

A shade garden comprised solely of Astilbe is anything but boring. This shade, moisture-loving plant offers foliage that offers much interest and subtle differences. The fern to feather like leaves are available in ground hugging mounds of burgundy to 18-inch plumes of blue or lime green. The spires of airy blossoms on long stems are best viewed amass. Mixed among several varieties of hosta, coral-bells and ferns, there is no need to wait for flowering the Pacific to have a garden of interest.

Gardens of full sun can offer the same return. Sedum. I could write sonnets about Sedum; succulent, seductive, spellbinding. From broadleaf limes, to burgundy edged blues, needle yellows, mounds, ground covers. A sedum for every taste. The rich foliage offers a great companion to the fine texture of lavender; thread leaf coreopsis, dianthus, snow in summer, ornamental grasses. These are perennials that bring smiles long before they bring bees to the blooms.

Have you ever flown over this great country of ours and looked out the window to view a patchwork quilt of fields? Your landscape can offer the same affect while keeping your feet firmly on the ground.

When you begin to shop for your plants, and I know you will be doing this soon, think beyond the flower. Allow the bloom to be the bonus. Incorporate variable foliage textures, spiking or feathering next to broad or succulent. Bright greens next to rich forest greens. Variegated, blue grays, rich burgundies. All are available.

Do not shy away from perennial ornamental grasses. Many are slow to arrive yet offer interest and movement long beyond the growing season.

Before I conclude, there is an incredible plant I often incorporate into my beds. It offers everything we have mentioned today, texture, form, and a sweet bloom with a pungent fragrance. Chives. I smile. Purple lollipops on top of succulent spikes. They mound, perfect next to sedum, coreopsis, coral-bells, any broad leaf or feather foliage. A major bonus for the State of Maine. Deer do not like them. It repels them. Of course, your hand will smell like onions whenever you touch them. Small price to pay.

If you find this information of interest, I could gladly supply more suggestions. Ask the staff at your preferred garden center. No doubt, they all have their tried and true favorites.

One last thing. Ok, 2. Will you let me go for 3? No, wait, 4. My final offer.

Before you set foot inside the garden center to begin your shopping spree keep in mind the following:

1 Have a vision. A plan and bring a list. Purchase only plants that fit within your vision.
2 Think in layers. As you decorate a room in your house, you should decorate your landscape. Floor, wall and ceiling=ground covers, vertical interest with plants of variable heights and canopies of shrubs and specimen trees.
3 Read the plant tag. The plant that attracts while on the shelf may not be the plant that will be attractive in your garden. Remember, Right plant, Right place!
4 Buds over blooms. A plant all in bloom may soon require deadheading or worse have already ‘done its thing’ for the season. While instant gratification is great, blooms offer more promise with your purchase.
5 Think about maintenance, growth habits now and for the future. (Did you think I could stop at 4?)

More nagging: Purchase plants from local garden centers. When shopping ‘box stores’ you may find a plant that is suited for our hardiness zone, however the soil the plant is encased in may come from elsewhere. What lurks within the dirt is the stuff of horror novels. We are so blessed to have some of the best garden centers almost at our doorstep. Buy local! The associate you purchase from today I can almost guarantee will be there next season.

Another guarantee……………I’ll be back…………….

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
May 29, 2008

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Prep School by KCB

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.

It’s May; It’s May, the lusty month of May…………………
Lyrics of one of the many featured songs from Camelot. More than fitting as it is May and aren’t we all trying to create our own Camelot at home.

It is at this time of year we bring our focus to the out of doors. May is perennial planting month. Each day it seems another desired perennial appears on the shelves of our favorite garden centers. Annuals, other than violas and pansies are still too tender to be subject to our night chills. With so much work yet to do, appreciate that there is still time enough to fill containers and blank spaces with the never-ending parade of annuals.

Having never been known for self-control in any aspect of my life, I find patience with gardening the most difficult of willpowers. I not only have to demonstrate for myself but the many gardens I tend to. My own and my client’s urgency must be kept in check. Those who have been with me for a while will slowly shake their head and agree.

Many of us are still in the prepare mode as suggested in the kcb approach to gardening. Plan comes before prepare which comes before plant. In reality with me the planning never ends. As I cut, prune, amend the soil I visualize the garden in spring, early, mid and late summer. I envision an autumn full of blazing orange, voluptuous red and seductive burgundy. My goal? A landscape that offers interest throughout the year. Planning and prepping before purchasing and planting will perpetuate a picturesque palette that is personally yours. How? Glad you asked.

Planning—‘nough said. We all know how to plan. Following through on a plan is another thing. This lesson will have to wait.

Prep? The least glamorous part of gardening, that is if I do not include slug or beetle picking. Some highly recommended suggestions; Aerate compacted soil. Amend with organic material. Coast of Maine Penobscot and Quoddy Blends are 2 of my faves.

Slow release fertilizers may also be worked into the soil. For those who desire mulch CoM also offers a Fundy Blend, which combines seashell compost and peat with an aged fine dark bark mulch. Mulch need not only be bark. I know of successful gardens that use seaweed, pine needles or grass clippings. For new beds or beds in need of a much needed overhaul, newspapers topped with a planting mix (Jolly -Gardener’s Tree and Shrub or CoM Penobscot Blend get the kcb thumbs up-more on newspapers later).

In an effort not to interfere with the love affair that most have with bark mulch, too much is well, just too much mulch. 2 inches is all that is really needed. Remove old much that has not begun to compost. Layers of mulch often compact and form a barrier not allowing water to penetrate totally defeating one of the benefits. Additionally, when planting assure that the roots are actually in the soil. Digging too deep to get to the soil does not promote growth. Organic mulches alone do not add the nutrients that your soil requires to produce healthy plants. Keep in mind, feed your soil and your soil will feed your plants. Prior to top dressing with mulch, incorporate a slow release fertilizer. Espoma Plant Tone is one of my staples and this year I have used Organica’s Plant Booster Plus. Before applying any amendment read and follow label instructions. As you incorporate your fertilizer into your soil, look for ‘worm action’. Earth worms……….ah a gardener’s friend.

Earthworms improve the physical structure of the soil by aerating when they tunnel allowing better drainage thus less runoff. Their ‘castings’ absorb water. Less runoff+ water absorption = less watering and erosion. Yes, I so admire the lowly earthworm. If you should ever come upon me in a garden and I am talking softly with a hint of baby talk I am thanking a worm. Or speaking with a garden gnome or fairy. All are beneficial for the garden and soul.

No earthworms? No problem. Invite them. Do not insult them by asking them to an environment not worm worthy. There is a reason they do not flourish in poor soil—they don’t like it. One jump-start is to add earthworm castings. This does not mean you have to collect worms, feed them, and then allow nature to take its course. Wiggleworm is an excellent product sold locally. 2 thumbs up from me. EXCEPTIONAL for container grown vegetables…………

One earthworm enhancer that is a puzzlement to me, at least, are newspapers. When I install a new bed or completely revamp, I layer newspaper, sometimes shredded, often not and cover with at least 2 inches of soil/compost mixture, then water in. When I return to plant, I am overjoyed with a plethora of earthworms. Perhaps they are starving for world and local news. Whatever the reason, it works. It is best to avoid the glossy ads, as they do not break down easily. Preferably, I would opt for the purely black & white pages, though I have begun to use color, as it is more available.

With these basics, out of the way we are all just burning with the desire to buy, buy, buy. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, the M & M company is no longer satisfied with the basic colors for their melt in your mouth product. While they continue to prod us to buy with a never-ending array of available colors, this pales in comparison to what Mother Nature and creative horticulturists have to offer. Blooms that were once offered only in perhaps a pink or white variety are now available in varieties referred to as ‘sunrise’ or ‘sunset’, ‘paprika’; ‘wine with dinner’ as noted on the plant tags. The latter name I not only love the color but consider it as an instruction.

Next, we will work our plan…………..

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Garden Happenings! Week of May 12

Hello again,

Gardening is Happening in Skillin's Country!

In this post we will be letting you know what we are doing or what we hear is going on out there in our local gardening world.

We will be updating this post with quick supplements all through the week!

So check here frequently!

If you would like to contribute just drop us a quick note at OR leave a comment at the end of this post.

We would LOVE any tips OR questions from you.

May 16:

More questions and answers today via email at! We welcome any feedback you may hve to any of our answers!

Question from CM: What kind of evergreen shrubs (small) can I plant out here in Bowdoinham that won’t attract deer? We have a lot of deer around most of the year. I know they love yew, and arborvitae, is there anything they don’t like?

Answer: I am checking out our list of deer resistant shrubs on our online nursery catalog at and I am seeing Colorado Spruce and Dwarf Alberta Spruce . The Albertas stay small. Boxwood is also an idea—that is a small evergreen shrub.

If you need a good deer repellent we usually recommend Liquid Fence and if their directions are followed you need only apply that monthly.

Milorganite is a natural granular fertilizer that also discourages deer.

Question from JR: We purchased a Butterfly Magnolia from you 3 seasons ago. It has had no dead branches and has sent out good growth last year and the year before. Last year there was not a single flower and this year it shows no promise of a flower either. Is there a nutrient requirement for this tree to produce flowers?

Answer: I also have a butterfly magnolia which is alive but has not flowered for the 3 years I have owned it!

Some articles I have read indicate that it definitely can take a few years for the butterfly magnolia to send out flowers. I am going to try a product this year by Organica called Flower Booster which is derived from Sea Kelp. Kelp is an awesome organic supplement for plant material and the kelp will encourage better root development and flower development.

I encourage you to try this product too and let’s see how our butterfly magnolias do. Maybe in another year we can exchange photos of some handsome flowering magnolias.
Question from SB: We had a tough year with our front lawn and wondered what you would suggest for a lawn that has a lot of moss on it and is mostly dead. We are going to put in a new lawn this year by tilling it but wondered what it costs for soil testing to see what it needs for nutrients. We thought we would till it up and mix peat moss with the loam and then lime it but we are not sure what is causing this. Would you have any ideas? Any help would be appreciated.

Answer: Lawns that have moss on it are quite often in very shady situations which makes for a great situation for moss and makes it tough for grass to thrive.

A soil test would be a great idea, we have soil test kits available right here at Skillin’s.

But again, I can guarantee the moss is there because the lawn must be quite shaded. Also lime will do fine with a pH that is acid so it is probably time to lime the lawn.

Can you limb out any low growing tree branches to let in more light? That would be a major help.

I would rake as much moss out as possible and I would recommend treating your lawn with a great natural product called Miracal by Jonathan Green (sold right here at Skillin’s). Miracal is a great source of calcium and calcium is quite often needed very much in our soils. Calcium is a great organic additive to the soil. Regular lime contains a great deal of magnesium which over time tends to compact our soils and moss and weeds do much better in compacted soils than grass.

For grass seed, I definitely recommend Black Beauty Tall Fescue by Jonathan Green. Black Beauty is a deeply rooting tall fescue grass that will carry a nice dark green color. The deep roots that Black Beauty sends out will help your grass very much in its battle against moss (when you have a shady lawn, you will almost always be battling moss to some extent.).

Finally, come see us this summer and we will get you started on Organica’s All Natural Four Step Lawn Program. Your soil is probably very much in need of some solid organic matter that will really help your lawn over time. We feel Organica’s All Natural approach is both easy to use, great for the environment AND will give you a very nice lawn with little monetary and time investment.
May 15:

Lots of questions and answers today via email at and I would like to share some with you today! There will be more Q & A posted tomorrow and I welcome your questions and tips about any answers we give OR any questions that you may have about your garden!

Question from HG: What is wrong if forsythia just blooms at the bottom or not at all?

Answer: Flowering problems with forsythia can often be bad timing on pruning. Flowering shrubs (except for Nikko Blue hydrangea) should be pruned within just a few days after they flower. If you wait too long for any flowering shrubs you may well be pruning new growth that will hold next year’s flowers.

Sometimes too with forsythia, the bottom will flower and not the top if the buds on top of the plant get blasted by cold air at the wrong time (the bottom would be protected by snow cover). But I am not really sure we had those cold conditions that would have battered the forsythia buds like that.

Do you think the pruning timing could have been late in the year?

Followup from HG: We didn’t prune at all. We do live on a hill that is pretty windy when it’s cold. Others on my road look the same as mine.

Answer to Followup: The windy hill could be the problem. Sometimes late winter cold blasts can burn forsythia blossom buds that have expanded as winter weather starts to warm up overall.

It may make sense to prune your forsythia soon and then if you can, wrap the forsythia in burlap next winter OR another idea would be to spray your forsythia with Wilt Pruf on a relatively warm day in late February or March and coat the Wilt Pruf on your forsythia. The Wilt Pruf will give way as the weather warms in April and you should get good blossoming.

Question from KH: My yard is surrounded by woods, and the border has become very messy after years of neglect. Lots of scrub, burrs, and damaging vines. So my sisters and I have been lopping away to prune the trees and clear the undesirables. We're still raking out the debris and leaves. Now I have 2 - 5 feet of bare dirt under the big trees (and fortunately, a big compost pile from the cleanup). This is a long border - probably 100 feet involved. I would like to start planting some ground cover to fill in the bare dirt. I'm not interested in expanding the grassy part of they yard. I'm going to test creeping jenny and white clover. Do you have any other ideas for ground cover that can handle a lot of shade? I don't have much money to spend on this project, so plants that can start from seed or that spread are ideal. I don't mind if it takes a few years - patience is a big part of gardening.

Also, once the leaves drop, will it be impossible to rake the ground cover? Maybe the leaf blower will help.

P.S. Your advice about composting and fertilizing my rhubarb worked like a charm. It is ten times better this spring. I'm watering it more faithfully with a soaker hose. The only problem is that the stalks are a little slim. I may need to divide the patch a little. I bet by next year, it will be back to complete health.

An interesting tidbit - my family has been in this house since 1954. The woods surrounding the house were nothing but tall grass when I was a little girl. My theory (not confirmed) is that when the boys in the neighborhood (including my brothers) grew up and stopped setting grass fires, the trees had a chance to take over. :-)

Answer: I am glad your rhubarb is doing well. Also, the grass fire theory is probably “dead on”.

Ground covers can complicate leaf raking a little. One terrific ground cover for shady spots is called Sweet Woodruff. We sell that in our perennial section for $4.99 per pot. In our nursery section, we sell both pachysandra and vinca—2 great ground covers that can do well in shade or partial shade spots. Vinca is probably easiest to rake leaves out of and our nursery staff can show you that!

Question from AR: I was most interested to read your comments ( See post of 5/14 just below) about Messenger. Does this work to combat (or prevent) blackspot on roses? When we first moved down here we got enough Hansa rugosa roses to make a hedge on our property. We thought that we were getting some roses which would be resistant to blackspot. However, we get blackspot every year from the humidity at the coastline. We have hesitated to use some of the strong chemical products because of the environment etc. So we have had to put up with the blackspot in spite of feeding the roses regularly etc. We will check out the Messenger the next time we are at Skillins if you think this would help us with this problem.

Answer: I highly recommend Messenger for you as black spot disease is just the sort of disease that Messenger helps a rose bush combat. I also sprayed some newly leafed out lilacs that have struggled some in recent years, some upright phlox that is always attacked by powdery mildew and a very struggling Wichita Blue Juniper. I will apply again in 3 weeks and through the season and I am very curious about how the Messenger will work. I have talked with several customers who SWEAR by Messenger.

May 14:

Well, it has been a few weeks since I pruned my rose bushes back to near ground level. Now they are showing some nice healthy growth with many new leaves growing!

Now is the time to spray your roses (and my roses!) with an exciting all natural product named Messenger!

Messenger (sold right here at Skillin’s) is an all natural product (the active ingredient is harpin proteins) that once introduced to the plant fools the plant into thinking it is being attacked by disease and therefore triggers the plants own natural immune defenses. It breaks down quickly and it is environmentally safe—it does not pollute the ground or water.Messenger means stronger roots, increased vigor, stress resistance and increased flowering and fruit set for any plant that it is applied to.

Many of our customers use Messenger for their tomatoes and peppers as well as rose bushes and lilacs as well as fruit trees and other fruit plants like grapes.Messenger should be consistently applied every 3 weeks throughout the growing season.

I also plan to keep the ground around my roses fed monthly with Plant Booster Plus by Organica. This is a new product for Skillin's (but well known in gardening circles). As I have written before, the Organica products excite me because of their patented commitment to including natural microbes and bacteria with their all natural fertilizers. The presence of the natural microbes and bacteria (unique to the Organica products) means for a faster and more efficent breakdown of the natural nutrients found in the product AND a better biological environment for the roots of my plants!

May 13:

Pruning opportunities coming soon!

In most cases, the time to prune MOST flowering shrubs and even trees is within just a few days (SOON) after they flower. Well, if your forsythia is frolicking into wild shapes or your PJM rhododendron is puffing out some crazy growth, PRUNE them just after their flower buds drop. Why so soon?

Well, you DO want to show your plants that you are their boss right? In all seriousness, pruning soon after blossoming is the best time to shape your plant. Plants usually send out all kinds of growth after they flower. By getting your plants in shape before this new growth takes off, you are giving your plants a much better base to start from.

If you wait several weeks after flowering and start cutting lots of new growth that has happened after flowering you may well be cutting off new growth that will produce next year's flowers. This is the most common reason why usual sure bets like forsythia, lilacs, and rhododendrons do not flower--because they get pruned too late.

Also, NEVER prune a Nikko Blue Hydrangea. These shrubs blossom on old growth. Learn to love the shape of your Nikko Blue!

Also, pruning above ground growth sends a signal to your plant's root system to GROW! (This is the way plants are wired. Pruning top and side growth always jump starts a plant's root system).
Remember to clean up what you have pruned and put it into a compost pile. Insects and disease thrive in plant clippings left around the base of your plant.

Let us know if you have any pruning questions!

May 12:

It is time for Skillin's Moisture Meter!

New outdoor plantings (namely trees, shrubs, and perennials) require at least 1” of water per week. This can be provided by a steady soaking rain that provides a total of 1” of rainfall per week (preferably split into 2 or 3 rain events.) A steady soaking rain is a rain that does not pour down “in buckets” (most thundershowers). A steady soaking rain also is not a mere drizzle. The 1” required weekly rainfall can easily be measured by a simple rain gauge (sold right here at Skillin’s).

If we do not get the required 1” of rain in a week then we as gardeners must provide that water in the form of “quality waterings” I define a “quality watering” as a slow soaking of your plant’s roots. Try letting water run slowly out of a watering can or the end of your hose into each plant’s root system or use a soaker hose for several hours twice a week. If you are not using a soaker hose pause on your watering if the water starts to “run off”; let the water soak in and then begin to water again. Repeat this process several times and move onto the next plant. For larger trees and shrubs (and if you do not have a soaker hose) merely set a hose against the tree or shrub for at least 15 to 20 minutes and let the water almost trickle into the ground and down into the plant’s root system. Again if there is runoff, pause and let the water soak in.

This Past Week: We have received no rain this week and even though we received much rain in prior weeks it is crucial that your newly planted material receive their quality waterings as we describe above.


This Week’s Moisture Meter Readings:
Quality rain (0).

Quality waterings required by you this past week: (2).

If you have met the quality watering requirement for this past week, congratulations! If not, pay careful attention this coming week and beyond and make sure that your new plants get those required quality waterings!

Let us know if you have any watering questions.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Relationships by KCB

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.

Greetings. It has been a while since I have written. In all honesty, it has been a while since I have sat in front of my pc without the total feeling of dread. You see, I have purchased a new laptop.

My old desktop was the senior year of 5 years-almost. It was purchased June of 2003 and left my life May 1st of this year. We shared many good times, some great, others, well, as in any relationship we had our moments of one half of the couple not performing up to potential or expectations. We’d reboot when the situation warranted, clean files to refresh and simply shut down for a while in order to take a break from the world. PCs are not unlike a beloved pet. The last year of my former Golden Retriever’s life he slowed down as well, began to need more attention and special care. He could not be over-loaded and needed to take many breaks. As long as Molson, my Golden, was able to get-up, have tail in pendulum mode and display that perma-grin, he’d be fine. When it was time, Molson did let me know. My pc did the same. For each I made the choice. The pc choice was easy and I looked forward to the Carefree life of wireless. Features more technically advanced with a fast pace that would even exhaust me. I have been known to dream, yet the first experience with my laptop was a nightmare.

The night ‘lappy’ came home with me I was much too exhausted to take him out of his secure box. With all my preseason stretching, my body still bore the pains of my gardening day’s efforts. Early to bed, early to rise for this woman.

Stomach Butterflies stirred before I could. It felt like Christmas. I had a new toy and I was going to play all day. Being a Saturday, a rainy one at that, I would not feel guilt as to not work on gardening that day. Just tea, my pc. Oh, Kayla, and me my rescued Golden one no doubt would need attention from time to time. Strange, as I relay this experience it comes to mind that Kayla and my new laptop are similar in the fact that they both have taken some getting use to. Each relationship is a work in progress with the hope in my heart all will be worth the effort. Kayla’s story will unfold in time.

From 6 AM to 2:45 PM I ‘played’. So often I wanted to give up, throw lappy away, or stomp on him as a much needed stress reliever. I pined for my slow Jurassic desktop. I started answering one client’s e-mail approximately 7:15 and 12 hours later, I finally hit send. The problem? The touch window that functions as a poor excuse for a mouse. I even missed the little red button the laptop of my corporate days offered. Had I made a monumental mistake? Was I too quick to give-up on a desktop that offered no spark yet a comfortable touch?

What does any of this have to do with Gardening? Don’t deny you have been asking yourself this question. Surely, by now you must realize as a gardener, everything has to do with gardening and as a writer, it is all material. On to the gardening part of the story.

By now the rain pelted with a wind that moved the still naked limbs of the trees visible through my office window. Escape. That was it. But where? My imagination wanted warm and tropical, would even settle for warm and local. Tropical on my budget was out of the question. I pre-spent my economic stimulus check and any potential offering that may be offered 4 times over our promised tax rebate. Local would not offer warmth of weather on this day.

Not all warmth is dependant on the weather. I will go to where everyone, well almost everyone, knows my name. A favorite family-owned Nursery. Rte 88 in Falmouth is just a little over 5 minutes away. The perennial shelves were filling daily; a friend of mine was to be working. Besides, it would not seem like the beginning of the Gardening Season without shopping at this gardening center in the pouring rain.

Customers were braving the elements when I arrived. The smiles of the workers were hidden by waterproof hoods. The activity warmed me. I did not visit the garden center for assistance with my problems but to be surrounded with passionate plant people.

Always with a story to tell, I began to unload my burdens of the day. Complete with hand motions I relayed my relent at typing and suddenly finding my words imbedded elsewhere on the page and so not on the line they were originally meant for. Would this relationship ever work, I lamented? When toiling on my knees I feel empowered. Working the weather of this day would be a welcome diversion over my struggles with lappy. What was I to do?

Answers and solutions are often found quite unexpectedly. DK, second day on the job grinning between the raindrops simply said ‘wireless mouse’. The rest is history.

Yes, lappy and I are still getting to know one another. Any relationship takes time. As far as established relationships, friends, clients, pets and that of a certain nursery and garden center are all to be cherished…………………….

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
May 12, 2008

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Vegetable Garden Planning

It is time to discuss Vegetable Garden Planning. I will be borrowing a great deal from Barbara Damrosch’s “The Garden Planner” (sold right here at Skillin’s) in this discussion. She writes the following:

“Vegetable gardening is so popular that to many people it is gardening. When they parcel out the limited time, space and resources they have for gardening, the vegetable garden gets a mighty share; only lawns, on the average get more. In fact about half of the families in the United States have some sort of vegetable garden.

Why, with ample fresh produce available year-round in the supermarkets, is this tradition still alive and well? Sometimes the initial goal is to save money. If gardeners are efficient and diligent they often do so, but not, I would guess, very often. Usually I hear them joke in fall about the squash that costs them a dollar apiece to grow, or the peas that were fifty cents a pod after figuring the cost of the fence, tools, fertilizer and other aids, and the cost of their time. The following Spring, undaunted by these economics, they are back in their gardens again.

I grow my own vegetables for two reasons: the quality of the crops I can produce myself, and the quality of the time I spend doing it. There is no question that food picked from my garden tastes better than food that is picked six states away, rides in a truck, sits in storage areas, waits in display bins in the store, rides home in my car, then idles in the refrigerator until it is the right item for the menu. Vegetables ripened in the garden and eaten right away have many more vitamins, too. I also appreciate the fact that I can control what chemical fertilizers, if any, are used to grow my vegetables and whether they are sprayed with pesticides….And as I investigate the selection of vegetables available to me as a home gardener, I realize more and more how much better it is than that in the produce department. Supermarket vegetables are usually bred for ease of transportation and storage…and the ability of the crop to bear all at once for most efficient harvest. In choosing what to grow in my garden, on the other hand, I look for better flavors and nutrition, new and unusual varieties to try out and, quite often, a crop that does not mature all at once over a long period of time.

All these are benefits I have discovered during the course of growing vegetables, but they are not what motivated me in the first place. Initially it was simply the itch to get out there in the Spring, to smell the warm earth, and grub around in the garden in the sunshine, feeling fit and contented, watching my bounty ripen. The harvest was extra. I think there is a basic satisfaction in growing food for the table, and that most of us who do it enjoy the activity of gardening itself just as much as the result.”

Here are some more pointers about planning a vegetable garden that Barbara Damrosch goes on to discuss:

*What type of vegetables to grow? The first criterion should be your appetite and that of the people you live with. But do keep in mind a vegetable garden is a golden opportunity to try the new and unfamiliar.

*Take our climate into account. In the northeastern USA, we have no problems with cool-weather crops such as broccoli, peas, lettuce and cabbage. Ask your neighbors what grows well for them or check with us here at Skillin’s!

*How big a garden? The most common mistake made by new and old gardeners is that they plant too much. Either the upkeep overwhelms them and much of the garden succumbs to weeds, bugs or drought or the harvest is too bountiful, and they cannot keep up with the picking, let alone the eating and preserving. You will probably find it more fun and rewarding to start small.

*Choose a site that receives lots of sun and drains well. Trees can be cut to let in more sun and we at Skillin’s have plenty of natural products to help your soil!

*Try to start with a sketch of your vegetable garden plot to make the buying of seeds and starter crops and the ultimate planting more efficient.

We have just scratched the surface of planning a vegetable garden. We will discuss more aspects as the season progresses, but please let us know of any questions you may have!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
May 7, 2008

Monday, May 5, 2008

Garden Happenings! Week of May 5

Hello again,

Gardening is Happening in Skillin's Country!

In this post we will be letting you know what we are doing or what we hear is going on out there in our local gardening world. We will be updating this post with quick supplements all through the week!

So check here frequently!If you would like to contribute just drop us a quick note at OR leave a comment at the end of this post.

We would love any tips OR questions from you.

May 7:

We are getting many, many questions about whether it is time to transplant annuals outdoors yet. In most cases, I believe it is still too cold to plant outdoors. There is still potential for frost or COLD WIND damage. Besides, the ground is still fairly cold—many of the warm weather lovers like impatiens, marigolds, petunias and vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, vine crops would simply not grow in the ground yet. That being said, it is an outstanding time to “harden off” the material I just described above.

With warm weather we look forward to planting outside, but night temperatures can still be quite chilly and frost in New England; this can be a danger until the end of May. A couple of weeks before you plan to plant, you will want to start hardening-off any plants that you have started indoors or that we at Skillin’s have only kept in our greenhouses.

To start, find a protected, shady place outside to place your plants for “hardening off purposes”. The first day, leave them out no more than a couple of hours. If after two weeks there is no threat of frost, you may leave them out all night. If frost or bad weather threatens, you will want to cover or protect them. Most important during this hardening-off period: do not forget to water your plants! They will dry out much faster outside.When it is safe to transplant (when the lilacs are blooming or after the last full moon in May), make sure your soil is properly prepared. Add soil amendments if necessary to make a light, loose crumbly soil, well supplied with nutrients. Use a plant starter to aid in early root development and to promote a greener, more vigorous plant.

Plants that can be planted outside include trees and shrubs and most perennials, pansies and snapdragons. Make sure the pansies and snapdragons are “hardened off” as discussed above.

May 6:

We're already hearing from our customers that the Lily Leaf Beetles are emerging from the soil and attacking their Asiatic and Oriental lilies. The lily leaf beetle, native to Europe, was discovered near Montreal, Canada in 1945. Its damage was limited to the Montreal area for decades, but recently it has spread to the south and west. The beetles are strong fliers and excellent hiders.

If you only have a few plants in your garden, hand-picking adults and eggs can be effective.

There are two types of garden sprays that can be effective. One is the "Merit" based products by Bayer Advanced. "Merit's" scientific name is Imidacloprid. Merit is a chemical and needs to be used according to the directions on the container. We feel that many people "overuse" this product, so again please use the dilutions and frequencies that Bayer Advance recommends. We do sell the Merit based products here at Skillin's so if you would like to use them please come and see us so we can give you the best advice. Don't necessarily trust the guy who was working in the Plumbing Department last week (if you know what I mean).

Many of us here at Skillin's will be trying the all natural K Neem by Organica for the lily leaf beetles. K Neem is the purest form of neem (an insecticide based upon extracts from the neem tree of India). Neem kills insect larvae and repels adult insects. Neem must be applied every five to seven days after egg hatch for best effectiveness.

(Thanks to Hammon Buck of Plants Unlimited for some of this tip)

(above photo from

May 5:

Good birding friend Liz Cardinale reminds us that it is time to get fresh cut oranges outdoors to attract the migrating Baltimore Orioles! If you have never attracted Orioles to your yard you are in for a TREAT! You can nail the oranges to a tree or hang them in a caged feeder like a suet cage (we sell suet cages right here at Skillin's!). Also Liz has read that Orioles love meal worms and she is going to try some meal worms to better attract her Orioles. We do sell the meal worms here at Skillin's.

Also Liz urges us to get our hummingbird feeders set up in our gardens as the migrating hummingbirds will SOON be here. We have some great hummingbird feeders and all the nectar they will need right here at Skillin's!

Also, let us show you some of the plants favored by hummingbirds like fuschia, columbine, trumpet vine, bleeding hearts and other trumpet shaped flowers.