Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Homeowners, Gardeners Must Be Smarter Than The Average Bear

Black bear - Photo Courtesy of the National Park Service.
GLASTONBURY, Conn. - Berries and grasses just can't compare to junk food like trash, birdseed, corn ... and even small livestock.

That is, if you are a black bear.

"They are like giant raccoons - they will eat whatever the can get," said Scott Reinhardt, seasonal Furbearer Technician for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, who tags, relocates and hazes nuisance bears. He is also a teacher for the Connecticut Audubon Society, where he recently lectured.

Black bears can be lured to homeowners' trash cans by the smell. To discourage this, Reinhardt said to keep trash bags in a container with a tight lid and store it in the garage or shed. Using a few capfuls of ammonia or bleach on top of trash bags can help mask the smell of food. Reinhardt said homeowners could put the trash out the morning of the collection as well.

But, if you store your trash cans inside, make sure it's a sturdy structure.

"We get thousands of calls every year of a bear tore through my shed, a bear went through my screen door, a bear went through my bird feeders or beehives - it happens all the time and it will happen more [as] they get pretty comfortable," Reinhardt said.

"They typically don't want to be around us," he said. But "they will come right up to your house if they are used to people enough."

Connecticut Landscape Suitable for Black Bears
Black bears love wooded and swamp areas, especially filled with mountain laurel. "They make the dens in laurel," he said. They can also use brush piles (such as the 400 pound male bear Reinhardt responded to in Goshen, Conn.) or in a rock cave (which is the least likely of the three, despite all the children's tales).

In the 1980s, black bears began to migrate into Connecticut from New York and Massachusetts. They are typically found in the northwestern section of the state.

"Bears are trying to survive in a much smaller area," said Reinhardt. "We're encroaching on their natural habitats."

Reinhardt is part of the team at the DEEP that ear tags both male and female bears, and collars females. (Their necks are smaller than their heads which makes collaring possible. This isn't possible with male black bears.)

"Tags help with sighting reports and nuisance reports," Reinhardt said. "It builds a resume for problem bears." Purple is the color often used for nuisance bears.

Be a Smart Homeowner
For Connecticut residents, waiting to fill bird feeders until after the first snowfall is a good way to deter black bears from dining in your garden. In areas where bear activity is high, bird feeders should be removed (or remain empty) from March through November to discourage bears from visiting (this is when they are typically the most active).

"Bears are pretty shy by nature - their first instinct is to run - like us," he said. "If it has a way out, it will take it." Typically black bears will climb trees to avoid threats.

While walking outside, keep dogs on a leash to avoid them running off after the bear. Keep rabbits in the home and not in outside hutches where bears will try to eat them.

"If you come out on your front porch and there is a bear going through your garbage, banging pots and pans is not going to help. It's like ringing the dinner bell. It's just ambient noise," said Reinhardt. "The bears really don't recognize it as you are directing it at them. It's like a car horn or traffic - they don't hear it. If you clap your hands and say, 'Hey bear! Get out of here!' - they're gone."

A loud noise, like a boat horn, will also spook bears and cause them to leave, said Reinhardt.

If gardeners are wary of being outdoors where black bears can be present, Reinhardt suggests carrying pepper spray* for "peace of mind."

"Lots of people like to have it when they are gardening - they feel safer having it because if a bear is coming up while they're digging up turnips in the yard and they're not looking ... they feel safer just being able to grab it and spray," he said.

"But if you are going to use pepper spray, you need to practice with it because it's not straight forward and there's lots of room for error," he said. "It sends out a cloud of hot pepper spray, and it can come back to you if you spray it into the wind ... you will mace yourself."

Reinhardt said pepper spray is an initial deterrent but not a solution. "If you spray, you want to get out of there as fast as possible," he said.

Most importantly, do not deliberately feed bears. This will make them less afraid of people and more likely to encourage problem behavior.

"If you give a bear a sandwich, he'll want a glass of milk," joked Reinhardt.

The DEEP encourages state residents to report bear sightings in Connecticut by using the Black Bear Sighting Report Form or by calling 860-424-3333. To view reported sightings in Connecticut by town, click here.

To learn more about black bears, click here.

* Pepper spray is illegal to have in most national parks because it is considered a weapon.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Gardener's Gift Guide 2014

Need something special for the gardener in your life? Unless they've left a not-so subtle hint that they want a new piece of garden equipment, the standard choices can be a little monotonous.

I've compiled a list of unique gifts for every gardener on your list - women, men ... even children.

Used with permission from Georgianna Lane.

2015 Flower Photo Calendar  - $11.00/$19.00
If you haven't discovered the magical world of Georgianna Lane photography yet, this is the perfect excuse to visit. These 12 individual calendar pages (available in 4x6 or 5x7 sizes) can be used on a memo board or easel for display. The pages are also suitable for framing.

Used with permission from One Lane Road.

Vegetable Garden Men's/Unisex T-shirt - $26.00
Need something for the male gardener in your life? How about this super soft cotton t-shirt that is screen-printed by hand from One Lane Road. Available in multiple sizes, this t-shirt, along with other garden-inspired designs in the shop, are original illustrations. Holiday delivery is estimated for all orders placed by Dec. 7.

Crystalline Koi - $80.00 each
Another option for the man in your life are the many selections offered from Fish in the Garden. Friendly representatives from this Maine company are always present at the garden shows I attend in late winter. They also bring their schools of fish to accent the display gardens at the shows. The koi look really nice around water features in gardens, too.

Used with permission from The Forest Sleeps.

Bunny Garden Markers - $6.00 each
These garden markers made out of recycled spoons and embellished with rabbits is a whimsical way to keep track of what's growing in your herb garden. The spoons are hand-stamped by shop owner Linda. There is also a Buy 2 Get 1 Free Special on the markers. (If you are into fairies, there's a style for that, too!)

Used with permission from Metal Garden Art.

Celestial Moon Steel Garden Stake - $9.95
This original design is one of the many decorative garden stakes offered at Metal Garden Art. The stake will weather naturally to a rust color but can be coated in clear lacquer to protect it.

Used with permission from Precious Meshes.

Little Bird Nest Earrings - $64.00
These adorable earrings are also perfect for any bird lovers on your holiday shopping list. The nests are handmade with crochet wire that are woven together, just as a bird will gather little bits of nature to make its nest. The bird nest jewelry is also available as necklaces and rings as well. (I purchased one of her necklaces in 2008 and I still receive many compliments every time I wear it.) Emily of Precious Meshes is also offering Frau Zinnie followers a 10 percent discount: use code precious10 to activate. Order by Dec. 10 to guarantee Christmas delivery.

Used with permission from Juicy Crafts.

Cotton Bandana - $11.50
These bandanas are handmade and perfect for keeping hair out of your face when gardening. They are machine washable and come in a variety of different fabrics to choose from. If you buy three or more headbands, use discount code JUICY15off to receive 15 percent off your order. I own several and they come in handy not only when I'm gardening, but when I'm at work, too.

Used with permission from Just Hatched.

Wooden Leaf Puzzle - $42.00
Show a child how great gardening can be by introducing them to nature with this puzzle from Just Hatched. Handmade from birch and sanded smooth by hand, these puzzles are made with nontoxic paint and a natural beeswax polish.

Walk-in Greenhouse - $135.50
If you have a gardener who always wants a jump on the growing season, this greenhouse from Territorial Seed may be just what he or she is looking for. It measures 6 feet 3 inches deep, 4 feet 1 inch wide and 6 feet 3 inches high.

Windowsill Herb Collection, used with permission from Smart Seeds. Click to enlarge.

Assorted Seed Offerings from Smart Seeds - Prices Vary
If you are looking for unusual seeds to grow in 2015, check out Smart Seeds. Using resources on six continents, you will find options not available in commercial catalogs. According to shop owner Mia, the three most popular items purchased in the shop include the Glass Gem Corn, the Rainbow Carrot Mix and the Windowsill Herb Collection. Passionflower seeds and the Butterfly Garden Collection are also popular choices. I'm definitely going to try the non-GMO Blauwschokkers Purple Podded Peas next year!

Happy shopping!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Five Annuals I Would Grow Again

"Yellow Cosmos" turns white as the flower ages.
I grow a lot of flowers, so when something grabs my attention, I view it as a keeper. Here are my top five flower picks that I will be growing again in 2015.

Seeds of Change - "Yellow Cosmos"
I have to be honest: I complained a lot about this plant throughout the growing season. It took forever to grow, it didn't like partial sun (only full sun), and it looked a little ugly without flowers. But then it bloomed in early fall when everything else was dying back ... and now I want to grow it again. The pale yellow flowers graced multiple stems that were 3 to 4 feet tall, and as the flowers aged, they turned white from the inside out. (It was so cool.) Seeds of Change unfortunately won't be offering them for sale in 2015 but will be in 2016. I saved some of my own seeds so here's hoping they are viable!
"Frances' Choice" marigold is large and in charge.

Seeds of Change - "Frances' Choice" Marigold
Get rid of whatever preconceived notions you have about marigolds being for amateur gardeners only. This marigold is a winner, and coincidentally another selection from Seeds of Change. I fell in love with this flower as it intermingled with my tomatoes this year. It's a tall variety that grows 4 to 5 feet tall (think a small shrub) by mid- to late- summer. It attracts bees and keeps blooming right until frost. I can't imagine my vegetable garden without it now. But maybe next year I won't plant it right on top of the driveway, since it liked to hug my husband when he got out of his truck.

Wild Garden Seeds - "Strawberry Blonde" Calendula
"Strawberry Blonde" calendula blossoms are pretty - and tasty.
Wild Garden Seeds has a huge selection of calendulas to choose from, but this remains one of my favorites. This calendula makes the prettiest flowers that are perfect for bouquets. They can be eaten, too. (My rabbits especially enjoy these as a treat!)

Select Seeds - Nicotiana "Cranberry Isle"
Pansy "Bolero See Me" reminds me of Alice in Wonderland.
It's been a couple of years since I've grown nicotiana in my garden, and it looks like 2015 will be the year they return with vengeance. I've missed this tall flowering tobacco which has beautiful flowers in purple and pink hues. It will self-seed in the garden if you let it. It likes sun and a little room, but it will intermingle with other plants nicely, too. This is one of the prettiest flowering tobaccos sold by Select Seeds, with "Bella" being a close second.

Swallowtail Garden Seeds - Pansy "Bolero See Me"
I love to start pansy seeds in late January and early February (right when you need a kick of spring the most), and Swallowtail Garden Seeds offers a huge (and what I think is the best) selection of pansy and viola seeds. I often go back to this variety due to the dark pink face the flower has. They are also edible flowers that look great as a garnish on a spring birthday cake.

What flowers will you be growing in 2015?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Broken Clay Pot Fairy Garden Has Local Origin

A hammer and broken clay pieces have surprising uses in fairy gardens.

NORTHFORD, Conn. - Back in 2012, social media exploded with an image of a broken pot transformed into a fairy garden.

A quick creation by Natureworks employee Amber Robinson was shared on the Internet by her boss, Nancy DuBrule.
Organic Gardening magazine shared Robinson's photo on Facebook.

"She [DuBrule] had this broken pot and said to do something with it. When we first started doing fairy gardens, we were reusing all these broken things," said Robinson. (An old radio flyer red wagon was also converted into a fairy garden.)

"I made it in 15 minutes. We were getting ready to close. The next morning she took a photo of it and pinned it and it went viral from there," Robinson said.

Because the original image was a snapshot and not watermarked, only dedicated followers of Natureworks knew the source of the creation.

"Diane [St. John, store manager] found it on Facebook," said Robinson. Organic Gardening magazine had shared the image on Dec. 20, 2012, where it reached 11,868 likes, 900 comments and 11,594 shares. What followed was an explosion of copycat broken clay pot gardens, all inspired from Robinson's original.

St. John was surprised by the popularity.

"It was so amazing - it was on several Facebook pages (with no credit) and we would occasionally comment on them and say it was done by Amber, but then gave up, " said St. John. "It was just nice so many people liked it!"

Robinson shows how to make a
fairy garden out of broken clay pot.
"It somehow got linked back to Pinterest," said Robinson, where it snowballed in popularity. "One of my friends from Vermont even posted it and said she would make one, too," without knowing Robinson was the original creator.

Natureworks recently held a workshop to teach customers how to build their own broken clay pot fairy garden, led by Robinson. In the hour-long class, participants received a clay pot, two plants, soil and rocks to create their own creation.

"The hardest part is breaking the pot," said Robinson. After that, the design of the miniature garden comes together.

Ready to make your own? Here are the steps Amber taught her class to make their own clay pot creation.

Make Your Own Broken Clay Pot Fairy Garden

Amber Robinson, creator of the broken clay pot fairy garden, showed me how to make my own creation. Here are the steps from her October workshop:

Step 1.
Step 1: Lay the clay pot on its side and using a hammer, tap with medium strength along the side. Caution: if you tap too hard, you may break off more then you want.

Step 2
Step 2: Save the pieces that were removed. Use duct tape to reinforce any cracks that may appear on the inside of the clay pot for added stability.

Step 3
Step 3: Fill the pot with soil. Use one of the broken clay shards and push it into the middle of the pot. Be firm.

Step 4
Step 4: Add another clay piece if desired. Make sure the soil is firmly packed into place.

Step 5
Step 5: Using small broken pieces of clay (you may need to break up more with the hammer), push the shard horizontally into the pot to form the first step. Pack down dirt on top of the step to secure it. Then repeat with remaining clay shards.

Step 6
Step 6: Plant desired plants in your pot. (Robinson advised using plants that are often used in terrariums.) Moss (real or fake) can be used to cover up all exposed portions of the soil. (Rocks can be used for this purpose, too.)

Step 7
Step 7: Add fairy garden figurines! I added mushrooms, birdhouses and a small fairy to mine. Let your imagination decide how yours will look!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Floral Friday: The Last Hurrah

Even though it is November, the front garden still has flowers blooming. The Global Warming mums are doing a great job of keeping color in the garden (I'm up to three varieties in the garden now, but my favorite is Autumn Moon). A delphinium (that still needs a permanent home) is reblooming, as well as one of my yellow roses.

Tonight, in the dark, I went outside to cut flowers to bring indoors. Tonight might be our first frost of the season (which is late this year). I wanted to bring in some of the color before it disappears.

Click to enlarge.

Do you have anything blooming in your garden now?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Be Willing To Multiply, Edit Plants to Your Needs

WETHERSFIELD, Conn. - For author Kristin Green, having a lush garden comes down to plant choices.

Green said gardeners need to be opportunists when choosing which plants to grow. "It's amazing how much money stays in your wallet and how time appears like magic in the garden," she said.

Green shared her expertise in ways gardeners can have an abundant and inexpensive garden at a Connecticut Hardy Plant Society meeting. "You need a basic understanding and real deep appreciation of how plants grow," she said.

"I think we all - probably 99 percent of us - want a garden that looks as if money were no object," she said. "I think we all want a garden that looks like we had all the time in the world to spend in it and we all want a garden that sustains our interest through the seasons - and I think all of that is possible."

Plantiful Roots in Her First Garden
Green credits her green thumb to her great grandfather, who was an estate gardener in Newport, Rhode Island. Even though Green never knew him, her mother kept his garden alive.

"I didn't know him, but I knew his plants. They came back."

It wasn't until Green attended school in Seattle that she was "bitten by the gardening bug."

"I come to gardening from a painter's place. As a painter, I never would quite be done with a painting," she said. "I do the same thing in the garden."

Her first garden was filled with plants that would give her the most for her money. "I didn't have a lot to spend - I was the typical starving artist."

Now she is back on the East Coast and working as an interpretative horticulturalist at Blithewold Mansion, Gardens and Arboretum, located in Bristol, Rhode Island. Blithewold is a 33-acre non-profit garden. Blithewold, unlike other historic gardens, are not restricted to plants from a certain time period.

"The people who owned the property were gardeners. We are really lucky that we don't have to preserve the gardens to a particular time - we just get to preserve their spirit. They gardened with the trends, they followed their hearts. They got to try new plants and so do we," she said.

Don't Malign Vigorous Growers
When seeds are not produced, Green said plants have a back-up-plan where they can clone themselves from the parent plant. "A lot of way plants grow can be scary for gardeners," Green said.

One example includes stolens, which are horizontal stems capable of rooting. (Think strawberries.) Another way plants can form is through rhizomes which are underground stems that look like roots. (Think mint.) "A lot of us respond to rhizomes by corralling them." Green lets her mint run because she said it's easy to evict. "Yank it out and make a mojito," she said. She also allows it to mingle in her lawn. "It smells nice when the mower goes over it."

Another plant Green leaves in her garden is teasel.  The first year in the garden, she leaves the plants because they form a weed barrier in her garden beds. In the second year, she thins the plants so only one or two remain. The plant grows as high as 7 feet tall and produces flowers that attract bees and goldfinches. Teasel also provides winter interest in the garden. "This is one plant people malign as invasive," she said.

"The word invasive has been overused so it's losing its meaning." Green said people need to reserve the use of "invasive" when describing plants as a word for plants that escape our gardens, instead of including vigorous growers in the category as well. "We need to find other words for plants - maybe 'enthusiastic' or 'thugs,'" she said. "We do need to be careful to not let the plants in our gardens escape."

Naturally, plants that multiply quickly can take over a garden bed, and while these plants may give gardeners the most "bang for the buck" as they did for Green in her first garden, it's also important to pull out any plants no longer wanted. Green said gardeners naturally have a hard time killing plants.

"It's also important to be willing to be mentally prepared to edit," she said. "It's hard to throw on the compost pile. We gotta do that."

When writing Plantiful, Green had to narrow down her plant choices to 50 in each chapter for the book. "A lot of what went into the book came from [what grows at] Blithewold," she said. "These are plants to have fun with."

Here are some of Green's favorite plants from her garden, along with her growing tips:

  • Forget-Me-Not: Be careful not to weed out seedlings. 
  • Climbing Snapdragon: It can be found in foundation crack or in a rock wall. "When plants fill the nooks and crannies ... it give it that aged, nature feeling," she said.
  • Poppies: The goldfinch will peel the seedheads apart. "They're like little addicts," she said.
  • Butterfly Weed: Is not the favorite food source for monarch butterflies (milkweed is), but the caterpillars will eat it. Green said it finds its way into combinations "even the artists in us wouldn't think of." Green said, "It's really fun to see what pops up in your garden with the self sowers."
  • Mountain Mint: "It doesn't spread like mint - I've probably counted at least a dozen species of bees and wasps in the garden at one time." It can reach 4 feet tall.
  • Sweet Fern: It grows in the leanest and meanest soil, she said. "Plant it in your hell strip or your driveway. The foliage is a mosquito repellant."
  • Flowering Raspberry: One of Green's favorites, she said it's a "very pretty bramble without the thorns."
  • Rice Paper Plant: "I like the big foliage things that change the scale of my garden. It suckers madly, freely - if you don't want it in your garden, pull it out." 
  • Hardy Begonia: One of the plants that blooms in fall. Green said to situate the leaves so you can see light through them.
  • Catmint: Green said some of her evictions of this plant go into pots.
  • Dotted Mint: One of Green's favorites because it will bring the goldfinch to the garden. "It self-sows pretty nicely for me."
  • Hardy Ageratum: It has an intense blue flower. "It wants moist soil - if it has dry soil [in the fall] it will wilt," she said.
  • Dahlias: She will find bees asleep in their flowers in morning.
  • Pink Porterweed: This plant is a hummingbird magnet. "You can start by a cutting and overwinter it," she said. It's a big plant with little flowers.
  • Meyer Lemon: Grown indoors overwinter, Green hand pollinates the flowers with paintbrushes. "I don't use them for painting as much but for pollinating," she said. Any citrus will be prone to scale and mealy bugs and aphids in the spring, she cautioned.
  • Hummingbird Sage: "They go nuts for this plant - it comes up late in the spring it does overwinter," she said.
  • Winter Honeysuckle: This plant blooms very late winter, early spring, with tiny flowers that will make a room fragrant.
"I don't have a lot to spend on my garden ...  and I work full time - I come home exhausted to my garden. I probably spend more time napping in it than working in it yet I have a garden that is full of color and wildlife and it really gives me joy," she said.

"I hope you will find some inspiration over fall and winter ... be bold .. be willing to edit. Don't be afraid to throw things out," she said.