Archive | April 2018

Nostalgic Roots – the Flowers from Buffum Street

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

They’re not the latest fancy hybridized variety and you won’t find them featured on the cover of the latest gardening magazine. But there is a patch of flowers that holds a special place in my heart because they came from someone who holds a special place in my heart.

My parents emigrated from Germany after facing the ravages of World War II and the difficult times that came afterwards. After a long journey on a retired navy ship that landed at Ellis Island in September of 1951, they settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with less than $20 to their name. Through the kindness of a newfound friend, my father found a job at a manufacturing company that was willing to take a risk on a young immigrant.

atreppsol-003My parents eventually saved up enough money to buy a small house in 1954 for their family, now consisting of three children, my older siblings. That’s where the patch of flowers I have come to love has its roots. They lined the foundation of a small brick home on Buffum Street; those beautiful deep purple iris. They were offered to them by a neighbor who was also an immigrant, though he came from Armenia. He, a retired butler, and his wife, a retired maid, had acquired the iris from the finely manicured gardens of their former employer, an executive at Goodrich Tire Company. “At the time, they said they were rare,” said my mother. “Back then you could only find yellow and light lavender iris.”

My parents eventually left Milwaukee to farm the land; a passion of my father from his childhood growing up in Communist Ukraine Russia. They bought a farm near Marinette and then moved on to Bowler where I was born and first came to love the stately and fragrant blooms. My mom and dad eventually settled on the current homestead outside Bear Creek, Wisconsin. Though my father has been gone for more than twenty years, my mother still tends those same irises. Through several moves, she has always made sure to bring a small patch with her.

They remind her of the kindness and generosity of neighbors and friends. Perhaps they remind her of a simpler time. But I suspect they remind her more so of a time when life was uncertain and frightening for a young mother coming to a foreign land where she didn’t speak the language, had no family and was a stranger to everyone she met. But those beautiful flowers, now 60 years later, still stand as a testament to perseverance, faithfulness and hope. Like the blooms that return with vigor and beauty each spring, they represent a life of determination and hopeful expectation; a life that has weathered a multitude of storms, heartache and loss.

Now at more than 90 years old, my mom still tends the irises that frame the outside of her flower ring in front of her house. And a trail of these flowers remains behind at every home she’s had since 1954. She’s passed on many a clump of rhizomes to friends and family through the years as well. Their beauty multiplies and blesses more and more people with each passing season, much like my mom.

Container Gardening: Thrillers, Fillers, and Spillers

by OCMGA Master Gardener Holly Boettcher

container-garden-design-ideas-uk-idea-gardening-cubtabThe curb appeal of a well-designed flower container shouts WELCOME to you and your guests! It is this time of year that gardeners flock to local garden centers in search of that perfect plant combination to adorn the entrance of their home.

A quick stroll through the plant selection can turn an exciting adventure into a frustrating disappointment, because you just don’t know where to begin with plant selection. Let me share a few tips to keep you smiling.

Sun or Shade

One of the biggest mistakes people make, is to forget to consider if the container will be placed in sun or shade. Sun lovers will not do well in shade, and shade plants will wilt in full sun. Always read the labels.


Begin by selecting a Thriller! This plant is the star of the show and should be somethingCosta-Farms-summer-container-garden bold, sexy, and beautiful. Find an interesting plant that will be your tallest and most exotic in your container garden. Some good picks: Canna, Banana Plant, Elephant Ears, or Purple Fountain Grass.


Next you need to look for a plant or several that will fill up the space. Search for something with interesting foliage or blooms. These plants should complement and not overpower the Thriller. Some examples are Coleus, Begonias, Heliotropes, and Lantana.


Now the fun part is selecting for example a Sweet Potato Vine, Creeping Jenny, or Nasturtium that will literally spill over the edge! Think of the Spiller as a plant that tumbles over and reaches out to anchor your pot to the ground so it looks like it belongs there!

Final Tips for Success

 Experiment with color, texture, and shape to make your container POP! Remember, this is your creation, so enjoy experimenting with different combinations before you finalize your plant selection. Arrange the plants in a cluster inside your cart so you can visualize how they will look together once you take them home. When planting, don’t be afraid to select a unique container but be sure it has ample drainage, and use a good potting soil mix. Once planted, use your finger as a moisture meter because most containers need water everyday once plants are established. Push your index just below the surface of the soil. If it is still moist, do not overwater since that can cause your plants to develop diseases. Also consider an all-purpose fertilizer once a week to keep them at optimum performance.

Good luck with your trip to the local garden center! Plant your container garden, and ENJOY the SHOW!

Let’s Have Window Boxes!

Are you looking to dress up the rather plain front of your house? Or, maybe you just don’t have room for containers around your property? Window boxes bring color and spirit to barren areas, as well as considerable pleasure to those who tend them. Measure the width and length of your sill, then check garden shops or hardware stores for boxes in the appropriate size. (If you shop at a store with helpful clerks, you can get plenty of free advice about window-box attachment.)

0e0c7d074ababaf1dca315898593b718Depending on your house style and budget, you can choose from wood, cast cement, molded terra cotta, plastic, or fiberglass. Avoid metal boxes, because they will very likely rust in a few seasons, and if placed on sunny sills will transmit heat, which burns roots.

Make sure the box is securely attached with wire or bolts. Don’t count on just gravity, no matter how wide the support is. Prepare for planting by covering the bottom with a layer of landscape fabric or plastic screen. This will hold the soil in place while allowing water to drain.

Fill the box about three-quarters full with any all-purpose potting mix, then stir in several trowels each of perlite and organic matter such as leaf mold, aged manure, or compost.

There are no design rules to planting, but contrasting leaf sizes should be a goal, as should contrasting plant outlines. Use bushy plants for bulk, tall plants for a vertical accent, and pendulous species for a graceful cascade over the side. Window boxes almost always look better if there is something draping over the edge, and for sheer drama, you can’t beat drapery that hangs in long streamers well below the box.25137678954_1ef58273fe_b

Unfortunately, although there are many summer stalwarts that will swag down nicely for 12 to 18 inches or so, not many plants are willing to dangle unsupported for much more than that. Plants that will include ivy (Hedera helix), ivy geraniums (Pelargonium peltatum), nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus), ornamental sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas), trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis), and vinca (Vinca spp.)

The list of likely trailers is short because most lax-stemmed plants are vines, and most vines would rather hang on than hang down. If they can’t climb straight up, they’ll climb any which way — on themselves, on the other plants in the box, on the brackets that hold the box up, etc. The end result is a tangled mass instead of graceful tresses.

That said, if you have a situation where vines can’t get a grip on anything, these are also worth a try: canary bird vine (Tropaeolum peregrinum), climbing snapdragon (Asarina spp.), grape ivy (Cissus incisa), and passionflower (Passiflora spp.)

If you have only part sun, try these plants for your window box: ageratum, basil, bay, bee balm (Monarda didyma), begonia, caladium, dwarf Chinese astilbe (Astilbe chinensis pumila), ferns, four o’clocks, fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia), lady’s mantle, lantana, lobelia, and wishbone flower (Torenia); and English ivy, mint, or vinca to trail over the side.

No direct sunlight at all? That’s no excuse for not planting a window box. Assuming you get at least bright reflected light, there are quite a few plants that will endure. Many of the best are perennials with comparatively short blooming periods, but if you choose plants with handsome foliage, the box will be attractive even when there are no flowers.

The delicate, ferny foliage of Jacob’s ladder, for example, contrasts nicely with the scalloped round leaves of coral bells, and both remain fresh looking all summer. The Jacob’s ladder will give you blue flowers for a few weeks in late spring. The coral bells will bloom (at least briefly) a short time later, in red, white, or pink.jardinière-de-balcon

If you are determined to have flowers all summer long, you can try shade-tolerant annuals, but keep in mind that even tolerance has limits. You’ll probably have to experiment a bit to find which will perform under your conditions. Choices include wishbone flower (Torenia), with its small purple, snapdragon-like flowers; begonia, both tuberous and wax, available in white and every shade of read and yellow from pale pink to screaming orange; and the ever-faithful impatiens, in a spectrum much like begonia’s.

And don’t forget to plant a trailer. Vinca and English ivy will both do fine.


Grow something different. How about peanuts?!

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

I was on a lovely vacation for the month of February and part of March in Florida. On the drive home to Wisconsin, we went through Georgia and, as always, there were signs and billboards everywhere advertising boiled peanuts. (Tried them years ago and, sorry, they’re not for me.) Despite the fact that I’m not a fan of boiled peanuts, I do love peanutmaxresdefault-3 butter and I started thinking about how peanuts are grown. I decided to do a bit of research and learned many things about these delicious legumes.

  • Yes, peanuts are legumes — not nuts.
  • To grow peanuts in the north, start seeds indoors and plant a variety such as Early Spanish that is ready to harvest in only 100 days. Other cultivars need at least 120 frost-free days.
  • There are four major types of peanuts: runner, Virginia, Valencia, and Spanish. Valencias are one of the easiest for home growers. Try Tennessee ReArachis_hypogaea_-_Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-163d and Georgia Red.
  • Two things are required to successfully grow peanuts: full sun and sandy soil.
  • The peanut is the seed. Place shelled, raw peanuts on top of the soil, cover with an inch more soil and look for sprouts in about 10 days.
  • Peanut plants need only about 1 inch of water per week.
  • Reaching up to 18 inches, flowers soon turn downward where they develop the peanuts underground.
  • Peanuts hold a lot of moisture — 25 to 50 percent — when harvested, so hang the whole plant to dry for about 2 weeks.
  • A single plant produces around 40 pods and each holds one to four peanuts.

While I think this is another of those fun things to try for those of us who live in the north, I don’t think I’ll be churning out any of my own peanut butter any time soon. It takes about 540 peanuts to make a 12-ounce jar of peanut butter. Guess Skippy and Jif will be safe from my efforts!


LettucesWant a dizzying variety of tastes, textures, and forms of beauty? Want ’em quickly and in a small space? Welcome to the wonderful world of lettuces. There are hundreds of varieties available, choices that meet every growing need. But they all break down into four main types:

  • Leaf lettuces. These lettuces do not form tight heads. No matter how large they get, they are always loose collections of leaves, bound together at the base. Leaf lettuces are the quickest to mature and also the best for cut-and-come-again harvesting — just cut only the outer leaves and the plants will keep making more.
  • Butterheads. The heads may be loose or tight, baseball to volleyball size, but they are always composed of leaves that are softer and — if well grown — sweeter than those of other types. Most butterheads are very heat sensitive and produce well only in spring and fall.
  • Crispheads. As their name makes clear, crisphead lettuces form tight heads of very salad-2376777_960_720crisp, juicy leaves. This is the class to which iceberg belongs, but don’t let that keep you from trying it. Homegrown crispheads are delicious; but they do take longer to grow than other types, and they are the pickiest about good growing conditions.
  • Cos. These are the heading luttuces with the tall profile, also known as romaines. Although they eventually come form tight heads, they can be grown as cut-and-come-again, and although they are both crisp and juicy, they are somewhat easier to grow than classic crispheads.

You grow lettuces from seeds, which keep a surprisingly long time. How long seeds remain viable depends not only on the type of seed, but also on how the seed was stored. The combination of warmth and humidity is the biggest enemy. If the temperature and relative humidity add up to less than 100, your seeds will last longer.

When stored under ideal conditions — airtight, in a cold, dark location — lettuce seeds can last up to six years. But as the ideal is seldom met, use this as an estimate, not gospel.

Since lettuce often does poorly in mid-summer heat, it is usually grown as a cool-weather crop: sown in spring and grown through early summer, then sown in late summer and grown through early autumn. But there are many varieties specifically bred to withstand summer conditions, and most catalogs identify them as such.

For best results, try out a few different heat-tolerant selections. All are likely to fare better than spring and fall varieties do in the summertime, but some will probably do quite a bit better than others, depending on the specific conditions in your garden.