Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Top Trends in Fashion 2013/2014 – the Color Clash!

You might be wondering what fashion has to do with horticulture but believe me, we are all ruled by fashion whether we know it or not. Plants go in and out of fashion as fast as hem lines. Popular colors influence how you decorate your home and what color accents you bring in. While attending the Independent Garden Center trade show (Horticulture’s Fashion Week) in Chicago a couple of weeks ago, deeply saturated colors were everywhere.

Straight from the catwalks to your garden center, bold colors are what’s happening. I’m sure you’ve noticed the influx of strong color at the garden centers. For me it started with the red, yellow and blue tomato cages a couple years back. Manufacturers are adding strong pops of color to everything from tools to pot wrap to furniture. Emerald the “it” color of 2013, is now joined by the elegant Linden Green, bold Mykonos Blue, exotic Acai, spirited Samba, dazzling Koi not to mention the unruly and wild Vivacious.

If I buy a koi-colored hose, a samba watering can and acai gardening boots will they go out of style? Probably, but I don’t care. Bright colors make me smile and in my backyard I rule the runway.

Bringing Life to Your Garden
Have fun out there!
Peggy Anne

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Butterflies Flutter By

The small meadow in our backyard is a butterfly's dream.

I can hardly believe it’s nearly August. I took a walk yesterday, looking for inspiration and I found yellow swallowtails, lots of them I’m happy to report. We have a small meadow and they seemed to be everywhere at once, hanging on Silphium blossoms at perilous angles and flying around each other in little circles. I may not always like the heat but high summer is a great time for butterfly watching and the perfect time to start working on your butterfly garden. Take advantage of late season sales and make sure you have nectar plants to help the Monarchs that will begin their migration soon. Here are a few thinks to keep in mind.

Swallowtails love Rattlesnake
Master and Coneflowers

Plant in Full Sun – Many flowering plants thrive in full sun and butterflies need warm temps to warm up their bodies.
Plant Native Plants – If you aren’t sure which plants attract butterflies you can search here
Plant in Groups –It makes it easier for butterflies and other pollinators to locate nectar plants if you plant in groups of three or more.
Plant Host Plants – Butterflies need specific plants to lay their eggs on. Here is a list of host plants from the United States Botanic Garden
 Don’t Use Chemicals – Pesticides kill butterflies, caterpillars and other beneficial insects.

When you add native plants to your garden to attract butterflies you’ll be attracting hummingbirds too. Hummers love the same bright flowers and will be looking for their nectar just like butterflies. If you leave the spent flower, you’ll be attracting birds. Many small birds like finches love to dine on the flower seeds. If you have children, there is no better way to get the Xbox out of their hands and introduce them to nature.  Take them on a trip to the garden center today and see what’s flying around. You just can’t lose!

Bringing Life to the Garden
Have Fun Out There!
Peggy Anne
I never claimed to be a photographer

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Got Milkweed!

Carrie from North Creek at our American Beauties / North Creek Booth in Ohio

I’ve just returned from a trip to Ohio to attend and exhibit at the OFA Short Course a trade show for Horticulture Professionals. I always enjoy going to see what’s new and catch up with old friends. As expected the Echinacea are even wilder than last year and pot colors are vibrant and strong, a trend blowing over from Europe I believe. My favorite part is getting to talk with scores of garden center owners and employees. They are my eyes and ears at the retail level and keep me in touch with what consumers want. Business was brisk at the American Beauties Native Plants booth as more and more garden centers are seeing an increased demand for native plants.

Ben from Gateway was there too attending classes and checking out the latest trends
We shared our booth space with our good friends from North Creek Nurseries. They were honored at the Greenhouse Growers award ceremony as one of three finalists (in the whole country!) for Operation of the Year. Steve Castorani is the President of North Creek Nurseries, owns Gateway Garden Center with his wife Peggy and is co-owner of American Beauties. Congratulations to Steve and all the staff at North Creek!

Steve, Carrie and Kevin - finalists for the Operation of the Year Award!
 Maybe the best part of going away is coming home. It felt good to sleep in my own bed and to walk around the garden this morning with my cup of coffee. I feel recharged and fortunate to work in the horticulture industry. I also reaffirmed my faith in human beings. There are so many people out there doing the right thing for our environment and sharing those ideas with others. One lady walked by and called out “Got Milkweed!” I think we should make that into a t-shirt.

Bringing Life to your Garden
Have fun out there!
Peggy Anne

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

I have a Touch of Biophilia

My fix this week - short grass meadow studded with Asclepias on Martha's Vineyard

I don’t think of myself as a hypochondriac but I do suffer from Felco Separation Anxiety and I think I have a touch of Biophilia too.

bi·o·phil·i·a – n
(Psychology) an innate love for the natural world, supposed to be felt universally by humankind

Harvard University myrmecologist and conservationist E.O. Wilson put forth the hypothesis that humans are hard-wired to need connection with nature and other forms of life. More and more studies are showing us the benefits of nature such as its ability to reduce stress, to aid recovery from illness, to enhance cognitive skills and academic performance, to aid in moderating the effects of ADHD, autism and other child illnesses. And, I would venture a guess that that it cures Nature Deficit Disorder in record time.

Our family lives have become so “busy” that we often forget to take time to smell the roses and I’m no different than anyone else. Let’s make a pledge that we make an effort to get out into nature this summer whether it’s a park or your own back yard and reconnect. I hope it’s contagious!

We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.
  ~Franklin Delano Roosevelt~

Bringing Life to Your Garden
Have fun out there,
Peggy Anne

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ribbons in the Landscape

Twenty-five years ago when I was studying horticulture in the Netherlands I took a class in roadside maintenance. I thought it was going to be duller than watching paint dry. But, I was very much mistaken. I remember reading the book Linten in het landschap (Ribbons in the Landscape) and my thought pattern was transformed. I had no idea that by adjusting mowing cycles and maintenance routines, you could encourage both native flora and fauna. How had I missed it? With a bicycle as my sole means of transportation I had been riding through these ribbons every single day

Fast forward to today. I just read an article called Green Highways: New Strategies To Manage Roadsides as Habitat by Richard Conniff. “From northern Europe to Florida, highway planners are rethinking roadsides as potential habitat for native plants and wildlife. Scientists say this new approach could provide a useful tool in fostering biodiversity.” 

In Florida agriculture is second biggest revenue stream in the state and there are roughly 100 crops that rely on pollinators. The fact that feral honeybee populations have dropped more that 50% in the last half century is serious business. Florida DOT manages 186,000 acres of land that are either next door to or one lot away from almost every farm in the state. A $90,000 study to determine how changes in the DOT mowing regimen might benefit roadside pollinator populations is now underway. 

In Iowa, there is little left of the original prairie habitat. Farmers who used to set land aside under the federal Conservation Reserve Program have withdrawn more than 1.5 million acres in the last 5 years to try and cash in on the market for ethanol. The tripling of herbicide use since the introduction of Roundup Ready corn and soybeans has eliminated milkweed and other native species and that’s caused monarch butterfly populations to crash, says University of Kansas ecologist Orley Taylor. We have to consider roadsides, there is no other room left!

The idea of attracting wildlife to roadsides isn’t one-dimensional of course, and safety issues need to be heard, as do pollution concerns with storm water ponds.  But, at least, the discussion is beginning. When you look at the big picture like this it can feel overwhelming but it isn’t hopeless. Many of the decisions about roadways will be made at the county level so, there is chance for you to be heard. We can also begin to create way stations for plants and animals in our own backyards and create our own beautiful ribbons running through our neighborhoods.

Bringing Life to your Garden!
Have fun out there,
Peggy Anne

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Live Well Shop Often!

Every spring I go insane lusting after everything in the whole garden center. It’s the only time I ever feel really greedy. If it’s green and alive, I’ve got have it. After the dark days of winter there is nothing more exciting than seeing the bright, shiny faces of anything that flowers. So what do I do? I blow through some cash and load my car to the brim with bags of manure and new plants. The result is a great looking garden in spring.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that there are three more seasons.

I think everyone gets excited when spring comes and we all rush to the garden center and think we’re done for the year. But, my advice especially for novice gardeners is to go to the garden center frequently, at the very least in spring, high summer and fall. Your garden center will have the best looking plants for that time of year. That will help you select an array of plants that will give you color and food for butterflies and birds all year long.

In mid-summer take a critical look around your garden and see where you have some holes to fill. Make a few notes of what is planted around it, how much room the new plants will have to grow and what colors might look best. You can plant container plants all year long. Just be sure to water your new plants well until they get established.

Being a Midwesterner, I really love the long falls here on the east coast and with cooler weather it’s great to get outside, play in the garden and get those last few
Barbeques in. It’s also a great time to plant. Most garden centers have fantastic fall sales. Cooler fall weather with on average more precipitation means less watering for you.

Summer and fall planting have another less talked about advantage called “ It’s spring and I have absolutely no recollection of what plant was where last fall”. I know it’s taboo to talk about it but I have barely any short-term memory left and I’m tired of suffering alone. Oh sure, everything that blooms in spring is a fabulous new surprise but there have been some mistakes too. Stop digging up your tulip bulbs by accident and never plant one plant on top of another again! Say it with me – I will shop for plants once a month until the snow flies! It feels good to be out…
Square Foot Gardening Gone Wrong

Foxglove, two ferns and a primula. I added the foxglove in April. 

Two heuchera, lungwort, white baneberry and a fern. I added the lungwort in early April. I think the fern's winning!

A beautiful garden all year long comes from shopping all year long too!

Bring Life to Your Garden
Have fun out there!
Peggy Anne

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

BeeSmart Pollinator Guide

There’s an App for That!

I broke down and bought a smart phone a year or so ago but I never really got into getting all the apps. Technology and I are reluctant partners and I really just wanted it to be a telephone and a way to check my email on the go. But, I have to admit that this new app from the Pollinator Partnership
 Is pretty cool.

It’s called BeeSmartPollinator Gardener. It’s a comprehensive guide to help you select plants that attract pollinators specific to your area. They have a database with nearly 1000 pollinator friendly plants native to the United States. It includes a range of plants from perennials to trees. You can search for a specific pollinator like butterflies or bats and drill down to search by flower color, soil type and more.

It gets even better. Once you’ve created a list of plants you want, you can bring your phone to the garden center and never forget what you were looking for. You can use the free Catch app and add text, pictures and voice recordings to your plant notes. You can also use Catch to start a garden journal and connect with other garden enthusiasts. BeeSmart and download this one – it’s free!

Bring Life to Your Garden
Have fun out there!
Peggy Anne

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Certified Wildlife Habitat

Would you like to turn your backyard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat?

It’s not as difficult as you might think. The Certified Wildlife Habitat program from the National Wildlife Federation is an effort to empower people to take action to conserve and restore wildlife and the natural world. It’s no secret that loss of habitat is putting pressure on all wildlife but you can make a difference. By providing the four basic elements that wildlife needs to survive you can create a wildlife friendly oasis.

·       Food – You can feed birds, butterflies and other wildlife their natural diet by planting native plants that deliver nectar, seeds, fruits and berries.
·       Water – You will be amazed at how much life water will bring to your garden. You may want to think about installing a water feature. A birdbath works well too.
·       Cover – Animals need a place to get out of inclement weather and to hide from predators. Evergreen shrubs provide shelter all year. A rock or brush pile in a quite corner of the yard provides a safe haven.
·       A Place to Raise their Young – Nesting boxes, dense shrubs and trees all help wildlife to find a safe nesting site.

You can join the 157,000 other households that have certified their gardens by registering at the NWF. You can also click on this link for more tips and ideas.  When you certify you will receive a certificate to proudly share and a year’s subscription to National Wildlife magazine.

In 2005, American Beauties Native Plants joined together in partnership to help further the mission of National Wildlife Federation.  With the support of American Beauties over $19,000 has been donated to NWF to date!  These funds help support NWF’s conservation work all across America. Every time you buy an American Beauties Native Plant a portion of the proceeds goes to support the NWF.

Bringing Life to your Garden!
Have fun out there,
Peggy Anne

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Controversial Pesticides

EU Voted for a Two-Year Ban on Pesticides Thought to be Harmful to Bees 
A bee collects pollen from a sunflower in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

British newspaper the Guardian reported this past Monday that the EU is banning pesticides that are thought harmful to bees. One day later, the New York Times, Huffington Post, BBC, NPR and many, many others are all a buzz with the news. “I pledge to do my utmost to ensure that our bees, which are so vital to our ecosystem and contribute over €22 billion annually to Europeanagriculture, are protected,” said Tonio Borg from the European Commission in Brussels.  

The pesticides in question are called neonicotinoid pesticides. This nicotine-like chemical is extremely toxic to insects. It dissolves in water, which means it can be taken up by the roots (or even applied to the seed) making the entire plant, even the pollen toxic. Worldwide sales of the pesticides total in the billions of dollars. Bayer CropScience and Syngenta are the two companies that are making the product in Europe. Both companies point to colony collapse disorder, mites and viruses, environmental changes and poor nutrition for the decline in bee populations. And, certainly these things must be contributing to the problem.
Americans are watching the proceedings and research closely because the pesticide is in wide use here in the U.S. In another New York Times article it has been reported by beekeepers that 40-50% of bees have died off in the past year. Beekeepers and environmentalists are suing the Environmental Protection Agency over its approval of the products, which they claim were allowed on the market with inadequate review.
Bees need you now more than ever. Please take them to heart when you do your spring shopping. Every plant counts! With thanks to Mid-Atlantic Gardening, I’d like to share this list of bee favorites.
Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’
The super dark purple blossoms make a great cut flower besides being bee caviar. Cutting back the spent flowers will encourage a second bloom for you and your bees. 

Monarda didyma
The bees will love it and so will you. Use it to decorate summer salads and add color to homemade herb butters.

Annual sunflowers are easy to grow from seed. It’s a fun way to introduce your children to gardening and the outdoors. 

Hollies  (Ilex)
Butterfly Bushes (Buddleia davidii)
Salvia of all sorts (Salvia greggii, Salvia nemerosa)
Catmint (Nepeta cultivars like ‘Dropmore’, ‘Six Hills Giant’)
Sedum (especially fall bloomers like ‘Autumn Joy’ and ‘Matrona’)
Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum)
Veronica (cultivars like ‘Sunny Border Blue’)
False Aster (Boltonia asteroids)
Beebalm (Monarda didyma and its cultivars)
Anise Hyssop (Agastache)
Sunflower  (annual or perennial)
Lavender (Lavandula)
Goldenrod (Solidago)
Bringing Life to your Garden!
Have fun out there, Peggy Anne

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Life Cycle of a Butterfly

The Life Cycle of a Butterfly

Monarch feeding on Helenium

Butterflies are the jewels of a garden perhaps in part because of their extraordinary life cycle that can last a month or nearly a year. They begin life as a tiny egg that the female has attached to a leaf of a host plant or near one. A host plant is what the caterpillar will feed on when it emerges. Host plants are critical to butterflies because some, like Monarchs can only feed on one species of plant, milkweeds. 
Monarch Caterpillar

If you look closely, you can often see the caterpillar growing inside. When the caterpillar or larva emerges from the egg it is in a feeding and growth stage. It will shed its skin several times to accommodate its growing body. When the caterpillar spins it’s cocoon the transformation begins in the chrysalis or pupa. Many species overwinter in this stage. Finally, the magic is complete and the adult or imago emerges. In this stage butterflies mate and migrate or colonize new areas so, the circle begins again.

One of my favorite milkweed plants, Asclepias 'Hello Yellow'

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Disneynature's Wings of Life

Disneynature's Wings of Life

Following a link from Eco Dads  I was lead to a magnificent video trailer from Disneynature called Wings of Life. The stars of this movie are butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, bats and the flowers they’ve evolved with. Fully one third of all the world’s food supply depends on these increasingly threatened pollinators. Wings of Life was directed by Louie Schwartzberg and narrated by Academy Award® winner Meryl Streep, and is available on Blu-ray™ Combo Pack, Digital and On Demand today, April 17,  - just in time for Earth Day.

This Sunday morning, April 21, from 11:30-12:30 (EST) you can take part in Director Louie Schwartzberg's Webinar on Best Gardening Practices in Support of the Pollinators & the New Disneynature Film Wings of Life.
To celebrate the debut of Wings of Life, Disneynature has made a contribution to the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF) to protect pollinators worldwide. The DWCF has already supported more than 20 projects across North America focused on protecting pollinators and their habitats. Grants have helped conservationists save endangered butterflies, expand habitat for honeybees and educate children about the importance of pollinators and how they can help protect them.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


I love all of the surprises that come with spring. My memory is fading and I can hardly remember what I planted last fall. So, when these treasures come up and bloom they are like Christmas presents. Even the plants I know are coming feel like gifts when they bloom. Each night we talk the garden to look at what’s blooming and what’s about to. It’s like an Easter egg hunt for gardeners!

Trillium grandiflorum
large white trillium

Mertensia virginica
Virginia Bluebells

Sanguinaria canadensis

All of these spring ephemerals provide an early nectar source for butterflies and other beneficial insects.