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From Massachusetts to Florida, there is no finer holly than our native American
holly plant called Ilex opaca. On the West coast, the English holly
plant called Ilex aquifolium is the chosen plant for gardeners but for
the rest of us, we just watched and wished that someday we would have a holly
that would grow in our colder climate. Then in 1964, it happened in the garden
of Mrs. Leighton Meserve, of St. James, New York. After many years of cross breeding
and testing, the gardeners in a cold clime have a new plant to add to their collection,
thanks to all her work: the "blue hollies" that are hardy to
Zone 4, -20 to -30 degrees as well.
The English holly is known for its beautiful large and shiny foliage with
large shiny red berries but is not hardy north of Boston and west due to the
cold winter climate. Because of the beauty of this plant, Mrs. Meserve decided
to cross it with the much hardier but not as attractive Prostrate holly, known
as Ilex Rugosa--and it worked. The Prostrate holly had what we needed
in a holly plant--cold-hardiness! The resulting cross--called the Meserve holly--quickly
became the newest variety of the holly family of plants. In a
cold climate, this new hybrid became the plant of choice and over the past 50
years, many new hybrids have been developed from the original plants developed
by Mrs. Meserve.
Let me tell you about these wonderful holly plants. They are evergreen, so
they hold the foliage all winter--and those leaves are very dark green with a
bit of blue/green tinge to the mature foliage--and glossy. The leaf is small
compared to other types of holly--1.5 to 2.5 inches long and 1 to 1.5 inches
wide. These leaves form on stems with the same type of coloration deep green
with a bluish purple tinge to them all season long. The plant is evergreen and
has no fall color but when the weather becomes colder, it will darken up and
have more of a purple tint to it.
The blue hollies will mature at around 6 to 8 feet tall but in a milder climate
it can grow up to 12 feet tall or more. The plant will grow in a mounded or rounded
habit naturally but many nurseries prune them at an early age to develop a wonderful
pyramidal shape. The plant grows very dense and is shrubbier than tree form like
the American or English types of holly. The plant is known as a "Dioecious
plant" because it is either male or a female and only contains one type
of flower on the plant. The flowers are small white blossoms that open on the
plant during late April and early May. If the plant is well cared for, it will
develop many flowers on the plant, making it showy for a few weeks in the spring.
Only the female plant will eventually produce red berries if it is pollinated
by the bees in the spring. But you must have a comparable male plant in your
yard for this pollination to occur.
The male plant will produce more flowers than the female plant and is showier
when in bloom. All you will need is one MALE holly plant for every 3 to 5 FEMALE
plants in your gardens for pollination to occur. To produce berries, the male
plant must be of the same plant type as the female. If you remember just one
thing from this story, remember that American holly will only pollinate American
holly, English holly will only pollinate English holly and the blue hollies will
only pollinate with their blue holly counterparts. The male and female plants can
be as much as 300 feet apart for pollination, so you do not have to plant them
side by side for this to happen. But they must have the same exposure to sunlight
to insure that the flowers open up on the plant at the same time.
The berries are bright red, shiny and develop in clusters on the growth made
by the plant the previous year. The berries are small--about a 1/3 of an inch
in diameter (about half the size of the English holly berry). The berries are deep
green as they form on the plant during the summer months but quickly turn shiny
red in the fall, as the season begins to turn cold. These berry clusters are
quite showy and will last on the plant most of the winter months until they are
eaten by the birds in the late winter months or in the early spring.
The blue hollies will grow best in a sunny location to a bit of light morning
shade. In moderate shade, the plant will not grow as thick and tends to open
up, because the growth stretches for the sunlight, so you will lose some of the
original shape and foliage density. Hollies prefer a well-drained moist soil
that is rich and fertile. It should also be on the acidic side. The plant is
very adaptable to most soils, as long as you condition the soil with compost, animal
manure or a good planting mix like the new Black Gold Waterhold Cocoblend Potting
Soil that can be purchased by the bag when you purchase your plants at the nursery.
Fertilize spring and again in the late fall with Dr. Earth organic Rhododendron
fertilizer with Pro Biotic or Holly-Tone with Bio-tone nutrients.
Blue hollies will look great in your foundation planting; they can also be used
to create an evergreen hedge or barrier. Plant them en masse with other evergreens
like rhododendrons, azaleas, andromeda, mountain laurel and other small-leaf
ilex plants. The foliage is great for holiday decorating indoor or out and it
is long lasting when kept in a vase of water. Now, don't forget that the fruit should
be seen on the plant: so place a plant or two where you walk to and from the
house daily and enjoy. Those berries are also enjoyed by your songbirds, so place
a plant near your feeders and a window to watch the bluebirds, catbirds and mockingbirds
enjoy them during the winter months when food becomes scarce. In the early spring,
the robins and cardinals will feast on them when they arrive to your home in
the early spring.
The best of the blue hollies for you to select are as follows: The original
'BLUE BOY' and 'BLUE GIRL' hollies offer good cold hardiness but need to be sprayed
with Wilt Pruf or Wilt Stop in the late fall of the year if they are exposed
to a lot of wind. When planted in a sunny location, this is necessary for the
first couple of winters only.
'BLUE MAID', 'BLUE PRINCESS' and 'BLUE PRINCE' hollies are newer hybrids introduced
in 1972 and are more cold- hardy. They all tend to grow more pyramidal naturally;
grow to become dense and compact growing plants with deep green foliage. 'Blue
Princess' is the most widely grown and the hardiest of the three.
'BLUE STALLION' is the newest male hybrid and flowers longer than the other
male hybrids, increasing the chance for heavy berry production. The plant also
grows faster than the other male plants. The foliage has more of a purplish color
during the winter months and lacks prominent spines on the leaf, no points.
'CHINA BOY' and 'CHINA GIRL' are more bush types; they will grow as
wide as they grow tall. The foliage is dark green with little blue to it. They
are hardy to -20 degrees and they will tolerate more heat than other varieties
of blue hollies. Both plants look great in a foundation planting and the leaf
is larger and longer than the other varieties.
When you're doing a bit of planting this spring and summer, please consider
these wonderful new hybrid hollies in your garden design. The blue holly family
has everything you want in a plant for the garden: great foliage, flowers and
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When I was growing up in central Maine, my parents always had a very large vegetable
garden because they had five children to feed and they both love to garden. My
mother always found room for flowers in the garden and around the yard. But one
year my parents had the driveway asphalted, and as a border around the driveway
my dad built a small wall garden made of cinder blocks so my mother could have
additional room for the flowers she loved so much in the holes of the concrete
It was a family project, and the boys moved the cinder blocks from the car
to the edge of driveway while my dad set them in place. We then added the soil
behind the cinder blocks to give them additional strength and more room to plant
flowers before the asphalt trucks showed up to install the driveway. My sisters
and mother filled the holes with soil that had been conditioned with peat moss
and cow manure--and when the driveway was installed, she was ready to plant her
She came home from the greenhouse the following weekend with a new plant for
her and she called the flowers she purchased "cockscomb." She told us
that the flowers would look like the hat on top of the rooster head and that
in the fall she could pick them and dry the flowers to use in a vase for the
winter inside the house. The flowers she planted that spring were the talk of
the neighborhood because of their unusual shape and the wonderful bright colors
of the flowers. This spring, plant a few cockscombs in your garden and you will
see why my mother loved them so much.
Cockscomb is a member of the Celosia family. Back then there was only one
variety to choose from but today the new hybrids are just fantastic and come
in different styles. Let me tell you about the Celosia family so you will know
what to expect in your garden. The word Celosia means in "burned" Greek,
because of the fiery flower colors the plant produces--in brilliant shades of
yellow, orange red, pink, salmon and cream. There are two major varieties in
this family of plants--the Cockscomb and the Plumed Celosia.
The Cockscomb Celosia is found in the Cristata hybrid group. The flower is
a tight rounded and curled flower that resembles a rooster comb, fan shaped;
the newer varieties resemble a head of cauliflower and are more rounded. The flower
is actually a flower cluster and it consist of hundreds of tiny blossoms caused
by a mutant gene in the plant that causes FASCIATION, giving the flower a fused
and flattened look to it--to me the top of the flower looks like a brain.
The flower will grow in the shape of a V or a fan, growing taller and wider as
it matures but it holds it color all summer long--never fading like other flowers.
The sides of the flower seem to be covered with feather-like petals giving the
plant much character. The V shaped varieties are called Bombay hybrids and the
cauliflower or rounded types are called Kurume hybrids.
The Plumed Celosia will grow more like a central plume and is surrounded by
a series of many other upright growing plumes that develop on this main plume,
so a big plume with smaller plumes growing all over it. The plumes will grow
up to 6 inches tall on long sturdy stems, making a wonderful long lasting cut
flower for summer arrangements or drying later in the season. Some newer varieties
of the Plumed Celosia have clusters of individual plumes or flame-shaped
flowers on them, and many gardeners call this type the Feathered Amaranth.
Grow the Celosia family in a full sun garden, but it will tolerate a bit of
late day shade. They love a rich soil and they will grow larger and produce more
flowers if you condition the garden with compost, seaweed kelp or animal manure
before planting. These plants must have a well-drained soil to thrive or the
roots will rot if you have a wet summer or soil that is heavy. These plants love
the heat and humid weather and that is why they did so well in the cement blocks,
as the cement held the heat all summer long. These plants also do very well in
large containers and will complement other flowers when planted in a mixed flower
When you select plants for your garden look for young plants, even plants with
no flowers on them yet, as plants that have become pot-bound often stay stunted
and will not flower as well. Most greenhouses carry the standard types of Celosia
in limited colors, so try them, and if you like the plants this year, go to a
catalog such as Harris Seed Co. next year for the newer varieties and new colors--even
individual colors of the same type. Harris Seed Co. has the new Kurume types with
the rounded flowers and a new variety called 'Celway' that looks like fireworks
exploding during the Fourth of July.
Celosia comes in many heights--from the dwarf hybrids that mature at 6 to
8 inches tall to the giant that will reach three feet or more in height. If you
start plants from seed next year, start them six weeks before the last frost
date and you can grow all the new hybrids that will give your garden a special
look. Once you plant the seedlings, fertilize with Flower-Tone or Dr. Earth Flower
fertilizer every 6 weeks or use Miracle-Gro every other week to produce better-looking
plants and more flowers.
Insects and disease are not a problem with these plants; they stay clean without
much care from you. I like them in groups or cluster in the garden rather than
in rows, as the color is more effective and showier (unless you are using them
to line your flower border). The taller varieties are best for drying in the
fall of the year. All you have to do is cut the plant at ground level, strip
the foliage off the plant and hang them in small bunches in a warm and dry building
like the garage or tool shed. They will be ready to arrange in 3 to 4 weeks or
less. Best of all, the colors do not fade, especially the red flowers-- they
will last almost indefinitely in your home as long as you keep them out of direct
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Tarragon is a native herb to southern Europe. Its species name, "dracunculus" means, "little
dragon" in Latin. Some say that was because of its fiery flavor, some that
the shape of the roots resembles a dragon; it was also thought to cure the bite
of serpents and mad dogs. It was brought into England at the end of the 16th
century and it was present in the garden of Henry VIII. Records from that period
in history also tell that Henry VIII divorced Catherine of Aragon for the reckless
use of tarragon. As herbs go, it is said to be friendly to your head, your heart
and your liver. No herb garden is complete without tarragon, for the flavors
it will bring you.
The first thing you need to know is that there are two types of tarragon,
French and Russian--and they are very different. The most popular (and infinitely
superior in taste) is the French, because of the very strong flavor found
in the foliage and stems of the plant. French tarragon is a half-hardy perennial,
which means if you live in a cold climate during the winter there is a very good
chance it will not survive. It will produce tiny yellow flower heads that are
insignificant and if you live north of Maryland the seed will not mature on the
plant due to the cool summer weather; it loves the heat. If you have a cool summer,
it will not flower!
The foliage is unique growing 1 to 2 inches long and only 1/4 inch wide,
long and narrow. These leaves are smooth, dark green in color, flat, pointed
tip, and they grow alternating on its stem. If you have a nice summer and you
care for the plant, it will grow up to three feet tall and spread out as much
as 18 inches wide. The plant produces many branches, almost like a miniature shrub,
and there is no main leader--just a wonderful soft and airy looking clump of
beautiful foliage. Tarragon has a wonderful creeping habit in the garden as the
tall growing stems develop on the carpet of green. The foliage is also rich in
vitamin A, niacin, calcium and iron.
The Russian tarragon is very hardy, as it originated in Siberia. It is hardy
to zone 3--Canada. It will also grow much larger--up to 4 feet tall with a spread
to 18 inches wide. It also flowers if you have a nice warm season but few of
us see flowers on the plant. The foliage is more coarse and the plant does grow
faster in the garden but it has one major drawback, as the foliage it produces
has practically no aroma or flavor. If you buy tarragon from seed, it is most
likely the Russian type. French tarragon is grown from division or rooting cuttings.
When you go to the nursery or garden center for your herbs this spring, be sure
to crush a leaf or two of the tarragon plant to determine which type you have.
French tarragon foliage that has been crushed will have a smell similar to aniseed;
Russian tarragon sadly has no smell.
Now is the best time to divide your tarragon in the garden if it survived
the winter. Just dig up the underground runners and pull them apart, do not cut
the plant. You will notice a small nodule or bump on the underground stem and
you want to place the runner with some roots and nodules in pots or back into
the garden until they root. The nodules will produce new shoots this year. The
same can be done in the fall if you have real French tarragon and you want to
bring it indoors for the winter to save the plant from the killing cold of winter.
If you're rooting cuttings in pots, be sure to use Seed Starter soil, as it is
sterile, well drained, rich in organic matter and airy for good drainage preventing
rotting of the roots. Place pots in a bright window with good air movement and
water sparingly to keep soil moist but NEVER wet. If you live in a cold climate,
you must cover the tarragon plant with several inches of salt marsh hay or straw
in the late fall to keep plants protected during the winter months.
Plant tarragon in a garden with sun ALL DAY LONG--it's a must if you want
to grow this herb. This plant loves the heat, so if you can plant near a stone
wall, fence, or building for added protection from the wind. Look for the hot
spot in your garden or you can grow it in a container filled with good potting
soil on a hot and sunny patio or deck and then it move indoors in the fall for the
winter for additional fresh foliage to cook with when the snow flies. Container
grown herbs of all types do best in a soil that is as much as 50% compost blended
with your soil, the better the soil the better the plants will grow. One last
thing with potted tarragon grown indoors; never water at night as this plant does
not like wet soil--the roots will rot easily, so morning watering only.
If you start with a rich soil when planting tarragon, you will not have to
fertilize often. If you are accustomed to fertilizing often (and you should NOT), your
foliage will grow fast and the leaves produced will have poor flavor. Feed at the
time of planting with a good organic granular fertilizer or seaweed kelp and
again a couple time with a liquid fertilizer like Miracle-Gro or Blooming and
Rooting fertilizer during the year and that's all. Tarragon has one disease problem
called rust, so when you purchase plants inspect the underside of the leaves
for possible small round rust spots. If you see spots do not purchase the plant,
and if you have this problem in the garden, dig it up and dispose of it. Do not
replant tarragon in the same spot where you had problems before or they will
return. This is not a common problem but it does happen.
You can harvest the foliage from early summer to fall. If you're drying the
leaves for storage, be careful not to bruise or rip the leaves when drying or
you will lose some of the flavor. The best way to preserve the foliage with the
best flavor for the future is to pick the sprigs of foliage, place them in a
freezer bag and freeze them until you're ready to use them. The foliage will
last all winter and keep the flavor strong until you pick the leaves off the
sprig when you need it.
Use tarragon when you cook meat, fish, egg dishes or salads. Tarragon is known
as one of the best herbs when cooking chicken and root crops like carrots, parsnips,
turnips and beets. When I think of tarragon, I think of stuffing, sauces and
gravies--how about you? If you have never used fresh tarragon before make room
in this year herb garden and your family will be in for a real treat when you
use it in the kitchen fresh from the garden. You won't be sorry, so get ready
for the compliments. Enjoy.
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A Customized Gardening Tour of England and the 2012 Chelsea Flower Show
Paul Parent hosts a tour that includes the Wisley Gardens, the Chelsea Flower Show, Tower of London,
Roman Baths & Pump Room, Riverford Organic Farm, Garden House, Rosemoor Gardens,
Lost Gardens of Heligan, Village of Mevagissey, Stonehenge, the Wilton House
Garden Centre and more.
Click here for details.
This Week's Question
What is the meaning of the name "hydrangea"?
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- Microbe-enhanced all natural plant food
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Last Week's Question:
Which number would indicate pH neutral soil (neither acidic nor alkaline)?
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Are you looking for a great gift for a gardener (or yourself)? This garden
journal helps make planning and organizing easy. This journal, autographed
personally by Paul,
makes a perfect gift for gardeners. The cover holds a 5x7 or 4x6 photo and a
heavy-duty D-ring binder.
- 8 tabbed sections
- 5 garden details sections with pockets for seeds, tags...
- Weather records page
- 6 three year journal pages
- Insect & diseases page - 3 project pages
- 3 annual checklist pages
- Plant wish list page
- 2 large pocket pages
- Sheet of garden labels
- 5 garden detail sheets
- 5 graph paper pages for layouts
- 5 photo pages, each holding four 4x6 photos in landscape or portrait format
Click here to order online.
- 2 bunches spinach, rinsed and torn into bite-size pieces
- 4 cups sliced strawberries
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
Step by Step:
- In a large bowl, toss together the spinach and strawberries.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, sugar, paprika, sesame seeds, and poppy seeds. Pour over the spinach and strawberries, and toss to coat.
Yield: 8 servings