The Tomato Harvest

glorious tomatoesAhhhh… the August tomato.  This time of year brings us the most wonderful fruit of the season, the slightly sweet, slightly acidic, juicy tomato that tastes equally incredible with an ear of corn or on a tomato/mayo sandwich. All summer mister gardener has nurtured and cared for his tomatoes and it was time for The Great Harvest.

With tomatoes at their peak of ripeness, mister gardener turned to me over breakfast on Friday and announced, “I’m going to can today.”  Each year I am excited to hear this announcement.  It’s a process that takes two days from start to finish with aromas of onions, celery, and tomatoes permeating the house. It lifts your spirits and adds a bit of buoyancy to your step, much like the joy at Thanksgiving with bouquets of turkey and stuffing wafting throughout the home.

It is a labor of love for mister gardener but it is labor.  He must blanch and peel the tomatoes, clean, core and cut dozens and dozens up along with copious amounts of celery and onion and garlic and whatever else he uses in his family recipe.  Chop, chop, chop goes on for hours each day. It is a labor-intensive task that he has shared in with his family since childhood.  At the end of the process, he is able to put up about 12 quarts and 10 pints of stewed tomatoes that will go through the winter with us and last until the first ripe garden tomato of 2010.

stewed tomatoes: 8/29/09Left on the vine are green tomatoes. I’m going to push for a few fried green tomatoes that mister gardener can barely tolerate but I adore.  With what ripens in September, I will make half pints of tomato preserves.  My mouth is watering. It’s no wonder the tomato is the most popular and best loved garden vegetable in the USA.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Tobacco Hornworm, a thing of wonder!

Who's eating my tomato plant?It was three weeks ago that I first noticed the bare tips on a branch of a tomato plant in my small kitchen garden. I looked beneath the plant and saw some telltale caterpillar poo and I knew what was hiding on the under the leaves of my plant. I carefully lifted branch after branch until I found it… a tobacco hornworm caterpillar, the larva of the sphinx moth.

It was a gorgeous 4” long pale green caterpillar with 5 pairs of prolegs and 7 white diagonal stripes on the sides of the body and a red-colored horn on the last segment.  It’s closely related to and often confused with the tomato hornworm caterpillar with similar markings but the red horn is a good identifying feature. I’ve read that tobacco hornworm is more prevalent in the southern United States and the tomato hornworm is found more in the northern states.Tobacco Hornworm

Both feed on plants in the nightshade family: tomato and tobacco and others such as potato, pepper or eggplant and these guys can wreak havoc in the garden and can cause extensive damage to plants. My big fellow had eaten 2 small unripe tomatoes and leaves on one small branch, however he was working alone and soon to enter the pupate stage so I left it on the plant.

Some natural bug deterrents are said to be red pepper sprinkled on the plants or a mixture of water, vegetable oil, and dish soap to repel them. Handpicking is an effective control in small gardens but one of the most common biological controls for the hornworm is the parasitic braconid wasp that lays its eggs inside the body of the caterpillar.  After hatching they bore through the skin of the caterpillar and attach white cocoons along the body. If you see one with the cocoons attached, do not kill the hornworm as the wasp will do the job.

pink spotted hawkmothThe large adult sphinx moth or hawkmoth is seen around flowers in my garden at dusk or dawn.  They are as graceful and agile as a hummingbird as they hover over blooms and flit quickly from flower to flower.  It’s a shame that something so full of wonder can begin life as a such a destructive insect in our gardens.

Annie, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’

crocosmiaI just removed dozens and dozens of late summer crocosmia plants as I do each year.  I’m not sure where I found my original Crocosmia ‘Lucifer,’ but I remember being charmed by the 20 or so blooms per stem and the attraction by hummingbirds. With its tall iris-like spikes and mid to late season blooms, I decided it would be perfect around the pond attracting butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.  Little did I realize that three years later, clumps of these showy orange-red blooms would be as thick as thieves crowding out ornamental grasses and other desirable plantings.

Lovely they are and a delight to hummingbirds but they caused my pond garden to look untidy and they had to be moved.  So after they bloomed one fall, I pulled them up, oh so easily, and replanted them in a less managed border where they could multiply with abandon.

Little did I know that fateful fall that the corms beneath the ground looked like this:

 

crocosmia corm

Wikipedia

And I was pulling up this:

crocosmia corm
That means deep beneath the ground I left a vertical chain of corms that are impossible to remove unless I wade in with a backhoe.  Even then, I still wouldn’t get them all.  As you can see, new corms are continually produced on short underground stolons rapidly forming new clumps. Each corm stores food for a new plant so it is endless.  I would label them invasive in this garden, yet in a large border, they would be glorious.  There are over 400 cultivars of crocosmia worldwide in shades of yellows, reds, and oranges.  In some places, certain varieties have been labeled invasive: South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Northwest, and warmer climates.

Why do I bother to pull up these persistent plants? I pull them up every year for a mastercrocosmia gardener fundraiser.  They are divided into bunches of 5 or 6 corms and they completely sell out every year at the annual plant sale.  Folks are delighted to start their own beds of crocosmia.  I sometimes wonder if I should label the bag with a warning: Named Crocosmia ‘Lucifer,’ because they are the ‘devil’ to remove from a garden.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

A Loquat in Zone 7

Loquat - Eriobotrya japonicaA number of years ago my brother gave us a gift for the garden, a tiny loquat he dug from his daughter’s yard in Charleston SC. In checking what Michael Dirr had to say, I discovered the plant is prized for its lustrous foliage, its 12” heavily textured leaves, its drought tolerance, its fragrant and profuse blooms in the fall and unusual fruit in the spring. I was thrilled.

But, what’s this he writes about hardiness?  Dirr recommends the loquat for zones 8-10.  Gloucester is zone 7.  Well, close enough, I thought as I planted it as a specimen in the center of the yard overlooking the river.  Although I mulched it well each fall, it died back completely to the ground for the next three winters. It was barely clinging to life in zone 7.

I had nothing to lose by relocating the little fellow to a spot more sheltered from the winter winds. Surely it would die or always be a stunted shrub.  To my surprise, this insignificant twig thrived in its new home on the corner of the garden shed under the protection of loblolly and white pines. Seven years later, that small plant is now a 20’ tree that has grown over the roof of the garden shed and into the branches of the pines.

Happy loquat in zone 7

I adore this evergreen with its massive, leathery leaves that are spectacular in flower arrangements and a show stopper in the winter border but it has outgrown its home. If I could move the garden shed about 10’, I would.  Removing the pines is not an option. Each year I carefully trim up the pines to accommodate the loquat and trim enough branches of the loquat to squeeze by with my wheelbarrow on the way to the compost.

The plant overcrowding has been a lesson learned and a valuable one that has prevented me from repeating similar mistakes in the garden.  And someday I must tell Michael Dirr that, with a little protection, the loquat thrives in zone 7.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Calder Loth

Calder LothIn our increasingly busy lives, our gardens should provide an oasis for us, a place of tranquility and joy. The city gardens of Calder Loth, Senior Architectural Historian with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and honorary member of the Richmond Fan DistrictGarden Club of Virginia, do just that.  Located in Richmond’s Fan District, Calder’s resplendent home gardens reflect his taste in gardening and reveal his ample knowledge of plants.

He has designed borders overflowing with vibrant color using high performing plants accustomed to the heat of summer.  Art objects, flower filled terra-cotta pots and mismatched pavings and stones provide a major impact.

Garden folly

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A visual bonus is a wooden structure topped with terra-cotta pots.  What do you think you will see if you attempt to enter the gate and pass under the arch?  You will see yourself.  Calder designed the back of this structure with a mirror to provide folly in the garden and to visually increase the garden space.

Not only has he made use of the all perimeters of his property, his gardening passion has inspired him to extend his gardens from his yard to a public alley where he created a sun-filled flower border for passersby to enjoy.

IThe alley gardent is said that every garden is a reflection of the owner and has a unique story to tell.  From his gardens, we know that Calder Loth is a talented horticulturist with a love for beautiful gardens and a desire to share his passion.

The Garden Club of Virginia cherishes its association with Calder.  Whether advocating for historic garden restoration, researching, writing for Historic Garden Week in Virginia, or serving on the Fellowship Site Selection Committee, Calder Loth is a valued friend of the Garden Club of Virginia.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

My Garden Shed

Mister gardener built a garden shed for me, a wonderful sanctuary in a style straight from Mr. McGregor’s English garden. It’s a lovely 10×10 cottage garden shed that houses everything garden. I’ve had it for several years now and inside it is neatly organized into work areas.  I have containers of potting mixes, Holly Tone, Plant Tone, coconut bricks, on one wall.  Shelving holds clay pots organized by shape and size and well organized wall grids and hooks hold gardening gadgets and tools of the trade. Other shelving holds plant labels and seeds and Neem oils, watering cans and gloves.

CupolaI love my small home away from home just a short walk from the house. I can throw up the window sashes to catch breezes off the river and putter inside to my hearts content.  The shed is now nestled into the border with trellises on two walls for climbing plants… clematis, honeysuckle, and even tomatoes sometimes grow up the wall.  A Williamsburg bird bottle on the side attracts a fussy wren every year and crushed oyster paths around both sides of the shed lead to the compost.  On the shingled roof, a copper weather vane sings an eerie melody as it turns with the wind atop the cupola.

When it was first completed and mister gardener proudly led me inside, I looked around at the empty roomand loft that seemed vast, and thoughts of a day bed and a lamp on a small table jumped into my mind.  But it’s become a different spot of relaxation where I can daydream and plan for future garden projects.

Two of my granddaughters, ages 6 and 8 at that time, took a good, long look at the shed and began to whisper.  Later they drew up their own list of improvements that they left for me and mister gardener to find. Of course I saved the list.  It’s marvelous and who knows what the future holds?  Anything can happen.

Annie’s and Caroline’s list of improvements for Nana’s shed:

  1. Add a garage
  2. A pink and a green golf cart
  3. T.V. and Wii
  4. A pink refrigerator
  5. 2 pink spinning chairs
  6. Bathroom and toilet with fuzzy seat
  7. Small stove
  8. A pink rug
  9. A table for two
  10. Hot tub
  11. Monogrammed towels, one white, one lavender
  12. Pull out beds

I would love to read about YOUR garden shed.  Leave a comment.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Weeds!

I just returned from Maine, the land of no humidity, warm fleeces, blue skies, mountains and hiking trails. Stepping from the plane onto the tarmac, I was slammed by the Tidewater humidity and heat, followed by an all-night thunderstorm. It was a shocking contrast in weather, but, truth be known, there’s no place I’d rather be than hot and humid Virginia.

Besides our menagerie of excited animals, I was greeted by an unwelcome sight… borders full of mature weeds. How could this be?  Was I gone that long?  Those sneaky opportunists! Here are just a few of the most bothersome weedy vexations in my borders today.

crabgrassCrabgrass is my main challenge and I will attempt to pull it by hand without leaving any roots which is truly impossible. Root fragments left in the ground will re-sprout. Crabgrass germinates each spring and one plant can spread thousands of seeds. Master gardeners say corn gluten applied in early spring will kill seedlings.

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Bermuda GrassIt’s so fast-growing, I can almost watch bermuda grass or wire grass progress.  It spreads by underground rhizomes, above ground runners and by seed.  If I don’t get these runners early, I’m in real trouble. Deep edging around your border can be helpful.

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nutsedge

Nutsedge is a sneaky little weed that seems to appear overnight disguised as grass or hidden beneath the daylilies until the seed head identifies it.  It spreads by rhizomes, tubers and seeds and my gardens will never be rid of it.

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chickweedChickweed, an annual, is easy to pull out but be sure to get the whole root or beware…  it will sprout again.

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spotted spurgeSpotted spurge likes my borders. It pulls out easily but the milky secretions can be irritating. Wear gloves.

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common yellow wood sorrel oxalis

Common Yellow Wood Sorrel or sour grass (did you ever taste the sour leaves as a youngster?) can survive just about anywhere.  Get it early or it can develop a thick root system and it can shoot seeds up to 6 feet away.  Impossible to eradicate but I’ll give it a good try.

Remember: Early intervention is the best medicine for weed problems.  But a good layer of mulch helps to keep those seeds from spouting.

See more on chickweed  by clicking here.

Read about another INVINCIBLE weed, Creeping Charlie or Ground Ivy,  by clicking here.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Lavender Harvest

lavenderLast week I harvested my lavender. Tidewater Virginia with its high humidity is not the ideal location to produce lavender beds, however, Provence lavender tends to be a workhorse in my garden. Despite having much wetter feet than it would like this season, my Provence provided a haven for the bees, wonderful fragrance for us, and about six weeks of spectacular indigo color for the garden this summer.

Everything you read tells you it is time to harvest your lavender when the lower flowers on the stems are opening, but I cannot do that to the hundred or more bees that visit daily. I wait until the bees abandon the plants, take out hedge clippers and cut the stems on an afternoon when the dew is off the plants.  I bundle them and hang them upside down in the garage for two weeks.  Afterward, the stems are easily stripped of dried flowers. The perfume of the lavender does not wane and everyone in the family seems happy to receive a lavender sachet in their stocking at Christmas.

Bumblebee naps after a day in the lavender

Bee House

Provence is a perennial in zones 6-11 and is grown in full sun in alkaline soil. Because our soil is acid, I add ground oyster shells to make the soil more alkaline but some gardeners work hydrated lime into the soil every few years. Good drainage is a requirement for healthy plants and the oyster shells help create a well-drained root zone.  To promote good growth and blooming the next season, a rule of thumb is to prune approximately one-third the plant in the fall or sometime before spring warming.

You can experiment with different lavenders in your own gardens and enjoy these fragrant plants for years to come.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Sawfly Larvae Invasion

sawflyThese acrobatic insects that are consuming the leaves of my Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick might resemble caterpillars but they are not.  These are sawfly larvae, the larvae of not a fly at all but one of 4,000 varieties of a primitive stingless wasp.  Look closely.  The larvae of moths and butterflies have 1 to 4 sets of abdominal prolegs (false legs), whereas sawfly larvae have 6 sets of prolegs.

Mouthparts are for chewing and in great numbers they can defoliate a tree or shrub or flower. Most of them are somewhat host-specific and feed on foliage of specific trees and flowers.  Some larvae work together on the leaf edges like these, some skeletonize leaves, some eat holes in leaves, some roll leaves, and some varieties create galls.  The most common varieties here feed together and some hold their abdomen in the air like these.  A defensive mechanism in many larvae is a row of glands on the abdomen that can expel an irritating fluid.

The benign winged sawfly adults are small and generally dark in color. They do not have the constricted waist of many stinging wasps and the females have a saw-toothed ovipositor, which is used to ‘saw’ into plant material and deposit eggs.   There is only one generation per year but the larvae can be destructive if they are numerous enough.  Ten years ago we were inundated with the Loblolly Pine Sawfly that destroyed a number of our young trees.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester