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Connecticut Garden Journal

Cucumber beetle
Katja Schulz (Flickr) / Creative Commons

Happy Summer Solstice. Although gardens are slow to grow this year, the insects know what time of year it is and they're out in force. Particularly, the beetles.

Okra
Rebecca Wilson (Flickr) / Creative Commons

Now that the weather was finally gotten warmer, it's time to grow heat-loving vegetables. This vegetable hails from Africa, was grow by ancient Egyptians, and was brought to this country by slaves. It's related to hibiscus, cotton, and mallow plants. Can you guess the name? It's okra.

Catmint
Jim, the Photographer (Flickr) / Creative Commons

Nepeta, or catmint, is a tough, long blooming perennial that bees and butterflies love. Of course, one of its members, catnip, is a particular favorite of cats. Unfortunately, catnip isn't the most attractive plant, but kitties love to roll, munch and sleep on the plant.

Summer squash
Seacoast Eat Local (Flickr) / Creative Commons

This vegetable was grown by the Wampanoag Native Americans in New England, but it originated in South America 12,000 years ago. Squash is an integral part of most gardens and there are many different types to grow. I particularly like summer squash.

Lettuce
Emma Cooper (Flickr) / Creative Commons

I've got a riddle for you? What vegetable was eaten by Persian kings, was once considered a weed and is second only to potatoes in consumption in this country? The answer is lettuce.

Mulch may be plentiful, but there are other options.
F. D. Richards (Flickr) / Creative Commons

This time of year, bark mulch is being thrown around like candy at a 4th of July parade. We've grown very accustomed to, and even expect, mulched gardens. The ideal is a weed free, mulched garden.

Sunflower
metin.gul (Flickr) / Creative Commons

One the quintessential flowers of summer is the sunflower. The common sunflower was originally grown in the Southwest 5,000 years ago. Native Americans used the seed for food, dyes, medicine, and oil. Though the Europeans started growing sunflowers in the 1500s, it was mostly as an ornamental. It wasn’t until Peter the Great of Russia started growing it on the large scale for oil production that sunflowers started booming as a popular crop.

Your trees and shrubs can provide birds with food, water, and shelter.
Jen Goellnitz (Flickr) / Creative Commons

Everyone loves the calls and sights of songbirds this time of year. They're a cheery reminder of spring and a delight with all their activity. But due to habitat loss, climate change, and other factors, the populations of many song birds are declining. One way to help is to plant the right shrubs for birds.

You can get eggplant from your garden if you get started in May.
Michele Dorsey Walfred (Flickr) / Creative Commons

One of the food highlights growing up in Waterbury was my mom's eggplant parmesan. The combination of gooey mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, and breaded and fried eggplant slices was to die for. It still is, and I love cooking it myself now.

Cupani sweet pea.
Martin Cooper (Flickr) / Creative Commons

One of the best smells of spring are sweet peas. The flowers look like colorful butterflies and many have a heavenly scent. 

Winterberry is a native plant in Connecticut.
Infiniteswg (Flickr) / Creative Commons

Everyone wants to plant native plants. The advantages to growing native plants are many. These are plants that have stood the test of time. They're adapted to weather, climate, insects, diseases and even human activity. They provide habitat for pollinators, butterflies, birds and other wildlife and, sometimes, food for us. But finding a good, economical source for lots of these trees, shrubs, perennials, fruits and berries can be problematic.

Redbud.
Jeff Hart (Flickr) / Creative Commons

There's nothing like a dwarf flowering tree in your yard. While shade trees are beautiful, they take years to get established. But dwarf flowering trees are instant eye candy. They bloom each year, not growing too large and unruly.

Basil
Yamanaka Tamaki (Flickr) / Creative Commons

There's nothing better than having fresh herbs at your fingertips when cooking your favorite recipes. Our tomato sauces always taste better in summer when we can add fresh basil, oregano, and parsley to the mix. But you don't have to have a large herb garden to have fresh herbs. Many herbs grow well in containers on a deck, balcony or patio. This is great because you don't have to venture far to harvest the leaves.

Nate Steiner (Flickr) / Creative Commons

Broccoli has taken a long road to get to our tables. It's descended from wild cabbages. For over 2000 years, Italian and Greek farmers have carefully selected varieties to produce the current version of the vegetable many love.

Maja Dumat (Creative Commons) / Wikimedia

While green carnations are all the rage on St. Patrick’s Day, I would rather give a shamrock plant to a loved one. Oxalis, or the shamrock plant, can be an invasive weed in warm climates, a sour-tasting ground cover in cold climates or a cute houseplant. I want to focus on the houseplant versions.

Elderberries.
Andy Rogers (Flickr) / Creative Commons

Native shrubs are great in the landscape to attract birds, bees and butterflies. It also helps when they're beautiful and produce edible fruits. That's why I like elderberries.

Hydrangeas.
Memphis CVB (Flickr) / Creative Commons

Late winter is the time to prune some trees and shrubs. One shrub that perplexes many gardeners is the hydrangea. With many different types of hydrangeas available that bloom and grow differently, it's easy to get confused about when and how to prune. Let me give you some tips on pruning three common types of hydrangeas.

woodleywonderworks (Flickr) / Creative Commons

Happy Valentine's Day. If you haven't made plans for the big day yet, perhaps try a different gift, such as a hot pepper plant? After all, it does have red fruits and may spice up the evening for you.

Cyclamen
Hornbeam Arts (Flickr) / Creative Commons

This Valentine’s Day, don't just give roses to your paramore, give the flower of lasting love. Cyclamens are great gifts because they can grow indoors as houseplants or outdoors a shade-loving ground cover. And like your love, they'll last for years if taken care of properly.

Susy Morris (Flickr) / Creative Commons

I used to place onions in the same category as potatoes when it comes to growing them in our garden. It's so easy to buy fresh onions in markets and grocery stores, why bother growing them?

Clivia.
Peter Miller (Flickr) / Creative Commons

When I first saw the houseplant clivia, I thought it was an amaryllis. It has the same, dark green, strap-like leaves and is also from South Africa. It was brought to England in the 1800s by plant explorer James Bowie. He cultivated plants in Lady Clive’s conservatory in London, hence the common name.

What seeds are you going to plant this year?
kt.ries (Flickr) / Creative Commons

January is peruse the vegetable seed catalog month. First, I take an inventory of my leftover seed and decide what I can use again this year. When in doubt, I do a seed germination test. If less than 80 percent of the seed sample germinates, I buy fresh seed. 

African violet.
Peter Miller (Flickr) / Creative Commons

This common houseplant is native to the lush mountains of Kenya and Tanzania. It was brought to Europe in the 1800s. In the early 1920s, a Los Angeles-based nursery grew thousands of seedlings and selected the 10 best for use in breeding. It's from these plants that we have many of the modern day African violet varieties.

What's your gardening resolution?
woodleywonderworks (Flickr) / Creative Commons

With every New Year comes a bushel of resolutions. Whether it be eating better, exercising more, or spending more time with a loved one, we've all made resolutions. Gardeners are not exempt. Let me suggest a few New Year's gardening resolutions.

So you got an amaryllis bulb for Christmas. What now?
Adam Hilliker (Flickr) / Creative Commons

If you love flowers, chances are you received a few plants as gifts this year. If you're a little unsure of what to do now, follow my tips.

Evergreen wreaths are popular, but you don't have to limit yourself to this traditional look.
Cornelia Kopp (Flickr) / Creative Commons

Christmas wreaths are a welcoming sign of the holidays and making your own holiday wreath can be a good family holiday activity, even after Christmas. Many wreaths look good all winter long. 

houroumono (Flickr) / Creative Commons

If you want to add some fragrant, holiday flowers to your home, grow paperwhite narcissus. Paperwhites are small, flowered daffodils and feature fragrant flowers. The beauty of paperwhites is they're easy to force into bloom indoors this time of year. Simply pot them up and they'll be in bloom three to four weeks later.

That Christmas cactus may not be a Christmas cactus.
adogcalledstray (Flickr) / Creative Commons

Some plant names are confusing. Take Christmas cactus. This plant can flower anytime between November and April. The reason is most Christmas cactus can have Thanksgiving cactus or Easter cactus genes, but are forced into bloom at Christmas time by growers.

Amaryllis
Jennifer C. (Flickr) / Creative Commons

No flower says the holidays like amaryllis. This bulb hails from South African and South America. It's a spring bloomer in its native range, but through hybridization and marketing mostly by the Dutch, amaryllis has been made into a favorite flower for Christmas time.

Shagbark hickory nuts.
Dan Mullen (Flickr) / Creative Commons

Happy Thanksgiving. One Thanksgiving food I'll always remember when growing up is nuts. I can see my dad there, cracking away on the walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, and other assorted nuts before dinner. For some reason, Thanksgiving was a special nut eating time for him.

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