Wednesday, January 25, 2012

All America Selections for 2012

From the Kansas State University Horticulture, Forestry, and Recreation Website (a place where I get lots of ideas for the weekly newscolumn and blog posts - Bob Kessler introduced me to them before he left), here is a summary of the 2012 All America Selection Winners.

All-America Selections tests and introduces new flowers and vegetables each year that have done well in trials across North America. This year there were two flower winners, one bedding plant winner and two vegetable winners. Descriptions and images below are taken directly from All-America Selection materials.

For more detailed information including how to grow, go to the AAS site, or click on the individual entries below.

Ornamental Pepper 'Black Olive', 2012 AAS Flower Award Winner

The AAS Judges said this entry was a standout, especially in the southern gardens where heat was a major presence during the 2011 trials. All season long this beauty kept its upright habit with nicely draping leaves and dark purple/black fruit which appeared in small clusters along the stems. As summer progresses, the fruits mature to red giving a beautiful contrast against the dark purple foliage and bright purple flowers. Retailers and growers can sell this multi-use ornamental as a 20” border plant, a great color splash for containers or as a cut flower in mixed bouquets.

Salvia 'Summer Jewel Pink', 2012 AAS Bedding Plant Award Winner

Sister to earlier AAS Winner Salvia 'Summer Jewel Red', this dwarf sized, compact plant has a prolific bloom count throughout the growing season. As a bonus, the blooms appear almost two weeks earlier than other pink salvias used as comparisons. And of course, the hummingbirds love pink, just as much as they do red! Commercial growers will appreciate the earliness, excellent pack performance and uniformity.

Pepper 'Cayennetta', 2012 AAS Vegetable Award Winner

‘Cayennetta' is an excellent tasting, mildly spicy pepper that is very easy to grow, even for novice gardeners. This 3 to 4-inch chili pepper yielded bigger fruits from a very well branched upright plant that required no staking which would make it perfect for a container or patio planter. Unique to this variety is that it has good cold tolerance as well as dense foliage cover to protect the fruits from sun scorch and it handled extreme heat very well. This pepper is an all-around good choice no matter where you're gardening. Market growers will benefit from the heavy yield and prolific fruit set from each plant. Everyone will love the excellent pepper flavor that outshone all the comparison varieties.

Watermelon 'Faerie' F1, 2012 AAS Vegetable Award Winner

'Faerie' is a non-traditional watermelon in that it has a creamy yellow rind with thin stripes yet still yields sweet pink-red flesh with a high sugar content and crisp texture. Home gardeners will like growing something unique in their garden and the fact that the vines are vigorous yet spread only to 11' means it takes up less space in the garden. Each 7-8” fruit weighs only four to six pounds making it a perfect family size melon. Professional growers will appreciate the disease and insect tolerance as well as the prolific fruit set that starts early and continues throughout the season.

Vinca 'Jams 'N Jellies Blackberry' 2012 AAS Flower Award Winner

Extremely unique, velvety deep purple with white eye flower color will add excitment to summer gardens. This superb accent plant that will work beautifully in Americana color schemes and in combination with blue, pink, white or lavender. In some settings, the flower petals appear almost black, making this color a designer's delight. Easy to grow plants have excellent tolerance to drought and heat. Mature plants will reach 10-14 inches tall making them a perfect medium height divider. The 2-inch flowers are complimented by deep green shiny leaves creating a rich background for the richly dark flowers.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Garden Grown Chili

Simmering Away
The cold, snowy weather today inspired me to make up a batch of chili.  Simple enough recipe from an old crockpot cookbook, but adapted using stuff I grew this summer:
2 pounds Ground Beef
2 Cups Chopped Onions
4 Cloves Garlic
3 Tablespoons Chili Powder
1 Teaspoon Salt and Pepper, or more to Taste
1 Teaspoon Paprika
1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
2 Quarts Canned Tomatoes
1 Pound Dried Beans (about 2 cups)
Onions and Garlic, Dried Hot Peppers (Cayenne, Hinkel Hatz, Fish), Paprika made from dried Zavory Peppers, (A Penn State-developed variety) Greek Oregano (had to push aside the snow to get to it), some of the dried beans (German Red Lima, Lazy Housewife, and Spelt, and some store bought red kidney beans) and of course, Tomatoes all were grown in my 2011 garden and preserved for just this kind of use.

Onions, Garlic, Spice Mixture and Tomatoes
Prep the beans (soak over night, or boil for 2 minutes - allow to soak in the hot water, covered, for 2 hours, drain and rinse, cook for 1 hour in 6 cups fresh water), Brown the ground beef, saute the onions and garlic, add the spice mixture, and add the prepared beans to a crock pot, or dutch oven.  Cook, covered, for another couple of hours.

Chopped Parsley and Greek Oregano
Red Zeppelin Onion, and Last of my Yummy Sweet Bell Peppers for Topping

Final Serving
One of these years, I'm going to be organized enough to enter the Chili Cookoff at the Chambersburg Ice Fest.

Seed Catalogs - Tomatoes for 2012

I've been planning to do a vegetable seed catalog post for a few weeks, but neglected to get a round tuit. Now as I check the blog list to the right, I find that others have done a great job, so I'm going to link to them instead. The University of Maryland's GrowitEatit Blog has been running a series that you can read here. Dr. Leonard Perry of the University of Vermont has an article about the information in seed catalogs, and how to read/decipher them. I will share with you one that I only recently became familiar with, specializing in breeding new, and sharing others' weird and wonderful heirloom and open pollinated tomatoes. Wild Boar Farms has been around for over 10 years now, so I have no excuse for not knowing about them. From their "About" page:
The goal at Wild Boar Farms is to create the most amazing tomato varieties there are. Using heirloom genetics and mutations as a foundation, I Have been fortunate to discover and then improve on some very remarkable tomatoes. The main focus is on bi-color and striped varieties with extreme flavor and facinating looks. It's a hard business but appreciative customers drive me on.
-Bradley Gates.

I was introduced to these guys by a local grower in Greencastle, who sent a selection of seeds to Steve for us to try at Tomato Day. Minimally, we'll be starting them for sale at the plant sale. All are open pollinated, which means you'll be able to save the seed of any you grow for your 2013 season. Here are the ones originally obtained from Wild Boar Farms that I'll be recommending to Steve to include in our trial:

Pork Chop
Pork Chop - Most "yellow" tomatoes are actually orange. This is a true yellow, starts off yellow with green stripes which ripen to gold. Mid season, 75-85 days. indet. regular leaf. medium size slightly flattened beefsteaks. Great sweet tomato flavor with hints of citrus. Best yellow I have ever had.

Beauty King
 Beauty King - By far the best looking and tasting red yellow bi-color I have tried. Mid to late, 75-90 days. Indet. regular leaf. 12-20 oz. fruit. Good to very good production. Large stunning red yellow bi-color, yellow with flashy red stripes(not blotches). Interior is yellow with bright red streaks, very meaty. Very good sweet tomato flavor. Cross between a Big Rainbow and Green Zebra.

Berkeley Tie Dye
Berkeley Tie Dye - Warning, high acid content may cause flashbacks. This tomato blows me and alot of my customers away. A favorite to many of my chefs. Mid-late to late, 75-90 days. indet. regular leaf plants. 8-16 oz. Fair to good production. Green fruit with yellow and red stripes. Interior is a true tri-color. Creamy green flesh infused with various shades of red and yellow. Each of these colors has a different flavor resulting in a spicey, sweet, tart tomato with good acid all in one fruit. Originated from one plant 500 ,F-2 Beauty King.
Pink Boar
Pink Boar - Looks like a port wine colored Green Zebra. Striking looks,outrageous flavor that is sweet, rich and juicy. Early to mid-season. 70-80 days. indet. regular leaf. 2-4 oz. with good to great production. Aggressive grower. Port wine color with metalic silver green stripes. Dark colored flesh is juicy and very good rich and sweet flavor. Originally from Black and Brown Boar.
Another one on the list from the Greencastle grower from Solana Seeds:

Arbuznyi -Stunning tomato showing a unique pattern of lines similar to watermelons, hence the name Arbuznyi (watermelon in Russian). Beautiful dark red-brownish fruits with green shoulders. Click thumbnails for details. Medium to large, beefsteak-style, flattened and slightly ribbed. Delicious, tender flesh. Sweet, aromatic flavor. Early, one of the first in 2007. Productive. 65-75 days. Medium size plants (1 m). Rare russian variety.

Here's a new one that intrigued me from Territorial Seeds:
Indigo Rose
Indigo Rose - 80 days. Unlike any tomato that we have seen! Indigo Rose is the first high-anthocyanin tomato commercially available anywhere in the world. The high amount of anthocyanin (a naturally occurring pigment that has been shown to fight disease in humans) creates quite a vibrant indigo, almost blue skin on the 2 inch, round fruit. The purple coloring occurs on the portion of the fruit that is exposed to light, while the shaded portion starts out green and turns deep red when mature. Inside, the flesh reveals the same rouge tone with a superbly balanced, multi-faceted tomatoey flavor. The indeterminate plants have an open habit and are very vigorous producers. Bred at Oregon State University.

Lots of other bloggers and garden writers are talking tomatoes. Here's Dr. Lee Reich's list, and Adrian Higgins at the Washington Post discovers the Rutgers Jersey Tomato effort, with old time hybrids Ramapo and Moreton.

Steve also asked me to write up something about heirloom tomatoes for a Fact Sheet he's producing (I get a byline - Woo Hoo!). He had to edit it down a lot (I can get wordy and wax a little too poetic about tomatoes), but here's the whole director's cut version:

Heirloom Tomatoes - The simplest definition of an heirloom tomato is an open pollinated (OP) variety with a known history and provenance that goes back generations. Immigrants to America in the 19th and early 20th century would bring seed from their home country under their home country growing conditions and plant them here wherever they settled. Year to year, they would save seed from their best fruits and slowly build a variety with fixed characteristics for their growing conditions. Over time, a reputation would be built that made the variety famous for some characteristic like, shape, color, size, and of course flavor. German Johnson, Amish Paste, Brandywine, Striped German and Riesentraube are Pennsylvania/Ohio examples of tomatoes introduced to a wider market in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s, whose original source of seed came from family, or regional plots that had been growing them for generations.

Another way that an heirloom can be introduced to the market is by growers in other countries sharing their own varieties with their own provenance. The early Czech variety Stupice is an example, which was introduced in 1976 by a Czech grower who shared some of his seed with a seed producer here in the U.S. during the early days of the organic growing movement, and it caught on.

Still another way to gain heirloom status is to have a colorful story behind the creation of the variety. Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter is a good example. “Charlie” owned a radiator business in the 1930’s. He also was an amateur tomato breeder. He self selected fruits from a couple different large beefsteak varieties (German Johnson is one of the progenitors) and came up with a fixed set of characteristics that were large, meaty, and productive. He marketed them to the public at $1.00 per plant (very high during the Depression) with the pitch that one plant would feed a whole family. He used the proceeds of this side business to pay off his mortgage, hence Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter.

Other introductions that are open-pollinated, but the result of deliberate breeding are not technically heirlooms, but are often marketed as such. Green Zebra, a tomato bred by Tom Wagner of Washington State, was introduced in 1982 and usually appears in the heirloom section of most seed catalogs.

Nowadays, new introductions of recently bred open pollinated varieties are made yearly, and there is an active effort by some seed companies to travel the world and find varieties for new introductions.

So what’s behind the enthusiasm of many people for heirloom varieties? One reason is that you can save seed and continue the old practice and not have to purchase seed every year. Since tomatoes are self fertile, you can rely on open pollinated varieties to produce seed that will grow with the same characteristics of the previous generation. That differs from hybrid varieties that are deliberately and scientifically selected for certain characteristics from different parent lines under controlled conditions. The hybrid tomato grown will perform as advertised, with desirable characteristics like perfect shape, even ripening, earliness, bushy habit, disease resistance, and heavier yield. Those characteristics can be important for the home grower, especially the disease resistance and potentially the higher yield, if you’re only growing a few plants. However, until recently, the important characteristics that hybridizers focused on often came at the expense of flavor. In addition, seed saved from that hybrid tomato, were you to plant it the following season, could have characteristics more in tune with its grandparents, not the intended specific cross of the first generation, so the grower becomes reliant on the seed producer each year. Finally, the presumed consumer preference for a standard round red tomato, also meant that old tomato varieties that were oddly shaped, green when ripe, multicolored or striped also went out of favor, so it came as something of a surprise to people a generation or two removed from the farm, to learn that not all tomatoes are red or yellow and round. They can be ribbed, ox-heart shaped, green, black, orange, elongate, pear-shaped, striped and multi-colored. Re-discovering their unique colors and shapes also fueled the renewed interest.

With all that as background, and with the caveat that flavor is a very subjective metric, here are some of the varieties that I grow every year and will continue to grow, based on something about them that was initially intriguing, but won an annual place in my garden using flavor as the primary criteria to keep them around and at the top of their category.

Stupice - TomatoFest
Early varietyStupice (pronounced STOO-PEECH-Ka) – A Czech variety, with smallish (larger than a golf ball) sized fruit. They are the first ripe fruits in my garden each year, around 55-60 days. Potato leaf variety. Very juicy, excellent for fresh eating. Some tendency toward green shoulders (unripe parts at the stem end). Full, complex tart/sweet tomato flavor. No other variety, hybrid or heirloom, in the under 60 day category has come close to beating Stupice for flavor. They will also continue to produce all season long, with a short hiatus during the hottest part of the summer, but pick up again as the temperature cools.

Arkansas Traveler - TomatoFest
Old Brooks - TomatoFest
Round Red – mid season. Arkansas Traveler. Introduced in 1971 by Joe McFerran of the University of Arkansas. Just under baseball-sized pink fruit, good yield, good flavor more sweet than tart. Good yields. Good, standard tomato that will still set fruits in hotter weather. In the 2011 Franklin County taste test, Old Brooks, a red variety did very well also, so I will be growing it again this year to compare. It’s a mid-season, baseball sized red with good yields.

Lucky Cross - Tomato Fest

Pineapple - TomatoFest

Striped German - TomatoFest
Bicolor – these are tomatoes that are beefsteak sized, mostly yellow, but with red streaks throughout the flesh. Flavor is milder, on the fruity side, and they are absolutely gorgeous sliced for a platter. For best yield, Pineapple is number one. For large size (up to 2 pounds), Striped German would be my pick, and a recent introduction called Lucky Cross, while low yielding, has won taste tests for a more complex flavor. These are all later season varieties ripening in 85-90 days. I’ll alternate year to year on these, not having any one crowd out the others.

Orange Russian 117 - TomatoFest
I should also mention Orange Russian 117 in this category. A unique, bicolor oxheart shape – late season, but among the last producers with good flavor well into late September and early October when most varieties have stopped producing, or the shorter days affect the flavor you’re expecting.

Mortgage Lifter - TomatoFest
Red or Pink BeefsteakMortgage Lifter, Brandywine, and Marianna’s Peace. I’ve included Brandywine because of its marvelous flavor, but it’s a rather finicky variety. Potato leaf, very late (90-110 days), low yield, and susceptible to disease, which can make for a very disappointing season if it’s the only variety in your garden. Its flavor is excellent, mildly sweet, but complex tomato flavor. Large, softball sized irregular shaped fruit with a dark pink color.
Brandywine - TomatoFest
An alternative, similar tasting variety is Marianna’s Peace, which has better yields and disease resistance, but a little smaller. I will always grow a Brandywine, even if I only get a dozen fruits all season from 3 plants. I don’t share too many of them, though. Mortgage Lifter lives up to its reputation as a large, red, beefsteak, perfect for summer slicing on hamburgers. Juicy, good yields and good old fashioned red/pink tomato taste. 

Marianna's Peace - TomatoFest

Cherokee Purple - TomatoFest
Blacks – Two varieties top my list. Black Krim and Cherokee Purple. Both are baseball sized, early to mid season, very thin skinned, and very dark, brick red colored skin and flesh. The flavor is best described as smoky or salty. Both have similar growing times (70-75 days) and may peter out as the season progresses, reducing total yields.

Black Krim - TomatoFest

Green Zebra - TomatoFest

Aunt Ruby German Green

Green – two varieties – Aunt Ruby German Green and Green Zebra. If your flavor buds tend more toward tart than sweet, then these are the varieties to try. Green Zebra is a 75 day mid season variety, good continuous yields, with an unusual darker green stripe on the skin. The ripe flesh is a bright, almost chartreuse color. Size-wise, larger than a golf ball, smaller than a tennis ball. Aunt Ruby German Green is a larger, not quite beefsteak, but more baseball sized fruit that has a slight pink blush at the blossom end that signals when it’s ripe. It’s my personal overall favorite for flavor, although again, like Brandywine, finicky, low yielding, and prone to disease. Another one that I don’t share much. More tart than sweet, but very complex tomatoey goodness.

Dr. Wyche Yellow
YellowDr. Wyche Yellow. Large Beefsteak late season (85-90 day). Although there is a sense that yellow tomatoes are less acidic than the other varieties, it’s mostly a myth. The pH range for all varieties is pretty small, but yellow tomatoes do tend to have milder flavor, which probably led to the myth. Dr. Wyche is an exception to the “mild” reputation. Rich, robust, tomato flavor in a large yellow beefsteak.
Orange Strawberry - TomatoFest
Orange Strawberry is an oxheart shaped tomato, very meaty with few seeds and a bright orange color. Large fruits, easily a pound or more. Also late season, but unique flavor, on the fruity side. Like all oxhearts, the leaves are wispy and prone to curl. This is not a disease or a fixable condition, but a characteristic prevalent in the variety.

Black Cherry - TomatoFest
Cherry – fresh eating, small fruits. I share lots of these because they all produce well, and since I like the different colors, I have tons more than I can eat. They make excellent, full flavored tomato juice, which is where the extras go. Generally, cherries are more sweet than tart. I alternate yearly with two black varieties Black Cherry and Chocolate Cherry, similar in taste to each other – a sweeter tasting version of the Black slicers above.
Chocolate Cherry - Territorial

Chocolate Cherry is slightly larger than Black Cherry.
Dr. Carolyn - TomatoFest
A pale yellow variety Dr. Carolyn is a little more tart and tastes more like a regular tomato than most cherries.

Riesentraube - TomatoFest

For a regular red cherry, the one with the best reputation for sweetness is Matt’s Wild Cherry, but I like the very old heirloom Riesentraube – German for “little bunch of grapes”. It takes a little longer to ripen than the others, but nice, not too sweet punch. The fruits are slightly elongated with a little nipple on the blossom end which adds something. Sun Gold is not an heirloom, but always has a place in my garden.

Amish Paste - TomatoFest

Pittman Valley Plum - TomatoFest
Plum/Paste – these are varieties that have characteristics that make them good for canning and cooking. Meatier flesh, thicker walls, not too juicy, so sauces will be thicker. The skins peel easily for processing. All have high yields and a relatively small stem end.

Amish Paste and Pittman Valley Plum are tops in this category. Amish Paste is wider, whereas Pittman Valley Plum has the shape of a short bull’s horn. A special mention in this category is the Italian heirloom, Principe Borghese. The best tomato for drying. In southern Italy, whole plants are hung to dry in the sun. It’s the original “Sun Dried Tomato.”

Principe Borghese - TomatoFest
In the 2011 Tomato Day Taste Trials, the public rated it fourth, behind three hybrid grape varieties. It’s larger than grape varieties, but smaller than Roma plum varieties, and like the Riesentraube cherry, has a pointed nipple at the blossom end.

All these tomatoes are widely available from seed suppliers, including, but not limited to PineTree Garden, Totally Tomatoes, Baker Creek Seeds, Territorial Seeds, Tomato Grower’s Supply, Burpee, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, John Scheepers Kitchen Garden, and TomatoFest. The Franklin County Master Gardeners also have many heirloom variety plants at our plant sale each May.

UPDATE: January 25th, 2012 - Here's Steve's report, with my byline.  And here's a promo piece about the report from the PSU Ag Science news site.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Plants With Winter Interest Part 6 - Witchhazel (Hamamelis mollis)

Chinese Witchhazel in Jill's Landscape
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’
 MG Jill Hudock adds to our series on Plants with Winter Interest, extolling the virtues of Witchhazel.

I’ll never forget my first sighting of witchhazel. I was in Winterthur, Delaware for a horticultural symposium on a cloudy, February day. The symposium had broken for lunch and as I looked for table, I saw them. The sun had just peeked through the clouds, backlighting a grouping of flowering small trees. (Cue angelic music.) They absolutely glowed. I was a goner right then and there. Had to have one, or two, or maybe a grove, or….well, you get the idea.

I didn’t even know what they were. After lunch I bee-lined outside, tromping through 6” of snow to get a better look, never mind I wasn’t wearing boots. I was going to check these beauties out, up close and personal.

The fragrance was honey-like. The flowers consisted of shrived lemon-colored petals splayed out from an orange-brown center. While I don’t think they would win any sort of award, unless it was for Uniqueness, they were definitely fascinating. I’d never seen anything like it. The whole effect from a distance was lovely; up close, funky.

Chinese Witchhazel in Jill's Landscape
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’
After I’d learnt my new must-have was a Hamamelis mollis, the Chinese Witchhazel, (the Winterthur staff is very knowledgeable) I started to wonder where I’d get one of these. Since I frequented our local nurseries after their bloom time, I had never noticed them there. And frankly, who is shopping the nurseries in February?? Did they even carry them? This was going to be a mission, I could tell.

Long story, short: my persistence paid off. A local nursery ordered one especially for me, although it took 3 years before my little ‘Pallida’ was purchased and planted. I’ve noticed lately that more nurseries are carrying them, especially in fall. However, now is the perfect time to research choices and plan their placement.

The choices are many: Chinese, Japanese, Vernal and Common Witchhazels. There are hybrids which are crosses between the Chinese and Japanese breeds, known as ‘x intermedia’ with a named cultivar to follow. My tree is botanically known as Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’. I chose ‘Pallida’ because it garnered a Gold Medal from the PA Horticultural Society, has highly fragrant yellow flowers and is a one of the smaller hybrids that would best fit in my landscape.

I placed it in front of evergreens to showcase its blooms, allowing enough space for the afternoon’s setting sun to backlight it. This arrangement works well for late afternoon tea. Do I actually have afternoon tea? Only when the witchhazel is blooming! It gives me a qualified reason to sit, to marvel and to plan the next big garden “thing”. Witchhazels also look great with the morning sun behind them, as I saw them at Winterthur.

Jill's Picture of Longwood Gardens Specimens
'Arnold Promise' (yellow) and 'Jelena' (orange)
If I want to enjoy the fragrance I have to take a short walk. I like to see how long it takes before the scent reaches me. It’s always a bonus when a beautiful plant has a pleasing aroma. I have placed witchhazels close to my clients’ driveway or backdoor so they may experience the scent as they come and go. This is one plant that needs to be appreciated as the only show in town. So give it Winter’s stage; it won’t disappoint!

Witchhazels bloom collectively anytime from January to March. Most last for more than a month! Choose from yellow, red, deep red, bronze-red, or copper flowers. Fragrance will also vary from species to species, or cultivar to cultivar. If that’s super-important to you, then the only way to determine your choice is the sniff test. And of course, this requires meeting the specimen(s). And that could be the hardest part…finding them to do so. I am happy with my tree’s scent even though I had to rely on references, not the real deal.

In spring, they produce oval-shaped, dark green to blue-green leaves. In fall they turn orange, red or yellow, depending upon the variety. They are small trees, growing slowly in full sun to partial shade. Moist, organic-laden, well-drained soils are their friends. Re-creating a woodland environment will suit them perfectly. They are understory trees, ranging from 10’-20’ tall with a wider spread. Most can be selectively pruned into graceful, artistic specimens. The Vernal witchhazel will sucker, creating a natural hedge.

Hamamelis is not related to the tree that gives us hazel nuts. Hazel nuts come from the Corylus genus. The common name for the Corylus genus is Filbert, as in the nut…feeling less confused? Hazel nuts are also known as filbert nuts. This is starting to drive me nuts!

“Hamamelis” is a Latin word combining two Greek terms. ‘Hama’ means “at the same time” or “together”. And ‘melon’ is “fruit”. “Hamamelis” translates into “together with fruit”. Witchhazel seeds and flowers are present at the same time on the same tree, which is a very unique situation. A seed capsule contains only 2 seeds. The capsule bursts open upon maturity, flinging the 2 offspring 30 feet or more. The edible seeds taste like pistachio nuts. I’ve never even noticed them, so this will be my winter’s new gardening experience. Hope I can capture them before they rocket off!

We are more familiar with the medicinal uses of witchhazel. Its bark and leaves contain the valuable astringent that reduces swelling. By physically shrinking blood vessels, witchhazel helps treat many skin-related maladies such as acne, eczema and psoriasis. An application will alleviate discomfort from bruises, insect bites, poison ivy and hemorrhoids. It’s also found in eye drops. Next time I want to get rid of my bleary-eyed, allergy-induced appearance I can thank the witchhazel.

On a more diverse note, witchhazel has been used traditionally to search for water and precious metals. Divining rods can be fashioned from its pliable twigs. “Witching sticks” came from the Old English ‘wych’ for bendable. I don’t know if the divining twig our developer used was from a witchhazel, but he did use one to pinpoint where our well should be dug. And after 23 years so far, so good! Now if he could’ve just found some gold while he was at it…

For a marvelously thorough resource on Hamamelis history, cultivation and uses, check out . The Steven Foster Group specializes in information on medicinal and aromatic plants. You will find a wide range of information along with photos.

My witchhazel has given me years of delight, taking me back to the first time I “discovered” them at Winterthur. What a fantastic day! I have always loved going to Winterthur. Bringing a bit of it home keeps that memory alive.

You can enjoy a bit of Winterthur at . Their website is just as gorgeous and as well-planned as the woodland estate, which I highly encourage you to put on your travel list.

Check their site for special activities when choosing a visit time. Winterthur does not have a “bad” season. You will be enchanted whenever you visit, guaranteed. Allow extra time to see their exquisite museum and valuable decorative arts collection. There is also a bookstore, as well as a separate gift shop, complete with take-along plants. Ummm, I can see where this is going…road trip, anyone?

Until then, keep your eyes peeled for the lovely witchhazel this winter. Maybe you, too, will be caught under its magical spell!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Plants With Winter Interest Part 5 - Lavender

Lavender in Eckhart Garden
Most people grow lavender (Lavandula spp) for its fragrant blooms, or as a culinary herb, but it also adds to the winter garden with the year-round silvery blue/green color of its leaves.  Master Gardener Jerry Lewis covered harvesting lavender blossoms in July 2010.

These clumps were given to me by Master Gardener Evelyn Schoch as cuttings from her garden.  For care and maintenance, Cornell University recommends:
Deadheading after first bloom may encourage plants to rebloom. This is also a good time to shape plants. But avoid pruning after late summer until new growth begins the following spring. Cut back heavily (to about 6 inches) every 2 or 3 years to keep plants from getting straggly.

Compared with other shrubs, lavender is not a long-lived plant, so it is best to replace old plants about every ten years.
Lavender in Eckhart Garden
These clumps are about 6 years old.  Lavender is easily propagated by layering, or taking cuttings, but also can be started from seed.  If you don't deadhead, it can also self sow.  Here's a fact sheet on home propagation methods.  It should be noted that named cultivars should not be asexually propagated (cuttings or layering) because of copyright issues.  Hybrid plants that self-sow, may also not grow true to the parent plant.

Plants With Winter Interest Part 4 - Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera pubescens)

Jewel Orchid in Eckhart Shade Garden
I already introduced our native Jewel Orchid, or Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera pubescens) to you this past summer.  Nothing new to add, just wanted to show how it looks in winter.  The flower stalk is gone, but the beautiful evergreen leaves, with their unique variegation remain. 

Pictures were taken New Year's Eve at around 10 a.m.

More information at the link.

Jewel Orchid in Eckhart Shade Garden

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Plants with Winter Interest Part 3 - Stinking Hellebore (Helleborus foetidus)

Helleborus foetidus in Eckhart Shade Garden
Picture taken 12/31/11 about 10:00 am
Kathy covered Lenten Rose, or Helleborus x hybridus in the spring of 2010.  This is its cousin Helleborus foetidus, or stinking hellebore.  I'm not sure why it got its name, since there doesn't seem to be any particularly bad scent that I can detect.  The word hellebore comes from a Greek word meaning ‘food to kill’.  That sorta makes sense, since the plant is poisonous, although it's only toxic if large quantities are ingested, and any skin irritation is minor, lasting for only a few minutes.  It's native to Europe, but is widely cultivated here.

Another common name is bear-foot hellebore - also not very descriptive (maybe the leaves?)  The USDA Plants database lists "setterwort" as a common name, apparently because the root was used in settering, or inserting setons into the dewlaps of cattle.

Like that helps.

Regardless, it's a wonderful plant for winter.  It's dark green foliage deepens in the cold weather, and it's just getting ready to bloom now.


Helleborus foetidus in the Eckhart Shade Garden
Picture taken 12/31/11 about 10:00 am
In addition to its evergreen leaves, and early bloom, there are other qualities:
Let's see:  Cold hardy, evergreen leaves, early bloom, sun and shade tolerant, deer resistant, and drought tolerant.  Any other plant with those characteristics would be named Magical Unicorn Wonder Plant, or sumpthin'.  Instead, we get "Stinking Plant that Kills."

Taxonomy is an odd science.

Update: 1/11/12 - I adapted this blog post for an item in next week's news column and in the process of further research learned a couple of things:
  • The "bear's foot" common name is, indeed, based on the leaf structure.  To me, the leaves are more reminiscent of Cannabis leaves (aka marijuana) than a bear's foot, but of course I base that on pictures from the internet, not on any personal experience with either.
  • "Settering" which  engendered the common name "Setterwort" was a process of setting a "peg" made from the root of the plant, into the fleshy skin fold in the neck of cattle, under the mistaken belief that it would help with cattle lung problems.

Strong Seniors Program - Winter 2012

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Strength Training Reduces Symptoms of Chronic Diseases:

Research shows that strengthening exercises are both safe and beneficial to people of all ages. Strength training is perhaps most beneficial for those who have chronic health issues such as heart disease or arthritis. Strengthening exercises can relieve or reduce the signs and symptoms of numerous conditions including diabetes, obesity, osteoarthritis, back pain, and depression.

Tufts University conducted a strength training program with older adults who had moderate to severe knee osteoarthritis. Results from their study showed that the regular exercise decreased pain by 43%, increased muscle strength and general physical performance, as well as decreased disability from the disease. In addition, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) noted that similar results have been found with people who have rheumatoid arthritis.

Also, older adults are more prone to falls due to poor balance and limited flexibility. In some cases, falls lead to fractures which may result in disability or even death. Strengthening exercises can improve balance and flexibility. A New Zealand study which involved women 80 years of age found a 40% reduction of falls when they performed simple strength training exercises.

Studies have also shown that lifestyle changes such as strength training have a significant impact on helping older adults manage their diabetes. In a study of Hispanic men and women, 16 weeks of strength training produced dramatic improvements in glucose control that are comparable to taking diabetes medication.

If you are interested in learning more about strength training to reduce symptoms of chronic disease and improve balance and flexibility, plan on attending the Strong Women/Strong Seniors program. Strong Women/Strong Seniors is designed for adults 40 and over and includes one hour of strength training exercises twice a week along with some nutritional information. Participants are given a physical assessment before and after the 12-week program to determine how they have improved in strength and functional fitness.

Penn State Extension, Franklin County, is offering six Strong Women/Strong Seniors programs:
  • Mondays and Wednesdays from January 16-February 22 from 9:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m. at the New Guilford in Christ Church in Fayetteville;  
  • Tuesdays and Thursdays from January 17-February 23 from 10:00 a.m.-11:00a.m. at the Church of the Brethren in Chambersburg;  
  • Tuesdays and Thursdays from January 10-February 1 from 9:30 a.m.- 10:30 a.m. or from 6:00p.m.-7:00p.m. at the First United Methodist Church in Mercersburg;
  • Tuesdays and Thursdays from January 10-February 16 from 9:00a.m.-10:00a.m. at the Memorial Lutheran Church in Shippensburg;  
  • Mondays and Wednesdays from February 6-March 14 from 5:45p.m.-6:45p.m. at Montessori Academy in Chambersburg.
The cost of the 6 week/12 class program is $50.00.

For more information, call Penn State Extension at 717-263-9226. To register, call toll free 1-877-489-1398 or visit and select the session you want. The events are sorted by date at the link.
Walk-ins are welcome at any time during the session.

More details about the origins of this program can be found here and here.