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November 2017
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Garden- and nature-related gift ideas for everyone on your list

 

Gift-giving season is with us and here are some ideas for some of those on your list.

What gardener doesn’t like comfort?

You can’t beat Duluth Trading Co.’s Heirloom Gardening Pants. The pants are designed for the role, but also would be perfect for hiking, camping or just running errands.

They are made with 4.8 ounce DuluthFlex ripstop fabric, which resists stains and abrasions, and repels water, but is not waterproof. Talk about fit, comfort and function. There are pockets for everything: snips, tree saws, pencil, paper, seed packets. You name it, there’s a pocket for it. The pants have pouches for Duluth-brand knee pads, too.

The middle of the back has what Duluth calls Curvesetter Waistband, which is just a bit higher than the rest of the band, designed to keep us covered when bending over. They come in steel blue or deep olive, 29- or 31-inch length, and sell for $74.50. I love mine. Find them at Duluth Trading Co. in Noblesville, or online.

First-timers in their own abode

Of course, they will want to try a houseplant or two, but are unsure which plants to select or how to take care of them. We’ve all been there. Help them succeed.

Michigan garden writer Lisa Eldred Steinkopf provides the answers in her book, Houseplants: The Complete Guide. Known as The Houseplant Guru, Steinkopf covers everything houseplant, from planting to problem solving, in the 275-page hardcover book.

This would be a terrific book for anyone interested in houseplants. Besides being informative, it has beautiful photographs shot by Steinkopf’s daughter Chelsea. Published this fall by Cool Springs Press, the book is $30 and is available at bookstores and Amazon.

Missing from the tool box?

Just when you thought weeding tools couldn’t get any better comes CobraHead Mini Weeder and Cultivator. This is the little sister to 13-inch long CobraHead ($24.95), the original tool from the Wisconsin manufacturer.

The Mini, at 8 ¾ inches and outfitted with CobraHead’s extremely sharp Steel Fingernail, is perfect for removing weeds from cracks and crevices, such as between sidewalks, stepping stones and other tight spaces. The Mini is $21.95 at Cobrahead and Amazon.

Another fine tool is Sneeboer’s Precision Weeder. It looks like a small harpoon and works well under shrubs or around perennials without destroying roots. Made by the Dutch company Sneeboer Manufacturing, the weeder is $48 at White Flower Farm.

These are just a sampler of gifts for gardeners and others, but ones that will be appreciated.

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Trial tomatoes provide tasty treats from the garden

‘Gladiator’ tomato is a large, meaty, Roma-type that was very prolific. Photo courtesy burpee.com

I only grew trial tomato plants this year and the results were fantastic. This was probably one of the best tomato years I’ve had.

By far, the top performer was Gladiator, a large, meaty, paste tomato that makes a lot of other Roma types look wimpy. This oval fruit, which weighs about 8 ounces and easily fills the hand, is delicious in soups, salsas, sauces or sliced onto homemade pizza.

The prolific Gladiator started producing in midsummer and kept on into October. I had so many that I had to give them away. I’d already frozen all that my freezer would hold. Look for Gladiator seedlings next spring at garden centers and through Burpee, which also has seeds.

In late June, Red Racer tomatoes were sent to trial along with the promise that I’d have tomatoes by Labor Day. Indeed there were, juicy red fruits right on time. Red Racer has been named a 2018 All-America Selections winner, so seeds and plants should be available next spring. Seeds can be found at High Mowing Seeds.

‘Red Racer’ was late to arrive for its trial in the garden this summer, but it produced quite well. Photo courtesy All-AmericaSelections.org

Called a cocktail tomato, Red Racer’s fruit measures about 1½ inch diameter and weighs 2-ounces, making it larger than a grape or cherry tomato. Stuff it with cheese or other filling for cocktail treats.

With an average of 68 tomatoes per plant, Red Racer is a prolific producer, and at only 3 feet tall, does not require staking, making it a good candidate for growing in a pot on the patio, balcony or deck. Or, use as an edible-ornamental in a flowerbed. It had a low acid, sweet flavor.

Little Bing cherry tomato produced all aummer. Photo courtesy burpee.com

In the cherry tomato category, Little Bing was the earliest to give me a tomato, and it continued producing all summer. It was sweet and a nice size for snacking with ½ to 1-ounce size fruits. At only 2 feet tall, Little Bing also is perfect for a pot. Seeds are available at Totally Tomatoes.

Don’t be afraid to try new things in the garden, even tomatoes. You might just find some new tasty treats.

 

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Indy’s All-America Selections Display Garden wins 1st place

The Purdue Extension Marion County All-America Selections Display Garden won first place in its category in 2017. Photo courtesy Steve Mayer

Since 2013, Marion County Master Gardeners and other volunteers have designed, planted, tended and harvested the All-America Selections Display Garden on the grounds of the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Last year alone, they contributed nearly 2,000 hours working in the garden or interacting with visitors.

Their hard work has paid off. The garden garnered AAS’ first place award in the Foodscaping Landscape Design Challenge in the 10,000 to 100,000 visitors per year category for 2017.

Dozens of All-America Selections award-winning flowers, vegetables and herbs are grown in the garden. The garden also demonstrates various techniques, such as tomato supports, vertical gardening methods, cover crops, types of raised beds and ways to keep insects off of plants. It’s the perfect place to see and appreciate beauty and learn about plants and practices we can use in our gardens.

This year’s garden featured 110 AAS winners, about 30 more than previous years, primarily because there were more early, cool-season plants. Photo courtesy Steve Mayer

This year’s theme illustrated the foodscaping trend of mixing ornamental and edible plants in garden beds. Master Gardeners volunteered 1,058 hours in the garden in 2016. This year’s hours are still being counted.

The 2017 design featured edibles used in landscape beds and flowers with vegetables in raised beds, said Steve Mayer, Purdue Extension-Marion County horticulture educator and coordinator of the AAS Display Garden.

Among the judges’ comments: “Fantastic job for a new garden entry. Flower and veg integration were great. Good use of incorporating edibles into a landscape. Real life application for the end user.”

Among the ornamental-edible plants featured were Candle Fire okra and Hot Sunset pepper. Three pumpkin vines did double-duty as a ground cover under a newly planted tree. All the plants are labeled. One tip: Whenever you visit a garden, take a photo of the plant and its label with the camera on your phone for future reference.

Nearly 13,000 people visited the All-America Selections Display Garden during the Indiana State Fair. Photo courtesy Catherine Corbin

“Foodscaping is not a topic we often address,” Mayer said. “However, the All-America Selections theme this year allowed us to show people that gardens can be both beautiful and edible.”

The food grown in the AAS Display Garden doesn’t go to waste. In 2016, 604 pounds of food was donated to area food banks. This year’s donation is still being tallied, Mayer said.

The garden is on the north side of the fairgrounds, near the Department of Natural Resources building. It is open to the public during the growing season. Access to the garden is usually free, except during the fair. Tell the gatekeepers that you are visiting the Marion County Demonstration Garden and they should let you pass. During this year’s fair, 12,980 people visited the garden.

 

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Hardy cyclamen and a tough Bidens brighten the landscape

 

 

Cyclamen hederifolium. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

 

You know how forgetful we can be. Forget what we planted and when, for instance. Mother Nature pulls through for us, though.

A few weeks ago while weeding, I glimpses a patch of small pink flowers barely visible under the White Dome hydrangea.

It took me several minutes to remember the flowers were hardy cyclamen (C. hederifolium). I planted the corms a year ago for late summer and fall blooming perennials that thrive in shade. This plant is hardy to USDA Zone 5, which includes northern Indiana to Indianapolis’ northern suburbs.

The foliage of a hardy Cyclamen hederifolium is attractive in its own right. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

We’re already familiar with the florist cyclamen (C. persicum), usually found in garden centers and florists around holidays, such as Christmas and Easter. It is sold primarily as a gift plant or short-lived, but long-blooming houseplant. These houseplants have large, showy flowers, but are not winter hardy and they are a challenge to get to rebloom. Some gardeners plant these outdoors in spring and summer to edge a flower bed or they tuck them into containers.

Another cyclamen (C. coum) also is considered winter hardy to USDA Zone 6, which includes central and southern Indiana. This one blooms early to midwinter.

Look for hardy cyclamen in bulb catalogs.

Tough-as-nail annual

Bidens used to be a don’t-bother-to-plant annual, because it was such a weak grower, spindly and just unhappy.

In the last few years, plant breeders have bolstered bidens, improving the flower power and overall toughness.

The annual ‘Blazing Glory’ bidens has blazed right through summer in a touch spot without fail. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The best example this year is ‘Blazing Glory’ bidens, which has bloomed orange-yellow flowers all summer with only periodic attention from the hose. It sits in a newly planted area, a gravel garden of sorts, designed by Wendy Ford of Landscape Fancies for low-water plants and soil retention.

‘Blazing Glory’ has been holding its own at the tough corner of this bed where it meets the asphalt driveway in blazing hot sun. The trash can has been thrown at it at least twice this summer. ‘Blazing Glory’ has been a trouper and I look forward to growing it again next summer. Other fine varieties to consider: ‘Campfire Fireburst’ and Beedance series.

Give bidens a chance. Experiment with different varieties and I’m sure you’ll find one suited for your landscape or pot.