GardenSmart :: EPISODES :: 2004 show18
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Show #18

This week we visit the National Gardening Association (NGA), headquartered in Burlington, Vermont. NGA is a terrific resource for gardeners of every level of expertise in every part of the country. Their display gardens and demonstration areas will educate and illuminate us all.

North central Vermont is home to some of New England's' most beautiful formal and informal gardens. Even some of the most humble homes are surrounded by lovely plants and flowers. There is a saying in this part of the country "they have 11 months of winter and one month of poor sledding." So when the growing season comes along whether it's vegetables or flowers one strives to make the most of the season. Vermonter's are famous for their environmental awareness, they have always been close to their land and very protective of it, so application of good gardening practices is a logical step.

Charlie Nardozzi is a horticulturist with the National Gardening Association. NGA strives to educate people, help make them better gardeners and to introduce the joys of gardening to more people. They do this through a variety of venues, one is the National Garden Month, celebrated every April. They have a web site that has tons of quality information; for example, there are items dealing with pest control, design, vegetables and flowers. NGA is an organization of gardeners. At their headquarters they have demonstration gardens enabling people to view many of the things they address on their web site.

We first visit their American cottage garden. A cottage garden has a variety of different kinds of plants, it has annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees. All blend together providing color from spring to fall. This is an American garden versus an English garden because it has a lot of native American plants. It features unusual items like Pagoda Dogwood and Cimicifuga, these are plants that naturally grow in North America. The plants change in this garden from year to year, just like in others gardens. Some things make it, some don't. Every year they're replanting, moving things around and dividing plants that may have gotten too big. Every year it has different colors, shapes and textures. A lot of annuals self sow themselves, so although starting with a small patch of annuals, these plants just keep moving around the garden, showing up in different places. Some may be unwanted, often they won't look the same as their parents. Nacotiana is a good example. Charlie started with one color, it self sowed, was thinned but the next year because of crossing the new plants are a blend of white, pink and red. This pattern works wonderfully for NGA but if one were more controlling it could create problems. If looking for surprises in the garden, use reseeding annuals like Nacotiana, Flowering Tobacco, or Cleomi. Both are large, good sized plants and reseed prolifically, in fact the second and third year you may have to pull out more than you plant. This far north the flowering Dogwoods don't grow, instead Pagoda Dogwood grows in the wild. It is known for its' branch structure, similar to a Japanese tree. It has beautiful white flowers in the spring and purple berries in mid summer. It's a wonderful wildlife shrub, birds enjoy the berries, eventually stripping them all. In the fall its' leaves turn a nice maroon. It has 3 even 4 seasons of interest if one counts the sculptural effect of the bark and habit.

A lot of times in a perennial border the plants are small, they may be only one or two feet tall. Bug Bane or Snake Root grows well this far north and it grows to 6 to 7 feet tall with huge inflorescences. It smells something like moth balls, very pleasant. There is a white version and a purple version, the latter is called Black Negligee. It adds a nice contrast, especially when used in the back of a border garden. When combined with brighter colored annuals in the front of the garden it really shows off all the plants. As well if there is interesting architecture behind the garden, if this plant is used at the back of the border garden, it looks open and airy and allows one to see all the neat stuff behind it and it provides some vertical interest. Once the flowers have gone, the seed pods can be cut and used in dried flower arrangements.

Day Lilies, Hemerocallis, some people even call them Tiger Lilies will grow almost anywhere - shady soil, clay soil, wet soil and dry soil. In all conditions they will send up a beautiful flower stalk. They are called Day Lilies because they open for one day, but there are so many buds in each scape that the flowers or color will last for a week or two. A scape is what holds all the flowers up on top of the plant. The buds are edible, in fact many Chinese stores have bags of dried Day Lilly blossoms. They can used in stir fries and other dishes. One variety has particularly big flowers, they are Tetriploid, meaning that they are bred to have larger flowers than native Day Lilies. A particularly hot or trendy variety has a puckering petal.

The Turks Cap is a true Lily, in the Lilium family. It is very unusual because the Lily flowers point down and they form in a cluster. The individual flowers look like a turks cap. The difference between a Hemerocallis and the Lilium is that the Lilium is grown from a bulb. It is something planted in the spring or fall. The Hemerocallis is a more traditional perennial that is grown from the roots and crown. Both are easy to move and typically bloom the next season after moving. Lilium Lilies are a little more problematic - for them dig a good sized hole and mix in some compost. If Voles or Chipmunks are a problem, protect around the bulb, however once established they'll spread and naturalize in the garden.

If interested in Lilies that face up, enabling the flowers to be enjoyed, try Asiatic Lilies. They have the same kind of growth, they have a bulb, they'll naturalize and then spread throughout the garden. Asiatic Lilies grow in clusters, the first buds open, then others continue to open for a week or two. Other varieties have interesting colors, but some are almost harsh - reds, oranges, strong yellows. These provide a softer touch in the garden, more of a pastel.

Siberian Catmint is related to the mint family because it has square stems. It tolerates just about any kind of soil and has beautiful blue flowers that last for weeks. It attracts insects, has a nice fragrance and is a no-maintance plant. It just keeps growing and growing. It will spread, but not up and over a garden, just in nice clumps. Charlie will cut this plant back later in the summer and divide it and possibly move it around the garden.

Also, in this garden Charlie has a White Phlox; David Phlox is the name of this variety. It is Powdery Mildew resistant. Since there is plenty of moisture in the middle of summer Powdery Mildew can be a concern.

Getting color close to the house can often be a problem. Charlie has utilized a saddle-type container that fits over either a 2x4 ledge or another type will fit over a 2x6. It holds extra soil in the deep saddle bags allowing the roots of plants to grow deeper and the extra volume allows a good number of plants to grow. It fits snugly on the railing, never blows off and shouldn't tip over. It's a good way to get great looking color around the porch.

The Burlington Garden Club has planted a butterfly garden. Its' purpose is to attract butterflies and is in the shape of a butterfly. In the planting bed are plants that will either attract adult butterflies or be a food source for the larva stage, the caterpillar stage. Parsley is in one big row of the garden and is used to feed the baby caterpillars. It is great for Black Swallow Tail Butterflies as well as a number of other species. They lay their eggs, then the caterpillars feed on the parsley, eventually pupate and turn into adult butterflies. Alyssum is also used, it is a nectar plant for the adult butterfly. They love to feed on it as well. A lot of butterflies migrate through this part of the country, thus it is advantageous to have flowers from spring to fall, as long as possible, to attract them. Thus they have the Alyssum, Poppies that are blooming, different Mallows, Daylilies, Rudbeckias all are plants that either bloom at different times or periodically through the summer. There is always a nectar source.

The Double Poppy, a Bread Seed Poppy, is a beautiful plant. They self sow, once in the garden they are going to be all over the place. Not only does the flower look good but the seedpod, a nice dark brown, is also attractive. It can be cut and brought indoors and used in flower arrangements.

For over 70 years the horticultural industry has gotten together and tried out new varieties of vegetables and annual flowers all across the country. These trials are called all American Selections. Each year awards are given to the best plants. When a plant wins it has performed well in every part of the country - the west, the north, etc. It isn't necessarily the best plant for every part of the country, it has adapted well to many areas. Each plant is unique, it has something different, something that makes the plant a step above its' brothers and sisters. There are All American Trial Gardens and All American Display Gardens. This is an All American Display Garden, there are only a handful of Trial Gardens where they evaluate plants, but many Display Gardens across the country. NGA has one. If you wanted the latest, hottest, best plant, come and take a look.

We look at several of the plants in this garden. First is Purple Majesty Millet. It is unique because it is actually a Millet but has purple leaves which are striking. It sends out a flower head which is also purple. Once the seeds start maturing flocks of birds will visit and enjoy the Millet seed. It is a great wildlife plant, nice dark foliage, can be used in a container with bright colored cascading plants or grown in a bed in mass. Purple is in this year, thus very popular. Geranium, this one is called Black Velvet, is planted in the front of this bed and is a nice compliment to the Purple Millet. It was a winner several years ago in the All American Selection Trials. It has purple leaves in the center and green scalloping on the edges. One of Dr. Rick's favorite plants for hot, dry locations is Portulocca, whose common name is Moss Rose. This variety is Marginata, it has very bright, coral colored flowers which stand out against the green foliage. It is interesting that it does this well in Vermont since it likes sandy, hot conditions, even more unusual because it has been a cool, rainy summer in Vermont. Agastash in the south is treated as a tender perennial but is an annual in this area. This is called Golden Jubilee and is unique because it has pale or lime green leaves which are a great contrast to its' blue flowers.

If you have poor soil or heavy soil one of the best strategies to improve that soil is with a raised bed. It provides the needed height for well drained soil. There is now a raised-bed kit available, the kit consists of a spike that goes into the ground, then attached are plastic side boards. It can be filled with good garden soil or compost material to provide a well-drained area. It's a good solution for dealing with poor growing conditions.

Charlie shows us another garden at NGA. It is an heirloom garden and is named Grandma and Grandpa Garden. Here they're attempting to recreate what a garden might have looked like at the turn of the century. There are vegetables and flowers in this garden that would have been grown in Vermont around the 1900's. Many gardeners have expressed an interest in heirlooms, those old-time plants that have unique characteristics. Tomatoes are an example, most people know about red, yellow or cherry tomatoes. Many don't know that heirloom varieties come in all different shapes and colors. For example there are purple and striped varieties. Who doesn't remember the taste of vegetables years ago. The same is true for flowers. Flowers of old had a big, airy look to them. Many of the new varieties are wonderful but we're loosing some of the older varieties. Breeders are actually getting into the act and starting to breed some of the older with the newer varieties; all with the goal of combining the good traits of the modern hybrid but preserving some traits of the older heirlooms. People often think vegetables when they think of heirlooms because back then it was important to grow plants that would produce reliably. The settlers were dependent on their own food production because they needed food to eat. One of the best tasting old tomatoes is Brandy Wine, it's a potato leafed tomato. When compared with others the leaf looks more like a potato than a tomato. The fruit, however, is great tasting. The Broccoli in this garden is an heirloom from Italy but was grown in Vermont during the turn of the century. Immigrants brought it over and is called 'De Cicco. The head is not as big and full as one would find in a grocery today. Oakleaf Lettuce looks different. The leaves look literally like an Oak leaf. It was a variety that people grew for many generations. The Beets and Radishes in this garden are huge. All the heirloom vegetables have unique, interesting flavors.

The National Gardening Association sits on 100 acres of land. The gardens are cultivated close to the buildings but further out they're trying more naturalized gardens. Many people have large pieces of land and don't know what to do with it. Wildflowers are a good answer. NGA has a wildflower garden started last year and sits on about one acre. It was fairly simple to get established, they had a farmer come in, plow it under, then harrow it to break up the sod, then a few days before it rained sprinkled wildflower seeds all around. Since they're in the Northeast they used a Northeast mix to ensure wild flowers that are adapted to this climate and region. Always find wildflowers that are native to your part of the country, that will help them get established. There are some annuals in the mix that will provide color the first year, but importantly there are also biannuals and perennials included that will continue to provide color for years on end. After the fall, after they're through flowering, come through and mow it down with a brush hog or a lawn mower. That spreads some of the seeds around so they'll come back the next year, plus it helps keep the weeds and grasses at bay. It's a beautiful, open area that looks spectacular. Even the Queen Anne's Lace and the Thistles that weren't sown provide a lot of color in this field.

Thanks Charlie, we've learned a lot today. And, thanks for telling us about the National Gardening Association. Charlie invites everyone to join them next April for National Garden Month and encourages everyone to visit their web site .

Links ::

The Inn at Essex
National Gardening Association

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