Gardener’s Winter Ramble

Contributed by Laura Wilson, HVGA co-founder

Winter may be chilly and dark but, for me, it’s as special a garden season as all the others.

IMG_4710For sure there are many things to miss. More than the smell and touch of soil and plants, my body misses exercise and being on the move. This year I’m also really missing my compost pile. I tried a new countertop container this year, and more kitchen scraps got composted than ever!

While winter is the least challenging physically for the gardener, it can be the most ambitious mentally and creatively – when I can diligently challenge and grow my gardening brain. Thoughtfulness is a gardening trait I value most highly and strive to cultivate.

The forced slow-down of winter is a welcome time to reflect and dream – which doesn’t always happen despite our best intentions in-season. All of this sitting quietly must help us absorb the new ideas, information and techniques winter reading brings – to be put into action naturally when back in the garden come spring.

IMG_4286In the past, winter would leave a trail of garden plan sketches and plant lists throughout the house. But grand plans have been put on hold for our home garden, and focus is instead on my adored community garden plot where I play with maximizing vegetable, greens, herb and cut flower production with a potager-style emphasis on making it pretty. Fun!

48-Purple-Pac-choiThis year I’m especially excited to try growing purple pak choi, Calendula “Lemon Cream, the classic “Black Seeded Simpson” lettuce and my first attempt at growing melons with “Jenny Lind”. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for next year’s plot had all seeds ordered before the year ended – so now what? With garden plan-making and seed ordering already done, I’ve had time to seek out and enjoy garden inspiration in other ways.

LivingLandscapeBooks on my nightstand, some new, and some long waiting to be read include:
- The New American Herbal by Stephen Orr;
- Rick Darke & Doug Tallamy’s The Living Landscape;
- Heaven is Garden from Garden Fair lecturer, Jan Johnsen;
- and still sitting around from Christmas 2013 – The Layered Garden by David Culp. This is the kind of “homework” I like!

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 1.01.03 PMGarden videos and podcasts are my go-to way to make loathed tasks, like dishwashing, into a pleasure and I’ve recently seen a handful of videos that are well worth watching.
- Growing a Greener World features Margaret Roach on Making A Garden For the Birds
- The Queen’s Garden, recently shown on PBS
- Life in a Cottage Garden with Carol Klein follows British gardener through four seasons.

TOpiaryEach new garden season begins with a short list of new things to to try, which will mostly serve as a written reminder of the big ideas I dream up all winter. Goals for this season include:
- An annual attempt to compose and grow the Best. Containers. Ever.
- Perhaps this will be the year I get to play with propagating?
- 2015 feels like the perfect time to start a topiary collection.
- And, if I have to write it on my forehead in magic marker as a reminder, I will finally make pickles.

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 1.21.29 PMGarden visits and seeing new plants is truly the best way to learn more about gardening and grow as a gardener. The second list I make is of new-to-me gardens and nurseries to visit, and events to attend. Here’s how it’s looking so far for 2015:
- Garden tours: Middletown Garden Lovers Tour and Rondout Valley Garden Tour
- Nurseries to visit: Willow Ridge Nursery in Fishkill; Claire’s naumkeag-stepsGarden Center in Patterson, Green Bee Greenhouse in Cornwallville; Well-Sweep Herb Farm in NJ (And every year I ask myself “Will I ever get to Logee’s?)
- Gardens to visit: Berkshire Botanical Garden, Naumkeag and The Mount; Untermyer Gardens; Opus 40; and Innisfree when the primula are in bloom
- Events to attend: Stonecrop’s Alpine Plant Sale; Mountain Laurel Festival at Broken Arrow Nursery; Vanderbilt Garden Victorian Tea (I can’t wait to make a bombastic garden ladies hat! Though not required.).

Realistically, I’ll get to at least 50% of the places shown above. Trying to get to a only few IMG_1577new gardens or events each year has worked well for me. If you’re in need of a garden resolution for 2015, try and remember: sometimes you need to just leave the weeds at home and head out for some garden outing fun!

So don’t let the ice get you down. This style of winter “gardening” leaves me feeling happy, charged-up, ready to hit the thawed ground running – no matter how long it takes spring IMG_4314to get here – and, as always, knowing that this season is going to be the best yet.

In between plant shopping, garden touring, list making and HVGA planning, Laura Wilson gardens in Wallkill, NY and at the Town of Montgomery Community Garden. 

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Field Trip: The Butchart Gardens (Victoria, BC)

Contributed by Anita Whelan, HVGA member


In August 2014 I took a tour through the Canadian Rockies, and a stop at The Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC Canada towards the end was the focus of my trip.


The Butchart Gardens were started in 1904, when Mrs. Jenny Butchart created five spectacular gardens (Sunken, Japanese, Rose, Italian and Mediterranean gardens) to beautify her husband’s excavated limestone quarry on the outskirts of town. Some one million bedding plants blossom yearly, showcasing 700 plant varieties. The Gardens are still owned and operated by the family and continues the horticultural excellence and welcoming traditions of Jennie Butchart. In 2004, the Gardens (in bloom for 100 years) were designated a National Historic Site of Canada.


When you approach the Sunken Garden and look down at all the plants and colors it is breathtaking, as is the Rose Garden, and all the hanging baskets, planters. Each of the five gardens are unique in themselves, I could not pick a single favorite.


You are given a flower and plant guide when entering so you can look up the names of the unusual plants.


Victoria’s climate is mild and perfect for rare species of plants as well as year-long growing. I personally did not have enough time to just sit and savor it all, so would suggest a full day there, it is well worth the trip.


I have visited many gardens here in the East, both public and private, large and small. I also visited some gardens when we toured Ireland, which is so lush and green, with fuchsia growing along the roadways. The Butchart Gardens was such a joy to see, I hope to someday go back again. (Maybe its a trip HVGA could plan?)

The Butchart Gardens
800 Benvenuto Avenue
Brentwood Bay, British Columbia
V8M 1J8

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Anita Whelan has lived in Hyde Park for over 40 years and has been gardening on her own property for about that long.  She is a FW Vanderbilt Garden Association volunteer, active member of Hudson Valley Garden Association and loves growing perennials with lots of colorful annual fill-ins, as well as flowers to cut and brighten inside too.

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My Three Season Vegetable Garden

Contributed by Barbara Bravo, Garden Coach and Ulster Master Gardener

Copy of DSCN0348 (1)

One of the most rewarding experiences I have had has been growing my own veggies.  Over the years my vegetable garden has provided me and my family with delicious, fresh, pesticide-free vegetables and salad greens, and best of all, no further away from the kitchen than a short casual stroll.

During the summer season of plenty, there is always enough to pick to make supper, but what about spring and fall; what about early winter?  With planning and forethought it is possible to harvest fresh from the garden.  Admittedly, choices change with the seasons especially here in the northeast but what a thrill to go into the late season garden as temperatures begin to plunge to gather kale, pull some carrots or carefully mulched leeks from the soil.

New Garden 2 (2)Earlier in the season as we wait on Mother Nature to signal that spring is on the way, we can get a jump on things by sprouting the seeds of cool weather crops in any number of ways in preparation for early planting.  Using the power of “know how” we can grow food seasonally and we can be weeks ahead, ready to plant the moment the soil temperatures are within range for success. Along with “know how” and proper selection of crop varieties, there are tools that are helpful when planning succession planting and season extenders that are key to protecting your seedlings from sudden spring frosts.

harvest800As I while away the winter months sitting by the woodstove in my favorite chair looking over all those wonderful catalogs that come in the mail, I’ll be looking for some new varieties of my favorite veggies to eat as well as some Asian greens that I have yet to try.  I noticed a crack-resistant, indeterminate cherry tomato from one of my favorite suppliers and that is high on my list, and a mini-sized, 1-2 lb. Butternut squash that looks very tempting because it grows on compact plants (a consideration for limited space), and then there’s those Asian greens that will last well into the cold weather yielding fresh greens for salads and the soup pot.  Hmmm.  Maybe Miners Lettuce, a very cold hardy salad green that I meant to try last year.

Through curiosity, trial and error as well as my training as a master gardener volunteer for Ulster County Cornell Cooperative Extension, I’ve garnered information about successful vegetable gardening that I’ve put into practice for more than 25 years. As much as I’ve learned I find that every year brings new challenges and experiences, and that is just the way I like it.

I’ll be talking about succession planting and how to get the most out of your garden, on Sunday, February 8 at 10 am as part of HVGA’s Winter Lecture series  - join us!

Johnnys2015catalogMy Favorite Catalogs for Vegetable Seeds
Territorial Seed Company - excellent seed quality
Johnny’s Selected Seeds - excellent seed quantity for large gardens
Totally Tomatoes - the largest selection of tomato seeds
Pinetree Seeds - packages small quantities of seed
Baker’s Creek Heirloom Seed Co. - fascinating


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HVGA Winter Lecture Series
Three Season Vegetable Gardening

Sunday, February 8 , 2015; 10am-11am
Marbletown Community Center, 3564 Main St. (Rt. 209), Stone Ridge, NY
$10 non-members / $5 members
Register here

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Barbara turning compost800Barbara Bravo,
Garden Coach & Master Gardener 

Barbara has more than 25 years experience gardening where the wildlife is plentiful and where she continues to learn peaceful co-existence. Her garden was featured on the Saugerties Secret Gardens Tour. When not in the garden, she may be found working in her studio creating handmade tiles and nature inspired pottery.

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