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Charlie’s Mid January Newsletter
January continues to be balmy, mostly snow free and unusual in our zone 5 New England garden. It’s a bit concerning, mostly for our plants when the temperatures do decide to drop. It’s nice to have a good snow cover for insulation. But it’s also given me time to order my veggie seeds and plan for some new plantings. Shrubs are tops on our list because of the low maintenance quality of most of them and their 3 or 4 seasons of interest. The two most popular are lilacs and hydrangeas. So while researching what we want to grow, I decided to put together a webinar on Growing Lilacs and Hydrangeas.
My NEW WEBINAR, Growing Lilacs and Hydrangeas will look at the exciting array of lilacs varieties available beyond the traditional purple ones and a broad range of hydrangeas from climbing types to blue hydrangeas to ones good for pollinators. I’ll cover all that along with growing and caring for these wonderful shrubs in my webinar. Read more below.
I noticed our peonies are already showing some shoot growth at the ground level. This warm January has got everyone confused. Peonies are a classic herbaceous perennial that can last for decades in your garden. The flowers are over the top showy and easy to grow. I’m going to focus on the unusual yellow varieties of herbaceous peonies and tree peonies in this newsletter. Read more here.
We just received our first seed order and some of my favorite sweet peppers, ‘Carmen’ and ‘Escamillo’ were in the package. I love growing the Italian, bull’s horn type of sweet pepper. I find they ripen to their mature color faster than bell peppers and there’s such a variety of them on the market. Read about growing sweet peppers in this newsletter.
I’m continuing to highlight some of the truly beautiful gardens we’ll be visiting on our tour of the Gardens of Ireland Tour in June, 2023. While most of the gardens I’ve highlighted so far have been in the Dublin area, we’re also going to the Dingle Peninsula area as well. While there we’ll visit a relatively new botanical garden called Dhu Varren Garden. Started in 2001, it now containers one of the largest and most diverse collection of plants in Ireland. Located in County Kerry it has subtropical as well as cold climate plants. Read more here. Consider joining us on this unique Garden Tour of Ireland. There are only a few spaces left!
Until next time, I’ll be seeing you in the garden.
In the Garden (WCAX-TV CBS) – This week: DIY Bird Feeders
Lilacs and Hydrangeas have got to be two of the most popular shrubs in many landscapes. These plants are hardy, tough, and can flower for decades, if taken care of properly. Because of their popularity, and because I always get so many questions about growing them, I’m offering a new webinar about these shrubs. Growing Lilacs and Hydrangeas Webinar will air live on Wednesday, February 8th, 2023 at 7pm Eastern time. If you won’t be available on February 8th at 7pm to attend the webinar live, don’t worry. I record all my webinars and for everyone who signs up, you’ll get a YouTube link to the talk that you can watch whenever you like, as often as you like. If you attend the live event, you can ask your questions in real time. Don’t worry about writing down all the answers because you’ll also get the recording. You can also send questions in advance of the webinar and I’ll answer them in my talk or afterwards.
I’ll be covering a broad range of topics about these shrubs. I’ll talk about common and unusual lilacs such as the tree lilac, reblooming lilac and yellow flowered lilac. For hydrangeas I’ll cover all the different types. These include climbing hydrangeas, blue hydrangeas, new pink arborescence hydrangeas and hydrangeas to attract pollinators. I’ll talk about hardiness of these shrubs, where in the landscape they will grow best and the best time to plant and transplant them.
I’ll also cover their care. This will include watering, fertilizing, pruning, and pest controls. I’ll answer common questions such as how to get your lilac to bloom again, how can I get my blue hydrangea to bloom earlier and when and how to prune both these shrubs.
So, join me live on February 8th at 7pm Eastern time for my Growing Lilacs and Hydrangeas Webinar, or consider signing up and getting the recording.
How to Grow: Peonies
Peonies are herbaceous perennials that offer quite a splash of color in the landscape. When they bloom in late spring and early summer, it’s hard not to stop and gauck at them. They are that gorgeous. We’re all familiar with the white, pink and red versions of herbaceous peonies. They certainly are showy and fragrant, depending on the variety. But I wanted to take a minute and talk about a few unusual types as well.
Herbaceous peonies are colorful, but those colors have tended to stay in the white, pink and red range, until a few decades ago. That’s when breeders crossed the herbaceous peony with a tree peony. Tree peonies are woody versions of this plant and they have the unique DNA to produce yellow colored flowers. By crossing the herbaceous and tree peonies, breeders created an herbaceous peony with yellow flowers. Wow! These Itoh hybrids, named after the famous peony breeder, grow as well as other colored herbaceous peonies, but have showy single or double petaled yellow flowers.
There are now a number of different varieties on the market. ‘Canary’s Brilliants’ has fluffy, double, yellow flowers with red centers. The flowers have a slight fragrance as well. This productive peony can produce 30+ flowers once established. ‘Garden Treasure’ has citron yellow colored flowers with red centers and a lemony fragrance. It has strong stems so doesn’t need support. ‘Bartzella’ is a long time classic, yellow peony. The 8-inch diameter, yellow flowers have a citrusy fragrance. It’s a great flower in the garden and for cutting for indoors as well. There are some non-Itoh hybrids that offer coral colored flowers as well such as ‘Pink Hawaiian Coral’ and ‘Coral Charm’.
The keys to growing peonies successfully are sun, well-drained soil and mulch. Peonies need full sun to bloom their best, In fact, one common question I get is why have my peonies stopped blooming. Since they are such long lived plants, often trees and shrubs grow up around them providing too much shade for your peony. The solution is to move them. The time to transplant existing peonies is in the fall. Find a sunny spot on well-drained soil, dig a good sized hole and carefully dig up and move your peony. Make sure the crown of the plant is no more than 1- to 2- inches below the soil line or they may not bloom.
Keep newly moved or planted peonies well watered the first year. Once established they should be fine unless you have a drought. We like to add wood chips around the base of peonies to conserve soil moisture, keep weeds away and add fertility as the wood chips decompose. Herbaceous peonies also need support. The flowers often get so big they will flop over in a rain storm. Use peony rings or chicken wire cages placed around plants as they start growing, to help them stay vertical.
Tree peonies are a little more tender than herbaceous peonies and slower growing, but love the same growing conditions. They leaf out later in spring and flower later than the herbaceous peonies. They are woody shrubs, so don’t cut them back the old growth in spring as you would herbaceous peonies. Because they have woody stems, there’s no need to support the flowers. The woody stems have an interesting shape and structure in winter adding one more season of interest to this plant.
We just had stuffed sweet peppers from our garden last night. No, I’m not kidding. We frozen our colorful yellow and red, Corno di Toro sweet peppers last summer and they make amazing stuffed peppers in winter. I stuff them frozen with rice, beans, cheese and herbs and bake them until they are soft. They still taste sweet, even months later.
The bull’s horn type of sweet peppers are my favorites. I probably could shop around for new varieties to try, because there are lots of them out there, but I’m stuck on two; ‘Carmen’ red pepper and ‘Escamillo’ yellow pepper. These two varieties have produced reliably for me for years. What I like about the Italian frying sweet peppers is they turn their mature color earlier than other sweet peppers I’ve grown. That means a sweeter, more interesting flavor. Come late July in my zone 5 garden I’m eating delicious sweet peppers with bright colors. And they have large enough fruits to stuff.
There are many other Italian sweet pepper varieties available to try, and someday I probably will grown them. I’m intrigued by the Cornitos sweet peppers for their broader color range and smaller fruits and ‘Glow’ for its orange mature color. But for now, I’m happy.
I start our sweet pepper seedlings around the end of March, about 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost in our area. I plant two seeds in a 2-inch diameter pot and thin to the healthiest seedling after germination. Under grow lights the peppers slowly start adding height and width. Once the height of the seedlings are 3 times the diameter of the pot, I transplant into 4-inch diameter pots. This is important because this is when they really start growing strong. Plus, if we have a chilly May, I may delay planting them in the garden. In a larger pot, I can hold them longer.
Peppers are finicky about the weather. When I finally do transplant them into the garden I often place a floating row cover over them, especially if the nights get chilly. Peppers can become stunted in cold weather and it also can slow their flowering. I have tried interplanting peppers with other vegetables, but I found if overcrowded, my pepper fruits rot before maturing. This was do to poor air circulation. So peppers are one of those crops that gets their own bed and wide spacing.
My sweet pepper plants grow strong, produce early and need support. Those old, 3 foot tall, wire tomato cages I purchased years ago come in handy. They’re too small for most tomato varieties but perfect for my peppers. I pop those around each plant when young and when the fruit set gets heavy, they have support. And these varieties do set lots of fruit. I get about 10 to 12 fruits per plant. That’s plenty for fresh eating and freezing. I harvest when they are fully colored and enjoy the sweet flavor.
In our upcoming Tour of the Gardens of Ireland from June 2 to 11, 2023, we’ll be touring gardens around Dublin visiting some famous public and private gardens. But we also will be traveling the countryside and spending time in County Kerry, based in Killarney. This will give us a good sense of life outside the big city and the opportunity to visit some other interesting gardens.
One we’ll stop we’ll make is Dhu Varren Botanical Garden. This garden is the brainchild of locals Mark and Laura Collins. Started in 2001, it has become one of the largest and most diverse private gardens in the country with local and exotic plants brushing up against each other. It’s known as ” Kerry’s Botanical Garden”. The reason there is so much diversity has something to do with the climate Southwest Ireland benefits from the Gulf Stream and the warmer waters moderate the air temperature and allows for more exotic plants to grow. Mark and Laura will take us around and show us some of there beautiful plant combinations.
The 2.5 acre site is very approachable and manageable to tour. Mark has collected plants from New Zealand, Mexico and California to add to their collection of natives and other plants. A boardwalk runs through wetlands and ponds, some with carp frolicking about. There are areas that feature plants from different continents. There are feature gardens highlighting plants such as aloes, cactus and succulents and alpine plants. The plants are also grouped by regions of the world such as Australiasian, Mediterranean, and South American. There’s even a Japanese garden to view as well.
The passion and expertise is evident in the gardens and it will be a delight to tour the grounds with the owners. Photos courtesy of DhuVarrengarden.com.