Charlie’s Mid May Newsletter

Colorful, Tasty Nasturtiums, Summer Bulbs for Foliage, Globe Artichokes and Spring Container Video 

Bartzella peonySit down, take some deep breaths, close your eyes for 5 minutes and relax. That’s my mantra for this time of year in the garden. Yes, spring is in full tilt in our zone 5 garden. Between working, traveling (yes, I’m starting to speak, in-person, at talks again!), and planting and caring for our landscape and garden, there seems to be little opportunity to stop. But it is essential to take breaks, assess where you are in your garden chore list and enjoy this moment of spring. It is delightful and it’s important not to forget that amidst all the activity.

Nasturtiums are a favorite annual flower in our garden. Not only are they beautiful plants in mounding or climbing forms, but the the leaves and flowers are edible and the flowers emit a scent that thwarts squash bugs and vine borers in your garden. I talk about growing nasturtiums in this newsletter.

forget me not flowerIt’s almost time to plant our summer bulbs. While gladiolus, canna lilies and calla lilies get most of the attention, there are other summer bulbs that feature flowers, but more importantly, beautiful foliage. I highlight those in this newsletter, as well.

Globe artichokes are a favorite vegetable and I’m always surprised at how easy they are to grow. Getting the right variety, planting at the right time and keeping them watered and fed is important. If you’re up for it, you’ll be rewarded with a crop of fresh artichokes to steam and enjoy. I talk about growing artichokes here.

I’ve given lots of talks on container gardening this year and just finished taping a new Gardening in New England with Charlie Nardozzi, Spring Edition for Connecticut Public Television. It will be availbel to watch in mid-June. Here’s a little sample from last year’s show on creating a spring flower container to enjoy.

So, take time to enjoy the season, especially if you live in a Northern climate where spring goes by quickly.

Until next time, I’ll be seeing you in the garden.


Charlie & Sharon


Where to Find Charlie:(podcasts, TV and in-person)

How to Grow: Nasturtiums

nasturtiumsNasturtiums are delightful, summer, annual flowers that love warm temperatures, water and sunshine. Plant seeds after all danger of frost has passed and they will pop up quickly and start flowering soon afterward. There are many different varieties of nasturtiums with interesting flower and leaf colors. I like mounding varieties for growing in beds next to other flowers. ‘Peach Melba’ only grows 10- to 14-inches tall and wide making it perfect for a garden or container. The peach colored flowers have raspberry markings in the flower’s throat. ‘Black Velvet’ is another mounding type with dark burgundy colored flowers. The ‘Fiesta Blend’ series of nasturtiums features a variety of flower colors that are unique because they have contrasting colors splashed across their leaves. If you like like climbers, try the ‘Single Flower Blend’ with vines that trail up a fence or down, out of a window box. They do need support to climb. Finally, the ‘Alaska Series’ features variegated leaves to go along with the colorful flowers. This heirloom will delight your guests.

nasturtiumRegardless of the variety you’re growing, start nasturtium seeds indoors about 1 month before your last frost date, or direct sow seeds into the garden once the soil warms. Nick the seeds and soak them in warm water the night before planting to haste germination. Nasturtium plants are frost sensitive, so don’t rush the planting out. Plant nasturtiums among other annual or perennial flowers, in containers or near vegetables to help with pest controls. Recent research has shown that nasturtiums planted next to summer and winter squash deterred squash bugs and borers from finding the plants, reducing the insect’s attacks. You’ll have to plant the trailing or sprawling types of nasturtiums around your squash to get the best effect.

nasturtium saladOnce the plants start flowering, take the opportunity to pick a few flowers for salads, soups or just fresh eating. Nasturtium flowers and leaves have a peppery flavor that surprises those who have never eaten them before. Don’t worry about over harvesting. Once established, nasturtiums will produce an abundance of blooms and picking them will stimulate more flower production.

Don’t over fertilize nasturtiums or you’ll get lots of leaves, and few flowers or later blooming flowers. If your plants get attacked by aphids or other insects, you can simply cut them back and they will regrow.

In warmer climates, such as California, nasturtiums self-sow readily and can become a weed. To prevent nasturtiums from dropping seed, deadhead flowers regularly. 

Go here for more on growing nasturtiums

Botanical Interests






Summer Bulbs for Foliage

caladiumWhile canna lilies and gladiolus get much of the attention in the world of summer bulbs, there are a number of other bulbs that can be planted now and will give you beautiful color. We might get easily seduced by colorful flowers on our cannas, bulb lilies and gladiolus plants, but there are some unusual summer bulbs that feature gorgeous foliage. The benefit of beautiful foliage is it lasts from spring until fall and, unlike flowers, doesn’t ever stop performing.

Caladium bulbs are probably some of the best know summer bulbs for foliage. ‘Tapestry’ is a heart-shaped leaf type that grows 2- to 3-feet tall. It features cream colored leaves with red veins and a green edge. ‘Red Flash’ is another heart-shaped variety with brilliant, red leaves. It grows only 1- to 2- feet tall.  Caladiums grow best in warm temperatures in part to full shade depending on your location. If the leaves are getting scroched in midsummer, they are getting too much light. Caladiums like moisture and look best if deadheaded regularly. Avoid diseases by planting in well-drained soil.

Elephant ears colocasiaElephant Ear colocasia is a tropical bulb that produces large leaves and plants. They give your garden a jungle look come midsummer. Some varieties of elephant ears colocasia, such as ‘Hawaiian Punch’ feature colorful leaves, too. This variety only grows 2- to 3-feet tall, has arrow-shaped green leaves with stunning red stems. It’s a perfect variety for a container on a deck or patio, too.

Naked Ladies For an autumn surprise that has nothing to do with foliage, try one of the fall blooming lilies. I’m mostly talking about colorful foliage on these bulb plants. However, the Naked Ladies and red flowered Nerine lilies are amaryllis relatives from South Africa that are quite unusual. In spring the bulbs grow foliage that dies back by summer. Then in early fall, once you’ve forgotten about these bulbs, they send up flower stalks that bloom in bright colors. What a delight! The pink flowered, Naked Ladies come back consistently every year in our zone 5 garden.

Many of these bulbs are tropical in origin, so there’s no need to rush them into cold soil. They may just rot. Also, unless you live in a warm winter climate, you’ll have to lift and store Elephant ears, caladiums and Nerine lilies for winter in a cool basement. Here’s more on overwintering bulbs. Plant these unusual bulbs in places that will highlight the dramatic foliage or surprising fall flowers. Have fun. These are bulbs that are meant to expand the look and feel of your garden.

Learn more about caladiums here


How to Grow: Globe Artichoke
globe artichokesI remember the first time I grew globe artichokes in our Vermont garden. I had been in California and fell in love with the artichoke plants and flower buds. Not only did I love eating globe artichokes, the plants are attractive and dramatic in the garden. After some searching I found seed of  ‘Imperial Star’. This is a good variety for the North. I started them indoors and gave them the required cold treatment in early spring to trick them into blooming the first year. It worked and we enjoyed fresh, green artichokes that summer. You can also grow the heirloom Italian artichoke varieties are have some red coloring on the petals.

artichoke flowersNow, it’s much easier to grow globe artichokes. Many garden centers and nurseries offer transplants that have been chilled already so all you have to do is plant! The chilling is necessary because globe artichokes are biennials under normal circumstances. In California they plant artichokes in fall, let them grow slowly all winter and harvest in spring and summer. In Vermont, they’d never survive the winter (even though some sprout from their roots in spring), so they need about 1 to 2 weeks of temperatures between 35F and 50F degrees to trick them into flowering.

red artichokesIt’s the flower bud that we eat and we usually get 6 or 7 nice sized artichokes per plant. Sometimes we’ll let a few buds mature into flowers. Globe artichokes reveal their genetics because they are in the thistle family. The flower looks like a large, purple thistle flower and is quite dramatic.

I also love the silver green, sword-like foliage. Cardoon is related to globe artichokes but usually doesn’t produce a flower. It also has this beautiful foliage. Both plants look great in a flower garden and we often plant some glove artichokes next to Echinacea, black eyed Susans and daylilies.

Grow globe artichokes in full sun on well-drained soil. Feed them compost to get them started and side dress with an organic fertilizer mid season, to keep the “chokes” coming. Globe artichokes have few pests and problems.

Learn more about growing glove artichokes here

In Our Garden: Creating a Spring Flower Container Garden Video

flower container videoFor a little treat, here is a sample video from my 2020 Gardening in New England with Charlie Nardozzi show for Connecticut Public Television. I recently returned from Connecticut where we shot the 2021 version of this show. That one will be available to view at starting in mid-June.

In this Creating a Spring Flower Container Garden video I highlight all the different types of containers that are on the market now. I talk about clay, plastic, metal, fleece, wood and polyurethane containers giving advantages and disadvantages of each type. I also talk about potting soils and how to choose the best one for the containers you’re using and plants you’re growing.

flower containerThen, I talk about flower garden design in a container. I highlight the “thriller, filler and spiller” technique and talk about plants for sun and shade. I wrap it up talking about fertilizing, watering, and caring for overgrown containers.

It’s a lotta fun shooting these TV specials because it gives me plenty of time to get into the details of a gardening topic. So, enjoy this 10+ minute long Creating a Spring Flower Container Garden video from 2020, and be on the lookout for the 2021 show where I talk more about containers, but also about no-dig gardening, pollinator gardening, pruning hydrangeas, propagating rhododendrons and kids gardening. Enjoy! 

Watch my Creating a Spring Flower Container Garden Video here 



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