Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

November 2011

Don’t get me wrong. I like turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy as much as anyone. My expanding waistline is weighty evidence. But this year for Thanksgiving dinner, I’ll stray from the bland beige foods of my Midwest upbringing by adding to the holiday table a rainbow of fruits and vegetables from my garden. Red and yellow will come from heirloom tomatoes still ripening on the workbench in my garage, despite a killing freeze almost a month ago. Baked ‘Georgia Jet’ sweet potatoes from the root cellar provide a splash of orange. Green will come from parsley and ‘Panther’ cauliflower. I harvested the last of the ‘Panther’ cauliflower (more chartreuse green than forest green) and purple ‘Graffiti Hybrid’ cauliflowers a week ago, but they’re holding well in the fridge. Blue was the most difficult color to introduce, and I’ll admit that I’m stretching it a bit by using frozen black chokeberries harvested earlier this fall. (Blueberries and blue/black raspberries never made it to the freezer. They were devoured as soon as they were harvested!)

Will colorful fruits and veggies will grace your Thanksgiving table? If not, consider planting some next year to perk up your plate with diverse hues. After all, the first seed catalogs arrived this week. It will soon be time to place seed orders for next year’s colorful feast.

By harvesting green mature tomatoes and ripening them in the dark, I often have fresh tomatoes well into December.

'Furry Yellow Hog' is a blocky yellow heirloom tomato with fuzzy skin and mild flavor.

'Georgia Jet' sweet potatoes have reddish skin and deep orange flesh.

Curled parsley is a decorative garnish that also works well to cleanse the palate.

'Graffiti Hybrid' cauliflower is a gorgeous lavender purple alternative to plain white cauliflower.

Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) looks like blueberries, and has some of the same tang as cranberries.

A CBS affiliate (KCAL) in Southern California reported today that the city of Glendale has banned artificial grass.

If you’re like me, the first thought you had after seeing that was: They banned it because it’s tacky.

Not so fast. The reason given (according to KCAL) by city officials? Harmful chemicals used in the artificial turf. There’s more than a little irony in that. California is known for its greater-than-average concern over environmental pollutants. Which is why the anti-lawn/lawn chemical movement is particularly strong there. So you’d think a substitute for lawns, one that didn’t require all the fertilizers and weed killers, would be welcomed.

Interestingly, artificial turf is only banned in Glendale’s front yards, not backyards.  Which brings us back to Reason #1.

I have mixed feelings about artificial turf. I love real lawn, and couldn’t dream of not having at least a small patch of it to run around on. But it does take work, and it does consume resources. Artificial turf doesn’t. So I understand the appeal, or outright necessity, for some people. And the new versions available now are not the weird, yucky looking stuff of the 1970s (which still taints the whole concept, I think). Artificial turf can be quite realistic—from a distance, the giveaway is only that it’s too uniform, too perfect. Frankly, I thought it would have caught on more by now, given the greater push for water-stingy landscapes and more eco-friendly living.

I guess it’s the power of the fake = tacky mindset.  Somehow it’s not honest. Or something. Like toupees, to which artificial lawns are sometimes compared. (There’s even a company called Toupee Lawns, in Tuscon.) But by the standards used to judge real turf, artificial lawn looks great. It’s uniform, it’s green, it’s tidy-looking. It’s also extremely practical, not to mention eco-friendly. But it’s been labeled as tacky in our collective mindset, and that’s a tough reputation to shake. Too bad. The lawn in the photo below is fake. How upset would you be living next to that?






My favorite tool for fall garden clean up is apparently no longer made by Fiskars. It’s a long-handled power lever swivel shears. They do make a long-handled swivel-head grass shears, but it doesn’t have the same leverage or cutting power as this tool. They also manufacture power lever hedge shears that make cuts just as easily as my favorite, but you have to bend down to ground level to cut off old stems with it.

I recently made short work of cutting back amsonia, miscanthus, catmint, ornamental oregano, and just about any other non-woody perennial that needed it by using the power lever swivel trimmer. It’s a good thing that Fiskar tools are well made. I’m hoping that this tool lasts a lifetime, because I may not be able to get a replacement.

This trimmer made quick work of cutting back thick amsonia stems this fall.

While trimming back frosted foliage this past weekend, I noticed quite a few annuals and perennials that had survived the fall freezes. I had to admire their tenacity! Here are a dozen flowers that were still attractive in my yard earlier this week. I’ll soon see whether they bounce back after the 4 inches of snow that covered the garden last night!

'Walker's Low' catmint

'James Galway' rose

Verbena canadensis

Snow Princess sweet alyssumTwinny Peach snapdragon

Scabiosa 'Vivid Violet'

Salvia plumosa

'Pomegranate' yarrow

'Glamour Red' flowering kale

Chrysanthemum 'Cool Igloo'

Viola 'Endurio Sky Blue'


Lamium 'Anne Greenaway'

October glory red maple colors later than most varieties of the species. This one in my yard is surrounded by Limelight hydrangea.

The fall color display in central Iowa has been spectacular this year. Just the right combination of warm, sunny days and cool, but above-freezing temperatures at night, along with a little stress from the driest September and October in six decades led to glorious golds, outstanding oranges, and rich reds. Yesterday’s rain and wind brought down quite a few leaves, but some trees will hold their color for a few more days, or even weeks in the case of many oaks and callery pears.

These ginkgo trees outside my office are at peak color. They'll all drop their leaves within a few days.

Before long, the brilliant foliage colors will be gone. Then I’ll have to be content with the memories and photos of the autumnal fireworks show. Fortunately, Timber Press sent me a new tool that will help. It’s the latest book from woody plant guru, Michael Dirr. Long regarded as the nation’s foremost expert on trees and shrubs, Dr. Dirr has published a new book that, like his previous Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, draws on his encyclopedic knowledge and years of personal experience with trees and shrubs. However, the new book, Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees & Shrubs, adds thousands of photos to the mix, too.

The cover of Dirr's Encyclopedia of Trees & Shrubs

It’s odd to say that the new 950-page tome is downsized from the previous book, which is nearly 1,200 pages in length. It certainly doesn’t feel less hefty! With the inclusion of so many photos, Dirr had to leave out some of the nerdy horticultural details found in his previous work. For example, the number of red maples and hybrids discussed in the new book is 17 compared to 58 in the previous book. Similarly ginkgo dropped from 40 to 5 varieties, and dawn redwood decreased from 9 to 6 varieties. However, the book is still replete with Dirr’s personal anecdotes and observations. He has updated the book with more recent introductions and dropped some of the more obscure ones. The pictorial displays more than make up for the abbreviated text. And most gardeners will appreciate not having to sift through obscure varieties that they’re not likely to find at the local nursery anyway.

The size of the book makes it impractical to carry around as a field guide, but it will no doubt be a go-to reference for years to come. With a list price of $79.95, the book won’t be an impulse purchase for most. However, the timing of its release is perfect to place it on your Holiday gift wish list.

The dawn redwood in my yard has taken on russet orange hues this fall.

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