All posts by Lois Rose

The Peripatetic Gardener Visits the Jersey Shore

by Lois Rose

Jersey Shore?  You gotta be kiddin me.

I am going to refute that impression I hope with a description of a recent trip over Labor Day to Long Beach Island, about two hours south of New York City.  Naturally there was traffic—gimme a break, it was Labor Day weekend. Surprisingly, cars never stopped moving and we arrived in the afternoon at our rental house at the very end of the road on the sand bar island. 

(picture of the lighthouse, then the balcony with chairs overlooking the state park)We were at the edge of the 32 acre Barnegat Lighthouse State Park. Barnegat is from a Dutch word for breakers of which there were apparently many when the light house was constructed to prevent grounding of ships in the area. The light has been restored after many years in darkness, and the original fabulous prisimed light is on display down the block at the museum.


Houses here are raised with many sets of stairs on the outside of buildings between wrap around porches on two floors or more—even on the roof for a great view.

 Older houses do not have the storm surge protection which is now probably required, or at least desired. In our place, bedrooms were on the first floor and kitchen, dining area and living area were on the second.

We were very close to the excellent tram line which ran from several nearby streets to the beach through interesting trees and shrubs and sand happy perennials.


 We could walk fifty feet and jump aboard and be near the crashing—or somewhat modulated breakers—in ten minutes. Some of the family saw dolphins. Sand castles, shore birds, not crowded.

Poison ivy unfortunately flourishes along the tram line.


  There are areas with a wooden board walk but mostly if we didn’t use the tram we walked on shifting sand.  A well-illustrated trail guide near the lighthouse (217 steps up a yellow spiral stair case with not enough room for two large people to pass each other in either direction) was instructive about the usual suspects. 

There was a lot of pitch pine, 

and Russian or Autumn Olive, a seriously invasive plant which curiously is featured in many yards on the island.  I saw few well-tended or diverse plants in the area where we stayed.  I did see a strange juxtaposition of pokeweed and the often planted and flourishing Crape (or Crepe Myrtle) trees. 

 The island forest is dominated by Black Cherry, Sassafras, Eastern Red Cedar, Cedar, and American Holly. 

I found a few beach plums to munch on—as soon as I started eating them a ton of nearby tourists jumped in and finished off the crop. 

I had better luck with the Russian Olive.  I found it on a walk with my granddaughter—stopped and picked enough to make a small recipe. I packed it into a carry on but TSA decided it was suspect and examined it for explosives.  I got it home eventually.

People were very friendly, especially a woman I ran into while walking the baby—again. She was walking with a huge bouquet of fresh cut flowers, and I stopped and started a conversation. I started naming the flowers—some in Latin—and she said, you must be a Master Gardener. Who else would name flowers in Latin, right?  Turned out she was an MG too. She invited us to visit her back yard, meet her husband (reading in their hot tub) and see her fig trees. 

So, I would say that the trip was very pleasant and also informative with some surprises. The Jersey Shore is newly appreciated in our view.


by Lois Rose
Watching the seasons unfold this year after the unusual spring weather has been exciting and puzzling. 
Going back four winters, I am reminded that 2013-14 and 2014-15 were very difficult in terms of extreme and sustained cold.  Many plants that had survived in my garden for decades were damaged severely by the first of these winters.  The second dealt a glancing blow but it did not do as much damage. 
As an example my fig trees which had been in the ground for twenty years and had produced five hundred figs in the summer of 2013, were knocked to the ground. They produced new branches but no figs in 2014.  Last year, 2016, I had a few dozen figs and this year my considerably larger trees are covered with baby figs, much earlier than usual, on their way to ripening in the fall.  Everything in the yard seems to have come in two to three weeks early.

My hardy orange trees, Poncirus trifoliata have a lot of fruit now…small so far, fuzzy green oranges, the first since 2013.  There were flowers last year but no fruit. Again, they flowered a few weeks earlier than usual.

Looking at my other fruit crops, black and red currants started ripening in mid June,weeks ahead. Raspberries were similarly ahead.

I have been doing some research online and asking friends from OSU to find some explanations for the patterns which reflect the weather conditions in this part of Ohio this spring. The mild winter, second in a row, is the foundation of the story..very warm temperatures in January and again in February started the ball rolling.  Plants that had completed their chill hours…needed to set them up for their normal spring routines…were thrust into advancing buds which formed last summer and fall early. Maple trees started to open their signature red flowers a month earlier than usual.  Soil temperatures rose early (get a soil thermometer if you want to be on top of this) and crab grass was ready to germinate in early to mid March (time for pre germination treatment)  earlier than usual. Growing degree days ( moved ahead quickly by March. Then some cool and cold weather slowed things down. May have produced some very cold weather (not unusual) which damaged various plants, especially those that had started to open buds or were in flower. The damaging cold was defined by temperatures at or below freezing for many hours.  Michigan as well as Ohio received a cold spell on May 8 and 9.  But depending on the specific place, its altitude, proximity to water, etc.,the results were varied.

Depending on your garden niche, proximity to the cold lake, how far to the east or west and how high above the lake, snow  cover…all of these things contributed  to the damage or lack thereof to our plant material.
Friends have observed a good crop on their berries, and also on hibiscus, roses,  and many other flowers and shrubs and trees.
I am speculating that the two mild winters, generous amount of rain this spring compared with the three month drought last year…plus the recovery of many plants after two damaging winters..has resulted in this year’s bounty.

In my yard, I  see very little damage after the cold spells in March and May which included freezing  and snow after many plants had been exposed to the warm air and warm ground earlier than usual.  Magnolia stellata had buds covered in frost. Daylilies were bent to the ground as were hellebores
and many other perennials. Yet my magnolia blossomed well, and the hellebores were very floriferous.
On the whole it seems that the outcome has been favorable despite the gyrations and surprises of the spring. Cannot wait to see what is going to happen next year!

Reprise of Phenology for Our Snowy Weather

by Lois Rose
The growing degree days on the phenology calendar ( have accumulated somewhat but slowed down recently due to the cold weather. There is damage to buds that had started to develop by the first of March.  For example, look for crocuses  which have had their petals destroyed or badly damaged.  Snow is a blessing when cold air comes—it insulates the plants on the ground.  It is possible that buds of fruit trees and small fruit like currants which were warmed during February might suffer severe damage from the cold we have been experiencing this week. Time will tell. If you are interested in finding out sooner rather than later, you could cut open a bud and see if it is still green on the inside.  A brown interior is not good. Remember that we almost always have frosts and freezes in this part of Ohio until mid-May.


Inklings of Spring

by Lois Rose
Phenology has become a trending topic—on the national news with the cherry blossoms breaking in Washington a month early.  Here in Cleveland, we can track our own very early blossoms using a link to the phenology calendar by typing in our own zip code to find out what is coming next in the garden. Phenology is the study of events in the garden—biological events in the outdoors—that recur each year and understanding their relationship to weather. People have tracked these events for hundreds of years—perhaps thousands, as in the Bible.  Examples are bird migration, blooming of wildflowers and trees, and appearance of insects, seasonal animal activities for hunting.  
Last year at this time—the beginning of March—we had a different phenological profile—we had not had as much warm weather and plants were not as far along.  These photos were taken on March 1 in Cleveland Heights.  Some of the plants pictured do very well in cold weather—and in fact have been blooming even under snow for months. An example would be hellebores, winter aconite  (yellow blossoms close to the ground ) and snowdrops.  Other plants may be adversely affected by the below freezing temperatures we are sure to experience until the average frost free date in mid-May.  That is two and a half months away. As their buds swell, they are more susceptible to freezes which will damage the cells filled with water.  Insects are also being invited to come out early. The calendar tells you what to expect, for example, tent caterpillars at the ready.
Magnolias have swollen buds—their time to bloom was approaching fast when this recent freeze began.  Forsythia around the city are already starting to bloom as well and this often occurs at the end of March along with the blooming of daffodils. Daffodils are already opening. So, we are definitely experiencing an unusual phenological event here in northeast Ohio.

Planning Your Garden Visits for This Year? Consider Washington DC.

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by Lois Rose

Notes on the United States Botanic Garden

Thought of by George Washington, the garden was established in 1820 and now is administered through the Architect of the Capitol. Its mission is to promote botanical knowledge through cultivation of a collection of plants, to present displays, exhibits and programs to Congress and the public, and to foster sustainability and plant conservation.

The garden is a short distance from the Capitol building. It is not very large, but contains a wide variety of interesting and unusual specimen plants, especially in alternative colors and shapes and sizes.  In early spring—April—there was just the beginning of the display but phlox for example was in abundance.  People who work in the neighborhood gather there at their lunch time, sit and read.  Water features, clever companion planting, garden rooms—for its size it packs a punch.

The United States National Arboretum

The extensive grounds of the Arboretum deserve at least half a day.  The Azalea Collection was in full bloom in April, with thousands of plants covering the sides of Mount Hamilton with paths going up and around. Many of the shrubs come from the breeding program of former director Benjamin Morrison, hybridizing large flowered tender azaleas in the Indica group with Hardy northern species between 1929 and 1954.  The Glenn Dale Hillside contains thousands of hybrids.  Late blooming azaleas can be seen into May and early June, although April was spectacular and not to be missed, on winding trails, some difficult for strollers and the hike challenged.

National Herb Garden

The garden was in its early stages in April, and is adjacent to several other areas of interest.  It is an extensive and diverse display of herbs from all over the world, for all purposes. Imagine the Cleveland Botanical Garden exploded to the entire Wade Oval and beyond. Roses come on in May—summer and fall must be equally impressive.  The paths in this area are wide and easy to navigate.

The National Bonsai and Penjing Museum

These are close to the other gardens, contains one of the largest collections of these trees in North America.   Penjing refers to the Chinese precursor to the Japanese art of bonsai. Three pavilions hold about 150 plants and there is also a section of stones and ikebana, a style of Japanese flower arranging.  The large variety and spectacular execution of this huge collection will require a sufficient time for study and appreciation.

Bonus Garden

Next to the Supreme Court building is a lovely small garden with much to see.  In April there were many early flowering perennials, well arranged, beautifully tended.  Be sure to take the short stroll to enjoy this surprising gem.

Dreaming of Spring? The Peripatetic Gardener Reports on Her Travels

by Lois Rose

Cornell is located at the bottom of Lake Cayuga-far above the waters, right? It is approximately five and a half hours from Cleveland, a lovely drive if you take the cut off of 90 through the Southern Tier—mountains, valleys, rivers and streams—well worth it.

The campus contains a large number of gardens but my favorite is the Botanic Garden which includes ornamental and useful herbs, interesting vegetables, perennials, grasses, an amazing bioswale garden, containers and other displays of shrubs, trees, groundcovers.

Many of the herbs are displayed in raised beds, or elevated on the sides of the main garden.


Around every turn is something of interest, like the tree which has a hole cut in its middle, still living and producing huge leaves.(Catalpa I think). 

The drought over the months before we visited had taken a toll but there was still much to see.  Mediterranean plants, those that love the heat, were as happy as a clam in high water. 

Others had ostensibly succumbed and been replaced.  It takes several hours to really see everything in this space, including the containers crammed with diverse and unusual plants on display near the visitor’s center which incidentally has top notch merchandise much of it devoted to gardening.

Cornell is feverish on Saturday morning, and visiting the Farmer’s Market is a treat if you can find a place to park.

The Peripatetic Gardener Visits Naumkeag

by Lois Rose

By chance, because of my son’s wedding, I was able to visit a unique and memorable garden near Stockbridge, Massachusetts recently. We had part of day “off” from wedding festivities and decided to see this estate which includes a “cottage” designed by Stanford White and built for Joseph Hodges Choate, a well-known attorney, between 1886 and 1887 on the top of a hill overlooking fields and mountains.

The 44-room mansion called to my husband and cousin but for me and my other cousin it was the gardens.  Mabel Choate, the daughter of Joseph, worked with Fletcher Steele for over 30 years to produce them.  They are a “collection” of garden rooms, eclectic and entertaining, spanning most of the space around the house on the hill top.  Unfortunately they had fallen into disrepair over the years.  The Trustees of Naumkeag took over the restoration of the gardens and there is a tremendous amount of new planting and replanting going on. 

The Blue Steps are the most well-known aspect of the rooms, extending from an area near the house down to the lowest part of the gardens.  If you have ever glanced through a book about structures in gardens, then this picture will be familiar. 

The Tree Peony Garden has been completely redone and the peonies are not looking their best after a serious drought this past summer.  Built into the side of the hill on terraces, it must have baked in the heat.  The Chinese Garden is quaint with mostly hardscape at this point.  The Evergreen Garden is impressive and elegant. The Afternoon Garden is against the side of the house and has a great view down to the fields below the house. 

Water features, stonework, paths—all restored or in the process.  New plantings have restored privacy and recreated vistas throughout the gardens.  There is an unexpected grove of pines and older trees five minutes from the house: suddenly you are in the woods, away from anything planned or ordered. 

The house delighted my companions, but I think my cousin Dan and I got the better part of the tour.

–How Much to Mulch?– by Lois Rose

by Lois Rose

I recently attended a talk by Linda Walker-Scott, an Associate Professor and Extension Horticulturist at Washington State University (see her blog theinformedgardener.comHer talk about mulch and sustainable landscape provides the backbone for my comments.

Organic mulches are by far my own choice. I use many kinds of mulches, including straw (left to sprout its seeds for a few months before using),

IMG_4790 pine fines,


compost from my husband’s heap,


bark chips, wood chips(aged, free from the city),


(By the way, let wood chips age before using them if you are concerned about disease. Add compost underneath the chips if you are concerned about nutrient deficiencies. Dr. Walker-Scott pointed out that well aged wood chips do not drain soil of nitrogen. Myth exploded.)

compost and manure,


and closely grouped living plant material.


Why Mulch? Beside providing nutrients to the soil, organic mulches are helpful to beneficial microbes, enhance biodiversity of “macrofauna”, help trees and shrubs get established, and improve soil structure, lessening compaction and allowing soil aggregates to form. (Tilling and digging can destroy the colonies of microbes, mycorrhizae, other important soil components.)

When to mulch:  before annual weeds become established—fall or spring.  Remove perennial weeds in early spring (easiest to pull or dig), then apply mulch. Better than pulling or digging is mowing or cutting to the ground.  Remove everything to a brown bag away from your garden

Deep mulch decreases weed germination by limiting the amount of light that reaches seeds.  Weed seeds can remain for years in the soil until—voila—exposure to light and moisture encourages them to get growing.  Coarse mulch can help retain and increase the amount of water getting to the soil beneath. Weeds and plants that grow through the mulch are easier to pull. Meanwhile the mulch is preventing erosion. 

Thick layers of mulch, 8-12 inches, are excellent for restoration sites and control of invasive weeds like ivy.  She recommends heavy layers (4 to 6 inches) around ornamentals for a low-maintenance landscape. I was taught that no more than 4 inches of mulch should be applied to the soil around shrubs and trees. This is definitely a different take on depth of mulching.

Deeper mulch, and courser mulch, gives the most benefit and the fewest drawbacks.

Mulching No-No’s:  Keeping mulch away from trunks of trees and shrubs is necessary to prevent rodents, insects and diseases from being given a free ride. Never pile mulch on perennials, only around them. “Volcano” mulching, where the ignorant landscaper piles mulch up against the trunks of trees, making it look like a volcano, is definitely a no-no. The question is: when you see this on the street—do you stop your car, go over to them and say, “what the hell are you doing?”   Or, do you give them a sheet printed with the proper way to mulch. Or do you stop door to door to let your neighbors know that they are damaging their trees and shrubs by doing this?

I have been sorely tempted. Considering that you are investing in the hopefully long life of your tree, why treat the trunk this way?