Monday, February 20, 2012

Hellebores: Beautiful Flowers All Winter

By Loretta DeMarco

Winter blooming Hellebores are a welcome sight blooming in the winter snows of the Delaware Valley.  Their extensive, woody root systems enable them to thrive and bloom in freezing temperatures.  In my Philadelphia garden the earliest blooming Hellebore (Heleborus foetitus) blooms as early as December and may continue into April. In a cool spring some species will continue blooming into May, by which time they will set seed and stop producing flowers. 

There are about 20 species of Hellebores, however the ones you are most likely to find in area nurseries like Pimex, Holods, and Robertsons, and at the big box stores are H. niger, H. orientalis, and H. x hybridus.  Others will need to be ordered on line or purchased at special nurseries. 

H. niger, commonly called the Christmas Rose, gets its name from its black root.  It has leathery green or blue green leaves, depending on the species, and produces white flowers.  It does not bloom at Christmas in our climate.  It blooms here in late January, Feb depending on the weather.  In this year of no winter to speak of, it started blooming in my garden on January 8 and is still going strong.  It is Evergreen and grows to about 12” tall.

H. Orientalis, or the oriental Hellebore, is commonly called the Lenten Rose.  Like the so-called Christmas Rose, it isn’t likely to bloom for lent in our climate.  Orientalis is a slow growing plant that dislikes being disturbed and is slow to recover when moved.  Its blooms are Pink, Purple, White, or near white.  It will naturalize under the right conditions and the evergreen foliage makes it a good ground cover once established.   It blooms here in March and grows to 16-20” tall.

H. x hybridus.  Hellebores are vigorous cross pollinators.  This vigorous cross pollination produces the hybrids and these hybrids make up the biggest group of hellebores you’re likely to find.  The hybrids are larger more vigorous plants and produce some of the most interesting and beautiful flowers. 

Hellebores grow well in almost all types of soil and in almost all types of garden conditions. They perform reliably in zones 4 through 7 and are untouched by rabbits or deer.  Like Hostas, they are commonly sold as shade plants because they will grow and flower in shade.  However they will grow and flower better in a bit of sun. 

They are not fussy except in that they cannot tolerate wet feet – especially not in winter.  They like water but they require good drainage.  They need a bed deep enough for their extensive root run.  And they prefer a soil with high organic content. 

When planting, add compost to the planting hole and backfill with a mixture of ½ removed soil and ½ organic matter.

Mulch with compost in the spring.  Good soil compost is all the fertilizer they’re going to need.  If your soil is not in good condition, fertilize them immediately after the flowering season (May-July) with a good slow release fertilizer.  Then start to mulch with compost every spring.

Allow 12” to 2½ ft between plants.  Some of them, (particularly the hybrids) mature into big plants.  Spacing information should be on the plant tag.

Spring is the season you are most likely to find Hellebores in the stores.  Look for heavenly hellebores - one of the underused garden superstars!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Master Gardeners attend a beekeeping workshop.

Intermediate Beekeeping Session A Big Success
By Kim Labno

Fifteen Master Gardeners from Philadelphia attended the Intermediate Beekeeping session featuring well-known beekeeper Don Shump at the Horticulture Center in Fairmount Park. This advanced training opportunity was educational for MGs with different levels of apiculture experience. Don answered a broad range of questions. A few take-away points are presented here:

* A hive houses upwards of 60,000 bees.There are three kinds of bees: queens, workers and drones. The species and subspecies of bees are ubiquitous     for Americas, Europe and Scandanavia.

* The history of colony collapse disorder, identified by a Pennsylvanian beekeeper, began in around 2005 and 2006. To date, the source(s) causing the mysterious disappearance of bees has not been identified. There is an average 30% decline in bee population annually; the population is able to stabilize itself because bees breed quickly. 

* Honey is extremely hydrophobic. This characteristic enables honey to destroy microbes and therefore will not ferment, even after long periods of time. Honey extraction can be performed manually using a crank or electrically with a centrifuge extractor.  

Everyone appreciated the causal and lovely setting of the greenhouse where the session took place and many folks lingered afterwards. The veteran and newcomer Master Gardeners enjoyed getting acquainted with one another in conversations that will continue in the coming year.

If you or your organization are interested in a presentation 
please contact Don at

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Vegetables that grow in the shade

Ten Vegetables You Can Grow Without Full Sun
By Colleen Vanderlinden, from Guide

When most people picture a vegetable garden, they imagine a spot that bakes in the sun all day. For some vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers, and squash, this is the ideal site. What if we want to grow vegetables, but don't have a site like this "ideal" one available? There are plenty of vegetables that will grow well without full sun. Those of us who have shade can grow vegetables, too.
Basically, a good rule to remember is that if you grow a plant for the fruit or the root, it needs full sun. If you grow it for the leaves, stems, or buds, a little shade will be just fine.
Keep in mind that no vegetable will grow in full, dense shade. The following crops will produce with three to six hours of sun, or fairly constant dappled shade, per day.
1.Salad Greens, such as leaf lettuce, arugula, endive, and cress.
9.Leafy Greens, such as collards, mustard greens, spinach, and kale
10. Beans
In some ways, growing in a site with part shade is easier than growing in full sun. You won't have to water as often, and crops that are quick to bolt in hot weather, such as lettuces and spinach, will grow quite a bit longer given some shade.
The best thing about knowing that these crops will successfully grow with some shade is that you'll be able to get more produce from your garden. Even if you're lucky enough to have an area with full sun that you can reserve for a vegetable garden, knowing which plants will take some shade will help you get the most out of your space. You can use that sunny space to grow the sun-lovers: peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, corn, and squashes. The other crops, those that do well in the shade, can be tucked in anywhere. Grow some beets or swiss chard in your part-sun perennial border. Grow some lettuce or radishes in a container or window box. Make use of the space you have, in both sun and shade, and you can easily double the amount of vegetables you would usually get.
Having a shady garden doesn't mean you're destined to live a life devoid of fresh garden vegetables. By making the most of what you have, you can harvest lettuces, peas, and other tasty veggies from spring through fall.
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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A travel report from India

Linda and Sandy Grimwade are traveling in India volunteering for the next several months. Here is  their first report.

We are now settled in the little village of Chandelao about 25 miles from Jodhpur in the state of Rajasthan in India.

We think that the Philadelphia Master Gardeners would be interested to know that one of the projects we are involved in is developing a high-tunnel greenhouse project for extending the growing season of high-value vegetables. The foundation we are working for has funding for such a project but only a very vague plan for how to implement it. The challenges are formidable, as we are in a semi-desert area, not unlike New Mexico or Arizona. The annual rainfall is less than 20 inches, and it all falls in an 8-week period in August and September. Winter temperatures go down to freezing at night and temperatures of 105 – 115 F are common during the summer months of May to July. Luckily there is some water for irrigation in the region from a canal that captures Himalayan ice-melt run-off, and in addition the local people are adept at water capture and storage in underground tanks and artificial ponds. However, there is little or no food grown in greenhouses in India, despite the fact that it has been successfully implemented in other hot and arid countries, such as Israel and Egypt. Agriculture has been practiced here for longer than practically anywhere on the planet, and is very traditional. Over 75% of the population in this area is involved in agriculture -- mostly on small subsistence farms.

We are hoping that the small pilot project we are assisting with will be successful enough for local farmers to follow. The plan is to build a high-tunnel plastic greenhouse with drip irrigation and highly fertile raised beds to grow okra, peppers, tomatoes and eggplant in fall, winter and spring. The project has enthusiastic support from the village chief and the State Department of Agriculture. Unfortunately, there seems to be no tradition here for the State College of Agriculture to get involved with local farmers and the spread of “best practices” – no equivalent of Penn State Extension!

Our involvement has started with developing a plan for building composting bins, collecting kitchen vegetable waste from the local guest-house kitchen, collecting leaves and prunings from bushes which grow along roadsides and in pastures, and tracking other sources of organic materials. Luckily there is a large supply of cow manure and bat guano, so there will be no lack of nitrogen. The next steps will be planning construction of the greenhouse and irrigation-pipe installation. Then there are several other interesting challenges including acquiring suitable seed, sowing and seedling maintenance, and pest control – did I mention that the site selected is riddled with holes of burrowing mice which will no doubt enjoy the taste of the seeds sown and the produce grown? We may need to plan for chicken wire under the raised beds. The locals rely on cats and cobras to keep the mouse population under control.

We know we won't be here long enough to see the completion of this project but it is exciting to be involved and to put our Master Gardener training to use. Any advice, suggestions, encouragement or useful web sites would be greatly appreciated.