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Tiny snowdrops bring hope in the garden

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog snowdrops frozen 021914This tiny snowdrop blossom caught my attention while running out the front door. Still covered in ice, there's nothing that can stop the blooms now. Photos by Doug Oster

The tiny white blossoms of snowdrops push up through frozen soil to announce the unofficial end of winter.

Sure there's plenty of snow and cold left, but once the snowdrops flower, there's no turning back; somethings has bloomed!

One of the reasons diminutive snowdrop bulbs are planted near the house each fall is to see them in their glory as early as possible. Last season they poked through in mid-January, but this is more typical of their bloom time.

While running out the front door I caught a glimpse of white against the wet, brown oak leaves littering a narrow patch of dirt between the house and sidewalk. It's always such a wonderful surprise, especially after this tough winter.

The flowers barely stand above the soil and are only a quarter inch long. If they bloomed in July, it wouldn't matter, but as I laid on the cold stone sidewalk photographing these wonders of nature, all I could do was smile.

They are prelude to the sweet sounds, smells and sights of spring.

blog snowdrops green 021914As temeratures warm, this spot will be filled with pretty white flowers.

blog snowdrops sprout 021914This is why they are called snowdrops.

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"New" heirloom tomato for inside and out

Written by Doug Oster on .

Tomato House 3The 'House' tomato is grown outside in the summer and brought back in for the winter. Photo courtesy of J.L. Hudson Seedsman

The J.L. Hudson Seedsman catalog is a quirky one, but in the most wonderful way. No pictures, fascinating seeds and a little attitude too. Every year I discover a multitude of amazing varieties from the people at J.L. Hudson.

Even though I promised myself to only grow the seeds I have on hand this year, I've been captivated by 'House' tomato seeds. "The most unusual tomato we have grown," says the catalog. The plant produces small red cherry tomatoes on compact plants. The fruit is ready early and is the perfect choice for container growing or short season growing.

The plant was introduced to the company from Curtis Androsoff, who says of the variety,"the 'House' tomato are heritage seed. I have two plants that are 12 years old, producing good fruit." Every year he cuts them down so they put on new growth. He adds that if you leave them, some plants grow too high in the house over the winter. "New growth produces more fruit,' he says.

The first seeds came to Canada in 1893 with his grandmother from Tbilisi Russia on an old sail ship. His family settled in Saskatchewan.

The plants are high-yielding and are grown outdoors in summer, and brought in by a sunny window in winter. Here they formed dwarf compact plants less than a foot tall grown outdoors, with thick, succulent, blue green leaves.

Even though I vowed not to order seeds this year, I HAD to try the 'House' tomato. It will be so fun to take care of the plant next winter. Just brushing the foliage will release the amazing fragrance of summer.

Seed packets contain 50 seeds and can be ordered online for only $3 plus shipping and handling.

Of course if you order one packet, you'll have to order a few other things too, right? I know I did!

 

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Dreaming of heart shaped tomatoes on Valentine's Day

Written by Doug Oster on .

Valentines Day tomato

Today I'm dreaming of sweet, beautiful heart shaped tomatoes. The fantasy of picking fruit warmed by the sun is tantalizing to say the least. Over the years I've fell in love with many varieties, often called oxheart tomatoes.

I buy 'Heart of Italy' plants from Hahn Nursery every year, but there are lots of cool varieties out there. This one is prolific, tasty and stores well too at the end of the season.

Pink-Oxheart-Tomato-web'Pink Oxheart' from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds sell 'Pink Oxheart,' it looks a lot like the one I'm growing. It's meaty, with an old-fashioned taste. Reviews on the site show it's great tasting and disease resistant too.

FVXO 106-24 400px  45736.1310679705.1280.1280'Cour di Bue' sold by Seeds from Italy.

Seeds from Italy sells 'Cuor di Bue' (heart of bull). From the catalog-"Meaty, deep red flesh. Real tomato taste. The tomato all our Italian grandfathers grew. For fresh eating or sauce. Indeterminate. 70+ days. Indeterminate.  Very large vigorous growing plant; these are quite productive and relatively early." This one also received good reviews.

0444-tomato-hungarian-heart'Hungarian Heart' from Seed Savers Exchange is a wonderful heirloom.

'Hungarian Heart' is offered by Seed Savers Exchange. "Said to have originated in a village 20 miles from Budapest around 1900. Jerry Muller of Alabama (formerly of Tennessee) was the first SSE member to offer this variety; in 1988 he listed his seed source as Ed Simon of Pennsylvania. Huge pink oxheart fruits weigh upwards of one pound. Very few seeds and almost no cracking. One of our favorites for fresh eating, canning, and for making roasted tomato sauce."

TF-0420-2'Reif Red Heart' is one of ten heart shaped tomatoes offered by Tomatofest.

Tomatofest has an entire page devoted to heart shaped tomatoes. 'Anna Russian,' 'Mrs. Houseworth and 'Reif Red Heart' are just a few of the cool varieties.

It's too early to start seeds, but this is a great time to order some seeds. Here's a primer for planting them inside.

Happy Valentine's Day, I'm fantasizing of heart shaped tomatoes growing in the warm summer sun.

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Alternatives to roses for Valentine's Day

Written by Doug Oster on .

Blog Rose alternativesA dozen roses will last a couple weeks, supplement your gift with plants which could last for years. Photo by Pam Panchak

The price of roses skyrockets before Valentine's Day. It's all about supply and demand, mostly demand.

You'll probably have to give your significant other a dozen roses, but here are some ideas for plants which in some cases will last for years. I got them all at Chapon's Greenhouse.

This is a segment from Pittsburgh Today Live showcasing my favorite plants. Miniature roses, orchids, houseplants and more.

 

 

 

 

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Free Landscape Design Course for beginners at Mt. Lebanon Library

Written by Doug Oster on .

Mt. Lebanon Public Library Landscape Design Course
 
Penn State Master Gardener and landscape designer Claire Schuchman will teach this three week course geared to the novice.
We will use the concepts of sustainable design like right plant/right place, shading out weeds with ground covers; use of hardy natives plants; and installing rain barrels or permeable pavement.
Please bring: graph paper, pencils, ruler, package of different colored pencils, and some 18"-24" tracing paper. Students will benefit from having a plot plan or a survey of their property if available and pictures of gardens they like.

Week One
 
(2/24): Site analysis, which is simply an inventory of site features including the house, a garage,
trees, paths, driveways, easements or even a bad view. Also things like soil conditions, wind, shade and sun.
 
Week Two (3/3): the dreaming begins when the students will develop a program which includes planning for outdoor activities like children's play areas, a pool or pond, entertaining, and napping, as well as privacy, lighting and security. These ideas will go on paper and be moved around like a jigsaw puzzle until the student is happy with the placement.
 
Week Three (3/10): we take all that information and begin to put it into a realistic form using the scale of 1" = 8' on graph paper. Supportive materials covered during the three sessions will include a discussion on the five elements of good design, necessary tools toaccomplish the plan,and a time for practical questions and answers.
No advance registration is required; however, participants should plan to attend all three sessions and bring the
recommended supplies and information about their property to get the most out of this landscaping course.
 
Claire Schuchman is a local landscape designer, Master Gardener, and frequent contributor to Mt. Lebanon Magazine.
Her garden has been featured on past Mt. Lebanon Public Library Annual Garden Tours.
Course begins at 6:00 PM on the following Mondays, Feb 24, Mar 3 and Mar
10, 2014.
For more information call the library at 412-531-1912 or e-mail the Garden Tour coordinator at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
 


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