The last rose

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog the last roseThe last rose bloom of the seasonf rom 'New Dawn.'. Photo by Doug Oster

Last winter laid waste to climbing rose which had thrived on an arbor for 15 years.

I replaced it with 'New Dawn' an heirloom climber with a long bloom season of fragrant flowers. Eventually it should reach nearly 20 feet high and seven to 10 wide. This season it started to climb, but won't reach maturity for a few more years.

One pink bloom is all that's left after its first year in the garden. It represents the ephemeral nature of gardens.

The entryway to the vegetable garden is flanked by the arbor and I had always dreamed of it covered with the flowers of climbing roses. That dream came true only a few short season after the initial plantings. I would sit in the garden on warm summer nights and marvel at the prolific plants covered in blooms.

On one side was 'Seven Sisters' on the other 'Zephirine Droughin,' which also bit the dust at the hands of the polar vortex. I found another at Hahn Nursery and it's doing well too.

Seeing that last rose, ready to bloom as November looms, reminds me of a "unique" season, filled with challenges brought on by a tough winter and a wet summer.

Both roses are on their own for the winter, no extra protection except some crossed fingers.

Their fate is with Mother Nature, just like everything else in the garden.

Hopefully spring will bring with it new buds and fast growth to cover the arbor again.





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Leaves equal compost, don't throw them away

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog red leavesFall leaves are a great resource for the garden. Photos by Doug Oster

A soft breeze is all it takes to separate deep red maple leaves from a tree. When it falls to the ground it will eventually decompose and feed that tree, it's the cycle of life and something gardeners can mimic in their own gardens.

blog more leavesMaple leaves will decompose quicker than oak.In the old days we did everything we could to get rid of leaves, burning them and sending them to the landfill. Today, most municipalities will collect leaves and make compost out of them. That's a great way of recycling, but it can be done at home too.

Since I live in an oak forest I understand the challenge of getting the leaves off the lawn, garden, patio, deck, driveway and every other conceivable place. But if you can find a place to pile them up, the leaves turn into a pH neutral compost which plants love.

Someone has been throwing leaves over a hill at my place since 1939 and when I need compost, I'll just dig down in one of the big piles to get the good stuff.

I leave a big pile of shredded leaves near my compost pile. Whenever I add things from the garden or kitchen, a layer of leaves are added. Building those different layers helps the compost decompose and has the right balance of ingredients too. Mixing the leaves with other organic matter speeds up the process too.

Leaves can be run over with the lawnmower or can be thrown into a trash can and shredded with a string trimmer.

The smaller the leaves are, the faster they will decompose. Shredded leaves make a great winter mulch too.

Don't throw your leaves away, use them as a resource for the garden. Mimicking nature works!

blog beech leavesSaving leaves and composting them mimics nature.

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Bugbane provides an annual surprise of fragrant, beautiful white blooms

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog tight flowers bugbaneBugbane produces white spires which are aromatic. Photos by Doug Oster

blog white flowers bugbaneThis plant grows in a neglected woodland bed, a testament to the toughness of bugbane.

There are things in the garden which surprise that shouldn't.

Cimicifuga or bugbane has been blooming yearly in my garden for 15 years, but it's planted in an out of the way place. It grows in a neglected woodland bed I created early on. Since then, the bed has been left to the wilds of nature. It became clear somewhere in those first couple seasons, I wasn't going to be able to keep up with the area.

That's certainly a testament to the toughness of bugbane. The dark purple foliage emerged in the spring and inconspicuously prepared for its fall show.

As I planted violas, greens and flowering kale yesterday I got my surprise in the form of the beautiful sweet smelling, white blossoms. How can something surprise you after 15 years? It's hard to explain, but everyone loves surprises and the garden rarely fails to offer something unexpected.

Bugbane is a great pollinator plant for beneficial insects, providing nectar and pollen during a time in the season when both can be scarce.

It's indestructible, will grow in shade under trees, is long lived and can be planted right now.

Best of all it's the star of the woodland garden when most of the plants are fading away, preparing for the end of the season.

It's fun to get an annual surprise as strange as that sounds.

blog really tight whiteGetting close to the flowers reveals their true beauty and sweet smell too.



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Unique and wonderful garden combines antiques and plants

Written by Doug Oster on .


blog picking20141013dohomesgarden3Bob McDonough, who owns McDonough Antiques in Lawrenceville picks 'San Marzano' tomatoes from the garden behind his shop. Photos by Doug Oster

By Doug Oster / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

blogtomatoes20141013dohomesgarden2One of the first thing you see when entering the antique store are these beautiful tomatoes.The first thing most customers notice when walking into Bob McDonough’s antique shop in Lawrenceville are tomatoes. Yes, tomatoes.
They fill two baskets on the front counter. The shiny San Marzano tomatoes look so perfect that they’re are often mistaken for decorations, just another item for sale here.
“It’s a conversation starter,” Mr. McDonough says. “I love talking. I love talking gardening.”
Don McDonough's antique shop in Lawrenceville is filled with treasures and so is the garden he grows in the adjecent lot. (Video by Doug Oster; 10/18/2014)
But don’t ask if you can have one.
“I say no, and they’re shocked. I’m feeding my family with these. It’s funny. People get mad. I kind of like that,” he says.
Mr. McDonough, 55, watched as a young woman grabbed one out of the basket when she thought he wasn’t looking. But then she put it back where it belonged, confessing, “I couldn’t steal one from you.”
He puts up about 24 quarts of tomatoes each season from the nine plants he grows along a brick wall in the garden next to the store. As he began canning this year’s crop, there was still one quart left from last season. He remembered how hard it was to make them last through the long winter.
blog babyb 320141013dohomesgarden6Dolls and morning glories.“We were rationing tomato sauce, which is a terrible thing to do,” he says with a laugh.
Walking out the back door of the antique shop and into his garden is a treat. Beds of self-seeded collard plants grow in consort with huge, cut stones salvaged from demolition in the neighborhood. There are pots of herbs and other interesting plants sprinkled among a wide array of old, interesting items. Morning glories climb a trellis, twining around an old baby doll, which has sat there for nearly 20 years. Old farm equipment comes and goes as customers find just the right piece for their own gardens.
Mr. McDonough also grows peppers, squash, corn and melons, all organically with the help of the compost he makes in the shadow of a 20-foot-tall stand of bamboo. He mostly grows heirloom varieties and gets the bulk of his seeds from Heirloom Seeds, which is based in West Finley.
A narrow path runs through the garden to the front gate, flanked by huge cannas and ornamental grasses whose plumes dance in the breeze. Two old pink flamingos lying near the entrance welcome guests.
It’s hard to pinpoint why, but this garden is charming.
blogbbirds320141013dohomesgarden7Pink flamingos greet visitors when they come to the garden.“It’s whimsical,” Mr. McDonough says, using air quotes and flashing a grin.
The fact that he’s self-taught and the garden is built around the remnants of four demolished homes gives it a somewhat haphazard appearance.
“I’m disorganized enough that it gets messy all by itself. I don’t have to plan it. That for me is part of the fun. I wouldn’t want to have a formal English knot garden.”
Along the brick wall he shares with a neighbor are tomato plants still filled with fruit.
“I should pay rent for this wall,” he says, laughing.
He starts very early with seed he saves each year that originally came from Naples, Italy. He starts one batch in January, another in February and the last one in March. They are planted out in early May, if he loses the first crop to frost, another is planted in its place. When cold weather threatens, Mr. McDonough gently drapes the plants with plastic, which gives him an extra month on each side of the season to enjoy the tomatoes. “
”At night you can feel the heat coming off the wall,” he says.
Mr. McDonough enjoys learning something new each year in the garden. Next season he hopes to include a variety of beans for drying.
“When I have dirt under my fingernails, I’m happy,” he says.
There is one thing he’s thrilled to let you taste if you stop by: dried ghost chili peppers, among the hottest in the world.
“You have to eat it in front of me,” he says with an almost maniacal grin. “It’s such an experience, and most people don’t get that experience in a lifetime.”
As he walks away from the tomatoes and toward the back door of the antique store, Mr. McDonough reflects on nearly 20 years of gardening here.
“I have my two favorite hobbies, antiques and gardening, right beside each other,
”I’m very lucky. It worked out well.”

blog main20141013dohomesgarden1Bob McDonough and his cherished 'San Marzano' tomatoes.


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Saving tender bulbs and tubers for the winter

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog dahlia 1015bcDahlias are beautiful and their tubers can be saved over the winter. It's a fun and easy job. Photo by Doug Oster

This is the time of the year to save tender bulbs like dahlias, caladiums, tuberous begonias, sweet potato vine, cannas, calla lilies and more. Here's a segment from Pittsburgh Today Live that shows exactly how I do it. It's easy and fun too.

My parents grew up during the Great Depression and instilled me with frugality (cheapness).

Every year I store the bulbs or tubers of dahlias, caladiums, cannas, begonias and sweet potato vine.

They are easy to keep for the winter and you'll be able to share all the extras with gardening friends.

Before I share the details, here's what I tell everyone about these plants. If you don't want to save them, it's OK. It's more important to simply enjoy the blooms and foliage.

I store them because I enjoy the process. It feels good to be able to reuse these bulbs and tubers. Don't deprive yourself of their beauty just because you don't want to store them.

Here's how I save the tubers and bulbs for the winter- I dig the bulb or tuber out of the ground and remove as much of the foliage as possible.

Then put the bulbs on some newspaper on a table to let them dry for a couple days.

In the case of dahlias, I find it easier to cut them apart this time of the year as opposed to spring.

It would be find to store them as is and separate them next year before planting.

The only thing I've done differently the past two seasons is to treat them with Bonides' Bulb Dust. It's an organic fungicide that helps retard rotting. It can also be used for planting bulbs like daffodils.

Then I fill a box with 1/2 inch of slightly moistened perlite or vermiculite, depending on what I can find at the nursery.

The first layer of bulbs is laid on the material. Be sure they don't touch, that can cause rotting.

Then another layer of perlite is added, more bulbs and the process continues until the box is full.

Store the box on bulbs in a cool dry place that doesn't ever freeze.

Check on the bulbs once a month, remove anything that might show signs of rot.

Next spring set the bulbs out in the garden after the last frost.

Have fun and give it a try, you'll see how easy it is and how wonderful it is to save plants from year to year.

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