New rose celebrates Downton Abbey (first in a series)

Written by Doug Oster on .

AnnasPromise a'Anna's Promise,' from Weeks Roses is named for Anna Bates, a character from Downton Abbey.

One of the most talked about new introductions this year at the Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show is the new rose from Weeks Roses called 'Anna's Promise'. It's named for Anna Bates from the television show Downton Abbey.

The rose has golden petals with a hint of pink and also have a glowing bronze reverse which sales and marketing manager Karen Kemp-Docksteader says, "actually sparkles and is almost translucent. In the garden, it looks like it's tipped in gold." The flowers offer a fruity fragrance too.

Danielle Chapon, from Chapon's Nursery in Baldwin, who is attending the show with the rest of the Chapon family, first heard about the rose two years ago. After learning about it and seeing the color she said, "I have to have it."  Chapon's will be giving away a Downton Abbey tote with each rose sold this spring. They are also talking about bundling soil amendments and the right kind of fertilizer to keep the plant thriving.

This is the first in a series of roses with a Downton Abbey theme. All I know about the next one is that it's amazing according the folks working the display here at the show.

I'll continue to post the coolest stuff I find here at the MANTS show.


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Reports from MANTS; You'll never guess what's the best selling seed

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog mants lake valley kale2aBeverly Yates, marketing manager for Lake Valley Seed shows off one of the company's biggest sellers. Photo by Doug Oster

It's exhilarating to walk the floor of the Baltimore Convention Center during the Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show, especially this time of the year. I was welcomed by hanging baskets filled with purple and white pansies. Everywhere you turn, there are trees, plants, bulbs and just about any thing else you could think of regarding gardening.

The show is geared towards landscapers and nursery professionals, but it gives me an opportunity to see what's trending and what's new for the upcoming season.

I was stopped in my tracks by the Lake Valley Seed display. I use lots of their seed, usually buying it locally off seed racks, so I was exciting to talk to them.

Marketing manager Beverly Yates started the conversation by telling me organic seed was the number one trend in gardening followed closely by gardening for pollinators, specifically honey bees.

She also mentioned something I already assumed, kale is a huge seller, the fifth most popular organic seed they offer. "In the last year and a half, there's been so much focus on nutritional value of greens, she says. Kale is super high in nutrition and has been popularized in cooking magazines and nutritional circles as a super food." She loves 'Red Russian' kale picked small and thrown right into a salad.

Beverly is also dedicated to her own community garden where bees are kept and her number one plant to help them is borage. "It's super easy to grow, she says, even though it's listed as an annual, it will come back and back and back." It self sows freely, she adds. Borage is also a great plant to produce lots of honey for the bees and also is a great companion plant for tomatoes, she said. Since the bees are attracted to the borage, they stick around to pollinate the tomatoes.

Lake Valley has lots of other seeds to draw in pollinators. She recommends anything from the mint family, small flowering herbs, butterfly weed and more. They will help bees, butterflies and other insects which in turn help us garden.

I was surprised to hear that cilantro is their top selling organic seed. Most varieties can only be grown in cool weather, but they offer a slow bolting variety. It's a great green to grow early in the spring and can overwinter in our climate if the winter is mild.

I can't wait to explore the rest of the show. I'll be reporting from Baltimore through Friday.





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Ten plants that are NOT new for 2015

Written by Doug Oster on .

I'll be reporting from the Mid Atlantic Nursery Trade Show in Baltimore starting tomorrow. It's where all the latest garden plants, gadgets, tools and more are introduced. New things are always fascinating for gardeners, it's always fun to try our hand at something we've never seen before.

There's always a question though on how a new introduction will perform in our gardens.

Here are 10 plants that have proven themselves in my garden. Hopefully they will grow as well in yours.

'Bonfire' begonia

Easy to grow, blooms like crazy in sun or shade and the tuber can be saved over the winter. Trailing habit lends itself to hanging baskets and growing on pedestals.

blog begonia bonfire hanging

'Cherokee Purple' tomato

Sets fruit reliably, tastes great and disease resistant. I grow lots of different tomatoes, both heirloom and hybrids, this is a favorite. Nice and meaty.

blog cherokee purple b


'Red Malabar' spinach

Not a spinach at all. This tropical vine covers any trellis or arbor in a season. The vines are beautiful and the heart shaped leaves taste a lot like spinach.

blog red malabara b

Hellebore orientalis (Lenten Rose)

This plant comes in an amazing variety of colors and forms. The Lenten Rose blooms in consort with crocus. There's nothing better than seeing the flowers in early spring. The foliage is evergreen and the plants can be used as a wonderful ground cover.

blog heleborus winter b

Heptacodium miconioides

This shade loving shrub is indestructible, blooms at the end of the season and has beautiful exfoliating bark which provides winter interest too.

blog heptacodium b

'Altari' lily

I love oriental/trumpet lilies for their wonderful summer blooms. 'Altari' is intensely fragrant, multiplies year to year and will bloom with only six hours of sun. In my garden they need to be staked, but would stand tall in full sun.

lily beats the heat b

Tithonia (Mexican sunflower) 'Torch'

This 1951 All America Selection has been a mainstay in my garden for decades. The annual, late bloomer can reach 16 feet in full sun. Hummingbirds, bees and butterflies can't resist the orange blossoms. I also love 'Yellow Torch' and I'm trying a shorter one this year call 'Goldfinger.'

blog mexican tithonia b

Salvia 'Wendy's Wish'

Perennial in zone seven and higher, it's grown in my garden as an annual. Beautiful purple blossoms all season long. Tough and drought resistant. Salvia 'May Night' is a perennial which I also love.

blog salvia wendys wish b

Corydalis lutea

I've written about this plant way too much. Grows in sun or shade, blooms from April through November, deer resistant and makes a nice colony after a few seasons. My favorite perennial.

blog yellow corydalis

Bottlebrush buckeye

Great shrub for the edge of woodlands. Blooms in summer with pretty, long white flowers resembling a bottle brush.

blog bottlebrush buckeye

'Super Chili' pepper (bonus #11)

This is the most prolific pepper I grow, it's really hot too. I've thrown plants in too close to tomatoes and found them at the end of the season loaded with three inch, fiery red peppers. They put on so many peppers, I dehydrate what's left for hot pepper flakes. They will wake you up!

blog super chili



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Italy's Giusti Garden is a masterpiece

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog the faceThis is the mascherone at Giardino Giusti in Verona, Italy. It's the first thing you see when you walk in the garden and it was built to emit fire from its mouth. Photos by Doug Oster

By Doug Oster / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

This is the first of a three-part occasional series on gardens in Northern Italy.

blog huh 25Getting up higher in the garden reveals the beautiful design and shows the scale of these old cypress trees.VERONA, Italy — A huge angry stone face looks down on visitors through giant spires of cypress trees at Giusti Garden. The intimidating mascherone was originally designed to breathe fire, probably the only thing that could make it more foreboding. It was just one of the surprises I and 32 other gardeners found on a 10-day trip in September to visit gardens of Northern Italy.
Gently sloping trails led to a grotto at the top of the Mascherone. On the way, we saw an array of beautiful plants, some of which I’d never seen before. A hummingbird moth danced from flower to flower, gathering nectar from low-growing blue plumbago that softens the trail’s edges. Pale pink begonias grew wild along an ancient rock wall next to a stone bench amid swaying white windflowers. After the short trek, we were rewarded by stunning views of the main garden path and Verona itself. Shakespeare set three of his plays in the city, including “Romeo and Juliet.” The Guisti family has owned the palace since the 16th century, and the gardens were created in 1580.
We reached the summit at just the right time. The cheerful, high-pitched songs of birds hidden in the thick green foliage joined at noon with those of church bells, creating a lovely symphony. As we worked our way downhill along a winding stone path, we caught another bit of music -- the sounds of a piano drifting out of the windows of an adjoining school. It was magical.
One thing I love about many European gardeners is the way they embrace weeds, letting them bloom in the right spots. The tiny flowers of wild yellow mustard were the perfect foil for the blue blossoms of the plumbago. In a formal garden, they would have been eliminated because they aren’t a cultivated species.
Our descent offered yet another different view of the center garden. Cypress trees reached for the sky, creating axis points for the long paths.  Neatly trimmed topiary, a maze and huge, beautifully planted containers are all things expected in a great Italian garden like this one. We could get a close look at the many statues or take a seat and listen to the cascading water of the fountains.
As we kept walking, we were greeted with another surprise: Only in Italy could you find a long line of clay pots filled with different colored lantana blooms, perched single file on a weathered rock wall. The simple beauty of the presentation was spellbinding. The fact that some of the pots were cracked only added to the effect.
As our tour ended, I looked over to see common orange lantana mingling with statuesque white anemone that danced in the breeze. Behind them, some pink hibiscus swayed in consort.
This combination embodied the feeling of this place -- chaos and order living together. In his garden, the first big one we visited, it was the perfect mix.

Doug Oster: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 412-779-5861. Visit his garden blog here. Twitter: @dougoster1.

blog overall giustiAn overall look of Giusti Garden.

blog lantan potsThis long line of old clay pots filled with lantana was a hit with visitors.

blog ender anemoneOrange lantana growing in consort with anemone is what this garden is all about.

blog yellow weedsYellow mustard is allowed to flower in this garden.

blog young couple waldA young couple walk along the main path of the garden.

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Feeding the birds now pays off in the garden later

Written by Doug Oster on .

 Blog Red Bellied with PeanutaThis red-bellied woodpecker loves peanuts left on top of the feeder. Photo by Doug Oster

In this week's segment from Pittsburgh Today Live I talk with Jon Burnett about why gardeners should feed the birds, how to give them what they want and how to keep the squirrels away. Jon just had to try the Cole's Flaming Squirrel Seed Sauce and that wasn't pretty, but it was funny from where I was standing.

I love watching the birds, but there’s an advantage for gardeners to attract them now. They’ll stick around the food source in the spring and will hunt lots of bad bugs, which makes our gardening life easier. The main feed I use is black oil sunflower seeds.
But during the winter, I always like to give them something else to boost their energy. Suet is something that helps them thrive during the hardest part of winter. I love these little suet nuts that Cole’s offers, they also make a suet called Hot Meats filled with hot pepper. The squirrels won’t touch it, and the birds can’t taste the pepper. The company makes my favorite varieties of bird seed and suet and it’s easy to find in your area by using this link. If you can’t physically block squirrels and chipmunks from the feeder, they have a whole line of feed laced with hot pepper.

They also have a liquid hot pepper to apply to seed you buy in bulk. Jon Burnett got a taste of it and it's hot, really hot. I just put out one of the Hot Meat ssuet cakes and forgot to wash my hands. I rubbed my eyes and now I was the one who was sorry. Be careful when handling the hot pepper products. I do feel bad for the squirrels, so I feed them at their own feeder.

I also enjoy making my own suet. I usually make enough to last most of the winter and keep it in the freezer. Suet is a type of fat from a certain part of a cow; you can find it at the meat counter of the grocery store. If you don’t see it, just ask they’ll get you some.

Here’s everything you need to know about suet including lots of recipes for making your own.

This is one of my favorites-

1 cup suet

1 cup peanut butter

3 cups corn meal

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

Melt the suet in a saucepan at low heat; add the peanut butter while stirring until it’s blended with the suet. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir.

Anything that a bird likes can be added to the recipe. If I have raisins or peanuts, I’ll put them in too.

I use hamburger patty makers to form the suet cakes and also pack it into big pine cones and hang them from the feeder.

Bringing birds into the yard is not only fun, it will help you garden next spring.
Here's where you can buy Cole's products, everything on the show came from Penn Hills Lawn and Garden.

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