Authors Posts by Ellen Barcel

Ellen Barcel


New exhibit opens at the Port Jefferson Village Center

‘Chaos Was the Law of Nature: Order Was the Dream of Man’ by Iacopo Pasquinelli

By Ellen Barcel

The Port Jefferson Village Center recently unveiled its latest exhibit, Captured! Photographs to Paintings.

The exhibit features enlargements of historic photos by Arthur S. Greene together with over two dozen modern paintings, inspired by Greene’s vision.

Greene, born in England several years after the end of the American Civil War, came to Port Jefferson via Pennsylvania with his wife in the 1890s. After working for the Union Photography Company, he opened up his own studio here and for decades photographed Port Jefferson and its surroundings.

Like 19th century Setauket artist William Sydney Mount who painted local scenes, Greene captured the early 20th century locale, but in photographs: local scenery, houses, events, churches, the waterfront, the farms and businesses, from early cars and gas stations to a chauffeur on the Tinker estate in East Setauket.

Kenneth C. Brady, in his book, “Arthur S. Greene, 1867-1955: The Life and Work of a Long Island Photographer,” noted that “In 1905, capitalizing on the postcard craze that was sweeping the nation, Greene prepared 150 different views of Port Jefferson and vicinity.” Through the first half of the 20th century Greene produced an invaluable body of work that captured pre-World War II Long Island and the early postwar period.

The exhibit was created by the late Michael R. Kutzing, a local artist and former owner of MRK Gallery in Port Jefferson. “Mike would go to the Village Center,” said Denise Kutzing, Mike Kutzing’s widow, “and talk to Ken Brady.” They both thought that the exhibit would be a great idea. Brady, former village historian, had digitally archived over 10,000 historic photos from the area for the village. All photos for the current exhibit are from Brady’s own collection.

‘Playtime’; by Angela Stratton
‘Playtime’; by Angela Stratton

Noted artist Irene Ruddock, who is assisting with the exhibit, said Kutzing long had the idea of using Greene’s historic paintings as inspiration for local artists’ own work. She added that Kutzing went to many art shows in order to select the over two dozen artists invited to participate. He told each that they didn’t need to exactly reproduce Greene’s black-and-white photos but to “Do your vision, your interpretation of the photos.”

With the help of Sue Orifici, who is in charge of Graphic Archival and Special Projects for the Village Center, Kutzing selected 60 photos and put them on his website. It was from those images that each artist was able to select his or her own inspiration.

Kutzing himself didn’t finish his own painting for the exhibit. “He worked right up to the end,” said Ruddock. When he passed last January, she noted, “all of the artists were committed to him. It [the exhibit] was for him, it’s a tribute to him — his legacy.” His widow, Denise, took over the responsibility of preparing the exhibit, assisted by Ruddock (whose painting of the “Gamecock Cottage” will be in the exhibit) and Orifici. Denise Kutzing added “Sue loved his enthusiasm — without her, his vision wouldn’t have happened.”

In addition to the over two dozen Greene photos and modern interpretations by the 28 participating artists, other works by Michael Kutzing himself will be in the exhibit, including his unfinished painting inspired by the Greene photo. Denise Kutzing noted that her husband’s painting was called “Serenity.” “He wanted to make sure it was done. It really was a dream of his.” The inspiration was Greene’s photograph titled “Jones Street, Now Main Street.”

Denise Kutzing noted that her late husband was a surveyor by profession and “a very talented woodworker — very precise. This led to his paintings being very much like photographs.” When he retired, Michael Kutzing enthusiastically began painting. “Painting became his passion. In the beginning he didn’t realize his talent,” she said. He became involved with many artist groups but, “his heart was with the Setauket Artists group.”

“He said that belonging to the Setauket Artists gave him a sense of accomplishment and pride. Within a few years, Mike became our Honored Artist, not only for his beautiful paintings which won many awards, but for his unparalleled desire to elevate our professionalism,” said Ruddock.

Setauket Artist Robert Roehrig noted, “Mike’s attention to detail in the woodwork reminds me of the magnificent detail in his artwork.” Added Neil Watson, executive director of the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, Kutzing “was a gifted painter and a wonderful colleague. The museum was fortunate to have Michael as a core member of the Planning Committee for our newest membership initiative for artists, a collaborative arts group. We will miss him.”

The Captured! exhibit is sponsored by the Village of Port Jefferson, the Recreation Department at the Village Center and the Port Jefferson Harbor Education and Arts Conservancy.

Participating artists include Paul Bachem, Ned Butterfield, Jim Berger, Al Candia, Dennis Coburn, Anthony Davis, Jeanette Dick, Bill A. Dodge, Donna Grossman, Peter Hahn, William Haney, Melissa Imossi, Vito Incorvala, Michael R. Kutzing, Jane McGraw Teubner, Terry McManus, Kirk Larsen, Joe Miller, Jim Molloy, Muriel Musarra, Iacopo Pasquinelli, Doug Reina, Rob Roehrig, Irene Ruddock, Oscar Santiago, Angela Stratton, Mary Jane Van Zeijts and Patricia Yantz.

The public is invited to meet the artists at an opening reception on Saturday, July 11, from 2 to 4 p.m. The exhibit will run through Aug. 28.

The Port Jefferson Village Center, 101A E. Broadway, Port Jefferson is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, call 631-802-2160.

A garden oasis awaits at a house on Bleeker Street, one of the stops on the tour. Photo by Jim Dunn

By Ellen Barcel

One really nice activity for gardeners and non-gardeners alike in the warm weather is enjoying garden tours. A new and special tour of gardens will take place in Port Jefferson this Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Rain date is July 12.

The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce and the Suwasset Garden Club will present the first annual Gardens and Landscapes of Port Jefferson, sponsored by Times Beacon Record Newspapers in celebration of the summer and the 40th anniversary of the newspaper.

A total of ten gardens — nine stops — each unique in its own way, may be visited. There’s a secret garden and a Zen garden complete with waterfall. Another site has a moss rock garden. There are perennials, annuals, hydrangeas, fruits, vegetables, shade gardens and sun gardens.

One location, the Mather House Museum Garden, has two gardens, the Thomas Jefferson Garden, created and maintained by the Suwasset Garden Club, and the Wayne Helmer Herb Garden, created by the Historical Society of Greater Port Jefferson and the Herb Society.

While visiting each garden will be a special treat in itself, each location will have something extra to offer. Barbara Ransome, director of operations for the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, remarked, “We’ve paired up with the Night Herons; there will be (at least) six artists who are going to be painting — watercolorists — at different gardens.” Confirmed artists include Dottie Court, Sunny Bateman, Gail Chase, Ellen Ferrigno, Phyllis Farmer and Barbara Siegel.

Ransome added that all gardens will have refreshments. For example, one Victorian, terraced garden will offer high tea while visitors will be serenaded by harpist Marilyn Levine. One garden has a chocologist — yes, a specialist in chocolate from Chocology Unlimited of Port Jefferson, who will be giving out samples to enjoy. The Garden with a Lemon Kick will have a lemonade stand set up for visitors’ enjoyment. A Cake in Time, owned by Sherry Sobel of Mount Sinai, will donate mini cupcakes for the event, and three gardens will have special raffle baskets.

Members of the Suwasset Garden Club will serve as greeters at each garden, ready to assist and answer any questions that visitors have.

Pat Darling, whose garden is one on the tour, said, “I’m huge on nature … I enjoy utilizing nature, like the moss in the garden and tree stumps.” Describing her garden, she noted, “Entering through a whimsical garden gate, gardens come to life reflecting the passion of an artist.” And yes, two of the Night Heron Artists will be painting at her garden.

Commenting on one of the other stops on the tour, a Victorian house whose porch is filled with red, white and blue flowers — very patriotic so near to Independence Day, Darling said, “the elements are so spectacular . . . (it’s) an incredible porch . . . so gorgeous, magnificent,” noting that the owner always decorates for July 4th.

This is one not to be missed — enjoy the plantings and enjoy the extras.

The cost of the tour is $30. Call 631-473-1414 for tickets. Tickets are also on sale at the chamber office or Eventbrite on the chamber’s website: There is also a map on the website to direct visitors to the various gardens.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

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The Catalpa tree has lots of small white flowers that resemble tiny orchids after the tree has leafed out. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

There are two trees commonly seen on Long Island that look very much alike. They are both quick growing trees, with large heart-shaped leaves. Both have taproots. The major difference to the casual observer is that one has purple flowers in spring while the other has white flowers in early summer. The purple-flowered tree has round seedpods and the white-flowered tree has long string-bean-type seedpods.

Initially, many, many years ago, I assumed they were related, perhaps different varieties of the same tree. Wrong! What are these similar trees? The Royal Paulownia tree and the Catalpa tree.

Royal Paulownia Tree
Let’s start with the Paulownia (Paulownia tomentosa), also called the Empress tree and the Princess tree. The tree is a native of China and is extremely fast growing and a prolific producer of seeds. It is considered to be an invasive species, being brought to North America when the seeds were used as packing material for goods shipped from Asia. The seeds quickly took root and the tree has naturalized in North America. The wood of the Paulownia is used extensively in Asia for a variety of things.

Many people believe that it is an invasive plant, one that grows very quickly and therefore takes over forcing out the native species. As a result, it is listed on Suffolk County’s Management List of Invasive Species. It is recommended that it not be planted on Long Island especially near or on public land (see last week’s gardening column for details on the management list).

The purple flowers of the Paulownia tree come out before the leaves. Its bare branches and an evergreen tree can be seen in the background. Photo by Ellen Barcel
The purple flowers of the Paulownia tree come out before the leaves. Its bare branches and an evergreen tree can be seen in the background. Photo by Ellen Barcel

However, I recently came across several references to an article by Charles J. Smiley printed in the American Journal of Botany (1961) that the tree was actually native to North America as fossil leaves have been found from Washington State as far back as the Tertiary Period (66 million to 2.6 million years ago) and may have subsequently gone extinct here. Obviously, there is some disagreement among experts as the tree is still listed as invasive by a number of sources, including the New York Invasive Species Clearing House.

The American Paulownia Association can be reached at The group was “organized and developed through the joint efforts of the University of Tennessee and the University of Kentucky Extension Services” in 1991 and dedicated “to the advancement of Paulownia as a forest crop in the United States.”

The Paulownia prefers sun, grows in virtually any type of soil, is somewhat drought tolerant and does well in U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Hardiness Zones 5 to 11 (Long Island is 7). It has no significant disease or insect problems. The tree will even resprout from the root if cut down (remember that taproot), can reach heights of 70 to 100 feet and is long lived, reportedly from 60 to 100 years.

Catalpa Tree
The other tree, the Catalpa, is definitely native to North America. There are basically two varieties, northern (which grows here so well) and southern (which does well in warmer climates). Like the Paulownia, the tree is deciduous, losing its leaves in fall — quickly. In fact, it is one of the first trees to lose its leaves in fall.

The flowers of the Catalpa appear in late spring or early summer (mid-June this year) and resemble tiny orchids — white with purple throats — after the tree has leafed out. Like the Paulownia, the tree can reach a great height, easily up to 60 or more feet tall. The Catalpa grows well in hardiness zones 4 to 8. It does well in very acidic to neutral soil, pH 5.5 to 7.

The tree can be very long lived, reportedly 60 to possibly up to 100 years of age. One of mine died after about 25 years having been struck by lightning but did resprout from the root. Anthracnose (a fungal disease of some hardwood trees) can attack the leaves during very humid weather, but the tree itself usually survives quite well.

Because of its potential age, quick growth rate and hardiness, it makes a great shade tree. However, if you’re looking for autumn color, it will not provide it.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

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Plants advertised as fast-growing, like the multiflora rose bush above, while pretty, are extremely invasive. Photo from Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Every now and then, gardeners can’t find the exact information they need to successfully grow those little (or big) green things they want. When exactly, for example, should you prune your flowering shrubs? Here are a few generalities that may help in those cases. But, remember, there are always exceptions to the rules.

• If an ad for a plant says “quick-growing” or “super quick-growing,” be very wary. Frequently, quick-growing plants take over in the garden. Multiflora roses were sold as quick-growing many years ago. We know now just how invasive these pretty plants can be.  In fact they are on the list of plants which can’t be sold/propagated in Suffolk County.

• If a plant is filled with needles, chances are it’s an evergreen; it will hold its needles over the winter.  A few examples are pines, hemlocks and spruce. There are exceptions, rarely, but exceptions nonetheless, like the dawn redwood (Metasequoia). It’s sometimes called a living fossil because it is essentially the same as it was 65 million years ago. This conifer is deciduous; it loses its needles come cold weather. New needles appear in spring.

• If you need to prune a plant because it is just too big, the best time is immediately after it has flowered. That way, you will not disrupt the flowering cycle for next year. For example, if your forsythia are too big, prune them in spring after they bloom. If you prune them in very early spring before they bloom, or late in fall, while they are setting buds, you will have no flowers next season.

• “Plant it high, it won’t die. Plant it low, it won’t grow.” This rule of thumb is pretty much hard and fast. When transplanting trees, do not let them sink down below the soil level. For a whole variety of reasons, trees planted below the soil level do not do well.

Forsythia should be pruned just after the blooms fade to control height — pruning later in the season can disrupt the plant’s blooming cycle. Photo from Ellen Barcel
Forsythia should be pruned just after the blooms fade to control height — pruning later in the season can disrupt the plant’s blooming cycle. Photo from Ellen Barcel

• Rule of thumb says that evergreen trees, like conifers, evolved in an area with a short growing season. This way, with greenery still on the tree in spring, it will have a head start. How does this translate into your garden? Chances are most of the evergreen trees you’re interested in will grow well in areas with cold climates (i.e., short growing seasons).

• Evergreen trees tend to grow in acidic soil. If there are a lot of native evergreens around, chances are the soil is very acidic. Test the soil, however, just to be sure.

• Deciduous trees tend to grow in more neutral soils. Remember there are exceptions. For example, oak trees are deciduous, yet do well in very acidic soil. As a result, Long Island, with its very acidic soil, is home to native pines and oaks.

• Plants with tap roots survive drought very well. Don’t water your lawn and you get poor grass, but excellent dandelions. Everyone who has tried to get dandelions out of their lawn knows very well that with their taproots, even pulling them out, unless you get the entire taproot, they will keep growing back.

• Veggies with tap roots, like beets, kohlrabi, carrots and others, are difficult to transplant. Start them where you plan to grow them. If you must start them early, do it in a peat pot which can be planted whole in the garden when ready.

• Native plants need less care than introduced ones.

Remember, these are just rules of thumb, generalities. There are always exceptions. A gardening friend of mine transplanted a shrub with a tap root successfully without getting the entire root out, but many people who try don’t succeed.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

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A closeup of the golden chain tree in bloom. Photo by Alisa Greene

By Ellen Barcel

Recently, a reader came across a beautiful tree on the campus of Suffolk County Community College in Selden in late May with absolutely gorgeous yellow flowers. What could it be, she wondered?

After a bit of quick research I was able to identify it as a golden chain tree (Laburnum).  A native of the mountains of southern Europe and Asia Minor, it is in the pea family. That, however, does not make it edible as all parts of the plant are poisonous, including the seed pods that follow the flowers in summer. If you decide to go with this plant, put it in an area where young children and pets can’t snack on it.

The golden chain tree at Suffolk County Community College in Selden. Photo by Alisa Greene
The golden chain tree at Suffolk County Community College in Selden. Photo by Alisa Greene

The pea family is a big one. Most are legumes, that is, are nitrogen-fixing plants. They contain a symbiotic bacteria in their roots that takes nitrogen from the atmosphere for the plant’s use.  Other plants in the pea family include the sweet pea, soybeans, edible peas, peanuts, carobs, the black locust tree and kudzu.

The golden chain tree (Laburnum x watereri “Vossii”) blooms in late May and early June for about three weeks with racemes that are about 10 to 20 inches long filled with gold to yellow flowers. Do not confuse the golden chain tree with the golden rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata), a native of China and India. See my column of April 9 of this year for further information on the golden rain tree.

Some call this small (15 to 20 feet at mature height and about as wide), quick growing, deciduous tree a “Goldilocks plant” since it is very specific in its needs. It does best in hardiness zones 5 to 7. Since it evolved in a mountainous area, it’s logical that it doesn’t like extreme heat. It does best in a soil pH that is near neutral to alkaline. As so much of Long Island has very acidic soil, test your soil first and add lime to the soil if it is substantially below 6.6.

For optimum flowers, plant in a sunny or only slightly shady location. Since you will probably have to add lime to your soil for this one, and it likes sun, growing it as a small specimen tree in a lawn will provide both of these requirements — you probably lime your lawn periodically anyway. It prefers moist but well-drained soil.

The larvae of some Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) use it as food, a plus for those gardeners wishing to help wildlife. Wear long sleeves and gardening gloves when planting or pruning as some people are allergic to the tree.

Monrovia, one of the suppliers of the golden chain tree, notes that it can be espaliered. This means that it can be pruned into a flat shape to grow against a fence, wall or pergola. If you decide to espalier your tree(s), you might consider interspersing it with vines that bloom later in the season to prolong the bloom time as the flowers last just a few weeks under optimal conditions.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

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Dogwood is native to Long Island and is adapted to our climate. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

In last week’s gardening column, we looked at the frequently erratic amounts of water that Mother Nature provides to Long Island gardeners. This has been a dry spring, for example, with moderate drought conditions being reported for April and most of May. How do we deal with this?

One of the answers is by planting trees, shrubs, etc. that are native to Long Island. This way, they are plants that are already adapted to the almost pendulum-like swings between torrential rain and near drought conditions.

Native plants have other benefits, besides the amount of water they need. They are adapted in other ways, too. For example, they survive the winter cold and summer heat better than some introduced plants. Native plants need little or no fertilization. They are noninvasive (not like the English ivy, which if given an inch will take a mile).

Native trees have generally reached a balance with insect pests native to the area. You’ll notice that the insects that have caused recent problems in local trees (Asian longhorn beetle and southern pine beetle) are not from our area.

Trees that do particularly well on Long Island, and are actually native to the area, include pine and oak. Oak has a taproot, which goes deeply into the soil. This is a benefit in times of little or no rain because it’s the top layer of soil that dries out. Deep down, there’s water in the soil and the taproots reach deeply into those wet layers. The USDA Forest Service notes that pine has a vestige of a taproot and three to five other major roots that go outward and then deep into the soil. Native dogwood is another one that does well here.

Shrubs native to the area include northern bayberry (Morella pensylvanica), bear oak (Quercus ilicifolia) and blueberry. Blueberry in particular does well on Long Island because it prefers a soil with an acidity somewhere in the neighborhood of 4.0 to 5.0, very acidic. And, fortunately, Long Island soil can be as acidic as that. Blueberries come in a variety of heights and bloom times so they make a beautiful living hedge and can provide fruit for over a six-week period.
Note that wineberries, which grow so easily here, are not native but have been introduced and are very invasive. They are on Suffolk County’s Do Not Sell list because of their invasive nature. Another introduced, and invasive, shrub is the multifora rose. Again, banned and definitely invasive.

Annual, biennial and perennial plants that are native to Long Island include aster (purple flowers in autumn), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa, with its vibrant orange flowers in summer), clover and Eastern prickly pear cactus (bright yellow flowers with orange centers, also in summer). So, yes, you can have a beautiful flower garden with just native plants.
While native plants are ideal, there are also some nonnative plants that have similar characteristics. Look for plants that are drought tolerant, noninvasive and do well in USDA hardiness zone 7 or above (my preference is for 6 or above, just in case we have abnormally cold winters).
For detailed information on native plants, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden publishes “A Native Plants Reader” and “Great Natives for Tough Places.” “Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants” by C. Colston Burrewll, handbook 185, may be available as used copies. Go to for details. See also the website of the Long Island Native Plant Initiative at

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

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Flowering quince, once established, is somewhat drought tolerant and has lovely red flowers in the spring. By planting drought-tolerant plants, you’re less likely to have to spend your time irrigating your garden. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

The last two years have been interesting weatherwise on Long Island. The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which predicted a cold and snowy winter for 2013-14, and yes it was, also predicted a hot and rainy summer. As far as the hot part is concerned, it was one of the coolest summers in many years. So much for the hot part!

The wet part, well that’s a different story, kind of. Through early August we were below average. The average rain at Brookhaven National Lab in Upton for June, July, August and September hovered around four inches each of those months — a little above, a little below. June’s actual rainfall was just a little over two inches and July’s was about two and a half — definitely below average. Last fall and early winter, however, gave us plenty of rain. Last winter (2014-15) was incredibly cold and snowy. While the meteorologists didn’t talk “polar vortex” as they had the winter before, the almanac did predict a very cold winter, and yes, it was. But spring, so far has been relatively cool and dry.

Because rainfall on Long Island can vary so much from not only year to year but week to week, gardeners needed to keep an eye on it so that their gardens thrive. On average, it rains once every three or four days, but we can go for weeks in the summer with little or no rain or have it rain every day for a solid week or more.

Place a rain gauge strategically in your garden so you can see how much rain you’re getting each week and adjust your irrigation schedule accordingly. Above, the gauge shows that approximately four inches of rain/irrigation were received at that spot in the garden in just a few days. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Place a rain gauge strategically in your garden so you can see how much rain you’re getting each week and adjust your irrigation schedule accordingly. Above, the gauge shows that approximately four inches of rain/irrigation were received at that spot in the garden in just a few days. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Not only does rainfall vary timewise but geographically as well. August 13’s, 2014, record 13 plus inches of rain in southwestern Suffolk County (the Islip area in particular) flooded roads that tied up traffic, but the North and South forks got less than an inch of rain from that storm. So eastern Suffolk gardeners were watering their plants while western and central Suffolk gardeners were pumping out flooded basements.

So, place a rain gauge in your garden where it can accurately measure how much rain your garden has received. Make sure that the gauge is not under bushes, for example, which can cover the gauge’s opening. Check your gauge periodically. You can then adjust your added watering accordingly.

Most of us have very sandy soil. We need to be particularly concerned with weeks and weeks of no or little rain during the summer. We need to supplement what Mother Nature provides, particularly with plants such as tomatoes or hydrangeas, both of which need a steady supply of water. Tomato plants that dry out can result in blossom end rot. Grass should receive about an inch a week. Remember that since most of us have very sandy soil, even torrential rain, say two or more inches at once, drains quickly into the soil, and a few days later you may need to water. Also, containers dry out more quickly than plants in the ground.

Some of us have clay soil or live in an area where the water table is very high. For those gardeners, it’s not a question of getting enough rain; it can be controlling too much water or finding plants that do well in very wet soil.

If you have an area where lots of water drains into the soil, say from your roof top, you might want to consider a rain garden. This basically consists of a depressed area, frequently with a berm around it, which acts like a recharge basis (a sump) for the island’s water table. If you have an area where water virtually never drains, you might consider a bog garden. Plants that  enjoy “wet feet” do well here.

Using native plants is an option and will make it easier for the gardener. Native plants are adapted to Long Island’s periods of rain and drought and need little tending.

More on native plants, rain gardens and bog gardens in future weeks.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

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Azaleas, above, as well as rhododendron do well in acidic soil. That means that most Long Island gardeners, who usually have very acidic soil, don’t have to spend time liming the soil. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Are you planning to renew your landscaping, put in new plants, or take out some old ones? As a gardener you need to know about plants, but you also need to consider your lifestyle and how much time and energy you’re willing to put in to achieve the effect you desire.

Do all the adults in the house work full-time jobs, some even with overtime? Do you frequently take trips during the warm weather? Are you away from your home on vacations? Do you spend lots of time at the beach? If so, you probably want to enjoy your garden when you’re home and not spend time working in it. If, on the other hand, you’re newly retired and just love getting out in the dirt, then gardening is not work — it’s a joy. Now, some things to consider.

A lawn needs to be mowed once a week to 10 days. An acquaintance of mine, many years ago, had two acres of property, almost all of it with a lush lawn. On more than one occasion I heard complaints about how much time he had to spend every weekend mowing his lawn. One alternative for him would have been to hire a service to do this weekly chore. Some people go this route, but it does cost more than putting a gallon of gas in your mower. In fact, if you have a service, you don’t even need to own and maintain a mower.

The best alternative, however, and definitely my preference if I had two acres of lawn, would be to cut back drastically on how much lawn I actually had. Plant trees and shrubs that need minimal maintenance. It’s better for the environment and better for wildlife, which will soon make your garden their home. And you will spend a lot less time mowing.

Another area to consider when deciding how much time you want to spend working in the garden is plants that are prone to diseases and insects. Roses, for example, are gorgeous but notorious for their problems with aphids as well as black spot and powdery mildew. If you absolutely adore roses and have the time, sure, plant them, knowing that you’ll need to spray for insects and diseases periodically. Look for disease-resistant varieties. Another consideration with roses is their thorns. This is a special problem if you have children or grandchildren who will be running around the yard and possibly tripping into them.

A third consideration is pruning. If you select lots of plants that are quick growing and need lots of pruning, then you’re going to use up your weekends with the sheers in your hands. This is especially true if you have topiary, which must be carefully and artistically pruned periodically to maintain the look you want.

Then there’s watering. If you have the average Long Island garden, you have one that periodically needs watering. If you go away a lot during the mild weather, what happens to your garden? Do you ignore it, only to come home to a disaster? Pay someone to come periodically and take care of it? Install an irrigation system? Remember, container plants dry out more quickly than plants in the ground and need more supplemental watering. Or do you plant only native plants, which need minimal maintenance and supplemental water.

If you don’t want to spend time adding lime to the soil (sweetening or raising the pH), use only plants that thrive in acidic soil such as rhodies, azaleas, blueberries etc.

There’s no right answer for everyone. But, you do need to look at your own time and energy level and decide which works best for you. If you love to be out in the garden, enjoy the sun on your face, get your hands dirty and love to see those little green sprouts grow and thrive, fine. If because of finances, time or energy you can’t spend that much time working in the garden, then simplify by putting in native plants, which need minimal maintenance, and spend your time enjoying your garden.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

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Change out flowering plants seasonally in a container. Here mums and decorative cabbage are used in autumn. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

There are a lot of reasons why you might decide to grow many of your plants in containers rather than directly in the soil in your garden. Here are a few:

• If you have an area in the garden where many roots come to the surface, you can use containers to grow plants that wouldn’t survive amid the roots.

• Containers are great to control aggressive plants, for example, mints, which can take over part of the garden or cross with varieties you want to keep separate.

• If certain plants need to have a markedly different soil pH, it’s easier to control that pH in a container. Here I’m thinking of hydrangea macrophylla in particular, which needs a soil closer to neutral (7) or just slightly above that to have it turn pink.

Change out flowering plants seasonally in a container. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Change out flowering plants seasonally in a container. Photo by Heidi Sutton

• Container plants are great for decorating a bare spot in the garden, a deck or shed. They also can be used to decorate a tree stump, one that for one reason or another you decide not to remove.

• Plants that are viney, or hanging, do best planted in a hanging basket, where they can trail down.

• It’s easier to protect tender or iffy plants in containers. My fig trees are grown in containers, which I move into the garage to overwinter them. I know they’re varieties that supposedly are cold hardy in zone 7, but when I tried growing them in the soil, they didn’t make it through the winter. Remember to periodically water them over the winter, say once a month.

• Apartment dwellers who have just a small balcony or patio can enjoy a garden, albeit a small one, by growing their special plants in containers.

• Containers can be moved more easily, throughout the growing season or from year to year as conditions change.

• Containers can be moved out of areas that flood during nor’easters. Since virtually all plants, except those native to brackish, boggy water, can’t survive being submerged in saltwater, they need to be protected from it. How much time and energy you have dictates how many containers you’re willing or able to move when the meteorologist predicts flooding.

• A row of containers filled with vertical plants makes a nice privacy screen for a patio or deck. These could be tall grasses, small evergreens or even lowbush blueberries.

Remember, containers may need to be watered more frequently as they can dry out more quickly than plants in soil. Container plants that have large leaves frequently need special attention. The large leaves can act like little umbrellas that keep the rain from reaching the soil. Clay pots dry out more quickly than plastic or resin ones. Small pots dry out more quickly than large ones.

If you can’t find someone to water your containers while you are away on vacation, consider using watering gel (which holds excess water to be released as the soil dries out) or pots that are “self-watering,” that is, have a reserve of water for when the soil dries out. You can also set up a sprinkler on a timer.

Container size needs to match the plant or you won’t be satisfied with the results. For example, if you grow carrots in containers, you either need to have very deep containers or select a variety of carrot that is small and stubby.

Use a good quality potting soil rather than garden soil. Some potting soil already contains watering crystals and/or fertilizer. At some point, these will be used up and you’ll need to supplement the soil yourself. Read the package carefully.

Consider changing out container flowers throughout the growing season matching bloom time to maximize the seasonal impact.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

Photo from Hallockville Museum Farm

By Ellen Barcel

Say New York and most people think of skyscrapers or suburbia, but, yes, Suffolk County leads the state in the value of its agricultural sales. Its history as an agricultural county goes back to the earliest colonists.

Actually, it even goes back beyond that to the Native Americans who grew corn, beans and squash before the European colonists arrived. And what goes with farms? — animals that provide farmers with meat and fiber for their clothing.

This coming weekend, Hallockville Museum Farm in Riverhead will be holding its sixth annual Fleece and Fiber Fair. The event, held on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., will have a variety of ongoing demonstrations and activities. Besides livestock and animal displays, there will be sheep herding and sheep and llama shearing.

Setauket resident Judianne Davis-Van Nostrand will be demonstrating herding of sheep with her dogs at the fair. “I fell into it,” she said. “I was a zookeeper [whose] love for animals was prominent. I got my first border collie about 10 years ago,” she added. But, she wondered, what would a border collie be without sheep to herd. A farmer gave her dog Lucy an instinct test for herding. She failed the first two, but the third was a charm.

Davis-Van Nostrand kept her first three sheep at Cornell Cooperative Extension. Half of her flock, which has grown considerably (she has 28 now), is at Hallockville. Last year, she and her business partner, Matt Pendleton, started Long Island Sound Sheep. “The sheep we have [Kathadin] are not wool sheep. These sheep are strictly bred for meat — they’re not gamey.” Kathadin sheep were developed in the U.S. for their superior meat quality. Davis-Van Nostrand noted that these sheep have hair, not wool, and therefore don’t require shearing.

But, being a shepherdess is not her main occupation. “I work at Stony Brook University in the Department of Neurosurgery doing Alzheimer’s research — molecular biology.” She added that her husband, William Van Nostrand, is a tenured professor at SBU where they are doing “basic science looking at the mechanism of Alzheimer’s disease.”  Davis-Van Nostrand is a senior research support specialist in the department. She said that being a shepherdess “is a part-time endeavor, also my passion. It fills my need to be outside.”  This very busy lady added “I [also] have a nine-year-old daughter.”

Her work in science becomes evident in looking at her second border collie’s name, TeeCA, standing for terms in the DNA molecule, thymine, cytosine and adenine. She just came back from England where she was helping a friend lambing his sheep. She brought with her the newest addition to her canine crew, a 15-week-old puppy named Fergie. All three of her dogs will be at the demonstration this weekend along with Pendleton and his herding dog Tilly.

Visitors at the fair will also see spinning, knitting, weaving, rug hooking and needle-felting demonstrations. New this year is a needle-felting workshop on Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.. Advance registration is required for the workshop. The $22 workshop fee includes admission to the fair.

Doing a shearing demonstration of both sheep and llamas will be Long Islander Tabbethia Haubold-Magee of Long Island Livestock Co., one of the sponsors of the fair. The fair is also sponsored by Vogue Knitting. Proceeds from the fair will help to support the not-for-profit Hallockville Museum Farm.

The fair will also include historic tours of the farm as well as demonstrations of basket making and quilts.

Twenty vendors will be at the fair selling hand-crafted yarns, fiber arts supplies and finished products including soap made from the lanolin of sheep’s wool. Local food vendors will make lunch available, and the Hallockville Bake Shop will be selling homemade baked goods.

Hallockville Museum Farm is located at 6038 Sound Ave., Riverhead. Admission is $6 adults, $4 ages 5 to 12, free under 5. For further information, call 631-298-5292 or visit