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Gardening

By John L. Turner

Insight as to the value placed on a wild plant by past generations can be gained by how many common names it’s been given. Typically, a plant with the minimum of just one name has it as a means by which to recognize it and to distinguish the plant from other species. A plant with a number of names, though, suggests a species of greater significance, value, and utility, and such is the case with Shadbush, a common understory shrub or small tree which grows in Long Island’s deciduous forests.

The Shadbush blooms in late April to early May (top photo) and produces edible fruit in late spring to early summer (above). Stock photos

This attractive tree goes by a few names: Shadbush, Shadblow, Serviceberry, and Juneberry. The reference to shad stems from more ancient knowledge of recognizing patterns of nature. Many years ago shad, a species of river herring, was significantly more abundant than today and the spring shad runs up major rivers to reach their spawning grounds was an important event for many people, providing an ample supply of cheap protein. 

Perhaps it was the shad fisherman, or maybe others, but they noticed this tree blossomed at the time the shad were on the move. The five-petaled white blossoms meant migrating shad, hence the connection made permanent by the common name of Shadbush.

The white blossoms of the Shadbush in late April through early May also provided another signal — that winter was done, the ground has thawed, and the dead could receive burial service with caskets sometimes adorned with sprigs of the Serviceberry blossoms.

If the flowers are pollinated, berries form in late spring to early summer, giving rise to the last of its common names — Juneberry. The berrylike fruit is delicious and relished by numerous wildlife, including many birds. Us humans like them too and often turn the fruit into pies, jellies and jams. Technically, the fruit is known as a pome, as are apples, and this isn’t surprising since both apples and Shadbush are members of the Rose family.

The genus name Amelanchier is a french word first used to describe the species.

Four species of Shadbush occur on Long Island, with three of the species found in rich but well drained soils  and one on the eastern end located on sandier, more droughty soils. They range from being a modest multi-stemmed shrub just a few feet tall to a tree 20 to 30 feet high. In forest settings, given its smaller stature, Shadbush grows under taller oaks, black birch, and hickories and, where common, produces scattered “blossom clouds” of white beneath these taller trees. It has attractive smooth grey bark and its leaves are small and oval with toothed margins. Come autumn the foliage turn orange/red, adding a nice splash of color to the forest.

Whatever you wish to call it Shadbush has so much going for it — from its rich folklore, to pretty flowers, attractive bark, and tasty fruit — that I hope you make its acquaintance and perhaps try a berry or two.

A resident of Setauket, John Turner is conservation chair of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, author of “Exploring the Other Island: A Seasonal Nature Guide to Long Island” and president of Alula Birding & Natural History Tours.

From left, Callie Brennan, Kristin and Barry Fortunato
Kristin and Barney Fortunato. Photo from WMHO

Fort Salonga residents Kristin and Barney Fortunato (pictured on right) have joined the ranks of many helping to make a difference in the lives of all the health care warriors on the COVID-19 front lines.

Maintaining a massive backyard garden that neighbors and friends lovingly call the “Fortunato Farm” is one of their passions. Kristin, a teacher in the Huntington School District and Barney, in construction management, originally started the garden as just a hobby. Over the years, it grew into a large-scale project that continued to expand growing produce, plants and beyond.  They now have 16 raised garden beds with 700 square feet of growing space. All produce is grown from seed using organic growing practices.

Kristin and Barney Fortunato. Photo from WMHO

This year they had an amazing bounty and wanted to share not only with family and friends but also those healthcare workers in need. They organized a huge plant sale and raised almost $700, all of which was donated to their friends Callie and Tim Brennan, owners of Crazy Beans Restaurant in the Stony Brook Village Center. This donation helped Callie (pictured in top photo on the left) and Tim in their ongoing efforts to create and deliver even more lunches to those dedicated Stony Brook Hospital workers.

“I love gardening. I love the feeling of my hands in the dirt, the ability to provide healthy food to my family and friends and community. I was able to both share my passion for gardening and healthy living with the community, while doing good and giving back to front line workers in the hospital. It was a win – win,” said Kristen.

For information on making your own donation to Stony Brook eateries, call the Ward Melville Heritage Organization at 631-751-2244.

The seed starter kit, above, is a wonderful educational tool (plants in photo not included). Photo by Sam Benner

By Melissa Arnold

There’s nothing quite like spring in full bloom — the weather’s finally breaking, flowers are popping up everywhere, and it’s easy to get the kids outside for some fresh air and sunshine, even in the middle of a pandemic.

Unfortunately, most of the area’s most beloved spring locales are closed, their events canceled indefinitely until cases of COVID-19 have declined to safer levels. Without their usual income, many small businesses are struggling to pay the bills and must find creative new ways to keep the lights on.

Among them are Benner’s Farm in Setauket, well known in the community for its seasonal festivals and educational opportunities for both children and adults. With in-person field trips and large gatherings impossible, they’re trying to reinvent the wheel.

“Normally this time of year would have class after class coming in to see the farm and our new animals,” said owner Bob Benner. “We’ve had births of lambs, goat kids, chicks and bunnies, but no one can visit them — there are no workshops or Mommy and Me events, no birthday parties …. there’s literally nothing. So we’ve had to ask ourselves, ‘What can we do?’”

At Easter time, with 20,000 candy-filled eggs ready to go, Bob awoke in the middle of the night with an idea: What if they sold 50-egg boxes for families to have their own hunts at home? By the time the holiday arrived, they’d sold 100 boxes. Encouraged, the Benners sought to continue the momentum.

Next came an online store, with t-shirts and maple products for sale at www.bennersfarm.com, and a GoFundMe campaign which raised more than $6,000 to keep staff paid and animals fed.

Now they’ve created a “My First Garden Learning Kit” geared toward children containing everything you need to grow a dozen different flowers and plants. The kits include planters, potting soil, a template to sort and examine seeds, plant markers, and an instruction booklet with pictures and information about each plant at various stages of growth.

Both Bob and his wife Jean have spent decades working as teachers in addition to running the farm. Jean said that they work hard to approach every project with an educational focus, trying to see each aspect as a child would.

“We purposely chose seeds that are all different sizes and shapes, mature at different times, and are not too tiny so that kids can handle them,” she explained. “The seeds we’ve chosen are all meant to be interesting and recognizable. Marigold seeds look like tiny paintbrushes; calendula seeds resemble tiny worms.” 

The seed starter kits went on sale at the end of April. Within two days, they’d sold 70 kits and were ordering more boxes to fill. So far, so good. 

“It’s been successful especially because people are telling their friends and family. We’ve had orders come in from other places around the country, too,” said Jean.

The Benner family moved to Setauket from Northport in the late 1970s. Their eldest son, Ben, said that his earliest memories involved being dressed in overalls and driven to see the badly overgrown property. The area was first farmed in the 1750s, and the Benners revitalized it using books on homesteading as a guide. What was originally meant to be a hobby for Bob and Jean slowly evolved into something much more.

“This is our life here, and it’s so strange to see the farm empty,” Ben said. “We miss the energy of the kids, getting to see people every day, hosting our programs. This is all we want to do.”

While the Benners have no idea what the future holds or what events they’ll be able to host next, they know that the success of the farm rests in continuing local support and encouraging a love for nature in children.

“As a society, we’ve lost a certain amount of knowledge and appreciation for nature. Kids that grew up in previous generations would be out working in farms and gardens, and that doesn’t happen much around here anymore,” Ben said. “I think it’s such an important thing to learn about the process of how plants grow, and it’s a lot of fun to go out and pick your food, knowing where it comes from and knowing you did it yourself. We want to spark that interest in as many kids as possible.

Seeds included in the garden kit:

Calendulas

Sunflowers

Zinnias

Marigolds

Green squash (zucchini)

Purple bush beans

Peas

Corn

Beets

Swiss chard

Radishes

Tomatoes

Each kit costs $25. They can be picked up from Benner’s Farm at 56 Gnarled Hollow Road, Setauket. Call ahead to arrange an in-person, contactless pickup. Prepayments using a credit or debit card are preferred, but arrangements can be made for cash payment. Online orders placed at www.bennersfarm.com are $35 each and will be sent out within 24 hours. For the latest information about the farm, to make purchases or donations, call 631-689-8172 or visit their website.

 

A honey bee drinks nectar and transports pollen through the process. Photo by Polly Weigand

They buzz and flutter and are disappearing from Long Island’s environment.

Monarch caterpillar eats milkweed, its only food source. Photos by Polly Weigand

Pollinators, bees and butterflies are in decline on Long Island and nationwide, a situation that experts say is threatening the food supply. Ladybugs, too, are a threatened population.

To address a range of human health concerns, Executive Director of Long Island Native Plant Initiative Polly Weigand aims to repopulate the Island’s communities with native species plants and shrubs to re-establish important lost habitat for pollinators. The idea is to protect human healthy by preserving food and water supplies.

“Native plants provide food and habitat for wildlife,” Weigand said. “And it reduces the need for pesticides, fertilizers and irrigation, ultimately protecting Long Island’s groundwater supply.”

Avalon Park & Preserve in Stony Brook and St. James is a big supporter of the initiative. The site’s 140 acres were restored to include only native plants and shrubs. As it expands to 210 acres, it’s repopulating the land with a palette of native flora.

Homeowners can also take part in the movement.

Creating native habitats in your own landscape contributes solutions to many serious concerns and therefore, can be rewarding for Long Islanders.

The caterpillar then forms its chrysalis on the underside of the milkweed leaf before it emerges as a butterfly. Photo by Polly Weigand

“Protecting Long Island’s aquifer — the sole source of all our drinking water — is critically important,” said Seth Wallach, community outreach coordinator for Suffolk County Water Authority. “We also strongly encourage all Long Islanders to visit www.OurWaterOurLives.com to learn how they can help, and take the pledge to conserve water.”

The native solution

The first step for any landscape project, Weigand said, is to identify the light, soil and water conditions. 

“When you plant native species in the right location, that’s it,” she said. 

Milkweed and asters are two very versatile plants to consider, she added. The milkweed’s leaves provide habitat for Monarch butterfly eggs and forage for the caterpillar. Its blossoms can also provide nectar once the caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Butterfly metamorphosis, a miraculous process to witness, can potentially take place in your own yard.

“People plant gardens for butterflies but perhaps they could consider planting gardens or areas for caterpillars,” Dan Gilrein, entomologist at Cornell Cooperative Extension.  “This might help support some butterfly populations as well as help birds, many of which include some caterpillars as a large part of their diet, and many caterpillars are quite beautiful and interesting.” 

Three of Long Island’s more abundant native milkweed varieties include common milkweed, butterfly milkweed and swamp milkweed. Common milkweed and butterfly weed are good choices for sunny and dry locations. The swamp and butterfly weed habit grows in clumps, whereas the common milkweed is a rhizome that tends to spread across larger areas through an underground root system.

Goldenrod is also a good choice, she said.

“It’s a myth that it causes allergies,” Weigand said. “Goldenrod pollen is not dispersed by wind.”

For shrubs, bayberry is a nice option. Its fragrance lingers on your fingertips after touching it and evokes the scent of a beach vacation. It’s also beneficial to birds.

Butterfly drinks nectar from the milkweed. Photo by Polly Weigand

“Its waxy fruit is crucial high-energy food for migrating birds in the fall,” Weigand said. 

Choke berries and service berries are also good landscape options. Aronia not only flowers in the spring and displays bright foliage in the fall, Weigand said, its berries are edible and is similar to the acai, which has become a popular breakfast food.

Long Island Native Plant Initiative operates a website chock full of information with images on native plants (www.linpi.org). The nursery sells both wholesale and retail. Weigand encourages people to request native plants at your local garden center to help create demand.

“I love sitting and watching the many different types of pollinators attracted to native plants,” Weigand said. She recommends observing and learning to appreciate the show. “It’s native plant television.”

Stacy Colamussi creates her own impressive fertilizer from kitchen scraps with the aid of red wigglers. Photos from Stacy Colamussi and the Town of Huntington

On a sunny Wednesday morning in June, Town of Huntington Deputy Clerk Stacy Colamussi presented her vermicomposting “worm fertilizer” demonstration to over 60 residents at the town’s Senior Center.

Stacy Colamussi creates her own impressive fertilizer from kitchen scraps with the aid of red wigglers. Photos from Stacy Colamussi and the Town of Huntington

As an avid gardener, Colamussi has always composted, but over the past several years she has started vermicomposting: raising special composting worms that eat all her kitchen scraps, newspapers and junk mail. Colamussi then uses their waste, or castings, to fertilize and protect her plants.

“Worm fertilizer is a great way to go green – imagine if everyone practiced vermicomposting,” Colamussi, who wholeheartedly attests to the process and its success, and has now devoted her time to educating others on its benefits, seeking to make everyone’s backyard a little greener. “We can dramatically reduce waste sent to waste management facilities, while reaping the benefits of vigorous and healthy flowers, plants, shrubs and lawns, not to mention vegetables! Worm castings can be used on anything, not only in the garden.”

During her presentation, Colamussi demonstrated the vermicomposting process, explained how to get started and answered various questions about using worm castings in the garden before giving away bags of her homemade worm fertilizer as souvenirs for attendees.

Upon receiving an interested and enthusiastic response from those present, Colamussi announced she would be presenting her vermicomposting demonstration at several local libraries during the summer and fall.

For gardeners eager to immediately launch their own vermicomposting project, Colamussi explains the process:  

To begin, you should weigh your food scraps for one week to see how many pounds of scraps you accumulate. Then, buy the number of worms you need to consume your scraps. One pound of worms, which is about 1,000 of them, will eat ½ to 1 pound per day. You can buy red wiggler (Eisenia fetida) worms online.

The bin 

You can make a homemade bin or buy a commercial one in which to keep worms. It’s very simple. I started with a homemade bin, using two Can-O-Worms and a Worm Factory that a friend gave me. I have now migrated to commercial bins. I actually have three. They can be kept inside or outside, but temperatures have to be 55 to 80 degrees year-round. Therefore, I keep mine in the house. There are many YouTube videos and articles online to show you how to make a bin.

Setup 

To set it up you need bedding. Shredded cardboard and /or paper is what I use. No plastic or glossy mail. For the initial setup, soak the cardboard and paper and wring it out so that it’s like a wrung-out sponge in terms of moisture. Place the bedding in the bin and add the worms. Leave them for a few days so that they can acclimate. Then, add a small amount of chopped up food. Check in a few days to see if they finished it. Start out with small amounts and don’t add anymore until its mostly gone. Over a few weeks, you’ll learn how much to give them. I rotated spots where I deposited the scraps for about a year, for example: top left, then top right, then bottom left and then bottom right. Each time I feed them, I add some dry shredded paper to absorb moisture from the food. It will take three to six months in the beginning to get a good amount of castings (aka: poop). Now I harvest castings weekly. Castings are miracle food for plants!

“Worm fertilizer is a great way to go green – imagine if everyone practiced vermicomposting.”

— Stacy Colamussi

Currently, I feed the worms once a week. I keep a Ziploc bag in the freezer and every day I just throw my scraps (banana peels, avocado skins, pineapple, asparagus, pepper scraps, etc.) in the bags. At the end of the week, I defrost the scraps and chop them up and give it to the worms. No citrus, onions, garlic or hot peppers. Other than that, anything you would normally compost you can give the worms. Coffee grounds, eggshells and so forth. You don’t have to chop the scraps, but it will take much longer for them to eat if you don’t. I put mine in the food processor, because I want tons of castings all the time.

The garden 

I have raised beds and practice square-foot gardening. My soil is ⅓ castings, ⅓ peat moss and ⅓ vermiculite. I brew worm tea weekly and apply as a fertilizer and pesticide. I also side dress my plants, vegetables and flowers every couple of weeks with the castings. I have been gardening for 40 years and have learned new things every single year. I am now completely organic, and I stopped all chemical fertilizers and pesticides. So far, the castings seem to be providing the soil amendment I need, and the plants are super healthy and growing vigorously. The use of worm castings is supposed to increase yield by 20 to 25 percent. I am seeing that this year. I grew zucchini and cucumber plants from seed one month ago. At three weeks, 5-inch high plants had six to eight flowers on each. I’ve not experienced anything like that in the past!

Worm castings are GOLD and you get to save the environment!

It’s time to garden!

Join the staff at Frank Melville Memorial Park, 1 Old Field Road, Setauket for a free gardening class at the Red Barn on Saturday, May 25 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Come share garden success stories and Master Gardener Haig Seferian will answer your questions. And, no one will go home empty-handed. For more info, call 631-689-6146.

The sign for Patriots Hollow State Forest along Route 25A in Setauket. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

By Kyrnan Harvey

I was able to attend a meeting of the Three Village Community Trust last Thursday that addressed the complicated issue of nonnative invasive plants. Guest speaker Luke Gervase of the Long Island Invasive Species Management Area led the discussion that emphasized Patriots Hollow State Forest, the few dozen acres of woods running north and west of Route 25A in Setauket, roughly opposite Stop & Shop. Recently the trust announced that it is working toward a stewardship agreement with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, as reported in these pages, to restore the woods, currently impenetrable with fallen and cracked trees and the bittersweet, greenbriar and multiflora rose that have seized the day.

But this is not a virgin forest. English settlers in the 17th century farmed along North Country Road and what would become 25A, and the Setalcotts likely did the same before that. 

The Fitzsimmons family started farming there in 1939, growing potatoes, and in ensuing years acquired parcels and rented the land to other farmers. Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Center owned 30 acres along 25A since the 1960s, which was tilled as late as 1980. In other words, this was more or less open land until the farming was discontinued. 

Immediately thereafter began the ecological succession of plants that start germinating in fallow fields. On Long Island these would have first been sun-loving perennials like asters, grasses, boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), goldenrods and milkweeds, but also sun-loving woody plants like eastern red cedar, Virginia creeper, poison ivy, Rosa multiflora, sumacs (Rhus spp.), wild raspberries and blackberries (Rubus spp.). Native trees like gray birch and black cherry and exotics, like white mulberry and black locust, soon start displacing the pioneering species.

Desirable successional tree species would be hardwood natives like oaks, sassafras and black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), but 40 years later at Patriots Hollow we have, in this prime location within the Old Setauket Historic District, a vast mess of nonnative invasives like black locust, tree of heaven (Ailanthus) and Norway maple that out-competed other canopy trees like the native red maple, the caterpillar-hosting black cherry and the dignified white oak and have precluded the prosperity of understory natives like shadbush (Amelanchier), arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), spicebush and American holly, not to mention the potential of an array of wonderful undergrowth perennials.

Restoring Patriots Hollow Forest to a multifunctional habitat (for birds and insects, as well as for human use with trails) by engineering species diversity through vertical layering (canopy trees, understory trees and shrubs, undergrowth perennials) and horizontal layering (woods, edge of woods, open clearing) is a daunting project. It requires a vision, human and financial resources and a coherent set of attainable goals. Cynthia Barnes, president of the board of trustees for the Three Village Community Trust, says that a task force will be meeting to draft some preliminary guidelines and ideas for restoration of this DEC property, including doing an inventory of the flora and fauna and describing the current conditions. The task force will work on hosting facilitated public planning workshops in collaboration with the DEC later this year.

Which brings me back to our speaker, Gervase of the LIISMA, who made the point that it is advised to only gradually remove nonnative invasives, else you are clearing the way for a new wave of opportunistic invasive. For example, if you cut down all the black locusts, then you will quickly get a vast inundation of fast-growing Norway maples. But this presumes there will be little or no maintenance at the site. Thousands of freshly germinated maple seedlings can annually be quickly rubbed out with a scuffle hoe, if there is an integrated management plan in place.

Nor need a rigidly dogmatic approach be adopted. Perhaps some black locusts should be left, ones that have attained to the gnarly character of old age, considering that they are “near native”; that it is not prohibitively difficult to establish understory trees, shrubs and perennials under them and that their wood is for split-rail fencing. 

I advocate for a nuanced approach that would be capable of adapting to shifting circumstances and that would be capable of improvising wise decisions midstream.

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.boskygarden.com. 

Arrangements of cut lilac flowers can brighten a room and fill a house with their delightful scent. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

By Kyrnan Harvey

My wife cut a large bunch of lilac flowers yesterday and stuffed them in a pewter pitcher. We inherited an old shrub when we moved to East Setauket. English ivy was growing up its gnarly stems, a young black cherry was growing right through the clump and bittersweet had twisted itself up into the crown. There were only a couple blooms the first May here — the common lilac, Syringa vulgaris — but I immediately freed it and cut out cracked branches and each year it has been more bountiful.

Lilacs are deer-proof and otherwise very tough and durable shrubs that present wonderful colors and scents to the early spring garden. Most are in bloom for the second Sunday in May, but if you plant a few different types — early, mid, and late varieties — you can have that lilac scent in your garden — and home — for four weeks. 

This week the earliest, the hyacinthiflora hybrids, may be about faded and finished. If you see a Syringa x hyacinthiflora label on a shrub in a garden center it will be a good variety: dark “Royal Purple” or reddish “Pocahontas” or “Maiden’s Blush.” Add one each year if you have the space. I planted an “Angel White” two years ago but so far it has been shy of flower.

Last year I discovered the gorgeous “Declaration,” with reddish tints in the purple, at a wholesale nursery. I gave one to mom and planted one myself. My son’s school bus driver apparently has a good eye for an unusual color so I got her one too. The common vulgaris lilac is not easily discerned from hybrids, but they flower a little later. I have my eye out for “Beauty of Moscow” (pink buds, white flowers), for “Primrose” (creamy yellow, most strongly perfumed), and for “Wonderblue,” but there are dozens of varieties, only a few of which are readily available commercially. Just avoid buying a plant merely labeled S. vulgaris, because it might be just a little too ordinary and there are so many good cultivars to seek out. My old stomping ground, the New York Botanical Garden, has an astounding collection, cataloged online. Hurry there and take notes. 

A week or so after the common lilac, the so-called Canadian lilacs flower. Bred originally in Ottawa by a Miss Preston they are hybrids labeled S. x prestoniae. “Donald Wyman” has been readily available for as long as I can remember, and maybe “Red Wine,” but that’s about all. 

Extend the lilac season with S. patula “Miss Kim” and S. meyeri “Palibin.” Known as Korean lilacs, they are both dwarfer than the old-fashioned varieties. “Miss Kim” is readily available, “Palibin” less so, though it has caught on in recent years. “Miss Kim” is a valuable addition for its flowering season well past all others, except the badly scented tree lilac. 

“Palibin” has been a favorite of mine for a long time. It doesn’t get much taller than five or six feet and it spreads broadly, rooting in. I have dug up pieces for years and planted them in clients’ gardens. It flowers profusely in light shade, doesn’t get powdery mildew, and is twiggy with small leaves.

All the other varieties must have tons of sun. Even then, they might be shy of flowering, especially when still young. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizer. Very old shrubs too can disappoint with flower production, and, moreover, be overgrown eyesores. Every few years you should cut to the ground a third of the gnarliest old stems, which encourages fresh new growth, and reduces the shrubs to better scale. Do this directly after flowering, and give them lime. Or — if you burn logs in your fireplace — spread the ash around your lilacs.

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.boskygarden.com.

The long, scented racemes of Japanese wisteria, W. floribunda, ‘White/Blue Eye’, trained here as a tree, appear before the vine leafs out. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

By Kyrnan Harvey

Wisterias and lilacs are reliably in flower around the second Sunday in May on Long Island and, being 100 percent deerproof, make wonderful gifts for a mom who loves her garden. 

They are long-lived and durable, which is certainly an understatement regarding wisteria. When I bought my house in East Setauket there was 20 or 30 years of unchecked growth between my house and a neighbor’s that was serving as a de facto privacy barrier: Oriental bittersweet, English ivy, Russian olive and natives poison ivy and greenbrier that were choking to near death a pair of American dogwoods and a few native spicebushes (Lindera benzoin). There was wisteria too, clambering all over the dead limbs of a fallen spruce. 

My neighbor bemoaned the invasiveness of the wisteria, which was running along the ground, rooting in and climbing her Chinese dogwoods, an old beautybush (Kolkwitzia) and her giant old weeping cherry tree. I agreed that it is awfully invasive but that I would not remove it, valuing as I do the beauty and delightful scent of its flowers. I cut any vines that were not supported by the dead fallen spruce and initiated a war on the other nonnative invasives, preserving the dogwoods and clearing the way for my wife’s cut-flower/kitchen garden, and, yes, diminishing the privacy between our houses. 

Yes, wisteria is horribly invasive, but sometimes it is worth leaving to climb into weed trees or over a chain-link fence, in which case you will want to be vigilant with the secateurs and folding pruning saw. If you have a pergola, the posts and beams of which are tall enough and strong enough, and you want a vine to grow over it, then wisteria is certainly at the top of the list of options. Consider well though the commitment of maintenance, which is to climb a ladder and cut-cut-cut the endless yards of rampant new growth all summer after flowering in May.

I have been planting wisterias since I started gardening 30 years ago. One of the first mistakes I made was buying a young (two- or three-year-old), unnamed, Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis). I trained it to grow as a standard (tree form), but it was years before it flowered and, when it did, the flowers appeared simultaneously with the leaves, which partially obscured the flowers. 

After 15 years of cut-cut-cut atop a step-ladder summer after summer, I asked Joe, my assistant, to cut it down. I couldn’t do it myself but I was ready with a superior replacement: a grafted tree form, Wisteria floribunda, ‘Shiro-noda’ (Snow Showers), in a 15-gallon container. For the next 10 years this was an absolute highlight of the gardening year, the very long fragrant white racemes appearing before the “tree” leafed out and with forget-me-nots and tulips below and a tree peony nearby. 

If you want to buy a wisteria, seek a named cultivar of the Chinese (W. sinensis) or Japanese (W. floribunda) variety. Unless you want to grow it up a pergola, see if you can find one trained on a single trunk. It will always need support, as the physiology of the trunk is that of a vine, needing support to climb, and not that of a self-supporting tree. Grow it as a tree and curtail its growth. If you plant a grafted wisteria, you won’t have to wait years for it to start flowering. And I very much prefer varieties that flower before leafing out.

If wisteria sounds like too much of an undertaking and commitment, there is the option of a lilac (Syringa) for mother. These are nearly carefree, of equally delightful scent and the topic of my next gardening column. 

 Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.boskygarden.com.

By Heidi Sutton

If you’re like me, you are just chomping at the bit to get your garden started. 

After a winter plagued with one snowstorm or nor’easter after another, it’s hard to believe that spring has finally arrived. Avid gardeners hibernating in their homes for what seemed like months have been keeping their spirits high by perusing the gardening catalogs for the latest plants and products, all the while patiently waiting for the ground to thaw.

In perfect timing, All-America Selections recently announced National Winners for 2018 — new varieties of flowers, fruits and vegetables that will do well in any climate throughout the United States and Canada. With fun names like Sweet American Dream, Super Hero Spry, Queeny Lime Orange, Valentine and South Pacific Orange, these cultivars are the best of the best, beating out thousands for the ultimate title.

Since 1932, this nonprofit organization has annually tested new varieties of flowers and vegetables in various locations throughout the United States and Canada. Judges look for improved qualities such as disease tolerance, early bloom or harvest dates, taste, unique colors and flavors, higher yield, length of flowering or harvest and overall performance.

Here’s what the judges had to say about some of the award winners:

1. Zinnia Queeny Lime Orange: A “WOW” color in an easy-to-grow zinnia is what this flowering annual brings to the garden. Sporting lovely, large, dahlia-like blooms on a sturdy, compact plant, this variety provides cut-flower gardeners and growers with a wonderful hue for today’s floral trends. The unique color evolves from dark coral/peach/orange to a light peach with a dark center as the flowers age and each uniform plant produces prolific deeply fluted blooms that last about 3 weeks without preservatives or feed.

2. Canna South Pacific Orange F1: This variety is more vigorous, more uniform and has more basal branching than comparison cannas. It offers an outstanding bloom color in an attractive, vivid bright orange that contrasts nicely with the bright green foliage. Pollinator gardens will love this addition of an attractive canna that sports uniformly colored flowers over a long blooming period. Bonus: This canna is grown from seed, not tuber, meaning less chance of succumbing to disease.

3. Marigold Super Hero Spry: Super Hero Spry is a lovely compact (10 to 12 inches) French marigold with dark maroon lower petals and golden yellow upper petals perched on top of the dark green foliage. The list of winning attributes includes a more uniform and stable color pattern, earlier to bloom and no deadheading required. These stunning blooms make any garden fit for a Super Hero!

4. Tomato Valentine F1: Hands down, the judges agreed this was the most appealing grape tomato they trialed. With an appetizing deep-red color, it has a very sweet taste and will hold longer on the vine without cracking or losing the excellent eating quality. The plant is quite prolific and will mature early (55 days from transplant). Gardeners should plan on staking the indeterminate vines for best results. Tomato lovers will appreciate the sweet, firm flesh that is meaty enough to resemble a Roma tomato but in a smaller, grape-type fruit. These easy-to-harvest tomatoes can take the summer heat and keep on producing.

5. Corn, Sweet American Dream: With its excellent germination, very tender, super sweet kernels, this newbie will make a great addition to the home garden. American Dream matures slightly earlier than the comparisons and produces vigorous, healthy plants with cobs that have good tip fill of bicolored kernels. Plants grow 6 to 7 feet tall and mature in 77 days after planting the seed. Perfect fresh, roasted, grilled, canned or frozen.

For a complete list of the new plants chosen by the AAS, as well as other information about the organization, visit its website at www.all-americaselections.org