the Community Garden Club of Duxbury designed this island in the town of Duxbury, Massachusetts


Hopi Red Dye Amaranth


Browsing at plant nurseries and greenhouses is one of my favorite things to do. My kids learned early in life that when I was taking them somewhere and a garden center was coming up, to try to distract me by pointing out something on the other side of the road whether real or fictitious.

Chocolate PlantBy this time of year some gardeners are looking forward to putting their gardens to bed and doing other activities especially after one as hot and humid as this past summer. Other gardeners just want to keep planting and growing. If you are in the latter category you may want to consider some un-common fall blooming plants to add to your garden this fall or next spring.

My first suggestion is commonly called the Chocolate plant because of its chocolate brown - bronze colored leaves. However it is not edible nor does it smell like chocolate. The botanical name is Eupatorium rugosum ‘chocolate’. If you are up on your botanical names you will recognize that it is related to the tall native, wild Joe Pye weed, which also blooms this time of year. ” The plant looks like a 3-foot shrub but dies back to the ground each season. Starting in mid Sept it is covered with fuzzy white flower clusters, which are great for cut bouquets. It is attractive to butterflies as well. The Chocolate plant will do fine in filtered shade although mine gets full sun until late afternoon and does well.

Blue MistArgeratum Blue HorizonThe 2nd suggestion is also in the genus Eupatorium with the species name of coelestinum. The common name is Blue Mist. Several years ago I was going through some old seed packets and came across Blue Mist. Thinking that due to the age of the seeds, not many would germinate, I scattered the whole packet. As you may have guessed I think every seed sprouted. When I saw them coming up the next spring I knew I had a good perennial. This is a look a-like plant to the tall blue annual Ageratum houstonianum ‘Blue Horizon’ called floss flower which is also a good cut flower. Blue mist is just beginning to bloom in early Sept. It tends to spread by short root-runners. As you can see by the photos the flowers are very, very similar but the leaves are quite different. Blue Horizon is an annual while Blue Mist is a perennial.

TurtleheadMy 3rd suggestion Chelone glabra has many common names including shellflower, snakehead, cod head, fish mouth and my favorite name for it is turtlehead. This native, perennial, wildflower is found in many shady, damp areas of the eastern US. With a height of 2 -3 feet these flowers are a favorite for children as well as adults. Like a snapdragon flower, when gently squeezed the pink and white flower will open its mouth. The flowers bloom from the top down so can last several weeks in bouquets when the top blooms are pruned back, as they fade. Turtlehead plants do not attract deer but butterflies and humming birds love its nectar. I first encountered this flower when driving on some back roads in the Blue Hills area of Maine and spotted a tiny sign saying “plants for sale”. Of course I had to go look and came home with my first Turtlehead plant, which spread slowly in the shade garden.

Last but not least is Hopi Red Dye Amaranth – Amaranthus cruentus. This sun & hot weather loving annual was raised and used over 4,000 years ago in Mexico. Eventually it found its way to the southwest area of the US where the Hopi tribes grew it. They used the bright red seeds to color and flavor cornmeal bread called Piki. The thin dough was spread over flat stones to bake until it was like a wafer with a bright pink color. All parts of the plant above ground have uses. The young sprouts are eaten, the leaves are added to salads or cooked like spinach, and the seeds that are very high in protein and fiber as well as other nutrients are gluten free. The seeds can be eaten raw, roasted or ground into flour for baking. When toasted like popcorn they are sometimes mixed with honey or chocolate. The whole plant can also be used for dyeing fabric. The dark maroon-red colored flowers are great as a cut flower as well as being striking in the garden.

Although Hopi Amaranth is an annual it readily self seeds itself from year to year. The height is 4 feet plus. This season one of my Amaranths is towering over my head at close to 6 feet tall.  There are other varieties of Amaranth you might want to look into with names such as Love-Lies-Bleeding, Hot Biscuits, Emerald Tassels, and Coral Fountain, which can easily be started from seed.

Chrysanthemums, asters and sedums are all nice fall blooming plants but you may want to expand your choices. Consider getting some Chocolate, Blue Mist, Turtlehead and/or Amaranthus plants for your gardens.




Amelanchier canadensis in autumn color


Jeanette Mac Kenzie

August, 2018


Amelanchier in bloom smallWho or what does this word refer to? Until last spring when researching historical plants for the Pilgrims, John & Priscilla Alden’s property here in Duxbury, I had never heard about Amelanchier. This is the genus name for over 20 different species of trees & shrubs which are native to the US and Canada. It is claimed that at least one species is native to each of the states except Hawaii. Some species are small trees; others are multi- branched clump forming shrubs.

What interests me is some of the common names for this plant. The first ones are shadblow, shadberry and shadbush. If you are not acquainted with shad they are fish related to herring ranging in size from 3 to 5 lbs. that live in the Atlantic Ocean. When it is time to spawn they swim up numerous fresh water streams along the Eastern coast. These shad runs take place when the Amelanchiers are blooming in the early spring. The flowers have 5 separate white petals; occasionally pink or streaked are seen.

serviceberry ripeAfter the flower petals fall, soon dark berries form which ripen in June thus another common name Juneberry. They look similar to blueberries although botanically they are more closely related to the apple family. In Canada & Alaska they are called Saskatoon berries, which is from the Cree language, meaning “The fruit of the tree of many branches”. The berries are high in fiber, protein and antioxidants, Vitamin C, iron and potassium. The flavor has a wild sweetness with a unique nutty almond taste. The Saskatoon berries are eaten fresh as well as used in pies, tarts, scones, muffins, breads, jams, sauces and trail mixes. They can also be used in wine, cider and a variety of liquors. The city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada is named after this berry.

small service berry shrubs in duxburyAt one of this summer’s Garden Gatherings, many of you saw some Amelanchier shrubs. The garden owner had been told that these plants were native and had some historical significance. They were called Serviceberries. So where did this name come from? In the early days of our country circuit rider preachers would travel from town to town to conduct church services. When the Serviceberry shrubs were blooming they knew that the spring thaw had arrived and that they would be able to get through the woods, trails, mountain passes, etc. to conduct church services again. If someone died during the winter they could not be buried until the ground had thawed in the spring. Thus some of the earliest services were funerals. Other services were to baptize babies, perform marriages and as one source suggested to legitimize the baptized babies.

The next time you are looking to plant a shrub with edible berries consider a Shadblow-June-berry-Saskatoon-Serviceberry. It is attractive in the spring when covered in white blooms as well as in the fall when the leaves turn a rusty red color. Even George Washington planted Amelanchiers at his property at Mount Vernon, Virginia!







By Jeanette Mac Kenzie, Horticultural Chair



common wood nymphWhat could be more delightful on a warm sunny day than watching a colorful butterfly flitting around your garden! Besides their beauty, they are also excellent pollinators. So how do you get them to your garden?

From a butterflies viewpoint there can’t be too many flowers. Large areas of color attract them, whether just one variety of flower or a mixture of shrubs, perennials & annuals. Provide varying heights of plants, as smaller butterfly species tend to seek nectar on shorter plants while the larger ones go higher up.  Butterflies need some shelter from the wind that can be provided by trees, shrubs, fences or rock walls. Wind cools the butterflies too much and causes them to expend energy fighting the air currents.

Tiger SwallowtailA sunny area is also important, as butterflies need to keep warm to fly. When warm they can fly both earlier and later in the day to feed and lay eggs. Eggs and caterpillars will develop more quickly when in a sunny habitat.  Since butterflies are unable to drink from open water provide a “puddling” area for them. Use an old cake pan; partially bury it in the garden then fill with sand and /or mud with enough water to keep it damp. Add a few raised rocks as a landing pad. Many males need the mineral salts found in mud & sand. This is fun project to get kids involved in.

Did you ever notice two butterflies spiraling in the air? These are 2 males - one chasing the other out of its territory as it awaits a receptive female.

Eastern TigerswallowtailFood for caterpillars comes in the form of tree leaves, weedy plants such as dandelions, nettles, dock, violets, milkweed, sumac, clover, queen-Ann’s lace. Garden plants the caterpillars like include lupine, hops vine, baptisia, honeysuckle, daisy, fennel, dill, parsley, carrot tops.

When the caterpillars change into lovely butterflies their food choices also change. Their favorite perennials include: black-eyed Susan, asters, butterfly weed- Asclepias, liatris, lilac, rhodys and azaleas, columbine, beebalm, phlox, coneflower, globe thistle and butterfly bushes.

Poanes hobomok photo 6Among the annuals to attract butterflies you can plant: cosmos, impatiens, petunias, pentas, marigolds, snapdragons, sunflowers, sweet alyssum, zinnias, basil, calendula, catnip, Rosemary, silver dollar and thyme.

If you wear something bright and stay quietly near the “puddling” area or nectar plants in your garden, you may be lucky enough to have a butterfly land quietly on your shoulder - it is just checking you out.

Enjoy your gardens hopefully filled with butterflies this summer. ~








By Jeanette Mac Kenzie


Do you like to eat? Almost all food begins with a seed, whether we eat fruits, vegetables, grains, meat or animal products.  The animals that provide us with meat, dairy products, eggs are fed on varying types of plant material, which of course come from seeds.  Seeds are the basis of plant life and without them the world would go hungry.


“Cultivating land for agriculture use began 12 - 15,000 years ago. But since industrialization, plant diversity has diminished dramatically as a handful of big seed sellers control most of what’s sold and planted. Since 1900, we’ve lost more than 75% of our crop diversity.”


 To save money one would first think of going to a bank.  So with seeds, they are being saved in seed banks/vaults around the world. Currently there are 1,700 seed banks world wide of varying  size and contents.  


Svalbard in winterOne of the largest is referred to as the Doomsday Global Seed Vault in Svalbard Norway, located on an Arctic island near the North Pole.  It is a back up for the whole system designed to last for thousands of years. Preserving seeds for a long time requires extremely cold temperatures and low humidity.  If you enter this place - it is not a good sign, it means something of apocalyptic proportions has happened. The vault holds multitudes of seeds, in case global catastrophes destroy most of the earth’s crops.  It has 1/3 of the worlds most important food crop seeds inside of it with the capacity to hold up to 4.5 million seed varieties. 


wheat varieties 3In one room there are seeds for more than 150,000 varieties of wheat. These seeds represent everything that wheat can be in the future.  Each variety has different traits from varying amounts of protein, resistance to particular diseases and insects, abilities to grow in different temperature and moisture conditions.


The vault goes 390 feet into a sandstone mountain.  There is no permanent staff and no one person has all the codes you need to get inside. For hundreds and possibly thousands of years, these seeds will be kept safe.  Funding for the seed bank built from the remains of an abandoned mine, was provide largely by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 


The vault is only open for special visitors and a few days a year when it accepts new seeds. To date there has only been one withdrawal from this seed bank.  A seed research center in Syria had to flee due to political reasons just a few years ago.  Withdrawing some of their own seeds being stored in the Norwegian vault, they were able to grow them out in Morocco and Lebanon to reestablish their own seed bank. They are now returning some of the seeds to the Svalbard bank.


Other large seed banks around the world:


In India there is Navdanya, an agricultural research center begun by a woman named Shiva Navdanya who has dedicate her life to protecting seed diversity. She has created a seed bank that conserves only unpatented seeds of over 5,000 crop varieties focusing largely on the preservation of grain species. Currently they have preserved nearly 3,000 species of rice alone.


Russia has Vavilov Research Institute that opened in 1924 which has expanded to 12 different stations throughout the country. Their seed banks house a combined total of some 60,000 seed varieties and their herbariums contain 250,000 plant specimens. They specialize in berries and other fruits out of which 90% are not found in any other seed bank in the world.            


England has Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank located on the grounds of Britain’s Royal Botanical Gardens.  This seed bank focuses on conserving seeds from plants that can be used for food production. It currently holds seeds from over 10 % of all plant species.  They are aiming to have 25% by the year 2020.


The United States of America has the  National Center for Genetic Resources, located on the campus of Colorado State University. This place is home to one of the world’s largest gene banks. The center is unique in that it does not simply host seeds, but collections of genetic information, including plants, animals, insects and microorganisms. In its plant division, the center contains pollen, meristem tissue and cell cultures.  In case you don’t know meristem tissue is found chiefly at the growing tips of roots and shoots and the cambium layer of woody plants, consisting of actively dividing cells forming new tissue.


So if all of this interests you, how can you as gardeners get involved?


There is an organization called SEED SAVERS EXCHANGE which some of you may be familiar with. Its aim is to promote and conserve garden and food crops by collecting, growing and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.  They have a collection of 20,000 heirloom seeds & open-pollinated vegetable, herb and plant varieties, including over 1,000 varieties of heritage apple trees. Most of their collection is kept in an underground freezer vault in Decorah, Iowa.    Each year they grow out select varieties to keep their seed supply fresh. If you become a member you have access to thousands of seeds and plants shared with other members from around the world. 


If you don’t want to become a member you can just order seeds from their annual seed catalog that features 6000 varieties. Go to to sign up for a catalog or see it on line.  All of their seeds are heirlooms including flowers, vegetables and herbs.  For tomatoes you might want to try a white cherry (which is very sweet) or a bi-colored beefsteak tomato named Hillbilly Potato Leaf.  Yes tomatoes and potatoes are related.  How about Lime Basil or the natural sweetener Stevia.   You might find that you prefer some of these heirloom plants instead of the new hybrids. 


Of course you can save the seeds from heirloom plants to grow in following years because they aren’t hybrids. Seeds from hybrids will produce plants that revert back to one of their many ancestors with varying traits.


Start planning now for some plants you want to grow from seed in next year’s garden.

Quoted material was written by a CBS reporter Seth Doone


 Svalbard Bank Doomsday Insurance



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by Jeanette Mac Kenzie

Blues…. not the sad kind but the wonderful colorful shades ranging from steel blue to lavender. Of all the colors found in garden flowers, blues are probably the lease common. Since our climate appears to be changing for the warmer the following plants mentioned will be more on the drought tolerant side.

As in flower arranging so in the garden, the blues & purples seem to disappear when seem from any distance. This shouldn’t discourager you from planting them. Keep in mind that light colored blooms of white or yellow planted around the blues will help their visibility greatly.

One of my favorite flowering shrubs is Buddleia, the butterfly bush. The first time I saw one of them was on a garden tour years ago. It was about 6 feet tall and absolutely alive with scores of butterflies and even a few humming birds, all after the nectar. The many varieties have a color range from almost black to light lavender to maroon reds and white. There are even dwarf varieties. The flowers come from each year’s new growth so hard pruning can be done either in the fall or spring if you want a shorter shrub

If you lean towards the purples try the beautyberry shrub Callicarpa. A new one just on the market scene is a variety called ‘Purple Pearls’. This 4-5 ft bush has fuzzy pink flowers followed in the autumn by intensely bright purple berries which surround the stem. The purple foliage gracefully drape to the ground. Cut stems give a real splash of color in an autumn arrangement as well as being striking in the garden. The violet-lilac berries attract birds and are claimed to repel mosquitoes. This is another shrub that blooms on new wood. . For those who like variegated leaves there is a white beautyberry variety.

For a really true blue flowering shrub consider Caryopteris with the common names of Blue spirea. Blue-mist, Bluebeard. It blooms late in the summer, is drought tolerant, pest resistant and virtually maintenance free. Its blue flowers are very popular with butterflies and hummingbirds. These shrubs native to the Himalayas, bloom on new wood each year so when to prune is not a problem. Their maximum height is only 4 feet.

For a very wide choice of blue varieties, consider the salvias both annual and perennial. They are some of the most versatile plants around being drought tolerant, they have both attractive blooms and foliage, pleasant aroma and most critters usually ignore them. Mystic Spires, Blue Angel, Evolution, Victoria are just some of the annual varieties. If you want a patriotic garden then plant one of these blues with white and red annual varieties. As I have been watching old re-runs of MASh recently, the salvia variety called Hot Lips kind of jumped out at me. It is a perennial with white flowers with bright red kiss shaped markings. Among the culinary varieties are the regular sage {Salvia officinalis}, used for poultry stuffing as well as purple, variegated and tricolor. Perennial varieties include May Night, East Friesland, Sensation and Plumosa. There is one biennial I am familiar with called Salvia Artgentea or Silver Sage. It has very large fuzzy leaves softer than “Lambs Ears” which everyone just has to touch.

Next time you are browsing through seed or plant catalogs or anticipating your next purchase at a nursery, consider adding some of the blues to your garden.

Buddleia Bush     balloon flowers

CallicarpaPurple Pearls   Variegated Callicarpa2Caryopteris Longwood Blue

Salvia Hot Lips    Salvia May Night

Plants to Consider

by Jeanette Mac Kenzie

If you haven’t been growing the following plants, you may want to consider them when placing your seed orders this month.

The first one is Platycodon, better know to most gardeners as “the balloon flower.” Before it opens it has the shape of a hot air balloon. Vita Sackville-West (a famed author, poet and garden designer of Sissinghurst Castle gardens) described the balloon flower’s puffed-up bud as “a tiny lantern, so tightly closed as though its little seams had been stitched together, with the further charm that you can pop it . . . if you are so childishly minded.”

Its botanical name comes from Greek meaning (broad bell). In 1877 Charles Maries discovered the blue balloon flower in Japan. He also discovered close to 500 other flowering plants in both China and Japan. Plant collection and discovery was no easy job in those days. He survived earthquakes, fire and a shipwreck, but his plants often did not! He once had to retrace his entire journey to replace a whole collection, when a box of his seeds was in a boat that capsized and sank.

The balloon flower is an under-used perennial in our gardens. It is fairly easy to start from seed but doesn’t bloom until the second year of growth. If you are impatient, just buy a plant. Since blue flowers are somewhat uncommon, the balloon flower is a good one to grow in your garden. It also comes in white and pink with some varieties having double petals. My favorite blue is one called Komachi, which doesn’t open at all—it just stays in its balloon shape. The plants will take full sun to half a day in average garden soil. As a cut flower you immediately need to sear the cut end with a flame for it to hold up in an arrangement.

The second plant’s botanical name is Lathyrus  odoratus, which translates to “fragrant peas.” Surprisingly enough, they are not members of the pea family, Pisum savitum, even though they look alike. Peas such as the snow pea, English shelling pea and sugar snap peas are all edible. Despite the name sweet pea it is poisonous with serious consequences including convulsions, paralysis in the legs and unconsciousness. The word sweet describes the scent of the blooms—not the flavor!

A Franciscan monk in Sicily discovered sweet peas in 1697. He sent the seeds to a botanist in England (Dr. Robert Uvedale) who was interested in rare exotics. Uvedale first raised the sweet peas in his hothouses, but eventually discovered that they were hearty outside.

The original sweet peas were purple and quite small but very fragrant. Over the years there has been much hybridizing resulting in different colors, combination of colors, sizes and fragrances. In 1900 there were about 300 varieties; it is unknown how many there are today.

The climbing vines average about six feet in height, while dwarf/bush varieties are just a foot or two. The longer vines need some source of support such as string, netting, arches or just a bush to climb on.

Sweet pea seeds should be soaked for 24 hours then nicked OR rubbed with sandpaper to break the hard seed coat. They should be planted early in spring when the soil is only 55-60 degrees. Be patient as germination can take from two to four weeks. The plants like full sun with shaded root area, so either add mulch or plant annuals near the base of the sweet pea plants.

By the way there are both annual and perennial varieties of sweet peas. Plant them where their fragrance can be enjoyed near an outdoor sitting area or near where you open windows in the summer.

Although a bit on the short side, cut bouquets of sweet peas can add wonderful fragrance to your home and are very striking with their bright as well as pastel colors. The only problem I have found with sweet peas is trying to narrow down my choices whether online, in seed catalogs or at a local nursery, with names like Old Spice, Antique Fantasy, Rose-Pink Mammoth, Incense Peach Shades, Turquoise Lagoon and High Scent.

As you peruse your seed catalogs this month, consider adding Sweet Peas, Balloon Flowers or both of these plants to your gardens this summer.


Lathyrus odorata

Sweet Peas

Platycodon grandiflorus Komachi

Platycodon  grandiflorus 'Komachi'

sweet peas flickr

Lathyrus odorata

February Hints for Gardeners: click here


Next Season's Vegetable Garden

by    Jeanette Mac Kenzie

Next Seasons Vegetable Garden by Jeanette Mac Kenzie Since winter is still with us for a few more months, outdoor gardening activities a re severely limited. However, you can do some daydreaming and planning by looking through seed and plant catalogs. To help you do this I have made a chart stating approximate times to plant vegetables. To help plan for successive plantings, information on harvest times is also included. Days to harvest depends on the variety of vegetable, whether direct seeded or transplanted and the weather.

1.Harvest basket of veggies                                   1.Bountiful vegetable harvest

When to plant veggies....... 

When soil is 40 degrees: late March to early April                                                              

Brussels Sprouts                                 100 - 120             Days to Harvest    

Kale                                                       50 - 70

Kohlrabi                                                50 - 80 

Lettuce                                                 40 - 70

Parsnips                                                    120

Peas                                                    50 - 68

Radish                                                  21 - 30

Spinach                                                37 - 50

Turnip                                                   35 -55

When soils 50 degrees:  April

Chard                                                  55 - 60

Leeks                                                  75 - 105

Onions    Long day varieties               80 - 120

When soil is 60 degrees:  mid April early May

Beets                                                   35 - 70

Broccoli                                               48 - 70

Cabbage                                            60 - 105

Carrots                                               45 - 105

Cauliflower                                         65 - 75

Potatoes                                             85 - 125

When soil is 70 degrees:   late May

Beans                                                  55 - 65

Corn                                                    70 - 90

Cucumbers                                          50 - 65

Eggplant                                              60 - 85

Onions                                                 95 - 120

Peppers                                               57 - 100

Pumpkin                                               90 - 110

Summer Squash                                   50 - 58

Tomatoes                                              60 - 80

Winter Squash                                      90 - 110

Garlic :  plant 4-6 weeks before ground freezes in the autumn Oct. to Nov. 

 Harvest is approximately 10 months.

How Plants Handle Cold Weather

by Jeanette Mac Kenzie Dec. 2016


When I was in college, many years ago, I had a part time job working in Horticulture. I was doing some nitty-gritty stuff for Dr. Lee, who was researching how plants survive the cold Minnesota winters. Some of his research led to the information I am presenting today.


Tropical and warm climate plants are kept inside as they have no protection from the cold— we call them HOUSEPLANTS!


When ice forms inside a plant cell it is lethal—this is how plants die in the fall and winter. Yet in cold climates, plants have adapted ways to come through the sub-freezing temperatures of a northern winter with minimal damage.

iced oranges 

Method 1: One way that plants tolerate freezing temperatures is by forming ice outside the plant or outside the plant cell walls in a process called “Extra-Cellular freezing).” You have read or heard on the news when there is a frost expected in the Florida citrus orchards, the trees and fruit are sprayed with water which freezes and protects the fruit following the principal of extra cellular freezing.


Method 2: Some plants have Freeze-Tolerant Cells. When water freezes outside the cell, the water inside the cell moves outside to form more ice. This reduces the amount of water within the cell. It also concentrates the sugars and other things in the cell, forming a natural antifreeze.


Method 3: Some plants do something called “Deep-Super-Cooling." By adding other substances to the inner cell it, changes the freezing point of water in the plant cells. An example of this is when salt is added to water, it doesn’t freeze at 32 degrees. Some plant species can fluctuate in their tolerance to cold in response to the changing day-length and temperature. In the fall the development of hardiness is a slow, gradual process. In the spring the loss of hardiness is dependent upon temperature. This is why after a nice warm spell in the spring, plants start growing. If however this is followed by a frost, the plants may die or as in the case of fruit trees lose their ability to produce fruit that year.


This is probably why most of your hydrangea plants didn’t bloom at all, or only very sparsely this year.


Roots in general are less hardy than stems or any above-ground plant tissues because roots are exposed to less cold under the ground. A plant or shrub planted in the ground will survive while the same type plant growing above ground in a container or window box is much more apt to die. In general, tissues that are actively growing are the least hardy. In the spring avoid fertilizing your plants until the risk of a freeze is definitely over. This is usually mid-May.


After an early spring warm spell you may want to try a product called Freeze Pruf to give your smaller plants a helping hand. It is a liquid-based spray that enhances the plant's natural mechanisms to resist freeze damage by reducing the freezing point of the water inside the plants tissues. It lasts from 4-6 weeks. As Freeze Pruf can be expensive, you may want to do some price shopping at Amazon or Walmart.


So now you know a bit more on how plants survive cold winter temperatures.

1.poison ivy oak sumac 3

There’s Danger in the Woods & Wet Lands

                                                                                                                                                        by Jeanette Mac Kenzie  
 November 2016

No, not from spooks and goblins, but from some very colorful autumn leaves that you may be tempted to gather for fall decorating. As a young child, I recall seeing several women exiting Nerstrand Woods in southern Minnesota, delighted with their armfuls of vines with vibrant red leaves. I was too shy to tell them what they had picked, but ran to tell my mother what I had seen.  You may have guessed that these unfortunate women were carting home poison ivy to decorate their homes.

The old sayings, “Leaves of three, let them be.; Hairy vine–no friend of mine.; Berries white, run in fright.” are good ones to follow especially if you are not familiar with identifying poison ivy (Toxicodendron  radicans). The three leaves are all on one stem but not attached to each other. In the old cowboy movies the good guys usually wore white hats. This doesn’t hold true for the bad guys—poison ivy and poison sumac—as they both have berries of white. Birds and animals eat the white berries and disperse them around the countryside. This explains why you can unexpectedly find poison ivy on your property where it never used to exist.  

Poison ivy can be found growing along the ground and as an aggressive vine climbing anything it can find.  It is one of the first plants to turn fall colors, and the leaves can be among the most beautiful. The leaves vary greatly in size, shape and range of colors and patterns.

             2.poisonivy fall colors    3.poison ivy berries

Another nasty relative is poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) that grows as a small tree. This is almost always found in damp wet areas. It has smooth-edged leaflets and white berries. The more common look- alike plant is the staghorn sumac, (Rhus typhina), which has large red fruits and a velvety texture to its stems and saw-toothed leaf edges. Both plants have double rows of leaflets on a long stem, colorful leaves in the autumn and are occasionally found growing right next to each other, to further confuse you.

               4.poison sumac fall color    5.Poison sumac with berries red stems

There is still another plant to look out for in the woods, called poison oak (Toxicodendron pubescens). 

poison oak

This plant also has leaves of thre but they can be serrated, round or oak like, depending on what other plants are growing nearby. I’ve never seen an explanation as to how the plants decide to mimic their neighbor’s leaves. The poison oak can grow along the ground or be a vine. Luckily we don’t have to worry much about poison oak as it is rarely found growing in New England.

The same toxic substance URIUSHIOL is found in all three of these poisonous plants. Up to 85 percent of Americans are allergic to uriushiol. It quickly penetrates the skin after exposure, either from touching the plant or touching pets–garden tools–etc. that have touched the plant. If you burn wood beware of any logs that have imbedded vines on them. I say this from personal experience!  Uriushiol oil can be active on any surface including dead plants for one to five years. Worst-case scenario is airborne contact from the smoke of burning these plants. Burning releases particles of urushiol into the air that can penetrate the skin, eyes, nose, throat and respiratory system.

Years ago a large percentage of the Norwell volunteer fire dept was laid up after fighting a fire that got into nearby woods which was loaded with poison ivy.

Symptoms of exposure include: red streaks, rash, extreme itching, blisters that weep, swelling, inflammation and a burning sensation.

Learn to recognize the leaves and fruits of these plants and teach your kids and grandkids about them.  There are lots of good photos on the Internet to study. Enjoy your walks in the woods and elsewhere outside, but be careful what you touch or brush with your clothing and footwear.

fall leaves photo 14761028 260tall


                                                                                                                                                        by Jeanette Mac Kenzie
October 2016

October has arrived and with it the long awaited rain. Things are greening up fast – including weeds. “When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant!

*Early in October is the best time to plant your garlic and shallots to be harvested next summer.

*Continue to mow the lawn as long as it is still growing.

*Fall is the best time to dig and divide peonies. Remember not to cover the growing buds/eyes with soil more than 2 inches deep, or the plant will not bloom.

*Dig and store dahlias, cannas, tuberous begonias and gladiolas when the plants begin dying down.

*Cut down stems and foliage of herbaceous perennials when the leaves begin to brown, leaving 2-3 inches. If the plants have lots of seeds (like coneflower and sunflowers) you may want to leave them for the birds.

*Take time on a sunny day to collect pinecones, acorns, gourds, milkweed pods, iris pods, teasel and other goodies for autumn and winter decorating. Keep in mind the club’s Greens Sale in December.  

           corn gourds          gourds


*Leave parsnips and Jerusalem artichokes in the ground until after a frost, which will sweeten them. Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts can handle a frost, so leave them in as long as they are still producing.

*Plant spring flowering bulbs—such as tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, crocuses—for a splash of color next spring.

*Have a family outing at a pick-your-own apple orchard, unless of course you have your own fruit trees.

*Don’t be hasty in applying winter mulch to your perennials. If applied too early, mulches can do more harm than good. The mulch is used to keep soil temperatures constant and prevent frost heaving, not to keep it warm. Apply mulch when the temperature is at freezing (32 degrees F). This is usually around Thanksgiving or when the first icy crust has formed. 

*Don’t be concerned to see the browning of evergreen needles closest to the trunk of the tree. This is natural and happens yearly.

*Take a little time to walk through your garden to evaluate what did or did not work and note what changes you want to make next season. Be sure you write these thoughts down, and remember where you put the list!

In just a few short months the new seed and plant catalogs will be arriving in our mailboxes, and we can begin dreaming about how spectacular and productive our 2017 gardens will be!


carrot hug 

potatoes shades of green

The Color Green

                                                                                                              by Jeanette Mac Kenzie

Green — the color of most growing plants — has been a bit more on the beige side this summer due to the drought, especially on our lawns. Never the less, with fall rain, winter’s snow and spring rain, the green will return again.

We don’t necessarily like the color green/blue in our eggs unless it is in the egg shells laid by Araucana, Ameraucana or Easter Egger varieties of chickens.

Green broccoli, spinach, peas, beans, and chard are all healthy green vegetables that we grow and eat with safety.

Potatoes on the other hand are a different story. Potatoes might be one of the most versatile, inexpensive, filling, and nutritious foods on earth. But while you might not think twice about just cutting up a potato and cooking it, there’s actually one important thing you should be paying attention to first: the color. Specifically, the color green indicates a toxic poison is present.

The presence of chlorophyll in a potato means that a glycoalkaloid poison named solanine is also present. A defense against insects, this nerve toxin (which is in the nightshade family) can result in headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, and even paralysis if ingested in very high amounts. So NEVER eat any potato leaves, stems, or sprouts, and it’s probably wise to avoid eating any potatoes that have a greenish tint.

I’m not trying to fear monger here. If you eat that odd green potato chip or end up mashing up a slightly greenish potato into your Thanksgiving side dish, nobody’s going to get sick. According to Snopes, a healthy adult would need to eat more than four pounds of green potatoes in one sitting in order to have any neurological side effects. Children, however, due to their smaller size, are more susceptible.

So, be on the lookout for any green in your potatoes, which can come from excessive light, cold, or heat. You’re not going to die if you eat it, but you will be ingesting trace amounts of a nerve toxin.

When digging your potatoes, get them out of the sun immediately and don’t store them where they are exposed to light.


Top your tomatoes. Most varieties of tomatoes are ‘indeterminate’, meaning the vines will keep growing until killed by frost. By cutting off the top of your tomato plants down to where fruit has already set, you encourage the plant to put its energy into ripening the fruit already on the vine rather than generating new leaves and flowers.

Enjoy vegetables this fall. It’s not too late to plant some vegetables for fall harvest. Start by inventorying your leftover seeds. Do you have peas, spinach or lettuce? Plant them now; they have plenty of time to produce a crop. How about Tokyo turnips? They are ready to harvest in a month. Read your seed packages with an eye to ‘days to maturity’, then count back from the first frost date, mid-October for most of us.

Row covers are back in fashion. The row covers you used in May and June to keep out bean beetles and other bad bugs can be pulled out again, this time to provide a few degrees of nighttime protection against cold. Check your town’s swap area for hard plastic or glass covers (old doors or windows work well) to give you a simple cold frame that can keep your garden growing until covered with snow. You can add 60 days or more to your growing season.

What to compost; what to bag and discard. As you remove spent plants from your vegetable garden, look at each one with a critical eye. Send any plant that is either diseased or infested with bugs to the dump. Compost the clean plant material to create ‘Black Gold’ for next year’s garden.

Clean up your yard. Take advantage of cooler mornings and evenings to do the weeding we avoided in August. If it seems like weeds were the only things that managed to grow during the drought, it isn’t an illusion. Weeds such as crabgrass thrive in dry soils. Reward that hardiness with a good tug and a trip to the dump. Every weed that goes to seed means many more to deal with next year.

Think twice before you rake. While cleaning your yard, remember the leaves that fall are food for the plants. Use a mulching mower to chop up the ones on the lawn. They will finish disintegrating over the winter. Under bushes and around perennial beds, fallen leaves serve as a winter mulch and a home for many beneficial insects like butterfly caterpillar, so please don’t chop them and leave them be.

Freshen your containers. It has been a tough summer for plants in containers. The unrelenting heat and the regular dousing with chlorinated tap water (in place of the non-existent rain) is not conducive to a long happy life for your annuals. It’s too early to use cut evergreens, so consider putting in some transitional plantings such as the multi-colored kale, perennial grasses and heuchera. Avoid using mums. They aren’t a good choice if you like to keep the season going until Thanksgiving because the flowers will die long before that. 

Divide and multiply. September and October are great months to dig and divide overgrown perennials that bloom early. Creeping phlox, oriental poppies, foxglove, delphinium and iris are all candidates. You can also dig and divide later blooming plants such as hostas and many ground covers. Spread them around your property, share them with friends or pot them up for your garden club’s spring plant sale. They will be healthier and look better if you don’t wait until spring.

Benign neglect for your lawn. The summer heat and water bans have been tough on everyone’s lawns, but don’t try to rehab them this autumn unless Mother Nature suddenly provides us with lots of rain and the watering bans are ended. Apart from pulling crabgrass and other obvious weeds before they set seed, leave your lawn be. Grass is a hardy, cool-weather perennial, and there are steps you can take later this autumn and next spring to enhance your lawn. 

Spring bulbs?  Not yet, but soon. Wait until the soil temperature has dropped to 55 to 60 degrees several inches below the surface to plant spring bulbs. This usually occurs after several weeks of nighttime temperatures in the low 50s. Putting bulbs into warmer soil may cause them to begin growing tops (which is bad) when they should be growing only roots to support the flowers next spring. Now is also a good time to dig up any bulbs that have been in for a few years. You’ll likely find they’ve multiplied and are now crowded (yeah! free bulbs) and need to be thinned; or have been attacked by moles, voles and other varmints and need to be replaced.  Add lime over old and new bulbs now, but fertilize only after they are in bloom in the spring.

Critters & Varmints

                                                                                                                                                        by Jeanette Mac Kenzie
August 2016

With an official heat wave and drought currently underway most of our gardens and lawns aren’t looking too happy.  Water restrictions limit the particular days and time of day we can get moisture to our plants.

If that isn’t bad enough the plants that are surviving are a tempting meal for assorted critters and varmints.  As a kid the word varmint was used for the “bad guys” in the cowboy movies of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong-Cassidy Red Rider & Little Beaver and the Lone Ranger  & Tonto.  I realize I am dating myself with this list!   Today I am referring to 4-legged varmints who eat your gardens.

You most likely have tried some of the many suggestions to dissuade these animals with varying degrees of success.  I have a new suggestion that only a few of you have used.  The names of the companies that supply the magic ingredient will give you a good idea what I am suggesting: Leg-Up Enterprises, Pee Mart and Predator Pee.

“Predator urine concept is based upon the principal of duplicating the use of urine by animals in the wild. Predators mark the perimeter of their territory with urine.”   By simulating the powerful genetic fear reaction garden pests like deer, skunks, chipmunks, rabbits, etc. avoid areas where their predator’s urine has been sprayed or applied - namely around your garden. 


Sources for this commodity come from game farms, zoos and preserves.    The question everyone has but doesn’t want to ask is: How is the pee collected?    For a humorous description check out www.predatorpeestore  under the heading How Do We Collect Pee.  It is long but well worth reading.  This source also supplies numerous types of animal urine. 

You must determine which critters are munching your garden before you can decide which type of predator urine to order.  Coyote urine works for deer, woodchucks, raccoons, possums, and rats.   However for moles & voles choose bobcat urine, and for the little fellers such as rabbit, squirrels, chipmunks choose fox urine.  The site mentioned above has lists of what to order for the varying garden pests.

Hope this suggestion helps to preserve your gardens.


Should I water, or is it going to rain?


                                                                                                                                                        by Jeanette Mac Kenzie

No, not the ones that give you that soft light at the dinner table.

The candles I am talking about are the prominent terminal buds that emerge from pine shrubs and pine trees in the spring. These slender, light green, new growths resemble candles. By breaking off 1/3 to 2/3 of this growth each spring, your pines will be controlled in height as well as being much fuller. With or without gloves, the candles can easily be broken off with just thumb and forefinger. Small hand pruners will also work, but don’t use hedge trimmers. This may be a project for kids!

For most evergreens it is recommended to prune when they have finished their period of growth in late summer or fall. Pines are the exception as they should be pruned when in active growth. Whether you have the common white pine, dwarf blue Scotch pine, weeping Japanese red pine or Hillside Creeper (this is a real plant not something from the police report), late May or early June is the time to do your pruning / candling by breaking those candles. 

Full Pine Candle:   Full candles  

Pruning Candles in Half:                     Pruneing candles in half

Done               All Done!