Lyn Chimera is a Master Gardener, consultant and lecturer.
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Ground Cover Beyond Pachysandra
By: Lyn Chimera
Plants to cover bare soil have long been a staple of any garden. Basically, any plant that covers the ground can be used as groundcover. It doesn’t have to be low growing. Groundcover provides all sorts of benefits to a garden including less weeding, protection from soil erosion, reduction of water evaporation, softening edges, and protection of perennials from harsh winter temperature fluctuations. In addition to these benefits, ground cover is also good for the environment. By replacing some lawn with ground cover, you greatly reduce watering needs and use of herbicides along while creating a better habitat for beneficial insects. Ground covers also act as a living mulch to improve soil. Ground covers can be a beautiful addition to any garden by adding interest, texture, and beauty.
Pachysandra, myrtle, and ivy are the most common ground covers in our area but there are so many other options. The following are some suggestions for a variety of growing conditions. They are all deer resistant.
Bugle weed (Ajuga) is a fast spreading, low growing plant for sun to shade that has a lovely purple to lavender upright bloom in the spring. It comes in a variety of foliage colors from “chocolate” to variegated. Ajuga is a good choice for an area all its own. It is an aggressive spreader once established and not a good choice for between other perennials. It also works well in blooming or bee lawns.
Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) is an outstanding shade native for hard to grow sites. It forms dense cover with somewhat large attractive heart shaped leaves about 8-10 inches high. I have a wonderful patch under a giant Norway spruce where absolutely nothing else would grow. Better used around a tree than interspersed with other pants. Spreads well when established and would overtake a perennial bed.
Astilbe is a shade loving flowering plant that comes in a variety of sizes and color of bloom. Astilbe chinensis, has low growing foliage, 6 – 8 inches, with a spike of lavender bloom in late summer when not much is blooming. It makes a great dense ground cover for the front of a border. Also makes a good lawn replacement plant. Taller varieties are good ground cover for mid to back of a bed. (see photo)
Gold Star (Chrysogonum virginianum) is an excellent native ground cover for sun to shade. It has deep green textured leaves with lovely yellow blooms in spring with a smaller rebloom in late summer. The whole plant stays low even in bloom. An aggressive grower that will quickly cover an area.
Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum) makes a lovely color and texture addition to any shade garden. It is lower growing than many ferns (about 12-16 inches) and has graceful arched fronds as opposed to the upright fronds on many ferns. The Japanese painted fern comes in a variety of color combinations including silver, burgundy and cream. It is not aggressive so can be used among other shade perennials. Prefers moist soil.
Bishop’s hat (Epimedium) comes in a variety of sized from 6 - 18 inches tall. The various varieties come in many colors including, white, pink, rose and yellow. It’s a perfect plant for dry shade. Epimedium blooms in spring before the leaves come up. The leaves are heart shaped, some with burgundy edges that turn all burgundy in the fall and persist during winter. Not an aggressive spreader.
Moss There are many varieties of moss that do well in moist, acidic shade. Once established it is a beautiful ground cover. It does need moisture so would need to be irrigated during dry periods. Many people try to remove moss growing in their yards. It’s nature’s way of telling you that’s what wants to grow there so relax and enjoy it! Moss gardening is one of the newest trends in Horticulture.
Lungwort (Pulmonaria) is a lovely spring blooming perennial that comes in a variety of bloom colors. The mottled leaves add great visual interest. It grows well in shaded areas and is not aggressive so won’t take over.
Dwarf comfrey (Symphytum grandiflorum) is a real work horse. It’s low growing deep green leaves cover ground quickly. It will do well in part sun or shade and has lovely bell like blossoms in spring. It will even bloom in dense shade under a maple but not as vigorously as when it gets a little more sun. This plant is slow to establish but spreads well once it does.
The plants above are just a sampling of the possibilities. With any plant you are considering, make sure it matches your growing conditions and check on its rate of spread. Many ground covers can be very aggressive which is desirable under certain conditions but not others.
Master Gardener Education Day:
Saturday, March 11
Classics V Banquet Center
Niagara Falls Blvd.
Three Excellent speakers:
Tim Boebel, Gardening with Flowering Shrubs in the North
Tim has published two books on hydrangeas--Hydrangeas in the North (2011) and Today’s Hydrangeas (2019).
Paul Zammit, Container Gardening: Drama for Every Season
A professor at Niagara College in Ontario and past Director of Horticulture at the Toronto Botanical Gardens.
Allison Morrill Chatrchyan: How Climate Change is Affecting Our Gardening
Allison is Senior Research Associate in the Department of Earth & Atmospheric Services in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University.
Time: 8:30 – 3:00
Cost $60 includes Continental breakfast, hot buffet lunch and basket raffle
To register go to: erie.cce.cornell.edu/events or call 716-652-5400 ext. 176
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Give the Gift of a Book
By: Lyn Chimera
Many of us are trying to decide what to buy for friends and family over the holidays. A book is always appreciated and often something people don’t buy for themselves. On the subject of gardening there are books on any topic you can imagine from trees to improving soil and everything in between. The following are some recommendations.
The Living Landscape, by Doug Tallamy and Rick Darke is subtitled Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden. Gardeners who want a landscape that supports nature and is beautiful at the same time will love this book. By combining the insights of two outstanding authors, this book offers a model that anyone can follow. The book outlines the strategies for making and maintaining a diverse, layered landscape from ground level to trees. The book includes providing for outdoor rooms, areas for children and pets, incorporates fragrance and edible plants all while providing cover, shelter and sustenance for wildlife. On top of all the excellent information the book is filled with beautiful photographs by Rick Dark who has won awards for his photography. This can be a coffee table book as well as an informational one. One of the most useful sections is at the end where they list plants by region showing growing needs and what they help in nature.
Doug Tallamy had changed the conversation about the importance of home landscaping in supporting pollinators, birds and the plants and insects they need to survive. His book Bringing Nature Home is a must read as it describes the relationship between what you plant and how it matters to nature. It also includes an extensive section showing which plants support butterflies and moths as well as a regional listing of natives that have a benefit for wildlife. His second book Nature’s Best Hope covers a new approach to conservation that begins in our yards. He calls it “Homegrown National Parks”. His message is you don’t have to plant all natives but if everyone planted some the overall effect would be so beneficial to nature, beneficial insects and birds.
The decline in honeybees has been in the news for years. The book Honeybee Democracy, by Thomas Seeley will give you an insightful look at the complex life of honeybees. Based on scientific studies, Seeley has written a very good and readable book about how bees operate and function as a group. We have a lot to learn from their “democratic” methods of decision making. You will never look at honeybees in the same way again.
If you’re looking for a general how to book on gardening, The Well-Tended Perennial Garden, by Tracy DiSabato-Aust is excellent. This is one of the most useful and practical books for gardeners at all levels. There are chapters on basic perennial garden planning and maintenance, pruning and an encyclopedia of perennials that includes information on how to grow and maintain each plant. The appendix includes a perennial maintenance manual and listings of month-by-month maintenance suggestions. This book also includes lots of time and work saving techniques. It’s a go to book for basic and advanced perennial gardeners.
If a book that gives detailed information on selected plants is what you’re looking for, Spring Wildflowers of the North East and Summer Wildflowers of the North East, by Carol Gracie would be perfect. In addition to the most amazing photographs these books educate the reader about each plant, its history, uses, propagation and growing conditions along with interesting facts. There aren’t just a few paragraphs about each plant but multiple pages. Even advanced gardeners will learn from these books.
Anyone interested in trees would enjoy Finding the Mother Tree, Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, by Suzanne Simard. This book is basically a story about her journey into the life of trees and coming to understand how they function. Simard brings us to the intimate world of trees, in which she brilliantly shows us that trees are not simply the source or timber or pulp but are a complicated circle of life. Trees in a healthy forest support each other and even communicate through underground networks. It’s fascinating and reads like a novel.
There are so many books available about gardening and nature that you’re sure to find just the right gift – for yourself or others.
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Gardening is Good for You!
By: Lyn Chimera
There are so many reasons that gardening is good for you. Recently I was invited to give a presentation on the topic, and the research I did made me realize just how very many ways there are. Not only do you get beautiful flowers and/or yummy vegetables it’s great for your physical and mental wellbeing.
For me, gardening helps keep me centered. It’s very relaxing while at the same time it can be hard work which helps work out stress and frustrations. While gardening you focus on what you’re doing and forget about what’s bothering you. Even weeding can almost be meditative and it sure is satisfying once you’re finished. Another benefit is that inhaling a naturally occurring bacteria in the soil M.vaccae, can release serotonin which reduces anxiety.
Besides relieving stress, gardening is good for you in other ways. It helps build strength and flexibility. Hand strength improves from using pruners, a trowel, shovels, gripping any tools, wheelbarrow handles etc.. It’s hard to do any gardening without using your hands. Your back gets lots of exercise from bending and lifting for all sorts of chores which really helps strengthen those muscles. When my back gets a little tired from all that bending, I stand up and flex my spine back like a mini backbend then do a yoga move called scrape the barrel where you rotate your hips as if you were scraping the inside of a barrel. Both these stretches help relieve back strain and help avoid a sore back. Gardening also makes you stronger.
Hauling watering cans, hoses, digging, and all garden chores improve strength. Gardening is an excellent low impact exercise. Studies have shown that people stick with gardening much more than they stick to going to a gym and you don’t have a monthly fee! General gardening can burn 330 calories per hour. It would be more for more strenuous garden work like mowing (not a riding mower), digging, raking etc..
While outside gardening you are exposed to vitamin D through sunshine. Vitamin D helps increase
calcium and makes bone stronger. It also boosts your immune system. However, don’t forget to use
sunscreen. Another benefit of gardening is it gets you outside and away from electronics and screens. This relieves eye strain and gives your brain a rest. Try trading your blackberry for blackberry bushes!
Growing fruits and vegetables dramatically improves your diet. Fresh produce is much more nutritious and healthier for you. You can control and hopefully eliminate the pesticide and herbicide use. Besides it tastes much better. People who grow vegetables tend to include more vegetables in their diet which is another benefit to your health. Children involved with growing food are much more willing to try things and will eat vegetables they might not ordinarily.
If you happen to have back and or knee problems, you can still enjoy gardening. Raised beds, some can be as tall as tables, allow you to garden with little to no bending. Planters and even window boxes can be used to grow food or flowers. Knee pads or movable foam pads are very helpful for sore knees. I’ve used both and preferred knee pads that wrap around your knees. That way you don’t have to move the foam pad from place to place. Bench seats are also available. Some are 2-sided, one side for a kneeling pad and when it's turned over it becomes a raised seat. The legs form a bar for helping you get up.
Therapeutic gardens have been used for centuries. The original Richardson Complex on Elmwood Ave in Buffalo was an asylum for people with mental problems. Working outside in vegetable and flower gardens was part of everyone’s therapy. Many prisons have gardens where prisoners can learn skills that could be turned into employment once released. These gardens also help calm prisoners and generally improve their behavior. My mother was in a nursing home where they had a courtyard garden which gave her hours of pleasure. She didn’t remember a lot but once in the garden she knew what to do. It was amazing to watch.
Don’t worry if you have no access to a garden, just being outside in nature can improve your mood,
health, and wellbeing. So let nature help you relax and enjoy nature’s beauty.
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July is for Visiting Gardens
By: Lyn Chimera
For those of you, like myself, who have been waiting all winter for July when we can visit some of the best gardens in the country, the wait is over. The month of July in Western New Yok is all about gardens and gardening.
The gardening events begin in June with the Lewiston Gardenfest, 6/18&19 and The Buffalo Style Garden Art Sale at the Botanical Gardens 6/25&26. However, it’s the month of July that is packed full of garden visit opportunities.
The best way to learn about all the events is to get the booklet, Open Gardens, published by Gardens Buffalo Niagara. It is available at many nurseries and the low cost of $10. Check out their website for full details: https://www.gardensbuffaloniagara.com/
There are three major opportunities for visiting local gardens during July:
Open Gardens The advantage of Open Gardens is you don’t have the crowds to deal with like during Garden Walk Buffalo and parking is not an issue. There are over 100 private gardens open to the public on Thursdays and Fridays from July 7th through the 29th covering Erie and Niagara Counties. Some are open both days, some all of one of the days and others part of one of the days. There are even some gardens open at night. All are free. The gardens are divided into 9 geographic sections such as Northtowns East and West, Buffalo and Southtowns Bouquet. The Open Gardens booklet has complete listings including maps and information about the gardens and points of interest in the area. Unfortunately my gardens will not be on this year.
Community Garden Walks Fourteen local communities are sponsoring neighborhood Garden Walks during four weekends in July beginning July 9th. The Open Garden book or their website tells which areas like Hamburg, Lancaster and Grand Island are open when and where to get the maps. Each community puts out their own map with directions and descriptions of the gardens. The tours are self-guided. Most are free but some ask for a donation. This is a lovely way to spend a day or afternoon getting to know a community.
Garden Walk Buffalo July 30 & 31, 10 AM – 4 PM. This is the highlight and biggest draw of the month. The Buffalo Garden walk has evolved into the largest garden tour in America. Tens of thousands of people come from all across the country to see our amazing gardens. It has become the garden event of the year written up in national gardening magazines. There are hundreds of private and public gardens throughout the city open on these 2 days. Maps are available at various locations and at the Garden Walk website. www.gardensbuffaloniagara.com/garden-walk-buffalo
Some tips for any of the garden visits:
Wear comfortable shoes and dress for the weather. Some gardens have stone walkways, paths with roots or other difficult walking situations. Also, grass may be wet and slippery. The gardens are open rain or shine so plan to dress appropriately.
Take your camera/cell phone to take pictures. After seeing many gardens you’ll want to remember some of the pants you liked, landscaping ideas, garden art etc. Trust me, after seeing 8-10 gardens it’s hard to remember where you saw what or what it was.
Don’t be hesitant to talk to the owners and ask questions. You’ll be seeing some plants you might not recognize or wonder how much work is involved in their garden, how long did it take to develop, helpful tips etc..
Be mindful of people’s property and stay on paths or designated areas. It’s easy to be distracted by a beautiful plant or whatever and step where you shouldn’t.
Your garden touring experience will be much more enjoyable if you plan a strategy. Get the Open Gardens booklet or download maps from the website to plan your route. Don’t forget to plan a lunch break or shopping jaunt. It’s a delightful way to spend a day with like minded gardening fiends. I guarantee you will get some good ideas. Hope to see you soon!
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July 2022 Tips
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May 2022 Plant Sale