Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Spring weeding

Trowels--Use them to break up the earth, dig small holes and mix soil with fertilizer, Peterson said.

The pointed, scooped-shape blades come in a variety of lengths and widths with handles of different materials from wood to padded. So pick what works best for you, Dwyer said.

-- Spring weeding--The task needs to be addressed in early April and May, otherwise the weeds will reseed and spread, Dwyer said.

-- Organize tools and accessories--The task can be done in a 5-gallon handled, plastic bucket, labeled with your name and an apron with pockets wrapped around it for holding gloves, tools and a notebook with a writing instrument for easy access, Peterson said.

-- Have several types of gloves--Waterproof to keep hands dry and leather to wear if you're digging, shoveling or doing other hard work to protect your hands from getting calluses, Peterson said.

-- Buy good quality tools--So their handles won't bend and they'll last longer, Hoague said.

-- Use a rubber kneeling pad--It provides a cushion for knees, she said.

-- Lubricate gardening tools--It's especially important for those with moving parts that have any metal-to-metal contact. Apply lightly on blades that cross on hand pruners, loppers, etc., said Dwyer, who added that WD-40 works fine.

Rotary Gardens dishes the dirt on gardening tips

bNow that spring has sprung, gardens are blooming everywhere.

Although most gardeners find digging in the dirt therapeutic, they also know this favorite pastime can take a toll on backs, knees, wrists and hands.

A recent trip to Rotary Gardens was fertile ground for cultivating ideas from staff and 150 volunteers who, on average, each year plant 100,000 annuals, 2,000 perennials and around 50 trees and shrubs at the botanical-themed garden, said Mark Dwyer, horticulture director.

These are some of their tips:

-- Pick the best tool for the job--The Japanese hand hoe is lightweight and provides directional control when weeding, so it's great for those gardening on their knees, Dwyer said.

Volunteer Shirley Hoague and botanical gardens' grounds crew staff member Janice Peterson agreed.

"I get down on my knees when I work, so it's handy and even works well for left-handers," Hoague said.

"You can do almost anything with it," Peterson said of her favorite gardening tool as she whacked it into the dirt.

She recommended a dandelion digger, however, for getting rid of dandelions and the Cobra Head for weeding ornamental onions.

"It can get as deep as the (tiny) bulbs are," she said, while working on the pesky alliums in the English Cottage Garden behind the Rath Environmental Center.

The Cobra Head, Peterson said, also is good for pulling clumps of grass and weeding in the half- to 1-inch cracks between pavers, she said.

The benefit of using a circle hoe for weeding is it won't cut neighboring plants even if you bump them, Dwyer said as he demonstrated the tool in a flowerbed.

-- Sharpen gardening tools--Do the task at least annually, if not two to three times a year, Dwyer said.

Sharpening should be done on shovels, hoes, pruners and anything that has a sharp edge or blade, he said.

There are many ways to sharpen tools, but Rotary Gardens uses a machine grinder, said Dwyer, who added that files also work well.

"With a sharp shovel, you get a better dig, and a hoe will chop and cut better if it's sharp," Peterson said.

-- Clean tools--Rinse off with water and remove debris with a scrubbing device after every use.

"This helps with the longevity of the tool," Dwyer said.

Also make sure gardening tools are dry to avoid rust, Peterson said.

-- Sterilize--The task can be done a couple times a year by using a bleach dip of one part bleach to 10 parts water, a disinfectant spray or disinfectant wipes, he said.

Sterilizing is particularly important with hand pruners to avoid spreading disease from one plant to another, Dwyer said.

Repeated sterilization even might be necessary between cuts, he said.


Annuals and perennials alike are or will soon be in full bloom, waiting for you to enjoy them. You can enjoy them a while long- er in the bouquets you make by following some easy care tips. Harvest flowers when it is coolest outside -- usually first thing in the morning. Carry a bucket of water with you when you go out to harvest your cut flowers. Garden catalogs adver- tise trugs or harvesting baskets which look lovely in the pictures. However, most flowers do not re- spond well to lying in a basket while you stroll through the gar- den. Immediately after cutting, place the flowers in the bucket of water; then stroll to the next flower. Upon cutting, commercial flower growers place cut flowers into water with a floral preserva- tive. Preservatives usually con- sist of a sugar which serves as a food source; an acidifier such as citric acid retards the growth of microorganisms which can plug the stems. Special silver salts are used in some commercial preser- vatives as a further bactericide. UNL floriculture professor El- len Paparozzi said she sometimes puts a dime in the bottom of a vase as a silver source. An easy to use homemade floral preser- vative is a mixture of one-half water and one-half non-diet lem- on-lime soda. Next, remove the foliage that is below the waterline, if you didn't strip it off as you cut the flowers. Leaves left on the stems will quickly rot when sitting be- low water, causing the flowers to wilt sooner because their stems become plugged. Whenever possible, recut flow- er stems under water. This pre- vents air from entering the stems, causing blockages later on. Roses are especially suscepti- ble to "limp neck," a condition caused when an air bubble reach- es the top of the stem just below the blossom. The air prevents wa- ter from translocating to the flower and it falls over and wilts. Cutting 1 to 3 inches of stem off while holding the ends under wa- ter will eliminate most air bub- bles. A drop of water on the end of the stem prevents air from en- tering the stem when you move a flower from bucket to vase. Vase life can be extended by placing flowers in a cool loca- tion-- on top of a television is not a good choice. Not only is it very warm when the TV ison, it's hard on the TV when your cat knocks over the vase and water goes in- side. Change the water or preser- vative solution every 3 or 4 days to keep your flowers fresh for as long as possible.

Gardening tips for your aching body parts

While attempting to crawl out of bed the morning after unload- ing a pickup truck full of wood chips, it made me think of all the enabling gardening hints I've compiled in my files. I thought maybe it was time to pass on some enabling gardening tips to you and remind myself to follow my own advice. First, get someone else to do the work! If you have problems with your back, knees, shoulders or other parts, it may be cheaper in the long run to hire help for the heavy work. My summer worker for my campus display garden grew up on a horse farm. She is used to shoveling stuff. At home, my block was blessed with a new family complete with a teenager in search of odd jobs. Matt can unload a truck full of wood chips in just a few minutes. Although now I have to get all the weeds pulled so I can spread them around. Remember, mulch! It does a garden good! If getting down on your knees is difficult or if getting up is even more difficult, there are a couple of planting aids that will make life easier. A length of 1-inch to 2-inch PVC pipe cut waist high makes a handy no-stoopplanting aid for seeds. I like to use mine for large seeds such as beans, peas, squash and corn. To use it, make the planting furrow or holes with your hoe, then drop the seeds down the pipe. No hassles of seed blowing away. Spacing can be quite accurate for less thinning later. When I looked up "enabling gardening" on the Internet, I found a similar tool for sale. Call- ed a "Plant "N Stick," it looks like a piece of PVC pipe with a probe attached to make a planting hole. It's supposed to be wide enough to drop plants through, down into the hole made by the probe. It also works for planting seed. In- stead of making a furrow, you simply make a hole and drop the seed in. Maybe I'll attach a pointy stick to my piece of PVC pipe. Another handy hole maker is the bulb auger. Generally they're sold in the fall at spring bulb planting time. My friend Tiny uses his to make planting holes for bedding plants. Simply drill a hole in the prepared flower bed and drop in the plant. Use your toe to kick the soil in around the plant and voila! It's planted. If your aim isn't very good, use a length of PVC pipe as a planting chute through which to drop your plants. Be sure to choose pipe wide enough for plants to slide through so you don't spend too much time trying to unplug it. To save time and water, in- vest in a shut-off valve for the end of your hose. Plastic or brass versions are available depending on where you shop. I love the quick couplers that are available for attaching sprinklers or nozzles. The brass quick- connect allows for more water flow so sprinklers tend to work better. Once attached, the quick connec- tors are much easier for stiff fin- gers and hands to manage than screw-on attachments. Soaker hose placed in the vege- table or flower garden early in the season can mean never hav- ing to haul hose the rest of the season. Use the quick couplers for easy hookups so that your hose is available for other jobs. If you have trouble gripping tools, you might want to add pad- ding. The home- made way is to purchase foam pipe-insulation tubes and cut the tubing to the length of the handle. Secure it with duct tape. Bicycle shops sell foam handlebar padding that can be used on small hand tools. One can also purchase tools with pad- ded handles to ease gripping and absorb the jarring that one gets when working in the soil. Adding organic matter to your soil makes it easier to work; your plants benefit from the slow release of nutrients and in- creased pore space, which im- proves air and water flow. Com- post (homemade or from the city), sphagnum peat, and wood chips will all improve soil im- mensely. Keep in mind, though, that if you incorporate wood chips or other high-carbon mater- ials to planting sites, you'll also need to add extra nitrogen fertil- izer so yourplants are not de- prived.

blinkx Partners with Growing Wisdom to Bring Users Top Gardening Tips and Horticultural How-Tos

blinkx, the world's largest video search engine, today announced a partnership with Growing Wisdom (www.growingwisdom.com) to offer users helpful and instructive gardening television. Growing Wisdom creates and produces original gardening content that includes weather guidelines, tips on products and tools, plant care information and fun ideas for sprucing up your garden. Under the terms of the agreement, blinkx will leverage its AdHoc platform to place contextually relevant advertising against the footage, and will share resulting advertising revenue with Growing Wisdom.

Growing Wisdom provides users with up-to-date and informative videos from gardening expert Dave Epstein, a well-known meteorologist at WCVB-TV ABC in Boston, Massachusetts. From design tips to advice on tools, weather and plant care, Growing Wisdom's content is perfect for everyone from the novice gardener to the seasoned Green Thumb.

"Gardening and home improvement programming has become incredibly popular over the past few years and the Web is an ideal mechanism for distributing it," said Suranga Chandratillake, founder and CEO, blinkx. "We are thrilled to include Growing Wisdom's high-quality videos in our large and varied library of how-to videos."

"We are committed to producing content that is high-quality, original and fun," said Dave Epstein, founder, Growing Wisdom. "With blinkx's unique technology and vast network, Growing Wisdom's gardening videos are now easily accessible and available to a global audience."

As the pioneer in video search technology, blinkx has built a reputation as the smartest way to search new forms of online content such as video. With more than 220 partners and 18 million hours of indexed video and audio content, including favorite TV moments, news clips, short documentaries, music videos, video blogs and more, blinkx uses advanced speech recognition technology to deliver results that are more accurate and reliable than standard metadata-based keyword searches.

About blinkx

blinkx plc (LSE AIM: BLNX) is the world's most comprehensive video search engine. Today, blinkx has indexed more than 18 million hours of audio, video, viral and TV content, and made it fully searchable and available on demand. blinkx's founders set out to solve a significant challenge - as TV and user-generated content on the Web explode, keyword-based search technologies only scratch the surface. blinkx's patented search technologies listen to - and even see - the Web, helping users enjoy a breadth and accuracy of search results not available elsewhere. In addition, blinkx powers the video search for many of the world's most frequented sites. blinkx is based in San Francisco and London. More information is available at www.blinkx.com.

About Growing Wisdom

Hosted by well-known New England meteorologist and horticulturist David Epstein, Growing Wisdom is a weekly online video site presenting hands-on gardening advice and inspiration for home gardeners. The Growing Wisdom Web site contains compelling articles, podcasts and blogs that provide timely, week-by-week instruction on topics such as flower and vegetable gardens, lawn care and garden pests.

Gardening tips earn readers an afternoon at Royal Court Parkland Estates

"If you'd like to hold an afternoon tea at your home, keep it simple," David advises. "Small, bite-sized sandwiches and cakes are a given, as is a pot of fresh-brewed tea, but after that, it's all up to you."

For the afternoon tea that will be held at Royal Court Parkland Estates on June 20, Wendy plans to feature rhubarb punch and tea with milk, lemon or sugar cubes.

"And, of course, tiny sandwiches," she says. "We'll be serving coin-sized asparagus rolls; green cherry, red cherry and crushed pineapple cream cheese sandwiches; egg salad sandwiches, turkey salad sandwiches; petit fours; delicate shortbread cookies with icing flowers and chocolate-covered strawberries."

Whatever the menu, though, it is important that it be prepared ahead of time. Old-fashioned tea etiquette dictates that a hostess should not be stuck in the kitchen during her afternoon tea, but should mingle with her guests.

"Etiquette also dictated that all of the necessary items for a tea be assembled before the tea began," Wendy adds, "so that the ladies and gentlemen in attendance would not have to want for anything."

Of primary importance on the list of items necessary for holding a tea is, of course, a teapot. Either a china or silver teapot is acceptable, but beware, a china teapot is for more intimate teas, and a silver teapot is for more formal teas.

Also necessary at an afternoon tea are cups, saucers, teaspoons, a sugar bowl and sugar tongs (since sugar should always be served cubed, not loose), a tea strainer, a lemon dish, forks (if serving cakes) and knives (if jam or clotted cream will be eaten on scones). As well, each jam or cream dish must have its own serving spoon. A matching set of china is not so important, however.

"Sometimes, invitations to a Victorian tea instructed the guests to bring their own teacups, wrapped up in special boxes," says Wendy. "Other times, the invitations asked them to bring a cake, or wear a special hat."

Once the guests had arrived at a Victorian tea, the etiquette varied.

"On the part of the guests, it was important that they held their teacups properly," Wendy adds, noting that the proper way to hold a teacup is to slip your index finger, up almost to the first knuckle, through the handle and then secure the cup by placing your thumb on the top of the handle and allowing the bottom of the handle to rest on your middle finger. "Contrary to popular belief, the ring and pinkie fingers should not be extended, but should rest by curving gently back toward your wrist. To extend one's pinkie was an indication of arrogance."

But some aspects of tea etiquette has changed over the years, Wendy notes.

"The Edwardian gentleman may have found it was acceptable to pour his hot tea into his saucer to cook it before drinking, it is obviously not acceptable to do so now," says Wendy. "In fact, it would be considered quite rude!"

The teacups and saucers used at the Victorian-style tea party at Royal Court Parkland Estates will be delicate cream-coloured china, trimmed in gold, rented from Lloyd's of Moncton.

"We have a number of items available for people to rent if they are thinking of having an afternoon tea," says Brenda MacAulay, manager at the store. "It can be as elaborate or as simple as the individual wants."

In addition to cups and saucers, Lloyd's also rents out small tables and chairs, lace table skirts, benches, canopies, screens, wicker walls and chairs, silver tea services, and even bustled Victorian-style dresses festooned with lace.

"The Victorian-style dresses and parasols are nice if a group wants to get together and stage a Victorian-style tea," explains Brenda.

And organizing an afternoon tea around a certain theme can make the occasion memorable, David adds.

"Having a theme for an afternoon tea can add a sense of fun to the gathering," he says. "Last year, for example, lots of people held Jubilee teas in honour of Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee."

Darlene Dobson was involved in the organization of just such a tea. A member of the Shepody Chapter of the I.O.D.E., Darlene remembers the afternoon as one of fun and relaxation.

"We served small, dainty cherry and cheese, and asparagus, sandwiches, and, of course, shortbread cookies," she says. "No afternoon tea would be complete without shortbread cookies. We borrowed a variety of cups and saucers, dressed up in our summer best and enjoyed an afternoon filled with music, games and conversation."

Wendy Taylor knows the setting is perfect

"We have a large backyard with a patio, a gazebo, a pond, a series of gardens and flowering trees and shrubs," says the community relations co-ordinator at Royal Court Parkland Estates. "Later this month, when the lilacs, hyacinths, lupines and daisies that will make up the centrepieces of our tables are in bloom, it will be the perfect place to hold an old-fashioned, Victorian-style tea."

That's exactly what will take place on the afternoon of June 20. That day, 150 Times & Transcript readers will gather together at Royal Court Parkland Estates to enjoy a cuppa, tour of the facility's gardens and take in a presentation by Martin Quinn, who owns and operates a nursery in Kincardine, Ontario, specializing in ornamental grasses.

And what is the price of such an enjoyable afternoon? Nothing more than a simple gardening tip, mailed or e-mailed to the Times & Transcript on or before June 9.

"Our garden tea is being held in conjunction with Communities in Bloom and the Times & Transcript," Wendy explains. "We regularly host coffee breaks or luncheons for the Communities in Bloom judges when they visit the city at the end of the summer, but we thought that this year we would host an old-fashioned Victorian-style tea to kick-off what will be a gardening weekend in the Moncton area, since the Times & Transcript will hold their annual plant swap the next day, June 21, at the March Moncton Market."

To prepare for the event, Wendy has been busily researching the proper way to hold a Victorian-style tea, both by surfing the Internet and talking to historians at a number of New Brunswick attractions, including King's Landing near Fredericton.

"There's quite a lot to learn when it comes to hosting a Victorian-style tea," says Wendy, "since this was a practice that was perfected over a number years in England during the 1800s."

Indeed. While the first samples of tea reached England between 1652 and 1654, replacing ale as England's national drink, it was not until 1840 that the practice of afternoon tea parties came to prominence.

A lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria, Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, is widely credited with inventing afternoon tea in 1840. Anna was reportedly quite fond of taking a snack of tea and tiny cakes in her rooms each afternoon, and many began following her lead, including Queen Victoria herself, who relished the new craze.

By 1855, the queen and her ladies-in-waiting donned formal dress for their afternoon teas, and by the 1880s, ladies all over England dressed in long gowns for the afternoon routine, giving rise to the quintessential Victorian tea parties that featured ladies dressed in lacy, flowing dresses and droopy hats lounging about in well-manicured flower gardens with gentlemen similarly dressed in white suits.

This was also the time that the practices of High Tea and Low Tea emerged. Low Tea is what we have come to typically think of as tea, with the upper classes enjoying gourmet tidbits served alongside tea from a silver or china teapot. High Tea, meanwhile, was practised by the middle and lower classes. It was the main meal of the day and featured meat, vegetables and tea.

"Afternoon teas are something we, as a society, have gotten away from in recent years," observes Wendy, who remembers how church teas were often held while she was growing up, and that young women were frequently given china sets as wedding presents so that they could properly entertain callers. "But holding a tea is a nice excuse to slow down and visit with friends, something we don't always get to do often enough nowadays."

David McAllister agrees. He co-owns the Bell Inn Restaurant in Dorchester, where afternoon tea is offered from 2 to 4 p.m. each day featuring chicken salad, potato salad, cranberry sauce, cheddar cheese, fresh fruit, biscuits with whipped cream and jam, and, of course, tea or coffee.

"People today, both men and women, still very much enjoy the idea of tea, because it gives them a chance to slow down in the middle of the day and visit with friends," he says. "They also like the link taking tea in the afternoon gives them with the past, even if afternoons teas today are much less formal than they used to be."

But while afternoon teas nowadays may be much less formal, usually, than their Victorian counterparts, some elements of the ritual remain the same.