Vermont Garden Journal

Martin Labar / Flickr

Happy National Pollinator Week! These days, there seems to be a dedicated week for all kinds of topics, some frivolous and others not. But pollinators are important.

cjp / istock

This common edible was first used as a medicinal plant by the Chinese. It hales from Mongolia and likes cool, damp conditions. It made its way to Europe, but wasn't until the 1700's that rhubarb was used as an edible. Rhubarb eventually found its way to America and is a staple in many New England gardens.

Bryant Olson / Flickr

It is as quintessential as the fourth of July and apple pie. Sweet corn is an All-American crop and there's nothing like munching on an ear of freshly picked corn on a hot summer day. It's so sweet, I don't even bother cooking it.

Pacific NW Gardener / Flickr

Gardening is known for its folklore. Some of these old wives tales have some truth to them and others, not so much. I often get asked about companion planting for insect control. Although many say plants such as onions, marigolds and rue can deter pests, scientifically, few of these folklore remedies have been proven. 

A Shino / Flickr

These two common Herbs de Provence are both perennials in the mint family and have a multitude of uses as food and medicine. And rosemary and lavender are both hard to grow in Vermont.

Chiot's Run / Flickr

This common annual flower is related to a plant that has been grown and used for 6,000 years. It helped the early colonists survive in the New World, but unfortunately, was a crop associated with slavery and is now known to cause lung cancer. While tobacco has a checkered past, its cousin, the flowering tobacco or nicotiana, is a great flower in the garden.

Kenneth Spencer / Flickr

When I think of magnolias, memories of Grateful Dead concerts and Gone with the Wind come to mind. While this prehistoric tree is indigenous to the Southern United States, we can also grow some varieties here. And why not, newer, hardy dwarf varieties make the trees more manageable in small spaces. Plus, the large flowers are loaded with fragrance. “Ahh Sugar magnolia, ringing that bluebell, caught up in the sunlight, come on out singing.”

Voldy Morton / Flickr

Sometimes the best plants are right under our noses. Native shrubs have long been ignored as a landscape plant but that seems to be changing. Native shrubs, by nature, are hardy, better adapted to our climate and provide critical habitat for wildlife. Some have attractive flowers, colorful berries and fall foliage. Here are three of my favorites.

wysiwtf / flickr

Spring is time to get your soil ready for planting. Organic matter is key to soil health and building it with annual additions of compost is a good idea. But sometimes, especially in a vegetable or annual flower garden, there is a need to add more than compost. Annual flower and vegetable plants pull many nutrients from the soil. Based on a soil test you may find deficiencies and may need an organic fertilizer to help restore some balance.

Flict / Flickr

In a Mary Oliver poem, she says of this plant, “Most things that are important, have you noticed, lack a certain neatness.” Well, this is certainly true of bleeding hearts. This Dicentra family plant makes an early spring appearance as soon as the ground thaws. The grassy foliage quickly grows into a floppy 3 to 4 feet tall and wide plant that's loaded with heart-shaped flowers. The colorful flowers appear to have a trickle of blood dripping out the bottom, hence the common name, bleeding heart.

Skanska Matupplevelser / Flickr

Growing up, I was always told to never judge a book by its cover. Well, that applies to vegetables as well. Celeriac is not the prettiest of veggies. The dark green celery stalk and leaves are attractive enough, but its the root that's the problem. This gnarly, tan colored orb partially sticks out of the ground when mature and when you rip it out of the bed (it can be tenacious to pull out of the soil), I feel like it should be screaming like mandrakes from a Harry Potter movie. It's really not a pretty picture.

MonaMakela / iStock

On a cold, snowy night in February, I was invited to the Jericho Town Library to talk about seed saving. But this wasn't your regular home gardener audience. These gardeners have created a seed library. 

YinYang / iStock

Apples are as common to our landscape as maple trees. But one type, in particular, has multiple uses. This apple goes by odd names such as scroggy, bittersgall and sour grabs. The fruit were roasted and added to wassail. The Norse word for this apple means “scrubby” because the original varieties had thorns and multiple stems. We know this tree as the crabapple.

Adam Peterson / Wikipedia Commons

When is a potato also a bean and a nut? When it's a groundnut or the potato bean. Apios americana is a Native american vine that grows from the Gulf of Mexico through New England.

smphoto / iStock

This climbing, pea family vine hails from Asia, but there are species native to the US as well. It grows rampantly engulfing pergolas, arbors, fences, walls and cars. It's the wisteria vine.

Opiola Jerzy (Poland) / Wikimedia Commons

I'm a bit of a fruit freak. While others travel to exotic climes to enjoy the scenery, beaches and culture, I'm always looking for the fresh food markets to taste durians, dragon fruit and cherimoyas. While these sound exotic, we actually can grow some cool, unusual fruits in our climate too. One of my latest discovering is the honeyberry.

Dave Spindle / Flickr

This common perennial flower is of two minds. One version is tall and tidy with beautiful white, blue or pink flowers. Another is a low growing, native ground cover with blue, rose or white flowers that actually can become a weed. The common name speedwell, literally means to thrive. We mostly know this perennial as Veronica.

billnoll / iStock

If you thought potatoes were just those boring spuds found in bags in the grocery store, think again. Potatoes have a rich history and continue to be at the forefront of controversy around the world. This common global food has been the center of mass migrations of people and lawsuits challenging multi-national corporations. Not bad for an Andean spud.

The Fern Lover's Companion / Flickr

This plant is millions of years old, predating dinosaurs. It's name means feathers because it has divided and delicate leaves. Historically people has believed this plant can provide good luck, protect you from lightning and give you magical qualities such as invisibility. What common plant is this? It's the fern.

kgtoh / iStock

One cold morning at breakfast, I was swatting small, black flies from my potted amaryllis and thinking, insects are opportunists. Even in winter, these bugs find a way to survive.