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February 2018
Don't Mow Your Lawn

While Julian and I start to plan our veggie garden at his place, I think about my meadow - once kept regularly mowed but now let to grow and flower. At times it is splattered with the yellow blossoms of dandelion and hawkweed and purple and white violets, waving grasses, swooping swallows, butterflies and birds.

I am happy to hear that world-renowned jazz trombonist Ray Anderson and lyricist Jackie Raven offer sage sustainable advice and encouragement in their tune: Don't Mow Your Lawn!

Lyrics by Jackie Raven after listening to a lawn devotee mow for six hours when it should have taken 40 minutes! Famed trombonist Ray Anderson put it to music. Here he sings it (and plays at the end) with the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band at Jazzwochethe, an international jazz festival in Burghausen, Germany.

Get some inspiration! Click here.

by Mary Jasch

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June 2017
Into the Garden

At Julian’s balcony garden, we refreshed the pots containing Walmart “potting soil,” composed mostly of bark chips, with Fafard Container Soil mixed with Potting Soil for water retention.

We planted Renee’s Garden seeds of 2015 Dukat Leafy Dill and Dutch Darkibor Triple-Curled Kale, 2016 Organic Rustic Style Arugula and 2017 Heirloom French Chervil and Burpee Organic Salad Bowl Lettuce.

Our next project is to dig up part of Julian’s backyard and start an in-ground garden.

At my New Jersey country garden, I rolled tree-sized Vietnamese ceramics from the deck through the kitchen to the front walk where I planted them with 2017 Renee’s Garden Sugar Pod Peas, and 2014 Wild Garden Frills Heirloom Russian Kale and French Flounce Oriental Poppies with a centrally-located cayenne pepper. Strangely, white petunias grew from seed instead of poppies!

In one of two smaller, columnar planters a Cherokee Purple tomato grows. The other contains a burgundy grass, two marigolds, and bacopa that I hope can handle drying.

Since i posted this, we've harvested the Heirloom Russian Kale and Thai basil that self-seeded with the mystery petunias that grew in place of poppies and the tomatoes and peas have flowers.

Let the season begin!

by Mary Jasch

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August 2016
On Mushrooms and Soil

Critters aren’t the only invaders in our container gardens, now moved to ground level against the white stucco wall in the sun. This entails schlepping lots of water but such is the joy of gardening!

The critters referred to are of the fungi kind: a member of the genus Coprinus, the Inky Cap mushrooms, and quite possibly Coprinus plicatilis, Japanese parasol mushroom. According to The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms, this species is edible, though others range from poisonous to hallucinogenic and they are some of the most common urban/suburban fungi. Habitat ranges from decaying wood (trees) and lawns to garden soil bought at Walmart! (Why did I ever?)

Suffice it so say that everything has had a hard time growing in this soil, except for the mushrooms which appear every morning and die down by evening. They thrived among the kale and red French leaf lettuce. We eat both with no reaction, being careful to avoid the delicate fungi.

The tomatoes and peppers are catching up for lost time, though. Pompeii and San Marzano lead the pack, followed closely by poblano peppers and kohlrabi. Beefsteak tomatoes and cayenne are close behind and lettuce and kale and, finally, cabbage are bringing up the rear.

Parsley, Greek oregano and thyme are gorgeous, though one by one borage bit the dust after completely flopping every day, then standing back up again. We did manage to blend a bit in a smoothie, which was quite good.

by Mary Jasch

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August 2016
Roof-Top Critters

Just when you think it can’t happen here, it does. Interestingly, there are no deer here, being in the middle of the city, but there are squirrels, caterpillars, dogs, cats and birds.

First there was the feral cat that was set on a meal of baby starlings nested in the corner eave, just even with the floor of the balcony. The cat not only used a planter prepared with soil as a litter box, but one morning it leapt downward into the air at the birds’ nest, missed, and grazed the shoulder of a woman walking to her car as it fell to the ground.

Julian and I hurriedly filled the planter with oregano, parsley and thyme to keep the cat out, and Julian planted borage seed. The next day we found a few scattered feathers and an empty nest. No more cat – and baby birds.

According to a NY Times article by Elisabeth Rosenthal, the American Bird Conservancy determined nearly 500 million birds are killed by cats each year – half by pets and half by feral cats!

Cats aren’t the only critters that pester plants on roof-tops, as we learned one morning when I pulled a half-buried candy bar wrapper from out of the pot of dill. Was it a dog on this second floor balcony? A cat? Both were highly unlikely. It had to be a squirrel, of which there are plenty.

We soon noticed holes in cabbage, kale and kohlrabi leaves and, after a little research, hand-picked them off and drowned them in soapy water, thinking they were cabbage loopers (Trichoplusia ni), a.k.a. cabbageworms, also a.k.a. inchworms. But the questions were: how did they get up on a roof garden to eat our veggies and where did they come from?

(An inch worm memory: When I was 8 or 9, I found the biggest rock I could hold and threw it at an inchworm dangling from a low branch. In my childhood euphoria, I neglected to see the Studebaker behind the caterpillar as the rock whizzed through the air, missed the worm, and broke the car window of the “baddest man in the whole dang town.” As the other old tune went: “I ran all the way home.”)

Enter Peter Nitzsche, County Extension Dept. Head, Agricultural Agent, Rutgers NJ Agricultural Experiment Station, Morristown, NJ, who quickly enlightened me. They were “Imported cabbageworms” (Pieris rapae) – not loopers or “cabbage worms” – and he offered the best Integrated Pest Management methods to control them.

Cabbage loopers do not survive the harsh winters of NY, NJ, CT and Eastern PA, but the adult moths usually migrate here by late July/early August and immediately deposit their eggs, he says. The night-flying, dark, grey/brown moths with a silver V-shaped spot on each wing rest between the plant’s leaves during the day. The caterpillars have white stripes on sides and back and feed on the undersides and tops of leaves and bore into the cabbage heads sometimes making them unfit to eat.

Imported cabbage worms have visible legs and faint yellow stripes across the back but often appear just green. They too, bore into cabbage heads, leaving dark green lumps behind. The adult is the small, white, day-flitting moth that loves nepeta and other mint family plants, Russian sage, salvia, caryopteris. These plants may be pretty and are quite useful but don’t use them near the veggie garden!

Peter Nitzsche’s Recommendations

Put row covers on early. It’s too late now but netting can be used to keep the white cabbage moths at bay.

Inspect the plants daily and hand-pick the caterpillars and throw them in soapy water. As steward of the veggies, Julian inspects the plants every morning and evening.

Douse the plants with BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) a bacterium that comes as powder or liquid. It kills caterpillars of all types because they have alkaline stomachs, but it doesn’t harm birds, bees and humans because we don’t have alkaline stomachs. BUT, do not use BT on plants that you want for butterflies, such as milkweeds. Some labels say it may be applied up to harvest day, but then, why bother. You can just wash the leaves in the sink.

Another option: Spinosad, a new, organic pesticide discovered as a fermentation product at a rum distillery.

It is good to use companion plants that attract carnivorous insects and birds that are natural predators, but be careful not to use mints or other plants that attract those cute little white moths whose larvae will soon destroy your food. Try parsley, dill, fennel and coriander. Insectivorous wasps love them!

Harvest cabbage as soon as possible because Imported cabbagewoms are active all season. Bury damaged leaves of all cole crops. Treatment is the same for loopers and imports.

University of Florida articles:
Imported Cabbageworm
Cabbage Looper

Rutgers NJ Agricultural Experiment Station, Morris County

by Mary Jasch

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June 2016
Up on the Roof

Out in the dog pen, someone ate my snow peas first, then the fava beans then, after that, my ‘Rainbow’ chard among the roses and nepeta.

Getting older and being busy is a tough mix for clearing out an overgrown dog pen/vegetable garden so I took the easy way and started an off-the-cuff roof/balcony/container garden with the man in my life, Julian Sparacino, in Scranton, PA, with what is known as "found objects."

First item: a wooden end table with storage compartment found on a roadside. Julian removed the top and drilled holes, then planted Greek oregano, lemon thyme, and Italian flat leaf parsley that miraculously survived winter on the kitchen table, and borage seeds. Next we found wooden crates and planted poblano peppers, and seeds of ‘Rustic Style’ arugula and ‘Redina’ organic French red leaf lettuce.

From my garage, I enlisted an old wooden ammo box that once held ammunition during some distant war. Now it holds thriving young’uns of kohlrabi, cabbage and ‘Lacinato’ kale. We have enjoyed our first harvest of seeded ‘Regiment’ organic spinach and ‘Tuscan Baby Leaf’ kale that grow in a terra cotta bowl just outside the kitchen door. ‘Dukat’ dill in standard terra cotta grows beside it on the second story balcony.

Down on the ground against the white-washed building, ‘Better Boy’ and Siberian heirloom ‘Black Prince’ grow in pots abutting a colony of blooming Prickly Pear planted here 12 years ago in the crack between wall and slate path.

Meanwhile, ‘San Marzano’ and ‘Pompeii’ plum tomatoes, ‘Big Beef’ Beefsteak tomato and ‘Trieste’ bulbing fennel grow from a second seeding in a flat now under Julian’s care. It’s not easy riding in the back of a pick-up at 65mph and keeping your hat on!

Finally (for the moment), sunflower seeds will soon sprout against a sunny garage wall.

**All photos by Julian Sparacino
** All seeds from Renee's Garden

by Mary Jasch

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May 2016
The Resurrection of a Veggie Garden

Click on May 1 on the right to see photos.

Veggie garden planting season will be in full swing next week, I think. So far, I’m delighted to report that my fava beans are about three inches tall and my snow peas are are flourishing.

Swiss chard is has seed leaves so far after planting a few days ago in a terraced bed alongside my walkway on a hill. Ballerina rose and Nepeta ‘Junior Walker’ occupy the bed and soon I’ll plant Thunbergia seed to climb up to and crawl around the wrought iron railing. And on second thought, I’ll move my never-been-able-to-grow variegated azalea out from under daffodils, iris and day lilies where I put the dispensable chard.

All my seeds are from last year’s from Renee’s Garden and were kept in the refrigerator with more to come!

Tons of work to do in the veg garden after three years of neglect and I’m looking forward to it. Raspberry brambles (I’ll pull them out after I eat the berries), sumac with a four-inch trunk, multiflora rose… It’s all there.

No rototilling this year. I’ll hand dig beds so as not to disturb whatever rock borders remain under the weeds. Tree branches left behind by a man who chain-sawed fallen trees for firewood will make good borders too.

Though the garden looks appalling right now (even to me) the peas and beans encourage me.

Stay tuned. My dog pen-turned vegetable garden awaits!

**All photos by Mary Jasch

by Mary Jasch

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March 2015
Wow! It’s Gardening Time!

On this day, eight days after pea-planting day (St. Patrick’s Day), almost all the snow is gone. Instead, the quite noticeable remains of last year’s pokeweed lie tangled in an old rose-of-Sharon and clutter the path to the dog pen/veggie garden along with Oriental bittersweet, raspberry, sumac and rose-of-Sharon seedlings – all from two years of neglect.

My intent on this balmy 47-degree day is to clean out the entrance and create a space to plant snow peas but on the way I spot the first shoots of daffodils. Oh my God! Spring is here! Waylaid, I rake leaves from the daffs only to find more shoots and so I rake for an hour and clip the soggy foliage of perennials.

With a fully loaded tarp of leaves and trimmings, and more awaiting the next couple tarp loads, I start a new compost pile downhill below the grass just behind the wild area with sumac and autumn olive that the birds love. (The plan is to replace these wild shrubs with spring blooming ‘Birgit’ and ‘Amethyst’ witch hazels that survived the last two winters in pots. Yes, I think I’ll plant a semi-wild wildlife heaven, though it already is a wildlife heaven – it’s just not pretty.)

The mugho pine has long outgrown a terraced bed is crowding out Rosa ‘Ballerina’ and must be dug up soon to be planted on the embankment surrounding the garage. That’s a “free-for-all” garden of deer-resistant thugs. May the best plants win!

The deep red shoots of tulips, iris and thyme on a small rocky terrace sport new growth. And much needs to be sprayed for deer.

Suddenly there’s so much to do!

by Mary Jasch

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December 2014
Digging Plants to Bring Home

December 23. In the 50s, spring-like – warm, sunny, no wind so today I move my plants home, dug from planter boxes that Lance made. Pots of young blue mist shrub, golden-variegated forsythia (monster in the making) and Pinky Winky hydrangea dug from under the Old Man Music sign outside Lance’s studio.

Crossing the huge lawn, almost a meadow, I pass Nature’s own ornamental garden that surrounds a boulder left by the Wisconsin glacier about 15,000 years ago. Wild asters and goldenrod embellish the mass of ferns in fall and Lance’s long-ago planted daffodils decorate the young fronds and rock in spring. A bluebird house stands high above them next to the boulder, where bluebirds delighted Lance every year.

As I pass I say good-bye to Roadie, a formerly feral cat buried there. I say good-bye to all the planted areas. It seems so final, this act of taking my plants, many still in nursery pots, though more “important” things remain to be moved to my house. But maybe the sense of finality will put me into second gear.

At my house, I stash them all under the deck, close to the house where they are protected from the west and north winds.

Since that day, the ground has frozen solid but March is not so far away. It felt good to, in some way, prepare my garden for the new year and new beginning.

by Mary Jasch

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November 2014
Going Home Again

This account no longer details my simple, yet unsuccessful, attempt to turn one large dog pen into a productive veggie/flower/herb garden. It has come to be about my entire one-acre property.

After two years of neglect, except for the occasional grass cutting, weed pulling and planting, the wild plants of human disturbance have taken over. You know the usual: wisteria and forsythia with their far-reaching root sprouts, garlic mustard, ragweed, poison ivy, grape and Virginia creeper. Fortunately, my Rosa multiflora succumbed to rosa rosette a year ago.

One day I spent four hours cutting wisteria out of a 5 x 6ish Spiraea thunbergii, ripping out three-foot tall, wild spiderwort that obscured the base of a standard wisteria, and engaging in a tug of war with raspberry brambles under the deck. I hauled them all off on a tarp and dumped them on a heap in the shrubby wild part near the hedgerow that borders the cornfield. It felt good. That was late summer.

Now it is late November and I am in the process of returning full time to my home and garden after Lance Casper’s passing last month. He was the man in my life. And just as my first chore indoors is cleaning out the closets, my first job in the gardens is cleaning out the beds!

Ten inches of snow fell last night. It covers my world and the few shrubs, perennials and grasses that still await planting (No, Mathilda, there isn't always tomorrow), including my newest favorite – 'Raydon’s Favorite' aster that bloomed freely for months.

Soon I shall experience the "healing" effects of gardening though winter is coming.

But isn’t gardening always therapy? And what is healing about after losing a loved one? No more sense of loss? Of love? Of constant remembrance? Or is it losing the feeling of woe and gaining the ability to move onward? And still with the giant hole in one’s life? Will the beauty of plants and the care of growing them fill me up? Through the sadness and demands I am curious.

**Photos are from early July. To see the photos, click on November 2014 to the right.

by Mary Jasch

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April 2014
Kissed by a Rose

or... Scratching My Way Back to the Garden

Today I was kissed by a Ballerina – rose, that is. My Ballerina has been blooming and growing uninhibited for three years, unpruned, unfertilized, but always admired. She’s about four feet tall, almost as wide and blooms non-stop from June to frost.

Ballerina flew home as a foot-long, bare-root offspring of my sister-in-law, Rosalie’s, mother rose on the Northern California Coast. It, like all plants I carry home from wherever I go, got stashed in the overhead for the trip back to New Jersey.

On my day to return home via the Sacramento Airport, I was full body scanned by a smiling enforcer. Could it have been that, along with my two-week trip ticket, my carry-on was devoid of clothing but filled with the Ballerina, succulents (gifts from friends and one plucked from a precipice overhanging the rocky coast) and turkey mugs?

With arching, slender branches and tiny leaf buds and thorns that just wouldn’t let me go, my young shrub got her first pruning and kissed me often leaving faint red traces on my skin. (Maybe now we are blood sisters.) I wanted to prune her right, having just attended a rose pruning lecture by Jeff Van Pelt who once cared for The Rudolph van der Goot Rose Garden at Colonial Park in NJ.

He would be proud. First I looked down upon her and chose three thick branches that would be her infrastructure. I nibbled at her for an hour, slowly shaping her into a “V,” cutting out the dead, diseased and crossing stems.

But Nature is wise. Ballerina’s hold on my naked hands reversed my tentative attitude and away I cut, happily removing larger branches close, I think, to what Mr. Van Pelt espoused: “Trim back to the lowest bud pointing in the right direction.” His words rang in my head. Thank God for “rote.”

Out came big chunks to make room for my hand until Ballerina was elegant and clean. The experience brought so much to mind like when there is pain, physical or emotional, Nature steps in and enables you to handle the situation. In this case, cuts from my rose changed my hesitant approach to one of fearlessness and determination.

Since then, I have joyously pruned a friend’s monster red Knock Out Rose.

I can’t wait to get back to my whole garden. It was a very good day.

by Mary Jasch

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