I am a communications specialist at the University of Delaware. I blog about Thomas Nast and editorial cartoons, art history, journalism, fine arts, photography, agriculture, gardening, and social media.
At the University of Delaware, we are fortunate to call Doug Tallamy one of our own. I first heard him talk at a horticulture event I was covering. Doug is an entomologist and professor at the University of Delaware’s Department of Wildlife Ecology. His influence and expertise is respected worldwide. Thanks to his books, his articles and his generous appearances on Zoom, Doug Tallamy’s message is starting to get out. This is a recording of a recent appearance he gave to Ohio State University. I attended this for advanced training as a Master Gardener. His lecture beings at 3:50.
I have joined the Home Grown National Park effort that Tallamy has started. I planted my first oak tree, and hope to get many more. Increasingly I am adding native plants to encourage more caterpillar and insect activity.
Does this mean I will remove the many crepe myrtles on my property? No. But, as beautiful as they are in late summer, I won’t plant anymore. Will I still decorate my front porch steps with my favorite magenta geraniums? Yes I will. It is okay to grow and enjoy non-natives. But I am finding spots in my yard for milkweed, echinacea, mountain mint, redbud and serviceberry trees. I challenge anyone who reads Doug Tallamay’s books or watches him lecture in person or on YouTube will be compelled (and urgently so) the way they landscape their homes.
Today, I began my journey to be a Delaware Master Gardener. I first heard about the Master Gardener program in 1994, when I entered my city back yard in a garden tour contest (I didn’t win anything) but I got on a mailing list and received information about the program.
Fast forward to 2001 when I began a new career at the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. I learned about the Master Gardener volunteers who help extend university research to the public. My new career coincided with a new home, three-quarter acre plot without a shrub, flower or tree, so I was eager to absorb the many fact sheets made available to the public.
Over the past 20 years I’ve gotten to know and admire the people involved in this program. I’ve certainly enjoyed spending my lunch breaks in their demonstration garden, and as my position officially switched to communications, helping to promote their workshops and outreach events such as their open house. I’ve also been thrilled to be a part of their many celebrations and hallmark anniversaries.
I’ve long known that gardeners are incredibly generous people. They love creating, growing and sharing. Getting to know the Master Gardeners affiliated with our land grant university only strengthened my opinions.
I wanted to be a part of their ranks!
While I know a lot about Cooperative Extension, and have learned through the successes and mistakes of my own garden, I am eager to have the formal training that this program will provide.
Because of COVID and the danger looming over the Delta variant, we will be receiving our 12 weeks of training via Zoom.
I am looking forward to sharing my journey here each week, sharing the resources that will be taught to my class via Extension professionals.
2-City Line Rio (transplanted from sun to shade in 2018. Currently growing but not blooming).
1-Merritt’s Supreme (2017)
2-Oak-leaf “Snowflake” double bloomer (in transit 2019)
1-Summer crush (2020) purchased at Lowes post season. Bloomed very pink in 2021.
1- “Alice” Oakleafs Hydrangea. Purchased at Willey’s Farm, Townsend, Del. post season in 2020. Looking forward to blooms in 2021.
1-Strawberry Sundae (2020)
1-Bobo panicle hydrangea (2020)
1-Gatsby Star Oakleaf hydrangea (2021) Proven Winners purchased from UDBG plant sale
1-Shooting Star (double-bloomer) lacecaps macrophylla Lowes
1-Proven Winners Tuff Stuff serrata “Red” (2021)
1-Haas Halo – native arborenscens lacecap recommended by Mt. Cuba Center as a pollinator favorite (2021) END
1-Lacecap “Bethany” a gift from a Master Gardener
Five layerings in progress. We’ll see how many make it!
I’ve obtained these specimens from local nurseries, mail order, propagation from friends, and those I have created myself from layerings and cuttings! I currently have a dozen cuttings in a tub and it looks like all but two will make it!
The challenge now is to find a place for all of these. I would say half of my collection is small and in that “getting established” period of its life.
Back when I did not know what I was doing, I planted some macrophyllas in high heat, strong sun locations. Most are doing okay, but take daily and sometimes twice-a-day waterings. I doubt at this stage they would take to transplanting, but in leaving them where I have, I am creating additional work for myself down the line. I have taken layering and cutting samples from all of these, as I may try to replace them with paniculata.
Here are some of my favorite photos:
Proven Winners City Line “Mars” It was purchased pink and now blooms in this beautiful, bright blue!
Wet and white! Schnee or Snow along the fence line. They are a macrophylla with deep, dark green foliage.
Oakleafs hydrangea Endless Summer. I wish I knew the variety. These blooms are very tight, curled and never form round shapes. They stay in this flat pagoda shape.
Limelight has become one of my most favorite plants. I heavily prune in early March.
I love to bring hydrangeas indoors. Here I have limelight arranged with a base of Philodendron Selloum. Both last a long time in a vase.
Various vases of my hydrangeas!
I transplanted this Strawberry Sunday from a container to the ground. Doing this interrupted its bloom schedule. But the plant sent me a message with this one, singular bloom, that I had made a good decision and I can look forward to more blooms like this in 2021.
Ruby Slippers earlier in the summer. Compare the spacing of the florets to the Snow Queen below. Bees love this hydrangea!
Oakleaf hydrangea. Either Sykes Dwarf or Snow Queen
A young Merritt’s Supreme blossom! It shifted from pink to lavender purple its first year,
Nothing enhances a landscape more than the wildlife and birds who stop by for a visit and enjoy the growth as well as the human contributions such as this birdseed tossed inside a pink bucket left over from 2020. The songs and chirps add to the serene and lively soundtrack of my garden, not to mention the biological control of these birds as they feed on both bird feeders and the growing insect population that ushers in in May!
I have lots of new changes and additions to our backyard habitat woodland garden this year! I love to tour the garden after a good rain. It’s April 15 with my iPhone in hand! Take a look!
Beyond the raised bed section is an old dog run that I converted over to a perennial, pollinator garden. This area is the only part of our backyard that received more than 4 hours of sun. Although I started out with different plants, most of what I admired from the Master Gardener demonstration garden, I am adding blue and yellow flowers to dominate (my UD Alma Mater colors). New this year are delphiniums seen lower left. Everything is coming up wonderfully. The two sections of split rail fence are vestiges of a dog run I had for my Great Dane who has since passed. Last year I added some climbers, and we added an arbor to distinguish this area from the main back yard.
In the middle of the yard, we removed a very mature River Birch. We had four, now we have three. The tree was too close to the house. I could have opened a River Birch nursery, with all the seedlings that erupted inside our gutters alone! It also dumped a lot of debris into our medium-sized pond. I left the stump kind of high, as I thought I might carve out a bowl/splinter. Right now the stump is weeping profusely. The sugars from the sap are spilling over and turning colors. The removal has opened up quite a bit of sunlight now!
Two years ago, we reduced our pond by half. We had koi, and herons, and then ugly nets to try to protect the koi, and ugly leaves collecting in the nets. The ugly wasn’t worth it. We found homes for the koi, removed the net, placed a bench under a Japanese re maple and now we are serenaded by bullfrogs. We added a second trellis/arbor to mark an entrance to our deep-shade section.
With the increased sunlight from the missing River Birch, we can now plant some flowering plants by the waterfall. I could never grow anything there due to the deep shade. It will be so rewarding to add color to this area now!
One thing about a shade garden, and a pond, are mosquitos. They love me and I am highly allergic to them. It is hard to enjoy the backyard we’ve created. Although we are vigilant in preventing any standing water, and use mosquito dunks in the pond, they do well here. Unfortunate! So I’ve been nagging my husband for a screened gazebo. They are quite the investment. We are looking at $7 to 8K to get a 12 x 12 structure. With Covid last year and this year, we weren’t sure what would happen with our incomes, so we wanted to test out the concept before we commit.
This is a 12 x 12 Alvantor tent. It is not perfect, but under $400 – a big difference that $8,000! We bought it in September and kept it up until early November and then tucked it away. The top is not waterproof, so we have to tend to it immediately after a rain storm. It is not what I want, but right now, we can sit out and see and listen to the waterfalls, the wind chimes and enjoy a glass of wine, mosquito free. We are going to try a different flooring this year. I am still not giving up on a cedar-type gazebo!!
As a novice birdwatcher, one of the trickiest parts of photographing birds is not scaring them. And birdwatching from home is especially so. The minute you see activity in your feeders, just try and grab your camera and get outside without causing flight!
However, I stumbled onto a new technique.
Outside my home office, I have a small deck and deck railings. Last year I used a pink planter/pail/bucket filled with soil to hold mosquito sticks in place. Last week, I was outside replenishing my bird feeders and passed by the neglected pail and decided to put a handful of mixed seed on top of the soil.
I was rewarded with lots of visitors. From my desk chair, I can get to my camera and shoot through one of the panes of glass in my sliding door window. The birds (and squirrels) don’t seem to see me, and thanks to…
I’m not going too far out on a limb to say that 2020 has been a horrible year so far. Sickly, stressful, polarizing and divisive. Since March 13, 2020 I have worked from home and also had an opportunity to take temporary custody of my only grandchild, Hugo, who lives in NYC with his parents. There, at the epicenter of the pandemic, his parents felt their six and a half year old son might enjoy an extended visit in the southern Delaware countryside with “MiMa.” Both of us did our daily work virtually, and the extra time together concentrated on an outdoor classroom that included birdwatching and feeding, planting vegetables, planting and dividing flowers and learning about insects and pollinators. It was 11-weeks of that silver lining you hear so much about!
Working from home afforded me some extra time to water in the mornings, spend lunch time weeding, and when we were allowed to, visit some garden centers wearing masks.
My hydrangeas (currently 63 and counting) did not get the news 2020 was off to a poor start. I started seeing early indications that this would be a bumper year for hydrangeas. The best ever in my memory.
In my ever-shadier woodland backyard setting, I have lost the opportunity to flower garden. But this year, my husband and I took out three of our five concrete block raised beds (they worked but were unsightly) and used the area to create a pollinator garden. It is still a work in progress.
In the pollinator garden is an assortment of natives and non-natives. Echinacea, nepta (catmint) garden phlox “jeana”, various beebalm, senna, coreopsis, gaillardia, pink and purple Veronica speedwell, salvias, Shasta daisies, fennel, milkweed, butterfly weed (Asclepias), yarrow, false sea thrift (armería), stokesia, lavender, rosemary, cornflower, pokeweed, h.paniculata “Bobo”, solidago “Wichita Mountains”, drumstick alliums, and others.