Rainy days and Sundays always get me down when I can not garden!

Monday, April 24, 2017


It is believed that the first window boxes hung from the terraces in the Gardens of Babylon (southern Iraq) making the plants look like they were suspended or floating in mid air. The story goes that King Nebuchadnezzar II, who ruled between 605-562 BC had the gardens built for his wife Queen Amytis of Medis who was homesick for the mountains of her homeland. In 290 BC the Babylonian Priest Berrossus writes about these gardens crediting the King with their creation. The exact location of these gardens have yet to be identified and no physical evidence have been found making some believe they are more mythical then physical. If the gardens were real then it's believed that they had been destroyed after the 1st century AD.

For the Romans the use of window boxes was purposeful and convenient. These terra cotta boxes were used for growing herbs for food, medicine and religious purposes. Overtime, these boxes took on a more decorative role with flowers replacing herbs. Wealthy Romans created gardens on balconies and rooftops with the use of window boxes. Roman writer, naturalist and philosopher Pliny the Elder mentions window boxes in his works, Naturalis Historia (encyclopedias). In it he writes:

The urban poor used to have window-boxes, which gave them a glimpse of the countryside every day, but now the countless violent burglaries have forced them to shutter their windows.”

The use of window boxes spread through Europe (as did the Romans) and eventually to the US. The French used wrought iron to create their boxes while the English utilized wire hay baskets for a “cottage style garden”. The arrival of the settlers to America gave rise to the traditional colonial style window box. One thought is that the poor utilized window boxes in Europe do to lack of land for traditional gardens. In historic cities like Charleston, South Carolina, homes extend all the way out to the sidewalks. This left no front yard garden space, thus the use of window boxes. Today, these boxes play a vital role in the cities appearance.

According to an article in the Independent (Oct. 13, 1995) window boxes were at their height of popularity by the 1870's. In 1955, Neosho Missouri embarked on a city wide, beautification project utilizing window-boxes. Since 1957 it has been known as “The Flower Box City” at least to the locals. In cities like Philadelphia, window box companies will design, install, plant and replant your window-boxes seasonally.

When designing your own window boxes think “Thriller, Filler, Spiller”. Thriller plants are the tallest, adding drama, movement and a focal point. Fillers, as the name implies adds mass, texture and color. And spillers are trailing plants that drape over the sides, creating softness and anchors the design.

Window boxes can add charm and beauty. They are miniature gardens that bring nature in and provide a colorful view looking out. They can also support our pollinators. In 2016 the USDA launched “Plant A Window Box for Pollinators” through the Peoples Garden Initiative Website (peoplesgarden.usda.gov). This tool helps you locate plants for pollinators based on your zip code. The Pollinator Partnership (pollinator.org/windowbox) has created an online web application in which you can create a window boxes for pollinators with an emphasis on native plants. Once created you can share your virtual window box with others through social media or create the real deal.

Thursday, February 23, 2017


"Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle … a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a bud straining to unfurl.  And the anticipation nurtures our dream.” –  Barbara Winkler

December 21 is the shortest day of the year (in the northern hemisphere) and the official start to winter! Known as the Winter Solstice it is also the start of “WINTER SOWING” (creator and Guru Trudi Davidoff).  This is a nifty method of outdoor seed germination using milk cartoons, 2 liter soda bottles, plastic kitty litter jugs or other similar types of containers. These mini-greenhouses are placed outdoors in a safe and sunny locations, protected from heavy winds but can still get water from rain or snow. Winter Sowing works with perennials, annuals, herbs and even garden veggies.

Winter sowing is not difficult but does have a few guidelines. For starters, the containers need to be “transparent”, deep enough to hold 3"-4” of potting soil along with adequate “head space” There also needs to be drainage holes on the bottom (so we don’t drown our seeds) as well as ventilation holes on the top (or remove the cap). Hardier seeds are started in January and the more tender seeds in February and March.

As the days start to warm but the nights are still cold seedlings will began to emerge. As the seedlings grow keep an eye on moisture levels and water as needed. Open up the containers on nicer days but close them up at night if cold or a chance of frost. Winter-sown seedlings are naturally “harden off” allowing direct transplanting into the garden come the Vernal (Spring) equinox!


Monday, January 2, 2017


What's all the buzz about gardens for pollinators? For starters, 85% of all flowering plants rely on pollinators! Without them you would not have many of the fruits and vegetables that you enjoy eating. Examples of common foods dependent upon or benefit from pollinators are apples, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cucumbers, pumpkins, almonds, melons, squash, peppers, tomatoes, spices, cocoa, coffee and figs just to name a few! As the saying goes, “1 in 3 bites” of our food relies on pollinators. So the next time you are at the supermarket look around at the produce section. Now look again but imagine 33% of the shelves are bare. Without pollinators, that could be a reality.

If your vegetable garden is not doing well or your fruit trees are failing to produce, chances are that you are not attracting enough pollinators into your yard. Our pollinators travel about without regard to property lines or fences. Creating a pollinator friendly garden is simple no matter how big or small. By planting a garden focused on welcoming these insects, you can increase the number of pollinators in your area. Select plants that provide adequate food sources for bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, hummingbirds and other pollinators. You will need both pollen and nectar producing plants with bright colors and a variety of shapes and sizes to attract many different pollinators. Stick with plants specific or native to your area (avoiding non-native and exotics) which better support pollinators. Have a combination of spring, summer and fall blooming flowers and whenever possible, plant in groups of 3 or more to better “grab” the pollinators attention. When planting annuals go with old fashion heirlooms (avoiding hybrids) and intersperse them among the vegetable plants in your garden. You can also designate a section of your yard strictly for a pollination garden and reduce grassy areas by planting more pollinator friendly trees, shrubs and plants. No matter if you are planting in flower pots, window boxes or garden beds you can make a positive impact one plant at a time. One yard is great, but a string of yards is even better!

In 2007 the U.S. Senate unanimously designated one week each June as National Pollinator Week. Several years later( 2011) Penn State Master Gardeners began certifying Pollinator Friendly Gardens. Pollinators need our help. Their numbers are in decline due to habitat loss, disease and contact with pesticides. Penn State Extension Master Gardeners are taking action to protect pollinators by planting pollinator friendly gardens and providing education for the gardening public. Won't you make an effort by gardening with a purpose, selecting plants that provide food, shelter and nesting sites and limiting the use of pesticide? Pollinators will, in turn, provide the pollination needed to protect our plant diversity and food sources. Certifying your property as “Pollinator Friendly” will help support a healthy ecosystem for our community and the future. Plus, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you are making a difference!