Thursday, December 8, 2011

Caring for Evergreen Decorations

The smell of a fresh evergreens, whether from a wreath or swag on your door, or a live Christmas tree, is a wonderful greeting during the long, dark winter.

As with any cut plant materials, your greens have a certain life expectancy.  Happily, evergreens need very little care. Following these quick tips will make the most of your evergreens:

Choose Fresh Greens: Check the needles. They should be bend easily and not fall off with a gentle tug. If the needles are stiff or brittle, the greens are too dry.

Cutting your own Greens?
  • Always start with the freshest greens. Ideally you would cut the tips of evergreens AFTER a hard frost and several consecutive cold nights to ensure needle retention. If so, your greens would keep their needles until March or April in our Northern climate.
  • While you are pruning, look for small branches that can be cut off to cleanup the look of your evergreen plants.
  • Holly, Boxwood and Needle-Leaved Evergreens can spare the interior branches, since the plant doesn't need them as much as the outer branches.
  • Proper pruning time is not too important when you are just snipping off a few branches. However, use the right pruning technique whenever you cut branches. For a new branch, cut the stem back to a side branch or a bud. Don't just snip it off leaving a stub. This is especially important on pines and spruces since the cut branches will not send out new growth from the cutoff ends of a branch.
  • Perennials which are dying back at this time of year are more forgiving — you can remove them at the ground level or at any desired height.
Berries? Watch out for berries that might fall off and stain the floor if they are stepped on.

After cutting the evergreens, give them a good soak in water (overnight if possible). Allow them to dry off. A spray of Wilt-Pruf, or another plant protector, is a waxy coating to hold in moisture. (Finished wreaths can also be sprayed with Wilt-Pruf.)

Freshen your greens and wreaths with a good watering. Depending on the base material and decorations, you may be able to dunk, hose, spritz, or spray them. Caution: A metal base may rust, be sure to dry off any metal parts to avoid rust and staining.

Sunlight? When you hang your greens, hang them in a shady spot, avoiding the hot afternoon sun.

Indoors? If you choose to keep your greens inside, wait until the last minute to do so.

Heat? Don't hang greens near any heat sources that will dry them out. Dry greens are extremely flammable. You can keep them fresh with a spritzing of water from time to time, especially important if your home has dry heat like forced hot air, a fire place or wood stove. Try holding it over the sink or tub, and spraying the back. If you can water it every other day, it will last the longest.

Flammable? Very. Don't allow any candles or open flames near any fresh greens.

Outdoors? Easy. Outside wreaths shouldn't need water, especially if in a sheltered area away from direct sunlight. Cold temperatures should keep it fresh.

Hopefully these tips will help you get the most from your holiday greens.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

December Night, Longest Nights to see Star Light...

December days are shortest, which gives us extra hours to gaze heavenward for the Full Cold Moon and a Lunar Eclipse.

Full Moon on the 10th. Early Native American tribes called it the Full Cold Moon. For equally obvious reasons, it is also known as the Moon Before Yule and the Full Long Nights Moon.

A Total Lunar Eclipse will be visible throughout most of North America. (NASA Map and Eclipse Information)

  • December 13, 14 - Geminids Meteor Shower. This awesome event is considered to be the best meteor shower, known for producing up to 60 multicolored meteors per hour at their peak. Some meteors should be visible from December 6 - 19. The radiant point for this shower will be in the constellation Gemini. Look towards the east after midnight from a dark location.

  • December 22 - December Solstice. The December solstice occurs 05:30 UTC. The South Pole of the earth will be tilted toward the Sun, which will have reached its northernmost position in the This is the first day of winter (winter solstice) in the northern hemisphere and the first day of summer (summer solstice) in the southern hemisphere.

  • December 24, the New Moon will be directly between the Earth and the Sun and will not be visible from Earth. This phase occurs at 18:06 UTC.

  • Wintertime Bird Attractions

    When planning a bird garden, don't forget the wintertime attractions. Evergreens, such as holly, pine, and spruce, provide shelter from weather and predators. Winter fruit from American cranberrybush, serviceberry, holly, crab apple, and other plants offer tempting treats on a cold day. Leftover seed heads of sunflowers, asters, or other flowers can offer an avian smorgasbord. If there is no natural water source, a heated birdbath may do.

    from the old farmers almanac

    Libby's Pumpkin Roll Recipe

    This is one of my favorite recipes! Debbie insists that it is easy.

    Libby's® Pumpkin Roll with Cream Cheese Filling

    Cook Time: 15 Minutes.   Makes 10 Servings
    1/4 cup powdered sugar (to sprinkle on towel)
    3/4 cup all-purpose flour
    1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    3 large eggs
    1 cup granulated sugar
    2/3 cup LIBBY'S® 100% Pure Pumpkin
    1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)
    1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
    1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
    6 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1/4 cup powdered sugar (optional)

    1. PREHEAT oven to 375 degrees F.
    2. Grease 15 x 10-inch jelly-roll pan; line with wax paper. Grease and flour paper.
    3. Sprinkle towel with powdered sugar.
    4. COMBINE flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt in small bowl. 5. Beat eggs and sugar in large mixer bowl until thick.
    6. Beat in pumpkin.
    7. Stir in flour mixture.
    8. Spread evenly into prepared pan. Sprinkle with nuts.
    9. BAKE for 13 to 15 minutes or until top of cake springs back when touched.
    10. Immediately loosen and turn cake onto prepared towel. Carefully peel off paper. Roll up cake and towel together, starting with narrow end. Cool on wire rack.
    11. BEAT cream cheese, powdered sugar, butter and vanilla extract in small mixer bowl until smooth.
    12. Carefully unroll cake; remove towel. Spread cream cheese mixture over cake.
    13. Reroll cake. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving, if desired.

    Thursday, November 3, 2011

    Thank You!

    Dear Friend,

    As we end another season at Woodbridge, I would like to thank you for your patronage and support.

    I hope you have a wonderful upcoming holiday season with happy thoughts of this year.

    Warm Regards,
    For each new morning

    with its light,

    For rest and shelter

    of the night,

    For health and food,

    for love and friends,

    For everything

    Thy goodness sends.

    ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Star Light, Star Bright...

    Once the leaves fall from the trees, most of us have a better view of the night sky.

    Get your binoculars, spotting scopes, telescopes ready. Cool, clear nights are perfect for looking heavenward.

    For aerial theatrics, November's celestial heavens really have a treat in store for star gazers:

    11/13 Total Solar Eclipse

    11/17-18 Leonids Meteor Shower

    11/27 The conjunction of Venus and Saturn

    11/28 the Penumbral Lunar Eclipse.

    Visit for information and more on astronomy.

    We can only be said to be alive
    in those moments when our
    hearts are conscious of our treasures.
    ~Thornton Wilder 

    Thursday, October 6, 2011

    Know thy Vines

      Bittersweet Berries
      Twisting, turning vines come in all shapes and sizes. Fall is a good time to evaluate the vines on your property and remove poisonous and invasive vines.

      Morning Glory

      Hairy Poison Ivy Vine

        Tree Choked by Bittersweet Vine
      • Bittersweet is an invasive plant that often chokes out native plants, overtakes nearby shrubs and strangles young trees. With it's distinctive orange and yellow berries, it's easy to identify this time of year.  As pretty as the berries are, they spread this invasive species. Cut down the vines now, save the berries for decorations. Not to worry, the birds will find better food sources.
        • Trumpet Vine
        • Trumpet Vine is such a vigorous grower that the utility company cuts ours back each year just around the time it reaches the top of our telephone pole. Friends of ours trimmed their Trumpet Vine back to the same height each, developing a thick, tree-like trunk, so that each summer it branches out like a topiary or large bonsai tree. Neatly kept in check, Trumpet Vine is a glorious sight in bloom.
        • Grape Vines are woody with a papery bark that easily climb trees reaching 30'. The clusters of grapes are very important for local wildlife, including blue birds, cat birds, mocking birds, robins, Baltimore orioles, blue jays, juncos and purple finch to name a few. Some birds even use the papery bark when building their nests. White-tail deer will eat the leaves and stems, but haven't done any major damage to our vines. I've read that people seldom eat them since wild grapes grow high in tree tops and are small and bitter. 
        • Wild Grape Vines
          • Poison Ivy and Poison Oak are easily confused. Since they look similar and cause similar rashes. Removal options:
              • Never burn poison ivy since inhaling the smoke can make people very ill.
                • You can physically remove the plant or cut it back so severely that it never grows back. I have had success with this by putting my hand inside a plastic bag. When I pulled out the vine, I could easily stuff it into the bag before tossing it into the trash.  Wearing protective clothes, safety glasses and gloves is key whenever tackling poison ivy. Cutting it back to the ground is another option. 

                • Poison Ivy
                  • Find someone with hungry goats. They will eat poison ivy, just check that nearby plants are safe the goats, too, as they will eat everything they can reach.
                    • Spraying with a broadleaf herbicide risks killing nearby plants, but if your have no other alternatives, it is very effective. We have resorted to herbicides for poison ivy and found that our ground cover is not affected by the spray. Be sure to follow the product's instructions carefully. 
                      Virginia Creeper
                    • Virginia creeper can be identified by its deep red autumn color. Like grape vines and ivies, it climbs trees, poles and buildings. While bittersweet often strangles the plants it grows on, Virginia creeper sometimes kills its supports by blocking out the sun entirely. Like its relative, Boston ivy, it can adhere to walls and shade buildings and should be cut at the base prior to removal to prevent damaging the masonry. Warning: Virginia creeper's small dark purplish berries contain an acid that is moderately toxic to humans and other mammals, but it does provide an important winter food source for birds.
                    My favorite flowering vine, Morning Glory, is still blooming into October. They are fun to grow, easy to propogate (seed) and beautiful. They grow so quickly that they make a nice summertime screen and can be trained to grow on trellises

                    Whether your vines are ornamental, native or other, Twisting, turning vines come in all shapes and sizes. Fall is a good time to evaluate the vines on your property and remove poisonous and invasive vines.
                      Trumpet Vine reaching top of utility pole.
                      "There is no season when

                      such pleasant and sunny spots

                      may be lighted on,

                      and produce so pleasant an effect on the feelings,

                      as now in October." 

                      - Nathaniel Hawthorne
                      Woodbridge Greenhouses

                      will be Closed

                      Monday, October 10th

                       "The clump of maples on the hill,
                      And this one near the door,
                      Seem redder, quite a lot, this year
                      Than last, or year before;
                      I wonder if it's jest because
                      I Love the Old State more!"

                                                        - David L. Cady, October in Vermont

                      Autumn Gardening

                      While visiting with Deb last week, a client called with questions about transplanting a large plant. Surprisingly, she advised that very early spring (when the ground is first diggable and wet) is the best time to transplant very large shrubs.

                      Since I had always believed that fall is the best time to transplant, Debbie's advice will have me out in March transplanting a large hydrangea. For smaller plants and shrubs that need transplanting now follow these steps for the best results:

                      Prepare the hole well: Dig the hole twice as large as the root ball and give the roots a treat by amending the soil with composted manure.

                      The trick to fall transplants is water. Follow this schedule for best results:
                      • Water daily for two weeks.
                      • A deep layer of mulch will provide needed protection during the cold winter.
                      • Water weekly until hard frost.

                      "October is nature's funeral month.

                      Nature glories in death more than in life.

                      The month of departure
                      is more beautiful than the month of coming
                      - October than May.

                      Every green thing
                      loves to die in bright colors."

                      - Henry Ward Beecher

                      Thursday, September 8, 2011

                      Good Night, Irene!

                      Deb in the beautiful display garden
                      Dear Friends,

                      I hope this newsletter finds you with electricity and living life as you did before Irene came to visit.
                      The Nursery came through the storm without any major destruction and we are up and running once again. We finally got our power back last Friday afternoon. Thank goodness for generators and good neighbors!

                      Now that the clean-up is complete, start filling those empty spots in your garden. There are still plenty of choices here at the Nursery.

                      Warm Regards,


                      "The breezes taste
                      Of apple peel.
                      The air is full
                      Of smells to feel-
                      Ripe fruit, old footballs,
                      Burning brush,
                      New books, erasers,
                      Chalk, and such.
                      The bee, his hive,
                      Well-honeyed hum,
                      And Mother cuts
                      Like plates washed clean
                      With suds, the days
                      Are polished with
                      A morning haze. "

                      - John Updike, September
                      We ONLY lost power for 5 1/2 days. When friends and neighbors are without electricity for six, seven, even eight days, anything less feels like a gift.

                      Before I met Irene, my hurricane preparations consisted of stowing the patio furniture and outside toys. Needless to say the list has grown substantially and now includes:  
                      • Clean and refill the hummingbird feeders. Our family was amazed to watch these fantastic flyers almost unphased by Irene's strongest gusts.Wish I had charged the camera battery.

                      • Charge the camera battery to capture Mother Nature at her wildest.
                      • Buy a thermometer for the refrigerator - wouldn't it be great if they came with one?
                      • Freeze drinks (like opened jugs of milk and juice) and juice tanks. Move the frozen blocks to refrigerator to keep the temp down.
                      • Buy more glow sticks. Nothing takes the scary out of a dark night better than hanging colorful, glowing bracelets on door knobs throughout the house.
                      • Wash and dry all dirty laundry. Having just returned from a week-long camping trip with a mountain of dirty laundry, I regretted not getting it done for days.
                      Now, a quick post-hurricane checklist:

                      • Call someone to help clear downed trees and limbs that are not near electrical lines. My dear husband heard the call, clearing our driveway of three trees. Soon he'll get to the blowdowns in the woods. Our wood pile thanks Irene.
                      • Clean up windblown debris. Like everyone else, we raked the driveway and lawn to remove hundreds of hickory nuts, thousands of acorns and millions of leaves. We also spotted several toads hopping around. 
                      • Locate a trusted friend or relative with electricity. By day 3 power was back at work, but not at home or preschool. We shipped the kiddos off to Aunty's house for the night and their first sleep-over at their cousins' house. Definitely a win-win situation.
                      • Ask anyone you know who has electricity to freeze blocks of ice (empty gallon jugs and zipper freezer bags.) Pack them in the refrigerator. Even running the generator frequently, our fridge didn't stay cold enough.
                      In the garden...
                      • Cleanly cut branches that are partially broken to prevent disease and rot.
                      • Inspect garden structures like arbors and trellises for damage. Ours were all toppled in the gusts.
                      • Stand up plants that are laying down. Stake them and pack soil around base and reset the roots. A fresh layer of topsoil will give your plants a little boost.
                      • Stems that are bent should be clipped. Plants that were heavily damaged, may need to be replaced. We have a lovely selection of plants for you.
                      • Remove damaged branches and leaves.
                      • Find recipes for green tomatoes.
                      • Many people in the Ocean State live close enough to the ocean that the wind may have driven salty water onto your plants.
                        • Once you have running water, rinse plants thoroughly.
                        • Apply fast acting gypsum to your plants to repair salt damage, promote healthy root growth, loosen clay soils and maximize fertilizers.
                      • If Irene's rains washed out your mulch, you may need to rake it back and fluff it out.
                      • Discourage mosquitos from breeding by draining any standing water, even the smallest of puddles.
                      • Turn your compost pile to mix in your recent additions.
                      Hopefully you won't need to put this advice to use for a very, very long time.
                      Thank you, Irene, for sparing us your full fury.
                      by Renee C, Brannigan

                      Wednesday, September 7, 2011

                      "Equal dark, equal light
                      Flow in Circle, deep insight
                      Blessed Be, Blessed Be
                      The transformation of energy!

                      So it flows, out it goes
                      Three-fold back it shall be
                      Blessed Be, Blessed Be
                      The transformation of energy!"

                      - Night An'Fey
                         Transformation of Energy

                      It's September. Is it too late to plant?

                      Of course you can plant and transplant in the fall. Autumn is perfect planting weather. The hottest days of summer are replaced by cool fall temperatures. The veggie garden requires little tending. The lawn has yet to be covered by a blanket of leaves.
                      FALL is the perfect time to plant (and transplant) perennials, trees and shrubs, renovate lawns and revamp your home's curb appeal and landscaping. Woodbridge Greenhouses is stocked with ,many beautiful fall blooms that will revive any tired, sun-scorched container garden and flowerbeds.

                      Interested in growing the best lettuce of the year? Read this article and learn about: Perfect weather to grow lettuce.

                      "Smoke hangs like haze over harvested fields,

                      The gold of stubble, the brown of turned earth

                      And you walk under the red light of fall

                      The scent of fallen apples, the dust of threshed grain

                      The sharp, gentle chill of fall.

                      Here as we move into the shadows of autumn

                      The night that brings the morning of spring

                      Come to us, Lord of Harvest

                      Teach us to be thankful for the gifts you bring us ..."

                      Thursday, September 1, 2011

                      Thursday, August 4, 2011

                      The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

                      THE GOOD: Hummingbird Moth
                      Hummingbird Moths are smaller even than tiny hummingbirds. A joy to watch, they have similar mobility and proboscis as a hummingbird. One buzzed past me in the garden. It's larger than a Carpenter Bee, but smaller than a Hummingbird. Sphinx moths (Sphingidae and aka hawkmoth or hummingbird moth). Like Hummingbirds, their long proboscises are key pollinators of deep-throated flowers. They can also hover, and hum like hummingbirds. Strangely, their fanned tail strongly resembles a lobster tail.
                      THE BAD: Hornworm or Braconid Wasp?   
                      The black spots are "frass".
                      A few weeks ago we found caterpillar or butterfly eggs on our tomato plants. We looked around and discovered some branches were stripped of their leaves. The kids and I Googled "brown eggs on tomato leaves". Surprisingly, we learned that we had discovered caterpillar scat, called “frass”.


                      A few clicks later, we had a visual of the suspect who had stripped the leaves on the branches above the scat.

                      Mostly docile, they become agressive when provoked.
                      The hornworm on the right doesn't want to share this leaf.

                      We clipped the branch they were on (often half eaten) and filled a giant jar with tomato branches (mostly suckers).  
                      The next morning, we fully understood why Hornworms evoke shudders from most gardeners – their  insatiable appetite for our beloved tomato plants.
                      Several Hornworms tucked in
                      with a midnight snack.

                      ...and the next morning!

                      You may be thinking like we did, “Get those things off my tomato plants.” Until I learned that hornworms grow up to be Hummingbird Moths!
                      Okay, they are really bad if you LOVE your tomato plants, and don't want to share. They have voracious appetites. During my research, I came across a brilliant suggestion to create a Hornworm Haven, ideally located next to the compost bin. In this spot you will toss inedible tomatoes and all plants in the Solanaceae family that are great hosts for Hornworms: tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and eggplants and flowers like petunias and Nicotiana. Next year, whenever you find a hornworm, clip the leaf or branch they are attached to (they have a good grip and squish easily) and relocate it to Hornworm Haven, a foster home for hungry Hornworms.

                      Hornworms are one of the biggest caterpillars I've seen, up to four inches long. By the way, this variety of hornworm is called “tobacco hornworms” (Mancuda sexta). Many New England gardeners call these creatures “tomato hornworms” (Manduca quinquemacula). It is confusing, since we find them on tomato plants, and we don't grow much tobacco in these parts. The physical differences are slight, but only the Tobacco Hornworm lives East of the Mississippi and has diagonal white stripes (versus the tomato hornworms v-shaped white markings on its sides) and its red "horn" (the others' are black or dark green). 

                      THE UGLY: Braconid Wasp

                      Braconid Wasp (photo: Wikipedia)

                      One of the most common parasites in home gardens is a small, parasitic braconid wasp. It lays eggs on the Hornworm, the wasp larvae feed inside the hornworm, eventually killing it. The cocoons containing the wasp pupae looks like grains of white rice. When you find a hornworm in this condition, putting it into warm soapy water to put it out of its misery.
                      Most of the tobacco worms we observed had been victimized by the parasitic Braconid Wasp. Within a day or two, they developed what looked like a coat of grains of rice. A wasp lays eggs on the hornworm. When the eggs hatch, the larvae will make a meal of the hornworm. Each Braconid Wasp can make a huge impact in the local hornworm population.    
                      For each Hornworm you spare, a Hummingbird Morth will return next year to pollinate your bee balm, butterfly bush, brugmansia, moonflowers, and other deep-throated blooms.

                      If you can get past that "yuck" factor, they're actually quite fascinating. Next year, we will try to raise ours inside in a butterfly house inside – away from the braconid wasp. I'll keep you posted.

                      Research and Photos by Renee C. Brannigan

                      Hummingbird Moth on our Butterfly Bushes

                      Wednesday, August 3, 2011

                      Endless Summer Hydrangea - Hydrangea Macrophylla "Bailmer"

                      Hydrangea Blues?

                      Mention traditional Hydrangeas and my mind pictures large blue pom-pom-like flowers (mop heads) dangling from ball-shaped shrubs in South County.

                      Woodbridge's knowledgeable staff has come up with a list of common Hydrangea questions, most specific to the more common mop head variety. We've gathered a few of the most commonly asked questions.
                      Question: "I heard there's something I can do to make my Hydrangea flowers bluer."
                      WB:  The acidity of your soil determines the color of your Hyrdangeas (Increase acidicy with sulphur, or if you have a steady supply of pine needles, mulch your Hydrangeas with acidic pine needles. As the pine needles gradually breakdown, they slowly increase the acidity of your soil. .... But, not every Hydrangea can turn blue. White or creamy Hydrangeas, like Oakleaf and Annabelle, cannot turn blue. Most mophead and lacecap Hydrangeas that are pink, blue or purple, can usually change color according to the pH of your soil. You will need to reapply the sulphur throughout the growing season to maintain the bluer blooms. For blooms that are more pink, make your soil sweeter (alkaline) work lime into the soil.

                      Question: "My Hydrangea plant was a Mothers' Day (or Easter) gift. I've planted it in my garden. It is a nice, healthy plant, but has never bloomed."

                      WB: Did the pot come covered in foil? If so, it was most likely from a florist/greenhouse that forced your Hydrangea to bloom early. It could be that the type of Hyrdangea wasn't cfhosen for its ability to thrive in our climate. We recommend Endless Summer (blooms continuall all summer), Quickfire and Blushing Bride for their abilitiy to thrive in New England.

                      Question: "My Hydrangeas haven't bloomed this year. I cut one back in November. The other one was pruned in April."

                      WB: If they were pruned in fall, winter or spring, the new growth will come from the ground, and not the stems that remain. Hydrangea blooms typically form on old stems. You will have a stronger, healthier plant. I am sorry to say, that you won't have blooms this year.

                      Question:"This spring, the leaves on my Hydrangea were killed off by a late cold snap. Is that why it hasn't bloomed this year?"

                      WB: Not only were the leaves damaged by the freezing temperatures, the tiny buds that were forming were damaged, too. Next winter try covering your Hydrangea to keep them cozy until after the danger of a cold snap is past.

                      I visited Woodbridge Greenhouses again this week. I'm thrilled to have found varieties of Hydrangea that bloom ALL SUMMER LONG -"Endless Summer", in addition to the traditional round mop head, they also have "Twist and Shout", a lace-cap Hydrangea that defies the Hydrangea stereotype.   Enjoy.  I know my family will, all summer long!

                      Bee Balm

                      "Knowing trees,

                      I understand the meaning of patience. 

                      Knowing grass,

                      I can appreciate persistence."

                      - Hal Borland

                      Thursday, June 30, 2011

                      Have a safe and Happy 4th of July!

                      Dear Friends,

                      It truly is summer and I hope you are enjoying outdoor living more than ever.
                      Don't let those empty containers sit there any longer.

                      Stop by soon.

                      Warm Regards,

                      "Summer is the time when one sheds

                      one's tensions with one's clothes,

                      and the right kind of day

                      is jeweled balm for the battered spirit.

                      A few of those days and

                      you can become drunk with the belief

                      that all's right with the world."

                      - Ada Louise Huxtable

                      Swallowtail Butterflies and Parsley?

                      Recently, Debbie and a few Woodbridge customers have noticed butterflies fluttering around parsley. Parsley is a host plant for Black Swallowtail butterflies to lay their small yellow eggs. When the caterpillars "hatch" they will eat the parsley or other plants in the carrot family, including dill, fennel, Queen Anne's Lace, and even carrot tops. Comparatively, Monarch butterflies will only lay eggs on milkweed.

                      Black Swallowtail butterflies are so easy to raise that many pre-schools and elementary schools incorporate them into their class time. At the Scituate Early Learning Center, the teachers help students locate eggs and caterpillars in the wild, raise them in an enclosure in the classroom, then release the butterflies outside.

                      Growing up I was taught that caterpillars make a cocoon and changed into butterflies inside. Recently, my son has taught me that caterpillars build a chrysalis.

                      Cocoon or Chrysalis?

                      The difference between a cocoon and a chrysalis is drastic (if you happen to be the inhabitant). Once the caterpillar begins its metamorphosis, it is called a pupa. Butterfly pupa attach themselves to a twig using their silk, then enclose themselves in a hard casing called a chrysalis. Within the chrysalis, their transformation completes when they hatch in the Spring.

                      A cocoon is the silk enclosure that some moth caterpillars spin around themselves before they finally molt into pupa from inside the cocoon. There are four stages from egg to butterfly: egg, caterpillar (eating phase), pupa (transition stage), and finally butterfly. Caterpillars grow so fast that their skin can't keep up, so five times prior to becoming butterflies, they shed heir skin (molt). The stages between molts are called "instars".

                      Let them eat....parsley and ...
                      If you are lucky enough to find Black Swallowtails in your garden at any stage of their life, you can easily help them by providing a few plants they enjoy, as well as shelter and water. Black Swallowtail butterflies drink the nectar from many flowers including purple coneflower, red clover, thistle, and milkweeds. Be sure to have a variety of these in your garden to entice them to stay around and lay more eggs. Since caterpillars are eating machines, you may want to plant more of their favorite host and nectar plants.
                      To learn more about the butterflies common in Rhode Island, I recommend the website: where you can click on the butterfly's name to learn about its favorite host plants.

                      For more great pictures of Black Swallowtails, visit:

                      Research by Renee C. Brannigan
                      "The dandelions and buttercups gild all the lawn:

                      the drowsy bee stumbles among the clover tops,

                      and summer sweetens all to me."

                      - James Russell Lowell

                      Blueberries and Pink Lemonade?

                      Pink blueberries?  

                      A fairly new variety of juicy blueberry is available at Woodbridge Greenhouses that has odd-colored fruit to match its odd name: Pink Lemonade (Vaccinium 'Pink Lemonade').

                      This intriguing blueberry bush promises four seasons of interest for your garden. Spring blossoms of pinkish-white are bell shaped and self-pollinating. In mid to late summer the mild-flavored fruit that began as a pale green has changed to a dappled pink and will ripen to a deep pink color. When the cool evenings of autumn arrive, the glossy green foliage brightens to orange then fades to a reddish-brown. Fruit left on the shrub will attract songbirds.

                      When planting Pink Lemonade, give it room to grow. It may reach five feet tall by five feet wide.

                      Ripe Vaccinium 'Pink Lemonade'
                      Pink Lemonade Blueberry is a surprising change from traditional blueberry bushes and will complement your garden year round.
                      "If seeds in the black earth

                      can turn into such beautiful roses,

                      what might not the heart of man become

                      in its long journey toward the stars?"
                      - G.K. Chesterton

                      Azalea or Rhododendron?

                      Azaleas have always seemed so petite next to most Rhododendrons.

                      The group of plants we call Azaleas is a smaller and a more specific classification of the larger genus of Rhododendrons. Their differences outnumber their similarities. (Please understand that the following are generalizations since some varieties have been cultivated specifically for different features and tolerances.)
                      Rhododendron Blossoms
                      • Azalea foliage is usually more slender, pointed, softer and fuzzy.
                      • Rhododendrons have thicker, darker green leaves, rounder tipped leaves without hair, even the small-leafed varities which are easier to confuse with Azaleas. 
                      • Azaleas are generally sun lovers that can tolerate partial shade.
                      • Rhododendrons prefer much shadier locations.
                      • Azaleas flowers are smaller and funnel-shaped with 5 stamens.  
                      • Rhododendron Leaves
                      • Rhododendrons flowers are larger and bell-shaped with 10 stamens.
                      • Azaleas commonly grow 2 to 12 feet tall but are often trimmed to a small shrub-sized plant.  
                      • Rhododendrons average 4 feet tall and can reach 15 feet tall.
                      Azalea Blossoms
                      BLOSSOM COLORS:
                      • Azaleas: white, pink, red, yellow and purple.
                      • Rhododendrons: pink, mauve, lilac and purple.
                      • Both are wonderful in the garden year round with some keep their foliage throughout winter. 
                      • Both need acidic soil with high organic content to survive.
                      Hopefully this will help to reduce any confusion about these two great plants that have been garden staples for many years.
                      Azalea Leaves

                      Research by Renee C. Brannigan

                      Thursday, June 2, 2011

                      Monthly Email Newsletter

                      Hello everyone,
                      You probably noticed that the subject line of the June email newsletter read: Azaleas vs. Rhododendrons. My mistake, that's a teaser for the July newsletter!

                      It should have read: Hummingbirds & Celebrate Perennial Garden Month in June.

                      Sorry for any confusion.

                      Wednesday, June 1, 2011

                      "Kind hearts are the gardens;

                      kind thoughts are the roots;

                      kind words are the flowers;

                      kind deeds are the fruits."

                      - English Proverb


                      Memorial Day weekend our yard was host to a handful of hummingbirds. The acrobatic antics of two male hummingbirds were particularly surprising since two males were uncharacteristically  rested together between acting out their normal territorial behavior. 

                      Curious Male Watches
                      A female holds her own against 2 territorial males.
                      These pictures are of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds. The only ones  that breed east of the Mississippi River, even though there are 15 other species in North America. Most Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds have over 900 feathers which are replaced yearly. 

                      Male hummingbirds defend their feeding territory (roughly a quarter acre) aggressively by dive-bombing intruders to protect their food supply. 
                      Hummingbirds are the most entertaining birds to visit our yard. With patience, they get used to our presence, so we can the action watch them up close. 
                      Male watching for his buddy.

                      In a single day, a hummingbird may gather nectar from approximately 1,000 flowers. In addition to sipping sugar water from feeders, Hummingbirds also search out small bugs and spiders for protein.

                      A staring contest.

                      They measure 3” from the tip of their beak to their tail -- the smallest of all birds. Adult hummingbirds weigh less than a nickel.

                      Two males resting in the same bush.

                       The blur of their wings means they move quickly, but 60-80 times per second in normal flight, and up to 200 times per second in courtship dives is beyond fast. Watch this slow-motion video of hummingbird at feeder:

                      The male on the right has his tongue extended

                      Combine speed with acrobatic agility and hummingbirds can reach maximum velocity almost instantly after leaving a perch. With the help of their broad tail feathers and ability to rotate their wings in a circle, they can perform airshow worthy antics: lifting off using only wing power, stopping instantly, hovering, flying backwards, and even upside-down at times. 
                      Grooming time for the male on the right.

                      Nearly indistinguishable from adults in size, young males are mistaken for females until their first winter when they develop their red chest.

                      Leaving your hummingbird feeders out until late autumn will not upset the hummingbirds' normal migration pattern.

                      Attract them to your yard:


                      If hummingbirds live in your area, attracting them may be as simple as putting out a Hummingbird feeder and planting a few of their favorite flowers:

                      Whether in a garden bed, hanging pot or potted on your porch or patio, red, tubular flowers attract hummingbirds. Add a few of these plants to your garden: Fuscia, Petunias, Hollyhock, Hibiscus, Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Bee Balm, Begonia, Salvia, Honeysuckle, Columbine, Coral Bells, Delphinium, Flowering Quince, Foxgloves, Geraniums, Impatiens, Sage, Nasturtium, Nicotiana, Penstemon, Sedum, Shrimp Plant, Torenia, and Verbena.
                      Provide fresh sugar-water in a hummingbird feeder or two in different parts of your yard.


                      Hummingbird Feeders come in a variety of shapes and styles. Those with a perch allows them to rest while sipping sugar water. Look for a style that can be easily taken apart for cleaning. Clean your hummingbird feeder with hot water and vinegar. Anything stronger may harm these delicate birds. Be sure to rinse thoroughly before filling with sugar water.

                      The solution is a simple syrup of 4 parts water to 1 part water (4 c to 1 c. refrigerate remaining solution for refills). Red dye is not necessary. Most feeders have some red on them which is enough to catch the hummingbirds attention. I use hot water to dissolve the sugar, then let the solution reach room temp. before serving.

                      Try building your own feeder: Hang the feeder in a semi-protected area near a tall bush or tree to shield your hummingbirds from birds of prey, including hawks, crows and cats.

                      Provide bathing needs such as a misting device to provide the birds with a gentle spray.