Author Archives: Anne Underwood

Gardens on Canvas

“Of all the wonderful things in the wonderful universe of God, nothing seems to me more surprising than the planting of a seed in the blank earth and the results there.” So wrote Celia Thaxer in her delightful 1904 book … Continue reading

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My New Zen Garden

When we moved into our new house, I found a garden already in place, though not the garden I would have created for myself. In my ideal garden, I would have tons of wildflowers and native plants. It would be … Continue reading

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Signing Off–For Now

For the last four years, I have written about the challenges of urban gardening—that is, gardening without any actual yard or lawn, only concrete strip next to the sidewalk and the tiny patch of dirt around the tree in the … Continue reading

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The Tenacity of Life

The growing season is drawing to a close. Gone are the languid days of summer, the late light nights, the embracing warmth of sunshine. Instead there is a crisp snap in the air, and temperatures dip into the 40s at … Continue reading

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Drying Herbs

As a child, I remember trying to dry basil for the winter. It was an entirely unsatisfactory enterprise, as the basil consistently turned black and tasteless. I never thought I would dry herbs again. But this season, I cannot bear … Continue reading

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The Last Monarch

I thought the great migration of monarch butterflies from the Northeast to Mexico had ended. It had been weeks since I’d seen a monarch in my garden. But today I spotted this straggler on the main street of Hoboken, sampling … Continue reading

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Butterflies in the Broccoli

The black swallowtail butterflies are gone for the season. The remaining caterpillars have formed their chrysalises and will spend the winter encased in their crisp armor. But that does not mean that all the caterpillars and butterflies have necessarily vanished … Continue reading

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The Sincerest Form of Flattery

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I’m not so sure about that. As I apply that phrase to my garden, I’m rapidly concluding that the highest form of flattery today is theft. Last week, I was … Continue reading

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50 Shades of Kale

It’s that time of year—when the days shorten, the weather grows cooler, and the kale perks up, along with the arugula, Swiss chard, and broccoli. And this year, just in time for National Kale Day—October 1—I finally know what to … Continue reading

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The Invasion of the Chiliheads

Plenty of new words have been coined in recent years, but only one of them as far as I know pertains to gardening—chiliheads. These are the firebrands who breed ever more scorching chili peppers in search of the most red-hot, … Continue reading

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Gloriosa Daisy

What praise can I give these Tiger Eye Gold gloriosa daisies (also known as black-eyed Susans)? They’re beautiful, easy to care for, and even inspire poetry of sorts. As that ubiquitous writer Anonymous once said: “I used to love my … Continue reading

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Got Milkweed?

At the entrance to Hoboken, my hometown, are several signs: “Bike-friendly community,” “Nuclear-free zone,” and even “Mental condition stigma-free zone.” I’d like to add my own sign to the group—one that is at least as accurate as those: “Butterfly-friendly zone.” … Continue reading

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7 Steps to Great Garden Photos

Have you ever been wowed by a garden, only to find that your photos of it were lifeless and dull? Technically, they might be flawless—like the seed-packet photos that capture a single perfect flower in the center of the frame. … Continue reading

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Flower Arranging 101: Think Like an Artist

Did you ever wonder how florists create those perfect arrangements? Ever wonder why your own, by contrast, appear boring and “one-sided”—fine from the front, but mediocre from any other angle? Whether you’re aiming for a tight little bouquet to sit … Continue reading

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A New Zest for Zinnias

I don’t think I’ve appreciated zinnias enough. When I was young, they seemed so ordinary—simple to grow from seed, simple to care for, and so abundant that they felt commonplace. With their headstrong colors, they lacked the delicacy or subtlety … Continue reading

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Mollie’s Zucchini Soup

Zucchini is one of those plants that makes you feel like a successful gardener. Its mighty leaves create such a grand sprawl that you feel perfectly justified crediting yourself for the plant’s magnificence. Better yet, it also makes you feel … Continue reading

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Madame Butterfly

Ever since the first black swallowtail caterpillars turned up in my dill patch, I’ve been referring to the little guys as “him,” provoking some friends and relatives to accuse me of being sexist. Well, now I know that (for the … Continue reading

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The Great Tomato Harvest

The ugly ducklings in my garden at the start of the season were the Cherokee Purple tomato seedlings that arrived in May from Urban Farmer. They were such scrawny little things—sickly-looking, almost (photo, right)—that I would never have believed it … Continue reading

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The Caterpillar Rescue League

Nineteenth-century Americans were obsessed with butterflies. They called them “flying flowers” and “flying jewels,” in the words of Augustus Radcliffe Grote. But in those days, butterflies were more plentiful than they are today. Walt Whitman described walking down country lanes … Continue reading

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Tasty Tarragon

Every year, it seems, I try a new herb in the garden that surprises me with the intriguing dimensions of flavor it adds to my cooking. Last year it was oregano, which pepped up our salads in unexpected ways. This … Continue reading

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Angelonia

This summer has brought me many wonderful plants, among them angelonia (also known as summer snapdragon). It requires remarkably little care. Deadheading? You can forget about it. Just keep them watered, and they’ll reward you with flowers all summer long. … Continue reading

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What’s Wrong With My Basil?

One of the greatest joys of summer for me is fresh, fragrant basil, so crisp and flavorful that it puts the so-called “fresh” stuff in the market with drooping leaves to shame. My husband and I eat basil all summer … Continue reading

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Rescuing Dilbert (the Caterpillar)

Nature seems to unfold so effortlessly. Flowers bloom, pollinators arrive, caterpillars form their chrysalises and emerge weeks later as splendid butterflies. Well, sometimes it’s that easy. Sometimes it isn’t. The second of my black swallowtail caterpillars, whom I dubbed Dilbert, … Continue reading

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Pilly’s Progress

There are few mysteries as deep as the metamorphosis of a butterfly. Watching a caterpillar shed its skin multiple times and emerge as a little creature with entirely different markings is amazing enough. To see the caterpillar form a chrysalis … Continue reading

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The Gift

Call me crazy, but I’m always shocked when people take things from my garden—like half a dozen roses, or entire potted plants, or my garden hose. Lately, of course, it’s the tomatoes. Both the Cherokee Purple heirlooms and the Sun … Continue reading

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Wake Up and Smell the Dill

I bought a $30 salad spinner today—for my black swallowtail caterpillar. No, I’m not going to wash him and spin him dry. The large, clear plastic container (minus the inner spinner for greens) is the temporary refuge that I’ve outfitted … Continue reading

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Where Have All the Pollinators Gone?

This summer so far has seen plenty of pests—but an appalling lack of pollinators. My mason bee house (right) still stands empty, waiting for occupants. Honeybees have been as rare as $2 bills. Throughout June, the peppers and eggplants produced … Continue reading

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Good Enough to Eat

It’s been a great season for strawberries, as you can see from these organic beauties. But what’s with the one in the middle?

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The Rhythms of Life

My stepmother is dying. The hospice nurse called to say the end is near. As I water my garden at 6 am before running for the train, I am comforted by the signs of life all around—thick, lush greenery in … Continue reading

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Mosquito Plants

Marketing is everything—in gardens as in the rest of the economy. Consider this spiky little plant. I would never have given it a second glance in the garden center if not for the fabulous label. But when I spotted the … Continue reading

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Ladybugs vs. Aphids (Guess Who’s Winning?)

As I walked past my pepper plants the other day, I looked down and saw a ladybug. First thought: “Yay, a ladybug.” Second thought: “Uh-oh. What is she finding to eat?” Ladybugs are known as gardeners’ friends because their favorite … Continue reading

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What’s Eating My Roses?

When I started my garden two years ago, I didn’t realize that what I was really planting was a salad buffet for insects—an all-you-can eat, no-cash-down, something-for-everyone, fresh, organic type of dining experience for both good and bad bugs. The … Continue reading

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My Grandmother’s Peonies

Quick, what do the following have in common? Moonstone, hot chocolate, eskimo pie, John Harvard, and Madame Butterfly? If you guessed that they’re all varieties of peonies, you’d be correct. They come in a range of hues (John Harvard being … Continue reading

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Spring for Pansies

I am too eager. In my haste for summer and its abundance of flowers, herbs, and vegetables, I tend to put out my basil and eggplant seedlings in April—only to have them stunted by cold snaps. When will I learn? … Continue reading

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Signs of Life

A cold snap once killed the buds on a japonica bush. This was not just any japonica bush, but one at the hermitage where the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh lives. As he writes in his book No Death, No … Continue reading

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Bare Roots Roses

My new rose bushes have arrived—sort of. Last year I bought Knock Out roses, which were touted as everything I thought I was looking for. They were disease resistant, heat tolerant, long blooming, and even “self-cleaning,” meaning that you don’t … Continue reading

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Frostbite

Wasn’t it just days ago that I finally declared it was spring? So what’s with the snow? Seriously, this was just two days after 70-degree weather.

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When Is It Really Spring?

“I planted pansies, so it’s spring now!” declared my sister-in-law on her Facebook page. That was on March 9, during one of the brief lulls between this winter’s brutal cold snaps. The polar vortex was gone, but unfortunately, winter was … Continue reading

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Sweet Amaryllis

The polar vortex continues to blast the country with single-digit temperatures and sub-zero winds–colder than anything I remember from the winter I spent in Moscow as a student, when it literally snowed every day. It’s more frigid than the week … Continue reading

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“Mums” the Word

Gardening introduces you to some curious facts. For example, who knew that chrysanthemums entered the United States through my hometown of Hoboken, NJ? Hoboken is known for many things, including being the birthplace of Frank Sinatra and baseball as played … Continue reading

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The Last Rose of Summer

Last month I walked past one of the statelier houses on Hudson Street in Hoboken, NJ, my hometown, and was touched by the sight of one last rose in the garden, where the rose bushes had been thick with blossoms … Continue reading

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Roots!

What do you do with self-watering containers when winter arrives? You pull up the vegetables, empty out the soil, and pour out the water in the reservoir underneath to prevent the water from freezing, expanding, and damaging the containers. So … Continue reading

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Confessions of a Pesto Addict

In one heartbreaking act of finality today, I chopped down the last of my basil. It was time. The bottom leaves were turning yellow, and it was only a matter of who would claim the remaining basil first–me or the … Continue reading

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Cosmic Details in Nature

“I’m a city girl from Paris,” declares artist Francine Demeulenaere. “But I woke up one day two years ago with a dream in my head. It was so clear in my mind, this sentence: If each person in the world … Continue reading

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The Rescue Caterpillar

I know it sounds like a children’s story, but this is no tall tale. It’s the story of how I ended up with a rescue caterpillar. Seriously. My father-in-law has been following my exploits with black swallowtail caterpillars. So when … Continue reading

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Azaleas–The New Fall Flowers?

Denial. That’s the official term for refusing to believe what is perfectly obvious—that fall has arrived, and winter is on its way. That’s also a partial explanation for why there are still spring flowers on my stoop—azaleas, pansies, dianthus. Never … Continue reading

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Garlic Galore

Halloween may be coming, but we won’t have any vampires in Hoboken—not judging by the garlic festival sponsored over the weekend by the Hoboken Historical Society. Two long tables were laden with exotic varieties—including Turkish red, French red, Spanish roja, … Continue reading

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Flying with Flowers

I knew that airport security would pull me over, and they did. I was flying home from the Garden Bloggers Conference in Atlanta with an azalea in my suitcase—yes, an actual shrub—and the round pot, filled with damp soil, must … Continue reading

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Caterpillar Mamma

As they say, no good deed goes unpunished. When an adorable little black swallowtail caterpillar appeared one day on the late-summer remains of my dill, I dubbed him Pilly the Kid and began looking out for his welfare–making trips to … Continue reading

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Fungus Fest

When I first planted my container garden, I naively thought that I would get to decide what grew there. After all, I wasn’t trying to reclaim some weed-choked lot, but was starting from scratch with pristine containers. Little did I … Continue reading

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Perfect Pollinators

Two months ago, while half the international press corps was on Royal Baby Watch, an equally fervent, if smaller, vigil was underway at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C. This rival watch was not for the birth of a … Continue reading

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Simple, but Scrumptious

The week my husband and I spent at my aunt’s beach house in Connecticut was amazing for many reasons, not the least of which was the position of her little bungalow, just yards away from the ocean. With its pounding … Continue reading

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Mohonk Mountain Magic

Admittedly, it hardly qualifies as “urban gardening” when you have hundreds of acres to plant in the crisp, clear setting of New York’s Shawangunk Mountains. But the gardens at Mohonk Mountain House are always spectacular. This year was no exception–and … Continue reading

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Mr. Wilkinson’s Vegetables

The words “roasted” and “cucumbers” don’t usually go together–unless, that is, you’re the Melbourne-based chef Matt Wilkinson. But that’s why his cookbook, Mr. Wilkinson’s Vegetables: A Cookbook to Celebrate the Garden, is such a joy. It truly is a celebration … Continue reading

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Metamorphosis Begins!

Ever since I found a black swallowtail caterpillar in my dill, I’ve been obsessed with the tiny creature and even given him a name–Pilly the Kid. Now Pilly’s moved on to the next phase of his mysterious life. Late last … Continue reading

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What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Take a good look. What’s wrong with this blue cloisonne vase full of enchanting marigolds? It’s a trick question, really, because the vase and the flowers are fine. What’s not fine is the reason that they’re in my house. I … Continue reading

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The Secret Life of a Caterpillar

Suddenly, inexplicably, I–a confirmed non-pet owner, who rolls her eyes at the endless stream of cat videos on the Internet–am now gaga over the little black-swallowtail caterpillar that’s taken up residence in my dill. Every morning, I come out and … Continue reading

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Tomatoes!

It would be difficult to pick a single best taste of summer. But somewhere in the list of contenders would have to be these golden cherry tomatoes, ripe from the vine. I’ve been plucking them by the fistful for the … Continue reading

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Urban Grillers–Throw Some Eggplant on the Barbie

For years, I’ll admit, I was unimpressed by eggplant. It was fine smothered in cheese and tomato sauce and served up as eggplant parmigiana. But when it came to cooking with the stuff, I found it tough and seedy; it … Continue reading

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Ground Cherries

At the farmer’s market this week, this curious little fruit was for sale. It’s related to the tomatillo, which has a similar papery husk. But improbable as it sounds, the flavor is much closer to that of a cherry. To … Continue reading

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Beetles and Snails and Mites, Oh My!

My father was a saint–or slightly dotty, I’m not sure which. An Episcopal priest who was highly influenced by the Quakers, he was a gentle soul who, in his later years, would ask permission of flowers before picking them. If … Continue reading

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The Age of Aquarius

I was born under the wrong sign. I should have been an Aquarius–the water carrier. I’ve certainly felt like one this summer, sloshing through the apartment multiple times a day with two large watering cans (occasionally watering the carpet on … Continue reading

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Ladybug, Ladybug

Maybe it was beginner’s luck. Last summer, almost every seedling I stuck into soil flourished with very little effort on my part. All I had to do was add water and stand back, while nature took its exuberant course. In … Continue reading

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Rhapsody in Pink

My mandevilla last year was so spectacular that this year I bought four! The prize winner among them is this beauty. It’s a giant variety called Sun Parasol, with these large showy flowers and glossy leaves, which grow in pairs … Continue reading

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Mint Surprise

I was warned. Friends told me: mint will take over your garden if you let it. So I planted my spearmint and peppermint in their own pots, where they couldn’t encroach on neighboring herbs. I thought this would limit the … Continue reading

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Fungus Among Us

This summer has been so rainy and humid that alien creatures have invaded my garden: mushrooms. I discovered them one morning when I was watering the euonymus and spied what looked like a large yellow leaf on top of the … Continue reading

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The Tale of Hansel and Gretel

OK, I’ll admit it. Part of what drew me to the Hansel and Gretel miniature eggplants were their names. Wouldn’t it be fun to pair these two varieties, I thought–Hansel with its deep purple fruits, and Gretel with its smooth … Continue reading

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Butterfly Season

My butterfly bushes were late bloomers this year, what with all the overcast skies we’ve been having. But once their purple blossoms began emerging this week, it took less than a day for the butterflies to arrive. Leading the pack … Continue reading

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Requiem for the Riegers

I have known for months that my lovely Rieger begonias would not last. I first bought them in April, thinking that these “winter-flowering” begonias, which require cool temperatures and short days, would serve merely as stop-gap flowers to tide me … Continue reading

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Are These Pots Self-Watering? Sure–Just Add Water

I must admit that I was deeply skeptical when I first heard about self-watering containers. I mean, really, who are they trying to kid? Somebody has to put water in there, and that somebody is you. So how exactly are … Continue reading

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Arugula Gone Wild

In my opinion, salad greens should be deep green, not some pale imitation thereof. So on my first trip to the garden store this spring, I bought a large pot of dark emerald-green seedlings labelled “mesclun mix.” The pot contained … Continue reading

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Flowers of the Camino

For two weeks in May, I was lucky enough to hike along an ancient pilgrimage route in Spain known as the Camino de Santiago. It is a long story that I will tell properly in another place and time. But … Continue reading

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Remembrance of Meals Past

To Proust, the most evocative food may have been the madeleine. But for me, there is no delight comparable to basil and dill fresh from the garden, with homegrown tomatoes running a close second. Last summer’s bounty brought plenty of … Continue reading

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Garden Godmother

Not every garden has a godmother. Mine does: my neighbor Jane. I first met Jane one early morning when she was tending the window boxes and hanging baskets of the corner pub, and she’s been an essential part of my … Continue reading

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Taking a Hosing

Et tu, XHose? I was already feeling betrayed last week, after discovering that a number of nozzle manufacturers include lead, a potent neurotoxin, in the nozzles they make for garden hoses–as if we gardeners don’t care that we’re spraying potentially … Continue reading

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Nozzlegate–Scandal in the Garden

As my garden has expanded from a random collection of containers to a small urban oasis, I’ve found myself sloshing through the apartment day after day with one overspilling watering can after another. So I finally decided it was time … Continue reading

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Rite of Spring

My husband was right. As usual. In March, I declared that I wasn’t going to start my container garden until Memorial Day weekend, when I return from a trip to Spain. He said I would never be able to hold … Continue reading

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Urban Gardener Returns–Without the Inferiority Complex

It’s spring—and the squirrels are getting hungry. I know this because little rascals are digging holes in the soil of my flower pots and window boxes, in an apparent search for buried nuts. So far, the main victim has been … Continue reading

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