Wednesday, October 30, 2013

In the Garden: The Orb Weaver

Araneus guttulatus.
Halloween decorations just aren't necessary when beautiful orb weaver spiders are at work.
This Araneus guttulatus was found weaving its magic on the underside of a Southern magnolia Magnolia grandiflora in the east Durham property of Council Treasurer Jennifer.

As beneficial predator, orb weaver spiders help to manage the populations of many destructive "piercing and sucking" insects in the garden.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Growing Loofah: Luffa Squash Travels from Vietnam to Durham Gardens

Here is a picture of me with one of the monstrous
loofahs that are now in my garden. This one is the size of a child!
I probably have about fifty loofah squashes growing in my garden this
 year. I planted two plants by seed and they have taken over my garden!
By Gretchen Van De Carr
Durham Co. Master Gardener

Like most people that have used a loofah(1), or natural sponge, I thought they came from the sea. Well, it's actually a squash from Vietnam! I thought it would be fun to try and grow some of these, so I got seeds, and had only TWO plants in my garden. While young and tender, they are delicious in stir fries or just used like a summer squash. When they are allowed to mature, the skin sort of separates from the squash and you can just peel it off with your hands. After that, you knock out the seeds, let it dry a bit, and TA-DA! you have a wonderful sponge. I plan to cut mine into usable sizes, fill them with an olive oil soap and give them away as gifts...a scrubbie soap!

There are truly at least 50 of these squashes growing like weeds in my garden. WARNING: the vines go CRAZY! I had to cut them back when they attacked my blueberry bushes. Next year I will plant them in the back yard, they are that unruly.

1. Here's the Wikipedia definition: Luffa, Vietnamese luffa, Vietnamese gourd, or Chinese okra are a genus of tropical and subtropical vines classified in the cucumber (Cucurbitaceae) family. In everyday non-technical usage the name, also spelled loofah, usually refers to the fruit of the two species Luffa aegyptiaca and Luffa acutangula. The fruit of these species is cultivated and eaten as a vegetable. The fruit must be harvested at a young stage of development to be edible. The vegetable is popular in China and Vietnam.
2. When the fruit is fully ripened it is very fibrous. The fully developed fruit is the source of the loofah scrubbing sponge, which is used in bathrooms and kitchens as a sponge tool. Luffa are not frost-hardy, and require 150 to 200 warm days to mature.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Toxic Free NC Awards Beehive to the Briggs Avenue Community Garden

Briggs Ave. Community Garden.
Congratulations to Briggs Avenue Community Garden in Durham for being the winner of the Toxic Free NC 2nd Annual Save a Bee Beehive Giveaway!
Briggs Ave. Community Garden is located in an area of Durham where most children and families live at or below the poverty line. The garden is a place where food is grown for families and where community members fellowship, share skills and learn about pesticide-free gardening. Right now it has more than 40 community-maintained plots, but is expanding next year to accommodate even more gardeners. A beehive in the garden will add to its mission of educating local residents about organic gardening and help to grow even more healthy pesticide-free food for the Durham community. 

A total of 1,250 people voted in the statewide beehive contest. This was a close competition; the Briggs Ave. Community Garden earned just 21 more votes than the next popular garden. A total of 18 beautiful and amazing community garden nominees were submitted. The mission of each is to grow pesticide-free, healthy food and to educate their communities about organic gardening and the importance of protecting our pollinators.
Toxic Free NC's Save a Bee campaign was made possible with support from The Burt's Bees Greater Good Foundation.
Find out how you can help keep the buzz going for community gardening:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Durham Garden Center gives 10% off for Halloween Costumed Customers

Fragrant Gardens Year-Round for Durham County

Osmanthus fragrans.
By Frank Hyman, The Liberated Gardener
The Liberated Gardener Newsletter, October 2013
If you’re new to gardening in the south I’ve got two bits of good news for you. One, we can play in the garden year-round here. And Two, we can have fragrant flowers year-round as well. That second item matters a lot to me because I am biased about a lot of things when it comes to gardening and fragrance is one of them. When I approach an unfamiliar flower and find it has no fragrance, I have about the same reaction as if I’d taken a bite of steak with no flavor. There’s sustenance, but no excitement.
The aromas we find appealing bring us one of the joyful mysteries of life. The autumn scent of a sasanqua camellia can bring some people back to their childhood in grandma’s garden. The bracing citrus smell of a first-breath-of-spring (Lonicera fragrantissima) or a Daphne odora in January or February as I come home from a hard day’s work can revive me and keep me outdoors enjoying the garden past sunset.
On early spring trips south, highway 95 runs through a pergola of Carolina jessamine vines climbing the pines. They flash their bright yellow flowers and invite you to roll your window down just a crack so you can soak up the southern version of jasmine (being southern explains that extra syllable in the name).
Syringa vulgaris. The Lilac Garden (Spokane, WA) contains
well over 100 named cultivars from 23 distinct species,
making it one of the most important lilac gardens in the West. 
If your budget is tight and you must have the most cost-effective fragrant flower, I would recommend a fragrant tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans) that blooms twice a year—a couple of months in fall and a couple of months in spring. In fact, I’ve known winters here that were so mild that my tea olive bloomed for more than 6 months straight. It doesn’t hurt that the tea olive is a drought-hardy evergreen that can take full sun and deep shade. As long as its feet aren’t wet you’ll enjoy the tea-scent twice a year for decades.
My wife and a number of friends are from New England. So I frequently hear their lament that most garden center workers insist you can’t grow old-fashioned lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) here. Instead they steer you to a Korean lilac, that yes, grows well here, but it has a fragrance that will disappoint anyone who’s passed a hedge of flowering lilacs in the northeast. So please inform the next person who insists old-time lilacs won’t grow and flower well here, that they are mistaken. You simply must treat them like the Mediterranean guest that they are and they will be happy as any azalea in a pine grove.

Plant your old-fashioned lilac in afternoon shade, on ground that is well-drained. That could mean either a slope or a raised bed or in soil beefed up with half a wheelbarrow of gravel and/or sand. Toss a few handfuls of bone meal or rock phosphate in the hole for phosphorus and swear off nitrogen fertilizer, which invites disease. Throw about two handfuls of lime in or on the soil at planting and every year thereafter to reduce our soils’ acidity. Mulch yearly and deadhead the spent blooms (and bring some into the house to enjoy) so the shrub puts its energy into next year’s flowers instead of seed. And breathe deep every chance you get.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Daylily Garden Club Celebrates 40 Years; Club Tours Renovations to Ronald McDonald House

The Daylily Garden Club celebrated its 40th Anniversary during October with a cake and tour of the Ronald MacDonald House of Durham. The Ronald McDonald House is one of many charities that Daylily GC has sponsored over the years. The club donated $1,000 toward renovations.

Mural of children's photographs at the Ronald McDonald House of Durham.
Founding Daylily Garden Club Member
Michelle S. received a lifetime membership to
 the Garden Clubs of North Carolina.
Ruth Y. passes down her own GCNC pin to Michelle.
Club President Rhonda P. listens to the tour 
by Executive Director Oie Osterkemp.

How Trees Can Boost a Home's Sale Price

By Sanette Tanaka

Homes with "street trees," trees planted between the sidewalk and street, sell for $7,130 more than homes without, research finds.

In addition, homes with street trees sold 1.7 days more quickly than homes without street trees. Does having green space in your neighborhood make a difference to you?

NOTE: Many good arguments for and against the planting of trees next to streets...New tree plantings should be heat tolerant varieties (like crepe myrtles) or the root systems will cook, and the tree dies in less than 7 years!


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Ode to the Volunteer...

As vegetable gardeners collect their harvests this Fall,
they just might find unpredicted plants whose seeds were also present in the soil.

Ode to the Volunteer!
I didn't plan on you,
Your total cost was cheap,
You delight me with goodies,
From my compost heap!

I thought you were a weed,
Intentions I didn't trust,
But I just couldn't yank you,

Your growth was so robust!

You ask nothing of me,
And I don't take you for granted,
Oh Joy! And Surprise!
The best plant I never planted!

Thank you Squash and Tomatoes,
And Sunflowers from feeder near,
I'm so much happier today,
Because of the Volunteer!

Gretchen VDC
Durham Co. Master Gardener

'Flora and Food Truck' Fall Events Scheduled at Fairview Greenhouse

Raleigh's Fairview Greenhouses and Garden Center, Inc. will be promoting local plants and local food with their “Flora and Food Truck” festival this fall.  Events will be held on Saturday, Oct. 19 and Saturday, Nov. 9 from 11:30-2:30 p.m.
Flora and Food Truck event attendees will also have the opportunity to attend gardening classes.  Owners of the Yellow Dog Bread Company in Raleigh will be at Fairview on Saturday, Nov. 9 to discuss their handmade baking processes. 

“Fairview After Hours” will also return on Friday, Oct. 11 from 5:30-8 p.m. with food trucks, local craft beer and local music after regular store hours. Attendees can enjoy brews from Aviator Brewing Company of Fuquay-Varina and the sounds of ukuleles from the Chapel Hill Uke Group.

The events are family friendly and admission is free.  The food trucks will be charging their regular prices for the food offered.  Flora and Food Truck days will feature four to five food trucks.  Participating food trucks are Blue Sky Dining, Chirba Chirba Dumpling, Deli-icious, CJ’s Street Food, Happy Holly’s, Sarge’s Chef on Wheels, Sweet Stacey Cakes, and Sweet Traditions by LeAne.  

The Fairview Garden Center current hours of operation are 9-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and Sundays 1-5 p.m. Fairview Garden Center is located at 8224 Holly Springs Rd. in Raleigh. Guests can find out more about the event and food truck details by visiting

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Increase Plant Diversity to Enhance Wildlife

Small flower ground covers like Phlox encourage beneficial insects.
Want to encourage more beneficial insects, songbirds, and other types of wildlife to live in your yard? The answer is simple: Increase plant diversity in your yard! North Carolina is home to 3,068 native plant species, which help to support an even greater diversity of native wildlife. Native plants are ideal for supporting wildlife and are well adapted to North Carolina’s climate.

Plants sustain life and help support a com­plex food system. From pollinating insects to songbirds and small mammals, all wildlife depend on plants to provide food, shelter, and nesting sites. Not all wildlife feed on the same plants at the same time. Having a well-designed landscape composed of a diversity of herbaceous and woody plants will provide food and shelter to sustain wildlife throughout the year.

If you want to increase plant diversity in your yard, the best place to start is with the ground layer. Diverse mixtures of perennial ground cov­ers—such as species of Phlox, Viola, Oxalis, and Geranium—are good choices because they have tiny flowers that only small insects like beneficial parasitic wasps can feed upon. Another choice for a ground cover is clover, which is favored by important pollinators such as honeybees and bumblebees. Clover also improves soil quality and increases nitrogen levels in the soil.

Annual and perennial border plantings in your garden beds will encourage other types of wildlife. For instance, coneflowers (Rudbeckia and Echinacea species) and Coreopsis species are favored by songbirds such as the American goldfinch because their seeds provide a winter food source. Other plants are critical for butterfly reproduction and survival. For example, caterpil­lars of the monarch butterfly can only survive on species of milkweed (Asclepias). Plants such as species of goldenrod (Solidago), ironweed (Verno­nia), and joe-pye weed (Eutrochium) are favored nectar sources for many butterfly species and also provide beautiful flowers.

Plant a mix of evergreen and deciduous shrubs to provide food and refuge for songbirds throughout the year. Deciduous shrubs such as New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus) and but­tonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) can be grown throughout North Carolina and provide nectar for insects and hummingbirds in the summer. Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) and doghobble (Leucothoe species) provide shelter for small mam­mals and overwintering birds during the winter months.

Small trees such as flowering dogwood and redbud provide early spring color and also serve as a nectar resource for butterflies, while wax myrtle and American holly are evergreens that can serve as shelter for wildlife during the winter. Larger trees—including oak, elm, and pine— provide wildlife habitat and food throughout the year. Check with your local Extension center or visit for more plant recommendations suited to your area.

— Sam Marshall
From the NC Cooperative Extension Fall 2013 newsletter