Altoid Tins and Garden Seed Saving

maple tree seeds

There’s no question that Altoids got so popular because they come in such cool little tins.  I buy that brand of mint just so I get to keep the tin for my seed stash.  They’re particularly good for larger seeds such as sweet pea and Indian corn that doesn’t fit into envelopes. As August rolls around, a lot of our plants will begin going to seed both in the garden and the wild.  Most of these are viable, so you can collect them to plant next year.  What I like to do is collect the seed to give away to my gardening friends in decorated Altoid boxes or cute jars as holiday gifts. To save your own seed it’s important to allow the pod or seed head to fully mature.  Each plant will distribute its seed in a different way, sometimes pods pop open, other times the heads just sit waiting for Autumn winds to blow them away.  In all cases the seed will be fully dry when it leaves the plant.  If you find seed is green and soft, it’s probably not ready to be harvested.  Maple tree seeds are great for crafts or planting. The most important thing to remember is to label the seed in its box or envelope.  Many tiny seed types like poppies are virtually impossible to distinguish from one another by eye, making labeling even more important.  Ditto if you have more than one variety of the same plant. Date the label for the future to tell you how old the seed stock is.  Lettuce seed, for example, isn’t viable for more than about a year. Store your seed in a cool dry place.  I’ve lost more seed to mice and moisture than anything else.  Hungry rodents chew right through envelopes and sacks.  Even a small amount of moisture can saturate paper and ruin the seed. That’s why the Altoid tins have become a staple of my seed saving – to ensure they’re bug, water and rodent proof!     Get started with The Seed Savers Kit at Store.  

No More Staking Perennial Flowers

22" support

When your beautiful hollyhock and foxgloves start to flop from summer rains, there’s nothing you can do will stop it.  Multi-stalk perennials literally fall apart, stems flopping in every direction to expose the ugly bare center.   By this time of year they’re at their best, then fail overnight at the peak of their beauty.  Part of this is related to new  bigger-flower hybrids.  The original plant stems don’t grow proportionately strong to support the larger bloom heads.  I’ve used traditional bamboo stake and ties that not only look icky, they tend to flop themselves when the soil is to wet for anchorage.  For multi-stalk bloomers there are too many stems to stake and too often they get tied up with twine in an ugly bundle that destroys their naturally elegant form. After thirty years in horticulture I’ve come to the conclusion that flower supports are the only way to stake perennial blooms. So what’s a flower support and why is it  better?  First of all you set them up in the spring as the perennials are starting to sprout from their dormant roots.  It actually grows into this green wire framework that quickly disappears into the foliage.  A little flash video shows how this works at the Gardeners Supply web site (see Cool Links).  They carry a full line of these handy supports.   Use this style for peonies and other busy perennials.  This source offers a half dozen different types of flower support structures, each designed for a different type of plant. Buy your flower supports now so you can match your plants to the right kind of structure.   You’ll want them on hand in early spring when the first sprouts show – that’s the time to put the supports in place. 

Mo’s Garden Photo Tip: Angle for Information

incense passionflower

A good friend began photographing flowers.  He’s tall so naturally he sees the world from the top down.  Every picture he took was looking straight down into a flower.  After he followed my first tip of studying his photography on the TV, he realized he was not happy with a single shot he took.  Not only were they all the same, he was standing over them blocking the light too. I told him he’s going to have to get down on the flower’s level.  To really capture a blossom you want to show as much information as you can including the interior structures, the inner color, outer shape, stem, and maybe even a leaf or part of the plant it came from.  If you get lucky the shot might include an unopened bud and a flower going to seed as well to reveal all these stages of its lifecycle – now that’s information!  This can be hard to do with a long tubular flower, but easy with a big open daisy.  Since each flower is unique to its species, the stage of its lifecycle and it’s position in the universe, each shot must be rethought to achieve the most optimal angle to include the maximum information. This water lily shot shows overall habitat, flower buds emerging from the water, various stages of open flowers, lily pads and even the color of the undersides of the pads. To get a lot of information you may shoot an odd perspective that shows as many of these characteristics as you can get.  You won’t capture them all of course, but strive to get the most important ones.  Old botanical illustrators learned to paint their flower images this same way, to reveal the information necessary to convey the visual essence of the plant.     

Dog Noses And Foxtail Nightmares


Dot noticed dried foxtail grass by the roadside and in her silent way reminded me of how often these sharp awns land her K9 brethren in the veterinarian’s office this time of year.  Cut and remove them from your yard before it’s too late, she cautions.  Foxtail is an annual grass that goes to seed now at midsummer and releases its progeny on barbed tips which travel into the nearest flesh or fabric.  Like fish hooks they travel only one direction - IN.  Once inside they work their way deeper if not promptly treated.  Dogs sniffing around the dry foxtails so often found along fence lines snort them up accidentally.  Inside a long snout, the foxtail causes sneezing and runny nose with great discomfort.  They often get into the eyes and ears of small fellows like Dot’s scruffy little next door neighbor who is so close to the ground he must plough his way through the dry grass. Foxtails penetrate paws of even the largest dogs like her Great Pyrenees friend, Lilly  They’ve been known to travel through the bloodstream to heart and lung.  If not treated promptly it progresses into serious infection.    Dot is moved by the words of Senator John Ingalls in his 1872 essay, In Praise of Bluegrass.  Dot first got a look at the original piece in a 1948 Yearbook of Agriculture from my library.  Being an aficionado of lying in the grass, she’s big on its larger role in the cyclical nature of things as Ingalls so beautifully states: Grass feeds the ox; the ox nourishes man; man dies and goes to grass again; and so the tide of life, with everlasting repetition, in continuous circles, moves endlessly on and upward, and in more senses than one, all flesh is grass.  

Bargain Hunter’s Wedding Arches

French Tulip Wedding ARch

Planning a backyard wedding next year?  You can save a bundle by purchasing your wedding arch or arbor during end of the wedding season sales!      As we go into fall holidays, Krupps and Yardiac have both put some of their best vinyl arbors on sale to clearn inventory.  Save hundreds and nail down that size and style now so you can plan your whole backyard design scheme around this important central focal point. Vinyl arbors have solved many of the typical problems of wedding arches – hard to build, too heavy, permanent etc.  Vinyl arbors come ready to use, just assemble and use handy anchoring systems provided by the merchants.  We used them on an episode of Weekend Gardening and I was impressed at their ease of handling and longevity becasue they don’t chip or peel and there’s no need to repaint.  You can also easily disassemble each fall for winter storage. For details on how to design your wedding arch into a backyard landscape, download our free e-book: Backyard Wedding Makeover at I’ve shown two great wedding arches below because they come with “wings” that give it a more grounded appearance.  The little fences make the arches look like part of the landscape and reduce the number of plants you need to give them a more gardenesque character. On sale at Yardiac (See Cool Links) the Nantucket II Arbor with Wings.  On sale at Krupps (See Cool Links) the Ashbury Arbor with Cottage Picket Wings and Gate  

Mulch Rescues Your Garden From The Heat


New York City is roasting, the desert southwest is setting records and the mercury is topping out all across America.  If you don’t live in Queens and still have your power on, the only relief is to hang out in the pool or indoors in the air conditioning.  But your plants have no where to find relief so what can you do to help them through the heat wave?   In the heat and direct solar exposure, you get hot and your soil does too.  This can literally bake plant roots to death if the soil surface is fully exposed.  While it’s tough to shade your plants you can at least shade the soil to keep roots cool.   Mulch is simply a thick layer of dry leaves, compost, pine needles or wood chips laid out around the base of the plant.  It should be at least an inch or two thick to provide adequate insulation so that the root zone is protected from direct heating.  Sun also dries out soil surface to a crusty harness that repels water, but soil under mulch remains soft and really absorbs any water you apply, allowing directly into the root zone.  It’s never to late to lay out you mulches.  For sensitive plants that under normal conditions struggle through the summer, mulch may be their only hope for surviving this summer’s high heat.  Mulches in the kitchen garden can also extend your harvest because crop bearing plants continue to flower and fruit.   

Black is Beautiful…Order Tulips For Fall Planting

Queen of the Night

It’s the color of a moonless night, of tuxedos and famous little cocktail dresses.  But it’s never before been considered a color for tulips.  Maybe that’s what makes them so appealing – it’s something fabulously elegant to cut and bring indoors for a most unique and special accent.   Brecks ‘Nearly Black’ is actually a very, very dark purple. In the garden grow your blacks against a suitable background so they aren’t lost in shadows.  Plant them against light colored walls or variegated plants.  For black to really stand out they need to be in full sun.  Brecks Queen of the Night is an extraordinary black tulip. Combine black tulips with white or pale yellow tulips to create high contrast that makes the black stand out.  You can interplant in a checkerboard of light and dark, or plant in swaths of color that swirl around each other in exotic fluid shapes.   Fall is right around the corner so it’s time to start thinking about your bulb orders. If you want to grow black tulips as cut flowers, you’ll need a lot of bulbs.   Since black is the hottest color in gardening these days, and because you aren’t likely to find them locally, it’s wise to order in quantity early.  These are all available at Brecks online catalog - in our Cool Links. Place your order early to ensure supply doesn’t run out, but the bulbs won’t ship until fall.    Brecks “Black and White” tulip mix offers perfectly matched light and dark flowers.