February 2023

With spring less than a month away, many look forward to celebrating it’s promise early by enjoying the sights, fragrances and colors of the CT Flower & Garden Show from February 23 to 26 at the Convention Center in downtown Hartford. The theme of this year’s Flower Show is ‘Gateway to Springtime’.

Gateway to Springtime is the theme of the 2023 CT Flower & Garden Show. Photo by dmp2023.

This year I believe there are 18 gorgeous landscape exhibits, over 50 educational seminars featuring many speakers including 4 of us from the UConn Home & Garden Education Center (check out Dennis Tsui on Saturday and Dr. Nick Goltz on Sunday), a super creative standard flower show, plant society and horticultural education displays and probably more than a couple of hundred vendors.

Of course, my favorite exhibitor is the UConn Home & Garden Education Center! We’re there all 4 days along with the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab and if you bring in a half of a cup of soil we will do a soil pH test for free and make limestone and fertilizer recommendations plus we have Center staff and volunteer Master Gardeners on hand to answer all your gardening questions. Be sure to stop by our booth (#417 & 419) and say hello.

The Center’s staff and volunteers are here to answer your garden questions. Photo by dmp2023.

While wandering through the well designed and visually tempting landscapes, be sure to check out the University of Connecticut Horticulture Club’s vibrant yet tranquil landscape. According to their description their garden presents a peaceful respite between hibernating through winter and swinging into springtime. The display features a bench, arbor and island garden. Both ornamental and edible plants are incorporated, encouraging healthy eating. Their goal, aligned with UConn’s values, is a place of rest, health and overall wellness.

UConn Horticulture Club landscape display. Photo by dmp2023.

UConn Horticulture Club students also have a booth among the exhibitors when they are selling plant to support their activities. Stop by, say hello, and pick up a plant or two.  

UConn Horticulture Club members at their table. Be sure to support them. Photo by dmp2023.

All the landscapes this year are stunning as usual, filled with creative designs, garden worthy plants and unique ornamentation. A particularly outstanding tribute to the late Queen Elizabeth is the landscape display by the Connecticut Rose Society. Apparently she would travel through Rosemont, a small town in Scotland on her way to Balmoral Castle. The town’s residents created a beautiful rose garden for her complete with a gazebo. She and her corgis could stop and stretch on their journey and the Queen could enjoy her tea and jam sandwiches under the shelter of the gazebo.

CT Rose Society’s tribute to Queen Elizabeth. Photo by dmp2023.

The creative genius of the floral designers who compete in the Federated Garden Club’s NGC Standard Flower Show never fail to amaze and delight me. There is over 12,000 square feet filled with floral arrangements, horticultural exhibits, photography and individual plants as containers, stems or in container gardens all treasured entries vying for awards.

Some of the beautiful floral arrangements entered in the Federated Garden Club’s Flower Show. Photo by dmp2023

Don’t miss this year’s show. It’s open until 8 tonight and all-day Saturday and Sunday.

Think Spring!


Gardening is a popular hobby that involves growing and cultivating plants, flowers, and vegetables. While it can be a rewarding activity for those with a green thumb, gardening also offers numerous health benefits. We’ll explore some of the many ways that gardening can contribute to a healthier lifestyle.

Stress Relief: One of the most significant benefits of gardening is its ability to relieve stress. Research has shown that spending time in green spaces, such as gardens and parks, can reduce cortisol levels, which are associated with stress. In addition, working with soil and plants can be meditative and help to improve mood and overall well-being. Gardening provides a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that can help to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Improved Physical Fitness: Gardening is a physical activity that can help to improve overall fitness levels. Planting, weeding, and harvesting require strength and flexibility, making gardening a great workout for the entire body. In addition, spending time outdoors can help to increase vitamin D levels, which are important for bone health. Gardening can be a low-impact form of exercise that is suitable for people of all ages and abilities.

Increased Nutrition: Growing your own fruits and vegetables can be a great way to improve your overall nutrition. Fresh produce from your garden can be more nutrient-dense than store-bought options, which may have been picked before ripening and transported long distances. In addition, gardening allows you to control what types of pesticides and fertilizers are used, ensuring that your food is free from harmful chemicals. Eating a diet that includes fresh, home-grown produce can help to improve overall health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

Mental Stimulation: Gardening is a mentally stimulating activity that can help to keep the mind sharp. Planning and designing a garden requires creativity and problem-solving skills, while the actual act of gardening can be a form of mindfulness. In addition, learning about different types of plants and their care can be an educational experience that helps to improve memory and cognitive function.

Social Connection: Gardening can be a social activity that helps to build connections with others. Joining a community garden or working on a garden project with friends or family can be a fun and rewarding way to spend time together. In addition, sharing produce with neighbors and friends can help to foster a sense of community and connection.

Gardening offers a wide range of health benefits, from stress relief and improved physical fitness to increased nutrition and reduced risk of chronic disease. Whether you have a small balcony or a large backyard, there are many ways to incorporate gardening into your life. So why not try your hand at gardening and reap the many health benefits it has to offer.

Dennis Tsui

Winter can be a quiet time for gardeners, which is a good time to get your tools ready for the upcoming season.  Nothing beats a nice sharp tool. Shovels cut turf and stubborn roots more easily and flat edge shovels make for nice clean garden bed borders. Well-edged tools also help to reduce physical strain on the body. In addition, because sharp pruners and loppers make cleaner cuts when pruning trees and shrubs, plants heal faster, reducing the opportunity for pests or diseases to infect them.

Winter is a good time to inspect and repair tools as well. It may take a little elbow grease to bring your garden armory back into tip-top shape (especially if it’s been a while since tools were last maintained), but you’ll reap the benefits all season long. And, with regular maintenance, it will only take a few minutes in the future.

Below, using examples from my toolshed, are some tips for cleaning and preparing garden tools for the growing season ahead.

First, gather the tools you want to clean and sharpen. As you can see above, these show a range of wear, tear, and rust present.

To clean shovels, flat step shovels and trowels, begin by scrubbing with a brush in soapy water to loosen and remove and debris.

Next, I like to spray them with a bubble-type cleaner, (like Scrubbing Bubbles), and let them sit for a few minutes. This helps to soften sap and rust.

Using a steel wool pad, give the tool a good scrub. If needed, repeat this process until you’re happy with the results. Rinse well and dry off completely.

If sharpening a shovel, edging tool, or trowels, I like to use a 6-inch mill file to sharpen the rounded edges. They don’t need to be razor sharp but creating a nice “edge” will make shoveling or edging your garden bed much easier.  To sharpen, find the bevel at the edge, place the file at a 45-degree angle and “push” the file from the blade. Then lift the file and bring it back to the starting point and push again.  It’s important to sharpen in one direction, not a back-and-forth motion. This will ensure a clean sharp edge.

Once the edge is to your satisfaction, wipe the tool down with lubricating oil. I like to use a light layer of vegetable oil, but any waterless oil will do. This protects tools from rust and corrosion.

Now is also a good time to inspect wooden handles and replace weak or cracked handles if needed.

Feel for any roughness on the handle and sand smooth. This will reduce any chance of getting splinters.

Next, apply a thin coat of linseed oil to the handle. This both protects and seals the wood.

To clean loppers and pruners, repeat the cleaning process as before. You may need a small wire brush to help get into tight spots better.

Then, wash them off and dry them thoroughly

A small carbide stone works best for sharpening small blades like pruners and loppers.  Cradle the pruners or lopper in your hand and lay the stone on the beveled edge of the blade. Using a sweeping motion, lightly move the stone along the blade in one direction a few strokes, checking the blade periodically for sharpness.  Check the other side of the blade for any small burrs, (small bumps), that may have developed. Laying the stone flat against the back side of the blade, smooth with stone to remove it. 

Once the blades are smooth and sharp, apply 3 in 1 oil around the mechanism. Open and close several times to help spread the oil throughout the mechanism to lubricate and protect the area from rust or corrosion. 

Usually, tool maintenance only needs to be done once a year, before the beginning, or better yet, at the end of the season. However, if your tools are heavily used, you may need to show your tools a little love more often. 

Clean, sharp tools, ready to go will help get this year’s gardening off to a great start. Right now is a great time to get your tools ready for the fun ahead.

Marie Woodward

Winter dawn

I please myself with the graces of the winter scenery, and believe that we are as much touched by it as by the genial influences of summer.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Winter can be a wearisome time for people who really enjoy the sights and sounds of the outdoors. That said, you never know what you may stumble upon on that may be interesting on any given day as you wander around. During this time of year, some things may actually be more interesting. Trees are interesting in a different way as they are bereft of their leafy canopies which normally hide branches, trunks and growth forms. Bird and wasp nests are visible, and so are growth anomalies caused by outside forces such as entwining bittersweet vines. It is a good time to learn tree identification using features such as leaf bud forms, branching patterns and bark on branches or trunks.

Weeping Higan cherry Prunus subhirtella in fog in January on the UConn campus
This trunk had been constricted by bittersweet that has been cut down
Gingko leaf buds are stout and upright, alternating on twigs and branches like askew, miniature ladder rungs

Skies get very interesting color-wise at dawn and dusk, or even during the day. Atmospheric temperatures are colder and less polluted than in the summer, and the angle of the sun’s rays are different now and make for brilliant reds and oranges just before dawn and sunset. When gray skies are to the east, just before sunset there can be an ethereal orange glow that lights up the landscape.

Orange glow minutes before sunset January 2023

On Horsebarn Hill on the Storrs UConn campus, there are vast open pastures and fields that are home to northern harriers, bluebirds, kestrels and stopping grounds for migrating horned larks. Recently my colleague and I saw a large flock of these larks as well as a male kestrel. Kestrels are small robin-sized falcon and they are a species of concern in Connecticut due to the loss of their habit, which is large open farmland. Look for these birds perching on telephone wires along roadsides where they have access to prey on acres of open fields.  

American kestrel on a treetop on Horsebarn Hill UConn
Male horned lark. These birds can appear in winter in open fields and grassy areas where snow has melted and seeds can be found

Barred owls can be active both at night or during the day in the winter. They often rest close to the trunk of trees on lower tree branches where they blend in.  They will go after fish if streams remain open in the winter, but their main diet is rodents, small animals and other birds. Often the larger owl species are mobbed by screaming crows, so if you hear that, head for the ruckus. They might be after a great horned or a barred owl.

Barred owl waking up on a late January morning

Mushrooms have mostly come and gone, but the cinnabar polypore will stand out against the rather monochromatic winter scenery. This shelf fungus can be found on fallen dead tree branches. Against the snow, their brilliant deep orange caps and spores are a standout.

Cinnabar polypore pores on the underside of the cap live up to their description

Earlier this month temperatures were higher than normal before dropping well below freezing for a couple of days. Thin ice formed on algae colored water and then partially cracked, which made an interesting, angular, tessellated pattern. That day temperatures went well above the 40’s and by the next day, these patterns were gone. What a difference a day makes!

Green edged crack patterns on thin ice in January 2023

Besides birds, some fungi, morning and evening skies, and maybe a visit to a greenhouse, there can be other means to escape the winter doldrums. Sometimes the best winter color comes from the sun shining through a window in your own home…

Elephant ear in a sunny window in winter

Pamm Cooper