Gardening


With the encroaching winter storm and dropping temperatures, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about a very interesting and unique soil order, the Gelisol. Soils are dynamic systems that are essential to life as we know it, and are nonrenewable resource that vary in physical and chemical composition throughout the world. Parent material (underlying bedrock, glacial deposits, wind-blown sediment, etc…), climate, topography, biological activity/factors, and time are the 5 soil forming factors. Different places on the planet will produce a wide variety of variations of these 5 factors. To help understand and classify soils, 12 different orders were formed. The 12 different Soil Taxonomy Orders are: Alfisols, Andisols, Aridisols, Entisols, Gelisols, Histosols, Inceptisols, Mollisols, Oxisols, Spodosols, Ultisols, and Vertisols. Each order has unique properties that are a result of 5 soil-forming factors.

gelisols global map

Figure 1: Global Distribution of Gelisols (NRCS https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/soils/survey/class/maps/?cid=stelprdb1237761)

Gelisols are, in my opinion, the most interesting and important soil orders. The Soil Science Society of American defines Gelisols as soils that are “permanently” frozen containing permafrost within 100 centimeters of the soil surface, and/or gelic materials within 100 centimeters and permafrost within 200 centimeters of the soil surface. Permafrost is soil and rock that remains below 0 degrees Celsius for a minimum of 2 years; and “gelic materials” are soil components that show evidence of cryoturbation, or frost churning, a mechanism unique to gelisols. Cryoturbation is the irregular breaking and mixing of soil horizons (think different segmented layers of soil) via the movement of water caused by seasonal melts and thaws. To clarify, just because your front yard is frozen for a few months in the winter is not enough to classify the soil within as a gelisol.

gelisols soil stelprdb1237732

Figure 2: A Gelisol (SSSA https://www.soils.org/discover-soils/soil-basics/soil-types/gelisols)

According to the United States Geological Survey, around 9% of global ice-free land area contain gelisols. They are found in tundra and cold-weather environments, which has made them a hot topic of conversation as the effects of climate change are becoming more obvious. Trapped within the permafrost, contained within gelisols are large amounts of preserved carbon. Over thousands of years, during the last ice age, carbon was deposited in permafrost as ice sheets advanced and retreated. Bedrock was ground into fine silts and dust via glacial movement. This glacial flour was blown across the world and deposited, covering everything in sight, including plants and animals. Quick burial in cold environments doesn’t allow for decomposition of organic material. So as a result, modern day gelisols are a giant carbon reservoir. As climate change continues, the environments containing gelisols are more at risk of melting. Melting gelisols means that the organic material within them are now subject to rapid degradation. The decomposition of organic matter releases carbon in various forms, the most dangerous being methane. Methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas that acts to trap light in heat within our atmosphere. Hopefully you can see the problem: increasing climate change has the potential to thaw gelisols, releasing large reservoirs of methane into the atmosphere, effectively increasing the rate of climate change exponentially. Quite literally adding fuel to the fire.

baby the bison

Figure 3: Babe, the bison was found in thawing permafrost is estimated to be around 36,000 years old. (Photo by: Bill Schmoker (PolarTREC 2010), Courtesy of ARCUS)

-Joe Croze, UConn Soil Lab

Wandering through the woods across the street from my childhood home, I was always anxious to identify the next new plant or bird I encountered. Leafing through the pages of my well-worn Golden Guides, I would do my best to pick out the specimen and then mark it off in the table of contents – my plant and bird life lists before I know what one was.

golden guides trees

Golden Guide from http://www.amazon.com

None of the Golden Guides I owned were able to identify this one curious, moss-like plant and it wasn’t until I took botany in college that I discovered club mosses. The three species I most commonly happened upon in woodland and wetland walks were shining club moss (now called shining firmoss, Huperzia lucidula), running cedar (Diphasiastrum digitatum) and ground pine (Dendrolycopodium obscurum).

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Shining fir moss from Wikipedia commons

running cedar diphasiastrum from wikipedia

Running cedar from http://www.wikipedia.com

Truthfully, I had not been giving club mosses much thought these days until my brother presented me with a frosty fern as a holiday hosting gift. Looking up care for a frosty fern (Selaginella krausuanna variegatus), I discovered that it is a club moss relative. The secret to keeping a frosty fern is bright light but not direct sun, adequate moisture and a good dose of humidity. The watering part is not hard but it is difficult to keep heated homes humid during the cold winter months.

frosty fern

Frosty fern. Photo by dmp, 2018

All of these plants were at one time placed in the Lycopodiaceae family and into the Lycopodium genus. These plants have since been reclassified and like asters, their older, easier to pronounce Latin names have been changed. Now the Flora of North America recognizes 7 genera and 27 species although there are probably several hundred species worldwide. Since they do share many similar characteristics, I’m going to group these fascinating plants together when discussing their natural history and life cycles.

Club mosses or lycophytes evolved over 410 million years ago. They were one of the earliest groups of vascular plants. In case you need a biology class reminder, vascular plants have xylem and phloem tissues that move water, nutrients and carbohydrates throughout the plant. During the Carboniferous geologic period (360 – 286 million years ago), lycophytes along with ferns and horsetails were dominant forms of vegetation in some areas of the planet with some club mosses reaching 100 feet in height. As these plants died out by 250 million years ago, their petrified remains became today’s coal and fossil fuel beds.

gettyimages-carbon era

Vegetation in Carboniferous period consisted of huge club mosses, ferns, horsetails and other plants. From Getty Images.

Lycophytes are evergreen plants and fairly cosmopolitan in nature found from the arctic to temperate forests to the tropics. As a general rule of thumb, most tropical lycophytes are epiphytes and most arctic and temperate ones are terrestrial. Although the species native to this area often appear to look like separate miniature evergreens, they are generally connected together by rhizomes or runners. What appear to be leaves are actually structures called microphylls. They have but a single cylinder of vascular tissue to carry water and nutrients.

Plants have a curious but primitive reproductive system – they reproduce by spores. In some club moss species, club-like appendages, called strobili, are produced on the tops of the conifer-like plants. These have structures called sporangia (singular is sporangium). In other species, the sporangia are formed on certain ‘leaves’ of the plant. Wherever they occur, each sporangium produces large numbers of tiny spores. These are often collected and sold as lycopodium powder. The spores germinate to form gametophytes which then go on to produce eggs and sperm. Sometimes the gametophyte generation develops below ground with the help of mycorrhizal fungi and sometimes above ground, depending on the lycophyte species. Eventually the sperm fertilizes the eggs and the sporophyte generation, which is the plant we see above ground, arises. It may take up to 15 years for the plant to complete its sexual reproductive phase. Some club mosses can also reproduce asexually by means of rhizomes or runners and some even have specialized groups of cells on the tips of their stems, called gemmae, that fall off and become new plants.

princess pine

Princess pine aka Dendrolycopodium obscurum with ‘clubs’ or strobili. Photo by dmp, 2019

Humans have found many uses for club mosses including holiday decorations. Because the plants are so slow growing, this practice is frowned upon and should be discouraged.

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Ground pine colonies are found in deciduous hardwood forests. Photo by dmp, 2019

Since ancient times, Native Americans as well as Europeans have used the spores and leaves for medicinal purposes such as to cure digestive and urinary tract problems, for skin ailments and inducing labor. Because the spores repel water, they were used by pharmacists to coat pills, to treat skin rashes and even on babies’ bottoms. They were also used as dye plants.

Another property of spores is that they are highly flammable. This lead to them being used by Native Americans for ceremonial purposes, in early flash photography, fireworks and in stage productions. Lycopodium powder is still sold for many purposes including their pyrotechnic properties!

Happy Horticultural New Year!

Dawn P.

 

new year new start

The start of the New Year is a good time to start new in the gardening year too. There is always something new to plant or try, or a method of gardening to embrace. The down-time of winter offers the opportunity to seek out something new.

Start a new plant. Visit the warmth of indoor greenhouses to lift our moods and possibly find a new houseplant. Succulents are readily available and easy to grow if you have a sunny window. Use a well-draining potting mix formulated especially for cactus and succulents to get them off with a good beginning. Water only when the top inch or so of soil is dry.

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Another popular houseplant with many different varieties and forms is Peperomia. They come with solid green or variegated leaves, some with white and others with reddish hues. Textures of the leaves vary by species with some smooth and others crinkled.  All plants in the Pipericeae family are non-toxic making them safe for homes with pets and small children. Known for its low-maintenance requirements, they will happily grow in bright, non-direct light and moist but well-drained potting medium. They have a slower rate of growth, keeping them in bounds of the container for a long time before the need to repot in a larger size container.

Start a garden journal. By tracking the bloom times and placement of perennials and trees, you might see a new combination to try. Having the plant’s location marked on paper helps one to find it in the garden in late fall or early spring, when it is the ideal time to move. Monitor and record the sunlight amounts throughout the year to see how shade increases over time as neighboring trees grow taller. A sunny yard can change to part or full shade over a decade or two. Vegetable garden journals and keep track of that exceptional tomato grown last year, or maybe the one that didn’t produce as advertised. This information will help plan the next vegetable garden with better or continued success.

garden journal

Start a new class to add you knowledge base of horticulture. UConn Master Gardeners offer advanced, topic specific classes around the state. These Garden Master classes are offered to the general public at a slightly higher price than UConn certified master gardeners, and well worth it. Topics range from woody plant identification to botanical drawing. Visit the garden master catalog to view classes.

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The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection offer a wide range of outdoor classes and activities. Safety in outdoor sports is heavily reinforced if you interest is in boating, fishing, trapping or hunting. Their goal is education for you to keep yourself safe while starting a new outside activity. Classes on the environment and educational hikes are offered around the state at seven different educational facilities. 

trailhike

Start a new book. New publications in the non-fiction realm of plants include three winners from the America Horticultural Society. One is about bees and native plants needed to feed them, another on the subject of a cut flower farm, and the third is about trees of North America. There is many other great garden and plant books to start you own self-guided learning on subjects of interest to you. I was gifted the two below written by Carol J. Michel which look entertaining and educational.

books

Start anew by joining a group of like-minded plant people. Garden clubs offer talks and friendship with other members, and some have civic minded projects involving gardening, usually by town. The CT Horticultural Society offers monthly lectures to state wide members and others, for a fee, and occasional hands on workshops. They list their scheduled speakers on their website. Other groups are focused on one subject, such as the CT Valley Mycological Society where you can learn all about mushrooms and fungi. There is also the Hardy Plant Society, and the CT Rose Society. If your tastes are more specific, check out the Iris Society or the CT Dahlia Society.

-Carol Quish

It’s that time of the year again: the Christmas holidays are days away. If you are looking for last-minute gifts for the gardener in your life then here are some ideas, including some new trends.

Herb-growing kits are one of the latest trends in indoor gardening. I always bring an herb planter in at the end of October when it gets too cold at night for it to remain out of doors. It generally does very well in a southwest-facing den window for a few months but the reduced sunlight and cooler nighttime temperatures usually cause it to gradually decline in vigor.

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Unfortunately, the window in my kitchen faces northeast and therefore is the least desirable growing spot in our house. There are many herb growing kits available now that have growing lights built into the units so that if you or your gift recipient also have a kitchen with a window that gets low light (or no window at all), fresh herbs can still be within reach of your culinary efforts.

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There are more than a few lower maintenance herb kits that come in a variety of containers, one of which is sure to fit the décor of any home. Burlap or heavy paper bags come complete with all that is needed to grow flowers and herbs.

The Eggling kits would be a great gift for a young gardener who would really enjoy cracking open the top of the egg to see that it contains everything (except water) that is required to grow herbs, strawberries, or flowers. Colored glass canning jars contain everything from herbs to palm trees!

Another way to grow fresh herbs or micro-greens is a portable water garden that incorporates a fish tank and a plant bed in a unique symbiotic relationship. We gave one of these to our daughter for her birthday in April and have seen the mini-aquaponic system in action. The cut-and-come-again micro-greens that sprout and grow to harvesting size in a week to ten days include radishes, broccoli, arugula, spinach, and wheat grass.

This closed system circulates the water from the fish tank up through the rock garden that sits atop the tank. As this water is rich in fish waste it supplies fertilizer to the plant’s roots. The water that is returned to the fish tank has been cleaned by the plants.

Once the herbs have been grown, whether indoor or out, there are special containers to keep them fresh and assorted culinary tools to prepare them such as a stripper that eases the removal of small leaves from herbs such as rosemary and thyme. A larger variation of the stripper works well with larger-leafed vegetables like kale. A cactus-shaped herb infuser allows any cook to add a bouquet garni to their cooking pot and then easily remove it before serving.

If your gift designee would prefer to adorn their table with flowers rather than grow them then there are plates for every style, from bold orange, green and black tropicals to powder blue backgrounds with delicate cherry blossoms to, my favorite, the high-contrast black and cream Queen Anne’s lace.

And of course, there is the traditional and always welcomed hostess gift of a flowering plant. Poinsettias are not the only way to brighten a home during the winter. Florist’s departments are teeming with an abundance of colorful blooms. Kalanchoe is a succulent houseplant that may be found with white, red, yellow, orange, and fuchsia long-lasting flowers.

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Anthurium, with its dark green, heart-shaped leaves and a tall spike of minute flowers that sit above a brightly-colored bract that may be white, pink, or red is a lovely houseplant.

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Flowering plants in the Cyclamen species include Cyclamen persicum and C. coum, both of which bloom in the winter and C. repandum which blooms in the spring would be welcome gifts. Cyclamen have beautifully variegated leaves and up-swept flower petals that range from white to soft pink to deep red.

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But if you are looking for a flowering plant that comes in a color to match any décor than nothing can top the appeal of the dramatic Phalaenopsis orchid hybrids. As seen in the image below, they are available in a veritable rainbow of colors.

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Here’s a  suggestion that may also be a final destination for plant and herb refuse: a kitchen compost bin. Now available in many materials and sizes, these bins make composting easy and may only need to be emptied on a weekly basis, perhaps a bit more often if the household is basically vegetarian like ours is or if there is a coffee-lover filling it with used grounds.

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If your gardener is also a coffee lover, then these mugs that reflect the current succulent houseplant trend would receive a warm welcome.

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Its not too late to shop for your favorite gardener or, if one or two of these gifts happened to catch your eye, then print this off, circle your choices and leave it where Santa may find it!

Susan Pelton

All images by S. Pelton

Like many children, I found the Christmas season to be full of excitement and anticipation. What would we get from Santa? Would my parents and siblings like the gifts I got them? Did we make enough cookies for the neighborhood Christmas Eve carol stroll? Would there be snow on the ground? We never had to wonder about the Christmas tree, however, as my Dad always came home with a freshly cut, heavily scented balsam fir.

balsam fir & me

Balsam firs were our family’s traditional tree. Photo by dmp.

For years after leaving home, I followed this family tradition. After working in the horticultural industry and visiting local tree farms, I discovered a host of evergreen species that also would fit that perfect Christmas tree bill. Over the years, holiday décor included a Scots pine, white spruce, Douglas fir, a living Colorado blue spruce (planted in the white garden) and Fraser firs. Of them all, Fraser fir became our favorite.

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Colorado blue spruce planted in white garden years ago. Photo by dmp.

And, it is not just so with our family as according to several sources, Fraser firs are the nation’s most popular Christmas tree with Douglas fir and balsam fir running second and third, and the species most frequently chosen as the Christmas tree at the White House. As Fraser firs have such a limited native range, their rise to popularity is quite remarkable and the cultivation of this endangered species assures it will live on.

fraser fir needles

Fraser fir needles. Photo by dmp, 2018.

The Fraser Fir (Abies fraseri) is a small to medium size evergreen tree named after the Scottish botanist, John Fraser (1750 – 1811) who made numerous botanical forays into the Appalachian region. It is endemic to a small, high elevation portion of the southern Appalachian Mountain range extending from eastern Tennessee to southwest Virginia to western North Carolina. This species grows in a biome referred to as a cool temperature rainforest distinguished by 75 to 100 inches of annual precipitation with summer highs in the 60s F and winter lows around 30 F. It grows on steep slopes with shallow, acidic soils and it is crucial to watershed protection.

At higher elevations, it grows in relatively pure stands but at lower heights it is associated with red spruce, yellow birch, pin cherry, mountain ash, eastern hemlock and yellow buckeye. Aside from its key role of holding onto the shallow soils and providing a beautiful scenic backdrop, Fraser fir seeds are a major food source for red squirrels. According to the Global Tree Campaign, Fraser firs are also essential to several other rarer species including the Weller’s salamander, the spruce-fir moss spider, the northern flying squirrel and also rock gnome lichens and (American) mountain ash.

Carolina northern flying squirrel from www.ncpedia.org

Carolina northern flying squirrel. Photo from http://www.ncpedia.org

Typically, Fraser firs grow about 50 to 60 feet high with a trunk up to 2 feet in diameter. The average lifespan is 150 years. They are noted for their dark green, fragrant foliage with one-half to one-inch long needles arranged spirally around the stem. This species is monecious meaning that both male and female flowers (strobili) are produced on the same tree. The flowers are pollinated by wind and cones form the same year. They ripen in fall and the winged seeds are wind dispersed some falling up to a mile away.

fraser fir cones from uconn plant database

Fraser fir cones from UConn Plant Database. http://www.hort.uconn.edu

Seeds do not seem to require a cold stratification for successful germination but the rate of seeds that germinate appears to be related to their maturity. Seeds released or collected from cones later in the season germinate at a higher rate than those collected or released earlier in the fall. The seeds can germinate on bare soil, moss, peat, tree stumps or litter but moisture is the key. Moss and peat stay moist longer and are better germination beds. Fraser firs are very shade tolerant so some seeds will germinate under the parent trees but the rate of growth is incredibly slow (2 to 3 feet in 20 years) until eventually exposed to sunlight whether due to windthrow or the death of parent trees. Fraser fir grows relatively fast on sunny sites, however, easily reaching 6 to 7 feet in less than 10 years.

The greenish brown bark of younger trees has resin-filled blisters on it. Because of this trait, sometimes Fraser firs were referred to as ‘she-balsams’ and distinguished from their less resinous companion species, the red spruce that were called ‘he-balsams’. Greyish fissures appear with age.

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Fraser fir bark with blisters and fissures. Photo by dmp, 2018

Last year, the Mother Nature Network listed Fraser firs as one of the 11 most endangered trees in the U.S. The demise of the natural range of the tree is due to man-made causes such as air pollution and acid rain but mostly because of an invasive insect, the balsam woolly adelgid. This tiny, sucking insect was discovered on Mount Mitchell in North Carolina in 1957 and has spread pretty much through Fraser fir’s native range killing millions of trees. The insects attach themselves to stems, needles and bud bases relieving the tree of its vital fluids and resulting in the death of the tree in about 2 to 5 years. Even if they just weaken the tree, they open it up to attack from other insects such as bark beetles as well as diseases. Unfortunately, no one has found an economical way to treat Fraser firs against this insect in their natural habitat. At the present time, the young seedlings that are rising up as the overstory dies out are being watched for signs of attack by or resistance to the adelgids.

While it is true that Fraser fir is fighting for its life, so to speak, in the wild, we Fraser fir Christmas tree lovers are making sure that this tree species will never die out. Millions of Fraser firs are grown throughout the United States and Canada as well as in the United Kingdom because of its lush, soft, green needles, its perfect conical shape, its woodsy fragrance and best of all, its long needle retention.

Not only does Fraser fir make an ideal indoor Christmas tree, but it also makes an ideal outdoor one. Back in 1993, I worked at the first New England Grows, which I believe was held at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. As we were disassembling our exhibits, one of the growers was giving away seedlings of various evergreens and I brought home two foot-tall Fraser firs. After a few years, we started decorating one with white lights and continued to shape it year after year while leaving the other unpruned. It’s pretty amazing to think that the tree on the far right and the one on the far left are the same age – a little more than 25 years old. Right now the pruned tree is about 14 feet high and the unpruned one maybe about 35 feet tall.

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The evergreen trees on far right and far left are 2 same aged Fraser firs. Photo by dmp, 2018.

So, if you aren’t already a Fraser fir aficionado, consider introducing yourself to one at your local Christmas tree farm. You may find yourself joining the fan club and at the same time encouraging the cultivation of an endangered species and supporting your local farmer.

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Fraser fir lit up with wooden animals around it. Photo by dmp, 2018.

A happy holiday season to all!

Dawn P.`

geranium_lemon, missouri.edu

Lemon Scented Geranium, photo from Missouri.edu

As cold weather arrives, my garden focus switches to houseplants. I am particularly fond of growing scented geraniums inside the home. They are easy to grow and smell great, releasing aromatic oils into the air when their leaves are gently stroked, refreshing the stale scents of enclosed houses. Houseplants in general are a great way to increase the moisture level of dry, winter-heated air as water is added to their soil, and some moisture will evaporate into the air surrounding the plants.

Scented geraniums are in the genus Pelargonium, the same as the annual geranium with the large red, white or pink ball of a flower head. Even though both of these types of Pelargonium are have the common name of geranium, neither are related to the true perennial geranium (Geranium maculatum), commonly called cranesbill. Pelargonium species are not hardy in areas with cold winters. Scented geraniums can be planted outside and treated as an annual in addition to being a houseplant. They are native to South Africa, and were introduced to Europe in the 17th century by plant collectors as was popular at that time. Scented plants were especially prized in that era of limited sanitation and personal hygiene. Leaves and flowers were used in tussy-mussies to be carried by ladies whom wanted to smell better. The plant flower a smaller pale colored flower, usually pink or lilac depending on the specific variety.

scente geranium, arnold arboretum, historical print

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mosquito_citronella_geranium_pelargonium_Barbara H. Smith, ©2018 HGIC, Clemson Extension.jpg

photo by Barbara H. Smith, ©2018 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Today scented geraniums are prized house plants for a sunny window or greenhouse. Leaves are edible, can be tossed in a salad or used as a garnish without fear of toxicity. Leaves are used as tea, and can be added to baked goods. Lining the bottom of a greased cake with artistically arranged leaves, then gently pouring in the batter creates a pretty and tasty dessert. Add one cup of fresh crushed leaves to simmering apple juice to make into flavored apple jelly following apple jelly recipe on pectin container. Dried leaves can be added to pot pourri and added to muslin sachet bags to place in a drawer. Sachets can also be used in hot baths or a relaxing spa experience.

The flavors or scents of scented geraniums are broken into several groups. The Rose Scented Group contain a number of different varieties with strong, clear rose scents to ones with a softer rose fragrance. Atomic Snowflake has a lemon-rose scent. Another scent group is the Citrus Scented geraniums. Lemon Crispum has a strong lemony fragrance, while Lime smells like a key lime pie. Prince of Orange sports crinkly leaves to emit its orange scent. The Fruit and Spice Group contain plants that smell like ginger, nutmeg apple and even strawberry. These are especially good in baked goods. The Mint Group, true to its name, has different plants with varying grades of minty scents. Peppermint, a peppermint lemon and a pungent peppermint with rose notes are all different. The last group is the Pungent Group with musky, oak, and camphor fragrances. It is best to feel the leaves and smell the plants before deciding to take one home to be sure it is agreeable to your nose and palate.

scented geranium, white flower farm photo

Scented geranium varieties, photo WhiteFlowerFarm.com

Growing requirements for all scented geraniums are fairly easy. They need a sunny south or west window or fluorescent lights, and well drained, light potting mix. Water them when the soil is dry to the touch. If the soil is keep soggy, the roots will rot. Drain any water from the saucer below the pot to avoid over saturation. Temperatures for optimum growth are in the range of 55 to 70 degrees F. Fertilize with a basic houseplant fertilizer every three month. Too much fertilizer leads to weaker growth and less scent production. Prune back the plant if it begins to grow too large, saving the trimmings of course!

Lemon Scented geranium at FS, DPettinelli

Lemon Scented Geranium on display at the flower show. photo by D. Pettinelli.

“Better to see something once than hear about it a thousand times”

  • Asian proverb

There are so many places of interest in our small state of Connecticut that we should never lack for something new to do, or even to  do  again, if one really enjoyed it the first time. Here are some of the excursions that I have really enjoyed- and some of them have the added attraction of being free-of-charge, once you get there.

The West Cornwall Covered bridge is a wooden covered truss bridge built over the Housatonic River in Cornwall, Connecticut. You can drive over the bridge or walk over and take in scenic views upstream and downstream. On the eastern side there is a paved walking trail that follows the river for several hundred yards up the river on the eastern bank. This bridge is found at the junction of routes 7 and 4.

looking upstream from the Cornwall covered bridge Pamm Cooper photo

looking upstream while midway across the Cornwall covered bridge

Kent Falls State Park, located on Route 7 in Kent, features a series of waterfalls that that cascade down 250 feet through the woods. The Falls Brook from the town of Warren is the stream that feeds this series of water falls, and it enters the Housatonic River a quarter mile away after completing its journey down. A hiking trail a quarter mile long is alongside the falls and, although it is steep, it is not a hard walk. There are scenic vantage points and steps built in places along the way.

Kent falls lower section Pamm Cooper photo

Kent Falls at its lowest section

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Spikenard abounds in the open woods alongside kent Falls

Also along route 7 in Kent is Bull’s Bridge, a covered bridge that opened in 1842 and which spans a gorge along the Housatonic River.  There is a hydroelectric dam outlet just upstream from the bridge that the water passes through with enormous power. There is a small trail along the river’s edge where the noise and power of the raging water can be viewed safely.

gorge below Bull'S Bridge

Gorge rapids just above Bull’s Bridge

The Thimble Islands are a group of small islands in Long Island Sound in the harbor of Stony Creek in Branford.  These islands are made up of pink granite bedrock, and they are actually the tops of hills that existed prior to the last ice age, rather than deposits of rubble that make up most islands that resulted from retreating glaciers. They are thus very stable islands and many are privately owned, and may have one to several summer homes on them.  There are tour boats that will take you on a 45 minute trip around the islands for under $20.00.

two of the thimble islands Pamm Cooper photo

Two of the Thimble Islands Branford, Ct.

A Thimble Island

Another of the Thimble Islands

Another good trip for people who don’t mind a boat ride and a little maritime history is the Light House Cruise out of New London. Taking approximately 2 hours, this trip is rich with history and scenic views along the Thames River and into Long Island Sound. Some of the lighthouses featured are the New London Harbor lighthouse, on the west entrance to New London Harbor, the Latimer reef lighthouse on Fisher’s Island Sound, and the Race Rock lighthouse, which is part of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act.

Race Rock lighthouse Pamm Cooper photo

Race Rock Lighthouse

In Collinsville, there is an old factory, the Collins Company, which was a world-renowned manufacturer of cutting tools, like axes, machetes, picks and knives. Sited on the Farmington River, this picturesque factory opened in 1826. There is a trail for walking and biking along the Farmington River not too far from this old factory that can be accessed in various places on route 4.

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Old Collins Company in Collinsville

Downtown Hartford has many points of interest including Bushnell Park, conceived by the Reverend Horace Bushnell and designed by Hartford native Frederick Law Olmsted. There are many beautiful specimen trees including the state champion turkey oak, and a double-trunked gingko. While at the park, you may want to ride the famous carousel, which is one of only three left in existence that feature the horses carved by Russian immigrants Stein and Goldstein. Downtown Hartford is within walking distance of the park and has many buildings of interest, including the blue windowed 18-story,skyscraper  at the northeast corner of Pearl and Trumbull streets.

State champ[ion turkey oak Quercus cerris Cirumference 17 feet Bushnell Park

State champion tree-turkey oak in Bushnell park

Carousel horse- Bushnell Park in Hartford

Carousel in Bushnell Park in Hartford

gold building reflections downtown Hartford pamm Cooper photo

Building reflected from the Gold Building windows in downtown Hartford

Blue glass skyscraper behind the Mechanics Savings Bank in downtown Hartford -Copyright Pamm Cooper 2013

Skyscraper with blue tinted windows on Pearl Street in Hartford- Pamm Cooper photo

Another good day trip is a visit to Harkness Park in Waterford. Featuring flower gardens, panoramic views of Long Island Sound, and the Roman Renaissance Classical Revival mansion of the Harkness family, this place has something for everyone. There are four 111 year old full thread leaf maple tress creating a stately grove near the owners’ dog cemetery, plus numerous themed gardens with statuary and other features. There is a stretch of beach where you can sit or take a walk, but no swimming is allowed, or you can fish if you like.

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Annual cutting garden at Harkness Park

There are many more places of interest in Connecticut that make for interesting day trips, and since we have such a small state, several destinations that are near each other can be undertaken in a single day. Old Wethersfield and Old Main Street in South Windsor both have wonderful old colonial era buildings, for instance, and are a hop, skip and jump away from each other. Most of the places and trips mentioned above require little hiking, and have either dramatic or peaceful sights and sounds unique to their place in the outdoors- like rushing water, views of the sound, boat horns and perhaps the fragrance of flowers.

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Farm on Newberry Road off historic Main Street in South Windsor

Pamm Cooper

 

 

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