maple tree color

Fall has settled in finally, bringing its colors and cool weather. Some foliage colors were mediocre this year, always to due to the weather. It stayed hot for a long time and we did not get the cool night temperatures which help to trigger the trees to slow down and get ready for dormancy with the side effect of changing leaf color. Still there were some nice sights around the state. Japanese maple ‘Full Moon’ is a reliably consistent beauty sporting bright red leaves for a week or more before dropping its foliage.

Full moon Japanese Maple

Full Moon Japanese Maple

Evergreen trees also drop foliage, but not all needles at once. The newer green needles will remain on the branches for several years. Eastern white pines will shed their oldest, inner most bundles of needles each year by first turning yellow, then brown and drop. Notice the healthy, younger green needles are retained on the growing ends of the branches.

Fall is time of seed and fruit production in the cycle of life of plants. Crabapples are a great source of food for birds and animals throughout the winter. Some trees have very persistent fruit, hanging on throughout the season, ensuring feathered and fur beings a meal. Viburnum species also are in fruit as are winterberries.

Another interesting tree producing seed pods is the Japanese pagoda tree, Styphnolobium japonicum. It also goes by its other common name Chinese scholar tree due to it commonly being planted around Buddhist temples in Japan. It is native to China and Korea. Panicles of scented white flowers are produced in late summer, turning into strings of pop bead looking yellow seed pods in fall. Pods then turn brown staying on the tree though winter. Japanese pagoda tree makes a great, small specimen tree in yards and larger gardens.

Japanese pagoda tree

Japanese Pagoda Tree

Fall is a good time to gather dried seeds from annuals and perennials you wish to grow again. Many reseeding annuals drop their seed and seem to pop up as weeds. Collect the seed in paper envelopes or containers to grow them where you want them next year. Cleome, Verbena bonariensis, dill and fennel are just a few that consistently popup all over my gardens. The annual yellow and orange gloriosa daisy evens spread to my adjacent neighbors from the birds eating the seed heads I leave up for them. Some hybrid seeds will not come back the same if you save and plant the seed the following year. Every year I plant blue or blue striped forms of morning glory to climb up the gazebo. They set tons of seeds and drop to the ground to sprout and grow the next year. Unfortunately, they come back a deep purple, not the blue. If I don’t rouge out the volunteers from the new blue flowered plants I put in each year, I will have a mixed show of the blue I newly planted and purple that reseeded themselves. I consider the purple weeds, but others might disagree.

Speaking of weeds, I noticed it was a banner year for Pennsylvania smartweed, Persicaria pensylvanica,   formerly called Polygonum pensyvanicum . Smartweed loves it moist and it responded well to all the rain we had this spring and summer, growing like gangbusters and producing a multitude of seed. On the positive side, songbirds love the seed and will be well fed during their time here. Too bad the prolific seed production is going to add to the seed bank in the soil for following years.

lady's thumb weed

Pennsylvania Smartweed

This year of moisture also lead to much fungal production. Tomatoes were more likely to succumb to early blight and Septoria leaf spot due to leaf wetness aiding disease development and spread. Fungicides applied before fungus hits can protect plants. So will proper spacing of plants and pruning branches to increase airflow and dry leaves. High humidity and lots of moisture ensures mildews, too. Lilacs will develop powdery mildew during mid-summer, but still come back strongly the next year. I just chose to not look at them after August.

lilac powdery mildew

Lilac leaves with powdery mildew

Insects are always a part of the garden be it vegetable or perennial. We need the insects for pollination and cycle of all life. The pest ones were not too bad this year as I kept up the removal and scouting for eggs on the squash and squishing caterpillars and worms on the kale, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Tomato hornworms made a brief appearance, but I caught them in time before much damage was done. Thankfully the cucumber beetles were low in numbers this year and manageable with hand picking them off. I am often fascinated with the beauty and intricacies of insects. I found the delicate dragonfly dead on my breezeway and could not help but marvel at its color and patterns on its body. Dragonflies dart about the yard zigging and zagging at breakneck speed while feeding on the tornado of gnats in the very late afternoon. I call it the dance of the dragonfly and now I see they come dressed in their finery for the occasion.

Dragonfly head


The season wasn’t all work, nor should it be. We made time to enjoy the fruits of our labor and spaces we created, and hope did also. With summer and the main growing season are behind us, I hope it left mark on your heart and memories for your mind, until next year when we can all try again, try some new plant and find a new adventure.

-Carol Quish, all photos copyright C. Quish

boat wake trail in ocean

Having just finished a fine Easter dinner (featuring a UConn holiday ham) at a sibling’s house this past weekend, perhaps a bit full from overindulging in our celebratory repast, we were offered a shot of raspberry shrub as a digestive aid. This interesting concoction was both sweet and sour with strong fruity and slight lavender overtones.

Turns out shrubs are a type of drinking vinegars dating back for centuries. The word shrub was most likely derived from the Arabic word ‘sharab’ which means to drink. Shrubs were created as a way to preserve fruit juices in the days before refrigeration. They were also touted as cures for dozens of ailments but especially for digestive issues. The more bitter or astringent the medicine, the more curative powers it was believed to have.


Blackberries have a short storage span but lots of antioxidants. Photo by dmp, UConn

It is believed that shrubs became associated with booze in the 1700’s when alcohol from mainland Europe was being smuggled into England to avoid tariffs. Apparently, hidden barrels of alcohol sometimes became tainted with seawater and shrubs were used to mask the off flavor. Shrubs became popular during the 1700s and 1800s and recipes for rum shrubs and brandy shrubs can be found dating back to these times.

The early English settlers that colonized New England carried over this fruit preservation method from their homeland. There seems to be a number of ways to prepare a shrub but to create this acidulated beverage there are three key ingredients: fruit, sugar and vinegar. Flavorings are added via herbs or spices. Alcohol either used as a shrub ingredient or mixed with the finished product is optional.

blackberries, sugar & vinegar

3 simple ingredients – fruit, sugar and vinegar. Photo by dmp, UConn

Select from any number of fruits when preparing a shrub including raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, rhubarb, peaches, apricots, melons, mangoes and gooseberries. Typically, granulated white sugar is used but some recipes substitute honey for the sugar and others call for turbinado or other fancy brown sugars. Red wine and apple cider vinegars are most often used to make shrubs. More adventurous shrub makers can try recipes with balsamic, coconut or champagne vinegars. Apparently, the combination of fruits, vinegars and spices in only limited by one’s imagination and probably taste buds.

basket of peaches

Basket of peaches. Photo by dmp, UConn

A most simple recipe suggests using 1 part each fruit, sugar and vinegar. Crush or cut up the fruit and stir in sugar. Cover. Allow to draw out the juices for a day or two in the refrigerator. Next strain this mixture so just a sugary syrup remains. Lightly press fruit when straining to obtain as much juice as possible. Add your choice of vinegar, mix well, transfer to a clean bottle and store in the refrigerator. Shake occasionally and after 2 to 3 weeks, taste your creation.

The flavor should be a pleasant mix of tart and sweet. Tangy vinegar and sugary sweetness mellow over time giving the shrub a rich, fruity flavor with just the right touch of both sweet and sour. When pleased with the result, serve your shrub mixed with flat or sparkling water, green tea, in a mixed drink or as a shot straight up.

shrub 2

Cherry, yarrow and spearmint shrub. Photo by dmp, UConn

The mellowing or blending of flavors in your shrub is actually the result of microbial action. Naturally occurring yeasts on the fruit and from the air cause the sugar to turn into alcohol while bacterial organisms transform the alcohol into more vinegar. The whole solution does not turn into vinegar because these microbial actions reach a happy equilibrium as it acidifies.

Other recipes start by heating the fruit and the sugar and some give directions for preparing the fruit using vinegar or alcohol such as rum or brandy. The one I tried, a raspberry lavender shrub had all the ingredients mixed together and set in a dark, cool spot for a two days before refrigerating. Check out a few different recipes to find one appealing to you. Shrubs are said to keep for several months in the refrigerator. I’ll be making my first one this weekend and be better able to judge the veracity of this statement in a few months.

Shrub 3

Raspberry lavender shrub steeping before refrigeration. Photo by dmp, UConn

Another component of shrubs to consider are the flavorings. Depending on the fruit and the vinegar or liquor used, many herbs and spices can be added to complement the base ingredients. Think of cinnamon sticks, cloves, anise star, ginger and cardamom for a spicy touch. Some fruit combine well with lavender, fennel seeds, vanilla beans or citrus peel. Peppercorns or dried chili peppers will definitely add a fiery touch. One can even try adding herbs such as lemon verbena, lemon balm, pineapple sage, basil, bay or tarragon.

Lemon Balm

Lemon balm, Photo by dmp, UConn

Shrubs sound like a fun drink to make with huge amounts of flavorful variations to try. There are many recipes online. Start with a simple one and experiment as you get more confident of the outcome.

Dawn P.

Fresh-picked strawberries

We moved into our home in December of 1996 and by June of ’97 I had broken through the sod, tilled the soil, fenced in an area, and planted a new garden. One of the first additions to that garden was a strawberry bed. Even though it took up ¼ of the space and only produced fruit during June I was always happy to have it there. Over the ensuing years the plants have, at various times, bloomed, bore fruit, sent out runners for daughter plants, and died. Three years ago I renovated the plants and moved them to a different area within the garden. This year they started to bloom around Mother’s Day and there were already a few signs of small green berries within a week. The weather during that time was unseasonably warm with a few days of temperatures close to 90° By May 15th the rainfall for Connecticut was already 1.74” below normal. Like most fruiting plants strawberries require 1” of water per week during fruit set and the growing period. Most years this is not an issue but this season has required many trips to the slowly depleting rain barrel. At least it has been warm. Some years a soggy, cold spring has led to a very small harvest. Also, temperatures that dip into the 25-35° range require covering the plants as they are susceptible to frost damage. If you have pushed their winter mulch to the side you can just bring it back over the plants should there be a frost warning.

Early spring strawberry crown

There are three types of strawberries that are generally available for the home gardener: June bearing, everbearing and day neutral. June bearing, as their name suggest, produce fruit during a 2-3 week period in June although there are early, mid and late season varieties. Everbearing strawberries have three periods of flower and fruit production during spring, summer and fall.  For better productivity and fruit quality choose day neutral over everbearing. Day neutral strawberries produce fruit throughout the growing season with few runners. If your space is limited, the soil quality is poor, or you like to plant in containers or beds, then day neutral is a good choice. Day neutral strawberries are often grown as annuals and replanted each spring. If you choose to allow the beds to carry over to the next year you may see that the yields will decline.

Strawberry flower and green berry

Strawberries prefer well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. They need full sun. Do not plant strawberries in an area that has had solanaceous crops such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant or peppers within the previous four years as non-host specific Verticillium root rot fungus also affects strawberries. Another soil-borne fungus that affects strawberries is Phytophthora fragariae (Red stele). Phytophthora fragariae is a very persistent fungus and can survive for up to 17 years once it has become established, even if no strawberries are grown during that time. Even varieties that are listed as resistant may succumb if planted in an area that has had a prior infection. Black root rot is another disease brought on by fungi, nematodes and environmental factors. Avoiding areas that become water-logged is very important when growing strawberries.

Berries from the garden

After you have enjoyed the fruit from June bearing varieties the plants should be renovated. This is the part that makes me cringe. Mow the strawberry plants to a height of 1 ½” above the crowns! It seems to go against every gardening intuition that I possess. Then fertilize with a balanced fertilizer. You may also need to narrow the plant rows to 10-12” and thin out plants that do not look healthy. Spread 1/2” of soil over all but do not bury the crowns. Be sure to continue watering through the fall.

Canned strawberry jam

Strawberries may require a bit of work but they are definitely worth the effort. Biting into a fresh-picked, still warm from the sun, strawberry is a bit of heaven. And then ladling lightly sugared berries over a biscuit with whipped cream? Yum. Or baking them into a crisp accompanied by rhubarb also fresh from the garden? So good. And of course, it doesn’t get any better than cooking them into preserves and hot water bath canning them so that they can be enjoyed all winter long. As of this week I had one 12 oz. jar left from last year’s batch. Now that I can see this year’s crop coming I popped the seal, put a nice spoonful on some cottage cheese and remembered all the reasons that I have strawberries in the garden.

The last of the jam!

Article and all images by Susan Pelton

Early autumn is such a great time in New England. We get to visit apple orchards and pumpkin fields, walk through corn mazes and go on hay rides. We snack on popcorn and apple cider, pick apples and pumpkins to cook into pies and butters and just marvel in the wonderful colors of the changing leaves. One of my favorite things about this time of year is the fall raspberry crop. Years ago we discovered that a local orchard had raspberries in the fall and we were so excited. It is something that we continue to look forward to every fall. A few years ago I picked up some raspberry canes from the North Central Conservation District Plant and Seedling sale (more about that at the end of this post) and they have established themselves nicely.

Caroline raspberries in my home garden. Image by Susan Pelton.

In order to have a fall crop of raspberries you will need to have an everbearing variety, Rubus idaeus. Unlike summer-bearing varieties which may have red, black or purple berries, the everbearing raspberries are usually red. The Fall Gold variety with its yellow fruit is actually an albino red raspberry! The cultivar that I have is ‘Caroline’. Since raspberries are self-fruiting it is not necessary to have several cultivars for pollination although each variety brings its own advantages.

With the everbearing varieties you have two options. They can be allowed to bear fruit in the summer and the fall or only in the fall. The crowns and roots of the raspberry are perennial but the individual canes live for two years. The summer-bearing raspberries will not produce on new growth (the primocanes) until the second year (the floricanes). The primocanes of everbearing raspberries will produce fruit in the fall of their first year. They will then bear fruit on those same canes the following summer. I planted canes in the spring three years ago and this was the best production year so far. If only a fall crop is desired all canes should be cut to the base before the new growth appears in the spring. For two crops a year simply thin out primocanes by cutting them back to the last visible node that had fruit or trimming any tips that are browned.

Primocanes and floricanes at Easy Pickin’s Orchard, Enfield, CT. Image by Susan Pelton.

Growing raspberries is relatively easy if you keep a few things in mind. Raspberries prefer to be planted in a narrow row or hedge and trellised. They will be in the same location for up to 15 years so choose a site that is in sun for at least 6-8 hours a day and will not block other plants. I have my canes in full sun but with their backs to a tall fence. This helps to block the wind so that they don’t get desiccated but they still get good air circulation.

A bee pollinating raspberries. Image by Susan Pelton.

If you don’t have raspberry canes as part of your habitat you may want to consider establishing a bed. The Connecticut Conservation Districts hold their Plant and Seedling sales every spring and are a great way to purchase native edible plants. They can be found online at The Connecticut Department of Agriculture has an extensive list of orchards and pick-your-own farms on their website at

Image by Susan Pelton.

Susan Pelton