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.

With the 2016 Summer Olympics comes the quest for gold. We may not all be athletes (at least of Olympian stature) but that does not mean we cannot enjoy the excitement and warmth of gold right in our own yards. Gold-leaved plants are in a category all by themselves. They are able to make our gardens shine especially in partially shaded areas where that touch of gold just illuminates a dark corner or monotonous stretch of green.

When considering that point of light to add to your gardens, keep in mind that gold coloration can be anywhere in the range from chartreuse to a deep gold. If you are searching for a certain hue, check out the plant at local nurseries before purchasing it and adding it to one of your gardens. While a hedge of the same golden leaved plant can be quite effective in some landscapes, keep in mind that gold foliaged plants are most useful as a focal point in the garden. Overuse may lessen their impact and even be a bit distracting.

While I see it time and time again, I really do not like any of the gold shades combined with pink but I think they look striking combined with purple or blue or even with fiery shades of orange and red. I also do not like golds with pure whites but with more vanilla colored blossoms like aruncus or filipendulas or white Japanese burnet (sanguisorba) or even those vanilla ‘white’ marigolds.

Azalea, vinca and cypress

Personally I find the combination of the light pink azalea and gold thread cypress not that appealing.

As a general rule of thumb, many plants with bright yellow or gold foliage have a tendency to fade to a more green color when exposed to hot, mid-day to late day sun. When planting these gold-foliaged selections in an all-day sunny site, look for varieties that claim they do not scorch.

Some of UConn’s Ornamental Horticulture Professors weighed in on their favorite gold-leaved plants. Dr. Jessica Lubell votes for Sumac ‘Tiger Eyes’ (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’ Tiger Eyes). This 6 foot tall shrub has pinnate compound leaves that start out as chartreuse in the spring then mature to a clear yellow. ‘Tiger Eyes’ has notable fall foliage coloration as well adding in scarlet and orange tones. The plants has purplish fuzzy stems that contrast nicely with the lacy yellow foliage. Plant in full sun for best color and be aware that although slowly, it does spread by suckers.

rhus typina tiger eyes missouribotanicalgarden.org

Rhus typina ‘Tiger Eyes’ from http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org

A favorite of Dr. Julia Kuzovkina is the golden pussy willow (Salix caprea), ‘Ogon’. The word ‘ogon’ means yellow or gold in Japanese so you can guess that this plant is from Asia. This plant grows as a small tree or large shrub. Soft catkins are followed by bright yellowish gold leaves that do become greener in color as the season progresses. It tolerates average to moist soils and should be cut back regularly to stimulate new shoots which have the best yellow color.

Gold Pussy Willow Broken Arrow

Golden Pussy Willow. Photo by http://www.brokenarrownursery.com

Another plant, also called ‘Ogon’, rates high with Dr. Mark Brand. His choice for a gold accent in your garden is a spirea (Spirea thunbergii ‘Ogon’). This compact shrub grows about 3 to 5 feet high and wide. If it becomes a bit sprawly, cut it down to about 6 inches in early spring and it will grow back more compact. In the spring it is covered with small white blossoms attractive to butterflies. The foliage remains attractive into the fall and it tolerates full sun.

Ogon spirea

‘Ogon’ spirea. Photo from http://www.ag.tennessee.edu

Two other species of shrubs that are better planted in a part shaded area to retain their attractive golden foliage are ‘Golden Glow’ dogwood (Cornus hesseyii) and ‘Little Honey’ oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). Both are relatively small shrubs being 4 foot high and wide or less and both have white flowers. The dogwood has red twigs which also add some winter interest to the garden.

When it comes to listing my favorite golden leaved plant, I am torn between the many wonderful cultivars of coleus with leaves ranging from clear gold to lemon yellow to chartreuse to the soft, billowy, waterfall blades of Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra).

Coleus, of course, are annuals in our climate but they can be used so effectively in containers and in garden beds. I like ‘Spiced Curry’ with its striking gold and maroon leaves and chartreuse ‘Wasabi’ the best but many local garden centers have other intriguing cultivars as well.

Japanese forest grass is just perfect for a gold flowing plant to put a spotlight in shaded areas. It does best in at least part shade and gets about one and a half feet tall and wide. Clumps spread very slowly and it is quite drought tolerant when established.

Blk Mondo Grass & Hakone grass Elm Bank

Japanese forest grass and black mondo grass. Photo by DMP

There are so many more golden foliage plants out there from trees to shrubs, vines to groundcovers, and annuals to perennials. Check out ‘Sweet Kate’ spiderwort, caryopteris ‘Sunshine Blue’ and the chartreuse sweet potato vine. There are too many gold leaved hostas to name but look for the 2016 hosta of the year, ‘Curly Fries’ at your local garden center. Think about where that bright spot might just liven up a dull planting and consider how gold can be a winning strategy in your garden. And feel free to share your favorite gold leaved plant with us.

curly fries 2016 hosta of year Walters Gardens

‘Curly Fries’ 2016 Hosta of the Year. Photo from Walters Gardens

Dawn P.

Spring is busting out all over. This week we have jumped from the cooler temperatures right into the warmth of summer like weather. It is almost like we didn’t even have a spring after that long winter. For plants, this means a huge jump in pushing out their spring flowers and leaves quickly, denying us the weeks of leisurely enjoying the blossoms as they slowly open, instead now they are rushing to develop as the heat is hitting. The plants are as rushed as we are. This week, two of my favorite spring bloomers, Shadblow and Cornell Pink Azalea, popped open and are already starting to fade after just a few days.

amelanchier flowers Pamm's photo

Amelanchier flowers Pamm Cooper photo

Amelanchier canandensis, aka Shadblow. Photo by Pamm Cooper

Amelanchier canandensis, aka Shadblow. Photo by Pamm Cooper

Amelanchier canadensis is commonly called Serviceberry or Shadblow is a wonderful small, native tree.Other names for the shrub or small tree are Juneberry, saskatoon, and sugarplum.  The tree grows to only 20 feet and appears airy with leaves on the smaller side of 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches long and one inch wide.It looks good in all seasons with its grey, striped bark and multi-stemmed habit. In the wild, colonies form into a thicket when it is left to produce suckers from the bottom. Single plants can be pruned up into a tree form. Serviceberry is hardy to zone 3 growing from Maine south to the Carolinas. It can be found in swamps, water edges and bogs as it likes wet feet and moist soil. However I have seen it grow happily, even thriving in drier situations proving its adaptability. The white spring flowers are 2 to 3 inches long with obovate petals. The flowers come out before the leaves emerge. After flower petals drop, red fruit is produce during the summer. The fruit will turn black when ripe. The fruit is tasty and edible, but difficult to harvest before the birds strip the tree clean. The leaves are a common host for several caterpillars ensuring a population of butterflies nearby.

The common name Shadblow comes from the timing of the white flowers blowing on the wind at the same time the shad fish are spawning in the Connecticut River. This might just be local folklore, but I have heard it many times from shad fishermen. Several named varieties are in cultivation and marketed under the names and description as follows.

‘Glennform’ (Rainbow Pillar®) – Has an more upright, shrubby growth habit, good for hedging. 20 feet tall.

‘Prince William’– Shrub habit, 10 feet tall, with good, multi-colored fall leaves and good fruit set.

‘Sprizam’ (Spring Glory®) – A compact shrub, 12 feet tall, 8-10 feet wide with yellow-orange fall leaves.

‘Trazam’ (Tradition®) – More of a tree variety, growing 25 feet tall with a central leader and good fall color.

Cornell Pink Azalea, Rhododendron mucronulatum, Pamm Cooper photo

Cornell Pink Azalea, Rhododendron mucronulatum, Pamm Cooper photo

Cornell Pink Azalea is an early spring bloomer bursting out in clear pink blossoms before it puts out leaves. Usually covered with flowers from bottom of stems to their tops. Their are several varieties of Rhododendron mucronulatum but Cornell Pink is most commonly found in the trade. There is also a variety sold as  ‘Storrs Pink’ but appears to be the same as ‘Cornell Pink’. Both are very reliable, hardy plants, providing bright, spring color every year. The shrub is 4 to 8 feet tall and wide making a nice mound of flowers in the spring and green foliage in the summer. Fall leaves will be yellow to orange before the drop for the winter. Summer fruit is a small capsule, not normally noticed or significant.

Rhodendron mucronulatum is native to China, Korea and Japan. It is hardy to zone 4 and prefers full sun to light shade for best flower show. Provide good drainage, acidic soil and high organic matter to keep this shrub going strong. It looks beautiful in a mass planting in a large space backed up by evergreens.

Gingko Buds, Photo by Pamm Cooper

Gingko Buds, Photo by Pamm Cooper

Another favorite tree showing its beautiful flower buds is Gingko biloba. This is a male flower on a male tree. The flowers are produced on the shortened spurwood, which are compressed, never growing long. You can see the many years of growth rings just below the bud. Lichen is growing on the stem just below the spur containing the flower, adding a bit of interest to the photo by my co-worker, Pamm Cooper. Female trees have female flowers and produce a fruit which, when ripe, smells a lot like vomit. I suggest if you are purchasing a gingko tree, chose a male.

-Carol Quish

photo by Joey Williamson, Clemson Extension

The hydrangea in front of my house is just a bunch of bare sticks right now, screaming to be cut down. It looks like quite a leafless eyesore after losing  foliage last fall. During the winter the local chickadees use it as a perch beneath the hanging bird feeder . The avian flocks do not mind its ugliness. I don’t mind it either knowing the flower buds are on those naked sticks, waiting for the coming spring and summer to bloom.There are five different types of hydrangeas. Some bloom on old wood and some on new wood.

My hydrangea is a Hydrangea macrophylla or Bigleaf Hydrangea. The ones that bloom on old wood carry the next year’s flower buds on the barren sticks, through the fall, winter and next spring. If these are pruned during the fall, winter or spring, the flower buds will be removed. The plant will grow new stems and leaves from the base of the plants, but these stalks will NOT contain flower buds, therefore no flowers that year. The flower buds are produced and set after the plant flowers in June and July but before fall. Any pruning should be done as the flowers fade during the summer to avoid cutting off the buds. I remember to prune Hydrangea macrophylla when I cut flowers for a vase to bring inside. Sometimes our winters are just too cold for the tender over-wintering buds, killing the buds, resulting in no flowers the following summer even if pruned correctly.

Hydrangea macrophyllas are divided into two groups,  Hortesia and Lacecap. Hortensias have big ball flower forms. Lacecaps have a somewhat flat top shaped flower. These bloom on old wood, prune after flowering but before August 1st.

Hortensia Hydrangea, Photo: U.S. National Arboretum

Lacecap Hydrangea, Photo: Gary Wade

Hydrangea quercifolia, commonly called Oakleaf Hydrangea also blooms on old wood. Prune after flowering.  If terminal buds are killed during winter, no flowers will be produce. Should be protected in zone 5.

Oakleaf Hydrangea, johnston.ces.ncsu.edu

Two other common hydrangea bloom on new wood, wood produce from the plant during the same year. These are Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora, commonly called Panicle or PG Hydrangea and Hydrangea arborescens, commonly called Smooth Hydrangea. These can be pruned in late fall, winter or early spring. The flower buds will be produced on the new wood produced in spring.

Hydrangea paniculata, Panicle Hydrangea. Prune in early spring.

Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora, photo by Karen Russ, Clemson Extension

Hydrangea arborescens, Smooth Hydrangea blooms on new wood. Prune in winter or early spring.

Hydrangeas arborescens - Annabelle, - Photo: Beth Jarvis