Friday, December 14, 2012

Tomatoes in December? Grow the Gift of an Edible Ornament

I love the holidays.  Every December I look forward to all the Christmas trees, wreaths, cookies and ornaments   But holiday traditions don't have to be so... traditional.  If you want to give a gift with WOW factor this year, consider the 'Sweet n' Neat' tomato.

'Sweet n' Neat' Tomatoes make a
lovely, living edible ornament
'Sweet n' Neat' tomatoes are a compact variety that is content to grow on a sunny windowsill.  These edible ornaments will brighten any home or office with small red, scarlet, or yellow cherry tomatoes -- even during the winter.  Pot size isn't a major issue for 'Sweet n' Neat' -- I've heard of instances where this variety has developed fruit while still growing in the small nursery cell pack weeks before a sale.

I first heard of this variety while attending the Perennial Plant Association's 2012 symposium.  In the talk "Food for Thought, Edibles in the Landscape," Lloyd Traven of Peace Tree Farm shared his edible ornament idea with the audience, and he suggested 'Sweet n' Neat' as a good variety for the concept.

Working with Knoxville's Austin-East High School, we grew 200 edible ornaments as a fundraiser for their garden program.  There was immediate and intense interest!  This has been a very popular concept for a plant sale, and I'd definitely recommend other schools that have access to a greenhouse try this in the future.

A rosemary tree is another edible
and living holiday gift idea.
If you're looking for some seed for your home garden, there are many websites that offer yellow, red, and scarlet fruiting 'Sweet n' Neat' tomato seeds.  If you intend to grow the plants for a fundraiser, there aren't many retailers that currently sell this variety in bulk.  However, 2B Seeds does sell all three colors of 'Sweet n' Neat' in quantities of 100.

This variety may not be available from a big box store, but check with your local garden center to see if they carry any.  If not, suggest they grow some for the next holiday season!  Knoxvillians can pick up their edible ornaments by contacting myself or the lead teacher of Austin-East High School's garden program.

A rosemary tree makes another lively holiday gift.  Consider purchasing from a good local nursery instead of the grocery store or a big box store.  Rosemary grown at a local nursery is more likely to have been properly cared for and will make a more healthy gift.  In my experience, grocery chains and box stores tend to over-water their rosemary trees, which can result in an algae-ridden, smelly plant that has root rot (and who would want that?).  Be sure to inform recipients that their rosemary probably won't be hardy enough for life outdoors, and will enjoy spending chilly winters inside or in the garage.

Add a festive, living gift to your holiday traditions.  The gardeners on your Christmas list will be glad you did!

If you have any questions, ideas, or suggestions, leave a comment or shoot me an email.

How do you incorporate gardening into your holiday traditions?  What are your experiences with growing 'Sweet n' Neat' Tomatoes or rosemary trees?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Gardeners fight the winter blues with fiery red twig dogwoods

Red twig dogwoods add a splash of
color to the winter landscape
Winter is the season when the garden sleeps. Green turns to brown and flowers fade. Embracing the season of dormancy doesn't have to mean acceptance of a dreary landscape. Add a splash of color to the winter garden with red and yellow twig dogwoods that are most exciting in dormancy.

Strategically placed, colorful twig dogwoods help break the monotony of evergreen foundation plantings.  Although twig dogwoods are attractive as a specimen plant, they really make a statement en masse.  Plant at the border to create a river of color as a winter hedge.

Of all the interesting new varieties out there, my favorite is Cornus alba 'Ivory Halo' (zones 3-7).  While other twig dogwoods tend to be a blob of green during the growing season, variegated foliage makes 'Ivory Halo' an attractive planting for any time of year.

Young dormant stems of 'Ivory Halo' are a fiery red that are an excellent source of winter interest.  For the best stem color, prune out old growth every spring or cut back hard the whole plant every few years.
Variegated foliage makes 'Ivory Halo'
dogwood attractive at any time of year.

Plant dogwoods in the winter when the plant is dormant.  Although dogwoods won't be actively growing leaves and stems in the winter months, roots will anchor into the soil and give the plant a head start on growth in the spring.

Available from many garden centers, a red or yellow twig dogwood will make the perfect holiday gift for any garden enthusiast.

If you have any questions, ideas, or suggestions, leave a comment or shoot me an email.

What's your favorite way to use red or yellow twig dogwoods?  What plants are your favorites for fighting the winter blues?

Fiery stems of red twig dogwoods contrast with white bark of paper birches (Betula papyrifera)
Yellow twig dogwood at the University of Tennessee Gardens.

Photos courtesy of: