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Welcome to the Paul Parent Garden Club 2014 Newsletter



The type of flowers you select does not matter, it's the quality of the flower that does! This weekend, as you look at the flowers for your special Valentine, for her and yes for him, as men love flowers too, let me tell you about them. We all have our favorites, we all have a budget to think of, and we want them to last as long as possible. Begin by selecting a florist, garden center, or nursery you are acquainted with for quality. You may pay a bit more--but in the long run it will be worth the extra expense. Avoid flowers that will be finished blooming in just a couple of days or drooping over the day after Valentine's Day.

The number one Valentine's Day flower is, of course, the rose--and the growers of roses know this. There are only so many available for that day, so you will pay more for roses and of course more for red roses than other colored roses. Supply and demand determines the price of everything you purchase--and this is a one day holiday, not a month like Christmas. So do not always blame the higher cost of flowers on your florist. A bouquet of mixed color roses will be less expensive and will send the same message. Often the pink, white, lavender, yellow, or bi-colored roses have better fragrance than the red roses do. The longer the stems, the more expensive the roses will be--so what is the matter with shorter stems? Nothing.

When you select your roses for Valentine's Day, here is what to look for. Look at the shape of the flower buds, as they are not all alike. Some roses open by unraveling one petal at a time in a spiral fashion; this is a classic rose. I want you to gently squeeze that flower bud. It should feel firm, not soft, as soft rose buds have been kept under refrigeration for some time. If it feels hard and looks like a Hershey Kiss, it is called a "bullet," and was picked too early by the grower (not the florist) and it will not open. Look for firm roses that are unraveling on the tip of the rosebud! Foliage color and appearance is next; the better it looks, the longer the flowers will last.

Roses keep best in a cool place, so keep them away from heat sources and "out of the sun." Every morning, add a bit of ice to the vase that is kept filled with water to cool the plant down and extend the flowering time. Never allow the leaves on the rose to be under water, remove them from the stem, as they will rot and this will shorten the flowering time also. If you're transporting flowers home from the florist, be sure to keep them warm, as freezing temperatures will damage the flower buds--have them wrapped properly!

Lilies are also very beautiful, more delicate looking, and will last just as long. What you are looking for in a bouquet of lilies is more flower buds than open flowers when you receive them. The Oriental types are the most fragrant, and I like them more than roses for the fragrance.

Carnations are wonderful and will last the longest, if they are fresh. Here is what to look for when choosing carnations. Just under the flower you will see a green capsule-like growth; this is the actual flower bud, and that is where the flower petals came from. Gently squeeze it and if it feels firm, it means that there are still flower petals inside yet to come. If it feels empty or hollow, all the petals are out and it will not last as long in your home.

Gerber daisies are also a wonderful cut flower and will last a couple of weeks. Nice long stems with 3-inch wide blooms that are often multi-petal and unique looking. This is also your chance to use nice foliage as filler because this flower has no foliage. Add secondary flowers like baby's breath for contrast. Gerber daisy comes in all colors like the rainbow,

Alstroemeria is another unusual cut flower that comes in all colors and will last in your home for a long time. The flower is a cluster of small 1 inch lily-shaped blooms on a strong stem that open just a few at a time with many buds visible. This flower is a great cut flower for a warm homes or the office.

Tulips are always wonderful at this time of the year, especially when the winter has been as snowy and cold as it has been. Tulips also send a message that spring is just around the corner, and if your special sweetheart has "cabin fever," this flower will help them to feel better.

The Hawaiian 'King' protea is my favorite flower and hard to come by, but it will last for 2 to 3 weeks in a vase of water. When the flower begins to fade, empty the vase and use it in a dry arrangement for the next year. The 'King' protea is a 5 to 6 inch pink bell-shaped tropical flower with an intricate looking center. It grows in only 5 places in the world, because it needs special growing conditions. Hawaii has these special conditions and many florists can get them for you if you call them now.

No matter what you choose, your special Valentine will appreciate the effort. Remember quality, colors, texture, and--most of all--presentation. For extra points, guys, remember flowers sent to her work or even his workplace will mean even more. For this to happen order NOW, not Monday during your lunch hour. Valentine's Day is the busiest time of the year for the florist to deliver flowers because its a one day holiday. The earlier the better, or they could think you forgot them and just remembered when someone reminded you!

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If you're looking to grow the most luscious of all the berries that can be grown in your backyard garden, look no further than the strawberry. When ripe and freshly picked from your garden, there is no better tasting berry for its sweet flavor than this easy to grow plant--the strawberry. Like any other fruit or berry, the picking season is short, so be sure to save room in your freezer for those cold days of winter when you crave a sweet treat.

Strawberries will grow best in full sun in an area that is sheltered from harsh winds. The plants will still grow if they are in partial shade for a few hours but the production of fruit will be less. Avoid planting in low spots in your yard, like the bottom of a hill, to prevent frost pocket problems early in the season. One other tip--do not plant in the same area where you recently grew potatoes or tomatoes in the last 3 years; it will work against you.

Strawberries are not picky about the soil they grow in, as long as it is well drained. Wet soil during the spring can and will rot the roots of the plants. Wet spots that freeze during the winter, forming ice, will kill the plants over the winter. Soil preparation is the key to great strawberries. If you prepare the planting bed ahead of time, you will save a lot of problems later. Add plenty of organic matter like peat moss, composted or dehydrated animal manure, or rich compost to the garden and blend it 6 to10 inches deep. If your soil is heavy with clay, add coarse sharp sand, like what is used to build the base of a brick walkway.

I also suggest using a product like garden gypsum to help break up clay soils and apply garden lime to the soil as needed to keep the soil almost neutral--a pH of 6 to 6.5 is best. Remember the plants will be there for 3 to 4 years, so do it right the first time. Another tip for you is to plant strawberries in a raised bed. All you have to do is dig out the soil from the walkways 2 to 3 inches deep and add to the planting bed. If you get a lot of rain in the spring, the extra water will have someplace to go and not hurt the roots of the plant.

Strawberries can be planted two ways in the garden: as staggered rows that are allowed to fill in the entire planting bed or as evenly spaced plants to be grown as individual plants. Staggered rows that fill in the planting bed will give you more fruit, but in time the berries will get smaller because of competition with other plants. Plants grown on individual mounds will have much larger fruit but fewer berries. Each average strawberry plant should produce one half to one pound of berries per plant for the three years they are in your garden.

Spacing is 15 to 18 inches in between plants, 3 to 4 plants wide per planting bed; this will make it easier to harvest berries later. When you plant your strawberries, be sure to set plants in the ground at the same depth in the garden that they originally grew in the pot. Look for a green ring around the short stem of the plant and just barely cover it with soil. Spread the roots out in the garden soil to help them develop more easily, and make sure the leaves are not covered with soil.

I also like to spread straw on the ground around the plants to help choke out weeds, prevent slugs and snail problems and--best of all--keep the berries off the ground and clear of the soil. Place the straw around the plants and be sure to lift all foliage and berries off the soil; this will give you better air circulation and help prevent berry rot. Use barley or wheat straw--NEVER hay--and weeds will never be a problem.

New plants should be watered regularly until established, and during hot and dry growing periods. When the berries are ripening, keep water off them to prevent gray mold and other disease--water the soil, not the fruit. The best time to water is in the morning, so excess moisture can evaporate quickly off the berries with the morning sunshine. NEVER water strawberries late in the day or at night or you will have moldy berries.

Fertilize in the early spring as the foliage begins to develop and the flowers form. Use organic fertilizers,, as they feed slowly and last longer in the soil. Mycorrhizae added to the planting beds will produce stronger and more productive plants. If your soils are sandy be sure to add a pinch of Soil Moist Granules to the planting hole when you set the plants in the garden.

Your biggest problem will be BIRDS because they, like you, love strawberries. Just cover the berry plants with plastic netting at the first sign of the berries ripening and make sure the netting is raised above the plants so the birds cannot poke through the holes in the netting. Pick early in the day and pick often to keep them from eating your berries.

One last thing: strawberries come as June-bearing plants or ever-bearing plants. June-bearing plants produce all at once, usually in 3 to 4 weeks, while ever-bearing plants produce for a much longer period of 6 to 8 weeks. Both produce about the same amount of berries overall; it depends on how fast you want them for your table. Enjoy! Enjoy!

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The blueberry is the most popular berry in the garden today and the easiest berry to grow. Blueberries are also one of very few edible and delicious blue foods we eat. Think about that for a minute and tell me what else you eat that is blue from the garden, or in the wild? You can eat them fresh from the plant. You can cook them in muffins, pies and cobbler. Fresh or frozen, the blueberry is number one on the kitchen table.

The blueberry is a native plant to America--not imported into the country. From Maine to Canada, the blueberry plant in the form of the lowbush type is responsible for many jobs and widely preferred in cooking over the highbush types. This wild plant is cultivated and managed in the wild and is a wonderful example of sustainable agriculture--like the balsam fir tree is for Christmas. When you travel during July in Maine from Kennebunk to Calais and into Atlantic Canada, stop on the side of the road and pick a few. Wild blueberries are the king of berries and no one cares for them but mother nature.

The highbush blueberry is a hybrid of this plant, with larger fruit and more fruit to the plant, and grows in the same area. The flavor is good but not like the lowbush wild type. Because of space restrictions, the highbush blueberry is grown more often, and is more practical, in the home garden.

Blueberries are remarkable plants as they are virtually free of disease problems and insect problems. This means no SPRAYING is needed the entire year. The only problem this plant has is the birds and they, like us, love these berries. Netting will easily take care of the problem.

The secret to growing blueberries is in the soil. Most important is that it must be acidic all the time, so never add lime or lime products near the plant. The more acidic the soil, the better they grow. The soil must also be well drained, and never have standing water around the plant. The more organic matter in the soil, the more fruit the plant will produce and the larger the fruit will grow. So be sure, when planting, that you use compost and a lot of it. Mulching around the plant should be done like we do to our shrubs and trees around the house. This will help the plant hold fruit during hot and dry summers. Two to three inches of organic matter around the blueberry plant is recommended at all times. You can use compost, pine needles, bark mulch, wood chips, even sawdust.

Fertilizer is important; I recommend that you use the same food you give your rhododendrons and azaleas. Organic fertilizer like Holly Tone, or Dr. Earth Organic #4 Acid-loving Plant Food should be used in the spring and in the fall. To help acidify the soil, use yearly applications of Aluminum Sulfate Soil Acidifier. A little tip for you, when feeding your plants always use mycorrhizae fungi to help the fruit taste sweeter. Mycorrhizae fungi help with the uptake of phosphorus to the plant for better root growth. Mycorrhizae will help with the breakdown of organic matter to generate nitrogen for the plant and to make "sugar" for the plant. Together the fungi and the plant make great tasting berries. Look for Plant Growth Activator or Bio-Tone.

Plants grow best in full sun to a little bit of shade. Water regularly when in fruit to keep berries full of juice. Pruning is done to the plant to remove dead or damaged branches. Prune when the fruit is picked from the plant and then up to one third of the old branches to promote new growth for next year.


Join The Paul Parent Garden Club for The Grand Tour Of France July 31 through August 12, 2014. With special 70th Anniversary tours of the Beaches of Normandy and Monet's Garden.


The Best Valentine Day Chocolate Pie you ever made!


This recipe is from my mother and when she made this pie the entire family celebrated. It is a French Canadian Chocolate Silk Pie, it's very easy to make and perfect for Valentine Day celebration.

You will need a double boiler and add:

3 cups of milk

2 tablespoons of butter


In a mixing bowl add:

3 cups of sugar

3 heaping tablespoons of Hershey cocoa

3 heaping tablespoons of flour

1 teaspoon of salt

3 extra-large to jumbo eggs

1 teaspoon of vanilla "at the end of cooking"

Place the milk and butter in the double boiler and bring it to a slow boil.

Now mix all the ingredients in the mixing bowl and slowly add to the hot milk and butter in the double boiler. Stir often with a whisk until mixture is thick like budding, about 30 minutes. Now add the Vanilla.

Pour the mixture into an unbaked pie shell. Bake at 400 degrees for 35 minutes on a cookie sheet to keep the oven clean if it should bubble over. Let it cool then refrigerate. Serve with a large scoop of whipped cream or cool whip.

The pie is sweet so you will not need a heart shaped container of chocolates this Valentine Day!!!



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