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Happy New Year from our house to yours 2015

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Wishing you and yours strength, health, love and the beauty of nature that is all  around us
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Rod Stewart - Auld Lang Syne (Live at Stirling Castle)
Rod Stewart - Auld Lang Syne (Live at Stirling Castle)





The American Elm

The first day of the New Year, and there is no better a tree to honor than the American elm! If you're reading this and are younger than 35 years old you missed seeing the most beautiful tree ever to grow in America, the American elm. The American elm grew from Newfoundland Canada to Florida and west to the Rockies. Today, you will occasionally see this tree growing on the side of the road, in the back yard of an older home and now, rarely, in your local park or on your common. The American elm was the most planted street tree in America and every city had their Main Street lined with this tree. I am not talking of thousands of trees, I am not talking of millions of trees, but I am talking of billions of trees that once graced our streets, parks, homes and forest.

In less than 25 years most all of these trees were destroyed by a single type of insect 1/8 of an inch long called the elm bark beetle. The elm bark beetle was not a serious problem to the American elm for hundreds of years and seldom killed the tree until 1930 when a boat load of diseased elm logs arrived from Europe. These elm logs were to be used for furniture but they were unknowingly contaminated with a fungus called "Ceratocystisulmi."

While these logs sat outside in the lumber yard to be cut up for lumber, our native elm bark beetles fed on them. They bored into the tree making a small tunnel about the size of the lead in a pencil; healthy trees would repair the damage made by the beetles and survive, but these infected logs contained a fungus that once transmitted from the tree to the beetle would kill healthy trees is just a few years.

When the beetles emerged from the infected logs to feed on our native trees growing the area, they quickly infected the trees with this disease. The fungus spread quickly with this beetle and to make things worse, dying trees were quickly cut down and shipped to lumber yards miles away to be used for lumber helping to spread the problem even faster. Today, 71 years later, we still do not have a way to stop this fungus! You will still see wild American elms growing but they will never have the chance to mature and show us all their beauty.

Before I tell you about this tree, let me first tell you about the history of this tree and how important it was to the formation of our country. In 1646 one block east of Boylston Station and the Boston Common, at Washington and Essex Street, an American elm was planted. It stood there for 129 years and it was known as the "Liberty Tree." The memorial of this tree is on a plank on a building marking the spot of this historic landmark, bearing the inscription "Sons of Liberty, 1766" just below the emblem of an elm tree. If you're in Boston, take the time to see it.

At the time of the Revolution, this great American elm stood there in the center of business in Boston's original South End. Several other elms grew there, and the area was known as the Neighborhood of Elms. On August 14, 1765, this particular tree was selected for hanging the effigies of those men who favored passage of the detested "Stamp Act." On September 11th, a 3'by 2' copper plate, with large golden letters was placed on its trunk bearing the inscription, "The Tree of Liberty. " Thereafter, nearly all great political meetings of the Sons of Liberty, our founding fathers, like Paul Revere and John Hancock, held their meetings in this square under the tree.

British soldiers hated this tree and often punished men thought to be against British Rule, right under its branches. This tree was the rallying point for independence in Boston. On the last day of August 1775, as the British army evacuated the city of Boston for the last time, they rallied together one more time and cut down the tree before they left. The American elm was our first symbol of freedom, because this wonderful tree bore the name "Liberty" on it trunk. The state of Massachusetts designated the American elm as its official state tree in 1941, commemorating the fact that General George Washington took command of the continental Army beneath an American elm on Cambridge Common in Boston in 1775.

I want to tell those of you who never saw this tree about it and how it grew. It was a majestic looking tree and no other tree grew like it. I still think it was the perfect tree, even better than the white pine, our great oaks, the maples, the spruces and our fir trees. The American elm grew 60 to 90 feet tall and 40 to 50 feet wide. The tree grew from a single trunk and its branches grew in the shape of the letter "Y" like a fluted vase. The ends of the branches seemed to weep a little bit, making the top of the tree resemble a vase filled with fresh greens.

The foliage grew 3 to 6 inches long, 2 inches wide, oval with a point on the tip of the leaf. The leaves were dark green, looked rough with thick green raised veins on the leaf like a feather pattern. Small sawlike teeth covered the edges of the leaf, with a very short stem (under 1/2 inch) attaching it to the branches of the tree. In the fall, the entire tree turned a bright yellow, like it was on fire. If you pinched the leaf it had a fragrance you would never forget.

The bark of the tree was dark gray, very rough and scaly. This large strong trunk was often covered with patches of gray and white lichen, and mosses all over it, giving it much character. The roots of the tree grew wide and they were strong, so not even very wet soil and rain could topple it over. This tree grew in any soil type, sand to heavy clay and the soil pH did not matter either--it was tough. It could grow on the side of the road and it tolerated salt from the plows all winter long without any damage to it. It continued to grow even when asphalt was applied under its branches to build roads, and trucks could drive under it and compact the soil and it still grew while other trees died under the same growing conditions.

The grain of the wood grew so twisted it had to be cut with a saw and only power equipment could split the trunk for fire wood and with great effort. I tried with a wedge and sledgehammer many years ago and that log held them in place until I rented a power splitter to free them. Elm is still used to make Hockey Sticks to give them the curl on the blade. This was on tough tree and most of the mature trees are now gone forever.

Now for the GOOD NEWS...the nursery industry has been working very hard to develop new disease resistant species of elms that are resistant to Dutch Elm Disease, with some success. These new tree varieties are called Liberty Trees and 10 years ago I purchased one called 'Valley Forge,' because I wanted my children and grandchildren see what this tree looked like. It has done wonderfully at my house here in Maine, and in just 10 years it has grown from 6 feet tall to over 30 feet tall on my front lawn. When I look at this tree I think back to my youth when every town had a park or common lined with these wonderful trees. If you would like more information about the Liberty Tree go to Elm Research Institute in Keene NH. Call them at 800-367-3567 or email: They have programs to plant a tree in every town in America with civic groups like the Scouts and they also sell small trees--please tell them I sent you. If you would like to purchase or see larger and more mature trees for your yard to keep alive the American elm story, go to Northeast Nursery, on Route One in Peabody, Mass. as they have several sizes to choose from. The Liberty Tree--definitely worth growing.



Winter Wonderland sung by Johnny Mathis
Winter Wonderland sung by Johnny Mathis

for our good friend Flo



Milk weed fluff seed pods



A Listener and reader Amy Petersen sent an email regarding last week's article about butterfly weed, a relative of milkweed. She said:

"Just finished reading this week's newsletter and what you said about the butterfly weed being in the same family as the milkweed. I was wondering if anyone has ever related to you that during World War II, we little kids in rural area one-room schools (mine was in Minnesota) were given US Government gunny sacks and asked to fill them up with all the milkweed pods we could find. Our soldiers needed them, we were told, and we all wanted to do our part for our soldiers. I had no problem filling my sack as our farm had a big man-made ditch running through the land and there always were plenty of milkweeds growing there. Just thought you might like a little trivia."

Some fascinating trivia, indeed. Thank you! A bit of research on the internet gives a bit more. About 29 states east of the Rockies along with parts of Canada were involved. Amy was part of an effort that collected an estimated 11 millions pounds of milkweed fluff during the war. It was used as a substitute for the fluff from the kapok tree, which was used in life jackets and flight suits. The kapok tree is native to Indonesia, and our supplies of kapok had been cut off by the Japanese (who were occupying Indonesia). Like the kapok fibers, the milkweed fibers are both waterproof and bouyant.

Milkweed was used in pioneer days to stuff quilts, and the Native Americans used it to insulate mocassins. It is still used, with goose down, in some pillows and comforters. Seems to me that our "common" milkweed has been, and is, an uncommonly useful plant, to more than just the Monarch butterflies.

Nature keep the planet healthy.



A great indoor flowering plant the Hibiscus

The tropical hibiscus is the number one selling flowering plant grown in southern Florida and California for gardeners across the country. Hibiscus will grow only in a climate where temperatures seldom dip down below 40 degrees, as it is not frost-hardy. The plant will not flower if temperatures routinely drop below 50 degrees, so if you want hibiscus for your home or as a potted plant on your deck, it will require special care to grow. This magical plant is well worth all the work and effort you put into it for its unique flowers. Here are a few things to know about growing hibiscus plants where you live.

In the southern or western part of the country, the hibiscus plant is a woody shrub that is evergreen and flowers all year long. So all you have to do to grow this plant where you live is copy their climate and light conditions. First of all, let me tell you about this plant because it originated in tropical Asia and it was brought to this country by gardeners, who like you, loved its flowers.

The foliage is dark green, and the leaf is shiny as long as it has enough water, but when the plants begins to dry out the shine will fade, making the foliage dull green. The leaf is oval, with large indentations or teeth on the edge of the leaf margin. The leaf will grow up to 6 inches in length, depending on sunshine, watering, and fertilization of the plant by you.

The flower resembles a flared trumpet that will grow from 3 to 8 inches in diameter, depending on the variety you choose and how it is cared for, again: sunlight, water, and fertilizer. The flower colors will range from red, orange, yellow, and pink; you may also find many new hybrids with two or more colors on the same flower and many new, semi-double, double-flowering and ruffled hybrid varieties.

The number one requirement is temperature, as the plant requires a warm location; after all it is a tropical plant. If you want lots of flowers, you will have to provide a location with temperatures that stay between 60 and 90 degrees all year. When you put the plant outside in early June and when you bring it back indoors in mid-September, expect the plant to lose leaves with the move. Even the slightest change will cause leaf drop, but the plant will quickly replace the fallen foliage.

As I said earlier, if the temperature drops below 50 degrees, the plant will stop flowering until it warms up again, so don't panic if that happens. Also expect that the flower size will decrease with cooler temperatures. In the middle of the winter, just keeping it alive is a challenge but I will help you. If you have the plant outside in a container on your deck for the summer and the forecast is for temperatures above the mid 90's, move the plant into the shade until the heat spell passes or the flower buds will drop due to the high heat.

Number two requirement is watering, as this plant requires a steady source of moisture, especially during the hot days of summer. Water the plant every day from June to September unless it rains, because the plant has a lot of foliage and flowers and they require lots of water. Never place the plant with a saucer under the pot as the soil needs to drain freely after watering. If you're away and it rains, the saucer will fill up with water quickly, forcing all the air out of the soil and root rot will quickly develop--killing the hibiscus. Always water according to the weather, less if it's cool and wet, and more if it's hot and dry.

To help hold water in the soil add Soil Moist Granules when repotting the plant. If it is a new plant for you, make several holes in the soil ball with a pencil 3/4 of the way down in the pot and add a good pinch of product in the hole. Soil Moist will retain 200 times its volume in moisture in the soil, so check direction to determine the amount needed for your container, and never use a container without drainage holes in the bottom. When the temperatures cool, cut back on the watering, as the plant will require less water and-again--wet roots will cause root rot!

Number three requirement is fertilizing the plant to keep it healthy and flowering. Because most of us are busy, we will forget to fertilize this plant so I encourage you to use a time-release fertilizer like Dynamite. During the summer months especially, the plant is growing fast and flowering heavily with the hot weather, so give the plant extra fertilizer every week; I like Dr. Earth's house plant food.. If the plant stays well fed, the foliage will stay deep green and the plant will flower all year long.

Number four requirement is insect control, and on hibiscus you will have two insects--aphids and red spider mites--on the new foliage and on the flower buds. Both can be easily controlled with a systemic insecticide such as Tree and Shrub insecticide or Systemic Granules applied every 4 to 6 weeks. If problems develop, spray the plant with All Season Oil--a natural product that will smother the insects on the plant--and repeat applications 2 times, spaced 7 to 10 days apart. Always turn the plant upside down and spray under the foliage as well as on top of the leaf, as insects tend to hide under the leaf.

During the winter months, it's important to keep the plant as warm as possible at all time and ALWAYS avoid drafts. Hibiscus is a tropical plant that will do very well in a northern climate if you keep it warm--always above 60 degrees in your home. If the weather gets cold, especially at night, pull the plants away from the windows and move them to the center of the room to keep them warm. If your windows are a bit drafty, keep them back 3 feet from the glass on those cold and windy days. Keep plants away from doors that open and close often, so temperatures stay uniform and warm.

During the winter months, water as needed and keep plant moist but not wet. Poke your finger into the pot as deep as you can and feel for moisture. If it's moist, leave it alone as plants will do better indoors during the winter a bit on the dry side--but never let plants wilt. Always use warm water when watering the plant, never cold or you will chill the root system and hurt the roots, causing leaf drop.

Fertilize with time-release fertilizer when you bring the plant inside for the winter and repeat every 2 months. When the plant comes into bloom, also use a liquid food like Miracle-Gro every 2 weeks; food equals flowers! The more direct sunlight the plant receives, the more it will flower.

Every week spin the plant around so the front of the plant now faces inside the room and the back faces the window. This sequel sunshine will keep all the foliage on the plant , not just the foliage on the front of the plant. Once the plant is in place do not move it from its location or you will have additional leaf drop. It should stay there until spring arrives and you're ready to put it outside again.

One more thing, repot in the spring when you put the plant outside for the summer, as the plant will grow faster and need repotting. Increase the pot size by 2 inches when you change the pot size. Always use a good potting soil--never cheap stuff--or the roots will suffer and so will the plant, giving you fewer and smaller flowers.

Oh, yes, one more thing...pruning. Prune to control the size of the plant especially when you bring it indoors for the winter. Prune 1/3 of the branches every two weeks until all the branches have been all pruned , that way you do not lose your flowers and the buds. Pruning will stimulate growth; I also prune the plant when I put it outside in the summer the same way. Enjoy!




                                          Ralph Waldo Emerson


Red Velvet Cake





  • For the cream cheese frosting:
  • 1/2 cup margarine
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese 
  • 1 box confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped lightly toasted pecans


For the Red Velvet Cake:


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 3 (9-inch) round layer cake pans.

Sift flour, baking soda and coco together. Beat sugar and eggs together in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl mix together oil, vinegar, food coloring, and vanilla. Add to the bowl of eggs and sugar and beat until combined.

Add the flour mixture and the buttermilk to the wet mixture by alternating the buttermilk and dry ingredients. Always start with the flour and end with the flour.

Pour batter into pans. Tap them on the table to level out the batter and release air bubbles. Bake for 25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted near the middle comes out clean but be careful not to over bake or you'll end up with a dry cake.

Let layers cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before turning out of pan. Cool completely before frosting.

For the cream cheese frosting:

This is the "official" cream cheese frosting recipe but we always use about 1 1/2 recipes on each cake to cover it well.

Let margarine and cream cheese soften to room temperature. Cream well. Add sugar and beat until mixed but not so much that the frosting becomes "loose". Add vanilla and nuts. Spread between layers and on top and sides of cake.

Home Cook Recipe: A viewer or guest of the show, who may not be a professional cook, provided this recipe. The Food Network Kitchen have not tested this recipe and therefore cannot make representation as to the results.


Recipe courtesy Johnnie Gabriel







              Garden Journal - A garden is a friend you can visit any time. Gardens require planning and cultivation, yielding beauty and joy. This garden journal helps make planning and organizing easy. This book makes a great gift for gardeners, family, friends, birthdays, Christmas, new home or as a self purchase.

Cover holds a 5 x7 or 4x6 photo, Heavy-duty D-ring binder

1. 8 tabbed sections
2. 5 garden details sections with pockets for seeds, tags....
3. Weather records page
4. 6 three year journal pages
5. Insect & diseases page - 3 project pages
6. 3 annual checklist pages
7. Plant wish list page
8. 2 large pocket pages
9. Sheet of garden labels
10. 5 garden detail sheets
11. 5 graph paper pages for layouts
12. 5 photo pages holds - 4- 4x6 photos in landscape or portrait format

Journal, Planning, Inspirations. 

 To Order call 207-985-6972

Regular price $34.95  Special Price $29.95! Holiday special!

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  Written by Paul Parent                         Produced by Christine Parent

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