On St. Patrick's Day everyone is Irish!

Judy Garland - It's a Great Day for the Irish
Judy Garland - It's a Great Day for the Irish
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Bells of Irland make a wonderful cut flower from your garden



Bells of Ireland got their start in Turkey and Syria as wildflowers and were brought to Europe by explorers; they have been under cultivation since 1570. The country of Belgium is where all the work was done to improve quality and make them better plants, so it is considered their birthplace. These unique flowers are in the Mint family but the foliage is not scented. In the early day of growing this plant, the bell-shaped flowers were crushed to make a perfume, but the perfume never became popular, so the plant's unique look quickly moved to the flower garden.


When you look at the long strong stems, you will notice bell-shaped buds 1 or 2 inches wide that appear as green foliage with white streaks or veins on them. These green buds are called calyxes, and they cover the inner white flowers on the stock, and resemble a bell. The early name was bellflowers but the unique green color of the flowers resembled the beautiful open fields of Ireland--even though they did not come from there--and the emerald green color of the bells deserved a name change. So the horticulturist who worked on the plant to improve its appearance named the plant "Bells of Ireland," because the flower was as much a mystery as the country of Ireland was in those days.


The first thing you will notice is that the long stems of the "Bells of Ireland" are covered with tiny thorns. So be sure to wear gloves when handling them in your garden or arranging them in a vase with other flowers--just as you handle roses. The bells grow in rows up and around the stem, completely covering it. The bells open from the bottom of the stem and move up and around the stem. The white flower in the bell opens for a few days and quickly fades to green and resembles the clapper inside the bell. If you take good care of the plant, each stem can grow up to three feet tall during the summer.


Plant seedlings out in May when the threat of frost is over. Because this plant is so unique and misunderstood, it is not usually available at most nurseries. You will have to purchase seeds and start your own plant indoors--and now is the time to do that. From seed to transplanting is about 6 to 8 weeks, so get a bag of Black Gold organic seed starter mix and start planting.


When I was in Ireland last year, I talked to a gardener who told me to put the package of seeds in the vegetable crisper for a week before planting to chill the seed so they will germinate better. She also suggested sprinkling the seed on the surface of the soil, barely covering the seeds with soil and keeping them cool--50 to 60 degrees with no bottom heat. Once they germinate, move them to a bright and sunny window, as strong sun will give them better and stronger stems for when you move them into the garden.


Bells of Ireland love the sunshine, so choose a sunny spot in your garden for the best-looking stems with more bells on them. Your soil should be well-drained and the garden should never have standing water. If you have a clay type soil, add lots of compost to break up the soil and use garden gypsum to prevent rainy weather making the clay stick together. Use Garden gypsum, as it works faster and longer to break up clay soils. She also suggested using lots of animal manure or compost or even seaweed kelp, if you live near the seashore, to improve the soil before planting.


Fertilize the plant with Neptune Harvest or  Ferti-lome Blooming and Rooting liquid fertilizer every other week when the plant is making flowers, as they are heavy feeders--and the more you feed the more flowers they will produce. If you're using Osmocote, use it at the time of planting and again in 60 days.


Because the plants will get 3 feet tall and possibly taller, choose a location out of the wind so plants aren't blown over. Plant them where you can tie them up easily, such as on a trellis or even on a fence. I grew some several years ago and when the peonies finished flowering I used the peony rings to hold the plants together. When you set out the plants give them some room--plant them 12 to 15 inches apart. I like them planted in groups scattered in the garden, rather than in rows in the back of the garden.


The flowers dry very easily when the bells are all open. Just hang them upside down in bunches in your garage or tool shed where you have good air circulation. It will take a couple of weeks and you will lose some of the green color but there is nothing better to mix with dry hydrangea then these dried Bells of Ireland-- and they will last all winter long. As a fresh cut flower, they are also wonderful for tall or wide arrangements. They will last for a couple of weeks in a vase of water; they will also bend with the light, giving the stems extra character in the arrangement.


If the weather gets hot and dry, soak the soil and water deeply to keep the plant active. If watering is a problem, use bark mulch, pine needles, compost, seaweed or straw as a mulch to help control weeds and retain soil moisture. If your soils are on the sandy side, be sure to dig in deep compost and Soil Moist granules at time of planting to hold water around the roots. Always water early in the day--never at night--to prevent insect and disease problems. When the flower stem stops growing, the plant is finished flowering and you should pick the flowers for display or drying. Bells of Ireland only flower once a year, so enjoy them while the flowers are on the plant.


Did you know that in the language of flowers the Bells of Ireland represents "LUCK?" Many Irish wedding bouquets will have a few Bells of Ireland in them for the luck it represents on this special day. This St Patrick's Day, be sure to pick up the real flowers of Ireland, not green tinted carnations but the Bells of Ireland--and may the luck of the Irish be with you all day long. You do not need to be Irish to enjoy these wonderful flowers in a tall vase of water this weekend. For extra beauty, just add a small bunch of white Baby Breath flowers around the Bells of Ireland for great accent. After all, on St Patrick's Day there is a bit of Irish in all of us. Have a Happy St. Patrick's day!


And to my wife, the former Christine Duncan of Watertown, Mass, who was born on March 16 at 11:50 PM--just 10 minutes short of St Patrick's Day, and who just missed being called Patricia because of her Irish roots, Happy Birthday!


Enjoy the holiday and celebrate, because all of us have a bit of Ireland in us on this day--and don't forget the "Bells of Ireland."



John Gary sings

John Gary sings

 "A Little Bit Of Heaven "


Here is a four leaf Shamrock for good luck




Next week is dedicated to the Irish people, their heritage and their wonderful country. Very few countries have a plant that refers directly to them as the Shamrock does to Ireland. Can you envision the green landscape of the Emerald Isle on St. Patrick's Day this Saturday? Irish or not, many of us wear the green on St Patrick's Day and celebrate with a pot of Shamrocks growing on our window sill. Have you ever wondered why the Shamrock is so important to the Irish people and how it became so famous a plant?


Well...it all began with a 3-leaf clover--not the 4 leaves that many of us think as being lucky. St. Patrick came to Ireland as a missionary to teach its people about the Catholic religion and used the Shamrock as a way to demonstrate the principle of the Trinity. The three leaves represented the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost united on a single stem. For this reason alone, a true Shamrock has 3 leaves and Irish history makes this quite clear. The term Shamrock is derived from the Irish word "seamrog" which translates to "little clover plant." In horticulture there are over 900 species of these plants, some grown from seed and some from bulbs and some of these plants are annual while others are perennial in our garden.


If you still think that the Shamrock has 4 leaflets, look at the tale wing of Aer Lingus Airlines (Ireland's National Airlines); it has 3 leaflets. And if you're from New England or a big Basketball fan, look at the Boston Celtics Logo--the Shamrock has only 3 leaflets. If you have your heart set on the 4-leaf clover, start looking as soon as the clover begins to grow in your lawn--you will need lots of luck to find one. The National Botanical Garden in Dublin, Ireland revealed that when the Irish people wear the Shamrock it usually comes from the white clover, red clover, hop clover or a clover-like plant called Black Medick. All are members of the Pea family. If the ground is still cold where you live, and you want to see a 4-leaf clover look at the box of Lucky Charms cereal for the 4-leaf clover on it. Or see the picture we put to the right.


Another family of plants is the Oxalis family; they closely resemble the Clover family. They are also sold as Shamrocks for St Patrick's Day because of their wonderful foliage with many shapes, colors and sizes of the leaf. The Oxalis family also has wonderful flowers in many beautiful colors. Oxalis originated from South Africa and Central America, and was quickly adopted by gardeners because it was easy to grow as a bulb plant. Most Oxalis plants are not winter hardy outdoors but will overwinter in a pot of soil in your basement very easily.


Here is all you have to do to grow these wonderful bulbs in pots in your home. Oxalis bulbs will be available in the fall and again in the spring where bulbs are sold at your local garden center. The bulbs are small--about the size of a lima bean seed--so plant 5 to 7 bulbs to a 4 to 6 inch pot. Use a good potting soil like Black Gold Organic Potting soil, as these bulbs prefer a rich well-drained soil that has been fortified with organic matter and contains no clay. Cover the bulbs with 2 inches of potting soil and keep them moist at all times. Like all foliage plants, fertilize monthly--especially when the are in bloom. The flowers have 5 petals; they resemble a trumpet and develop in clusters on long stems that grow above the foliage. The flowers will last on the plant for 4 to 8 weeks or more, depending on the variety; most have no fragrance.


These are some of the varieties available this week at your local greenhouse or florist:


Oxalis rubra:
This will grow to 16 inches tall and will look great in window boxes or planters. The plant has 3 leaflets that are medium green in color and hairy on the underside. The plant will bloom all summer with red to pink flowers. After first frost, dig up and pot to store in your basement for next year.


Oxalis 'Iron Cross:'
The plant will grow under a foot tall and has a cross-shaped brown spot on the foliage that is deep green in color. The flowers are red, and this plant is best kept in a container.


Oxalis triangularis:
My favorite because of the dark purple leaves that grow large--each leaflet is over an inch in diameter. The plant will have white, pink and violet flowers on it at the same time. The foliage is wonderful when used as a houseplant or when mixed in planters for contrasting foliage colors. It can also be dug up in the fall, repotted and stored in the basement for the winter. Bring it up in January and place the pot in a sunny window and water well. In just a few days, new foliage will develop and the fun begins all over.


Oxalis triangularis papilionacea:
Nice light green foliage and large leaves like the purple variety; this plant has deep pink flowers that look great against the foliage. Treat and care for just like the purple leaf type.


Oxalis triangularis papilionacea regnellii:
Nice deep green large foliage like the above two, but this plant has large clusters of bright white and very showy flowers. Flowers all summer long and is hardier but I suggest that you treat like the other two varieties during the winter. Great potted plant for containers with nice foliage to enjoy.


Now let's talk about the common Shamrocks--or clover. The plants are grown by seed and are also sold for St Patrick's Day in pots. The flowers are different from the Oxalis, as each flower is more rounded in shape and made up of many small single flower petals. The flowers grow an inch in diameter or smaller and have a bit of fragrance. The flowers form during the early summer and are loved by honeybees and butterflies. The plants are winter-hardy and can be very aggressive when they show up in your lawn. The plant spreads with both underground stems and seeds from the flowers. The plant grows very flat and close to the ground--often pushing down the grass plant in your lawn and smothering it. The foliage is medium to dark green with 3 leaflets (occasionally 4 for you 4 leaf clover fans). Makes a great pastime for the kids to see if they can find one in the lawn.


Clover is in the legume family or pea family and has the ability to pull nitrogen out of the air and place it in your soil to help rebuild soil quality. Clover is wonderful to control erosion problems in poor soils on sloping areas and great if you have animals that feed on your grass. You can purchase seed for white or red clover at many nurseries or feed and grain stores to plant in areas where you want a natural look--like in fields or along the side of the road where road salt kills everything else during the winter. Red clover is taller growing, has larger flowers--a larger growing plant overall but not as hardy as the white clover. White is more drought-tolerant, flowers more, is more aggressive and makes a better food for wildlife. If you do not like clover in your lawn, white clover is the most difficult to remove. It will take several applications of a broadleaf weed killer to control it. A little prayer to St Patrick could help!


If you are a lawn fanatic, clover is often considered a lawn weed and can be easily controlled with a broad leaf weed application about the time that the dandelions begin to flower on your lawn. If well-established, a second application will be needed 10 days later to kill the plant. But this week is for the Shamrocks and clover plants. They were sent to us by St. Patrick to protect our open areas of soil against wind and rain erosion problems. They will rebuild the quality of the soil, helping other plants to grow where they were not able to at one time. They are also a wonderful food source for animals and flowers for the bees to make honey. So this week, be sure to wear a bit of green on Tuesday and make it a three leaf clover--a Shamrock. ENJOY!






The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem - Wild Colonial Boy
The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem - Wild Colonial Boy
Celebrating St. Patrick's day in America


Everyone associates St. Patrick's Day with Ireland--it's a celebration of Ireland's most-recognized patron saint, right? Aside from the fact that Saint Patrick wasn't Irish (he is said to have been born in either Scotland or Wales), the holiday did, of course, originate in Ireland. But which country, do you suppose, is at the head of the list when it comes to celebrating the big day? Why, none other than the good ol' USA!


While celebrations take place in most cities across America (where everyone suddenly becomes Irish overnight), one of the earliest St. Paddy's Day parades (second only to Boston) took place in New York City in 1762. Today, this parade is the largest celebration and parade in the USA, with around 150,000 participants each year that attract millions of people lining 5th Avenue. Floats, cars and exhibits are not allowed in this parade that will be celebrating its 253st consecutive year.


Because of its 1 million plus residents of Irish descent, Chicago's celebration of St. Patrick's Day is a huge event. Green is everywhere, including the Chicago River, which is dyed green especially for the holiday. Interestingly (if not appetizingly), the idea originally came from sewer workers, who would dye the river green to look for sewer discharges. Other U.S. cities that employ green water especially for the day are Savannah, Georgia (the water in all public fountains is dyed green) and Indianapolis, Indiana (it dyes its main canal green).


Boston has a special tie with Ireland--being the closest U.S. port to Ireland, it was the port though which many of the Irish that were immigrating to America passed. Boston is the home of our Irish President, John F Kennedy. Boston also has the distinction of hosting the world's first recorded parade for the holiday in 1737, beating Dublin, Ireland by a couple of hundred years. And if you would like to spend your St. Patrick's Day engaging in the time-honored pastime of drinking, there is no better place to go than Boston, which has more Irish pubs than any city outside of Ireland. Its popular parade, featuring bagpipers, floats and bands, generally attracts upwards of 600,000 people each year.


Savannah, Georgia's St. Patrick's Day parade began as a small affair in 1813 to honor a group of men of Irish descent on the anniversary of the death of St. Patrick. Today, it is the city's largest annual celebration, attracting over half a million people.


If you live on the west coast, don't despair--just make your way to "the city by the bay"--San Franciso--and enjoy their fabulous St. Patrick's Day parade that dates back to 1852. This "largest St. Patrick's Day gathering west of the Mississippi" is entering its 202nd year!


We hope you enjoy your St. Patrick's Day, no matter where you find yourself. In closing, let us leave you with these Irish words of wisdom, particularly true on St. Patrick's Day:

"There are only two kinds of people in the world, the Irish and those who wish they were."


Happy St. Patrick's Day! 



The Dubliners - Molly Malone
The Dubliners - Molly Malone


for Bitsy Terranova 

"May neighbors respect you, troubles neglect you, the angels protect you, and Heaven accepts you"
Old Irish proverb

Irish moss a great ground cover for patios, walk ways,

 or the rock garden


Irish moss is a luxuriant evergreen plant used as a ground cover. The foliage will grow 1 to 2 inches tall and the plant will spread well over a foot in diameter. The foliage is emerald green in color and the plant creeps on the ground like a fine carpet. The foliage is made up of dense growing strong stems of green foliage that resemble moss. You read this right--Irish moss is not a true moss but a wonderful plant that resembles moss, and you will not believe this until the plant flowers in mid- summer. You see, Irish moss will produce hundreds of small, star-like shaped white flowers that will cover the plant from late spring to mid-summer, late May to early August.


Irish moss is a dense-growing plant that resembles a mat of tiny green leaves on short stems. The white flowers come from individual stems but are so numerous that at times they will almost cover the mound of foliage. Irish moss will grow best in a soil that is well drained, a bit on the sandy side and never in clay like soil. If you can condition the soil before planting with compost or animal manure the plant will have an easier time rooting into it as the plant spreads across the ground. Every tiny plant that makes up this mound of green foliage has its own roots, and as it spreads along the ground, the new stems that develop will develop roots, helping the plant to grow and expand more quickly.


Irish moss has a very shallow root system and requires moisture constantly, so plant it in a partially shaded area and avoid the summer midday sun. It is a perennial plant that is easily divided in the spring during April and May. The best way to divide the plant is to use a sharp knife and cut it into 2-inch pieces or clumps. Get as much of the roots as possible when you dig up the clumps and plant them every 6 to 12 inches apart in your rock garden or borders.


Plants can be found in nurseries in the spring to summer months in small 4 inch pots--making them easy to transplant and inexpensive to buy. Look at the plant carefully for new growth that is developing along its edges; flower buds will also be visible as the new growth develops until the weather gets hot and dry. When you plant, set the plant into a hole as large as the root ball that is coming out of the pot. If you're planting near rocks or using with flagstones always use Soil Moist granules in the bottom of the hole and mix to help retain moisture. I always use an organic slow release fertilizer like Plant -Tone or Neptune Harvest fish and sea weed fertilizer to help establish the plant quickly and feed it during the next several weeks.


Just set in place, firm the soil around the plant and water well. This is all that is needed for this plant to thrive in your gardens. During the first year, water weekly to help plant get off to a quick start especially if it gets hot and dry. Once the plant is established, it will be on its own but fertilize every spring to help it get a good start for the season.


I have found that this plant will grow larger if you are able to provide a growing condition that has mulch or compost covering the soil to keep it cooler and help hold soil moisture around the roots. As an extreme example, this plant will do very well when planted in between stepping stones or flagstone walkways that receive at least half a day of shade. Dig a nice big hole and fill with conditioned soil in between the stones so plants have rich soil to be established in. Space plants every 6 to 8 inches and keep moist at all times. By the end of the season, your plants should double their size easily.


Irish moss has a wonderful cousin called Scottish moss. It grows and flowers the exact same way in your garden or walkways. The difference with this plant is that the foliage is golden-green in color. If you are able to plant both the Irish and the Scottish mosses in your garden or on your walkways you will love the contrast in foliage colors. Some seed catalogs offer seeds of both types of moss but it is difficult to find them both (good luck). I prefer to split the plants every spring to make new plants; it's much faster to make new plants that way.


When you purchase new plants in the spring from the nursery and the foliage hangs over the side of the pot, you can split the plant in half before planting and that way you start with two plants. Both of these mosses will tolerate some foot traffic on them but not constant walking traffic. Your walkways made of random cut stones will look beautiful and the moss will fill in those irregular spaces in the walkway quickly, giving it much character. Enjoy!


The Irish Rovers - The Unicorn
The Irish Rovers - The Unicorn


  St. Patrick's Day Irish Stew with Guinness


St. Patrick's Day is March 17 and a wonderful holiday, even if you're not Irish. My wife Christine Duncan is Irish and was born on March 16 just missed being called Patricia by a couple of hours. She has had her share of Corn-beef and Cabbage and now prefers my Irish stew to celebrate the holiday with a tall cold glass of Guinness. Chris eats most foods but does not like lamb so I substitute some good stew beef meat and it taste just as good. This year try this Irish stew with a glass of Guinness for a real treat.




 2 to 3 tablespoons of a good olive oil flavored with truffles, garlic, or basil

2 tablespoons of butter unsalted

cup of all-purpose flower

2 pounds of lamb or stew beef, trimmed and cut into 1 inch cubes

1 teaspoon of sea salt

5 cups of chopped onions about 3 large onions

1 tablespoon of tomato paste mounded

4 cups of beef broth, fat free and less sodium if possible

1 bottle of Guinness draught beer

1 tablespoon of raisins

1 teaspoon of caraway seeds

teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

2 cups of sliced carrots inch thick

2 cups of sliced parsnips inch thick

1 cup of turnips cut into cubes

2 cup of sliced celery inch thick

2 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh parsley



1} Heat 1 tablespoons of flavored oil in a Dutch oven, over medium-high heat. Add a tablespoon of butter to the pan.

2} Place the flour in a shallow dish. Sprinkle the lamb or beef with teaspoon of salt and cover the meat with the flour.

3} Add half the meat to the pan of hot oil and cook for about 5 minutes, turning to brown all sides. Remove the meat from the pan with a slotted spoon and put aside.

4} Repeat procedure with the remaining oil and butter and the meat

5} Add the onions to the pan, cook for about 5 minutes until tender, stirring occasionally

6} Stir in tomato paste, cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently

7} Stir in broth and beer, scraping the pan to loosen browned bits in the pan. Return meat to the pan

8} Stir in remaining salt, add raisins, caraway seeds and pepper. Bring to a boil.

9} Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

10} Uncover and bring to a boil. Cook for 45 minutes stirring occasionally. Add carrots, parsnips, turnips, and celery.

11} Cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes stirring occasionally.

12} Uncover and bring to a boil, cook for 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Sprinkle the parsley blend well with your slotted spoon and serve.


Serve with crusty bread or corn bread and a tall glass of cold Guinness beer. Happy St. Patrick's Day enjoy! 








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