Dad, do you think Mom will be surprised with the tree?
The Paul Parent Garden Club, next trip is to Cuba

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Selecting the perfect christmas tree takes the whole family

When I was younger, and it came time to select the perfect Christmas tree, we had one choice--the Balsam fir. Although this is still the number one tree sold in New England, today the selection is very different and our choices more numerous. Let me tell you about these trees and then you can select wisely.

The Balsam Fir
Needles lie flat on each side of the branch and the branch is thickly covered with needles. The needle is dark green on top and pale green on the bottom. Needles are an inch long and, when crushed, are VERY fragrant. Your entire home will smell like the great outdoors. Branches are stiff but will bend with the weight of lights and ornaments. Ornaments are easily displayed, as the branches spread out and open up the tree to show inside to the trunk. Balsam fir has long lasting color, fragrance and freshness.

Frasier Fir
A new hybrid of the Balsam fir. Needles are flat and surround the branch, not just on the sides. Top of the needles is very dark green, while the underside is silver. Needles are an inch long and have some fragrance to them. The tree is much fuller than the traditional Balsam fir. The branches are stiff but will bend some with the weight of the lights and ornaments. When it is heavily sheared, ornaments lie on the side of the branches as the tree does not open up as much. Fraser fir has the best color of all trees with the dark green top and silver underside. Fragrance good in the room it's in.

Douglas Fir
Flat needles on each side of the branch like the Balsam but longer--1.5 to 2 inches long. The branches are thick with needles; they are dark green on top and silver green on the underside. There is a little bit of fragrance but not like the Balsam fir. Branches are very flexible and decorate easily but heavy ornaments pull down branches easily. Tree has a weeping appearance, unusual and beautiful. Like all fir trees, it's long lasting, has good color and is fresh looking. Look for tags on the branches to see where it was grown. If grown on the West coast and you had temperatures 20 degrees or colder, do not buy it. West coast grown trees will shed needles when they hit the heat in your home.

Scotch Pine
Once very popular in the Midwest but due to insect problems and disease there are fewer and fewer trees grown each year. It grows very upright and the branches are stiff. Lights and ornaments lie on the side of the tree as branches bend very little. Needles are 2 inches long and blue green, with a silver underside. Not much of a fragrance but will last in the house longer than most trees.

White Pine
Very soft looking with pale green needles 3 to 4 inches long. Trees are sheared heavily and I think it is difficult to decorate, as branches are soft and ornaments fall off easily. Dries up faster than the fir family, as needles are thin and soft. It's beautiful to look at, but the tree will not last long in a warm room.

Noble Fir
From the West Coast, this is a tree that we should all try at one time. Stems are filled with one inch long needles that are rounded on the tip. Several layers of silver green needles on the branches, and they are just beautiful. Branches spaced about 6 inches apart, almost like layers on the tree, so ornaments can dangle on branches and display beautifully. No real fragrance but this tree will not shed needles--yes, it will not shed! When dry, maintains the color.
The Maine Christmas Song
The Maine Christmas Song

The flower of December is poinsettia

The first United States ambassador to Mexico was Joel Poinsett, appointed under the new administration of President Andrew Jackson in 1828 to build strong ties between the countries. Joel was an avid amateur botanist, and spent much of his free time roaming the countryside of Mexico looking for plants not found in the United States. In December, Joel found a tall, fiery red wildflower growing along the back roads of the countryside where he lived while in Mexico. Joel was enchanted by the unusual flowers found on this plant, so he took cuttings and had this new plant shipped to his greenhouse back to his home in South Carolina.

Joel worked to improve the quality of the plant when he was home--and the following Christmas he delivered his special plants to the White House for the president, from the country in which he represented the United States. He called the plant the poinsettia; after all he discovered and grew this wild flower, so why not name it after himself as so many other plants enthusiasts had done before? Because of his early efforts and his work, today over 150 million poinsettia plants are grown and sold in more than 50 countries every year.

In the wild, the poinsettia grows like a shrub--8 to 10 feet tall--and the branches are leggy looking but stiff and coarse in appearance. The bright green leaves grow 6 to 8 inches long and drop from the plant during the winter months, then redevelop as spring arrives in May. In early November, the top leaves begin to change color due to the temperature cooling down and the length of the day shortening. This causes a chemical change in the plant which stops vegetative growth and promotes flower development on the plant. The red leaves are called flowering bracts and in the center of the colorful leaves, the small flower buds will develop; they look likes button with yellow fuzz on them. The plant will stand out in the wild from November to February and then goes dormant.

The Aztecs used this plant for its milky sap in medicine and to control fevers. Clothing merchants used the colorful bracts to make a reddish-purple dye for cotton fabric. The high priests used the plant in ceremonies because its fiery red color was a symbol of purity.

In the early 1900's FEAR filled the minds of mothers all over America. A nasty rumor spread that Poinsettias were poisonous and that a child who ate just one leaf could become very ill or even die. Mothers began to avoid this wonderful plant for the holidays and it quickly lost all its appeal. In 1919, things got even worst as an Army doctor circulated an untrue story that a two year old toddler died after eating just one leaf from a plant growing near a playground in Hawaii. Now the media began to label this plant as dangerous and if you lived in a warm climate where the plant grew, they said to pull all plants out for your own safety.

Finally in the 1970's, the Society of American Florists asked Ohio State University to test the plant and uncover the truth, poison or not poison. The results were overwhelming and their findings concluded that a 50 pound child or even your pet could eat 500 red bracts and suffer only a mild upset stomach. Also the American Medical Association released a statement of assurance that poinsettias have never been responsible for poisonings or fatalities. The plant was saved from devastation and is today's bestselling Christmas plant.

In 1993, a survey was taken about the poinsettia plant and its toxic myth; the results were as follows: 63% of women and 42% of men still believed the plant was toxic, and they got their information from word of mouth, the media and rumors. So this December, be sure to purchase a Poinsettia plant for your home and let it be known it is not poisonous. It is a plant of beauty that was once a wildflower and only came in the color red. Today poinsettias come in red, pink, white, white with pink blotches, spotted color combinations, double-flowering varieties and new varieties every year to help decorate for the holidays.
USO Christmas Show-Long Binh, Vietnam 1970
USO Christmas Show
Long Binh, Vietnam 1970

Care of living Christmas Trees

One of the most exciting parts of the holiday season is selecting the family Christmas tree. This year for a change, how about a selecting a Christmas tree that you can plant in your yard after the holidays? You can decorate it inside this year and outside in the yard next year.

Today a good cut tree will cost you $30 to $75 dollars and when the holiday is over, you have nothing left for your investment. You can purchase a living tree with a root ball for $50 and up.

If the north wind is a problem, now is the time to start planting the first of that hedgerow of evergreens to break the wind. This is the fun way to get the job done. Each tree will have its own special memories of past holidays while performing an energy-saving task.

The proper care of a living tree is as follows:

Choose a tree that you can handle since the dirt ball or pot will be heavy.

Pick out the tree while the weather is good and the moving is easy.

Your living tree can only stay in the house for 7 to 10 days. So, plan for the time that the tree will be in the house and out.
Living trees must be kept away from fireplaces, wood stoves and heating ducts. The tree is now dormant and if you wake it up it will start to grow in the house. Then, once you take it back out, the cold weather could hurt the new bud.

Keep the room cool and the root ball wet so the plant does not dry up.

To prevent damage to floor or carpet, place the root ball in a tub. A child's flying saucer sled will work great.

Try to bring the tree inside when the outside temperature is no colder than 25 degrees from inside.

If you have a garage or barn keep the tree there until you are ready to bring it indoors. If not, keep it as close as possible to the door for easy access during periods of heavy snow.

When you are ready to bring the tree indoors, place a scatter rug by the door and the container on it. The scatter rug will allow you to slide the tree along the floor without damage to the floor and it will save you extra lifting. Do not fill the container full of water--a quart at a time will do. To help keep the tree dormant, spray the foliage with Wilt Pruf or Wilt Stop. This will keep the moisture in the tree.

Use the new LED lights on the tree, as they produce little to no heat and that helps keep the tree dormant.
Mist the tree daily with water.

After the holidays, if the weather is stormy or very cold, place the tree in the garage or barn. If not possible, up against the house or fence to keep it out of direct sun and the wind. Cover the root ball with bark mulch, straw or soil until spring.
You can plant the tree in the yard if the weather is good but you will have to dig the hole before the ground freezes and bring the soil into the garage so it does not freeze. You must also fill the hole with leaves in a trash bag just in case it snows or you will never find it (or worse, find it by falling in it). I wait until spring; it's easier!

The living tree is more work than the traditional cut tree but you will not be sorry when you see the results.

Alan Jackson -
Alan Jackson - "Let It Be Christmas" ((CMA Country Christmas 2014))
Holiday Wreaths and evergreen roping

It is now time to decorate the house inside and out for Christmas.
Let us begin outside:
If you are planning to place evergreen roping around the front door and around the lamppost, you will need 7 yards for the average front door. The lamppost will need 3 yards.

Most nurseries sell roping by the yard or by the roll. Most rolls of roping come in 10 yard length and is cut to your order. It will be cheaper to buy the roll if you plan to do both. Now, the softer the evergreen you select, the more pliable it will be and easier to attach to the house. Use aluminum nails when attaching to the house; that way it can be left up for next year without rusting and staining the house.

If your house faces south and you live where it does not get so cold during the winter, you may want to use needle evergreen foliage over broadleaf foliage as broadleaf foliage could dry up faster. If it's a must for you, hang up the roping and spray with Wilt-Pruf or Wilt-Stop antidesiccant to prolong the life of the evergreens.

The most common evergreen roping materials are mountain laurel and boxwood for broadleaf evergreens. White pine, princess pine, and balsam fir are the best for needle evergreens. Some nurseries have combinations that are very nice also.

If you have whiskey barrels, window boxes or planters you want to fill with cut greens, your selection is endless. The most popular is balsam fir and when mixed with other types of evergreens the various textures make them stand out in your yard. Look for white pine, red pine, black pine, blue spruce, mountain. laurel, boxwood, native holly, and cypress. Now for a little color with the greens, add Italian ruscus or red alder berries. When pushed into the container filled with soil, the moisture in the soil will keep it fresh until almost spring.

Now indoors:
Any cut greens must be sprayed with a antidesiccant like Wilt Pruf or Wilt Stopbefore attaching to railings or walls. Apply and let dry first! If you are thinking of adding greens near a fireplace be sure to use a antidesiccant or they will fall apart quickly. Needle evergreens or princess pine do best inside. For mantels, I suggest that you use west coast greens such as noble fir or silver fir, as these greens dry up BUT will not shed. KEEP AWAY from open flames! If you do not touch them once placed, they will not drop needles as much.

Keep away from the spruce family, as they dry up very quickly. Spruce needles dry up and become very pointed and sharp. Norway and blue spruce are the best for indoor use of the family if you want to use them. KEEP AWAY from white spruce, as once in your home it will produce an odor that resembles cat urine--very unpleasant. Don't forget the mistletoe!

"A little smile, a word of cheer,
A bit of love for someone near,
A little gift from one held dear,
Best wishes for the coming year
These make a merry Christmas"

John Greenleaf Whittier

The Parent Family French Canadian Salmon Pie

Growing up in Maine our family had a tradition of eating Salmon Pie on Fridays, as you could not eat meat on Fridays many years ago. This was the results of the Catholic church trying to help the fishing industry and during Lent fish of some type, was mandatory on Fridays, no meat. This recipe came to Maine with my grandparents who were originally from Quebec, Canada. Now if you like salmon fixed any way you like it, this will be a real treat for you. Try it now and again as part of your Christmas celebration and the fish eaters will love it.

4 to 6- 3 to 4 inch potatoes, peeled.
A 3 inch white or yellow onion, minced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon of butter
1 Tablespoon of dried or fresh thyme
1/2 cup of whole milk
2 Pillsbury 9 inch pie shells or make your own from scratch
Salt and pepper to taste
1-9 inch glass, high wall pie plate
2 can of red salmon 14.75 ounces each

1} Open up the cans of red salmon and empty the liquids into small bowl for later. Place the solids in a container like a large bowl. Remove the skin, and bones, and dispose. With a fork or your hands break up the pieces of Salmon into small pieces set aside.

2} Cut up you Potatoes in quarters and place in a pot, cover with water, add salt and cook until tender but still firm like you do for mash potatoes. Drain the water and mash with a fork, set aside.

3} Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Place the bottom crust in your pie plate and shape to the bottom of the pie plate.
4} In a large fry pan cook your onions, garlic and butter over medium heat until vegetables are transparent. Add you mashed salmon and blend with the vegetables. With a fork continue to mash the salmon until no lumps appear. Cook on medium heat until Salmon is hot, 10 minutes. Add some of the mashed up potatoes and blend well with the salmon mixture. I use half the potatoes to start and add the rest to help it bind the salmon to the potatoes. The potatoes will give your salmon a nice creamy look. When it is blende add 1/2 cup of milk and blend well. If the salmon mixture is not fluffy and a cup of the salmon juice and mix well, the juice will give the pie more flavor.

5} Pour the salmon mixture into the pie shell and level. There will be extra salmon mixture, so add it all to the pie shell creating a slight mound in the middle of the pie plate, the thicker the better. Cover with your top crust and pinch the two crusts together. Cut 6 slits in the upper shell and paint on a bit of melted butter to make your crust golden brown. Place the pie on the lower rack and cook for about 45 minutes.

Hard-Boiled Eggs in a Basic White Sauce

1 heaping tablespoon of butter
1 heaping tablespoon of white flour
1 cup of whole milk
Salt and pepper to your taste

You will need 6 hardboiled eggs, cook while the pie is cooking

1} In a small sauce pan on low heat, melt your butter. Do not brown!

2} Stir in the flour and Wisk together.

3] Stir in the milk and continue to Wisk together until it begins to thicken.

4} Chop up your eggs into in pieces and add to the White Sauce and blend with a large spoon.

Now cut your pie, place it on the plate and with a gravy spoon ladle the hard boiled eggs white sauce over the piece of pie. Add salt and pepper to your taste and enjoy! 

I always make 2 pies around the holidays, one for now and then take the second pie and cut it in individual pieces, wrap in aluminum foil and freeze for another day. The sauce does not freeze well it must be made and served immediately. To reheat the frozen pie pieces place in over set at 350 degrees and heat until hot about 20 to 25 minutes and enjoy! "O -CANADA"



Garden Journal

        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. 

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