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So far Kelly has created 35 blog entries.

The Gardener’s Version of a Selfie

You know you’ve crossed the threshold of obsession when your idea of a selfie is a pic of your favorite plant at the moment. Most people’s Instagram and Facebook feeds are full of photos of friends at the beach, family gatherings, and their latest plate from the newest trendy artsy-foodie restaurant that just opened. But for us gardeners who get beyond excited when we discover a new plant, or that dahlia that you’ve been nurturing all season is putting on an insanely gorgeous show, it is our gardens that are the star!

Cosmos and Dahlias in Flower Patch

Like everyone, I’ll post a photo of my mom and I on Mother’s day, but for the most part my social media—and especially my Instagram is wallpapered in flowers, vegetables, herbs and just about anything plant related. It’s a sickness really to be this invested in my garden, but I just can’t help myself.

I feel no shame than my feeds are crowded and bursting with images of lilacs, dahlias, tomatoes, carrots, scented geraniums and armfuls of herbs like basil and chives. These are my loves, why shouldn’t I show them off? Even though I’ve been growing things since I was a teenager, I am invariably surprised when these little seeds turn into something beautiful or tasty.

Dahlias for Kelly

There’s no greater thrill than seeing a small seedling you cultivated surpass the package, or catalog, descriptions. Last year I grew some cosmos because, really, why not? They’re the classic cottage garden cut flower (of which I am an everlasting fan), they come in a selection of luxurious pastel colors and are remarkably productive, three things that have me clicking “add to card” like Pavlov’s dog salivating for a treat. Well the ‘Double Click’ and ‘Daydream’ descriptions said to expect the plants to grow to three-and-a-half to four feet, I thought “Awesome, these will look great between my dahlias.” Well, these suckers grew more than five-an-a-half feet tall! I’m 5’1’ and these things towered over me and my dahlias—you should have seen me cutting them down at the end of the season, my husband couldn’t see me in the flower patch even after the frost had killed everything. When you have a performer like that, how can you notshare? It would really be a public disservice.

Cosmos are cool


When you look out in your garden and you’re sure you’ve grown the most succulent lettuce anyone has ever grown or your scented geraniums are so tall you’re wading waist-deep in their delicious scent our grubby, compost-ridden fingers can’t wait to get out our phones, or cameras to capture such awesomeness. Or how about when you are convinced you just harvested the most incredible 20 pounds of basil anyone has ever harvested, won’t your fellow gardeners understand the love that went into growing them? And you cannot even contemplate not bestowing the glory of your foot-long, arrow-straight carrots with your online friends. As gardeners we just have to share!

So many Garden Selfies

This is not to say that nothing ever goes wrong in the garden—quite the contrary. I prefer to think of these garden mistakes as “experiments in research.” And I just learned how not to do something that didn’t work so well … like the first time I planted comfrey, gifted from a garden friend. In case you are unaware, while comfrey has many uses in the organic garden it can be quite invasive if not cared for properly. No one told me to cut it to the ground, and I let it flower and go to seed since it was so pretty. That was a big NO-NO! Comfrey can be incredibly invasive if you don’t have the ‘Blocking 14’ cultivar, which is sterile. Now I make use of this hardy perennial, cutting it back to the ground four or more times a year. Making fertile comfrey tea to feed my flowers and fruiting veggies, using it as an organic mulch, and layering it within my compost pile to accelerate decomposition (for more info on how to use comfrey and other organic gardening techniques, check our my new book The Backyard Gardener. The flower stalks add a nice touch to my kitchen arrangements as well!

Comfrey as Fertilizer

While these distressing moments don’t typically end up on Instagram or Facebook—just as I imagine people are not posting when their children are behaving in a way they wished they didn’t—they help you become the gardener you are today. And so we celebrate our garden successes, just as if they were our children, because really, they kind of are.

By |April 30th, 2018|Growing & Gardening|

Oh My Sweet Pea!

Love sowing, growing (pinching), and harvesting sweet peas? Me too! Read on to find out why the mighty sweet pea is one of my favorite flowers to grow.

My mom always said she didn’t play favorites between my sister and I, and neither of us ever believed her; each of us thinking the other was getting something that we weren’t. Now that I’m older, I know my mother was telling the truth, because that is how it is for me in the garden. With so many flavors and colors to enjoy, how can I have a favorite?

Between large, dinner plate dahlias (which I can wax poetic on for days) and scented geraniums (think of a scratch-n-sniff sticker, but with leaves!), not to mention my kitchen garden—which is filled with a tasty array of tomatoes, carrots and broccoli—I can hardly narrow down the list of “favorites.”

That said, each child (or in my case plant) is not without their own uniqueness that must be encouraged and celebrated. For example, there will always be a special place in my heart for the delicate sweet pea. They are like the childhood friend that visited your family’s home every summer; you can’t wait for them to arrive and feel lost when it’s time to say your goodbyes.

Growing up, my mom always kept a jar of sweet peas on the windowsill, their sweet scent welcoming me home on warm summer days, a link between the outside and in, and I’ve continued the tradition she unknowingly set in motion, growing these deliciously scented plants every year without fail.

Sweet peas need a good start and really benefit from some ruthless pinching, so a head start is well needed. Typically, I start these at the end of January, or early February, soaking the seeds overnight. The next morning after they’ve plumped-up I sow them two-to-a-pot and set the trays on a heat mat to help get them germinating. Since sweet peas develop a rather elaborate root system (which we want to encourage!) I’ve found they do much better if I start them off in the 2.5″ square pot I intend to keep them in until transplanting, as opposed to the smaller cells of propagation trays and repotting them later.

Now comes the part that makes many gardeners break out in hives—pinching. Once the plants reach about 6″ tall and have 4-6 sets of true leaves, I cut them back to one or two sets of leaves. Yes, I am cutting away lots of leafy green growth. Yes, I promise this won’t decimate your plants. This will in fact make your seedlings branch, develop more stems and give you longer flower stems. So this is TOTALLY worth it!

And just to blow your minds … I do this 3-4 times before setting out!

Now, before the sweet peas are planted outside in the garden, I harden them off religiously, as sweet peas are very sensitive to temperature fluctuations. On the first day I move them to the front of the greenhouse and open the door. Then the following day I move them to a sheltered spot outside for a few hours, making sure to bring them back inside the greenhouse. Each subsequent day I leave them outside a little longer than the day before, before returning them to the greenhouse. This process takes about 10-14 days.

I’m all about gardening organically, so each year I top off my bed with some fresh compost and scratch in bonemeal to promote healthy root systems and growth. Because I love the way intensive planting strategies look—and save space—I plant my sweet pea seedlings 6″ apart and weave them into the trellis above. I’ve used all sorts of materials: nylon netting, wood lattice and chicken wire. Personally I like the chickenwire because it’s not distracting once the plants begin blooming, but mostly because it’s so much stronger and doesn’t sag between the t-posts. Also, I plant on both sides of my free-standing wall trellis to make the most of the space.

From then on it’s mostly watering. I usually give my newly seedlings a dose of fish emulsion to get them excited about growing, but after that it’s just regular, deep watering. Try to avoid short, infrequent watering as that’s often not enough to reach the deep root system. As the plants take off I add a layer of jute twine every 12″ to corral the sweet peas and keep them growing upright.

Once you start seeing blooms it’s time to cut, cut, cut! Typically I’m out there cutting stems three times a week. Sweet peas seem to be of “the more you cut, the more you get” plant variety. And don’t forget to remove any spent flowers along the way. This prevents the plants from going into seed-starting mode, elongating the bloom period—which is the whole point of growing these sweet-smelling beauties!

My Spencer sweet peas are pretty heat tolerant and really kick it into high gear by mid-Summer. So much so that there’s plenty for my home and to sell at market, but enough leftovers to share with family and friends! But the best part about growing these tall, elegant plants? Every time I get a whiff, I’m transported back to some of the happiest moments of my childhood.

By |April 9th, 2018|Growing & Gardening|

Freshly Minted


When I first began my foray into growing and selling herbs, I painstakingly planned what and how I would grow. Using all the knowledge I had up until that point and exacting standards—that was how I planned to set my plants apart at market—I sowed, took cutting and grew all my favorite herbs and varieties! Flats of French thyme, basil (oh-so-many-basils), ‘Greek’ oregano, ‘Hidcote’ lavender, cilantro and ‘Gigante d’Italia’ Parsley just to name a few. But mint was not on the list.

You see, Mint’s a promiscuous little thing! More times than not when I worked at the local nursery I was teaching people how to corral and eradicate this escape artist. I could never have imagined that mint would be a such a sought-after herb at the farmer’s market.


Since mint roots so incredibly easily, I took a few cuttings and potted them up. Within a couple weeks I had pots ready to go … and they flew off the table! I’ve come far in my mint appreciation since those early growing days, but I now I do so with caution.

I can’t sell a single plant without giving it’s new owner a disclaimer about how invasive mint can be. “Plant it in a 2-3 gallon nursery pot, sink the plastic pot 90% into the ground and harvest regularly!” New gardeners often nod reassuringly at me, all the while thinking they won’t have a problem with mint running a-muck in their beds. While the well-seasoned gardener purchases it with a specific purpose and we often discuss various containment strategies before they go home to introduce their new baby to the garden.

This post is certainly not designed to scare you off growing mint, but it’s incredibly important to know why and how you’re growing it. So not to create a meddlesome pest that you have to spend hours each season hacking out of your vegetable beds.

Now let’s talk about all the delicious mints I’ve come to love! The all-purpose ‘Spearmint’ can be used in drinks, salads, on the grill and tastes good in most dishes that call for mint. ‘Peppermint’ is coveted for teas and is often distilled into oil.

The signature flavors of ‘Mojito’ (for the obvious mojito cocktail) and ‘Kentucky Colonel’, favored in mint juleps popular around Kentucky Derby time, add pizazz to any last-minute summer get-togethers.

And I not only sell ‘Apple’, ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Orange’ mints to local markets, but also florists—who use them as fragrant filler for bouquets and arrangements! Variegated ‘Pineapple’ makes a statement as either a drink garnish or in floral design.

And that’s not even considering all the other novelty flavors that I’m growing-just because I HAD to. Things like ‘Banana’, ‘Grapefruit’ and ‘Strawberry.’ Absolutely delish!

And don’t let me forget to mention ‘Basil’ Mint … oh-my-gosh! I can’t even talk about that amazingness without salivating.

As a perennial, this herb comes back year after year and aside from regularly harvesting, it doesn’t require much TLC from you. Plant in full sun, and start harvesting on the south-side of the bed. Every 1-2 weeks there will be enough regrowth for a second harvest. I’m a bit ruthless on the farm when it comes to cutting back, I go straight to ground level once a season to revitalize the bed to keep it productive.

So if you’re not a fan of mowing, go ahead and let mint do its thing, let it roam free…however, if you’re not a fan of chaos and living on the edge, grow it in a pot!

By |April 4th, 2018|Growing & Gardening|

Your Soil and the Top 3 Myths

When most gardeners think about their garden, they picture big beautiful blooms or perfectly ripe tomatoes…I think about what’s underneath: Dirt. (Sidenote: I would bottle that scent and wear it if I could!)

But first things first, test your soil. The importance of soil testing cannot be overstated. Most vegetables prefer a pH of 6.5, but without a starting point you won’t know whether you need lime to raise it, or sulfur to reduce it. Your results also tell you which amendments to add if you want to grow brassicas, nightshades or something else. Soil test kits are available at your local extension office and for a nominal fee you’ll get all sorts of helpful information (it’s worth the investment).

Don’t scrimp on soil. I saw it time and again when I worked in the nursery, weekend warriors trying to save a few bucks on inferior soil, while spending huge amounts of money on dahlia tubers, new seeds or bright, colorful annuals and perennials. This ADES (All Dirt Is Equal Syndrome), affects many new (and experienced) gardeners, and can be disastrous in the garden! Let’s dispel soil myth #1 first: topsoil is not the answer. All “topsoil” means, is, that that dirt was scraped from the top, including troublesome weed seed. It doesn’t indicate if it has organic matter (which you want) or what percent of sand, silt and clay is in the bag. What you really want instead is loam. Loam has just the right balance of soil particles, giving you excellent drainage and improved nutrient and water-holding capacity (yes!). Look at soil bag descriptions and look for something that drains well.

Every year I start with a soil test to determine what my plants are going to need and add accordingly (blood meal for foliage, bonemeal for flowering plants and lime/sulfur to adjust the pH). Just follow the directions on the bag and apply.

A note on digging. Unless you are starting a brand-spanking new bed, DON’T DO IT ! This is soil myth #2: rototilling mixes your soil. No. It doesn’t. Actually, it breaks apart your soil’s structure and kills the beneficial microbes and worms living in your garden. Instead, top dress your beds with a few inches of compost and let the earthworms do the work. It’s what those little, slimy things want to do anyway and they’re good at it. They’ll sense that delicious, nutrient-rich compost ladled on top of your garden bed and crawl up, around and down as fast as they can to digest nutrients, leaving castings and distributing nutrients throughout the soil. Why would you want to mess with the natural order of the universe?

Garden Bed Topped with a couple inches of compost

For new raised beds, fill them with a 50/50 mixture of garden loam and compost, topping it with a few inches of straight compost. Otherwise, all the same principles for amending and no tilling apply.

Soil myth #3: you need to aerate your soil. Wrong-o. While you want some space in your soil for air, water and roots to tunnel through and reach nutrients, let the soil microbes handle that. This is why good soil structure is so important (remember that mix of sand, silt and clay we talked about?). You don’t want too much sand because that will cause all your water and nutrients to drain away before plants can get a hold of them, and you don’t want too much clay either, which causes root rot. With the right blend of soil particles, earthworms and microbes not only till, but they aerate as well, leaving behind hundreds and thousands of channels as they slide, inch and wiggle their way through your garden.

Once your bed has been made (ha!) and planted in, try to avoid stepping on and compacting the soil. Each time you compress the soil, you’re squeezing out all those air channels and suffocating the roots.

As you plant into your beds and notice an increase in earthworms, that means you are doing something right! Unpleasant as they are to look at, earthworms are a sign of healthy, biological activity in your soil. If you don’t see as many worms as you like, you can add casting to help improve the fertility, buy actual earthworms and toss them into the garden or raise your own in a homemade earthworm bin (there’s lots of free plans available online).

Personally, I use drip tape and landscape fabric (rated for 12-15 years) with holes burned into them, and plant directly into these little pockets to help control the weed situation. Most of us hate weeds because they make the garden look sloppy, but they’re extremely dangerous because they steal all that organic matter goodness and water from your plants, and overcrowd your garden. To make it look more aesthetically pleasing you can cover the fabric with wood chips, straw or gravel.

For more information on soil, its amendments and nutrients, compost, as well as everything you can (and can’t) imagine about organic growing and the kitchen garden, pick up a copy of Kelly‘s book, The Backyard Gardener, available on Amazon, Barnes+Noble’s or get your signed copy on her site, Bowery Beach Farm.

My Dinner Plate Dahlias

This year I’m trying to reign-in my Dahlia obsession. I always have this fantasy of  rows upon rows of dahlias. But space is a hot commodity for me on my little farm, so let’s just assume that I’ll be planting less than I had on my crazy-awesome dahlia wishlist, but more than CJ thought we needed.

Supposedly this little negotiation is called “Comprise”.


I try to get my tubers in the ground by mi-May (which is creeping up on me). When planting dahlia tubers be careful. They’re fragile. Which really isn’t my strong suit. I think my fine motor skills may have been lost somewhere in the gene pool.

My Tip for Fantastically HUGE Dahlias: I toss a handful of Bonemeal in the hole at plantins. Bonemeal encourages strong root growth (important for heavily flowering plants like roses and other bulbs) and encourages blooming.

Which HEL-LO?! Is what I’m trying to do!


A side note on Bonemeal: it  has more phosphorous than other fertilizers which is beneficial for dahlias. Most have equal or varying amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. With too much nitrogen plants will focus their growth on leaves, not flowers (which is bad). And potassium helps with the reproduction aspect, which is a non-issue with dahlias as they are grown by splitting their tubers when they are dormant.


There are a many different types of dahlias, butty favorites are the Dinner Plates.

Because they are the best. I may be a bit biased, but I don’t think so.

It’s just that their blooms are so dang big! Their flowers are between 8 and 12 inches ACROSS!  I love seeing clients or  friends’ faces when I bring them a bunch, especially if they haven’t seen them before it’s almost as if they aren’t real.


Another great dahlia growing tip: Cut back the main, center stem half way to the ground (about 4-6″) when its approximately 12″ tall.

I know it hurts. You don’t believe me. You may even think I’ve lost my mind!

But it works!

By cutting back the center leader by several inches all the energy gets redirected back into the plant and does so many good things. It makes the plant happier in general, but the stems elongate (good for market and wedding work), the plant is sturdier and bushier, and it promotes bud development. Which is what I want! So I cut it back.


Be ruthless! Cut all your dahlias back. HARD. Trust me, you won’t be sorry.

If you think I’m lying, try it on just one of your dahlias and you will be converted to this practice for life!

For more on dahlias and the organic kitchen garden, check out my new book, The Backyard Gardener!

By |April 3rd, 2017|Bungalow Potager, Growing & Gardening, My Life As A Gardener|

To Seed or Not to Seed?

Propagation is one of my favorite garden tasks. It’s just a big word to describe a couple simple techniques for starting new plants.


There’s seed (which I’m sure everyone is familiar with), cuttings (think of it as cloning, but all you need is part of a stem, leaf or root to do it) and layering. Since layering is a technique that is used on actively growing plants, I’m going to ignore that one for now and just focus on starting baby plants.

Sowing is the traditional way to grow plants. 

Just follow the directions on your seed packets and you should be fine. A good rule of thumb when sowing is to plant the seed only as deep as its diameter. 


There are a few seeds that are dormant and need a little help breaking dormancy. In that case you can soak, nick or freeze your seeds for a specified amount of time. Few seeds require treatments like that, so unless your seed packet indicates otherwise no worries.


Not all seed is created equal. Yup, you heard me. 

Some plants are sterile and don’t produce any seeds, while others which do, don’t come true to seed. This phrase “not true to seed” refers to planting seeds from a single plant, but the emerging seedlings show wide variation in color, form and/or growing habit. When this is the case, you should take cuttings. 


I take cuttings for rosemary, tarragon, lavender and my scented geraniums in the fall so they have a good start before the following growing season. And even though you can take cuttings anytime, spring and fall are best.

Use clean, sharp snips or a razor to sever a 3-6″ long stem or leaf from the mommy plant just above a node. Then, trim the bottom to just below a node–your cutting will root quicker from there. Sometimes rooting hormone is useful, others not-so-much, but stick your cutting in a light potting mix and firm up the soil. Most cuttings root in 3-4 weeks. 

And whether you are starting from seed or cuttings, a heating mat is invaluable! 


Cuttings are also useful when you see a plant at your friend’s house that you want to steal covet. It’s less of an imposition to ask if you can just snip off a stem rather than tucking the whole thing into your bag when no one’s looking and giving “innocent eyes” when someone discovers the plant is missing.

For more on sowing seed, cuttings and the organic kitchen garden, check out my new book, The Backyard Gardener!

Herbs 101 : Basil

There is nothing like going into the garden and picking some herbs to freshen your home, or your food! Every Tuesday I am going to share some of my favorite herbs – why I love them, how to grow them and any special tidbits I’ve picked up along the way.


And this week I am going to start off with BASIL!

I like to start mine from seed, and I’ll sow about 10 plants every 2-3 weeks. This guarantees that the farm  (and any friends and family who come begging) will have fresh basil all summer long!


I use a basic seed starting mix, and either prop trays or my  soil blocker (which is am-a-zing!). The soil blocks hold together well once the seedling is rooted, and it makes for easy transplanting into the garden or pots for the kitchen windowsill. I give my seeds full sun and they usually will germinate within 5 days. I’m a bit careful about watering, as basil seedlings are prone to dampening off.

My biggest piece of advice for growing basil is Pinch-Pinch-Pinch it back!


By pinching back the plant delays flowering, and once flowering occurs its leaf production will slow. And since I grow basil for its flavorful leaves, I just keep pinching it back until it is a nice bushy plant.

I use my basil in everything from pasta and sauces to bruchetta, soups and salads. And if I have enough leftover (which unfortunately never happens) I’ll dry it for the winter.

For more on growing basil and the organic kitchen garden, check out my new book, The Backyard Gardener!

By |March 13th, 2017|Growing & Gardening, Herbariums, Herbs|

Tomatoes, Who is Not Growing These?

Yesterday I spent the morning seeding tomatoes (they take a while to get started) and as I was gearing up for the season I thought about who wasn’t seeding them … I mean isn’t everyone?

I’m all about supporting your local nursery, but when they’re so easy and cheap to start and all you need is time and patience, why not? You’ll get much better selection with seed, and then you can swap with friends! 

So here are my Top 10 Tomato Growing Tips to get you excited!


Tomato Growing Tip #1: Pick tomato varieties that you will use and are best for your zone. Besides trial and error, which while important and educational, is time consuming. You’ll get much better information about which varieties are good for what, grow well and taste good when talking with friends and neighbors (even your local agricultural extension).

Some varieties preform better than others in specific climates. There are even disease-resistance varieties available. So save yourself some time and ask around.

Tomato Growing Tip #2: Compost and feed your soil, don’t over think it! Get that nutrition in the soil BEFORE you plant your tomato seeds/seedlings. So many people I know add compost and fertilizer after they plant, but starting with a rich, compost soil first is much more beneficial.

Humus, present in healthy, rich soil provides all the potassium (K) your tomatoes need to develop strong roots and stems. And your compost contributes all the phosphorous (P) you need to flowers and fruits. So when you feed your soil a ‘balanced’ fertilizer you are adding more potassium and phosphorous to an already hefty supply. Then adding the extra nitrogen (N), which of course makes your tomato plant look green and lush, results in more foliage and less tomatoes.


Tomato Growing Tip #3: Plant in a sunny spot. And by sunny I mean about 10 hours. The more sun the better. And if you can find a spot that has lots of air circulation that is even better. Not only will your tomatoes grow bigger with more sun, but the air movement keeps disease and pests away.

Tomato Growing Tip #4: Plant your seedlings deep. Whether you grow your seedlings from seed or purchase them at your local nursery, dig a hole deep enough so that the stem is buried up to the top 2 leaves (after removing the lower leaves).

Your plants will develop more roots this way. And more roots means a healthier stem, and a healthier stem means a healthier plant, and a healthier plant makes more tomatoes. Boom!


Tomato Growing Tip #5: Mulch. So simple. Mulch your tomato plants. Use straw, pine needles, leaves, grass, seaweed, whatever! But mulch not only breaks down into yummy things for the soil, but it also keeps the roots cool, prevents weeds, and helps the soil keep its moisture. Which is especially important once the heat and dryness of summer arrive.

Tomato Growing Tip #6: Use Seaweed as a mulch. Your tomatoes will get some supplemental potassium (think stronger and quicker root development), and as the mulch breaks down it integrates into your soil, making it richer.


Tomato Growing Tip #7: Grow your plants vertically. Keeping the stems and leaves off the soil helps keep pests and disease at bay. It also lets in lots of light to all sides of the plant, helping it grow stronger and healthier. I like to use the basketweave trellis technique (please ignore the pink twine … I ran out of the regular jute stuff and that was all I could find in a “trellising emergency”)  This complements the bright and airy spot in tip #3.

Tomato Growing Tip #8: Pluck the first flowers off your plant. This stops the plant from making its first tomatoes. Hence, sending its energy back into growing more stems, leaves and new flowers for new tomatoes. Most experienced tomato gardeners do this, and it is for a reason! Some are even more hardcore and pinch out all the flowers until the plant is a foot tall. I haven’t been that brave yet … but it is some good food for thought.


Tomato Growing Tip #9: Pinch off suckers and non-fruiting branches. These divert your plants energy to places that lead nowhere. Instead by pruning these branches out your tomato plant can focus its energy on making bigger, tastier tomatoes!

Tomato Growing Tip #10: Water long and good. You don’t have to water everyday (except, maybe at the height of summer, in which you probably need to water more frequently) when your plant is growing. It is better to soak it once a week at the plant base. And avoid getting the leaves wet, that could cause some leaf scorch or lead to disease.

And plant, plant, plant! Plant a second (or third if you live in warmer climates) succession of tomatoes in 2-3 weeks of each other. This spreads out your harvests and increases your tomato yield. Which means more tomatoes, which is always a good thing.

For more on growing tomatoes, other vegetables and the organic kitchen garden, check out my new book, The Backyard Gardener!

My Top Ten Flowers to Grow

Even though professionally I’m an herb grower, you can still find lots flowers tucked in around the farm. Every year I tell myself to stick to my grocery list … and “buy only what you need Kelly” but inevitably I’ll add some sweet pea or foxglove seeds. And as space on my small plot is at a premium I have to get creative in not only where I grow them, but also how I explain to CJ why there are non-herbs planted in the hoophouse or field.

I try to console myself (and my pocketbook) by telling myself I can always sell the flowers in bouquets at market or stems to a florist and then I’ve made money, rather than waste it. But mostly, I just want them for me-I’m greedy that way. I want all the plants! (I hope you read that in the same stick-figure cartoon meme voice I used in my head)

So here are my Top 10 Favorite Annual Flowers:

1. Bells of Ireland


I love these green spikes because they lend such elegance and height to any arrangement or border, and best of all they’re super easy! Just condition the seeds by tossing them in the freezer for two weeks in a jar and you’re good to go! Most seed packets recommend direct sowing, but up here in zone 5 that doesn’t work for me. So I start the first batch 8-10 weeks early in large 3″ pots so as not to disturb the roots too much. Give them plenty of water and sun and they will produce up a storm. If you don’t harvest regularly, your plants may require staking. Also I succession sow these twice.


2. Ammi & Queen Anne’s Lace


The traditional Queen Anne’s Lace has been a favorite of mine before I knew much about plants, but a couple of years ago I saw these in a friend’s garden and I was SOLD! Technically an ornamental carrot, they’re called Ammi ‘Dara’ or Chocolate Lace Flower, and come in shades of pink, mauve and purple. And they’re just stunning! As a carrot relative, they too don’t like being transplanted, so if you start them early–like I do–make sure to chill them in the fridge for a couple (1-2) weeks and sow 4-5 weeks early. I’ll succession sow these babies every 2-3 weeks till mid-summer. These are one of those flowers that the more you cut, the more they grow.


3. Heliotrope


As a scented plant enthusiast (read: true fanatic and addict) I’ve grown heliotrope almost as long as I’ve been gardening. They smell HEAVENLY! My mother used to grow them in containers and borders so after a rain or as you brushed by, they would release their delightful scent. These little purple beauties are one of the stars of the cottage garden and even though they’re considered perennials in more temperate parts of the country, they’re annuals here in Maine. Start these seeds early (10-12 weeks) as it can take up to a month for them to germinate, but you will be rewarded for your patience with their sweet scent once they get going. I also make sure to pinch these gals back 2-3 times (just like you do to basil) to encourage bushier plants.


4. Zinnias

IMG_3871Initially I was not on the “I love zinnia bandwagon”, they were a slow burn for me. My sister kept bugging me to grow them for years and so I grew a few traditional varieties to placate her. But I soon learned that the zinnia is a little worker-bee. It just keeps going and going, and does especially well in my cooler climate. So I began experimenting with some varieties like the ‘Zinderellas’ and ‘Benary Giant’ series (6″ wide, double bloom). They come in almost every color you can imagine, vigorous, tolerant and are super easy. Follow the directions on your seed packet,  transplant your four-week old seedings after the danger of frost has passed and pinch back for more stems. And don’t bee surprised by their height. By the end of the season mine reached my shoulders (although keep in mind I’m just a few inches over five feet).


5.  Nasturtiums252.Flowers.Herb.Nasturtium.©KellyOrzelPhotography

What I love about nasturtiums is how easy and useful they are. I prefer the vining forms in salmon, yellow and variegated gleam varieties. Sow two seeds at a time, three weeks early or direct sow. They are a great choice to soften borders or cascade out of raised containers. And guess what?! … they’re actually an herb! Their petals will brighten up any bland-looking salad or chop up their leaves to add a peppery bite!


6. Cosmos


Cosmos are tall! Make sure wherever you plant these powerhouse flowers that that will not shade out any sun-loving plants. Mine were taller than me, making garden cleanup at the end of the season a little trickier for me. Start cosmos seed 5-6 weeks early and transplant after frost. I prefer the soft, fluffy ‘Double Click’ varieties over the more delicate ‘Versaille’ or ‘Seashell’. The more room you give them, the thicker and stronger their stems will be.


7. Verbena Bonariensis


This is not the same verbena you traditionally see at the garden center, they are tall, billowy and look great in borders and bouquets! Again, they’re a tender perennial, meaning they won’t survive the Maine winter (which lets me keep it on this list!) so I sow them 8-10 weeks before the last frost. Keep in mind germination can take a while and they’ll rot if the soil is too moist. A heat mat will help get them started. Transplant outside once frost has passed literally anywhere. They don’t have much of soil preference and only need a small footprint. I plant mine between the vegetables in my kitchen garden to add some color and height. They’ll go like gangbusters from the Fourth of July till frost!


8. Chinese Forget-Me-Nots


I saw these for the first time in my farm-market-neighbor’s bouquets and I was a goner. After this introduction I was so in love with these blue babies I ordered 1/4 lb. of seed! Needless to say I didn’t have to order more of these, like ever. Mainly because their seed is easy to collect once they’re finished. On a side note I would suggest only allowing a select few at the edge of your garden to go to seed, and pulling the rest before they get to the seed stage. Each plant makes so many seeds, but it’s more than that, the seeds have sharp spines that stick to your clothes when cleaning up at the end of the season. I still can’t get them all out of my shirt. So, learn from my mistake; grow them, love them, cut them and compost them-before they set seed! As a bonus, the bees love them!


9. Rudbeckia


Rudbeckia come in many more colors and shapes than the traditional yellow and black combination you know as the classic Black-Eyed-Susan. My current favorites are the ‘Cherry Brandy’ and ‘Chim Chiminee’ mix. Get them off to an early 8-10 week start. They preform exceptionally well in summer with warm, long days. Their stems get shorter and flowers smaller as the weather cools in the fall, but the’re a strong summer producer as long as you deadhead regularly.


10. Sweet Peas


Sweet Peas. Oh my. I didn’t forget about these lovelies, I just saved the best for last. If you’ve never grown them. DO IT! The heirloom varieties are the most scented, but I think they all smell wonderful! They come in plenty of colors and are a super productive flower! They need some help getting started-which I do in early February. They need to break dormancy and to speed that up, soak your seeds overnight (no more than 24 hrs), they should look swollen by the morning. If not, use a sharp knife to nick the seed coat and soak for an additional 6 hours. Plant in 2.5″ pots and label!! I cannot overstate the importance of remembering to label. Three years ago I thought I’d remember which varieties were which since I made this handy-dandy map in my garden notebook … after a few waterings I realized the trays had been reoriented and moved about. So I had to plant them and wait to see where each variety popped up. Also, they need something to climb on. I’ve used everything from wooden lattice, cloth netting, and chicken wire to metal mesh fencing, which I think works best when stretched between metal T-posts. Give them plenty of water and harvest regularly! They will produce all season long as long as you don’t leave spent blooms on the plant, otherwise they begin seed production mode. So pick, pick, pick and if you have too many, share a bouquet with some friends, it’ll be sure to make you the most popular girl (or guy) on the block!

So there you have it, my Top 10 Annual Flowers! And you can be sure I will find a home for these plants, and probably others. My willpower is only so strong when I’m looking through seed catalogs in these cold, Maine winters!

For more on growing and the organic kitchen garden, check out my new book, The Backyard Gardener!


By |February 27th, 2017|Annuals, Cut Flowers, Growing & Gardening|

The Backyard Gardener is Here!


I am over the moon! The first copies of my first book, The Backyard Gardener have arrived and I can’t believe I’m holding my book in my hands!


This all started with an email from my now editor asking what today’s gardeners are looking for and if I be willing to submit a proposal for one of the ideas we discussed.


BackyardGardenerBook.KellyOrzel.©KellyOrzelPhotography 2

So, I thought hard about what I’ve always wanted out of a kitchen garden book. Then I talked to my garden friends and asked what they were looking for. In the end, there wasn’t really a book on the market that describes the whole process—holistically. I mean, they all have great info with the vegetables listed from A to Z, but we’ve all flipped backward and forward to see page so-and-so to get the whole picture. And by the time you’re ready to start growing, you have to figure out which vegetables and fruits go in each bed, then mark those pages throughout the book. I wanted to do something different.


This book covers all you need to know in the first three chapters. I start by talking about gardening from the ground up (the basics): soil, light, water, plant care, pests, etc., followed by the various propagation techniques I use (sowing seed and how to take and start cuttings). The third chapter is a departure from many other garden books. I share my favorite organic practices to improve your crops without chemicals. Crop rotation, season extension, different ways to warm the soil, and even my own sheet mulch (lasagna gardening) recipe are covered here. There are also growing tips, like my heating-mat hack or how to make a potato tower sprinkled throughout.


I’ve grown everything in this book and that’s what the second half (more like 70%) of the book focuses on: Growing vegetables and fruits! I’ve compiled everything I know from personal experience with years of reading and advice from friends into each plant listing. I laid these pages out just like I garden-in crop rotation groups. You’ll find all the Brassicas together, followed by the nightshade vegetables, and so on. Then I talk about my Top 10 herbs and flowers that no kitchen garden should be without, and in the final chapter I break down all my garden chores by month and season. Now you’ll know everything I know!




Screen Shot 2017-02-21 at 11.40.31 PMThe past year-and-a-half has been crazy. So many hours of writing, gardening and photographing went into this little book and I’m so proud! ? My husband was a real trouper. As my deadline drew closer, the laundry pile never seemed to shrink and I began naming the dust bunnies left undusted. When he left for work in the morning I’d be out in the greenhouse and when he came home I’d be at my desk writing or photographing in the garden. His only consolation was that our little house was overflowing with produce!




I wrote this book from my heart. I hope you read it as if we were having a riveting conversation over a fresh tomato salad and the upcoming growing season.


“All through the long winter, I dream of my garden. On the first day of spring, I dig my fingers deep into he soft arch. I can feel its energy, and my spirits soar.” ~ Helen Hayes


I’ve had a clipping of that quote tacked to my cork board since I was 16 and it never fails to capture my feelings about growing. Every time I sink my hands into the soil I feel my connection to the world, and that is my wish is for every gardener, new or experienced. Go out, get dirty and grow. It feeds both your tummy and your soul. Happy gardening!

By |February 22nd, 2017|Books, Growing & Gardening, The Backyard Gardener, Writing|