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The Avid Gardener: Adding to the Spring Palette

by and on April 19, 2017 5:00 AM

“All gardening is landscape painting.”  -- Alexander Pope

Not all artwork is meant for public display. I own a beach-inspired painting of grasses that hangs discretely in my garden shed, created during a paint-and-sip event with friends. A glass of merlot may have decreased any social awkwardness, but it certainly did not make me Georgia O’Keefe.

To me, gardening is a different story. No matter what level of expertise a gardener may have, with tenacity and patience there are always small victories that add to competence and boost confidence.

Cumulative knowledge helps so much, and it is with that in mind that I share a variety of gardening-related tips to add to your palette. They can be found in more detail on a site called where, according to its four highly accomplished authors, “fresh gardening voices come together to revel in the charms and fascinations of the horticulture world.”

The four contributors are Amy Andrychowicz, a writer and blogger; Jessica Walliser, a horticulturist, author and bug lover (also a Penn State graduate); Niki Jabbour, an award-winning author and edibles expert; and Tara Nolan, a garden and lifestyle writer. The site combines art and science to present a quirky mixture of information and musings for all gardeners.

Here is a smattering of ideas from some of their postings.


According to Nolan, certain flowers can be planted to attract beneficial insects that will, in turn, help control bad insect populations (for example, ladybugs can control aphid infestations), rather than using pesticides. This idea was brought home after she toured the Jardin le Tournesol, Quebec City’s largest and oldest community garden in Canada. There, she saw veggie gardens outlined with marigolds, which she says help to deter whiteflies and keep nasty nematodes away from crops such as broccoli and cabbage.

Other plant assistants she advocates are garlic, to fend off Japanese beetles and aphids, and dill and borage around tomatoes to repel hornworms. Orange nasturtiums also help protect squash and cucumbers. Adding the following plants also helps in this regard, as well as to attract pollinators: milkweed, bachelor’s buttons, anise hyssop, lemon balm, coreopsis and amaranth.


Why not try a new plant this year? Nothing brings more excitement than following the progress of a new addition, whether it’s a tree, shrub, perennial or annual.

And, there is no better annual for summer color to plant in a garden than the zinnia. Savvy Garden writer Andrychowicz outlines many good reasons to try it. 

Zinnias come in a rainbow of beautiful, showy colors, are reliable growers whether in the ground or in pots. They attract butterflies and pollinators, are easy to maintain and bloom all season. They also make great cut flowers for arrangements. As a bonus, the seeds can be collected and saved after the flowerheads brown, to be used the following year.

My zinnias were a focal point on my deck last year.


Walliser offers a wealth of advice in this area. She is a strong advocate for staying away from synthetic herbicides, as well as homemade concoctions.

First, it helps to “design the weeds out of the garden” by spacing plants closer, using various heights to shade the soil (this helps deter weed growth), adding ground covers to bare soil where weeds can take hold and aiming to grow a thick healthy lawn that crowds out weeds.

Second, cultivate the soil less often and more shallowly to preserve its tilth and texture, so that buried weed seeds are not brought up to the surface to germinate. Walliser recommends the tried and true use of swan, scuttle or flat hoes to chop off young weed seedlings to prevent them from maturing. 

Other helpful ideas include cutting off the flower heads of weeds such as crab grass and dandelions to keep them from dropping seed, and suppressing weeds with a 2- to 3-inch layer of weed-free mulch from a reliable source. She recommends mulching in April here in Pennsylvania to keep weed seeds from germinating.


Perhaps you’d like to “paint” the garden according to some theme to add interest, especially for children.

Theme gardens are ones in which every plant revolves around one idea, as do the ornaments, containers and other accents. Many people have heard of herb, vegetable, fairy and cut flower gardens. Some other terrific ideas suggested on the website are sports, herbal tea, burrito, lemonade and children’s rain garden.

For example, the lemonade garden includes ingredients needed to make your own lemonade. These could include Meyer lemons (which need to be grown in containers in our area), lemon balm and lemon verbena to add flavor, stevia to naturally sweeten it, spearmint to make it minty, blueberries to add for blueberry-lemonade, violets and lavender for infusion and color and pineapple sage to take it to a new level.

Check out Savvy Gardening for further explanation of ideas on the other suggested themes, or come up with a new one.  Maybe it’s to feature heirloom or exotic plants, for instance.

This site has a plethora of articles on almost any gardening topic imaginable for guidance and experimentation.

Gardening should be an enjoyable experience that expands our horizons and beautifies our environment, so take out the spring paintbrush and get creating.


This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

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