Lets go to Paris!

January 28th, 2015

I shot this picture from the top of Notre Dame. It's quite a climb, but worth it for the view.

I shot this picture from the top of Notre Dame. It’s quite a climb, but worth it for the view.


I can’t wait to show you Paris. This is the first trip that I’ve help build myself, and I did that since I’ve been there before.
I think it’s the most beautiful city in the world.
You’ll eat dinner at the Eiffel Tower, tour Notre Dame Cathedral, see Monet’s garden, Versailles, the secret gardens of Paris and more.
On Friday come with me as we get lost in Paris. It’s one of the best ways to see the city and don’t worry, we’ll find our way back to the hotel. That’s also a day to kick back if you’d prefer. Sit at a street side cafe and people watch or check out the little shops near our hotel.
Here are all the details, sign up soon, like all my other trips, it’s going to sell out. I will only take a maximum of 32 people, that way we get to know each other. I’ve made many good friends as we’ve enjoyed traveling together.
This is the easiest way to travel as my friends from Collette provide us a local guide who cares for us through the whole trip.

This is the itinerary-

Spotlight on Paris

Day 1: Monday, August 10, 2015 Overnight Flight
Set out for captivating Paris. Come to know this city famous for its world-renowned art, food and fashion. Its rich history will astound you while its style dazzles.
Day 2: Tuesday, August 11, 2015 Paris, France
Arrive in the “City of Light.” Take this day to meander two of Paris’ most well-known gardens. First, visit Luxembourg Gardens, spanning 60 acres, which was created beginning in 1612 by Marie de’ Medici, the widow of King Henry IV of France, and inspired by the Boboli Gardens in Florence. Next, you will visit the Jardin des Plantes, a 17th-century royal garden complete with a natural-history museum, greenhouses, alpine garden, iris garden, rose garden, remarkable trees, and a menagerie. (B)
Day 3: Wednesday, August 12, 2015 Paris, France – Tour Begins
Today you travel to Bois Richeux. Feel like you have stepped back in time when exploring the medieval gardens, established more than 2000 years ago. After this visit, you travel to another of France’s famous gardens in Giverny. The tranquil gardens here combine flora and water elements, and also inspired Monet’s greatest works when he lived in Giverny for more than 40 years. Tonight, enjoy breathtaking views of the city during a dinner featuring delicious French cuisine at the Eiffel Tower. Following dinner, get a different perspective on the city during a Seine River cruise. As you glide along, admire Paris’ glittering skyline. (B, D)
Day 4: Thursday, August 13, 2015 Paris
Come to know the dramatic highlights of Paris – the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral, Champs-Elysees, Place de la Concorde and the magnificent Place Vendome are just some of the amazing landmarks you will see while on a locally-guided tour. Your day continues with a guided tour at the famous Louvre. Dine this evening at one of Paris’ fine restaurants. (B, D)
Day 5: Friday, August 14, 2015 Paris
The entire day is yours to enjoy the city in your own way. You may choose to get a new perspective and leave the city to explore the surrounding countryside. Your tour manager will be on hand with suggestions on exciting ways to spend your free time. (B)
Day 6: Saturday, August 15, 2015 Paris – Reims – Épernay – Paris
Today our journey takes us to Champagne country. Make a stop in ancient Reims to visit its towering centerpiece, the Notre-Dame de Reims. This UNESCO World Heritage site was once the place where French kings were crowned. Discover Reims’ pedestrian streets lined with art galleries and cafés during an included walking tour. Next, travel a short distance to the village of Épernay. Set on the banks of the river Marne, it is home to the world’s leading champagne makers. Stroll down the most famous street in Épernay, the Avenue de Champagne, before making a visit to one of the cellars dug here between the 4th – 15th centuries. Here we see the traditional equipment and enjoy a guided tour and a tasting of the notable champagne varieties. (B)
Day 7: Sunday, August 16, 2015 Paris
During your free afternoon, enjoy an interesting visit to the incomparable Palace of Versailles. The palace and gardens of Versailles reflect the extravagant tastes of King Louis XIV, the “Sun King.” On this excursion travel by coach to Versailles, where your local guide will recount the history of the palace and lead you through the various rooms of the State Apartments. Of particular interest are the Queen’s bedchamber and the famous Hall of Mirrors. You then have leisure time to explore the incredible gardens, some of the most famous in the world, which took over 40 years to complete. Celebrate the end of a fabulous trip with a special dinner at the Paradis Latin*, Paris’ oldest cabaret theatre. Enjoy a sumptuous dinner complete with wine, champagne and a delightful cabaret show. (B, D)
Day 8: Monday, August 17, 2015 Paris – Tour Ends
Your tour comes to a close today. Head home with many wonderful memories of your Parisian adventure. (B)

Grow something indestructible, succulents are beautiful and easy. As seen on KDKA’s PTL.

January 28th, 2015

I planted this "purse" with Kristine on the show last year and it's still going strong.

I planted this “purse” with Kristine on the show last year and it’s still going strong.


I’ve fallen under the spell of succulents. Although they look formidable, only the spines of the cactus pose a threat to fingertips. I think of them as friendly dinosaurs, rough on the outside, but happy to share a garden together. As the light changes throughout the day the plants transform with the angle of the sun.
There are lots of other succulents who don’t bite back. Those are the varieties I used on Pittsburgh Today Live.
They are the perfect choice for cool containers like the pursed, boots, hats and other things I found at Chapon’s Greenhouse in Baldwin. The moss like shoe and purse I used on the show came from there along with the little shoes and other containers.
Not everyone enjoys their charm, but every once and a while a visitor will discover their merits. A friend came over a couple weeks ago and fell in love with the containers, pledging to create her own.
Kristine and I planted one of the purses last year and a shoe, both are thriving on my windowsill!
It’s fun to grow these plants during the winter, to keep us gardeners sane.

Doug’s at Wholey’s on Sunday, 1pm. Big give-a-way!

January 21st, 2015

I’ll be presenting another free gardening/cooking demonstration at Wholey’s in the Strip on Sunday January 25, 2014 at 1 p.m.
I’ll be talking about using the garden to eat healthy and we’ll be cooking some fresh fish too.
I’ve got just about every great gardening book released this year along with some garden tools and bulbs to give-a-way.
Hope to see you there.

Houseplants are fun to grow and clean the air. As seen on KDKA’s Pittsburgh Today Live

January 21st, 2015

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I was at Chapon’s Greenhouse in Baldwin with manager Matt Hirsh looking over some of the beautiful plants.
They keep me sane in the winter. One of my favorites is Mother of Thousands. Small plantlets form on the leaves which drop to the base of the plant and sprout. All houseplants are bulletproof and will happily grow all winter on the windowsill. There are some things you can do now to keep them looking their best.
Look carefully at the leaves, if there are yellow or brown foliage, remove them. Any part of a plant that’s looking worse for wear should be cut off and put in the compost (you do compost don’t you?). Look at the plants closely. If there are discolored leaves, maybe a purple tint, that’s a clue they are not getting what they need, so hit them with some organic fertilizer. There are a couple ways to do that. One is to use a liquid fertilizer like fish emulsion or something seaweed based.

If the tips of the leaves are turning brown there might be a salt build up from chemical fertilizers. Be sure your pot has good drainage to flush those salts out.

The leaves of houseplants are more important than the flowers — they need to be kept clean so they can stay healthy. My house is old and often dusty, so I let the houseplants dry out and then place them all in the bathtub and run the shower over them once or twice a year. This is also a great way to flush out the soil. With plants that have big sturdy leaves, I wipe them down as they go back near the window.
When nurseries started offering houseplants, the reason they chose certain varieties was due to their indestructible nature. They knew people would forget to water them.

The only thing that can kill houseplants is too much water and fertilizer. Keep most of them on the dry side, but not completely without water.

I’ve got a few cool flowering plants which will enjoy the winter on the windowsill and then can go out in the garden at the end of May. Begonias, bellflower and coleus are things many gardeners have outside in the shade, that’s why these three work so well inside.

African violets will provide flowers for months at a time. One trick for them is to water them from below. Put a dish underneath as the leaves don’t like getting wet.

It’s great to have something to take care of inside during the winter, and neglect is actually a good thing. As the days get longer, the birds begin to sing, the air smell different and it won’t be long until the crocus poke through the soil. When that happens there’s nothing left to stop us.
I’ve written about clean air plants in the Post-Gazette before. Kelly Ogrodnik, former Phipps’ sustainable design and programs manager did lots of research about what’s in our air and how plants can filter the bad stuff.
Here’s a list of plants grown indoors that will help take toxins out of our indoor air-

English Ivy (Hedera helix)
Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
Golden pothos (Scindapsus aures or Epipremnum aureum)
Peace lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’)
Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)
Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea sefritzii)
Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata‘Laurentii’)
Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron oxycardium, syn. Philodendron cordatum)
Selloum philodendron (Philodendron bipinnatifidum, syn. Philodendron selloum)
Elephant ear philodendron (Philodendron domesticum)
Red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata)
Cornstalk dracaena (Dracaena fragans ‘Massangeana’)
Janet Craig dracaena (Dracaena deremensis ‘Janet Craig’)
Warneck dracaena (Dracaena deremensis ‘Warneckii’)
Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina)
Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
Pot Mum (Chrysantheium morifolium)
Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica)

Feeding the birds will help the garden as seen on KDKA’s Pittsburgh Today Live

January 7th, 2015

Black Capped Chickodees are a common bird around the feeder. Photos by Doug Oster

Black Capped Chickodees are a common bird around the feeder. Photo by Doug Oster

I love watching the birds, but there’s an advantage for gardeners to attract them now. They’ll stick around the food source in the spring and will hunt lots of bad bugs, which makes our gardening life easier. The main feed I use is black oil sunflower seeds.
But during the winter, I always like to give them something else to boost their energy. Suet is something that helps them thrive during the hardest part of winter. I love these little suet nuts that Cole’s offers, they also make a suet called Hot Meats filled with hot pepper. The squirrels won’t touch it, and the birds can’t taste the pepper. The company makes my favorite varieties of bird seed and suet and it’s easy to find in your area by using this link. If you can’t physically block squirrels and chipmunks from the feeder, they have a whole line of feed laced with hot pepper.

They also have a liquid hot pepper to apply to seed you buy in bulk. I just put out one of the Hot Meat suet cakes and forgot to wash my hands. I rubbed my eyes and now I was the one who was sorry. I feed the squirrels at their own feeder.

I also enjoy making my own suet. I usually make enough to last most of the winter and keep it in the freezer. Suet is a type of fat from a certain part of a cow; you can find it at the meat counter of the grocery store. If you don’t see it, just ask they’ll get you some.

Here’s everything you need to know about suet including lots of recipes for making your own.

This is one of my favorites-

1 cup suet

1 cup peanut butter

3 cups corn meal

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

Melt the suet in a saucepan at low heat; add the peanut butter while stirring until it’s blended with the suet. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir.

Anything that a bird likes can be added to the recipe. If I have raisins or peanuts, I’ll put them in too.

I use hamburger patty makers to form the suet cakes and also pack it into big pine cones and hang them from the feeder.

Bringing birds into the yard is not only fun, it will help you garden next spring.
Here’s where you can get Cole’s products.

Holiday gifts for gardeners as seen on Pittsburgh Today Live

December 17th, 2014

I love the compact and comfortable Dramm ColorPoint Hand Pruner

I love the compact and comfortable Dramm ColorPoint Hand Pruner


Gardeners can be a challenge to buy for, but there’s always something out there for them. Gloves make great stocking stuffers along with hand pruners and maybe a few packs of seeds. Here are some great ideas for the gardener in your life.
The Gardener’s Garden retails for almost $80, but it’s worth every penny. This amazing coffee table book is filled with the greatest gardens in the world. I’ve spent hours carefully examining this wonderful book and have got lots of ideas for my own garden.
Atlas Garden Gloves are inexpensive and are a great choice for that stocking stuffer. They can be find locally at most good nurseries. I know for sure they have them at Hahn Nursery in Ross.
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George Wiegel’s Pennsylvania Getting Started Garden Guide (Cool Springs Press, $24.95) is not only great for beginners, the book is an essential resource for experienced gardeners too. It’s filled with great regional information about growing just about anything including flowers, shrubs, trees, vines and ground covers. Besides being an encyclopedia of plants, the author includes favorite varieties, many of which he’s grown himself over his long gardening career. It’s the perfect book to enjoy by the fireplace planning for next year’s garden. Get a copy here.
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Winter is a tough time for anyone who loves to get their hands dirty. If you know an adventurous gardener who likes to cook, try growing mushrooms indoors. It’s fun and easy and the mushrooms are delicious. The Shiitake Mushroom Kit is $19.95 and comes with two small logs inoculated with mushroom spores. They will grow just about anywhere inside. If you can keep a houseplant alive, you can grow mushrooms. Treat your foodie the the freshest mushrooms, available from Gourmet Mushrooms.
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Gardeners are always on the look out for tools, and good ones will last a lifetime or even longer. The stainless steel potting scoop from Joseph Bentley Tools is great for moving planting mix. The business end is made of polished stainless steel and the handle is quality contoured oak. I’ve got one in my potting shed used for starting seeds, potting up plants, filling up containers and other chores too. The tool is perfectly sized, filling a six inch pot with one scoop. At $15.99 it’s a bargain and is available at independent garden centers, Home Depot and through Amazon.
Dramm makes a wide variety of gardening accessories, many of them in cool colors. Their Touch ’N Flow Pro Rain Wand makes watering easy. A soft stream of water won’t overwhelm the plants and the tool has a lifetime warranty. The Rain Wand comes three lengths. There’s a version that’s 16 inches long and 30. If the garden is filled with hanging baskets, the 36 inch version will make watering safe and easy. The smallest retails for about $20 and go to $28 for the biggest. I also love their Colorpoint pruners. They are small, colorful and indestructible, what else do you need to know.
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Dramm products are available at independent garden centers and hardware stores and through Amazon of here.
Radius Garden Tools are all built with wonderful ergonomic handles and are virtually indestructible. Their PRO Edger uses a large “O” handle, like many of their tools. The edger is an essential tool for any gardener. The tool makes all the difference in making a clean line between garden and lawn. The Pro Edger has a sharp semicircular stainless steel blade, is lightweight, balanced and offers an encased steel core shaft which is most probably unbreakable. For around $50, it’s a steal. Radius products are available locally at garden centers and online here.
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My son gave me a Plant Nanny last Christmas and I love it. It’s a terra cotta watering stake which uses recycled wine bottles to water your plants. There’s also a version which uses plastic bottles.
The bottle is filled with water and just dropped into the Plant Nanny. It will slowly release the water into the pot. Great if you’re out of town and can’t get anyone to water you’re precious houseplants. The product also works for outdoor containers. (sans freezing temperatures). A set of four is under $20. You can find the product locally by typing a zip code into the dealer locator here.
Cole’s Wild Bird Feed offers some of the best seed and other products to keep the birds happy in the winter. Once they find the bird seed, and you keep the feeder full, they will use the area on their foraging routes this spring. Since birds eat lots of bugs too, we take care of them in the winter, they take care of us when things warm up. Hot Meats are seeds covered with a hot pepper concoction which the squirrels detest, but the birds can’t taste. I use it in areas where I can’t keep the squirrels of the feeders. The Blue Ribbon Blend is a real treat for the birds, filled with a mixture of their favorites. You can find their products locally by searching their web site.

Gardeners need holiday plants to get through the season. As seen on KDKA’s Pittsburgh Today Live

December 10th, 2014

There isn't much prettier than a amaryllis blooming on the windowsill.

There isn’t much prettier than a amaryllis blooming on the windowsill.


I love to give plants as gifts during the holidays. My favorites are amaryllis, Christmas cactus, cyclamen, rosemary plants trimmed like trees and paperwhites.
There’s not much out there prettier than an amaryllis.
Amaryllis offer some of the most beautiful flowers for the holiday season. For the first season the bulb has everything in it that the flower needs. The job of the gardener is to treat the plant right to get blooms next season. I’ve got about a 50/50 record for re-blooming. I never throw them away and they will bloom when they are happy. Sometimes that’s every year, sometimes it takes three.
After the plant is done blooming remove the flower stalk leaving the tall, floppy foliage. Grow it as a houseplant all winter and start fertilizing in March. Mid-May it goes outside in the shade. Sometimes transplanting to a pot one size bigger will help. Keep feeding the plant every couple weeks through the season.
In August stop all watering and fertilization and bring the amaryllis back inside. I put mine down in the basement for six to eight weeks until they go into dormancy. The leaves will turn brown, which feeds the bulb. Then bring the plant back to the windowsill add a little water and hope for buds to emerge.
I rarely get them to bloom at Christmas, but anytime they flower, it’s wonderful. Usually it’s about being too busy at the end of the season and not getting them into dormancy fast enough. Others never make it outside, are forgotten about and bloom after given a little water.

The Christmas cactus is a perennial favorite gift for gardeners. It’s indestructible, usually killed with kindness. It’s not really a cactus, so it’s watered like any other houseplant, but prefers dry over wet. I like to grow them in eight inch and bigger pots so they don’t need watered as often and they get nice and big.
They are triggered to bloom in the same way poinsettias are. That means when growing on the windowsill they are often turned into an Easter or Thanksgiving cactus.

I forgot about one out in my unheated greenhouse and it received the perfect light to be in full bloom on Christmas day.

For many gardeners a Christmas cactus becomes a family heirloom passed down for generations. I’ve done stories on plants that were 100 years old.

The rosemary tree is easy to find and a great gift for gardeners who cook. Give them a haircut here and there and use the trimming for cooking. The trick to keeping the alive over the winter is to make sure they stay moist, but do not over water.
Cyclamen needs constant moisture too, if they are allowed to dry out, they will die. They will bloom for months if given the right amount of water.
Not everyone loves the fragrance of paperwhites, but I do. They are white indoor daffodils which go to the compost after blooming since they are not hardy and tough to make rebloom.

Enjoy your holiday plants now and for years to come.

Come see “gardening” Santa at Hahn Nursery Saturday 12/13/14 from 1-3pm

December 3rd, 2014
Come see Santa for free at Hahn Nursery in Ross on Saturday 12/13/14 from 1-3pm.  Big and little kids will always enjoy time with Santa. Who knows, you might even get your gardening questions answered too!

Come see Santa for free at Hahn Nusery in Ross on Sunday 12/13/14 from 1-3pm.
Big and little kids will always enjoy time with Santa. Who knows, you might even get your gardening questions answered too!

Santa Claus will appear at Hahn Nursery in Ross at Babcock and Three Degree Rd. on Saturday 12/13/14 from 1-3 p.m. Stop by to see the old guy and get some cookies too! Call 412-635-7475 for more information.

Poinsettias are for more than the holidays. As seen on KDKA’s Pittsburgh Today Live

December 3rd, 2014

This poinsettia, from Janoski's Farm and Greenhouse is brand new and only has a number for a name. It's EK LUP 3511 and I love it!

This poinsettia, from Janoski’s Farm and Greenhouse is brand new and only has a number for a name. It’s EK LUP 3511 and I love it!


I love poinsettias, especially some of the “weirder” varieties. My favorite is a double called “Winter Rose.” But there’s certainly nothing wrong with the more traditional varieties. There’s a brand new one I saw at Janoski’s Farm and Greenhouse called EK LUP 3511. They are trying it out to see if this variety might be a winner.
Poinsettias can live for years both inside and outside.
Don’t throw your poinsettias away after the season. Not only will they keep their color for months, they are a cool garden plant too. By the way they are technically poison, but taste so awful, no child or animal would take more than a bite. They would have to eat a a plate full just to get a stomach ache.
I like all the weird ones, different colors and forms, but they all have similar growing requirements.
The first job is to remove the foil, place the plant on a saucer, you can use the plastic ones they sell at the garden center or old plates from the thrift store. This will allow water to go through the soil, flush out the bad stuff and the plant can drain properly. They like it a little on the dry side, just poke your finger into the soil. If it’s dry a couple inches down, add some water. Depending on the temperature of the house and the amount of light it gets, that might mean once a week.

Poinsettias need some light, and will only last a couple weeks if used as decorations up a dark staircase. Move them onto a table near a window.

There’s no reason to fertilize any indoor plants this time of the year, there isn’t enough light for them to process the nutrients. Wait until March to add some liquid organic fertilizer.

When there’s no chance of frost (around May 15 in our area), poinsettias can go outside and will make a handsome plant in the garden. Some folks will bring them in and out for years.

Getting them to bloom again is tough, requiring exactly 12 hours of light and the same time in the dark. That’s really hard to do unless you have a greenhouse. Back in the day gardeners would put the plant in the closet at night, then bring it back out into the daylight. What a pain, I wouldn’t bother. They will color up when they the light is right, but usually not as nicely as the plants from a good greenhouse.

Plant Garlic Now and get Four Harvests! As Seen on Pittsburgh Today Live

October 22nd, 2014

“It would be a sad world without garlic,” says my friend Johno Prascak. The Pittsburgh artist shares my obsession with garlic from the garden.

This is the perfect time to plant.

The first step is to start with the right garlic. It needs to be hardy for our areas, so farmer’s markets, local nurseries and garlic farms will well you the right thing. Most of the grocery store garlic isn’t hardy and is treated to retard sprouting.

I know for sure Hahn Nursery and Chapon’s Greenhouse has garlic for sale. But you’re favorite nursery might too.

Bob Zimmerman from Bobba-Mike’s Gourmet Garlic Farm in Ohio told me he has lots of ‘Music’ left. That’s my favorite variety, I’ve been ordering from Bob for over 15 years. The folks at Enon Valley Garlic have plenty of garlic left to order too. We’ve also become friends and they sell locally at the Sewickley, Ellwood City and Chippewa farmer’s markets.

Once you have the right garlic, separate the head into cloves. Plant the biggest cloves three inches deep, six inches apart in good soil. I save the smaller cloves for the kitchen.

These garlic seeds are tasty. The only way to get any is grow your own.

These garlic seeds are tasty. The only way to get any is grow your own.

In my garden, I mulch the bed with straw. Now all we have to do is wait until spring. Garlic growers get four harvests, not just one.

The first happens early in the spring when the greens sprout. They can be harvested lightly, remember the greens provide energy for the bulbs. But those early fat little sprouts sharing their show with the crocus signal the start of the season are delicious.

In early June a seed head called a scape will emerge. It must be removed so the bulb can reach its potential. They are a delicacy, I use them for pesto or grill them.

I leave some of those scapes in the garden. Even though they are no longer attached to the plant, the seed head will continue to swell and grow little bulbets that are a clone of the bulb.

When more than 50 percent of the greens turn brown in July it’s time to harvest the bulbs. They can be pulled out or gently coaxed with a garden fork. If you’re growing bulbs to store all winter they will need to be cured in a warm dry place for three weeks. Garlic lasts longer if the stalks are left attached.

There’s nothing like garlic from the garden, the fresh stuff is filled with oils that will make any recipe special. I even know a gardener who eats raw cloves out in his garden, guess who?