November-December 2016

Near or Far: November-December 2016

by Megan Frank on November 14, 2016


Location: Bovara, a village nestled in the olive groves on the slopes near Trevi, Italy.

Name: Sant’ Emiliano (that’s the name of this individual tree—it’s a thing, in Umbria)

Genus/species: Olea europaea

Common name: Olive tree

Age: 1,000 years (Or 700 years, or 1,700 years. Or something)

Submitted by: Reynolds Kelly

Reynolds says: Umbria in Autumn is as beautiful and peaceful a place as you will find anywhere in Europe. Lacking the high-wattage tourist appeal of nearby Tuscany, Umbria busies itself harvesting grapes (in August and September) and olives (in October), and having homey local festivals celebrating the local sausage, or local truffles—even the humble local celery.

Driving through a landscape filled with beautiful vineyards and cascading olive groves never gets old, but those olive trees themselves? They do. Umbria’s oldest olive tree, Sant’ Emiliano, is said to be 1,000 years old, and continues to produce a healthy crop of olives year after decade after century. It’s a little odd for a tree to have a name. Here in the Umbria Valley, Saint Emiliano was an Armenian monk who served as bishop in Trevi in the 4th century, during the reign of Emperor Diocletian. The legend goes that Emiliano was tied to an olive sapling and beheaded, and that sapling became the tree that bears his name. That’s a conventionally gruesome martyrdom story, and if it is to be believed it would make the tree about 1,700 years old. Other accounts place the tree at 1,000 years old (a suspiciously round number) or 700 years old. I couldn’t find any account of a core being taken to verify the stories, but my first-hand report is that this is one very old tree.

Surrounded by much younger siblings (or cousins, or great-great-grandtrees) it’s easy to see how much older is our friend Sant’ Emiliano than its brethren. Signposts help you find it among thousands of acres of trees, and a stone walkway and rustic fence provide a dignified setting for this eminent geezer of the groves. No matter how old the tree really is—and may it keep growing, that we should never learn—the peaceful setting in groves of trees that have turned out fine olive oil for centuries is a fitting monument to the modest industry that is Umbrian olive oil.

If you visit Umbria and our friend Sant’ Emiliano, do stop at the bottom of the hill at the local oil cooperative. If you have time, stay for lunch Umbrian style. If not, buy as many bottles of the cloudy green oil as you can carry. You’ll thank me.


Arborvitae Stamped Gift Tags

by cathym on November 14, 2016


Pre-made blank gift tags, about 2 by 3 inches Ink pad in desired color; I used “pine”
Arborvitae cutting about 2–3 inches long
A few pieces of scrap paper
Piece of wax paper, slightly larger than arborvitae cutting
Fine tip marker in desired color

1. Remove a few rows of foliage from bottom of arborvitae cutting to reveal stem.

2. Place cutting face up on scrap paper. Press finger on stem to hold cutting in place, then dab cutting with inkpad until fully coated.

3. Carefully lift cutting by stem, then place inked side down on clean area of scrap paper. Cover arborvitae with wax paper to keep fingers clean.

4. Use finger to hold wax paper and cutting in place. Use other hand to gently rub cutting from bottom to top to ensure ink is transferred to paper.

5. Remove wax paper and cutting to reveal result.

6. Practice steps 2 through 5 until you are happy with the outcome.

7. Once technique is mastered, stamp gift tags as desired.

8. When ink is dry, use fine tip marker to embellish design or simply write greeting on tag.

Use arborvitae to stamp designs on plain wrapping paper, gift bags or notecards.


Upstate Pairing: November-December 2016

by Megan Frank on November 14, 2016

Brussel Sprout Carbonara with Fettuccini

Yield: 4 servings


8 ounces of dry fettuccini 2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb brussel sprouts, cleaned and chopped (but not too small)
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 ounces smoked bacon, chopped into small pieces 2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 ounces grated parmesan cheese

1. Heat the oil in a non-stick pan. When it reaches a medium high heat, add the shallots and garlic and sauté for a minute.

2. Add the sprouts, cook until they are browned and become a little softer (not too soft though, you don’t want them to be mushy, but to retain a little bite). Start cooking the pasta when the sprouts are nearly finished. Follow the instructions on the packet for timings.

3. When the sprouts are cooked, move them to the outside area of the pan and add the bacon to the center, allowing it to cook for a couple of minutes, turning a couple of times.

4. When the bacon is cooked, mix it through the sprouts and add black pepper and a little salt. Careful with salt as the bacon and the parmesan will also add a salty flavor.

5. When the pasta is ready, bring your two pans close together on the stove. Then, with tongs, grab the pasta and drag is swiftly into the pan with the sprouts. By doing this you take in some of the pasta water. This water helps bind and create your sauce. You don’t need much, in this case probably about 2 tablespoons worth. This dragging technique should ensure that you have enough.

6. Turn the heat off under your sprouts and pasta. Add the egg (not directly on to the base of the pan but onto the pasta mixture) add the parmesan. Stir through quite quickly, this will create a creamy style sauce.

7. Check for seasoning, and serve immediately with some extra parmesan, if desired.


Fox Run Chardonnay Reserve 2013, Kaiser Vineyard.


Fox Run Vineyards overlooks one of the deepest parts of Seneca Lake, with fifty acres of vineyards producing a remarkable range of fine wines. The Fox Run Café features ingredients from their neighborhood farmers and producers. Also, an on-site garden is filled with vegetables that are featured on the menu.

The property that Fox Run currently encompasses was a dairy farm for more than a century. The first grapes were planted in 1984 and the Civil War-era dairy barn was converted to a modern wine-making facility in 1990. In 1996, farther up the slope a new facility was completed with state-of-the-art capabilities and view of Seneca Lake that is unrivaled. The original barn itself is used now for special events, winemaker dinners and our Food & Wine Experience. The tasting room was designed and built around the barn providing two tasting bars, café and market, and gift shop.

Spend time by having lunch in the café and taking a vineyard tour. Fox Run can ship to 30 states. You might even come across a bottle of Fox Run wine when you travel internationally, as it is available in almost ten different countries around the world.


Almanac: November-December 2016

by cathym on November 11, 2016

Preparing for Holiday Decorating

Now that you have put your outdoor gardens to bed, it is time to prepare for the upcoming Holiday Season.  Indoor plants can add beauty to your home during the cold and snowy months ahead.

Amaryllis:  To plant a newly acquired Amaryllis bulb, place a piece of clay shard over the drainage hole at the bottom of a pot that is 1-1 /2 to 2 inches in diameter larger than the widest part of the bulb. A suitable growing medium consists of 2 parts packaged potting soil, 1 part perlite, and approximately 1 tablespoon slow release fertilizer. Place the bulb so that the top half (pointed end) is protruding above the soil. After potting, water thoroughly.

Place the newly potted bulb on a sunny windowsill in a cool room (55 to 65°F). Water only when the top layer of soil in the container feels dry to the touch. If the soil is kept overly moist, the bulb may rot. As the roots develop and fill the container, the top layer of soil will dry more quickly and the frequency of watering should be increased accordingly. In approximately 6 to 7 weeks, flower buds will emerge.

Once growth begins, rotate the pot regularly to prevent the plant from leaning toward the light. If the amaryllis has been grown in a warm room, the flower stalk may require staking to be held upright; take care not to damage the bulb when inserting a stake into the container. For longer lasting flowers, move the plant out of direct sunlight and keep it in a cool room after the blossoms have opened.

After the flowers fade, remove the flowers but do not cut off the flower stalk or foliage. Place the plant back on a sunny windowsill and continue watering thoroughly.  Frequently the bulb will send up a second flower stalk.  After the last of the flowers fade it is essential to keep the foliage growing vigorously since it produces the food for the following year’s blossoms.

Poinsettia:  Place your newly acquired poinsettia in a sunny location, if you have one. Avoid an area where there is a draft or sudden fluctuations in temperature. Do not allow the leaves to touch cold windowpanes. The poinsettia’s flower bracts last longest when daytime temperatures are from 60° to 70° F and there is a slight drop in temperature at night.

When the top layer of soil feels dry to the touch, water the poinsettia thoroughly until water runs through the drainage holes in the bottom of the container. Wait 15 minutes, then discard the excess water that accumulated in the saucer beneath the pot.  Fertilize the poinsettia regularly with a water soluble houseplant fertilizer following label directions.

In order to have a well-shaped, bushy plant for the following year, cut the stems back to 6 inches in height sometime between February and early March.  Be sure to make the cuts just above a node. Contact your local Cooperative Extension for detailed instructions.

Christmas Cactus:  The Christmas cactus is native to tropical rain forests, unlike the vast majority of cacti.  As a result, the Christmas cactus is cared for quite differently from most of its relatives.

The Christmas cactus requires direct sunlight. However, during the summer, the midday sun can burn the stems. Thus, during summer, move the plant a few feet from the window or place the plant in a window that receives indirect light.

The Christmas cactus should be watered when the top inch of soil in the container feels dry to the touch. Soak the soil thoroughly until water comes through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. Wait 15 minutes and discard the excess water that accumulated in the drop plate beneath the container.  The Christmas cactus grows best when humidity is high. The best way to increase humidity is to place the pot, with its drip plate, on a tray filled with small pebbles. The water will evaporate from the tray and humidify the air around the plant.

A soil mix consisting of equal parts of peat moss, perlite, and packaged potting soil is suitable for the Christmas cactus. Add 1 teaspoon dolomitic limestone and 1 teaspoon 5-10-5 fertilizer for each 2 quarts of soil used.  Fertilize the plant with a water-soluble fertilizer recommended for flowering houseplants. Apply fertilizer every month at full strength or every two weeks at half the strength suggested on the label. Reduce the frequency of fertilization from autumn until after plants have flowered and new growth has begun.

Christmas Tree Care:  A few simple practices will help maintain tree color, reduce needle fall, and keep the tree moist and fire resistant.  When you bring home your cut tree, stand it in a bucket of water outdoors protected from sun and drying wind, or in a cool place inside.  When you bring the tree inside for decoration, make a fresh cut across the trunk at least one inch above the old cut.  The smoother and cleaner the cut is, the better the tree can absorb water.

Place the tree in a container of water or in a Christmas tree stand that has a reservoir of water.  Luke-warm water is taken up more readily than cold.  A tree in a warm room will absorb up to a quart of water a day; keep the reservoir filled above the base of the tree at all times.  Sterilization of the stand and tree base with boiling water before setting up the tree may also be beneficial in retarding the fouling of the tree’s pores that can ultimately reduce water uptake.

Place your tree in the coolest part of the room away from the fireplace, heaters, radiators, air ducts and TV sets, all of which can dry the needles.


—Sharon Rosenblum, Master Gardener CCE-Monroe County and Amanda Grisa, Horticulture Program Coordinator CCE-Monroe County


Creature Comforts

by Megan Frank on November 11, 2016

by Liz Magnanti

It’s inevitable: snow, ice, sleet, and cold. Winter will be here before we know it. The days become short and the nights are long. Sometimes I think of how rough we have it here in Upstate New York, but in the winter I take one look out the window and see all the life we have outside. While we are snug in our homes drinking hot tea and curling up next to the fire, birds are exposed to the elements every day to find water, food and shelter. There are some species of birds that are here only for the winter as they have migrated from further north. There are a few ways you can make their lives a little easier this winter, and you’ll get a great view of wildlife from the comfort of your home.

One of the most difficult things for birds and wildlife to find in the winter is a source of water. While we have many large bodies of water here, small songbirds need a shallow, unfrozen patch of water to bathe and drink from. Cleaning feathers is very important for birds. Having clean feathers keeps parasites off, and more importantly, allows birds to remain warm. Feathers insulate the warm air trapped in between the bird’s body and feathers. One way to provide birds with water this winter is with a heated birdbath. Heated birdbaths operate on a thermostat and keep water just warm enough so it doesn’t freeze over. You can also get just the heater to put in a birdbath you already have. You will be amazed how many birds will flock to a heated birdbath in the winter!

Providing high fat food to birds and wildlife in the cold months of the year is a great way to attract them to your yard. Throughout the year, and especially in the fall, birds and wildlife will cache away seeds and nuts for the winter. They have a surprisingly high rate of success in finding this food again. Some of these food items, however, is lost or stolen by other animals. An additional source of food can help relieve some of the stresses put on wildlife from lack of sustenance. Black oil sunflower seed or a mix containing a majority of black oil seed will always be a big hit in any yard. Black oil sunflower is a favorite of cardinals and will bring in the most bird diversity of any seed. Look for dark-eyed juncos, one of our winter birds, feeding on sunflower seeds that have dropped to the ground at your feeders. Nyjer seed, with its high oil content, is another great food for birds in the winter. Buy fresh seed. If your nyjer seed is more than a few months old you may want to throw it out and get some new. Because nyjer has such a high moisture content, it can dry out quickly. Goldfinches, who turn a drab yellowish/green in the winter, will feast on nyjer all year long. Pine siskins and redpolls that are here only for the winter, will feed from nyjer feeders as well.

High in fat and calories, suet will bring flocks of birds to your yard. These square blocks of animal or vegetable fat are favorites of woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees and titmice. Suet helps plump up birds, giving them the fat they need to stay warm. Peanuts are another great option for the winter. Blue jays, nuthatches and woodpeckers will absolutely love this treat.

Plant cover, bird houses and roosting houses can be great sources of shelter for birds. Make sure any nest boxes you leave out over the winter are clean to avoid nest parasites. Roosting houses are similar to bird houses but inside have perches for birds to sit on. Multiple species will use these at one time to stay out of the elements. Roosting pockets, which are made of woven fibers, are also a great option. These are small hanging huts that birds will fly inside of to stay warm and dry.

There are very few things more beautiful than a bright red male cardinal on a backdrop of freshly fallen snow. It is amazing that wildlife can survive so well in such harsh conditions. By providing some “creature comforts” in your yard this winter you will be amazed how much wildlife you can attract! And they just may reward you by staying long enough to get a great photo for this year’s holiday cards.

Liz Magnanti is the manager of the Bird House on Monroe Avenue in Pittsford. She has a degree in wildlife conservation and has worked as a naturalist at various nature centers.


Stump the Chump: November-December 2016

by Megan Frank on November 10, 2016

by Ted Collins, AKA Doc Lilac



With legumes I’m likely to be compared
“Pinnate,” pods, and all that stuff,
My stems are a little tooth-brush like
But not quite as stiff or rough.

If bigger, like closer relatives,
I’d be good as firewood,
Plus as rot-resistant fence posts,
and I’d take over if I could.

I flower briefly, month of May,
Rose-colored showy, no scent.
The fact that you don’t know me better,
Is, of course, my chief lament.

I’m not sold at Northern Nurseries
or Oriental Garden Supply,
I could be invasive, so they are evasive,
Say John Prince and Al Pfieffer: “That’s why!”


The first person to answer correctly, genus and species please, will win a $50 gift certificate to Aladdin’s. Please call 585/301-7181 or email to guess.

We will accept guesses starting November 14, 2016, in order to give everyone a fair chance. Good luck!



The answer to the September-October 2016 stumper: Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis



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Where Are They Now?

by Megan Frank on November 10, 2016

by Michelle Sutton

I followed up with some of the fascinating people I’ve profiled in UGJ in the past: Gordon Ballard, Nina Bassuk, Sally Jean Cunningham, Karen Hanford, Mary Hirshfeld, and Todd Lighthouse. What are they up to now? How has their gardening life changed? Here they are, in their own words.



Gordon Ballard and Husband Brian Olinski

Gordon Ballard and Husband Brian Olinski

In the ten years that have passed since our story in UGJ, so many things have changed both in our lives and in our gardens. Most importantly, I am happy to say that my partner Brian, then of eight years, is now my husband of two years! (Yes, 18 years total).

Of course, neither of us has slowed down or downsized our gardens. The surprise snowstorm of October 12-13, 2006, changed our entire approach. For starters, as storm-damaged trees had to be removed,we went from being 2/3 shade gardens to having many more full-sun gardens. We had to remove 100 feet of privet hedge that ran the length of the yard, giving us the opportunity to add a wood fence to support vertical plantings. And we decided we wanted the gardens to be spaces we and our guests could more fully inhabit, so we created three distinct outdoor living rooms, complete with a Key West-inspired 15 x 15-foot, steel-roof bar that we call “El Gordo Cantina.”


El Gordo Cantina

The original centerpiece, our 3,000 gallon koi pond, is no longer. After 15 years, the liner finally disintegrated four years ago and we chose not to rebuild it. Instead, we created a new flagstone patio and added rock gardens and new garden beds. Something we learned from that koi pond was that a HUGE pond created exponentially more work!

With all of our new gardening spaces, we have concentrated on adding more rare and unusual plants into our collection. We currently have 100-plus daylily and 125-plus hosta varieties. Our gardens are now considered a real showpiece in the WNY community, a place to host bus and garden club tour-goers as well as several large garden parties attended by the “Who’s Who” in the surrounding horticultural community.

I am now celebrating 34 years in the specialty advertising printing business and still am actively involved in the Buffalo Bills Monday Quarterback Club, having served two years as its president in 2008-2009. I also co-chair the advisory council at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. When not dividing perennials, starting seeds, or just getting his hands dirty, my husband Brian stays busy with his IT job and independent computer work.



Cornell Professor Nina Bassuk continues to teach, lecture, conduct original research, and direct the Urban Horticulture Institute that she founded in 1980.

Nina Bassuk, photo by Michelle Sutton

Nina Bassuk, photo by Michelle Sutton

Like all horticulturists, [husband] Peter and I like to try things that may not be considered possible. We put in a high tunnel (unheated hoop house) two years ago and have been trying to grow figs in Ithaca, which is definitely pushing the envelope (we really, really love figs). The trees are bushy and have lots of figs, but the challenge is getting the fruit to ripen; last year they didn’t, but we’re hoping they will this year. Meanwhile we also grew tomatoes in there and in late September, they look like summer tomatoes at their peak, still flowering and fruiting! It’s looking like we may get tomatoes through Thanksgiving. Maybe they’re trying to tell us we need to grow tomatoes and not figs. The high tunnel is a means of extending the growing season on both ends, but also we’ve noticed much less disease and insect pressure on the plants in the tunnel.

We’re always trying things out and some years we kill a lot of plants—that’s ok, that’s one way you learn. Sometimes the stated hardiness for things is just not so; for instance, people will say that hardy rubber tree (Eucommia ulmoides) is only hardy to Zone 7, but we’ve grown it for multiple seasons in Zone 5 in our landscape.

We love to go to specialty nurseries and we’re always trying new cultivars. At the Brooklyn Botanical Garden we saw a mimosa tree with purple-brown leaves, Albizia julibrissin ‘Chocolate’ and decided to try one even though it’s not hardy—so it gets moved into the garage in the winter. We have lots of plants we bring in and out of the greenhouse, like grapefruit, oranges, and lime trees. Someone was cleaning out their lotus pond and gave us some roots; we tried throwing a brick with a lotus root attached into our small pond, and now we have extraordinarily beautiful lotus flowers and leaves. We also have phragmites grass that we’ll have to dig out. I’m very sorry I planted false spirea (Sorbaria sorbifolia), as it comes up everywhere. You make mistakes but you just keep learning and working at it.




Sally Jean Cunningham, photo by KC Kratt

Where am I now? For me there’s been an arc with some change, some of it painful, and some great new things entered my life—a husband and new jobs. But my core definition has remained the same: I’m a writer, a teacher, and a gardener. I just express some of it differently.

When you interviewed me about a decade ago, I was still reeling from losing my position as an Erie County Cornell Cooperative Extension agent, after fourteen years there. It was just like a divorce. I loved the Master Gardeners (still do), and love the Roycroft Campus in East Aurora where CCE Erie is housed. Like the divorced woman seeing her old house, I couldn’t even enter the building. But change is a catalyst for new opportunities. I went to work for a great garden center called Lockwood’s Greenhouses, became an official CNLP (Certified Nursery & Landscape Professional), began to write for The Buffalo News and Buffalo Spree Magazine, stayed on WIVBTV (Channel 4), and kept on giving talks and selling my book Great Garden Companions. I kept spinning those plates in the air for several years, and then a larger commitment called to me.

Whatever the profession, there is a time to give back. At some point I’d worked with so many people on so many projects that I felt connected to all the players
in the regional garden and landscape industry. Garden Walk Buffalo was making our region famous, and our wonderful visitor’s bureau (Visit Buffalo Niagara) asked me to join with the Garden Walk Buffalo leader Jim Charlier to pull everyone in horticulture together and form the National Garden Festival. I directed the project but it was a team effort that included all the garden walks, our landscape industry (PlantWNY) doing amazing beautification projects, great gardeners who created the Open Garden program, our Olmsted Parks and Botanical Garden, and motorcoach tours with AAA to showcase gardens all over the region.

Through the National Garden Festival we increased tourism, raised the performance of every component, and brought even more national attention to our gardening scene. We received an International Garden Tourism award. Garden Walk Buffalo became the largest garden tourism event in the country. New York State’s landscape association and Plant WNY honored me—wow—as person of the year. And AAA asked me to develop Great Garden Travel so that now I can take people to see gardens in America and Europe. I’m still lecturing and teaching, but now some of it is on a motorcoach or airplane!

I’ll be seventy in a couple of years, so I’m accelerating that “giving back” part quickly. Collaborating with Garden Walk Buffalo (now Gardens Buffalo Niagara) and Visit Buffalo Niagara, I pitched Buffalo as the 2017 host (next August) for the Garden Writers Association to come here. We’ll be dazzling hundreds of garden writers, bloggers, and other “garden communicators” with our green and flowering region. Meanwhile I’m excited to be the AAA Great Garden Travel Tour Director and plan to take people to the Philadelphia Flower Show, to England in May, Newport in June, Ireland in late summer, and lots more of that. (See AAA, and give them your e-mail or call 1-800-242-4244. Let’s take a trip together!)

I still do some garden consulting and give garden talks. The most important topic to me is nature-friendly landscaping—helping pollinators and using native plants—that is my mission. And I must stop the clock, write the next book, and remember to share time with my family, friends, and dear pets.

So you asked about my gardening? Hah. No time for that companion vegetable garden now, but I have a casual landscape for the birds, insects, and other animals, with massive shrub and flower beds and fine trees. Gardening still centers me. Yes, there’s been change. But if you ask me again in ten years, I believe life will still be about writing, teaching, and gardening.



Sycamore Hill Gardens Japanese garden and pond, photo courtesy Karen Hanford

Sycamore Hill Gardens Japanese garden and pond, photo courtesy Karen Hanford

Each year we open Sycamore Hill Gardens as a free venue for various local not-for-profits and help them raise funds for their organizations. It’s our way of giving back to the CNY community. We’ve also hosted a few wedding ceremonies and donated those monies to the nearby Baltimore Woods Nature Center, a group dear to our hearts that has held an event here every Mother’s Day for over a decade.

In 2015, to benefit the Onondaga County Library System’s Read One Book program, we hit upon the idea of Weekday Garden Rambles. These are low-key events with 30 to 35 guests, a catered lunch, and a lot of time to ramble the gardens or traverse them on golf cart tours. These fundraisers were very successful, with minimal expense to the Library System. Since then, we’ve decided to do some Rambles of our own as a way to accommodate out-of-town groups. We also have begun to attend independent garden center trade shows and are giving thought to using our century-old barn as a gift shop or perhaps a meeting facility with local restaurant catering.

These plans do affect how we now approach our gardening. For example, to improve the view for our lunching Ramblers, we are starting more perennials and concentrating them in the beds closest to the patio lunch areas, as well as in the areas nearest to the house and barn, including the formal garden. Also, throughout the gardens we are removing spent shrubs and catering more to the needs of the 500 or so varieties of conifers and deciduous trees we’ve planted over the past 25 years.

In August of 2017, Sycamore Hill Gardens will help to host the American Conifer Society’s annual meeting. Spurred on by this deadline, we are well underway in creating a garden to showcase our Asian statuary and pottery in a former pond area. This is an ambitious project involving the construction of a dry waterfall and streambed as well as several islands in a gravel lake. A cut stone wall topped by the addition of a sunken path lined with dwarf conifers will give guests a close-up view of various small specimens without the need to clamber into beds.

Other current sources of horticulture excitement include putting the majority of our former dairy farm into the USDA Conservation Reserve Program by planting 10,000 native trees, 10,000 native shrubs, and 150-plus acres of ground nesting bird meadow mix. This project took three years of our energy, thought, and garden budget, but the increase in birdlife and decrease in soil erosion has made it worth all the time and effort. We’ve also returned to beekeeping, and we’ve returned to vegetable gardening with renewed enthusiasm and a greater emphasis on soil preparation, composting, and organic, non-GMO seeds. You are what you eat, so if we want to continue to garden well into our dotage, we need to eat the best food we can find—and most of it’s in our garden.



In 2014 Mary retired from her position as director of horticulture at Cornell Plantations. She had worked there for 36 years.

Mary Hirshfeld with 3 of her 4 dogs

Mary Hirshfeld with 3 of her 4 dogs

While I was still at Plantations I undertook a yearlong course in dog obedience training, followed by an eight- month internship with a local trainer who I respect very much. He teaches a lot of classes, as well as having private clients. I found the behavior aspect of working with private clients far more interesting than teaching classes. By the time I finished my internship, I also had ten years of working with the behaviorists that cycled through the SPCA, developing and implementing behavioral modification programs for “gray” dogs, meaning those who had issues that emerged during their behavioral evaluation. I worked for the SPCA as a behaviorist and trainer for a year and a half after I left Plantations, before several of us on the behavior and training team were laid off due to budget constraints.

I opened my own training business last July and am now working primarily with clients whose dogs have behavioral issues they would like to modify—those that are aggressive towards other dogs; guard food, toys, space, and owners; have terrible door manners; bite and tear clothing when they meet new people, etc. I really enjoy meeting new people and dogs and the minute I enter their home, I lose myself in the intellectual challenge of sorting out what is going on in this particular dog’s mind and how the owner’s behavior plays into that dynamic. I still have four dogs of my own; all are shelter dogs except the pug, Lloyd.



Todd Lighthouse with his wife Andrea and their kids, baby Lauren, Kate, and Jack

Todd Lighthouse with his wife Andrea and their kids, baby Lauren, Kate, and Jack

A whole lot has changed for both my family and business (you can see the original story about Todd here). Our family has gotten bigger. My wife Andrea and I have had two more children, Kate (4) and Lauren (2 months), in addition to our son Jack (8). We quickly grew out of our backyard greenhouse and bought some land in Lima on 15A just north of the village in 2013 where we built a large pole barn, four more greenhouses, a retail farm stand, and a large market garden employing up to seven people during the busy season.

Organic herb and vegetable transplants for home gardeners are still the cornerstone of our business, though we are coming full circle back to ornamentals. We now grow over 500 herb, vegetable, ornamental annual, perennial, fruit, and succulent varieties and offer about 75 of these to wholesale customers in our custom printed pots under our “The Living Earth” brand.

Our commitment to sustainable growing has continued to develop, as we became Certified Organic through NOFA-NY in 2011. We still make our organic compost-based potting soil, which we now sell through retail outlets under our “The Living Earth” brand. We supply dozens of organic farmers, garden centers, and natural food stores in our area, including the Wegmans Organic Farm in Canandaigua.

Our approach to growing is fundamentally the same: We embrace all life and trust the wisdom of nature in our growing processes. We provide our plants with the best growing conditions as possible so that they can better defend themselves. We’ve expanded heavily into growing produce at our new farm and will be building our first high tunnel later this year to extend our season. Growing organic produce for market has catapulted my interest in the soil web of life to almost an obsession. The “Farmer To Farmer” podcast as well as newly published books by young organic farmers inspired by Eliot Coleman has sent me down an organic farming rabbit hole I didn’t know existed.


Michelle Sutton ( is a horticulturist, writer, and editor.


Ear to the Ground: November-December 2016

by Megan Frank on November 4, 2016

As the end of outdoor gardening season nears, I like to plan how I’m going to keep my life “green” during the cold winter months. One of my favorite things to do is bring in herbs to continue enjoying them year round – not to mention the warmth of refreshing mint tea when snowflakes are flying. I recently invested in an A-frame plant stand for a more streamlined setup—best decision I’ve made for indoor growing to date. They come in all different heights and widths, number of shelves, and materials. Do you have a favorite or tried-and-true indoor gardening/growing tip? Are you willing to share it with the rest of the UGJ community? Is there a better way to melt away the cold weather blues than keeping the gardener in us aglow? I sure don’t think so! Send your “secret” tips via email to or via our Facebook page.

On another note, it wouldn’t be a holiday season without a few gifts for the gardener ideas. There are many out there, but here are my favorites right now:

Garden Clogs—I know gardeners are very divided on the need for such footwear, but I’m all for them. It’s hard not to smile when you slip your bare foot (my preference) into a brightly colored pair for a day in the garden. Easy to rinse, dry, repeat!

Suet Bird Feeders—For me, birds and gardening go hand in hand. I wouldn’t want to sit on my patio, admiring the fruits of my labor, without the sound of birds chirping in the background. Jane (yes, that Jane) introduced me to suet feeders and I haven’t stopped recommending them to others. Also, they’re a great alternative when traditional feeders aren’t allowed.

The Gardeners Collection by Crabtree & Evelyn—I have enjoyed these products since before I had my own garden—thank you, Mom, for the introduction. I will always use the ultra- moisturizing hand therapy, and you can never go wrong with it either. There are a few new products in the line, with the hand primer topping the list for me. Honestly though, I’m sure any gardener would enjoy them all.

Thank you for another great year for us at Upstate Gardeners’ Journal! We look forward to 2017!



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