Ear to the Ground: The Insider Dirt to Gardening in Upstate NY

From the Publisher: July-August 2021

by janem on July 13, 2021

I’m in year four of my “new” garden and more in love with it every day. The structure is complete (for now), so I just get the fun of planting. Best part is that at this moment, there’s lots and lots of space for new plants, so I can be very indulgent (for now)!

There are scads of volunteers this year. They include the usual things you’d expect like cilantro, milkweed, and mullein (yes, a weed, but a useful one for me at the moment), but there have been several surprises as well. In the tiny kitchen garden, there are lots self-sown of nasturtiums and cherry tomatoes—so many damned tomatoes that I moved them all out and started a little colony in another bed. There are also a few dill plants, not in the garden, but flung about the pathways. There is nicotiana everywhere, some of it already in bloom as of late June. Perilla, one of the most useful plants I can think of, followed me to this garden as it has every garden since I first planted one single one probably 25 years ago. I love its shimmery purple foliage as a foil for almost anything. 

Last year was my first growing red buckwheat, and it won’t be my last—there will probably never be a last, there’s so much of the stuff. Ditto the crazy beautiful firecracker vine—Ipomoea lobata (morning glory)—which couldn’t make me happier. I have so much of it I’m constantly fobbing it off on other gardeners. But the most unexpected volunteer is castor bean. I have three little plants that are about to become three very large plants, and I hope they repeat this performance next year. 

On the cover you’ll see another very popular self-sower, kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate. I don’t have any of that, but I have a feeling that if I plant one, it too will be with me forever. 

Thanks, as always, for reading—


Jane Milliman, Publisher


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Burlap garden flag

by cathym on May 24, 2021

by Cathy Monrad

Embroidery thread in desired color
Paint in desired color
Stencil of desired pattern
Garden flag pole for 12-inch flag 

Marker (same color as thread)
Darning needle 
2 pieces of cardboard
Painters tape
Foam stencil brush


  1. Wash and dry burlap completely.
  2. Cut a piece of burlap 12 inches wide by 34 inches long.
  3. Fold burlap piece in half lengthwise, and pin along edges.
  4. Use marker to create a dotted line 13/4 inches from fold, and 1 inch from the sides and bottom  to create a rectangle as shown in Figure 1. 
  5. Thread needle with embroidery thread. Starting at the top left corner of marked rectangle, leave a 2-inch tail of thread on back of flag. Use a running stitch to sew along the dotted line all the way around. 
  6. Turn flag over, knot the thread ends, and cut tails. Place a small bit of fabric glue on knot and let dry.   
  7. To create the optional fringe look, pull 4–6 burlap threads from each side. 
  8. Place a bead of fabric glue along burlap edge to stop fraying. Let dry completely. Turn flag over and repeat. 
  9. Lay burlap flag right-side up on piece of cardboard and remove pins. Place stencil on flag in desired location and tape the edges down. 
  10. Pour a bit of paint onto the second piece of cardboard. Dip foam brush into paint, then dab brush onto cardboard to remove excess paint. Stipple the brush gently on the stencil until brush is no longer offloading paint.
  11. Reload brush as directed above and repeat stipple technique until desired look is achieved. 
  12. Let flag dry completely. Remove tape from stencil.
  13. Hang in your garden and enjoy!
Figure 1

Cathy Monrad is the graphic designer and garden crafter for Upstate Gardeners’ Journal.