Sally, The Gardening Guru,  Sally is a life-long Michigan gardener.



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Green word

“Earth laughs in flowers.”

--Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1847


Summer Garden Tips...

 by Sally the Garden Guru


Honolulu in northern Michigan!  More and more area residents are growing exotic, rare and lovely tropical plants. Further, these plants often grow edible fruit.   Beyond the popular orchids (often phalaenopsis) found in stores, plants rarely found locally are making themselves at home at garden centers and in catalogs.


Edibles like key lime, Ponderosa and Meyer lemons and Kaffir lime are handsome and colorful, and also, their leaves or juice, are key ingredients in gourmet recipes.


Herb of the Month


Florence fennel.


This fennel, (F.vulgare azoricum), is one of the classic Italian herbs. A bulbous white stalk near the soil, looks a bit like frilly exotic celery. Florence fennel is frequently found at local produce counters and is worth trying for it’s cool anise taste. Try it with salads, in stir fry and with potato recipes.


Celebrate the Summer Harvest


Enjoy The Cherry Festival (in Michigan) with pride, and may you continue celebrating July with the month’s foods. Cherries all summer, late strawberries, blueberries coming in, local greens in salads, fruits of area vineyards and young sweet corn—all on your tables and add an armful of bright gladiolas, too.


Did you know that...

Gardeners are known as honest folks?  Once when I had discovered at the checkout counter of a Traverse nursery that I had left my wallet at home, the owner said, “Oh, let go home and get yours plants in. Gardeners are honest people.” As, Shakespeare said, apparently, we gardeners are “armed in honesty.”


Old Timer’s garden tips


A solution of half vinegar and half water sprayed on leaves is said to repel slugs.


More modern gardeners might dust diatomaceous earth on the soil in a ring around the plant.


Garden bench reading


July days are days to start thinking about perennials. Perennials are on sale as the summer passes, and tough as perennials are, many a scraggly, orphaned plant will be a showstopper next year with care. (Tip: Take the plant out of its pot to see if the root ball looks healthy.) Good reading, including books about growing healthy plans, the art of garden design with perennials and books about varieties, is hugely educational to the gardener of perennials.

Suggestions are:

The Art of Perennial Gardening: Creative Ways with Hardy Flowers. Patrick Lima and John Scanlon

Gardening with Perennials. Editors of Horticulture Magazine

The Buyer’s Guide for Professionals and Gardeners.  Jim Hole, editor.


Often garden supply companies offer books and booklets. These are usually reliable; after all, the companies want to their customers to succeed. Ortho Books are an example.  American Garden Guides from the New York Botanical Gardens are excellent and Perennial Gardening is one of them.


Short season gardening


Thin those crops suitable for succession planting. For instance, replace bolting lettuces with a few seeds of new lettuces, or better yet seeds of oriental greens for stir-fry.


Small Space Gardening

by Sally the Garden Guru


Small space gardening falls into two main categories: container gardening and limited space outdoors, such as borders and focal points.  Both are popular since they not only bring color and interest to grounds, but also they are dramatically easier to care for than large gardens. Further, new products and specialized plants result in gardens more beautiful than ever.


Landscape artists and master gardeners like to walk the proposed garden site to envision possibilities and also to take into consideration elements like shade or sun, items like propane tanks or trash barrels to be hidden or de-emphasized and the flow of the eye whether down a path or along the property’s lines or fences.  As always, climate is a major consideration.


Container gardening, plantings in pots, barrels, window boxes and decorative containers like statuary or wheelbarrows is common on decks and patios, but also it can be used in groups to take the place of small planted-in-soil gardens. The key in this case is using a planned arrangement, either permanent for the summer or intended to change for variety or because the plantings have grown.


How to choose plants suitable for container growing?  Good choices are low alyssum (white, lavender, purple); begonias (bright or pastel); coleus (for color in leaves and fill); impatiens (for shade), geraniums, some trailing (for sun): Lobelia (white, blues, bi-colors; the trailing types make the most of window boxes and containers.). Also consider petunia (Wave varieties are perfect and grow in many colors.) and Salvia (ornamental sage), snapdragons and zinnias for full sun.  These plans are also good for borders, planting the shorter flowers at the edges, taller ones at the back of the garden; or, in the case of a border through a lawn, tall choices in the middle, low ones on the edges.  Color is a major element in garden design.  Studying a color wheel or paint chip samples not only might inspire new ideas, but also avoids disaster.


Choosing the container is the next step. Window boxes? Keep in mind that wood rots, so planting should be in plastic containers shaped to go inside wooden boxes.  Also decide whether you want to paint the boxes or let the wood weather naturally.  Cedar and redwood weathers well. Avoid chemically treated wood that is often toxic to plants. Often, the situation is,  “You get what you pay for,” in the matter of pots. Plastic pots, though inexpensive, deteriorate in UV sunlight.  The right size of container is critical. Unless the gardener wants to water twice a day, small pots are out.  Further, while some annuals like marigolds and petunias do well with their rather short, bunchy roots, others have longer roots and need deeper pots.  If the desired effect is a large mound of short-rooted flowers in a large pot, nurseries have inserts for the pot bottom so that the planting needs less soil.  There is also a large range of self-watering containers. Although they are rather expensive, they are long lasting and might suit a particular gardener’s needs.


Drainage is also part of container gardening.  A pine box on soil will decay. All pots should have drainage holes and also be set on bricks, rocks or gravel to aid drainage.

Stepping-stones, available at marts, actually add to the garden’s design besides serving as container bases.  Containers drain quickly, so potting mediums should be chosen carefully.  Bagged potting soils at nurseries and specialized now, and a soil that is moisture-saving is a boon to container gardening.  Special moisture-saving crystals are also available to add to standard potting soil.  Ordinary garden soil is not suitable for container gardening.


With frequent watering and draining, fertilizer is washed out of the soil, too. Thus, using a dilute liquid fertilizer every time one waters is a good idea.  Special fertilizer, seaweeds and fish emulsions are excellent. Lore tells us that Native Americans placed dead fish in planting holes.


Finally, vegetables are right at home, combined with flowers in containers, or alone.  Lettuces now come in every shade of red and green, and they have variety in leaf edges and frilliness. Nearly all herbs do well and are beautiful (some unusual) in pots.  Seed package backs note which vegetables are ornamental besides being edible.  Many are labeled “Baby” types.  False Alarm pepper and red eggplants are examples.  Try them and your own imaginative choices, too. Here’s to good health and garden exercise!


"Adopt the pace of nature;

her secret is patience."


Plant Veggies in the Kitchen

by Kas Winters


Start a kitchen window garden. Suspend a sweet potato in a jar of water so that half of it is under water. (These grow quickly and will take over an entire window area before too long. Kids love to watch them grow.) Put a carrot top or avocado seed in a container with water come up part-way over the carrot or seed. Stick a pineapple top in some dirt in a clay pot. Keep these watered and watch them grow.

Author and Gardener

Sally D. Ketchum


Super Student/

Happy Kid!

A Practical Student Success Guide for Everyone

by Sally D. Ketchum


Sally Ketchum is a Michigan food and garden writer. She works in a large kitchen garden, two herb gardens and borders with English roses. 


Sally is also the author of Super Student/Happy Kid, a practical student success guide for everyone.


Sally's Summer Garden





“I do not have to lean or   squat,

To garden in a lovely pot.

A basket full of marigold

A mini-garden to behold.

Color in a window box

A bright array of Four O’ Clocks

Pale water lilies in a bowl

Are ample garden for my soul.

--Sally D. Ketchum

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