February 27, 2017
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Each place setting was layered in sumptuous Mardi Gras colors. ( Tribune News Service photo )

Let the good times roll: a Mardi Gras gathering

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I have never been so thankful for horrible icy weather as I was on a special Fat Tuesday a few years ago, when the car’s inability get traction on the highway scored me an invite to one heck of a Mardi Gras party.

I was out shopping with girlfriends when the weather turned bad, so my friend Brenda, who lived nearby, invited us to spend the night. It just so happened she was attending a Mardi Gras party that night, and invited us to come crash the bash.

Our hosts, Ann and Guy, were big-hearted people who were always looking for an excuse to have fun. You felt like a royal guest in their home, because Ann didn’t spare any detail when it came to decorating or dining, and their warm personalities enveloped you in friendship. (Ann lost her battle to cancer a few years back, and I miss her desperately. But her zest for life lives on in those of us who had the privilege of knowing her, and inspires me still to celebrate each and every moment.)

There’s plenty for gardeners to do, even in February

February garden tips:

* Take cuttings of a favorite begonia and root them for friends for May Day or a favorite mom for Mother’s Day. Take cuttings about two inches long, remove the lower leaves, dip in rooting powder and plant in sterile potting mix. Put several cuttings in one pot for a full plant.

‘Topping’ trees leaves them weak, prone to diseases, pests

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Question: Trees growing along city streets and in an area parkway have been severely cut back at the top of the tree. Is this a common practice? Will it hurt the tree? — T.W.

Since deciduous trees are dormant at this time of year, it is a good time to prune them. Yet, from what you describe, these trees have been “topped,” a severe type of pruning in which the top of the tree essentially receives a buzz cut, removing a large portion of the tree’s canopy and leaving it with a flat top.

Branching out: You can force woody plants to bloom indoors

We’ve had amazing luck this year with days in January and February that don’t hurt (and yes, some that do). This is the time of year when spring witchhazels begin blooming outdoors, and woody plants have been through enough cold that their flower buds can be forced indoors. December is too early and even January may be pushing things. February and March are the perfect months.

Forsythia is one of the standards, and a vase full of these bright yellow flowers can truly make you feel like spring is around the corner. Not only do they have rich blossoms, but even more fun is the sprouting of tiny green leaves.

Quilling: Paper craft lends elegance to Valentine’s cards

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Want to add a little panache to your Valentine’s Day cards? Learn how to roll a few quilling shapes — hearts, teardrops and petals, for starters — to convey your love.

Quilling — an ancient craft also known as paper filigree — doesn’t require any special tools to get started. It’s essentially the rolling of narrow strips of paper to make simple shapes for use in artwork and handmade cards. Complementary techniques have developed over time, such as delicately cut and curled or fringed flowers.

Fresh from your kitchen: Growing machine could be next must-have home appliance

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Uri Zeevi is used to skepticism. People hear about his Seedo indoor home cultivator and they’re astonished.

“Nobody has seen anything like this,” he said from his office in Israel. “It’s really new, just coming onto the market.”

‘Spring into Gardening’ event is March 11

Question: Can you tell me more about the UWEX garden event “Spring into Gardening” I have seen advertised? — N.B.

Registration is open for the 11th annual “Spring into Gardening” event to be held on March 11 at Westosha Central High School in Paddock Lake. Hosted by University of Wisconsin Extension of Kenosha and Racine Counties, local plant professionals, UWEX horticulture educators and Master Gardeners will present sessions on a wide range of garden topics.

Raise the humidity for your houseplants

Skin feel itchy and dry? We’ve been heating our houses for several months now, and furnaces also tend to dry out the air. This time of winter is when houseplants tend to look their worst,since they’re living in the same dry air that makes our skin itch and our noses raw. They, too, need humidity to keep their tissues healthy.

A plant that comes from a naturally humid climate will need some assistance to get that extra humidity that isn’t present in the home. There are several effective methods, varying in the amount of work necessary to put them together and in cost.

Can they be real? Primulas’ vibrant colors beat winter’s doldrums

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Forget about fake news, it’s fake flowers that have my attention. Actually, they are not fake; they are the brilliantly colorful primula. Recently, the astonishing color and beauty had passersby gawking in amazement.

It took about 72 hours of temperatures in the 20s and I was begging for mercy, and just like magic there they were, in a grocery store of all places, offering the respite so needed during an arctic blast.

This year, you could contain your garden

I think this may just be the year of the container and small-space garden, and there are plenty of great options for those of us who want to rein in the garden a bit. It’s important when planting in containers to have a pot large enough to accommodate the plant’s root system as well as be sturdy enough to hold a plant’s weight, especially in the case of tomatoes.

When choosing varieties, look for those that have “compact” in the description or that are specifically designed for patios or containers. There are many types of “baby” vegetables, but be sure to read the description carefully. Some of these bear small fruits on standard-sized plants.

Don’t fear the orchid

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I had always been afraid of orchids, assuming they have the temperament of divas and take an inordinate amount of care. But I have a stunning white moth orchid (phalaenopsis) that has been blooming for six weeks with no sign of slowing down or dropping blossoms. I’ve found moth orchids will just bloom and bloom without much more than regular watering and occasional fertilizing.

Since I had luck with the moth orchid, I purchased a dendrobium orchid. Now that it’s finished blooming it needs to be repotted. I’ve had to brush up on my orchid repotting skills since it is sitting crooked in its tiny grocery store pot that must be propped on three sides to sit up.

A short course on conifers

At the local municipal facility, cut evergreen trees which had just been decked out in holiday decor now line up in preparation for repurposing. Many of these trees had been meticulously cared for at tree farms to encourage them to grow into specimens suitable for the season.

How I wish I could have taken my cut holiday fir tree and planted it into my landscape! Its shape was absolutely perfect for a focal point in my yard.

A garden that makes scents

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I’ve had some time to read lately. Not the usual horticulture texts but my favorite, historical fiction. It seems that in every novel, whether Victorian or more recent, the authors use the scents of the garden as a backdrop for their story.

It’s made me muse on how we tend to get away from the delicious scents that some of the old-fashioned flowers have in favor of larger, more colorful blossoms. Often plant breeders have focused on beauty at the expense of scent, but the old-fashioned flowers are still out there if we just do a little searching. Whatever you choose, be sure to put them near your windows as well as the path into the garden so their scents can wash over you. I’m going to add window boxes.

All-America winners for 2017

From my office window, I have a wonderful view of the Kenosha County Center All-America Selections Display Garden, which is now bleak of vegetation. Winter may halt the growing of non-hardy flowers and vegetables in our region, but ideas are germinating in the minds of the Master Gardeners as they plan for next year’s garden and its theme, “Foodscaping: Interspersing Edibles in the Ornamental Garden.”

All-America Selections is a non-profit organization that tests new flower and vegetable varieties, then promotes the best performers as AAS winners. These winners are grown in display gardens throughout the nation to provide the opportunity for gardeners to view them growing in site conditions similar to their own.

Favorite gadgets for the smart home

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Every month for the past year I’ve covered smart home products, including everything from frying pans to toilets to alarm systems.

Smart home products let you control and automate items around your house.

Brighten up with a bouquet

When the weather is not exactly uplifting, one of the easiest things you can do to lift your spirits is to fill the house with blossoms. They are fairly inexpensive at almost every grocery store, and you’ll find all kinds of interesting types, some of which you may not have seen before. It’s a small investment that will bring days of smiles.

Of course, there are the standard carnations and daisies, but you can also find fragrant lilies, interesting hybrid chrysanthemums, sunflowers, delphiniums, hypericum, my favorite freesias, and hundreds of others. You will find them already bundled in bouquets as well as sold as individual stems so you can create your own bouquet.

Resolutions for a new year of happy gardening

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It’s the time of year when we certainly do a lot of reflecting. And, even though it’s cold and snowy, my thoughts always turn to my garden and landscape for the next season. Thinking of spring brightens my mood. Some of my reflections involved resolutions to correct mistakes from last year, but also, I love to savor the successes.

For example, I grew fantastic garlic this year. Fifty heads as usual, some almost as big as my fist. I have a bin full of garlic from which to cook for the winter. But I tend to use less than I really like just so I don’t run out of stored garlic by April (and am tempted to use the ones I put aside for replanting). So, this year, I’m going to plant 75 cloves. I have the room, and there’s no reason I can’t have as much as I want. Plenty for cooking and maybe even some to share.

Gardening facts at your fingertips

Gardeners, plant lovers and seekers of information on other subjects can give themselves a gift this season without even worrying about the gift wrap.

The Learning Store through the University of Wisconsin Extension is available at your fingertips by typing learningstore.uwex.edu into your computer. Not to be confused with another learning store entity, the UWEX Learning Store “offers educational media developed by Cooperative Extension researchers and staff to support healthy and financially secure families, food safety, environmental issues, agriculture and farming, community and economic development,” as stated on its website.

Merry Kitschmas! Collectors of vintage decor celebrate a retro holiday

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MINNEAPOLIS — Want to time-travel back to the 1960s, when Shiny Brite ornaments dangled from shiny aluminum trees? Step inside Cassy Zamora’s Columbia Heights home, where she’s surrounded herself with a vast collection of pre-1970s holiday decor.

From the red flocked Santas dancing a jig to an illuminated Blow Mold Santa, it’s clear that Zamora is especially mesmerized by the retro image of St. Nick. “I like the full cheeks and big blue eyes on the happy Santa faces from that period,” she said.

Practical gifts for gardeners

In a pinch and need last-minute gifts for gardening friends? There’s no need to get crazy about finding something unique. Most gardeners are fairly practical folks and will love utilitarian gifts. Here are a few suggestions:

* One of the best gardening gifts I ever received was an ordinary bucket. Every gardener can use another bucket, and mine was a shiny galvanized pail filled with five pairs of inexpensive, brightly colored cotton gloves. My bucket is with me in the garden most of the time, to haul compost to the lettuce bed or to turn upside down to sit on, and I never have to look far for gloves.

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