- Cape May NJ Travel Guide and Vacation Planner Blog

Category: Gardening

Time to Decorate – Naturally

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of Cape May Magazine

Man has made wreaths – the unbroken circle, a symbol of eternity – since ancient times. Today they are still made in the same manner. Small bunches of plant material are attached to a form in a circular style. I use a thin, yet strong wire (#26) on a spool or small paddles.

People in South Jersey have a bounty of natural materials to gather when they need natural holiday decorations. When winter approaches, I love to be able to go out-of-doors to bring nature in. Take a winter walk to collect materials for holiday decorations.

Winter gardens, fields and woods are like a banquet table laden with colorful dishes. Leaves are gone, so bright berries, cones and pods can be seen everywhere

The Berries Of Winter

Holly berries

On a foraging walk you might find holly berries, beautyberries, cedar berries, nandina berries and firethorn berries. Then there are all the “berries” that are not called berries, like rose hips, choke cherries, drupes and fruits of so many other plants found in our gardens. I love red berries best this time of the year, but also love the silver gray of bayberries and cedar.

Bayberries (Myrica pensylvanica) are a favorite that birds have spread all over in the overgrown area of towering trees in one of our old tree farms. We gather these fragrant, gray/white waxy berries to use because they keep well and will dry and last for years. Glue them to swags or wreaths for a beautiful fragrant touch. I also made fragrant candles by adding the berries and leaves to beeswax.

Nandina domestica is a plant I usually associate with Williamsburg, but it does well in our garden and several plants in our yard produce pretty colorful foliage and striking red berry clusters. These showy, conical shaped bunches of berries last really long in wreaths and arrangements.
I had an artificial garland on my mantle and to make it smell good I cut concolor fir and rosemary to add to tuck in between the branches. Then I topped this with nandina berries. Boy, that lasted a long time and even dried and were used the following year.

When I use crab apples, persimmons or other fruits on bird watcher’s wreaths, I keep it outside or in a very cool spot so the fruit will last. Subtle with deep russet hues, rose hips can be collected from many types of roses and are a pretty berry cluster this time of the year. Since these are invasive in the wild, I feel good about picking them and bringing them inside, so they will not spread.

Another attractive berry is the icy blue fruit of the native cedar tree (Juniper virginiana). An extraordinary blue in winter arrangements, they keep well in fresh containers or on wreaths and swags. The cedars that have the most berries are the ones found in sunny, sandy fields. They are relished by wildlife too! A few dried hydrangeas, especially blue ones, look really wonderful near these berries in wreaths, arrangements or garlands. Our Herb Society native plant study group made wreaths of this cedar and then glued deep scarlet sumac berries in them. They looked awesome. The birds loved to pick at the berries when the wreaths were hung on the door.

Of course, the hollies are the brightest of all berries! Both evergreen and deciduous holly berries are wonderful. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) loses its leaves to reveal outrageously beautiful red berries once the frost claims its leaves. The most handsome stand of winterberry is across the creek and only accessible by canoe, so now we planted them along this side of the stream. (For years when our sons were growing up they would take turns on wintry days paddling a canoe over so I could precariously lean over into the shrubs and cut branches! Luckily we never capsized!)
A favorite of bluebirds, the brightly colored firethorn (Pyracantha) berries can’t be beat for decorating. I start to use them around Thanksgiving along with small gourds.

Dark red berry clusters from highland sumac add a subtle elegant look to evergreens. Rhus typhina (not the poisonous variety) are beautiful added to wreaths or arrangements. These grow in vacant lots, sandy dry fields or in a sunny well-drained landscape. The crimson drupes seem to keep forever if the birds don’t get at them.

Making the botanical wreath

We start with a mixed greens wreath of fragrant concolor fir, spruce, pine, cedar, and arborvitae and wire small bunches on wire frames. Natural decorations that can be hot glued all around the wreath include clusters of rose hips, sumac, holly, nandina, persimmons, crabapples, bittersweet, wheat, Black-eyed Susan seed heads, apple slices, various cones, nuts, and pods. You can use the same materials and glue them to a garland around the door or on a fence.

I can’t resist trimming this with a red velvet or plaid bow before hanging it on our door. The birds often think it is an extension of the feeder and so it is not unusual to see chickadees, titmice or even a Cardinal posing on it. The wreath becomes a live Christmas card that looks like it is right off a page of the National Wildlife card catalogue. They are a nice winter decoration and can be moved to another spot in the garden and left up till late winter.

Types of Fresh Greens

Most evergreens can be picked during November and December to be used for winter decorations. My very favorite evergreen is concolor fir. It is gray-green and has a lovely citrus scent. It just makes you feel wonderful when you use it and your hands smell so delicious! It is a very long lasting green, like most firs, and looks excellent in wreaths or arrangements.
Another extraordinary green that really adds charm to any arrangement or wreath is the Hinoki false cypress. These vibrant dark green branches are impressive and one of my very favorite greens to use year round in arrangements.

Although all in the spruce family can be used, I like the bright green Norway best for wreaths, as it is less bulky and seems to last longer than some of the others. White pine is quite common, but still one of the nicest to use in wreaths. It not only smells delicious, it lasts a long time.
I could never decorate in December without cutting bundles of fragrant, graceful Arborvitae. As its name states, ‘tree of life’ is a long lasting, aromatic addition to winter wreaths or bouquets.
Shiny Magnolia leaves are for decorating! If you have evergreen varieties, use their shiny foliage to add another texture to needled foliages on wreaths or in vases or bowls.

Greens used outdoors do not need to be in water. I heap branches in an old wheelbarrow along the walk and also in an old wooden bucket by the door and these keep well into spring!
Making Wreaths then and now

I learned to make my very first wreath on vines twisted into a circle. We eagerly waited to help when my Dad and Uncle Ed would make wreaths. Later on as a grade school 4-H member, I learned to make outstanding wreaths on coat hangers that had been shaped into circles. This became a holiday business from 8th grade through college when my brother and I made wreaths each year. When my husband learned to make wreaths, he once made a huge one on an old hula-hoop!

When our three sons were old enough to learn to make wreaths, they also made them to sell each Christmas. Their first wreaths were on coat hangers and later on metal rings. We still use these rings and have made wreath tables to hold the gadget that pushes the clamps shut.

I figure that I have taught thousands to make wreaths over the past 40 years. It was not unusual to have PTA, scouts, 4-H, Herb Society or church groups making wreaths in my kitchen, family room or porch when the boys were young. Now we have classes at our nursery, so the wreath cycle goes on. Son Joe and our nursery manager Jola teach most of these classes at the nursery now (I teach the decorating part). He has personally made very remarkable 5-foot wreaths of unusual plant material. There is no end to what you can do with wreaths. Last year I taught a handful of people how to make a wreath on a coat hanger and realized that some things never change. 

Pickled in Poland

Many have asked how to make old-time dill pickles. I am sharing an old article with hopes it will inspire some to make them. My son Joe recently made a crock that we have all eaten already. New Jersey farms, especially here in the south, have great pickling cucumbers now, and the dill is lush in most gardens. Call around if you do not have them in your garden and make sure you use FRESH ones.

The smell of dill pickles is reminiscent of many things, but mostly of my two visits to Poland in mid-summer. In Poland many refer to mid-July to mid-August as the season of Ogorki. Recently I picked more than a dozen delicious cucumbers from my garden. The plants have responded well to the drip irrigation ted put in and are producing beautiful pickles. When I smell dill or pickles I usually think of the large crocks in my Babci’s (Stella Grochowski) basement. She had a small grocery store / butcher shop in Franklinville, NJ from the late 30s until the early 60s and often made these crocks of pickles for her customers. My Dad would tell me that the local kids loved to go into the cool basement and grab the pickles, often before they were done. In fact my Dad loved them best before the full fermentation had occurred.

As a young wife and mother I often tried to make these big crocks of pickles. I usually put them on the hearth so that any of the brine that might bubble over would not hurt anything, The only drawback was that the entire house smelled like a deli. Pickles made this way need to be refrigerated or put in jars and processed once they are finished. In Poland during the “season of the ogorki,” the smell of pickles and dill is in the air. I love this smell and try to make pickles, even if just a few jars. I usually plant ‘pickles’ rather than cucumbers with seeds from Poland and hope that they mature while the dill is at its peak.

There are probably as many recipes for dill pickles as there are Polish housewives. I don’t remember my Babci using any vinegar in her brine, just water and salt, but today most recipes have at least one cup of vinegar to every 10 cups of water. I have been told that this is to compensate for the lack of acid in the city or softened water.


  1. Wash the pickles well and then soak them overnight, covered with water (3 gallons of water to one cup of salt).
  2. Drain them and either pack into sterilized quart jars or a ceramic crock or bowl.
  3. Layer them with a generous amount of dill and garlic.This has to be covered with brine, usually 1 cup of salt to 20 cups of water and 2 cup of vinegar that has been brought to a boil. If this is in a crock, be sure everything is covered and then place a glass or china plate over and cover with a clean dish cloth.
  4. Taste one after 4 or 5 days. If done, either refrigerate or seal into jars.
  5. The pickles put in the jars for winter use should also be covered with brine and then sealed with two part jar lids and processed for the given time (usually 20-30 minutes in boiling water that covers the jars and allowed to cool and seal).

In looking over many recipes in Polish cookbooks, I notice that they are all different. Some use vinegar. Some don’t. Some add onions, others horseradish, some red pepper, some alum, some a peach pit or grape leaf. I have tried all of these things. I just like lots of dill and garlic!

I’d love to see your recipe. Please email it to me if you’d like. All recipes will be acknowledged and appreciated with free dill or hollyhocks seeds from original ones I brought from a trip to Poland. Happy Pickling! cape may wedding ideas

lorraine-kieferLorraine Kiefer has gardened all of her life. She is a garden writer, floral designer and professional horticulturist. Lorraine teaches many classes at Triple Oaks nursery and Herb Garden in Franklinville, NJ. Email for garden help or leave your questions below!

Strawberries – The Fragrant Fruit

“I just would like people to know that we love growing strawberries just as much as they love eating them but we [all NJ farmers] need the support of the consumers to keep us in business.  They need to buy local produce when it is available.  If their local supermarket is promoting California berries in late May or early June, tell the produce manager that they want Jersey berries.  Open space in California is not doing us any good here in New Jersey.  Farmland preservation is a wonderful thing and I support is 100% but only consumers can preserve the New Jersey Farmer who will farm that preserved land.”

– This quote is from a south Jersey farmer

Traditionally luscious, mouthwatering ripe red strawberries are in by Memorial Day and go well into June. This year, the crop is early. Let’s hope it goes late. There is something about the fragrance of a field of strawberries with the warm June sun, the blue skies and butterflies floating lazily over the berries that stays in one’s memory.

Juicy, ripe berries are delicious sliced and eaten with other fruit, cereal, ice cream or cake!  Combined with white wine in a bowl and garnished with pansies they are fit for a gala. Southern New Jersey cooks have come up with generations of recipes for delicious short cake, homemade berry ice cream, pies, cobblers and beverages. Just be sure that ripe berries are used for best results.

Strawberries have been grown for thousands of years and used not only for the delicious berries, but also for the fragrant leaves, which were used in tea, as a medicine and to strew on floors because of their fragrance. Wild strawberries are found all over the world, and the delicious fruit we enjoy today was an accidental cross of two plants taken from North and South America and grown in France in the 1700s.

Some southern New Jersey residents are happy to pick berries at local farms. Most grow many varieties of berries to stretch out the availability of berries to harvest. Berries need a rich soil and good irrigation in the years there is scanty rainfall. The short season, Memorial Day to about June 20 for commercial berries, can be longer for home owners if they plant ever-bearing berries in their gardens.  A lot of people love to go to a farm for this back-to-earth chance to do a family outing together and gather delicious berries. People begin to show up a bit before 8 a.m. when the fields open and pick the best of the ripe berries.

When asked what problems they have with the berry crop, the farmers agreed that the birds could be a problem. They become quite brazen and eat their share or the berries. Hawks deter them, but there are more birds than hawks.  Then they hope for success with the bird guard. This is an electronic device that has a microchip inside with the sounds of distress calls and predatory calls of birds on it. It can be programmed to alert different species of birds that something is wrong. Sometimes a real hawk does the trick, but there are many feathered thieves competing for the ripe berries.

Usually there are about 5,500 plants per acre. The hungry berries are fertilized in spring when the fertilizer is plowed under to get the plants started. In late May or early June when the plants start to put out runners, the plants are fed again.

Although it is labor intensive, one farmer says, “We clip the bloom off the first year to promote plant growth. We get our first berries off of the field in May of the following year.” Soil pH is adjusted before the field is planted and requires a soil test to all fields every year. Wheat straw or salt hay is spread over the bed in early December to protect the crowns (the “heart” of the plant) from very cold temps over the winter. This straw is kicked off in March to allow the plants to come out of dormancy.  It also helps to keep the strawberries off the ground, which makes the berries cleaner.  Some farms use a floating row cover of woven fabric that is put over the plants in the spring to help them mature sooner.

Homeowners who might want to grow berries need to remember strawberries need to be grown where there is plenty of sun and where the soil has good drainage. Plants are often placed 12 -18 inches apart in the row.  At planting time, the soil should be weed free. After planting, weekly cultivation is recommended to remove weeds so they do not get established with these perennial plants.

There is noting like fresh-from-the-field ripe strawberries for all your favorite dishes.  Eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and bedtime snack.  They can be added to pancakes, muffins, breads, wine, milk shakes and salads. A really easy way to enjoy strawberries is to dip washed and dry berries in melted chocolate. Just remember that the chocolate must be melted at a low temp (30-40 seconds in microwave) or over a double boiler. Even a drop of water will make the chocolate grainy.  Don’t over cook; it is often ready to dip before it completely melts. The heat of the chocolate will continue to melt. Stir and dip dry berries. Allow cooling before serving. Remember that fresh strawberries liven up any salad and make any dessert more appetizing and beautiful.

Strawberry-Orange Smoothies

  • 1 pint strawberries, washed and stemmed
  • 1¼ cups milk of your choice, low fat or soy can be used
  • 2/3 cup unflavored low fat yogurt or ice cream
  • 2½ tablespoons *frozen orange juice concentrate
  • 2 tablespoons honey or sweetener (optional)
  • 4 ice cubes

Combine ingredients in container of electric blender. Blend until smooth. Pour into four 8-ounce glasses. Garnish with orange slices.

Old Fashion Shortcake


  • 2 pints strawberries
  • Sugar or sweetener to taste

Rinse strawberries, slice and put in bowl with sugar to sweeten.


(or substitute the biscuit mix of your choice)

  • 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 4 Tbsps. granulated sugar
  • 4 tsps. baking powder
  • 1 dash salt
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • Dash of nutmeg or mace

For Filling and Topping

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 Tbsp granulated sugar

Sift flour and combine dry ingredients. Cut in butter until coarse crumbs form. Lightly mix in sour cream to make a nice dough. Spoon dough into 6 equal portions or 3-inch circle on greased baking sheet.  Sprinkle with additional sugar if desired. Bake in 415-degree oven for 15 minutes or until golden. Remove from pan.

Slice each shortcake in half horizontally with a shape knife. Fill and garnish with strawberries and whipped cream, ice cream or milk. Serve warm! Makes 6 servings. 

Sharon’s Favorite Cobbler


  • 3 cups rhubarb, washed and chopped
  • 3 cups strawberries, washed and chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • ½ cup sugar


  • 1½ cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • Work in 1 stick of butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Combine fruit, cornstarch, and sugar. Put into a 8 or 9 inch baking pan or pie dish. In a separate bowl, combine all batter ingredients. Dollop batter over fruit. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until bubbly and golden tan.

Strawberry Chicken Salad

  • 2 cups diced cooked chicken
  • 1-cup pineapple chunks
  • ¼ cup parsley
  • 1 cup broken or chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup sliced celery
  • ½ cup water chestnut
  • 2 cups washed and halved berries


  • 1 cup, mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp. Sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix dressing and toss with other ingredients, save some berries to garnish. Serve on a bed of crisp spring greens.

lorraine-kieferLorraine Kiefer has gardened all of her life. She is a garden writer, floral designer and professional horticulturist. Lorraine teaches many classes at Triple Oaks nursery and Herb Garden in Franklinville, NJ. Email for garden help or leave your questions below!

Grow Your Own Jersey Fresh Tomatoes

Everyone loves a big, thick juicy slice of a Jersey tomato on a sandwich!  They are easy to grow and most gardeners like to have some tomatoes to pick daily. The popular tomato plant is a tender, warm-season plant that is usually best planted well after the danger of frost is past.

Some folks insist on heirloom plants with fruits in various combinations of orange, green, purple, red and stripes. Some like grape or cherry tomatoes and some just want a big round, red, juicy tomato that tastes like a Jersey tomato. I have planted purple ones and pink ones and striped ones over the years, but I also plant the good old Early Girl that I have grown for years, as well as Rutgers and Beefsteak and I am usually happy with all the results.

One of the most popular plants is often the Early Girl (60 or fewer days to harvest). This one has a more compact growth than the main-season varieties, however it is shorter lived. But they work for the early fruit and are really good for areas where the growing seasons are shorter and the summer is cooler. They have small to medium-sized red fruit that usually come in around July 4, if they are planted now in full sun. Of course warm weather helps.)  I also love the big, round slicing tomatoes for sandwiches and the meaty plum tomatoes for cooking. We plant some of each.

I continue to plant tomatoes up until mid-July to have fresh ones to harvest late in the season. For fall harvest and early winter storage of tomatoes, late plantings may be made until mid-summer; these plantings have the advantage of increased vigor and freedom from early cold weather diseases and produce a tasty fruit.  Time late plantings for maximum yield before freezing temperatures kill the plants.


Space small varieties 15 inches apart in the row, staked plants 15 to 24 inches apart, and trellised or ground bed plants 24 to 36 inches apart. Some particularly vigorous indeterminate old-fashioned varieties may need 4 feet between plants and 5 to 6 feet between rows to allow comfortable harvest room. Staking or caging tomatoes keeps them off the ground and easier to tend.


Prepare the soil with good compost in the spots where the tomatoes will be planted. Avoid fresh manure or high nitrogen products, as this will produce a jungle of leaves but little or no fruit. Some old timers who grow tomatoes naturally suggest lots of compost. Plant small plants deep enough to hold them securely. Long lanky stems can be buried. Roots will come out of them. Sometimes I almost bury half of a lanky seedling,  Hoe or cultivate shallowly to keep down weeds without damaging roots in and around plants. Mulching is recommended once the soil warms. I used cardboard last year and although I didn’t like the way it looked, it worked well. Some people use black plastic. Organic materials are also suitable for mulching. Your objective is to always keep the soil moist!  You may also use grass clippings to keep the soil moist. A tad bit of extra fertilizer works best when the mulch is new.

Water the plants thoroughly and regularly during hot dry periods.  Plants confined in containers may need daily or even more frequent watering.  Remember that good compost and good soil produce the best plants naturally. Tomatoes need food. Some folks have sandy or poor soil and also need to feed with granular 10-10-10 fertilizers or 14-14-14 time-release fertilizers. Water in new plants with a mild liquid feeding. Sprinkle the fertilizer mix approximately one foot from the base of the tomato plant. Make sure you circle the entire plant. Cover the mix with 2″ of topsoil and then place a light covering of grass cuttings or root mulch over the fertilizer mix and soil.  Be sure to soak the area! Make two more applications of 10-10 –10, 3 and 6 weeks later if you don’t use the time release, which is good for 4 months. If the weather is dry following these applications, water the plants thoroughly.  Do not get fertilizer on the leaves. Many gardeners train their tomato plants to stakes, trellises or cages with great success.

Tomato cages may be made from concrete-reinforcing wire, woven-wire stock fencing or various wooden designs. Choose wire or wooden designs that have holes large enough to allow fruit to be picked and removed without bruising. The short, small, narrow type often sold at garden centers are all but useless for anything but the smallest of the dwarf types. Most modern tomatoes easily grow 3 to 4 feet tall and old fashioned continue to get taller until fall, easily reaching at least 6 feet in height if not pruned.  Use cages that match in height the variety to be caged and firmly anchor them to the ground with stakes or steel posts to keep the fruit-laden plants from uprooting themselves in late summer windstorms. We usually end up with toppled over tomato cages everywhere!  Maybe this year we will do it right.

In mid-summer I often spray my plant with a natural fungicide such as natural neem oil to avoid disease on the foliage. If your tomatoes  have brown dry sunken decay has developed on the blossom end this is an indication of low level of calcium in the fruit itself. Some folks add calcium or even Epsom salts . Adequate preparation of the garden bed prior to planting is the key to preventing this . Insure adequately draining soil, maintain the soil pH around 6.5 – a pH out of this range limits the uptake of calcium. Lime (unless the soil is already alkaline), composted manures or bone meal will supply calcium but take time to work so must be applied prior to planting. Excess nitrogen in the soil can reduce calcium uptake as can a depleted level of phosphorus. After planting, avoid deep cultivation that can damage the plant roots, use mulch to help stabilize soil moisture levels and help avoid drought stress, avoid overwatering as plants generally need about one inch of moisture per week from rain or irrigation for proper growth and development.

A checklist for success with tomatoes

  1. Plant tomatoes in full sun.
  2. Add compost or humus with your soil.
  3. Make sure the soil drains well and is not muddy clay.
  4. Add any of the following below the hole dug for the plant: fish heads, the tops from a pack of matches, coffee grounds, eggshells, Epsom salts (these are all old wives tale given to me by some of our readers, let us know your secret ingredient).
  5. Plant or Bury the plant at least 50% of the plant’s height. (This will insure a deep, strong root system)
  6. Each plant should be spaced 18” to 24” apart.
  7. Stake plants with a sturdy 6’ high stake or cage anchored well.  If plants get too tall, you can prune tomato plants.

So whether you plant one or one hundred tomatoes this year, enjoy the adventure of growing summer’s most popular product, a Jersey tomato!

lorraine-kieferLorraine Kiefer has gardened all of her life. She is a garden writer, floral designer and professional horticulturist. Lorraine teaches many classes at Triple Oaks nursery and Herb Garden in Franklinville, NJ. Email for garden help or leave your questions below!

Apples are in season

Trees laden with glossy red apples are a beautiful sight in orchards along country roads throughout southern New Jersey. Stands are heaped high with baskets of apples and customers flock to buy and taste those first crispy, juicy delicious apples of the season. Apples have come a long way from the sour, little fruits on the trees planted by Johnny Appleseed for “cider.” Trees are grafted with choice varieties that produce tasty and beautiful apples that are delicious to eat right from the tree. Apples are also a favorite for cooking and are delicious baked, stewed or fried

Bright sunny days and cool nights are just perfect for growing apples says Franklinville orchard man Joe Nichols who worked with his Uncle Chet growing apples since he was 10 yeas old. Now Nichols farms about 50 acres of fruit trees on rural Royal Avenue in the same area that his great grandfather had orchards more than 100 years ago.

Many orchids now use drip irrigation to water plants when needed and windmills with gasoline-powered engines to move air on frosty nights in April and May. Weather and temperatures are very important to an orchard man and just a one-degree drop in the early morning hours at the wrong time of the year might ruin a crop.

Apple season often begins with Mollie Delicious in mid-summer, followed by Gala, McIntosh, Cortland, Jonathon, Red and Golden Delicious, Empire, Mutsu, Fuji and Rome. These are at most local farm markets. Since people are looking for a good taste, which is the result of  fruit allowed to mature on the trees a little longer, local apples are quite popular during fall.

Many remember being told as children, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away:” Considering that they are high in fiber, low in Sodium, cholesterol free, rich in Potassium, high in Vitamin C as well as Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin A, Phosphorus, and Calcium there just might be something that rings true to this. Since there are only 80 Calories in an apple they make a great snack for kids and adults. Apples are one of the most popular fruits for eating and baking, but in the fall the popularity prize for pies, cobblers, cakes and sauces.

Using Apples

An apple can be sliced and put in a microwave with just a sprinkle of sugar and cinnamon for a quick dessert that makes the whole house smell wonderful. People on low-sugar diets can skip the sugar or add just a pinch of sweetener after the apple cooks. Nothing is nicer than a pan of baked apples in the oven to make the house smell warm and cozy. Core apples for baking, but leave the vitamin and fiber-rich skin on. Fill the cavity where the apple has been cored with a mixture of equal parts of white sugar, brown sugar and flour. Chopped nuts may also be added. Pour some maple syrup over each. Add more of this mixtures and top with a generous pat of butter. Add a cup of water to the pan and bake at 350 degrees until the apples are soft. Each variety has a different time at which it softens when cooked. Theses keep well refrigerated and can be warmed in the microwave.

Chop apples with skin on and add to any type of salad. They add a tart crunch that makes a green salad alive! Apples are a natural with cheese and kids especially love them candied on a stick.

To make a delicious hot apple beverage that will make your home smell like autumn, try this. Bring to a boil about 6 cups of water, add 2 pounds of tart apples that have been sliced but not peeled, Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes, add 6 three inch cinnamon sticks. Let settle for about 10 minutes and serve warm with a cinnamon stick. Apple slices may be served in beverage or eaten as dessert.

A little bit of trivia to remember is that about a quarter of the apple’s volume is air. That is why they float and became popular in the old Dunking for Apples game that kids used to love to play at parties.

Apples have been around for over 4,000 years, and there are now literally thousands of varieties of apples worldwide. The apple is native to Europe and Asia, and is now also grown worldwide in temperate regions. The United States produces approximately one-third of the world’s crop.

Apple history tells us that apples probably originated in the mountains of Kazakhstan. It is supposed that people traveling the silk route might have picked up apples and helped to spread the seeds. Since apples do not come from true seeds, anyone who wants edible apples, plants a tree that has been grafted. In the first century A.D., the Roman Pliny the Elder listed 36x varieties of apples. Apple trees can live for hundreds of years.

The Pilgrims brought the apple to the United States in 1620 and French brought the apple to Canada. One of America’s fondest legends is that of Johnny Appleseed. There is truth behind this treasured story. John Chapman, born in Leominster, Massachusetts in 1774, is credited with planting over 10,000 square miles of orchards, but they were all from seeds. The trees yielded an assortment of sour apples good only for cider, which soon turned to alcohol. A wonderful read with fascinating details on this and much more about apples is found in Michael Pollan’s book, The Botany of Desire.

Early settlers grew apples because they stored well and had many uses. Every one drank cider (“hard” as it might turn), ate apple butter and, of course, pies were also favorite foods. Apple bees were a festive occasion where the participants cored and dried apples for storage.

Today homeowners might want to wrap apples that have no blemishes and store in a cool place that will not freeze, such as a root cellar, attic, and porch. Certain local apples keep well into winter if stored in a cool place.

It is not too late to plant a few old fashion apple trees in a sunny spot. The county extension service has pamphlets on home orchards.

Apple Butter

(Yield: 2-1/2 cups)

  • 2 cups unsweetened applesauce (recipe follows)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
  • Pinch ginger
  • Pinch cloves

In a saucepan, combine the ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour. Cool. Serve as a spread on toast, ginger snaps or cake.

Unsweetened Applesauce

Wash and core apples, cut and simmer with a small amount of water to keep them from sticking. Pulverize in food processor or blender. Can also run through a food mill. Measure amount needed for butter; enjoy the rest as a dessert or side dish.

Favorite Yummy Apple Dumplings


  • 4¼ cups flour
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1¼ cups Crisco
  • 1 stick butter, crumbled
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 large egg

Mix flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar. Cut in Crisco and butter. In a small bowl, beat together milk, cider vinegar, and egg. Add this to dry ingredients (sometimes a few more drops of milk might be needed). Mix only till moist.

Divide into 4 flat balls, wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Roll from center out on a floured board to about ⅛ thickness.


  • 6-8 medium apples
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter

Peel and core apples. Set aside. Boil water and add sugar, brown sugar, and butter to form a syrup. Cook about 10 minutes. Cool.


Roll out pastry and cut into 6-8 inch squares. Place apple in center. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon, allowing the cavity to fill up. Dot with butter. Pull up opposite corners of dough. Moisten with water or hold together.

Lift carefully to a deep baking dish. Pour syrup around the dumplings. Bake at 425 degrees on bottom rack for 30 minutes. Reduce oven to 350 degrees for another 30 minutes. Serve warm with cream or ice cream. 

Red Cabbage, Apples and Sausage

(Yield: 4 to 6 servings)

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil rendered bacon fat
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 cups shredded red cabbage
  • 4 tart red apples, such as Jonathan, cored and sliced thin but not peeled
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • *1/2-teaspoon caraway seeds
  • *1 to 1½ pounds German- or Polish-style smoked sausage links, or bratwursts
  • 1 pound new potatoes
  • Salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup beer

*Optional ingredient

Melt the olive oil or bacon fat in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sugar and cook, stirring often, until the sugar browns, about 4 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the onion, and saute it until it is golden, about 5 minutes. Add the cabbage, apples, vinegar, and caraway seeds, and stir to blend.

Place the sausage links and the potatoes on top of the cabbage mixture. Season with salt and pepper and pour the beer over all. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. Taste, adjust the seasonings, and serve hot.

Double Crust Apple Pie


  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ⅔ cup shortening
  • 5-7 tablespoons COLD water

Mix shortening, salt, flour with a fork until crumbly. Add 5 tablespoons water and mix well, adding more water if too dry.

Apple Filling

  • 8-9 tart apples (Gala, Fuji, Macintosh, Granny Smith)
  • 1 lemon
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup brown sugar to sprinkle over filling
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons butter (or margarine)
  • 3 tablespoons of maple syrup

Pare, core, and thinly slice apples. Toss with juice of a lemon. Sprinkle with sugar, flour, and cinnamon, and then mix well. Take half of the pastry and roll flat with rolling pin. Line a 9″ or 10″ pie plate with the pastry. Fill with apple mixture. Dot with butter (or margarine).Take the remaining pastry dough and roll flat. Place dough on top of apple pie mix. Crimp along edges creating a scalloped edging. Take a knife and cut slits into top pastry for steam to escape. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 50 minutes or until crust is brown. Let cool and serve.

List of apples grown locally

Cortland: A medium-to-large red-and-green-striped apple, it is crisp, juicy, and sweetly tart. Because of its white flesh resists browning, Cortland’s are favored for salads and fruit cups.

Golden Delicious: Grown in most regions across the country, The Golden Delicious (or Yellow Delicious, as it is sometimes called) was discovered in West Virginia in 1914. A medium-to-large pale yellow apple that is mild and sweet, it is crisp when harvested in September and October, its pale flesh often becomes dry and soft. Its skin shrivels when not kept under refrigeration. Particularly desirable for snacks, fresh desserts, and salads it is a good all-purpose apple.

Red Delicious: Is grown throughout the U S and is America’s most popularly grown apple. It is crisp and juicy when harvested in September and October, but its sweet and mild-tasting flesh is all too often a mealy when found in winter in the supermarket. It is best used for snacks, salads, and fruit cups.

Empire: The New York State Agricultural Experiment Station introduced a cross between Red Delicious and McIntosh, the Empire into commercial production in 1966. Grown mostly in the Northeast and upper mid-western states, this medium, red-on-yellow (sometimes all-red) apple is crisp and juicy. With its sweet and spicy flesh, it is one of the very best for eating out of hand, in salads, and in fruit cups.

Fuji: Was developed in Japan in late 1950s and by crossing Ralls-Genet and Red Delicious the popular variety has yellowish green skin blushed with orange-red stripes, it has crunchy, crisp, textures and is sweetly tart. Fuji retains its flavor even when stored at room temperature and develops a better flavor when held in long-term storage. This is one of the best apples for eating out of hand, or use in any recipe.

Gala: Developed in New Zealand in the 1930s, it is a cross of Kidd’s Orange Red and Golden Delicious. The thin, red-orange skin with red striping over gold is fragrant and fresh tasting, crisp and juicy, it is a good apple for eating out of hand, for salads, and with soft, mild cheeses. Makes good pie, cake and cobbler as well

McIntosh: John McIntosh discovered this apple in Ontario, Canada, in early 1800s now in the top three grown in the U.S. It is a medium red-on-green apple that is sweet, crisp, juicy, and smells like and apple! They are a favorite to eat fresh in autumn, but later they are best used for sauce. McIntosh apples collapse when baked whole or in pies.

Wine sap: The native originated in New Jersey in the late 1700s, it is one of the oldest apples still in commercial production and is a favorite in the Mid-Atlantic States. A medium size fruit with a thick red skin, crisp, crunchy, juicy fleshed wine sap has sweetly tart flavor that some say has a winy aftertaste. This is a good all-purpose apple.

Mutsu: a dense, juicy eating apple maturing in late October. It is greenish yellow that shows a light reddish blush when ripe. A large apple this one is good for eating fresh or in recipes.

Granny Smith: A good cooking apple that is often eaten by folks who love tart, green apples

Garden Tour: Peter Shields Inn

The Peter Shields Inn, located at 1301 Beach Avenue, is a 1907 Georgian revival mansion originally built as a summer home for a Philadelphia family (lucky them!). Operating today as a boutique hotel and restaurant, the Peter Shields Inn sits back from the street across a bright green lawn, its columns flanked by striking black-and-white striped awnings, and is surrounded by some pretty beautiful gardens. We’re partial to the potted, shocking-pink annuals on the way up the stairs, ourselves. Come with us on a tour!

Photographs by Macy Zhelyazkova during late spring.

Add perennials for years of bloom!

Astilbe tucked between hosta plants

Whether you garden in a pot or a plot, it is time to take notice and give the plants one last feeding, if you do not already have time-release fertilizer on the plants. Clip or deadhead blooming plants so they will continue to flower. Trim back vegetables if they need it and plant some fall crops. Sprinkle seeds of lettuce, parsley, dill, other greens and even radishes for a cool weather garden this fall.

Real gardeners love all types of plants. They appreciate the coolness of shade trees and the winter hues of evergreens. They love the colorful blooms of spring flowering shrubs and the fragrance of lilac, roses, mock orange and swamp magnolia. They plant masses of vibrant annuals each spring as well as tomatoes and other vegetables to feed the family. They love the challenge of choosing reliable, colorful perennials that will come up each year with dependable consistency. These best fill in a bed to look like an old-fashion cottage garden with color throughout the spring, summer and fall. A few perennials like Amsonia have golden foliage which lasts well into autumn. Others like hellebores, the Christmas and Lenten roses, are evergreen with dark shiny foliage all year long.

Butterfly Weed

There are perennial wild flowers and ferns that can create a woodland setting in shady or woodsy areas. There are colorful perennials that will attract butterflies and hummingbirds and there are some perennials that bloom very early as well as some that bloom very late or even in winter. Although most perennials die back and disappear each winter, they come back each spring because the roots remain alive.

In summer, the number of blooming perennials is so large that even seasoned gardeners find new ones all the time. There are so many daisies that you can have them in white, red or pink, yellow, orange and many other assorted colors. Try Shasta daisy for white, painted daisy for pink or red, black-eyed Susan for gold, gaillardia for shades of red and yellow and Echinacea for lavender, white, shades of orange, peach and coral. There are the blooms of many herbs such as lavender, mints, monarda and tansy. Don’t forget Yucca or prickly pear cacti for sunny dry spots. I love the dependability of yarrow in many colors. Phlox, Cardinal flower and salvia give me the bright reds that hummingbirds love.

Cacti blooms

Perennials need food to bloom. Prepare the soil well when planting. It is always a good idea to mix in some compost if you have it. High organic content in soils is a key to building a great perennial garden. I do not mulch them heavily since I like most to reseed. My black-eyed Susans, sweet Cecily, and even Christmas roses reseed. When there are a lot of plants in a bed it is important to feed them well. My husband usually feeds everything in the yard each spring with a handful of 10-10-10 or 5-10-5 granular ‘brown bag’ generic fertilizers. Then I fine tune by putting a scoop or two of my favorite time-release osmocote 14-14-14 (green cap) so they continue to bloom. Remember that it is the middle number, the phosphate, that increases bloom. Too much nitrogen (first number) makes lots of beautiful leaves but sparse blooms. We let the leaves stay in the beds all winter. This seems to protect the plants in a natural way.


To dead head or not to dead head, that is the question! Some people ask, “What is dead heading?” It is simply cutting off the dead blooms. I usually do this early in the season to encourage more bloom. It is often good to let some go to seed later so that more plants will grow. Seeds drop once they are ripe and fall naturally from the pods. The plants usually come up in mid summer and grow until next season when they bloom. Perennial seedlings grow for a year until they bloom. Those purchased in a nursery are often one to two years old and ready to bloom.

Just like some perennials need sun and well-drained soil for success, some need more water or moisture in the soil than others. An example would be the difference between lavender and monarda. Lavender, one of the oldest and favorite perennials of all needs a hot, sunny well-drained site. It does not need a lot of fertilizer and even has less fragrance and fewer blooms when over fed. Monarda, with its large, red humming-bird-magnet blooms, can tolerate quite a bit of moisture and will grow in sun or shade. It is important to read about each perennial before making a choice. A good nursery should be able to guide you. A perennial book will help and the internet will too, if you choose a good source. Remember to make sure the writer lives in a climate similar to yours.

The lists of perennials are very, very long. It is often a good idea to look at perennials each month in a local nursery or at a botanical garden. Choose ones you like and plant them near each other so you have something blooming all during the season!

lorraine-kieferLorraine Kiefer has gardened all of her life. She is a garden writer, floral designer and professional horticulturist. Lorraine teaches many classes at Triple Oaks nursery and Herb Garden in Franklinville, NJ. Email for garden help or leave your questions below!

Garden Tour: The Mooring B&B

The Mooring Bed and Breakfast on Stockton Avenue, just a block’s walk from the ocean, is an elegant but fun bed and breakfast run by Leslie Valenza and Vince Casale. The 1882 property, which was actually built as a guest house, has a mix of antique and new furnishings throughout the building, and no two guest rooms are alike. The garden has a similar feel, with changes in color and texture everywhere one looks. The almost sculptural evergreens give it a unique appearance among its fellow inns. Enjoy!

Garden Tour: The Queen Victoria B&B

Yes, the Queen Victoria on Ocean Street is consistently voted a favorite B&B in’s readers’ poll. Yes, it is one block from the beach. And yes, they offer afternoon tea in true British fashion, but where they really shine is outside. The gardens are a delight and this month we bring you close-ups of the gardens of the Queen Victoria. They would bring a tear to any Brit’s eye.

Plant Lindera Benzoin to Lure Butterflies

A few years back I became serious about growing the native plant Lindera benzoin for wildlife. Although it was a plant that I would only get a request for from time to time in our nursery, all that I read about the plant fascinated me. The plant was not one I knew and I did not remember it growing locally, but my son reminded me it grew in his woods in Greenwich Cumberland County.  Our other son said he saw it in Fairmount Park Philadelphia while biking along the Wissihickon River. The customers who asked for the plant were usually our native plant folks who were interested in birds or butterflies. Finding the plant in the trade was rather difficult here in southern N. J. as there were not a lot of sources at that time to find cuttings or stock plants. Now it is a lot easier to locate it. Some of the local wholesalers are seeing the interest in this really easy-to-grow, valuable native. I am excited about it and carry many plants now. It is the main host plant for the Spicebush butterfly and the awesome promethea moth.

There are many references made to the historic culinary and medicinal uses of Lindera benzoin. One of the most common uses was to make a medicinal tea. Legends tell us that both the native people and our own armies used leaves as a substitute for tea during both the Revolutionary and Civil wars. The fruit has been used as a substitute for allspice since American spicebush’s bark, fruit and leaves are all aromatic. The essential oil of the plant has been used for fragrances and perfumes. Colonial people also used the berries, dried and powdered, at the time of the American Revolution as a substitute for allspice, and the dried spicebush bark in place of cinnamon. Twigs were often steeped in boiling water to make a tonic to reduce fever, relieve colds and destroy intestinal parasites. Both the native people and the colonials used Lindera benzoin as a warming herb to improve circulation. There are countless lists of uses by the native people for this plant, but the one that struck my fancy said that the Cherokee people used this plant to flavor opossum or ground hog !

Spicebush larvae

Wildlife also needs this plant. Since I love butterflies and birds, I decided to plant two along the fence on the outside of my garden fence.  Both plants thrived in the sunny well-drained area that got watered whenever we watered the garden. These plants bloom early in the spring, just as the red maples in the swamp finish. Many other plants are bare when these begin so they are one of the first nectar sources for pollinators. Most people are not aware of this important value of this plant to pollinators. According to William Cullina in his Native Trees, Shrubs and Vines book from the New England Wild Flower Society, Lindera blooms the same time as the skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, and marsh marigold, Caltha palustris.

When my plants grew taller than me I noticed many spice bush butterflies hovering near them throughout the summer. Soon they laid eggs and the larvae ate and then rolled up in a leaf to make a cocoon. This was very good and made me glad that the plants grew along my garden.

Spicebush butterfly

The beautiful spicebush butterfly lays its eggs on this plant so when their unusual looking larvae hatch on it they have the food they need to grow, make a chrysalis in a rolled up leaf and then hatch into a beautiful black swallowtail butterfly to begin the life cycle once more. Besides the Spicebush Swallowtail, Papilio Troilus, it is also a host plant for the awesome huge Promethea silk moth, Callosamia promethean, and the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio glaucus.

However, I was disappointed that my two plants did not get a crop of berries like the ones I saw in photos. It was after more reading about this plant that I realized that you must have a male and female.  However, most of the sources did not sell a named male or female plant. So, until I find out, which my plants are and remedy the situation I will not have berries for the birds. This year I have several dozen in the nursery so I hope to mark any that have berries as female.

The consensus of wild life sites and books indicates that many different birds eat the berries or drupes. Game birds such as quail (bobwhite), grouse and pheasant all devour them when they grow in the wild along open fields, thickets and along streams. Songbirds such as the great crested flycatcher, the Eastern kingbird, the verry, the hermit

Thrush, the gray checked Thrush, and the wood thrush all seek them also. Both the red-eyed and the white-eyed vireo like them. Catbirds, robin and white-throated sparrow all love them too.

Since they are attractive to songbirds and game birds they are a good plant for a native garden for birds. But remember that in order to have berries you need both a male and a female plant.

Plant a few Lindera now.

lorraine-kieferLorraine Kiefer has gardened all of her life. She is a garden writer, floral designer and professional horticulturist. Lorraine teaches many classes at Triple Oaks nursery and Herb Garden in Franklinville, NJ. Email for garden help or leave your questions below!