It’s a Small, Small, World-Mini Hostas


Mini hostas spilling out of a strawberry jar

A shade workhorse, hostas, according to the Perennial Plant Association are the most widely planted perennial in the world. Easily tucked into small places in the garden, and a perfect accent in trough and other miniature garden containers, these diminutive hostas are becoming a crowd favorite.


Hosta ‘Mini Skirt’

On the pricey side, these adorable plants are being snatched up everywhere. They can run from $18 too $30 a piece.


Planted into the garden, miniature hostas stay low to the ground and form a tapestry of color, making a great ground cover, seen at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens

Usually less than 6 inches high, miniature hostas should be placed carefully in a garden bed so you don’t lose sight of them when other plants encroach. That is why I like to use them in trough gardens. You are placing this little gem in a highly visible location for maximum impact in a container. But try planting a rainbow of them in a garden bed for a great little ground cover in the shade. Recently I made a trip to Carolyn’s Shade Gardens in Media, Pennsylvania and was impressed with the variety available.


A trough with ‘Frosted Mouse Ears’ backed by potted miniature hostas at  Carolyn’s Shade Garden

And the names!! Mini Skirt, Lemon Lime, Blue Mouse Ears, Neutrino, Cracker Crumbs, Dew Drop, Shiny Penny, Appletini, Baby Blue Eyes, Little Red Rooster, Tears of Joy, Sunlight Child, Curley, Sun Mouse, Church Mouse, Kiwi Golden Thimble- the list goes on and on. Marketing a plant is all about finding that perfect name and these minis take the prize for catchy names.


Irresistible with sculptural leaves and charming textures make it difficult to stop at one, and you’ll be tempted to fill a garden with them. Taking up less space in a space challenged property, and ideally suited to container growing, these little minis are perfect on their own or as a companion plant.


‘Blue Mouse Ears’ tucked into a boulder crevice

Easily grown like all the larger widely known large hostas, they are pretty indestructible. For the best care of hostas, plant them in rich organic soil with a slightly acidic pH.


Flowering like champs, the minis perform like their larger relatives

Drainage, like with so many plants, is most important. Dormant season crown rot is one of the few diseases that attack these plants.  With this in mind, when newly planted, keep the roots moist, not wet. Once established, hosta plants aren’t fussy and are very tolerant of summer drought and last for years.

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Perfect for fairy gardens, this one is ‘Blue Mouse Ears’

One of deer’s favorite food, plant hostas in containers if you have a property overrun with these pests.


Planted next to a ‘Jack Frost’ Brunnera, adds some contrast to this mini

For my post on a hosta nursery, go to Happy Hollow-Hosta Mecca to see more varieties or Carolyn’s Shade Gardens.

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Spring Floating Beauties

This is an updated post on fall floating gardens, Floating Beauties, with spring arrangements.


Visiting Chanticleer Gardens in Wayne, PA, I have always been entranced with their wonderful floating arrangements made out of fresh seasonal materials displayed in a generous proportioned bowl. Easy to put together, even for the flower arranging challenged, there are no mechanics involved, just an eye for what goes together.


Ferns, Peonies, Blue Bachelor Buttons, Geum, Japanese Maple

After flower arranging you often have bits and pieces left over which you hate to throw away. An opportunity to use these pieces in a stunning arrangement is easy to do with a large waterproof bowl. Lasting four or five days, these floating beauties can be changed out for what is perfect at the moment.

This arrangement can make a big statement on a patio

This arrangement can make a big statement on a patio


Grouped containers at Chanticleer

How To

  • Pick out the perfect wide bowl; fill 3/4 up with fresh water

Pick a low wide bowl, even though this bowl has a beautiful pattern, you won't see it when the flowers are floating

Pick a low wide bowl. A swirling pattern makes it interesting

  • Browse your garden, picking up a variety of foliage, berries, and flowers-or just use left over flowers from arranging

  • Start arranging your foliage as the backdrop. Add your larger statement flowers at the end.


    Bleeding Heart motif in a cobalt rimmed bowl pops

Cafe au Lait Dahlia

Fall arrangement with Cafe au Lait Dahlia, Japanese maple, Hydrangea, Viburnum berries fall foliage

A perfect centerpiece for a party or for you alone to enjoy, this type of arrangement takes minutes to make, for you to enjoy for at least a week.


Yellow Mums, Green Button Mums,, Alstromeria

Gerber, Rhododendron, Asparagus Fern, with glass balls

Gerber, Rhododendron, Asparagus Fern, with glass balls










Posted in Floral Arranging | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Build the Buzz-Beekeeping Revolution



Beekeeping, especially urban beekeeping, is picking up steam and buzz! When I first attended my “Beekeeping Basics” class put on by the local beekeepers club twenty years ago, older men in coveralls dominated and the joke was that the average age of a beekeeper was “from 57 to dead”. As a younger woman in the class, I was definitely in the minority. Sticking with beekeeping for over twenty years has seen lots of changes in the apiary. A new generation of beekeepers have arrived which has injected a revolution in how beekeeping is practiced. Hipsters, young mothers, and middle-aged couples, have taken up the practice in greater numbers than ever before.


Two young students picking up Nucs, a miniature starting beehive, for their college campus


A newly developed bee hive seen at a state fair

The practice of “we have always done it like this,” is slowly but surely disappearing. Beekeepers with new ideas, energy, and ways of doing things are transforming the apiary yard to something that beekeepers from 50 years ago wouldn’t recognize. When problems started to arise 10 years ago with the advent of mites and colony collapse, beekeepers wasted time hoping to return to 1940’s beekeeping. The old guard still wishes that. But with the new crop of beekeepers, they don’t know the difference and attack the problems with renewed vigor and novel solutions.

Lots of new beekeepers are entering the field. This one has a crazy suit-a bathrobe!

Lots of new beekeepers are entering the field. This one has a crazy bee suit-a bathrobe!

Females Rule!

An apiary’s female dominated society should be especially attractive to women. Historically, people assumed that the bee queen was actually a “king”. Even Shakespeare referred to the head of the hive as a “king”. Females in a beehive basically do all the heavy lifting with the males kept around for only one thing-inseminating a queen bee.


Women are increasingly becoming beekeepers in the traditionally male dominated field.  But this isn’t easy for young women because of the physical nature of beekeeping. Try bench pressing 65 to 75 pounds or more of dead weight! – which a full hive body of honey can weigh.


Helping out my neighbors to set up their own hives

From a creature with a brain the size of a sesame seed, a working hive is incredibly diverse and organized and gets the job done efficiently. Pollinating one in three of our agricultural crops, honeybees are hugely important to our economy. But only until Colony Collapse Disorder in 2007 became publicized, did people sit up and take notice that bees were in trouble or realize that they were vital. A result of that realization is a huge welcome influx of brand new concerned beekeepers, most of them under thirty to start their own hives in concern for the environmental impact of the decline.

A busy hive with brood and honey

A busy hive with brood and honey


A steep learning curve will hit any newbee, and even though I have kept bees for twenty years, I still feel new to the field. Disease, parasitic mites, low winter survival rates, and the high startup cost is still an issue, but I find that new beekeepers are enthusiastic and eager to learn. Inevitably, some people upon learning about the time and money involved drop out. But many are sticking with it and unlike a fair weather fan, they are in it for the long-term. Committed newbees really want to become beekeepers even after hearing about all the recent setbacks in the bee world. Check out my post on How to Jump Into the World of Beekeeping.


Flow Hive

I’m sure everyone has heard of the IndieGoGo Flow Hive with its promise of simplifying the honey harvest by simply turning on the tap. So far, Flow Hive has set records for the largest international campaign ever on Indiegogo and was an Internet darling. But critics are railing against the Flow Hive as an expensive gimmick that over-simplifies beekeeping and doesn’t deal with the nitty gritty day-to-day basics. In reality, beekeeping is hard work that requires lots of steps to make sure that your honeybees are monitored and kept free of disease and healthy. The promotional material for Flow Hive makes beekeeping look so simple and easy that anyone could have a beehive in their backyard without any work. I reserve judgement until we look back on this in a few years time. Stay tuned for the results.

BroodMinder-Technology In Beekeeping

The broodMinder is a thin bluetooth enabled monitor that is inserted on top of the hives

The broodMinder is a thin bluetooth enabled monitor that is inserted on top of the hives

And technology has entered beekeeping. I am using BroodMinder which uses the latest in Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology and integrated circuit temperature and humidity chips, to monitor my hive. By placing the small bee resistant wrapped monitor with a battery on top of the frames, any heat and humidity created by the bees is recorded as it rises to the top of the hive. Relaying the information to an app on my phone, I can monitor how the hive is doing and even email it to myself. Yes, there is an app for everything!

There is nothing more discouraging than opening a dead hive in the spring

There is nothing more discouraging than opening a dead hive in the spring

If the temperature and humidity plummets during the winter, I will know that the beehive needs my help with supplemental feeding. See BroodMinder for more information. They are also developing a monitor that will weigh your hive. I would love this feature to inform me as to how much honey is being stored during the summer so you know the best time to harvest!


Full Disclosure: BroodMinder gave me a unit to test out, but I only post reviews about products that I really like and use.


Helpful Articles

Beekeeping 101

Installing Nucs-A Bee Package or Nuc?

Spinning Honey

Jump Into the World of Beekeeping

Honeybee Nuc

Making of a Queen

Bee Packages Are Here!

Swarming of the Bees

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Milkweed not the solution for Monarch declines

A great post on the milkweed debate from LepLog. There are no easy solutions to stopping the decline, but don’t stop planting habitat for Monarchs as well as other endangered species. As usual, the answers are still coming in for a complex problem, just like the honeybee situation.

Common Milkweed

Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca


Lep Log

Monarch nectaring on goldenrod. Monarch nectaring on goldenrod.

I’ve talked with a number of you about this recent research from Cornell; I wanted to make you all aware of this paper (that I’ve been aware of for about a year as it worked its way through the peer review process).  It’s an in important paper with important implications for how we approach monarch conservation as a public issue.  In particular it has relevance on the matter of what actions would be appropriate if the monarch is listed as an endangered species, and what we in Maryland (and the mid-Atlantic in general) could be doing to support monarch populations.

As the Cornell researchers point out, quantity and quality of milkweed is not and has never been an issue in the decline of monarch populations in the East or the Midwest (there is just not enough data on Western monarch populations).  Taken literally, all the summer-blooming…

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Ladew Garden Festival 2016

Ladew Topiary Gardens iconic scene of the flx and hounds

Ladew Topiary Gardens iconic scene of the fox and hounds


Now in its 8th year, the Garden Festival at Ladew Gardens in Monkton, MD, has become the most anticipated specialty plant and garden ornaments sale in the region, featuring an eclectic variety of vendors who specialize in unusual and unique plants and garden related items.

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Beautiful arrangement greets visitors as they enter the Garden Festival

Beautiful containers dot the grounds at Ladew

Colorful containers dot the grounds at Ladew

Garden Festival guests can shop from more than 45 vendors offering hard-to-find perennials and annuals, unusual exotics and container specialties, decorative garden furniture, urns, statuary, and other architectural treasures. I attend every year and get lots of ideas, buy many plants, and meet like-minded plantaholics. You don’t get many casual plant shoppers here, but knowledgeable plant fanatics.

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An antique bird house for sale

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The gardens are in spring bloom

Unique garden items are for sale

Unique garden items are for sale

Attending the lectures and workshops is an added benefit, but I am usually so busy shopping that I don’t have time to attend. After shopping, I also stroll through Ladew’s beautiful historic gardens known for the sculpture of shrubs into fantastic shapes.

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Oversized bird houses are on the grounds

I am always searching for the latest and greatest plants and I am sure to find them at Ladew – at a cost though. The prices aren’t cheap, but you will find things here that you can’t find anywhere else, so I am careful about what I purchase. Since I usually buy wholesale plants, I always get sticker shock when I see retail prices.

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I picked up this yellow Salvia Madrensis which I love for its unusual color and furry leaves

 Forget carrying all those heavy purchased plants around as Ladew volunteers collect your plants in wagons and take them to the parking area where you can drive up and load them up. I still take my portable cart with me as once it is full, I stop!


Ladew is always looking for quality vendors, and there is usually new ones as well as old favorites. The fairy garden vendor is especially charming and I always stop and admire the miniature gardens.

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Miniature garden for sale


Verbenas in chair


Peace Tree Farm booth

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Lloyd Traven of Peace Tree Farm


This year the Festival will be held Saturday, May 7, from 10 AM to 4 PM at 3535 Jarrettsville Pike, Monkton, MD.  For more information, go to Ladew Gardens. This is your opportunity to find plants and ornaments that are rare and beautiful to make your garden a unique place.


A beautiful spring container at Ladew

Venus Dogwood

Want a Venus Dogwood that has blooms as big as your hand? You will find this at Ladew


Where else can you find miniature hostas?

Posted in garden travel, Plant shopping | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Blooming Hill Greenhouse-A Family Owned Business


Blooming Hill makes use of old ironing boards to display flowers

Patronizing independent nurseries, not big box store chains, is an important part of my shopping for plants. A totally different shopping experience greets me as I walk in the door and you will find knowledgeable and eager to please owners and workers. The plant selection is quite eclectic with little gems that you wouldn’t find anywhere else.


Coleus ‘Coleo”

Also, the plants are taken care of and not neglected like I see too many times at big box stores. Mainstream garden centers and big box stores tend to stick with the tried and true, afraid to plant “outside the pot” for fear that customers won’t buy something different.

Jo Troy, owneer of Blooming Hill Greenhouse

Jo Troy, owner of Blooming Hill Greenhouse in Parkton, MD

moss basket

Jo Troy working on a moss basket, one of her specialties

But as a plant lover, there are so many new varieties and cultivars out there to try, I think that the more to choose from the better. I do love Petunias, Verbenas, and Sweet Potato Vine, but there are so many alternatives available to create something a bit different from your neighbor.



Abutilons or Flowering Maples caught my eye as I entered Blooming Hill Greenhouse, in Parkton, MD and I had to stop and admire this treasure that will be sure to attract hummingbirds to your garden.

You rarely see Abutilons at nurseries; at Blooming Hill they have three colors!

You rarely see Abutilons at nurseries; at Blooming Hill they have three colors!

Unusual annuals are everywhere

Unusual annuals are everywhere: I forgot the name, but check it out at the open house!

Tucked away off a winding country road, you would never know the greenhouse was there until you stop at a bottom of a hill and spot the small sign. After turning up a steep driveway through woods dotted with Azaleas and other woodland plants, you know you are in for a treat. Greeted by 3 medium size poly greenhouses at the crest of the hill, there are always outdoor selections on tables to slow your journey into the mix of living, breathing, beautiful plants.

TheTroy family lives right next door to their business

The Troy family lives right next to their greenhouses. Row covers are ready to throw on top of outdoor plants for cold snaps

Brimming with treasures, the usual and unusual that you never see anywhere, and hanging and moss baskets everywhere, Blooming Hill is full of surprises. I enter like a kid in a candy shop and want one of everything. Or even better, three of everything! Also carrying tons of herbs and vegetable plants, this is a one stop nursery to fill your place with color.


A completed bowl arrangement

Begonias of all colors and sizes fill Blooming Hill as one of Jo Troy’s favorite plants. She told me that she never met a Begonia she didn’t like! I have to agree with that as I survey the selections of Begonias.

Begonia 'Unbelievable Miss Montreal'

Begonia ‘Unbelievable Miss Montreal’


Begonia ‘Glory Pink’

Blooming Hill Greenhouse

As a landscape designer, if I have a customer who wants to create their own containers but needs help with selection and colors, I send them to Blooming Hill for their expertise and advice. Owner Jo Troy is patient and helps customers personally select their plants to take home or if you bring in your container to the greenhouse, she will customize your planter for a very reasonable cost.  Her daughter Millie is also sought after as a designer of masterpieces in a pot.

Millie, Jo's daughter, is watering all the plants by hand

Millie, Jo’s daughter, is watering all the plants by hand

A plantaholics’s dream come true, Blooming Hill specializes in the creation of “moss baskets”, hanging baskets planted around the entire circumference of the “moss” covering in a wire basket. Requiring many plants to fill in the stuffed balls, and time to grow in, the moss baskets are works of art.

Moss basket

A hanging moss basket is a ball of flowers

See how Jo creates these masterpieces from scratch.

All plant lovers and collectors will find something to ooh and aah over and take home with no location in mind, but thinking that you can’t do without it!  Still selling well- filled market packs, the most economical way to buy plants, I splurge on zinnias, vinca, and other annuals to fill my beds for the summer.


Sun Patien

A variegated Sunpatien: you just need one of these to fill a pot

So, if you are in the Baltimore area, check out their upcoming open house at 18700 Frederick Road in Parkton, MD, April 30 & May 1st, 2016 from 9AM to 4PM. If you go to the open house, please tell Jo that Claire sent you!

Blue Plumbago

Blue Plumbago, another annual that I never see anywhere else

Surfinia 'Summer Double Salmon'

Surfinia ‘Summer Double Salmon’

Container at Blooming Hill

A piece of art container for hsade; A customer dropped off this container to have it customized

Moss basket in the making

Moss basket completed but starting the process of growing in and producing flowers


I took this new variety home, a variegated Asclepias for my visiting Monarchs


Posted in Container gardening, garden center destination, greenhouse | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

All Season Containers

Early spring container by Leigh Barnes

Early spring container by Leigh Barnes-Tulips, violas, grape hyacinth, daffodils, allysum, salvia,and nemesia

Most people wait until mid to late May to plant their containers because of a chance of cold snaps, but I have been busy planting for weeks using plants that are cold tolerant, using bulbs, cool season annuals and perennials. For my most viewed post ever on containers, check out Not Your Ordinary Container-Containers With Pizzazz!

Shade Container

Shade Container

My Favorites

Bulbs only last a few weeks, but you can easily slip them out of the container and plant in one of your garden beds for a show next year. Leaving an empty spot that you can plug-in some annuals for a warmer season, like verbenas and petunias, containers can be transformed with the addition and subtraction of several plants and emerge with a completely different look.

Bulbs in containers

Violas are an early season staple that look good for about 6 weeks until the hot weather starts and then they are toast. See my post on Violas to see how many ways you can use this versatile plant. They give you a quick early boost of color which can be removed when the violas start to fade and then you can insert something more heat tolerant.

Viola Etain is one of my favorites

Viola Etain is one of my favorites

Mixing a melange of perennials, annuals, bulbs, and small shrubs early creates a container that will last through the season with tweaks throughout the year. Make sure that you take care of your container with good drainage, an essential for any plantings. I like to elevate my container off the ground so that it can drain properly. A plant stand or pot feet are perfect for the task.


Pot feet keeps the container elevated so that water can drain off

Woodland Phlox is a great perennial that lasts for 6 to 8 weeks and is highly fragrant. When finished, pop it into the garden and replace it with something else blooming.


Woodland Phlox(light purple) is highly fragrant and lasts for weeks


List of Early Flowering Plants for Containers

  • Annuals-alyssum, african daisy, lobelia, pansies, snap dragons, gerber daisies, english daisies

  • Bulbs- tulips, daffodils, grape hyacinths, scilla, crocus, hyacinths, alliums, lilies

  • Perennials-pulmonaria, columbine, bleeding heart, woodland phlox, variegated yucca, candytuft, coral bells, scabiosa, violas, bleeding heart, brunnera, lobelia, lamium, woodland phlox, primrose, armeria, poppies

  • Shrubs-heather, pieris, broom, blue star juniper, dwarf rhododendron, blueberries

Early spring color

Coral bells, dwarf Rhododendron, bleeding heart, brunnera, and lobelia


Purple Gem Rhododendron makes this container shine


Lava Lamp Coral Bells, Violas, Millenial Allium, Lobelia, and Lamium

Coral Bells

Coral Bells or the Heuchera family are my must have for spring containers. Coral Bells emerge early and have perfect foliage colors that you can match to your blooms and foliage of the other plants in your container. There are literally hundreds of shades and varieties of this plant and you can never have enough of them! Known for foliage rather than flowers, Coral Bells are probably my favorite plant for borders and containers.

An array of Coral Bells in a greenhouse

An array of Coral Bells in a greenhouse

Coral Bells Fire Alarm

Coral Bells Fire Alarm

Coral Bells 'Grape Expectations'

Coral Bells ‘Grape Expectations’

If you start with a good potting medium that has lots of compost and perlite to aerate the soil, you can keep your container healthy for years. I make sure to fertilize all my containers regularly with a diluted fertilizer so that my plants are happy and healthy!

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Honeybee Nuc 101

 A miniature honey bee colony or what beekeepers call a Nuc, is a living organism that needs to be cared for properly for it to survive and thrive in your bee yard. A “beehive in a box” is the best way to give your beehives the quickest start right from the gate to start producing honey as they already have a laying queen who is mated, producing eggs, and ready to go.

Nucs ready to be picked up and placed in a beekeepers hive body

Nucs ready to be picked up and placed in a beekeepers hive body

Spring Start-Up

For beginning beekeepers, there are three different ways of starting your own hive: Packages, Nucs, or a Live Hive. To get an overview of Beekeeping, it’s costs, benefits, and problems, go to my post, Beekeeping Start-Up, Jump into the World of Beekeeping. To see how to hive a package, go to Bee Packages Are Here!

2 packages of bees in the back of my car

2 packages of bees in the back of my car


Options for Starting Your Own Hive

  1. Live Hive- This is probably the most difficult to purchase. Never buy a live hive until it has been thoroughly inspected by a state apiary inspector and given a clean bill of health. This might be a good approach for instant beekeeping, but you have to find a beekeeper willing to sell a complete working hive and you are unlikely to find one unless the beekeeper is retiring or has passed. Very few beekeepers want to sell a good, live hive and there must be a compelling reason to do this. However, when you are able to purchase a live hive, you are also purchasing all the existing problems such as small hive beetles, tracheal mite, varroa mites, wax moths or diseases such as nosema, American Foul Brood or European Foul Brood, etc. For small hive beetle controls, go to Small Hive Beetles to see how to combat these pests. Before committing, inspect the combs to see how healthy the colony is with plenty of brood and bee bread present on the frames.

Orange and yellow pollen is deposited into cells, mixed with nectar to make bee bread that is fed to growing honeybee young

Orange and yellow pollen is deposited into cells, mixed with nectar to make bee bread that is fed to growing honeybee young

Close up of pollen

Close up of pollen

Bee bread is pollen brought back to the hive that is mixed with nectar and deposited into cells to feed the developing brood.

Great frame with lots of brood (capped larvae)

Great frame with lots of brood (capped larvae) and pollen or bee bread

2.  Packages- Packages have been the way beekeepers in the North have received bees from the South for over 100 years.  By shaking bees out of different hives, a package is formed which is housed in a screened cage for transport. Sometimes it may take shaking bees out of three different hives to equal three pounds of bees (about 10,000), the standard. Then, a new queen not related to the worker bees is caged to travel with the new bees.

 Queen bee in cage

Queen bee in cage

Some considerations of this method are:

  • Will the queen be healthy and properly mated? 

  • Since they are from the south, could there be a chance of Africanized genetics, making a more aggressive hive?

  • Shipping stresses, such as too much time in the package and excessive temperatures can weaken both the bees and the queen.

Hiving a package of bees

Spraying sugar water on a package of bees to calm them

 So, while this is the “industry standard” and has been for a century, it is not risk free or fail safe. I can attest to this as a good percentage of my packages have failed.

Transferring 5 frames from a Nuc hive into my hive body

Transferring 5 frames from a Nuc hive into my hive body


3.  NUC- A nuc is a short expression referring to the nucleus of a live hive. The nucleus, or nuc, usually contains four or five frames from a complete hive.

Carrying 2 Nucs out that have been taped shut

Carrying 2 Nucs out that have been taped shut

The frames include brood in various stages and frames mixed with honey, pollen and brood. The queen has already been accepted and is the mother of all the bees including the brood in the frames. This is a bee hive in miniature – a working and laying queen is included along with her daughter worker bees, brood, pollen, and eggs. I have gotten honey the same year form my Nucs, so I ordered 2 this year. 

Checking in to pick up bee nucs

Checking in to pick up bee nucs

The best way to acquire a Nuc is to join a Bee Club. Mine is the Central MD Beekeepers Association and they order Bee Nucs every spring from a supplier and transport the Nucs to our Maryland Agricultural Center for pickup for $165 each.

Two college students picking up Nucs for their campus

Two college students picking up Nucs for their Goucher College campus

Nucs are the way to go for me, as it is a hive that is ready to go and is already working to bring in nectar during the honey flow. Honey flow is a term used by beekeepers indicating that one or more major nectar sources are in bloom and the weather is favorable for bees to fly and collect the nectar in abundance. For me in the mid-Atlantic, this happens in early to mid-May and can last for a couple of weeks and is always heralded by the blooming of Black Locust, Robinia pseudoacacia. An unassuming tree that spends most of the year in the fringe woods on the side of the road and one late Spring day it throws out a hanging truss of stunning white blossoms. But not just blossoms! The intense fragrance wafts in the breeze and finds you if you are walking down the road and will drift far from the tree.

Springtime time is also the critical time for swarms- May is swarm month for me! Go to Swarming of the Bees  to see how to capture swarms.

A swarm of bees from my apiary

A swarm of bees from my apiary

 Advantages of a nuc:

  • The frames are from a proven, successful existing hive

  •  The queen is up and running and has been laying eggs in cells for some time, enough to have quantities of capped brood

  • You receive the existing frames of comb, honey, pollen and brood. You do not have to wait for the bees to draw comb(this is labor intensive)

  •  It is easy to transfer the frames into your own equipment

My nuc is set up in a deep hive body with an empty super on top which contains a feeder

My nuc is set up in a deep hive body with an empty super on top which contains a feeder, as well as entrance feeders

Disadvantages of a nuc:

  • Are not usually available until June (I got 2 recently in early April because of my Beekeepers Association who ordered them from a breeder last year)

  • You receive comb from another beekeeper that could contain pests or diseases

  • More expensive- For example, I paid $165 a piece for 2 nucs and a package costs about $115 a piece

It is really important to remove and install the frames in the exact order that they are in the original box. And the weather should be at least 5o degrees or higher. Today, I was working in sunny 65 degree temperatures which is picture perfect. When you remove the frames, it gives you the opportunity to look for brood, honey storage, and the queen.  Here is a video on installing a nuc into your own hives.


Handling Tips on Installing a Nuc

Whenever you work with bees, move smoothly-like you’re doing Tai Chi! Bees will only sting if they feel like you are threatening your hive, and fast and jerky movements will put them into attack mode. Use your smoke sparingly as the only bees that will sting are the guard bees on the periphery at the entrance and at the top of the frames. If bees come at you and give you a “bump” on the face veil, this is their warning prior to trying to sting and it is best to back off before continuing. Move slowly but surely, not clumsily as this can lead to losing your queen and thus your hive.

Lay the Nuc box on its side in front of the hive so the stragglers can enter the hive

Lay the empty Nuc box on its side in front of the hive so the stragglers can enter the hive

Once you move over all your frames to your equipment, there will be stragglers, so I place the Nuc box on its side in front of the hive and by dusk, everyone is tucked up for the night.


I feed my hives with sugar water in entrance feeders

I feed my hives with sugar water in entrance feeders

Sugar water, 1 part table sugar to 1 part water, is fed to the bees for the first couple of weeks until they can easily find nectar sources. Supplementary feeding is critical to the success of your colony. There are sparse nectar sources in early April, and I like to feed until I see plenty of flowers out there, probably in about 3 weeks.

A honeybee with plenty of pollen already collected entering a Hyacinth flower for nectar

A honeybee with plenty of pollen already collected entering a Hyacinth flower for nectar

I continue to feed with sugar water and will inspect the entrance to the hives every day to make sure that there is a good traffic flow, both in and out. That tells me that everything is working well. If there isn’t the normal flow, I will inspect the hive to see if there is a laying queen. In about a week, I will open the hive and check the brood pattern and see if the bees are drawing new wax comb. If everything seems OK, I will continue to feed the hive for several more weeks while they are drawing the wax comb and then taper off the feeding. I believe in minimal handling of the hive. Leave it to the bees! And harvest the honey!

Inspecting a frame when transferring it from the Nuc blox to my hive body

Inspecting a frame when transferring it from the Nuc box to my hive body


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Black Goes With Everything

Black Iris

Iris ‘Black Suited’

Black is Beautiful

There has been an explosion of black flowers and foliage in the past couple of years in the gardening world.  It started out as a trickle and now is a tsunami of everything black! When I go to the nursery and look at new cultivars of annuals, perennials, and shrubs – all shades of black are represented.

A black foliaged smoke tree sets off the white Alliums

Bat Orchid

The Bat OrchidTacca chantieri  is one of my favorites but needs to be grown in a greenhouse. An exotic plant with flowers that mimic a bat in flight, deep purple to black, with ruffled wings and long, hanging filaments, the flowers last for weeks. Large, attractive leaves surround the bloom.

Bat Orchid has dangling whiskers

Bat Orchid has dangling whiskers

‘Black Magic’ Hollyhocks

These blue-black, tall, stately plants look good in any garden. They should be planted at the back of borders to give a beautiful classic garden look. They flower mid to late summer.

Hollyhocks display nicely against stone walls

Hollyhocks display nicely against stone walls


Black Magic Hollyhock

Black Magic Hollyhock

You have to know how to use black for the best effect. I like to place black flowers or foliage next to very bright intense colors, such as hot pink or lime green to get the biggest impact. The black color gives the eye a rest when you pair it with bright vibrant colors. If you place black plants next to darker hued plants, it just doesn’t work and the black color fades in the background. So use black carefully and site it with some thought.

Anvil of Darkness Iris

'Anvil of Darkness' Iris

‘Anvil of Darkness’ Iris

The bearded black Iris’s are particularly showy with the velvety falls of  black draped against the foliage.

Black and White Iris

Iris ‘Full Figure’

How to Use Black Well

Black plants can also echo other plants that have black stems, black venation or black undertones. I find that if you have a boring or blah border/container, black instantaneously ramps up the visual interest. It can become a focal point if you have a particularly beautiful black plant and enhances nearby plants.

Black in a container makes it stand out

The black foliage of ‘Purple Knight’ Alternanthera picks up the black venation of the petunias

There are all different hues and variations on black and sometimes the amount of sunlight a plant receives will affect the coloration. Also, juvenile foliage will generally be a darker, more intense, shade. In the plant trade describing many of the black plants, you hear adjectives such as chocolate, deep burgundy, midnight, dark purple, or coffee.

The black foliage of the Canna makes it stand out

The black foliage of the Canna makes it stand out and picks up the venation of the larger leaf

Jack in the Pulpits

Arisaema sikokanum with chocolate coloration

The Japanese Cobra Lily, Arisaema sikokanum, is an elegant cousin to our native Jack In The Pulpit. The spadix is a pure marshmallow white which gives the flower such great contrast.  It looks like a flower all decked out in black tie ready for a party. And the scarlet berries make this expensive plant worth the money for their multi-season interest.

An unfurling Jack in the Pulpit

An unfurling Jack in the Pulpit


Black petunias don’t seem natural. But I really like their velvety texture and tones and the Black Phantom one is a stunner and has real ‘wow’ impact .  Many black flowers are black wannabees because they are more a dark purple, but the black petunias are closest to the true black color.

‘Black Phantom’ petunia

black Petunias

Black Petunia playing off of the black Phormium

Black Elephant Ears

Black Elephant Ears


Chocolate Ajuga used in a container

Black Sempervivum ‘Dark Beauty’

Black Parrot Tulip

Black Parrot Tulip

Black Hellebore

Black Hellebore

There are even black tomatoes

There are even black tomatoes

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Rotten Botany-Stinky Wonders of the Plant World

Corpse Flower in full bloom

Corpse Flower in full bloom

Blooming flowers brings to mind sweet-smelling blooms, not repulsive odors, but there are quite a few flowers that fall into the later category. Carrion flowers, also known as corpse flowers or stinking flowers, emit odors that smell like rotting flesh. The blossoms attract mostly scavenging flies and beetle as pollinators. So even the pollinators are odd and different. The flowers may even trap the insects temporarily to ensure the transfer of pollen. Attracting beetles, flies, and other pollinators is the purpose of the decaying flesh odor and without fail, the flowers are interesting and beautiful in their own unique way.

Bud of the Titan Arum

Bud of the Titan Arum

Titan Arum

The Titan Arum, Amorphophalus titanum, has a massive bell-shaped flower almost 9 feet in height, on record as the tallest flower in the world.   During bloom, the tip of the spadix which is the long structure emerging from the center, is around 98 degrees F, which helps the perfume disperse, which in turns attracts carcass-eating insects. According to Wikipedia, “Analyses of chemicals released by the spadix show the “stench” includes dimethyl trisulfide (like limburger cheese), trimethylamine (rotting fish), isovaleric acid(sweaty socks), benzyl alcohol(sweet floral scent), phenol (like Chloraseptic), and indole (like human feces)”. Quite a mix!

Titan Arum, from Wikipedia

Titan Arum, from Wikipedia

After flowering, a single shoot emerges in the place of the blossom, which is the size of a small tree, standing up to 30 feet tall and 15 feet across. The plant grows from a corm (like a bulb) which weighs up to 150 pounds and is native to the equatorial rain forests of  Sumatra. Imagine encountering this plant in the wild!

Growing for 7 to 10 years, before blooming for just 3 days, the flower will open quickly when it is ready, about 3 inches per half hour. Sought after by botanical gardens around the world because of the numbers of visitors flocking to see it, the flower is incredible in person. I had the opportunity to see it first hand at the Floral Showcase in Niagara Falls last summer and was blown away by the sheer size of the bud.

Closed bud of Arum Titan at Toronto Floral Showcase

Closed bud of Arum Titan at Toronto Floral Showcase


Stapelias are also known as carrion flowers and are small, spineless, cactus-like succulent plants. Usually grown as potted plants, the flowers are hairy and generate the odor of rotten flesh. The color of the flowers also mimics rotting meat, which again attracts flies and beetles-no surprise there! The flowers in some species are quite large, notably Stapelia gigantea which can reach 12 inches in diameter.

I have grown these for years as houseplants and the flies flock to the flowers when open and they really do stink with a foul odor.

Stinky Stapelia is a succulent

Stinky Stapelia is a succulent

Dutchman’s Pipe

Dutchman's Pipe

Dutchman’s Pipe

If you are looking for a striking vining plant, try a Dutchman’s Pipe or Pelican Flower (Aristolochia macrophylla) or Pipe Vine. The plant is a woody vine that produces flowers shaped like curved pipes and large heart-shaped leaves hardy to zones 8 to 10. Again, the flowers attract pollinating flies with their foul odor and provide habitat for beneficial insects. Usually growing 10 to 15 feet long, you need a trellis or other support. The large heart-shaped leaves alternate along a woody stem. Tinged a plum color with speckles, the flowers appear in late spring and early summer.

The flower uses an ingenious way for pollinators, usually flies, to enter and prevents the flies from exiting until the pollen actually has been released within the base of the flower. See this great video by Janet Draper, Smithsonian horticulturist explaining the mechanism.

Once used as an aid to childbirth because of its resemblance to a human fetus the appearance has led to another of the vine’s names, birthwort. Aristolochia  is a potent carcinogen and kidney toxin, so the plant is very toxic. But because of this property, the pipe vine is a host plant for many butterfly species, including the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, thus making themselves unpalatable to most predators.


Dutchman’s Pipe growing in greenhouse

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