Garden Fairy Rescue Brigade Helps Heather

In a time of crisis, Garden Fairies call on the “Garden Fairies Rescue Brigade”. We’re sort of like Ghost Busters minus the ghost but with a lot Fairy Dust and , well, dirt. Usually the ‘Fairies transform gardens in a matter of hours. But this time, the Fairies assembled to help out Garden Fairy Heather who has given so much to others. Horribly, this January, Heather’s homestead was burned, and needed to call upon the GFRB.

Dirt and destruction

Heather’s house sustained major damage from a fire that started in her garage. Luckily, she was away at the time of the fire. (Oh, the HUMANITY!) Dealing with the insurance company and all the rest that goes along with a house fire is overwhelming. When your house AND ALL YOUR BELONGINGS are completely damaged, there is no place to escape to and every surface is dirty, wet or destroyed.
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Garden cleanup, a low priority

Fortunately, Heather’s beautiful backyard retreat was not damaged by the fire. All that was needed was an end of winter spruce up , normally accomplished over month or two, a couple of hours at a time. This year, the garden cleanup was trumped by a trashed house. To the rescue came 20 Garden Fairies and Wizards who put in close to 80 hours to transform Heather’s backyard.

Shoring up “the chill zone”

Heather requested that most of the cleanup be centered on the backyard, “the chill zone”. Garden beds were weeded and mulched, shrubs were shaped, the patio was organized, pots from the front yard were relocated to the backyard. Patti and her brother sorted debris in the garage while Lowell fixed Heather’s fire scorched truck (another deranged arson attempt). The partially burned Staghorn Fern was re-located, by a small army, lead by Toddie and Charlie. Imagine the DEPRAVITY… burning perfectly good plants!

Heather's great friend Barbie hosted the lunch at her waterfront courtyard home.

Multiple people paid-it-forward for Heather

The Garden Fairy tradition is to commune, post-transformation, over lunch. This time, the glow of helping Heather was strong. In the immortal words of Ralph Waldo Emerson;

“In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody.”


See more photos from the cleanup at

Fertilizing palms, 3 easy steps

It’s easy to tend to your palm tree’s unique nutritional needs. Just remember the number 3!

3 elements your palms need to stay healthy

Yellow fronds are a signal that your palm needs food

Applied in correct combination; magnesium, iron, and manganese will keep fronds from yellowing or curling. How much and when depends on where you live. For instance, high-rainfall areas with sandy soil often need more fertilizer and microelements as these items are quickly leached from the soil.

Where to buy palm fertilizer
You most likely will find big box stores don’t have knowledge staff to answer in-depth questions, so try try buying specialty fertilizer from a local independent nursery. Nursery staff can help you customize your palm tree’s care needs and consult on health problems.

Pick a fertilizer with an approximate 3:1:3 NPK ratio.

Fertilize every 3 months

Palm trees nutritional deficiencies are easily prevented by following a yearly fertilization program. To keep your palm healthy and green, fertilize early in the season and then every 3 months for a total of 3 applications. In Tampa Bay, start at the end of March and commence at the end of October. Newly planted palms should not be fertilized until after they put out a new spear, about 2 months after planting. Pick a fertilizer with a NPK 3:1:3 ratio. There are those threes popping up again!

Cheap fertilizer can wash away after 3 rains

It’s more economical (and better for the environment) to use fertilizer that has a continuous release formula that feeds your palm tree for few months rather than using a ‘cheap’ fertilizer that will wash away after 3 rains. Improper fertilization can lead to burn, which is most evident in the new spears, turning them brown and crispy. Fertilizing along with proper watering and soil quality play large roles in the health of a palm tree. Improper fertilization practices can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Lack of fertilizing can lead to severe deficiencies and in the most extreme cases can lead to a palm’s demise.

3 steps to establishing a new palm:
  1. Water plays huge role in establishing a new palm. Water every day for 45 days until the risk of transplant shock has passed.
  2. Apply the fertilizer away from the base of the palm, staying around 18″ away from the base. Banding fertilizer around the base of the palm tree is considered a poor practice because it can damage the roots.
  3. Wait about 4 to 6 weeks after planting to fertilize.

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Fertilizing palms DO list:
  • Thoroughly read the directions on the fertilizer bag.
  • Water BEFORE AND AFTER fertilizing, especially when using a quick release material. Under-fertilize rather than over-fertilize.
  • Under-fertilized plants just don’t grow as fast; over-fertilize them and they may die. Pick a fertilizer with an approximate 3:1:3 NPK ratio.
  • An ideal palm fertilizer has the right mix of microelements, magnesium and calcium.
  • Slow release fertilizers are preferred, a bit more expensive but better for the plants in the long run.
  • You can also augment with organic fertilizers such as blood meal, bone meal, fish emulsion, worm castings and manure.
  • Fertilize completely around the plant, distributing the granules over the entire root distribution area (approximately the size covered by the mid-day shadow of the plant).
  • Work fertilizer into the soil if possible.
  • You can add fertilizer to organic top-dressings, such as wood shavings or mulch. These materials typically consume nitrogen during their breakdown.
  • Rake the garden of debris, apply their fertilizer, and finish with a top dressing.
  • For chronically anemic plants that appear yellow or faded when sun-exposure is not considered to be the problem apply blood meal at rate recommended by the  manufacturer.
  • Soil test for salt content, especially in container plants. Inexpensive pronged meters easily tell you when you have problems.
  • Keep turf well away from your palm trees. This will make it easier to fertilize your palms and will help keep diseases away from your palm.


Fertilizing palms DON’T list:
  • DON’T fertilize on dry soil, as it can lead to plant burn and death.
  • DON’T over-fertilize as this can lead to plant injury.
  • Follow the manufacturers directions. If the directions lead to problems, use less.
  • DON’T Throw granular fertilizer down the crown of the plant.
  • DON’T Throw all the fertilizer in one pile at the base of the plant. Scatter it.
  • DON’T Throw the fertilizer against the trunk of the plant in a big pile as this can lead to necrosis or scaring of the trunk.
  • DON’T Use the cheapest, highest concentration quick release fertilizers such as ammonium nitrate 30:0:0 (lawn fertilizer), as this can lead to plant burn or injury.
  • DON’T Put fertilizer directly in contact with the roots when repotting a container plant, especially if using a quick release fertilizer.
  • DON’T Put manure into the hole when planting a palm. Too often the generated heat and solute concentration are damaging to the palms roots.
  • DON’T assume that foliar spray fertilizers are adequate for all the plant’s needs.
  • DON’T allow rain to fall on your stored bags of fertilizer as this may solidify the granules or leach out the fertilizer. Protect the bags with a tarp.


Restorative energy at the Noguchi Garden

The Noguchi Sculpture Garden invites contemplation. Adjoining the Isamu Noguchi Museum located in Queens New York, the garden contains the traditional elements of a Japanese garden: water, a bridge, green elements (bamboo, pine), and rock, of course, including Noguchi’s sculptures. It got me thinking, what is it about a spot that stills the mind without being boring or soporific? What makes the experience restorative? Read more ›

Labyrinths turn up in my travels

A theme for my travels this year: Gardens intentionally created as places for renewal. Such a meditation spot appeared by chance, appropriately enough, on an impromptu trip to visit my cousin in California. One morning as I walked a trail along the Pacific in Half Moon Bay, I came upon a stone labyrinth on a high dusty place overlooking the sea. How could I not walk it, what with hearing the surf and smelling the mingled scent of sea, and grasses… and somewhere in hiding, some wild roses? The cool morning fog is blowing off, the sea birds cry…  and you walk the labyrinth.

Greek mythology tells us

The labyrinth, Greek mythology tells us, was invented by Daedalas to confuse and trap the Minotaur. These days when there’s hardly a Minotaur left to trap, taking a walk in a labyrinth is a way to contemplate or seek enlightenment.  It can be viewed as a spiritual journey to the center of your self, a way to get closer to the kernel of a problem, or to shed accumulated tension.

Labyrinths at every turn

There was another labyrinth I chanced upon in May, in the middle of a woods on the grounds of a Massachusetts conference center.  I love that people are creating these labyrinths that I keep tripping over by chance. In the Rowe, Massachusetts labyrinth the pilgrim was invited to take, or leave, a token when you reached the center.  (When I was there it contained a shell, a pack of gum and a little red horse.)

In New York City labyrinths seem like an especially good idea because they maximize walking space in a small area. Before the latest renewal of Twelfth Avenue started several years ago, I found one painted on an abandoned asphalt lot. The thought and intention that went into creating this, as well as the elbow grease, was not lost on me. I loved it. Anyone who’s fallen under the spell of a garden has experienced the transcendent power of its beauty. But there’s something different about a garden that was created specifically for that purpose.

My ideal labyrinth would be an herb garden.  I’m putting this idea out there to all of you people dreaming of next year’s garden, in the hope this inspires someone.

Susan Szeliga
Susan lives in Brooklyn where she writes, paints and continues to try to play fiddle. After a long career at Newsweek Magazine, her current day job is working as reference librarian at Sports Illustrated.


Garden of a Thousand Buddhas

Near Arlee, Montana, on the broad ochre land that expands out across the Jocko valley to butt against the Mission Range, The Garden of a Thousand Buddhas would be one of those ‘different’ places. When I visited in September, it was still in the process of being built, but they’re quite far along. Chosen by the Tibetan lama, Gochen Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche, in part for its similarity to the Tibetan landscape, the intention of the garden is to promote world peace and an end to suffering.

A thousand buddhas and stupas will be at home here. It was silent and nearly deserted when we visited on a hot September day, and walking through the Dharma wheel with my friend, one felt dwarfed by the sweep of the land. I doubt even all those buddhas could make it feel crowded. Maybe because I felt very small, the focus was less on myself, and I left with thoughts about being a more responsible part the Dharma wheel, the big world. You can learn more about it here:

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the intention of the garden is to promote world peace and an end to suffering

Susan Szeliga
Susan lives in Brooklyn where she writes, paints and continues to try to play fiddle. After a long career at Newsweek Magazine, her current day job is working as reference librarian at Sports Illustrated.


Contemplating the conclusion to NYC’s gardening season

The weather stayed in the 80’s through most of September allowing me to pretend a little bit. But now it’s December–-cooler and darker–and the inevitability of the approaching Northeastern winter is starting to sink in.  “Summer lasting forever”, was a wish I had, especially this year. [portfolio_slideshow id=4194]

Even in my urban setting, our building’s container gardens and front shrubbery needed some seasonal adjustments, so I cut back our hydrangeas, discard the bedraggled ends of semi-successful vegetable vines in the back boxes, and got ready to bring some of the herbs indoors. Fall is a good time to plant a couple yews in the front of the building where an empty patch was left by a water-main break. All this is winding-down and readying-for-winter work. The leaves are falling, and soon we’ll see the bones of our landscape.  It’s actually a time I savor. Although, in my book, any season is a good time to seek out a garden for a meditative walk, and pretty much any garden can be a great place for contemplation, the inherent moodiness of the fall makes this time feel especially right.

Gardens as places for renewal

As the gardening season subsides, I’ve been reminiscing about a few gardens I visited in this past year, many intentionally created as places for renewal. In January I visited Half Moon Bay, where I came upon a stone labyrinth on a high dusty place overlooking the sea. At the beginning of summer I chanced upon a labyrinth on the grounds of a Massachusetts conference center. The last weekend of July I visited my hometown, Buffalo, NY to see the country’s largest garden walk, Garden Walk Buffalo. In the mix of 372 gardens I saw many personal serene gardens spaces. The Garden of a Thousand Buddhas, which I visited in September is in the process of being built near Arlee, Montana. Chosen by the Tibetan lama, Gochen Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche, in part for its similarity to the Tibetan landscape. The intention of the Thousand Buddhas Garden is to promote world peace and an end to suffering. Recently, taking a day trip to the Noguchi garden, located in Long Island City I found one of the country’s great sculpture gardens to also be a perfect mediation garden.

Photos are by Susan and her daughter Kate Previte

Susan Szeliga
Susan lives in Brooklyn where she writes, paints and continues to try to play fiddle. After a long career at Newsweek Magazine, her current day job is working as reference librarian at Sports Illustrated.


Buy Local This Holiday Season!

Before running off to the mall to load up on foriegn-made gifts or jumping on your computer to order from a large on-line retailer, check out your local retailer! Giant Asian factories have provided Americans with monstrous piles of cheaply-produced goods — merchandise that has been produced at the expense of American labor — and sold in monstrous stores like Walmart that continue to devour local stores and shopkeepers.

Start a new tradition, buy local.

  • Give gifts that will help your fellow Americans!
  • Help create a movement of caring about each other
  • Buy locally-grown produce and foods at farm stands instead of supermarkets, where the food travels from overseas.
  • While shopping, patronize local restaurants instead of corporate chains.

Read more ›

Vicky’s Victorious Veggies

Just when my friends in Florida are putting in their fall gardens, here in Springbrook, Wisconsin, it’s over! We are on almost exact opposite schedules. Our first frost was September 16th, when we had killing frost temps of 28º at night, daytime highs on the 60s. Everything in the garden is black and very sad. Here in Zone 3, the growing season is short – 90 days tops.

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Knock Out Roses- Roses for Dummies!

‘Knock Out’ Roses have been criticized as being colorful but generic– the McDonald’s of the rose world. If you are living in blackspot central, where fungus-among-us runs rampant, ignore the critics. Very few people have the time or inclination to grow award winning roses. ‘Knock Out’ Roses are easy to grow, they could be called Roses for Dummies. A great replacement for your poor performing or dead flowering shrubs, they provide year round carefree color. They can be seen popping up everywhere; from median strips to parks and parking lots. You will also find them leading carefree lives in many residential gardens. Created by rose breeder William Radler, ‘Knock Out’ Roses are bred from the roses that grow wild in Europe.

Read more ›

Picket Paint-a-thon fundraisers

For our latest community enhancement project, the Garden Fairies are lending our skills to the SHAMc (Safety Harbor Art and Music Center). It’s lucky the Fairies are an outdoor-loving group because we have have done two SHAMc fundraisers in the past month, braving rain, summer heat and hostile humidity to help raise funds for the center. Read more ›