Martha Stewart Living Radio: The Radio Blog

Good Ol’ Boy Hostas, Hot Peppers, & Birds

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Today’s show covered a lot of ground, and Andrew and I were happy to hear from so many of you who shared your “urgent gardening questions” (as my sister always calls them when she leaves hers on my home message machine).  We were also happy to hear about your successes, from a Sago Palm in California to a rejuvenated old rose garden in Texas. Thanks for being part of Homegrown.  Call us anytime at (866) 675-6675 to leave a message; we’re live Tuesdays from 9 to 11 a.m. Eastern.

Andrew and I both counted birds last weekend as part of the Great Backyard Bird Count (see Feb. 14 blog entry, or But we were both frustrated to have so few–maybe several chickadees but not much else—with high winds and very cold weather in our region in upstate New York.

On a more colorful note, we’re awaiting the arrival of the hellebore season in our upstate gardens…where right now is the time for cutting off the evergreen foliage from last season to show off the emerging bouquets of bloom in yellow, white, pink and even a blackish-purple that’s particularly arresting.

Andrew and I may be doing cleanup, but Helleborus orientalis have already begun their astonishing late-winter display in the Pacific Northwest and in the South.  Two great nursery visiting days this week showcase hellebores and other early performers.  Friday and Saturday, the 24th and 25th, famed Heronswood Nursery north of Seattle opens its great gardens to the public (info and their catalog at Saturday and Sunday, Plant Delights outside Raleigh, N.C., does the same (  If you’re in the neighborhood…

Speaking of which…Founder and owner Tony Avent of Plant Delights, one of America’s  great plantsmen, visited us on the show today, and talked about hostas, which he’s done lots to breed and promote. Being a good ol’ Southern boy (his description, not mine), Tony decided to fly in the face of polite hosta-naming tradition and call some of his best introductions things like Hosta ‘Bubba,’ or ‘Outhouse Delight’ or 'Red Neck Heaven’.  Plant Delights has about 500 hosta varieties in its collection of the 5,000 or so named cultivars around today, and highly recommends Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’ (the largest of all hostas, making clumps up to 9 feet across in time, he says); ‘June’ (with gorgeous blue leaves with chartreuse centers), ‘Stained Glass’ (golden foliage edged in a thick band of dark green) and ‘Touch of Class’ (an even bolder-looking blue-and-chartreuse hosta, in the spirit of ‘June’, from which it was bred).  We all agreed that the species Hosta plantaginea is a must in every garden: shiny green leaves, extremely fragrant, large white blooms, and as Tony told us, it’s the only hosta that blooms in the evening—the perfect accompaniment to that garden cocktail hour.

Tony suggests that some of the great new ferns make perfect shade-garden companions for hostas, including the latest kind of Japanese painted ferns such as ‘Ghost’ (Andrew’s favorite) and ‘Pewter Lace’ and ‘Burgundy Lace’.  Woodland peonies are another of Tony’s latest recommendations, like Paeonia obovata and P. japonica. They’re not your average garden peony, but a more delicate flower followed by hot-colored seedpods.  I grow them in shady areas of my garden; Tony’s right, they’re wonderful.  Order some! And then the topic turned to peppers, thanks to a visit from Steve Bellavia of Johnny's Selected Seed in Albion, Maine (, where their new early, productive pepper called 'Carmen' is among the features. If you like just a little bit of spice, Steve says, try one of his favorites, 'Krimzon Lee.'  Whatever variety you grow, plan to start your seeds 6-8 weeks ahead of set-out date (final frost for your area), and put the flats or cellpacks on bottom heat or in a very warm spot till the seeds sprout. An 80 to 90 degree soil temperature is ideal to break the seed coat and cause good germination; take the heat mats or coil away once the plants are up, though. I always heard that burying some matchsticks (unburned) in each hole when you transplant your peppers into the garden is desirable (though Andrew laughs at this notion every time I tell him to do it). But Steve says phosphorus is essential for peppers so try the matchsticks...which contain it...or save your matches for candlelight dinners and use some transplant solution high in phosphorus like Johnny's sells. Another pepper thing Andrew teases me about: I plant my peppers a bit deeper than they stood in their flats, even though (unlike tomatoes) they can't actually create more roots along their stems when buried.  I do it so they don't topple, and Steve says yes, it's a good practice with leggy pepper seedlings.  You never know about horticultural old wive's tales, but I'm relieved that these two aren't as wacky as they may sound, at least.

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