Garden Tutor Online Course Wins Green Thumb Award


The Garden Tutor Online Course and Kit by Botaniworld has just won a coveted Green Thumb Award in the Gardening Tools and Accessories division.

The Garden Tutor Online Course and Kit is a unique, multimedia course that teaches beginning gardeners how to grow a garden like a professional. Unlike conventional ways of learning about gardening, Garden Tutor provides a concise, step-by-step framework of knowledge plus essential tools for hands-on education. 

Instead of learning by trial and error, Garden Tutor provides the foundation for a beginning gardener to begin a lifelong hobby of successfully growing plants of all kinds. In addition to the acclaimed Garden Tutor course, the kit includes essential tools needed to plan and plant a garden including a kit for testing soil pH, a compass, measuring tape, a soil testing jar, a handy reference guide and more. It’s the perfect start for anyone who wants to begin to garden. Get the Garden Tutor Online Course and Kit at

The Green Thumb Awards recognize outstanding new garden products available by mail or online. The awards are sponsored by the Direct Gardening Association (DGA), a nonprofit association of companies that sell garden products directly to consumers via catalogs and websites. 

You can find the other 2020 Green Thumb award winners here: New Plants and Garden Products Win 2020 Green Thumb Awards

Imperfect Heritage Tomatoes


Heritage tomatoes can have their flaws. Photo:

Question: I always plant several varieties of heritage tomatoes all in a row in a small space. However, the fruits are not perfect and that intrigues me. Do pollinators mix the genetics of my 12 varieties and give me fruit other than what I expected?


Answer: No. In fact, tomatoes almost always self-pollinate: because of the structure of the flower, insects are rarely able to transfer pollen between two varieties, even on neighboring plants. Here’s an article on the subject: Keeping Tomatoes True. So, normally there is no genetic mixing going on.

Also, even if there were a genetic mix, it wouldn’t change the appearance and taste of fruits in the current season. It’s only the seeds of the second generation—therefore, those that you harvested yourself from heritage tomatoes growing side by side—which would contain a mixture of genes.

So, if you buy your heritage seeds a reputable seed supplier, there will be no problem with unwanted hybridization (mixing of genes). Only gardeners who harvest and then sow their own seeds from year to year need to worry about genetic mixtures. And in tomatoes, they’re exceedingly rare.

Ugly tomatoes are edible too! Photo:

If fruits aren’t perfect, that isn’t necessarily due to genetic mixtures (unless your seed supplier isn’t very reliable), but is much more likely to be due to less-than-perfect or uneven growing conditions, diseases, insects, physical injuries to the fruit or other similar causes. In addition, as any good gardener knows, even ugly tomatoes are quite edible and even delicious: just cut off the booboo and enjoy!

Indoor Gardening All Year Long with Microgreens


Rambo radish microgreens

A guest blog by Parker Garlitz

Traditional outdoor gardening is a wonderful hobby that is fun, healthy and delicious. Nothing provides a connection to nature like growing your own food. Let’s face it … food from your own garden is likely to be the freshest, most alive food you eat.

However, if there is one drawback of traditional gardening, it’s that it is seasonally limited. Most of your fresh garden vegetables are available only during the harvest season. Short of a very expensive greenhouse type setup, what’s the best way to experience the joy of growing and eating truly living foods all year long? The answer might be microgreens!

What are Microgreens?

Microgreens of cilantro Leisure Splits

Microgreens are vegetable seeds that are grown in a growing tray indoors and harvested before they mature (usually about 10 days) into full-grown plants. These micro-greens typically have the same flavor as the full-grown vegetable, but often the flavors are stronger and more intense. 

Think about it this way: Take a seed like broccoli. You can grow and enjoy the broccoli plant at different stages of growth. The same seeds will yield three different options, depending on when you harvest.

Sprouts — Broccoli seeds grown without a grow medium. Typically grown in a sprouting tray or mason jar with a strainer lid and rinsed a few times daily for 3 or 4 days before they are ready to be enjoyed.

Microgreens — Broccoli seeds grown indoors in a nursery tray in soil (pictured) or on a hydroponic grow mat. Grown for 8 to 12 days and harvested to use in salads, sandwiches or a garnish.

Vegetable — Grown outdoors in the garden until ready to harvest at about 85 days as the broccoli vegetable we are all familiar with.

Why Microgreens?

Microgreens are fun to grow! If your green thumb itches through the cold winter months, growing microgreens can scratch that itch. Unlike sprouts which are very easy to grow, microgreens are a little trickier. There is satisfaction in experimenting with growing techniques, growing media, fertilization, light and temperature makes it fun and challenging. The challenge becomes deeply satisfying when you grow a stunningly beautiful crop of micros. 

Microgreens are delicious. They have a powerful flavor intensity that adds something different from your salads, soups, stir-fry and garnishes. For example, if you love basil, the flavor intensity of micro basil may make full-grown basil a flavor disappointment going forward (so beware!). With microgreens, you can add flavor to things that otherwise might be awkward. You don’t often see sliced radishes on a sandwich, but micro-radish works perfectly and provides the identical flavor. 

Microgreens are healthy. We all know that most people don’t get enough vegetables in their diet, and most of us don’t get anywhere near enough vegetables picked and eaten promptly at their peak of freshness. Microgreens are rich in what I call “Vitamin L”. L is for Life. A tomato you pick and eat right out of your garden is teeming with Vitamin L. By the time a grocery store tomato is picked, processed, shipped, shelved, bought, stored in your home and finally eaten … well it’s just not the same, is it? Microgreens are alive when you harvest and eat them. Imagine enjoying garden fresh produce, teeming with Vitamin L, all year long.

Microgreens are beautiful. I think this one speaks for itself…

Getting Started

How do you get started growing microgreens? There are countless video tutorials you can find on YouTube, but you could find a good collection here: But that might be more time than you are looking to spend on learning how, and truth be told, it’s not really that hard to get started. We have put together variety of microgreens starter kits that have everything you need to start growing your own microgreens on your own kitchen counter with easy, step-by-step instructions. The kits run the full spectrum from stick a toe in the water, to let’s get serious.

Parker Garlitz is an expert microgreens grower and
a co-founder of True Leaf Market Seed Company
All photography supplied by True Leaf Market Seed Company.

U.S. Postal Service Issues Wild Orchids Forever Stamp


Plant-loving philatelists might find this of interest: the U.S. Postal Service is celebrating the beauty of wild orchids with stamps of species that grow in the United States. The series is called Wild Orchids Forever. The stamp art highlights photos taken by photographer Jim Fowler while art director Ethel Kessler designed the stamps. 

Each stamp features a photograph of one of nine species: Cypripedium californicumHexalectris spicataCypripedium reginaeSpiranthes odorataTriphora trianthophorosPlatanthera grandifloraCyrtopodium polyphyllumCalopogon tuberosus and Platanthera leucophaea, with Triphora trianthophoros being illustrated a second time, shown from a different angle. The Wild Orchids stamps will be issued with 10 stamp designs in booklets of 20 and coils of 3,000 and 10,000. Within the booklet, each stamp design is featured twice.

The U.S. Postal Service also provided the following background information in its press release:

Orchids are beloved by plant experts and casual flower lovers alike for their gorgeous colors, unusual look and delicate features.

Part of the largest family of plants on Earth, orchids grow in many climates and thrive under a variety of conditions. There are more than 30,000 species of wild orchids in the world, with more than 100 species native to North America.

Many orchids native to North America are endangered or threatened, making sightings in their natural environment increasingly rare. These striking flowers are native to damp woodlands and numerous organizations across the country are working to preserve their habitats. Orchids also thrive in cultivated gardens or as houseplants.

The stamps will be issued on Friday, February 21, 2020 at 11 a.m. EST at the American Orchid Society Library at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, 10901 Old Cutler Road, Coral Gables, Florida. If you’re fast enough and live nearby (like, in Miami), the stamp dedication ceremony is free and open to the public.

Customers may purchase stamps through The Postal Store at, by calling 800-782-6724, by mail through USA Philatelicor at Post Office locations nationwide.

Definitely stamps you’ll want to add to your collection!

The Clivia That Refused to Die!


Clivias have the reputation of being tough, tolerant houseplants. I can certainly confirm that! Photo:

In February 1990, while my wife and I were leading a garden and nature tour of Costa Rica, the heating went out in our apartment. Since I live in a very cold climate, with temperatures down to -35˚C (-31˚F) in the winter, that was very bad news for my houseplant collection. No, it hadn’t been that cold while we were away, but still, it was -16˚C (3˚F) the day we arrived.

I don’t know how long the cold had lasted, but the minima-maxima thermometer showed -7˚C (19˚F) in my main plant room when we got home. We quickly got the furnace restarted, but it was too late for my plants. I had about 600 of them at the time and all looked dead and black. 

I stared dumbly at my devastated plants for a few minutes, then thought, “Well, you’d pretty much run out of space anyway. This will give you a chance to try some new plants.” And sure enough, within a year, I’d pretty much filled my home with plants again.

The Search for Survivors

I took no photos of the devastation, but this one will give you an idea of what frost can do to houseplants. Photo: lateonatura,

As for the mess that was once my plant collection, I soon cleaned up the dead leaves and threw out the most obviously dead ones, but I kept a number of pots around for a few months, hoping against hope. 

The so-called dead plant (Euphorbia platyclada) never really looks alive. Photo: Anthony Bassano,

Only one plant survived apparently unscathed: a euphorbia commonly called the dead plant (Euphorbia platyclada), since its flattened mottled brown stems and lack of leaves mean it never really looks alive. I assume it survived out of sheer stubbornness … and the fact that it was on an upper shelf, certainly a bit warmer than the rest of the room. 

Frozen clivias. Photo: Al M.,

Finally, a second plant did show signs of life: a big clivia (Clivia miniata). Although its leaves were toast and I had cut them off just above the ground, there seemed to be some green at soil level, so I gave it a chance. To my great surprise, about 6 weeks later, a one short flower stalk emerged with a cluster of bright orange flowers. Yes: a naked clivia! After blooming, the main plant promptly died … but soon two babies sprouted, one from either side of the dead mother. I potted them up individually … and still have them today, 30 years later, although they’re now huge plants bearing several flower stalks twice a year. 

I’m still amazed at the resilience of that plant, but then, some plants really are tougher than they seem, aren’t they?

For information on what to do if your tropical plants receive a touch of frost, read When a Houseplant Gets Frosted.

Miss Willmott’s Ghost


Miss Willmott’s ghost (Eryngium giganteum). Photo:

She’s tall, prickly, wears an eerie Elizabethan collar and appears icy blue in the moonlight. And she pops up unexpectedly in the strangest places. A stunning ghost of a plant … with quite a story behind her: Miss Willmott’s ghost. 

Of course, that’s not her real name. That would be giant sea holly (Eryngium giganteum).

Ellen Ann Willmott. Photo:

The plant picked up the name Miss Willmott’s ghost early in the last century, named for Ellen Ann Willmott (1858–1934), the English heiress turned plantswoman. She claimed to have grown over 100,000 different varieties on her various estates, notably Warley Place in Essex, England. She funded plant-hunting expeditions to China and several plant species are named after her (Ceratostigma willmottianumIris willmottianaRosa willmottiae, etc.). She was also a hybridizer (notably of narcissus) and an influential member of the Royal Horticultural Society, one of the first women allowed a role in that august society. 

Her passion for horticulture knew no bounds; at one point, she employed 104 gardeners at Warley Place: if even so much as one weed were to be found in any gardener’s sector, he would be sacked on the spot. She wrote books on gardening and her gardens. Celebrated landscaper designer and author Getrude Jekyll called her “the greatest of all living women gardeners.” She herself wrote, “My plants and my gardens come before anything in life for me, and all my time is given up to working in one garden or another, and when it is too dark to see the plants themselves, I read or write about them.”

But Ellen Willmott also lived well beyond her means. She gradually squandered her fortune, went bankrupt and was forced to sell her estates. She eventually died penniless. She also became increasing eccentric, even paranoid, booby-trapping her estate to deter thieves and carrying a pistol in her handbag at all times. She also had strange gardening habits, one of which led to the name Miss Willmott’s ghost.

“Liberating” Seeds in Other People’s Gardens

Miss Willmott’s ghost, with its appropriately ghostly silver coloration, pops up here and there in some of the world’s best gardens. Photo:

As an influential member of the Royal Horticulture Society, Willmott was easily able to wangle invitations to the most splendid private gardens in Europe. She had her own views on garden design, preferring naturalistic styles, and disapproved of formal gardens. To that end, she is said to have always carried in her pocket seeds of giant sea holly (E. giganteum). If she disliked a garden, she would toss seeds of the plant into it. Since giant sea holly is a bit of a garden thug, it would grow and throw the designer’s plans into disarray. It became her signature plant. 

And since it self-sowed and long survived her, it eventually become known as Miss Willmott’s ghost. 

Portrait of A Ghost

It takes half a dozen individual plants to get this dense of a display. Photo:

Giant sea holly is a tall biennial, easy to grow in cooler temperate climates (USDA zones 4 to 7) and able to survive in poor, well-drained, even dry soils where it maintains itself by self-sowing. It can be a tall plant, usually about 1.2 m (4 feet) tall, but sometimes 1.8 m (6 feet). In my garden, it’s the latter, rising on stiff stems from well above most of the plants around it. 

The upper part of the plant is silvery blue green and very spiny. Photo:

It’s quite a statuesque plant, forming an innocuous evergreen rosette of broad, heart-shaped plain green, lower leaves the first year, but then sending up in the second a stiff, thick, blue-green stalk of smaller sessile (without a petiole) stem leaves that are narrower, distinctly bluish with ivory veins and surrounded in nasty-looking prickles. And it becomes increasingly thorny and thistlelike as it comes into bloom, with numerous stems each bearing a cone-shaped cluster of bluish-silver flowers about 10 cm (4 inches) long, spookily surrounded by collar of spiny, holly-like silver-gray bracts up to 6.5 cm (2.5 inches) long. At this point, the whole plant seems to be saying: “Don’t mess with me!”

Stunning in the garden on a summer’s day, the plant is even more impressive on a moonlit night, when flowers give off what can only be described as a ghostly glow. Miss Wilmott’s ghost indeed! A definite star for your moon garden!

And of course, since it’s a biennial and therefore monocarpic, after it blooms, it dies.

There are other sea hollies (Eryngium spp.) that you can grow, all perennials and much smaller, but with similar flowers. As the name suggests, E. giganteum is the giant of the genus and the only biennial.

Grow Your Own

Miss Willmott’s ghost in the famous White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle, England. Photo: Kendra Wilson,

You could, I suppose, buy a plant of Miss Willmott’s ghost, but it makes far more sense to grow it from seed, readily available from many seed companies. Just sow it outdoors in early spring or, better yet, late fall (it needs a bit of a natural cold treatment to sprout well) in a sunny spot and let it do its thing. In year two (or three: in my short-season climate, it tends to act as a triennial), the flowers will go to seed, drop to the ground and take care of planting themselves. Thus, it becomes almost a perennial … but a perennial that pops up here and there, never exactly where you expected it. 

My present small colony of Miss Willmott’s ghost showed up all on its own. I never planted it, but noticed one day an odd plant sprouting in my sunny border. I, of course, let it grow (what gardener can resist a mystery plant?) and was stunned to realize it was Miss Willmott’s ghost.

Now, more reasoned heads than mine will suggest that it’s most likely I accidentally introduced it through the soil of another plant or that a goldfinch (they love eryngium seeds!) dropped a seed from another garden, but I like to think that the ghost of Miss Willmott herself planted it as a reminder to let my garden be as natural as possible.

Thank you so much, Miss Willmott! 

Are Apple Seeds Really Poisonous?


Ill.: & clipart Station, montage

Hello Laidback Gardener,

You’re pretty good at investigating myths having something to do with plants and here’s one that I’m pretty sure isn’t true.

I saw on a Facebook page that apple seeds are poisonous. I don’t know how that could be possible. All my life, I’ve had the habit of sucking on an apple seed or two after eating an apple, much like some people chew on gum, then I swallow them. I’m 38 years old and in fine health.

So, what’s the truth behind that? 


Answer: That actually isn’t a myth! Apple seeds are poisonous. It’s just that sucking on the seeds or swallowing them isn’t releasing the poison.

Yep, apple pits really are (slightly) poisonous. Photo:

Apple seeds (and seeds of many fruit trees in the Rose family: cherries, peaches, plums, etc.) contain a compound called amygdalin. It isn’t harmful in itself, but breaks down into cyanide when crushed or chewed on. And cyanide can be deadly. 

The poisonous content of the apple seed (or pip) is designed by nature to protect it from predators. It’s part of the apple tree’s distribution system. The tree “wants” animals to eat its fruit, which why it is so sweet and tasty, but not to destroy its seeds. Either the animal doesn’t eat the core (humans) or doesn’t chew the seeds (frugivorous animals) and the pips are either thrown away or passed intact through the digestive system. The idea is that encourages the distribution of seeds far from the mother tree (the animal might pick up the fruit and eat or defecate it elsewhere) and that allows apple trees to spread in the wild.

Besides releasing poison, chewing on apple seeds releases a very bitter taste: a warning not to go any further. We may not notice it too much, but birds and small animals will.

Frugivorous animals that don’t learn not to chew on the seeds would be made ill and weakened or killed, thus eliminated, and only those that leave the pips intact would survive. Such is natural selection. And that’s how apples get around.

Any Danger to Humans?

Sucking or swallowing apple pits is harmless, since the pits remains intact. They go right through your digestive system and come out the other end in one piece. It’s probably best, though, not to teach toddlers to put apple seeds in their mouths, as they might chew them. 

Even if you occasionally chew on an apple pit, the amount of poison in one seed won’t hurt you. You’d need to chew on hundreds to make yourself sick and thousands to ingest a lethal number. 

What About Pets?

Yes, you can give your dog an apple core every now and then. Photo:

Cats usually have little interest in apple cores, but dogs often love them and like to chew on them. They probably do manage to break the skin of a few pips as they chew, but don’t do this often enough to poison themselves. One estimate suggests that a medium-size dog would have to thoroughly chew the pips of some 200 apples to be seriously poisoned. That’s just not going to happen.

Do be aware that smaller animals like guinea pigs and rabbits and chewing birds like parrots can be fed apples, but it’s best to remove the core first. Their smaller bodies mean a lethal dose is more easily reached. Poisoning under such circumstances is still exceedingly rare (a small rabbit would have to chew 50 or so apple pits at one sitting!), but it could still theoretically happen and so is best avoided.

Cumulative Effect

But what about the cumulative effect of cyanide? Doesn’t it build up in the system over time?

That’s a common belief … but a false one. The body (human or pet) breaks down cyanide quite rapidly, in mere hours. Cyanide does not build up over time and is quickly removed by the liver and kidney. 

So, yes, apple seeds are indeed poisonous, but no, they’re not likely to poison anyone. But don’t make a habit of munching on them!