Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Labor of Love - the gardens at Saratoga Spa State Park

At the entrance to Saratoga Spa State Park on Route 9, there is a spectacular garden. The first time I noticed it, I thought, boy, somebody is really having a good time with that!  On Tuesday morning, I finally got to meet that somebody.
Dan Urkevich is a wiry guy with a quick smile who proudly shares his garden with others. I say "his" garden because he is the one who plans and cares for this year round splash of color. Dan does have an assistant - just one - to help him care for all of the flowers and grounds of the state park. For him, it is clearly a labor of love.
On Tuesday morning, Dan was meeting with interested gardeners at the entrance to the Avenue of the Pines to talk about the late summer blooms and to answer questions. 

In the photo below, Dan has used a New York native, the tall hearty purple Ironweed, to shine at the back of the border.

The gardens, we learned, are a mixture of about 75% perennials and woody shrubs and about 25% annuals.

This lovely rosy plant, above, is an annual amaranth. Dan's gardens include at least two varieties of amaranth, which he says   re-seed themselves readily. I think this variety is called "Molten Fire".

In the photo below, the maroon tassels are from another variety of amaranth called "Love Lies Bleeding".  These plants are tall and bring a lot of color to the late summer border. I love how Dan has tucked in some corn plants among the castor bean and sunflowers to give even more height to the back of the border.

Dan told us that he works with local garden centers, primarily the folks at Sunnyside Gardens in Saratoga Springs, who provide many of the plants for the Spa State Park.

The bright orange zinnias, below, are from the profusion series, a favorite of Dan's, which he buys as bedding plants, not seeds.

Dan also uses a lot of these blue "Hightide" ageratum, below, also purchased as bedding plants.

A combination I really liked were these dark ornamental peppers, below, mixed with the yellow flowers of what I think is helianthus. Notice the green-leaved plants emerging from the back of the peppers? Those are milkweed. They are "volunteers" (AKA, weeds) that Dan allows to stay where they emerge. The monarch butterflies love them and Dan says they produce a vanilla-scented flower earlier in the summer.

I wish I could remember what the plant below was. It was full of  wispy leaves and dark pink blooms. Anybody recognize it?

Oh, well. If I can't figure it out, I can always go back for the next garden talk. That will be on Saturday morning, August 25, from 8:30 to 11:00. Dan Urkevich and his assistant Joan will be back talking about the Spa gardens. If you go, be sure to ask for a copy of the brochure they've made up. It lists most of the plants used in this year's garden.

For day trippers, there are two pleasant places to eat lunch in the Spa Park: Catherine's, next to the vintage Victoria Pool (bring a swimsuit!) and Putnam's Patio at the Gideon Putnam hotel. 


Sunday, August 12, 2012

For the beauty of the earth

Our church service and picnic was held today at the Armer family farm near Ballston Spa.  Lots of good folks gathered to worship and later shared burgers and garden-fresh bounty: ripe tomatoes, sweet corn, cukes, chocolate zucchini cake, all wonderful.

The children climbed the ancient orchard trees and admired the plump Hereford cattle, the turkeys, the handsome Belgian draft horses. It was a lovely day.

For the beauty of the earth, For the glory of the skies; For the love which from our birth, Over and around us lies; Lord of all, to Thee we raise This, our hymn of grateful praise.

Peace be with you.

Friday, August 3, 2012


After a late start planting this past spring, and

after a bout of brutally hot, foliage-burning weather, and

after a month of drought, and

after an invasion of creepy green tomato hornworms...

finally, the tomatoes are beginning to ripen.

There are few things better-tasting than sun-warmed tomatoes just

off  your own carefully tended vines.

Happy August!

(With thanks to friends Bev and Marty for access to their lovely pile of well-rotted horse manure, which I used to fertilize these plants, and for the bales of wonderfully spoiled hay that I used to thickly mulch them. You gardeners understand, don't you? Pure gold.)