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Gardening & More: Think outside the box, to spice up your gardens, this summer

POPEYE’S PRIDE — Malabar spinach, pictured above, is a tasty vine plant that can add color to a garden.
HAMBURG — Column by The Sun correspondent Connie Oswald Stofko.

I’m always getting new ideas from the gardeners I talk to. Here are just a few of the more interesting tips I’ve picked up, recently.

Try malabar spinach

I had never even heard of malabar spinach, before I visited the Samuel P. Capen Garden Walk, which takes place in the neighborhood around the University at Buffalo South Campus. Shawn King grows this cool plant in her garden.

Malabar spinach is a vining plant that has a magenta stem with green leaves.

King gave me a taste and it is delicious. It tastes like ordinary spinach, but the leaves are thicker, which I think adds to its appeal. Since it’s a vine, you can let malabar spinach grow up a trellis, to save space in your garden.

Be daring: paint dried plants
Karen Deutschlander in Lancaster has purple alliums in her garden. Those are the flowers that look like a round ball on a stick. They are very purple.

That is unusual, because alliums are spring flowers. The flower has usually faded to brown, by summer. Many people leave them in their garden anyway, because they have such an interesting shape. Others cut them, dry them and paint them, to use in arrangements.

Deutschlander does something different. She spray paints them, while they are still in her garden. I didn’t notice that she had painted flowers in her garden, until she pointed them out to me.

That is not the only plant she has spray-painted. One time, she had a dead arborvitae and the Lancaster Garden Walk was coming up, fast. She said she spray painted the entire bush and no one who visited her garden noticed.

Mow over mint
Mint can really spread, if you don’t keep it contained. You may find yourself pulling out all those extra plants. Don’t just throw them on the compost pile. Instead, use them to add a little aromatherapy to your day, with this simple tip from King.

Throw those extra plants on your lawn and then run over them with the lawn mower. It smells so good!

Use a window box to contain herbs
Mint isn’t the only herb that can get out of control. Chives, oregano and other herbs can establish themselves so well, you have enough seasoning to open a restaurant.

Debbie Acquisto of Grand Island grows her herbs in window boxes on her shed. It not only keeps the herbs contained, but adds interest to what might otherwise be a boring shed.

Sally Cunningham honored by state nursery group

Sally Cunningham, an East Aurora resident who grew up in Hamburg and Eden, has received the New York State CNLP of the Year award for 2013, from the New York State Nursery & Landscape Association, for achievements that benefit the professional nursery and landscape industry.

She has educated the public about science-based gardening and landscaping practices for more than 20 years. She is a lecturer, columnist for The Buffalo News, featured writer for “Buffalo Spree Magazine” and gardening correspondent for WIVB-TV Channel 4.

She said that she tries to use her influence in the media to raise the bar for higher landscape standards and greater understanding and respect for landscapers, growers, arborists and nursery professionals.

Cunningham is also co-founder and director of the four-year-old National Garden Festival, held here in Western New York. It boosts tourism with six weeks of garden-themed events that include garden walks, bus tours, bike tours, educational events and Open Gardens.

The National Garden Festival has welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors to Buffalo area gardens, offering nearly 1,000 private gardens to view.

As part of the National Garden Festival, the WNY Nurserymen’s Association Foundation produced three, block-long front yard makeovers, and, in 2013, are collaborating to renovate an important public garden in a program called Leaf a Legacy.

Cunningham also offers garden consultation and education programs at Lockwood’s Greenhouses, located at 4484 Clark St. in Hamburg.

“Support your own garden centers, growers and nursery professionals,” Cunningham said. “We’re there for you!”

Connie Oswald Stofko is publisher of, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email

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