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05/21/10 1:04PM By Charlie Nardozzi
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VPR/Tim Johnson

I'm Charlie Nardozzi and this is the Vermont Garden Journal.  There is no more fragrant, spring flower than lilacs.  Originating in Eastern Europe and Asia, the Latin name for lilac is Syringa, which means pipe in Turkish.  The Turks would hollow out the stems of lilac bushes to make musical instruments.  Lilacs became a popular American shrub with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson planting them in their colonial gardens.  Today, lilac festivals abound around the country.  Rochester, New York is the self proclaimed Lilac Capital of the World.  They grow more than 500 varieties and 1200 bushes all around the city.

Lilacs are low maintenance, except for the pruning.  Most love to grow tall and after a few years the flowers can be out of reach for picking and enjoying.  To prune an overgrown lilac, start after the blooms fade.  If you wait too long and prune in July, you'll remove the flower buds for next year's crop.  Prune 1/3 of the oldest, thickest stems to the ground.  Allow new shoots from the base of the plant to grow up and replace them.  Prune these new shoots to the desired height and after three years of this rotational pruning you'll have a shorter, lilac shrub.

Now for this week's tip.  It's rhubarb season.  Not only does rhubarb make a great pie, it's good for you too.  Rhubarb has been found to have anti-oxidant, inflammatory and allergy properties.  However, if your rhubarb is forming a flower stalk, cut it down.  The stalk will take energy away from leaf and stem production.  For a tasty drink, check out the rhubarb punch recipe below.

Next week on the Vermont Garden Journal, I'll be talking about hot peppers.  For now I'll be seeing you in the garden.


Rhubarb Punch (Thanks to Catherine Hughes for sharing this recipe)

4 cups rhubarb stems chopped

4 cups water

½ cup sugar

¼ cup lemon juice

¼ cup orange juice

Cook down the rhubarb in the water until soft. Add sugar, lemon juice, and orange juice. Mix well. Strain in cheesecloth or a colander to remove pulp. Another option is to blend the rhubarb solution in a blender to break up pulp. Serve chilled.


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