Karen Atkins is the owner of Proper Gardens in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She designed the Victorian Gardens for the Merrick Art Gallery, the Pioneer Entrance Garden for Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, and many award-winning gardens for residential clients. Karen loves to help and hear from other gardeners.


Michigan Strawberries are in!
by Karen Atkins - posted 07/12/14

I have always made cooked jams. I like sweet jams, like coriander plum, strawberry, and grape. As for savory jams I’ve always made garlic, rosemary, and white wine jelly for lamb and pork roast - and it is darned good.  You can still find all of my recipes for these on line, if you want to make the same. But just when I thought I knew it all, I tasted my friend Dan’s freezer jam. I had never had such a fresh tasting preserved fruit before. My family was hooked. Zoe said it was absolutely the best jam she had ever had in her 14 years of life!  Dan explained that cooked jam results in a cooked fruit taste and that freezer jam gets you a fresh fruit taste. Since you store the jam in the freezer, the temperature does not allow any bad bugs to develop, which means all of the frenetic sterilizing of jars and lids you do with cooked jam  isn't needed. And when Dan added that there would be no boiling jam sputtering on the stove, no boiling of jars and no processing of the jam under boiling water – I was in!  How about you, would you like to try it? Make it easy on yourself so there is no scrambling later. Round up all of your supplies and place them on the counter:


1 Pitcher

1 Potato Masher

1 long-handled wooden Spoon

2 Cups Strawberries

2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice

4 Cups Sugar

1 Pouch of Liquid Pectin

Canning Jars and Caps


Next, follow these instructions, which are crazy easy!


Remove the green tops from the strawberries. Put them in a large bowl and use the masher to break them up – but leave some large chunks of strawberries in there. This will make the jam look and taste better.  Next, put the strawberries in the pitcher, add the lemon juice and the sugar, and stir really well. This is the part that separates the men from the boys. Use some elbow grease. If you don’t stir it ‘til the cows come home you will be left with sugar that has not dissolved and makes your jam cloudy and grainy. So put some weight into it. When you have stirred it for about 5 solid minutes, add the pectin pouch, give it a quick thorough stir, then pour it into jars. Leave about ½ inch at the top so the jam has room to expand and contract in freezing and thawing. Now set those tops on and freeze. You’re done! Can you believe it? Now go make some. You’ll have hostess gifts that everybody wants for as long as your jam holds out. And that’s if your family permits you to give it away. I’m thinking of buying a chest freezer so that I never run out.

By the way, I'm still not giving up my cooked jams. Nothing tastes better on ice cream or roasts than a good, cooked jam. 



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Dahlias are on sale!
by Karen Atkins - posted 06/03/14

If you haven't gotten your dahlias in yet - do not despair. While I normally put mine in a month before the latest frost - I love a good sale. A little effort now and you will feel spoiled rotten later. Plant them a few inches higher than the bag recommends and you will almost be back on schedule, like you planted them on time. Even better - you are getting them at half the price. It only takes a few minutes to plunge them into the ground. Keep them well watered until you see the first green shoots and then there is no hand-holding neccessary. While I love all of the colors for the cutting garden, in the perennial beds I lean toward the oranges and burgundies. I do this because they really put me in a fall mood when the rest of the garden is ready for bed and they are still thriving, and they complement pumpkins and mums in containers at that time. Swing by your nursery and grab a bag (or two at the sale price!) You'll be so glad you did. 

Garden on! K.

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Plant Virginia Creeper Now
by Karen Atkins - posted 05/13/14

This vine is relentless, and will engulf a house in no time. With some temerity, I am planting it by my chicken pen. I cannot wait to see the shiny green ivy-like leaves scramble up. Since the drama queen turns a brilliant red in fall, I want her to have time to get really possessive over the summer! I'll keep you posted, and let me know where you are planning to employ this scarlet beauty. Happy Spring!

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