Briggs Avenue Garden Take-aways, 2023

by Kathryn Hamilton, EMGV

By virtue of both its size and the diversity of its gardeners, Briggs Avenue Community Garden offers a wealth of information and insight. Each season presents opportunities to capture both the favorite varieties of experienced gardeners and ambitious new trials from gardeners eager to improve their gardening lot.  The 2024 gardening catalogues are arriving. In case it’s helpful in making your choices, here’s a peek at how different varieties fared at Briggs.

At the spring plant sale, we offered three varieties that were new to the market this year: Pink Delicious, Jolene, and Lemon Boy Plus.

Pink Delicious turned out to be just that. Big, tasty, and juicy with little-to-no cracking. A regional All America Selections award winner based primarily on good flavor and juicy flesh, this indeterminate also carries a good disease package and has strong, productive vines. Definitely on order for next year.

Particularly in 2023, many companies came out with “Plus” versions of old favorites. The “Plus” is
essentially an improved variety adding either flavor, or, more often, increased disease resistance.

Lemon Boy, among the best-selling tomatoes in the US and Canada, has also been a perennial favorite among master gardeners during their annual tomato tastings. Although highly disease-resistant in the original version, Lemon Boy Plus adds additional disease-resistance and increased sweetness. A Brixx rating ranging from 5.7 to 6.6, puts it on par with Cherokee Purple (5.23) and Pink Brandywine (5.96). Tomatoes run eight ounces and larger. During a year in which early blight cursed the garden, this tomato produced well into September on a largely pristine plant. It will return to the garden in 2024.

We were interested in Jolene because it was designed to “resist the diseases of the Deep South,”
promised a high production of large fruit, and was designed to set flowers in extreme heat. Ultimately, it was “just a tomato” without any special flavor. Unfortunately, we were unable to observe its promise to flower in the heat. Master gardeners are likely to keep a better eye on this tomato in 2024 through one of our trials. Will the disease resistance and increased production make up for a lackluster taste? Stay tuned.

The unanticipated tomato star was introduced by one of our Briggs Gardeners, and it’s a product of our own NC State: Mountain Merit. This tomato was designed to provide NC growers with a “high-yielding, disease-resistant, fresh-market tomato cultivar with acceptable fruit quality.” It also carries substantial disease resistance. While it lacked an heirloom-quality taste, it was tasty and juicy. Perfect for a sandwich or salad. It also withstood disease better than any other tomato in the garden and was still producing in mid-October, when the only alternative is store-bought and shrink-wrapped. For that reason alone, we think it deserves a garden spot in 2024.

We grew six different varieties of cucumbers this year. Old standards included: Spacemaster; Poinsette; and Straight Eight. We chose three varieties for their resistance to bitterness: General Lee (“best-tasting slicer”); Suyo Long (“mild, sweet, and burpless”), and Tokiwa (“the standard for slicing cucumbers; buttery soft, supremely sweet, and never bitter”), and a 2023 introduction, Early Prince.

Unfortunately, we were unable to track production but in mid-August, following weeks of unrelenting 90° temperatures, we held two unscientific taste tests anticipating significant bitterness across the board. Although some tasters detected a “slight bitterness” in some cukes, not one was rated “Icky Bitter” (a very scientific term). However, there were two clear winners, largely chosen for their “crispness,” and General Lee had a slight advantage over Tokiwa.

Early Prince was developed for “early maturity, strong disease resistance, and high yield potential due to greater increase in female flowers.” The Master Gardener Volunteer who grew this cucumber confirmed its productivity, saying she had more than she could give away. Late-August, long after our Briggs cucumbers were done, this was still producing for her. At the same time, tasters noticed that it was the seediest of all the cucumbers we tasted.

It was also good to note that old standard cucumbers, which seeds are readily available in retail stores performed admirably well in very adverse conditions. Our existential question: why was a cucumber with a “greater increase in female flowers” named early PRINCE? For production alone, we plan to trial this cucumber in 2024.

We were absolutely captivated by Elevator Zucchini, a new trellis-grown variety from Renee’s Garden Seeds. While the plant exhibited an upright growth structure and had tendrils, we literally had to tie it up! We direct-seeded four seeds in each of two beds. Both produced healthy plants, but unsurprisingly the plant in the sunnier location produced more fruit sooner. These were very long-growing vines, which ultimately took up quite a bit of space. Is the production worth the space consumption? Check back in 2024. Nonetheless one healthy, but not overly seedy zucchini was more than enough for the three cups we needed to make a delicious Piña Colada Zucchini Bread.

Baby Bubba Okra was a genuine surprise: delicious, prolific okra on a fully grown plant standing a
petite 41 inches. According to Burpee, it is perfect in a large container and produces twice as much
fruit as a standard Okra plant in only 53 days. On October 14, the plant was replete with buds. It’s on the list for a 2024 trial.

About Mountain Merit
Delicious Zucchini Bread Recipe that Freezes Well

Becoming a Bird-Friendly Habitat

Martha Keehner Engelke, EMGV

The Durham County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Demonstration Garden is a unique space that welcomes and inspires visitors with innovative displays of research-based gardening techniques. Visitors can relax on one of the benches and share a conversation with a friend while they admire plants that are suited for heavy shade, partial shade, partial sun, and full sun. Adults and children are entertained as they walk along the paths and learn the actual name of a plant they have admired.

On August 30, 2023, the Demonstration Garden was recognized as a haven for another creature besides humans: Birds. The New Hope Audubon Society certified the Demonstration Garden as a ‘Bird Friendly Habitat’.  (

Joan Barber EMGV, Chair Demonstration Garden Committee
Photo taken by Martha Engelke

The process of certification recognizes spaces where birds and wildlife can thrive, but it is also a learning opportunity. The main criteria are using native plants from the tree canopy to perennials and ground covers; removing invasive plants; and adopting practices that support wildlife.  

Although the Demonstration Garden contains many native plants, we learned that some native plants are particularly important when it comes to fostering a healthy bird environment. Doug Tallamy, Professor and Chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware has developed the concept of Keystone Plants. This term describes native plants that support the most caterpillars and thus are the best food source for baby birds. We were pleased to learn that our Willow Oak (Quercus phellos) was at the top of the list for Keystone plants in the tree category. The top Keystone plant in the shrub category is blueberry (rabbiteye varieties do particularly well here). We didn’t have this plant in the Demonstration Garden, but three have recently been added.  A list of  Keystone plants for each group can be found at:

Photo: Ailanthus altissima NC Plant Toolbox Andreas Rockstein CC-BY-SA 2.0

Another criteria is the removal of plants that are invasive or harmful to birds. Although we thought this was not a problem since EMGVs don’t intentionally plant invasive species, a Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) sapling was found. Not only is this plant invasive, but it is also the main host for the Spotted Lanternfly. It was immediately removed.

We knew that we were including many bird friendly practices at the Demonstration Garden such as providing water sources and nest boxes. The demonstration garden includes a birdbath sculpted by stone artist Bob Simchock. Watch the video below and you can see that it is an attractive play area for not only the birds but for people enjoying the birds.

Photo and video contributed by Joan Barber, EMGV

We also do not rake the leaves and leave plants that die back to be enjoyed by the birds in fall and winter. We used organic matter and electric rather than gas power tools.

Photo by Martha Engelke, EMGV

However, one area of concern that can only partially be remedied relates to minimizing lights at night and reducing the danger of bird collisions with windows. As a public building, the Extension Office must include good lighting for safety reasons since meetings occur there in the evening. We spent some time educating employees in the building about how to make it less likely that birds will fly into windows.  The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has developed an excellent article which can be used as a guide to prevent bird collisions with windows.

As development increases in our area, the native habitat of birds and other wildlife are being destroyed. Using native plants, eliminating invasive plants, and using bird friendly gardening practices can help to reduce this alarming trend. Obtaining certification as a Bird Friendly Habitat was not only rewarding but informative. It is a process that is open to all gardeners. To learn more about the certification process, visit:

Resources and Additional Information

New Hope Audubon

NC Cooperative Extension (2022) Managing backyards and other urban habitats for birds.

NC Cooperative Extension (2021) Preparing your yard for winter birds.

Tallamy, D. (2020). Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard. ISBN: 978-1604699005