Monday, July 15, 2019

A Personal Tribute to Amaryllis Belladonna... Flowers From Daddy.

The lovely Amaryllis Belladonna has made her arrival at the garden party this week. Commonly called ‘Naked Ladies they appear from a leafless base and are also known as ‘Surprise Flowers’ for their overnight appearance in the garden from a barren spot. The stunning Naked Lady comes from a clump forming bulb. Each year the bulb will increase in size and the flowers will appear at the outermost edge consequently over the years one bulb becomes a mass of exquisite flowers.

Mine arrived in my garden quite by accident. When my father died in July of 1994, I was distraught and could not be comforted. In his last hours I had held his hand and finally told him he did not need to stay for me; I promised I would be okay. He squeezed my hand and looked upward, his eyes lighting as though he saw something glorious… and then he was gone.

My loss was devastating. I adored my Daddy and had wept to Michael that no one had even sent me flowers as consolation. The day following his funeral I was walking in my garden hoping to find comfort and solace when miraculously before my eyes was the most beautiful flower I had ever seen. It was the first of 13 Naked Ladies to arrive, one each day for 13 days, each in an odd place in my garden. No one had planted them and I had never seen one before so I have long been convinced Daddy sent them to me. Each year they begin to bloom on the anniversary of his passing… they will always be special to me for I see them and am reminded he is still watching over me.

The Amaryllis foliage arrives in the garden very early in the spring, appearing at first like emerging jonquil leaves. Very soon however, the foliage thickens and out grows everything around it. It grows to twenty four inches before collapsing and requiring braiding or staking to allow its neighbors to breathe. Removing the nourishing green foliage will adversely affect the future flowers so it must be kept intact until it naturally dies.

Once it has collapsed again as dry, crisp, untidy debris, it may be easily removed. The spot in the garden is quite bare until mid-July when suddenly the flowers begin to appear, slowly growing on sturdy stems until they are a mass of lovely pink. Each stem carries a large head of six to twelve funnel shaped flowers which have a sweet and delicate odor.

While awaiting the blooms, an elevated plant stand with a potted plant may be placed over the barren area. The stand must be high enough to allow air to circulate and water to flow beneath it to the waking bulbs below

This magical flower seems undisturbed by severe growing conditions and will bloom faithfully in shade or sun regardless of the heat. As with so many of our garden guests, this one is originally from South Africa where it grows with wild abandon in dry and dusty sites, impervious to harsh conditions. If planted next to perennial Shasta Daisies, both will bloom now, creating a visual garden bouquet. Amaryllis will make even a novice gardener joyful by adding her beauty and grace to the garden setting.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Traditional Gardens

There is something magical about ‘traditional gardens’ which means are seventy percent perennials and thirty percent annuals. The perennials include heirloom flowers, which are a favorite among gardeners simply for their steadfast qualities; they are the old friends who return each year as faithful favorites. The Hollyhocks, Cannas, varieties of Sedum, Saliva, Mums, acclimated Petunias, and Lilies are prevalent. 

Traditional gardens have a darling smattering of annuals to add seasonal zest, and also include the latest hybrids; the new yellow and purple-striped Petunia is fantastic. The annuals include Cosmos, Marigolds, Mexican Heather, Zinnias, and variegated Vinca all of which will explode in a cascade of show stopping color beginning in mid-July. With the combination of perennials and the annuals, even when the flowering is over for one, a neighboring plant is bursting forth with blooms. The flow of the gardens is an amazing stream of green punctuated with color.

The darling Petunia is a constant staple in all gardens. Originally from Argentina and Brazil, they love a hot climate and will provide continual color in the garden until frost. The varieties are endless from the traditional tiny pale pink of your Grandmother’s garden to the new giant grandiflora or cascading, all of which are available and it is not too late to plant them. The only care required for Petunias is an occasional deadheading to assure continuous blooming and a good soaking of water several times a week during any heat wave.

The Cannas have begun to bloom as well. Typically arriving in hot red, orange, yellow, or combinations of the three, hybrids have produced a dazzling array of colors and heights for this exotic and exquisite species. They are natural pollinators and attract both hummingbirds and butterflies making them a welcome addition to every garden. An additional plus is the fact they will bloom faithfully left undisturbed for many, many carefree years.

Of note is the underground rhizome which contains the largest starch particles of any plant, allowing its agricultural use. Its leaves may be made into paper, its stem fiber is equivalent to jute, its seed provides a lovely natural purple dye. It is just another of Nature’s miraculous plants that we may enjoy.

As the days become hot and too humid, plan of taking a ride in the air-conditioned car to drive about to look for gardens. Often we have stopped at a strangers home and rung their doorbell while introducing ourselves and complimenting them on their efforts. We are always met with their delight and usually leave with an envelope of seeds from their garden. My garden is full of such flowers… and each time I see them I am reminded of their origin.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Heat and House Wrens

The unprecedented rains have left us with severe humidity that has made venturing outside quite uncomfortable… those of us native to Oklahoma are accustomed to dry heat. The ‘steamy/sweltering meter’ now included in the weather forecast is quite new to us and has taken a while to totally comprehend… it simply means hot and sweaty.  The rains also washed and blew the top soil, leaving the garden with the underlying sandy soil that dries out quickly. Watering a must since the overhead sun has begun the summer scorch. It seems as the wheat is harvested each year, the rains abandon us, traveling east and making the countryside as brown as the barren fields.

It is time to tidy the garden by removing the spent foliage of the Amaryllis Belladonna and Jonquils. It has already absorbed nutrients to send to the bulb that is resting below and recently became an unsightly mass of wilted yellow leaves. Once they are removed place a pretty flowering pot in an elevated container over the bare spot. Remember to relocate it when an emerging Amaryllis bloom first appears in mid-July but it may continue to reside over the Jonquils since they are through with their annual show.

Now is the time to venture out in the cool of the morning to scout the garden to look for the darling House Wren. As indicated by their common name, they are intensely interested in humans and often nest where they will receive our attention. The couple will probably make a nest in some odd place so finding it is an interesting scavenger hunt and a fun game for children. Wrens famously choose unusual sites for their nests, including door wreaths, lamp posts, garage shelving, and even old shoes that have been left outside. This year they have nested in the red geranium near the front door and we have watched with gentle interest as the five creamy eggs hatched, the babies eyes fully opened, and fluffy down feathers covered their bodies. Now getting a few feathers, they always peer at us with interest when we move a leaf to check them. 

Wrens arrive here in the spring with the male signaling his arrival with an almost incessant and distinctive stream of burbles, warbles, buzzes and rattling churrs. They are considered a songbird even though their wonderful song is heard only during the nesting season and rarely afterwards. Since the diet of the House Wren consists entirely of insects, spiders, snails, flies, ticks, plant lice, gypsy moth larvae, ants, beetles, and grasshoppers they are a valuable asset to the gardener for natural control of pests.

Small and overly confident, the brown House Wren is extremely territorial and will make efforts to destroy the nest of competitive birds. It is said they will occasionally destroy the eggs of other birds by breaking the egg shell. They have also been known to vandalize the cavity of other bird nests by placing sharp sticks in them therefore rendering them unusable. Regardless of this impolite behavior their fondness for humankind and elimination of pests makes up for it and they are a joyful little bird to have in the garden… they will migrate to Mexico in early October, so enjoy them now.      

Photo: By Catherine Dougherty…  Baby Wren from last year.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Lovely Lilies

The spring rains made the garden fantastic with exception of rampant wood louse (rolly-pollies), slugs, and an odd assortment of mushrooms never-before-seen in Oklahoma. It is said that a coaster of beer will call to the slugs and promptly kill them. It must be noted as well that many of the wood louse have evolved from battleship gray to a lovely hue of sapphire blue… they have not eaten Miracle Grow as first suspected, instead they have a fatal virus.  

The Queen of Summer, the lovely Lily, has begun her entrance at the garden party. Some are blooming as others have buds that are swelling; they will be in full and glorious bloom in several weeks. The varieties available now are truly spectacular and come in ranges of color and form that far exceed the traditional white Easter lily of your Grandmother’s garden.

Hybridization has given us a memorable gift with the improvements. The lily is of the largest and most important plant families, dating back as far as botanical recordings. Of the 2,000 species, there are 12 which are native to North America. The Meadow Lily, the Southern Red Lily, the Leopard Lily, the Wood Lily, and Sierra Lily all grow within the bounds of our nation in shaded woodland settings. The trumpet-shaped blooms made up of six parts, are held upright on sturdy stems. The roots of the lily spread from the central bulb and form new bulbs, making them a perfect naturalized species if allowed enough room to travel.

The Chinese and Japanese lilies have spectacular form and scent and bring elegance to the early summer garden. The flowers come in a full spectrum of color and shape, some with nodding heads, some upright, and others with the lovely turkscap form of recurving leaves. Among these jewels are the Stargazer, Amber Gold, Black Magic and the lovely L. martagon with its back-curved pinkish blooms. Lilies make lovely cut flowers in an arrangement and will fill the room with their spicy aroma.

The plants which we call water Lilies are not of the lily family at all, but are of a genus unto themselves. They too are in full bloom in water gardens everywhere. They project a serene classic beauty with their deep green and glossy plate-like foliage and ethereal blossoms floating on the water. Their leaves provide shelter for fish and help reduce the spread of algae in the pond. Watching and waiting for the bloom of water lilies to open is always exciting and thrilling for the gardener who has cultivated these lovely plants. Summer appears to have arrived full force, ushered in this week following the most lovely spring in ages.

Of note: * Leave the foliage but cut the spent flower following blooming… before it forms that silly seed pod. The pod will take energy from the bulb without producing viable seeds.

Photo credit… Lovely, and grown in Oklahoma City by Deb Davis Cupps

Monday, May 20, 2019

Wonderous Wildflowers

Oklahoma Wildflowers

In spite of the recent storms that descended with terrible velocity, the wildflowers have continued their spectacular show and any drive will offer the sight of our beautiful naturalized countryside. Fossil records indicate that flowers appeared quite suddenly about 90 million years ago and today they are the most abundant and diverse plants on the earth. Originally plants were generated from spore not seed so they were able to reproduce without the aid of pollination. However with the emergence of seeds plants needed wind, birds, or bees to propagate. From this necessity arose the showy flower forms we see today as they sought to lure pollinators with their color, scent, and beauty.

As gardens evolved, flowers were genetically modified and became altogether different from their wild ancestors who grew freely, unattended and yet thrived. However after several centuries of excitement over the ability to alter flowers, gardeners became concerned the original native plants might be completely lost. In the early 1900’s garden designer Gertrude Jeckyll (1843-1932) began a campaign to preserve the beautiful ‘flowering incidents’ occurring in woodland settings.

In the 1970’s Lady Bird Johnson (1912-2007) recognized that urban expansion could possibly cause extinction of many wildflowers and placed their preservation on the national agenda. In 1982 Mrs. Johnson and actress Helen Hayes created the National Wildflower Research Center in Austin Texas to collect, identify, and preserve native plants of America. In her honor the center was renamed the Lady Bird Johnson Texas Wildflower Center in 2012 as it celebrated the 100th anniversary of her birth. Following the former first lady’s lead, Wildflower Societies sprang up in every state and the status of wildflowers was finally changed from noxious weed to treasured gem. Stretches of hi-way are now adopted by dedicated volunteers and across the nation their beautification efforts are evident.

Oklahoma’s Native Plant Society, formed in 1986, states their purpose is ‘to encourage the study, protection, propagation, appreciation and use of Oklahoma's native plants‘. With the society’s encouragement the Indian Blanket Flower was chosen as our state wildflower that year. A darling red flower with bright yellow on the tips of the petals, it has an evolving center that changes from green to deep red as it matures. It may be seen on every hillside, in every bar ditch, beside every Oklahoma road... beautifully blooming to brighten our day.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Too Much Rain and Garden Pests

We have received over ten inches of rain in as many days and the North Canadian River is beyond its banks, weaving a new course. Those who were fortunate and farmed the rich river bottom land will lose crops as they remain under water and even the wheat seems a bit yellow at its base from too much rain. The rainfall has exceeded all state records and many people have been left with a swamp instead of a garden and those who live North of us have been under water for weeks with cattle losses irreplaceable. 
*By comparison in 2010-2011, we received no rain from October until mid-April with ate winter temperatures reaching over 80 degrees for weeks.…many gardeners lost foundation plantings and well- established shrubs for no amount of applied irrigation could suffice to save them.

In spite of too much rain and too many overcast days the storms have provided us mild and pleasant temperatures, with Mother’s Day the most perfect one in years. And the storms been quite interesting to observe. We have had everything from a gentle afternoon drizzle to fierce downpours with lightning flashes that lit the sky, gigantic claps of thunder, and driving horizontal rain. Often the winds quickly escalated to over 70 miles per hour and one night through the blaze of lightning, various lawn items could be seen flying past the window! These rains have truly altered the landscape of the garden and the plants have grown inches with the nutrients coming from the sky.

Lightning is produced in thunderstorms when liquid and ice particles above the freezing level collide and build up large electrical fields in the clouds. When these electric fields become large enough a giant "spark" occurs between them…like static electricity. This process causes oxygen and nitrogen to combine in the air and fall to Earth within the rain. Since nitrogen is the major ingredient in fertilizer, we may thank the storms for the greening of our world.

A true plus of saturated ground is the ease of weeding, however under the canopy of plants that have leaped and partially collapsed with growth from the rain is a host of thousands (perhaps millions) of voracious mealy bugs (rolly pollies) which came as a total surprise to my garden. These pests will literally suck the life out of tender recently emerged plants. Fortunately, Epsom Salt, a favorite of past gardeners, will deter them when sprinkled at the base of the infested plant. Further, a low bowl of beer will make the slugs disappear… it seems they are teetotalers.
*Assign children the task of ‘collecting’ mealy bugs… they truly enjoy the fact they roll into a protective ball.  

Monday, May 6, 2019

Aphids and Lady Bugs!

In the Garden

By Catherine Dougherty

Aphids...and Ladybugs

Happy May! The rain has been very wild, with inches falling over the past week… we seem to have received plenty, however I know we shall wish for it by July. The cool cloudy days have been the impetus for rapid aphid reproduction... bright daylight tends to impede it. Aphids are known throughout the world as perhaps the single most destructive pest known to both farmers and gardeners alike. They arrive in the spring and with the damp and favorable conditions this year they seem to be in great abundance, making their presence known throughout all of central and western Oklahoma.

Known as plant lice, greenflies, or blackflies they are small sap-sucking insects who will literally suck the life out of plants. A little-known species of the aphid family is the white or wooly fly, that tiny dab of white thread-like fluff that jumps when you jiggle the plant they are resting upon. Fossils indicate that Aphids have been present for 280 million years and today there are approximately 4,000 aphid species found throughout the world. These tiny monsters can migrate great distances by riding on winds looking for a fresh food source... one of our lettuce aphids arrived on the wind from Australia.

As with most invasive garden pests, aphids are extremely adaptable to ever-changing conditions. In fact, if a host plant becomes ill or conditions become overly crowded, some aphids are able to spontaneously sprout wings to fly to a new food source. They have specialized mouth parts that enable them to stick a straw-like mouth piece into a plant stem and begin sucking the protein from it, therefore making it ill. They secrete a chemical that allows for free-flowing fluid from the plant while exuding droplets of a quick-hardening fluid that surrounds their body with a shell for protection.

During feeding Aphids also produce a fluid called 'honeydew' which is a sticky goo which may be found on any surface where aphids have resided. An unusual side effect of this substance is that when it hardens it turns black creating a sooty mold fungus... roses are the most frequent victims.

This honeydew is a food source for several species of ants who actually 'farm' the aphids, causing them to produce honeydew by a process of 'milking' by a stroke of their antennae. These ants manage thousands of aphids which are called herds and to assure survival of their food source, the ants gather aphid eggs and protectively store them for the winter. In the spring, the ants carry the newly hatched aphids back to the plants to settle in and once again become their grocery store. (*Sarcastic note: 'Thanks ants'.)

Heavy aphid infestations will cause leaves to curl, wilt or yellow with stunted plant growth and aphids can actually cause a plant to die a slow death of dehydration, since liquids have either been drained or compromised. Aphids are simply not allowed in the garden as they provide nothing but destruction... unless you are an ant.

Therefore, they must be exterminated and instead of spraying a pesticide which will kill beneficial bees, butterflies, Praying Mantis, beetles and everything else, purchase a flat of lady bugs. Each Ladybug will eat over 75 aphids a day and are able to discover them in their secret hiding places... plus discovering ladybugs in the garden is a delight for every child and those of us who still retain childish joys!

*They may be ordered online for as little as $12 for 800 voracious ladybugs. They arrive in a few days….get some this week! Photo: The great Lady Bug Release.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Three Sisters

The Three Sisters
By Catherine Dougherty
In Native gardening, there are three sisters: corn beans and squash. They are not just plants, as if there is such a thing as "just a plant". When you grow a good strong tall corn, not like sweet corn or popcorn, she acts as though she is a post for beans to climb and be shaded from excess of sunlight.
The beans planted at her feet provide an even more valuable service in return, giving the corn the benefit of her nitrogen fixing colonies of fungus, symbiologically noded in her roots. They provide nitrogen fertilizer absorbed from the air not only just when the roots and vines return to the soil, but also all throughout the growing season when water leaches it into the soil.
Thirdly, the squash, who is shaded enough by the two other sisters, covers the rest of the hill with wide leaves, protecting the roots and the hill from excess sunlight and evaporating, becoming a living mulch that keeps the soil moist and cool. sun exposed soils release carbon more readily, making them decrease in water retention and fertility even greater than the effects of evaporation alone. Covered soils have fewer weed seeds germinate, and few out compete squash. Squash with her prickly spiny leaves and stems, deters the soft little hands of corn hungry raccoons!
What a marvelous plan!

Do you need to transplant roses?

                         *Remember to wriggle to release air pockets!


The old saying which reads: ‘February’s child is full of woe For after sunshine follows snow’ has certainly proven true this year as we continue to experience record breaking cold, snow and ice. Of interest is another saying which promises if ‘March Comes in like a Lion, it will leave like a lamb’ so we will cross our fingers, hold our collective breath, and remain optimistic this is a truism.


As soon as the thaw begins, it will be time to assess the garden for potential shade problems. Often trees surrounding the garden will grow without notice to a breadth which provides far too much shade for the flowers living in beds below them. Chinese Elms, Locusts and soft Maples, all popular in Oklahoma landscapes, are notorious for this.


Now is the time to check the location of your roses to assure they are getting enough sun. Often the lack-luster rose, with wilting and falling leaves, will flourish in a new garden location. If you need to move one, it is wise to revisit the rules for transplanting, which by definition means ‘lift, remove, relocate and reset in another place’. The seasonal timing now is perfect for the roses are still relatively dormant and the move will be less of a shock to them. Also since early spring is the time to prune roses, you will have the advantage of being able to prune excess growth before the bush actually begins to take off for the growing season.


Prior to any transplanting, mark the north side of the plant with a string or piece of cloth. Hint: To enable you to move the rose easily give it a good soaking several days before the dig and try to choose an overcast day when rain is predicted. Dig around the rose, cutting in a circle. As you dig, lift and probe occasionally to see if the plant is indeed moving and note where roots may still be anchored. Take as much soil as can be lifted so the root system is least disturbed. After it is dug, place it in the same direction it was before and it will adjust to new surroundings far more rapidly and with greater success than if it is planted in an opposing direction. After choosing a new sunny location dig the new hole and I have found I tend to underestimate the size… it must always be larger than I initially think. Make a small mound in the center of the new hole to prevent air pockets from forming as you plant and spread your roots until they look relaxed.


Place it slightly higher in the hole as it will settle several inches after planted. The bud system should therefore be one to two inches above ground level. Point the exposed roots and rootlets outward and add ½ cup of bone meal around the root system. Fill with soil, water well and wriggle to eliminate air pockets before adding the final water. Lastly prune the spindly growth leaving three to five good strong canes and prepare to enjoy the show later in the season!


Tip: It is unwise to apply fertilizer to newly transplanted specimens… they need time to adjust to new surroundings and must rest a bit before beginning a growth spurt. To give fertilizer to a recent transplant is akin to giving a man in ICU a five course dinner… it is not a good idea. 

Monday, February 18, 2019

Grow the Garden From Seeds

Read packets of beans, root vegetables, greens, and other plants for seedling spacing. Sca-er seeds of greens and root vegetables about an inch apart in the garden soil, otherwise plants will be overcrowded and will not thrive.

Although we are experiencing bone chilling temperatures and wind, the soul of the gardener is stirring and thoughts of the coming season slip into our dreams. A useful publication of interest is The Home Garden Seed Association. The Association is but ten years old and promotes the advantages of growing from seed.

Cornell’s Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners, a citizen science program, describes 562 pepper varieties, 365 lettuces, and an astonishing 853 types of tomatoes. Only a fraction of these can be bought as seedlings. You will find it difficult to find the delicious and highly rated ‘Carmello’ tomato in a pot, or one of the great tasting new container tomatoes, or ‘Topepo,’ a sweet Italian heirloom all of which are available as seeds.
Even if you are lucky enough to find your desired tomato,pepper, and flower varieties as plants, should you buy them? The answer depends on how well you know the grower. Seedlings that have dried out at some point in their lives or become root bound will not perform well in the garden. When you grow your own you will know that they have been well cared for until the time is right for planting, and that they have been grown without unwanted chemicals. Seedlings started indoors will thrive when provided with sunshine through a window and enough moisture to keep the soil moist but not soggy. Give them half strength fertilize when two sets of leaves appear… full strength is too strong for them as they are still babies.

It is a gardening fact: many plant varieties are more successful when grown from seed sown directly in the garden. These include root vegetables, herbs in the carrot family such as Cilantro and Dill, baby salad greens of any kind, and flowers that are best sown very early in the season, such as Larkspur, Bells of Ireland, and Love-in-a-Mist. Warm weather flowers such as zinnias, marigolds, and celosias will do better in the long run if planted before they bloom—yet another reason to buy and grow from seed.

A productive vegetable garden can feed your family all year for a fraction of what you would pay for equivalent produce at your local grocer or farmers’ market. An added advantage of buying seeds rather than plants is the fact you may be able to sow succession plantings of greens, beans, and other crops for a second harvest. They may be planted two to three weeks apart for continued harvests.

*Think seeds! The catalogues have begun arriving so order some to stave of the winter blues… the run to the mail box is much more exciting whilst you wait for an order.  

All the flowers of tomorrow are in the seeds of today.
~ Ancient proverb

Monday, February 11, 2019

A Cup of Tea


This year consider the legendary uses of herbs and perhaps select a few to include in the scope of your garden. Selection should include herbs for making tea. Tea is second only to water as the most consumed beverage in the world. Herbal teas made from dried fruit, flowers or herbs that have been collected from the garden are lighter and more flavorful than traditional tea.

Legend says the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung was boiling drinking water one day in 2737 B.C. when some leaves from a tea plant fell into the water. The emperor drank the mixture and declared it gave one "vigor of body, contentment of mind, and determination of purpose."  In 400 B.C. the Greeks included herbal teas in their regime of wellness. By 50 B.C. the Romans were collecting and cultivating herbs and by 200 A.D., Galen wrote the first classification system that paired common illnesses with their herbal remedy. In 800 Monks had taken over the care of the sick and herbal gardens were found at most monasteries. By 1500 herbalists were promoted and supported by Henry VII and the Parliament as apothecaries (drug stores of the time) were accused of giving substandard care. Charles Wesley gave his endorsement in 1700 when he advocated sensible eating, good hygiene, and herbal treatments for healthy living.


In 1800 pharmaceuticals become popular and herbal treatments were designated for the poor. However as the side effects of drugs began to be documented, herbal remedies came into favor again. The National Association of Medical Herbalists was formed, and later renamed the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH). By 1900 and the first World War, lack of availability of drugs increased the use of herbal medicines again. After the war pharmaceutical production increased and penicillin was discovered. Herbal practitioners had their rights to dispense their medications taken away and then reinstated. The British Herbal Medicine Association was founded and produced the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia. People began to express the concern over the large number of side effects and environmental impact of the drugs of the 1950s so herbs once again gained importance. Herbs are an outdoor pharmacy provided to us by the Almighty. Lovely simple-to-grow plants will produce leaves and flowers which provide an herbal tea that is a natural health drink.


Spearmint would be a lovely addition to the herb bed. Used in ancient Rome, the ensuing drink made from dried leaves was said the ‘stir up the mind’. Since it is caffeine-free, an afternoon cup could be savored as valuable ‘pick me up’ that has no side effects.


Chamomile is another lovely plant. Originally from the Nile region of Egypt, it was believed to cure almost any ailment. It has remained a favorite as its true properties relieve anxiety and promote calm. It was the tea Mrs. Rabbit made for Peter as she gently tucked him into bed following his harrowing escape from Mr. McGreggor. In these stressful times a sweetly scented evening cup would be a wonderful way to end the day. The list of herbs and their medicinal qualities is endless… and as close as your garden.  

Monday, February 4, 2019

A Garden of Five Senses

Babur Gardens in May

Throughout history mankind has been enamored with gardens. With the increasing complexity of today’s world, the garden becomes a perfect place to unwind from rather taxing and demanding lifestyles. And the popularity of public gardens, which are supreme examples of gardening perfection, allows each and everyone to experience the joy a garden affords.

Sensory gardens call to the five senses... sight and smell, hearing, touch and taste. Recognizing the need for relaxation, Delhi Development directors in India created the Garden of Five Senses for a weary public. Open in 2003, the garden is called Khas Bagh and was inspired by the ancient Bagh-e Babur Gardens in Kabul, Afghanistan which were built to house the shrine of Muhammad Babur. Babur who died in 1528 was a descendant of the infamous Genghis Kahn and was responsible for the expansion of Persian literature and artistry. He was particularly fond of gardens and the one in Kabul was painstakingly restored and opened for visitors in 2005.

Unlike American theme parks which excite, Khas Bagh was created to create a calm and peaceful experience for visitors. It contains extraordinary examples of both common and exotic plants, supreme collections of water lilies, wind chimes which tinkle and charm, sculpture, and delicacies to taste. Visitors leave relaxed and uplifted.

Here we celebrate the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, which opened in June of 2007. It took dedicated visionaries and volunteers 16 years of planning, planting and building to complete this magnificent project. The original directors purchased 128 acres of pristine land with tidal shore frontage in Boothbay, using their owns homes as collateral. In 2005, an additional 120 adjacent acres were donated, making it the largest botanical garden in New England.

Part of the garden was the privately financed by the Lerner family and their ‘Garden of the Five Senses‘ opened in June of 2009. There is an abundance of features designed to appeal to each sense, however the garden is truly respectful to those who have a limited sense of sight. To assist the visually impaired, striker stones border the paths, a map of the garden is in Braille and large pictorial representations are located at the entrance arch. The plantings, sculptural elements, water features, bridge, and classroom pavilion are arranged to appeal to the 5 senses.

For those of us with small gardens, planning a sensory garden might help ease winter boredom a bit. Plan on some fragrant, colorful flowers, some sort of trickling water and tinkling wind chimes... then remember to taste the tiny first-drop nectar from the Honeysuckle blooms.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Magical Mistletoe

Mistletoe is traditionally used at Christmas and has a long and colorful history including myth and medicinal remedies. It may be seen in various leafless trees... bright and thriving throughout the winter months.

All Mistletoe plants are parasitic, meaning they attach to a host and thus take from it nutrients and water necessary to live. Over time this process may weaken or even kill the host, giving Mistletoe a rather bad reputation. In the plant kingdom, parasitism has evolved only nine times and Mistletoe has independently evolved five, making it one extraordinary species. It is a large family with over nine hundred species located in Europe, North America and Australia. Without becoming too scientific, it is safe to say that most Mistletoe is completely self-sufficient and adaptive to changes in climate.

The enigma of Mistletoe easily lends itself to lore. It hangs air born between heaven and earth, has no roots yet bears fruit, and remains green and vibrant during the winter months. It was said to have been revered by the Druids as most holy, especially if it appeared on an Oak which was their most sacred tree. The golden berries of the plant were considered a key linking the heavens and underworld. Cut with a golden sickle on December 23rd (the day of the marriage of the solar and lunar forces), it was not allowed to touch the ground but was caught with a white cloth thus ensuring fertility, protection from evil, abundance, and harmony. The ritual of kissing under the Mistletoe has its origin in these pagan beliefs.

Norse mythology has Baldur, the solar hero child of Frigg and Odin, killed by a twig of Mistletoe. As Baldur descended to the Underworld, it was said that he would not return until after doomsday. Then, as the solar god, the light of the heavens, he will usher in an era of peace and light to mankind. His story is long, full of conspiracy and jealousy as the gods and goddesses of old were prone to petty emotions, however the historical power of the plant has remained.

Never to be outdone, the Greeks too have a story with Mistletoe as the centerpiece. Aeneas, a young hero, used the power of a golden bough of Mistletoe as the key which allowed for the safe entrance and return of a mortal to the Underworld. He went below and sought his father for advice and counsel and returned unharmed yet transformed and spiritually reborn.

Among Christians, it is said that Mistletoe was once a vibrant tree which was used as the wood for the cross of the crucifixion of Christ. Afterwards the disgraced tree shriveled and was reduced to a parasitic vine as punishment.

Medicinally, although the berries are poisonous, it has been used as a remedy for epilepsy with wood amulets said to ward off attacks. It has been used to reduce stress related heart palpations, relieve headaches and dizziness caused by high blood pressure, and since ancient times to treat tumors. Recent medical research has promising results with Mistletoe as a cure for cancer.

Whatever the reason to include this marvelous plant… a kiss below it, a wish for good luck, or simply a spot of bright green… it is truly a magical addition to any Christmas decor.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Forcing Paper White Narcissus for the Holidays

Ten Days... time for a shot of Gin

The days seem to be passing rather quickly and with the arrival of Thanksgiving it is  time to ‘force’ some bulbs for Christmas. For those unfamiliar with the process, ‘forcing’ is the method by which a bulb is planted and compelled to grow and bloom out of season by exposure to the warm temperature indoors. This process brings the bulbs into bloom long before they would bloom outdoors thus allowing us the pleasure of their company during the winter months.


Since their ancestors came from warm areas of the Mediterranean the darling Paperwhite Narcissus requires no cold to bloom and may easily forced. Taking only three to four weeks to flower, they will bloom faithfully providing both fragrance and cheer for the holidays. So easy is the growth habit of these bulbs that anchoring material may include gravel, pebbles, colored glass stones, or moss as acceptable mediums. Any sort of shallow growth container whether pottery, glass, or clay will work as well. 


First select large, top-grade, flawless bulbs which are free of sooty mold then choose a favorite container that will be lovely as a centerpiece or focal point. Perhaps select a glass bowl for the added pleasure of watching the roots as they begin to grow and slowly twine about the stones. Grandmother’s shallow crystal bowl filled with red, white, and green glass stones is beautiful for Christmas but more a more rustic selection might include a pottery bowl with polished rocks or pea gravel. If a large container is chosen, more bulbs will be needed and the display will entirely riotous… often more is better!  


Fill the bottom of the container with whatever you have chosen to anchor your bulbs making a bed about two to three inches deep. Gently press the bulbs halfway down the bulb mass, wriggling and carefully nestling them until they stand firmly on their own. Try to space the bulbs about two inches apart, remembering to place several in the center as well. After arranging your bulbs, fill the container with enough water to cover your anchoring material, moistening the bulbs approximately half way up. Keep this water level, adding a little each day if necessary and your bulbs will begin to flower in three to four weeks. Remember to give the bowl a shot of gin as the first flower buds appear. The gin will slightly stunt the foliage and force it to stand ‘at attention’ thus preventing the wilt so prevalent with forced Narcissus.


As the roots grow, the reed-like foliage will first appear and suddenly many tiny blooms arrive, slowly swelling, then opening over the course of several days. The marvelous sweet smelling flowers will last several weeks before it is time to discard them. Sadly, the temperature-trickery used to force early bloom has confused and destroyed the bulb’s internal clock… they have given their ’all’ this season.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Feed the Birds!

The weather has proven challenging to say the least with surprising temperature plunges. As the winter deepens, feeding the birds becomes serious business for without our help, many may not survive the freezing temperature plunges. True bird aficionados feed year round, but I feel it is best to insist they forage until the weather no longer permits or food is no longer easily obtainable.

We all remember the haunting nursery rhyme:
“The North wind doth blow,
And we shall have snow,
And what will poor Robin do then,
Poor thing?”

The illustration accompanying this little ditty often displays a pitiful Robin lying on its back in deep snow with fixed eyes, twig-like claws, a beak barely opened… clearly dying from either starvation or hypothermia! Notwithstanding the implied cruelty of presenting such images to small children, the visualization of this “Poor Thing” easily instills enough guilt to encourage one to purchase a high quality bag of wild bird feed immediately!

Most birds like the commercial mixtures but if you want to splurge purchase additional sunflower seeds and thistle. Many beautiful songbirds spend the winter indulging in entertaining antics and now that the trees are bare, it is possible to see and hear them far better. Once you begin feeding you will discover every bird has personality traits characteristic to their individual species.

The Blue Jays are excitable, boisterous, rather the bullies and always traveling in a gang. The Cardinals are polite, laid back and lacking in aggression. All species of the Woodpecker family demand and receive respect; their beaks are daunting and their presence can clear the feeder immediately. The darling finches squabble and tumble about while the Black Capped Chickadee and timid Titmouse dart for sunflower seeds. The wonderfully enthusiastic Sparrows are mentioned in the Bible as one of God’s favorites.

Birds eat in regular intervals during the day much as we eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. For this reason the feeder is sometimes chaotically busy with all species feeding together in a feathered fluff of noisy competition while other times the filled feeder stands alone. The word spreads quickly among the bird community and those who provide feed will find themselves at the height of popularity this time of year. With many months of winter, plan to enjoy the bird show from the warmth of your easy chair!