Monday, November 21, 2016

Forcing Bulbs for the Holidays

Now is the time to give the shot of gin!
 



The days seem to be passing rather quickly and with the arrival of Thanksgiving, the winter festivities have begun so now is the time to ‘force’ some bulbs. 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 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 lovely at 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, they provide visual interest before the reed-like foliage appears… and quite suddenly many tiny blooms arrive, slowly swelling, then opening over the course of several days. The marvelous sweet smelling flowers will last several weeks but 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. After the display is over leave them in a cool place and plant them outside in the early spring. Often they will recover and bloom on schedule within in a year or so.

The link is how to cook a perfect turkey
http://www.gardening4us.com/2012/11/how-to-cook-perfect-turkey.html

Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween and Samhain




The weather has broken most state records, resembling mid-summer more than Fall, however Sunday was the epitome perfection. Basking in the glow of windless warm sunshine, enjoying the exquisite feel of the day, it is understandable why this is a favorite season for many... cherished all the more for its fleeting passage.

As Halloween arrives it is interesting to review the origins of one of our most treasured and anticipated holidays. As with most of our holidays, its origins are deeply rooted within the pagan beliefs of our ancestors, with their celebrations altered to adapt to Christian faith. The Celtics, a once powerful people of central and northern Europe, gathered for their New Years celebrations at end of harvest and their beliefs are included in Halloween as we know it. The celebration of their New Year, called Samhain (Irish-Gaelic for 'the Summer's end’) took place on October 31st, which is coincidentally our Halloween.

It was believed border between the worlds of the living and the dead is thinnest on this night, allowing the souls of the deceased to enter the land of the living. So for this one night hearth fires were extinguished so their light could not be seen to either guide or frighten the returning souls. Gathered in celebratory groups, these tribal people lit huge bonfires of sacred oak branches to drive away evil spirits and warm the living. Costumes were worn so the Lord of Death could not recognize and then come claim one in the coming year. Often animals were sacrificed, fortunes were told, and at the end of the night with the safety of dawn, hearth fires were relit from the bonfire to ensure happiness and prosperity as the New Year began.

The Roman Church decided to make All Saint’s Day on November 1st to coincide with the Celtic festival. All Saints' Day was instituted as a holiday in the year 609 and it was moved from May to November in 834 after the Church discovered the importance of the Celtic rituals. On All Souls Day poor people went ‘a-souling’ (or begging) for ‘soulcakes’ in exchange for the promise they pray for the dead in purgatory and from this came our custom of ‘trick or treating’.

These beliefs arrived in Mexico directly from the Roman Church and are still celebrated with ‘The Day of the Dead’ as family members welcome deceased relatives home for the night. Their grave is surrounded by welcoming candles and a place at the table is set for them as their favorite foods are prepared. Generations gather and complimentary stories about the deceased are told as they are welcomed home for an evening with loved ones.

Any way it is viewed historically, the customs surrounding the death of summer also honor the dead, complete with the belief that mortal souls return to wander the earth. Autumn leaves, Jack-o-lanterns, bobbing for apples, costumes, black cats, and fortune-telling all evolved from these pagan customs. It is amazing that these ancient Celtic rituals, which have become our Halloween, continue to be embraced and still flourish today.
Thousands upon thousands of birds arrived to bathe in the pond before the festivities began...
 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tips for Planting Tulips and Storing Seeds



 With the arrival of Fall it is time to perform a number of important garden tasks and the weather is perfect! Bulbs planted now will settle in over the winter and arrive early next Spring and there is one important tip to assure their survival from any number of pests who would enjoy eating or moving them about. As you plant your bulbs, sprinkle the hole you ha...ve dug with scented baby powder and coat the bulbs by placing them in a plastic bag half full of talc and tossing them about. I have done this successfully for many years and considered the information released this month about talc being a cancer causing carcinogen… perhaps the critters intuitively sensed this before our scientific community recognized it and have purposefully avoided it. 

 Dig a hole that is twice as deep as your bulb and place it firmly before covering it and mashing the soil around it. It is wise to place a small stake (or stick) above each bulb to prevent accidentally digging one up as you continue to plant. In fact it is also wise to gently dig several inches down and feel about for previously planted bulbs to avoid disturbing them… it is always distressing to dig and sever a resting bulb as you plant new ones. Water your garden after planting and remember to water on fine days during the winter.
 

The joyful tulip will arrive at the garden party with the first blush of Spring, promising the garden season has indeed arrived. Tulip bulbs are readily available and easily affordable and the color and scale is breathtaking. There are tulips that resemble Peonies, scented tulips, multicolored tulips and variation in size from demitasse to luncheon plate. One may choose common or frilly, parrot or scented, and all are delightful. Dutch bulbs will not mature properly or flower a second year without a cold winter so expect to plant each year in warmer zones. They are well worth the effort to plant… if only for one season.
 

Prior to the inevitable freeze collect seeds for those that have adapted to the garden will have a memory of conditions within it and fare better. Make sure all dew has dried and allow the seeds to continue drying on paper plate in the house before storing them. Plastic bags are good for storage and a valuable tip is to place one of those silica packets that seem to be in every item purchased in the bag with the seeds. These packets will absorb any moisture possibly left in the seeds, keeping them fresh until time to plant in the spring. Remember to label them!
 

*Photo from my first bed of Tulips, planted 20 years ago... I was delighted by them.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Dazzling Dahlias


The mornings of late have the serene peaceful feel of Autumn… crisp and subtle, ideal and idyllic. Fall is a delightful season to enjoy being outside whether taking a walk or working the garden.

To the utter delight of the gardener, the late arrivals at the flower show have begun to bloom…the dazzling Dahlia is finally producing a fabulous show. Among the most stunning flowers available, her ability to tolerate summer heat is a testament to her Mexican origin since hot and dry is her favorite climate condition. To honor her tenacity and beauty, the Dahlia has been the National Flower of Mexico since 1963.

The first dahlia tubers were discovered by invading Conquistadors in the 1500’s, who erroneously thought the tubers to be potatoes…. until of course they sprouted and bloomed on the voyage home. Following their first introduction to Court, many unsuccessful attempts were undertaken to obtain and cultivate the Dahlia and from 1660 until 1751 all efforts were unsuccessful. However viable seeds sent from a botanical garden in Mexico reached Madrid in 1791 and the first flowering dahlias began to appear in Spain. The following year seeds were sent to England but were lost, as were those sent to the Netherlands in 1804. After much effort, cultivation was finally assured in 1813 and the results are the ancestors of the astounding flowers we see today.

The color spectrum is as variable as the size of the blooms, assuring there is a dahlia for every garden, large or small. From the tiny pastel Humpty Dumpty to the huge Dinner Plate varieties, the diversity of the Dahlia is endless. They make lasting flower arrangements which appear professional regardless of the growers talents. The flowers must be cut in early morning at the leaf junction. Place the stems in a glass of warm water for a few minutes then recut the stems at a right angle. Arrange the flowers after removing all below water foliage to prevent water contamination. The resulting arrangement will last a week or more if the water is refreshed and stems recut after three or four days.

The bulbs, all of which will have reproduced nicely over the season, must be dug before a freeze. Dry and store them and over the winter, then plant once the ground has thawed. The Dahlia is well worth the effort.


Photo Credit: Michael Weishan

Monday, September 19, 2016

Wickedly Marvelous Spider Webs


 

Spiders are making a remarkable appearance in the garden this fall… there seems to be an immense population of them this year. Several new insights which have been the subject of rigorous research help in our understanding of this marvelous species.

Firstly, spider silk has long been considered one of the toughest known natural fibers and anyone who has ever watched an insect struggle to escape a web can attest to this. It is light and flexible and stronger by weight than high grade steel, making it perfect for hospital sutures and at the opposite end of the spectrum, military body armor.

However production of large quantities of spider silk has been a challenge. Scientists have been attempting to produce spider silk by genetically altering silk worms who mass produce silk for use in fabrics. *Their silk does not in any way have the strength of spider silk.  

Genetically altering the silk worm would allow for mass production of spider silk and the offspring of those silk worms would retain their new found ability to produce spider silk. Kim Thompson, CEO of Kraig Laboratories in Lansing Michigan, reports they have succeeded and are currently testing gloves made of spider silk. According to Thompson, ‘It’s a huge and sexy market’.  (Yes, that is a quote.)

Other news about spider webs was a bit more altruistic and uplifting.  In a recent article by George Dvorsky, he comments on studies conducted by  researchers in the United Kingdom and Spain who noted that spiders are capable of fine tuning their webs. Various signals are sent through the tension of a web, including the condition of the web and the presence of prey. The authors liken the web to a finely tuned guitar, as each strand of the intricate web transmits a vibration across several frequencies, allowing the spider, whose eyesight is minimal to ‘feel’ what is happening in his home.


The spider is also able to assess the environment, as each will collect the web and seek shelter if storms are approaching. Once over, the web will be quickly reassembled and life resumes as usual.

In my own observations, I have noted that the instant prey has accidentally flown or fallen into a web, the silent spider, resting quietly in the center of the web, will race as a streak of lightning to the exact spot, twisting and tumbling the poor victim into a cotton-like shroud, to be eaten then or saved for later as desert. Considering the strength of the web and the inhabitant dwelling within, it is small wonder we all dance the rapid hand-slapping, hair-jiggle-jarring jig when accidentally walking into a web on a fine Fall evening!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Spiders on the Move as Fruit Flies Abound




 

It becomes abundantly clear that Fall has arrived when quite suddenly the kitchen is loaded with tiny fruit flies. Appearing as out of thin air they hover about any piece of fruit in a small swarm... jiggling a ripe tomato will cause fruit fly panic.


They reproduce in a mere 8 days which is the reason that Gregor Johann Mendel used them in his scientific studies on biological features passed on through inheritance. Mendel noted that varying degrees of red in the eyes of fruit flies were directly passed to offspring and although his findings were largely over looked in 1885, further studies were conducted and by 1915 became the core of classical genetics. It is amazing that modern studies of DNA began with the humble fruit fly. 



Fruit flies are so small they may fly through a screen and they are beyond detection on fruits and vegetables picked outside or purchased at markets. They eat yeast produced by fermentation, the process that converts sugar to acids or alcohol which appears as fruit is beginning to spoil. The flies reproduce on the skin of these fermenting fruits or vegetables and suddenly you have a tiny swarm of adult fruit flies which will disappear as rapidly as they appeared as Fall progresses. 

 
With the advent of Fall spiders are on the move as well. Spiders are found in every corner of the planet, making them one of the most common invertebrates and they alone have eight legs. Spiders evolved about 400 million years ago, and were among the first species to live on land. All are predators which make them valuable to the gardener as they will eat flies, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, locusts, cockroaches, and aphids. Many live more than on season, with a gentle Tarantula in California living over fifty years in captivity.



There are many references to the spider in popular culture, folklore and symbolism. The spider symbolizes patience for its hunting with web traps, and mischief and malice for its poison and the slow death they cause their prey. Though not all spiders spin gossamer webs, spiders have been attributed by numerous cultures with the origin of basket-weaving, knot work, spinning, and net making. Lovely pottery artifacts featuring spiders may be found in all ancient cultures, so respect for them is universal.

 

Last week I found a gauze-like spider nest that had been hidden between the leaf of a Caladium. I had opened the leaf and kept vigil, watching the nest grow until dozens of teeny tiny baby spiderlings began to slowly emerge. The babies tentatively left the nest, each producing their first microscopic thread of silk as they moved about; they were fascinating!

The Fall garden  contains so much magic... observing the wonder of it will carry you through the rigors of winter.  

Monday, August 29, 2016

My Mimosa... her parting gift




As I wrote in August of 2013, The Mimosa was introduced to the United States as an ornamental specimen in 1785 by Filippo Degli Albizzia, a Florentine nobleman. Arriving from Asia, it is also referred to as the Silk Tree for the texture of its flowers. The sweet scented flowers have long threadlike pink stamens which are white at the base. They bloom from June through July as stunning pink powder-puffs which drip with sweet nectar. Covering the trees, these blossoms attract hummingbirds, honeybees, and butterflies.

This species of tree likes it hot and dry and thrives in the southern regions of the United States with relative ease, growing up to three feet a year, and providing a lovely canopy of mottled shade allowing the grass to grow underneath the branches.

As with almost every plant and tree on the planet, the Mimosa has medicinal properties as well. The bark is a bitter and an astringent containing compounds which are used to shrink inflamed tissues. They are also used to relieve pain, and contain a sedative which was used to treat insomnia or anxiety. They increase blood circulation and thus treat heart palpations, and also act as a diuretic.

 

The lovely flowers were used to relieve a constrained liver and acted as an antitoxin providing a cleansing effect on the body. They have a sedative affect and were used for symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, irritability, and poor memory. The concoctions made from flowers also relieved pressure in the chest and gastric pain. Apparently the spectacular Mimosa was a cure all for many ailments and it is truly a loss that the ‘recipes’ for its many uses have been lost over time.

 



The life span of the Mimosa is but 10 to 20 years and sadly, mine has developed a contagious and fatal disease which is rapidly spreading across the South. The disease is known as Mimosa wilt and although it begins as a fungus in the root system, external symptoms include leaf yellowing and wilt by early to midsummer. Some trees die within a few weeks after first wilting but most die slowly over a year, branch by branch.


Prior to death, trees ooze a frothy liquid from cracks and grow sprouts on trunks. It is this liquid that is her parting gift for it must be amazing in benefits. An abundance of insects have collected at the outside juice bar, all sharing in peaceful harmony... I have observed no squabbles. Butterflies, house and horse flies, many species of ants, shiny green June bugs, bees, three species of wasps, including the notorious and agressive red one have all gathered at dawn to take their fill of the marvelous juice.


May my Mimosa RIP...  I shall miss her.


Monday, August 22, 2016

Spiders on the Move




 

One of the earliest signs of Fall is the almost frantic actions of the spiders who seem in a rush to reproduce or prepare to hibernate. Spiders are a most interesting invertebrate in both appearance and habit. All are predators which make them valuable to the gardener as they will eat flies, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, locusts, cockroaches, and aphids. The habits differ among species with some making intricate webs to trap their prey while some lie in wait on flowers and some simply travel about on the ground.

 

Most spiders live one season, however some species live long lives and spend the winter in a semi-hibernation. The Fiddlebacks have hidden in the rafters, behind the books, under the bed, and in other out of the way places ready to begin winter hibernation. Over the Winter they will grow and shed last years 'shell' leaving behind the empty casing... the empty casing is a sign that a more mature one is lurking somewhere nearby. The gentle Tarantula has an extremely long life expectancy and will easily live up to 20 years in captivity. The record has been set by a female who resides in LA and although her age was unknown at the time of her capture, she is now fifty years old.


Spiders are found in every corner of the planet, making them one of the most common invertebrates and they alone have eight legs. True spiders (thin-waisted arachnids) evolved about 400 million years ago, and were among the first species to live on land. There are many references to the spider in popular culture, folklore and symbolism. The spider symbolizes patience for its hunting with web traps, and mischief and malice for its poison and the slow death they cause their prey. (Who could forget the pitiful death sequence in the movie ‘The Fly’?)

Though not all spiders spin gossamer webs, spiders have been attributed by numerous cultures with the origin of basket-weaving, knot work, weaving, spinning, and net making. Lovely pottery artifacts featuring spiders may be found in all ancient cultures, so respect for them is universal.





Any talk of spiders includes the two most dangerous in
North America and they must be addressed. All spiders have venom however the Black Widow and Brown Recluse (Fiddleback) are very dangerous species whose bite may have disastrous affects on humans. The Brown Recluse likes living in quiet corners of the house while the Black Widow universally resides outdoors. A member of the Tangleweb family, the Black Widow makes an untidy web as the name implies and will aggressively guard her egg sac. Tomato baskets are a favorite place for her nest... so collect carefully. Tangleweb spiders have thin legs and a fragile skeletal structure, making them easy to squish... do not hesitate to kill them. You will notice a trace of the deadly 'goo' afterwards. 

 

A favorite spider which comes to mind is the darling fuzzy black jumper.
One summer we had a black fuzzy with emerald green fangs who took up residence in the kitchen. Every morning as the household awoke and greeted her, she would lift her 'arm' and wave... a marvelous trick by any standard.



 

There is an entire psychological phobia named after fear of spiders called Arachnophobia. So popular is this fear that comic book creator Stan Lee embraced it, introducing an irresistible spider hero in 1962. Spiderman instantly became an all time favorite.




Monday, August 15, 2016

Collecting Seeds Plus and an Historical Footnote


My seeds in my French Market Bag     



Many of the flowers in the garden are seeding now so it is an ideal time to collect them for saving and sharing with other gardeners. The importance of collecting and saving seeds must not be underestimated for many species of plants have been lost over time. Also the seeds of flowers that have acclimated in your garden this year will fare better next for they created a
DNA memory of the conditions where they resided. For example the marigolds saved this year will double in size and require less watering than those fresh from a packet next summer.

 

Collect seeds when the sun has dried all the morning dew, which is mid-morning of late, and store them in a zip lock bag. Remember to keep the seeds at a constant temperature above freezing for optimum results; I often keep mine in a French Market bag hanging in the laundry room or stored in a cardboard box under my bed.


When you store your seeds place one of those silica packets that seem to be in every shoe box or pocket of anything we purchase. The silica will prevent any possible moisture from spoiling the seeds, keeping them pristine until next spring. And remember to include a slip of paper in the bag with information about color, height, heat tolerance, and where in the garden they performed well. By Spring you will have forgotten the details your notes will provide.

 

When the great pyramids were opened, archaeologists discovered caches of seeds among other artifacts. Upon planting some of these seeds, stored for thousands of years, germinated primarily because of the dry and warm temperature conditions within the pyramids where they were stored. There is also an amazing report of lupine (Lupinus articicus) seeds over 10,000 years old sprouting as well. Discovered in the Yukon of Alaska they were found deep within the burrows of ancient lemmings buried in permafrost silt dating to the Pleistocene epoch. The tenacity of Nature’s plan is always inspiring.

 
*An interesting bit of history for gardeners. Many heirloom varieties of seeds have been lost over time, and sometimes purposefully. From ancient times through the Greco/Roman days and beyond there existed many plant species that effectively acted as natural birth control. Although always a subject of religious discussion, birth control had been left in the hands of women and their midwives until authority over it was transferred to the Church. Within decades of the 1869 Church edict outlawing birth control most of these species of plants had become extinct.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Magical and Majestic Sunflower







 





The majestic Sunflower is a universally popular annual with great historical significance. Domesticated species have been found in South America dating back to 2600 BC with one discovered in our Tennessee Valley dating to 2300 BC. The Incas had selectively bred a magnificent single stemmed Sunflower from the small native wild flowers. With its center head and golden rays of petals it became the symbol of the Sun god in both the Inca and Mayan cultures, holding a sacred status. Their magnificent golden images of Sunflowers, as well as seeds, were among the items pilfered by the Conquistadors and brought home to Spain. By 1580 the Sunflower was a common sight in every Spanish village and from there it spread to Italy, India, Egypt, China, and Russia.

Native Americans grew the Sunflower as a food crop and almost every part of this gem has some practical use. The seeds, which are rich in calcium, are an easily stored snack, and a dye extracted from the petals was used in ceremonial body painting along with the oil. A light and lovely fiber was made from the stalks and the bloom time indicated the dates of the hunting calendar.

By the time it reached
Russia, the Sunflower was well recognized as a food source and produced the only oil not banned during Holy Orthodox Lent. In fact, Russia has such a long-held love affair with the Sunflower that it became their national flower. Russia also led the way in hybridization, developing the ‘Russian Mammoth’ that has been popular for over 130 years.

However the sunflower has more magic hidden inside her stem... she is one of select few flowers who harbor an intense love affair with the Sun. In a process discovered by plant biologist Winslow Briggs, the Sunflower uses photoreceptors (phototropism) to aid in her ability to align with the Sun. Her bright face follows the path of the sun from dawn until dusk and each evening, almost miraculously, the flower turns east to prepare to greet the morning sun again. As the flower ages, the ability to follow the sun vanishes and the flower faces east for the duration of her life. *I imagine an aged creaky stem reminiscent of  an elderly person hobbling along in need of a cane.

Since hybrid Sunflowers began to dominate, the small open pollinators were almost lost and by the 1950’s most of the varieties cultivated by Native tribes had nearly reached extinction. Mr. Charles Heiser, a dedicated retired botanist, made it his personal mission to save them and the seeds he collected rest in a repository which houses over 2,000 Sunflower varieties from around the world. Thank you Mr. Heiser!


Monday, August 1, 2016

Comfrey... Miraculous Medicine




 

An often overlooked plant that thrives in partial shade is Comfrey. Besides sporting delicate cascading pink blooms, the delightfully prickly deep green foliage make this addition striking beyond compare. Easily grown if root stock is taken from a Mother plant, this steadfast garden guest will last twenty years or more, faithfully providing a lovely focal point. Growing to the size of a large bushel basket and ever-blooming if cut back during the season, it is a welcome addition to the garden party.


Comfrey has been cultivated in the East since 400 BC as a healing herb. The word ‘comfrey’ is derived from the Latin meaning ‘grow together’ which reflects the early use of this lovely plant to aid in knitting broken bones. Both Greeks and Romans used it to stop heavy bleeding, treat bronchial problems, and heal wounds. Poultices were made for external wounds and a tea was consumed for internal ailments.

This handsome member of the Borge family, has also been used medicinally throughout the British Isles for centuries with the common name of Knit-bone or Boneset. A tea made from boiling the root in water or wine was used for all pulmonary complaints and could stop bleeding of the lungs. Taken every two hours the concoction was said to relieve hemorrhoids as well. The pounded roots applied to fresh wounds promoted healing almost instantly making Comfrey a necessary addition to every garden.

Often when reading about plants, it is difficult to imagine exactly how they were made into medicine. Coldpepper, the famed 18th century botanist, wrote that Comfrey was “so powerful to consolidate and knit together that if the roots be boiled together with dissevered pieces of flesh in a pot, they will join them together”. Further, he gave the recipe for making a poultice as follows, “The fresh roots of Comfrey beaten small and spread upon leather laid on any place troubled by gout presently gives ease. Applied in the same manner eases pain to joints, heals running ulcers, gangrenes, mortifications, for which hath often (through) experience been found helpful”. Although I am unsure what mortification is, it sounds quite serious and this little plant took care of it.
The concoction will last for months if refrigerated.  


I have used it medicinally for years and last fall made a series of poultices for my son's big toe that had broken in two places. I picked fresh leaves, stems, and roots and packed them in a food processor with a bit peanut oil to keep them tight. Once blended, I wrapped the concoction in small pieces of sheeting, making about thirty small poultices. He put the Comfrey on his toe for several hours twice a day and X-Rays before and after (to the doctor's amazement) showed it had healed within two weeks.

With the emergence of ‘green’ as the way of the future perhaps traditional use of some of these valuable plants may reemerge… a trip to the garden seems far more pleasant than a trip to the doctor.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Bog Orchids




For those who felt that orchids were fussy little things growing inside within controlled temperatures, last week a surprising orchid story emerged. On July 23rd an article about millions of orchids now growing in a one hundred-acre wetland in upstate New York was published. The wetland, located at the site of the former Benson Mines, had formed from residue that developed on waste from the vast open-pit iron mine. According to scientists, the transformation is most impressive because it happened naturally. The wetland, which remains privately owned and off limits to the public, formed on part of thousands of acres of coarse sand left over when granite ore was crushed to extract iron from 1900 until 1978. That bare sand eventually gave way to moss, lichen, grasses, sedges and trees, including willows, poplars and tamaracks. Orchids arrived with the winds as dust-like seeds from surrounding areas. The wetland is now home to six species of bog orchids, including millions of rose pogonias and grass pinks.



"I've been involved in orchid-rich habitats all over the country for 40 years, and I've never seen anything like this," said Donald Leopold, a professor at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. He believes fungi colonized a plants root system and enhanced its ability to absorb nutrients… he was astonished the site went from bare mine tailings to a diverse wetland plant community in a scant 60 years without any attempts at restoration.  

In 2012 in a small two acre cranberry bog in east central Pennsylvania, two of the rarest orchids were discovered. The bog, ringed by sphagnum moss, is located at the edge of Valmont Industrial Park where an underlying layer of hard coal had created an extremely acidic, nearly sterile environment making the bog discovery even more significant. The rare Valmont orchids have a hyacinth-like ball of small, delicate blooms at the top… one is white-fringed, the other is yellow. Natural cross-pollination between the two has produced hybrids in an amazing array of exotic colors that have been seen nowhere else in the orchid world. Bob Sprague of the Native Orchid Conference has been working with local Pennsylvania groups to create a nature preserve to protect these as well as other amazing and unusual plant species growing nearby which include Bladderwort, Butterwort, Sundew and Venus Fly Trap.

With the unrelenting heat, good gardening news is rare, however these stories reinforce our belief that Nature has a mind of her own and that she possesses a will to create beauty in spite of all odds… they are a testament to Natures ability to heal herself.

Photo: From the Valmont Park site

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Horrid Humidity and Summer Heat


 
Water Vapor Rising in the Early Morning   

Those of us who reside in land locked Oklahoma rarely experience the geological condition known as humidity. Of late the weather reports daily on the humidity factor and few of us actually understand what causes it. Those in southern and costal states are well acquainted with humidity as it increases with the amount of forest growth or water bodies… we have so much desert-like land that it is odd for us to experience so much humidity. Humidity makes the temperature feel even hotter than it actually is.

Humidity is the amount of water vapor in the air. Water vapor is the gaseous state of water and is invisible. Humidity indicates the likelihood of precipitation, dew, or fog and we can thank the recent rains for the increase of temperature. Of particular note to those of us who garden is the fact that high humidity reduces the effectiveness of cooling the body through sweating by reducing the rate of evaporation of moisture from the skin. This effect is calculated in the heat index mentioned on the weather each morning.

As one wanders the garden before the sunlight begins to bake, it will be noted there is dew, which is damp glistening water which has built up on the grass, leaves, and cars overnight. This occurred as the temperature fell overnight because the air was saturated with moist humidity.  The temperature at which saturation occurs is called the dew point, which is also mentioned on the weather reports. The higher the dew point, the more misery may be expected. *Of interesting note is the fact that when this process occurs in the sky clouds are created.

High humidity has been scientifically proven to cause headaches, including migraines, even if one has not been outside. However if one has been outside too long heat exhaustion may occur and it is serious. Signs of it include: dizziness, excessive sweating, pale clammy skin, nausea, irregular pulse rate, and muscle cramping. If one experiences any of the above mentioned, immediately go inside to cool off, drink several glasses of water, and possibly take a cool bath to lower your body temperature. *Remember to take water with you to the garden.

Since most gardeners are compulsive, when you begin feel too hot or sweat profusely, please stop! Don’t make yourself finish just one more task; don’t pull one more weed, clip one more bush, or pick three more squash… go inside. Early morning and early evening, before the blazing sun appears then as it disappears in the west, is the best time to play outside now. Stay cool!

*Photo: Water Vapor rising in the early morning.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Petition Drive to Save the Black Capped Vireo

PLEASE SHARE!






The Black Capped Vireo is on the Federal Endangered Species list and nests in the vicinity of the proposed Wind Turbine Farm 2 1/2 miles from I-40 along the Canadian River. Not only does the Vireo migrate along the River, many other species of birds as well as our beloved Monarchs do as well.


Please Begin individual petitions to insist that Wind Turbine facilities follow the law and take into consideration the survival of Federal Endangered Species.
*The Detroit based Turbine Company has many interests besides safe production of energy... they also have financial interests in Coal production.


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Friday, June 24, 2016

We Must Respect Mother Earth

There is nothing to do to stop corporate rape of the land... there is no way to stop corporations from doing anything they choose to do and the latest is a Wind Turbine Farm 1/2 a mile from my homestead.

I am so sad and tired of corporations thinking that our countryside is something they can just use and discard when they are through with their nasty business. It is Mother Earth... the giver and sustainer of life and I love and respect her.

Disrespect is shown in every action taken of late. In recent memory, the hideous corporate animal feeding lots that treat animals in a deplorable manner arived in the '90's. Then the gas/oil industry shuffled in and drilled then without thought poured toxic black chemicals over formerly pristine farmland.

Next as a direct result of drilling came fracking as chemical and salt water was pumped into our inner Earth to dispose of it after using it with great force to break the rocks within earth to find new pockets of gas. With it injection of this waste water came earthquakes; I just helplessly fill cracks in my walls and straighten pictures each day.

Although they are not new, who thought the wind turbines would take over the state. They are everywhere, and not hidden in uninhabitated farmland as they were originally. They have been shoved down our throats and they are not sitting well... we are choking.

All of this is a true blight on Mother Earth.

There has been no conscious respect of her or us from the city-born corporations... the Earth is not seen as a living entity to them, and they are killing her as we watch and weep.

They are due a smiting... one which is long over due. They deserve one... I am waiting and watching.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Fantastic Ferns








Ferns are possibly the oldest plants known to Earth, with the first of this family appearing eons ago in water settings. It took 60 million years for them to leave water to appear in marshlands and many more eons for them begin life standing upright on land. They were on land long before the dinosaurs, making them unbelievably ancient and by the time trees began to flourish, ferns already occupied the forest floor.


Ferns are specialists in adapting to marginal habitats, often succeeding in places where environmental factors limit the success of flowering plants. They may be seen growing in moist shady woodland nooks, remote mountain elevations, dry desert rock faces, bodies of water, or in open fields.


Since the fern is flowerless, reproducing has adapted by producing feathery or leafy fronds which release spores from their undersides. *A spore is a unit of reproduction arising out of a single organism and is used as a mechanism for survival in unfavorable conditions. Ferns also have a self sustainable vascular system for the transport of water and nutrients so they are not as over-simplified as they may appear.


Naturally Ferns figure in folklore with legends about mythical flowers or seeds. In Slavic folklore ferns are believed to bloom once a year during a Mid-Summer night and one who comes upon a 'fern flower' is thought to be guaranteed happiness and riches for the duration of their life. Finnish tradition holds that one who finds and holds the 'seed' of a fern in bloom on Midsummer night will be able to astral) travel to the location where an eternally blazing 'Will o' the wisp' marks the spot of hidden treasure. This spot is protected by a spell that denies access to anyone but the seed bearer, who alone knows of the location.




Among the Native American culture ferns were eaten as greens, boiled into herbal teas, and woven into mats.  Different species were used to treat everything from digestive problems to arthritis and childbirth pains. Virginia moonwort, a type of fern known as 'rattlesnake masterpiece,' was said to cure snakebites and placing it about ones dwelling was said to ward off snakes. Australian Aboriginals used tree ferns to construct dwellings and when dry they harden to the strength of light weight lumber.


Recently there has been a horticultural effort to introduce unknown ferns to gardeners everywhere and this lovely gal is one of them... she made her way into my kitchen this spring and makes me smile everyday.


*Photo: Twisted Lipstick Fern

Monday, June 13, 2016

Celebrate Cannas





The fantastic Cannas have begun their foliage show this year. The spectacular foliage is special for its showy leaves, which arrive at the garden party to provide visual interest before blooming begins. A faithful flower, they will bloom from spring until early frost if spent flowers are removed to prevent formation of seed pods.

 

The Canna has been the subject of hot botanical debate for years with each continent hoping to take credit for its origin. However it belongs to us alone as it has never been unearthed during archaeological excavations anywhere but on our North American continent. Mentioned in exploration documents in 1576, it was formally introduced to Europe in 1856 where it was named for the Celtic word for cane or reed.

Rather ominously, on our continent the Canna was once called 'Indian Shot' as their small, hard, round seeds resembled the home-made lead shot used in shotguns prior to the twentieth century. The unusual seeds were also used in making jewelry and many attractive antique necklaces contain them, either dyed or natural. Because of this impenetrable seed, the Canna is the only plant in which hibernation of seed is known to occur.

Typically 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 if they are left undisturbed they will bloom faithfully for 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, and its flowers have also been fermented to produce alcohol. Smoke from its burning leaves is said to be an insecticidal, and with the Zika virus arriving in
Oklahoma, perhaps sacrificing a few leaves to stave off mosquitoes would be a worthwhile endeavor.


I imagine a pioneer lady making this natural necklace to wear!
Can you see the Canna seed pods?





Horn Canna Farm, located on 120 acres outside of Carnegie in Caddo County, Oklahoma boasts the largest collection of Cannas in the world. Founded by Neil and Louise Horn in 1928, it is truly remarkable and will be hosting its 30th Annual Canna Festival on September 24, 2016. The gardens will be open for free visitation with over a million breathtaking Cannas in full bloom. I highly recommend a tour of the gardens…remember to mark your calendars for it is indeed fabulous.

Photo: Dwarf Pink Sunburst with show stopping foliage!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Scented Bloomers





Datura, or Moonflower, chose the pasture... Lovely.

Often descriptions in a book stand out and become sensually very real. The novel 'Love in the Time of Cholera' written by the late Gabriel José Márquez, a Colombian novelist, is among the best for descriptions of scent. As one walks through the iron gates of his imaginary court yard, the bustling, odor-filled, turn of the century South American village disappears and his garden is filled with delicious scent described so well that one travels on a journey of wonder.




Since gardens are created for enjoyment, one must not forget the pleasure of an evening stroll filled with the night bloomers scent gently wafting through the moonlight. There is still time to plant a few to enjoy through out the summer into fall. And although scent has given way to form in recent years, there are still some old fashioned flowers available that have retained this charm.





Many of the marvelous evening bloomers are white to attract the night flying moths who feed on their nectar and pollen. Datura, or Moon flower as we call it locally, can still be planted to establish itself for next year. It will bloom a with few trumpet shaped, lemony smelling flowers by late August but the tuber will establish itself over the season. If started now, next year it will bloom by May and last through fall. Remember that it is poisonous so plant it where it may not be ingested by children or pets. Pick a place where it has room to grow to the size of a medium shrub in light shade.





Sweet Autumn Clematis can still be planted and since it blooms in the fall, you will have it to enjoy when other flowers are spent. The white starry flowers are intensely fragrant and beautiful. Four O'Clocks may be planted all season as well. They too become very large over time so planting a few new 'babies' now and again will give fragrant filler at a low level in a garden spot. Nicotiana may still be found at nurseries and although it looks rather tired and spindly in the two inch peat pot, it will fill out in your garden and bloom all summer, filling the evening with sweet scent.





Still available as well is Garden Heliotrope. Growing up to five feet tall with blossoms that exude fragrance after dark, it is always a hit. Some say it smells like vanilla, others say apple pie. Regardless, it produces one of the sweetest fragrances and its tiny flowers, in a range of pink to deep purple, add a splash of color.




Lastly is Evening Primrose with such a delicate sounding name for a rather weedy looking plant. Their large yellow flowers begin to exude an outstanding aroma by evening, making them an absolutely stunning addition regardless of their rag-tag appearance.



Take an evening walk, listen to the winged night fliers, bask in the moonlight; it is Summer and it will be gone before we blink twice.

Monday, May 30, 2016

There is Still Time to Plant Herbs

To the Left: Rosemary, Spearmint and Oregano~
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.


By 800 Monks had taken over the care of the sick and had herbal gardens at most monasteries. Herbalists were promoted and supported by Henry VII in the 1500's by the Parliament while 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 as cures used 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 pharmaceutical drugs were unavailable so herbal medicines were once again used.


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. Simple grow and easy to make, an herbal tea from the garden 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.