Monday, January 26, 2015

All You Wanted to Know About Crows

Not a pretty bird, nonetheless he is impressive.

The snow storm of last week dumped over ten inches on Dill City and but a smattering in Piedmont... for once the weathermen were correct. The winds have been rather horrific, with Sunday producing fifty-three mile per hour gusts... it was a hang-onto-your-hat kind of day. This week promises mild temperatures, however it is simply teasing us; expect winter to last at least another month.

The gathering of crows is impressive this year as they may be seen quietly perching in trees by the hundreds before suddenly mass-flying in a graceful circular dance. These communal social gatherings are called a roost and some may contain thousands during the non-breeding winter months. During the breeding season, Crows tend to congregate exclusively among their extended family, which may include many generations.

Crows mate for life and they have a very long life span... the oldest on record lived to almost thirty years. The female incubates the eggs, however her mate will bring her food and guard the nest when she leaves for short excursions. It has been noted that frequently a younger cousin may slip in and sit on the eggs or nestlings, which is a sign of their close family ties. 

Crows are considered to be among the world's most intelligent animals with an IQ approaching that of  apes. They are capable of tool use and construction, often picking up twig to dig grain from a bale. Crows have been noted to engage in feats such as air sports and they have the ability to hide and store food across seasons, placing grain in carefully selected crevices. They have a memory which recognizes individual faces and habits of humans and use experience to predict the behavior of those they encounter. If one has been kind to a Crow, he will remember you just as he will remember if you have not. If one splits the tongue of a young crow, he may speak perfectly, answering questions correctly, and he may even count to five.

Naturally there are mythological stories of the Crow and they rank among the most prolific, with tales from all parts of the world transforming them into magical supernatural beings ranging from a hero to trickster. It has been said the Crow or Raven was the principal envoy of the Maker of Life, Odin and Apollo; one served or defied the Wind, the Lords of Death, and Satan. They were said to have brought the sun, stars water, tides and humans into this world. The Crow was believed to guard the fortunes of England and thus they were kept in the Tower of London. He is included in two of Aesop's Fables... the stories of the Crow's interaction with humans are endless and span every past or current religion or belief.

Farmers may lament the crow for his habit of stealing grain, however we must remember to thank them for taking over an unpleasant task since our carcass-cleaning Vultures have migrated. During this leafless time, the gathering of Crows are easily visible so enjoy their majestic flights this winter... they are truly an amazement.    


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Our Sunrise

Our morning sunrise was spectacular... it is exactly the reason I live in the middle of nowhere. No sounds but the birds and the wind, no cars or trucks moving along the roadway, no bustle at all this morning. Have a great day!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Allergy Medications 101

Cedars are pollinating, and everyone seems to be feeling the effects. If symptoms become too much to bear, allergy medications are in order. Here is a simple explanation of them...

Allergy Medications 101
Medications for Allergies~  For basic relief, take an antihistamine. There are many kinds of antihistamines, most of which do not require a prescription. The antihistamines that have been around for a long time are called first-generation antihistamines. These have been used for many years and are considered very safe and effective. Some of the best-known ones are Benadryl, Demeaned, Chlor-Trimeton and Zirtec-D. The main negative to these antihistamines is that they cause most people to become sleepy, however the effect may be modified if one takes a low dose headache remedy containing caffeine, which combats the drowsiness with no ill effects. A decongestant such as Sudafed opens up the nose, makes breathing easier, and reduces the amount of drainage from the nose.

The decongestants tend to be a stimulant for many people, and when they take a combination of antihistamine and decongestant, the decongestant helps to counter the sedating characteristic of the antihistamine. If you can successfully use the first-generation antihistamines, they are much, much cheaper than the new second-generation antihistamines.
The second-generation antihistamines such as Allegra and Claritin do not cause drowsiness, but are much more expensive with Allegra requiring a prescription.  Loratdine does not require a prescription, is easily available, and the site suggests it as one of the first things to try when having allergy problems.

The Winter Sun

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Year in Retrospect

As gardeners, each season is met with hopeful enthusiasm, enjoyed in its fleeting passage as we await another garden phase. In winter the above-ground garden rests, however below ground it is busily preparing for the life-spring which will arrive as the days lengthen and the soil awakens. For this reason the winter season requires watering on occasional warm days for despite the sprinkling of snow last Saturday the garden is quite dry; snow simply does not supply the required moisture. Remember to turn off the water before the evening temperature drops; we once forgot and found a horrifying frozen waterfall covering the entire garden the next morning.

In retrospect the past year was most interesting, highlighted by the welcome break in our drought. The blessed rains which arrived in surprising intervals during the course of the entire year helped restore our countryside… native grasses which are usually spent in the dry heat of July, remained a vibrant green until frost. This year wildflowers were able to complete their life cycle, spilling rain-soaked seeds of future flowers on moist ground rather than dust… thus giving the promise of a lovely spring. The trees were washed clean, the streams were filled, and minnows once again appeared in the creeks. It was a restoration… the kind of year we will joyfully recall when more difficult years arrive.

The temperature fluctuations were unusual as well. It was hot/cold, hot/cold… as though Mother Nature was perhaps a bit menopausal. The spring-like conditions occurring weekly until mid-December, fooled many tree who began to prematurely bud only to be jolted into reality by the sudden freeze. With the deep-freeze which arrived last Monday, they will truly become dormant while waiting for spring. And the freeze is exactly what we needed to thoroughly kill many pests who were warmly relaxing in the debris left behind in the garden.

Dreary days may continue for several months, however the gardener may look forward to gardening catalogues which will begin arriving January first. They are porn for gardeners… tattered and dog eared, they are read over and over with longing and lust. As a surprise to yourself, plan on ordering something totally outrageous in the coming year then just enjoy the experience of watching it grow! Happy New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Amazing Amaryllis

The afternoon of the past dreary Sunday was punctuated by the Winter Solstice… that moment in time when the promise of Spring emerges as each day becomes longer. Our question for December may well be “Sun, Sun, where art thou?”

The Queen of all bulbs, the exquisite Amaryllis, is now making an appearance everywhere. She is traditionally a guest at Christmas celebrations, and with good reason for historically speaking she has quite a colorful reputation.

As serious exploration began in the 16th and 17th centuries, botanical specimens were among the most coveted acquisitions brought home to Europe. Consequently even today there remains controversy over exactly who discovered the Amaryllis and from which continent it originated. Botanical debate claimed it was from Africa while other botanists insisted it came from South America. Regardless of origin, this exquisite flower had an immediate cult following and legend arose to explain her deep scarlet color.

As with so many of our flowers, Amaryllis has both Greek and Roman lore attached to her and the poets Theocritus (3rd century BC) and Virgil (70 BC) both wrote she was a shy nymph of great resolve. Amaryllis fell in love with a popular shepherd reputed to be as handsome as Apollo and as strong as Hercules; he was a rock star of the day and unimpressed by her attentions. Hoping to quell her embarrassing adoration, he gave her the impossible task of finding him a flower that never before existed. Amaryllis consulted the Oracle at Delphi and was instructed to walk to his home and pierce her heart with a golden arrow, allowing her blood to flow. For thirty nights she did so and from her spilled blood the flower with crimson petals appeared.

And once again Napoleon’s Josephine made a flower famous by commissioning a painting of one and the English Poet Laureate, Lord Alfred Tennyson, included her in a poem. Our own Thomas Jefferson mentioned an Amaryllis in his diary in 1811... All of which are quite illustrious mentions for a flower!

These precious bulbs, once available to only wealthy elitist, through time and progress are now affordable. Available in a wide array of colors which include not only the traditional scarlet, but white, deep pink, orange, shades of salmon, pink, and rose, Amaryllis makes a welcome guest at every celebration. Rather than forcing your own, perhaps purchase one that has already sprouted and needs a loving home. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Oklahoma Winters

All of those who garden watch the weather with keen interest and Sunday we experienced the temperature change which makes our state infamous. In the morning the sun shone and the temperature climbed to a semi-balmy sixty plus degrees so we hurried outside to plant the remaining tulip bulbs before bad weather arrived. Early afternoon rushing dark clouds appeared to the north; within them the swirling wind howled furiously. The entire sky became black and the temperature fell thirty degrees in just over an hour. In the garden, we watched in awe before scuttling to the house for hot coffee… the remaining tulips will have to wait.

As the days become shorter the season for interior decorations begins in earnest so plan to wander outside and shop for Nature’s ornaments. Shears in hand, look at the amazing plethora just outside the back door and begin collecting everything from brightly colored leaves to the wide assortment of interesting seeds and grasses.

For a wreath consider Euronymous whose seed is a shell-shaped mini four leaf clover which encases a plump red berry. Bittersweet has tendrils with darling berries prancing along the stems, many varieties of dried grasses have a wispy texture, and lengths of twisted bark will add interest. Using a simple grape vine wreath and florist wire, layer what you have collected and watch as magic ensues. To finish, spray with inexpensive hair spray to ‘set’ the wispies and prevent allergens from flying about.

For the holiday table or breakfront exotic Pyracantha is beyond compare with ripened berries sending hundreds of tiny baby ‘pumpkins‘ dancing along their branches. Allow their branches to creep along and include amber and scarlet leaves, oak casings, candle-lit hollowed mini pumpkins and a sprinkling of battery operated twinkle lights peeking from beneath it all, sparkling here and there.

The most favored Pyracantha is the lovely Firethorn who continues to present a show when most of the garden guests have retired. Tiny white bouquets of flowers appear in early summer and are beloved by the bees. The flowers fade and form the berries which stay green until the evenings begin to cool and their color change begins. Their final gift is the precious bright orange pumpkin-like seeds. The Firethorn holds true to her name, with a bush-like spread and fierce thorns which provide an ideal place for bunnies to scurry and hide for safety. If memory serves me, I believe it was the Pyracantha that thus saved Brer Rabbit from the fox. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Fall Foliage... the parting gift

The Caddo Maples are the last to begin foliage change their process usually foretells the first freeze will occur within a week. They are unusual in that all of their leaves do not freeze-fall; much of their glorious foliage, although crisp, remains tree-bound until Spring. Just as their color change predicts a coming freeze, these last leaves foretell the arrival of Spring as they are literally tossed from the tree when it is expected to arrive. As the Maples had predicted last week, our first deep freeze roared in early Wednesday morning and suddenly Winter is upon us… in a most vengeful manner.

Trees lose their leaves to give additional sunlight for warmth during the cold winter months and Nature has provided us with a stunning visual as a parting gift. Although the following explanation will be a vast over simplification, it may provide insight into the foliage change. During the spring and summer the trees use their leaves to collect air and water to turn it into food. The process, called photosynthesis means ‘putting together with light’ so as the days shorten and daylight diminishes, the gathering process ends. The leaf is no longer necessary to the tree and begins its transformation providing breathtaking color for a brief moment in time.

The chemicals chlorophyll and carotenoids are present in the leaf cells throughout the growing season with chlorophyll making leaves the bright green color. As daylight decreases in autumn, chlorophyll production stops and the chlorophyll disappears. With the loss of chlorophyll the carotids, which have been there all along, become visible and display lovely yellow leaf color. Lastly the anthocyanins arrive and take center stage, ushering in the vibrant reds we associate with Autumn.

Anthocyanins, which are glucose, are singularly responsible for the brilliant hues of purple, crimson, and scarlet. They are a fickle lot, insisting on warm sunny days and crisp evenings to slow the closing of the leaf veins and trap excess sugar produced at this time… if the weather does not comply to their demand, lackluster reds are produced.

Shade and the foliage show are not all the leaves have to offer… their parting gift is perhaps the most important. As the leaves drift from the trees and collect below they continue to work by slowly decomposing. Over time this process adds nutrients to create a dark rich soil which nourishes the fledgling the saplings as they grow to become forest giants like their parents. Nature is always at work, regardless of the season.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Gophers... Again

This subject has been broached before, however it bears repeating since almost overnight the gophers have become incredibly active. Since they are a problem of fairly vast proportion, a brief description of their physical appearance and habits might be helpful. They are rodents and require strong measures to eliminate and exterminate them.

Gophers live in long, complex tunnels below the ground, digging with their powerful front feet and their sharp teeth. Most of their lives are spent digging and patrolling their tunnels to protect their territory from other gophers. Their tails are hairless and tactile; it is an organ of touch which can “feel” as the gopher backs up in his hole; his home is recognized by the large mound of earth above it. It is said their nest is usually about a foot below ground and lined with leaves, although digging like a mad woman has never revealed anything of the like. Their food choices include favorites such as vegetables, buds, grass, nuts, roots and bulbs; they can totally decimate a lovely garden in very few days. In fact once I watched once as a stalk of Asparagus was slowly pulled cartoon-like below ground, one jerk at a time until it disappeared.

With an understanding of the gopher, methods for extermination must be examined. For the gardener, dropping bits of poison into gopher mounds is ineffective as it seems to be the equivalent of giving them a vitamin tonic… often they will push it to out of their home like an old couch left curb side. The old wives tale about dropping Juicy Fruit gum into a mound to destroy their digestive system is totally false. The ‘bomb’ one may purchase to send carbon monoxide from a lawn mower into holes (in spite of being extremely fun to use) is ineffective as well. Flooding gopher mounds with a hose makes an unsightly mess and often the water will completely destroy a flower bed by imploding the underground burrows, leaving deep crevices in its wake. Waiting for the emerging gopher with a rifle in hand is ultimately a waste of time for it seems they ‘sense’ danger and never appear.

Trapping easiest way to eliminate these pests, however there is a level of training required to properly set it. For the fainthearted, leaving a small battery operated radio near their home works. They find the noise objectionable and will often vacate the premises… set the station to Rap.

*Adding insult to injury… this mound is heart shaped like a macabre Valentine sent to me.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Why We Chose Farm Life

I am glad I was part of the 'Back to Earth' movement even if we didn't know it was a movement. The cities had become so angry by 1975. Watergate, the assassinations of men of peace, the winding down of equal rights, the drugs which made their appearance were dangers that could not be escaped so we simply fled them. Many of us returned to our roots; to the places where our grandparents raised a family amid the simple pleasures of our own youth.

The gift of a small town where the doors are never locked at night, where the car keys need not be removed, where you can call the pharmacist at home to meet you if the children became ill during the night... all this was too important for my family to miss and I'm glad we didn't.
I am so pleased I was able to experience farm life before the disasters of the 1980's and closure of the family farm as a treasured institution. Family farming was over by the time John Cougar Mellencamp wrote the poignant song "The Auctioneer" and Willie Nelson began his battle to save them. Family farms were still on every section of land in 1975 so we became part of a close knit community of neighbors.

I was able to go to quilting bees with little old ladies who had quilted together since they were girls. My stitches are in their quilts and even though the ladies are all gone now, the quilts have been lovingly passed on and I have several to serve my memory. These ladies took me under their wing and I learned short cuts to canning, how to milk a cow, plant a garden and the joy of fresh eggs.

You could drive along a dirt road in June and country ladies would have spontaneously met to pick sand plums at a most favored 'secret' place. We would later attend family our community berry picking party followed by homemade pies, guitar music, tall tales and ageless laughter. I was able to push back time a little and give my children an antique life style that has all but disappeared... I am happy we didn't miss it especially since it has disappeared now.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Amazing Bodark

Each year Autumn presents Osage oranges that have fully ripened to their signature color and thus their common name. It is a member of the Mulberry family and depending upon locale it may be referred to as hedge apple, horse apple, monkey ball, bodark or bois d'arc. In spite of its terrible reputation as invasive it was extremely important in the rise of Native American culture in the United States.

It was first mentioned to an English speaking audience in a letter from Scottish explorer William Dunbar in 1804. Following his description Meriwether Lewis sent cuttings to President Jefferson and the largest existing tree resides on a farm adjacent to Jefferson‘s estate in Virginia. Lewis' letter indicates the trees were donated by a French gentleman Pierre Choteau, who resided in the Osage Nation where the Mississippi and Ouachita Rivers met. The name bois d'arc, or "bow-wood", was given by French settlers who noted the wood was utilized for Native war clubs and bow-making. This wood was prized among Native Americans for bows as it was unusually strong, flexible and durable… tribal members would travel hundreds of miles to find or purchase it from other tribes. In by 1890 a horse and a blanket were the standard price of a bow made of Bodark.

Many historians believe the rise of the advanced Spiroan Mississippi culture was due to the high value this wood had to Native Americans. The now extinct Spiroan tribe controlled the land in which these trees grew and archaeologist have discovered remarkable mounds that revealed the advancement of their society. Between 800 and 1400 the Spiro people created a powerful religious and political center that thrived along the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Spiro (Oklahoma) is considered the western-most outpost of Mississippian culture and the objects discovered there among the most sophisticated pre-Columbian artifacts in all of North America.

Bodark makes remarkable fence posts for its lack of enemies… termites find it distasteful and it is not prone to fungus. Before the invention of barbed wire in the 1880's thousands of miles of ‘fence’ was constructed by planting young Osage Orange trees closely together in a line. Saplings were pruned to promote bushy growth to create a ‘horse high, bull strong and hog tight’ fence row made from Osage Orange and for this purpose it was ideal.

In 1934 Franklin Delano Roosevelt initiated his Great Plains Shelter Belt Program to prevent soil erosion. By 1942 over 30,000 shelterbelts containing 220 million trees that stretched for 18,600 miles had been planted. Bodark must be carefully pruned as each shoot will grow up to six feet a season and for this reason it has become invasive.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Fall Containers

Autumn is a time for a new genre of container planting and there are many plants that not only survive cold temperatures, they thrive on them. Flowering Kale is exceedingly popular today sporting an endless array of interesting ruffled leaf combinations from spires to tight rosettes. Kale is round, dense, and slow growing, with the marvelous attribute of having colors which deepen and intensify as the temperature dips. Kale is a form of cabbage and among the oldest of the cultivated edible greens. It has been a staple for centuries, adding a welcome green leafy vegetable to dinner tables and soup pots for the duration of winter. The flavor of the leaves becomes sweeter when exposed to frost. The most intense color is located at the center of the plant where the outer leaves tend to obstruct it so they need be planted at an angle for their total color to be fully appreciated.

Pansies are such a cheerful, adorable little flower who are always a welcome guest at the garden party. Their color options are positively stunning, their little faces delightful. Originally a common viola growing in fields and hedgerows in England they were cultivated by William Richardson, gardener to Lady Mary Elizabeth Bennett in the early 1800’s. Despite his efforts, their first noted appearance was on the estate of James, Lord Gambier. His gardener, William Thompson, crossed various viola species with a viola tricolor to achieve a round flower of overlapping petals. By chance in the 1830’s he discovered a flower that no longer had narrow nectar guides of dark color on the petals but a broad dark blotch instead. From this pansy came the future ‘flower with a face', which was released to an adoring public in 1839. Her name was ‘Medora‘ and she still exists today.

Adding Mums to a container will make a statement as well. In choosing them, pick the mums that have tight little clusters of blooms… they will slowly open and allow for long-lasting show. To plant, tear off the bottom root growth and you may safely meld and squish all the plants together before watering to make sure all pockets between them have been filled with soil.

A gardening friend of mine, Susan Cohan, created the most lovely container I’ve seen in years. Instead of the usual fall flowers, she chose Hydrangeas to soften the look and she achieved her aim flawlessly. With the green and deep purple leaves of Kale, the petal-sweetness of the Hydrangeas, a host of pastel pansies and one white pumpkin embraced in the center of it all, she created the masterpiece shown in the photo

Photo credit: Susan Cohan

Monday, October 6, 2014

Magnificent Magnolias

The marvelous Magnolia is well suited for our Oklahoma climate and they are seeding now. As with most hard wood trees, their growth is slow and they do not mature and begin to flower until they are at least fifteen years old. Their life span is long with the oldest Magnolia on record 136 years old… Magnolias are as languid as a Southern Summer day and must not be rushed.

Asian species were introduced to the Americas in 1780 where they were carefully cultivated to produce superior flowers with the deepest lemony scent. In spite of their sturdy appearance, the large showy flowers are quite delicate and must be handled without touching the petals to avoid bruising and discoloration which will inevitably occur. For this reason they do not fare well in arrangements but are rather cut with a short stem and ’floated’ as a single specimen in a large shallow bowl or vase. Of interest is the fact Magnolias are pollinated by beetles.

The deep-green leathery leaves, traditionally used in Southern Christmas decorations, may be cut at their peak and preserved with glycerin. Glycerin is an organic emollient that may be absorbed through the stems of the leaves to preserve their freshness. Use one part glycerin to two parts very hot water. Put the glycerin solution in a short plastic wastebasket, cut the magnolia leaves with suitably long stems and pound the bottom of them to open the major artery before submerging the stems in the liquid. The Magnolia leaves will ‘drink’ the glycerin and slowly change from green to a gorgeous chestnut color. It takes about a month for the leaves to absorb the glycerin and when the leaves begin to feel flexible it is time to remove them. They must be hung upside and allowed to dry completely before use and now is a perfect time to do this project for Christmas d├ęcor.

Following flowering the Magnolia produces an interesting ‘pod’ in the form of a large, conical shaped cone with prickles here and there on its surface. As the weeks slowly pass the pod turns a slight shade of pink as the seeds form. Openings form and the shockingly-red shiny seeds appear and are slowly pushed from the pod. Songbirds birds eat these seeds on their migration journey as they are a good source of energy producing fat and protein. The seeds may be collected to plant however the shiny red overcoat must be roughed and removed to assure success. Happy Autumn!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Ragweed Season is Upon Us

With the balmy conditions of late everyone has emerged from summer heat-hibernation and gardening, walking, and hiking are once again pleasurable. However this year there seems to be unprecedented pollen as though the trees and grasses are determined to make up for the former drought years by ensuring their reproductive place on the planet.

Most flowers have heavy pollen, thus the necessity for pollination by bees or birds. The pollen of most trees, shrubs, and grasses is lighter than the pollen of flowers so it may be carried by the wind. Since our winds may go from a gentle breeze to a driving force in seconds this light pollen may travel hundreds of miles.

Over half of all allergy symptoms may be traced to ragweed and this year it is in disproportionate cultivation, appearing everywhere and ranging up to ten feet tall. It is supposedly a member of the aster family, although it is hard to believe such an illustrious family produced such an unlikable child. In the opinion of many ragweed is the most infamous weed on Earth, producing some of the lightest pollen of all plants. A single plant may produce about a billion grains of pollen per season which may remain airborne for days and travel great distances. It has been noted up to 300 miles high and 400 to 500 miles out to sea.

Ragweeds were originally native only to our hemisphere however they were introduced to Europe during World War II, traveling discreetly on the clothing of our soldiers. Since then it has spread rapidly and now Europeans suffer as we do with seasonal allergies. Ragweed is truly a nuisance this time of year as it is the source of itchy eyes, scratchy throats, runny noses, sneezing, headaches, dizziness, and the ensuing confusion that arrives with these symptoms.

It should be noted the ‘Pollen Report’ on the daily news channels is not an exact science, rather it is pitifully antiquated. Particles of pollen are collected in a box on the roof of the Oklahoma Allergy Clinic and counted… that is how the daily information is obtained. It is impossible to imagine how much pollen is traveling about outside the confines of the City, however it is an easy guess that it is considerably more than what is produced in a concrete jungle!

Since it is impossible to avoid pollen, we can simply take an allergy pill, press on, and enjoy this lovely season… Kleenex in hand just in case. And remember to change your pillowcase daily.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Why I litter...

To commemorate the (rather late) protests on Global Warming, I am posting my 'spoof' entitled 'Why I Litter' written in a fit of pique in 2006.

Why I litter
Way back when, before Styrofoam cups, disposable diapers, and bottled water; back when mankind had a glimmer of hope to save the planet, we were encouraged to conserve, recycle, and respect Mother Nature.
*The term Conservative comes from the word conserve, so we considered ourselves conservatives.
Automobiles were built smaller and smaller because it was common knowledge in 1972 that the world would run out of fossil fuel in 2020, which seemed a long time away. The object of buying a car was to pay it off so eventually your use of it was free. Geodesic domes were built as homes. They were round so no corners could trap heat or air so their efficiency rivaled the igloo, after which they were fashioned. Solar panels became the rage, ceiling fans were reintroduced, and both were but minute parts of the Herculean efforts made to conserve… and thus leave the world a better place than we had found it.
I did my part. I never used wasteful paper products, recycled tattered t-shirts as dust rags, even used cloth diapers on my eight children because besides the landfill issues disposable contained formaldehyde… and it would not be allowed to touch their baby skin. When we added rooms to our home, we recycled windows and doors from abandoned houses and when we built our patio, we dug stone from an abandoned quarry. We raised gardens and chickens to help feed ourselves and to teach a proper work ethic to our children. We bought a Jersey and milked our cow, selling the excess to pay for her feed.
We had one land-line telephone, and one antiquated television which only worked sporadically... the knob had long ago vanished so we turned it on with needle nose pliers. I hung the clothes on the line as much to bring the valuable Vitamin D into the home as save electricity. We added blankets to sleep under when it was cold, and used only a sheet when it was hot. The kitchen and washing machine water ran to the orchard so watering it was automatic. We realized that we needed to carefully conserve to save mankind from the devastation of selfishly using everything. It seemed, well…sinful to use it all leaving nothing for those who come after us.
Further, we knew that plants and herbs hidden in the Rain Forest could provide secrets to cure future plagues and we were grateful they were safe in so vast a place they would endure for eons. China and Russia were still sleeping, barely touched by so-called progress, so they remained pristine. We liked that there were Bedouins, East Indians, Aboriginals,Tribes of the Amazon and others who still maintained the culture of their ancestors and we felt a measure of order was provided by this fact. The sight of Buddhist monks raking gravel into intricate patterns or Navajo painters dripping colored sand into magically powdered pictures was inspiring. We even enjoyed an antique term called 'down time'. Down time is when nothing is required of you on an afternoon but cloud watching, taking a nap, or skipping stones while fishing…after you've dug the worms yourself.
Somehow in my absence, in the twenty years from 1975 to 1995 when I was a recluse, the world ran amuck. Maybe it began when men no longer held the door open for women, which happened to me in 1983 when I was nine months pregnant. Or maybe when the computer replaced the hand written sales slip and suddenly two to four full sheets of paper were printed for a $3.00 purchase. Or when casinos slowly filled the scope of land once considered holy, enchanted or spiritual. I'm really not quite sure when it began but it overtook mankind and created a global monstrosity of consumption... the very essence of the planet has been literally sucked dry. The 'new' green technology with all their expensive gadgets that will help save us need not bother… it's really too late now.
I am finally irritated beyond belief that I tried as hard as I could, at great personal inconvenience and sacrifice, to be polite to my fellow human beings and everything else that resides with us here on the planet. It seems I am one of only a handful who has done so; in retrospect I feel like a chump for my efforts.
And so I say Fuck It…
I'll toss my trash as I drive, I'll plug in my cell phone, I'll subscribe to cable and have two TV's running at the same time when no one is in the house. I'll Microwave instead of cook, I'll crank the thermostat up or down at will, make three 12 mile (and useless) trips to town for trivia, take down my clothes line, buy imported food, spray pesticides, fertilize my yard with nitrogen regardless of the water supply… and I'll even buy water regardless of the landfill issues surrounding this latest absurd fad.
I will not be a Conservative anymore… it has become a double-think political oxymoron anyway

Monday, September 22, 2014

Fall Equinox

Fall is Arriving at Last

It is indeed lovely to see the whisper thin winter grasses and tiny seedlings emerging. The leaves are thinning, and soon they will begin to change. A welcome Fall is upon us and these days seem pleasant and restful after the hurried pace of summer. Monday the Fall Equinox quietly arrived. It is one of the four great solar festivals of the year and for a few moments in time, the Earth was balanced equally with both day and night. As the clock tick-tocked the change ensued, and from now until spring each day will bring less light and the darkness will deepen.

For our ancestors who depended upon daylight or candlelight to perform each everyday task, this seasonal change was notable. In days past, when any excuse for a celebration was in order, there were great festivities surrounding this Equinox. In Great Britain the time of the Autumn Equinox was the time of the Feast of Michaelmas, a day to honor the Archangel Michael, the most favored warrior of God. This was a day of feasting, hospitality, forgiveness, and a day for the settling rents and accounts.

In both Greek and Roman mythology the beautiful young daughter of a goddess must reside with the King of the Underworld for this half the year. Her Mother is bereft and the world becomes barren as she mourns her child… when her daughter returns in Spring the land once again comes to verdant life. At this time the ancient Greeks had a Festival dedicated to Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, who had gifted mankind with the art of winemaking. In his honor men of Athens carried vines heavy with grapes as an offering while a Priestess mixed sacred wine with water to be given to the masses from a single cup.

In China Fall Equinox is known as the Moon Festival and celebrates the abundance of the Summer's harvest with moon cake which is filled with lotus, sesame seeds, and dried fruit. In Japan a week of Buddhist services is observed during both the September and March equinoxes. Called Higan, which means ‘other shore’, the September equinox is the time spirits of the dead reach Nirvana and the living visit, clean and decorate their graves in remembrance of them. *Both Fall and Spring Equinox  have been Japanese National Holidays since the Meiji period (1868-1912).

As Fall darkness begins to deepen, our days become cool, and our evenings become sweater-worthy, enjoy these fabulous Fall days… they will pass in but an instant.

*Photo: The change!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Magical Mums


The leaves on the trees are beginning to thin and bright sunlight is flooding the garden again. The tiny self-sown seedlings are emerging and the mornings have become pleasurable. Fall awakens the gardener's soul and we begin to emerge from the lull of late summer as almost overnight the garden becomes a mass of overgrown exuberant final flowers.

It is impossible to escape the lure of the cheerful Chrysanthemum now making her appearance and memories of this extraordinary flower are embedded in the mind of everyone who has ever viewed an autumn garden. They come in many varieties and are best recalled as a staple in your grandmother's perennial beds.

The natural Autumn colors of red, or bronze, golden, and all of the hues between have kept the Mum ever-popular since her introduction in the late 1800’s. They are unfussy, tend to spread freely, and are both hardy and drought tolerant with the added plus of a long life expectancy. Once they become established, they often become wild and leggy by mid-summer and if so they need to be cut back by the Fourth of July to ensure a spectacular show from early September through the month of October.

In Europe the Mum has long been associated with funerals, grave sites, and mourning although I can hardly understand this use for such a cheerful flower. In Asia however the Chrysanthemum is symbolically and decoratively respected and adored with a cult following. For thousands of years the Chinese have celebrated the Double Ninth Festival which occurs on the ninth day of the ninth month and honors longevity. This festival is the final celebration before the rigors of winter sends people to their homes until spring. On this day the Chinese people eat mum cakes, drink mum tea and attend flowering displays of every variety of Chrysanthemum available. This lovely flower is revered in Japan as well where long ago it reached mania status, meaning there was a national obsession with owning, growing, and displaying Mums for status and respect. A person of modest means could advance in society by merely possessing horticultural talents.

The size of the blooms ranges from precious buttons to the large spider or ‘rag-mums’, which are three inches across. As with all popular flowers, hybridization has produced some fantastic varieties, one of which will be perfect for your Fall garden or placed in a charming pot as part a Halloween display. Happy Autumn.

*Photo: Can you see the visitor hiding in my Mums?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Lynx Spider Sequence

I followed my Lynx in the garden for almost a month... from her professional manner of obtaining dinners, to her efforts to build her egg sac, to the birth of her babies and her frantic efforts to build a silken web 'playpen' to corral them. As the little ones grew, she began to lose weight and color. I found her lying on the grass a mere shadow of her former self as the little spidlets began to scamper away in groups of ten to twenty. I'll miss the excitement of checking her daily antics... she was fascinating!


Spidlets Hatched over three days.

The Advent of Fall


The words of Lin Yutang, lovely and poignant, are perfect to reflect upon as summer ends:
 “I like spring, but it is too young. I like summer, but it is too proud. So I like best of all autumn, because its tone is mellower, its colors are richer, and it is tinged with a little sorrow. Its golden richness speaks not of the innocence of spring, not the power of summer, but of the mellowness and kindly wisdom of approaching age. It knows the limitations of life, and it content”.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Repost: The Field Cricket

 The lovely song of the field cricket is heralded this month and its melodic symphony can be heard each evening. Fall is the time for cricket mating and the male, who is the only voice of the cricket, is singing to potential sweethearts. Although the female can not sing, she can hear the song through her ears which are located on her front legs just below her knees.

A shy and reclusive little insect, the cricket rarely makes a public evening appearance until the urgency of mating begins. Following fertilization cricket eggs are deposited in the soil in the autumn soon after the rains begin. They will rest there until time to hatch in the spring; once they are born baby crickets hide during the day. They emerge to eat in the evenings and enjoy grasses, pieces of grain, wool and their favorite snack... book bindings. Apparently the darling cricket will sing, mate, then come inside to eat a good pair of wool pants and a book or two before its life cycle ends.

Photo: An Outdoor Asian Market Selling Cricket Cages

 In China singing crickets are kept as pets in special cages and it is believed they bring a household good fortune... prized specimens fetch amazing prices. In fact the cricket culture in China dates back to the Tang Dynasty from 500 BC to 618 AD. It was during this time the crickets first became respected for their powerful ability to “sing” and a cult formed to capture and cage them. Naturally the obsession escalated and in the Song Dynasty from 960 to 1278 AD the sport “cricket fighting” became popular.

The sport became so popular that China actually produced a Cricket Minister, Jia Shi-Dao who reigned from 1213 to 1275 before being deposed for irresponsibility. Then from 1427 to 1464, a Cricket Emperor, Ming Xuan-Zhong ruled in favor of cricket fighting, making his palace a major tribute to this important insect. Racketeering, gambling, and even suicides were reported over Chinese cricket mania. *This 'mania' was described as a national obsession.

Luckily, the Asian fabric of choice is silk which is unappetizing to crickets for had it been wool the cricket's popularity would have suffered greatly. Years ago I pulled my 'good' white wool, Katherine Hepburn style, very expensive pleated slacks from my closet only to discover one leg was totally destroyed with cricket holes. Now whenever I hear them in the house I track them and gently place them outside to play!  

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Majestic Sunflowers

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.

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.

And of course we have Vincent van Gogh to thank for the most famous Sunflowers… his love affair with them immortalized their beauty in numerous paintings. Plant some today… the birds will thank you!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Talk Dirty to Me

When the foliage in your garden begins to thin, it is a good time to check out the places where some plants have not done as well as others and smell the soil. Everyone who gardens knows that soil is alive and the well-being of your plants depends on the nutrients in your soil. When the children were little I took them to the river, the creek, the fields, and the woods to feel and smell the differences in the soil. Healthy soil has a rich distinctive aroma; soil devoid of nutrients looses this all-telling “dirt smell” and will need some help to regain any strength.

 The texture of dirt depends upon the mineral content in it. Sand has the largest particles that can be seen, silts are very small and clays are microscopic. To acquaint yourself with the smell of healthy soil, go to a spot in your garden under a tree, dig a trowel full and inhale the will smell alive. It has gathered nutrients from the leaves which have fallen and the grass clippings which have been thrown its way. The decomposition which has ensued over time has created a rich, nurturing soil full of nutrients, which is why the forest floor is always occupied.

Since no amount of processed fertilizer can add to the garden what decomposing vegetation can add, remember to toss grass clippings and fallen leaves into the flower beds. Over the winter with rains and snow, they will meld into the garden, disintegrate, and replenish the soil while you are not noticing.... the garden will thank you.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Devil's Claws Love it Hot

The amazing Devil’s Claw, in spite of its sinister name, is perhaps one of the most adaptable and interesting plants native to the Southwest. As the summer heats to boiling, this wildflower begins to flourish… crawling and creeping, producing a sticky deep green foliage and a sweet smelling little flower. Although yellow is the predominate color of the flowers, some species have tinges of crimson in small streaks. Several species will close quickly if touched and this characteristic results in the instant capture of pollen and produces an array of flower colors. Bees will travel long distances to gather their pollen so it must indeed be sweet.

There is a long and colorful history to this plant, which is an important part of our Southwest Native culture. It has been cultivated for hundreds of years for both its fruit, seeds, and pods. Cooked and eaten as a vegetable, the fresh pods are a valuable source of protein and the dried seeds provided it in winter months.

The woody fiber of the dried seed pod is used in Native basket weaving. Prized for its dark color, often claws gathered for basketry were buried to preserve it. The dried capsules are soaked in water and the long, curved claws are split lengthwise into narrow strips which are tightly coiled around bundles of bear grass leaves to produce dark patterns. Since the black color is not a dye, it will last indefinitely and makes a striking contrast with the lighter leaves.

Of course it has medicinal uses as well. In spite of its bitter taste, a tea made from it has been used for hundreds of years to alleviate arthritis, fever, and conditions involving the gallbladder, pancreas, stomach and kidneys. A salve made from oil of the seeds was used for skin conditions.

The strange nature of the mature seed pods give this plant its name. To assure survival this curious plant devised a seed pod which is known as a hitchhiker. The inner woody seed capsule splits open and produces two intricately curved claws which grasp, easily attaching to the leg of any passing animal. Thus attached, as the animal travels, the forty or so seeds will be gradually released as the pod continues to split. Those in our Southwest are among the largest hitchhiker fruits in the world… I am looking at one on my desk as I write.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Darling, daring Dragonflies

This is indeed the year of the dragonfly! They seem to be everywhere and at all hours of the day. Twenty years ago they appeared in great numbers in late afternoon, gracefully hovering in a suspended dance above the meadow. This year they appear in mass by mid-morning and in a stunning array of brilliant colors. Dragonflies are located worldwide and have more than 5,000 described species, 450 of which reside in North America, with Texas alone home to 225 species. Considerably downsized now, a fossilized dragonfly from 250 million years ago had a wingspan of 28 inches.

Dragonfly adults are lovely and graceful, with a sweet head that turns to look at you quizzically with magical eyes. Often brightly colored they have two pair of long, slender, transparent, and highly veined wings. The wings do not fold but are held permanently outstretched even when at rest. Adult dragonflies are usually found near water with a territory which may range several miles. Many males are intensely protective, defending their domain from other males, which may explain sudden aeronautical chases exhibiting extraordinary maneuverability.

A truly beneficial insect from infancy to maturity, dragonflies eat mosquitoes. The immature dragonfly is called a nymphs (or naiads). Nymphs are entirely aquatic and are found on submerged vegetation and the bottom of ponds and marshes where they capture and eat mosquito larvae. The adults seen above the meadows are capturing adult mosquitoes while in flight.

As with all interesting insects, there are many folk tales surrounding the dragonfly. Perhaps due to their unusual and multifaceted eyes, in Norway and Sweden they were said to be sinister works of the Devil. Conversely the Pueblo tribes have endowed them with significant importance. They are said to represent swiftness and activity and to the Navajo pure water. Dragonflies are a common motif in Zuni pottery, Hopi rock art and they appear on many Pueblo necklaces. In Japan they are a symbol of late summer and early autumn and also represent courage, strength, and happiness. They often appear in art, literature, and on Japanese pottery.

Regardless of their artistic and intrinsic importance the fact they will purge the garden of mosquitoes, which seem to be in large abundance this year, makes them an extremely welcome visitor anytime.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Rose of Sharon and the Korean Connection

Summer is always hot and one of the most lovely trees begins flowering as the temperature climbs. The Rose of Sharon, of the Hibiscus family, is a deciduous shrub or tree who adores the heat while tolerating dry spells very well. It may be left as a shrub or pruned to grow as a single-trunk tree of mid height. Of course it has an intricate historical and political history.

Rose of Sharon, a native of Asia, is the national flower of South Korea… its Korean name, ‘mugunghwa‘, means ‘eternal’. The ancient Silla Kingdom that ruled Korea between 75 BCE and 935 AD adopted it as its symbol as did the Joseon Dynasty, which ruled the country between 1392 and 1910. The ancient Chinese referred to Korea as the “the land of gentlemen where mugunghwa blooms” in reference to the flower. It is of such import that it is and it is often portrayed in paintings, on wall murals, and in Korean architectural features.

Prior to liberation from Japanese rule in 1945, Nam Gung-eok, a Korean gentleman and scholar, sent tens of thousands of the small trees from his home to public places throughout the country so they might be planted in ‘hills of Roses of Sharon’. He hoped for them to symbolize Korean optimism and hope, while making the statement the people refused to be subjugated. Naturally he was arrested and sent to prison in what would later be called the "the mugunghwa incident". Following liberation from Japan, the Korean government adopted the hibiscus as their national flower.

Light or little pruning will allow the Rose of Sharon to stay a bushy shrub, blooming profusely with small flowers. To create a single trunk, it must be pruned in late Winter and the result is fewer, yet larger flowers. Varieties have flowers ranging from white to pinks and lavenders… and each will sport the deep crimson of the petal center.

Red hibiscus is often cited as a medicinal curative to lower blood pressure and cool the body while the flower is used as a seasoning and the tuber eaten as a vegetable. It is joyful in full sun and will do well in average soils. Blooming from now until late Fall, their profuse flowers make this shrub a most attractive addition to the garden.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Drought Tolerant

Drought Tolerant Plants
July and August begin our season of sizzle as the garden dries rapidly with the overhead heat. One must prepare for these inevitable conditions by including an array of sun-loving, drought tolerant perennials… and few plants withstand dry conditions as well as the Sedum genus. With over 300 species available, there is one for every garden setting.
Native to regions in the northern hemisphere Sedums are among the most hardy and durable plants, and will endure where all other plants may perish. They are also called Stonecrop for their habit of living almost anywhere including mounds of stone, piles of gravel, even growing well while tucked into chinks in a rock wall. Their plump fleshy leaves are their secret to survival, storing water for the plant to use during extremely dry spells.

Sedum is not susceptible to pests who are repelled by their stout leaves, however butterflies and bees are abundant about the blooms. Easy to propagate, simply break a leaf or stem from the Mother plant, shove it into a hole the size of an index finger, tamp the soil, lightly water, and a new plant will emerge. ‘Autumn Joy’ (pictured) is among the most popular, blooming profusely from the hottest days of Summer until the first freeze.

Another interesting addition to the drought garden is Sempervivum Tectorum, commonly known as Hen and Chicks, which were first recorded by the Greek botanist Theophraste, during the 4th century BC. Grown under identical conditions as the Sedums, this fascinating little plant is a mat-forming succulent that produces clusters of rosettes. The parent rosettes are the ‘hens’ and the smaller rosettes that spring from them are the ‘chicks‘. Children find the habit of producing ‘chicks’ extremely interesting, making it a wonderful lure to the garden.

Both Sempervivum and Sedum are considered ‘Old World Treasures’ and are associated with mythology. The Romans called them ‘Beard of Jupiter’ and planted them on roofs to guard against lightning… Sempervivum tectorum is taken from the Latin ‘tectum‘ which means ‘roof’. This myth spread throughout Europe to Ireland and in Scandinavian countries both plants were called Thor’s Helper’ where they were believed to drive off demons and guard homes if planted on roofs. According to folk wisdom, one may hang sedum on a wall in midsummer and it may foretell the outcome of affairs of the heart. Both are reputed to have the medicinal benefit of an energy boost however today they are best used as ornamentals. As the heat continues to escalate, these plants are indeed garden treasures!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Rain and Raucous Annuals

The storms since last Friday have been magnificent! We have had everything from a gentle afternoon drizzle to fierce nighttime downpours with lightning flashes that lit the sky, claps of thunder, and driving horizontal rain. Saturday night the winds quickly escalated to over 70 miles per hour and through the blazing 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.

For those new to gardening, there is nothing better than planting a bed of annuals which will provide color all summer. Lasting only one season, annuals are fun to play with so plan a not-too-serious ‘theme garden’ this year. Once on a whim, we had a South American themed garden and filled a bed solely with flowers that had a Mexican flair and would attract butterflies. It seems flowers originating in South America have the brightest and deepest colors, the easy habit of drought survival and they all seem to shout Fiesta! We planted Mexican heather, red and yellow Nastursums, deep purple Petunias, scarlet red Chile Pepper Scabiosa, electric blue Salvia, scarlet and deep yellow swirl Zinnias, and anything else that seemed fun. Everything was planted too closely, all with contrasting colors adjacent to each other. The result was a childish intermingling of colors spilling out of the bed by mid-July.

Or perhaps plant a Gothic garden as something to please the family teenagers. There are a variety of ‘dark’ choices to plant. Black Mourning Bride, of the scabiosa family is a perfect choice. A native of the Mediterranean, it has been in Europe since 1629 and grown here since colonial times. Called the pincushion flower and prized by Victorians, it is still used in Portugal and Brazil as a funeral flower. Its showy and fragrant little blossoms last to three weeks when cut making it a prize for the cutting in the garden. Its flowers also attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds further enhancing its continued popularity". Whatever you choose to plant, don’t necessarily follow the rules… simply enjoy the season.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Poisonous Plants... Hiding in Plain Sight

As Summer begins to flourish and outside activities abound it is wise to revisit plant properties know of potential dangers lurking in the garden. Plants have been source of fascination since the beginning of time. They have provided a plethora of benefits to mankind and use of them has evolved over many years. However as all gardeners know, there is a dark side to the plant kingdom and many common plants are extremely toxic causing complaints which range from indigestion, to hallucinogenic visions, and possibly even death.

Many plants contain dangerous compounds which are removed by preparation in a specific manner allowing them to thus be consumed. Our own Poke Weed is toxic unless the leaves are prepared and cooked in a specific manner. The roots, leaves, and flowers of Taro, a wild Elephant Ear, are staple foods in some tropical countries, but they too must all be cooked before eating. Some plants have parts of them which are edible while other parts are toxic. The Rhubarb, used in flavorful jellies and pies, has poisonous leaves but the stalks are not. Almost all flowering bulbs are toxic in some manner so do not allow pets to ingest any of them.

The following plants are listed as fatal, making them of particular import. The lovely Larkspur is so toxic that it was used during the Revolutionary War as a pesticide; soldiers stuffed their boots with it to repel mites and ticks. Oddly, the green berries of the lovely and prolific Lantana are fatal in small doses as are those of the Wisteria, Jasmine and Mistletoe. All parts of the Azalea and Rhododendron plants are deadly as well. The popular house plant Dieffenbachia is called dumb cane for it’s affect on the mouth and throat if ingested. The instant swelling not only renders the individual dumb, but may cause air-blocking swelling. Castor beans are the origin of the deadly ricin, which continues to make the news.

Many traditional plants have become illegal due to their naturally occurring hallucinogenic properties. The exotic Moon Flower is banned in many states and the lovely poppy was confiscated from an elderly lady’s garden in Washington since it is the origin of opium. Salvia Divinorum, an hallucinogen when smoked, was originally used in traditional spiritual practices by the Mazatec people of Mexico and now it too is banned from sale due to non-native use.

There is a simple common sense rule to follow in dealing with the Plant Kingdom: Do not graze in the woods or garden, eating or smoking what abounds, unless it is something that you know and recognize as healthful.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Hollyhocks and Lamb's Ears... Fanciful Favorites.

As time goes by, gardeners are becoming increasingly interested in establishing heirloom varieties in their flower beds. Perhaps it is the nostalgia of remembering Grandmother’s flower beds, or perhaps it is simply that one tires of keeping up with the latest trends. Whatever the reason, heirloom flowers are ‘hot’ this year.

Among the favorites is the ever faithful Hollyhock. Since its arrival from Asia several centuries ago, it has been a staple in both cottage and traditional gardens. A tall, sturdy plant, the charming Hollyhock has a place in every garden. The spires of climbing flowers come in a wide variety of colors which embrace deep purple, all of the pinks to yellow and creamy white. The large, deep green, fuzzy leaves first appear as rosettes and then open to become a pleasing heart shape.

Hollyhocks bloom from June to September providing a summer of beautiful color at the back of the bed. Most bloom the second year better than the first so it is wise to cut back the plant in the fall while keeping a few inches of the stalk. The following year, leaves will emerge robustly in the early spring allowing for flowering to commence ahead of schedule.

Last week I mentioned Lamb’s Ears as an addition to a container. It is quite an extraordinary plant with a history that places it as native to Northern Turkey and Southern Iran where it grows with wild abandon on rocky hills in inhospitable locales. With her adorable silvery-green leaves that are velvety to the touch, this interesting specimen is a truly an eye catcher. This versatile leaf was used during the Civil War as a bandage to staunch the bleeding of wounds and has been famously used by Boy Scouts who are camping in the woods… the leaves are as soft as Charmin and contain no toxins.

Often used in children’s gardens for the tenderness of the leaves which do not bruise, it will happily grow in dry and dusty locations and will thrive in full sun. Lamb's Ear flowers in late spring and early summer with the plants producing tall spike-like stems strewn with small flowers in pale pink, lavender, or white, which may be used in arrangements.

The interest generated by the spectacular leaf properties alone make both the Hollyhock and Lamb’s Ear eye candy in any garden setting. See More

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Natural Pest Control... Beneficial Birds.

Many birds we encourage to settle in the garden perform a most beneficial duty by naturally purging it unwanted pests. Among the most beneficial little birds is the delightful House Wren who has probably made a nest in some odd place close to the house since our scent does not deter them. I am convinced they watch our antics as much as we watch theirs and I imagine they think we are funny indeed. The Wrens come here in the spring and are considered a songbird even though their song is heard only during the nesting season and rarely afterwards. Their variable diet consists entirely of insects, spiders, snails, flies, ticks, plant lice, gypsy moth larvae, ants, and grasshoppers making them a valuable asset to the gardener for natural pest control.

A natural way to curb the nasty mosquito is to encourage the lovely Purple Martin to take up residence in the garden by installing an apartment for them. For several hundred years the Purple Martin has lived almost exclusively in homes provided in backyards, and Native American tribes made homes for them from stacked gourds. This little bird gets all of its food and water while in flight and skims the surface of ponds scooping up mosquito larvae in its lower bill. Watching the acrobatic skill of these darting blue/black birds one finds it amazing they never collide. Each Purple Martin can eat over 10,000 mosquitoes a day, making them first class super heroes.

The Mississippi Kite Hawks have come back and may be seen soaring high, smoothly floating on air currents. Their alternate name is the Mosquito Hawk for they are able catch and eat insects while airborne. Pairs come here to nest each year and their nest is built high in the tree tops for safety; the brood usually consists of two, who are raised by both parents. Kites not exactly friendly and are extremely protective of their young… they have a reputation for fearlessly ‘dive bombing’ people who venture too close to their nests. Regardless of their ill temper, the Kite is a truly beneficial bird for insect control. Simply remember not to intrude upon their 'personal space'.

It is indeed part of a divine plan that Nature has bequeathed us with interesting and colorful feathered friends who not only entertain us their with songs, delight us with their antics, but also protect us from predatory insects which arrive every spring to torment the gardener. Insects and mosquitoes beware… our friends are on the prowl.

Monday, April 21, 2014

An Easter Story

Easter week about 20 years ago, I decided to advertise a Chambers stove I had purchased at auction for $3. No one had placed a bid because no one wanted to move it and Michael wasn’t pleased I bought it. It was residing in the hay barn across the creek and so it was time it had a home. I figured $125 would be a dandy return on my investment so I advertised it in the Daily Oklahoma.

I got a call on Saturday and a lady wanted to come see it on Easter Sunday if it was not too inconvenient. Dinner here was scheduled for one thirty so I told her anytime before noon would be fine.

Virginia arrived and she was a sweet lady in her early fifties, a grand motherly type and as we walked to the hay barn I heard her rather sad story. Her husband of 20 odd years had left her for a younger woman and she was attempting to put her life back together. They were childless, her mother had passed and she was alone but she had bought a small house near OCU where she could see the bustle of students everyday. She wanted the stove since she had grown up with one exactly like it in happier times and she said she would arrange to pick it up later in the week.

Oh my… I had not expected such a story and it pulled at my heart strings. I couldn’t fix her life, but I could fix her Easter so of course I invited her to stay for dinner. Virginia hesitated for a minute so I suggested I could certainly use the help. (The children were busy swinging from tree tops after way too much sugar and so they needed to stay outside!)

She accepted and got into the swing of things immediately as she followed me into the kitchen. We got out the Haviland and she set the table; we whipped mashed potatoes, buttered rolls, and filled Grandmother’s crystal water glasses. We sliced the roast, tossed the salad and by the time dinner rolled around, we were fast friends. I settled her next to me at the table and we had a lovely meal. Virginia joined the conversations and laughed at the delightful antics of the children… she enjoyed herself immensely.

As Michael, the children and I walked her to the gate and waved goodbye, the kids looked at me quizzically and asked, “Mom, who was that lady?” 

*Footnote: I gave her the stove and had my sons deliver it and put it in her house. She married again and move to another state. It is a happy ending!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Down-Time in the Garden

With the world spinning very quickly these days, it is more important than ever to seek some harmonic softeners in some aspect of daily life. The escalation of current technology has become mind-boggling when one considers that only 100 years ago the main duty of School Boards in rural Oklahoma was to provide hay for the children’s horses and fire wood for the stoves. Now more than ever the peaceful expanse of the garden is not only desirable, but a necessary means to keep one grounded. Whether you are six or sixty, there is no pastime more joyful than playing in the dirt so this spring plan on some serious down-time in the garden.

Nature endowed the earliest spring bloomers with the sweetest scents and the Viburnum is no exception. Of course we have the Asians to thank for the sweet spicy scent; our native Viburnum do not possess the spellbinding aroma. A member of the Honeysuckle family, Viburnum are seen all across North America, in Europe and all of Asia, making them a naturalized global sensation. And their early arrival makes them one of the first seasonal feasts to lure the bees.

The Viburnum is a small tree with easy growing habits that has been a garden necessity since the early 1900’s. The Korean Spice has lovely white or pink flower clusters which appear before all of the dark and heavily ribbed leaves have matured. Their scent is sweetly enchanting, almost delicious, as it wafts through the garden carried by the breezes. And their show does not end after flowering; the flowers become berries prized by birds and the foliage turns a lovely dusty red in the fall.

Summer Snowflake is another fantastic Viburnum. Although not as fragrant as the Korean Spice, it blooms several weeks later and has the most lovely drifting layers… as though it is wearing white lace petticoats peeking from under a deep green dress. Both species are spectacular additions to the garden and promise years of carefree beauty.

The early grasses have arrived as well and the tender lush carpet is calling for bare feet to ‘feel’ the first sign of spring. If you do not have a baby of your own, borrow one and be the first to remove booties and let tiny feet feel green grass for the first time. Crinkling baby toes, gingerly curling, opening and closing, surprised and curious… the gift of a first garden experience is joyful to behold! 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Time to Trim and Transplant Roses

Now is the time to check the location of your roses to assure they are getting enough sun. Often a lack-luster rose will flourish when moved to a new place in the garden. 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 anything, mark the north side of the plant with a string or piece of cloth. After it is dug, place it in the same direction and it will adjust to new surroundings far more rapidly and with greater success than if it is planted in an opposing direction. Additionally, it is unwise to apply fertilizer to newly transplanted specimens. They need time to adjust to new surroundings and must rest a bit before doing much growing. To give fertilizer to a recent transplant is akin to giving a man in ICU a three course dinner… it is not a good idea.


After choosing a new location dig the hole and I have found it must be larger than you think it needs to be… three times the size of the root ball. Make a small mound in the center of the new hole to prevent air pockets from forming as you plant. To enable you to move the transplant easily perhaps give it a good soaking several days before the dig and try to choose an overcast day when rain is predicted.

Dig around the transplant, 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.


For roses, place it slightly higher in the hole as it will settle several inches after planted. The bud system should therefore be an inch 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, which will bubble up. Lastly prune the spindly growth leaving good strong canes and prepare to enjoy the show later in the season!

Monday, March 17, 2014

St. Patrick, The Shamrock, and Oxalis

Pink Oxalis

Spring is ushered in on March 20th with the Vernal Equinox...that brief moment in time when there are equal parts of both day and night. However it was also welcomed with the celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day on March 17th . Those of Irish heritage celebrate his saint’s day by wearing a shamrock, planting their potatoes, and possibly imbibing large quantities of alcohol.

Saint Patrick was born a pagan in Wales in 387 and died a Christian in 461. His rock-star status continues to this day with celebrations which have surpassed the Catholic faith and become secular. Saint Patrick converted the pagan Celts to Christianity and was adept at using their sacred beliefs and symbols to describe Christian concepts... thus he used the magical shamrock to clarify the trinity. Using the tri-leaf of the clover he explained that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were each separate entities but, as the stem suggests, all part of the whole. Early converts adopted the custom of wearing a shamrock as a sign of their faith.

When the English began confiscating Irish lands, outlawing Catholism and the Celtic language in the 17th century, the shamrock became a symbol of rebellion and soon wearing a shamrock became a crime punishable by hanging. However the Irish immigrants to America suffered no such persecution and in 1737 the residents of Boston celebrated the first Saint Patrick’s day with public celebrations, parades, and pub parties.

Times do change so by the early 1900’s Queen Victoria had instructed all Irish soldiers to wear a shamrock on St. Patrick’s Day in memory of the soldiers who died in the Boer War… a custom which continues today. Additionally the Shamrock is the registered trademark of the Republic of Ireland and appears in the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and on a seemingly endless array of logos which include race horses and sporting teams.

In March the lovely oxalis, the largest genus of the wood-sorrel family, appears in the garden… calling to Irish descendants to remember their heritage. My twenty year old friend, a lovely pink, still blooms faithfully from spring throughout the summer and will rebloom in fall if cut back in August. For something new perhaps add a purple leaf with her halo of pale pink flowers that drift above the striking foliage… surely a stunning focal point for any garden.

They adore the shade, tolerate the heat, and even refuse to wilt if not watered regularly. Oxalis will reward the gardener with their easy-going nature and long life expectancy... happily, they will be permanent residents of the garden for many, many years.

Oxalis is in the center of the bed... a pale pink profusion of miniature flowers.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Teach the Children to Garden

My Julia wearing her Cicada friend as a broach! 
Sunday the geese could be heard in the distant sky, honking in tandem as they began their migratory flight to the North. If one looked carefully, they could be seen as small dots flying in their familiar V pattern. They are a sign that Spring is planning a magnificent  entrance very soon.

Although growing vegetables is standard for old timers, it is never too late to begin to teach the next generation the value of fresh home-grown produce. Since most vegetables have a high content of water, are low in calories, and contain valuable vitamins and minerals children would greatly benefit from eating fresh from the garden. Planting a seed, watching it sprout and form something edible, is exciting for young children. And when you add sunshine, fresh air, and exercise the gardening provides every benefit necessary for healthy growth. Plus children are fascinated to observe, identify, and learn about 'good and bad' bugs and spiders. (Rolly Pollies are irresistible.)

 Children love to graze as they wander through the garden so plant some early English peas which are 81% water and contain ½ the recommended dosage of Vitamin A. It is also fun to open the six pack of baby peas. The Radish is also favorite to plant and tolerates the cold well. Called ‘quick grows’ by my children, they mature so rapidly that childish interest never wanes from day to day. High in Vitamin C and iron, low in calories, they are often over looked as part of today’s garden. Later in the season a few scattered cherry tomatoes are an easy snack and provide 57% of the recommended dosage of Vitamin C, ¼ of Vitamin A, ½ of Iron. They contain lycopenes, believed to be a powerful antitoxin and cancer preventative. 

Whatever you choose plant remember the basic rules for planting by the Moon. Plant below ground crops such as carrots, radishes, turnips, and onions when the Moon has waned since they mature in the darkness. Plant above ground crops like lettuce, cabbage, peas, beans, and spinach when the Moon is full since they enjoy basking in the heavenly light from above. Happy Spring!

Children connect with Nature in an amazing way... and often garden finds will give everyone a giggle.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Nature's Antibiotics

(Yes, even dandelions are medicinal)

As we continue to break all weather records, let us recall the wonder of winter today. Our forefather braved elements such as these without central heat, electricity or grocery stores. It has not seemed so cold since the terrible lingering winter storms of 1986 with weeks of ice and snow through January into February. I remember it because my sister was visiting with my two small nieces…being house bound with eight children under the age of nine is unforgettable!

With temperature fluctuations of 50 degrees or more within a two week span, about now it would be wise to look to nature to boost the immune system. Until the advent of antibiotics, Nature provided all the ingredients to insure survival and health for the inhabitants of the planet. Here in North America our own Native Americans survived severely harsh conditions with an intricate knowledge of healthful foods. The Plains Indians ate as they nomadically traveled and the Apache alone had over 200 items in the yearly diet. Much of what they “found” along their path was both nutritional and medicinal.

An example of one of their naturally occurring health boosters are the Rose Hips found on wild bushes from Texas to North Dakota. Rose hips have long been a valuable source of Vitamin C, which easily boosts the immune system. The hips are the berries formed on the rose following flowering and contain as much ascorbic acid as an orange. In fact the portion of the orange containing the most health benefits is the bitter white inside the rind that most people discard. During WWII the federal government recommended that citizens add rose hips to their stews as a vegetable and recommended brewing it as a tea for the health benefits.

 Another valuable immune boosting plant is the Echinacea. Results of archaeological digs indicate that Native Americans have used this marvelous plant for over 400 years. It was used to treat everything including infections, wounds, scarlet fever, blood poisoning, and diphtheria. Considered a valuable cure-all for hundreds of years, its popularity declined with the advent of antibiotics. Today Echinacea is used to reduce the symptoms and duration of the common cold or flu, and the symptoms which accompany them such as sore throat, cough and fever.

Starting in 2004, the medical community began reporting that antibiotics no longer work; our systems are saturated with them. They arrive in our bodies from consuming milk and meat from cattle that are overly medicated, eggs from chickens that receive a daily dose, and so forth. I consider this medical warning a strong indication that we best seek natural cures that have been around for eons. Nature contains an arsenal of plants and herbs that were put here for us to use… easily obtainable plants that kept our ancestors alive and well.