Monday, August 31, 2015

The year of the Pear (Preserve recipe as well)

Fall is fantastic for many reasons, one being the ripening of fruit. Among the favorites are pears… one of the oldest fruits in cultivation and second in popularity only to the apple. A hardy Pear tree may live up to 100 years and this seems to be one very special year… they are literally bough-breaking with sumptuous fruit.

Charlemagne (742–814) the ruler of the Franks is credited with establishing the first collection of pears in France however dried slices have been unearthed in Swiss cave dwellings of the Ice Age, making it prehistoric in Europe. In Asia, the culture of the pear goes back 2500–3000 years where it is chronicled in Chinese writings as a delicacy for the wealthy.

In Greece, Homer’s 9th century Odyssey mentions the pear as “the splendid gift of the gods” and Roman conquerors carried pear seeds on their quests. The Britons, who managed to make an alcoholic beverage of anything that fermented, developed a drink from them called Perry… and since they winter well, pears were used as feed for livestock. Taken to the Americas for this purpose, they traveled with Lewis and Clark to the Pacific Northwest where they still flourish. The state of Oregon named the pear as its Official State Fruit and the USDA recognizes it by declaring the month of December as National Pear Month.

During Japanese Edo period (1603–1867) pears were considered a talisman and were commonly found on the corners of properties to ward off misfortune. It was believed the Northeastern corner was the ‘Devil’s quarter’ where a demon could enter and thus were a gate necessary there, two pear trees were planted on either side of it as protection. In Korea, the pear flower is found on the crest of the ancient Lee dynasty.

After harvesting slightly unripe fruit, handle them carefully since they tend to bruise easily. For immediate use, place them in a paper sack to hasten ripening as the paper will control the natural humidity produced by the fruit. The odd pear/paper relationship is the reason those pears wrapped, placed in boxes, and mailed at Christmas time arrive perfectly ripened. With this in mind, wrap pears in newspaper and place them in a cool root cellar where ripening will be arrested until they are brought to the house and warmed.

The versatile and delicate flavor of pears enhance every dish from appetizers, to entrees, and desserts… they are also delicious as a snack. A bumper crop such as this may not appear again for many years, so enjoy some today!

My Grandmother made Pear preserves, using the lemon peel, not the entire lemon.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Fascinating Facts About Fruit Flies

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 with the fall harvest they hover about any piece of fruit in a small swarm... jiggling a ripe tomato will cause fruit fly panic. Thankfully they do not bite.

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. The 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... it appears as older 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 can become annoying, especially if you accidentally drink some with your apple juice.

Fruit flies and wine and beer makers have had a mutually beneficial relationship for millions of years. Since yeast is living, yet immobile, fruit flies have the ability land on yeast then transport microbes on their feet that activate it as they land on a batch which is forming. Although machines have been used for this task for years, bioengineer Kevin Verstrepen and his team support a new trend in beer making called ’wild fermentation’. With its fabulous sense of smell, the fruit fly is drawn to the best and sweetest yeast, disregarding bland and non-fruity yeast. Verstrepen believes, ‘It is the first smell-based collaboration’ observed in nature, which is a rarity indeed. The selections of the fly are considered far superior to those selected by mankind and so once again the lowly fruit fly has made a valuable contribution to science.

However if one is not making beer and wish to eliminate them from the kitchen, toss all over ripened fruit and set a bowl of vinegar as a trap for them.... a small jar with vinegar and a plastic wrap 'lid' with several slits in it will work. They get in but can't get out. The season for them is short and they will disappear as quickly as they appeared with the first freeze.
*Tip: If leaving the room, put a coaster over your juice!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Enormous Elephant Ears

By the time you receive the paper we will be experiencing a marvelous cool wave. It is reported that the temperatures will reach the mid-seventies as a high on Wednesday… a singular delight and a true sign Fall is in the air.

This year the Elephant Ears appear to be the most robust many Summers and are providing a marvelous show. The amazing Elephant Ear (of the Colocasia family) has been in cultivation for over 28,000 years and because of this the exact origin of the plant has been lost. It has long been a major food crop in the warm climates of India, China, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Polynesia, Africa, and South America. All parts of the plant are edible if they are thoroughly steamed or boiled to remove toxic calcium oxalate crystals. Anyone who has attended a traditional Hawaiian luau has eaten the cooked leaves and the corms are mashed into the popular poi.

Our bulbs were purchased at a popular nursery and planted once the soil had reached about 70 degrees. Planted the brick trough against the house facing North, they receive three hours of midday sun but are shaded by the entry for the rest of the day. Watering is paramount for growth so remember to water before wilt occurs, possibly three times a week.

The bulbs slept quietly for a bit then began to emerge with vigor with the first tender leaves followed by new ones each day. They seem to grow in breadth and height overnight, with many leaves over three feet in diameter … and still growing.

Rajah, the Peacock, enjoys their shade as he admires the handsome fellow he sees mirrored in the glass door… not the sharpest tool in the shed, he has no idea it is his own reflection.

It is wise to save the bulbs as they have adapted to your soil and will grow in size each year, eventually reaching the size of a basketball. Dig them following the first light frost that nips the leaves leaving about six inches at the top of each bulb, removing all the small tendrils which have grown over the season. After dusting off the soil, place them in dry peat moss in a closet or under a bed for about a month. Once they are completely dry, place them in a cool spot not subject to a freeze so they will remain dormant over the winter. Plant them again in the Spring for they provide a wonderful reason to rush to the garden each morning in August!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Frogs and Toads... Notable Differences

We have the rain to thank for the resurgence of the frogs and toads with every kind seemingly everywhere this year. The last time they were seen in such great numbers was 1993 when they appeared after the spring flooding along with hundreds of tiny painted turtles.

(Mr. Toad has lived here 25 years.)


Earliest fossils indicate frogs existed 125 million years ago… they are a mirror of the environment and a treasure. Sadly frog populations have declined dramatically since the 1950’s with more than one third of the species believed to be threatened with extinction and more than 120 species already suspected to be extinct since 1980. Their skin must remain moist so oxygen which is dissolved in an aqueous external body-film may pass into their bloodstream… this process may mainstream toxins, which are believed to be the source of their decline. Also their eggs are subject to water pollution and they have adapted no protection from man-made poisons.

The frog is a true amphibian… frog eggs are fertilized and laid in the water and it is in the pond that young hatch and begin to morph. They appear first as tadpoles then gradually change into young frogs by losing their tail, losing their gills, developing lungs, and finally developing their fabulous hind legs, which are more suited for leaping than hopping. They eat mosquito larva, so cultivating their acquaintance is a garden must.

There are differences between frogs and toads; the toad has adapted far better than his cousin the frog. The toad is not particular about laying eggs so she may lay eggs in a standing puddle… the puddles this year were perfect. A toad is not dependant upon water, has warty skin, a shorter more muscular face and short hind legs well suited for hopping.

Toads do not migrate but rather burrow into the garden to hibernate with some living up to 40 years. The toad has developed survival tactics against predators which the sleek frog lacks. A toad may inflate his body, play dead, or secrete an unpleasant tasting chemical through a gland behind his eyes. A dog who has the perchance for catching toads will begin to foam at the mouth for his efforts… the canine will usually drop the toad upon contact.  

 It is a myth that toads may pass their warts to humans; the warts belong to them alone. The hundreds of tiny toadlets hiding among the flowers, uttering their adorable squeak when surprised, are harmless and make marvelous playmates for the day… remember to release them by evening.

Baby Toads from a puddle

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Promise of Summer Performance

As the garden was winding down last fall, I noted the plants that were performing valiantly and planned to include them again this year. Fortunately some had saved their show for the end of the season, indicating perhaps the best had been saved for last. The colors of the late bloomers seemed deeper and more vibrant... as though the stressful conditions of the Summer heat gave them an extra boost. Annuals that appear their best when it is so hot mirages appear in the distance include the lovely Morning Glory and the cheerful Zinnia. And for a blooming tree, the Crape Myrtles must be included for they provide an excellent show from mid summer until frost.

The magnificent Morning Glories seen climbing a pole, tumbling over a trellis, or creeping along a fence reach their zenith in the heat of Summer. Ever popular, the traditional blue has been joined by a vast array of colors and now include triple stripped cream and burgundy. They require full sun, are extremely drought tolerant and will provide glorious beauty until frost.

The ever popular Zinnia is another annual which is quite prolific in harsh conditions. A member of the Aster family of plants originating in Mexico, they come in single, double, ruffles, or pompon and their joyous colors certainly remind one of a fiesta. They are easy to grow from seed, attract butterflies, require little care and will freely bloom all season until frost.

The delightful Crape Myrtle gives a full show of fuchsia, crimson or white flowers which provide a glorious show in July. Her blooms arrive in clouds of clusters which exude an exotic look. The deeply ruffled flowers, each almost a quarter of an inch and complete unto itself, are bunched in gorgeous tapering cascades which literally cover the tree. Additionally the bark is most unusual, curling and peeling in various beige and taupe colors.

If the spent blooms and about six to eight inches of the wood above them are cut following first bloom, the Crape Myrtle will bloom again in late August. Originating in China, the Red Crape Myrtle was first introduced to the South in 1747 where it thrived in their moderate winters, gracing both mansions and farmhouses. In 1950 a cold-hardy Japanese Crape Myrtle arrived, placing the tree on the national agenda. It has a resistance to powdery mildew and few natural enemies… and with dwarf varieties available for pots or small spaces, it is suitable guest for every garden.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Flowers From Daddy... Amaryllis Belladonna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 13, 2015

Science and the Plant Kingdom

The Plant Kingdom is highly complex and has been the subject of mystical intrigue since the beginning of time. As with any stationary object, plants must develop an internal ability to protect themselves from all manner of assaults, be it atmospheric or predatory. Part of their intrigue is their ability to adapt; plants sprayed with Roundup will become resistant to it in five generations.

In the mid seventies, scientists were conducting studies on plants by attaching electrodes to them and measuring the plant reactions. The initial study was to see how the plants reacted to various conditions such as certain plant food, lack of food, or drought. However the experiment took a drastic turn when one scientists noted the needle went crazy when a particular scientist entered the room… the plants were practically shaking in their pots, terrified of her. Research discovered she chose to cremate her subjects following her experiments, tossing them into an incinerator as the others watched. It became proven scientific knowledge that plants had feelings and the ability to think.

Following this information a movement ensued...  talking to your plants would ensure happiness and healthy growth. It is the reason I still say ‘excuse me’ if I brush to harshly by a bush. As with all movements, this one fell out of favor as large companies altered the genetic make up of plants, thus altering many of their abilities.

Scientific data of plant abilities is currently featured in Horticulture Magazine as a new generation rediscovers the magical mysteries of the Plant Kingdom. Using new technology Dr. Heidi Appel and Dr. Rex Crocroft at the University of Missouri, recorded the sound of caterpillars chewing on leaves and devised a system to test if plants had any reaction to it.

Using a members of the cabbage family, they exposed one plant to the recording, another was not so fortunate. When the caterpillar was introduced in person, the cabbage exposed to the recording had already produced unpleasant tasting immunities that repelled the caterpillar. The other plant had not built immunities and lost most of her leaves to the voracious caterpillar. They further noted the plants knew the sound of a predator in contrast to other ’noises’ such as wind or crickets. They claim their work is the first to clearly illustrate plants response to vibrations. 

Even though it is terribly hot, perhaps stroll about the garden patting and praising all of the inhabitants dwelling there… they will thank you.

*The poor Dahlia in the photo missed the memo....

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Farm House Kids in the Movie Rain Man... They're Mine

The Rain Man Story

My friend Phyllis Mashaney called me at 5:45 in the evening to say a casting director for a movie had been in town auditioning the kids at school all day. She said they were looking for kids and pickups that were needed to drive by a house… they were going to film in Hinton. She told me they had taken videos of her girls Carrie and Megan and then laughed and said it was too bad my home schoolers hadn’t been able to audition… auditions closed at six. Never a slacker, I sprang into action… it is an eight minute drive to town and I was determined to make it!

I had been getting dinner so I turned everything off, hastily grabbed baby Lize, and rushed outside yelling to the kids to get to the car… hurry, hurry, hurry! Everyone piled in, some without shoes, some who had been in the sand pile had dirt on their faces and no one was clean. The tone of my voice had caused instant mood elevation, so they were bobbing up and down all over the station wagon as Michael sped to town.

When we got to the school auditorium, the production crew packing up equipment. Oh no…auditions were over. Never mind… I hustled the kids inside the auditorium and asked the lady at the desk if it was too late to sign up for anything. She glanced at the casting director, precious Marie Rowe, and Marie nodded we could sign up so I began to fill out paperwork while my kids went nuts, running around ‘testing’ anything that was not tied down. Marshall was carrying baby Andrew at a dead run so I had to stop several times to try and save the baby. I tried to wipe the dirt off Peter’s face as he ran by and wished I’d had time to find their shoes and wash their hands. Please don’t climb on that I‘d had to caution, don’t run with that pencil, leave that electrical cord alone! I felt we made a dubious impression. Marie visited with me and the children, took pictures since the video equipment had been packed, I signed up our old truck, and we left.

Several weeks later I got a call from her that they had chosen my children to be the ‘farm house kids’ in the movie. The script had called for two brunettes, but they had rewritten the script to use all six of our sons; she had issued a press release. I was stunned… I just sat there in disbelief. I called my Dad and Michael’s parents. Daddy was happy, but Michael’s Dad didn’t believe me so I decided to call the Daily Oklahoman newspaper to see it they knew anything. They told me ‘front page tomorrow’. And then the phone began to ring… tv stations, radio stations, newspaper interviews. Marshall, who was 12, called a friend and said he was going to be in a movie ‘with Tom Cruise and some old guy‘… my children had never even been to a movie and seldom watched television so their references were hazy.

Marie had interviewed thousands of kids, most had parents with high hopes for their budding careers, but they were looking for farm kids, which is exactly what we had. Their naiveté was probably the key to my kids being chosen.

Beth Grant, the mother in the scene, came over to meet the children before filming and told them she was their mother in the movie. John, who had just turned 8, whispered to me ‘Is she really my Mother‘ so confusion reigned that day. The next day, amid a flurry of calls from people wanting interviews, a huge black limo picked us up and took us to the house where we would spend three days filming.

*Filming is another story.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Tomato Time

This 1996 harvest was from ten tomato plants... enough to share with the Jesus House.

For almost a decade now tomato harvests have been lackluster to say the least. I can remember when a tomato plant tossed anywhere in the garden would flourish, producing an over abundance of fruit all summer. There were no requirements or procedures to ‘baby’ fussy plants… they were tough and hardy. Planted in several three week successions, one could expect tomatoes from June until October and first frost. And as Autumn arrived, the last green tomatoes were collected for relish or wrapped in newspaper and allowed to slowly ripen for an extension of the season.

Originating in South America, tomatoes were prized by the Aztecs as early as 700 AD. They were brought to Europe from the Americas by Conquistadors in the early 1600’s but were considered poison by the wealthy. Unfortunately, the flatware and plates of that time were made of lead based pewter and the acidic tomato caused the lead to leach from their dinnerware to the fruit. When it was eaten, the victims died of lead poisoning… a very unpleasant way to go. Peasants had no such finery in their kitchens and ate from wooden plates with wooden spoons. Thus the tomato was relegated as a food of the lower classes where it was widely accepted as a staple. Not until the 1800’s did the upper classes begin to embrace the tomato. By the time of the Civil War, the tomato was at last accepted throughout the south as a garden and dietary staple.

Americans eat over 12 million tons of tomatoes each year, making it one of the most popular items on our menu. Throughout the United States, tomato harvests have been declining for several years now. Last summer the Farmer’s Market in Oklahoma City said due to the erratic weather their suppliers in Texas had very few to ship. And elsewhere yields have been down, with many home gardens producing only several dozen instead of the bushels that were collected in the past.

There are factors which need to be considered but the current list of illnesses the tomato plant may have seems a bit ridiculous. It includes leaf roll, blossom end rot, sunscald cracks, and cat face ad others. Various sites call for a laundry list of exhaustive remedies… all for a plant that was at one time so hardy it originated in Mexico!

The weather may truly be a factor according to new guidelines for growing tomatoes. It is reported that tomato plants like daytime temperatures between 70 and 85 degrees. Accordingly, our summer temperatures are entirely too hot for the hybrid tomatoes that have been recently introduced. In hybridizing the tomato for growers in cooler climates, they have genetically altered the original requirements of the plant... previously tomatoes liked it hot and dry.

For our climate, perhaps purchase some heirloom seeds and begin the plants on a sunny window sill three to four weeks before planning to plant them outside. And maybe, just maybe the old tomato seeds will remember their genetic make up and produce as they did in the past. There is nothing more tasteful to the palate than a warm, freshly picked, sun-ripened tomato. I miss them!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Epilogue to Balzac's Succubus... Advice for Turbulent Times

Epilogue to Balzac’s Succubus
Good Advice for Anytime... Lest you lose your head.

"I quitted the service of the church, and espoused your.

mother, from whom I received infinite blessings, and with

whom I shared my life, my goods, my soul, and all. And she

agreed with me in following precepts —

Firstly, that to live happily, it is necessary to keep far away from church people,

to honour them much without giving them leave to enter

your house, any more than to those who by right, just or

unjust, are supposed to be superior to us.

Secondly, to take a modest condition, and to keep oneself in it without wishing

to appear in any way rich. To have a care to excite no envy,

nor strike any onesoever in any manner, because it is needful

to be as strong as an oak, which kills the plants at its feet, to

crush envious heads, and even then would one succumb,

since human oaks are especially rare and that none of our family

should flatter himself that he is one, granting

that he be one of us.

Thirdly, never to spend more than one quarter of one's income, conceal one's wealth, hide

one's goods and chattels, to undertake no office, to go to

church like other people, and always keep one's thoughts to

oneself, seeing that they belong to you and not to others,

who twist them about, turn them after their own fashion,

and make calumnies therefrom.

Fourthly, always to remain in the condition of our family business, who are now and

forever drapers. To marry your daughters to good drapers,

send your sons to be drapers in other towns of France furnished

with these wise precepts, and to bring them up to the

honour of drapery, and without leaving any dream of ambition

in their minds. A draper like a Tournebouche should be

their glory, their arms, their name, their motto, their life.

Thus by being always drapers, they will be always

Tournebouches, and rub on like the good little insects, who

once lodged in the beam, made their dens, and go on with

security to the end of their ball of thread.

Fifthly never to speak any other language than that of drapery, and never to

dispute concerning religion or government. And even though

the government of the state, the province, religion, and God

turn about, or have a fancy to go to the right or to the left,

always in your quality of Tournebouche, stick to your cloth.

Thus unnoticed by the others of the town, the Tournebouches

will live in peace with their little Tournebouches—paying

the tithes and taxes, and all that they are required by force to

give, be it to God, or to the king, to the town of to the

parish, with all of whom it is unwise to struggle. Also it is

necessary to keep the patrimonial treasure, to have peace and

to buy peace, never to owe anything, to have corn in the

house, and enjoy yourselves with the doors and windows


"By this means none will take from the Tournebouches,

neither the state, nor the Church, nor the Lords, to whom

should the case be that force is employed, you will lend a few

crowns without cherishing the idea of ever seeing him again—

I mean the crowns.

"Thus, in all seasons people will love the Tournebouches,

will mock the Tournebouches as poor people—as the slow

Tournebouches, as Tournebouches of no understanding. Let

the know-nothings say on. The Tournebouches will neither

be burned nor hanged, to the advantage of King or Church,

or other people; and the wise Tournebouches will have secretly

money in their pockets, and joy in their houses, hidden

from all.

"Now, my dear son, follow this the counsel of a modest

and middle-class life. Maintain this in thy family as a county

charter; and when you die, let your successor maintain it as

the sacred gospel of the Tournebouches, until God wills it

that there be no longer Tournebouches in this world."

*This letter has been found at the time of the inventory

made in the house of Francois Tournebouche, lord of Veretz,

chancellor to Monseigneur the Dauphin, and condemned at

the time of the rebellion of the said lord against the King to

lose his head, and have all his goods confiscated by order of

the Parliament of Paris. The said letter has been handed to

the Governor of Touraine as an historical curiosity, and joined

to the pieces of the process in the archbishopric of Tours.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Solstice and Sedums

Summer Solstice arrived last Sunday ushering in Summer amid global celebrations. The longest day of the year, Solstice occurs when both sunrise and sunset occur respectively at the earliest and the latest time during the year. At noon the Sun was in perfect balance directly overhead and your shadow was not be visible at all. Those who are in tune with nature felt the Solstice and in spite of the heat, childhood memories of cloud watching, gentle breezes, and a walk while listening to the drone of Cicadas were recalled.

 As Summer continues with our traditional heat Sedums become a much cherished addition to the garden. They appear in almost every imaginable shape and form from Aloe to Cacti with their plump water filled leaves the only similarity. There are over 400 species of Sedums and those unique fleshy leaves are their secret to survival as they store water to use during extremely dry spells. These no-fuss gems are sturdy and dependable, needing only well drained soil and full sunlight. The Sedum is not susceptible to pests who are repelled by their stout leaves, preferring more tender foliage, 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 for a week, and it will start a new plant. Part of this amazing club is the all time favorite Moss-rose, Purslane, or Portulaca, which are one in the same. They may have either thin spiky leaves or small rounded leaves and flowers open each day from about ten to four. This low growing little plant will faithfully spread and flower from spring to frost.

Purslane was first introduced by to the Northern Hemisphere by Dr. John Gillies in the 1820s and immediately became wildly popular. Gillies had discovered plants near the Argentine Pampas and wrote “they grew in great profusion, giving to the ground over which they were spread a rich purple hue, here and there marked with spots of an orange color“. Further scientific development gave us additional colors and today and this precious little flower is available in the entire spectrum of colors, with sweet traditional or darling double flowers. Since they like it hot, it is the perfect time to add a few to the garden.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Fabulous Fireflies

The Strawberry Moon visible in the night sky has absolutely sensational, lighting the landscape making objects appear lovely and luminous. Our days may have become exceptionally hot but we are allowed compensation by our nights, which are something marvelous to behold. Besides allowing us to move about without the overhead heat, the night emerges with a singular life unto itself. If we venture out after twilight, one may enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds which belong only to the summer night. The melodic song of the Cicada, which sings when the temperature is about ninety, dies down as the evening cooling begins with dusk. Suddenly the fireflies appear, magically twinkling and lighting the darkness.

The firefly is a type of flying beetle that glows in the dark with tiny sparks of white fire. This wonderful insect appears in summer and only warm climates. Their abdomens contain five chemicals adenosine, triphosphate, luciferin, oxygen, magnesium, and luciferase which are bound by a chemical controller. As nerve stimulations release another chemical, inorganic pyrophosphate, the bond breaks and the reaction creates the light. Seconds later the light diminishes as another chemical destroys the combination. Since fireflies are one of the few insects that use vision to find a mate… male fireflies are drawn to true love by following the ladies flashing light.

Although they exist all over the world, many fireflies do not have wings. In Europe the female is called the glowworm because she simply sits in iridescent splendor. In Cuba, the beetle is rather large and has been used for centuries as a decoration. Women attach the beetle to their gowns or place one on a special golden chain as an ornament… and who wouldn‘t want such an interesting brooch.

An entire cave is dripping with glowing light in New Zealand and in dense tropical forests it is customary to attach the glowing beetles to the tops of boots to light the path for nighttime walks. In other places, the beetles are placed en mass in jars and give a continuous, though wavering light.

Summer is the time to remember childhood joys and share them with the new generation. From searching for cicada shells to store in a box under the bed or catching fireflies to hold in a glowing jar, childhood has a magical and memorable allure which may only be enjoyed on summer evenings. *Remember to release the fireflies after enjoying their light a bit.*

Photo credit: Catherine Dougherty

Video of Firefly love:

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Blue Wood Louse

With the rains, an unprecedented infestation of wood louse, aka: roly-polies, aka: pill bugs has appeared. In all sizes from infants to adults, they seem to be everywhere.... under every rock, in every potted plant, along every piece of damp wood within the garden.

They eat wood and fiber of plant stems, and a multitude of other chewable substances. They will literally destroy a garden, not to mention they can also cause the ruination of rail road ties and home foundations. They are a major problem, especially for organic gardeners.  However there is hope~

I have always depended upon observation to alert me to changes in the garden. Over the course of years it becomes apparent that some changes are subtle, while others are seasonal and appear quite suddenly. Thus it was with the blue wood louse and the morphing bagworms.

The Wood Louse (Armadillidium)
Children have always been fascinated by the wood louse (roly-poly) and observing and collecting them is a timeworn garden hobby. They have battleship gray segmented ’armor’ with multiple sets of transparent legs and boast the interesting habit of endlessly rolling into a tight marble-like ball. However they are not at all passive for they dine on wood in any hidden and damp spot in the garden, eventually causing massive destruction.

Last summer I observed a portion of them were a lovely sapphire blue. At first I thought perhaps it was the blue/green pellets in miracle grow they had eaten, however research indicates they are infected with a fatal Iridovirus named for the Greek goddess of the Rainbow, Isis. In March of 1954 Mr. Claude Rivers discovered crane fly larvae glowing with patches of blue and is credited with discovery of the phenomenon.

Apparently Mr. Rivers was unacquainted with the work of Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1862) who had noted it in his poem entitled:
The Blue Wood-Louse

‘Bite, frost, bite!
You roll up away from the light
The blue wood-louse, and the plump dormouse,
And the bees are still'd, and the flies are kill'd,
And you bite far into the heart of the house,
But not into mine.’

With luck, perhaps they will all become infected and die... at the very least perhaps they will feel sick.

My granddaughter Julia is totally fascinated by them~~~ in this video she is on a quest~

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The End of May

It seemed that April flew by this year but May has lasted an unusually long time, possibly due to the lack of sunshine. The record breaking rains have brought our drought to an end while producing unprecedented misery for thousands of people across the Midwest. It will take many years to recover. For the garden, the rains were welcomed with great joy as the early May flowers and shrubs began to bloom. As the dreary days continued and the lawns and plants became waterlogged, by mid-May the charm began to fade. Now at the end of May, many gardens are in a state of flux and it remains to be seen if they will be able to recover.

For plants that have become a gooey mess it will be wise to cut them back and wait for new growth in June. Many of the Amaryllis have twisted and fallen with the wind and rain so this year will possibly be a ’wash out’ for them. Stake all of the lilies for their blooms will become too heavy when drenched… if wind is expected simply pick them to enjoy inside.

Looking on the bright side, many of the gophers that were plaguing the countryside have lost their homes which have flooded and imploded and possibly many have drowned. The trees which were borderline have rebounded and the shade which will be provided this year will be incredible. The water lilies are in splendid shape and the resurgence of frogs will aid in eliminating the inevitable mosquito population.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Mosquitoes in May

The drenching rains have kept most of the bugs at bay, and only in the past week have they begun to emerge in earnest. With the rains, the most detestable of all insects has arrived… the Mosquito. This year we have had the perfect conditions for them to mature and complete their life cycle since mosquito eggs are laid in water and they must have it for the larvae and pupa to reach adulthood. The larvae are those squiggly thread-like black things jerking about in still water where they will become a pupa, which will then mature, float to the surface, and emerge a fully developed mosquito. Their lifespan is anywhere from several weeks to several months… they don’t live forever, it just seems so.

All mosquitoes are bloodsucking and as such, their bite will carry with it whatever the prior host had coursing through their blood. Their mouth parts (proboscis) are perhaps the most complex in nature and contain an electro process to find a vein and chemical to allow for straw-like blood flow… this chemical is the cause of the swollen, itchy, and often painful bite. If bitten, cut an onion in half and rub it on the bite for immediate relief.

Gardeners are basically pacifists so it is necessary to occasionally accept advice from 'The Art of War'… victory may be achieved only when one knows the enemy. There are ways to combat a hoard of mosquitoes prior to wantonly killing every beneficial insect with widespread and random spraying so please consider a natural deterrent. Dump all standing rain water… mosquitoes can survive in polluted water, brackish water and in puddles upon leaves; a creative mosquito will lay eggs in water left in a saucer under a plant.

They are attracted to humans from 150 feet away and prefer perfumed victims wearing dark clothing… possibly because they are not clearly visible on it. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, burning sage or rosemary over coals will repel them as will rubbing your skin with baby oil, imitation vanilla extract, or cider vinegar. (1 part Vinegar, 3 parts water in a spray bottle works well… spray as if it were a fine perfume.)

Looking at the bright side (no pun intended) of the deluges in May… our frog population, which had been in decline, seems to be in resurgence. The frogs, dragonflies, and Purple Martins are natural predators of the mosquito and will aid in eliminating them. Using natural deterrents to assault mosquitoes will assure our beneficial insects are not accidentally eliminated. 

Below: One of my favorite t-shirts. Read the caption....  it certainly rings true lately.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Solomon Seal Finally Blooming

With the rains, it is finally happy!

Grandmother's Garden Delights

The rains have created the most magical spring season in many moons… it is positively breathtaking this year. Each and every species is growing and flowering at an unprecedented rate to the delight of gardeners everywhere.

This year my ancient Deutzia scabra, which is planted next to the lily pond in dense shade, has performed beyond my wildest dreams. I discovered this lovely shrub next to the slightly dripping faucet in my Grandmother’s back yard nestled securely against the house between the solarium and the library. In such a location it received no overhead light or west sun and scarcely received sunshine from the east yet it thrived. My Grandmother’s gardens were well established by 1934, so it is indeed an old specimen and one of few who are completely happy living in the shade. We dug a small off-shoot then planted it in our garden where it settled in nicely, doubling in size every few years. To shape it and keep it manageable, it was pruned occasionally and always following blooming… pruning in the spring will result in no flowering.

This year my Deutzia is literally covered with small white flowers that dance along the branches amongst the tender green foliage. The bees are drawn to it and a very young and inexperienced lady Cardinal has chosen it for her nesting site, placing carefully chosen discarded plastic as the pièce de résistance of her décor. Waiting and watching her progress shall become a daily obsession!

Another heirloom gem is the Gallica Rose, which also came from my Grandmother‘s home She had a rambling white picket fence and these sweet roses danced along it, creating a living curtain of sight and scent all spring. The Gallica Roses are among the oldest cultivated species, dating back as far as the 12th century. They were a favorite of Empress Josephine and thus their name was sometimes changed to ‘French Roses’ in honor of her interest in them.

My rose is rather a deep burgundy with loose petals and a darling little yellow center. This year it became enthralled with the Redbud above it and began twining, slowly climbing to sweetly embrace the treetop branches. The surprise of this affection has been the source of much joyful anticipation each day… how far can my Gallica climb?

*Take a walk between the rains and discover the wonders this year has wrought… they are unusual, inspiring, and magical.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


The blessed rains have assured our surviving trees will recover from the drought… the countryside is now wearing a canopy of lush greed for the first time since 2010. With the flourishing foliage comes the promise of shade, which is a must by the time July arrives.

As the Sun begins to shine again after what seem like weeks of cloud cover it may be noted it is somewhat brighter than it was twenty years ago. This fact has left gardeners with the challenge of providing a future environment that is comfortable and shade is the keyword. When wandering through a shaded park or woods, it may be noted it is cooler than the surrounding countryside... the canopy of the trees absorb heat, never allowing it to reach the ground. In light of this, our shade trees have attained a treasured place in our gardens and this seems to be the year of the Cottonwood. Although many elderly Cottonwoods succumbed to the drought, those who remained have produced seeds in the most proficient manner… it appears to be snowing in the garden.

The Cottonwood is of the Poplar family and is a close relative of the famous Quaking Aspens. With a long life expectancy, many of the existing Plains Cottonwoods possibly saw nomadic Native Americans camping beneath them; they were considered sacred for their gift of shade and wood. Dugout canoes were made from the wood and forage for horses was found in the bark, which was also boiled for a medicinal tea.

As the American settlers traveled west across the treeless Plains, Cottonwoods were a source of joy for their shade comfort. Since many Cottonwoods grow up to one hundred feet tall, a cluster of them created an oasis in the treeless travel across the plains. Today, Cottonwood is most commonly used in making plywood, matches, crates, boxes, and paper pulp. Use as fuel is given unfavorable reports due to its lack of heat, however it is a perfect firewood to take the chill off a room. Although the Cottonwood is a hardwood, it has the rapid growth of a softwood, attaining height and breadth for harvest in under thirty years.

As with everything in the plant kingdom, there are pros and cons and the Cottonwood seeds are truly untidy. However when one hears the wind dancing in the leaves, gently whispering through them, this magnificent tree becomes magical indeed.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Shade Loving Caladiums

The rains have brought about so much growth in the garden this year. Trees which had been rather lackluster have grown literally inches over the course of a few weeks, providing shade in places which were formerly sunny. For newly shaded spots in the garden there is a plant choice who positively adores mottled to deep shade. The family of leafy Caladiums are the rock stars of shade… they are an easy to grow tuber who will provide vibrant color until frost.

Originally from the Amazon Basin in the rain forests of South America, they were first introduced to horticulture through specimens collected in 1773 in Western Brazil. The original plants were plain green leaves with random spots of red and white. Interest in this leaf was intense and exploration by two Frenchmen in 1858 resulted in four additional species. The Parisian horticulture circle began earnestly hybridizing the species and by the early 1860’s there were additional specimens available. Triomphe de l’Exposition’ and ‘Candidum’, developed by Louis Van Houtte and Alfred Blue, have maintained popularity since that time and are still available today. Caladiums were introduced to the United States by Adolph Leitze, a German living in Brazil, who exhibited his collection at the World Fair in Chicago, IL in 1893.

Once in the United States, Caladium production settled in Florida, and virtually all caladiums available today begin life there. Henry Nehrling began breeding and he is credited with creating many familiar varieties which are still popular today. F.M. Joyner, a postman from Tampa, was the next to hybridize and in 1937 he introduced an all time favorite, the ‘White Queen’. (Pictured above)

Of course science continues to race along and the humble leaf discovered in the Rain Forest has become a global sensation with over 2,000 varieties available today.

According to Dr. Dr. Robert Hartman, President of Classic Caladiums, ‘The color ranges from the purest white to the deepest red, and from the most delicate transparent bluish and pinkish-white to the deepest translucent claret, scarlet and purple. Some of the colors sparkle like precious stones; there is nothing in the whole floral kingdom that can compare with this brilliancy and beauty‘. His assessment of Caladiums is correct.

*Hybridization is the genetic alteration of plants to create a new species. This alteration is performed by dedicated individuals who spend countless hours in research… they are to be commended for giving us new species to enjoy each season. Now is the time to plant Caladiums for the soil must be 70 degrees or higher for them to begin growing.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Lovely Black Locust

The rains have turned the countryside a lush verdant green, allowing us once again to experience Spring in her best finery. For several years now, many guests in the garden have appeared lack luster if they chose to bloom at all. With no winter rains the leaves which fell in the fall remained brittle and sat intact upon the garden floor, unable crumble becoming broken pieces to nourish the soil. With the winter and spring rains they appear to have broken into tiny moist bits that have melded with the soil beneath them to produce the sweet scent of nourishment. The actions of Nature are indeed a blessing.

Among the hardiest of trees is the Black locust which is native to the southern Appalachians as well as the Ozarks, where grows well on slopes and forest edges. It tolerates dry inhospitable soils quite well and has long been a staple in forests.

It is scientifically named Robinia pseudoacacia for Jean Robin, herbalist to Henri IV of France, who introduced it in Paris in 1601. He had received seeds from religious sects in the Americas who believed they were the Biblically referenced ‘Locust and wild honey’ eaten by John the Baptist in the wilderness (Matthew 3/16). The tree planted by Robin in 1601 is still standing… the oldest living tree in Paris.

The bark of the Black Locust is strong and resistant to decay… woodpeckers will choose Locust above most other trees for a nesting site. With its fast and easy growth habit, its strength and durability, the wood has had immense popularity as a staple among wood workers for hundreds of years. It was used for tool handles, dowels and pins to fasten the planks of wooden ships, hubs for wagon wheels, and gates… accounts speak of fence posts over 100 years old which are still standing. The aesthetic appearance of the fine wood led to its use in furniture, notably tabletops cabinetry.

As a legume its seeds have the ability of fix nitrogen in the soil, and the leaf litter breaks down to produce elevated levels of phosphorous and calcium in the soil at its feet. Although the limbs do have dreadful thorns and the seeds are a bit messy the Black Locust makes up for it all with a gorgeous show of sweet flowers each spring. They resemble a lovely white wisteria and their scent is equally charming. Following the bloom, the shade will appear in earnest as kind shelter throughout the hot days of summer.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Morel Season

The rains have more than green-up the countryside; they have extended Morel Season! Celebrated among rural folks from Oklahoma to Minnesota, the magical, mystical, and utterly delicious morel is more than simply a mushroom; it has a cult following. Why? Perhaps because the season is so short lasting only a few weeks with the first onset of spring; perhaps because conditions of temperature and moisture must be met; perhaps because the palate remembers this delicacy long after the season is over; or perhaps because they have never been successfully produced on a commercial level. Regardless of the reason, the arrival of this edible gem is the cause of many culinary celebrations all across the country. Only the subtle French truffle is more eagerly sought than the morels growing in our own back woods.

The elusive morel is usually found in specific locations, many of which are jealously guarded by experienced hunters and often these locations are passed down from one generation to the next. Morels, originating from spores, are found in clusters among fallen leaves under dying Elms, in abandoned apple orchards, under Sycamore or Ash and near decaying stumps. The morel requires a host, preferably a dead or dying tree, in order to produce.

Morels are a genus of the edible cup fungi and the highly porous ascocarps are the prize. It is said that collecting morels in a porous bag helps spread the spores, but this has never been scientifically proven. Morels are a delicacy that commands a hefty price of $20 a pound if found for sale, which is rare as most morel aficionados prefer to eat their finds rather than sell them. Dried morels are available, however much of the flavor and texture is lost in the process.

After a successful hunt, the mushrooms should be soaked in salted water overnight, if one can wait that long. The soaking kills the tiny micro bugs and critters that live on the mushroom. The traditional method of cooking includes patting them dry then rolling them in a mixture of (optional) beaten egg, flour or cornmeal or a combination of both and frying them in butter. Since margarine is one molecule away from plastic, it does not allow for as robust flavor a ‘real’ butter.

There is no better way to enjoy the arrival of spring than a walk through the woods on a fine day. Add the pleasure of searching for morels, an adult version of an Easter egg hunt, and you have a perfect day followed by a perfect meal. Happy Hunting

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Magnificent, Magical, and Versatile Verbena

Sunday was a perfect Day... spring arrived! For anyone who has access to a baby born last spring or summer the joy of introducing a little one to the great out doors is immeasurable. Sockless tiny toes placed on the first soft green grass... crinkling, curling, footie-feeling fun.

As we begin deciding what we will add to the garden this year, consider an old fashioned Verbena. Blooming in sweet flowering clusters of pink, blue, lavender, Verbena has all of the charm of its cousin Lantana, but none of the poisonous properties. Growing fuss-free in dry sunny spots, it requires only a weekly watering and will send tendrils over the edge of a planter or spread nicely while tucked in a crevice of the rock garden. Although not highly scented, Verbena attracts a host of bees and butterflies as it blooms from Summer through Fall.

Verbena has stood the test of time and is mentioned in ancient texts which speak of her medicinal, mytological, and symbolic properties. Verbena is mentioned in Eyptian text which write the flower sprang from a tear of Isis, the goddess of Fertility ,and with that connection it was been used since that time to treat women's issues. The Greek Hippocrates wrote a decoction of Verbena acts as an antiseptic and cures gum disease. *A decoction is made when a plant or herb are boiled in water to release its chemical properties. A decoction may also be prepared by placing the herb in oil, allowing it to steep (set) for several days... Verbena becomes vervain when decocted in oil. Vervain is used today in perfume, hand creams, lip balm and flavors the famous green liqueur from the region of Le Puy-en-Velay, France. Scientists are currently researching it as an ingredient in new medicinal compounds as well.

Perhaps because of its hallucinogenic properties, Verbena has long been associated with magic. Native American tribes have used it to induce visions to 'the other side'... which I do not recommend. It has been popular for centuries as a charm against evil and was used an offering on Roman altars. It is one of the herbs engraved on Italian folk charms which were traditionally hung above a baby's cradle. According to writer John Aubrey in 1721, 'Vervain and Dill / Hinder witches from their will' and by 1870 Jean-Baptiste Pitois was using it to make a charm against evil spells.

Most recently, it has emerged in popular culture through the series of novels 'The Vampire Diaries' where vervain is used to protect humans from vampires. In Volume II, The Struggle', Stefan tells Elena to rub the oil from the seeds on her skin, bathe in them, and sleep with a sprig of Verbena under her pillow to keep her mind clear from vampire induced visions or enchantment.

Symbolically Verbena given as a gift is an expression of love and often they were planted asking for prayer. It is a magical, marvelous plant; perhaps one needs to plant it by the garden gate... just in case

Monday, February 23, 2015

Pistachios... the Perfect Nut

As we noted last week, winter was not yet through with us... it was simply teasing us with warm weather last week. The storms that have arrived with a venomous velocity certainly took their toll on travel. From Dallas to Atlanta as far North as Providence Rhode Island, travel by road, train or plane was at a standstill. It is to be expected this time of year, and hopefully after the next bit rolls through on Friday, we will have a calm entrance to the lovely month of March.

As mentioned in the Bible, there is a time for every purpose under Heaven, and thus it is with nuts. Nuts arrive right on schedule as the last Fall harvest ends and the landscape falls barren until the arrival of the earliest winter proof edibles. To sustain mankind over the rather dismal months of winter, Nature was kind enough to present us with a hardy and highly nutritious meal encased in a protective shell. From Pecans to Walnuts, Cashews to Almonds, Peanuts to Cashews, there is a flavorful nut for every taste.

Nuts are actually considered a fruit encased in a hard shell. The frost proof shell is imperative to keep the fruit safe from harm as most nuts mature in late fall. The nutritional value is limitless and the culinary fun of choosing and then opening a tasty gem is marvelous.... they will add unique flavor to almost any meal or desert.  Thursday is National Pistachio Day so we should all enjoy some in grateful recognition of this ancient fruit.

Pistachio trees are said to have originated in Syria and traveled through the Middle East and Central Asia to all parts of the world where temperate climates exist. Part of the Cashew family, the Pistachio is considered a delicacy and is part of the weekly diet of those living in Iran, Syria, Turkey, Greece, Egypt, India, and Italy. California produces world famous Pistachios and is second to Iran in production. In 2013, the City Council of Avenal, California, proclaimed the city to be the Pistachio Capital of the World.

Seed opening tools and remains of Pistachio seeds have been discovered dating back 78,000 years in Israel and they were among the plants in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in in 700 BC.  The Pistachio is one of three seeds mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 43:11), with the almond and walnut mentioned as well. Pliny the Elder, a favorite for his observations, mentioned in his writings they were brought to Greece by a Roman Proconsul to Syria in 35 AD and by the 6th century, Monastic manuscripts indicate they were well known in Europe as well.  

The internal kernels are often eaten whole, either fresh or roasted. Delicious Pistachios are used in ice cream and the Italian desert, spumoni, and the Russian baklava use them as a base... the list of uses for this delicious, delightful little nut is endless. In July 2003, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first health claim specific to seeds lowering the risk of heart disease... the pistachio became famous overnight. Happy National Pistachio Day!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Kitchen Renovation Project

It's completed with exception of minor touching up. It is updated and functional for another thirty years! It was quite stressful having everything in disarray, but it is worth it.

Before and During:
Old Formica

Dishwasher installation

Cabinets being painted