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 aroma....it 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.


Peonies and Poppies Need the Cold



As we continue to endure harsh winter conditions, remember that most of the garden will not only survive but two of our favorites will actually flourish because of the freezes. The Queen of Flowers, the majestic Peony, needs the cold as does the precious Poppy.

The Peony will not bloom well unless the temperature of the winter months gets low enough for her to go into full dormancy. For this reason, Peonies can not be grown in the Deep South and yet flourish in New England with amazing success and few problems.

 The Peony has blooms that are breathtaking for the shere size and breadth of the deeply lobed flowers which appear in a glorious range of colors. A favorite is the Chinese Peony who comes to the garden in hues of pink, pale yellow and purest white, often edged with a hint of rouge on the inner petals. Each flower is supported by lovely deep green foliage. Peonies make charming long lasting arrangements which fill the air with their sweet lemony scent.

Poppy seeds also need the cold for they have a hard shell which must be seasoned by freezing temperatures to allow it to fracture before growing. The colorful paper-thin blooms on the poppy only last for one day, however the round pale green seed pods which form from each spent flower, are most interesting by themselves. The darling pods have tiny holes in a zig-zag circular pattern at the top and once they have dried and turned brown, they may be shaken to release the seeds.

If you had poppies last year, many of them have self sown and will appear early in the growing season. However if you collected seeds, the snow is an excellent medium in which to toss them. Place the seeds in a salt shaker and then shake them into the snow filled garden. The white of the snow will allow you to see (and make mental note) where the seeds have fallen. As the snow melts, the seeds will follow the thaw and nestle snugly into the soil where they will await warmer days. The poppy is a tall plant so the back of the bed is a desirable place to seed them. If paired with Larkspur the contrasting colors and form always make for a dazzling display. This year the Peonies and Poppies will be in rare form and are well worth the wait.

*Remember that each day we are 2 minutes closer to spring!

Pic: Pink Poppy By Catherine Dougherty
 
 

Monday, February 3, 2014

St John's Wort


The weather has certainly taken center stage this winter. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac the “Days of Shivery” are upon us and 2/3 of the nation will experience below average temperatures for an extended duration. The publication, founded in 1792, boasts an accuracy rate of 80 percent and so far their forecast seems to be correct. With the cold, hopefully the bugs have frozen to death regardless of their chosen lair.
This February plan to include St. John’s Wort as a dietary supplement. The ancient Chinese have long considered it among their most important herbs however it fell out of favor in the west in the 1800’s. For centuries, St John’s Wort had been used to treat disorders from digestive problems to coughs, and it was lauded for its action as a sedative. During the 1970’s research confirmed it had a significant affect on nervous conditions and depression. In clinical studies it was proven that sixty seven percent of depressed patients drastically improved when taking this simple herb.

St. John’s Wort has an easy nature, growing in dry, gravely soils, fields, and bar ditches with no attention what so ever. The sunny yellow flowers appear on a woody base and bloom from late spring through frost. Numerous flower clusters appear at the end of the branches, each sporting five bright petals with small black dots along the margins and a single pistil in the center. The leaves have spots on them which appear to be holes. However they are translucent ’pockets’ of resin that are released when pressed and the flowers exude a crimson liquid when cut.

Early Christians named it to honor St. John the Baptist and so besides medicinal uses, St John’s Wort has mystical connections. It was said to offer protection against the devil if woven into a wreath placed upon the door and it was carried by travelers to assure their safety. During witch trials, it was stuffed into the mouth of the accused to force a confession. (Considering it was a sedative, one can only imagine what they confessed.) A sprig placed under the pillow upon retiring was said to keep one safe while sleeping and perhaps St. John himself might appear in a dream.

In capsule form, it may be readily found in the herbal section of the pharmacy… and about now gardeners can certainly appreciate the benefits of a natural ‘chill pill’ as we endure February! 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Winter Watering and Compost


In spite of the moisture from snow and ice from a month ago, the garden is absolutely bone dry. Sunday we set sprinklers and almost instantly the winter grasses resumed their verdant green and perked up while the grateful garden sent forth small shoots of the Jonquil and crocus.

Now is a perfect time to apply compost to the garden. Compost was first described as useful for the garden in 1587 so its properties have a time tested tradition. Compost is simply decomposed organic matter which improves the soil and gives it a lighter consistency. Since Oklahoma soil is difficult, the addition of compost will greatly improve the quality.


The merits of compost may be noted on the forest floor which is covered by undisturbed leaves. These leaves break down over time creating the rich soil that nourishes the fledging saplings as they grow to become forest giants in an ever-repeating cycle. If one takes inspiration from this natural cycle, the value of this process may be utilized in the garden. Since the average gardener does not have the quiet decades of the forest to break industrious individuals may make a compost bin and create their own rich matter.

In the 1930’s to ’40’s when America was encouraged grow vegetables for the war effort, most urban homes had a compost bin. My father had one and was fairly constant with his enthusiastic interest in it. It was located in the farthest corner of the yard and consisted of three wooden sides approximately four feet high and it was deep enough to move about in. Leaves were the basis of his compost with grass clippings, old newspapers, coffee grounds, and other organic matter added, all of which were in 12-18 inch layers. Bone meal and ammonium nitrate were sprinkled between the layers to aid in decomposition and give it a boost. The mixture was tossed about while sprinkling with water occasionally to dampen it and encourage it to ‘cook’. By Spring the process was complete, producing dark matter that had a deep and rich aroma. For those who do not have their own compost readily available, it is reasonably priced at most nurseries and may be purchased by the truck load. Apply some this year and work it into the soil…the garden will thank you.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Cedar Time Again... Know the Enemy





Over the weekend, the weather warmed however as in all of life there was a downside… the wind. The velocity was so fierce as to blow about small children and the elderly as they fought their way to vehicles after Church. The dust blew in billows as the cattle braced against it and walked slowly through pastures and the tumble weeds were truly tumbling.

The Cedars are pollinating once again and if one merely brushes by one a fine yellow mist will fill the air. The Cedar is the product of sophisticated and evolved survival tactics. During the drought they produced pollen which was a thick and prolific, and the like of which had never been seen before… it was an alarming testament to their determination to survive.

The female trees are covered with small blue berries; each one is an infant Cedar tree. The birds find the berries delicious and baby Cedars are spread through their bodies. The birds gorge themselves, fly to rest in treetops, and invariably drop a Cedar ‘package’ of unprocessed berries to grow at the base of the tree. The aggressive adolescent Cedars surround and literally choke or starve any other species of tree, taking all water and nutrients from the soil for themselves, leaving less aggressive trees to perish.

Cedars are also infamous for the effects they have upon the human race, causing much misery as their pollen drifts through the air this time of year. Their pollen is microscopic and can travel hundreds of miles on the wind, and of late we have had wind aplenty!

It is wise to make efforts to partially protect yourself from pollen based illnesses. Obviously the more time spent outdoors the more problems with allergies so do not invite pollen inside by opening doors and windows for fresh air on pretty days… there is no fresh air during Cedar season. Wash your hands after playing in the yard, wash your hair before bed, and change your pillowcase daily. If necessary take an antihistamine to relieve allergy symptoms and remember Cedar season does not last forever, it just seems so.


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.




For those who are wondering when Spring will arrive just ask the onions whose internal clock has said ‘Why wait, it‘s coming… let's grow‘!


Monday, January 6, 2014

Cabin Fever!



 The weather certainly took center stage this year, making for an icy holiday. The ice gathered and lasted much longer than expected and last Sunday reminded one of Antarctica… at least an Antarctic of my imagination. Never has the North wind been so bitter or so biting! This weather with overcast days of icy rain and snow, or sunshine with howling winds and bone-chilling temperatures is rather depressing for those who love to be out doors. It is down right dangerous in many parts of the nation!

With too much ice on rural roads for days, many were trapped and could not leave home. They may possibly be experiencing a weather related syndrome called ‘Cabin Fever’. First recorded in 1918, cabin fever is a term for a claustrophobic reaction that takes place when a person or group of persons are isolated and unable to leave a confined space for an extended period of time. Symptoms of cabin fever include restlessness, irritability, laughter, forgetfulness, excessive sleeping, and finally distrust of anyone they are trapped with. Often there is an urge to race outside even in snow or darkness as the individual assumes 'the unknown' is possibly better than entrapment with their companions. The most famous case of extreme cabin fever is horrifying as depicted by Jack Nicolson’s character in the horror flick, ‘The Shining’. Who could ever forget the typed message, ‘All work and no play make Jack a dull boy‘… over and over again as Jack famously ‘lost it‘. Humorously cabin fever has been referred to as a reaction of extreme boredom caused by an infusion dull company, with visiting relatives often to blame.

It can safely be assumed that the recent power outages may have contributed to a rash of cabin fever for how many hours can one find entertainment sitting in the dark listening to clocks tick? We may expect more dastardly winter weather, but it will not last forever. All of this house-bound misery will end with the arrival of spring and each dawn brings her closer to us. Last week, as though fulfilling a promise, the brave and precious freesias peeked through the frozen garden soil. Happy New Year... stay warm!
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Monday, December 23, 2013

The Ice Storm




As we continue to break all weather records, let us recall winters of the past and remind ourselves this too shall end with the arrival of spring. Saturday was the Winter Solstice, which is the shortest and darkest day of the year. All of our days commencing now will be a little longer until the Summer Solstice arrives and once again our days gradually shorten. There is comfort in the order of our natural world.

The current ice storm is reminiscent of the one in 2000 when many towns were without power for weeks on end. Admittedly it has not seemed quite so cold since the terrible lingering winter storms of 1986 with weeks of ice and snow all of January and into February. This pattern indicates we may expect an ice storm every 13 or 14 years… another sign of predictable order.

Saturday morning the electricity went off and remained off. Housebound by icy roads, we listened to the clocks tick while watching the antics of the Blue Jays, who squabbled with a hungry squirrel at the birdfeeder. As the darkness deepened, we lit candles and reminded ourselves our forefathers braved elements such as these without central heat or electricity… ever.



*Poor Rajah... his crown had ice all over it and was covering his eyes. I opened the window and used a hair dryer on him before the power went off.

The wind arrived on Sunday, ice-brittle branches were whipped and they began to break. The jarring sudden crack and ensuing slow drop of large tree limbs throughout the forest was depressing to hear. Mature trees may have minor flaws at their branch bases and with the ice, this flaw has proven fatal.

I have hugged my ancient Black Walnut on many occasions and it has been substantially damaged. The heirloom English Ivy ‘tree‘, which had been carefully trained to frame the front door, is now a collapsed mass of broken branches and crushed leaves. We have said goodbye to the Apricot who gave us 20 years of her delicious fruit. Things will be quite different in many gardens this coming year.





However since gardeners are the eternal optimists, we must wipe our tears, embrace the present, clean up the spoils of war left by Old Man Winter, and look to the positive. Perhaps the trees had grown to shade flower beds and the elements have ’trimmed’ them. The trees that were ill perhaps needed to be removed as a safety precaution. And many lawns will have sunlight they have perhaps been lacking for decades. There is always a positive to every disaster… and we have the promise of spring.

Merry Christmas, have faith, and stay warm!

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Christmas Tree

The lovely evergreens have begun their seasonal show and it is always impressive that they chose winter, as the world is encased in frosty slumber, to appear their finest. Bearing fruit or berries despite the cold of winter, they have always been considered quite remarkable and were an important aspect of ancient pagan rituals.

The Romans considered evergreens symbols of fertility and used them to trim their homes for the new year while northern Europeans hung them over doors to ward off evil spirits that were believed to stalk the winter landscape. German and Scandinavian people had long made evergreen wreaths to celebrate the Winter Solstice and over time were included in their celebrations of the birth of Jesus.

It is said that Martin Luther began the German tradition of decorating trees. In about 1500 as he was walking through a snow covered forest, he was struck by the beauty of dusted evergreens shimmering in the moonlight. So enamored was he by the natural beauty that he placed a tree inside for his children, decorated with lit candles symbolizing the starry sky and honoring Christ's birth. Following this tradition, the church began to include a tree for Christmas and by the mid-1600’s it was decorated with apples to symbolize Adam and Eve's expulsion from Eden.

About this time German Christians began bringing trees into their homes and soon they began to decorate them. Their tradition arrived with Hessian immigrants to the colonies and overcame the austere (and unpopular) Puritan belief that ‘all work and no play’ included banning Christmas celebrations.

In 1832 Charles Follen, a German immigrant and professor at Harvard, decorated the first American Christmas tree to share with his family and friends. And in 1846, a young German Prince Albert presented his new bride Victoria with her first tree and thus the English Victorian Christmas was born. Word of decorated Christmas trees spread rapidly and was embraced by almost all Christian cultures; it remains today a universal symbol of the holiday season.

 
*Snow Covered Photo Credit: Tanya Ivey

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Results of Fracking in Oklahoma







Regardless of arguments either for or against, it needs to be noted this is a nasty business. It is noisy, intrusive upon the land, and difficult for residents who dwell nearby. What is left after the rig has been removed are the 'ponds', which according to the industry contain non-toxic waste. Do you want to eat beef that has been drinking and wading in that muck? I don't.


Taken from my mailbox. A stop sign is 500 yards and yet they thundered by, tires and brakes squealing to a dusty halt. We ate this for over a year.




A rig is a miniature city with no rules of conduct. Tie down what you don't want to be stolen.



 


 


 Impossible to avoid!



There was no compensation for our lost cattle!



Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Offutt Kentucky Egg Nog




I'll put the egg nog in Grandmother Nash's punch bowl! In this picture from Dolan and Tara's Rehearsal Dinner Party it has Sangria in it.

Merry Christmas everyone!

This year, I decided to share my Great-grandmother's Kentucky Egg Nog recipe. It has been a well guarded and cherished secret for over a hundred and twenty five years, however I might as well share it before Martha, Paula, or Rachael Rae steal it... and claim it as their own!

Offutt Kentucky Egg Nog
Serves 20

You will need several large bowls.
1 dozen large eggs, divided.
Beat the yolks until they are thick and lemon colored.
While still beating add 1 1/2 c. sugar and 1 pt. whiskey, 100 proof, green label, not sour mash.
(The alcohol "cooks" the eggs) Set aside.

Beat the whites in a copper bowl. As they begin to foam slowly add 1/2 c. sugar. Beat until they are thick and almost ready to peak. Set aside.

Whip 1 quart heavy whipping cream adding 1/2 c. sugar as the cream thickens.
Stir cream into yolk mixture. Gently fold in the whites.

Get out the antique punch bowl, garnish the tray with a little fresh holly then call some cheerful friends... this stuff is Killer!

*Disclaimer: This Egg Nog will possibly clog arteries, causing holiday heart problems. Use in moderation.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Natural Christmas Decorations... Scout the Garden

    As the holiday approaches, festive decorating reaches a zenith for no other moment encompasses such a variety of celebrations rolled into one package. Included with the birth of Christ, is the Winter Solstice, the New Year, and almost every civilization has some sort of celebration at this time. Besides religious festivities, one adds gift giving, families gathering and the general feeling of kindness toward mankind, making it indeed a miraculous season.

Part of the ancient reason for celebrations was to ward off the boredom of deep winter, and so it is during this time that the miracle of evergreens appear all the more special. Always in the garden, yet often under appreciated during the summer season, many make a name for themselves now.

A simple December pleasure is crafting wreaths and holiday arrangements by scouting greenery from the garden. Using a wire or simple grapevine wreath gather traditional cedar, spruce or pine boughs as a basis, for not only will they provide a stellar aroma, but their sturdiness will anchor all else that is added. Perhaps add the merriment of holly, with the interest of magnolia boughs or patterned arbor vitae. Gather interesting vines and weeds to complete the process. Add pinecones by twisting a small piece of wire around the base of the cone, leaving a bit to tie the to the wreath. One year we sprayed the wispy weeds with gold spray paint… it was the same year we sprayed our ’holiday’ tennis shoes gold as well. And even those with seasonal allergies may appreciate a lovely outdoor decoration!

For indoor decorations, Nandina, Holly, and Ivy are perfect companions and are virtually odorless. Both the Holly and Nandina have Christmasy-red berries that will look lovely in your arrangement. Choose a large vase, add a ‘frog’ to anchor the greenery, then begin adding your selections, turning and building as you go. By the end, if you need visual interest, scout the garden for some Pyracantha or privet berries. If you have calcified spots on the berries, spray or dab a bit of olive oil on them to make them shine.

Remember that every house needs a sprig of mistletoe. For years Mistletoe was the assumed floral emblem for the state of Oklahoma so it has a special place in our hearts. (It was replaced by the ‘official’ Oklahoma Rose in 2004.) Mistletoe has a long and colorful history originating in Northern Europe, the birth place of this extraordinary plant.

All Mistletoe plants are parasitic; they attach to a host and thus take from it nutrients and water necessary to live. Over time this process may weaken or even kill the host, giving Mistletoe a rather bad reputation. In the plant kingdom, parasitism has evolved only nine times and Mistletoe has independently evolved five, making it an extraordinary species. Mistletoe is completely self-sufficient and adaptive to changes in climate and this enigma lends itself to mysticism and lore. It hangs airborne between heaven and earth, has no roots yet bears fruit, and remains green and vibrant during the winter months, all of which defy reason.

Christmas greenery is utterly fantastic!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Feed the Birds~



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

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


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

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

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

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