Monday, February 8, 2016

Forcing Flowering Shrubs

Suddenly it seems we have turned the corner with winter! The Sun is appearing noticeably earlier than it did just a week ago and the weekend was delightful albeit a bit windy. The tiny buds on the first flowering trees and shrubs have begun a appear so bring some inside and force them to bloom, thus giving one a grateful breath of spring. They set their flower buds last fall and once the buds have been exposed to cold for several months the branches are well suited for the process. 

'Forcing’ simply means tricking the branch into believing it is Spring by exposing it to the warmth of your home. The buds usually take several weeks to open, but watching them each day will help stave off boredom of February as we wait for full blown Spring. The easiest branches to force include Flowering Quince, Forsythia, Honeysuckle, Crabapple, Currant, and Redbud.

If you choose branches that should be pruned such as those from over lapping or crowded spots, you not only will have performed a necessary task, but the cut branches will bring you pleasure as they begin to flower. Take a bucket tepid water with you to the garden to hold your stems, look for branches with the most flower buds, and cut them from ten to fifteen inches long. *Tepid is water which is neither warm or cool to the touch of your hand. With a sharp knife cut a slit at the bottom of each cut branch about an inch up to help them absorb water through their woody stem. Remove any foliage that will be submerged in water as it may cause bacteria which will easily transfer to your branches and remember to change the water every day or so.

When they are brought to the house, place them in a small amount of warm water which will surprise them and begin the trickery of forcing blooms. Move them to a vase of cool water after several hours and place them in a chilly part of the house for several days to help them ‘settle in‘. (Finding a cool place in this old farmhouse is relatively easy.) Once they have relaxed a bit place them in a high traffic area where you can see them during the day… watching for more and more blooms is part of the fun. The new leaves will begin bursting forth and the tiny buds will swell then flower to provide a joyous Spring show while the garden is still sleeping. Pick some today!

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Importance of Milkweed

Although the weekend included a biting wind when at last the sun began to shine, spirits were lifted, luring the gardener outside. The ninety plus tulip and Jonquil bulbs discovered hiding under the porch couch were finally planted... they are grateful for dirt-time to rest a bit before their arrival at the garden party this spring.

All of the publications about gardening of late have included information on the importance of Milkweed in the landscape and the reasons for it resonate far beyond the innate beauty, which is unmistakable.

The modern classification of plants and their uses begins with Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botonist, physician, mineralogist, and zoologist, who is considered the father of ecology. Born in 1702, by the time of his death in 1778 he was the most acclaimed scientist in all of Europe. He classified Milkweed in 1753 and named the genus after Asclepius, the Greek god of healing. The genus contains over 140 species and is named for its milky sap, which contains latex and alkaloids... Milkweed is vital for the survival of our lovely butterflies.

Milkweed produces some of the most interesting flowers in the plant kingdom, with pollination accomplished in an unusual manner. Rather than go into detail, it will suffice to say Nature's whims are often scientifically complex.

The uses of Milkweed vary greatly...
The floss (hair-like filiments) was introduced in 2007 as a hypoallergenic filling for pillows, in 2015 an industry was developed in Quebec using Milkweed silk in the manufacture of thermal clothing, and the highly absorbant fibers are used to clean up oil spills. The high sugar content of the nectar fostered Native American use of it as a sweetener while in contrast some tribes in South America and Africa embraced the toxic aspect of the plant to poison arrows for deadly hunting. An animal who consumes more than 10% of their body weight will die and thusly, ranchers have sought to eliminate Milkweed from the prairie.

Since leaves of the Milkweed are the only source of food for our beloved Monarchs, whose numbers have dropped alarmingly in recent years, it is important to include this lovely plant in the garden...the butterflies are dependant upon our intervention for their survival.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Poinsettia Is Not Poisonous

In the 1800’s the holiday flower of choice was the carnation which still graces many arrangements, however today the Poinsettia has come to speak of the holidays as no other. The Poinsettia began as a small Central American shrub and for centuries the Aztecs used them both medicinally and for making red dye. The Poinsettia was first introduced to the United States in 1825 by Joel Robert Poinsett, the first United States ambassador to Mexico who discovered it while hiking. Quite an ambitious gentleman, Mr. Poinsett introduced the American Elm to Mexico and also established the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Contrary to popular belief, Poinsettias are not poisonous if ingested. The rumor began following the death of an army officer's child who ingested a leaf in 1919; the child died soon after of another sudden illness. Researchers at Ohio State University have done extensive tests with mice and rats and found no ill effects and the American Medical Association has confirmed the plant is not poisonous. (Michael's father is a physician and the myth was so extensive that they never had one in their home.) Although not poisonous, Poinsettias are a part of the genus Euphorbia , all of which exude a milky sap when broken and in many species the sap may cause a skin rash.

The Poinsettia we know today is the creation of the Ecke family of German botanists who arrived in America in 1900. Paul Ecke Jr. noted there were few potted plants that bloom in winter so he developed a full and sturdy Poinsettia that would bloom at Christmas. He then solicited editors of women’s magazines and donated his plants to be used in Christmas layouts. He also donated hundreds to be used as the backdrop on television talk shows at Christmas in the 1960’s. The placement of layers of red Poinsettias behind Johnny Carson and Jack Benny was a brilliant marketing ploy and assured the Ecke family lasting leadership in the industry. Today eighty percent of the Poinsettias marketed during the season still come from the Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, California where the generations of the family continue the legacy.

When selecting a Poinsettia look for a plant with dark-green foliage, completely colored bracts, and no sign of wilting or yellowing. Since the plants are sold during December it is important to make sure it is securely wrapped when purchased to prevent exposure to the elements as it is rushed from the store to the car, then the house. Since they are from a hot climate, exposure to cold may prove fatal and cause instant curling of the leaves. When you get your poinsettia home unwrap it and place it in a comfortable sunny location and water whenever the soil feels dry. Enjoy!

~Dedicated to my friend Bruce who can make his rebloom!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Magical Mistletoe... and Merry Christmas!

Mistletoe has a long and colorful history including myth and medicinal remedies most originating in Northern Europe, the birth place of this extraordinary plant... it is amazing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 7, 2015

Spoils of Winter... the Ice Storm


My poor Bald Cyprus wilted to the ground looking like Snuffy... she recovered as the ice melted!
Following the massive damage from the unusual ice storm, many have had to say goodbye to cherished friends who lovingly provided shade from the Summer sun, a leafy site for birds to nest, and then gently spoke to us as breezes rustled through leaves in Autumn. It was with great foreboding that many of us watched the first bits of ice form and expand with the drizzle and fog. As the power went off during the first night, we sat in the stillness and waited... then heard with horror the falling drizzle becoming small pings of sleet before reverting to drizzle once again. The scope of the damage to our world was not yet apparent, yet we could innately feel angst as worry placed her clutch on our hearts...we were afraid for our forest.  

As light broke even the smallest the branches were becoming encased in an ever-widening band of ice. Over time it changed from frosty, to clear ice, and once again to a glazed frost, with even a small drip frozen mid-motion. As the day progressed day a slight breeze began and the one could hear the smaller branches began to snap. As the ice continued to accumulate, massive branches and entire tree trunks could be heard moaning and creaking, echoing through the silence as they began to break under the weight of it. Following these warnings a sudden and gigantic last break shattered the silence as a slow free-fall began with the swish of brittle branches before the mighty thud to the forest floor. The ice continued accumulating for days…and our hearts broke as literally thousands of our trees fell in minute succession. Our precious trees, the ‘standing people’ who guard the sentinels of our lives, had succumbed to Nature‘s whim.

Once the tears are dry, the optimistic nature of the gardener will emerge for we adapt to an ever changing scene in our gardens regardless of the cause. No rain, too much rain, heat waves, blizzards, ice storms… there is a constant seasonal obstacle. The gorgeous spring may become the parched summer, or a late freeze may eliminate spring flowering bulbs altogether and yet become a fabulous summer of lush fruits and flowers. Gardening is much like gambling… the toss of Nature’s coin my land face up or down.

We must embrace the present, clean up the spoils left by the storm, and look to the change the storm has brought us. Many of us will have sunlight in the garden for the first time in decades, so these winter days are perfect for researching and planning something new for next spring. The Hostas, who love shade, must be moved, but Iris who refused to bloom will have sunshine.

And we have been given a visual opportunity to see exactly which trees are best adapted to our weather… and ice storms seem to be part of it now. The Fruitless Mulberry, Lacebark Elm, Magnolia, Pear, and Apricot trees are not well suited and most were severely damaged The native Redbud and Caddo Maple were unaffected and the Bald Cyprus went slowly to the ground in a snuffleupagus-like mound but as ice melted, slowly pulled herself up to her full height and with a resounding pop stood whole again. The Euronymous were flattened, but they too regained their composure. This week go about the garden and make note of what fared well, and replace those who were lost with those who are hardy.

*The electric company reported it takes only 1/16th of an inch of ice on lines to cause a power outage. A small generator to run necessities would make a lovely Christmas gift… I fear there will be many more winter storms to come. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Perpetual Seeds... a Miracle of Nature

Photo: Mr. Barne's Glass Gem Corn

The miracle of seeds is often inspiring… their tenacity is amazing and miraculous. On an archaeological excavation students from Canada discovered a stash of seeds buried within a Native American seed pot… traditionally a small rounded pot with an opening too small to allow rodents to enter and disturb the precious seeds. Discovered on the Menemonee Reservation in Wisconsin, the pot, and thus the seeds, were carbon dated from around 1290, making the seeds an incredible 800 plus years old. Excitement was palatable as the seeds were planted and the wait began. To their utter joy, the strange seeds grew into a rare species of squash that had been extinct for hundreds of years. The students named the squash ‘gete-okosomin, which is native for ‘really cool old squash.’

There is also an amazing report of lupine (Lupinus articicus) seeds over 10,000 years old sprouting as well. Discovered in the Yukon of Alaska they were found deep within the burrows of ancient lemmings buried in permafrost silt dating to the Pleistocene epoch.

Oklahoma Cherokee farmer, Carl Barnes, wanted to reconnect with his ancestral past and began the search for corn he had only heard about. His efforts resulted in Glass Gem corn, an heirloom species that produces kernels in a stunning array of rainbow colors. By exchanging seeds from lost-then-found caches across the country, he was successful and happily and quietly grew his corn until 1994 when his success went viral as the pictured photo appeared. His seeds are now available for the public to plant.

Noting the importance of seeds, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, or the Doomsday Seed Vault, was created in 2008. Located on the remote island of Svalbard in Norway and dug into the frozen Arctic ice, is humanity’s assurance of food perpetuation in case of a catastrophic event, such as nuclear war or an asteroid strike. It acts as a repository for some 865,000 varieties of seeds from around the globe, with an intended capacity of 2.25 billion seeds. Seeds are the recognized life-blood of the planet and their promise of survival is one of Mother Nature’s grandest plans … seeds are perpetual.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Forcing Bulbs for Holiday Splendor

The November days seem to be passing quickly and soon the winter festivities will arrive. To decorate with scent, color, and charm, plan now to ‘force’ some bulbs for the up-coming season. For those unfamiliar with the process, ‘forcing’ is the method by which a bulb is planted and compelled to grow and bloom out of season by exposure to the warm temperature indoors. This process brings the bulbs into bloom long before they would naturally bloom outdoors, thus allowing us the pleasure of their company during winter months.

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

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

Fill the bottom of the container with whatever you have chosen to anchor your bulbs, making a bed about two inches deep. Gently press the bulbs halfway down the bulb mass, wriggling and carefully nestling them until they stand firmly on their own. Try to space the bulbs about two inches apart, remembering to place several in the center as well. After arranging your bulbs, fill the container with enough water to cover your anchoring material, moistening the bulbs approximately half way up. Keep this water level, adding a little each day if necessary and your bulbs will begin to flower in three to four weeks.

As the roots grow, the reed-like foliage will first appear and suddenly many tiny blooms arrive, slowly swelling, then opening over the course of several days. Remember to give the bowl a shot of gin as the first flower buds appear. The gin will force the foliage to stand at attention and will prevent the wilt so prevalent with forced Narcissus.

The marvelous sweet smelling flowers will last several weeks filling the house with spring time as temperatures plummet.

One of the most beautiful books I own is 'Paradise Contained'. Featuring photographs by William Stites, with Mary Sears and Kathryn George, it is timeless and would make a lovely gift for anyone who gardens. Here is a link to it:

Monday, November 2, 2015

October Desert Surprises

I had planned to do my column on how to wash, dry, then store Caladium bulbs, however something strange and delightful occurred this past week which is worthy of note. The Atacama Desert in Chile, known as the driest place on Earth, is awash with color after a an entire year’s worth of rainfall fell in a strange October storm which broke all records.

Arica, Chile, in northern Atacama, holds the world record for the longest dry streak, having gone 173 months without a drop of rain in the early 20th century. In another Atacama neighbor to the south of Arica, the average annual rainfall in the city of Antofagasta is just 0.07 inches.
Strong El Niño years can be a rainy boon for the region and heavy thunderstorms brought almost an inch of rain in one day… this amount is what normally falls in 14 years. The malva (or mallow) flowers on the floor of the Atacama desert awoke and are providing the most breathtaking show in almost 20 years.

Most desert wildflowers are annuals who are very short-lived, rushing to live an entire lifetime in a few short weeks before the dry heat returns once again. The seeds produced by these wise flowers will rest dormant, often for years, patiently waiting for rainfall. When the rain finally arrives, they will quickly spring forth in a glorious wash of fleeting color before succumbing to the return of the heat.

Joining the list of the driest places on earth is our own Death Valley (Greenland Ranch, California), who also claims the distinction of being the hottest as well. Death Valley saw the mercury soar to a scorching 134 degrees on July 10, 1913, beating out Libya for this dubious honor. Death Valley is also famous for its spectacular, spring wildflower displays, but those are the exception, not the rule. Only under perfect conditions does the desert fill with a sea of gold, purple, pink or white flowers.

A series of unusual storms arrived in October at Death Valley National Park. Although flooding caused damage to structures, the wild flowers awoke to produce a glorious show last week. Blooming enmasse these wildflowers attracted large numbers of butterflies, moths, bees and hummingbirds that would not otherwise visit Death Valley… it became a very busy place for a brief span of time.

The natural survival of plants are a miracle of Nature. Not only do seeds sleep if necessary, but they can adapt to man made environmental disasters inflicted upon them. In a mere six generations a weed will genetically adapt and become resistant to an herbicide… Roundup will not affect them.  Perhaps, if we are indeed fortunate, flowers will continue to reside everywhere on Earth.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Collecting and Storing Seeds

The weekend was the epitome of Autumn perfection as breezes caressed the garden with their gentle warmth. With the cooler mornings of late it is delightful to work in the garden and the faithful annuals are seeding… it is time to collect marigolds, zinnias, four o’clock, datura, dill, and feverfew amongst others before our first killing frost.

The annuals that have acclimated in your garden will fare well next year for they have created a DNA memory of the conditions where they resided. For example: The children of a packet of marigolds will have adapted to our rather harsh conditions; they will require less watering than those adapted to conditions in Vermont.

Collect seeds when the Sun has dried all the morning dew and allow them to completely dry in a warm place in the garden before bagging them for storage. After a few hours one can test for dryness by placing them in a zip lock bag for a few minutes. If the bag begins to sweat, they are not dry enough and if sealed they will mold and become nasty mish. If they are still not dry by evening, take them to the house and continue drying… there is no rush to package them once they have been collected from the parent plant.

Once the seeds are completely dry, seal and store them in zip lock bags. *Tip: If you scour the closet and can find any of those silica packets that come in the pockets of garments or a shoebox, seal it in your bag of seeds. It will absorb any possible moisture left and assure the seeds winter well.

Label them and possibly include a slip of paper in the bag making note about their color, height, heat tolerance, when and where they bloomed and for how long. By Spring you will have forgotten the details about them so the reminders are quite helpful in planning where to plant them in next years garden.

When the great pyramids were opened, archaeologists discovered caches of seeds and upon planting these seeds, stored for thousands of years, a large majority of them germinated because of the warm, dry, and constant temperature within the pyramids. Obviously seeds must be stored at a constant temperature above freezing to assure viability. My seeds are stored under the bed in a roll-out plastic bin… they also rest for the winter in a open-woven French market bag hanging in my closet.

As a delightful garden game, have the children and grandchildren help collect… they will be so proud of themselves as they help plant next spring.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Fall Bulb Care

With the cool front that arrived last weekend, the crisp mornings provided us a delightful surprise after the record breaking heat. Apparently Autumn has truly arrived and it is with grateful sighs we are donning sweaters and having morning coffee outside again.
Autumn is the time to plant spring blooming bulbs and divide those who have been in the same place for several years. After blooming flowering bulbs will produce offspring as a miniature bulb springing from the adult. Over time some bulbs will experience overcrowding as these baby bulbs grow and these close quarters will often produce lack luster flowering. In particular, Amaryllis Belladonna, the lovely Naked Ladies, must be divided every three or four years… since this fabulous bulb may live to seventy years her decent lodging is well deserved.
To divide them use a garden fork which will not cause as much damage to the roots as a spade… dig at the mound-edge in a large circular pattern. Begin to gently lift, easing the mass from the ground, attempting to get most of the attached roots. Rinse the mass of bulbs and begin by carefully separating the entwined roots. Once they are divided, separate the smaller bulbs from the larger by placing them in two piles. Trim off any yellow or unhealthy foliage but leave healthy, green foliage attached. While the bulbs are out of their bed, turn the soil and incorporate compost, rotted manure or peat moss to enrich it even if you are planting them back from whence they came.

Replant the largest bulbs with soil about two inches above the crest… planting too deeply will decrease flowering. Bulbs appear their best spaced about 8 inches apart, planted in clumps of three or more. Select a new spot in the garden to plant the smaller bulbs and do not expect them to flower the first year for it will take a bit of time for them to become flowering adults.
The exception to the rule of bulb division is the Jonquil and Daffodil who grow outward instead of intertwining, thus making them perfect for naturalization. Naturalizing is the process by which undisturbed bulbs quietly spread until they have evolved into a large and spectacular show. Since one bulb eventually becomes ten or more they should to be planted with enough room to spread, planting them in any location a surprising spot of spring beauty will be appreciated. To naturalize with spontaneity, randomly toss the bulbs and plant them where they have landed… a large display is truly show-stopping. Now is the time to plant them!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Rain Man 27 Year Reunion

Left to right: Patrick, John, Dolan Beth, Marshall, Andrew, and Peter. Andrew was the baby crying in the movie.

It was a magical reunion with Beth Grant. We exchanged stories about how Marie Rowe (The casting director) changed all of our lives... for the better. We are all so bonded that we feel like family and it was delightful and memorable to get together again. Beth has just completed filming in El Reno... the movie is 'Great Plains' and is set to be released later early next year. I can't wait to see it.

Galen Culver filmed it and it will air it on "Is This a Great State of What" ... Channel 4 at 5:00 tomorrow Oct 12.

Left to Right: Marshall, Dolan, Beth, Andrew on her lap, Peter, Patrick, John, and Tom Cruise.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Rain Man Reunion with Beth Grant (the movie Mother) Tomorrow

The multitalented Beth Grant has been filming in El Reno and so before leaving on Saturday, we are getting together with her at the Rain Man house. All of the guys will be there!  Below is the story of how it came to be.

In the Middle of Nowhere... 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 of Rain Man

Please remember the children were very active, ranging in age from 2 1/2 to 12, and they had limited experiences with anything considered remotely sophisticated. Needless to say the ride in the limo was an experience unto itself… every button had been pushed, every knob twisted during the drive from our house to the set… it was a relief to get the children out of the vehicle before something was accidentally broken. The house was located on a hill and as the limo dropped us off the full impact hit me… it was a movie set!

The crew and production people had heard all about us and had been waiting to meet us… Marie introduced us to everyone and it was surprising how many people were there. All of the credits at the end of a movie list the people involved in making it and it takes dozens of people with unique talents to make a movie. When we got there Beth Grant was waiting, as were the actors ‘doubles’, however Barry Levinson, Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise had not yet arrived.

A movie set is like a town unto itself. It is blocked off from all outside traffic and people and strewn with huge cables. There was opaque plastic around part of the house to ensure proper lighting and absorb any outside sounds. The light people fussed with the plastic while the sound people tested their equipment. They had gigantic sound boards that they controlled with levers, and they had the ability to alter tonal qualities while the actors were saying their lines. There were rows of phone lines and a generator to provide electricity for the machine that makes a movie.

Quite suddenly you could feel the excitement in the air… the actors were arriving and everyone was on point. A limo door opened and Dustin Hoffman stepped out; I must admit he took my breath away. He spoke to several people and walked directly over to us, stuck out his hand and introduced himself. My knees went weak and I am not a gushy kind of person… but he is an incredible presence with a fantastic smile! Mesmerizing to say the least. He wanted to know all about us and eventually asked why we were living in the middle of nowhere. We certainly didn’t know!

Tom Cruise exited his limo and began talking to several people. Michael and I were unaware of protocol so we decided it would be impolite to rush over to him… we just stood in the shade and waited. After a few minutes he came over to say, ‘Is there something wrong with me? Do you not want to meet me’. I was flabbergasted… wrong with him? Certainly not! I hastily explained that we did not want him to feel as though we were pushy. He smiled that perfect smile and laughed… he was a totally charming man.

The scene was shot over and over again all day with breaks in between… on the breaks everyone got to visit and relax. During the breaks Dustin Hoffman took it upon himself to entertain the kids and he is a very funny guy. On the second day, June 4th, Dustin Hoffman had his wife Lisa fly in with his seven year old son Jake, who was John’s age and his seven month old daughter, Alexandra, who was three days younger than Elizabeth. The babies played patty cake in the play pen and John and Jake planned to go fishing the next day. (Dolan had already stuffed shrimp in his empty milk carton to use as bait.) It was the twins 13th birthday so an impromptu surprise party was planned with the cake reading ‘Happy Birthday Two You’ and our car was filled with balloons.

Later on the set that last day, when it was time for his nap, Andrew began crying for his Daddy. One of my concrete rules in the house is the baby is never allowed to cry… someone is always supposed to make the baby happy so crying without comfort was totally new to Andrew. He got very worked up and apparently calling for his Daddy was a perfect unscripted scenario. Michael was standing in the back of the house and Barry motioned for him to stay back while they kept filming. After the scene I told Andrew I was so sorry but the director wanted to keep making pictures. Andrew uncharacteristically quipped, ’I hate the director‘. Dustin Hoffman laughed and said, ‘Everyone does’…. which is funny because Dustin and Barry Levinson are such good friends.

The shere number of children was cause for speculation about the logistics of having such a large family. The sound guys totaled up the probable diapers I have changed at about 275,000... then the meals were totaled as well. We were told by people on the set it was an inspiration to meet a real family… a close knit family who really love each other.

At the end of the day, we decided it had been a singular experience, one which could never be duplicated. It was just part of the very interesting life we lead… in the middle of nowhere.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Wonders of Autumn... Kettling Hawks

The magnificent Hawk
Sunday was a perfect day for a drive to see if the foliage has yet begun to change and although the foliage was unremarkable, we did see a most unusual happening. Mother Nature apparently sent a message about the change of seasons for as we drove by a large pasture of brown grasses, a Red Tailed hawk could be seen quietly sitting on the ground. It was notable because it is unusual for Hawks to sit and also because there was another Hawk resting nearby. Hawks are rather solitary in habit so we stopped to better observe this unusual occurrence.

Lo and behold, the entire field was full of Hawks blending with the grasses…. all gathered calmly as if at an outdoor market. The blue sky began to fill with Hawks who were circling to land as though they had been telepathically summoned by those already attending the sit-in. Soon their numbers reached a hundred or more, all waiting patiently for some internal signal.

All at once they began to take flight and Hawks from adjacent fields joined them. As we watched in amazement hundreds of Hawks began the phenomenon bird watchers refer to as ‘kettling‘.

‘Kettle’ is the term used to describe the graceful acrobatic wheeling performed by a large flock that is beginning migration. Kettling birds catch a warm thermal updraft and begin swirling in a circular motion, going higher and higher as more birds join the wondrous dance... they literally floated with a quiet, graceful, and steady movement of feathered flight. It was mid-afternoon and the sight was beautiful as the light caught the underside of their wings. They continued ever-upward until the first birds appeared only as small dark specks in the blue sky. And then, as suddenly as they had appeared, they were gone. They will go South now and not return until spring.

The Turkey Vultures retain the habit of kettling as well so take note of them… we saw forty kettle on Saturday and it too was a wondrous sight of graceful slow-flight. Sometimes happenchance will provide a delightful surprise if one is simply at the right place at the right time! We feel incredibly blessed to witness such rare and wondrous sights. Both the Vultures and Hawks will continue to kettle for several weeks… perhaps, just maybe, you will be able to see one.  

Their light underside feathers shimmered in the sun light.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Magical Moon

The Moon on Sunday evening and early Monday morning allowed for a spectacular sight enjoyed by night owls all over the Northern Hemisphere. Due to the alignment of the Earth, which was directly between the sun and moon, the Moon passed into Earth’s shadow creating a total lunar eclipse. This had been highly anticipated and promoted by the media because this eclipse was the final in what is called a lunar tetrad. A tetrad is a succession of four lunar eclipses in row with six full moons between them. The first eclipse in the ongoing series of four occurred on the night of April 14-15, 2014, the second was October 7-8, 2014, the third was April 4-5, 2015. The fourth, called the ‘Blood Moon’ because it is the last in the tetrad, fell on the night of September 27-28 2015. A rather romantic explanation infers the splendid color came from the light of all the Earth’s sunrises and sunsets falling upon the face of the moon mid-eclipse.

In addition to the eclipse, stargazers were treated to the glorious show of moonlight, which occurs when the moon is at its closest point to Earth in its orbit. This position makes it appear unusually large and bright, providing light as though it were daytime. It is the full moon occurring most closely to the Autumn Equinox (September twenty third) which also makes it special on the lunar calendar.

Throughout history Moons have had names and this one is often called the ‘Hunter’s Moon‘… and it most certainly provides enough light for hunting. Traditionally, this is also called the ‘Harvest Moon’ as it provided extra light to allow farmers more time to harvest their crops.

In medieval times the Celts would use the Harvest Moon to mark the time before Samhain (Halloween) and considered it a blessing. Following crop collection ritualistic singing, dancing and drinking were performed to protect individuals from lurking evil, for this Moon is the last before Halloween. Native American tribes called it the ‘Full Corn Moon’ and the Chinese referred to it as the ‘Chrysanthemum Moon’ because of the of the change in color. In Italy it was known as the ‘Wine Moon’ for it signaled the time grapes are plump and ready for collection. The Norse considered it the most powerful moon of the year and planned expansion during this time.

Early Monday morning the Moon was so bright, so beautiful, and so magical that the wonder of it was spellbinding… one can only imagine a world before electricity when moonlight was enchanting. Go outside in the wee hours of the morning and gaze upon it before it begins to wane… it is indeed memorable.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Arrival of Autumn

As you read the paper, Autumn will have arrived gently at half past three Wednesday morning. The rains over the weekend, although accompanied by window-rattling thunder and lightning to match, were a pleasant surprise Mother Nature gave the garden this year. It is but rarely we have daytime rains which arrive intermittently in short succession.

When contemplating the morning temperatures of late, the word perfection comes to mind and Fall seems idyllically romantic when making such a fine appearance. Everything about this season is a sensual feast for the senses with the sight of changing leaves absolutely thrilling. As they complete their color change, they begin to fall, delicately swirling to the ground in a dance of drifting patterns. Finally as they accumulate in colorful heaps, they are a joy to walk through…crackling and swishing with the sudden snap of the occasional acorn hidden beneath them. For an outdoor walk, this season has no match.

As one continues cleans the garden, tidying up the confusion of overgrowth, the bones of the garden are visible once again and in viewing it, one immediately has an idea or two for next year. And as sagging summer bloomers are cut back, one may also see the tiny tips of the early spring bulbs emerging. They are early reminders the garden is perpetual and ever-evolving. They are the promise that the season may be over, but there is always another year resting beneath the ground, sleeping until spring.

The herbs may be cut back now to allow the new growth appearing at their bases to get light and air… perhaps another small harvest is possible should we have a late freeze. Collect the seeds of favorite annuals to share with gardening friends and through this gesture your garden will be present in other gardens as well. For the price of a dinner out, bulbs may be purchased and planted now to provide delightful surprises next spring. Possibly take a drive to find an orchard with apples to spare… there seems to be a bumper crop this year and often the owner is happy to allow you to ‘pick you own’ for a small price.

Some evening this week brew a cup of tea, grab a sweater, and wander outside, basking in the sweet mellow feel of the summer's end. If you listen carefully, you can hear the leaves dancing with the breezes before breaking free and slowly drifting to collect in crisp madness on the lawn. Enjoy… for Fall is a fabulous season!
*Photo By Catherine Dougherty

Friday, September 18, 2015

Kids Make Life Interesting

Since it is National Twin week, I recalled a story about my twins First Holy Communion... and yes, it really happened.
My twins Dolan and Marshall were seven at their First Holy Communion... the photo shows them as sweet baby Catholics. Of course, things did not go smoothly...
As I was trying to handle a squirming three year old and a baby, Patrick, their five year old brother had slipped out of the pew to join them at the Alter. As Michael and I looked on in horror,  he casually took Communion with them. He quietly got back in the pew and Michael hissed he wasn't allowed to have the host without taking the classes first, so he spit it out in my hand. I put it in my pocket... this is the consecrated Body of Christ and probably didn't belong there.
Michael was convinced it was some sort of sin so we told the priest after Mass what had happened. He told me the kids all looked alike to him so he was not responsible for giving Patrick the host. Then he asked 'Where is it?'. I replied 'In my pocket'. He looked horrified and snapped his fingers, 'Give it to me'. (It was damp and lint covered by now but apparently you can't just put the 'body of Christ' in your pocket.) He looked at it for a moment... then popped it in his mouth. I thought if a priest could dislike anyone it was probably us! 

The year before the twins had been in the procession at Grandpa Dougherty's funeral... carrying lit candles. Dolan was behind Marshall in the procession and was fascinated with his candle... he kept swirling and bobbing it around an inch or so from Marshall's hair! Good Lord!! I kept holding my breath with each motion of the flickering candle praying my son's hair would not ignite in front of the whole family.
**Following these events, even thinking about going to Mass gave me anxiety. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Deep Cleaning~ Preparing for Autumn

The Final Result... Ready for Winter Reading!

There is nothing quite like deep cleaning to give the house a facelift. Granted it is back-breaking work, but with the proper mindset and tools it provides and almost Zen feeling. Sunday we began the process on the porch. A bowl of sudsy soapy water with a little Ammonia, Windex, Swifter's (a whole box) and paper towels, wash rags and kitchen towels to scrub then dry most surfaces.

Windows were washed of summer wind-blown grit, furniture dusted and lemon oiled, walls were wiped free of spider webs and dust, baseboards were scrubbed, the party frig defrosted. And lastly the whole place was vacuumed three times.
It looks and feels so GOOD!!

And I made a reading nook for Julia in the laundry room. Little Evans loves looking out the window there to see what is happening on the lower level of the garden. The animal antics around the pond are always interesting.  

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Pack Rat, the Snake, and the Shotgun~ a true tale

The Pack Rat Saga
When we moved to the county in 1975, I had no idea of the wildlife we would soon encounter. I grew up in the city where the worst problem home owners encountered was the occasional roach infestation and possibly a mouse or two every few years. Disney had educated me and I thought Bambi and Thumper were adorable… I could hardly wait since real wildlife would be equally endearing.

Our house was an ancient 5 room cinder block relic that had no maintenance whatsoever in years so there were holes everywhere in the old place. I was soon to have an awakening, an education, and a crash course in rural living.

In late Summer of 1977 we had installed our hot water tank under the counter in the kitchen and hooking it up to the sink had left a substantial hole from hell, going God knows where deep in the darkest recesses under the house. After the installation I had noticed our dogs seemed to be consuming an unusual amount of food each week and we were finally met with an explanation. My 9 year old son casually mentioned he couldn’t put away his clothes because they wouldn’t fit in the drawers because of the dog food there. What? I asked how long the food had been there he said ‘weeks’. I ran to the drawer and yes, there was at least 20 pounds of it, and also green army men, blue string, part of a pillow, and my lost earring! I asked my neighbor about it and was told we had a pack rat.

I had never heard of one so I went to the library and looked them up… they were truly adorable with a sweet face and large brown eyes. I didn’t want to kill it so maybe we could just put the food up at night… and so we did. A week later I opened the bottom drawer of my stove and was met with three sets of adorable eyes looking up at me… pack rat babies lived in my kitchen! We scooped them up in a box and took them to the North field to release them. 

Suddenly there was no choice, something had to be done about it… and thus the war began. I overcame my emotions and put out poison and although I never saw one dead, I felt we had won.

Later in the month we picked Summer pears and put them in a large bowl in the kitchen… they began disappearing. As we were visiting with city friends who had come out to see us one evening, we saw the pack rat, balancing a pear on his head, slowly walking along the floor in front of the sink. As we sat in stunned silence, he disappeared behind the stove with it. I was mortified and explained to our friends the children’s pet had apparently gotten out of its cage. Thus war raged on... more poison was purchased

During this time frame Michael Babysat
I had scheduled a appointment to have my hair cut and decided Michael could baby sit… after all what could go wrong in an hour. The youngest children were three month old Patrick and the two and a half year old twins so I got the babies down for a nap and figured everything would be okay… Michael could just sit and ‘chill‘, which in 1977 was a fairly easy thing to do.

I got a strange anxious feeling as I drove home so I sped… as parked the pickup, I heard a horrifying gun blast from inside the house. My heart fell and I rushed to the house to find the kitchen looking like it had been ransacked… the sink cabinet door was off its hinges, the garbage can from under the sink had been dumped, garbage was all over the floor, the screen door to the back porch was held open with a brick and Michael, looking positively nuts, was holding a smoking 410 shotgun!

Apparently Michael heard horrific screaming from under the sink so he opened the door and a large bull snake rolled out, coiled around the pack rat who was shrieking in terror.

Thinking fast, (?) Michael beat the snake on the head with a rolling pin so he would drop the pack rat, which it did. The problem was solved, the rat was dead so he grabbed it, put it in a paper sack, and ran to toss it over the fence into the road. Maybe someone would run over the sack. He ran back in the house to see the snake disappearing into an open cinder block left over from where we had recently installed the screen door. He grabbed the shotgun, shoved it in the cinder block and pulled the trigger not realizing it would sound like a canon!

I felt rather bad about the strangulation death by the snake, but having the rat dead was a plus so we went to check the road to make sure. The sack had a hole eaten in the bottom of it… it was empty. Good grief! We decided surely the snake was dead and decomposing in the wall might get rather smelly so we shoved rocks in the hole and Michael tacked a board over it until we could get to town to buy a bag of cement… and a rat trap.

The rat came home and two nights later and I saw him in the hallway. He had encountered the trap and it had crushed his nose before he slipped out of it. He was stumbling towards me making muffled me-heh-me-wahne growls. I screamed and once again Michael came to the rescue. I told him to put down the gun…in no uncertain terms could he shoot it in the house again, so he hit the rat with a baseball bat rendering it unconscious. My scream and the scuffle woke all three children and the baby who began wailing. The kids got up in time to see Michael shoving something from the hallway into a sack. He went outside with the 410 and shot and shot the sack as the poor kids tried to watch from the window. I told the children there was nothing in the sack, he was just target practicing at three in the morning. *Kids will believe anything, but they probably need therapy.

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....