Monday, February 3, 2020

February... and Stopping By Woods...


 In the Garden
 By Catherine Dougherty

Whose woods are these I think I know
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.


February has finally arrived! It did seem that January was a terribly long month with many drastic weather events happening over our entire planet. From the dreadful flooding in Indonesia, the plague of locusts of Biblical proportion in Pakistan, the Australian fires that continue to rage, severe drought in Africa, and finally the dreadful flooding in the Amazon where the forests have been clear cut. Entire food sources were eaten by the locusts and crops were lost in the flooding… many people will suffer hunger this new year so we must pray for our precious planet and her inhabitants.

In light of this, gardeners are itching to get outdoors to plant early vegetables, but the temperature fluctuations have confused the garden. By  the time you get your paper we will have gone from a sweet balmy weekend to another deep freeze. According to my dairy, on February 2011 it was zero and on February 2013 we had a severe snow storm.

We must spend this month dreaming about the arrival of spring which wakes the garden from its seasonal slumber. On the plus side, Winter does have a most fantastic insulating quality about it… the woods were silent, with only the sounds of birds as we took our walk. Robert Frost’s lovely poem comes to mind with the sound of swishing leaves… “ The woods are lovely, dark and deep….” 
     
With this weather it is time to begin seriously feeding the birds until a warming trend. Many people feed year round however I wait until it is impossible for the birds to forage on their own. In spite of the scientific assertations the songbirds have been lost, we have seen many in our yard since this latest cold snap for they know we will come through about now.

We moved one of our birdfeeders to a new spot and yet by rote the birds continue to fly to the old one, disappointedly looking for the absent feeder. Their memory is amazing! Most birds enjoy commercial seed however adding thistle and sunflower seeds to the mix will be a delightful treat for the Cardinals, Finches, Black Capped Chickadee, and timid Titmouse. The adorable, squabbling, easily sociable sparrow will love the seed with no gourmet qualities.
     
Birds eat in regular intervals so plan to see them for their breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sometimes the feeder will be extremely busy and at other times it will seem abandoned. For those individuals who have the time, bird watching is a wonderful hobby… we gave inexpensive binoculars to our little grandchildren for Christmas they have seriously looked at everything! We bought a bird book with good photos so learning to identify species is next on our agenda.

Our former neighbor, Allie Milligan, taught us the thrill of discovering the habits of birds forty years ago and we intend to pass her expertise along… the Museum in El Reno has a spectacular display featuring bird nests collected and identified by Mrs. Milligan.

Monday, January 20, 2020

St. John's Wort





This Winter 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 effect 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.



As far as magical properties are concerned, it was used for purposes from projecting longevity to testing ones chances for marriage. To predict their chances for marriage young girls would place a sprig of flowers under their pillow... if the flowers were fresh in the morning, their chances were good, if they had wilted the lady was to be disappointed in love for another year. As recently as the 1850s, St. John’s wort was used as a method to determine how long members of a family would live. Sprigs of the fresh plant would be hung from the rafters by family members and in the morning they were examined to see which ones were in varying stages of wilt, foretelling the order of death.

The tops of the plant were also considered effective for keeping away ill fortune and bringing luck. Bringing flowers of St. John’s wort into the house on a midsummer eve would protect one from the evil eye, witches, or fire. In one case in 1696, an evil spirit was terrifying occupants of a home in London until St. John’s Wort placed under pillows exorcised the apparition.



This cheery plant spreads rapidly by means of runners so I recommend putting it into a pot to contain it... it is indeed another miracle plant.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Disappearing Birds




A study published recently in the journal Science reveals that since 1970, bird populations in the United States and Canada have declined by 29 percent, or almost 3 billion birds. The results show tremendous losses across diverse groups of birds and habitats – from iconic songbirds such as meadowlarks to long-distance migrants such as swallows, as well as backyard birds including sparrows. In fact, three out of every four Meadowlarks have vanished.

“Multiple, independent lines of evidence show a massive reduction in the abundance of birds,” said Ken Rosenberg, the study’s lead author and a senior scientist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and American Bird Conservancy. “We expected to see continuing declines of threatened species. But for the first time, the results also showed pervasive losses among common birds across all habitats, including backyard birds.”

Of nearly 3 billion birds lost, 90 percent belong to 12 just families, including sparrows, warblers, finches, and swallows – common, widespread species that play essential roles in food webs and ecosystem functioning, from seed dispersal to pest control. If we lose these species, it won’t just be bad for birds – it will be disastrous for humankind.

“The connection between birds and humans is undeniable—we share the same fate. This is a bird emergency with a clear message: the natural world humans depend on is being paved, logged, eroded and polluted. You don’t need to look hard for the metaphor: birds are the canaries in the coal mine that is the earth’s future,” said David Yarnold, president of the National Audubon Society.

Within these results, certain groups of birds were particularly hard hit. Grassland birds saw a 53-percent reduction in population – more than 720 million birds – since 1970. Shorebirds, most of which frequent sensitive coastal habitats, were already at dangerously low numbers and have lost more than one-third of their population. Furthermore, the volume of spring migrations, measured by radar in the night skies, has dropped by 14 percent in just the past decade.

Since birds are indicators of environmental health, these worrying findings suggest that natural systems across the U.S. and Canada are now being so severely impacted by human activities that they no longer support the same robust wildlife populations.

With these facts in mind, we should all plan to feed our birds this winter while their food source is scant, avoid pesticides in our gardens, and thoughtfully consider our actions which adversely affect the environment. A world without birds is unimaginable.

*The Audubon Society, founded in 1905, is the oldest non-profit environmental organization dedicated to conservation. It is named in honor John James Audubon who observed, painted, cataloged, and described the birds of North America in 1827-38. 

Monday, December 2, 2019

Apple Trees and Cedar Apple Rust







For all of those who are planning an orchard, there are a few facts about apple trees, junipers, and cedars which are odd, interesting and important to review before the purchase. The combination of any of the aforementioned may result in the formation of Cedar-Apple rust, which is a most interesting fungus. It is necessary for the rust to have both the apple and the cedar to complete its life-cycle so purchase of resistant apples is paramount considering the numbers of cedars infecting our environment.

In the warm days of early spring, the galls associated with the rust appear on infected Cedar trees following a rain. The galls are golf ball size, bright orange, and any kind of moisture will cause the formation of tendrils which secrete a gooey gelatinous substance that actually drips from the tree. Our patio Cedar was infected after we planted several Jonathan and Golden Delicious apples trees in the orchard, both of which are highly susceptible to the fungus. As the galls grew on the Cedars and began to drip, the children often complained of being 'slimed'. The slime secreted is actually a fungal spore which can travel up to two miles on the wind looking for a susceptible apple or crab apple host.

Upon arrival on the apple cultivar, the spore settle in and the apple becomes infected. The first sign of infection is the formation of small yellow spots which appear rather suddenly in the uppermost branches of the apple tree shortly after flowering. The spots begin to enlarge and turn a vivid orange making the condition easy to identify. In late summer, small tube-like structures appear on the underside of the leaves spores from these tubes are released into the wind and settle on susceptible cedars or junipers thus completing the cycle. Oftentimes as the disease progresses, the apple trees lose almost all of their leaves making their appearance quite pitiful.

Fortunately, there are new disease resistant varieties of apples which are readily available. Redfree, Liberty, William's Pride, and Freedom are extremely disease resistant and provide ample fruit. Additionally, they show resistance to powdery mildew, apple scab, and fire blight as well.


The newest apple to be introduced in 2017 is the Cosmic Crisp, which has been in the lab at the University of Washington State since 1997. The fruit is a cross between the Enterprise and Honeycrisp apple varieties, is GMO free, and bred to feature naturally higher levels of acidity and sugar. They scientists claim that it’s naturally slow to brown when cut and maintains its texture and flavor in storage for more than a year. Research about its resistance to Rust is inconclusive and since I am as old fashioned as a McIntosh I am uncertain… however out of curiosity I will give Miss Cosmic Crisp a try!


Photo credit Cornell Research

Monday, October 21, 2019

Collect Seeds.... a Reminder






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 the first killing frost, which is due to arrive Thursday.  

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 year’s 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. Seeds must be stored at a constant temperature above freezing to assure viability. My seeds are stored under the high Southern bed … they also rest for the winter in an 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.

*Photo: Antique French Market Bag holds many of my seeds.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Busy Field Crickets






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 cannot 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… had it been wool the cricket's popularity would have suffered greatly. Years ago I pulled my 'good' white wool pleated slacks from my closet only to discover one leg was totally destroyed with cricket holes. Now when I hear them in the house I track them and gently place them outside to play!  

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Horrid Hurricanes




As we watched the weather events unfold in Caribbean and along the East and Gulf coasts last week we were reminded that mankind has maintained a continuous struggle against assaults by nature. Catastrophic events have occurred since the beginning of time and have been the subject of vigorous religious and scientific study and discussion.
For thousands of years, countless theories have come to light only to be rebuked by new information. The belief that mankind is responsible for natural disasters is not a new premise. Our responsibility was believed for hundreds of years and was the reason for sacrifices to volcanoes, oceans, farmland, and forests. The argument is compelling and it would be convenient to blame us so perhaps we have an option for change and some measure of control.
Not so! When we study the deserts, which were once lush forests, it is obvious that many natural disasters are exactly that… natural. Although science has made vast advances in the prediction of weather related events, where a catastrophe will occur is still the whim of nature.
All week, I have been reading 'Nature on the Rampage' by Ann and Myron Sutton to better understand the forces of nature. Hurricanes were named after Huracan, an evil storm god of the Caribbean. One of the most devastating hurricanes on record occurred in 1780. It began off Barbados and came ashore where it flattened trees and dwellings killing countless numbers of people. It destroyed an English fleet anchored off St. Lucia, then ravaged the island completely leaving 6,000 dead in its wake. It swirled on to Martinique, enveloped a French convoy and sank more than 40 ships carrying 4,000 soldiers before leveling towns and villages killing another 9,000 people. It finally wound down after destroying Puerto Rico and an untold number of ships and fishing vessels caught unaware in open sea.
Weston Martyr is quoted in the book with his description of a hurricane. He said, "You cannot breathe with a hurricane blowing full in your face. You cannot see either; the impact on your eyeball of spray and rain traveling over a hundred miles an hour makes seeing quite impossible. The blowing sand cuts your flesh and you hear nothing but the scream and booming of the wind, which drowns even the thunder and the breaking seas. You cannot move except by extreme exertion. To stand is to be blown away like a dead leaf. You cannot even crawl; you have to climb about twisting your arms and legs around anything solid within reach".

*Pic is by the fabulous N.C. Wyeth. 

Monday, September 2, 2019




In the Garden

By Catherine Dougherty

Millipedes on the Move


Over the last week we were blessed rain… it was needed and welcomed in spite of much flooding and downed branches. It finally retired leaving us with that unmistakable smell of fresh dampness.



This time of year the marvelous magical millipedes appear everywhere. Slow and steady, with their many legs moving in a tandem of perfect synchronization, they are truly an unsung hero of the garden. Their job is to take damp decaying leaves and mulch them into tiny pieces, making their work an ecological boon for the garden.

And they have been mulching away since prehistoric times. Mr. Mike Newman, a bus driver and amateur paleontologist from Aberdeen, Scotland found a fossil of a small millipede in a piece of sandstone. He said, “I had found millipedes there before, but this one had evidence of the holes that showed it actually breathed“. Experts from the National Museum of Scotland and Yale University studied it for months and concluded it lived 428 million years ago, making it the oldest land creature in existence. The millipede was the first to crawl from the sea and breathe air!

The millipede is a member of the arthropod family which account for over eighty percent of all known living species. A nasty cousin of the millipede is the centipede and the roly-poly is also related. The name ‘millipede’ comes from the Latin mille (thousand) and pes (foot) however no species has 1,000 feet; common species can have up to 400 with each segment bearing two pairs of legs.

Besides having wonderful translucent legs, millipedes possess the ability to curl in a fascinating cylindrical circle if disturbed. This habit developed possibly because they do not possess an ability to bite or sting so they are using their hard outer shell to protect their feet! I cannot resist gently poking one and watching it instantly coil and children are always amazed by the trick!

That this little species still exists in the garden today, looking exactly like the ancient fossil, is indeed a phenomenon. If you find one inside, please carry it outside to a damp leafy spot and release it... its ancestors are very important after all.


Photo: A millipede in protective mode~


If possible, look in search for a video of a millipede ‘shadow walking”… it is precious!


Video:https://www.facebook.com/Avantgardens.org/videos/351365425754176/

Monday, August 19, 2019

Sacred Bees




Last Saturday was National Bee Day and reported the importance of our relationship with bees. Mankind is dependent upon them to pollinate 70 of the top 100 crop species that feed 90% of the human population. Without pollination these plants would cease to exist as would the animals who eat them. This could create a catastrophic effect that would ripple across the entire food chain.


Mankind has had a mystical, magical relationship with bees for hundreds of years, with much folklore surrounding it. In medieval Europe, bees were prized for their honey and wax. Honey was used to make mead, the world's oldest fermented beverage, and was also used as medicinal cure for burns, cough, indigestion and other ailments. Candles made from beeswax burned brighter, longer and cleaner than other wax candles.


Bees were often kept at monasteries and manor houses, where they were tended with the greatest respect and considered part of the family or community and through this intimate relationship traditions evolved. Whenever there was a death in the family, someone went to the hives to tell the bees of the terrible loss. Failing to do so often resulted in further losses such as the bees abandoning the hive, not producing honey, or possibly dying. 


Traditionally, the bees were kept abreast of not only deaths but all family matters including births, marriages, and a long absence due to journeys. If the bees were not told, fearful calamities were bound to happen. This peculiar custom traveled from Europe across the Atlantic to the Americas, settling in New England. The 19th century American poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote of it in his 1858 poem “Telling the Bees”.



It is thought the practice of telling the bees had its origin in Celtic mythology which held the belief bees were the link between our world and the spirit world. If one had a message and wished to pass it to one who had died, it could be whispered to the bees who would pass it along to the hereafter. 

Telling the bees was widely reported from many places across Europe… in fact Napoleon Bonaparte so loved bees that among his formal attire was a vest of black silk with golden-gilt bees upon it.


The traditional way to ‘tell bees’ was for the head of the household to go to the hives, knock gently to gain their attention, then softly murmur the news. In case of deaths the beekeeper wrapped the top of the hive with a piece of black fabric or crepe. New babies were introduced as were newly-wed couples. For a wedding, the hives were decorated with flowers and pieces of cake were left so that the bees could partake in the festivities. Also, it was considered terribly bad manners to argue in the presence of bees as they find it upsetting. 


Losing a beehive is far worse than losing a supply of honey as the long-term consequences are life threatening. The ancient act of ‘telling the bees’ emphasizes the deep connection humans share with this small insect... we must treat them as though our lives depend upon them, for indeed they do.


Photo: A lovely display of honey in London… the colors are spectacular!

Monday, July 15, 2019

A Personal Tribute to Amaryllis Belladonna... Flowers From Daddy.






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 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 then 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 8, 2019

Traditional Gardens






There is something magical about ‘traditional gardens’ which means are seventy percent perennials and thirty percent annuals. The perennials include heirloom flowers, which are a favorite among gardeners simply for their steadfast qualities; they are the old friends who return each year as faithful favorites. The Hollyhocks, Cannas, varieties of Sedum, Saliva, Mums, acclimated Petunias, and Lilies are prevalent. 


Traditional gardens have a darling smattering of annuals to add seasonal zest, and also include the latest hybrids; the new yellow and purple-striped Petunia is fantastic. The annuals include Cosmos, Marigolds, Mexican Heather, Zinnias, and variegated Vinca all of which will explode in a cascade of show stopping color beginning in mid-July. With the combination of perennials and the annuals, even when the flowering is over for one, a neighboring plant is bursting forth with blooms. The flow of the gardens is an amazing stream of green punctuated with color.


The darling Petunia is a constant staple in all gardens. Originally from Argentina and Brazil, they love a hot climate and will provide continual color in the garden until frost. The varieties are endless from the traditional tiny pale pink of your Grandmother’s garden to the new giant grandiflora or cascading, all of which are available and it is not too late to plant them. The only care required for Petunias is an occasional deadheading to assure continuous blooming and a good soaking of water several times a week during any heat wave.


The Cannas have begun to bloom as well. Typically arriving in hot red, orange, yellow, or combinations of the three, hybrids have produced a dazzling array of colors and heights for this exotic and exquisite species. They are natural pollinators and attract both hummingbirds and butterflies making them a welcome addition to every garden. An additional plus is the fact they will bloom faithfully left undisturbed for many, many carefree years.



Of note is the underground rhizome which contains the largest starch particles of any plant, allowing its agricultural use. Its leaves may be made into paper, its stem fiber is equivalent to jute, its seed provides a lovely natural purple dye. It is just another of Nature’s miraculous plants that we may enjoy.



As the days become hot and too humid, plan of taking a ride in the air-conditioned car to drive about to look for gardens. Often we have stopped at a strangers home and rung their doorbell while introducing ourselves and complimenting them on their efforts. We are always met with their delight and usually leave with an envelope of seeds from their garden. My garden is full of such flowers… and each time I see them I am reminded of their origin.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Heat and House Wrens






The unprecedented rains have left us with severe humidity that has made venturing outside quite uncomfortable… those of us native to Oklahoma are accustomed to dry heat. The ‘steamy/sweltering meter’ now included in the weather forecast is quite new to us and has taken a while to totally comprehend… it simply means hot and sweaty.  The rains also washed and blew the top soil, leaving the garden with the underlying sandy soil that dries out quickly. Watering a must since the overhead sun has begun the summer scorch. It seems as the wheat is harvested each year, the rains abandon us, traveling east and making the countryside as brown as the barren fields.



It is time to tidy the garden by removing the spent foliage of the Amaryllis Belladonna and Jonquils. It has already absorbed nutrients to send to the bulb that is resting below and recently became an unsightly mass of wilted yellow leaves. Once they are removed place a pretty flowering pot in an elevated container over the bare spot. Remember to relocate it when an emerging Amaryllis bloom first appears in mid-July but it may continue to reside over the Jonquils since they are through with their annual show.



Now is the time to venture out in the cool of the morning to scout the garden to look for the darling House Wren. As indicated by their common name, they are intensely interested in humans and often nest where they will receive our attention. The couple will probably make a nest in some odd place so finding it is an interesting scavenger hunt and a fun game for children. Wrens famously choose unusual sites for their nests, including door wreaths, lamp posts, garage shelving, and even old shoes that have been left outside. This year they have nested in the red geranium near the front door and we have watched with gentle interest as the five creamy eggs hatched, the babies eyes fully opened, and fluffy down feathers covered their bodies. Now getting a few feathers, they always peer at us with interest when we move a leaf to check them. 



Wrens arrive here in the spring with the male signaling his arrival with an almost incessant and distinctive stream of burbles, warbles, buzzes and rattling churrs. They are considered a songbird even though their wonderful song is heard only during the nesting season and rarely afterwards. Since the diet of the House Wren consists entirely of insects, spiders, snails, flies, ticks, plant lice, gypsy moth larvae, ants, beetles, and grasshoppers they are a valuable asset to the gardener for natural control of pests.



Small and overly confident, the brown House Wren is extremely territorial and will make efforts to destroy the nest of competitive birds. It is said they will occasionally destroy the eggs of other birds by breaking the egg shell. They have also been known to vandalize the cavity of other bird nests by placing sharp sticks in them therefore rendering them unusable. Regardless of this impolite behavior their fondness for humankind and elimination of pests makes up for it and they are a joyful little bird to have in the garden… they will migrate to Mexico in early October, so enjoy them now.      



Photo: By Catherine Dougherty…  Baby Wren from last year.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Lovely Lilies




The spring rains made the garden fantastic with exception of rampant wood louse (rolly-pollies), slugs, and an odd assortment of mushrooms never-before-seen in Oklahoma. It is said that a coaster of beer will call to the slugs and promptly kill them. It must be noted as well that many of the wood louse have evolved from battleship gray to a lovely hue of sapphire blue… they have not eaten Miracle Grow as first suspected, instead they have a fatal virus.  

The Queen of Summer, the lovely Lily, has begun her entrance at the garden party. Some are blooming as others have buds that are swelling; they will be in full and glorious bloom in several weeks. The varieties available now are truly spectacular and come in ranges of color and form that far exceed the traditional white Easter lily of your Grandmother’s garden.

Hybridization has given us a memorable gift with the improvements. The lily is of the largest and most important plant families, dating back as far as botanical recordings. Of the 2,000 species, there are 12 which are native to North America. The Meadow Lily, the Southern Red Lily, the Leopard Lily, the Wood Lily, and Sierra Lily all grow within the bounds of our nation in shaded woodland settings. The trumpet-shaped blooms made up of six parts, are held upright on sturdy stems. The roots of the lily spread from the central bulb and form new bulbs, making them a perfect naturalized species if allowed enough room to travel.



The Chinese and Japanese lilies have spectacular form and scent and bring elegance to the early summer garden. The flowers come in a full spectrum of color and shape, some with nodding heads, some upright, and others with the lovely turkscap form of recurving leaves. Among these jewels are the Stargazer, Amber Gold, Black Magic and the lovely L. martagon with its back-curved pinkish blooms. Lilies make lovely cut flowers in an arrangement and will fill the room with their spicy aroma.


The plants which we call water Lilies are not of the lily family at all, but are of a genus unto themselves. They too are in full bloom in water gardens everywhere. They project a serene classic beauty with their deep green and glossy plate-like foliage and ethereal blossoms floating on the water. Their leaves provide shelter for fish and help reduce the spread of algae in the pond. Watching and waiting for the bloom of water lilies to open is always exciting and thrilling for the gardener who has cultivated these lovely plants. Summer appears to have arrived full force, ushered in this week following the most lovely spring in ages.


Of note: * Leave the foliage but cut the spent flower following blooming… before it forms that silly seed pod. The pod will take energy from the bulb without producing viable seeds.


Photo credit… Lovely, and grown in Oklahoma City by Deb Davis Cupps

Monday, May 20, 2019

Wonderous Wildflowers



Oklahoma Wildflowers

In spite of the recent storms that descended with terrible velocity, the wildflowers have continued their spectacular show and any drive will offer the sight of our beautiful naturalized countryside. Fossil records indicate that flowers appeared quite suddenly about 90 million years ago and today they are the most abundant and diverse plants on the earth. Originally plants were generated from spore not seed so they were able to reproduce without the aid of pollination. However with the emergence of seeds plants needed wind, birds, or bees to propagate. From this necessity arose the showy flower forms we see today as they sought to lure pollinators with their color, scent, and beauty.

As gardens evolved, flowers were genetically modified and became altogether different from their wild ancestors who grew freely, unattended and yet thrived. However after several centuries of excitement over the ability to alter flowers, gardeners became concerned the original native plants might be completely lost. In the early 1900’s garden designer Gertrude Jeckyll (1843-1932) began a campaign to preserve the beautiful ‘flowering incidents’ occurring in woodland settings.


In the 1970’s Lady Bird Johnson (1912-2007) recognized that urban expansion could possibly cause extinction of many wildflowers and placed their preservation on the national agenda. In 1982 Mrs. Johnson and actress Helen Hayes created the National Wildflower Research Center in Austin Texas to collect, identify, and preserve native plants of America. In her honor the center was renamed the Lady Bird Johnson Texas Wildflower Center in 2012 as it celebrated the 100th anniversary of her birth. Following the former first lady’s lead, Wildflower Societies sprang up in every state and the status of wildflowers was finally changed from noxious weed to treasured gem. Stretches of hi-way are now adopted by dedicated volunteers and across the nation their beautification efforts are evident.


Oklahoma’s Native Plant Society, formed in 1986, states their purpose is ‘to encourage the study, protection, propagation, appreciation and use of Oklahoma's native plants‘. With the society’s encouragement the Indian Blanket Flower was chosen as our state wildflower that year. A darling red flower with bright yellow on the tips of the petals, it has an evolving center that changes from green to deep red as it matures. It may be seen on every hillside, in every bar ditch, beside every Oklahoma road... beautifully blooming to brighten our day.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Too Much Rain and Garden Pests


We have received over ten inches of rain in as many days and the North Canadian River is beyond its banks, weaving a new course. Those who were fortunate and farmed the rich river bottom land will lose crops as they remain under water and even the wheat seems a bit yellow at its base from too much rain. The rainfall has exceeded all state records and many people have been left with a swamp instead of a garden and those who live North of us have been under water for weeks with cattle losses irreplaceable. 
*By comparison in 2010-2011, we received no rain from October until mid-April with ate winter temperatures reaching over 80 degrees for weeks.…many gardeners lost foundation plantings and well- established shrubs for no amount of applied irrigation could suffice to save them.

In spite of too much rain and too many overcast days the storms have provided us mild and pleasant temperatures, with Mother’s Day the most perfect one in years. And the storms been quite interesting to observe. We have had everything from a gentle afternoon drizzle to fierce downpours with lightning flashes that lit the sky, gigantic claps of thunder, and driving horizontal rain. Often the winds quickly escalated to over 70 miles per hour and one night through the blaze of 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.


A true plus of saturated ground is the ease of weeding, however under the canopy of plants that have leaped and partially collapsed with growth from the rain is a host of thousands (perhaps millions) of voracious mealy bugs (rolly pollies) which came as a total surprise to my garden. These pests will literally suck the life out of tender recently emerged plants. Fortunately, Epsom Salt, a favorite of past gardeners, will deter them when sprinkled at the base of the infested plant. Further, a low bowl of beer will make the slugs disappear… it seems they are teetotalers.
*Assign children the task of ‘collecting’ mealy bugs… they truly enjoy the fact they roll into a protective ball.  

Monday, May 6, 2019

Aphids and Lady Bugs!


In the Garden

By Catherine Dougherty

Aphids...and Ladybugs

Happy May! The rain has been very wild, with inches falling over the past week… we seem to have received plenty, however I know we shall wish for it by July. The cool cloudy days have been the impetus for rapid aphid reproduction... bright daylight tends to impede it. Aphids are known throughout the world as perhaps the single most destructive pest known to both farmers and gardeners alike. They arrive in the spring and with the damp and favorable conditions this year they seem to be in great abundance, making their presence known throughout all of central and western Oklahoma.

Known as plant lice, greenflies, or blackflies they are small sap-sucking insects who will literally suck the life out of plants. A little-known species of the aphid family is the white or wooly fly, that tiny dab of white thread-like fluff that jumps when you jiggle the plant they are resting upon. Fossils indicate that Aphids have been present for 280 million years and today there are approximately 4,000 aphid species found throughout the world. These tiny monsters can migrate great distances by riding on winds looking for a fresh food source... one of our lettuce aphids arrived on the wind from Australia.

As with most invasive garden pests, aphids are extremely adaptable to ever-changing conditions. In fact, if a host plant becomes ill or conditions become overly crowded, some aphids are able to spontaneously sprout wings to fly to a new food source. They have specialized mouth parts that enable them to stick a straw-like mouth piece into a plant stem and begin sucking the protein from it, therefore making it ill. They secrete a chemical that allows for free-flowing fluid from the plant while exuding droplets of a quick-hardening fluid that surrounds their body with a shell for protection.

During feeding Aphids also produce a fluid called 'honeydew' which is a sticky goo which may be found on any surface where aphids have resided. An unusual side effect of this substance is that when it hardens it turns black creating a sooty mold fungus... roses are the most frequent victims.

This honeydew is a food source for several species of ants who actually 'farm' the aphids, causing them to produce honeydew by a process of 'milking' by a stroke of their antennae. These ants manage thousands of aphids which are called herds and to assure survival of their food source, the ants gather aphid eggs and protectively store them for the winter. In the spring, the ants carry the newly hatched aphids back to the plants to settle in and once again become their grocery store. (*Sarcastic note: 'Thanks ants'.)

Heavy aphid infestations will cause leaves to curl, wilt or yellow with stunted plant growth and aphids can actually cause a plant to die a slow death of dehydration, since liquids have either been drained or compromised. Aphids are simply not allowed in the garden as they provide nothing but destruction... unless you are an ant.

Therefore, they must be exterminated and instead of spraying a pesticide which will kill beneficial bees, butterflies, Praying Mantis, beetles and everything else, purchase a flat of lady bugs. Each Ladybug will eat over 75 aphids a day and are able to discover them in their secret hiding places... plus discovering ladybugs in the garden is a delight for every child and those of us who still retain childish joys!

*They may be ordered online for as little as $12 for 800 voracious ladybugs. They arrive in a few days….get some this week! Photo: The great Lady Bug Release.