Monday, July 17, 2017

Darling, Daring Dragonflies



Not since 2010 has the garden been graced with so many dragonflies and this is indeed their year. Twenty years ago they appeared in great numbers in late afternoon, gracefully hovering in a suspended dance above the meadow. This year they appear in mass by mid-morning and in a stunning array of brilliant colors. Dragonflies are located worldwide and have more than 5,000 described species, 450 of which reside in North America, with Texas alone home to 225 species. Considerably downsized now, a fossilized dragonfly from 250 million years ago had a wingspan of 28 inches!

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

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

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

For the third year I have a gorgeous Dragonfly who has taken up residence in my privet, near the step down to the lower level. A vivid blue with dark black wings which fold as he rests, he seems to like me… he posed for the picture before gently flittering to another branch.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Wonderous Watermelon


 
 


Watermelon is thought to have originated in the Kalahari Desert of Africa and its popularity is partially due to the flavor and the amount of water it contains... it is 92-94% water, thus the name. Much of the epic history of the watermelon has been researched by Harry Paris, a horticulturalist at the Agricultural Research Organization in Israel, who has spent years assembling clues including ancient Hebrew texts, artifacts in Egyptian tombs, and medieval illustrations…. archaeologists discovered watermelon seeds, along with the remnants of other fruits, at a 5,000-year-old settlement in Libya. From Africa watermelons spread throughout countries along the Mediterranean Sea by way of merchant ships where they were stored to be used as a portable canteen for fresh water on journeys.

The first recorded watermelon harvest occurred nearly 5,000 years ago in Egypt and is depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphics on walls of their ancient buildings. Watermelons were often placed in the burial tombs of kings to nourish them in the afterlife... one was discovered in King Tut’s tomb. Pliny the elder, our favorite Greek historian, mentioned them as a refrigerant maxime, an extremely cooling food, in his first century encyclopedia, Historia Naturalis.

By the 10th century, watermelon found its way to China, which is now the world's number one producer of watermelons. By the 13th century, they were known throughout Europe. Southern food historian, John Egerton, believes watermelon made its way to the United States with African slaves as he states in his book, "Southern Food."

About 200-300 varieties are grown in the U.S. and Mexico, although there are about 50 varieties that are very popular. In selecting a watermelon, choose one that is heavy for its size and free of bruises with a yellow underside indicating it was vine ripened.

For a moment of inspiration is must be noted that watermelons are being reintroduced to sub-Sahara Africa as a source of water for those in drought stricken areas. It is indeed a miracle plant!

Photo: Giuseppe Recco's Still Life With Fruit (1634-1695).
 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

May the Dung Beetle RIP



Anyone who is observant in the garden has met the darling dung beetle. He’s the fascinating little dark gray guy who plays in a mound of dung… any sort will do. He works it as though it is an important assignment pushing this way and that. And when he has it ‘just so’ in a small ball, he stands on his head and begins to roll his creation using his hind legs to balance the whole thing as it rolls. Sometimes they work as a crew, with many little beetles hard at work.

Unfortunately, this incredibly useful little beetle has met his demise through the use of Ivomec, a highly successful internal and external parasite control for cattle. “Discovered and developed by scientists from Merck Research Laboratories, IVOMEC Pour-On contains ivermectin, a unique chemical entity“ (Their qoute) Yes indeed… and the poisoned parasites are excreted and the poor dung beetle, just doing his job, is poisoned as well.

As we say farewell to yet another important life form living on our Planet, the dung beetle needs the recognition he deserves so perhaps reviewing his job is in order. These little beetles reside in pastures and clean the waste droppings by rolling them and burying them in tunnels six inches deep. The tunnels create greater water retention in the fields and improve root and soil aeration. Besides being fertilized, the pasture is clean which reduces the gastrointestinal parasite larvae which may be ingested by the cattle, excreted by the cattle then ingested again in an ongoing life cycle. By rapidly cleaning the pasture, dung beetles reduce the numbers of flies, whom we all know adore manure as a nesting site for their nasty youngsters, the maggots.

I had noted the past few years, the pastures had begun look like cattle ghettos… as though the sanitation crews had abandoned them. Unfortunately the sanitation crews have been killed.

The dung beetle is a true loss… to a degree of which only time can tell. I was very fond of them and spent a good part of my childhood and adulthood stopping to watch them work, enamored and fascinated by their duty and obligation. May our little beetles RIP… and may Merck be ashamed for not doing their homework!

Please do not use this product in any form. Please let me know of sightings of the beetle

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Dazzling Dahlias



 
As with all flowers there is a rich and colorful history surrounding the Dahlia, which originated in Mexico where it was cultivated by Aztec empire. Amid little fanfare, the first Dahlias were introduced to Europe by the first conquistadores, who mistook the tubers for potatoes. However in 1769 tubers were sent to the Royal Botanic Garden in Madrid by the director of Mexico’s Botanical Garden and from this original stock three distinct species were developed which are still part of Dahlias today.

In 1872 J.T. Van der Berg of the Netherlands was sent a parcel of plants from a friend in Mexico. Though most of the plants were badly rotten he was able to salvage a piece of root that he tended until it grew into a healthy plant. He made cuttings from the plant during the winter of 1872-1873 and we have him to thank for the deep red Dahlias. Van der Berg named his darling Dahlia juarezii to honor the deceased Mexican President Benito Juarez.

The petals of his glorious Dahlia rolled backwards, rather than forward, and this form is believed to be the original, existing in Mexico before disappearing for hundreds of years. Nurserymen in Europe crossbred this plant with others and the results are our Dahlias of today.

Nurserymen, who seemed a hot-headed several centuries ago, verbally fought over who discovered, hybridized, and distributed the first Dahlias… the list is endless. In 1846, so popular were Dahlias, that the Caledonia Horticultural Society of  Edinburgh offered a 2,000 pound prize to the person who was able to cultivate a ‘blue‘…  a fete which has never been accomplished.

Dahlias fleshy root, prized for intense mocha flavor, is still roasted and used to flavor beverages in Central America. In Europe, prior to the discovery of insulin in 1923, patients were often given a substance derived from a form of fruit sugar extracted from the Dahlia to control diabetes.

The Dahlia likes sunshine will faithfully bloom for most of the season reaching their zenith in August. To assure constant blooms they must be dead headed, which is the process of removing spent blossoms. Today’s Dahlias run the entire spectrum of color, bloom size, and shape. From the darling miniature Humpty Dumpty to the dazzling giants with their sultry tangle of fantastic foliage and giant six inch blooms, there is a Dahlia to fit your garden needs… and now is the time to plant one.
 
* My Dahlia that wintered over here is over 7 feet tall!

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Antique Chambers Stove and the Stranger

The stove looked like mine...



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

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

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

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

She accepted and got into the swing of things immediately as she followed me into the kitchen. We got out the Haviland and she set the table; we whipped mashed potatoes, buttered rolls, and filled Grandmother’s crystal water glasses. We sliced the roast, tossed the salad and by the time dinner rolled around, we were fast friends. I settled her next to me at the table and we had a lovely meal. Virginia joined the conversations and laughed at the delightful antics of the children…  she enjoyed herself immensely.
 
As Michael, the children and I walked her to the gate and waved goodbye, the kids looked at me quizzically and asked, “Mom, who was that lady?” 

BTW: I gave her the stove...

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Where did I leave my pruners?



My day in the Garden
This is how my gardening days usually go lately; I can’t find anything in the yard anymore. I spend all my time looking for lost tools. I’ll prune something, stack it then drop the pruners to carry off debris, planning to return momentarily. I see something else on the way back to the pruners and become distracted from the pruning job.

A large clump of grasses or weeds lurking amongst the flowers catch my eye. I weed a bit then I begin to look for the rake to rake the weeds and grass I’ve just pulled before they can rebound and reroot. On my way to find the rake I see a lily with a heavy head that needs to be staked. I remember a stake is on the spent Iris so I go looking for it. I finally locate it then stake the plant.

Then I remember, as I see the wilting weeds, I am looking for the rake. I finally find it in some obscure place then rake the weeds into a pile. I need my gloves to pick up the pile so I go to the garden table to get them. Not there. I remember I took them to the house so they would not get rain soaked, so I go to get them on the ledge of the porch. Bingo. Gloves on I pick now up the weeds.

As I am carrying them off I see a six pack of wilting Petunias that desperately need to be put in the ground. I need my trowel. Hmmm? I look for one of my three trowels and finally find one in the herbs where I was digging grass days ago. I plant the Petunias then notice something that needs to be pruned.

I can't remember where I left the pruners, it’s getting hot, I’m beginning to sweat and need a drink of water. I’ve gone full circle. No wonder I'm tired at night.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Flooding at the Doomsday Vault... an Unexpected Oddity.


 

For those of us who garden, Nature is fascinating, always shifting, and emerging in different directions. From shere powers of our own observations we notice changes however subtle. It seems that in spite of some current observations which dispute Global Warming, it does indeed exist. I can recall the first time I observed pollution from automobiles. It was a crisp winter day in 1986 and I was taking my usual walk to the top of the hill on the little red dirt road. Since we are only three miles from it, I could always see I-40 and this day for the first time I noted a hazy brown line above the trucks and cars driving the hi-way. Back then traffic was infrequent and I believe most goods were still shipped by rail rather than trucks however since then the traffic is choking and a monstrous cloud of hazy pollution may be seen for miles. With our actions, mankind has indeed altered the climate of our planet, leaving potential disaster in our wake.

With the knowledge of radical climate change, the ‘Doomsday Vault’ to house seeds from all over the planet was built in 2008 in the most perfect setting possible… the remote island of Svalbard Norway at the Arctic Circle near the North Pole. As I wrote in April, the vault is humanity’s assurance of food perpetuation in case of a catastrophic event, such as nuclear war or an asteroid strike. Regardless of politics, each nation has contributed and the repository contains over 865,000 varieties of seeds from around the globe, with an intended capacity of 2.25 billion seeds.’

Built 8 stories down into the frozen tundra, the Norwegian government felt the seeds were secure, nestled under permafrost which is, as its name implies, permanent ice. Last week an alarming report of great import was seen as a mere squiggle on the news… five days ago it was reported the entrance to the vault had been breached by floodwater. The area sees only snow however due to climate change and unusual warming there have been a series of unexpected rains which melted the permafrost. Thankfully the flooding did not make it to the seed depository.

Scientists have waterproofed and removed electronics from the tunnel leading to the vault, and dug trenches to channel water. They have hustled to install pumps in the seed room to save them should it be breached. The Seeds are the life-blood of the planet and mankind; they are perpetual and must be saved at all cost.

Perhaps we should consider our own ‘global footprint’ which is the measure of human impact upon the Earth's ecosystems. It estimates how rapidly we are depleting Earth’s natural gifts with our unconscious actions. Perhaps we should seek to slow down a bit and simply enjoy the glorious moments we have been given.


Monday, May 1, 2017

May and the Arrival of Bugs


In the Garden

By Catherine Dougherty

 

 

If April showers bring May flowers we will be delighted, particularly after the storms wrought such havoc. The weekend storms were unlike any in recent memory with torrents of rain for days, sustained winds that ripped and tore foliage, uprooted trees, produced mini-tornados, and did substantial damage. These storms have an intensity that is frightening and seem to increase in velocity as they travel across the country.

It is fortunate it is so early in the season because Nature will repair the damage to the trees and shrubs. However there is no such luck for the Peonies that were in full and glorious bloom… the wind and rain shortened their show and it will not return until next spring. The up side is the late blooming Iris are putting on new buds and Oklahoma has finally emerged from our drought status.  

In checking the garden, I noted the deluge did not deter the hoards of bugs invading the garden. The most invasive so far seems to be the blister bug seen scurrying among almost all the garden vegetation. Blister bugs belong to a group of insects who have met on a collision course with mankind for many years and are considered ‘very bad bugs‘. They travel in packs and migrate to whatever seems delicious at the moment, and unlike some insects that have a favorite flavor the blister bug eats everything indiscriminately. Thus just as the produce and flowers reach their peak, they arrive enmass and strip the plants of all protective foliage practically overnight. 

 
A clever insect, they have been known to drop to the ground and ‘play dead’ when disturbed. When that tactic fails, they release their infamous caustic toxin Cantharidin, and it is from this they get their reputation as ‘blister bugs‘. If crushed, the beetle literally bleeds this chemical from its joints and any skin contact with this goo results in painful blisters.

Blister bugs love alfalfa flowers and have often been accidentally ground up during harvest resulting in Cantharidin infected hay. When consumed by livestock the resulting blisters may cause illness so this beetle is quite dangerous. To rid the garden of them I recommend shaking the branch and stepping on them with hard sole shoes and since they will have squished, do not touch the soles and leave your shoes outside… high and away from children or pets.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Exotic Dancer, the Body Guard, and the Baby Bed


Julia learned about gravity by tossing toys over the edge of the baby bed... It was an important investment!
 

 Of course we all know my life never, never runs smoothly and each and every day presents some sort of adventure or bizarre challenge. With Julia’s arrival I decided that I needed to break down the furnishings in the ’kite room’ and get a full sized baby bed for her. The kite room is called thusly from the 1987 wallpaper of colorful dancing kites with flowing tails in primary colors. It was a favorite and the kids said they traced the maze-like pattern of the tails while supposedly napping. They refused to allow me to repaper or paint over them and with Julia here a reevaluation of the room made it seem a marvelously child-friendly space. Only it was needing a bed.
 
Enter the brilliant idea of searching Craig’s List… everyone does. Scrolling down I rejected the beds used by grandmother’s who had ‘only used it ten times or so’ as unfeasible. For some reason I just didn’t believe them. I kept scrolling, amazed at the number of baby items listed, until BINGO, there it was. The bed was a high dollar Simmons for only $65 and the picture was pretty awesome. So I called…
 
A lady answered in garbled sentences and I assumed it was the damn cell phone again. I got directions for a storage facility somewhere deep in South Oklahoma City. I was to meet her there and said I‘d call when we got close to the city. I had two more garbled calls from her with one lengthy conversation about her being at the tag office trying to get a new tag for her car… in spite of all the bizarre directions we did manage to find the storage unit.
 
It had tall metal fencing and was a locked and gated maze of tiny storage units down secluded alleys. We waited outside until a beautiful young woman drove up in a very old Mercedes with a dent in the back. She had a man as a passenger and waved gaily as she slipped her card through the access slot and the gate swung open. Both of our cars moved in… the gate slammed closed behind us. She drove through turn after turn of the storage units as we went deeper and deeper through alleys into unknown territory of total isolation. I didn’t know such places existed!  She stopped and got out of the car, rushing to greet me. Clearly she was on heavy drugs… thus the garbles. Ah well…

She was about 28, perfect tan, perfect hair, perfect body, perfect sparkly makeup, deep plunging scanty top and short ass-showing shorts; she was clearly a stripper. Then the other passenger got out and I stifled a gasp. He must have been 6’ 8” or 9”, and a good 400 pounds. She said, ’Meet Moth’ as he extended his ham-sized hand. Michael and I glanced at each other in the isolation of the empty alley as I twisted my engagement ring to my palm. Michael glanced at the Avalanche longingly before looking at me with the ‘It’s a fine fix you’ve gotten us into Lucy’ glance I‘ve seen many times before!

She opened the door to what appeared to be a deep and narrow closet and began to drag the bed out of storage unit. I loved it I said…I’ll take it! Did I want the mattress…. No. I said I had one which I didn’t. I had a sinking feeling we needed to leave this place immediately... after all Michael had cash in his billfold.

Michael began loading the bed, tossing it in the truck with wild abandon. When I asked if we should tie it down he answered, ‘Not so much’… get in the truck’. 'Wait, Wait,' she called... did I want to buy jewelry she selling? What? Moth was smiling with that ‘I’m not all here’ smile and at the mention of jewelry he looked at my turquoise ring and asked what it was.

I pressed the cash into her hand but she suddenly began to really, really like me! She said “Wait", and ran to her car bringing out a tray of jewelry she was selling. She said she was a jewelry designer and wanted to give me an opportunity to have one of her unique designs. Michael sighed restlessly as I politely looked at her designs and she suddenly offered to give me a stone. Really? I took a long look and chose a lovely garnet then we visited about making jewelry. I liked her too and she sincerely hugged me goodbye as I thanked her profusely. We got in the pickup, Michael locked the doors, and I enthusiastically waved goodbye as we left... I was immensely pleased.

There was total silence for twenty miles or so before Michael asked quietly, “Do we want to talk about what just transpired“?

“What transpired?” I asked, “We just got a bed for Julia through Craig’s List and I got a garnet!”

Monday, April 24, 2017

Wild About Wildflowers


Oklahoma's Wildflowers
 
With the recent rains 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.

*Of Note:
The hideous Musk Thistle has arrived in our pastures over the past ten years. Oddly, this thistle has adorned the national emblem of Scotland since the reign of Alexander III (1249-1286) and was used on silver coins issued by James III in 1470. Legend has stated that Norse invaders stepped on them and the thorns pierced their leather foot wear. The invaders cried out in pain, thus alerting the sleeping Scotsmen and assuring them a battle win. As can be seen in the photograph, the base of this dreadful plant is sturdy and incredibly thorny, topped by a pretty pink blossom that is lethal in her production of seeds. A single flower head may produce 1,200 seeds and a single plant up to 120,000 seeds, which are wind dispersed. The seeds may remain viable in the soil for over ten years, making it a difficult plant to control. Cattle who ingest it often die....

Monday, April 10, 2017

Sacred Seeds




*Given to patron of Farmers Co-Ops in 1935.
 
The perpetuation of God’s greatest gift to mankind, plants which sustain all of life, is assured through the production of their seeds. Seeds assure there will be another crop and thus food for all who eat fruits and grasses. Gardeners are accurately aware of the importance of seeds and many save them from year to year to plant or exchange with other gardeners.  

This spring Public Broadcasting will air a very important series, raising the alarm on the imperative of saving our seeds from corporate manipulation. Corporate farms are in the process of genetically engineering their seeds to render them infertile, making it a necessity to purchase them each year. This seems a diabolical plan and an unwarranted intervention in the epoch of life created by the Master.

For over 12,000 years mankind has carefully collected and stored seeds, knowing the future depended upon them.  When the great pyramids were opened, archaeologists discovered caches of seeds among other artifacts. Upon planting, many of these seeds stored for thousands of years, germinated into well formed plants.

Another example is that of a stash of seeds buried within a Native American seed pot discovered on the Menemonee Reservation in Wisconsin. The pot and 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 the utter joy of the student archaeologist, the strange seeds grew into a rare species of squash that had been extinct for hundreds of years.

There is also an amazing report of lupine (Lupinus articicus) seeds discovered in the Yukon of Alaska.  Found deep within the burrows of ancient lemmings, buried in permafrost silt dating to the Pleistocene epoch, these 10,000 year old seeds sprouted as well.

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. Regardless of politics, each nation has contributed and the repository contains over 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 the tiny miracle of life each contains is one of Mother Nature’s grandest plans… seeds are perpetual and must remain so.

Information on the PBS series: http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/films/seed-the-untold-story/

*There are many online sites to still purchase unmodified heirloom seeds.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Flowering Viburnum and Feathered Courtship

 
With the world spinning very quickly these days, it is more important than ever to seek some harmonic softeners in daily life. The escalation of technology has become mind-boggling especially when one considers that only 100 years ago the main duty of School Boards in rural Oklahoma was to provide hay for the children’s horses and fire wood for heat. Now more than ever the peaceful expanse of the garden is not only desirable, but a necessary means to keep one literally grounded. Whether you are six or sixty, there is no pastime more joyful than playing in the dirt… this spring plan on some serious down-time in the garden.
Nature endowed the earliest spring bloomers with the sweetest scents and the Viburnum is no exception. Of course we have the Asians to thank for the sweet spicy scent; our native Viburnum do not possess the spellbinding aroma. A member of the Honeysuckle family, Viburnum are seen all across North America, in Europe, and all of Asia, making them a naturalized global sensation. And their early arrival makes them one of the first seasonal feasts for the bees.
The Viburnum is a small tree with easy growing habits that has been a garden necessity since the early 1900’s. The Korean Spice has lovely white or pink flower clusters which appear before all of the dark and heavily ribbed leaves have matured. Their scent is sweetly enchanting, almost delicious, as it wafts through the garden carried by the breezes. And their show does not end after flowering; the flowers become berries prized by birds and the foliage turns a lovely dusty red in the fall.
Summer Snowflake, which is pictured, is another fantastic Viburnum. Although not as fragrant as the Korean Spice, it blooms several weeks later and has the most  lovely drifting layers... as though it is wearing white lace petticoats peeking from under a deep green dress. Both species are spectacular additions to the garden and promise years of carefree beauty.
The song birds have increased their activities with the arrival of mating season and since the trees are not yet totally leafed, we are allowed to watch feathered courtship rituals. Their songs have a new sweetness and they are darting about seriously flirting and ‘dating‘. The Titmouse, Chickadees, and Goldfinches are earnest, the lady Cardinals all look like teenagers, and the Woodpecker has begun rat-a-tat drilling to provide a home for babies. There is a flurry of nest construction and the choice of materials is indeed surprising... small twigs, pieces of moss, a piece of stuffing from a torn lawn cushion, a ribbon of twine are universal choices. Intricately woven, often lined with downy feathers, a nest provides a perfect habitat to hatch tiny eggs and shelter fledglings before they mature and venture out into the world on their own. Right now our feathered friends are providing delightful garden entertainment and each has a unique personality!

Monday, March 20, 2017

St Patrick, the Shamrock and Oxalis


 





Pink Oxalis



Spring was ushered in on Monday, March 19th with the Vernal Equinox...that brief moment in time when there are equal parts of both day and night. However it has been unusually hot as we also welcomed with the celebration Saint Patrick’s Day on March 17th . Those of Irish heritage celebrate his saint’s day by wearing a shamrock, planting their potatoes, and possibly imbibing large quantities of alcohol.

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Plant Based Medicinal Knowledge of Our Elders


What have we lost?

I began rereading the Foxfire books again a few weeks ago. They were first published as magazine articles in 1966 but became so successful that the articles were published in a series of books. They are fascinating reading for in them one finds a multitude of little known and almost archaic information. Everything from forecasting the weather by observing the animals, insects, plants, or the patterns of fire to planting by moon signs, dressing a deer, building a log cabin, or making home remedies is covered, all of which seem timely as the recession deepens.

The articles were initiated by Eliot Wigginton, a Cornell graduate with a master’s degree, who began teaching at a small school in Rabun Gap-Nacochee, Georgia. Deep in the Appalachians, the 240 pupil school was located in a rural community where the traditional culture was dying. After centuries of self-sufficiency, interest in maintaining the life style of the mountain people had ebbed and the next generation was opting for an easier life. As the elders died, the information they carried with them was gradually being lost forever. In the final days of that culture, Mr. Wigginton asked the students to collect stories and information from their grandparents for preservation. It is fascinating reading available at most Libraries and quite inexpensively online.


In keeping with that thought, we should recognize that much information known to our grandparents has been lost to us in our community as well. In the mid 1970’s we visited Marion Wise at his home east of town on many occasions. He was truly a remarkable man. Not only was he totally self-sufficient, but he had knowledge of the medicinal qualities of plants growing in his back yard and the fields beyond. He added a little of this and that to petroleum jelly and had a salve that truly cured skin cancer. Chew this for a cough, boil that for a headache; the information was priceless. I kept meaning to talk to him about his knowledge, to learn from him the old ways, but days turned to months and months to years between visits and suddenly he was gone. His home was sold and bulldozed, his garden became a cotton field, and it all of his secrets were lost to us forever.

Mankind depended upon remedies and concoctions from the garden for thousands of years for health and vitality. This knowledge was passed down from one generation to the next and everyone understood the connection between nature and mankind. Perhaps this winter, since flu shots are in scarce supply, we should think of adding Cranberries to our daily diets. They are a natural antiviral and boost the immune system. With a little vitamin C containing rose hips, a cup of red clover tea, and maybe a blackberry cordial if we’re feeling under the weather, we should survive the winter very nicely.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Think Green and Preserve Our Precious Planet


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With the rise of environmental awareness at long last, businesses have come around and are beginning to market ‘green’. Since we are a rural community, many people have been raised with an environmental conscience so it is but a small step for us to again embrace the premise. If in doubt, the comparisons in the American standard of living today and fifty years ago make a compelling statement.

In 1950, the average household consisted of almost four people. Most homes were less than 1, 200 square feet and had one or two bedrooms and one bathroom according to the National Association of Home Builders. With a modest home and ownership of a family car, most people thought they had achieved the American Dream.

By 2003, the average household size had shrunk to 2.6 people and yet the size of new homes had doubled. Half of them have at least four bedrooms, all have two or more bathrooms. Americans own twice as many cars per person, multiple TVs, computers, and cell phones. None of this is, in itself  is bad but just how much is enough?

Betsy Taylor, president of the Center for a New American Dream, thoughtfully discusses the changes in American aspirations. For our parents and grandparents, the American Dream meant hope, an unshakeable belief that happiness and security were truly possible. That dream still exists but the original focus on security and personal well-being slowly gave way to an obsession with ‘more’. More work, more material goods, larger cars and homes did not grant contentment or bestow free time.

The disconnect with nature and the waste generated by packaging the goods is almost overwhelming and has polluted every Ocean on the planet. Changing the way one consumes to improve quality of life and protect the environment is not difficult. Going green does not mean deprivation; it means changing habits.

 Simple tips can be implemented as a lifestyle. For example borrow books, CDs, DVDs, and video games from the library and share magazine subscriptions with friends. Use fewer household cleaners; try soap and water, baking soda, or vinegar instead. Share a lawnmower and tools with your neighbors and learn to do your own repairs rather than throw things away. Turn out the lights when you leave a room and use ceiling fans to boost your cooling/heating system effectiveness. Skip prepared and frozen food by making dinners from scratch and utilize leftovers for lunches. Plant a garden and swap produce with neighbors.

With one small baby step at a time, we can preserve the resources of our precious planet.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Revisiting Poisonous Plants



Castor Bean Plant in Bloom


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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 6, 2017

Valentine Gifts for Gardeners


Bulb Planter that attaches to a cordless drill!
 
In conversation with a fellow writer last week she astounded me by mentioning she never includes the weather in her gardening columns. She is a city girl so I am assuming the weather does not have drastic significance to her. In our community the forecast is all important and a necessity to note. From high winds and burn bans to dry conditions in the garden, predictions are very much a part of rural everyday lives. Without them how would we know if we need a sweater, an overcoat or an umbrella? A nice temperature or wind gauge would be a much appreciated Valentine’s gift… checking it would stave off the boredom of February.   

February gives the gardener time to evaluate the condition of your tools. If you send your lawn mower, hedge clippers, and rototiller to the shop now, before the spring rush, they will be repaired, revamped, and ready for use without delay.

 There are several handy items one might consider as a welcome gift for your gardening Valentine. At long last technology has met practicality and created new ergonomically correct hand tools for the gardener. Ergonomically correct tools reduce stress on the joints making them a marvelous gift for any hard working gardener.

 The fabulous Felco #2 Pruners are standard issue among commercial growers and make general pruning a breeze. Felco’s #7 models with a swivel handle that allows the gripping action to have a more natural motion is an ideal gift for the gardener with a bit of arthritis. Although they are a bit pricey, they are well worth the expense for their sheer functionality. From the company Bahco, who were the inventers of the pipe wrench, comes the P2S Pruner with the promise of professional grade pruning.

And last fall we purchased a bulb planter that fits on a drill. It is indeed a miracle for under $25, digging a bulb sized hole in seconds… it proved to be fine investment as we planted 75 bulbs in thirty minutes.  

This year plan to forgo the typical transient Valentine’s Day gifts such as cut flowers and candy and give your gardener a practical gift that will express your undying love and devotion… a good tool will do exactly that!  

Monday, January 30, 2017

Tomatoes in the News... Finally

Tomatoes in the News… Finally
 
At last the flavor of tomatoes has reached the forefront of national news… on Monday a story appeared on television which addressed the flavor of current tomatoes. As all of who love them may attest tomato flavor has become more and more lackluster as years progress until they taste... well, blah. The news suggested that two flavorful tomatoes may be genetically combined to create one with true flavor.
Originating in South America, tomatoes were prized by the Aztecs as early as 700 AD. They were brought to Europe from the Americas by Conquistadors in the early 1600’s but were considered poison by the wealthy. Unfortunately, the flatware and plates of that time were made of lead based pewter and the acidic tomato caused the lead to leach from their dinnerware to the fruit. When it was eaten, the victims died of lead poisoning… a very unpleasant way to go. Peasants had no such finery in their kitchens and ate from wooden plates with wooden spoons. Thus the tomato was relegated as a food of the lower classes where it was widely accepted as a staple. Not until the 1800’s did the upper classes begin to embrace the tomato. By the time of the Civil War, the tomato was at last accepted throughout the south as a garden and dietary staple.
As I noted in 2013, ‘for almost a decade now tomato harvests have been lackluster to say the least. I can remember when a tomato plant tossed anywhere in the garden would flourish, producing an over abundance of fruit all summer. There were no requirements or procedures to ‘baby’ fussy plants… they were tough and hardy. Planted in several three week successions, one could expect tomatoes from June until October and first frost.’
Originally it was reported that tomato plants like daytime temperatures between 70 and 85 degrees. In hybridizing the tomato for growers in cooler climates, they have genetically altered the original requirements of the plant... previously tomatoes liked it hot and dry. In altering their genetic makeup, the flavor has not only changed it has been eliminated. It is obvious tomatoes simply were not suited to be grown in New England!
Americans eat over 12 million tons of tomatoes each year, making it one of the most popular items on our menu. Throughout the United States, tomato harvests have been declining and perhaps this too is because of the hybrids. The hybrid tomatoes came with a list of illnesses the tomato plant may have and they seem a bit ridiculous. Included are leaf roll, blossom end rot, sunscald cracks, and cat face and others. Various sites call for a laundry list of exhaustive remedies… all for a plant that was at one time so hardy it originated in Mexico!
In years past if the plants were not producing gardeners went outside and ‘spanked’ the plants with a broom and one of our best yields came the year the cows got into the garden and stomped the plants. Being basically masochistic, they straightened right up and produced a record crop!  here is nothing more tasteful to the palate than a fresh tomato… I look forward to them again.
*The blueberries and Strawberries were mentioned as well
*Photo: A typical daily harvest from 20 plants in 1998.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Mother of Thousands... Her Baby Succulents



 *Please note: All parts of this lovely plant are poisonous and may prove fatal to children or pets... keep away from them.
Once again the weather took center focus with frozen rain and ice accumulations, temperatures below freezing and fog. Additionally, the rain on Sunday was an added surprise and the since temperatures did not reach above freezing ice continued to form on the trees and shrubs.  Fortunately we had no wind for it was cause of the devastation of the ice-laden trees several years ago…as the wind howled one could hear hideous sounds of giant trees snapping and falling with a deadly thud. It took literally months to clean the mountains of debris that covered all of western Oklahoma from El Reno to the border.

The Succulents are enjoyed by all gardeners for their easy going nature and their ability to survive during stressful summer days, enduring where other plants may perish. The secret to their survival is their plump fleshy leaves which store water for the plant to use during extremely dry spells. However this water content is the reason they may not reside outdoors during the winter for the leaf becomes an ice tray… frozen leaves will immediately end her life. However if taken indoors in early Autumn, watered slightly once a week when the sandy top soil is dry, she will thrive until time to take her outside in the Spring.   

One of the most adorable is Mother of Thousands whose easy propagation is the reason for her name. Originating in Madagascar, this succulent has lost the ability to produce seeds and only reproduces from plantlets,  which are small baby plants growing along the leaves of the fading adult plant. As the Mother plant begins to end her life cycle, these adorable babies appear in winter along the sides of her leaves. As the babies mature, tiny sprigs of root begin to appear, growing until it is time for the youngster to literally slide down the parent leaf into the soil below to begin life alone.  

She detests soggy conditions, as do all sedums, so plant the youngsters using a terra cotta pot with drainage holes and a sandy medium, such as cactus potting mix, for fast drainage.  Shove the plantlet into a hole the size of an index finger, tamp the soil, lightly water, and a new plant will emerge and thrive.

*For those of us who feel guilt for allowing any seeding to perish without notice, Mother of Thousands will provide a challenge… for how does one find suitable homes for thousands of children?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Winter Stew


 
 
My Stew Recipe:

Buy 2 ½ or 3 pounds of either stew meat or chuck… whatever is cheaper.  Cut into small bite sized pieces.. . this is important because large pieces do not get tender. Put in a skillet and cook over medium heat, adding salt and pepper and 2 cups of coffee to it as it becomes brown. Set aside when it is done.

In your stock pot add:

1 small cabbage, cut

Six or seven medium carrots peeled and cut in ¼ inch diameters

 1 medium onion diced

Five potatoes (unpeeled) diced.

Cover with water and begin to slowly boil. When the cabbage is limp and the carrots and potatoes are boiling, but still firm, add the meat.

On the meat add:

1 medium jar of Picante sauce… I use mild

1 can of corn

 1 can of peeled, diced tomatoes you have squeezed and broken into pieces.

Parsley, other spices you like and anything left in the frig you want to add.

 

Stir and allow to come to a slow boil. Cook stirring whenever you think about it for about 40 minutes…

Serve with a roll and a glass of wine.

The flavors meld over the next few days, so add something like more potatoes each day. Boil them first and add when they are still slightly firm… also add some of the ‘potato water’ to your stew if you want a more liquid consistency. Enjoy!!!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Almost-Disaster Zip Line





The tree across the creek bit it in the ice storm, but you can see the drop!






We took a walk and saw the 60 foot Oak tree, with the 20 foot girth that we had put the zip line around for the kids when they were young. It was over the canyon where the creek runs and at a proper angle to actually zip with sufficent speed for a fun ride. We even had a mattress at the end so smashing was softened. We had chained an old tractor seat to sit correctly over the line and decided Lize, who was six and the lightest person in the family, should go first.

 Bad plan... she was too lightweight and the thing stopped over the creek, that had spikes of willow trees we had cut off for the project. She panicked and let go her hands and looked like she was going to jump the 25 feet to the creek... and the spears of willow.
 

I stood below her, burst into tears and coaxed, 'Baby, please, please hold on, hold on until Daddy can lasso your foot and we can pull you to this side'.

The depth of the canyon... except it has no rocks... it is red stone/dirt.


*This comment may be listed as one of the worst things you hope to never have to say to your child... it seems a bit irresponsible.. just a bit.

Michael frantically got a rope and successfully tossed it to her, where she carefully slipped it around her ankle while holding on with one hand. 

 No wonder I seem shell shocked sometimes!


*BTW, My father was afraid of heights because he always had a desire to jump... perhaps it was a genetic thing?