Thursday, December 14, 2017

Meeting Angels Unawares... A Christmas Story



 It was late December and our children were still little so naturally we were broke. Christmas was coming and although we were not extravagant, we still provided special food and thoughtful gifts for all eight of them. We were entering the on ramp on I-40 to drive home from a grocery excursion and saw an elderly gentleman standing on the side of the hi-way, leaning on a wooden crutch. He was about 75 with a stubble of beard, dressed in ragged clothing, wearing an old gray hat. His belongings were in a small stained bag, and he had an old woolen blanket pulled tightly about him. I felt sudden sadness upon seeing him and asked Michael if we should stop. He said no because we had three of the children with us and he would have to squeeze him in the backseat with them. He said that surely someone would pick the old gent up for me not to worry. And yet both of us felt a nagging sadness at the old man’s plight.

The following morning we realized we had forgotten some necessary items and again made the twenty mile run to the adjacent town. It was overcast, drizzling and a very cold blasting North wind made conditions miserable. As we drove I asked Michael if he thought someone had picked up the old man. He promised me that surely someone had. We bought the last of our necessities and had only forty dollars left as we entered the on ramp.

Sweet Jesus, he was still there! How could he still be there? We stopped just beyond the old man and Michael got out of the car to help him to his seat. He settled in and I turned the heater to warp while he began thanking us. He said he was trying to make it the Indian Pueblos in New Mexico where he knew he could stay for the winter. He was Canadian and had served in WWII for the US but had been denied benefits due to his citizenship status. He had fallen on hard times and just needed a bus ticket to get on his way but could find no help in getting one. He had been standing on the side of the road for many days.

Michael suggested that we take him 15 miles to the Travel Plaza where all of the truckers stopped for gas and that perhaps he could find a ride from someone there. He gratefully accepted the idea and said he was warming up a bit. Michael stopped at the plaza and pressed our last forty dollars into the gentleman’s hand as he helped him into the building.

As we drove away we kept feeling a nagging worry and so after unloading our bundles, we drove the seven miles back to the plaza to check on him to see if he had gotten a ride. Our inquiries were met with puzzled looks for no one knew what we were talking about. No one had seen him... not the people Michael had nodded to as he opened the door, not gas attendants nor any the truckers. Only we had seen him and I have often wondered if he was there as a holy test for us... a test of our humanity, our faith, and to show our children by example how to generously love.

As this recession deepens, let us remember that many times our sense of compassion, our sense of brotherhood and our ability to unconditionally share with those less fortunate than ourselves may be tested.

And let us remember:
‘Forget not to show love unto strangers for thereby some have entertained angels unawares‘. Hebrews 13:2

Monday, December 11, 2017

Glorious Grapefruit


Grapefruit growing in clusters like grapes!
 

With the arrival of Christmas just days away, the historical significance of fresh fruit cannot be underscored. Common in tropical climates, citrus fruit was rare and exotic in the twentieth century, and often children wished only for an orange for Christmas. By the 1950’s gift boxes of fruit and nuts were a special and much appreciated gift and are still presented to business acquaintances.   

Among the most popular citrus fruits is the grapefruit which has an interesting past. An ancestor of the grapefruit, the pomelo (Citrus maxima, or Citrus grandis) originated in Asia where it was discovered by Captain Shattuck of the East India Company. He took seeds from his travels to Barbados and planted them in 1696. It is one of the four original citrus species and the grapefruit as we know it is love the child of a polemo and a sweet orange.  Unnamed for several centuries, it was eventually called grapefruit for its unusual habit of growing in clusters as do grapes.

The grapefruit was originally called ‘forbidden fruit’ and was first documented by Rev. Griffith Hughes in 1750. In his book entitled ‘The Natural History of Barbados’ he lists it as one of the seven wonders found on the Island.

The fruit was brought to Florida in 1842 by Count Odet Phillipe, a settler of French descent who also introduced cigar making to what is now the Tampa Bay area. The climate was perfect for growing citrus and the Count was later joined by Kimball Chase Atwood who founded the Atwood Grapefruit Company in the 1890’s. The largest grapefruit company in the world, the Atwood Company produced 80,000 boxes of fruit annually and discovered the pink grapefruit in 1906.

In the early nineteen hundreds the fruit became so universally popular that silver companies began producing grapefruit spoons, which are tapered to allow the bowl to slip easily into the segments of fruit which surround the cored center.

A spectacular Christmas dessert is broiled grapefruit. For the dessert, cut the fruit in half, core and cut 2/3 around each segment leaving 1/3 intact to secure the others. Douse it with a smattering of Cointreau (an orange flavored liqueur), sprinkle with brown sugar, place a scarlet maraschino cherry in the center and broil until the brown sugar bubbles. It is an elegant show stopping finale!

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Christmas Tree


 


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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Leaves: To Rake or Not to Rake


 

Following the high winds last week the garden is not only beaten but absolutely bone dry. Sunday we set sprinklers and almost instantly the winter grasses resumed their vibrant green and perked up. The tree branches were wind stripped of their last leaves and are now bare so suddenly the birds may be seen and heard with amazing clarity.

Nature devised leafless trees to give additional sunlight for warmth during the cold winter months. The leaves are now collected in crisp piles on the garden floor where they will begin to work by slowly decomposing over time. Lately there seems to be much discussion among various gardening experts on the subject of these fallen gems.

For many years raking leaves was an autumn duty to tidy the lawn for winter and they were dutifully transported to a compost pile. Compost was first described as useful for the garden in 1587 so its properties have a time tested tradition. Compost is simply decomposed organic matter which improves the soil and gives it a lighter consistency.

In the 1930’s to 1940’s a united America was encouraged to grow vegetables for the war effort and most urban homes had a compost bin. My father had one and was fairly constant with his enthusiastic interest in it. It was located in the farthest corner of the yard and consisted of three wooden sides approximately four feet high and it was deep enough to move about in. Leaves are the basis of compost with grass clippings, old newspapers, coffee grounds, and other organic matter added, all of which were in 12-18 inch layers. Bone meal and ammonium nitrate were sprinkled between the layers to aid in decomposition and give it a boost. The mixture was tossed about while sprinkling with water occasionally to dampen it and encourage it to ‘cook’… it was quite a chore. By spring the process was complete producing dark matter that had a deep and rich aroma. It was a safe and natural fertilizer for the vegetable garden.  

It sounds like an incredible effort to produce what may be found naturally on the forest floor which is covered by undisturbed leaves. These leaves break down over time creating the dark rich soil that nourishes the fledging saplings as they grow to become forest giants like their parents… it is an ever-repeating cycle.

If one takes inspiration from the natural cycle this process may be utilized in the garden and raking will definitely deny the landscape these valuable nutrients. Natural nutrients are far better than bagged fertilizers and again there is the time, expense, and effort involved in application of such products. Perhaps mow over the leaves to mince them up a bit, however allow them to remain to do their work over the winter.  To answer the question:  Not to rake!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Pumpkins Saved the Pilgrims


 
Map by John Smith circa 1605... note pumpkins


Pumpkins are believed to have originated in North America where they have thrived for thousands of years. They are reputed to be one of the earliest known food crops in the Americas with ancient containers of stored seeds discovered in Mexico dating back as far as 5,300 to 7,000 BC.

Early Native Americans roasted pumpkin strips over campfires and used them as a food source long before the arrival of European explorers. Pumpkins helped The Native Americans make it through long cold winters as they stored well and were not prone to insect infestations. They used the sweet flesh in numerous ways: roasted, baked, parched, boiled and dried.

They ate pumpkin seeds and also used them as a medicine as it was believed they guarded one against cold. Some Mexican tribes believe pumpkin seeds give exceptional endurance to the people… plus they are an easy to transport energy snack to take along on travels. The hollowed dried pumpkin shells were often used as bowls and to store food when the top was put in place.  

Archeologists have determined that variations of squash and pumpkins were cultivated along river and creek banks along with sunflowers and beans. This took place long before the emergence of maize (corn). After maize was introduced, ancient farmers learned to grow squash with maize and beans using the "Three Sisters" tradition. The three are all that is required to keep one healthy.   

Columbus took seeds back to Spain where they were grown as food for hogs and considered unfit for human consumption. The word pumpkin originated from the Greek word Pep├Án which means large melon. The word gradually was morphed by the French, the English and then the Americans into the word "pumpkin."

As the Pilgrims were enduring their first freezing winters in New England, they were welcomed by kind Native Americans who saved their lives through bountiful gifts of local food. They provided roasted pumpkin for them and the Pilgrims soon discovered they were easy to grow.  

For the Puritans, pumpkin not only provided breakfast and lunch, but beer as well. For the beer they fermented a combination of persimmons, hops, maple sugar and pumpkin… beer is high in nutrients and for this reason it is still served to recovering patients at hospitals in Germany.

As one Pilgrim wrote in 1633:

For pottage and puddings and custards and pies
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies,
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon."

Monday, October 30, 2017

Social Wasps on the Move

Under the eve of the chicken house in a terrifying mass!


This time of year it seems the social wasp has taken an extreme dislike to humankind and they are poised to attack at a moments notice. A very nervous insect on a good day, lately they are like gun slingers at the OK Corral! It is because they are in a last minute fervor of mating to ensure survival of their species. Wasp society is typically matriarchal, the female is the one with the sting, it is best to stay clear since she wants no interruptions for this final party. 

The days of the colony are numbered and soon many wasps will die leaving behind the mated queens who will find a place to hibernate for the winter. In the early spring the females emerge to find a suitable place to build a nest. Their bodies already contain fertilized eggs from last fall so they need only to select a place secure from the elements to begin the cycle of reproduction. Once the site is selected, surviving females gather to build a paper nest.

Some studies indicate that several species of social wasps select a the queen through a contest within the group who gather in early spring. All of the females within this species are capable of laying eggs however the one with the ability to eat the eggs of her rivals wins. Following selection of the winner all other females stop laying eggs and the losers become workers, foraging for their queen and raising her young.     

In other species, the female lays the eggs and raises the first young wasps herself…  the first of the eggs to hatch are always sterile female who become workers who take over for their mother. They expand the nest and maintain their siblings in a series of intricate brooding cells. It is easy to determine the number of wasps in a colony by the size of the nest. Large colonies, which can number into the thousands, have extremely large and intricate nests.

 As with Ants, male wasps are relatively unimportant and rather like dead beat dads. There is little necessity for them with exception of fertilization of the eggs as they contribute nothing to the hive. Wasp males born late in the season have the express purpose of embracing the females and following this task they die.

The wasp is a fierce natural predator, eliminating many garden pests, so oftentimes useful to ignore them. However stay clear of the excited buzzing-about that is occurring now; they are willing to attack enmass in a terrifying swirl.  

Monday, October 16, 2017

For the Love of Leaves


 

Sunday was glorious weather requiring a light jacket as the cool breezes gently blew throughout the day. It was a stark contrast to the smothering humid heat and screaming wind before the violent storm on Saturday evening. The rolling thunder, flashes of lighting and horizontal rain was remarkable in its terrifying velocity. Sunday reminded us there is calm following a storm… and Autumn arrived.   

At last the trees are beginning their foliage show and it is promising to be a lovely one that we may enjoy until our first deep freeze. Although the following explanation will be a vast over simplification, it may provide insight into the foliage change. During the spring and summer the trees use their leaves to collect air and water to turn it into food. The process, called photosynthesis means ‘putting together with light’ so as the days shorten and daylight diminishes, the gathering process ends. The leaf is no longer necessary to the tree and begins its transformation providing breathtaking color for a brief moment in time.

The chemicals chlorophyll and carotenoids are present in the leaf cells throughout the growing season with chlorophyll making leaves the bright green color. As daylight decreases in autumn, chlorophyll production stops and the chlorophyll disappears. With the loss of chlorophyll the carotids, which have been there all along, become visible and display lovely yellow leaf color. Lastly the anthocyanins arrive and take center stage, ushering in the vibrant reds we associate with Autumn.

Anthocyanins, which are glucose (sugar), are singularly responsible for the brilliant hues of purple, crimson, and scarlet. They are a fickle lot, insisting on warm sunny days and crisp evenings to slow the closing of the leaf veins and trap excess sugar produced at this time… if the weather does not comply to their demand, lackluster reds are produced. Following this last exercise, the trees will toss their leaves so they may begin their final challenge.

Since shade and the foliage show are not all the leaves have to offer, their parting gift is perhaps the most important. As the leaves drift from the trees and collect below they continue to work by slowly decomposing. Over time this process adds nutrients to create a dark rich soil which nourishes the baby saplings as they grow to become forest giants like their parents. New research has proven that trees will provide a network of mutual care through intertwining roots and the adults will actually send nutrients to ill or immature trees to assure they live and thrive.  The miracle of nature is always at work regardless of the season.

 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Miraculous Migrations


 

According to season twice a year an amazing number of species on the planet tend to migrate. As defined by the dictionary ‘migration is the seasonal movement of a complete population of insects, fish, and birds from one area to another as a response to changes in temperature or daylight’.  Our birds and butterflies are in the process of migrating South at this time and the sight of them is awe inspiring as great numbers gather.

The Butterflies: The butterflies have been arriving in my garden for several weeks as they continue their journey south to Texas or Mexico. It took three days for hundreds of Monarchs to travel overhead with many flying from far Northern states. Often in a group of six to ten, sometimes alone, they stopped for a sip from my flowers and rested a bit before continuing their journey. I finally got a chaise lounge to look upward rather than have my neck hurt from looking to the sky for hours.

An oddity this year is the spectacular gathering of literally hundreds of bright yellow butterflies dancing about the garden. There is great symbolism associated with yellow butterflies with some Native American tribes believing they bring guidance, hope, joy and creativity with their sunny presence reminding one to have fun. A yellow butterfly flying about you is said to bring happiness and prosperity, while one hitting your face in the fall means the leaves will turn yellow and a frost will come within 10 days… one gently hit my face on Sunday so we shall see.
Of course the Irish had a myth concerning the yellow butterflies believing they are indicators of departed souls who are resting at peace in the after-life. This belief was adopted by the Scots as well and the sight of them near gravesites promised the souls of children and mothers who died during childbirth were safely in Heaven.

In some costal cultures it was believed if a yellow butterfly landed on you in the fall, grave danger of illness was looming so extra precautions should be taken to protect oneself. *Naturally the formula for protection has been lost over time. It was believed if one landed on a departing sailor he would not survive the voyage.  

The Birds: This week will mark the end of the Hawks and Vultures migration, so look in open fields and possibly catch them as they ‘kettle’. They will gather as though they had been telepathically summoned, their numbers reaching hundreds as they gather and wait for some internal signal. The signal is a warm thermal updraft which will aid them in their travels and with its arrival they will begin to kettle.

Kettling is the manner by which the birds take flight and begin graceful acrobatic wheeling and swirling in a circular motion. They will twirl higher and higher as more birds join the wondrous dance, continuing ever-upward until the first birds appear only as small dark specks in the blue sky. And then they will disappear and be gone, returning in the early spring.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Bird Watching... Fun For All Ages


 
The baby-green whisper thin wheat and winter grasses are emerging right on schedule. Autumn has arrived and is a season unto itself wondrous to behold and enjoy before winter. With pleasant temperatures and bright sunshine, it is perfect for taking a walk, swishing through the falling leaves.
As the leaves have begun to thin, it is easy to see birds who are no longer hidden among masses of greenery. As the flit among bare branches, they become a visual delight to watch as they too enjoy this fine weather.
The National Audubon Society has provided a provocative article on the joy of birding, which is the practice of bird watching. There are people who are avid birders, keeping notes on species they have seen, where they were found or where they nest, how many babies hatched, and how many eggs did not. The serious birders often gather in groups to seek a rare species and photograph it with very expensive cameras to impress other birders. Then there are simple bird-watchers…most of us fall into this category.
 
 
The Society encourages parents to teach all of their children, from toddlers to teenagers, the joys of bird watching. Children have an enormous capacity for taking in knowledge and storing it… their minds must like sponges for them to learn all that they do in a few short years. From speaking to walking, observing to participating, what they learn as youngsters will stay with them for life, expanding as they grow.
Libraries have numerous books on birds and where they travel (migrate) so presenting one to a child will immediately pique their interest. Perhaps add a miniature pair of binoculars for fun and the months will simply fly by.
Today’s children who learn to love birding are the future of our planet for they may become environmentalists and scientists…  they may discover a new species or save one that is fading.
This week try to see and enjoy the migrations of the Hawks and Vultures, who will all be kettling… which means hundreds will gather in a field until an invisible signal is sent which causes them to suddenly begin flying upward in a swirling motion… higher and higher with others joining each moment. Up and up until out of sight… they are going south for the winter and will not return until spring.  

John James Audubon 1826  

*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, September 18, 2017

Fall Bloomers



 
 
 For several weeks it has been delightful to see the Crepe Myrtle giving her full show of fuchsia, crimson or white flowers. Originating in China, the Crepe Myrtle was first introduced to the Southern United States in 1747 where it thrived in their moderate winters. Then in 1950, the cold hardy Japanese Crepe Myrtle arrived, placing the tree on the national agenda. With lovely peeling bark coloration, resistance to powdery mildew, and even a dwarf variety available, it is a suitable guest in every garden. If spent blossoms are clipped, the Crape Myrtle will continue blooming until frost.... and this necessity is a marvelous excuse to create an arrangement.  
This is also the seasonal time when the spectacular Morning Glories have reached their zenith, climbing almost any vertical surface at a surprising growth rate of up to inches a day. The flower of the Morning Glory is called to open with the dawn and lasts but one day, finishing the flower cycle by evening. However since it is a prolific bloomer, there is not a day that does not include dozens of new blooms from summer until frost.

 Wild morning glories have been traced back to ancient China where they were used for medicinal and ceremonial purposes. The Japanese first cultivated the flower for ornamental use in the 9th century and it is celebrated in both culture and art.

 Artifacts indicate that over three thousand years ago, many South American civilizations had discovered when morning glory seeds were added to the substances from the rubber tree, a bouncing rubber ball was produced. The sulfur in the seeds was the key and the ancients used the exact same process supposedly ‘discovered’ by Charles Goodyear in 1844.

The flower lasting but one day led to romantic folklore and in Victorian times the fleeting flowers represented the fickle nature of love while the profusion of new blooms symbolized the renewable nature of affection. At that time images of morning glories were used on tombstones where they were a symbol of the shortness of life.

Besides the traditional blue there are many new varieties in an astounding array of colors making this charming vine a welcome addition to any garden. With drought and poor soil tolerance, rapid growth habit, and amazing twining ability, the morning glory has long been used to shade porches, easily climbing a trellis to provide cooling relief on hot summer days.

It is an annual, meaning it must be planted each year and will die at first frost. Collection and storage of the seeds as the season progresses is economical however it should be mentioned the seeds contain an hallucinogen. For this reason they are considered dangerous and must be stored away from children and pets.

Pollen and Super Pollen


 
Since the summer consisted of driving winds and lovely rains, the pollen has reached epic proportions and seems to have permeated everything, everywhere. When the dust from preparing the fields to plant wheat is added to the equation, the allergens are beyond escape so measures should be taken concerning outdoor activities.

 I recently read several scientific articles on the effects of Global Warming. Since the jury is 'in' and the experts agree it is an indisputable fact, the information of interest to gardeners addressed the topic of pollen. According to the professors who study such matters, the pollen will increase to the status of 'super' in the coming years.

The increased emissions of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by fuel propelled autos, airplanes, and large machinery are apparently the primary cause according to the experts. Since plants and grasses utilize carbon dioxide in the production of their food, the theory is that plants and grasses are now receiving the equivalent of daily doses of fertilizer. Gardeners who supply fertilizer in regular intervals know their plant life is rejuvenated by such applications so the theory is not off base.

Research on Ragweed, the major culprit of allergens in the Fall, indicate it produces more pollen and larger pollen as the growing season lengthens and the carbon dioxide levels rise. According to the US Agriculture Research Service, Ragweed already produces 131% more pollen now as opposed to a hundred years ago. Their projection is that by 2050 the percentage number will rise to an alarming 320%. Research also indicates trees and grasses, the prime sources of allergy misery in the spring and summer, also are in the process of becoming super pollinators.

As the allergy suffers know, this research provides no new information with exception of the possible cause of increased misery. Apparently the more beautiful the time of year, the more torment one may expect. However, there are a few rules set forth by the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology to relieve some symptoms and they suggest:

*A thorough spring cleaning of the house, top to bottom to remove dust.

*Postponing morning coffee in the garden until after ten when overnight pollen has settled.

*Stay inside on hot, dry, windy days if at all possible… wind storms are actually the equivalent of rain storms.


*Do not hang laundry, especially sheets, on the line as allergens collect on them. Allergens will also be on the over shirt idly tossed on the patio chair yesterday, so don’t put it back on.

*After working outside, shower and wash your hair before bed. Change your pillow case daily.

*Be aware of high mold spore counts after a heavy rain or in the evening. Dizziness and/or blurry vision are clues the spore count is high.

Note: I wrote this article several years ago, however it bears repetition as a reminder since the number of allergens this season seem to be unprecedented… with the rains, the rag weed is over seven feet tall this year!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Hurricane of 1780... and total devastation.


All week, I have been reading Nature on the Rampage by Ann and Myron Sutton to better understand the forces of nature. Written in 1962, their research utilizes all scientific data available at the time…and predictions still remain obscure to this day.
 
·       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.

 A Mariner is quoted with his description of this 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.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Tulips... and the Movie About Them


In the Garden

By Catherine Dougherty

Time to Order Tulips

 There is a new film out entitled ‘Tulip Fever’, which is about the obsession with tulips which occurred with her discovery in the 16th century. It is exceedingly exciting that the film institute would find such a story worthy since most gardening history remains in relative obscurity. Also it would quite odd for me to assume the writer found inspiration from my column and blog about ‘Tulipomania’ written in 2012, however it does remain a possibility.  

 It was such an interesting time in gardening history that I shall resubmit my original column to enlighten those who are unaware… and I feel watching the film will provide thrilling excitement to all of those who are in love with a spring garden.

The Original Column: The Tulip~

individuals invested in tulip bulbs as they now invest in stocks of oil or other ventures. Many fortunes and vast land holdings were lost over Tulip bulbs; one shipping magnate gave a fleet of ten ships for 10 bulbs! By the mid 1700's the bulbs were still expensive, but available to an elite public willing to pay the price for them. The Ambassador from Holland proudly presented 7 bulbs to Martha Washington following her request and they were planted in a place of honor in her original gardens at Mt.


Descendants of the Dutch bulbs will not mature properly or flower a second year without a cold winter so expect to plant each year in warmer zones. However since time and science have provided an affordable array of spectacular colors and form, Tulips are still a magnificent addition to the garden. Choose Common or frilly, parrot or scented; all are worth the effort to pl
The tulip is perfect as a cutting flower for spring arThe joyful tulip will arrive at the garden party with the first blush of Spring, promising the garden season has indeed arrived. Tulip bulbs are readily available and easily affordable nowadays, but history proves that was not always the case.

The Tulip originated in Asia Minor where the Ottomans developed cultivars which concentrated on long, thin, wispy flowers of different colors. This lovely flower was first brought to the Vienna Court in the 1500's and was presented to the King as a prized gift from exploration.

As the majestic Tulip began her travels around Europe, she was greeted with wild excitement in every nation. Originally as a matter of social status, only members of the royal family were allowed access to certain bulbs; lower classes were forbidden to possess them. Naturally, the result was a deep desire akin to lust to own a Tulip bulb. Fierce competition, intrigue, and smuggling of the bulbs emerged, resulting in a rage referred to as "Tulipomania".  By 1634-1637, the situation had become so intense that the governments of both England and Holland were forced to pass legislation to regulate trade in the tulip market.

At the height of the mania, interest was so widespread that individuals invested in tulip bulbs as they now invest in the stock market or other monetary ventures. Many fortunes and vast land holdings were lost over Tulip bulbs; one shipping magnate gave a fleet of ten ships for 10 bulbs! By the mid 1700's the bulbs were still expensive, but available to an elite public willing to pay the price for them. The Ambassador from Holland proudly presented 7 bulbs to Martha Washington following her request and they were planted in a place of honor in her original gardens at Mt. Vernon.

Descendants of the Dutch bulbs will not mature properly or flower a second year without a cold winter so expect to plant each year in warmer zones. However since time and science have provided an affordable array of spectacular colors and form, Tulips are still a magnificent addition to the garden. Choose Common or frilly, parrot or scented; all are worth the effort to plant… if only for one season.
Photo: The tulip is perfect as a cutting flower for spring arrangements.
The Tulips are blooming! The joyful tulip will arrive at the garden party with the first blush of Spring, promising the garden season has indeed arrived. Tulip bulbs are readily available and easily affordable nowadays, but history proves that was not always the case.

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.