Monday, June 29, 2020

African Origins... The Dust and Bermuda Grass

Summer Heats Up!
This summer seems determined to rival the summer of 2011 when we had record breaking heat, excruciating long days of humid sweltering, and little rainfall which allowed thousands of grasshoppers to thrive. This year, along with a pandemic, we may add the hazy dust from Africa to the miserable mix. The fact that dust traveled across the entire Atlantic Ocean to our land locked state is amazing and besides being hazy it has caused breathing problems and those who garden may develop crusty eyes from irritation. This is a choking dust blown by excessive winds, bringing to mind the famous scene from the movie “Hildago”.

As we drove along the scorching roadway, mirages could be seen in distant fields, giving the impression of the savannas of Africa. The savannas are large grassy fields with few trees and many natural disturbances which include fires, flooding, and over grazing. The native grass is extremely hardy and the first to grow back quickly following natural disasters This native grass is what we refer to as Bermuda Grass, which arrived in the United States from Africa through the Bermuda Isles in 1751. It is an amazing species of grass which can live through intolerable conditions with surprising survival tactics.

Bermuda is a creeping grass which crawls along the ground both above and below. Under stressful conditions such as we are now experiencing, it has the ability to send its roots up to 59 inches deep, although most of the root mass is a mere 24 inches below the surface. It reproduces through both seeds and rhizomes and will send forth seeds every 90 days until dormant.

All along the roadway, the upper parts of the Bermuda grass has died off, however the grass has kept growing below the surface. Following a rain, almost as a miracle, it will rebound and appear green and lush until frost, once again making the countryside lovely.

The Hindus of India consider it a sacred grass for the ability to rejuvenate itself and the ancient Romans pressed juice from the stems to use as an astringent to stop bleeding. It is highly nutritional as feed for cattle and sheep and was first introduced to the Carolinas as forage in 1760.

By 1927, the ability to rejuvenate following heavy traffic or sports made it the preferred choice for golf courses. In 1930 the hardy, fine-leaved texture of Bermuda was recognized as an advantage for use in lawns, but its intolerance to shade was also noted.

With its ability to spread quickly and its natural resistance to herbicides, Bermuda grass has so adapted to the Western landscape that it is often considered a nuisance, however it has kept millions of acres of farmland from eroding. If you have a sunny spot in the lawn and want a stand of Bermuda, whisper you are planning a garden… it will cover the spot in a week!

*It was perfect for our regulation Badmitton Court!

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Summer Solstice and Sedums

Summer Solstice arrived last Sunday ushering in Summer amid global celebrations. The longest day of the year, Solstice occurs when both sunrise and sunset occur respectively at the earliest and the latest time during the year. At noon the Sun was in perfect balance directly overhead and your shadow was not be visible at all. Those who are in tune with nature felt the Solstice and in spite of the heat, childhood memories of cloud watching, gentle breezes, and a walk while listening to the drone of Cicadas were recalled.

 As Summer continues with our traditional heat Sedums become a much cherished addition to the garden. They appear in almost every imaginable shape and form from Aloe to Cacti with their plump water filled leaves the only similarity. There are over 400 species of Sedums and those unique fleshy leaves are their secret to survival as they store water to use during extremely dry spells. These no-fuss gems are sturdy and dependable, needing only well drained soil and full sunlight. The Sedum is not susceptible to pests who are repelled by their stout leaves, preferring more tender foliage, however butterflies and bees are abundant about the blooms.

Easy to propagate, simply break a leaf or stem from the Mother plant, shove it into a hole the size of an index finger, tamp the soil, lightly water for a week, and it will start a new plant. Part of this amazing club is the all time favorite Moss-rose, Purslane, or Portulaca, which are one in the same. They may have either thin spiky leaves or small rounded leaves and flowers open each day from about ten to four. This low growing little plant will faithfully spread and flower from spring to frost.

Purslane was first introduced by to the Northern Hemisphere by Dr. John Gillies in the 1820s and immediately became wildly popular. Gillies had discovered plants near the Argentine Pampas and wrote “they grew in great profusion, giving to the ground over which they were spread a rich purple hue, here and there marked with spots of an orange color“. Further scientific development gave us additional colors and today and this precious little flower is available in the entire spectrum of colors, with sweet traditional or darling double flowers. Since they like it hot, it is the perfect time to add a few to the garden.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Redbud

The leaves of the mighty Oak have not yet begun to bud and so we may perhaps have another frost or freeze. Folklore foretells that once the leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear we will have no more freezes… however this week it certainly feels like full-blown spring.

The fabulous Redbud, the state tree of Oklahoma, has begun to bloom and her lovely lavender and fuchsia flowers fill the woods with a haze of delicate color. These precious flowers dance along bare branches producing a sweet flower nectar that bees adore. And although the National Arbor Day Foundation has named the Oak as our nations most popular tree, the Redbud was included as a favorite as well.

The Redbud is an ancient species common in North America, Europe, Japan, and Asia where it can grow as tall as 40 feet. It is also called the Judas tree because of the belief that Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Christ, hanged himself on a Redbud tree. In our own history, writings indicate early settlers added the blossoms to their meals as a garnish, folk healers used the bark to treat common maladies, while Native Americans chose the wood for their bows.

A hardy tree, the requirements for growth are unfussy and the Redbud does not object to overgrowth shade of other trees. They naturalize quite well throughout any wooded area and they are also a spectacular specimen tree often used in landscaping for homes and parks. The Redbud has a relatively long life expectancy, is not prone to disease, and will grow twenty to thirty feet.

Growth habits include multiple branches rather than a single trunk, and the light colored bark peels and curls in a most charming manner. The leaves are singular in color and form as well, arriving tiny and almost olive in color, only to change into deep green hearts as spring deepens… the heart shape of the leaves is unique only to the Redbud. Outside the tree-bound flowers may last up to three weeks or they may cut to be included in an arrangement with tulips, which are also in bloom.

Summer annuals such as marigolds, petunias, and even tomatoes could be started from seed on a sunny windowsill now and they will be ready for the garden at the perfect time. Since the Oak has predicted erratic weather, hot loving annuals will not fare well outside so do not plant them for a bit. Enjoy the week!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Revisiting Victory Gardens

As the news of the virus and a down turn of our economy is reported with increasingly depressing predictions, it would be wise to revisit the past for instructions on how to proceed. With the onset of both World War I and II, the nation was required to tighten their collective belt and a program of rationing was initiated. When my father was stationed at the Pentagon his letters to his parents speak of his offer to send them his coffee and sugar vouchers so shortages were a daily reality.

In 1917 and then again in 1941, the Agriculture Department informed the American public if they wanted fresh fruits and vegetables, they would have to grow their own. With that edict, the concept of the Victory Garden was born and many people who did not know a trowel from a hoe began to garden. To aid in the effort, the War Garden Commission compiled instruction booklets which were distributed by the Department of Agriculture, International Harvester, and Beech-Nut.

From the efforts of individuals America was transformed. Over forty percent of all vegetables consumed nationally were produced from small scale gardens. Back yards, apartment building roof tops, and vacant lots became gardens and individuals felt they were contributing in a patriotic sense. From the World War II data, it was estimated these ‘Sunday farmers’ had created over 20 million victory gardens and added eight to ten million tons of food for consumption here at home.

Oddly since the turn of the century, many large cities have begun to reinstate the premise. In San Francisco the “Victory Garden Project 2008” was created and built on the aforementioned premise with the term ‘victory’ redefined to mean urban sustainability. Growing food at home for health benefits, security, and reduction of the food miles associated with the transport of produce makes logical sense.

With our country at war, the loss of many retirement funds, and the word ‘recession’ being tossed about, perhaps now is the time for us to remember who we are! Even though we are a rural community and famous for our self-sufficiency many of the younger generation need to be encouraged. By growing food, one may save money by not having to buy at inflated prices and be assured of quality. The message that will be sent is that in a time of uncertainty we will find an advantageous use of our time and efforts. Resourceful hard work and voluntary simplicity are our honored traditions and must not be lost.

Monday, March 2, 2020


The lovely Honeysuckle arrives early each Spring. Although she is just beginning to leaf-bud, soon there will be flowers to fill the early air with their sweet scent . They are white, yellow, and sometimes red, but all are in tiny clusters that travel along the woody branches.

The Honeysuckle family is large, consisting of over 180 species, originating in both the Orient and the Americas. The Japanese and Korean Honeysuckle are a vine that is extremely hardy, will endure severe pruning and enjoys a trellis for support. In cold climates it will die back over the winter, but once out of dormancy may grow thirty feet in a year. Brought to New York in 1806 as a food source for wildlife, it was soon noted it was equally efficient at preventing land erosion, where its vigorous growing habit soon labeled it as invasive.

The American Honeysuckle may appear as either a vine or shrub, with heirloom varieties reaching tree-like proportions with a height and spread of over ten feet. Besides bringing early spring blooms to the garden, Honeysuckle has been traditionally important in both medicine and lore. For centuries the Chinese used honeysuckle for snake bites, to help remove poisons, reduce swelling, and promote healing. In Middle Ages European monks used Honeysuckle to cleanse a wound and reduce inflammation. The woody stems were pounded and eaten for arthritis, mumps, hepatitis, respiratory infections and dysentery. The delicate flowers were used to cure skin diseases, tumors, rashes and sores until the early 1900’s and the advent of ‘modern medicine’.

According to lore, it is said that bringing the blooms of Honeysuckle into the house will mean a wedding within year. In superstitious Scotland, at one time Honeysuckle vines were hung on barns to prevent cattle from being bewitched. And in the language of flowers, Honeysuckle is the symbol of love and fidelity with the fragrance said to induce dreams of passion should a bouquet be placed beside the bed.

The name Honeysuckle comes from the drop of sweet honey-like nectar that is within each flower. As a child, I spent many hours under my grandmother’s Honeysuckle gently pulling the center stamens to allow the drop of nectar to appear. The offspring of her heirloom Honeysuckle appear in my garden and those of my children. With its tree-like proportions the early humming birds feast and nest as the bees buzz about... and the sweet nectar tastes like spring!

Transplanted from my grandmother's 1935 landscape... she was resting beneath her Mother, a six inch baby, just waiting for me. 

Monday, February 3, 2020

February... and Stopping By Woods...

 In the Garden
 By Catherine Dougherty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 20, 2020

St. John's Wort

This Winter plan to include St. John’s Wort as a dietary supplement. The ancient Chinese have long considered it among their most important herbs however it fell out of favor in the west in the 1800’s. For centuries, St John’s Wort had been used to treat disorders from digestive problems to coughs, and it was lauded for its action as a sedative. During the 1970’s research confirmed it had a significant effect on nervous conditions and depression. In clinical studies it was proven that sixty seven percent of depressed patients drastically improved when taking this simple herb.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 30, 2019

Disappearing Birds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 2, 2019

Apple Trees and Cedar Apple Rust

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit Cornell Research

Monday, October 21, 2019

Collect Seeds.... a Reminder

With the cooler mornings of late it is delightful to work in the garden and the faithful annuals are seeding. It is time to collect marigolds, zinnias, four o’clock, datura, dill, and feverfew amongst others before the first killing frost, which is due to arrive Thursday.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 16, 2019

Busy Field Crickets

The lovely song of the field cricket is heralded this month and its melodic symphony can be heard each evening. Fall is the time for cricket mating and the male, who is the only voice of the cricket, is singing to potential sweethearts. Although the female cannot sing, she can hear the song through her ears which are located on her front legs just below her knees.

A shy and reclusive little insect, the cricket rarely makes a public evening appearance until the urgency of mating begins. Following fertilization cricket eggs are deposited in the soil in the autumn soon after the rains begin. They will rest there until time to hatch in the spring; once they are born baby crickets hide during the day. They emerge to eat in the evenings and enjoy grasses, pieces of grain, wool and their favorite snack... book bindings. Apparently the darling cricket will sing, mate, then come inside to eat a good pair of wool pants and a book or two before its life cycle ends.

Photo: An Outdoor Asian Market Selling Cricket Cages

In China singing crickets are kept as pets in special cages and it is believed they bring a household good fortune... prized specimens fetch amazing prices. In fact the cricket culture in China dates back to the Tang Dynasty from 500 BC to 618 AD. It was during this time the crickets first became respected for their powerful ability to “sing” and a cult formed to capture and cage them. Naturally the obsession escalated and in the Song Dynasty from 960 to 1278 AD the sport “cricket fighting” became popular.

The sport became so popular that China actually produced a Cricket Minister, Jia Shi-Dao who reigned from 1213 to 1275 before being deposed for irresponsibility. Then from 1427 to 1464, a Cricket Emperor, Ming Xuan-Zhong ruled in favor of cricket fighting, making his palace a major tribute to this important insect. Racketeering, gambling, and even suicides were reported over Chinese cricket mania. *This 'mania' was described as a national obsession.

Luckily, the Asian fabric of choice is silk which is unappetizing to crickets… had it been wool the cricket's popularity would have suffered greatly. Years ago I pulled my 'good' white wool pleated slacks from my closet only to discover one leg was totally destroyed with cricket holes. Now when I hear them in the house I track them and gently place them outside to play!  

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Horrid Hurricanes

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

*Pic is by the fabulous N.C. Wyeth. 

Monday, September 2, 2019

In the Garden

By Catherine Dougherty

Millipedes on the Move

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: A millipede in protective mode~

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


Monday, August 19, 2019

Sacred Bees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 15, 2019

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

The lovely Amaryllis Belladonna has made her arrival at the garden party this week. Commonly called ‘Naked Ladies they appear from a leafless base and are also known as ‘Surprise Flowers’ for their overnight appearance in the garden from a barren spot. The stunning Naked Lady comes from a clump forming bulb. Each year the bulb will increase in size and the flowers will appear at the outermost edge consequently over the years one bulb becomes a mass of exquisite flowers.

Mine arrived in my garden quite by accident. When my father died in July of 1994, I was distraught and could not be comforted. In his last hours I had held his hand and finally told him he did not need to stay for me; I promised I would be okay. He squeezed my hand and looked upward, his eyes lighting as though he saw something glorious… and then he was gone.

My loss was devastating. I adored my Daddy and had wept to Michael that no one had even sent me flowers as consolation. The day following his funeral I was walking in my garden hoping to find comfort and solace when miraculously before my eyes was the most beautiful flower I had ever seen. It was the first of 13 Naked Ladies to arrive, one each day for 13 days, each in an odd place in my garden. No one had planted them and I had never seen one before so I have long been convinced Daddy sent them to me. Each year they begin to bloom on the anniversary of his passing… they will always be special to me for I see them and am reminded he is still watching over me.

The Amaryllis foliage arrives in the garden very early in the spring, appearing at first like emerging jonquil leaves. Very soon however, the foliage thickens and out grows everything around it. It grows to twenty four inches before collapsing and requiring braiding or staking to allow its neighbors to breathe. Removing the nourishing green foliage will adversely affect the future flowers so it must be kept intact until it naturally dies.

Once it has collapsed again as dry, crisp, untidy debris, it may be easily removed. The spot in the garden is quite bare until mid-July when suddenly the flowers begin to appear, slowly growing on sturdy stems until they are a mass of lovely pink. Each stem carries a large head of six to twelve funnel shaped flowers which have a sweet and delicate odor.

While awaiting the blooms, an elevated plant stand with a potted plant may be placed over the barren area. The stand must be high enough to allow air to circulate and water to flow beneath it to the waking bulbs below

This magical flower seems undisturbed by severe growing conditions and will bloom faithfully in shade or sun regardless of the heat. As with so many of our garden guests, this one is originally from South Africa where it grows with wild abandon in dry and dusty sites, impervious to harsh conditions. If planted next to perennial Shasta Daisies, both will bloom now, creating a visual garden bouquet. Amaryllis will make even a novice gardener joyful by adding her beauty and grace to the garden setting.