Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Three Sisters


The Three Sisters
By Catherine Dougherty
 
 
In Native gardening, there are three sisters: corn beans and squash. They are not just plants, as if there is such a thing as "just a plant". When you grow a good strong tall corn, not like sweet corn or popcorn, she acts as though she is a post for beans to climb and be shaded from excess of sunlight.
 
The beans planted at her feet provide an even more valuable service in return, giving the corn the benefit of her nitrogen fixing colonies of fungus, symbiologically noded in her roots. They provide nitrogen fertilizer absorbed from the air not only just when the roots and vines return to the soil, but also all throughout the growing season when water leaches it into the soil.
 
Thirdly, the squash, who is shaded enough by the two other sisters, covers the rest of the hill with wide leaves, protecting the roots and the hill from excess sunlight and evaporating, becoming a living mulch that keeps the soil moist and cool. sun exposed soils release carbon more readily, making them decrease in water retention and fertility even greater than the effects of evaporation alone. Covered soils have fewer weed seeds germinate, and few out compete squash. Squash with her prickly spiny leaves and stems, deters the soft little hands of corn hungry raccoons!
 
What a marvelous plan!

Do you need to transplant roses?


                         *Remember to wriggle to release air pockets!



 

The old saying which reads: ‘February’s child is full of woe For after sunshine follows snow’ has certainly proven true this year as we continue to experience record breaking cold, snow and ice. Of interest is another saying which promises if ‘March Comes in like a Lion, it will leave like a lamb’ so we will cross our fingers, hold our collective breath, and remain optimistic this is a truism.

 

As soon as the thaw begins, it will be time to assess the garden for potential shade problems. Often trees surrounding the garden will grow without notice to a breadth which provides far too much shade for the flowers living in beds below them. Chinese Elms, Locusts and soft Maples, all popular in Oklahoma landscapes, are notorious for this.

 

Now is the time to check the location of your roses to assure they are getting enough sun. Often the lack-luster rose, with wilting and falling leaves, will flourish in a new garden location. If you need to move one, it is wise to revisit the rules for transplanting, which by definition means ‘lift, remove, relocate and reset in another place’. The seasonal timing now is perfect for the roses are still relatively dormant and the move will be less of a shock to them. Also since early spring is the time to prune roses, you will have the advantage of being able to prune excess growth before the bush actually begins to take off for the growing season.

 

Prior to any transplanting, mark the north side of the plant with a string or piece of cloth. Hint: To enable you to move the rose easily give it a good soaking several days before the dig and try to choose an overcast day when rain is predicted. Dig around the rose, cutting in a circle. As you dig, lift and probe occasionally to see if the plant is indeed moving and note where roots may still be anchored. Take as much soil as can be lifted so the root system is least disturbed. After it is dug, place it in the same direction it was before and it will adjust to new surroundings far more rapidly and with greater success than if it is planted in an opposing direction. After choosing a new sunny location dig the new hole and I have found I tend to underestimate the size… it must always be larger than I initially think. Make a small mound in the center of the new hole to prevent air pockets from forming as you plant and spread your roots until they look relaxed.

    

Place it slightly higher in the hole as it will settle several inches after planted. The bud system should therefore be one to two inches above ground level. Point the exposed roots and rootlets outward and add ½ cup of bone meal around the root system. Fill with soil, water well and wriggle to eliminate air pockets before adding the final water. Lastly prune the spindly growth leaving three to five good strong canes and prepare to enjoy the show later in the season!

 

Tip: It is unwise to apply fertilizer to newly transplanted specimens… they need time to adjust to new surroundings and must rest a bit before beginning a growth spurt. To give fertilizer to a recent transplant is akin to giving a man in ICU a five course dinner… it is not a good idea. 

Monday, February 18, 2019

Grow the Garden From Seeds


Read packets of beans, root vegetables, greens, and other plants for seedling spacing. Sca-er seeds of greens and root vegetables about an inch apart in the garden soil, otherwise plants will be overcrowded and will not thrive.
















Although we are experiencing bone chilling temperatures and wind, the soul of the gardener is stirring and thoughts of the coming season slip into our dreams. A useful publication of interest is The Home Garden Seed Association. The Association is but ten years old and promotes the advantages of growing from seed.

Cornell’s Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners, a citizen science program, describes 562 pepper varieties, 365 lettuces, and an astonishing 853 types of tomatoes. Only a fraction of these can be bought as seedlings. You will find it difficult to find the delicious and highly rated ‘Carmello’ tomato in a pot, or one of the great tasting new container tomatoes, or ‘Topepo,’ a sweet Italian heirloom all of which are available as seeds.
Even if you are lucky enough to find your desired tomato,pepper, and flower varieties as plants, should you buy them? The answer depends on how well you know the grower. Seedlings that have dried out at some point in their lives or become root bound will not perform well in the garden. When you grow your own you will know that they have been well cared for until the time is right for planting, and that they have been grown without unwanted chemicals. Seedlings started indoors will thrive when provided with sunshine through a window and enough moisture to keep the soil moist but not soggy. Give them half strength fertilize when two sets of leaves appear… full strength is too strong for them as they are still babies.

It is a gardening fact: many plant varieties are more successful when grown from seed sown directly in the garden. These include root vegetables, herbs in the carrot family such as Cilantro and Dill, baby salad greens of any kind, and flowers that are best sown very early in the season, such as Larkspur, Bells of Ireland, and Love-in-a-Mist. Warm weather flowers such as zinnias, marigolds, and celosias will do better in the long run if planted before they bloom—yet another reason to buy and grow from seed.

A productive vegetable garden can feed your family all year for a fraction of what you would pay for equivalent produce at your local grocer or farmers’ market. An added advantage of buying seeds rather than plants is the fact you may be able to sow succession plantings of greens, beans, and other crops for a second harvest. They may be planted two to three weeks apart for continued harvests.

*Think seeds! The catalogues have begun arriving so order some to stave of the winter blues… the run to the mail box is much more exciting whilst you wait for an order.  

All the flowers of tomorrow are in the seeds of today.
~ Ancient proverb

Monday, February 11, 2019

A Cup of Tea




     

This year consider the legendary uses of herbs and perhaps select a few to include in the scope of your garden. Selection should include herbs for making tea. Tea is second only to water as the most consumed beverage in the world. Herbal teas made from dried fruit, flowers or herbs that have been collected from the garden are lighter and more flavorful than traditional tea.


Legend says the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung was boiling drinking water one day in 2737 B.C. when some leaves from a tea plant fell into the water. The emperor drank the mixture and declared it gave one "vigor of body, contentment of mind, and determination of purpose."  In 400 B.C. the Greeks included herbal teas in their regime of wellness. By 50 B.C. the Romans were collecting and cultivating herbs and by 200 A.D., Galen wrote the first classification system that paired common illnesses with their herbal remedy. In 800 Monks had taken over the care of the sick and herbal gardens were found at most monasteries. By 1500 herbalists were promoted and supported by Henry VII and the Parliament as apothecaries (drug stores of the time) were accused of giving substandard care. Charles Wesley gave his endorsement in 1700 when he advocated sensible eating, good hygiene, and herbal treatments for healthy living.

     

In 1800 pharmaceuticals become popular and herbal treatments were designated for the poor. However as the side effects of drugs began to be documented, herbal remedies came into favor again. The National Association of Medical Herbalists was formed, and later renamed the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH). By 1900 and the first World War, lack of availability of drugs increased the use of herbal medicines again. After the war pharmaceutical production increased and penicillin was discovered. Herbal practitioners had their rights to dispense their medications taken away and then reinstated. The British Herbal Medicine Association was founded and produced the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia. People began to express the concern over the large number of side effects and environmental impact of the drugs of the 1950s so herbs once again gained importance. Herbs are an outdoor pharmacy provided to us by the Almighty. Lovely simple-to-grow plants will produce leaves and flowers which provide an herbal tea that is a natural health drink.

    

Spearmint would be a lovely addition to the herb bed. Used in ancient Rome, the ensuing drink made from dried leaves was said the ‘stir up the mind’. Since it is caffeine-free, an afternoon cup could be savored as valuable ‘pick me up’ that has no side effects.

    

Chamomile is another lovely plant. Originally from the Nile region of Egypt, it was believed to cure almost any ailment. It has remained a favorite as its true properties relieve anxiety and promote calm. It was the tea Mrs. Rabbit made for Peter as she gently tucked him into bed following his harrowing escape from Mr. McGreggor. In these stressful times a sweetly scented evening cup would be a wonderful way to end the day. The list of herbs and their medicinal qualities is endless… and as close as your garden.  

Monday, February 4, 2019

A Garden of Five Senses

Babur Gardens in May


Throughout history mankind has been enamored with gardens. With the increasing complexity of today’s world, the garden becomes a perfect place to unwind from rather taxing and demanding lifestyles. And the popularity of public gardens, which are supreme examples of gardening perfection, allows each and everyone to experience the joy a garden affords.

Sensory gardens call to the five senses... sight and smell, hearing, touch and taste. Recognizing the need for relaxation, Delhi Development directors in India created the Garden of Five Senses for a weary public. Open in 2003, the garden is called Khas Bagh and was inspired by the ancient Bagh-e Babur Gardens in Kabul, Afghanistan which were built to house the shrine of Muhammad Babur. Babur who died in 1528 was a descendant of the infamous Genghis Kahn and was responsible for the expansion of Persian literature and artistry. He was particularly fond of gardens and the one in Kabul was painstakingly restored and opened for visitors in 2005.

Unlike American theme parks which excite, Khas Bagh was created to create a calm and peaceful experience for visitors. It contains extraordinary examples of both common and exotic plants, supreme collections of water lilies, wind chimes which tinkle and charm, sculpture, and delicacies to taste. Visitors leave relaxed and uplifted.

Here we celebrate the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, which opened in June of 2007. It took dedicated visionaries and volunteers 16 years of planning, planting and building to complete this magnificent project. The original directors purchased 128 acres of pristine land with tidal shore frontage in Boothbay, using their owns homes as collateral. In 2005, an additional 120 adjacent acres were donated, making it the largest botanical garden in New England.

Part of the garden was the privately financed by the Lerner family and their ‘Garden of the Five Senses‘ opened in June of 2009. There is an abundance of features designed to appeal to each sense, however the garden is truly respectful to those who have a limited sense of sight. To assist the visually impaired, striker stones border the paths, a map of the garden is in Braille and large pictorial representations are located at the entrance arch. The plantings, sculptural elements, water features, bridge, and classroom pavilion are arranged to appeal to the 5 senses.

For those of us with small gardens, planning a sensory garden might help ease winter boredom a bit. Plan on some fragrant, colorful flowers, some sort of trickling water and tinkling wind chimes... then remember to taste the tiny first-drop nectar from the Honeysuckle blooms.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Magical Mistletoe



Mistletoe is traditionally used at Christmas and has a long and colorful history including myth and medicinal remedies. It may be seen in various leafless trees... bright and thriving throughout the winter months.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Forcing Paper White Narcissus for the Holidays


 
Ten Days... time for a shot of Gin


The days seem to be passing rather quickly and with the arrival of Thanksgiving it is  time to ‘force’ some bulbs for Christmas. For those unfamiliar with the process, ‘forcing’ is the method by which a bulb is planted and compelled to grow and bloom out of season by exposure to the warm temperature indoors. This process brings the bulbs into bloom long before they would bloom outdoors thus allowing us the pleasure of their company during the winter months.

 

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

 

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

 

Fill the bottom of the container with whatever you have chosen to anchor your bulbs making a bed about two to three inches deep. Gently press the bulbs halfway down the bulb mass, wriggling and carefully nestling them until they stand firmly on their own. Try to space the bulbs about two inches apart, remembering to place several in the center as well. After arranging your bulbs, fill the container with enough water to cover your anchoring material, moistening the bulbs approximately half way up. Keep this water level, adding a little each day if necessary and your bulbs will begin to flower in three to four weeks. Remember to give the bowl a shot of gin as the first flower buds appear. The gin will slightly stunt the foliage and force it to stand ‘at attention’ thus preventing the wilt so prevalent with forced Narcissus.

 

As the roots grow, the reed-like foliage will first appear and suddenly many tiny blooms arrive, slowly swelling, then opening over the course of several days. The marvelous sweet smelling flowers will last several weeks before it is time to discard them. Sadly, the temperature-trickery used to force early bloom has confused and destroyed the bulb’s internal clock… they have given their ’all’ this season.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Feed the Birds!






The weather has proven challenging to say the least with surprising temperature plunges. As the winter deepens, feeding the birds becomes serious business for without our help, many may not survive the freezing temperature plunges. True bird aficionados feed year round, but I feel it is best to insist they forage until the weather no longer permits or food is no longer easily obtainable.

We all remember the haunting nursery rhyme:
“The North wind doth blow,
And we shall have snow,
And what will poor Robin do then,
Poor thing?”


The illustration accompanying this little ditty often displays a pitiful Robin lying on its back in deep snow with fixed eyes, twig-like claws, a beak barely opened… clearly dying from either starvation or hypothermia! Notwithstanding the implied cruelty of presenting such images to small children, the visualization of this “Poor Thing” easily instills enough guilt to encourage one to purchase a high quality bag of wild bird feed immediately!

Most birds like the commercial mixtures but if you want to splurge purchase additional sunflower seeds and thistle. Many beautiful songbirds spend the winter indulging in entertaining antics and now that the trees are bare, it is possible to see and hear them far better. Once you begin feeding you will discover every bird has personality traits characteristic to their individual species.

The Blue Jays are excitable, boisterous, rather the bullies and always traveling in a gang. The Cardinals are polite, laid back and lacking in aggression. All species of the Woodpecker family demand and receive respect; their beaks are daunting and their presence can clear the feeder immediately. The darling finches squabble and tumble about while the Black Capped Chickadee and timid Titmouse dart for sunflower seeds. The wonderfully enthusiastic Sparrows are mentioned in the Bible as one of God’s favorites.

Birds eat in regular intervals during the day much as we eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. For this reason the feeder is sometimes chaotically busy with all species feeding together in a feathered fluff of noisy competition while other times the filled feeder stands alone. The word spreads quickly among the bird community and those who provide feed will find themselves at the height of popularity this time of year. With many months of winter, plan to enjoy the bird show from the warmth of your easy chair!