Monday, August 23, 2021

Comfrey.... Miraculous Medicine

Comfrey... Miraculous Medicine An often overlooked plant that thrives in partial shade is Comfrey. Besides sporting delicate cascading pink blooms, the delightfully prickly deep green foliage make this addition striking beyond compare. Easily grown if root stock is taken from a Mother plant, this steadfast garden guest will last twenty years or more, faithfully providing a lovely focal point. Growing to the size of a large bushel basket and ever-blooming if cut back during the season, it is a welcome addition to the garden party. Comfrey has been cultivated in the East since 400 BC as a healing herb. The word ‘comfrey’ is derived from the Latin meaning ‘grow together’ which reflects the early use of this lovely plant to aid in knitting broken bones. Both Greeks and Romans used it to stop heavy bleeding, treat bronchial problems, and heal wounds. Poultices were made for external wounds and a tea was consumed for internal ailments. This handsome member of the Borge family, has also been used medicinally throughout the British Isles for centuries with the common name of Knit-bone or Boneset. A tea made from boiling the root in water or wine was used for all pulmonary complaints and could stop bleeding of the lungs. Taken every two hours the concoction was said to relieve hemorrhoids as well. The pounded roots applied to fresh wounds promoted healing almost instantly making Comfrey a necessary addition to every garden. Often when reading about plants, it is difficult to imagine exactly how they were made into medicine. Coldpepper, the famed 18th century botanist, wrote that Comfrey was “so powerful to consolidate and knit together that if the roots be boiled together with dissevered pieces of flesh in a pot, they will join them together”. Further, he gave the recipe for making a poultice as follows, “The fresh roots of Comfrey beaten small and spread upon leather laid on any place troubled by gout presently gives ease. Applied in the same manner eases pain to joints, heals running ulcers, gangrenes, mortifications, for which hath often (through) experience been found helpful”. Although I am unsure what mortification is, it sounds quite serious and this little plant took care of it. The concoction will last for months if refrigerated. I have used it medicinally for years and last fall made a series of poultices for my son's big toe that had broken in two places. I picked fresh leaves, stems, and roots and packed them in a food processor with a bit peanut oil to keep them tight. Once blended, I wrapped the concoction in small pieces of sheeting, making about thirty small poultices. He put the Comfrey on his toe for several hours twice a day and X-Rays before and after (to the doctor's amazement) showed it had healed within two weeks. With the emergence of ‘green’ as the way of the future perhaps traditional use of some of these valuable plants may reemerge… a trip to the garden seems far more pleasant than a trip to the doctor.

Monday, March 29, 2021

In the Garden By Catherine Dougherty Coral Bells At last… Spring! The weather has been blustery but balmy, leaving those of us who garden with perfect days to prepare the garden for the coming season. The perennials are making their appearance and among them is the fabulous Heuchera, commonly known to your great grandmother as ‘Coral Bells’. Exceedingly popular a century ago, they lost favor for a few years until their 1991 win as the Perennial Plant Association’s ‘Plant of the Year’; since then they have made a rollicking come-back. Reintroducing themselves in the latest finery, the spectrum of their foliage colors is indeed astonishing! Native to all of North America, Coral Bells were first discovered in woodlands and trails before making their way to the garden. April through October the faithful habit of this hardy perennial sends forth delicate stalks which rise above the foliage to produce bright bell shaped flowers. In shades of coral, red, white or pink, these sweet flowers are half an inch in length with five petals. The most attractive feature however is the Coral Bell’s spectacular foliage that provides a striking focal point in any garden setting. A wide array of leaf forms, either ruffled or wavy, are available in stunning colors which include green, pink, red, purple, bronze and silver. Never invasive, this lady can be trusted to know her place in the garden, staying in tidy clumps rather than wandering. ‘Amber Waves’ is among the most exquisite emerging with ruffled amber foliage that changes to burnt orange as the leaves age. With the addition of the rose-colored flower, she is indeed a show stopper. Another is ’Black Beauty’ with deep purple-burgundy leaves of outstanding ruffling that stand slightly upright to catch the sun from all directions. ’Bronze Beauty’ is extremely heat tolerant and provides shades of creamy white flowers over the extremely large peach, orange and bronze leaves below. And although the list seems endless, 'Encore' must be mentioned as she starts out in the spring with deep rose purple-colored leaves that have a light silvering on top, darker veins, with a vibrant burgundy on the underside. With maturity. the leaves turn lighter rose and produce a heavy silver overlay over deep smoky-purple veins. Hummingbirds adore them and deer find them distasteful, which is part of the reason for their popularity. The Coral Bell adapts and thrives in almost any garden but prefers light shade and moist feet to sun and dust. Prized for longevity, they will last for decades with little care, a trait which is always appreciated by the gardener. *Photo credit: My dear friend and horticultural specialist Mr. Jeremy Webber at Sunny Border Nurseries in Connecticut... Heuchera are one of his favorites. Also credited is Mr. Dan Heims of Terra Nova Nurseries. One of his favorite creations, this beauty is 'Gypsy Dancer'.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Garden Debris

In the Garden By Catherine Dougherty The Damage in the Garden Now that the days are spring-like, one has the opportunity to truly assess the long-term damage to trees and shrubs from the subzero temperatures and ice, which was unlike we had ever seen before... it dealt fatal blows to many of our old friends. One of the earliest joys in the garden are the sweet scent of the currant bushes. The tiny yellow flowers with their scarlet center waft their scent through the air to let the gardener know spring is arriving. Unfortunately, the hideous cold killed them leaving dry mustard colored parchment in their steed. The leaves were not affected so we shall look for blooms next year. Both the Boxwood and Privet were hit badly as well. Usually some leaves turn brown, but many remain intact, unfazed by winter. This year every leaf died and we must cross our fingers and hope (which springs eternal) they will leaf out from the main stalks. Many of our venerable Caddo Maples, Burr Oaks, Elm and Locust were broken badly by the October ice storm and the ensuing sixty MPH winds with snow and ice in late February sent many crashing.... cleaning the garden takes on new meaning this year and promises to be quite a chore. However there I always a consolation prize in the garden and the early perennial Jonquils have been a sweet surprise blooming spectacularly this year... plus it is almost time to plant pots!

Monday, October 19, 2020

Fall Foliage... the Parting Gift.


The weather changed from Autumn to winter with the wind chill that roared in Saturday afternoon from the South West, occasionally twirling around to the North to utterly confuse us. Overnight Mother Nature has begun her seasonal foliage change which always provides a slow-moving breath-taking picturesque display.

Within a few weeks the Caddo Maples will begin to change, reminding the gardener the first freeze will occur within a week. They are unusual in that all of their leaves do not freeze-fall; much of their glorious foliage, although crisp, remains tree-bound until Spring. Just as their color change predicts a coming freeze, these last leaves foretell the arrival of Spring as they are literally tossed from the tree when it is expected to arrive. As the Maples had predicted last year, our first deep freeze roared in early one morning and suddenly Winter was upon us… in a most vengeful manner. 

Trees lose their leaves to give additional sunlight for warmth during the cold winter months and Nature has provided us with a stunning visual as a parting gift. 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, 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. 

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 fledgling the saplings as they grow to become forest giants like their parents. Nature is always at work, regardless of the season. 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Two Moons in October

Twenty twenty has been quite a surprising year to date. Of course, it would not be complete without something of Cosmic significance so we have a most unusual happening … the month of October has two Moons. We shall have 13 Moons this year, which is in keeping with the Native calendar.

Native Americans used the moon to tell time by counting from one new moon to the next, known as a lunar cycle. Native Americans assigned names to the moon for each month to keep track of the seasons. Each name is a symbol of what the moon meant to Native Americans by virtue of its use, guidance and influence in their daily lives.

Based on these moon cycles, the Native American year is divided in to 13 moons with each moon being 28 days long. The cycles of the Moon are presented as a message on the back of a turtle as seen below. All Native years begin with spring, the time of rebirth and travel with the cycle of seasonal weather.

For non-Natives October's first full moon is the 'harvest moon' on October 1, and the second full moon will occur on October 31… a full 'blue moon' on Halloween.

The full harvest moon is the name is given to the full moon that occurs closest to the autumnal equinox. In 2019, the full harvest moon occurred on Friday, September 13.The full harvest moon provides light for farmers harvesting their crops into the night, according to the Farmer's Almanac and the moon will appear full for about three days.

October will also close with a full moon on Halloween. Typically, the next moon after the harvest moon is known as the' hunter's blue moon' for it is when hunters used moonlight to hunt prey and prepare for winter.

While a blue moon seems rare, a full moon on Halloween across time zones is even more rare -- an event that hasn't occurred since 1944. However, a full moon does occur on Halloween every 19 years in some time zones, so you can expect a full Halloween moon again in 2039, 2058, 2077 and 2096.

The full Halloween moon will rise at 10:49 am ET on October 31 -- which explains why the moon will be visible across time zones. This is also the last day of Daylight Saving Time, so remember to set your clocks back an hour on November 1 at 2 am.

Monday, September 14, 2020

More On Millipedes


See the source image


Update: Last year I wrote about the ‘Marvelous Millipede’ and due to an unfortunate experience, I must update my article. The fact is they are quite poisonous. As I was scouting the woods with my grandson, we spotted one and I wanted to show him how they curl up when touched. This one did not curl so I picked him up to show Pierce his many legs. My hand immediately burned and I smelled and unusual odor so I dropped him. I had an orange liquid secretion on my hand and as I tried to rub it off with a fallen oak leaf, it continued to smear, now to the other hand as well. I rushed to wash it off with soap and water and it did not budge… simply burned more intensely. It stained my hands and lasted four days with nothing removing it. Alcohol, Witch Hazel, Aloe, even Comet were used to no avail.

Naturally I began research and found alarming facts about them… and the key is ‘pede’, as in centipede and millipede. Both have many legs and their defense is quite painful…. I have been picking them up after they retreat to their defense curl for years!   

As I wrote last year, they are 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. They arrive in the house after a temperature plunge or fall rains.

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. Last year I wrote: 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… we did not realize it is their ‘defense mode’ and we should beware.

*In closing, DO NOT PLAY with them…. carry them outside in a wash rag to a damp leafy spot and release them.

Monday, September 7, 2020

The Lynx Spider Sequence

 I followed my Lynx in the garden for almost a month... from her professional manner of obtaining dinners, to her efforts to build her egg sac, to the birth of her babies and her frantic efforts to build a silken web 'playpen' to corral them. As the little ones grew, she began to lose weight and color. I found her lying on the grass a mere shadow of her former self as the little spidlets began to scamper away in groups of ten to twenty. I'll miss the excitement of checking her daily antics... she was fascinating! 


Spidlets Hatched over three days.

Monday, August 31, 2020

The Dog Days of Summer


Thank goodness the ‘dog days of summer’ are almost over. However, if you find yourself feeling a bit 'off' it is nice to know the reason. Notoriously sultry and unbearable, the name of these days occurring in the Northern hemisphere originates from the star Canis Major or Sirus, the big dog. During late July through August, Sirus is in conjunction with the sun, meaning they both rise at the same time in the sky. This led to the ancient belief that the miserable heat this time of year was caused by the star’s effect upon the sun, making it hotter thus the 20 days before and after the conjunction are called ‘dog days’. Regardless of the fact that the heat arrives now from the tilt of the earth rather than the presence of Sirus, some 50 million miles from earth, the long-held belief that the lovely star is responsible is still maintained. 

It is easily imagined that the stars were a major influence on mankind before the night sky was obscured by artificial lighting and smog. Images from the pattern of the stars were drawn by ‘connecting the dots’ and each culture saw a different pattern emerge from such connections. From the Asians, Native Americans, Europeans, Persians, and so forth, each society created mystical explanations for the changing patterns in the heavens and the ensuing weather conditions. The star-pictures mapped in the night sky by our European ancestors are now known as Constellations. 

Ancient people believed dog days to be an evil time so accordingly, a brown dog was sacrificed to appease the rage of Sirus. According to the famous Greek Phiny (AD 23-79) there was risk of attack by rabid dogs at this time so he suggested feeding them large quantities of chicken droppings as a preventative measure. By 1729 in the British publication The Husbandman’s Practice, survival was intent upon mans ability to ‘abstain this time from a woman’ and further to ‘take heed of feeding violently’. This handy guide warns, ‘The heat of the Sun is so violent that men’s bodies sweat at midnight as at midday’ and any illness may be worsened ‘yea, very near death’. By 1813 in Brady’sCalvis Calendaruim, it was said to be a time ‘when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers or hysterics. My grandmother warned that a cut will not properly heal in these days and to beware of a ‘summer complaint’ of stomach aliments as well. 

Today Sirus appears several weeks later than in ancient times as the stars and constellations have shifted in relation to the Sun. Regardless of the cause of the heat, most certainly one must admit a feeling akin to ‘hysteria’ while still dragging hoses a nd waiting for Autumn showers.