Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wicked Plants

I've finished Amy Stewart's "Wicked Plants" and enjoyed it immensely. My garden has been wicked for ages.... Some of my favorites are posted below. Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 26, 2009


Sunday was the epitome of Autumn perfection. Basking in the joyous glow of warm sunshine, enjoying the serenity the Fall season offers, one could truly relax after the hurried pace of the summer garden. With the exquisite feel of Sunday, it is not odd that Fall is a favorite season, cherished all the more for its fleeting passage.

Each year at this time it is nice to review the origins of one of our most anticipated holidays, Halloween. As with many of our holidays, its origins are rooted deep within the pagan past of our ancestors and celebrations have been altered over time to adapt to our Christian beliefs. New Years Day was November first in ancient Ireland, Briton, and Northern France and ushered in the beginning of the season in which the earth appeared dead.

The day before the New Year, it was believed the Lord of the Dead allowed the souls of the departed to return to their earthly homes. The people were told to put out their hearth fires so as not to frighten the returning souls. They lit huge bonfires of sacred oak branches to drive away evil spirits who might be returning as well. They made offerings of animal sacrifices and often wore costumes so the visiting Lord of Death could not recognize them and come for them in the coming New Year. Fortunes were told and at the end of the night, the hearth fires were relit from the bonfire.

When Rome began occupation of the Celts in 43 AD they included the Festival including Samhain in their own Autumn festivals, one of which honored the dead as well. All Saints Day was established by the church on November 1st about 800 AD and includes many of the old pagan customs. Later the church began to honor the dead on November 2nd which became All Souls Day. On All Souls Day poor people went “a-souling” (or begging) for “soulcakes” in exchange for the promise they pray for the dead.

In Mexico, the Day of the Dead includes traditional rituals which welcome deceased relatives home for the night. A place is set at the table for them, their favorite foods are prepared, and complimentary stories about them are told, all in the hope they will come back and join the family for the evening.

Any way it is viewed historically, the custom of honoring the dead has existed for thousands of years, complete with the belief that souls return to wander the earth! Autumn leaves, the end of summer, Jack-o-lanterns, bobbing for apples, costumes, black cats, and fortune-telling all evolved from these pagan customs. It is amazing that these Celtic rituals, thousands of years old, still continue to flourish today.

*Remember to set the clock back an hour on Saturday evening.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


With the advent of fall, one notices the influx of spiders lurking about the garden, the rafters of the house and every nook available. They are a most interesting invertebrate in both appearance and habit. All are predators which make them valuable to the gardener as they will eat flies, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, locusts, cockroaches, and aphids. The habits differ among species with some making intricate webs to trap their prey while some lie in wait on flowers and some simply travel about on the ground. Now is the time to see the intricate web of the amazing Orb Weaver whose wonderful web will catch almost any flying insect. Particularly interesting is the way in which she will repair the web, giving it an almost stitch-like appearance.

Spiders are found in every corner of the planet, making them one of the most common invertebrates and they alone have eight legs. True spiders (thin-waisted arachnids) evolved about 400 million years ago, and were among the first species to live on land. There are many references to the spider in popular culture, folklore and symbolism. The spider symbolizes patience for its hunting with web traps, and mischief and malice for its poison and the slow death they cause their prey. Who could forget the pitiful death sequence in the movie 'The Fly'? Though not all spiders spin gossamer webs, spiders have been attributed by numerous cultures with the origin of basket-weaving, knotwork, weaving, spinning, and net making. Lovely pottery artifacts featuring spiders may be found in all ancient cultures, so respect for them is universal.

In any talk of spiders the two most dangerous must be mentioned. All spiders have venom however the Black Widow and Brown Recluse are very dangerous species whose bite may have disastrous results to humans. The Brown Recluse likes living in quiet corners of the house while the Black Widow resides outdoors. The Black Widow makes an untidy web as she is a member of the Tangleweb spiders. She will aggressively guard her egg sac and it is about now that her babies will be born. Both of these spiders have thin legs and a fragile skeletal structure which makes squishing them easy; do not hesitate to kill them.

The spiders which come to mind as favorites are the green jumpers, the garden and wolf spiders, and of course the gentle Tarantula. Many spiders die in one season (as in Charlotte's Web) so enjoyment of them is fleeting. Only the gentle Tarantula lives up to 20 years.

There is an entire psychological phobia named after fear of spiders called Arachnophobia. So popular is this fear that Hollywood chose to make a movie using it as a theme. However, our favorite Hollywood spider, Spider-Man, remains an all time hero.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fall Container... Kale, Parsley, and Pansies.

In the Garden
By Catherine Dougherty
Fall is a marvelous time to plant a container arrangement. There are many plants that not only survive the cold temperatures, but thrive on it. Among the most colorful is flowering or ornamental Kale.

Kale is among the oldest of the cultivated edible greens and has been a staple in the garden for centuries. A form of cabbage native to the wilderness of North America as well as all of northern Europe, it added a much welcome green and leafy vegetable to dinner tables and soup pots all winter. The ornamental Kale is edible but does not form the tight center ball common in cabbage. The flavor of the leaves becomes sweeter when exposed to frost.

Exceedingly popular today, it arrives at the nursery sporting a multitude of interesting ruffled leaf combinations, from spires to tight rosettes. Kale is round, dense and slow growing, making it a easy to contain. One of it’s most impressive attributes is the fact that the colors deepen as the temperature dips. Meaning the bright white, vivid greens, purple, burgundy, blues and variegated colors become more lovely as the winter deepens.

It should be noted that the most intense color is located at the center of the plant where the outer leaves obstruct them unless they are viewed from directly overhead. With this fact in mind, they may be planted at an angle in the container or on a slight slope in the landscape so they may be appreciated from a distance.

If one adds some parsley, with it’s clear vibrant green and curled leafy texture, the contrast is striking. Parsley is mentioned often throughout history, and not only for its culinary and medicinal properties. The early Greeks made crowns of parsley to bestow upon the winners their athletic games and it is used in the Hebrew celebration of Passover as a symbol of spring and rebirth. It is mentioned as one of the plants in the gardens of Charlemagne and Catherine de Medici. In medieval times parsley was surrounded by much superstition due to the germination of the seeds. One belief claimed that the extremely long germination period existed because they traveled to hell and back seven times before sprouting. Naturally superstitious farmers were afraid to grow it.

Add a sprinkling of low-growing, brightly colored pansies to the outmost edge of the container and the entire ‘arrangement’ will present a composition worthy an Old Master’s painting.

*Note: Unfortunately, all chickens and Peafowl enjoy Kale as a snack
making it impossible to grow if poultry is present.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Today's Tip... Keeping varmits from emerging seedlings

When seedlings begin to emerge lightly sprinkle them with white flour... I use a kitchen sifter. The stark white of the flour, an uncommon sight in nature, startles the birds and rabbits. So much so that they will avoid the seedlings, giving them a chance to grow up with their heads intact. Reapply as necessary.

This theory was tested here using my darling Peacock, Rajah, who is the worst offender since garden snacking is his favorite hobby. He was surprised, cocked his head to the side and one-eyed the white dusting.... then he slowly moved along, disallowing he was nervous. It works!

* Rajah showing off~

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Garden... Saying Goodbye

Today the leaves of the Elm began to fall in golden drifts, gliding to the ground in swirling masses. The maples turned a brilliant crimson and the China Berries began to lose their leaves, showcasing the lovely translucent berries resting in large clusters on their heavy branches. The brilliant scarlet of the lovely Virginia Creeper became clearly visible as it twined about the trunks of trees, climbing high into the uppermost branches. Even the Sumac, growing in every field and bar ditch, has become a gorgeous deep velvet-red this time of year. The leaves are beginning to accumulate on the ground making any walk a sensual pleasure of swishing, crackling sounds. Fall has arrived exactly on schedule and is welcomed by everyone who watches the seasons as they float by each year. The crisp feel of the mornings are incentive to grab a cup of coffee and take a brisk walk in the woods.

It is so lovely this time of year; fall not only ushers in winter, it also has a silence about it that is soothing. The last evenings in the garden are nostalgic and bittersweet with a sadness that the efforts for this year are almost over. The exciting daily rush of expectantly waiting for a certain rose to bloom, the daylilies to flower, or the vegetables to produce is over for the year. It is time for a closure of sorts so plan to grab a sweater some chilly evening soon and sit quietly in the garden. Close your eyes and listen to the final song of the crickets and the whisper of leaves gently falling to the ground. Relax for a bit…and remember to thank your garden for all the joy it brought you; remember to say goodbye.