Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Change... From the swimming pool to the frog pond

Over time, needs change and adaptation naturally occurs in the garden. When the children were little we planted the Privet around the edge of the property and installed a horse tank surrounded by decking just opposite the badmitton court we had created for August tournaments. We surrounded the tank with evening bloomers that would smell lovely by moonlight... Datura and Four O'Clocks. Summer days were spent swimming and dipping, sunning and playing. Evenings were for star gazing, often while floating on inflatable chaises, gin and tonics in hand.

The children grew up, the swimming pool became more of a hassle than a joy, and the sun became very unfriendly. And so it became a frog pond. We placed lilies and water grasses in it, added goldfish to minimize mosquitos, and kept the night blommers for their scent. The decking was perfect for the green jumpers who came to inhabit our pond and often we had dozens that would plop with a splash as we approached.

Still it lacked the feeling, the aura if you will, that we wanted. So last weekend we removed the entrance decking, installed dual benches, a gravel path to the water's edge, and gave our little space a truly Zen feeling.

I like it a lot... and so does the the Pond Fairy!

*Five dollars worth of water hyacinth will clean an entire pond, multiplying as the season progresses.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Rules for Having Poisonous Plants~

Ingesting Only One Castor Bean Seed Will Prove Fatal!
Pretty tho' Isn't She?

Plants have been source of fascination since the beginning of time. They have provided a plethora of benefits to mankind and use of them has evolved over many years. However as all gardeners know, there is a dark side to the plant kingdom and many common plants are extremely toxic causing complaints which range from indigestion, to hallucinogenic visions, and possibly even death. The science of using dangerous plants reached a zenith during Medieval times when dispatching an enemy was as simple as brewing a tea! Today, for the well being of children and animals, it is wise to know which common plants impose significant dangers.

Almost all flowering bulbs are toxic in some manner so do not ingest any of them. Many plants contain dangerous compounds which are removed by cooking. Our own Poke Weed, found in early spring, is toxic unless the leaves are prepared in a specific manner. The roots, leaves, and flowers of Taro, a wild Elephant Ear, are staple foods in some tropical countries, but they too must all be cooked before eating. Some plants have parts of them which are edible while other parts are toxic. The Rhubarb, used in flavorful jellies and pies, has poisonous leaves but the stalks are not.

The following plants are listed as fatal, making them of particular import. Bunny Rabbit flowers aside, the lovely Larkspur is so toxic that it was used during the Revolutionary War as a pesticide. Soldiers stuffed their boots with it to repel mites and ticks. Oddly, the green berries of the lovely and prolific Lantana are fatal in small doses as are those of the Wisteria, Jasmine and Mistletoe. All parts of the Azalea and Rhododendron plants are deadly as well. The popular house plant Dieffenbachia is called dumb cane for it’s affect on the mouth and throat if ingested. The instant swelling not only renders the individual dumb, but may cause air-blocking swelling.

Many toxic plants incur cult followings among ill informed youth. Used as a recreational drug due to hallucinogenic properties, the exotic Moon Flower made the news on a high school campus last fall as students chewed seeds in class. Salvia Divinorum contains a property which is a potent naturally occurring hallucinogen when smoked. The leaves were used in traditional spiritual practices by the Mazatec people of Mexico however due to it’s ‘popularity’ among non-native followers, it has been banned in twelve states including Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, Delaware, North Dakota, Illinois, and Ohio.

There is a simple common sense rule to follow in dealing with the Plant Kingdom: Do not graze in the woods or garden, eating or smoking what abounds unless it is something that you know and recognize as healthful… it could make you ill or even prove fatal.


Without doubt it is the year of the Caladium. Driving about town, they appear in almost every garden in splendid glory. A native of South America they have been called “Heart of Jesus” and ‘Angel Wings’ for the intricate structure of their leaves. Since they are tropical and require moisture to reach their zenith they have certainly flourished this year. Planted about the time one plants Okra seed, they are also one of the few bulbs to thrive in the shade. Grown for their spectacular multicolored decorative leaves, they are used on borders, in pots and as garden focal points and look lovely from now until fall.

There are two kinds of Caladium, the fancy-leafed and the lance-leafed, with the lance-leafed the slightly smaller of the two. Since there are over 1,000 named cultivars from the original South American plant, one is assured a color or combination which will fit into every garden scheme. They grow to full size in one season and come in astonishing combinations of red, pink, green or white with colored midribs and contrasting backgrounds and borders.

Each Caladium tuber has a large central bulb surrounded by smaller buds so the larger the tuber, the more impressive the display. You may save Caladium tubers for planting next year by digging the tubers in the fall before they have lost all color. Once dug, spread them on an old screen to dry for a week, cut and remove all the dried foliage, dust the soil from them then pack in dry peat moss or vermiculite for storage. In packing, make sure the tubers do not touch each other and store them where the temperature will not dive below 50 degrees. Keep in mind however that the foliage of bulbs stored in this manner will be smaller and bloom less abundantly than first-year tubers. For less than the price of dinner for two at a fine restaurant, one can purchase an abundance of tubers in the spring, assuring a magnificent show all summer.