Monday, July 26, 2010

Enormous Elephant Ears

*Scale of the picture: David is 6'2"

The amazing Elephant Ear (of the Colocasia family) has been in cultivation for over 28,000 years and because of this the exact origin of the plant has been lost. It has long been a major food crop in the warm climates of India, China, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Polynesia, Africa, and South America. All parts of the plant are edible if they are thoroughly steamed or boiled to remove toxic calcium oxalate crystals. Anyone who has attended a traditional Hawaiian luau has eaten the cooked leaves and the corms are mashed into the popular poi.

After grocery shopping in El Reno on Saturday we happened to drive down Hoff Street and were positively stunned at the sight of the most extraordinary Elephant Ears. Grown by David Jensen, the stupendous, show-stopping plants lining a portion of his house were at least seven feet tall with leaves over five feet in length, four in breadth and still growing! Remarkable!

Luckily, David happened to be in his front yard and after introductions and his acceptance of our elated comments, he graciously explained his technique for raising such marvelous plants. His plants are six years old and had been purchased as standard bulbs at Wal-Mart. He occasionally amended the bed with manure and had a timer to assure they were watered frequently. Often in the heat, he runs a slow flow of water all night and believes the watering is paramount to success. Against the house facing east, they receive two to three hours of morning sun, by eleven are shaded by an overhanging tree and for the rest of the day shielded from sun by his home.

David digs his bulbs following the first light frost and when the leaves have been nipped. He has noted that although they began as standard bulbs, each year they have grown until now they are the size of a small basketball. He leaves about six inches at the top of each bulb and removes all the small tendrils which have grown over the season. After dusting off the soil, he places them in dry peat moss in the house for about a month so they can thoroughly dry. Some years he has dusted them with a fungicide, but admitted he had not last year and it had not affected the health of his plants. Once they are completely dry, David’s second stage of storage is placing them in a cool place like a root cellar where they rest in dormancy over the winter but do not freeze.

By mid-April he plants them and he has learned by successive plantings several weeks apart that all the plants will begin to emerge at the same time; apparently the earlier plantings will remain dormant until the soil reaches a proper temperature. David also plants the baby bulbs which have grown next to their parents and is experimenting with them to see if such mammoth growth is a genetic.

Base of the plant is the size of a bushel basket!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

House Wrens

This House Wren made her nest in a potted plant on a table outside the back door~

Now is the time to venture out and look for the darling House Wren who has possibly made her nest in some odd place nearby. They come to the garden in the spring with the male signaling his arrival with an almost incessant stream of burbles, warbles, buzzes and rattling churrs. Native Americans called this bird o-du-na-mis-sug-ud-da-we-shi, meaning 'making a big noise for its size'. They are considered a songbird even though their wonderful song is heard only during the nesting season and rarely afterwards. Since the diet of the House Wren consists almost entirely of insects, spiders, snails, flies, ticks, plant lice, gypsy moth larvae, ants, bees, beetles, and grasshoppers they are a valuable asset to the gardener for natural control of pests.

As indicated by their common name, they are intensely interested in humans and often nest where they receive attention. They will make a cup sized nest of various materials including string and pieces of plastic and sit on three to seven creamy white eggs. They famously choose unusual sites for their nests, including door wreaths, lamp posts, garage shelving, and even old shoes. Both parents will raise their young and the family will leave here for winter quarters in Mexico by early October.

Small and overly confident, the brown House Wren is extremely territorial and will make efforts to destroy the nest of competitive birds. It is said they will occasionally destroy the eggs of other birds by breaking the egg shell. They have also been known to vandalize the cavity of other bird nests by placing sharp sticks in them therefore rendering them unusable. To encourage this valuable little bird to nest in your garden, boxes with a hole small enough to prevent competitive cavity nesters is an option.

When their sociable behavior is added to their abilities to control pests, it is no wonder this dear little bird is among the all time American favorites.

One made a nest just inside the airless paint sprayer at the shop. Everyone worked around her as she sat! Yesterday the four babies learned to fly!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Darling, Daring Dragonflies

This is indeed the year of the dragonfly! They seem to be everywhere and at all hours of the day. Twenty years ago they appeared in great numbers in late afternoon, gracefully hovering in a suspended dance above the meadow. This year they appear in mass by mid-morning and in a stunning array of brilliant colors. Dragonflies are located worldwide and have more than 5,000 described species, 450 of which reside in North America, with Texas alone home to 225 species. Considerably downsized now, a fossilized dragonfly from 250 million years ago had a wingspan of 28 inches!

Dragonfly adults are lovely and graceful, with a sweet head that turns to look at you quizzically with magical eyes. Often brightly colored they have two pair of long, slender, transparent, and highly veined wings. The wings do not fold but are held permanently outstretched even when at rest. Adult dragonflies are usually found near water with a territory which may range several miles. Many males are intensely protective, defending their domain from other males, which may explain sudden aeronautical chases exhibiting extraordinary maneuverability.

A truly beneficial insect from infancy to maturity, dragonflies eat mosquitoes. The immature dragonfly is called a nymphs (or naiads). Nymphs are entirely aquatic and are found on submerged vegetation and the bottom of ponds and marshes where they capture and eat mosquito larvae. The adults seen above the meadows are capturing adult mosquitoes while in flight.

As with all interesting insects, there are many folk tales surrounding the dragonfly. Perhaps due to their unusual and multifaceted eyes, in Norway and Sweden they were said to be sinister works of the Devil. Conversely the Pueblo tribes have endowed them with significant importance. They are said to represent swiftness and activity and to the Navajo pure water. Dragonflies are a common motif in Zuni pottery, Hopi rock art and they appear on many Pueblo necklaces. In Japan they are a symbol of late summer and early autumn and also represent courage, strength, and happiness. They often appear in art, literature, and on Japanese pottery.

Regardless of their artistic and intrinsic importance, the fact they will purge the garden of mosquitoes makes them an extremely welcome visitor anytime.

*My friend Sharon Lee, an awesome photographer, graciously allowed me to use her photo of the dragonfly.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Unexpected turn... the Privet

Sometimes Nature takes an unexpected turn and so it happened here. In Emerson's essay on Compensation he speaks of the 'sunny flower garden, with no room for its roots and too much sunshine for its head, by the falling of the walls and neglect of the gardener assumes new character'. He suggests that often a miraculous transformation may occur and thus it has happened in our garden.

Almost thirty years ago I planted small privet hedges found nestled beneath their parents at my Grandmother's home. Each the size of a slim pencil back then, they grew and thrived. For well over two decades, our Privet hedges were trimmed, sculpted, and modeled to perfection. They became the perimeters of carefully proportioned outdoor rooms, each defined by a circumference of hedge. The swimming pool area, the badmitton court, and even the basketball court were carefully embraced into utter seclusion by the perfectly manicured hedges.

Over the course of the years, as each of our children reached a certain age, they were assigned to trim and did so proficiently. As each grew up and beyond their duty, they were allowed to escape the effort of clipping. And still the hedges grew. As the last son left home and the hedges were left to us alone, they began to reach higher and higher still, instinctively knowing that being left alone with us would finally allow freedom. They grew seeking the sunlight beyond the tree tops, with first their depth and breadth doubling then tripling. In what seemed a twinkling, they were beyond our grasp. They reached past the trimmers, further than the scope of the ladder, beyond all control.

We lamented the passing of the orderly rows of hedge and then something wonderful happened. The hedges devolved into their true nature of being. They are thick and healthy, lush and verdant, and an absolutely stunning specimen of magnificent proportions. Covered with miniature spears of tiny white flowers of the most delicate nature, they are beauty beyond compare and seem as though waiting for the wedding party. Their fragrance reaches the perimeters of the lawn, and wafts sweetly through to the woodland and beyond.

Were it not for our age and limitations, our Privet would have remained as they were…formal and yet formidable. Controlled and in the effort required to keep them perfect, controlling beyond measure. However as the garden and the gardener alike mature, some unexpected loveliness may appear… to your surprise and sheer delight.

Entrance to the Secret Garden...the Frog Pond and Zen Pool Lay Beyond~

Monday, July 12, 2010


The bag worms have reached a epic proportions this summer and for the first time they seem to have attacked the Elms. In recent years they were seen predominately on the Bald Cypress and Evergreens, but usually not in enough numbers to kill the tree. However this year many Elm trees have been stripped bare of all leaves, succumbing to the worms presence. A particularly nasty pest, a bagworm can actually kill its host by sucking the life out of it as it moves through its life cycle. Bagworms begin to build their signature case shortly after hatching and their only purpose is to grow within the case, pupate into an ugly and dreadful little moth, then mate before dying. The cases grow as the worm develops for they continue to add plant material mixed with their own damaging silk for their entire life. A tree infested with bagworms will exhibit increasingly damaged foliage as more and more of it is consumed by these camouflaged eating machines.

Eradication is difficult with many solutions involving poisonous chemicals that should never be used in our fragile environment. It may help to sever a limb from the tree forcing it to send out a ‘distress call’ to save itself and therefore exude an extract distasteful to the worms, causing them to vacate. Hand picking is the best solution and it is immensely satisfying to use an inexpensive pair of plastic-handled scissors to cut them in half and watch them suffer. Happy picking!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


The fourth in Oklahoma was most unusual by being a total wash-out this year. The rain was unexpected and we may thank Hurricane Alex for our good fortune. For in spite of disappointing campers and flooding some areas, receiving rain and cool temperatures for the beginning of July is truly a blessing! Our poor neighbors in the North East are ill prepared for the heat dome that usually arrives here after the wheat harvest, and it seems determined to punish Yankees who never thought they would need air conditioning.

The day lilies are in full bloom now. It has traveled on a long journey from the standard orange as hybridization has ushered in countless varieties that thrill the collector. A hardy plant, the daylily is an ancient flower first found growing wild in forests, swamps, meadows and mountains throughout China, Mongolia, Northern India, Japan and Korea. It was in early China that daylilies were taken from the wild and planted in gardens as they were thought to be uplifting to the spirit. And it is the Chinese who thought the buds to be nutritious while the roots were used as painkillers and diuretics.

The botanical name of the bloomer, Hemerocallis, is based on the Greek words for "beauty" and "day" for each flower opens and lasts a single day. References to daylilies first appeared in Europe and the Mediterranean in the 1500s and the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus gave the daylily its generic name in 1753.

As Daylilies arrived in United States in the early 1900s they were greeted with great enthusiasm and in the 1920s, Dr. A.B. Stout, a botanist from Wisconsin, began extensive hybrid programs and has been called ‘The Father of Modern Daylilies’. In 1946, the American Hemerocallis Society was founded and in 1955, the organization became the official registry for all types of daylilies. There is such interest and excitement amongst Daylily lovers that there are over 330 American Hemerocallis Society Display Gardens throughout the United States and parts of Canada.

Some varieties of daylily are unusual for their shapes. The crispate form has pinched or folded tips on half of the petals. The cascade form has petals that bend low and outward, as if cascading down the flower stem. The spatulate form has petals that widen toward the edges. Some daylilies have straight or smooth edges on their petals, while others have ruffled petals or jagged edges. A picotee edge is ruffled and colored to match the eye on the petals. Ruffling occurs when the petals appear to have crimped edges.

When the children were little we played an evening game of snapping off the days spent flower… which issued a rather loud pop as it was broken from the stem. By removing the spent flower, longer blooming was encouraged and the flower of the next morning appeared on a tidy stem. Regardless of the shape or color, a variety of Daylilies are perfect guests arriving at the garden party during the height of Summer.

*Check out

Friday, July 2, 2010

Grasshoppers and Guinea Fowl

What does one do when the organic garden is suddenly over run with vicious pests? Almost over night, the garden was inundated with grasshoppers. The hatching's were pale green with a baby look that appeared almost cute but a week later they were adolescents changing into brown. The following week they were rough scaled and fully armed adult eating machines… with a canny intuition and wings. How can a grasshopper instinctually move from one side of a stem to another, hiding from capture? With their famous chewing mouth parts, the ability to ’spit tobacco’ and their thorny back legs they seem a product of a sci-fi horror film. Not to mention their inclusion in the Bible as the eighth plague on Egypt before the Exodus.

As one walks through the garden they may be heard unseen and rustling, then wing whishing and plopping from one plant to another. They have fully decimated my lovely dinner plate Dahlia, stripping the leaves with plague-like precision, even eating parts of the flower and half of the buds. The final straw was ruining my lovely Stargazer. What to do, particularly since the butterflies are spectacular, the dragonflies a delight, the bee population has recovered, and the lazy drone of the Cicadas soothes? To use pesticide on the hoards of invading grasshoppers would kill all of the beneficial and aesthetic insects, leaving me with a silent albeit lovely garden.

Fortunately there is a time honored and efficient answer to the problem which does not involve any spraying, dusting or trapping. Simply purchase a few Guinea Fowl! Since grasshoppers are their favorite delicacy, they will move quietly through the garden eating along the way. They do not favor flowers or vegetables making them far more desirable than chickens, who will scratch and stomp them to death. However there are a few important rules involved in owning Guinea Fowl.

The guys purchased five adults on Father’s Day for Michael and we isolated them in an outdoor pen for a little over a week so they would acclimate and not disappear into the woods. Then we allowed two out on the first day, three the second day, and finally all five are patrolling the gardens. They put themselves to bed in their original cage each evening and we close the door behind them until morning to protect our little army. Guinea's are like soldiers of the finest magnitude or perhaps even a close knit tribe. One member will sit atop a post or find a vantage point in a tree to scout for danger. If anything out of the ordinary appears to be approaching, the sentry will sound the alarm with a high pitched rattle of screeches to warn the others who will immediately join in the screeching whilst running in circles… one could safely say Guinea fowl are ’freakers’. If the danger seems imminent, they will join forces and attack emass, flying and diving on the suspect.

I experienced this first hand a few years back as I attempted to collect 18 babies who had quietly hatched in the meadow. Following behind their mother, they at first appeared to be tiny leaves blowing in the grasses. I attempted to collect them before the cat did and their mother sounded the alarm. The ear-splitting screeching, the rush of the tribe to assist her, the flogging and diving on my head was frightening indeed so I allowed the group to keep the babies. Not the sharpest tools in the shed, they circled the babies and then lost, stomped, or simply forgot all but three of the youngsters.

Notwithstanding their terrible parenting skills, they are a marvelous addition to the garden with their distinctive sound and exotic appearance. And their ferocious appetite is fantastic!