Wednesday, October 27, 2010

An Eleventh Commandment

Weather October 15, 2007 presented ominous warnings of drought and deluge and the storms this week seem to have reached fever pitch proportions. The storms gave Oklahoma record breaking rainfall; the former record was set in 1908. I had written, 'Perhaps this is a sign that the next century here will be a lush and prosperous one for Oklahomans'. However the next weather story of the day featured poor Atlanta, Georgia and the severe drought they were experiencing. Always considered the 'Dallas' of the South, Atlanta's three million citizens were expected be out of water in three months.

This week the enormous storms raging across the Plains have set records with tornadoes, rain, and high and damaging winds. I feel our unprecedented human intrusion has tipped the natural order and perhaps triggered some of these alarming weather related events. Possibly it is time to revisit conservation...and hopefully the new politicians elected will respond accordingly.

For those unacquainted with Conservation Districts and their purpose, they were hastily formed in the early 1930's by a Congress on the edge of panic. Along with the greatest depression this nation ever experienced came an equally unparalleled ecological disaster known as the Dust Bowl. Following a severe and sustained drought in the Great Plains, the region's soil began to erode and blow creating huge black dust storms that blotted out the sun and swallowed the countryside. Thousands of refugees raced from the black fog to escape leaving all of their worldly belongings behind to sink into a sea of dust.

The storms were not satisfied with only enveloping the Plains; they eventually stretched across the entire nation. They stretched from Texas to New York in an unrelenting choking pattern of wind and drought. As dust sifted into the White House and onto the desk of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the problem that began in the Midwest suddenly had national implications. Urgently Capitol Hill called soil scientists to testify. Among them was eminent scientist Hugh Hammond Bennett who threw back the curtains to reveal a sky blackened by dust! Congress unanimously passed legislation declaring soil and water conservation a national policy and priority.

Since about three-fourths of the continental United States is privately owned, Congress realized that only active, voluntary support from landowners would guarantee the success of conservation work on private land. In 1937, President Roosevelt wrote to the governors of all the states recommending legislation that would allow local landowners to form soil conservation districts.

Having experienced the Dust Bowl prior to national notice, Oklahoma created 88 Conservation Districts whose duty and mission is to preserve, protect and restore Oklahoma's natural resources. Assistance is provided to the districts and the public in order to 'foster a sense of care, wise use, and best management of Oklahoma's renewable natural resources'. So great was the priority to protect our resources that the Conservation districts gave complimentary copies of 'An Eleventh Commandment' to businesses and schools.

Written by deeply religious people, the Commandment is posted below:

An Eleventh Commandment
Thou shalt inherit the holy Earth as a faithful steward, conserving its resources and productivity from generation to generation. Thou shalt safeguard thy fields from soil erosion, thy living waters from drying up, thy forests from desolation, and protect thy fields from overgrazing by thy herds, that thy descendants may have abundance forever.
If any shall fail in this stewardship of the land, thy fruitful fields shall become stony ground and wasting gullies and thy descendants shall decrease and live in poverty or perish off the face of the Earth.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Natural Fall Decorations

The foliage is still evolving and each day provides a new wonder to behold as the play of light and shadows shimmers on dancing leaves. It will reach a zenith as the clocks are turned back and the memory of it will carry us through the long winter months. Sunday the Maples turned a brilliant crimson and the China Berry began to loose leaves, showcasing the lovely translucent berries in large clusters on 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, is dressed in a gorgeous ruddy red velvet this time of year.

As the days become shorter the season for interior decorations begins in earnest so plan to wander outside and shop for Nature’s ornaments. Shears in hand, look at the amazing plethora just outside the back door and begin collecting. Everything from brightly colored leaves to a wide assortment of interesting seeds lay waiting for the curious shopper. Privet berries are a deep blue, almost black, and last well all season. The translucent gold of China Berries add interest and the seeds of the Euronymous have a shell shaped like a mini four leaf clover which encases a plump red berry.

(Privet is rather Halloweenish~ And Euronymous is just plain cute!)

Bittersweet has tendrils with darling berries prancing along the stems and a variety of dried grasses add a wispy texture. Using a simple grape vine wreath and florist wire, begin to layer what you have collected and watch as magic ensues.

As far as inspiration for fall nothing compares to the exotic Pyracantha. Almost overnight the berries have ripened and hundreds of tiny baby ‘pumpkins‘ are covering the branches. The most favored is the lovely Firethorn variety which is a valued addition to the garden for the show she presents now. Tiny white bouquets of flowers appear in summer and form the berries which stay green until the evenings begin to cool and their color change begins. Not only are the early flowers are beloved by the bees but the bush-like spread and fierce thorns make it an ideal place for garden bunnies to scurry for safety. Clearly it originated in Asia; it positively looks oriental and can be found painted on many antique porcelain vases. Cut Pyracantha branches and let them creep across the breakfront with amber and scarlet leaves as filler.

Gather or purchase several sizes of pumpkins and oddly shaped gourds to add to your collections, sprinkle it all with white twinkle lights peeking from beneath leaves, hiding here and there, and your seasonal decorations for fall are complete. Have fun and happy hunting!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Paper White Narcissus, Jonquils, and Daffodils

Looking outside Monday the sparkle of rain drops glistened in the morning sun with such magical beauty it was difficult to imagine the torturous weeks before. Overnight the powdery dust had disappeared and the winter grasses sent tiny up shoots under the woodland trees. To be without rain for weeks and finally receive it makes one relish the sweetness of nature’s reprieve.

With the garden finally damp, bulb planting should be on the agenda as the timing now is perfect. The bulbs planted now will be the first to arrive at the garden party next spring, bringing with them the excitement of the coming season. In choosing bulbs pick Paper White Narcissus and some Daffodil and Jonquils in early, mid, and late blooming varieties for a longer show.

Many of our flowers are named after Greek myths, the lovely Narcissus being one of them. Named for the legendary Greek youth who was so enthralled with his own beauty he became forever fixed looking at his own reflection in a pond, the flower lives up to the myth. Paper White Narcissus, with multiple delicate and sweet-scented flowers to a stem, are a 'must' for early gardens. Plus, Paper Whites purchased today will be waiting in the cupboard to be ‘forced’ for the upcoming holidays. (Allow a four to six week wait for forced blooms.)

Both the Jonquil and Daffodil are members of this royal family as well and the two are easily distinguishable. The Daffodil has a long trumpet, the Jonquil a short one rising from the flower circle of six petals. The old fashioned and predominately yellow Daffodil easily adapts to naturalization and will survive nicely almost anywhere in the garden landscape, each stem providing one lovely flower, multiplying over years into a stunning show. The Jonquil comes in a vast array of color, and hybrids of late have given us a pale pink in addition to the entire spectrum of yellows. Since they all bloom before the arrival of leaves, they may be planted under trees that would block sunlight for later blooming flowers.

Select large healthy bulbs, free of mold with nice tendrils of root growth and plan to plant in groupings of three or more. Plant three to four inches the height of the bulb, root down, cover and pat them in, water well and then wait for spring. Following blooming allow the foliage to dry naturally; it sends nutrients through the leaves to the bulb to insure next years flowering. As the leaves begin to fade many gardeners tie or braid the stems together to create a tidier look in the garden. All of these early flowers do well in arrangements and are a sweet scented breath of spring when displayed in a vase. Combined together, they are spectacular!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Tulips... A Brief History

Following the Fall Equinox, it is a good time to plan on planting bulbs. The time and effort now will be rewarded by a spectacular show in the spring and since most bulbs need some cold weather to flower well, they will enjoy resting in the cool earth all winter. Plant some Tulip bulbs; they are readily available and easily affordable nowadays, but history proves that was not always the case.

The Tulip originated in Asia Minor where the Ottomans developed cultivars which concentrated on long, thin, wispy flowers of different colors. This lovely flower was first brought to the Vienna Court in the 1500's and presented to the King as a gift from exploration. As the majestic Tulip began her travels around Europe, she was greeted with wild excitement in every nation. Originally, only members of the royal family were allowed access to certain bulbs; lower classes were forbidden to possess them. Naturally, the result was a deep desire akin to lust to own a Tulip bulb. Fierce competition, intrigue, and smuggling of the bulbs emerged, resulting in a rage referred to as "Tulipomania". By 1634-1637, the situation had become so intense that the governments of both England and Holland were forced to pass legislation to regulate trade in the tulip market.

At the height of the mania, interest was so widespread that individuals invested in tulip bulbs as they now invest in stocks of oil or other ventures. Many fortunes and vast land holdings were lost over Tulip bulbs; one shipping magnate gave a fleet of ten ships for 10 bulbs! By the mid 1700's the bulbs were still expensive, but available to an elite public willing to pay the price for them. The Ambassador from Holland proudly presented 7 bulbs to Martha Washington following her request and they were planted in a place of honor in her original gardens at Mt. Vernon.

Descendants of the Dutch bulbs will not mature properly or flower a second year without a cold winter so expect to plant each year in warmer zones. However since time and science have provided an affordable array of spectacular colors and form, Tulips are still a magnificent addition to the garden. Choose Common or frilly, parrot or scented; all are worth the effort to plant… if only for one season.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Fall, a favorite Season

When contemplating the morning temperatures of late, the word perfection comes to mind. Fall seems idyllic and romantic when it makes such a fine appearance in the mornings. As one drives along the country roads notice how the leaves have begun to change into their autumn finery. The annual show, which is always breathtaking, has begun. As the last hurrah before winter, the landscape of autumn is spectacular and the memory of it will tide us over until spring.

Everything about this season is a sensual feast for the senses with the sight of changing leaves absolutely thrilling. As they complete their color change, they begin to fall, delicately swirling to the ground in a dance of drifting patterns. Finally as they accumulate in colorful heaps, they are a joy to walk through…crackling and swishing with the sudden snap of the occasional acorn hidden beneath them. For an outdoor walk, this season has no match.

As one continues cleaning the garden, tidying up the confusion of overgrowth, the bones of the garden are visible once again. In viewing it, one immediately has an idea or two for next year. And as sagging summer bloomers are cut back one may also see the tiny tips of the early spring bulbs emerging. They are early reminders that the garden is perpetual and ever-evolving. They are the promise that the season may be over, but there is always another year.

The herbs may be cut back now to allow the new growth appearing at their bases to get light. Perhaps another small harvest is possible should we have a late freeze.

Some evening this week brew a cup of tea, grab a sweater, and wander outside, basking in the mellow feel of the summer's end. If you listen carefully, you can hear the brittle leaves dancing in tandem with the breezes before drifting gently to collect in crisp madness on the lawn.