Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pollen and Super Pollen

Since the month of May consisted of driving winds and little rain, the pollen has reached epic proportions and seems to have permeated everything, everywhere. When the dust from wheat harvest is added to the equation, the allergens are beyond escape so measures should be taken concerning outdoor activities.

I recently read several scientific articles on the effects of Global Warming. Since the jury is 'in' and the experts agree it is an indisputable fact, the information of interest to gardeners addressed the topic of pollen. According to the professors who study such matters, the pollen will increase to the status of 'super' in the coming years.

The increased emissions of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by fuel propelled autos, airplanes, and large machinery are apparently the primary cause according to the experts. Since plants and grasses utilize carbon dioxide in the production of their food, the theory is that plants and grasses are now receiving the equivalent of daily doses of fertilizer. Gardeners who supply fertilizer in regular intervals know their plant life is rejuvenated by such applications so the theory is not off base.

Government research on Ragweed, the major culprit of allergens in the fall, indicate it produces more pollen and larger pollen as the growing season lengthens and the carbon dioxide levels rise. According to the US Agriculture Research Service, Ragweed already produces 131% more pollen now as opposed to a hundred years ago. Their projection is that by 2050 the percentage number will rise to an alarming 320%. Research also indicates trees and grasses, the prime sources of allergy misery in the spring and summer, also are in the process of becoming super pollinators.

As the allergy suffers know, this research provides no new information with exception of the possible cause of increased misery. Apparently the more beautiful the time of year, the more torment one may expect. However, there are a few rules set forth by the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology to relieve some symptoms and they suggest:

*A thorough spring cleaning of the house, top to bottom to remove dust.

*Postponing morning coffee in the garden until after ten when overnight pollen has settled.

*Stay inside on hot, dry, windy days if at all possible… wind storms are actually the equivalent of rain storms.

*Do not hang laundry, especially sheets, on the line as allergens collect on them. Allergens will also be on the over shirt idly tossed on the patio chair yesterday, so don’t put it back on.

*After working outside, shower and wash your hair before bed.

*Be aware of high mold spore counts after a heavy rain or in the evening. Dizziness and/or blurry vision are clues the spore count is high.

Living in a bubble is not necessary since scientists assure our species will adapt to the ‘new’ environment and survive. And for those who garden, avoidance of allergens is not an option. Perhaps we need a universal motto… possibly 'Sneeze On'?

Note: I wrote this article several years ago, however it bears repetition as a timely reminder since the number of allergens this season seem unprecedented.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Party Line… and Local Characters. Part II

Once settled into our new home one of the first things we did was have a telephone installed. Our new home had never had a telephone, so there were no lines to simply ‘hook up’; lines had to be strung, literally strung, to our home. We were on a party line which was explained to me as neighbors sharing the lines and since electricity had not come to Hinton until the 1940‘s, phone service at all seemed rather advanced. The whopping price of $8 a month didn't seem such a bad deal and there was no need to dial the prefix, only the last four digits. A distinct ring indicated the call was meant for a certain house… two longs and one short was for us. Just another part of the adventure and I could adjust!

Rural land was divided into sections, most of which were divided again into quarters. At the corner of each section most people built their homes.. more to allow for unfettered farmland than companionship, but most homes were across the road or catty-corner to each other. Our little ’neighborhood‘, consisted of four homes besides ours, all within view of each other. Across the road one way were Mildred and Cecil Erickson, whose children were grown. Behind them lived the Milligan’s and Mrs. Milligan, and avid Ornithologist, had taught second grade for forty years. The Slaton’s lived on the hill to the West with their teenage son, and the hermit, Ester Ryker, lived just to the south in a misty, dark, and strangely spooky hollow.

No story could be complete without a crazy, reclusive neighbor, and I had mine with Esther. No one had seen Esther since her one trip to town to bury her father decades before and she lived alone with dozens (or perhaps hundreds) of cats. She was the character fairy tales are written about and with my vivid imagination, scared me to death. All alone out here with little babies, strange sounds in this strange land, little light and early darkness and a hermit living adjacent to me... terrifying! I saw her twice in the first three years. Each time she was wearing her father’s tattered clothing, his pants held up with a rope. A floppy man's hat was pulled down over her face and she had rather severe stoop or perhaps a hump on her back. She had lumbered to the mailbox to snatch her mail and rushed back into the foliage at the sight of me. My imagination ran rampant with tales of witches bearing poison apples, headless horsemen, and wind-whipped spells!

Asking anyone about her was always met with the same response.. no one had seen her in years; she was perhaps sixty when we moved but no one knew for sure. Her sweet Mother had died in childbirth with her and that is when the family buried itself in grief. Her father had once been an outgoing happy man, but was never the same after his young wife died leaving him with infant Esther, two year old Inez, and a son Roy. He became reclusive and depressed and solicited a promise from his children that they never fall in love or marry for they could suffer a such a loss themselves. The son married but the girls obliged. Esther had never gone to school or town, never dated, had no friends, and lived a self sufficient life without electricity. The grocer delivered monthly supplies which were put out near the road and the Co-Op delivered feed for her cows. No one saw her...ever... and I shared a neighborhood and phone with her!

Her phone ring, one long, one short and two long, sounded only on Sunday at noon, shortly before her sister arrived to visit. They would walk the property screaming and growling at each other for an hour or so before Inez' ride would come to pick her up to take her back to town.

The sister Inez ran the feed store in town. She lived in a long room adjacent to her store that was her bedroom/office. In there, as you stepped in to pay a bill or buy garden seed, her small bed and toiletries were clearly visible... and cat-covered. Rheumy eyed cats were not only on the bed, the chairs, the desk, the floor, and every other surface, but dozens leisurely sunned outside the store. Their health was deplorable and their gaggingly-awful smell hung in the air for a full block! I used to put the seed outside rather than 'perfume' my house! It was always an amazement to me that Inez dressed each day in a crisp freshly ironed dress, a spotless hairnet, and wore perfect hose... and none of her clothes had cat rips or any odor... a miracle!

But back to Esther... I did not know for years she listened to all my calls! It was a winter day and our dog escaped the yard and I could hear him barking at Esther's so I decided to go to the road and forcefully call him. She appeared in the woods and gruffly yelled at me to "Keep yor dog n Peacock outta here... n yor own Mother don't like 'ya!"  So much for privacy, and thanks Mom.

Of course she had no fences for her cows since she called them by name and they kept close to the barn. Once when our cattle escaped and ran to her woods Michael happened on her as he was collecting them. He apologized and she growled she knew they were out... the Owls had told her! (You can't make this stuff up.)

Once the little boys, in a spirit of generosity gave Valentines to all of our neighbors. Esther found their card in the mailbox, glared over here, tore it up and tossed it over the bridge. The children were watching for her pleased reaction so it hurt them fairly badly.

Naturally I did not want the children, who regularly visited Mildred and Cecil for cookies and conversation, to bother Esther. Since they were big enough to wander the creek we shared with Esther, I decided to let her know she need not bother looking out for them. So baby in arms one day after the Valentine card incident, I marched up the narrow dirt road to her house to tell her the children would never come to her place; I would make sure of it!

Her back was to me and I surprised her as she was feeding her cows. As she turned I saw her close-up for the first time in ten years. Good Lord, she was was wearing a man's formerly white, now brown t-shirt, man's over shirt, men's pants held up with a rope belt. She had long coarse eyebrows and her underlip protruded and shook back as forth as she hissed at me.

The children had gathered at the road after terrified word had spread among them "Mom's going to Esther's!!". As I approached them after my visit, they quaked and begged me to tell them what she had said. I told them she took baby Peter's leg and said "It's nice and plump, but not quite enough... send the other boys over."

I told them I had seen collapsed little-boy clothing by the barn and she was calling her cats names like Bobby and Sammy, Billy and Jimmy. As the children's eyes widened, I told them the cats looked very sad. I told them they had once been little boys who wandered into Esther's to explore and she had turned them into cats with a spell! I asked if they were ever going to go over there... Unanimous "NO"!

Hilarious stuff... I love creative parenting!

More Later~

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Our Move to the Farm Part 1

Be Careful What You Wish For...
Part 1... The Move

When Michael and I were expecting our first children (our twins) in 1975, we had noted the changes taking place in the city. Serious drugs had made their way there, the school systems were crumbling and violence was on the rise. Never mind we were living in a beautiful home in Mesta Park with an option to buy… it simply wasn't safe. We wanted a place with simple values and an almost antique lifestyle to raise our babies the way we had grown up. We began looking and were fairly disappointed at the choices.

On the fourth of July we had taken the babies west meet their maternal great-grandparents, Dick and Susie Wilmeth of Dill City and Grandpa Ray Dougherty in Hinton. As we were driving east down the dirt road from Grandpa Dougherty’s, we came to the stop sign at Methodist Road. Directly in front of us was a very small, very run-down, stucco house perched on a hill. I said to Michael, “I want out of the city so bad, I could live there“.

Be careful what you wish for: I really should have qualified my wish a bit and made the statement in front of a nicer home, but I had never realized there are cautions to be addressed with wishes.


By mid-August, Grandpa Dougherty had called Michael’s father to announce excitedly, “I found you a farm Ray... and I bought it. You need to come out here to sign papers in Anadarko“. And so the opportunity for us to escape arose quite suddenly as we were offered the house and a job caretaking the farm. Or as Michael insisted, he was finally going to live his life long dream; he would become a cowboy. We took the offer and moved to the little house in mid-August... with our infant twins. Michael thought 'with a little elbow grease, the house will be just fine'. I simply imagined Frontier women, ’Little House on the Prairie’, and Willa Cather as I packed for our big adventure.

It was an interesting experience and included everything imaginable from a sci-fi horror movie. Broken buildings down the hill, a stash of collected windows cattle had trampled, an original homestead falling-down house in the back yard, an outhouse, waist high weeds buzzing with wasps and slithering snakes, ten inch centipedes, ticks, itchy chiggers, grasshoppers from hell, stickers, strange night life lumbering past open windows, and saucer-sized tarantulas were abundant...and that was just outside.

Inside the home was lit by one lone naked bulb on each ceiling and each room had one 110 outlet. The water was in a holding tank outside and the spigot on the kitchen sink read ‘cold’... because there was no hot. There was no air conditioning and plugging in the fan made the tiny circuit breakers blow. I know it sounds like an oxymoron, but the house had a flower patterned linoleum 'carpet' in every room. The eighty-five year old gentleman who sold the farm had been an original recycler, bringing home everything that been set beside the road as discard and in true Disney fashion he had befriended the mice. When I asked what was in the paper sack hanging on his bedroom wall, he had replied it was his hat. If he left it down his friends, the mice, he fed would eat it! Please imagine the fortitude it took to enjoy this experience.

Settlers House Out Back~

The Yard... view from the house


Without immediate rewiring, the laundry was a true challenge but I mustered to the call and marched to the yard to do it. A leftover wringer had been found sitting idly by the barn so we drug it up, plugged it in, filled it and the two tubs. I had never seen one before and was fairly fascinated by it so I put on my bikini and decided outdoor laundry would be a good way to tan. I set the radio in the window and danced and splashed my way through summer.        
 The shed below

Then Winter arrived so we moved the washer to a shed, and for several months I pressed on, reminding myself of Pioneer women who had only a wash board. I cut the fingers out of my gloves and numbly hung diapers to freeze dry on the line, finding it amazing their board-stiffness immediately collapsed when we brought them into the house. Outdoor laundry had lost its charm and I decided my wringer was definately seasonal recreation... trips to the Laundromat were in order at least until Spring.
*Mr. and Mrs. Hoffman provided steam run washers and dryers, which is another story.

More to come…
Next... The Telephone and the Party Line

Monday, May 23, 2011

Historic Twentieth Century Weather Events in Oklahoma

It is difficult to talk about the garden while the weather remains so erratic. Our poor neighbors to the East have had more than their share of tragic storms this year and apparently the new century is determind to break all former records. In light of this, perhaps a review of the most famous weather events of the 20th century is in order. Here is the list of the top ten, compliments of the Oklahoma Climatology Survey. (The list for the Twenty first century is already making history.)

Dust Bowl - Early and Mid 1930s. The Dust Bowl of the 1930s ranks also among the most significant events of the century nationally, by literally changing the face of the Great Plains. Extreme heat and drought, especially in 1934 and 1936, with the all-time record high of 113°F set at Oklahoma City in August 1936.

Tornado Outbreak
- May 3-4, 1999. In terms of sheer numbers of tornadoes (73 in a 21-hour period), the outbreak more than doubled the previous record for number of tornadoes reported. Two tornadoes were rated F4, and the tornado that struck the Oklahoma City metro area was the first F5 recorded in the state in nearly 20 years. There were 40 deaths and almost 700 injuries.

Blizzard - February 20-22, 1971. Although this snowstorm was confined to a relatively small part of northwest Oklahoma, the storm total of 3 feet at Buffalo, Oklahoma nearly doubles the maximum storm total of any other snowstorm in Oklahoma history. Winds whipped snow into enormous drifts, forcing people to use second-story windows to get out of their homes.

Woodward Tornado - April 9, 1947. The most deadly tornado in Oklahoma history killed 116 people in Woodward alone, part of a total death toll of 181.
#Tinker Air Force Base Tornadoes - March 1948. Two direct hits, only 5 days apart, led to the genesis of tornado forecasting, which in turn paved the way for all of the scientific and technological advances in severe weather forecasting since. The first tornado hit on March 20, causing over $10 million in damage to the base and prompting officers to launch the very first efforts to predict tornadoes. As a result, when the second tornado hit the base five days later, it was predicted accurately by officers Fawbush and Miller- the first successful tornado forecast in history.

Arctic Cold Wave - December 1983. Like the 1980 heat wave, many Oklahomans remember this as one of the most severe bouts of prolonged wind and cold ever. The latter half of the month saw temperatures 20 to 40 degrees below average nearly every day, along with winds that kept wind chills routinely between 0°F and -40°F. The temperature remained below freezing from the evening of the 17th until New Year's Eve - an all-time record of nearly 2 weeks. Temperatures dropped to 0°F or colder on 4 days, never rose out of the single digits on 3 days, and never rose above the teens on 7 days. (~I shall never forget this one as my sister and her two girls were visiting. Trapped in the house with seven children under the age of nine is memorable by any standards.)

Heat Wave - Summer 1980. This event is well remembered by many Oklahomans as the most prolonged and severe heat wave outside of the dust bowl years. The 50 days of triple-digit temperatures at Oklahoma City stands as an all-time record- the maximum of 110°F is the hottest day on record.

Snowstorm - January 5-7, 1988. This weather event makes the list because of the unprecedented coverage of heavy snow. Although the maximum storm total of 17 inches at Hennessey has been exceeded in several other storms, significant snowfall amounts were reported across most of Oklahoma. The storm totals exceeded 6 inches over virtually the entire state and the 12.1 inches at Oklahoma City still stands as an all-time record for storm total snowfall.

Flash Flood in Tulsa - May 26-27, 1984 (Memorial Day weekend). This event is arguably the most significant urban flash flood in Oklahoma history, as rainfall of up to 15 inches (perhaps more - many gages overflowed) pounded the city overnight, leading to 14 deaths.

Ice Storm - December 25-27, 1987. Ice accumulations up to 2 inches, from near Duncan to Norman to Tulsa, left many areas without power for a week or more. The storm ranks as one of the costliest winter storms on record based on utility records.

Number 12, an honorable mention is astounding...
"Blue Norther" - November 11, 1911. 11/11/11 is the only date in the record books on which record high and record low temperatures were recorded on the same day. An Arctic front roared into the state and plunged the temperature reading from an afternoon high of a balmy 83°F to a midnight low of 17°F. The temperature fell to 14°F on the morning of the 12th - a drop of 69 degrees in less than 24 hours!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Updated walkway project... downsized with a small patio table and chairs

The original walkway project I did several years ago was a mistake... it added work to my garden duties. The Roses became too large and hung in the way and I was overwhelmed with a new place to manage and weed. So we removed it and made the existing path between the two beds gravel/flagstone... and added a little curve to a new 'patio'.

Old path: I loved it, but the roses as well as everything else in the bed overgrew... spilling seeds into the gravel. I became a terrible hassle to keep it trimmed and debris free... so we moved the gravel to the new path and will let the old one go to grass for a croquet court.

Here is the new one, located between the two beds. Much more manageable! I like the 'patio' too.

LeRoy is even using the new path!!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ducky and Jenny Guinea

It was May of 1990 when I found a lone duck egg covered in dust and straw on the floor of the chicken house. Needless to say it had been abandoned, shoved under the nest boxes, scratched about by the chickens, and it was exceedingly cold. Always the optimist, I decided to give a try hatching it so I found a high sided basket, lined it with a soft towel, and put my egg under a desk light on the kitchen counter. I dutifully turned it, checked the thermometer… and all ten of the family members waited. While we waited, we researched everything possible about hatching a duckling. It seems that ducklings are incredibly good at imprinting, meaning they will instantly bond with the first living thing they see, so the whole family spent the next 28 days peering in the basket, eagerly anticipating the arrival of our hatchling. And Ducky arrived right on schedule, bright eyed and beautiful.

I helped pick the last bits of shell from her pin feathers and then fluffed and warmed her with my hairdryer before putting her back to bed to rest. She had seen the entire family and true to the theory of imprinting, from the moment of her birth, acted as though she was person. She lived in a box and was constantly handled by everyone until she was old enough to go outside when the kids went out to play. She followed them everywhere, played in the sandbox, went to the creek to paddle around as they caught crawdads, ‘helped’ in the gardens and was eventually transferred to a steel reinforced night-time cage.

The twins were almost 14 that year, too young to date and old enough to baby sit and allow Michael and I our first evenings ‘out’ in decades. Since we didn’t watch much TV except for the news and weather, as an incentive I would buy a half gallon of ice cream and let everyone pile into my bed for an evening of tv, snacks, and fun. Of course, Ducky watched tv with them… she had a rubber mat she sat on in case of an accident, and was only put to bed outside after the younger kids had drifted off.

She grew and thrived... in fact her presence was a constant. Her quacks indicated happiness or anger, joy at the discovery of a tasty grub, and she even announced the arrival of guests. She followed behind the tiller for spring and fall plantings, pouncing on overturned worms; she followed behind at garden harvest as well, happily quacking as bits of produce were tossed her way. She sat under Marshall’s arm as he and Dolan watched for tornados, she dove in the pond to bedevil the fish, and she accompanied us on the ‘Great Chicken Release’ in the top field... and she was grateful to be going home. The dogs gave her deference, the cats were terrified of her temper, and the chickens were most certainly beneath her. She was very much in love with Marshall and often, in a tiff of feminine jealousy, she would lower herself and in a sudden rush nip Lize or I if we were spending too much time with him. He put her up each evening and would have her ‘fly’ to her cage, wings flapping as he held her body and ran with her; she loved the game. It was an outrageously simple, happy, and joyful time in our lives, and she was part of it.

As in all tales there is a bittersweet sadness that occurred as well. The children grew up and two by two left home until there was no one left here but Michael and I, the dogs... and Ducky. Since she had been most in love with Marshall, when he first moved to the cabin and then to Weatherford, she became rather despondent even though he came by to get her up and put her to bed. Her loss was mine as well so eventually we became friends, puttering about the rather empty gardens together... two mature ladies who enjoyed each other’s company.

I really had no idea how much she meant to me until suddenly she was very old. By age eighteen one of her little webbed feet had a broken toe, she had arthritis in her legs, her feathers had begun to look rather lack luster, and she could no longer get out of the pond without help. As she exited her cage one crisp Fall morning, she collapsed and could not get up. As she struggled for a footing, attempting to lift herself with her bill, I picked her up and noted she was light as a feather, her bottom feathers were wet and cold, and her breastbone protruded. It was obvious she had not groomed herself in days so not only was she cold and starving, she was too addled to even complain! I was ashamed for not taking care of her myself and was ill prepared to let her go... so I began Duck Rehabilitation that gave a certain meaning to both of our lives.

She suddenly she looked very old~

I took her to a warm bath, towel dried her, hair dried her to further warm her, and then fed her some softened dog food. Apparently the trees over her cage had grown and the shade which was a plus in summer, by the cool evenings of October had created a damp, dank, and cold habitat… it was not the proper place for the elderly. We moved her cage to a new (and dry) place, I put love grass hay in it and covered it with heavy clear plastic… it became a sun warmed cozy little house for her to sleep in at night. I got her up every morning and put her in the pond, tossing her puppy chow, which replaced the cracked corn of her younger days. She began to groom herself again, she put on weight, and although she limped when she walked, she managed to follow me and settle nicely to quack to me as I worked.

Through the Summer and Fall of her 19th year, she looked fabulous! The puppy chow seemed to provide the perfect nutrients so her feathers were absolutely beautiful and her mind was sharp. The arthritis in her legs had improved and she quacked as she waddled excitedly to her morning swim in the pond; she dove and dove, spreading her wings, flapping them joyfully. I always helped her out and she spent her day resting and relaxing before I put her to bed by seven. December that year had blizzards and sub-zero temperatures so I put her in a crate on the heated porch and let her in the house for many evening visits.

Warm and snug... and happy~

It was on a fine winter day in early January of 2010 that I last saw her. I let her out, gave her food and water and set off to run company errands with Michael. The sun was warm and there was not a single breeze... it was a perfect day. When we got home, John-Michael came in and spoke to Michael in hushed tones. Michael in turn took my arm and told me Ducky had been killed sometime about mid-morning… I was not to look at her but we would have a funeral after lunch. I was devastated! How, why? I had seen the hawk in the Cottonwood for several days and thought he was hunting mice but that was not the case... he was hunting Ducky. The unthinkable had happened and I consoled myself with the fact he hit her at 40 MPH, killing her instantly before devouring her. As my father had often said, “Nature in the raw is seldom mild” and for my darling Ducky to have passed over in this manner was too bizarre, too brutal to imagine! All of the guys and Michael were visibly shaken and disturbed and forbid Marshall and I to look at her. We buried her under the lilacs and I must sat it was incredibly sad to watch grown men wipe their eyes as they said goodbye to their last childhood friend.

I missed her terribly. Possibly the habit of getting her up, taking her to the pond, checking on her, and putting her to bed had so filled my day that there was now a viable void that could not be filled. Then on Father’s Day the twins arrived with Michael’s gift… five young adult Guineas!

Everyone who knows Guineas, knows they are highly nervous freakers, so we put them in the old chicken house for a week to acclimate so they would not disappear into the woods and get lost or killed. Their job would be to scout the garden for bugs… to organically control them. After a week, we allowed two out on the first day, three the second day, and finally all five were released to patrol the gardens. They were fantastic, putting themselves to bed in their original cage each evening all by themselves; we only needed to close the door behind them until morning to protect our little army. And all went well for a little over a month…

Well, naturally the former silence of the garden was interrupted by this small flock of fowl, so the local Bobcat took notice and decided that supper would be far easier than he had imagined. One by one, they disappeared… I would only find feathers. After several weeks, there was only one small, frightened Guinea left… Jenny alone had survived. She began following me everywhere, sitting a few feet from where I worked… perhaps for assurance she was safe. She then became friends with Rajah, and together they roost in the Black Walnut each evening. (He has fallen in love with her and is doing his lovely mating dance for her several times a day… she is unimpressed.) She comes when I call her, notifies me when unannounced guests arrive, and is an extremely pleasant, dutiful, and charming friend.

I have lived long enough to know that when something dear is lost, something else will come as a compensation... if the heart is open to it. It is with this thought that I have accepted Jenny’s friendship. And is it possible that she is an incarnation of Ducky? She certainly seems to know the place in a familiar manner... and she likes me a lot.

*I had hoped Ducky would break the oldest duck record; a Muskovy lived to be 25~

Monday, May 16, 2011

Wildflowers and Lilies... and my 'To Do' List

*Note: It was 93 to 102 degrees here for the first 10 days of May... with no rain since last October! It was 36 degrees this morning!

The cool this week is certainly a welcome respite from the unprecedented heat which arrived the first of May. Not since the year 2000 have spring temperatures been so high this early. Our internal systems, as well as those of the garden, were ill prepared for the sudden rush; ideally heat should arrive gradually. However the amazing rainfall last Thursday banished it, if only momentarily. With only minimum rain, the brittle brown fields sprang to life as in a time-lapse scene from the African Savannas. There plant life may remain dormant for years until a sudden downpour releases it from entrapment in dusty, hardened tombs. Our native grasses and wildflowers awoke and are in magnificent form this week; it is a pleasure to see they were not lost to us altogether this year! The old adage 'better late than never' is a truism.

The true lilies are beginning their show and since they begin blooming after the Iris and Peonies, yet before the annuals, they are a perfect addition to the garden. They take up a small space in the flower bed, arriving with compact foliage, heads high above companion plantings residing at their feet. There are over 2,000 species and twelve are native to the United States where they may still be found growing in woodland settings. All along the southeastern coast the Meadow Lily and Southern Red Lily grow and both have either orange, red or yellow flowers spotted with deep purple. The Leopard and Sierra Lily grows from California to Oregon and the Wood Lily may be found from Maine to Missouri. All have a hot orange to red color and signature purple spotting.

The most famous of the cultivated true lilies are the Easter lily, Tiger Lily, and Madonna Lily. Other favorites include the Chinese and Japanese hybrids which are believed to symbolize prosperity and wealth… the lovely Stargazer is among these. Surprising members of the lily family include asparagus, aloe, hyacinth, trillium, hosta, and tulip, with the daylily and water lily not family members at all. Since a true lily is never dormant it must be treated as a perennial plant where action occurs continually, even when it seems to be resting. Therefore it needs a permanent place in the bed where it may live undisturbed; it will not divide or travel.

Some of the Asiatic varieties present multiple blooms on one stem, providing an outstanding display of color and form. Other lilies present just one perfect flower at the top of a delicate stem. If properly cared for, freshly harvested Asiatic lilies will last a week in your home. To prepare a bouquet submerge the flowers in tap water as you cut them. Once inside, put them directly in a vase of tepid water then place the arrangement in a cool room, changing the water each day for a week of scented splendor.

* Important to Remember: Leave the foliage but cut the spent flowers following blooming... before it forms that silly seed pod. The pod will take energy from the bulb and yet will not form viable seeds.

To Do List... the bottom chore that's missing was 'weed the garden... again'. Will I ever get it all done?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Heirloom Roses

I don't know her name, but my rescued rose has been here for 30 years!

The weather of late is reminiscent of the fourth of July and it is not yet mid-May. The drought has reached epic proportions and in all my years of observing Nature, this is the first time that no spring field grasses are seen at all. In fact the regional drought is so extensive that April 22-24 were proclaimed “Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas“ by Gov. Rick Perry. He urged Texans of all faiths to offer prayers “for the healing of our land, the rebuilding of our communities and the restoration of our normal and robust way of life.” May we all pray for rain and remember to add a request that we are spared Nature‘s wrath… it seems to be in great abundance to our East.

In spite of the drought the heirloom roses may be seen blooming in a scented profusion of pink, yellow, or white clusters. Roses were wildly popular and easily affordable in the early nineteen hundreds when cemetery boards encouraged people to plant them to beautify the grave sites of loved ones. These hardy roses were also set about rural farmhouses; Grandma Dougherty hand watered her roses each Wednesday with the rinse water from the family laundry. However times change and the roses were forgotten, remaining in lost obscurity long after the farm residents departed. Trampled by cattle, overgrown by native grasses, starved for water, they managed to survive and it became a personal mission to ‘save’ them. So when we first began our garden thirty five years ago, we trekked about and collected roses from creaky farmhouses where these marvelous specimens had survived the Dust Bowl... unattended! They have been a delight for these many years and bloom faithfully with few requirements and little fuss.

Interestingly Oklahoma Living Magazine contained information about these robust roses this month. In an article by Allan Storjohann, who is Manager of the Myriad gardens, the story of the reintroduction of these old roses is told. It seems a few dedicated people felt the ‘farmhouse roses’ needed to be saved so for twenty five years they collected specimens just as I did... from abandoned farmhouses and overgrown cemeteries.

The Texas ‘Rose Rustlers’, as they are called, worked with Texas A and M Research and the Antique Rose Emporium to propagate these extraordinary species for re-release to the public. The poor roses youngsters were given every torturous and extreme circumstance to overcome and only survivors were kept. Given very little water, planted in either clay or alkaline soils, with no chemical insecticides or fungicides allowed and no fertilizer applied makes for ‘trial by fire‘ for a rose! Needless to say, many did not live however those that did are tough! The list is located at Earth Kind Roses and it seems there is a lovely rose for every for garden circumstance… and one may be planted even during a drought.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Plant Your Easter Lily in the Garden

Thousands of lovely Easter lilies were part of the celebration and most will be relegated to the rubbish bin, discarded as useless. However since the flowering lily springs from a bulb your plant may be easily integrated into the garden to provide beauty for many years to come.

Easter Lilies usually bloom in summer but were ‘forced’ to bloom early for Easter so do not expect any more action until next year; the bulb needs to rest. The lily enjoys sun on her head but a coolness about her feet, so pick a sunny place in the garden and tuck the bulb amongst other guests. Also, our driving winds or extreme heat may adversely affect the lily, so a site with some afternoon shelter and shade is preferable.

As you pull your lily from the pot, you will notice the extreme root growth that has occurred from being in a greenhouse under conditions which provided the premature blooms. If the roots are tightly bound in a circular pattern, the lily was grown in too small a pot and is ‘root bound’. The roots must be loosened and spread out to allow the poor thing to grow without strangling itself. Loosen the roots and it will not harm the bulb if some are cut back a bit.

Root Binding must be eased~

Dig a hole that is twice the width of the root ball and five or six inches deeper. Work some potting soil into it and then plant your lily, spreading the newly loosened roots down and out. Often there will be three bulbs in a standard Easter lily pot so carefully divide them and plan on planting them six or seven inches apart. Fill the hole with soil, and water while working your hands in the mush. Jiggle and wiggle the plant while looking for air bubbles to surface and when no more appear, there are no hidden pockets to cause rot. Once the water level has receded, lightly water once again.

Cut off the wilting flowers, but wait to cut back the foliage until it appears yellow; the foliage will nourish the bulb and help store energy for flowers next year. The unforced flowers will appear on time... in the early summer when the lily normally blooms. Your lily will live for many years, reminding you of the joyous occasion when it was introduced as a guest at an Easter gathering.

*This spring I noted the profusion of flowers available at almost all retail outlets. Many have been forced like the lilies and flowers which normally bloom in mid to late summer are in full bloom now. The novice gardener may be lured into purchase by appearance and is often unaware the blooms are practically spent; the plant will not bloom again this year. To avoid expensive mistakes, perhaps plant a packet of seeds... they will not provide an instant garden but watching them grow to adulthood is a daily thrill.