Monday, June 27, 2011

Drought and Sedums

The continued onslaught of driving winds with no rain has made gardening challenging this year. However in early July of 2007 I wrote, “Lately we have visited with many gardeners and every one of them expressed disappointment with the amount of rain we have received. Admittedly there can be too much of a good thing and we are probably ‘there’ with rainfall. The major complaint was the fact the vegetables have not produced decently without adequate sunshine. There are no peppers; the plants are just sitting in the garden waiting for sunshine. The green beans have bland flavor and many are yellow from water saturation. The crook neck squash are actually molding on the vine as infants, never reaching maturation. Additionally, the roses have developed black spot from too much moisture. Our naturalized flowering plants are unused to this“! So apparently it’s either feast or famine, but such are the conditions that call forth our Oklahoma Pioneer spirit. This drought will end, the wind will quell, and the grasses will once again be lush.

Now is the time to embrace the Sedum as a staple in the garden for few plants tolerate dry conditions as well as this species. Among the most hardy and durable plants the Sedum, or Stonecrop, is easy to grow, requires little care, and will endure where other plants perish. The name ‘Stonecrop’ was actually given for their habit of living almost anywhere including mounds of stone, piles of gravel, or even tucked into chinks in a rock wall. Their plump fleshy leaves are their secret to survival as they store water for the plant to use during extremely dry spells.

Sedums come in all sizes, from mat-forming ground covers to stands of flower clusters that top 30 inch stems. Needing only well drained soil and full sunlight, the Sedum is not susceptible to pests who prefer more tender foliage, however butterflies and bees are abundant about the blooms. Easy to propagate, simply break a leaf or stem from the Mother plant, shove it into a hole the size of an index finger, tamp the soil, lightly water for a week, and it will start a new plant.

Another interesting addition to the drought garden is Sempervivum Tectorum, commonly known as Hen and Chicks which were first recorded by the Greek botanist, Theophraste, in the 4th century BC. Grown under identical conditions as the Sedums, this fascinating little plant produces clusters of rosettes; the parent rosettes are the ‘hens’ and the smaller rosettes that spring from them are the ‘chicks‘. Children find the plant’s habit of producing ‘chicks’ extremely interesting, making it a wonderful way to lure them to the garden.

Both Sempervivum and Sedum are considered ‘Old World Treasures’ and are associated with mythology. The Romans called them ‘Beard of Jupiter’ and planted them on roofs to guard against lightning. This myth spread throughout Europe to Ireland and in Scandinavian countries both plants were called Thor’s Helper’ where they were believed to drive off demons and guard homes if planted on roofs. According to folk wisdom, one may hang sedum on a wall in midsummer to ward off lightning strikes and it may also be used to foretell the outcome of affairs of the heart. Both are reputed to have medicinal benefits and to boost energy, however they are best used as ornamentals. As the heat continues, these plants may indeed be considered treasures!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Erradicate Bugs While Having Fun

You want to keep the Praying Mantis~ they are fierce warriors!

Some insects are beneficial and others require extermination. It may also be noted that most insects are very selective about what they choose to eat. The same insect that has an affinity for dahlias may avoid the delphinium growing next to it. Gardeners are basically pacifist so it is necessary to occasionally accept advice from The Art of War; victory may be achieved only when one knows the enemy. In order to evaluate the damage caused by insects, one needs to inspect the plants, preferably prior to wantonly killing every beneficial insect with widespread and random spraying. With overzealous spraying the Lady Bugs and Praying Mantis, both beneficial, will meet the same fate as the Aphids. Cut worms must die, but the plump Striped Swallow Tail caterpillar eating the Dill should be left to cocoon then emerge as the lovely butterfly later in the season.

There is an easy at-home solution to make for the 'bug project'. Take a cup of warm water, squirt a little dish washing detergent and cooking oil into it, grab some plastic gloves and hand pluck the unfavorable worms and insects dropping them in your 'solution'. (Make sure it has a lid) It is fun garden entertainment that certainly beats television reruns, and is also quite empowering. Fill a spray bottle with the same and watch as those nasty red and black beetles nesting in piles of old leaves writhe and die.

As the summer heats up, no doubt the garden will suffer with the arrival of hoards of blister bugs, grasshoppers and other detestable vermin, but for now, it does not seem impossible to keep it under control with the hands-on approach. Have fun!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Melodic Cicada

This fellow was introduced to Julia yesterday... she was fascinated!

The magical Cicadas have arrived early and their melodic song foretells of temperatures over ninety degrees for the day. There are 2,500 species of Cicadas and they exist on every Continent except Antarctica. Their name is a direct derivation of the Latin cicada, meaning "buzzer" and their remarkable song is actually produced by the males calling to the ladies. Yesterday evening listening to the songs was a delightful concert and one could hear the differences in the singers. Several sang decidedly distinct with longer and more masculine compositions than the others; one may assume they were the ‘rock stars’ of the evening, drawing throngs of female fans.

For their song, the Cicada is a favorite by universal standards.
There is amazing folklore surrounding this marvelous insect. Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695) wrote a series of famous fables for the pleasure of the court and one was about the Cicada. Much like Aesop’s ‘Grasshopper and the Ant’, the Cicada is gadding about as the ants work, which is much to his dismay as winter arrives and he does not survive. The Cicada is portrayed in Japanese literature, and Japanese Haiku poetry. More significantly, the Chinese considered the Cicada of import even using the phrase ‘shed off the golden cicada skin’ as an example of a strategic tactic to avoid enemies. Mentioned as one of the Thirty-Six Stratagems used by generals, the Cicada leaves the shell behind to deceive enemies as the body itself escapes danger. The Chinese novel 'Journey to the West' (published 1590) is one of China’s four great classical novels. It has remained popular for centuries possibly due to it’s interesting story line of adventure, transformation, and symbolism. In it one of the journeying characters, the Priest of Tang, is named the Golden Cicada with the shedding of the skins symbolic of stages of transformation as he evolves to enlightenment.

As one listens to the concerts...picking out the rock stars, as one recalls finding the shells as a child... and storing the collection in a box under the bed, as one marvels at an insect that can foretell the temperature... it is indeed awe-inspiring that we are able to sit back and rejoice in what the Master Plan has provided as entertainment in our own back yards.

Cicada Princess, in production now, will be a 'must have' video...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Grasshoppers and House Wrens

My baby Wrens grew up and flew away~

The rains that finally arrived seemed truly Heaven sent and revived the native grasses, that had begun to fade far too early in the season. Even the small amount of rain seems to have rejuvenated them... the grasses along the hi-way are rewarding us with a tinge of green.

With the incessant heat, the grasshoppers have arrived in alarming numbers. Several weeks ago they were tiny with an almost cute infant look; suddenly they became adolescent eating machines that could be heard plopping in tandem on select garden guests. The Comfrey took a direct hit overnight and the realization that soon they would be fully armored adults was chilling. Hand picking is impossible as they instinctually know how to play hide and seek, going from side-to-side on a stem or under a leaf. Fortunately Jenny Guinea has made it her personal mission to clear the garden of their presence. Stealth is her plan as she calmly patrols the garden, in and out, quietly earning her keep. I can see a difference in the numbers of grasshoppers this week.

The darling House Wrens have begun nesting as well and should be encouraged to stay regardless of where they place their untidy nest. Their diet consists of insects, spiders, snails, flies, ticks, plant lice, gypsy moth larvae, ants, bees, beetles, and grasshoppers making them a valuable asset for the natural control of pests.

They arrive 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 interesting song is heard only during the nesting season and rarely afterwards.

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.

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. Scout the garden and see if you can find a nest to watch. The two photos are from nests made last week. The one on the wreath near the back door is a third year repeat, but the one in the pot I accidentally left on the patio table is a total surprise... I will get to peek at babies soon!

Monday, June 6, 2011

A tip for getting rid of your green thumb~

Tip of the Day~:
To remove dirt~ When washing your hands, add a teaspoon of sugar to the soap lather. It will dissolve without causing skin damage, yet still acts with exfoliate properties! And it works!


As the weather will inevitably turn hot and dry this Summer, flowers originating in South America are possibly the best selection and may be planted once all chance of frost is over. Best planted from seed, annuals are flowers which last only one season, yet they bloom continually from first flower until first frost. They are available in almost every color and form… from sweet to raucous, vibrant to pastel, and seedlings usually emerge within a week. Once an annual has been grown in your garden, the seeds it produces will have an internal memory of the soil conditions. By collecting these seeds, you may assure successive years of healthy, robust flowers. So as the season progresses wait until the flowers are spent, watch as the seeds form and dry, and then collect them to plant next year.

The majestic Sunflower is a universally popular annual with great historical significance. Domesticated species have been found in South America dating back to 2600 BC with one discovered in our Tennessee Valley dating to 2300 BC. The Incas had selectively bred a magnificent single stemmed Sunflower from the small native wild flowers. With its center head and golden rays of petals it became the symbol of the Sun god in both the Inca and Mayan cultures, holding a sacred status. Their magnificent golden images of Sunflowers, as well as seeds, were among the items pilfered by the Conquistadors and brought home to Spain. By 1580 the Sunflower was a common sight in every Spanish village and from there it spread to Italy, India, Egypt, China, and Russia.

Native Americans grew the Sunflower as a food crop and almost every part of this gem has some practical use. The seeds, which are rich in calcium, are an easily stored snack, and a dye extracted from the petals was used in ceremonial body painting along with the oil. A light and lovely fiber was made from the stalks and the bloom time indicated the dates of the hunting calendar.

By the time it reached Russia, the Sunflower was well recognized as a food source and produced the only oil not banned during Holy Orthodox Lent. In fact, Russia has such a long-held love affair with the Sunflower that it became their national flower. Russia also led the way in hybridization, developing the ‘Russian Mammoth’ that has been popular for over 130 years.

Since hybrid Sunflowers began to dominate, the small open pollinators were almost lost and by the 1950’s most of the varieties cultivated by Native tribes had nearly reached extinction. Mr. Charles Heiser, a dedicated retired botanist, made it his personal mission to save them and the seeds he collected rest in a repository which houses over 2,000 Sunflower varieties from around the world.

And of course we have Vincent van Gogh to thank for the most famous Sunflowers… his love affair with them immortalized their beauty in numerous paintings. Plant some today… the birds will thank you!