Monday, July 25, 2011

The Sun and Shade~

Shade, and lots of it, is the way of the future~

As we continue to experience the heat and drought, gardens and gardeners alike are becoming more stressed each day. Many gardeners are just trying to keep beloved plants and shrubs alive, which is proving to be a challenge. On Saturday afternoon, the temperature on the hill was 117 degrees and the Canadian River is dry, dusty sand. Optimistically, this heat will inevitably come to an end with seasonal change; this will possibly be the first time gardeners are eagerly awaiting Fall.

The nature of the Sun seems to have changed; it appears to be burning brighter and Swiss and German experts have agreed that it is the strongest it has been since weather records were first collected in 1860. According to Sami Solanki, director of the famed Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany, "The sun is in a changed state. It is brighter than it was a few hundred years ago and this brightening started relatively recently — in the last 100 to 150 years," Globally 1997, 1998 and 2002 were the hottest years, with this year breaking all global records.

So this year has left gardeners with the challenge of providing a future environment that is comfortable and shade is the keyword. When wandering through a park or woods, it may be noted it is cooler than the surrounding countryside... the canopy of the trees absorb the heat, never allowing it to reach the ground. Add the element of water and one has an Oasis. Oases exist on all continents and are simply a place in the desert with a water source; from this source plant life grows and flourishes and thus provides a refuge from the blinding heat at its borders. A shaded pond will cool the garden while giving the birds a place to bathe and drink.

If you do not have trees, plan to plant them in the Fall. There is a quite a nice selection of hardwood trees that will flourish here. The term hardwood comes from an old logging camp ‘rule of thumb’ where woods were often named by their resistance to sawing. Hardwood trees are usually those with dense wood, a long life span, and slow growth. They include our lovely Caddo Maple, Burr Oak, Cottonwood, Ash and Black Walnut. Elm is also among them, however with their numerous health issues, it would be unwise to plant one. Some of the ancient Burr Oak in my woods are of such age they possibly saw nomadic Native Americans camping beneath them. Not only will hardwood trees provide comfort and cool in the Summer, but they will also give a lovely foliage show in the fall. Softwoods are usually conifers and the ever-popular Bald Cyprus is among them. Not recommended by many gardeners, they leave an untidy mess as the needles fall and accumulate each Fall... and they also attract bag worms as no other tree!

Purchase an inexpensive mister, plan to dart from shade to shade, go inside for the mid-day heat, and simply endure... the heat dome will move!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Native Prayer...A Reminder As The Earth Suffers

This has hung in my Dining Room for almost 20 years...
As we continue to watch the Earth suffer, let us try to remember to thank her for her treasurers... and in the future, let us try to respect and care for them with love.

Chief Yellow Lark, Lakota

Oh, Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the winds
And whose breath gives life to all the world...

Hear me! I am small and weak.
I need your strength and wisdom.

Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes
Ever hold the red and purple sunset.

Make my hands respect the things you have made.
My ears sharp to hear your voice.

Make me wise so that I may understand
The things you might teach me.

Let me learn the lessons you have hidden
In every leaf and rock.

I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother.
But to fight my greatest enemy, myself.

Make me always ready to come to you
With clear hands and straight eyes.

So when life fades, as the fading sunset.
My spirit may come to you without shame.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hummingbirds and Frogs~

In spite of the heat, it is still possible to enjoy summer by watching the antics of the Hummingbirds. A native of the Americas, they return to Oklahoma each year, with the males arriving first to be followed later by the ladies. In spite of their high metabolism, they have a lifespan of up to ten years, which means the friends you are seeing may actually have been born in your garden. Our most common Hummingbird is the Ruby Throated and the attire of the males is resplendent, feathers shine with metallic blues and greens, their ruby throat a lovely deep crimson. We also have other hummingbirds that have been documented in Oklahoma and all are named for their distinctive physical traits… the Black-chinned Hummingbird, the Broad-tailed Hummingbird, and the Green Violet-eared Hummingbird to name a few.

Unless the climate remains temperate over the winter, Hummingbirds will migrate by October to spend the winter in northern Mexico or Central America. A hardy little bird, they may fly as many as five hundred miles without eating. And contrary to the popular belief that they must consume nectar all day to live, they spend up to seventy per cent of their time simply resting on a branch, quietly observing the garden.Their aeronautic skills are amazing to behold as they zip about with precise precision with wing beats of to 100 beats per second. I have observed that many of mine prefer the flowers and Mimosas to the nectar provided in a commercial feeder.

In spite of the drought, some of our frogs have finally made their appearance. Sadly frog populations have declined dramatically since the 1950’s with more than one third of the species believed to be threatened with extinction and more than 120 species already suspected to be extinct since 1980. Oxygen is dissolved in an aqueous film on the skin and passes from there to the blood and their skin must remain moist. Unfortunately this process can mainstream toxins into the bloodstream which is the source of their decline. Also their eggs are subject to water pollution and no adaptation may protect them from man-made poisons. Since the earliest fossil indicates frogs existed 125 million years ago they are a mirror of the environment and a treasure.

A true amphibian, their eggs are laid and fertilized in the water and it is in the pond that young hatch and begin to morph. They appear first as tadpoles then gradually change into young frogs by losing their tail, losing their gills, developing lungs, and finally developing their fabulous and unusual hind legs which are better suited for leaping and swimming than walking and are highly unusual.

Inviting frogs to the garden party will aid the natural garden for they are
fierce predators of insects. The males have a voice and will begin their evening song during mating season. From the deep baritone of the Bull Frog to the squeak of the jumpers, their song is as familiar to the night as the drone of Cicadas is to the day. Some species may live up to 40 years, returning to their original home each year to mate. You may well see familiar friends in the garden for many, many years.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Lovely Mimosa

As summer days continue, the heat we are we experiencing is breaking all state records. And I have noted the weathermen are slowly changing their attitude about reporting the bad news; recently they seem somewhat excited we are breaking all former records. We broke the 1947 record for rainfall in June and July of 2007... many young people had never seen such rain. The weather patterns will change so we must simply keep our gardens alive and wait for another year.

The lovely Mimosa has begun to bloom. As the sweet scent of their flowers fills the air, we can enjoy both the fragrance and the gentle shade provided by their fern-like canopy. The Mimosa was introduced to the United States as an ornamental specimen in 1785 by Filippo Degli Albizzia, a Florentine nobleman. Arriving from Asia, it is also referred to as the Silk Tree for the texture of its flowers. The flowers appear in early summer and have long threadlike pink stamens which are white at the base. They bloom from June through July as stunning pink powder-puffs which drip with sweet nectar. Covering the trees, these blossoms attract hummingbirds, honeybees, and butterflies.

Mimosa bloom in the lily pond~

As with almost every plant and tree on the planet, the Mimosa has medicinal properties as well. The bark is a bitter and an astringent containing compounds which are used to shrink inflamed tissues. They are also used to relieve pain, and contain a sedative which was once used to treat insomnia or anxiety. They increase blood circulation and thus treat heart palpations, and also act as a diuretic.

The lovely flowers were used to relieve a constrained liver and acted as an antitoxin providing a cleansing effect on the body. They have a sedative affect and were used for symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, irritability, and poor memory. The concoctions made from flowers also relieved pressure in the chest and gastric pain. Apparently the spectacular Mimosa was a cure-all for many ailments and it is truly a loss that the ‘recipes’ for its many uses have been lost over time.

This species of tree likes it hot and dry and thrives in the southern regions of the United States with relative ease. Used as a staple in front of Victorian homes it grows rapidly, up to three feet a year, and provides a lovely canopy of mottled shade allowing the grass to grow underneath the branches. With its stunning flowers it is a fantastic addition to the landscape regardless of the fact it is considered a chore to clean up after lest it become invasive.

The fruit-like seed pod can produce over two hundred thousand seeds each year. However with the ease of today’s mowers, it is not a chore to simply collect and discard the pods during regular mowing. Plan on weeding the seedlings from the flower beds and enjoy the beauty of this exquisite tree.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Tale of Two Gardens

As so often occurs with serendipitous happen-chance, fate has a way of acting as a guide, and sometimes the results are amazing. When JC and Desiree Airington moved to their home at 1048 South Hadden in El Reno two years ago, they had no idea their lives would be transformed by Elise and Craig Menz, their neighbors directly to the East. They had not planned on having a love affair with a garden, however that is exactly what took place and results of their collaboration are beautiful! Desiree said she has known Elise all of her life, even taking swimming lessons from her as a child, so it is not surprising that a phletora of plants have spilled across the street. These happy neighbors, who finish sentences for each other, have created a charming oasis of color that is worth a trip to El Reno to see!

Elise and Craig~JC and Desiree

Both are traditional gardens which means they are seventy percent perennials and thirty percent annuals. The perennials include heirloom flowers, which are a favorite among gardeners simply for their steadfast qualities; they are the old friends who return each year as faithful favorites. The Hollyhocks, Cannas, varieties of Sedum, Saliva, Mums, acclimated Petunias, and Lilies are prevalent. Both of the gardens have a darling smattering of annuals to add seasonal zest, and also include the latest hybrids; the new yellow and purple-striped Petunia is fantastic. The annuals include Cosmos, Marigolds, Mexican Heather, Zinnias, and variegated Vinca all of which have all exploded in a cascade of show stopping color. With the combination of perennials and the annuals, even when the flowering is over for one, a neighboring plant is bursting forth with blooms. The flow of the gardens is an amazing stream of green punctuated with color.

The darling Petunia is a constant staple in all gardens. Originally from Argentina and Brazil, they love a hot climate and will provide continual color in the garden until frost. The varieties are endless from the traditional tiny pale pink of your Grandmother’s garden to the new giant grandiflora or cascading, all of which are abundant in both the Menz and Airington gardens. The only care required for Petunias is an occasional deadheading to assure continuous blooming and a good soaking of water several times a week during this heat wave.

The Cannas have begun to bloom as well. Typically in hot red, orange, yellow, or combinations of the three, hybrids have produced a dazzling array of colors and heights for this exotic and exquisite species. They are natural pollinators and attract both hummingbirds and butterflies making them a welcome addition to every garden. An additional plus is the fact they will bloom faithfully left undisturbed for many, many carefree years.

Of note is the underground rhizome which contains the largest starch particles of any plant, allowing its agricultural use. Its leaves may be made into paper, its stem fiber is equivalent to jute, its seed provides a lovely natural purple dye. It is just another of Nature’s miraculous plants that we may enjoy.

Take an air conditioned drive and stop to visit a garden that catches your eye; the gardener will welcome you and sharing is a quality of our nature!