Monday, January 30, 2012

Trimming Geraniums and Red Cedar Information~

Very happy new leaf!

The outdoor Geraniums that are currently being housed were in shock for a bit and many lost leaves and produced lackluster growth with the change of their environment. Spindly stems and miniature buds have made them appear half their former selves. However if one looks closely now, the tiny new leaves that are being called forth appear robust in form and color. So about now, drastically pinch back your plant, removing any small yellowing leaves and old unhealthy growth. In a matter of a few weeks, it will recover and the energy lost in attempting to keep the old growth alive will be transferred to the new in an amazing way! By spring and time to take them to the garden, they will have totally recovered from being a boring houseplant and will be ready to bloom their hearts out for you.
February is often considered the most boring month on the calendar as we wait for full blown spring. It definitely takes Valentine’s Day to make it endurable!

Unfortunately February also brings the pollination of the Red Cedars and they are infamous for the effects they have upon mankind. The female Red Cedar is the culprit and her branches are heavy now with yellow pollen that is caught by every passing breeze and several weeks ago we had 50 mile and hour ’breezes‘.

Red Cedars, a native species with an extremely hearty constitution, have a life expectancy of up to 850 years. Occasional prairies fires once controlled them however with the expansion of urban communities, there are cities and towns where vast stretches of grasslands once existed. Over the years Cedars have become invasive, growing everywhere a bird has eaten then, dropped one of the bluish-purple seeds. An established hardwood tree provides perfect protection, however the Cedar will out grow and overpower it. They are referred to as ‘a pioneer invader’ which means a Cedar is one of the first trees to repopulate cleared, eroded, or damaged soil. And toxins are not a detriment for they actually enjoy carbon dioxide, remaining healthy growing next to a hi-way.

Oklahoma is full of Red Cedars so the heavy load of allergens and pollens will be here each year. The pollen is easily inhaled as it travels on the wind and is the culprit of the condition called hay fever (or allergies) as it may irritate an individual’s throat and nose. This pollen causes much suffering so short of moving it is wise to know the enemy and make a strong effort to learn how to partially protect yourself.

In my research I discovered helpful sites that give informative and helpful insights into fighting the effects of Cedar pollen. The basic concept one should remember is that the more time spent outdoors during an allergy season, the more problems with allergies. On pretty winter days resist the temptation to fling open doors and windows (I do) for fresh air...there is no fresh air in Oklahoma during Cedar season.

Although I am not an advocate of any product, it is helpful to know what to take/look for: For basic relief, take an antihistamine. There are many kinds of antihistamines, most of which do not require a prescription. The antihistamines that have been around for a long time are called first-generation antihistamines. These have been used for many years and are considered very safe and effective. Some of the best-known ones are Benadryl, Demeaned, Chlor-Trimeton and Zirtec-D. The main negative to these antihistamines is that they cause most people to become sleepy, however the effect may be modified if one takes a low dose headache remedy containing caffeine, which combats the drowsiness with no ill effects. A decongestant such as Sudafed opens up the nose, makes breathing easier, and reduces the amount of drainage from the nose. The decongestants tend to be a stimulant for many people, and when they take a combination of antihistamine and decongestant, the decongestant helps to counter the sedating characteristic of the antihistamine.

If you can successfully use the first-generation antihistamines, they are much, much cheaper than the new second-generation antihistamines. The second-generation antihistamines such as Allegra and Claritin do not cause drowsiness, but are much more expensive with Allegra requiring a prescription. Loratdine does not require a prescription, is easily available, and the site suggests it as one of the first things to try when having allergy problems.

This too shall pass!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Assess Your Soil... More on Manure

The Color of compost... beautiful.

In 1943 Rodgers and Hammerstein’s wrote the epic play ‘Oklahoma’ and aptly sang ‘the wind comes sweepin' down the plain’. Oklahomans are accustomed to it, yet nothing prepares one for Sunday’s winds that clocked at 55 miles per hour at the Hinton Airport with some towns recording up to 70 miles per hour! The sky was a choking red and the velocity of it resembled a wild, yet dry, thunder storm. Playing outside was out of the question as objects were seen flying past windows. We need rain plus a cold spell to kill some of the insects who are waiting for spring to tap them on the antenna and wake them to devour what ever we happen to love that is blooming in the garden.

Before the frenzy of the coming season assess your garden soil and see if it is healthy; if it has that marvelous and distinct ‘dirt smell’, it is full of nutrients and perfect. However if it has little or no odor, it will need some additives to make it well. There are several options and choosing what to add is often determined by convenience.

If you know a rancher who has cattle or horses, you are in luck for the humus they leave behind is the very best natural fertilizer. High in nitrogen and other nutrients, it will amend the soil and nourish the plants... and well nourished plants have a natural resistance to both disease and pests. However beware of chicken droppings for its nitrogen level is too high unless it is at least three years old; it will actually fry the garden. And the animal must be vegetarian as well... never use humus from a meat eating animal.

Another option is compost, which is a recipe of recycled organic ingredients that are allowed to decompose into a rich substance packed with nutrients. Composters take their job very seriously and toil over their bin, tossing it for aeration, adding water to ensure even decomposition and even adding earthworms. Following World War II there was a national obsession with composting as recycling, conservation and organic gardening once again became fashionable. My father adored his bin, adding raked leaves and his grass clippings while the house contributed discarded produce, carrot and potato peels, leftover vegetables and more. Compost is dark and rich and was applied to the garden every spring and sometimes around a plant if it looked ‘puny’.

Murphy’s in Oklahoma City will deliver a dump truck load of compost, alfalfa manure, top soil, and even pea gravel… all very reasonably priced. Apply your additive then water it in on the next fine day. As Spring progresses, work it into the soil and be amazed by the Oz-like green of the healthy plants.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Merits of Manure

Organic Beans and Squash from a bygone garden here~

This is a good time to make friends with a farmer who has fed his cattle in a barn. Gardeners know the merits of natural fertilizer, and manure that has been trampled and mixed with a little finely chopped hay is the very best for application on the garden. It has undergone a natural decomposition process which reduces the heat and therefore it will not burn the plants.

This kind of processed manure is unavailable to many city people who must go to the nursery and actually pay for it. For those of us lucky enough to live rurally finding a supply is as simple as taking a short drive, looking for a barn, then offering to clean it out for free; most farmers are very happy for such an offer and willing to oblige. A thin layer of manure applied now will provide a multitude of benefits later.

If your farmer has horses you are in luck for it is the very best... the spectacular Rose Gardens at Belmont are a testament to its value. However beware of chicken manure for it is too high in nitrogen and will actually fry everything unless it is three to four years old and properly 'broken down'. And although sheep manure is excellent, the intense odor is practically unimaginable... neighbors miles away will know what you have done!

Let your application rest over the winter and then work it into the soil in the early spring. Robust, healthy, well-nourished plants have a natural resistance to both disease and pests. The colors will intensify beautifully with the addition of this vital ingredient which is the equivalent of a vitamin tonic for the garden.

The ashes from the fireplace should also be sprinkled on the garden as well; they are a valuable source of potash, a necessity for a healthy garden.

My friend Annie Haven sells organic Moo-Poo... Check out her page at


The months of January and February are the most difficult for gardeners. It is not yet spring and we have a desperate need for greenery. Houseplants really do not suffice perhaps because there is so little action in them. They are simply “there” and produce little excitement for the gardener who relishes each visual thrill of the outdoor garden. The weather has been
yo-yo, the winds have been wild, and over the weekend foolish geese were seen flying North. The blissful 70 degrees possibly spoke to their instincts without mention of Northern snow warnings.

With the warm weather the precious Periwinkles have begun to bloom. They are always among the first arrivals in the spring, and so their presence speaks of good things to come. They are actually Vinca minor, and their common name comes from their lovely lavender-blue color. It is such a distinct shade that it is listed as ‘periwinkle’ on the color chart and has its own Crayola crayon!

Vinca minor is a very hardy short trailing sub shrub that travels along the ground while maintaining ever green glossy leaves. The sweet flowers will begin to bloom at first spring and continue through fall. If they are cut and placed in a vase, they will continue to put on new flowers for weeks, making them a very welcome guest during the winter months.

Vinca minor is commonly planted under trees where grasses have no chance of survival and also to stop erosion. It is extremely hardy and deer resistant and withstands drought with amazing success. A testament to its hardiness is our rather reckless transplant from an abandoned farmhouse… no special care was afforded the sprigs and yet they survived and flourished in deep shade.

Since it is rarely bothered by pests or disease, its tendency to travel has placed it on the infamous ‘Invasive’ list. It should be cautiously planted far from traditional flower beds since the tendrils will grow to 5-10 feet or more and then put down roots wherever they please.

Hybrid Vinca (Catharanthus) is an extremely popular annual requiring sunshine. Differing from its cousins who dress only in blue, it comes in a spectrum of Candyland colors and growers produce exciting combinations each year. Often they will self-seed and appear as tiny babies mid-spring the following year. Be careful not to disturb the infants while working the bed early in the season... they will appear after the first weeds have made an entrance.

Vinca held this low spot on the third level by the swing... it lasted well throughout the drought.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Versitile Verbena

The spring-like weather of last week called to the bulbs and they seem to be waking from winter slumber. As a favor to them pick a pretty day and water since we have not had rain in several weeks Their early foliage does have a natural anti-freeze so it will survive the inevitable temperature plunge that surely will arrive by February.

Following our drought, plants that survived are a welcome addition to the garden and the exceptionally tolerant Verbena is one of them. Besides needing a bed to itself as it tends to wander, Verbena will entice, blooming profusely all season while attracting butterflies. The woody stalks and somewhat hairy leaves are unmistakable while the small clusters of flowers appear in lively abundance.

An ancient and very special family of plants, Verbena (Vervain) was mentioned in Egypt as the ‘tears of Isis’ who was worshipped as the perfect Mother, the perfect listener who answered prayers. In Greece Verbena was dedicated to Eos, the goddess of the dawn and in Rome Pliny the Elder wrote it was placed on the altars of Jupiter. In Christian folklore, it is said to have been used to staunch Jesus wounds following his removal from the cross and thus is called ‘holy herb‘. In the Japanese culture it symbolizes co-operation and its fame extends to a short story written by William Faulkner. In his story, ‘The odor of Verbena‘ he writes it ’has the only scent that can be smelled above that of horses and courage’.

As with all herbs considered magical, dark tales arose and thus in Wales Verbena was called ‘devil’s bane’. It was included on a sampler of dangerous ‘New World' plants in 1620, the height of the American witch hunt. In a book from 1721, it was written ‘Vervain and Dill / Hinder witches from their will’ and an 1870 book on magic includes instructions on how to make a Verbena charm to ward off evil. In the wildly popular Vampire Diary series by L.J. Smith, she embraced the supernatural side of Verbena by taking the historical beliefs and embellishing them. In her books humans are instructed to use it for protection against vampires and other forms of bewitchment.

The flowers are tightly packed little charmers themselves with a distinct spicy aroma and brushing by the plant will release the scent of the leaves. All Verbena may be made into teas and soaps and research continues today to discover new medicinal uses for this magical plant. Verbena is a suitably hardy plant with a long life expectancy; it will bloom in any sunny location in type of soil and requires very little attention.

Beautiful Colors To Choose From...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Garden of Five Senses

Babur Gardens in May

Throughout history mankind has been enamored with gardens. With the increasing complexity of today’s world, the garden becomes a perfect place to unwind from rather taxing and demanding lifestyles. And the popularity of public gardens, which are supreme examples of gardening perfection, allows each and everyone to experience the joy a garden affords.

Sensory gardens call to the five senses... sight and smell, hearing, touch and taste. Recognizing the need for relaxation, Delhi Development directors in India created the Garden of Five Senses for a weary public. Open in 2003, the garden is called Khas Bagh and was inspired by the ancient Bagh-e Babur Gardens in Kabul, Afghanistan which were built to house the shrine of Muhammad Babur. Babur who died in 1528 was a descendant of the infamous Genghis Kahn and was responsible for the expansion of Persian literature and artistry. He was particularly fond of gardens and the one in Kabul was painstakingly restored and opened for visitors in 2005.

Unlike American theme parks which excite, Khas Bagh was created to create a calm and peaceful experience for visitors. It contains extraordinary examples of both common and exotic plants, supreme collections of water lilies, wind chimes which tinkle and charm, sculpture, and delicacies to taste. Visitors leave relaxed and uplifted.

Here we celebrate the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, which opened in June of 2007. It took dedicated visionaries and volunteers 16 years of planning, planting and building to complete this magnificent project. The original directors purchased 128 acres of pristine land with tidal shore frontage in Boothbay, using their owns homes as collateral. In 2005, an additional 120 adjacent acres were donated, making it the largest botanical garden in New England.

Part of the garden was the privately financed by the Lerner family and their ‘Garden of the Five Senses‘ opened in June of 2009. There is an abundance of features designed to appeal to each sense, however the garden is truly respectful to those who have a limited sense of sight. To assist the visually impaired, striker stones border the paths, a map of the garden is in Braille and large pictorial representations are located at the entrance arch. The plantings, sculptural elements, water features, bridge, and classroom pavilion are arranged to appeal to the 5 senses.

For those of us with small gardens, planning a sensory garden might help ease winter boredom a bit. Plan on some fragrant, colorful flowers, some sort of trickling water and tinkling wind chimes... then remember to taste the tiny first-drop nectar from the Honeysuckle blooms.