Monday, June 25, 2012

Shasta Daisies~

My Twenty five Year Old Daisies! This week Sumer will be here in full force and with its arrival the Shasta daisies will begin to flower in splendid form. As one of the first hybridized American flowers, it has long been a staple in every garden, easily living for more than 40 years. Created by Mr. Luther Burbank one side of her ancestors are the Oxeye Daisy which grows wild in New England and receives no respect; she is considered a nuisance by farmers. The other side of her family is the English Field daisy, which has a far more fanciful history than the American daisy. The origin of the Daisy according to Roman mythology is a typical story. Apparently the god of orchards was lustfully watching a group of nymphs dancing at the edge of the forest when he decided to pursue one of them. She fled and to escape his unwanted attentions turned herself into the daisy so she would go unnoticed. Since that time the daisy has been associated with modesty and during Victorian times ladies who doubted a suitors intentions picked a daisy and slowly removed each petal while asking ’he loves me, he loves me not‘. Henry VIII ate bowls of daisies to help his gout and cure his stomach ailments and it was believed that daisies steeped in wine could cure insanity. Legends aside, Mr. Luther Burbank, who was originally from Massachusetts, spent 6 years carefully crossing the wild daisies and had his own by 1890. He wanted a deep yellow center as the American variety provided and the early profusion of flowers and sturdy stem which came from the English. However he was disappointed that his new daisy lacked the whiteness of petals he desired. So he added the Japanese Field Daisy and although the flowers are small, they provided dazzling white petals. From combining the three, Mr. Burbank succeed in creating his Shasta, introducing it in 1904. He named his flower after Mt. Shasta, the glowing while California Mountain he could see in the distance from his home. With her long life expectancy, the hardy Shasta is easy to care for and spreads nicely while blooming faithfully all Summer. They are a marvelous cut flower in arrangements and although their scent is unremarkable, their shiny little faces positively beam. Thank you Mr. Burbank!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Summer Solstice and Sedums

My Moss Rose~ Summer Solstice will arrive June 20th this year amid global celebrations. The longest day of the year, Solstice occurs when both sunrise and sunset occur respectively at the earliest and the latest time during the year. This phenomenon has been noted for thousands of years as pagans celebrated the turning of the seasons. At noon the Sun will be in perfect balance directly overhead and your shadow may not be notable at all. Those who are in tune with nature will ‘feel’ the Solstice and childhood memories of cloud watching, gentle breezes, and a walk while listening to the drone of Cicadas may be recalled. Enjoy this long and memorable day from sunrise to sunset!

Sedums appear in every established garden and these no-fuss gems are sturdy and dependable. They appear in almost every imaginable shape and form from Aloe to Cacti with the only constant their plump water-filled leaves. There are over 400 species of Sedums and those unique fleshy leaves are their secret to survival as they store water for the plant to use during extremely dry spells. Needing only well drained soil and full sunlight, the Sedum is not susceptible to pests who are repelled by their stout leaves preferring 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. Part of this amazing club is the all time favorite Moss-rose, Purslane, or Portulaca, which are one in the same. They may have either thin spiky leaves or small rounded leaves and flowers open each day from about ten to four.

This low growing little plant will faithfully spread and flower from spring to frost. Purslane was first introduced by to the Northern Hemisphere by Dr. John Gillies in the 1820s and immediately became wildly popular. Gillies had discovered plants near the Argentine Pampas and wrote “they grew in great profusion, giving to the ground over which they were spread a rich purple hue, here and there marked with spots of an orange color“. Further scientific development gave us additional colors and today and this precious little flower is available in the entire spectrum of colors, with sweet traditional or darling double flowers. Its not too late to add some!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Majestic Magnolias

Majestic Magnolias Traditional in the deep South, the marvelous Magnolia is well suited for Oklahoma and are in full bloom everywhere. Their deep green leathery leaves have a slightly fuzzy taupe underside and their creamy white flowers speak of the languid heat of summer. Leaves of the Magnolia remain evergreen all year and as with most hard wood trees, their growth is slow. Following flowering the tree produces an interesting ‘fruit’ in the form of a large, conical shaped cone with prickles here and there on its surface. Asian species were introduced to the Americas in 1780 where they were carefully cultivated to produce superior flowers and the deepest lemony scent. The oldest Magnolia on record is 136 years old and lives in Cleveland Ohio. In spite of their sturdy appearance, the showy flowers are quite delicate and must be handled without touching the petals to avoid discolored bruising that will inevitably occur. For this reason they do not fare well in arrangements but are rather cut with a short stem and ’floated’ as a single specimen in a large shallow bowl or vase. The leaves of the Magnolia are decoratively used in many Christmas wreaths and may be cut at their peak and preserved with glycerin. Glycerin is an organic emollient that may be absorbed through the stems of the leaves to preserve their freshness. I remember my Mother going on quests for perfect leaves… driving about neighborhoods then politely asking complete strangers if she could have ‘a few leaves from their lovely tree‘. Perhaps it was her sweet low-country Carolina drawl or her charm that made people pleased and even flattered to gift batches of their leaves! Use one part glycerin to two parts very hot water. Put the glycerin solution in a short plastic wastebasket, cut the magnolia leaves with suitably long stems and pound the bottom of them to open the major artery before submerging the stems in the liquid. The Magnolia leaves will ‘drink’ the glycerin and slowly change from green to a gorgeous chestnut color. It takes three to five weeks for the leaves to absorb the glycerin and when the leaves begin to feel flexible it is time to remove them. They must be hung upside and allowed to dry completely before use. This would be a fun summer project to do with the children and having greenery they helped pick and preserve used during December festivities will form a memory that will last a lifetime. The stunning painting by American artist Martin Johnson Heade is titled 'Magnolia on Red Velvet' circa 1885

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Dazzling Daylilies!

As reported in the Washington Post last week, Oklahoma won the dubious honor of having the hottest summer of all time last year. Our summer heat beat the former 1934 record, also held by Oklahoma… we had triple digits for days on end and as one farmer stated ‘going outside was like opening an oven door while baking bread‘. However daunting 2011 was for the gardener, we did survive and this year has been delightfully merciful with spontaneous downpours and showers on a regular basis. The dazzling daylilies have begun their annual show and they are truly something to behold. Daylilies are mentioned in Chinese script in 2697 BC and by the 1500’s had traveled to Europe where they became popular with herbalists. In 1735 Swedish botanist Carl Linneaus introduced his system of dividing living organisms into classes. At the time there were only 6,000 species of plants and the daylily was among them. He gave them their Latin name which translates into ‘beauty for a day’. In the early 1900’s Albert Steward lived in China and discovered daylilies to send his colleague Dr. Arlow Stout at the New York Botanical Institute. They became his passion and although he died in 1957 Dr. Stout is still considered the foremost authority on daylilies. It is through his 30 years of dedication and tireless efforts that we have the daylilies we adore today. Daylilies are a hardy lot who withstand our hot and dusty conditions very well since they detest having their feet wet. In my Grandmother’s garden daylilies had a bed of their own as they tend to travel and may overpower lesser perennial flowers. Not that they are bullies, but each year they will send forth numerous fledgling bulbs who grow quickly and send forth more. If left unattended they will easily naturalize and over time may be seen peeking from beneath trees in a woodland setting. Daylilies today are far beyond the heirloom orange and selection is unbelievable with each year introducing a new and fresh face. Many daylilies have ruffles and textures in a magnificent combination of colors and the fact they appear in such abundance in early summer makes them a ‘must have‘ for the garden. The ambitious gardener may choose to remove the spent flower each evening to increase blooming. The heads give a quirky ’pop’ as they are removed making the process an interesting twilight game for the children. Photo Courtesy of Hugh and Jennifer Stout of Dancingtree in Oklahoma City. They have received both national and international acclaim for their work in hybridizing Daylilies and Iris.