Monday, March 31, 2014

Down-Time in the Garden

With the world spinning very quickly these days, it is more important than ever to seek some harmonic softeners in some aspect of daily life. The escalation of current technology has become mind-boggling when one considers that only 100 years ago the main duty of School Boards in rural Oklahoma was to provide hay for the children’s horses and fire wood for the stoves. Now more than ever the peaceful expanse of the garden is not only desirable, but a necessary means to keep one grounded. Whether you are six or sixty, there is no pastime more joyful than playing in the dirt so this spring plan on some serious down-time in the garden.

Nature endowed the earliest spring bloomers with the sweetest scents and the Viburnum is no exception. Of course we have the Asians to thank for the sweet spicy scent; our native Viburnum do not possess the spellbinding aroma. A member of the Honeysuckle family, Viburnum are seen all across North America, in Europe and all of Asia, making them a naturalized global sensation. And their early arrival makes them one of the first seasonal feasts to lure the bees.

The Viburnum is a small tree with easy growing habits that has been a garden necessity since the early 1900’s. The Korean Spice has lovely white or pink flower clusters which appear before all of the dark and heavily ribbed leaves have matured. Their scent is sweetly enchanting, almost delicious, as it wafts through the garden carried by the breezes. And their show does not end after flowering; the flowers become berries prized by birds and the foliage turns a lovely dusty red in the fall.

Summer Snowflake is another fantastic Viburnum. Although not as fragrant as the Korean Spice, it blooms several weeks later and has the most lovely drifting layers… as though it is wearing white lace petticoats peeking from under a deep green dress. Both species are spectacular additions to the garden and promise years of carefree beauty.

The early grasses have arrived as well and the tender lush carpet is calling for bare feet to ‘feel’ the first sign of spring. If you do not have a baby of your own, borrow one and be the first to remove booties and let tiny feet feel green grass for the first time. Crinkling baby toes, gingerly curling, opening and closing, surprised and curious… the gift of a first garden experience is joyful to behold! 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Time to Trim and Transplant Roses

Now is the time to check the location of your roses to assure they are getting enough sun. Often a lack-luster rose will flourish when moved to a new place in the garden. If you need to move one, it is wise to revisit the rules for transplanting, which by definition means ‘lift, remove, relocate and reset in another place’. The seasonal timing now is perfect for the roses are still relatively dormant and the move will be less of a shock to them. Also since early spring is the time to prune roses, you will have the advantage of being able to prune excess growth before the bush actually begins to take off for the growing season.


Prior to any transplanting anything, mark the north side of the plant with a string or piece of cloth. After it is dug, place it in the same direction and it will adjust to new surroundings far more rapidly and with greater success than if it is planted in an opposing direction. Additionally, it is unwise to apply fertilizer to newly transplanted specimens. They need time to adjust to new surroundings and must rest a bit before doing much growing. To give fertilizer to a recent transplant is akin to giving a man in ICU a three course dinner… it is not a good idea.


After choosing a new location dig the hole and I have found it must be larger than you think it needs to be… three times the size of the root ball. Make a small mound in the center of the new hole to prevent air pockets from forming as you plant. To enable you to move the transplant easily perhaps give it a good soaking several days before the dig and try to choose an overcast day when rain is predicted.

Dig around the transplant, cutting in a circle. As you dig, lift and probe occasionally to see if the plant is indeed moving and note where roots may still be anchored. Take as much soil as can be lifted so the root system is least disturbed.


For roses, place it slightly higher in the hole as it will settle several inches after planted. The bud system should therefore be an inch above ground level. Point the exposed roots and rootlets outward and add ½ cup of bone meal around the root system. Fill with soil, water well and wriggle to eliminate air pockets, which will bubble up. Lastly prune the spindly growth leaving good strong canes and prepare to enjoy the show later in the season!

Monday, March 17, 2014

St. Patrick, The Shamrock, and Oxalis

Pink Oxalis

Spring is ushered in on March 20th with the Vernal Equinox...that brief moment in time when there are equal parts of both day and night. However it was also welcomed with the celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day on March 17th . Those of Irish heritage celebrate his saint’s day by wearing a shamrock, planting their potatoes, and possibly imbibing large quantities of alcohol.

Saint Patrick was born a pagan in Wales in 387 and died a Christian in 461. His rock-star status continues to this day with celebrations which have surpassed the Catholic faith and become secular. Saint Patrick converted the pagan Celts to Christianity and was adept at using their sacred beliefs and symbols to describe Christian concepts... thus he used the magical shamrock to clarify the trinity. Using the tri-leaf of the clover he explained that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were each separate entities but, as the stem suggests, all part of the whole. Early converts adopted the custom of wearing a shamrock as a sign of their faith.

When the English began confiscating Irish lands, outlawing Catholism and the Celtic language in the 17th century, the shamrock became a symbol of rebellion and soon wearing a shamrock became a crime punishable by hanging. However the Irish immigrants to America suffered no such persecution and in 1737 the residents of Boston celebrated the first Saint Patrick’s day with public celebrations, parades, and pub parties.

Times do change so by the early 1900’s Queen Victoria had instructed all Irish soldiers to wear a shamrock on St. Patrick’s Day in memory of the soldiers who died in the Boer War… a custom which continues today. Additionally the Shamrock is the registered trademark of the Republic of Ireland and appears in the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and on a seemingly endless array of logos which include race horses and sporting teams.

In March the lovely oxalis, the largest genus of the wood-sorrel family, appears in the garden… calling to Irish descendants to remember their heritage. My twenty year old friend, a lovely pink, still blooms faithfully from spring throughout the summer and will rebloom in fall if cut back in August. For something new perhaps add a purple leaf with her halo of pale pink flowers that drift above the striking foliage… surely a stunning focal point for any garden.

They adore the shade, tolerate the heat, and even refuse to wilt if not watered regularly. Oxalis will reward the gardener with their easy-going nature and long life expectancy... happily, they will be permanent residents of the garden for many, many years.

Oxalis is in the center of the bed... a pale pink profusion of miniature flowers.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Teach the Children to Garden

My Julia wearing her Cicada friend as a broach! 
Sunday the geese could be heard in the distant sky, honking in tandem as they began their migratory flight to the North. If one looked carefully, they could be seen as small dots flying in their familiar V pattern. They are a sign that Spring is planning a magnificent  entrance very soon.

Although growing vegetables is standard for old timers, it is never too late to begin to teach the next generation the value of fresh home-grown produce. Since most vegetables have a high content of water, are low in calories, and contain valuable vitamins and minerals children would greatly benefit from eating fresh from the garden. Planting a seed, watching it sprout and form something edible, is exciting for young children. And when you add sunshine, fresh air, and exercise the gardening provides every benefit necessary for healthy growth. Plus children are fascinated to observe, identify, and learn about 'good and bad' bugs and spiders. (Rolly Pollies are irresistible.)

 Children love to graze as they wander through the garden so plant some early English peas which are 81% water and contain ½ the recommended dosage of Vitamin A. It is also fun to open the six pack of baby peas. The Radish is also favorite to plant and tolerates the cold well. Called ‘quick grows’ by my children, they mature so rapidly that childish interest never wanes from day to day. High in Vitamin C and iron, low in calories, they are often over looked as part of today’s garden. Later in the season a few scattered cherry tomatoes are an easy snack and provide 57% of the recommended dosage of Vitamin C, ¼ of Vitamin A, ½ of Iron. They contain lycopenes, believed to be a powerful antitoxin and cancer preventative. 

Whatever you choose plant remember the basic rules for planting by the Moon. Plant below ground crops such as carrots, radishes, turnips, and onions when the Moon has waned since they mature in the darkness. Plant above ground crops like lettuce, cabbage, peas, beans, and spinach when the Moon is full since they enjoy basking in the heavenly light from above. Happy Spring!

Children connect with Nature in an amazing way... and often garden finds will give everyone a giggle.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Nature's Antibiotics

(Yes, even dandelions are medicinal)

As we continue to break all weather records, let us recall the wonder of winter today. Our forefather braved elements such as these without central heat, electricity or grocery stores. It has not seemed so cold since the terrible lingering winter storms of 1986 with weeks of ice and snow through January into February. I remember it because my sister was visiting with my two small nieces…being house bound with eight children under the age of nine is unforgettable!

With temperature fluctuations of 50 degrees or more within a two week span, about now it would be wise to look to nature to boost the immune system. Until the advent of antibiotics, Nature provided all the ingredients to insure survival and health for the inhabitants of the planet. Here in North America our own Native Americans survived severely harsh conditions with an intricate knowledge of healthful foods. The Plains Indians ate as they nomadically traveled and the Apache alone had over 200 items in the yearly diet. Much of what they “found” along their path was both nutritional and medicinal.

An example of one of their naturally occurring health boosters are the Rose Hips found on wild bushes from Texas to North Dakota. Rose hips have long been a valuable source of Vitamin C, which easily boosts the immune system. The hips are the berries formed on the rose following flowering and contain as much ascorbic acid as an orange. In fact the portion of the orange containing the most health benefits is the bitter white inside the rind that most people discard. During WWII the federal government recommended that citizens add rose hips to their stews as a vegetable and recommended brewing it as a tea for the health benefits.

 Another valuable immune boosting plant is the Echinacea. Results of archaeological digs indicate that Native Americans have used this marvelous plant for over 400 years. It was used to treat everything including infections, wounds, scarlet fever, blood poisoning, and diphtheria. Considered a valuable cure-all for hundreds of years, its popularity declined with the advent of antibiotics. Today Echinacea is used to reduce the symptoms and duration of the common cold or flu, and the symptoms which accompany them such as sore throat, cough and fever.

Starting in 2004, the medical community began reporting that antibiotics no longer work; our systems are saturated with them. They arrive in our bodies from consuming milk and meat from cattle that are overly medicated, eggs from chickens that receive a daily dose, and so forth. I consider this medical warning a strong indication that we best seek natural cures that have been around for eons. Nature contains an arsenal of plants and herbs that were put here for us to use… easily obtainable plants that kept our ancestors alive and well.

Peonies and Poppies Need the Cold

As we continue to endure harsh winter conditions, remember that most of the garden will not only survive but two of our favorites will actually flourish because of the freezes. The Queen of Flowers, the majestic Peony, needs the cold as does the precious Poppy.

The Peony will not bloom well unless the temperature of the winter months gets low enough for her to go into full dormancy. For this reason, Peonies can not be grown in the Deep South and yet flourish in New England with amazing success and few problems.

 The Peony has blooms that are breathtaking for the shere size and breadth of the deeply lobed flowers which appear in a glorious range of colors. A favorite is the Chinese Peony who comes to the garden in hues of pink, pale yellow and purest white, often edged with a hint of rouge on the inner petals. Each flower is supported by lovely deep green foliage. Peonies make charming long lasting arrangements which fill the air with their sweet lemony scent.

Poppy seeds also need the cold for they have a hard shell which must be seasoned by freezing temperatures to allow it to fracture before growing. The colorful paper-thin blooms on the poppy only last for one day, however the round pale green seed pods which form from each spent flower, are most interesting by themselves. The darling pods have tiny holes in a zig-zag circular pattern at the top and once they have dried and turned brown, they may be shaken to release the seeds.

If you had poppies last year, many of them have self sown and will appear early in the growing season. However if you collected seeds, the snow is an excellent medium in which to toss them. Place the seeds in a salt shaker and then shake them into the snow filled garden. The white of the snow will allow you to see (and make mental note) where the seeds have fallen. As the snow melts, the seeds will follow the thaw and nestle snugly into the soil where they will await warmer days. The poppy is a tall plant so the back of the bed is a desirable place to seed them. If paired with Larkspur the contrasting colors and form always make for a dazzling display. This year the Peonies and Poppies will be in rare form and are well worth the wait.

*Remember that each day we are 2 minutes closer to spring!

Pic: Pink Poppy By Catherine Dougherty