Thursday, June 12, 2014

Rain and Raucous Annuals

The storms since last Friday have been magnificent! We have had everything from a gentle afternoon drizzle to fierce nighttime downpours with lightning flashes that lit the sky, claps of thunder, and driving horizontal rain. Saturday night the winds quickly escalated to over 70 miles per hour and through the blazing lightning, various lawn items could be seen flying past the window! These rains have truly altered the landscape of the garden and the plants have grown inches with the nutrients coming from the sky.

Lightning is produced in thunderstorms when liquid and ice particles above the freezing level collide and build up large electrical fields in the clouds. When these electric fields become large enough a giant "spark" occurs between them…like static electricity. This process causes oxygen and nitrogen to combine in the air and fall to Earth within the rain. Since nitrogen is the major ingredient in fertilizer, we may thank the storms for the greening of our world.

For those new to gardening, there is nothing better than planting a bed of annuals which will provide color all summer. Lasting only one season, annuals are fun to play with so plan a not-too-serious ‘theme garden’ this year. Once on a whim, we had a South American themed garden and filled a bed solely with flowers that had a Mexican flair and would attract butterflies. It seems flowers originating in South America have the brightest and deepest colors, the easy habit of drought survival and they all seem to shout Fiesta! We planted Mexican heather, red and yellow Nastursums, deep purple Petunias, scarlet red Chile Pepper Scabiosa, electric blue Salvia, scarlet and deep yellow swirl Zinnias, and anything else that seemed fun. Everything was planted too closely, all with contrasting colors adjacent to each other. The result was a childish intermingling of colors spilling out of the bed by mid-July.

Or perhaps plant a Gothic garden as something to please the family teenagers. There are a variety of ‘dark’ choices to plant. Black Mourning Bride, of the scabiosa family is a perfect choice. A native of the Mediterranean, it has been in Europe since 1629 and grown here since colonial times. Called the pincushion flower and prized by Victorians, it is still used in Portugal and Brazil as a funeral flower. Its showy and fragrant little blossoms last to three weeks when cut making it a prize for the cutting in the garden. Its flowers also attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds further enhancing its continued popularity". Whatever you choose to plant, don’t necessarily follow the rules… simply enjoy the season.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Poisonous Plants... Hiding in Plain Sight

As Summer begins to flourish and outside activities abound it is wise to revisit plant properties know of potential dangers lurking in the garden. Plants have been source of fascination since the beginning of time. They have provided a plethora of benefits to mankind and use of them has evolved over many years. However as all gardeners know, there is a dark side to the plant kingdom and many common plants are extremely toxic causing complaints which range from indigestion, to hallucinogenic visions, and possibly even death.

Many plants contain dangerous compounds which are removed by preparation in a specific manner allowing them to thus be consumed. Our own Poke Weed is toxic unless the leaves are prepared and cooked in a specific manner. The roots, leaves, and flowers of Taro, a wild Elephant Ear, are staple foods in some tropical countries, but they too must all be cooked before eating. Some plants have parts of them which are edible while other parts are toxic. The Rhubarb, used in flavorful jellies and pies, has poisonous leaves but the stalks are not. Almost all flowering bulbs are toxic in some manner so do not allow pets to ingest any of them.

The following plants are listed as fatal, making them of particular import. The lovely Larkspur is so toxic that it was used during the Revolutionary War as a pesticide; soldiers stuffed their boots with it to repel mites and ticks. Oddly, the green berries of the lovely and prolific Lantana are fatal in small doses as are those of the Wisteria, Jasmine and Mistletoe. All parts of the Azalea and Rhododendron plants are deadly as well. The popular house plant Dieffenbachia is called dumb cane for it’s affect on the mouth and throat if ingested. The instant swelling not only renders the individual dumb, but may cause air-blocking swelling. Castor beans are the origin of the deadly ricin, which continues to make the news.

Many traditional plants have become illegal due to their naturally occurring hallucinogenic properties. The exotic Moon Flower is banned in many states and the lovely poppy was confiscated from an elderly lady’s garden in Washington since it is the origin of opium. Salvia Divinorum, an hallucinogen when smoked, was originally used in traditional spiritual practices by the Mazatec people of Mexico and now it too is banned from sale due to non-native use.

There is a simple common sense rule to follow in dealing with the Plant Kingdom: Do not graze in the woods or garden, eating or smoking what abounds, unless it is something that you know and recognize as healthful.