Sunday, May 31, 2015

The End of May

It seemed that April flew by this year but May has lasted an unusually long time, possibly due to the lack of sunshine. The record breaking rains have brought our drought to an end while producing unprecedented misery for thousands of people across the Midwest. It will take many years to recover. For the garden, the rains were welcomed with great joy as the early May flowers and shrubs began to bloom. As the dreary days continued and the lawns and plants became waterlogged, by mid-May the charm began to fade. Now at the end of May, many gardens are in a state of flux and it remains to be seen if they will be able to recover.

For plants that have become a gooey mess it will be wise to cut them back and wait for new growth in June. Many of the Amaryllis have twisted and fallen with the wind and rain so this year will possibly be a ’wash out’ for them. Stake all of the lilies for their blooms will become too heavy when drenched… if wind is expected simply pick them to enjoy inside.

Looking on the bright side, many of the gophers that were plaguing the countryside have lost their homes which have flooded and imploded and possibly many have drowned. The trees which were borderline have rebounded and the shade which will be provided this year will be incredible. The water lilies are in splendid shape and the resurgence of frogs will aid in eliminating the inevitable mosquito population.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Mosquitoes in May

The drenching rains have kept most of the bugs at bay, and only in the past week have they begun to emerge in earnest. With the rains, the most detestable of all insects has arrived… the Mosquito. This year we have had the perfect conditions for them to mature and complete their life cycle since mosquito eggs are laid in water and they must have it for the larvae and pupa to reach adulthood. The larvae are those squiggly thread-like black things jerking about in still water where they will become a pupa, which will then mature, float to the surface, and emerge a fully developed mosquito. Their lifespan is anywhere from several weeks to several months… they don’t live forever, it just seems so.

All mosquitoes are bloodsucking and as such, their bite will carry with it whatever the prior host had coursing through their blood. Their mouth parts (proboscis) are perhaps the most complex in nature and contain an electro process to find a vein and chemical to allow for straw-like blood flow… this chemical is the cause of the swollen, itchy, and often painful bite. If bitten, cut an onion in half and rub it on the bite for immediate relief.

Gardeners are basically pacifists so it is necessary to occasionally accept advice from 'The Art of War'… victory may be achieved only when one knows the enemy. There are ways to combat a hoard of mosquitoes prior to wantonly killing every beneficial insect with widespread and random spraying so please consider a natural deterrent. Dump all standing rain water… mosquitoes can survive in polluted water, brackish water and in puddles upon leaves; a creative mosquito will lay eggs in water left in a saucer under a plant.

They are attracted to humans from 150 feet away and prefer perfumed victims wearing dark clothing… possibly because they are not clearly visible on it. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, burning sage or rosemary over coals will repel them as will rubbing your skin with baby oil, imitation vanilla extract, or cider vinegar. (1 part Vinegar, 3 parts water in a spray bottle works well… spray as if it were a fine perfume.)

Looking at the bright side (no pun intended) of the deluges in May… our frog population, which had been in decline, seems to be in resurgence. The frogs, dragonflies, and Purple Martins are natural predators of the mosquito and will aid in eliminating them. Using natural deterrents to assault mosquitoes will assure our beneficial insects are not accidentally eliminated. 

Below: One of my favorite t-shirts. Read the caption....  it certainly rings true lately.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Solomon Seal Finally Blooming

With the rains, it is finally happy!

Grandmother's Garden Delights

The rains have created the most magical spring season in many moons… it is positively breathtaking this year. Each and every species is growing and flowering at an unprecedented rate to the delight of gardeners everywhere.

This year my ancient Deutzia scabra, which is planted next to the lily pond in dense shade, has performed beyond my wildest dreams. I discovered this lovely shrub next to the slightly dripping faucet in my Grandmother’s back yard nestled securely against the house between the solarium and the library. In such a location it received no overhead light or west sun and scarcely received sunshine from the east yet it thrived. My Grandmother’s gardens were well established by 1934, so it is indeed an old specimen and one of few who are completely happy living in the shade. We dug a small off-shoot then planted it in our garden where it settled in nicely, doubling in size every few years. To shape it and keep it manageable, it was pruned occasionally and always following blooming… pruning in the spring will result in no flowering.

This year my Deutzia is literally covered with small white flowers that dance along the branches amongst the tender green foliage. The bees are drawn to it and a very young and inexperienced lady Cardinal has chosen it for her nesting site, placing carefully chosen discarded plastic as the pièce de résistance of her décor. Waiting and watching her progress shall become a daily obsession!

Another heirloom gem is the Gallica Rose, which also came from my Grandmother‘s home She had a rambling white picket fence and these sweet roses danced along it, creating a living curtain of sight and scent all spring. The Gallica Roses are among the oldest cultivated species, dating back as far as the 12th century. They were a favorite of Empress Josephine and thus their name was sometimes changed to ‘French Roses’ in honor of her interest in them.

My rose is rather a deep burgundy with loose petals and a darling little yellow center. This year it became enthralled with the Redbud above it and began twining, slowly climbing to sweetly embrace the treetop branches. The surprise of this affection has been the source of much joyful anticipation each day… how far can my Gallica climb?

*Take a walk between the rains and discover the wonders this year has wrought… they are unusual, inspiring, and magical.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


The blessed rains have assured our surviving trees will recover from the drought… the countryside is now wearing a canopy of lush greed for the first time since 2010. With the flourishing foliage comes the promise of shade, which is a must by the time July arrives.

As the Sun begins to shine again after what seem like weeks of cloud cover it may be noted it is somewhat brighter than it was twenty years ago. This fact has left gardeners with the challenge of providing a future environment that is comfortable and shade is the keyword. When wandering through a shaded park or woods, it may be noted it is cooler than the surrounding countryside... the canopy of the trees absorb heat, never allowing it to reach the ground. In light of this, our shade trees have attained a treasured place in our gardens and this seems to be the year of the Cottonwood. Although many elderly Cottonwoods succumbed to the drought, those who remained have produced seeds in the most proficient manner… it appears to be snowing in the garden.

The Cottonwood is of the Poplar family and is a close relative of the famous Quaking Aspens. With a long life expectancy, many of the existing Plains Cottonwoods possibly saw nomadic Native Americans camping beneath them; they were considered sacred for their gift of shade and wood. Dugout canoes were made from the wood and forage for horses was found in the bark, which was also boiled for a medicinal tea.

As the American settlers traveled west across the treeless Plains, Cottonwoods were a source of joy for their shade comfort. Since many Cottonwoods grow up to one hundred feet tall, a cluster of them created an oasis in the treeless travel across the plains. Today, Cottonwood is most commonly used in making plywood, matches, crates, boxes, and paper pulp. Use as fuel is given unfavorable reports due to its lack of heat, however it is a perfect firewood to take the chill off a room. Although the Cottonwood is a hardwood, it has the rapid growth of a softwood, attaining height and breadth for harvest in under thirty years.

As with everything in the plant kingdom, there are pros and cons and the Cottonwood seeds are truly untidy. However when one hears the wind dancing in the leaves, gently whispering through them, this magnificent tree becomes magical indeed.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Shade Loving Caladiums

The rains have brought about so much growth in the garden this year. Trees which had been rather lackluster have grown literally inches over the course of a few weeks, providing shade in places which were formerly sunny. For newly shaded spots in the garden there is a plant choice who positively adores mottled to deep shade. The family of leafy Caladiums are the rock stars of shade… they are an easy to grow tuber who will provide vibrant color until frost.

Originally from the Amazon Basin in the rain forests of South America, they were first introduced to horticulture through specimens collected in 1773 in Western Brazil. The original plants were plain green leaves with random spots of red and white. Interest in this leaf was intense and exploration by two Frenchmen in 1858 resulted in four additional species. The Parisian horticulture circle began earnestly hybridizing the species and by the early 1860’s there were additional specimens available. Triomphe de l’Exposition’ and ‘Candidum’, developed by Louis Van Houtte and Alfred Blue, have maintained popularity since that time and are still available today. Caladiums were introduced to the United States by Adolph Leitze, a German living in Brazil, who exhibited his collection at the World Fair in Chicago, IL in 1893.

Once in the United States, Caladium production settled in Florida, and virtually all caladiums available today begin life there. Henry Nehrling began breeding and he is credited with creating many familiar varieties which are still popular today. F.M. Joyner, a postman from Tampa, was the next to hybridize and in 1937 he introduced an all time favorite, the ‘White Queen’. (Pictured above)

Of course science continues to race along and the humble leaf discovered in the Rain Forest has become a global sensation with over 2,000 varieties available today.

According to Dr. Dr. Robert Hartman, President of Classic Caladiums, ‘The color ranges from the purest white to the deepest red, and from the most delicate transparent bluish and pinkish-white to the deepest translucent claret, scarlet and purple. Some of the colors sparkle like precious stones; there is nothing in the whole floral kingdom that can compare with this brilliancy and beauty‘. His assessment of Caladiums is correct.

*Hybridization is the genetic alteration of plants to create a new species. This alteration is performed by dedicated individuals who spend countless hours in research… they are to be commended for giving us new species to enjoy each season. Now is the time to plant Caladiums for the soil must be 70 degrees or higher for them to begin growing.