Monday, April 25, 2016

Flowering Shrubs and Annuals

An heirloom Spirea from Grandpa Dougherty's (circa 1935)


The rains have been a blessing, the countryside is green once again and we are recovering from the drought. Over time as the drought intensified, many of us lost favorite flowering shrubs and since Friday is Arbor day, perhaps plant a new one.


If the lovely selection of shrubs is reviewed, it becomes evident that one can have scented and flowering beauty all season with very little effort. One of the nicest things about shrubs is after flowering they continue to look splendid for the duration of the season, some with berries which appear from the flowering, some with simply exquisite foliage.


The Viburnum species are a marvelous addition. They flower early and fill the garden with the first breath of spring and following flowering they still appear attractive dressed in their verdant finery of bold and interesting leaves. For a late spring bloomer, some Spirea would be a nice addition. With her sweet little clusters of flowers and the tendency to survive extreme temperature, this gem survived the Oklahoma dust bowl and makes a lovely focal point. Later, the Heavenly Bamboo or Nandina would bloom and look divine. With the cream-colored flowers replaced by berries which turn scarlet by Christmas, they have long been a staple in Southern gardens.


A few Crape Myrtle would add texture, color and a stunning flowering display for all of August through September and the relatively new Black Diamond is striking with her dark purple foliage. If cut back in the early spring, they will bloom as a shrub rather than become a tree. If the tips are trimmed after the first flowering, they will flower again. Pyracantha make a perfect Halloween display as miniature 'pumpkins' dance along the stems. The list is endless!


It is time to plant annuals, those seeded darlings who will provide riotous color all summer, but last only one season. In planting for visual interest it is important to remember to layer by height from the front to the back of the bed. Plan for low growing flowers to be at the front and gradually increase the height to give the visual feel of ‘movement‘.


In an area which receives full sun, tiny low growing Rose Moss or Portulaca are both perfect in front, love it hot, require little care and will provide an ever-blooming cheerful spot of color all season. Behind them, perhaps plant the short variety of Marigolds; they do well in the heat and will also help with insect control as they are a natural pesticide. *Note their funky smelling leaves. Next could come some intermediate then tall Zinnias, and the new varieties have an amazing spectrum of colors. Allow the imagination to run rampant and have fun... the bees will thank you!

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Native American Gathering of Nations

We watched 'Dances With Wolves' last evening and it brought back bittersweet memories of our time within the Native American culture of the 1990's. The magic of the culture still existed... the elders were still living and tribal spirituality was an everyday way of life. The open generosity of Native Americans was to be envied for it included the belief that the measure of a person was not what you could amass personally, but rather what you could give to others. To admire a possession belonging to a Native American was for them to bestow it upon you. Condemnation was not in their vocabulary and laughter ran freely. I learned that Pow-Wow's were not a benefit where the promoters made money, but rather an event where they gave all that they could to each person attending asking only for collective prayers for the honoree. 


I would arrive at a camp with smoke drifting to the sky in the darkness above tepees, the drum beat as background music of another time, and my heart would leap. It called to me in an unimagined way and I felt at home there. To have been called to the grandstand to be honored and gifted by the Head Lady Dancer before the Gathering of Nations and a crowd of 5,000 Native Americans was truly one of the highlights of my life. The welcoming, the polite introductions, the respect and old fashioned manners reminded me of my childhood in its sense of propriety.

However there is another story about me being honored at the Gathering of Nations. Honoring me came as a complete surprise to me and I was totally unprepared.

Minnie Goodbear     
As we entered the camp ground at the Gathering of Nations, I noticed that in addition to the familiar Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal members there were representatives of many Native American tribes I did not know. The regalia is quite different from tribe to tribe so various tribes may be identified by their clothing and bead work, shawls and embroidery, porcupine quills and feathers. The intimidating and traditional Sioux from North Dakota, the Grovan of South Dakota, the Winnipeg from Canada, the austere Pawnee of eastern Oklahoma as well as many other tribes were all gathered there. Since this was not an event for tourists, I was rather intimidated and hoped to blend in as inconspicuously as possible, which is no easy feat since I am so blond. Not particularly dressed for festivities, I moved to a group I knew well and sat down to enjoy the dances. The little girls in their waving shawls imitating butterflies, the men portraying the stampede of the buffalo and the flight of eagle, the women whose feet caressed Mother Earth… all beautiful and exciting.

When it came time for the intermission, I was totally unprepared for my name to be called over the loud speaker requesting for me to come to the front. The grandstand was located at the far most point of the dance grounds and is where the Master of Ceremonies, dignitaries, judges, special elders and chiefs from all the tribes gather to watch and judge the contests. When my name was called, I had to walk the center of an entire length of a football field with 5,000 curious eyes upon me individually! My throat tightened, my knees went weak, my mouth became dry and suddenly I was afraid I would pass out before I reached the front. Walking carefully with each step, head up, wondering if I appeared dignified, wondering if I should smile or look somber, hoping I would not embarrass myself or my friend who was honoring me. Step by step with all eyes on me. For the first time in my life, I was a true minority.

As I had stood to go, I had accidentally stepped on one of my trademark high top Converse shoe strings untying it; unbeknownst to me it was left to dangle and dance with each step I took. With abject horror Michael noticed immediately and watched as the shoe string whipped back and forth, back and forth with each successive step. Later he confessed that he prayed "Please God, don't let her fall, please don't let her fall" as a mantra hundreds of prayer with each of my foot steps.

After what seemed to be a lifetime, I arrived at the grandstand and was greeted by my spiritual sister, Minnie Goodbear, who gave a small speech about me and introduced me to the gathering. Many very important Natives were being honored as well, so I was introduced to each of them. She placed a gorgeous sterling and turquoise necklace around my neck, hugged me, then all the dignitaries shook my hand and welcomed me. When the ceremony was over I was immediately surrounded by people congratulating me and admiring the necklace.

Michael appeared, smiled and nodded to everyone,  and gently took my arm, pulling me aside. He whispered in my ear….. 'For the love of God, tie your damn  shoe string; you almost gave me a heart attack!'

Earth Day, Arbor Day and Rachael Carson

This Walnut is embracing a Cottonwood

 “Trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heavens.” Rabindranath Tagore

All of us who garden are acutely aware of our environment. As we dig in the soil, we connect with the magical realm of Mother Earth and the results of our work are the rewards bestowed upon us for our efforts. This April, we celebrate monumental efforts made by others to conserve our precious planet.


First to be considered is our oldest conservation effort, National Arbor Day, which is celebrated each year on April 22nd, the birthday of its founder Sterling J. Morris. Mr. Morris, the publisher of a Nebraska newspaper, began a campaign to encourage his community in the planting of  trees since the plains of Nebraska were almost treeless. By 1885 Arbor Day was declared a state holiday and now it is embraced by all of the states.

Arbor means tree in Latin. The Arbor Foundation annually gives away thousands of trees to individuals and communities. Many Native tribes planted a tree with the birth of a child and watched as both the tree and child matured... a wonderful custom we adopted.

We have Rachael Carson to thank for her efforts to bring to light the hazards of chemical toxicity. A marine biologist by profession, she noted unprecedented losses of plant and animal life and her research concluded it was the result of chemical poisonings. Following WWII,
America embarked on a path of chemical use that was unprecedented and unexplored. Finally banned in 1972, DDT, which killed all insects good or bad, was at first considered a miracle for with it the mosquito became a thing of the past. Neighborhoods full of children were regularly fogged and DDT is now considered one of the most hazardous chemical carcinogens ever created. Ms. Carson lived only a few years past publication of her monumental work ‘Silent Spring’ but her legacy of thoughtful research alerted a grateful nation. The title alone was an ominous prediction of a world without the buzzing of bees, the song of birds, the croaking of frogs, the splash of fish.


Following in her footsteps Senator Gaylord Nelson initiated the concept of ‘Earth Day’. By the early 1960’s America’s love affair with chemicals had begun to take a terrible toll. Environmental degradation was becoming astonishingly evident so Senator Nelson first presented his concerns to President Kennedy in 1962. The evidence was conclusive yet the environment would not be on the political agenda for almost a decade. Finally on November 30, 1969, the New York Times ran an article that began “Rising concern about the environmental crisis is sweeping the nation" thus setting the stage for the first official celebration of ‘Earth Day’. It is expected that Earth Day will be celebrated by over 500 million people in 195 countries.

The enormity of this grassroots effort was the impetus in 1970 for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency whose mission is to protect human health and the environment.

Short of planting a tree this April at least hug one!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Transplant Disenchanted Roses


Throughout history, mankind has had a love affair with roses and they are perhaps one of the oldest flowering plants. Roses have been found in fossils dating 70 million years ago, indicating that they were growing where the dinosaurs tread.


Roses were in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, King Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, and their image appears on Egyptian tombs. Roses were a significant part of Chinese medicine and by the Middle Ages they were used medicinally by Monks throughout Europe.


Now is the time to check your roses to assess if they are unhappy with their location in the garden. Often trees will grow and filter light and since roses love full sunlight perhaps it is time to transplant your disenchanted garden guest. The rules for transplanting, which means ‘lift, remove, relocate and reset in another place’ are precise:

Prior to 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, do not apply fertilizer to newly transplanted specimens. 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 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 cutting in a circle,  lifting and probing 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.


 Place your rose 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!

*Photo: The Tea Rose I transplanted last spring blooming by July.