Monday, March 27, 2017

Flowering Viburnum and Feathered Courtship

With the world spinning very quickly these days, it is more important than ever to seek some harmonic softeners in daily life. The escalation of technology has become mind-boggling especially 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 heat. Now more than ever the peaceful expanse of the garden is not only desirable, but a necessary means to keep one literally grounded. Whether you are six or sixty, there is no pastime more joyful than playing in the dirt… 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 for 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, which is pictured, 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 song birds have increased their activities with the arrival of mating season and since the trees are not yet totally leafed, we are allowed to watch feathered courtship rituals. Their songs have a new sweetness and they are darting about seriously flirting and ‘dating‘. The Titmouse, Chickadees, and Goldfinches are earnest, the lady Cardinals all look like teenagers, and the Woodpecker has begun rat-a-tat drilling to provide a home for babies. There is a flurry of nest construction and the choice of materials is indeed surprising... small twigs, pieces of moss, a piece of stuffing from a torn lawn cushion, a ribbon of twine are universal choices. Intricately woven, often lined with downy feathers, a nest provides a perfect habitat to hatch tiny eggs and shelter fledglings before they mature and venture out into the world on their own. Right now our feathered friends are providing delightful garden entertainment and each has a unique personality!

Monday, March 20, 2017

St Patrick, the Shamrock and Oxalis


Pink Oxalis

Spring was ushered in on Monday, March 19th with the Vernal Equinox...that brief moment in time when there are equal parts of both day and night. However it has been unusually hot as we also welcomed with the celebration 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, magically 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 Oxalis with her halo of pale pink flowers that drift above the striking foliage… surely a stunning focal point for any garden.

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

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Plant Based Medicinal Knowledge of Our Elders

What have we lost?

I began rereading the Foxfire books again a few weeks ago. They were first published as magazine articles in 1966 but became so successful that the articles were published in a series of books. They are fascinating reading for in them one finds a multitude of little known and almost archaic information. Everything from forecasting the weather by observing the animals, insects, plants, or the patterns of fire to planting by moon signs, dressing a deer, building a log cabin, or making home remedies is covered, all of which seem timely as the recession deepens.

The articles were initiated by Eliot Wigginton, a Cornell graduate with a master’s degree, who began teaching at a small school in Rabun Gap-Nacochee, Georgia. Deep in the Appalachians, the 240 pupil school was located in a rural community where the traditional culture was dying. After centuries of self-sufficiency, interest in maintaining the life style of the mountain people had ebbed and the next generation was opting for an easier life. As the elders died, the information they carried with them was gradually being lost forever. In the final days of that culture, Mr. Wigginton asked the students to collect stories and information from their grandparents for preservation. It is fascinating reading available at most Libraries and quite inexpensively online.

In keeping with that thought, we should recognize that much information known to our grandparents has been lost to us in our community as well. In the mid 1970’s we visited Marion Wise at his home east of town on many occasions. He was truly a remarkable man. Not only was he totally self-sufficient, but he had knowledge of the medicinal qualities of plants growing in his back yard and the fields beyond. He added a little of this and that to petroleum jelly and had a salve that truly cured skin cancer. Chew this for a cough, boil that for a headache; the information was priceless. I kept meaning to talk to him about his knowledge, to learn from him the old ways, but days turned to months and months to years between visits and suddenly he was gone. His home was sold and bulldozed, his garden became a cotton field, and it all of his secrets were lost to us forever.

Mankind depended upon remedies and concoctions from the garden for thousands of years for health and vitality. This knowledge was passed down from one generation to the next and everyone understood the connection between nature and mankind. Perhaps this winter, since flu shots are in scarce supply, we should think of adding Cranberries to our daily diets. They are a natural antiviral and boost the immune system. With a little vitamin C containing rose hips, a cup of red clover tea, and maybe a blackberry cordial if we’re feeling under the weather, we should survive the winter very nicely.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Think Green and Preserve Our Precious Planet


With the rise of environmental awareness at long last, businesses have come around and are beginning to market ‘green’. Since we are a rural community, many people have been raised with an environmental conscience so it is but a small step for us to again embrace the premise. If in doubt, the comparisons in the American standard of living today and fifty years ago make a compelling statement.

In 1950, the average household consisted of almost four people. Most homes were less than 1, 200 square feet and had one or two bedrooms and one bathroom according to the National Association of Home Builders. With a modest home and ownership of a family car, most people thought they had achieved the American Dream.

By 2003, the average household size had shrunk to 2.6 people and yet the size of new homes had doubled. Half of them have at least four bedrooms, all have two or more bathrooms. Americans own twice as many cars per person, multiple TVs, computers, and cell phones. None of this is, in itself  is bad but just how much is enough?

Betsy Taylor, president of the Center for a New American Dream, thoughtfully discusses the changes in American aspirations. For our parents and grandparents, the American Dream meant hope, an unshakeable belief that happiness and security were truly possible. That dream still exists but the original focus on security and personal well-being slowly gave way to an obsession with ‘more’. More work, more material goods, larger cars and homes did not grant contentment or bestow free time.

The disconnect with nature and the waste generated by packaging the goods is almost overwhelming and has polluted every Ocean on the planet. Changing the way one consumes to improve quality of life and protect the environment is not difficult. Going green does not mean deprivation; it means changing habits.

 Simple tips can be implemented as a lifestyle. For example borrow books, CDs, DVDs, and video games from the library and share magazine subscriptions with friends. Use fewer household cleaners; try soap and water, baking soda, or vinegar instead. Share a lawnmower and tools with your neighbors and learn to do your own repairs rather than throw things away. Turn out the lights when you leave a room and use ceiling fans to boost your cooling/heating system effectiveness. Skip prepared and frozen food by making dinners from scratch and utilize leftovers for lunches. Plant a garden and swap produce with neighbors.

With one small baby step at a time, we can preserve the resources of our precious planet.