Monday, January 22, 2018

Gardeners: The Eternal Optimists

As you can see, mine is a mess!

As January continues to drone on, there is little to do in the garden, and dusting the house is not nearly as satisfying as playing in the real dirt outside. Now is the time to review your gardening journals to note seasonal happening of the past.
Year after year, depending upon one's memory becomes impossible as a first garden slowly turns into successive decades of them. Lovely gardens visited, names of plants, and often disastrous experiments may be lost to memory entirely unless there is a reminder of them. Not to mention the sorrow of accidentally severing sleeping bulbs while planting new ones. Left to chance, the established garden may suffer unless careful records are kept and a five year journal is best.

Now, when the garden is resting is a good time to review the endeavors of the last season and make note of exactly which plants thrived and those we accidentally killed. I have a list of those I have loved and lost, and often wonder if my favorite roses will greet me in heaven. I also have a list of those that will not acclimate to my garden; like the detestable Rhododendron which was finally sent to the rubbish heap, banished forever. Year after year it was a struggle to keep it alive, moving it from place to place, from sun to dappled shade, from various drainage and variable soils, until at last I forced myself to abandon it altogether and promise never again. The same is true of Hydrangeas who will absolutely refuse to live here for any reason and are a waste of otherwise well-spent money.

The winter months are perfect for planning for the next season. By reviewing a journal, one may note when to expect the early Crocus, the Stars of Bethlehem and Peonies. Or when the last freezes arrived and how the fruit trees fared. Journals may include diagrams of the location of perennial plants and bulbs so there will be no mistakes when adding new guests in the garden. The growth cycle from planting the seeds to enjoying full bloom may be noted, as well as the scent of flowers and the taste of vegetables at their peak, and which years were best. If left to recall crops may not be rotated yearly, which may result in poor vegetable yields.

 Photographs of the gardens according to year are helpful as well; to look back five, ten, even twenty years and see how plants grew, how light changed is an amazing trek. Gardening is so dependent on the weather that some gardens that were spectacular in May were gone by July with no rain and 107 degree heat, yet some years have been rewarding all season. The beauty of the garden is really at the whim of circumstance no matter how much we try otherwise. Late freezes, freak hail storms, torrential rain, no rain, wind, temperatures over 100 degrees for days on end, hoards of locust… we gardeners face some daunting obstacles and yet remain the eternal optimists!

 Finally, please remember to water at least twice a week, weather permitting… it is far too dry without significant rain for several months and the garden is suffering.  

Monday, January 15, 2018

Catalogues and Cedar Trees

Seasonal Thoughts
The weather is that of deep winter and but for the birds scurrying about there is little action in the garden… it is resting, awaiting  Spring. After the fervor of the holidays many gardeners are content to relax and browse the catalogues that begin arriving this time of year to temp us with new and amazing gifts we may bequeath our gardens.  Considered the gardeners ‘dream books’ they are generally poured over until threadbare as they feature the latest hybrids. Always intriguing hybrids, which are genetically modified to alter the look and performance of a plant, often produce a product which is astounding.
The cramped and simple gardens belonging to poor laborers and factory workers in Europe were the birthplace of the hybridized flowers we now know. In the early 18th and 19th centuries the Carnation, which was once the size of a dime-sized Dianthus, grew to the proportions we now recognize. Petals were doubled and redoubled as enthusiastic breeders toiled in their tiny spaces after working long hours at their jobs.  Plant breeders today work as tirelessly as their predecessors so plan to add something totally new, unusual, and fantastic this coming season.
Being house bound this time of year is perhaps a blessing since the Cedars are currently pollinating and if one merely brushes by one, a pale yellow mist will swirl about the hapless wanderer. This pollen causes considerable misery to those who dwell among them and they are prolific throughout the state. It is an ancient tree with the oldest known living tree to be over 500 years living near Tulsa… it is obviously a determined tree and the product of evolved survival tactics. It will grow in impossible conditions and each one will selfishly take any and all available water, leaving less aggressive trees to perish at their feet.
The female trees are covered with small blue berries; each one is an infant Cedar tree. The birds gorge themselves in a frenzied feast, fly to rest in leafy trees, and drop a Cedar ‘package’ of unprocessed berries to grow at the base of the tree. The aggressive adolescent Cedars surround and literally choke or starve any other species of tree, taking all water and nutrients from the soil for themselves.
In retrospect, it is an amazement they were purposefully introduced enmass to Oklahoma as wind breaks to hold the land following the dust bowl. At the time the public was unaware of their aggressive nature and their rapid growth and hardy habits were considered a miracle. Forestry folk encourage the replacement of cedar trees with more beneficial trees like native oak, elm, or other non invasive species.
Photo: Princess Parizade Bringing Home the Singing Tree from The Arabian Nights, 1906, illustrated by Maxfield Parrish.  
*I wish to see a singing tree!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

In Praise of the Potato

You know we have turned the corner with Winter when the potatoes begin to sprout!
Julia and I will plant the sprouts since I don't have the heart to toss them!
Wednesday the Potato Expo will begin in Orlando Florida. Potato growers from all over the country will gather to share all their insights on the potato... exciting vegetable news is rare!

Cultivated globally, the potato has long been considered the world’s most perfect food and has been credited with saving people from the brink of starvation. The failure of the potato crops in Ireland created a famine causing thousands of people to flee that tiny nation in search of food... thus the Irish immigrants arrived on our shores.   

The potato is native to Peru with the earliest tuber remains found dating back to 2500 BC. Potatoes provided the principal energy source for the Inca Empire and its Spanish successor. In Bolivia and Peru in altitudes above 10,000, tubers exposed to the cold night air are made into chuño. Making chuño, which means frozen potato in Spanish, is a five day process during which the potatoes are frozen for three nights then subsequently exposed to bright sunlight each day. By the end of the process the chuno is chopped and may be stored for years with no loss of nutritional value. The potato was introduced to Spain and cultivation traveled throughout all of Europe by the 1600's, reaching the American shores by 1621 when the Governor of Bermuda sent a chest of them to Jamestown, Virginia. 

Astounding potato news was released last year as a new scientific study was begun in Lima, Peru. Lima's International Potato Center is a nonprofit research facility that seeks to reduce poverty and achieve food security for millions globally. They have chosen the La Joya Pampas, a sector of the Atacama Desert in southern Peru, for an experiment in growing potatoes in harsh conditions. The La Joya Pampas are considered perhaps the driest place on earth... nothing grows and there is no insect or animal life. It was selected because it resembles Mars.

Of the 100 potatoes selected for the experiment, 40 are native to the Andes Mountains, all are conditioned to withstand sudden climate changes, and to reproduce in rocky, arid terrain. Sixty have been genetically modified to be immune to viruses and survive with little water and salt. The head of the experiment, Peruvian Julio Valdivia-Silva is concerned as cropland disappears and population grows, millions may starve. He is hopeful that perhaps food may eventually be farmed on Mars to feed our ever-growing population.
 A potato will draw poison from a wound. Michael had a bad toothache once and the dentist put an intricate drain in the wrong place so he was in agony. I had him put a thin slice of potato on the gum line above the abscess and after about 15 minutes it popped and drained. After swishing with hydrogen peroxide, he was good to go.
 Other uses of the Potato:
Place raw slices on broken bones to promote healing
Carry them to prevent rheumatism
Treat facial blemishes by washing you face daily with cool potato juice.
Treat frostbite or sunburn by applying raw grated potato or potato juice to the affected area.
Ease a sore throat by putting a slice of baked potato in a stocking and tying it around your throat.
Ease aches and pains by rubbing the affected area with the water potatoes have been boiled in.
Place potato slices on the eyes after receiving welders flash to reduce pain and swelling.
Photo: We have turned the seasonal corner when the potatoes begin to sprout!