Monday, June 29, 2020

African Origins... The Dust and Bermuda Grass

Summer Heats Up!
This summer seems determined to rival the summer of 2011 when we had record breaking heat, excruciating long days of humid sweltering, and little rainfall which allowed thousands of grasshoppers to thrive. This year, along with a pandemic, we may add the hazy dust from Africa to the miserable mix. The fact that dust traveled across the entire Atlantic Ocean to our land locked state is amazing and besides being hazy it has caused breathing problems and those who garden may develop crusty eyes from irritation. This is a choking dust blown by excessive winds, bringing to mind the famous scene from the movie “Hildago”.

As we drove along the scorching roadway, mirages could be seen in distant fields, giving the impression of the savannas of Africa. The savannas are large grassy fields with few trees and many natural disturbances which include fires, flooding, and over grazing. The native grass is extremely hardy and the first to grow back quickly following natural disasters This native grass is what we refer to as Bermuda Grass, which arrived in the United States from Africa through the Bermuda Isles in 1751. It is an amazing species of grass which can live through intolerable conditions with surprising survival tactics.

Bermuda is a creeping grass which crawls along the ground both above and below. Under stressful conditions such as we are now experiencing, it has the ability to send its roots up to 59 inches deep, although most of the root mass is a mere 24 inches below the surface. It reproduces through both seeds and rhizomes and will send forth seeds every 90 days until dormant.

All along the roadway, the upper parts of the Bermuda grass has died off, however the grass has kept growing below the surface. Following a rain, almost as a miracle, it will rebound and appear green and lush until frost, once again making the countryside lovely.

The Hindus of India consider it a sacred grass for the ability to rejuvenate itself and the ancient Romans pressed juice from the stems to use as an astringent to stop bleeding. It is highly nutritional as feed for cattle and sheep and was first introduced to the Carolinas as forage in 1760.

By 1927, the ability to rejuvenate following heavy traffic or sports made it the preferred choice for golf courses. In 1930 the hardy, fine-leaved texture of Bermuda was recognized as an advantage for use in lawns, but its intolerance to shade was also noted.

With its ability to spread quickly and its natural resistance to herbicides, Bermuda grass has so adapted to the Western landscape that it is often considered a nuisance, however it has kept millions of acres of farmland from eroding. If you have a sunny spot in the lawn and want a stand of Bermuda, whisper you are planning a garden… it will cover the spot in a week!

*It was perfect for our regulation Badmitton Court!

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Summer Solstice and Sedums

Summer Solstice arrived last Sunday ushering in Summer amid global celebrations. The longest day of the year, Solstice occurs when both sunrise and sunset occur respectively at the earliest and the latest time during the year. At noon the Sun was in perfect balance directly overhead and your shadow was not be visible at all. Those who are in tune with nature felt the Solstice and in spite of the heat, childhood memories of cloud watching, gentle breezes, and a walk while listening to the drone of Cicadas were recalled.

 As Summer continues with our traditional heat Sedums become a much cherished addition to the garden. They appear in almost every imaginable shape and form from Aloe to Cacti with their plump water filled leaves the only similarity. There are over 400 species of Sedums and those unique fleshy leaves are their secret to survival as they store water to use during extremely dry spells. These no-fuss gems are sturdy and dependable, needing only well drained soil and full sunlight. The Sedum is not susceptible to pests who are repelled by their stout leaves, preferring more tender foliage, however butterflies and bees are abundant about the blooms.

Easy to propagate, simply break a leaf or stem from the Mother plant, shove it into a hole the size of an index finger, tamp the soil, lightly water for a week, and it will start a new plant. Part of this amazing club is the all time favorite Moss-rose, Purslane, or Portulaca, which are one in the same. They may have either thin spiky leaves or small rounded leaves and flowers open each day from about ten to four. This low growing little plant will faithfully spread and flower from spring to frost.

Purslane was first introduced by to the Northern Hemisphere by Dr. John Gillies in the 1820s and immediately became wildly popular. Gillies had discovered plants near the Argentine Pampas and wrote “they grew in great profusion, giving to the ground over which they were spread a rich purple hue, here and there marked with spots of an orange color“. Further scientific development gave us additional colors and today and this precious little flower is available in the entire spectrum of colors, with sweet traditional or darling double flowers. Since they like it hot, it is the perfect time to add a few to the garden.