Viewing LarryR's Garden Diary: Notes from the Garden: Essays on Gardening
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
YakTrax in Our GardensBy Larry Rettig (LarryR)
February 3, 2010
Those of us who garden in the Upper Midwest or in the New England states tend to think of winter as a time when our gardens sleep. They don't require any care and their floral beauty has been wiped out by snow, ice, and cold.
That's not entirely so. Snow and ice can add a great deal of beauty to the winter garden, as revealed in the photos that I took during a stroll through our gardens recently (at right below). It's also not quite accurate to say that no care is required during the winter months. How much care is required depends on what you grow in your yard and gardens and what the weather is like. We've certainly had more than our share of snow and ice this season, and winter is far from over. Here are some "garden chores" I carry out during the winter:
Check for rabbit and deer damage to trees and shrubs. Provide protective coverings if necessary. If coverings are already in place, check to make sure they still offer protection. (Deer pulled the netting right off one of our small arborvitaes several years ago.) If I'm using deer repellents, I make sure they're still in place
YakTrax tracks among the rabbit tracks. (Note the optical illusion in this image. Are the tracks pressed into the snow or do they rest on top of it?)
A basket hanger gets a bit of winter decoration.
Lilac 'Josee' all dressed up in winter finery.
A grizzled arborvitae branch
Hoarfrost gives a new meaning to "White Pine."
This ordinary barbed-wire fence suddenly grows menacing barbs!
The geometric impressions of my boot and its YakTrak
Brush heavy snow from evergreens with a broom.
Check deciduous trees for weakened limbs or for limbs that are rubbing against others that they cross. These conditions are much easier to detect when trees are bare.
Inspect apple trees and lilac bushes for oystershell scale.
Prune apples, pears and grapes.
Cut branches of pussy willow, forsythia, peach, plum, crabapple, and magnolia to bring indoors for forcing.
Retie any climbing rose limbs that have worked loose and are being whipped by the wind.
Reapply anti-desiccants to evergreens when the temperature is above 40 °F to prevent sun damage and wind burn.
Check and refill all bird-feeding stations as needed.
Where do YakTrax fit into this picture?
Considering all the ice we've had this winter and the fact that my bones aren't what they used to be, I've had second thoughts about doing my outdoor chores without some type of protection against falls. I'd seen lots of ads for YakTrax in the past few winters, so I decided to give them a try.
This is what a YakTrak looks like when not in use. It automatically folds in half for easy storage.
Here are my boots with YakTrax in place.
The front end (with the brand name on it) slips over the toe of the boot.
The back end slips over the heel of the boot.
YakTrax are made of a rubbery substance that stretches over the sole of your boot or shoe. Traction is provided by metal coils that are wound around diamond-shaped rubber cords.
I found that the easiest way for me to put a YakTrak on is to sit down, cross one leg over the other, pull one foot up near the other knee and slip the Trak over your shoe or boot. You start by slipping the front of the YakTrak--the end with the brand name on it (see photo at left)--over the toe of your footgear. Then, taking both hands, pull the back end of the Trak toward you over the bottom of your footgear and secure the back end over the heel. You will find that the rubber material stretches, but it takes a good amount of effort to pull it back far enough to slip the back end over the heel.
Once you have both YakTrax on, make sure that the side cords are pulled securely up over the sides of your footgear. If you leave them under the sole, the Trax will not be as effective, and they will easily slip off as you walk.
A number of surprises awaited me on my maiden YakTrax stroll. The first one came early. I had installed the Trax on my boots while sitting on the stairs in our entryway. As I started to walk toward the door, I literally skated across the floor and could easily have lost my balance. Ironically, YakTrax on smooth, hard surfaces like ceramic tile or laminated flooring have an effect directly opposite of what's desired. Had I read the online warning--there was none on the packaging--I would have put the Trax on outside.
Once outside I made it across our ice-covered driveway without the slightest hint of a slip. With newfound confidence I navigated a garden path without incident. That is, until I rounded a corner. Lying in wait was a smooth patch of ice covered with just enough snow to make the ice invisible. The YakTrax didn't see it either. I slid across the snow-covered ice, wobbling to and fro, almost landing on my backside.
Dumbfounded, I regained my balance and checked the bottoms of my boots to make sure the YakTrax were still in place. They were. The snow on the ice had filled the wire coils, allowing them to "float" across the ice instead of digging in. Lesson learned.
In the ensuing days both my wife and I donned our new YakTrax on our daily dog walks. Except for snow-covered ice, all went well. That is, until my wife, upon returning home, discovered her Trax were missing! Luckily, we found them the next day, scattered along the route we had taken.
I did some more online research and learned that there are basically two YakTrax models. The more expensive ones come with a velcro strap that runs across the top of your footgear, connecting one side of the Trax with the other to keep them from slipping off. I figured that we could accomplish the same thing with ours by running a shoelace under the sides of the Trax and across the tops of our boots.
At first I had thought that the problem with my wife's Trax was a size issue. A check of her Trax-clad boots showed that the Trax were stretched very tightly across the soles. Certainly they hadn't come off because they were too big.
More online research. Users reported that their Trax came off on sloping ground when they slid sideways, causing more pressure on one side of the boot/Trax than on the other. We also discovered that they come off in deep snow that has some resistance at the surface, caused by a coating of ice or the refreezing of partially-melted snow.
Will we continue to wear our YakTrax? Absolutely. We will just be more selective about the conditions in which we wear them. If there are lots of exposed ice surfaces on our walks, the Trax will serve us well. The shoestring trick solves the slipping-off problem.
The only issue remaining is smooth ice with snow cover. If that continues to be a significant problem, I'll need to take a look at spiked snow and ice cleats.
Questions? Comments? Please use the form below. I enjoy hearing from my readers!
Special request to all my readers: If this article looks funky on your monitor and various elements appear jumbled or run off the screen, please let me know. Many thanks!
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Springtime, Summertime, Autumn, Wintertime … Dreamtime: New Plants to ConsiderBy Larry Rettig (LarryR)
January 25, 2010
In this second installment of Springtime, Summertime, Autumn, Wintertime … Dreamtime, I invite you to join me in another activity of this "fifth season" that I celebrate every year in January and February.
In the past few days, I've been devoting much of my attention to an inch-thick file folder I've labeled "Plants to Acquire." The file has grown fat over the last couple of years as I add information on and photos of plants that have piqued my interest. If I allowed myself to purchase every plant I lust after, my plant budget would be depleted in short order! Instead, I limit myself to five plants from the folder each Dreamtime season. The plants are either new to the horticultural market or new to our gardens. Here are my choices for 2010:
Plant No. 1 | Hydrangea arborescens 'InvincibelleTM Spirit'
At the top of my list this year is a brand new Hydrangea available to gardeners for the first time: The lovely pink-flowered InvincibelleTM Spirit (photo top right) from the folks at Proven Winners. For those of us who garden in zones where the colorful macrophylla species never flowered, this is the most welcome colored hydrangea since the Endless Summer series (see column at right) of macrophylas came on the market over the past several years. InvincebelleTM stems from the old familiar white Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' and has the same guidelines for care. (Watch video)
Although I would most likely have decided to trial this hydrangea in our gardens in any case, there is a special incentive to do so, that has a connection to this plant's pink color. Proven Winners will donate $1.00 to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation for each InvincibelleTM Spirit sold. The goal is to raise $1,000,000 for breast cancer research. Wearing a pink lapel ribbon shows support for breast cancer awareness.
Plant No. 2 | Fraser's Sedge (Cymophyllus fraserianus)
Although sedges are technically not grasses, the garden-worthy ones are often grouped together with ornamental grasses. Like the grasses, sedges belong to a very large and widespread family. They generally prefer slightly acidic, moist soils or shallow water, but some get along quite well in drier soils.
Fraser's Sedge in flower
Fraser's Sedge (also known as Cymophyllus fraseri, Carex fraseriana, and Carex fraseri) is a terrestrial plant native to the Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. It prefers moist, rich, slightly acidic soil, but tolerates some drier sites as well. The dark green leaves (see photo) are evergreen, strap-shaped, and look like those of a small. supple-leaved yucca. As they age they tend to become somewhat floppy.
I like to choose at least one plant each year that is unusual and offers a challenge. One unusual aspect of Fraser's Sedge is its flowers. Most sedges have insignificant brownish blooms, but Fraser's are small, showy white pom-poms. They're quite unique in the world of flowers and are present from May through June.
The challenge presented by growing this plant in our gardens is threefold: 1) I garden close to the dividing line between Zones 5a and 5b. The original source I consulted said that Fraser's is hardy through Zone 5. Since then, I've come across sources that say it's only hardy from Zone 7 southward. I'll need to remember to mulch heavily as soon as the ground freezes. 2) It requires slightly acidic soil. Most of the soils in our gardens are more or less neutral at 7.0. I'll have to amend the planting site with an acidifier. 3) It prefers damp soil in a slightly shady area. While such an area exists in our gardens, it tends to dry out in summer during long dry spells, so I may have to sprinkle the area occasionally.
Plant No. 3 | Meadow Rue (Thalictrum filamentosum)
Thalictrum, which belongs to the family Ranunculaceae, is a genus of over 100 species of flowering plants. Commonly called Meadow Rue, thalictrums favor shaded or damp locations and are found throughout most of the Northern Hemisphere. A few are also native to areas of South America and southern Africa. Even though the individual flowers are smallish and often have no petals (just showy stamens), the inflorescence is quite impressive. The flowers appear in large, airy clusters on tall stalks in shades of pink, purple, yellow, or white.
Garden-worthy varieties include those in the column to the right. Note that Thalictrum rochebrunianum is a variety whose flowers do have petals (see inset). At the moment the only species growing in our gardens is T. aquilegifolium. As its species name implies, the leaves look like those of aquilegias (columbines). Their blue-green sheen adds interest, even when the plants are not in bloom. I've planted this species in among a mixed shrub border, where it gets the shade it needs, but also benefits from bright light.
Thalictrum filamentosum var. tenerum
In order to brighten up this shady border a bit more, I've decided to try a Meadow Rue that's new to me. I first read about it in The American Gardener, a magazine published by the American Horticultural Society. It's horticultural moniker is impossibly long: Thalictrum filamentosum var. tenerum Heronswood Form. The flowers are white (see photo at left) and without petals.
My attraction to this thalictrum is not only due to the white flowers, but to the fact that it's the longest blooming Meadow Rue available. The huge clouds of white last for three full months! If you'd like to give this plant a test drive, make sure that you get the Heronswood Form. It's named for famed plant hunter, Dan Hinkley's now defunct nursery in Kingston, Washington. The usual Thalictrum filamentosum has a much shorter blooming period.
Plant No. 4 | Oregon Grape Holly (Mahonia aquifolium)
Mahonia aquifolium is one of the Grape Hollies that's listed as hardy in Zone 5. Many are not. My reason for acquiring this plant has less to do with it's flowers (even though they bloom a lovely golden yellow in spring) than it does with its leaves. Grape Holly will provide an interesting source of greenery for arrangements during the winter. The only evergreens we currently have in our gardens are conifers.
I'm looking forward to using the holly-leaf lookalike in holiday arrangements, instead of having to buy holly sprigs from florists. Red berries to go with the pseudo-holly sprigs will come from deciduous Winterberry hollies that have graced our gardens for many years. Mahonias do have berries, but they're dark blue to almost black and don't show up well in arrangements.
Plant No. 5 | A Yellow Herbaceous Peony
I haven't quite decided which way I want to go with a yellow peony. Peonies are divided into two basic kinds: Herbaceous peonies (the bushy kind that has been a favorite in U.S. gardens as far back as colonial times) and Chinese tree peonies (deciduous shrubs with huge blossoms in many colors, including yellow). Yellow-flowered herbaceous peonies are quite rare, so many gardeners have turned to tree peonies for yellow flowers.
In 1948, Toichi Itoh of Tokyo, Japan, succeeded in making an intersectional cross. He crossed the tree peony P. x suffruticosa var. 'Alice Harding' with the herbaceous peony 'Kakoden'. The resulting seedlings were herbaceous, but exhibited some of the tree peony traits as well. He obtained six seedlings that were considered gardenworthy. Among them were the first herbaceous double-flowered peonies to have a true, deep yellow color. They represented a long-sought goal of both hybridizers and gardeners: to grow herbaceous yellow peonies.
In the interim, intersectional yellow peonies have been produced in the U.S. as well. The problem is that they're prohibitively expensive, with some plants selling for $200 or more. And that's my dilemma. I cannot in any way justify buying a yellow peony at that price! Yes, I could plant a yellow-flowering tree peony, but it's the unusual nature, the beauty, and history of the herbaceous intersectionals that I find alluring. Take a look (column to the right) at some of the gorgeous intersections being developed by breeder Don Smith.
Paeonia lactiflora 'Early Glow'
(Intersect.) Paeonia 'Yellow Crown'
Several days ago, I narrowed my choice to two peonies (at left), one being the traditional herbaceous kind and the other an intersectional. The traditional one is 'Early Glow' and sells for around $20. It starts out a pale yellow but unfortunately ages to a creamy white. The intersectional ones retain their beautiful rich yellow color.
I've been scouring the Internet as I write this article, trying to find what I would consider to be a reasonably priced yellow intersectional. So far I've unearthed 'Yellow Crown,' developed by Mr. Itoh, at Contrary Mary's Plants. It sells for $50, which appears to be quite a bargain in the context of the high prices commanded by intersectionals. I might just spring for it!
In my next "Dreamtime" article, I'll share with you some interesting reading I've been doing about the "new" German style of gardening.
Endless Summer Series
Endless Summer teatimer
Blushing Bride henryr10
T. aquilegifolium henryr10
T. pubescens Todd_Boland
T. glaucum Wikimedia
Intersectionals in the Making
Where to Find My Plants
Plant No. 1. Hydrangea 'InvincibelleTM Spirit'
Plant No. 2. Fraser's Sedge
Plant No 3. Meadow Rue
Plant No. 4. Oregon Grape Holly
Plant No. 5. Yellow Peonies
My heartfelt thanks to Don Smith, a well-known U.S. peony hybridizer working on developing new intersectional peonies. In the "Intersectionals in the Making" section above, he very generously gives us a sneak preview of seedlings he's currently evaluating for release. You can learn more about Don's work and see some more of his peonies--including named varieties like the one at the right--at:
http://www.intersectionalpeonies.com/ http://www.yellowpeoniesandmore.com/ http://www.paeonianewsletter.com/
A heartfelt thank you goes as well to Janice Limbaugh for the use of the photo above of the InvincibelleTM hydrangea. The photo is courtesy of Proven Winners ColorChoice.
Questions? Comments? Please use the form below. I enjoy hearing from my readers!
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Springtime, Summertime, Autumn, Wintertime … Dreamtime: State FlowersBy Larry Rettig (LarryR)
December 31, 2009
With the holidays just a pleasant memory and the year brand new, I look ahead to one more “season” before spring. I call it my dreamtime, sort of a fifth season that exists in my mind's eye and usually spans the months of January and February. During this time, nursery catalogs (both hard copy and online), gardening magazines, and gardening books take priority in my otherwise busy schedule. I drink in those alluring images of beautiful plants and flowers (and try to curb my impulse to order one of everything). It's a wonderful antidote for the wintertime blahs!
I explore avenues of horticulture that are new to me and think about the gardening year ahead. What new plants do I want to try? Will I have room to plant them? Do I want to redo any of the many beds in our gardens? Do I want to add new ones? Do I want to have any lawn left at all? What about an arbor or a trellis? Do I want to create that gravel garden I've been thinking about? Which garden bed will I give up if I do?
During the next several months, I'll share with you some of the ideas and plants that have occupied my dreamtime and that I've decided to pursue this year. In this first installment, I'm fulfilling a resolution that I've had for many years but have never followed through on: I'm going to plant my state flower in one of my beds.
USS Iowa silver service incorporates Iowa's state flower
Photo courtesy of The State Historical Society of Iowa
Iowa's state flower is the wild rose (see image above). In 1897 the Iowa Legislature designated this bone-hardy rose found throughout the state as the official state flower. Its image had recently been used to decorate the silver service presented by the state to the battleship USS Iowa, so it had already acquired an elevated stature in the minds of Iowa legislators.
The practice of gifting silver service to ships and their officers goes back in history to the time of the American Revolutionary War. The city of Boston at that time gave a tea service to both the USS Boston and the USS Constitution. (To go with the well-known tea party held there in 1773, perhaps?)
Which wild rose is it?
The Iowa Legislature didn't designate the rose by its horticultural name but simply called it "wild rose." There are actually three separate rose species growing wild in Iowa. They are Rosa blanda, R. arkansana, and R. carolina. It's extremely difficult to tell them apart unless you're a skilled horticulturist. They are shrubby, very similar in appearance, have single pink blossoms, and hybridize in the wild. All three are found along roadsides and in prairies, meadows, and open woodlands.
R. blanda is found primarily in the northern half of the state. It grows to four feet and blooms from June through August and sometimes into early September. The hips resemble small apples. R. arkansana is more widespread and somewhat shorter, growing up to three feet tall. It blooms in June only and is quite fragrant. R. carolina is found statewide, thrives in dry soil, is also quite fragrant, and is often under two feet tall.
All three roses served as food for Native Americans and pioneers. When other food sources were scarce, they ate the hips, flowers, and leaves. Wild rose hips continue to be an important source of food for Iowa wildlife.
Some state flowers have a quirky history
State flowers in Washington State and Montana are interwoven with women's suffrage. Long before women in the state of Washington and elsewhere were allowed to vote in national elections, they were given the sole right to vote on a state flower in 1892. More than 15,000 women voted--in voting booths--53% of whom cast their ballots for the Coast Rhododendron (See table below). In Montana, the Women's Christian Temperance Union lobbied the state legislature to establish a state flower. Legislators followed through in 1895, when both men and women in the state were allowed to vote for a state flower, the winner being Bitterroot (See table below).
The red carnation is another state flower with a political history. The Ohio state legislature chose it in 1904 to honor former President William McKinley, a native Ohioan who was assassinated in 1901. McKinley liked to wear red carnations in the buttonhole on the lapel of his jacket. (See table below and my article: Floral Cookery and Politics)
Maine's state "flower" is not a flower at all, and it's composed of two plant parts instead of just one: the white pine's tassel and its cone (See table below). What's more, neither one is a flower. Plants with flowers are classified as angiosperms and those with cones instead of flowers as gymnosperms. To be technically correct, Maine's state flower is actually a state gymnosperm. The pine's tassel is simply the growing tip on its branches.
The roots of Montana's state flower, Lewisia rediviva (See table below), were used by Native Americans as a sort of "trail mix." On the warpath and on hunting expeditions, braves took with them food patties made of a mixture of pulverized Lewisia root, deer fat and moss. A mere sackful of L. rediviva roots was so highly prized that it was often traded for a horse.
As with so many other things, Texas can claim that it's truly bigger when it comes to naming its state flower. It has five and counting! In 1901 the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in Texas recommended to the Texas Legislature that Lupinus subcarnosus, known as Bluebonnet or Buffalo Clover, be declared the state flower. It was made law that March with no known opposition. Soon afterward, though, dissatisfaction with the choice surfaced. L. subcarnosus was criticized as being too puny and much less showy than L. texensis, which was much more widespread and a favorite subject of artists. Off and on for the next 70 years, the Legislature was pressured to change the name of its flower to L. texensis. Not wanting to offend either side in this burning issue, legislators put off taking any action until 1971. In that year they named both Lupinus species as the state flower. In a very wise move, they also declared that "any other variety of bluebonnet not heretofore recorded" would be considered the state flower as well. That wisdom has served them well. In the interim, three more Bluebonnet species have been discovered and, due the to wording of the 1971 law, they have become the state flower as well (See table below).
Indiana had a particularly difficult time in coming up with a state floral emblem. It all began in 1913 with a Concurrent Resolution in the General Assembly, stating that the carnation was to be the state flower. Protests ensued because the carnation is not native anywhere in the state. On a second try, the General Assembly passed a resolution in 1923, naming the tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) blossom as the official state flower. Again there was discontent, this time because the flower is not at all showy. The third try unfortunately was not the charm either. In 1931 the flower was changed to the zinnia. Rumors began to spread that a certain grower of zinnia seed influenced the vote, but the zinnia was able to hang in there until 1957. In that year the General Assembly once more took up the thorny issue of the state flower. Citizens were anticipating the naming of the dogwood blossom, since that was the choice of a special Senate committee. That recommendation, however, was totally ignored by the legislative body which, instead, passed a resolution naming the peony as the state flower. Again there were rumors, this time that a certain peony grower, who also happened to be a state representative, had influenced the vote. So far the peony has held its own. It has now been the state flower for over 50 years (See table below).
Want to grow your state flower?
The table below lists the flower for each state and the year in which it was established as the state flower. Why not spring for a little floral patriotism this year and grow your state flower? Information on growing each flower is just a mouse click away.
(Click flower name for more info)
Rocky Mountain Columbine
Hawaiian Hibiscus (ma‘o hau hele)
Wild Prairie Rose
(Rosa blanda/Rosa arkansana/Rosa carolina)
White pine tassel and cone
Pink and white lady's slipper
Sister Violet, Wood/Common Violet
( Yucca spp.)
Wild Prairie Rose
(Rosa blanda/Rosa pratincola/Rosa arkansana)
(See my article: Floral Cookery and Politics)
(Lupinus texensis, L. subcarnosus, L. Havardii, L. concinnus, L. plattensis )
Paulwhwest 1901 & 1971
Sister Violet, Wood/Common Violet
Questions? Comments? Please use the form below. I enjoy hearing from my readers!
My thanks to my fellow DG members for the use of their photos
THE ROSE OF IOWA
Hast seen the wild rose of the West,
The sweetest child of morn ?
Its feet the dewy fields have pressed,
Its breath is on the corn.
The gladsome prairie rolls and sweeps
Like billows to the sea,
While on its breast the red rose keeps
The white rose company.
The wild, wild rose whose fragrance dear
To every breeze is flung,
The same wild rose that blossomed here
When Iowa was young.
O, sons of heroes ever wear
The wild rose on your shield,
No other flower is half so fair
In loves immortal field.
Let others sing of mountain snows,
Or palms beside the sea,
The state whose emblem is the rose
Is fairest far to me.
[Copyright applied for by S. H. M. Byers]
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
A Della Robbia Centerpiece for Your Holiday TableBy Larry Rettig (LarryR)
December 17, 2009
What is della Robbia and how is it connected with the holidays? Read on to find the answer and to learn how to craft a unique della Robbia arrangement.
Della Robbia refers to an artistic style that was characteristic of art produced by the fifteenth century Italian sculptor Luca della Robbia (1400-1482) and other members of his family. As a decorative element in borders, their artwork incorporated various fruits, usually oranges, apples, pears, and grapes. This fruit motif eventually found its way into live arrangements, primarily garlands and wreaths. Such creations became known simply as "della Robbia."
In the U.S. della Robbia found expression in the Colonial Revival movement of the early 20th Century. An article in a 1926 issue of House Beautiful, for example, states: "Of late years, besides the staple wreaths of plain greens to which we have long been accustomed, the holiday's emblems have blossomed forth--or perhaps we should say fruited forth--with richness of color produced by the use of either natural or artificial fruit as an embellishment. This idea was undoubtedly suggested by the gorgeous Italian carvings and terra cottas of the Renaissance..."
Perhaps the most familiar expression of della Robbia today is found in Williamsburg, Virginia, during the holiday season. In the late 1930s, Mrs. Louise Fisher was in charge of flowers and Christmas decorations in Williamsburg and hit upon the idea of incorporating fresh fruit into the ordinary evergreen wreaths and swags of past Christmases, à la the Italian della Robbia artwork. Until that time, della Robbia decoration was limited primarily to well-to-do families. So popular was this new Williamsburg decorating style that visitors by the thousands flocked there with cameras in hand, snapping photos to use back home to craft their own della Robbia creations. In the succeeding decades, this della Robbia craze spawned dozens of how-to books, workshops, videos, and television demonstrations. The art form remains popular today.
I have to confess that several years ago I was smitten with della Robbia myself. Rather than work with wreaths, roping, or swags, I decided to create a table centerpiece instead (see result at top right of article above). Here is how I did it:
Tools I Used
Portable jigsaw Wire cutter pliers
Pencil and scissors
Wood: 5 pieces pine; 1 piece 1/2" plywood*
Corrugated cardboard (at least 15" square)
Finishing nails (2.5" long) and string
Wood screws (1.25" long)
Floral stem wire (18 gauge)
Short-needled evergreen sprigs
*Pine: 1.5 X 1.5" square; plywood at least 15" square
Step 1 | Gather tools and materials
All materials I used for the basic arrangement are recycled, except for the fruit. Once the centerpiece begins to deteriorate, I'll recycle the fruit as well, feeding it to the birds--either by simply setting the complete arrangement outside or by cutting fruit up and putting it in a feeder . The wood came from scraps left over from prior remodeling projects, the old window screen from our 109-year-old home, the cardboard from various shipments I've received, the finishing nails and screws from an old centerpiece arrangement, the floral stem wire from prior decorative projects, and the Fraser Fir greens from trimmings at the base of this year's Christmas tree.
If you need to purchase items, you can find the first five in any home improvement store. Floral stem wire is available at most florist shops, greens are stocked at most garden centers at this time of year, and the fruit is available at your favorite market or supermarket.
Step 2 | Prepare materials
Cut four of the five 1.5" X 1.5" wood pieces to a length of 18.5". You can do this at home if you have a hand-, table-, or electric hand saw, but home improvement stores and lumber yards will generally cut the wood to size for you if you buy it there. Cut the remaining piece to a length of 17.5". Next, cut one end of each of the 18.5' pieces at an angle as illustrated in the on the right-hand image of the graphic at left below. To make your guideline for the cut, measure downward 4.5" from the top end along the right-hand edge of the piece and make a pencil mark at the right-hand edge. Take one of the other wood pieces or a ruler and place it at the top of the left-hand edge and align it with the pencil mark you made. Draw the line along the edge of the ruler or wood piece. Cut along the line with a saw or have a salesperson cut it for you at the store. Repeat for each of the three remaining pieces.
Find the approximate center of your piece of plywood and mark it with a pencil. Measure from that point to each of the edges of the plywood to make sure that you've got at least 15" of wood from the center to the edge. With a hammer, pound a nail into the center spot you marked. Cut a piece of string to a length of about 18" and fold it in half. Tie the two ends together so that the resulting loop is about 7.5" long. Slip the loop over the nail and insert the pencil in the loop. Move the pencil toward the edge of the wood until the string is taut. Keep the string taut and move the pencil forward. You are now drawing a 15" circle on the wood. Remove the nail. With a portable jigsaw, cut out the circle. Using as a guide one of the wood pieces you cut earlier (the middle piece in the illustration below), draw a line through the center hole of the wood circle, so that it bisects the circle. Draw another bisecting line perpendicular to it (see illustration below).
Using your wooden circle as a pattern, place it on the cardboard and trace around it with the pencil. Cut the circle out of the cardboard with a sturdy pair of scissors or kitchen shears.
Cut four pieces of screen to size with the wire cutter pliers, using the measurements in the illustration at right.
NOTE: For larger versions of the illustrations, click HERE.
Step 3 | Assemble materials
Drill a hole into the center of one end of the 17.5" wood piece. The hole should be somewhat smaller than the diameter of the screw shaft. Insert one of the screws into the hole made by the nail on the plywood circle. Using the appropriate screwdriver bit in the drill, drive the screw into the hole so that the tip just barely comes out on the other side. Place the circle atop the 17.5" piece of wood so that the screw tip fits into the hole you made with the drill. Drive the screw into the piece. Turn the result upright, taking care to support the wood piece.
Take each of the four 18.5" pieces, placing them on your work surface so that the angled end faces down, and hammer finishing nails into the top side of each piece. Slant the nails slightly upward as you hammer. The nails should penetrate the wood almost to the bottom side of the piece. (If you're concerned that the wood might split when you hammer in the nails, drill a small hole for each nail first.) Hammer at least four nails into each piece, placing them where you might want to position a piece of fruit. If there are unused nails once you've positioned the fruit, you can simply cover them with greens or with other decorations such as pine cones.
Next, make sure that the wood piece in the center of the circle is positioned so that each side faces one of the circle's four lines. It will be the column that supports the four tapered pieces (see illustration below). Attach the tapered ends of the four pieces to the center support with screws, drilling a small hole for each screw first. The non-tapered end of each piece should rest at the outer edge of the circle, centered on the line that runs from the center of the circle to the outer edge. Drill holes and affix the ends with srcews. The basic form for the arrangement is now complete.
Taking each one of the screen pieces in turn, attach them to the form with the stapler. Position the narrow top of the screen at the top of the form so that it sticks out over the top about 3/4" and that the left- and right-hand sides run down the middle of the tapered pieces. There should be enough screen at the bottom, so that you can tuck it under the circle and staple it underneath. Attach the overlapping top of the screen to the top of the form. Work your way down the form, attaching first the left-hand side of the screen and then moving over to the next tapered wood piece to attach the right-hand side. Wherever you encounter nails, cut a small slit in the screen with the pliers and slip the screen over the nail. After all the screens are attached, hammer a nail in upright position into the top of the form, lay the form on its side, and attach the cardboard circle to the bottom of the wood circle. This covers the raw ends of the screen so that they won't catch on a tablecloth or mar the surface of a table.
Step 4 | Decorate form
Attach fruit to the form by impaling it on the nails in any pattern you find pleasing. Once the fruit is in place, you can begin filling in with greens, starting at the top of the form and working toward the base. It's important to use greens with small needles (or leaves) so that they don't overpower the fruit. Attach sprigs of greens with floral wire pins cut to size from the stem wire with the wire cutter pliers. Cut stem wire into 3" or so pieces. Bend each piece in half to form a pin. Position the pin over the bottom end of the evergreen sprig and push the pin down onto the sprig and into the screen to secure it. Overlap sprigs to hide pins and create a fuller appearance to the arrangement. To fill in with greens over the wood supports, use the glue gun to affix them to the screen.
You can leave your arrangement plain (see photo at top right of article) or decorate it with anything that strikes your fancy. I've decorated this particular arrangement with holiday ribbons (below center) and later decided to add some small pine cones, juniper berries, and small bird houses as well (below right). The bird houses came with stems attached (called "picks"), so all I had to do was push the stem into the screen and bend it so that the house was in an upright position. I attached the ribbon with floral wire pins and the pine cones and juniper berries with the glue gun.
A note about Styrofoam (polystyrene): It's tempting to use a large Styrofoam cone, because it's so much easier than building the somewhat complex form I've just described. I've found that some cones are unstable. Having too small a base to support the weight of the fruit, they become top-heavy and have a tendency to topple. Heavy fruit on the end of a nail also needs good support, which Styrofoam doesn't always provide. My concern is that at some point the support may fail, causing the fruit to tumble from the arrangement. The same problem sometimes occurs with floral wire pins in Styrofoam. And, for all practical purposes, used Styrofoam cones cannot be recycled in the U.S. The form I've described is very sturdy and stable and can be used over and over for many years to come.
Questions? Comments? Please scroll down to the form below. I enjoy hearing from my readers!
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
A Garden Like no OtherBy Larry Rettig (LarryR)
This is the time of year when thoughts turn to colder weather. Gardens (and gardeners) hunker down for the coming winter. Outbreaks of cold air swoop down from the Arctic, that land of perpetual ice and snow...
Located at almost 70 degrees north, 217 miles inside the Arctic Circle, the Arctic-Alpine Botanic Garden in Tromsø is by far the northernmost botanical garden in the world (see map at end of article). But it's not forever snow- and ice-bound. A branch of the Gulf Stream sweeps along the coast of northern Norway and imparts a moderating influence on the weather.
The warmer Gulf waters provide the city of Tromsø and its environs with relatively mild winters, the average winter high hovering around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Snow generally accumulates from October to April and usually has melted by mid-May. Summers are cool, with average highs in the mid-50s.
Daylight is another important weather factor for gardens this far north. From mid-May until the end of July, the sun never sets completely. Theoretically, the potential hours of sunshine during this period is 680. That number is mitigated by cloudy weather, so the actual average is about 200 hours. However, even when it's cloudy, there is still daylight, which has a positive impact on plants. Not only do they grow more rapidly than their counterparts further south, but their blossoms tend to be larger and, thanks to the cool temperatures, the colors are much brighter.
The Garden opened in 1994 and is located on the grounds of an old farmstead that covers about four acres. In 1947 the last owner of the farm willed it to Troms County, in which Tromsø is located. Today this acreage houses the Garden, the Tromsø Museum, and most of the University of Tromsø. The Garden is open to the public from late May to early October. There is no entrance fee.
Arctic and alpine plants from all over the Northern and Southern Hemispheres inhabit the Garden, but many other species more familiar to gardeners in temperate regions of the world have found a happy home here as well. Among them are buttercups, campanulas, columbines, crocuses, various herbs, ligularias, lilies, pinks, primulas, and rhododendrons.
The thousands of species and cultivars that the Garden displays are arranged by geographic area and grouped by botanical association. Helping to divide and separate the various plant collections are gravel paths, rocky outcroppings, and other natural elements of the terrain. A unique feature, not found in other botanical gardens, marries botany with geology. All types of naturally occurring rock are identified with markers. Even the Garden entrance is surrounded by labeled rock specimens and interpretive signs.
While it's not possible to take you on a real live tour of the garden--and even then it would be covered by a blanket of snow at this time of year--I'll do the next best thing and give you a brief photo tour. On your right is a series of photos from the various garden areas. Below is some more information about Tromsø and links to information about plants named in this article.
Founded in 1794, Tromsø, with a population of about 60,000, is often called "the gateway to the Arctic." It's here that many explorers and adventurers have launched expeditions to the North Pole. Not only is it home to the northernmost botanical garden, but also to a university, a brewery, and a cathedral situated farther north than any others in the world.
Much of the city, including the downtown area, is located on a small island in the Tromsø harbor. The Tromsø Bridge connects the island to the mainland.
Downtown Tromsø is known for its large number of wooden buildings, the oldest dating from 1789. The most famous downtown landmark, though, is the Arctic Cathedral, built in 1965. It was designed by Jan Inge Hovig and is often called "the opera house of Norway," in reference to the famous Opera House in Sydney, Australia.
Established in 1968, the University of Tromsø is one of seven universities in Norway and the largest in north Norway. Its location makes it a natural for studying the local environment and the region's culture and society. Specific research areas include the Arctic environment, biotechnology, space science, fishery science, multi-cultural societies, social medicine, and auroral light studies.
Tromsø is also noted for its central location in the Northern Lights Zone. It's one of the best places in the world to observe the Aurora Borealis. This exotic and well-known phenomenon forms about 60 miles high in the sky and is due to electrons colliding with air particles and lighting them up.
Because of the Earth's rotation, the lights are visible from about 6:00 PM until around midnight and then only between August and April, when there is darkness. There is too much daylight during the rest of the year.
For more information on the plants mentioned in this article, please click on the plant name in the list below:
Saxifraga x arendsii
It is with much gratitude that I thank Kristian Nyvoll, Arctic-Alpine Botanic Garden, for his generosity in offering spectacular photos free of charge from his own personal collection and from the collections of colleagues Brynhild Mørkved and Martin Hajman.
Initial garden photo courtesy of Brynhild Mørkved
Bridge photo, cathedral photo, university photo, northern lights photo and Tromsø in snow photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Thanks to Hanneke Luijting for her beautiful perpetual night photo
Questions? Comments? Please scroll down to the form below. I enjoy hearing from my readers!.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Three Distinctive Wreaths You Can Make for the Holidays(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 6, 2008. We hope you enjoy it as we count down to Christmas.)
Let's get started by taking a look at the straw base that we'll be using for all three wreaths. I typically use straw as opposed to styrofoam because it's easier to work with. Straw is flexible and holds firmly pins and stems pushed into it, often without having to use glue, while styrofoam does not.
We'll be using lots of pins, so straw is by far the better choice for these wreaths. To make the pins, we'll use 18 gauge floral stem wire, which usually come in 18-inch lengths. To prepare for our wreath project, cut the wire into 4-inch lengths. Bend each length in half, so that it looks like a U-shaped hairpin. We'll need about 50 pins, most for the two club moss wreaths, some for the Victorian bow wreath. You can make the pins before you start the project or as you go along.
Tools You'll Need
Wire cutter pliers
The glue gun and the pliers are self explanatory. A small hammer comes in handy if you have trouble pushing a pin all the way into the base. Tap the top of the pin with the hammer to drive it all the way in. The awl is another problem solver. To push stems into the base without breaking them, make a path for the stem by inserting the awl first and then pushing the stem gently down into the hole left by the awl. The straw is flexible and will come back together to close the hole after you've inserted the stem.
Materials needed: 12-inch diameter straw wreath base, dyed Club Moss* (Lycopodium clavatum), styrofoam 1-inch thick, 18-gauge floral stem wire, floral wire pins, wrapping paper, tiny bows, assorted small santas
Directions: Begin by arranging the santas on a flat surface until you find an arrangement that you like. Start with the larger santas and fill in with smaller ones. Transfer santas to wreath base, gluing each one in place with your glue gun. Wrap small blocks of styrofoam with wrapping paper and bows. Fill in spaces around santas with packages, leaving some room to add the moss, and attach with glue gun. Attach small overlapping bunches of moss to wreath with floral wire pins. Push pins firmly into base to hold moss in place.
*You may substitute small-needled evergreens, either fresh or artificial.
Materials needed: 12-inch diameter straw wreath base, angel hair, white bows, small gold bells, small gold angels, stringed gold "pearls," dried lavender sprigs or other fragrant herb (optional)*.
Directions: Remove angel hair from packaging and tease by pulling it apart both lengthwise and widthwise until it thins to the point where some of it is "see-through." Attach one end of strand to side of wreath with wire pins and work your way around wreath, anchoring hair to base with pins as you go. Strive for a billowy, ethereal effect, but try to keep the basic round shape of the wreath so that it doesn't look lopsided. Weave pearl string over and under hair and around the back of the base, attaching with pins as you go. Glue ribbons and bells to base.
*Attach to wreath with pins before proceeding with other directions
Materials needed: 12-inch diameter straw wreath base, 3 dark purple bows with lace edging, 3 plain white lace bows, small purple strawflowers, green velvet leaves, pine cones (I used white pine), dried double (it's showier than single-flowered) baby's breath
Directions: Arrange bows as pictured and attach to wreath with glue. Attach pine cones, stem side down and evenly spaced, with glue. Glue strawflowers to base, primarily around the inside of wreath. Glue leaves to base, with base of leaf tucked in under flower, using 2-3 leaves per blossom. Fill in with baby's breath. Attach with pins and/or glue.
If you prefer, you can substitute any color of your choice for bows and strawflowers.
A final touch: To make a hanger on the back of your wreath, stand it up on your work surface and decide where the top of the wreath will be. Directly behind the top, insert one of the pins you made, straight into the back and parallel to your work surface. Leave an inch or so of the pin exposed. Bend the pin up toward the top of the wreath so that it forms a right angle to the part that you inserted. Secure the hanger with a dab of glue where the legs of the pin go into the straw. Now you're ready to hang your wreath!
Photo credits: Tree immediate right by Sharran (Sharon Brown)
Wreath far right by critterologist (Jill Nicolaus)
Where to find it
Straw wreath base: Craft stores, online here
Club moss/other greens: Club moss is very difficult to find and is not always available. (I couldn't find a supplier the last time I tried to get some.) Craft stores generally have artificial greens and floral shops should have fresh greens at this time of year.
Floral stem wire: Craft stores and florists, online here
Bows: Craft stores, garden centers, party supply stores, or make your own (instructions here)
Santas: Craft stores, garden centers, big box /discount stores
Gold bells: Craft stores, garden centers, online here
Gold angels: Craft stores, garden centers, big box/discount stores, online here
Gold "pearl" string: Craft stores, garden centers, big box/discount stores
Angel hair (spun glass): Not all that common, some craft stores carry it; available online here
Strawflowers: Craft stores, garden centers, online here
Green velvet leaves: Craft stores, online here and here
Pine cones: Craft stores, garden centers, online here and here
Double-flowered baby's breath: Craft stores, garden centers, online here
Your own garden may be a source for some of these materials.
Here are two links to lists of articles crafted by my fellow writers at Dave's Garden, generated by a search on "Holiday" and on "Christmas." Below these is also a link to selected articles that pertain specifically to holiday crafts that may be of interest to you.
~Selected holiday craft articles~
Questions or comments? Please use the form below or D-mail me directly. I enjoy hearing from my readers.
© Larry Rettig 2008
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Wit and Wisdom: Gardening Commentary Through the AgesBy Larry Rettig (LarryR)
November 21, 2009
By necessity, by proclivity, and by delight, we all quote.--Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Why are quotations so popular? "They often convey an important, witty idea or thought relevant to a conversation or topic in succinct, possibly memorable or historic words, often honoring a tradition, well-proven fact or an individual. They are also often used to support, oppose or present an entirely different view of a situation in a humorous light or pridefully used in an attempt to bolster one's credentials as to being knowledgeable."--Yahoo Answers
I'd like to share with you some of my favorites. I've arranged them in categories, with each category representing some basic aspect of gardening.
Gardening is not a rational act. What matters is the immersion of the hands in the earth, that ancient ceremony of which kissing the tarmac is merely a pallid vestigial remnant.--Margaret Attwood
Speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee.--Anonymous
Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet.--Kahlil Gibran
I find that a real gardener is not one who cultivates flowers, but one who cultivates the soil.--Karel Capek
Soil . . . scoop up a handful of the magic stuff. Look at it closely. What wonders it holds as it lies there in your palm.--Stuart Maddox Masters
To dig in one's own earth, with one's own spade, does life hold anything better?--Beverly Nichols
Everywhere water is a thing of beauty gleaming in the dewdrop, singing in the summer rain.-- John Ballantine Gough
Every dewdrop and raindrop had a whole heaven within it.-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Filthy water cannot be washed.--African proverb
How beautiful is the rain!
After the dust and the heat,
In the broad and fiery street,
In the narrow lane,
How beautiful is the rain!
--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
To garden in the rain: irresistible fragrances and fresh air.--Michael P. Garofalo
The earth has received the embrace of the sun and we shall see the results of that love.--Hunkesni (Sitting Bull)
Innumerable as the stars of night, or stars of morning, are dewdrops which the sun impearls on every leaf and every flower.--John Milton
In the garden, my soul is sunshine.--Author unknown
The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.--Galileo
Give me the splendid, silent sun, with all his beams full dazzling.--Walt Whitman
Plants cry their gratitude for the sun in green joy.--Astrid Alauda
To garden is to open your heart to the sky. The grandest view from the garden is the open sky.--Author unknown
The pleasant air and wind, with sacred thoughts do feed my serious mind. --Rowland Watkyns
The wind blows hard among the pines toward the beginning of an endless past.--Shinikichi Takahashi
The substance of the winds is too thin for human eyes, their written language is too difficult for human minds, and their spoken language mostly too faint for the ears.--John Muir
It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men's hearts, as for that...quality of air that emanates from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.--Robert Louis Stevenson
If seeds in the black earth can turn into such beautiful roses, what might not the heart of man become in its long journey toward the stars?--G.K. Chesterton
This very act of planting a seed in the earth has in it to me something beautiful. I always do it with a joy that is largely mixed with awe.--Celia Thaxter
I left a packet of seeds in my pocket and my coat turned into a Chia jacket.--Author unknown
The love of gardening is a seed that once sown never dies.--Gertrude Jekyll
A good gardener always plants 3 seeds - one for the bugs, one for the weather and one for himself.--Leo Aikman
Flowers and fruit are only the beginning. In the seed lies the life and the future.--Marion Zimmer Bradley
The actual flower is the plant's highest fulfillment, and is not here exclusively for herbaria, county floras and plant geography: it is here first of all for delight.--John Ruskin
I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.--Claude Monet
Each flower is a soul opening out to nature.--Gerald De Nerval
Where flowers bloom so does hope.--Lady Bird Johnson
The earth laughs in flowers.--Ralph Waldo Emerson
I didn't know what narcissism was until I beheld my own naricssus.--Charles Kuralt
I'd rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck.--Emma Goldman
Let my words, like vegetables, be tender and sweet, for tomorrow I may have to eat them.--Author Unknown
At night, you will be able to hear the ground quake as more and more zucchinis erupt.--Dave Barry
If life deals you tomatoes, make Bloody Marys.--Author unknown
I do not like broccoli. And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli.--George H. W. Bush
In the night the cabbages catch at the moon, the leaves drip silver, the rows of cabbages are a series of little silver waterfalls in the moon.--Carl Sandburg
Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within reach of every hand.--Mother Teresa
You've got to go out on a limb sometimes because that's where the fruit is.--Will Rogers
I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.--Abraham Lincoln
Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.--Groucho Marx
Balance, peace, and joy are the fruit of a successful life. It starts with recognizing your talents and finding ways to serve others by using them.--Thomas Kinkade
Acting in 'Star Wars' felt like a raisin in a giant fruit salad; I didn't even know who the cantaloupes were.--Mark Hamill
For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver.--Martin Luther
The tree is more than first a seed, then a stem, then a living trunk, and then dead timber. The tree is a slow, enduring force straining to win the sky.--Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
You can live for years next door to a big pine tree, honored to have so venerable a neighbor, even when it sheds needles all over your flowers or wakes you, dropping big cones onto your deck at still of night.--Denise Levertov
Of all the wonders of nature, a tree in summer is perhaps the most remarkable; with the possible exception of a moose singing "Embraceable You" in spats.--Woody Allen
Questions? Comments? Please scroll down to the form below. I enjoy hearing from my readers!
All images are courtesy of Wikimedia unless otherwise indicated. Thanks to Catherine Ursula Johnson for the wilted flower photo.
Did you know?
If you enjoy gardening-related quotes, check out the daily fun random quote on the DG home page.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Who in the World is Philipp Franz Balthasar von Siebold?By Larry Rettig (LarryR)
November 09, 2009
Mystery, forbidden romance, intrigue: Philipp F. B. von Siebold’s life story has it all.
Even if you're not keen about knowing the botanical names of the plants you grow, chances are you've run across a plant name with sieboldii or sieboldiana in it (think hostas). That plant came to Europe and the rest of the Western World thanks to von Siebold.
This is the third in an informal series of articles I'm writing on under appre-ciated or little-known gardeners who deserve our appreciation and who increase our knowledge and enjoyment of a gardener's life.
Known primarily for his work as a physician and plant explorer, von Siebold was born February 17, 1796, in Würzburg, Germany. His early life was filled with educational pursuits, following in the footsteps of other male members in his family. At the University of Würzburg he studied medicine, but also had a keen interest in horticulture. Upon reading the books of Alexander von Humboldt, a fellow countryman who was a famous naturalist and explorer, his already strong desire for traveling to far-away lands grew even stronger. Von Siebold earned his M.D. in 1820 and set up a medical practice in Heidingsfeld, Germany, now part of the city of Würzburg.
Wanderlust won in the end, however. By 1822 he was already in the Netherlands looking for an entrée into the wider world. Knowing that the Dutch traveled frequently to their colonies throughout the world, he entered Dutch military service on June 19, 1822. Soon thereafter he was appointed ship's doctor on the frigate Adriana on a voyage from Rotterdam to Batavia (present-day Djakarta) in the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia). After a very long time at sea, he arrived there on February 18, 1823.
Once in Batavia, he impressed the governor-general Baron Van der Capellen as well as the head of the Batavia botanical garden, Caspar Georg Carl Reinwardt, with his considerable scholarly knowledge. As a result, he was invited to become a member of the Batavian Academy of Arts and Science. Following quickly on the heels of that appointment, the governor-general assigned von Siebold to a Dutch trading outpost on the island of Dejima in the harbor of Nagasaki, Japan.
PLANTS NAMED IN HONOR OF VON SIEBOLD
Auganthus cortisoides ‘Sieboldii'
Clematis florida 'Sieboldii'
Hosta okamii sieboldii
Magnolia sieboldii), also known as Oyama Magnolia
Von Siebold arrived at Dejima during the Japanese era of "Sakoku," where no foreigner could enter nor could any Japanese leave the country on penalty of death. Dejima served as a sort of "quarantine" area where a limited number of foreigners were allowed and where the Dutch had set up a trading company. It was the only place in Japan where Japanese and foreigners could mingle. Even so, the Dutch were usually required to remain at their outpost and not circulate around the island.
Anxious to learn about Japanese society and to leave his imprint on local medical practices, von Siebold invited Japanese scientists from the mainland to show them the marvels of western science. After curing a local and influential official of an unknown malady, von Siebold won permission to leave the trading post enclave. He made the most of this opportunity, treating Japanese patients on the island and studying the local flora.
As his reputation and influence grew, von Siebold was allowed to take a mistress, Kusumoto Taki, but was forbidden to marry her. In 1827 Kusumoto gave birth to their daughter, Oine. Von Siebold used to call his partner "Otakusa" and, as a result of his plant expeditions on the island, named a hydrangea after her. Through later efforts of her father, Oine became the first Japanese woman to have received a physician's training and became a very popular and highly-regarded physician in Japan.
Von Siebold's penchant for exploring the mysterious led to his efforts to gain access to the mainland. What strange and exotic new plants would he find there? What new customs and artifacts?
Meanwhile, he continued to draw well-educated Japanese scholars to his home in the Dutch compound. There he set up a medical school with 50 students who were actually appointed by the Shogun, a real coup for von Siebold in his efforts gain favor with Japanese officials. The students also helped him with his botanical studies, gathering horticultural specimens and making drawings of them. The Dutch language became the common spoken language at the school for all academic and scholarly pursuits.
Von Siebold amassed as much plant material as he could, starting a botanical garden behind his home where he grew over 1,000 native plants. During his stay, he sent three large shipments of herbarium specimens to Leiden, Ghent, Brussels and Antwerp.
Things began to unravel a bit when his sometimes arrogant behavior eventually led to serious conflict with his Dutch superiors. These conflicts culminated in his being recalled back to Batavia in July 1827. As fate would have it, the ship sent to carry von Siebold back to Batavia was damaged by a typhoon in Nagasaki Bay. The same storm wreaked havoc on Dejima, destroying most of von Siebold's botanical garden. Once repaired, the ship set sail for Batavia with 89 crates of von Siebold's salvaged botanical collection and, interestingly, without von Siebold.
In the year following the recall fiasco, von Siebold finally was allowed onto the mainland and set out on a journey to Edo (now Tokyo), the seat of the Japanese government. During this extended trip he collected many plants, but he also talked the court astronomer, Takahashi Kageyasu, into giving him several detailed maps of Japan and Korea. Such an act was strictly forbidden by the Japanese government. The Japanese soon discovered that von Siebold not only had in his possession the maps from Kageyasu, but had secretly copied maps of northern parts of Japan. The government charged him with high treason and with being a spy for Russia.
On October 22, 1829, the Japanese ordered von Siebold into house arrest, imprisoned all of von Siebold's known students, searched his house numerous times, and confiscated all objects that he might try to export illegally. He was successful in hiding some of the most essential manuscripts, books and maps. That was not the case, however, with the many prized items he had in storage elsewhere on the island. Everything was confiscated and he was ordered expelled from Japan for the rest of his life.
Forced to leave Kusumoto and Oine behind, he journeyed back on the frigate Java to his former residence in Batavia, bringing with him another enormous collection of plants. The botanical garden he so enjoyed during his previous stay in Batavia soon housed all of von Siebold's surviving, living flora collection, about 2,000 plants. After a short stay, he departed for the Netherlands, arriving there in July of 1830. His stay in Japan and Batavia had lasted eight years.
Von Siebold first introduced to Europe such familiar garden plants as the hosta and Hydrangea otaksa. Unknown to the Japanese, he had also smuggled out seeds of tea plants to plant in the botanical garden in Batavia. Through this single act, he had founded a tea culture in Java. Within three years, Java already boasted a half million tea plants. Until then Japan had had a monopoly on tea plants and had strictly guarded against their export.
Taking with him the major part of his collection, von Siebold settled in Leiden. It contained many species and was the earliest botanical collection from Japan to be found anywhere in Europe. To this very day, it remains a great resource for ongoing research, a testimony to the depth and breadth of the work undertaken by von Siebold. It contains about 12,000 specimens and was purchased for a handsome sum by the Dutch government. In addition, von Siebold was granted a generous annual allowance by Dutch King William II and was appointed to the position of Advisor to the King of Japanese Affairs.
In 1835 von Siebold published the bulk of his highly acclaimed Flora Japonica in collaboration with German botanist Joseph Gerhard Zuccarini. The work was not completed until 1870, after von Siebold's death. Flora Japonica cemented von Siebold's scientific fame, not only in Japan, but in all of Europe as well. From the botanical gardens of Leiden, von Siebold's plants spread to all of Europe and beyond. Varieties of hostas, azaleas, Petasites, coltsfoot, and Japanese larches began to inhabit gardens across the world.
Ironically, though he is well known in Japan yet today (Japanese tourists flock to Leiden to view any and all things von Siebold, and he is mentioned in Japanese school books), he is almost unknown to modern-day Dutch, Germans, or Americans. The only exception is those gardeners who happen to know the story behind the many plants with the species names sieboldii and sieboldiana. And now you can count yourself among those gardeners.
ENDNOTE: Von Siebold eventually moved back to Germany, married, and had a son. In 1859 the ban on his return to Japan was lifted. He revisited Japan as a representative of the Netherlands Trading Company, but his stay lasted only two years. Being anything but a diplomat, he again aroused the ire of his employer and was sent back home to Germany. His attempts to be reappointed in 1863 as a Dutch representative in Japan were rebuffed. He died three years later.
Von Siebold honored his commitment to his Japanese family, corresponding with Kusumoto and Oine and making arrangements for their support. Kusumoto eventually married a fellow countryman and Oine, as already mentioned, became a respected physician
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Pine Needle Acidity: Myth or reality?By Larry Rettig (LarryR)
"Oh! You want to be careful with those pine needles," a garden visitor once warned me, as he spied the mulch in my salvia bed. "It'll bring your soil pH down to where it's too acid for those salvias."
I assured him that pine needles are not a problem as far as acidifying the soil is concerned. When he persisted, I changed the subject. I knew from past experience that this gardening myth was so deeply ingrained in garden lore that with some gardeners there was nothing I could say would cause them to change their minds.
I do hope, however, to convince the majority of my readers that this is indeed a myth and to offer a few tips along the way for using mulch and, in particular, "pine straw," the usual term for pine needles used as mulch.
The most convincing fact for me is right there in that bed of salvia. When I started the bed over 20 years ago, the soil in it tested at a pH of 7.0. This is the ideal soil pH, because so many plants do well at this level, which is neither acid nor alkaline. The exceptions are acid-loving plants such as azaleas, camellias, and blueberries and alkaline-loving plants such as cosmos, daylily, and foxglove (see also table at right below). I've mulched the bed with pine straw for every one of those 20 years. Today, especially for this article, I measured the pH again. The meter registered at 7.0, exactly where it was when I started the bed so many years ago.
Here are some other facts to consider:
Pine straw in itself is slightly acidic at 6.0 - 6.5.
Normal rain water tests at 5.6.
So why hasn't the soil at a pH of 7.0 in the salvia bed become more acid?
Soil is not a static medium. Its components react with one another. In the case of rain water and pine straw, those interactions have a neutralizing effect on their initial acidity.
Research by others, more carefully and scientifically done than my experiment with the salvia bed, shows both small increases and small decreases in soil pH from using various mulches such as oak leaves, pine straw, and shredded cedar. However, the changes were so minuscule that they were totally insignificant, and there was no negative impact on plant health.
Another issue sometimes raised in the pine-straw-as-mulch debate is that of terpenes in the needles. Terpenes are chemical molecules said to retard germination and new growth. Since I don't mulch seed beds and use pine straw only in established beds, retardation of germination is a good thing. It helps to keep weed seeds from germinating.
The terpene effect turns out to be short-lived. Terpenes dissolve readily in water and dissipate into the air, leaving behind only trace amounts that may discourage germination but certainly don't harm established plants. By the time pine needles are brown and dry, most of the terpenes have evaporated. Once that wonderful pine fragrance has gone out of the needles, so have the terpenes, the source of that fragrance.
So why is pine straw a good mulch? Let me count the ways:
1. It lasts a long time. Pine straw doesn't float and wash away. It breaks down more slowly, so it doesn't need to be reapplied as often as other mulches.
2. It's lightweight, lighter per cubic foot than most other mulches. The bales are easy to carry and offer more coverage for the equivalent weight of other mulches.
3. It's sustainable. No trees are harvested to produce it.
4. It promotes soil health. The soil breathes better, doesn't compact, and allows for better water infiltration with pine straw than with other mulches.
5. It promotes plant health. It's decomposition adds organic material and nutrients to be taken up by plants.
6. Its uniform color and fine texture is visually appealing.
7. It doesn't attract termites.
8. It's easy to apply.
For me personally there is a no. 9 reason or perhaps I should make it the number one reason I use pine straw. It's free! I'm fortunate to have free access to a nearby source. If you'd like to try pine straw, but don't have any pine trees on your property, scout around to see who does. If you don't mind being a bit forward, ask the owner/owners if they use their pine straw. If not, or if they have a surplus, ask if you may stop by to collect some.
Other sources for pine straw include your local nursery or garden center. Pine straw is generally sold in bales. The needles in the bales are compacted. When you untie a bale, you'll be amazed at how much the needles expand and how much coverage a single bale will provide. Failing local sources, you can also find pine straw online. Here are a few sources: By the box, By the bale, By the bale.
And the larger question: Why mulch at all?
At this time of year (fall) my number one reason to mulch is the prevention of alternate freezing and thawing of the soil between now and spring. This process can lift plant roots right out of the soil and is called "heaving." Our strawberry bed, in particular, is subject to heaving, so we make sure to cover it with at least three inches of pine straw every fall.
Other reasons to mulch:
It helps prevent loss of topsoil from wind and water erosion.
It reduces water usage by maintaining soil moisture.
It reduces rainwater runoff.
It reduces soil compaction.
It improves soil tilth.
It makes the landscape more attractive.
It reduces weed growth.
It insulates soil to keep plants cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
It improves soil fertility.
DG Photo Credits:
Eastern White Pine by catcollins
Loblolly Pine by trois
SUITABILITY FOR PLANTS
Very strongly acid
Unsuitable for all
Very strongly acid
Unsuitable for all
Suitable for very few
Suitable for some
Suitable for many kinds
Suitable for most kinds
Suitable for most kinds
Few species tolerate
Only highly specialized species tolerate
Want to test the pH of your soil? You can find pH meters at your local nursery/garden center or online at:
Ideal Soil pH for Selected Plants
Forget-Me- Not 6.0-7.0
Gladiolus 6.0- .0
Morning Glory 6.0-7.5
Sweet Pea 6.0-7.5
Zinnia 5.5- 7.5
Additional information on growing these plants can be found in Plant Files.
Questions? Comments? Please scroll down to the form below. I enjoy hearing from my readers! Click HERE for a text only version of this article.
Monday, October 19, 2009
You Can Have Your Canna and Eat it TooAmong all the lists of unlikely edible flowering plants that appear from time to time in garden articles and books, I’ve never seen one that includes the canna.
I first became aware of its edibility via a DG article by Ian Maxwell, originally published in February 2008. It's the rhizome or tuber, which contains a great deal of starch, that's said to be edible, tasting much like another tuber with which we're all familiar: the potato. The most frequently eaten tubers come from two closely related canna varieties, Canna edulis and Canna indica (more about these later).
Determined to sample a canna tuber, but lacking the above two varieties, I chose Canna 'Musifolia', the "banana" Canna (see my previous article, "Out of Chaos a Mystery Plant is Born"), because its large tubers and its blossoms closely resemble those of Canna edulis and Canna indica.
I decided to prepare my tubers the way the Indians of the Andes prepare them: boiled or baked. You can either boil them and eat them, bake them and eat them, or boil them first and then bake and eat them. I selected both stem buds (see photo at end of article) and mature rhizomes to see if there was a difference in taste or texture. I also sampled raw tuber so that I could compare it to the cooked and baked versions. It tasted a bit like water chestnuts, but had a slightly bitter aftertaste.
I prepared the tubers for cooking by washing the soil off thoroughly and cutting the larger ones into 1.5- to 2-inch chunks. I tried peeling some, scraping some, and leaving some as is. The exposed flesh had a slight tendency to turn brown.
Boiled results: Having read that the tubers are quite fibrous and would need to be boiled for a "long" time to soften them, I arbitrarily chose one hour on medium heat (just slightly above a simmer). When I sampled them at the end of that time, they were quite soft but not mushy. I'm guessing that half an hour would have been long enough. And how did they taste? Great! There was a hint of water chestnut, but the overall taste was very similar to new potatoes, with just a bit of sweetness. The bitter taste was completely gone. The texture was very much like that of potatoes, with no fibers present in either the mature tuber or the stem bud. I wouldn't have had to bother with peeling the chunks, as the peelings slipped right off after boiling.
Boiled and baked results: The baked tubers that were boiled first were done in two hours at 250 degrees and could probably have been baked at a higher temperature for a much shorter time. They developed a brown outer crust, much like the peeling of a potato. The white flesh inside had the texture of a baked potato and, as expected, tasted like one. Unlike potatoes however, the brown outer crust was extremely tough, almost like leather, and inedible.
Baked results: As expected, the raw tubers took longer to bake. The only instructions I could find on baking raw tubers indicated that they needed to bake at a low temperature for up to 12 hours. I baked them at 250 degrees and checked them every hour or so. After three hours they were done and were practically identical in every respect to the tubers that were boiled first.
Because the tubers resemble potatoes so closely, I expect that one could mash them and flavor them a bit with garlic or celeriac. Perhaps one could even make canna chips!
Is Canna edulis the same as Canna indica?
C. edulis is most often cited as a food source, while C. indica is grown by Andean natives primarily for its seeds, which have served as gun shot--hence one of its common names, 'Indian Shot'--and as beads in jewelry. Once thought to be separate species, most horticulturists now agree that they are "conspecific," i.e., of the same species. There is tremendous variability within this species, which is reflected in the many different flower and leaf forms and colors of named cultivars.
There is no consensus among historians on the origin of C. indica's species name. Some believe that it originated with Linnaeus, who mistakenly thought that the plant was native to India. Others say that the name comes from "West Indies," the area from which cannas were first exported to Europe. There is no such disagreement concerning the species name for C. edulis. Edulis is the Latin word for "edible," which is certainly an appropriate description, given its use. It's known among Andean natives as "Achira." Archaeological evidence indicates that both varieties are very old food crops. Carbon dating of tubers found in ancient graves reveals that they are over 3,500 years old! The fact that C. edulis/indica was buried with the dead suggests that it was a food source of great significance.
Will the real Arrowroot please stand up!
The picture gets even more complicated than the confusion with C. edulis and C. indica and their many existing cultivars. Besides boiling and roasting them, Andean indians also dry the starchy tubers and grind them into a powder which is used as flour. The powder has come to be known as "arrowroot" (see photo of 'Queensland Arrowroot' at left above). But there is also another 'Arrowroot,' known in horticulture as Maranta arundinacea, whose roots are ground into flour. Then there is Zamia pumila, a cycad whose ground up roots are known in the southern states as 'Florida arrowroot.'
No matter what its source, arrowroot is almost pure starch and has many uses in the preparation of food. It's used in making biscuits, jellies, puddings, cakes, and hot sauces in some western cultures, including Australia and New Zealand. Koreans and other Asians prize it as the chief ingredient in transparent noodles. It's also frequently used in oriental cooking as a thickening for sauces, especially sweet and sour sauce. For those with gluten sensitivity, arrowroot is a useful replacement for wheat flour.
Would you like a taste?
So do we call this floral food source edulis or indica--or edulis/indica? Did it come from India or the West Indies? Are the flowers small or large; are they red, yellow, pink or blotched? Are the leaves small or large; are they green, maroon, or a combination of both? Do the tubers taste best boiled, roasted, or boiled and then roasted? Does that arrowroot flour on my pantry shelf come from C. edulis, from Maranta arundinacea, or from Zamia pumila?
Though some of these questions still persist, I hope I've helped you navigate the interesting but somewhat confusing and cluttered terrain of the canna as a food source. If you'd like to sample Queensland Arrowroot --which despite the merging of edulis and indica into a single species is still called Canna edulis--check the column to the right for some arrowroot sources and a tasty recipe. Or, if you grow cannas in your garden, you might be tempted to sample a cooked or baked tuber as I was. Bon appetit!
More About Cannas
Cannas are native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Western Hemisphere, from southern South Carolina west to southern Texas and all the way south to northern Argentina.
The fact that cannas are now cultivated and naturalized in most tropical and sub-tropical regions around the entire world is a testament to their popularity. Because their roots can be dug and stored in colder regions of the world, cannas are popular with gardeners in temperate climates as well.
In fact, some cannas are even grown above the Arctic Circle. Though the season there is short, the days are very long, which accelerates their growth. As long as they're planted after the temperature stays above freezing and are exposed to at least six hours of sunlight per day, cannas will grow and bloom before frost forces them back into dormancy and storage for the winter.
Cannas perform best in moist, well-drained soils in full sun. Water once a week during dry weather. To promote growth, fertilize once or twice during the growing season with a balanced garden fertilizer such as 10-10-10. Remove spent flowers to promote additional blooming. While cannas have a few insect and disease pests, none are considered serious. Cannas are usually grown from rhizomes that are started indoors in large pots in March or planted directly outdoors after the danger of frost is past (mid-May in central Iowa). Rhizomes should be planted 4 to 5 inches deep.
In Iowa, cannas are tender perennials. Cut plants back to 4 to 6 inches above ground a few days after a hard, killing frost. Then carefully dig up the canna clumps with a spade or fork. Leave a small amount of soil around the rhizomes. Allow them to dry for several hours. Store in large boxes, wire crates or mesh bags in a cool (40 to 50°F), dry location. Large clumps can be divided in the spring before planting. Each section should have at least 3 to 5 buds.
--Iowa State University Extension Service
Antique Cannas Popular During the Victorian Era
(Traditionally made for Chinese New Year)
2-1/2 cups arrowroot flour
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp melted butter
1 large-sized egg yolk
120 ml. (4 oz.) coconut cream or thick coconut milk
Place the arrowroot flour on a paper towel, put it in microwave-safe bowl, and microwave for 1-2 minutes. Set aside and let it cool. Tip: You may need to microwave extra arrowroot flour later, if the dough is too wet to knead.
Sieve the arrowroot flour and sugar into a big bowl. Add the melted butter, egg yolk and coconut milk. Knead until the dough is pliable. Tip: If the dough is too dry, add more coconut milk.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of your liking, preferably about 1/4-inch, and cut into shapes with a cookie cutter.
Arrange on a lined baking tray. Bake at 350°F for 15 minutes.
Arrowroot Flour Sources
(Click on brand name)
Bob's Red Mill
Red Canna edulis/indica (top of article): Wikimedia
Yellow Canna edulis/indica (Queensland Arrowroot): johnpeten
Canna edulis/indica 'Red Stripe': QueenB
Canna edulis/indica 'Alberich': Abutilon
Maranta arundinacea 'Arrowroot': Wikipedia
Zamia pumila 'Florida Arrowroot': Wikimedia
Canna 'Cleopatra': Beverlyhy
Canna 'Ehemanii': wallaby1
Questions? Comments? Please scroll down to the form below. I enjoy hearing from my readers!
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
My Favorite Perennial Flowering VinesGrowing vines in the garden is an excellent way to take advantage of vertical space and increase appeal at the same time.
This is especially true in those areas of the garden or landscape that could use some perking up, but where there is little space on the ground to do so. Patio areas or narrow spaces along exterior walls of buildings can take on new appeal with the addition of vines.
Vines are suited to nearly any garden style. They require supports such as fences, trellises, arbors, and pergolas. You can even grow them in containers wherever space is at a premium, but you must provide them with support. They will add height and dimension to any area where you choose to locate the pots.
Perennial vines are often classified by how they cling to a support: twining stems or petioles, tendrils, and aerial roots with adhesive disks. The latter two can sometimes damage the surface to which they adhere, so it's always a good idea to talk to your friendly nursery staff, master gardener, or extension agent before you purchase one of these vines.
There is yet another category of vines, but they don't fit the classifications above, since they don't twine and don't have special structures that allow them to cling. Among these are several of my favorites: Clove Currant Vine, Poppy Mallow Vine, and Vining Asparagus Fern.
Clove Currant Vine
Clove Currant Vine (Ribes odorata) is more well-known in Europe than it is in the U.S. It really deserves a place in American gardens as well. The beauty and clove fragrance of the spring blossoms alone are reason to grow this vine, but it also bears black currants that add interest when the flowers are gone. In late summer you can harvest the currants for great-tasting pie or jam. You can espalier this vine or simply let it scamper over a trellis at will. Since it has no structures of its own to bind it to its support, a little help from the gardener may be in order now and then. Clove Currant Vine can reach heights of 10-12 feet and is hardy from Zone 4a through Zone 8b.
Poppy Mallow Vine
Poppy Mallow Vine (Callirhoe involucrata) is a native vine here in the Midwest and ranges all the way from Texas to North Dakota. This is one vine that doesn't necessarily need artificial support. I let it scamper through perennials and up into shrubs. It never overpowers them and provides lovely purple-colored flowers when other perennials have spent their blooms. Hardy in Zones 3a through 9b, the central plant sends out several vines in random directions, with each vine up to six or seven feet in length.
Vining Asparagus Fern
An Asparagus Fern that's truly hardy in the Midwest? Absolutely! Asparagus verticillatus is a beautiful, delicate, airy vine that looks stunning as it weaves its way up and over an arbor. Because if its airiness, it's a challenge to capture its beauty in a photograph, as is certainly the case with the photo in column to the right above. Its hardiness has been underrated in the past and is now thought to extend all the way from Zone 3 to 8a. Small, fragrant white flowers grace the vine in late spring, followed by bright red berries in late summer. It can reach heights up to 15 feet.
Gardeners may argue over the pronunciation of the name for this vine, but there is no argument about the fact that it is one of the most beautiful and popular vines in American gardens. There are over 200 known species, with more cultivars being produced every year. The photo at the top of this article is of the cultivar 'Sprinkles' (registered in 2001) climbing up a picket fence and into a small apple tree in our gardens.
While clematis cultivars come in many beautiful colors, with both single and double flowers, two of my favorite varieties are Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis ternifolia) and Clematis 'Summer Snow' (aka 'Paul Farges'). They are both small-flowered and white. What they lack in flower size is more than made up by their other distinguishing characteristics.
Sweet Autumn Clematis, as its name implies, blooms in late summer or early fall and has sweet, vanilla-scented blossoms. Its huge masses of flowers often hide the leaves almost entirely. One plant climbing into a tree (see Blue Spruce at right) can send up vines as high as 30 feet (see same photo). While impressive during the day, it's spectacular at dusk, when blossoms literally glow against the darker needles of the spruce.
Summer Snow shares some of Sweet Autumn's characteristics. Its blossoms are also white, though considerably larger, and it can climb just as high. What distinguishes this clematis from others--and what first attracted me to it--is the fact that it blooms continually from early summer until early fall.
Clematis is generally hardy in Zones 4a to 9b, but some varieties are only hardy in states south of our Iowa gardens.
Perennial Sweet Pea
Perennial Sweet Pea (Lathyrus latifolius) can climb up to 12 feet in height using its tendrils to grasp any support within reach. Flowers are white, pink and mauve. Unlike annual sweet peas, it is not fragrant. Hardy from Zone 3 through Zone 9b, it will tolerate dry conditions once established. I particularly value the white form which, like Sweet Autumn Clematis, glows at dusk. In our gardens it grows on a dark brown picket fence which offers a nice contrast to the white flowers. It blooms from late spring until frost, a welcome characteristic in any perennial.
If it likes its growing conditions, Perennial Sweet Pea may become a bit of a thug. It's wise to keep a close eye on it if it starts scrambling up into a shrub, as it may completely overwhelm the shrub to the point of killing it. It also reportedly self sows to the point of weediness, although that has never been a problem in our gardens.
Speaking of thuggishness, English Ivy can certainly run rampant if given the right conditions. Luckily, in our Zone 5b garden there is enough winterkill to render it rather docile. It has been relegated to a ground cover, as any of its vines that venture up a wall, a tree, or a trellis are killed by our cold winters. It climbs via aerial roots with sticky disks that can damage exterior walls. And it doesn't flower in our zone.
So why do I grow it? Sometimes a rather ordinary plant can have deep sentimental value to the gardener who plants it. You see, I started this ivy from a sprig in my wife's wedding bouquet 47 years ago.
English Ivy is hardy from Zone 5a through Zone 9b.
Vines also look good in more naturalized settings, as opposed to the structured setting of an arbor, a trellis, a wall or a pergola. The Virginia Creeper (left) in the photo below looks right at home climbing up a tree trunk in our Vase Garden:
Sometimes vines can be part of a striking garden vignette even when they're not blooming. The vines in the background below are no longer in flower, but become a perfect foil for the exuberant Variegated Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Variegated'). Included among the vines are Virginia Creeper, Trumpet Vine, Arctic Beauty Vine, Sweet Autumn Clematis, and Clematis Summer Snow.
Clove Currant Vine
Poppy Mallow Vine
Vining Asparagus Fern
Dense flowering habit of Sweet Autumn Clematis
Sweet Autumn Clematis climbing up into one of our Blue Spruces
Clematis 'Summer Snow'
Perennial Sweet Pea
Wedding bouquet ivy
Arctic Beauty Vine
Once Old Man Winter comes calling, the show is over...or is it? Even in winter the trellis with a now-defunct Sweet Autumn Clematis Vine (background below) continues to lend definition and height to a snowy patio.
Other Garden-worthy Perennial Vines for Temperate Zone Gardeners
(Click name for more information)
American Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens)
Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata)
Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala)
Dutchman's Pipe Vine (Aristolochia macrophylla)
Fiveleaf Akebia (Akebia quinata)
Hardy Passionflower Vine (Passiflora incarnata)
Honeysuckle Vine (Lonicera spp.)
Porcelain Berry Vine (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata)
Silk Vine (Periploca graeca)
Silver Lace Vine (Fallopia baldschuanica)
Wintercreeper Euonymus (Euonymus fortunei)
Wisteria (Wisteria spp.)
Questions? Comments? Please scroll down to the form below. I enjoy hearing from my readers!
Arctic Beauty Vine photo is courtesy of Equilibrium.
Trumpet Vine photo is courtesy of frostweed.
Friday, September 25, 2009
A Simple Method for Saving Tomato Seeds Without FermentationHere's a quick and easy method I've developed for saving your heirloom tomato seeds without going through all the steps that fermentation requires.
The fermentation method has, for a long time, been the classic way to save tomato seeds. Our own Dave has written an excellent article on the subject. Furthermore, if you're going to trade seeds with other people, it's considered good etiquette to ferment your seeds. But there is a simpler way.
The first step in any seed-saving method is to choose an heirloom variety, one that produces seeds that are true to the parent. Most tomato seed for sale today produces a hybrid variety, one that has been crossed one or more times with other tomato varieties. Seeds from such tomatoes do not come true to the parent. They will produce tomatoes that reflect the parentage of the hybrid.
Step 2 | Select a Seed Source
Select your seed source from a healthy tomato plant. Choose the best-looking tomato from that plant (see photo above). It should be fully ripe, but not over-ripe. The heirloom tomato variety I've chosen is called "Winsall," one of my favorites.
Step 3 | Gather Your Tools and Materials
For this project you'll need:
A paper towel
A teaspoon (optional)
A sharp or serrated knife
A felt tip pen
Wax paper (if necessary)
Step 4 | Slice, Scoop, Spread
Take your chosen tomato to the kitchen or other work area, place it on a level surface with the stem end up, and slice it in half horizontally. The seeds are contained in the compartmentalized segments. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon (or your finger) and place them on the paper towel. Note that each seed is enclosed in a gel-like sac. As you spread the seeds on the paper towel, space them so that they're one-half to one inch apart from each other. When placing each seed, gently press the gel into the paper to disburse it a bit. If you know in which container you'll be starting the seeds, you can arrange them according to the shape and size of the container.
Step 5 | Dry
After you finish arranging your seeds on the paper towel, move the towel to a warm, dry environment. The towel will wick moisture away from the seeds quite quickly. I generally allow several days drying time.
Select a smooth, somewhat slick surface on which to place the seeded towel, so that it won't adhere to the surface as it dries. I use the waxed surface of a metal café table. If in doubt, place a sheet of wax paper on the surface and then place the towel on that.
Step 6 | Fold, Label, Store
Once the towel and seeds are completely dry, you're ready to label and store the seed. Fold the towel so that the seeds are on the inside. Use the top outside of the folded towel to label your seeds. Store the seeded towel in a relatively air-tight container at room temperature. I use an old metal bread box that I inherited from my mother-in-law, who used it to store her flower seeds.
Step 7 | Plant
When you're ready to plant your seeds, plant them towel and all. Fill your container with a seed-starting mix and simply lay the seeded towel on top. If necessary, you can cut the towel to fit the container. Cover the seeded towel with 1/4 inch of the starting mix, water, and place the container in bright light, either natural or artificial.
The seeds will remain viable for two years or more. I've had an excellent germination rate using this method. Why not give it a try!
Some Popular Heirloom Tomatoes
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Mail order catalogs 105Notes from the Garden
Confessions of a Garden Catalog Junkie
It’s that time of year again when we gardeners curl up with all those mail order catalogs that seem to multiply overnight in our mail boxes, even before the year is done. (The current count at our house is 34 and holding—and that’s not counting duplicates!) They all contain gorgeous photos of absolutely perfect flowers and blemish-free fruits and vegetables that make it very difficult to resist an order or two, especially when the wind chill is 50 degrees below zero and there’s a foot of snow on the ground.
I’d like to share with you some ruminations about mail-order gardening that are the result of many years of placing orders with mail-order firms, often with happy results, but also with some not-so-happy ones. Here they are:
1) When tempted to order an item by mail, first try to determine if you can obtain it locally from a greenhouse or garden center in your area. Make a list of all the items you’d like to order and then call around to see if they’ll be available in the spring. If the answer for a particular plant is no, ask the person on the phone if he or she can order it for you. Granted, mail-ordering is fast and convenient, but chances are, you’ll get a plant that’s a lot healthier and more vigorous from a local garden center than one that has been selected for you sight unseen and has endured the rigors of mailing.
2) Beware of descriptions that don’t tell you the size of the plant you’ll get. You may pay $12 or $15 for that beautiful plant in the catalog, but it arrives in a three-inch pot and is barely three or four inches tall. At that size, it will not survive in your garden if you plant it among already established plants that will soon crowd and shade it. If it’s a must-have plant, and you know that it will be small when it arrives, designate a “nursery space” in your garden or elsewhere in your yard where it can grow and mature to a transplantable size by the following year. If you don’t know the size of the plant you’re ordering, call or email the company and ask.
3) Hardiness zones should always be stated for each perennial plant the catalog is offering. I garden in zone 5. If the plant is not hardy in your zone, don’t order it unless you’re an experienced gardener and know about microclimates and mulching techniques or plan to winter the plant indoors. Not all companies agree on the hardiness of a given plant. More than once I’ve ordered a plant said to hardy in zone 5, only to find out later that most authorities agree that the plant is only hardy to zone 6 (e.g. Missouri).
3)Carefully scrutinize any catalog or web site that seems to offer plants at a bargain price. As I’ve already said, make sure you know the size and hardiness of what you’re ordering. But just as important, check shipping costs. Such costs vary widely among companies. All too often, those that offer plants at lower prices make up the loss by charging more for shipping. On the other hand, some higher shipping charges are legitimate. Conscientious, well-established companies (see http://davesgarden.com/products/gwd/) may charge what seems like a very high rate, but that's because they go the extra mile by providing superior packaging. It insures that plants and soil stay in their pots instead of being jostled all over the shipping container and arriving dead or stressed beyond recovery.
My worst—or perhaps funniest—experience with a mail order nursery happened in January. I had ordered some daffodil bulbs for planting this past fall. When they didn’t arrive before the ground froze, I sent off an email inquiring of their whereabouts. I received no response and had almost forgotten about them when a mystery package arrived on our doorstep right after a big snow. When I opened the package, I was speechless. There, in the middle of winter, were the long-lost daffodils. After I regained my speech, I went directly to my computer and fired off the following: “What were you folks thinking, shipping me daffodil bulbs in January! It's two degrees above zero! The ground is hard as a rock! Please refund my money immediately!”
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Favorite mail order nurseries; site offering free plants 205As I indicated in my column in January, it is wise to try to limit mail orders to plants not available locally. Below, as promised, are my three favorite mail-order nurseries, all of which carry unusual plants as well as new ones that are just being introduced to the horticultural trade and are not yet available in local nurseries and garden centers. These nurseries all package their plants extremely well, so that they arrive in very good condition, even if they have been underway for a week when they arrive.
White Flower Farm
Located in Litchfield, Connecticut, this venerable mail-order nursery grows most of its own stock. This is an important consideration for gardeners in my growing zone (5), since the plants will have been exposed to roughly the same temperatures and weather conditions. The same plant grown and harvested further south and then planted in zone 5 gardens will generally exhibit less vigor and may winter-kill, even if it is a perennial that is normally hardy in our zone. An additional benefit of this catalog are the comments by professionals regarding which plants look good together and suggestions for plants to fill entire beds. There are actual photos of these plant combinations, rather than the poorly drawn illustrations some other catalogs offer. Check this nursery out at http://www.whiteflowerfarm.com.
Another long-time mail order firm, Wayside Gardens offers many exciting new plant introductions (but often at stratospheric prices). Its plant selections are guided by a professional horticulturist known and respected throughout the horticultural world. Wayside procures most of its plant stock directly from growers, rather than raising its own. In many instances, it is forced to do so, because the plants are rare and obtainable only from small growers, hence the higher prices. To date I’ve had good success growing whatever I’ve ordered from Wayside. The Web address is http://www.waysidegardens.com.
I can’t say enough good things about this nursery. The stock I receive is always in excellent condition and much larger than that from other mail-order firms. Prices are quite reasonable. Not only does Plant Delights grow its own stock, its owner, Tony Avent, is a well-known plantsman who travels the entire globe in search of new and exciting plants to introduce to American gardeners. Tony, by the way, has a great sense of humor. To order his catalog, he asks that you send him either 10 stamps (no denomination specified) or a box of chocolates. His catalog covers are drawn by well-known cartoonists and spoof political or social issues of the day, always relating them in some way to the plant world. Here are a few quotes from his catalog. From the introduction: “These are just a few of the treasures that await you in the pages ahead. Buckle up, hit the accelerator and full speed ahead…just keep a few Valium handy in case you get too excited.” Tony quoting a fellow horticulturist: ‘The double flowered variety is unattractive in the eyes of most gardeners, indeed, almost grotesque.’ Tony’s response: “I say that beauty can only be in the eyes of the beholder if the upturned nose is first removed.” And finally, from one of his plant descriptions: “We strongly recommend planting these ferns near Athyriums (Lady Ferns)…even plants need a conjugal visit every now and then!” Visit Tony at http://www.plantdelights.com.
A final note: While you’re on the Web, check out a great new plant site, http://www.freetreesandplants.com. This site provides healthy, left-over plants that other nurseries wish to discard. As the site address suggests, the plants are free, but each one carries a shipping and handling charge of $6.95. Better yet, the nursery is staffed by workers with disabilities, who otherwise would remain unemployed.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Early spring bulbs; trendy garden colors; glass mulch; plant introductions 305Notes from the Garden
Those long-awaited harbingers of the spring garden are beginning to make their appearance at Cottage-in-the-Meadow-Gardens: snowdrops nodding their greetings as I pass by, early species crocuses lifting their tiny yellow chalices in a toast to the warmer weather to come, and winter aconites dancing about in their bright green minitutus and yellow tresses.
Winter aconites are not well-known to Iowa gardeners. They spring from very small bulbs, the size of a dime or smaller. Each bulb bears only one two- to three-inch stem and one blossom. Planting them in small drifts under trees and shrubs makes a pleasing patch of yellow in the early spring garden. Try partnering them with blue Scilla siberica ‘Spring Beauty,’ which blooms at the same time and is just now beginning to show its first blush of color. Both bulbs are planted in the fall.
The advent of a new gardening season brings with it a flurry of new plant introductions and trends. A monochromatic color scheme, running throughout the garden or through an individual bed, continues to be very popular. This scheme involves designs in which the blossoms of various annuals and perennials are all different shades of the same basic color. That may sound like a somewhat boring color scheme, but it is quite effective and can be punctuated every now and then with plants bearing blossoms of a contrasting color. Here is what the author of an article in “Perennial Resource” has to say about it: “Monochromatic colors paint a harmonious picture which conveys a feeling of serenity and comfort to the viewer. This continuity of color allows one’s eye to focus on the details, naturally bringing the plant’s texture and form to the forefront rather than only the fleeting color of the flowers.” This is a practice I’ve followed for many years. It’s nice to know that our gardens are suddenly in style!
Another practice being touted by trendy landscapers is the use of glass as a mulch. Yes, you read right, it really is “glass” and not “grass.” My first response when I heard about this was: Isn’t that dangerous? Fortunately, the glass is in the form of nuggets with no sharp edges or points. I had occasion to see it used in landscapes recently at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show. It comes in bright, bold colors of red, blue, and green. When coordinated with the colors of the flower bed in which it is used, it is quite striking--but definitely too flashy for my taste, especially in the context of a historic garden.
There are several new plant introductions of note. The first yellow impatiens is making a debut this year. It has a bright red or orange eye and is called ‘Fusion Glow.’ Several yellow species impatiens have made their appearance in the horticultural trade from time to time, but the flower form on these is quite different and smaller and the blossoms are not produced in the profusion that we gardeners have come to expect from impatiens. Look for some new cone flower (Rudbeckia) introductions as well. The purple coneflower, a stalwart in many Midwest gardens, has undergone quite a transformation in recent years. Varieties are now available that are double-flowered, white, pink, gold, and orange. Many of these even have a pleasing, if somewhat faint, fragrance. Ball Horticultural Company has launched a new Coleus called “Kong” in honor of the company’s 100th year in business. Its leaves ultimately grow to six inches long and just as wide.
If I were to recommend only one new flower for you to try in your garden this year, it would be Corydalis lutea. I was fortunate enough to be able to trial it in our gardens, beginning about five years ago. It is just now becoming available in local garden centers (try Culver’s east of Marion). Its ferny leaves are very attractive and its lemon yellow flowers are present from spring to fall. Best of all, it isn’t fussy about growing conditions, doing well in sun or shade and in moist soil as well as dry.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Spring planting dates; plants susceptible to cold; frozen plants 405Notes from the Garden
The long spell of warm (or at least above-freezing) weather we were blessed with recently made it difficult to resist the temptation to get everything into the ground: plants, seeds, bulbs, rhizomes (iris) and corms (glads). Every year we gardeners wrestle with that impulse, especially when spring comes as early as it did this year.
We also have our favorite methods for determining when those magic dates for planting finally arrive: Good Friday for potatoes, after the Drei Kalte Männer in May for plants especially susceptible to frost damage, the various phases of the moon, and so on. I prefer to let plants themselves tell me when it’s safe to plant. Here is a list of plants to consult when you begin your gardening each year:
--When forsythia blooms, it’s time to plant the seeds of alyssum, carrots, cornflower, peas, and radishes.
--When cherry trees and flowering quince bloom, it’s time to plant broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, larkspur, onion, pansy, and snapdragon.
--When lilacs are in full bloom (as they are right now), it’s time to plant the seeds of beans, corn, cucumber, marigolds, morning glory, petunias, squash, sunflower, and zinnias.
--When bridal veil (Spirea vanhouttei) and wild cherry trees bloom, it’s generally safe to assume that the last frost of spring has passed. This is the time to plant all those frost-tender plants you’ve been eying at garden centers for the past month or so.
A word of caution about caladiums and peppers: Caladiums are sensitive to temperatures below 50 degrees. Prolonged exposure will cause the leaves to droop and eventually the plant will go dormant right in the midst of spring. Those beautiful multi-colored leaves look great in stores and greenhouses right now, but if you want to keep them looking that way, don’t purchase caladiums until the nighttime temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees. Alternatively, you can purchase them now and keep them in a warm spot until it’s safe to plant them outdoors. Peppers also follow the 50-degrees rule. Their leaves won’t be harmed by lower temperatures, but they generally will not bloom well, if at all, if it's below 50 when the plant would normally start producing flower buds. Hence, there will be few or no peppers.
On the other hand, there are plants that are amazingly hardy and survive even hard frosts in spring. I remember that a number of years ago temperatures plunged into the teens just as tulips and daffodils were about to bloom (some of the earlier varieties already had blossoms) and the garden perennials had poked their heads up about six inches out of the ground. I went to check on them the next morning, and found that the tulip leaves had literally turned blue, the daffodil leaves were drooping to the ground, and the perennials were stiff as a board. I tried to bend a phlox shoot and it simply snapped in two. It was hard as a rock! I was convinced that every plant that had dared to venture above-ground was doomed. Yet, much to my surprise, two days later there was no absolutely no evidence of frost damage anywhere!
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Garden soil (part 1); no-till gardening 505Notes from the Garden
In the next several columns, I’d like to explore with you that most basic gardening element, the soil. Taking care of your garden soil is the most important step you can take to assure a successful, healthy garden. But it involves a lot more than simply adding commercial fertilizer a couple of times during the growing season.
Research in the past few years has shown that a holistic approach to soil management is the most beneficial method you can use to grow healthy plants. All aspects of your soil must be considered in order to manage it well. Both complex and dynamic in its makeup, soil responds to any change in its current condition. Every time we cultivate, for example, we destroy some of the ability of plants to take up nutrients.
This is so because healthy, untilled soil contains a network of fungal fibers that connect up with plant roots and help with the intake of water and nourishment. Tilling destroys that network. At Cottage-in-the Meadow Gardens, we till only when there is no other remedy. Such instances would include 1) areas hopelessly infested with weeds, 2) creating a new garden in an area of existing lawn grass, and 3) a lack of compost. Let me explain the latter. No-till vegetable gardening requires laying out a row of compost three or four inches deep on top of the soil when we sow seeds. Not only does this provide a quick and easy seedbed of loose soil, but the high nutrient value of the compost produces healthy, robust plants. Let me be quick to add, however, that no-till does not work in heavy clay soils unless they have been well-treated with amendments that reduce compaction.
Other benefits of no-till gardening:
1) Spring planting becomes much easier when you can just walk out into your vegetable garden and start planting, without having to till first.
2) The earthworm population increases dramatically.
3) Plants are better able to endure periods of stress during the growing season, such as dry spells or insect infestations, because they are stronger and healthier.
4) The raised-bed effect of sowing seeds in rows of compost aids with drainage of water during wet periods or if your garden is located in a low, wet area.
Every time we cultivate the soil or add something to it, we change its balance. The availability of nutrients increases or decreases, the structure improves or deteriorates, and the presence of organisms in the soil is favored or discouraged. Next time: Fertilizer and soil fertility.
P.S. Our gardens are open to visitors for viewing at any time. Just give us a call at 319-622-3800 to make sure we’re home and can greet you. They will be open to you and the general public all day Saturday, June 11, for the garden walk and the flower festival and Sunday morning, June 12, for the flower festival. Your gardening questions are always welcome.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Garden soil (part 2) 605Notes from the Garden
Recent research has shown that soil fertility depends not only on the presence of essential elements, but on an entire system that converts them into a form that plants can use and holds them in the soil until they are needed. More about this system later.
First, let’s take a look at the chemical elements that are part of this amazing system. Surprisingly, there are quite a few: 16 of them to be exact. They include the familiar nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium that appear on all fertilizer packaging in a ratio of percentages. A package of lawn fertilizer, for example, might indicate 18-6-12, meaning that it contains 18% nitrogen, 6% phosphorus, and 12% potassium. Beyond these, however, plants need a whole succession of other chemical nutrients. Among them are calcium, magnesium, sulfur, boron, chlorine, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc.
The catch is, that most of these nutrients exist in a form that plants can’t absorb. So, just as setting a well-balanced meal in front of your children doesn’t guarantee that they’ll eat it, fertilizing your plants doesn’t guarantee that they’ll absorb the fertilizer and benefit from it. This is where the system I mentioned earlier comes in.
A fertile, well-balanced soil is able to store and cycle the elements plants need when they need them. It teems with microscopic life, among which are the fungal fibers I wrote about in my last column. A spadeful of good, untilled garden soil contains more species of organisms than all those that exist above ground in a rain forest! These subterranean critters are busy little guys, too. They feed on various elements in the soil and release nutrients in forms that plants can use. Their movement about the soil stirs and mixes these nutrients into an elixir that plants eagerly drink up. When these organisms die and decay or are eaten by other critters in the soil, they release additional nutrients in a form that plants can also take up readily.
The health of a particular soil is determined by how well-tuned its system of organisms is. A healthy system not only promotes nutrient storage and cycling, but also promotes water flow and degrades potential pollutants. Someday, hopefully, we will be able to routinely test our soils not only for the essential elements, but for the presence of a healthy system that makes them available to plants. Next time: Soil pH
Several readers have inquired about the potential harm to their garden soil during the hoeing and weeding process. Generally speaking, this form of soil cultivation is not deep enough to do serious damage to the soil system. Although it involves added expense and extra work initially, mulching is an excellent alternative that not only decreases the need to weed but also provides organic matter to essential soil organisms, promotes their presence, and increases their number.
Below is a cataloging of all the plants that are blooming in our gardens this month. The number after each plant name indicates the number of varieties of that species currently in bloom. Come check out some of the plants that are not familiar to you or, if there are numerous varieties indicated for one species, come and discover some new varieties. Your garden visits and questions are always welcome.
Achillea 2, Aconitum 2, Anthemis 1, Astilbe 2, Bedding begonia 2, Bleeding heart 2, Calla lily 1, Campanula 9, Campion 1, Catananche 1, Centurea 1, Clematis 8, Cleredendrum 1, Coral bells 4, Coreopsis 2, Corydalis 1, Creeping thyme 1, Daisy 1, Dayliles 17, Delphinium 1, Euphorbia 1, Feverfew 1, Forget-me-not 1, Fuchsia 1, Gaillardia 2, Geranium 1, Gomphrena 1, Heliopsis 3, Heronsbill 1, Hollyhock 1, Honeysuckle 3, Hosta 1, Hydrangea 1, Impatiens 8, Lamium 2, Larkspur 1, Leptodermis 1, Lilies 3, Linaria 1, Lobelia 1, Lopezia 1, Lysimachia 2, Malva 3, Melampodium 1, Missouri primrose 2, Nemesia 1, Nepeta 2, Orlaya 1, Pansy 3, Peace lily 1, Penstemon 2, Pentas 1, Perennial geraniums 9, Persicaria 1, Petunias 4, Phlomis 2, Pinks 2, Poppies 3, Poppy mallow 1, Roses 13, Rudbeckia 4, Salvia 5, Sedum 1, Silene 1, Spiderwort 1, Spilanthes 1, Stachys 1, Statice 2, Sunflower 1, Tuberous begonia 1, Verbascum 3, Vinca 1, Viola 2, Zinnia 1
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Garden soil (part 3); soil pH 705Notes from the Garden
Notes from the Garden
Finding out the pH value of your soil to determine whether it is acid or alkaline is somewhat like reading a thermometer. The pH scale divides the range of acid and alkaline soil materials into 14 points. A pH of 7 indicates that your soil is neutral, i.e., that the acidity and alkalinity are exactly in balance. A number lower than 7 indicates acidity, a higher number indicates alkalinity. The closer the number is to 7, the greater the chance that none of the plant nutrients in your soil are locked up and unavailable to your plants. On the other hand, some plants like a rather acid soil, while others do best when the soil is somewhat alkaline.
The only reliable way to find out your soil’s pH is through testing. Home soil test kits are available at many garden centers in our area. If you’d like your soil tested professionally, you may take a sample to the Iowa County Extension Office, 1099 Court Avenue, Marengo, 642-5504.
Here’s how to produce a sampling of the soil you’d like to test:
1. Use a garden trowel or spade and a clean pint jar.
2. Clear away any mulch or other decaying material from each area where you will take a sample.
3. Take samples from three different areas of the site you’re testing.
4. Dig down about six inches.
5. Fill the jar with three equal portions, one from each area.
6. Mix the samplings together well.
7. Seal the jar tightly.
Remember that most plants grow well when the pH is close to 7. If you’d like to provide the best possible pH for a particular plant, here is a sampling of perennials and their pH range preferences:
Baby’s Breath 5.0-6.0
Bleeding Heart 5.0-6.0
Butterfly Weed 5.0-6.5
Ferns (most) 5.0-6.5
Hydrangea (pink/white) 5.5-7.0
Hydrangea (blue) 4.0-5.0
Lilies (most) 5.0-6.0
Water Lily 5.5-6.5
To make your soil more acid, you can add sulphur, which is available at many garden centers. Be sure to seek the advice of a knowledgeable employee before you make a purchase. It may take up to a year for the sulphur to do its job. To make your soil more alkaline, lime is the agent of choice. Again, be sure to check with someone knowledgeable before buying. Too much lime can lead to a lock-up of nutrients and can cause chlorosis, a condition in which leaves are no longer able to produce chlorophyll and turn yellow.
As always, your garden questions and visits are most welcome.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Warmer, dryer gardens 805Notes from the Garden
There is no longer much doubt that the earth is going through a warming cycle. Arguments may rage about its causes, but for gardeners, the reality is that our plants must cope with warmer and often dryer conditions, not only during the summer, but in winter as well. It’s not too early to start thinking about using more drought-and heat-resistant varieties in our plantings, be they flowers or vegetables. And though we may grumble about this summer’s hot and dry conditions, it’s also an opportunity to learn from our gardens what varieties do well in these conditions and which ones are faring poorly.
Here, in no particular order, is an abbreviated list of flowering plants that have done well at Cottage-in-the-Meadow-Gardens this summer with minimal to modest watering, and, in some cases, no watering at all: Rugosa roses, yarrow, hollyhocks, poppy mallow, coreopsis, coneflowers (more about these next month), gaillardia, lavender, Russian sage, annual and perennial salvias, hen-and-chicks, lamb’s ears, mullein, morning glory, moss rose, marigold, zinnia, sweet autumn clematis, honeysuckle, wisteria (American), asters, chrysanthemums, daylilies, sedums, sunflowers, and ornamental grasses.
Here, also, are some tips from gardening professionals to help your plants cope with drought conditions and to conserve water:
Water your plants early in the morning. Mornings are cool, and water doesn't evaporate as readily as it does in the heat of the afternoon. While some evenings may be cool too, water sitting on leaves overnight can cause fungal diseases.
Water less frequently but deeply. Frequent, shallow waterings can lead to weak, shallow-rooted plants. Less frequent, thorough waterings encourage roots to grow deep, where the soil stays moist longer.
Water the soil, not the plants. Use a watering can, soaker hoses, drip irrigation, or other water-conserving irrigation techniques that saturate the soil while leaving the foliage dry.
Mulch your plantings. A two- to three-inch layer of organic mulch such as shredded leaves or bark or compost slows evaporation by shading the soil, slows water runoff, and as a bonus, enriches the soil as it breaks down.
Don't prune or fertilize, and cut down on pesticide application. All of these put additional stress on your plants.
Put off major planting projects until water is more plentiful and the daytime temperature cools. All newly established plants require a lot of irrigation. It's best to delay planting trees, shrubs, and large herbaceous borders until damper, cooler periods arrive.
Choose drought-tolerant plants for filling in existing plantings. Certain characteristics indicate that a plant has low water requirements: Plants with silvery, hairy, or fuzzy leaves, succulent leaves, or leaves with a waxy coating are good choices, as are the other plants I mentioned above.
Consider collecting rain water. Depending on where you live, you may be able to connect your downspouts to rain barrels to collect roof runoff. (Don’t forget to add a few drops of oil to the water to prevent mosquito larvae from growing into adult mosquitoes.) Finally, consider yourself a lucky gardener indeed, if you own an Amana home with a cistern that still works.
Let me know how your garden plants are faring and how you’re coping with drought conditions. I’ll pass along your comments and tips in a future column. You may contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 622-3800, or by mail at PO Box 107, South Amana, IA 52334.
An unrelated tip: When you garden, consider carrying with you a pair of kitchen shears instead of pruning shears. Kitchen shears have several advantages. They are lightweight and do considerably more than pruners can. Use them for deadheading (especially handy for roses that bloom in clusters, as the blades are long enough to deadhead a whole cluster with one snip), gathering cut flowers for an arrangement, pruning perennials (but not woody shrubs or trees), cutting string when tying up plants, cutting open seed packets or bags of potting soil, mulch, rocks, sand etc. Make sure that the pair of shears is a substantial one and not one that looks more like an ordinary scissors. The one I use comes from K-Mart for about $10.00 and has a special notch at the base of one of the blades, which works great for cutting thicker stems.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Coneflower 905Notes from the Garden
The common coneflower, known in the plant world as echinacea, has undergone an amazing transformation in the last ten years. Even if you’re not a gardener, you may already be familiar with echinacea as an herbal remedy for colds. To gardeners, the coneflower is a garden stalwart with a tough disposition and extremely long-lasting blooms.
Originally, the coneflower came in two colors, pinkish-purple and gold. Today, the color palate has expanded dramatically, and some of the newer varieties have an added bonus: they emit a very pleasing fragrance! Here is a list of some new varieties you might like to try next year:
o Echinacea ‘Sunrise’: lemon yellow; large, green central cone; sweet rose fragrance; especially vigorous
o Echinacea ‘Sunset’: vibrant orange; prominent brown central cone; slightly curled petals; delightful honey-rose fragrance
o Echinacea 'Twilight': new this year; fragrant, vibrant rose-red flowers; deep red cone; wide, overlapping petals
o Echinacea ‘Harvest Moon’: gold petals; golden-orange central cone; very fragrant
o Echinacea ‘Fragrant Angel’: large, fragrant, white flowers; showy, double rows of petals; flowers profusely; a butterfly magnet, just like its colored relatives
o Echinacea pallida (species, i.e. occurring in nature, but not available until recently in the horticultural trade): large, daisy-like flowers with drooping, pale pinkish petals and spiny, knob-like, coppery-orange center cones; no fragrance
o Echinacea paradoxa (species): large flowers with drooping yellow petals; very large, coppery-brown to chocolate-brown central cones; best flower display from mid-June to mid-July, sometimes with sporadic bloom throughout the summer; often visited by goldfinches who feed on the seeds; no fragrance
o Echinacea 'Double Decker': one of the most unusual new echinaceas; blooms like a regular purple coneflower its first year, but in its second year and thereafter, a second set of petals bloom out of the top of the dark brown cone; no fragrance
o Echinacea purpurea 'Razzmatazz': the world's first fully double echinacea; flowers begin as nearly-normal looking, bright rose-pink singles; as cone matures, it develops small purple flower petals of its own, until it is a dense purple pompom with the regular petals serving as a dangling fringe; very vigorous; sweet fragrance (I got this echinacea from a grower several years ago, before it came on the market last year. I recommend it highly.)
o Echinacea 'Evan Saul': bright red-orange flowers; very tall, 40” stems; delightfully sweet aroma; makes a fast-growing clump which, under good conditions, will produce up to 60 flowers on a one-year old plant; sweet fragrance
If tall, regular-size echinaceas don’t fit into your garden plan, try one of the new, shorter varieties:
o Echinacea 'Paranoia': derives its name from compact 1' wide x 10" tall growth habit; lovely, rigid yellow flowers; no fragrance
o Echinacea purpurea 'Kim's Knee High': rosy-pink flowers on 24" tall stems; petals rigidly curved; probably most drought tolerant of all new echinaceas; no fragrance
o Echinacea purpurea 'Little Giant': 16" tall clump topped with large fragrant pink flowers starting in early summer
Echinacea, a perennial member of the daisy family, thrives in average soils and hot, dry conditions. It shrugs off cold and is equally at home in full sun or partial shade. Blooms usually appear in spring and keep coming all through summer. They last well on the plant and as cut or dried flowers. The large cone at the heart of the flower head turns dark as the seeds mature, adding further interest and, as already mentioned, provides nourishment for birds. The purple coneflower, from which most newer varieties are developed, is native from Iowa and Ohio south to Louisiana and Georgia, and is a great garden plant everywhere in between.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Tulips and daffodils 1005Notes from the Garden
Fall bulb planting time has arrived! Have you ever planted tulips and daffodils, had blossoms the following spring, but every spring thereafter had only foliage or a stray blossom or two? Here are some ways to remedy that problem: First, be sure that after the flowers are gone you let the foliage turn brown and die down completely. Don’t tie the foliage in bunches or try to hide it with mulch. Yes, it may look unsightly for awhile, but it’s all about providing the bulb with enough energy to produce flower buds inside it for the next spring. The more sun the leaves get before they dry up, the stronger the bulb will be. It also helps to cut off the seed pods as soon as the blossoms fade. Then the bulb can focus its energy on making those all-important buds and not on producing seeds.
You should also be aware that many tulips and daffodils are not true perennials. They flower for a year or two and then fizzle. Almost all of the newer varieties have this trait. I find it interesting that this forces you to buy new bulbs every year or so if you happen to like any of these varieties. More sales equals more income for the grower, more income for the wholesaler, and more income for the retailer. Get the picture? (The same can be said of hybrid seeds, which you must buy every year instead of saving the seeds from this year’s plants for next year.) Don’t get me wrong; there are any number of beautiful tulips and daffodils for which I might plunk down my money for a flash of grandeur. But the stalwarts and the backbone of our spring bulb display here at Cottage-in-the-Meadow-Gardens are the truly perennial varieties.
Here are some of our favorites:
At the top of the list is an outstanding tulip that should be a must-have for every gardener. Surprisingly, it’s not well-known in this country. It comes from Russia and is called Tulipa vvedenskyi. (Yes, that’s two v’s at the beginning of the word and not typo.) Its common name is ‘Tangerine Beauty.’ And a beauty it is. John Scheepers (www.johnscheepers.com) describes it as bright fire-red with tangerine-orange flames and purple anthers on the inside. Not only has it come back and bloomed mightily every year since I planted it in 1993, it has multiplied and produced three expanding colonies. The only thing I do is cut off the seed pods. I’ve never even fertilized it! Siting it in a spot that is relatively dry during the summer has most likely helped as well, as dry summers are the norm in regions where tulips are native.
Growers are beginning to offer a collection of what they call “perennializing tulips.” These are not new varieties, but rather a collection of very old varieties from the 1700s that don’t have their innate perennial nature bred out of them (www.dutchbulbs.com). Available colors include red, yellow, red-and-yellow, dark pink, and light pink with white petal edges.
As with tulips, daffodils that perennialize well are generally older varieties. Even these however, may lose some of their vigor over the years and should be dug up about every 4-5 years after the foliage has dried. Store them until fall in a cool, airy place. Varieties that have done well for us include Carleton, Quail, and February Gold (check them out at http://www.colorblends.com). Unlike tulips, daffodils prefer cooler soil during the summer. Mulching daffodil bulbs during hot weather is beneficial.
A final note: I’m often asked about the difference between a daffodil, a narcissus, and a jonquil. “Narcissus” is simply the Latin botanical name for a daffodil; “daffodil” is the common English name, so the two terms are interchangeable. “Jonquil” is the name of a particular species of daffodil.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Planting and storing bulbs 1105Notes from the Garden
It’s not too late to plant fall bulbs. Because of this fall’s relatively warm weather, the ground is not yet frozen. Most fall bulbs can be planted right up to the time that the ground does freeze. So if you bought some tulip, daffodil, or hyacinth bulbs but haven’t found time to get them into the ground--or completely forgot that you had them--don’t despair. Mother nature has granted you a reprieve.
That reprieve is also in effect for bulbs you may still have in the ground, but that need to be dug and stored for the winter. In most cases, if the top of the plant has been killed by frost, the bulbs or rhizomes are still viable, thanks to the insulating protection of the unfrozen soil. Here are some of the most common bulbs and rhizomes that must be dug in the fall and some comments about their storage requirements:
Cut off the stalks a few inches above the ground and dig the rhizomes. Many canna enthusiasts wash the rhizomes, divide them, let them air dry and cure for several days and then store them in plastic grocery bags or covered plastic storage boxes filled with peat moss, perlite, or coarse vermiculite. With nearly an acre of gardens to cultivate as Wilma and I do here at Cottage-in-the-Meadow Gardens, shortcuts that work are a real boon. We simply leave the rhizomes in clumps with soil intact and store them on plastic garden trays in an unheated room in our basement. The room must be cool but not freezing. A temperature of 40-50º F is ideal. The clumps need to be checked several times during the winter to make sure that they don’t completely dry out. However, it’s better to err a bit on the side of dryness than to keep the soil continually moist, which encourages rot. At planting time in the spring, I divide the rhizomes right before they go into the ground.
After the tops have been blackened by frost, wait a week or two for the tubers to harden and fully mature in the ground. As I mentioned earlier, the soil will protect them from freezing. Before you dig, cut the stalks off a few inches above ground level. Be sure a piece of the stem remains attached to every clump. The “eyes” are located at the base of the stem and will produce the next year’s shoots. Storage requirements are the same as for cannas.
Elephant Ears seem to be more sensitive to cold than cannas or dahlias, so dig the bulbs when frost threatens. Cut off leaves but don’t remove the soil. Dry the clumps in a shady, dry, frost-free spot for several weeks. Then pull off remaining bits of leaves and stalks and remove the soil. When the bulb looks completely dry, store it in dry peat moss, coarse vermiculite, or sand at about 55-60ºF. (I have, on occasion, stored these bulbs at the same temperature as the cannas and dahlias, with no apparent harm.) I have experimented with leaving the soil on the bulbs while they are in storage and have had good results.
Glads are one of the easiest bulbs to store over the winter. You can dig them five to six weeks after flowering or anytime before the ground freezes. I generally shake off the soil and then pull the bulbs off the stalk. However, if they don’t detach easily, it’s better to resort to cutting. Growers often recommend soaking the bulbs for five-minutes in a fungicide solution, but I prefer not to use pesticides, if at all possible. In all the years I’ve grown glads, I’ve never dipped them and have always had good results. It is essential that you allow your bulbs to air dry for a few weeks in a shady place. Store them loose and uncovered in a plastic garden tray or other shallow container at the same temperature recommended for cannas and dahlias.
One last bit of advice: If what you’ve been doing has worked well, and it differs from what I’ve said here, keep doing it!
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Holiday note on edible plants 1205Notes from the Garden
During this holiday season, both food and flowers abound. Did you know that you can often have your flowers and eat them too? Many flowers are a pleasure on the plate as well as in the garden. Here are some edibles you might like to try in the coming growing season:
o Tulips: Red and yellow petals are the best-tasting, imparting a pea-like flavor. Why not try some in a salad or take a whole blossom, remove the structures inside (stamens and pistil), stuff it with tuna (or meat) salad, and place it on a bed of lettuce? It’s guaranteed to impress your guests!
o Roses: Rose petal flavors run the gamut, from almost tasteless to, well, very rosy. If the rose is quite fragrant, you might use its petals as a colorful, decorative accent to other foods, but I would advise not eating them. The effect is akin to spraying my wife’s favorite floral perfume directly into my mouth.
o Violets: Blossoms are almost flavorless, but make a colorful accent in salads. If you look upon violets in the lawn with same disdain as you do dandelions, think of the delicious irony of having their flowers for lunch before you nuke them with your favorite herbicide! Violets can also be candied. They don’t really make good candy, but can be used as a decoration on cakes or other foods. The recipe is very simple: Wash flowers and let dry. Dip the petals or brush them with some freshly-beaten egg white. Dip in or sprinkle with sugar. Allow to set thoroughly and store in a saved candy box, egg carton, or other paper container.
o Nasturtiums: Flowers have a slight peppery taste. They look lovely in a salad or as an appetizer stuffed with meat salad, your favorite dip, or anything else your imagination can conjure up. Slip a nasturtium leaf under each stuffed blossom for an especially attractive combination.
o Lilacs: Here is a flower that you can actually bake in bread or cookies and it will retain its color. Like violets, lilac blossoms have practically no taste, so you can add them to your favorite food without fear of altering its flavor. Why not try some raw, sprinkled over meat dishes immediately before they’re served or as an interesting adornment for a dip or two of vanilla ice cream?
There are a host of other flowers that can be consumed. Among them are bee balm (Monarda), chamomile, daylily, hibiscus, hollyhock, johnny-jump-up, linden, pansy, pinks (dianthus), pumpkin, red clover, and squash.
You can also literally be a weed-eater. The leaves of many common weeds in the flower or vegetable garden are edible. They include chickweed, chicory, dandelion (as we who are older Amana natives well know), sorrel, lamb’s quarters, pigweed, and plantain. Use them in mixed-green salads or, in the case of lamb’s quarters, cook as you would spinach.
A word of caution: Since there are poisonous flowers and leaves as well, it’s always a good idea to research the edibility of a given plant part before you eat it. And a seasonal note: While I wouldn’t recommend eating large quantities of poinsettia leaves or flowers, they are NOT poisonous. Even some horticulturists, who should know better, have spread this misinformation in the past. I suspect that the association with poisonous plants came about because poinsettias have a milky sap, which is characteristic of a number of poisonous plant species.
Happy Holidays and Guten Appetit!
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Aspirin for plants; fertilizing spring-flowering bulbs 306Notes from the Garden
Do plants get headaches? A silly question, I know, but you may be giving your plants aspirin sooner than you think. In 2004 University of Rhode Island plant scientists conducted a trial in which they sprayed plants with a dilute solution of aspirin and water. They used a ratio of three aspirins in four gallons of water--a very small amount of aspirin, indeed. But the results produced by this dilute solution were, according to the researchers, “amazing.” Plants were stimulated to much greater vigor, and yields in the food crops tested were much higher than normal.
During the 2005 growing season, the Rhode Island folks were at it again. This time they tested aspirin against several fertilizers in common use. These included Messenger (a much-ballyhooed new plant food that incorporates naturally occurring plant proteins called “harpins”), compost tea, and several other commercial plant fertilizers. If the plants were sowed directly into the ground--as opposed to setting out seedlings--the seeds were first soaked in the test liquids. Once up and growing, the leaves of all test plants were sprayed with their respective fertilizers every three weeks.
Since aspirin doesn’t dissolve well in water, the researchers decided to use aspirin-based Alka-Selzer this time. “Again, aspirin was the clear winner in terms of plant health and yield,” the researchers reported. The biggest surprise was that the control plot, which received no fertilizer at all, came in second! All the other fertilizers in the trial seemed to be growth inhibitors when compared with the aspirin and control plots.
The researchers also noted that the aspirin-fed plants were not quite as wildly vigorous as they were in the 2004 trial. They believe that the difference could be due to the use of Alka-Selzer instead of aspirin, since there is a difference in the pH of the plain aspirin solution as opposed to the Alka-Selzer solution. So in this year’s trials it will be aspirin vs. Alka-Selzer, but with a twist. Since aspirin doesn’t dissolve well, but disperses quite nicely when a little cider vinegar is added, there will be a plot for testing the vinegar solution as well. Stay tuned—I’ll be doing my own little aspirin test this year and will let you know the result.
While I’m on the subject of fertilizer, and since the foliage of many spring bulbs has already emerged, here are a few words about fertilizing them. The application of fertilizer to bulb plantings is best done as a top dressing. Adding fertilizer to the planting hole in the fall may "burn" a bulb or its roots. If you are fertilizing in the spring after foliage has emerged, the high concentration of salts in many fertilizers can also burn a plant’s leaves, if they make contact with the fertilizer particles.
Although fertilizer suggestions for Dutch bulbs vary widely among authorities, current recommendations by the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center (NFBIC ) say to mix slow release bulb fertilizer into the top few inches of soil once a year. The NFBIC recommends fertilizing in the fall when the bulbs are putting out new roots which will readily absorb nutrients. It is not as desirable to fertilize spring flowering bulbs too close to flowering time or during the summer, after bulbs are finished flowering. As spring flowering bulbs go dormant for summer, their roots die back and stop nutrient uptake until the soil cools in the fall and starts the cycle over. So fertilizing in the late spring or summer wastes fertilizer, since there are no roots on the bulbs to take up nourishment.
There are several formulations of bulb fertilizer on the market, going by any number of names like “bulb food,” “bulb booster,” or “bulb tone.” Typically, bulb fertilizer has a nutrient formulation like 9-9-6, 4-10-6, 5-10-20 or 10-10-20. The common formulation, 9-9-6, is ideal for most types of bulbs like garden lilies, tulips, daffodils, crocuses, and hyacinths. Daffodil experts recommend using slow release 5-10-20 or 10-10-20 for daffodils, if it is available. Whichever product you choose, follow the recommended application rates on the package. A fall top dressing of well rotted manure or compost annually is also beneficial.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Winter kill 406Notes from the Garden
If you are an Iowa gardener, you may have noticed that even though this past winter was quite mild, some perennials in your garden suffered more winterkill than usual. In our Gardens, for example, roses that normally manage to retain their green canes throughout the winter and flourish happily in the new growing season died back all the way to the ground this year. So did the fall-blooming clematis vines.
Why did this happen? Someone once told me that diagnosing winterkill is a bit like the doctor telling you that you probably have “the latest virus that’s going around.” Like “winterkill,” this is a catchall phrase that really means “I haven’t got a clue as to exactly what’s wrong.”
Cold temperatures are certainly one of the causes. If the perennial is not hardy in our zone 5 region, it will surely die if temperatures plummet to -20 degrees, especially if it is planted in an unprotected site. This is so because the cells in these plants cannot produce the necessary chemicals to keep their contents from freezing and eventually they burst--a bit like not having enough antifreeze in your car’s radiator. Sometimes this phenomenon applies to only certain parts of a plant. This is the case in some shrubs and trees. Certain varieties of forsythia bushes may do quite well in our zone 5 gardens, but may never bloom. The culprit is probably the flower bud, which is not as cold-hardy as the rest of the plant. The same holds true for flower buds on fruit trees.
Winter damage also occurs on bark and trunks. A phenomenon called “southwest injury” occurs during alternate warming and freezing of bark tissue on the southwest side of the tree. During a sunny winter day, that part of the trunk warms up enough to get the sap flowing. At night as the temperature drops, the sap freezes. When liquids freeze, they expand. (If you are as old or older than I am, you may remember seeing those glass milk bottles on your porch during winter, their frozen contents protruding from the top of the bottle and the cardboard cap perched atop the icy, white column.) The expansion causes the bark and cambium of the trunk to rupture. Once the growing season begins, the damage becomes evident when the rupture deprives certain parts of the tree of nutrients, and they eventually wither and die.
A third type of winter damage, and the one I suspect killed the rose canes and the clematis vines in our Gardens, results from desiccation. There are two main causes: frozen ground and dry conditions. If there is an early freeze, or if the soil is low in moisture during the fall, the plant roots are unable to pick up enough water to meet the demands of the above-ground parts of the plant, which haven’t yet gone into full dormancy. They dry out and eventually die. Sometimes the damaged stems, leaves, or needles may hold their green color until warmer temperatures arrive in spring, giving gardeners a false picture of what has actually transpired, until, to their great dismay, the whole plant turns brown. Wind accompanying dry periods can often accelerate the water loss.
The exact nature of “winterkill” in a given plant is difficult to diagnose and even more difficult to correct. We gardeners must be patient and hope for the day when plant science has advanced to the point where a specific diagnosis can be made and a foolproof preventative put into practice.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Peonies 506Notes from the Garden
Ah, peonies! As Memorial Day draws near, my thoughts invariably turn to these stalwarts of Midwestern gardens. The big question is always: Will they bloom in time? Before the advent of plastic and silk flowers, it was the wonderful, fresh-cut peony, with all its colors, petals, and fragrance, that reigned supreme in cemeteries on Memorial Day. And though some may not have admitted it, there was always a bit of silent competition among peony fanciers as to who has the earliest and nicest blossoms, especially during years when the weather didn’t favor their flowering on the appointed date.
Somehow there was always someone who managed a peony or two at a gravesite in those lean years. What was their secret? Did they have some magic formula that guaranteed their peony’s blossoming at the right time? I know of one gardener who was so disgusted with her peonies’ reluctance to bloom one year, that she verbally threatened them with annihilation if they dared not bloom in time the following year. It actually worked, but I have a feeling that the weather had something to do with it as well!
A frequent question we get here at the Gardens from fellow peony lovers concerns ants. “So what’s the deal with ants swarming all over the peony buds?” they ask. The long-held belief is that peonies need the ants to help open up the buds so that they can flower. Wrong! Actually, peonies are unique in the world of flowering plants as far as their nectar glands are concerned. Unlike all others, which have nectar glands on the inside of the flower, peonies have their glands on the outside. It’s the nectar that attracts the ants.
The peony is among the longest-used flowers in ornamental gardening history. Peonies were known in China as far back as 1000 BC. But it wasn’t until the seventh century, during the reign of the Emperor Yang (605-617) of the Sui dynasty, that peonies were actually grown as ornamental plants. In 1903, the Qing Dynasty declared the peony its national flower. Incidentally, it’s also the state flower of Indiana. In 1957 the Indiana General Assembly passed a law ousting the zinnia and replacing it with the peony.
In Europe and the U.S., peonies were originally cultivated for their medicinal value. It was not until much later that peonies began to be grown solely for their ornamental qualities. In the late 1800's and early 1900's, European plant breeders used plants from China and Japan to establish their own breeding programs. Even though two species of peony are native to the western U.S., it was these European programs that provided the precursors for many of the ornamental varieties we grow today.
There are two basic kinds of peonies, herbaceous and woody. The woody varieties are called “tree” peonies, even though they are multi-trunked shrubs that rarely exceed four feet in height in our Midwestern gardens. The size, colors, and beauty of tree peonies are unequalled in the peony world. Here at the Gardens, we grow three different varieties of tree peony. The largest blossom on our plants this spring was a full 11 inches in diameter. Unfortunately, while the blossoms are very early and absolutely stunning, they are also ephemeral. If the weather is warm when the buds open, the blossoms seldom last more than four days. This spring the weather was cool enough to stretch the blooming period to a week or so.
Herbaceous peonies are the ones we all know. They die back to the ground each fall and burst forth anew from the roots each spring. They are extremely tough and long-lived, making them a favorite in the gardens of many of the early Midwestern pioneers. Of particular note among these peonies is an early red one called “fern-leaf peony.” Its leaves are unique to the peony world, as its name implies.
Somewhat rare, this peony currently sells for an incredible $30 to $60 a pot at nurseries and garden centers. And it has an Amana connection, where it is anything but rare. While most peony lovers salivate at the thought of owning just one plant, fern-leaf peonies grow in profusion here. There are literally hedgerows of them lining driveways from the house all the way out to the street. In fact, I believe that the Amanas could rightfully call themselves the Fern-Leaf Peony Capital of the U.S. It all started when the sister of Henry Field, a well-known nurseryman at the time, gave old Dr. William Moershel and his wife a plant or two. The sister lived in rural Homestead and came to town as one of Dr. Moershel’s patients. The plants were inherited by the late Dr. Henry Moershel and his wife, Henrietta, who passed starts along to her Amana friends. Over the decades, the peonies have found their way to all seven villages, but judging from the blooms this spring, Homestead, without a doubt, still reigns supreme as the undisputed fern-leaf peony champion among the seven.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Busy month at the Gardens; creating interest with leaves 606Notes from the Garden
June has been a busy month here at Cottage-in-the-Meadow Gardens. We hosted about 50 master gardeners from six states, a wedding for 250 people, photographers from two national gardening magazines (Country Gardens and Garden Gate), several busloads of tourists, and the usual number of walk-in visitors. Visitors are always welcome. If you’re interested in seeing our gardens--they look especially good this year--just let us know (see contact information below). We’d love to give you a tour or you may just want to linger awhile and enjoy the beauty of the plants and flowers, the songs of the birds, and the peaceful setting.
The Good Lord knows there are already plenty of challenges facing every gardener, but I like to set special challenges or goals for myself every so often. In the past two years, my focus has been on leaves rather than on flowers. I’m exploring the possibilities for creating interest and beauty with different leaf colors, shapes, sizes, and textures. Perennial beds are especially amenable to such an approach. Since the majority of the perennials we can grow in our zone-five gardens flower for relatively short periods of time, leaves can take on a special importance in sustaining color and interest.
A plant must have leaves to survive, but it doesn’t necessarily have to flower. Plants grown primarily for their interesting leaves are thus more dependable and the effect you want to create generally lasts the whole season long. Some of the more common and widely available “leaf plants” include coleus, Margarita and Blackie sweet potato vines, ferns, caladium, Lamb’s Ear, hosta, lamium, moneywort, coral bells, and canna. The latter two were once grown primarily for their flowers, but there has been a breeding revolution in the last decade which has produced many interesting leaf colors and variegations. Many gardeners now regularly remove flower stems from these plants to draw more attention to the leaves and to encourage the plant to become more vigorous by putting out additional leaves.
The undisputed champion in the list is coleus. Coleus has become the hosta of the annual world with over 600 varieties. There is so much variety in leaf color, texture, shape, and size that you’re bound to find several that will fit into your garden scheme nicely. Colors include pink, green, red, yellow, burgundy, bronze, and orange. There are varieties with giant leaves, like the new Kong series from Burpee. The average leaf size on our specimen is six inches by nine inches! There are also very tall varieties (e.g. Big Blonde at three feet) and varieties that do well in full sun (e.g. Pineapple and Sun Power).
Coleus is at home growing in the ground, in mixed containers, or all by itself as a specimen. It’s not a demanding plant, asking only for a well-drained soil, watering when it gets dry, and occasionally a drink of fertilizer, if you want a particularly vigorous plant.
If you’d like to see the “leaf plants” I’ve mentioned, plus many more unusual and hard-to-find ones, do stop by to see us. Should you be interested in a seminar on the topic, please let me know. If there is enough interest, I will contact you regarding the date and time. You may reach us here in South Amana at 622-3800 or email@example.com.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Heat-producing plants 706Notes from the Garden
As I write this column, the temperature outside has soared to 95 degrees, the humidity is palpable, and I, along with our Afghan Hound, Saphira, have retreated from the garden to indoor, air-conditioned comfort. Last year around this time, I wrote about heat-resistant plants that do well in Midwest gardens. This year I’m going to tell you about some plants that actually produce heat! Yes, even in elevated temperatures such as those today, there are plants that will actually add heat to the ambient temperature.
The most-studied plant with this characteristic is the notorious Voodoo Lily. (I’m not kidding; that’s its real name.) It’s noted for the foul, rotten-meat odor emanating from its Jack-in-the-Pulpit-like flower. If you can stand the stench and hold the back of your hand close to the flower, you can actually feel the heat. At the peak of its heat production, this lily can heat its flower more than 20 degrees above surrounding temperatures, when those temperatures are around 68 degrees. Even more surprising, at today’s temperature of 95 degrees, the lily can still heat itself to 110 degrees, according to a 1989 Science News article titled “Blazing Blossoms.”
Other plants that heat up their flowers are Arums (which include Skunk Cabbage), several varieties of Philodendron, certain Magnolias, and a few species of Water Lily. If you’re an adventurous soul and can get close enough without compromising your safety, you might check out the lilies in our Lily Lake, which are just now starting to open their beautiful, fragrant blossoms.
One of the burning and rather obvious questions regarding plant varieties with “hot” flowers is this: What could they possibly gain by heating up their blossoms (especially since some of them are native to the tropics, where it’s already hot)? The most plausible theory to date is that the increased temperature of the flower increases the intensity of the fragrance and disperses it over a wider area, thus attracting more pollenators such as insects, birds, and bats. Think of these plants as the world’s original candle warmers.
A second obvious question: How do they do it? The answer is that these plants have found a way to switch the respiration in their flowers in such a way that it no longer produces carbon dioxide and oxygen, but rather heat. What is the switch that turns on the heat? Would you believe aspirin?! Actually, it’s salicylic acid, which is what aspirin becomes when it’s ingested. These plants produce the acid naturally at the appropriate time during their flowering cycles.
Interesting, isn’t it, that aspirin heats plants up but cools humans down when we have a fever. Those of you who read my column regularly may remember that earlier this spring I wrote about aspirin as a plant energizer that produces superior plants and larger harvests. What an interesting and versatile substance!
What does the future hold for heat-producing plants? In this era of genetic engineering, scientists are already seeking ways to isolate the gene that is responsible for the formation of salicylic acid. Inserted into other plants, it might be able to prevent freeze damage, for example. Perhaps someday we may even choose to fill our homes with heat-producing plants to keep down our heating bills in the winter. Just kidding. I think the heat has finally gotten to me!
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Weeds; grooming tasks; other fall garden activity 806Notes from the Garden
Weeds are the watchword for August and September. Here in our gardens weeds rule at the moment. Hot and rainy days have conspired to limit time spent in the garden and have allowed weeds to grow at phenomenal rates. At this time of year—and right up to the first killing frost—it’s especially important to keep vegetable and flower gardens as free of weeds as possible. If they go to seed, you’ll be dealing with even more weeds next growing season.
As days grow cooler, some weeds that are normally quite tall before they produce seeds get very sneaky. They germinate and only grow a few inches high before they set seed. It’s easy to miss them as you go about your weeding tasks, and next year you’ll wonder where all those weeds came from because you thought you got them all before they produced seed.
Other grooming tasks at this time of year include picking or cutting off faded flowers and seed heads, as well as snipping foliage that got cooked in the heat and has turned brown. It’s also a good idea to cut back plants that are crowding out their neighbors. This will improve air flow and help prevent mildew and other diseases. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much better your garden looks after you’ve accomplished these simple tasks.
Moisture becomes increasingly important, especially as we approach the time of the first killing frost. If the soil is dry when the ground freezes, many shrubs (including roses) and vines will have a difficult time surviving the winter, even if it’s a mild one. Be sure to water thoroughly, and deeply. A light surface watering actually wastes water, because the water never reaches the plant’s root zone and evaporates rapidly from the top inch of soil. To make sure that your plants are getting enough water, take a trowel or shovel and dig down a few inches. The soil should be moist to a depth of at least 3 or 4 inches.
If you’ve been fertilizing your perennials and shrubs, now is the time to stop. It’s important that any new branches and shoots have time to harden off before frost and that plants are not encouraged to put out new growth. This “winding down” readies them for dormancy and helps them get through the winter alive.
Autumn is also a time to plant. In our zone 5 gardens, spring-blooming bulbs should be planted in early October. And catalogs and garden centers are busy promoting the fall planting of perennials. I’ve always been hesitant to do this. Why subject a plant to the rigors of winter before it’s well-established? Planting in spring will give it a full season to grow and prepare for the coming winter.
If you garden, here are some other plants you might like to try: Fall-blooming crocuses are fun and something unique to add to your flower beds. They produce foliage in the spring, which dies back in the summer, only to send up beautiful crocus-like flowers in mid- to late fall. If you plant them now, they will bloom yet this season. They come in pink, lavender, blue, yellow, and white. Check your favorite mail order catalog, web site, or local garden center to see what’s available.
This class of flowers also includes the saffron crocus, from which we harvest the threadlike, dark orange strands. These strands give us saffron, the world's most expensive spice. It’s costly because more than 225,000 threads must be hand picked to produce one pound. Closely related is the fall colchicum. It’s blossoms are inedible but stunning. Much larger than the crocuses and often fully double, the flowers resemble a water lily blossom. Bulbs are available in white and various shades of pink and are a bit pricey.
Finally, if you’re a vegetable gardener, now is the time to spring for a fall crop of radishes, spinach, lettuce, carrots, and beets. Any seeds left over from spring planting will do the job. Garden centers may also have left-over seed with prices reduced for quick sale.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Cannas 906-1006Notes from the Garden
Last year around this time, in a column on storing bulbs and rhizomes over winter, I mentioned cannas. Cannas come to mind again now, because it’s almost time to dig and store their bulbous rhizomes once more. In this column, I’d like to explore with you some other, perhaps more interesting, aspects of cannas.
These large, flamboyant plants have a history that goes way back to the 1500s. It was then that they were discovered by new-world explorers in the tropics of Central- and South America. By the early 1600s, we find reference to them in European publications. John Parkinson (Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris, 1629) for example, describes them as follows: “This beautiful plant riseth up with faire greene, large, broade leaves, every one rising out of the middle of the other, and are folded together, or writhed like unto a paper Coffin (as they call it) such as Comfitmakers and Grocers use, to put in their Comfits [spicy morsels such as crystallized ginger and sugared nuts] and Spices, and being spread open, another riseth from the bottome thereof, folded in the same manner, as I have observed in mine owne garden. The flowers grow at the toppe of the stalke one above another, which before their opening are long, small, round, and pointed at the end, very like unto the claw of a. Sea-Crab, and of the same red or crimson colour, but being open, are very like unto the flower of Gladiolus....These plants grow naturally in the West Indies, from whence they were first sent into Spaine, and Portugall. We preserve them with great care in our gardens, for the beautiful aspect of their flowers.”
Cannas reached the pinnacle of their popularity in the late 1800s, when Victorian gardeners planted them with great enthusiasm as they tried to outdo each other in creating their exotic gardens. At the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, there was a huge planting of cannas which received rave reviews from journalists and horticulturists the world over. The lawn of the Horticultural Building was cut into 79 flower beds, and 76 of them were planted to cannas. This great display of cannas extended over a total length of a thousand feet! For the sake of comparison, the Sears Tower in Chicago measures 1,450 feet, 7 inches from the ground to the upper roof.
With the turn of the century came a gradual decrease in enthusiasm for cannas in favor of the less flamboyant, old-fashioned flowers and pastel colors. Though some gardeners were still planting cannas in the 1920s, a contemporary garden writer has this to say: “What shall be done with cannas? They give bold, brilliant color effects which are at once their glory and the despair of anyone who tries to reconcile the tropical-looking plants to the vegetation in a northern garden.”
The gardening pendulum continues to swing back and forth between “exotic-” and more “natural” plantings. At the moment, cannas are in vogue once more as gardeners increasingly turn to plants cherished by their Victorian counterparts. Coleus, fuchsias, ornamental grasses, and variegated anything are very much “in” again. Of particular interest currently are cannas with unusual leaves, because the plant remains interesting, even when it isn’t in flower. There are cannas with narrow, slender leaves; cannas with large, broad, banana-tree-sized leaves; cannas with very dark maroon-colored leaves; cannas with leaves striped in white; cannas with leaves striped in yellow ; cannas with leaves striped green, yellow, and pink; cannas with green leaves that have a maroon margin. The list is seemingly endless.
If you’re a gardener and haven’t tried cannas, I recommend them highly, especially if you don’t mind digging and storing the rhizomes over winter. They come in different sizes and flower colors, so you can easily find a variety that will fit into your planting scheme. The best part is that they’re very easy to grow. They really don’t care if the soil is sandy or if it’s loamy and fertile. While they tend to like moist soils the best, most varieties happily grow on drier sites as well. They will bloom in both sun and in light shade, and they make spectacular potted plants. What more could a gardener ask?
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Home remedies for the garden (part 1): Beer 1106Notes from the Garden
In this and the next two or three columns, I’ll be exploring with you what I call “home remedies” for the garden. These are common household substances that garden gurus have, from time to time, pitched to gardeners as inexpensive, safe, and effective treatments to keep plants happy and healthy. In an earlier column I wrote about aspirin and its potential for boosting plant growth. After the coming growing season, I’ll fill you in on my aspirin trials in our gardens.
Some of you may be familiar with a gardening personality on TV who recommends using beer as a fertilizer, especially on lawns. Let’s take a look at his theory. I say “theory,” because there is precious little research available on the effectiveness of using beer in the garden.
So what’s in beer anyway? Here is a brief chemical analysis: water, carbon dioxide, ethanol, carbohydrates, and small amounts of protein plus a few trace elements in quantities too small to do plants any good. The water in beer is harmless. Yes, you could irrigate your garden with beer during dry spells, but there is little point in doing so when water is available. Besides, I have a feeling that many gardeners would rather irrigate themselves with beer than waste it on plants in the garden! Carbon dioxide is already in the air. Plants take it up in sufficient quantities to keep themselves healthy, so, like water, it’s a neutral factor in the beer theory. Ethanol is in the news a lot lately as an alternative fuel for motor vehicles. A fuel for plants it’s definitely not, causing leaf and stem burn and even premature demise. So that leaves carbohydrates and protein. Carbohydrates are the building blocks of plants, so they might be somewhat beneficial, if they’re in a form that plant roots can readily absorb. Protein is the most likely candidate for having a beneficial effect. It contains nitrogen, which is well-known for its ability to boost plant growth and is present in beer in quantities high enough that could, theoretically, offer some modest benefit.
Jeff Gillman, an associate professor in the Department of Horticultural Science at the University of Minnesota, has taken on the beer fertilizer challenge. He grew butterfly bushes (buddleia) under hydroponic conditions in 5.5 gallon tubs to do away with varying soil factors that might have skewed the outcome of his experiment. The hydroponic solution contained a low concentration of liquid fertilizer in quantities similar to what one would find in average garden soil. To this solution he added either Michelob Light, Guinness Stout, or Sharps Alcohol Free. He grew six plants in each type of beer at a concentration of either six ounces or 12 ounces per tub. He also had a tub with liquid fertilizer but no beer and one with liquid fertilizer and 12 ounces of pure ethanol (equivalent to the ethanol in a Michelob Light).
The results showed that at both concentrations ethanol, beer with alcohol, and even beer without alcohol were all definitely bad for plant growth (stunting and burning). The best-looking plants were those in the tub with only fertilizer added to the water. For me, the lesson here is that adding beer to a plant’s diet clearly has the potential to be quite harmful. I’m inclined to think that adding it in very small quantities, perhaps one tablespoon per gallon of water, will probably not do much, if any, damage. But why even risk it? There are so many natural and chemical fertilizers out there that are proven to work well. I’m going to stick with those.
Note to fellow gardeners: If you’ve tried beer as a fertilizer, please let me know. I’d be interested in learning from your experience.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Home remedies for the garden (part 2) 1206Notes from the Garden
In this second installment of my series on the (in)effectiveness of “home remedies” for the garden, I’d like to explore with you some additional concoctions that have been recommended over the years. One of the earliest in the 20th Century are contained in a book published in 1906 by Ernst Lodeman titled The Spraying of Plants. In one chapter he describes a remedy for mildew on peaches and other orchard fruits. He concedes that some material in the mixture “possessed strength, but whether [it is] best adapted for the purpose designed may be open to doubt.”
When you see the ingredients, I think you’ll agree that Lodeman’s evaluation is vastly understated! Here is the recipe, the mixture of which is to be sprayed on trees just once in early April:
26.5 gallons of urine
6.5 gallons of pigeon dung
2 pounds of aconite (monk’s hood) branches
4 gallons of water
Some horticulturists think that this mixture may actually work! As you might guess, there are several compelling reasons for not trying it, however. First and foremost, in my book at least, is that the mixture must be a wretched, disgusting, stinking mess. And where on earth would I get 26.5 gallons of urine nowadays? (No, gentle reader, I’m not even going to go there. I can find better uses for empty gallon milk jugs.) And that’s to say nothing of the pigeon dung. Secondly, I would make darn sure that I’m not downwind from the spray! A sudden wind shift could also be disastrous. Finally, the most compelling reason from a healthcare angle would be the very real potential for spreading disease.
If you’re not totally grossed out at this point, here is another, somewhat less repulsive, recipe for an insecticide that is very simple and can be quite effective: boil chewing tobacco in water. Nicholas Culpeper, in his 1681 medical book, The English Physician Enlarged, recommended tobacco juice to kill lice on children's heads, a very early reference to the use of tobacco as an insecticide. The active agent here is the nicotine in the tobacco. Its use in the garden comes with a warning, however. Don’t spray tobacco juice on tomatoes. Tobacco and tomato varieties are related and share many of the same disease problems. Boiling will not kill mosaic and wilt viruses, so the use of tobacco juice on tomatoes may actually do more harm than good. It will, indeed, kill hornworms on tomato plants, but it may also infect your plants with viruses present in the tobacco.
If you’ve read my previous column, you may recall that the use of alcohol (ethanol) to nourish plants can do severe damage. Just days after I wrote that piece, I came across a research paper by William B. Miller, a professor of horticulture at Cornell University, in which he actually recommends the use of alcohol for a very specific purpose. A common problem with paperwhite narcissus, for those who are fond of growing them on the windowsill during the winter months, is their “legginess” and tendency to flop over. Miller’s suggestion for preventing this problem is as follows: “After planting your paperwhite bulbs in stones, gravel, marbles, glass beads, etc., add water as you normally would, then wait about one week until roots are growing, and the shoot…is about 1-2” above the bulb. At this point, pour off the water, and replace it with a solution of 4%-6% alcohol.” You can get a 5% solution by mixing one part of any 80-proof hard liquor (gin, whiskey, rum, tequila) with seven parts water. Simply use this solution for any further watering you do. The result will be a normal crop of paperwhite blossoms, but with stems that are at least 1/3 shorter. You won’t need support stakes or any other device to keep them upright. And—since you won’t need the whole bottle for the paperwhites—you can pour yourself a drink while you admire the blossoms and breathe in their unique fragrance.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Home remedies for the garden (part 3) 107Notes from the Garden
As the local deer population has increased, so has the interest of local gardeners in deer repellants. We’ve all, at one time or another, lamented the damage done to flowers, shrubs, and trees by the burgeoning deer population. This month I’d like to discuss with you some home remedies as well as commercial preparations that claim to keep deer at bay.
Repelling deer, or any other mammal for that matter, isn’t really a difficult feat. Like the rest of us, they shy away from offensive odors. Consider our aversion to eating rotten eggs, spoiled meat, or even a clove of uncooked garlic. Following this logic, all sorts of repugnant materials have been offered up as deer repellants. Here, for example, is a recipe that appeared in Consumer Reports a number of years ago: Mix four eggs, two ounces of red pepper sauce, and two ounces of chopped garlic in a one-quart container. Add enough water to fill. Process in a blender and strain out the solids. Apply to plants that you wish to protect from deer. The article suggests that you add an anti-transpirant (available at garden centers) to help the material adhere to plants.
Most likely many of you have seen or heard about one of those TV shows where contestants are required to eat disgusting “foods” like rotten eggs, cockroaches, and worms. Under ordinary circumstances, we would dismiss these items as inedible. In the face of an appropriate reward, however, many of us might reconsider. Deer faced with repellants on their food sources are no different. They’ll elect to avoid them most of the time, but if they’re desperately hungry and the “reward” is survival as opposed to starvation, they’ll eat plants, no matter what repellant has been used.
So what repellants are most effective? One that actually has a pleasant aroma to humans, but is repugnant to deer, is ordinary bar soap. Experiments have shown that an area three feet in circumference around the soap will be protected to a tolerable degree. It doesn’t seem to matter what fragrance the soap has as long as it’s discernable. Just hang it from tree branches or shrubs in areas you want to protect, keeping in mind the three-foot circumference of protection. If no trees or shrubs are available, tie the soap to a tall stake that you’ve pounded into the ground.
The most common and effective ingredients in both homemade and commercial repellant sprays are garlic, hot peppers, rotten eggs, and animal urine. The Consumer Reports article I mentioned above concludes that homemade sprays are every bit as effective as commercial ones. If you want to fight fire with fire, you can even use some of the very plants that grow in your garden. Ones that have been shown to be effective include extracts from daffodil bulbs, iris rhizomes, peppermint, and catnip. It’s important to remember that all sprays, whether homemade or commercial, will eventually wash off or lose their potency and must be reapplied on a regular basis.
For some years now, I’ve been testing various commercial repellants. One of my favorites at this point is Deer Fortress (designed and manufactured right here in Iowa by Cedar Rapidian Clay Chalupsky). It comes in a small container that’s hung in the area you want to protect. The container shields the active ingredients from the elements, so it lasts much longer than sprays. Another one is something called Wireless Deer Fence. It uses an attractant as well as a repellant. The attractant is a small, round tube impregnated with an odor that deer seem to find irresistible. Just above the tube are two wires that crisscross right over the attractant. The wires are attached to a battery, and the whole thing is mounted on a stake about a foot-and-a-half high. When the deer bends down to sniff the attractant, it’s zapped on the nose by an electric shock. At some primal level, I get great satisfaction from zapping a deer that’s about to feast on my garden! On a more rational level, I do realize that the culprit is just a deer being a deer, since it’s unable to discriminate between plants in the wild and plants in a garden. And even if it could, I have no doubt that it would choose the garden, where all those yummy morsels are collected in one convenient spot.
On a final note: Lest my readers get the idea that I delight in writing about disgusting substances related to gardening, this will be my last column in the series on garden remedies. In February, I’ll return to more pleasant topics as we begin to look forward to the coming spring.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Buying potted plants 207Notes from the Garden
As the days slowly begin to warm and grow in length, we gardeners begin to think about the upcoming gardening season. And sooner than we think, we’ll be walking those nursery and garden center aisles, looking for just the right plants for just the right niche in our flower gardens. Or we might gaze in awe at a beautiful plant we’ve never seen before. Never mind that we can’t think of a place to put it, it’s a must-have. Into the cart or wagon it goes, and we move on to see what other treasures await discovery.
The plants we’ll be evaluating as we continue our stroll through the garden center are either pot-grown, or balled and burlapped. We may even find some bare-root plants, especially if we’re looking for roses. While these may ultimately survive in our gardens, a pot-grown rose will have a greater chance for survival and will establish itself more quickly, therefore blooming earlier and longer than those with bare roots.
Buying potted plants is almost always the wiser choice. Here are some things to look for on your spring plant safaris to local garden centers:
Plants should have sleek, healthy-looking branches that aren't gangly or dried out.
Leaf and bloom buds should be swollen and ready to burst forth in leaf or flower if you’re shopping early in the season.
The leaves should be a uniform color.
The roots should be well-established and surrounded by firm soil. (If possible, gently pull the plant from the container to inspect the roots.)
If the roots fill the entire pot and have started to encircle the root ball, beware. If it’s a must-have plant and you can’t find one that’s not root bound, the following steps are necessary when you plant it in your garden: Remove the pot and inspect the roots carefully. If you can tease the encircling roots out, do so gently with your fingers. Work your way around the entire root ball, pruning away any damaged roots. When you place the plant in its planting hole, make sure the roots you’ve teased out are spread horizontally, so that they’ll grow into the surrounding soil.
If the roots are so tightly bound that teasing out the encircling roots is not possible, more drastic measures must be taken. Using a long, sharp knife, begin slicing through the roots vertically from about the middle of the ball to the bottom. The cut should penetrate about one-third of the way into the ball. Space the slices so that they’re about two inches apart (less on small pots, more on larger pots). Dig your thumb into one of the slices, starting from the bottom of the ball. With your other fingers resting against the outside of the ball, pry each chunk of sliced roots outward, away from the ball. Try to tease apart the roots in each chunk. Discard any roots that have come off in the process—there will be quite a few. The goal is to have at least some of the roots in each chunk still attached to the ball, freeing them so that they have a chance to grow into the surrounding soil as I’ve described above.
Failure to follow this procedure with root-bound plants will almost certainly spell death for your just-purchased treasure. The new plants will simply languish in their new site, unable to draw sustenance from the surrounding soil. Eventually they will die.
Here are some new plant varieties that will be available for the first time this year and are worthy of your attention when plant shopping: Yarrow ‘Wonderful Wampee,’(One does have to wonder who comes up with these wacky names!) Aster ‘Henry III,’ Chrysanthemum ‘Jacqueline,’ Coneflower ‘Pink Double Delight,’ Euphorbia ‘Shorty,’ Daylily ‘Night Embers,’ poppy ‘Flamenco Dancer,’ and phlox (the tall summer variety) ‘Volcano Ruby.’ Happy hunting!
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Proper pruning 307Notes from the Garden
One of the spring rituals for many gardeners who have trees and shrubs growing in their yards is that of pruning away branches, either for aesthetic reasons or for the health of the plant. This may be especially true this particular spring, due to the sometimes massive damage caused by the horrendous ice storm we endured earlier this month. It seems that the softer the wood, the worse the damage. The soft-wooded white pines were major victims. In the South Amana cemetery, for example, some trees were virtually stripped of all their branches. All trees in the cemetery lost countless twigs and smaller branches. Others with ice-weakened trunks and branches were claimed by high winds later in the month.
If you’re planning to head out to your yard with pruning shears and saw in hand or have already done so, here are some tips you may want to consider regarding pruning techniques. If your evergreens suffered broken branches that need to be removed, be sure to cut the affected branches back to where they connect to a larger branch or to the tree trunk. Many evergreens do not sprout new growth along a branch. They grow only at the tips of branches. Leaving stumps of branches on the trees or shrubs is therefore not a good idea. Not only are they unsightly, but they will die and begin the natural process of decay. Decay invites insects and diseases, some of which may be harmful or even fatal to that tree or shrub you’ve nurtured and admired all these years. It’s a fact that more trees are killed or ruined each year from improper pruning than by insect pests or diseases alone.
To encourage rapid healing of wounds, make all cuts clean and smooth. This requires good, sharp pruning equipment. If a limb is or was growing upwards, make a cut that slants slightly away from the crotch, as this prevents water from collecting in the cut and expedites healing. Avoid tearing the bark when removing large branches. Make a cut on the underside of the branch about a foot away from the crotch and then cut the branch off above the undercut you made. You can then trim the stub back to the collar without the danger of the branch’s weight causing the bark to tear past the cut and injuring healthy parts of the tree.
The collar is that part of the base of the branch that’s slightly swollen. It’s an area of tissue containing a chemically protective zone. It doesn’t regenerate new wood, but the chemicals in it form a tissue barrier that walls off disease and decay. Over a period of time, the new tissue closes over the wound. When the collar is removed, the protective zone is removed, causing a serious wound. Wood-decay fungi can then easily infect the trunk.
Several readers have asked me if pruning cuts and other tree wounds should be covered with some kind of paint. The answer is an emphatic “No!” Research has shown that wound dressing or pruning paints don't prevent wood decay behind the pruning cut and may even increase the amount of wood rot by sealing in disease microorganisms and creating a perfect moist and dark habitat for advancing decay.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Scott Kunst and "invisible picking" 407Notes from the Garden
If you have spring bulbs blooming in your yard or garden this spring, perhaps you have experienced the same dilemma I’ve faced in recent years: I’d love to pick some for a bouquet, but then I feel like I’m diminishing the beautiful show. I admit that this feeling may sound a bit eccentric, but I’m 66 years old now, and old garden farts like me are allowed a bit of eccentricity now and then!
My good friend and fellow horticulturist, Scott Kunst of Old House Gardens in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who shares this eccentricity, has come up with a solution to our dilemma. He calls it “invisible picking.” Just pick of few of each variety here and there and no one, including you, will notice the difference. What a concept! Needles to say, his approach provided me with one of those humbling “Duh!” moments.
His first rule of thumb is “small is beautiful.” It’s not necessary to ravage your garden for a big bouquet of flowers. Small bouquets have a charm all their own. Why not sort through your knickknacks for a small container, perhaps a decorated shot glass or wine glass, a miniature vase, a teacup, a small bottle, or even an interesting salt shaker with a lid that comes off. To set off your little bouquet, get out one of those doilies that have been whiling away the years in some almost-forgotten drawer and set your mini-arrangement on that. Better yet, buy one of those inexpensive, tightly-woven plastic doilies to protect the surface underneath from stray drops of water.
Scott’s second rule is “one is plenty.” Just snip one small sample from everything that happens to be blooming at the moment. Take your treasures inside and begin arranging. You may want to make more than one bouquet, depending on how much material you end up with. Chances are, you’ll also discover different color combinations that you may not have thought of before. In fact, if a particular combination really delights you, why not try planting that combination together in your garden next year. Another side benefit of your little garden safari is that it tunes you in to your garden more completely. You may find blooms that you hadn’t noticed before, when you viewed the flowers from indoors or scurried past them in your haste to go somewhere else.
Scott’s third and final rule is “pick the unexpected.” Perhaps you’ve never made a hyacinth-only arrangement. Bringing just one bloom indoors and displaying it in a vase by itself lets you enjoy both its beauty and its fragrance up close. The “unexpected” doesn’t have to be limited to traditional flowers. A small maple twig with its early spring clusters of red sparks can enliven any bouquet. In a vase, you can enjoy these tiny blossoms, which normally are insignificant when perched up high in a tree. Check shrubs, other trees, and vines to scout for more off-beat material that can add significant interest to your spring flower arrangement.
This spring I’ve dared to venture even further into the unexpected, and I did it without using a vase or water. For our extended family’s Easter dinner, my wife, Wilma, had tied the napkins at each place setting with a piece of pastel ribbon. I ventured outdoors to see what might be available to tuck in under the ribbons. To my delight, I found some Roman Hyacinths that had survived that horrible extended onslaught of unseasonably cold temperatures and winds. These are very delicate blooms, only five or six to a gently-curved stem, unlike the chunky, ram-rod straight varieties we’re used to seeing. Their fragrance is intoxicating but not overpowering. It provided just the right amount of aroma to announce that spring had, indeed, arrived despite the blustery weather outdoors. I also found a few crocus blossoms that had remained unscathed, but it was late in the day and they had already closed for the night. I decided to bring a few indoors anyway and, much to my surprise, once they warmed up, they opened up wide with slightly recurved petals—a perfect complement to the pure white hyacinths
And with that I’d better close. I just realized that I’m beginning to sound way too much like Martha Stewart!
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Coleus 507Notes from the Garden
How would you like to grow a plant in your garden that stays beautiful the whole season; adds dramatic color to the garden the instant you plant it; requires little care, can be grown in sun or shade; comes in an incredible variety of colors, sizes, and shapes; has leaves that can be as large as six inches or as tiny as half an inch long; can also be grown as a houseplant; and roots easily in water? Coleus is your answer.
Coleus first burst onto the garden scene during the Victorian era, coming originally from Indonesia and Africa where it is native. Dutch traders carried several species to Europe in the mid-1800s, where plant breeders began to hybridize them. Each hybridizer tried to create a new hybrid with leaves more wildly variegated and colored than his/her competitor. New plants often commanded outrageous prices, just like tulip bulbs did during “tulipmania” two centuries prior. In the 1890s, both English and American gardeners adopted coleus with great enthusiasm, and the “coleus craze” was born. They not only incorporated it into their gardens, but took cuttings in the fall to use as houseplants during the winter months.
In modern times, the popularity of coleus waxes and wanes. Judging from the increasing number of varieties available at garden centers and in mail order catalogs at the moment, coleus is once again on the upswing. There are currently an incredible 1,431 named varieties on the market. Many go by such fanciful names as Amazing Grape, Bada Bing, Between-the-Lines, Careless Love, Darth Vader, Gatorade Gal, Holy Guacamole, Loco Motion, Measles, Nearly Nothin’, Puce Snit, Religious Radish (my personal favorite, since my last name means radish in German), Sufferin’ Succotash, Titanic Can Can, Worm Wings, and Yada Yada Yada.
Originally a shade plant, coleus varieties have recently been developed that can take full sun. Among these are Tilt-a-Whirl, Christmas Candy, Golden Sun, Sun Rose, Red Ruffles, Rustic Orange, Solar Morning Mist, and Indian Frills. These and all other coleus varieties are very easy to grow. Plant them outdoors after all danger of frost has passed and the nighttime temperature no longer falls below 50 degrees. They do well in almost any kind of soil, but do best in well-drained soil that is fertile or that has been amended with compost. Make sure that the soil doesn’t get overly dry and be sure to plant in shade or part shade, unless the plants are of the sun-tolerant variety. Sun tolereant coleus can be grown in shade as well, but colors are more intense when exposed to part or full sun. If your soil is rich or has been amended with compost, no plant food is necessary. Even so, I do feed my coleus weekly with a dilute liquid fertilizer and am rewarded with extra-large plants.
Finally, a little known aspect of the coleus plant (except in certain circles!) is its psychoactive properties. This means that if you were to eat enough coleus leaves, you would get high and have mild hallucinations. The Mazatec indians of southern Mexico are reported to indulge on a regular basis. So the next time you’re in a garden center and you see someone buying up all the coleus plants in sight, be very suspicious! There are no really dangerous side effects, although some users do feel a degree of nausea about half an hour after getting all those leaves down. Not only do you have to ingest an incredible number of leaves to get any kind of reaction, they taste absolutely terrible. (No wonder users get nauseated!). Lest my readers get the wrong idea, I must hasten to add that I am not writing this from personal experience!
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Griffith Buck roses 607Notes from the Garden
Finally, nearly a decade after his death, one of the world’s greatest rosarians is receiving the public recognition he so richly deserves. Griffith J. Buck (1915-1991), affectionately known as “Griff,” was a rose researcher/hybridizer at Iowa State University and professor of horticulture at ISU from 1948 to 1985.
As a youngster, Griff once paid a quarter to the local YMCA to get a pen pal, but none of the persons he wrote to sent a reply. He decided on a whim to simply write to a name and address he found in a library book. It happened to be that of a rose nurseryman in Spain, Pedro Dot. Dot received the letter and asked his niece, Maria Antonia, to respond and to include notes and tips on rose growing. She told Buck how to hybridize roses and urged him to give it a try. The resulting friendship would span three generations with the Dot family. Pedro Dot became his mentor, and Buck eventually named a rose after him.
After a brief stint as a school teacher and service in the military, Buck entered Iowa State College in January of 1946, enrolling in the horticulture program. He received his doctorate in horticulture and microbiology in March of 1953 and attained the rank of full professor in 1974.
Dr. Buck began his rose breeding program with a rose from Siberia, Rosa laxa semipalatinsk, obviously very winter hardy, but also a repeat bloomer and quite fragrant. He crossed it with some American rose varieties, but wasn’t happy with the result. He decided to write to Wilhelm Kordes, the famous rose hybridizer in Germany, explaining what he was trying to do and how his results were less than promising. Kordes replied that the problem lay with one of the seed parents he was using. He sent Buck a sweetbrier hybrid, 'Josef Rothmund'.
When this rose bloomed, Buck crossed it with his Siberian Rosa laxa. One of the resulting plants was pink like 'Josef Rothmund,' but with fewer petals. It was this parent that Buck began to cross with existing garden roses.
Not only did he work with the existing rose gene pool to develop beautiful roses, he also practiced survival of the fittest. The crosses that turned out to be susceptible to disease or were not bone hardy were discarded. It is difficult to believe, from our perspective today, that this was a new and radical concept. Up until that time, serious rose growers had to devote much time and possess great skill in order to make most of their roses survive and thrive. It was Buck who changed all that.
The roses resulting from Buck’s breeding program are not only disease and drought resistant, but many are able to survive and thrive no matter what the weather. His collection provides solutions and options for landscapes in every imaginable climate.
International rose hybridizers have incorporated Buck roses into their breeding programs since the 1980s, but, ironically, his roses have not been widely available in the U.S. Fortunately, for those of us who grow roses, nurseries have recently made a concerted effort to bring 77 of the 80-some Buck roses into the horticultural trade this year. Reiman Gardens at ISU currently grows 75 of these varieties. One variety, Carefree Beauty, has been growing in our own gardens for at least 25 years. My mother-in-law received it as a special birthday gift from one of her daughters.
There are over 60 sources from which Buck Roses are currently available. These include nurseries in the US, Canada, England, New Zealand, Denmark, Norway, and India. Closer to home, I’ve seen Buck roses for sale at Earl May, Peck’s, and Culver’s. The Sam Kedem nursery in southern Minnesota is offering 64 different Buck roses for sale this year. Why not try one or several in your garden yet this season? If you buy the roses potted, they can be planted at any time during the current growing season. Be sure to ask if the plants are “own root.” The advantage of this kind of rose over the grafted kind is that if the plant should die back to the ground, it will return in the spring, true to variety. Shoots originating from the roots of grafted plants will be those of the stock onto which your rose was grafted, rather than those of the variety you bought, and it will generally be greatly inferior, with few, if any, blossoms.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Daylilies 707Notes from the Garden
That old garden stalwart, the daylily, is now in bloom in area gardens. It has, in recent, years, also been showing up in landscape plantings around malls and highway medians. There are many reasons for the continuing and ever increasing popularity of this rugged, yet beautiful plant that goes by the biological name of Hemerocallis. Here are a few: In North America it can be found growing from the colder reaches of Canada to the shores of the Gulf of Mexico and from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic. It is virtually disease-free. It has a long blooming period during the spring and summer, and many newer varieties are essentially ever blooming. Although, as its name implies, a single blossom lasts only one day, the plant produces so many blossoms at one time that one scarcely notices that fact. Incidentally, the plant’s name also perpetuates a falsehood. Biologically, the daylily is actually not a lily. Lilies belong to a completely different genus known as ‘Lilium.’
China is the daylily’s original home. From there it found its way to Asia Minor and then to Greece, where, as early as 70 A.D., the Greek herbalist, Dioscorides, referred to a variety now called the Lemon Lily. This lovely, fragrant daylily is still grown and prized in today’s gardens for its fragrance and long-lasting light yellow blooms. It was a frequent denizen of old Amana gardens as well and can still be found in several today, including ours.
From Europe, the daylily made its way to our shores with colonial settlers. At that time there were very few varieties to choose from. Perhaps the most popular was an orange variety that many of us now call the ‘Ditch Lily’ for obvious reasons. Because it is so prevalent along roadsides today, many people believe it to be one of our native plants. It’s actually an escapee from those early colonial gardens. Orange was one of only three colors known to daylilies in colonial times. The other two were yellow and a kind of smoky red. From this limited palette hybridizers have created near-whites, pastels, pinks, vivid reds, purples, a nearly true blue, and many fabulous blends.
Because of its tremendous popularity and because it’s so easy to hybridize, there are currently over 35,000 named daylily varieties in existence. This surely must be a record among plant species cultivated throughout the world. Like the coleus varieties I mentioned in my previous column, daylily varieties have interesting names, some pragmatic, some fanciful, and some downright disgusting. Here is a sampling: 'Bachelor's Dream,’ 'Bluegrass Bubblegum,’ 'Counter-Terrorist,’ 'Got No Goat,’ 'Grapefruit Guts,’ 'I Am Not A Mutant,’ 'I Have Issues,’ 'Mermaids Splash,’ 'Mystic Jellyfish,’ 'Pancake Platypus,’ ‘Primal Scream,’ 'Release Your Inhibitions,’ 'Resistance is Futile,’ 'Too Many Petals,' and 'The Moose Camped in a Tent on Tuesday,’ (I kid you not!). One wonders what one would get if one crossed 'Release Your Inhibitions' with 'Resistance is Futile. Perhaps ‘Primal Scream?' The latter, by the way, came in second this year in the American Hemerocallis Society’s annual popularity contest. You may view a photo of it on the internet at http://davesgarden.com/pf/showimage/115630/.
Among the many attributes of daylilies is their value as a food source. The flower buds are prized by the Chinese as quite tasty, digestible, and nutritious. I can personally attest to that. I’ve also baked the plant’s tubers and found them to be edible, with a unique flavor that I can only describe as ‘smoked potato.’ As a medicine the root and crown were and still are used by many Chinese as a reliable pain reliever.
A recent innovation in daylily breeding is the double-flowered form. One of the most well-formed doubles to date is ‘Peony Display.’ It has a pastel peach colored blossom and really does almost look like a peony. You may judge its form for yourself in the photo below. Better yet, come visit our gardens and see the real thing in living color!
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Fall-blooming plants 807Notes from the Garden
It’s hard to believe that fall is almost upon us. Summer seems like a mere blur on the merry-go-round of seasonal change. If you’re up to thinking about fall and like early spring flowers, now is the time to order–or pick up at your favorite garden center—crocus, daffodils, hyacinths, tulips, and other wonderful spring-blooming bulbs that need to be planted in late September or early October.
Aside from spring bulbs, I’ve listed below some fall-blooming plants that have done well in our gardens and can still be planted in the next month or so. I’ve selected my favorite tree, vine, grass, and perennial flower for your consideration.
The hands-down favorite among trees comes from China and is known as ‘Chinese Seven-Son-Flower Tree’ (Heptacodium miconioides). Its common name is derived from the fact that the fragrant, white, double flowers appear in clusters of seven. Don’t let the fact that it comes from China and has an exotic name fool you. This tree is bone hardy and does just about everything. Its flowers are opening as I write this. The sweet perfume attracts bees and often great swarms of Monarch butterflies. It’s the only tree that flowers at this late point in the growing season. Once the petals fall off, the calyx that held them in place enlarges and turns pink. Then the tree blooms pink for several weeks. Finally, if conditions are right, the leaves turn red. As if that’s not enough, its bark exfoliates (sloughs off), revealing a light tawny orange pattern that’s unique among trees of any variety. It has recently become available from several mail order companies and is beginning to find its way to a local nursery or two. I predict that its popularity will mushroom, once gardeners discover its fantastic performance.
My favorite fall vine is the Sweet Autumn Clematis. Botanists seem to be having a difficult time deciding what its scientific name should be. So far, it’s been classified as Clematis paniculata, Clematis maximonowicziana (This name is falling into disuse, and it’s not hard to see why!), and Clematis terniflora. The latter seems to be the current favorite. Whatever its name, this is a great clematis, tough as nails, blooming prolifically, and emitting a wonderful vanilla fragrance from its billowing clouds of white blossoms. We have planted it on the trellised walls of our screen house, where we can enjoy its sweet aroma as we rest inside from our gardening chores. It’s generally available at local- and mail order nurseries.
Giant Maiden Grass (Miscanthus giganteus) tops my list of favorite ornamental grasses. Like all such grasses, it’s late to emerge in the spring. I don’t mind a big bare spot in the spring garden, though, because I know that my patience will be rewarded with a stunning specimen. As its name implies, this is a very tall grass. It grows in a large clump (Ours is about seven feet wide and twelve feet tall at the moment.) The huge (up to 77 inches long) arched and cascading leaves will soon be topped with fluffy plumes a full 15 feet above the ground. Obviously, this is a plant that should be grown as a specimen, deserving a spot all by itself to show off its fall glory. It’s currently available by mail order and, although I haven’t seen any, I suspect that some local nurseries carry it as well.
Although not my favorite fall perennial, would you believe that goldenrod is considered one of the top ten fall-blooming perennials by garden gurus? We do grow it in our gardens, though through no effort of our own. It has self-seeded from surrounding fields and adds some welcome golden color to several of our fall beds. There are many good fall-blooming perennials, including the ever popular mums and asters. If pressed to decide among them, I would have to pick the perennial sunflower (Helianthus multiflorus). Somewhat of a misnomer, the name suggests a blossom like that of the annual sunflower we all know. Instead, the blossoms are a clear yellow, fully double, dahlia-like, and two to three inches in diameter. It grows three to four feet tall. Unlike some mums, this helianthus returns reliably, year after year, and withstands both drought and soggy weather. It’s seldom bothered by insects or disease. Fairly common in the nursery trade, you should be able to find this plant at any local garden center.
For more information about the care and sources of any of these plants, you may email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy fall gardening!
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Colchicums; aspirin trial results 907Notes from the Garden
Few "bulbs" are more valuable in the garden and less appreciated than the colchicums. They actually grow and bloom from a “corm,” (as do gladioli) but since corms look like bulbs, gardeners tend to call them as they see them. Corms differ from bulbs visually in that they are somewhat flatter in shape than true bulbs are. From a horticultural viewpoint, corms store food near the bottom, whereas bulbs store theirs in fleshy scales that run the entire length of the bulb. Common names for colchicums include “autumn crocus,” “meadow saffron,” and “naked ladies” (not to be confused with the more common member of the amaryllis family that goes by the same name).
As one of its common names indicates, the fall blossoms of the colchicum closely resemble those of the familiar crocuses that bloom in the spring. Botanically speaking, however, the two are not closely related. The colchicum actually belongs to the lily family. Blossoms range in color from white to pink to yellow to purple, some even exhibiting two colors on the same blossom. Another distinguishing factor is that the flowers are indeed “naked,” as there are no leaves present when the plant is in flower. The relatively large leaves emerge in early spring and are quite decorative. They wither and die about the same time as the foliage of late-blooming tulips.
The most spectacular members of the species are those that bear huge (in comparison to the regular crocus flower size), fully double flowers. These come in white and lavender-pink and are known as Waterlily Colchicums. If you’d like to try a colchicum or two, the Waterlily varieties are the ones I would recommend highly. They’re somewhat pricey, anywhere from $5 to $15 per corm, but well worth the money. The reason for the expense is that the market doesn't have long to respond. Because colchicums have a very short dormancy period in July and August and can only be dug when they’re dormant, growers have very little time to dig, divide, package and send the bulbs to distributors. Soon thereafter they need to be planted. This is why garden centers don’t routinely carry them. Your best bet is to order a bulb or two from a mail order nursery such as McClure and Zimmerman in Friesland, Wisconsin or Bluestone Perennials in Madison, Ohio. Most autumn crocus varieties are hardy in our Zone 5 gardens. Since some are not, be sure to check for hardiness before you order.
While colchicums can be expensive, your initial investment will yield high returns. From one corm, you’ll generally get seven or eight in two years or so. If you keep dividing the clumps of corms every few years, you’ll end up with scores of corms in a very short time. Give some to friends and neighbors so they can enjoy them with you. That way you’ll also help to spread the word about colchicums to the larger gardening community. As I write this, several Waterlily Colchicums are in full bloom in our gardens. When other garden denizens are looking a bit ragged, as they tend to do at this time in the gardening season, autumn crocus blossoms are a welcome sight.
The history of the colchicum dates back at least to the 1500s. Dioscorides, a famous Greek physician, mentions its poisonous properties in 1518, while Tragus, a Greek contemporary, mentions that it was used by the Arabians as a remedy for rheumatism and gout. In England, where colchicums grow wild in many areas, it was used as a domestic remedy for various ailments from an early date, though it was long held in great disfavor by the medical profession. The active substance is colchicine, found in both the seeds and the corm. In more modern times, it has been shown to have anticancer properties and is still used to treat gout (a treatment of which this writer has been a direct beneficiary).
Aspirin trial update: Earlier this year I wrote about aspirin as a stimulant for plant growth and a promoter of general plant health and of my intention to try it on some plants in our gardens. I used the recommended dose of Alka-Seltzer (which contains aspirin and a fizzing agent), treating a tomato plant and a house plant at the recommended intervals. Two tomato plants of the same variety served as controls. Initially, the treated tomato was noticeably more robust and remained disease-free, while the untreated tomato plants began to suffer from fungal and virus infections. About halfway through the season, however, the treated tomato began to exhibit disease symptoms as well. As I write this, all three tomato plants are equally affected and have produced approximately the same yields. The house plant, a Swedish Ivy, exhibited more promising results. When I started the treatment, it was suffering from leaf curl and yellowing. After several treatments, much to my delight, the leaves greened up, and it began growing vigorously. It is now a beautiful plant, with numerous trailing vines over a yard long.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
The pumpkin 1007Notes from the Garden
Thoughts this time of year turn to that ever-present icon of the fall season, the pumpkin. There’s the Pumpkin Fest in Anamosa with its thousand-pound-plus monsters, there’s Halloween with scary-faced pumpkins lighting the night, and there’s Thanksgiving with that all-American favorite, pumpkin pie.
Pumpkins are believed to have originated in North America. Seeds from related plants have been found in Mexico dating back from 7000 to 5500 B.C. They eventually made their way to Europe, where Greeks referred to them as "pepon" which means "large melon." When the pumpkin arrived in France, the French pronounced the Greek word "pompon." In England it became "pumpion." Shakespeare refers to the "pumpion" in his play, Merry Wives of Windsor.
After coming to America, the colonists soon changed "pumpion" into "pumpkin." It has played a role in such literary classics as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Washington Irving), When the Frost is on the Punkin (James Whitcomb Riley), and childhood favorites Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater and Cinderella. Today pumpkins are grown all over the world on six of the seven continents, with Antarctica being the sole exception. They’re even grown in Alaska!
Native Americans dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats. They also roasted long strips of pumpkin on the open fire and ate them. Pumpkin pie is thought to have originated when the colonists sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds, and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. The pumpkin was then baked in hot ashes. Early settlers used them in a wide variety of recipes for stews and soups as well.
The pumpkin is really a squash belonging to the Curcurbita family of plants. This family includes all varieties of squash, watermelon, and cucumbers. There are several basic pumpkin varieties. Cucurbita moschata is the pumpkin you eat when you buy it canned in the grocery store. Commercial pumpkins produced for food look different from the ones we’re used to seeing. They tend to be oblong and have a tan skin. Cucurbita pepo is the most commonly-grown pumpkin for Jack-o-lanterns. Included in this species are those cute little, recently-developed pumpkins that fit in the palm of your hand; the ghostly white pumpkins now in vogue; and the oddly-shaped and -colored blue or blue-green pumpkins from Australia. Cucurbita maxima pumpkins are the beasts of the pumpkin patch. Members in this species include the giant prize winners such as the Atlantic Giant. This year’s honors went to Joe Jutras from North Scituate, Rhode Island, who brought a 1,689 pound pumpkin to the Topsfield Fair weigh-off in Topsfield, Massachusetts on September 29. His new world record beats the previous world record by 187 pounds.
Pumpkins not only taste good, they’re nutritious and good for your health. They have zero cholesterol, are low in salt, contain beta carotene which not only helps to reduce certain types of cancer but lowers the risk of heart disease as well, and their seeds help reduce the risk of prostate cancer. The fiber in pumpkins is a remedy for both constipation and diarrhea. A number of chemical substances found in pumpkins are primary ingredients in facial and anti-wrinkle crèmes. Eating pumpkin was also once believed to help eliminate freckles and was a remedy for snakebites.
And finally, a bit of trivia to try out on your friends: Where is the pumpkin capitol of the world? Right next door to Iowa in Morton, Illinois (south of Peoria) where Libby has its pumpkin factory.