It's time to read and vote for your favorite article in the 2013 Write-Off Contest! The four finalist's articles are featured in the May 13 newsletter and can be found through this link. Hurry! Voting ends May 18.
Spring is a difficult season for gardeners. We alternate between elation and concern as we watch the weather forecasts. Warmer temperatures and longer days give us hope that winter is past, while late freezes and storms cause anxiety for the plants that have already begun to emerge from their winter dormancy. Spring-flowering trees and shrubs are particularly at risk when the temperatures plummet.
Every year, I start searching my flower beds in February and March for signs of life. Something inside me rejoices to see the green foliage tips pressing upward through the soil, promising that warmer temperatures are just around the corner. At the same time, I feel a certainly motherly anguish: will nature play a nasty trick on me and send a late freeze or a freak blizzard? If so, how will my bulbs survive?
Despite the bleak winter vista outside, there is plenty growing and thriving inside my kitchen, and I don't mean in the pots on my kitchen windowsill. There is another organism, sometimes referred to as “the oldest plant cultivated by man,” bubbling away in the safety of a half-gallon jar in my refrigerator. It is an active colony of wild yeasts, my own living sourdough starter, frothing in a simple concoction of flour and water.
It seems there is a designated day to celebrate just about everything anymore. I was amused to find that there is a day dedicated to banana bread, too! What a great excuse to warm up your kitchen by baking a moist, fragrant batch of banana bread!
With all of the excellent information at my fingertips, and all the knowledge I've gained over the years, I have a sincere question to ask. Why is my garden such a disorganized mess? And what keeps me going, year after year, despite the fact that it never quite lives up to the dream in my head? Why not just. . .give up?
A little over a year ago, I stumbled across a little plant in a pot at a botanical garden plant sale. It immediately brought back childhood memories of the same plant growing in a pot in my parents' living room. As a child, I was fascinated by the way the plant, which my mother called a Piggyback Plant, would reproduce. Instead of setting seed or sending out runners, it formed dozens of tiny plantlets along the jagged edges of the leaves. When I found a specimen again as an adult, I had to purchase it! I thought it would be interesting for my own kids, as well as in the classroom. Let me introduce you to this fascinating plant!
The Christmas season is upon us, and many of us are once again bringing the lovely tradition of the Christmas tree into our homes. If you prefer a “real” Christmas tree to an artificial one, there are many varieties available. Which one best suits your needs? Read on to find out!
This is the third and final article in a series on urushiol-producing plants (poison ivy, poison sumac, and poison oak) in the Toxicodendron family. About 2 million people in the United States are affected each year by this trio of plants. Poison oak is the least widespread of the three, which is fortunate, because it can also be the most difficult to decisively identify!
Sumac trees rank among the most intensely colorful trees in the autumn, with their unmistakably brilliant red compound leaves. They may be small in stature, but the visual impact of a swathe of sumacs in the autumn is without compare. Does that blazing scarlet stand of sumac trees pose any danger? Read on to learn the difference between poison sumac and its harmless cousins!
Gardeners quickly learn to identify their favorite plants, even when they are not in bloom. Just as importantly, however, we need to learn to identify plants that cause irritation and allergic reactions! To that end, this article will help you identify poison ivy in its various stages, and provide some information about why we react, what to do if you have skin exposure, and how to eliminate it from your yard and garden!
It was the summer of 1816, and settlers were pushing westward into new, largely unsettled areas of the United States. Among these early settlers was a family with a now well-known name: Lincoln. These settlers brought along the basic necessities to help them build a new life in the west, along with their livestock. Cows were treasured, both as a source of meat and of milk, and it is particularly tragic that they were the indirect transmitters of an affliction the settlers had not encountered before: milk sickness.
As gardeners, many of us are familiar with impatiens, a staple annual in many shady flower beds. New Guinea impatiens, however, are a near relative that can thrive in partial sun as well as mostly shady areas. This colorful plant can pack a real punch, with intensely colored blooms and attractive variegated foliage. Between the shade varieties and the partial-sun varieties, impatiens have become so popular that they have replaced petunias as the most popular bedding plant!
I fondly remember an August tradition from my childhood, when much of the family would converge at my grandmother’s home in rural Iowa. For an entire week, my cousins and I helped Grandma preserve the daily haul of sweet corn until we had frozen enough corn for all of our families to enjoy throughout the coming year. If you have never frozen your own vegetables, this would be an excellent first project!
If you want to get someone really worked up, just mention a common summertime pest like chiggers, and listen to the results! You'll undoubtedly be regaled with all kinds of "facts" about chiggers, and remedies for their oh-so-uncomfortable bites. Let's take a look at some of the common misperceptions about chiggers, and set the facts straight!
Any historian or genealogist will tell you that every family has its celebrities, and likewise its more deviant members. The plant world is much the same. Within the parsley family, you will find both the popular wildflower, Queen Anne's Lace, and its near look-alike cousin, the poison hemlock.
It is mid-June, and on my last visit to my vegetable garden, I noticed that my nearby hardneck garlic patch looked armed and dangerous. Each stem aimed a pointed arrowhead toward me, as if to fend off an attack.
Plant this colorful, sturdy plant now for a burst of bright, citrusy color in the summer and fall garden! Planting them in late spring and early summer allows them to get established. Once they have settled in to their new location, they will laugh off all the heat and dry conditions that summer can throw at them!
Herb gardens are a wonderful addition to your home garden! A wide variety of gardeners will find something to appeal to their interests, whether they love to cook, make flavorful teas, pamper themselves with home spa products, or just enjoy the additional wildlife that an herb garden can draw!
As a gardener, I have a special appreciation for artists that capture the beauty of nature. I think this is why the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany (1846-1933) has always appealed to me. His stained glass lamps and windows take some of my best-loved garden plants, and translate them into an entirely different medium, without losing the beauty of irregularity and random shapes.
I recently saw a brief news release, announcing the recall of a particular bracelet made of jequirity beans sold by the Eden Project in the UK. They warned of the potential for accidental fatal poisonings, and recommended that anyone who had purchased one enclose it in a sealed bag and return it immediately. I was intrigued; I knew that castor beans were highly poisonous, but hadn't ever heard of jequirity beans. What I learned surprised me! These little legumes are, indeed, dangerously toxic!
This time of year always brings both a flood of joy and a tinge of sadness as I think of the dear family members who are no longer with us. I have a vivid, colorful reminder of my grandmother, Gladys Nichols, in the form of her treasured Christmas cactus, which breaks into bloom every December on my enclosed porch.
When I was a little girl, I loved the idea of Jack Frost. I pictured him as a slight little elf, all dressed in white and blue, who traveled with a magic paintbrush. He decorated our windows, turned each grass blade to a diamond-clad work of art, and could imitate the delicacy of a feather like no painter I'd ever seen.
Autumn brings us many gifts, particularly in the realm of color. On November 14, 1840, we were presented with a uniquely colorful gift: the artist, Oscar-Claude Monet. I believe part of my long fascination with the works of Monet is rooted in the fact that he bore such an obvious love for nature and gardens.
Arums are mysterious plants. You know the type: they send up intriguing foliage in one season, perhaps an unusual flower in another season, and then, long after you've forgotten about the plant altogether, it pops up with an unusual fruit or seed head. Arum pictum, unlike other members of the arum family, makes a dramatic appearance in the autumn, just when you least expect to see it!
If there are three things cherry tomatoes are known for, it is their prolific yields, their sweet flavor, and their propensity to drop lots of fruit that will lead to a bumper crop of volunteer offspring the following summer. This year I found myself not only with the two cherry tomatoes I actually planted, 'Sweet Millions' and 'Black Cherry', but also with several volunteer plants that sprung up among this year’s pea patch. I decided to let them grow, since the peas would wither away before the tomatoes grew to any great size, and see what I ended up with. Predictably, almost all of my volunteers were cherry types, so I kept two extra black cherries, a 'Sungold', and a 'Red Pear'.
It began with the memory of a search for gold. We were so near to the location of mining claims held by the Golden Nonesuch Mining Corporation, which was once held by my husband's family, that he couldn't resist a trek up a rough, winding Montana mountain road in that general direction. We didn't get far enough to reach the mining claims, but I did discover a little treasure of my own, bearing the common name of Western Blue Virginsbower.
Dictamnus, commonly known as a gas plant, is an interesting specimen to include in your perennial garden. It often draws comments initially because it is a very lovely and unusual plant, no longer commonly found in garden centers. Once I mention some of the unique characteristics of the plant, however, which gave it the common names "gas plant" and "burning bush," visitors to my garden are even more intrigued!
As a gardener, I tend to have an eye for beauty. Nothing restores my peace of mind like a perfect bloom, or a stunning sunset. However, gardening has one key element in common with real estate. It's all about location, location, location. A plant that is simply a lovely wildflower in one area of the world can be a devastating menace when relocated to an area where it is separated from its natural ecosystem. Purple loosestrife is just such a plant. While I can easily appreciate its beauty, I cannot ignore the fact that in the wrong location, this Beauty becomes a real Beast.
February has arrived, and with it continual reminders that Valentine's Day is rapidly approaching. As our thoughts turn to the subject of love, let's focus our attention on a captivating plant with the intriguing name "Love Lies Bleeding."
I awoke this morning to a fresh, white world, and as always, was moved by the beauty of it. I am no recent transplant to the Midwest, having lived here my entire life, but there is still something awe-inspiring about the transformation worked in the garden by the first snowfall.
Autumn has begun to cast its chill over us, and in many parts of the United States, our vegetable gardens are showing sure signs of shutting down for the season. Sweet corn and green beans are squirreled away in our freezers and pantries for winter dinners. The tomatoes and peppers provided their last harvests before the first frosts hit. Late summer and early autumn are the perfect time to clean out the exhausted plants from the mid-season crops, and sow a few last rows of leafy greens to bring the season to a close! Spinach is a prime example of a fast-growing crop that will offer delicious dividends for the minimal effort it takes to sow a few rows. A little planning is all it takes to extend the usefulness of your summer garden into the fall months.
Autumn presents a conundrum to the composting gardener. At no other time of year do we have access to such a prolific array of organic materials with which to build our compost piles. At the same time, with winter fast approaching, it becomes more difficult to provide the conditions under which those organic materials decompose into that fabulously rich, earthy medium that gardeners call compost. Don't despair! There are steps you can take to provide the proper conditions for your garden and kitchen waste to continue its progression into compost, even during the dead of winter!
I recently spent half of my Spring Break at Mammoth Cave National Park, near Cave City, Kentucky. The park is obviously well-known for the cave that is within its confines (Mammoth Cave is the longest known cave system in the world, with around 370 miles of passages), but it also contains many lovely hiking trails above ground. It was there that I rediscovered the charm of random patches of flowers dispersed among the leaf litter on the ground, and a subtle smattering of color peeping from behind a fallen log.
Mention Turkish Delight to the average American, and the book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis (or the recent 2005 movie based on the book) will probably come to mind. Mention it to a resident of the other side of the world, however, and the associations will be very different!
Did you know that the magazine lying on your bedside table might have, in a small way, contributed to a phenomenal public garden in Ames, Iowa? You just may find that you have played a minor part in supporting a garden that epitomizes the philosophy of sharing.
This summer, my husband's Aunt Marlene and Uncle Jim introduced us to an entirely new way of making omelets! It is perfect for a camp-out or a quick meal at home, and best of all, each person gets to customize their own omelet to include all their favorite fillings. This is a great way to use some of that summer garden bounty!