26 July 2014

A fresh slant on native vs invaders

The push for native plants, bees, animals, and, well, closed borders in general is just part of the times we live in. Immigrants bad. Indigenous good.

Emma Marris, author of Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World. attended a conference in Montana at the North American Congress for Conservation Biology. 

It's an enlightening read - quick, too. Follow this link to the article Marris wrote for National Geographic.

"As scientists have sounded the alarm about these pests, the public has gotten the message. Citizen groups rip out non-native plants. Native gardens have become increasingly popular, both as ways to celebrate the unique flora of each region and as tiny hot spots of diversity. Native trees provide food for native bugs, which feed native birds. Food chains developed over thousands of years of co-evolution unfold in our backyards. We're even going native in the kitchen, with fine restaurants increasingly focused around locally hunted, foraged, and grown ingredients.
So we've learned, scientists and lay people alike, that native species are good and non-natives are bad.
Julian Olden, a biologist at the University of Washington, Seattle, who co-organized the symposium, recently polled nearly 2,000 ecologists. Among his findings: A substantial number of them said they would immediately eradicate a hypothetical non-native forest plant, even if it were shown to have no effect on the forest. Olden calls this the "guilty even when proven innocent" approach."
"How, scientists at the symposium wondered, do you define "native" on a warming planet, when plants and animals are already moving toward the poles or up mountainsides in search of climate conditions they can tolerate? Should we consider them "invasive" in their new homes? Regardless of what we label them, conservationists will be reluctant to remove them from their new environs—to do so would stymie their chances of adapting to the warmer future we're creating.
And then there are the non-natives that we actually like. Most domestic crops are exotic in most of the places they're grown, but there are even wild exotics that "do good," forming useful relationships with native species."
More at the link 

24 July 2014

Fennel - start seeds July-August

Of all the herbs we can grow in our gardens, Fennel has as many valuable uses as its close cousins, parsley, carrot, coriander and dill. They are all members of the Apiaceae plant family, native to southern Europe but naturalized throughout the world.

Fennel is the characteristic sweet flavor that dominates sausage and Italian pasta sauces. It is a nutritious addition to salads, and is a must-have for butterfly and pollinator gardeners.

The bulbs are cooked with other root vegetables such as carrots, onions and garlic for a hot side dish and baked with pasta for an entrée. The stalks are added to stock to make broths.

Fennel contains Vitamin C, potassium, manganese, copper, phosphorus, folate, calcium, and iron plus the phytonutrients, flavonoids, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and liver protection (http://hort.li/1rxe).

Fennel seeds are used in Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian cooking. In Chinese Five Spice it is called anise. In ancient China it was used as a treatment for snake bites, probably because of its anti-inflammatory properties. Most commercial Fennel seed comes from Egypt.

In French and Italian cooking, Fennel has been a key player for hundreds of years. In Greek myths Fennel was associated with the god of food and wine, Dionysus.

One of the best-known medicinal uses for Fennel is mixing Fennel water with sodium bicarbonate and syrup to make Gripe Water for soothing infants’ indigestion. Fennel tea or juice is made by pouring a half pint of boiling water on a teaspoon of seeds.

Add Fennel leaves, stems or bulbs to apple, ginger, carrot, beet, cucumber and lime for a beverage or smoothie.

There are two distinctions between Fennel varieties: The types that make large, edible bulbs and those that do not. All Foeniculum varieties are easy to grow and seeds are best planted mid-summer.

Most varieties grow 4 to 5 feet tall but Florence, called finocchio or azoricum is smaller with a larger root.

Smokey or Bronze Fennel is very popular for kitchen and garden though it does not form bulbs.

If the flower heads are pinched off, the stems become thick and can be blanched for the table.

It also has feathery purple leaves that can be used in flower arrangements. Johnny’s Seeds has 1,000 Bronze Fennel seeds for $4 at www.johnnyseeds.com.

Bulbing Fennel is called finocchio or Florence fennel. Fedcoseeds.com sells Perfection Fennel that they say is the best bulber, developing the fewest stalks but large bulbs for cooking.

Seeds of Change.com sells Zefa Fino Florence which is an old Italian variety with flat, elongated bulbs (100 seeds for $3.49).

Seeds from Italy (growitalian.com) offers several varieties with descriptions, including non-bulbing, bulbing and Fennel Bianco Perfezione Sel Fano-White Perfection for fall planting. Sand Mountain Herbs sells 100 Fennel azoricum seeds for $2 at www.sandmountainherbs.com.

Fennel can become perennial since it is cold hardy to zone 7. Farther north it is grown as an annual.

Plant pre-soaked seeds 1/4th inch deep in full sun (http://hort.li/1rDI). Plants mature in 80 to 100 days. Fennel can take some afternoon shade but cannot tolerate soil that is constantly water logged.

When the seedlings emerge, plant them 6 to 12-inches apart to allow room for plants to grow large. Space rows 3-feet apart. Plant Fennel away from other herbs since it cross-pollinates with other herbs readily. It self-seeds quite a bit in our garden so if you prefer to manage the amount you grow, remove the seed heads before they mature.

The Eastern Black Swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes and Anise Swallowtail butterfly, Papilio zelicaon, use Fennel as a host. If swallowtail butterflies visit your garden they may lay eggs and their caterpillars will eat the plants bare in the process of making the next generation of butterflies.

22 July 2014

Crystal Bridges Museum - grounds, architecture and art

Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville Arkansas has miles of gorgeous trails, carefully planted with natives. My 2012 tour and visit with the Scott Eccleston, Director of Trails and Grounds is here http://allthedirtongardening.blogspot.com/2012/05/gardens-at-crystal-bridges-museum.html.

Admission to the gardens, 3.5 miles of trails, parking and the art museum is free. Guided tours are available. There is a coffee bar and a restaurant as well as a gift shop.

We returned recently to see how the museum and grounds looked. Plants have matured quite a bit and the museum is spectacular.

Here's a photo essay

Here's a link to the Crystal Bridges Plant Guide http://crystalbridges.org/trails-and-grounds/plant-guide/

19 July 2014

Black Beauty Lily visited by Silver Spotted Skipper

Black Beauty Lily is one of the most beautiful lilies in our garden.
Called indestructible by Old House Garden Bulbs, it can take full sun or part shade, most soil types and is cold hardy in zones 5 to 8. 

The stalks are 6 to 8 feet tall in our garden and have to be staked if they are in too much shade. The faded flowers are snipped off to prevent seed set. Then, when the stems start to turn yellow they are cut off.

Each bulb will make bulb offsets that can be dug and moved to create large swaths of plants. Black Beauty is an Orienpet variety. Orienpets are a cross between Oriental lilies and Trumpet and Aurelian hybrids. There are more to enjoy at the Lily Garden site.

 Though his real claim to fame is the Stargazer Lily, Lily breeder Leslie Woodruff is credited with bringing Black Beauty into the world of flower lovers.

Woodruff lived a life of dedication to crossbreeding begonias and lilies and lived in a "ramshackle home and greenhouse." Read more about him at this link.

The Silver Spotted Skipper on the flower is abundant in our flower beds, though we are at the end of its range.

Bug Guide Silver Spotted Skipper
I'm not aware of seeing the caterpillars or chrysalis around the garden but I suspect they must be nearby since there are dozens of adults on the flowers.

Butterflies and Moths of North America's site has the entire scoop on Silver Spotted Skippers.

17 July 2014

Brunnera Macrophylla, Viper's Bugloss, Alkanet, Sea Heart

Brunnera is a clump forming perennial for parts of the garden where moist shade prevents other ground
covers from thriving. Not only is it low-maintenance, but it has long-lasting sprays of flowers, is rabbit
Brunnera Silver Heart
and deer resistant.

The most common name used for these plants is bugloss, from two Greek words: ox and tongue
because the rough leaves looked and felt like ox tongues to the person who named it. The new hybrids
look more like silver and green or cream and green hearts than ox tongues, but still have lovely clusters
of flowers.

The old medicinal variety, Echium vulgare or Viper’s Bugloss, is sometimes found in seed catalogs listed
as Blueweed (see Richter’s Herbs www.richters.com). To see several other Echium varieties, look no
further than Annie’s Annuals at http://hort.li/1qO9.

Another common variety, Lycopsis arvenis, is called Small Bugloss. It has waxy, toothed leaves and its
flowers are wheel shaped.

Historically, Viper's Bugloss was used to expel poisons and venom, and to cure the bites of a viper,
hence its name. The snake head appearance of the seeds led people to think it was a cure for serpent
bites. Echis is the word for viper and Echium stems from that history.

Brunnera Sea Heart
Water steeped with Bugloss root was taken for a trembling heart, swooning, and sadness caused by
passions and melancholy. Water steeped with the leaves was made into a cordial used for headaches
and nerves. The seeds were steeped in wine to comfort the heart.

The Brunnera used in shade gardens is in the same plant genus. Be sure to look for Brunnera when
shopping for the seeds or plants unless you specifically want the medicinal.

Brunneras are cold hardy from zone 3 to 9 and appreciate quite a bit of shade in our zone 7 since the
leaves burn in too much sun. Most varieties mature at a maximum of 18-inches tall when in bloom and
are a ground hugging clump the rest of the time.

The generic Brunnera macrophylla is a tough plant with solid green leaves. The varieties available for
purchase have other leaf colors. Companion plants with similar cultural requirements include Hostas,
Hellebore, Lamium, Japanese Painted Ferns and Bleeding Heart.

When found in stores and catalogs, these plants will have Brunnera macrophylla or Anchusa in their

Brunnera m. Diane’s Gold has gold-yellow leaves and blue flowers.

Brunnera m. Jack Frost has silvery leaves with green veins. Jack Frost was the 2012 Perennial Plant of the
Year and is available through Plant Delights Nursery (www.plantdelights.com).

Brunnera Langtrees or Silver Spot has green leaves dotted with silver. Heat and cold hardy.

Brunnera Looking Glass has leaves that are so silver they look metallic. Bluestone Perennials has Looking
Glass plants at http://hort.li/1qOr. They call it False Forget Me Not.

Bluestone also has Brunnera m. King’s Ransom which has silver, gold and green variegated leaves and
blue flowers. This one is called Siberian Bugloss.

Skagit Gardens (www.skagitgardens.com) is one of the plant breeders that brought new varieties to
market. Their Brunnera m. Sea Heart has silver leaves with thick, dark green veins. Sea Heart has
clusters of flowers that open pink and become blue.
Brunnera Silver Heart

Brunnera m. Silver Heart has pure silver leaves with light green veining. The flowers are blue.

Digging Dog Nursery (http://diggindog.com) has Heartleaf Brunnera plants, which they also call Siberian
or Common Bugloss and Alkanet. They also have Brunnera m. Hadspen Cream. Its leaves are mostly
green with white margins.

Alkanet seeds are available from Sand Mountain Herbs at http://hort.li/1qOn. The seeds are started in
the fall. Once you get Alkanet started in a shady spot, it will re-seed.

All varieties of Brunnera are great looking additions to shade gardens.

14 July 2014

White-lined sphinx moth is Hyles lineata

Thanks to Focus on Nature, it was easy to confirm the identification of this beauty hanging out on the tool bin in the garden shed.

Sphinx moths and hawk moths are members of the Sphingidae family. They are strong flying insects with rapid wingbeats, making them difficult to photograph. The adults feed on flowers at dusk or at night.

Their larvae or caterpillars are the hornworms that live on the leaves of tomatoes and tobacco, making them unpopular with gardeners and farmers.

Bug Life Cycles website
We don't grow tomatoes but have ornamental tobacco that we grow just for moths - it has white flowers that open at night and bring them in.

The caterpillars will also eat the leaves of Four O'Clock, Apple, Evening Primrose, Elm, Grapes, Purslane and a few other plants.

Uniquely, they pupate in the ground and if  you garden a lot like we do, you've seen them. I usually toss them out to the birds for them to feed their babies.

The native range of this beautiful moth is from South America to Canada. It is not endangered.

12 July 2014

Perennial Sweet Pea Vine is Lathyrus Latifolius

Perennial Sweet Peas are much more successful in our zone 7 gardens than the English Sweet Peas that prefer cooler, moist weather. The English varieties are well suited to zones north of us and on the west coast of the U.S.

Easily started from seed, Perennial Sweet Peas return from the root plus re-seed. The seeds need to be scarified but our winter freezing weather takes care of that.
The ones climbing the fence in full shade are almost finished for the season but the ones in part-shade are still loaded with flowers and there is no end in sight.

Phagat's article about them is titled "Invasive Perennial Sweet Pea" but in our low-care acreage, they are very well behaved.  

There are 150 Lathyrus species - annuals, herbaceous and evergreen perennials from Africa and South America. Generally, they prefer fertile, humus-rich, well-drained soil in full sun or dappled shade.

If you want to start some from purchased seed in the early spring, soak the seed or nick it to help them get started. They are hardy in zones 4 to 7. Farther south, it's just too hot for them.

In addition to using them to cover a fence and wind their way though crapemyrtle and white phlox, Lathyrus Latifolius can be used to cover a bank.

Bumblebees love to pollinate these!

11 July 2014

Drink the Harvest - Eat Your Yard - delicious advice from Nan K. Chase

Exploring new plants and gardens is just part of the thrill when you approach gardening the way Nan Chase does.

Chase is the author of the book “Eat Your Yard” and her new book “Drink the Harvest” is out this month. 

Chase is a dynamic speaker who knows how to simplify her concepts, making it seem possible to grow plenty of fruits and vegetables to satisfy family and friends.

One of her websites, http://drinktheharvest.com, is filled with ideas about what to plant and how to use what you grow. The book, “Drink the Harvest” is a well-illustrated how-to manual for those are just beginning or are experienced in putting food up.

Chase and her co-author DeNeice C. Guest are enthusiastic about juicing garden produce because it is much easier to can than jam or pie filling, useful for making beverages, and makes use of bumper crops and less attractive produce.

Their favorite juicing fruits are apples, crab apples, lemons, oranges, grapefruit, peaches, pears, bramble berries, currants, grapes, serviceberries, strawberries, rhubarb, quince, and watermelon.
They also recommend juicing with beets, carrots, celeriac, potatoes, tomatoes, basil, bay, bee balm, mint, garlic, fennel, and more.

The authors garden in zone 7 Asheville, NC, and in addition to a grow-your-own approach, they advise readers to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables to make drinks, syrups, wine, mead, and tea.

Chase has gardened in the same place for 7-years, focusing on packing her clay-dirt yard with easy-to-grow edibles that add beauty to her home’s landscape. The Asheville E-Z Gardeners club she belongs to has as its motto, “If it’s not E-Z, we don’t do it”.

In her home landscape Chase grows popcorn, beans, grapes, pomegranate, Brussels sprouts, sunflowers, Jerusalem artichokes and assorted herbs.

“Bird baths are critical,” said Chase. “Lose the bird feeders. Invite the birds with water and they will clean the insects off your plants for you.”

Chase harvests grape leaves in the spring before they are tough, pickles and cans them to use later in the year to make stuffed grape leaves. When harvesting Muscadine grapes in the fall, she dehydrates the grape skins to use as snacks and in wine-making.

Among the roses in her garden, Chase plants onions. Cabbages grown from purchased seedlings, serve as foundation plantings for one corner of the front of the house.

“Wasps play a huge role in the garden,” Chase said. “They are peaceful and destroy all the cabbage worms that might otherwise be a problem in an organic garden. “

For small yards such as hers, Chase prefers trees that remain compact such as Peterson’s Pawpaw, Serviceberry, and Kerr, Dolgo or Callaway Crabapple. Crabapple blossoms also bring pollinators into the garden while adding beauty that requires no pruning or spraying.

“We used sunflowers as sodbusters on our hard packed clay house lot,” Chase said. “Their huge, fibrous roots broke the soil for us.  And, their roots are edible.”

Jerusalem artichokes are another favorite for the late-summer landscape. Not only are the roots-tubers served at her family dinner table, the seeds are valuable for feeding gold finches.

“Sunchokes can be aggressive but they are good food worth growing,” said Chase. “They are recommended as a potato substitute for diabetics. Cook the tubers unpeeled, mash and serve like potatoes. They can also be deep fried.”

“Drink the Harvest: Making and Preserving Juices, Wines, Meads, Teas and Ciders” is over 200-pages. The paperback, published by Storey (www.storey.com) is $18.95 list and $14 online. “Eat Your Yard” details 35 plants for landscape and kitchen. Published in 2010, it is available online for around $10.

If you want to learn to preserve the juices of fruits and vegetables this is a great place to start.

09 July 2014

17 kids build a salad table

We were happy to have the Muskogee YVC group here for their end of the year party. It was a great year for the blackberries and grapes so the event began with blackberry and grape eating. This year's project was constructing a salad table and this year's lunch was make your own pizza.

The photos will tell you everything!

05 July 2014

Blooming today - Blue Chiffon, Whopper, Coconut Lime, Andrella

Hibiscus Rose of Sharon Blue Chiffon
Blue flowers in the summer garden are such standouts, especially when they can take part shade and blend in easily with the rest of the shrub border. Blue Chiffon Rose of Sharon blooms and blooms every year among other shrubs. This one faces east and is shaded against the brutal western sun by a taller shrub of Mock Orange.

Whopper  Rose Begonia semperflorens
with Bronze Leaf

These Whopper begonias were introduced in 2012 and really make a splash in containers. They are one of the few annuals added in our landscape this year.

Ecinacaea Coconut Lime
Coconut Line Echinacaea is a double-flower white cone flower that has proven itself over the 5-years it has been in our garden. It has never bloomed profusely but returns every year with a dozen or more flowers that pop out in its corner of the bed.

Aster Andrella - China Aster singles
This is my first year planting seeds of Aster Andrella and they will get another chance next year since every one I put in is sturdy and blooming.

They were planted in an area that has never been cultivated before so I'm especially pleased to see how strong they are. They are said to be cold hardy to zone 2 - we shall see.