30 May 2008

SPAM and BACON What Do You Like?

Photo: Hollyhock buds

The New York Times ran a piece around January listing and defining new words and their use.
We all know what SPAM is - it's the junk mail in your email box.

BACON is SPAM you requested so it is of higher value. BACON includes email newsletters, discussions, photos, notices etc.

My question is which emails do you actually look forward to? Which ones do you open even when you don't have time to read everything in the inbox?

I have a few favorites - some are garden related, others are not. Let's trade.

29 May 2008

Renewing America's Food Traditions

This new book from Chelsea Green Publishing presents a fascinating approach to preserving traditional foods: Get them back into the foodchain.

Not all the foods discussed by the authors are plentiful enough to eat but many are. The extinct or nearly extinct ones such as flying squirrel have to be brought back off the edge before they can return to the table.

Chelsea Green publishes books for people who care: Their titles include the politics and practice of sustainable living, renewable energy, green building, organic gardening, eco-cuisine, and simple living.

"Renewing America's Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent's Most Endangered Foods" has an overview of the history and decline of specific foods for each area of the U.S.

The sections of the country (and the book's chapters) are named Bison Nation, Chestnut Nation, Chile Pepper Nation, etc.

Northeast Oklahoma covers two areas: Cornbread Nation and Bison Nation.

Some of the foods that are in danger of disappearing or have already disappeared from use are Yellow Hickory King Dent Corn, Tennessee Fainting Goat, Chicasaw Plum, Southern Queen Yam, Osage Red Flint Corn, Sibley Pike's Peak Squash, Free-Ranging American Bison, etc.

To illustrate, the Cornbread Nation extends from northeast Texas and Oklahoma, through Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, parts of several other states.

Each food is described and illustrated in photographs. Recipes and an outbox of Further Readings accompanies each one. The Forward and Introduction to the book are worth reading as well.

It is an interesting read with a call to action. While some of us are less interested in the hog, goat and fish selections being brought back to the table, many gardeners would take great pleasure in helping grow obscure vegetables.

Slow Food USA as well as forward looking chefs in the Chef's Collaborative are actively involved with editor Dr. Gary Paul Nabhan and his organization
The Center for Sustainable Environments at Northern Arizona University. Their goals are shared by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, Seed Savers Exchange, Native Seeds/SEARCH, and Cultural Conservancy.

"Renewing America's Food Traditions" is a serious book that is also a great read for anyone who is interested in the history of food and sustainability. It reflects a cultural movement that deserves more attention.

Animal Named Plants Make a Fun Garden

Expressions such as “red as a beet” and “cool as a cucumber” are common ways to use plant names in everyday conversation.

And on the other hand, for some reason, many plants have been given animal names. Several zoos and botanical gardens used this idea and planted children’s gardens with animal named plants.

The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colo., provides a list of their animal named plants at http://www.cmzoo.org/plantswithanimalnames.html.

Glasshouse Works, an online plant seller, offers plants in two categories: Tropical Zoo Animal Plants and Hardy Zoo Animal Plants at http://www.glasshouseworks.com/zooanimals.html. One California landscape company lists plants by animal names at http://www.elnativogrowers.com.
Grandparents, parks and schools are using animal named plantings to help children learn science and math as well as giving them another reason to be physically active.

In one season, a garden could be completely transformed. To make it into a play area, you would just add a few ornaments, a path, a bench or a chair. The back yard could become a great place for children to spend the coming summer days.

Plants with animal names include: Elephant ears, ox-eye daisy, tiger lily, cowslips, hogweed, snapdragon, zebra grass, lamb’s ear, foxglove, spiderwort, wormwood, cranes bill, shrimp plant, bee balm, snakeroot, ostrich plume, leopard’s bane, fleabane, goats beard, toad lily, teddy bear sunflowers, pussy toes, pig squeak, porcupine grass, shoo fly, elephant head amaranth, oyster plant, cat’s whiskers, spider flower, catchfly, monkey flower, cardinal flower, whirling butterflies, bear’s breeches, butterfly bushes, hens and chicks, horsemint, canary melon, green zebra tomato, baby bear pumpkin, tiger melon and dogwood tree.

There are many more but here are descriptions of a few you could choose for an animal themed garden.
• Bee balm (Monarda didyma) — A tall growing herb, also called horsemint, in the mint family with tubular flowers. Attracts hummingbirds and the leaves can be dried and steeped as tea.
• Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) — A semi-evergreen to deciduous shrub with dark green leaves and felted white beneath. It produces small, fragrant flowers in dense, arching, clusters. Blossoms attract butterflies. Can be a perennial if protected over the winter.
• Cardinal Climber Vine (Ipomoea x multifida) — An annual vine with bright red flowers that attract hummingbirds. Grows fast from seed and will drop seed for next year.
• Catmint (Nepeta) — A perennial mint family member that is easy to grow, drought tolerant and has billowing spikes of flowers. Grows to 18 inches tall.
• Cranesbill (Geranium) — A perennial, pest free flowering plant that can be used as a ground cover. Low growing in sun or part sun with hardy geranium flowers all summer.
• Elephant ears (Colocasia esculenta) — A fast-growing tropical plant, with leathery green to gray-green, heart-shaped leaves. They can grow to 2 1/2 to 5 feet.
• Foxglove (Digitalis) — This plant forms low clumps of hairy gray-green leaves, topped by spikes of tubular flowers shaped like fingertips of a glove.
• Hen and chickens (Sempervivum tectorum) — A succulent that produces gray-green rosettes about 2 to 5 inches wide. It spreads to form clumps.
• Lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina) — A perennial that grows soft, thick, woolly, white leaves that are about 4 to 6 inches long. The leaves resemble a soft lamb’s ears.
• Ox-eyes (Rudbeckia hirta) — An annual that is easy to grow from seed in sun or part shade. The daisy-like flowers are bright yellow with dark centers on stout stems that grow to 4 feet tall. Also called Black Eyed Susan. Native to the American west and now favored by European gardeners.
• Shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeana) — Native to Mexico, this plant grows tubular white flowers with purple spots, enclosed in overlapping coppery-bronze bracts. The bracts form compact, drooping, jointed-looking spikes about 3 inches long that resemble large shrimp tails. Plant in partial shade or grow in pots.
• Spiderwort (Cleome hasslerana) — Clusters of flowers open to 6-inch balls on a plant that grows 4 feet tall. Thrives in sun, regular soil and average water. Long seed pods form beneath flower clusters. Thorns form late in the summer.
• Tiger Lily (Lilium tigrinum, Lilium lancifolium or Lilium columbianum) — A reliable perennial plant from China and Japan that grows 3 feet tall in moist soil. Flowers are tiger colors — orange petals spotted with rust, purple or brown.

Whether you plant a small garden with six-animal-named plants or re-do your entire backyard into a plant zoo, planting flowers, vegetables and herbs with children in mind, will teach the next generation that gardening can be fun.

26 May 2008

Grow It Yourself Dining

Burpee Seeds reported double sales this year as more and more people are growing their own food which translates into seed sales. Vegetables transplants and fruit tree sales also increased this spring.
Photo: Romaine lettuce in the garden.
At the grocery store today, we saw the profit of our efforts. The snow peas are $5 a quarter pound and the English peas are $6 a pound.
Instead of paying those prices, we pick them off the vines.
Home gardening is risky because it doesn't always succeed but in economic downturns people at least make an effort.
An article in the Baltimore Sun had some of the numbers:
Seed Savers Exchange, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving heirloom vegetables, sold 10,000 tomato and pepper transplants to customers in early May, double its usual amount.
The fruit tree folks, Stark Brothers Nurseries and Orchards Co., is working overtime to keep up with orders.
And the stories continue - click to read the column by Ellen Simon of the Associated Press.
Even if you haven't grown fruits or vegetables before there are some easy ones to try.
The ones I had early success with include: Leafy greens such as spinach, lettuce, mesclun mix, Beans such as bush and edamame, Cucumbers of all types and stripes, Eggplant - Asian and Black Beauty, fresh herbs, broccoli and garlic.
It can take a season or two to get it right but growing your own vegetables is just plain fun and worth the time and effort it takes to learn.

25 May 2008

Clematis for Months of Bloom and Some Research Helps Prevent the Planting of Invasive Species

I thought you might like to see two of the clematis in bloom. The deep purple Jackmannii is on another support and much older so it has hundreds of blooms. The wonder of clematis is that if you have enough of them in your garden the bloom is continuous for months.
All the plant guides say they want their roots in shade but you can see them thriving on chainlink fences too.
An interesting site about a California effort, Plant Right is educating the public about invasive plants. The point is that invasive plants cause more harm than gardeners may know. They consume natural resources and displace native plants. Kudzu was originally planted to solve a problem with another invasive plant. A little research would have prevented the eventual rampant spread of it. Some of the California invasives such as Vinca and Russian Olive are also problem plants here.
The U. S. Department of Agriculture maintains a website with information about invasives across the country.
The Forest Service has a cooperative website, Invasive Species, that has links for Weeds of the US and noxious weeds by state.
The Oklahoma Biosurvey has a more thorough list they call Oklahoma's Least Wanted. The USDA Plant Database link led to the answer to another "What is that?" question.
There is a shrub that grows everywhere whether you want it or not. It is called Ligustrum sinense Lour. Chinese privet. We always called it native privet but it appears to be from China. I would add Bradford Pear and elm trees to any list of invasive plants based upon the number of seedlings that have to be pulled out every year.
Hopefully, you have very few of these in your yard.

24 May 2008

Want A Better Lawn?

Grass needs light, fertilizer, water and mowing at the correct level. Sounds easy enough.

But, what about trees in the landscape? They not only rob the lawn of water and fertilizer but also block out the light. You can help the situation by trimming trees up, that is, remove the lowest limbs. Removing limbs up to ten or fifteen feet from the ground will allow grass and ground-covers to get enough light to thrive.

Heavy traffic areas may require grass as tough as Bermuda grass. Playground areas are especially prone to wear spots and deterioration.

Fertilizer for lawns and grass are heavy on the nitrogen - the first of the three numbers on the fertilizer bag. Too much fertilizer is bad for the plants and for the environment so under-fertilize if you are unsure.

Watering should be done less often and more thoroughly. Avoid sprinkling since it encourages the roots to grow at the surface of the soil instead of at a deeper level.

Mowing should be done when it would cut no more than one-third of the grass height. Click to see a fact sheet on grass heights by variety.

Consider planting ground covers and low growing plants around trees, sidewalks and driveways where it is difficult to maintain grass growth as the summer heats up. They survive the heat of summer with less water than an expanse of lawn and do not have to be mowed.

One plant that will do well in shade around tree roots is Tovara Virginiana (Persicaria).

Others that work well in various shady situations include: Ivy, Creeping Phlox, Sedum, Vinca, Ferns, Hostas. Bugle Weed (Ajuga), Wild Ginger (Asarum), Coral Bells (Heuchera), Impatiens, Snakeroot (Cimicifuga), Bugloss (Brunnera), Bellflower (Campanula), Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum), and many others.

For larger plantings consider beds with Azaleas, Clethera, Hydrangea, Dogwood, Lindera (Spicebush), Viburnums and Witchazel (Hamamelis).

Use lawn between shade beds and sunny flower beds but reduce the amount of lawn wherever possible. Lawns require all of the above care plus mowing and use natural resources without much payoff.

22 May 2008

Cactus Love

Do you love a good cactus for the windowsill or in a garden pot? This gigantic one lives in Mexico.
Photo: Dr. Bruce Hoagland, University of Oklahoma, Natural Heritage Inventory and Department of Geograpy, Norman, OK . Photographer: Amy Buthod of the Oklahoma Biological Surey.
According to Dr. Hoagland, the cactus in the photo is bisnaga gigante (Echinocactus platyacantha, syns = E. granids, E. ingens, E. palmeri and E. visnaga, according to the New Cactus Lexicon). The photo is from the state of Tamualipas, Mexico near Las Palmillas.

Check out these websites
Department of Geography University of Oklahoma
Oklahoma Natural Heritage Inventory
Oklahoma Vascular Plants Database

Closer to home, the wonderfully scented
Photo: Mock Orange blossoms are cheering up the fence line planting.

Gorgeous weather for gardeners, isn't it? The early season vegetables are ready for the table and mid-season vegetables are thriving. Early flowers are filling gardens and summer flowers are forming buds.

Today I finished planting the Nepeta, Zinnia and Nicotiana seedlings. They will be the scent and color of July.

The Kandy Korn plants are over a foot tall. We may wish that we had put in more than a couple of dozen if they thrive and produce.

Are you gardening this holiday weekend or taking the time off to relax?

Memorial Day Poppies

Day 4 of Blogger not taking uploaded photos.

Memorial Day Poppies

At one time the holiday we now call Memorial Day was called Decoration Day. The first observance of Decoration Day in the United States was on May 30,1868. Flowers were placed on Union and Confederate soldiers’ graves at Arlington National Cemetery.

By 1890 all the northern states recognized Decoration Day. Southern states acknowledged it after World War I when it changed to recognition of soldiers from that war.

The flower that has become associated with the holiday is the red poppy.

The red poppy tradition comes from when the bombardment during World War I made the soil full of rubble and lime. Poppies took hold and thrived. When the war ended and the soil healed, the poppies disappeared.

The 1915 poem, “In Flanders Fields” written in observance of the fallen soldiers is by John McCrae, a Canadian physician and soldier.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders Fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.

“In Flanders Fields” inspired a teacher in Georgia, Moina Michael, to wear a silk red poppy as a way to remember those who died.

Michael then wrote her own poem to acknowledge fallen soldiers.

We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.

Michael wore her red poppy when she volunteered in a New York City YMCA canteen. A French tourist, Madame Guerin, learned about the custom there in 1920 and began making handmade artificial poppies in 1920 to raise money for war orphans. Canada picked up the tradition in 1921.

In the United States in 1922 the Veterans of Foreign Wars began distributing poppies in exchange for a donation. Then, disabled veterans began making and distributing artificial poppies. Donations collected are used to support veterans and their families.

Traditionally, on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the poppies are worn on the lapel and placed on the gravestones at military cemeteries.

The poppy that is used is Papaver rhoeas or corn poppy from the Papaveraceae plant family. In nature, poppies are wildflowers whose seeds lie dormant on the soil until they are disturbed.

During wars, the ground is disturbed and poppy seeds germinate. In early wars, the seeds of the related opium poppy (Poppy somniferum) were made into pain relieving opium for battlefield injuries and surgeries.

Today poppy seeds are widely used as an ingredient in cake filling, in pound cake and muffins. Any alkaloid present in poppy seeds used for baking is miniscule, unreliable and inconsistent.

To grow poppies, plant the seeds in a sunny, sandy, well-drained spot. They will only germinate if the ground is disturbed because they need a small covering of soil. Rake them into the ground after sowing on the soil surface.

Poppies grow to two-feet tall; the 2-to-4-inch flowers are self-fertile, hermaphrodite, i.e. both male and female. Bees and hummingbirds are attracted to the pollen; deer and rabbits know that the leaves can be slightly toxic so they stay away from the plants.

Poppies will reseed if the seed heads are not harvested to use in dry flower arrangements. The fresh seed embryo is immature; seeds ripen in the heat of the late summer.

Look for these Papaver rhoeas seed names in catalogs and on seed packets: Corn Poppy, Field Poppy, Flanders Field Poppy, Shirley Poppy, etc.

New hybrid poppies are available in pink, orange, eggplant, white and pastels. Other poppies in catalogs include the bright yellow-orange California poppy (Papaver eschscholtzia californica), the perennial Iceland poppy (Papaver nudicaule), Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale), perennial shade Celandine poppy, (Stylophorum diphyllum), and prickly poppy (Argemone mexicana) for hot sun.

Most poppy seeds need either sandy, rocky soil or the freezing and thawing weather conditions of a winter on the ground. Germination takes from 10-to-30-days in optimum soil temperature of 60 to 70-degrees. Since wet soil can prevent germination, mix the seeds with a little sand when planting.

Any extra seeds you have at the end of summer can be put into the bird feeder.

21 May 2008

Warm Weather is Here!

I've been trying for two days to put photos on Blogger but the uploader is out of order, malfunctioning, etc. So, no photos until it is resolved. Google has this problem often enough to make a blogger wonder.

But on to gardening fun.

Warmer weather after the rain has led to weed pulling like crazy. Today's planting: More cosmos, castor bean, purple majesty millet, Red Russian kale, nicotiana, salvia. Just a few of each in beds where they could be squeezed in.

What do you do with all the leftover plants after starting a pack of seeds?

Our plumber and his wife came over on Sunday and took a couple of boxes full of plants and we donated some to the Conservation District's fund raiser. Some parsley, asclepias, and cosmos are being saved for my butterfly in the park project. But! There are still many more that want their little roots in the soil.

Do you Gutenberg?
Project Gutenberg is a great resource for gardening (and other) information. Today I was reading online a horticulture magazine from 1746.

One title, "The Field and Garden Vegetables of America" by Fearing Burr, was published in 1836. Chapter ten covers medicinal plants: Bene-plant. Camomile. Coltsfoot. Elecampane. Hoarhound. Hyssop. Licorice. Pennyroyal. Poppy. Palmate-leaved or Turkey Rhubarb. Rue. Saffron. Southernwood. Wormwood.

I am growing horehound from seed to plant with the tomatoes. Here's what the good doctor said about hoarhound -
Marrubium vulgare.
Hoarhound is a hardy, herbaceous, perennial plant, introduced from Europe, and naturalized to a considerable extent in localities where it has been once cultivated. Stem hoary, about two feet high; leaves round-ovate; flowers white; seeds small, of an angular-ovoid form and grayish-brown color.
Propagation and Cultivation.--The plant prefers a rich, warm soil; and is generally propagated by dividing its long, creeping roots, but may also be raised from seeds. When once established, it will grow almost spontaneously, and yield abundantly.

Gathering and Use.--The plants are cut for use as they come into flower; and, if required, the foliage may be cut twice in the season. The leaves possess a strong and somewhat unpleasant odor, and their taste is "bitter, penetrating, and durable." The plant has long been esteemed for its efficacy in colds and pulmonary consumption.

I hope your roses are budding and your lettuce is not bolting.

19 May 2008

Fafard Organic Soils, Toad Lily for Shade, Two Steps Forward Blog

If you choose to grow organically, finding organic soil is a little easier if you can just buy certified soil to meet certification requirements.

National Sustainable Agriculture Information Services website has formulas you can follow. The link has a very informative article on potting soil for organic growers.

In the alternative, organic potting soils are available for purchase from companies such as Fafard. Everything in the bag is certified organic and meets all the organic program standards - no chemicals, pesticides, or fertilizers.

Of all the plant failures we gardeners have over the years, there are an equal number of successes to keep us going. It took 2-years to encourage this plant to thrive and the little late bloomer made up for lost time this spring. It's Rose Queen Salvia. Photo was taken yesterday morning -

There is a gorgeous Tricyrtis hirta Toad Lily in the shade garden and I can't ever get a good photo of it in the deep shade in the fall when it is showing off its weird little flowers. Heronswood has a good photo -

click here if you would like to see something to add to your shade for fall bloom.
This is its third spring and it is 10-times its original size. This year it is standing a foot tall.

Have you seen the Joel Makower blog? "Two Steps Forward: Sustainable Business - Clean Technology - Green Marketplace" are the title and subtitle. Makower is out making the world a cleaner place. Take a look at what he is up to.

In the mid-90s this week, so even though I watered and put 20 plants in this morning, that's about all I accomplished before wilting from the heat.

18 May 2008

See Through Plants

We have a patch of bachelor buttons at the back of our lot. The seeds were planted years ago and now the plants re-seed themselves for a late spring show every year. The extent of my effort is to pull out half of them so they can have room to grow and some weeding.

Bachelor buttons qualify as see through plants if they are thinned out enough.

Many of these tall plants can be placed at front-third of a flower bed with some great plants to see behind them.

Black C0hosh, Fennel, Red Hot Poker, Gaura, Valerian, Verbena bonariensis are the ones usually recommended. But I also like Asclepias, Bishop's Weed, Dill and other tall plants close to the front of the border.

Do you ever mix it up or do you stick with the traditional scheme of planting the tallest in the back and shortest plants in the front?

By the way, I was reading a garden book at lunch. The author listed the reasons plants have to be screened in the spring when they are tender. You know, things like rabbits (which we have aplenty) and crows eat baby plants. Crows, I thought. Well, at least we don't have that problem.

I looked out the window for one moment and saw a black bird steal a baby pepper plant from the garden. So that's where they have been going. I had blamed everything but birds for their disappearance.

No end to the learning when you are a gardener.

16 May 2008

Prune, Cutback, Deadhead and Clean Up

One of the beauties from our collection of iris.

Great weather today for getting out in the yard - 75-degrees F with a light breeze.

There are many tasks to take care of already that require loppers and pruners. I love the Fiskars pruners with the rolling handle. An entire day of cleaning out beds, cutting out shrubs and young trees, trimming daffodil and iris plants and my hands do not hurt. (What Americans call pruners, the British call secateurs - I'm reading a British gardening book)

Now that the weather has cleared, I'm planting 20-plants a day as a goal. Of course weeding and soil amending is being done in order to give my babies a chance to thrive. I still have about a 50 percent thrive rate. The other half are eaten by bugs and bunnies, fail altogether or just never make the grade.

This is a good time to make the first cut on your chrysanthemums. Begin pruning them back now so they will bloom on full, well-branched stems in the fall. The last cut will be at the end of June.
What's happening where you garden?

15 May 2008

Find a Pot and Fill It

Fill Those Pots!
Pots of plants on the front porch, by the driveway or placed in a resting spot in the shade, add an inviting touch to the appearance of your home or business.
Whether you are using last year's containers or purchasing new ones, keep in mind that you are creating an environment for living plants and their roots. The size of the pot, the quality of the soil environment, fertilizer and water are the elements to consider even before plants are selected.
Clay pots allow the soil to dry more quickly and plastic pots are easier to move but their tendency to hold moisture can lead to root problems. Wood containers such as half-barrels and crates make great growing conditions for plants. Cement is difficult to move and retains heat but can be perfect for plants like bamboo. Glazed pots are non-porous and plant roots cannot breathe in them so many gardeners put clay pots inside them.

Drainage holes have to be present in growing containers unless you want to create a water garden with water plants. Many of the new Styrofoam pots work well but you have to put your own drainage holes in them.Use containers large enough to hold the plants roots at their mature size. Gigantic containers hold a lot of water and should have enough plants in them so the soil dries between watering.
Purchase fresh soil for this year's plants. To re-use, dump it out of the pots and remove all remains of old plants; check for insect infestations. Add slow release fertilizer and perlite or vermiculite - about one-third as much as soil. Consider adding moisture retention crystals to the bottom soil.
Most potted plants require daily watering. Water pots late afternoon so plant roots can absorb moisture overnight. Avoid getting the leaves wet. If your watering method always soaks plants' leaves, water in the morning to give the leaves the entire day to dry off. Wet leaves attract insects and diseases.
Light: Will your planter be in the sun or shade half day or all day? Will it sit on concrete in full sun? Will a porch or shrubs protect the plants from harsh wind?

Color: Do you want the colors to blend by having three kinds of plants with red and pink blossoms, blue, purple and white or yellows and oranges? Do you want a large planter with a tree in the center and flowering plants around it? Would your spot be good for an assortment of succulents? What about a collection of shade loving foliage?
When Rose and Ed Meeks of Muskogee get their planters ready in the spring, they don't take any chances on success."I'm home bound, and I like to look out the windows and see it look perfect," Rose said.Ed said he uses fresh soil in their containers every year and he waters with diluted Miracle Grow every time he waters. They fill a 4-foot-long planter box just outside the window with wave petunias, red hibiscus and moss rose.
Designers suggest that gardeners follow the formula they call: Thrillers, Spillers and Fillers.
A tall plant goes in the center of the pot, plants that dribble down the sides are planted around the outside, and fillers are tucked in between. You can use that method or make up something of your own.
Think outside the box a little this year and go beyond marigolds, pretty as they are.
Taller plants for full sun, up to 2-feet — Angelonia or summer snap dragons, Jewels of Opar (Limon), Pentas in pink, hot pink, red and white, Lantana, Castor bean, Silver Dollar Eucalyptus.
Taller plants for half sun — Shrimp plant, Variegated Tapioca, Spikes, Ixora.
Mid-size plants for shade — Hosta, Heuchera, FernsMid-size (1.5 feet tall ) for full sun — Cuphea Ilavea or Flamenco Cha Cha
Fillers for part sun — Ageratum, Mexican heather, heat tolerant Lobelia
Fillers for full sun — Osteospermum (African Daisy), purslane, Bacopa, Diamond Frost Euphorbia, Evolvulus blue daze, scented geranium (Pelargonium), Monkey Flower
Spillers for sun — Million bells, trailing Verbena, Scaevola.Spillers for part sun — Ivy, thyme.
Trellis with Clematis, Bougainvillea, Allamanda, Jasmine, Mandevilla, Passion Vine, Plumbago
Full sun — Succulents with aloe in the center, jade and kananchoe around the outside
Half shade — Elephant ears in the center and pink caladiums around the outside
Full sun — Lime tree in the center with Bacopa and purslane around the side
Front door sun — Columnar skyrocket juniper with any of the filler plants surrounding
If you find a successful combination or your garden is having a beautiful week, contact Muskogee's new television station, INTV, Channel 22. They are looking for flower, vegetable and herb gardens, great pot combinations, and other plant stories. Contact them at 360-3705. Subscribe to their e-mail announcements at http://www.inmuskogee.com/ to receive program information

14 May 2008

101 Kid-Friendly Plants for Fun and Family

Ball Publishing has a cool new book for parents and grandparents,

"101 Kid-Friendly Plants: Fun Plants and Family Garden Projects"
by Cindy Krezel ($10).

Just in time for summer fun in the garden, Krezel's book reflects her 15-years of gardening with children. The ideas in the book are directly from her experience - not theory.

She suggests that you start with seeds because there is so much to learn from using them (I agree). Watermelon and sunflower seeds are large enough to be handled by even the smallest children.
Each of the 100 bright yellow pages pictures one plant, describes it and gives project ideas.
Other content includes: Gardening basics, Bulbs in pots, Container gardens, Plants to NOT use with children and theme gardens. Themes include butterflies, dried flower garden, edibles, five-sense garden, plant a rainbow, science experiments, etc.
The book makes it easy to imagine playing outside in the garden with children because Krezel's approach is whimsical as well as informative.
Consider planting seeds with children in your yard - they will love getting their hands dirty and watching cucumber seeds turn into supper, morning glory seeds becoming big flowers, or Lunaria money plant becoming dried flowers for the house.
The theme for this pot is shade and purple. Choosing similar colored leaves makes a pot calming. Brightly colored flowers make a pot exciting. Think about color, leaf shape, height, sun and water requirements when assembling plants for a container.

Happy growing!

13 May 2008

Talk About Rootbound!

I'm embarrassed to display this example of why spring is a good time to check your potted plants for being rootbound. This is a gorgeous Dicliptera from Bustani Plant Farm. It was supposed to go in the ground but I put it in a giant pot instead and it bloomed all summer with no care from me other than running the hose on the it to keep it moist. Then it spent the winter in the garden shed.

The pot had to be smashed in order to liberate the plant to put it in a larger pot with fresh soil. Needless to say, this trooper of the garden looked great despite my poor treatment and it looks even better with a little nutrition. This plant's grey, soft leaves are beautiful and it flowered all summer last year.

Description from the Bustani site: "Dicliptera suberecta (King's Crown) #164 $6.00
Tropical/Slightly hardy Perennial – Sun, partial shade – 18”x30” – Zone 7-10 –
Family: Acanthaceae Origin: Uruguay
The soft leaves of King’s Crown make it a garden worthy plant because their silvery color combines well with so many plants. Add to that, this plant’s summer profusion of bright red-orange tubular flowers and it’s easy to see why gardeners everywhere just have to have it. Heat and drought tolerant, King’s Crown is also an absolute delight to hummingbirds. Listed hardy to zone 7, we’ve over-wintered it for several years in a raised bed with extra mulch in our zone 6b garden. From a plant family that gives us numerous showy tropicals, the Acanthaceae, this beauty is from Uruguay. Orange flowers, silver leaves, moderate moisture, well-drained organically amended soil."

So, be a better plant mom than your humble writer here and check your potted plants from last year and give them a refreshing spring treatment of new soil, fertilizer and pruning.

12 May 2008

Name That Glad; Name That Mushroom; Fashion in the Garden

This glorious glad is blooming for the first time this year. It's fuscia color is accented with lavender. The tag is nowhere to be found so I can't identify it. Any ideas?

Mushrooms are popping up and gardeners are wondering which ones they can eat. There are a couple of good resources online. Check with the experts at the
Forest Mushrooms site and this Ohio State University Fact Sheet before you saute.

We bought this water iris last year at a plant sale.

One garden writer in Connecticut asks in her column this week, "What do you wear when you garden?" Good question. I wear pretty junky clothing and Muck Boots most of the time. Shorts or long pants depending on the weather.

So, What are you wearing when you dig, mulch, prune, and plant?

11 May 2008

Easy Propagation Method and Voodoo Lily

Easy propagation method.
When the variegated ivy put out a long shoot of growth last fall, I tucked one end of it into a shorter bowl filled with vermiculite.
Both bowls sat on an east facing windowsill over the winter and were watered infrequently but at the same time. Both containers dried out between watering.

Today, I cut them apart. How easy is that?

When Brent and Becky's Bulbs had their end of the season sale, I bought a Dragon. It was planted in a large pot and stayed in the garden shed over the winter. Here is its bloom as of yesterday.

Paghat says, "Dracunculus vulgaris (aka Arum dracunculus) is variously called the Dragon Arum, Voodoo Lily, Ragons, Snake Lily, Black Arum, Black Dragon, Dragonwort, & Stink Lily. In Greece it is called Drakondia, the dragon or serpent being the long spadex inside the enormous maroon-lipped spathe.It is native to the Balkans, to Mediterranean Europe, Greece, the isle of Crete & the Aegean Islands, all the way to Southwest Turkey. In some places it's a veritable weed in its natural settings, albeit a weed of splendid countenance.Though it looks like it ought to be tropical, it is not; & it transfers to the temperate garden with great ease, doing well in zones 5-8."

Someone took one into a local garden center and asked what it was. A local plant expert said it was a weed and to some people it is a weed because it spreads freely if it likes where it is growing.

If mine made baby bulbs I'll try one in the ground.

10 May 2008

Salvias are Blooming with the spring Wildflowers

The wind has been terrific today. This afternoon it rained while I was mowing and then there was dime size hail. Spring has one surprise after another.

While holding the Salvia Greggii Pink Preference (Bustani Plant Farm) for a photo, a bee landed on my hand. They are all over the plants of course and you can actually hear them buzzing while doing the weed pulling. Ah, the joys of gardening.

In the shade garden, native Columbine
has taken hold and is slowly increasing in size as the years go by. We made the garden boundary with stones dug out of a planting hole for a crab apple tree. The bed was made from the contents of the compost pile, plus peat and cottonseed hulls. Every year, we add peat to keep improving the soil conditions.

Another 30 tiny seedlings and larger plants went into the ground today. The seeds of Red Star Hibiscus or rose mallow (Hibiscus coccineus) are getting their first true leaves.

Also the Edamame and cucumbers are sprouting and I think the seed starting is over for now - maybe for this year. We are running out of veggie garden space so I pulled out every other Brussels sprouts plant giving the remaining ones room to spread out a little.

As I was mowing today, I was able to see what looks OK and what needs more work. All in all, it is a pleasure to be outside at this time of year.

What's growing in your garden?

09 May 2008

Viburnums by Michael Dirr

This Viburnum beauty is blooming in the back yard next to pink bearded iris and snow peas in flower.

When a plant is easy to grow, with flowers in spring, attractive leaves in the summer, fall color and winter berries, you would expect to see it everywhere.

Viburnums have all of those qualities. Plus they are strong plants with few disease or insect problems. Gardeners can choose Viburnums that grow 2-feet tall or 30-feet tall. The butterfly attracting flowers are usually cream-white but some are pink. Some varieties have shiny leaves, some are leathery and others are velvet textured. Fall leaf color can be red, purple or orange.

The varieties that produce fruit include berries that are orange, red pink, blue or black. To get an abundant supply of fruit, gardeners only have to plant two different types.

These shrubs can be grouped to make a hedge or privacy screen or planted as individuals. Deer are not fond of the leaves though some grazing happens in years when other food is not available.

Viburnums enjoy the slightly acidic soil common in our area. There are varieties that prefer full sun, shade, wet sites and dry soil. Very little pruning is needed except to remove dead or damaged limbs and shaping as desired in the spring after flowering.

A 4-to-6-inch thick mulch of pine needles or other organic material keeps weeds and watering to a minimum. They prefer little fertilizer.

Michael Dirr, author and Georgia professor of all woody plants, has a new 200-page book that covers the specifics of over 100-Viburnums with 400-photographs of new growth, fall leaf color, or berries.

Each plant's mature size, fragrance, attractive bark, growing requirements, place of origin and level of appeal is included. Dirr doesn't pull any punches when pointing out a particular plant's shortcomings and he raves about the best ones.

For the Viburnum collectors, landscapers and growers, propagation methods are given as well as useful information about diseases and insects that can affect Viburnums.

Dirr's wife, Bonnie, is an accomplished artist. She painted lovely illustrations of Viburnums to add to the book's appeal.

The description of a few varieties will help to illustrate their diversity. Look for them in garden centers.

Viburnum Burkwoodii is one of Dirr's favorites because its leaves are beautiful, the 2-inch flowers are fragrant, and it is hardy and adaptable. Burkwoodii has distinctive dark red leaves in the winter. The fruit is blue-black. Burkwoodii tolerates heat and pollution. Likes a moist setting in part-shade. Look for the Mohawk variety. Mohawk has red flower buds that open to white flowers. Its fall color is bright orange to red/purple.

Viburnum utile or Service Viburnum includes some of the most poplar hybrids including Chesapeake, Conoy and Eskimo. Chesapeake has dark green leaves, small white flowers and some black fruit. Conoy is evergreen, 5 feet tall and 8-feet wide. The flower buds are pink and the flowers are white. Leaves turn purple in the winter. Viburnum macrocephalum or Chinese Snowball grows 6 to 15 feet. The unscented flower clusters are 3-to-8-inch balls. Heat tolerant but must be watered, needs sun to produce flowers. Does not make winter fruit. A wild snowball variety, keteleeri, has lace-cap type flowers and fruit in the winter.

Korean Spicebush Viburnum carlessi is the most popular because of its intense fragrance. The flower buds are red and the flowers open to white. It has red leaves in the fall and red berries over the winter. This one cannot take wet soil but every other situation, including shade is acceptable. Grows 4 to 8-feet tall and wide.

Viburnum dentatum or Arrowwood is "one of the most durable Viburnums for general landscape use." Climate, soil, and pH - nothing bothers it. "Plants appear almost bulletproof." Flowers are white, leaves turn yellow and red in the fall. "Amazingly adaptable … great choice for difficult sites." Use as hedge, group, mass planting, screen and foundation plants. The varieties include: Autumn Jazz, Black Forest, Blue Blaze, Blue Muffin, Cardinal, etc.

Dirr describes Viburnum dilatatum or Linden as, "Wow! Spectacular!" Each cultivar has its own qualities. Catskill is 5-feet tall, Asian Beauty has red fall color and cherry-red winter fruit, Cardinal Candy has white flowers and red fruit, Catskill is dwarf and compact with autumn color, Erie grows to 6-feet high with orange-red fall color, Iroquois has cream flowers and scarlet fruit, Michael Dodge has bright yellow fruit and red leaves in the fall, etc.

If you think you have a Viburnum and wonder which one, Cornell University Viburnum identification site is at http://www.hort.cornell.edu/vlb/key/index.html

The book is "Viburnums Flowering Shrubs for Every Season" by Michael Dirr, published 2007 by Timber Press, www.timberpress.com. $40 full price and $26 at online booksellers.

After reading Dirr's book, we added two new Viburnums to our landscape and Blue Muffin is blooming already!

07 May 2008

Which Flowers to Plant for Re-seeding and Plants' Bloom Time

Many plants re-seed and provide a full flush of growth and flowers the following year and some are stingy with their reseeding.
These are poppies. It's hard to believe that they will be three-feet tall with vivid flowers in a few months.
Do you have favorite re-seeding annuals? I'm looking for more to plant and would welcome ideas and suggestions.
Among other flowers that make a flower bed glow with color, these annuals re-seed: Phlox, marigold, bachelor button, calendula, coreopsis, spider flower, columbine, hollyhock, Johnny Jump Ups (violas), and ?
Gardeners have luck with many flowers re-seeding. What works for you?

Harvard University has a clever list on their Arnold Arboretum website that identifies plants by bloom time.
Order of Bloom was developed in the 1950s. What a great resource for continuous bloom even though Boston Mass may be in a different cold and heat zone than the one in which your garden grows.
Another plant database online that has good descriptions is at the Mountain States Nursery.
This link will take you there.

06 May 2008

Do It Yourself Projects

If you have the energy for a do-it-yourself project, a small patio can be easy to do in time for summer guests and entertaining.
In a corner of the yard that gets shade, we laid concrete cinder blocks and sprayed a brick colored stain on them to give them a better look. It's big enough for a table and 4 chairs where you can relax with coffee in the morning or a book in the afternoon. The photo was taken this morning during a break in the rain.

Did you plant the 2007 plant of the year, Nepeta, last year?
We planted a row Nepeta Walker's Low from Bluestone Perennials last year in the front of our driveway garden. This week it is blooming its head off.
The scent brings honeybees, butterflies and other pollinators into the garden. We need the pollinators for our fruit and vegetables beds.

The pinkish purple flowers in the center of the picture, behind the Nepeta are Dame's Rocket. Last year we had one, this year there are four.

Also blooming in that bed are two types of iris in assorted colors. On the top right of the photo, the little yellow flowers are last year's Red Russian Kale that is flowering.

In the shed there are seedlings of Nepeta Tuberosa that will be planted in a few days after this storm passes. The seeds are from Alpine SeedEx.

I've been afraid to plant them out too early since they are Mediterranean and you know how fickle those plants can be if they get rained on too much.

The strawberry plants are loaded with flowers and fruit. Each time a berry starts to redden, someone takes a bite out of it.

What's growing in your garden?

05 May 2008

Spring and Summer Blooming Lilies

This year I bought spring and summer blooming bulbs from Brent and Becky's, Easy to Grow Bulbs, Old House Gardens, Van Bourgondien, and a few others including the sale racks at Lowe's. This lollipop lily is one of the ones that came from Easy to Grow. The box of summer flowering bulbs from Old House Gardens was just planted within the past week. They will bloom in the hot days when other flowers are fading from the heat.

So, do you love to plant bulbs like I do? They come up and bloom and usually have long lasting flowers. They make more bulbs that can be divided over the next few years.

Last year the tiger lilies produced seeds that I planted and now they are also coming up.

The Plant Conservation Alliance is a source of information on a variety of topics of interest to gardeners. Lots of information about native plants to browse.

Residents of Maryland are lucky in that the site has a separate link about native plants for wildlife habitat restoration in that state.

This link is to plants for shade, woodlands,wood edges whether wet or dry in the Piedmont Region of Maryland but would apply to other locations as well.

Plants lists like these are helpful in generating ideas for our own yards whether we are planting around a pool, under trees or along a driveway where we want easy to grow flowers. Go native when you can.

03 May 2008

Ways to Shape Your Plants

You may have pinched the top growth off of coleus and other ornamental plants to keep them full. We also commonly cut the bottom leaf growth off of tomato plants to bury them several inches into the ground at planting time.

What else do you pinch, prune, trim, coerce into more appealing shapes? Espaliered pear and apple trees are beautiful in the right setting. Thomas Jefferson had his fruit trees trained on wires as a space saving measure.

On a garden tour last weekend I saw Rose of Sharon shrubs being trained into lollipops. How clever to use plants that are easy to grow here and will adapt to pruning and shaping.
The homeowners cut back all but five branches and then put tree wrap around the trunks to block the sun from encouraging growth. The shrubs are between the house and the sidewalk so it is practical to control them.

When they bloom from June to August the flowers will be at eye level as you walk on the sidewalk. If they were not pruned, the shrubs would prevent the placement of the art objects and other ground level planting.

Do you prune to suit the placement of the plant? What kinds of plants?

01 May 2008

Love Blueberries? With Preparation, You Can Grow Your Own

When gardeners want to try something new, expert advice is always welcome. Several people had asked me about blueberry growing so I contacted our local expert, Andy Qualls who grows two or three thousand plants for the family's wholesale fruit business.

Blueberries have become one of the most popular fruits. Growing a few bushes at home is possible if you follow the advice of an expert and start right from the beginning.

"Blueberries are very productive after only a few years and are not difficult to grow," Andy Qualls said.

Qualls works for Muskogee County Conservation District; and, his family grows more than 2,000 blueberry plants on land south of Muskogee.

They sell the fruit wholesale only to Arnold's in Muskogee and Conrad Farms in Bixby from mid-June to August.

"We have had the most success with Northern Highbush and Southern Rabbiteye varieties," Qualls said. "A home gardener who wants enough blueberries to eat and some to freeze or make into jam will want three plants of each variety."

Qualls generously shared tips from his 25 years of experience.

The three requirements for growing blueberries are:
1) Site selection.
2) Soil acidity.
3) Soil moisture and drainage.

Site selection — Fruit production of up to a gallon or more per bush on a five-year-old plant can be expected if plants are in full sun.Part sun works well for the plants but fruit will be slightly reduced.

Light soil is ideal; heavier soil or sandy soil must be amended with plenty of Sphagnum peat moss and small chip Pine bark.

Raised beds where water never stands are ideal sites. Airflow is necessary so select a site where structures, solid fences and other plantings do not block air.

Dig a planting hole 3 feet across and 8 inches deep. Fill the hole with well-mixed one-third Sphagnum peat, one-third Pine bark chips and one-third soil. Mulch the planting area with 3 inches of Pine bark (or other non-packing mulch) to control weeds and prevent drying.

Cottonseed meal may be mixed with soil mixture or mulch to provide slow release nutrients to the plant.

Soil acidity required by blueberries is pH 4.5 to 4.8. Symptoms of pH being too high include yellow streaks on the leaves. A quick fix is a small amount of Aluminum Sulfate around the plants. Chelated iron or leaf feeding with acidic, water-soluble fertilizer plus iron can also help.

The water used on the plants can significantly affect soil acidity and has to be monitored.
Once ideal soil pH is achieved, fertilize with acidic fertilizers,Cottonseed meal or Ammonium Sulfate based fertilizers.

Rabbiteye blueberry plants are less vulnerable to soil problems and can grow with a 5.0 pH. (In comparison, beans and lettuce need pH 6.0to 7.0, azaleas 5.0 to 5.5, and hydrangeas 6.0 to 6.2.)
Soil drainage and moisture are important since blueberries require moist soil but roots will rot or suffocate in standing water during the growing season. If the top one-inch of soil is dry anytime during the growing season, irrigation is needed. Soil moisture should be checked every day. Pruning is also important since all flowers must be removed the first year before fruit forms so the plant can mature before bearing begins.

In following years, pruning is done during plant dormancy to keep the plants healthy. Thin the inside growth, remove weak, dead or dying limbs. Highbush plants require more pruning; Rabbiteye plants develop more extensive root systems so they can support more plant growth.

Prune Bluecrop Highbush plants by one-third each year. Fertilization of blueberries should be cottonseed meal since or ammonium sulfate based fertilizers. Use caution with ammonium sulfate types as they can be over-applied and damage the roots. Slow release fertilizers such asOsmocote can also be used to avoid burning the roots.

Most Highbush blueberries are self-fertile to some extent but having more than one variety will increase pollination and therefore fruit production. Rabbiteye blueberry plants are non-self fertile and require two varieties to produce fruit.

"In 25 years of growing blueberries I have seen them bloom as early as mid-February and as late as mid-April like they did this year," Qualls said. "Every single year has been different.
"Bluecrop and Blueray are older varieties that are hard to beat for berry quality and production," Qualls said. "We will be selling the Highbush plants May 22 and 23."

Finch Pottery and Nursery, www.danfinch.com, telephone (800) 245-4662sells Highbush and Rabbiteye plants. More mature will produce fruit sooner in your garden. At Finch, 3-year-old plants are $6 each or$3.25 each on orders of 100 plants.

The plant sale at the Muskogee County Conservation District is a fund-raising event to help finance projects such as the development of the newly donated 152-acre nature preserve.

"It costs $50 to $60 an acre to restore land, put in trails, restrooms and other amenities," Qualls said. "The money we make at the sale benefits those projects."

The sale will include shrubs (several colors of crape myrtle,forsythia, lilac, wisteria, Rose of Sharon), fruit (blueberry and thornless blackberry) and trees (redbud, red maple and pine).

If you are in town and need some of those plants stop by the office during the sale.