30 July 2015

Children, Nature, Botany = it's our future

Edie Wogaman reads to her grandsons
Gardening is a wonderful way to help children appreciate and learn about the science in and of the world around them.

There are lots of easy to understand hands-on activities from planting seeds to pulling weeds that introduce children to the importance of what is going on with plants and nature.

Every child has access to nature even if it is only weeds in sidewalks and the birds in nearby trees. Houseplants, flowers, as well as fruits and vegetables at the grocery store can provide topics for conversation.

The library and the internet (especiallyYouTube.com) are loaded with entertaining suggestions for botany lessons with children. Schools, churches, and local public gardens offer gardening-with-children activities.

It's OK to touch frogs gently
Things to look for at the library include flower and tree identification guides for older children and  introductory books for little ones, such as “Wonders of Nature” Golden Books, “How a Seed Grows” Lets Read and Find, “The Tiny Seed” The World of Eric Carle, and “A Leaf Can Be” Millbrook Picture Book.

Pressing leaves in books, coloring and drawing flowers, planting the seeds from grocery store food are all available as videos on YouTube. “Sid the Seed, How Do Plants Grow?” and “What is Germination?” are just a few of the dozens available.

Growing sprouts in the kitchen is another way to show children how seeds become shoots and roots. Just go to the school pages at http://sproutpeople.org/sprouts.html for ideas.

A new book that is of interest for older children, “Isabella’s Peppermint Flowers” was just published by United Plant Savers (www.floraforkids.org). The author Susan Leopold wrote and printed the book with her own money in order to raise money for the nonprofit www.unitedplantsavers.org. The illustrations in the book, by Nicky Staunton, are will delight children of all ages.

The peppermint flowers referred to in the title are Claytonia, commonly known as Spring Beauty. They pop up everywhere in the spring appearing to be white at first and the pink stripes showing only upon closer examination.

United Plant Savers 
conducts native plant habitat restoration. 
Annual Membership $35 includes Journal of Medicinal Plants
Links to preservation organizations, videos, educational resources
 at www.unitedplantsavers.org

Take apart grocery store fruits and vegetables to use as botany lessons. Identify leaves, stems, roots and which parts can be eaten. You can point out and talk about where the plant grows (above or under the ground, which country, etc.) Look at the veins in the leaves the seeds inside, etc.

Max and Robby discover turtles
Actually gardening with children teaches them botany, too. Small container gardens, window boxes, and beds of plants present excellent opportunities to talk about nature. They can observe flowers attracting pollinators, followed by seed formation and the seeds feeding the birds in the winter.

Stick with easy to grow flowers and vegetables so the results are successful, showing them the process of plant growth throughout. Any potato that has sprouted in your kitchen will grow into a potato plant.

“The Book of Gardening Projects for Kids: 101 ways to get kids outside, dirty and having fun” is loaded with ideas. (Published 2012, Timber Press, $20 list and $14 online).

This book emphasizes making gardening fun for children with a play-friendly garden. There are hundreds of photos and illustrations, activity plans, and child-friendly recipes,

Turn into a Tourist is one of the activities. Take children to a local community garden or farm to look for plants they would like to grow at home. Take paper and pencil, a camera and seed catalogues along. Make a picture book that can become a plan for a bed or box to plant at home.

Or, make a simple soil test. Put water and soil into a clear jar. Shake and let it rest a day. Observe and talk about the layers of sand, clay, silt and water that result.

The future needs a new generation of plant and nature lovers so share your enthusiasm.

28 July 2015

Garden Experts? - Pah!

Anne Wareham raises an interesting question: Do we need garden experts?

I've thought about this recently and wonder what you think? In the most excellent gardening blog Thinkin Gardens, Anne protests. I mostly protest inside my own head, being less connected and courageous than Anne.

Here are Wareham's thoughts to consider 

This winterGraham Rice , a garden expert if ever I met one,  put up a post on Mr Fothergill’s (a seed company) blog called “Top Five Plants to Avoid in 2015!” (here). Two of his no no’s were disputable to me. He portrayed variegated ground elder as an evil spreader, and warned us off hellebore seedlings that our friends might offer us.
Well, my variegated ground elder is getting swamped by quite ordinary (if vigorous) garden plants, and where it once was a dramatic ground cover, doing a sterling job of keeping weeds down, it is now reduced to looking super in spring in rather small patches. (see here).
Nor have I personally found that it or ordinary ground elder actually seeds much (if at all?) – my plants of both seem remarkably static. As well as useful. ( see here.)
So I objected a little on twitter and instantly we got a variety of responses. Jane Perrone of the Guardian grows it in gravel and eats it, so finds she never has enough. Whereas Philip Clayton of ‘The Garden’ has had it spread into his lawn and finds it a pain. Chris Young, also (editor) of ‘The Garden’ ripped it out when he found it was too rampant and smothering all his many treasures. Two people added their appreciation of my ground elder on the evidence of their visits here, someone else spoke of how good it is restrained in a pot. The discussion spread to Facebook where David Stevens defended it – and other people howled about it.
And hellebore seedlings? Graham thinks they come up inferior and weedy. Well, I love the ones that come popping up at my mother in law’s all the time: she keeps bare soil, unlike me, so she gets lots of seedlings and never a dud, I’d say. Other people also seemed to treasure all their random seedlings too and said so. 

So – my point? I don’t want to have a go at Graham. He knows a lot and has experiences, for example of new plant varieties, which make him a valuable resource and help. But I think this little episode illustrates something.
Most of the people I quoted above would get called ‘experts’ in the garden media and they had a variety of experiences and thoughts about Graham’s bad plants. That was interesting and illuminating. And online where we could all comment, people could see that the subject was not resolved by Graham’s opinion, so no harm is done. Social media and the comments on many online articles mean that people can read a variety of responses to an issue now and begin to make their own judgements.
But elsewhere and ordinarily, in magazines, television and books, ‘experts’ are able to pontificate unchallenged. They present authoritatively rather than hesitantly, and we’re supposed to believe their every word. And what’s more they are expected to be positive all the time. I had many struggles with my editor in relation to my  (warning, advert...) new book about garden pests, when I honestly declared either ignorance or despair. Some rather tense emails were exchanged with pleas for me to be more positive. It was a struggle to stay honest.
Isn’t it time we let the world know that gardens and plants are infinitely variable and the notion of a garden expert is largely a fallacy, unless it’s on a very specific, well researched and updated topic? That we should all watch television and read the garden press armed with a huge pinch of salt?

27 July 2015

Wildlife in CA during the Level 4 drought

Our drought is just now relieved with 40-inches of rain in the first 7 months of 2015. We saw the results of a few years of drought in NE OK and they were sad to say the least.

In CA there is no relief in sight.

At the UC Botanical Garden, Daniel Mosquin reported on what he observed on one of my favorite botanical blogs, Botany Photo of the Day.

Here's a link to the well-worth-reading article -

A small constructed pond sits on the low side of UBC Botanical Garden's EH Lohbrunner Alpine Garden. This pond was absolutely "hopping" (bad pun intended) with activity on a hot day during an unusually dry July. Many Pacific tree frogs (Hyla regilla (PDF) were sunning themselves on the leaves of Nymphoides peltata. In the water were hundreds of tadpoles nearly ready to join them.
The frogs were a treat to see, but other signs of wildlife around the pond reminded me of the ecological importance of water. As I approached the pond's edge, I initiated a flurry of activity as water striders, birds and bees hurried to move away. For my part, I had to watch out for the coyote scat that lay along the mossy bank. This small pond is clearly an important source of refreshment in a region that is experiencing "drought level 4" (a level of drought at which the water supply is insufficient to meet ecosystem and socioeconomic needs).

26 July 2015

Participant Science = SeasonSpotter.org

You can help study the impacts of changing climates by spotting seasonal features of plants.

Zooniverse has started a new project: Season Spotter. “Season Spotter is asking volunteers to help identify changes in plants, shrubs, and trees over the seasons, so we can better understand the impact of climate change on vegetation. The project’s images are of landscapes, taken by more than 200 elevated automatic cameras from across North America, and include forests, grasslands, wetlands, dry shrubland, and tundra. It is a collaboration between Harvard University, the U.S. National Ecological Observatory Network, and the Zooniverse.”

Click on the button on the left and this is what you'll get to respond to a few questions =

The questions seem very repetitive ...

Signing in and registering is suggested but not required.

Check it out. It may be just the project your family has been looking for!

Two Ways to Classify Images

By identifying images with changing leaves, blooming flowers, and other easy-to-recognize features, you will contribute to a better understanding of how plants are responding to climate change.

Two Ways to Classify Images

By identifying images with changing leaves, blooming flowers, and other easy-to-recognize features, you will contribute to a better understanding of how plants are responding to climate change.

24 July 2015

Wheel Bugs - one of the good guys

Wheel Bug nymph
photo from Whats That Bug
You may be innocent of this but from time to time, I have been so frustrated with damage in my garden that I kill insects. 

Learning to identify the helpful ones reduces senseless carnage and increases the possibility of having insects do some of our work for us.

This practice also restores the garden's environment to one with healthy plants and soil in the process.

Wheel Bugs, rilus cristatus, can look like a lot of other insects if we don't recognize their nymph and adult forms.
Related to stink bugs, water striders and bed bugs, wheel bugs buzz when flying, pierce their victims when caught, and exude a scent. They are easily confused with squash bugs by frustrated gardeners.

From the Soil blog has great photos of the molting process. The photo below is from their 2011 entry.

Adult Wheel Bug

21 July 2015

Joe Howell Speaking - Daylilies in Landscapes

When - August 6 at 6:30
Where - Tulsa Garden Center
What -  Joe Howell will discuss daylilys in the landscape and also include
pointers on hard scape objects in the landscape. 

Mr Howell is founder and CEO of Howell & Vancuren Landscape Architects. Among their more notable projects are the grounds surrounding Crystal Bridges American Art Museum in Bentonville, AK and the gardens surrounding Tulsa's Philbrook Art Museum. 

Sponsored by Tulsa Area Daylily Society
more information Susan Snodgrass esusans1@gmail.com

18 July 2015

Children's Books - Science, Environment, etc.

Here's a list of books for the little ones in your life. (From Readlist)

  1. The Blue Whale: A Loving Science Lullaby for Our Planet’s Largest-Hearted Creature

    Maria Popova www.brainpickings.org

    An affectionate tour of an alternate universe right here on earth, where it’s possible to grow by nine pounds an hour and never sleep.
  2. How Jane Goodall Turned Her Childhood Dream into Reality: A Sweet Illustrated Story of Purpose and Deep Determination

    Maria Popova www.brainpickings.org

    A heartening testament to the power of undivided intention.
  3. Does My Goldfish Know Who I Am? Scientists and Writers Answer Little Kids’ Big Questions about How Life Works

    Maria Popova www.brainpickings.org

    Why we cry, how we know we aren’t dreaming right now, where the universe ends, what books are for, and more answers to deceptively simple yet profound questions.
  4. You Are Stardust: Teaching Kids About the Universe in Stunning Illustrated Dioramas

    Maria Popova www.brainpickings.org

    “Every tiny atom in your body came from a star that exploded long before you were born.”
  5. Alice in Quantumland: A Charming Illustrated Allegory of Quantum Mechanics by a CERN Physicist

    Maria Popova www.brainpickings.org

    Down the rabbit hole of antimatter, or how to believe six impossible things about gender stereotypes before breakfast.
  6. Scientists and Philosophers Answer Kids’ Most Pressing Questions About How the World Works

    Maria Popova www.brainpickings.org

    Why we fall in love, what we’re all made of, how dreams work, and more deceptively simple mysteries of living.
  7. Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space: Imaginative and Illuminating Children’s Book Tickles Our Zest for the Cosmos

    Maria Popova www.brainpickings.org

    Rocket fuel for the souls of budding Sagans.
  8. Evolution: A Coloring Book

    Maria Popova www.brainpickings.org

    A die-cut history of how the dinosaurs became birds and humans rose from the sea.
  9. Maria Merian’s Butterflies: The Illustrated Story of How a 17th-Century Woman Forever Changed the Course of Science Through Art

    Maria Popova www.brainpickings.org

    A heartening homage to a courageous woman who fought superstition with science and love.
  10. Parrots Over Puerto Rico: An Illustrated Children’s Book Celebrating the Spirit of Conservation

    Maria Popova www.brainpickings.org

    The heartening story of one of Earth’s most beautiful bird species, an underdog of geopolitics and evolution.
  11. Blast Off: Visionary Vintage Children’s Book Celebrates Gender Equality, Ethnic Diversity, and Space Exploration

    Maria Popova www.brainpickings.org

    “The blackness of space was dotted with stars.”
  12. Weight and Weightlessness: The Science of Life in Space, in Charming Vintage Illustrations

    Maria Popova www.brainpickings.org

    An impossibly lovely primer on how gravity works and why we don’t fall to the center of the earth daily.
  13. A Graphic Biography of Darwin

    Maria Popova www.brainpickings.org

    The evolution of the father of evolution, illustrated.
  14. Just a Second: An Illustrated Visualization of What Happens on Earth in a Single Second

    Maria Popova www.brainpickings.org

    What a whale’s song has to do with the Helios II satellite and the beat of the pigmy shrew’s heart.
  15. The Illustrated Story of Persian Polymath Ibn Sina and How He Shaped the Course of Medicine

    Maria Popova www.brainpickings.org

    How a voraciously curious little boy became one of the world’s greatest healers.
  16. The Magic of Reality: Richard Dawkins Teaches Children to Fight Myth with Science

    Maria Popova www.brainpickings.org

    What Scandinavian folklore has to do with DNA, or how to myth-bust creationism with the poetry of science.
  17. Wild Ideas: The Creative Problem-Solving Strategies of Different Animals, in Illustrated Dioramas

    Maria Popova www.brainpickings.org

    From procrastinating pigeons to counting bears to dung beetles that navigate by the stars.
  18. The First Book of Space Travel: How a Female Author & Illustrator Got Kids Into Science in 1953

    Maria Popova www.brainpickings.org

    “If I were a fairy godmother, my gift to every child would be curiosity
  19. Isabella's Peppermint Flowers by Susan Leopole; illustrated by Nicky Staunton
      1. www.floraforkids.org
        "It's spring and Isabella and her sister, Flora, are excited to go flower hunting to look for woodland flowers..."