Showing posts from 2019

Ruellia Short or Tall

In January, National Geographic reported that in order to ensure pollination, flowers make their nectar sweeter when they hear bees buzzing. “… within minutes, the plants temporarily increased the concentration of sugar in their flowers’ nectar. In effect, the flowers themselves served as ears, picking up the specific frequencies of bees’ wings while tuning out irrelevant sounds like wind.”  (

When you observe bees flocking to the large flowers on native plants such as Mexican Petunia, think about the sound of the flowers humming to make that happen.

Ruellias are beginning to bloom now when many other plants have surrendered to summer’s heat. We have the 14-inch tall purple Mexican Petunia and the dwarf pink R. britannia. Wild Petunia, Ruellia humilis, as it is often called, was first identified and named by the plant explorer Thomas Nutall.

The dwarf Katie/Southern Star series thrives as potted plants for zone 8 and are sold as annuals. But, when I started…

Banana Cold Hardy is Musa basjoo

The tropical look that Banana Trees, Musa Basjoo, give our gardens always gets attention from visitors.  Also called Japanese Fiber Bananas, they are cold hardy to 20-degrees below zero, withstanding our winters quite nicely. 

In warmer climates Japanese Banana will grow to 18-feet tall. Locally, they seem to mature at 8 to 10 feet with 4-to-6 foot long leaves. The new leaves in the photo that are still round are called cigar leaves until they unroll.

If your plants flower and make fruit, remember that are not grocery store bananas so they are not edible. The flowers are self-fertile; there is no need to plant male and female plants.

Musa Basjoo spreads like a lily, by making offset pups that grow over the summer. To divide, wait until a pup is a foot tall, then remove the soil between the mother plant and the pup so you can dig it out with some root attached. You can plant the pups into containers and protect them over the winter or take your chances and just transplant them into a new …

Amaranth Adds Structural Interest

Amaranth is an ancient tropical plant that has a place in our summer garden every year. The tall varieties contribute architectural interest to a couple of large beds.

The common and colorful names for Amaranth varieties include Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate, Pig Weed, Goose Foot, Chinese Spinach, Gizzard Plant, Cock’s Comb and Chenille Plant.

Amaranth’s history began in India, Mexico and South America and its spinach-like leaves are still eaten worldwide. Because of their high value, 200,000 bushels of seed were required in payment by the Aztecs to Montezuma for their annual taxes.

Amaranth leaves are rich in calcium, iron, vitamins A and C and are added to soups and salads. The seeds are commonly used as a high-fiber protein source; and, when cooked, the seeds are 90% digestible.

Amaranth is a gluten-free seed rather than a grain and is considered a super-food. In the US, the seeds are used in bread, casseroles, as a rice-like side dish, popped and sprouted for salads.

In Mexico, the…

Meadow Pink Texas Star Sabatia campestris Sabatia angularis

Meadow Pink is a small, native, annual, pink-flowering plant found primarily in the southern US. Its other common names include Rose Gentian, Prairie Rose-gentian, Texas Star and Prairie sabatia. 

The five-petaled flowers are an inch or two across and the plants are one to two feet tall. Meadow Pinks spread by seed to form colonies. The challenge is to leave them alone during spring weeding since the new rosettes pop up where you least expect them and are easy to forget from year to year.

Sabatia prefers dry garden soils that have good drainage; a sandy place would be perfect.

Sabatia angularis, Rosepink, is available from seed companies (www.prairie It is also a Gentian, sometimes called Marshpink, Bitterbloom, Rosepink and Rose Gentian. Sabatia kennedyana, Bog Sabadia for wetlands, seeds are available from

Sabatias are biennials, They grow a rosette of leaves the first year, then have pink, gold and magenta flowers on multi-branched stems, followed…

Mother of Thyme for Garden and Kitchen

Thyme is valuable as a kitchen herb, feeds pollinators and makes a terrific ground cover. 

Creeping Thyme, Thymus serpyllum or Thymus praecox, also called Wild Thyme and Mother of Thyme, is a European native.  Cold hardy in zones 4-8, its wiry stems and woody trunk take most garden conditions. 

Thyme from the grocery store, is probably Thymus vulgaris, but I use Mother of Thyme for marinades, cooking and canning. 

The leaves are tiny, blue-green, opposite, and about 1/4th inch long. The stems that create the foliage mat, spread by rooting in soil or sand along their path.

The plants are covered with 4-to-6-inch tall stems of tubular flowers right now. Dozens of tiny bees and other insects cover them daily from now until fall. After the flowers are spent, the flower heads can be removed to re-shape the plants.

Mother of Thyme is easy to grow in dry to moist, well-drained soil, without fertilizer. We have it planted in four locations around the garden where the soil is dry or difficult and i…

Jewels of Opar Limon

Jewels of Opar, Talinum paniculata, is a native Central and North American edible plant similar to summer or Malabar spinach. The leaves of the Limon variety are bright green and the flowers form a spray of pink above them on long wiry stems, leading some to call them Pink Baby’s Breath. When the flowers fade, they are replaced by tiny, jewel-like fruits that resemble precious stones. 

Southern Seed Exposure first planted Jewels of Opar seeds in 2014 and much to their surprise, the tiny flowers fed pollinators and the edible leaves tasted “surprisingly” appealing (  

Jewels of Opar Limon is very easy to grow. We started with a single 4-inch pot 6 years ago and the seeds have made new plants every spring since then, with no effort on our part. They grow in full sun to part-shade and require minimal water. Almost any soil will do; rabbits, pests and diseases leave them alone except for a small nibble here or there.

Jewels of Opar is an old-fashioned garden plant. Ed…

Norfolk Island Pine Tree tabletop holiday decor

Captain Hook landed on Norfolk Island around 1772 and was impressed by the 100-foot tall evergreens that populated the coastline. When he sent specimens back to England, botanists gave them the Latin name of Araucaria excelsa heterophylla but their common name has always been Norfolk Island Pine.

The little Norfolk Island trees we grow as houseplants are actually slow-growing seedlings. They are not  pine trees but acquired the name because they resemble pines. In Camarillo CA where they can grow outside all year, one tree measures 109 feet tall with a 65-wide crown. In our zone 7 weather they are grown in containers and brought inside before freezing temperatures arrive in early winter.

We keep our Norfolk Island Pine on the back porch in the summer where it receives bright, filtered light, then it comes inside for the winter where it doubles as a holiday tree decorated with tiny angels.  It is an easy plant to take care of since it needs no pruning, but it does require bright light,…

Plants Saved WWII - Judith Sumner

MUST-HEAR TALK Free and open to public
Plants Go To War: A Botanical History of World War II
July 8, 7 pm, Tulsa Garden Center
Judith Sumner speaking
Info Sandy Dimmitt-Carroll 918.693.9416

Today, many medications are manufactured in China but in the years leading up to the war, they came from Amsterdam. When Germany seized Holland, herbs were compounded as replacements.  During WWII small gardens were planted across the US and England to feed the people at home, resulting in 40% of Americans’ food coming from Victory Gardens. US-produced meat and crops went to the troops while vegetarianism soared to 95% on the home front. 
In a recent telephone interview, author Judith Sumner talked about her new book, “Plants Go to War”. Sumner grew up hearing about plant compounds, rubber scarcity, synthetic tires, synthetic chewing gum for soldiers’ ration packs, and more, from her father who was an Army chemist.
Sumner’s book outlines WWII agriculture, from identifying war needs to the discoverie…

Gooseneck Loosestrife or Icicle Speedwell or Culver's Root Light Up Shade

Gooseneck Loosestrife, Lysmachia clethroides, is one of those plants that generates an emotional reaction among gardeners, with responses ranging from appreciation to a level of dread akin to seeing Frankenstein on Halloween.  This maligned Lysmachia came from China and Japan and loves the growing conditions in the US so much that it enthusiastically spreads out its rhizomes throughout the beds where it lives. 

It is a perennial that disappears during the winter and returns double its size the next spring. The plants are 2 or 3-feet tall and have a characteristic plume of flowers in June or July, depending on where in its zone 3 to 8 range it is growing.

In a wild or difficult shady to part-shade location the white flowers light up the darkness and experienced gardeners understand that they may have to control its spread each spring by removing plants that stray from their intended spot. 

They prefer moist soil and thrive near ponds or wet meadows and naturalize there. They are less like…

Native Elderberry is Sambucus Canadensis

One plant resource calls native Elderberry, Sambucus Canadensis, a multi-purpose plant, and indeed it is. The flowers feed pollinators, the berries feed birds, the shrubs provide habitat and humans have used the plant in dozens of ways for hundreds of years. 

Loaded with vitamins A, B and C plus some iron, the black, blue or red berries can be made into juice, concentrate, wine, jelly and medicinal concoctions. Although wildlife enjoys it, the raw fruit should not be consumed by humans. 

Elderflower water was on Victorian women’s dressing tables. They used it for baths and to maintain a soft complexion.  Elderflower tea was thought to calm the nerves, purify the blood, treat bronchitis and cure measles.

Commercially available Elderflower syrup is made from a flower extract. In Romania a beverage called socata is made by brewing the flowers with water, yeast and lemon, then fermenting it to create carbonation. Coca-Cola’s version is called Fanta Shokata.

Elderberries are made into syrup, j…

Crinum Lilies are Amaryllis

In some parts of the US, a Cemetery Lily is a Peace Lily but in the South, if someone talks about a Cemetery Lily they mean a Crinum Lily. Crinums stand up to heat, drought, rain and most soil types, all the while blooming for decades without care.

Like other Amaryllis, Crinums have strap-like leaves and produce multiple, fragrant flowers on each stalk. During their heyday in the 1920s and 1950s they were planted around homesteads and graveyards and many of those are still thriving. 

Originally from Africa, Central and South America, they are only cold hardy as far north as zone 7 where we live. Even here they can be vulnerable in cold years so apply a protective layer of organic mulch. Crinums do not need to be divided, 

Bulbs planted now will bloom next year. I’m tucking some in this month to give them an early start in warm soil. 

Crinum Lilies want full to part-sun. They do not need fertilizer but will not be harmed by receiving some nutrients if you are fertilizing an entire bed. Oth…

Old-fashioned Flowers from a Pack of Seeds

When you first became aware of flowers they probably included roses, zinnias, wisteria, iris, pansy, snapdragons, and peonies. There are many hybrids now but the old-fashioned flowers are making a comeback because they are so easy to grow. 
In the 1950s, Cosmos were vegetable garden companion flowers that brought pollinators. Cosmos means harmony and balance in Greek, and to the Victorians they signified modesty. Their original single ray flowers may have been replaced by 40 new varieties ( but the originals are still lovely.
Love-in-a-mist, Nigella damascena, is a European native.  They have powder blue, dark blue, pink and white flowers with a mist of foliage in the middle. After they are visited by bees and butterflies, the seed capsule forms a little ball on a stem that is used in dried flower arrangements. Mediterranean native Love-in-a-mist is a long lasting vase flower. (
Spider Flower, Cleome hassleriana, has globes of airy pink and …

Garden Tour and Plant Sale Muskogee 6.1.19

Master Gardeners Veggies and More Garden Tour, June 1, 10 to 3, $10 Plant Sale at Honor Heights Park Papilion  Tickets at Garden Locations Trudy and Sud Sudberry, 2701 North 64th Street West, Muskogee Pam and John Turnbull, 2906 North 24th Street, Muskogee Ruth and David Redding, 106 East Elm, Ft. Gibson -----------------------------------------------------------
The Muskogee County Master Gardeners Veggies and More Garden Tour next Saturday will have plenty of unique features to attract gardeners and plant lovers. The tour gardens have annual and perennial flowers, succulents, vegetable gardens and herbs to show and talk about. 
At the beginning of each hour there will be talks about gardening topics ranging from raised beds to irrigation and insect control.
The Sudberry’s garden is remarkable. A flower and herb garden hugs the house and shed. Down the hill, a fenced vegetable and fruit garden has raised beds, vines and fruit trees.
Along the sidewalks look for Hosta, Hydrangea, Azalea, Helebo…

Garden Professors Investigate Myths

The Garden Professors are a group of gardeners, extension agents and other scientifically minded gardeners who research and write about gardening, specifically, what is true and what is myth. 
One author quotes Will Rogers to explain their purpose. “It’s not what we don’t know that causes us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.”
Most of us have been unwitting victims of garden advice that was given to us with an authoritative tone of voice but without any scientific confirmation. Then, it is accepted as fact and repeated. The Garden Professors check out garden myths for us.
Examples of their projects at
Weed blocking fabric actually provides a great substrate for weed seeds to take hold. In addition, “all those pores in the fabric that supposedly allow water and oxygen to move through are soon filled with bits of soil.”  Remove the weed cloth and replace it with wood chips. More information -
Epsom salts: Miracle, myth or  marketing?  Epsom …

Spiderworts Love Shade

Spiderwort flowers bloom for weeks at the base of deciduous tree trunks and shrubs, tucked among their roots. Each individual flower lasts only a day but there are several waves of little three-petaled flowers that keep the show going. 
The most common Spiderwort is the American native Tradescantia virginiana or Woodland Spiderwort with blue and lavender-blue flowers.  Tradescantia ernestaniana, Ernest’s spiderwort, or Red Cloud is native to OK, AL, AR, MO and MS.  
Spiderworts are hardy from zones 5 to 9, with flower colors from rose-red to blue and deep purple. They share the same plant family, Commelinaceae, with 731 other so-called perennial dayflowers that originated in Canada and the tropics from the West Indies to Argentina.
Other Tradescantias with three-cornered flowers include Purple Heart, Tradescantia pallida and Wandering Jew, Tradescantia tricolor, often grown under trees as an annual groundcover.
Spiderworts are easy to grow in average, moist to wet, well-drained soil in pa…

Daisies for Pollinators, Vases and Flower Bed Borders

Daisies are among the most cheerful and reliable flowers for borders and cut flower beds. 
Annual Marguerite Daisy, Argyranthemum frutescens, has yellow, pink and red flowers. They do their best when nights are 75 degrees F and below so when they fade with summertime heat, shear them back and they will return in the fall.
Annual Painted Daisy, Tanacetum coccineum, grow 2-feet tall in part shade. Remove the faded flowers and they will re-bloom in the fall. Pale pink Eileen May Robinson and James Kelway are easily grown from seed.
Gerbera Daisy, Gerbera jamesonii, are from Africa so they are frost-tender and enjoy summer heat with afternoon protection. Festival and Jaguar Series are multi-colored. Gerberas mature at 10-14 inches, do well in containers with regular fertilizer and water. Experienced gardeners may remember when Gerbera Daisy was called Pyrethrum, Painted or Persian Daisy.
Shasta Daisy, Leucanthemum x superbum is a garden workhorse that is a cross between native Oxeye Daisy and…

Arboretums for Learning and Walking

There are dozens of beautiful places to walk and hike in the Muskogee area and the C. Clay Harrell Arboretum at Honor Heights Park is especially nice this time of  year. The trees are filling out and many of them are in bloom. 
An Arboretum is a tree collection that is intended as a place to study trees. The first recorded Arboretum was in Croatia in 1492. If you want to add trees to your landscape, visits to an Arboretum provide opportunities to see many varieties at maturity, in flower, with fall color and their winter interest such as decorative bark.
A concrete, 3/4 mile path winds through the Harrell Arboretum and most trees are identified with signs. Recently there were flowers on Red Buckeye, American Smoke Tree, Flowering Peach and Amur Maple. The Crabapples are starting to form and the Japanese Maples have bright green new growth.
City Arborist Tim Doerner said that Muskogee’s arboretum has 350-400 trees with only a few duplicates. Most of them were dedicated in honor of familie…

Virginia Bluebells are Mertensia virginica

Any yard or patio with a bit of shade is a potential home for Native Bluebells.  Mertensia virginica is a perennial gardener’s dream plant. They are cold hardy from zones 3 to 8 with pink-turning-blue flowers for two months, avoided by rabbits and deer, require zero care, and spread slowly to form colonies. 
The oval leaves come up early spring, followed by the tiny pink flower buds and then the multiple clusters of  1-inch long, bell shaped, blue flowers.  
Virginia Bluebells are ephemeral, meaning that after they flower and the leaves gather nutrients for next year, they disappear completely. Every year, I intend to divide our 10-year-old clump but spring is so busy that they are gone before good intentions become an action item.
Many gardeners over-plant their Native Bluebells with Hostas or Ferns but ours are just mulched, leaving their planting area empty the rest of the year.  They mature at 2-feet tall and each plant is about 9-inches wide. They are happiest in  part-shade, dapple…

Dandelions, Taraxacum officinale have Many Uses

Dandelions, Taraxacum officinale or T. vulgare, are a member of the Sunflower plant family and their spring flowers are a source of nutrition for bees as they emerge in the spring. 
When we were growing up in rural southwest Ohio, our grandmother sent us out to collect dandelion greens for her salad, calling them her spring tonic. By example, she taught us old-world nutrition (plus gardening, baking and yoga). 
Now that we have food science, it is widely-accepted that 1-cup of dandelion greens contains 25 calories, 500% of the daily recommended vitamin K and 100 % of vitamins A and C. They have been used medicinally for thousands of years. Today Dandelions are widely used in herb teas such as Pukka.
The roots are also roasted to use as a chicory coffee substitute and the greens are said to be good for cleansing liver, kidneys, and blood, improving digestion, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. 
The Sprouts Farmers Market chain sells dandelion greens in their produce department but th…