Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Heaven or Hell

Lily of the Valley "Convallaria majalis"

Lilies of the Valley have the most heavenly smell. The fragrance has long been the basis of many perfumes. Because of the smell, it is often used in bridal bouquets.

In the meanings of flowers, Lily of the Valley means "Return of happiness, purity of heart, sweetness, tears of the Virgin Mary, you've made my life complete, humility, happiness, loves good fortune."

The legend of the Lily of the Valley is that it sprang from Eve's tears when she was banned from the Garden of Eden. It is also believed that this flower protects gardens from evil spirits.

Referenced in the Bible in Song of Solomon 2:1 and the 1881 hymn, "The Lily of the Valley" which is referring to Jesus. It is the symbol of humility in religious paintings.

There are books, ministries, and a highway in Virginia named Lily of the Valley,

Traditionally associated with May 1st, especially in France, where the "muguet" is handed out at special events.

On the dark side, all parts of this plant are poisonous if eaten.

Some little facts: The low growing perennial herb, with little white bell flowers, will bloom in April-May and have red berries in the summer. First recorded cultivation was in 1420. Hardy to Zone 2, prefers partial shade and moist rich soil but isn't all that picky. It makes a good ground cover and will spread; some call it invasive. There is a hybrid with pink bells, another taller version and several with patterned leaves.

Most all plants had medicinal uses when plants and concoctions were the only known treatments. Specific mixtures prescribed by herbalists have been used to treat heart problems. Of course if used incorrectly - see the dark side.

It may be purchased either potted or just the pips. Most gardeners will gladly share a few pips. Even though it looks fragile, there is nothing about this plant that isn't tough. It is often found in patches of old yards long after the homes are gone. It is seldom bothered by insects or disease. If planted near walnuts, they will not thrive and may die.

Monday, April 27, 2009


This is an image of some of the equipment Dana Well Drilling used to drill our well. The only thing we lost was the rhubarb. Not bad considering all that was going on in the yard.

You may choose to hire a professional contractor to repair, build, add, remove or decorate something around your home. Whether working on structures or on landscaping, their actions usually have ramifications upon your outdoor spaces.

Contractors are hired because they possess the talents, time, equipment, or desire that enables them to do jobs we can’t or don’t want to do. Contractors come in all degrees of capabilities, awareness, customer service and business ethics.

1. Capability: Obviously, you want someone who can do the job they were hired to do. Saying that, many people hire someone for other reasons: cheap, a friend, best advertised, friendly, or fast. Know ahead of time if those things are combined with what you want accomplished.

2. Awareness: Assuming a contractor is garden savvy is a huge mistake. Contractors who are totally focused on their job may not realize the flower bed they just drove over took years to accomplish. Talking BEFORE starting allows you both to bring in a “battle plan” to protect your landscaping.
3. Customer Service: A customer should not make a contractor’s job more difficult because you want to micro manage. On the other hand, the contractor is your paid employee and should either conform to your needs or not accept the job. Having that discussion BEFORE you hire allows you both the option of continuing or not.
4. Business Ethics: It seems so obvious that we should never hire someone who lies, cheats, steals, or ignores the basic principles of sound ethics. If you do not investigate and use contractors with poor business ethics, I guarantee you will not be happy with the outcome.

A few hints:

Do not ask or expect a local contractor to do the job for free or cut you a ridiculously low deal simply because you want favors. Taking food off their table to get a job done cheap is not good ethics on your part. Both parties should be happy with the deal.

Ask exactly what and where they will be in your yard. Come to an understanding on what areas need to be moved, need to be covered, need to be avoided and who will do that work.

Never enter an agreement with a new contractor without a written contract that covers both of your responsibilities.

If you have specific needs for your yard, outside the job they are hired to do, you may have to pay more. It adds work, time and material to the project.

Discuss and come to an agreement on your “save the yard” plan before you enter a contract with even the best of contractors. This protects you both from issues that can ruin a good relationship and your precious yard.

Determine before starting the project: If there is unexpected significant damage to your yard, who decides significant, who will repair and who pays. Insist your contractor is insured for injury and damages. Check your home insurance for your protection.

If there are problems or damages, have a rational and calm discussion on how best to make both parties come out whole. A good contractor will want you to be satisfied so you will recommend and rehire. A good contractor will not return or help you if you are not fair in your business ethics.

You and the contractor have an opportunity to enhance both your lives. You can keep a local business financially prosperous and they can help you accomplish your tasks. If you’ve had a good experience with a contractor, make sure you tell others. Word-of-mouth is a contractor’s best advertising and they deserve your backing.

As a side note: Congratulations to 2009 Galva Citizen of the Year: Duane Bell. We have, personally, found the Bell family business to exemplify positive contractor traits. What an asset for this community!

Patience is a Virtue

Image: One of my beds where I "almost" have eliminated all the grass.

“Dear Lord, I pray for patience and I want it NOW!” That humorous prayer sums up my trouble with the virtue of patience during garden preparation.

The most neglected portion of my garden prep is making sure grass has been eliminated. As a result, I fight grass in my garden beds continually. I can tell others how to do it correctly but can never stand to take the time to work that plan in my own yard.

For those that aren’t afflicted with lack of garden patience, here are helpful hints:

* Use a grass and weed killer on the exact area.
* Check out the label: Do not use one that sterilizes the soil or plants won’t grow.
* A contact herbicide works when touching plant foliage but will not work on bare soil. Wait for all plant life to die.
* You may have to do more than once.

A. Shovel down about 3-6 inches and remove sod/grass. Lay those layers of sod on a tarp or wheelbarrow away to use elsewhere as fill or to compost. Remember the sod WILL have grass and weed seeds germinate later. OR:

B. Till the dead sod into the soil.

* Amend the soil to make it hospitable to the kind of plants you want.

* Wait a month and if there is anything sprouting, use the weed killer routine again.

* This is the time to have patience. When it’s not windy, lay a thick layer of newspaper over the entire area. No light should be able to go through this cover. Use something heavy to hold in place. Gently water to form a layer of protection. Water will soak through the paper but seeds will not germinate without light. Leave in place for one year. Some weed seeds will still germinate after being in the dark for many years but it kills many.

* After the year of laying fallow, it is time to start planting your bed. If you wish, now is the time to add fertilizer products. Read labels carefully; know what your soil/plants need. Too much or the wrong fertilizer is a recipe for plant death and a waste of money.

* I like to use no till and simply dig individual holes. Seed germination inhibitor products (such as Preen) work well if you only use plant sets or bulbs.

* Do not add fresh animal fertilizer because it will burn the plant roots. Use only aged manure and mix it into the soil a month before you plant.

* Plant correctly. Use plants in each bed that have the same needs. MULCH!

This is a simple abbreviated instruction. I could expand each step into many long articles and the value of patience. “But make no mistake;” said Robert M. Pyle, “the weeds will win: nature bats last.”

Friday, April 24, 2009

Spring Weather

Images: Clouds on the hill.

Lightening produced by thunderstorms kill more people every year than tornadoes. Lightening often is at the very front edge of storms and can strike some ten miles before the storm and without your seeing the storm clouds or hearing thunder. It's a myth that lightning never strikes the same place twice.

The National Weather Service considers a thunderstorm SEVERE if it produces hail at least three-quarters of an inch in diameter, has winds of 58 miles per hour or higher, or produces a tornado.

A NWS WATCH is a message indicating that conditions favor the occurrence of a certain type of hazardous weather.

An NWS WARNING indicates that a hazardous event is occurring or is imminent in about 30 minutes to an hour. Sometimes less.

Being prepared is smart. It is a way of protecting your family. It is a way of teaching the family/children/elders what to do under different adverse weather circumstances. It's as important as all the other things you protect your family from during this life. Develop a Family Disaster Plan. Please see the "Family Disaster Plan" for general family planning information.

WQAD web site lets you sign up for weather warnings to come over: your cell phone, your e-mails, and on TV. Listen to a NOAA Weather Radio or local radio or television stations for updated information. If you live in town and hear the sirens - seek shelter immediately. The Weather Service also suggests you have a "weather alert" station. It has a home siren system that goes off when the National Weather Service issues a warning for your area. They are inexpensive, take a small space, and have battery back-up.

This information is expanded upon at http://www.disastercenter.com/guide. It has everything you need to know plus some myth busters. It gives good tips on talking with children to help them make good decisions.

I'm not paranoid about storms but I am realistic about the damage they produce. I've been in Indiana's 1965 Palm Sunday tornado where my aunt was killed and it destroyed (among the hundreds) my parents, my grandparents, and great grandparents houses. I've been in three tornado's in Decatur Illinois, once my car was being moved sideways while I was driving forward. Then, there was the Galva tornado.

Hail, lightening, wind and rain can be beautiful pictures and they can do serious damage to property and people. We can't stop these things but we can be warned, informed, and prepared.

As we are entering our most severe storm season, take a few minutes from gardening and check out some of these web sites.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Beautiful at One-Hundred

Images: Peonies. Check out the bright pink one with the big yellow center. There's a little bee so loaded with pollen, it may never be able to take off in flight. Bless these little insects for their busy work.

Peony plants were cultivated in Asia over 2,500 years ago and can successfully survive in our gardens for longer than we will be around to tabulate.

I moved a huge amount to my present house from other old plants. I always believe and tell you, "shared plants thrive the best!"

I have herbaceous or garden perennial peonies (Paeonia lactiflora and its hybrids). I don't have any of the tree peonies. Flower types are: Single, Japanese, Anemone, Semi-double, and Double. There are hundreds of cultivars, including early and late blooming. Some have a heavenly fragrance especially when brought into the home.

Peonies should be planted in a place that will be permanent - they do not like to be moved. They are almost perfect once you meet the initial requirements for planting. Here are some tips:

Buy only top sized high quality plants or if a gift or divided, a clump at least the size of your fist. Smaller and it will take literally years before they will have a bloom and more years before they will be a bush.

Plant in full sun, with good air circulation, in good clay loam with good drainage, and not where peonies have been previously planted. October is the best time to plant or divide. Other times will work if kept watered and tended but may cause a longer wait.

The upper most buds (eyes) should not be covered with soil more than 2 inches or you will never have blooms. This is extremely important.

Dividing is difficult because the mass is extremely heavy. You can lift only a portion without disturbing the entire plant. It will normally take 2-3 years for a new plant to become established enough to produce normal flowers.

You may mulch around plants for weed control but do not make the soil mound more than 2 inches over the crowns.

It is suggested you remove all flower buds the first year they produce to let all the plant's energy go to establishing a root system. It takes someone more disciplined than me to do this.

If you want huge blooms, leave only the large terminal bud on each stem.

Picking flowers does NOT harm the plant, but removing leaves does. Cut the flower stems short, leaving at least two leaves per stem on the plant.

After several years, you may fertilize immediately after flowering with a 10-10-10 scratched into the soil surface annually. Do not dig anything deep into the area around the plant.

Peonies become dormant in late September or early October. You may cut (never pull) the stems as close to the soil level as possible (without injuring the crowns) if you like a clean winter garden. It is said it will help prevent insect and disease damage but I've never had any of those problems with my peonies.

The ant issue: Ants like the nectar that forms on the buds of the peonies. They do no harm to the plant. Legend says the ants help the petals open. My advice is do not plant peonies close to your foundation and there will be no ant issue. I hold the cut flower down and shake before bringing into my house.

Support for the bush may be needed if your variety has huge flowers. There are "peony supports" for sale or you may use homemade. Tomato supports and bamboo sticks and string are two options. If it rains hard on the open flowers, they will probably flop. I always think of it as an excuse to cut a huge bouquet.

A bouquet of peonies lends a wonderfully fragrant rather ancient feeling to a home. Colors from white to red and all shades in between. There are new corals and yellows and, of course, the tree peonies. The foliage is glossy dark green and some new varieties have dark red and variegated.

I appreciate the ancient flower for the beauty, ease of care, and longevity. How many of us can say we continue to look that good and be that productive when we're one-hundred years old?

Monday, April 20, 2009

An Apple, My Pretty?

Bittersweet Nightshade "Solanum dukamara"
Photo from IL wild flower web page
I'm afraid the Wicked Witch knew a thing or two about poisoning.

I'm going to run a "Poisonous Plant" article about once a week. There are too many for one space.

Bittersweet Nightshade is poisonous and has caused loss of livestock and pet poisoning and has caused death in children who accidentally picked the berries. Bittersweet nightshade also has a strong, unpleasant odor so most animals will avoid it and poisonings from this plant are not very frequent.

The entire plant contains solanine, the same toxin found in green potatoes and other members of the nightshade family, and it also contains a glycoside called dulcamarine, similar in structure and effects to atropine, one of the toxins found in deadly nightshade. The toxin amount varies with soil, light, climate and growth stage. Ripe fruits are less toxic than the leaves and unripe berries but even ripe berries can be poisonous.

It is one of those beautiful vines that can be attractive to children - the little flowers are a bright purple and yellow and berries, as they ripen, are green, yellow, orange, and red. If you have this plant growing in your gardens, it would be wise to pull and dispose where it won't take root. If it has got out of control, you may want to use chemical weedkiller. If you have a strong allergic reaction to some plants, do not burn in case the smoke carries the oils.

It spreads by birds dropping seeds and by the roots and stems moving in the soil. It is said to vine up to thirty feet but I have never seen it that big in this area.

This plant was a tough one for me to finally destroy. It vined in with some greenery and was delicate and beautiful. But, this one is not worth it with little grandchildren wandering the paths.

And a disclaimer for those wishing to play Wicked Witch: All plant poisons are easily detected in an autopsy. I know that sounds so suspecting and cold - but some people, as-well-as some plants, are so beautiful on the outside and quite deadly on the inside.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Nutty for Walnuts

Walnut tree in the winter

Until we moved to this property, I’d had very little experience with walnut trees. I had bought those delicious nutmeats in a bag but never harvested my own.

From over ten years of experiencing acres of walnut trees, I’ll describe some of the challenges. I use the word “challenges” because that is the foremost and best description of owning Black walnut (Juglans nigra) trees.

1. Walnut trees are the last to get their leaves in the spring and the first to loose their leaves in the fall.
2. Walnut trees not only loose their leaves in the fall but they loose the one to three foot whips that hold the leaves.

3. Walnut trees have a beautiful rugged shape. The wood, when grown to perfect standards, is highly prized by woodworkers for it’s beauty, ease of carving and veneer. Walnut furniture, musical instruments and gun stocks are of the most beautiful examples of American crafts. Illinois has some of the most valuable walnut trees in the world.
4. Walnut trees are tough, often growing to 100 feet. It is favored by termites and carpenter ants. Damage from these pests weaken the tree. Because it is so tough, the entire tree doesn’t just fall down, it falls down in stages during high winds.

5. It feeds and houses small animals, supports the nests of birds and is a feeding source and storage unit for woodpeckers. In the fall, they provide overnight lodging for migrating monarch butterflies.
6. It is seldom killed by disease but can be distorted by insects and lightening.

7. It provides bumper crops of walnuts more years than not. The meats are a valuable crop and continue to get top price per pound. The task of gathering, peeling the husk, shelling and picking out the meats is a difficult and arduous task for the noncommercial harvester.
8. The nutmeats have a wonderful flavor all it’s own. The rind has been used for centuries for it’s black/brown staining qualities. It takes almost that long for the stain wear off your hands.

9. Walnuts laying on the ground can destroy a mower blade. Even if they are the bits and pieces of shells shed from squirrel dinners, they will shoot out of the mower like little missiles. Raking is a backbreaking task.
10. The walnut tree produces a non-toxic, colorless, chemical called hydrojuglone. Hydrojuglone is found in leaves, stems, fruit hulls, inner bark and roots. When exposed to air or soil compounds, hydrojuglone is oxidized into the allelochemical Juglone, which is highly toxic.

Plants killed or damaged by Juglone:
birch, white
crocus, autumn
grape, domestic
mountain laurel

There are things you can do to help the situation but for further information on what thrives and what doesn’t, check out web sites for walnut trees and Juglone.

Death of a plant from Juglone poisoning is usually a slow process leaving the homeowner wondering what happened. Even though you may have some success growing walnut with some of the above, why risk the investment?

If you inherit a woods full of walnuts, as I have, you may have to use barriers, raised beds, and be diligent about cleaning up the walnut debris. Cutting down a walnut will not help because Juglone in the soil will take a very long time to neutralize.

Walnut trees are not for the faint hearted but they do have considerable value for their unique qualities.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Praying for Mantis

Image: Praying Mantis Egg Cases pictured in my gardens today.

I've included these pictures for those of you who have never seen (or known you have seen) an egg case for the very VERY beneficial Praying Mantis insect.

There are 2,000 species of mantids and the closest relative is the cockroach. Mantis comes from the Greek word for a prophet or seer. During that time it was believed the insect possessed supernatural powers.
Today, we know the praying mantis possesses almost supernatural insect killing powers. Eating only live meat (with no discrimination), they have been imported as a means of controlling pest insects. In truth, they will eat both good and bad insects. The really large ones have been known to even eat small birds and lizards.

They are among the very few insects with a functional neck on which the head can swivel. Most mantis in Illinois are the imported Chinese mantis and are among the largest in the world.

The female lays her eggs in the fall and they can survive severe winters. They hatch when the weather turns warm in the spring. You may not see them as they resemble a mosquito and drop by a thin thread to the ground where they blend with the vegetation. 

They shed their skin many times before they look like the mantis that is instantly recognized. Tan to pale green in color at maturity, they usually sit and wait for prey to come close enough to strike and snatch with their front legs.

I'm fortunate to have a large population in my gardens. Since I seldom use any chemical insecticides, I don't kill them or their food. The twigs of my bushes will have as many as ten egg cases each. Each female will lay several cases each fall.

Young will stay within the area where they hatch if food is plentiful. I've seen the same mantis sitting on a house shutter the entire summer. I'll come close to take pictures or just watch and she'll turn her head to check me out. As I move my finger, she will turn her head (probably sizing up her chances at making it her next meal.)

Some Asian cultures keep praying mantis as pets. I prefer to have them carnivorously enjoy the bounty of my garden. Since they are at the top of the insect food chain, they have few natural predators and little need to scurry away and hide.

The praying mantis will not bite humans unless you are messing with them or try to pick them up incorrectly. The only time I move them is if they are in danger (like the house is being painted, on the screen door where there will be traffic, and etc.) Usually, a little "shushing" encourages them to move away. They seldom fly and will slowly lumber away or drop to the ground.

You can mail order egg cases until the first of June. Just remember for a praying mantis to survive, you can not use chemical insecticides. Even if it doesn't kill them, it will decrease their prey, and they will be forced to leave your yard for other gardens.

“Be thankful for the smallest blessing, and you will deserve to receive greater. Value the least gifts no less than the greatest, and simple graces as especial favors. If you remember the dignity of the Giver, no gift will seem small or mean, for nothing can be valueless that is given by the most high God.”—Thomas รก Kempis.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Family Plot

Daylily "Katisue"

Have you ever thought about planting a themed garden? Any theme, just as long as it’s engaging to you?

I have a “family plot”. It’s daylilies that have the registered names of family members. It’s surprising how even unusual names will appear.

I search the on-line American Hemerocallis Society’s list of registered names. If I find a family name, I search for that plant from suppliers.

The really fun part is what people choose for their themes. Having a family plot is pretty common (Katisue and Amazing Grace daylilies or Mother‘s rose.) Here are some ideas you may want to adopt or expand upon (a few examples are in parentheses):

Entertainment: It can be centered on one celebrity such as Elvis and his songs (Graceland daylily or Blue Suede Shoes iris.) An era, dance, stage plays, movies (April in Paris rose,) TV, rock & roll.

Colors: A garden with only green and your favorite color. Shades of black flowers and leaves (Euphorbia Blackbird,) blue (Hydrangea Blue Wave,) whites (Dad’s Best White daylily).

Scented: Either a certain scent (sweet peas, musk rose), night scented (dautra Night Scented) or very strong scented (Radiant Perfume rose.)

Historic: Centered on one person, a time and place, an event. Presidents (Mister Lincoln rose), wars (Sweet Freedom rose,) countries, veterans (War March daylily) or heritage.

Attraction: Butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, or night garden (most catalogs & plant tags tell you.)

One species: Grass, hosta, daylily, iris, rose or herbs.

Children: Things they can easily plant, care for or harvest like sunflowers or morning glories.

Specific: Husband, wife (geranium Green Goddess,) pet (Alfredo Cat daylily), hobby or vacation (China Veil daylily.)

Biblical: Plants mentioned in the Bible (Lily of the Valley,) names from the Bible, scripture based or surrounding a specific story (Armageddon Iris, Guardian Angel daylily or Pope John Paul II rose)

Dates: Birthdays, your wedding day (Wedding Band daylily,) holidays (Christmas Ruby or Blushing Summer Valentine daylilies)

Books: by author, gendre, period in time (Frankly Scarlett or Bookmark daylilies)

Food: Your favorite (Leebea Orange Crush daylily or Blueberry Parfait iris.)

Scary: Names (Rattlesnake grass,) or carnivores (Dente Flytrap.)

Theme gardens are only limited by your imagination. “Every flower about a house certifies to the refinement of somebody. Every vine climbing and blossoming tells of love and joy." A quote from Robert G. Ingersoll, former Illinois Attorney General and orator, who must have had a theme garden.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Image of Hyacinths after snow.
Just a short note to say we got two inches of snow last night. It was gone later this afternoon and I even had the windows open for awhile.

Fortunately, neither the snow nor the wind caused any damage. I'm just sure spring will arrive soon - right? Tell me I'm right - please!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Blues

These little blue and white Striped Squill (Puschkinia libanotica) just popped open yesterday. Another welcome sign of spring.

If blue is something you enjoy in your garden, here are some possibilities:

Spring: Scilla Spring Beauty, Hyacinthus orientalis Blue Jacket or Delft Blue, bluebells, Crocus vernus Twilight, Muscari aucheri Blue Magic, Dutch Iris Blue Magic, Amsonia Blue Ice, Columbine Origami Blue & White or Clementine Blue.

Summer: Allium Azureum, Grass Leymus arenarius Blue Dune, Grass Festuca glauea Elijah Blue, Hosta Bix Blue or Blue Mammoth, Tall Bearded Iris Crystal Blue or South Pacific, Balloon Flower Astra Double Blue, Brunnera Jack Frost, Clematis Blue Angel, Delphinium Blue Lace, Geranium Rozanne, Spiderwort Blue Denim.

Fall: Stokes Aster Blue Danube, Sea Holly Blue Glitter, Stokes Aster Peachie's Pick.

Year round: Evergreen tree, Colorado Blue Spruce.

Grow as annuals: Calibrachoa Callie Light Blue, Lobelia Laguna ™ Compact Blue with Eye, Petunia Mini Blue Veined or Surfinia Sky Blue, Salvia Velocity Blue, Torenia Catalina Midnight Blue.

Although these are only some of the blues available, there aren't a lot of true blues out there. Many so called blues may be purple in your garden. I caution that the blue color is determined by many things; I don't guarantee true blue.

Some of the new blues have been hybridized and have lost their "natural" attributes such as timing, smell, and color needed to attract beneficial insects.

Blues need contrast with other plantings to insure they are noticeable. They may fade into the background of green or other dark/similar colors. Blues are most noticeable when used as an accent.

Garden hard scapes may be another way of "bluing" your landscape. There are many beautiful blue pots, glass balls, and art objects. A new tumbled glass "gravel" is advertised as a decorative mulch.

Of course, there is the biggest blue attraction in your landscape: the summer sky. A farm woman I knew as a youngster used to put her hands on her hips, look up at the clear summer sky and say, "You could make a big pair of overalls with that piece of blue."

Friday, April 3, 2009

Grieving Process in Kentucky

White Pine with Robin's nest after ice storm

A few weeks ago, we traveled through Kentucky. Residents of the beautiful bluegrass state were in the process of cleaning up the devastation caused by a winter ice/wind storm.

From southern Illinois through the entire length of Kentucky, tree and state workers were pulling the debris from the interstates. We could see where many had been across roadways.
One of the worst areas had a field the size of a city block piled high with broken trees.

Considering the small view from the interstate, I can't imagine multiplying this for the rest of the state. No wonder electric line crews from all over the Midwest were in Kentucky for weeks.

As we watched mile after mile of the damage, I was so grieved for the residents of this state that I totally forgot to take pictures. At that, a picture can not really capture how it looked.

I had seen pictures and heard first hand accounts from a Kentucky woman who writes a column for the Dave's Garden web site. Her descriptions, although vivid, did not prepare me for the real picture.
She has written several follow-up discussions and it is evident, as a gardener and resident of that beautiful state, she is working through the grieving process. This may sound too trivial a loss to the person who isn't a nature lover, but I understand.

Grieving the loss of nature's beauty, is the loss of something that soothed and brought peace. It is the loss of a kind of beauty that brings joy. It is the acknowledgement that we have been blessed by living in an area of this world so full of abundance.

As all gardeners do, Kentucky nature lovers will again turn their faces towards the spring sun and recover.

“Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God who made him sees
That half a proper gardener's work is done upon his knees,
So when your work is finished, you can wash your hands and pray
For the Glory of the Garden, that it may not pass away!”
Rudyard Kipling, The Glory of the Garden

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Two Lips are Lovely

Parrot Tulip

Should I talk about tulips in the spring when they bloom or in the fall when they are planted?

I'm so excited to see how fast they are growing that I must talk about them now!

Although it is pure drudgery to be planting bulbs in the late fall, I have never once regretted a spring flower. The color and form simply bring that needed thrill after a dreary February and March.

I've bought the hand operated round bulb planters, the ones attached to electric drills but find a shovel works best in all but the tightest places. Bulbs look best when planted in mass so simply taking a few shovels of soil up, laying down bulbs and a quick cover works for me.

I find the trick is remembering where I planted them and not dig them up in the middle of summer when I'm looking for another place to put lilies.

My favorite tulip is currently the "Angelique", a beautiful semi-double pink. I have always thought I'd color coordinate my tulips like the public gardens, but, I can never resist a sack of cheap beautiful bulbs no matter the color.

I have bought the large expensive (for me) spring flowering bulbs and they are exceptionally big, sturdy, and long lasting. I'm also not above a bag of late-in-the-season big box store sale bulbs. 

Especially daffodils. Have you ever seen an ugly daffodils? Me either!

Spring flowering bulbs can be planted anyplace that isn't overly wet. They will rot in standing water. Planted under deciduous trees, they get all the sun they need before the trees leaf out.

A few rules: Plant the depth recommended. Don't pack the soil down tightly. Mulch. Don't cut, tie, mow or pull the dieing leaves until totally brown and laying on the ground. This is how they get their nourishment for next year's blooms. They must have a season of cold (either in the ground or in the freezer). The pointed end must be up.

A few informational bits: Some tulips and daffodils are fragrant. Both last a long time cut and in a vase a water. Experiment with some of the lesser known spring flowering bulbs - they are so beautiful. Many will multiply.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Why Didn't It?

Daylily "Chicago Apache"

Plants are like children, even though we know the parents and what they look like, they may have a child that looks or behaves nothing like them.

Sometimes we buy a plant advertised and recommended for a certain situation. It may not live up to our expectations, may overdo our expectations, or may be totally different than we expected. The reasons may be:


  • People have different ideas as to what constitutes a certain color. What may be pink to me, you may consider peach.
  • Some species, for example, may have a flower described as “white.“ When in reality, there is no totally white at this time; it will be almost white or shades. I call that the wishful thinking color wheel.
  • Some varieties depend on climate to determine the exact color. What may be bright orange in the garden of the Kentucky breeder, may only be light melon in an Illinois garden.
  • Another example is plants that gain their specific color from the soil. One of the best examples is the pink vs. blue hydrangea flowers.

  • The length of time a plant has been in the ground may determine size.
  • The nutrients in your soil may inhibit growth or throw it into exceptional growth.
  • The amount of shade or sun a plant receives will help determine growth.
  • The environmental factors such as pets, traffic, pollution, and moisture.
  • The plant may require pruning, staking, or other manipulation.

  • People have different ideas as to what category fits a certain plant smell.
  • The time of day often affects the intensity of the fragrance.
  • Many fragrant plants situated close to each other may nullify the effect of all or at least the subtle.
  • Understand what part of the plant has the fragrance. Some plants may have to have their leaves, stems, or seeds crushed to release the fragrance.

  • Hybrid plants may revert back to a recessive gene or to one parent.
  • Grafted plants may revert back to the host plant.
  • The plant may not be a true or good specimen of what it was labeled.
  • The plant may be very small or immature and will improve over time.
  • You may have the perfect conditions that allows your plant to be more than expected.
  • Most descriptions are “averages”.

A picture is worth a thousand words but it can also be deceiving. It may be enhanced, magnified, cropped or be just a beautiful picture. Not necessarily how it will look in a real garden setting.
Plants described with the following may work out great, but, unless you understand this plant and know the dealer, I would beware of buying anything that uses the terms:

  • Can be invasive (Probably won’t be able to contain it with a flame thrower)
  • Prone to wander (See invasive)
  • Slow to start (You will be dead forty years before it starts to grow)
  • Subtle (Never to be seen again)
  • Exotic (A houseplant for Zone 5)
  • Self seeds (A little or a lot)
  • Never before sold (Maybe for good reason) 
  • Unbelievable (Run the other way)
  • Lowest price anywhere (Probably lowest quality or size or not true to description)
  • Claims to have several types of plants in one (It may go back to just one the 2nd year)
  • Wildflowers gathered from the wild (Illegal)
  • This tree will be 50 feet in ten years (Fast growing trees are usually weak)

The best way to understand what you buy is to buy from reputable dealers and understand everything about the plant prior to buying. Check out the dealer’s guarantee before buying. If you did get a problem or defective plant, talk it over with your nursery. If it is their problem, they will want to work with you towards a solution. If it is your problem, they may be able to help you understand what went wrong.

“There is no gardening without humility. Nature is constantly sending even its oldest scholars to the bottom of the class for some egregious blunder.” Alfred Austin, British poet laureate.