Friday, May 29, 2009


Six spotted Green Tiger Beetle "Cicindela sexguttata" 

A "Bug Exterminator" said he was having the best year ever; making more income this spring than he has ever made in a whole year. I'm not surprised.

I don't think I remember a buggier year. It's tempting to spray all the yard, bushes, and one's self until every bug is gone.

I doubt it's healthy, but I do use bug repellent on my person. While outside this morning, I had to spray twice. Not only were the gnats in swarms but the flies were biting and I'm just sure several hundred other painful flying pests. I have three bites from over a week ago that still hurt and itch.

It does make more sense to use insect repellent on your skin and clothes rather than spray everything else in your yard. Yard insecticide for pests are not particular who they kill - both good and bad bugs. Plus, unless you live in a bubble, it is not possible to keep other bugs from filling the "bug vacuum" left behind.

The above Six-spotted Green Tiger Beetle is an example. Because of the brilliant green to bluish green shine, it might be assumed to be as harmful as the Japanese Beetle Popilla japonica. Not true.

The Six-spotted eats small insects and spiders. A Good Bug! The Japanese eats the leaf and fruit tissues and of over 200 plants. A Bad Bug!

The National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders can be a help in determining if you need to take measures to eliminate an insect in your yard and gardens. Taking a picture will help you identify the small differences before they scurry off. For us average gardeners, we are seldom prepared to identify (let alone remember) each detail that can help categorize insects.

A few interesting facts:

Beetles are the largest order (Coleoptera) in the animal kingdom. 300,000 world wide and about 30,000 species in North America. Coleoptera means "sheath wings" for the hard armor like fore wings that cover (when sitting) the hind wings (used for flying.)

Many beetles are predators, other are scavengers, and a few are parasites. Some species attack plants and stored foods, while others pollinate flowers and eat plants pests. The larvae, called grubs, can be predators or vegetarians.

I'm just sure this is the year when screened porches will be a valuable commodity!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sunshine on My Shoulders Make Me Happy

What color is the sun? It looks to me like yellow and it shows yellow in pictures BUT it is a complex answer that involves how light refracts coming through the atmosphere and how our eyes "see" light and send messages to the brain. It involves physics, physiology, and tradition.

Today, I'm singing a song of yellow and happy and tradition! The color yellow cheers me.

The bird in the images is a breeding male American Goldfinch Carduelis tristis. The female is duller overall, olive and lacks the black cap. In the winter, they are all a rather brownish or gray color. This often leads bird watchers to think they have left the area but they are year-round residents in this part of Illinois. Goldfinches have that spirited bouncing flight, a lively series of songs and are common and gregarious. Keep sunflower seeds available and they will frequent your feeder all year. Grow sunflowers (also pictured) and you will see them perched up-side-down picking out the dry seeds in the fall and winter. They also like thistle seeds.

The landscape image has a great yellow stand-by - marigolds Calendula. The marigold is such an old, tough, common annual we may tend to dismiss it's attributes. Marigolds were first discovered by the Portuguese in Central America in the 16th century. There are African or American, French, Signet and Mule marigolds. Every year there are new hybrids in color, form, and size. Marigold is an effective herb for the treatment of skin problems, an ointment for repairing minor damage to the skin, and sap from the stem is reputed to remove warts, corns and calluses.

In the 12th century, Macer wrote that merely looking at the Marigold plant would improve the eyesight and lighten the mood. I think I need to plant some today!

The other images are of various ground covers. Ground covers that either bloom yellow or have yellow leaves brighten shade and contrast nicely against the dark green of evergreens and other dark foliage.

We may not have bright sunshine everyday in our gardens but we can bring a little yellow sunshine into our space with the addition of yellow plants.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Images: 1.  Pencil drawing of iris parts.  2.  Granddaughter loving flowers.  3.  Germanica Iris batik. 4.  Yellow self: Unknown yellow re bloomer.  5. White standards and purple falls: Wabash) 6.  Maroon self: #10 Maroon. 7.  White standards & blue falls: Stairway to Heaven.   

 When I look at the Iris  When 

blooming, I am reminded that nothing comes as close to perfection as a beautiful child and a beautiful flower. And both are the most beautiful when they are yours.

Although both contain the DNA of the parents (and ancestors) which determines much of the characteristics, it is Grace that makes them beautiful.

Flowers: Somewhere there was a hybridizer who chose which traits to value and which to discard. When it has reached the level of perfection the hybridizer wants, he/she registers the plant and offers for sale. A retailer thinks it will sell and purchases the stock. A gardener (me) decides it would be perfect for the garden. And I take the picture.

Some things to notice on these pictures (you may want to make them larger for this):

1. Some appear pearlized while others are velvet.
2. Some falls have ruffles and edges of different colors.
3. Some have standards that stand tall, others are more Amoena style or flat.
4. Some have veins that are lighter or darker than the petal.
5. The ruff color is another distinctive mark.
6. Having standards, falls, and ruffs in distinctly different colors is currently desirable.
7. The different colored spider marks on the falls is new.
8. The names of many old varieties are lost.
9. Many re bloom in the fall, some have fragrance, and all pick well for the vase.

An opinion: Old varieties may not have all the new fancy attributes but they are worth having in your garden. They are the sweet purples, lavenders, yellows, and browns that we all saw in our grandmother's gardens. Many are sweet smelling.

I will never claim to have the credentials or desire to be involved in all parts of plant hybridizing and research. I will always claim enjoyment of the beautiful - whether a hybrid or naturalized.

“Flowers are the sweetest things God ever made and forgot to put a soul into.” ~Henry Ward Beecher, Life Thoughts

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Whooooo are You?

Images: Baby owl.

Last evening Jerry heard the dogs raising a ruckus by the woods. When he got to them the one dog had a baby owl in his mouth. These are the pictures of the little fellow. He didn't appear to be hurt but was very young. He would chatter/click a bit to us and turn and blink his eyes. It was very "human" behavior. His behavior was something like a pet.

We locked the dogs and cats inside for the night. Jerry placed the towel and owl in a fork in the tree near where the owl was found; only inside the fence. After about fifteen minute, he checked back and there was no owl anyplace so hopefully mother swept him away or he suddenly learned to fly.

Baby owls are not that easy to identify. All I have to go on was a light gray beak, yellow/green eyes and lots of down in shades of gray. Babies don't look much like adults.

We decided it might be the Eastern Screech-Owl Otus asio or a Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus.

Lot's of owl facts, lots of pictures and still indecisive. Some things that pertain to both:

They usually swallow their food whole and then regurgitate up hair balls, bones and other "stuff." Depending on which owl we settle on - they eat anything from big bugs to skunks.

Both live in unlined nests. They use cavities in trees made by others or nesting boxes. They lay several eggs and the female takes care of them. The male will feed and protect the female and young.

We'll just have to see if we can spot this little fellow some evening as he matures to better identify.

They are the "Family Strigidae" or known as "True Owls".

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Toxicity and All

Poisonings and deaths from garden plants are rare as most poisonous plants taste unpleasant. It is important to remember that small children are often at risk from coloured berries, petals and leaves. It doesn't mean every poisonous plant should be removed from the garden. It's best to teach children to NEVER eat seeds, berries or other plant part without asking first.


The potential danger varies depending on dose. Some plants are capable of causing serious illness or death with only a small amount of exposure while others require large quantities be consumed before even mild symptoms occur.


Poisoning from plants may occur from ingesting, inhalation or direct contact.

Symptoms from ingestion include gastroenteritis, diarrhoea, vomiting, nervous symptoms and in serious cases, respiratory and cardiac distress.

Poisoning by inhalation of pollen, dust, or fumes from burning plants can cause symptoms similar to hay fever or asthma.

Contact poisoning on the skin or in the eyes can occur from direct contact with plant sap, fine hairs or burrs; this can result in swelling, rashes or blistering.

Today, I'm going to talk about a plant that every Midwesterner knows about but most of us have contacted anyway: The dreaded Poison Ivy Toxicodendron radicans.

We've been told for years, "At the sign of three (leaves) - run the other way." But, poison ivy can have up to eight leaves and sometimes they look different. They are green in the summer and turn very red in the fall (a good identification).

Approximately 85% of the population will develop skin allergies to poison ivy (or poison oak and sumac.) Sensitivity can develop immediately or it can develop over many years of exposure.

The cause of the rash, blisters, and infamous itch is urushiol (pronounced oo-roo-shee-ohl), a chemical in the sap of poison ivy, oak and sumac plants.

Urushiol that's rubbed off the plants onto other things can remain potent for years, depending on the environment. If the contaminated object is in a dry environment, the potency of the urushiol can last for decades. Even if the environment is warm and moist, the urushiol could still cause a reaction a year later. Think about clothes, shoes, and tools.

Almost all parts of the body are vulnerable to the sticky urushiol, producing the characteristic linear (in a line) rash. Because the urushiol must penetrate the skin to cause a reaction, places where the skin is thick, such as the soles of the feet and the palms of the hands, are less sensitive to the sap than areas where the skin is thinner. The severity of the reaction may also depend on how big a dose of urushiol the person got.

If you've been exposed to poison ivy:

1. Cleanse exposed skin with generous amounts of isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. (Don't return to the woods or yard the same day. Alcohol removes your skin's protection along with the urushiol and any new contact will cause the urushiol to penetrate twice as fast.)

2. Wash skin with water. (Water temperature does not matter; if you're outside, it's likely only cold water will be available.)

3. Take a regular shower with soap and warm water. Do not use soap before this point because soap will tend to pick up some of the urushiol from the surface of the skin and move it around.

4. Clothes, shoes, tools, and anything else that may have been in contact with the urushiol should be wiped off with alcohol and water. Be sure to wear gloves or otherwise cover your hands while doing this and then discard the hand covering.

The rash:

Redness and swelling will appear in about 12 to 48 hours. Blisters and itching will follow. For those rare people who react after their very first exposure, the rash appears after seven to 10 days.

Because they don't contain urushiol, the oozing blisters are not contagious nor can the fluid cause further spread on the affected person's body. Nevertheless, scratching the blisters because fingernails may carry germs that could cause an infection.

The rash will only occur where urushiol has touched the skin; it doesn't spread throughout the body. However, the rash may seem to spread if it appears over time instead of all at once. This is either because the urushiol is absorbed at different rates in different parts of the body or because of repeated exposure to contaminated objects or urushiol trapped under the fingernails. If the poison is on an exposed open sore or scratch, it may cause other problems.

The rash, blisters and itch normally disappear in 14 to 20 days without any treatment. But few can handle the itch without some relief. For mild cases, wet compresses or soaking in cool water (some add soda) may be effective. Oral antihistamines can also relieve itching.

FDA also considers over-the-counter topical corticosteroids (commonly called hydrocortisones under brand names such as Cortaid and Lanacort) safe and effective for temporary relief of itching associated with poison ivy.
If symptoms are severe: See your doctor. Your doctor may prescribe oral corticosteroids if the rash is on the face, genitals, or covers more than 30 percent of the body. The drug must be taken for at least 14 days, and preferably over a three-week period. Failure to take as prescribed may case the symptoms to rebound even worse.

Covering the body seems to be the only way to help prevent exposure as topical preventatives have not been proven effective.

(Much of the above information was researched from the FDA web site)

Killing the plant:

You're options are poisoning or pulling the weed. The only poisons (Roundup and Ortho Poison Ivy Killer) that effectively kill it all will also kill most anything else it touches. Pulling will potentially cause you to contact the poison. You must get every bit of the plant--leaves, vines, and roots--or it will sprout again. Check out the labels of poisons to see exactly what they will kill - Ortho may not kill trees.

Do not compost (stays active), do not burn (the oil will float on air and the smoke can cause lung problems) , and do not throw on brush piles (it can take root).

I spent years being very sensitive to poison ivy. I take an aggressive approach to killing the plant - Roundup - at the first sight. I am willing to sacrifice anything around it. I don't appear to be as sensitive anymore - either I'm more observant or have built up a tolerance; probably the first.

Monday, May 18, 2009

House Finches

Two male and one female House Finch
Carpodacus mexicanus
As Mr. Rogers said, "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood!" Just watching the sun play on things, the blue sky, and the little birds going about their business is a pleasure.

The three birds in the pictures are regulars this time of year. I'm never 100% sure if they are House Finches or Purple Finches but have decided to pick one and the H.F. wins on the process of elimination of visual traits.

Finches share many similar things: their jerky bouncy undulating flight, their full songs, size, and migration patterns. I say similar because they do each have their own particular traits. Unlike the New Jersey Audubon Society's members' annual competition to identify the most birds in twenty-four hours (229 was the winner this year), I am always discovering something new and learning.
The male House Finch has a brown cap but the front of his head, bib and rump are typically red (sometimes orange or occasionally yellow.) The bib is clearly set off from the streaked underparts. They are about six inches long and rather thin looking.

The adult female and juveniles are brown-streaked overall.
They have a lively high-pitched song. Unlike the serious "bird identifiers", I have not become sophisticated enough to identify the different finches by sound only.

The House Finch is abundant in this area, enjoying year-round habitation over most of the continental United States and down throughout Mexico. It was introduced in the East in the 1940's but rapidly expanded west, especially towns.

Finches are seed eaters which explain why I have the opportunity for numerous sightings at my sunflower seed feeder.
They do not fight other finches or sparrows for territory or time on the feeder. They will scatter away when one of the feeder-bullies lands.

They may not be as colorful as the Indigo Bunting or Goldfinch, but they are a little bit of bright happiness in their own way.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Wonders of Nature

Indigo Bunting

Blue Camas Camassia Quanmash
The Indigo Bunting is a finch and member of the same family as Cardinals and Grosbeaks. It looks brilliant blue in the sun but is actually black without the diffraction of light through the feathers.
I usually see this little guy (the female is dull brown, shy and hard to identify) during their migration period. The male arrives up north about three weeks prior to the female to stake our his territory. The couple will remain in that territory and raise up to three broods until time to migrate south.

The social and breeding lives of these little birds is more diverse than "Wisteria Lane" on a hot summer night. Not only do they not mate for life, but may have a varied breeding period. The Bunting is known as one of our best songbirds and much research has been accomplished to show how they each get their particular song and how it works with the social network.

Between August and November, they gather in large flocks and migrate almost 2,000 miles to southern Mexico where they become occupants of a sedate and uninspired retiree trailer park (kidding on the trailer park thing.)

The main food of choice in the winter becomes seeds and buds, rather than insects and spiders which are the staple during the breeding season. They do visit my sunflower seed feeder in the summer.

Migration experiments done on Indigo Buntings have revealed that the stars are but one of several cues that birds rely on for orientation. Other sources of information include the position of the setting sun and the pattern of polarized light it creates, the earth's magnetic field, odors, wind, and topographic features such as mountains and bodies of water.
The flower is a Blue Camas (Indian Hyacinth) Camassia Quamash. Used by the northeast Native Americans as a food, the bulbs were boiled for three days to form a sticky sweet starch. A word of caution, there is another similar bulb that is very poisonous.
The plant has grass shaped dark green leaves and an 8-12 inch stem with flowers all along the stem. The flowers can range from white to the beautiful deep purple blue in the picture. They spread by seed.

It can grow wild in moist woodlands and meadows but prefers full sun. The use of the bulbs for a food substance is one of the earliest known examples of the Native Americans cultivating a specific food vs. using what was only available.

Both the Bunting and the Camas are stunning in the bright spring sunlight. The bunting is so busy, it is difficult to get a picture. My opportunity was when he flew into my picture window and was laying stunned on the ground. I put him on the window sill to offer protection from animals until he recovered. Meanwhile - a photo op.

Now, if the sky will just stay a cloudless blue and let the ground dry!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher Ferruginous Mocking-Bird

There is no mistaken identification when a male Brown Thrasher sings his song. It is so varied and beautiful, I simply have to stop and enjoy his concert.

The Brown Thrasher has one of the largest song repertoires of any North American bird. Boldly patterned, it is conspicuous when singing in its territory, but is hardly discernable during the rest of year. During it's autumnal molt, it looses almost all it's feathers and regains again during the winter.

A big bird (9-12 inches long and a 12 inch wingspan), it migrates north to our area in the summer breeding period. The upper parts are what is called rufus (a kinda red/brown rust color) and the underparts are cream/gray marked with dark gray spots. They have yellow eyes, gray face, two white bars on the wings and a long curved dark beak.

The Thrasher breeds in brushy open country, thickets, shelter belts, riparian areas, and suburbs. An aggressive defender of its nest, the Brown Thrasher is known to strike people and dogs hard enough to draw blood. The nest is a bulky cup made of twigs, lined with leaves, then with an inner lining of rootlets. They nest in dense shrubs, especially with thorns, up to 14 feet above ground (average 2-7 feet) but often placed on ground. They will lay from two to six smooth glossy very pale blue to green blue eggs that have reddish brown speckles. The babies leave the nest when 9-13 days old. They only raise one brood a season.

An Omnivore, it's diet consists of insects (especially beetles), other arthopods, fruits, and nuts. It feeds in leaf litter by using its bill to sweep litter and soil away. They may visit back yard feeders that offer corn, seed, suet, and fruit.

A relative of the mocking bird and catbird, these big birds are known to fight other big birds, snakes, dogs, cats, raccoons, and each other. Their songs are often in the top of trees (as I have seen and pictured here) and it is during this time the eggs are being incubated (usually not more than 100 ft. from the perch.) Both male and female sit on the eggs. They dislike any intrusion, including humans, and if their eggs and nest are disturbed, they will follow the invader up to half a mile all the time attacking.

Little other bits: The Brown Thrasher is the state bird of Georgia. They survive well caged and will continue to sign in captivity.

"God loved the birds and invented trees. Man loved the birds and invented cages." Jacques Deval Afin de vivre bel et bien

Poppies - The Truth and the Myth

Images: Papaver Orientale

The Papaver somniferum or “opium white poppy” is an annual and it is illegal to grow in the United States. Occasionally, it has survived in some very old gardens but generally you will not run across this flower or find seeds on sale from any legal vendor. In addition to the “herbalist” qualities, it is highly poisonous.

Papaver Eschscholzia is what is known as the “Californica poppy.” An annual in our zone, it is a beautiful often orange-gold variety although there are other similar colors available. It will occasionally self seed.

The Papaver Orientale is the perennial poppy grown in our area. They have been hybridized in new colors and petal designs besides the standard red and orange. Always beautiful, they resent being transplanted.

Papaver Meconopsis or the “blue grandis poppy” is a stunning clear blue perennial beauty and may survive in our zone but it’s very sensitive to wet conditions, especially during the winter. It is sometimes sold as a tender annual in area nurseries.

There are other species but the above are the ones typically found in our area of Illinois.


Poisonous: It is safe to assume all parts of poppies (except the roasted or steamed seeds) are highly poisonous if ingested.

Annual Poppy:
Annual poppies may be directly sown into the soil in early spring. They may bloom until fall. If they self seed, you may easily pull the shoots in places where you do not want them.

Perennial Poppy:
The perennial poppy resents being transplanted because it has a long tap root. It may be grown from seed or transplanted from nursery stock. Once it is established in the right spot, you may forget it, it will be enjoyed by generations.

These poppies are known as a “culinary herb” and are native to the mountainous regions of Turkey. The plant leaves and stems can be prickly and hairy. Later in the season, the plants die back (go dormant) and should be placed where fall perennials can hide this phase. They will again come up in the fall but do not bloom.

The flower is cup shaped with the petals looking like silk. They are short lived both in the garden and when picked but certainly worth it in both places. To prolong the life of the flowers, cut tight buds early in the morning and sear the cut end of each stem with a match or candle flame before placing it in water. Some people's skin is sensitive to the milk from the stems.

Attractive, grayish-green, vase-shaped seed heads form after flowering is finished. Pods contain thousands of tiny, dark brown, kidney-shaped, edible seeds, which have a mildly spicy, oily, agreeably nutty flavor. Poppy seeds are used to top some recipes of bread products.

Poppy seeds are rich in carbohydrates and calcium, and are a good source of energy. The poppy-seed oil has a very high content of unsaturated fatty acids, especially nutritionally valuable linoleic acid.

I have problems getting perennial plants to start but once they are established, they do fine. They are not particularly cheap and when I lose one I always say I’ll never plant another – THEN I see them blooming and try again.

Illinois Poison Center, at 1-800-222-1222, or visit it’s Web site at www.illin

Monday, May 11, 2009

Exciting Birds

Female (browns) and male (with red) Rose
Breasted Grosbeaks

It's been a busy time for birds this past weekend. In our yard and the fields by the house:

Ruby Throated Hummingbirds

Male and female Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks
Male and female Northern Cardinals
Male Indigo Blue Bunting
Brown Thrasher
Male and female Red-Winged Blackbirds
Black-Capped Chickadees
Morning Doves
Eastern Kingbirds
Male and female House Finches
Yellow-Shafted Northern Flicker
Male and female American Goldfinches
Great Blue Heron (down by the creek)
Northern Bobwhite
Male and female Blue Jays
American Robins
American Tree Sparrows
Swamp Sparrows
Downy Woodpecker

I'm sure there are others that I haven't seen or identified.

Some are passing through on their way farther north. The trick to enticing birds to stop for a bit (either all summer or on their way to other places) is to have a variety of food, water, and shelter.

I still have sunflower seeds in the feeder although the birds are spending less time visiting and more time eating at nature's banquet. I put out my hummingbird feeders yesterday.

A healthy lawn has earthworms (a favorite of robins) and other insects. A variety of flowers in different shapes, colors and smells that entice different feeders. I try to have flowers blooming in over-lapping times so the yard is not flower free from spring to winter.

There are all types of hummingbird food for feeders but I use old plastic feeders and simple homemade nectar. One quarter cup of sugar and fill with water to make two cups. Microwave for one minute, stir until dissolved, let cool and put one cup in two feeders each. Repeat when empty or after 3-7 days. Hummingbirds that visit my feeders do not like store-bought food.

We also have owls and hawks but the first comes out in the evening and we seldom see them but do hear them talking to each other. The hawks are mostly feeding in the fields and roadsides.

All the birds have molted and their coats are pristine with their summer markings. The blue, red, orange and yellows are almost tropical. If you're into the beauty of nature, a bird feeder near a window is a perfect view.

Although most birds are rather skittish of humans right now, as the summer progresses and they become more used to our presence on the porch and in the yard, they linger in view longer.

“A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.” Chinese Proverb

Friday, May 8, 2009

Garden Party

Daylilies in the yard
I don't know why I enjoy "Garden Parties" so much. Like all parties, a garden party isn't for the faint of heart or the weak of back. I'm not talking about a cook-out, pool party or potluck. This is the old fashioned Victorian, invite a hundred of your best friends and come in your best straw hat type of thing.

I think every thing I do in the yard is suspiciously orchestrated with the picture of a party going on around that space. Here are some of my thoughts on a successful garden party.

1. You will need help. Because an outdoor space is continually evolving and changing, you can't just clean and be ready by the weekend. Here are some possibilities, not that you will need to hire all of them, but even family or friends who can help with some of these makes a big difference.

2.  Cleaning people: Having someone clean inside your home the day before the party allows you to do "party things". People will wander through your house and it needs to be spotless for guests and for food.
3.  Caterers: I like to make things for several months ahead of time and freeze or store. I strongly recommend that you either have someone do all your food, deliver, serve and clean up or hire a few college age kids to assist that day. If you are preparing, plating and serving food plus gathering dirty plates and glasses, you are not going to be doing anything else at your party.

4.  Bartenders: If you serve alcohol, you need a responsible person to monitor, mix and serve. Even at "gala events", there will be some people who do not drink responsibly. You will use less liquor if you have someone in charge all evening. If you just serve punch, coffee and tea, it is still a big help to have someone making batches, serving and cleaning. Always, have non alcoholic drinks available. Some people find it easier to make one alcoholic drink such as champagne punch, Bloody Mary, or some other festive option and then have a "virgin" version available, also.

5.  Yard people: Having someone mow, trim, weed eat, clean driveways and walks, clean porches, decks and patios the day before will allow you to proceed with your decorating and arranging. Never mow the day of the party because loose grass will stick to shoes. Yard work that day will keep you from getting things in place the morning of the party .

Doing it all yourself insures you will be too tired and stressed to enjoy your company.

6.  Summer weather can change on a dime. Have alternate plans just in case. The number of times we have planned large events out of doors and had it rain is family legend. See rental equipment.

7.  Warn your guests in the invitation if high heels (sod or uneven walks) would be dangerous - if you have bees who love perfume - or other safety considerations.

8.   Investigate rental equipment.

9.  Tents are always a good idea (think rain and wind) and can add a sense of intimacy and luxury.

10.  Port-a-potties. Placed discretely, help if you have loads of people (at least the men have no issues using them.) We rented one for a party and it came with a window box with flowers (yes, this vendor was into marketing to women.)

11.  Tables and Chairs. Picnic tables hold eight people but look informal and are rather difficult to sit on for people wearing a skirt. Card tables and chairs can be placed in little groups but are fragile in heavy wind. Banquet tables also work. What ever you use, I would make sure you and your help can move them to shelter in the event of last minute weather changes. If you rent, they will usually deliver and pick up.

12.  Serving Pieces: I like to buy old brightly printed cotton table cloths and store them for parties. Do use some kind of table covering as plain wood just isn't very party.

13.  Only use real china, crystal and silverware if you are hiring someone to do everything. It is no longer informal to use paper and plastic and it makes clean-up MUCH easier. Plus, no one breaks a dish or glass and no one throws away a piece of silverware.

14.  Rental companies have: steam tables, roasters, trays, tablecloths, coffepots and a whole host of serving specific pieces.

15.  Animals and Children: There are parties for both but neither work well at garden parties. Dogs will almost always get into the food, bother guests, tear up something and bark. Cats may hide but they usually scare at least one person who hates cats and occasionally will take a walk on the serving table.

If you do not want children at the party, you must state this in your invitation. It can be done nicely but realize some people will not go anywhere without their kids; expect them not to attend. Children will act like children and we wouldn't want them any other way. Children acting like children at an adult garden party is bound to cause "issues."

16.  RSVP: If you understand what this means, you are probably not a young person. People either don't understand what it is asking or they simply don't care. I never ask for reservations for a big party because it will not be accurate. I estimate a good number and go with the flow.

17.  If I invite singles, I mention in the invitation they are welcome to bring a guest.

18.  Bugs: I don't recommend "fogging" your yard with insecticide - it's has too many long term effects and the residue stays on things. For this kind of party, it might work best if you do not hold it in the hottest, more humid and buggy season.

Bug repellents: Citronella candles and oil may help. I always leave several bottles of heavy duty bug repellent cream laying about in obvious places.

19.  Lighting: I suggest using lights even if your party starts during the daylight hours. It looks good, can be bug repellents, and they will be already on as dusk and night approaches. If you have kitchen help, ask them to light candles at a certain time.

My motto is you can never have too many candles at an outdoor party. Candles usually burn better if they are protected from wind. Any number of things can help with wind deflection. Small glasses (a mixture of votive, juice, vases, canning jars and misc.) with a little sand for weight, looks good. Hang them from trees with wire, place on tables, put in flower gardens, along paths, anyplace you can set a glass with a candle. If they are in a glass container, the chance of fire is slim.

I have a lot of inexpensive oil lamps and we usually put a couple on each long table. We have shepard's hooks with hanging oil lamps along paths.

Twinkle lights in trees or on bushes can be pretty but a summer party shouldn't look like left over Christmas decorations.

There are solar lights that are pretty and large paper Chinese globes. The options for lighting are many. Make sure extension cords are inconspicuous and won't cause anyone to trip.

20.  Parking: If you have plenty of room, you are among the few. We once hired a young person to pick-up and deliver people from their cars in a pulled cart. It got everyone talking and laughing and did wonders for those that find walking a long and uneven distance difficult. Having help parking vehicles will help especially if your event goes into the evening hours.

21.  Having flowers everywhere is important for a garden party. They don't need to be florist bought but can be picked from your garden or from friends.

My husband and I are direct opposites (aren't all married couples) when it comes to parties. He is "Red Green" and I am "Hyacinth Bucket". Not sure if you're a PBS fan, but the Red Green Show features Possum Lodge and duct tape. Hyacinth Bucket from Keeping Up Appearances is a neurotic perfectionist that over does everything. Someplace between the above Garden Party and a moonshine and possum burger party is perhaps a happy middle ground you may find useful.

Ricky Nelson
Now if I can get the Ricky Nelson tribute band to sing. . .


This blue glass ball is a hummingbird feeder that
never really worked.  
This photo is from Anthropology's web site.
I made some of these from odds and ends
and they are still working for m

Repurposing is using something for a task other than what it was originally designed. Repurposing can be a gardener’s answer to low cost unique ornamentation.

Repurposing in the garden walks a fine line between artistic and junky. If you simply can’t restrain from the philosophy “Too much is never enough!” you may want to keep your efforts where you, not others, can luxuriate in the beauty. On the flip side, I’ve seen beautiful displays harshly critiqued by someone who simply had different taste.

Let’s investigate some repurposing ideas for both the antique lover and modernist.

Folding wood step ladder: A trellis for climbing plants or a display area for potted plants. Secure ladder & pots from tipping over.

Wheelbarrows & wagons: Drill drainage holes & line with an inch of drainage material. Include plants that vine over the edges.

Doors & windows: Remove glass. Placed just right, they can add mystery & structure. Add a wreath or window box. A quantity (with glass) may be assembled to form a greenhouse or garden shed. For safety sake, secure well.

Farm tools & kitchen utensils: Use as plant markers, bird houses, feeders, posts, trellis, flower pots or display accents.

Large farm & garden equipment: Plows & big antiques need lots of room and used in small numbers unless you are a “collector”. Collectors are not the same as garden decorators; they have different guidelines for their displays.

Bricks & stone: Paths, bed edging, retaining walls, tables, water gardens, dry river bed, hide something, & support for mailbox, birdhouse, etc.

Glass & china: Colored balls tucked into flower gardens can be a sweet surprise. Broken china & colored glass, marbles & jewelry can be inlaid in cement stepping stones. Wire wrapped around clear wide mouthed jars & hung from a branch or clothes line can hold votive candles. Set a bowl in the ground for a birdbath.

Rebar & construction metal: Sculpture & trellis prospects are unlimited by your imagination. Copper pipe trellis & sculpture. If you can weld, your design options increase. Rust & verdigris are colors & polished aluminum reflects light.

Wood structural pieces: Porch posts make good bird feeder/house support. Corbels brace bird houses on posts or trees. Bric-a-brac can be added to a trellis, poles, candle holders, top a clothesline poles or trim out the shed.

Most antique pieces will have a reduced lifespan when placed outside. I would not use the family heirloom. When a piece becomes destroyed by the elements, remove it from the garden.

Before placing repurposed items in the yard, consider safety if there are little children, big children, or adults who act like children. Falling on a glass ball, tripping onto a metal rebar spike, or having a glass greenhouse tumble on top of someone isn’t art anymore - it’s a hospital visit.

If you aren’t handy, don’t have decorating vision, or lack the time, many local shops, backyard sales, and flea markets carry repurposed items to help decorate the yard.

“Nature does not complete things. She is chaotic. Man must finish, and he does so by making a garden and building a wall.” Robert Frost, American writer, poet.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Quality Costs

I was busy today, weeding and putting down mulch. Both are dirty jobs that require "supplies".

For years I bought inexpensive garden gloves which lasted a very short time. I graduated to the rubber coated gloves which last only a little longer. This year I bought a good quality leather glove, material over the back of the hand, and Velcro closure tab on the wrist. Although more expensive, they are as good as new after weeks of working in the yard. It is one of those pay more up front but not repeat the process several times a year thing.

I'm ready to invest in leather gloves designed for trimming roses. Much the same as my new leather gloves except the cuff extends to the elbows. I expect to have only one pair of these a lifetime.

As long as I'm endorsing products today, I recommend using a PF 50 sunscreen. It's the one they suggest using on babies. Sunscreen for babies is not greasy, you can still get some gentle color but no more burning. Use under clothing. I've noticed in every picture of the "famous old gardeners", they cover their entire body. Wide brimmed hat, long sleeves, long pants, socks, shoes and gloves. Never too late to learn from the masters.

Gardeners are often prime candidates for skin cancer. A few moments to do a little weeding always turns into more. It has been suggested we get out of the shower and put sunscreen on exposed skin. Don't forget the top of your ears. It even works under makeup.

If you do get a sunburn, I have found the "wonder" cure. It was recommended to treat skin burned from radiation. I figured if it worked in two days on third degree burns, it had to work on sunburns. Here's the second bit of good news about this cream: it's not expensive. The name is Eucerin Cream and it's carried by most pharmacies. It's good for dry skin - giving a healthy soft glow.

I finally bought a good quality shovel, one that stays sharp most of the season without the blade curling. It has a fiberglass handle to cut down on the weight.

My favorite "little digger" is a putty knife. These little babies are sharp enough to slice through weeds, do a little digging, and last for years. I've just never liked those little garden shovels because they get dull, are hard to handle and don't cut a straight line.

Mulch usually comes in different sized bags (weight). The larger the bags, the cheaper the overall cost. This year I've graduated to smaller bags. It doesn't help to get a cheaper price if you hurt your back in the process.

Well folks, these are just my opinions. They work for me.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Bleeding Heart

Bleeding Heart

The Bleeding Heart plant should be in full bloom this week. I took this picture yesterday.

A member of the poppy family, it has 150 varieties and originally came from the Far East.

It gets it's name from the shape of the flower: a heart with a small drop falling from the bottom. A robust plant and easy to cultivate. It must be placed in light amended soil, sufficiently wet, in the shade or semi-shade. If that criteria isn't met, it will probably die.

It often dies down to ground level by the end of summer, especially if it is hot and dry. If it is a very dry, hot summer and fall, it would require watering. The plant will survive this summer foliage demise because it has finished it's growing cycle and is entering dormancy

You should continue to make sure the roots are kept moist when it is very hot and dry.

The plant grows from 1-3 foot high and almost as wide. It does best when not divided or moved. Although there are plants with white or red flowers and variegated leaves, the most popular remains the one pictured above. The leaves are fine fern like, at times red and other times shiny green. It is hardy in our area.

As the flowers die, pinch off spent blooms and it will continue to flower (although more limited) the entire summer. Birds, bees and butterflies find the flowers attractive.

Some gardeners say their plants self seed (although not invasive) but mine has never done this. Perhaps it's because I mulch my flower beds.

NOTE:  The foliage and roots may be poisonous if eaten in large amounts and may be fatal to cattle and cats.

Confusing Terms

Daylily "Royal Butterfly"

Most of us learn our gardening skills from education and experience. Have you ever noticed experience always seems to have a high price in the garden?

Daylilies (Hemerocallis) do not have "hardiness" zone tolerant ratings like other perennials. They are classified as Dormant, Evergreen and Semi evergreen.

To make matters more confusing, these terms do not have the same meaning as perennials. Here are the meanings when referring to daylily leaf habit:

Dormant: The leaves of these plants die completely back as winter approaches. They stop growing and form resting buds at the crown as the leaves die naturally back. In the spring, the buds have a spear like appearance as they appear.

Evergreen: These plants retain their foliage throughout the year and do not form resting buds. In mild climates, (not Zone 5) they keep producing leaves all year. In more harsh climates, the freezing temperatures will kill the foliage back but the crown will survive if it is "cold hardy" and heavily mulched.

Semi evergreen: This term was originally used to describe anything in between Dormant and Evergreen. It was plants that adapted to both climates - sometimes.

Cold hardiness is not determined by leaf habit only. Basically, the only way to determine if a daylily will survive in the climate of your garden is to buy ONLY from dealers who have grown or buy from nurseries who grow plants in your same climate.

Dormant will "usually" be an indicator a plant will be more freeze hardy but not always. Sometimes an Evergreen plant is as tough as iron but not usually. And, Semi evergreens are a toss up on what hardiness traits they possess.

The reason I'm sharing this information is I lost my first two daylilies this winter even though they were heavily mulched. They both were Evergreen. They both were bought from nurseries farther south than our Zone 5.

Lesson learned - experience gained - money gone.