Saturday, February 27, 2010

Old Friend, Longfellow

This is a poem "Woods in Winter" written by Henry W. Longfellow.

I have this weakness for little old books. Many little old books are of poems. If it's old, beautiful and cheap, I'm a happy camper. This book is bound in the softest leather with "Longfellow's Poems" printed in gold. It precludes when publishing houses printed dates. Anyway - to the story:

Longfellow's poem is full of the sadness of winter. As I read the lines, I almost feel as if I'm trudging along in the snow, the sky a deep gray, I'm very cold and I'm pretty darn sick of winter. There's a reason Longfellow spoke to the masses.

I doubt there's many of us, even if we are sitting in the warmth of our homes, that aren't sick of winter when it moves to the end of February. I'm just sure the only reason chocolates are sold for valentine's day is most of us can't get through the month without something sweet to boost mood.

For me, reading is perhaps the best antidote for winter blues or grays. I've got a stack of flower/garden catalogs that can keep me happy for hours. In addition, I'm rather into historical gardens right now.

Historical gardens are often so very over the top in size, design and budget that I simply enjoy the beauty and perhaps adapt a few things for my own use. I plan how someday I might visit and tour these gardens.

There's something mystic about a garden that had someone, long ago, walking along the same path as me. The thought process, the station in life, the availability of plants and labor at the time, and the fashion and fads. It's a tie, the silent but present hand of another who loved this garden and the land.

Longfellow takes your hand and guides you with his words to a winter garden. He points to the trees and the woods. Grab a book - whether of poems or pictures - and pass the last refrains of winter with me.

Friday, February 26, 2010

REAL Ice Cycles

This isn't scientific or even horticulture based. This is a picture of my Colorado Blue Spruce with real, YES REAL ice cycles!

All my live I've seen store bought crystal glass, foil, aluminum, plastic or other ice cycles for Christmas trees. I've seen pictures painted on Christmas cards and picture books with ice cycles on trees. I've seen ice cycles on houses, eve troughs, and other things. Never have I seen ice cycles on a real pine tree made by nature. The sun shining on them was just beautiful.

It took lots of heavy snow, a very sunny day and very cold temperatures to produce this beautiful sight.

Almost, but not quite, made me want to plug my outside Christmas tree lights back on. Almost.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Another Sweetie

Sweet Pea "Gwendoline"
Renee and her Sweet Pea garden. Check out her web site. I've never bought from this site but she certainly knows how to present sweet peas to make a show!
Bouquets of sweet peas from Renee's Garden Sweet Peas.

The name “Sweet Pea” might conjure up thoughts of an endearing nickname, a restaurant in Geneseo or visions of an old Victorian garden.

The annual sweet pea “Lathyrus odoratus” is a native to the eastern Mediterranean region from Sicily east to Crete. First mentioned in 1696 and was hybridized from the early 17th century to today.

Most sweet peas needs support to climb and have a strong sweet fragrance. The flowers are purple in the wild plant. Through hybridization, it is available in white, pinks, reds, purples, peaches and shades in-between. To date there is no yellow sweet pea.

Henry Eckford’s hybridization program in England was the start of the Victorian obsession with sweet peas. Prior to 1908, the Burpee Seed Company illustrated the sweet pea on its cover thirteen times. There were several hundred different choices during this period.

Although the fragrance of the sweet pea during the Victorian era was wonderful, it fell out of favor and was seldom seen outside of an old garden where the perennial “Lathyrus latifolius” continues to self seed.

The perennial L latifolius, or everlasting pea, can grow up to twelve feet, is pink, white or mauve and seldom has any scent. It is hardy to zone 3, likes full sun and does not like wet feet. Due to self seeding, it has naturalized in much of North America.

Sweet peas were popular in bouquets and in nosegays (called tussie-mussies) especially by Victorian and Edwardian ladies prior to deodorant products. Held to the nose, sweet peas produced relief from personal and environmental smells of the time.

Sweet peas are not without their pests, including being attractive to slugs, mildew and other common garden problems. Supplying a clean non crowded area will help these situations. Perennials that self seed may be considered a pest when they sprout where you don’t want them.

Eckford’s breeds were called the L. grandiflora sweet peas. Although quite small by modern standards, they were larger and more impressive than the old antiques. They are unscented and do not seed which means you must buy plants.

There are varieties over 200 years old and listed as heirlooms, antiques or old fashioned. They are famous for their strong spicy fragrance and huge range of colors and patterns.

Aside from the beauty and fragrance, sweet peas make excellent erosion devices on slopes and hide unsightly fences or walls. They have been extremely helpful in genetic plant engineering. Another scientific use is the sweet pea’s toxic qualities. In large quantities, the seed produces a toxin that is referred to as “sagging skin”. It is being tested to see if it can be used to stop the hardening effect in scars.

Sweet peas are drought tolerant and deer resistant. Do not plant perennial sweet pea on trees and bushes as they can shade and kill them.

Sweet peas are making a comeback and with sweet results. As American botanist, horticulturist and agricultural science pioneer, Luther Burbank (1849-1926), said, “Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food, and medicine to the soul.” For a man who developed over 800 varieties of plants, he must have known the sweet pea.

Taming of the Shrew

A male American Cardinal.
A gray squirrel.

Shrews, mice, squirrels, raccoons, deer, various birds and the list goes on regarding man vs. nature.

Many of us feed and entice various inhabitants to our yards while others formulate and execute plans to eliminate them. It's definitely the "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" topic when it comes to the plus and minus of our fir/feather covered little critters.

As humans, we can't even agree on the plus and minus of domesticated animals let alone those in the wild. The passions swing from the far left to far right. Most gardeners walk somewhere down the middle.

While we may feed, water and provide shelters for some species in our yards, we may work actively to ward off others. Most of us don't want to tame a wild animal or bird and that's good.

That cute little squirrel at your feeder can take a hunk out of your hand, tear up a perfectly good home and have been know to carry disease.

A baby raccoon is almost too cute for words but grows into an animal with such a voracious appetite it will stop at nothing for food and shelter including destroying buildings and stealing food.

Ooh and Aw over an American Cardinal standing out red against a snow covered bush but battle a huge flock of Starlings all summer and you may not be able to stand the cackling of another bird.

Touch the coat of a soft downy mouse and look into it's little sweet eyes and there are visions of little toys in Christmas stories. Have them make a nest in your home and they will chew through wood, eat anything left unprotected and leave a trail of unhealthy poo poo.

Watch a herd of deer in a field, so regal and beautiful that it's the stuff of great painters and stories of "Bambi." Have them wreak your car or eat your garden to the ground and they become less beautiful.

Watch bats reducing the number of mosquitoes on a summer night and I feel blessed but clean up an attic that has been home to bats and it's a pure nightmare.

We ARE blessed with an area of the world that houses many beautiful and beneficial birds and animals. Respecting their need to stay undomesticated is essential to both our well being.

Assisting with food, water and shelter may keep the species from leaving or becoming scarce. It entices them close enough to observe and enjoy. Teaching them to become reliant only on humans for subsistence will have the opposite result. Making pets of wild things invites trouble because they still have "wild" in their DNA. Sooner or later they will act as they were meant to act and not like domesticated pets. It isn't that they are ungrateful, they are simply being true to their instincts.

Watch them - yes. Help them - in some instances. Let them live the life they were intended - yes. Have them become your new BFF - no.

Pay Now -or- Pay Later

I recently read an article in the AARP magazine (yep, you got it, I'm AARP qualified) called "Boost Your Brain Health" by P. Murali Doraiswamy, M.D. and it targeted the aging effect.

Although they still don't know how or why everything in the brain works, "Studies show that diverse, mentally stimulating tasks result in more brain cells, more robust connections among those cells, and a greater ability to bypass age-or disease-related trouble spots in the brain. The more you work your mind, the greater your cognitive reserve. And the greater your reserve, the greater your ability to withstand the inevitable challenges of aging."

Here's the news gardeners: By the very acts of gardening you are not only exercising your body, you are better able to withstand the inevitable challenges of aging. Woo babe - good news no matter what your age.

Challenging your mind and body may not prevent all illness or disease but it can certainly go a long way and that's good enough insurance percentages for me.

Gardening takes planning; layout, costs, shopping, ramifications evaluations, investigation of new techniques, and on and on. The mental exercise is for every season.

Gardening takes muscle; lifting, pulling, reaching, pushing, moving, mowing, hoeing, spading, and on and on. Even if physical ability is limited, there are many physical activities for almost every level.

Gardening is social; talking, reading, visiting, helping, listening, sharing. Although there are many tasks that may be accomplished or even appreciated for the solitude, by and large gardening is a social exercise.

The article quotes, "...studies by (Fred) Gage (Ph.D. of Salk Institute for Biological Studies in LaJolla, CA) and others have suggested that the more physical and mental exercise you get, the more brain cells you grow, the longer they survive, the better they connect with other nerve cells."

"Movement is so crucial to brain health that some of the cognitive changes blamed on aging may in fact be the result of inactivity..." Gage added.

There was a good notation in the article that I'm taking quite seriously, it cautioned: "pay attention to what you're doing. As we age, we become prone to distraction...even a split-second loss of focus can prevent memory from being stored." (It's the can't remember where I laid the clippers thing).

This easy distraction issue can cause accidents. Tripping and falling can be deadly. But, most can be prevented by thinking out what you're doing and keeping your mind on what you're doing.

Now, between you and me - just the two of us - I was always sure gardeners had the edge on staying young both physically and mentally! Is it a look in the mirror and sing "Who's the prettiest of them all." kind of young - probably not. It's heart, body and mind healthy at any age.

Here's my prescription for your gardening spring: If exercise is something new or in your past, get a check up first. Once you're OK to hit spring running, start the day with stretching first.

Before leaving the house, slather on sunscreen. Wear a hat and sunglasses in the sun. These help prevent skin cancer and cataracts.

Will you have aches and pains from gardening? It would be unusual if you didn't. Ache from hard work is good - pain from injury is not good. Know when to quit or when to take a break. Know when your body goes from "boy what a workout" to "I just pulled a muscle in my back" and stop before the pull.

Enjoy gardening and enjoy the shared experience with others. As mom used to say, "It's good for you."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

More Bang For the Buck

Old heirloom biannual hollyhock. This flower self seeds or seeds may be gathered and planted elsewhere.

Bang for the buck ideas:

  1. Buy seeds instead of buying plant sets.

  2. Some seeds take too long to germinate in our Zone 5 - using plant sets for these will end up giving you more produce over the summer.

  3. Some showy annuals cost more than perennials.

  4. Plant only annuals in pots that will stay blooming the entire summer (some won't) instead of replanting spring, summer and fall.

  5. Periodically pinch back annuals to keep them thick and blooming.

  6. Many herbs are good decorative flowers and food product combos.

  7. Dwarf vegetables and fruits are good color additions to pots and flower gardens.

  8. Many annuals can be brought inside as houseplants in the winter then replanted next spring.

  9. Buy perennials late in the fall (one month before a freeze) to find sale prices.

More bang for the buck ideas:

  1. Sunflowers are bird food, beautiful flowers, and can screen unsightly areas.

  2. Some annuals may also self seed.

  3. Flowers provide bees, butterflies, wasps and hummingbirds with nectar.

  4. Some plants provide erosion control because of their root systems and dense habits.

  5. The cost of a tree today will only increase as it gets older - shade, value of the wood, beauty, habitat.

  6. The less grass you have to maintain, the more you save on fuel, machines, and emissions. Figure if you cut the area of your current grass in half, then half the amount of gas, machine upkeep, fertilizers, insecticides, grass seed and you certainly have a long range B4B.

  7. Support local nurseries, garden shops and school plant sales.

  8. Buy from plant auctions.

  9. Don't throw away or let it go to waste.

  10. If you have too much to eat fresh, freeze or can.

The following annuals have seeds that are easily collected and may be used the following spring:

Zinnias, cosmos, marigolds, Four O'Clocks, sunflowers, Shasta Daisies, Cornflower (bachelor buttons), cleomes, nasturtiums, and morning glories. (This is just of few of the very easy ones.)

Share - Share - Share:

  • See if your local food pantry, homeless shelter, domestic abuse shelter, senior citizen center and nursing homes take fresh produce.

  • Share with neighbors, friends, the elderly, the disadvantaged, and a local restaurant.
  • Take produce and flowers to your church on Sunday. Send both home with others.

  • Make a bouquet and take to someone who needs a lift.
  • If your seed packet has more than you can use, give the rest to another gardener.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Aruba, Jamaica Ooh I Wanna Take Ya

Begonia illustration from Nature Hills Nursery.
Rhododendron illustration from Nature Hills Nursery

Great Gunnera from Spring Hills Nursery

For the Midwest gardener who wants a Tropical Paradise, there are options besides actual tropical plants.

Strong color is the main starting point. Tropical colors are turquoise, orange, ginger/browns, fuchsia, green and most any other bright color you want to introduce.

Colors are taken from the hard scape of tropical regions such as the ocean, flowers, sand, rain forests, and fruit. They are bright clear colors.

It is difficult to find flowers in a true turquoise. This might be where you introduce turquoise with pots, cloth, stepping stones and glass.

Obviously, water plays a part in the topical garden and if you don't have a pool, river or stream, introduce water through a small pond or waterfall. A simple table top water fountain will bring the "sound" of water to the landscape. A dry creek bed or pool of colored glass in turquoise or bright cobalt blue is another option. Cheap colored glass florist marbles or aquarium rocks will work.

Typical potted indoor plants such as palms and mother-in-law's tongue placed in shade will work. Jasmine and gardenia plants along with the Angel's Trumpet will perfume the air as if in a rain forest. I would never recommend planting bamboo, it is highly invasive and almost impossible to kill or contain.

Bulbs such as canna, especially the orange and yellows, elephant ears, dahlias, and begonias. These must all be dug in the fall or they will die.

Try a small lemon or orange tree placed in a pot (making it easier to move inside.)

If you have semi shade, perennial rhododendron bushes come in bright orange and magenta. They will bring in the spring with tropical shades. There are bright magenta Weigela bushes.

Clematis, honeysuckle, and trumpet vine all have bright perennial flowers. Scarlet Runner Bean and morning glories are two bright annual vines.

If you enjoying potted plants, you can actually use tropical plants - making sure they are inside well before the first frost.

To add additional zip to a tropics based landscape, include bright colored cushions and umbrellas. Use large flowered patterns on material for tablecloths, napkins and porch curtains.

Some go so far as to "tiki" with dried grass roofs and titi gods. Many of the tiki themed items can be bought at party stores.

Beach parties are part of the tropics and patio lights, tiki lanterns, candles, and oil lamps can play a big part of night life. The seven foot lighted cacti might be over the top for you but a few torches are in most every one's budget.

If earthquakes, the recession, and terrorism have you thinking twice about that sea side vacation this year, turn a portion of your yard into a tropical paradise and enjoy the tropics right in your own backyard. Did I mention the need for a "Beach Boys" CD???

"Aruba, Jamaica ooh I wanna take ya

To Bermuda, Bahama come on pretty mama

Key Largo, Montego baby why don't we go

Jamaica off the Florida Keys

There's a place called Kokomo

That's where you wanna go to get away from it all

Bodies in the sand

Tropical drink melting in your hand

We'll be falling in love

To the rhythm of a steel drum band

Down in Kokomo"

"Kokomo" by the Beach Boys

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Raised From the Ashes

Beginning regrowth and re sculpture after the fire.

Before the fire

Regrowth and re sculptures after the fire.

Bruno Torfs had made an astounding sculpture garden near Marysville, Australia. His sculptures are life size terracotta figures both realistic and whimsical. His art doesn't stop with a simple display of his work, it is incorporated into the large section of sub-alpine rain forest. The art looks like it was a product of the forest and not man.

Along with the sculpture gardens, he established his family's home, a workshop, and a gallery housing over 200 oil paintings, sketches and smaller sculptures.

In 2009, the garden had over 150 pieces of life size terracotta sculptures. All surrounded with flora both old and newly inspired. The amazing talent, the unique displays, and the beautiful wonders of the setting led to Bruno opening the gardens to the public.

You may remember that in February 2009 this area of Australia had a horrible bushfire that killed both residents and the natural wonders. As only a huge bushfire can do, it raged indiscriminately amidst this area, claiming the lives of Bruno's friends and neighbours.

Bruno and his family managed to escape but their home and gallery were completely destroyed. The sculpture garden was heavily damaged. At this point, no one would have blamed the famed artist for quitting or at least leaving the area for other things. When I viewed the damage, I couldn't imagine loosing so much of of what my soul had created (an artist's work is the baring of a soul).

But, as those of us who have faith to believe our soul can not be lost, Bruno, his family, friends and even strangers, assessed the damage and started the restoration process. They found around 60% of the sculptures miraculously survived. You can read about the entire process on his web site.

So here are the points of this article:
  • Should you visit Australia, plan a walk through his gardens.
  • Use your ability to create beauty within nature.
  • Don't be discouraged with garden and landscape losses.
  • Use losses to build upon the future; perhaps a better future.
  • Be thankful for someone such as Bruno who creates, shares, and creates again.

Right after the fire.

Bruno Torfs (Melbourne, Australia) art and the story of his garden may be viewed at

Many articles include slides from the original garden
Google using Bruno Torfs

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Pull of Sweden

Hibiscus flower from my backyard.
Image from an old postcard of the "Village Green" or now called the park in Bishop Hill, Illinois. Bishop Hill was founded as a religious commune by Swedish settlers and has retained many of the original buildings, historical significance and charm. Currently home to several hundred citizens, it is also a tourist destination worthy of visiting.
I live just a few miles from Bishop Hill. Our home has the Swedish architecture of it's builder and original owner, Edwin Hedllund. Edwin was the son of original Bishop Hill settler, Peter Hedlund. Our house was built around 1897. The barn on this property (torn down by the owner a few years ago) was a part of the tens of thousands of acres farmed by the original colony.

Formal and royal gardens in Sweden have one very distinct design element in common - they use the beautiful sea waters as a frame for their design. And although we do not have the crystal blue sea as a backdrop, we can still bring a little bit of the Swedish design to our landscape.

Many flowers that grow in North America also grow in Sweden. The best way to design a Swedish garden is to make it as open as possible, with minimal walls of hedges and flowering bushes, which the latter should be planted separately instead of together.

Below are some common flowers found in gardens growing in Sweden:

  • Twinflower (Linnea): This flower is shaped like a pale pink bell and grows on delicate stems found in the woodlands. The flower is so named because two flowers grow per stem. Many of these will also appear in garden boxes of Swedish homes, along with forget-me-not, another common flower. Hardy to Zone 3.
  • Hibiscus: This flower is native to the Caribbean but curiously enough will grow in colder climates. Flower colors range from red to pink, white, and yellow. Includes both annual and perennial plants, bushes and trees.
  • Hoya: This plant/vine is easy to grow and has fragrant flowers shaped like stars forming clusters on a vine. These look great in baskets hanging from your front porch. Must be taken indoors in the winter in our Zone 5.
  • Yellow Lady's Slipper: These flowers grow in the woods, especially swamp and bog areas that are damp year round. An Illinois native perennial, it is currently considered "endangered" in Illinois.
  • Salt-marsh Sand Spurrey: Also a native flower of woodlands, this one can be found in Swedish bogs with the tiny pink flowers with yellow centers on succulent stems. Needs damp alkaline, somewhat sandy soil.
  • Mountain wintergreen: This can be found in most parts of the United States, which is a low growing shrub that has small white or pink bell shaped flowers on the stems. Prefers cool damp sandy woods, especially under evergreens.
  • Forget-Me-Not: Practically everyone has seen a forget-me-not, the tiny little white or soft blue star shaped flowers that grow in patches on the ground of forests and yards. These are easy to grow and will return year after year in the springtime. These will self seed for several years before needing to be replanted.

Swedish royal gardens tend to be laid out in a formal pattern with always the sea as either the backdrop or entrance point. Locally, we can add water features and clean modern statuary. Even their more casual flora are planted in a formal pattern and in groups.

Because of the intermarriages between royalty from England and Sweden, many of the garden influences from the UK are present and practiced in Sweden. The English Cottage Garden is one example. The Baroque design is another.

Swedish design is one of restrained use of both decoration and color. White is often used and an example would be an entire bed of white tulips.
Although not necessarily "Swedish Garden" design, the use of Swedish motifs would include festoons of ribbons, wreath shapes, hearts, sheaves of wheat, and scrolling designs. The diamond, circle, and oval are also frequently seen. Accessories should be kept simple and displayed in an uncluttered manner. Think spare, open, and light -- editing out anything that seems to jumble the look. Wreaths, china, candles, and flowers are important, as are traditional julbocks (straw goats) and rustic painted wooden horses.
Use of current Swedish sculpture and line will draw upon modern clean lines and less upon the country or informal look. Today's Swedish design often uses polished metal, granite or wood (often fir.)
The fact we often read much about the Swedish massage is no coincidence when it comes to design and the benefits a calm garden design can have on the stress level of those who linger or view it's evidence. Bring a little of the local Swedish design into your garden and you may find the massage isn't as important as the "lugn".

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Short Walk to Serenity

Image: Columbine

I've mentioned Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, Illinois, before but wanted to expand on what you might see if you plan a visit. After all, winter is such a good time to plan such visits while you have the time to look, think, and wish.

I haven't included any photos of the gardens because their photos are works of art and protected from copying. It's just a short jump to their website at

You know how we are - never visit or appreciate the beauty of things so close. Such is the case with Anderson Gardens. So close, just a hop and skip to Rockford.

The award winning gardens have much to offer. Especially for those of us who typically visit and garden Midwest style. And although it is different, in this case, differences can be incorporated into many of our own gardens.

Taken from their history: "Anderson Japanese Gardens consists of two very different gardens. The first is a formal Japanese garden in the style of the Kamakura period, 1185 to 1333 A.D. The Guest House, Tea house, and machiai are 16th century Sukiya style architecture. The Garden of Reflection is a contemporary international garden with a strong Japanese influence. The gardens are designed to allow our guests to reflect upon the tranquil beauty of nature, to leave the stresses of everyday life, to commune with nature and thus with one's self. The three essential elements of a Japanese garden are: water for its soothing and reflective qualities; rock for its sense of permanence; and plants for their textures and shades of green."

They have classes (watercolor among others) during the summer months, a restaurant, tea ceremonies, guest house, gift shop and tours. The gardens (not a park) have an interesting history and a story of one family's gift to the public.

It isn't, perhaps, for young children or those with walking difficulties because of navigating the landscape and water features. It is definitely a place for the photographer, the garden enthusiast (especially if your yard has shade) and those seeking a beautiful new experience - within driving.

Lovin' the Love

Delphinium "Purple Passion"
Hybrid Tea Rose "Summer of Love"

Iris "My Valentine"

Iris "Crazy In Love"

There are multitudes of "LOVEly" sounding names for many different kinds of plants. As a Valentine treat all year long, consider a theme garden centered around love.
Honestly, there must be millions of plants where the names are variations on love. Roses and Iris have enough examples to fill the average garden ten times over. Annuals have even got into the love game.
Whether you want to stick with strictly old fashioned love examples (such as "My Pretty Valentine" iris), the celebration of love (such as clematis "Pink Campaign"), or travel down the road of naughty and nice (such as salvia "Hot Lips"), there's something for everyone.
Throw in a few plants that are named after the people in your life you love (such as daylily "Grace"). Add an outdoor speaker, put on your favorite love song and it's a summer evening made in Heaven!
Images of roses are from Jackson and Perkins, iris from Schriner's Iris Gardens, and the delphinium from Select Seeds.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Presidents' Day

Floribunda Rose "Laura Bush."

The pink Rhododendron "President Roosevelt".

Calopaca "obamae lichen" for President Obama.

Red and silver "President Ronald Reagan."

White "President John F. Kennedy."

Red "Mister Lincoln."

As our nation celebrates "Presidents' Day" on February 15, 2010, I'll list a few of the plants named for various Presidents and their first ladies. Most are roses and it may be because the rose is our National Floral Emblem.

"The Congress, by Senate Joint Resolution 159 has designated the rose as the National Floral Emblem of the United States and authorized and requested the President to issue a proclamation declaring this fact. NOW, THEREFORE, I, RONALD REAGAN, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim the rose as the National Floral emblem of the United States of America."

Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy was responsible for the installation of the White House Rose Garden but she does not have a rose named in her honor.

Others are the "Nancy Reagan" rose, "Washingtonia" (Arecaceae) for George Washington, "Jeffersonia" (Podophyllaceae) for Thomas Jefferson, "Hillary First Lady" Rose for Hillary Clinton, the "Pat Nixon" Rose, "Rosalyn Carter" Rose, the "Barbara Bush" Rose.

Republican roses: Herbert Hoover, McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Coolidge, Eisenhower, Reagan, two Lincolns and two Tafts. Democratic roses: Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy.

It was really difficult not to get satirical with this listing because many roses have "descriptive" names that would fit President Bill Clinton possibly too well.

Plus, I'm not real sure our current President would be all that thrilled with a lichen for a namesake. Perhaps I should leave political satire to the newspapers. . .

(Images of roses are taken from the Jackson and Perkins rose catalog and lechin from scientific article.)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I Say Old Chap - It's a Rose

Images are from the David Austin web site at The first is an example of how to use his roses at a wedding, second is the "Scepter'd Isle Rose", third is the Austin Renaissance Rose Garden and last is the Austin Victorian Rose Garden (all in the UK).

English roses or David Austin roses are found in the U.S.A. and probably at a garden shop near you.

David Austin roses are English roses and have several particular attributes. For me the fragrance and flower form are the most enticing.

For a garden flower lover, there is something so very alluring about the cupped and full-rounded form. It speaks of romance.

The English rose has a fragrance for everyone. When walking through a garden in full bloom with English roses is to have the most expensive perfume available at your whim. The variety is huge and the strength is not subtle.

Saying all that, the English rose is not for every situation.

Many are not hardy in our zone 5 or colder areas. They take VERY careful and complete winter protection. They do have some that are rated zone 4 and I would advise anyone at the cold end of zone 5 to try these first. They are described as "climate specific" which not only considers the cold factor but when and how cold, heat, humidity and other factors apply.

The David Austin roses sold in the USA are grown first in the USA (Tyler, Texas) which allows some degree of familiarity to our conditions. But, they are Texas and not northern hardened off and I've lost a few while getting to know the limitations of my garden's rose environment.

Some have a tendency to have blackspot - if that's an issue in your garden, you may want to go with the ones that have shown resistance.

Many are large shrubs. In other words, do your homework when choosing a David Austin rose and be prepared to perhaps loose one in the process of finding one that will work in your yard.

I've lost "Evelyn" twice and have now given it up. I did love it (soft peach and so fragrant) but most of all it reminded me of the dear lady who helped me become a woman. Yes, much of my gardening choices are sentimental and don't have a lot to do with rationality.

If you are weighing the pros and cons of buying a David Austin rose, consider this little quote:

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns,

or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”

Abraham Lincoln.

I've been wanting "Brother Cadfael" (a hardy) and may take the plunge this spring. I've got that bare spot behind the house where the basement wall was replaced and is just calling for a rose.

Here's a little history about the David C.H. Austin rose and the breeder himself. David Austin lives in Shropshire, England and his breeding focus has been to blend the character and fragrance of the Old Garden Roses and the repeat-flowering ability and wide colour range of modern roses. His first introduction was in 1963.

The Austin roses are not officially recognised as a separate class of roses and typically referred to as English or Austin roses. Austin has currently introduced over 190 rose cultivars. For his rose breeding, he has received numerous and the most high horticultural and rose awards.

If you are a book enthusiast, there are many David Austin and Austin/English rose books available. Seldom is there a public rose display garden that doesn't include some of the Austin roses. I've received the DA catalog and keep it because they are simply a visual joy much like bookstore quality.

Whether you are looking at a rose addition to your gardens or simply looking at roses, the David Austin roses will fill the bill in so many ways.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


What sounds like an old 1950's doo-wop song title is actually putting vegetables in flower beds. It's not an official garden title, but, I find it rather descriptive.
Most flower beds have room for annuals. Many modern yards do not have room for gardens. What's a gardener to do? Mish-Mash my friend!
Some givens for mish-mashing:
  • Most vegetables need full sun.
  • Plant sets will work easier than seeds.
  • Short is best in front or for edging your beds.
  • Vegetables planted towards the middle or back need access to pick.
Typically vegetables and herbs are all about eating, so these plants need to be things that will enhance your table this summer. Something so good fresh it's worth devoting a little space. Here are a few suggestions:
Borders or edges:
  • Lettuce: Dwarf, Kale, Romaine, Loose Leaf, Batavia, Butterhead, Arugula. There are light, dark, cream, green, red, purple, blue and spotted. Flavors vary.
  • Peppers: There are red, green, orange, purple, yellow, gold and variegated. All shapes and sizes - not to mention heat.
  • Herbs: Chard, Sweet Marjoram, Oregano, Sage, Rosemary, Thyme. Most herbs have many varieties, smells, and uses.
  • Leafy: Mustard, Chard, Aucurbita
  • Herb: Dill, Lemon Balm, Basil, Chives
  • Tomatoes: Grape, Current, Cherry, Pear. Red, yellow, chocolate cherry, green, gold, peach colors. The flavors vary widely.
  • Dwarf ornamental Gourds, Pumpkins "Baby Boo." I don't usually recommend planting peas or beans to climb on the fence or bushes in perennial beds because it's difficult to get back to pick every single day when they're producing.
It's difficult to plant seeds in most established beds because they have a layer of mulch and the emerging perennials will shade the seeds before they get big enough to hold their own. A couple of options:
Start your seeds indoors and move outside after the last frost OR:
After the last frost, plant your seeds in 2 inch peat or cow manure seedling pots. Oak the pot long enough to get it completely damp but not dissolved. Add potting soil and plant your seeds as directed on the packets. Push aside the mulch and dig a hole about twice the size of the pot. Loosen up the bottom soil, add a little potting soil on the bottom so the pot will sit about an inch above ground and an inch below ground. Fill in the sides with potting soil and a little up the sides of the pot. Spread the mulch back ONLY to the outside edge of the pot.
This should give seeds a chance to germinate and your beds mulched. Do not cover the potting soil inside the pots or the seeds will never sprout. Don't allow the little pots to get dry but don't water so much and so powerfully the little seeds wash away or sit in water. The plant roots will go through the little pots and no transplanting is necessary.
It may appear to be lots of work but if it's necessary to plant seeds in established beds, this may be your best bet. Otherwise, putting out established plants is the other option.
Either way, the reward for mish-mashing is tasty, fragrant, beautiful food all summer long.
Anyone interested in visiting with other daylily enthusiasts, let me know.
Nothing formal - just daylily madness at it's best.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Little Vase Syndrome

Marketers sometimes (OK, always) tells us every single thing we own should be big just to be better. And it appears there are a lot of Americans who've bought into the "big is better" sales pitch.

Here is a case for small:

Some garden flowers will never look good in a big vase or in mass. If you believe only a big bouquet is worth the effort, you will deprive yourself of some truly wonderful examples.

This picture has several little containers I've used for flowers. Only the gold glass jug on the left is a vase. Next is a clear spice container, a brown perfume bottle, a blue what-not, white creamer, clear flavoring bottle, blue liquor glass, brown eyedropper, clear juice glass, white creamer, and a frosted candle stick. A little ribbon tied around the top will often cover the grooves where a cap once belonged.

If your water forms crystals on these things, simply fill with vinegar for a day or two, rinse and dry and it should be like new.

Flowers and foliage that adapt to small containers particularly well:

Perennials: Nasturtiums, Violets and Viola, Lily of the Valley, Cosmos, Small Daylily, Roses or Rose buds, Salvia, Clover, Daisy-like flowers, Fern tips, Bleeding Heart, Pinks, Clematis, and Snow Drops.

Herbs: dill, basil, rue, and sage.

Annuals: Petunia, Pansy, Maragolds and Impatients.

Use one stem, three or a little nosegay. A few small leaves will make it more full and formal.

I've found if I put a small amount (one small dot) of bacterial hand wash soap in the water, the plants last longer and the water will stay cleaner.

Be a trend breaker - swim against the current - don't allow commercials to form your criteria for your life - small can be beautiful - just take a look at this little beauty:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Couple of Events

Two photos of what I call "distorted images." They don't really show the entire object but certainly do point out the beauty in another way. The orange is a poppy after rain and the pink/yellow is a peony.

Home, Lawn and Garden Day 2010

Sponsored by the University of Illinois Master Gardeners in McLean County will be held at Central Catholic High School, 1201 Airport Road, Bloomington, Illinois on Saturday, March 6, 2010.

The event fee of $40.00 includes several choices of workshops, a keynote speaker, exhibitors, door prizes, and lunch.

This year's featured keynote speaker will be Dianne Noland, host and producer of WILL -TV's Illinois Gardener Show.

To request a brochure/registration form, please call the University of Illinois Extension in McLean County at 309-663-8306, email


Master Gardeners Classes and Events

If interested in the Illinois Henry and Stark County Master Gardener classes and events, contact the Henry Stark Unit/County Extension office at 853-1533 or check the state Master Gardener web site for more specific information, the application process, requirements and future training dates. This extension office coordinates and combines classes with Knox County.

University of Illinois Extension State Master Gardener web site:

For Indiana Master Gardener classes and events, contact the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service-Howard County Government Building, Suite 105, 120 E. Mulberry, Kokomo, IN 46901-4660
765/456-2313 or Fax: 765/456-2319


12th Illinois Products Expo March 6-7, 2010

The "12th Illinois Products Expo...A Food and Cooking Extravaganza" will be held on March 6-7, 2010, in the Orr Building, Illinois State Fairgrounds, Springfield, IL.

Over seventy Illinois food companies (and a few non-food companies) will be exhibiting. Food companies will provide free food samples and most of these products will also be available to purchase at the Expo.

A few non-food items, such as soy & herb candles, agricultural-based soaps, lotions, etc., will also be on display and available to purchase.

The Expo is open to the public. The cost to attend is only $4.00 (children 10 and under - free).
The "Illinois Wine and Cheese Garden" will once again be a featured attraction at the Expo. At least twenty Illinois wine companies will participate. They will sell wine samples (for a nominal fee) and they will sell their wine by the glass and by the bottle.

The hours of the Expo are:
Saturday, March 6 - 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Sunday, March 7 - 11:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

A Weber Genesis® S-310 LP gas grill (retail value-$949.00) and numerous "Illinois Products" gift baskets will be given away as door prizes.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Marketing and Promotion is coordinating the event. For more information, contact Larry Aldag, (telephone - 217/524-3012; e-mail -

This is a great chance to see what your Illinois neighbors are producing, view alternate agricultural products, think of something new you would like to produce and sell, or simply go, enjoy and buy a few locally "Illinois made in the USA" items.

February This and That

8.9 Billion Dollars in state and local tax revenue was generated in the U.S. by wildlife watching in 2006. Americans take their birding seriously.

I'm amazed that the groundhog ever comes out on Groundhog Day since they are in their active breeding stage. Maybe they don't use bedrooms for breeding. . .enough said.

It is a month where many animals start the breeding process: Raccoons, mink, skunks, screech owls, coyote, and salamanders.

The red-winged blackbirds, mallards, ducks and robins start returning to our landscape. Chickadees sing their first songs of the year. Snow geese and woodcocks move through Illinois going farther north. Wild turkeys start gobbling and the males roost near the hens. Great horned owls start to nest. Pheasant flocks break apart and go their own solitary way.

It's time to make sure the bird houses are cleaned and up for the incoming and breeding birds.

Maple sap starts to flow.

It's the time to burn prairie and woodland. Having said that, keep in mind there are many rules and regulations pertaining to controlled burns. Key word here is "controlled". How many times do we see a harmless little burn turn into acres not meant to be burned or how often is the fire department called because it got out of hand and endangered buildings. If you've never done a burn before, call your local forester, extension office or fire department for information. You may need a permit. A burn that gets out of hand can get you fined, get charges for emergency fire response, and cause insurance problems. "A word to the wise is sufficient!"

Now is an excellent time to spread dry manure compost on your gardens. If you can manage it, put it down on snow cover. This allows you to gauge the coverage.

It's an especially good time to feed the birds (and squirrels if you do this) because natural sources are beginning to be depleted. There are few berries left on any of my bushes.

The squirrels have been a challenge this year. We have more of them and it appears the newbies are not as good at finding all the walnuts buried from last year. In my quest to keep them away from my close-to-the-house bird feeders, I've feed them corn and peanuts out by the woods. I may have inadvertently made them dependent upon being fed by humans. In years past, they would always be high in the walnut trees munching on nut after nut. Huge piles of walnut shells would litter under the trees. This year, even though we had an abundant crop of walnuts, I'm not seeing much action in the trees. My dogs are just not doing their part here. Come really cold weather, the coon hound sticks to sleeping in her bed more than guarding the bird food. The lab is a squirrel terror and has caught a couple every year but his mind is more on defending us from deer and coyote than defending the bird food. AND the final squirrel whine: they are bearing their first litters from mid February to March. Nooooooooooo.

Although I'm not advertising for Preen, they do have a good informative web site: The garden hints page is a good one.

Prior to the snow last night, I took a walk around my yard. It's always a surprise to see what plants are still green in February. The thick snow cover has insulated many of them from the frigid weather. Unfortunately, the flip side is it is also insulating the pest insects and weeds. The other flip side, it is insulating the good insects, too. Lots of flip sides I guess.

Hope you have voted - informed and confident you are making America a better place for our grandchildren.