Friday, March 29, 2013

In the World Today

As I'm working in the garden today, this song was playing in my mind.  Blessings to each of my gardening friends this Easter weekend.  May your life be renewed as surely as your garden is each spring.
I serve a risen Savior, Hes in the world today;
I know that He is living, whatever men may say;
I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer,
And just the time I need Him, Hes always near.

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me
A-long life's narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.
In all the world around me I see His loving care,
And tho my heart grows weary, I never will despair;
I know that He is leading thro all the stormy blast,
The day of His appearing will come at last.
He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me
A-long life's narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.
Rejoice, Rejoice, O Christian, lift up your voice and sing
Eternal hallelujahs to Jesus Christ the King!
The Hope of all who seek Him, the Help of all who find,
None other is so living, so good and kind.

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me
A-long life's narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Serious as a Heart Attack

Keeping healthy is important at any age for both men and women.  Gardening is one of the ways you could accomplish fitness. 

  • Bending and stretching keeps you agile.
  • Lifting, pushing and pulling builds strength which helps with balance.
  • Exercises that raise your heart rate improves circulation, reduces fat, increases stamina and about two zillion other benefits.
  • The whole thinking process that goes into planning a garden is good for the mind.
  • The peace of being in a garden space and the jobs we accomplish while there provide the perfect meditation time.  I find it's also a perfect place to work out things in my mind.

Meanwhile, knowing the warming signs of serious health issues and then acting upon them is what smart gardeners do.  And we know you're one smart gardener!

Check out the Video from the American Heart Association's Go Red program.

Monday, March 25, 2013

My Fan, Darling.

An oil I painted of my Grandpa Kenneth Morris 
(front L)
 at a friend's home enjoying summer fun. 
Get into the mindset:  No air conditioning, no ceiling fans, no shorts, no tank tops, no sundresses and no deodorant.  Females wore long dresses, layers of petticoats, sleeves, and corsets.  Men wore dress pants, white long sleeve shirts and a tie.  This was pretty much always.

Although many eras of architectural design provide respite from hot weather, nobody did it with greater flair than the Victorians.

First off, they designed their porches with enough architectural details to keep a staff of carpenters and painters busy for years. 

Secondly, they designed and furnished porches to function like rooms.  Most were an open air parlor.  Second floor porches were often sleeping rooms.  All the little corner porches off bedrooms provided "a lady" a chance to privately get a breath of fresh air.

Thirdly, they brought a flower garden of containers onto the porches.  This was for the Victorian over-the-top beauty and for fragrance.  They also brought out the houseplants and they were usually large.

Forth, they knew the porch was a place to see and be seen.

Fifth, a deep porch not only shaded it's occupants, it offered a layer of shade for the home.

Sixth, the furniture on a porch was meant to be ornamental and a comfortable place to spend hours trying to cool down.  It's the era of porch rockers, swings, and wicker.  When a crowd showed, they would often haul out dining room chairs or other furniture. 

Seventh, a Victorian home wasn't built by the poor or even the average.  It was an opportunity to show the world "you had arrived" and the home was a measure of the success of the man.  The architecture was often a combination of Victorian, Queen Anne and bits and pieces of other decorative elements that pleased the new owner.  The paint colors were much like the interiors with layers, bright colors, and patterns. 

Eighth, the landscapes were often arranged to provide shade for the home and porches as-well-as make a statement and draw the eyes towards the home.  Most older home of this era have huge mature trees planted over one-hundred years ago. 

Ninth, if you own one of these old beauties or even want to create the impression of this era, here are some ideas.

Often the houseplants were ferns and palms.  These were strategically placed around the porch to frame seating arrangements.  Although we often see hanging plants on these large porches now days, I've seldom seen them in old photos.

Unless the pots are going to be on the edges where they catch at least six hours of sun, most pots should be filled with shade loving plants.

Always put something under the pots so they won't sit directly on the floor.  They will drain better, will be less likely to stain and the paint won't stay wet and peel.  I use wine corks on each pot corner.

Grouping pots was typical - remember the Victorian mantra:  more is better.

Most of these porches had parlor accessories:  rugs, pillows, cushions, quilts, tablecloths, curtains and footstools.  Be careful watering around all the fabric items.  Most pots contain soil ingredients that will leach out when watering.  If it gets on material, it will stain.

My great grandfather, John
Simmons Trees (seated L)
My grandmother, Elizabeth 
Trees Shenk (seated M)
Speaking of material, it is heaven for mold, insects, mildew, humidity and napping cats.  I suggest using the new treated materials and stuffing to at least hold off the humidity issues.  Shaking daily will help with the insect population. Beautiful quilts, heirloom pillows and the like look lovely but will take a beating on a porch over the summer.  Things will get wet, sun fade, and get dirty.  Perhaps bring out the most precious when you entertain.

Some plants have very strong fragrance and this can help with insects.  Make sure it's a strong fragrance you LOVE because as the sun drops, fragrance intensifies.  On the other hand, realize many flowers will entice insects such as bees and wasps.  If you only use your porch in the evenings, it won't be a problem. 

If you want a truly Victorian era porch, don't use re purposed pots.  Remember this was a time when impressing was uppermost.  They also didn't use "early American" things on the front porch.  The main reason is it wasn't considered mannerly to show utilitarian furniture and accessories.  Most items considered early American were actually being used for their original purpose.  They would have never used an old wash tub as a planter because the wash tub was being used for wash.

If you want some ideas, look at some of these sources:

The "America's Painted Ladies" book series.
Facebook page:  If ThE wOrld HaD a FrOnT pOrCh
Pinterest or google:  "Victorian porches" "Queen Ann porches" or simply just "porches"

And lastly, the Victorians entertained.  Most owners of these large elaborate homes had "help" with housekeeping, children and kitchen chores.  Realize you probably can't do it all in a house this size if you are a cast of one. 

Drinks: Lemonade was a summer staple.  Drinks weren't iced as much as they are now days because of the limited ability to keep large quantities of ice on hand.  Others served hot tea, wine and cocktails.  Remember seeing the tea carts?  They are perfect for wheeling your fully stocked bar in and out.  If you're not into the alcoholic drinks, it is still perfect for wheeling other treats, glasses, napkins and plates.  Always offer napkins to soak up moisture from the glasses.  (Dang, that sounded a little Martha Stewartish!)

Food:  This is where little cucumber sandwiches became popular!  Anything cool works.  Of course they used china, linen, Crystal and silver.  There are some beautiful paper products that can almost look the part. 

Light:  Candles and oil lamps will add just the right evening mood without heating things up. 

Now go have fun you Victorian home owners and even if you're a wanna be.  I guarantee warm nights are coming.

Word of caution:  If you live in an area where crime is abundant, realize anything on your porch is "fair pickings."  My daughter actually had three heavy-very large pots removed from her front porch one night.  Motion lights, motion alarms, driveway sensors on the porch steps, observant neighbors and large watch dogs help somewhat.    

Friday, March 22, 2013

Eating the Beautiful!

NO! NO!  I’m not talking about cannibalism here; I’m taking about vegetables in flower gardens.  There are some seriously beautiful vegetables that behave, stay within a small footprint and add beauty along with nutrition.

Author Rosalind Creasy has been writing about editable landscaping for over 30 years.  She is featured on the web page of Annie’s Annuals.  Although Annie resides in California and definitely isn’t in our growing zone – she rocks annuals.

Most of us love something with large leaves.  We plant elephant ear, cannas lily, and castor oil bean plants simply to have big showy leaves.  How about thinking outside the ornamental box?

A cabbage plant has big leaves, comes in burgundy, green or a lovely blue/green and at the end of fall it is a food product. 

Chard is another vegetable plant that should be tucked among flowers.  There are varieties with pink, red, gold and white stems and veins looking beautiful in the garden and in the serving dish. 

 Vegetables are high in nutrients and low in fat and cholesterol.  Throw in a bunch of beauty and it’s a plant for all needs.

There are dwarf varieties of tomato, cucumber, squash, pea and bean plants.  They may be called “bush” and won’t vine.  Simply check out the height and width descriptions. 

Squash has beautiful flowers over a long bloom season.  They attract beneficial pollinating insects and the flowers themselves are edible.  The fruit is best when picked young which works well with flower gardens.  Summer squash is bright yellow gold.  Other squash are in greens, orange and brightly patterned.  Even vining summer squash works if you have a sturdy bush where it can climb and you pick them young.  I’ve planted on my trellis with other flowering annual vines and it keeps the beauty of the seasons going until frost.

And yes, zucchini is a valuable garden squash even if your neighbor tries to give you one every other day.  They must be picked young or you will have a green blimp the size a small pig.

Eggplant is another beautiful vegetable/ornamental.  The plants are rather uninspiring but the fruit is a magnificent purple or sometimes mottled with white.

Kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and lettuce are beautiful mixed with flowers.   There are enough varieties of color, texture, size and flavor of lettuce to fill anyone’s desire for beauty and food.

An obvious choice for flower gardens is pepper plants.  Don’t mess with those highly advertised little flavorless ornamentals.  Get a full sized plant which will generate some truly delicious choices in a multitude of colors, flavors, sizes and heat.

Most any herb will be a bonus in the flower garden.  Plus, some varieties will actually deter harmful insects.  On the flip side, some of your flowers will deter harmful insects on vegetables.  Win!  Win!

Some vegetables I don’t recommend and why: 

·         Winter butternut squash – it vines, the fruit gets very heavy, and it should be left in the garden until frost.

·         Root vegetables – to dig up in the fall you will disturb the roots of your perennials (not good.)

·         Rhubarb – not an annual and it needs to be where it can spread plus it looks rather worn in the fall.

·         Fruit berries – berries need specific soil nutrients which are often in opposition to perennial ornamental needs.  Seldom will your bed provide an ideal environment for both at the same time.

·         Sweet corn – the pollination needs for corn are specific and not easily met in small gardens.  You can grow individual plants but they probably won’t produce an ear of corn.

I didn’t mention tomatoes because they seem obvious and then I realized obvious is in the eye of the beholder; the beholder of the garden catalog.  I suggest using bush tomatoes because the weight of a large plant will simply overwhelm perennials.  Plus, full sized plants tend to get rather ugly as they enter full production in late summer.  Almost any size and color tomato is available in the bush option; although not all varieties.

All of these suggestions do well in pots with adequate soil, water and nutrients.  Most all vegetables need full sun for optimum fruit production.  Most do best if the ground is warm and there are no frosts.  Seeds and roots may rot if the ground is too cold.  Not planting until Mother’s Day used to be the rule of thumb.  Planting earlier may need some care and protection.

Remove all parts of the vegetable plants at the end of the growing season even if you like to leave perennials for winter beauty.  Annuals vegetable plants may harbor disease or insects and giving them a free winter home isn’t good.

Do you need to move to California to have a beautiful food producing garden in your flower bed?  Nope!  Simply visit any one of our local nurseries.  What’s the worst that can happen if you plant a vegetable in your flower garden?  If it starts to get too big – pinch it back.  If it bolts too early – pull it up.  If it’s everything you’ve ever wanted – celebrate!

Side note:  I’ve started a “For the Love of Gardening” facebook page for those short little garden snippets and additional photos.  It’s the page with the location of Bishop Hill and my goofy little drawn photo. 

(Photos:  Rosalind Creasy)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Crazy Daylily Lady

Oakes Daylilies
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Dear Diane,
I have always believed that a garden tells the story of the person who tends it. If you walk through the garden of a "plant person", you will hear the stories of why they chose a particular plant, why they selected that color, or who gave them a cutting. Walking through a garden with another plant lover can take hours-- and is one of my most favorite things.
In this newsletter, you will meet Diane Gibson, a longtime Oakes Daylilies customer. Diane is a true "plant person" who plants and maintains a Family Garden in honor of her large family. All of the pictures within this newsletter come from her garden in Illinois; since we can't walk through it together, I figured a virtual tour might be the next best thing.
In the upcoming weeks, you will meet a couple of our customers who have grown daylilies for many years. Each of them shares the clever ways they choose to display daylilies in their gardens. Diane's garden and the sentiment behind it has inspired me to start my own "Family Garden" this year. Perhaps some of the ideas in this, and upcoming, newsletters will inspire you as well.
P.S. If you have a unique way you choose to plant, please email me at: and let me know about it!
Meet Diane
Diane Gibson 2013
Diane Gibson
Diane is a self-professed "crazy daylily lady". She is retired, a Master Gardener, and writes a garden blog and weekly garden column for her local paper. She has vivid memories of her great grandmother's garden, and said that, although the beauty of daylilies is what first attracted her, their ease is what caused her to become,

"Only after I had many did I realize they were so easy and almost destruction proof," Diane said. "Since retirement, I've been able to enjoy the subtle qualities of daylilies and I've met some really great folks who share the same passion."

Diane's passion-- at least since 2005-- has been
collecting and adding to the daylilies in her family garden.
Her first addition to the garden was an Oakes offering: "Katisue" that she planted in honor of her granddaughter, Katherine Sue. After that, she said, "it just mushroomed."
Although she started with 'Katisue' as a namesake, Diane admitted she sometimes has trouble finding a particular name.
"I've had to use some symbolic names, too," she said. "I couldn't find an "Ian" for my son, but was able to find "Little Pumpkin Face". We called him Pumpkin when he was little. He's not all that thrilled with it, but it makes me smile."
She currently has 27 varieties representing family members and special friends, but feels that, with eight children, and 18 grandchildren plus their spouses, her family garden will never be complete.
Completing the garden, however, isn't what's important to Diane. What's important is the person that daylily represents.
"The fun thing about a family daylily bed is each time I mess with the plant, take a picture or pick a flower, I think of that person," she said.

"Over the past 2-3 years, I've started picking some of my daylily flowers and laying them on tables in the house," said Diane. "That way I can observe, smell and enjoy them more."
Diane takes the enjoyment a further step than most: she has developed a record keeping program for every daylily, and records the first and last bloom times, when they were bought, where they were planted, their health status, and other plant information.
"I try to take a picture of each lily plant every day it blooms," she added. "I find it keeps me involved with the plants and it can be quite amazing how things change from year to year."

In her words:
Diane shares some of her favorites and why
"Dad's blooms a very long time, is tough, [has a] high bud count and the white showcases other brighter colors."
'Dublin Elaine'
"Dublin was new late last year but it still bloomed a couple of large beautiful doubles."
'Donnie Delight'
"Donnie blooms a long time and every single flower is perfect and true to color every time."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Reality Check

Spring (March 20) arrived at 6:02 am CST.  The sun is exactly over the equator with the day divided equally.  Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy?  Nope, not here in good old central Illinois.  It's below freezing (19 degrees) and wind chills in the single digit - they are predicting a "significant" snow storm towards the end of the week.

This weekend is Palm Sunday.  Why Why Why are we having snow?  And then....I remembered why my mother always made a beautiful coat to match my Easter dress.  Easter is often cold with bad weather.

Let's walk down spring's memory lane:

The most snow that's ever fallen in April was on 1997 with 13.3 inches.  Can I hear a collective "Yikes"!

The average snow for April is 1.3 inches.  We had snow on Easter Sunday 2008.

Average temperature for April is 63 degrees.  Warmest day was 93 and coldest was 7.  March 2012 was the warmest in history which is probably why we're a little peckish this year.

In April 2011, there were 362 tornadoes in a 24 hour period; a record.  Easter Sunday 2010 had the first tornado watch of the year and first severe thunderstorm warning. 

April 2011 tallied up 6,219 severe weather reports, 871 tornadoes, 2,054 instances of hail, and 3,294 for high winds.  My handy dandy weather alert system had some serious overtime. 

2009 was the wettest on record. April 2010 tied 1915 for the warmest in history.  We started Spring 2011 being 1.22 inches above average rainfall.  What a difference a year makes.

For bird watchers:   You should now see flocks of robins, red winged blackbirds, Canada geese, killdeer, sandhill cranes (overhead), wood ducks, and in a couple of weeks the courtship, nesting and mating rituals start. 

In the garden:  Red maples should have started blooming/mine haven't.  Last year on March 19, my tulips and other perennial bulbs were up about 2 inches and my crocus were blooming.  They are up this year and have all been nipped by the cold and snow.  My crocus are closed tight and even though it's a cold day, maybe the sun will bring them to full bloom.

A spring reality check!



Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Patience is a Virtue

I was raised in an era where a part of public schooling was learning "life lessons" in the manner of old words of wisdom.  

Meeting my 7th grade teacher at Dad's 90th birthday party and being asked if I remember her after many MANY years brought only the saying, "A word to the wise is sufficient." to mind - not her name.  Apparently I needed to hear that over and over to the point it was more ingrained than the late Mrs. Mary Wooldridge's name in my memory.

I'm in the process of teaching my five year old grand daughter some of those sayings because they really are instructions on how to live.  I now know "Patience is a Virtue" has been learned because she rolls her eyes when I use it.  

For parents or grand parents wanting to teach life lessons to children, the garden is a book waiting to be shared.  Some examples:

Patience is a Virtue:  Planting seeds, tending and watching them grow (or fail to grow).  As Joyce Meyers said today, "We often make the mistake of thinking that if we hurry we will be at our future sooner, but it only causes us to lose the present."  It is no less apparent than in the plant growing process.

A Word to the Wise is Sufficient:  How often have we been told a plant can't or shouldn't be grown in our hardiness zone and we plop down good money time after time in hopes it will do something more? 

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine:  You can use this one for soil preparation or killing a weed when first noticed.  Either way I know the meaning of this one from personal experience.

Penny Wise - Pound Foolish:  I'm sometimes too good with a bargain.  My example in buying a really good pair of shears this year.  I have bought dollar store cheap scissors for years and could have had a good pair of shears years ago for the many many cheap ones bought and broken.  

Hope Springs Eternal:  If any one saying describes a gardener, this one surely is at the top.  If I didn't have hope every single year in March, I would never have a flower.   

Don't Take Any Wooden Nickles:  This was a parting comment and came right after "goodbye."  A catalog stating they have a hydrangea plant with red, white and blue flowers for $8 is pretty much a wooden nickle.

Handsome is as Handsome Does:  Are you beginning to understand I needed some instruction early on?  My folks were "people of few words".   Hence, most of my instruction came in the form of these little gems and not long talks about the meaning of life.  As far as this one's garden application, a plant with a pretty flower that repeatedly misbehaves in my garden looses it's charm real fast.  

Stick to Your Own Knitting:  I was blessed with a family that didn't gossip or criticize others in front of their children.  I talk about this routinely in my garden articles in the manner of cautioning gardeners to stop being critical of other gardeners. Support each other - gardening is a perfect way to encourage and lift others up.

You Are What You Eat:  Oh my! I need to review that one often!  It might be said, "You are what you grow in your garden."

Take the Bull by the Horns:  This one was usually delivered with a gentle push to the backside.  And, after I had procrastinated way too long on a difficult project.  Seriously, I find simply thinking of this one makes me subconsciously straighten my shoulders.  Watch out new daylily bed I've got you by the horns!   


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Making Luck

I suppose there are some folks who've never had the opportunity to search through their lawns for four-leaf clovers.  Here in the Midwest it's as easy as walking out the door - especially if you live in the country.  And, you don't use chemicals to treat your turf grass.  And you're a kid.

Clover (mostly red) was used in the crop rotation cycle and as pasture crop for those having animals.  Some consider it a food while others a weed.  It's in the pea family. 

The four-leafed clover is considered an uncommon variation of the common three-leafed clover.  Very recently, scientists have found the gene responsible for the mutation.   Since it's unusual, half the fun was the mystery of "will you?" or "won't you?" find one.  Once found, it was paraded like the mystical pot of gold. Everyone KNEW finding one of those babies guaranteed good luck.

St. Patrick used it as a symbol of the Christian Holy Trinity.  Lore has it Eve carried a four-leafed clover in the Garden of Eden.  Perhaps the whole luck thing has been over stated!  The Celts of Wales used it to ward off evil spirits.

Some sources say the leaves stand for Faith, Hope, Love and Luck.  The song we used to sing as kids said:
"I'm looking over a four-leafed clover
That I overlooked before.
One is for sunshine
The other for rain.
Third is for roses
That grow in the lane.
No need explaining
the one remaining
Is somebody I adore.
I'm looking over a four-leafed clover
That I overlooked before."

Four-leafed clovers come from the white flowered clover plant.  The chances of finding a four-leafed clover is one in 10,000.  These odds typically only appeal to children or the hopelessly addicted gambler.  There are five-leafed clovers (even more rare) and one with 56 leaves was found.  It was found in Japan and I wonder if their serious environmental problems might be the cause.  In that case, perhaps the more leaves - the less lucky?

And who could not agree luck should come with a good belly laugh:

"I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover"
 - Chevy Chase and Ken Shapiro Thumbnail
1 video

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rot Your Socks Off

Doesn't it just rot your socks off?
1. A prediction of twelve inches of snow and you get two - almost. Although I'm grateful my daughter-in-law didn't have to drive home from her third shift nursing job in twelve inches. But still...

2. Packages of seeds for 98 cents that have perhaps five seeds in them. Seriously, does anyone plant only five seeds??

3. A garden tool with a "lifetime guarantee" that totally disintegrates the first summer and you can't find your receipt, they have no mail service and no phones and you cry.

4. The only inhabitants of your newly built bird house is a nest of wasps - really mean wasps.

5. The casual acquaintance that is your neighborhood environmental watch dog. Dear "canewd", I am not going to picket my neighboring farmers for using fertilizer, nor am I going to lie down in front of their tractor, combine, disk, wagon or small dogs to prevent the spreading of before mentioned substance. It's farming - now go home and write a blog or something.

6. The "dwarf" variety of an evergreen bush planted under your window which costs more for less and five years later you cannot see anything but pine needles to the East.

7. Never thinking "It's free" will mean a life time of using my precious time to eradicate.

8. People who don't want brown birds at their feeders because they aren't pretty enough.

9. People (again) who don't read and understand the labels on chemical treatment containers.

10. Killing all insects that sting. Really? Let me guide you to the word "pollination."

11. Criticizing your neighbor's garden art, house paint color, length of grass, landscaping and etc. I know, I know, we all expect our neighbor's yard to look like an HG TV commercial while our weeds are only temporary, but let's just hold hands and sing a verse or two of "kum ba ya" before pointing fingers.

12. Unreal expectations. OK, this one belongs in my sock. I want that little plant to look like the catalog photo, the nursery landscape, HG TV, my gardening friends' examples, or maybe I just want it to live! I'm on my knees pleading!!! 

13. Know-it-all gardeners. The ones who know all the Latin names of your plants while they quiz you to see if you know them as well. The ones who have the ONLY solution to YOUR garden problems. They also won't drink the iced tea you offer them because it wasn't made from distilled virgin water from a mountain stream they can actually name. They only use plants and seeds from certain nurseries; certain expensive nurseries. They don't have a sense of humor!

14. Raining on a garden walk, party or wedding. I could seriously stop the Midwest drought if I planned more garden parties.

15. Gnats. Mosquitoes. Ticks.

16. Bird seed that birds won't eat, that rots in the feeder and when it falls on the ground sprouting weeds.

17. Garden gloves that get a hole in the finger the second time you wear them.

18. Sunscreen that is so sticky every gnat in the yard is stuck to you within the first hour.

19. Garden hats that are either so dense they don't allow a breeze to enter or so loose the top of your head sunburns through them.

20. Garden equipment painted either brown or green making it impossible to find it until it snows.

21. Garden magazines and books printing erroneous information. Management plan: Hire experts.

22. People who will drive three hours to a mega nursery and fail to once visit the local small business down the road.

23. Root bound plant sets at nurseries in the spring.

24. Exaggerated claims in plant catalogs; especially the hardiness zones.

25. Doomsday predictions. Get a grip! We've had droughts, heat, cold, floods, violent weather, good crops, bad crops, disease, pestilence, fire and brimstone before and will again. Did I mention "get a grip"?

Gardening is all about optimism. Share some - it helps stop sock rot.