Monday, January 25, 2016

Cold Winter's Night

2013 Illinois River flooding in Peoria IL
There are always two sides to every coin and the mild winter we’re experiencing is no exception.  We live in an area of this world where we are “meant” to have below freezing winter weather.  Here's some thoughts on what we might expect if we continue to have an unusually mild winter:

To keep the number of insects in check, we need a cold winter.  It will be great if we get a sudden freezing winter right now.  That will mean the Japanese Beetles and some other destructive insects may not have burrowed down below the freeze line and will be destroyed.  Oh "YES" on everything bad that happens to Japanese Beetles. 
2014 Wind storm
Most beneficial insects have already left the area or have protected themselves in their winter sleeping quarters.  

Some of our perennials must have freezing weather to cycle successfully.  Many spring blooming bulbs need to have a period of ground freeze.

Perennial flowers may bloom and have beautiful leaves in December - they're a little confused.  They need a period of dormancy to produce next year.  Having flowers in December may be oddly fun but it’s more fun to have them when we can be in the garden to enjoy.
When hell freezes over.
Typically, plants enter winter dormancy from being exposed to shorter days.  This causes the plant to stop growing, conserve energy and buds will be covered by a protective bud scale.  Secondly they become dormant by exposure to low temperatures, at or below freezing, for at least part of the daily cycle.  This causes changes in the plant’s metabolism, which causes changes in the plants chemicals.  The plant’s carbohydrate (sugar) reserves go into storage and this allows the plant tissues to withstand cold temperatures (it acts like plant antifreeze.)  It’s a whole lot more involved than this but you get the idea.

1978 BIG snow
Some of our native grasses and wildflowers self-seed and those seeds need to be frozen to open in the spring.

Although animal lovers may find this harsh, a cold winter culls out the weak and diseased.  It also prevents an overabundance.  Nature always needs balance and when there’s a warm winter you can count on too many wild animals vying for limited food and shelter.

It helps to have a deep freeze to stunt back some weeds.
Heavy fog while driving

Trees, bushes and perennial garden plants may be fooled into thinking it’s spring and may have buds that produce.  These will eventually be nipped by frost and freezing weather meaning a loss of production next summer. 

It’s good news that our current fall/winter has been a wet one.  This allows plants to store moisture and will help protect them when winter finally comes and from winter desiccation (loss of moisture through leaves.)  Desiccation can cause what is typically called “winter kill”.
2015 early snow
On the other hand, a deep layer of snow is the perfect insulation for a very cold harsh winter.  Without a deep layer of snow, some perennials may suffer especially when cold winds come.  Winter winds and freeze/thaw during the winter will cause more damage than a deep frozen soil.

For as much as the media and interest groups talk weather gloom and doom, there isn't very much long term research available yet.  If we are indeed at the beginning of “Climate Change and Global Warming” (and that does have plenty of differing opinions) then we can expect to see more scientific research written about it in the future.

Will our winters be so short or mild that some North-temperate zone plants may not bloom or survive?  Until more data is accumulated on ALL native species over a long period – including insects, it will be hard to predict the dangers and benefits.  We do know from the history of plants, many adapt or change their internal structure.
2015 early wet snow and wind
Those of us involved in the plant world, whether as gardeners, plant nurseries/growers or in food production, should monitor the research and news coming out of research facilities/universities.  We know and understand there has always been change and a prudent grower seeks to understand and plan. It also means we are responsible stewards of this little portion of the earth where we reside and need to hand a healthy world to our next generations. 

We also need to stop getting sucked into the alarmist drama by people who want to hear their self talk or have ulterior motives.      

What do I think of the world environmental plan currently on every news site and the newest legacy hope of our current President?  Some of it is so B-movie it's laughable.  Other measures are long past due.  Self interest groups on both sides of the agenda are hurting the effort more than promoting.  With a public so jaded by the world media and politics,  another round of climate change talk is bound to bounce off the average listener. 

Even though the reality of a world destroyed by poor natural resource stewardship is certain if things don't change, getting the public to buy into measures to prevent this damage is a tough sell.  

Currently, teaching individual responsibility for one's climate is impossible when we are failing to teach individual responsibility for even the most basic of life's situations.  You cannot expect the average citizen to become alarmed about the future if they can't embrace care for their neighbors today.

Right now, our media and government doesn't have a clue on how to instill that care and responsibility and until it figures out how to endear people to their cause, it will be left to the few who actually practice good stewardship.   

I always feel encouraged when I talk to other gardeners because most "get it" and they practice on a small scale.   We can do our part, learn the facts - real facts and encourage our neighbors.  

And for those that are saying, "Clearly, you would be as hysterical as we are if you were smart enough to understand what's being said."  Clarity is the issue.  If you dig down into the actual research, you will find respected researchers saying they need many more years of accruing data to draw accurate conclusions.  We have some strong facts but what they actually mean and their long term affects is not so clear.  

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Primrose Lane

Primrose plant pictures from the web
"Life's a holiday on Primrose Lane."  Yes, I'm one of those semi-annoying people who must sing a verse or two regarding every subject.  Today's subject is the old romantic Primrose Primula.  In old gardening references it's also called Cowslip and Oxlips.  

In Gerard's Herbal  - Historie of Plants by John Gerard, he talks about the Primrose in English gardens.  He describes several but the most used two are:  field cowslips and field Primrose.
Gerard's Herbal can still be purchased
(Amazon has them from $0.41
to about $6)
And Mr. Gerard (because it was important in that era - 1500s England) always included the medical "Vertues".  Boiling the leaves and floures (flowers) and drink for phrensie.  Phrensie seems related to the word frenzy and it was a catch all diagnosis of emotional states.  The roots of the Primrose were juiced and sniffed into the nose for purging the brain in the treatment of migraine headaches.  They also combined the juice and Linseed oil to treat burns.  
Primrose -
On a little off topic, I love to check out old book stores for garden books.  Most have books discarded from libraries and that's where I've purchased many including the 1928 "A Guide to the Wild Flowers" by Norman Taylor.  The hand drawn plant illustrations are helpful in identifying plants.  

It's also important to realize the changes in identifying plants and cataloging their genesis as time progressed.  

OK on to the holiday on primrose lane:  
Primrose plant from "Gardening Know How"
The Primula farinosa is considered a perennial herb.  Most have a rosette of leaves where a 8-12 inch stalk clustered with little flowers.  They aren't carried in multitudes in nurseries although a hybridized tender version is sometimes available.  

If you want to have the perennial version, make sure you read the labeling carefully.  Most cold hardy versions (and old varieties) are hardy to Zone 4.  There's quite an extensive group of hybridized varieties.     

The most popular varieties are classified as:  Japanese, Cowslip, English, Polyanthus, Chinese, Julianna, and Moonlight - each with slightly different requirements.  The Fairy and German Primrose should be considered annuals or houseplants in our hardiness zone.  
Select Seeds "Desert Sunset"
Most require good organic moist (but drained) soil.  Some recommend an application of organic fertilizer once a month during the summer - others say it isn't necessary if the soil is already good. 

Place the plants where they can slowly spread (by Rhizomes.)  Plant where they get morning sun but are shaded in the afternoon heat.   One recommendation is to plant in with your spring flowering bulbs. 

The plants are one of the first to bloom in early spring.  They come in a wide range of colors:  white, yellow, orange, red, blue, pink, purple and combinations of several. Once the flowers are brown and dry, cut entire flower stalk back and it may rebloom. 
Select Seeds "Primrose Cowslip"
One of my favorite catalogs is Select Seeds (   They offer certified organic flower seeds and plants, heirloom varieties and plants benefiting insects and birds.  One of the offers is a ca. 1749 Primrose Cowslip that would enhance any garden but especially someone wishing to create an old house vintage garden.   

And I'll go out of this story singing George Callender and Wayne Shankin's:

Primrose Lane
Life's a holiday on Primrose Lane
Just a holiday on Primrose Lane
With you!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Life as an Old Foggy

Why oh why can’t old people stop acting like old people?  If you’re old, you’ve felt this condemnation.  If you’ve ever been young, you’ve thought that thought. 

You want some old? Well babe you’re getting a dose of old today:

An older person may look grumpy because those face muscles become more lax and the sides of their mouth relax downward.  “Frowning on the outside – smiling on the inside.” 

No one, and I mean NO ONE, voluntarily decides to have his or her mind and body get old.  Even the most health conscious person will ultimately loose the aging battle.

My Dad, when he was in his 90s, used to say he wasn’t forgetful as much as he had 90 plus years of information in his head and it took longer to sort.  Loved this truth.

Bodies and the organs within will eventually wear out from use.  It’s how everyone dies.  It’s not about how inconvenient it is for you.

As any employee at a nursing home will tell you, old folks not only had a life but most had fabulous experiences.  They simply need someone to care enough to ask and listen.

It’s not about buying or praying ourselves into Heaven. God sometimes waits to reveal how stupid we’ve behaved until we can process it better and understand the consequences of our actions.

All little kids want a pet to snuggle.  All young parents love snuggling their new babies.  All grandparents are snuggling machines.  The snuggle urge doesn’t go away even when there’s not a single smuggler left in the family.  Old people have pets – it fills the void.  If their pets are creepy rejected old dogs and cats - there’s symbolism at work.

Most old people are kind.  It’s why they are so easily prayed upon by scammers.  It’s why they spoil grandchildren.  It’s why they pray for you and your family.  It’s why they keep that stupid trinket.  Value and emulate their kindness trait, it makes a better world.

There are mean old people just as there’s mean young people.  It’s always a choice no matter the age.

All people are surprised on the day when someone first calls them  “elderly.”

A girlfriend said she would never marry again because sex wasn’t all that important anymore.   Unless Sam Elliott asked her then she’d rethink the situation.

Most grandparents would have quickly and firmly exchanged places with a child who died.  That’s some serious kind of love.

We’re all surprised when we realize we’ve collected too many cottage cheese containers.  I used to ask my dad for a grocery sack full each time I visited.  I’d toss them in a dumpster on the way out of town. He was a product of the depression and I respected his thrift.  He simply needed a little help with the cottage cheese container situation.

Our collections are memories and not just stuff. To really care, ask for the stories behind those things.  Most old folks die with those stories never told.

The most independent of old people are the hardest to care for by their families.  We get that.  What you need to get is we wouldn’t have lived this long had we not been independent and strong.  Pray that you inherited that strong tendency which will guarantee irritating your kids, too.

It’s amazing how American society has embraced loving every human difference except the one we all will eventually have: aging.

If an older person is critical of you because you’ve chosen to not work, not parent your children, not accept responsibility for your actions and expect the rest of society to shoulder your load – get a grip.  You will never be respected for your lack of moral courage by a generation who stepped up to the plate of responsibility even when it was agonizingly hard.

Old people often are the most patriotic of citizens.  It’s a part of their core value system because they had family and friends willingly die to protect our freedoms.  They know people who live with the nightmares of war and yet they choose to quietly remove their hat in front of a flag without any more fanfare than their own silent memories.   

The only hope for many impoverished, single parent, no parent or violent neighborhoods is for seniors to teach values, respect, common sense and to educate.  Help those grandparents who are taking on these monumental responsibilities.

Old folks can be critical.  That person may simply be a judgmental old grouch.  More likely they have experienced the consequences of mistakes and so desperately want you to avoid what they know will be the outcome.   It’s called caring.

Speaking of old grouches:  It takes real effort to not be grouchy when life has dealt you a bad hand, you’re in some kind of physical or emotional pain, tomorrow will be as empty as today or you’re treated with no respect.  Old grouches need love, too.      

If this article does nothing else, I hope it encourages understanding.

II Corinthians:  (16) "So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  (17) For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison."  

It's Only a Paper Moon in a Cardboard Sky.

Does anyone but me get a new garden catalog (mine are for daylilies) and pretend the store says: "You can have one free flower on each page.  Which do you pick?"

Then I spend time picking just the right one.  Fret if there are two I really like.  Imagine why and where it will go.

It's especially fun with hybridizers' catalogs where the plants are fabulously cutting edge, wonderful and expensive.

Is this the equivalent of playing paper dolls?  Or, not buying a lottery ticket but planning how you'll spend the money?   Is it a disorder?  Is it winter?

Today's example is called "Egyptian Jewelry" daylily.  A 6 1/2 inch peach pink with a lavender and violet patterned eye.  Wide triple edge ending in chartreuse to match the throat.  Neon colored.  $150.00.  Yes, please fill out my pretend order form, attached to my pretend credit card number and send it to my pretend garden.  Thank you very much in a pretend kinda way.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A Little Game of Poker?

Poker Primrose Primula vialii  has spikes of red calyces with blue-violet flowers opening from the bottom and working up.  Many times each spike will have over 100 flowers densely packed on the stem.  It blooms in June and July.

The leaves are deciduous, lance-shaped, hairy and form a rosette.  The clump is late appearing in May so mark their location. 

Plant in partial shade in moist, humus rich, well drained soil that’s neutral to acidic soil.  It’s suggested the plant be side dressed with compost or top dress with leaf mold and add a complete organic fertilizer in the spring.

Seeds may be planted in early spring when the temperature is consistently 68 degrees.  Don’t cover seeds.  If planted from seed, they will bloom their second year.  The leaves go dormant for seven months of the year so it’s suggested it be planted under shrubs or evergreen.  They are considered “short lived perennials” meaning if you want them in your beds every year, then plant more seeds every year. 

The perennial plant originated in China.

The plant’s height is 12-18 inches.  It’s cold hardy to Zone 5 although I'd consider them somewhat fragile.

As the name indicates, Primula vialii is in the Primrose family but easily distinguished from other primroses. 

They are sometimes confused with the Red Hot Poker Kniphofia uvaria plant because they bloom on spikes, are clump forming and the flowers open from the bottom up on the stalk.  Other than that they aren’t very similar.

Native to South Africa, they grow from two to five feet high.  The leaves are long, thin and dagger-like.  Flowers spikes produce from spring through fall.  They come in red, orange, coral, cream and yellow.  The flowers are tubular florets and very attractive to hummingbirds.

They are rhizomes and should never sit in wet soil.  Plant in full sun, loose, rich soil that drains well, general purpose fertilizer when planting and once a month after that during the growing season.  Heat and drought tolerant.   

They are cold hardy but only down to 14 degrees.  I’d suggest digging and winter storage like you do gladiolas and canna lilies.

Although the two plants are sometimes confused by customers, they are definitely two different plants with a whole set of different requirements and looks. The reviews have been pretty negative on survival of mail order plants and seeds.  Both can be found (with some hunting) at local nurseries in plant form each spring.  Both have their positive attributes and place in your gardens.  BUT not when planted together in pots or the same environment.  

I like to distinguish them as:

  • Poker Primrose:  The shy sweet little girl peaking out from under a shade tree.
  • Red Hot Poker:  The bold tough guy guarding the sun filled garden with gusto. 

And that's the whole deal on our poker flowers.    

Note:  All photos are from on line seed or informational catalogs and sites.   

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Bloody Hell?

Japanese Blood Grass "Red Baron" in my garden.
Japanese Blood Grass is a perennial ornamental grass available for Zones 5 - 9.  There's a debate in the garden world about if it IS or IS NOT invasive.  Invasive as in spreading to the point of killing native grasses and having no viable benefit for native animals.  Don't plant if you have a native plant area since the tiny seeds are carried by the wind.  

I think it's one of those plants that in it's northern Zone (as in our part of Illinois) behaves itself and is a great burst of color.  The farther south the better chance it won't be kept in control by winter weather.  

I lost my Blood grass the year we had that brutal winter.  Another sign we are on the northern edge of it's cold hardiness zone.

One of the things I noticed about it is it's best to plant it where you don't have to worry about weeding around and in the clump.  It's not tall enough to shade out weeds and other grasses or weeds will combine in the clump.  My Blood Grass didn't kill out any native grasses or weeds.  The only way I was able to weed it was to dig the clump, gently pull out all other plants and then replant.  Not much fun and pretty hard on the Blood Grass.  

Isolating it's roots will eliminate any invasive qualities both on the Blood Grass moving too far out and other weeds moving into the clump.  It also lets the color really pop.  

This photo is not my own.

So here's the additional information about this lovely plant:  Perennial rhizomatous grass.  Grows 18-20 inches tall.  The leaves are green at the base with red tips that become more intense over the summer and fall.  Prefers full sun but will tolerate some shade with less color.  Grows in any soil except needs drainage.  Spreads through small seeds but seldom flowers and this may be why it isn't as invasive up North.  Deer resistant.  Mulch for cold winters and cut back or mow in the late fall/early spring.  

It is from Asia and Africa and is used for roof thatching.  Has Chinese medical uses.  May be eaten.  Is very flammable, even green, so don't plant near fire pits and grills, where cigarettes are thrown down or close to your house.  

And that is the "bloody hell" of Japanese Blood Grass.