Thursday, December 29, 2011

Show Your Southern Flare

Plant of the Month:  Camellia Sasanqua

     When I think of a southern garden, two plants come to mind: magnolia and camellia.  Not all of us have the room for the magnificent magnolia, but don’t feel like you are settling for a camellia.  Camellias have been stealing the show in the garden for the past two months.  While leaves have been dropping as fast as the thermometer, the camellia has been wowing us with its winter blooms.

     The sasanqua camellia can tolerate quite a bit more sun then camellia japonica.  Sasanquas bloom in November and December.  Even when the blooms are gone, you are left with beautiful dark evergreen foliage.  Many of the older, established homes have large, beautiful camellias worked into the landscape, but they seem to be missing from many of the newer neighborhoods.  Such a shame, as these spectacular plants deserve a place in every garden.  The sasnquas range in sizes from short to tall and colors vary from white to pink to red, and sometimes a mix of all three.  There is also a variety which works wonderfully as an espalier on a wall.  So there is really no excuse for not having one in your yard. 

     Camellias have a beautiful natural shape and do not require a lot of pruning.  If it is pruned, be sure to do it shortly after blooming, as it sets its buds for next year.   Insect problems can be scale which will cause the leaves to turn yellow and fall off or spider mites which will cause the leaves to turn bronze and speckle.  These can be treated.  Proper planting and drainage can help prevent diseases associated with camellias.
      So make a New Year’s resolution to show off your southern flare and make your Northern friends envious by planting a camellia.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Meet Me Under The Mistletoe

It’s hunting season, but I’m not hunting deer. It’s time to take that trusty shotgun and hunt some mistletoe. This is the perfect time to hunt mistletoe; one: because there is no use for it any other time of the year and two: it’s easy to see, now that all the leaves are down.

The Greek word for mistletoe is Phoradendron, which means “thief of the tree”. While not a true parasite, mistletoe sure acts as one, sinking its roots into the tree and leeching nutrients from the tree to help with its photosynthesis. Found high in the branches of trees, the seed is extremely sticky, latching onto bird’s beaks or feathers or the fur of other woodland creatures and dropping off to start a new batch on a new host. Mistletoe is toxic to people, but birds rely on the berries for high-protein food and the foliage for nesting material. Butterflies lay their eggs on the plants and use the nectar for food. Mistletoe is also an important nectar and pollen food for bees. Throughout the ages, mistletoe has been used to treat an array of ailments, from leprosy, worms and labor pains to high blood pressure.

All interesting facts, but why do we kiss under a parasitical-like plant? According to Norse mythology, Balder, loved by gods and men, was felled by an arrow made of mistletoe, the only material that could hurt him. He was revived by his mother, Frigg, and she commanded anyone who stood under the plant to kiss as a reminder of how love conquered death.

So if you do decide to go on a mistletoe hunt, and even though a shotgun has a cool, woodsy image to it, take a 22 if you want any mistletoe to bring home.

Have a Blessed and Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Looking For A Sunset Bird In Winter

     This is the time of year when many people take down their bird feeders and store them away for the winter.  Many fear that feeding the birds in the winter keeps them from migrating further south, or makes them dependent on the easy meals.  Fact of the matter is, you could put a hundred feeders in your yard, but once the migratory clock is triggered, even the best seed can’t keep them from moving on.  The stragglers that do remain are either injured or sick and probably wouldn’t survive the winter.  As to worrying if birds will lose their natural ability to find food after relying on bird feeders; what few studies have been done on the subject have found that birds are very resourceful and have no problem finding food on their own.  Mother Nature has made sure that ability is not forgotten.  Bird feeders only make up 20 percent of a bird’s daily energy requirements. 
     But if you would rather not have to trudge out into the cold to fill the feeder every day, there are plenty of other ways to help out those feathered friends.  Leaving perennial seed heads till spring pruning will provide a meal for some birds and the scattered seeds may provide you with a few more plants next year. 

Plant some holly bushes; the bright berries are beautiful in arrangements or wreaths and loved by birds.  If you have been meaning to pull that Polk-berry weed out of the garden all fall, go ahead and leave it for a while longer; the mockingbirds have been boisterously enjoying mine.  The red fruit of the dogwood make for a good winter meal and junipers and cedars not only have berries but provide needed winter shelter for the birds.
     So whether you keep your feeder filled with seed or your yard filled with berries, you will be able to enjoy birds all year long.  The robins of spring are always a welcome sight, but outshined by the cardinals in winter. 

Looking For  A Sunset Bird in Winter
 The west was getting out of gold
  The breath of air had died of cold,
 When shoeing home across the white,
 I thought I saw a bird alight.

In summer when I passed the place
 I had to stop and lift my face;
A bird with an angelic gift
Was singing in it sweet and swift.

No bird was singing in it now.
A single leaf was on a bough,
And that was all there was to see
In going twice around the tree.

From my advantage on a hill
I judged that such a crystal chill
Was only adding frost to snow
As gilt to gold that wouldn't show.

A brush had left a crooked stroke
Of what was either cloud or smoke
From north to south across the blue;
A piercing little star was through.
                                      Robert Frost

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Fine Day For A Dip In The Pool

     Over the year I have meet quite a number of water gardeners so this article is directed to them or any of the readers who hope to become water gardeners … so that should pretty much cover everyone.

     It is that time of year to clean out the pond for the winter so it will be in the best possible condition when spring arrives, hopefully sooner than later.  By this time of year I have cut way back on the feeding of my fish and will stop all together in the next week or so.  The fish metabolism has slowed way down and once the water temperature reaches 45 degrees fish stop digesting food, so any undigested food can become toxic to the fish. 

                   Cut back the lily pads on your hardy water lilies and drop them to the deepest part of the pond.  Tropical lilies usually do not winter-over.  Marginal plants will winter over as long as the plant’s crown is a few inches below the water level.  Get out as many leaves as you can.  A net or a pond vacuum can be quite helpful, but nothing beats a chilly dip on a warm day if you really want to get it clean.  Too many leaves left in the pond causes too much nitrogen in the pond which leads to algae in the spring along with other problems.  Cut back other water plants and remove the dead.  Check your skimmer and filters for debris.  I leave my steam running all year; this provides circulation and keeps the pond from freezing solid on those rare occasions when it has gotten cold enough.  An opening in the ice is necessary to release toxic gasses which can kill fish and plants.  Don’t forget to check the water level occasionally.  Evaporation may not be as big of a problem as it is in the summer, but it is still occurring, so don’t let the water get too low.
     The weather may not be ideal for cleaning time, but a true water gardener knows, in the end, it is well worth it.  So, go with the flow and look for a good deal on wading boots.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Where Have All The Monarchs Gone?

     Summer has defiantly left us and fall is close on its heels.  The frost covered lawns in the morning, is a good indicator that winter will be here in no time.  Gone are most of the leaves and most defiantly, gone are the butterflies.  Looking back on this summer, I am pretty sure that I did not see a single Monarch butterfly.  I saw quite a few swallowtails and skippers and loads of fritillaries, which loved my Sedum Autumn Joy, but no Monarchs.  What is the reason behind this?  Global warming? Global cooling?  Pesticides? Pollution? A high-rise in the middle of their migratory path?  May be all of the above.  I miss seeing that distinctive orange and black beauty; it’s not called Monarch for nothing.

     Growing up, the arrival of the Monarchs was always exciting.  My sister use to swear that the same Monarch came to visit her every year and the fact that the butterfly only lives about six weeks did not sway her from her belief.   Monarch butterflies seemed to be in abundance when I was a kid, and come to think of it, so was milkweed.  The milkweed grew along our roadsides, developing those funny looking seed pods which would turn brown, break open, and release those downy fluffs with a seed attached.  We use to use the fluffs for Santa’s beard on Christmas cards. 

     So, in short, Monarchs lay their eggs in the milkweed and the caterpillars only eat the milkweed.  Decline of milkweed leads to decline in Monarch butterflies.  I may have to go on a hunt for milkweed and let it grow wild in my ditches, in the hopes of attracting the monarchs back to my yard.  And to my sister, if you are reading this, because if you’re not…shame on you, if I see your Monarch, I’ll be sure to tell him you said “Hello”.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tip Toe Through The Tulips

     Are you looking for a shovel ready job?  Well get your shovel and get ready to plant those fall bulbs.  Get out there now and get your daffodil and tulip bulbs planted and you will thank yourself this spring when your garden is filled with bright colors, after a long, grey winter.  So much color from something that requires little if any maintenance is hard to resist.
     When choosing a place to plant your bulbs, avoid areas that tend to stay damp; excessive moisture will cause the bulbs to rot.  Loosen the dirt in the planting area, adding in some compost and peat for drainage.  Now the tricky part is to make sure you don’t plant your bulb upside down.  Flat down, point up.  Planting depth should be on the package or use this rule of ‘green’ thumb:  bury the bulb about three times as deep as its diameter.  Pack the dirt firmly, and if you mulch over the top, make sure you pull the mulch away in the spring because mulch tends to slow down the blooming.  Once spring has arrived and your flowers are done blooming, cut the flower stem to stop it from setting seed, thus sending this energy to building a bigger bulb for next year.  However, do not cut the leaves as they are necessary to continue feeding the bulb.  If you can’t stand the leaves you can always do what the English do, braid the leaves together, or just learn to live with them as I do.
     Tulips come in an astounding array of colors, shapes & sizes and can get expensive if you fall in love with some of the more unusual ones.  And if you have deer, plant daffodils, because tulips are deer candy.  Tulips only last three to five years, so plan on planting a few every year, to keep the bloom coming.  Daffodils, on the other hand, seem to come back forever and in greater numbers and deer avoid them.
     So between bastings of the turkey, get some bulbs planted, then sit back and watch Green Bay make mincemeat of Detroit.  Go Packers and have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Amazingly Beautiful Oakleaf Hydrangea

     I have so many favorite plants, but Hydrangea quercifolia or Oakleaf Hydrangea is one of my favorite favorites.  It is a beautiful four-season plant which is another way of saying, it saves time and money. 

      Native to the southeast, it is a great addition to our local gardens.  It grows six to eight feet, with some varieties topping out at twelve feet.  The large leaves emerge a light green in spring, turning deep green by summer, giving this plant a lush appearance.  The summer bloom is a cone shaped flower which can be a foot long.  The blooms are primarily white, developing a pink tinge, and then a deeper russet as their season ends.  The leaves of the Oakleaf hydrangea remain in place well into the winter.  The leaves turn shades of deep purple and red, staying on the plant until November and sometimes into December.  Come January when the leaves are finally gone, the beautiful peeling bark of the plant can be seen and along with the dried flower heads, provide  a good deal of winter interest that many gardens often lack. 

     Oakleaf hydrangeas can handle the heat, but prefer some afternoon shade.  They do not ‘faint’ in the middle of the day as their mophead cousins do.  They also do not like wet feet, so make sure there is good drainage when planting.  Pruning is rarely necessary, but if you do, make sure it is done after blooming and before the end of August.   The following year’s flower buds are set in late summer and early fall
     I am a big fan of white and a big fan of hydrangeas, so this plant is high on my ‘must have’ list.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sweet Dreams

    Do groundhogs hibernate?  I certainly hope so.  

As I cleanup my summer garden getting it prepped and ready for some winter gardening, but mostly getting it ready for spring, I look back on my summer harvest.  My potatoes did well, but could have been better if I had planted them earlier.  My green peppers started out promising but seemed to stall mid-way through summer.  I had a fair amount of tomatoes, but not nearly what I should have after planting thirty-six tomato plants.  My cherry tomatoes went wild, and seeing as how I am the only one who eats tomatoes in this family, I couldn’t keep up with them.  My heirlooms suffered terribly in the heat and the ones that did well were usually left half eaten on the ground by my garden thief.   My newly planted squash and zucchini were devoured by the next morning, and since I am a glutton for punishment, I tried three more times, earning the same results…kind of like the definition of insanity.  Eggplant must also be high on his favorite list because that was chewed up also.  I tried cantaloupe for the first time this year, and was so excited when I saw that lovely green fruit stating to get a nice size to it, unfortunately, I found the melons in the grass, dragged there by the tell tale teeth marks on the rind. 
     So again I ask, do groundhogs hibernate? 

If so, I plan on making his winter slumber as miserably as he made my summer garden.   As he lay curled up, in his den under my garden shed, just starting to dream of what delicious vegetables will be awaiting him in the spring, I will make every effort to disturb his deep winter’s nap.  I think a couple good blows from the air-horn should get his attention, and if it doesn’t, stay tuned for Round II – Me vs groundhog….this time it’s personal.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Act Like A Tree And Leave

Did you know you can burn 240 calories for every hour of leaves raked?   I have never been so lucky to only rake leaves for an hour.  It always turns into an all day or weekend event, and that is usually round one of the leaf drop.  You know the drill….head out side with several layers of clothing because the mornings are chilly and in no time you have peeled off most of the layers.  You spend the day raking, only to look up and notice all the leaves just waiting to fall on your freshly raked yard.  You vow next year to cut down all those huge trees that are causing this mess, but come spring you fall in love with them all over again.  You spend the day raking and probably sneezing a little, sweating then getting chilled when taking a break and defiantly, working up an appetite.  So add up all those hours of work at 240 calories per hour and you have earned a well deserved reward.  A Milky Way bar has 228 calories, Bo’ jangle’s French fries have 344 calories and a S’more only has 277 calories. 

Pile the leaves up and jump in with the kids and play for a while and you have the right to eat anything you want that night.  I guarantee you will sleep great, maybe wake up a little sore, but defiantly proud of yourself for how nice the yard looks…that is until you walk outside the next morning to get the paper and see that your neighbors’ leaves  have blown all over you lawn.  Don’t waste your time cursing and shaking your fist at the trees, because, like I said, come spring this will all be a faded memory.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

“By the pricking of my thumbs....

....something wicked this way comes”.  Halloween is creeping up on us, and if you have already strung your garlic to wear around your neck, but are still worrying about things that go bump in the night, here are a few garden tips to help you through the night.

    Blue flowers keep evil spirits away, but since it is getting late in the season to find blue flowers you can use alfalfa, which can be found at your local salad bar.  The herb, fennel, was hung above doors to ward off evil spirits and seeds stuffed in keyholes to keep out ghosts.  Sleep with St. John’s-wort (hypericum) under your pillow to ward off evil spells.  Grow catnip near your door and it will attract good spirits, along with every cat in the neighborhood.  Chamomile can be used to remove curses.  A garland of marigolds hung over windows and doors will keep evil from entering.  Wearing yarrow around your neck will repel witches and rosemary in your hair will keep away evil and nightmares.  If you are having a bon-fire this Halloween, burn cedar wood to drive off evil spirits and a cross made from Mountain Ash twigs and tied with red string will charm against witchcraft and lightning.
     If you have a gazing ball in your garden, put it near your front door on All-Hollow’s Eve.  Legend has it that if a passing witch nears your door, she will look at the gazing ball and be unable to tear her gaze way from herself, thus, capturing her spirit.
     Make sure you have the herb peppermint on hand for any trick-or-treaters who may have a stomach ache from eating too much candy and for those parents who raid the treat bags after the kids go to bed.   Happy Halloween.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fall Anemone...spring anticipation

Plant of the Month:  Japanese Anemone

     The name anemone comes from the Greek word anemos, which means wind which explains why anemones are sometimes called windflowers.  The term Japanese anemone is misleading as it is actually a native of China, but was grown in Japanese gardens for centuries, hence the confusion.  The plant was introduced into Europe in 1844 by Robert Fortune, who discovered it growing between tombstones in a Shanghai graveyard.  It was one of several long-lives, ethereal plants used to commemorate the dead. These late season perennials send out spring-like blooms when the garden is becoming quite tired looking.  The bloom colors range from pure white to deep, rosy pinks to carmine reds.  There are single, semi-double and double forms.  These beautiful blooms appear on tall, upright stems which reach 2 to 3 feet in height, allowing them to gently sway on the breeze, giving it a Zen-like quality.  Anemones like part sun, preferable morning to early afternoon sun.  The hot afternoon sun tends to burn the foliage. While these plants are prized for their autumn blooms, the beautiful maple-like foliage should not be overlooked. 

  Anemones may take a while to become established and will eventually spread through underground rhizomes.  Anemones do not tolerate drought conditions well, but at the same time, do not like to be overly wet.  Good loamy soil suits this plant well.  Team this plant with hostas in a boarder or in front of evergreen shrubs or just about anywhere there is a little shade.
     In flower-lore, anemone takes on a dark note, meaning ‘fading hope and a feeling of being forsaken’, but to end this with a positive tone, it also symbolizes anticipation.  So as blooms of anemone fade with the first frost of winter, its late spring-like blooms tell us that spring will be here before we know it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mold Only A Gardener Could Love

     Fall is officially upon us.  You can smell it in the air and feel it in the cool mornings as you reach for a jacket.  Such a nice change from this summer, when it looked like there was no end in sight to ninety-plus heat, and trying to dig a hole for a plant was almost impossible.   Part of living in the South, is the heat and red clay soil, which is like trying to dig through brick when it has been a month since we have seen any rain.  So these cooling temperatures and actual days of rain are a true blessing.  With fall come leaves, which, leads to raking.   If you don’t want to try and dig through hard red clay next summer, do something useful with the leaves this fall; make leaf mold.  Leaf mold falls somewhere between shredded leaves and compost and is very easy to make. 

After you have raked the leaves, put them in black garbage bags.  To help speed up the process, chop the leaves up with the lawn mower first, add some water to moisten the leaves and add a little bit of garden lime, to hasten the decomposition and counter the acidity of the leaves.  A cupful of blood meal will add some nitrogen.  Poke the bags a few times with a pitch fork, this allows for air and rain to get in the bags.  Now place the bags in a cool shady spot.  Every few weeks, turn your bags over and spray with water during dry spells.  By spring, you should have some leaf-mold to add to your garden planting.  Enriching your soil will add badly needed nutrients to the soil and help with water retention – studies show that leaf mold holds at least five times as much moisture as ordinary topsoil.  Along with that, it keeps the leaves out of our landfills and you get free soil enhancement.  Earthworms love leaf mold, and the worms are great for your soil.  You can place it around your shrubs and perennials as mulch or till it into your garden.   Your plants will thank you and so will your back.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Not So Itsy Bitsy Spider

     If you have a garden you probably have spiders.  Unfortunately, that’s just the way it is and I have yet to meet someone who isn’t slightly bothered by a spider.  I love to walk through the garden in the early morning when the air is crisp and the area undisturbed by activity, and that is when I usually walk face-first into a spider web.  I flail my arms at the invisible strands, run my fingers through my hair hoping not to find something or walk in a circle wondering if the owner of that web is in the middle of my back where I cannot see it.  But that is one of the inevitable facts you have to deal with when you love to garden. 

     A few weeks ago I walked past our large, country kitchen window, which faces the rising sun, and came to a screeching halt.  Stretched from roof overhang to hydrangea bush to fence post was a huge web and in the center of the web was a ginormous writing spider.  I’m not exaggerating, she was enormous.  When she would cocoon something large, I would look to see if one of my cats was missing…ok, that’s an exaggeration, but she was really big.  It took a couple weeks to get use to her being there and we even named her, Askmissdee.    My son had asked me how long writing spiders lived and I told him to ‘Ask Miss D’, a biology teacher at the high school, he thought I was telling him the name of the spider….a typical, confusing conversation with a teenager.  We were quite fascinated by the spider.  She was always busy wrapping a meal or mending her web or creating the tell-tale zigzag, which we learned, is used to attract prey.  When something became caught in her web, she went to it with surprising speed, injecting it with her venom, and then biding her time till paralysis set in, before wrapping her next meal.
      About a week ago I passed the windows and came to a screeching halt.  Askmissdee was gone.  I went out and checked the hydrangea bush to see if she had fallen (as if I was going to pick her up and put her back), but no sign of her.  Perhaps she moved on to better hunting grounds or a passing bird could not resist her.  I’m not going to say I was fond of the spider, but when I walk through my garden in the morning, I prefer to know where she is.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bombs Bursting In Air

     Solidago is also commonly known as Goldenrod.  Now, before you stop reading this article because you feel your eyes watering and your nose starting to tickle from the mere mention of Goldenrod, remember, it’s the Ragweed, not the Goldenrod which causes the allergies.  Besides, Solidago Fireworks is so much more attractive than it’s ragged, roadside relative.
     Solidago Fireworks has its roots in North Carolina, literally.  Back in the 1970’s a plant rescue took place near a motor repair shop in the countryside close to Wilson, NC; the plants were relocated to a coastal display garden.  After a few years an elegant and unique goldenrod became visible catching everyone’s eye with its beautiful yellow sprays.   It was finally introduced in 1993 by Ken Moore of the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill and aptly named ‘Fireworks’
     This plant is very easy to grow, reaching 3 feet in height on thin but strong stems, which remained standing, even after some of the strong storms we had this summer.  It grows well in full sun.  During the summer it makes a great backdrop for summer blooming perennials, creating a strong contrast with its dark green foliage.  In late summer the flower clusters begin to form.  By September the clusters, radiating in all directions, are bright yellow and look like the glittering trail from exploding fireworks. 
     People aren’t the only ones who find this plant a great addition to the garden.  Migrating butterflies load up on the nectar as they start their fall migration, bees rely on the pollen to build up their winter stores and finches and sparrows love the seeds.  To top it off, it’s deer resistant.
     I leave my Solidago up for most of the winter.  The stalks will be bare, but the brown flower clusters are still attractive and give some texture to the winter garden.  Around February, I cut it down to the ground where you will notice a small evergreen patch, waiting for spring to arrive.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I Love The Night Life

     The days are getting shorter. I know I know….the days are not actually getting shorter; we are just having fewer hours of day light. Anyway, the days are definitely getting shorter, which makes you think that you have less time to enjoy your garden. These longer evenings can give you an opportunity to enjoy and experience you garden in a whole different way. A night garden plays with your senses; causing your eyes to focus on luminous blooms, touching foliage and catching the scent of a hidden flower. A night garden can be a totally separate part of your garden or it can be incorporated into the existing one.

     When the sunsets in the evening, the garden usually fades with the light, but with certain plants you can bring out the beauty of the garden in the moonlight. 

      White blooms, such as large mop head hydrangeas, take on a luminous glow in the evening light. Yellows and pinks can take on a beautiful glow at night that they cannot achieve in the bright sunlight. Patterned flowers and variegated foliage become more visible at night. One of my favorites is Minuteman Hosta; its dark green foliage is deeply edged in white, which stands out in the half-light of dusk.

     If you are looking for a night blooming plant, look no further than the Moonflower vine. It is an annual vine which can be prolific in its growth. It produces six inch pure white trumpet flowers that unfurl in slow motion every night at sunset. The blooms only last one day, I mean evening, and remain fragrant well into the night. It may be a fast growing vine, but it doesn’t freely reseed itself so save some seeds for next year. Along with the moonflower, other flowers wait until nightfall to release their perfume into the air, such as nicotiana and four-o’clocks.
    A night garden takes on an exotic appearance at dusk with different sounds, smells and sights and can extend your garden enjoyment for a couple hours longer each day.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Fair Is In Town

     I know this is a ‘Gardening” column, but if you read it you know I stretch it a bit, so today I’m in the mood to stretch a bit more.  The Alexander County Agricultural Fair is in town. 

There is something about the fair that intrigues us.   While the Midway pulls us with the smell of sawdust, the sweet taste of cotton-candy and the calliope music coming from the Carousel, if you look past the huge stuffed bears and bowls of goldfish waiting to be won with ping pong balls, and head to the Exhibit Halls, it is there you will find the heart and soul of our county.  You can find information about our schools and local Community College; local organizations such as Rotary, Ruritan and of course the Lions, who sponsor the Fair.  Boy Scouts, FFA and 4-H will be represented, along with the Sons of the Revolution.  

 The Republican and Democrat parties will also be there (in separate corners). 

You can get information about the Brushy Mountain Quilters Guild, the Beekeepers Association and the Alexander County Soil & Water Conservation, along with several more which I apologize for leaving out.  The Livestock Hall will of course feature cattle, sheep, pigs and fowl.  Entrants for judging must be residents from Alexander County and the entries range from painting, baskets and jams to pumpkins, crops and livestock, showcasing the interests, talents & abilities of the people that make our area so unique.  You may find a friend or neighbors name next to a Blue Ribbon, discovering a hidden talent you knew nothing about, or inspire you to submit an entry next year.

    So take a ride on the Ferris wheel for an aerial view of our county, but walk the halls for a much closer look to what makes Alexander County a great place to live.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Rock Your World

     Stone cold, set in stone, stone faced, hard as a rock, rock solid, carved in stone.  These are all phrases that describe a certain attitude that withstands the elements.  Solid, enduring, timeless.  When we garden, we usually focus on plant material, such as trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals.  But a strong statement can be made with permanent elements like stone. 

Stone can be used as steps, leading you up and into your garden.  A stone walkway can guide you to a favorite plant or particular area of the garden.  A well placed stone can be the perfect place to sit and enjoy the view. 

 It can even serve as ‘home’ for a game of hide-and-seek.   Stone can act as a support, define a boarder or mark a resting place of a favorite pet.  In the winter when the leaves are gone and the ground is bare, a stone can give a new dimension to the garden. 
     Plants die for various reasons..too much water, not enough water, too much sun, not enough sun, age, not established, wrong plant, wrong place.  The list goes on.  I’m certainly not encouraging replacing plants with stone, but every garden should have at least one.
     My parents have a home in Florida and my Dad often complained about a shrub near the front of the house that visitors saw every time they came to visit.  For some reason nothing would grow there and it had been replaced several times.  Then he got a stone, a black stone.  He was so proud of that stone.  He would tell us how it never needed to be pruned or fertilized.  It made it through the hottest parts of the summer, never wilting back.  If there was a late spring frost warning, he never worried about it getting nipped by the frost.  If someone hit it with their car door, well, they were more careful next time.
     So become a rock-star and find a stone and set it in your garden.  I guarantee it won’t be your last.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Time To Head South....In August?


  Last week a shadow over head caught my attention; it was a flock of Canadian Geese in V-formation, flying south.  What?  It’s only the end of August, for heaven’s sake.  I sure hope this isn’t one of those warning signs that we are in for a hard winter.  I know we have had a really, really hot summer, but I think we deserve a nice mild winter with maybe a weekend snowfall so the kids can go sledding and be gone by Monday morning.  I don’t think I’m asking for much.  So what signs does nature give us to let us know that we may be in for a tough winter?
·         An unusual abundance of acorns
·         Thick husks on corn
·         Spiders spinning larger than normal webs
·         Narrow orange band in the middle of a woolly worm caterpillar
·         Hair on the nape of a cow’s neck is thicker
·         And according to the Farmer’s almanac….an early departure of geese….Drat!

But one of my favorite stories is this:
        It was fall and the Indians on the remote reservation asked their chief if the winter was going to be mild or cold.  Since he was an Indian Chief in a modern society, he had never been taught the old secrets, so when he looked to the sky, he couldn't tell what the weather would be.  Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, he replied to his tribe that the weather was going to be cold and the members should collect wood to be prepared.  But, also being a practical leader, after several days, he got an idea.  He went to the phone booth and called the National Weather Service to see what the coming winter was predicted to be like.  The meteorologist told the chief that it looked like it was going to be a cold winter, so the Chief went back to his people and told them to collect even more wood in order to be prepared.  A week later, the Chief called the National Weather Service again and asked it they were still predicting a cold winter.  The answer was a strong, "Yes, most definitely a cold winter."  He then went back to the tribe and ordered them to collect every scrap of wood they could find.  Two weeks later, the Chief called the National Weather Service again just to make sure they were still predicting a cold winter.  "Absolutely", they told the Chief, "it's going to be one of the coldest winters ever!"
          The Chief then asked how they could be so sure about their predictions.  The weatherman replied, "Because the Indians are collection wood like crazy!"     

The signs nature sends us may not prove accurate, but when I went to bed one night last winter, after hearing the TV weatherman say it would be partly cloudy, only to wake up to four inches of partly cloudy, I may rely on nature a bit more.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Oh Joy

Plant of the Month Sedum Autumn Joy
We are edging towards the end of August and even though the temperature is dropping slightly too where we can once again stand to spend some time in the garden, unfortunately you will find that many of the perennials have already peaked and it won’t be long before you need to cut them back all-together. But this is the time when Sedum Autumn Joy really begins to stand out on its own. This is a great three-season perennial which starts out the spring season looking like tiny heads of cabbage. As spring & summer progress, the stems lengthen and leaves broaden to a very distinctive, succulent look. The foliage has a nice bright green color and makes a great filler. By mid-summer the flower buds begin to form and cover the plant with open sprays of chartreuse. I was wandering my flower beds today and noticed that the flower heads have tightened up into umbels and while some still remain a bright green, others are turning several shades of pink; from very pale pink to a deeper rose.

     As autumn continues, the colors will deepen to cranberry and then garnet. By winter, these seed heads will have turned brown and can be cut off or left for some winter interest. They look lovely dusted with snow. Sedums don’t require much during the growing season. If you find they get too tall and splay open in your garden, pinch them back early in the summer before flowers form. This will force the plant to branch-out and stay dense and compact. Sedum Autumn Joy reaches two feet in height and does best if planted in full sun. Small fritillary butterflies flock to Sedums in August and September.
     This plant is a good companion with Russian Sage, Coneflowers or Black-eyed- Susan’s, but I love to team it with Solidago Fireworks (next month’s pick) for a beautiful autumn combination.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Doctor Is In

   After the wild week on Capitol Hill and the melt down on Wall Street, it’s best to turn off the TV, put down the newspaper and go outside.  American naturalist, John Burroughs stated, ‘I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order’.  This is advice we should all heed.   Many of us find a favorite place outside to sit and get away from the daily stress, finding our gardens to be a wonderful cure-all.  The truth is, there is a great deal of therapeutic benefits in gardens and gardening. 

     Studies have shown that hospital patients who had a view of nature rather than a brick wall complained less, required less pain medication and made faster recoveries.  Plants in an office setting improved worker satisfaction, creativity and productivity.   We all know that landscaping our yard and tending to the grass increases the value of our homes and sometimes it inspires the neighbors to do the same, and so on and so forth.  Residents of areas with more trees and grass reported that they knew their neighbors better, socialized with them more often, had stronger feelings of community, and felt safer and better adjusted.  Trees, greenery and other vegetation make neighborhoods safer and more desirable.  They even play a role in boosting students’ grades and reducing the risk of domestic violence.  As little as 10 minutes spent outside improves attention in children with ADHD:  neighborhoods with more green space improve body mass index of children and youth.  Gardening improves health and happiness, including reducing heart rate and blood pressure. 
     The therapeutic value of a garden can’t be overstated.  Digging, smelling, touching, looking and learning about the workings of the natural world is you connecting to something greater than yourself.
      So the next time you tell someone you’re a ‘Gardener’, you may want to add, Therapist, Social Organizer, Child Advocate and Health Care Provider.  Wow!  I don’t know about you, but I need a bigger business card.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I Wish, I Wish

    We are in the Nursery & Landscape business so our job is to design, grow, install and maintain our customers’ yards.  A job we love.  A little stressful when we see plants struggling in this heat, a fungus developing in the middle of a green lawn or, gasp, weeds.  Weeds is a four letter word - with an s at the end.  When I waited tables in college and someone said they were ‘in the weeds’ that meant they were way behind and needed help.  Even outside the nursery industry, weeds are a bad thing!   We own 25 plus acres and try to keep our weeds to the naturalized area, away from the nursery.  That is the area where I sometimes see deer and turkey, so one evening I took my camera to look for something interesting to snap a picture of.  What I found were wildflowers or weeds to a manicured lawn. 

There was an abundance of delicate Queen Ann’s Lace, roadside asters, purple thistles and some strange reddish thing with green treadles which was really cool.  Some of the wild grasses with the arching habits and golden tones, rivaled some of the ornamental grasses I sell at the Garden Center.  There were wild daisies to petal-pluck to see if you were loved and buttercups to hold under someone’s chin to find out who loved butter. Heading back to the house I caught sight of a dandelion puff-ball.  In our household a dried dandelion becomes a wishing flower. 

My daughter would see a wishing flower, dash over to it, and carefully pick it, so as not to release its magic accidently.  Holding it firmly yet carefully she would close her eyes and say ‘I wish, I wish, I was a Princess’ then blow the magic into the air.  And it really worked!  Upon opening her eyes, she had become a Princess, and I dare anyone to argue with me.  So a weed is in the eye of the beholder…a rose is a weed in a cornfield and a dried dandelion becomes a wishing flower in the hands of a child.