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.