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Friday, October 30, 2009

When A Gardener Plans A Halloween Party

When a gardener plans a Halloween party…

She looks for the perfect video to play for her guests to set the mood. Does anyone remember the ‘Green Fingers’ episode of Night Gallery?

Part 2

Part 3

Watch it with the lights turned out! Listen to these classic lines:

“Think I’m going to be stopped by some antique broad with a pitch fork?”

“Everything I plant grows, everything… I think it’s the soil… it’s really an attitude… if a person loves the earth and growing things…”

“When we found her she was out there with a trowel, digging and planting”. “Planting what?”

And the classic, “Everything I plant grows, even me”.

You will never listen to the song Greensleeves in quite the same way after watching!

Then the gardener turns the lights back on and brings out some of her gardening books.

Everyone takes turns reading from Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart (Algonquin Books).

The gardener has pre-selected several readings that are particularly frightening including “Lawn of Death” which includes the story of Cogon grass which is sharp enough to cut a cow’s tongue and lips. Oh, my, what the government can do! Truly scary!

Then there’s the Stinging Tree, Dendorcnide moroiddes, found in Australian. It's guaranted to make you itch, imagining how the pain of its sting could drive a person to the edge of madness and beyond.

And to really scare her guests, the gardener reads the story of the deadly poisonous Monkshood, Aconitum napellus, which was mistakenly served at a dinner party, killing two guests.

Horseradish sauce anyone?

I highly recommend reading this book any time of the year. Gardeners, and non-gardeners, too, will enjoy reading the stories that Amy has to tell us about the wicked ways of plants.

Before the witching hour arrives, the gardener next invites guests to browse through Black Plants, by Paul Bonine (Timber Press), paying particular attention to the pictures of the orchid, Dracula vampira and the Devil’s Dracula orchid, Dracula diabola, which look as sinister and odd as their names imply.
Seeing 'Queen of the Nile' tulips listed in Black Plants reminds the gardener that she wrote about the possibility of handing out tulip bulbs to trick-or-treaters in her weekly newspaper column. But she doesn't really hand out tulip bulbs, she really hands out candy, and lots of it.

If you want to add dark blooms for contrast in your garden, grow some very novel plants, or plant an entire garden with a dark color theme, Black Plants is a great resource to have on hand.

Then as the witching hour approaches...

The gardener leads all her guests outside to scatter candy around the garden and wait for the Halloween Hare. Since sightings are rare, after a few scary moments listening to leaves rustle and the far off mournful howl of a dog, the shivering guests gather up all the candy, leaving a few pieces just in case, and head out into the night, with images of antique gardeners, wicked plants, black blooms and the mysterious Halloween Hare destined to keep them awake until dawn.

Then the gardener goes back inside to clean up the party mess and remembers that she should have told her guests that the two books used for the Halloween party were provided to her as review copies from the publishers to do with as she wished. They didn’t ask, insist, cajole, or hound her for reviews or threaten to trick her if she didn’t treat these books well!

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Are You Ready?

Are you ready for the Halloween Hare to visit your garden?

Did you set aside a few pieces of candy to appease him when he makes his midnight witching-hour call on your garden?

What will he find? Or rather what will he not find? And if he doesn't find what he's looking for - oh the horror! WHAT WILL HE DO TO YOUR GARDEN??

For those who are now confused or who've never heard of the Halloween Hare, here is some background information:

According to ancient gardening legend, the Halloween Hare hops from garden to garden on Halloween night looking for Easter candy not found in the spring Easter egg hunt. If the Halloween Hare doesn't find any candy, he will create a little havoc in the garden by pulling up plants or turning over containers. Many gardeners, hoping to avoid this mischief and havoc, will leave a few pieces of Halloween candy out in the garden for the Halloween Hare to find. Sightings of the Halloween Hare are rare.

Be ready! Straighten up your garden a bit and while you are doing that...

- Provide a clear path to the front door and on the front porch for the Trick-or-Treaters by removing containers and pots that they might not see in the dark. Remember they often travel in groups walking side by side so they need a wide path to the front door.

- Sacrifice a pumpkin to make a nice jack-o-lantern. Or get out your fake electric one like I do, plug it in, and you are all set. Mine has proudly served for at least 15 Halloweens!

- Rake leaves off the front walk, especially if it is going to rain, like it might here, so no one has an extra chance of falling. It's a known fact that Trick-or-Treaters like to run and it is almost guaranteed they will fall down a few times. Just don't let it be on your front walk.

- Skip your brilliant idea of giving tulip bulbs to the Trick-or-Treaters and give them candy instead.

- And no matter what, even if you think it sounds dumb, throw a few pieces of candy out into the garden for the Halloween Hare to find!

Management here at May Dreams Gardens will not be responsible for what might happen if you don't!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Gardener's Guide to "Time"

Given how quickly many gardeners learned and affirmed the gardener’s definitions for “quantities”, it is time to move on to how gardeners define “time”.

So gather around all you new gardeners, here's some insider informaton on the language gardeners use to describe “time”.

But first, remember that it is true what the philosophers tell us, time does stand still in a garden. This fact alone shapes how gardeners define time. So with that in mind, here are four phrases used to define "time" in a garden.

Just a minute

A gardener will often use the phrase “just a minute” to describe the amount of time that it will take to do something simple in the garden that doesn’t require them to change out of their “street clothes” into gardening togs. For example, a gardener might be walking out to her car to go to a movie and see a dead branch in the middle of an otherwise healthy shrub. She’ll then holler out, “I’m going to go get the pruners and trim that branch out before we leave. It will take just a minute.”

But we know from observation that total elapsed time for “just a minute” in a garden is often as long as 30 minutes outside of the garden. This is because the gardener goes to get the pruners, which aren’t where she left them, so she actually goes to find the pruners, and then once she finds them she sees that a few container plantings need some water. No way can she watch a movie knowing plants are suffering from lack of water. And since watering them will also take just a minute, she stops to do that, too. While standing there watering the plant she looks over to see a pretty bloom and accidently waters her shoes which causes her to have to go back inside to put on another pair of shoes. No problem, it will take just a minute!

When she finally goes back outside, she realizes she left the pruners on the other side of the garden where she was watering the containers, so she begins to walk back that way - it will take just a minute, stopping a few times to pull some weeds. Soon she has enough weeds in her hands that she decides to run them back to the compost bin on the edge of the vegetable garden. It will take just a minute. Once in the vegetable garden, she spots an almost perfect tomato, which of course she picks and takes inside. It will take just a minute. Then she remembers the dead branch and goes back out front to cut it back. It will take just a minute, after all. GADS!

It all took “just a minute” and who cares about seeing all those movie previews anyway?

Not long

Gardeners use the phrase “not long” to answer questions about “how long will that take?” For example, how long will it take to dig up that flower bed? Not long. How long will it take to plant those bulbs? Not long. How long will it take to mow the lawn? Not long (No, the answer is not “too long” on that one.) What we really mean by “not long” is that we are willing to forsake housework, laundry, and other mundane activities to work out in the garden. In fact no matter where we are in the process of completing our latest project in the garden, the proper answer to any question about how long it will take, how long until it is finished or how much longer we will be outside in the garden, is “not long”.

In a bit

How often are we gardeners asked by someone outside the garden, “When are you going to stop gardening for the day?” The answer is “in a bit”. We use “in a bit” to indicate that at any time we will be finished in the garden and will come in. It could be in five minutes or it could be in five hours. It is most definitely in a bit. Really, given all that calls out for our attention in the garden, it really is next to impossible to accurately predict when we will call it quits for the day, so we use the standard “in a bit”.


“Later” can be a confusing term for new gardeners because it doesn’t actually describe time in a garden. It describes a time frame outside of the garden. For example, when the sun is shining and the garden is too lovely to leave, the answer to any question about when we are doing to do something that doesn’t involve gardening is “later”. “Later” we will clean house or wash clothes or go pick up little “Johnny” or “Jenny” from school because on nice days, we all know that there is never enough time in the garden. There will be time later in the wintertime, for example, to catch up on all the “out of garden” activities.

I hope these definitions of “time” help new gardeners speak the language of gardeners more confidently. As with the definitions of “quantity”, please do not share this information with non-gardeners. It would take too long to explain it to them! And there is never enough time in the garden as it is, so we don’t need something like explaining ourselves to non-gardeners to distract us. Thank you!

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Gardener's Guide to "Quantities"

I thought it might be helpful to provide a gardener’s guide to “quantities” to help new gardeners speak the language of gardeners with more confidence.

Here are six ways gardeners describe “quantities” and what they mean.

A couple

When a gardeners say they want to get "a couple of" fill-in-the-blank, as in “I think I’d like to get a couple loads of topsoil”, this actually means that they would like to have upwards of eight loads of topsoil or some other quantity that is well more than two. By the way, two is generally not a number that most gardeners understand in buying anything gardening related, especially plants. We are always told to plant in three’s, and two is never enough to do that.

Not too many and not very many

When a gardener says “not too many” in response to someone asking her how many of something she bought, such as flats of annuals, this actually means that she bought one less than she really wanted to buy but way more than any non-gardener could even imagine, but she thinks she can handle the quantity she bought. The same applies to buying not too many seeds, not too many bulbs, not too many hoes, or not too many gardening magazines. Note, “not very many” is often used instead of “not too many” and is in fact often preferred because it implies a lesser quantity but may in fact be the same amount as “not too many”. It’s a subtle difference to keep in mind.

A few

What a gardeners say “a few”, in reply to a question like “how many bulbs did you buy”, they deliberately leave off a vital piece of information, “the what”, because a vague answer takes far less explaining than “a few dozen” or “a few hundred”. So keep in mind that “a few” always refer to another larger quantity amount like a dozen, a hundred or even a thousand.

Not as many as I wanted to get.

We all know that “not as many as I wanted to get” generally refers to a quantity that most non-gardeners would not understand so again, most gardeners make no attempt to further explain it. For example, if a gardener runs into a big sale at the garden center and there are, say, seven plants available, she will want all seven, but will just buy six… see above about three being the lower limit for plant purchases. Then when asked how many she bought, the correct answer is “not as many as I wanted to get”.

A little and not that big

When gardeners say, “a little” as in “I think I’ll enlarge this flower bed just a little”, it generally means that they are going to double the size of it. And double the size often means triple the size of it or increase the size of it until some natural or unnatural barrier, like a property line or fence, stops them.

If asked how big they are going to make a new flower bed, most gardeners will reply with “not that big” which means that they are pretty sure they can dig it up themselves without renting a backhoe, but it is entirely possible that once they get started, they may have to get a backhoe to finish the job.

I hope this was helpful to those who are trying to learn the language of gardeners to become better gardeners themselves. The more we understand, the better we garden, right?

And yes, there are some advanced quantity definitions not included above such as “a good start”, “I didn’t get all of them”, and “look, over there, isn’t that an ice cream truck”, but we’ll save those for another time.

(A special note to new gardeners: Welcome to the club. We trust you with this information! It goes without saying, please do not share these definitions with non-gardeners because it would just confuse them and many of them would simply not understand.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Vegetable Garden Recap

The frost claimed what was left in the vegetable garden last week, leaving cold-blackened plants for me to pull out and add to the rapidly filling compost bins. I look now at the bare raised beds and see that once again, henbit is staking its claim for the winter.

There’s not much left to do prepare the vegetable garden and the gardener for winter. I should do some chipping and shredding of the drier plant debris in the compost bins and then harvest the compost underneath that top layer. And I should hoe the beds one last time to knock the henbit back a bit, though I know from experience, it will be still be growing strong by early spring, when it is once again time to plant a row of peas.

But even if I skip these last steps, or the weather doesn’t cooperate for me to do them, it will be okay. The garden will be ready enough for spring. Between now and then, I’ll be studying seed catalogs and websites, searching for the perfect varieties to make 2010’s vegetable garden “the best one yet”.

I enjoyed this year’s garden. It fed me well, both physically and spiritually. Every crop seemed to be a good crop except for the tomatoes. I blame the weather for that, as we had a cold, rainy summer.

I also did a better job of tending the garden than in some years, due in part to writing weekly letters about it addressed to Dee from Red Dirt Ramblings and Mary Ann from Idahogardener, who also wrote weekly letters about their vegetable gardens. That kept me hopping and hoeing because I sure didn’t want to write each week about being a lazy gardener!

And now those letters tell the story of this year’s garden. If you would like to read them look for the tag “Letters to Gardening Friends”, go all the way to the oldest post, and work your way back. Or you can just view this video recap.

“I used to visit and revisit it a dozen times a day, and stand in deep contemplation over my vegetable progeny with a love that nobody could share or conceive of who had never taken part in the process of creation. It was one of the most bewitching sights in the world to observe a hill of beans thrusting aside the soil, or a row of early peas just peeping forth sufficiently to trace a line of delicate green.” ~Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mosses from an Old Manse

Now, where are those seed catalogs...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Little Something on Fall Clean Up

Inspired by the hard frost we had last weekend, I wrote a little piece on fall clean up for my Indy Garden Sense column in The Southside Times.

Today, I'm going to begin some garden clean up of my own, starting with the garage. I believe the last time I did any cleaning, straightening, sorting, pitching, sweeping, spiderweb removing in there, I found
a garden center's worth of hand pruners.

I wonder what I'll find today. Perhaps more bulbs to plant? A couple dozen hoes? Seeds? Probably.

Wonder how many mowers are out there? Any guesses? I know I have two chipper shredders because I got that new chipper to review this spring. And yes, I still love it.

And of course, like every gardener, I have hundreds of plastic and clay pots everywhere. I missed an opportunity earlier this fall to take them to the Indianapolis Museum of Art's greenhouses for recycling, so I'll have to figure out how to store them better for the next time such an event comes my way.

Wish me luck and good cleaning. It's not exactly gardening, but since my garage is my potting shed, garden-store-it-all in addition to being a garage, I'm bound to find a few things related to gardening. I just hope I don't get distracted by those gardening items and end up in the garden instead!

***Update ***

The garage is now more orderly than it was, though not much got thrown out. I at least have room to bring in various pots and garden decor for the winter, I think. And every hoe is safely hanging from a hook for the winter.

I also found out from Jo Ellen, the Hoosier Gardener that my curbside recycling service here in Indianapolis now takes all #1 through #7 plastics, not just the #1 and #2 plastics like I thought. This made clean up of the plastic nursery containers a breeze! I had enough pots to fill up my ginormous recycling bin and then some.

The "then some" is a bushel basket full of pots of various sizes that I am keeping "just in case" I want to pot something up.

And, yes, I decided to keep the green ones!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Plants Call The Tunes in Fall

When I see headlines like this one in the newspaper,

I first think, “Oh, good, the newspaper is finally covering more gardening topics.”

But than I read the article and realize that once again, it isn’t about gardening, it’s about a factory.

Of course, reporting on factories and what’s going on with them is important news these days, but so is news related to gardening!

Plants are like factories, which I guess is why they call factories, plants. They both have inputs and outputs and processes in between. In the case of plants, the growing green kind, the inputs are of course water, light and carbon dioxide and the outputs are oxygen and sugars, or something like that, and the process is photosynthesis.

It has been a very long time since I studied photosynthesis in any detail. Now every time I get out my old textbooks, I wonder how I ever knew that stuff. Then I see little hand written notes in the margins and some stuff underlined and it makes me think those are the sections I should study in case there is a quiz. But then I breathe deep the oxygen output of the plants around me and remember that I already took that class last century and passed it, so I don’t have any more tests about photosynthesis to study for.

One wonders if it makes us better gardeners to know about photosynthesis. Perhaps not, but I think it makes us more appreciative gardeners to know that these complex processes are occurring all of the time in the plants around us.

Another complex process going on in the plants around us now is of course the changing of leaf color from greens to countless shades of orange, red, yellow, rust and brown and everything in between. Somewhere I learned that the other colors were always there in the leaves, hiding behind the green color of cholorphyll. Then the shortening days of fall causes the plants to start to go dormant before winter and produce less chlorophyll, and so the other colors get their chance in the big show.

And a big show it is.
These two shrubs, Viburnum carlesii on the right and Fothergill gardenii next to it, are both trying to perform at the same time, in quite different, nearly clashing colors. It’s like one wants to play jazz and the other is trying to drown it out with rock ‘n’ roll.

That’s fall, a lot of clashing, bright, garish leaves playing their own tunes, giving us one last show. I wouldn’t miss it for anything!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

An Appointment with Dr. Plantabulb

Dr. Plantabulb is an unusual practitioner who generally shows up in the fall and accepts patients all the way up until the time the ground freezes. If you are lucky, you can squeeze in an appointment with Dr. Plantabulb on a day like yesterday with a high temperature in the low 70’s and partly sunny skies.

For some gardeners, one appointment is enough to plant all the bulbs in their garden, but others may need several appointments.

My appointment late in the afternoon went very well and was focused primarily on a lot of Allium, Camassia (pictured above ) and Tulipa bulbs. Tulipa is a fancy way of saying that I planted species tulips, which are smaller and more likely to return the second and subsequent years. I’ve found that many of the bigger hybrid tulips are almost annuals around here, so I don’t bother with them. Wait, that’s not quite true, I will probably bother with them, buying a few bulbs* at the local garden center just as soon as they mark them down.

Many newer gardeners don’t realize that Dr. Plantabulb is available for appointments so late in the season, but truly as long as the ground isn’t frozen, you can plant bulbs. So don’t be afraid to take advantage of late season sales.

For those people who buy bulbs and then procrastinate on planting them until it really is too late, meaning too cold, they can work it out with Dr. Plantabulb to plant the bulbs in containers and then put them in a cold place, like an unheated garage or a root cellar, until spring, and enjoy the blooms that way. In fact, some gardeners, like Elizabeth at Gardening While Intoxicated, actually prefer to plant many bulbs that way from the beginning.

The important point is to see Dr. Plantabulb in the fall because in the spring, it is too late. We all know that. We all know that you plant bulbs in the fall, but I have been asked in the spring where one buys tulip and daffodil bulbs to plant in the garden, so I thought I should mention it as one can never really know the gardening skill or knowledge level of the reader. Though by doing so, I feel a bit like those fast food companies that had to print on the side of their coffee cups, “caution: contents may be very hot”.

Anyway, no matter how busy your fall is, be sure and make your appointment with Dr. Plantabulb as soon as possible. It will make your spring so much nicer!

(For those who are wondering, my therapist, Dr. Hortfreud, is aware of my appointment with Dr. Plantabulb and doesn’t have any issues with it, as long as she gets the full report afterward to add to my planting profile.)

* In gardener speak, "a few bulbs" is really a few dozen bulbs or more. It is definitely not "two or three".

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Five Alternatives to Burning Bush

Having completely trashed the character of the burning bush, Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus’, it is my duty as a helpful, PATH following gardening geek to offer some alternatives.

Most of my suggestions will grow in USDA Zone 5b gardens because most of them are currently growing in my garden today. Your mileage may vary depending on the zone you are in and the conditions you garden in.

Here’s my list.

Viburnum carlesii (Korean Spice Viburnum)

The foliage is a bit more maroon than bright clown red but it’s a good tradeoff for burning bush because it also has fragrant blooms in the spring that start off as pink buds and then open to white flowers. In addition to the beautiful fall foliage, there are black berries for the birds. Plus it doesn’t get quite as big as a burning bush. (Oops, did I just suggest that burning bush leaves are “clown red”?)

Fothergilla gardenii (Dwarf Fothergilla)
This is one of the most carefree shrubs in my garden, growing to a height of around three feet with no pruning. Plus, it has white bottlebrush shaped blooms in the spring. It does prefer a more acidic soil, but I’m still having good luck with it in my mostly alkaline Indiana garden soil.

Syringa ‘Miss Kim’ (Manchurian Lilac)
Many gardeners wouldn’t think of a lilac as a good substitute for burning bush, because the common lilac doesn’t really have fall foliage color. It just sort of fades away as the powdery mildewed leaves drop to the ground. But ‘Miss Kim’ has beautiful maroon fall foliage and it goes without saying that it also blooms in the spring.

Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet’ (Virginia Sweetspire)
It seems almost redundant to mention that this shrub, like those I’ve already listed, has white blooms in late spring. Plus it really doesn’t get that big and won’t need much, if any, pruning.
Another alternative for red fall foliage is Vaccinium corymbosum, highbush blueberries, suggested by Dwayne in a comment. I would love to grow blueberries but they need acidic soil, much more acidic than is found in my garden. But wouldn’t it be nice to have red fall foliage and blueberries to eat right in your own garden?

All of the above, except for the blueberries, are growing in my burning bush free garden and so my recommendations are first hand. Many thanks to the Hoosier Gardener who also suggested both Virginia Sweetspire and Fothergilla in her comment the other day.

As to the invasiveness of burning bush, several readers commented that it is not invasive where they are. That may be true, but it is considered invasive in Indiana and several other states. Please check before you plant and consider one of these alternatives!

By the way, the links on the botanical names will take you to the website of the Missouri Botanical Garden's Kemper Center for Home Gardening, an excellent online resource with information on plants for the home landscape if you live in the midwestern part of the United States, and even if you don't.

And, this, I believe is my final post on burning bush (maybe).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Book Review: What's Wrong With My Plant?

One of the first lessons of gardening that most gardeners learn all too soon is that “bad” things can happen to plants. They can be attacked by a lawnmower, eaten alive by rabbits and bugs alike, or come down with some serious malady which could be a blight or a wilt or a you-name-it that you've never seen before.

In my own garden, I suspect that my roses have blackspot, a lilac has some kind of bacterial issue like fireblight, the peonies have powdery mildew, the columbine suffer from leafminers, a forsythia has something causing whole branches to blacken and out in the vegetable garden, the freeze last weekend finally did away with my blighty looking tomato plants. Add to that a bad case of rabbiteatitis* that affects the lettuce and green beans some years and it is a wonder that I don’t hang up my gardening gloves and switch to a pestilence-free hobby like hoe collecting.

Even though I long ago took classes in plant pathology and entomology, I still look at some of these ailing plants, wonder what’s wrong, and then walk away hoping it will get better on its own. I do this not so much from laziness, but from not knowing or remembering exactly what to do. (Okay, I’ll admit that a little bit of it is laziness and wishful thinking that the problem will just go away.)

Late last week, the excuse for not doing anything because I didn’t know exactly what to do was taken away from me when I received an advanced review copy** of a new book, What’s Wrong With My Plant? (And How Do I Fix It): A Visual Guide to Easy Diagnosis and Organic Remedies by David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth.

The title is accurate. It's a visual guide. It's easy to use. It's organic. And it provides help with both diagnosis and cure. The book is divided into three parts:

Part 1 includes flowcharts to help you determine what the problem is. The charts are a series of drawings with questions that you answer yes or no, then follow that answer to the next question until you arrive at the diagnosis.

Once you have a diagnosis, you go to Part 2 which includes information on solutions and remedies, all of which are organic. Where organic based sprays are suggested, the authors have a strong emphasis on safety and rank the solutions with signal words of “none”, “caution” , “warning” or “danger” and advocate that any sprays with the last three signal words be used only if needed and not “just in case".

Each chapter in part 2 also describes a particular type of problem, such as bacteria, fungi, nematodes, mites, etc. and provides interesting background information on each of these. The authors also offer a lot of good, basic plant culture information to help prevent some of these problems from occurring in the first place.

Part 3 has photographs of plants with symptoms of many of the problems described in the book. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words and they don’t hold back, including pictures showing signs and symptoms on roots, stems, fruits, flowers, and leaves of real plants. I even noticed a picture of an onion with nematodes and realized that I’ve seen that same thing on some onions in my garden.

But that’s okay, I can flip back to Part 2 and find some organic solutions for this problem, along with the other problems I’ve identified.

Where does this book belong on my bookshelf? Front and center. I want to be able to easily get to it as I stroll about the garden being just a bit more observant noticing the signs and symptoms of possible problems. I have no other book quite look this one that includes so much disease and pest information, so I’m sure it will end up being well-read and oft-referenced.

(Added: For other reviews of this book, check out Dee/Red Dirt Ramblings review for and Mr. McGregor's Daughter's review.)



* I made up the word rabbiteatitis, pronounced "rabbit-eat-i-tis". That word and this review are my thoughts alone.

** ”Advanced review copy” means what you think it means. The publisher sent me this book at no cost to me, to do with as I wished. I’m sure they hoped I’d review it on my blog, but did not explicitly, overtly, or otherwise ask me to do that, nor did they give any guidance on what to include in a review, should I choose to do one.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Truth About Burning Bush, Three Years Later

Far and away, the most read post on this blog is one I published three years ago today called “The Truth About Burning Bush”.

In just this past year, it has been viewed over 18,500 times, according to the Google Analytics tool, and people spent more time on that post, on average, than they spent on any other post on this blog in the past year.

In fact, over the last year, it has had more page views than the next 12 most read posts, combined.

What makes that post so special? What secret words, phrases, sauce or other markings does it contain that causes Google to serve it up so often? Are people viewing it to find answers to questions about the Biblical burning bush?

I have no answers to those questions.

When I look back at that post now, there are certainly some paragraphs I would re-write but I wouldn’t change the basic information. My position is still the same…

Don’t plant burning bush, Euonymus alatus, in your garden, especially in areas where it is considered invasive.

Don’t allow yourself to be seduced by those red leaves in the fall, which are at their peak right now.

Avert your eyes when you see the rows of one gallon pots of burning bush at the garden centers.

Ignore that misleading ‘Compactus’ or ‘Compacta’ because it is still going to get between six and ten feet tall and just as wide.

Remember that burning bush is considered invasive in several states, including Indiana, and is banned in Massachusetts.

Don’t even think about buying it and then pruning it each year into a nice square or a round ball shape.

Move along, the burning bush’s week of glory will soon be over and it will quickly go back to being just a plain ol’ shrub. Its flowers are barely noticeable in the spring.

Really, you can do better than a burning bush. And remember…

Gardeners don’t let other gardeners plant burning bush.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Society Endorses the Garden PATH Initiative

Greetings to all members of the Society for the Preservation and Propagation of Old-Time Gardening Wisdom, Lore, and Superstition (SPPOTGWLS or “the Society”)

I, your self appointed President, have been asked to pass along the following announcement to all members, past, present, and future...

Are you a gardener who doesn’t need to read the instructions on the seed packet to know how to plant your seeds? Maybe you are a “perennial whisperer” who can tell just by looking how best to divide a perennial? Or maybe you have better sense than to call into a garden talk show on the radio and ask why your burning bush isn’t as bright a red as your neighbor’s and is there a chemical you can spray on it to make it a better color of red? (I can’t make up stuff like that. I really heard that on a radio call in show.)

If you are a seed sowing, perennial dividing, don’t-expect-to-solve-your-issues-with-chemicals kind of gardener, then I’m looking for you.

Yes, you.

Don’t try to hide the garden dirt ground into your hands or those Felco pruners. Don’t deny that you are a pretty darn good gardener, maybe even a bit of an eccentric gardener. You know your way up and down the garden path. Really, you are nodding your head now, knowing I’ve just described you. Good…

You are about to be recruited for a new gardening initiative… the “Garden PATH”.

As in “Pass Along The Horticulture" … PATH

Remember when you didn’t know your way around the garden? Remember when you had to watch for signs, look stuff up in books or online, or wait for someone to give you directions? Remember when you had a thousand questions about plants and gardening? (You still might have a thousand questions, but I’d guess you’ve already answered a thousand questions and are on your second set of a thousand questions about gardening).

What was that garden path like that you followed to get where you are today as a gardener? I’m guessing that there is a good chance that someone helped you along the way by teaching you, sharing their gardening secrets with you, or just encouraging you.

However you got to be a pretty good gardener, it’s time to share that knowledge with others! You need to lead others down the garden PATH now in a “plant it forward” fashion.

You need to “pass along the horticulture”.

Yes, you do. You know you do. You know you should. Get going. Just do it now. Help another gardener down the garden PATH – pass along the horticulture.

As your president, I endorse this message and this initiative.

Humbly submitted by:

Current President, SPPOTGWLS
May Dreams Gardens

Friday, October 16, 2009

Lonely Crocus Seeks...

"Lonely crocus seeks long term relationship with compatible flowers to share the sunlight of bright early spring mornings. Must be willing to endure some cold temperatures and occasional late snows. No tulips or daffodils, please, except maybe some species tulips."

To read more about flowers to plant with crocuses check out Indy Garden Sense in The Southside Times.

(Top row left to right: Striped Squill, Iris reticulata, Crocus.
Bottom row left to right: Snowdrops, Glory of the Snow, Star Flower)


Bloom Day Thank You

Thank you to all who joined in for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. Who knew that October had so much to offer? I'll be visiting many of the bloom day posts in the next few days, and I hope others will, too. It's a great way to discover new blogs, new flowers for your own garden, and see how others in different climates enjoy Fall in the garden!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - October 2009

Welcome to Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day for October 2009.

By mid-October, the flowers in the garden seem to be merely hanging on, much like the gardener, waiting for the inevitable “killing frost”. In many ways, the frost is welcome. It answers the question as to when it will happen. It is the cue to begin the final act of the garden.

And for this final act, the Endless Summer® Hydrangeas have changed from their girlish pink color of summer to a more mature mauve of fall.

The ‘Earthwalker’ sunflowers no longer have petals, but are just seed heads left for the birds to eat.

In a few days, I’ll cut them down, and if there are any seeds left, I’ll put those out for the birds and compost the rest of the plant.

The Asters, a passalong plant from my aunt, are still blooming, though they’ve clearly seen brighter days.
Soon I’ll cut them back, too, to avoid their inevitable self-sowing, though as I cut them back there are always clouds of seeds that escape into the wind, giving me plenty to weed out in the spring.

Elsewhere in the garden, I see many of the same blooms of the October bloom days of 2008 and 2007, including mums, toad lilies, verbena, sedum, hydrangeas and a few errant roses from the two or three roses I have.

A new bloom this month is Kalimeris pinnatifida ‘Hortensis.’, also known as the Oxford Orphanage Plant or Double Japanese Aster.
I planted this in early September and it is fully blooming now, as fully blooming as the tiny plant can bear. I like it and think of Elizabeth Lawrence when I see it, and I always will, giving it my own common name of “Elizabeth Lawrence’s Oxford Orphanage Double Japanese Aster”. It is welcome in my garden, adding more bloom to October, a month that needs more blooms.

By this time next week, I expect the real color in the garden will come not from flowers but from leaves, as they turn to all shades of yellow, orange, and red. They will be the final curtain call of this year’s garden. And while this final curtain call goes on, I won't just be standing there clapping and heading for the exit. Instead, I'll be on my knees, planting bulbs for the new blooms of spring and the beginning of a whole new show.

How is your garden blooming this month? Are you ready for a killing frost, the end of the show, or is fall the beginning of your second gardening season?

Whatever your circumstances and however your garden looks during these October days, I hope you’ll join us for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day this month. All are welcome!

It's easy to participate. Just post on your blog about what is blooming in your garden on the 15th of the month and then leave a link in the ‘Mr. Linky’ widget below and a comment so we can find you and visit your garden to see what you have blooming. If you don’t have a blog and would just like to share what is blooming, feel free to leave a comment.

“We can have flowers nearly every month of the year.” – Elizabeth Lawrence

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cut or Keep

Cut or keep?

It’s the debate of fall, as gardeners survey their gardens “post frost”. Should they cut all the perennials back to the ground and pull out the annuals?

Or should they keep it all "as is" until spring?

Cut or keep?

On the “keep” side of the equation, many of the perennial seed heads, and some annuals, too, provide food for the birds in the winter time. Who hasn’t delighted in seeing a bird precariously perched on a coneflower seed head, pecking away at the seeds?

Cut or keep?

On the “cut” side of the equation, the birds aren’t going to eat all the seeds. Many will fall to the ground and sprout in the spring time, become plants out of place, weeds, that we must move or remove.

Cut or keep?

On the “keep” side of the equation, all those perennials and grasses provide for winter interest in the garden, sticking up out of the snow or covered in ice.

Cut or keep?

On the “cut” side of the equation, winter interest is in the eye of the beholder and for many, there’s isn’t all that much winter interest in dried up perennials and grasses.

Cut or keep?

I choose a combo… Cut + Keep = Remove some of the most prolific self sowers, pull out the annuals, cut back anything that is diseased, leave a few seed heads for the birds.

What’s your choice?

Cut or keep?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

If you are visiting national parks, be sure to plan a trip to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore managed by our National Parks Service. While you are there, don't forget to visit the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. It's the big tall building.

This lighthouse has stood along the ocean since 1870, lighting the way for ships, preventing them from losing their way in the dark and fog and crashing up against the shore.

And if you were there in July 1999 like I was, you could have also watched the lighthouse withstand a move along the shore.

Yes, they had to carefully move the lighthouse inland to ensure that the sea didn't claim it as its own.

Quite by accident, I ended up visiting the lighthouse on the last day they were moving it, July 9, 1999.
That was quite a sight to see. From what I remember, it was very hot that day, and to get to the lighthouse, we had to walk along a path cut through a thicket. Did I mention it was hot that day? We stayed around long enough to take some pictures and watch the lighthouse move a few feet, then went back down the path through the thicket. It was sure hot that day.

Further up the coast of the Outer Banks, we enjoyed the beach and ocean views.
The sea is mesmerizing, and I can understand why some people have to go to the ocean at least once a year to see it, feel it, be recharged by it.

If you visit the national seashore and the Outer Banks, I recommend you also take the time to drive across the sound to Manteo, North Carolina on Roanoke Island to check out...

The Elizabethan Gardens!
Yes, it isn't all about seashores and lighthouses and the ocean. It's about gardens! It always is.
In fact, once in this garden, you may forget that you are so near the ocean. It's filled with indigenous plants and planted in an English style with plenty of fountains, statues, and as I recall, a thatched gazebo.

After touring the garden, I also recommend you check out Manteo Booksellers.
It was in this very bookstore that I bought my first book by the garden designer and writer, Elizabeth Lawrence. And then I actually read the book. And then later I started a garden blog. And then one cold, February day, a quote from Elizabeth Lawrence inspired me to start Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

I'm sure glad I visited the Cape Hatteras National Seashore...
And I'm glad that Pam/Digging suggested we all post about our visits to National Parks. It allowed me to fondly remember this visit, where I witnessed the historical moving of a lighthouse, and realize once again how everything is connected, in some way, to gardening...
At least for me...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Everything I Learned About Touring Gardens, I Learned at Montrose

Everything I learned about touring gardens, I learned at Montrose, a garden I visited while attending the Garden Writers Association Symposium last month in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Most of what I knew about Montrose before visiting it was what was included in the symposium’s little guide book:

“Because of her intimately written garden books, Nancy Goodwin is a recognizable name to garden writers, and visiting her breathtaking 61-acre Montrose Garden will feel strangely familiar. Now a Garden Conservancy property, this historic garden was started in the middle of the 19th century by Governor William Alexander Graham and his wife, Susan Washington Graham. Nancy and Crawford Goodwin purchased the property in 1977, creating an achingly gorgeous garden and the former Montrose Nursery (closed in 1993), a mail order nursery specializing in hardy cyclamen and other unusual perennials…”

When we arrived at Montrose on our touring bus, the bus captain announced, “You need to be back on the bus in 50 minutes”, or some short amount of time like that. Less than an hour? That’s not much time to see a 61 acre garden. Even if you run, which is just not done on a garden tour, you won’t see it all. Lesson learned: Read up about the garden before you get there so you know what you want to see the most if time is limited.

When we stepped off the bus, we were greeted by a volunteer tour guide who started to give us a history of the garden. She managed to keep us together as a group for all of five minutes before people started wandering off to do their own exploring. Lesson learned: If you stick with the tour guide and walk with her, at least for awhile, you will learn something about the garden to make up for your lack of research beforehand. You will also be at the front of the group, which makes it possible to take some pictures without having 60 or so other garden writers in them.

Before long, garden writers seemed to be all over the garden, scurrying around like ants trying to find the best vantage point for pictures. Some had tripods and fancy camera lens and were setting up for long views of the garden. Others were focusing in on individual plants. Still others, like me, just held up our cameras and snapped pictures, hoping that when we downloaded them, there might be a few worth sharing. Lesson learned: Watch where you walk while touring a garden so you don’t wander into the path of a photographer trying to take a picture of the garden. Be patient if someone walks in front of you just as you are about to take a picture.

Because we toured the garden early in the morning and it had rained the night before, the grass was still quite dewy and wet, so pretty soon my shoes were wet, too. I didn’t mind it all that much. After all, I’m a gardener so my feet have gotten wet before. Lesson learned: Think about the weather and where you are going and wear shoes that are waterproof if the occasion calls for it. If you are from out of town, pack a second pair of “garden touring shoes” to wear while the first pair are drying out.

After wandering through the garden alone, as alone as you can be with 60 others touring the garden with you, it was nice to hook up again with fellow garden writers for a last look at the garden. I asked Dee from Red Dirt Ramblings to take my picture in the garden, and later Mary Ann, the Idahogardener, sent me a picture via email that she had taken of me in the garden. I liked them both. Lesson learned: I think a gardener looks happiest and most at ease in a garden so don’t be afraid to have your picture taken in the garden to remember the day. You never know when you’ll need a picture of yourself, perhaps for a newspaper article about your garden blog, or maybe for a new newspaper column. (Thanks, Christopher in NC and Mary Ann for sending me those pictures you took of me. They’ve come in handy lately!) And take a picture of your friends in the garden, too.

I enjoyed the 50 or so minutes I had to tour Montrose. I got a good overview of the garden and managed to take quite a few pictures which I put into a slide show if you’d like to see them. Lesson learned: A slide show is a nice way to show a lot of picture, about one per acre in this case, rather than try to pick out a few pictures and upload them onto a blog.

Back on the bus, several of us compared notes on what we had seen, and it seemed we all saw at least one plant or view that the others had not seen. To find out more about Montrose, I recommend you also read The Many Moods of Montrose by Dee at Red Dirt Ramblings. Then read about Colchicum, one particular flower found in this moment of time in this garden, profiled by Kathy from Cold Climate Gardening. Lesson Learned: Everyone sees something different when they visit a garden, through the lens and filters of their own perspective and experience.

Everything I learned about touring gardens, I learned at Montrose.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Matching Pink Plastic Pots

In a place far away yet sometimes quite near, a place I call “back in the day” or “back then”, I thought it was a good idea to plant all of my houseplants in matching pink plastic pots of all sizes. Matching pink plastic pots of all sizes. Can you imagine? Who was that gardener back then?

Now if I heard someone say “matching pink plastic pots of all sizes”, I would… well I don’t know what I would do but I sure wouldn’t put any of my house plants in them. I’m way more sophisticated than that now!

But today as I prepared houseplants to come back indoors for the winter and went around sprucing up those that stayed inside all summer, I thought of those matching pink plastic pots and went looking for any remnants of them. I searched high and low, in sunroom and garage, in any place where I might have stashed a few pots, to see if I still had one of them, and I don’t. That pleases me in some way, because normally, once a flower pot enters the May Dreams Gardens zone, it seems like it never leaves. But it would have made for a good picture on this blog post.

Now I like for the pots and containers and other assorted vessels that I plant my house plants in to be interesting in a background sort of way, so that they don’t overpower the actual plants, in the way that matching pink plastic pots would.

For example, I find this pot to be interesting.
It’s an old one, maybe thirty or more years old. I know that because my Dad bought it from my uncle who ran a feed mill and then a small garden center in the small town where he grew up. The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera sp.) growing in it came from starts that one of my co-workers gave me. Her aunt had a big pot of it growing on her enclosed front porch for years, my co-worker said, and she took it over and gave me some starts of it. It is supposed to have orange flowers. Those would clash with a pink plastic pot.

This little clay pot has a message around the rim, “Remember the garden and dream new dreams”.

I really like that saying.

The Stapelia growing in this pot came from a start that Annie in Austin gave me when I visited her garden during the first spring fling in Austin, Texas, making it a blogalong passalong. I think it needs to be repotted. I’ll do that today, but I promise I won’t put it in a pink plastic pot.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Introducing Indy Garden Sense

I am pleased to announce my new gardening column, Indy Garden Sense, appearing each Thursday in the The Southside Times, a local weekly newspaper available at various locations in southern Marion County and northern Johnson County. My first column appeared today.

I would like to give a special “Thank You” to The Hoosier Gardener, Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, who featured my blog in her column in The Indianapolis Star a few Saturdays ago, which led to me getting this opportunity!

And thank you to all who read my blog and encourage me to keep writing about gardening!

And now, some hopefully useful information on how gardeners can use newspapers...

You can use newspapers to:

- Make paper pots for seedlings.

- Help smother weeds in a garden bed. Lay down several pages of newspaper over the sod and weeds, wet it down, and then top off with stuff like chopped up leaves, dirt, and compost. Pile it high and let the mysterious processes of composting work through the winter. By the following spring, you should have a nice garden bed ready for planting.

- Contain the mess when you are repotting houseplants inside. Use the newspaper as a handy drop cloth, then when finished, throw the whole mess, including the newspapers, into the compost bin.

- Shred the paper and feed it to the worms in your very own vermicomposter.

And of course, you can:

- Read a newspaper, because maybe there will be something in it related to gardening. And if there isn't, let the editor know that you want to read about gardening in the paper!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Hoe-tober Fest!

It’s October, so before our thoughts turn to rakes and raking leaves, we should have one last celebration for the garden hoes. Yes, it’s time for…

A Hoe-tober Fest!

What do we do for a Hoe-tober Fest? We celebrate this ageless gardening tool! We show the garden hoes a little love and respect for the hard work they do during the growing season.

If you are at a loss as to how to do that, here are some suggestions:

Use a hoe to help dig up a new vegetable garden or flower bed
. Fall is a great time to dig up a new bed and get it all ready for early spring planting. A hoe can be used to help remove sod or break up clods of dirt.

Put away your hoes for the winter, especially if you’ve been in the habit of leaving them outside in the summer time. Hoes, really all garden tools, should be stored in a dry location that stays above freezing temperatures.

Clean the hoes up before you put them away. Knock off any dirt and mud, either with a wire brush or a damp cloth. If you use a damp cloth, be sure the hoe is dry before storing it for the winter. You can also check for any nicks or burrs on the hoe head and file those down.

Wipe down the handles. Some people like to use linseed oil on the wooden handles to keep them from drying out, but I generally don’t. If the wood seems to be drying out, I just use regular lemon oil on them, but you can do whatever suits you.

Vow that you will not use your hoes to chop ice in the wintertime. Most hoes were not made to chop through ice, so don’t use them for that purpose, no matter how desperate you are in the middle of winter.

Buy a new hoe. If you don’t own a hoe or would like a new hoe, you may be able to get a new hoe in the fall at a “marked down, close out” price. Maybe.

And finally,

Take a picture of your hoe in the fall garden, just for fun, because garden hoes are fun tools to own and use, and celebrate with a Hoe-tober fest.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Picking Peppers

Would anyone like some peppers?

I have all kinds. Hot peppers like Jalapeno, Serrano, Poblano, Hungarian Hot Wax, and Mexi-bell and mild peppers like California Wonder and Big Bertha.

They are red and yellow and green, and all colors in between. And there are quite a few of them, picked by me this evening in anticipation that some night very soon, we will have frost.

The funny thing about these peppers is that I'm not a big fan of raw peppers. I only like them cooked into other dishes, and then I prefer them to be chopped up into tiny pieces. I just don't like to eat big pieces of pepper.

Some people ask me why I grow so many peppers if I don't like to eat them raw. Good question. Let me think on that and get back with you sometime in the January-February timeframe with an answer. By then I'll be maniacally calmly going through seed catalogs picking out the dozen or so varieties of peppers I plan to grow in next year's garden.

In the meantime, would anyone like any peppers?

Sunday, October 04, 2009

On the Feast Day of St. Francis

St. Francis in a garden in Austin, Texas

When you place a statue in a garden, it becomes a focal point, and the garden becomes the stage on which it rests.

When you place a statue of St. Francis of Assisi in a garden, it becomes a place for contemplation, a place for quiet reflection.

Today, on the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, we are reminded of his prayer...

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Theory of Hortonnection

Sculpture at the North Carolina Botanical Garden

I am developing a new theory, the Theory of Hortonnection.

My theory is that gardeners are more connected to one another than the general population is connected to one another. Maybe it’s because we all have a drop or two or gallons of chlorophyll in our blood, so we all hang out at the same places? Or maybe it is that phenomenon of “hortotropism” that attracts gardeners to each other and causes us to just strike up conversations with others who look like gardeners and if it turns out we were right, it takes off from there.

Soon we discover all kinds of garden-y connections to one another, which I call hortonnections. (Horticultural Connections)

For example…

Last week I traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina to attend my first Garden Writers Association Symposium. Like any good infrequent flier, I arrived at my departure gate at the airport with oodles of time to spare and after wandering around the terminal sipping my iced green tea and admiring how beautiful our new airport is, especially the mural of Indiana wildflowers in security that I didn’t take a picture of because my focus was on not looking like an infrequent flier as I navigated through the security process, I decided to sit down and not think about flying.

Ooommmm, I would think about the fun of meeting up with other gardeners, and not about flying. Ooommmm. Flowers. Ooommmm. Plants.

Sitting there at the gate was a woman with a bag imprinted with “master gardener”. Within a matter of a few seconds, the chlorophyll in my blood rushed to my head and I thought “gardener” “flying” “Raleigh”… could she be going to the same symposium? So I asked and she was! She was none other than Carolee from Carolee’s Herb Farm, which I had heard of but have not visited, yet. We introduced ourselves and talked a bit about going to the symposium, and Carolee talked about how she was going to meet up afterwards with one of her former employees who had moved to North Carolina.

Whatever mechanisms are used to determine seat assignments must have figured out we were both gardeners and put us in seats across the aisle from each other, giving us the opportunity to continue our conversation as we flew to Raleigh. While sharing tidbits of information about gardens, gardening, and gardeners we knew, we figured out that Carolee’s best friend lives next door to my sister’s sister-in-law and I had actually visited her best friend’s garden about ten years ago and had lunch with her.

And that’s a great example of a hortonnection between Carolee and I. It sure is a small gardening world.

I had a wonderful time at the symposium which included a brief stop, among many garden stops, at the North Carolina Botanical Garden. When I stepped off the bus there, someone saw on my nametag that I was from Indiana and suggested that I should find Sally, who was also from Indiana and now worked at the garden. After wandering around a bit, I happened to hear someone talk about her friend from Indiana so I stopped and asked her if she was Sally from Indiana, and she said yes, she was indeed Sally from Indiana. But she was not just any Sally from Indiana, she was Sally from my hometown, Sally from my high school. She graduated a year before me and we laughed about what a coincidence it was that we should meet some xx years later in a garden in North Carolina. Yet another hortonnection!

Now fast forward to earlier this week, when I got an email from Carolee about having dinner with her friend in Raleigh, her friend Sally, who turned out to be the same Sally I met in the garden, the same Sally I went to high school with. Yes, another hortonnection…

Have you got that all straight now?

So based on these meetings, and other meetings of gardeners, my theory, the Theory of Hortonnection, is that all gardeners are connected much more closely than the Six Degrees of Separation that we are all supposedly connected by.

Maybe these connections are because of the chlorophyll in our blood, or the tiny leaves entwined around our DNA? Or maybe it is indeed because our shared obsession with plants and gardening takes us to many of the same places? Whatever it is, I am no longer surprised when I talk to other gardeners and find out the close connections, the hortonnections, that we have in common.
My theory needs a few more examples to test it. If you have a story of a hortonnection, please let me know!


Thanks to Hoosier Gardener, Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, I now know that the mosaic mural at the airport was created by Dixie Friend Gay. It is a beautiful mural! She sent me an email with this picture of it.

Autumn Prairie Morning