Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Garden in Winter

Our first snow started falling late in the day covering the earth in a fluffy white blanket. The reflection of the nearly full moon woke me up during the night and I could scarcely wait until dawn to get outside and have a look at the garden.

Annie and I headed outdoors early and the first thing to hit us was the silence. Snow makes everything so quiet. The silence was soon broken with a horrible crunching racket as my neighbor headed out the driveway to work. It was then I realized there was a layer of ice just under the snow.

Dog and cracked pot with camera in hand slowly made the rounds admiring the beauty of white crested magnolia leaves and ice encrusted berries. Snow makes everything clean and fresh, even the wheelbarrow full of old perennial cuttings pointing towards the fire pit with good intentions looked picturesque.

Hemlock branches were heavy laden and looked like a winter scene right out of “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Red and Yellow Twig Dogwoods seemed happy to show off their new winter coat that sparkled when the sun came up.

The plants on the living roof were tucked in and cozy under their blanket. Too bad they can’t settle in for a long winters nap. Although they face the north I believe the predicted 40 degree high would soon uncover them.

Birds sang happily as they darted to and fro snatching a quick sunflower seed from the feeder then dashing it against a nearby branch. The cardinals really showed out against the white background.

There is nothing like the beauty of a garden in winter especially with the addition of a little snow. Annie kept licking the snow like she had never seen it before. Being a transplant from the north I sometimes forget how wonderful a little snow can be. A “mini winter” now and then can be a good thing…a time to slow down, reflect and be ever so grateful when the sun comes out it melts away!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Sweet Annie Dog to Herb to Wreath

Sweet Annie, Artemisia annua is a favorite herb in my garden. It is a great addition to the back of the border filling in nicely with ferny foliage, needs no fertilizer or irrigation, has no pests, in fact it is a wonderful companion plant that calls and shelters many beneficial insects.

This plant continues to give the garden character in the winter with its reddish brown tree form that stands out and gives movement, color and texture to the landscape. Not to mention a sweet scent should you brush by it while doing winter chores.

It is such a unique herb I named our dog after it…Sweet Annie, a Jack Russell terror who has been with us now for almost 13 years. She too is a great addition to the back of the border where she digs up moles and often digs out under the fence in search of adventure. She too needs no fertilizer (although she does produce it), no irrigation, usually has no pests and is the best garden companion a garden girl could ask for.

Her white body with one brown ear gives a lot of movement and color to the landscape as she darts in and out of the garden beds looking for wild game in every season. I prefer to think of her personality as ‘sweet’ (some of my neighbor’s dogs might disagree) as her scent is dependant on whatever she has last seen fit to roll in or whatever scent I choose to bathe her in after.

Many of you may be familiar with Sweet Annie in herb wreaths. This herb is flexible and full, perfect for wreath making just before and during its bloom time. I made this one in September and it will be a lasting memory of summer in the garden all winter with it's wonderful scent. You can read about this herb and many others in my book "The Cracked Pot Herb Book" available on my website.

Grapes in Abundance

Grapes in the garden provide shade, fruit for culinary adventures and pliable vines for wreaths or anything in the garden or home that needs a little extra help in the funk department.

This year I had such an abundance of grapes that I was able to share (or redistribute?) the wealth with friends, neighbors and the birds of course.

The grapes were already established on a fence in the backyard when we bought the property seven years ago. Every winter I prune the vines back and make sure the wire that runs alone the fence to hold the meandering vines is in good repair.

If you haven’t guessed by now from the picture, they are concord grapes with large seeds. The color is deep, flavor is incredible - maybe even taste purple (Under the Tuscan Sun) but the seeds slow you down if you are trying to eat a handful while you are suppose to be gathering veggies from the kitchen garden these grapes border.
I decided to make grape jelly this year so I harvested a couple of huge baskets and got to work. After I washed the huge clusters I laid them out on towels to dry.
Next I plopped them into a large heavy stainless steel stock pot, added some water, set the temperature on med-low and put the cover on.

When they softened, I took them off the heat and put them in a stainless steel, heavy duty colander that nested in another stainless steel stock pot to catch all the juice. I mashed (pressed) the poor things until I had all the juice out and nothing but pulp left in the colander. I feed the skins and seeds to the compost pile…I wonder how many concord grapes will be coming up in the spring?

I wanted to put them in a jelly bag or cheese cloth but I could not find any so I determined the juice in the pan looked clear enough for jelly (for me and my family).

Next I followed the directions on the powdered pectin box – I bought some for low sugar and used half the amount of sugar. The jelly jars were still hot in the dishwasher (I used the sterilize setting). I put the lids and rings in boiling water so they were ready.

I ladled the hot jelly into the jelly jars, wiped off any sticky business, placed the lid on and screwed the ring nice and tight. I set them in a group on the counter and waited for them to seal. Some folks water bath…I chose not to for these batches of grape jelly.

Later I checked and all had sealed so I wrote the date and other notations like ½ sugar. I did make a batch with full sugar for all my sweet friends.

As you can see they came out “pretty as a picture” and a real treat at the breakfast table!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Who Invited this Bug to Dinner?

A recent trip to the kitchen garden to harvest some veggies resulted in a quest to identify this bug. Quick little rascals they are, I squished one before I even wondered what kind of bug it was. I could see these devils were sucking the life out of my broccoli raab so a quick search and destroy mission seemed an appropriate response from a farmer’s daughter.

Annie the garden dog was pleased with my instinctive action and soon joined in the fun hunting down and pinching them in half (that was me, Annie just chewed them up and spit them out) When we stopped long enough to admire our bug carnage the thought occurred to me to take a picture of one of these pretty insects to share with you all.

When I came back to the garden with my camera I had a hard time finding another bug on the broccoli raab. After a detailed search I did find this baby or youth bug (a nymph). He or she is really quite lovely to look at. So colorful that Annie and I just starred and took pictures and wondered why God made this pest so loud. He sure didn’t blend with his surroundings of green.

Maybe that is why every time we tried to catch one they would seem to roll to the underside of the leaf…like that would do a better job of camouflaging. Annie and I are a couple of old garden gals and we were not fooled with their hide and seek method of survival.

Turns out this cute menace is a baby harlequin. It will take 4 to 9 weeks to reach maturity (old enough to mate and lay eggs). Northerners will be happy to know this is a Southern insect. Seems they snuck in from Mexico sometime after the civil war (seemed safe then) and have since spread from sea to shining sea.

Unchecked these guys (and gals) will destroy whole crops of vegetables in the crucifer family such as horseradish, broccoli raab, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, mustard, Brussels sprouts, turnip, kohlrabi and radish. In the absence of these favorite hosts, tomato, potato, eggplant, okra, bean, asparagus, beet, weeds, fruit trees and field crops may be eaten. I’m not so opposed to them eating weeds, perhaps I can now claim any weeds in my garden were allowed to grow as a trap for harlequin bugs (every gardener needs some kind of alibi).

The adult harlequin, Murgantia histrionica (I just try to remember margarita), which Annie and I have already “hand picked” so to speak are a yellow and black combination with red added in. They are basically a flat and shield shaped stink bug. When the wings are lying down it appears they have an “X” on their backs (Annie likes this easy to spot target).

The cycle of life (egg, nymph, adult) for the Harlequin is 50 to 80 days. During the winter they will hibernate in the garden and come back out ready to suck sap first thing in the spring.

Since I like to do things organically, ‘hand picking’ is an easy way to get rid of them. A great job for the kids or you can enlist a Jack Russell terror like Annie if you have one available (shoot, I will give you one on loan!) You will have to keep re-checking to get them all as they are good little hiders. Look for eggs on the underside and destroy those as well. Check too in the spring for those harlequins who dared to spend the winter sleeping in your garden.

Next step according to David Cook, entomologist working for Davidson County, TN is Pyrethrum and insecticidal soap. Mr. Cook also made the final ID on this beautiful bug (yes, I was perplexed at first). I sent the picture onto Mike Smith of Williamson County, he and I both thought it was the harlequin but David was kind enough to confirm.

David Cook also gave me to bug sites to share -
He also recommends this book and says, “This is one of the best reference books on insects”:Garden Insects of North America, Whitney Cranshaw Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-09561-2
Thanks David and Mike for your help!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Scout Takes the Prize

There comes a time in every gardeners life when disappointment has to be sucked up so as not to hurt family feelings.

This night blooming cerus plant has taken 7 years to make a bud. I raised this plant from a cutting. I have faithfully carted it in and out of the garage for 6 of those 7 years.

Every night I have checked for the incredible aroma to be followed by a gorgeous bloom that is worth the seven years of waiting (so I’ve been told).
Somebody should have explained all this to Scout, our black lab grandpuppy who came to visit with his family. Scout had been playing on the porch doing what puppies do, knocking over plants, dispersing rose cuttings, chewing up plastic water bottles. But, when I went out to check the night blooming cerus bud (did I
mention there was only one?)I couldn’t find it

Surely the evening light was playing tricks on me. No, I couldn’t find it anywhere – and then I found it…well, I found the little brown stub that use to hold the hope of a bloom. I don’t know where the bud went. I looked at Scout, he was guilty I could tell. (Note the puppy teeth marks on the leaf)

I walked back into the house and mumbled something like seven years…SEVEN YEARS… I now understand how Mr. Wilson felt when Dennis the Menace spoiled his party with all his gardening friends waiting for the night booming mock orchid to open in the pale moonlight.

Mr. Wilson waited 40 years for his plant to bud and the bloom opened and withered in a matter of seconds! I only waited seven years and hopefully there will be more buds next year.

Yes Scout took the prize, literally. But he did give me a great story and something to always remember him by!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Do You Have a Bumblebee Sleeping in Your Flower Bed?

This evening while I was wandering around the garden I noticed a lot of bumble bees. Some were gathering pollen, stuffing it into their baskets on their hind legs then moving on to the next flower. Other bumbles were just hanging under the flowers on the chaste tree blooms or cuddled-up in the center of the cosmos.

They looked like they were getting comfortable for a good night’s sleep. Is that possible that bumblebees sleep in the flowers? I started doing some checking and actually, even though it was almost dark, the females were still gathering food for everyone back at the ranch - baby bumblebees (larva), the queen, worker bees…

The males however don’t even have baskets built in for collecting pollen because they don’t have to worry about anyone but themselves. Once they leave the nest they don’t go back so their job is to feed themselves (pollinating plants as they go) and possibly when the time is right, get lucky and mate with a queen.

By early evening they find a flower to bed down in (or under). As they sleep their temperature drops so in the morning since they can’t get a jolt of java (like us), they have to wait for the sun to warm them back up or drink nectar; conveniently located in their bed, to get them energized once more so they can buzz back to work pollinating flowers and chasing queens.
Sometimes when bumblebees get soaked in the rain, they will look like they are napping but are just waiting for the sun to dry them off.

Do bumblebees sting? Yeah baby, it is not their first choice but when push comes to shove and you stumble over their nest (usually in the ground), they will sting many times over. Unlike honey bees that sting once and leave the stinger in you, the bumble can retract the stinger and keep on stinging.

Typically bumblebees are happy to just go about their business and are quite docile in nature. They will give a warning if you get too close by lifting up one of their middle legs as if they are saying. “Okay buddy - that is close enough, back off!”

Bumblebees play an important role in pollination. Without bumblebees, honey bees and other pollinators our food supply would be in jeopardy. Some species of bumblebees are being used in greenhouse growing operations to pollinate tomatoes and other food crops.

My grandson is quite taken with bumblebees, he sings a song about them that goes something like “I’m bringing home a baby bumblebee, won’t my mommy be so proud of me. The next verse is something about squashing the bumblebee; we will have to change that line!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Exotic Love Vine

In June I decided to plant some vines from seed so I could have something new and interesting blooming vertically in early fall when most perennials and summer annuals have grown tired and need to be put out of their misery (like me).

One such vine I planted was Mina Lobata or Exotic Love Vine from Rennee’s garden.

The description on the seed packet read:
“A rare and vigorous vine with distinctive fleur-de-lis shaped leaves and graceful sprays of entrancing blossoms bicolored in warm coral to creamy yellow”. With a description like that who wouldn’t buy this packet of seeds and plant them?

My friend Jodie saw these blooms and told me she had seem this vine growing in New England, near Boston in Celia Thaxter’s historic flower garden. Jodie recalled the name “Spanish Flag”. The garden guide told her this name was given because of the colors orange and yellow. I had not heard that before. I have heard it called “Firecracker” which again I’m sure refers to its colors.

Annie the garden dog doesn’t care what we call it - she likes this blooming vine because the hummingbirds and butterflies enjoy it so much. She can’t catch those flying critters on account of her short legs but she can dream!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Dwarf Conifers Survive UPS

Conifer Gems at Iseli Nursery

Iseli Nursery is located East of Portland in the Willemette Valley. I know this because our bus guide explained where we were headed and pointed out landmarks along the way. I heard that on a clear day Mount Hood looms in the distance but on the day that the Garden Writers Association visited it was cloudy.

We were so thankful to the staff and sales reps for Iseli Nursery were willing to give up a Sunday to take such good care of all of us (about 600 in all). As we unloaded from the bus, smiling folks holding large signs above their heads to get us into the correct group. I headed for the one marked "southeast" and was warming greeted by the Dave Gommoll, sales rep for the southeast part of the country.

When I told him I was from Franklin, TN he told me that Bill Hewitt sells Iseli conifers, Japanese Maples and other specialty trees. That explains why Hewitt Garden and Design Center on Hillsboro road always has such an awesome selection plant material. Now I can see why they buy Iseli stock.

Mr. Gommoll toured our group through the gardens emphasising the plants that do well in our area. Because I lagged and lolly gagged taking pictures of every cool specimen I saw (which were a lot), I probably missed out on some of the tour but I feel confident that I can go to Hewitts and find just the right specimens for our area here in Middle Tennessee.

Iseli Nursery is beautiful and I was totally amazed at their selection of dwarf conifers. I'm always on the lookout for evergreen plant material for containers. I had no idea their were so many varieties of dwarf conifers. Since most of these only grow a couple of inches a year what a blessing that they can stay in a pot for years and look great.

As we exited the bus back at the hotel Iseli nursery gave us all a gift of 5 dwarf conifers. I was so excited until I realized I was heading to Canada after the conference. But GWA arranged for UPS to come to the lobby and help us ship our plants.

The plants took a week to arrive home and I thought they would be dead or worse but they look fairly good for being cooped up and knocked around in a dark box filled with peanuts. I took a picture to prove it. Thank you Iseli Nursery!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Hey Norm, What is it?

I'm back in the garden after a conference and is so good to be home!
While watering I found the most exciting something on on my night blooming cerus that I have carted in and out of the garage for at least 6 years.

Norm, a master gardener who knows all things has night blooming cerus plant(s) and he sent me beautiful pictures of blooms. So, what I need to know Norm or anyone else who knows: Is this the bud of a bloom yet to come? Or, did I miss it ?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Gardener's Garden

While in Victoria, BC, we visited the Government House Gardens. A series of gardens that once was built and maintained by a large crew of hired gardeners now kept up by a group of volunteers.

In 1992 the ‘The Friends of Government House Gardens Society’ was started to continue the gardening tradition. This group of gardening fools number around 135 according to a nice gent I met who along the way digging up an old shrub root.

The day before hubby and I had been to Butchart Gardens and many of my gardening friends were sure to remind me that Butchart is not a gardener’s garden when I announced that I would be traveling to Victoria to see the world renowned garden.

Although they admitted that Butchart is something everyone should see once in their lifetime it was actually a horticultural garden made perfect daily for the multitude of visitors who I assume would think it was actually real or something.

My hat is off to Butchart or any other family who can figure out a way to make real money in the gardening industry. They offer a beautiful landscape that is all inspiring whether you are a gardener or not. (enough ranting)

These same garden snobs would love The Governor Gardens as it is truly a ‘gardener’s garden’ where the landscape is allowed to ebb and flow throughout the seasons. The volunteers do an awesome job of keeping up with the demands of so many gardens while having fun.

Every volunteer I talked with enjoyed working the gardens and the comradely with others who share the same passion. Each one talked about their favorite plants or their favorite garden.

One lady volunteer told me that she has been in charge of hydrangeas for the past nine years. The first couple of years they were quite gangly looking. By the third year she was tired of propping them up and just whacked them all down to the ground. Of course people were shocked that she pursued such a radical course of action in Canada. When the hydrangeas came back stocky stemmed and beautiful then folks were just envious she said with a laugh. She explained on Victoria Island the micro climate is so different that one can get away with such pruning

It was a delight for me to tour a lovely and diversified garden a buzz with volunteer worker bees digging, planting, chatting, laughing and taking a break now and then for tea and ginger biscuits. What else would you expect on an Island named Victoria?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Gray Whale and Seals

Whales and Sea Lions Oh My

I had two expectations when planning a trip to Victoria, BC. One – gardens. Two – whales.

Although being late in the year, almost October, the gardens were a feast to the eyes. Even though we had to see them through ‘rain covered’ glasses, it was well worth the wet clothes and chilled bones.

Hubby researched whale site-seeing trips and chose “Prince of Whales”. We checked the internet and the previous day provided lots of activity on the whale front. It seems two pods of transient killer whales had been sighted.

Transient being key, as we discovered the next day, when the biologist said the captain was trying to find a whale sighting. The killer whales had moved on (dang) as that is why they are called transient.
Oh, not like a couple of miles but a few hundred miles.

Not to worry though, a gray whale had been spotted feeding along a huge shelf which I can’t recall the name of. We sped right over and sure enough we had us a whale to see. This particular whale was feeding on the fish along the shelf and was not in the mood to show off. He or she would come up close to the top of the water, blow off some steam, arch his middle out of the water two or three times then head to the bottom again to feed. I know there must have been a head and tail attached but we never saw it.

I took pictures whenever someone yelled “there she blows”. The marine biologist on board explained all there is to know about gray whales. They are fascinating creatures and I can understand why everyone gets so excited about Nessy. In fact this whale looked a bit like the pictures I’ve seen of the infamous Lock-Nest Monster.

After we followed the gray whale up and down the coast line the captain decided we had spent enough time on whales and needed to see some other interesting sea creatures. Half an hour later we were on another coast line near a lighthouse where rock outcroppings were covered in seals and birds.

I know the biologist told us the type of seals – stellar and ? – I do remember the total population was males. They were so handsome I got busy snapping photographs and couldn’t hear anything else. The whale may have been shy but these fellas were regular show offs!

We were able to get fairly close and watch them in action; barking, sleeping, swimming and a general hamming it up for the audience.

The best whale watching happens during the summer months into first part of September. Although we learned that tidbit after we left Victoria harbor, it was still fun to see the gray whale (what I now understand was fortunate indeed) and we got to sit on a comfortable bench out of the rain and visit with people from all around the globe.

On the trip back the sun came out and a beautiful rainbow rose up over Victoria harbor, just icing on the cake to a wonderful day!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Singing in the Rain at Butchart Gardens

It may have been raining while we toured Butchart (Boo-shart say the locals) on the Island of Victoria, BC - but that didn’t dampen any garden spirits. After traveling so far to see a garden that people say should be visited at least once in a lifetime, no way was I going to be a whiner (except maybe at lunch).

Umbrella in one hand and camera in the other my husband and I trudged along the designated pathways to see one incredible vista after another round every bend. This garden is so beautiful my husband who is not a gardener had planned to park himself in the first coffee shop he came to while I trekked the acres of multi-themed landscapes, but he re-thought the plan after seeing the beauty of an old lime-stone quarry turned gardens.

He was so impressed he trudged along with me pointing out good shots and reminding me he was a better photographer; it was then I knew he was enjoying himself.

Around 11am, soaked and shivering we decided to go into the Tea Room for some lunch. Good for us we were 15 minutes early so we cozied-up to the fireplace where someone thoughtful had turned the gas flames on.

Soon we were seated at a little table that looked over the private garden of the late Mrs. Butchart. She was the visionary for the garden all those years ago. I wonder if she envisioned so many people from every corner of the earth enjoying lunch in her house and chattering about what they had seen so far in the gardens.

Our waitress brought us a pot of hot, black tea to help us thaw out while we studied the menu. When I asked if the salmon was fresh and local, she told me that one of guys at the restaurant fishes on the side and sells it to the chef. Well okay, made that choice easy. Hubby had the gazpacho made from local veggies. He ordered me a glass of local red wine, was I being intense?

Throughout the rest of the afternoon we oohed and aahed and conversed with other visitors; usually while untangling umbrellas on the narrow trails (a real ice-breaker). Most obliged our lack of language capabilities and spoke in English, although when it comes to the botanical world we all understand the universal language of plants…hooray for Latin!

I also chatted with the many gardeners I met along the way working in the gardens. As a gardener, the work end is always of interest. I learned there are 50, yes, 50 gardeners who are assigned various areas or specific jobs throughout the property. Turf, disease, arborist, hardscape, greenhouse, irrigation, annuals, perennials, shrub and trees are just a few of the departments. With a million guests a year, the gardens need to be in perfect shape at all times.

At days end on the bus trip back to downtown Victoria, hubby asked what I came away with: color combinations, design ideas, new plants to ponder. I thought for a second and said, “I need a gardener!”

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sweet Smell of Success

Nestled beneath the Olympic Mountains between Discovery Bay and Sequim Bay in Washington State we found a lavender farm. Imagine my delight! Since we were in route to the harbor to catch a ferry to Victoria, BC we could only stop for a few minutes. Long enough to take a few pictures and talk with the folks in the gift shop. Long enough to know I want to learn more and come back to visit another day.

It seems there are many Lavender farms in Sequim , WA (thirty or so I believe) In an effort to help save local farmlands farmers started growing fields of Lavender. Sequim has a unique dry and mild climate which provides the perfect growing conditions for lavender. Together these farms produce 100 different varieties of Lavender. This type of farming is easy on the environment and is good business for agritourism. Some farms even promote "pick your own" lavender.

I had heard about Lavender farms on the West coast but never dreamed they were this far north in Washington State. In fact, the Sequim Lavender Growers Association has an annual Lavender festival the 3rd week in July. A special time dedicated to all things lavender. Crafts, cooking, growing tips, tours of Lavender farms, plant sales are just a few of the activities and classes offered during the festival.

During the rest of our drive I'm already thinking this Lavender Festival next July would make a great gardening 'road trip' - how about it? Anyone want to go?

Monday, September 22, 2008

American Potager

At the Gardens Writer Association’s symposium in Portland Oregon I had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer Bartley from Granville, Ohio.

I had the opportunity of sitting next to Jennifer on a bus touring gardens. Jennifer loves kitchen gardening and has written a book called Designing the New Kitchen Garden: An American Potager. It is available on Amazon. I plan to order one as soon as I get home.
I love Kitchen gardening as well and am happy to meet others who share that passion.

Visiting private gardens in Portland was great fun. As you can see from this picture the gardens are beautiful. The weather is so different from middle Tennessee and while my garden at home is looking a bit tired from the dry weather we have experienced of late, the gardens of the Northwest are lush and full – happy to tumble right out of their beds. What a clever idea to build in a bench so that folks passing by could have a respite in a garden. Jennifer has a website and a blog – check it out under links.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Garden Dog gets Skunked

It was a beautiful night, the moon was almost full, garden aromas were gently wafting on the gentle breeze that allowed the chimes to sway releasing their soft melodic tunes. All was right with the world and I decided to stay out and enjoy it for a while after everyone else had gone to bed.

I was enjoying my time on the porch swing chatting on the cell phone with a friend when Annie the garden dog opened the door and came in (yes she can open the door by herself). She started rubbing up against the furniture like she often does after a bath. With heavy dew on the grass I didn’t think too much about it since she had been running around all evening chasing nocturnal critters.

When she started scooting across the tile floor I suddenly got a nose full of an odor so horrific that I thought I was going to loose it – I was nauseas. She had obviously had a run in with a neighborhood skunk. It took me back to a childhood experience when my brothers thought it would be funny to throw a bale of hay with a dead skunk in the middle up on the hay wagon I was stacking. I leaped off the wagon and thought I would barf. Of course the brothers were laughing hysterically and once I got over being mad I was okay, so what if it took 20 or so years?

I quickly muttered “gotta go”, dropped the phone and grabbed that stinky garden dog and took her outside where I installed her into her portable kennel…I didn’t need her going back for more. Then I went inside to get a grip and figure out what to do with her. I had tried tomato juice once and that was nasty when mingled with skunky dog stench. So, I did what anyone would do faced with a similar situation….I googled skunk spray relief. I soon found a formula in which to bathe Annie.

One Quart peroxide (At last, a Y2K supply to check out of inventory)
¼ cup baking soda
A squirt of Dawn dishwashing soap, 1-2 teaspoons
One five gallon bucket – plenty big enough for this little Jack Russell

Once I filled the bucket ¾ full of warm water I took it and all the ingredients outside to concoct the skunk spray antidote. I added the ingredients to the water and tossed the old girl into the boiling
Brew right up to her nose. (I was careful not to get it in her eyes) The key is to leave the critter in this mixture for 10 minutes. That may not seem like a long time but Annie thought it seemed like an eternity.

The good news is Annie is mostly white so the peroxide made her so bright she glowed – got rid of all the gray; something that most of us can appreciate. The Dawn soap did a great job of de-greasing. More importantly, this stuff really works – it totally got rid of the skunk odor. She smells like her old sweet self once more. At least as good as any dog can smell.

I poured the rest of the mixture in the kennel to remove and skunky fragrance (I threw away the current bedding material of old but soft cotton t-shirts).

I made a new note to post on the refrigerator, “bring dog indoors before dark”.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Is it a weed, wildflower or herb?

While at our annual Master Gardener Fish Fry at Carnton in Franklin a fellow garden enthusiast brought a couple of leaves and flowers in hopes that someone would be able to identify a plant that had decided to sneak into his garden.

When it got passed to me, I decided to accept the challenge. I didn't recognize it but grabbed a napkin and a pen and got an email address so when I figured it out I could let David (fellow mg)

When I got home I started checking in some of my wildflower identification books - usually a plant that shows up in the garden is a wild something that may be common to a native plant person but to the rest of us it is something new and exciting. So wildflower, native and weed identification books are best to start with.

David mentioned that he didn't recognize the plant when it came up but his curiosity allowed the plant to mature - good news for the plant! Gardening is often like a treasure hunt - you just never know what you might find growing where you least expect it and what if it is something really stunning?

Stems are often helpful in cases of plant ID as is placement of the leaves on the stems but I did think to ask David how tall the plant was, if it was multi-stemmed or single and when the flowers bloomed. He told me the plant was multi-stemmed, about 3-4 feet tall and had been blooming for at least a month. The clump of flowers was pudgent but not really fragrant and nothing I could relate it too with the herbs I have known.

What do you think it is? (sorry, it is a little dried up in the picture)

Fortunetly I found a picture and complete discription in Wildflowers of Tennessee by Jack B. Carman that I felt fairly confident was the right plant or a least a very close cousin...a member of the Aster family.

The univited guest plant is a Pale-Flowered Leafcup, Polymnia canadensis L. This perennial grows 2 to 7 feet tall and blooms Jun-Oct. It is common in moist woods, barrens, glades and limestone regions. This sneaky flora is found in Middle and East TN.

Whew, mystery solved...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ginormous Trees and Mountain Herbs

I just celebrated 30 years of marriage to a man who isn’t crazy about gardening but thankfully he is crazy about me – (right honey?)

Our children threw us a surprise party and we didn’t have a clue. They recreated the cake (smaller version of course) and had to hunt for the ‘earth tone’ straw flowers that were on the original.

It was the seventies after all and I guess I was a naturalist even back then. Besides my mother traded the neighbor lady who raised and sold flowers a few loads of manure for the flowers for my wedding!

My husband surprised me (yes another one) with a couple of days away to the Blue Water Mountain Lodge in the mountains of NC. (Robbinsville) sat on the porch reading while enjoying the view of Lake Santeetlah and the mountain range beyond.

We canoed Santeetlah Lake and hiked the trails at Joyce Kilmer memorial forest. Ginormous trees (mostly virgin Tulip poplar and Hemlocks)…some of which are 450 years old. We trekked quietly among the giants awed by the beauty of moss, bark, ferns and wildflowers at each turn. It was hard to travel fast because you had to look way up and then down to the ground so as not to miss anything.

Joyce Kilmer, poet, who was killed in WW1 wrote this famous poem that we have all heard…
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast.

A tree that looks at God all day
And lifts her leafy arms to pray.
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair.

Upon whose bosom snow has lain.
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only god can make a tree.

As we made our way through the forrest I wished I had brought a wildflower book with me…note to self for next hiking adventure. I did recognize several wildflowers/herbs and the like. I can only imagine what it would be like to take this same trail in the spring! Here is a sampling of the plants we saw:

Heal All, an herb introduced from Europe and now grows everywhere the soil has been disturbed (including my garden). A great ground cover that naturalizes quickly with violet blooms May through September. Once brewed as a tea to treat sore throats, mouth sores, fever and diarrhea. Salves were made to heal wounds, bruises and other skin ailments.

Jewelweed or touch-me-not, is one of my favorite plants found in moist shady sites in woods and along streams. Makes a great salve for poison ivy or chigger bites – stops the itch! The orangish flowers bloom July until frost. The green seed capsules burst when mature, probably explains why they come up everywhere in my garden…

Wild Hydrangeas were just past their bloom prime but grew in mass along the trails. This plant was used in herbal medicine as a diuretic, purgative and tonic. The Cherokee used it to treat kidney stones.

Black Cohosh was in bloom along the trail. At first I thought it couldn’t be because the Black cohosh I have in my garden blooms early summer. I checked it out when I got home and found that there is a variety that blooms July-September.

Partridgeberry creped over the banks along the trail and still had red berries that the birds had not yet found. An herb taken before childbirth as well as used as a diuretic and an overall tonic. The berries are edible and thought to be a favorite food of partridges.

We took the convertible so the fun with plants just never stopped. I spotted these wild plants as we drove slowly along the winding, curvy back roads…what can I say? Some people read road signs and look for fauna, I look for flora and admire (and critique) folks’ landscape and choice of yard art. Yes, it is a full time job but someone has to do it!

Mountain Mint, a fragrant plant that always looked as if it has been dusted with flour was growing happily on a bank a winding road. Dr. James Duke, in his book "The Green Pharmacy" suggests rubbing this plant on skin to discourage chiggers.

Wild potato vine – I always think they are morning glories – well they are in the same family – white blossoms with pinkish, red centers. The edible roots were eaten by the Native Americans.

Joe-Pye Weed was in perfect form growing along the roadways – I need to try growing this in my garden again. For a plant with weed in the title, seems like it would be easy to grow…hmm

Iron Weed was just coming into bloom in the fields, a deep purple and welcome site in the dog days of summer when most flowering plants are looking a bit tired.

As we crossed back into the great state of Tennessee I saw the bright orange of Trumpet Vine growing on a fence line. A favorite of hummingbirds and possibly UT fans!