Friday, April 29, 2011

Violets - For That Romantic Spot In Your Garden

Viola labradorica - Alpine Violet, Labrador Violet
Touch but my lips with those faire lips of thine,
Though mine be not so faire, yet are they red,
The kisse shalbe thine owne as well as mine,
What seest thou in the ground? hold vp thy head,
      Looke in mine eie-bals, there thy beauty lyes,
      Then why not lips on lips, since eyes in eyes?

Art thou asham'd to kisse? then winke againe,
And I will winke, so shall the day seeme night.
Loue keepes his reuels where there be but twaine:
Be bold to play, our sport is not in sight,
      These blew-veind violets whereon we leane,
      Neuer can blab, nor know not what we meane.
- Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis

So Venus wooed reluctant Adonis. Hunting he lou'd, but loue he laught to scorne. If he had only succumbed to her advances and left the hunt, he would not have succumbed to that boar.

Before the Victorians became entranced with the the language of flowers, Shakespeare seems to have understood what others would know later; violets were symbols of watchfulness and faithfulness. Violets, then, are as synonymous with true love as any rose.

Viola, a genus of plants with well over 400 species, is distributed worldwide.  The genus belongs to the Violaceae family, which also includes Hybanthus, Hymenanthera,  and Melicytus.

Pronounced vy-OH-la or vee-OH-la, the origin of the name is obscure. In A Modern Herbal, Margaret and Maud Grieve wrote, "Violet is the diminutive form of the Latin Viola, the Latin form of the Greek Ione. There is a legend that when Jupiter changed his beloved Io into a white heifer for fear of Juno's jealousy, he caused these modest flowers to spring forth from the earth to be fitting food for her, and he gave them her name. Another derivation of the word Violet is said to be from Vias (wayside)." But it may have come from an Old French word, according to other sources.

The best known species include V. labradorica, V. odorata, V. pedunculata, V. pubescens, V. sororia and V. tricolor. Garden pansies are Viola, too: V. x wittrockiana. Of them, V. labradorica, V. odorata and V. x wittrockiana are most important commercially.

Viola labradorica, also known as Alpine violet or Labrador violet, grows to 6 inches height, spreads nicely and forms a carpet. Blue flowers are produced early to late spring. Foliage is dark green with purple hues. A low maintenance plant, it thrives in moist, loamy, well-drained soil with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.5. Plant in partial to full shade. V. labradorica is hardy in USDA climate zones 3 through 8. Because it tolerates foot traffic moderately well, it can be used as a lawn substitute in low-traffic areas. Naturalize them in shade gardens and wooded settings. They are also well-suited to container gardens, low borders, medicinal gardens and theme gardens.

Viola odorata, also known as Sweet violet, English violet and Garden violet, grows a little higher than V. labradorica, sometimes to 8 inches. Flower color ranges from purple, blue to nearly white. Blossoms are produced from late winter to late spring. Foliage is dark to medium green. Sweet violet also thrives in moist, loamy well-drained soil with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.5. It tolerates sun much better, so will perform well in full sun to partial shade. It is hardy from USDA climate zone 4 to 9. V. odorata also does well as a lawn substitute, naturalized, in low borders and in containers.

V. x wittrockiana, also known as Pansy, is a hybrid of at least three species including V. altaica, V. lutea and V. tricolor. Pansies are so well known as to need no description. Suffice it to say that they are tender perennials, cold hardy in USDA climate zones 7 through 10. They tend to succumb to heat in warmer regions. Where they are not cold-hardy, they are best used as summer annuals. Where they are intolerant of heat, they can be used as winter annuals. Best pH is 5.6 to 7.5.

In addition ornamental uses, violets are edible. They can be used fresh or sugared as garnishes in salads, on cakes and pastries. They contain vitamins A and C, and anti-oxidants. V. odorata has also been used as a source of essential oil for perfume.

Before you plant, take a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office for testing.  The results will specify any necessary soil amendments.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6 inches deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10 inches deep.  Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil.  Incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4 inches to 6 inches of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space the plants 8 inches to 15 inches apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container.  Water the plants in the pots, then drain.  Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1 inches deep.

Plant violets with other plants having similar cultural requirements.  Fertilize sparingly and allow soil to dry between watering.

Violets are discreet little flowers, beautiful, rich in history and legend - perfect for that romantic spot in your garden.

Return to Viola at goGardenNow.com.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Before All Hail Broke Loose


The last day of the 2011 Savannah Tour of Homes and Gardens, will be remembered as the day that all hail broke loose. It was a balmy Sunday, the last in March. Small groups of tourists strolled beneath the moss-draped oaks along Washington Avenue. The garden du jour could not be seen from the street, hidden as it was behind large azaleas and a screen. But the small haven was as lovely as I expected. Follow me to see what lay behind that garden wall in the calm before the storm.

The Savannah Tour of Homes and Gardens is an annual spring event presented by the Women Of Christ Church (Anglican) in partnership with the Historic Savannah Foundation. For 76 years, The Tour has provided visitors rare glimpses of some of Savannah's most notable residences and gardens. Proceeds support worthy charities.

This garden is located in historic Ardsley Park/Chatham Crescent, a development begun in 1909 by Harry Hays Lattimore, William Lattimore and their partners, as Savannah’s first automobile subdivision. Their intent was to attract wealthy new residents from out of state, but Savannahians considered it to be very appealing, too. Laid out in a grid pattern similar to General Oglethorpe's original design of the city, the homes were modern and the lots larger. Entrances to the development were marked by large belgian stone walls topped with red tile roofs. Conveniently situated parks welcomed residents to relax, visit and play outdoors. Alleys behind the homes allowed off-street parking and utility services to be conducted discretely.

This residence was built around 1920. Upon entering the garden, the feature that captures the eye is a water garden originally built as a wading pool for twin boys, sons of a former resident. Stones, natural and hewn, outline its perimeter. A small fountain adds a delightful sound; graceful koi add color and motion. The wisteria-shaded veranda, is typical of Savannah - dreamy and inviting. Though the garden is small, thoughtful placement of seating, shading and container gardens provide delightful little places for solitary peace, tea, or a private tete a tete, each with a unique perspective. Whimsical objects, add vibrant color to catch the eye and sometimes divert attention from more utilitarian things. The present owner, a Master Gardener, has transformed the place into a work of art.

It was a fine day in Savannah, though the breeze was picking up. As we moseyed to our car, I wished we could stay longer.

While we motored home, our son, an agent selling Savannah now, called to ask if we had run into a hail storm. Though the sky looked very threatening and the wind was gusting, we had not. At that moment, he alarmed, it was pummeling the city behind us. White, stony ice was covering the scene, beating azalea blooms to the ground and gardens to shreds. I hoped the garden on Washington Avenue fared well.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Solve The Mystery With Gromwell In Your Garden

The turf under the oak still retained the vague shape of Domville's body, but already the grasses were rising again. Cadfael prowled the pathway with his eyes on the ground, penetrated into the trees on both sides, and found nothing. It was a sudden shaft of sunlight through the branches, filtering through thick underbrush, that finally located for him what he sought, by picking out the glitter of the gold fringe that bordered the cape of the capuchon. It had been flung from its wearer's head when he was thrown, and buried itself in a clump of bushes three yards from the path, its fashionable twisted arrangement making it all too easy to dislodge in such a shock. Cadfael hauled it out. The turban-like folds had been well wound, it was still a compact cap, with one draped edge left to swing gracefully to a shoulder. And in the dark crimson folds a cluster of bright blue shone. Somewhere in his nocturnal ride Huon de Domville had added to his adornments a little bunch of frail, straight stems bearing long, fine green leaves and starry flowers of a heavenly blue, even now, when they had lain all day neglected. Cadfael drew the posy out of the folds, and marveled at it, for though it had commoner cousins, this plant was a rarity.

He knew it well, though it was seldom to be found even in the shady places in Wales where he had occasionally seen it. He knew of no place here in England where it had ever, to his knowledge, been discovered. When he wanted seed to make powders or infusions against colic or stone, he had to be content with the poor relatives of this rarity. Now what, he wondered, viewing its very late and now somewhat jaded flowers, is a bunch of the blue creeping gromwell doing in these parts? Certainly Domville had not had it when he left the abbey.

- Ellis Peters, The Leper of St. Giles, 1995

Just so did creeping gromwell provide the clue that would lead Brother Cadfael to solve the mystery of the murder of Huon de Domville. Being an herbalist, Cadfael noticed the posy and that it was out of place. Certainly, you understand because, as a gardener, you notice plants before you see much else.

But there is another mystery. What was the plant that Brother Cadfael spied? Culpeper noted the long-established medicinal value of gromwell in his Complete Herbal. Cadfael was drawn into this mystery in the first place because he was out and about looking to restore his supply of herbs. Was it a Lithospermum or a Lithodora? We may never know which; besides Cadfael is a fictitious character.

The Brother Cadfael Chronicles are set between the years 1135 and 1150. But the botanical name, Lithospermum, wasn't bestowed until around 1750 or so by Linnaeus. The genus, Lithodora, was described and separated from Lithospermum around 1844. Both have been commonly called "gromwell", in some form. But we do know that the flowers of Cadfael's gromwell were "heavenly blue", so that might help to narrow it down for you plant sleuths.

Of the two genera, Lithodora is more important horticulturally, so I'll focus on that. But I must note at this point that some of the plants within the genera are still called Lithospermum synonymously.

Lithodora (pronounced "lith-o-DOR-ah") means "stone gift", but there seems to be no record why it was named so. The stone might refer to the hard, nut-like seed the plant produces, but it might as well refer to the topography or soil type of some native habitat. Lithodora diffusa, for example, is native to southern Europe (Spain and Portugal) and a couple of areas near the southern Mediterranean.

Most species grow fewer than 8 inches in height, spreading perhaps to 18 inches. Foliage is lanceolate or linear, resembling rosemary but with hairy surfaces. Flower colors range from blue to white. (Lithospermum flowers are often yellow.) They tend to be drought-tolerant, making them ideal for xeriscaping. Acid soil is usually preferred. They aren't particularly cold hardy or heat tolerant, usually doing best in USDA climate zones 5 or 6 through 7 or 8.

Lithodora diffusa thrives in a broader climate range, usually from 5 through 9, which undoubtedly contributes to its greater popularity. Flowers appear in late spring and summer. It requires well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade. Soil pH should range between 5.6 to 6.5. Lithodora is deer resistant.

When you've chosen your planting site, take a soil sample to your nearby Cooperative Extension Service office for analysis.  Follow soil test recommendations, making any amendments as needed. Remove all traces of weeds. Apply an appropriate herbicide. I prefer glyphosate. If your soil is not friable, cultivate to 8 inches deep. Water your plants in the pot before installing. Space them 12 inches to 15 inches apart. Surrounding soil should come to the top level of the root ball; don't bury it. Water again after planting.

Lithodora diffusa is great for perennial borders, ground cover, containers, hanging baskets, herb gardens, and perhaps as a lawn substitute if foot-traffic is light. It's also ideal for tucking into stone walls. Consider planting a theme garden; perhaps a medieval garden, medicinal garden, or a literary garden to celebrate plants made famous in poetry and prose. If you are looking for a plant that will do all that, and if you garden in an appropriate climate zone, plant Lithodora. Your mystery is solved.

Return to Lithodora at goGardenNow.com.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Secret Is Oregano


ANDY - That certainly is delicious spaghetti, Mrs. Sprague, especially that sauce of yours.

MRS. SPRAGUE - Oh, thank you, Andrew. It's something of a secret recipe handed down through five generations of the Sprague family.

ANDY - Oh, a secret. Oh, well, whatever it is in there it certainly is tantalizing.

MRS. SPRAGUE - I really shouldn't tell you, Andrew, but it's a Greek spice called oregano.

ANDY - Oh, well, who in the world would ever think of putting oregano in a sauce?

HOWARD - That's what makes it a secret recipe, Andy.

-The Andy Griffith Show, Dinner At Eight, Episode 206

With Aunt Bee and Opie out of town, Goober stops by Andy's house to keep him company and to fix a spaghetti dinner, seasoned with a secret ingredient: oregano. Half-way through dinner, Goober remembers that he forgot to give Andy two messages, but can't remember what they were. One was from Howard Sprague, the other from Helen Crump. Dimly recalling, he sends Andy to Howard's for another dinner. Surprised by his visit, the Spragues put dinner back on the table and Andy is served spaghetti again. But Goober got it wrong. Afterward, Andy gets an angry call from Helen that he's one hour late for dinner. Again, it's spaghetti with a secret ingredient: oregano.

You can watch the Dinner At Eight episode, which aired January 9, 1967, on Youtube: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Popular since ancient times, oregano is no secret. It's a perennial herb, native to the Mediterranean region, with various species and subspecies indigenous to Kyrgyzstan, Italy and Greece, Crete and Turkey, and Syria. The most popular is Origanum vulgare, pronounced or-RI-gan-um vul-GAIR-ee. Oregano is commonly used, not only in spaghetti sauces, but in cuisines typical of most Mediterranean countries. Flavors vary somewhat by species and quality. Generally, oregano is more flavorful when dried than fresh.

Hippocrates is quoted as saying, "Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food." It shouldn't come as a suprise that oregano has been valued as a medicinal herb. Hippocrates, himself, valued it as an antiseptic. Perhaps this is the reason that oregano was originally used as a food additive. It combats Listeria monocytogenes, a food-borne pathogen associated with milk, cheese, raw meats and even raw vegetables. Hippocrates wouldn't have known about Listeria, but the ancients certainly observed that some herbs helped to preserve foods and made them safer to eat. It's no wonder that the tastes of foods and associated herbs should become so inextricably linked.

Oregano has also been used to treat sore throats, stomach ailments and bronchial problems. As a poultice, it is said to relieve muscle aches and sprains. It's also known to be a powerful antioxidant.

Oregano grows as a low, sometimes creeping herb. Mature height is 6 inches to 12 inches, and spreads up to 18 inches. Showy pinkish-purple flowers appear mid-summer to early fall. It grows quickly and thrives in sun, though it appreciates afternoon shade in hot climates. It is drought tolerant, deer and rabbit resistant and tolerates foot traffic. Oregano thrives in USDA climate zones 4 to 9. It tolerates a wide variety of soil types with pH ranging from 6.1 to 8.5.

Before planting, test your soil. Your nearby Cooperative Extension Service can help you for a nominal fee. Follow the recommendations from the test results. If your soil is not friable, cultivate it 8 inches to 10 inches deep. Add amendments. Space the plants from 12 inches to 18 inches apart.

Oregano is excellent for container gardens, fragrance gardens, kitchen gardens and medicinal gardens, and as a ground cover. Golden oregano is one of the most attractive. If you enjoy watching butterflies, oregano will attract them.

Here is a recipe for pasta sauce I think you'll enjoy. The secret, of course, is oregano.

Ingredients  

    1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
    3 garlic cloves, minced
    5 green bell peppers, cut into 1/4 inch strips
    1 small onion, sliced into 1/4 inch rings
    8 ounces black olives, sliced
    1/2 teaspoon dried cayenne pepper flakes
    1 cup dry white wine
    32 ounces low-sodium (salt) tomato juice
    1 teaspoon dried basil
    1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
    2 tablespoons honey
    1 teaspoon anchovy paste
    Salt and black pepper to taste
    1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Directions

    In a large skillet, heat the oil on medium-high, add the garlic, and cook, stirring, until the garlic begins to turn golden.  Add the peppers and onion and cook until they are soft and browning at the edges. Add the olives and crushed cayenne pepper. Pour in the wine, stir and cook for 1 minute.
    Add the tomato juice, basil, oregano, honey, salt and pepper. Stir in anchovy paste. Heat to boiling, then reduce heat to medium. Cook until the liquid is reduced and the sauce is thickened. Stir in fresh parsley. Serve with pasta.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Rupture Wort

That place just betwixt excruciating pain,
And, “oh don’t worry, I will be fine,”
Twisted back, muscles stretched to the limit,
No pain worse, at least not at that time…

- From Rupture Zone by Ed Matlack

Pain motivates sufferers to seize upon any offer of relief. An astute physician near Devon, England, having studied the doctrine of signatures, might have mused upon the knotty little flower of a weed, thought, "Of a hernia it doth remind me", and offered it as a cure to a desperate patient. I'm only speculating, of course. But however it happened, it apparently worked, for the herb became known as Rupture Wort.

Rupture Wort is also known by its botanical name, Herniaria glabra. Certainly, its use was well-established before the scientific name was bestowed.  Linneaus himself might have carried a poultice wrapped in his truss, studied it and declared, "I shall call this Herniaria.

Herniaria is an unassuming little plant, prostrate and spreading, and no more than three inches high. The leaves are small and smooth. Flowers are insignificant. That it should have been so widely accepted as a medicinal plant is marvelous. Not only was it highly regarded as a treatment for hernia, but was valued as a cure for various bladder and kidney-related maladies such as dropsy, cystitis and kidney-stones. It has also been used as a healing poultice for ulcers. The Cincinnati Lancet - Clinic, Volume 16; Volume 55, p. 480, documented medicinal uses of Herniaria.

Whether for good or ill, Herniaria has fallen into disuse by physicians. Gardeners, however, have discovered less controversial applications. Because it produces an evergreen, practically indestructible mat, it is favored as a ground cover. Foliage turns bronze-red in winter. It's somewhat drought-tolerant, so is suitable for xeriscaping. Because it's very tolerant of foot traffic, Herniaria makes a wonderful lawn substitute. It's also beautiful cascading over walls. Herniaria grows at a reasonable rate, covering ground as a good ground cover should, but is easy to control. The mat is right dense, so tends to smother weeds very effectively. Some gardeners collect plants because of their special interests. Herniaria would be a good choice for medicinal herb gardens.

Herniaria thrives in full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 6 to 9, though some gardeners have reported it growing in zones 5 and 11. It tolerates a wide variety of soil types with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8.

Before you plant, take a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office for testing. The results will specify any soil amendments needed.

If your soil is not friable, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6 inches deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10 inches deep.  Compost may be incorporated into the soil.  Incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4 inches to 6 inches of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space the plants approximately 12 inches apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container.  Water the plants in the pots, then drain.  Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1 inch deep.

Though arguable whether Rupture Wort is actually an effective treatment for hernias, I should think that such a low-maintenance plant might take some of the ache out of gardening.

Return to Herniaria at goGardenNow.com.

A Sick Ancona Hen

Dear Reader,
I received this yesterday via e-mail. I hope you'll enjoy picturing it as much as I did.

I just got the seeds in my mailbox. Thanks. It's funny but I was just looking at a vacant triangle in my husband's garden and asking him what he was going to plant there. He asked what I wanted to plant, and now I know.

Yesterday I did something new. I have a sick Italian Ancona hen. She is black and white spotted with a big red comb - a small clown of a chicken with a lot of personality, a favorite of mine. She stands out from the flock as a strident individual. I thought she must be egg-bound, since she is swollen and walking like a penguin. She usually lays huge white eggs, and she is such a small hen that I always worried about her ability to keep it up. When she laid one we could hear her raucus call far over the place, telling everyone about it. She is very loud for her size, too, and has a very distinctive squawk. You understand, the size of these eggs is quite an achievement. Anyway, she hadn't laid in some time so when I noticed her condition I figured she was in a pitiful jam.

I read up on what to do since I don't remember Mama tackling this particular job. I remember her doctoring chickens and anything else she could work on, but not this. So, I went out with my rubber gloves, Vaseline, and warm water in a dishpan. Called Sophia, who is so desperate now that she comes right up to me for assistance, holding out her wings to show me her swollen belly and naked butt. Looking out for any gas explosion that I was warned could happen, I probed gingerly but couldn't find an egg in the passage. (I hope I had the right passage, it forks and one must feel for the egg chute. Yet it seem a huge mass in there. I finished up with the warm bath, but bad luck set in - gnats came out by the millions and Sophia and I both were nearly mad with that. I had to juggle a wet chicken in a sloshing wash pan, etc. to another place under the house. There I finished holding her in for the required 20 minutes. She seemed to enjoy it. I toweled her off and finished with the blow dryer. Being female, she was really into it all by then.

My husband came out, and I told him I had kind of hoped I would get a phone call so that he could tell them I was blow drying a chicken. Earlier, of course, he would have had to tell the caller I had my finger up a chicken's butt.

Sophia was still alive this morning, but doesn't look good. I got out the rubber glove because a chicken person on a forum said I had better rupture that egg, if it was in there. This time my dog had followed me out because she was real curious about what I was going to do with that hen. When I went in this time, there was an excess of poop, and the dog snorted and went off a ways. Her opinion of me has gone down.

I couldn't find an egg, snapped off the rubber glove and gave up. I began to think Sophia had eaten some of the fire ant stuff we put out, or something else dangerous. She looked bad but I hope for a miracle for my clown chicken.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Thunder Giant

A frightening hailstorm pummeled Savannah, GA a couple of Sundays ago, beating off azalea flowers and shredding tender foliage. A few friends and I were discussing it later in an undercroft. One wondered at the power of nature as she recited the meteorological explanation of hail accretion, how ever-larger stones can be lifted skyward over and over.

"That seems plausible enough," I said. "But it makes as much sense as the Thunder Giant, and is not so interesting."

They stared at me as though both my eyes had blurred into one in the middle of my forehead. I had to explain.

When I was very young, my Aunt Ann, not 10 years older, used to create masks for me of brown paper bags while she played 78 RPM recordings, fat and scratchy, of fairy tales. Black and multi-colored crayons defined my eyebrows and nose, shaded my cheeks and ears. I was a fearsome sight.

Sometimes, when we were at Grandmother's house, she would take my brother and me for walks, showing us holes in tree trunks where fairies lived, pockets of water between roots where they stopped to bathe and drink, fairy rings in the yard where they counseled, and secret glades where they danced.

She told us about the Thunder Giant when we were huddled together on a bed during a magnificent storm. He stomped, shouted, rolled huge bowling balls down his alley, threw white-hot spears and stones.

Though we were terrified, we always asked for more.

When I asked my friends, none had ever seen the Thunder Giant rage or hailstones accrete. My explanation was as good as theirs, and I think I understand the Thunder Giant better.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Our Lady's Mantle

Our Lady's Mantle! When I musing stray
In leafy June along the mossy sward,
No flower that blooms more fixes my regard
Than thy green leaf, though simple its array;
For thou to me art as some minstrel's lay,
Depicting manners of the olden time,
When on Inch Cailliach's isle the convent chime
Summoned to Vespers at the close of day.
"Tis pleasant 'mid the never-ending strife
Of this too busy, mammon-loving age,
When Nature's gentler charms so few engage,
To muse at leisure on the quiet life
Of earlier days, when every humble flower
Was known to all, and cherished as a dower.
- James Inglis Cochrane (1863)

Yes, there was a time "when every humble flower was known to all", or and least to many, and cherished as an endowment. (I would have expected it to be during Cochrane's time, but apparently he thought not.) Often plants were prized for their medicinal and symbolic values; Lady's Mantle was among them.

From the time of Dioscurides, physicians believed that plants which resembled in some way a body part, for example, might be useful to treat a related malady. They reasoned that the Creator had so fashioned plants to give some clue to their usefulness. Each useful herb was regarded as a divine gift. This philosophy has been largely rejected in modern times, but it has been shown that many old remedies based upon the doctrine of signatures actually do treat successfully as herbalists expected and demonstrated. Skeptics believe it merely coincidental.

Lady's Mantle was probably so named for the resemblance of its leaves to women's cloaks, flaring and ruffled. Because cloaks covered and protected women, it was no stretch to expect that Lady's Mantle had many applications for women's health. Indeed, it does. The herb is an astringent and styptic, was (and is still) used to tone female reproductive organs, treat prolapse, hemorrhage and excessive menstrual bleeding.

Lady's Mantle is of the genus, Alchemilla (pronounced al-kem-ILL-uh), and it is this name that alludes to other fascinating notions. Alchemilla refers to the herb's use in alchemy.

Alchemilla leaves hold dew drops like tiny diamonds or pearls around the leaf margins, and this gave rise to superstitious beliefs; among them that collected dew was useful in love potions, and when dropped into the eye could enable one to see fairies.

As you might expect, Our Lady's Mantle, glistening with its diamonds and pearls, also came to symbolize the covering of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was this contemplative image that apparently set Cochrane to musing about the convent chime at Vespers on Inch Cailliach's (Cailleach's) isle (aka The Island Of Old Women) and the quiet life.

(By the way, Cailleach was a hag of mythological proportions storied among Irish and Scots, which makes it more interesting that a convent was established on the Isle. Maybe the convent was meant to sanctify the place, or maybe the presence of mysterious nuns birthed the myth. But I'll leave that alone for now.)

There are about 300 species of Alchemilla, but few are widely cultivated. Those that are share generally the same characteristics and cultural requirements.

The plants possess a mounding habit, from 18 inches to 24 inches in height and width. Foliage is herbaceous. Round, lobed leaves arise from a basal woody stem. Small flowers held above the mound are chartreuse and lack petals, but they are produced in such quantity that they are quite charming. Bloom season is late spring to mid-summer.

Alchemilla is perennial and hardy in USDA climate zones 3 through 8. Soil should be humusy, slightly moist and well-drained with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.5. Plant them in full sun to partial shade, though gardeners in warmest climates should provide afternoon shade. Water regularly.

When conditions are agreeable, Lady's Mantle produces lots of seeds which germinate readily. So you could find yourself with plenty of plants to give away. To avoid re-seeding, dead-head spent flowers.

I recommend Alchemilla for naturalizing in shaded gardens, heritage and heirloom gardens, medicinal herb gardens, and even fairy gardens. Alchemilla is an excellent companion plant for narcissus and tulips.

Alchemilla is not resplendent in her raiment, but is certainly "one of Nature's gentler charms." She may lead you, also, "to muse at leisure on the quiet life of earlier days."

Return to Alchemilla at goGardenNow.com.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sea Thrift Grows By The Summer Sea

 SEA THRIFT grows by the summer sea,
Till the summer’s close,
On a grassy cliff, ’neath a radiant sky,
While sun and summer and wind go by,
Sea thrift blows and blows.
-Dollie Radford (1858-1920)

With apologies to Mrs. Radford, the Sea Thrift about which I am writing is not the cottage standing in a garden at some distance from the sea, but the flower growing on the cliff that is full of joy all the summer through.

Thrift is a common name often applied to plants in three separate genera: Phlox subulata, Dianthus spp. and Armeria. I suppose it's mostly because they so closely resemble. All have low profiles, mounding habits, and linear or needle-like foliage. The name, Armeria, is the latinized version of Dianthus, so that could also contribute to the confusion. But the one I'm writing about is Armeria.

Armeria (pronounced "ar-MEH-ree-ah") is a perennial, native mostly to the Mediterranean region of Europe and Great Britain, often found along the coast. As any know who have lived by the sea, it can be a harsh environment. Strong winds, sand, heat and cold, dry conditions and salt spray buffet the shore. Coastal plants are well-suited to the situation, hunkering down behind dunes, sheltering in crags, bending with the wind, and tolerating the salt. Just so does Armeria thrive.

Though Armeria boasts over 100 species, just a few are commercially available. Among them are A. alliacea (resembling Allium), A. juniperifolia (resembling juniper foliage), A. maritima (of the sea) and A. pseudarmeria (the plant looks more like Dianthus than Armeria, so is called False Armeria though it isn't). A. maritima is the most popular.

Armeria is perfect for rock gardens, coastal gardens, low borders along patios and walks, and cutting gardens. For water-wise gardeners, Armeria is great for xeriscaping. Armeria maritima has the added advantage of being very tolerant of high copper levels in the soil.

Armeria prefers full sun in USDA climate zones 3 or 4 to 8. Plant in very well-drained soil with pH ranging from 6.6 to 7.8. Space 6 inches to 8 inches apart. Do not water too much or Armeria will rot. To prolong the bloom season, dead-head the spent flowers to prevent them from going to seed. Once seeds are produced, Armeria thinks its job is done and will settle down to rest.

Those of you who garden near the sea should find Armeria very much to your liking. Even if you don't live near the shore, it will delight you with its joyful little flowers blown by the breeze.

Return to Armeria at goGardenNow.com.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Results of Community Poll Ending 5 April, 2011

Our Community Poll ending 5 April, asked the question, "Do you save vegetable or flower seeds for planting later?"

Eighty-five percent of respondents said they do save vegetable or flower seeds for planting later. Frankly, I'm surprised (and pleased) at such a large majority. It's too easy to drop in to the local garden center for a few seed packets. But there are so many wonderful open-pollinated varieties that might be lost if seed weren't saved.

Our current Community Poll asks the question, "Are you concerned about eating Genetically Modified (GM) foods?" To participate, go to our Customer Testimonials page and look for the poll in the right-hand side-bar.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Friday, April 1, 2011

Garden Tasks For April

Among the most frequently asked questions, "When should I...", is near the top of the list. Here are a few gardening tasks for April organized by region.

Northeast States: Frost danger continues. If you haven't begun sowing flats of warm-season annuals and vegetables indoors, get started. If you already have flats of growing warm-season annuals and vegetables, it might be time to transplant them into larger containers. Plant summer bulbs in containers indoors for putting out later. Begin planting and transplanting cold-hardy plants outdoors. Summer- and fall-blooming perennials can be divided. Prune shrubs and trees. Remove spent flower stalks from spring bulbs, but leave the foliage intact. Trim winter-damaged ground covers to 6 inch height. Lightly fertilize perennials as they emerge. Begin spring cleanup, if you haven't already. Check irrigation and make necessary repairs. Prepare planting beds.

Mid-Atlantic States: Frost danger continues. Finish sowing annuals, vegetables and herb seeds in flats indoors. Plant summer bulbs in containers indoors for putting out later. Plant bare-root perennials, potted roses, cool-season vegetable sets, annuals and strawberries in outdoor beds. Summer- and fall-blooming perennials can be divided and transplanted. Sow cool-season vegetable and herb seeds outdoors. Prune trees, summer- and fall-blooming shrubs. Remove spent flower stalks from spring bulbs, but leave the foliage intact. Trim winter-damaged ground covers to 6 inch height. Lightly fertilize perennials as they emerge. Remove winter mulches. Begin rose care. Construct trellises for climbing vegetables and vines, set tomato stakes.

Mid-South States: Frost is still possible. Plant trees and shrubs. Plant summer bulbs, divide and transplant perennials. Plant container gardens. Sow vegetable and herb seeds in the garden. Transplant vegetable and herbs outdoors. Pinch runners from strawberry plants. Prune spring-blooming trees and shrubs when flowering is completed. Continue to remove spent flower stalks from spring bulbs, but leave the foliage intact. Lightly fertilize annuals and vegetable seedlings. Fertilize spring bulbs when flowering is complete. Begin spraying fruit trees with dormant oil. Apply mulch to newly planted plants. Continue rose care. Install sod. Fertilize lawn when spring green-up occurs.

Lower South and Gulf States: Continue to plant container-grown trees and shrubs. Plant summer bulbs. Continue to divide and transplant perennials. Continue to plant container gardens. Sow warm-season annuals, vegetables and herbs. Transplant warm-season vegetable and herb seedlings. Shear spring-blooming trees and shrubs when flowering is complete. Shear conifers and evergreen shrubs. Pinch planted mums to delay bloom. Remove spent flower stalks from spring bulbs, but leave the foliage intact. Fertilize camellias, azaleas, annuals, container gardens, summer bulbs, fruit trees. Spray fruit trees with insecticide and fungicide. Thin excess fruit from fruit trees. Continue rose care. Plant warm-season grass seed and install sod.

Plains and Rocky Mountain States: Frost is still possible. If you haven't begun sowing flats of warm-season annuals and vegetables indoors, get started. If you already have flats of growing warm-season annuals and vegetables, it might be time to transplant them into larger containers. Plant summer bulbs in containers indoors for putting out later. Begin planting and transplanting cold-hardy plants outdoors. Summer- and fall-blooming perennials can be divided. Prune shrubs and trees. Remove spent flower stalks from spring bulbs, but leave the foliage intact. Trim winter-damaged ground covers to 6 inch height. Lightly fertilize perennials as they emerge. Begin spring cleanup, if you haven't already. Check irrigation and make necessary repairs. Prepare planting beds. Remove winter mulches. Begin rose care. Construct trellises for climbing vegetables and vines, set tomato stakes. Mulch newly planted trees and shrubs.

Pacific Southwest and Desert States: Plant trees, shrubs, summer bulbs, annuals and vegetable sets. Divide summer- and fall-blooming perennials. Sow vegetable, annual and herb seeds. Shear conifers. Prune spring-flowering trees and shrubs when bloom is complete. Remove spent flower stalks from spring bulbs, but leave the foliage intact. Fertilize azaleas, camellias, summer bulbs, vegetables, fruit trees, annuals, container gardens (including house plants). Continue rose care. Sow grass seed or install sod. Continue lawn care.

Pacific Northwest States: Frost danger continues. Plant shrubs, trees, summer bulbs. Construct trellises for climbing vegetables and vines, set tomato stakes. Plant annuals, warm-season vegetables and herb sets, and sow warm-season annuals, vegetables and herb seeds after last frost. Trim winter-damaged ground covers to 6 inch height. Divide crowded perennials. Shear evergreen shrubs and conifers. Prune spring-flowering plants when bloom is complete. Remove spent flower stalks from spring bulbs, but leave the foliage intact. Fertilize azaleas, camellias when bloom is complete. Fertilize fruit trees, container gardens, annuals, vegetables and herbs. Continue rose care. Mulch trees, shrubs and vegetables.

Return to goGardenNow.com.